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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

EDITORIAL 14.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month may 14, edition 000858, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




































































It should be clear by now that sophistry has failed to disguise the disharmony between the Congress and the Government it leads over the anti-corruption agitation launched by 'civil society'. While the Government continues to insist on the exclusion of the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary from the purview of the proposed Lok Pal Bill, senior party functionaries like Mr Digvijay Singh have favoured their inclusion. This comes as a bolt from the blue for the Government since he has been seen as backing the Government on its confrontation with 'civil society' activists — whether it be the crackdown on Baba Ramdev or the rejection of the "coercive" methods adopted by Anna Hazare to push for a strong anti-corruption law. Mr Singh's remark that he had, as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, included the Chief Minister's office within the ambit of the State Lok Ayukta is especially embarrassing for the UPA. If a Congress Chief Minister could do it, what prevents a Congress Prime Minister from asking for the inclusion of his post among those under the purview of the Lok Pal? Given his proximity to 10, Janpath, Mr Digvijay Singh's remarks cannot be brushed aside. They indicate the unease of the party over the manner in which the Government has so far handled the agitation. Mr Digvijay Singh's subsequent clarification — that he will abide by the final decision — has done little to dilute the impression of a growing disconnect between the Government and the party. Earlier, another senior party functionary, Mr Anil Shastri, had slammed the brutal police crackdown on Baba Ramdev and thousands of his supporters who had gathered at Ramlila Maidan to protest against corruption. While he was careful not to drag the Government into the controversy, that did not fool anybody for the police had acted directly on the instructions of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Both the Union Government and the Congress have naturally denied differences over the issue, and in fact senior members from both sides have taken pains to demonstrate unity in being overtly critical of the designs of the activists. But that is a smokescreen.

The Congress is rattled by the growing disenchantment among the people over the high-handed manner it has adopted in trying to crush anti-corruption protests and the statements by its leaders are seen as a manifestation of increasing worry in the party over decreasing support. Perhaps the Congress feels that instead of allowing the Opposition to capitalise on the discontent it is better to raise protests from within and project an image of aloofness from, and unhappiness with, developments. Unfortunately for the Congress, the strategy does not seem to be working well, because neither the Government nor the party has emerged clean from the mess. With no sign of either the party or the Government softening taking the initiative to assuage feelings and mollify popular resentment, there is little possibility of both regaining the ground they have lost in the past couple of months. It is laughable that the Congress should join the gathering anti-corruption protest and pose as a crusader against graft. Nobody will be impressed about the Congress's 'sincerity' in dealing with a malaise that afflicts the country, courtesy a party that has glorified corruption as a virtue.







There was a time not very long ago when the greatest threat to a working journalist's life and security was the bullet fired from an enemy weapon in the middle of a raging battlefield or the secret spies of a military dictator who would like nothing better than to do away with every reporter in the country. But the brazen daylight killing of veteran crime reporter Jyotirmoy Dey by four unidentified men, who may or may not be related to the 'underworld' but could also possibly be members of the 'oil mafia', has shown that journalists today face a more sinister threat. If J Dey, as the senior scribe was popularly known, was indeed killed for his reporting on Mumbai's notorious underworld, then let there be no doubt that his death was meant to set an example, to establish a dangerous deterrent. In recent years, global trends have shown that local gangs and organised criminal enterprises have routinely employed the tools of assault, abduction, torture and killing of journalists as basic strategy to create an environment of fear that results in self-censorship, preventing journalists from reporting an inconvenient truth. Murder, of course, serves as the ultimate form of that censorship as is evident from the killing of J Dey, whose voice has now forever been silenced. Against this bleak background, one must take note of the efforts undertaken by the police and the Government of Maharashtra to bring J Dey's killers to book. Little more than 48 hours after the crime was committed, Mumbai Police is reportedly working on some 'solid leads' already while sketches of one of the gunmen have also been released. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan seems to be concerned over the murder.

Sadly, past experience says that such pointers can be misleading. There is no guarantee that once the media hype surrounding what is by all means a sensational crime dies down, law enforcement officials will pursue the case and bring the killers to justice. Instead, in all probability the case of J Dey, a media hero today, will become just another dusty file stashed away in a rickety wooden cupboard; just like the case files of 27 other journalists who have been killed in this country for simply doing their job. That journalists have been killed in the world's largest democracy in a ghastly attempt to silence the Press is bad enough; but the fact that they have all been killed with impunity is simply unacceptable. Not a single person who masterminded a journalist's killing in India has been put behind bars till date. Little wonder then that India has once again found itself a spot on a list of countries where journalists are routinely killed and their killers go scot free. We have the likes of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia among others to keep us company. What does that say about us and our country?








The Congress's fascist reaction to the anti-corruption movement shows the party still remains unchanged. Its misdeeds remind us of the 1975-77 Emergency.

The Congress-led UPA Government is sadly mistaken if it thinks that its ruthless Gaddafi-style midnight operation to evict Baba Ramdev and his supporters from Ramlila Maidan in the early hours of June 5 will crush the movement against corruption in the country. The Government's action, which is reminiscent of the response of Mrs Indira Gandhi to charges of corruption in the mid-1970s, only goes to show that nothing much has changed within the Congress. It continues to function like a family-owned private limited company whose promoters have fascist tendencies and remain extremely vulnerable to charges of corruption.

Apart from ending the mass satyagraha at the venue in Delhi, the Congress has launched a vituperative attack on Baba Ramdev, calling him a "thug" and a "fraud" and raising questions about the funding of his organisation. There is nothing new in this. These very tactics were deployed against Anna Hazare and his team members in April. An identical operation is now on to paint Baba Ramdev in ugly colours.

The Government is rattled by Baba Ramdev's movement because it strikes at the root of the problem — money stashed away in Swiss banks by politicians and businessmen. The Anna Hazare movement got confined to the limited issue of establishing a national ombudsman (Lok Pal) to deal with corruption at the highest level. But, the creation of such an institution is just one of the many initiatives that need to be taken. Since corruption is a hydra-headed monster that has affected all aspects of politics, governance and life, what is needed is a comprehensive anti-corruption agenda that seeks to tackle the problem at the root and throw up permanent remedies.

For example, money power has vitiated the entire electoral process since the beginning and the humongous amounts spent by candidates in State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has made a mockery of the spending limits imposed by the Election Commission. Over the last two decades, the permissible spending in a Lok Sabha constituency in a large State has more than trebled.

Just three monmths ago, the Conduct of Election Rules were amended yet again to enhance the maximum election expenditure in Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies to Rs 40 lakh and Rs 16 lakh respectively. However, those who track election-spending are aware that even this revised limit will be observed more in the breach than than in the observance because in recent years the average spending by serious candidates in Lok Sabha constituencies is between Rs 3 crore and Rs 5 crore.

All of this is black money — some generated within the country and the rest brought back from Switzerland and tax havens like Liechtenstein. Therefore, any anti-corruption initiative must first deal with the issue of black money vitiating the electoral process and making a mockery of the democratic system. We need to accord high priority to this problem.

The second most important source of corruption is Government contracts. It is long established that those who run the Government and the ruling party get kickbacks on every deal. In the early decades after independence when the licence-permit-quota raj held sway, bribes and commissions were paid in India in Indian rupees. Later, after Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, the Congress chose a new route for political funding — kickbacks from international deals which are paid into secret accounts in Switzerland and other tax havens.

Those who have worked in Government at senior levels — for instance, Mr BG Deshmukh who was Cabinet Secretary during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister — have noted that since the 1980s, the Congress has found it more convenient to take commissions from foreign companies in international deals rather than pass the hat around among Indian businessmen and industrialists to collect party funds. This way, huge sums can be collected to fund the party without any obligation to industrial houses within the country. It was presumed that there would be no whiff of corruption if discreet payments were made to Swiss bank accounts.

This grand plan, however, went for a toss when the Swedish Audit Bureau reported that arms manufacturer AB Bofors had paid 'commission' to certain individuals in connection with the sale of field guns to India in 1986. Despite that embarrassment, there is no indication of any change in the attitude of the Congress towards collecting funds. This is also the reason why the party is dragging its feet on the black money issue.

When the pressure from the Supreme Court became unbearable, the Government cleverly announced the setting up of a "high-powered committee" to keep the court at bay. This committee is supposed to examine the problem and outline a plan of action to bring back the loot. The Government offered a similar bait to Baba Ramdev the other day, offering to set up "a committee" to draft a law to bring back black money.

After making this offer, the Government claimed that it had met "all the demands" of Baba Ramdev and wanted him to end his satyagraha. When he failed to oblige, the Government responded with police brutality. The use of brute force to end a peaceful agitation is reminiscent of the Emergency days. This was exactly how Mrs Indira Gandhi responded to Jayaprakash Narayan's campaign against corruption 36 years ago.

In fact, the parallels between 1974-75 and 2010-11 are striking. Jayaprakash Narayan's movement began with the campaign against corruption in Gujarat and with the demand that then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi probe the allegations against LN Mishra, a senior Minister in her Cabinet. Mrs Indira Gandhi did none of this. Instead, she used brute force to crush the movement.

Mr Manmohan Singh, too, has resorted to an Emergency-style operation to crush the satyagraha at Ramlila Maidan. Also, in typical Mrs Indira Gandhi fashion, he has defended the midnight police raid and said the Government had no option but to resort to such action. There are other eerie coincidences. It should be remembered that Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed her dreaded Emergency in 1975 after a massive Opposition rally which, incidentally, was held at Ramlila Maidan and in June.

This only shows that more things change, the more the Congress remains the same. The party continues to be extremely vulnerable when corruption is discussed and the party's fascist tendencies come to the fore whenever its Government is cornered on this issue. That is why all those who believe in democracy need to be on high alert after Mr Singh's Ramlila Maidan operation. Needless to say, eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.







A Chicago jury has absolved Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the most serious charges in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack. India must get Rana extradited and put him on trial here for charges different from those for which he was tried in the US court. It is equally important for both India and the US to reconstruct the 26/11 Mumbai strikes, unearth the entire network and expose future plots

US District Judge Harry D Leinenweber was reported to have ruled in Chicago on June 9 that Tahawwur Hussain Rana of the Chicago cell of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba was guilty of supporting the LeT and plotting to bomb Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper which had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005.

A 12-member jury reached a split verdict after two days of deliberations and ruled that Rana was not guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks which killed 166 people, including six Americans.

No date has been set for the sentencing. Rana could face a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison on the two counts combined.

The Indian Government has expressed "disappointment" over Rana's acquittal on charges of plotting the Mumbai attacks and said it will soon take a decision on filing a chargesheet against him and his accomplice David Coleman Headley in an Indian court.

Explaining the verdict, US Justice Department spokesman Randall Samborn said: "A Federal Court jury has convicted defendant Rana on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to the Denmark terrorism plot and one count of providing material support to LeT, and not guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to the Mumbai terrorist attacks."

Rana's lawyers have said that they would appeal against the ruling as there was an "error" in the trial. US Attorney Patrick J Fitzgerald has said that the acquittal of Rana, who was a co-accused in the Mumbai attacks with Headley, of charges that he was involved in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai was disappointing. At the same time, he said that they were "gratified" that the jury found Rana guilty of involvement in plotting a terror attack in Denmark and providing material support to LeT, designated by the US as a foreign terrorist organisation.

When asked what went wrong on the 26/11 charges, Mr Fitzgerald said: "We put our evidence forward and the jury found that we did not meet the burden (of proof) there. But they did find we made our burden proving material support to LeT and they found that we met our burden with regard to attack on Denmark."

Rana had been cited as a co-accused in respect of two charges: Conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India and the planned attack in Denmark. In respect of the planned Denmark attack, Ilyas Kashmiri and Major Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha were also co-accused (in absentia). A supplementary indictment had been filed on April 25 against Sajid Mir, Abu Qahafa, Mazhar Iqbal and Major Iqbal citing them as co-accused along with Rana in respect of the 26/11 strikes.

Since the six Pakistanis cited as co-accused along with Rana are in Pakistan, the evidence against them was not considered and referred to the jury, which was called upon only to give its opinion on the charges against Rana. Since Rana had not been found guilty of any involvement in the 26/11 terrorist strikes, the Justice Department is unlikely to move for any action against the six Pakistani nationals absconding in Pakistan, of whom Ilyas Kashmiri was reported to have been killed in a recent Drone strike. The Pakistanis cited in the indictments as the co-conspirators would be the beneficiaries of the acquittal of Rana in respect of the charges relating to the 26/11 terrorist strikes.

Since Rana has been found guilty of involvement in the plan to carry out a terrorist strike in Copenhagen, the US Justice Department can still press Pakistan for action against Ilyas (if his death is not confirmed) and Major Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha, both of whom have been cited as co-accused along with Rana in respect of the Copenhagen plot. It remains to be seen whether the Justice Department will do so.

It is surprising that the jury found Rana not guilty of involvement in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. There was a wealth of circumstantial evidence to show that he had knowingly allowed Headley to pose as an employee of his Chicago-based immigration consultancy service for his visits to India to assist the LeT in its plans. Also, he had prior knowledge of the impending terrorist strikes and that he had knowledge of the LeT's plans to carry out fresh strikes in 2009 including in the National Defence College in New Delhi. Headley had discussed these plans with Rana. Moreover, Rana was totally in the picture about Headley's contacts with the LeT as well as Ilyas Kashmiri.

I am told US laws do not permit an appeal against an acquittal by the jury. This would leave the Government of India with only one option: Try to get Rana extradited to India to face trial before an Indian court on charges different from those for which he was tried in the US. Since Rana was not the beneficiary of any plea bargain, extradition should be possible if the US is prepared to co-operate.

Both Headley and Rana are equally important for Indian and US investigators to reconstruct the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, to identify the entire network set up by them in India and the US and neutralise the members of the network still remaining undetected and to unearth the future plans of the LeT and the 313 Brigade. The National Investigation Agency of India and the FBI should set up a joint team of senior officers to collate and review all the evidence on record so far and get a complete picture of the conspiracy.

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







It is utterly shameful that the Government under the dual leadership of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi is busy passing the buck for the brutal crackdown on Baba Ramdev and his followers. In the process, it has undermined the gravity of the demands put forth by civil society

The Congress's sanitised worldview precludes the idea of nationalism. Globalisation is the ideal to which the party now subscribes, blindly toeing the line laid down by free market proponents, even if this proves detrimental to the country's interests. Popular yoga guru Baba Ramdev's secular campaign to empower India by promoting swadeshi economics, and getting the Union Government to initiate steps to bring back an estimated $500 billion — 1,500 billion in black money from tax havens and secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Leichenstein and other countries that allow illicit cash deposits seems to have goaded the UPA ruling coalition into a frenzy.

Sunday night's shameful police assault on the Baba and thousands of his supporters at the Ramlila Ground indicates which way the wind is blowing. After craftily dodging the Anna Hazare group on bringing the Prime Minister and higher judiciary within the ambit of the anti-corruption bill, policy-makers orchestrated the brutal crackdown.

The 5,000-strong police battalion was let loose upon innocent people in the dead of night. If this were not shameful enough, Congress leaders ridiculed the yoga guru in the basest fashion, and tried vainly to give the campaign a communal hue. Yet, viewers here and abroad saw on TV news channels that Union Ministers had welcomed the Baba at the airport, and Muslim religious leaders, as much as Jains and others, had shared the dais with Swami Ramdev before the ruling regime's sabotage of the anti-black money programme.

The episode evoked a sense of déjà vu, a throwback to the brutal police assault on sadhus and others, agitating against cow slaughter in the late 1960s. Mrs Indira Gandhi was then Prime Minister. Protesters were manhandled and jailed. Her Government had no qualms about seeking forcibly to crush the Goraksha Andolan even if she and her kin, as much as party colleagues, were wont in private to consult diviners and seek blessings of sages.

In the present instance, the Congress, or whatever remains of it under the dual leadership of Ms Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is enacting a sinister charade with blame for the savage attack being obfuscated by the existence of two power centres. While the Prime Minister, speaking out from behind a smokescreen, created by Cabinet colleagues such as Mr Pranab Mukherjee, Mr Kapil Sibal, Mr Pawan Bansal and Mr Subodh Kant Sahay, part of the delegation that welcomed the Baba at the airport, tried to defend the assault on the ground that there was "no alternative", Ms Gandhi has distanced herself from the episode by pretending ignorance of the sequence of events, beginning with the arrival of Union Ministers at the airport to greet the yoga guru. If this is indeed true, her ignorance is cause for concern as she is an extra constitutional authority, who is alleged to wield more power than Mr Singh. Such ignorance could be fatal in a national crisis, say, a military offensive by an enemy nation, or political assassination, or natural calamity.

As the National Advisory Council chief and the UPA chairperson, Ms Gandhi has onerous responsibilities, equal to the Prime Minister's. The NAC, crammed with civil activists, is instrumental in shaping important health, poverty alleviation, employment and information-related policies. This is in addition to the mandate of the Planning Commission and individual Ministries. It is, therefore, all the more necessary that Ms Gandhi be in the know of things. If the modalities of Government negotiations with an internationally esteemed yoga guru and vocal nationalist were concealed from her — or, perhaps, she did not think it worth her while to enquire into them — then, there is something seriously wrong in the functioning of the ruling regime.

And this may well be true, the rot going even deeper, if credence were to be given to Delhi Chief Minister Dikshit's statement that she was not informed about the plan to evict the Baba and his supporters by force. It is, one assumes, the same ignorance that marked her Government's handling of the Commonwealth Games, when environmental norms were flouted with impunity; funds meant for schemes for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes diverted to games-related projects; and scams perpetrated under her nose.

However, since the Delhi Government allowed the yoga guru to set up camp in the Ramlila Ground, it is strange that it did not know that he was going to be evicted, along with supporters. In the event that the Lieutenant-Governor was informed about the plan to deploy police, the absence of communication between the city's administrative arms is alarming.

It is possible that the show of ignorance all around is merely a ploy to confuse the issue, or, worse, pass the buck. Multiple power centres facilitate such deception. But the nationwide focus on the urgent need to repatriate our black money is not about to dissipate even if the Congress and its allies do their utmost to tar nationalists black. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange avers that the bulk of illicit funds in Swiss banks belong to Indians. Some other countries, too, assure banking secrecy. Tax havens and shell companies are also known to harbour Indian black money. Since part of these riches is diverted to funding terror and insurgency, the Government must act now to bring back the money if its credibility is to be restored.







Today, even the most wicked and ruthless rulers must take international opinion into account and conversely the global community expects them to behave much better than dictators did in the bad old days. They may not always live up to expectations, but that is the standard by which they will be judged

The 'Prague Spring' of 1968 was a gallant attempt at a non-violent democratic revolution, but it was crushed by Soviet tanks. Eighteen years later, in the Philippines, the first 'people-power' revolution succeeded, and since 1986 non-violent revolutions have driven a great many dictators from power. The most recent was in Egypt, in February — but there never was a guarantee that these revolutions would turn out well.

It depends partly on how bad the ethnic and religious cleavages are in a country: Bulgaria and Romania were okay, but Yugoslavia was a blood-bath. It depends to some extent on how poor and illiterate the population is, although even very poor countries have made a successful transition to democracy. And it depends on good leadership and good luck, too. But it is the dominant political phenomenon of our time.

The revolution in the Philippines succeeded because by the late 1980s, everything was happening in real time on global television. Oppressive regimes that had never had much compunction about killing people who challenged them didn't feel confident about doing it before a global audience. They no longer felt free to use massive force unless the protesters gave them an excuse by resorting to violence themselves.

The Marcos regime that was overthrown in the Philippines in 1986 was a mere kleptocracy with little ideology beyond a vague 'anti-communism'. When the infection spread to China in 1989, the outcome was different, because a disciplined Communist dictatorship was willing to kill large numbers of its own people in front of the television cameras. It understood that if it failed that test, it would not survive.

Less ruthless Communist dictatorships in Europe, longer in power and ideologically exhausted, did fail the test. The non-violent revolutions that began in East Germany in November, 1989, and ended Communist rule in the old Soviet Union itself by late 1991, could have been stopped if the local Communist regimes had been willing to follow the Chinese example, but none of them had the stomach for killing on that scale.

So about 350 million Europeans got their freedom and almost nobody died. At almost exactly the same time, the apartheid regime in South Africa released Mr Nelson Mandela and began the talks that led to majority rule in 1994. A very well-connected African friend of mine told me later what had actually happened.

In late 1989, after the East German, Czech and Romanian regimes had fallen with scarcely a shot being fired, the head of the National Intelligence Service, the South African secret police, went to State President FW de Klerk and warned him that if the African National Congress put half-a-million people on the street in Johannesburg, he would only have two options: To kill ten thousand of them, or to surrender power unconditionally.

If he didn't like either of those options, he should start negotiating the transfer of power now. So Mr Mandela was released, and eventually there was a peaceful transition from apartheid to majority rule.

Then there's a long gap, perhaps partly explained by the fact that the number of dictatorships in the world had already shrunk considerably. An attempted non-violent revolution in Iran in 2009 was mercilessly crushed. People worried that repressive regimes might have finally figured out how to counter non-violent revolution. And then along came the 'Arab spring'.

So the technique is still alive, and it worked in Tunisia and in Egypt. On the other hand, it has been stamped out in Bahrain, whose fate resembles that of Prague in 1968. And while the revolt in Yemen has probably displaced the old regime, it has been very violent, and the new regime may be no more democratic than the old.

Same goes for Syria, and of course for Libya. There are no one-size-fits-all techniques for revolution or for anything else. But the desire for democracy, equality and fairness survives everywhere, and the least bad technique for trying to achieve those things is still non-violence. Even if sometimes the revolution succeeds but the aftermath doesn't.

The original 'people power' revolution in the Philippines was followed by two decades of political turbulence. Yugoslavia splintered into half-a-dozen warring fragments. Russia, though it escaped mass violence, is not exactly a model democracy.

On the other hand, South Korea, Indonesia and South Africa are now all democracies. So are Poland, Romania and Taiwan. The aftermath may not be what most people hoped for in Egypt, and it probably won't be in the case of Syria. But non-violent revolution works often enough, and its results are positive often enough, that it is still the most hopeful political development of the past quarter-century.

The glass is half-full, and getting fuller. Even the most wicked and ruthless rulers must now take world public opinion into account, and we expect them to behave much better than dictators did in the bad old days. They may disappoint our expectations, but that is the standard by which they will be judged, and they know it.

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








Now that the crisis situation over Baba Ramdev's fast-unto-death has been defused via persuasion and fruit juice, it's time for the government to stop brandishing minutiae - who's propped up by which political interest, whose assets need checking, whose voices adorn which CD - and focus instead on the big picture. That is corruption, the melee over the Lokpal Bill just one manifestation of public feeling on this issue. Pranab Mukherjee has stated extra-constitutional voices should not dictate on corruption to Parliament. While the minister's rightly emphasised Parliament's supremacy in the Indian polity, the fact is corruption has pushed such deep roots into the country that we're likely to see more voices from civil society raised against it, not - as the government might wish - less.

Growing public discourse over corruption is linked to important changes shaping the Indian people. Two paradoxical developments are taking place. On the one hand, scams are becoming monsters of quantum proportions, eating into the nation's development. They come coated in political arrogance, apathy and assumed helplessness of the people. On the other, the corpus of educated, aware citizenry is also growing. Importantly, this citizenry's access to mass media has never been as expansive as now. Where earlier scams filtered through to the Indian public after considerable time elapsed, names of foreign tax havens, banks and brokers growing from whispers in the wind to in-your-face facts, today it's possible to track corruption while it happens. The media provides a platform for investigators, whistleblowers and citizenry to challenge corrupt practices together.

This isn't just India-specific. The resonance of WikiLeaks highlights global concerns about abuses of power - with the belief that truth can change things. The same belief's showing in the Indian electorate now, media-armed and well-informed. It knows for instance of the Ombudsman's office in Scandinavian nations, controlling corruption, itself woven skilfully into a system of interlocking checks and balances. It knows it is entitled to the same, an effective Lokpal overseen by a stringent judiciary, for example. It also knows why, instead of calling a special parliamentary session for representatives to clarify positions on corruption, politicians are instead deflecting the topic through allegations and retorts.

Yet, the belief in change is strong, energised by developments that range from Barack Obama's 'Yes, we can' slogan to the Jasmine Revolution, Arabs standing up peacefully before dictators and their tanks. This is in fact a time of wonder for politics around the world. With its 'transparency revolution', India is joining in. It's time for its politicians to see that big picture. And drop their small talk.







The death of a 14-year-old girl found hanging from a tree within the premises of a police station in Lakhimpur Kheri district of UP is shocking. It exemplifies the poor law and order situation in the state, notwithstanding claims to the contrary. The needle of suspicion in this case points to the local police and prima facie there is evidence to suggest a cover-up. The victim's family was initially discouraged from pursuing the case. It was only when the media and local politicians took up the issue that the state government was spurred into action. All 11 policemen of the Nighasan police station have been suspended while an FIR has been lodged against three for tampering with the crime scene. However, this is not enough. Though a CB-CID probe has been ordered, there needs to be far greater urgency in bringing the guilty to book.

The incident adds to the growing body of evidence that lawlessness continues to be a problem in UP. Women in particular have increasingly been the victims. According to National Crime Records Bureau figures, UP accounts for as much as 10% of all crimes against women throughout the country. Thanks to a nexus between politicians, criminals and the police, a culture of criminality continues to flourish in the state. The rape of a minor in Banda last December, allegedly by a BSP MLA, bears testimony to this unholy link. This and a plethora of other cases prove that the law and order mechanism in UP is all but defunct. For all her tough posturing, chief minister Mayawati is yet to tackle this malaise. With assembly elections due next year, she would do well to lay down the law.









As Bangladesh prepares to host Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and possibly UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in Dhaka this July or August, it is not all good news at home for the country's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

After decisively addressing India's security and connectivity concerns by cracking down hard on northeast militants and allowing limited trans-shipment of capital goods to India's northeast through her country's territory, Hasina is now seeking major concessions from
India on river water sharing, market access for Bangladeshi products, maritime and land boundary delimitation and import of power, besides other lesser issues. The feeling in Dhaka is that it is payback time and the Bangladesh foreign office is hoping for some major agreements during Singh's visit.

Bangladesh plans to unveil a statue of
Indira Gandhi, widely seen as the "liberator of Bangladesh", on a major road in Dhaka to be named after her during Singh's visit in a symbolic gesture of gratitude. More important, Hasina's government welcomes huge Indian investments, especially in infrastructure. Foreign minister Dipu Moni has wished that India's economist prime minister will take captains of Indian industry along with him during the visit.

At home, Hasina finds herself caught in a crossfire between friends and foes that could weaken her control. On one hand, her plans to do away with the caretaker arrangement for holding elections has provoked opposition parties, especially the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), to hit the streets. After having called a strike on June 5, the BNP now threatens to follow up with more if the Awami League government does not back off from its plans to switch to the Indian system of holding polls under a ruling dispensation. The BNP and other opposition parties - and even some in the ruling coalition - suspect that the Awami League wants to rig the parliamentary elections in 2013 to stay on in power.

This is the first time since its stunning defeat in the December 2008 polls that the BNP is back on the streets with demands for midterm polls to test the government's popularity, insisting that elections be held under a neutral caretaker dispensation under existing laws. The Awami League dismisses its fears as baseless and points to several recent municipal elections and other by-elections in which ruling party candidates lost though the polls were held under the present government. These losses, especially the defeat of sitting Chittagong municipal corporation chairman A K Mohiuddin, do indicate that the Awami League has lost some of the high ground it had gained in December 2008 when its alliance won 235 seats and the BNP ended up with only 30 seats in a 300-member House. And that has spurred the BNP's demand for a midterm poll.

On the other hand, Hasina's decision not to press ahead with the Supreme Court's verdict to restore Bangladesh's secular 1972 Constitution has upset her friends and allies who feel she is backing out, despite a huge mandate, to avoid confrontation with Islamic hardliners. The 1972 Constitution guaranteed equality of status to all religions and banned religious parties but subsequent amendments by two military rulers introduced "Bismillah" in the Preamble and made Islam the state religion besides allowing religious parties like the Jamait-e-Islami - hated for its support to the Pakistani regime - to re-enter the political stage.

A huge meeting was organised recently by the Sector Commanders Forum, an organisation of 1971 liberation fighters. Chaired by two former army chiefs and one air chief, currently the government's planning minister, it brought together 28 secular groups. The support of these groups was key to the Awami League's 2008 poll victory because they had passionately evoked the "spirit of 1971" among old and young alike. They have now resolved to pressure the Awami League government to restore the 1972 Constitution and press ahead with war crime trials to bring pro-Pakistani collaborators, responsible for large-scale murder, arson and rape, to justice. There are indications that Hasina faces a serious challenge from her own party and alliance if she does not move to restore the secular Constitution that her father
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman put in place and try the "war criminals" of 1971.

The Bangladesh Left in Hasina's 14-party alliance has cried foul over the retention of Islam as the state religion, with
Communist Party secretary Mujahid-ul-Islam Selim alleging that Bangladesh was fast becoming a "half-Pakistan". Some Awami League leaders like former industry minister Tofail Ahmed and planning minister A K Khandkhar have supported the sector commanders' decision to launch protest action if the 1972 Constitution was not restored. "If the BNP can hit the streets, so can we and more effectively," said filmmaker Nasiruddin Yusuf.

Yusuf suggested a strike to push the agenda and was supported by the likes of leading anti-fundamentalist campaigner Shahriar Kabir, who insists that Hasina has no right to betray the "spirit of 1971" for which three million Bengalis died. He says that, without the 1972 Constitution, Bangladesh will become another 'failed state' like
Pakistan. Others have even called for a "second liberation war".

So, after just over two years of Awami League rule, Bangladesh appears to have returned to the politics of confrontation, which worries business and citizens alike.

The writer is a senior journalist.








Coming on the back of mega-hits like Wanted and Dabangg, Bollywood star Salman Khan's latest release Ready has set cash registers ringing. Clearly, Khan starrers work box-office magic. But such formulaic Bollywood fare - involving romance, song-and-dance routines and action scenes with their mandatory baring of brawn - has often been panned by film critics. Expectedly, Ready has faced its share of flak. This once again highlights a seeming disconnect between the expectations of the paying public and those of film appraisers who apply high aesthetic standards to cinema. Only, is the erecting of a divide between so-called 'high' and 'low' art at all necessary?

Surely popular cinema can coexist with art films without having to apologise for it. The defining marker of market-driven societies is not just what sells; it's also room to accommodate everybody's tastes and demands. If Bollywood masala has its takers, artistically made niche films have their enthusiasts. Both audiences are legitimate consumers of diverse cultural products. This holds as true for books and music: there'll be takers for pulp fiction or pop just as for literary classics or classical music. There can be no uniformity in cultural consumption in democratic systems, simply because tastes can't be dictated. Telling people what's 'good' or 'bad' art has risks, because it can even justify elitism or authoritarian promotion of 'official art'.

Besides, many commercial films qualify as 'good' art: consider the acclaimed Sholay or Deewar. More recently, as works like Khakee or Rang De Basanti show, mainstream Bollywood has taken on high production values: its films are slickly made, technically impressive and have offbeat storylines. Meanwhile, art cinema veterans like Shyam Benegal or the younger crop of experimental filmmakers are seeking commercial success - and getting it. Distinctions between low quality 'entertainers' and high quality 'art' are, therefore, increasingly being called into question. That too is thanks to the consumer.







Another summer, another spate of lowbrow entertainment at its best - or worst, depending on your perspective. Predictably, Salman Khan, the king of the front-benchers, is leading the charge. But Ready, the follow-up to the insanely successful Dabangg, is just the opening salvo. Over the next few months, there will be a steady procession of mass-produced mediocrities through theatres around the country. Some will flop, others will recover costs and a few, sadly, will do well enough to keep filmmakers interested in the hunt for the next superhit. And in the process, genuinely good cinema will be pushed further to the margins and discerning movie-goers sidelined.

It has been a steady downward trend since the eighties, perhaps the single worst decade for Indian cinema as far as general quality of movies produced goes. There has been a faint upswing since then, but art cinema as it used to be is all but dead. Critics - the few who dare to go beyond rubber-stamping the next blockbuster - are a spent force. Despite the put upon attitude of the average moviegoer who complains about the critics' elitism, the reality is quite the opposite. That particular battle is long over, and it is popular taste that won, more's the pity.

Because the fact is that art cinema served a critical cultural function. It spoke of economic, social and cultural truths that still dominate in the vast majority of the country - truths entirely ignored by popular cinema that sells a glossy version of urban life as an Indian reality. Letting the market decide the kind of movies that will be made is well and good, but when it results in the lowest common denominator coming to dominate an art form, the flaws in that particular logic begin to show. What we are seeing right now is the equivalent of literary fiction being dismantled in favour of graphic novels.








If it is Shah Rukh Khan telling you something, you'd better pay attention! If he mocked you for using a women's fairness cream despite being a man, what would you do? You'd dash straight to the nearest kirana store or department store and grab the 'For men' fairness cream. Because SRK says that a man's skin is different from a woman's skin and needs a different cream.

Not all that long ago, we seemed to do quite well with the same bar of soap for the whole family, the same economy-sized vats of face creams, shampoos, deodorants etc. The only divide that i remember was in shampoos, and that was regarding the hair-types - egg for undernourished, pink for oily and so forth. And maybe the famous brand which produced cosmetics for babies. No longer, though. 'New research' tells us through ads that men and women are different and their needs gender-specific. So they need different things for their skin, their hair, their teeth - wait, not teeth. They haven't researched that far yet, but the day may not be far off when we find that women have far more delicate teeth and should hence be using a special toothpaste!

After educating us on gender, the producers of these goods looked around and discovered that families consisted of not just men and women; they had people in different age groups too. Bingo! So, they asked us how we could think of giving our cute toddlers baths with big, bad bars of soap? The injustice of it! And out came their own teddy-shaped, strawberry flavoured soaps. Yes, pink for girls and blue for boys, spilling off shelves in all their vibrant, irresistible colours and fragrances. And they told us that kids needed their special Barbie deodorants, soft, more malleable toothbrushes and, yes, that detergent which takes off all stains like magic.

Did they stop there? No, considerate souls that they are, how could they neglect the parents? Their health is paramount, they shook a finger at us. Sharing the kids' Horlicks or Bournvita is just not good enough for them; hadn't we heard of the one which is meant for their age group? The magic mix which keeps them young but not so young that they could share their kids' health drink? Go get it, pronto!

Kids, tick. Kids versus parents, tick. Now, how to divide further? Parents means mothers and fathers i.e. once again men versus women. Bingo again! So how could they let men and women have the same cereal? Just like TV serials - as Ekta Kapoor knows so well - have to be made keeping in mind women viewers with the right doses of emotion and intrigue, cereals, apparently, also have to be tailor-made. Taking a page out of the lady's book, cereal makers have now launched a breakfast serial - oops, cereal - for women. God help the men who take it by mistake; they'd be as unable to digest it. And if they do digest it, they may lose oodles of weight and come out curvy and smiling, fitting into their before-marriage trousers with ease. While a lesser mortal may think that it is not such a bad idea to lose that paunch, our guides up there smile benignly at our naivete and tell us that wanting to lose weight is a woman's prerogative.

Separating men from women, kids from elders, they look for further divisions and find the in-betweeners. How to distinguish men from boys? While you may be thinking of a hundred things, what do our friends, philosophers and guides come up with? A cell phone. And yes, the phonewala beams confidingly, sales have shot up as all the little ones are in a hurry to become dashing men. Mission accomplished!








While it's namesake still proliferates throughout the country no matter what kind of agitation against corruption you may be up to, the Great Indian Bustard has now been officially recognised as being 'critically endangered'.

This kind of bustard, the maldhok, was once found in large numbers in the arid and semi-arid areas of western India and eastern Pakistan. The rise of irrigated areas due to farming have seen the number of Great Indian Bustards dwindling over the decades. Now, with some 250 of these birds left, they are facing extinction.

There is an irony in the fact that a perfectly harmless species is vanishing while the welfare of people increases with more irrigated land. One would have been much more comfortable if the bustards had been a burden on human society. Instead, the large ostrich-looking bustard, among the heaviest of the flying birds, are already looking like they're on their way to become as dead as the dodo, which became extinct around 1693.

But unlike the extinction of the dodo, the Great Indian Bustard won't disappear thanks to it being over-eaten - although its flesh was relished in the past, Emperor Babur having a fondness for it. The rapid shrinking in the population - there were about 1,000 bustards in 2008 - is because of habitat loss, and with past attempts to breed them in captivity failing.

So there is really only one way to save them: send all the 250-odd bustards off to a dry grassland area or scrub region where water and irrigation - in other words, farmers and their farming - won't ever interfere with them. The battle between farmers and bustards, perhaps, has bigger consequences than the one being fought between farmers and the government over industrialisation.

One would do well to remember that the bird was once a strong candidate to being anointed India's national bird. It lost to the peacock for various reasons. But as you may have figured out by now, one of the strongest reasons for it not making the grade was the fear of it being misspelt and children shouting out its name.

Once again, it seems like it's getting a raw deal. Poor bustard.




Over the years, land acquisition has become a dirty term in India. In the coming days, it will only become more controversial unless the Centre and the states learn the art of persuasion and honestly work out deals acceptable to both the land losers and the land acquirers.

Simply by using the archaic principle of 'eminent domain' to forcibly acquire land will only exacerbate the already tense situation that many parts of the country are witnessing today.

It will also lead to the hardening of stances as is happening in Orissa where people, children included, are physically blocking the land meant for the Rs 54,000-crore integrated steel plant and captive port by South Korea's Pohang Steel Company (Posco).

The Posco case is a classic example of how land acquisition should not be done and could be a guide for investors planning to set up projects on fertile farmlands that provide livelihood options to thousands.

The Posco project has been controversial from the start with many economists and environmentalists questioning the deal. It was only recently that the project got conditional approvals from the central ministry of environment and forests, even though three members of a committee set up by the ministry found irregularities in the manner in which approvals were granted, thereby recommending a withdrawal of approvals.

Evidently, there's truth in accusations made by the protesters. But instead of negotiating and trying to sell them the idea, the Orissa government has taken a belligerent stance. While it said that it did not want to use force for acquiring the land, the state deployed armed police, threatening the protesters with bullets, tear gas and lathi-charges.

In a democratic set- up, such intimidation - however beneficial the project may be for the country or even the protesting people - cannot be a tool to push ideas being opposed overwhelmingly by the affected people. Nandigram in West Bengal was not an anomaly.

But the Posco story is not only about the Orissa government's high-handedness. It is also about politics. Months after giving conditional approvals to the project, environment minister Jairam Ramesh is now lecturing Naveen Patnaik's BJD government against "forcible acquisition of land".

You can't get more confusing than this. It was his ministry that set the ball rolling by giving the clearances. Surely, the minister didn't think that the state would be doing nothing after getting the green signal?

Unfortunately, this kind of confusion - and petty politicking - has become the leitmotif of India's land acquisition process. Minus a law that sets the ground rules for engagement between a buyer and a seller, every protest becomes a hostage to negative politics.






Bizarre developments have taken place in the past fortnight. More appear to be in store. Baba Ramdev's hunger strike in Dehradun has finally ended. This came after the condemnable midnight police swoop at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan, which was the culmination of a series of deceitful compromises that the UPA government had made with this yoga proponent.

The large public participation in such protests against corruption in high places and the government's completely inadequate, widely perceived as insincere, response in unearthing ill-gotten black money stashed away in tax havens abroad is a reflection of widespread popular disgust at the rampant corruption all around.

However, the ongoing controversies between the government and 'chosen' civil society representatives around the lokpal bill seem to suggest that little has moved forward over the decades.

The concept of the lokpal was first mooted by an Administrative Reforms Committee headed by late Morarji Desai in 1969. This institution was to be established along with similar institutions at the state-level called the lokayuktas.

The concept was revived in the 1990s at the insistence of the Left parties, following the political turmoil that gripped the country in the aftermath of the Bofors scandal. The United Front, formed in 1996 with the crucial outside support of the Left parties, had drafted and adopted a Common Minimum Programme (CMP).

Under the section 'clean administration', the CMP stated: "The United Front is committed to a corruption-free and clean administration. A bill to set up the lokpal will be introduced in the first budget session of the Eleventh Lok Sabha. The bill will cover the office of the prime minister as well. All members of Parliament will be required by law to declare their assets annually before the lokpal."

Mired in controversy on whether the Prime Minister and her office should be brought within the purview of the lokpal or not, the 1997 bill mooted by the United Front government, headed by HD Deve Gowda, never saw the light of the day. The six year BJP-led NDA government that followed from 1998, notwithstanding their current projection as fighters against corruption, sat tight on this issue.

On the Left's insistence, once again, the CMP of the UPA 1 government in 2004 reiterated the assurance that, "The lokpal bill will be enacted into law." This is the draft under contest today.

Apart from the range of the lokpal's ambit on the question of including the prime minister, there are many other contentious issues. There are questions on whether to include the judiciary, or, the conduct of MPs inside Parliament.

Specific articles of our Constitution protect civil servants from being dismissed or removed by any authority subordinate to the appointing authority. Should these provisions of the Constitution be amended? Will the lokpal, single-member or multi-member, exercise all quasi judicial powers? If so, what will be the status or need for institutions like the Central Vigilance Commission or the Central Bureau of Investigation?

A process of consultations has been initiated by the central government. In the final analysis, it must be borne in mind that in our constitutional scheme of things, irrespective of consultations, whatever may be their level, Parliament alone is the lawmaking authority.

This can't be hijacked by 'yogasanas' or civil society 'hunger strikes'. Required attention must also be paid to certain other matters.

An effective struggle against corruption in high places needs a multi-pronged approach. Lokpal alone will not meet this requirement. While the institution of lokpal should be established covering the PM, simultaneously, other measures will also have to be initiated.

One is the establishment of a National Judicial Commission. Apart from determining the appointment of judges and other senior judicial officers, this commission must also be vested with the authority to probe matters of alleged misconduct by members of the judiciary. The current constitutional procedure of moving an impeachment motion in Parliament is so cumbersome that it has virtually ceased to serve as the required deterrent.

Simultaneously, meaningful and substantial electoral reforms must be initiated to check, if not curb, the growing use of money power that is distorting our democratic choices very grievously. Some degree of State funding of elections in kind, needs to be considered. This has been discussed in the past, but there has been no substantive forward movement.

If corruption at high places needs to be addressed in right earnest then all corporate funding of political parties should be banned. This is an important root cause for political corruption as such funding is seen more as an investment by corporates for potential dubious deals.

The corporates must surely be made to contribute towards strengthening the democratic system in our country. Their contributions may go into a corpus maintained by the Election Commission, or any other institution that the government may decide, to finance State funding of elections.

The simultaneous establishment of such institutions to take care of all these dimensions is absolutely essential to curb corruption at high places. Any piecemeal attempt to tackle only one dimension, however lucrative the desire for a lokpal may appear for the sake of publicity, will not provide the desired result.

If the humongous amounts looted through the various scams in the recent past were instead used to provide food security, health and education for our people, India would have been qualitatively different. Fighting corruption, hence, is necessary for the creation of a better India, materially and morally.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal





One evening in 1995, an Italian named Maria Sebregondi was reading The Songlines by travel writer Bruce Chatwin. In the book, Chatwin laments the disappearance of a hardcover notebook, bound in oilcloth, called a moleskine.

Each time Chatwin returned to Paris, he would pick up a fresh supply from his favorite stationers.

"The pages were squared and the end-papers held in places with an elastic band," he writes.

"I wrote my name and address on the front page, offering a reward to the finder. To lose a passport was the least of one's worries; to lose a notebook was a catastrophe."

But the moleskines were becoming scarce.

"I'd like to order a hundred," Chatwin says to the seller.

"A hundred will last me a lifetime."

The bookseller tells Chatwin that the manufacturer had died and his heirs sold the business.

"She removed her spectacles and, almost with an air of mourning, said, 'Le vrai moleskine n'est plus.'"

As it turns out, Chatwin wasn't the only noteworthy moleskine devotee. Sebregondi discovered that a great many artists and writers associated with the 20th-century avant-garde had used moleskines for drawing or writing. Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Andre Breton - all had moleskines as sketchbooks and journals.

"Here was a story steeped in culture," she says, "rich in imagination and tied to a grand historical tradition. So why not bring it back to life?"

Sebregondi brought her idea to Modo & Modo, a small Milanese stationery company. The firm's founder was deeply impressed. Modo & Modo trademarked the brand and located a Chinese manufacturer capable of stitching together and assembling the books to their detailed specifications.

The first Moleskines arrived to be hand-finished in Milan in 1997, and the firm sold 5,000 of them to Italian distributors. By the next year, the number ballooned to 30,000.

In 1999, the company expanded across Europe and sales took off. Moleskines can now be found in 61 different countries. Modo & Modo, which was bought by an investment fund in 2006 for €60 million, has also diversified to produce diaries, guides, and lavish limited-edition Moleskines.

A good deal of the Moleskine's success, Sebregondi believes, is tied to the modern-day phenomenon of culture-worshiping nomads who want an attractive writing accessory to bring with them on their Lonely Planet travels. It's these consumers who first evangelised about the Moleskine notebooks online, starting in the early 2000s.

"There were all these different groups of people talking excitedly" about the Moleskines, says Sebregondi.

"Many of them were young people working with computers and information technology. It was as if they were rediscovering the pleasure of direct experience, of going around writing things down by hand."

One of the most popular fan websites,, was started by photographer Armand Frasco. He booked the domain name in 2004, after a cursory Google search revealed many people were just as mad about Moleskines as he was.

Within weeks, attracted 5,000 visitors a day from all over the world. Since then, Chinese fans have set up while Japanese can go to; fan sites are mushrooming everywhere the notebooks are sold.

Then there are the dozens of blogs and more than 50 Facebook groups, all dedicated to the love of Moleskine. Despite spending next to nothing on traditional marketing, Moleskine now sells around 10 million of its notebooks every year.

That's enough to last contemporary travel writers a hundred thousand lifetimes. Chatwin would surely be envious.

James Harkin is the author of Niche: Why the Market No Longer Favours the Mainstream (c) Newsweek 2011. The views expressed by the author are personal




His dark (reading) materials

Former telecom minister A Raja, who's cooling his heels inside Tihar, sought permission from the director general, prisons, to visit the jail's library. He even 'requested' that at least three Tamil newspapers are supplied to him everyday so that he could keep track of what's happening back home in Tamil Nadu and how the DMK's faring under Jayalalithaa rule. At night, Raja is particular about watching English news on TV. Nope, he's not in the mood to watch Kalaignar TV, the channel he helped launch in three months and which landed everyone, including Kanimozhi, in trouble.

The sants come marching in

With sadhus and sants coming out of the woodwork and political parties coming out of their cubbyholes to woo them, the Congress, too, doesn't want to be left behind. Clusters of babajis were seen at 24, Akbar Road since Ramdev grabbed the headlines. Baba Hathyogi, spokesman of the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, a known critic of Ramdev, met several senior Congress functionaries last week. This left many guessing if the Congress is planning to counter the yoga instructor with a party-sanctioned baba. Let the clash of the akharas begin.

The next foreign hand

Hectic lobbying for the post of foreign secretary has entered the final phase. All signs suggest that Indian ambassador to France Ranjan Mathai will succeed Nirupama Rao. Hardeep Puri, India's permanent representative to the United Nations, was in town recently to meet the powers-that-be. So his name is in the hat. While both Mathai and Puri belong to the batch of 1974, Sarat Sabharwal, a 1975 batch officer and India's high commissioner to Pakistan, is also making a bid. May the yes man win.

Murli makes a comeback

Murli Manohar Joshi's stock in the BJP is on the rise again ever since he became Parliament's public accounts committee (PAC) chief looking into the 2G scam. He's shown that at 77, he can still get tough on the issue against the UPA government.  Joshi finds himself being roped in to help out his party in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In the latter state, BJP chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank wants him to undertake an 'antyodaya vikas yatra'. Advani, however, isn't too happy with the affairs in the BJP. He's upset that he is being only 'informed', not 'consulted'. Case in point: the BJP's agitation against the government at Rajghat was announced even before Advani approved of it.

Will he, won't he?

It's no secret that BJP deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde and party chief Nitin Gadkari have no love lost between them. With his men in Maharashtra losing out to Gadkari's team in getting many party posts, Munde is threatening to quit the BJP. Earlier, he had talked of teaming up with NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal to form an OBC party. This time, Munde's friend and Union rural development minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has talked to him and made him meet Pranab Mukherjee. LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj are taking Munde's threat seriously. Gadkari thinks he's bluffing.

Chomping on challenges

Union food minister KV Thomas is on a high. No, it's not because he's been fasting but because he's been busy scuttling proposals of his old boss, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. Most of Thomas' decisions have found favour with the government. His rejection of a farm ministry proposal to export wheat, for instance, as well the increase of the export price of a common onion variety despite no apparent shortage. Though food costs aren't quite down, the government believes it is now more in control in dealing with them with a Congressman at the helm of the food ministry.




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

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

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

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






Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was simply stating the obvious on Sunday when he said, "Parliament is supreme." Neither did he depart from a common understanding of the scheme of things under our Constitution when he clarified that it is Parliament's right to decide on legislation and nobody else can presume to lay down deadlines for bills to be passed. Yet, such had been the abdication of argument by the Central government, when it caved in to passive-aggressive blackmail tactics by Anna Hazare in April to constitute a joint committee of ministers and "civil society" nominees to draft the Lokpal bill, that his press conference appeared rather radical. The government took its while to join the argument, but it is good that it has finally taken the initiative.

As the clock winds down towards the monsoon session of Parliament, the Hazare group is upping its contempt for representational democracy. Hazare wants the bill, presumably his exact version too, passed by August 15, or else. The outlandishness of the demand is staggering, privileging the whims of five men over the sovereignty of a legislature that draws its legitimacy from the votes of hundreds of millions of Indians. This point has been made often enough, and most resoundingly and coherently in responses by opposition parties — from the BSP to the BJD, the BJP to the CPM. When asked by Mukherjee, in his capacity as chair of the drafting committee, about their views on aspects of the bill, they reminded him about the central role of Parliament in law-making. Draft the bill, they said almost unanimously, table it, and let the processes of the House take over. As they must. The government erred in allowing a joint drafting committee in the first place; the peace won after the

carnival at Jantar Mantar could never have been sustained, for what Hazare wants is beyond any government to legitimately dictate to Parliament. There is only so far the government could have gone in placating the Hazare team.

Yet, the submission has taken a toll on the government's credibility. That credibility cannot be wrested back by personally taking on the "civil society" activists. It can only be won through argument and reasoned debate — on how the government proposes to address the issues of corruption that are fuelling a substantial alienation. Addressing apprehensions about the government's commitment to institutional propriety would be integral to that.






The drift in UPA 2 has become palpable politically, causing it to transform into a sluggish, slow-moving target for popular anger. The strange stasis into which UPA 2 has plunged itself extends to its inability to get moving on crucial policy and staffing decisions.

The dilution of responsibility that has come with the Group-of-Ministers culture the government has promoted tends to, of course, reduce the incentive for any one ministry to get its work done. But it also appears that few ministers take GoMs seriously enough to ensure they meet on time, and get their scheduled work done. The Cairn-Vedanta deal was held up by a GoM that agonised over a decision — and, even though it has finally met and come up with recommendations, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs still has to discuss it. Meanwhile, the GoM on coal production met for nearly two hours, failed to come to a discussion and postponed meeting again all the way to next month. The question of coal availability has become urgent; because of a shortage of coal, new power plants are operating at only 42 per cent efficiency, and the power-generation industry has repeatedly warned that plants have practically no coal stock in hand. Action cannot be postponed inevitably, as the GoM seems bent on doing. Meanwhile, the empowered GoM on fuel prices has postponed its meeting from May 11, and the government continues to duck out of rationalising fuel pricing. It has not met since June last year.

In the midst of this, important shoes are going unfilled. India's most profitable company, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, still doesn't have a permanent chairman, a state of affairs that's continued for months. The post of chief of India's Integrated Defence Staff lies vacant. And, of course, there still isn't a replacement for P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner. Yes, it's hot in Delhi. But the Union government cannot go on a summer holiday. Besides, this is no seasonal affliction for the UPA, but a terminal illness. It must cure itself of its inability or unwillingness to take decisions, and fast.






Jisr al-Shughour has been retaken by the Syrian army, amidst heavy fighting, and in the aftermath of the killing of 120 security personnel, identities and circumstances of whose deaths are not quite clear. Were they gunned down because they refused to fire on civilians, or because they were about to open fire on protesters? Meanwhile, thousands have fled across the border to neighbouring Turkey from this "rebellious" northern town with a history of invoking the wrath of the ruling family. In 1980, a rebellion against Hafez al-Assad, current President Bashar al-Assad's father, was brutally crushed. The emptied town is the latest to be silenced in a crackdown that has already quietened cities like Deraa and Homs, which were spearheading the protests that began in mid-March.

Has the Arab Spring turned into an unseasonal winter in Syria? As in other Arab states, for decades, Syrians have put up with political repression, corruption and economic hardship. Bashar promised reforms, but did little. The regime continued jailing its enemies, choking the media and persisting with the emergency law in place since 1963. The protests had initially called for greater freedom, jobs and an end to corruption, but increasingly demanded Bashar's ouster. On April 21, Bashar lifted the emergency, but immediately resorted to force. The result has been an estimated 1,200 deaths, thousands more refugees and a humanitarian crisis.

There is widespread anxiety about Syria descending into Iraq-like chaos, because of its sectarian mosaic. The ruling family, the elite and most of the military belong to the formerly oppressed Alawite minority; the rebelling towns to the vast Sunni majority. Even the staunchest critics of Bashar fear a free-for-all. The international community has almost no sway over Damascus.

Between his old ally Tehran and newfound "friend" Ankara, it's the re-elected Turkish PM who must keep trying to disillusion Bashar. An exploding Syria, unlike Libya, can destabilise the whole region.








Civil society" has dominated popular discussion for the last few months. It may be hard to recall how rare the use of the term was only some years back. In 2002, when I published a book analysing the role of civil society in preventing, dampening or inciting communal riots, I was asked in a television interview whether I was overstating the power of civil society vis-à-vis the state. And in an interview with a Hindi journalist emerged the inimitably phrased query, "Yeh civil society kya cheez hai?"

From the cloistered walls of academia, the term has now fully penetrated our everyday discourse, thanks to Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. Those working at the local level, sensitive to movement politics, or familiar with the history of Gandhian modes of political conduct, had always known the potency of civil society organisations. But, arguably, at no time in India's post-1947 history has the storm caused by civil society been so evidently noticeable. JP's movement was undoubtedly more powerful, but no one used the term "civil society" at that time.

When a term acquires popular currency and power, we need to be more careful about what it stands for and how we should formulate our responses to the actual phenomenon it represents. Terminological precision is routinely craved in universities. The case for such precision is perhaps greater when the stakes are so high in the "real world".

So what is civil society? Is the distinction between civil society and political society, so often drawn, sustainable?

Hazare and Ramdev both claim to be non-political. In some intellectual circles, too, it is customary to draw the distinction between civil and political society. But this distinction is deeply implausible. It is premised upon equating politics with elections. It also implies, or openly suggests, that civil society, a middle-class phenomenon, is governed by laws; and political society, driven by elections and mass politics, is deeply compromised in patron-client deals and riddled with corruption. Civil society is virtuous; political society lacks morality.

The first problem with this formulation is that the middle-class also violates the laws. Middle-class associations and NGOs, not simply the political parties, can be dens of corruption and unaccountability.

Second, politics is not only about elections. It is also about values, visions, issues that shape political consciousness. Some of these values and issues, of course, can determine election results. Of late, I have been travelling in Tamil Nadu. While I don't have statistics to clinch the point, my overwhelming impression is that corruption had a lot to do with the DMK's massive election defeat. But politics does not have to be about elections only.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that the current leaders of civil society will not run for elections tomorrow. India has a remarkable history of such transitions. The Congress after the rise of Gandhi in 1920 became a movement, but it also participated in elections: provincial elections in 1937 and municipal elections before that. The Self-Respect Movement in Madras Presidency led to the rise of Dravidian political parties. After an enormously popular peasant movement in the 1980s, Sharad Joshi and his Shetkari Sanghatana ran for office (though unsuccessfully). Whether or not the Bhushans will be candidates in elections, can we be sure that Baba Ramdev will not be? Movement politics has often seamlessly morphed into election politics in the past, and might well again.

The distinction between civil and political society, thus, does not make sense. They are deeply intertwined. A more precise definition of civil society has to do with its relationship with the state. Civil society is not necessarily non-political, but it inhabits the non-state space of our life. It deploys any political means it can get to pressure the state to achieve its goals, but it is not part of the state. Indeed, the classic definition of civil society is that it is the organisational space between the family on one hand and the state on the other. In this space can exist social organisations such as Lions and Rotary Clubs, festival organisations, soccer and cricket leagues, yoga ashrams and bird-watching societies — some of which can also be used politically. But trade unions and social movements, too, are part of civil society, and they are, more often than not, explicitly political.

It is this customary and deeper understanding of civil society that has been violated by Hazare's movement. Hazare and four others are formally part of the government committee that is to draft the Lokpal bill. That is not what civil society does. Civil society can agitate for a particular kind of law, and obstruct or promote its implementation, but civil society does not make laws. In a parliamentary democracy, the power to legislate and make laws belongs to the elected executive and legislature. Even the judiciary cannot make laws. It can judge the constitutionality of laws, exercise oversight, or push governments to make laws. But only the elected can make laws in a democracy.

This criticism can also be levelled at the National Advisory Council (NAC). It has drafted legislation on a whole range of matters: communal violence, food security, right to information, rural employment guarantee, etc. The current NAC document on communal violence is not a statement of principles and priorities — which is what civil society does. It is a detailed legal draft of a possible legislation.

Unlike Hazare, the NAC can certainly claim that it is not part of a government committee, only a council advising the leader of the Congress party. But given the rather unique system the UPA has developed, in which the prime minister is neither a professional politician nor directly elected, this argument effectively breaks down. On Hindu personal law, prime minister Nehru could take on Congress president Purushottam Das Tandon in the 1950s, ultimately forcing Tandon out. His enormous personal probity notwithstanding, Manmohan Singh simply does not have the political stature to rise against Sonia Gandhi.

At the heart of the current political impasse in Delhi lies a paradox. Without the awful decline in the legitimacy of elected politicians, brought about by corruption, civil society would not have become so powerful. But, equally, whatever the faults of India's elected politicians, a democratic system cannot give so much power to civil society without hurting itself.

Let civil society agitate and even persuade the electorate to throw out a government that is corrupt. But law-making is strictly a function of the elected wings of the polity. If we undermine that, we attack the basic principles of a democratic political system. A movement sponsored by civil society is democratic; law-making by civil society is not.

Starting July 1, the writer will be Sol Goldman Charitable Trust Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences and Director, India Initiative, at Brown University; he is also VKRV Rao Visiting Professor at the Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore







Nepal's peace and constitution-drafting process has suffered several setbacks, but now the fear that it could get derailed has increased manifold. Although the tenure of the Constituent Assembly has been extended by three more months from May 28, the people are coming out openly against the current political dispensation controlled by the three major parties, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML).

It is a recent decision by the anti-graft body, the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Authority (CIAA), which has injected a sense of mass fury against the big parties. The CIAA report has absolved politicians and implicated over 30 police personnel in a corruption case involving the purchase of armed personnel carriers (APCs) for the Nepal police posted in the UN Mission in Darfur. This has infuriated the public which now calls the CIAA a tool in the hands of politicians. Family members of the implicated police officers too have come out against what they call a biased report — they have asked police chiefs, present and past, to spill the beans and name the politicians who have taken kickbacks in what is now known as the Darfur scam.

The decision to purchase the APCs was taken when G.P. Koirala was the prime minister and his trusted aide K.P. Sitaula the home minister. The payment of 450 million Nepali rupees to the supplier, a British firm, in five instalments was extended over a period of three years from July 2007. That period saw two prime ministers — Prachanda and Madhav Nepal — and their home ministers come and go. The UN office in Darfur kept warning the Nepal government that the equipment supplied by the British firm was substandard.

