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Thursday, June 16, 2011

EDITORIAL 16.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month may 16, edition 000860, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












  1. IT FEELS LIKE 2008
























































While it may be unduly alarmist to say that our country is hurtling towards some sort of economic recession just when the global economy is emerging out of the financial crisis, there are enough worrying indications that the growth rate of the national economy could suffer grievously if the current trend of rising inflation and climbing interest rates is not checked without any further delay. India's GDP growth rate has already slumped from 9.4 per cent in January-March 2010 to 7.8 per cent in the same period this year. It can be argued, as pundits who owe their survival to the establishment's largesse will no doubt do, that the fall in growth is a result of calibrated policy decisions by the Union Ministry of Finance that is concerned with the possibility of an over-heated economy causing long-term damage. Whatever the merits of that argument, common sense suggests it is not such a good idea if Government decisions restrict economic growth over a long period of time. It could result in the pendulum swinging from one extreme to another. The Reserve Bank of India must, therefore, act cautiously and think carefully before hiking interest rates yet again, as it is reported to be contemplating, so soon after the 50 basis points it hiked recently. Since inflation and fiscal deficit are interlinked in many ways, the Union Government can allow a free run to inflation only at the risk of bruising — and possibly battering — the economy and its resultant shortfall in revenues. While strategists in North Block would insist that there is some merit in raising interest rates insofar as it disciplines errant sectors, till now this ploy has hit several segments of industry. Collectively, the affected segments could drag growth down. From a high of nine per cent plus just a year ago, the rate of growth is now expected to close at 7.5 per cent in 2011-12.

In itself a GDP growth rate of 7.5 per cent is still a respectable figure considering the size of the Indian economy and the fact that many developed economies are still in the doldrums. But we are not competing with them. Globally we are battling the robustly growing economies of China, South Africa and Brazil for business. The Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, too, has warned against the risks of sustained high inflation and strongly rooted for measures to cut subsidies and help the private sector expand. In its latest Economic Survey of India, the OECD has said the country's fuel subsidies — among the highest in the world for fuel-importing nations — needed to be trimmed in a way that it does not adversely impact the poor. It is a tricky decision to make and requires broad-based political consensus. Hopefully, this will happen sooner than later because the fact is that benefits of fuel subsidy rarely reach the targeted segments to the extent they are supposed to; most are siphoned off by middlemen and other influential intermediaries. But perhaps the most striking observation in the OECD survey is to do with enhancing transparency in governance and strengthening the anti-corruption structure. Both the issues have presently captured the public imagination, but the UPA regime continues to behave as if all is well and the demands of anti-corruption activists deserve to be met by slander and calumny.







Hit by a wave of violent anti-Government protests across the country over the past three weeks, the mighty Communist Party of China is now under stress as it attempts to maintain its stranglehold over society. Already jittery in a world where long-entrenched dictators have been ousted by popular protests launched with the help of little more than Internet-enabled smart phones, a particularly wary Chinese establishment has effectively deployed the country's massive security force to clamp down on the increasing instances of anti-Government demonstrations. This was especially evident in the latest episode of social unrest that erupted in the southern manufacturing town of Zengcheng in Guangdong province last Friday after a pregnant migrant worker was assaulted by the police. Even on Monday, security forces were struggling to maintain law and order despite having deployed armoured vehicles and liberally used tear gas to tame rioting migrant workers. Other incidents of violence and unrest have also been reported with Government buildings in Fuzhou and Tianjin coming under attack. Meanwhile, ethnic fighting rages in Inner Mongolia. To add to the Government's growing list of worries, Tibetan areas in Sichuan province have also become increasingly restive as Buddhist monks and nuns continue to protest against the illegal detention of fellow monks at a military centre in particular but also against Chinese rule in general. Overall, there is no denying that anti-Government protests have been on the rise in China —a fact which even the CPC has grudgingly accepted. Nonetheless the numbers and the meteoric nature of the rise — 60,000 in 2006; 80,00 in 2007; and, a whopping 127,000 in 2008 — are surprising, to say the least.

Interestingly, unlike in the past when protests of this nature were largely confined to rural areas where disgruntled farmers agitated against property developers and local officials over land acquisition issues, in recent years such unrest has also been reported in urban areas. Take for example the incidents mentioned above: They are all instances of urban violence and mostly an expression of rising anger over issues such as large-scale corruption, police abuse, etc. The changing nature of what by all means is a threat to the mighty Chinese Government has also exposed the chinks in its armour. Up until now, the Government has controlled the urban masses by using a wide array of tools, including Internet censorship, secret surveillance and a huge security force that can overpower a gathering of almost any size. But as the number of anti-Government protests rise at an alarming rate, questions are being raised about the effectiveness of these methods as well as the tenacity of the tightly wound Chinese society.









Technology has enforced a certain transparency that has robbed politicians of the secrecy which they have used as a cloak to hide their deeds till now.

In the middle of India's anti-corruption agitation fuelled by 'civil society', one is reminded of the theory of information-blitzing and opinion-building that underwrites the practice. Much of politics, apart from media, marketing, advertising and public relations, runs on these very tracks. I have to invoke Herbert Marshall McLuhan, the famous Canadian professor, who made a considerable impact when he published The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects in 1967. This book was about the effect of different media on the human sensorium. Media, such as TV with its visual content in addition to audio, radio, music on vinyl, even "noise", were not only "hot" and "cool" on the senses, said Prof McLuhan, but were "extensions" of human personalities, their emotions and thoughts.

Prof McLuhan not only anticipated the ability of the various mediums of communication to witness, record, influence, but actually chronicle the inevitability of change. Through the 1970s, hip media types toted Prof McLuhan's books around because it was loaded with futuristic phrases such as "global village" and "surfing", meaning the very same as what we do today with keyboard and mouse, and not what beach boys do at Malibu or Bondi Beach. Prof McLuhan, who died in 1980, also visualised the "world-wide-web", still called "www" in his very own phrasing, even though the Internet was not even fashionable till the 1990s.

Prof McLuhan anticipated the freedom of information and action the Web would bestow on the ordinary member of the public. Still, he didn't foresee the ubiquitous cellphone in every pocket, and the apexing and convergence of various abilities on this platform of great portability. In the relatively simple 1960s and 1970s, technologically if not culturally speaking, people were exploring sexual freedom with the advent of the contraceptive pill — minus the scourge of HIV and AIDS. They were also much troubled by the Vietnam War in a time when Left-liberalism, even socialism, in certain quarters was thought to be fashionable.

In this setting, Prof McLuhan's message seemed both avant garde and psychedelic, rather than dazzlingly prescient. But then, given the mindset of the times, a lot of pronouncements did, such as Harvard psychology professor Timothy Leary's exhortation to "Turn on, tune in, drop out". This was not, we are now told, a call to use drugs, particularly LSD, and do nothing, as was popularly supposed; but a fairly cerebral call to look within. But then, till recently, we were still in the era of managing perception to reflect the reality we wanted to project.

Hence, in his 1983 autobiography Flashbacks, Prof Leary explained, though some would accuse the LSD-using professor of revisionism, that "Turn on meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive... Tune in meant interact harmoniously with the world around you... Drop out meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change." This high-minded apologia could almost be a prescription for the awakened 'civil society' of today, not willing to stomach corruption meekly anymore, instead of a seemingly misinterpreted hippie battle cry from the Seventies.

Prof Leary even reworked his famous slogan for the personal computer era in the decade before he died in 1996. He now said, "Turn on, Boot up, Jack in" — and presumably contribute to the cyberdelic counter-culture that cannot be controlled by the state. If indeed Prof Leary was suggesting a cultural revolution via the Internet, isn't it a little of what is happening in Indian 'civil society', albeit vanguarded by conventional media? Murmurs about the Emergency have not surfaced without possibility.

But it isn't just the freedom of the Internet and its denizens on Facebook and Twitter and the blogosphere in general that is the McLuhan-style 'massage' here. In 2011, we have to accept that the nature of the domestic and global political discourse itself has changed irrevocably. Traditional politics from the days of Julius Caesar involved the management of perception. John F Kennedy won his sliver-thin presidential battle with Richard Nixon by suggesting the latter looked like an untrustworthy used car salesman, exploiting the latter's intense five o' clock shadow in his promotional advertisements. Also, the photogenic JFK handled the first televised presidential debate much better than the ill-at-ease Nixon. But then, Nixon did manage to repackage himself expertly, as described in The Selling of the President by Joe McGinniss in 1968, for his next — and successful — bid for White House.

But with the McLuhan Age no longer in the future, a new transparency, not intentional, not even voluntary, has come to stay and will determine things going forward. It is not just the brilliant simplicity of a virtual dropbox in cyberspace that is at the heart of the WikiLeaks phenomenon. It is the true, if inconvenient, meaning of transparency, without the fear of consequences for the anonymous 'snitch'. Or even the aggressive brand of ambush journalism practised by some. It is the empowering technology being carried around in every pocket today on a cellphone — ubiquitous, but potent as a loaded gun.

And then there is streaming technology, used extensively and thus constantly improved by the purveyors of free pornography on the Internet. It not only entertains millions but also enables the President, Vice-President, Secretary of State, the CIA director and the military top brass of the US, sitting in Washington, DC, to watch the raid on Osama Bin Laden's den in distant Abbottabad in real time.

Any place can be infiltrated, anything can be streamed and/or recorded with spy cameras, on cellphones, or be conveyed, via MMS/SMS message or e-mail, almost simultaneously, with reasonable anonymity. It gives a new meaning to the notion of 'live' reporting because this kind does not need the services of a professional journalist, except perhaps to contextualise and distribute the information. No Cabinet meeting, notwithstanding the Ministers' vow of secrecy, is safe anymore. Besides, 24x7 news channels have ample time and space to give blanket coverage to opposing points of view, and newspapers specialise in merciless analyses.

Most importantly though, it is no longer a contest of political leanings packaged for the masses like it was. Now the masses can — and do — receive unvarnished news. It is the political discourse that must adapt and mutate to suit the times. Prof McLuhan loved to cry that people knew nothing about his work. Well, perhaps now we do, when we recognise its effects all around us. +







The paintings of MF Husain and SH Raza, both Indians, both Muslims, offer a study in contrast. While Husain left India after denigrating icons held sacred by Hindus and trampling on their sensitivities, Raza returned home from France to explore and embrace the richness of Hindu spirituality. Husain and controversy courted each other. Raza is spending the twilight years of his life looking into the 'soul of things'

The recent demise of MF Husain in London, where he was residing of late, was preceded by the homecoming of his peer and noted artist SH Raza earlier this year. In January, 89-year-old Raza relocated from Paris, where he had been living for 60 years, hoping to spend the remaining years of his life in India. The journeys of India's two stalwart painters — Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011) and Syed Haidar Raza (born in 1922) — are indeed a study in contrast. It is a vital input in understanding the debate over Husain's artistic liberty versus the right to offend Hindu sensibilities.

Husain and Raza were co-founders of Bombay Progressive Artists' Group (1947-1956) along with KH Ara, SK Bakre, HA Gade and Francis Newton Souza. Husain was a self-taught artist who once painted film hoarding, whereas Raza had complete formal training at Nagpur School of Art and Sir JJ School of Art, and later went to the distinguished ENSB-A in Paris on a French scholarship.

After Souza left for London in 1949 and Raza for Paris in 1950, Bombay Progressive Artists' Group 'progressively' moved towards dissolution. Yet, this short-lived association of radical painters could take credit for 'inventing' modernism in Indian art. Husain stayed back in India, though since his first solo exhibition in Zurich in 1952, his fame travelled places. He rose to become the best-known artist of India at home and abroad.

Both Husain and Raza hailed from Muslim families. Islam permits only 'aniconic' art, or art bereft of any graphic representation of living or imagined beings. In fact, the sole art form that developed in 7th century Arabia was poetry recitation, which later grew into 'kissagoi' or story-telling — like the theme of the Arabian Nights. The Prophetic traditions explicitly forbade singing, dancing, painting and theatre. This was possibly done to prevent any softening of theological-military zeal of the adherents.

But as the ambit of Islam widened, primarily as a result of military conquests, the conquerors came into contact with superior civilisations. They slowly absorbed many of their cultural elements in spheres of architecture, music, dance, literature and the fine arts. A slender stream of this acculturalisation was visible in India notwithstanding the iconoclastic policies of the Muslim rulers.

The all encompassing relationship among humankind, god and nature which was reflected in the art, music, literature and festivals of India did not fail to impress them. The neo-converts to Islam often retained elements from their Hindu past. The first recognisable figure of this acculturalisation was poet Amir Khusrau who was born at Patiali (near Etah) in Brajbhumi to a Turkish father and Hindu mother. He revered Brahmins for their scholarship, was familiar with specialties of Hinduism and loved Hindu festivals. Then there were Mulk Mohammed Jayasi, author of Padmavat; Abdurrahim Khankahna who composed dohas; and, Ras Khan whose poems were dipped in devotion to Krishna. Their profound familiarity with Hindu legends, symbology and spiritual doctrine continues to amaze us.

Dhrupad and Dhamar, and later Khayal, flourished in Mughal courts and so did the dance form of Kathak. In Andhra, the munificence of monarch Abul Hasan Tanesha led to the renaissance of the classical dance form called Kuchipudi which entails vachik abhinay or speech enabled acting, something censured in Islam. Painting, also forbidden in Islam, was patronised by the Mughal courts. The concepts of Mughal miniature, portraiture and book illustration were derived from Persia (Iran), which though Islamised retained its pre-Islamic culture.

It is against this backdrop we must view the antipodal stories of Husain and Raza. Both began as modern painters but were ultimately drawn to the reservoir of Hindu themes. But their similarities end at that point. In one interview Husain said he had read Hindu texts, knew Sanskrit and travelled around India to study temple art forms. He was born at Pandharpur, a pilgrimage centre associated with several Marathi saints like Eknath, Namdev and Tukaram. Yet, it is ironical that he earned notoriety by using sacred Hindu icons only to denigrate them.

Husain's paintings of Durga, Saraswati, Hanuman, Sita and Krishna — often misleadingly described by the media as being depicted in the 'nude' — are exercises in perversity and obscenity. Even newspapers and magazine shy away from reproducing them. They are the products of a perverted mind. Husain's towering stature as an artist is a poor excuse to justify such artistic profligacy. Common men make common mistakes, great men make great mistakes. Individual fame, a European Renaissance concept, is alien to Indian artistic tradition. Art, as the Indian understanding goes, should elevate and not denigrate.

Raza's artistic quest is one of ascension of consciousness. While living in France he had begun to move away from European expressionism and started incorporating elements from tantra in his works. Raza, increasingly dissatisfied with the 'shallowness' of his 'plastic' art, began visiting India since the 1970s. He visited Ajanta-Ellora, Varanasi, Gujarat and Rajasthan to deepen his understanding of Indian art.

His quest culminated with the rediscovery of 'Bindu' (the vortex of energy and creativity) which gave him a sense of being reborn as a painter. To this Raza later added 'Tribhuj' (triangle), and 'Prakriti-Purusha' (Nature-Divinity relationship) which elevated his art to a philosophical plane. Since 2000, his work has depicted Kundalini, Nagas and themes from Mahabharat.

After returning to India in January, Raza said that he had retained his Indian citizenship despite living in France for six decades. He had married French artist and sculptor Janine Mongillat in 1959; she died in 2002. He maintained his relationship with India despite his brothers migrating to Pakistan after independence. He reads the Bhagavad Gita and Ramayan, and continues to read and write in Hindi. Raza today has gained a yogic insight into the 'soul of things'. It is a pity that Husain chose Qatari citizenship and squandered away such an opportunity.






The June 1991 Russian presidential election was, arguably, the straw that broke the Soviet Union's back, even if its organisers had no such intention.

Yet perhaps it was also simply the logical conclusion of a clash that can be best described by the Russian saying "you can't have two bears in one den". In this case, it was two Presidents in one country and, ultimately, even one city. In theory, it wouldn't have mattered who won: Any President of the former RSFSR would have been hurled into an inevitable conflict with the President of the Soviet Union.

The only candidate with any real chance of winning in those days was Boris Yeltsin, who was already on a collision course with Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last President of the Soviet Union. All the other candidates trailed far behind, with very little chance of making it to the run-off, and, in point of fact, they competed for votes much less with Yeltsin than amongst themselves.

But let us recall some of the other candidates who took part in that race, whether as a result of their own decision or someone else's encouragement, and see if there's something to be learned.

Nikolai Ryzhkov, a former Soviet Prime Minister who had retired from the post by the time of the elections, was expected to become Yeltsin's biggest challenger. As one of Gorbachev's men, he enjoyed the support of all those who wished to preserve the Soviet Union — although Yeltsin was hardly trying to break up the country.

Ex-Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin was another Gorbachev associate who ran in the election. Other contenders included Aman Tuleyev, then the chief Government official of the Siberian region of Kemerovo, and General Albert Makashov, a member of the Soviet Union's Parliament.

These four candidates were all similarly conventional, with only a few cosmetic differences.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, by contrast, was a new kid on the block. An emerging ultra-nationalist leader, he entered the race thanks largely to his idiosyncratic and inflammatory rhetoric. His participation was the only unexpected twist of that election campaign, and his finish in third place proved to be its only real sensation.

"We were well aware for whom that post was being created..."

The rest of the campaign went ahead as planned by Yeltsin's team. Their candidate won in the polls hands-down and with a wide margin. Such an outcome was surprising to few.

"Introducing the office of the President of the Russian Federation was an imperative impossible to ignore," Ilya Konstantinov, a former Russian MP, recalls. "This was something called for by the current political situation as well as by public sentiment. In a preceding March referendum, voters came out in favour of the preservation of the Soviet Union along with the establishment of the Russian presidency. We were well aware for whom that post was being created, and we knew that Russia's (first) President would be Yeltsin. He was a powerful, domineering man. A very strong leader. That's precisely what he was valued for. That was part of his charisma."

Konstantinov became a vehement opponent of Yeltsin soon after the elections. But in his political analyses, he tries to avoid any bias.

At the time, the Russian Federation's new leadership already had its own television channel, which they would use proactively in Yeltsin's presidential campaign. But the man hardly needed any spin doctors to help him win the presidency. In contrast, his savvy choice of a running mate proved a welcome aid. The nominee, Colonel Alexander Rutskoi, hero of the Soviet Union, an Afghan War veteran, had just declared the creation of a new parliamentary faction. Paradoxically called Communists for Democracy, it led to the split of the Communists of Russia, a group opposed to Yelstin.

Bringing Rutskoi onto the team helped broaden Yeltsin's support. Ryzhkov responded by taking on General Boris Gromov, the famous Afghan War veteran.

Rutskoi won the 1991 election as Yelstin's running mate, but his subsequent political career was not as successful as his competitors'.

Gromov and Tuleyev serve as Governors to this day, and Ryzhkov is a member of Parliament's upper house, the Federation Council, while Zhirinovsky is a deputy speaker at the State Duma, the federal legislature's lower chamber.

At one time, Rutskoi also served as a Governor. He was made the leader of the Kursk Region after spending several months in a Moscow detention center on charges of instigating public unrest on October 3-4, 1993. Makashov was another politician charged in the case. Both men were subsequently pardoned by the State Duma.

In some sense, Rutskoi was a victim of the 1991 presidential vote. He found himself discarded shortly after he had performed his role as a campaign booster. The colonel-turned-general rebelled in response, and his rebellion led to the abolition of the Russian vice-presidency.

Yeltsin's political career, meanwhile, was quickly moving towards its culmination. The wide public support he enjoyed in the summer of 1991 declined over time, and his reelection five years later was a hard-won victory. But that is another story altogether.

-- The writer is a Moscow-based political commentator.








Scientists predict this year's "dead zone" of low-oxygen water in the northern Gulf of Mexico will be the largest in history — about the size of Lake Erie — because of more run-off from the flooded Mississippi River valley.

Each year when the nutrient-rich fresh water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers pours into the Gulf, it spawns massive algae blooms. In turn, the algae consume the oxygen in the Gulf, creating the low oxygen conditions. Fish, shrimp and many other species must escape the dead zone or face dying.

Federal and university scientists predict this year's zone will be between 8,500 square miles (22,015 sq kilometers) and about 9,400 square miles (24,346 sq kilometers). The actual size of the dead zone will be measured over the summer.

The largest recorded dead zone was found in 2002 when 8,400 square miles (21,756 sq kilometers) of the Gulf was found to lacking sufficient oxygen for most marine life.

The forecasts on the size of the hypoxic zone are usually close to the mark, although hurricanes have chopped them up in the past.

Eugene Turner, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University, said the dead zone has continued to get larger since it was first noticed and measured in the 1970s. He said the dead zone is getting worse with time.

The biggest contributor is the amount of fertilizer — and the nitrates and phosphates in them — that wind up in the Mississippi River each spring and get flushed out to the Gulf.

"The nitrogen is fertilising the waters offshore," Turner said. He said little progress has been made in recent years to reduce the nutrient load into the Gulf.

The federal Government and states in the Mississippi valley are attempting to reduce run-off from farms, lawns and cities, but those efforts have not curbed the problem.

This year, for instance, the US Geological Survey said the nitrogen load that reached the Gulf was 35 per cent higher than the average amount flushed into the Gulf each May over the past 32 years. The Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers dumped nearly twice as much water than normal in May, officials said.

"As usual, the size of the low oxygen offshore is driven by both the freshwater and nitrogen levels in the Mississippi, so this year we have had floods and we have had more nitrate coming into the system," said Nancy Rabalais, the executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Rabalais is a lead researcher into the dead zone.

She expected the dead zone to extend more to the west toward Texas and farther offshore than in past years.

Scientists said the large dead zone will complicate the Gulf's recovery from last year's massive oil spill. After the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, an out-of-control well owned by BP PLC spewed about 206 million gallons of oil — 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled.

"This is an additional stressor," Rabalais said. "It's our chronic stressor."

-- AP






In the 1930s, in what is now known as the 'Great American Streetcar Scandal', newly established automobile companies started gobbling up electric streetcar companies with a view to replacing the electric streetcars across cities with oil powered buses. Systematically, they went about destroying the streetcar companies in city after city till about the 1970s by which time their mission was accomplished.

By then the American transportation landscape became what is today — almost no public transport in most cities other than the very big ones and heavy dependency on cars. In order to benefit their core business, they systematically went about buying and then deliberately destroying their competitors.

The UPA Government today is involved in multifarious scams. The scams range from an assortment of selling telecom licences cheaply to overspending on sports extravaganzas. Apart from these, there are other scams under the guise of poverty alleviation schemes. All of these are direct scams where the exchequer is getting looted one way or the other.

While this is happening, there is another category of scams that is not getting the attention it should. This is the type of scams perpetuated like the 'Great American Streetcar Scandal' — where there is no misappropriation of money — hence 'Type B' scams. These scams are the deliberate and systematic destruction of value across Public Sector Units so that their competitors in the private sector benefit.

Two immediate examples come to mind — BSNL and Air India. Not too long ago BSNL was Number 2 in mobile subscribers' market share; since then it has seen a steady decline to Number 4 today. It has not been allowed to buy equipment nor enhance capacity. A tender floated in 2007 to procure equipment was cancelled by the then Telecom Minister (a certain A Raja).

As a result, BSNL lost crucial time until it was finally allowed to buy equipment for about half the number of lines it wanted. After that one more equipment tender was cancelled with the result that BSNL has been steadily losing subscribers while the others have merrily added capacity. What could have been a great PSU is now reduced to an 'also ran' and will soon be a dead unit, unless someone with foresight revives it.

Air India is of course hit by a double whammy. On the one hand it has invested in brand new planes (68 of them) and on the other it is not allowed to bid for newer routes so that it can fly those planes and recover the money. Net result? A debt burden of about `40,000 crore and losses of about `7,000 crore. And guess who is flying on many of the newer routes?

No prizes for guessing who benefits in both these cases. The private sector, in both airlines and telecom, has gone from strength to strength in the same timeframe. Coincidentally, both BSNL and Air India are not listed — which prevents their close scrutiny.

Whether the beneficiary companies in this regard channel the benefits in cash or kind to those in power who enable this is a separate investigation. And in those murky cross-holdings and money paid to consultants and stakes given to various people may lie a story. But regardless of whether that has happened, this is a new type of scam — where the Government deliberately kills its own enterprises so that private companies can benefit.








If UPA-II needs any further encouragement to end its policy drift, there's a new OECD report. It argues inclusive growth will continue only if 'administrative and regulatory barriers facing companies are reduced'. The report's timing couldn't be better, coming as it does before Pranab Mukherjee's Washington trip. Accompanying him will be the country's economic heavyweights. They're being deployed to reassure investors that India remains a safe bet in the medium and long term.

It will however take more than smooth talking to renew confidence. The gravity of the situation is highlighted by various economic indices. FII flight totalled $1.44 billion last month. Industrial growth declined from 7.3% in March to 4.4% in April. Overall at 7.8%, growth is now at its slowest in five quarters. Despite this slowdown, inflation roars ahead. Headline inflation has reached 9.06% and a major cause is food inflation at 9.01%. The inverted shape of the bond yield curve suggests an impending slowdown, as short-term bonds have higher yield than long-term ones. With elections scheduled for 2014, UPA-II has only a brief window of opportunity to push supply-side reforms and ensure we aren't trapped by stagflation.

Meanwhile, corruption not only sends bad signals about the economy and governance, the continuing political crisis and gridlock over corruption has diverted government attention from urgent economic and foreign policy issues. UPA-I was internationalist, delivered the nuclear deal and helped diversify our energy basket. There has been no comparable foreign policy innovation in UPA-II. What's more, the Nuclear Liabilities Act is undermining the deal by putting off nuclear suppliers. UPA-II must return to its internationalism and bring India in line with global protocols. That would help cut inflation and renew the economy. Ditching the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act would help, because it's degenerated into a cartel paying farmers only a fraction of what it charges consumers. Meanwhile, passing the Land Acquisition Bill into law would reassure investors, as it would facilitate the acquisition of land for industry. Devising a system of food coupons or cash transfers, coupled with the institutionalisation of Aaadhar, could tackle fiscal haemorrhages because it would channel aid directly to the poor, rather than through a bureaucracy adept at siphoning money.

Much of this is echoed by the OECD report whose overall thrust is to rationalise rules. If UPA-II takes heed, India could make double-digit growth a reality. But that's implausible so long as GST and DTC remain unimplemented. Similarly, reforming the retail and education sectors would help remedy the dire economic situation.






The two factions of the Indian communist movement - the CPI and CPM - might be on the road to reunion. The Communist Party of India split in 1964. Thorny issues included allegiance to Soviet Russia or communist China, participation in India's multiparty democracy and internal factionalism. Today, all of these have fallen by the wayside. While Soviet Russia resides only in memory, communist China's embraced market forces, driven by - and driving - the global profit motive. Meanwhile, the CPM's participation in India's electoral process vanquished notions of revolution being preferable to representation. And the Left's recent electoral showing reflects such a shrunken base as to minimise internal power struggles. Instead, the groups would do well to consolidate what they've retained, then try expansion.

They could find fertile ground. With conflicts over land acquisition, workers' rights and growing inequities, the Left could provide a political platform to the marginalised. With its record of maintaining communal harmony, avoiding dynastic practice and minimising monetary corruption, it could provide an alternative to the Congress and BJP. However, it'll have to provide much more, including a radical re-imagining of market forces. Across the world, Left parties have realigned themselves to the word 'profit', once perceived as pure poison, now seen as a force for social good. With India undergoing great economic change, the Left would look moribund persisting with opposition to private enterprise. Further, with demands for greater transparency and devolution of political power palpable over India today, the Left, with its heavy-fisted, overarching controls, looks out of step. Pondering reunion, this is an interesting juncture for India's Left, facing mothballs or modernity.









Thousands of women across the globe are marching in protest against the idea that what they wear and how they behave makes them a target for sexual assault. Popularly called SlutWalks, these marches have garnered media attention and hype as much for the controversial name as for the provocative dressing - rather, undressing - women have chosen as a form of protest.

The global feminist protest was triggered by a Canadian police officer, who, in a talk on public safety delivered at York University in Toronto, suggested women should avoid dressing like 'sluts' if they wished to avoid sexual assaults - thus effectively blaming women for rapes and absolving men of responsibility.

The officer was made to apologise instantly, but the incident had fired up women's ire against the centuries-old 'She asked for it' excuse men give for rapes. Viral communication effectively did the rest to translate the movement into the biggest global feminist movement the world has seen in decades.

The outburst of protest originating in Canada SlutWalked its way to the US, Europe and on to England last weekend. And now, Delhi will soon see its own SlutWalk.

Of course it is ludicrous to suggest that a woman invites sexual aggression against herself. Nothing justifies rape. Moreover, rape is as much part of the world where women traditionally cover themselves from head to toe as it is of the world where they wear barely-there clothes. But equally ludicrous is the manner in which women around the world have reacted - by taking off clothes and adopting the 'slut' word as signifying their right to dress as they please without attracting judgment. Donning fishnets, bras, stilettos and even going naked, they have ironically proved the veracity of the Canadian cop's statement.

The one thing SlutWalks across the globe have proved, unfortunately, is that the quickest and most effective way for women to grab headlines is to shed clothes. By parading around half-naked and proclaiming themselves 'sluts', these women have rolled back the work of serious feminists by a good many years.

When women across the globe step out dressed as sex objects in the name of feminism - the very movement that fought to divest them of the 'sex object' tag - it is time to sit up and figure out what went wrong!

Feminist movements have ensured that no woman need be ashamed of her feminity, but never implied that she has the right to strut her wares with an impunity that invites derision and, debatably, even aggression. Micro-minis and plunging necklines designed to show as much of backsides, thighs and cleavage as possible can by no stretch of imagination be construed as empowering for women. These may give young girls the satisfaction of being fashionable, but ask any girl if she would feel safer walking down a dark alley in normal clothes or in a bustier, micro-mini and fishnet stockings!

Participation in defiant marches with provocative slogans across bosoms announcing 'Proud sluts' or 'We are all chambermaids' or 'Can't touch this without consent' or 'I'm scantily clad; nobody is raping me!' draws attention for all the wrong reasons, however worthy the cause.

The manner in which we dress or deport ourselves certainly has an impact on the way we get treated. And that holds true for both men and women. A woman who covers herself modestly sends out completely different signals to the world than does another who bares her body. A woman who bares more skin than the norm is definitely using her body to advertise her sexuality and sending out the message that she wishes to attract interest. Unfortunately the 'slut' brigade is managing to reinforce that impression. The issue here seems not a protest against rape as much as for the right to be called and act like a 'slut', whatever that may mean.

True, pejorative words like 'slut' and 'whore' have been used by men forever to put women down. Also true that historical linguistics shows pejorative terms have sometimes been later adopted as non-pejorative, but is that what all the fight is about? The desire to reclaim the 'slut' word is as absurd an idea as fighting for the right to be called 'evil', 'cruel' or a 'moron'. 'Slut' as a word traditionally has a negative connotation, meaning a dirty, slovenly woman and later referring to women who are free with their sexual favours. No matter how hard women across the world try, they cannot now imbue it with a positive hue and announce all women are 'sluts' and should be respected as such.

It is not pejorative words as much as pejorative minds that need to undergo a change. Meanwhile, men, obviously mesmerised by the female charms on display globally, haven't even taken cognisance of the implied insult to them in the beleaguered cop's statement. The Canadian cop's statement seems to imply all men, without exception, are likely to jump the next woman they perceive to be dressed like a 'slut'.

To imply that all men are lascivious wolves waiting to pounce on women who dress scantily is more insulting to men than to women. In fact maybe men should soon be taking out 'wolf marches' after these SlutWalks!









When it comes to child adoption, there's a basic question to ask. Whose interest should prevail - that of the child or adopting parents? If it's the child, then the ministry of women and child development's bid to introduce stricter adoption rules, particularly for single men and live-in partners, is justified. To critics, they may sound puritan and unfair. But there is a reason why such laws are in place and must be strictly adhered to. Bringing a child home is just the beginning of the process and hence, we must uphold the time-tested traditional view of parenting.

Any child needs a secure place for healthy growth and development. And such security can only be provided in a home with a mother and father, who are loving as well as socially stable. Such a family can best nurture an adopted child and inculcate a strong sense of bonding. Before we plead for relaxing rules for live-in couples, we need to ask whether they can create ideal family conditions for child rearing. Socially, these unmarried partners still carry a stigma. The stigma may be unfair, but it will nevertheless impact adopted children's psychology. Also, a legally married couple's level of commitment to each other is likely to be higher than that in live-in relationships, providing for greater family and social stability. Their case is even stronger when it comes to available resources like the support of extended family and friends as a back-up system.

In the case of single parent adoption, the 'missing' other half means the child starts with an inherent disadvantage, as against identifying with both the parents. The case of single men is even more dubious. It is difficult to ascertain whether they can strike a balance between the two roles - a sympathetic mother and a provider father. Moreover, the chances of child abuse increase in such cases. It's best to keep them out of the adoption loop.






The nanny state syndrome strikes again. A dilapidated adoption system, seriously deficient maternal and child care, mortality rates for both vulnerable groups far beyond acceptable levels - these are all crucial issues today. Yet, instead of focussing on these areas, the ministry of women and child development has decided that it needs to dabble in social engineering. That seems to be the only explanation for its new guidelines - a stern, finger-wagging message that giving a child a loving, secure home is the prerogative of traditionally married couples.

By doing this, a ministry that is supposed to look after the welfare of women and children has ensured that their situation will worsen. Consider that according to a 2007 Unicef report, there were 25 million orphans in India with only 3,332 adoptions taking place the previous year. Consider that those numbers have worsened in the intervening years - and now assess the ministry's guidelines. It has, in effect, taken a look at a terrible imbalance and put its thumb on the scales to make the imbalance even worse.

Does this mean that anyone should be allowed to adopt? Of course not. With human trafficking the risk it is in India - and abuse, sexual and otherwise, a terrible possibility - adoption guidelines must adequately safeguard the child's interests. But this does not equate to a blanket rule arbitrarily disqualifying a huge potential pool of adoptive parents who are both financially capable and genuinely desirous of giving an adopted child a loving home. Such things are best decided on a case-by-case basis. And for that, the ministry should be revamping creaking adoption infrastructure. It should be boosting its capabilities to thoroughly vet potential adoptive parents, married, live-in or single. It should be putting in place child protection services to follow up on adopted kids. It should be. But it seems it has other matters on its mind.







Two years ago i came to live in a new housing development called Dosti Flamingos. When i first invited a friend over, she exclaimed, 'Is that really its name? Sounds like a Gay nightclub.' Indeed, life here can be over the top, but not in ways which endorse Art 377.

Moving from the lowslung, sylvan idyll of the Dadar Parsi Colony into a high-rise plonked into Mumbai's crumbling mill heartland was a cultural long jump. A colony cousin recoiled in horror and, with a shudder that ran from the tip of her long Parsi nose to the hem of her short Parsi frock, sniffed, "Kahan apru Five Gardens, ney kahan Sewree!" She pronounced it like 'sewer'.

Despite the multiplying tower blocks, we are light years away from the flashy entertainment planet of Lower Parel on the other side of the bridge. Nevertheless, our joys and ploys reflect the new urban sociology. Ours may not be the megapolis that some housing developments are, but our complex is certainly equal to a Tier II town, with its own nuanced community. Yes, we are an all-dues-paid part of the larger network of silo cities across an India that is on the fast lane out of Bharat.

As the ultimate token of Having Arrived, each of our four exotically named blocks has its own Yahoo group mail. This is the post-millennial habitat's MIS, CCTV, ombudsman and punching bag all rolled into one. The barrage of mails provides not merely the pulse of our tower, but the complete blood count. It indicates exactly what's wrong with the system, and does so, unasked, unrelentingly and in no uncertain terms.

If the complex as a whole can be compared to the municipal corporation, the Yahoo group mails are the sachet version of the national malaise. The ugly schism between elected representatives and 'civil society' finds its counterpart in the charges against the Managing Committee (MC) and the defence of its members who have volunteered their time, energies, and PAs for this thankless task. 'Cooperative housing society' (CHS) is clearly as much of a misnomer as 'civil society'. And, terms of endearment are not a notable feature of our Yahoo group's terms of engagement either.

When our groupies aren't clashing with the MC, they clash among themselves, not unlike the different 'civil society' wannabes. Here too, the division is between elitists and the less varnished. Between the PLUs who know all about garbage separation and the mercifully minuscule PLTs who simply chuck stuff out of the window. An anguished volley of e-complaints spewed from the owner of a flat above the porch canopy; it had become a dump of unbelievable unmentionables.

However, as in larger society, we unite in the face of a common threat. Initially, Public Enemy No. 1 was The Builder, suspected, as always, of deploying stamp duty, terrace rights, and the corpus fund to subvert the smooth transfer of power to our nascent CHS. Then, confronted by a strike of the complex's housekeeping staff, public-spirited residents marched down on the clarion call of Yahoo to perform kar seva.

An outside enemy also exercises our mail group. New sets of housing developments down the road are now complete, leading to the inevitable mutiny of the 'Chhutta-kaamwali' Corps. The maids are already threatening to decamp en masse to our desperate new neighbours and the seductive 'pagaar' on offer.

Less chronic but acutely traumatising was a feature even more typical of Mumbai than fickle part-time 'bais'. A squatters' colony sprang up almost overnight, but ours was of beehives. Till their ruthless demolition, they had unleashed a swarm of group mails. Some were honeyed, some had a sting - much like urban group living itself.








Over the years, successive governments at the Centre and in the states that are nourished by the Ganga have invested enormous amounts of money and political support to clean it up and save its fragile ecology. They have also sourced mammoth funds from various external donor agencies for the same. But in reality, the impact has been unimpressive. Now with the death of Swami Nigamanand, who was on a protest fast for 115 days against illegal stone quarrying and sand mining in the Ganga riverbed, both of which are, among other reasons, responsible for the deteriorating condition of the river. Swami Nigamanand was fighting the BJP's Uttarakhand government's refusal to check mining along a stretch of Ganga near Rishikesh. He died unheard by a government led by chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, the same man who after the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 held a Cabinet meeting along the banks of the Ganga and pledged his wholehearted efforts to save India's national river.

The seer was fighting a case against a quarrying company and the state to end quarrying and rampant mining along the 80-km Ganga stretch from Muni ki Reti to Rishikesh in Tehri district and further up to Laksar town in Haridwar. Though the government had passed a ban order, it did not deploy its resources to stop it completely. Or, as many are now saying, it was not done intentionally. The result of intensive quarrying and sand mining is evident in the areas around Roorkee, located in the downstream area: river islands have been destroyed, deep crevices — as deep as 40-ft — are now found in the riverbed; the water is polluted thanks to the movement of trucks and earth-moving machines; and there are signs of depleting fish catch. These illegal activities have also impacted the Rajaji National Park. In its various judgements, the Supreme Court has also upheld the view that such activities are bound to cause a severe impact on the local ecology and it is the duty of the government to devise and implement a coherent and coordinated programme to meet its obligation of sustainable development based on inter-generational equality.

The case of the seer's death is still under investigation with many alleging foul play. While the police investigates the matter and the anti-quarrying cases continue in the courts, it is doubly important to uncover the links that exist between the state government and the quarrying mafia and how this relationship is rendering the government ineffectual. The inter-party politics and the debate over whether Baba Ramdev got more attention than Swami Nigamanand is fruitless. This will only serve to deflect attention from the real issues.





When we heard that the US has established contact with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, we thought it was via a séance. Because last heard, we thought America had claimed that it had knocked him off after totalling Osama bin Laden. But now it transpires that another Taliban leader has helped the US reach out to Mullah Omar to negotiate an end to the Afghan war.

We can quite imagine the conversation. "Hello, is that Mullah Omar, how's the family?" The disembodied voice, possibly from a cave, would reply, "Death to all infidels, especially George Bush." The clever boys at the Pentagon will say, "No, no, he is gone, we now have Barack Hussein Obama in the saddle. How about a hand with ending all this kerfuffle?" Mullah Omar, "Oh okay then, I will drop in to the Pentagon next week, with 5,000 of my followers. Don't put yourself out for us, we are very low maintenance. We will bring our own tents and goats. And, of course, a few arms and ammunition just in case our talks don't go so well."

So now that we know that old Omar has not copped it, we wonder whether Osama himself is sleeping with the fishes. Could it be that one of these days, Robert Gates will get a call from 20,000 leagues under the sea with Osama on the other side offering to give up the treacherous Ayman al-Zawahiri? But we are full of admiration for the US. What a clever strategy to declare that you have capped someone in order to create such fear in them that they undergo a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus-like change of heart and engage in a dialogue with you. Our foes must be feeling left out. We could innovate on this approach. We could put it out that Hafiz Sayeed is actually in Delhi and is a wedding planner. This will teach him to fool around with us. In a trice, he will be on his knees begging to negotiate with us. Oh, we think we heard the phone ring, do excuse us.






The UPA government's guidance, as in the case of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), has made a significant impact in strengthening the healthcare delivery system in India. However, public health programmes are a state subject, where state governments must implement, innovate and ensure their sustainability.

No state is capable of paying for every piece of beneficial medical technology. Hence, difficult decisions of choosing life-saving technologies over other public health problems have to be made. So the most effective way of reducing mortality rate and healthcare spending is through prevention and increased access. The most successful mode of prevention is immunisation. Increasing access to vaccines is an essential tool in saving lives and eliminating the higher costs that come with treating diseases like polio.

The Indian vaccine industry is capable of producing the vaccines we need and are public-minded enough to offer them at a price that makes universal immunisation programmes viable. Recently, two Indian vaccine manufacturers announced cuts in the price of pentavalent vaccine that protects children against five diseases in just three shots. In Goa, this vaccine is available in five taluks, with plans to expand it to 11 taluks soon. Another manufacturer announced that by 2015, it would be ready with a vaccine for rotavirus, a diarrhoeal disease that kills over 1,00,000 children each year. It is taken orally, and if available for just R45 per dose, it could be a useful preventive tool.

Aggressive steps have been taken to prevent cancer too. To combat breast cancer, Goa acquired two mobile mammography units that will enable women to get routine examinations. Prevention methods are not all-encompassing, so resources and attention have to be turned to treatment as well. Chronic diseases require a traditional approach but access, affordability and early detection should remain priorities. To fight diabetes, the Goa government has partnered with the private sector to establish a registry of diabetics, established a mobile unit to provide blood glucose testing in areas without modern facilities and provided insulin to patients who require it free of charge. These measures of progress are not limited to Goa. Since the introduction of the Janani Suraksha Yojna (JSY) programme, safe deliveries, particularly in hospitals, have increased around the country. A concerted effort to eradicate polio has also reduced the number of cases from over 600 two years ago to a single case so far this year.

Continuous and sustainable efforts are critical to reduce poverty, expand education and improve access to healthcare for all. The opportunities offered by modern health technology must be used as an indispensable complement to the gains made in economic development.

Vishwajit Pratapsingh Rane is minister of health, Goa. The views expressed by the author are personal.





Democracy is often misunderstood as defined simply by majority opinion. In fact, modern parliamentary democracy, including Indian democracy, has evolved with in-built checks and balances to protect minorities (including minorities of opinion) and dissenting individuals from majority tyranny.

In marriage and family matters, minority groups have often suffered majority tyranny. In such situations, minority communities may recognise marriages that the State does not. This happens even in the West but on a much larger scale in India. For example, British law prohibits bigamy and most Muslims in Britain disapprove of it, yet some Muslim bigamous marriages have taken place in mosques in Britain. These weddings do not have any validity according to British law, but they are valid as per Muslim law and the community. Similarly, in India, after the State changed the Hindu law in 1955, Hindu bigamous marriages, which used to be legal, have become illegal. Yet some do take place and the second wife often enjoys the status of wife in the community rather than of mistress.

At first glance, it might seem that all marriages recognised by communities but not by the State must be bad for women and backward-looking. However, this is not true. Historically and even today, many communities are ahead of the State in their willingness to recognise unions that the State refuses to validate.

Take the example of religious minorities. Prior to 1753, the British government did not recognise any marriages that had not been performed by the Anglican Church. Therefore, Quaker and Jewish marriages were not recognised as legal. This is because the State recognised only one religion as legitimate — that of the Anglican Church. But Quakers and Jews did marry and considered themselves married. Were these marriages or not? They were married in the eyes of their own communities and of other enlightened people, but not in the eyes of the State. Looking back today, we would say that these unions were marriages, even though the State did not recognise them.

A similar question arose in India when the 19th century reformist sect, the Brahmo Samaj, began performing a simplified Hindu wedding ceremony. In 1868, a court declared these marriages invalid, because orthodox Hindu leaders did not consider the Brahmo Samajis Hindus. To remedy the situation, the first civil marriage law in India, the Special Marriage Act, was passed in 1872. It created a huge controversy; those arguing in its favour pointed out since so many forms of Hindu marriage already existed, the Act was just adding another one.

The Indian government's refusal to recognise same-sex marriages performed by Hindu priests place these marriages in a situation analogous to that of Quaker and Jewish marriages in  the 18th century and the Brahmo marriages between 1868 and 1872. Like Christian priests, Hindu priests too vary in their approaches to marriage. A Hindu Shaiva priest I spoke to in 2002 said that he knew that other priests in his lineage would be shocked by his officiating at the marriage of two women. Having thought about it, however, he had become convinced that it was the right thing to do, because marriage is a union of spirits and Hindu texts clearly state that the spirit is neither male nor female.

The Hindu Marriage Act states, "A marriage may be solemnised between any two Hindus, if the following conditions are fulfilled." The list of conditions prohibits bigamy, insanity, marriage before the age of 21 for the groom and 18 for the bride, and certain forms of biological relationship between the two, unless these forms are permitted by community customs. The gender of the 'two Hindus' is not stated. However, gender is assumed and appears in the third requirement: "The bridegroom has completed the age of 21 and the bride the age of 18 at the time of the marriage." The terms 'bride' and 'groom' appear many times thereafter in the Act. Most people would assume that a bride is biologically female and a groom male. But this isn't the only possible understanding of who a bride is and who is a groom. In most of the lesbian weddings reported in India over the last two decades, one woman presented herself as the groom and the other presented herself as the bride. Several couples performed the rite of the groom by putting sindoor in the bride's hair-parting.

When two women in India publicly claim the right to marry, they seem to rest this claim in part on their presentation of themselves as a couple in which one woman is the bride and the other the groom, even though both are female. The degree to which the families and the community accept this claim often appears to be inseparable from the degree to which they accept the marriage. Some communities are thus able to integrate female-female marriage into their interpretation of Hindu law, by recognising one woman as the groom and the other as the bride.

This, however, does not always work. Raju, who married childhood friend Mala in December 2004, had short hair, wore jeans and leather jackets, and had a male-sounding name while Mala wore bangles, a symbol of marriage. After their marriage, which was conducted by a Hindu priest in Delhi, they returned to their hometown, Amritsar, where Raju told reporters, "We have vowed to live together for the rest of our lives as husband and wife." Mala threatened to commit suicide if they were forcibly separated, and said, "I have left my family for her." But their families and neighbours remained extremely hostile and boycotted them, so they had to go into hiding. This social pressure was in part responsible for the couple's separation later.

Can the democratic State prevent people from entering into same-sex unions or punish them for doing so? Unlike bigamy, same-sex marriages are not punishable in India or the West because marriage is not equivalent to the performance of any sexual act. Even the police seem to recognise this distinction. When two Muslim men, Harfan, 28, the groom, and Mustafa, 22, the bride, got married in Garhmukteshwar, Ghaziabad in 2004, Harfan's relatives handed both men over to the police, but the police refused to arrest them, because while sodomy is a crime in Indian law, same-sex marriage is not. If the registration of marriage is made compulsory, it will not stop same-sex couples from marrying. However, enforcing it will undermine India's uniquely respectful approach to diversity, and the unique opportunity we have to add same-sex marriage to this diversity without going through protracted legal battles — simply by recognising the marriages that are already taking place by customary ceremonies.

Ruth Vanita is Professor at the University of Montana and was founding co-editor of Manushi. This is an edited extract from Law Like Love: Queer Perspectives on Law, edited by Arvind Narrain and Alok Gupta, Yoda Press. The views expressed by the author are personal.





In Saudi Arabia, the demand from women to drive is growing louder

W Alwalee hen I called him in Riyadh on Tuesday night, the Arabian Warren Buffett, as the billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is known, was quite definite in his views on allowing Saudi women to drive. "We're not calling for diplomatic relations with Israel," he said. "We're just asking for ladies to drive the car. The issue of women driving can happen tomorrow morning because it's not really an issue at all. Frankly speaking, we need strong political leadership to do it and get it behind us. What are we waiting for?" Of course, Prince Alwaleed is a pillar of modernity in the medieval kingdom. In his skyscraper office in Riyadh, women in tight jeans and suits rule the roost, working side by side with men, something that is forbidden elsewhere. Government offices in Saudi Arabia are segregated by gender. The prince made a point of hiring a woman, born in Mecca, and training her to be the pilot of his private jet. "Ladies can fly above but not drive on the street," he said dryly, noting, "My wife drives in the desert and in every city we go to immediately from the airport.
She's an excellent driver -better than me, for sure."