The issue was not only raised by the Nepal media, but also discussed in the state affairs committee of parliament. The panel sent a group of its members to Darfur to investigate the issue. It reported that apart from top police officers, the home ministry and the political leadership must be held accountable, morally and administratively, for the scam. The CIAA refused to take cognizance of that report and absolved the government. The question being asked is: could the police have taken an independent decision on a purchase of that scale?

Since 2006, when the parliament assumed total legislative powers, power has been in the hands of the three big political parties. While they consolidated their grip on state funds, transparency and accountability in governance suffered. These were overlooked as the country went through a tough transitional phase and political parties got entrusted with the significant job of completing the peace process and drafting a new constitution.

Now, with the deadline missed and allegations of corruption on the rise, the people suspect that their new rulers are using the unduly prolonged transition to continue in power and plunder state funds and resources.

Over the past five years, development funds have been reportedly funnelled to political parties to hold their annual conferences. Major appointments in constitutional bodies and diplomatic missions have been taken over by the big three parties. Moreover, militant youth organisations like the Young Communist League and the Youth Force, affiliated to the UCPN-M and the CPN-UML respectively, decisively influence the award of major construction bids and contracts. They allegedly take a huge cut which ultimately reaches the party coffers.

Incidentally, the CIAA chargesheet in the Darfur scam came at a time when anti-corruption voices were gaining pitch in neighbouring India. The response they generated was keenly watched and acknowledged in Nepal. The CIAA report has directed the people's anger against political parties for the first time in the past five years.

There is more to that rage. The people are realising the shortcomings in the peace and constitution-making process. Mohan Baidhya, the Maoist vice-chairman, has rebelled against party chief Prachanda's move to send combatants, who are attached to senior Maoist leaders, to designated cantonments and have their arms deposited there. Parties like the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML assert that a constitution cannot be drafted and delivered as long as the Maoists have their private army and arms.

As the people worry if the parties simply want more immunity and privileges than even the king ever exercised, the anti-corruption movement is likely to snowball into a major political upheaval.







Martin Scorsese, who made Gangs Of New York, could plan a sequel on Mumbai.

Up until now, it was widely perceived that politicians/realtors and the underworld are two sides of the same coin. However, the recent developments in Mumbai have proved that thesis wrong. It appears, now, that they all are on the same side. Senior journalist J. Dey's killing is yet another example.

The huge stakes in the real estate sector, and its politicisation, have made the situation in Mumbai practically irreparable. Of course, the city, like any other megalopolis, always had its own underworld. The Haji Mastans and the Yusuf Patels ruled the city in the 1970s. They had their pockets of influence; the man on the street was hardly affected by their antics. That began to change with the crumbling of Mumbai's famous textile industry in the 1980s. Many studies have established a link between the rise of Mumbai's Bhai culture to the death of the city's once-thriving industrial subculture. It was not just the job losses that forced many a young man to the underworld; the availability of large swathes of land, which were thrown open for development after the closure of mills transformed participation in the underworld into a lucrative trade.

Politicians entered the ring at this point. Local corporators, who serve the cash-rich Mumbai municipal corporations, came into the picture. Many of them became pointsmen for real estate players; and, with the growth of the sector, they too grew politically. It's no surprise that many of the state's politicians now have either their own real estate business or work for one. The situation the state finds itself in is directly linked to the politicisation of the real estate sector. Until then politicians were seen using builders. Later builders started using politicians.

The opportunity to make quick megabucks came after 2005 when the state government decided to open the redevelopment of large slums and dilapidated buildings in Mumbai. According to industry estimates, over Rs 1 lakh crore is at stake in Mumbai's rickety buildings. To make it attractive for the sector, the state coined a concept called transfer of development rights or the TDR. Simply put, builders were allowed to use floor-space-index in other areas in lieu of their "social service" of building houses for the urban poor. But its possibilites have not been fully realised, as it became one of the biggest rackets in Mantralaya's corridors of power. Add to it another Rs 65,000 crore that's required to strengthen the city infrastructure by building flyovers and sea links. Without any regulation of the real-estate sector, it all makes for an explosive cocktail.

The unceremonious exit of the former chief minister Ashok Chavan in 2010 brought to the fore the might of the builders. The Adarsh scam, which forced Chavan's exit, followed a dispute between two giant real-estate interests in Mumbai. Chavan was believed to be favouring a certain group which was eyeing a large redevelopment project in the city suburbs; and in the end, he lost the job.

It was all expected to change with the arrival of "Mr Clean" Prithviraj Chavan. Chavan undoubtedly is one of the cleanest chief ministers the state has had. With no stakes in the state's powerful sugar lobby or in the city's real-estate sector, he was always unwelcome to these lobbies.

But individual integrity doesn't guarantee good governance, the CM might have realised by now. There have been consistent efforts to dislodge and discredit the chief minister who has become a thorn in the flesh for many. It has led to the divide in the state administration. The current lawlessness is a direct fall out of a tug-of-war between various factions of the government.

Chavan has a daunting task ahead. J. Dey's brutal killing last Saturday is a clear indication that the underworld is ready to bare its fangs, irrespective of Chavan's squeaky clean image. His murder in broad daylight is not only a threat to Mumbai's journalistic fraternity, it shows that the babu-builder-bhai nexus is all set to undermine the very foundation of Maharashtra's political edifice.

The writer is Executive Editor,' Loksatta'








The United Kingdom's new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Sedwill, was in Delhi last week. Sedwill, who was earlier the British Ambassador to Afghanistan, was in Pakistan two weeks ago for a similar visit. He spoke to Pranab Dhal Samanta and Manu Pubby:

There have been fresh efforts to reach out to top Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. Are we reaching a point of meaningful talks and how do you address Indian concerns?

There are channels of communication being explored. But I don't think any of this has reached the point of being substantive talks of any kind. To reconcile what President Karzai calls his disaffected compatriots has to be a settlement that Afghanistan works out itself. This outreach to the senior leaders is still in the very early stages. And we don't know how serious they are, whether they really want to accept the offer that President Karzai has made to them or whether actually they seek to gain in tactical terms.

Are other countries also involved in this outreach to the Taliban leadership?

It is Afghan-led but that doesn't mean that others are not involved. Others are involved. All initiatives are with Afghan consent and on their behalf.

In the context of the intended drawdown of troops in Afghanistan by 2014, what kind of a role do you see Pakistan playing in the country? More so, when most terror groups are operating from Pakistan?

Our aim is to end our combat role by 2014. We want to continue a presence after that in a training and support role for the Afghan force. In terms of Pakistan, clearly they have a tremendous function. They have lost more people than any of us. We have to keep in mind the burden they are already tackling and the scale of threat they are dealing with. We will provide whatever support we can and whatever the Pakistanis are willing to accept. We have to understand that their capability to tackle all threats together is very severely stretched.

Given the current threat that Pakistan faces from within, do you think Pakistan has moved beyond the India factor?

It would be unrealistic to expect that Pakistan will ever move beyond the India factor. But interestingly when I was there 10 days ago I had long meetings with several Pakistani leaders. The foreign secretary, senior military officials and people on their national security apparatus. In terms of proportion of time spent talking on a range of subjects, we spent very little time talking about India. I think the leadership of Pakistan recognises that the immediate threat to Pakistan's stability lies within and comes from these militants.

Is this a recent trend?

No, I don't think so. If you look at the actions they have taken, they have withdrawn a substantial amount of troops from the India border, where they have been traditionally stationed, in order to be able to carry out their own counter-insurgency operations. Now, I don't know the exact number, but we are talking about substantial [figures]. Given the traditional tensions between the two countries, they would only do so if they are confident that the forces remaining are enough to deal with any threat. At the moment, the relationship between the two countries has been on a positive track so they feel that they can do so [reduce troops].

Prime Minister Singh was recently in Afghanistan and offered to expand the basket of assistance. How do you see India's role in Afghanistan, including getting involved in training security forces?

India plays a very positive role in Afghan. A big and very effective aid program has gone into significant parts of Afghan infrastructure. The political support that PM Manmohan Singh offered to Karzai on the Afghan reconciliation process was very important. On security, the Afghans also understand that his is a very delicate issue. So far Indian support has been focused on the police. Helping to create a professional police is a critical role. India's experience in policing a large, rural, uneducated and fragmented population is more relevant to Afghanistan than what other police forces of Europe or the US can bring in.

Lately, the emphasis has returned on improvement in Indo-Pak ties as a key driver to stability in Afghanistan? Does London perceive playing any role?

We don't want to be involved in that. Of course, we have a strategic interest in improving relations between India and Pakistan. My own view is that while, of course, better relations between India and Pakistan would have a dramatically stabilising impact on the whole region, including Afghanistan, we cannot allow our effort in Afghanistan to depend on that.






The Greek salad I ordered at a business lunch in the Netherlands near the German border two weeks ago was served up with a dilemma. "Are you sure you want to eat that? Look at the cucumbers," my Dutch dining companion pointed out, ominously. The outbreak of toxic E. coli in Germany is a reminder of the not-so-healthy underside of eating the West's purportedly healthiest foods: raw vegetables. As a consequence of choosing this healthy option at a meal in Hamburg last month, thousands of Europeans have been sickened, hundreds are in ICUs, and scores of unlucky diners have died.

Although German health authorities identified bean sprouts grown on a farm in Lower Saxony as the source of the outbreak, they have all along been pretty certain that the culprit was green and uncooked. Why? One primary piece of evidence cited by experts: The German victims are overwhelmingly female, exactly the demographic that eats salads.

Although most E. coli are utterly benign, outbreaks caused by the rarer toxic strains can be deadly, and are almost always caused by consuming vegetables or meat contaminated with the germ. Since heating kills E. coli, it is easy to protect against infection through meat by cooking the burger. In contrast, rinsing vegetables with water does not reliably wash away adherent bacteria.

Eating salad in the developing world is to rely on the sanitary vigilance of a long chain of farmers, harvesters, baggers, shippers, and markets to maintain vegetables free of harmful germs. Every forkful is an extraordinary vote of confidence in these food systems. But, as thousands discovered in Germany this month, one unlucky bite can prove this confidence is misplaced.

Across the developing world — where sanitary food systems are lacking or nonexistent — people avoid germs like E. coli by peeling fruit and eating only cooked vegetables. If you are determined to eat raw, you use the technique I learned during my years in China: Soak the produce in diluted dish soap or bleach for 20 minutes before rinsing and eating. (You don't taste the soap any more than you taste soap after you wash a glass.)

Sprouts, everywhere, are particularly vulnerable to bacterial contamination. They are raised from seeds that sometimes come from countries with less exacting sanitary inspections, which can themselves arrive infected with E. coli. They are sprouted in warm water — the perfect temperature for bacterial growth. Because of sprouts' risks, the United States Food and Drug Administration recommends that growers bathe their sprouts in a dilute chlorine solution and advises that children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating them raw.

Since E. coli live in the guts of mammals, farm animals and fresh vegetables are normally kept far apart to prevent contamination. Risk exists every time that separation breaks down — danger lurks, for example, when torrential rain falls on a cow pasture causing unusual runoff that might end up in a river used for irrigation. For this reason, large vegetable purchasers will reject produce from fields that have been recently flooded or where wildlife intrusions have occurred.

In theory, the risk of E. coli contamination is generally higher where organic material (like cow manure) is used as fertiliser — whether on small tracts of land in rural China or on an organic farm in Germany. The German authorities had been studying samples last week from an organic sprout farm to determine if it was the source of the outbreak.

Some scientists predict that food-borne E. coli outbreaks will become more frequent. On an increasingly crowded planet, suffering more severe and frequent storms, it will be ever harder to keep animal production and crop production totally separate, Dr Frankel said. Scientists in the United States and Europe are working to identify the risky junctures in the supply chain, noting recently, for example, that bacterial counts in refrigerated greens may rise before the leaves look tainted and that E. coli may be integrated into the fibre of some vegetables, making washing them ineffective against E. coli.

Reading such studies makes every bag of spinach begin to feel like a potential petri dish. But is that worth forsaking the pleasure and nutrition of raw vegetables? After a moment's hesitation in the Netherlands, I dug into my Greek salad — though I would not have done so in Hamburg, where until Friday the health authorities had advised against eating cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes as they sorted out the source of the outbreak.






There was a collective rolling of the eyes and a distinct sense of "Here we go again" among the women of the US Congress last week when yet another male politician, Representative Anthony D. Weiner, confessed his "terrible mistakes" and declared himself "deeply sorry for the pain" he had caused in sexual escapades so adolescent as to almost seem laughable. "I'm telling you," said Representative Candice Miller, "every time one of these sex scandals goes, we just look at each other, like, 'What is it with these guys? Don't they think they're going to get caught?' "

Ms Miller's question raises an intriguing point: Female politicians rarely get caught up in sex scandals. Women in elective office have not, for instance, blubbered about Argentine soul mates (see: Sanford, Mark); been captured on federal wiretaps arranging to meet high-priced call girls (Spitzer, Eliot); resigned in disgrace after their parents paid $96,000 to a paramour's spouse (Ensign, John)  or, as in the case of Mr. Weiner, blasted lewd self-portraits into cyberspace.

It would be easy to file this under the category of "men behaving badly," to dismiss it as a testosterone-induced, hard-wired connection between sex and power (powerful men attract women, powerful women repel men). And some might conclude that busy working women don't have time to cheat. ("While I'm at home changing diapers, I just couldn't conceive of it," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand once said.) But there may be something else at work: Research points to a substantial gender gap in the way women and men approach running for office. Women have different reasons for running, are more reluctant to do so and, because there are so few of them in politics, are acutely aware of the scrutiny they draw — all of which seems to lead to differences in the way they handle their jobs once elected.

"The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path."

Studies show that women are less likely to run for office; it is more difficult to recruit them, even when they have the same professional and educational qualifications as men. Men who run for office tend to look at people already elected "and say, 'I'm as good as that,' " said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. "Women hold themselves up to this hypothetical standard no candidate has ever achieved."

And so, despite great inroads made by women, US politics is still overwhelmingly a man's game. Data compiled by Rutgers shows women currently hold 16.6 per cent of the 535 seats in Congress and 23.5 per cent of the seats in state legislatures. There are 6 female governors; of the 100 big-city mayors, 8 are women.

Once elected, women feel pressure to work harder, said Kathryn Pearson, an expert on Congress at the University of Minnesota. Her studies of the House show women introduce more bills, participate more vigorously in key legislative debates and give more of the one-minute speeches that open each daily session. In 2005 and 2006, women averaged 14.9 one-minute speeches; men averaged 6.5.

"I have no hard evidence that women are less likely to engage in risky or somewhat stupid behaviour," Pearson said. "But women in Congress are still really in a situation where they have to prove themselves to their male colleagues and constituents. There's sort of this extra level of seriousness."

And voters demand it. Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist, says women politicians are punished more harshly than men for misbehavior. "When voters find out men have ethics and honesty issues, they say, 'Well, I expected that.' " Lake said. "When they find out it's a woman, they say, 'I thought she was better than that.' "

Of course, it is a big leap to suggest that voter expectations and an "extra level of seriousness" among women in public office translate into an absence of sexual peccadilloes. Helen Fisher of Rutgers said her studies on adultery show that, at least under the age of 40, women are equally as likely to engage in it as men. She theorises that perhaps women are simply more clever about not getting caught.

Female politicians are not immune to scandal in the sex department. Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor, was accused of adultery last year while running for office; she denied it, and was elected. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, the late Republican congresswoman from Idaho, once confessed to a six-year affair with a married man. Still, all of that seems tame compared to the recent string of spectacular Weiner-like implosions, and here in Washington and around the country last week, there was considerable speculation as to why.

Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary to Bill Clinton (who managed to survive his sex scandal) and the author of Why Women Should Rule the World, surmises that male politicians feel invincible. It would be impossible, she said, to imagine Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, doing anything like what Weiner did. "There are certain men that the more visible they get, the more bulletproof they feel," Ms. Myers said. "You just don't see women doing that; they don't get reckless when they're empowered."

Whatever the reason, it was perhaps no coincidence that it was a woman — Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz — who last week became the first Democrat to call on Mr. Weiner to resign. Schwartz is the only female member of her state's Congressional delegation, and she says that her Pennsylvania colleagues joke and talk in a different way when she is in the room.

"Having a woman in that mix changes the dynamic," she said, "and it's actually not even subtle. It's very obvious."









With the central government basically abdicating the responsibility of inflation fire-fighting to RBI, there seems little alternative to a further jump in the repo rate on Thursday. This is despite a clear acknowledgment by Subir Gokarn, deputy governor of RBI, that the chief drivers of inflation—commodity prices—were outside the influence of the monetary policy. But, as agricultural reforms will not happen soon, the pass-through of the monetary measures have to be through the manufacturing sector, despite the consequences. RBI will, of course, take heart from the sustained rise in bank credit to the commercial sector, which was growing 21.3% year-on-year till the end of May. But within that, weakness is increasing, as the disaggregated sectoral data shows. The sector that has witnessed the fastest rise in credit is services, at 24% compared with 13% a year ago. Against this, the growth rate of credit to large industry has shrunk to 27%. So, overall, the rise in credit to the manufacturing sector is only 12.7%, year-on-year. Obviously the rising rates are beginning to hurt. So, more than the raise, the key indicator will be whether RBI will signal a pause. That will be the forward message which industry and the financial sector will be most interested in. How RBI words the pause will be the basis for all sectors to calculate their annual business plans.

It is rather unfortunate that the management of the short-term goals of the Indian economy has passed almost totally to RBI. The supportive environment that would have allowed RBI to pause earlier in the cycle does not exist. On three key issues, that of expenditure management, reform in the food economy and creating impetus for foreign capital to flow into the economy, New Delhi has stopped working. The government will go through with its borrowing for the year, despite the adverse implication for the rest of the economy, including the hardening of interest rates. No hard limits have been set for subsidy management in the budget. The government, as we have already said, has no clear intention to invest more in the agriculture sector and, therefore, create an incentive to cut down opposition to changes in food marketing. Finally, midway into the year, an OECD report says the tax architecture being planned under the DTC will enhance capital intensity in the labour surplus economy. Just before the RBI governor decides on his course of action on Thursday, corporate India would have told him what they think this year will turn out for them in the first instalment of advance corporate tax on Wednesday. Will Subbarao read the tax leaves?





NAC's recommendation of 100% government acquisition of land in cases where more than 400 families were affected came right in the middle of a heated conversation caused by the Bhatta-Parsaul agitation. Not only did it create more chaos in already muddied matters, it also went against the grain of the consensus for greater private participation that had been developing across the political spectrum. For example, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has long held out for only 10% government acquisition and the UP CM Mayawati has come forward with a much-lauded policy where developers will negotiate with landowners directly for determining prices at which land is to be acquired. As these deeply divergent ideas tussle with each other in a din, the PM has promised that a land acquisition Bill will be introduced in Parliament this monsoon session. The Union rural development ministry, which has been entrusted with the job of finalising the Bill, is sticking to the proposal of 70:30 industry-government involvement in land acquisition, which is what the draft Bill that's already in the public domain puts forward. The ministry cites the time crunch to defy NAC recommendations but with this government that may not be the final word on the subject. As for the NAC, as FE reported yesterday, it has 'suddenly' realised that land acquisition is a state subject. The only way in which the NAC recommendation can become law is if each state agrees to it or if there is a constitutional amendment shifting land from the state to the central list. Both being highly unlikely events, the puzzle is why they are even being mooted as solutions. But this is no more puzzling than why an extra-constitutional body has come to have such sway over UPA's policymaking.

The point is not that civil society, think tanks, advisory bodies and suchlike shouldn't have an important input role in a democracy. For example, PMEAC does a credible job of advising on economic matters as and when they are referred to it, which is quite different from (say) unelected folk putting together the Lokpal Bill. But the job of drafting the operative principles of a legislation has to be the exclusive domain of the executive and the specific clauses of the legislature. Specifically on land, when industry and states are sincerely trying to address something that is critical to India's future growth (Tata and the Posco may grab the most headlines, but land is not insignificant to SME prospects either), it is unconscionable that NAC is trying to strongarm the government, and that too in an ill-prepared fashion as has become evident with its constitutionally untenable land acquisition proposal.






The most important feature of the National Manufacturing Policy (NMP), which recently received the Prime Minister's go-ahead in principle, is its target for increasing the manufacturing sector's share from the measly 16% of GDP at present to 25% in 2025. This will help put at rest any talk of India being an exception and achieving its economic transition on the strength of service sector growth alone. Given our demographic characteristics, that is neither feasible nor desirable. The target though is a daunting one, requiring manufacturing growth at 12-14% per annum. This will need focused policy attention and coordination across different layers of the government and its agencies. However, there continues to be widespread scepticism on NMP's implementation. This can be dispelled if the first milestone of finalising the policy within a month after sorting out the remaining inter-ministerial differences is achieved. This will be closely watched. Let us hope that both the environment and labour ministries will adopt a flexible approach and allow NMP's finalisation, even if that does not meet the first-best criteria on those counts. The policy review mechanism, to be headed by secretary DIPP, along with the Manufacturing Industry Promotion Board under which state industries ministers will meet twice a year to review progress, will also help ensure implementation. It will be important for the private sector to be actively and centrally involved in the review process if the implementation is to remain on track and industry friendly.

The three principal focus areas of NMP are to reduce the compliance burden, achieve labour flexibility and provide globally benchmarked infrastructure for manufacturing. The organisational modality proposed under the NMP is to establish green-field industrial townships called National Investment and Manufacturing Zones (NIMZ). NIMZs, each of them to be set up as SPVs, will not only be given the necessary land and related clearances but will also be provided with the trunk infrastructure by state governments. The state governments' mandate to establish land banks for the implementation of NMP could be facilitated by identifying the unutilised and under-utilised land currently held by public sector enterprises or locked up in existing industrial estates. State governments could also consider declaring existing industrial estates or even parts of some cities and towns as NIMZs for upgrading existing industrial hubs and giving them the impetus to become globally competitive manufacturing centres. NMP does well to include the provisions for self-certification and third party inspection to reduce the delays and give much needed relief from the unbearable compliance burden. By allowing the head of NIMZs to unify the registration and compliance requirements, the policy will substantially bring down the documentation and reporting requirements for NIMZ units. Finally, labour flexibility will be achieved by the well thought out provision of creating a sinking fund from contributions by units located within the NIMZs or the insurance policies taken specifically for meeting the exigencies of lay-offs when enterprises face seasonal or cyclical downturns in demand. The proposal for some subsidy to 'green technologies' to be encouraged in the NIMZs is worthy of support from the finance ministry as it will help India leapfrog to globally frontline manufacturing technologies. These are all positive features of the NMP, which will hopefully be extended to manufacturing units all over the country once a start has been made in the NIMZs.

The policy explicitly mentions that NIMZs can be set up as PPP ventures where the state government could make the land available for further management by the private sector. The flexibility given in formation of NIMZs is a strong feature of the policy. Another useful innovation could be that, as in China, state governments could contribute the land as their equity share. This will give them a stake in and reasonable control over the NIMZs, the management of which would be in private hands. This innovation could make the NIMZs more viable, help the government achieve early success and may even generate some revenues for state governments. Let's hope that NMP will receive an early and strong buy-in from the state governments as they will hold the key to its implementation.

NMP, as drafted currently, gives itself a very wide scope and seeks to tackle issues like skills availability, assured supply of raw materials, promotion of medium and small industries, creation of joint ventures, and rejuvenation of public sector enterprises. This expanded agenda could distract NMP from delivering on its essential and critical threefold objectives discussed above. During the ensuing revision, DIPP may do well to identify these additional objectives as desirable ones as distinct from the core and necessary objectives of reducing compliance burden, labour flexibility and globally benchmarked infrastructure, which must be achieved at the earliest.

Finally, it is important that steps for rationalising the compliance and procedural burden and creating a more friendly investment and business environment do not wait for the formal adoption and implementation of the NMP. Secretary DIPP has already taken some significant steps, for example permitting boiler inspection by certified third party inspectors, for rationalising the compliance burden. These steps have to continue regardless of NMP's progress because India today needs to ensure that investment, which has currently stalled, picks up again and India remains an attractive investment destination. It is clear, though, that NMP, when implemented, will provide a strong and much needed fillip to manufacturing activity and help generate employment opportunities for the 12 million that are being added annually to the country's labour force.

The author is secretary general, Ficci. These are his personal views





Prior to India's Independence, the PM-in-waiting Pandit Nehru had asked a distinguished British scientist and later a Nobel laureate Sir Patrick Blackett as to how long will it take to 'Indianise the military', referring primarily to minimising India's dependence on foreign equipment and secondarily to Indianise the military manpower structure (overwhelmingly dominated by the British nationals in the officer corps during the time). Sir Blackett answered that it could take 18 months in the short term and many decades in the long term for self-reliance in Indian defence! A similar question was asked in 1925 (where Motilal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah were members) to Sir Andrew Skeen who submitted a report to the then government (on the creation of a Military College in India), known as the Skeen Committee Report.

Decades of contemplation and action on the Indianisation process of the military have produced what at best can be termed 'mixed results'. In between, India attained independence and of late flourishing in economic terms, Blackett enforced his ideas of production of previous generation weapons and non-investment in applied research or modern technologies, institutions were created and encouraged to work in silos, defence industries became 'exclusive' state controlled entities and defence scientific institutions led by brilliant scientists unfortunately became rigidly vertical institutions while the private industry has still been kept at a safe distance. In between also came some crazy ideas like 'conversion' led by Nehru confidant Menon who wanted to produce coffee percolators in ordnance factories!

Some attempts have been made to inject much needed reforms in India's higher defence management sector in recent times. Institutions like Defence Acquisition Council, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, Joint Tri-Service Command and Strategic Forces Command have come up in the past few years while attempts at synergising the civil and military structures through Integrated Headquarters have also been undertaken. A decade of reforms, however, has brought very little desirable results as the Indian defence sector is still grappling with issues like joint-ness in the armed forces as well as intra-departmental coordination, rationalised budgeting, integrated planning, manpower and many other related areas.

Self-reliance in weapon manufacturing and defence technology development are the two critical areas where the Indianisation process has visibly failed. India's arsenal is still largely filled with foreign equipment while its industrial and military technology bases have largely been found deficient. India has been able to create a huge defence scientific industrial base with 50 DRDO laboratories, 8 larger defence public sector units (DPSUs), 40 ordnance factories with more that 700 scientific and industrial collaborations with universities, specialised research institutions and private industries. Both DRDO and DPSUs are now corporatising their entities, thanks primarily to new initiatives taken by the government, while DRDO is reportedly undertaking reform initiatives as per the recommendations made by the P Rama Rao Committee. Among the notable achievements by DRDO and production agencies are indigenised technologies like ballistic sciences, aerospace engineering, avionics, heavy engineering, propulsion engineering, marine engineering and life sciences, among others. Still, India's arms import dependency is alarmingly high and its scientific prowess in defence much below global standards.

Six points are flagged here to explain the existing status of Indian defence science technology and industrial base. First, the idea of Indianisation of the military has not been translated into concrete action plans flowing from a stated policy. Hence the need for formulating a national policy on defence scientific and industrial base. Second, defence science & technology and industry suffer from the problem of integration as they have been operating as independent entities. While DRDO is the technology innovator, its interaction with government production agencies (DPSUs) is at best symbolic while with the private industry is non-existent. Third, private industry is supposed to be a locomotive of self-reliance in defence, yet it is structurally situated outside the relevant department. The secretary of the Department of Defence Production does not have a dedicated wing under his command to examine issues related to private industries. Fourth, a trust deficit and sceptical mindsets typify the attitude of the government towards the private sector's abilities to produce state-of-the-art military equipment. The number of 'make' projects (defence projects undertaken by the Indian private sector) constitute less than 5% of the total procurement projects awarded by the MoD to the private sector in the last three years! Fifth, both DRDO and production agencies suffer from a 'concocted' model of project management—not been able to prioritise 'strategic' from the rest. Almost a third of DRDO laboratories are engaged in 'non-strategic' scientific projects while HAL, instead of graduating itself to be a true systems integrator, is still engaged in bulky licence production projects. Last, but not the least, Indian spending on R&D (less than $2 bn) is one-fiftieth of that of the US ($96 bn) and one-fifteenth that of China ($32 bn). At a time when India flaunts its 'arms card' (enhanced financial muscle for acquiring weapons) to woo global arms suppliers, its attitude towards strengthening the indigenous R&D base has been pathetic.

Realism emphasises the centrality of state in global affairs and history gives enough evidence of possession of formidable 'hard power' by a few states in global politics. India's Indianisation process of its hard power does not provide sufficient proof of an ascending power. It's time that the state initiates a fresh multi-disciplinary debate on the 'Indianisation of the military project' in order to locate its position in global affairs.

The author is a senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation. These are his personal views







Microeconomic theory has long predicted the demise of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the 12-nation cartel that attempts to regulate the output of its members in the hope of meeting a higher target price than would otherwise prevail if each produced as much as it wanted. Economists say cartels are inherently unstable because their members have a tendency to "chisel," increasing output by a little to make windfall revenue gains at the artificially high price. As each country chisels, hoping it is the only one, the market is flooded with extra supply and the cartel ends up collapsing. However, since its founding in 1960, Opec has always managed to confound the textbooks. This is because oil is not any old widget or commodity. It is the world's most important source of tradable energy. That is why politics and geopolitics drive global oil markets as much as crude economics. At its most recent meeting in Vienna, Opec's largest member, Saudi Arabia, in tandem with "price doves" Kuwait, the UAE, and Qatar asked for an expansion of global oil supplies so that the rise in oil prices caused by the western war against Libya could be moderated. This push was resisted by Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, and others. Defeated, the Saudis later said this was Opec's worst meeting ever.

In the textbook case, a cartel can survive if the largest member cuts back its own output to accommodate the increased sales of the chiselers. But in the real world, where "unreasonably high" oil prices end up making alternative energy sources more attractive, the largest member has to increase its output if it wants to save the club. This is precisely what Saudi Arabia has done. By announcing a 10-million-barrel-a-day increase in output, Riyadh has managed to rein in the benchmark Brent price, which was headed towards $125 a barrel. But Saudi benevolence has its limits, especially given the popular ferment now under way in West Asia and North Africa. If oil prices fall by too much, that may undermine the ability of the sheikhs to buy peace with their restive subjects. For India, the dynamics inside Opec are at best a sideshow. Its own quest for energy security must continue with equal priority to pushing the three Es: Exploration of oil and gas at home, the purchase of Equity oil abroad, and maximum Efficiency in domestic consumption. The Libya war is also a reminder of the need to speed up the creation of our own strategic petroleum reserve to tide over short-term market disruptions. In addition, India can learn a lesson or two from countries that pursue a more independent course than it does in international relations so that they can maximise their strengths and special advantages.





Jyotirmoy Dey, Editor, Special Investigation, Mid-Day, was not the first journalist to be shot dead this year in India. Umesh Rajput from the Hindi daily, Nai Duniya, was killed near Raipur in Chhattisgarh on January 23, and earlier on December 20, 2010 Sushil Pathak of Dainik Bhaskar in Bilaspur. In 2011 alone, there have been 14 instances of attacks on journalists according to a report from 'The Free Speech Hub' of On May 19, Dey's colleague Tarakant Dwivedi was arrested under the Official Secrets Act by the Government Railway Police (GRP) for an article written over a year ago in another newspaper on the poor storage conditions of hi-tech weapons bought after the 26/11 attack. However, the gunning down of Dey in broad daylight by four unidentified men has rattled a media inured to gangland killings. The police believe it was 'the work of professionals,' presumably hired guns connected to the underworld. But the big question is who was behind the killing and so far no one has been arrested. Journalists and media-houses have been attacked with impunity and since the 1990s cases have dragged on forever without any convictions. Coming to Mr. Dwivedi's aid after his arrest, Dey had met Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil and called attention to a rather sensitive Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) report on the mafia-police nexus. The incident underscores the need for some kind of special protection for journalists covering the mafia and conducting investigations on their own. Dey had reported on diesel adulteration in a big way and on alleged links between the mafia and the police.

The Maharashtra government has been promising a law that makes attacks on journalists a non-bailable offence. That may not be the solution. It is crucial to implement existing laws and make sure the guilty are punished. Dey was no stranger to threats and took them head on. His death last Saturday comes soon after a gruesome murder of four men, turning the spotlight back on the pathetic law enforcement in Mumbai. The underworld in the city now is complemented by a powerful builders' lobby, which allegedly has a measure of political and official patronage. Dey's murder can have a chilling effect on the media and to ensure that journalists truly have space and freedom of expression, the government needs to be much more attentive to crime, the factors behind it, and its links, if any, with sections of the official establishment. The state should conduct a transparent and speedy investigation into Dey's murder and, belying its dismal track record, demonstrate that at least now it means business.







The 10th anniversary summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan, on June 15, will be a historic event in terms of the security group's evolution and its impact on the line-up of forces in the region.

The leaders of the six-member SCO are expected to induct Afghanistan as an observer and flag off the process of admitting India and Pakistan as full members. The moves will place Afghanistan at the top of the SCO agenda and dramatically increase the weight and reach of the organisation. It will also be a major victory for Russian diplomacy.

Russia has been steadily working to include Afghanistan in the SCO's zone of responsibility. The SCO established a contact group with Afghanistan, and President Hamid Karzai has attended all its recent summits as a special guest. Russia has also formed a quadrilateral grouping with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan to promote multilateral economic projects. Its efforts met with understanding in Kabul as it sought to diversify its external relations. According to Russian officials, President Karzai made the request to join the SCO during his visit to Moscow in January.

Moscow has also consistently championed the admission of India to the SCO to balance China's dominance and strengthen the grouping's clout. "Geopolitically, the induction of India will help refocus its interests from the West towards Russia and Asian states," said Dr. Alexander Lukin, director of East Asia and SCO studies at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Institute of International Relations.

China has long resisted SCO expansion citing lack of standards and procedures. However, fears of chaos in Afghanistan and a spill-over of instability to neighbouring regions of Central Asia and China in the wake of the planned drawdown of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have prompted the SCO to review its unofficial moratorium on admitting new members.

According to SCO Secretary-General Muratbek Imanaliyev, the summit in Astana will endorse Afghanistan's application for observer status and approve a memorandum on legal and financial obligations of would-be member-states. After that, he said, "we can start negotiations with the nations applying to join the SCO." Currently the SCO comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan are observer states, while Belarus and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners.

Pakistan formally applied for full SCO membership in 2006, Iran filed its application a year later. Last year, India registered its desire to upgrade its observer status to full membership. Iran, for now, stands disqualified under a SCO provision that aspiring candidates must not be under United Nations sanctions or involved in an armed conflict. That leaves India and Pakistan as the only credible candidates.

President Dmitry Medvedev last month publicly voiced support for Pakistan joining the SCO "together with other candidates." Moscow recently turned around on its frosty relations with Islamabad hoping to make Pakistan play a more constructive role in Afghanistan. A joint statement issued during Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to Moscow voiced "support for Afghan-led and Afghan-owned efforts towards promoting national reconciliation in Afghanistan."

Unique consensus

The lifting of the moratorium on SCO expansion is the result of a unique consensus that has emerged among its members in recent months on the role the security group should play in the region as the U.S.-led NATO forces prepare to pull out of Afghanistan. It is based on the shared belief that the problem of Afghanistan can be solved only in a regional format and that the SCO is the best instrument for facilitating such a solution.

"The SCO believes with good reason that Afghanistan holds the key to the future of the entire region," Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose country holds the rotating chairmanship of the SCO, said in an article devoted to the Astana summit. "We cannot rule out that the SCO may have to bear the brunt of resolving many problems that Afghanistan will face after the withdrawal of the international coalition forces in 2014."

Ahead of the SCO summit in Astana, Russia voiced concern that the situation in Afghanistan would deteriorate in the coming months and years. "The unfolding process of handing over responsibility from the NATO forces to the Afghan authorities will heighten tension. The situation in Afghanistan is steadily worsening," Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov told a recent press conference in Moscow. "The security forces of Afghanistan — police and the army — are not ready to assume control even in a few provinces, let alone the entire country."

The U.S. had 10 years to create a combat-ready army in Afghanistan, Mr. Kabulov said, but time had been lost. Russia was providing transit and other assistance to the coalition forces to help them finish the job and go. "The presence of U.S. military bases in Afghanistan on a long-term basis can greatly aggravate the situation in the region and become a source of tension," Mr. Kabulov said.

However, experts warned that Washington had no intention of leaving the region. "Afghanistan takes a back seat in the U.S. calculus," said Sultan Akimbekov, director of Kazakhstan's Institute of World Economy and Politics. "Washington's main goal is to get entrenched in Central Asia under the cover of combating terrorism." He spoke at an international conference on Afghanistan and regional security held in Almaty on June 9-10 as a curtain raiser for the SCO summit in Astana.

"I think by 2014, the Americans will redeploy their forces in Afghanistan. They will most likely stay at several bases in southern and central regions and move their main forces to the country's north, with subsequent relocation to Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and probably Uzbekistan," said Dr. Alexander Knyazev, Russia's leading expert on Central Asia who helped organise the conference.

The U.S. already has an airbase near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek in the north and plans to set up a military training centre in the south of Kyrgyzstan and an anti-narcotics training facility in Tajikistan. "These bases will have nothing to do with the fight against terrorism, but will serve as bridgeheads for U.S. geopolitical and geo-economic designs against Russia, Iran and China," Dr. Knyazev said.

The expert believes that the U.S.' hidden agenda in the region also includes fragmentation of Afghanistan into two or more ethnically defined parts in keeping with the concept of creating "controlled crises."

The dangers of the endgame in Afghanistan will be high on the minds of the SCO leaders as they seek to energise the group's regional policies at the Astana summit. Russian officials admit though that the SCO at this stage has limited possibilities to influence the situation in Afghanistan. The Russian President's special representative for SCO affairs, Leonid Moiseyev, said the traumatic experience of the 10-year war the Soviet Union waged in Afghanistan made Russia and the new Central Asian states reluctant to work on security issues in Afghanistan.

"We are ready to work on the perimeter borders of Afghanistan and use the potential of observer states, Iran first of all," Mr. Moiseyev said at a media event in Moscow last week. "But inside Afghanistan, SCO member states are ready to work only on an individual basis and mainly on economic issues."

The SCO's most successful project so far is the Regional Antiterrorism Structure (RATS) set up in 2004. The member-states have since conducted several major anti-terror military drills. Another area where the SCO has acted in concert is in fighting drug trafficking from Afghanistan. The Astana summit will approve an anti-narcotics strategy for 2011-2016.

New challenges

The proposed expansion poses new challenges for the 10-year-old SCO. "The main question facing the SCO today is whether it will develop as a discussion club that occasionally makes loud statements or evolve into a serious international mechanism on a par with or probably more influential than the ASEAN or APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] forum," said Dr. Lukin of the Moscow-based Institute of International Relations.

The expert called for organisational reforms to strengthen the SCO, first of all by enhancing the role and independence of the Secretariat, whose officials today are more accountable to their respective Foreign Ministries than to the SCO Secretary General. The consensus principle of decision-taking also needs to be modified to allow joint programmes to go ahead even if a member is unwilling to take part. The expert urged Russia to drop its "shortsighted" opposition to the Chinese proposal for setting up a SCO bank that would create a much needed mechanism for financing multilateral projects and enable the SCO to make full use of the economic potential of new members.

"Given the unpredictable situation in Central Asia, where one cannot rule out events similar to the 'Arab awakening', the SCO may soon be called upon to prove its worth as the most representative regional organisation," the Russian expert said.









For a journalist working in Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmir on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) is always on top of one's mind. I have been fortunate to visit the area that Indians know as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and Pakistanis know as "Azad Jammu and Kashmir," (AJK) twice. The first time was in 2004. A conference organised by "Azad Jammu and Kashmir" University last month gave me the opportunity for a second visit.

As a resident of Baramulla, I should have been able to make it to Muzaffarabad, the capital on the other side, within five hours by road, had the governments of India and Pakistan allowed our three-member delegation to travel on the much-vaunted cross LoC bus.

However, the walls between the two sides built over 60 years forced me to travel via Delhi-Lahore-Islamabad — the journey thus took me almost three days.

Nevertheless, this longer route was interesting in itself. The 180-km Islamabad-Muzaffarabad road reminded me of the winding Srinagar-Jammu highway, while the mountainscape and the gushing waters of the Jhelum resembled Patnitop and the waters of the Chenab.

Entry point

In the approach to the Kohala bridge — this is the first entry point to Jammu and Kashmir state from the Pakistan side; it is also the place where Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was detained in 1946 on the orders of Maharaja Hari Singh — no one can miss the signposts and hoardings with " Aao Kashmir Chalein (Let us go to Kashmir"). The slogan is everywhere, from security bunkers to road signs, somewhat similar to Border Road Organisation signs that remind us that "From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India is one."

As we drove past the signs on the Muzaffarabad road, I could not help wondering: was this for tourists from Pakistan? Or was is it an exhortation to Pakistanis to "conquer Kashmir"?

The Kashmir "trade mark" is claimed obsessively in PoK. But if Kashmir denotes an area where the people speak the Kashmiri language, the Kashmir on the Pakistani side is far from this benchmark. The main language spoken there is Hindko, an offshoot of Pahari, followed by Gojri and other dialects. Kashmiri is spoken by hardly five per cent of the population.

In other ways too, PoK is closer to Jammu than Kashmir, and to the Punjabis of Pakistan. But this has not dimmed the enthusiasm of the people in PoK for the "cherished dream" of claiming the beautiful Valley of Kashmir as their own.

Some voices

"We have been living with the imagination of the stunning beauty of Kashmir," said Tanveer Ahmad a scholar. "We love Kashmir more than our lives," he said.

Scholars and writers in PoK have written a number of books about the Kashmir valley depicting its beauty and its culture, and more recently, the "sacrifices given by people for Azadi" in the wake of "gross human rights violations by Indian forces." Any discussion about the Indian side of Kashmir is dominated by "repression by India."

There are voices in PoK, particularly in Mirpur, an area dominated by expatriate Kashmiris, which are for complete independence of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, from India and Pakistan. But those voices are not strong for many reasons — a sizeable section of the population is for merger with Pakistan; also, the basis of political life in PoK, the political parties, are all either regional off-shoots of the political parties in Pakistan, or ally themselves with them. Also constant discouragement by Islamabad is evident — invisible pressure on PoK from Islamabad and the continuous surveillance on the people is part of a permanent structure in Muzaffarabad.

At the AJK University, where the students are quite vocal, there is a range of voices. "We are for merger with Pakistan but only after (your) Kashmir gets freedom," said Sama Gazal a post-graduate student in AJK University. "We are a dependent state on both sides so it is better to be with Pakistan. India has done so much of repression in Kashmir."

Countering her were Syed Mohisin Raza and Gowhar Javed, who said they were for independence. "We cannot go with Pakistan. Abhi unkey saath rehna majboori hey (it's only because of circumstances that we are with them now)," said Raza. Interestingly there is not much support for violent struggle for "liberating Kashmir."

But barring the disgruntlement with political interference from Islamabad, people largely feel "comfortable" with Pakistan.

After the devastating earthquake in 2005, the face of Muzaffarabad has completely changed. It looks a well planned city. Perched on the hills on all four sides, are magnificently modern houses, which have come up with generous aid from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Expatriate Kashmiris have also played an important role.

The Saudi government is building the new campus for AJK University at a whopping Rs.700 crore. The UAE government has also constructed a state-of-the-art hospital spending more than Rs.100 crore. A make-shift university campus built by Turkey was inaugurated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In fact, Turkey's extraordinary involvement in rebuilding the city has brought about a surprising change in the landscape — some mosques in Muzaffarabad display typical features of Ottoman architecture — gentle domes and "pencil minarets." "We see Pakistan along with us as two important Islamic countries in the world today. So our interest in helping people here is self explanatory," said Muharem Hilmi-Ozev, a political scientist from the Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul who was there for the conference.

Muzaffarabad and Srinagar

Comparing Muzaffarabad with Srinagar, the second oldest city after Varanasi in South Asia, would be unfair. Though Muzaffarabad was among three main district headquarters of the state before 1947, Srinagar has always been the epicentre of cultural and political awakening with a population of 14 lakh souls.

Muzaffarabad, with a population of just over 6,00,000, looks cleaner than Srinagar (PoK has 10 districts with an estimated population over three million in 2009). Even during my previous visit in 2004, I found that the stories of "under development in PoK," fed to us on this side, are off the mark. This time, I noticed road connectivity and power supply to houses even on the upper reaches of a hill. In contrast, many villages in Jammu and Kashmir even today are without basic facilities. Neither does Muzaffarabad seem to be lagging behind in education and health compared to the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir though progress is more in tune with Pakistani literacy rates. In the past few years the development in these two sectors has been rapid. The literacy rate in PoK has touched 65 per cent which is higher than for any other area in Pakistan. In conversations, both the young and old in Muzaffarabad say that Pakistan has "never discriminated" against the region.

"We had several top generals in the Army. Diplomats, scientists and officers in Pakistan civil services continue to call the shots in policy making of Pakistan," said Kamran Basharat, a student. However, he said, people in AJK do see themselves differently from Pakistan and seek more political autonomy.

Many agree with the argument that "Azad Jammu and Kashmir" is hardly "free" in the real sense of the term. Islamabad's interference in its internal matters through its all powerful Kashmir Council is a bone of contention in PoK politics.

But the symbolic nomenclature of "President, Prime Minister" as also a separate Supreme Court and Election Commission gives an impression of more distinctness from Pakistan, on the face of it, than Jammu and Kashmir from India.

"It is a source of pride for us," said a political activist, but added that "lot more needs to be done." Generally, however, people do not have many grievances with Pakistan as they feel that there are many areas in that country which are less developed than PoK. Perhaps this is because Pakistan's strategic interest in PoK makes building roads and better infrastructure inevitable, exactly like what New Delhi does in Kashmir. The absence of heavy industries is another common feature between the two sides. Likewise while entering Muzaffarabad from Kohala, a stern reminder to "foreigners" about registering themselves reminds one of Srinagar. Even as both India and Pakistan claim that Jammu and Kashmir state across the LoC is one, a Kashmiri state subject becomes a "foreigner" in Kashmir by virtue of his Indian or Pakistani passport.


Even while Kashmir remains an "integral part" of the "unfinished agenda of partition" across the LoC, there is strong support for the Confidence Building Measures (CBM) launched by India and Pakistan after the 2003 ceasefire.

Over a period of five years the CBMs have demolished the stereotypes and myths created by "vested interests" on both sides. While Indian discourse has harped on how backward, underdeveloped and controlled PoK is, Pakistani propaganda, intended to attract more and more jihadis and to keep alive the "unfinished agenda" slogan, has worked well by spreading stories such as how "the Indian Army does not allow Kashmiris to pray in mosques." The many violations of human rights by the Indian Army on this side of Kashmir also provide grist to the Pakistani mill. But the CBMs have helped the people to understand the realities better.

"It is the best mechanism to build understanding on both sides," said Abdul Hamid a refugee from Kashmir of the cross LoC bus service. Since there are thousands of divided families on both sides, the bus service is most sought after but has left people disappointed due to the procedures involved. Cross-LoC trade too is mired in bottlenecks over currency and the absence of proper communication facilities between the two sides. Most believe that the potential of these CBMs will remain unfulfilled unless they are made more accessible.

To the Kashmiri eye, the two sides have many similarities as well as differences. But as the CBMs have shown, with some constructive policies, there is much space to bring them together at both social, economic and psychological levels.








Some time this week Qassem will slip through the dark streets of a sleeping city. Well before the morning traffic starts to build up, the 24-year-old office worker will be home. But several street signs will have been subtly altered, roads will have slogans painted across them and a prominent wall will bear in large letters the words — "Why are we here?" Qassem is one of a small band of graffiti artists in the Afghan capital who, encouraged by a group of western "art activists," are set on bringing tagging, wall-painting and graphic stencils to public spaces across the city. "The idea is to make people ask questions," he said.

Many walls in Kabul are already covered in advertising slogans or fly-posting. There are also rare political slogans.

"You can see 'troops out' and similar, but nothing creative or artistic. There are also public information campaigns, many funded by the government. So we wanted to see the reaction to something different," said a member of Combat Communications, an anonymous Kabul-based group of international artists encouraging the movement.

Workshop on wall-painting

Eighteen months ago the group sprayed designs inspired by the British graffiti artist Banksy on walls of ostentatious new houses believed to have been built with the profits of the £3bn a year Afghan drug trade. A video on the internet brought an international response. Then images of an Apache attack helicopter, a Taliban insurgent, a tank, and poppies appeared in the city. Last December, Chu, a British artist, ran a week-long workshop on wall-painting in a disused industrial area on the outskirts of Kabul.

"It was very good for us," said Ommolbanin Shamsia Hassani, 23. "We learned many new things." The interest in graffiti is part of burgeoning contemporary art scene in Kabul. One of the leading local artists is Amanullah Mojadidi, 40. Like most, including Qassem and Hassani, he was raised overseas, and came to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. One recent work involved mounting a fake police checkpoint at which, instead of taking bribes, cash was returned to bemused motorists "as an apology from the Kabul police for previous misdemeanours." The resulting installation, using film of the event, is called Payback and has been shown in Cairo, New York and now Mumbai.


Mojadidi also created posters parodying former leaders of the resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s — many of whom have subsequently become extremely rich. The images, posted around Kabul, showed him dressed as a cross between a local leader and an American gangster rapper, complete with a gold-plated gun and emerald-tipped bullets. "Most were ripped down in days," said Mojadidi.

But Mojadidi is planning to leave Afghanistan. He said space for independent contemporary art is being squeezed as international donors exploit the new creative activity.

"I was trying to generate some genuine street art, but before it had even taken root I was contacted by a contractor for the American government working on a gender awareness project who wanted to use graffiti to raise consciousness of women's rights," Mojadidi said.

The problems facing aspirant street artists in Kabul are many. Though security has improved, the Afghan capital remains chaotic and often lawless.

"Everybody is scared of doing this [graffiti]. So I'm going to try to give them a bit of courage and go first," Qassem said.

Hassani — who paints as Shamsia — said women artists faced additional problems. "At the moment I do graffiti and wall-painting at home. [To do it] in the city is still difficult, especially for girls," she said. "This is not Europe." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011




Chinese railway authorities say all is ready for the opening of a showcase high-speed railway between Beijing and Shanghai later this month.

The fastest travel time on the 1,318-kilometre (813 mile) line will be five hours, or about half the current time, and the longest to just under eight hours.

Trial operations for the new rail line began on May 11. Its formal inauguration coincides with the July 1st 90th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party.

The top operational speed for the line's trains was cut to 300 kmph (186 mph) from the originally planned 350 kmph (217 mph), after questions were raised about safety.

Overall, China aims to have 8,000 miles (13,000 km) of high-speed rail in place by the year's end and twice that length by 2020. — AP






The just-ended three-day deliberations of the CPI(M) central committee in Hyderabad, held to introspect on the causes of the Left's watershed defeat recently in West Bengal and, to a lesser extent, Kerala, will not surprise the party faithful. If a terse single sentence from general secretary Prakash Karat can sum up the confabulations, it is this: "Election outcomes do not determine leadership changes in the CPI(M)". While not being caught offguard by this, the cadre down the line are apt to infer that their party is yet to migrate from cuckoo land.
As may be expected in the light of this, the flavour of the debates in the crucial party forum on such a key occasion was not shared with the media. Even those among the top leadership who differed with Mr Karat are likely to have spoken with forked tongues. Perhaps the giveaway is the absence — apparently on health grounds — from the meeting of former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, under whom the party bit the dust in a state it had ruled with an iron hand for 34 years. It may also be recalled that not long ago, in a widely reported media interaction, politburo member Sitaram Yechury did make an oblique reference to the possibility of a leadership change in the pedigreed Stalinist party. Not many would have abided with him, though, knowing the hallowed tradition in Communist parties worldwide.
Communist parties have been more about "democratic centralism" since Lenin's day than about "democracy". In Lenin's era, there was a justification for this emphasis on account of Czarist repression. Today there is none, at least in India. Under democratic centralism, the leadership collective is responsible for failure or success, and no one leader is singled out for getting things wrong. It is a pity, however, that in an open era such as the 21st century, with a communications revolution gripping the world and a cry for transparency all around, the CPI(M) has chosen to cling to past patterns of conducting its affairs. Not that purges are unknown in internal party organisational systems. But these typically reflect power battles within, and have never been a response to the verdict of the "masses", who are glorified only in principle. Nevertheless, it is a not a far-fetched idea that even in the CPI(M), a leadership change is likely to follow. But this might only be at the next party congress in April, and is likely to be the result of pressure from below. Left to themselves, leaders are loathe to bow out. This, of course, is true of all parties, more so of the bourgeois formations.
It is not clear if the Hyderabad conclave discussed anything of substance that was new. Mr Karat reiterated policy failures that led to Singur and Nandigram; he spoke of 41 per cent of the West Bengal electorate which still voted Left; and of the "gang-up" against the Left by all the other parties in the state. These points have been stressed so much they have left listeners tired. The crucial issue left unaired: Was it the failure of one or two policies that led to the Left's debacle in such a defining way, or did the Bengal voter reject the entire culture of Left governance and its political idiom? It also seems the CPI(M) leadership was self-serving in claiming credit for the party's near-victory in Kerala. The bitter truth has been glossed over that the creditable performance owed to the fact that V.S. Achuthanandan, the party's iconic leader in the southern state, did so very well as he was seen to be standing up to his party's leadership. It is doubtful if the truth will be sighted, if the CPI(M) top brass leave themselves immune to soul-searching.





India must look away for a moment from the turmoil in the country's western vicinity and spare a glance eastwards towards the "other border" as well, the one which India shares with another significant neighbour, Burma.
Burma, formed part of Britain's Indian empire till 1937 when it was declared a separate colonial entity. There is little ethnic or cultural connectivity eastwards, between the dominant Indo-Gangetic civilisation of India and that of the Irrawaddy heartland of Burma. In Burma, the traditional Indian presence has been of petty traders and subordinate-level bureaucracy of British Burma who did not endear themselves to the locals. Memories linger and, surprisingly, Indians even now are not generally well regarded.
The internal political and civil structure of Burma is fluid and complicated. There is Tatmadaw — the Burmese defence forces — in total charge of all aspects of governance, through the State Peace and Development Council (SDPC), which is a military junta of 11 generals, serving as well as retired, whose political fortunes fluctuate with their internal equations.
With an estimated strength of 450,000 to 500,000, the Burmese Army is predominantly a light infantry force. Reputed as capable and professionally competent, it is combat-hardened by long experience of almost unbroken counterinsurgency and jungle operations against separatists almost since independence in 1948.
But its record of human rights has been severely criticised by the Western countries, particularly the United States, which regards the SDPC government as a rogue regime and is putting pressure on India to dissociate and condemn the country's military junta.
Burma carries the reputation of an enigmatic and somewhat prickly hermit kingdom which prefers to keep to itself. Inside the country, 19 major and minor ethnic groups are in distinctly uneasy diversity amongst themselves. The predominantly Christian tribal minorities along Burma's mountainous, densely jungled outer periphery bordering Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh, are in almost permanent mutiny against the ruling Burman majority in the central heartland, who profess Buddhism and constitute 69 per cent of the population. The 1,643 km of porous, densely- jungled border shared by the two countries is comparatively loosely controlled, particularly on the Burma side and slow-burning; separatist tribal militancies of various persuasions against both New Delhi and Yangon smoulder across the entire region. Two-way traffic in border crime, drugs, weapons and other categories of smuggling have reinforced these insurgencies into a fairly major narco-conflict drawing sustenance from the Golden Triangle, in which Burma is the geographical pivot.
On the Indian side, the Indo-Burma border is, as usual, the relatively "forgotten frontier" in comparison with its western counterpart. Inter-sectoral priorities for allocation of resources are lower in the east and the Assam Rifles, that constitutes the Indian border guarding forces here, faces the usual paucity of troops. This, coupled with extremely difficult terrain and debilitating climate, makes effective border management tenuous, though still relatively better than on the Burma side.
Ethnic and cultural commonalities between the Naga, Mizo and Kuki tribes on the Indian side of the border in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, and those inhabiting the contiguous western and northwestern border regions of Burma add to the complexities of the situation, typified by the anti-India Naga insurgent group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) in Nagaland and Manipur, which operates in India but is based in Burma and headed by S.S. Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from that country.
Relations between India and Burma are relatively low-key but on a generally even keel. India has no military problems with Burma and the focus is towards establishing a viable Indian politico-economic presence in the country. However, Burma is an area of well-entrenched Chinese interests and influence, and Indian interests must contend with strong adverse factors, which transcend purely economic or corporate rivalries. Nevertheless, it remains a geo-political imperative for India to engage as closely as possible with Burma's military dictatorship to progress its own entry into the region.
Association with an authoritarian military government whose record of human rights has been internationally criticised draws the disapproval of the US and the West, besides that of the growing internal movement for democracy within Burma led by student and liberal activists, centred around the personality of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party, the National League for Democracy, swept to an overwhelming victory in the national polls in 1990, which was disregarded by the military rulers who placed her under house arrest in 1992. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991, and many of her followers have escaped to India where they have been accorded sanctuary and are attempting to carry forward their movement from exile.
India for its part has to keep channels of communication open to both, the junta government and the democracy movement, using official as well Track II channels. It is an unenviable tightrope and for the present India has chosen to be pragmatic, becoming Burma's fourth-largest trading partner (after Thailand, China and Singapore), besides involvement in major infrastructural projects in that country, including the 160-km Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road, completed in 2001 and funded totally by India, and the ambitious Sittwe-Kaladan river-Lawngtlai multi-mode sea-river road transport corridor scheduled to be completed in 2013, connecting Sittwe port in Burma with National Highway 54 at Lawngtlai in Mizoram.
However, for India, the real cloud on the horizon is Burma's nascent nuclear programme. Burma as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty reached an agreement with Russia in 2007 for acquiring a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor for research purposes and generation of nuclear power. This cannot be a reason for concern in any manner, but there are more diffused reports of a clandestine nuclear weapons partnership with North Korea, with which Pakistan's rogue nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear network is also allegedly associated. If true, this would definitely be a matter of concern for India, which hopefully has the means and capabilities to keep itself informed and prepared vis-a-vis such developments next door.
Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the Burmese junta has taken note of the Arab Spring far away in West Asia, and may be considering options to ease the internal conditions within the country.

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





India must look away for a moment from the turmoil in the country's western vicinity and spare a glance eastwards towards the "other border" as well, the one which India shares with another significant neighbour, Burma.
Burma, formed part of Britain's Indian empire till 1937 when it was declared a separate colonial entity. There is little ethnic or cultural connectivity eastwards, between the dominant Indo-Gangetic civilisation of India and that of the Irrawaddy heartland of Burma. In Burma, the traditional Indian presence has been of petty traders and subordinate-level bureaucracy of British Burma who did not endear themselves to the locals. Memories linger and, surprisingly, Indians even now are not generally well regarded.
The internal political and civil structure of Burma is fluid and complicated. There is Tatmadaw — the Burmese defence forces — in total charge of all aspects of governance, through the State Peace and Development Council (SDPC), which is a military junta of 11 generals, serving as well as retired, whose political fortunes fluctuate with their internal equations.
With an estimated strength of 450,000 to 500,000, the Burmese Army is predominantly a light infantry force. Reputed as capable and professionally competent, it is combat-hardened by long experience of almost unbroken counterinsurgency and jungle operations against separatists almost since independence in 1948.
But its record of human rights has been severely criticised by the Western countries, particularly the United States, which regards the SDPC government as a rogue regime and is putting pressure on India to dissociate and condemn the country's military junta.
Burma carries the reputation of an enigmatic and somewhat prickly hermit kingdom which prefers to keep to itself. Inside the country, 19 major and minor ethnic groups are in distinctly uneasy diversity amongst themselves. The predominantly Christian tribal minorities along Burma's mountainous, densely jungled outer periphery bordering Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh, are in almost permanent mutiny against the ruling Burman majority in the central heartland, who profess Buddhism and constitute 69 per cent of the population. The 1,643 km of porous, densely- jungled border shared by the two countries is comparatively loosely controlled, particularly on the Burma side and slow-burning; separatist tribal militancies of various persuasions against both New Delhi and Yangon smoulder across the entire region. Two-way traffic in border crime, drugs, weapons and other categories of smuggling have reinforced these insurgencies into a fairly major narco-conflict drawing sustenance from the Golden Triangle, in which Burma is the geographical pivot.
On the Indian side, the Indo-Burma border is, as usual, the relatively "forgotten frontier" in comparison with its western counterpart. Inter-sectoral priorities for allocation of resources are lower in the east and the Assam Rifles, that constitutes the Indian border guarding forces here, faces the usual paucity of troops. This, coupled with extremely difficult terrain and debilitating climate, makes effective border management tenuous, though still relatively better than on the Burma side.
Ethnic and cultural commonalities between the Naga, Mizo and Kuki tribes on the Indian side of the border in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, and those inhabiting the contiguous western and northwestern border regions of Burma add to the complexities of the situation, typified by the anti-India Naga insurgent group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) in Nagaland and Manipur, which operates in India but is based in Burma and headed by S.S. Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from that country.
Relations between India and Burma are relatively low-key but on a generally even keel. India has no military problems with Burma and the focus is towards establishing a viable Indian politico-economic presence in the country. However, Burma is an area of well-entrenched Chinese interests and influence, and Indian interests must contend with strong adverse factors, which transcend purely economic or corporate rivalries. Nevertheless, it remains a geo-political imperative for India to engage as closely as possible with Burma's military dictatorship to progress its own entry into the region.
Association with an authoritarian military government whose record of human rights has been internationally criticised draws the disapproval of the US and the West, besides that of the growing internal movement for democracy within Burma led by student and liberal activists, centred around the personality of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party, the National League for Democracy, swept to an overwhelming victory in the national polls in 1990, which was disregarded by the military rulers who placed her under house arrest in 1992. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991, and many of her followers have escaped to India where they have been accorded sanctuary and are attempting to carry forward their movement from exile.
India for its part has to keep channels of communication open to both, the junta government and the democracy movement, using official as well Track II channels. It is an unenviable tightrope and for the present India has chosen to be pragmatic, becoming Burma's fourth-largest trading partner (after Thailand, China and Singapore), besides involvement in major infrastructural projects in that country, including the 160-km Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road, completed in 2001 and funded totally by India, and the ambitious Sittwe-Kaladan river-Lawngtlai multi-mode sea-river road transport corridor scheduled to be completed in 2013, connecting Sittwe port in Burma with National Highway 54 at Lawngtlai in Mizoram.
However, for India, the real cloud on the horizon is Burma's nascent nuclear programme. Burma as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty reached an agreement with Russia in 2007 for acquiring a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor for research purposes and generation of nuclear power. This cannot be a reason for concern in any manner, but there are more diffused reports of a clandestine nuclear weapons partnership with North Korea, with which Pakistan's rogue nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear network is also allegedly associated. If true, this would definitely be a matter of concern for India, which hopefully has the means and capabilities to keep itself informed and prepared vis-a-vis such developments next door.
Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the Burmese junta has taken note of the Arab Spring far away in West Asia, and may be considering options to ease the internal conditions within the country.

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









The Rs 235.3 crore centrally-sponsored scheme to be implemented over next five years stands approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on May 19. The scheme will have active involvement of corporate world starting from beneficiary selection, training and finally through "handholding and mentoring" during placement. This step is sequel to the special scheme on the basis of the recommendations of C Rangarajan Committee appointed by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Committee had submitted its report in February 2011, and the Central Government has started placement of youths in small numbers in service sector outside the state. This speaks of the seriousness of the Union Government to improve things in the strife-stricken State of Jammu and Kashmir. A major step, when completed in next five years, is bound to change the entire complexion of employment opportunities for the youth of the State. The Rangarajan Committee has recommended that jobs have to be provided for one lakh youth of the State, and the process of implementing the recommendation is underway.


A significantly encouraging aspect of this scheme is that it gets a boost with corporate majors like Infosys, Tatas, Godrej and Bajaj evincing interest in joining the initiative. A large number of corporates including Infosys Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services, Godrej and Boyce, Compton Greaves, Bajaj Auto, Tata Motors and Apollo Hospitals have expressed their willingness to join this "unique and exciting venture." Under the initiative, there is a proposal to identify 10 to 20 companies across industry sector to partner with an educational institution and run special training programmes to enhance employability for 8,000 students every year. This would translate into 40,000 youths in Jammu and Kashmir becoming employable in various sectors aacross the country. Under the Skill Empowerment and Employment (SEE) Scheme, experts, in consultation with the Rural Development Ministry, have developed a special placement-linked, market-driven skill training programme for the J and K youth. The Rangarajan report suggested a two-pronged approach to employment generation - identify sectoral initiatives for growth and employment generation and increase employability of youth by improving skill sets. Under the Skill Empowerment and Employment (SEE) Scheme, experts, in consultation with the Rural Development Ministry, have developed a special placement-linked, market-driven skill training programme for the Jammu and Kashmir youth.

Under the scheme, different training strategies will be used for diverse groups of youth -- school dropouts, dropouts of XII class level and those who have had college education. The objective of the SEE scheme was to provide options and opportunities to all youths in the state regardless of their educational qualifications to select training programmes for salaries or self-employment as per their interest. Government had said that in the first year, 15,000 youths will receive training for salaried and self employment opportunities. Under the Special Scholarship Scheme (SSS), 5,000 scholarships per annum may be awarded for the next five years. Out of this, 4,500 scholarships (90 per cent) could be for general degree courses and 250 each for engineering and medical studies. These scholarships would not only cover, subject to a normative ceiling, the full tuition fee but also hostel fee, cost of books and other incidentals. A possible annual normative ceiling for the programme could be Rs 30,000 for general degree courses, Rs 1.25 lakh for engineering and Rs. three lakhs for medical studies.

Never before has such a massive programme of youth employment been thought of for the unemployed youth in any of the states of the Union of India. In that sense our State has the unique opportunity of becoming a model state that is provided space and opportunity for transition to industrial culture. In these columns we have often said that full scale but rational industrialization of the State could prove a vital instrument of eradicating unemployment and restoration of normalcy in Kashmir. The time has come and it is hoped that the youth in the State will grab the opportunity of radically changing their life in days to come. The jinx of unemployment has to be banished from the State for all times to come.






The Rs 235.3 crore centrally-sponsored scheme to be implemented over next five years stands approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on May 19. The scheme will have active involvement of corporate world starting from beneficiary selection, training and finally through "handholding and mentoring" during placement. This step is sequel to the special scheme on the basis of the recommendations of C Rangarajan Committee appointed by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Committee had submitted its report in February 2011, and the Central Government has started placement of youths in small numbers in service sector outside the state. This speaks of the seriousness of the Union Government to improve things in the strife-stricken State of Jammu and Kashmir. A major step, when completed in next five years, is bound to change the entire complexion of employment opportunities for the youth of the State. The Rangarajan Committee has recommended that jobs have to be provided for one lakh youth of the State, and the process of implementing the recommendation is underway.

A significantly encouraging aspect of this scheme is that it gets a boost with corporate majors like Infosys, Tatas, Godrej and Bajaj evincing interest in joining the initiative. A large number of corporates including Infosys Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services, Godrej and Boyce, Compton Greaves, Bajaj Auto, Tata Motors and Apollo Hospitals have expressed their willingness to join this "unique and exciting venture." Under the initiative, there is a proposal to identify 10 to 20 companies across industry sector to partner with an educational institution and run special training programmes to enhance employability for 8,000 students every year. This would translate into 40,000 youths in Jammu and Kashmir becoming employable in various sectors across the country. Under the Skill Empowerment and Employment (SEE) Scheme, experts, in consultation with the Rural Development Ministry, have developed a special placement-linked, market-driven skill training programme for the J and K youth. The Rangarajan report suggested a two-pronged approach to employment generation - identify sectoral initiatives for growth and employment generation and increase employability of youth by improving skill sets. Under the Skill Empowerment and Employment (SEE) Scheme, experts, in consultation with the Rural Development Ministry, have developed a special placement-linked, market-driven skill training programme for the Jammu and Kashmir youth.

Under the scheme, different training strategies will be used for diverse groups of youth -- school dropouts, dropouts of XII class level and those who have had college education. The objective of the SEE scheme was to provide options and opportunities to all youths in the state regardless of their educational qualifications to select training programmes for salaries or self-employment as per their interest. Government had said that in the first year, 15,000 youths will receive training for salaried and self employment opportunities. Under the Special Scholarship Scheme (SSS), 5,000 scholarships per annum may be awarded for the next five years. Out of this, 4,500 scholarships (90 per cent) could be for general degree courses and 250 each for engineering and medical studies. These scholarships would not only cover, subject to a normative ceiling, the full tuition fee but also hostel fee, cost of books and other incidentals. A possible annual normative ceiling for the programme could be Rs 30,000 for general degree courses, Rs 1.25 lakh for engineering and Rs. three lakhs for medical studies.

Never before has such a massive programme of youth employment been thought of for the unemployed youth in any of the states of the Union of India. In that sense our State has the unique opportunity of becoming a model state that is provided space and opportunity for transition to industrial culture. In these columns we have often said that full scale but rational industrialization of the State could prove a vital instrument of eradicating unemployment and restoration of normalcy in Kashmir. The time has come and it is hoped that the youth in the State will grab the opportunity of radically changing their life in days to come. The jinx of unemployment has to be banished from the State for all times to come.






Recently the Chief Minister visited Ladakh for an on-spot assessment of development of the region. He was accompanied by the Minister for Tourism, Jora and other high level Government functionaries. The CM is reported to have chaired a high level meeting in which an overview of development of Ladakh and Kargil regions was presented. The CM referred to the flash floods that brought colossal damage to Ladakh last year and which had prompted the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to undertake a prompt visit to the affected area where they interacted with the afflicted people. The Prime Minister had announced a relief and rehabilitation package and the people of Ladakh considered this goodwill gesture as a special favour. But as reports trickled down from print and other media, it was found that the implementation of PM's relief package had not gained the momentum that it needed to have. Task assigned to the state functionaries towards mitigating the suffering of the flood affected people went on a very slow pace. This gave cause for dissatisfaction. It had to be realized that Ladakh is a snow bound area where road connectivity is operative just for half of the year during summer. Naturally relief and rehabilitation task had to be dovetailed to the weather constraints. This was not done in strict sense of the term and the people had reasons to complain. It is satisfying to note that the Chief Minster has once again focused attention on this subject and taken a serious view of reaching the affected people in Ladakh. He has also given instructions for speeding up the task of rehabilitation. Apart form this; CM has also referred to tourism as an important industry for Ladakh. The idea is appreciable but the question is whether Ladakh has been brought on the priority list of tourist spots in India. If it has been brought, what is the specific tourism development package? Has it been put through the mill at the central and the state level? Just wishing that Ladakh should become a prime tourist attraction for foreign tourist is not enough. It is the particular type of tourist infrastructure that is the pre-requisite for developing tourism in the region.







There is something about June that does not quite agree with Congress fortunes. On June 25, 1946, the Congress accepted the Wavell plan to protect a notional form of Indian unity, only to walk away from its decision in a fortnight and open the party to accusations that may have become archaic, but never quite disappear from history books. On June 4, 1947, the Congress accepted the partition of India. Mahatma Gandhi, sitting in Delhi's Dalit colony, mourned: "Today, I find myself alone… (even Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru) wonder if I have not deteriorated with age."

Gandhi, Patel and Nehru would have got together to cry on June 26, 1975 when Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency, and the country hovered in anxiety and fear while her son Sanjay repeatedly expressed the thought that dictatorship should continue for another two decades. Maybe the old guard knew about the June malaise: Jayaprakash Narayan launched the movement that precipitated the Emergency in June 1974. Indira Gandhi's second terrible historic blunder, Operation Bluestar, took place on June 6, 1984. A closer scrutiny of dates and events would surely produce more interesting data, albeit on a sliding scale in descent.

The follies of June 2011 may seem squalid, particularly when juxtaposed with some contemporary characters who have seized centrestage, compared to the great confrontations over nationalism, democracy and federalism in Junes past, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the fury that has seized Indians over black money and corruption. A complacent and even arrogant Congress is showing every sign of doing precisely that. It believes it can mollify Anna Hazare and vilify Baba Ramdev just as it once thought it could ignore Anna and deal with Baba by stroking the latter's ego. This is a petty strategy for a profound problem.

The voter is recording every scene of this volatile drama in his subconscious, and that montage will determine the next elections. History tells us that it is virtually impossible to defeat the Congress until it takes a very determined vow to defeat itself.

Paradoxically, the problem of corruption is a consequence of success. Before 1947, the British did not need to ferret away black money, because they could pick up as much white money from India as they wanted. Empire apologists, or their Indian sycophants, rarely acknowledge the war debt that Britain owed India after 1945, and which it could not pay when free India needed the money most.

The black economy was a marginal fact for three decades after freedom, because when you don't have much of an economy, black economy can't be much of a deal either. In the 1960s and 1970s, smuggling was a theatrical reality for newspapers and movies, but it did not penetrate the bloodlines of the Indian economy. Today, corruption is leukemia. The Indian is both awed by a figure like Rs 1.76 lakh crore, as well as nonplussed by it. It is so fantastic that it floats into the notional. What makes Rs 1.76 lakh crore real is the fact that Indians have to pay Rs 176 at every corner every day to get every small thing done by Government, or indeed the multiples they pay as a bribe to twist the law or ignore it. The result is a deadly mixture of rage and guilt. Underlying both is a gradual conviction that if matters continue as they are, the nation state will corrode. The young are at the forefront because they want to protect an India they know will blossom once it is rescued from those who have infected its bloodstream.

This national fury has found a legitimate target in the politician, because the political class has outstripped all competition to become the most obnoxiously rapacious exploiter in modern history. Businessmen at least provide jobs. Politicians fatten files when they are not fattening themselves. In 1739, Nadir Shah looted Delhi for three days, and we have not forgotten. Politicians have welcomed the 21st century with loot on an unprecedented scale.

It is ironic that this loot has taken place under the watch of a decent Prime Minister who has kept his personal distance from the sack of India. But Dr Manmohan Singh's financial integrity is of little use to Indians when he presides over a Cabinet weighed down with the corrupt. He refused, for years, to recognise guilty colleagues because that would have brought his Government down, although he knew precisely what they were doing. This continues to be true. The current crusade is being led by non-political actors because Indians no longer trust their politicians. There is stain on every side. It is necessary to note that when they believe a politician to be honest, they reward him with reelection.

If 2004 was the best year in Manmohan Singh's life, then he might, when he gets to write his autobiography, rue the day he was reelected in 2009.






India is one of the fastest growing economics in the world today that is embracing the process of transitions to a green economy. It is for the first time ever that India is hosted World Environment Day 2011 on June 5th and aptly so. The Government of India is trying hard to find solutions to the socio - economic pressure on the country's forests. India has instituted an afforestation programme to combat land-degradation and desertification, including wind breaks and shelter breaks to protect agricultural land.

In conserving its critical ecosystems, India has successfully introduced projects that track the health of the nation's plants, animals, water and other natural resources, including the Sunderbans - the largest deltaic mangrove forest in the world, and home to one of India's most iconic wildlife species: the tiger and Dachhigam National Park home to the world famous 'Hangul.' India has also launched a compensation afforestation programme under which any diversion of public forests for non - forestry purposes is compensated through afforestation in degraded or non - forested land. The funds received as compensation are used to improve forest management, protection of forests and of watershed areas. Moreover, a government authority has been created specifically to administer this programme.

Recently UN Under - Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner recently said, "Over close to the 40 - year history of WED, India's cities and communities have been among the most active with a myriad of events undertaken across the country each and every year - so it is only fitting that this developing economy is the host in 2011."

"India is famous for its culture, arts, movies and world - beating Information Technology industries. Increasingly, it is at the forefront of some of the 'green shoots' of a Green Economy that are emerging across the global," he said.

"From its manufacturing of solar and wind turbines to its Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which underwrites paid work for millions of households via investments in areas ranging from water conservation to sustainable land management, foundations are being laid towards a fundamental and far reaching new development path," added Mr. Steiner.

This is underlined by India's introduction of the Clean Energy Fund into its national budget which provides subsidies for green technology and has been the basis for a National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) which sets specific targets on issues such as energy efficiency and sustaining the Himalayan eco-system.

Under the able leadership of Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh and Dr. Farooq Abdullah Minister for New and Renewable Energy India is currently planning one of the largest green energy projects in the world that will generate 20,000 megawatts of solar energy and 3,000 megawatts from wind farms on 50,000 acres in Karnataka in southwest India. The first phase of the US $ 50 billion project will start next year.

In its ground-breaking report on the Green Economy recently UNEP cites India and the US $ 8 billion National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which underwrites at least 100 days of paid work, benefiting close to 60 million rural households.

"India's offer to host WED is another expression of India's strong commitment to work with the global community for sustainable development. This event will serve as the inauguration of a series of events leading up to the hosting of the 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It will also flag off the celebrations of the International Decade for Biodiversity. This will in addition signal India's commitment to the biomass economy so dependent on the sustainability of our natural resources", said Dr. T. Chatterjee, Secretary for Environment and Forest of the Government of India.

Two of India's most prominent cities - Mumbai and Delhi - will be the venue for this year's global celebration of the environment, with a myriad of activities over several days to inspire Indians and people around the world to take action for the environment.

The celebration in India on June 5 are part of thousands of events taking place around the globe. WED 2011 emphasizes how individual actions can have an exponential impact, with a variety of activities ranging from school tree-planting drives to community clean-ups, car-free days, photo competitions on forests, bird-watching trips, city park clean-up initiatives, exhibits, green petitions, nationwide green campaigns and so on.

The activities kick started on WED will inspire, inform and involve people through unprecedented interactivity, offering tips, information and statistics on forest conservation. These activities will go a long way in securing our forests for generations to come. We owe it to our future generation to leave a clean and green planet for them.

(The author is an Environmentalist and Science Popularizer.)






The crusade against corruption is pushed down to the level of enactment of a Lok Pal or Lok Ayukta law and establishment of a mechanism to redress the complaints of citizens.

The atmosphere sought to be created is that India will lose democracy and the poor will continue to stay away from their share in development. Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev make the best use of the opportunities available due to the rock bottom credibility of the Congress and politicians across party lines to sensitise, mobilise and galvanise the white collared crusaders hooked to emails, facebook, and candle light processions. The electronic media is ever ready to go gaga over anything related to cricket, corruption and elections.

Though the crusaders attempt to equate their fight and methods to Gandhi, Vinoba and Jayprakash Narayan, a clear line of difference needs to be drawn. The Mahatma's 'satyagraha' was to redress the issues of the underprivileged and the disempowered. There are multiple examples of struggles during the fight for independence and later in post-Independent India commencing from the Dandi Salt March to the Emergency of 1975. All of these involved the masses and empowered the blue-collared people of our country. The 'satyagrahas' by Ms. Medha Patkar and the likes focussed to provide the basic right of life and livelihood to the marginalised and voiceless, the struggles of the victims of Bhopal gas tragedy for whom justice is elusive even after 25 years and millions of common people dispossessed of their lands and homes knocking for security and rehabilitation largely go unnoticed on account of poor visibility in media.

It would be arrogant and rash on my part to belittle the demand for the Lok Pal or Lok Ayukta at a juncture when it is perceived as a solution for a corruption free public administration. Problems of redressal of citizens' grievances is the subject on which the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by the Late Morarji Desai, who later became the Prime Minister of India gave its first report. It is that report which recommended for the establishment of Lokpal and Lokayukta institutions at the Central and state level respectively. These institutions were intended to serve as institutions independent of the Government concerned and as institutions to supplement the judicial institutions headed by chief justices or judges of Supreme Court of India or high court of the state.

Limitations of Lok Pal
However, it is equally true that as long as the fight against corruption confines itself to the legal remedy of setting up of Lok Pal at the Centre and Lok Ayuktas in the states, there is nothing much for the parties on the demand and supply side of corruption to fear. The corrupt keep their eyes wide open. They are unlike the cat that closes the eyes whilst stealing the cream. The corrupt know that laws can be circumvented. The authorities can be put on silent or sleep mode. The redress machinery is guided by investigation, evidence and proof. Further, the Lok Pal is set in motion after the offence is committed. There is always a channel of appeal to the high court and Supreme Court and we are all witness to the dust that accumulates on the cases in these temples of justice.

Therefore, a bill though necessary is not a vaccination against the cholera of corruption. However, it can definitely act as a tranquiliser or a pain-killer providing temporary relief. It is not that corruption is rampant today because of absence of Lok Pal or Lok Ayukta. At present, we have the Lok Ayukta in Bihar, Karnataka, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, MP, AP, UP, Orissa, Uttaranchal, West Bengal and Maharashtra. I have perused the work statistics of the office of Lok Ayukta in some of these states. The disposal is around 30 per cent. Out of the grievances disposed, the decisions in favour of the complainants is around 15 per cent, others disposed as being not maintainable or grievances could not be established. Wherever we have the Lok Ayukta in states, the wind and thunders of corruption has neither subsided nor are the corrupt on the defensive.

Hence, let us be realistic in our expectations from the Lok Pal. It is one of the few and not the only institution for corruption free governance. It is also a mixed bag of solutions and problems. Lok Pal being a quasi-judicial authority may order acquittals for want of sufficient evidence and proof which would provide a non-corrupt certificate to the otherwise corrupt.

Apart from the Lok Pal bill, the major contribution of the Anna Hazare movement is the "mini-cafetarias" that will spring up due to the sensitisation.

The chosen few from the civil society should exhibit a practical approach at the drafting stage. The bill should not aim at creating a parallel Government of the proposed ten members Lok Pal brigade. The role and efficacy of existing machineries such as the CAG, CEC, ED, CVC, CBI, Income-tax Department, higher judiciary, the institution of Parliament needs to be recognised and given desired importance. Civil society need not consider the bones of differences as non-negotiable, particularly the issues of bringing the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary under the purview of the Lok Pal. Their demand calling for a live telecast of the drafting committee meetings, I feel is crossing respectable boundaries. This speaks of their acumen to negotiate.

For a corruption-free society, we should also operate many other levers and knobs. The opening up of the economy resulted in the collapse of the non-official or black market and gave a death sentence to the Number Two economy in a wide spectrum of trading activities and imports. As we undertake more reforms in delivery systems and bring in transparency, it would also reduce corruption and unaccounted wealth.

Blue-Collared Equally Important
Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar symbolised light amidst a climate of darkness, dirt and hopelessness. Ms. Medha Patkar chooses the difficult road for emancipation of the underprivileged.

The print as well as the electronic media is providing a disproportionate respectability as well as visibility to the white-collared struggles with almost a blackout on blue-collared ones. The blue-collared struggles should be brought in to the limelight. They empower the dispossessed by providing access to resources and security of life and livelihood. They cut at the roots of corruption and make the masses independent from the doles of the politicians. They move the less privileged forward and deepen political and economic democracy. (INAV)











THE joint drafting committee constituted for the Jan Lokpal Bill is clearly a non-starter. Whatever doubts remained on that count were dispelled when the chairman of the committee, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, on Sunday declared that there can be no deadline set for the Bill to be passed by Parliament. Since Parliament is supreme in matters of legislation, the government, he suggested, could give no commitment for passing the Bill. Coming close on the heels of Anna Hazare's threat of a fast-unto-death if the Bill is not passed by Independence Day this year, events seem headed to a fresh confrontation between the government and the civil rights activists led by him. It is also clear that the draft Bill to be introduced in Parliament will make no mention of bringing the office of Prime Minister under the ambit of the Lokpal, a major demand put forward by the activists. Mr Mukherjee also rejected the demand to video-record the proceedings of the committee and place it in the public domain. The government, however, appears willing to post the audio tapes for public scrutiny.


From the beginning both sides had made no secret of their distrust of each other. With Mr Mukherjee now questioning the legitimacy of a handful of 'nominated' or self-styled leaders seeking to control the elected representatives, there is little common ground left for the two to work together. Both are responsible for muddying the water with their public posturing, belligerent statements, ultimatums and threats. While the government is correct in objecting to the threats and ultimatums, it has done little to inspire confidence in its readiness to take steps to curb corruption and black money. While the civil society must learn to take one step at a time, the government needs to be more responsive to the real and rising concerns in society over scams.


The country must be tired of the daily discourse on corruption and probity in public life. It is time to act and the government will do well to forge a consensus among all political parties on how to combat corruption before Parliament's monsoon session begins.









Attacks on journalists are getting worryingly more frequent. And these are not confined to the troubled Jammu and Kashmir, the Maoist-hit states or the North-East. The country's financial capital, Mumbai, is also vying for the dubious distinction of being the crime capital. The 26/11 terror attacks caught the police sleeping. The recent murder of a driver of Dwaood Ibrahim's brother revived fears of gang rivalry leading to more blood-letting on Mumbai's streets. The murder of senior crime reporter Jyotirmoy Dey in broad daylight on Saturday has shaken not only journalists but also the civil society that values freedom of the media as society faces a serious threat from a nexus of politics, business and crime.


The Mumbai police, not surprisingly, is still clueless about the motive of the journalist's murder. The needle of suspicion points to the underworld and the oil mafia. Dey had excelled in crime reporting and written two books on the subject. As part of work he might have annoyed underworld dons. The police suspects the oil mafia, which had caught national attention after it burnt alive Deputy Collector Yashwant Sonawane in January. Dey was working on a report to expose the misdeeds of a gang of oil thieves, policemen and politicians. This brings into question the wisdom of handing over the sensitive murder case to the local police.


While the country at large offers a favourable working environment to journalists, local criminal gangs and despots in business and politics do threaten their freedom. Unlike others, they cannot be provided with police security as that could compromise their independent functioning and secrecy of sources. The fear of law has to be drilled into criminals – no matter how powerful. Otherwise, no one would risk exposing wrongdoings. While pragmatic journalists cultivate the powers-that-be, the idealists — like Dey — stand up to the mighty and take the bullet.











OFTEN, the rehabilitation programmes initiated by the government cut no ice with the sex workers in India. The reason is that they smell sympathy rather than respect for the persons involved in the world's oldest profession. The Supreme Court had directed the Centre and the states/ Union Territories to prepare suitable rehabilitation schemes for the welfare of sex workers in April who, the court stressed, are entitled to a life of dignity under Article 21. On May 4, the court again sought reports on what vocational and technical training schemes the states were proposing to ensure meaningful rehabilitation of the physically and sexually abused women. Close on the heels comes the Government of Haryana's initiative, which has invited applications from the NGOs interested in working for the rehabilitation of sex workers in the state.


The state claims it has close to 14 thousand sex workers, who are to be rehabilitated under Ujjawala and Swadhaar schemes of the Centre. Going by unofficial sources, unprecedented growth of economic centres like Gurgaon has given rise to a lot more numbers involved in the trade in urban and semi-urban areas but in a sophisticated manner, which eludes the conventional surveys conducted on sex workers. Even at the national level, the number of women involved in sex trade largely varies, undertaken by government and private agencies.


If one is to look at the history of success of such schemes taken up in the past, one would realise the schemes have filled sex workers with more scorn and contempt rather than sorting out the complex issue. One reason behind the fact is that sex trade flourishes under police and political protection and hence is largely criminalised. Forced rehabilitations carried out by the government, elsewhere in the country, in the name of "rescuing them from their plight" have not paved the way for their betterment. What is indeed needed is more opportunities for women to choose their means of livelihood from. The proposed training on the lines of ITIs and providing loans for the marketing of their products are well-meaning ideas, but their real test would be in their implementation.









ONE of the most shameful pieces of legislation in our penal code is the continuance of "sedition" Section 124-A of the Penal Code which provides that whoever excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life. The expression disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. This provision was included by the British government in 1870 as rulers of India. Regretfully, it continues to muddy our laws of crime.


This imperialist legislation was used against several freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant. Mahatma Gandhi was also prosecuted under 124-A in 1922. In a speech before the trial judge, he said… "Section 124 A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the I.P.C. designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by the law. If one has no affection for a person, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence."


Though in the original draft of the Constitution "sedition" was provided as one of the exceptions to limiting the fundamental freedom of speech and expression, after a long debate in the Constituent Assembly it was dropped.


This was because the incongruity of continuance of such a provision in free India was recognised in the debates of the Constituent Assembly. K. M. Munshi advocated its deletion from Article 19 because "The party system which necessarily involves an advocacy of the replacement of one government by another is its only bulwark; the advocacy of a different system of government should be welcome because that gives vitality to a democracy."


T.T. Krishnamachari, who was then a member of the Madras Legislative Assembly, supported Munshi pointing out that such a law became non-functional in 1802 in the US.


Nehru's views, expressed in 1951, were totally against this provision when he said, "Take again Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. Now so far as I am concerned, that particular Section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons, in any body of laws that one might pass. The sooner we get rid of it, the better." But alas these encouraging words remained merely on paper and Sec 124A continues to be used as a weapon of oppression by tainted governments.


Immediately after 1950, the High Courts of Punjab and Allahabad held Section 124A to be invalid. But unfortunately these decisions were overrated in the Kedar Nath Singh case (1962) where, with the greatest respect, in an exercise of judicial word play the court, while holding that "strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means, would not come within the section", at the same time downplaying the above by saying that this should be without exciting the feeling of disloyalty to the governments. It is to be regretted that the Supreme Court refused to recognise the difference between the State and the government. Disloyalty can only be to the Indian State. But to spread disloyalty peacefully to the government because it is considered to have anti-people 
policies is the very foundation of a vibrant democracy.


In a democracy, anybody who is dissatisfied with the government has the right to create disaffection against it and seek its removal at the next election. In fact, it is the constitutional right of every citizen to expose the misdeeds of the government it disapproves of and create disaffection and disloyalty among the people and work for throwing it out of power — of course, without resorting to violence.


Disloyalty to a government is different from disloyalty to the State. But, alas, because of the Kedar Nath case the police confidently goes on resorting to Section 124A against social activists, and the courts, as a routine, deny bail and the activist remains in jail for years even without the trial starting. A greater degree of human rights violation is hard to imagine.


Very significantly, the explanation to Section 124A, which distinguishes "disapprobation" (i.e. criticism) from "disaffection", has been dropped from the definition in the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). This makes this provision more dangerous to democratic rights.


A recent convention organised by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and participated by other human right organisations heard the accounts of widespread and systematic misuse of sedition law across India. All forms of democratic struggles — from farmers' agitations to citizens' protests against state policies — have been criminalised and prosecuted under sedition laws. Consequently, thousands of ordinary citizens have not only suffered violations of fundamental freedoms and liberties but have also been forced to undergo major personal, emotional and financial hardships due to imprisonment and seeking legal remedies. It consequently resolved to launch a nation-wide signature campaign to collect at least a million signatures to present to Parliament demanding immediate repeal of sedition law — Section 124A, IPC, and Section 2(o) (iii) UAPA, 1967.


It is ironic that sedition law, which owes its ancestry to English imperial domination, continues on our statute book, notwithstanding the fact that England has abolished the crime of sedition and, in doing so, emphasised the following:


Sedition is defined in vague and uncertain terms. This offends the fundamental principles of criminal law.


In any case, it refers to a particular historical context (sovereignty residing in the person of the King) which no longer holds. The law is archaic and must be done away with.


While certain political views may be unreasonable or unpopular, they cannot be criminalised. This offends democratic values.


The definition of sedition offends fundamental freedoms of speech and expression which are universally recognised.


In practice, the law is used to silence political opposition or criticism of the government. This has a "chilling effect" on free speech.


Should India still suffer public humiliation and embarrassment before the human rights audience both nationally and internationally by continuing the law of sedition?


The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.









THE names that people give their pets never cease to amaze me. Some popular names for dogs during my childhood were Raja, Tiger or Fluffy. People with more imagination settled for Dollar or Rouble. Naturally, when Rouble had a baby, he was named Kopek!


The sheer variety in pet names these days is reflective of the refined preferences of pet owners. I use the word "owners" merely for want of a better word, of course. My daughter introduces our cantankerous but beloved JoJo as her 'furry brother', so I need to introspect as to what that makes me! Other young people consider "guardians" or "carers" a more sensitive word than "owners". After all, you can buy a pup at a pet shop, but it is the dog that eventually ends up owning you.


Starting with those who have food on their mind, I am acquainted with a Cookie, a Brownie, a Toffee, a Biscuit and a Pudding. I am even on first name terms with a Momo and a Dimsum. An exotic beauty I know is called Chocolat, pronounced Sho-koh-la, the French way.


When we were probationers at the IAS Academy in Mussoorie, the "no animals allowed on campus" rule was only relaxed for the Director's faithful companion. Diana was a great, shaggy creature who loved the soup and pasta her bachelor owner cooked for himself. The old girl (nicknamed Lady Di) had free run of the classrooms and often cocked a disdainful eyebrow at our powerpoint presentations.


Sometimes it becomes inevitable for parents to give in to the demand for a pet. Great company, genuine comfort and undeniable security make for excellent reasons to have acanine companion in the house. At last count, 15 of my daughter's classmates had acquired pet dogs. Their names are refreshingly clever: Boozo, Oscar, Chief, Eddy, Maxx, Merlin, Candy, Hilary, Milo, Cupid, Fiskars, Pinocchio, Casper, Gizmo and Paris. I was also warned that Rex was short for Tyrannosaurus Rex – this doggy dinosaur was alive and growling!


One individual I met last year was called Chaos, or, Kaos, spelt the German way. I have yet to meet a more well-behaved and gentlemanly dog. I was puzzled at the choice of name until their seven-year-old advanced an irrefutable piece of logic :  "Auntie, not all people named Sweety are sweet!"


Dogs are often named for famous people, and not always as an insult! The names people bestow on their canine friends reveal facets of their own personalities. Some years ago, I had a scholarly boss whose equally dignified dog was called Rousseau. At meetings in his camp office, I involuntarily looked over my shoulder for a Plato or a Cicero to emerge. But all I saw was a Moti. The mystery was cleared when Rousseau was transferred along with his Dad and Moti remained behind with his own family headed by Des Raj the chowkidar!


The most direct system of nomenclature I have ever come across involved a little girl of four and her new pup. She took one look at him and declared, "I shall call him Funnyface!"









THE defence services had been clamouring for an Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) for decades, essentially because the civilian courts took years and even decades to decide their cases. These inordinate delays had an adverse impact on discipline, morale and functioning of the military. Take just two cases. The Sixth Pay Commission gave Brigadiers more pension than Major Generals. It took the Punjab and Haryana High Court three long years to address this simple anomaly. Some five years later the case is still doing the rounds of the Supreme Court. Air Vice Marshal Masand, with outstanding service record and a pilot of great repute with the Vir Chakra to his credit, was superseded for promotion to the rank of Air Marshal. Long after he retired, he is still fighting his case in the civilian courts. Perhaps his children will have to continue the fight after he has left the scene.


Since the AFT has come into existence, its benches spread across the country have done a commendable job and have been deciding cases, not only with great scrutiny and application of mind, but with equal promptitude. They are moving quicker that the fast track courts, reinforcing the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied.They have been able to decide cases that have been hanging fire in civilian courts for as long as half a century. Though the AFT is established on the lines of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), they differ in one essential aspect in that the AFT reviews cases of defence services which have separate laws and courts of their own. These courts have full judicial powers. The AFT was set up after long prevarication, dithering and delay, recommendations of the law commission and innumerable articles in the national press pressing for its dire need.


The composition of the AFT was worked out with a view to relate it to the composition of the courts whose verdict, besides other service issues, it would also be called upon to review. This was so because civilian courts are generally not conversant with the military's working, systems, ethos, environment, and the circumstances under which it is required to operate and discharge its duties in peace and war. These special conditions require a rigorous law, quite apart from the general civilian laws. There was a time that for this obvious reason, civilian courts were somewhat reluctant to take on the military's cases. However civilian courts, for no apparent reason, now seem to adopt an altogether different approach.


As per the AFT Act, rulings and verdicts of the AFT can be reviewed only by the Supreme Court. The very purpose of setting up the AFT was to provide a dedicated forum for quick redressal of grievances and judicial review of court martial orders with the provision for just a one-stage review (Supreme Court in this case) for armed forces personnel, as disposal of cases in civilian courts took a long time and this inordinate delay impinged on the discipline and good order in the defence services.


The Delhi High Court, in its recent ruling noted that High Courts are constitutionally empowered to review decisions of the AFT, not withstanding the fact that the Armed Forces Tribunal Act of 2007 stipulated that appeals against AFT's orders would rest directly with the Apex Court. A Division Bench comprising Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Suresh Kait further ruled, "AFT, being manned by personnel appointed by the executive, albeit in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, cannot be said to be truly a judicious review forum as a substitute to High Courts that are constitutional courts and the power of judicial review, being a basic feature of the Constitution, under Article 226 and Article 227 of the Constitution is unaffected by the constitution of the AFT." Further, tribunals can perform a "supplemental as opposed to a substitutional" role vis-a-vis the high courts, the bench held.


The AFT was set up to exercise appellate jurisdiction with respect to orders, findings or sentences of court martial and exercise original jurisdiction with respect to service disputes. This ruling puts the very purpose of having an AFT somewhat infructuous and takes us back to square one. It is in fact, a leap forward into the past. It will bring about the same painful and frustrating delays and their impact on the military's discipline and functioning as they existed before the promulgation of the AFT Act. The Delhi High Court, in its infinite wisdom, deep understanding of the Constitution and legal acumen, has turned the very idea and rationale of setting up the AFT on its head.


Now article 227(4) of the Constitution, on which the Delhi High Court has relied in passing the above noted order, provides superintendence of High Court over all courts/tribunals falling in its jurisdiction but it specifically excludes court martial cases. Therefore and quite simply and logically, it cannot have power of superintedence over the Armed Forces Tribunal that has appellate jurisdiction over verdicts of court martial cases. Further when there is specific provision for appeal against verdicts/orders of the Tribunal under sections 30/31 of the Act to only the Supreme Court, then how could a writ petition be entertained by a high court.


High Courts are already overloaded with work and the backlog runs into a million cases and it is to bypass this legal quagmire and the necessity for quick disposal of defence services cases that the AFT Act of 2007 was promulgated by the government as an act of Parliament and as such became a law, where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was in the consultative loop. In case the rulings of the AFT are to be subjected to review by the high courts and later by the Supreme Court then the purpose of establishing the AFT is defeated.


On an earlier occasion, a High Court gave a ruling that court martial should record a "speaking order". Now the composition and working of a court martial is akin to the jury system, which for too obvious a reason does not record a "speaking order". Unfortunately, defence services did not contest this ruling in the Supreme Court and court martial proceedings are now required to be accompanied by a speaking order. The judge advocate, who is on the court martial merely to render advice to the members on purely technical legal issues and has no voting right, is the only one who is qualified to write a speaking order. Consequently the judge advocate has come to exercise undue influence over the court, which in reality and practice has altered the very character and working of the court martial.


To avoid inevitable delays in the finalisation of defence services cases dealt by the AFT, in case these are subjected to review by the High Courts as well, the order of the Delhi High Court must be contested in the Supreme Court by the service headquarters. The need for early disposal of defence services cases hardly needs any emphasis.


The writer is a former Deputy Chief of the Army Staff



  • The Armed Forces Tribunal was inaugurated on August 8, 2009. It came into being after the Armed Forces Tribunal Act was passed by Parliament in 2007.
  • The Act provides for adjudication by the tribunal of disputes and complaints about commission, appointments, enrolment and service conditions in respect of those covered by the Army, Air Force and Navy Acts, respectively, and hearing of appeals arising out of orders, findings or sentences of court martial. The Tribunal has original jurisdiction in service matters and appellate jurisdiction in court martial matters.
  • In addition to the Principal Bench located at New Delhi, it has eight regional benches comprising one or more courts at Kochi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Guwahati and Chandigarh.
  • Each court is held by a two-member bench comprisng the judicial member, a retired High Court judge and an administrative member, a retired service officer of the rank of Major General or above. This enables the court to draw upon legal as well as service expertise while deciding cases. Most cases pertaining to armed forces personnel that were earlier pending before various High Courts have been transferred to the AFT.

Quote — unquote

"The Sixth Pay Commission gave Brigadiers more pension than Major Generals. It took the Punjab and Haryana High Court three long years to address this simple anomaly.

The Tribunal is moving quicker than the fast track courts and it has been able to decide cases that have been hanging fire in civilian courts for as long as half a century.

The judge advocate has come to exercise undue influence over the court, which in reality and practice has altered the very character and working of the court martial."





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The governor of the Bank of Israel and former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Stanley Fischer, has announced his candidature for the top job at the IMF. By stating that the IMF's next managing director should be chosen on the basis of the candidate's professional qualifications rather than nationality or other "political factors", Dr Fischer has identified his main target — France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, a lawyer and politician rather than an economist, whose initial candidature was sold on the basis of her nationality and gender. Equally, he has strengthened the candidature of a fellow Chicago-trained economist — Mexico's central bank Governor Agustin Carstens, also a former IMF deputy managing director. Ms Lagarde is widely viewed as the front runner in the race.

While Dr Fischer's professional credentials are impressive, he could alienate many Muslim nations, especially Arabs, because of his association with Israel. Egypt and Indonesia have already announced their support for Ms Lagarde, though Palestine has come out in favour of Dr Fischer. Dr Fischer's main qualification also happens to be his major disqualification. His reputation as an economist and an experienced IMF manager will be weighed against his notoriety as a man who pushed for policies that ruined many economies, including Russia and Indonesia. Finally, his association with Citibank may make it that much harder for the Obama administration to back him convincingly. For all these reasons, Dr Fischer may remain an also-ran.


On the other hand, Dr Fischer could strengthen voices in favour of a professionally-run IMF and further weaken Europe's case. Many voices, including that of the IMF's biggest critic in the US, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, have spoken out in favour of the idea of the IMF being led by a professional of high standing, with no premium being placed on nationality. Neither Dr Fischer nor Dr Carstens would secure Dr Stiglitz' approval but the field is now closed and the votaries of ending European domination may end up supporting Dr Carstens. If the US arrives at an understanding with both Mexico and China, it may lead to the creation of a wider non-European platform that would undermine the candidature of Ms Lagarde. In that eventuality, Dr Fischer could withdraw in favour of Dr Carstens, preventing Ms Lagarde from retaining the post within Europe. In short, the race for the IMF top job is wide open and Dr Fischer has thrown a spanner in Ms Lagarde's works.

The fact, however, remains that in the first round of campaigning, Ms Lagarde has succeeded in stealing a march, though her initial candidature was triggered by Europe's anxiety to keep the job with itself. The idea that the IMF should have a woman boss was a convenient afterthought. Interestingly, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) had strongly criticised the European Union for trying to pre-empt a merit-based selection and seeking to retain the IMF job within Europe. If they stick to their argument, they could also end up supporting Dr Carstens. A final twist to the tale could well be the speculation that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants the top job at the World Bank. If the US chooses to keep that job, it may end up helping Europe retain the IMF job. Where does all this leave India? While India has indicated its preference for Ms Lagarde, the final decision would have to balance contending economic and geo-political considerations. India must keep its options open till it is clear which one of the contenders will serve its own interests better and will also help strengthen the IMF as a truly multilateral financial institution.






The governor of the Bank of Israel and former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Stanley Fischer, has announced his candidature for the top job at the IMF. By stating that the IMF's next managing director should be chosen on the basis of the candidate's professional qualifications rather than nationality or other "political factors", Dr Fischer has identified his main target — France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, a lawyer and politician rather than an economist, whose initial candidature was sold on the basis of her nationality and gender. Equally, he has strengthened the candidature of a fellow Chicago-trained economist — Mexico's central bank Governor Agustin Carstens, also a former IMF deputy managing director. Ms Lagarde is widely viewed as the front runner in the race.

While Dr Fischer's professional credentials are impressive, he could alienate many Muslim nations, especially Arabs, because of his association with Israel. Egypt and Indonesia have already announced their support for Ms Lagarde, though Palestine has come out in favour of Dr Fischer. Dr Fischer's main qualification also happens to be his major disqualification. His reputation as an economist and an experienced IMF manager will be weighed against his notoriety as a man who pushed for policies that ruined many economies, including Russia and Indonesia. Finally, his association with Citibank may make it that much harder for the Obama administration to back him convincingly. For all these reasons, Dr Fischer may remain an also-ran.


On the other hand, Dr Fischer could strengthen voices in favour of a professionally-run IMF and further weaken Europe's case. Many voices, including that of the IMF's biggest critic in the US, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, have spoken out in favour of the idea of the IMF being led by a professional of high standing, with no premium being placed on nationality. Neither Dr Fischer nor Dr Carstens would secure Dr Stiglitz' approval but the field is now closed and the votaries of ending European domination may end up supporting Dr Carstens. If the US arrives at an understanding with both Mexico and China, it may lead to the creation of a wider non-European platform that would undermine the candidature of Ms Lagarde. In that eventuality, Dr Fischer could withdraw in favour of Dr Carstens, preventing Ms Lagarde from retaining the post within Europe. In short, the race for the IMF top job is wide open and Dr Fischer has thrown a spanner in Ms Lagarde's works.

The fact, however, remains that in the first round of campaigning, Ms Lagarde has succeeded in stealing a march, though her initial candidature was triggered by Europe's anxiety to keep the job with itself. The idea that the IMF should have a woman boss was a convenient afterthought. Interestingly, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) had strongly criticised the European Union for trying to pre-empt a merit-based selection and seeking to retain the IMF job within Europe. If they stick to their argument, they could also end up supporting Dr Carstens. A final twist to the tale could well be the speculation that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants the top job at the World Bank. If the US chooses to keep that job, it may end up helping Europe retain the IMF job. Where does all this leave India? While India has indicated its preference for Ms Lagarde, the final decision would have to balance contending economic and geo-political considerations. India must keep its options open till it is clear which one of the contenders will serve its own interests better and will also help strengthen the IMF as a truly multilateral financial institution.






The World Bank has now endorsed a long-standing proposal that governments should impose a carbon levy on jet and shipping fuel to finance climate change mitigation. The proposal comes against the backdrop of a growing controversy surrounding the European Union's (EU's) unilateral move to impose its internal emission trading system on all airlines touching Europe from January 2012. Henceforth, airlines that land in or depart from Europe would have to buy certified emission reduction permits for each tonne of carbon dioxide that they spew in excess of a pre-fixed cap. This cost-escalating measure has predictably upset airlines and governments around the world, with many countries threatening retaliatory action. This action also comes at a time when the fate of the carbon trading-based clean development mechanism (CDM) launched under the Kyoto accord is unclear. Worse, the proposal to collect $100 billion annually for funding CDM projects in the developing countries, agreed voluntarily by the developed countries two years ago, has remained a non-starter.

Clearly, these concerns seem to have influenced the World Bank proposal. The EU's debatable action of imposing its homespun system of emission trading on unwilling non-EU airlines is not a multilateral initiative and, therefore, cannot be supported. It is an action that will hit smaller airlines in particular. They will find it difficult to bear the additional cost of monitoring, reporting and verifying carbon emission records and buying carbon credits from the market to avoid the penalties that, though still unspecified, may include impounding of aircraft. Moreover, such a move seems to violate international protocols on airline operations, as pointed out even by the International Air Transport Association, which represents most global airlines, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Fearing big losses for its national airlines, China has already reacted sharply, pointing out that the step could harm friendly trade ties between Chinese and European airlines on the one hand, and Chinese airlines and European aircraft manufacturers on the other. Surprisingly, the Indian government has yet to take a stand on this issue, though some airlines having a stake in the European market have already slammed it publicly. The issue is not whether a climate levy on the transport sector is justified or not. Perhaps there is a case for such a levy, considering that the Kyoto Protocol is silent on limiting emissions by shipping and aviation sectors, which together account for about 5 per cent of total green house gas emissions. However, fair play and internationalism demand that such a climate tax is levied through a multilateral agreement and is not imposed unilaterally by one or a group of countries.







More by accident than design, India's Five-Year Plans are today well-synchronised with its population census. The 12th Five-Year Plan is due to commence in 2012, a year after the population census of 2011 was conducted. Both the caste and poverty-line censuses are also to be conducted in the course of this year. A great deal of fresh, authoritative information will accordingly be available as India's planners flesh out the prime minister's directive to aim for growth in the range of 9 to 9.5 per cent over the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan, even while attempting to improve the distributive reach and ecological sustainability of this growth.


 Interestingly, China also entered its 12th Five-Year Plan earlier this year. In contrast to the mandate given to our planners, its already approved plan seeks to slow down rather than increase aggregate growth performance over that achieved in the previous plan period. This is in order to allow the economy space in which to address the severe economic and social imbalances that have emerged over the course of the rapid growth over the past decade.

In a wide-ranging article published recently in Economic and Political Weekly ("Prospects and Policy Challenges in the Twelfth Plan"May 21, 2011), Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia provides his assessment of the main accomplishments in the 11th Five-Year Plan now in its final year, the prospects for improving growth performance in the 12th Five-Year Plan, and emerging challenges to be addressed in the 12th Five-Year Plan. One of these emerging challenges is managing India's urban transition.

It is in this context that the Census 2011 becomes relevant. The Census 2011 revealed that the increase in India's rate of urbanisation over the prior decade had been slower than projected earlier, both by experts at the United Nations and by scholars in India. The Census 2011 figures, once tabulated, will provide a definitive assessment of what happened in the last decade, and what might be expected in the decade to come*.

In his article, Mr Ahluwalia reckons the current urban share of the population at around 30 per cent, not much changed from the estimated share of 27.8 per cent estimated by the Census 2001. The Planning Commission currently projects this share to reach 30 per cent by 2030, implying an increase of 250 million urban dwellers over and above the 350 million already residing in urban areas. China's latest census puts its urban share at almost 50 per cent, up by 13 per cent since 2000. Indeed, for the first time in history, the world as a whole now has more than 50 per cent of its population living in urban areas.

A broad range of factors influence the growth of the urban population, notably differentials between average household incomes in urban and rural areas. The Chinese experience suggests if we succeed in achieving our ambitious growth objectives, the rate of urbanisation could well increase even more rapidly than currently expected.

On the whole, increased urbanisation is to be welcomed, since most modern economic activity takes place in cities, and the growth in productivity and, therefore, incomes is easier in an urban context. Well-designed cities are also efficient users of energy when compared with dispersed habitations, whether rural or suburban. Efficiently functioning cities are a key element in the competitiveness of a modern economy.

With increasing urbanisation being both predictable and inevitable, the government has been primarily seized of two aspects of the challenge: the financing of urban infrastructure and the energy needs of our emerging cities. The first has been comprehensively discussed in the recent Report of the High Powered Expert Group Estimating the Investment Requirements of Urban Infrastructure (Chair Dr I J Ahluwalia) issued by the ministry of urban development, while the second is being addressed under the Action Plan for Climate Change. To my knowledge, systematic attention is not being paid to a third important element of the urban challenge, which is the health status of urban citizens.

The challenges for the health of urban populations posed by the fast growth of cities in emerging markets were the focus of a workshop at Oxford in January. The workshop, with which I was involved*, was organised under the aegis of the Emerging Markets Symposium, located at Green-Templeton College. I attended as a member of the steering group for these symposia. The workshop brought together public health experts, economists and practitioners from cities in emerging markets from around the globe.

There were several reasons for conducting a focused discussion of urban health issues in emerging markets. First, the growth and scale of emerging market cities over the next few decades will be unprecedented in human history. Second, this level of urbanisation will take place at rather lower levels of per capita income than was the case in the now-rich countries. This has implications both for the resources available to governments and for the degree of inequality in urban populations. The enormous resources devoted to accommodating the private car as against the need of the pedestrian and public transport user are only one example of the distortions that such inequality can generate.

Perhaps the most important reason for focused attention was that health outcomes in cities have relatively little to do with healthcare expenditures, and much more to do with broader elements of urban design and public health: water, air, transportation, recreational facilities and the like. As at the national level, these issues are typically seen in isolation, and resource allocation is determined within each "silo" rather than optimising expenditure across functions. Yet health outcomes are critical not only for the welfare of the citizens but also for the productivity of the urban workforce.

Each urban conurbation is distinctive, and solutions will need to be found locally, as has been done in Latin American cities such as Bogota and Curitiba. Three things seem essential to make progress: effective and politically empowered mayors (or, as in Delhi's case, a dynamic and engaged chief minister); a well-developed tracking and information system that helps monitor and analyse trends in health status; and flexibility in allocation of resources at the city level, irrespective of where those resources ultimately originate.

It is hoped that those involved in preparing the 12th Plan will give this dimension of India's urbanisation the attention it deserves. Not doing so at this critical juncture could trap millions of Indians in avoidable misery.

The author is country advisor, International Growth Centre and member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council.
Views are personal.








After a decade of deft manoeuvring in Afghanistan with its successful aid policy, New Delhi has taken its eye off the ball. While Washington tries hard to nudge Mullah Omar into sharing power in Afghanistan – a political watershed in a decade-long war – our mandarins have chosen to pooh-pooh the process. Taking cover behind the Mullah Akhtar Mansour fiasco – when a "senior Taliban leader" was flown by the Royal Air Force from Pakistan to Kabul last November for peace talks, but turned out to be a money-seeking impostor – Indian officials dismiss any thought of opening their own track to the Taliban with the toss-off: "Who knows who we would end up talking to?"


 But, as I discovered during a recent visit to Kabul, the dialogue with the Taliban is being seriously pursued and it is captivating everyone who matters: the insurgents, the Afghan polity and government, the Americans, the United Nations and practically every Afghan who has time left over from scrabbling together a livelihood.

Lutfullah Mashal from the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's key intelligence agency, told me that American negotiators have met Mullah Omar's representatives, including Syed Taib Agha, a Taliban ambassador-at-large. Besides Agha, the dialogue has also featured Qudratullah Jamal, formerly Mullah Omar's minister for information and culture. Admittedly, Mullah Omar himself has remained invisible, but that is not necessarily suspicious; negotiating is something that Omar disdains. As Mashal says, "Nobody has seen Mullah Omar, nobody has talked to him, but his trusted people are talking."

This dialogue, however, has created discord between Mullah Omar's Quetta Shoora and Pakistan. Taliban sources lament that Pakistani pressure is forcing Omar to engage with the Americans. Without that, he would be little disposed to talk, being increasingly confident of outlasting the coalition forces in Afghanistan. Given the Quetta Shoora's single-point agenda of forcing foreign forces out of Afghanistan, negotiating with the Americans is a humiliating climb-down. But Islamabad, with its feet held to the fire by Washington, has bluntly told Omar that dialogue is essential, if only to stave off US pressure. But this is a serious loss of face for the Taliban and confuses its rank and file.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's representative to Pakistan until Islamabad handed him over to Washington for an extended stay in Guantanamo Bay, is among those who best understand the Taliban's complex relationship with Pakistan. Zaeef points to the growing contradiction between the Taliban's uncompromising rejection of foreign occupation on the one hand; and on the other, Islamabad's weak-kneed acceptance of American drone attacks and Special Forces operations on its territory. Pakistan has also arrested, and handed over to America, dozens of senior Taliban leaders over the last decade. A proud Pashtun like Omar resents being coerced into dialogue by what he considers a duplicitous and craven government.

Says another Talib: "We are angrier today at Pakistan than America. Pakistan is playing a double game, telling the Muslims that we are looking after your interests … but actually they are working for America. Thousands of Taliban are in jails in Pakistan even today."

AfPak watchers know that Taliban-Pakistan relations were hardly smooth when Omar called the shots in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Now, however, uneasy coexistence is giving way to deep bitterness within the Taliban.

This widening fault line provides South Block an opportunity to transform its traditional power calculus in the AfPak region, which unquestioningly lumps Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shoora with the ISI-military combine. There seems little recognition of Mullah Omar's impending collision with Islamabad; nor that "the Taliban" that the ISI mobilises against Indians in Afghanistan belong to the Haqqani network, which Pakistan maintains far more lovingly than the Quetta Shoora. Divide and rule is standard ISI practice; during the anti-Soviet jihad, it had presided over seven Afghan mujahideen factions, playing one against the other. Today, the ISI effectively maintains two Afghan Taliban by keeping the Haqqani network functionally and financially autonomous from the Quetta Shoora. But, despite the fear that the Haqqani network generates with its suicide strikes and Al Qaeda linkages, Mullah Omar remains the spiritual and symbolic leader of the Taliban, the Amir-ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful). With his uncomplicated agenda (freeing Afghanistan of foreigners); his straightforward methods (gun-toting insurgency rather than suicide bombings); and his growing disenchantment with Pakistan, he represents a real opportunity for an Indian overture.

But ideology invariably trumps realism within the Indian establishment; anyone who deals with the ISI is surely the enemy! Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former senior Talib official, now deputy head of the High Peace Council, provides the obvious context. "The Taliban are in the battlefield against the world's greatest power, which heads of a coalition of 48 countries. They will take the support of anyone who could support them … Pakistan; the Indian government; or the Iranian or Chinese government. This is the nature of the battlefield."

New Delhi's dialogue with Mullah Omar will not be easy. Omar knows that India supported the hated Afghan communists; then the Soviet Union invaders; then the mujahideen factions that battled the Taliban; and then the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Furthermore, the fissures between Pakistan and the Taliban may not turn out wide enough to exploit. But as South Block prepares for a post-2014 AfPak, it would be a strategic blunder to not even have tried to open communications with a major player in the Great Game.







Healthy soil is vital not only for optimum crop production but also for the good health of people and farm animals. Sick soils can neither produce nutritious food nor wholesome fodder. The strong correlation between the physical and chemical condition of soils and the health of people and animals has been borne out by studies and surveys.


 Consider these facts. The net shortage of food affects around one billion people who go fully or partly hungry worldwide. But many times, more people suffer from malnutrition and its health consequences despite consuming adequate amount of food. Reason: the food they eat, though enough to satiate their appetite, does not provide all the essential elements of a diet in the required measure. Experts link this to the widespread deficiencies of major and micronutrients in soils, which is also evident from the nourishment available in the food and fodder grown on them.

The situation is truly grave in India. Crops extract more nutrients from soils than are added to it through fertilisers or organic manures. The total "negative nutrient balance" is estimated at a staggering 8 to 10 million tonnes a year. And it is set to reach around 15 million tonnes by 2025. This will surely aggravate health hazards for humans and livestock.

The loss of three major plant nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorus and potash – is usually made up, albeit partially, with fertilisers. But, the depletion of equally essential micronutrients, numbering over a dozen, is often not taken care of. Consequently, the deficiency of micronutrients like sulphur, zinc, boron, iron, molybdenum and manganese has been noticed in soils on a wide scale.

Almost half the agricultural land is deficient in zinc, according to A K Singh, deputy director-general (natural resource management) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). "Crops grown in these soils have differing zinc content in shoots and seeds. The level of zinc in the blood serum of males and females in Rangareddy and east Godavari districts mirrors the soil and plant zinc status of these areas," he says, in a paper on "Soil nutrient depletion and farm health".

Since the paucity of macronutrients and micronutrients in soils varies from region to region and field to field, its impact on health also varies accordingly. Human beings and domestic animals, who thrive mostly on locally-produced foodstuff, are vulnerable to the health repercussions caused by local soil-fertility aberrations. Wild animals, however, are not affected much because they graze over wider areas, sourcing their food from different sites.

The replacement of organic manure with inorganic fertilisers, especially after the green revolution, is held responsible for the depletion of soil organic matter content and also for the widespread scarcity of micronutrients in soils. The reduction of organic matter lessens the soils' micro flora-content, adversely affecting the vital process of decomposition of organic matter that releases micro-nutrients to improve soil health.

The United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) views human health in a broader perspective as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-bring and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

From this viewpoint, agriculture should not only be deemed merely as means of producing food for man's survival but also as a protector of human health and well-being. For healthy living, people need adequate and, more importantly, balanced amounts of carbohydrates, lipids, fatty-acids, protein, vitamins and several other macro- and micro-elements. A deficiency or disproportionate intake of any of these elements causes poor health, diseases, debility or even mortality.