In 1990, 47 women from the Saudi intelligentsia were so inspired by American troops -and female soldiers -gathering in the kingdom for the first President Bush's war against Saddam that they went for a joy ride to protest Saudi Arabia being the only country where women can't drive. The fundamentalist clerics went into overdrive, branding the women `whores' and `harlots'.
They lost their jobs and were harassed. Their passports were revoked and they had to sign papers agreeing not to talk about the drive.
When I interviewed some of them 12 years later, they were only beginning to shake off the vengeful backlash.

Driving may not be as important an issue as the end of male guardianship, but it is the high-octane nexus where our hypocrisies interlock. The latest drive to drive started last month, a Twitter and Facebook feminist blossoming in the Arab Spring, following a Saudi `Day of Rage' in March where nobody showed up except the police.

King Abdullah passes for progressive in Saudi Arabia. (He just issued a decree allowing women, instead of men, to sell women lingerie.) Frightened by the uprisings all around him, he snuffed out wisps of democratic protests the Saudi way: with his chequebook. After the `Day of Rage' fizzled, he rewarded his complacent citizens with $130 billion in salary increases, new housing and financing for religious organisations.

But then a 32-year-old single mother named Manal al-Sharif, an internet consultant for the State-run oil company Aramco, posted a video of herself on YouTube, driving in a black abaya in the Eastern Province city of Al-Khobar. She told CNN that the last straw was one night when she was trying to get home to her 5-year-old son and she couldn't catch a cab or find her brother to pick her up or get away from male drivers harassing her as she walked alone. "I'm a grown-up woman," she said, adding: "And I was crying like a kid in the street because I couldn't find someone to pick me up to take me back home."

She was put in jail for a week and forced to sign a document agreeing not to talk to the press or continue her calls for reform.
This had a chilling effect on women. But, this week, Reem al-Faisal, a princess, activist and Jidda photographer who is the granddaughter of the late King Faisal and the niece of the foreign minister, spoke out, writing in The Arab News that "it is truly tragic that we have to fight for such an essential yet mediocre right" and be treated as "eternal minors". She suggested that women simply drive pollution-free camels. Except then men would "deny women camel-driving rights, too. Then we will have to content ourselves with taking the backseat of the camels or start looking for other options -mules maybe?" The New York Times The views expressed by the author are personal




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

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

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

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






Time and again, we hear a cry of anguish from Arunachal Pradesh, transmitted to New Delhi via a minister from the state, sometimes even the chief minister. The latest has been from Arunachal's finance and planning minister, Kalikho Pul, who has cautioned the Union government against a "Kargil-like situation" in the state. The ostensible reason is the persistent fear of China's claims over Arunachal, with the minister saying the Chinese marked territory on rocks inside the state. Rapid Chinese infrastructure development across the border on the

Tibetan plateau has sharpened Arunachal's picture of deprivation. The Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region (DoNER) has brought Central attention to the Northeast; but despite the government working to develop the region, the Northeast has always needed so much work, and in earnest, that Delhi has had a tough job keeping up. It certainly has been no match for China in developing border infrastructure — largely a failure of its political will.

Arunachal, in particular, has always been in need of special attention, in a Northeast needing special attention. Not only is the state strategically important but it also has an extremely thin population density which leaves its remote, border areas practically uninhabited. The need for better road, rail and air connectivity for the state has been periodically reiterated. The people of Arunachal battle rough and remote terrain, with few means of mobility and livelihood — as proven when chopper services were suspended in the aftermath of the crash that killed former CM Dorjee Khandu in April. So without commerce and industry Arunachal will languish in its sorry plight. The Northeast as a whole is landlocked and needs access to markets. But, for that, work on the roadways projects will need to be put on a war-footing. Besides, India has to move on building infrastructure and facilitating movement of goods and people to and from the Northeast through Bangladesh.

As for Arunachal again, the home ministry has wisely relaxed some of the "protected area" regime to encourage tourism, and the Centre is now set to launch a programme promoting youth activities, to which the prime minister has given his consent.

Arunachal, underdeveloped as it is, also has a lot to give. The hydel projects, which the environment ministry had carelessly called for a moratorium on, are necessary not only for the state's prosperity and integration but also for the development of the entire Northeast. In the end, the concern is less about China than India's capacity to develop its own border regions. In Arunachal, the Union government must keep in mind the larger geopolitical and humanitarian picture.






Something is worryingly wrong in schools in Jharkhand. As this newspaper reported on Wednesday, about 55 per cent of students failed the state Plus Two examination this year. In the science stream, 72 per cent have failed. The decline has hardly been dramatic; instead, a gradual slide over the past few years has resulted in this statistic. In the science stream, for instance, 50 per cent had failed two years ago, and 70 per cent last year. Evidently, there has not been an effective governmental intervention to arrest the slump.

The numbers point to a failure of intent and implementation on the part of the authorities, but even now they defend themselves, crediting the particularly stringent measures adopted against cheating in exams this year for the low pass percentage. While there should be vigilance against malpractices, and while such watchfulness should be in place as a matter of course, that by itself is no excuse for the mess in the teaching and examination system now highlighted.

Education is a child's right, and the performance of state-run schools is especially important. They make education accessible to every student — these are the first resort for those from less privileged backgrounds, but are often at the receiving end of flagrant institutional neglect. The infrastructure should be strengthened. There's an acute shortage of teachers in government schools — from Class I to XII — and these should be filled forthwith. Teachers' performance too needs to be more closely monitored. Nothing points as clinically and gravely to a crisis as statistics, but remedial measures are to be sought elsewhere — in enlightened policy statements and their effective implementation.






How India handles urbanisation will be crucial in figuring out whether its transition to industrialisation, and to a stable, inclusive high-growth path, is possible. It's easy, too, to think of urbanisation as a metropolitan phenomenon, something that will be driven by the five or six great historical centres of urban life. But, as a recent Morgan Stanley report makes clear, it is India's smaller cities that are driving the urbanisation process. The report, which introduces a "vibrancy index", tries to map what researchers think are the key drivers of urbanisation: physical infrastructure, financial penetration, consumer services and job listings. And it covers India's top 200 urban centres, including several towns.

In their rankings, a sense of how cities can be strangled emerges with surprising ease. One giveaway clue is that Mumbai, still in imagination the beating heart of India's growth, isn't even in the top 20 in terms of dynamism — suffering, for example, in terms of financial penetration. That's a sad reflection on how we have failed to include the urban working class in our attempts to deepen and broaden the financial sector. The Raghuram Rajan report has important suggestions on how to enable credit access, for example, among those that are mobile for economic reasons. This is another reminder of its importance.

Other important clues are provided by a general examination of those cities in the top 50 that are underperforming in terms of dynamism for their income level. Whether high income (Srinagar, Guwahati) or low (Dhanbad, Kanpur, Asansol, Gwalior), these are cities where connectivity to markets, particularly world markets, continues to be an issue. Nashik, Meerut, Kozhikode and Vadodara demonstrate the value of such access. Better highways and ports are central.

Finally, the crucial takeaway: the top 50 cities grew consumption at half the pace of the next 150. Similar, though less sharp results, exist for financial penetration. This report is another strong source of evidence that India's growth is becoming driven by its smaller towns. Its politics and policy must follow this trend.








The government is returning to a 1970s mentality. This mentality used a presumptive distrust of citizens as an excuse for enhancing state power. It sought accountability, not through intelligently designed transparency norms, but greater discretionary power in state officials. And finally, it sought to curb citizens' freedoms, not by directly assaulting them, but by embedding them in a structure of regulation that deters free expression.

This mentality connects three recent sets of regulations that directly impact civil society. India's FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act) was always a source of great discretionary power for the state. But the new legislation is even more draconian. It takes away the existing provisions that institutions can, after due scrutiny, get permanent FCRA accounts, subject to various reporting requirements. All institutions will now have to reapply every five years. In addition, the granting of these permissions is subject to broad discretionary power by lower levels of the state.

The proposed Direct Tax Code is, to put it mildly, uncharitable to charities. It restrictively narrows the definition of what counts as charitable activity. It taxes charities on the basis of an absurd method of cash accounting. It is premised on the bizarre assumption of the Shome committee that any organisation that raises revenue cannot be charitable or contribute to public purpose. It will severely affect the vibrancy of the not-for-profit sector. The new Internet rules threaten free expression. They will arbitrarily enhance state power.

These proposals are nothing but an insidious tightening of the noose around civil society. Each requires detailed analysis. But it is the broad premises behind them that require deconstruction.

The first premise is an outdated conception of accountability. No one denies that not-for-profits or institutions receiving foreign funds need to be held broadly accountable. The government already has all the powers it needs. But it cloaks up its implementation failures by enacting new laws. The simplest way of ensuring accountability is well-designed reporting requirements, and making accounts of charities and not-for-profits public, instead of making them subject to the continuous discretion of state officials. Such horizontal accountability would be far more efficient and fair than asking groups to continually seek permission. There are over three million civil society groups. As it is, the state cannot cope with demands for renewing a whole series of approvals; renewing tax-exempt status can take years. Instead of transparency, what the state will end up promoting is its own discretionary powers, an increase of workload that will defeat the purpose of proper regulation and produce greater uncertainty for civil society. And this they call reform.

The second premise is this. What the right hand of government does, the left hand will undo. On one hand the government is saying to institutions: "Increase your revenue. Don't be too dependent on the state. Financial autonomy is the key to institutional autonomy." On the other hand, the finance ministry is saying: "If you are good at raising money, we will come take it away. We don't want institutions that serve public purposes exempt from taxes. And we don't want tax regimes that can allow not-for profits to do long-term planning." We want a vibrant not-for-profit space, but we will do our best to ensure that life is difficult for the sector.

The third premise is the politics of fear. Behind the FCRA regulations there was a motley and contradictory crew: Hindu nationalists who thought Christian missionaries can be regulated; Congress types who thought Hindu nationalist charities could be regulated; bureaucrats who thought state power is good; fear-mongers who raised the bogey of Islamic terrorism. But in the debate the basic question that was not answered was this: does the new regulation actually help you achieve objectives? In an era where private companies can freely move money, no national security purpose is served by subjecting not-for profit institutions to the bureaucratic treadmill.

The fourth premise is the bogey of foreign influence. As far as funding genuine research in the not-for-profit sector is concerned, Indian capital has simply not stepped up to the plate. It usually comes with more strings attached than a professional foreign foundation. It is an unpleasant truth, but a lot of the professional infrastructure of research in India, whether in agriculture or social sciences, is largely due to professionally run foreign foundations. Sure, there is some unsavoury funding that comes in as well. But the implicit fear that foreigners will buy out our benighted citizens expresses a 1970s-style paranoia; it is a throwback to the days of FERA and worries about the CIA.

The fifth premise is fear of ideas. The government will give companies freedoms it will not give civil society organisations. It is a scandal that a democratic society requires its institutions to seek permission from government to organise international conferences. It is a scandal that companies can hire anyone they want, but researchers have to go through intelligence vetting. If you want a vignette about how comically absurd the government is about research, just look at a PIO card. This card was meant to make life easy for overseas Indians. But at the back it says PIOs are prohibited from two activities: research and mountaineering. Go figure.

The sixth premise is a contempt for freedom. In a world where states are using any pretext to curb hard-won liberal freedoms, India should project itself as a society that is passionately committed to freedom and a vibrant civil society. Instead we are doing the opposite, by trying to emulate authoritarian regimes. The Internet regulations must be subject to detailed scrutiny. But they reveal the mindset at work: give the state broad powers through vaguely defined provisions. Its definition of "objectionable content" is too vague. Courts may eventually subject this definition to some objective standards. But regulations change the presumption of a free society. You have to now prove your innocence to be able to exercise your right to free expression. The state has not overtly attacked free expression; instead it has insidiously embedded it in an institutional architecture that will act as a deterrent.

In a free society, when a hundred flowers bloom, weeds will flourish as well. But the weeds have become a pretext to kill the soil in which these flowers bloom. The fundamental premise of a reformist government is a belief in freedom. This government is turning its back on that belief.

Full disclosure: The author heads a not-for-profit research institution, that receives FCRA contributions (in addition to funds from the ICSSR), and has a stake in a free society.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi







There has always been a tension between the compulsions of national security and those of justice, the irony being that each exists in part to preserve and advance the other. At its crudest, that tension can be captured by the cliché of a ticking time-bomb, and the debatable use of illegal interrogation techniques to determine its location, Jack Bauer-style. In an era of transnational threats such as terrorism and cyberwarfare, it is perhaps more useful to think of the dilemma in the context of determining responsibility or culpability for state-supported, cross-border crimes. Most legal systems are based on the presumption of innocence. But this is often disregarded in the realm of national security. And with good reason. Expediency and complications pertaining to jurisdiction mean that due legal process resulting in guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is often either impractical or impossible. Evidence acquired through covert or clandestine means can be compromised and, in any case, is unlikely to hold up in a court of justice. National security decisions must by their nature be based upon lower levels of probability and certitude, meaning that in effect one can sometimes be considered guilty if not proved innocent. It is little wonder then that sceptics — based on their priorities — consider international law to be everything from unnecessarily onerous to quaintly irrelevant. The acquittal in a Chicago court of Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana on the charge of providing support to David Coleman Headley for the 2008 terrorist plot against Mumbai has elicited a curious response in India, a blend of doubt, confusion and misapprehensions about US motives. But because it is a legal, rather than a national security, decision, the jury's verdict is ultimately of little consequence either as an indicator of US policy or as a determinant of Pakistani state or official complicity. Rana was arrested by US law enforcement officials in 2009. A federal grand jury found reasons to indict him on charges of providing material support for the planning and execution of 26/11 attacks, for the plot against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark, and to the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Because the evidence linking Rana to the 26/11 plot was based heavily on Headley's testimony, the credibility and motives of the prosecution's star witness were called into question by the defence. Although Rana did indeed seem to provide cover for Headley's visits to India, the jury apparently felt they could not determine beyond reasonable doubt that he did so fully cognisant of Headley's intentions.

Given the independent judicial process, and the steps taken by US law enforcement officials up to and during the trial, the jury's verdict can in no way be construed as an extension of US policy. While that may appear obvious to many in the legal, political and policy communities, it appears not to be reflected fully in popular Indian consciousness. Online commentators, newspaper columnists and even opposition political leaders have suggested, for example, that bureaucratic politics, international appeasement and even racism might have been factors in determining the outcome, the last element a result of Rana's having been found guilty for his role in the Danish plot.

At the same time, the absence of adequate evidence in support of Rana's willing involvement in the 26/11 plot exonerates neither the Lashkar-e-Toiba nor Pakistan's security forces.

Given the immense amount of circumstantial evidence and the efforts taken by Pakistani officials to obfuscate the truth behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the onus remains upon them to demonstrate their innocence. Tahawwur Rana may have benefited from due legal process. But others responsible for the deaths of 26/11 do not necessarily enjoy that privilege in the Star Chamber of international politics.

The writer is programme officer with the German Marshall Fund in Washington DC







Kolhapur is famous for its Mahalakshmi temple. I remember my mother referring to Kolhapur as the goddess's natal home. And this place, sacred to the goddess of wealth and prosperity had by 2001 become one of the most dangerous places in the world for female foetuses. The inhabitants of Kolhapur district had convinced themselves that it was perfectly in order to murder goddesses before they were born. There was no sin attached to deicide in the womb. In fact, parents who participated in this act were seen as embracing prosperity, not rejecting it. And doctors who connived became richer, not poorer.

The ghastly serial murders of Lakshmis caused the sex ratio, the number of female births for every 1000 males born, to drop to 839, far worse than the average for India (927) or Maharashtra (913).

And then, from the depths of our much-maligned officialdom, a team emerged that decided to tackle the problem. The district collector's office is otherwise associated with the routine persecution of citizens. Hapless persons hang around all day trying to get their "agricultural" lands reclassified or trying to get somebody (anybody?) to hear complaints about some egregious error in the land records of the panchayat, the tehsildar, the ominous-sounding sub-registrar (what does he or she register and who is he/she "subbing" for?) and other functionaries of an dysfunctional state.

Laxmikant Deshmukh, the collector of Kolhapur (and the motivated team in his office, too, is not to be underestimated) set about proving that all is not lost in the system. In fact, because it is backed by the law of the land, it is the system, as embodied by the office of the district collector, which can effectively move towards hard-to-implement solutions for seemingly intractable social problems.

Their plan of action was simplicity itself, and did not require inputs from the imperial World Bank or imperious McKinsey consultants. They would monitor all sonography tests in the district's clinics. Their personnel would then call on the prospective parents and work on persuading them to avoid abortions merely because they know that they were headed for a girl child. They used a simple non-intrusive technology, known as the "silent observer", that effectively picked up under-reporting of pre-natal tests in clinics. Slowly, but surely, this outreach began to have an impact. By 2010, the sex ratio had moved from 839 to 876. Not outstanding, but directionally very significant.

Among other things, this proved human problems could be met with human solutions. Efforts went beyond monitoring and advice to active intervention: economic support to pregnant women and to mothers of baby girls. Deshmukh and his colleagues were being feted; among others, they received a national social innovation honours award from the Nasscom Foundation. For once, highly publicised civil society did recognise the constructive work done by idealistic civil servants, otherwise only showered with brickbats.

I am sure there are still unscrupulous doctors and cruel parents who continue with older practices. Many clinics might have opened up in neighbouring districts. Yet the fact remains that this project has been undertaken within the system, by the system and has begun to show incipient signs of success. Other state districts (Nanded, Sangli, Jalgaon, Buldana) are trying to replicate the experiment. Other states (Karnataka, HP, Punjab and Gujarat) are planning to do the same.

To be perfectly honest, I have had some quasi-libertarian concerns as to whether the state using such technologies to monitor private actions is an intrusion into the private lives of citizens. However, the crime of female foeticide is so horrifying that I am convinced such action is justified. After all, if I kept slaves in my plantation, could I plead privacy rights and not allow intrusion on my lands to free them? Even the most principled libertarian would concede that privacy arguments cannot prevail over the immediate needs of human freedom.

We need more Deshmukhs; we need more teams of dedicated state employees; and we need to recognise, praise and reward them. Therein lies a measure of hope for our fractured land.

The writer is chairman of the Nasscom Foundation








Why does it feel like it was only yesterday we were watching Priyanka Chopra in clothes that fit her tighter than her skin, frolicking in a watery idyll with some bulky hunks on the sets of Fear Factor Khatron Ke Khiladi (Colors)? Well, because it wasn't so very long ago, last September to be more exact. And now, here's another Fear Factor Khatron

Ke Khiladi, but this time it's back to Akshay Kumar whose muscles bulge out of his skin-tight skin as he puts 13 girls through their paces somewhere in South Africa.

It's too much. Too fast. We are still recovering from Akshay Kumar, the host of Masterchef India (Colors) and lo, he's exchanged the apron for abs — very nice abs but disconcerting nevertheless. He's gone from savouring delectable dishes to biting into dishy females — that too alive. Ouch! What's common to the two reality shows is that he is seems so hard on the women. No matter what they do, they can't seem to please him enough. He scowls, he cries foul, why he may even howl and throw down the towel (okay, no more silly rhymes). Why doesn't he smile more?

Don't read this wrong: we love Akshay Kumar. But for all of us who have enjoyed his comic capers in Bollywood bashes, this stern taskmaster is difficult to recognise or appreciate. Even when he smiles, it has a gladiatorial quality to it. Frankly, we are not amused either. We have seen so much of Akshay Kumar recently playing the severe and exacting host that we're suffering from Akshay fatigue. And what with the heat outside, this is really quite debilitating, especially given the nature of the daredevil stunts we have to watch.

Ah those! Are we the only viewers tired of watching adult men or women diving, jumping, crawling about trying to fulfil impossible tasks — and often failing? Why do this to yourself? That begs another question: why could Colors not allow for a decent interval and bring back the show for a new season by September?

One possible answer is that entertainment channels could wait no longer. With the World Cup and IPL occupying viewers' space between February and May, they needed to regain the momentum. That means new shows — or new seasons of old shows with bankable stars. That means Akshay Kumar.

Most entertainment channels have launched new series once the World Cup ended. For instance, there's The X Factor on Sony. This singing talent show has taken a leaf out of Khatron Ke Khiladi. Last seen, judge Shreya Ghoshal and Salim Merchant were seen by the sea and the contestants, overcoming obstacles to reach them, had the well-nigh impossible task of singing, not in the rain, but with the waves and the winds crashing about them for accompaniment. The odd thing is that although they make all the right noises, the sound recording and singing is from elsewhere because strain your ears as you might, you could not hear either the waves or the wind in the background. Now, why would anyone want to stage a singing contest by the sea other than for the pleasure of seeing Shreya Ghosal wearing her version of beach attire!

Another big star moment is Simi Garewal's return in Simi Selects India's Most Desirable (Star World), perhaps not the most desirable title for a talk show. Fashion, yes; body-building, splendid; but talk? So far she's gone through Ranbir Kapoor. Is he India's "most desirable"? If you say so!

Speaking of new shows, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) is not precisely new, it's been on the air for a while but its attitude is completely new. The four main characters work at their bar in the city and it's harder to find a more unlikeable bunch of friends. They're selfish, mean, and generally a disgrace to humanity. That's what makes them desirable.







One-way Transit

The implementation of a new trade and transit agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite its limitations, should be welcome in India. The APTTA, replacing the old trade and transit agreement from 1965, was signed by the two sides in October 2010.The differences on how to implement it were finally resolved this month it came into force last Sunday.

The agreement does not allow India to despatch goods to Afghanistan at the Wagah border in Punjab. But it lets Afghanistan export a little more freely to India. Afghan trucks can now travel all the way to Wagah. Pakistan gets similar rights through Afghanistan to deliver goods in Central Asia. Delhi has been keen on acquiring full overland transit rights through Wagah to access the Central Asian markets. By letting goods flow on its territory to and from India, Pakistan stands to benefit as a commercial bridge between India on the one hand and Afghanistan and Central Asia.

This enlightened self-interest, however, has been trumped by the political opposition from the Pakistan Army. Overland transit has been projected as some kind of a favour for India and a threat to Pakistan. Sections of Pakistan's security establishment have insisted that there can be no transit for India until the dispute over Jammu & Kashmir is resolved.

Beyond that extreme view, it is quite clear that India will get transit rights at Wagah only when bilateral relations improve significantly. For the moment, then, India will have to be satisfied with the half-measure that the APTTA is. From a practical perspective, India must make the best of what it has got.

The ability to import at Wagah will allow India to deepen trade relations with Afghanistan. India is a major market for Afghan agricultural produce. Delhi must now step up its assitance to improve agricultural productivity in Afghanistan and consider duty free access to food products from Afghanistan.

As Kabul begins to tap into its vast mineral wealth, Indian corporations can now bid for the mining projects in Afghanistan and export natural resources and/or refined products from there to India.

Market Access

While India is considerable distance away from the ideal of a liberal three-way trade and transit arrangement with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Delhi must look ahead and welcome the plans announced by Kabul and Islamabad for greater economic integration between themselves, which could contribute to economic growth and stability of the troubled Pashtun lands across the Durand Line.

In the joint statement issued last Saturday in Islamabad, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistan counterpart Asif Ali Zardari emphasised the importance of building special economic and industrial zones on and across their Pashtun borderlands. They also "called upon their friends and partners and on the international community as a whole to assist and support development and economic opportunities by providing immediate preferential market access to Afghanistan and Pakistan."

On its part, India should be ready where possible to participate in the building of these zones, at least on the Afghan side. India must also announce, unilaterally, liberal market access to the goods produced in these zones. Such an approach has a merit of its own — in nudging the Pashtuns away from fighting to productive economic activity. It could also, hopefully, help reduce Pakistan's misperceptions about India's role in Afghanistan.

Rail Networks

At their meeting Karzai and Zardari agreed to promote trans-border infrastructure across the Durand Line. The two leaders reported progress on building the expressway between Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. They also unveiled plans to extend the highway all the way to Herat in western Afghanistan. Kabul and Islamabad are also discussing plans to build a railway from Peshwar to Jalalabad.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Kabul prohibited rail links with its neighbours. Afghanistan's anti-railway policy was part of the strategy of a weak state to preserve its independence and autonomy from the colonial powers. As a result at the turn of the 21st century, Afghanistan had barely 25 km of railway line on its territory.

Today as the land-locked Afghanistan seeks connectivity to transform itself, many of its neighbours — Iran to the west, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the north and Pakistan from the East — are looking at extending their rail networks into the country. While Pakistan may block India's physical access to Afghanistan, it is in Delhi's long-term interest to promote trans-border connectivity in the lands beyond the Indus. Some day in the not too distant future, India should be able to connect its own transport infrastructure to that emerging in the Af-Pak region.

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








On Wednesday, markets across the globe turned glum anticipating another rate hike in India after China raised the reserve requirements for banks on Tuesday. The expectation is almost certain to be fulfilled by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Thursday. RBI sees a sure problem of high and persistent inflation but the report on growth blues is not so clear. The wholesale price index for May, for instance, has accelerated to 9.1% from 8.66% in April. While the growth rate of GDP in the last quarter of 2010-11 has dipped to 7.8%, corporates are still willing to buy the India story. On Wednesday, the first figures of advance tax showed a spike of 14% for the Mumbai region. So, the conclusion to be made from the Reuters poll of top Asian companies is that sentiments have dipped but optimism is far from being banished. More than the rate hike that the markets have factored in, RBI's stance on whether it will make a pause or keep up a hawkish vigil to suppress inflation is what the financial sector will want to read. This week, the bank has released its latest household inflation expectation survey that anticipates a 120 basis points rise in inflation trends over next year, from the current perceived level of 11.5%, indicating the need for more vigil. But that picture needs to be moderated with our story today on how the rates are now crimping key sectors like housing.

At the household level, the steep rate hike is pinching existing borrowers of home loans, where the borrower is locked into long-term contracts. Customers are reworking the EMIs either by increasing the amount or by doing part-payment to reduce the tenor of the loan, as increasing the tenor means paying more in the long run. Worse, with many long-term savings instruments like public provident fund and post office deposits now giving negative returns and bank deposits slightly above inflation, the household sector will now look for new incentives to save and contribute to the growth of the economy. In a way, the combination of the need to fight inflation by sacrificing growth reads rather too much like the script for most of 2008. The end of the tunnel was the global meltdown that the Indian economy took two years to mend. While the current gloomy mood in most shores does not presage such a drastic impact despite the almost equally devastating QE2 and QE3, both RBI and the finance ministry need to ensure we do not create our own hubris.





If there is one thing that was held up clearly in the 2G scam, it was the role audit plays in pointing out errors in executive action. The earlier an audit is deployed, the better it is for the polity. The performance audit on hydrocarbon production sharing contracts by CAG has, therefore, come at the right time. The government still has a lot of leeway that it can use vis-à-vis the firms involved in the exploration of oil and gas on shore and offshore. This is unlike the situation in the telecom sector where the audit report came way too late in the day to make any course correction possible. The government, for instance, is working out the awards for the eighth round of NELP and CAG's observations should be incorporated in them. However, in the current climate where the interaction between the government and the corporate sector is coming under more and more scrutiny, it is worth investigating if just about any audit report qualifies as a scam.

A major thrust of this report is that the government had gold-plated not only the production sharing contracts but also their interpretations in favour of the contractors. This is a questionable interpretation, because if that was the case, global exploration companies would not have given the latest NELP so unequivocal a miss. Since these are essentially the same contracts, they too would have sensed an opportunity and come calling. The other point is the insistence on a comprehensive development plan as envisaged under the production sharing contract. It is difficult to see how such a plan can be submitted ex ante by an explorer, before any discovery is made. The nature of discovery in the sector is very variable despite all the seismic data made available, and strike rates are in any case few and far between. It is also not surprising that the CAG report has concentrated on the KG-D6 fields, the Rajasthan block and the Panna Tapti fields as these are the only significant commercial discoveries made in India on scales comparable with Bombay High. The report has, however, rightly pointed out that the royalty formula and petroleum profits need to be reworked in earnest, to ensure there is a balance between what the government earns and what the contractor does. There are significant issues to mull over in this debate, before we move to a conclusion.






If there is one thing that was held up clearly in the 2G scam, it was the role audit plays in pointing out errors in executive action. The earlier an audit is deployed, the better it is for the polity. The performance audit on hydrocarbon production sharing contracts by CAG has, therefore, come at the right time. The government still has a lot of leeway that it can use vis-à-vis the firms involved in the exploration of oil and gas on shore and offshore. This is unlike the situation in the telecom sector where the audit report came way too late in the day to make any course correction possible. The government, for instance, is working out the awards for the eighth round of NELP and CAG's observations should be incorporated in them. However, in the current climate where the interaction between the government and the corporate sector is coming under more and more scrutiny, it is worth investigating if just about any audit report qualifies as a scam.

A major thrust of this report is that the government had gold-plated not only the production sharing contracts but also their interpretations in favour of the contractors. This is a questionable interpretation, because if that was the case, global exploration companies would not have given the latest NELP so unequivocal a miss. Since these are essentially the same contracts, they too would have sensed an opportunity and come calling. The other point is the insistence on a comprehensive development plan as envisaged under the production sharing contract. It is difficult to see how such a plan can be submitted ex ante by an explorer, before any discovery is made. The nature of discovery in the sector is very variable despite all the seismic data made available, and strike rates are in any case few and far between. It is also not surprising that the CAG report has concentrated on the KG-D6 fields, the Rajasthan block and the Panna Tapti fields as these are the only significant commercial discoveries made in India on scales comparable with Bombay High. The report has, however, rightly pointed out that the royalty formula and petroleum profits need to be reworked in earnest, to ensure there is a balance between what the government earns and what the contractor does. There are significant issues to mull over in this debate, before we move to a conclusion.






Serial entrepreneur C Sivasankaran has embarrassed the UPA government for the second time in a span of two years. In both instances, the ministers with egg on their faces happened to be from the DMK—A Raja earlier and Dayanidhi Maran now. What will be interesting and, of course, worth watching is whether Siva (as he is popularly referred to) conclusively nails Maran over his allegations that Maran forced him to sell his mobile firm Aircel to Malaysia's Maxis or reaches for a settlement as he did earlier with Raja.

To put it in perspective, the 2G heat on Raja reached its peak in November 2010, leading to his exit. But had Siva stuck on to his battle with Raja, the former minister would have met his fate much earlier, around March 2010. Those following the 2G spectrum mess from the start were a disappointed lot when Siva did a sudden volte-face just at a time when the screws were tightening on Raja.

For those not familiar with the nitty-gritties of telecom, Siva's firm STel is one of the nine companies that were granted licences by Raja in January 2008. However, Siva had a grievance. He could get licences for only three circles against his application for 22. This is because of Raja's arbitrary decision to advance the cutoff date for processing the applications received till September 25, 2007, against the earlier announced date of October 1, 2007.

Since the six applications were made before September 25 and the balance after that, STel could secure licences for only six circles. An incensed Siva moved the Delhi High Court in 2009, challenging Raja's move. The court, on July 1, 2009, ruled in Siva's favour and said that the advancement of the cutoff date by Raja was both illegal and arbitrary. The government appealed the matter before a division bench, but lost. On November 24, 2009, the bench upheld the order and, in spite of the presence of the attorney general Goolam Vahanvati, it ruled in Siva's favour. The matter was promptly appealed in the Supreme Court. Knowing fully well that Siva could succeed in the Supreme Court, in a sudden turn of events, he filed an affidavit withdrawing the matter from the court by giving an excuse that the market had changed and that he was no longer interested in more licences. It was unclear what was so compelling about the market in 2009 that pushed Siva to file the case, but became unattractive by March 2010! The Supreme Court slammed STel on its volte-face but did not nullify the high court's verdict; nevertheless, it sure came as a breather for the embattled Raja.

An interesting development took place days before the case was scheduled to come up in the Supreme Court. The department of telecommunications, in a sudden and unprecedented move, suspended the operations of STel in three circles—Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa—where it had started services till then. The one-line reason given was national security concerns. Once STel withdrew the case, the services were restored—this is something that the CBI now plans to investigate. It's difficult to prove but, on face, some kind of deal with Raja at that point of time cannot be ruled out.

There's another puzzling aspect of Siva. His company STel was amongst the first to file applications out of the list of 575 applications that came up for consideration for grant of licences. In the original lineup based on date of applications, only Idea, Spice and Swan were ahead of STel. Datacom and Unitech came far behind. However, when the spectrum allocation occurred based on the modified first-come first-served principle manipulated by Raja, Siva came third in line for spectrum in most circles and in others at the fourth or fifth position. In almost every circle, he let Datacom and Unitech jump ahead of him.

Not that Siva did not gain at Raja's hand despite the rejection of 16 applications. By getting the six licences at 2001 prices, he did make a major killing. Siva received licences for Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, North East and Orissa at a mere R25 crore. The CAG report states: "Out of the six, three companies—Swan, STel and Unitech—were new entrants in the telecom sector. The fact that these operators could draw huge foreign investments even before establishing a foothold in the Indian telecom market would suggest that acquiring a UAS licence and with it allotment of 4.4. MHz of GSM spectrum for rollout was the main factor which attracted the foreign investment".

This is because STel also sold 49% stake to Bahrain's Batelco for $225 million. For the record, since 2006, Sivasankaran is a stakeholder in Tata group's Tata Teleservices. His initial stake was around 8%, which has subsequently come down to around 6%. In short, Siva has sold and bought more telecom licences in India than any other company or individual.

The charge he has levelled against Maran, who served as telecom minister from 2004 till April 2007 as documented in the Justice Patil report is that as telecom minister Maran delayed granting licences to Dishnet Wireless (Siva's company that merged with Aircel) in April 2004 on flimsy pretexts. The licences were, however, given within four months of Siva selling off Aircel to Malaysia's Maxis group, whose associate company Astro subsequently made investments in Sun Direct, belonging to the Sun TV group, which is owned by Maran's brother Kalanithi Maran. Maran has denied the charges. It is also true that there were several other irregularities committed during the Maran days in the telecom sector, which have been highlighted earlier in these columns. The Justice Patil committee has also documented them and the CBI is investigating them. But the most interesting thing to watch now is that, having made the allegations against Maran, will Siva help the agency in taking them to their logical conclusion or back mid-way as he did with Raja?






Is it really easy for anyone to sneak up to a bank branch in Switzerland and open an account, and pray that his/her riches are never discovered? Does the over-arching privacy principle give immunity to mysterious account holders? The reality may not be so simple.

The Swiss banking sector generates nearly 6.7% of Switzerland's GDP, and wealth management accounts for nearly half of that, according to the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA). Swiss banks have to follow very strict due diligence procedures when starting a business relationship with a client for both retail and wealth management banking.

The customer needs to physically go to the bank for opening an account with documents to prove his identity. He/she is scrutinised based on know-your-customer rules. Once the bank agrees to do business with a customer, it will have to verify the identity and assets of the customer as mandated by law. It will need to determine whether the assets are linked to the customer.

Although Swiss banking is underscored by over-riding principles of privacy, there are provisions within the law where the need to expose suspicious activity supersedes this condition. A popular misconception about 'numbered accounts' is that the account holder is forever guarded by privacy principles.

There are no such things as 'anonymous accounts'—they are forbidden by law. A numbered account is one where there is a greater level of privacy for the customer, since the account is not identified by name, but by a code. The procedure to open a numbered account is exactly the same as for an ordinary account—the bank must verify the identity of the client and beneficial owner, and make sure the origin of the funds does not come from crime. Within the bank, knowledge of the client's identity is kept to a small circle of bank staff. This is simply an internal security measure that offers an additional layer of privacy protection, according to SBA. It is a designated criminal offence to divulge client data to unauthorised parties. But that apart, a numbered account does not afford any special level of immunity from investigations. A bank cannot deny information about a numbered account in the event of criminal proceedings.

Anyone holding important public office in a foreign country is designated as a politically-exposed person (PEP). He/she is categorised under a different risk category. Stricter due diligence measures kick in if a bank decides to take as a client a person it has identified as being a PEP. Clearly, all PEPs are not criminals. As a PEP, however, he/she could pose a higher legal and reputational risk for a bank. The bank might even refuse to start a business relationship with a PEP if it believes the person poses too much of a legal or reputational risk. "The decision to open an account for a PEP is not taken by the young clerk at the counter—the decision has to be taken at senior management level," James Nason, Head of International Communications at SBA, says. If a bank goes ahead and takes the PEP as a client, it has to monitor the account and transactions with extra vigilance.

What if the assets are managed by a third party? In that case, the beneficial owner of the assets needs to be determined. Independent asset managers are required to furnish information and attest their signature about the owners of the assets they are doing business for. Switzerland's anti-money laundering legislation applies to all financial intermediaries, including independent asset managers who must belong to a self-regulatory organisation for the purposes of fighting money laundering. "So while independent asset managers have to carry out anti-money laundering checks themselves, a bank still has to run its own checks on the assets an independent asset manager brings to the bank. It cannot assume the independent asset manager has carried out adequate due diligence," Nason adds.

Standards for the identification of clients and beneficial owners, for example, are laid down in SBA's self-regulatory Due Diligence Agreement, originally issued in 1977. "It's self-regulation with teeth: banks face fines of up to CHF 10 million for violations," Nason says. The agreement is revised every five years to take into account legislative and technological developments (the version in force at the moment is the 2008 version). In addition, there are regulations laid down in the Federal Anti-Money Laundering Act of 1998 and in the banking regulator's Anti-Money Laundering Ordinance of 2003.

In the event of unusual account activity, the bank can ask the customer about the source of funds or examine the transactions if there is a deviation from the normal pattern of use. There are mechanisms that will alert the banker, flagging transactions that need to be probed. Banks are obliged by law to investigate and clarify unusual or suspicious transactions. If banks have a well-founded suspicion about money laundering or other financial crimes, they are legally mandated to freeze the assets. They can step in on their own initiative. Unlike in many other countries, Swiss banks do not have to wait for a court order to intervene. Further, they have to report it to the Money Laundering Reporting Office (MROS) in Bern. The authorities then investigate and instruct the bank for further action. Both the Federal Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Ordinance have explanations with typical indicators of money laundering activity.

The author is a journalist, working in Switzerland








To the list of acronyms and alphabets — 2G, CWG, ISRO — that have given the United Progressive Alliance government such an unsavoury image in recent times must now be added another: KG. According to the draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on hydrocarbon production sharing contracts (PSCs), the public exchequer has suffered an as yet unquantifiable loss thanks to the "undue benefit" provided by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to Reliance Industries Ltd., the operator of the gas-rich Krishna-Godavari basin fields. The CAG also found that Cairn India Ltd., the United Kingdom-based company which operates oilfields in Rajasthan, was the beneficiary of unwarranted official largesse. Broadly speaking, the CAG identified two major irregularities in the KG basin case. First, the government allowed RIL to inflate its capital expenditure (capex) claims for the D6 gas field without adequate scrutiny. The financial implications of this are obvious: given the nature of the PSC, the higher RIL's claimed capex, the lower the government's share of the revenues accruing from the production of gas. Secondly, the company was allowed to retain the entire field despite being required to surrender those parts of it where no hydrocarbon discoveries had been made. In the case of Cairn, the CAG says the Ministry allowed the company to expand the contract area by more than 1,600 square kilometres when the PSC did not allow for this. The CAG report also covers the joint venture between ONGC and the private sector BGEPIL and RIL in the Panna-Mukta-Tapti (PMT) offshore oil fields in Bombay High, but the failure of the JV to provide relevant records meant the audit remained inconclusive.

The CAG's hydrocarbon report is a reminder of the unhealthy relationship that exists between UPA government Ministers, bureaucrats, and big business. The constitutionally sanctioned body believes the flaw lies with the structure of PSC, which gives private operators an incentive to inflate their capex. But the Oil Ministry and its officials are faulted for failing to exercise their powers of oversight and also for actively favouring RIL on KG-related matters. That all was not well at KG was known as early as 2008 and 2009, when the fight between the two Ambani brothers over gas pricing brought various internal aspects of the project into the public domain. The CBI opened a probe into the role of the then Director General of Hydrocarbons but neither the Prime Minister's Office nor Murli Deora, who headed the Ministry at the time, saw any need to conduct an urgent, real-time investigation into all the financial aspects of the project. Thanks to the CAG, the people of India have a small hole they can peer into. But the government has a duty to drill deeper, far deeper into the irregularities the auditors have found.





Two years after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee promised in his budget speech that India would become slum-free in five years, the United Progressive Alliance government has come up with legislation that might enable progress towards this goal. The model Property Rights to Slum Dwellers Act circulated recently by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation aims to improve the conditions of an estimated 93 million slum dwellers. The legislation would entitle every "eligible" slum dweller living in a slum to receive a dwelling place of 25 square metres of carpet area or its equivalent land area at "affordable" cost. It would confer property rights in the name of the female head of the household or in the joint name of the male head and his wife. This is a progressive course correction meant to check the prevalent male bias in determining housing rights. The proposed Act lays down a seven-year lock-in period to prevent the sale or lease of the allotted property but sensibly makes provision for mortgaging the dwelling units to raise loans for improving them.

There are some serious shortcomings in the model Act. The proposal to fix a cut-off date to identify "eligible" slum dwellers and provide the "ineligible" ones only with an "all weather" space for rent and not a proper dwelling needs to be rethought. Arbitrary cut-off dates and a rigid quota system are impractical to implement. Lessons should be learnt from the failed government schemes to regulate urban street vendors. If the social objective is to create slum-free cities, an inclusive definition that maximises the number of beneficiaries is an imperative. It is ironical that this model legislation, which is meant to stop forced evictions, has provisions to imprison and fine people who have constructed "illegal" structures on government land. Securing government property is a separate issue. Housing is a State subject and the success of the recommended legislation will depend on how well it is implemented by the various State governments. In 2007, the Union Ministry through its national housing policy recommended that 20-25 per cent of the built-up area should be reserved for low-income groups in all housing projects, including those built by private developers. This is yet to be implemented in many cities. What is critical is adequate supply of housing for the poor. If the vision of slum-free cities is to be realised, the stock of social housing must be vastly increased.







The Anglo-American project to craft an Afghan endgame that ensures long-term western military presence in the South and Central Asian region has entered a critical phase. The United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) now acknowledge that a complete withdrawal from the region by 2014 is not on the cards. Several stages of diplomatic and political deception concealed this "hidden agenda." Regional powers — Pakistan and India, in particular — are sadder and wiser today.

Looking back, the military stalemate in Afghanistan provided a persuasive argument for the West to justify the opening of a political track. The U.S. and Britain literally shoved down the throat of regional countries at the London conference in January last year their idea of reconciliation with the Taliban. India was assured that what was being contemplated was mere "reintegration" — and not "reconciliation" — and was given a bit of tutoring in the subtle uses of the English language. Pakistan was in a triumphalist mood, having been assured privately that it would be the kingmaker in any peace process. Equally, Russia was basking in the sunshine of the newly-invented process of "reset" in relations with the U.S. Iran, which was consistently wise to the western game plan, boycotted the London conference. China, of course, kept its head below the parapet.

Following the London conference, which must stand out as a first-rate drama of diplomatic deception, the U.S. and Britain rightly proceeded to claim an "international mandate" for talking to the Taliban. With the help of Saudi Arabia, a series of secret meetings with the representatives of various insurgent groups commenced. NATO aircraft provided transportation for Taliban participants in these meetings and according to Der Spiegel, Berlin got U.S. intelligence operatives and Taliban representatives to meet face-to-face on German soil more than once. All the while, the Anglo-American deception continued and a thick layer of fog surrounded the entire process. Mark Sedwill, U.K.'s special representative on Af-Pak, during last week's visit to New Delhi, said with a delightfully airy vagueness that will be the envy of any diplomat: "There are channels of communication being explored… This outreach to the senior leaders is still in the very early stages. And we don't know how serious they are… 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."

Meanwhile, former Afghanistan President and head of the Afghan High Council for Peace, Burhanuddin Rabbani, revealed that his members have held preliminary talks with the main Taliban group led by Mullah Mohammad Omar and the so-called Quetta Shura and that the "multiple channels" are indeed "getting momentum." According to the Guardian, representatives of the Haqqani network visited Kabul "very recently." Simultaneously, the U.S. is spearheading a move in New York for the removal of the Taliban from the United Nations' list of terrorists so that they can travel and openly take part in talks. The idea has been floated that the Taliban be permitted to open "representative office" in a third country.

The U.S. is piloting a proposal to remove 20 Taliban figures from the U.N. list. Alongside, it is pushing for a range of changes to the U.N.'s so-called "1275 list," which comprises around 450 terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The U.S. wants to "separate" the Taliban from al-Qaeda and the justification being given is that the al-Qaeda and the Taliban belong to two "different fields of action" as unlike the al-Qaeda which is a global organisation, the Taliban is "Afghanistan-centric." The plain truth, however, is that the U.S. wants to hold out the tantalising prospect of lifting sanctions against select Taliban figures as a bargaining chip to get them to talk and cut deals directly with American negotiators. Unsurprisingly, having been caught unawares at the London conference, Russia, China and India are today on guard and view the U.S. moves at the U.N. Security Council with reserve.

The western propaganda has drummed up a grim scenario in Afghanistan, which provides the raison d'etre of long-term western military bases. The visiting French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, told journalists in Washington last week that the U.S. is engaged in tripartite talks with the Taliban and Pakistan, that it wants the Taliban to be part of the solution but has had difficulty so far finding credible interlocutors on the Taliban side who are willing to talk peace and that talks are under way "as we speak." He said that despite the U.S.' surge a year ago, and notwithstanding claims of progress by U.S. and NATO generals commanding the troops, actual progress against the Taliban is inadequate. "The strategy doesn't succeed as well as we expected on the ground," he said. He went on to doubt the feasibility of the "transition" through 2014 that is being planned in July, since the Afghan army and police are ill-prepared to assume responsibility for security.

Regional opposition

The sum and substance of what Mr. Juppe said is that despite the efforts to engage the Taliban and notwithstanding the "transition" that is being planned, the insurgency will not end in the near future. What he left unsaid was that continued western troop presence beyond 2014, therefore, is a must. To be sure, Washington is secretly negotiating a 'strategic partnership agreement' with the Kabul government that provides for military bases on a long-term basis. Again, the U.S. is in denial but its doublespeak is increasingly getting exposed. The regional powers oppose a long-term U.S.-NATO military presence but Washington counts on the Kabul government to deliver. The Kabul government is on the horns of a dilemma insofar as the American dollar holds its own attractions in the Hindu Kush but then, one has to be alive first to enjoy the good life and the bottom line is that Afghan people may not like the prospect of foreign military occupation and the regional powers are opposing it. In a fit of disgust, Pakistan reportedly advised the Kabul government to swap the American dollar for the Chinese yuan. The Afghan bazaar is agonising. Whereas the U.S. remains confident about the Afghan bazaari culture and estimates that the Afghan protagonists after some pretentious hard bargaining will ultimately settle for a deal that won't burn a hole in America's pocket.

Core issue

It is a sad state of affairs that a once-proud nation is being traded in the bazaar. The core issue for the U.S. is that the Taliban should mellow on its uncompromising opposition to the long-term western troop presence as quid pro quo for what passes for "reconciliation." To this end, Washington needs to deal with the Taliban directly, on a one-to-one basis without Pakistani or Afghani intermediaries — despite the U.S.' proforma acknowledgement all through of Pakistan's key role as 'facilitator' and despite paying lip-service that reconciliation with the Taliban ought to be "Afghan-led." This tussle lies at the core of the U.S.-Pakistan tensions, as Islamabad is credited with influence over the Quetta Shura. Pakistan's military leadership resents that contrary to earlier pledges, when the crunch time approached, the U.S. bypassed the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency operatives began networking directly with various militant organisations. Through two months of sustained grilling of the U.S.'s ace intelligence operative Raymond Davis in a Lahore jail by the ISI, Pakistani military leadership got to know a lot about the reach of the CIA's penetration of Pakistan's body polity.

A huge challenge faces Indian policymakers also. Quite obviously, New Delhi views these developments with concern. The good part is that it has measured the "big picture" while being what Washington fondly calls the U.S.' "indispensable partner in the 21st century." Thus, New Delhi persists with its far-sighted dialogue approach toward Pakistan although it is deeply disappointed by Pakistan's lack or response on 26/11 investigations and on dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. New Delhi also takes care not to identify with the U.S.'s 'containment' strategy toward China.

Not much ingenuity is required to anticipate that India's interests will be severely damaged if this region becomes the arena of a "new cold war" stemming out the long-term NATO military presence in South and Central Asia. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took the initiative to strengthen New Delhi's ties with Kabul while judiciously leaving it to the latter to set the parameters in deference to Pakistani sensitivities.

The Indian move to seek membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) promises to provide a much-needed forum for New Delhi to partake in regional processes where India gets to work with Russia, China and Pakistan. India's policymakers are doing extraordinarily well in navigating the country's passage through a rather dangerous situation.

The Anglo-American enterprise capitalised on the absence of a regional initiative. The U.S.' diplomacy brilliantly succeeded in creating disruptions in Russia's and India's traditional ties with Iran to isolate Tehran, which is an influential player in Afghanistan, apart from tapping into the contradictions in India's relations with China and Pakistan. The U.S. selectively engaged Russia under the rubric of "reset." On the whole, however, the regional powers are today a wiser lot about the criticality of a neutral Afghanistan.

( The writer is a former diplomat.)










Pakistan's top military spy agency has arrested some of the Pakistani informants who fed information to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the months leading up to the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, according to American officials.

Pakistan's detention of five C.I.A. informants, including a Pakistani Army major who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the weeks before the raid, is the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is seeking Pakistan's support in brokering an endgame in the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

At a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael J. Morell, the deputy C.I.A. director, to rate Pakistan's cooperation with the United States on counter-terrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.

"Three," Mr. Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange.

The fate of the C.I.A. informants arrested in Pakistan is unclear, but American officials said that the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, raised the issue when he travelled to Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.

Some in Washington see the arrests as illustrative of the disconnect between Pakistani and American priorities at a time when they are supposed to be allies in the fight against al-Qaeda — instead of hunting down the support network that allowed bin Laden to live comfortably for years, the Pakistani authorities are arresting those who assisted in the raid that killed the world's most wanted man.

The bin Laden raid and more recent attacks by militants in Pakistan have been blows to the country's military, a revered institution in the country. Some officials and outside experts said the military is mired in its worst crisis of confidence in decades.

American officials cautioned that Mr. Morell's comments about Pakistani support was a snapshot of the current relationship, and did not represent the administration's overall assessment.

"We have a strong relationship with our Pakistani counterparts and work through issues when they arise," said Marie E. Harf, a C.I.A. spokeswoman. "Director Panetta had productive meetings last week in Islamabad. It's a crucial partnership, and we will continue to work together in the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups who threaten our country and theirs."

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, said in a brief telephone interview that the C.I.A. and the Pakistani spy agency "are working out mutually agreeable terms for their cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism. It is not appropriate for us to get into the details at this stage."

A distancing

Over the past several weeks the Pakistani military has been distancing itself from American intelligence and counterterrorism operations against militant groups in Pakistan. This has angered many in Washington who believe that bin Laden's death has shaken al- Qaeda and that there is an opportunity to further weaken the organisation with more raids and armed drone strikes.

But in recent months, dating approximately to when a C.I.A. contractor killed two Pakistanis on a street in the eastern city of Lahore in January, American officials said that Pakistani spies from the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, known as the ISI, have been generally unwilling to carry out surveillance operations for the C.I.A. The Pakistanis have also resisted granting visas allowing American intelligence officers to operate in Pakistan, and have threatened to put greater restrictions on the drone flights.

It is the future of the drone programme that is a particular worry for the C.I.A. American officials said that during his meetings in Pakistan last week, Mr. Panetta was particularly forceful about trying to get Pakistani officials to allow armed drones to fly over even wider areas in the northwest tribal regions. But the C.I.A. is already preparing for the worst: relocating some of the drones from Pakistan to a base in Afghanistan, where they can take off and fly east across the mountains and into the tribal areas, where terrorist groups find safe haven.

Pentagon programme

Another casualty of the recent tension is an ambitious Pentagon programme to train Pakistani paramilitary troops to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in those same tribal areas. That programme has ended, both American and Pakistani officials acknowledge, and the last of about 120 American military advisers have left the country.

American officials are now scrambling to find temporary jobs for about 50 Special Forces support personnel who had been helping the trainers with logistics and communications. Their visas were difficult to obtain and officials fear if these troops are sent home, Pakistan will not allow them to return.

In a sign of the growing anger on Capitol Hill, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that he believed elements of the ISI and the military had helped protect bin Laden.

Mr. Rogers, who met with senior security officials in Pakistan last week, said he had no evidence that senior Pakistani military or civilian leaders were complicit in sheltering bin Laden. And he did not offer any proof to support his assertion, saying only his accusation was based on "information that I've seen."

He warned that both lawmakers and the Obama administration could end up putting more restrictions on the $2 billion in American military aid received annually by Pakistan. He also called for "benchmarks" in the relationship, including more sharing of information about militant activities in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere and more American access to militants detained in Pakistan.

American military commanders in Afghanistan appear cautiously optimistic that they are making progress in pushing the Taliban from its strongholds in that country's south, but many say a significant American military withdrawal can occur only if the warring sides in Afghanistan broker some kind of peace deal. But the United States is reliant on Pakistan to apply pressure on Taliban leaders, over whom they have historically had great influence.

For now, at least, America's relationship with Pakistan keeps getting tripped up. When he visited Pakistan, Mr. Panetta offered evidence of collusion between Pakistani security officials and the militants staging attacks in Afghanistan.

American officials said Mr. Panetta presented satellite photographs of two bomb-making factories that American spies several weeks ago had asked the ISI to raid. When Pakistani troops showed up days later, the militants were gone, causing American officials to question whether the militants had been warned by someone on the Pakistani side.

Shortly after the failed raids, the Defence Department put a hold on a $300 million payment reimbursing Pakistan for the cost of deploying more than 100,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan, two officials said. The Pentagon declined to comment on the payment, except to say it was "continuing to process several claims." — © New York Times News Service








In the aftermath of the devastating March tsunami, Japan's underworld made a rare display of philanthropy, handing out emergency supplies to survivors, sometimes days before aid agencies arrived.

Three months later, however, the yakuza appears to have dispensed with largesse and is instead hoping to cash in on the daunting clean-up effort in dozens of ruined towns and villages.

The government and police fear they are losing the battle to prevent crime syndicates from winning lucrative contracts to remove millions of tonnes of debris left in the tsunami's wake, including contaminated rubble near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that many firms are reluctant to handle.

Tonnes of debris

The disaster created almost 24m tonnes of debris in the three hardest-hit prefectures, Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, according to the environment ministry. So far, just over five million tonnes — or 22 per cent — has been removed.

Those lining up to profit from the clearance operation, which is expected to take three years, include home-grown gangs and Chinese crime syndicates, according to the June edition of Sentaku, a respected political and economic affairs magazine.

The magazine recounts the story of a leading Chinese gangster who, accompanied by a national politician, visited the mayor of Minamisoma — a town near Fukushima Daiichi, where a partial evacuation order is in place — hoping to win contracts to remove radioactive waste that, according to police, could have ended up at disposal sites in China.

The man, named in the article as Mr X, had reportedly ingratiated himself with the local authorities by handing out free food to people living in evacuation centres.

The mayor had no knowledge of the man's underworld connections, the magazine said.

"If they help citizens, it's hard for the police to say anything bad," said Tomohiko Suzuki, a journalist who has written several books on the Japanese underworld.

"The yakuza are trying to position themselves to gain contracts for their construction companies for the massive rebuilding that will come." An unnamed senior gangster countered in the Weekly Taishuu magazine: "It takes too long for the arm of the government to reach out here so it's important to do it now. Our honest sentiment right now is to be of some use to people." In the days after the tsunami, the wealthiest yakuza gangs reportedly sent dozens of trucks loaded with water, nappies, instant noodles, blankets and other supplies worth an estimated half a million dollars to the stricken region.

The race to profit from the operation to remove what is left of wrecked buildings and gain a share of the reconstruction budget is expected to intensify in the coming months.

Officials have said that the removal of debris should come under central government control, and the names of "antisocial" individuals have been forwarded to local authorities.

But given the sheer quantity of debris, and the manpower required to remove and dispose of it, few believe Japan's most powerful yakuza gangs will be kept out altogether.

The police's job has been complicated by the emergence of yakuza front companies that, without time-consuming investigations, are impossible to distinguish from legitimate businesses.

As Sentaku notes: "It appears to be an uphill battle to prevent the yakuza and other crime syndicates from benefiting from the multitrillion-yen reconstruction projects." Traditionally, construction has been a dependable well of cash from which the yakuza, with an estimated nationwide membership of 80,000, has supped long and often.

"The nexus of massive construction projects, bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen and yakuza are as revealing about Japan as they are about Italy and Russia," Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo, wrote in his recent book, Contemporary Japan.

"In Japan, the yakuza cut on construction projects is estimated at three per cent, a vast sum that keeps them afloat, given that during the 1990s the public works budget was on par with the US Pentagon's budget and remains quite high despite huge cutbacks." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






Global warming could be slowed down if governments cleaned up what's known as black carbon from industry and cooking fires, 50 of the world's leading atmospheric scientists said on June 14.

Major air pollutants like black carbon, methane and ground level ozone mostly result from the soot and gases formed by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, wood and biomass. These pollutants only remain in the atmosphere for a few days or weeks and are mostly seen by governments as important for health and air quality.

But the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), working with the World Meteorological Organisation, said these "short-lived climate forcers" contribute as much as 25-30 per cent to present-day climate change emissions, and if controlled would also provide dramatic health and farming benefits.

"A small number of emission reduction measures ... offer dramatic public health, agricultural, economic and environmental benefits," said Achim Steiner, the head of the UNEP.

Black carbon affects climate by intercepting and absorbing sunlight, darkening snow and ice when deposited and helping to form clouds. It is most noticeable at the poles, on glaciers and in mountain regions — all environments which are showing the greatest impact of climate change.

Glacier melting, rainfall

The full impact of black carbon is still being assessed but it is linked to the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, disruption of traditional rainfall patterns in India and Africa, and low yields of maize, rice, wheat and soya bean crops in Asia and elsewhere. It is also partly generated by wood-burning stoves and dirty diesel cars.

Methane, a powerful global warming gas, is largely emitted from oil, coal and waste treatment plants, and ground-level ozone comes largely from traffic.

According to the UNEP report, launched on June 14 in Bonn at the resumed UN climate talks, ground-level ozone and black carbon together could be reducing crop yields by as much as 50m tonnes a year and be leading to 2.5m premature human deaths a year from poor outdoor air quality. A preliminary version of the report was published in February.

A team of 50 scientists convened by UNEP studied the climactic impact of the air pollutants and proposed 16 measures to address them. These included removing the dirtiest vehicles from the roads, improving cooking stoves, banning the burning of straw and farm waste, and better technology for the world's brick kilns.

The authors suggested that, if adopted, tighter controls on the pollutants could cut 0.5°C off rising temperatures. Such a reduction would help the 193 countries who agreed at the UN climate conference in Cancun last December to limit temperature rises to no more than 2°C. Temperatures have already risen by around 0.8°C since the industrial revolution, and earlier this month UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said the 2°C target was "not enough" and governments should be aiming to limit rises to 1.5°C to avoid "big, big trouble." In six months' time the scientists hope to report on which countries could do most and how much it might cost.

"For many of the measures, especially the methane ... there are cost savings," Johan Kuylenstierna of the Stockholm Environment Institute, told Reuters. It is possible that governments will seek an outline agreement to reduce the global emissions of the pollutants at the Rio+20 earth summit next June.

Air pollution is a serious issue in both rich and poor countries and because the benefits of cleaning it up are likely to be seen quickly, there is some hope that governments will agree to taking stronger action. In addition, most countries and regions, like Europe, already have laws and measures in place intended to reduce air pollutants. A 2009 report by the Dutch environment agency said efforts to cut carbon emissions could save millions of lives because of cleaner air. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






After humbling the DMK at the hustings recently, AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has a few worries, and also some political points to make. Within weeks of her sweeping victory in the Assembly election, she arrived in New Delhi with her customary flair, and made blunt observations against Union home minister P. Chidambaram.

But she did not omit to press demands on the Centre for significant doses of assistance on the power front for her state, as well as for some pet projects such as a monorail for Chennai and free computers for students (a campaign promise made to outdo the DMK in offering freebies). These are of direct concern to the CM. It is openly acknowledged in Chennai, for instance, that Tamil Nadu's poor power situation contributed not a little to DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi's political downfall, although nothing perhaps can outweigh the impact of the 2G spectrum scam. The AIADMK chief is therefore expected not to antagonise the UPA-2 government unnecessarily, although this is unlikely to deter her from continuing to embarrass the DMK element in the ruling alliance, or for that matter pro-DMK elements in the Tamil Nadu Congress such as Mr Chidambaram.
Incoming chief ministers are known to urge the Centre to bestow favours on them. In this respect, the AIADMK leader has some advantages. She does not belong to an Opposition alliance such as the NDA (although it is still recalled by some that she had attended Narendra Modi's swearing-in in Gujarat and had not opposed the BJP's Ayodhya stance after the Babri Masjid demolition), or what might be loosely called the Third Front string of parties. To that extent, Ms Jayalalithaa could be open to giving support to the UPA. But this is hardly an open and shut case. Much will depend on the extent to which the Centre offers her financial assistance to rebuild her base as CM. To some degree, the fate of DMK ministers and other leaders in the courts will also help decide the dynamics of ties between the Congress and Tamil parties. The AIADMK chief is all too aware of this. Therefore, for now, she may be expected to bide her time before making any open moves favouring a political alliance with the Congress. But it is evident that the atmospherics created by both sides during Ms Jayalalithaa's New Delhi visit will be savoured by many in both parties, much to the discomfiture of the DMK and its supporters in the Congress.
It would be premature for the Congress to give signs of jettisoning the DMK at this stage. This would only enhance the AIADMK's leverage over the Congress. In the worst-case scenario, the Congress might end up losing the support of 18 DMK MPs and not gain the AIADMK bloc of nine. In the best situation for UPA-2, if court pronouncements begin to hit the DMK camp hard, the DMK can be exchanged for the AIADMK. That would call for softening up Ms Jayalalithaa by meeting her demands for assistance to a significant degree. But all this is in the future. For now, the AIADMK may bargain for just a bit of brinkmanship. Attacking Mr Chidambaram could be a part of this. After all, she can't expect an invitation to the UPA parlour if she demands the ouster of its home minister, at least not at the present stage. As we get closer to the next general election in 2014, the political ground may well have shifted in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, depending on how governments are faring in both locations. So, perhaps in the short term, no real changes in power equations are on the cards. But nothing stops parties from pre-positioning themselves for the next stage.





The forthcoming round of the US-India strategic dialogue provides an opportunity to clear the cobwebs of erroneous expectations that envelop this crucial relationship. Misplaced hopes are harboured by both sides. The uproar in the Indian media over the trial of Tahawwhur Rana underlines both the force of our expectations about American

cooperation in tackling Pakistan-based terrorism and the depth of our disappointment at America's unwillingness to turn the heat on Pakistan. Neither of these is warranted. Equally misguided is the assumption that the latest crisis in US-Pakistan relations somehow presents an opportunity for India. The killing of Osama bin Laden will pave the way for a swift drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan. In so doing, the US will require Pakistan's cooperation to keep the insurgency below boiling point. The realistic course for India is to realise that deepening US-India ties are unlikely to translate into any tangible outcomes vis-à-vis Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Afghanistan suggests that such realisation is dawning on New Delhi.
The learning curve in Washington seems much slower. Flawed assumptions and expectations about the relationship continue to hold sway amongst American analysts and policymakers. These are succinctly summarised in a recent article by Sumit Ganguly in this newspaper (Not squaring up with Washington, June 15). Important players in the US, he writes, are beginning to wonder whether India really wants a "viable strategic partnership". Three developments in recent months have apparently sowed such doubts: the nuclear liability bill passed by India, India's stance on the Libyan crisis, and the decision to drop the American firms contending for the order of 126 Medium Multiple Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). A closer look at each of these highlights some fundamental problems in Washington's strategic perception of India.
Let's start with the nuclear liability legislation. Ganguly observes that this "draconian" legislation prevents American companies from having "a fair chance" of competing in the Indian market. Given the amount of effort the US put in for the nuclear deal with India and for obtaining international clearances, India's actions showed a lack of reciprocity. The main sticking point about the legislation concerns the liability of the supplier — apart from that of the operator of a nuclear power plant — in the event of an accident. All along, the American nuclear industry was opposed to the provision for channelling any liability to the supplier, for this would expose them to litigation in the event of accident. But the fact remains that even the American legal system does not afford them the kind of immunity that they sought in India. Further, the US has seldom allowed considerations of special relationships to override the interests of its own people. The Obama administration's tough stance on British Petroleum's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is entirely in keeping with American practice on such matters. Indian legislation will speak for India's interests. That the US — which routinely uses domestic legislation to advance its international interests — should find this so frustrating is ironical indeed.
Consider next the ongoing Libyan crisis. India's decision to abstain at the United Nations Security Council during the vote authorising the use of force against Libya was apparently reminiscent of its behaviour during the Cold War. The Indian position, in fact, was far from being implacably opposed to the resolution on Libya. The Indians made it clear that they did not believe that the use of force would solve the problem, but if the US and its allies thought otherwise India would not stand in the way of the resolution. Instead of conceding (with the benefit of hindsight) that India might have had a point, the Americans see this as yet another instance of India's unreliability. The notion that India might be acting to secure its own considerable interests in that region does not seem to register at all. Equally problematic is the tendency to attribute India's unwillingness to conform to American wishes as a hangover of non-alignment. This is a serious misreading of Indian purposes and actions.
The US' response to the MMRCA procurement demonstrates the hold of these assumptions. The Americans have argued that this was no ordinary defence deal and that awarding the contract to one of the American contenders would have signalled India's interest in forging a close strategic relationship. To be sure, this is no ordinary defence deal. In procuring these aircraft, India has to cater to its strategic air power requirements for the next five decades. It is surprising, therefore, that the Americans assume that F16 or the F18, which are already into the third decade of existence, should find favour with New Delhi. If the US was indeed keen to bag the contract why did it not offer the F22 or the F35? These platforms have been sold to other allies of the US. The point yet again is the US' inability to appreciate the point that India will act to preserve and further its own interests.
This strange lack of strategic awareness stems from the fact that in the last many years the US has never dealt with a genuine "partner". During the Cold War it dealt with pliant or prickly allies like Britain, Japan or France. More recently, it has forged asymmetric strategic ties with former Soviet bloc countries. The relationship with China has always had an adversarial aspect to it, while relations with Pakistan have been that of a patron and client. India does not fit any of these bills. It does not pose any strategic challenge to the US, but at the same time it does not automatically fall in with America's desires and seeks to advance its own interests. Great powers have traditionally found it difficult to deal with newer powers even when these have not questioned their dominance. A century ago, Britain experienced similar problems in its relations with the US. If ties with India are to flourish, the US will have to go beyond its historical experience and fashion a new mould of engagement.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi





The scandal surrounding the conduct of American politician Anthony Weiner, who send lewd pictures of himself to women, has raised the inevitable question: could it happen here? Or, more appropriately, do Indian constituents care much about their leaders' personal lives?
In a television discussion on this very point, the general feeling was that the Indian media tended to keep away from the peccadilloes — if any — of politicians and that this was a good thing.

As long as their personal life, even if it was illicit, did not affect their professional work, nobody had the right to know anything about it. And there is a tacit understanding in the media (and among fellow politicians) that personal arrangements of politicians were out of bounds. But how would the press and citizens in general react if something like the Weiner scandal were to happen
Mr Weiner is a veteran in politics, a seven-time congressman. Last month, it emerged that he had used his Twitter account to send a link to a photograph showing just a pair of boxer shorts to a 21-year-old female college student who was "following" him.
Though the picture was removed from Mr Weiner's account the very next day, it fell into the hands of a blogger. It emerges that the blogger was a conservative who closely follows Mr Weiner and several other Democrats. The picture was posted on but Mr Weiner insisted that it was not his body and that his political opponents were behind this to malign him.
But even as he was making his claims, another picture, showing him shirtless, was posted on the website followed by allegations that he had been sending even more explicit pictures to women. The game was up and Mr Weiner had to admit that it was indeed him in the boxer shorts and that he had been having inappropriate conversations with several women and had sent them many such pictures.
The Democrats, unwilling to risk a scandal in the run up to the elections, asked him to resign, with even US President Barack Obama saying, "If it was me, I would resign". Mr Weiner, who has admitted himself into a clinic for "treatment" however has not stepped down even three weeks after the scandal broke, despite pressure from his colleagues.
How would the Indian media have dealt with such a situation? Hyperventilation is the default pitch on Indian television channels — would they have gone the whole hog if a story such as this emerged about a veteran politician? And more to the point, would a story
like this come out in the open at all?
On the last question first — the Weiner scandal broke when a conservative blogger posted the picture on his website. We do not have an equivalent, but there are many independent bloggers in India; would they have dared to publish something like this? I think not. Even without the latest round of cyber laws, which the government is putting in place, no individual would dare take on a politician.
What if the recipient of such obscene material herself (or himself) brought it out into the open? Even then, it would have to capture the attention of the media, without which it would remain in the dark.
The media would hesitate to take it up, unless there was proof; making such serious allegations against a politician is not a risk any channel would be willing to take. Yet, television channels barely hesitate to quote anyone who calls a minister corrupt; what then makes claims of a sexual nature so different?
There is no one answer, but it has become accepted practice that the personal lives of political leaders — freely discussed among mediapersons off the record — never, or rarely make it in print or on television. There are exceptions of course — in the 1970s Surya magazine printed explicit pictures of Babu Jagjivan Ram's son cavorting with a woman and more recently, the paternity claims by a man against senior Congress leader N.D. Tiwari cost the latter his job as governor.
But we are happy to read of scandals involving babas and filmstars, and rarely if ever do we hear about the private life of a politician.
This could do with our innate conservatism or bashfulness. Or we may be genuinely unconcerned about who does what in the privacy of their bedroom. One of the points made about the Weiner affair (and many more such scandals that keep breaking in the US) is that the American society is puritanical when it comes to the personal probity of its politician. But we are no less conservative as a society; then why do we look the other way? Could it be squeamishness on our part?
It is worth conjecturing how the spread of the online media will change things. Mr Weiner's indiscretions were caught out because of the fact that despite quick action to take down the offending picture from his own site, there was a record of what he had sent. It is relatively easy to track down the origins of mails and social media postings. And there was a hawk out there tracking Mr Weiner and his Democrat colleagues for any misstep.
Sooner or later that will happen here; already we have alert online vigilantes looking out for anything that is said about their favoured political party, ideology or cause. In future, they could be out to trip rivals and sex scandals would certainly offer handy ammunition to their cause.
The mainstream media may be careful, but the online world is much more anarchic and freewheeling. Sooner or later, a Weiner-like scandal would then break in India too.

Sidharth Bhatia is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai









On the appeal of an NGO called International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) in 2006, 15th June has been earmarked for observance as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). Many countries, NGOs and organizations responded. Evidently, the first step is to recognize that it exists, that it happens amongst us and that it is a problem. The absence of authentic statistics, limited studies, inadequate documentation besides the lack of conceptual and definitional clarity on abuse and neglect all have led to the problem being under-recognized. Besides, the reluctance of witnesses to testify and unclear evidences add to the difficulties in assessing the incidence of elder abuse and neglect. The 6th INPEA annual meeting in London on June 17th may lay emphasis on reviewing the new developments. Education and training of social workers on prevention of elder abuse and the need to have better tools to facilitate detection, intervention and prevention are areas the meeting will focus on. In many countries substantial progress has been made towards reaching a consensus on definition of elder abuse and neglect. There has also been progress towards identifying new information on risk factors. Nuclear families and increasing incompatibility between the young and the old have adversely affected the welfare of the elderly. A growing number of older men and women now live on their own. This despite their frailty and age related disabilities making them dependent on their adult children in the absence of adequate social security. The aged are becoming increasingly vulnerable to crime, violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Clearly, there is an urgent need to educate and train professionals like lawyers, bank employees and those working in insurance and financial institutions. That is because these professionals and the police are in a position to stop abuse before it happens. In India, the subject was taboo till recently, possibly in view of the strong tradition of reverence for the elderly. Joint families have lived together for generations and the society has been in a denial mode in so far as ill-treatment of the elderly is concerned. Coming to terms with such abuse within 'respectable' families has been far from easy.
But there is growing evidence of families neglecting the old. Media coverage, research and NGOs, besides crime records and the police, indicate how families are increasingly discriminating against the elderly, neglecting them and often abusing them. There is little doubt that the quality of life of the elderly has suffered in many parts of the country.
The increase in the number of Old Age Homes and a growing demand for institutional care outside the family are also pointers to the problem. Research studies indicate that the problem exists across socio-economic groups and cuts across the rural-urban divide. Sample surveys have thrown up the interesting nugget that older women seem to be more vulnerable to neglect and abuse than the men. But in the absence of comprehensive surveys, it is difficult to arrive at definite conclusions. The condition of elders and singles in our state is not satisfactory. Joint families have lived together for generations and the society has been in a denial mode in so far as ill-treatment of the elderly is concerned. Coming to terms with such abuse within 'respectable' families has been far from easy. Isolation, abandonment and social exclusion are some forms of the abuse of the elderly one comes across. Denial of legal, medical and human rights and depriving the elderly of choices and a role in decisions, financial or otherwise, are some other forms of neglect which have surfaced. Robbing the elderly of respect and dignity is also not so uncommon any longer. Significantly, the elderly find themselves at the receiving end of not just strangers (robbers and murderers) but also of family members, neighbours, friends, public servants, police, domestic helps and service providers.
The elderly are losing control over property forcing them to undergo financial deprivation. Immovable property belonging to the elderly is increasingly being grabbed, making the elderly homeless. There is evidence that some are being left out of family functions and community activities. Many of the old are being abandoned by grown up children and forced to live in institutions. Some live in ashrams or old age homes while some are being forced out to the streets. Verbal humiliation is on the rise with insulting, rude, insensitive and disrespectful language being used increasingly towards the old. Add to this the emotional and psychological trauma of receiving threats, facing growing fear and insecurity and the stress to which the elderly are being exposed can be appreciated. While it is true that various factors , including health, personality, and availability of resources along with land rights, property and inheritance systems etc determine the extend of discrimination and neglect of the elderly, the fact of the matter is there is drastic need in the country to reduce the 'dependency' of older people on families and communities.







If the GOC-in-C Northern Command, Lt. Gen Parnaik says, "I believe that Pakistan continues to be the biggest threat for India", he cannot be faulted. Any patriotic Indian with hindsight of Kashmir issue and the role of Pakistan in the region, not only as a haven to homebred terrorists but also a strong patron of jihadis will have no hesitation in accepting the views of the General. The threat does not arise from Pakistan believing it will have an edge over India in a conventional war, no; the real threat lies in Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, which she is increasing at a rapid speed, and is very likely to fall into the hands of the jihadis who will use it against India. The crux of the threat is that Pakistan Army and ISI, jointly greatly vexed by control that the US is exercising over it in not allowing them to dislodge the elected government, are dangerously extending patronage to the jihadis for take over of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Since the jihadis have the one-point agenda of destroying India's secular-democratic structure and whip up communal hatred and violence in the country, they are anxiously waiting for the day when the jihadis would capture the nuclear arsenal. India cannot close her eyes to this harsh reality, and it is the Indian Army that is first to bear the brunt of such a cataclysmic disaster. Therefore the GOC-in-C of Northern Command, Lt. Gen. Parnaik is very clear and candid in his statement about the threat from Pakistan. Furthermore, Pakistan is in the tight embrace of China and both have the common agenda of sandwiching India and making her ineffective as a power in South Asian region. This is the reality of threat from Pakistan to which the General has alluded.








As they say, information is necessary to 'form, perform, conform and reform'. It is so basic to any aspect of human existence, be it learning or acquisition of knowledge, performance of one's duties or any activity, compliance to any rules or laws and reform in any system subsequent to revelations of deficiencies discovered and changes required.
It is subsequent to this realization that Right to Information Act (RTI Act) was enacted way back in 2005 in our country. Since its enactment in 2005, RTI has become a potent tool in the hands of hoi polloi and it has used this Act to further the cause of democracy and democratic rights in this country. Principles of natural justice also subsume the right to fair hearing which presumes a right to information.
The various powers and rights accruing to common people under the Act have been widely used, with positive implications for effective governance in this country. The Government and its sundry administrative wings have literally been on toes in the past few years providing various kinds of information to different classes of people.
The war against various systemic evils unleashed in the wake of RTI has been termed as the ''Third War of Independence'. The conservative bureaucracy can no longer hide behind the fig-leaf of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 to deny information to the citizens unless the same could be justified in strict public interest.
Even though RTI came into existence only in 2005 in this country, it is argued that it has always been there an inalienable part of our democratic ethos. The right to information is said to be implied across many disparate rules and provisions of the Representation of Peoples Act, Consumer Protection Act, 1986, Indian Factories Act, 1948, The Constitution of India (e.g Articles 19, 21 and 22), Indian Evidence Act, 1941, The Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, The Public Records Act and many judgements of the Supreme Court and High Courts.
It has also been part of global discourse due to its inclusion in various international Instruments and Conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human right, 1948 and in the Acts/laws of many developed countries.
In fact, for any law or Act to be effective in a democracy, it is very important that the common public is duly informed about the various aspects and provisions. Not only that, these people should also be conscious and conscientized about the need to use their various rights and powers available under the Act. And RTI is no different.
The common people of this country have not only been greatly empowered by the Act, but they are also gradually learning to use the same effectively resulting in more democratization of the system.
With the increased popular participation made possible by the Act, the overall accountability in the system has also increased remarkably. As almost any and every information is now in public domain, the wily Government servant thinks twice before doing anything wrong as he/she is aware that tomorrow he/she might have to account for or explain the action/decision taken by him / her.
The RTI Act has definitely made the administration more transparent and accountable than it ever was.
The basic features of good governance include transparency accountability and predictability. After the enactment of RTI, these parameters could clearly be seen to be writ large across the governance system in this country. Still, there is a lot which needs to be done to make this Act further effective.
First of all, voluntary disclosure of information and appointment of public information officers (PIOs) as warranted under respective sections 4 and 5 of the Act by various agencies have still not been done suitably and properly. Section 4, sub-section 2 of RTI Act says, ''It shall be a constant endavour of every public authority to take steps in accordance with the requirements of clause (b) of sub-section (I) to provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.''
So, it is important that to realise the objective of this Act, the spirit behind these sections are realised and actualised as early as possible.
Not withstanding the fact that there are approximately 50,00,000 public authorities in the country, still, these SPIOS and ASPIOS (State Public Information Officers and Assistant State Public Information Officers) have not been notified by many of them.
And where they have been so notified , they have not been suitably publicised, resulting in confusion and inefficiency in the disposal of the RTI petitions. At many places, there is a single SPIO for the entire Organisation, something which makes the system very cumbersome because of dependence on a long person. So, the onus could be suitably and conveniently apportioned among many SPIOs for better performance and speedier disposal.
Many SPIOs and ASPIOs still wait for the approval of their superiors or appellate authorities to finally pass on the information to petitioners, something which delays sharing of information and is completely avoidable.
The SPIOs and ASPIOs could right away share information without referring the same to their superiors as should be decided well in advance unless there is confusion with regards to a serious issue or a policy matter. Also, some queries involving lots of manual work could be dealt by requesting or inviting petitioners to come and inspect the records at the payment of requisite charges.
The really need shall come forward but the non-serious ones shall never venture forth. But as the burden of providing information within the stipulated timeframe is on SPIO/ASPIO, they definitely should take care to evince enough desire to share the information sought.
There are still many grey areas with regards to implementation of this Act e.g 'which information is in public domain and which is not' is still not clear to many.The stipulation of provisioning information within 30 days is still very vague as the same is interpreted differently by public and public authorities. As people living below the poverty line (BPL) are exempted from paying charges for information sought, many petitioners have been filing proxy petitions through BPL people to avoid paying charges of accessing information.
However, the provision for penalties shoud be applied with lots of care and discretion than arbitrarily as seen in many cases. While there is also a need to clarify and define the role of the competent authorities, some observers feel the need to give more discretionary powers to PIOs and appellate authorites to deal with situations and cases.








Crop and fuel prices have been rising rapidly in all South Asian countries: India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives and others because we do not have enough of both. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report 2007 indicated that sea levels are rising rapidly. Scientists at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development at Kathmandu say that glaciers in the Hindukush Himalayas are retreating due to the effects of climate change. They also say that Maldives and the southern portions of Bangladesh are at the risk of being flooded for longer durations and ultimately drowned.
Ahmadul Hassan of Bangladesh says that their farms suffer from salt water flooding. Paddy cannot grow in saline water! Dhrupad Choudhary and Andreas Schild, ICIMOD, say that "People in the plains are vulnerable to effects of climate change." Changes have been severe on global cereal production since rainfall has been untimely and erratic. Studies conducted in 2009, show reduction in duration of rain and snowfall leading to dry spells in Nepal, Bhutan and India. Temperatures and pests had increased, they found. And there was an overall impact on food and income.
They found that in Uttarakhand and Nepal, cropping was delayed to match the rains. Seeds were soaked and deep sown. Seeds were wetted and wrapped in litter to germinate. Mixed cropping was adopted. Regular crops were replaced by a different variety of the same crop for better growth.
Badri Janam and his community have brought water back in their dried up stream near Dhulikhel in the forests of Kavre district in Nepal. They have replanted indigenous trees like Silloune, Seema, rhododhendron, Chillouni etc. and have regenerated the forests in the last 20- years. They are farmers and own agricultural land of their own. Yet, they maintain 24 hectares of forestland and get timber, non timber forest produce (NTFP), grazing fodder etc.
Seedlings are provided free to the community. They also grow high value crops here like cardamom, broom grass etc that leads to revenue. Visitors pay Rs. 500 to Rs. 1000 to visit the forests. Badri Janam says that women are encouraged to be a part of the committee; given improved cooking stoves and taught tailoring.
Community based maintaining of forests began in 1978. There are about 16,000 such forests in Nepal. Kavre and Sindhupal Chowk districts led the movement, says Rajendra Prasad Sarpota of the Ratomate Forest User Group. Narayan Prasad, chairman of this group, says that, "it was only 18- years ago that the Government of Nepal handed over the forests for maintenance. Trees here have been planted at a distance of 5 metres from each other to prevent landslides." Bamboo groves have been found to be very effective in preventing landslides while pine has been found to deplete groundwater.
"Monsoons have become unpredictable," says Narayan Prasad. "There are floods in one area and about two km away; there could be an arid region without rain." There was a Community Knowledge Service (CKS) Asia Coordination meet at Bangalore, in June last year. Local communities involved in farming, traditional healing, fishing etc as a means of earning their livelihood are being encouraged by NGOs to hold on to their skills and also expand them in the form of herbal and medicine garden projects, eco-tourism projects, evolving better methods to prepare land for farming etc. so that they do not have to look for alternate ways of livelihood or migrate to cities.
Water resources have depleted and the face of agriculture has changed in South Asian countries. Drastic effects of climate change are seen in the Himalayas and the plains as glaciers have begun to recede, lakes are being formed and the rivers are getting erratic water supply. Dr. Schild says "What is happening in the Himalayas is affecting food security elsewhere."
A stream ran through Panchkhal and met the needs of most households. "Four years ago, this stream dried up," say the villagers. They dug a well, which dried up in a year. Then, a borewell was dug 250 metres into the soil with help from an NGO. This gives about 80 litres of water per day to the families for Rs. 150 per month. There are power cuts in the area that last for 11 hours. The villagers have set up a biogas plant that runs on animal and human waste and gives them fuel. Dependency on the forests is reduced.
Sudas Sharma of ICI MOD says, "pre monsoon rains have been heavy this May and the rain has already destroyed newly planted paddy." Pre monsoon showers playing havoc with crops, is true of most South Asian countries.
Saraswoti Bhetwal owns 0.7 hecatres of terrace land in Lamdihi village of Jhikhu Khola. She grew only maize earlier, now she has diversified into rice, potatoes, gourds, chillies and tomato. This has lead to an increase in her earnings.
She uses drip irrigation in her fields. Rainwater harvesting gives stored water for dry spells. Small water harvesting ponds collect rainwater to irrigate fields. She plants fodder grass on the border areas that serve as fodder for her cattle and goats. In the farm they cover the compost with a plastic sheet so it decomposes early and the fertiliser is ready in a shorter time. Farmers are trained at her farm to make organic pesticides. They also have a small self help group that give loans at low interest rates. Similar adaptive measures will help in India, too! (INAV)







When 21-year-old Ranjana Tiwari was harassed by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's guard she did not hesitate to raise her voice even when Delhi police officials refused to register a formal complaint against the guard. While recounting her horror story, she said, "I'm an educated girl, and never at a point did I get scared. I've always been hearing that girls don't come out and raise their voice. They never complain, so how will the authorities take any action against the culprits. So, when this happened with me, how could I have kept quiet?"
Ranjana is the quintessential empowered urban Indian woman who knows her rights, speaks with confidence, does not shy away from taking the powerful to task and lives her life on her own terms. "It feels like there's no justice, and I just want justice," said Ranjana. What happens to the case finally is for the judiciary to decide, but the message is strong and clear: women empowerment has come a long way and it is really happening now. For women like Ranjana, speaking out is just one way to feel more empowered.
Thinking of empowerment, what about the rural Indian women living in remote areas? Do they still continue to find their identity in their husband's name and property? Is women empowerment really happening? For 62-year-old Uttamuduli, a tribal woman living in a non-descript village in Koraput district of Orissa, property rights, particularly land rights are a far more important prerequisite than all others for women empowerment.
"We fulfill all the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, child bearing, collection of fuel, fodder, water, but when it comes to ownership of land we have no rights," said the widow who lives with her blind son and daughter in Gunnar village of Koraput district. While continuing, she said, "Land a woman's family purchases and land that the government grants to her family is almost always titled in her husband or father's name. We need to change that." She is one among many women leaders in Koraput fighting for land and property rights. Women leaders like Uttamuduli reaffirm the fact that in a male-dominated society, women, through federations and women's forums, are now coming forward for their rights and creating space for themselves.
While emphasizing on the importance of education Dr Mohini Giri, an internationally renowned social activist, who has been addressing women's issues and fighting for gender justice, said that as far as women are concerned, all issues relate to all of them whether they are in urban areas or rural areas because patriarchy is all pervading. "The patriarchal mindset of man is the same, thus she has to face the same problems wherever she is."
Though there are good policy steps taken by our Government in the area of women empowerment but we must remember what Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had once said, "You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women".
Recently, President Pratibha Patil while quoting Pandit Nehru highlighted the role of a woman as a critical determinant in the country's growth. Spelling out an agenda for female empowerment, Patil called for gender sensitisation at every stage — right from the protection of the female foetus to the security of the working woman.
They say that the most extensive element of women empowerment is providing them with justice, and let's hope Ranjana gets it! (NPA)










After a shaky start of his second term as Haryana Chief Minister — having won a slender majority — Bhupinder Singh Hooda is now fully in command as the latest Cabinet reshuffle shows. Capt Ajay Singh Yadav, who openly – and needlessly — criticised the state's land acquisition policy, has lost the Finance portfolio as also Irrigation, which was crucial for water-starved southern Haryana he represents. A few days ago when a minister and a Chief Parliamentary Secretary were accused of involvement in a sarpanch's murder, Hooda immediately dropped them. He snubbed the Independent MLA from Sirsa, who returned his official vehicle and security in protest, but later made peace with him.


Changing portfolios is a chief minister's prerogative. Ideally, performance should guide Cabinet changes. But in Haryana's faction-ridden politics, loyalty is rewarded and defiance punished. Judged on performance, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is in charge of the Home portfolio, disappoints. His pro-Jat leanings are well known. He let khaps go amok. The government has been a mute spectator to frequent road and rail traffic blockades by Jats. Then he mishandled the Jat-Dalit clash at Mirchpur in April last year. The government acted only after Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi visited the victims. On Sunday, non-Jats protesting against Jat excesses at Hisar were lathi-charged. The frequent eruption of caste clashes in Haryana points to a deeper social malaise which the Chief Minister needs to address.


In development Haryana has excelled — but largely in areas close to Delhi. Even there growth is haphazard. Gurgaon is an example of urban chaos. Frequent labour strikes, fuelled by growing aspirations and income inequalities, may deter fresh investment in the state's industrial hub. Southern Haryana is a picture of neglect. Jat farmers too feel let down and are pushing for reservations in desperation. In the Jat land, others too need space and opportunities for growth. Uneven growth has created social and political problems. Given the unrest, Chief Minister Hooda should focus on balanced development and good governance, giving key posts to people who deliver, rather than wasting talent and time on caste politics and taming rivals. 









West Bengal's Chief Minister in a hurry, Mamata Banerjee, has clearly not heard of the saying: " act in haste, repent at leisure". Or else, she would not have hurried through an Ordinance first and then, when it was pointed out that an Ordinance could not be issued when the Assembly is still in session, rushed through a Bill to restore land to 'unwilling' farmers at Singur. The land had been acquired by the previous Left Front government for Tata Motors to set up an automobile plant. No attempt was made, however, to have a meaningful debate on the subject before the Bill was passed by the House. Although it was one of her pre-poll promises to restore land to the 'unwilling' farmers at Singur, there was little urgency for such tearing hurry within less than a month of the new government assuming office. By doing so, 'Didi' has confirmed that she remains both impulsive and impatient.


To put the issue in perspective, the Left Front government had acquired 997 acres of land at Singur and distributed compensation to 60 per cent of the land owners. The remaining 'farmers' , however, refused to collect compensation and invited Ms Banerjee to launch a violent agitation on their behalf. The Bill passed by the West Bengal Assembly on Tuesday seeks to return land to these 'unwilling' farmers. The rest of the land will be used to set up industry, says the state government. This is sure to give birth to several legal complications. Those farmers, who accepted the compensation, may well argue that they merely followed the law and that the new government is rewarding those who questioned the acquisition. Some of these farmers may also demand return of the land so that they can bargain directly with industry, as the 'unwilling' farmers are likely to do.


Finally, Tata Motors has already asserted that it hopes to be compensated for the expenses it incurred at Singur. The company claims to have spent Rs 1,800 crore and says that it still has assets worth over Rs 441 crore at the site. But the Bill rules out any compensation to the vendors, who are also said to have spent Rs 171 crore at Singur. Ms Banerjee, it seems, will have to prepare for long and unnecessary litigation.











We have always been taught to look up to our elders and take care of them, and sometimes some of us fail in our duty. What is unfortunate and wrong is that the elderly are also abused at times. Although this is not a new phenomenon, increasing awareness has brought the problem into public consciousness. Indeed, studies have shown that their abuse is as widespread as it is under-reported.


All elder persons are vulnerable, and abuse could be physical, or mental. Inappropriate use of medication can cause its own damage, as can emotional abuse like treating the elderly like children, neglecting them, or violating their privacy. Impinging on the dignity of any person is wrong, particularly, if the person is a dependent on the family. Chandigarh does not figure in a recent study by an NGO, HelpAge India, but Delhi fares badly. In the national Capital, 100 per cent of the respondents blamed their daughters-in-law for abusing them at some or the other time. While their unanimity strengthens a stereotype, it must also be noted that the primary care-giver for the elderly in most houses is the daughter-in-law. Thus, for any perceived transgressions, the blame comes her way, rather than that of the son who would be away from home most of the time. The issue of mismatched expectations between the two parties would also impact the interaction between them. In any case, for any relationship to work, there has to be mutual respect and understanding, a rare phenomenon in today's society.


Now, it is out in the open that the abuse of the elderly is widespread. Acknowledging this is the first step. We must focus our resources and energy on taking care of this problem. We must watch out for signs that someone has been abused. Society must intervene by taking measures that would ensure that the elderly live with dignity and that the vulnerability of these venerable ones is not exploited in any manner. 










Dr Henry Kissinger, the eminence grise of America's foreign policy establishment, has written a seminal book on his country's relations with China (On China) to make the argument that Washington and Beijing form a condomium of sorts in a Pacific community involving the latter's neighbours and Australia to steer the world into a peaceful 21st century. As one would expect from the good doctor, he does not disguise his admiration for Chinese leaders, perhaps flowing from his privileged relations with them from Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai to Deng Xiaoping.


Even discarding Dr Kissinger's bewitchment with China, taking it on its terms of Chinese history, Confucianism and historical allegories, the volume is absorbing reading retailing the breaking of ice with Communist China and how he, under President Richard Nixon, steered growing interactions with Chinese leaders to win their trust. He makes much of the psychology of the Chinese as custodians of the Middle Kingdom and the leaders at the peak were willing to reward the reverential posture the Doctor adopted, much like the Chinese kings of yore accepting tributes from an inferior princeling.


No wonder, Dr Kissinger has remained Beijing's favourite American interlocutor even after divesting office. After Mao and Zhou, he became the privileged confidant of their successors, including Deng.


Dr Kissinger does not have much new to say on the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, disastrous for India, except to relate how clear-headed Mao was and how he had planned the operation in advance. What he leaves unsaid (not to bruise Indian feelings further after his infamous tilt to Pakistan) was how ad hoc Indian policy planning was. In fact, Jawaharlal Nehru was a one-man foreign policy think tank and extraordinary as his grasp of history was, spur of the moment policy-making was no substitute for a well-planned exercise.


The Kissinger analysis has to be commended on several counts. His extraordinary powers to summarise his views on statecraft in short pithy sentences are evident as is his deep knowledge of European history and the pains he has taken to bone up on China's troubled background, particularly the humiliations of a century before Mao's irrationalities took over. Although he speaks of American values such as human rights and freedom, they are for him constraints on Washington's freedom of manoeuvre, rather than inherently good in themselves.


In Dr Kissinger's view, America's missionary approach to spreading democracy and a market economy — the two are inextricably linked in the American mind — is parallel to the Chinese conceit of being the Middle Kingdom, exceptional by its very nature. What better way to reconcile these very different articles of faith with undertaking joint leadership under the flag of the Pacific Community?


And Dr Kissinger gives the assurance to China that he was not springing a surprise by indulging in a containment policy. He writes: "It is important to understand what one means by the term 'containment'. Countries on China's borders with substantial resources, such as India, Japan, Vietnam, and Russia, represent realities that are not created by American policy. China has lived with these countries throughout its history".


To an impartial observer not bewitched by China as Dr Kissinger is, his definitive pronouncements on China's relations with the US show how keen, if not desperate, America was in moving towards a rapprochement with Beijing. American officials were very knowledgeable about 100 years of Chinese humiliations at the hands of outside powers from the West and Japan and made full allowances for their sensitivities. Judging by the account, the Chinese leaders played their part admirably deigning to nod to the Kissinger team with mild encouragement while testing the limits of Washington's need to befriend China.


The author of the volume starts from the premise: "The relationship between China and the United States has become a central element in the quest for world peace and global well-being". He then builds the mystique of China, its singularity, and ultimately pronounces: "Domineering and overwhelming in his influence, ruthless and aloof, poet and warrior, prophet and scourge, he [Mao] unified China and launched it on a journey that nearly wrecked its civil society. By the end of this searing process, China stood as one of the world's major powers and the only Communist country except Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam whose political structure survived the collapse of Communism everywhere else".


Dr Kissinger suggests that the famous warning Zhou gave the Indian ambassador in Beijing of Chinese entry into the Korean war if US troops crossed the 38th parallel "was more making a record for what was already decided than a last plea for peace, as it is so often treated". On the prelude to the Sino-Indian border conflict, the author writes about Nikita Khrushchev's word to the Chinese that the Soviet Union would support China under the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance of 1950. "It was a decision totally out of keeping with Soviet-Chinese relations in the previous years and the neutrality heretofore practised by the Kremlin on the issue of Indian relations with China". It was to ensure China's support over the brewing nuclear missile crisis in Cuba.


]The author writes, "The Sino-US rapprochement started as a tactical aspect of the Cold War, it evolved to where it became central to the evolution of the new global order". As proof, Dr Kissinger cites the Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979, "…China undertook the campaign with the moral support, diplomatic backing, and intelligence cooperation of the United States - the same 'imperialist power' that Beijing had helped eject from Indo-China five years earlier".


Dr Kissinger's justification for the United States' attitude to China by becoming its virtual ally for a time is contained in this quintessential lesson he imparts on realpolitik: "American ideals had encountered the imperatives of geopolitical reality. It was not cynicism, even less hypocrisy, that forged this attitude: the Carter administration had to choose between strategic necessities and moral conviction. They decided that for their moral convictions to be implemented ultimately they needed first to prevail in the geopolitical struggle".


Dr Kissinger has earned the epithet of being a modern Machiavelli for good reasons.









THERE was a time when man had very close ties with the horse as the latter was not only his loyal companion but also his dependable mode of transport, which could traverse any type of terrain. In those days, government officials, especially of the revenue department, toured their area of jurisdiction on the horseback. And in the rural areas with a few kachha roads or tracks, men, women and children travelled on the horseback from one village to another. The only other popular mode of conveyance besides a bicycle was a tonga that was pulled by a horse.


The horse population in the pre-partition days kept on growing because even the Army and the police needed a large number of horses. To meet this requirement, the government had established stud farms, which were run by the Remount and Veterinary Department at various places in the country. Among them, the main promoters of horses were the new colonies, namely the districts of Lyallpur, Sargodha and Montgomery (now in Pakistan).


The studs in these three districts kept thoroughbred English (TBE) and thoroughbred Australian (TBA) stallions with good race records for "breeder service". This service was utilised by the farmers with large land holdings who kept race horses. Each of these three districts had a race course where monthly races were held during the winter season. The Remount and Veterinary Department also provided breeder service to those farmers who were allotted land by the government for the purpose of keeping mares for breeding. Their offspring were procured for the Army.


The Lahore race course (in West Punjab) was one of the biggest and most famous one in the country in those days; the other two were at Bombay and Calcutta.


After the partition, interest in horses and horse racing declined perceptibly in North India. So much so, that there is not a single race course in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. The old race courses at Patiala and Simla have lost their semblance due to disuse.