In the case of farm animals, too, balanced nutrition is imperative for good health. However, surveys conducted in different zones and states of the country have shown widespread incidences of mineral deficiency in animal nutrition. A survey of the micro-nutrient status of green and dry fodders in the Vadodara district of Gujarat has indicated that these were low in iron, zinc and copper. In fact, zinc and copper deficiency in animal diet has been traced in other areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan as well, where micronutrient malnutrition has been noticed among sheep and other domestic animals. Most districts of Haryana have reported a paucity of zinc and iron. In neighbouring Punjab, buffaloes have displayed molybdenum-related symptoms.

The bottom line, therefore, is that food and nutrition security of people and livestock is not possible without soil health security.  







Dear Dr Basu

I read with interest interviews in the media in which you have recommended opening up foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail. I could discover two macro-benefits that seem to be at the core of the case you make. The first that in the long-term this would reduce food inflation. The other that it would generate a significant number of jobs, particularly for the relatively unskilled millions that India will add to its workforce. On the face of it, these reasons alone should make the need to open up FDI in retail an open-and-shut case.


I am neither an economist nor claim access to privileged information that you or others may have had in arriving at these conclusions. I have a few questions and postulates on these two suggested macro-benefits.

Let's consider the proposition that FDI in retail will reduce food inflation in the long-term by drastically reducing wastage and creating an efficient farm-to-fork supply chain.

We have been having high food inflation for the past 12 to 15 months. From what one reads in international magazines like The Economist, during this period many developed countries with a significant presence of organised retail have also seen high food inflation (relative to their markets). Is it that in recommending FDI in retail we are prescribing the wrong medicine?

A very large section of the masses (70 per cent) buy much of their foodgrain through the subsidised public distribution system and not at private retail outlets. That leaves pulses, fruit and vegetables, which is what seems to be primarily considered in reference to food inflation mentioned in the articles. Within this, there are two distinct issues of wastage and price inflation that are not necessarily the cause and effect of each other. Most of the pulses do not require specialised storage, so it can be nobody's case that there is abnormal wastage with the movement of pulses from its source to the consumer.

The current price inflation in pulses seems to have its genesis in climatic factors affecting production and an increase in consumption due to higher incomes. There is unlikely to be much that one can expect to be done by international retail to address these imbalances.

So is it, then, that the wastage being spoken of in the context of FDI and as contributing significantly to food inflation mostly that of fruit and vegetables?

In the past 16 years that various Indian business houses have forayed into organised retail, there is no data to show that this has happened. The large percentage of fruit and vegetables being said to be wasted (over 40 per cent) due to improper transport and storage seems grossly exaggerated.

One has to only visit the large mandis to see that actual wastage is far lower. Sure, there is some "second grade" and damaged output that arrives. There is also some loss before this in the chain but the cumulative impact is possibly way lower than the figures mentioned. Also, in the unique kaleidoscope of India there are consumers for this too in the "darshinis", dhabas and so on and the poor to whom these are sold at significantly lower price points.

There is also mention of the large number of intermediaries between farm and fork and the resultant inefficiency. The integrated supply chain infrastructure large multinational retailers are expected to set up is likely to squeeze out the inefficiency, passing on the price benefit to the consumer. The intermediaries in the supply chain today give rise to operational inefficiency and not necessarily to large financial inefficiency that can provide significant savings to the consumer.

Most of the current intermediaries work on margins that are abysmal by world standards; some of those in the grains and pulses chain make Rs 1 to Rs 2 on a quintal bag of grain, which is a decimal-point margin on the value of the item.

Many of the other countries being mentioned as successes have food supply chain margins that are much higher than that available in India. There is no mention in the various articles about the estimated level of investment required in cold chains and infrastructure to replace this "inefficient" chain. Has any independent study been done to evaluate this? A back-of-the-envelope calculation could show that in providing a reasonable rate of return to the private players making these billion-dollar investments, we may actually end up with operating costs higher than that of the inefficient chain it proposes to replace.

One visible example of this is the experience of most business houses that have forayed into food retail in India. Over the past many years they have cumulatively lost billions of dollars and not one of them has consistently (that is, through the year and not loss-leader promotions) been able to deliver produce at costs lower than that procured from the local mandi. Is it that many of these Indian companies, fatigued by losses, are actually looking to cash out with the opening up of FDI and hence adding to the clamour?

Over 80 to 85 per cent of the Indian farmers have sub-optimal agrarian land holdings of less than 2 hectares. These do not lend themselves to large-scale contract farming and many of them are also consumers of their produce, bringing small quantities to the market. Most organised retailers today have not found commercial benefits in building a farm-to-fork chain.

The great Walmart effect at lowering prices in other countries misses one key point. The major price reduction Walmart has produced in other countries is mostly in the "non-food" category. The key to this is the great China factory that Walmart leverages.

My humble submission is that the linkage being sought to be established between food inflation and the arrival of FDI in organised retail is tenuous. Examples of other countries miss out on what the ground realities, supply chain commercials and other factors were then prevalent in those countries to make these comparisons meaningful.

History also points us in the opposite direction to the effects of globalisation in sectors that have core inelastic demand and where existing arrangements have worked on low margins. Take our own experience with the arrival of insurance and managed healthcare on the western model. Slowly but surely the total cost of healthcare over the past few years has only gone up.

We are told of 50 to 60 million retail jobs (net of those lost) created in China over 20 years since the arrival of FDI in retail. The Indian experience portends a far more pessimistic picture. Today, Indian retailers engaged in organised food retail have an annual turnover of $3.5 billion to $4 billion. Together they provide 90,000 to 110,000 direct food retail jobs. Assuming even a 1:1 ratio for indirect employment by this sector, today it potentially provides 180,000 to 220,000 jobs. A crude extrapolation would suggest that we need at least $16 billion to $18 billion of food retail turnover to create one million jobs. This suggests that the creation of even 10 million jobs by this sector would need organised food retail business in the region of $180 billion! It would be interesting to ask the multinational retailers espousing the cause of FDI how many years they estimate it will take for organised food retail in India to reach that figure, let alone one required to generate 40 to 50 million jobs.

I believe foreign capital should be welcome even in retail if it brings significant benefits to our country, solves issues that face the business and its ecosystem. But in the debate on FDI in retail there is little clarity on what problem we are trying to solve by getting FDI.

It makes me wonder if this is but another attempt to justify a pre-decided end. After all, many American luminaries from President Obama to the Walmart CEO have stated that opening FDI in retail is a major item on the Indo-US economic agenda!

I cannot help but recollect a statement by the director of an iconic US retailer a few years back when queried on their interest in the Indian retail market. He said, "Dilip, India is the last frontier left for the global retail industry; you know, kind of what the Wild West was in the gold rush era." The profits they would want to make in the long term are unlikely on the canvass of reducing food prices. The socio-economic benefits they claim to bring are also possibly exaggerated to justify their gaining access.

I believe opening FDI in food retail is a significant policy issue facing us and will have a long-term impact on society. The government would be well-served by bringing into the public domain the basis and data behind its planned policy change and creating an effective platform for consultation with various stakeholders before crying "Open Sesame" and letting the Walmart mega-liner berth!

Dilip James

The author is a Bangalore-based independent advisor with a long association with Indian retail









The industry has to, with help from the Tea Board, devise a quality certification process that will ensure that the tea exported meets global standards.

For over a year now, a section of the tea industry has been demanding pre-shipment quality inspection of export consignments. Coming on the heels of declining exports, the demand does carry some weight. Rarely does an industry invite controls upon itself, especially on exports. Therefore, it needs serious consideration from all the players concerned. For a couple of years now, tea exports have been struggling to get beyond the 200-million-kg mark — a target that was easily crossed before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. In the last few years, the focus has been on West Asia and North Africa, besides Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. But export volumes have begun to shrink in the face of quality issues faced by some importers. Two months ago, over 200 containers of tea were rejected by Iraq since the consignments were of poor quality. Not surprisingly, then, tea exports during January-April have dropped 24 per cent over that a year ago.

The Iraq rejection episode raises the issue of whether the quality certification process used needs more refinement. Was the sub-standard consignment that got through an exception or is there is a systemic problem in quality certification? The industry needs to re-examine the process for possible lacunae. During a series of meetings with the industry, the Tea Board had agreed to consider pre-shipment inspection of exports. The proposal was to consider it for select destinations such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. There was also a move to consider pre-shipment inspection of teas below a certain value. However, the section of industry that exports to Iraq and Pakistan raised fears that any pre-shipment inspection was nothing but allowing the government to bring in controls. That red-tape could also delay shipments. Others in the industry had suggested the Government set up an independent panel for pre-inspection, and to allay fears of inviting government control, they had also suggested that consignments could merelybe compared with samples that had been sent to the buyer to bag orders. Between September and now, that plan seems to have either been grounded or put in cold storage.

Lost in all these concerns, however, are the long-term prospects for the country's tea exports. True, poor quality shipments can be dealt with by cancelling the licences of errant exporters. That, however, cannot stop the latter from getting licences in another exporter's name. Buyers abroad need assurance on the quality of tea they are getting from India. The industry has to get together and with help from the Tea Board devise a quality certification process that will ensure that the tea exported meets global standards.





The industry has to, with help from the Tea Board, devise a quality certification process that will ensure that the tea exported meets global standards.

For over a year now, a section of the tea industry has been demanding pre-shipment quality inspection of export consignments. Coming on the heels of declining exports, the demand does carry some weight. Rarely does an industry invite controls upon itself, especially on exports. Therefore, it needs serious consideration from all the players concerned. For a couple of years now, tea exports have been struggling to get beyond the 200-million-kg mark — a target that was easily crossed before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. In the last few years, the focus has been on West Asia and North Africa, besides Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. But export volumes have begun to shrink in the face of quality issues faced by some importers. Two months ago, over 200 containers of tea were rejected by Iraq since the consignments were of poor quality. Not surprisingly, then, tea exports during January-April have dropped 24 per cent over that a year ago.

The Iraq rejection episode raises the issue of whether the quality certification process used needs more refinement. Was the sub-standard consignment that got through an exception or is there is a systemic problem in quality certification? The industry needs to re-examine the process for possible lacunae. During a series of meetings with the industry, the Tea Board had agreed to consider pre-shipment inspection of exports. The proposal was to consider it for select destinations such as Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. There was also a move to consider pre-shipment inspection of teas below a certain value. However, the section of industry that exports to Iraq and Pakistan raised fears that any pre-shipment inspection was nothing but allowing the government to bring in controls. That red-tape could also delay shipments. Others in the industry had suggested the Government set up an independent panel for pre-inspection, and to allay fears of inviting government control, they had also suggested that consignments could merelybe compared with samples that had been sent to the buyer to bag orders. Between September and now, that plan seems to have either been grounded or put in cold storage.

Lost in all these concerns, however, are the long-term prospects for the country's tea exports. True, poor quality shipments can be dealt with by cancelling the licences of errant exporters. That, however, cannot stop the latter from getting licences in another exporter's name. Buyers abroad need assurance on the quality of tea they are getting from India. The industry has to get together and with help from the Tea Board devise a quality certification process that will ensure that the tea exported meets global standards.







Astaggering fraction of corporate India — more than three-quarters of those sampled by ET and Ficci — is unhappy with the drift in government. Over 80% say that routine work has slowed, forget about big reforms. This impression is correct. The Manmohan Singh-led administration is obsessed with things that shouldn't matter — including Annas and Babas — and deeply forgetful of things that do, like reforms in mining, land acquisition, the right to food and statehood for Telangana. In ministries, routine work is inexplicably held up, think for a moment about Vedanta's proposed takeover of Cairn's India assets, and nobody seems to be accountable for delays. What are Cabinet ministers, who can't bring themselves to clear files, worth in a democratic setup? And what is our powerful bureaucracy doing? The government's job is to govern. That is a mix of two things: the daily slog of taking small decisions, clearances and administration. Then come not-so-routine reforms, necessary once in a while, to clear the sclerotic arteries of the system. If both functions stop, then progress, growth, development and social justice will all slow down and eventually grind to a halt.
In at least one major way, the Prime Minister is to blame for the stasis in administration. Soon after shuffling his ministers around in January, he said that this was a relatively minor step and he'd rehaul portfolios soon afterwards. This, it was presumed, would happen after Assembly poll results for five states came out on May 13, and before the monsoon session of Parliament, which begins in mid-July. Till now, there's no word about the promised reshuffle. This has created enormous uncertainty among Mr Singh's colleagues in Cabinet. Which minister, knowing that her portfolio might go in a matter of weeks or months, will bother to take any decision? Babus, quick to sense this uncertainty, have busied themselves with irrelevant tasks, pushing anything that could be even mildly sensitive deep into the recesses of their filing cabinets. The result is administrative gridlock. Well, there's only one person who can break this. Mr Singh, time to reboot the system and get it to work.






The Aditya Birla group has made its focus clear: commodities, which include cement, fibres, aluminium, chemicals and so on, to drive topline and bottomline growth. With prices of traded oil and metals generally buoyant — one widely-tracked index says that industrials are up a phenomenal 53% year-on-year — it makes sense to concentrate on commodities. After all, the commodity-centric growth in China, the huge infrastructure backlog in India and the apparent scarcity of natural resources in a scenario of ultra-loose monetary policy in mature markets point at commodity prices as a one-way long-term bet, trending up. But commodities have also become 'financialised' by the creation of exchange-traded funds, which let investors trade in and out of them at the touch of a key. So, negative sentiments in the financial markets can trigger a slump in commodity prices, never mind ground reality and actual demand. There has been a correction in commodity prices recently, though the Baltic Dry Index, which measures shipment costs of bulk commodities, has gone up. Expect commodities to

yo-yo for some time.

Yet, despite the likelihood of much volatility, corporates would be better able to manage operations in commodities by being present along the entire value chain. Anyway, there is solid presence of commodity producers in the benchmark 30-share BSE Sensex, with seven majors directly into commodities and several others heavily dependent on commodities. Now, there is a marked tendency to brand commodities, complete with positioning of premium brands in areas as diverse as cement, steel and petroproducts. Further, some analysts perceive commodity prices as the 'canary in the coal mine', an early indicator of any economic blowout around the corner, before other indicators are available. As Indian commodity majors firm up downstream sourcing and supplies overseas, they would do well to focus on fundamentals and shore up value addition. The watchword needs to be operational flexibility to better manage downside risks in the emerging commodity economy.









 As rumours of a reshuffle grow, have pity for Manmohan Singh's expanding responsibilities as suddenly-ministerless departments keep landing in his kitty. If things don't remedy themselves soon, he can take heart from the example of Belgium that offers an ambivalent t r i s h a n k u alternative to decisive action or mid-term polls, as indeed can many beleaguered Indian chief ministers. Negotiations to form a new government in Belgium have dragged on for a year, after the last general elections were held on June 13, 2010. Far from being incensed by the lackadaisical attitude of their elected representatives, or resorting to hunger strikes and suchlike to force action, Belgians are rejoicing about achieving the distinction of being 'governmentless' for the longest time. Its 365-day record has overtaken Cambodia (353 days from the 2003 elections) and Iraq (289 days after the 2009 polls) as the longest caretaker government, a record no Indian formation could better.
Besides, as no a a m a a d m i can be unaware any longer about how difficult it is to deal with coalition partners, existing and potential, taking inspiration from Belgium will be easier explain away to a truculent civil society than, say, the knotty issue of why four senior ministers were sent to the airport to greet a man whom they later turfed out of the Capital. Belgium having pushed the envelope on how long caretaker governments can cling to office even in hawk-eyed Western democracies, there is no gainsaying what more innovative political systems (and canny politicians) can achieve in this neck of the woods. Given the dismal state of coalitions in this country, perhaps a close watch needs to be kept on any fact-finding delegations that visit Belgium in the near future.








 As rumours of a reshuffle grow, have pity for Manmohan Singh's expanding responsibilities as suddenly-ministerless departments keep landing in his kitty. If things don't remedy themselves soon, he can take heart from the example of Belgium that offers an ambivalent t r i s h a n k u alternative to decisive action or mid-term polls, as indeed can many beleaguered Indian chief ministers. Negotiations to form a new government in Belgium have dragged on for a year, after the last general elections were held on June 13, 2010. Far from being incensed by the lackadaisical attitude of their elected representatives, or resorting to hunger strikes and suchlike to force action, Belgians are rejoicing about achieving the distinction of being 'governmentless' for the longest time. Its 365-day record has overtaken Cambodia (353 days from the 2003 elections) and Iraq (289 days after the 2009 polls) as the longest caretaker government, a record no Indian formation could better.
Besides, as no a a m a a d m i can be unaware any longer about how difficult it is to deal with coalition partners, existing and potential, taking inspiration from Belgium will be easier explain away to a truculent civil society than, say, the knotty issue of why four senior ministers were sent to the airport to greet a man whom they later turfed out of the Capital. Belgium having pushed the envelope on how long caretaker governments can cling to office even in hawk-eyed Western democracies, there is no gainsaying what more innovative political systems (and canny politicians) can achieve in this neck of the woods. Given the dismal state of coalitions in this country, perhaps a close watch needs to be kept on any fact-finding delegations that visit Belgium in the near future.






Volatility actually derives from uncertainty. But the distinction is worthwhile, as there is a dynamic that routes volatility, a product of uncertainty, into a feedback loop that darkens the uncertainty. In today's world, the list of sources of uncertainty is long. That the US is slowing despite trillions in deficits and the bloating of the Federal Reserve's balance-sheet is acknowledged by chairman Ben Bernanke. But is the US entering another recession? Since Republicans now control Congress and are committed to reduce the current fiscal splurge (10% of GDP), there is no question of a new fiscal 'stimulus'. But the Federal Reserve can continue with its expansive stance. Market participants were expecting a modulation in its end-June statement. Some fear further purchase of securities, i.e., third round of quantitative easing (QE3). A postponement of the longawaited gradual return to a more normal US monetary policy, even if there is no QE3, has serious implications for how financial markets will have to act in the rest of 2011, and perhaps part of 2012.

Then, will the euro currency union unravel? Will the proposal for rolling over of Greek loans be regarded as a default — which technically it is — by capital markets and what would be the consequences? The European Central Bank (ECB) is clearly worried. Its president Jean-Claude Trichet, vicepresident Vitor Constancio and chief economist Jürgen Stark have all warned of the dangers of the proposal, going as far as hinting that the ECB may not qualify the new rolledover loans as collateral.

When the worse-than-expected first-quarter GDP figures for the US came out, along with poor payroll numbers, many felt that Opec will raise output quotas to soften prices and ease the pocketbooks of US consumers. However, at its meeting last week, Opec was unable to come to such an agreement and oil prices flared up. It was reported that Saudi Arabia was unable to get the others to agree. However, the fact is: why should oil-exporting nations reduce prices when people are buying at these prices?

More importantly, why should they do so at a time when they need the revenue to keep social programmes funded in a context when the population has turned restive? Particularly when leading G7 governments and their media are actively engaged in taking sides? Early in the last decade, it used to be argued by some — in line with the end-of-history postulate — that inflation in the advanced world was dead, a background to what is now viewed as extreme monetary easing by Alan Greenspan. How did the presumed demise of G7 inflation come about? China, the new factory of the world, had curbed inflation, wages were de facto fixed, while the economy made productivity gains and passed on these benefits to G7 consumers courtesy of a highly undervalued exchange rate. As Mark Twain, reacting to his obituary in a leading New York newspaper, once wrote, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" — likewise with both the end-of-history and the China fix to G7 inflation.

Now China is doing something else. Unable to achieve its stated objective in the 10th and 11th Plans of raising the share of private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) in GDP, it has now moved in an unanticipated direction: by permitting workers to negotiate for higher wages. The experiment was conducted last year under controlled conditions in Foxconn, a Taiwaneseowned company. Clearly deemed to have been a success, it has now been replicated across the country. Inflation in goods has expectedly moved up in line with inflation in wages. The currency is also inching up against the US dollar — though not against other major currencies. It is up 1.8% in 2011 after having run up 3.4% in 2010.

    In China, not everyone shares the view that PFCE should go up — which is why it did not happen for the last 10 years despite the stated policy. Allowing wages to rise is a process that is hard to reverse. It is believed that the present leadership, who are slated to retire in 2012, set in motion this process since they suspected that, otherwise, the future custodians of power would not allow it to happen. The Chinese proverb goes, "Bamboo bends, but it does not break". As the Chinese bamboo grew ever taller, the dictates of prudence demanded a measure of inclusiveness. Higher domestic consumption will mean that the investment rate must decline and the economy slow down. It also means that the exportable surplus will diminish and the price of Chinese exports rise. It may also mean that the suspected strains on some bank loans may start showing up, or maybe not. It is all a bit unnerving if you are betting on the outcome.

Japan has had its Tohoku tsunami and Fukushima moment, and the economic outlook for 2011 is not good. The Arab world is poised on a giant sand dune and nobody knows which way it will roll. In the rest of world — i.e., excluding the US, Europe and China — there is confusion. The largest space in this rest of the world is India. And we have been caught up for the past year in a series of mega corruption scandals and odd going-ons with self-anointed custodians of public morality launching fasts unto death to browbeat government and the institutions of elective democracy. Otherwise, India would have been the showpiece. Along with Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other south-east Asian economies, including Australia, it could have offered an oasis, however small, of sanity and some predictability.

That is why it is all the more imperative that we get our act together. Inflation can and will be managed and, as the new IIP shows, output growth is reasonable. The issue centres on confidence and predictability about our own domestic policy environment. Corrective measures can and must be taken.







Fast, Faster
Among the many colourful episodes that marked Baba Ramdev's now-withdrawn fast unto death, one particular incident was intriguing. Given Ramdev's projected mastery over Yoga, one expected him to display supreme control over his mind and body during these testing times. But on that count, Baba's fasting prowess proved unequal to the task, with the teleyogi unable to hold up to the rigours imposed by a lack of food. For the TV channels, the footage of a visibly weak Ramdev prone among doctors and his close advisers must have been great boosters for rating points. But did all the televised frenzy help to bolster Brand Ramdev? Well, diligent 'fast-watchers' now talk about the contrasting tale of two fasts: one by 46-year-old Ramdev and his 71-year-old competitor Anna Hazare. While Ramdev displayed much discomfiture before he finally called it off, Anna's knock was a cool and professional one played like Rahul Dravid during his five-day Jantar Mantar hunger strike. Not once did he show any signs of physical discomfort. In fact, the fasting Anna used to reassure the Jantar Mantar crowd about his capacity to extend the hunger strike for many more days. Maybe it is time for the yoga guru to take some tips from Anna on the Art of Fasting.
Once Bitten…
Once bitten by Ramdev's guile, the government wants no truck with him any more. So, despite the pleading of Baba's followers, there was no UPA nominee to help him break fast. This sudden withdrawal of sympathy from the state baffled the BJP. As it became clear that Ramdev wouldn't be able to persist with his fast for much longer, some BJP leaders spread a rumour that some 'spiritual leaders' would rescue Ramdev at the behest of leaders of the Congress. But Congress managers promptly called this bluff. First, law minister Veerappa Moily rubbished the claim that Sri Sri Ravishankar went to Ramdev at his initiative. The Congress managers also exposed another lie: that Pranab Mukherjee was urging Swami Agnivesh to hold talks with Baba. With government refusing to play ball, the Sangh finally got an array of godmen to 'persuade' Baba to sip some juice. No show by the Congress made Ramdev's retreat a Parivar show.
Losing Spin
Many believed that the DMK would pull out of the government last week. As that rumour died after DMK's meeting in Chennai, the Opposition's spin masters began to put out another rumour: Sharad Pawar would be the 'next time-bomb' within the ruling coalition. But that story, too, couldn't gain traction. So, even after the travails of Raja and Kanimozhi, how did the Congress and DMK patch up? After losing power in Chennai, the DMK cannot afford a 'power cut' at the Centre as well. Early this month, Ghulam Nabi Azad met Karunanidhi in Delhi and convinced him that the best cure for the Karuna family's long-drawnout family drama is to be patient politically. Given the deep divisions within his family, the seasoned Karunanidhi chose to step away from political confrontation. Even some senior BJP leaders were not very hopeful that the Congress-DMK tieup would break and bring with it early elections. Finally, the BJP showed that it has some real leaders who can dismiss the spin and rumours churned out inhouse.
Among Sharks?
It is more than seven months since Prithviraj Chavan became the Maharashtra chief minister. Given his less-thanimpressive political CV in his home state and his reputation as a leader who thrived entirely under the benevolent patronage of leaders in Delhi, it isn't surprising that Chavan shied away from contesting the bye-elections and, instead, opted for the safe, back-door route of a Legislative Council seat. He is also apparently reluctant to vacate the 11, Race Course Road, bungalow that he occupied as a minister of state in Delhi, before shifting to Mumbai. So, Chavan continues to stay in this official building whenever he visits the Capital. Some political observers wonder whether Chavan's reluctance to give up his Delhidigs shows his deep apprehension about Maharashtra politics. After all, Chavan is still relatively small fry in waters where sharks thrive.






 In the last few years, management authors have started to write tomes on the India way of doing business, believing that there were traits unique to Indian businesses that made them leaders in the country and potential world beaters too. Further, India's sustained growth story since 1991 has made world leaders, economists, businessmen and others look at the country with a more appreciative perspective.

After years of scepticism, many believe that India's planners had their own unique development model that is somehow working despite the fragmented and divisive polity, nearly-stalled reforms, inexplicably inadequate focus on physical and social infrastructure, rising internal unrest, and an incredulous lack of urgency and determination in tackling the myriad challenges the country has faced right from Independence. Unfortunately, many in India, including the ruling coalition, the Planning Commission, the RBI, various chambers of commerce and industry, and, indeed, many leading private businessmen and top managers have also fallen into the lull of believing that the country will somehow continue to grow at 8% or more with some blips now and then on account of performance of monsoon, movement in prices of oil and the bank rates.
Few would wish to acknowledge that India has been suffering from a deficit of vision, and a crisis of (lack of) excellence for at least the last 40 years. This paucity of vision has not been limited only to the political class but to the private business and its managers too. Yes, there have been a few notable exceptions in these four decades and, undoubtedly, there will be many more in the coming ones.

However, an unemotional, totally objective and worldbenchmarked moment of reflection will drive home the painful point that we have failed to create new worldclass cities — a recent article in New York Times on Gurgaon makes some very telling points about the dysfunctional India — with government and the capricious private developers to take the blame equally for their total lack of vision and total disdain for anything remotely bordering on excellence. There is no world-class public transport in any Indian city, no worldclass railway network, no world-class education system and no world-class urban housing (except in price).
Indeed, barring a handful, there are few world-class Indian companies either. Many of which have shown spectacular revenue growth in the last two decades and have spawned many on the global list of billionaires, yet do not have world-class products or businesses to show for the same. Quite a few of these have been the beneficiaries of the crony capitalism that everyone knew about, but did not talk much in public before the happenings of the recent months. China, much later than India to open up to the rest of the world, has countless showcase, awe-inspiring public and private projects that go well beyond Shanghai and Beijing, and an economic footprint that is more visible and impactful all across the world. Chinese companies now compete successfully with the West, beyond China, for consumer and industrial products' businesses, while India has managed to do so only in the IT (services) and a few isolated engineering product sectors. Even in low-tech areas such as shopping malls and recreation centres, housing, urban planning and landscaping, the myopic vision and a near-pathological disregard for anything that stands out for excellence becomes abundantly clear as new flyovers and highways choke before they are commissioned, shopping malls get obsolete before they are launched, and new housing complexes need major repairs even before the first occupant has moved in! While the change in the quality of political class can only happen slowly through the democratic process, it is still feasible to bring a change in the private enterprise. The first step would be to acknowledge and start believing that while there may be different routes, there cannot be a different definition for Indian businesses when it comes to world-inspiring vision and excellence. In every activity, there are some current global benchmarks of excellence, and Indian businessmen have to wholeheartedly appreciate the same and then make a serious effort to at least emulate, if not improve upon, them. The second step would be to realise that there are really no shortcuts in the quest to excel, but fortunately, India will continue to get incredible opportunity for decades to come and, hence, there is no real reason to take shortcuts. The third step requires magnanimity in seeking knowledge and expertise from anywhere in the world even if the cost is more than the home-grown options.
If Indian businessmen continue to follow the India way, not only will the India growth story come to a spluttering halt but also create even more opportunity for successful international players to become leaders in India too. The choice, as in the recent past, is entirely ours.
(The author is chairman of
Technopak Advisors)










They call him LeBore, LeBragger, LeBrat, LeBillionaire. When this team were trailing 3-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals last week, they were at LeBrink. Yesterday, when they tipped over, the celebration across America, including parts of Miami, was un-LeBelievable. As if Good had defeated Evil, David had slain Goliath, and The Rebel Alliance had blown up the Death Star.


 Every pop-culture generation needs its villain – a meta-symbol of evil and power. The 30s and 40s had Dracula. The 50s, 60s and 70s had the CIA and the KGB. The 80s and 90s had Darth Vader. The 2010s has somehow picked LeBron James: basketball player by day, back-stabber by night.
    LeBron entered the NBA as a No 1 draft pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team whose existence didn't really matter until then. For seven seasons, he toiled to get them to the playoffs, closer and closer to the title, breaking every basketball record along the way. In 2007, they went right up to the finals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs. All through this journey, LeBron enjoyed reasonably good press. There were some loose comments, and some irritants; but everyone loves a selfless social worker, and it was a role he played to perfection.
    Then, in 2010, came 'The Decision'. Tired of trying to build a championship-winning team around him, LeBron decided to move to Miami, where he would headline an ensemble cast that he thought would get a ring by right. He thought he'd team up with his superstar buddies Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and win championships and fans would think it was just like winning at Cleveland.


But the backlash was immense. What started from a city hurt by his sudden abandonment became a nationwide movement that soon engulfed the entire basketball-watching world. There was a complete re-interpretation of LeBron James: his life, his philosophy, and his words. What until then were quotes highlighting confidence ("A LeBron James team is never desperate", or "I'm like a superhero. Call me Basketball Man") became examples of overriding ego.


LeBron, for his part, didn't at all handle the changed equation well. Instead of talking to fans, he started mouthing off the most outrageous lines at them. He tweeted, for example, "Don't think for one minute that I haven't been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!" By the time the season ended, LeBron had declared he was bad to bone, ready to defeat the entire universe; waddya gonna do 'bout it? It was a response that would make him the most hated man in professional sport.
    But how LeBad is he, really?


He's not on steroids. He's not beaten little girls or mugged old women. He wasn't arrested for beating his wife, like Jason Kidd. Or accused of rape, like Kobe Bryant. He wanted to take the easy way out? Sure, who doesn't. His ego was writing cheques nobody could cash. Is that so unusual for a young man being hailed as King?
    There was, however, a bigger problem. All the negative energy started to have an effect on LeBron's basketball. There were still 40-point nights, and triple-doubles, and moves that seemed he was Larry Bird one day and Magic Johnson the next. But he stopped turning up every night, and he didn't really come to the party in the fourth quarter, or raise his hand to take the final shot: an attribute that was the foundation of Michael Jordan's legacy.

 In the NBA finals, which Heat lost on Sunday night – their three-man team of superstars taken down by a Dallas unit in which every player counted, down to the last member of the bench – LeBron averaged only 17.2 points, and had virtually no presence at moments when it really mattered.


In contrast, Dallas's German export Dirk Nowitzki, who has stayed with them since 1999, toiling in the playoffs season after season, losing in the 2006 finals to Shaquille O'Neal's Miami, emerged as the faithful hero, or an anti-LeBron. Miami had played the series with a sense of entitlement, while Dirk's Dallas had gone into the finals wanting it more.


Perhaps this loss will help LeBron get out of his cocoon. Despite hating him for a year, basketball fans grudgingly admire him – you can't possibly be a genuine follower of the game and not be stunned by what he does on the court. Hopefully he'll feel humbled by the loss, and not berated. Hopefully he'll reach out rather than shun even more vehemently. Hopefully he'll desperately crave for 'real' success as opposed to some multi-million-dollar shoe deal. Perhaps next season, Darth Vader will take off the mask.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The just-ended three-day deliberations of the CPM central committee in Hyderabad, held to introspect on the causes of the Left's watershed defeat recently in West Bengal and, to a lesser extent, Kerala, will not surprise the party faithful. If a terse single sentence from the general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, can sum up the confabulations, it is this: "Election outcomes do not determine leadership changes in the CPM". While not being caught offguard by this, the cadre down the line are apt to infer that their party is yet to migrate from cuckoo land. As may be expected in the light of this, the flavour of the debates in the crucial party forum on such a key occasion was not shared with the media. Even those among the top leadership who differed with Mr Karat are likely to have spoken with forked tongues. Perhaps the giveaway is the absence — apparently on health grounds — from the meeting of former West Bengal chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, under whom the party bit the dust in a state it had ruled with an iron hand for 34 years. It may also be recalled that not long ago, in a widely reported media interaction, the politburo member, Mr Sitaram Yechury, did make an oblique reference to the possibility of a leadership change in the pedigreed Stalinist party. Not many would have abided with him, though, knowing the hallowed tradition in Communist parties worldwide. Communist parties have been more about "democratic centralism" since Lenin's day than about "democracy". In Lenin's era, there was a justification for this emphasis on account of Czarist repression. Today there is none, at least in India. Under democratic centralism, the leadership collective is responsible for failure or success, and no one leader is singled out for getting things wrong. It is a pity, however, that in an open era such as the 21st century, with a communications revolution gripping the world and a cry for transparency all around, the CPM has chosen to cling to past patterns of conducting its affairs. Not that purges are unknown in internal party organisational systems. But these typically reflect power battles within, and have never been a response to the verdict of the "masses", who are glorified only in principle. Nevertheless, it is a not a far-fetched idea that even in the CPM, a leadership change is likely to follow. But this might only be at the next party congress in April, and is likely to be the result of pressure from below. Left to themselves, leaders are loathe to bow out. This, of course, is true of all parties, more so of the bourgeois formations. It is not clear if the Hyderabad conclave discussed anything of substance that was new. Mr Karat reiterated policy failures that led to Singur and Nandigram; he spoke of 41 per cent of the West Bengal electorate which still voted Left; and of the "gang-up" against the Left by all the other parties in the state. These points have been stressed so much they have left listeners tired. The crucial issue left unaired: Was it the failure of one or two policies that led to the Left's debacle in such a defining way, or did the Bengal voter reject the entire culture of Left governance and its political idiom? It also seems the CPM leadership was self-serving in claiming credit for the party's near-victory in Kerala. The bitter truth has been glossed over that the creditable performance owed to the fact that Mr V.S. Achuthanandan, the party's iconic leader in the southern state, did so very well as he was seen to be standing up to his party's leadership. It is doubtful if the truth will be sighted, if the CPM top brass leave themselves immune to soul-searching.






India must look away for a moment from the turmoil in the country's western vicinity and spare a glance eastwards towards the "other border" as well, the one which India shares with another significant neighbour, Burma. Burma, formed part of Britain's Indian empire till 1937 when it was declared a separate colonial entity. There is little ethnic or cultural connectivity eastwards, between the dominant Indo-Gangetic civilisation of India and that of the Irrawaddy heartland of Burma. In Burma, the traditional Indian presence has been of petty traders and subordinate-level bureaucracy of British Burma who did not endear themselves to the locals. Memories linger and, surprisingly, Indians even now are not generally well regarded. The internal political and civil structure of Burma is fluid and complicated. There is Tatmadaw — the Burmese defence forces — in total charge of all aspects of governance, through the State Peace and Development Council (SDPC), which is a military junta of 11 generals, serving as well as retired, whose political fortunes fluctuate with their internal equations. With an estimated strength of 450,000 to 500,000, the Burmese Army is predominantly a light infantry force. Reputed as capable and professionally competent, it is combat-hardened by long experience of almost unbroken counterinsurgency and jungle operations against separatists almost since independence in 1948. But its record of human rights has been severely criticised by the Western countries, particularly the United States, which regards the SDPC government as a rogue regime and is putting pressure on India to dissociate and condemn the country's military junta. Burma carries the reputation of an enigmatic and somewhat prickly hermit kingdom which prefers to keep to itself. Inside the country, 19 major and minor ethnic groups are in distinctly uneasy diversity amongst themselves. The predominantly Christian tribal minorities along Burma's mountainous, densely jungled outer periphery bordering Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh, are in almost permanent mutiny against the ruling Burman majority in the central heartland, who profess Buddhism and constitute 69 per cent of the population. The 1,643 km of porous, densely- jungled border shared by the two countries is comparatively loosely controlled, particularly on the Burma side and slow-burning; separatist tribal militancies of various persuasions against both New Delhi and Yangon smoulder across the entire region. Two-way traffic in border crime, drugs, weapons and other categories of smuggling have reinforced these insurgencies into a fairly major narco-conflict drawing sustenance from the Golden Triangle, in which Burma is the geographical pivot. On the Indian side, the Indo-Burma border is, as usual, the relatively "forgotten frontier" in comparison with its western counterpart. Inter-sectoral priorities for allocation of resources are lower in the east and the Assam Rifles, that constitutes the Indian border guarding forces here, faces the usual paucity of troops. This, coupled with extremely difficult terrain and debilitating climate, makes effective border management tenuous, though still relatively better than on the Burma side. Ethnic and cultural commonalities between the Naga, Mizo and Kuki tribes on the Indian side of the border in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, and those inhabiting the contiguous western and northwestern border regions of Burma add to the complexities of the situation, typified by the anti-India Naga insurgent group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) in Nagaland and Manipur, which operates in India but is based in Burma and headed by S.S. Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from that country. Relations between India and Burma are relatively low-key but on a generally even keel. India has no military problems with Burma and the focus is towards establishing a viable Indian politico-economic presence in the country. However, Burma is an area of well-entrenched Chinese interests and influence, and Indian interests must contend with strong adverse factors, which transcend purely economic or corporate rivalries. Nevertheless, it remains a geo-political imperative for India to engage as closely as possible with Burma's military dictatorship to progress its own entry into the region. Association with an authoritarian military government whose record of human rights has been internationally criticised draws the disapproval of the US and the West, besides that of the growing internal movement for democracy within Burma led by student and liberal activists, centred around the personality of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party, the National League for Democracy, swept to an overwhelming victory in the national polls in 1990, which was disregarded by the military rulers who placed her under house arrest in 1992. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991, and many of her followers have escaped to India where they have been accorded sanctuary and are attempting to carry forward their movement from exile. India for its part has to keep channels of communication open to both, the junta government and the democracy movement, using official as well Track II channels. It is an unenviable tightrope and for the present India has chosen to be pragmatic, becoming Burma's fourth-largest trading partner (after Thailand, China and Singapore), besides involvement in major infrastructural projects in that country, including the 160-km Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road, completed in 2001 and funded totally by India, and the ambitious Sittwe-Kaladan river-Lawngtlai multi-mode sea-river road transport corridor scheduled to be completed in 2013, connecting Sittwe port in Burma with National Highway 54 at Lawngtlai in Mizoram. However, for India, the real cloud on the horizon is Burma's nascent nuclear programme. Burma as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty reached an agreement with Russia in 2007 for acquiring a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor for research purposes and generation of nuclear power. This cannot be a reason for concern in any manner, but there are more diffused reports of a clandestine nuclear weapons partnership with North Korea, with which Pakistan's rogue nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's nuclear network is also allegedly associated. If true, this would definitely be a matter of concern for India, which hopefully has the means and capabilities to keep itself informed and prepared vis-a-vis such developments next door. Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the Burmese junta has taken note of the Arab Spring far away in West Asia, and may be considering options to ease the internal conditions within the country. * Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament







Every once in a while a politician comes up with an idea that's so bad, so wrongheaded, that you're almost grateful. For really bad ideas can help illustrate the extent to which policy discourse has gone off the rails. And so it was with Senator Joseph Lieberman's proposal, released last week, to raise the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. Like Republicans who want to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with (grossly inadequate) insurance vouchers, Mr Lieberman describes his proposal as a way to save Medicare. It wouldn't actually do that. But more to the point, our goal shouldn't be to "save Medicare", whatever that means. It should be to ensure that Americans get the healthcare they need, at a cost the nation can afford. And here's what you need to know: Medicare actually saves money — a lot of money — compared with relying on private insurance companies. And this in turn means that pushing people out of Medicare, in addition to depriving many Americans of needed care, would almost surely end up increasing total healthcare costs. The idea of Medicare as a money-saving programme may seem hard to grasp. After all, hasn't Medicare spending risen dramatically over time? Yes, it has: adjusting for overall inflation, Medicare spending per beneficiary rose more than 400 per cent from 1969 to 2009. But inflation-adjusted premiums on private health insurance rose more than 700 per cent over the same period. So while it's true that Medicare has done an inadequate job of controlling costs, the private sector has done much worse. And if we deny Medicare to 65- and 66-year-olds, we'll be forcing them to get private insurance — if they can — that will cost much more than it would have cost to provide the same coverage through Medicare. By the way, we have direct evidence about the higher costs of private insurance via the Medicare Advantage programme, which allows Medicare beneficiaries to get their coverage through the private sector. This was supposed to save money; in fact, the programme costs taxpayers substantially more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. And then there's the international evidence. The US has the most privatised healthcare system in the advanced world; it also has, by far, the most expensive care, without gaining any clear advantage in quality for all that spending. Health is one area in which the public sector consistently does a better job than the private sector at controlling costs. Indeed, as the economist, Bruce Bartlett, points out, high US private spending on healthcare, compared with spending in other advanced countries, just about wipes out any benefit we might receive from our relatively low tax burden. So where's the gain from pushing seniors out of an admittedly expensive system, Medicare, into even more expensive private health insurance? Wait, it gets worse. Not every 65- or 66-year-old denied Medicare would be able to get private coverage — in fact, many would find themselves uninsured. So what would these seniors do? Well, as health economists Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll document, right now Americans in their early 60s without health insurance routinely delay needed care, only to become very expensive Medicare recipients once they reach 65. This pattern would be even stronger and more destructive if Medicare eligibility were delayed. As a result, Mr Frakt and Mr Carroll suggest, Medicare spending might actually go up, not down, under Mr Lieberman's proposal. Okay, the obvious question: If Medicare is so much better than private insurance, why didn't the Affordable Care Act simply extend Medicare to cover everyone? The answer, of course, was interest-group politics: realistically, given the insurance industry's power, Medicare for all wasn't going to pass, so advocates of universal coverage, myself included, were willing to settle for half a loaf. But the fact that it seemed politically necessary to accept a second-best solution for younger Americans is no reason to start dismantling the superior system we already have for those 65 and over. Now, none of what I have said should be taken as a reason to be complacent about rising healthcare costs. Both Medicare and private insurance will be unsustainable unless there are major cost-control efforts — the kinds of efforts that are actually in the Affordable Care Act, and which Republicans demagogued with cries of "death panels". The point, however, is that privatising health insurance for seniors, which is what Mr Lieberman is in effect proposing — and which is the essence of the Grand Old Party's plan — hurts rather than helps the cause of cost control. If we really want to hold down costs, we should be seeking to offer Medicare-type programmes to as many Americans as possible.






Bursting with patriotic pride, I told the customs officer at Dum Dum airport who asked what foreign currency I had brought back that I had only Indian rupees. I even took out my wallet to show him that returning through the Far East after a summer at Harvard, I had changed my last cent into rupees in Bangkok. But he went into hysterics, averting his head and screaming, "Don't show me! Don't show me!" That was in 1964, and I didn't fully appreciate the man's kindness then, not knowing that bringing Indian money into India was forbidden. My next glimpse of the complexities of foreign exchange was five years later when banks were nationalised. Living in London, I went to see Lord Aldington, the First World War hero and chairman of Grindlays Bank, which was a huge and historic presence in India for well over a century. Aldington was sympathetic to the takeover, citing France's precedent, but not to attempts to track down Indians with accounts abroad. When the Reserve Bank demanded the names of Indian customers he retorted he had no idea whether "Mr Patel" was Kenyan, Ugandan, British, Pakistani or Indian. Now that the circus is over, the danger of the Jantar Mantar, Ramlila Maidan and Hardwar crusaders baying for those Patels to be hauled to Delhi and strung up at Khooni Darwaza has passed. Their leaders' cleansing fervour echoed the "Death to aristos!" chant that sent the tumbrils of the French Revolution trundling to the guillotine. But the song is serious even if the singer wasn't. The government would be ill-advised to ignore signals that India's first President, Rajendra Prasad, anticipated when he warned that corruption would "verily prove a nail in the coffin of the Congress". Not just the Congress but the entire polity, including Opposition politicians squatting on the Hazare-Ramdev bandwagon, faces chaos. The good thing is that the crisis has erupted on the watch of a Prime Minister at whom no finger can be pointed and whose globally-respected credentials place him above the political throng. If anyone can break the stalemate, it's Dr Manmohan Singh. When a Swiss-German reporter remarked during his first visit to Singapore as finance minister that no one in Switzerland thought of Indians as poor, Dr Singh replied calmly that he hoped to get some of the wealth back to develop India. Efforts to do so can continue but the time has come for a fundamental change in thinking. The focus should be on correcting the abuses at home that generate illicit money instead of obsessively chasing the astronomical riches — Ramdev mentioned Rs 400 lakh crore and Opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani on the election stump trotted out an even more mind-boggling Rs 1,400 lakh crore — supposedly salted away in exotic tax havens. Wild estimates of black money echo the excitement over the tumbrils and add to public frenzy without achieving anything. Stolen money should, of course, be repatriated from Liechtenstein, the Cayman Islands or wherever, but that alone won't stop the mills at home continuing to churn out more and more unaccounted, untaxed wealth to be stashed in other tax havens. We need disincentives to sending money out of the country (why don't Americans do it?), as well as enforceable measures to prevent fiscal crime, plug export-import loopholes and stamp out tax evasion. These can't be achieved with bent politicians, underpaid policemen, tortuous court procedures and a "lagging justice system, which has approximately 13 judges per million people," according to a WikiLeaks cable. But demands for more judges, honest policemen, better-equipped court rooms, dutiful court staff, simplified paperwork or expeditious prosecutions were too mundane to thrill villagers who sought entertainment. They wanted to listen to stirring sermons, watch acrobatic displays, witness fasts that were not private penance but public spectacle, enjoy the antics of actors dressed up like Mahatma Gandhi (even to the supporting nieces) and be titillated by dollops of song and dance when strident calls to teach medicine and engineering in Hindi began to pall. All this diverts attention from the real tasks in a society where, as Dhirubhai Ambani famously told Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate, who had seen "all the right people" — including the Prime Minister and finance minister — in his bid to get a foothold in India, that only "the wrong people" can get things done. It follows they are above the law. They might even have been behind the distraction. Someone of Dr Singh's stature should not fall into their trap and set off on a wild goose chase instead of bringing to heel the smugglers, black-marketeers, Bollywood personalities, party financiers and murderers of the investigative journalist, Jyotirmoy Dey, "the wrong people" right in our midst. Even if the exercise affects his political career, he will have his professional eminence to fall back on and the knowledge that he tried to save India in a way no other Prime Minister, not even the first, dared. Decisive implementation of existing laws matters more than endless cogitation over a Lokpal Bill. It was said in the bad old days of P Forms that there wouldn't be an Indian left in India if travel restrictions were relaxed. But those who wanted to migrate did so despite the thicket of regulations. The exodus petered out only after travel became easier. It's the same with currency. Everyone knows the story of Mumbai's disgruntled elite complaining of scarce foreign exchange to Lord Nicholas Kaldor, the distinguished British economist, at a meeting at the Taj Mahal Hotel in the mid-1950s. "But I am constantly being offered pounds and dollars by vendors outside the hotel!" a surprised Kaldor replied. "They cost so much!" his Indian interlocutors protested. Enlightenment dawned. "So, you're suffering from a scarcity of rupees", Kaldor exclaimed, "not hard currency!" The blackmarket premium that the Taj audience complained of fell dramatically after Dr Singh made the rupee almost freely convertible with few restrictions on export. Rules mean loopholes. In Churchill's words, "If you have 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law". * Sunanda K. Datta-Ray is a senior journalist, columnist and author







The outspoken Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of government ministers receiving Baba Ramdev at the Delhi airport. However, in this interview conducted in Bhopal, he tells Lalit Shastri that the Congress Party and the Manmohan Singh government were on the same page in this matter. This is the first time that a leading figure from the ruling party has struck this stance, suggesting a move in the Congress to correct the impression that the party and the government are out of step. Q. You have continued to question the source of Baba Ramdev's wealth and the credentials of his close associates. Why do you think the government went ahead and talked with him? What prompted Union ministers to receive him at Delhi airport and give him VIP treatment? A. The Government of India considers corruption and stashing away of black money abroad as a serious issue. It sought to engage Ramdev in a dialogue to convey the message to the people that the government was ready to listen to everybody, and believed in building unanimity and consensus when it came to addressing the burning issue of corruption. The need of the hour was to present the right perspective and not allow anyone to spread misinformation and twist facts regarding steps already being taken by the Centre against the hydra-headed monster of corruption and black money. Q. When Union ministers were holding a dialogue with Baba Ramdev, you publicly accused him of receiving financial support from those with a criminal record. This led to the impression that there was a weakening of the interface between the Congress Party and the Manmohan Singh government. A. An impression like this amounts to jumping to conclusions. I have already said that the motive behind holding talks was to convey the true picture and to inform the public that the government was serious about tackling the issues of corruption and black money. The Congress Party's core group as well as the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs had deliberated on each aspect. It was a collective decision to carry out a dialogue with Ramdev. Q. What do you mean when you say that Baba Ramdev's agitation and his nine-day fast constituted a political gimmick? A. Those in the Sangh Parivar who believe in the cult of violence and terror are behind the conspiracy to divert people's attention from the earnest steps being taken by the Government of India to eliminate corruption, combat the scourge of black money and identify and punish those engaged in money laundering. They are the people who are backing Ramdev's campaign. It is a shame that top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and those in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who are shouting against corruption from rooftops have chosen to remain quiet when crores of rupees meant for implementing the Union government's flagship programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) are being siphoned off by those holding positions of power and authority in non-Congress-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat. Corruption has become a mammoth problem in Madhya Pradesh. Reckless allotment of government land to a chosen few and illegal mining are not issues plaguing Karnataka alone where the BJP is in power. This malady has acquired monstrous proportions in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, but nobody in the BJP and the RSS is speaking out. Q. While you have maintained that Baba Ramdev's close associates are suspect in the eyes of the law and that he was collecting funds even from those with a criminal record, why had the enforcement agencies chosen to look the other way when Ramdev was building up the mood on a countrywide scale for his "campaign against corruption"? A. Government's enforcement agencies follow certain well-defined investigative procedures. Action on their part is never aimed at creating a stalemate, or to bring in political gains. Ramdev must already be under the scanner of authorities like the income tax department and the enforcement directorate. The government is seized of all the interrelated issues and the enforcement mechanism is in place. One is also confident that appropriate steps would be taken under the due process of law. Q. How have you arrived at the conclusion that those in the Sangh Parivar and Baba Ramdev were involved in a conspiracy on the issue of corruption? A. One does not have to go very far to arrive at this conclusion. It was only in March this year that the RSS passed a resolution to campaign against corruption by targeting the democratically-elected United Progressive Alliance government. Simultaneously, Ramdev went into the campaign mode on this issue. The question naturally arises: Is Ramdev part of the RSS?






BJP rethink on Sonia Let it never be said that the BJP is not willing to learn from its "mistakes". Just the other day, the BJP's national spokesperson and general secretary J.P. Nadda, while talking to journalists in Chandigarh, angrily accused the Gandhi family of "exercising authority without constitutional sanction or accountability". But when a reporter pointed out that it was the same BJP that had blocked United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi's way to occupying a constitutional post by opposing her prime ministership in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls whereas Congress allies, including the Left parties, had happily endorsed her candidature, Mr Nadda fumbled, nonplussed. "Some of our party leaders had opposed it in the prevailing (political) environment", Mr Nadda said when reminded of Lok Sabha Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj's threats to tonsure her head if… "But we are willing to listen to and open for suggestions." Does it mean that the BJP will not oppose Mrs Gandhi being the Prime Minister the next time? Ask Ms Swaraj. Opposition's transparent ways The BJP national executive held in Lucknow on June 4 and 5 brought to light the saffron party's "different" way of classifying and rewarding contributors. The party first made an honest admission: They had collected donations to meet the expenses of the event and those who made generous donations were suitably "rewarded". Those who donated more than `1 lakh for the national executive were allowed the privilege of garlanding BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Those who made higher contributions were allowed to garland former BJP president Lal Krishna Advani and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj. Getting photographed with these leaders during the garlanding ceremony was an added bonus. The "small fry" who contributed between `50,000 and `1,00,000 got a similar opportunity with stars such as Shatrughan Sinha and Smriti Irani. The donors, incidentally, were introduced to the stars as dedicated "karyakartas" and so the stars did not have any problem in posing for photographs with them. So, the next time when you see huge laminated photographs of BJP leaders adorning the offices and drawing rooms of businessmen and aspiring politicians, you'll know who has paid how much. That is transparency — the BJP way! The many uses of activism A powerful group of Congress ministers of Assam dislike the Right to Information (RTI) activist Akhil Gogoi, but for some members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and ministers he is a good foil. Mr Akhil had created much trouble for the Congress government in its second term by accusing the Chief Minister and some ministers of having disproportionate assets and being involved in corruption. There is a talk of the RTI activist being "used" to target certain high-profile ministers such as Himanta Biswa Sarma and Rockybul Hussain, by rival ministers such as Pradyut Bordoloi and Akan Bora. Whatever may be the truth, in the Congress government's third term in the state, the RTI activist is again emerging as a bargaining tool. Senior Congress MLA Anjan Dutta called on Mr Gogoi at the Guwahati Medical College Hospital where the latter is admitted for treatment. It is said that Mr Dutta was assured a Cabinet berth by the chief minister, but he failed to keep his promise. When confronted by journalists, Mr Dutta said that he visited the RTI activist in the hospital on humanitarian grounds. But don't be surprised if Mr Gogoi goes after the chief minister again. Like a cop's cap Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa's dislike for the new secretariat complex built by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) goes beyond politics. Ms Jayalalithaa's sense of aesthetics is apparently offended by the Assembly building with a dome that appears like a "Puducherry policeman's cap". People of the Union Territory might take mild offence at this affront to their legacy derived from the French connection — the gendarme's headgear continues to adorn the heads of policemen in the picturesque territory by the sea. The new complex in Chennai, built at a cost exceeding `1,000 crore, came in for further derision in the Assembly where it was recalled that "cinema set" artist Thotta Tharani was asked to make a mock-up of the dome so that the inauguration of the complex could take place in March 2010 in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Is it the first move by Ms Jayalalithaa in undoing some of the legacies of DMK's two terms in power? Blame it all on Raja Consumers are mighty angry at the frequent failure of BSNL networks in Raipur, Chhattisgarh Like rains, BSNL networks have become unpredictable — no one knows when the phones (landline and mobile) will function and when they will stop working, mid-conversation, even. Consumers' complaints also remain unattended to for weeks together, including journalists. The other day, a group of journalists approached a senior BSNL official pleading with him to fix the phones. "Friends, please bear with us for some more time. BSNL phones are yet to overcome the shock of the imprisonment of former telecom minister A. Raja (in a graft case)", the officer said, evoking a laugh or two from the journalists. But the journalists were also left wondering whether the official was serious. With babus, you can never say. The folk and the fake Congress leaders in Rajasthan are worshippers of Baba Ramdev. The reference here is not to the Baba who created trouble for the party in Delhi, but the popular folk deity of the state. "Rajasthan's most popular folk deity, Baba Ramdev, worked for harmony and upliftment of the downtrodden, mostly Dalits", says Congress leader Ravindra Singh. "We believe in Baba Ramdev as a folk deity and in his principles; Muslims venerate him as pir and call him Ramsa pir." Lest he be misunderstood, the Congress leader added: "There are two kinds of Babas — one is folk deity and the other is fake deity. We are with the folk deity." After this distinction, will the BJP still make a song and dance about the yoga guru?










"IN our handling of terrorism in India we do not rely overtly on prosecution in other countries. We have to rely on our own strength." If only that comment from the home ministry's secretary for internal security (particularly the last sentence) was to become the policy-bedrock, India would flash a strong signal to the international community and probably galvanise its own security and intelligence agencies. There are, sadly, limited prospects of such a development: even the official who offered rare sagacity did so only when joining the lament ~ from ministers and others ~ that a jury in Chicago had not held Tahawwur Rana guilty of involvement in the Mumbai massacre. Such whining, following high expectations that fell flat, have to be seen in the context of India going ballistic with its "we told you so" line when Osama bin Laden was neutralised in Abbotabad: as if that would persuade the US to fight India's battles with Pakistan. From day-one, and even after America made much over US nationals being killed on 26/11, it has been apparent that Washington's equation with Islamabad on the terror-fight is specific to Uncle Sam's game-plan. That the ISI masterminds the operations of the LeT and other jihadi tanzims active in Kashmir (and beyond) has been established by American agencies. Yet the dependence on Pakistan for maintaining the supply line to its forces in Afghanistan has stalled any punishing of Islamabad. It is time India accepted that: exploit what it gained from the confessions of David Coleman Headley (India was ignorant of him and Rana until the US nabbed them), and seek other means to pressure Pakistan into bringing to book Hafeez Sayeed, Dawood Ibrahim et al. The Americans will not dirty their hands for New Delhi.

It is also important that Indian leaders, across the political spectrum, desist from questioning the functioning of courts and judicial processes in other countries: the US, Pakistan and possibly Denmark too should the Kim Davy extradition not work out (as did half-hearted attempts to get Quattrocchi back). If there is so much accent on "the law will take its course" in domestic affairs, why not accept the same all across the board? In fact the line India frequently takes could lead to an impression abroad that the Indian judiciary lacks independence.

Self-inflicted shame that would be.




THE irony couldn't have been more cruel. As hi-falutin platitudes were reeled off on the World  Day against Child Labour on Sunday, the anti-Posco agitators in Orissa fielded children as human shields in the movement against the land acquisition. Distressing visuals of water being sprayed on children wilting in Jagatsinghpur's blistering heat illustrated the grotesque violation of child rights, one that coincided with pious signals of intent in other parts of the country. Those forest dwellers, whose land is set to be acquired and cleared for the South Korean steel giant's project, do have a point when they agitate. The rehabilitation under the Forest Rights Act has been a half-baked exercise on the part of the Orissa government. Equally can adults be held guilty of human rights violations. With  the actual agitators in the background, children are verily being abused in this sinister and dangerous exercise to confront Posco and the Orissa government. Should there be a police offensive, against which the Congress has already alerted the state, the worst sufferers will be the children who have been placed in the vanguard as cannon fodder. The context may not bear comparison on the face of it; but the strategy of the forest dwellers in somewhat akin to the raising of the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. There too, teenagers have been drafted to confront the Maoists, with security forces on the sidelines. The tendency to make children vulnerable to state offensive is an ominous trend. It will arouse revulsion more than sympathy for the cause of the forest dweller. Nor for that matter will it help execute the Forest Rights Act. The South Korean investor must be squirming at this gross expression of inhumanity.
It may be just a coincidence that in parallel with this indignity, the state has been put on notice by the Centre. The project approval, furnished by the Union ministry of forests and environment, doesn't ipso facto accord the state "the licence to acquire land forcibly". As much is the message addressed to Orissa by minister Jairam Ramesh. Indeed, the state is yet to work out the number of forest dwellers entitled to compensation under FRA. The claim of 75 years' residence ~ a stipulation of the Act ~ has been fiercely contested by the tribals. Confusion gets worse confounded in the absence of documents to prove their bona fides. Before initiating the next round of discussions with the investor and the forest inhabitants, the administration must ensure that children are withdrawn from the firing line, as it were. As in Bengal's Nandigram, development in Orissa now runs the risk of becoming a tragedy with the fielding of children on the frontline.