The late Mr Aminuddin Ahmad Khan (a former Governor of Punjab) did attempt to put Punjab on the "horse map" in 1982. As a result, the Punjab Government issued instructions to the Deputy Commissioners that the revenue officers should go around their areas on horses. But these instructions remained only on paper.


The horse has galloped out of man's life, thanks to the mechanisation that has choked metropolises with pollution. Today, India leads the world in road accidents and Chandigarh leads India in fatal road accidents. Alas! This is the fallout of our losing touch with horsemanship.









The Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, launched from Mewat district in Haryana on June 1, unmistakably signals a huge leap forward in the quest to make "health for all" a reality.


It invokes a new approach to healthcare, placing, for the first time, utmost emphasis on entitlements and elimination of out-of-pocket expenses for both pregnant women and sick neonates. The initiative entitles all pregnant women delivering in public health institutions to absolutely free and no-expense delivery, including caesarean section.

It spells out that all expenses related to delivery in a public institution would be borne entirely by the government and no user charges would be levied. Under this initiative, a pregnant woman would be entitled to free transport from home to the government health facility, between facilities, in case she is referred on account of complications, and also drop-back home after delivery.


The good thing is — entitlements would include free drugs and consumables, free diagnostics, free blood wherever required, and free diet for the duration of a woman's stay in the facility, expected to be three days in case of a normal delivery and seven in case of a caesarean section.

Similar entitlements have been put in place for all sick newborns accessing public health institutions for healthcare till 30 days after birth. They would also be entitled to free treatment besides free transport, both ways and between facilities in case of a referral.

Out of the 9 lakh newborns who die within four weeks of birth, about seven lakh i.e. 75 per cent die within the first week. Most of these deaths are preventable through timely and proper healthcare.

Another issue is out-of-pocket payments, which are, without doubt, a major barrier for pregnant women and children so far as access to institutional healthcare is concerned. The impoverishing effect of healthcare payments on Indian households is well established. Out-of-pocket spending in government institutions is both common and substantial, partly because of a weak supply chain management of drugs and other logistics and partly because of malpractices, which include a flourishing nexus between doctors, chemists and diagnostic labs.

Prescriptions by doctors, even in government settings, can be unnecessarily expensive and may include not just medicines but consumables such as surgical gloves, syringes, IV (intravenous) sets, and canulas.

It is paradoxical that some states levy user charges for deliveries at the time when efforts are being made nationally to address factors impeding institutional deliveries and to give incentives to women to approach government institutions for childbirth through schemes such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana. Hence, notwithstanding substantial investments by the Central Government to improve provisioning for maternal and child healthcare, the burden of out-of-pocket expenses for pregnant women and children has persisted in the public health system across most states. The fact that entitlements were not explicitly articulated and were vague left much scope to deny the service delivery that national programmes, including the National Rural Health Mission and its precursors, have consistently strived for.

Highest maternal deaths

It is important to recapitulate that maternal and child health have been the focus of attention in India for more than two decades now. Globally, in absolute numbers, India accounts for the highest number of maternal deaths as well as deaths of children under five years. The Bhore Committee report of 1946 estimated the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in the country to be around 2000 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is approximately 10 times higher than the estimated MMR today.

Other subsequent estimates put India's MMR at 495 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1992. The National Child Survival and Safe Motherhood Programme, which was rolled out in 1992 by the Government of India, was the first attempt at integrating maternal and child health. Though health is a state subject, the programme provided assistance to the states for the training of the traditional birth attendants (TBAs) and strengthening of facilities, particularly at the CHC (community health centre) level, for emergency obstetric care, safe motherhood and neonatal care.

the past schemes

The International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 led to a reorientation of mother and child health strategies. A new programme called the Reproductive and Child Health - I (RCH-I) was launched in 1997, which further integrated vertical schemes and substantially scaled up interventions related to maternal and child health. It sought to inter alia expand skilled attendance at birth and provided funding to states for round-the-clock maternal health services, emergency obstetric care and promotion of institutional deliveries.

Besides funding the states for augmenting human resources, including specialists and staff nurses, it also provided funds to local governing bodies to provide emergency transport. Ensuring availability of drugs, consumables, safe blood, equipments and trained service providers was a key focus for which states were given financial support. Also, financial incentives were provided to the staff for attending to deliveries after working hours. Reproductive and Child Health - Phase II ( RCH-II), launched in 2005 under the umbrella of the NRHM, was committed to substantially augmenting the funding to the states with a greater willingness to factor in state-specific needs and contexts through a flexible funding pool.

Subsequently, the National Rural Health Mission strengthened state endeavours to reduce both the Maternal Mortality Ratio as well as the Infant Mortality Rate by providing additional flexible and need-based funding for strengthening health systems.

Rs 75,000 crore to states

By the end of 2011-12, the NRHM would have provided over Rs 75000 crore to the states to address supply-side constraints and improve public health institutional capacities to render comprehensive quality healthcare, with an overwhelming focus on pregnant women and children.

Funds have been provided to the states for ambulance networks, including transport for pregnant women, drugs, and supplies, equipment, additional human resources, including nurses, doctors and specialists, large-scale capacity building of service providers, physical infrastructure, performance-based incentives and everything else that is needed to ensure service guarantees that the NRHM Framework for Implementation seeks to put in place for pregnant women as well as children.

A large number of human resources have also been added for augmenting the service delivery. These comprise 61574 ANMs, 35329 staff nurses, 11931 doctors, and 7238 specialists. Clearly, the ground is well laid for strengthening the supply side and moving towards guaranteeing service delivery in public health institutions through clearly articulated entitlements.

That's where the new initiative comes in. It hinges on wide publicity, by the states, of the entitlements envisaged to enhance public awareness. States have also been urged to display prominently the entitlements in every government facility and put in place robust mechanisms for feedback and grievance redressal. Armed with information and knowledge of entitlements, people are bound to demand greater accountability on the part of both institutions and service providers who may be under pressure, more than ever before, to deliver on commitments.

What is heartening is the consensus that has emerged across states, recognising the need to entitle pregnant women and newborns to truly free, no-expense healthcare in public health institutions.

Merits of maternity initiative


The Janani Shishu Suraksha Karyakram, it is estimated, would benefit more than 1 crore pregnant women and sick newborns at present accessing the public health system every year. It would further trigger enhanced demand for care in public health institutions on the part of over 70 lakh women, who still choose to deliver at home and make healthcare accessible to those sick newborns, who are unable to get timely and appropriate healthcare because of high out-of-pocket expenses on both transport and treatment. As a result of this enhanced demand for services created in the most vulnerable, marginalised and underserved sections of the population, India can hope to bring down the 67000 maternal deaths and 9 lakh neonatal deaths that take place in the country every year.

Care at childbirth

In 2011-12 alone, more than Rs 1135 crore have been provided till date, to the states for drugs, supplies and ambulance/ transport systems through programme implementation plans (PIPs) under the NRHM. Over 2637 First Referral Units (FRUs) and 9269 Primary Health Centres (PHCs) are now functioning round the clock for providing comprehensive maternal and child health services. To prevent untimely neonatal deaths, over 263 well-equipped special newborn care units (SNCUs) have been established at district hospitals, 1120 newborn stabilisation units at the sub-district level and 6403 newborn baby care corners have been set up.





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The head of a leading Indian credit rating agency has complained that there is unhealthy competition among too many players in the sector. This is leading to "rating shopping" by issuers of paper and competitive undercutting of fees by agencies. It will inevitably lead to dependence on poorly paid analysts doing a substandard job. Normally, competition should benefit the consumer but in the case of rating the end consumer – the investor – does not pay for the rating, the issuer does. The latter's aim is only to market its paper successfully, whereas it is the investor who is left holding the paper. Competition improves efficiency, though price pressure-induced cost cutting beyond a point can affect quality. But the fact is the absence of effective competition has not improved the quality of rating in a country like the United States. There are a dozen agencies approved by the US Securities and Exchange Commission termed Nationally Recognised Statistical Rating Organisations or NRSROs (including the Canadian- and Japanese-owned) but Moody's and Standard & Poor's are way ahead of the others in terms of business share. The latter did roaring business in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2008 and then dragged the name of rating into mud. When the US housing bubble burst, it brought down with it triple A-rated structured finance products, which included sub-prime mortgages, and the reputation of rating. The Indian leaders rest their claim to quality and premium pricing on their allegiance to the two US leaders, but those labels now stand discredited.

India has six credit rating agencies recognised by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), which should provide for the right amount of competition and no more. But to get the market for rating right, it is necessary to address the dilemma over who should pay for the rating. The investor should pay, and there is a strong case for Sebi to have a dialogue with the leading institutional investors' body, the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI), which represents fund managers. These, between themselves, should pay for the rating of all issues of any consequence and the ratings should be made public. There are already two US rating agencies, Egan-Jones and LACE Financial, which accept mandate only from investors. It is argued that when a firm knows that the rating will be published irrespective of whether it likes the outcome or not, it will not cooperate with the rating exercise, thus reducing its value. The key additionality that rating offers beyond published past financial accounts of companies is the insight gained from detailed discussion with the issuer's management. On the other hand, when the issuer pays for a mandate, it has the right not to use the rating if it finds it unsatisfactory and the agency then cannot make public the rating. While there is a chance of information being restricted under both the systems (issuer pays versus investor pays), ultimately an issuer's interest lies in getting a good rating and for this it is likely to cooperate with the rating exercise irrespective of the final outcome. So, it is time to get investors to pay for rating in India to move to a better system. There is a need to involve AMFI and get it to encourage fund managers to pay for rating.






The Union government's recent announcement of a policy for disposing of electronic waste (e-waste) is a step in the right direction. The E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, are in line with the norms followed in several countries to hold producers of electronic goods liable for the safe recycling or disposal of out-of-use e-products. Manufacturers of e-products have been given a year to put in place an e-waste collection system, with collection centres or other methods of taking back age-expired equipment for proper extermination. Significantly, the government also seeks to involve bulk consumers of electronic equipment, such as business enterprises and government departments, in ensuring that e-products discarded by them are channelled to authorised collection centres. The need for such a policy has been long felt, given the rapid proliferation of personal computers, mobile telephones, televisions, refrigerating equipment, air-conditioners, and a host of other electric and electronic devices. Their lifespans vary from a few months to a decade or so. Once discarded, their safe and systematic disposal is necessary since they contain toxic metal and other substances including cadmium, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, barium, beryllium, arsenic and so on. Many of these elements are potentially hazardous since they are radioactive materials. They can inflict damage on the environment and human health. If dumped in landfills, which is one of the main options available now, such material can pollute the air and contaminate groundwater.

It is estimated that India may currently be generating around 400,000 tonnes of hazardous e-waste annually. Worse, India has been a destination for e-waste dumped by developed countries, often in the name of charity! Hardly 20,000 tonnes of e-waste is either recycled or disposed of appropriately. As much as 40 per cent of obsolete e-products are reckoned to be lying in godowns of bulk users or individuals' homes for lack of disposal avenues. A substantial amount of e-waste either finds its way to informal recyclers through junk collectors (kabadiwallahs) for disposal in the most rudimentary and hazardous manner or gets mixed with other municipal garbage to reach landfill sites. However, the new e-waste management system, though tried out successfully in several countries, may not work to its potential in India. For, a sizable number of electronic and electric equipment are assembled in the unorganised sector with parts sourced from different manufacturers and sold without receipts. Tracing producers and sellers of such equipment would be difficult. To deal with such cases, it would have been better to incorporate provisions in the new policy for recognising third-party e-waste disposal units where these appliances could be handled and recycled in a scientific manner. It is worth recalling that the draft e-waste management rules, released by the environment ministry last year, had proposed a ban on the import of second-hand electronic appliances for charity and reuse. Surprisingly, this significant provision has been omitted in the final e-waste disposal rules now notified. Steps must be taken to curb such imports without hurting genuine donors and importers.








Anna Hazare and Mr Ramdev have taken up a campaign against corruption and black money — out of sincere belief in one case and as an opportunity for self-projection in the other. It is an issue that resonates well in the educated classes, which feel insulted by the brazen corruption that has come to light recently. But the Tamil Nadu elections, in which the principal guilty party, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam, lost many seats but saw only a modest erosion in the votes polled, suggest that the electorate at large is still swayed by other concerns.


The cancer of corruption in politics must be addressed. But the methods chosen by the anti-corruption campaigners could endanger other aspects of our governance system that we value highly. Constitutional democracy is eroded by the executive giving self-appointed spokespersons of the people more importance than the elected representatives. The processes of policy formation are distorted by including people who are not accountable to the legislature or the executive in operational policy making. But the greatest challenge is to a democratic political culture. Protests that hold out the prospect of social violence and seek to coerce an elected government, threaten to overwhelm the ethos of a democracy in which differences are mediated through elections, party politics and parliamentary debate.

Part of the reason for this is the sheer incompetence of the United Progressive Alliance government in handling the politics of protest. Setting up a National Advisory Council of NGOs that draft legislation, buying time by incorporating civil society representatives in an operational process for drafting the Lok Pal Bill, sending four ministers and a battalion of secretaries to cajole Mr Ramdev into calling off his fast and then sending in the police in force to break up his meeting are all symptoms of confusion.

If all that is at risk is the present government then perhaps not much is at stake. It is recovering its composure and hitting back now and the risk will pass. But the fact is that our polity faces a deeper problem of learning how to cope with the persistence of protest and violence in the vocabulary of politics.

Protest is in our DNA as a nation. By 1920, the political leadership of the freedom movement had passed from those who espoused constitutional processes to those who believed in civil disobedience and street protest. Gandhiji was the main architect of this transition but there were others like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai who played an important role. But note that in their effort to reach the masses, these leaders used religious symbols, predominantly Hindu like Ganpati puja, cow protection, or in Gandhiji's case, a renunciatory lifestyle. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, secular by temperament, had to resort to religion in an even more fundamental way to establish a mass political base. Religion has never been very far away from the processes of political mobilisation for almost a century now. A brief, aggressively secular Nehruvian interlude led us to forget this. Hence, the first challenge is to find a modality for mass mobilisation that transcends religious and caste divisions.


There is a certain theatrical quality about protests because they use the language of gestures. The acts of protest – shouting slogans, disrupting traffic, breaking shop windows, fasting, courting imprisonment and, as an extreme case, striking terror – are not in themselves capable of realising the aims of the protest. They draw attention to the aims in an arresting way. (Pun not intended!) The aim of protest is the same as that of a theatrical performance — grabbing the attention of the audience with a gesture that conveys the meaning better than words alone. Gandhiji was an absolute master in the theatre of politics. The Salt March to Dandi was a spectacular instance of this and it had a remarkable effect in rejuvenating a demoralised freedom movement.

Mr Hazare's and Mr Ramdev's fast has this theatrical air with fellow performers and bit players joining them and a live audience providing the applause when needed. The impact of extra-constitutional protest politics has been enhanced now with 24x7 coverage by TV news channels and willing sutradhars in TV anchors competing for ratings.

Protests do have a role to play even in a democracy. A society that is successful in handling conflicts is in a state of "controlled rebellion" with organised modes for expressing conflict but preserving unity. In the words of Georges Balandier, a political anthropologist, "The supreme ruse of power is to allow itself to be contested ritually in order to consolidate itself more effectively." Mr Hazare's fast and Mr Ramdev's theatricals are best seen as this type of contestation. The NAC is a more decorous instance of a ritual opposition to the realities of power.

To cope with this, political leaders must master the art of gesture and understand better the rituals and protocols of protest. Indira Gandhi did this when she travelled to Belchi in Bihar on an elephant to sympathise with some Dalits under attack. A closely related competence has to be a subtle skill in the management of the feverish 24x7 TV news channels.

Civil society, on its part, must also understand the limits to the ruling classes' tolerance when protests escalate to large-scale disruption. That is the stage we are at with the anti-corruption crusade. The crusade will lead to some change but the basic structure of economic and political power will not be disturbed as long as the elite in charge does not lose its nerve.

For protests to become a game-changer, we need leaders who can work with the elite and the masses at the same time. That is how they can help society overcome its weaknesses. Gandhiji did this by helping a society coerced into submission to overcome its sense of fear. Nehru persuaded a stagnant society that it could change and grow into prosperity. Jayaprakash restored our faith in the power of the people. They did this because they appealed both to the masses and to the political and media elite.

Does Mr Hazare have the charisma to persuade the mass of citizens to be ready for the long haul? Can he build a viable coalition? Will the appeal of his simplicity survive the attention deficit disorder of the chattering classes? Time will tell, but right now the odds are that the empire will strike back and survive.  





The policy on foreign investment in Indian retail has been placed in the context of moderating inflation by the Government of India's Chief Economic Advisor. It is hoped that organised storage and transport chains will help cut nearly 40 per cent transport and distribution losses in the present farm-to-fork supply chains, one of the factors pushing up food prices to high and unsustainable levels.

This proposal of opening up the Indian retail distribution sector to foreign multi-brand players with deep pockets is welcome, and will surely be lauded by most of the stakeholders. Allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) will not only bring the much-needed financial capital into the sector, it will also bring in new technologies for storage and transport management. That, in turn, will lead to efficiencies that will presumably translate into lower prices and better quality for consumers. Moreover, it will take some pressure off Indian negotiators in the different investment and trade negotiating forums where the country is routinely castigated for its restrictive policies in key economic sectors.


Notwithstanding the fears and political dogma, the prognosis of the traditional retail sector's ability to hold its own against corporate players in the organised sector has been good. Experience shows that rather than decimating the traditional retail shops, competition from the organised sector in the past few years has, in fact, spurred the traditional retailers into upgrading to modern formats with convenient and better organised displays, ICT-enabled storage and procurement management, and electronic billing counters. It has also improved their services and customer-interfaces by making home deliveries and customising the offerings to specific consumer preferences. As a result, in the past decade or so of its entry into the market, organised retail has not managed to increase its share from less than 5 per cent estimated in 2005.

Forecasters are, in fact, unanimous in their assessment that even if the share of modern retail grows from the present 4 per cent to the estimated 16 per cent by 2016, the absolute market size of traditional retail will be larger than that of organised retail. Research on the impact of big players on small retailers in Brazil indicates that the India projection is not a one-off case. Since its opening up to foreign investment in 1994, traditional small retailers in Brazil managed to increase their market share by 27 per cent. With the introduction of FDI and efficiencies of organised retail, it is hoped that the pro-active traditional retailers in India will also adopt some of the best practices by consolidation and collectivisation of purchases and integration with logistics operators for addressing the price and quality concerns of consumers.

However, to me, the disconcerting part of an otherwise positive proposal has been the collateral damage that the slew of stringent investment norms may inflict. Notably contentious are the proposed benefits from sourcing conditions and the cap on the number of outlets in big cities. It has been argued for long that in the absence of a single market within India (even the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax will not remove all the inter-state border barriers that fragment markets and prevent efficient sourcing by retailers) and non-passage of the 2003 Model Act that seeks to amend the Agricultural Produce Market Committee laws, markets will remain oligopolistic leading to higher prices than is economically justifiable. The sourcing conditions of at least 30 per cent procurement (including in food items) from small and medium enterprises will help push up the prices, which will then be passed on to consumers.

The other problem emanates from the entry restrictions that will be effected by the restriction on the number of outlets and limits to access in cities with designated population sizes (zoning regulations), done ostensibly to protect the traditional retailers in places with low population density. While the exact impact of this policy in the Indian market is yet to be established, international experience of this popular entry regulation has been disappointing. Econometric research on employment effects of such planning regulations in France, Italy, UK and US shows that these regulations have had a sizable negative impact on employment growth, especially in small retail shops, in addition to the productivity and efficiency losses that all the countries have faced after the introduction of the entry regulations.

Particularly illuminating is the experience in the UK, where such regulations changed the store strategies adopted by the organised sector. In effect, the substitution of large stores with small chain stores run, or franchised out, by larger corporate houses led to the negative employment effect, as the latter ended up competing more directly with the traditional retail businesses, thereby compounding the net employment loss effect. In the UK, planning reforms resulted in imposing sub-optimal store characteristics on both consumers and firms. In semi-urban and rural India, the new wave of e-tailing (growing 32 per cent annually) indicates that traditional retailers are in any case facing competition from direct selling companies/online retailers, which have started to use the cash-on-delivery model for branded products in several lifestyle categories.

Hence, while adopting stringent conditions on entry barriers through zoning regulations or caps, policy makers need to be conversant with the inadvertent harm that such policies may cause to the intended beneficiaries in the longer term. The short-run effects of a policy change may be politically motivating, but the longer-run effects are often more harmful.

The writer is senior fellow, CUTS Institute for Regulation and Competition; and research adviser, CUTS International.
The views are personal






Hedge fund managers may feel, as some of them did at a gathering in New York in the last week of May, that alternative energy – solar in particular – is risky business. With stocks of even some of the biggest market-traded solar companies not looking good in the short term, they can't be blamed.

But development managers aren't short-term traders driven by markets. Some 300 of them gathered in Bangkok, also in the last week of May, at a forum organised by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and declared their faith once again in solar energy and said it was the way to go for an energy-hungry world. ADB cheered them along and said there was no need to listen to short-term pessimists.


Of course, short-term woes continue to plague alternative energy developers. High cost is still a damper. At the New York meeting, one speaker estimated wind power to be 50 per cent more expensive than natural gas. Besides, solar panels are too land-intensive and land isn't always freely available to accommodate grid-scale projects. Storage questions are still a huge worry for the photovoltaic (PV) industry. Profits are uncertain. Public interest is minimal.

But the signs of long-term hope are strong and positive. PV prices are falling more rapidly than predicted. Global PV installations are doubling every year and slated to reach 71 Gw by 2014. Wind power hit 196 Gw last year, or two per cent of the global electricity supply. Governments are getting increasingly engaged. China, a big inspiration, accounted for more than half the 37.6 Gw of wind capacity installed in the world last year. The European Union could reach solar power grid parity – where the cost price would be the same as fossil fuels – as early as 2015. Researchers in the US are working on new ideas, like liquid silicone coating of roofs that will make solar systems more convenient and economical to use.

Above all, funding is more readily available, and I'm not talking of venture capital alone. The whole purpose of the Bangkok forum, the third in the series, was to declare once again that ADB is betting big on alternative energy – solar power in particular – and is ready to help even private initiatives in this respect. Two such projects are already underway in Thailand: a 73 Mw solar plant in Lopburi and a 38 Mw one in Ayutthaya. Both plants are scheduled to start producing electricity later this year.

Last year, ADB invested $1.8 billion in clean energy development, exceeding its $1 billion annual target for three years in a row. Come 2013, the target will increase to $2 billion a year, which should inspire more private investors to get in on a field that is very wide open. According to the Manila-based development bank, around 900 million people in developing Asia have no access to electricity, and solar energy is perhaps the most feasible alternative way to provide it. With less than 0.25 per cent of Asia's overall electricity production currently sourced from sunlight, the potential is immense.

ADB's goal is to help implement at least 3,000 Mw of solar power in the Asian and Pacific region over the next three years and, thus, create what it describes as a "virtuous" cycle of solar investments. It wants at least three per cent to five per cent of the region's overall energy production to be sun-sourced in the near future.

The task now is for governments to turn the alternative energy idea into a vigorous ground-level movement. Several things need to be done to make it happen, and the earlier a beginning is made, the better. Even as the main initiative lies with individual governments, ADB should be the primary motivator and play the role of a catalyst.

First, and foremost, an alternative energy map must be prepared for each country, delineating areas that have the best solar and wind potential, based on long-term sunshine and wind flow data. At the same time, land banks must be created specifically for alternative energy purposes for investors to choose from.

Second, since commercial-scale solar or wind energy has to be grid-bundled with conventional supplies, governments must prepare to establish smart grids and draft norms and regulations to operate them. Without a credible distribution infrastructure, investors won't feel encouraged to put in their stakes.

Third, alternative energy solutions must be brought to wider public attention. Unless public interest grows, demand won't, and so won't investor initiative, government action, or product research. An alternative energy offensive is what's needed, including the holding of alternative energy fairs as regular community events, where people could come face-to-face with alternative solutions.

And fourth, use of alternative energy, to the extent possible, should be made compulsory in all major building projects. Nations like China and South Korea are already into it in a big way, and ADB could influence others to speed up.  







Crimes occur in all societies, but law and order forms the basic backdrop against which economic growth and development take place. Crimes committed in India go unreported or unregistered at police stations to a large extent, making comparison difficult across time and regions. Given this caveat, the National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB's) annual report Crime in India reveals an increasing trend of total cognisable crime reported from 2005 to 2009.

According to the NCRB data, some crimes like murder have shown a lower rate per lakh of population, but there has been a steady increase in the reported cases of theft, especially auto thefts, and domestic violence. The increase in cases of violence against women by husband and relatives from 5.3 cases per lakh population in 2005 to 7.7 in 2009 reflects the fact that more such cases are being reported now. On the other hand, increasing cases of theft, kidnapping and abduction do bring to light the issue of poor law and order.

A comparative analysis of the states reveals the wide variation in the total number of cognisable crimes registered under the Indian Penal Code. Among the big states, Kerala tops the list with 341.5 cases of cognisable crimes recorded per lakh population. Equally grim is the situation in Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, recording more than 250 cases per lakh population. Cases of crime registered in Haryana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Himachal Pradesh are way above the all-India average. (Click here for chart)

Rate of cognisable crimes under different crime heads (per lakh population)

Crime heads




Murder and rape




Kidnapping & abduction








Total cognisable crimes




Source: NCRB, 2009

Among the small states and Union Territories, Puducherry with 418 cases and Delhi with 283 cases per lakh population stand out. On the other hand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands recorded the least incidence of cognisable crime. Uttar Pradesh has the third lowest rate of cognisable crime in the country, pointing once again to the problems of reporting of incidents.

When it comes to violent crimes, a few more issues come to the light. Violent crimes include murder, rape, kidnapping and abduction, dacoity, riots, arson, dowry deaths etc. Lakshadweep, recording 71.8 cases per lakh of population, stands at the top of the table here mainly due to cases of rioting registered in 2009. Manipur follows at second place, at 42, with a high incidence of reported cases of attempts to murder, kidnapping and abduction. Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand also report a high incidence of violent crimes among the large states; among the Union Territories Dadra and Nagar Haveli registering 36.7 cases per lakh of population is a cause for concern. On the other hand, the registered rate of violent crimes is very low in Gujarat, Nagaland, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, all reporting less than 15 cases per lakh of population.

When it comes to crime, the problem of reporting is compounded by the long delay in getting justice for the victims, highlighting the need for systemic reforms to make law enforcement a more effective deterrent to crime.

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








Enacting a law is perhaps the easy part. A stiffer and messier legal challenge awaits the new Government in bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion.

In these times when victorious political parties redeem even their most frivolous promises such as free televisions and mixer grinders before sitting down to serious governance, it is no surprise that one of the first acts of the West Bengal Chief Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee was the passage of a Bill on Singur. The Bill seeks to restore to the Singur farmers the lands taken over for enabling the Tatas to set up a small-car factory in that State, an event that epitomised her bid for power in a manner that nothing else could.

The ruling party and the Opposition fighting bitterly over a development initiative is now ever so common on the Indian political landscape; yet the Singur controversy had been no ordinary battle. The agitation there and at Nandigram, another trouble spot that the Left Front Government confronted in its desperate effort to industrialise a State that had lost much of its earlier sheen, saw the coming together of three popular forces: Maoists, Muslim fundamentalists and the Trinamool Congress, none of whom posed, in isolation, a credible political challenge to the Left Front Government until then. Ms Banerjee's party romped to power largely on that momentum, which is why she has sought to restore the lands and assuage the dispossessed. But enacting a law is perhaps the easy part. A stiffer and messier legal challenge awaits the new Government in bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. The decision to give back lands to their erstwhile owners may seem like an elegant solution in theory but its implementation will not be simple. There is a large number of landless agricultural labourers who worked on these fields; can their claims be easily dismissed? Secondly, not every erstwhile owner may be in a position to return the compensation that he may have received. The Government would then have a hard time deciding whether some or all of them are to be given an extended time limit for return of the money. These are issues that could trap a Government in needless litigation resulting in dilution of the political dividends that Ms Banerjee may have hoped to reap by her move.

The Bill does nothing to reassure the Tatas or component vendors who followed that they will be compensated in a just and equitable manner for the investments that they put in and the consequential loss suffered by a wasted opportunity. There is a good chance that these enterprises may not seek to embarrass the new Government with any peremptory legal action. But any failure to resolve the issue satisfactorily would severely dent the State's image as an investor friendly destination; something that the present Government must be very keen to avoid.






The news came out recently that the committee formed under the Chief Economic Advisor to the Government has recommended to the Cabinet that foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail (like Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour and others) should be permitted. As with any committee making such a recommendation, this one has gone on to justify why FDI in multi-brand retail would be beneficial to the country. The committee has talked about investment in supply chain infrastructure that is supposed to reduce wastage. It has stated that employment would go up, and farmers would somehow get a better pricing for their crop.

While the reasons advanced by the Committee are questionable and would hardly stand up to close scrutiny, I would not enter that debate here, since these reasons are not central to the issue. There should be one main question that should be posed to determine if FDI in multi-brand retail is justified — will such multi-brand retail reduce the cost of distribution from the producer (be it farmer or manufacturer) to the end consumer?

In marketing terms, this is known as the channel cost. In layman's terms, we can simply see it as the cost of moving/storing/financing/selling incurred between the point of production and the point of final sale to the consumer. This is the main measure of economic efficiency that we should look at.

Increase in cost

Let me answer this upfront. Multi-brand retailers like the Walmarts and Tescos will increase the cost to the consumer substantially over time, compared with wholesale/retail practices in India. There is plenty of evidence to prove this conclusively.

The increase in cost is not by some small percentage. Multi-brand retail mark-ups are at a minimum 2x, and as high as 9x more, compared with the retail/wholesale mark-ups in India. This cost is built into their model, and it is the premium paid by the average consumer in the West to get their everyday items of consumption.

Let us compare the channel cost of four categories of daily-use products that will be available through multi-brand retail:

Fast moving consumer goods like food, personal care products, toiletries etc; Clothing — textiles and readymade garments;

Over-the-counter pharmaceutical products;

Cookware/kitchenware small appliances.

Consumer goods: The distributor/stockist margin in India ranges from 4 per cent to 8 per cent, and the retailer margin ranges from 8 per cent to 14 per cent. The margin is on manufacturer's prices. They vary depending on company volume, market clout, type of product and so on. The total channel cost incurred by the distribution chain in India thus ranges from 12 per cent to 22 per cent.

In the US and Europe, the Safeways and Krogers and Tescos mark up this category of products by 40 per cent on cost of goods, depending on product type, volume, demand, exclusivity and so forth.

The channel mark up is 2x to 3x more than Indian channel/retail costs. We should not be misled by 'Sale' prices and 'loss-leader promotions' that they routinely employ to draw the customers.

Clothing/garments: In the Indian textile business, the combined wholesale plus retail margin ranges from 35-40 per cent on the ex-mill price. In the readymade garments business, the margin at retail in a brand outlet seldom exceeds 30 per cent of ex-factory price. Compare this to a Macy's or Marks & Spencer.

These retailers routinely mark up by 2x to 4.5x, the price at which they procure the garments. Then they offer 'Sale' discounts of 15-30 per cent. Even comparing the 'Sale' price, these retailers' mark-ups are 2x higher at the lowest end of the spectrum. Routinely, their mark-ups are thus 5x to 9x of what the retailers in India charge.

OTC Pharmaceuticals: In India, the pharmacies and chemists are better organised as a trade body, and the supply side is highly fragmented. Therefore, they enjoy better retail margins.

Even so, the retail chemist's margin in India is at 20 per cent. Add the distributor/stockist margin of 10 per cent, and the C&F agent's cost of 4 per cent, the total channel cost is a maximum of 34 per cent of ex-factory price. Compare this with a Walgreen's or CVS pharmacy in the US, or a Boot's in the UK. These retailers mark up the OTC products by 2x or 3x or more, and then offer some items on 'Sale'. These big retailers' mark-ups are 6x more at the minimum, as far as channel costs go, compared to India's pharmacies.

Cookware/kitchenware: India's channel costs for this category are lower. The combined distributor/retailer margin in India for products like pressure cookers and cookware is less than 30 per cent, out of which the retailer retains 10 per cent to 15 per cent only. For the same category of products, retailers such as Walmart, Bloomingdales and Sears in the USA would routinely mark up the merchandise by 100-200 per cent of landed cost. Even 'On Sale', at the lowest end, the channel mark up is 5x what they are in India.

Indian distribution efficient

All this evidence, available freely, suggests that the Indian distribution system, as it has evolved over the years, is among the most cost-effective and efficient in the world. For sure, our markets and bazaars do not have the polish of a mall in Europe or the US or Japan. But to the average Indian housewife, they offer remarkable value, and help her get along on low incomes. It is this balance that the proposed FDI in retail will upset over time.

Talk of investment in supply chain and back-end logistics only diverts attention from the main issue of total channel cost. The government committee should focus on what is in the best interest of the average Indian, and not be swayed by industry lobbies and pressure from foreign governments. Our markets are highly efficient, driven from the bottom up by the self-interest of millions of small traders and merchants. Let us not interfere with this and fall into the Western trap of multi-brand retail.

(The author is Group CEO, R. K. SWAMY HANSA and Visiting Faculty, Northwestern University, US. The views are personal.

(To be concluded.)






With better systems in place, India can increase wheat output by 30 million tonnes and double paddy output at current levels of technology.

Food prices in India have skyrocketed, causing misery o the lives of tens of millions and threatening food security.

To enhance farm output and make food accessible to all includingthose under the proposed Food Security Bill, India needs to launch a 'Grow More Food' campaign right from this kharif season with focus on better coordination and effective communication system.

Campaign potential

Despite having the largest irrigated land and ranking second in terms of arable land, the yield of most crops in India is 20-40 per cent of the world's best levels.

India can increase wheat production by 30 million tonnes or around 40 per cent and double paddy production at the current levels of technology.

The multiplication and cultivation of outstanding varieties of chickpea, pigeon pea, moong, urad, and other pulses under the Pulses and Oilseeds Villages Programme can significantly bridge the gap of about four million tonnes between demand and supply.

Not only do these crops require less water, they also fix nitrogen in the soil. Cereal-legume rotation can build, replenish and maintain soil fertility.

The gap between the actual yield and the vast untapped yield reservoir in the farming systems needs to be bridged by launching a campaign to remove technological, economic and environmental constraints, efficiently use the Rs 25,000 crore available under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana both in irrigated and rain-fed areas, implement 50,000 Pulses and Oilseeds Villages programme in rain-fed areas on a system-approach, linking the production, plant protection, procurement and consumption chain.

Need for Coordination

Effective coordination is essentially called for among panchayati raj institutions, agricultural universities, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, commercial banks, cooperatives, regional rural banks, lead bank, Nabard and input agencies.

The Department of Agriculture in each district must take the lead to formulate, implement and monitor strategic action plan envisaging targeted food output and to ensure that farm extension staff guide farmers, based on soil and water analysis, for adopting the best diversified cropping system.

Scientific techniques involving integrated nutrient supply, water and pest management among farmers through mass scale field demonstrations need to be disseminated. Farmers must be assured of inputs, farm equipment and machinery of standard quality, on time and at reasonable prices, besides hassle-free production and investment credit and Government subsidies on time.

A significant number of marginal farmers, tenant farmers, share croppers and oral lessees must have access to production loans without having to offer any collateral as mandated by the Government while reasonable proportion of bank credit should also flow for informal debt swapping. Contingency plans in the event of seasonal aberration need to be implemented.

The Central and State agencies should procure pulses and crops such as jowar, maize, bajra, ragi, and hill millets in order to diversify the food basket. Relationship between tenant farmers and land owners need to be legally established to facilitate them access to bank credit and insurance cover.

All these in due course would reflect on improved productivity of crops and resources, reduction in costs and higher rate of return on farm investments.

Role of Communication

Cost-efficient communication between farmers and extension staff once in 10 days at the village level should be established and seminars and workshops conducted to share knowledge and resolve problems. Mass media should frequently disseminate authentic information and organise discussions between farmers and experts on efficient use of technology, seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, farm equipment, credit, subsidies under Government programmes to make farmers.

Community radio concept should be progressively promoted at each block/tehsil level, involving farmers as participants and listeners.

(The author is a Ph.D scholar at the Department of Agricultural Communication, G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand.)









JJayalalithaa plays hard ball, and she makes no bones about it. And that is a good quality in a political leader, which makes for an extra few column centimetres of news coverage that a low-key chief minister like Tarun Gogoi is unlikely to get, never mind that he has been made chief minister by the people of Assam for a record third time in succession. As chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms Jayalalithaa is entitled to all the central government courtesy that protocol devolves on her. But it would be big mistake for the United Progressive Alliance to send out confusing signals about its political intentions vis-à-vis Ms Jayalalithaa and the existing ally in Tamil Nadu, the DMK. Sure, there are tensions galore in the relationship between the Congress and the DMK, and politics does not permit the luxury of permanent allies. That said, there is also a vital difference between opportunism and pursuit of legitimate self-interest. For the Congress to waffle over the durability of its ongoing alliance with the DMK would be opportunistic and perceived as such by the people of Tamil Nadu, by the Congress' other allies in the UPA and potential allies outside the UPA. The Congress' legitimate long-term self-interest in Tamil Nadu is to make use of widespread popular disgust for the degeneration of Dravida politics to individuals and corruption to increase its own independent standing vis-à-vis the electorate. That goal would in no way be advanced by dumping the DMK for the AIADMK. Its short-term goal is to maintain its parliamentary majority going even as the coalition as a whole is forced to swallow bitter medicine over corruption. That means, in the context of Tamil Nadu, getting the DMK to stay put in the coalition even as its key members are jailed, investigated or otherwise acted against. This goal is being achieved, making further brinksmanship over the AIADMK both unnecessary and counterproductive.

Inaction as deliberate policy might work in some contexts but not when it stems from a lack of the will to act. The UPA needs to act on its own agenda, and that will get it the allies it needs, not playing footsie with allies' rivals.







The efforts of regulators to cool India's real estate market seem to be paying off finally. Recorded home sales are down in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore; there's substantial oversupply — and softening prices — in the outskirts of Delhi. Prospective homebuyers, repelled by the astronomical costs of real estate, are choosing to rent rather than buy. Smaller agents and brokers are being driven to other businesses to stabilise incomes. Many will read this as a sign of an impending slowdown, but that would be incorrect. What's happening in the real estate market is the beginning of a slow process of realigning prices to meet real demand. The first institution to start worrying about India's sky-high real estate rates was the RBI, which cracked down on the sector three years ago with a series of steps, including curbs on overseas investments, higher risk weights and increased scrutiny for loans to the sector. Rate hikes have followed, closing the gusher of easy money which lubricated the realty casino. Yet, there's a lot more that policymakers can do.

Today, a series of archaic rules and regulations curtail the supply of urban land. This creates an artificial scarcity, forcing up land values. Developers, in turn, price property according to the inflated underlying cost of land, rather than quality of construction. State governments and municipalities must quickly rewrite land use rules to make better use of land, bring prices down and reduce graft. Haryana, for example, has rules that allow for farmland to be reclassified for commercial or residential development if the owners so want. Reclassification, however, calls for more persuasion than just the negligible official fee. Neighbouring Delhi, now India's largest city, has vast tracts of land classified as farms or villages but is yet to notify land reclassification rules. There are plenty of people waiting to develop their holdings willingly, yet we have the spectacle of governments in states like UP and Bengal trying to acquire land forcibly from unwilling farmers. Governments must stop coercive acquisition, and make it easy — and cheap — for willing sellers to convert land to whatever use they want to.








If there is anything that we Indians have been driven to in greater and greater numbers in the past few decades, it is RAM worship. And proof of this does not lie in mandir movements, yoga camps or hungerstrike venues but at the temples of modern learning that go by the name of colleges. And this RAM le ela— a ritual celebration RAM (Random Access Memory) as the m a r y a d a p u r u s h o t t a m, the epitome of the highest discipline expected of humans — happens each year at the same time as thousands make the pilgrimage to confluences called universities, in search of deliverance. And yet each year salvation seems that much more unattainable as cutoffs rise exponentially, making college admissions as difficult as achieving nirvana, for they both demand near-perfection. Only in the latter's case at least, ultimate knowledge is not judged by the results of senior secondary school or technical joint entrance examinations. It would then have been tough for a mere mortal to achieve enlightenment surely, considering even high school marks demanded by colleges have hit 100%. Clearly, the authorities do not believe that to err is human. Or they imply that such shortcomings are not acceptable in humans who seek higher education .

The fact is that much as we claim to be moving towards a modern, globalised culture, RAM worship as a means to a better future remains deeply ingrained in the psyche of all Indians. No short-term strategy or ministerial intervention can supplant it. Besides, any move by the youth to gravitate towards a more attainable and amiable god also comes a cropper thanks to a hidebound system. Indeed, every time institutions of higher learning demand the impossible from students, they are willy-nilly giving new life to desperate calls to RAM.








India's polity is ripe for a paradigm shift and it is up to the Congress to take the lead in effecting that change. In the process, it would reap rich political dividends and break out of current governmental inertia, apart from launching India into a higher growth orbit.

Defence minister AK Antony made a telling observation recently: India is going through a transparency revolution and political parties and their leaders are not prepared for it. He turned the spotlight on the crux of the current political impasse. People are fed up with corruption and want change. Political parties can only play lip service to ending corruption because all of them depend on corruption for essential funding. This, however, is not a Catch 22 situation. There is a way out. Not wait for any committee to finish its deliberations and submit a report, not depend on a change in the law on how political parties conduct themselves and fund themselves. The way out is for the country's largest and oldest political party to reinvent itself as a new kind of political party that funds itself transparently and chooses its candidates through primary, intra-party elections at the constituency level, rather than through patronage or outright sale of 'tickets' as happens now. The Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2012 would be a good occasion to launch the new, improved Congress.
An article by Minhaz Merchant on this page on June 2 showed that the income officially reported by the Congress for 2008-09, when it was mobilising funds for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, was . 497 crore. The BJP showed an income of . 220 crore. These amounts are tiny fractions of the actual expenditure political parties make to contest elections and for normal, dayto-day functioning. The unstated income of all parties, running to thousands of crores of rupees, is all earned through corruption, is all black money, as Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan admitted.

Political funding through corruption is the root of black money in the country. Changing that is the key battle in the war against corruption. If political funding remains unreformed, no new law or functionary like the Lokpal can make even a dent on corruption.

India ranks at the bottom in the World Bank's ease of doing business rankings of nations, not because our policymakers are chumps who do not know how to make things work. Elaborate procedure with inbuilt potential for delay is consciously adopted to create rent-seeking opportunities, to mobilise political funding and, in its name, personal fortunes of politicians and colluding civil servants. If political funding finds an alternate route, procedural reform making for a vastly improved business climate would be an automatic corollary. Since loot of the exchequer would no longer be necessary, money would actually be spent on the intended schemes, boosting development and governance. Governance would improve in the private sector, too: there would be no need to generate funds off the books to service corrupt politicians and civil servants and, further, there would be far fewer patrons to shield acts of corruption from penal action.

This column has argued in the past that reform of political funding means making funding and expenditure transparent and open to scrutiny and challenge, not state funding. Modern information technology and the hardware and software it yields make it relatively inexpensive to achieve such transparency in disclosure, challenge and verification. All that is required is the will to act.


 Why should the Congress play Hercules cleansing the Augean stables? For its own good, and for the country's good. That would have been sufficient motivation, before it transformed completely into a party of powerbrokers, to borrow the words Rajiv Gandhi used on the occasion of the party's centenary in 1985. Today, it might help for the party to realise that it needs to reform political funding for its very survival.
The DMK government of Tamil Nadu delivered on governance and the DMK's poll promises such as colour TVs, but the people still voted it out, because they were disgusted by the corruption and nepotism of its leadership. Anger against corruption will vent itself against the incumbent, unless the improvement in governance and delivery of development schemes is of a remarkably new order, such as had been achieved under the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh.

The UPA government is bearing the brunt of popular anger against corruption, although, in systemic terms, it is no more or no less corrupt than governments have been in the past. This is because popular expectations have changed, not because the scope of corruption has changed all that much.

So, the UPA's current strategy is bound to fail. It is trying to explain to the people that telecom scams are as old as when the BJP-led government allowed mobile companies to switch from huge, upfront levies to revenue shares and when Reliance was allowed to regularise its back-door entry into mobile services, and that there is nothing very new in what Raja did. The electorate is not prepared to forgive corruption because it has a precedent.

Nor would a movement against corruption be discredited just because discredited Sangh Parivar organisations are backing it. The Congress and the UPA only offer the Sangh Parivar legitimacy by thrusting the anti-corruption mantle on it.

The Congress must wage its own battle against corruption. For that, it must battle the demon within, and reinvent itself as a modern political party that raises funds transparently. That would put pressure on all parties to change and change India's polity and economy as well.








Less than a week after Maqbool Fida Husain died aged 95 in exile in London, the very section of the Indian Penal Code that was invoked against him — IPC 295 (A) — for "hurting" religious sentiments by portraying Hindu goddesses such as Durga in the nude or in sexually suggestive poses, has been used to put a Christian social worker in Bangalore, named Henry Robey, in jail for a few days. According to most reports, he wasn't into conversion, but into helping the disadvantaged classes — especially lepers. Reports say he used to feed lepers — victims of a disease officially eliminated in India — in and around Bangalore and in some parts of Tamil Nadu.

For the record, this is what IPC 295 (A) says: "Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both."

In a country where Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray largely presided over the debate on the scope and scale of someone's artistic licence at that point of time, Husain was hounded out over his 'malicious intention' of outraging religious feelings, forcing him to finally opt for a Qatari citizenship — that the great man loved his life and lived it up showed how indifferent he largely was to controversies around him is an altogether different story. In Bangalore, groups with an ideological likeness to the Shiv Sena are wreaking havoc in the lives of non-artistic, common men and women who can't afford to flee and die elsewhere. Among those arrested and jailed for "conversion" activities included lepers as well. So that is the highlight: a Christian and two lepers were jailed on charges of conversion in a city that is supposed to be cosmopolitan and hip. Two questions that emerge are: why were they produced in a court of law hours after Robey's home was vandalised by some saffron outfits? And why were the lepers, the alleged objects of conversion, arrested and jailed under the same charge before they were released?

After all, how concerned are our right-wing Hindu groups about lepers, of all people? None of these groups, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is known to have shown any mercy for people suffering from leprosy or HIV/AIDS, which they see as diseases of the damned. None of these political groups run any hospices to rehabilitate lepers or offer dignity of life. The victims are despised as god's cursed people. Why bother, then, even if they are converted? In our society, these people are generally ostracised because we follow a "blaming the victim" policy when it comes to inconvenient events like infectious diseases and rapes. While the impropriety of casting them out is the real sin, it is mercy that people like Robey were guilty of by offering them food, shelter and perhaps hope. If the act of restoring dignity for a group of lepers is accompanied by recital of religious songs, where and how does it outrage the religious feelings of any class of citizens? Or, even if there is malicious intent, how does it outrage the religious sentiments of those who have already ostracised lepers as outcasts? We thought — thanks to empirical evidence —that their love of religion was only skin-deep.
The most worrying aspect of such reports is that these are not emanating from far-flung outposts in India's countryside, but from the heart of a metropolis that continues to symbolise the country's IT prowess. That people who are politically square and prudish are running amok in the city is nothing new, especially following the rise to power of a "favourable" state government that, on its best-performing days, is more worried about warding off a fight from within. However, it is simplistic to attribute the rise in religious intolerance in the city merely to connivance from the state administration. Its roots are deeper, and reflect in the identity crisis that the city faces day in and day out. Intolerance that is spreading fast in the city and beyond offers a glimpse into the hidden costs of the IT boom. Fast-expanding party zones and café latte rub shoulders with the burgeoning slums of misfortune and two-rupee kapi. They coexist, but dangerously. The widening gap between the haves and have-nots may be a cliché in this age of post-financial meltdown seminar-room discussions, but incidents such as these are a wake-up call to realise clichés often outlive themselves.








At this century's start, leaders from every country agreed to pursue the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The ambition was to improve significantly the lot of the planet's most disadvantaged citizens before 2015. The intention was laudable, but 11 years on, progress in achieving the MDGs has been uneven. As decision-makers start to consider what our aspirations should be after the deadline has expired, it is worth looking back at what worked, what didn't, and how we could do better.
The targets set by the MDGs basically amounted to a list of "things that would be good to achieve". We have made progress on almost all of them, but not nearly enough on most. The MDGs comprised eight sweeping statements of ambition: the world decided to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality rates; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. These goals were underpinned by concrete targets.
Nobody could argue with any of these goals. But their formulation is inconsistent. Why aim to reduce poverty by half, maternal mortality by three-quarters, and under-five mortality by two-thirds? Why set specific reduction targets in these areas, and yet remain vague on our desire to "achieve decent employment"? And why these particular goals? Why aspire to improve access to information technology (the Internet, mobile phones) but not to basic energy? Today, 1.6 billion people do not have electricity; when the sun sets, their lives are literally beset by darkness. And why no target to reduce the 1.4 million deaths each year from indoor air pollution, largely caused by the use of poor fuels like wood, cardboard, and dung for cooking and heating? The MDGs have been helpful in focusing attention on some areas of need. But we could have gone a step further and paid closer attention to the areas where we could achieve the most good. We actually knew back in 2000 that we were unlikely to achieve the goals: the World Bank estimated that in addition to policy and service-delivery reform in many countries, annual overseas development aid would need to increase by $50 billion.
Instead of agreeing to broad aspirations, it would have been more worthwhile to use the goals to highlight specific, more achievable investments. According to an analysis by Nobel laureates and other prestigious economists for the Copenhagen Consensus Center, these investments include expanded immunisation for children, efforts to lower the price of schooling, and initiatives to end the "silent hunger" of micronutrient deficiency.

Despite the MDGs' breadth, one issue received the most attention by far over the past decade: global warming. Indeed, among world leaders and policymakers, no other development-related issue came close. The EU's climate policy is costing $250 billion a year, enough to have achieved all of the Millennium Development Goals. Yet, its impact on global temperature in a hundred years will be immeasurable.
When it comes to "doing good" in the world, there is a big difference between focusing on problems and focusing on solutions. Global warming highlights this contrast. We understandably focus on the problem, and then take for granted that a global carbonreduction deal is the only logical solution.
But such a comprehensive deal appears to be politically impossible, and has been shown to be incredibly ineffective. While global warming is a serious challenge (and will exacerbate other problems), cutting carbon emissions is a poor solution – and a poor use of funds compared to the alternatives.
Finding the smartest solutions to problems requires prioritising — an effort that the MDGs do not explicitly make, and which many people find distasteful. But if we do not explicitly choose between policies based on their effectiveness, often the decision is made for us by other factors, including which issue attracts the most media attention or has self-interested corporations and activists pushing for a specific investment.
An overarching theme of the MDGs was to reduce poverty. We will succeed, by 2015, in halving the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day. But this is thanks almost entirely to the massive economic strides taken by China and India, which show how effectively trade can reduce poverty. Yet developed countries have rendered politically impossible reforms that would reduce trade barriers for developing countries. While we have spent all of our time writing a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, we have all but forgotten the Doha Round of trade talks.

Overall, the Millennium Development Goals improved the planet. But when we set new goals in 2015, we will need to be much more honest about focusing on areas where we can achieve the most good.
(The author is head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center)
©Project Syndicate, 2011








Thallium and Agatha Christie. Sodium and Sartre, Coetzee, Anthony Burgess, J G Ballard. Chlorine gas and Wilfred Owen. "From the moment of its discovery, each element embarks upon a journey into our culture," says Hugh Aldersey-Williams. "It may eventually come to be visible everywhere, like iron or the carbon in coal. It may loom large economically or politically while remaining largely unseen, like silicon or plutonium…" These elements are the ingredients of everything, including humans But if we seldom notice these connections it is partly the fault of chemists "for presuming to study and teach their subject in lofty isolation from the world. But the humanities are also to blame."


 Aldersey-Williams' book Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements


(2011) was originally a series of talks on BBC Radio 4. It's a fascinating book, discussing the discovery of various elements, their cultural associations, and the way in which writers, film-makers, painters and other artists have made use of them in their metaphors. Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse is one of the exceptions: thallium is the murderer's tool. "Those already found dead have succumbed to sicknesses displaying symptoms of such variety that it is initially supposed they must all have died of unrelated natural causes. However, Mark Easterbrook, the hero of the tale, has his suspicions aroused." Interestingly, a number of real-life people such as forensic pathologists confronted by real crimes recognised the use of thallium because they had read The Pale Horse. Doctors were baffled when a 19-month-old Qatari girl was brought to Hammersmith Hospital in London apparently dying of a mysterious disease. A nurse who had read Christie's book suggested thallium poisoning, and so it was. The infant had ingested thallium used by her parents as insecticide. Many more such examples are given.
    "The elements do not simply occupy fixed places in our culture as they do in the periodic table," Aldersey-Williams says. "They rise and fall on the tide of cultural whim. John Masefield's famous poem 'Cargoes' lists eighteen commodities in its three short verses portraying three eras of global trade and plunder…from the quinquereme of Nineveh …to the dirty British coaster with its load of 'Tyne coal,/Road-rails, pig-lead,/Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.'…As Masefield's poem shows, imperial might has always depended on possession of the elements. The Roman Empire was built on bronze, the Spanish on gold, the British on iron and coal. The balance of the twentieth -century superpowers was maintained by a nuclear arsenal based on uranium and the plutonium made from it."
    In a section called 'Beauty' Aldersey-Williams details the less dire though still controversial uses to which elements of various kinds have been put. Friedrich Stromeyer's discovery of cadmium made possible the work of the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, the Fauvists because these artists "suddenly had access to a palette of colours of an intensity never seen before." The bright flash of chromium on cars, their missile-shaped headlight mountings made of chrome, "chromium became the international calling card of American plenty. In Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's "West Side Story," the Puerto Rican girls sing: "Automobile in America/Chromium steel in America/Wire-spoke wheel in America/Very big deal in America!."
    Hugh Aldersey-Williams says, in a biographical note that both at school and at university he was forced to choose between studying Science and the Arts. It's a dilemma many students will recognise. He chose Science, and graduated with an MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge. But he soon found that the arts were an irresistible attraction. He worked hard at trying to find a career that could combine the two. His attempts to popularise the connections have earned some snooty reviews from physicists who think of "chemists" as second or third-rate physicists. By and large, however, the consensus is clear. The book is a "voyage of wonder and discovery."




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The existence of the most fragile ecosystem in the country — Western Ghats — has once again been threatened by vested interests, and this time it's the state government that's being accused by conservationists. Ecologists have termed the state government's decision to withdraw 10 listed critical habitats from being tagged Heritage Centres by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), "childish" and failed to sense the need for protection of the Ghats for future generations. The biological diversity of the Ghats is unique — 40 per cent of the species found in this region are not found anywhere else in the world. A total of 126 species of amphibians and about 215 species of fish have been registered, and ecologists say there is much to explore, if only the government keeps its evil eyes off the Ghats. The state government, on Tuesday, asked the Centre to remove the proposed Heritage Centre from the state so that developmental activity could be taken up. The government also said that with the Unesco tag funds would not flow, and suggested they could generate revenue by allowing development in the region. Ecologists pointed out that the government has failed to understand that the areas proposed for tagging are already protected under laws that are applicable for different forest types, such as reserve forests, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, and bringing them under Unesco will not hamper any day-to-day activities or special privileges that are enjoyed by tribal communities in the region. "There is a sense of apprehension among local people and the government about declaring the important pockets of Western Ghats Unesco Heritage Centres. The common belief is that control over forest land might be taken from the government, which is not true," says Dr Subash Chandra, an expert on the Western Ghats. Dr Subash called for awareness among local villagers living in and around Ghats so that they do not join hands with the government. "We cannot afford to fragment our forests any further. As it is there is mounting pressure on the Ghats in the form of mining, hydel projects, road-widening and poaching of rare species. "Shockingly, the Western Ghats house the highest human population among all 34 Unesco sites. If the central government wants to declare parts of Ghats as heritage centres it a blessing for conservation," said Professor N.A. Madhyasta, an expert zoologist from Udupiadds.







The existence of the most fragile ecosystem in the country — Western Ghats — has once again been threatened by vested interests, and this time it's the state government that's being accused by conservationists. Ecologists have termed the state government's decision to withdraw 10 listed critical habitats from being tagged Heritage Centres by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), "childish" and failed to sense the need for protection of the Ghats for future generations. The biological diversity of the Ghats is unique — 40 per cent of the species found in this region are not found anywhere else in the world. A total of 126 species of amphibians and about 215 species of fish have been registered, and ecologists say there is much to explore, if only the government keeps its evil eyes off the Ghats. The state government, on Tuesday, asked the Centre to remove the proposed Heritage Centre from the state so that developmental activity could be taken up. The government also said that with the Unesco tag funds would not flow, and suggested they could generate revenue by allowing development in the region. Ecologists pointed out that the government has failed to understand that the areas proposed for tagging are already protected under laws that are applicable for different forest types, such as reserve forests, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, and bringing them under Unesco will not hamper any day-to-day activities or special privileges that are enjoyed by tribal communities in the region. "There is a sense of apprehension among local people and the government about declaring the important pockets of Western Ghats Unesco Heritage Centres. The common belief is that control over forest land might be taken from the government, which is not true," says Dr Subash Chandra, an expert on the Western Ghats. Dr Subash called for awareness among local villagers living in and around Ghats so that they do not join hands with the government. "We cannot afford to fragment our forests any further. As it is there is mounting pressure on the Ghats in the form of mining, hydel projects, road-widening and poaching of rare species. "Shockingly, the Western Ghats house the highest human population among all 34 Unesco sites. If the central government wants to declare parts of Ghats as heritage centres it a blessing for conservation," said Professor N.A. Madhyasta, an expert zoologist from Udupiadds.







After humbling the DMK at the hustings recently, AIADMK supremo and Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has a few worries, and also some political points to make. Within weeks of her sweeping victory in the Assembly election, she arrived in New Delhi with her customary flair, and made blunt observations against Union home minister P. Chidambaram. But she did not omit to press demands on the Centre for significant doses of assistance on the power front for her state, as well as for some pet projects such as a monorail for Chennai and free computers for students (a campaign promise made to outdo the DMK in offering freebies). These are of direct concern to the CM. It is openly acknowledged in Chennai, for instance, that Tamil Nadu's poor power situation contributed not a little to DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi's political downfall, although nothing perhaps can outweigh the impact of the 2G spectrum scam. The AIADMK chief is therefore expected not to antagonise the UPA-2 government unnecessarily, although this is unlikely to deter her from continuing to embarrass the DMK element in the ruling alliance, or for that matter pro-DMK elements in the Tamil Nadu Congress such as Mr Chidambaram. Incoming chief ministers are known to urge the Centre to bestow favours on them. In this respect, the AIADMK leader has some advantages. She does not belong to an Opposition alliance such as the NDA (although it is still recalled by some that she had attended Narendra Modi's swearing-in in Gujarat and had not opposed the BJP's Ayodhya stance after the Babri Masjid demolition), or what might be loosely called the Third Front string of parties. To that extent, Ms Jayalalithaa could be open to giving support to the UPA. But this is hardly an open and shut case. Much will depend on the extent to which the Centre offers her financial assistance to rebuild her base as CM. To some degree, the fate of DMK ministers and other leaders in the courts will also help decide the dynamics of ties between the Congress and Tamil parties. The AIADMK chief is all too aware of this. So, for now, she may be expected to bide her time before making any open moves favouring a political alliance with the Congress. But it is evident that the atmospherics created by both sides during Ms Jayalalithaa's New Delhi visit will be savoured by many in both parties, much to the discomfiture of the DMK and its supporters in the Congress. It would be premature for the Congress to give signs of jettisoning the DMK at this stage. This would only enhance the AIADMK's leverage over the Congress. In the worst-case scenario, the Congress might end up losing the support of 18 DMK MPs and not gain the AIADMK bloc of nine. In the best situation for UPA-2, if court pronouncements begin to hit the DMK camp hard, the DMK can be exchanged for the AIADMK. That would call for softening up Ms Jayalalithaa by meeting her demands for assistance to a significant degree. But all this is in the future. For now, the AIADMK may bargain for just a bit of brinkmanship. Attacking Mr Chidambaram could be a part of this. After all, she can't expect an invitation to the UPA parlour if she demands the ouster of its home minister, at least not at the present stage. As we get closer to the next general election in 2014, the political ground may well have shifted in TN and New Delhi, depending on how governments are faring in both locations. So, perhaps in the short term, no real changes in power equations are on the cards. But nothing stops parties from pre-positioning themselves for the next stage.







The forthcoming round of the US-India strategic dialogue provides an opportunity to clear the cobwebs of erroneous expectations that envelop this crucial relationship. Misplaced hopes are harboured by both sides. The uproar in the Indian media over the trial of Tahawwhur Rana underlines both the force of our expectations about American cooperation in tackling Pakistan-based terrorism and the depth of our disappointment at America's unwillingness to turn the heat on Pakistan. Neither of these is warranted. Equally misguided is the assumption that the latest crisis in US-Pakistan relations somehow presents an opportunity for India. The killing of Osama bin Laden will pave the way for a swift drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan. In so doing, the US will require Pakistan's cooperation to keep the insurgency below boiling point. The realistic course for India is to realise that deepening US-India ties are unlikely to translate into any tangible outcomes vis-à-vis Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Afghanistan suggests that such realisation is dawning on New Delhi. The learning curve in Washington seems much slower. Flawed assumptions and expectations about the relationship continue to hold sway amongst American analysts and policymakers. These are succinctly summarised in a recent article by Sumit Ganguly in this newspaper (Not squaring up with Washington, June 15). Important players in the US, he writes, are beginning to wonder whether India really wants a "viable strategic partnership". Three developments in recent months have apparently sowed such doubts: the nuclear liability bill passed by India, India's stance on the Libyan crisis, and the decision to drop the American firms contending for the order of 126 Medium Multiple Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). A closer look at each of these highlights some fundamental problems in Washington's strategic perception of India. Let's start with the nuclear liability legislation. Ganguly observes that this "draconian" legislation prevents American companies from having "a fair chance" of competing in the Indian market. Given the amount of effort the US put in for the nuclear deal with India and for obtaining international clearances, India's actions showed a lack of reciprocity. The main sticking point about the legislation concerns the liability of the supplier — apart from that of the operator of a nuclear power plant — in the event of an accident. All along, the American nuclear industry was opposed to the provision for channelling any liability to the supplier, for this would expose them to litigation in the event of accident. But the fact remains that even the American legal system does not afford them the kind of immunity that they sought in India. Further, the US has seldom allowed considerations of special relationships to override the interests of its own people. The Obama administration's tough stance on British Petroleum's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is entirely in keeping with American practice on such matters. Indian legislation will speak for India's interests. That the US — which routinely uses domestic legislation to advance its international interests — should find this so frustrating is ironical indeed. Consider next the ongoing Libyan crisis. India's decision to abstain at the United Nations Security Council during the vote authorising the use of force against Libya was apparently reminiscent of its behaviour during the Cold War. The Indian position, in fact, was far from being implacably opposed to the resolution on Libya. The Indians made it clear that they did not believe that the use of force would solve the problem, but if the US and its allies thought otherwise India would not stand in the way of the resolution. Instead of conceding (with the benefit of hindsight) that India might have had a point, the Americans see this as yet another instance of India's unreliability. The notion that India might be acting to secure its own considerable interests in that region does not seem to register at all. Equally problematic is the tendency to attribute India's unwillingness to conform to American wishes as a hangover of non-alignment. This is a serious misreading of Indian purposes and actions. The US' response to the MMRCA procurement demonstrates the hold of these assumptions. The Americans have argued that this was no ordinary defence deal and that awarding the contract to one of the American contenders would have signalled India's interest in forging a close strategic relationship. To be sure, this is no ordinary defence deal. In procuring these aircraft, India has to cater to its strategic air power requirements for the next five decades. It is surprising, therefore, that the Americans assume that F16 or the F18, which are already into the third decade of existence, should find favour with New Delhi. If the US was indeed keen to bag the contract why did it not offer the F22 or the F35? These platforms have been sold to other allies of the US. The point yet again is the US' inability to appreciate the point that India will act to preserve and further its own interests. This strange lack of strategic awareness stems from the fact that in the last many years the US has never dealt with a genuine "partner". During the Cold War it dealt with pliant or prickly allies like Britain, Japan or France. More recently, it has forged asymmetric strategic ties with former Soviet bloc countries. The relationship with China has always had an adversarial aspect to it, while relations with Pakistan have been that of a patron and client. India does not fit any of these bills. It does not pose any strategic challenge to the US, but at the same time it does not automatically fall in with America's desires and seeks to advance its own interests. Great powers have traditionally found it difficult to deal with newer powers even when these have not questioned their dominance. A century ago, Britain experienced similar problems in its relations with the US. If ties with India are to flourish, the US will have to go beyond its historical experience and fashion a new mould of engagement. * Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi







DC Debate: Journalist's murder shows that the underworld is in full form Gangsters are back in action By Arvind Inamdar The murder of journalist Jyotirmoy Dey shows that gangsterism is looming large over the Mumbai horizon, posing a tremendous challenge to the government and the police. The Pakmodia Street (residence of Dawood Ibrahim's brother) firing in broad daylight before this tragic event, the burning alive of an assistant collector in Malegaon by the oil mafia before that and the recent murder of four youths in Goregaon are a few instances that show that gangsters or the underworld are back in action, more daring and emboldened. The Chota Shakeel and Pujari gangs and others were till recently hiding and indulged only in extortion of jewellers, the film fraternity and builders. But now they have surfaced and are touching reporters and the police. The way the bullets were fired at Dey shows how emboldened they have become. I assume they wanted to send a message that if anyone dares to take on them they will meet with such consequences. While the crime graph has been going up, there has been no simultaneous training of the police force to meet the challenges. In Naxalite-affected Dantewade, for instance, the Army was brought in to train the police because they need specialised training. Similarly, in Mumbai, we now have not only the original underworld but the land mafia too — as there is so much money in real estate today — and the oil and the sand mafias as well. I think we should have the right to justice enshrined now because unless the criminals are brought to justice within a year they have no fear. Ajmal Kasab's, the lone terrorist arrested in the Mumbai terror attacks, trial has been on for nearly three years and there are thousands of criminal cases pending for years. There is a collapse of the entire system and this has to be arrested. Gangsters have gathered courage also because genuine encounters are few. But encounters are not the answer. The legal system has to deal promptly with gangsters. That's the real solution. The conviction rate is barely seven or eight per cent. Our 110-year-old laws are not in a position to deliver justice. Pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was an ideal weapon in the hands of the police as the gangsters had to prove their innocence, but Pota was abandoned. Today the city is in the grip of terror. No one is safe except those who go around with a posse of armed police. The perception of the public is that of a politician-police-criminals nexus, and this is dangerous. Fear and respect for the law has totally disappeared. Anything that happens in Mumbai also affects the perception of India abroad. (As told to Olga Tellis) * Arvind Inamdar, former director-general of police, Maharashtra Underworld links seem unlikely By Sanjay Pandey The murder of Jyotirmoy Dey in broad daylight is indeed sensational. There is talk of the underworld being involved and how the underworld has started showing its strength in Mumbai. The underworld normally implies a gang which is remote-controlled by kingpins sitting abroad. Having worked in the city in most criminally-active areas in the '90s, I can see that the interests of these gangs are mostly real estate or high-value financial transactions. A reporter having had any such links is highly unlikely. While analysing this, let's look at some of the hypotheses doing the rounds. It is being said that Dey was working on a story on the oil adulteration racket which could have undone the mafia, and hence this attack. This appears farfetched. Oil mafia activities are well known to one and all in the region, and there is no novelty in these stories. Illicit operators, time and again, have been able to buy peace with the enforcement. As long as peace can be purchased with the enforcers, violent acts like these are not indulged in. It is true that when the mafia is stretched on account of exorbitant demands, there have been cases of individual violence against the enforcers, but never against reporters. Personal rivalry is another area where the underworld is tasked to help settle disputes. But these are cases involving property or huge money transactions, as in the financing of films. Normally a reporter would not get involved in such transactions; hence, a remote-controlled underworld operation looks unlikely in the Dey case. Local disputes, which may be domestic and at times related to relationships — professional and personal — have seen violent results in the past. In a city like Mumbai, there are always highly active unemployed youngsters who for money can be as effective as in the present case. These are loosely attached groups that can only be loosely termed the underworld. In the present instance, if the highly unlikely cause of high-value financing deals or real estate are ruled out, it appears that local rivalry and a possible relationship with a highly connected person having gone badly sour resulted in this execution. In any case, attributing the murder to the underworld might be counterproductive. Underworld links provide a possible alibi to investigative agencies for not doing much as the kingpins are sitting in remote locations. Finally, while stories and theories may abound, the police would surely be able to investigate and bring to book local goons who are behind such a gruesome murder. * Sanjay Pandey, IPS officer and security expert







The scandal surrounding the conduct of American politician Anthony Weiner, who send lewd pictures of himself to women, has raised the inevitable question: could it happen here? Or, more appropriately, do Indian constituents care much about their leaders' personal lives? In a television discussion on this very point, the general feeling was that the Indian media tended to keep away from the peccadilloes — if any — of politicians and that this was a good thing. As long as their personal life, even if it was illicit, did not affect their professional work, nobody had the right to know anything about it. And there is a tacit understanding in the media (and among fellow politicians) that personal arrangements of politicians were out of bounds. But how would the press and citizens in general react if something like the Weiner scandal were to happen here? Mr Weiner is a veteran in politics, a seven-time congressman. Last month, it emerged that he had used his Twitter account to send a link to a photograph showing just a pair of boxer shorts to a 21-year-old female college student who was "following" him. Though the picture was removed from Mr Weiner's account the very next day, it fell into the hands of a blogger. It emerges that the blogger was a conservative who closely follows Mr Weiner and several other Democrats. The picture was posted on but Mr Weiner insisted that it was not his body and that his political opponents were behind this to malign him. But even as he was making his claims, another picture, showing him shirtless, was posted on the website followed by allegations that he had been sending even more explicit pictures to women. The game was up and Mr Weiner had to admit that it was indeed him in the boxer shorts and that he had been having inappropriate conversations with several women and had sent them many such pictures. The Democrats, unwilling to risk a scandal in the run up to the elections, asked him to resign, with even US President Barack Obama saying, "If it was me, I would resign". Mr Weiner, who has admitted himself into a clinic for "treatment" however has not stepped down even three weeks after the scandal broke, despite pressure from his colleagues. How would the Indian media have dealt with such a situation? Hyperventilation is the default pitch on Indian television channels — would they have gone the whole hog if a story such as this emerged about a veteran politician? And more to the point, would a story like this come out in the open at all? On the last question first — the Weiner scandal broke when a conservative blogger posted the picture on his website. We do not have an equivalent, but there are many independent bloggers in India; would they have dared to publish something like this? I think not. Even without the latest round of cyber laws, which the government is putting in place, no individual would dare take on a politician. What if the recipient of such obscene material herself (or himself) brought it out into the open? Even then, it would have to capture the attention of the media, without which it would remain in the dark. The media would hesitate to take it up, unless there was proof; making such serious allegations against a politician is not a risk any channel would be willing to take. Yet, television channels barely hesitate to quote anyone who calls a minister corrupt; what then makes claims of a sexual nature so different? There is no one answer, but it has become accepted practice that the personal lives of political leaders — freely discussed among mediapersons off the record — never, or rarely make it in print or on television. There are exceptions of course — in the 1970s Surya magazine printed explicit pictures of Babu Jagjivan Ram's son cavorting with a woman and more recently, the paternity claims by a man against senior Congress leader N.D. Tiwari cost the latter his job as governor. But we are happy to read of scandals involving babas and filmstars, and rarely if ever do we hear about the private life of a politician. This could do with our innate conservatism or bashfulness. Or we may be genuinely unconcerned about who does what in the privacy of their bedroom. One of the points made about the Weiner affair (and many more such scandals that keep breaking in the US) is that the American society is puritanical when it comes to the personal probity of its politician. But we are no less conservative as a society; then why do we look the other way? Could it be squeamishness on our part? It is worth conjecturing how the spread of the online media will change things. Mr Weiner's indiscretions were caught out because of the fact that despite quick action to take down the offending picture from his own site, there was a record of what he had sent. It is relatively easy to track down the origins of mails and social media postings. And there was a hawk out there tracking Mr Weiner and his Democrat colleagues for any misstep. Sooner or later that will happen here; already we have alert online vigilantes looking out for anything that is said about their favoured political party, ideology or cause. In future, they could be out to trip rivals and sex scandals would certainly offer handy ammunition to their cause. The mainstream media may be careful, but the online world is much more anarchic and freewheeling. Sooner or later, a Weiner-like scandal would then break in India too. * Sidharth Bhatia is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai







There are millions of people praying day in and day out. In fact, religion is usually understood as an act of prayer. We can see all the religious places full of devotees putting up their demands to the deities or bargaining with god about their health and wealth. The bottomline of their prayer is: "You fulfil my desires and I will do something for you". As if god is a trader! It is a topic for research as many prayers really get answered. True prayer is neither a bargain nor a trade. It is an expression of gratefulness for all that is already given by existence. Just as the flower blooms and spreads its fragrance, a content heart overflows with gratitude towards existence. Prayer is the perfume of the fulfilled heart. There is an interesting Sufi story about a trader. A commercial ship is coming back to its home country. The ship is full of businessmen coming home after a long business trip. Suddenly the ocean goes wild, and the ship is on the verge of sinking. Everybody starts praying frantically. But there was a Sufi who was simply sitting there, not praying. People became angry; they said, "You are a religious man, wearing the green robe of a Sufi. What kind of a Sufi are you? You should have been the first one to pray. And we are not religious people, we are just businessmen but we are offering god, 'we will give you this, we will give you that. Just save us'. Why are you not praying?" He said, "You have already said it: because I am not a businessman. If he wants to finish us all, good. If he wants to save us, good. It is his business. I am in total agreement with him. Why should I pray? Prayer means some disagreement, something is happening which you don't want to happen. You want god to interfere, to stop it". On board was the most wealthy, most famous man of the country, and he was coming with millions of diamonds and precious stones. He had a beautiful palace in the town — the most beautiful marble palace. When the ship was almost sinking, the man shouted to God, "Listen, I give that palace to you, just save me!" And as it happened, the winds disappeared, the ocean became calm, the ship was saved. They reached the shore". Now, the rich man was in great difficulty because of what he had said. He said to the Sufi, "Perhaps you were right just to keep quiet. If I had followed you I would not have lost my palace. But I am a businessman, and I will find a way". And he did find a way. Next day he put the palace up for auction. He informed all the nearby kingdoms, whoever was interested. Many kings and rich people came and everybody was interested in buying the palace. However, they were all puzzled to see a cat chained to a marble pillar just in front of the palace. The rich man came out and said, "This palace and the cat, both are up for auction together. The price of the cat is one million dinars and the price of the palace, one dinar". One of the kings who wanted to buy the palace said, "Yes, I will give you the price, but please tell me, what is the secret of this cat and the palace?" And he said, "No secret — I just got into trouble because of a prayer. I have told God that 'I will give you the palace'. The price of the cat, one million dinars, will be kept by me, and the price of the palace — one dinar — will go to religious fund". After citing this story Osho takes a dig at the trading mind: "Your prayer is just your effort to persuade God to do things according to you. And it is absolutely your imagination. In the first place you don't know God. You don't know his likes and dislikes. You don't know whether he exists or not, and you are praying! This is a poor state of affairs, and this is happening all over the world. I am against prayer because it is basically a business. I am in favour of meditation. The meditator comes to know — feels reality throbbing within himself — the heartbeat of existence. And then there is a thankfulness that is without any motive, a gratitude to nobody in particular, simply a gratitude for all that is". — Amrit Sadhana is in the management team of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.









THE Communist Party of India (Marxist) is trying to come to grips with its annus horribilis. In comparison to Prakash Karat's defence of his leadership, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's absence at Hyderabad paled into insignificance. The fineprint of his presentation was unmistakable; the CPI-M general secretary is loath to accept responsibility for the fact that the party's presence is now confined to  the tiny state of Tripura. On a parity of reasoning, he has come to the conclusion that the disastrous denouement shall have no impact on his leadership. Such a perception wasn't wholly unexpected considering that he had once described the CPI-M as 'my party' with due emphasis on the personal pronoun. Just as the party is famously known to arrive at decisions collectively, so too must responsibility be accepted. The electoral outcome may not be a determinant for a change of leadership; in parallel has Mr Karat called for a reshuffle of leadership responsibilities in Bengal. Clearly, the general secretary is anxious to insulate himself from the overwhelming debacle. By refusing to take responsibility for the disaster in Bengal, he seems intent on laying the blame wholly at the door of Alimuddin Street. He is correct, but only very partially. Unwittingly, his statement on the impact of Opposition unity on the CPI-M's performance was a giveaway. Truth to tell, the mending of fences between the Congress and Trinamul began in right earnest after two developments in July 2008 ~ the party's withdrawal of support to UPA-I and the expulsion of Somnath Chatterjee. Both developments were masterminded by the CPI-M general secretary. His brainwave of a Third Front was a non-starter. Altogether, his strategy did the party in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Quite palpably, he lacks the control over the party that Harkishan Singh Surjeet had once wielded.

Mr Karat is not off the mark when he cavils that "shortcomings and weaknesses of the administration in Bengal" were responsible  for what he calls the "big defeat". The misgovernance served to compound the differences within. It is a measure of the disorientation of the party that the much-hyped central committee meeting was reduced to a fizzle. It scarcely went beyond a tiresome charade of the faultlines in Bengal. Much of this is old hat. Even the allusion to rectification sounded cliched in the absence of a tangible course correction. Of a move towards recovery, there was no indication. Of a leadership crisis ~ in the Politburo as much as in Bengal ~ there was no admission. The party is foundering in search of its moorings in the absence of Promode Das Gupta, Saroj Mukherjee, Jyoti Basu, Benoy Choudhury and Surjeet. Given the crisis at the helm, Mr Karat can afford to give himself a long enough rope.




DIPLOMACY and defence are often said to be opposite sides of the same coin. The Indian defence establishment obviously has a lot of "coin" at its disposal these days, and enjoys the luxury of permitting diplomatic interests to influence its acquisitions. The comparative speed with which the union cabinet has cleared the $4.1 billion deal to buy 10 heavy-lift C-117 Globemaster III aircraft from the US, and the immediate appreciation expressed by the American ambassador in New Delhi strongly suggests that all three wings of South Block (MoD, EAM, PMO) have bent over backwards to assuage hurt American feelings. Hurt because the IAF did not favour either of the American jetfighters offered for its $10 billion programme to acquire 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft, and over which Tim Roemer made no secret of his disappointment. Well, since the IAF had wanted the 10 Globemasters there need not be too much reading between the lines: but should the reported US pressure to sell another seven (the 10 will sustain 23,000 jobs "stateside") take effect some serious questions must arise. It is taxpayer's money after all. Since the C-117s are produced by Boeing which is also contracted to supply eight P-81 maritime reconnaissance/anti-submarine planes, its key rival Lockheed Martin would feel it got the short end of the wedge in selling only six C-130 J Hercules transports for India's special forces. It had banked on selling the up-rated, India-specific F-16s.
Has the MoD sent out signals that it is attempting a balancing act? Should the Typhoon Eurofighter get the combat planes contract, the Airbus A330 might get the nod for aerial tankers ~ they are produced by rival European consortiums. Then there is a helicopter deal in the offing. The Russians do not have too much to cry about, India is picking up the major share of the bill to develop a fifth-generation fighter. And the Israelis are getting some pretty shekels for a range of lower-profile but high-value weapon systems. After decades of being starved of resources, defence is being provided the funds for modernisation and re-equipment. But is that money being utilised optimally? More than guarding against kickbacks and diplomatic niceties are  required to secure the proverbial "bigger bang per buck".




THE renewed triumph of democracy was never really in doubt in Turkey, most importantly because of the westernising influence of Kemal Ataturk. And the latest exercise in a predominantly Muslim country ~ in refreshing contrast to the war-like trends in the Arab world ~ ought to buttress its case for entry to the European Union. Turkey has voted for continuity ~ the decidedly striking feature of the election held amidst the currently fashionable cry for change. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won a third term with Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-elected as Prime Minister. Yet that victory needs to be tempered as the country's 50 million voters have advanced a modified 'yes'. Mr Erdogan has won with a reduced margin, one that scarcely gives him the strength to amend the Constitution unilaterally. The result is an acknowledgment of his success in the economic and social segments. Equally, has it ruled out single-party dominance. In his hour of re-election, the Prime Minister has acknowledged that he will have to seek a consensus for any constitutional change he decides to pursue. Indeed, concerted moves towards legislative enactments can only strengthen the democratic spirit... a lesson that the Left has now learnt in Bengal.

Perhaps alone in the Muslim bloc, Turkey has reinforced its secular credentials, judging by the gains of the Republican People's Party ~ a secular outfit ~ and the drubbing suffered by the far-right Nationalist Party. By Islamic standards again, the vote has registered a forward movement ~ there will be  a record number of women in the new parliament. Aside from gender, the election has to an extent protected sub-regional sentiments with an increased representation of  Kurdish members in the new House. Overall, the election has been as smooth as it has been mature when compared to the fraudulently democratic exercises in Afghanistan, Iran and Myanmar, let alone the one that has been scheduled for Egypt in September. In his third term as Prime Minister, the result will compel Erdogan to veer towards the secularists. He will also have to make an attempt to address the Kurdish minority demand for more autonomy. Europe cannot miss the message that Turkey has once again embraced democracy.







RETIRING US Defence Secretary Gates took the opportunity of his farewell visit to Europe to deliver some home truths about the current problems and future prospects for NATO. In a blunt public address, he dwelt on the many restrictions imposed by member-states that had made NATO ineffective in the field, pointing to its performance in Afghanistan and Libya. These restrictions have had a damaging effect, to the extent, according to Mr. Gates, that NATO is not able to meet its obligations. He complained that too much was being left to the USA whose burden had increased while the European partners were reducing theirs. The financial load on the USA had become intolerable at a time when European countries were progressively reducing outlays on defence. Hitherto, the US tax payer had borne the weight but future leaders of the USA, less inclined than their predecessors to give automatic priority to the European alliance, might well consider that the investment they were being asked to make in the common defence was not commensurate with the benefit to be gained. In the circumstances, unless remedial action was taken, NATO's future was 'dim, if not dismal'.

The Defence Secretary's criticisms, which are widely shared in the USA, reflect some larger, unresolved issues about the future of NATO. The dissolution of the Soviet Union left NATO with no clear purpose. While Western countries were careful to seek a fresh, more cooperative relationship with Russia, not the confrontational posture implicit in NATO, not all the differences of the cold war could be dispelled in one sweep. Nor could the smaller countries on the Russian periphery, formerly its allies within the Warsaw Pact, shed their apprehensions of the historically dominant Russia which had now reappeared, unchecked by any countervailing force in Europe. They turned to the former foe for their security, seeking and obtaining membership of an expanding NATO, whose numbers increased from 16 when the cold war ended to the current 28. Expansion has diluted some of the organization's coherence and made it more unwieldy. It has also highlighted the underlying, unresolved issue of the relationship between NATO and Russia. Military confrontation cannot any longer be envisaged or planned for but tensions can, and do, crop up, for NATO has been active in the area that Russia regards as its 'near abroad', where its interests are closely engaged and where it cannot meekly acquiesce in a steady decrease of its influence.

Thus Russia has reacted sharply to Western ideas of erecting a missile shield in Eastern Europe, ostensibly to guard against threat from Iran but appearing in Russian eyes to be no less a shield against Russian missiles. Such a shield would demand counter-measures by Russia to maintain the effectiveness of its defence apparatus, and so the argument about arms in Europe continues even though the military confrontation of earlier years no longer exists. Efforts have been made by both sides to bring about closer consultation so that there is less chance of misunderstanding, and some strategic thinkers have even pointed out that there is now no good reason why Russia should not join NATO as have so many of its former military partners. This is an idea that comes up from time to time and remains on the agenda of some advocates, though it seems to be going nowhere.
There are marked differences in the discourse about NATO on different sides of the Atlantic. In the USA, there are many to share the disenchantment expressed by Mr. Gates. At the same time, thought is given to ways of reviving the alliance and making it more efficient. NATO is now most deeply engaged in areas far removed from its original sphere, and in activity that has greatly enlarged the mandate of collective defence with which it started; one or two think-tanks have envisaged further geographical and functional expansion in order to propagate the values that the organization is supposed to embody.

Another, more down-to-earth perception is of a Europe hamstrung by bureaucratic rules and procedures that create barriers between defence and economic priorities. While many in the USA would like to see reform and stronger commitment to NATO, there is no answering call from Europe, preoccupied as it is with its internal problems, mainly economic, and less willing than in the past to follow the US lead.

In the circumstances, some observers of the international scene favour back-pedalling on attempts to tone up the alliance structure, beset as it is with uncertainties and hard pressed by competing national concerns. Rather than maintain the whole unwieldy apparatus, it is argued, let the USA look to 'coalitions of the willing' for specific tasks. This could promote better results and permit a move away from an alliance that has become excessively embroiled in its own procedures and preoccupations. The notion of such a 'coalition of the willing' had its genesis in the US-led international intervention in Iraq, and judging from what took place on that occasion, especially in its early stages, a coalition of this nature imposes no fewer uncertainties and limitations than the workings of an established alliance like NATO. To recall, it was no easy task for the USA and its closest partners to line up the UN behind them so as to achieve some semblance of international authorization for their invasion of Iraq, and questions about what the coalition was mandated to do have not been easy to settle. Moreover, the ad hoc coalition of disparate national contingents within a single military force was sometimes ineffective on the ground, and also unpredictable, for participant countries had shifting priorities that made it difficult to make long term commitments. So though NATO shows decline, it is difficult to see how it can be transmuted into or replaced by something better tuned to present-day realities.

While NATO struggles for reincarnation, another, less weighty and ambitious security organization is making steady headway. This is the Shanghai Security Organization (SCO) which will shortly be holding its tenth anniversary meeting in Kazakhstan. China had taken the initiative in its creation as a modest regional body of six countries, including Russia, for shared effort against security threats they all faced from extremism and terrorism. Over a decade the body has proved useful to its members and is now due to expand by the admission of India and Pakistan as full members, and Afghanistan as an observer. SCO is expected to expand its activities as well as its membership, and the situation in Afghanistan at this time of anticipated changeover has been identified as one of its important concerns. So while one collective security organization born in a different era struggles for relevance, another, more focused on today's issues, is going from strength to strength.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary






True, there is a trust deficit, but this is at the government level. Both Indians and Pakistanis want to improve relations but they have not been able to do so because the governments invariably come in the way. The element of alienation is reinforced by visa restrictions 

It's a welcome development that New Delhi has found time to hold talks with Pakistan in the midst of internal upheavals that the Manmohan Singh government is facing. Foreign secretaries of the two countries will meet later this month in Islamabad. They talked to each other during a summit at Thimpu, Bhutan, in February but apparently found little time to take things further.

No agenda has been announced so far. But the talks that Indian foreign secretary Mrs Nirupama Rao has had with visiting Pakistani journalists indicate that India would like to resume the dialogue. But her statement that the bilateral dialogue is meant to bring the 26/11 perpetrators to justice may create difficulties. Pakistan's foreign secretary, Mr Salman Bashir, has been blunt enough to say that the 26/11 attacks were "an incident of the past" as if Islamabad has already put the tragedy behind it.

I sensed the same approach when some TV channels from Pakistan interviewed me a few days ago. They said that when it had been decided between the two countries to separate terrorism from the talks, India should not get stuck with 26/11. What they do not understand ~ and I told them as much ~ that there is a great deal of anger over the use of Pakistani soil for planning an attack on Mumbai. Had some culprits got punished for that or even come close to it, people in India would have believed that Islamabad was serious about a speedy trial. Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed, who helped plan and execute the attacks, is yet to stop his jihadi threats against New Delhi. 

The acquittal of Tahawwur Rana in the 26/11 attacks has come as a big disappointment to India. And the general suspicion is that the USA did not want the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to be singled out. This seems far fetched when the USA itself told India of the "involvement" of the ISI. But it will not be fair to extend the same suspicion to an American court and its jury. Every country has its own legal system. As long as the country is democratic, its courts should not be treated as kangaroo courts.

Headley has damaged the ISI enough, though, by admitting in an open court that the LeT had received "assistance" from Pakistan's ISI for the Mumbai terror attack. There is no doubt that the ISI is manned and controlled by Pakistan's army. It is possible that some rogue elements in the ISI might be helping the Taliban. It is also possible that some jihad-inclined men within the army might be harming the force. But it does not follow from this that the Taliban has the support of the ISI or Pakistani army.
The case of India is different in the sense that Pakistan considers it an enemy. The ISI must have been in the picture on the 26/11 attacks. If the question before us is to normalise ties with Pakistan, we cannot ask it to admit that the ISI is an instrument in the hands of its army. We have to live with it to go further. Pakistan too has doubts about the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), though exaggerated.
Indeed, New Delhi went against public opinion in India when it began talks with Islamabad after a long suspension. Most Indians wouldn't like anything less than punishment for the 26/11 perpetrators. But now that the dialogue is indeed taking place, it should be part of an agenda which can cover other subjects as well. No doubt, the home, water resources, commerce and defence secretaries of the two countries have met in the past one year. But there does not seem to have been any progress made. It is difficult to know which country is to blame because there is no transparency.
The two sides meet and disperse often without issuing even any cliché-ridden statement. People do not know why the Sir Creek agreement, ready to be signed, has not been signed yet. Nor do they know why the Siachen Glacier pact, initialled by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has not gone through, resulting in a loss of crores of rupees to both sides every day. Pakistan has given a non-paper on the subject. What does it say? People do not know what the paper contains because only its publication would enable them to form an opinion.
The problem with the dialogue between India and Pakistan is that the public is kept out of what takes place during the talks. No one knows which country took what stand and why does the dialogue not move forward from what was discussed some 60 years ago? Pakistan's army is being blamed for the impasse but the elected representatives, neither Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nor Benazir Bhutto, could end it. True, there is a trust deficit, but this is at the government level. People on both sides want to normalise relations but they have not been able to do so because the governments invariably come in the way. The element of alienation is reinforced by visa restrictions.
The army in Pakistan has been, in fact, on the defensive since Osama Bin Laden's death. The arrests of some CIA informers indicate that the force is facing relentless criticism over Osama's assassination by Americans on Pakistani soil. For the first time, Pakistan's army has come out with a statement to point out that the attack on them was part of efforts to create a rift between the country's key institutions. It describes the hounding as an "unfortunate trend" in a Press release and says it needs to be stopped because it is "detrimental to national interest". So exasperated is Pakistan's army that it has even declared that it doesn't need US aid and wants it to be diverted for the country's economic development. Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani has said that in the past 10 years, the army has been given only $1.4 billion from some $8 billion received in aid from the USA. Yet, the army has gone from strength to strength in defence as well as civil matters and stays crucial to any breakthrough with India. Somehow, it is not convinced that a rapprochement with New Delhi can help Islamabad to face, if not retrieve, the situation within Pakistan. History will repeat itself if no lesson is learnt from it. By now, both India and Pakistan should have realised that and become at least decent neighbours.

The writer is a veteran journalist
and commentator 






"Coffee, sir?" asks the enthusiastic jewellery shop assistant. That is his discount on the thousands he has just fleeced from me. Not for nothing are jewellers, like moneylenders, notorious for their parsimonious usury.
"Yes," I nod and add: "No sugar, please."
"You mean, sugar free?" He means if I want the saccharin substitute of sugar in my coffee.
"No, no, no. Just plain sugarless, if you don't mind."
"You mean, less sugar, no? Two teaspoons?"
"By God, no," I shout and hasten to make things clear. "What I mean to say, I don't want any sugar at all in my coffee. Neither natural nor artificial sweetener. Like they say in Hindi bagaer sugar."
The attendant flashes a smile of understanding: "Oh, beggar sugar!" I raise my eyes to the ceiling. Can sugar ever be "beggar" with the likes of Sharad Pawar around? In fact, it is the sugar-eaters who become beggars ~ the more of the exorbitant stuff they consume the faster is their slide into penury. Though I want to tell him so, I let it go. As long as my message gets across, it's okay.
"Sorry, sir, we have no sugarless, that is beggar sugar, coffee in our office. But no problem. I will get it from the coffee shop round the corner in two minutes. Please bear with me." He runs out, shouts an order and scoots back in ~ a modern model of the fictional Mr Fawlty of Fawlty Towers fame.
Come to think of it, why can't diabetics like me get coffee sans sugar at most places? On long train journeys, I have to go without tea or coffee for the whole day. My appeal to the railway caterers for a hot cup with no sugar falls on deaf ears. Coffee, coffee, everywhere, not a cup to drink! At the airport, the kiosk attendant redirects me to a vending machine in a dinghy corner if I want unsweetened tea/coffee, for which I have to negotiate through puddles of stagnant water. And I find that, thanks to the glorious "dynamics" of economics, a cup of coffee without sugar costs more than its sweetened companion! Even at fancy gatherings, the elegant kettles and cups brimming with blended leaf tea and strong coffee look admirable, but not because of the syrup poured into the beverage! Is that an assertion of the hostess' indifference towards the sentiments of diabetics, or does she derive a fiendish delight by depriving us of the cup that could cheer us? Why can't the sugar crystals be allowed to have a separate existence, leaving it to each guest to exercise his democratic choice?
"But, tell me, sir," the salesman asks, huffing and puffing after his short sprint to the coffee shop. "Don't you find the coffee to be too bitter with no sugar in it?"
"Bitter is better!" I proclaim and proceed to give him a short lecture on the pitfalls, healthwise, of consuming too much sugar, either in its natural or artificial form.
"Coffin!" shouts a boy as he enters with two plastic cups in hand. His choice of word shocks me but I pick up a cup and take a sip. Ugh! It's free from sugar free all right. But the coffee vendor has not been told that Equal is equally disagreeable.






Libyan rape victim Ms Eman al-Obeidy (photograph right) was able to flee Libya on 8 May. On more than one occasion she had been picked up by Gaddafi's militiamen and gang raped. Her escape and eventual flight to bordering Tunisia suggested that there might be light at the end of the tunnel, after all. However, on 2 June, Ms al-Obeidy was deported to Libya from Qatar.
In an interview, Mr Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch said: "al-Obeidy's immediate plan was to escape from Libya and then find asylum in some other country. She was going to go to Romania, which would be a transit centre... Many countries expressed interest in offering asylum to her." Getting deported to Libya was not part of the plan, especially at a time when the new Libyan National Transitional Council is gaining power and legitimacy in what might lead to post-Gaddafi times. In fact it is ironic that Ms al-Obeidy, who became the symbol of the Libyan revolution in more ways than one, was beaten and forced into the plane that carried her back to Libya.
It is not clear who orchestrated Ms al-Obeidy's deportation back to Libya. But the Qatari forces, who flagrantly violated humanitarian norms, had the audacity to mistreat a women the world was watching closely. Ms al-Obeidy's struggle shows that the world continues to remain a harsh place for rape victims. Perhaps it is not surprising that while Muammar Gaddafi's Green Book (first published in 1975 and a required reading for all Libyans since) discussed the inhumanity of the sport of boxing and deified the tenderness of women, his forces were indiscriminately using rape as a weapon of war against women rebels. History is replete with such inconsistencies.
Considering Libya is a society where rape carries a severe stigma, few spoke out about being raped. Of them, one was the brave and defiant Ms al-Obeidy, a 28-year-old law student. To add to the testimonies of international NGOs working in Libya, Ms al-Obeidy broke the news of her rape to a hotel full of international journalists and was, in their presence, dragged out by Gaddafi's security forces in Tripoli on 26 March. In about a month, the US envoy to the United Nations told the Security Council that troops loyal to Gaddafi were increasingly engaging in sexual violence and some had been even been issued the drug Viagra. Thus the diplomats corroborated Ms al-Obeidy's accusations.
There is really nothing new about rape as a wartime weapon. India's very own Partition history is the story of countless abductions followed by rapes. The new nation states ~ India and Pakistan ~ watched helplessly as Hindu and Muslim women became victims of every kind of sexual savagery possible. More than half a century later, the world had not turned into a miraculously safer place for women. What happened in post-colonial South Asia during its most cataclysmic period in history continues in times of peace in South Africa, which has some of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world. It is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read.
Just like it happened so many times before, rape was also rampant in the armed conflict during the wars in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The only difference this time was that the world took serious note of it. The wars were the first conflicts since World War II to be formally judged genocidal in character. The Serbian army followed a written plan which spelled out the use of rape to ethnically cleanse Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1996, a United Nations tribunal announced the indictment of eight Bosnian-Serb military and police officers in connection with rapes of Muslim women in the Bosnian war, marking the first time that sexual assault was treated separately as a crime of war. There was a long silence after the indictment. A decade later, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution recognising rape as a "tactic of warfare" that is a crime against humanity.
Human  rights violations are taking place in Libya but no one has been indicted, yet. In her recent article, Rape in Contemporary Warfare: The Role of Globalization in Wartime Sexual Violence, Sara Meger attempts to understand the "function of rape" and then explain the "wider systemic factors that construct sexual violence as an effective and strategic weapon of war" in contemporary times.
In Ms Eman al-Obeidy's conservative society in Libya, which is largely governed by traditional Arab values, a victim of rape is to be killed in order to purge the "shame". Gaddafi's government went ahead to offer protection to these girls from such a gruesome fate by putting them in rehabilitation centres. A report prepared by Human Rights Watch on these centres  makes it clear that these centres are no better than prisons. In a society where raped women are considered "fallen" why won't civil conflicts end in rape ?
Rape easily became in the hands of Libyan pro-Gaddafi forces a tactic to terrorise and humiliate dissident populations. The society that rejects its women for no fault of theirs is equally culpable, if not more, for allowing rape to remain the brutal weapon it is, in times of conflicts.
Clearly, Ms al-Obeidy was determined not to disappear in one of Libya's many rehabilitation centres. She rebelled not just against Gaddafi, but against values that have stagnated Libya. When she spoke about her rape and the rape of a 16-year-old girl, not just the world but also Libya listened, alert. The website, Libya Feb 17th, described Ms al-Obeidy as the heroine of the Libyan revolution. The website called her, and the adjectives were particularly telling of a changing mindset, "pure, courageous and lion-hearted." But Ms al-Obeidy's deportation against her will back to Libya again raises questions about where Libya is headed ?
Unfortunately, Ms al-Obeidy's struggles are far from over. Mr Frelick earnestly hopes that she will be allowed by the Council in eastern Libya to leave the country but it is difficult to say if that would change anything for Libyan women. What, if any, will be Ms al-Obeidy's legacy ? The Council has lofty aims ~ liberty and progress for Libya. One can only hope that Ms al-Obeidy's story, the story of a wronged, lone woman, will not get lost in the surge of merely nationalist aspirations.