IF figures are anything to go by, the Al Qaida would appear to be an inconsequential force in Yemen ~ barely 300 to 400 in a nation of 24 million. Yet it is a sense of fanatical fury that propels the group to action across the world. It may be only too eager to exploit, if not fill, the current power vacuum in Yemen after months of strife. The attack mounted by US aircraft and pilotless drones against the militant hideouts must be viewed as a covert war at a critical juncture. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is recovering in Saudi Arabia from the gunshot wounds he recently suffered at a mosque. The government has disintegrated and the country may be plunged in civil war should Saleh be determined to return. The prospect of the Al Qaida attempting to fill the vacuum is substantial; the US forces may have launched a pre-emptive strike, however tough the going in Libya.  Symbolically, the government has a totemic presence, notably the presidential palace and a hospital in Saan'a. The rest of the capital is already under the control of tribals; the city is not the seat of authority but of a power struggle between a virtually defeated regime and rebellious tribals.
In this latest bout of international policing, America has quite obviously stepped up the attacks to forestall a possible attempt by the Islamist terrorists from capturing power. Yemen is floundering in search of its moorings. With the notional leadership away in Saudi Arabia on a medical mission, the centre quite palpably doesn't hold. In trying to weave a patchwork quilt with the agitators, Riyadh may end up making the waters murkier even if the revolution doesn't cross the Yemen-Saudi border. In the midst of this deepening crisis, America has opened another flank in the Arab world. The involvement, reinforced over the past week, is almost similar to that in Afghanistan. The offensive against the Al Qaida is being led by the Pentagon's joint special operations command and is closely coordinated with the CIA. If on a lesser scale, the tragedy of Yemen is somewhat of a piece with Afghanistan. The ferment can be relentless.









TO ensure its control over the government, the Pakistan army has always exaggerated the threats from India, often referred to as the No. One enemy. It has been able to secure billions of dollars from the USA ostensibly in the fight against terror. The Pakistan government has followed the policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Although an ally of the US in its fight against global terrorism, it has collaborated with the terrorists. According to Matt Walman, ISI representatives attend the meetings of the Taliban Supreme Leadership Council, known as the Quetta Sura, and of the Haqqani Command Council. The ISI thus takes part in planning the attacks. After talking to a number of insurgents, Walman has claimed that whatever the ISI does, has the sanction at the highest level; General Kayani himself is a former ISI man as was Musharraf.
President Zardari hardly has any popular political base, and Prime Minister Gilani is reputed to be close to the army. Pakistan has funded the training of Taliban, providing them with logistical support for operations in Afghanistan, with the clear intention of re-establishing control over the government in Kabul after the withdrawal of US forces, scheduled to start in July. The US government isn't unaware of Pakistan's designs.
The ISI has nurtured LeT and sundry other militant outfits in an effort to destabilise Afghanistan and India. LeT has expanded its base of operations in Afghanistan. It was behind the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in October 2009, and is suspected to have masterminded the car bombing and suicide attacks on two guest houses in Kabul on 26 February 2010. It was also behind the 26/11 outrage in Mumbai. All these attacks were planned by the ISI, and this has been corroborated by developments since the arrest of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, two LeT operatives of Pakistani origin now undergoing trial in a Chicago court for their involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
The USA should take the lead in reining in Pakistan, particularly, the ISI. Other  western powers have been vocal in their condemnation of terrorism, but have done precious little to rein in Pakistan. The ISI could well be declared a terrorist organisation for aiding and abetting the Al Qaida terrorists, and providing sanctuary to Osama. But that will  not be easy most importantly because of China, Pakistan's all-weather friend. Even the USA may be reluctant to totally alienate Pakistan. While President Obama has called for a probe by the US and Pakistani agencies to get to the bottom of Osama's presence in Abbottabad, he has also referred to Pakistan's cooperation in the fight against terror. A subtle distinction has also been sought to be made by the US between the leaders of the army, and some elements, apparently lower down the order, who might have been involved in giving sanctuary to Osama.
President Obama's Af-Pak policy is in a shambles because of Pakistan's ambiguous role in the fight against terror. While a section of the administration and Congressional leaders are in favour of stronger action, by reducing aid to Pakistan, others are advocating caution. In the short run, major changes in US policy towards Pakistan are unlikely as efforts are on towards reconciliation despite Pakistan's fulminations about the violation of its sovereignty. America needs Pakistan, for operational reasons, in its fight against Islamist terror. Its alliance with Pakistan saves the US from being stigmatised as being anti-Islam.
International terrorism cannot be stopped with the elimination of a Bin Laden or some other dreaded terrorist. Their hubs in Pakistan need to be dismantled. And that  cannot be done by India alone through surgical strikes on terrorist bases in Pakistan which will, almost certainly, trigger retaliation leading to war between the two neighbours. If that happens, the focus of attention of the international community will shift from combating terrorism to containing the war which will give Pakistan the opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir issue and a number of other problems plaguing India-Pakistan relations. It will also boost the fortunes of the Pakistan Army that thrives on propagating the image of a hostile India. Indeed, as the former US National Security Advisor General (retd) James Jones recently told Senators in a Congressional hearing on Pakistan, Islamabad has been too resistant to India-friendly overtures, despite the sincere efforts made by Dr Manmohan Singh to reduce tensions between the two states. (The Statesman, 19 May 2011).
What are the alternatives? For India, the options are very limited while keeping its security machinery ready to meet any eventuality. From that perspective, the recent decision to review India's security policy is a move in the right direction. It should also try to persuade the international community to rein in Pakistan, and for this it should seek the cooperation of the regional powers with a stake in Afghanistan, notably Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. This is in addition to America, Russia and other western powers. The Prime Minister's visit to Afghanistan in May could not have been more timely. Dr Manmohan Singh made it clear that India is committed to help Afghanistan's efforts at rebuilding the economy. It has already committed $1.2 billion to different projects in Afghanistan; the value of the commitments has been raised by another $500 million. India is clearly trying to intensify the strategic cooperation between the two states.
It will not be possible to bring about lasting peace in the region without cooperation between India and Pakistan. That will call for a genuine change of heart, especially in Pakistan. As the country's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said recently, Pakistan's mindset of viewing India as enemy "number one" has to be changed; it is a task that has to be performed by Pakistanis themselves ~ the civil society and the political leaders. And for that, what Pakistan needs is a secular order and pluralist society as was visualised by its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. India may help in that process by convincing Pakistanis that India need not be viewed as a threat and that both have a common stake in combating terrorism. That is a prolonged process, but the dialogue between the two states ~ at different levels ~ will help develop the process.






Miss Mamata Banerjee is the first woman chief minister of West Bengal and the 14th woman chief minister in India. In Tamil Nadu, Ms J Jayalalithaa has become chief minister for the third time, the other two terms being from 1991 to 1996 and from 1996 to 2001. Besides them, there are two more, Miss Mayawati of UP and Mrs Sheila Dikshit of Delhi  making the present tally of four women chief ministers. In all, there have been 14 women chief ministers and some have had more than one term. Of them, Mrs Dikshit has been the longest serving chief minister with three consecutive terms from 1998.
The first woman chief minister was Sucheta Kriplani in UP from 1963 to 1967. The other women chief ministers were Nandini Satpathy of Orissa from 1972 to 1974 and from 1974 to 1976. Sashikala Kadokar was the chief minister of Goa from 1973 to 1977 and again from 1977 to 1979. Syeda Anwara Taimur was the chief minister of Assam from 1980 to 1981. Janaki Ramachandran was chief minister of Tamil Nadu for a brief period in January 1988. Miss Mayawati was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from June to October 1995, March to September 1997, 2002-03 and for the fourth time, on her own without any alliance from any other party, from 2007 till date. Rajinder Kaur Bhattal was chief minister of Punjab from 1996 to 1997. Rabri Devi was the chief minister of Bihar from 1997 to 1999 and 1999 to 2000. Mrs Sushma Swaraj was the chief minister of Delhi for a brief period in 1998. Ms Uma Bharti was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh from 2003 to 2004. Ms Vasundhara Raje Scindia was chief minister of Rajasthan from 2003 to 2008.
Of all the women leaders in India and perhaps in entire Asia, Miss Mamata Banerjee is an exception. She has excelled in politics without male help or patronage. All the other successful women leaders ~ Indira Gandhi, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Ms J Jayalalithaa and Miss Mayawati have had their mentors or belonged to influential political families. It is no different in our neighbouring countries. Benazir Bhutto rose in the shadow of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In Sri Lanka, the first woman President in the world, Sirimavao Bandranaike was the widow of Solomon Bandranaike who was the country's Prime Minister. Her daughter, Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga was groomed by her mother to take on the political mantle. In fact Sirimavao even served as Prime Minister filling the vacant office when Mrs Kumaratunga assumed office as President! In Bangladesh, the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajid and the former Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia came into political prominence after the death of their father and husband, respectively. Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic struggle in Myanmar is the daughter of the influential leader Aung San. In Philippines, the assassination of the Benigno Aquino made his widow Corazano Aquino join politics and subsequently become President. In Indonesia, Megawati Sukranoputro could become President as she was Sukarno's daughter. One common factor in most of these cases is that after the death of a male member, the father or husband as the case may be, the women leaders captured power or became politically influential largely as a result of a sympathy wave in their favour and not because of their individual achievement or struggle.
Miss Mamata Banerjee, after she lost the contest for the post of the Congress president in West Bengal to Mr Somen Mitra, left the Congress in 1998 and founded the All India Trinamul Congress. The Congress opposed her totally. She had to fight on two fronts all the time ~ the Congress on one hand and the entrenched machinery of the Left Front on the other hand. Her rise to power was not easy and there was even an attempt to kill her. Interestingly, Miss Banerjee has never portrayed herself as a woman leader or sought sympathy or compassion from a patriarchal society. It is noteworthy that the Left Front, in its 34-year of rule in West Bengal, never produced a woman leader comparable to Miss Banerjee. Though the CPI-M and the CPI were among the first to espouse women's equality as early as 1967, they did precious little to promote it. Their record in fielding women candidates has been less than 10 per cent. Ms Brinda Karat mentioned the poor representation of women in the 1998 at the 16th congress of the CPI-M and opted out of the then newly-elected Central committee in protest. Even Ms Karat owes her position in the party and her Rajya Sabha membership to her marital relationship with Mr Prakash Karat. She neither owes her provenance to the grassroots nor has to her credit any independent initiative or achievement. Despite its commitment to gender equality, the Left has perpetrated a patriarchal order and allowed only those women to rise who are either wives or well known friends of current leaders.
This is because the CPI-M, a Leninist organisation, has reiterated the Soviet model and strongly promoted and supported the view of the woman as a mother and a worker within a traditional male-headed family with the woman playing the subordinate role. Nor did communism in theory attempt to revamp the sexual division of labour or tried to transform the patriarchal culture as they subordinated woman's emancipation to proletarian liberation.
In the former Soviet Union, both Lenin and Vera Zasulich, who together with Plekhanov and Axelrod formed the Liberation of Labour, the first Russian Marxist group in 1883, opposed many of the proposals put forward by Aleksandra Kollantai, Russian revolutionary, feminist and the first woman diplomat of the Soviet Union as divisive. Kollantai proposed in the 1890s equal pay for equal work, female enfranchisement, public financing of child bearing and rearing, abolition of all laws that subordinated women to men, the right of women to be elected to all institutions of self government on the basis of direct, equal and secret vote, protection to female workers, forbidding women from getting employed in hazardous conditions, providing for female factory inspectors, maternity leave for eight weeks before and after child birth and free medical care during pregnancy. Many of these were subsequently adopted in 1903 by the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Under Stalin, women's issues were relegated to the background as he personally did not believe in equality for women and considered their rightful place at home. Even during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods, the party did not bother to alleviate the double burden that a woman had to endure ~ that of a mother and a worker.
Another important point to note about Miss Banerjee's splendid success was that even Subhas Chandra Bose could not build a massive party organisation after he was forced to leave the Congress. The Forward Bloc both before and after Independence, remains a fringe party. Equally significant is that Miss Banerjee defies the grand narrative of Indian politics, both in pre and post-Independence periods, where the leadership of mainstream political organisations have been occupied by the elite ~ often western-educated and coming from affluent backgrounds. This is comparable to the change that was seen in Tamil Nadu when the power shifted from Rajaji to Kamaraj, at the Centre from Nehru to Shastri and a similar churning in UP and Bihar.
Moreover, by giving a political voice to the powerless and the marginalised in Singur and Nandigram, she has warded off the criticism, levelled by Simone de Beauvoir, against women leadership worldwide as being confined to the middle classes alone. In her long years of struggle, Miss Banerjee has demonstrated that to ensure lasting success, it is important to involve the larger and neglected segments of society and address their issues of livelihood. Furthermore, in crafting a political role without a mentor or help from a male family member, she has also demonstrated that a woman can make it to the top by her vision and grit. Therein lies the importance of Miss Mamata Banerjee.

The author is Associate Professor in Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi






From mid-60s to early 70s, I used to go to the school founded by Vidyasagar and the college named after him through the narrow Madan Mitra Lane. On that lane, stood the house of another Mitra ~ legendary teacher and author of A text book of Inorganic Chemistry LM Mitra ~ whose tome was the prescribed high school read for four decades.

My father, who graduated in 1935, was Mitra's student at Bangabasi College. Mitra's given name was Lalit Mohan Mitra but the first name was changed to Ladli because the British preferred its anglicised sound. At that time, University of Calcutta would award degrees of three classes and Mitra received a third in M.Sc. When he applied for a teaching post at Presidency College, he was turned down because of that. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was teaching at the college at that time ~ albeit at one fourth of the pay reserved for British instructors. He did not get pay parity till he had been inducted as a Fellow of Royal Society.

Mitra eventually joined Bangabasi College and soon earned repute as an extraordinary teacher of chemistry. Ironically, students of Presidency College would flock to the classroom to listen to Mitra lecturing ~ clad in an immaculate white suit and in an accent that put many native speakers of the Queen's language to shame.

Naturally, the Presidency College authorities were flustered and after some time, offered Mitra a teaching post at the institution. He turned them down with a curt: "I am still a third class M.Sc." It is very likely that it was Mitra's patriotism than his ego that had prompted him to snub the British administrators of Presidency College.
If Mitra inspired countless students of my father's generation, I was deeply influenced by Naresh Chanda Roy, head of the department of chemistry at Vidyasagar College and a part time teacher at the adjacent Metropolitan Institution (Main). He taught us for three years and I missed only one class in those years. But that happened because my elder sister insisted that my "beloved NR" would not trudge through knee-deep water to take classes on a day of torrential downpour. But he did and I missed a chapter on the element sulphur! NR taught me privately for two-and-a-half months before my higher secondary examination. Myself, who could not garner a first division in my entire school life, scored two marks short of 800 of the total 1,000 entirely owing to his efforts.

Teachers such as Mitra and Roy were a class apart. Violence was commonplace in Kolkata of the early 70s and one day, a classmate was stabbed in his thigh on the college campus. When I first saw the pool of blood, I mistook it for red paint spilled inadvertently. As I followed the trail to the teachers' common room, it emerged that NR had taken the victim to Medical College Hospital when no one else was willing to for fear of getting implicated in a "political murder." Kartik Kundu, who died later, was a brilliant student and NR's favourite too. Perhaps, the loss was too much for the teacher to bear and he died in his mid-fifties in less than a year. Alchemists had attempted turning base metal into gold but as least two Bengali chemists did their best to produce students purer than the yellow metal.





In a recent report, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has stated that employment and economic conditions in the occupied Arab territories continue to be stifled by restrictions imposed by Israel's occupation and the policy of separation.

The ILO annual report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories called for replacing the current security logic "with development logic, based on a long-term vision of the economic, employment and human security interests of all the women and men in the region".
The report noted that despite some improvements in the movement of people, there has not been an improvement in the lot of workers over the past year, adding that there can be no change "unless the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation, and the occupation itself, are removed". It underlined that all parties "have to come to a decision sooner or later on the next steps. The Palestinian economy has reached limits which cannot be surpassed without agreement and action on the two major constraints it faces: occupation and separation. Palestinian state-building should not be stifled and allowed to run out into frustration and discontent".
The report referred to the many facets of separation resulting from the closure of the Gaza Strip and the effects of the separation barrier ~ the separation of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, the multiple separation measures enforced in the West Bank, and the separation of the Syrian citizens of the occupied Syrian Golan from their homeland. It recalled that settlements were the primary cause of the confiscation of Arab land, restrictions on access and movement, territorial fragmentation, and depletion of natural resources.
ILO director-general Mr Juan Somavia posed: "Can the divisions be overcome, physical and mental obstacles dismantled, and the human potential of the region's millions of inhabitants released for the purposes of development? Or will this potential remain frustrated, with hope denied by conflict and a real development reduced to administering continuous humanitarian first aid?"

The findings of the report are based on a mission sent earlier to the occupied Arab territories, Israel and Syria to assess the situation of workers of occupied Arab territories, including the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan. It noted that growth was not evenly distributed in the occupied Palestinian territory because of the continued closure of Gaza. The ILO pointed out that the unemployment rate had eased only slightly to 23.7 per cent in 2010 and higher economic growth had failed to translate into a significantly-improved labour market. The report stated that youth unemployment had remained at a staggering 39 per cent.

Unreported nuclear plant
The UN nuclear watchdog agency head, Mr Yukiya Amano, has said that "it is very likely" that a building destroyed in Syria in 2007 was a nuclear reactor, and there are indications that "seem to point to the existence of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme".

Mr Yukiya Amano, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also told the agency's board of governors in Vienna that the nuclear programme of North Korea "remains a matter of serious concern". On Syria, Mr Amano said: "The agency has come to the conclusion that it is very likely that the building destroyed at the Dair Alzour site was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the IAEA. This is the best assessment of the agency, based on all the information in its possession."
Mr Amano said that Syria had not cooperated with the IAEA since June 2008 in connection with a building at Dair Alzour which media reports said had been destroyed by Israel in an air attack on 6 September, 2007. He said at the time, the agency, therefore, could not draw conclusions. Mr Amano said the Syrian government still had not cooperated on investigations concerning the site. "Nevertheless, we had obtained enough information to draw a conclusion. I judged it appropriate to inform member states of our conclusion at this stage as it was in no-one's interest to let this situation drag on indefinitely," he said. "It is deeply regrettable that the facility was destroyed allegedly by Israel without the Agency having been given an opportunity to perform its verification role. Rather than force being used, the case should have been reported to the IAEA."
On Iran, Mr Amano said the IAEA had received "information related to possible past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities that seem to point to the existence of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme.

"There are indications that certain of these activities may have continued until recently," he said.
Iran has stated that its nuclear programme is for the peaceful purpose of providing energy, but many countries contend it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and last year, the Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions against it, citing the proliferation risks of its nuclear programme and Iran's continued failure to cooperate with the IAEA.

Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon has urged Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA. Mr Amano told that "The nuclear programme of the DPRK remains a matter of serious concern for the North-east Asia region and beyond." "Last year's reports about the construction of a new uranium enrichment facility and a light water reactor in the DPRK are deeply troubling," he added.

anjali sharma








Some fundamental principles do not seem to apply to communist parties. In a democratic party anywhere, the leader cannot escape his responsibility for its failure. It is common for such leaders to step down in the event of their parties losing elections. It should not really be any surprise that Prakash Karat, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), does not feel obliged to quit his post in view of the party's humiliating defeat in the assembly elections in West Bengal. Mr Karat obviously does not believe in the kind of accountability that would have prompted a democratic leader to own up to his responsibility for a failure of this scale and to quit. What is really shocking is Mr Karat's defence of his refusal to go. He has argued that the leadership issues in his party are decided not on the basis of electoral outcomes, but the "political line" the party pursues and "other factors". The absurdity of the argument would be apparent to anyone but the party faithful. The CPI(M) professes its faith in parliamentary democracy. Democratic elections are central to India's parliamentary system. To argue that electoral performances are not important for the party and its choice of leaders is politically dishonest. Clearly, a political line that is rejected by the people so overwhelmingly is seriously flawed.

Actually, Mr Karat's poor defence of his decision to stay on is a desperate attempt to shirk his own responsibility for the failure of the so-called political line. Ever since he took over the reins of the CPI(M) from the late Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Mr Karat has reduced the political line to an uncompromising opposition to the Congress. It was this line that prompted the CPI(M) to withdraw its support to the United Progressive Alliance government in 2008. How disastrous this line was for the party was proved by successive elections. It not only led to the party's debacle in Bengal but also drastically reduced the party's strength in Parliament. Mr Karat today presides over a party that has lost power in both Bengal and Kerala and could well become irrelevant in national politics. If all this is the result of the political line that his leadership has forced on the party, that line too stands condemned. But then, a leader who wants to cling to power would use the most discredited of arguments in order to do so. With Mr Karat continuing at the top and his political line prevailing, the CPI(M) may go down even further.






Politics is a strange game. Both the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Congress — its ally in Tamil Nadu and at the Centre — have apparently discovered that for each the other is proving to be the weakest link. Yet, none is willing to ask the other to quit the show. At its recent high-level committee meeting, convened after the Delhi High Court's rejection of the bail plea of M.K. Kanimozhi, the DMK threw speculation to the winds and reaffirmed its alliance with the Congress, which it had earlier blamed unabashedly for compounding its problems over the 2G spectrum issue. In the course of a few months, this is the second time that the DMK has decided to pull back from the brink. As before, the simple question of political survival has decided the case for it. The DMK sees its ability to retain the bargaining chip at the Centre as crucial to this art of survival. So, despite the humiliation and the obvious political disadvantage that a Congress-dictated seat-sharing arrangement would put the DMK to in Tamil Nadu both during and after the assembly elections, the party gave in to the whims of its ally in April this year. That is also why the DMK has decided to get over its sense of dejection at the failure of the bail plea in court and keep the partnership with the Congress going. With the 2G trial hanging over its head and the J. Jayalalithaa government hell-bent on increasing its political difficulties in the state and beyond, the DMK cannot risk further political isolation. A foothold at the Centre, in fact, is the DMK's only hope of countering the ambitions of its powerful adversary in the state and to prevent the party from splintering. Coalition politics, quite obviously, has changed the contours of Tamil politics beyond recognition. Had that not happened, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu would have been less desperate to reframe alliances at the Centre.

The DMK, however, may not have to try too hard to cling on to its ally. The Congress has its own insecurities. An ambitious rival and the Telengana issue are whittling down its strength in Andhra Pradesh. And so far, neither the Samajwadi Party nor the Bahujan Samaj Party have shown enough promise to compensate for the loss of the DMK. In other words, despite their self-discoveries, both the DMK and the Congress may have no choice but to continue in a losing game.

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Maqbool Fida Husain, the most famous and interesting Indian artist of my generation, died far from our shores in London last week. That was not his choice. He was under threat from murderous Hindutwits, and to its everlasting shame, the government of India did not protect an Indian citizen from homegrown hooligans. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, called his death a national loss; President Pratibha Patil said his death left a void in the world of art. These are empty words from two people who could and should have used their power to defeat the forces of intolerance and made India safe for Husain.

It is difficult to remember today, but there was a different India before the rise of Hindutwism. I went to work in Delhi in the mid-1960s. On the building next to my office was an enormous mural. I did not have to ask; of course it was by Husain — it had one of his iconic horsewomen in it. It was a government building. He was one of the first Indians to establish the presence of Indian art abroad; for this achievement, he was given the Padma Shri in 1955. In 1973, he was given the Padma Bhushan; in 1991, the Narasimha Rao government gave him the Padma Vibhushan. I do not have much respect for the government's opinion; an official award would not increase my regard for any artist. What is remarkable, however, is that Husain had done nothing to please the government.

The India of that time was a rational India which treated Hindutwits as obscure nitwits. There was usually a token Hindutwit or two in Parliament. The Hindu party had great leaders; their only problem was that they could not find followers. Then they had a stroke of genius — in 1992, they pulled down the Babri Masjid. They went on to win elections in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The victories established in the minds of the lunatic fringe that Bharat Mata rewarded those who killed and burnt in her name. One of their victims was Husain. Today they rule in Gujarat, and terrorize non-Maharashtrians in Mumbai. But a single Husain, painted in a day or less, fetches more in the world market than the revenue of a Hindutwit outfit in a year. One has brought India fame, the other notoriety. The one Hindutwit leader who sponsored a Muslim pogrom tries to obscure his role, and keeps repeating that he is a leader of all Gujaratis, and not only of Hindutwits.

And what was Husain's crime? He painted nude women. So did great Renaissance artists. All right, they were Christians; but great Hindu craftsmen sculpted women in suggestive poses centuries ago. Ah! But they sculpted goddesses; goddesses are divine, so no one would look at them lasciviously. But Husain too painted goddesses. A couple of thousand years ago he would have been wildly admired; his fault was that he was born after Muhammad and was born a Muslim. What this accident of birth obscured was the fact that Husain was born a man. He admired and was fascinated by the female. Male Hindutwits would never admit it, but men are attracted by women. This has been so ever since men were created, and will continue till the extinction of the last man. For all recorded history, men have turned this fascination into art, in all civilizations, including our own. To ostracize a man for it is a Hindutwit aberration. Hindutwism is a blip in human history; let us hope it disappears as fast as it appeared.

One reason why Husain left the shores of his beloved India was the spate of legal suits filed against him by Hindutwits. One bunch of suits was dismissed by Delhi High Court in 2004. But one cannot expect rationality from courts all the time. Another court issued a warrant against him. We all know the drill; he should have engaged a lawyer, got bail, and let the case wind interminably through the courts. But he did not have the patience. He left the country, and said goodbye to Hindutwits.

Should not someone bear the blame for making him leave? Should not someone have defended him against Hindutwits? Should not the power of the State have been used against their violence? Was it not its duty to protect him? And can this duty not be enforced by law?

The thought came to me when I read about the case that has been filed against Geir Haarde, who was prime minister of Iceland. He has been accused of having failed to prevent Iceland's bank crisis of 2008 and manage the fallout. It is an unusual crime; I thought that Iceland's judicial system would have some problems in deciding how to handle it. But I was wrong. Iceland created a court more than a century ago, in 1909, to try such a crime; an enormous bench of 15 judges would try Haarde. And if they pronounced him guilty, he could go to jail for two years.

This case raises a number of interesting questions. First, should an error in policy be justiciable? The standard practice in democratic countries is that the people elect a parliament, parliament approves a government, the government takes policy decisions, and they are implemented as long as the governing party holds majority. If the Icelandic legal challenge succeeds, it would mean that the normal procedure is not sufficient: that in addition to having majority support in parliament, the government must take the right policy decisions.

That raises the next question: who is to decide what is the right policy? Obviously, if it is decided in court, the court must ultimately be able to judge what is right. But what the judges know is law; what do they know about double-dip recession or cash-deposit ratio? They can, of course, learn; but how good will these wizened wise men be at disciplines that require long years of training? The answer is that they may take advice, as Indian justices sometimes do. But the guys that they take advice from are peculiarly chosen; they are better known for their respectability than for their wisdom.

That brings me to my final question: if the courts are going to judge ultimately what is the right policy, why not short-circuit the whole process and let courts decide policy in the first place? Democracies have a convoluted mechanism wherein illiterates choose loquacious representatives, representatives choose their favourite as prime minister, he chooses ministers who can help him survive, and they make policy on the advice of secretaries selected when they were 22 and trained in sitting on files. Instead, we should introduce minimum qualifications for parties: they must have a phalanx of lawyers, economists, chartered accountants and — I must not forget — journalists ready to govern before they can bid for power. And the converse is that no one should be eligible for elections unless he has some special training or skill that is of use in governing. And instead of having to rely on a civil service of generalists, they should be able to hire specialists and administrators from the open market. The United States of America goes some way towards the right model, but we should go further.






Do all babas believe that they are above the law because they have declared themselves to be religious leaders? We have had many who have dabbled actively in politics, using and manipulating the leaders who believed in them and in their supernatural powers. Images of Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandraswami — their antics and business dealings in the name of 'religion' and 'charity' — keep returning, even as younger babas enter the fray. Maybe it is the blind support for these 'holy' men that nurtures their mammoth egos and drives them into the realm of politics, merging the dividing line between religion and State. If these men were truly holy, why would they behave like VIPs, allowing cars and devotees to meet them on the tarmac of airports, thereby breaking all rules, like I have witnessed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar doing? Why would they get land at throwaway prices for ashrams or not declare donations and their sources?

To preach one thing and practise another make a mockery of such discourses. The threat of a fast-unto-death is akin to suicide, which is a criminal offence in the statute books. Why would a religious leader want to defy the law when he preaches that the people must abide by it? Why would a person with an enormous following and clout not negotiate his demands across the table? Surely an intellectual intervention makes more sense than what we see happening around us at this time.

We seem to be demeaning all democratic institutions by becoming victims of a frightening, confused populism. This is clearly the result of decades of malgovernance and faulty, corrupt administration, but it is, by no stretch of the imagination, the solution to the grave reality. These tamashas only dilute the urgent need for a radical reform of the operating and delivery systems of our polity and give a handle to the ruling, but isolated, dispensation to become even more insular. Frankly, this is suicidal for India and its future as a liberal democracy.

Old hat

The ruling class in India has brought this upon itself and does not seem to have the intellectual and political wherewithal to handle the people's ballooning sense of betrayal. It has to find an appropriate and creative solution to restore some semblance of dignity in the public space. We need intelligent and proactive responses to the churning in society. We need elected parliamentarians to stop bickering with one another. They should cease evading responsibility by not permitting Parliament to function, and come together in an emergency baithak to rewrite the rules themselves rather than abdicate the space to babas looking for a place in the sun.

Since the Congress is in the saddle at the Centre, it should set an example and order a reshuffle of the cabinet and negotiate to send some senior leaders back to the states to prepare for the next general elections. Madhya Pradesh needs serious attention, as does Maharashtra. The Congress needs to be proactive in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa: it should induct fresh faces and adopt a new strategy.

The service-sector ministries need to have young blood at the helm. Tourism, information and broadcasting, environment, external affairs, information technology, commerce and industries — each ministry should have men and women who hail from the same generation as their counterparts in Britain and the United States of America. We have a cabinet where the majority of members belong to a forgotten age, carrying the baggage of a forgettable past. The seemingly rudderless Central dispensation and a non-inclusive Congress need to act now if they want to survive the onslaught of the people's anger and their sense of betrayal.





An euphoric chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, announced that "the Darjeeling problem has been solved". The statement merely underlines the new chief minister's immaturity in dealing with hill politics, as even the greatest optimists in the hills would find it difficult to empathize with the chief minister's statement.

At best, the new government has signed "an agreement" with one political party which has given hope of defusing the present imbroglio for some time. One need not be an expert on hill affairs to understand that solving the Darjeeling issue is as difficult for the state government as achieving statehood is for the hill people.

Credit should be given to Banerjee for having shown flexibility in solving contentious issues, unlike the Left Front, in order to chart a roadmap to end the present administrative impasse in the hills. But even in this agreement there are many loose ends that need to be tied — the most important being territorial jurisdiction of the new administrative body.

Even if this territorial issue is amicably solved — which is not likely to be easy given the opposition from the adivasis — Banerjee will have to understand that the problem of Darjeeling would be far from being permanently resolved.

The new chief minister was able to clinch a deal with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha largely because of the cordial relationship they had nurtured over the past year. The GJM, too, has its own compulsions, ranging from its need to be in power to stay afloat to removing the Damocles' sword that is hanging over their leaders' heads regarding the murder of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League leader, Madan Tamang.

Banerjee is confident that when she comes up to the hills to ink the deal later this month she will be able to sit with the GJM leadership for a good feast. In fact, she did ask Roshan Giri, the GJM general secretary, whether the party would organize a feast for the Calcutta team in Darjeeling when they come up to sign the deal.

The chief minister must, however, understand that in the past three years it is the GJM leadership which has been climbing uphill trying to achieve Gorkhaland, and all weary travellers negotiating rough hilly terrains are always a little hungrier.

The new government has to remain cautious if its agreement to bring peace in the region is to work for long. Lessons must be learnt from the Left Front's dealings with the then undisputed leader of the hills, Subash Ghisingh.

Ghisingh, too, had inked the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council deal after becoming weary of leading a 28-month-long bloody agitation. He needed some rest on his uphill trek and the Left Front government was only too obliging, and gave him a cosy nesting place.

And the Gorkha leader always made a noise if his resting place was disturbed. The Left Front government soon found out it was best to leave the hills to Ghisingh.

There was no accountability, no transparency, in the functioning of the DGHC. Ghisingh's acolytes were suitably rewarded. There was no roadmap to alleviate the hill people's poverty, no vision for a move forward. The state government did not bother one bit.

Ghisingh asked for the council to be extended without elections and the state government agreed without protest. He asked for the resignation of all his councillors and they, too, agreed without protest. Ghisingh was the sole "caretaker- administrator", whose tenure would be "automatically" extended every six months by the state. The leader was the ringmaster of every show in Darjeeling, whether political, cultural or religious.

This, Banerjee must realize, was an outcome of the "cordial" relationship Ghisingh shared with the Left Front government. Even after the Gorkha National Liberation Front president was made to resign as the caretaker-administrator of the council on March 10, 2008, and Bimal Gurung started a popular movement, there was no inquiry into the financial mess of the council. There were no answers as to why the council was allowed to function without the framing of proper rules and regulations.

It now needs to be seen whether Banerjee will make a distinction between being cordial and ensuring that the new body works within the framework of the law of the land.

The state government must also be sincere in devolving genuine power to the autonomous setup. The Left Front took Ghisingh for a ride and it also thought that it could take the hill people for a ride, only to find that Ghisingh, its pointsman for the hills, had been overthrown even before it had realized what had happened. Despite calling the DGHC an autonomous setup, the state refused to hand over revenue generating departments, such as motor vehicles, or those needed for the devolution of power, like municipalities.

If the new chief minister continues with the GJM as the earlier government had done with Ghisingh, it is only a matter of a few years before the circle of unrest in the hills comes to hound her government.

The GJM has already said on record that it is not letting go of the statehood demand despite the new arrangement being put in place. The statehood issue has resonated in the hills despite Jyoti Basu forcing Ghisingh to sign an agreement which clearly stated that the demand for Gorkhaland "was being dropped in the overall national interest". Banerjee must be on her toes at all times and not rest on the laurels of having "solved the Darjeeling issue".

Three years ago, Bimal Gurung had been able to rally the hill people around him against Ghisingh, not just because the people wanted a change after 21 years of misrule but also because of their desperate need for identity. This need has found resonances in the hill psyche since 1907 — the first time that the Hillmen's Association placed their demand for a separate administrative unit before the British — and anyone familiar with hill thoughts will second the fact that development bonanzas have not managed to erase this sentiment till date.

Mamata Banerjee must now be ready to face constant challenges from the Darjeeling hills despite having "solved the Darjeeling problem".




I wondered why I felt so numb when my car left behind the dazzling, sun-baked plains at last and entered the shadow lands of mist as it made its way to Darjeeling. It was not the cold — which, if anything, was delightfully comforting after the heat of Calcutta in May — that was occasioning the sinking feeling. I was going back to Darjeeling after five long years of separation, during which period I have become a laughing stock to my family for making reservations in Darjeeling hotels only to cancel them again and again, as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha waged its battle in the hills. Notwithstanding the disappointment, I was steadfast in my resolve to go back to the place to which I have long pledged my troth. So as soon as Didi came to power, I tried again, and this time, miraculously, the booking stayed in place. I set out exhilarated. Yet where I had expected the pure joy of reunion, I felt only blankness as I tried to match the Darjeeling of my memory with the Darjeeling I now encountered.

More alarmingly, I soon realized that this was not merely a case of losing the aching joys and dizzy raptures of thoughtless youth. My heart was aching all right, but with a drowsy numbness as I saw the crumbling, lichen-covered buildings, piles of garbage by the wayside, sickly pieces of chicken or pork hanging from meatshops, and felt the craters on the road in my bones each time the car jumped. Suddenly the place seemed to have become real, which is to say, ugly. The toy train chugged past, looking less like a fairy wagon than like a vehicle whose time is up. The mountainsides were strangely bare, with clumps of greenery hacked away. To top it all, the people did not look the same. They seemed to move around with an invisible burden, which gave them a wary, sceptical look. This was not quite how I remembered the bright-faced denizens of this fey place.

The change was even more apparent when I reached Darjeeling. As I looked out of my hotel window, the clouds shifted just a bit to reveal rows of ramshackle shops in the bazar below. The colourful wares displayed in the shop-fronts made an odd contrast to the decrepitude of the buildings. Yet Darjeeling now boasts of a Big Bazaar outlet and a multiplex, which are proudly pointed out to tourists by car drivers. The Keventer's and Glenary's of yore stay in place, but the pervading spirit of ennui seems to have somehow touched them as well. Traffic crawls on the roads, and the sound of horns and motorcars drowns out the songs of the clouds and cicadas. Darjeeling now looks like Calcutta, I realized slowly to my utter dismay.

What calamity has befallen the place in the last five years to take Darjeeling's charm away? The apathy of the previous Left Front government to issues great and small has, of course, worked its magic throughout West Bengal, and Darjeeling has not been exempted. But perhaps this hill town has been worse affected because it has remained out of sight of the erstwhile rulers, who have, as a result, found it easy to forget it. Even for a tourist like me, Darjeeling has always been that heavenly place, unreachable in its beauty, somewhere out there. Clinging on to its glorified image preserved in memory, I have never quite considered Darjeeling as a real place with very real problems that need to be addressed. My engagement with the Gorkhaland agitations began and ended with the uncertainty they created in my travel plans. All these years, while I have been thinking of Darjeeling with romantic yearning, the place has slowly been rotting away and suffering irreversible damage.

At the same time, I wondered whether all is lost. In my last two days in Darjeeling, tourists started trickling in steadily until the Mall Road began to resemble the streets of Calcutta during the Durga Puja days. Shop- and hotel-keepers no longer had the dazed look, and the place throbbed with life. Seeing the throng, I should have been happy for Darjeeling's sake, but instead I panicked. Wrapping myself up in the gathering mists, I headed straight for the bench on which Karuna Banerjee had sung "E porobashe robe ke" in Ray's Kanchenjungha. Sitting there, with the plaintive call of mountain birds for company, I settled into the familiar Darjeeling of my childhood. I was assured that there is still a Darjeeling that no change, for better or for worse, can ever touch. It's the Darjeeling of flitting lights, bubbling pigeons and piercing, forest-scented rains — old as time and new as the day.










The State Prosecutor's Office is due by Thursday to issue its decision on the subject of whether Haaretz reporter Uri Blau will face charges of "possession of secret information by an unauthorized individual (without intent to undermine state security )." Indicting Blau would be unwarranted. Trying a journalist for fulfilling his professional mission would constitute a stain on Israeli democracy and do critical harm to freedom of expression.

"Possession of secret information" is one of the fundamental aspects of the work of a journalist, and is a necessary part of the work of reporters covering matters of defense, diplomacy and intelligence, about which almost all of the information that is obtained is classified in some way. There is no other way to report on the defense establishment and scrutinize its acts and omissions. If the media were only allowed to gather "unclassified" information, its reporting would look like news releases from the Israel Defense Forces spokesman.

Blau acted according to the rules: He gathered information indicating failings in military operations and the alleged violation of High Court of Justice directives regarding assassination policy. Blau provided his reporting and the documents upon which it was based to the military censor's office, which approved publication. The documents in his possession were to be used in his work, and the authorities are not contending that he made any other use of them. The Shin Bet security service's contention that Blau had not abided by a prior agreement to return the documents is no reason to put him on trial.

No journalist has ever been tried in Israel for "possession of secret information," and a dangerous precedent, which would deter the media from fulfilling its essential role in a democracy by providing scrutiny of the IDF and other defense agencies, must not be set.

The defense establishment is not entitled to be exempt from outside examination of its acts; persecution of critical journalists is a hallmark of repressive regimes and must not occur in Israel.

Discrimination against the journalist is particularly blatant in light of the consistent failure of the defense establishment and the prosecution to take action against government ministers, army officers and senior officials who have concluded their terms in service and have retained possession of classified documents.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein needs to close the Blau case and refrain from drifting toward a dangerous precedent.







Do they know something that we do not? Do they detect an incipient crisis? How can it be that they are relinquishing such powerful positions?

Eyal Gabbai, for example: He is stepping down as director general of the Prime Minister's Office, perhaps the most influential public service position, after just two years in the post and on short notice. And Udi Nissan, director of budgets in the Finance Ministry, perhaps the most important job in the country when it comes to the economy. He is also leaving after only two years. This week the name of Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer was added to the list, just one year after his term was extended by five years, when he applied for the top job at the International Monetary Fund. He, too, wants to go.

Gabbai is resigning over a deep disappointment with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He had hoped that this Netanyahu would be the same Netanyahu from his incarnation as finance minister: the Netanyahu of reform, revolution and wrangling with the state monopolies. But what he found was a new-version Netanyahu, the kind that eschews risk, does not aspire to meaningful reform and who instead of battling the unions seeks to ally with his former arch-enemy, Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini. As a result the planned reforms in the electricity sector, the seaports and the Israel Airports Authority are in stasis.

Netanyahu recently imposed on Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz a historic decision that is the essence of submission, giving the task of building and operating the new airport near Mitzpeh Ramon to the IAI monopoly instead of to a private operator and in so doing missing a one-time opportunity to break the ability of the agency's union to shut down Israeli airspace.

A month ago Netanyahu appointed former Justice Ministry attorney Moshe Dayan as civil service commissioner, over the objection of Gabbai. The job is several sizes too big for Dayan. The Civil Service Commission needs an experienced human resources management professional, someone who can shake up the public service and bring about the service and quality revolutions it so sorely needs. But Netanyahu preferred calm.

Today Gabbai admits that the greatest economic error of the past two years was the introduction of the two-year state budget and the new formula for its expansion. Before Netanyahu became prime minister the budget could only be increased by 1.7 percent. When his bloated cabinet was created, Nissan and Fischer "invented" a new formula for enlarging the budget that effectively increased budgetary spending by 2.7 percent, and beyond that in the years to come.

That was a mistake. That was bad. It leads to wasteful management practices and to increasing the tax burden, which constrains economic growth. Most of all, it leads Israel into the dangerous territory of high public debt, because big spending leads to a big budget deficit.

Given Israel's economic-foreign relations circumstances, we should have been following a diametrically opposite strategy of rapidly bringing down public debt to the range of 30 percent to 40 percent of GNP. The new budget formula precludes that.

What Gabbai and Nissan have in common is that they both watched the budgetary discipline dissolve before their eyes as election fervor began to seize the political debate. Despite the fact that the official election date is far down the road, the cabinet ministers are already putting forth new ideas and projects designed to gloss their public image in the event of early elections. The problem is that the 2012 state budget is already closed, so the funding for these items cannot come from it. It was created a year ago. But the pressure is on, and increased allocations are being approved without the concomitant cut on the other side - as in, for example, the new housing purchase benefits. The danger is exceeding the budget and slipping into fiscal crisis.

It's a danger that Gabbai and Nissan understand full well. They know that the next two years will be very political, with interminable pressure to increase spending, hand out subsidies and allowances and to knuckle under to the Haredim and the big trade unions. They will not be two years of reforms and necessary structural changes. If so, why stick around, to eat their hearts out and tarnish the professional image they built for themselves?

They gave their two years. Now they will take care of themselves, and we will be left with the gray clouds on the horizon.







How many times does it have to be said that integrating the large minority population is the major challenge facing Israeli society? A challenge more urgent and more difficult even than reaching a peace settlement with the Palestinians. Whereas peace with the Palestinians depends on decisions, difficult as they may be, to be taken by the Palestinian and Israeli leadership at the appropriate moment - the integration of the minorities in Israeli society is a long-term process, to be achieved over many years, that can be carried out only as the result of a determined and consistent government policy dedicated to that aim. No single decision can do it.

Furthermore, it is an illusion to think that the problem will solve itself once a peace settlement with the Palestinians has been reached. If anything, if significant progress has not been made by then, it will become even more difficult to solve. If a large segment of the country's population is alienated from the state and harbors hostile feelings to it, it will not make for a pleasant future for the State of Israel.

Sadly, despite desultory efforts made here and there, integration of Israel's minorities has never appeared as a priority on the agenda of successive Israeli governments. The single success story is the integration of the Druze and the small Circassian community as the result of David Ben-Gurion's decision many years ago to apply compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces to their young men.

Those three years of military service to the nation by their young men, followed among many by a career in the IDF and the police, have made these communities an integral part of Israeli society. The rest - Moslems and Christians - have essentially been ignored. They see Israel developing by leaps and bounds, and feel - rightly so - that their participation in this progress is minimal. Lately, for the nth time, the government is attempting to come to grips with the problems of the Bedouin population in the Negev.

There are about a quarter of a million Bedouin citizens in the State of Israel - close to 200,000 in the Negev - and they represent a quarter of the country's Moslem citizens. It is the Bedouin in the Negev that are the most disadvantaged of Israelis, at the lowest end of the scale when it comes to income, education and housing.

Of all the segments of the Israeli minority population, the integration of the Bedouin is by far the most difficult. For centuries they have followed a nomadic lifestyle and now find themselves in the midst of a modern industrial society without the skills needed to become productive members of this society. The age-old tradition of polygamy is still practiced among them; a father having a large number of children is commonplace, leading to parental neglect and delinquency.

Guiding the Bedouin into the 21st century is no simple matter. Teams of anthropologists, sociologists and architectural planners are needed to deal with the challenge of urbanization, the move from nomadic to urban life.

The conflict over land ownership in the Negev, which has persisted since the establishment of the State of Israel, though important, is not the central problem. Far more important is raising the level of education so as to allow the youth to acquire the skills needed in a modern high-technology society. Some progress has been made here, especially at Ben-Gurion University, but it is far too little considering the magnitude of the problem. Unless a high-priority, government-sponsored effort that will span the period from kindergarten to university is undertaken, the problems will continue to fester.

The Negev Bedouin have been neglected by the state. But into the vacuum left by the state has come storming from the north the Islamic Movement, preaching Palestinian nationalism and hostility to Israel. A population that in past years had felt attached to the State of Israel, many of whose young men had volunteered to serve in the IDF, is thus in the process of becoming fervently religious and alienated from the state. Mosques are now to be seen in every Bedouin village and encampment, and PLO flags are beginning to make their appearance in the Negev. The Islamic Movement is waging a campaign to discourage enlistment in the IDF. Things are going from bad to worse.

It is not too late for the government to enter the arena. The IDF can play an important and even central role in this effort. As has been shown time and again, the IDF can be a great social integrator, but it needs to receive direction from the government to play that role.







About two weeks ago, Thomas Friedman spent time in Cairo. From there he wrote in The New York Times about two nations that have been untouched by the Arab Spring - the Israelis and the Palestinians. Friedman described their governments as "ossified, unimaginative, oxygen-deprived," and their heads - Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas - as people who do a great deal to achieve nothing. One goes to the United Nations, and the other to the U.S. Congress, instead of meeting with each other. If they learned anything from Tahrir Square, he said, it was not the right thing.

Friedman is correct. The Palestinians don't want to forgo recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly, while Israel considers a veto a victory for its denial of Palestinian demands, and it ignores Barack Obama's outline for peace. And both sides don't care a bit about the U.S. president's hints that it would be best for them not to drag his country into a veto.

On another matter, perhaps because of overoptimism, Friedman is not right. First, when he expects Netanyahu to present a detailed map for two states instead of talking about "painful concessions," and again when he proposes to the Palestinians that they march on Fridays to Jerusalem in their thousands carrying olive branches and banners calling for "two states for two peoples."

People here are longing to see marches like that. They are dying for them. What will happen if the Palestinians adopt the idea, reach the first roadblock, far from Jerusalem, perhaps simply at the outskirts of Nablus, Jenin or Ramallah - something the Israel Defense Forces has marked as a "red line"? Will anyone wait there for them with water and flowers? Or will they be brutally dispersed at their first contact with the security forces?

Three months ago, a tsunami warning was sounded in Israel. The defense minister announced at the Institute for National Security Studies that in September, when the UN General Assembly convenes, and later, Israel will suffer extremely harsh times diplomatically. What has been done since then to address the upcoming evil must not be taken lightly: A re-education seminar took place at the White House, energetic trips to European capitals by Netanyahu and other ministers to persuade the leaders to cancel the edict are continuing, the French initiative will vanish into thin air, and - most importantly - the Foreign Ministry staff's summer vacations have been canceled!

The defense minister, who used to speak about the necessity for a courageous diplomatic plan, has changed the disk. If we accept the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations, he said recently, we will have used up all our assets. And the tsunami? Was there ever a tsunami? The comedy group Hagashashim had an expression that fit the Israeli tsunami warning exactly - "I cautioned that I had warned."

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin used to say that in the Middle East one could not predict anything beyond three months. That remains correct, and pessimistic. Meanwhile, there is no sign that the U.S. president will urge the sides on. Israel is steadfast in its refusal to negotiate based on the outline he has provided, while Israeli forces are training with nonlethal weapons.

And the Palestinians? Do they count in Israeli eyes? And does the United Nations count for Israel? The end won't be favorable in the next round either. Perhaps the hand will not be light, and perhaps it will be on the trigger.

When there are red lines, there will always be someone who claims that the other side tried to cross them, and there will always be an officer in the field who claims - justifiably, perhaps, from his point of view - that the "gray area" is actually red. "What will determine the results of the encounter with the demonstrators," wrote Yedioth Ahronoth military commentator Alex Fishman recently, "is whether the snipers are calm." Forget about nonlethal.

At a recent security-oriented brainstorming session in anticipation of developments in September, the participants discussed what should be done if the Palestinians try to cross the red line. Various opinions were heard. Open fire, one senior officer said.







Yossi Beilin still wears a black suit and a red tie. In the photograph accompanying the interview in the Hebrew edition of MarkerWeek on June 9, we could see Beilin's hair was still carefully styled, his hands clapsed as a sign of restraint. His statements are as eloquent as always, linked by infinitely passionate logic.

The photograph revealed the essential backdrop - an overflowing bookshelf as befitting an intellectual. At least three of the titles, the picture showed, pertained to his spiritual grandfather, David Ben-Gurion. Also in the shot were another book, bound in purple and displaying the word, "hope," in big letters, a small sculpture of a scale and another of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, and two red notebooks stuffed with documents.

Yes, it looks more or less like the same old Beilin, the one from the peace business.

But Beilin is no longer in the peace business. He has replaced peace with agriculture, water and domestic security - and, to a lesser extent, health too. He has established Beilink, a company that promotes private firms in foreign countries, a kind of a "foreign ministry for business."

The method is simple: "I know what the Foreign Ministry is and is not allowed to give." Beilin provides what the Foreign Ministry cannot.

He does so by means of the political connections he wove over the years. He cooperates with a worldwide network of former senior politicians, the good folk from the peace business - Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, Joschka Fischer, Igor Ivanov, Bernard Kouchner. "No one will ever demand that a person erase his connections," Beilin says. "Am I a baby who has nothing and is just beginning to travel the world?"

He certainly is no baby. He is 63 years old, and after decades in one position, he has the right to hold another, more profitable one. And Beilin is indeed pleased with his career change. "I don't miss the world of politics," he says. "When I was there, I felt almost as if I was doing a shift."

If so, the shift is over.

The original objects of Beilin's passions have found themselves suitable replacements. The satisfaction he derived from the possibility of making peace in a blood-soaked region is now derived from "giving clients in Israel experience and connections with entities abroad."

He has substituted the Geneva Initiative with a joint initiative with former MK Rafi Elul to promote agricultural businesses in Arab countries; the spark that burned in him when he put together the "Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings" now does so when his company helps an Indian get a loan from a certain European country; his inexhaustible subversiveness on the way to the end of the conflict has been exchanged for the aspiration to connect Israelis to profit-making real estate across the sea.

"The field is so varied that it drives me out of my mind," Beilin says with pleasure.

Of course, Beilin, like any careful craftsman, "takes only what interests me, that is a challenge and of whose value I'm certain." He has his red lines, and naturally, they all touch on the moral realm. "We will never deal in offensive weaponry... We will not make deals with pariah countries... We will not accept unethical payments."

He looks well, Beilin does. Still in his black suit and red tie. Still carefully coiffed. Still with his fluent text, his clapsed hands and his restrained tone. Still with Madeleine Albright and Joschka Fischer. Still a kind of foreign minister, albeit somewhat differently so.

And so, if you, too, have despaired of the whole peace thing and you're interested in the agriculture business, give him a call. Yossi Beilink, that's the name now. It's written the same way - only with an invoice at the end.



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



The New York State Senate is just two votes away from approving same-sex marriage. At least four senators — all Republicans — still won't say where they stand. They need to declare their support. There is no excuse for their silence, except for appeasing a conservative political base that clearly does not represent the interests or the values of this state.

The Assembly has voted for marriage equality repeatedly. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ready to sign the bill into law. And an army of prominent New Yorkers are urging the Legislature to approve this basic human right.

The list of business leaders supporting same-sex marriage includes: Rochelle Lazarus, chairman of Ogilvie & Mather; Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs; and Richard Parsons, chairman of Citigroup. Also speaking out are several big-time Republican donors: John Mack, chairman of Morgan Stanley; Paul Singer, a hedge fund executive; Jerry Speyer, chairman of Tishman Speyer Properties.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has promised to put his cash and clout behind any senator who supports the legislation "no matter where they stand on any other issue."

Larry King, Julianna Margulies, Michael Strahan, formerly of the New York Giants, Sean Avery of the Rangers and Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns have made videos in support of marriage equality. Leaders of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.; S.E.I.U. 1199, the health workers' union; and the Communications Workers of America are also pushing hard.

Senator James Alesi of the Rochester suburbs was the first Republican senator to say he would vote for marriage equality. We applaud him and urge others to join him. Instead, they are either opposed or staying mum, hoping the clock will run out and they won't have to take a stand. That list of undeclared: Greg Ball of Putnam County, Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, Roy McDonald of Rensselaer County and Stephen Saland of the Poughkeepsie area.

Dean Skelos, the Senate Republican leader who has said that he is opposed to same-sex marriage, has also said members of his caucus should follow their conscience. There is less than a week left in the term. Mr. Skelos must schedule a vote, and New York's lawmakers need to do what is right.






Without strong leaders at the top of the nation's financial regulatory agencies, the Dodd-Frank financial reform doesn't have a chance. Whether it is protecting consumers against abusive lending, reforming the mortgage market or reining in too-big-to-fail banks, all require tough and experienced regulators.

Too many of these jobs are vacant, or soon will be, or are filled by caretakers. So it was a relief last week when President Obama said he had decided on a well-qualified nominee to be the new chairman for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and would make other nominations soon. The White House needs to move quickly and be prepared to fight.

Much of the blame for the delays lies with Republican lawmakers who have consistently opposed qualified candidates. In the case of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they have vowed to obstruct any nominee unless Democrats first agree to gut the agency's powers. Until now, the administration hasn't pushed back.

Mr. Obama's choice to lead the F.D.I.C., Martin Gruenberg, is a solid one. Mr. Gruenberg has earned widespread respect for his work as vice chairman of the F.D.I.C. since 2005. His confirmation could be eased by the fact that he is well known to senators from his long previous tenure on the staff of the banking committee.

Thomas Curry, reported to be under consideration to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is also a strong choice. A lawyer, former state bank regulator and current F.D.I.C. board member, he has a firm grasp of federal and state regulation. That is a crucial attribute for running the historically antiregulatory O.C.C. If nominated, Mr. Curry's confirmation could be smoothed by the fact that he is a registered independent who was chosen for the F.D.I.C. by President George W. Bush.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans will just-say-no to even uncontroversial candidates like Mr. Gruenberg and Mr. Curry. Any potential fight pales compared to the one under way over the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where, as ever, the Republicans are more interested in protecting bankers than consumers.

As their price for confirming a director, they want to vastly expand the power of bank regulators to veto the bureau's decisions and put controls on the bureau's financing that will make it more vulnerable to political pressure. They have also made clear their particular disdain for Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor and prominent reformer who has been working as a presidential adviser to set up the bureau.

The White House has recently floated another possible nominee, Raj Date, a former banker who is now working with Ms. Warren. Mr. Date has an impressive résumé, but not nearly as impressive as Ms. Warren's.

Why go with a compromise candidate when Republicans have vowed to block any nominee? Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats should back Ms. Warren and expose to American voters just exactly whose interests the Republicans put first.

Mr. Obama has been criticized for not doing battle for another excellent nominee, Peter Diamond, a Nobel Prize laureate in economics who withdrew his name after Republicans vowed to block him from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. They said his background in labor economics made him unqualified, even though full employment is one of the Fed's mandates. Mr. Diamond clearly could have served ably, but Republicans were more interested in obstruction. It's past time for President Obama to take off the gloves.





The scale and toll of industrial fishing is far less familiar than even the scale and toll of industrial farming. Groups like Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium put out sustainable seafood lists for diners and shoppers, good reminders that fisheries are in decline. But even they do not convey how bad things have become.

That is one of the purposes of European Fish Week, which ended on Sunday. The event was organized by Ocean2012, a coalition hoping to change the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union. Change will not come easily. As the coalition points out, Europe is supporting overfishing with high quotas and direct subsidies for modernizing the European fishing fleet. And since the European fleets fish globally, the effect is global.

A 2003 study by the Fisheries Center at the University of British Columbia shows the plunge in predatory fish over the last century. A map of the Atlantic in 1900, based on that data, is filled with colored splotches showing concentrations of fish. In 2000, the map is nearly empty.

A chart on the Ocean2012 Web site approaches the problem in a different way. It shows that since the 1950s, the Spanish fishing fleet, once mostly confined to the mid-Atlantic and the Mediterranean, has become a global force, fishing in the Pacific and along the edge of Antarctica as well.

So far, the sensible remedies — including lowering quotas, limiting seasons and retiring fleets — have gone nowhere. Choosing a sustainable fish for supper isn't enough. Both commercial fishermen and the politicians that do their bidding must recognize that global overfishing by many nations now threatens the oceans and the economies that depend on them. And the only way to deal with that threat is with strong international rules to end all unsustainable fishing.





Turkey's voters gave Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party roughly half the popular vote and a solid new parliamentary majority. But the party fell short in Sunday's vote of the two-thirds majority it needs to push through a new Constitution on its own. That is good news for Turkey's democracy.

Turkey's current Constitution, drafted under military rule in the early 1980s, should be replaced by a fully democratic charter. It must reinforce human rights, including free speech, a free press and equal rights for women and ethnic minorities and represent the full range of the country's increasingly pluralistic society.

Over the last nine years, Justice and Development has unleashed the energies of Turkey's entrepreneurs, established civilian supremacy over a coup-prone army and pushed through human rights reforms as part of an effort to bolster Turkey's candidacy for the European Union. Recently, Mr. Erdogan has become more authoritarian and thin-skinned. His party was expected to push for creating a strong new executive presidency designed to let him continue to rule after his term as prime minister runs out. That would concentrate far too much power in a single branch of government.

Mr. Erdogan's increasingly confrontational foreign policies may play well at the polls, but they have proved costly for the country's interests. Once-constructive relations with Israel have yielded to tit-for-tat provocations and, if they continue, could threaten Turkey's substantial trade with Israel. Its cozy games with Iran only encouraged Iran's nuclear ambitions. Its ambivalent response to the Arab Spring has left the pioneering Muslim democracy looking like an apologist for kleptocrats and thugs.

Ankara must discourage private Turkish groups from initiating a second blockade-running Gaza flotilla and press Turkish companies and banks to better enforce international sanctions against Iran. It must recognize that the drive for democracy sweeping up against its borders represents a historic opportunity for Turkish leadership.






Not long ago, I came into possession of the names of the investors in the now-defunct Galleon Group, the hedge fund firm that was run by Raj Rajaratnam, who last month was convicted of insider trading.

It's a long and impressive list. Cornell, Colgate and Texas A&M each entrusted part of their endowments to Galleon. State pension funds in New Hampshire and Virginia invested with Rajaratnam. There were a handful of foundations, like the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and lots of family trusts. Private wealth managers, like Banque Privée Edmond de Rothschild, steered clients to Galleon. A.I.G., the insurance giant, and Yuengling, the beer company, were investors.

So were Kenneth Cole, the fashion designer; Peter Peterson, the Blackstone co-founder; and Jeffrey Vinik, the long-ago former manager of the Fidelity Magellan mutual fund. In other words, the investors were pretty much whom you'd expect to find in a big-time hedge fund with a stellar long-term track record. And, of course, as Galleon enriched its investors, Rajaratnam also got rich: Shortly before he was arrested, Forbes magazine listed his net worth at $1.5 billion.