The writer is a freelance contributor







The Communist Manifesto exhorted workers of all countries to unite, but Indian communists always delighted in dividing themselves. Even the most arduous analysts of leftist politics in India will find it difficult to count the exact number of communist parties in the country. Given their love of divisions and splits, the merger of the two major communist parties should be of some political consequence. However, it is rather too early to take talks of such a merger seriously. This is not the first time that the idea has been mooted or debated. The remark by Sitaram Yechury, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), that the possible merger has to undergo a "process" sounds like typical communist rhetoric. But the curious thing about the latest idea of a merger is that it has come from the CPI(M). For many years, the Marxists treated the same proposal from the Communist Party of India with disdain and even suspicion. The CPI(M)'s response reflected the arrogance of the so-called 'Big Brother'. If the party is showing signs of change, that surely has much to do with the end of its 34-year rule in West Bengal.

However, the real significance of a merger of India's two big communist parties lies not in what forces them to go for it, but in whether it will change the reunited party. Born eight years after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and four years after the founding of the Communist Party of China, the CPI has remained on the margins of Indian politics. Obviously, Indian communists failed to connect to the realities of the country's politics and to the ethos of Indian society. Their assessments of mass politics have been proved wrong time and again. A merger of the CPI and the CPI(M) will remain an issue only between the two parties and will be of little consequence to Indian politics unless Indian communists initiate genuine changes in their ideology and politics. Indian communists have an extraordinary knack for clinging to discredited ideas that have been discarded even by their compatriots in other countries. If they are to be relevant in Indian politics and society, they have to accept that Karl Marx failed to foresee the world we live in. Indian communists need to change their old ideas and ways, but they would do well to reinvent themselves as nationalists first.






What J. Jayalalithaa attempted on her first visit to the capital after assuming charge of the Tamil Nadu administration is something very similar to brand positioning. The quiet confidence, steely resolve and daring of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader were to remind all concerned of the entry of a party of enormous relevance in the political game at the Centre — a party strong enough to not merely dictate terms, but also to play the waiting game. The message was writ large in Ms Jayalalithaa's call for the resignation of the Union home minister, P.C. Chidambaram, on charges of electoral fraud. It was also there on the wall when she pointed out that unlike last November, when she openly pursued the Congress to dump the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, she was now in a position to weigh her options before gifting a political deal to those who would come to her door seeking it. On paper, of course, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu was in New Delhi to seek financial assistance for the development programmes in her state, particularly those related to power and infrastructure, and to reclaim the state's voice in matters concerning the welfare of ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both the concerns have figured prominently in the electoral campaign of the AIADMK and are likely to pay long-term political dividends if pursued in earnest. The party's ability to improve the power situation in Tamil Nadu and deliver on its promise of free laptops and sundry other gadgets would have a direct bearing on its popularity graph. Its ability to champion the Tamil cause, meanwhile, would ensure the further marginalization of the DMK and many smaller parties in the state that continue to draw sustenance from the issue.

Given its limited yet carefully-worked-out agenda, Ms Jayalalithaa's visit to the capital may be seen to have been a remarkable success. The warm response from the Congress could not but have made the DMK more jittery. And considering the fact that the chief minister gave audience to all the major parties, she may also be said to have succeeded in her aim of situating herself at an equidistance from her potential future partners. The door between the AIADMK and the Congress has been unlocked. She has, thoughtfully, left it to the Congress to open it whenever it thinks it most 'appropriate'.





West Bengal today has a woman chief minister, and Presidency University a woman vice-chancellor. One would not think so, however, going by the composition of the newly-constituted advisory committee for higher education, or by the media debates on the future of the new university. These are exclusively populated by men, indeed by high-caste Hindu men, if their names are any guide. While one could argue that this dominance is simply accidental, at an early stage of planning, or — more alarmingly — that it reflects the superior achievements of high-caste Hindu men in all spheres relating to education and administration, I would suggest that both arguments are untenable. The preponderance of men in these bodies is not accidental, but it is also not a measure of their real distinction. Rather, it indicates a social bias that has persisted so insidiously and universally that we are deluded into believing that it does not exist.

The Bengali middle class prides itself on its liberal and enlightened attitudes towards women's education and their entry into professions. Certainly, there is a history of early activism in these matters, necessitated by its converse in cruelty and oppression. Before and after Independence, women played active roles in school and college education, in politics, in social work, and in some professions such as nursing and medicine. The children of the urban elite today believe that most doors are open to them, irrespective of gender. School and university examination results confirm that girls are doing well, and middle class families encourage their daughters to aim as high as their sons. Women are visible in most social spheres, especially in education and in the medical profession, but also in the corporate world. Some hold important administrative posts. This phenomenon leads many to claim, quite sincerely, that there is no gender bias against women in Bengal, that they are involved in all stages and spheres of public life, and that they are free to participate in public policy-making. In fact, this is very far from the case.

All available evidence shows that West Bengal is ranked appallingly low in terms of human development and gender disparity indices, and that women's economic participation and their access to education and health services are meagre to say the least. The West Bengal Human Development Report, 2004, and later studies, indicate "a major undercurrent of gender discrimination" reflected in reduced economic agency and poor recognition of women's unpaid work, a female literacy rate just above the national average but far below that in Kerala, Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu, and high rates of underage marriage, school dropout, poverty and domestic violence. Eighty-four out of a hundred girls do not complete their secondary education; 50 per cent of girls receive less food than their brothers; and the state ranks 19th in India in respect of married women with iron-deficiency anaemia. Unsurprisingly, its HDI scores placed it 22nd, and its GDI scores 24th, out of 35 states and Union territories in 2006. It is unlikely that there has been substantial improvement in the past five years.

What is baffling about this reality, however, is the persistent failure of the educated middle class to recognize it. Whatever the statistics regularly publicized by development agencies, whatever the evidence of female illiteracy, impoverishment, ill health and ill-treatment by which it is surrounded, this class would prefer to think itself representative of a community striving for gender equity and social justice. If there are failures and inadequacies in our record they are, so we would prefer to believe, caused by economic underdevelopment and inherited imbalances: they do not reflect a general attitude. A long period of leftist rule has produced, if nothing else, some complacency about the state's secular credentials and its recognition of women and minorities. Yet if one looks at the actual facts, there is very little reason for self-congratulation — apart from one notable statistic, the decline in communal violence over the past 30 years.

The Right to Education Act is probably the most important single piece of legislation India has effected since Independence. It is particularly relevant for a state like West Bengal, where in 2004 there were only 59 primary schools for each lakh of population, many without a schoolroom and with teachers who remain absent most of the year. The introduction of the district primary education programme in 1997 and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2000 improved the situation to some extent, especially through the provision of Shishu Shiksha Kendras and anganwadi schools. But we are still very far from a teacher-student ratio of 1:40, a school within one kilometre of every habitation, and universal elementary schooling. The dispiriting reality is one of absent-teacher or one-teacher schools without classrooms or toilets, and of school buildings converted to grain-sheds or used for other purposes. Very few rural schools are able to implement the cooked mid-day meal scheme, although it shows immediate results in bringing children, especially girls, to school. Over 40,000 teachers' posts remain unfilled in primary schools across the state, a situation exacerbated by the Primary Teachers' Training Institute deadlock. The new government has announced that it will fill 46,000 vacancies, reserving 10 per cent of posts for PTTI candidates, but no one can say how this promise will be fulfilled. There is no clarity as to how the general provisions of the RTE Act, including the reservation of 25 per cent of seats in private schools for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, might be implemented. Despite NGO activism, half of Calcutta's children do not go to school.

Within this dismal scene, girls are more likely than boys not to complete their schooling and to drop out in middle school. Poor recognition of the worth of education for girls, the pressures of household work and underage marriage are obviously responsible for this, but so too are systemic defects such as the absence of girls' toilets and lack of protection for girls in and outside the school. Despite this, for the first time this year there were more girls than boys appearing for the Madhyamik and Madrasah examinations, though considerably fewer at the higher secondary level. But this fact, combined with stray evidence of individual women seeking education (such as the case of Asiya Bibi reported on June 13, 2011) and girls resisting forced marriages, should not lead us to conclude that all is well with the education of girls in this state. Female illiteracy continues to be high, with some districts such as rural Purulia performing far more poorly than others, with correspondingly low figures for school enrolment and attendance.

But education is viewed as a lifeline by girls themselves, and where the opportunity is provided, there is a high degree of commitment to learning and acquiring the means of livelihood. Women figure at all levels within the formal and non-formal education system, as learners and as teachers, often working for low wages in non-unionized and 'non-official' posts as temporary or contracted staff in schools. There are large numbers in colleges and universities, especially in the less valued humanities departments, while the science and engineering faculties are dominated by men. Without women's work, it would have been impossible to sustain the state education system or the network of private schools: nor, for that matter, the healthcare systems, state and private. Their presence creates the illusion that women are free to choose professions and are involved in decision-making in at least two critical areas, education and healthcare.

This is regrettably not the case. While some individual women hold high administrative posts, Bengal is in fact run by a largely male bureaucracy and political class which appears to think that the struggle for women's rights is over and that no further concessions need to be made to inclusive action. I use the word "concession" advisedly. A recent report on school textbook content in Bengal notes that apart from the token inclusion of Rokeya Hussain and Mahasweta Devi, no other woman writer is featured, women's work continues to be relegated to the household, the student-addressee appears to be Hindu, male, able-bodied and urban, and girls are represented as caring for younger siblings while boys take part in sport and study science or medicine. Most women who pursue professions speak of a constant, unacknowledged denial of the practical difficulties they face in the public sphere. There was no toilet for women teachers at Presidency College before and during the ten years I taught there: our representations to the college and education department authorities went unheard. Many women doctors speak of impossible physical conditions in hospitals and no security when they are on call at night. Development funds are largely controlled by a male bureaucracy.

Given the magnitude of our economic and social problems, it is easy for Bengal's ruling class to forget these imbalances, regard the struggles of women, minorities and subaltern groups as past, and concentrate on the road-map for the future. The media has played their part in producing the impression that Presidency University is vital to this future, though its contribution will be infinitesimal given the huge tasks thrown up by the RTE Act. The committee to advise on higher education has a wider remit. It is symptomatic that not even a token woman or member of a minority community has been included in that committee, just as none has been named as part of the mentor group for Presidency University. Media debates on this institution appear to draw on an old boys' club. There was something faintly comic in the televised spectacle of ten men lined up on a stage by the college's alumni association to advise a single woman vice-chancellor, who, from her own speech, appeared fully capable of taking her own counsel. Despite a change of regime, nothing will change in Bengal unless we wake up from the complacent dream that all is well with us in respect of gender and social justice. Very little is.






Last week, a visibly excited chief minister announced before media representatives at the Writers' Buildings, "Darjeeling matter [is] settled." Standing next to her were smiling leaders of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha who had just signed with the state government an agreement on the interim arrangement for the administration of the hills. Any consensus leads to happiness, and in the hills, they danced with joy. Not just because they feel that peace will return and issues related to day-to-day life will be addressed but also because they see in the agreement, as assured by the GJM, the first step towards the creation of a separate Gorkhaland. The hill people know that although the state government cannot admit this in public, an important clause in the agreement assures them that Calcutta will not remain a stumbling block for too long.

That clause relates to an examination of the demand that any administrative arrangement for the hills must also hold good for the Nepalese-dominated areas of the Terai and the Dooars. That the state government has even agreed to 'examine' the demand marks a major shift from the earlier position that no portion of the plains can be touched. The hill people are being told that the committee to be appointed for the purpose will give a ruling in their favour.

So, like the chief minister, the hills see the issue as settled, if not fully right now then certainly on the point of being so, and in their favour. One wishes one could share their confidence. In the eagerness to have an agreement, a new area of conflict may have opened. How are the adivasis of the Dooars and the Terai going to view this development? Brought from the distant plains of Chhotanagpur by the British to work in the tea gardens centuries ago, they may now be told that they will have to come under the purview of an arrangement dominated by the Nepalese from the hills. Already their leaders have started pointing out that they constitute 75 per cent of the population in the areas being claimed by the GJM, that these areas are part of the Centre's integrated tribal development project and so they can't be made to come under the proposed Gorkhaland.

Waiting game

The Gorkhas have the counter argument that they have also helped develop the tea gardens and so they have a legitimate claim on the land. The local Bengalis must also have something to say but are keeping silent at the moment. The current demographic pattern would suggest that even if the GJM has its way, it may land up with some 'enclaves' which, as experience since 1947 shows, only create more problems.

The situation is complex and may take quite a while to settle. It may turn more complicated if the Kamtapuris and the protagonists of Greater Cooch Behar choose to surface once again. Perhaps the state government had no option but to agree to examine the demand for territorial expansion since outright rejection would have meant the GJM going back to its old ways.

As things stand, nothing really has been 'settled'. All that has been achieved is an end — for the time being — to the days of agitation, and the promise of a better future that the GJM is interpreting in its own way. Whether the state government agrees with it is not known. The chief minister has not said anything. Perhaps she is bent on playing the waiting game, and the longer the wait the better it is, for she clearly does not want to commit the government to any position.

As for the GJM leaders, having expressed their faith in the chief minister, they will have problems singing a different tune in the future. That is what is important for the state government, the tourist and the hill resident — as long as the promise of a Gorkhaland is there, everyone is happy.





In the gush of words that have poured forth about M.F. Husain lately, a piece of information has clearly emerged. In the last five years of his exile, the 90-plus artist and filmmaker had nursed the desire to come back to India, even if it was only for a while. Which only confirms what all art-lovers knew all along: that, in exile, he was a devotee separated from his muse.

But which muse was Maqbool fida over? No, no Bollywood star had the power to be a permanent inspiration. Quite obviously, what he'd been bewitched by all his creative years was India. India with its living, stubborn traditions and bewildering, polychromatic canvas, inalienable from the subtle ambiguities and dark contradictions of its social patterns and values and the sumptuously earthy flavours of its life. India was his eternal muse and remained so till the very end.

That's right. Till the very end. Because, as Shobhaa De, who had met him in London two days before he died, wrote in a tribute, Husain, ailing and weak though he was, was already into his next epic project in his mind's eye: paintings on the Ramayan. And, simultaneously, as focused on contemporary India as ever, he celebrated Mamata Banerjee's historic sweep to power, according to Amit Roy in The Telegraph, with a painting he was working on just before his illness.

The Sufi paintings, Rajasthan (Through the Eyes of a Painter), the Mahabharata series, Gajagamini, Indira Gandhi and the Emergency, Godhra and its aftermath... with incredible exuberance that must have seemed unpredictable and maybe even somewhat wayward in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Husain shifted — or, should one say, galloped with the masculine vigour of his horses —from theme to theme. But the inspiration remained his lifelong muse, India. It was as though he was striving restlessly to capture India's elusive soul, its essence, through its beguiling physical expressions. His sensibility was enriched by Sufi mysticism and the stylized elegance of calligraphy; by the two Aryan epics; by the colourful Hindu pantheon and its myths; by Indian womanhood, stoical and enigmatic, in which a spectrum of roles seamlessly come together; by the Sanskrit ideal of gajagamini — the stately splendour in a woman's seductive, swaying gait.

Or could India be grasped through momentous contemporary events, whether violent or tragic? Or perhaps India's heart throbbed in its popular films which, though in Hindi and formulaic, forged a stunning unity across class, caste and religious, regional and language divides in the subcontinent? Hence, while Durga and Apu from Pather Panchali may also have claimed fleeting reflection from Husain, the latter's fascination with popular films — with popular culture, actually, with India as a pageant — spoke of his deep connection with grassroots sentiments and tastes. The artist never turned up his nose at the billboard painter.

Husain, thus, was truly India-inspired. Not in the conscious way of Abanindranath Tagore and the Bengal School, when national resurgence had to reckon with modernity — essentially Westward-looking — in art, but with the easy confidence of the sensitive creator held in thrall by the culture and tradition he inherits, yet isn't inured to.

In a way, that's exactly what separates the creative from the common herd, that inner eye which resists the staleness of habit and transforms everyday experience into unique imagery. But neither his contemporaries nor those who came a generation later seemed to have been so totally immersed in the spell of India as India, so to say. Tyeb Mehta's Baconesque individuals are alienated from their ethos; Akbar Padamsee's melancholy loners and F.N. Souza's simmering disquiet don't primarily flaunt an Indian identity, and although the remarkable Raza does so, his philosophic meditation is far removed from the heat and heave, the fizz and friction of subcontinental life. Later artists, like the intensely private Ganesh Pyne and his contemporary, Bikash Bhattacharjee, were driven more by private lore than by public events (though some of the latter's later paintings indicated a somewhat Husainesque accent), while Jogen Chowdhury's acerbic squint is trained primarily on the underbelly of society. There doesn't seem to have been a celebration of, an obsession with, a narrative of India from any other artist in quite this way.

To think that this India-artist, the showy, energetic visual kathakar of India, had to abandon the very source of his art....

The few Husains that had 'caused offence', as they say, are not exactly memorable art. Indeed, one could even say they are quite forgettable. As is his portrait of India as a nude with knees bent — to approximate the triangle of the landmass — and names of places inscribed on different parts of her body. The work, conceptually, is so simplistic as to be almost adolescent. Actually, any creator driven to a logorrhoeic output is bound to leave behind an uneven body of work. But the racy brio of his idiom — Cubist, Expressionist, Indian folk, distilled into dense, often boisterous compositions that expertly, lithely, play with surface and tone and perspective — ensured a parade of viewers. Husain at his not-so-memorable was often redeemed by his brusque lines, angular forms and hectic brushwork; by his instinct for savvy presentation.

Unfortunately, however, the debate on Husain during the past few years has been more about politics than about art, more about 'offended' Hindus — and Muslims, too, let's not forget, who called for a ban on a qawali in his film, Meenaxi — than about assessing his contribution to both the lexicon of modern Indian art and earning international recognition for it.

And so one has to ask: why did Husain use Hindu imagery and were Hindus really offended?

In the artist's imagination, there was no 'us' and 'them'. Hindu myths were as much a part of his ethos as of a practising Hindu's. When the poet Nazrul Islam writes, "Ore o pagla Bhola de tor nachon dola", one can sense his proprietorial intimacy with the god Shiva. Similarly, a major part of Husain's sensibility had been so shaped by Hindu culture that he didn't feel he was an outsider approaching a little-known territory in which he had to tread with care. The Hindu pantheon and myths were as much his as a creator as a Hindu's.

For a polytheistic religious culture and iconography with no single book of canons as a paramount authority, what could be deemed an offence? A religion that evolved by assimilating numerous pre-Aryan rituals and deities, that widely practises phallic worship and reveres a goddess who stands wearing virtually nothing but a garland of heads, that has neither a church nor a unified religious establishment is a religion that hasn't any concept of heresy either. And indeed, at the time these works were done, it hadn't occurred to Hindus to be outraged, whether spontaneously or on second thoughts.

Yet, a Hindu fringe succeeded in engineering a controversy years later and hounding Husain out of the country. Its Goebbelsian campaign succeeded, at least in part, because even some perfectly sane Hindus also suddenly decided to feel insulted on behalf of their goddesses.

When something like this happens to someone as feted as Husain, a Padma Vibhushan and ex-Rajya Sabha MP, it's not just creative freedom and the secular conscience one fears for. What any enlightened Hindu and Indian should be worried about is the way the fringe is setting the agenda for the majority, both in terms of deciding what Hinduism should be to Hindus and what Indianness should be to all Indians.

Husain's art has fetched the most dizzying prices. But commercial rates don't predict where history will place him. One thing is certain, though. With his windswept, spun-silver mane and craggily hewn features, his strapping frame and celebrated bare feet, his infectious vitality and flamboyant bohemianism that relished producing the private act of painting as a very public performance, Husain grew into the kind of folk icon that no other Indian artist has ever become.

If the vicious controversy had dimmed his halo somewhat, his death and burial far away from home may, ironically enough, turn even his detractors defensive. At least one Hindu hardline leader called for his burial in Maharashtra. And the government that had refused to take a bold stand in 2006, presumably for fear of annoying potential voters, has been fulsome in its praise. Unfortunately, none of this can comfort a dead man because dead men can't hear.






The original version of the Yizkor memorial prayer for fallen soldiers and security service personnel was composed by prominent Zionist leader Berl Katznelson. The prayer was first recited in memory of the defenders of Tel Hai, who fought in the 1920 battle that has since become a landmark in Zionist history. The original opening line was: "May the nation of Israel remember its sons and daughters."

But Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War, changed one phrase in the Hebrew. In thrall to postwar messianic fervor, he determined that the prayer should say, "May God remember his sons and daughters."

For decades, at the ceremony signaling the end of Memorial Day and the beginning of Independence Day, radio personality Amikam Gurevitch recited the original version of the memorial prayer. Several people tried to pressure him to read the Goren version, but Gurevitch insisted on using the original, secular, establishment version.

That hasn't been the case at IDF bases, where - at the urging of military rabbis and at the behest of bereaved religious families - the version invoking God is usually recited at Memorial Day ceremonies. At first glance, this change seems to affect just one phrase. However, it is indicative of the major transformation taking place in the army and the entire country, which is turning from a secular country into a theocracy in which the rabbis set the rules.

Journalist Menashe Raz asked IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to bring back the original version, featuring "the nation of Israel," to IDF ceremonies. This is a secular army, after all, and the Yizkor prayer for fallen soldiers is intended for the people of Israel to listen and remember those who sacrificed their lives for the country. Most of the young people who fell in battle did not go to war in the name of God; many of them don't even believe in God. They went to war to defend their homeland, their nation and their families, not because of religious conviction, and they want the nation of Israel - not God - to remember them.

But the chief of staff told Raz that the General Staff directive requires the prayer to begin, "May God remember." That's an evasive answer that deals with formalities, not the substantive core of the matter. Like all General Staff commands, this one, too, can be changed. It would be fitting for Gantz to deal with the substantive issue and restore the prayer to the original, secular, establishment version.







First fact: Neither the West nor Israel can accept a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran would make the Middle East nuclear, threaten Western sources of energy, paralyze Israel with fear, cause Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go nuclear and the world order to collapse. A nuclear Iran would make our lives hell.

Second fact: Neither the West nor Israel has to act militarily at present against Iranian nuclearization. A military attack against Iran would incite a disastrous regional war, which would cost the lives of thousands of Israelis. A military attack against Iran would turn it into a great vengeful power that would sanctify eternal war against the Jewish State. A military attack against Iran would cause a world financial crisis and isolate Israel from the family of nations.

Third fact: Out of a profound understanding of these two basic facts, the West and Israel have developed a joint strategy that can best be described as the third way. The third way has two dimensions: (covert ) activities and economic sanctions. Surprising even to those who have formulated this strategy, the third way is achieving results. It is not eliminating the Iranian threat, but it is postponing and weakening it. Britain, France and Israel, working in close alliance, are spearheading the effort. The United States is also doing its part. Germany and Italy are trailing behind. But the bottom line is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is under pressure. The still waters of the West and Israel run deep.

Fourth fact: A key element of the third way is the threat of a military attack against Iran. This threat is crucial for scaring the Iranians and for goading on the Americans and the Europeans. It is also crucial for spurring on the Chinese and the Russians. Israel must not behave like an insane country. Rather, it must create the fear that if it is pushed into a corner it will behave insanely. To ensure that Israel is not forced to bomb Iran, it must maintain the impression that it is about to bomb Iran.

Fifth fact: In order to conduct a sophisticated strategy vis-a-vis Iran, there must be total trust between the political and security leadership in Israel. That trust does not exist. Therefore, when the leaders of this country initiate certain moves, they create panic among their subordinates. Sometimes it seems to the subordinates that the leaders have gone crazy. What is meant to frighten the Iranians, Americans and Europeans frightens Israelis as well. Instead of the Israeli establishment conducting the policy of ambiguity in a disciplined manner, it becomes giddy. Everyone suspects everyone else, and the necessary cloud of ambiguity evaporates.

Sixth fact: Neither former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, nor former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, nor former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin led the drive to restrain Israeli foolhardiness over the past two years. It was led by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe (Bogie ) Ya'alon. Ya'alon is calm now. If Ya'alon is calm, Israeli citizens can be calm. There is no immediate danger at the moment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will behave like Samson in Iran. The fact is that the prime minister - as of now - is behaving seriously and wisely toward the Iranians. If only he would behave the same way toward the Palestinians and the Israelis. Seventh fact: The success is partial, relative and temporary. True, Iran did not arrive in 2011 at the place where it had planned to be, but in 2011 Iran is in a place where it wasn't supposed to be. Therefore the dilemma is still with us. Therefore the discussion of the dilemma must be conducted clear minds and good judgment. Whichever way it goes, the final decision about Iranian nuclearization will be the most important decision of our generation. Eight fact: What is really disturbing about Iran is not what is hidden from the eye, but what is exposed. It is not clear why the West has so far failed to impose draconian sanctions on Iran that would lead to the fall of the regime. It is not clear why Israel is not preparing all its systems for a moment of truth that even if delayed, will certainly arrive. The real fault of the American, European and Israeli leadership is not related do what it is doing in secret. The real fault is related to what it is failing to do in the open political and diplomatic spaces.






Thessaloniki - Even the pouring rain doesn't drive the myriads of youngsters away from Aristotle Plaza. Every evening at six, for almost two weeks, they have been gathering here. Some have put up tents and sleep in them at night. Others gather signatures on petitions. Every day more people throng to the square and more stalls pop up offering food and art work. When it gets dark, the singers and musicians arrive. A stranger might think Thessaloniki is celebrating a festival.

But in the square, along the promenade from the harbor to far beyond the White Tower and in all major city centers, a powerful protest movement is spreading, the likes of which have not been seen in Greece for years. Yesterday, thousands of protesters, including old people and children, flooded Syntagma Square in Athens, intent on blocking the Greek Parliament (Vouli ) overlooking the square.

To understand the roots of this protest movement, its implications and dangers, it is necessary to call up Greek history and pull back two smoke screens. The first screen appears to be the direct cause of protest - economic dictates, which have dealt a harsh blow to the middle class, among them higher income taxes and across-the-board cuts in health, education and welfare.

The second is the European Union's threat not to give Greece another 120 billion euro bailout package to partly cover its debt (330 billion euros ). Ever since the Greek government signed two memorandums with the so-called "troika" - the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank - it has not instituted economic reforms as it was required. It is not clear now under what terms, if any, Greece will receive further assistance. This threat touches a particularly sensitive patriotic nerve, prompting calls to break off from the European Union.

Behind these two screens, the economic crisis conceals the ongoing pathology of the socio-political system. All the demonstrators - proponents of the welfare state and detesters of the huge public sector - have had enough of it. These include ranting patriots, who are angry at Europe's intervention in "running our homeland," and sworn Communists; women, who fear growing unemployment will harm their precarious position and increase domestic violence; young homeless couples, unemployed youngsters, and students, afraid they won't find work in a dried-up labor market.

Their anger is not directed at the government alone. It reflects the disgust with the kleptocracy - government of thieves - a rich tax-evading elite (and the affluent church ), the families of wealthy politicians who pass the reign from one to another, the wretched combination of outrageous social gaps and an archaic government structure that has turned the public service into a burden on the public. And the corruption ravishing every sphere and realm, laying waste the huge potential of this beautiful country.

The two large parties, the ruling PASOK and New Democracy, which was defeated in the previous elections, heralded pseudo reforms and made dramatic statements like "We are all guilty" (we didn't work, we wasted, evaded tax, didn't issue invoices ). But the public understands the previous ruling party didn't want to change the system and the existing one is unable to. So once again the middle class will pay for the irresponsibility and profligacy of the rich. It is no surprise that public opinion polls indicate the demise of these parties and the rise of radical, separatist forces.

Pundits who see the demonstrators' despair and hear the hysterical calls to push up the elections shudder at the similarity between these events and the era preceding the military junta's rise to power. In September 1971, when the poet Giorgos Seferis died, an enormous crowd followed his casket, humming his song "Denial," which had become the anthem of resistance to the regime.

Greece is at a fateful crossroads, and the economic crisis is but the tip of the iceberg. The Greek political elite chooses to deny reality. It refuses to carry out the vital overhaul of the system that could restrain the fascist stream threatening to take advantage of these moments of weakness. Sound familiar? A Clue: a democracy in the Middle East. Another clue: it is not related to the economic situation.






"Culture is a social bridge, and the political debate must remain outside cultural and artistic life," said Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat as she called on theater directors to continue performing in Ariel. But that was last summer. In the meantime, Livnat has managed to forget that idea. About two weeks ago, at the opening to the Venice Art Biennale, she tried to avoid visiting the Polish pavilion, which, in a daring move, is displaying the work of Israeli video artist Yael Bartana.

Although Livnat did not say anything outright, those close to her told Bartana that the minister would not visit the pavilion because the artist's work is anti-Zionist. And why does Livnat think it's anti-Zionist? Apparently because it addresses, in her view, the return of Jews to Poland. Setting aside the fact that Livnat did not see the art before forming an opinion about it, let's discuss this interpretation of the work.

First of all, this approach is tantamount to saying your child can draw just as well as the late abstract expressionist Raffi Lavie. That's OK for Livnat the private person, who has no obligation to understand art - but not for Livnat the culture minister, who should actually know a thing or two about contemporary art.

Bartana's video installations - even if you see in them actors resembling pioneers, who are building a tower and stockade in today's Poland and waving the symbol of the imaginary movement that the artist created to represent a Jewish renaissance in Poland - are not stained-glass windows in a church, attempting to depict biblical stories to illiterate farmers. In other words, the goal of art in the last century has been to pose questions, not to provide answers.

It's not for nought that Bartana's ideas serve as the basis of a conference that will be held at the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art next year. The hypothesis of a Jewish return to Poland finds an echo in questions that people are asking around the world - certainly the Europeans, who are contending with immigration from former colonies, and Israelis and Palestinians, for whom the question of the right of return has yet to come off the agenda.

Ultimately, Livnat succumbed to pressure to visit the Polish pavilion, and those present at the time said she looked at the video installations and left with a "blank expression." President Shimon Peres, who also went to the art exhibition, didn't see Bartana's work. His representatives said he was prevented from going to see it because of "security reasons."

It may be that security reasons kept Peres from paying his respects to a country that granted an Israeli artist the unusual privilege of expressing her daring perspective on the painful question of the fate of Polish Jewry. But it is also possible that Peres' "security reasons" were similar to Livnat's "blank expression." In other words, an undeclared boycott.

An undeclared boycott sends a problematic message, since it is disguised as a non-message. It is difficult to oppose a non-message. It would have made more sense to speak openly and be prepared to open a dialogue about Bartana's work. We certainly expect that from Peres, at least. Although you can always say that Livnat's last-minute look at Bartana's work and the blank expression she wore when she walked out of the exhibit are no more than an example of passive-aggressive so-called "Polish behavior."






ISTANBUL - Although the party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan was unable to win enough seats in parliament to change Turkey's constitution without taking into account the opinion of the opposition, Erdogan is still the happiest leader in the Muslim world. After this week's elections, he is the sole leader in the area who knows, with near certainty, that he will be in power for another four years.

The political earthquake in Arab countries has yielded additional unexpected benefits for the Turkish prime minister. In the short term, the thousands of refugees who fled Syria in the past week created a logistic and humanitarian headache for Ankara, and may even be increasing fears of renewed tension with the Kurds. However, they are providing Erdogan with an opportunity to determine the fate of Syria.

The regime in Damascus, in the first three months of the revolution being fought against it, contained events within the country's borders. It cut off Western media and expelled their correspondents, greatly undermining the ability of the few opposition groups - inside Syria and in exile - to close ranks against the government and to begin to offer an alternative to the Assad dynasty.

Ostensibly, Erdogan is cooperating with his friend in Damascus by shutting the refugees into camps along the border and preventing them from having contact with journalists, who are hungry for firsthand testimony about the bloodbath in Syria's rebellious towns.

But Erdogan's sharp condemnation of the murderous oppression signals that even the Turkish prime minister understands that Assad's time is limited.

Three weeks ago, Erdogan allowed Syrian opposition activists to hold a highly publicized meeting in Turkey. Now, he has become the patron of a temporary base for a new regime to take power with the fall of Assad.

The coming months will see the government in Damascus grow weaker, with more soldiers refusing to fire on civilians and ethnic groups increasingly joining the revolution. The refugee camps on Turkish soil will serve as a breeding ground for the new Syrian opposition; only factions friendly to Ankara will be permitted to grow. If that happens as expected, the new Syria will be a vassal state of Turkey.

How will Erdogan behave then? Will he exploit his influence to sever the radical axis that connects Hezbollah in Lebanon with its Iranian patron, via Syria? Who will be the partners in the new axis that he will probably aspire to establish? What advice will he give to the new Syrian leaders when they come to negotiate with Israel?

If the Turkish prime minister really is our sworn enemy, Israel can expect a problematic period in terms of politics and security. But there is also a positive opportunity. Despite the friendly meetings between Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there is an ancient rivalry between the two countries. An increase in Turkish influence will of necessity come at the expense of Iran.

Israel can take out one insurance policy to protect itself from the effects of the Arab revolution - a sharp and swift improvement in relations with Ankara. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon's demonstration of diplomatic pride in humiliating the Turkish ambassador now looks childish and foolish. The prolonged estrangement since Operation Cast Lead, which worsened with what happened on the Mavi Mamara and that flotilla to Gaza, is now hurting Israel far more than Turkey.

Israel still has diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with Turkey, and as for the ties between the Israel Defense Forces and the Turkish army, that's a stronger alliance than the political climate. Instead of watching these assets gradually erode, Israel would do well to act with determination to improve relations with the strongest leader in the region.



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



Two years ago, the Supreme Court tried to bolster public trust in the nation's justice system by disqualifying a state judge in West Virginia from a case that involved a coal company executive who had spent more than $3 million to help get the judge elected.

At a time when torrents of special interest campaign spending is threatening the appearance and reality of judicial impartiality, the ruling in Caperton v. Massey drove home the need for states to adopt more rigorous rules for recusal. The message has largely gone unheeded.

For the most part, state courts set their own recusal rules. According to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake Campaign, so far, courts in nine states — Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington State — have made recusal mandatory when contributions by a party or attorney exceed a certain threshold amount or create a question about the judge's impartiality.

Courts in two other states are considering similar proposals. But several other states have rejected stronger rules — or have actually weakened them.

In 2009, Nevada's top court rejected a reform commission's modest proposal to make recusal mandatory when a judge received contributions totaling $50,000 or more from a party or lawyer over the previous six years.

Last year, in Wisconsin — home to some of the nastiest big-money judicial races — the State Supreme Court rejected proposals to trigger recusal at $1,000 or $10,000 contribution levels. Then the court weakened the recusal standard, adopting a new rule that campaign donations or expenditures can never be the sole basis for a judge's disqualification.

The remaining states, including epicenters of special-interest-dominated contests like Illinois and Pennsylvania, have done nothing to keep campaign cash from tainting the courtroom. The Supreme Court has ensured the money problem will get worse with its 2010 ruling allowing unlimited special interest spending in all campaigns.

Many judges wrongly view mandatory disqualification rules involving election money as a personal insult and a threat to judicial independence. The real threat to independence lies in doing nothing to protect judicial integrity in the face of obvious conflicts.

The American Bar Association should be leading the way here. In an encouraging step, the group's president, Stephen Zack, has seen to it that the issue will be taken up at the August meeting of the association's House of Delegates. By adding a strong recusal provision to its influential model code of judicial conduct, the bar association would provide needed guidance to state judiciaries and help goad them to do the right thing.

A good rule would have four basic elements. It should explicitly recognize that recusal may be necessary because of campaign spending by litigants or their lawyers. It should specify that the final decision about whether a judge's impartiality can reasonably be questioned not be left to the challenged judge. It should require that decisions on recusal requests be in writing. Finally, litigants and attorneys must be required to disclose any campaign spending relating to a judge or judges hearing their case.






New York's legislators plan to go home for the rest of the year on Monday, even though they have not finished what the public pays them to do. If they were students, they would earn F's for diligence. Here are crucial measures still on the Legislature's to-do list:

MARRIAGE EQUALITY Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday released a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. Several Republican senators have said they would not vote for such legislation unless it made clear that no religious group would be required to marry gay or lesbian couples against its beliefs. Mr. Cuomo included that language in the bill, removing any excuse for opposing this important legislation.

RENTS IN NEW YORK CITY More than a million apartments and an estimated 2.5 million people in New York City are protected by limits on rent increases that are expiring this week. Senate Republicans have proposed a bill that would expand a lucrative tax write-off for residential developers. The regulations should be extended, but the tax write-off is too costly for the city to be expanded in a last-minute vote.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature should pass Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's bill to create public campaign financing for the comptroller's race. This bill takes one step toward broader, desperately needed campaign finance reform.

ANTI-GERRYMANDERING PROTECTION Governor Cuomo should push for an independent commission to create new Congressional and state legislative districts, which must be drawn by early next year. Without legislation to create such a commission, the political parties will divide up the state unfairly to protect incumbents and make it even harder for challengers.

PUBLIC PENSION REFORM The governor's proposal to limit pension benefits for newly hired public employees would help slow skyrocketing costs, which have risen eightfold for the city and tenfold for the state in the last decade. Unions are pressuring the Legislature to reject the proposal, but scaling back pensions makes more sense than squeezing schools, health care or other services.

RATIONAL TUITION Governor Cuomo needs to negotiate with lawmakers for a more rational tuition policy for the underfinanced State University of New York system. The Legislature has repeatedly limited any tuition increases at SUNY campuses, leaving New York with one of the lowest tuition rates in the country. A sensible law should allow the state's big research universities to charge more since they cost far more to operate.

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES New York must pass a law that would allow it to qualify for multiyear federal funds that would help create health insurance exchanges, which need to be operational by January 2014 to serve small businesses and individuals who buy their own insurance. Other states have enacted or begun the process to enact such laws. New York should stop dawdling lest it fail to qualify for receiving federal aid.





In a plugged-in, hyperglobalized world, one might expect that our communications networks would allow us to roam widely, cellphones and tablets connected to the matrix, no matter the location. But when it comes to telecommunications pricing, globalization stopped at the border.

A new survey found that international data roaming among the industrialized countries (members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) costs, on average, $6 to $10 per megabyte — about the amount needed to e-mail a few low-resolution snapshots.

Talking isn't much cheaper. A similar study two years ago reported that the average price of a three-minute local call in an O.E.C.D. country while roaming internationally was $6.76.

These exorbitant prices have little to do with the cost of moving a byte or a sentence over telecom networks, which has fallen sharply in recent years. Rather, the O.E.C.D. suggests it reflects a lack of competition among wireless carriers offering cross-border roaming services.

This has likely been compounded in the United States by a lack of regulation of the interconnection fees that telecom operators charge each other to let data flow across their networks.

American wireless customers roaming in other industrial nations pay about $8 to $22 per megabyte, on average. In Europe, where interconnection rates are capped, roaming is still expensive but substantially cheaper. French and British roamers pay less than $7.

These prices deserve the attention of policy makers. Roaming is not a niche market. It is a basic tool in an increasingly interconnected world. In North America, 17 percent of wireless subscribers use international mobile roaming, as do one-third of Europeans. At these prices, one wonders how they can afford it.





Border-guarding Minutemen and immigrant-pummeling politicians should get a grip on this country's history at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York Harbor. Exhibits are planned to tell the full story of the teeming masses, including African slaves, displaced Indians, modern globetrotters and Know-Nothing nativists.

"There's an old saying among immigrant groups: America beckons, but Americans repel," said Alan Kraut, chairman of the museum's history committee. He promised that the updating will be candid and inspiring as it presents so much that's been overlooked in the continuous restocking of America.

Ellis Island operated from 1892 to 1954, and an estimated 40 percent of today's Americans are descended from foreigners who passed through its halls. Until now, its museum has mainly told the stories of European immigrant groups. The new Peopling of America Center is scheduled to open this fall with the mission to be the one place in the nation where all immigrants can go to search their story roots.

Scholars and exhibit designers have spent three years vetting American history for the missing tales. The new displays will show the smallest villages and largest cities changing with immigration but also the larger economic and political pressures driving the myriad decisions to move on. The nation's zigzagging immigration laws, the virulent anti-immigrant prejudices and newcomers' resilience will all be depicted through family histories.

Ideally, the museum will blur the narrative "they" — the immigrants — with the "we" who visit, as in Mr. Kraut's bracing summary: "Without their talent and muscle, where would we be?"






As we search for paths out of America's economic crisis, many suggest business as a paradigm for cutting costs. According to my back-of-the-envelope math, top C.E.O.'s earn as much as $1 a second around the clock, partly by cutting medical benefits for employees. So they must be paragons of efficiency, right?

Actually, I'm not so sure. The business sector is dazzlingly productive, but it also periodically blows up our financial system. Yet if we seek another model, one that emphasizes universal health care and educational opportunity, one that seeks to curb income inequality, we don't have to turn to Sweden. Rather, look to the United States military.

You see, when our armed forces are not firing missiles, they live by an astonishingly liberal ethos — and it works. The military helped lead the way in racial desegregation, and even today it does more to provide equal opportunity to working-class families — especially to blacks — than just about any social program. It has been an escalator of social mobility in American society because it invests in soldiers and gives them skills and opportunities.

The United States armed forces knit together whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics from diverse backgrounds, invests in their education and training, provides them with excellent health care and child care. And it does all this with minimal income gaps: A senior general earns about 10 times what a private makes, while, by my calculation, C.E.O.'s at major companies earn about 300 times as much as those cleaning their offices. That's right: the military ethos can sound pretty lefty.

"It's the purest application of socialism there is," Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. And he was only partly joking.

"It's a really fair system, and a lot of thought has been put into it, and people respond to it really well," he added. The country can learn from that sense of mission, he said, from that emphasis on long-term strategic thinking.

The military is innately hierarchical, yet it nurtures a camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees. This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans' health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the American military isn't its aircraft carriers, stunning as they are. Rather, it's the military day care system for working parents.

While one of America's greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education (which seems to be one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty from replicating), the military manages to provide superb child care. The cost depends on family income and starts at $44 per week.

"I absolutely think it's a model," said Linda K. Smith, executive director of the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, which advocates for better child care in America. Ms. Smith, who used to oversee the military day care system before she retired from the Defense Department, said that the military sees child care as a strategic necessity to maintain military readiness and to retain highly trained officers.

One of the things I admire most about the military is the way it invests in educating and training its people. Its universities — the military academies — are excellent, and it has R.O.T.C. programs at other campuses around the country. Many soldiers get medical training, law degrees, or Ph.D.'s while in service, sometimes at the country's finest universities.

Then there are the Army War College, the Naval War College and the Air War College, giving top officers a mid-career intellectual and leadership boost before resuming their careers. It's common to hear bromides about investing in human capital, but the military actually shows that it believes that.

Partly as a result, it manages to retain first-rate officers who could earn far higher salaries in the private sector. And while the ethic of business is often "Gimme," the military inculcates an ideal of public service that runs deep. In Afghanistan, for example, soldiers sometimes dig into their own pockets to help provide supplies for local schools.

Granted, it may seem odd to seek a model of compassion in an organization whose mission involves killing people. It's also true that the military remains often unwelcoming to gays and lesbians and is conflicted about women as well. And, of course, the opportunities for working-class Americans are mingled with danger.

But as we as a country grope for new directions in a difficult economic environment, the tendency has been to move toward a corporatist model that sees investments in people as woolly-minded sentimentalism or as unaffordable luxuries. That's not the only model out there.

So as the United States armed forces try to pull Iraqi and Afghan societies into the 21st century, maybe they could do the same for America's.







Cambridge, Mass.

AS the world struggles to emerge from the greatest financial crisis since the Depression, the institution at the heart of the global economic system is facing a profound crisis of governance. Since the International Monetary Fund's inception at the end of World War II, Europe and the United States have dominated decision-making. Incredibly, and possibly dangerously, decisions are now being made to keep the backward-looking status quo for at least another five years.

True, the final stage of the race for the top job at the I.M.F. still offers the possibility that a Mexican candidate might beat out the French front-runner. Unfortunately, with Europe still controlling an excessive voting share, the outcome has all the suspense of a Soviet-era election. Worse, the I.M.F. board does not seem to feel the need to establish even a pretext of legitimacy for the powerful No. 2 position; everyone takes for granted that the board will rubber-stamp whomever the Obama administration nominates.

In a world where markets already pay more attention to what happens in China than in Europe, and where loans from emerging economies are keeping the debt-challenged United States economy on life support, the I.M.F.'s outdated governance practices have become an accident waiting to happen. The I.M.F. has long been the last line of defense in emerging-market debt crises, combining big short-term loans with technical assistance that has proven effective far more often than not. Today it is on the front lines of the European debt crisis, with Greece, Ireland and Portugal teetering on the brink. Given Japan's huge debts and demographic implosion, and China's runaway growth boom, it is not hard to imagine a vast I.M.F. program in Asia in the next decade. Even the United States is a potential customer if it continues for another 10 or 15 years to neglect its soaring debt burden.

If the fast-growing economies of Asia and Latin America feel disenfranchised from the I.M.F. — there is still a strong undercurrent of hostility in Asia over the fund's handling of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis — it will be difficult for the I.M.F. to raise money to deal with Europe and potentially Japan and to credibly do its work in emerging markets now and in the future. And because American and European leaders do not want to hear when their monetary, fiscal or regulatory policies are out of whack, the I.M.F. is really the only strong voice that can deliver the message; a non-European is best-equipped to deliver it.

Until a few weeks ago, everyone seemed to agree that it was high time for a change. The presumption was that the I.M.F. board would choose its next managing director from the handful of supremely qualified candidates from emerging markets, thereby strengthening its claim to be a truly global institution. The incumbent, Dominique Strauss-Kahn of France, was on record supporting a transparent, merit-based approach for choosing his successor. Given the prestige he had amassed leading the I.M.F. during the crisis, it was assumed that he would use his influence to shepherd in the new era.

Everything changed in mid-May. Mr. Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign after being accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper. Suddenly, the I.M.F. became tabloid fodder and the plans for an open and meritocratic selection process were tossed out the window. With the I.M.F.'s legitimacy now under unexpected attack on a second front, gender inequality, European leaders inventively coalesced around the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde.

Just a short while ago, the fact that Ms. Lagarde is French would surely have been disqualifying, given that the French have held the I.M.F. leadership for most of the last three decades. Ms. Lagarde's training as a lawyer, rather than as an economist, might also have been an obstacle. The head of the I.M.F. is like the head of a central bank, and is frequently confronted with difficult judgments on the sizing and timing of debt programs, not to mention on monetary policy and regulation.

Ms. Lagarde has provided a strong and clear voice on the need for dramatic financial sector reform. But weighed against Mexico's candidate, Agustín G. Carstens, she might have come up short, at least prior to the Strauss-Kahn debacle. Mr. Carstens, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, has a golden C.V. for the job. The head of the I.M.F. routinely deals with central bankers as well as finance ministers, and Mr. Carstens had held both positions in Mexico. He has also served as a deputy managing director of the I.M.F. and knows the institution inside and out.

Mr. Carstens has rightly argued that a European is going to be hugely conflicted in managing the central challenge facing the I.M.F. today: Europe. Soon, the I.M.F. will likely have to help manage government debt defaults in more than one European nation, starting with Greece. European leaders want to kick the can down the road by bribing the Greeks with more loans to prevent them from defaulting. This is where the I.M.F. normally preaches tough love.

The I.M.F. board has given itself until June 30 to decide. The circumstances of Mr. Strauss-Kahn's departure have to be taken into consideration, and the fallout on gender issues is not over. There has never been a woman as head of a major multilateral lending institution, and Ms. Lagarde is a highly credible candidate. It seems a done deal, though perhaps there is some way to cap the length of her tenure and improve the selection process next time.

And the managing director is not the only position that matters. At the end of August, John P. Lipsky, the first deputy managing director, who was named to the job by the Bush administration, is due to step down. Why not see if one of the top emerging-market candidates can be a replacement? An effective No. 2 would also be well-positioned to take over when Ms. Lagarde herself steps down. (The last three I.M.F. managing directors have departed without completing their terms.)

There is still time to set in place a merit-based selection process that could eventually form the basis for filling the top job. The I.M.F. may be a poorly understood institution, but it does not have to be a poorly governed one.

Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard, is the co-author of "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly." He was chief economist at the I.M.F. from 2001 to 2003.






Under the weight of so many dense challenges, Turkey's new political landscape will soon get thoroughly serious. Before then, a moment's attention to an analytical ritual I have conducted privately for some time: The barbecue criteria.

There are lots of ways to divide political figures and leaders: right/left, honest/corrupt, pious/secular, progressive/regressive. But we can give ourselves an additional layer of insight if we ask the question: Who would we invite to a barbecue?

Former United States President George Bush, for example, is not someone I greatly admire. But I think he'd be fun at a barbecue, sharing tips learned at the ranch and bringing his mother's secret sauce. The two-time candidate for America's Green Party, Ralph Nader, is someone I hold in higher esteem, particularly for his years of consumer activism. But he's as taciturn as a mortician, guaranteed to lecture us all on the carcinogens in the charcoal. I'd leave him off the list.

Among familiar local faces Turkish President Abdullah Gül, I believe, would be a great addition to the party and would surely roll up his sleeves to help. However like-minded Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may be but I don't think he would enjoy himself. Ali Babacan, from his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, would be fun. So would Ahmet Davutoğlu as he regaled everyone with stories. Egemen Bağış and Bülent Arınç would not make my list. The AKP's Nimet Çubukçu? No. Fatma Şahin? Yes.

As nice a guy as he is, Kemal Kılçdaroğlu of the opposition Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, won't be the life of any party for a while. Let's also scratch dour Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.

One can get carried away. France's Nicolas Sarkozy? No. Germany's Angela Merkel? No. Britain's David Cameron? Yes. Out of the crowd in Brussels, I might invite Baroness Catherine Ashton. But we'd have to sit her with America's Sarah Palin. I think they would actually hit it off. Among the many regional crackpots, the only one - strictly on the fun-at-a-barbecue criteria - on my list would be Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From Israel, nobody strikes me as interesting from the current cabinet, certainly not Binyamin Netanyahu. But Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who I believe was most recently the industry minister, might well liven things up.

All the top Russians can stay home, except Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. He has a sense of humor. And Greece's Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou would get everyone up and onto the dance floor.

Among new faces, I would add the economist from the CHP Ayşe Eser Danışoğlu. I'd also invite the AKP's new lawmaker from Konya, lawyer Gülay Samancı. It is probably a little early to send invitations to any of the nine candidates elected from their prison cells. But those names would be worth combing. Among the independents elected from the pro-Kurdish bloc, filmmaker Sırrı Süreya Önder is an easy choice for an invitation.

If I don't stop soon I'll run out of space in this column, not to mention space around the picnic tables.

It's instructive to deconstruct old matrices of opinion and perception. This is just a momentary game perhaps, but allow yourself to reexamine your world of political judgment. Try it at home. I guarantee a new perspective or two will stick.

If we could actually pull this barbecue off in reality, who knows what might result.





Ankara is gradually losing hope and distancing itself from President Bashar al-Assad.

If you look closely, the prime minister is becoming increasingly tough with every statement he makes and the dose of his warnings is increasing. Even though he has not burned bridges like he did with Moammar Gadhafi, a surprise is still expected, the dominant belief is that Assad will not be able to solve the situation easily.

Those talks I have had with people who are the final decision makers on the subject show clearly how serious the situation is.

Syria has started blaming Turkey

It is not only that the tensions in Ankara are rising but the viewpoint of Damascus on Turkey is also changing. The embraces and words of fraternity of the past do not exist anymore.

On Syrian State Television, it is now openly said that the weapons of Muslim Brothers are coming from Turkey. Let us not forget that the Muslim Brothers is as dangerous and as much an enemy for the Syrian administration as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, is for us.

As if this is not enough, a Turkish involvement behind the rebellions and the Antalya meeting of the dissidents is being discussed. Assad has not put forward his stance; he has not put Ankara at his opposing side but, you will see, it is not too far away.

The worst case scenario Ankara fears

The worst case scenario that Ankara fears most and will mobilize it is that the clashes expand to Aleppo and Damascus and the Assad regime decides to react extremely tough and bloody way. The meaning of this is that Assad uses all his military power and the internal conflict transforms quickly into an Alawite-Sunni clash. What is expected as a consequence of this is the flow of tens of thousands of Sunni-Syrians to Turkey. An official I spoke to on this subject said exactly this:

 "Turkey has opened its territory for now, but when the figure reaches a point where we cannot handle it then we will have to close the border."

Now, this is the situation the political power in Ankara worries about the most. The same official continued:

"We would close the border but we cannot turn our backs on neither the Sunnis nor the Alawites. If chaos starts, then we will have to form a security zone or a buffer zone inside Syrian territory."

In a summit in Ankara recently, this was the scenario discussed.

Robert Fisk wrote about this possibility before and had drawn much criticism, but what he said was true.

Scenarios and preparations are unfolding.

"Military and civilian meetings about the buffer zone and other measures to be taken have increased in recent days. Add to that the invitation of all ambassadors in the Middle East to Ankara. The pressure is building."

It is not only talk when Ankara says, "all measures have been taken."

The most dreadful item on the agenda is the formation of a security zone inside Syrian territory that has too many risks and could overthrow the regional equilibrium and for that reason is never a desired option.

But there is not much hope.

Let us be prepared.

When there is an internal fight, foreigners intervene

We should learn a lesson for ourselves from the developments in the region.

As a matter of fact, this situation is not only unique to our region. I will talk about an internationally known rule. Yet again, those that were experienced in Syria-Libya-Egypt-Tunisia-Bahrain make very good examples.

If a country is unable to solve or calm down an internal dispute or fight and on the contrary escalades it to such levels as civil war, then foreign powers meddle into their affairs for sure.

Some cite human rights to justify, some others remind them of the United Nations rules, yet others mention regional equilibriums.

Look, we are also doing the same.

We are preparing several scenarios in the name of protecting the Syrian people on the grounds that we fear the risk of a major flow of refugees.

Did we not interfere in the situation in Egypt? Are we not openly intervening at Libya? We are inviting the resistance and facilitating them to get organized.

You probably understand where I am heading.

Turkey, this way or another, has to organize its own kitchen and has to solve very soon the Kurdish issue, which has a high collision potential in an attainable way. If it [Turkey] acts roughly and we slide into an internal clash, then we should know almost everyone will meddle.

However high we cry, saying, "This is Turkey's internal affair, you do not interfere," just as we do today, nobody will care.






There is nothing else to do but to congratulate the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for their victory. They have got half of the votes in an election with a record turnout at around 90 percent. It seems the phrase "It is the economy stupid," used by Bill Clinton against George H. W. Bush in the 1992 race is the dominant idea in 2011 Turkish elections. Masses of people are happy about the increase in their income levels and think no other political party can provide a better future than the AKP. The freedom of speech and censorship wasn't an issue at the election debates. The competitors have failed to raise issues of civil rights protection, freedom of the Internet and freedom of any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. Therefore we can assume the issues we discussed in this column will be ever present in the next four years even though the right to freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR.

The first sign showing us that things will remain the same, if not worse, came with the Anonymous attack on the Telecommunications Directorate, or TİB's webpage. Right after the attacks 32 people including five minors were taken into custody on the ground they have helped the hackers. However the exact accusations are unknown as with many other people that have been taken into custody in Turkey. The current government has established a system of "arrest first and find evidence later" approach. It is my guess they have got the wrong people. Anonymous Turkey issued a press release stating their members are all very well educated software engineers who can write their own scripts.

After this press release Serhat Özeren, the head of Internet Council of Turkey, made a statement saying that if someone's computer was used in the attacks, they are a criminal and have to prove their innocence. It is again my guess he had to make the statement because they have rounded up the owners of zombie computers the real hackers used to amplify their attacks. I believe Özeren is trying to cover up a possible fiasco before they release the 32 people they have arrested. Naturally it is a guess since, we are not informed about why these people were arrested and with exactly what they are accused.

While we are dealing with censors and attacks, anywhere else the Internet community is being crowned as the next generation of business people set to save the planet's economy. We have all seen how Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg debated with prime ministers of G-8 countries at the eG-8 summit. Now he is leading his company to an initial public offering, or IPO, at around $100 billion. The same story goes with Twitter, Huffington Post, Picasa, Zynga, Google, the Onion and dozens of others along with giants like Dell, Apple, Microsoft, HP, SAP and Oracle.

Turkish people when they find the opportunity can create giants as well. South America's biggest social network "Orkut" is named after a Turkish software engineer Orkut Büyükkökten who founded the service while working at Google. Blockbuster game "Cyrisis" was designed by third generation Turkish family in Germany. Cevat, Faruk and Avni Yerli have taken the game industry by a storm. An up and coming web idea, "" was founded by Emre Sokullu in Silicon Valley.

So there is nothing wrong with the Turkish coders, software engineers and business people when it comes to creativity and vision at the digital front. Maybe the government needs to ask why these types of people do what they do in foreign countries rather than in Turkey. If they can answer that maybe it will be easier for them to lure the likes of Microsoft to invest in Turkey. I would be grateful if they could explore the negativities of censorship on investments and new technology businesses since the economy is what half of the Turkish public only cares about.

We are not the only country debating a "Great Firewall". Australia has been discussing it since 2008.

An article at the Inquisitr states that a great firewall would result in a $2.169 billion in direct costs and $12-30 billion per annum in indirect costs to business.

The article concludes with these paragraphs: "There are many fine reasons why the Australian Government should not introduce the Great Firewall of Australia, and yet freedom of speech doesn't seem to be high on the prime minister's agenda. The economy though is, and any basic analysis of the figures, even when we may not be able to pin down the exact costs, show that introducing Internet censorship in Australia will have a negative effect on the economy, both in direct and indirect costs.

At a time of economic crisis, Australia cannot afford to risk the introduction a scheme that will contribute to costs and work against the economy."







It was about five years ago, I guess, when we visited Syria with a friend of mine who was getting ready to make an investment in the country. I remember our long conversations during which I raised some of my concerns about the country's political situation. Anyway… My friend took the risk and made quite good money until now.

Recently we got together. The Arab Spring seemed to be an Arab Storm to him. Production was interrupted; he closed down the factory. He entrusted the factory to local security guards and brought all the Turkish personnel back with him to Turkey. He was angry and impatient. "When will things settle down?" he asked - a question that lately I've been hearing more often.

First, I mentioned Afghanistan. How much time has passed since the Red Army's invasion? 32 years... That specific invasion was to lead to socialism, not democracy. Moreover, the regime that was to be constructed seemed authoritarian and discipline-oriented. It appeared to be the right fit for a fragmented social fabric. But it did not work. Nowadays, the U.S.-led coalition forces are struggling to build democracy. The monthly figure spent in Afghanistan is about $10 million. No one knows when this will possibly end and democracy will finally arrive.

Then, I mentioned Iraq, where bombs explode almost every day. I reminded him of the first Gulf War which started after Saddam invaded Kuwait. It occurred 21 years ago. God knows how many people lost their lives and how much money had been spent for this war. Then it was clear to us that the objective of a "stable Iraq" was replaced with the task of promoting democracy.

So, we returned to our initial question on the future of Syria. First of all, we questioned the motives behind the insurgency. Then we considered the possibility of an escalation in the short run. I reviewed the current political actors, political system, beneficiaries, and such institutions as the Baath Party, the Parliament, the Army, and intelligence services. I tried to answer the question, "When was the last time a Syrian government was peacefully replaced by the opposition?" Then I examined the tribal system, social system, ethnic and sectarian cleavages. I reconsidered the still vivid memory of atrocities. Add to this list the current international conjuncture, the concerned international public opinion, and all the high-spirited political speeches.

I ended up with David Galula, the famous theorist of insurgency. It is true that there are many reasons behind insurgency. When an insurgency starts, the initial cause immediately loses its eminence, says Galula. New struggles produce their own daily motivations.

As more and more refugees crowd and cross the Turkish-Syrian border, I can see that the initial causes of the insurgency have begun to lose their force. Nobody talks about democracy anymore. Those women and children who managed to cross to the Turkish side talk about bread and the fathers and husbands they left behind. As more lives are lost, the insurgency starts to produce its own causes. Spreading beyond the Turkish border, this has become an internationalized insurgency, too. It seems that, like the above-mentioned examples, it will last for years. To conclude; my friend's factory will not be producing anything for a long time.





That proposition was put up for debate this month by a major global broadcaster. Was it gallows humor, or do the debate's organizers live on another planet?

"Futile?" Unfortunately, anything but. From the look of it, the Arab Spring is withering on all fronts. Not one of the six countries rocked by uprisings has even begun to see the freedoms the demonstrators have called for.

Two of the dictatorships have bloodily crushed their rebellions. Two have plunged into what has to be called civil war. The two who set off the revolts and kindled the dream of an Arab Spring are shuffling toward what will probably end up as new forms of authoritarian government – religious ones.

Tunisia is headed that way. Its Islamic fundamentalist Ennahda Party, driven underground or into exile by Ben Ali regime, has reappeared in force. The progressives who rejoiced in February and the country's dozens of secular parties have been unable to unite. Ennahda spokespersons are vowing to preserve secularism and ensure women's rights and they will continue to make palliative noises up to the elections now rescheduled for Oct. 16. But would the fox announce itself to the chickens?

Egypt has a September election target: Only the Muslim Brotherhood will be able to mobilize masses of voters by that date. Like Ennahda, the Brotherhood insists it now respects pluralism and is ready to compromise. A "Muslim Democratic" government, several degrees more conservative than Turkey's but not provocatively repressive, would be favored by the country's military caretakers, who are organizing the elections. The military owns a quarter of Egypt's economy, and seeks a stability that the give-and-take of a secular-dominated parliament might not guarantee.

Of course the most violent push-backs have been in Syria and Bahrain, where the uprisings have threatened whole state structures due to the interlocking of regime and security apparatus in each. Tunisia and Egypt were different; in them, the militaries stood separate. The rulers in Damascus and Manama know that they and their dependents will become hunted species if the house falls. But since they have the tanks, the right friends, and queasy enemies, the Assad and Khalifa dynasties are virtually certain to stay in power. While that is the case, the quest for freedom will be dead inside their borders.

Freedoms don't thrive in civil wars, and so the hopes for an Arab Spring in Libya and Yemen have been bankrupt almost from the start of their revolts. Secession has trumped democracy in Libya. The east of the country has pulled away from the west since Italian colonial times. In the heady examples of Tunis and Tahrir Square, disgruntled Libyan easterners saw a chance to permanently separate themselves from Gadhafi and his hated Tripoli regime. NATO has supported their secession hopes. The post-standoff outcome, months or even years from now, will be two Libyas. Given the rag-bag of leadership personalities on display in Benghazi today, can anyone imagine a workable democratic government emerging? And who's to say Moammar Gadhafi or one of his sons would not win an election in Tripoli today?

Yemen is funneling itself into a chaotic civil conflict with inter-communal strife as bad as what Sudan and Congo have seen. Even before the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh began, his government was fighting three regional insurrections. There's a vocal and active al-Qaeda affiliate on Yemeni soil. The country could split, like Libya, and revert to the North and South Yemens of a quarter century ago, or it could become a simple failed state. If there were Yemenis who took to the streets believing that getting rid of Ali Saleh would bring them the dignities of fairness and freedom, they face a long wait.

What about the Arab monarchies that have ridden out the storm up to now – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Oman? They will circle the wagons and give mutual aid, as two of them did in sending troops to back their fellow royalist regime in Bahrain. Far from yielding to cries for more freedom, they will clamp down, ready to follow the example of Syria if regime survival is in question.

The Arab Spring was a brief dream. The rulers resisting it have been anything but futile. The only constant in human struggle anywhere is that revolutions do not deliver poetic justice.







Our relationship with America gains a new level of complexity almost every day. The spokesman for the US State Department said at a press briefing on Tuesday that the aid America gives to Pakistan is in the national interest of both countries. He also said that there was no evidence of any link between our lead security agency and the Haqqani network. Almost simultaneously, a House panel examining the Obama administration spending agreed that congressional oversight of $1.1 billion due to come to us would be tightened. There had been tacit warnings in the past that the Kerry Lugar aid will be strictly monitored. Piling complexity on complexity, the same day, the New York Times published a report which alleged that five members of our armed forces, including a serving major, had been arrested for providing support and information to the CIA in the months before the Osama bin Laden operation on May 2. Their arrest was reportedly raised by Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, when he paid a flying visit last week. Adding to the information overload, there is the reported response of the deputy CIA director when he was asked by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to rate our cooperation with the US counterterrorism operation on a scale of one to 10. He replied 'three' – clearly, not a man much impressed with the state of play between our respective intelligence agencies.

An Inter-services Public Relations press release on Wednesday afternoon denied that any army officer was detained, but did not deny that members of the services had acted as CIA informers. We cannot independently corroborate the story of the arrests in the New York Times, but if it is true, then it throws a disturbing light on the state of our intelligence sharing with the US. It may be inferred from the New York Times story that there was collaboration between the CIA and some of our own people. Moreover, we may infer that this cooperation went on for several months and that those involved on our side did not 'leak' information to the intended target or Bin Laden sympathisers within our own agencies who could have given him a tip-off and thus aborted the mission. If they are arrested then why and by whom? It would appear that they were cooperating with the Americans in an operation that at least theoretically would have had the support of our own agencies. But if they were acting without the sanction of their employing agency and under the control, if not in the employ of, the Americans, then we are in murky waters indeed. The lines are rarely clear in the intelligence world, where no state wholly trusts another. We have hardened our line vis-à-vis the American presence here, they have hardened theirs on oversight of money dispensed to us and the trust deficit has increased. There is no quick fix for this, and no guarantee either that matters will not get worse before they get better.






In a happy ending to a ten-month-long crisis, four Pakistanis held captive by Somali pirates have been released and will return home in the next few days. The Pakistanis were among 22 crew members of MV Suez, an Egyptian cargo vessel hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden on August 2, 2010. The ship has been released now after the payment of US$2.1 million in ransom, around US$110,000 of it raised by Pakistanis through the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust (ABWT), the Sindh government, and the shipping company that owned the hijacked ship. It is worth noting that Indian parliamentarian KD Sindh backed out of paying India's share. The families of the Indian sailors had raised the issue with the prime minister and urged the Indian government to help, but got nothing but empty assurances. The families of the Indian hostages have profusely thanked Burney and even the Pakistan government for their efforts to get the hostages released.

While the families of the hostages can finally breathe a sigh of relief, it is important to remember that the danger posed by pirates is a growing one. Pirates continue to haunt the seas in, and increasingly beyond, the Gulf of Aden and stopping them is very difficult given the immense stretches of open water in which they operate and the inadequate resources available to resist them. A pirate recently told USA Today that killing hostages "has now become part of our rules." It is thus very important for the international community to pool its resources and deal with piracy on a priority basis. Firstly, international diplomatic steps are required to support a functioning Somali state, the only durable solution to youthful lawlessness. Secondly, tougher retribution needs to be exercised for captured pirates who are too swiftly released and rarely punished. Thirdly, ships need more armed guards or even 'citadels,' as some experts have suggested – secure areas to which crews can flee to safely await help. Lastly, perhaps governments and shipping companies need to invest in guarded convoys for both commercial and recreational vessels. At this point, most nations prefer to ransom their citizens, which is why piracy has become such a lucrative activity. Long-terms measures, and not ransom payments, are needed to nip the problem in the bud.








Perhaps one of the reasons why we don't seem to be getting anywhere when dealing with the problems that confront us is because we insist on marrying old opinions to new facts. We do this subconsciously in order to minimise the jolt and maximise our sense of comfort and continuity. Regardless of the changes that occur in our collective and individual beliefs, much of the old order still remains standing.

To take one example, the one thing that we know for sure unites us and was indeed responsible for our creation, is our religion. We believe, as a people and a nation that our common religion – Islam – helps us gel. True we always had the lunatic fringe and the odd spat between shias and sunnis would occasionally pull us apart. But these were exceptional lapses and would soon tide over.

Today, however, Muslims are literally slaughtering each other and Pakistan is in danger of being rent asunder not in the name of ethnic or linguistic nationalism, but in the name of Islam itself.

Faced with this dilemma we are at a loss when it comes to crafting a response, and unable or unwilling to identify the cause. We forget that while history is full of religious wars it is not the multiplicity of religions that produced these wars but the intolerant spirit which animated violence fuelled mostly by greed or ambition.

Another fast growing misconception is that the present conflict being basically America's war, the departure of the US and/or our disassociation with the war would drain much of the poison and since the remaining protagonists are Muslims, and mostly fellow countrymen, resolving our differences should not pose too much of a problem.

America's departure from the region would be welcomed by all sides in the conflict and it would undoubtedly improve the prospects of a peaceful resolution. But the fact of the matter is that, as the TTP has clearly stated, its war against Pakistan will continue until its peculiar version of the Shariah becomes the law of the land.

In other words, even if we completely ceased to have a working relationship with Washington, that would not be enough for the TTP; not even if, by some miracle, peace came to Afghanistan. The TTP has left its friends and adversaries in no doubt that it intends to achieve its goal come hell or high water, regardless of the means used.

Such an extreme mindset is, as we know, the expression of empty souls. The trouble with such dehumanised people is that if rational thinking enters their minds it is instinctively rejected. The Taliban and their credo will fare no better, but then that's all in the future whereas the present is what most concerns us.

Were we to close shop with America it would create new challenges. For example the TTP and Al-Qaeda would likely become more emboldened using their propaganda network to press harder for their ambitions. Religion in their hands is an instrument of intimidation, depredation and oppression as we saw in full display in Swat and in Afghanistan.

Another challenge would be that other regional players, some at loggerheads with us, would increase their footprint while we would still be trying to find a way out of extremism and terrorism. There are quite a lot of extremists both foreigners and locals within our territory who would be viewed by the outside world as posing a serious threat to them, including countries like China, our only ally. Nor is the US going to wash its hands off completely even if it decides to scale back its presence. So it is naïve to think that the outside world would leave us alone or that Al-Qaeda and the TTP would follow suit if the Americans leave. It is just as credulous to think that we are capable of meeting the challenge entirely on our own.

Many of us hold views that reflect a dangerously naive understanding of international relations. Whether we like it or not there is no alternative but to sharpen our understanding and our skills in order to operate more effectively in the swirling world of international politics. Emotionalism will not do neither will a one sided approach that focuses on others while ignoring our own failings. Just as others are impure and have defiled their hands so have we and in a way that has come to haunt us. Just ask the Afghans who have been at the receiving end of our 'strategic depth' policy for more than two decades.

Emotionalism and one sidedness have also penetrated politics and polemics, completely overshadowing our economic interests. We simply cannot deal with any of our problems, as our socio-economic conditions deteriorate and as governance becomes more difficult in such circumstances, without first focusing on our economy and without asking ourselves what it would take to rebuild it.

Another New World challenge is that economic progress increasingly depends on cooperation with other economies, especially through structures of collaboration with those in the region itself. We are lucky in this respect on account of our location but luck alone will not take us far as we have seen to our dismay in the decades lost due to our shortsighted notions of what best serves our security interests.

The TTP is not only the biggest danger to peace and stability in the country but also to our economic prospects. Apart from the damage it has already done directly by destroying schools and infrastructure, it has created a climate of insecurity so much so that investments have virtually disappeared. And if we are to cut our dependence on foreign aid we must do whatever it takes to generate investments. The state cannot create jobs and reduce the rising cost of energy and food by throwing printed money at these problems that impact our daily lives so severely. We are past that stage. We are too indebted now and our economy is so feeble that our only hope lies in triggering private investments. It is only when economic growth picks up on a sustained basis that the state can cut its debt from the increased revenue it will receive from taxes and from widening the income tax base and continually improving tax collection capabilities.

We don't have oil, gas, or other precious natural resource that can make up for our failure to generate wealth through economic activity. So we must give our economy our utmost attention and then work our way backward in terms of what must be done politically in order to free our economic future.

While those who influence public opinion have an important role to play to get us back on track as a cohesive nation, the lead must come from our decision makers, especially those who are in charge of strategic policy. Alas, our ultimate arbiters have achieved little beyond carrying on with their outmoded ideas.

It is tragic that while we have not been able to resolve any of our Old World problems, even issues like Sir Creek, the New World problems are fast catching up with us. One of these challenges relates to climate change, particularly its impact on our agriculture, energy generation and water for consumption and industrial use. All three are critical. And yet another New World challenge is that we must shift from relying inordinately on old military doctrines of full-blown conventional wars to asymmetrical conflicts, our nukes notwithstanding.

All these challenges require a degree of dynamism that is sorely absent right now but our survival will depend increasingly on fully grasping the reality of these growing challenges and on measuring up to them quickly. In this matter, the public is much less important than those who exercise power, especially when it comes to critical strategic issues.

Instead of getting caught up in a vortex both decision makers and civil society activists should start thinking out of the box first by perceiving themselves as being in the same boat and in very choppy waters. Infighting will only rock the boat, threatening to capsize it while it is still in narrow straits between the mythical rocks of Scylla and Charybdis. Coordination is vital when rowing a boat. And when in choppy waters, it is especially critical to survival and making a landfall.

As to how we will fare, ask yourself, do we have anyone in the current line up even remotely capable of guiding the boat? Do we even have a 'cox' in reserve?

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








Mohammad Ali Jinnah sought the division of British India on the basis that British India was united not because of its political oneness but because of its administrative unity which was enforced by a unitary and centralised administrative structure of the state. Otherwise, Jinnah argued, at the political plane there existed more than one nation, including Hindus and Muslims.

In 1947, Pakistan inherited the colonial legacy, a constitutionally unified and centralised institutional framework capable of running the country from the centre. At that time it was thought that soon political cohesion would overtake administrative unity for the realisation of the dream of one nation, one country. Not only could that not happen, 1971 the country broke up into two. Forty years later, political disunity is rampant. Criteria other than religion, such as ethnicity and language, are endangering the country's integrity as never before. In effect, Pakistan is now a geographic entity of four provinces marked by political disunity. The Pakistan of today is more an administrative union than a political one.

In the effort to forge political unity in the country more reliance is placed on the Constitution than on political measures such as dialogue, negotiations and mutual accommodation. Ethnic and linguistic heterogeneity is a reality but, rather than contributing to the unity of Pakistani society it is destroying that unity. That should be a point of concern for Pakistanis, in particular the country's social and political scientists. At the time of the enactment of the Constitution in 1973, and the surge of optimism it created, many Pakistanis must have expected the document to lead to the political unity which had long eluded the country.

However, nationalist and separatist movements in different parts of the country proved the objective was illusory. Owing to the centre's frequent intrusions in provincial matters either by strengthening bureaucratic grip or launching military operations, those movements fed on the reaction of the local population against the centre. To deal with that crisis, the centre again opted for replacing the formula of developing political unity with the recipe of building administrative cohesion. The vicious cycle of mistrust continued.

Through the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, the long-awaited autonomy was devolved to the provinces. Other than that, hardly any effort has been made to promote the political unity of the country. In provinces such as Sindh and Balochistan the centre is using paramilitary forces to enforce its writ. Generally speaking, in the eastern regions of the country the Rangers are performing their duties together with the civilian administration, while in the western parts the Frontier Constabulary is playing that role. A rationale has been found for the protracted stay of the paramilitary forces in the civilian areas. Perhaps parliament does not have time to mull over the reason why certain areas of the country are so volatile as to be governable only with assistance from paramilitary forces.

There are other questions that invite the attention of parliament, for instance as to why the spate of targeted killings is rampant in Karachi, as well as in Balochistan, though in a different form. The question is, why is the presence of the Frontier Constabulary imperative for Balochistan? With the rise in the death toll of the Baloch, that province is rapidly becoming ungovernable by the federation. Over-reliance of the centre on the paramilitary forces to manage the affairs of the country is evident of the failure of the state.

Pakistan in a state of serious crisis. Balochistan is one of those parts of the country where the intensity of mistrust between citizens and the state has grown much deeper than mere provincialism. The recent budget has revealed that Pakistan is investing more money in keeping its administrative unity secured and disorder under control than on the country's social sectors, including such basic ones like education and health. Pakistan is employing fewer political means to address the grievances of its people: Pakistan is using numerous "state-sponsored" coercive measures to smother the voice of discontent.

Nevertheless, there is also some hope that, despite its seriousness, Pakistan's crisis is not beyond resolution. The slogan raised by Nawaz Sharif that there is no sacred cow is a matter of relief for those who are hoping that national priorities will ultimately be set right at last. Political problems should be addressed through political means, and not through adoption of coercive measures. The long spells of military rule in the country have created stagnancy in every sector of Pakistani society. We could hope for the status quo to end only if there are no longer any "holy cows" disrupting our priorities.

There is a positive side to the tragedies Pakistan has seen recently, to name only a few incidents. Whether it is the shooting in Kharotabad, Quetta, where five unarmed Chechens lost their lives to the overreaction of the Frontier Constabulary on May 17 or the incident at the Benazir Park in Karachi where unarmed arrested youth Sarfraz Shah was shot by the Rangers on June 8, these incidents strengthen Pakistani society's resolve that things cannot stay the same any longer.

Meanwhile, good precedents are being set. For instance, Atta Muhammad, the driver who had brought the Chechens to Kharotabad in his taxi, was not cowed by any possible threat to his life and spoke the truth before the tribunal concerned that the Chechens were unarmed. In accordance with his duties, police surgeon Dr Baqir Shah issued a forensic report which indicated that the Chechens executed in Kharotabad had exploded no bomb, which makes it clear that the victims had not provoked the police and the Frontier Constabulary into firing at them. Dr Baqir was roughed up for speaking the truth but he is undeterred.

Were it not for Jamal Tarakai, the cameraman who recorded the video of the Kharotabad incident, and the man who recorded the video of the shooting of Sarfraz Shah, the shocking truth would not have reached the public in the undeniable form that it did. All these people are agents of change in Pakistan. Pakistani society had been in desperate need of such everyday heroes, and now they are emerging, and in quick succession.

The writer is a freelance contributor.









If you want to know what happens to a Third World country when it enters Uncle Sam's embrace, don't visit Africa or Latin America. Look at Pakistan. Like millions of my countrymen, I feel a deep antipathy toward the "Yankees" who, with the help of power-hungry generals and corrupt politicians, have turned independent, sovereign Pakistan into a "rentier state."

Pakistan has lost its independence and is now virtually an American satellite, with no honour, dignity and sense of self-respect. If you want to know what happens to an ill-led and ill-governed, poor country which attaches itself to an all-powerful country like the United States, Pakistan is the perfect example.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington cautioned that "an attachment of a small or weak nation towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter. The strong might have interests and objectives that could be of little real importance to the weak; but once the latter submitted to acting the role of a satellite, it would find it no easy task to avoid being used as a tool by the strong."

Washington highlighted the dangers inherent in an unequal relationship between a very strong nation and a weak nation and the folly of a weak nation succumbing to the belief that "real favours" would flow to it from the strong partner. It is folly in one nation, Washington observed, to look for disinterested favours from must pay with a portion of its independence for what ever it may accept under that character. No truer words have been spoken on the subject.

The month of May was a disaster for Pakistan. May 2 will go down in our history as a day of infamy. When challenged, all our intelligence agencies were caught napping. All security institutions charged with protecting the country were shamed. Defeat is one thing. Disgrace is another. The country has been humiliated. But it is business as usual in the corridors of power, as if nothing has happened.

In December 1982, Gen Ziaul Haq told Secretary of State George Shultz that the United States and Pakistan formed a union of unequals. Zia was right. The lesson of history is that there can be no friendship between the strong and the weak. There can be no friendship between unequals, in private life or public life.

This is the bleakest era in the history of Pakistan since 1971. Today Pakistan is dotted with American fortresses, which seriously compromises our sovereignty. People don't feel safe in their own country because any citizen can be picked up by CIA agents in collusion with our government and smuggled out of the country.

Think about where we Pakistanis stand today. Zardari is presiding over a lousy economy and spending like an inebriated sailor. Terror is the order of the day. Pakistan is experiencing the tremors of an impending political and economic earthquake. This is a particularly perilous time for Pakistan to have a president who is facing corruption charges at home and abroad and whose moral authority is in shreds. At a time when the country is at war, President Zardari, the Supreme Commander, spends almost his entire existence in the confines of a bunker – which he seldom leaves these days. He is more concerned about protecting himself and his wealth than protecting the country or the people of Pakistan. Today we have a deeper hole than ever to dig out of, thanks to our corrupt rulers, and have less political authority than ever to make the hard decisions needed to get out of the hole.

"The single greatest threat (to Pakistan)," Obama said recently, "comes from Al-Qaeda and their extremist allies." This is not true. All our major problems, including terrorism, stem from the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. It has turned our tribal area into a protracted ulcer, a quagmire – a place where Pakistan is spending blood and treasure to protect American interests.

"The United States has great respect for the Pakistani people," He said. Invading our territory, carrying out military operations on our soil, bombing our villages and killing innocent men, women and children, Mr President, is no way of showing respect to our people.

Today the United States is conducting a virtual crusade against the Islamic world to steal its oil and capture its resources. Libya is under attack. Iran, Syria and Pakistan are next on the hit list. It is now abundantly clear that Pakistan, the only nuclear power in the Islamic world, will soon be denuclearised and emasculated.

The alienation between the people of Pakistan and the United States has never been more intense. Relations between Pakistan and the United States have never been as stormy as they are today. The Obama administration does not seem to be aware of the tectonic shift that is well underway. One thing is clear: the United States has lost Pakistan forever.

In the aftermath of the May 2 debacle and the cold-blooded murder of the innocent, unarmed youth by paramilitary personnel in Karachi, there had been hopes that the shock could motivate the nation to find a way out of its morass. Sadly, the people appear to be increasingly disappointed with the response of their national leadership. As I look around, I witness a proliferation of excuses for inaction, a grotesque abdication of responsibility. The political paralysis that has gripped Pakistan for years continues.

As we approach the endgame, one thing is clear: In the death throes of the regime, Zardari will take Pakistan down with him. When power and leadership come to people incapable of handling either, the result can be disastrous. Isn't it a great tragedy that at a time when statesmanship of a very high order is the need of the hour, the fate of 180 million Pakistanis is in the hands of Zardari and hordes of weak-kneed triflers, mountebanks and charlatans begrimed with corruption? Were politics in our country burdened with such notions as shame, integrity, accountability, rule of law and, last but not least, inviolability and supremacy of the Constitution, all of them would be in jail today.

Today we stand alone. Such are the harsh realities inherent in an unequal relationship. It is time to wake up. At this time all those among us who love this country and see the perils of the future must draw together and take resolute measures to put Pakistan back on the democratic path. Failing that, a long polar night will descend on Pakistan.

If you want to know how a people can survive despite their corrupt government, well, take a deep look at Pakistan. Today it is a political and moral imperative for all Pakistanis to fight for our independence, sovereignty and liberties and be prepared to face all consequences. "Liberty once lost is perhaps lost forever," John Adams told his countrymen. It is, therefore, going to be an uphill task. Let there be no doubt about it.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,









Every civilised and responsible citizen longs for institutions that run on merit, work efficiently, and ensure transparency in its affairs. In Pakistan, such institutions are hard to find given the pervasive corruption, cumbersome rules, and regressive mentality. This state of affairs can, however, be corrected by reforming the individuals and redesigning the underlying structures but all this requires a systematic indigenous approach and political will.

The government institutions have by and large become white elephants and dinosaurs. They are a huge burden on the public exchequer with public servants interested more in rent-seeking than doing public good. Look at the public education system, Pakistan Railways, Utility Stores, OGDC, PIA, healthcare, Pakistan Steel, Wapda, and police in addition to the core bureaucracy where we see institutional corruption and inefficiency galore. More importantly, any change that is aimed at modernising and streamlining the system is resisted by the vested interests with the result that public service delivery lags behind private sector. Cosmetic changes have, therefore, trampled down on the need for fundamental redesigning based on local requirements.

Most reforms in Pakistan have focused on restructuring to improve the performance of public sector institutions. In this context, the successive governments have experimented with decentralisation, privatisation, downsizing, and corporatisation for different purposes including reducing public expenditure, sharpening focus, enhancing responsiveness, and increasing efficiency. These reform models have generally been borrowed from countries where they have yielded the desired outcomes. The World Bank and IMF have been instrumental in introducing these reform models in developing countries including Pakistan.

Unfortunately, the structural changes have failed to deliver as promised given the lack of co-alignment with local context. In other words, the peculiar economic, political, and social conditions have been taken for granted in determining the effectiveness of various reform initiatives. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), which consists mostly of developed economies, is advocated as an ideal reform model for others to emulate.

The story of reforms in Pakistan started with a shift from conventional administration to development administration. The former was inherited from the British and its overriding objectives were to maintain law and order, administer justice and collect revenues. The later was premised on re-orientation of the government to focus on economic and social development. This was followed by some conspicuous but politically-motivated reform initiatives that in general failed to streamline let alone modernise the government systems primarily due to lack of indigenous approach, piecemeal interventions, involvement of huge expenditure, and most importantly the lack of strategic vision.

Now that the country faces complex and formidable challenges, the leaders have to find reasons for the institutional decay and take bold steps to build them on modern lines. In this regard, a national commission, with people of competence and integrity, be constituted to reinvent the entire government. The commission must be fully empowered with a strong backing from all political parties. Once in place, the commission should examine in detail the dynamics of local conditions and try to find out indigenous solutions. For example, if the word 'haram' is instituted in place of 'embezzlement' and 'misappropriation', it would help prevent many people from indulging in corrupt practices due to its psychological impact. There are many such ostensibly minor but impressive cultural and structural innovations that can make public sector institutions strong and vibrant.

The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar
. Email:








The writer is a defence and political


With agriculture sparse on both sides of the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan and with zero manufacturing capacity, the inhabitants of the area cannot even eke out a meagre existence. For every 100 able-bodied men, there are only five or six available jobs. With almost nothing else to fuel the local economy, the only work for the male population that lives astride the borders is to be a hired gun, mostly for the highest paymaster. Often, this is the only means of earning a livelihood whether it be for the purpose of smuggling, as part of the tribal militia, paramilitary forces, or the Taliban.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that economic initiatives must be given preference if peace is to be restored on both sides of the border. Of the more than three million Pathan construction workers whose sweat and blood went into the concrete of infrastructure projects in the Middle East in the 1970s and during part of the 80s, more than 40 percent came from Fata and adjacent borders areas. A fertile recruiting ground for the Mujahideen, once the Middle East spigot of foreign remittances was turned off and the Afghan War started, this area became a logistics launch pad for operations in support of Mujahideen operations across the border.

Heavily weighted in favour of Afghanistan – to our detriment – the recently signed Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) is a ridiculous document which needs phasing out and then eventually stopped. The only exception to transit trade must be the Afghan government's official imports of essentials; they must pay adequate transit fees to cater for the wear and tear of our roads and railways.

Promised setting up by the US as far back as 2006, the proposed "Reconstruction Opportunity Zones" (ROZs) is an attempt to correct the economic imbalance but is really just a patchwork solution that cannot function practically on the ground. The ROZ concept is interlinked with the US economy – because of opposition from vested lobbies the legislation has already failed twice in the US Congress. In the proposed Border Trade Zone (BTZ) concept, US (and international) donor aid is only required for the development of roads and communications. The BTZ is thus Pakistan-centric rather than taking away something from the US economy. If the proposed ROZs continue to remain inactive indefinitely what options are we left with for a long-term solution to alleviate the poverty of the people of Fata?

A contiguous BTZ must be the economic force-multiplier for transforming the lives of the people of the tribal areas. Instead of earmarking small areas as ROZs, all of Fata and other border districts adjoining Pakistan and Afghanistan should be designated as a BTZ, a free inland dry port along the pattern of Dubai Free Ports.

Within the BTZ there must be designated hubs that feed into the smugglers' routes into Afghanistan. These hubs must be developed like Export Processing Zones where intending entrepreneurs have ready infrastructure to move into by turning a key and an electric switch. The BTZ must source not only Afghan transit goods but Central Independent States' (CIS) exports and imports as well. Instead of using Karachi and Qasim Ports, this transit trade must exclusively use the ports of Gwadar and Pasni. This will help develop Balochistan also.

An unofficial BTZ supports the illegal contraband smuggling regime for the benefit of locals on both sides of the Durand Line. What is needed is to regulate smuggling into a legal system that eliminates graft and illegal gratification going presently into the pockets of corrupt customs and border guards.

Some 25 percent to 35 percent of the US$2.06 billion value documented Afghan transit trade via Pakistan ends up as profit for the smuggling mafia on the border. Afghanistan must import all its non-Pakistan origin imports transiting via Pakistan by buying it from the BTZ. The service charges and related employment opportunities will transform the lives of the border people.

The focal point must be to make Pakistan's Fata the hub of all logistics of Afghanistan and Central Asia via Pakistan, bringing with it the Afghan border contraband mafia into Pakistan's tax system. All goods should only be bought by Afghan traders from companies that are registered in the BTZ area. This measure will eliminate re-smuggling of the goods imported under the ATTA back to Pakistan. A tax-free product may be exported to other parts of the world by encouraging investment inside the BTZ in Pakistan; this reduces the cost of the product because of cheap labour and duty free imports and exports and also provides job opportunities for locals.

While improvement is required, almost 60 percent of the communications are already in place and operational. Infrastructure is one of the key elements for the success of the proposed BTZ concept. The US can assist in the proposed BTZ by investing not more than US$10 billion for improving existing roads. Security is another key element that will have to be the principal responsibility of the Pakistani state. The draconian laws of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) will have to be abolished and Fata will have to be established as a province with full provincial status.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan constitute the strategic heartland of world politics; the US has major strategic stakes in the region. The US can gain major economic as well as strategic advantages from trade with India, China and the CIS but only if Afghanistan and Pakistan are stable. The border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan are presently a strategic calamity for the US, but with a relatively small investment this can become a great strategic opportunity.

The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) visualises Pakistan as one of the two main strategic transit zones (the other is already functioning through Myanmar). Pakistan is vital for the Sinkiang Trade Zone as well as all strategic mineral imports to China from Afghanistan (Ainak Copper Mining Complex is already owned by China) as well as Balochistan, specifically the Saindak Copper Complex, and possibly Reko Diq. It may be possible to have a cross exchange of goods between the East and the West using the BTZ as a hub that will benefit Afghanistan as well as the CIS countries on one hand and China on the other.

With their livelihood guaranteed, the tribals will have a vested interest in protecting the means of their income by keeping peace on both sides of the Durand Line. Special security company licenses must only be sanctioned for Fata business concerns. With factories and shopping centres coming up, schools, colleges and hospitals, will naturally follow. The aim must be to eliminate the prevalent economic deprivation that breeds anarchy. With a vested interest in keeping peace in Afghanistan, the West must make a joint effort with Pakistan to club together economic initiatives with political and military ones. Instead of spending billions of dollars fighting a war without end, why not spend a fraction of that creating jobs and reinvigorating the economy?

Far more importantly, the BTZ will act as a base for development in Afghanistan and transform a population that historically comprises predators who live off goods and people transiting through their country into a viable vibrant country with an economy not perennially dependant on others.








The last two months must have driven Pakistan's security apparatus up the walls. After facing embarrassment over inefficient defence preparedness, it has received criticism for the inhumane treatment of its own citizens. The criticism reached a fever pitch, drawing the military to convene a special meeting and to deny any involvement in the killings. If image correction is the aim, concrete steps that build trust among citizens should be taken – mere wordplay will not suffice.

Two specific incidents recently brought into question the relation of the state's security organs with the citizens:

One, personnel from the Frontier Constabulary, a paramilitary organisation, and the police shot to death five Chechens as they were crossing a guarded checkpost at Kharotabad in Balochistan. This shooting elicited widespread condemnation, not merely because the victims included women and children, but also because of the rationale behind the shootings. Instead of being a potential danger, these unarmed women were reportedly pleading to be permitted to cross the checkpost. Inconsistent statements from the officials raised suspicions of foul play.

Second, a Rangers personnel (another paramilitary organization), in the presence of several others, shot down a young man in Karachi. The boy was begging for mercy - but he was shot and left to bleed to death. Whether or not Sarfaraz Shah was a criminal, the brutal treatment meted out to him has brought the conduct of the Rangers into question.

Violent incidents with the finger prints of the state's institutes are not new. Political memory from Karachi to Khyber is rife with victimisation at the hands of the organs, under different administrations. What ignited public outrage over these two incidents were the live images telecasting the horror. Ruthless killings, captured on camera, have jolted the hearts of even the calmest analysts of events. The murder of journalist, Saleem Shehzad, has also provoked severe criticism of the premiere intelligence agency.

Instead of betting, and that too blindly, on the wrong horse, the allegations and distrust should serve to caution the responsible authorities and put all the stakeholders to work. Recent developments suggest that civilians have been given space to defend the position of the state, including the military. Civilians now need to guide inquiries into these shootings and make a functional oversight mechanism.

During a recent trip to Swat, which is hailed as a success story in Pakistan's COIN strategy, there were interesting revelations about civil-military relations. On the one hand, there were people who claimed they saw a positive change in the approach of the military personnel deployed at checkposts as compared to earlier when allegations against the personnel ran high in the public sphere. On the other hand, complaints persist that "harsh language" is still being used by foot soldiers at checkposts (some drew comparisons with the receptive officers at the top.)

Instead of reaching sweeping conclusions as to how good or bad the holistic situation is, the importance of these comments lies in underlining how people associate change with their personal, day-to-day experiences - it is through these experiences that public trust and support can be earned.

Of course, a security organ too works within tight limitations where a balance between order and disorder has to be maintained, not least when the environment is fresh out of conflict as in Swat. Should anything go wrong, the same organs are blamed for the failure - and this precisely is the foremost grievance of security personnel.

The point is, for the state to cast off the doubts that have taken root in the minds of citizens – these are evident in the allegations made in each of the above mentioned incidents – it should first recognise the rot within and redraw the procedural mechanism.

The writer is a graduate in International Relations from Boston University. He teaches foreign policy and is an independent analyst. Email:








United States is once again in its true colours as it is poised to stab Pakistan on its back. Living up to its well-established tradition of leaving Pakistan in the lurch, Washington is on its way to effectively block 75% of the aid meant for Islamabad only after about one year of its continuation.

Though presently it is only a House panel that has imposed limits on American aid to Pakistan and the plan would become operational only after approval by the two houses and its signing by the US President but history tells us that anti-Pakistan moves easily overcome all hurdles in the US congressional and administrative circles. We saw this during the process for adoption of Kerry-Lugar Bill when humiliating clauses were inserted despite strong protests by people of Pakistan. The move to withhold three-fourth of the aid shows that the perception of those who were in favour of total rejection of American assistance that comes with a huge cost was not unfounded. It also confirms the widely held view in Pakistan that the United States was not a reliable partner and we must maintain a reasonable distance for the sake of national interests. The Americans are stopping aid at the critical juncture when Pakistan was in an unimaginable bad shape both in terms of economy and security only because of its total commitment to the war on terror and deserves more assistance from the international community to sustain this fight. Americans are justifying their move by excuses that Pakistan was not doing enough, despite the fact that 35,000 civilians and over 5,000 soldiers have lost their life in terrorism-related incidents. In fact, Americans want a degree of involvement by Pakistan that the country finds beyond its capacity to absorb. The plan exposes veracity of American claims that it considers Pakistan as strategic ally and wants to maintain long term engagement with Islamabad. Anyhow, we believe that Pakistan has inherent strength to live without foreign aid that comes at the cost of sovereignty and self-respect. Punjab has done well in declining American assistance and the Federation can also follow the suit and we are sure each and every Pakistani would happily subscribe to the decision. Otherwise too, about one-third of the aid is routed through questionable means and an equal amount is deducted in the name of overhead expenses, leaving too little to make an impact on the overall socio-economic progress or development of the country.







United States is once again in its true colours as it is poised to stab Pakistan on its back. Living up to its well-established tradition of leaving Pakistan in the lurch, Washington is on its way to effectively block 75% of the aid meant for Islamabad only after about one year of its continuation.

Though presently it is only a House panel that has imposed limits on American aid to Pakistan and the plan would become operational only after approval by the two houses and its signing by the US President but history tells us that anti-Pakistan moves easily overcome all hurdles in the US congressional and administrative circles. We saw this during the process for adoption of Kerry-Lugar Bill when humiliating clauses were inserted despite strong protests by people of Pakistan. The move to withhold three-fourth of the aid shows that the perception of those who were in favour of total rejection of American assistance that comes with a huge cost was not unfounded. It also confirms the widely held view in Pakistan that the United States was not a reliable partner and we must maintain a reasonable distance for the sake of national interests. The Americans are stopping aid at the critical juncture when Pakistan was in an unimaginable bad shape both in terms of economy and security only because of its total commitment to the war on terror and deserves more assistance from the international community to sustain this fight. Americans are justifying their move by excuses that Pakistan was not doing enough, despite the fact that 35,000 civilians and over 5,000 soldiers have lost their life in terrorism-related incidents. In fact, Americans want a degree of involvement by Pakistan that the country finds beyond its capacity to absorb. The plan exposes veracity of American claims that it considers Pakistan as strategic ally and wants to maintain long term engagement with Islamabad. Anyhow, we believe that Pakistan has inherent strength to live without foreign aid that comes at the cost of sovereignty and self-respect. Punjab has done well in declining American assistance and the Federation can also follow the suit and we are sure each and every Pakistani would happily subscribe to the decision. Otherwise too, about one-third of the aid is routed through questionable means and an equal amount is deducted in the name of overhead expenses, leaving too little to make an impact on the overall socio-economic progress or development of the country.