As I pored through the Galleon list, though, I couldn't help thinking about another group of investors who had unwittingly hitched their wagon to a crooked hedge fund manager. Like Rajaratnam, Bernie Madoff had a client list that included institutions and foundations, public figures and wealthy executives, family trusts and retirement accounts.

Yet, despite the similarities, the two groups of investors have been treated completely differently since the crimes of their respective fund managers were exposed. For many investors in Madoff's Ponzi scheme — the "net winners" who took out more money than they put in — the experience has been hellish. Irving Picard, the trustee in the Madoff case, has sued many of them to recover some or all of their ill-gotten gains. By contrast, the Galleon investors have paid no price at all. They've been able to keep every ill-gotten penny.

Why is this so? More to the point, why is it right?

One reason is that, unlike Rajaratnam, Madoff only pretended to be running a hedge fund; like all Ponzi schemers, he used money coming in from new investors to pay other investors. That's why the law justifies clawing it back: Picard is essentially trying to return stolen money to the "net losers."

Yet isn't insider trading also a form of stealing? After all, Rajaratnam was convicted of stealing information that gave him an unfair advantage over other investors. The gains he made from those unfair trades robbed the people who, lacking the information he had obtained, sold the shares that Galleon bought. In insider-trading cases, prosecutors try to find those people so that appropriate restitution can be made. But only Rajaratnam will have to make that restitution. His investors get to keep the profits that resulted from his illegal trades.

There is a second issue. In the Madoff case, Picard has been particularly punitive toward investors who "knew or should have known" that Madoff was crooked; that is, people who, in the trustee's view, ignored red flags that should have alerted them to Madoff's wrongdoing. The most prominent people in this category are Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, the owners of the New York Mets, whom the trustee has sued to claw back a cool $1 billion — despite their insistence that they had no clue.

But there were plenty of red flags around Rajaratnam, too. Hedge fund managers will tell you that there were always rumors about insider trading at Galleon. Indeed, it was at the heart of Rajaratnam's business model.

It is implausible that every one of Rajaratnam's sophisticated investors were in the dark. Yet the law says that, unlike the Madoff investors, they bear no responsibility for ignoring red flags. On the contrary: They are being rewarded for looking the other way. And even though Rajaratnam is likely to spend years in prison — and will have to pay tens of millions of dollars in restitution and fines — he will remain supremely wealthy, as will his family. This is one more contrast to Madoff, whose family is likely to be penniless by the time the trustee is finished.

The phrase I find myself muttering a lot these days is: "There oughta be a law." There oughta be a law, for instance, that executives who create corporate cultures that encourage employees to commit fraud, as Angelo Mozilo did at Countrywide, should be held criminally liable for fostering that culture. But there isn't any such law, so Mozilo gets a pass, despite all the fraudulent mortgages Countrywide underwrote.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that there ought to be a law that says that if a fund manager's "edge" is insider trading, his investors should have to pay a price, too. Maybe then, they'd be less willing to look the other way when their fund manager starts doing things he shouldn't.







Manchester, Tenn.

I'VE attended and loved music festivals of all sizes for nearly 20 years, but gargantuan ones like Bonnaroo, held each June since 2002 on a 700-acre farm in Tennessee, induce a music-fan identity crisis in me. I'm an eclectic listener. I'm also a ruminator. I hate choosing just one of anything. On the epic scale of Bonnaroo, these traits can result in bafflement. Add the remarkable accessibility to drugs, and the entire experience can become seriously discombobulating.

Around 200 bands appeared on nine stages over four days at Bonnaroo last weekend, and the artists covered many genres. When your must-see bands overlap (which is all the time), the decisions can be excruciating.

Eventually, exhausted by Bonnaroo's too-muchness, I craved distraction. I could build drums, take Hula-Hoop lessons, dance at the Silent Disco or have my hair shampooed at the on-site salon. Or I could eat ice cream and do drugs.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream carts dotted the grounds, and workers doled out samples of their festival flavor, Bonnaroo Buzz. Jerry Greenfield, one of the company's founders, was on hand for photos. Eric Fredette, the flavor's creator, explained to me the combination of coffee ice cream with whiskey caramel swirls: Bonnaroo is in Coffee County, and Tennessee is famous for its whiskey. And the name? He said it referred to fair-trade coffee, though he grinned when I suggested it was a wink at other buzzes.

Officially, Bonnaroo forbids drugs. Unofficially, all kinds of drugs were as easy to find as the ice cream. Marijuana was most prevalent. As at many festivals and rock concerts, the usual laws seem not to apply; transactions that could lead to a prison term on city streets are conducted openly here.

Some lit up with no hesitation. But one young man I saw was huddled protectively over a pipe so small it looked like he was trying to smoke out of a Vienna sausage. On Shakedown Street, a thoroughfare of unofficial booths outside the main staging area, hemp sandals, "special" banana bread and hundreds of other items were available. In the campground, dealers hawked their wares as regularly as peanut vendors at a baseball game — though not as loudly.

Chris Armstrong, a Nashville native who has been to Bonnaroo five times and was camping with his teenage daughter and nine of her friends, said, "They aren't the barbiturates and biker drugs at concerts like when I was young. Those just made people angry. These are all happy drugs." He added, "They're everywhere here, so you can't ignore them. But I feel the festival is very safe."

When I said I didn't think a festival with Bonnaroo's scope could cultivate a sense of unity or political awareness as Woodstock did in 1969, Mr. Armstrong agreed. "Woodstock had one stage," he said, "so it was easier to get a message across to everybody." Bonnaroo does promote environmental issues, but rarely from the main stages; it's mostly through volunteer efforts and sponsorships. Mr. Armstrong mentioned Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who addressed Bonnaroo fans in 2009 and returned this year to introduce a documentary film about mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining. "The kids didn't know who he was," he said. "They didn't care. They just wanted to hear more music."

Perhaps this generation's view of drug use is akin to its more casual take on politics. They aren't doing drugs here to make a statement but more so because they enjoy them.

Bonnaroo is foremost about the music, but it's also about the crowd. It's heartening that 80,000 rowdy, sweaty people can tolerate one another's neon tutus and bond, albeit briefly, despite stupefying heat and dust. For all my bewilderment at Bonnaroo's choices, in our hyper-individualized society, it's those rare moments of connection with other fans that make for a lasting high.

Carrie Jerrell, an assistant professor of English at Murray State University, is the author of the poetry collection "After the Revival."







I'll be writing a lot about the presidential election over the next 16 months, but at the outset I would just like to remark that I'm opining on this whole campaign under protest. I'm registering a protest because for someone of my Hamiltonian/National Greatness perspective, the two parties contesting this election are unusually pathetic. Their programs are unusually unimaginative. Their policies are unusually incommensurate to the problem at hand.

This election is about how to avert national decline. All other issues flow from that anxiety.

The election is happening during a downturn in the economic cycle, but the core issue is the accumulation of deeper structural problems that this recession has exposed — unsustainable levels of debt, an inability to generate middle-class incomes, a dysfunctional political system, the steady growth of special-interest sinecures and the gradual loss of national vitality.

The number of business start-ups per capita has been falling steadily for the past three decades. Workers' share of national income has been declining since 1983. Male wages have been stagnant for about 40 years. The American working class — those without a college degree — is being decimated, economically and socially. In 1960, for example, 83 percent of those in the working class were married. Now only 48 percent are.

Voters are certainly aware of the scope of the challenges before them. Their pessimism and anxiety does not just reflect the ebb and flow of the business cycle, but is deeper and more pervasive. Trust in institutions is at historic lows. Large majorities think the country is on the wrong track, and have for years. Large pluralities believe their children will have fewer opportunities than they do.

Voters are in the market for new movements and new combinations, yet the two parties have grown more rigid.

The Republican growth agenda — tax cuts and nothing else — is stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible. Gigantic tax cuts — if they were affordable — might boost overall growth, but they would do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing a working-class crisis.

Republican politicians don't design policies to meet specific needs, or even to help their own working-class voters. They use policies as signaling devices — as ways to reassure the base that they are 100 percent orthodox and rigidly loyal. Republicans have taken a pragmatic policy proposal from 1980 and sanctified it as their core purity test for 2012.

As for the Democrats, they offer practically nothing. They acknowledge huge problems like wage stagnation and then offer... light rail! Solar panels! It was telling that the Democrats offered no budget this year, even though they are supposedly running the country. That's because they too are trapped in a bygone era.

Mentally, they are living in the era of affluence, but, actually, they are living in the era of austerity. They still have these grand spending ideas, but there is no longer any money to pay for them and there won't be for decades. Democrats dream New Deal dreams, propose nothing and try to win elections by making sure nobody ever touches Medicare.

Covering this upcoming election is like covering a competition between two Soviet refrigerator companies, cold-war relics offering products that never change.

If there were a Hamiltonian Party, it would be offering a multifaceted reinvigoration agenda. It would grab growth ideas from all spots on the political spectrum and blend them together. Its program would be based on the essential political logic: If you want to get anything passed, you have to offer an intertwined package that smashes the Big Government vs. Small Government orthodoxies and gives everybody something they want.

This reinvigoration package would have four baskets. There would be an entitlement reform package designed to redistribute money from health care and the elderly toward innovation and the young. Unless we get health care inflation under control by replacing the perverse fee-for-service incentive structure, there will be no money for anything else.

There would be a targeted working-class basket: early childhood education, technical education, community colleges, an infrastructure bank, asset distribution to help people start businesses, a new wave industrial policy if need be — anything that might give the working class a leg up.

There would be a political corruption basket. The Tea Parties are right about the unholy alliance between business and government that is polluting the country. It's time to drain the swamp by simplifying the tax code and streamlining the regulations businesses use to squash their smaller competitors.

There would also be a pro-business basket: lower corporate rates, a sane visa policy for skilled immigrants, a sane patent and permitting system, more money for research.

The Hamiltonian agenda would be pro-market, in its place, and pro-government, in its place. In 2012, on the other hand, we're going to see another clash of the same old categories. I'll be covering it, but I protest.






THE novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, born 200 years ago today, was an unlikely fomenter of wars. Diminutive and dreamy-eyed, she was a harried housewife with six children, who suffered from various obscure illnesses worsened by her persistent hypochondria.

And yet, driven by a passionate hatred of slavery, she found time to write "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which became the most influential novel in American history and a catalyst for radical change both at home and abroad.

Today, of course, the book has a decidedly different reputation, thanks to the popular image of its titular character, Uncle Tom — whose name has become a byword for a spineless sellout, a black man who betrays his race.

And we tend to think of the novel itself as an old-fashioned, rather lachrymose affair that features the deaths of an obsequious enslaved black man and his blond, angelic child-friend, Little Eva.

But this view is egregiously inaccurate: the original Uncle Tom was physically strong and morally courageous, an inspiration for blacks and other oppressed people worldwide. In other words, Uncle Tom was anything but an "Uncle Tom."

Indeed, that's why in the mid-19th century Southerners savagely attacked "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as a dangerously subversive book, while Northern reformers — especially blacks — often praised it. The ex-slave Frederick Douglass affirmed that no one had done more for the progress of African-Americans than Stowe.

The book was enormously popular in the North during the 1850s and helped solidify support behind the antislavery movement. As the black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois later wrote, "Thus to a frail overburdened Yankee woman with a steadfast moral purpose we Americans, both black and white, owe our gratitude for the freedom and the union that exist today in these United States."

The book stoked fires overseas, too. In Russia it influenced the 1861 emancipation of the serfs and later inspired Vladimir Lenin, who recalled it as his favorite book in childhood. It was the first American novel to be translated and published in China, and it fueled antislavery causes in Cuba and Brazil.

At the heart of the book's progressive appeal was the character of Uncle Tom himself: a muscular, dignified man in his 40s who is notable precisely because he does not betray his race; one reason he passes up a chance to escape from his plantation is that he doesn't want to put his fellow slaves in danger. And he is finally killed because he refuses to tell his master where two runaway slaves are hiding.

As for Little Eva, she bravely accepts her coming death and says she would gladly give her life if that would lead to the emancipation of America's enslaved blacks. Together Tom and Eva form an interracial bond that offers lessons about tolerance and decency.

Unfortunately, these themes were lost in many of the stage versions of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that inevitably sprung from its immense popularity. Indeed, Stowe's novel yielded the most popular and one of the longest-running plays in American history.

The first dramatization of the novel appeared in 1852, the year it was published, and countless others followed. By the 1890s, there were hundreds of acting troupes — so-called Tommers — that fanned out across North America, putting on "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in every town, hamlet and city. Some troupes even toured internationally, performing as far away as Australia and India.

The play, seen by more people than read the book, remained popular up to the 1950s and still appears occasionally, including a staging last fall at the Metropolitan Playhouse in New York.

But as the story moved from the book to the stage, Stowe's revolutionary themes were drowned in sentimentality and spectacle. Eva's death was frequently a syrupy scene in which the actress was hauled heavenward by rope or piano wire against a backdrop of angels and billowing clouds.

Uncle Tom, meanwhile, was often presented as a stooped, obedient old fool, the model image of a submissive black man preferred by post-Reconstruction, pre-civil rights America.

It was this Uncle Tom, weakened both physically and spiritually, who became a synonym for a racial sellout by the mid-20th century. Black musicians, sports figures, even establishment civil rights leaders were all tarred with the "Uncle Tom" label, often by younger, more radical activists, as a way of demeaning them in the eyes of the African-American community.

But it doesn't have to be that way; Uncle Tom should once again be a positive symbol for African-American progress.

After all, many people who over the years were derided as Uncle Toms — Jackie Robinson, Louis Armstrong and Willie Mays, to name a few — are now seen as brave racial pioneers.

Indeed, during the civil rights era it was those who most closely resembled Uncle Tom — Stowe's Tom, not the sheepish one of popular myth — who proved most effective in promoting progress.

Rosa Parks didn't mind the Uncle Tom label, since she believed that great change could result from nonviolent moral protest. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., though often called an Uncle Tom, also stuck to principled nonviolence.

Their form of protest was just as active as Tom's, and just as strong. Both Stowe and Tom deserve our reconsideration — and our respect.

David S. Reynolds, a professor of American studies and English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of "Mightier Than the Sword: 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and the Battle for America."








It seems "Modernism in economy and conservatism in politics" can be summarized as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's magic formula for power that has enabled him to keep his chair for the third consecutive time with increased support.

That is not a formula invented by Erdoğan for the first time actually. In the neo-liberal era of the 80s and early 90s, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Helmut Kohl in Germany and, though he was a socialist, François Mitterrand in France managed to keep their chair for many years with a mixture of a modernist economic approach and traditionalist politics that had the approval of their voters.

There is one more factor; Erdoğan managed to boost the self confidence of his supporters by creating a "can do" spirit both domestically and abroad. Domestically it's what Erdoğan calls the "politics of services." More and easily accessible health services, more four-lane highways, more airports and more and cheaper air routes and now high-speed trains. They brought valuable points to the Justice and Development Party, or AK Parti. Another field of example in which Erdoğan managed to convince his voters of his capacity to deliver promises was to institute more political control over the military and judiciary.

In foreign policy, Erdoğan's rows with Israel in the last few years annoyed the United States, Britain and other Western allies, but drew sympathy on the Arab streets, if not among Arab rulers. And the fact that Arab rulers are being downed by the street one by one, added up to Erdoğan's popularity in Turkey and in other geographies of Muslim populations. That is why in his victory speech the other night he greeted not only Turkish people but Sarajevo and Beirut as well. Erdoğan is confident of himself and his voters trust him. The 50 percent of votes he managed to garner proved that, but something else as well.

After having this support, which is enough to get elected as president of Turkey through public vote, it will be easier for him to speak up about the issue. It is no secret that Erdoğan wants a sort of presidential system in Turkey and he wants to place that in the Constitution.

To write a new constitution, which is expected to expand the freedoms and relax the situation regarding the Kurdish problem, Erdoğan promised to seek common ground with the opposition.

But seeking consensus with the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which is predominantly focused on the Kurdish problem, and with the social democratic main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, are two totally different things. This process might be problematic in itself. But with or without a new Constitution, we might speculate that Erdoğan will try to be the next president of Turkey after Abdullah Gül. And that could take place most probably in 2014, rather than 2012, after Erdoğan clears all possible obstacles from his road to the Presidential Palace in Çankaya in the meantime.

What will happen to opposing groups in that process? That is a matter of a democratization debate and it seems Turkey will have plenty of that in the coming months and years as well.





So what happens after democracy? Don't misunderstand, this question is not to imply an alternative to the ballot box as a means to organize affairs. There is none. People have been making that argument for a long time. Socrates paid with his life to make that case in 399 B.C. More recently, Sir Winston Churchill became another often quoted on the topic: "…democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Perhaps no country knows the truism of their wisdom as well as Turkey. But Turkey's long embrace of ballots, followed less than a generation ago by several countries to the west who now enjoy the comforts of the European Union, and which is now the aspiration of so many to Turkey's east, still leaves that question to linger. It is a question growing more urgent at this time of democracies' ascendency in so many places. For Americans cannot do what reason tells them they must and begin paying for their deeply mortgaged futures, a debt almost equal to the world's annual GDP. Europeans offer us no better advice. Their EU, what many will argue is the world's fullest expression of the democratic ideal, veers toward collapse thanks to the fecklessness of national parliaments.

At a time when Turkey, no less than the world, needs the means to deal with long term challenges of many civilization struggles, the vexing task is to carry a discussion beyond the next bridge, power plant or tax amnesty.

"Could it be democracy, the sacred answer to our short-term hopes and prayers, the protector of our individual freedoms and nurturer of our avaricious dreams, will turn out to be the endgame for the human race?" asked Indian writer Arundhati Roy. She went on in her collection of essays, "Listening to Grasshoppers:" "Could it be that democracy is such a hit with modern humans precisely because it mirrors our greatest folly, our nearsightedness?"

Far be it for me to attempt any thought that would build on the wisdom of Socrates, Churchill or Roy. I don't know just how the world will answer that enduring question. But I do know that the current state of the democratic art offers us just one tool that might help us begin to answer this dilemma of the long term. Sure there is a full toolbox of means to dull the sharply edged imperatives of popular rule; separation of powers, federalism, bi-cameralism, subsidiarity and judicial independence.

But all are folly in the absence of a constitution, the foundational set of rules and principles for democratic guidance rooted in popular legitimacy. No law can enjoy respect in any democracy if the basic law, the "mother law" in Turkish parlance, is a disgrace without legitimacy. This is the state of Turkey's foundational law, a constitution written by a junta that no one defends but for which, none has yet managed to craft a replacement. If the deeply polarized legislature that has emerged from Turkey's most bitter election can do that, then there is long-term hope for Turkish democracy. If the 550 newly-elected lawmakers bridge this deep chasm dividing Turkey from her democratic future, they will be an example to the world, an answer to the planet's most important question.







Just as we Turks have turned our eyes to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's speech to see whether he would replace his aggressive rhetoric with a reconciliatory tone, the movers and shakers of the international community have also tuned in, to see the first glimpse of how the ruling party's landslide victory will affect its foreign policy.

In his victory speech, which has come to be nicknamed the "balcony speech," as he addressed his followers from his party headquarters' balcony, the prime minister did not mention even once Europe, the European Union or the West.

Well aware that he will be watched by international audiences, he preferred to address the world as a Middle Eastern leader, rather than a European or Western leader.

He started his speech by saluting "all friendly and brotherly nations from Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Sarajevo, Baku and Nicosia."

Later on he said, "The hopes of the victims and the oppressed have won," and, "Beirut has won as much as İzmir. West Bank, Gaza, Ramallah, Jerusalem have won as much as Diyarbakır. The Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans have won, just as Turkey has won."

The fact that he mentioned Sarajevo, while avoiding mention of Europe, clearly shows that he sees himself as the leader of the Muslims and that of those Muslims who are oppressed, not by their regimes, in the view of Erdoğan, but by the Christian West. So, Erdoğan's world view, based on juxtaposing the oppressed East vis-à-vis the imperialist West, is here to stay.

No doubt, this world view, shared by Ahmet Davutoğlu, who is likely to continue as foreign minister, will be put to the test. It is becoming harder and harder for them to handle the crises in the Middle East due to the cruel policies of Muslim leaders toward their own people. It took some time for Erdoğan to label Bashar al-Assad's policies as "inhumane and cruel." The crises in the Middle East will finally show that Turkey's policy of constructive engagement has its limits and Turkey then might feel the need to act in unity with Europe, because by itself Turkey is not in a position to exert sufficient influence to reach a desired outcome. Indeed, asking Gadhafi to leave and calling on Assad to implement reforms have fallen on deaf ears. While engaging with countries that have problematic relations is not wrong, it is equally not right to totally trust them and give them full credit. One hopes that the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu duo will realize fine tuning their policies accordingly and tune down for more modest rhetoric and avoid grandiose statements like being the "gamechanger of the region."

In addition to the crises in the Middle East, the new flotilla leaving for Gaza, which might flare up the tension with Israel, stands as the most immediate problem the government has to tackle. It is obvious that the government cannot just say it has no influence over the NGOs and stand aside. It is also obvious that once the flotilla leaves Turkish waters, the government will not watch in silence another possible Israeli attack on Turkish citizens. While some in the government want a further deterioration in relations with Israel; it is probable to speculate that Erdoğan as well as Davutoğlu will try to stop the flotilla if they see a more visible sign from Israel on easing the embargo on Gaza. Israel should understand that pointing to the Rafah gate and saying Egypt now has opened the second gate to Gaza is not enough. Expect intense behind-the-scenes diplomatic traffic between the U.S., Israel and Turkey.







Now everybody is going to swagger and say, "I told you so." I was sure the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was going to win, but I wasn't expecting it to gain such an overwhelming result as 50 percent. I had believed that a result of 45 to 46 would come out. This was, indeed, because of the effect of the polls.

I believed that not only me but also the team with the big ego in the media was not able to feel the pulse of the country. I read such articles during the campaign that a large portion of them should now leave their pens and quit from their papers.

Anyone can say anything, but Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has gained what he wanted.

He may have tipped everyone, or he may have been tough. Also he may have been cross with the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, whatever he did.

He has obtained the appreciation of one out of two people in this country.

Bravo, well done. There is no word to be uttered now.

From this moment on, we are entering a brand-new Turkey. We will, from now on, live in a Turkey where people expect service, are not afraid of the threat of sharia, do not give any credence to the secular-pious fight and want to get richer. Those who tried to interpret the result of this election as "The Islamists have won, our daily lives will be ruined" have made a mistake. It is clear that Turkey is not as afraid of old taboos as it used to be. Otherwise they wouldn't have voted this much for Erdoğan.

When we examine the causes of this result, we see that the prime minister and the AKP organization have worked very well and have brought the service component to the foreground. People have liked crazy policies. They believed they would get rich this way. They have shown that they are fed up with ideological discussions, empty taboos and slogans. Now, we are entering a new road and the expectation of the society is the end of a tough period and a slip to reconciliation.

The prime minister's balcony speech did not create as much as an effect as the one in 2007, but it did create hope in me. Because we should not forget that the leader of a political party with such a majority would not want to live with a 50 percent opposition who have rebelled and taken to the streets.

As Ahmet Taşgetiren (Bugün Daily writer) said, "he would want to be the prime minister of a manageable country."

 Erdoğan made important promises in the balcony:

- That he would not meddle in anybody's daily life…

- That freedoms would be expanded…

- That the Constitution would come out with conciliation…

- That modesty would prevail…

- That he came not to settle accounts but to receive blessings…

Some listened to this speech as, "We have also heard this in 2007 but the opposite came true. I will believe in Erdoğan until the opposite is proven," and if the opposite is proven I will stand up to him and ask for my rights. Some of us do not hide that they are afraid of this result that is even very rare in the world. There are those that presume the country will go religious. No, there is no need to be afraid.

An orderly and accurate election has been organized where no problems were experienced.

Even if you did not like the results, let us accept that we have opened our eyes to a new Turkey this morning. There is a new prime minister with increased duties and the Turkish democracy has passed a significant phase.

I am full of hope. I am not afraid. As long as I can stand up for my rights, nobody can make me afraid. The second development that has pleased me is that the BDP, against all odds, has been able to increase the number of its independent deputies from 20 to 36.

I don't see the BDP as a party that wants to break up Turkey and destroy our territorial integrity. I see it as the political extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and if we want to solve the Kurdish issue, it is the only addressee of the state of the Turkish Republic.

What we experienced up to now was like an open bargain. Because of that, I don't take those things that were said during the campaign very seriously.

Actually, what comes after this is important.

What comes after this also brings important responsibilities for the BDP.

The most important part of their responsibilities is that it should control the streets and search for the solution – not in violence but, just the opposite, in logic and reconciliation.

If the BDP really wants to solve the Kurdish problem, it needs society's support.

It can only attain this by preventing bloodshed, not by getting tougher. For this, it has to review its relations with the AKP again and the language used mutually has to change.

It is extremely important that the BDP was able to win 36 deputies. The nearly 3 million Kurdish-origin citizens who have voted for this party have a message. The message is very clear: "Our representative is the BDP and we now want a settlement."

The AKP should lend an ear to this message.

If Erdoğan wants to make history, he knows he needs to solve the Kurdish issue. The entire problem lies in being able to start a dialogue with the BDP from scratch.

Just as the BDP must extend a hand to the AKP, the AKP also should look after the BDP.

One can no longer understate the fact that the BDP has raised the number of its deputies in Parliament to 36; it is time to

start preparing now.

A tough and very bumpy era is waiting for us but these elections have provided that light at the end of the tunnel.






The "Prague Spring" of 1968 was a gallant attempt at a nonviolent democratic revolution, but it was crushed by Soviet tanks. Eighteen years later, in the Philippines, the first "people-power" revolution succeeded, and since 1986 nonviolent revolutions have driven a great many dictators from power. The most recent was in Egypt, in February, but there never was a guarantee that these revolutions would turn out well.

It depends partly on how bad the ethnic and religious cleavages are in a country: Bulgaria and Romania were okay, but Yugoslavia was a blood-bath. It depends to some extent on how poor and illiterate the population is, although even very poor countries have made a successful transition to democracy. And it depends on good leadership and good luck, too. But it is the dominant political phenomenon of our time.

The revolution in the Philippines succeeded because by the late 80s, everything was happening in real time on global television. Oppressive regimes that had never had much compunction about killing people who challenged them didn't feel confident about doing it before a global audience. They no longer felt free to use massive force unless the protesters gave them an excuse by resorting to violence themselves.

The Marcos regime that was overthrown in the Philippines in 1986 was a mere kleptocracy with little ideology beyond a vague "anticommunism." When the infection spread to China in 1989, the outcome was different, because a disciplined Communist dictatorship was willing to kill large numbers of its own people in front of television cameras. It understood that if it failed that test, it would not survive.

Less ruthless Communist dictatorships in Europe, longer in power and ideologically exhausted, did fail the test. The nonviolent revolutions that began in East Germany in November, 1989, and ended Communist rule in the old Soviet Union itself by late 1991, could have been stopped if the local Communist regimes had been willing to follow the Chinese example, but none of them had the stomach for killing on that scale.

So about 350 million Europeans got their freedom and almost nobody died. At almost exactly the same time, the apartheid regime in South Africa released Nelson Mandela and began the talks that led to majority rule in 1994. A very well-connected African friend of mine told me later what had actually happened.

In late 1989, after the East German, Czech and Romanian regimes had fallen with scarcely a shot being fired, the head of the National Intelligence Service, the South African secret police, went to State President F.W. de Klerk and warned him that if the African National Congress put half a million people on the street in Johannesburg, he would only have two options; to kill ten thousand of them, or to surrender power unconditionally.

If he didn't like either of those options, he should start negotiating the transfer of power now. So Mandela was released, and eventually there was a peaceful transition from apartheid to majority rule.

 Then there's a long gap, perhaps partly explained by the fact that the number of dictatorships in the world had already shrunk considerably. An attempted nonviolent revolution in Iran in 2009 was mercilessly crushed. People worried repressive regimes might have finally figured out how to counter nonviolent revolution. And then along came the "Arab spring."

 So the technique is still alive, and it worked in Tunisia and in Egypt. On the other hand, it has been stamped out in Bahrain, whose fate resembles that of Prague in 1968. And while the revolt in Yemen has probably displaced the old regime, it has been very violent, and the new regime may be no more democratic than the old.

The same goes for Syria, and of course for Libya. There are no one-size-fits-all techniques for revolution or for anything else. But the desire for democracy, equality and fairness survives everywhere, and the least bad technique for trying to achieve those things is still nonviolence. Even if sometimes the revolution succeeds but the aftermath doesn't.

 The original "people power" revolution in the Philippines was followed by two decades of political turbulence. Yugoslavia splintered into half a dozen warring fragments. Russia, though it escaped mass violence, is not exactly a model democracy.

On the other hand, South Korea, Indonesia and South Africa are now all democracies. So are Poland, Romania and Taiwan. The aftermath may not be what most people hoped for in Egypt, and it probably won't be in the case of Syria. But nonviolent revolution works often enough, and its results are positive often enough, that it is still the most hopeful political development of the past quarter-century.

The glass is half-full, and getting fuller. Even the most wicked and ruthless rulers must now take world public opinion into account, and we expect them to behave much better than dictators did in the bad old days. They may disappoint our expectations, but that is the standard by which they will be judged, and they know it.





A leftist discourse that has trust in itself can provide a steady increase in votes. The election success of independent candidates supported by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has literally left the 10 percent threshold in disarray. We will all together see the results of the cooperation of the Kurdish political movement and the socialist left this time with 35 deputies. It can be expected that the national conservative block represented by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will inevitably make the independents and the Republican People's Party, or CHP, come closer to each other in Parliament. The AKP, which will cling to a referendum for the presidential system, may make an alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.


Thanks to the mind who found the method in 2007: A regime that does everything it can, since its foundation, to prevent those on the margins from entering Parliament and engage in politics has come across a picture after the June 12 elections. This picture coming out of the elections has an important lesson in it. Voter support of above 6 percent from all of Turkey was able to send politics addicts such as Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Ertuğrul Kürkçü and Levent Tüzel to Parliament along with representatives of Kurdish politics. Well done to this election system. It is a "miracle" in a way. But in another much more important way, it is the sign that Turkey has learned the rules of "modern politics."


There are many reasons behind the AKP's colossal victory. The injustice caused by the e-memorandum on April 27 was cited as the main reason why the AKP attained 46.6 percent of the votes in the 2007 elections. This outburst of votes for the AKP demonstrates that one in every two voters is content with AKP rule, at a time when the AKP has not faced any injustices. It is highly significant that the ruling party has thoroughly consolidated its sway over the Black Sea and Central Anatolia regions, while marginalizing the MHP. Likewise, it is worthy of attention that the AKP has shaken off the disappointment it suffered in coastal regions during the Sept. 12 referendum.


The CHP had entered a positive process of change. It wanted to reach out to the sociological base of the AKP, the margins and the border, with the language of the social democracy. It abandoned the "central" secularist discourse and engaged in a discourse with a stress on poverty. The fact the CHP withdrew its secular discourse and the AKP withdrew its headscarf discourse, unavoidably brought forward the "service" factor in the eyes of the voter in this elections. There was not much the CHP could say on this theme. The CHP's tongue was newly getting accustomed to the "project" discourse. The fact that the "oldies" in the CHP organization did not work and that their footsteps were still strong limited the effect of the regeneration. TAHA AKYOL (Milliyet)





The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was expected to win Sunday's elections so there is no surprise in the election results in this respect. The surprise is that it increased the percentage of its votes to 50 percent. This is a very strong vote of confidence in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government.

On the other hand Mr. Erdoğan did not win enough seats to be able to draft a new constitution on its own, or to take its draft to a referendum with its own votes in parliament. This is a healthy outcome, which will force the government to cooperate with other parties when the constitutional debate starts in earnest.

Mr. Erdoğan promised he will do so in his victory speech delivered from the balcony of his headquarters in Ankara on Sunday night. He was also contrite over his angry and sometimes insulting remarks during the campaign period. These are positive signs but it still remains to be seen if he will honor his promise, especially when the new constitution is being drafted.

Another point to underline here is that given the outcome of the vote it is clear Mr. Erdoğan's desire to introduce a presidential system, to replace the current parliamentary one, will fall off the radar for the foreseeable future. He does not have the necessary numbers in parliament to push this through.

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, on the other hand did not do as well as expected in Sunday's elections, even if it increased its votes and the number of seats in parliament relative to the previous two elections. Its nominal success appears to be based more on the personal efforts of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, than the party organization. No doubt there will be some serious soul searching to do among party executives.

For its part the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, is happy to have even gotten over the 10 percent electoral threshold, since there was a risk it might not do so. There will clearly be some serious soul searching in this party too given the sorry state it is reduced to where it has to be satisfied with simply passing the electoral threshold.


Apart from the AKP the other clear winner to come out of these elections were the pro-Kurdish independent candidates who will form a block in parliament under the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, banner. The BDP will now be a key party in the constitutional debate, and this will have important implications in terms of the search for a settlement to the Kurdish issue.

There is also the highly welcome fact that 78 women were elected from the various parties, or as independents. This is another breakthrough given we have not seen this number of female deputies before in Turkey.

Given this overall picture it is clear the diversity of Turkish political opinion will be in parliament this time around. We now have a clearer picture as to where Turkey stands politically. The main responsibility for all the parties in parliament now is to leave all the bickering behind and to be cooperative and conciliatory when the new constitution is being drafted.

It is also important for Mr. Erdoğan to have underlined in his balcony speech on Sunday that Turkey will push for democracy and freedom everywhere from Damascus to Bosnia, from Jerusalem to Ramallah. These words are critical in terms of what is going on in the Middle East, but for them to be fully convincing the AKP will have to put its own house in order first, especially in terms of a free press and free judiciary.

The bottom line, however, is that the AKP has won for the third time in a row and this is a historic development in Turkey. It is clear one out of every two voters has endorsed Mr. Erdoğan and has told him to carry on as he has been doing, and this is an achievement not to be minimized.








After fears that the government was set to go against both Supreme Court orders and public opinion, it seems better sense has prevailed and the government has decided not to appeal the Supreme Court's June 10 directive to remove Sindh Rangers' director general and the inspector general of police over the killing of an unarmed youth by Rangers personnel in Karachi. Last Friday, the court set a three-day deadline for the removal of the two officials and directed the accountant general of Pakistan to withhold their salaries if its orders were not implemented. On Monday, the attorney general told the court the government respected the suo motu action and the directives issued by the court.

After eyewitness accounts of the crime were recorded Sunday night, there is now some evidence to suggest the Rangers' initial claims that Sarfaraz Shah was armed are false. In a startling disclosure, police sources say the shooting was the result of a personal feud between Sarfaraz and a gatekeeper at the Benazir Bhutto Park and that the Rangers personnel involved in the incident were well aware that the victim was no robber. A few days before Sarfaraz was shot dead, he and the gatekeeper had a fight outside the park; the Rangers were called in by the gatekeeper but Sarfaraz managed to flee. On June 8, however, Sarfaraz was not so lucky and after another brawl with the gatekeeper, the Rangers were called in and the rest, as they say, is history. Police sources even claim that a Rangers sub-inspector supplied the gatekeeper with an illegal weapon to facilitate filing the report against the ill-fated young man. As more details of the sorry case emerge, it has become ever more important that those responsible be held accountable, and that those at the top be tasked with checking the behaviour of the men in their charge and ensure that they face consequences for a change. We have a court that has taken the right decision, and left no room for excuses. The government must implement the court's decision in letter and spirit if it wants to pacify a frightened public that is hungry for justice.






The people of Turkey in electing Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a third term have voted for continuity and stability at a time when Turkey is experiencing turmoil around it. They voted in their millions - there was an 84.79 percent turnout - and there seem to be very few reports of irregularity or vote-rigging. With these elections Turkey may have crossed the line into democratic maturity, free of its military and dictatorial past. It is a majority Muslim state with substantial religious and ethnic minorities within it, not all of which live in harmony; but it has for the most part avoided the troubles that now beset many of its neighbours, Syria in particular with which it shares a 900km border. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) victory is short of the two-thirds majority it would need to rewrite the 1982 military constitution without consulting parliament, but there appears to be sufficient goodwill between the political parties to allow this to go ahead without significant opposition, thus finally severing ties with a dark past.

Turkey has emerged as a significant regional power and is one of the few states able to conduct diplomacy with any kind of normality in the turmoil of the Maghrib and Levantine countries. Sitting as it does at the cusp of the 'West' and 'East', it is assuming ever greater strategic importance, and is viewed in the East as an honest broker, more grudgingly so in the West where there is barely-concealed unease at a Muslim state having such leverage. The Turks played a key role in the evacuation of refugees - including Pakistanis - from Egypt. It was a Turkish hospital ship that braved the mines in the approaches to Misrata the besieged Libyan port to bring succour to the defenders; and it was Turkey which five days ago set up refugee camps for those fleeing the violence in Syria. All this may signal the end of Turkey's 'zero-problem' foreign policy and point to a rethink of international priorities. Mr Erdogan still has to resolve some difficult economic problems and has yet to resolve the Kurdish issue that has been on the back burner. He spoke of 'peace, justice and stability' in his victory speech. While Turkey may have moved a little closer towards those core values, they remain absent in much of the Muslim world, and for those states which fall below the benchmark that Turkey is setting there are hard lessons to be learned.






In Karachi there are reports of the Anti-Extremism Cell of the Crime Investigation Department having arrested two alleged terrorists who are said to belong to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. They also picked up arms, ammunition and explosives. The detainees gave information which led to the arrest of two would-be suicide bombers. A picture subsequently emerged as detailed in a report in this newspaper of a suicide industry that feeds on the impressionable minds of young boys, eventually to devour their entire body. It is not difficult to create a suicide bomber if the account of a 15-year-old is to be believed. It tells of recruitment by his madressah teacher, and a journey to the town of Saam in Waziristan where the boy met five others recruited for the same purpose. They were lured with promises of 'delicious food' and 'fancy clothes' and that they would be striking against the security forces that were cooperating with the USA. They received weapons training and learned how to operate a suicide vest. A drone strike is alleged to have killed 25 of this boy's fellow trainees and he found himself, eventually, back in his home city. Although impossible to verify, there is sufficient detail and commonality with the stories of other young men who were suicide-bomber recruits for it to have the ring of truth about it.

There are thousands of vulnerable young men who would be easy prey. Poor and usually jobless, they are the underclass from which their recruiters and handlers find easy pickings. But it is also the wider attitudes within a society that has become increasingly open to radicalisation at every level. Our society has become infected with a malaise that enables suicide-bombers and their support networks to receive tacit and covert support. How we drag ourselves back from this position is far from clear. Political will is low and anyway unwilling to challenge the orthodoxies and powerful lobby groups; and civil society groups lack the leverage to produce real change. Suicide is easy. Creating the mindset that challenges the suicidal tendency is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face, but it is a challenge all of us are going to have to accept.







 One resisted the temptation to join the more curious people rushing towards the neighbourhood site of the low-intensity blast around midnight in the Khyber Super Market locality in Peshawar Cantonment on June 10. It was a wise decision, prompted perhaps more by luck than any other consideration, as eight minutes later there was another, much bigger bomb explosion at the same crowded place.

The next moment there was an electricity breakdown, though, strangely enough, the power transformer that caught fire as a result of the blast provided some light as death and destruction visited the Lala Restaurant and its surroundings on a massive scale. Those inside this small eatery and the smaller one across the street and in the adjacent shops and flats had nowhere to go as the two blasts had occurred so close to them, but onlookers crowding the congested place probably suffered more as they stood exposed to the shrapnel of the explosives flying in every direction. It was yet another lesson that it is dangerous to rush to the place of occurrence after a bomb explosion because there are always chances of another blast. And yet this lesson isn't learnt and not sufficiently repeated by our media and government departments tasked to educate the people about preventive measures needed to tackle terrorism.

Incidentally, both the militants and the regular armies largely employ the same tactic nowadays. There is often a second bomb blast after the first one to target the police, rescue workers and others who gather at the place of occurrence. And there is also a second bombing run or a drone strike by the US and Nato forces and, sometimes, by the Pakistani military operating in the conflict zones with the intent to get the maximum number of militants and their supporters rushing to rescue the dying and the wounded. It is another matter that often most of those killed and wounded in the second bomb explosion, aerial bombardment or drone strike are civilians.

The police and members of the media, particularly from the television, are required to rush to the site of bomb explosions and other manmade and natural disasters due to the nature of their job. They are often untrained and ill-equipped to cope with such situations and neglect or enthusiasm on their part sometimes lands them in trouble. The cops and the media professionals ought to be wearing bullet-proof jackets and helmets while working in conflict areas or tackling the aftermath of bomb explosions, but it is rare to see this happening.

More alarming and careless is the way common people gather at the place of occurrence within minutes after a bomb explosion. It is a kind of "disaster tourism" and many among them start taking pictures and making videos with their cell phones, oblivious of their personal safety. It isn't, though, that everyone around is a detached onlooker because many in the crowd become rescue workers and start saving lives by helping the injured on self-help basis.

When journalist Nasrullah Afridi was killed by a bomb planted in his car metres away from the same Khyber Super Market locality on May 10, one could see scores of men filming the bombing. Afridi, a tall and handsome man from Bara in the neighbouring Khyber Agency, had been burned but there wasn't any organised rescue operation to save his life. Mercifully, the perpetrators of the bombing had no plans to cause carnage on that occasion as their lone target was the independent-minded tribal journalist. They could have done that easily by triggering a second explosion through a remote-controlled device to kill the hundreds of people gathered there to witness the gory spectacle.

This intent to kill as many people as possible was certainly evident in the planning of the June 11 twin bombings at the Khyber Super Market, an improperly named and ill-planned locality of over 20 high-rise buildings lacking security, car-parking space and cleanliness. Plazas have been built in violation of the Cantonment Board's building codes, but there has been no accountability. Hundreds of students belonging to different parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and unable to find space in college and university hostels live in cramped conditions in rented rooms in these buildings. Students and office-goers make up the bulk of the population in this locality. As many media organisations have offices in the locality, it is often frequented by journalists. Asfandyar, a journalist struggling to find a proper job, lost his life in the blast and several others were wounded. Most of the dead were students and low-paid employees. Bodies were sent to Bajaur, Mardan, Kohat, Waziristan and other far-off places for burial, which explains the critical importance of Peshawar where students from all over the province and the tribal areas come to study and where jobless men flock in search of livelihood. Unemployment and inadequate educational and health facilities in other cities and towns and the presence of a large number of Afghan refugees have over-burdened Peshawar and turned it into an overcrowded and insecure metropolis.

Police officials are insisting that the second and more powerful explosion at the Khyber Super Market was caused by a young suicide bomber riding a motorcycle. They must have reasons to make this claim and not to absolve themselves of any responsibility because we all agree that tackling suicide bombings in most cases is well-nigh impossible. However, there wasn't any important government or security target that could be hit and no soldier or policemen was killed in the attack. Instead, innocent civilians were slain and maimed. This could be the reason that the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) didn't claim responsibility for this latest bombing in Peshawar by arguing, somewhat unconvincingly, that it didn't attack public places and was instead focused on targeting the security forces and the law-enforcement agencies. However, a TTP chapter operating in the semi-tribal Darra Adamkhel area subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack by pointing out that some tribal elders from the Khyber Agency were its target. This shows the lack of coordination between the central TTP and its decentralised branches now largely operating on their own. There is no evidence that any known tribal elder was killed in the attack. Besides, killing 39 innocent people and injuring over one hundred just to target a few pro-government tribal elders is unjustifiable and barbaric. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that public opinion has turned against the militants.

The Khyber Super Market bombings and the innumerable acts of terrorism before it in Peshawar exposed the absence of a proper security and rescue plan to cope with such happenings. The authorities should have prevented citizens from converging at the site of the first bomb explosion, emergency lights should have been provided to rescue workers who had to work in darkness for a while when electricity supply broke down and fire-tenders and ambulances need to be alert to do a quick and proper job in such emergencies. Peshawar, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as a whole and FATA have been suffering intermittently from bomb explosions since the 1970s and there is no end in sight to acts of terrorism in this region. But, sadly enough, arrangements to cope with the challenge are far from satisfactory.

Most depressing are healthcare facilities at public hospitals. The Accident and the Emergency Department at the Lady Reading Hospital, said to be state-of-the-art, and the newly established mass emergency block at the Khyber Teaching Hospital are hopelessly placed to efficiently tend to bomb blast victims. Both were found lacking in coping with the emergency after the Khyber Super Market bombings as severely wounded patients remained unattended for quite some time and attendants had to buy medicines from private stores. As victims mostly suffer burn injuries in bombings, one is appalled to find after every bombing that Peshawar and the province and tribal areas don't have a single specialised burn care unit and patients, whether they can afford the treatment or not, have to be referred to Kharian, Islamabad or Wah Cantonment for treatment.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim








Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh presented his second budget on June 3. The federal budget for 2011-12, the present government's fourth, is a non-serious budget because it understates expenditures and overstates revenue and thus injects elements of risks. No sensible finance minister and his team would prepare a budget replete with serious risks.

There are several risks associated with revenue, expenditure, budget deficit, and financing of fiscal deficit. On the revenue side, the first and foremost risk is the tax collection target of the FBR itself. The FBR is targeted to collect Rs1,952 billion in 2011-12, up 23 percent over this year's revised collection of Rs1,588 billion. Whether the FBR could collect Rs1,952 billion next year is dependent upon its collection of Rs1,588 billion this year, the chances of which are slim. With all its efforts, the FBR may collect revenue – including a one-off collection from the energy and banking sectors in the range of Rs1,530-1,540 billion.

Any slippages in this year's tax collection would make the task even harder for the FBR to collect Rs1,952 billion next year. Tax elasticity in Pakistan has fallen below unity (0.9), hence the autonomous growth in tax collection would lead to a collection of Rs1,760-1,770 billion next year. The FBR has taken various tax measures in the budget which, instead of raising revenue, has in fact estimated to be Rs23 billion in the red. The FBR is trying to bring its house in order and striving to improve its efficiency. Assuming that its efforts will bear fruit, an additional amount of Rs30-40 billion could be added to the next year's tax collection, thus taking the total tax collection to Rs1,790-1,800 billion – Rs150-160 billion short of the target.

There are three major risks associated with non-tax revenue. The first is the expected sale of licenses of third generation (3G) cellular services. Rs75 billion have been added in the non-tax revenue under the sale of licenses. Interestingly, the government had kept Rs50 billion under the same heading in non-tax revenue last year as well. Can the PTA sell these licenses in a transparent bidding process this year? The answer is in the negative, and as such the Rs75 billion may not be collected.

Secondly, the government expects to receive Rs119 billion under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) in the next budget. In the current year it has received Rs63 billion ($742 million) and is striving hard to get the remaining amount in the next two weeks. Can Pakistan get the remaining amount this year? Can we expect $1.35 billion (Rs119 billion) under the CSF next year from the United States? Certainly, there are serious risks involved in such inflows.

Thirdly, the government has targeted Rs200 billion from the profit of the State Bank of Pakistan in next year's budget. To deliver Rs200 billion to government, the SBP will have to further hike the discount rate and also allow the government to borrow directly from the SBP to finance the budget deficit. I expect neither of these to take place in the next fiscal year, and as such there is risk attached to the Rs200 billion from the SBP.

Let me now turn to the risks on expenditure side. The Inter-DISCO tariff differential has fluctuated wildly in the current budget. The government had targeted a power-sector subsidy of Rs30 billion in last year's budget, but the year is expected to end with Rs240 billion. The government has targeted a power subsidy of Rs50 billion in next year's budget – a reduction of Rs190 billion. How credible is this number? Is the government ready to increase power tariff in the range of 22-25 percent next fiscal year? Has the power tariff hike resolved our power-sector issues? An increase in power tariff alone has not worked, is not working and will not work in the future. By raising the power tariff the government is perpetually financing the inefficiencies, theft, corruption and overstaffing of WAPDA/PEPCO and the power distribution companies. Thus, like last year, there will be massive slippages in power-sector subsidies, given the fact that Budget 2011-12 is an election budget as the finance minister has himself proclaimed.

The government has targeted a budget deficit of Rs851 billion, or four percent of the GDP, consistent with the IMF requirement for the next fiscal year. The federal government deficit is targeted at Rs976 billion, or 4.6 percent of the GDP, and it is assumed that the provincial governments would generate surpluses of Rs125 billion or 0.6 percent of the GDP to arrive at the targeted deficit of 4.0 percent of the GDP. The governments of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have already presented their budgets with combined surpluses of less than Rs1 billion. In other words, the budget presented on June 3, 2011, will not even see the light of the new fiscal year. Pakistan will begin the new fiscal year with a budget deficit target of 4.6 percent of the GDP, instead of four percent. Slippages on both revenue and expenditure sides, as stated above, would certainly take the deficit to over six percent of the GDP; that is, in line with the average deficit of the last four years.

There are risks on the financing side of the deficit as well. The government will need Rs976 billion to bridge revenue-expenditure gap. On external sources of financing, the launch of Euro Bond amounting to Rs44 billion is not going to be materialised. Similarly, Rs118 billion is expected to come under programme loan as against the revised estimate of Rs39 billion this year. What would make such a large difference in the next fiscal year?

From the foregoing, it is safe to conclude that Budget 2011-12, far from being people-friendly, is a non-serious and a non-functional budget whose fate will not be different from the current budget.

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







One of the cardinal rules of public life is that every opportunity to communicate is golden, none should ever be wasted. In the age of information overload, with dozens of news channels, Facebook, Twitter and blogs galore, this principle is even more important. "Every time you say something, make it count".

Reading the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release of June 9, 2011 therefore was a bit of a disappointment. Though it claimed to be summarising the 139th Corps Commanders' Conference, this press release was supposed to do more. It was supposed to send a message of assurance and comfort, to Pakistan's people, as well as to the international community. This was an opportunity for the Pakistani military leadership to address domestic and international worries about the future of Pakistan. It was an opportunity lost. Whatever the military wanted to say got buried under self-consciousness, faux religiosity and a less than stellar grammatical performance.

One could quite easily pile on more criticism to the significant chunk that the military and the ISI have been receiving. Beyond the satisfaction of lashing out however, it is not entirely clear that the criticism is helping the military leadership of Pakistan understand how deep the crisis of confidence in it really is. The 139th Corps Commanders' Conference should have produced a contrition-laden missive that announced a series of short and long term measures designed to address the emerging nervousness that exists in Pakistan about the internal coherence and overarching competence of the military. Instead, it produced a statement that conveys confusion, fear and the growing impatience of a military high-command with a wave of criticism at home and abroad.

The twin-pronged pressure – strong and well-deserved criticism of the military and the ISI at home, and constant shellacking for not doing enough, in the US – is unprecedented. But just because something has never happened before, doesn't necessarily mean it is a good thing. Clearly, pressure on the military leadership has built up to a point that borders on the unbearable. The 139th Corps Commanders' Conference press release is not the work of a self-confident high command that has a clear and comprehensive plan. It is the product of hardworking and committed generals worried sick as they stare down at a crisis whose size, duration and depth is confounding and beyond any single institution's capacity to deal with alone.

The indignity of being maligned and scrutinized is new for Pakistan's soldiers. But Pakistani women, truck drivers, journalists, doctors, Barelvis, Seraiki-speakers, Sargodhans, Shias, lawyers, Pakhtuns, children, Baloch, clerks, Hindus, Okarans, civil servants, judges, Hazarans, politicians, Sindhis, Christians, Mohajirs, Sikhs, Deobandis, Sunnis, Ahmedis, teachers, rickshaw wallahs – all know this feeling.

Every group in Pakistan knows what it is like to be humiliated, in one way, or another. Every group except one.

The Pakistani military is supposed to be the most coherent and humiliation-proof group identity in the country. Always has been. Pakistanis that seek to help make this country a more democratic, more equal, more tolerant and more vibrant place almost uniformly want a military that is subservient to the rule of law, as defined by a parliament of freely-elected civilian representatives. What we do not want is a humiliation of Pakistani soldiers. A humiliated, weak, and delegitimized military should be unacceptable to reasonable Pakistanis.

The implicit understanding between the Pakistani military and Pakistani people is quite simple. In return for being a national institution that inspires confidence, the ordinary Pakistani will offer an astounding degree of reverence. And hardly ask any questions at all. Whether it is the costs of the almost decade-long conflict Pakistan has had with violent extremists taking their toll, or the burden of three decades long military dictatorships finally showing up, the bottom line is that mainstream Pakistan is no longer expressing much confidence in the military.

The historical narrative of national security – whether looked at through a New Delhi-Sringar lens, or a Kabul-Kandahar lens, basically paints the picture of a strategically outmanoeuvred Pakistan. The internal coherence of Pakistani identity – whether one attempts to stuff it into religious clothing (Zia), or irreligious (Musharraf), is weak and threatened.

Ironically the most urgent threats all emanate from military actions. Islamist extremists feed on anger in the tribal belt and beyond. Baloch nationalists feed on the anger stimulated by the thoughtlessness with which the province has been dealt with. Karachi boils over, as undulating waves of Pakhtun and Mohajir anger manifest themselves alternatively. In Southern KPK and Northern Punjab, a Hazara identity is stirred. In Southern Punjab, a Seraiki one awakens. At the heart of every spark of anger and rage right across the country we find the same thing, over and over and over again: implicit and explicit military interventions.

Of course, these interventions were not meant to weaken Pakistan. They were meant to make it stronger. It's a tough neighborhood and the military's job has always been to pre-empt danger. In its simplistic self-righteousness however, as an institution over many years, the military has produced a culture of binaries. If the military was true to Pakistan, then anyone opposing the military viewpoint was naturally untrue to Pakistan. Or so goes the thinking. Oversimplified binaries are always dangerous. They are especially dangerous in complex environments where, complexity, by definition, requires multifarious approaches. The culture of binaries has infected the Pakistani discourse to the point of paralysis.

Opposing the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code that deal with blasphemy, asking questions about the degree of Islamist extremism within the military, advocating peace with India, opposing air strikes against the people of the tribal areas, promoting the notion of an autonomous and independent Afghanistan, speaking out for victims of army heavy handedness in Balochistan, demanding greater scrutiny of the military budget – on every issue that the military either implicitly or explicitly endorses, the contrarian position becomes a dangerous one to take. In a culture of binaries, asking any of these questions necessarily puts Pakistanis at cross-purposes with the military. That's not how things should be. Each one of those questions is inspired by a desire to live in a better and stronger Pakistan – a shared Pakistani vision, no matter whether civilian or military.

There is a deep and diverse set of long-term actions required to correct the course. But the 139th Corps Commanders' conference was not meant to address those. It was looking for some quick fixes and short-term measures. That press release was not the answer. In the future, the military leadership may consider a number of small, but important short-term measures that would have real impact. For example, it could announce an inquiry to examine both the GHQ and the PNS Mehran attacks with a commission made up of both civilians (ex-cops and rights activists) and soldiers. It could announce a community outreach programme in Balochistan, including civilian members. It could easily scrap plans for the new GHQ in Islamabad and give up the land to the CDA, to auction and help pay off part of the national debt.

Pakistanis all listen carefully when the GHQ speaks. Is the GHQ listening to Pakistanis speak?

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







A Nato air strike killed 12 children and two women in the southern province of Helmand on May 27. President Karzai, then in Turkmenistan, cut short his visit and returned to Kabul in reaction to the tragedy. He called on the US military to avoid operations that kill Afghan civilians, saying this was his last warning to Washington. The toll on civilians as a result of direct air strikes in Afghanistan is a staggering 30,000 Afghan men, women and children.

The basis for US invasion of Afghanistan was said to be intended to eliminate Al-Qaeda following the Sept 11 attacks. But the death and destruction caused by the United States in Afghanistan in past decade has provided a reason to young Afghans to join the ranks of the Taliban. Their joining the Taliban is not a result of coercion. Unemployment, the absence of job opportunities and shrinking means of other means of livelihood become an added incentive for them to do so. Added to this is the powerful motivation of ideology and religion.

Now that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been eliminated by the US forces, it will be hard for the administration of Barack Obama to sell the idea of putting in more money in the war in Afghanistan. More and more people have come to realise that the Afghan war has lingered so long not because Ben Laden was the pursuit for the Americans but because they sought to use his presence as the main justification for the conflict. This is a war where American field commanders have been both judges and executioners, no matter whom they were dealing with, combatants or non-combatants. Many Republican and Democratic leaders have started questioning the wisdom of the Obama administration to continue the funding of the war in Afghanistan. In any case, there is no moral justification for the continued killing of Afghans, as in the case of the latest atrocity that took place on May 27.

The American military forces assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid in Abbottabad on May 1-2. His assassination was celebrated across the United States despite the fact that it was another instance of US forces meting out rough justice to the enemy. The media joined in by commenting on every grisly detail of the operation. The outburst of jingoism and anti-Muslim bigotry took a truly vulgar form when some Americans spray-painted the walls of a mosque in Portland, Maine, with slogans against Islam and Muslims.

US administration officials appear to believe that the assassination will persuade the Taliban to turn to reconciliation and engage with the state of Afghanistan. Even it that reconciliation materialises, the United States' assumed desire to stay on in Afghanistan – in one form or another – will prove to be an impediment in the way of a permanent settlement in that country. If press reports on US-Taliban talks over the past few weeks are accurate, it would appear as if the endgame in Afghanistan is not too far off. However, the United States wants to utilise the talks' process for two objectives: one, to augment Obama's support for the Afghan war despite Osama bin Laden's death; and, two, to create fissures in the Taliban ranks over their ties with Pakistan. The Taliban are being offered hefty amounts of money to distance themselves from Pakistan and in the process weaken the Taliban's resolve to stick with the decade-old demand for US withdrawal as a precondition for any talks on reconciliation. Without any regard to Pakistan's interests despite the great sacrifices rendered by this country in the "war on terror," the Americans have not taken Pakistan into confidence, even though the Afghans have been briefed, as was appropriate.

The UK's point man on Afghanistan and Pakistan told journalists in Islamabad that "the Taliban leadership was engaged in talks with various stakeholders with the full backing of the US with the sole aim of finding a solution to Afghanistan from within, without any involvement of foreign players." This indicates the lack of trust the United States and its Nato allies have in their frontline ally in the "war against terror."

Meanwhile, the US moves on Afghanistan fail to take into account the relationship of Pakhtun tribes across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The ancient tribal and social bonds across the divide are too strong to be affected by the existence of an international frontier.

The United States is doing everything to divide the Taliban. At the same time, it is trying to sideline Pakistan in talks on an Afghan settlement. Both efforts are destined to failure in the long term – especially the latter. It would be a great geo-strategic blunder if the Americans sideline Pakistan, rather than make use of it as a critical player in the Afghan reconciliation progress. Whether the Americans recognise this or not, Pakistan is a part of the solution in Afghanistan, not part of the problem.

Osama bin Laden's elimination has created a historic opportunity for the United States to move forward in Afghanistan. But the opportunity will slip if Washington does not play its cards well. The United States would be committing its greatest folly if it did not take Pakistan on board in the reconciliation process. Long-term stability in that war-torn country will remain a pipedream.








the writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

President Barack Obama is about to take what some see as his most consequential foreign policy decision this year. Later this month he will decide on how many troops to pull out from Afghanistan beginning in July and the pace of the withdrawal in coming months.

When announcing his surge strategy in December 2009, Obama had vowed to start scaling back the US military presence from July 2011. Last year he set the end of 2014 as the time when US and Nato forces will hand over all security responsibilities to Afghan forces and bring the Western combat mission to a close.

The looming drawdown decision might be shaped more by political than by strategic considerations. The war continues to be unpopular in America. The latest poll shows over 70 percent of Americans believe the US should pull out of Afghanistan. The war cost of $2 billion a week or $100 billion a year, continues to spiral. At a time of fiscal strain and deep budget cuts, Congressional leaders are questioning the need for such heavy and costly military deployments in Afghanistan. Obama's decision about reducing force levels from the present 100,000 US troops will be influenced by these factors especially as his 2012 re-election bid looms.

However the more significant or consequential decision will not be about numbers – the size of next month's pullout – but the strategy that the remaining bulk of US/Nato forces will be directed to implement in Afghanistan. Will they continue to intensify the war effort or gradually stand down (while concentrating on training Afghan security forces) to give the peace and reconciliation process a chance to gather momentum?

For now debate in the US is focused on numbers – on how steep or modest the troop drawdown should be. Bin Laden's killing on May 2 has spurred the political debate in Congress and the media about the rationale for a large military presence in Afghanistan now that the principal reason for the 2001 US invasion has gone. President Obama weighed in on this debate last week by declaring that: "By killing Bin Laden, by blunting the momentum of the Taliban we have now accomplished a lot of what we set out to accomplish 10 years ago".

From the statements and public positioning by top officials in the Obama Administration, deliberations about the July announcement resemble, in some ways, what was witnessed during the review of Afghan policy in 2009. This was captured in Bob Woodward's book "Obama's Wars" which portrayed an administration riven by discord over how to handle Afghanistan.

Opinion was polarized between Obama's civilian and military advisers about how deeply to invest in a conflict whose outcome seemed uncertain. While the Pentagon and his senior military commanders advocated an aggressive strategy of escalating the war, Obama himself and his national security team were not convinced that a surge strategy would work. In the end Obama gave the military substantially what they wanted but imposed resource and time limits. Most significantly he chose to announce a date, July 2011, to start a withdrawal of American forces. This surge-and-exit approach was designed to give something to both supporters and opponents of the war.

Media accounts of the internal battle currently raging in the administration indicate that while the differences may not be that intense, opinion is nevertheless divided. The Pentagon and top US generals are warning against any accelerated drawdown while civilians as well as influential Congressional leaders would like to see deeper and quicker cuts in troop numbers. The outgoing US commander in Afghanistan, General David H Petraeus, is crafting a suggested schedule for the troop reduction amid calls from Pentagon officials to stay the surge course for another fighting season. The retiring defence secretary, Robert Gates warned of the high "cost of failure" of pulling out too many troops too soon.

While this has echoes of 2009, much has happened since. One, Bin Laden's killing has given President Obama greater room to manoeuvre and strengthened his ability to take a more bold course and prevail over his military commanders if he wants to.

Two, his administration has made it clear that the war will eventually have to end by a negotiated settlement. This stance has aligned Washington with the growing international consensus that an end to the conflict should be hastened by peace talks. The US special envoy to the region Marc Grossman, who has been shuttling between Kabul, Islamabad and Washington, has been mandated to pursue the 'reconciliation process' and reach out to the Taliban.

In this backdrop the more important decision is not about the size of troop reductions this summer in Afghanistan but how the mission will be defined for the remaining US and Nato forces there. Will the recently articulated political objectives now drive the military strategy or work the other way around, as has been the case so far? The strategy that is chosen will determine whether this will help or hinder the peace process that Washington is now committed to. Violence has already intensified in recent weeks with the onset of the traditional fighting season.

If, as the Pentagon still insists – in following the Petraeus line – the military mission in Afghanistan persists with its present fight-and-talk approach, this will complicate if not impede the move towards reconciliation that most Afghans fervently wish to see. Bringing military pressure to bear in an effort to soften the adversary's negotiating stance is a well-rehearsed tactic. But there comes a point when this approach runs it course and a pause in fighting is essential to allow diplomatic space for negotiations.

Washington acknowledges that historically all such conflicts end by a negotiated political settlement, and so must the Afghan war. But it has yet to accept the proposition that continued military escalation simultaneous with the pursuit of a negotiated settlement would diminish, not enhance, prospects for such an outcome. Vigorous military campaigns involving night raids are seen by Afghan officials as having the opposite effect to that intended. They strengthen the Taliban's will to fight and offer, by way of civilian casualties, a recruiting sergeant for the Taliban.

The notion of talks with the Taliban only from a position of strength is also predicated on an unreliable assumption – that the tenth year of war will produce a game changer that nine fighting seasons have not. It overlooks another reality. The Afghan Taliban will not negotiate if they think they are weak and being shot at. Indications are that they will do so if they can engage in talks as 'equal' partners. The logic of defeating the Taliban before talking to them makes little sense.

To signal seriousness about peace talks a mutual de-escalation in violence will be necessary. This does not mean yielding ground but holding that ground and not ramping up militarily. It also means exposing the negotiating process to the test of a mutual suspension of offensive actions. This could start by a reciprocal undertaking to end night raids by Nato forces and cease assassinations of Afghan officials by the Taliban. Cessation of hostilities could offer the Taliban an incentive to abandon Al-Qaeda, the most important of America's red lines for a settlement and its over riding strategic goal.

The historical experience of peace processes is that they start with some form of agreed standdown or 'pause' leading to a negotiated cease-fire. Accordingly, efforts to explore interim peace building measures will determine if the nascent Afghan reconciliation process can gather momentum in coming months.

What will make President Obama's troop withdrawal announcement meaningful – and strategic rather than political – is if he calibrates this as part of a strategy to provide an impetus to the peace initiative rather than affirm a course that undercuts this.







The process of Turkey's transition to democracy has always been hampered by the politically intrusive role of its military and the ultra-secular old guard. Since 1960, the military has intervened many times to dictate a puritanical version of Kemalist principles in Turkish politics. The recent countrywide polls could lead to the establishment of a true democratic order in the country.

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has got its third electoral victory in the June 12 elections. More than 40 million voters came out to elect the members of the 550-seat Grand National Assembly that will rule the country for the next four years. Prime Minister Erdogan's party has clinched 328 seats and has remained the largest ruling political party in the Grand National Assembly. The main secular opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), got 135 seats with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) capturing 58 seats and the independents securing 29 seats. By achieving this landmark victory, the AKP has done something that no other party has been able to do in Turkey over the last five decades – winning three elections in a row.

The AKP, which has ruled the country since November 2002, has won support by ensuring steady economic growth. Per capita income in Turkey has grown from less than $3,000 in 2000 to $10,000 in 2010 and the country has recovered from the global recession by growing faster than any other country save China. Turkey, a nation of 74 million people, is the world's seventeenth biggest economy and a leading member of the G20 club. In the recent elections, Erdogan pledged to make his country one of the world's 10 largest economies by the year 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. The country's location between Europe and the Middle East lends it huge geopolitical significance.

Erdogan is also liked for securing the opening of EU accession talks in 2005 and for elbowing the army out of politics. Erdogan has also taken significant steps towards resolving the Kurdish issue. Since 2002, Erdogan has given Kurds more freedom and autonomy than they had before, for which he deserves credit. His "Kurdish opening" policy in 2009 promised still more, including amnesty for the PKK guerrilla fighters based in the mountains of northern Iraq. The AKP's religiosity is a minor problem in the eyes of some of its opponents but a majority feels that Turkey has become a better place to live in since the coming of the AKP in 2002.

A look at the political debates in Turkey reveals that the biggest issue at stake is constitutional changes. The AKP wants to gain a majority in parliament in order to push through a new constitution regardless of the position of opposition parties. A constitutional amendment requires at least 367 votes but if the number of supporters is between 330 and 367, the amendment will automatically be taken to a referendum.

Though all Turkish political parties agree on the need to revisit the constitution drafted by the army following the 1980 military coup, they have not been able to agree on a modus operandi. With 328 seats of its own combined with the support of independents, Erdogan's party remains in a position to move towards adopting a new constitution without compromising its stance.

Turkey suffered a terrible economic crisis in the 1990s and was known as a 'basket-case' that needed repeated rescuing by the IMF. But now the Turkish leadership has secured a coveted position for their country in the international community. In these elections no accusation of rigging has been levelled against the ruling AKP.

In our country a similar change is also possible. We too can steer ourselves in a positive direction but in order to do this, the present corrupt and incompetent political and military leaderships will have to mend their ways.

Email: rizwanasghar7@yahoo. com








Though there were always doubts about possibility of visit to Pakistan by US President Barack Obama but now it has been finally confirmed that the proposed visit would not take place during the current calendar year. According to reliable sources, the visit has been shelved because of recent tension between the two countries following Raymond Davis episode and the unilateral American operation in Abbottabad that is rightly interpreted by majority of Pakistanis as a direct attack on the sovereignty of the country.

In fact, serious questions were raised about the US intentions when Obama dropped Pakistan from his South Asian itinerary in November last year. At that time, it was pertinently asked by various circles that Obama had time to attend cultural events during his three day stay in India but could not spare even a few hours to visit Pakistan. However, at that time, an argument was advanced by American officials that the President wanted to pay an exclusive, full time visit to Pakistan and that will take place during 2011. Now it has become quite evident that those were mere excuses, necessitated by diplomatic niceties. It is true that relations between Pakistan and the United States have suffered a setback because of American actions and moves seen by Pakistani people as crude interference in their internal affairs and attack on the country's sovereignty but this should be the more plausible reason for undertaking the visit. In our view, it would have been prudent, futuristic and pragmatic approach if the US President would have announced plans for an early visit to Pakistan, as part of the efforts to bridge the trust gap that surely exists and make a new beginning. Otherwise too, leaving aside his policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, President Obama is seen in positive perspective in Pakistan because of his region-related pronouncements during presidential elections and a visit would have given further boost to his image in the country. Americans must have their own reasons in putting off the visit yet we believe that the decision would widen the trust deficit and convey wrong signals to people of Pakistan, who are already weary of American somersaults in the conduct of bilateral relations.








THE third consecutive victory of the Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) means extraordinary confidence that people of Turkey have in the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has taken bold and visionary decisions since 2003 for uplift of his people and to carve out a place of respect for the country in the comity of nations.

Though the party has not got the necessary majority to amend the constitution on its own but the very fact that the Turkish people have given yet another mandate to AKP and its leadership is a clear proof of approval of his policies by majority of the nation. Analysts have rightly pointed out that the result is a powerful endorsement of the blend of economic liberalism and religious conservatism offered by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With this win, he is now the most powerful political figure in Turkey since the days of the country's founding father, Kemal Ataturk. The victory is a tribute to the excellent performance of the AKP, as the party with Islamist roots, has presided over strong economic growth and a more assertive foreign policy since taking power in 2003. The per capita income of the country, which tripled to $10,079 during tenure of the AKP, is indicative of the success of its economic policies and the party aims to take it to $25,000 by 2023, the centenary of the Turkish Republic. Mr Erdogan has also emerged as an astute and mature politicians because of his foreign policy that reflected sentiments of the Turkish people, especially with regard to the issues facing the Muslim Ummah, Middle-East problem and policy towards Israel. The news about the thumping victory of Mr Erdogan has been received with joy in Pakistan, as the Turkish PM has been instrumental in bringing the two countries still closer. The interest shown by him and his spouse in mitigating the sufferings of the flood and quake affected people in Pakistan and his initiative to host meetings of Pakistani and Afghan leadership with a view to helping them resolve their differences is a vivid proof of his sincerity towards Pakistan. We wish him and his party enduring success and pray for glory of the Turkish people.







PAKISTAN'S top seed Aisam-ul-Haq and India's Rohan Bopana won their first ATP title of the season beating the Dutch-Canadian combination of Robin Haase and Milos Raonic in the summit clash of Gerry Weber Open in Germany on Sunday.

The victory will be celebrated by the lovers of the game in Pakistan and India and proves that there is massive talent and the need is to groom it properly and pool the talent and resources to achieve more laurels for the people of the sub continent. It is also yet another manifestation if that the two countries join hands not only in sports but in other sectors, they can achieve greater progress without outside help. In addition to Tennis, players of the two countries could join and play the popular games of cricket and hockey but unfortunately for political reasons, the India government has stopped visits of the teams for bilateral matches. In other fields, if one take the case of agriculture, the two countries can benefit from each other's research to increase per acre yield in wheat, cotton, sugarcane, rice, fruits and vegetables that would bring prosperity and remove the menace of poverty from the region. There is more poverty in India than Pakistan despite the tall claims of economic development and it would go to their advantage to promote relations with neighbours. Pakistan has always desired to improve ties with the neighbouring country but the hawks in New Delhi have opposed the leadership there to resolve outstanding critical issues like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and others. Even the recently held talks on water and Siachen issues in Islamabad and New Delhi could not make progress because of the Indian attitude. If the irritants are removed, Pakistan and India can boost trade relations that would enhance their industrial and agricultural production, provide cheaper goods to the people and create more jobs for the jobless. We wish that the Indian leadership should give up chauvinism, draw up a futuristic vision of cooperation and resolution of disputes, because that would be to the benefit of both countries and the region in the long run.









In entrenched or firmly established democracies, parliamentarians and media have the right to criticize the security lapses or intelligence failures of the security institutions but the objective is only to remove the loopholes and weaknesses and not disgracing the military. After 9/11 in America and 26/11 in India, commissions were formed that suggested measures to make security system foolproof. At least in America terrorists have not been successful to attack as they did on 9/11. However in those societies, elected representatives do not react angrily and reflexively to such incidents. In Pakistan, detractors of our military are not willing to listen to any argument, and continue to pass derogatory remarks against the military. They have to understand that if they can criticize the military, the later has the right to respond to their conjectures. After 139th Corps Commanders' conference, a press release has been issued by the ISPR which stated that the commanders discussed at length various issues including broad contours of 'renegotiated terms of engagement' with the Americans.

The conference also took exception to the slandering by some politicians and media men stating: "The participants noted with regret that despite briefing the joint session of the Parliament and deferring the ultimate findings to the commission appointed by the government, some quarters, because of their perceptual biases, were trying to deliberately run down the Armed Forces; and the Army in particular." It cautioned that the campaign against the army would be seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between the military, organs of the state and the nation. The military had the right to debunk charges against it, and they have used it. After America's unilateral action in Abbottabad on 2nd May and terrorists' attack on Mehran Naval base on 22nd May, military and the ISI are being subjected to scathing criticism by some anchorpersons and analysts who are blowing out of proportions the intelligence failure and security lapse in connection with the above incidents. After the ISPR's press release, military is once again drawing flak on what the detractors say an attempt to interfere in the affairs of the government.


Some of them have been divisive and only on the basis of two incidents they say that armed forces' performance has been disappointment despite spending 70 per cent of the budget on armed forces, which is travesty of the truth. In the budget for 2011-12 amounting to Rs. 2762 billion, a sum of Rs.495 has been earmarked for defence, which is less than 20 per cent of the total budget, and 25% of the tax revenue. America and its proponents and advocates have also been propagating that $13 billion was given to Pakistan military during the last ten years. Though belatedly, the military has now belied those claims in ISPR press release stating that American claim of giving $13 billion was not correct, as it got only $1.4 billion out of $8 billion remitted to Pakistan, and the rest was used for budgetary support. The military used its right by responding to the criticism by certain quarters. Those who is involved in the tirade against the military and also criticizing the contents of the ISPR's press release, PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif tops the list.

Addressing a reference meeting held on Friday for journalist Salim Shezad who was murdered in mysterious circumstances, Mian Nawaz said: "There is no sacred cow in the country and none should try to become a sacred cow, and I won't allow such an attempt." While admitting that he committed mistakes in the past, he said he had learned from those mistakes and others should follow suit. It appears that he has not learned any lesson, and he is living in late 1990s when his party had two-third majority in the National Assembly. The position today is that the PML-N does not have the numbers to rule even Punjab. Because of his arrogance, he and his party stand isolated. His tirade against the military could either be out of sheer desperation because of his isolation, or he is trying to play this card to attract people of Punjab who are known for their love for rhetoric and loud talk. Anybody with keen interest in politics would understand that the people were not excited on his 10 points' agenda, proposals or other proposals and ideas he tossed around. The fact remains that people do not pay any attention to his statements, and do not throng his public meetings as in the past, despite the fact that the people are not amused or impressed by the shenanigans of the PPP-led government also.

Anyhow, the debate is raging over press statement by ISPR issued after the 139th Corps Commanders' conference, which has drawn sharp reaction from certain segments obsessively disposed towards the military. Their reaction may have its origin in pedantic idealism or patent self-righteousness, however the reason for Mian Nawaz Sharif's antipathy or hostility has seemingly to do with three Martial Laws in the past, especially when his government was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf. Nevertheless, if military power usurpations are hard facts, the political eminences' role in tempting these interventions and even becoming part of them are inexorable realities too. Leave alone the irrefutable fact that some of our biggest political reputes had had their genesis in the garrison hatcheries. Even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made his political debut under Sikandar Mirza's autocracy and got the political grooming in military ruler Ayub Khan's stables. Indeed, the Jamaat-e-Islami, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan's Pakistan Democratic Party and the Pakistan Muslim League were very much part of dictator Zia-ul-Haq's cabinet that formally approved the hanging of Z.A. Bhutto.

Of course, Mian Nawaz Sharif was one of Zia's staunchest loyalists and a creature of a Punjab satrap-general, who at the behest of Zia also dealt a shattering blow to a united Muslim League headed by Mohammad Khan Junejo by sacking him from the office of prime minister. The party got split, with a splinter group under the name and style of PML-N acted as Zia's front organisation. Another faction of the PML led by the Chaudhrys of Gujarat fell in the lap of military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Admitted that the military must be subject to civilian rule, but the civilian leadership must have the caliber, wisdom and statesmanlike qualities to assert their power. As regards respect, both civil and military leaders should respect each other; it can't be one-way traffic. However, it must be remembered that militaries the world over do have significant influence in the decision-making by the government in the realm of security and even America's foreign policy. In neighbouring India too, particularly when it comes to its Pakistan policy. In the US, Britain and even in India - the largest democracy in the world - political leaderships take decisions on the basis of the information provided by intelligence agencies and advice of military leadership.

Mike Mullen, other US and NATO Generals have been writing articles and holding press conferences to warn about flawed decisions of the government. As regards surge and then draw down from Afghanistan, President Barack Obama was not in favour of putting more boots in Afghanistan, but military prevailed upon him to send at least 30000 additional troops. On exit strategy, President Obama wants a significant draw down whereas Generals say the figure would not be more than 5000 troops. It is matter of record that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in principle agreed to withdraw from Siachen but the army convinced him that India would lose strategic advantage and Indian forces would be vulnerable if India withdrew from Siachen. A blistering assessment of British policy in Iraq from the country's top soldier General Sir Richard Dannatt had left Tony Blair reeling in 2006 when he said that troops should come home within two years - contradicting the then Prime Minister's policy that the military will stay "as long as it takes". Mian Nawaz Sharif should understand the ground realities and abandon the self-destruct course.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.









The disastrous impact of the decade long distant wars is writ large on the deteriorating roads of the United States. Bumpy, pot-holed, eroded roads are now an eye sore for the commuters and drivers who hurl curses when rudely jerked by a road with a ditch or that is crudely plastered. These roads used to be sparking, soft, and smooth and properly lined-up a decade ago. In downtown or interior of cities such a Dallas, Fort Worth and various counties and cities, the roads are coming off and remain so for weeks and months without being repaired. The city administration's departments looking after the roads send inexperienced and technically unfit contractors or the workers to fill the gaping holes.

They simply dump lumps of coal-tar or similar material on the pothole without leveling it off. The bump or the protruded mound gives a jerk to every car or vehicle that passes over it. I have been traveling on 408 spur road (linking loop 12 and I-20) for quite some time. There was a cleavage on the location where the link road would join with the I-20 highway. The fissure was quite irritating as there was a sharp iron ingot that imbedded on one side of the cleavage. That cleavage was there for almost a year and had been shattering every vehicle that would pass over it. The sharp steel portion would erode or shave off the tire bit by bit if one has to per force travel on that road two times a day. It was after almost a year that it was repaired by plastering it with a one foot wide layer of asphalt but it still is uneven and keeps the drivers in a state of alert when approaching it. The Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex that is a conglomeration of several cities and counties is infested with worn out and decrepit roads both two-way and one-way. The upper layers on most of these roads are corroding for years now but the municipal authorities have never thought of repairing or resurfacing these. One can cite the roads in Arlington and in Grand Prairie in such poor conditions that one would simply recall the period before the world war second or when America had not attained the astonishing level of modernity, wealth and prosperity.

The interstate highways and motorways were constructed in America during the great depression of 1930s when people were ready to work even for a penny an hour. The labor was as cheap as dust or the running water in rivers. A few highways were later added but there is a dire need to expand these interstate autobahns to cater for the burgeoning traffic. Inside the cities the lane delineation marks have faded on many roads and it would be quite hazardous to keep the vehicle on the right track to avoid accident. At night, because of the insufficient light, the danger of safe driving on these dilapidated roads heightens. Most of the roads in Texas and perhaps in other states are in a state of acute disrepair.

There used to be signboards indicating the next road in order for the drivers to be able to take right or left turn or remain in the middle. On most of the city roads those signs are missing and it becomes quite an ordeal at the fag-end to turn to the extreme left or right depending upon one's location on the road. The traffic lights that should reflect after sunset so that the names of the streets can be read are, dim or opaque on countless roads making the drivers crazy and desperate. In their bid to focus on the road name by looking up, there are possibilities of accidents that have happened and are still happening.

Comparing the worsening and dilapidated conditions of roads in many cities and localities, one is reminded of the poor third countries where such road mismanagement prevails and there is always a mess and mayhem on the roads. The examples of such countries are Pakistan, Egypt, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia to name a few. The paramount question is why this decline and decay is taking roots and spreading ominously. The reasons are not difficult to figure out. The United States has been funneling money to distant lands to wage wars after the World War II and there is no respite in it except a brief interregnum after the ruinous Vietnam War. The adverse fallout of spending abroad in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan at the cost of the welfare and upkeep of its own people is dreadfully manifest in deteriorating civic and socio-economic conditions within America. The United States is building roads and highways and schools and hospitals in Iraq but not doing it for their own population who pay taxes for a decent life.

The burgeoning bill on wars is gradually robbing the splendor and glitter on the face of United States as a super power that we see in the Hollywood movies and that was factual a few decades ago. In commercial movies and in documentaries we would think of America as a wonderland. Even from statements of the visitors to this magnificent country, we would come to know with awe, about the high-rise buildings, the sky-scrappers, the wide roads sparkling with profusion of lights, glittering wide bodied cars and carefree citizens kicking around with glare of happiness on their faces. That period of bliss has gone and now the American citizens find the Kroger closed at midnight, the Walmart opening one or two registers at night and the shoppers making long queues wasting their precious times. The larceny and thefts and crimes have been on the rise. The psychological and mental pressures and depression, due to financial hardships and unable to sustain and pay bill on times and go out for vacation breaks, are visible on the faces of countless citizens that we come across. The social security is under pressure as are the health and human services. The request for unemployment wages are escalating. The educational institutions and hospitals are curtailing their services and staff thus negatively impinging upon the marvelous standards this glorious country was famous for. The inflow of foreign students has drastically slowed down if not halted altogether. The research and scientific inventions and discoveries are on the backburner as there are not enough funds to cater for these highly vital enterprises.

In a nutshell, United States is being pushed backward because the wealth that it creates is being wasted on counterproductive pursuits, projects and ventures. Ironically United States is running its war machine on the credit given by ideologically and economically global rival China. With this credit America is keeping its distant war tempo intact. It is like burning money in a furnace getting ash in return. How long United States can maintain these fruitless wars and keep its own people suffering from and deprived of the benefits and comforts of a modern society, is a stultifying projection. The Western Europe that was rebuilt and rehabilitated after the Second World War with America's financial support has created societies that are resplendent with abundance of the modern civic amenities and galore of social benefits. Has the decline like great empires of the past, has started earlier in the Unites States than it should have been?

—The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.









In this topsy turvy world of ours in which human values – what to talk of human life — have lost all sanctity, it is a wonder that there still exist people who fret about such causes as 'global warming'. It tends to restore whatever little faith one had in human nature. Global warming is a disaster waiting to happen. The mere fact that it creeps on gradually rather than descend as a bolt from the blue does not make it any the less calamitous.

The positive aspect is that the world has plenty of warning to prepare itself or to make amends before the disaster unfolds. Thanks to the pressure exerted by the agitating minority, some progress was registered in this field. For one thing, the Kyoto agreement belatedly came into effect after a hiatus of some seven years. Despite the fact that the two biggest offender countries chose to stay out, even the mere fact of the Protocol having become a reality is something to crow about. But the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. So long as the Protocol's essential ingredients are not put into effect as early as possible by all concerned the effort that went into its drafting will have gone in vain.

A bit of introspection may not be out of place. In the course of several multilateral Conferences where the subject of global warming came up, it was brushed aside by the developed world as a Third World worry. From their jaundiced point of view, this matter was hardly worth sacrificing the First World's prerogative to burn fossil fuel to its heart's content! They also found it expedient to fob off the ultimate responsibility on those Third World states that were eking out a measly living through the clandestine sale of their rain-forest timber. The North felt secure in the belief that states of the developed world would never ever be on the receiving end of things.

Nature is a great leveller, though. Man-made disasters may be designed to be partial against the poor and the deprived, but nature shows no such bias. One found it both interesting and somewhat edifying to come across, some years back, a series of articles on the subject by Barry James published in the International Herald Tribune. Under the chapeau title of "Four Battlefronts in the War against Effects of Climate Change", the author had identified four locales, all in the Developed World that had the potentiality of becoming casualties in the battle against 'climate change'. This came as something of a revelation in that for the first time it was revealed that global warming was more than just a Third World problem. No doubt the powers that be in the developed world got the message. But the responsible leaderships in the developing world have yet to take measure of the ecological catastrophe waiting to happen. Regrettably, little or no sense of urgency has been visible in the Third World countries, even those that are projected to be on the "hit list" of the global warming phenomenon.

Tens of millions of hapless people, mainly in South and Southeast Asia, face serious or permanent flooding of their lands if the climate change predictions associated with global warming become a reality. Would it be at all realistic to nurture the hope that someone from the developing world will take it upon himself to study and report upon this problem from the point of view of the poor and deprived lands? Given the past record, though, this appears destined to remain one of those idealistic but unfulfilled dreams.

It is high time that those in the Third World who know better raised their collective voice in favour of reason. The World Metrological Organization (WMO) had termed the past decade as the warmest since accurate records began in the mid-nineteenth century. The collapse of a huge ice shelf in the eastern Antarctic was reported some years ago. This was apparently due to the gradual rise in the temperatures in the region. Scientists have surmised that - if the present trends continue unabated - the Arctic could well turn into a navigable ocean by the middle of this century. This is a prospect hardly to be taken lightly. The ecological disaster that such a phenomenon could bring in its wake is too horrible to contemplate. Nearer home, there are substantiated fears that global warming could well lead to the melting of the Siachin glacier, an eventuality that could lead to an ecological disaster of immense proportions. While the two bickering neighbours play a never-ending game of going round and round the mulberry bush, Mother Nature has other and more venomous plans for the region. On a wider canvas, one can discern that the powers-that-be have - in their mighty wisdom - opted to defy the fury of nature.

While on the subject of natural disasters it may not be out of place to give a thought to why such disasters are proliferating and in some designated regions in particular. Why, for instance most of these are concentrated in the poorer regions of the world. Could it be possibly due to the indiscriminate 'live-testing' by big powers of newer and more devastating weapons of destruction in these areas? Indiscriminate use of such weapons, in addition to resulting in what has euphemistically been called 'collateral damage', could also cause irreversible damage to the sub-strata of the regions in question. Be that as it may, humankind should understand that it never pays to play ducks and drakes with the laws of nature. And those that think that they can get away with wreaking havoc away from their shores may well discover that they would be doing so at their own peril. If nothing else, Nature has earned the reputation of being a great leveller. ***************************************






Syed Ali Geelani is right that Osama bin Laden was not just one person but he represented a thinking which opposed foreign occupational forces. Although many disagree that Osama bin Laden was killed in US attack on 2 May 2011 but some people who do consider western black propaganda as a possibility. It is an open secret that CIA had been engaged in telecast of dummy audio video of Osama bin Laden since last two three years and there was no word from him since the his message delivered on Eid Day. Speculations that if Osama bin Laden was alive, there would have been continuity in his video speeches can always be short lived as in case of many claims from CIA in the past.

Where is he, this no one knows? Confirmation of Osama bin Laden's death or ill-health is another thing but we cannot draw conclusions on mere speculations. US and allies must not make fool of the millions of people around the world who are concerned about the confirmation of his death after baseless propaganda against Al Qaida that the group is enemy of civilization and involved in terrorism. No doubt, it is one of the ugliest approach by anyone to throw off the burden of humalation of defeat at the hands of Mujahideen and shameful withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as bordering Pakistan. Syed Ali Geelani, while appealing to the people to pray for the liberation of Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan from the occupation of forces, said about Osama bin Laden, "His heart bore the pain of the entire Muslim Ummah. " It is on record that Indian authorities had put Syed Ali Geelani under house arrest on Thursday after he called the Ulemah and Imams of the Mosques to offer Namaz-e-Jinaza for Osama bin Laden in absentia. However, it reversed the decision and allowed him to lead the prayers with an inticipation that heavy presence of Intelligence personnel and Indian security forces would discourage anyone dare expose himself. It is interesting to note that with an exception of one or two odd Mosques, not only all the Mosques in Indian held Jammu and Kashmir offered Namaz-e-Janaza in absentia for Osama bin Laden but Syed Ali Geelani personally led Namaz-e-Janaza in Batamaloo. Despite presence of Indian intelligence officials in all the Mosques as well as heavy presence of Indian Army and Para Military Forces personnel every where, a large number of people participated in the Namaz-e-Janaza. Reportedly, DIG Central Kashmir Abdul Gani Mir has been communicated displeasure for unable to prevent the Namaz-e-Janaza in an organized and forceful manner. Pupet Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had also suspected that funeral prayers would be rejected by Muslims of Kashmir as Syed Ali Geelani is losing his touch on the pulse of the people but it proved otherwise. It is pertenent to mention here that the respect and regard for Osama bin Laden is not confined to Indian held Jammu and Kashmir as similar Nanaz-e-Janazas for Osama were organized in other Mosques throughout India.

It is important to mention here that after finding out the views of Syed Ali Geelani regarding Osama bin Laden and other Indian Muslims, the visiting delegation of the European Union (EU) envoys cancelled their meeting with Syed Geelani. The five member EU delegation on a visit to Jammu and Kashmir to assess the situation was scheduled to meet Syed Ali Geelani at his Hyderpora residence but they were instructed by invisible hands in US, Britain, Italy, India and Israel not to meet him after report submitted by Indian agencies against him.

In a statement faxed to EU delegation said; "A meeting was initially planned for the May 14 with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, but given the latest events, the EU delegation considers it inopportune to hold the meeting." One really feels pity on world organizations like EU which consider personal likings and disliking esteem without giving any consideration to verdict of the majority. EU action is worth condemnation as by not meeting the leader who has support of all the Kashmiris on both sides of LoC, they have dishonoured the majority will of Kashmiris. Not every Kashmiri consider Osama bin Laden as his ideal but disrespecting his body by the US government is not only a grave human rights violation but a slap on the face of humanity, which has also been condemned by non-Muslim in India. EU, which claims to be a champion of human rights, should have raised its voice against this shameful incident of 2nd May 2011 and listen to the oppressed Kashmiris. As usual, this time too, there was a reason for the champions of the world peace to allow India to continue human right violations and genocide of Kashmiris.

Had Syed Ali Geelani said what has been written in my previous article and quoted above, EU as well as all other world bodies would have appreciated Kashmiris and its leadership but by just adding "NOT" Kashmiris and Indian Muslims would be regarded as enemies of the west for ever. West needs to know the sentiments of Kashmiris and Indian Muslims by analyzing the statements of various Muslims schools of thought including Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, Jamiat Ahle Hadees, Jamaat Islam-i-Hind, Ahle Sunnat as well as many other organizations who consider silence as the only option to diffuse the ongoing situation. By closing our eyes we cannot change the on grounds facts, US genocide of Muslims all around the world and illegal occupation of foreign lands by coercion and blackmail cannot have any justification. US and allies think that Pakistan is an extremist country but what about India and almost all the Muslim countries of the world, who are critical to western state-sponsored terrorism. It is now the time to know what India and other countries actually think about western evil activities. Civilized people all over the world must come out of propaganda spell of modern state-terrorists and unite to stop any such activity that endangers world peace.








What's surprising about the probable confirmation of incumbent United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for a second five-year term is not its near-certainty. It is the virtual lack of controversy surrounding it. If you judged the former South Korean foreign minister's first term solely by the generally critical news media coverage of it, you might be led to conclude that his tenure has been a failure. And, yet, the probability is that the member states of the Security Council and the General Assembly will react to his formal announcement of candidacy this week with little dissent at all. So the question we might want to ask is: Why in the world is that? Why do we read and see one version of reality in our news media, and yet the true reality would appear to be something quite different. There are several reasons.

The first is that the vast percentage of the negative coverage of Ban's first term has come from the news media of the West. You can troll all day in the news media of Asia, for example, and be hard-pressed to find much disapproval of this quiet man. To be sure, you might be tempted to dismiss this virtual negative-news blackout as homeboy favouritism. Or it just might be that much of Asia is actually pretty comfortable with Ban's performance, noting that at least his administration has not been hit with the kind of embarrassing scandals that plagued the administration of his predecessor Kofi Annan. Absent as well has been the kind of dysfunctional antagonism from the permanent members of the UN Security Council that confined to one term the UN career of Annan's predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali. There is an additional, related reason. The fact of matter is that much of the non-Western world loathes us Western journalists and our constant sock-em-in-the-eye faultfinding approach to everything. Negative but honest journalism has its place but too much of it is depressing, like rank bad weather.

It might not even be too much to suggest that Ban's chance for renewal only increased in the eyes of some Asian member states with each negative story in the Western press. Certainly Beijing, whose influence in this UN process these days cannot be overestimated, has had little but contempt for the general Western coverage of Ban's work. Having agreed in 2006 to Ban's candidacy in concurrence with Washington — a particularly useful example of substantive Sino-American co-operation at the highest level — Beijing was not about to have its judgement second-guessed by so-called news media experts anywhere, especially in the West. The enormous and disproportionate influence of the Western news media on the world media stage, even as it is being eroded daily by the free-for-all of the Internet, sometimes boomerangs. As, for example, it did in this case. Yet another factor is the considerable loathing — in Beijing and elsewhere, but particularly in Asia — of the media's insatiable appetite for what is usually termed charisma. Over and over and over, the Western media especially has correctly reported that Ban doesn't have much of it, to which his many supporters retort: So what? How shall we define charisma and is it more chimera than content?

Questioning the value of charisma is particularly relevant in assessing Ban. While he certainly is not, as has been pointed out by one senior Western official who declined to be identified, "lightning in a bottle," he has brought to the UN a number of other qualities that make you suspect that maybe charisma (however defined) is overrated. And what might some of these qualities be? For starters: basic and indeed advanced competence. Ban has been a professional diplomat all his life and his last non-UN job — that of South Korean foreign minister — is no joke (especially when you consider what lurks up north, and who else prowls around that difficult neighbourhood).

Ban has also previously served at the UN in New York and had done so with distinction. Notably, he has not feared to put the UN behind the toughest issues, especially global warming. What's more, Ban has demonstrated in his first term a quality that has impressed even those who are not the biggest of Ban fans at the UN: workaholism. OK, so you don't get a flashy showboat; but you do get an endlessly tireless and wholly competent worker. This is not exactly a worthless commodity to have as the UN's No. 1, especially when critics in the U.S. Congress and everywhere else never tire of complaining about inefficiency, waste and malfeasance at the UN (as if there is none in Congress . . . or, say, the International Monetary Fund . . . don't get me started!). So how much is a pound of solid workaholism worth compared to a pound of preening charisma?

—The writer is the Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University. Courtesy: The Japan Times








ANOTHER reminder - this time from Mother Nature, not technology - of our interconnected world. The Chilean volcanic ash that travelled more than halfway around the globe to disrupt Australians' long-weekend travel underlines how dependent we are on the latter and how humbled we can still be by the former.

When a similar eruption occurred in Iceland last year, authorities took the unprecedented action of closing air space across Europe. In Australia, Qantas was criticised by some as overly conservative when it cancelled some flights to Europe. But it was no surprise this time around, with the ash closer to home, that Qantas and Jetstar led the way on Sunday by halting flights. The huge backlog of passengers plus the chance of further closures today mean that this event will be costly for the airlines and will require all their skills in disaster management. Unpredictable events, such as volcanic eruptions, can have a devastating effect on the best business plans and the ash cloud could not have come at a worse time for an aviation sector under pressure from fuel costs and still recovering from the global financial crisis.

Modern consumers who have grown used to regular, easy air travel may baulk at the disruption, but it is difficult to see that the airlines had any other option but to err on the side of safety.






TURKEY'S voters were probably wise not to give Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the two-thirds majority he wanted to amend the constitution unilaterally, but the result of the general election nonetheless represents a major shot in the arm for democracy in a country still emerging from a dark past of military coups.

More than that, Mr Erdogan's success in leading his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to a record third straight victory in a highly strategic country in the East-West equation that plays a particularly influential role in the Islamic world will inspire those striving for democracy in places such as neighbouring Syria that there is an alternative to dictatorship and jackboot military rule.

Mr Erdogan has his critics. He is seen by many to be far too thin-skinned, suing or threatening even the mildest of critics. Though he denies it, some accuse him of being a closet Islamist who has compromised the secularism of the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In the 10 years he has been in power, Mr Erdogan, who now becomes the longest-serving Turkish leader since Ataturk, has, through a blend of economic liberalism and religious conservatism, led a remarkable transformation of his country from one that was constantly prey to military coups and an economic basket case to one that is a democracy boasting a growth rate of 9 per cent, second only to China's and higher than India's, and exerting unprecedented influence in its own region and internationally.

Turkey matters on the world stage now in a way it never did when the generals ruled the roost. Mr Erdogan deserves praise for the way he has sidelined them and successfully entrenched democracy. The next stage in this process, he believes, is to rewrite the military-drafted constitution, creating an executive, French-style presidency, a job he is said to covet. Had he won the two-thirds majority, he would have been able to make the changes unilaterally. Now he has to negotiate with opposition parties, and has pledged that he will draw up a new constitution through consensus and negotiation, something that should further assist the cause of democracy.

Beyond this, there are other challenges confronting Mr Erdogan that will test to the full Turkey's historic role as a bridge between East and West and its proximity to the upheavals taking place across the Arab world. Already, Turkey is suffering a sidewash effect from the tumult in Syria. To its credit, it has opened its borders to refugees fleeing the horrendous human rights outrages being perpetrated by the Baathist regime in Damascus.

Syria, indeed, should serve as a lesson for Mr Erdogan, who has, despite Turkey's membership of NATO and its application to join the EU, been attempting to pursue a more independent foreign policy that has sometimes strained traditional relations with the US and Israel, taking a hard line against the Jewish state. Given his own success with democracy, Mr Erdogan should be taking a different tack, for the only other democratic country in the region is Israel and he ill-serves the cause of democracy by siding with those who seek its destruction.

The standout success of democracy in Turkey owes much to Mr Erdogan's leadership. He should not shy away from supporting the democratic cause elsewhere, especially in his own region.





STATE governments are grappling with a difficult balancing act as they strive to contain public sector wage bills.

Wage costs need to be held to the inflation rate, currently 2.9 per cent, or less if budget deficits are to be reduced and funds freed up for infrastructure. At the same time, serious shortages of nurses, specialist teachers, police and other essential service personnel compel governments to offer competitive wages to frontline staff. It is unhelpful that state budgets are being delivered at a time when the Gillard government's industrial system is making unions bolder and driving wages pressures in key sectors. In Victoria, for example, the militant Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union has bagged a 27 per cent pay hike over four years for construction workers without productivity improvements.

As state treasurers struggle to prevent their wages bill from escalating by more than $4 billion in the 2011-12 financial year, they should focus on keeping their bureaucracies as pared down and efficient as possible. And while they need to protect the interests of frontline staff, there is no need to send their budget bottom lines deeper into the red with pay deals well above the inflation rate. The push by Victoria's state teachers for a rise of 10 per cent a year, for instance, defies reason. The 5 per cent annual increase for three years being sought by NSW police is also out of kilter with inflation.

As current enterprise deals expire and are renegotiated, it is important that wage and superannuation rises are linked as closely as possible to productivity improvements. Outstanding work performance deserves financial recognition, which is why the sooner the best classroom teachers are rewarded with the merit pay bonuses announced by the Gillard government, for example, the better Australia's public schools will be.

The South Australian government has shown commendable resolve in forcing through unpopular job cuts. In Queensland, Treasurer Andrew Fraser, who is battling to restore the state's AAA credit rating, also has the right idea targeting 3500 positions within the non-frontline public sector under a "voluntary" job cuts program. A similar strategy could be adopted in all states and territories without a noticeable loss of services to the public.

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell is pursuing a fiscally responsible strategy in seeking to cap public service pay rises to 2.5 per cent, unless offset by savings. Mr O'Farrell can expect a protracted legal battle, possibly all the way to the High Court, over his legislation to take control of public sector wages. If he is to succeed, his legislation will need be to watertight in regard to the NSW government's constitutional and legal rights.

While some view his approach as heavy-handed, the outcome will be watched closely by other states and comes after years of public sector unions calling the tune in NSW on wages and conditions and much else. The fact that ferry workers pocketed $10,000 more than teachers and blocked the sale of Sydney Ferries under Labor was a prime example.

If governments are to keep pace with taxpayers' demands for better services, they must take firmer control of their payrolls, which are their biggest running costs.







WAYNE MARTIN has busied himself clearing the cobwebs from the cloistered Supreme Court of Western Australia since his appointment five years ago as that state's chief justice. A court leader who sees little point in retaining ritual for its own sake and mystique for the purpose of judicial isolation, he now threatens to ruffle the feathers of brother and sister judges by admitting TV cameras to courtroom trials - a literal exploration of the principle that justice must be done and be seen to be done.

The suggestion is hardly ground-breaking. Americans and others get to watch trials unfold from their living rooms. Even Australian viewers have access to a couple of reality trials - albeit heavily edited - in a new ABC series.

But TV cameras inside Australian courtrooms have been limited mostly to judges delivering judgments, not the thrust and parry of bar table adversarialism, not witnesses lying their way into a corner, not sweat beading on a defendant's forehead.

"People don't have confidence in things they can't see and hear being done; things are done behind closed doors and people get very nervous about it and rightly so," Justice Martin told Fairfax Radio.

Round One to more openness, then.

But does that mean TV access to our courts is unequivocally an improvement? The issue is not one of curtains being drawn back and exposing courts

to disrepute, as happened to some degree with parliamentary exchanges becoming available for general broadcast. The onus on institutions is to behave in ways that avoid ridicule.

At question is whether the administration of justice is degraded. The threat here is whether cameras in courtrooms - no matter how unobtrusive - encourage not just thespian affectation but deflection of how a player would otherwise think or behave.

Judges, for instance, aren't immune from the political influence of social interaction. Their job, however, demands their interventions and other decisions comply only with the law. Would they be less brave in reaching decisions inconsistent with public opinion - at least the noisiest public opinion - if they knew such a ruling would be available for endless repetition in media ever hungry for controversy?

They already are vulnerable to ridicule reliant on written reporting. TV exposure would up the ante but need not weaken the resolve of judges to decide matters according to law.

And who knows? Enough TV viewers might even enjoy watching a judge do her or his job as it is intended. Maybe they would better understand how the law works when done properly.






HOW much of a problem are so-called professional students? Are they really wasting large amounts of taxpayers' money by staying at university for years, finishing (or perhaps not finishing) one degree and then embarking on another? Those questions are at the heart of the debate about limiting access to publicly funded tertiary study.

The Howard government cracked down in 2005, limiting to seven the number of years of subsidised study a student could undertake. At first, this may seem reasonable: tertiary education is expensive, and resources should not be squandered on those who seem unable to step outside university and make their way in the harsher world beyond. But this year the rule catches 115 people - 0.02 per cent of the student population. Its minute scope is one reason the government wants to remove it.

The problem is, it also catches more than the work-shy and the feckless. It can punish those who choose to study for degrees - notably medicine - which both require long courses of study, and

are open only to students who have completed another degree. Seven years is the minimum time for a standard medical qualification in this form.

A student who makes a mistake, repeats a subject or changes his or her mind about a career choice, will pay heavily for it.

The same applies to those who fail to reach the qualifying score for their chosen degree in the Higher School Certificate, but who keep trying. With ambition undimmed, many can complete a degree and use it to qualify for the course they have wanted all along. Their continuing dedication and hard work are punished under a rule intended to target wastrels. Australia is not so overrun with qualified doctors and other professionals that it can afford to deter aspiring people who take time to reach the standard required, or who - like many young people - have not fixed on their career path as teenagers.

The Coalition's recent record on tertiary education, it has to be said, comes close to vengeful. For a long period under John Howard public funding of universities declined in real terms, forcing them to rely on foreign students' fees - while other countries were increasing spending. As well, the abolition of compulsory student unionism struck a fatal blow against the traditional idea of a university as a community of scholars. Together, the policies have helped undermine the status of universities, reducing them to vast, market-driven technical colleges. From the party of Robert Menzies, a great supporter of tertiary education, this changed attitude is as puzzling as it has been destructive.





Without the rank and file, political parties will die.

IN JANUARY, when the review of the ALP by former federal minister John Faulkner, former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and former New South Wales premier Bob Carr was presented to the party's national executive, this newspaper asked whether their recommendations, like those of so many previous reviews, would do more than gather dust on a shelf. Sadly but not surprisingly, the answer appears to be ''no''.

The review's findings have not been fully released, but they are not Labor's best-kept secret. They have been discussed in ALP circles for months, and Senator Faulkner's critique of the party's culture and processes in last week's Wran lecture drew from his experience in conducting the review. Senator Faulkner contrasted the ALP of his youth, which believed itself to be a broad social movement and fostered vigorous policy debates from the branch level upwards, with the party of today, which he condemned as narrowly concerned with obtaining and holding power, and obsessively reliant on focus groups and opinion polls. The lack of interest Labor's factional chiefs showed in the ideals and activist inclinations of party members, he said, would ensure continued decline.

Predictably, the outraged reactions of factional leaders confirmed his point, and the likelihood that the review committee's recommendations will not be enthusiastically embraced by the ALP national conference when it discusses them in December. Sport Minister Mark Arbib, a power broker of the Right, dismissed the claim that Labor was in thrall to focus groups as ''just rubbish'', and Industry Minister Kim Carr, a long-time number-cruncher for the Left, warned that national conference should not be diverted by discussion of ''machinery'' matters.

The machinery matters that Senator Carr fears may be diverting presumably include the review's proposal for opening up preselection procedures by the use of primary elections, in which 20 per cent of those who vote need not be party members. The introduction of primaries is also being debated within the Liberal Party, as a result of a review by former Howard government minister Peter Reith, who is a candidate for the party's presidency. Mr Reith and Senator Faulkner are hardly ideological bedfellows, but it is no accident that they share an interest in primary elections. The mechanism is likely to interest anyone trying to restore grassroots participation and revive party membership - and a long-term decline in membership confronts both of Australia's major political parties.

The average age of ALPmembers is 50, and the average age of Liberals, at least in Victoria, is more than 60. And, as we report on the Focus page today, the haemorrhage of members has become dire in the Victorian ALP. Of the 13,000 party members last year, 2100 - 16 per cent - did not renew this year. The number whose membership is the result of branch stacking is unknown, but some estimates place it as high as one-third of the total. It is hardly a picture of a party in good health, and astonishing for a party that holds office nationally and, until recently, governed in all states as well.

Specious reasons are often cited for the shrinkage of major-party membership, such as the waning of institutional identities in complex modern societies, coupled with the emergence of new forms of connectivity through internet social-networking sites. But it is simply not true that people do not join organisations any more. The Greens and activist groups such as GetUp! attract people who might once have joined the ALP, because they are able to influence the formation of policy in these groups. Former ALP members, in contrast, typically say they quit because their role was limited to selling raffle tickets and distributing how-to-vote cards. Senior figures in both major parties evidently prefer this state of affairs, but it can only accelerate the membership decline, and along with it, sap the vigorous participation that keeps democracy alive.






IMAGINE the outcry if Australians as young as 15 were held for months in an Indonesian jail alongside hardened prisoners - murderers, paedophiles and rapists - without their families being told. As The Age reports today, dozens of Indonesian youths have fallen foul of draconian people-smuggling laws while the criminals who duped them into crewing boats profit with impunity. Several issues arise: the injustice of mandatory jail terms; the huge bill for taxpayers; Australia's legal obligations to any children it detains; and the futility of it all when the big fish stay beyond reach.

The facts of today's report on three youths, aged 15 and 16, who have been in custody for 14 months, are all too common. Up to 60 Indonesians who claim to be under 18 are being held as adults in jails and immigration detention. If found to be minors, they are deported, but some spend a year or more in custody. Australia is bound by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which children under 18 should not be jailed with adults.

Wrist X-rays are used to assess ages, but are not ''an accurate determiner of age'', as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has been advised. Federal police also ignored immigration assessments and birth documents proving the boys named in today's report are under 18. No Australian official contacted their village to establish ages or inform families of their fate. The villagers thought the boys had left on a fishing trip in April last year and been lost at sea until a volunteer interpreter made contact last month to tell them they were in an Australian jail.

Many young, illiterate Indonesians from remote fishing villages are almost as much victims of professional people smugglers as are the asylum seekers who each pay more than $10,000 to organisers who do not travel into Australian waters. To date, only one organiser of multiple boat trips has been extradited and jailed. The people smugglers pay crew members about $500 - a huge amount for a villager living hand to mouth - and exploit their ignorance of what awaits them. Many of the 300 or so facing prosecution - another 150 have been convicted since September 2008 - had no idea about the real nature of the work they had been asked to do, let alone the minimum three years' jail without parole that they face if tried as adults.

The costs of trials and three year's imprisonment for 300 people would exceed $200 million. Given the small numbers of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, Australia is wielding a sledgehammer in its attempts to crack a walnut. The human tragedy is that this is still no deterrent for those who profit most from people smuggling.







The bill is not the danger to the NHS that it once was, but the service is more of a liability for the coalition than ever

The prime minister and his deputy yesterday took a tip from the Dodo and agreed that everybody has won. After unprecedented brokering over a half-passed bill, both Nick Clegg and David Cameron had to have NHS prizes to brandish in front of their respective backbenchers. As professor Steve Field, the GP with the dubious privilege of conducting the listening exercise, reported back yesterday, Mr Clegg proclaimed victory for taming competition, while Mr Cameron let it be known that he had salvaged the substance of the Conservative vision by retaining the stress on choice.

This useful ambiguity was easier to maintain than it might have been, since the fit between the various proposed consortiums, boards and regulators is so obscure, especially now that "clinical senates" and a new "citizens' panel" are being thrown in the mix. But dig into the detail, and it is possible to establish a clear Lib Dem victory on points. With sharper accountability, with the responsibilities of the secretary of state reaffirmed, and – above all – with the demolition of Andrew Lansley's dream of a proactively pro-competition regulator, the bill that will take shape in the coming days will have to be an entirely different animal from that before the pause. It may even prevent some forms of privatisation that Tony Blair flirted with, such as the wholesale outsourcing of commissioning. No matter that Mr Clegg was once content with the first draft, his party refused to wear it. And if the recommendations are confirmed as accepted today, then he will have seen to it that his party prevails.

The messy manner of this victory, however, will come back to haunt both coalition parties. The Field report acknowledges an urgent need to address various problems, without explaining how they can be fixed. It promises, for instance, that private providers will be barred from cherry-picking profitable patients by unspecified "additional safeguards". Well, we shall see. The report also relies heavily on words with many meanings, such as "integration". To some it conveys state planning, to others GPs connecting with hospitals, and to others again the unification of health and social care. The latter is currently being entirely separately reviewed, and yet this huge additional problem is now potentially being piled into the body of a bill midway through emergency surgery.

Meanwhile, a coalition that promised to end top-down reorganisations could now preside over a second before its first is even complete. Mr Lansley's oft-repeated boast is that while the BMA carps, most family doctors have been quietly settling themselves into consortiums to pick up the NHS purse strings. But now Professor Field is suddenly saying that these embryonic consortiums, which were not meant to be tied to particular areas, must instead share their borders with councils. Managers who have spent the last year running primary care trusts under sentence of death must now steer their amalgamated successors into an uncertain future, while also organising recruitment into consortiums that are changing shape before being established. Think of them and weep.

The bitterest irony is that Mr Lansley had hoped his bill would take the politics out of healthcare. He has achieved the polar opposite in more than one sense. Assuming the Field report is enacted, the crunch question about the extent of competition will not be settled by an independent regulator, but instead by a board of bureaucrats who will work to a "model" proposed by the secretary of state. The House of Lords might well take exception to an approach of legislate first, decide later.

The coming expenditure squeeze is the most severe in NHS history, and the government's best hope was quietly muddling through. But after so much chaotic activity on its own part, any such hope is gone. The bill is not the danger to the NHS that it once was, but the service is more of a liability for the coalition than ever.





Sir Stirling has decided to stop racing at the age of 81, after realising during practice at Le Mans that he was scared

There have been lots of great British racing drivers. But there has only ever been one Sir Stirling Moss. None of the others, though their achievements were often greater, became synonymous with the sport in the way Moss did in the 1950s, and none has retained that status for so long. On the face of it, news that Sir Stirling has decided to stop racing at the age of 81 – retired driver retires almost 50 years after quitting Formula One – ought not to be a story at all. But his announcement, after realising during practice at Le Mans that he was scared, touches a chord with anyone old enough to remember his career or who recalls the more innocent, daredevil sporting age in which he was a household name. The police officer reprimanding a motorist with a "Who do you think you are – Stirling Moss?" may be apocryphal, but it sounds authentic. Perhaps it was just his name – surely no one called Simon Moss could have been such a legend. Perhaps it was the era – the postwar but not yet postcolonial time in which the British hero still seemed to rule the world. Perhaps it was the danger of what he did, and which twice nearly killed him. Perhaps it was simply Sir Stirling's readiness to connect with the public – do Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton trouble to write individual replies to fan letters or to send postcards from circuits around the world to admirers, as Moss once did? Whatever he did, he did in style, as his retirement interview yesterday proved. Stirling Moss was a bit special. Happily he still is.







While other European politicians battle to avoid the blame for economic downturn, Mr Erdogan claims the credit for economic success

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, boasts an election-winning record of which other European leaders can only dream. Sunday's general election victory for his AKP party was not just his third in a row. It was also his most emphatic yet. When the AKP first won power in 2002, it got 10.7m votes and a 34.3% share. On Sunday, on an 87% turnout that puts other countries to shame, Mr Erdogan hoisted those figures to 21.4m (double his 2002 support) and a 49.9% share. Bizarrely, under Turkey's idiosyncratic proportional representation system, this means the AKP now has 326 members in the 550-seat parliament, compared with 363 in 2002. But this decline in AKP seats, though politically very important, should not detract from a stellar electoral achievement.

Mr Erdogan commands the Turkish political scene thanks to one factor above all – the economy. Turkey continues to grow at around 9% a year; GDP per head has nearly doubled since 2002; and Turkish exports have nearly tripled. In particular, the AKP has delivered a transformation in life chances for the largely rural, predominantly religiously conservative but highly entrepreneurial Anatolian Turks who form its power base. Life across many parts of central and eastern Turkey is incomparably better today than 20 years ago. In the election campaign Mr Erdogan promised major new public works to carry the momentum further. While other European politicians battle to avoid the blame for economic downturn, Mr Erdogan claims the credit for economic success and as a result surges onward politically.

This is where admiration elides into apprehension. The AKP's reward, it now hopes, will be the chance to rewrite Turkey's constitution with an enhanced presidency (which Mr Erdogan is eyeing) and a diminished parliament and military. This may not be as easy as it seems. The AKP's chances of achieving this goal are enhanced by Sunday's vote. But half of Turkey's voters remain opposed to the AKP, and the traditionally Kemalist army and courts are unreconciled too. The AKP's lack of a two-thirds majority means that other parties – including the renewed Kemalist centre-left CHP, which increased its share of the vote by 5%, and the independent Kurds – will have to be consulted. These constraints matter, not least because of Mr Erdogan's imperious ways, which include the jailing of journalists and a punitive approach to media organisations with the temerity to criticise him. There is much to admire, internally and internationally, about the new Turkey. But peaceful revolutions can overreach themselves too, and it is vital that Turkish society is able to place some limits around Mr Erdogan's formidable ambitions.






The government's conference on reform of social welfare spending and taxes, chaired by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, proposed on June 2 raising the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 10 percent in phases by fiscal 2015 to secure stable funds for maintaining and strengthening social welfare. As part of the tax raise, the government is considering raising the tax rate by two to three percentage points in fiscal 2012 at the earliest. The conference also said that the government's social welfare spending will reach about ¥60 trillion in fiscal 2025. If the amount is to be solely funded by consumption tax revenues, the tax rate must be raised to around 20 percent.

The reform proposal came as Japan is struggling to stabilize the lives of people who have suffered from the devastation caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan as well as of residents of Fukushima Prefecture who have suffered from the spread of radioactive substances from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Japan also has to reconstruct the areas affected by the disasters. The government must consider a basic concern about the proposed consumption tax raise — whether it is appropriate to raise the tax when the Japanese economy and people are reeling from the damage caused by the March 11 disasters. The proposed tax raise could dampen consumer spending, which accounts for about 60 percent of Japan's gross domestic product, and spending by business enterprises, thus leading to shrinking of economic activities. A final result could be shrinking of the tax base, which would decrease government revenues.

Because the consumption tax is regressive, the burden on low-income people is larger than that on high-income people. One wonders whether the government has paid enough attention to this problem. It should also consider other measures to raise government revenues, such as a tax on individuals' income and wealth, and enterprises' internal reserves.

To improve social welfare, the government proposes introducing a cap on the amount of out-of-pocket payments for medical, nursing and child rearing-related services, increasing the number of professionals engaged in emergency medical treatment and medical and nursing care for aged people staying at home, and cutting the premiums paid by low-income people for health and nursing care insurance. It also proposes shortening the minimum period of years over which people pay premiums for the pension system to become eligible to receive a public pension from the current 25 years to 10 years, providing ¥15,000 a month to pensioners whose annual income is less than ¥650,000, widening the social insurance coverage for irregular workers, improving day-care services for children and changing the amount of the reduction on taxable income.

Together, these measures would entail some ¥3.8 trillion in additional funds in fiscal 2015. But this amount will partly be offset by the following revenue-increasing measures in the field of social welfare proposed by the government and the amount of necessary additional funds will drop to some ¥2.7 trillion in fiscal 2015. Revenues from the one-percentage point portion of the proposed five percentage point raise of the consumption tax will be used to cover the amount. The revenue-increasing measures in the field of social welfare include having people who visit medical institutions pay a uniform ¥100 in addition to their out-of-pocket payments for medical services, reducing the amount of basic pension for people whose annual income is ¥10 million or more, increasing the rate of out-of-pocket payments for medical services by people aged 70 to 74 from the current 10 percent to 20 percent and decreasing the number of hospitalization days for people suffering from life-style related diseases such as diabetes.

The government also proposes considering raising the age at which people start receiving a pension from the current 65 to a range of 68 to 70. (The Japanese Trade Union Confederation of Labor, or Rengo, Japan's largest labor organization, criticized this proposal as inappropriate because people have difficulty in securing employment up to the age of 65.)

The proposals, as a whole, show that the government is trying to shift the emphasis to improving social welfare benefits for younger generations and low-income people. The government also has shown future concrete changes in social welfare and how much money each change will entail, making it easier for people to calculate the costs and benefits. But people will not have enough time to do that since the government plans to finalize its proposals by around June 20. Both people and local governments, which are directly involved in providing many social welfare services, should be given sufficient time so that they can fully examine the proposals.






NEW HAVEN, Connecticut — Until now, and with few exceptions, the West has nurtured two distinct communities of foreign-policy specialists: the development community and the democratic community.

More often than not, they have had little or no connection with one another: development specialists dealt comfortably with dictatorships and democracies alike, believing that prosperity can best be created by concentrating exclusively on economic issues and institutions.

The consequences of this approach have a resonance in the Arab world. But as the recent United Nations Security Council debates on the Arab Spring have shown, it is not the major emerging countries that will influence events in the region. Brazil has barely uttered a word in reaction to the region's tumult, while Russia and China have little taste for sanctions against Libya in light of their own autocratic governments.

All of this adds up to a unique opportunity for the European Union to support its neighbors' transition from revolutionary upheaval to democratic government. At the same time, we need to promote the progress of other regimes in the region toward inclusive democracy. Indeed, the EU is their natural partner in this endeavor.

Since the launch of the Barcelona Process in 1995, EU Mediterranean policy has been criticized for not linking financial aid to democratic reform, and for giving priority to European concerns like immigration, security, and cooperation on counter-terrorism. At the same time, EU policy has sidelined clear southern priorities, like opening up Europe's agriculture and textile markets. The result is that the vision of the official Euro-Mediterranean Policy (EMP) has lagged far behind its original goals.

Europe should shift its focus on immigration and security back to policies that reflect the original objectives of the Barcelona Declaration. The EMP's central goals were to advance a "comprehensive partnership" and political reform, and to create "a common area of peace and stability," together with a Euro-Mediterranean free-trade area.

Moreover, the associated MEDA funding mechanism specifically included the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights. This link between security, democracy and human development has since been broken and needs to be restored through investment in good governance, development and education.

The EMP evolved in 2004 into the European Neighborhood Policy framework, and in 2007, the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument (ENPI) replaced MEDA as the EU's main financing mechanism for Euro-Mediterranean policy. This put human rights funding into the National Indicative Program (NIP), which encompasses 17 countries: ten in the south and seven in Eastern Europe. Although good governance and human rights remained among the ENP's proclaimed goals, official communications of the European Commission show that it emphasized security and border control.

When the EMP was "relaunched" in 2008 under the newly established Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) to give it greater political emphasis, the result was an exercise in "realism" that weakened the original EMP. And, for all its high-flown language, the UfM is an empty shell. This is partly due to bad timing: the UfM's launch coincided with the start of the Gaza War and became entangled in the complexities of Arab-Israeli relations. The initiative also failed to gain momentum among political leaders.

To implement the vision of the Barcelona Process, the ENP will have to revisit the way it distributes its financial support, rebalance the funding that it provides to the EU's eastern and southern neighborhoods, and place greater emphasis on democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

Education remains a key area where the EU should contribute to the development of the southern neighborhood, if only because young people are a growing majority of the Arab population. Although many Arab states have been opening new schools and universities, and are allowing more private educational institutions to flourish, the quality of education in the region still leaves much to be desired.

Religion is a compulsory subject at universities, while inquisitiveness, critical thinking and objective analysis are discouraged. As the Jordanian intellectual and former foreign minister Marwan al-Muasher has argued, state and religious interpretations of history, science and politics are hammered into Arab students.

Wilfried Martens, president of the European People's Party in the European Parliament and former Belgian prime minister, made a similar point: "The West is not at war with Islam. Christianity is not at war with Islam. And neither is democracy. All three are incompatible with a certain interpretation which claims that the scripture is the basis upon which to build a state."

Of the Arab countries receiving ENP funds, only Egypt has channeled a high proportion — nearly 50 percent — toward education. In any case, Europe's spending on education in the region is scattered among inter-regional, national, and thematic programs, which makes it difficult to see how these funds' effectiveness might be measured.

Europe faces key decisions that concern its values and its interests in the Arab world, and the reconciliation of its short- and long-term objectives. Infrastructure investment and economic reform are crucial for the Mediterranean region's development, but they cannot transform the region without a parallel emphasis on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and education. To advance both objectives, the EU must link its investment and aid programs to concrete progress on democratization, and press for greater accountability and improvement in reforming educational systems in the region.

Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and a former senior vice president of the World Bank, is a senior fellow and lecturer at Yale University. © 2011 Project Syndicate/Europe's World






Special to The Japan Times

LONDON — Revelations that Pakistan has invited China to build a naval base at the strategic port of Gwadar once again underlines widespread anxiety in India and beyond about Beijing's Indian Ocean objectives.

Gwadar is a predominantly Chinese-funded commercial port about 500 km from the Strait of Hormuz and is considered by many as the most significant "pearl" in Beijing's "string" of facilities around the Indian Ocean littoral. Though the Pakistani request has not been entertained by China, at least for now, the Indian Ocean is fast emerging as the main front in the struggle between China and India.

The Indian government last year explicitly acknowledged what many have been warning for years: China's role in the Indian Ocean is growing at a rate that underlines much more than a normal expansion of capabilities. External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, informed the Indian Parliament last year that "the Government of India has come to realize that China has been showing more than the normal interest in the Indian Ocean affairs."

He went on assert that the government is "closely monitoring the Chinese intentions." But monitoring intentions of a state is a fool's errand. Intentions cannot be empirically verified and even if one could determine China's intentions today, there is no way to know what they will be in the future. What India should instead focus on is China's rapidly rising naval capabilities in and around the Indian Ocean. Though China may have rebuffed Pakistan's overtures on Gwadar for now, Beijing's growing influence in Pakistan doesn't make it any less of a headache.

For some time now Indian naval expansion has been undertaken with an eye on China, but despite some positive developments, India has nautical miles to go before it can catch up with its powerful neighbor, which has made some significant advances in the waters surrounding India.

China's growing naval capability was on full display as it paraded its nuclear-powered submarines for the first time as part of the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) navy in 2009. Gone was the reticence of yore when China was not ready to even admit that it had such capabilities. Chinese commanders are openly talking about the need for nuclear submarines to safeguard the nation's interests, and the Chinese navy, once the weakest of the three services, is the focus of attention of the military modernization program that is being pursued with utmost seriousness.

China's navy is considered the third-largest in the world, behind only the U.S. and Russia, and superior to the Indian navy in both qualitative and quantitative terms. The PLA navy has traditionally been a coastal force, and China has had a continental outlook to security. But with a rise in its economic might since the 1980s, Chinese interests have expanded and acquired a maritime orientation with intent to project power into the Indian Ocean.

China is investing far greater resources in the modernization of its armed forces in general and its navy in particular than India seems either willing to undertake or capable of sustaining at present. China's increasingly sophisticated submarine fleet could eventually be one of the world's largest, and with a rapid accretion in its capabilities, including submarines, ballistic missiles and GPS-blocking technology, some say that China will increasingly have the capacity to challenge the U.S.

Senior Chinese officials have indicated that China would be ready to build an aircraft carrier by the end of the decade. Such intent to develop a carrier capability marks a shift away from devoting the bulk of the PLA's modernization drive to the goal of capturing Taiwan.

With a rise in China's economic and political prowess, there has also been a commensurate growth in its profile in the Indian Ocean region. China is acquiring naval bases along the crucial choke-points in the Indian Ocean, not only to serve its economic interests but also to enhance its strategic presence in the region.

China realizes that its maritime strength will give it the strategic leverage that it needs to emerge as the regional hegemon and a potential superpower — and there is enough evidence to suggest that China is comprehensively building up its maritime power in all dimensions.

It is China's growing dependence on maritime space and resources that is reflected in the country's aspiration to expand its influence and to ultimately dominate the strategic environment of the Indian Ocean region.

Yet, China is consolidating power over the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean with an eye on India — something that comes out clearly in an oft-cited secret memorandum issued by the PLA General Logistic Department director: "We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as only an ocean of the Indians. We are taking armed conflicts in the region into account."

Given the immense geographical advantages that India enjoys in the Indian Ocean, China will find it challenging to exert as much sway in the Indian Ocean as India can. But all the steps that China will take to protect and enhance its interests in the Indian Ocean will generate apprehensions in India about Beijing's intentions, thereby engendering a classic security dilemma between the two Asian giants.

Tensions are inherent in such an evolving strategic relationship as was underlined in an incident last year when an Indian submarine and Chinese warships, on their way to the Gulf of Aden to patrol the pirate-infested waters, reportedly engaged in rounds of manoeuvring as they tried to test for weaknesses in each others' sonar systems. Chinese media reported that its warships forced the Indian sub to surface, which was denied by the Indian Navy.

Unless managed carefully, the potential for such incidents turning serious in the future remains high, especially as Sino-Indian naval competition is likely to intensify with the Indian and Chinese navies operating far from their shores. The battle to rule the waves in the Indian Ocean seems to have only just begun.

Harsh V. Pant teaches at King's College in London.







Japan, as well as the Japanese, are fighting and struggling. They are running against the wind of the rising yen-dollar exchange rate, which tends to affect exports. And the economy struggles in the almost bottomless pit of government deficits, which are likely to worsen as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

On top of these economic strains, tension is mounting in the political arena. The headquarters for supervising the emergency measures since March 11 seems to be in a state of confusion, if not disintegration as some newspapers describe.

Major political parties have not so far been able to advance long-term visions to give the people national goals for the next decade and beyond. Disintegration or lack of unity and determination within both the government party and the opposition as well as the frequent changes in prime ministers have deepened the sense of mistrust among the general public toward the established political parties.

Everywhere, one hears grumbling and complaints, and sees frustration and disenchantment. Despite this gloomy picture, the Japanese people have not, so far, given voice to strong protest. Even university students, who must run from one job-seeking meeting to another as early as two years before graduation, appear resigned to accepting employers' egoistic practices.

Why is society so calm and why does it seem, at least on the surface, resigned to the shikataganai (we must live with the situation) way of thinking?

The answer is paradoxical. The Japanese are seriously, and with the utmost inner force, fighting against themselves. They are inwardly struggling with conflicts in their minds. What are these conflicts?

First, there are the individual fights against fear and anxiety. If openly confessed, these fights are likely to increase and deepen social anxiety as a whole. The Japanese are well aware of the danger of another great quake, which, according to "scientific" prediction, is likely to visit an area somewhere between Nagoya and Tokyo.

The Japanese, particularly those living in urban areas, must consider this great catastrophe and prepare for it either by putting anti-earthquake devices in their homes or reconsidering their insurance policy. They are determined to survive any disaster or to mitigate the potentially grave consequences of one, but they are well aware that the spread of rumors and open debate are likely to increase peoples' anxiety and fears. So, they tend to contain concerns within themselves and, by doing so, try to prevent the spread of social unease and individual anxiety.

Another front line on the psychological battlefield is the conflict between trust and mistrust of political leaders, and the overall management of the public service sector, particularly electricity supply.

People have indeed deepened their sense of mistrust toward politicians and industrial leaders who run the public service sector. Citizens have long since voiced mistrust of yuchaku (connivance among industries, politicians and bureaucrats). They have also cried for an end to amakudari ("descent" of retiring high government officials into private-sector positions).

Mistrust runs wide and deep. Yet, at the bottom of many peoples' minds is the vague hope and rather solid sentiment that the majority of those engaged in public services maintain a certain sense of mission and are trying to serve the interests of society as a whole.

People are, in fact, struggling between trust and mistrust in their hearts. Here again, they are instinctively aware that if they go completely in the direction of mistrust, they are likely to end up mistrusting themselves.

After all, was it not the people who elected the politicians, and weren't the neighbors of the nuclear power plants "consulted"?

In addition, enterprises engaged in public or semi-public services have been encouraged since the Koizumi government, which commanded enormous popular support, to "inject" a private enterprise spirit into their work, namely, price competition and market force principles that tend to emphasize efficiency and profitability, as opposed to cautious risk-avoiding management.

People are increasingly aware, thanks to the earthquake, of their own political and economic responsibility; yet they are not ready to gather forces and resources for a new direction under a new vision, because they are busy struggling and fighting within themselves.

Viewed in a larger historical context, one can say that Japan, as a whole, is struggling. Japan has realized one of the safest and most efficient societies in the world by devoting energy and diligence to safety and efficiency. The Japanese are inwardly proud of these achievements, but the earthquake appears to have warned Japan that human efforts to build a safe and efficient society have, in themselves, made the society very vulnerable to natural and human disasters. Thus the Japanese are struggling in the shadow of doubt.

How long this internal war continues remains to be seen. As in most cases, internal war starts when prospects for the future appear uncertain.

That's why most Japanese hope against hope for the advent of strong political leadership, but here again their internal struggle goes on, because while voicing the need for strong leadership, they secretly harbor grave doubts about whether they really wish to realize it.

Kazuo Ogoura, a political science professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, is president of the Japan Foundation. He has served as Japanese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Vietnam (1994-95), South Korea (1997-99) and France (1999-2002).







The latest survey by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) that found the Democratic Party fall behind its ally and chief competitor Golkar for the first time since the 2009 elections should not come as a surprise, even for the ruling party.

The Democrats should know well and should have prepared actions to regain the public faith that helped it win the 2009 legislative elections and lead its chief patron Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to victory in the last two presidential elections.

The survey found it is the Democratic Party's lack-luster efforts in dealing with a corruption case implicating its former treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin that has greatly contributed to its declining popularity.

The public has witnessed a stark contrast between the party's claims, and Yudhoyono's included, to combat corruption and its defense of Nazaruddin, who has reportedly been in Singapore since he fled Indonesia just 24 hours before the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) issued a travel ban on him on May 24.

Nazaruddin is linked to a bribery case surrounding a construction project for the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Palembang, South Sumatra, in which the KPK has named three people, including the secretary of the Youth and Sports Ministry, Wafid Muharram. The KPK, however, has summoned Nazaruddin twice for questioning as a witness in connection with corruption within the National Education Ministry.

Similar to the first summons last week, the second KPK summons for questioning on Monday was left unheeded. Nazaruddin has cited illness as an excuse, despite the absence of convincing proof, but strangely the Democratic Party takes his word for granted.

Instead of providing assistance to the KPK, the Democrats have blamed the anti-graft commission for Nazaruddin's absence, which only confirms speculation that the ruling party will stretch its limits to protect Nazaruddin, as his testimony to the investigators is feared to potentially deal the party a major blow.

That the party stubbornly stands behind Nazaruddin, despite Yudhoyono's order to bring the young lawmaker back home, will give rise to the public's doubt over not only its pre-election campaign against corruption, but also the party's commitment to fair play in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Critics have anticipated the Nazaruddin case may expose massive fund rising efforts benefiting from projects funded by the state budget.

For Yudhoyono, the Nazaruddin saga is a test of his statesmanship. The decline in his Democratic Party's popularity must have something to do with his slow actions in response to Nazaruddin's implication in the SEA Games graft case and in particular his failure to exercise his power to make Nazaruddin comply with the law.

Yudhoyono won credits when he allowed former Bank Indonesia deputy governor Aulia Pohan, who is the father-in-law of his son, to face prosecution that eventually sent him to jail for graft. The President has also been widely lauded for allowing investigations of regional heads, either governors or regents, for their alleged involvement in corruption.

In short, Yudhoyono, as the head of state, has an undisputed commitment to the war on graft, but when it comes to corruption implicating his party, the much-awaited bold action is absent, at least in the case of Nazaruddin.

A Democratic Party executive admits the LSI survey serves as a wake-up call for the party. But with or without the survey, the party's responsibility to make Nazaruddin face the music and clean up corrupt elements stands.





Blood saves lives and improves health. It is the most precious and unique gift from one human being to another. In the developed world, much of the blood goes to the treatment of older patients.

In the developing world most of the blood is utilized to treat younger patients: Infants and children with anemia due to malaria, victims of trauma, and mothers with blood loss due to childbirth.

WHO estimates that more than half a million women die every year during pregnancy; 99 percent of them in the developing world.

Blood saves life but unsafe blood is a potent vehicle for transmission of several dreadful diseases including HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, malaria and syphilis, to name a few.

WHO estimates that the lack of effective screening results in up to 16 million new infections with hepatitis B, 5 million new infections with hepatitis C, and 160,000 cases of HIV infection every year.

It is estimated that 5-10 percent of HIV transmissions worldwide are through transfusion of contaminated blood. No perfect method is available to fully eliminate the risk of transfusion transmissible infections.

Hence, multi-pronged strategy is needed to reduce transmission of these pathogens through blood.

The health systems need to assure the highest degree of quality assured screening of every unit of donated blood, preferably collected from healthy individuals who decide to donate voluntarily, to guarantee its freedom from infectious marker to the extent the current technology permits.

In recent past, screening of donated blood for HIV has averted every year more than 25,000 new cases of HIV in the Southeast Asia Region.

The need for safe blood is universal; however, a major imbalance between developing and developed countries in the level of access to safe blood exists. Millions of patients needing transfusion do not have timely access to safe blood.

This is primarily because of two reasons: inability of science to artificially manufacture this life saving fluid and hesitation on the part of only reservoir of these product i.e. human beings to donate blood voluntarily and regularly.

Around 93 million blood units are donated annually all over the world; 50 percent of these are collected in developed countries, home to 16 percent of the world's population.

The average donation rate in developed countries is 45.4 donations per 1,000 population. In member states of WHO Southeast Asia Region, this rate is 6.7 per 1,000 population.

If 1 percent of a country's population donates blood, it would be sufficient to meet the country's basic requirements for blood for transfusion. But donation rates are still less than 1 percent of the population in 77 countries including Indonesia where it is around 0.9 percent.

Around 1.7 million units of blood were collected in Indonesia in 2009 of which 86 percent were from voluntary donors. There is clearly a need to accelerate the education of communities on blood donation, recruitment of voluntary blood donors and retaining them to assure regular supply of blood.

Several myths prevent healthy people from coming forward to voluntarily donate blood. The safest blood comes from unpaid donors who donate for altruistic reasons.

In this group, the prevalence of HIV, hepatitis infection, and other blood-borne pathogens is lowest. Infection rates are higher among replacement donors who donate to replace blood used by a patient. Infection rates among paid donors are the highest.

Social scientists need to study influence of human behavior vis a vis blood donation. While during major disasters, thousands of people voluntarily reach blood banks to donate blood.

Their number invariably exceeds the capacity of blood center to collect, store and utilize their blood. However, in normal times when the need for blood continues to be huge, people in developing countries find it difficult to come forward to donate a unit of blood that can save lives of several patients.

It is indeed a challenge to present the human needs regularly and clearly to the communities.

This can only come through motivational methods and community-based networks. West Bengal (India) and Nepal have shown the power of these NGOs and there is a need to learn from their success stories and their replication across developing countries to assure a sustained supply of safe blood to everyone.

The writer is Deputy Regional Director at WHO's Regional Office for Southeast Asia. This article is on the occasion of World Blood Donor Day which is celebrated every year on 14 June.







This year the words "corruption" and "soccer" go together not only in Indonesia. Both the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) and its global patron FIFA have experienced leadership crises and a sharp loss of legitimacy — especially the latter.

Both organizations had controversial candidates who were linked to bribery and corruption. The challengers had also presented themselves as reformers and modernizers, before seeing their chances reduced to ashes.

The fate of the chairman is where the difference lies. While former PSSI chairman Nurdin Halid was forced to step down by FIFA, the world soccer body's chairman, Sepp Blatter, can claim victory after his sole challenger, Mohammed bin Hammam, quit from the race and has been suspended. Furthermore, Blatter has been cleared from all corruption charges and can proceed to business as usual.

On the other hand, PSSI is not out of the woods yet. FIFA has given it another month to choose a new president before it may suspend all professional football activities in Indonesia.

Defenders of the banned PSSI candidates George Toisutta and Arifin Panigoro have accused FIFA of being a "dictatorship". While overseeing the chaotic and inconclusive PSSI congress sessions, FIFA could not completely present itself as force of law and order. Long before its own election, FIFA's image was tainted by accusations of illegal dealings behind the victories of Russia and Qatar to host future World Cup tournaments.

Its refusal to consider the usage of new technologies to help referees decide tough calls has irked fans who have seen how machines have helped make improvements in other sports such as tennis, athletics and rugby.

FIFA's policy also helps corruption prevail within its member associations, including PSSI. It took FIFA seven years to notice that Nurdin Halid's chairmanship was illegal since he had been imprisoned for graft.

FIFA's stance to punish any government for interfering with its respective national soccer association, supposedly to protect it against threats and lobbying from political interests, has become a shield for corrupt associations everywhere.

Frequent business dealings and expression of support for countries and federations with dubious human rights and transparency records have pushed FIFA's credibility down further.

The problem is that FIFA is the only world body governing soccer, and everybody loves soccer — even former haters like Americans and Australians are embracing it after seeing their teams qualify for the World Cup.

Even if there is an alternative organization to FIFA, it will take only weeks before its administrators take profit from massive sponsorship deals and cooperation with corrupt states, as long as they can promise financial and political support for this global body and because by default the states' populations are soccer mad.

Businessman Arifin Panigoro attempted to create an alternative league that promised to be more attractive and more professional than the FIFA-sanctioned Indonesian Super League.

But this has mostly been forgotten now because it included teams from the ISL that play in regional tournaments and are already familiar with most of the fans.

Soccer governance can be very corrupt for several reasons. At a national level, soccer is what is keeping most of the male population content, especially in developing countries rife with disappointments.

Advertisements for male products are wise to include an image of a soccer ball to attract attention.

Although the national team is abysmal and the national league is unpopular, everybody still watches the English Premier League.

If the national team starts winning, locals start paying attention, as happened late last year in matches involving Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

For these reasons, many politicians and even military officials wish to be associated with the national team, hoping they can benefit from their popularity.

In short, a soccer star is a rock god from business perspective and a war hero from political perspective.

On an international level, even administrators and associations from less corrupt countries choose pragmatism.

If they want to run the business, they cannot criticize fellow associations for corruption and human rights abuses, as business dealings and voting preferences are at stake.

At a time when global influence is shifting, associations and administrators from developing countries can always claim that allegations against them, trumpeted mostly by the European press, are racist and patronizing.

In fact, many developed states have found that the easiest way to do business with less developed associations is through trading favors. Just like the supporters of a big match who care more about the goal than foul play, and fans and the media care about the result when it comes to hosting rights or higher tournaments seeding. Not to mention corporations that would like to have their governments help arrange sponsorship deals.

The future of both PSSI and FIFA is bleak. With four banned candidates, PSSI has no clear choice for its next president and fans are quite sure the next meeting before June 30 will be just as chaotic as the previous two events.

Other Southeast Asian pundits are asking if soccer will be present in the upcoming SEA Games and if it is possible to host the sport somewhere outside Indonesia.

Blatter will continue his rule, continuing the tradition of long-term chairmanship at FIFA (he is only the eighth president since FIFA was founded in 1904), where technical and political matters intertwine.

While soccer enthusiasts across Indonesia can watch the English Premier League on TV, a big question is raised as to how the country will fare in the years to come.

The writer is a graduate of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia






In the wake of a ban on live cattle exports from Australia to Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has stated a number of steps he would like to see taken to minimize the damage inflicted by this ban.

One of the four steps outlined was to speed up progress toward Indonesia achieving self-sufficiency in beef production.

I was disappointed by the knee-jerk reaction of the Australian government when faced with the revelation that some Indonesian abattoirs have a problem with the poor treatment of animals at some facilities and believe that the blanket ban is a bad thing for both countries.

However, this event is also a wakeup call for Indonesia to consider its progress towards self-sufficiency in beef and puts the spotlight on the government's progress in achieving this goal.

A quick review of the progress made to date begs the question of whether self-sufficiency will likely be achieved by the target year of 2014, or whether it will need to be extended again.

The target completion date for the program, begun in the year 2000, was postponed from 2005 to 2010 and then again to 2014.

The chances of Indonesia achieving self-sufficiency by 2014 are thus questionable.

The program has been subjected to serious planning, with a blueprint and roadmap in place, outlining step-by-step the technical developments required to meet this target.

However, a lack of serious action on the part of executive and legislative arms of government at both the central and local levels has meant that unless changes are made in the near future the target will have to be postponed once again.

So what needs to change?

First, centers for developing superior quality heifers for breeding purposes need to be fostered. Doing so would assist in producing superior quality cattle from superior quality genetics in the parent stock that would in turn result in healthier and better quality animals that would greatly enhance Indonesia's local meat industry.

Improvements in fertility, which would increase the quantity of cattle, would also be an aim.

This could be assisted by the use of reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, which have the potential to be used more widely and with greater effect to achieve these improvements in efficiency and quality in the beef industry.

Second, there needs to be better strategic efforts in identifying areas of potential to produce better quality cattle. More needs to be done to ensure that the majority of Indonesian cattle are being raised in healthy environments with sufficient land and feed.

Third, a more strategic approach needs to be taken toward selecting which breeds of cattle to focus on. Such breeds as Bali, Brahman, Ongole and Simmental cattle should be promoted.

Fourth, smallholder farmers need access to superior quality heifers, which could be sourced from the breeding centers mentioned above, and be able to breed them in a more efficient way.

A target of one calf per cow per year, more or less impossible for most small holders at present, would become realistic with these heifers that are bred to be more fertile.

Fifth, there needs to be a greater involvement of veterinarians and animal scientists with provincial and district government livestock agencies in managing cattle breeding in the pursuit of the goal of self-sufficiency.

These proposals require collaboration between the government and the private sector.

Hopefully the signing of a memorandum of understanding by six private sector companies and the GAPSI (Indonesian Cattle Breeder's Association) in March last year will speed up our progress, but that remains to be seen.

I believe if the right institutions, government agencies and companies work together seriously we can return to the situation of 40 years ago when Indonesia was not only self-sufficient in terms of cattle production, but was a net exporter.

The writer, a professor in veterinary science at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, is education attache at the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra. The opinions expressed are personal.






Ihsan was a promising student from South Halmahera, North Maluku, who once dreamt of becoming a doctor.

It was a noble wish given that almost 80 percent of general practitioners in South Halmahera were contract doctors and the local government relied on this program every year.

However, Ihsan failed to pass the admission test for a state medical school. To study medicine at a private university is very expensive; his family could not afford to pay his tuition.

The financial constraints facing Ihsan are one reason why Indonesia produces few doctors. The Constitution ensures that every citizen has the right to good healthcare but the perennial problem facing us is a lack of access to doctors due to their unequal distribution in Indonesia.

This would not happen if there was easy access to medical education in every region in the country.

Every province that falls short in general practitioners should be allowed to open its own medical school to fill the gap. Of course there will be a lot of questions regarding budgets, lecturers, curricula and availability of teaching hospitals.

Therefore, the House of Representatives made a good decision when it proposed a medical education bill to balance the distribution of doctors and provide equal access to healthcare for all.

The low quality of the country's healthcare sector reflects the poor quality of its medical education and deficit of doctors.

Indonesia's population is currently 238 million. Indonesia needs 95,000 general practitioners; it is 23,000 general practitioners short of that goal. With only 5,000 new doctors graduating a year, Indonesia will only be able to meet its current demand in five years.

There is also an uneven distribution of doctors between Java and the rest of Indonesia. Over 80 percent of the nation's general practitioners reside in Java.

Over 70 percent of Indonesia's medical schools are located on the country's most populous island. Sadly, there is no longer a regulation that requires recently graduated doctors to serve in remote areas.

To address the shortage, some regional governments have provided scholarships to medical students who sign a contract to serve in the region after graduation.

Another solution is to build a school of medicine in every province. Under the medical education bill, the central government would allocate money to build a medical school in each region that is underserved by doctors.

At the same time the National Education Ministry could provide scholarships to recently graduated GPs to pursue specialist studies to entice them to teach at local medical schools. Or else local governments could offer good salaries to graduating doctors.

The government can play its part by forcing state universities who have an A accreditation to support the opening of new medical schools, which might in turn ask local government hospitals to serve as teaching hospitals. Those hospitals would be accredited as part of a network of teaching hospitals.

For a long time there has been no clarity about whether teaching hospitals fall under the supervision of the National Education Ministry or the Health Ministry.

The fact is most teaching hospitals do not function properly as they are not managed by medical schools. The government must put an end to this uncertainty and allocate more money for teaching hospitals to improve their quality.

We know that most teaching hospitals in Indonesia serve the poor only, reducing their status to second-class, and hence poor quality, hospitals. In contrast, most of the best hospitals in the United States are teaching hospitals.

In terms of quality, however, medical school graduates are facing a serious problem of a lack of recognition overseas. Indonesian doctors find it difficult to pursue specialist programs outside the country.

The problem rests with the curriculum here, which is old fashioned. Indonesian medical schools have to cooperate with the world's top universities to improve their curriculum and secure international acknowledgement.

Another obstacle to promoting medical education is money. According to Rohmani a legislator on the House of Representative's Commission X overseeing education, the cost of a medical education ranges from Rp 300 million (US$35,000) to Rp 400 million, which certainly is elusive for students from lower income families.

A solution lies perhaps in differentiating the medical education fees. The "have" students can pay in full, while those from lower income families can have their tuition paid for by the central or local governments under contract or scholarship schemes.

Now what is the government's responsibility in medical education? We know that medical education is classified as a public good that falls under the government's auspices. The government cannot just give half of the burden to private sector because medical education is not a subject of privatization.

The high cost of a medical education will result in expensive healthcare services, therefore limiting access. The medical education bill should address this long-standing issue.

The writer is a physician in Jakarta.








Local NGOs' heavily funded by foreign currency, express worthy textbook homilies on transparency, accountability, humanitarian concerns and good governance, aspects that require genuine attention in a country where there is a need for an urgent revisit for a revision on the present revulsion against such infirmities.

The need is for genuine watchdogs and not pretentious lap dogs that bark for juicy bones on offer by their foreign master-sirs. Sound of such a lame dog barks, is treated locally on par with suspect rabid animals sequestered on quarantine after a stint abroad. They bark, as if, in bewilderment at the sight of dark faces after being cozy in the company of whites. 

The cures prescribed by the foreign funded NGOs' are not to further national aspirations but for the inspiration of their yahoos in the west, whose power of attorney they hold locally. Whether it clashes with the ethos and tenets of local people and interests of the country are not their concern. They may diagnose the ailment correctly but prescribe the medicine incorrectly; are taken for quacks for making Sri Lanka a patient-results in damaging their own cause and making NGOs' carry a foul brand name.

On the prime national concern of terrorism- when it was obvious the negotiation process was a dead duck and the LTTE mind set was not for conflict resolution [peace talks meandered for a period of 21 years with no positive progress intermittently from 13 July 1985 at Timphu to 28.October 2006 at Geneva]-yet the local NGO community were adamant for the continuation of a mock peace progression and prolong the agony of terrorism. That was on the alien agenda. The military option was discarded, as it was anathema to their foreign stakeholders.

They looked pathetic after a successful war, that brought a lasting peace that their peace seminars with buffet luncheons and conflict resolution symposiums with high teas, proved a mere gulp time for the mentally disoriented. In silence but more in shame, they burrowed underground for a while to resurface with Moon's war panel report, G.L. Perris's 13+ building block and channel 4 blockbusters. They are back in business enhancing their reputation of peddling issues to disgrace a nation. Don't fault if they are binned like soiled toilet paper. At least, apply a detergent and now come clean. They have credible functions to perform.

That's one side of the coin. They unwittingly serve the national cause by making moderates swing in the opposite direction by their perennial vitriolic 'hate Sri Lanka' campaigns that any utterance by them is counter productive to its purpose and intent. No response or resort is required as the NGO related individuals are over identified as servile sycophants in search of perks and perquisites from hostile foreign agencies that are bent on harming the image of Sri Lanka.

When sources outside the foreign funded NGO circuit such as worthies in the media and intellectual community, criticize or protest vehemently, on the same grounds it is effective-and is not considered anti national-rather a pronouncement for due consideration. Their hip pockets are not bulging and their bags are not packed for foreign travel. On a personal level it matters not what they do, as long as baiting the nation is not on their card.

Individual names -more than the NGO organizations they represent- are known and identified in the public domain as being pathologically anti national- a mere by line carrying such a name is sufficient to destroy the cause they propel. Their  names are branded in the public eye like the lettering of the ownership carved on the hides of village cows and bulls –such is the public recognition accorded to those that promote NGO culture for the Yankee dollar.

The service they render on cause for which much time energy and money, is worth a fortune to those that propagate contrary opinion, safeguarding national interest, as it brings instant favourable results without effort or sweat-by the mere drop of a tarnished name.  Very few care to safeguard treacherous acts of Lord Haw Haws in our midst desirous to smudge the country repute for a fistful of dollars. That is the unintentional bonus they provide to patriotic causes. May their tribe increase and multiply!

Sadly, beneficial homilies NGOs' urge are buried beside the muck dump spread used in discrediting the nation.

Palitha Kohona as Secretary to the Foreign Ministry was held in esteem ahead of his then Minister. He was a good communicator with smart responses during the difficult days of the war. Presently External Ministry is rudderless and probably that made the ormally astute Kohona stray wildly to pay a glowing tribute to Ban Ki-moon, after the immense damage Moon did to Sri Lanka; it sure will endear Moon to Kohona rather than to Sri Lanka, in his second term of office after Moon was mercilessly punched in Colombo. To be in the Moon corner, brings rich dividends but the uncalled for character certificate issued, compromises Sri Lanka on doublespeak. It's the country that counts, not the individual glory, as the opposition would correctly say.

But our man at the UN had to say [of Moon] "strongly reflecting Asian recognition of and the confidence in Ban ki-moon's unobtrusive style of leadership, his distinctive Asian approach to problem solving, his quiet diplomacy, his dedicated search for solutions to problems affecting humanity, in particular in developing countries and his hard work"[source: Talif Deen in a Sunday newspaper]. Is it to disregard the harm done by a panel and a report published, when the official position was far removed from "his distinctive Asian approach to problem solving "or "his dedicated search for problems affecting humanity, in particular in developing countries". After taking high ground and sparring on a punching bag, this sounds impliedly- ruefully apologetic and indirectly-diffidently repentant.

President Rajapaksa, successfully negated the Indian incursion into domestic affairs after the monumental blunder in New Delhi on 13+, then to find comments to contradict the perception on Moon. Has the President in the midst of his multifarious functions to personally train our diplomats, in his front lawn?

 As committed Asians, to show preference for an Asian rather than for a Caucasian candidate endorsed by the West is understandable diplomatic tiptoeing to toe line with the nonaligned Afro Asians. To vote for the lesser evil is prudent but to issue such a rich character certificate, is it personal to the contributor?  White House declared so, after the military symposium in Colombo at which their officer commented.  To do nothing is the comfort zone in which the Foreign Office permanently relaxes. This is an official- not a ministerial –obligation to safeguard our self -respect with a consistent stand.





Certainly, some of the recent incidents occurring on and off the cricket field only show that dignity yet again, made a false start in the local sports scenario. The fans' dream to see their sports star giving his bat and ball a rest, when his shiny records get blotched with ducks and dashes, will forever remain a dream.

Throughout history, cricket has been a mass anaesthetic, which thanks to brilliant sports personalities, was given to us in generous doses. A victory could always distract the people from the most pressing issues, such as increase of oil and gas prices. The two incidents became so confluent that people began to think they were not coincidents anymore.  Thus was the enchantment cricket had over the Sri Lankans that they were willing to believe any lame story as to why Sri Lanka could not win the World Cup this year.

The past has been buried and the dust has settled, but the talk of political interferences that allegedly resulted in a World Cup loss, is casting its shadows again. No doubt, selecting the nation's best 11 men to compete at international level is a tedious task. The job of the selectors should be sympathized with, if they have to make the said selections under political pressure. After all, how would a non-cricketer or a non-sportsman know what is best for the team?

Be it the money, the VIP treatment or the hunger for limelight that tempts one to hold on to his place when his hands become frail and his eyesight gets blurred, how could one expect such a player to see the ball when he can't see himself properly? Every time a junior player is out of the team for want of performance, finding his way back to the team had always been done through reproving himself – certainly not through political interference.

The word 'dignity' may make little sense to such 'super' seniors who do not realize that by obtaining external help; they make their excellent track records mere comic book material. The juniors who had looked up to them as brilliant captains, may not even recognize them if they were to play together. True sportsmanship is when one realizes when to make the exit once the time is ripe, not dreaming of dramatic comebacks when a lot of young talent is cooked into dry-fish on the bench.

In a democracy, where rulers are supposed to be sensitive to the cries and pleas of people, they should have trained their ears to hear the cheers and hoots received by the sportsmen who walk under their flag. If their intention is to provide the people with the best source of distraction, they would at least let them see their heroes on the field, not the ones handpicked according to the whims and fancies of the rulers.

This is not India, where the people would have taken to streets asking for a team of their liking to go and play for the country, instead of  one picked by the rulers. It is pity that, very often the powers that be, take the silence and the lack of aggression from the part of public as a sign of approval. The reality is that the peacefulness of gatherings have long been shattered by live bullets and sticks and no matter what one shouts at a protest, the outcome is a far cry of what is really needed.

At his retirement, Murali said "it's better to retire when everyone asks you why you are retiring, instead of when." Pathetically, when it comes to some cricketers, retirement is more often than not forced, which, with political connections can be highly provisional as well.





Palestinian politics, it seems, is never free from controversies. The perceptional and personalised split between the Fatah and the Hamas has overshadowed the struggle for statehood by all means. The recent appointment of Salam Fayyad to head an interim government of independents is a case in point.

With Hamas objecting to Fayyad's candidature, irrespective of the fact that he is already the sitting prime minister, and it wouldn't make much difference if he goes on to supervise the forthcoming legislative and presidential elections, the newly set in thaw between the two parties has been badly hurt. This difference of opinion is likely to boil down into a major discord and that too at a time when coordination was desperately needed to choreograph their strategies at the United Nations General Assembly session in September.

Hamas' stance, nonetheless, has a point, too. The politico-militant body says that Fatah just jumped the gun as it hastily decided to name the incumbent. It could have waited for both the parties to meet, scheduled for Tuesday, and then pushed across Fayyad's candidature. Secondly, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was categorical as he said that his body had already objected to Fayyad's name for the interim set-up and Fatah has only played to the gallery. What change of heart can both the parties have in deciding for the top slot is not difficult to guess. All that they need to do is to stop from going over the brink and exhibit their leadership by delivering a government of consensus in all practicality. In order to do so, they need to work selflessly and desist from political point-scoring attempts.

The Palestinians have had enough of nuisance. This sense of aloofness from their political wizards to the realities on ground, coupled with a lack of policy approach, to attain the objectives of statehood and independence are quite toiling. It is incumbent upon Hamas and Fatah to build on the trust that the dispossessed nation has posed in them in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, and speak with unanimity and consensus at home and on the international forums.

Fayyad, however, is no spent force for either of them to be brushed aside while chipping in a compromise. The fact that he enjoys the backing of the international community for his efforts to build Palestinian institutions in preparing for statehood will be hard to ignore. Hamas, which has officially said that it will stay away from staking its claim for the interim chief executive post, can turn the tables by letting Fayyad do the job, and sit back to perform the role of a watchdog for a greater cause at hand.

Khaleej Times





 'Power sharing', is considered in the careless chit-chat of separatist to be coterminous with 'devolution'.  If power is concentrated in the 'Centre', as is the case in Sri Lanka, and if this is considered 'bad', it is logical to seek a re-balancing of power away from the centre and to the periphery.  The 'periphery' has territorial relevance only if 'centre' is territory-laden.  In Sri Lanka's case, the imbalance has nothing to do with territory in terms of the relevant bones of contention. 

The 'centre' is the executive presidency and all powers vested in that office.  It's proximate neighbour and next-of-kin is the parliament with the provincial councils and local government authorities being distant cousins, the 'distance' indicating the limits of decision-making power.  In broad terms, centre refers to the politician and the periphery to the rest of the citizenry.  'Power-sharing' then is about empowering the citizenry and putting checks on the politicians, especially the all-powerful executive president.  Any devolution which does not straightjacket the politician is merely a recipe for the proliferation of thugs. 

Is then the answer to the vexed question of power-sharing 'Devolution-Plus', i.e. a devolved arrangement along with greater checks and balances to ensure transparency, accountability and other good governance goodies, which one could expect to load benefits on the hitherto empty citizen-scale?  That logic is not size-bound.  If you want go the whole hog and get real balance you would have to tilt towards the smaller and not the larger unit. You would not stop at province, but proceed to district and even village.

 Countries are not only political arrangements. They are economies as well.  Nations are made of communities, classes, disparities, resources, anomalies and such. Since these are not flat entities where resource profiles are identical across all regional demarcations such as district and province, there has to be give-and-take.  The Western Province contributes more than half of the country's GDP.  Wayamba, Central and Southern Provinces hover around 9% each with the rest contributing less than 5%.   If it is about people making do with what they have and having their say in the matter of 'doing', devolution's democratic boast becomes pretty hollow.  We would have the 'Westerner' telling the 'Uvite' to go fly a poverty-stricken kite.  We could have the 'Uvites' arguing with one another for weeks and months and deciding triumphantly that poverty is a virtue.  Reality spits on devolution.

Another problem is that nations are not just entities that seek democratization as per decision-making power.   They are made of myths and legends, communalists making political bucks out of these, aspirations that include land-theft aspirations disguised as grievances, open threats and political sleight of hand.  Those who equate power sharing with devolution without exception have brought up the issue of communal-anomalies and argue that such arrangements will help generate political balance to minorities that they believe are politically peripheral. 

Devolution along 'ethnic-lines' is impossible because the 'ethnic' in Sri Lanka is dispersed beyond the power of recall. Devolution on ethnic-lines based on where the majority of Tamils live and in terms of the boundaries relevant to such claims would give 6% of the population control over one-third the land mass and half the coast.  That won't generate balance; it will amount to gross resource-theft, not to mention a splendid coup for Eelamists seeking to obtain legal agreement on claimed boundaries.  The political fallout of such an exercise requires no elaboration. Suffice to say that communalism of this school of thought led to a hundred thousand unnecessary and violent deaths, a debilitating derailing of the economy and several backward steps in the never ending quest to hone civilization. 

 These lines have no basis in history, this has been established. Neither do they have any basis in science. There is no economic/developmentalist logic that is served by devolution to current provincial lines, over and above the objections to such proposals on economic grounds, especially resource imbalances and entrenched comparative (dis)advantages. 

For a power-sharing plus devolution arrangement to make sense, it has to strengthen and not weaken national unity.  Anything that causes or exacerbates inter-communal suspicions will be politically untenable and indeed terribly destructive (as the Eelam adventure amply demonstrates).   The only way that it can make any sense is to re-demarcate the devolving lines. 

The current cartography is flawed and has contributed heavily to the conflict.   When that unknown cartographer drew those lines, he did not have 'Tamil' in mind.  He did not have any sense of history.  He had no sense of geographical realities.  It was as arbitrary as could get.  A re-demarcation, however, would make sense only if each new unit has a seaboard and a well-developed port.  The Central Province would be an exception of course, but treating it as a special entity sits quite well with current developmentalist and environmentalist positions regarding the need to for proper management of watersheds; knowledge which our ancestors were so acutely acquainted with that they kept forests in the hills in 'untouchable' status.

A re-demarcation would require constitutional amendment.   The geography of this island is eminently made for a re-drawing of provincial boundaries along scientific lines which can go a long way in resolving regional resource anomalies.  It would unite people and empower them too, provided of course that 'power-sharing' as described above is written into the law simultaneously.

 The 13th Amendment is a piece of garbage and this has been proven beyond a shadow of doubt.  It is time for a new amendment, the 19th, that is.  It is time to bury the 13th which has perished for the lack of logic-blood and is kept looking alive with all kinds of racist cosmetics and sophomoric frills by racists and quacks (academic, political and others).  It is time for a fresh page and one that is marked by logic and science, pragmatism and unity-need, and above all the necessity of meaningful power-sharing.  It is time for the 19th.    

Malinda Seneviratne is a

ssssfreelance writer who can be reached at





The right of dissent or the right to be wrong – according to what any government presumes what's right and wrong – is fundamental to the growth of a democratic society with time-tested checks and balances among the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the free media. The right of disent was the right that first went wrong in every nation, which stumbled down the trail towards disastrous totalitarianism, as we are seeing now in nation after nation in the Middle East.

The government must take care not to confuse dissent with disloyalty. For people to keep quiet when they know things are not right is the reverse of patriotism because then it turns out to be a cover-up for those interests that stand to gain from silence.

Is it only the government of the day that holds the copyright on what's right or what's wrong, what's true or what's false? Are others wrong? This is not the path that the fearless tread but the one that's tread by the insecure.

Cassius hit the heart when he said, "The fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves".

Media activists rightly say that journalists have a duty to resist being simply corralled into obedient silence, which is not good for genuine journalism based on the foundational principle of free, accurate and balanced reporting, feature writing or political analysis. Neither is it good for the country or for a participatory and a people-friendly government.

Against this backdrop hundreds braved the scorching heat to gather at the Lipton Circus last Thursday, to protest the disappearance of senior journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda. The protestors including his wife and two sons, friends, relatives, politicians, media groups and human rights activists charged that even 500 days after Mr. Ekneligoda went missing the government has done little or nothing to find him or find out what had happened to him.

His wife Sandya Ekneligoda told BBC correspondent Charles Haviland in Colombo that the family was living under a pall of darkness and in agony not knowing his fate.

Presidential advisor A.H.M Azwer, told Mr. Haviland the head of state cared about the disappeared people and the police were doing their best. He said the security machinery was working slowly and, "only God knows how he will be found, the Government does not know. The people do not know".

Like the killing of senior journalist Dharmaratnem Sivaram, and The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunge, it is not necessary to be a genius to realise that Prageeth Ekneligoda's disappearance was largely a result of holding and expressing dissenting views. Amid so much of opposition, threats and intimidation, they were outspoken and unafraid to say what they saw about events as they unfolded whether it was to do with politics or human rights. They refused the thirty pieces of silver and paid with their lives.









No-one makes disaster films bigger than Roland Emmerich. But Shakespearean scholars fear that his latest production will be a disaster for them.

The film, called Anonymous, depicts Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the true author of Shakespeare.

If that were not enough playing with the historical record, he also appears as the illegitimate son and lover of Queen Elizabeth I.

Emmerich's previous blockbusters include Independence Day, in which a UFO destroys the White House.

Anonymous is every bit as spectacular and every bit as historically accurate.

This needs to be said, because while its plot may seem enjoyable hokum, there are perplexingly many people who take seriously at least the claim that Shakespeare was an alias for a nobleman.

In an outstanding book called Contested Will, published last year, James Shapiro, the literary scholar, traced the origins and the tortuous history of that heresy.

The theory that Oxford wrote Shakespeare was first advanced in 1920 by a Gateshead schoolmaster with the unimprovable name of J Thomas Looney.

This is a theory with not a single piece of documentary evidence in support of it.

The basis for Looney's scepticism, continued to this day by his disciples, was merely a pre-modern and snobbish revulsion at the notion that great art was within the capability of a provincial commoner.

In reality, the knowledge displayed in Shakespeare's works was readily available to a grammar school boy with a peerless imagination and facility for language.

Emmerich's Anonymous will appeal to audiences who appreciate thrillers, for conspiracy theories make good stories.

As literary history, however, they are bunk.










The stakes couldn't be higher. Washington is at a loss, facing regional integration led by Russia and China.

On Wednesday, June 15, by all means, don't take your eyes off Astana, Kazakhstan's capital. The day may turn out to be the ultimate turning point as geopolitical tectonic plates clash in the New Great Game in Eurasia.

Astana will on Wednesday host the annual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - composed of China, Russia, and four Central Asian "stans", Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

What's more, the SCO is about to admit India and Pakistan as full members -- and Afghanistan as an observer.

Instant translation: a geopolitical checkmate by Russia/China on the post-American world. The message, in a nutshell: Dear Washington, forget about getting embedded in Asia. The reaction: Washington elites freaking out, big time.

Washington's recent flurry of chessboard moves were interpreted in selected circles in Moscow and Beijing as concerted pre-emption. Such moves included:

•The UN-sanctioned/Africom/NATO "humanitarian" intervention in Libya

•The threat of a "humanitarian" intervention in Syria

•The revival of the Bush administration's obsession in deploying a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe

•The no-holds barred expansion of NATO from Northern Africa to Central Asia (spanning that famous, Pentagon-named "arc of instability")

Not to mention the serial invasions -- via drone war or targeted assassination -- of Pakistan's territory and sovereignty.

Reset remixed

Whether or not Washington pays lip service to a "reset" of U.S./Russia relations, Moscow has interpreted all these moves, both at the periphery and the center of Eurasia, as torpedoing -- by all means necessary -- the role of Russia as a top global energy exporter.

Moscow's strategy is to boost the SCO as a solid counterpunch not only to NATO but also to the U.S.'s designs on Central Asian energy.

Moscow and Beijing see NATO for what it is -- essentially the weaponized European arm of the Pentagon. Thus Beijing's official policy of "soft reverse containment" of the U.S. rush in Eurasia -- with "all-weather ally" Pakistan as a key peon.

For its part, Washington registers India essentially as the key Asia-Pacific laborer in a strategy of Chinese containment.

For Moscow as much as Beijing, a central Asia that is not subject to the winds of change of the Great 2011 Arab Revolt implies a politically and economically stable Pakistan -- even as Moscow still enjoys a "privileged" strategic partnership with New Delhi.

That's where a crucial trip by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to Russia in mid-May fits in.

Zardari discussed not only terrorism and drug smuggling with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev but also Gazprom's detailed, possible involvement in a crucial pipelineistan chapter; the eternally plagued TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline -- which, it should always be stressed, has been the key issue at play in Afghanistan since the mid-1990s.

Incidentally, Russia-Pakistan bilateral projects are way more ambitious than U.S.-Pakistan projects.

Equally crucial has been a pre-SCO meeting working trip by Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasoul last month to Beijing -- openly defying a US "ban". India has invested over $1.5 million in Afghanistan. Yet China has invested over $3 billion -- including the huge Aynak Copper Mine project.

At a recent lecture at Pakistan's National Defense University, U.S. ambassador Husain Haqqani, asked the audience whether the biggest threat to the country was internal, India, or the U.S. The U.S. "won" by a large majority.

Compare that with the U.S. neocon view -- which is the same as the Pentagon's -- according to which "victory" against the Taliban in Afghanistan means NATO waging an air war on Pakistan as well.

When Islamabad looks at the Russian/Chinese charm offensive and compares it with the ultra-fractured relationship with Washington, no wonder what stands out is an essentially Punjabi fear of a hidden U.S. agenda: a determination to balkanize Pakistan.

Apart from Pakistan itself, the other key victim of such a scenario would be China -- as in the competing Iran-Pakistan pipeline that would transit fuel to the crucial, Chinese-built Arabian Sea port of Gwadar being definitely killed.

For the SCO, a potential Pakistani balkanization -- a crossroads in Eurasia of Southwest, Central and South Asia (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Western China) -- would represent the ultimate nightmare.

We are all Afghans now

Of course there is a huge wall of mistrust between New Delhi and Beijing -- which may be alleviated over time by closer contacts inside the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). But the problem is not only the Russian political elite, but that the Indian political elite have also still have not developed a strategic vision of BRICS in the post-U.S. world.

And this while imperial Washington -- occasional help from David Cameron's beleaguered Britain and neo-Napoleonic Sarkozy's France notwithstanding -- seems to be running out of ideas to counteract real strategic competitors Russia and China.

As facts on the ground go, Moscow and Beijing have been deeply alarmed by the NATO war on Libya, the threat of an intervention in Syria, the absolutely free pass for repression in Bahrain, and the Washington obsession on remaining in Iraq at all costs.

But instead of the Arab world, their counterattack has been focused closer to home, in Eurasia -- "the world's heartland", as conceptualized by the (imperial British) father of geopolitics Halford Mackinder (1861-1947).

That's where the SCO concept for a stable Afghanistan fits in.

The SCO's long-term plan is to increase Islamabad's strategic autonomy so it may become immune to relentless Washington pressure/humiliation/violation of sovereignty. And getting Pakistan into the SCO is a sterling mechanism for both Moscow and Beijing to "force" Islamabad to fine-tune its stance towards Afghanistan.

Both Moscow and Beijing also want Afghanistan -- like Pakistan - to become a crossroads of rail, roads and pipelines from across the Indian Ocean and Eurasia. That explains Beijing using the privileged Sino-Pak axis to "seduce" Kabul and, within the SCO, investing in "all-weather" strategic partnerships all across the board.

Moscow has also found the SCO immensely helpful. What Washington really wanted all along in Central Asia was for virtually unlimited gas from Turkmenistan to flow to Western Europe -- via the also eternally plagued Nabucco pipeline -- and thus cut off Gazprom's grip on Europe's energy.

With TAPI becoming viable with Gazprom's help, Moscow will be able to "reward" Pakistan with transit rights and India with much-needed gas. And on top of it, Turkmen gas won't compete with Russian gas in the European market.

The South Yolotan gas field in Turkmenistan -- with 3,500 square kilometers -- is the second largest in the world. This means gas, gas, gas until the 23rd century for China, India and Pakistan. And Turkmenistan can even export what's left.

So welcome to the much-vaunted "SCO energy club". And the winner is, once again, former Russian President Vladimir Putin, who came up with this idea way back in 2005.

If the SCO is instrumental in pulling this off -- and that's still a major "if" -- it would be a monster fact on the ground towards the Asian Energy Security Grid, a concept of pan-Asian integration I have been lectured about by energy experts since the early 2000s.

All aboard on the new silk road

Beijing has clearly identified Afghanistan-Pakistan -- after the Obama-sanctioned extension -- as a dangerous regional war. Beijing had to act not only in the geopolitical arena but because its economy is also at stake.

A Sino-Pak axis getting closer to Afghanistan spells out a crucial chapter of the much-taunted Silk Road revival -- massive Chinese investment in a network of roads, pipelines and electric grids.

All those who travelled in the region have marveled at the Wakhan corridor that links Northeastern Afghanistan to Western China. Fabled Kashgar is only a few hours away from the Wakhan.

For all its usually deplorable treatment of Uighurs, Beijing is investing tens of billion of dollars to turn its far west into a special economic zone (SEZ), geared towards Central and South Asia. Kashgar is being remixed to its former Silk Road glory, as a key crossroads to Pakistan (via the Karakoram Highway), Afghanistan and Central Asia.

There's no way the Pentagon's war on terror-based Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine can compete with that integrated vision.

By surveying the chessboard, this is what the SCO has concluded. Washington won't stabilize Afghanistan; the SCO has a better shot. No regional player wants eternal U.S. military bases in Afghanistan - as the Pentagon, according to Full Spectrum Dominance, ardently desires.

Moscow is sure that Washington will stop at nothing to seduce the Central Asian "stans" into bypassing the Russian pipeline network.

And, sooner rather than later, NATO may be monopolized to "secure" pipelines that eventually bypass Russia (this was always a Bush administration wet dream).

Yan Xuetong, director of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, couldn't be more precise: "The purpose of establishing the SCO is to challenge the American strategic intention of extending its military breach to Central Asia."

Via the SCO, Beijing and Moscow are now ready to smash the myth of NATO as a security umbrella in Eurasia. At the same time, China harmonizes with India in their eagerness to stabilize both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and thus deflate the myth of a war on terror-based U.S. "Great Central Asia" strategy.

The ball -- and what a ball -- is now somewhere across the Potomac.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for the Asia Times. His latest book is Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at

(Source: Al Jazeera)

Photo: Russian and China are looking to make Afghanistan a crossroad of rail, roads and pipelines from across the Indian Ocean and Eurasia. (Getty Images)







Is Sunday's general election result a victory for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AK Parti? Or is it a victory for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Probably, the correct answer is the latter; as Erdogan ignored traditional party politics based on the grassroots' tendencies and replaced it with the "I will determine the candidates' name and you are going to vote for them" approach. It was a risk, and he won.

The magic 50 percent of the votes has been touched by only two politicians before: Twice in 1950 and 1954 by the late Adnan Menderes and then by Suleyman Demirel in 1965. On Sunday, Erdogan managed to be the third politician in Turkey to get his name written on the pantheon. One in every two voters on the street voted for him and his AK Parti.

Kemal K?l?cdaroglu's efforts failed to break the 30 percent curse on the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. K?l?cdaroglu made more kilometers than Erdogan during the election campaign (and 10-fold of his predecessor Deniz Baykal). He updated his party's position on the Kurdish issue, on the European Union and social welfare.

Yet, K?l?çdaroglu could only get slightly more than half of the voter support given to Erdogan's push for more political control over the military and judiciary and to the prime minister's project-based election campaign. K?l?cdaroglu might face some difficulty now within his own party.

Devlet Bahçeli, on the other hand, consolidated his power in the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. AK Parti wanted to see MHP below the much-criticized 10 percent election threshold and some of the party chiefs could not hide their joy when a series of sex tapes related to prominent MHP politicians were released on the web. It backfired, MHP got over 13 percent and that cost AK Parti a new and tailor-made constitution mandate.

The Kurdish nationalists as well bypassed the AK Parti-backed 10 percent and got more than 30 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Parliament, or the Meclis, by increasing the possible Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, presence there by more than 50 percent.

Let alone the 367 seats that was sought by Erdogan to be able to pass an AK Parti-shaped constitution from Parliament, Erdogan missed the 330-seat requirement to be able to take the draft to referendum alone. Ironically, the 10-percent weapon of Erdogan backfired in a way that the AK Parti increased its votes, but the number of its seats in Parliament decreased.

The voters wanted to see Erdogan and his government in power for another four years, but asked him to seek compromise for a new constitution with opposition parties.

Is Erdogan going to look for common ground with opposition and with whom? The answer to those questions will shape the Turkish politics in the months ahead.

(Source: The Turkish Weekly)








In the nine years of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership, Turkey has not only made fantastic economic progress but it has also assumed a higher profile in the international arena.

On Sunday, Turkish voters rewarded Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been in power since 2002, with a landslide victory and gave Prime Minister Erdogan a mandate for a third term.

His center-right Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or AK Party, won 49.9 percent of the vote, giving it 326 seats in the 550-member parliament.

The result is also a powerful endorsement of the mixture of neoliberal economics and Islamism offered by Erdogan. With this impressive victory, Erdogan has become the most powerful leader in Turkey since 1938 -- the year when the Turkish Republic's founding father Kemal Ataturk bid adieu to this world.

The AKP rescued Turkey's economy from the abyss it fell into during the 2001 crash, when inflation reached 138 percent and "buying a kebab in the old currency cost a seven-figure sum."

In the pre-AKP days, per capita income in Turkey was hovering around $3,000 and the country's total exports never crossed $30 billion. Turkey was just another Islamic country reeling under recurring military coups and dictatorships and struggling to find its identity. Turkish brands were treated with scorn in the world market, and Turkish businessmen were not very influential in economic circles.

Bur under the AKP's able leadership, all this has changed. Inflation is down to 7.2 percent, per capita income has risen to $10,000, and exports are expected to approach $134 billion in 2011, making Turkey the sixth strongest economy in Europe and the 17th largest in the world.

The generalissimos will never return to power, and democrats are cruising along toward a brighter future. Turkey's new image has boosted sales of its brands, and Turkish businessmen are globetrotting for new business opportunities, competing with the captains of industry. Turkish companies are competing successfully in the European Union, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Modern Turkey is the envy of the developing world and is enjoying an economic growth rate close to China's.

Erdogan has also changed Turkey's place in the world.

Long before the AKP hit the scene, the Kemalist republic had morphed into the deep state, which became a subservient ally of the U.S., a NATO member, and a friend of Israel.

But Erdogan's AKP miraculously sent Turkey's legacy of military rule to the dustbin of history.

Under his leadership, Turkey has steadily distanced itself from the United States and Israel and showed an increasing disinclination to participate in U.S.-NATO adventurism in various parts of the world.

And the new Turkey has deepened its ties with the Islamic world, especially with countries in Southwest Asia and North Africa, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, and established new relationships in Africa and Latin America.

All this has made Erdogan a popular leader in the Islamic world and the most successful prime minister at home.

However, the election result falls short of the two-thirds majority needed to rewrite Turkey's military constitution of 1982 without having to consult parliament.

In his victory speech, Erdogan said the AKP would "discuss the new constitution with opposition parties."

"The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation," he told supporters in Ankara.

This is a victory not only for Prime Minister Erdogan but also for Turkish democracy. With a new mandate to govern for another term, the AKP will now seek a broad consensus to write a new constitution and find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue.

Papa Tayyip, as he is called by his supporters, promised an ambitious program of development for Turkey during his election campaign. His crazy projects, as he himself calls them, include a canal from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea, a new city to be built outside Istanbul, a third airport for Istanbul, a third bridge over the Bosphorus, new hospitals, new earthquake-resistant housing, and even ebooks for all students in Turkey.

Turkish voters have given Erdogan a mandate to implement his ambitious plans, promulgate an independent foreign policy, and make Turkey a more democratic and more progressive nation. Turkey's gradual rise during the last decade under the AKP's shrewd leadership can be a model for other Islamic countries.



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