DURING her meeting with Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz bin Ibrahim al Ghadeer in Islamabad on Tuesday, Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan indicated that Pakistan plans to host the next meeting of the Information Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in the Federal Capital next year. The two leaders also exchanged views on ways and means to strengthen media cooperation between the two brotherly countries.

It appears that during her recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the Information Minister discussed the idea with her Saudi counterpart and other stakeholders and appreciably she is now following it up with all seriousness. Such a moot of the OIC is long due to take stock of the critical challenges confronting the Ummah and formulating a united and coherent strategy to address them squarely. Unfortunately, the Muslim world is at the receiving end in this highly complex media world and in the absence of an effective mechanism, people in the Islamic world are forced to rely on distorted and jaundiced opinion of the Western media even on purely internal issues of individual countries as well as those affecting the Ummah in one way or the other. There is, therefore, dire need to evolve a strategy that helps educate and inform people in the Islamic world in right perspective and also counters the venomous propaganda campaign by vested interests. Pakistan being a country where media proliferation is comparatively higher would be the right choice for hosting of such a conference. However, we would suggest that it should be convened after doing necessary homework and while doing so due consideration should be given for revival of the Islamic News Agency and establishment of OIC electronic news channel.









How about devoting this column to symbols of peace and to the quest for peace on the planet? First, let's allude to the symbol 'olive branch'. A look back at the recent history of occupied Palestine would show that the destruction of olive groves has been adopted as an instrument of coercion against the hapless Palestinians. For whatever reasons, the wholesale destructions of olive groves in that troubled land became the order of the day. Why vent your frustrations against the olive tree? Call it ironic or symbolic if you will, but an offered olive branch has traditionally been regarded as a peace offering.

Dove on the wing, too, is universally regarded as a symbol of peace much the same as the olive branch. Holding out an olive branch to an erstwhile foe is viewed as a peace offering in more than one civilization. Symbolism apart, it hurts one to learn about the wholesale and wanton destruction of countless olive groves in the occupied lands of Palestine. Over the past several years, news reports emanating from around Jerusalem have conveyed the rather distressing picture of extremist Israeli settlers having chopped down thousands of olive trees on Palestinian farmland in the West Bank.

The residents of the village of Saouia in the northern West Bank, for one, were reported some years back to have lamented the discovery that hundreds of olive trees had been hewed down just as they were about to begin harvesting. This is just one instance of such outrage. A land that was once proud of its luxuriant olive groves appears to have been systematically denuded of this unique gift of nature and that too by a group of people who once prided themselves as being the chosen race. And what about the other symbol of peace – dove on the wing? The doves – wretched creatures – too have not been faring all that well in several regions of the world. It is perhaps the destiny of creatures – whether flora or fauna – that are in any way symbolically linked to peace to be at the receiving end of the most horrid forms of violence. It may perhaps be man's propensity for wanton violence that is at fault. Humankind's claims to be the most exalted of creations notwithstanding, man's actions often belie his lofty pretensions. Man's inhumanity to man is the stuff of legends. Suffice it to state that a species that does not have regard for even its own kind can hardly be expected to be benevolent to other species. Doves are trapped in droves and imprisoned in (gilded) cages. Some lucky few are ceremoniously released on special occasions in what is euphemistically given out as a commemoration of peace, amity and freedom. Would one not be justified in asking how – and why - these gentle creatures came to be encaged in the first place?

Moving on to a wider canvas, it may not be out of place to pen a few words about world peace in general. The hullabaloo raised by proponents of international diplomacy notwithstanding, the one thing that continues to elude humankind is world peace. The more the world pampers the World Bodies – the United Nations and the like (Nobel Peace Prize et al) - the less inclination they exhibit to work for just and lasting peace in a world beset regrettably with pestilences of all genres.

Can a single locus in the whole wide world be pinpointed where the much-vaunted Nobel laureate, the United Nations, has been successful in establishing lasting peace? The world is littered with flashpoints like festering sores, where the United Nations has been content with mere papering over of the cracks. The state of the world today is akin to the suffering of a patient, whose sores cleverly camouflaged with surgical tape have been left to fester. Innocent people continue to die cruel and untimely deaths the world over – deaths that could and should be avoidable. It hardly matters what denomination, religion or ethnic group they belong to. Suffice it to state that they are all human beings and each human life is sacred. Whether the human being in question falls victim to a terrorist's bomb blast, a State Army's bullets, or indeed, a state of the art 'smart bomb' raining down from the sky, the fact remains that his or her life was invaluable and irreplaceable. It is the height of hypocrisy to camouflage such actions with such inane phrases as "collateral damage" and the like.

The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: can anything be done about this sorry state of affairs? The knee-jerk reaction would be to answer in the negative, given the evident flaws inherent in human nature. There is no harm, though, in having a go at devising a workable hypothesis. Let us face it: the strategy in vogue today among the powers that be is based on the 'philosophy of revenge'. An act of terrorism, for instance, is countered through a comparable act even though it may be camouflaged under the 'chapeau' of 'war on terror'. Experience has shown that this strategy has not produced results. The US declared 'war on terror' is simply not working. Far from eliminating 'terrorists' and 'terrorism', it has actually added to the sense of insecurity already prevalent in a highly jittery world.

Is there an alternative, then? One would venture to throw up the suggestion that we start tackling the issue in a positive rather than negative fashion. The name of the game is to avoid a knee-jerk reaction and, instead, to work for what – for want of a more appropriate expression – may be termed as the 'healing touch'. All the cracks that have been assiduously papered over and the forgotten by the world community will need to be examined afresh and in some depth. The festering sores will need to be healed – if need be through use of extensive surgery. Rather than kill a few human beings in the name of a 'war on terror', the very roots of terrorism would need to be shriveled. A suggested course of action would be to set up what may be called 'Council of Elders' - comprising selected Nobel Laureates – that would be mandated to mull over issues that the world faces. It may be necessary in due course to constitute several such councils. An issue of immediate concern for the council could be the containment of terrorism and extremism.

The council would be mandated to research the root cause of this malaise and to suggest ways and means to effectively tackle it. What is suggested in the foregoing paragraph is no short-term remedy. The wounds will take time to heal, but a beginning will have been made. Nor does one deign to advocate a rollback of history. What has happened has happened; what is done cannot be undone. Nonetheless, it should be possible to avoid further blunders and - with a modicum of luck - things can be then guided to move towards a positive denouement. Or, is that too much to expect?








Our views earlier published in these columns have now been aired by Asad Hashim in his article published in al Jazeerah of 3rd June 2011 on the dysfunctional relationship' between Pakistan and the US has questioned the alliance between the two quoting several reasons for this, among them their divergent ideological views and different strategic positions. In order to establish this he analyzed the US embassy cables leaked out recently by the internet page wikiLeaks and reported on the pages of a leading English daily of Karachi, Quoting from those cables he shows that the cooperation between the two countries includes Pakistani provision of "Restricted Operating Zones" (ROZ) for US aircrafts over FATA thus enabling frequent drone strikes onto Pakistani tribal territory.

The leaked embassy cables reveal that the army leadership in general and General Kayani in particular have endorsed those drone strikes as has the top political leadership of Pakistan meaning Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Rehman Malik and may be some others. The price for this endorsement for the army leadership has been financial and technical support for the Pakistani military which they think they need to enhance their fighting capability against India; and for the political elite of Pakistan the endorsement of drone attacks was the entry ticket to political power and their undisturbed robbing of the public exchequer. Asif Zardari is on record of being "willing to take the political heat' of a cross-border raid if a really important high value target was captured. That would certainly apply to the cross-border raid of 2nd May in Abbottabad but Zardari's 'taking the heat' has been rather poor. Beyond endorsement for drone attacks the cables reveal the presence of US special force troops on the ground in Pakistan and their active involvement in combat missions apart from intelligence sharing in so-called "Intelligence Fusion Cells" that embedded US Special Forces with Pakistan army SSG and Frontier Constabulary.

Even if this part of the cooperation has been reduced in the wake of the 2nd May US operation other areas of cooperation such as live feeds from drones flying over Pakistani airspace received by the Pakistani military would continue. While the positive interest of Pakistan's military and political high command in an alliance with the US is serving the US Afghan involvement and strategic goals the rest of the Pakistani people comprising of those civilians who do not benefit from Pakistani involvement with the US and the Pakistani army personal below the high command structure are resenting the US presence in Pakistan and in Afghanistan and this fact over the ten years of 'partnership' in the so-called war on terror has resulted in a growing rift between the political and military leadership with their respective civilian and military junior cadres.

The reason for this rift is not so much a purely emotional anti-Americanism of the Pakistani common folks but rather the fact that there is nothing much in common between the two unequal partners beyond the material interests of the elite just mentioned, a fact that is well understood by the public. Pakistan being located in South Asia and having a common border with Afghanistan several thousands of kilometers long and sharing a considerable stock of population has geo-political and strategic goals quite different from the US ones. While the US is building and cementing their strategic presence in this region which is rich in oil and other energy reserves, which is giving them a foothold close enough to frighten their enemies Iran and China and gain access to Central Asia while their own territory and population is far enough away not to be damaged by this military engagement, the situation of Pakistan is completely different. Pakistan is part of this region geographically, politically and culturally and this is not going to change. Pakistan can not go away from here and has to again face the outfall of war in Afghanistan, of militancy in the region as well as in their own country. Pakistan has actually been forced to become part of the Afghan war because of the open borderline between the two which was created by British colonial powers and never accepted by the people of the area and the way, the Afghan war has been pursued in Afghanistan.

By the Nato and the US, which has led to a spill-over of the war into Pakistan: the tribal areas first and since the Lal Masjid campaign into Pakistan at large. As a result, not only has the Pakistani army lost more soldiers than the NATO and US taken together in this war, but the civilian population has been suffering even more: thousands have been killed, injured and maimed in attacks of militants and American drones in the tribal areas, but also by militant attacks in all major and many smaller cities of the country. Hundreds of buildings have been destroyed the material loss of this spill-over reaching billions. Pakistan's economy has suffered badly as a result of this war, our conservative estimates of loss in last ten year comes to $ 120 billion against which peanuts of something like $ 10 billion were received which figures now have been reported as $ 20 billion by US, which have not benefitted even the direct affectees of this war in Pakistan, what to talk of any relief to the common man directly hit by this game plan, while as a result its anyway fragile state fabric has been further weakened. Not only militancy has grown, but brutalities of Pakistani security forces against citizens, abductions for ransom, extra-judicial killings have resulted into brutalizing Pakistani society which is undermining law and order situation and weakening the social fabric of the country.

The unilateral decision of the political leadership to team up with the US war has undermined the anyway weak role of the parliament. Decisions and resolutions of the parliament taken in 2008 and just recently in 2011 after the Abbottabad drama to review and change the cooperation with the US have been neglected, court judgments have not been implemented which has been strengthening the feeling of injustice and doom promoted by the ruling class. In the armed forces the negligence of the mood in the lower ranks has resulted into a widening rift between the military command and the troops as the Mehran base incident but also the attacks on the GHQ some time ago have shown which could not have been planned and executed without insiders help; another example is the killing of Punjab governor by his own bodyguard and the torturing and killing of the journalist Saleem Shahzad who has been exposing this rift between high command and troops within the navy in the media . He should have been honoured to have put his finger on a wound which is threatening the security if not the existence of Pakistan; instead he was silenced as if the problem would vanish when nobody is allowed to talk about it. It is high time that the dangerous situation resulting from Pakistan's alignment with the US and the war on terror within our country should be frozen and our alliance with US be revisited before it is too late and Pakistan will sink into chaos.

The Afghan war is not our war and the way it is fought is also not our way. We do have a problem of increased militancy due to this war, which has been there on small scale for quite some decade and we have a problem of Pakistani Taliban which is partly of our own making without realizing the consequences by our autocratic rulers, but which has now been blown out of proportion because of the US methods and vested interest in the so-called war on terror. The US is now on its way out again due to acute financial strains, which are now being questioned in public and as a result, we will be left in the lurch with the mess they have created here and in our neighbourhood. We need to find our own ways to deal with it because we can't just go away. Ending our alliance with the US and stop facilitating NATO supplies, stopping war in our tribal areas and open dialogue with the militants in tribal areas, who are nevertheless citizens of our country is going to be the first step in the right direction. We need a government and a military command which is on the same page with the people, otherwise foreign vested interest will keep mounting on Pakistan because of its spineless leaders. Those who are propagating Pakistan as a failed state are badly mistaken because it is the failure of certain individuals saddled in corridor of power due to foreign machination otherwise Pakistan can stand on its own two legs with any US aid, IMF or World Bank, what is needed is to close all these contractual operatives and their NGO's operation in Pakistan. Let us work our own national development plans to be executed by our own home grown patriotic people, soon Pakistan will re-emerge in the comity of nations as a respectable country and not a banana republic, which will frustrate the anti-Pakistan elements also. GOD bless Pakistan.








Why is it that when the entire Muslim world in the Middle East is on fire against their autocratic rulers: Egypt has already fallen along with Tunisia while pitched battles are going on in Syria and Libya. Yemen on the backyard of Saudi Arabia is on the verge of collapse, why Saudi Arabia, has been safe from the people's agitation. The reason probably is its tremendous wealth which its wise rulers have been spending on the welfare of its people leaving them with no cause for complaint.

According to an estimate of American experts the kingdom is spending $13o billion to increase salaries, build houses and finance religious organizations effectively neutralizing most opposition. Most of all the ruling class consisting of mostly the king and the large royal family, which is ruling the country, without democratic participation of peoples, representatives is not corrupt and has never tried to fill its coffers with the nation's wealth at the cost of the poor. The kingdom's reserves, swollen by more than $214 billion in oil revenues last year have insulated the royal family from demands for change simmering in certain circles for the change in the ruling system. In a way Saudi government with no corruption and no crimes and terrorism is in essence an Islamic welfare state minus people representation in a democratic system. That is a major reason that it has survived in a peoples revolt all around it.In a welfare package of $200 million recently King Abdullah paid an extra two month's salary to government employees along with an expense of $70 billion on the construction of houses for low income groups. Two things which are agitating the minds of the younger generation are gender equality and freedom of speech. As modern education will spread in the kingdom the concepts of inter mingling of men and women and freedom of speech will also grow as has happened in most Muslim countries.

Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the United States on the basis of their mutual interests. Saudis need the US to ensure their security while America needs their oil. Although attackers of 9/11 on American homeland were Saudi pilots trained in America, the US government took no action against Saudi Arabia because it was convinced that they were Al-Qaida terrorists with no links with the Saudi government. Saudi king is buttressing monarchies but blocking Iran from gaining influence in the region. While the United States is pressing other Arab nations to embrace democracy, it is silent about Saudi Arabia. It appreciated the kingdom's efforts to curb popular revolts in Bahrain and Oman.

Saudis by and large say they are not concerned about democratic elections than about fixing chronic problems including housing problems, unemployment and bureaucratic incompetence. Saudi clan has had absolute power for as long as it established its monarchy in Arabian desert and believe that change in the system must come down from the top and not otherwise. But there are ripples of dissent from the youth for a change of system.

As regards the US involvement in Afghanistan war, the US government is under tremendous pressure from opposition parties to start pulling out its forces from the killing fields of Afghanistan where 1,597 American soldiers have been killed in a never ending war like Viet Nam. They insist that Afghan soldiers who have been trained by American troops should be given the responsibility of defending their homeland from the terrorists. They say that the US cannot bear the huge burden of Afghan war mainly because of economic down turn and daily rising debt burden on America. They also fear that in case America prolonged its war in Afghanistan like it did in Vietnam it might meet the same fate.

The US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and many other senior officers in Obama administration, however maintain that if America left Afghanistan in the lurch at this stage it might turn into the hot bed of Al-Qaida terrorists and might take Pakistan also at risk. President Obama's nominee for the post of US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told the US Foreign Relations Committee in Washington that the US had left Afghanistan once before in 1989 with disastrous consequences—the rise of Taliban."We cannot do this once again" he said. Mr. Crocker faced sharp questions from the Chairman of the committee Senator John Kerry. He said there is a growing sentiment on Capitol Hill that American commitment in money and troops to Afghanistan is neither proportional to our interests nor sustainable. The US is now spending about $10 billion a month on Afghanistan and has 100,000 troops on Afghan soil.

President Obama is under intense pressure from Congress to speedily reduce the number of American troops .The US commander in Afghanistan General Petreas is expected shortly to offer President Obama several options for the US troop withdrawal .It may be noted that a separate agreement with Afghanistan calls for the departure of all foreign troops in the country by the end of 2014. When too much money is funnelled in poor countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan it invariably gives rise to corruption and foul play.







Lobbying is the practice of influencing government decisions. It includes efforts to influence legislators and height government officials. Lobbying is a common practice in the United States, especially during general elections. Various Public Relations Firms (PRFs) are paid for their services and then used in influencing the winning lawmakers. These firms sometimes act as Pressure Groups too. And the American-Indians play a prominent role in this game. The emergence of the Indian Lobby, its techniques, working and influence in the USA are some of the issues that are seldom touched upon in Pakistan. One should not see this in isolation but rather in recent times we have witnessed the growing role of the Indian Lobby on the pattern of the strong Jewish Lobby. In Jews, Indian-Americans see a role model in activism and this equation further becomes much easier due to the known US-Israel-India Strategic Nexus.

The primary group in the Indian Lobby is the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), a group that was formed after 9/11 with the close support and encouragement of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC). The USINPAC even sounds a bit like AIPAC. The US-India Business Council, primarily working for trade and investment in the two countries, has lavished big money on lobbyists, too. In just five years, USINPAC has become the most visible face of Indian American lobbying. India has been using some powerful lobbyists in the USA for furthering its interests. It has also been actively engaged in anti-Pakistan propaganda in the USA.

The power of the India Lobby is extremely impressive. Generous donations from Indian-American community leaders and Indian Government channels have helped grease the wheels of support. The new Indian lobby seems to be closer to most of the right-wing Indian politicians. They continue to beat war drums against Pakistan. US congress received a personal letter from Sanjay Puri, Chairman and founder of USINPAC with an online petition signed by over 16000 citizens calling for to cut off funding to Pakistan if it does not shut down the terror training camps. Indian lobby is active in blocking every move that is favourable to Pakistan like sophisticated weapons for countering insurgency in tribal belt of Pakistan. USINPAC congratulated Indian-Americans appointees to the Obama administration and these include Aneesh Chopra, the first Federal Chief Technology Officer, Vivek Kundra, Chief Information Officer and Sonal Shah, Head of new office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House. The Indian lobby may be behind these appointees to further tighten its grip on the administration.

The USA, to check the rise of China, has been trying to forge a new strategic alliance with India and the end result is civil nuclear deal with her. Even lawmakers who had made nuclear nonproliferation a core issue over their long careers, such as Sen. Richard Lugar, quickly came around to accommodate India. Why? The answer is that the Indian lobby is now officially a powerful presence on the Capitol Hill. India is perhaps seen as the single biggest money-making opportunity of the 21st century with its huge population. There are now some 2.2 million Americans of Indian origin, a number that is growing rapidly especially after Obama announced lots of jobs for the Indians.

There are some factors which naturally benefit Indians to play an active role in the US. As a group, Indian-Americans have higher levels of education and income, making them eligible for political mobilization. Apart from this, the secular system in the largest democracy of the world, though debatable, has many admirers in the west. Even non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the USA somehow influence the US citizens by projecting Indian power in the South Asian region. They use soft power i.e. colorful culture of India like yoga, films, and India shining publicity which covers up the rampant poverty, hunger, crime, human rights abuses especially in Kashmir and Naxalite-Maoist areas, Muslim massacre in Gujrat and Christian massacre in Orisa etc. Even a well known Indian author Arundhati Roy called India's economic success a 'lie' in an interview to BBC.

Now, since lobbying is a reality and fast becoming a new trend in today's international relations, it may be called an indirect form of diplomacy. Sometimes when direct diplomacy fails, the indirect form succeeds. Jewish lobby in the US is the classical example of this. Pakistan should not be sitting idle and watching. Pakistanis living in foreign countries could be an asset in this regard. They must project true picture of Pakistan in their respective countries by highlighting softer image of the country. In response to Indian lobby's 'always Pakistan bashing' attitude, our educated youth abroad should apprise the world about many positive things in Pakistan. Pakistan is the land where Gandhara and Indus Valley civilizations flourished. During the 2nd century B.C., it was here that Buddhism was adopted as the state religion which flourished and prevailed here for over 1000 years, starting from 2nd century B.C., until 10th century A.D.

There are some Muslim societies in the USA which may also be used as a platform and the main focus should be on adaptability of the Muslims. Domestic-grown differences of Pakistanis should never be reflected in the US or other countries as this has often been seen. Contrary to Indian embassies abroad, Pakistani embassies are more bureaucratic in nature. These embassies can play a vital role in making efforts to neutralize Indian lobby's propaganda against Pakistan. It is also interesting to note that there is hardly any book or paper written exclusively on the rising Indian lobby in the US by Pakistanis. There is a need for extensive work on this. We must start looking at the matter and do everything possible to counter this lobbying game which is so productive in today's international relations.

—The writer works for Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).








Every Sunday a quietly spoken lawyer leads his family in a dignified protest outside the American consulate in Lahore. Mohammed Ejaz-ur-Rehman is not an activist or a rabble rouser, but his family's tragedy — once headline news, now forgotten — is a damning indictment of US public diplomacy and a reminder of why America is hated in much of Pakistan. Almost six months ago he stood and watched helplessly as his brother, Ibad, was killed - knocked off his motorbike by a 4x4 travelling too fast on the wrong side of a busy street. It was hurtling to the rescue of a CIA agent who had shot dead two men and was in danger of being torn apart by an angry crowd.

With his rescue bungled, the spook, Raymond Davis, was arrested, sparking an excruciatingly awkward diplomatic wrangle between Pakistan and the US. The existence of a covert American operation in Lahore was problematic for a Pakistani government trying to manage widespread anti-Western anger and for an administration in Washington keen to prove its operations in Pakistan were all above board. So it was not particularly surprising when the problem — and the two murder charges — was made to go away before the public scrutiny of a trial.

The price was reportedly $2m to $3m in diyya, or blood money, paid to the relatives of the two murdered men. Davis was immediately whisked back to the US. (Although Hillary Clinton said the US did not pay the money, Pakistani officials suggested the money was stumped by Islamabad to be reimbursed by Washington later.) But that leaves Mohammed wondering whether his family will see justice. His weekly demo, he says, is not about whipping up anti-American feeling (although who could blame him if it was).

"It's nothing to do with nationalism or Pakistan or anything else. We just want justice. We have heard a lot about American justice, but if their people do any crime overseas then something should be done about that," he said the last time we spoke. Publicly the US says it is co-operating with inquiries. But Mohammed says the police are stymied because they cannot find the vehicle, which is now believed to be tucked away on diplomatic soil. In one family's tragedy lies an important truth about how Washington sees Pakistan — one that provides a dangerous lesson if the US doesn't come clean. It demonstrates exactly how the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated amid mistrust and misunderstandings into a purely transactional relationship. Money is paid when there is something that Washington wants and Pakistan is only too willing to take the cash.

In public, both countries protest the description. The US insists it is in the region for the long haul, and won't abandon Pakistan when its troops leave Afghanistan. And Pakistan insists its commitment to tackling militancy goes beyond simply vacuuming up piles of dollars. In reality, though, Pakistan has yet to sign up fully. Its military prevaricates over an operation in North Waziristan, allowing the feared Haqqani network to clear out to safer territory, and officers tip off militant leaders when their hideouts have been rumbled. Having realised that their policy of supporting Islamist extremists has failed, they have yet to develop a new strategy of how to contain the threat. That leaves the US pumping in billions of dollars each year to assure its supply routes to Afghanistan and to allow it unfettered access to the skies for its drones programme.

Neither side likes to describe the relationship as transactional. But as Mohammed Ejaz-ur-Rehman will tell you as he stands outside the American consulate, some responsibilities are met, while others are ignored. Leaving him in the dark and refusing him justice only reinforces Pakistani suspicion that the US is only in it for the short-term.

—Courtesy: The Telegraph








READERS of Melbourne's The Age yesterday were provided with an amazingly stark, if unwitting, confession about how Fairfax seems to have ceased pretending to publish newspapers in favour of political pamphleteering.

A front-page article reported that a group of prominent Australians was taking a public stand in favour of pricing carbon. The group included Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, the mother of the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, publisher of The Australian. The Age's Michael Gordon wrote: "Dame Elisabeth's stand is consistent with the stated position on climate change of her son Rupert, but out of step with coverage in his newspapers, as reflected in the front pages of flagships The Australian and Herald Sun yesterday. While The Australian splashed with a report saying a carbon tax would force eight coalmines to close and cost thousands of jobs, the Herald Sun 'revealed' that the carbon tax would push up the prices of Mars bars and McDonald's."

In those two sentences Gordon, the paper's national editor, no less, betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of newspapers and exposed how Fairfax newspapers such as The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald break faith with their readers. No longer do you need to take our word for it, it is the national editor of The Age who tacitly admits Fairfax papers share with you only the information that supports their political positions. Regular readers of this newspaper will be aware of our consistent support for a market-based price on carbon as the most efficient method of reducing emissions. But regardless of our considered position, this newspaper takes seriously our duty to provide news coverage on policy debates that covers all significant information, views and perspectives. We respect the intelligence of our readers and have confidence in their ability to make up their own minds. We operate on the understanding that you expect us to provide as much relevant information as possible, enabling you to be well-informed. It is our unwritten compact. The story in Tuesday's edition of The Australian to which Gordon referred, a front-page exclusive, detailed research commissioned by the coal industry showing a carbon tax could force mine closures and cost 4000 jobs. By claiming this report was "out of step" with the Murdochs' support for a price on carbon, Gordon seems to suggest we should suppress the coal industry's research and its point of view. Yet it is clear the industry's fears are of legitimate public interest, as shown by the government's negotiations to provide compensation, and the response to the story by Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who said: "No one can rule out a mine or two closing." For a newspaper to censor or deliberately avoid points of view, such as these, because they conflict with or undermine its own position would be a fundamental breach of trust. Fairfax editors must hold their readers in such low esteem that they will only share with them information that will help shape pre-determined opinions. What a deceptive manipulation of public discourse and an insult to the readers. What disregard for the essence of news and journalism.

The other story Gordon referred to was a Herald Sun survey that found companies providing goods and services intended to pass on to customers the extra costs of the carbon price. The story noted, prominently, government plans to compensate householders for these costs. Yet Gordon's analysis suggests these increased costs should be hidden from the public, lest they oppose the tax. This would be an old Soviet Union level of censorship. Surely, you would think, Fairfax papers are not shielding their readers from reality. Sadly, it seems they do. This suggests a blatant disregard for the first point of journalism's code of ethics: "Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply."

The fleeting moment of frankness from The Age enlightens us to the dark heart of Fairfax, where complex debates are distilled to simple viewpoints, peddled to a deliberately misinformed readership. This is why readers of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald must have been so surprised by the demotion of Peter Garrett, the demise of Kevin Rudd and the disastrous electoral performance of Julia Gillard -- because editors shielded them from the preceding bad news they didn't want their readers to know about. The decline in relevance of these papers is directly related to their surrender to advocacy journalism. They no longer attempt to appeal to the broad population of the cities they serve but increasingly reflect the narrow interests of those who would shut down any argument that does not accord with their prejudices. To their journalists and editors, life is a battle between right thinkers and wrong thinkers in which they, naturally, are on the side of the angels. A newspaper which aspires to play a constructive role in civic society cannot afford such conceit, or such contempt for its readers. Its pages should be a clearing house for ideas that stimulate rather than suppress debate and play a part in the development of sound public policy. The vast majority of Australians have open minds and are willing to change them when presented with new evidence or fresh information.






IT is not surprising after more than a year of controversy that big mining companies, along with the Gillard government, just want the debate on the mining tax to go away so everyone can get on with their lives.

But that is not the reason we are unconvinced by the most recent interventions by the boss of Fortescue Metals Group, Andrew Forrest and his somewhat unlikely supporter, Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie. Both men have a right to raise issues about the draft legislation for the mineral resources rent tax, but both are in danger of arguing against the integrity of this policy measure, and their case for special treatment is hard to sustain.

The tax may indeed impact heavily on Mr Forrest's business -- although investors seem unperturbed, with Fortescue's share price rising by about 80 per cent since the tax was announced. Mr Forrest argues that because the tax does not allow interest payments to be deducted, a relatively young company such as Fortescue will be badly disadvantaged compared with big, diversified miners such as Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, or Xstrata, which do not have to borrow as much in order to fund expansion or new operations. That's true, but that's business. The Argus review into the tax found that an interest deduction would amount to double-dipping because it was already deductible against company earnings.

If Mr Forrest and other emerging miners want government help to establish operations, they need to make a better case than arguing against a tax with a single rate and universal application of rules on depreciation and deductability. It is true big miners won a significant concession from Julia Gillard when they bunkered down in Canberra last year to negotiate the MRRT to replace the ill-conceived resource super-profits tax. At that point in the political cycle, with Labor desperate for a deal, the miners convinced the government to allow companies to "uplift" to market value older mining assets that had in most cases already been fully depreciated for income tax purposes. This does not help newer companies with less potential for a significant uplift.

Mr Forrest has been playing the nationalist card, arguing that the tax will advantage multi-national companies at the expense of local miners. This ignores the reality of a global market in commodities and capital: Australia cannot afford to impose a tax regime that risks its ability to attract global investment. A real-world understanding of the role minerals play in the economy was at the heart of the renegotiation of the tax last year.

The MRRT faces other challenges, from miners and possibly Western Australia, who are threatening action against its constitutional validity. A legal challenge would argue that the states, not the commonwealth, own the minerals; and that the tax could discriminate between states because miners working in two or three states could receive different royalty credits for each jurisdiction. These are complex issues and may ultimately be decided by the High Court. But they are very different from the special-interest criticisms advanced by Mr Forrest.

Last year, the Fortescue boss was among those who correctly argued against unwieldy provisions in the original tax designed to protect start-ups, but which the industry did not value. The government should beware of reintroducing any protectionist measures in the new model.






Like a tedious dinner guest, the party seems to be saying: "Enough about me, what do you think about me?" The ALP is enduring a difficult period, confronting its own political mortality after election losses in Western Australia and Victoria, an annihilation in NSW and, federally, the loss of a prime minister, a parliamentary majority and the party's mojo. Last week's speech by former minister John Faulkner and the article in The Australian today by NSW state secretary Sam Dastyari tackle the issue from different perspectives but seem to arrive at the same place -- a party obsessed with itself.

The answer to Labor's problems surely cannot be found in party structures or internal rules and processes. Granted, it should always look to encourage debate, participation and internal democracy. And, like other parties, it needs to continually work hard to broaden its membership base. But this is not why Julia Gillard is struggling.

Senator Faulkner's talk of activism, and how the workers' party is losing politically motivated people to GetUp! and the Greens, smacks of an attempt by the Left to capitalise on Labor's current woes to shift it further away from the centre. Ms Gillard's lack of authority appears to have emboldened others in the Left, such as senator Doug Cameron, to agitate in caucus for traditional Leftist causes like higher taxes on industry and softer border protection. This path can only make matters worse for the government.

Both Senator Faulkner and Mr Dastyari suggest one way to improve the ALP is to give more people -- non-members included -- a say in how it is run and who it chooses as candidates. It seems heroic, and more than a little self-absorbed, to suggest that a party struggling to convince people to vote for it can find salvation by offering the public a greater say in its internal processes. The party elders might be surprised to know that mainstream Australians are not particularly interested in the machinations of the party. What they are interested in is governments that can manage their affairs with a modicum of competence, show commitment to clear and sensible policies, and remain in touch with the needs and aspirations of the electorate.

So the road to salvation for Labor is probably not to invite non-members to vote in its processes -- after all, if that's what people want they have the option of taking out membership -- but for Labor MPs and staffers to engage with people in the suburbs and workplaces so they can listen and act in accord with the views of the mainstream. If Senator Faulkner and Mr Dastyari were to do this they might discover that there are many Australians who are not rednecks but do have concerns about border security, who are worried about climate change but fail to see how an Australian tax will fix it, who pay their taxes and hate to see money wasted, or who wonder what Ms Gillard stands for and whether she can be trusted. Coming up with responses to these legitimate concerns must be the main challenge for Labor.

Whether decades of poor candidate selection and machine politics have generated the current malaise matters little right now; the issue is that the party seems to be out of touch. Having won government by portraying Kevin Rudd as John Howard-lite, the ALP has lurched to the Left. It promised secure borders but softened the regime and helped to create a dire problem with unauthorised boat arrivals; it promised economic conservatism but has wasted billions in poorly designed and managed stimulus initiatives; and Ms Gillard, who promised there would be no carbon tax, is imposing just such a tax to appease the Greens.

While Labor has run after Bob Brown, pining for the affections of Greens voters, Tony Abbott has pitched his messages firmly at middle Australia. While Labor exits the centre and drifts to the Left, Mr Abbott is visiting factories, supermarkets, building sites and shops almost everyday, staking a solid claim to the mainstream of Australian politics.

The Australian has always believed the centre is where major political parties should build their support and that the Australian people are sufficiently smart to ensure the most sensible policies will hold sway. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, at their peak, understood voters' common sense. They -- not the impractical idealism of Gough Whitlam -- provided the template for modern Labor. The sooner Ms Gillard and her team realise this, the sooner they will understand they don't need to shift the Australian people back to Labor, they need to move Labor back to mainstream Australians.







BUILDING a home calls for a big financial commitment. Every project has its difficulties but Victorians imagine they are buying peace of mind with home building insurance. The reality is starkly different when things go wrong. Last year, The Age reports, three owners out of more than 53,000 Victorians paying compulsory premiums made successful claims. Not for nothing is the scheme condemned as ''a disaster'', ''an outright scam'', ''junk insurance'' and ''an absolute joke''.

Consumers have complained for years, but only now has the Baillieu government, to its credit, revealed the details of builders warranty insurance for the first time in the scheme's 10-year history. The figures tell the story. In the past 12 months, consumers paid an estimated $87.8 million to cover home building projects. The state insurance arm, the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority, collected $38 million in premiums, while $39.8 million went to other costs such as brokerage commissions and administration fees. The three successful claims totalled $108,476. In other words, the payout to consumers who are compelled to take out insurance amounted to 12¢ for every $100 they pay.

HIA Insurance and QBE are the beneficiaries of this business. No wonder the industry wanted the details kept secret as ''commercial in confidence'' figures. The vanishingly low rate of payouts is not because no builders go broke, abandon projects or do faulty work. The criteria that claims must meet are just too restrictive. HIA chief executive Gil King says the scheme is the most workable available but admits it is ''perhaps too legalistic'' and a ''quick, simple, cheap, independent mechanism'' is needed to resolve disputes.

He is right about that. As we report today, the Victorian Small Claims Tribunal and Consumer Affairs do not offer adequate and affordable redress. Last year, VCAT heard 878 disputes between owners and builders and 86 appeals against insurers' decisions, but the tribunal would not reveal the results - which hardly promotes transparency.

Insurers are wrong to claim the scheme is workable. The example of Queensland, where insurance is accessible as a first rather than last resort, points to a better way to cover owners when things go wrong. Tasmania has adopted a similar model, having abandoned a Victorian-style approach. The scheme that the Bracks government set up in 2002, following the collapse of the insurer HIH, is long overdue for a shake-up.

Whereas insurers may have been vulnerable a decade ago, it is now builders that face a crisis of confidence, with building approvals well below the long-term average. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has recorded five falls in residential approvals in six months, led by a 3.5 per cent fall for houses in April. Take out rebuilding in Queensland after recent disasters, and new dwelling approvals plunged 5.6 per cent. Given the impacts of a housing shortfall on affordability, the government should do everything it can to give Victorians the confidence to build homes.

As the state has made home building insurance mandatory and its insurance arm collects the premiums, the government is morally obliged to act on ''the worst bad-faith product that you could ever find'', in the words of the Builders Collective of Australia, representing small builders. Finance Minister Robert Clark says the government is concerned but suggests long insurance ''tails'' - which involves making provision for payouts for years to come - mean comparisons between current premiums and payouts are ''not valid''. However, building owners have only six years to lodge a claim; at the current rate of payouts, it would take 833 years to match the money collected in the past year.

The whole scheme may need to be restructured, based on insurance models that have served interstate consumers better and more fairly. Rather than just looking at ways that Victoria's scheme can be ''improved'', the government must act with urgency to end this insurance rort.





TURKISH Prime Minister Recep Erdogan this week adopted a global perspective in hailing the return of his centre-right government for a historic third term: ''Today the Western world, Tripoli, Gaza, have won. The Middle East, the Balkans, Europe have won. Peace and stability have won.'' In any other country, a politician who portrayed a national election result in this way would be regarded as a megalomaniac, and some of Mr Erdogan's opponents do indeed worry that he has megalomaniacal tendencies. But it is also true that if any national leader can speak in that way it is he. Since he first led his Justice and Development Party to power in 2002, Turkey has been steadily reclaiming its historic role as a bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Mr Erdogan's achievements, and Turkey's under his leadership, cannot be denied. Though many feared the Islamist tendencies of Justice and Development, he has not dismantled Turkish democracy - but there are greater restrictions of free speech than would be accepted in Western countries. And a once-poor nation is booming economically: productivity has doubled and exports have tripled under the Erdogan government, and with a growth rate of 9 per cent Turkey, an aspirant to join the European Union, is performing better than some of the EU's member states. This prosperity has transformed the lives of the religiously conservative peasantry who are Justice and Development's base, and have kept Mr Erdogan in power.

Supporters of the main opposition group, the centre-left, secularist Republican People's Party, would say, however, that Turks should be relieved that Justice and Development won only 49.9 per cent of the vote, insufficient to deliver the two-thirds majority in Parliament that Mr Erdogan was seeking. That would have allowed him to amend Turkey's constitution without a referendum, creating a strong executive presidency, a post he covets. He must now continue to live, however, with parliamentary checks and balances.

A promise he has failed to keep since 2002 has been the granting of greater autonomy to Turkey's Kurds, who are a fifth of the population. Their homeland in the south-east overlaps the Syrian border, and the struggle for democracy in that country may yet merge with their own. The brutalities of Syria's Assad government have already generated a flow of refugees that Turkey has welcomed, and relations between Damascus and Ankara are frosty. Mr Erdogan has made clear that he believes President Assad's time is up; how he handles the crisis may define his own place in history.





The Liberals may live to rue a Peter Reith comeback.

COMPETITION is a cornerstone of democracy, and the fact the Liberal Party's federal presidency appears certain to be the subject of a vigorous contest can be seen as a positive development for the alternative governing party of Australia. It suggests, among other things, that the Liberals are increasingly confident of being returned to office at the federal election due in 2013, only two terms after the defeat of John Howard's Coalition government. As the Liberals' fortunes lift, people of significance are putting their names forward to play prominent roles.

Whether former Howard government minister Peter Reith is the best person to be mounting a challenge to the incumbent party president, former Kennett government treasurer Alan Stockdale, is another question, however. It is already evident that Mr Reith's decision to challenge Mr Stockdale presents several problems for parliamentary leader Tony Abbott and those problems are likely to grow if the challenge succeeds.

Mr Reith, employing the sort of blunt language for which he is well known, says he is impatient to shake up the party he has long served. His plans are informed by the review he conducted for the party after last year's federal election defeat. He has made clear he believes the Liberals should consider US-style ''primaries'' that allow people from outside the party to have a say in local preselections. He insists the party should at the least adopt more widely the new Victorian model that provides for rank-and-file plebiscites on preselection of candidates.

Certainly, anything Mr Reith can do to encourage the Liberal Party to ensure rank-and-file members have a greater sense of belonging and a more meaningful say in party affairs will be welcome at a time when Australia's major political parties are confronted with a decline in membership numbers. But any impression left by Mr Reith's push for the presidency that somehow the Liberal Party is broken and needs fixing is not borne out by the electoral map of Australia and is likely to prove problematic for Mr Abbott. At the state level, the Liberals are back in office in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia, and Labor is struggling in each of the other states: South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania. At the federal level, Mr Abbott has the Coalition in an election-winning position. The latest Newspoll has the Coalition leading Labor, after the distribution of preferences, by 55 per cent to 45 per cent. Although Julia Gillard retains a slight lead over Mr Abbott on the question of who would make the better prime minister (41 per cent to 38 per cent), the proportion of voters satisfied with the way Ms Gillard is doing the job has fallen to a record low of 30 per cent.

Mr Abbott's efforts to build on this foundation are unlikely to be helped if his party has a high-profile president who becomes a focus of attention and debate, yet Mr Reith is a political head-kicker with a knack for attracting the limelight, and the issues for which he is remembered are ones

Mr Abbott would prefer remain under the radar.

It was Mr Reith as defence minister who in 2001 released Defence Force photographs purporting to prove that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard. In fact, the photographs showed no such thing, and the episode was a low point in the shameful efforts by Australia's political leadership to demonise people seeking asylum.

Three years earlier, in 1998, Mr Reith as workplace minister was the public face of the Coalition government during its bitter fight with Australia's waterfront unions. Industrial relations policy was an important reason for the Howard government's defeat at the 2007 election. Mr Reith is a reminder of that government's unpopular and excessive WorkChoices laws, which many influential Liberals have never renounced. That might be reason enough for Mr Abbott to hope Mr Reith fails in his bid for the Liberal presidency.





ONE in two dogs and only one in 20 cats that end up in the pound survive. The grim death toll would be even worse, as The Age reports today, were it not for more than 50 rescue groups whose volunteers do all they can to find homes for these animals.

Under state regulations, which are under review, strays have eight days' grace - giving owners a chance to reclaim them - before they may be put down. For surrendered pets, death can come even sooner. So high is the kill rate, thought to be 250,000 cats and dogs nationally a year, that animal welfare advocates want a rethink of the code of practice for shelters and pounds.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh is to release the new code later this year, but public submissions appear to have persuaded the government to abolish the requirement that animals that are not rehoused within 28 days be put down. It is disappointing, though, that the proposed code does not focus more on finding homes for animals. Pounds are not even required to open on weekends, the best time for most people to look for a dog or cat. Animal rescuers recognise, however, that the sheer number of animals means not all can be rehoused. The people at the ''end of the chain'' face a losing battle until public attitudes change.

Many shelters are trying to reduce kill rates. Until the end of August, the RSPCA is offering fee-free adoption of pets older than seven years, which tend to be overlooked despite generally being less demanding than younger animals. All animals will be microchipped, desexed and vaccinated. These are measures that all pet owners should undertake to reduce the numbers on death row.

Some owners are forced by circumstances to give up pets, but changing attitudes and regulations could save many more animals. The RSPCA endorses calls to ban puppy factories. Churning out puppies for profit - usually sold through pet shops and online - adds to the oversupply that leads to mass euthanasia. The demand for cute puppies and kittens fuels the problem; the public seems oblivious to the huge number of healthy and loving animals that will die if they do not find homes. Shelters lack the resources to house dogs and cats for months on end.

If Victorians care about animals, they should demand action on the sources of the problem. The code should focus more on the need to stop treating pets as disposable, control breeding and make euthanasia the last resort.

This is an animal welfare scandal in our backyard. It's time we changed our attitudes to keeping pets and to the value we put on their lives.







Slowly but surely the implications for real people of hacking £18bn out of the annual budget are beginning to dawn

There are words that exert a disproportionate grip on the political imagination. One is "reform". Yes,there are elements of rationalisation in the social security changes the government took through the Commons tonight, but the overriding aim is curbing state expenditure. It has to be a consideration in these times, though not one anyone away from Westminster would dignify with the term reform.

Pundits and too many MPs on all sides initially welcomed the welfare reform bill with generalities about taming the tentacles of a monstrous system. In the end, however, the truth has power – and numbers speak louder than words. One number, in particular, is catching up with the legislation: the staggering £18bn being hacked out of the annual budget. Slowly but surely the implications for real people are starting to dawn. Some forensic spadework by the Labour frontbencher, Karen Buck, has uncovered the dismal consequences for parents who rely on subsidised childcare. In a commanding Commons performance which drew a line under a miserable week, Ed Miliband today pinpointed another vulnerable group, by speaking up for thousands of cancer patients who will soon have their income cut off cold. The prime minister looked out of touch with their concerns as he tried to sweep all detailed questions away with a broad brush.

There are other horrors that have thus far been spared the spotlight: the arbitrary punishment of children in large families, the cleansing of central London's poor and a half-written policy on council tax rebates with echoes of the poll tax. Together, these things create a context that will overwhelm any good done by Iain Duncan Smith's eminently decent plan to integrate various benefits into a single credit. This will be true even if today's encouraging headline figures on unemployment set a trend for the coming month, but it will be doubly so if the rising claimant count proves the more informative statistic and the economy fails to provide opportunities that might compensate for the handouts being snatched back.

That vulnerable people are being made to pay down the deficit is now clear, but not so the political fallout. Much centrist opinion holds that the priority is making sure somebody pays the debt, and it is half-inclined to imagine an army of scroungers who could easily do so. A cowed Labour party initially abstained on the bill, but Mr Miliband's speech this week moved the argument on by linking welfare dependency with boardroom excess. Tonight the opposition steeled its nerve and voted against. For the future, it talks of a something-for-something welfare deal. For the moment, many claimants can expect to go from something to nothing.





Bankers must face some pain to avoid a rerun of the financial crisis but ringfencing is unlikely to cause them much discomfort

When it comes to overhauling the banks, there is one handy rule of thumb: if it isn't hurting, it isn't working. Bankers must inevitably face some pain if taxpayers are to be made safer and economies more productive. This is not about retribution or vindictiveness, but simply an acknowledgment of the reality that the scope and scale of the changes to the banking system necessary to avoid a rerun of the great crisis of 2008-09 are big and radical. And this has been a matter of consensus between regulators, central bank chiefs, economists and politicians. Indeed, in the runup to last May's general election, Vince Cable and George Osborne competed with each other for the prize of being toughest on the banks.

Yet, listening tonight to Mr Osborne's second Mansion House speech as chancellor, it was clear that he had nothing up his sleeve that would cause any banker much discomfort. "London has topped the global league table of financial centres," he told the assembled City grandees. "We've got to stay in pole position." To this end, he briefed newspapers of his support for a ringfence around the retail operations of big banks, so that giant losses from their investment operations would not force the taxpayers to step in again. This is not a bad idea, as far as it goes; the only trouble is that it does not go very far. The City was not especially bothered by the proposal, originally suggested by Sir John Vickers and the Independent Commission on Banking. That much was clear by investors' reaction to the briefing. They marked down shares in the big five banks by an average of two percentage points on the day.

Ringfencing certainly does not match up to the promises made not so long ago by Mr Osborne as shadow chancellor that he would drive big banks to split into their high-finance and high-street units. And it certainly falls far short of Vince Cable's thunder in the runup to the general election last May. "Casinos belong in Las Vegas not in banking," Mr Cable famously remarked. "We want straightforward, simple banks which do the basics well; not laboratories for financial rocket scientists." Now business secretary, Mr Cable was not in the UK today to see another of his touchstone policies thrown away. Voters may also remember how Nick Clegg talked of turning the nationalised Northern Rock back into a building society, while Mr Osborne briefed reporters that he wanted to privatise it in a Tell Sid-style campaign. Tonight, both those pledges were binned, as the chancellor announced he now favoured selling the bank for £1bn to a bidder.

Taken together, and added to the junking of Labour's bonus tax and the watering-down of the coalition's own levy on bank balance sheets, the message is clear: Mr Osborne does want changes to the banking industry – but so small and so gentle that the financiers will barely feel them. If during the boom the Labour government was guilty of light-touch regulation, what the coalition is offering now is light-touch reform.

This is certainly not what either the Lib Dems or the Conservatives vowed in the general election. But there is more to this than the reneging on a promise. Speaking tonight, the chancellor talked of the British dilemma: yes, he wanted safer banks, but he also wanted a booming financial system. This does not answer the bigger questions about the future of the British economy: how will David Cameron achieve his "rebalancing" away from finance if bankers go back to business as usual? How will Mr Osborne get his "march of the makers" unless there is a better system for getting finance to manufacturers? Sorting out the banks is not just about making them more stable – it is also about using them to kickstart a wider economic renaissance. Tonight, the chancellor unveiled some proposals aimed at achieving the first objective, but without even a token stab at the bigger task.





The last working ocean-going paddlesteamer enlivens seaside resorts with its passing presence - but its future is under threat

Paddlesteamers are slow, inefficient and charming, which is why, every summer, tens of thousands of holidaymakers pay to take trips around Britain's coast on the delightfully antique PS Waverley. Unfortunately, they do not pay enough to guarantee the future of the world's last operational ocean-going paddlesteamer, which is now making what might turn out to be her farewell tour of seaside resorts. The charities which maintain and operate the vessel have launched an appeal to raise the £500,000 needed each year on top of fare revenue to keep her sailing. The total has soared thanks to rising fuel costs – up 60% in a year – which make the economics of keeping the ship at sea precarious. It is possible that rather than touring Britain's west and south coasts each summer, she will end up never straying from her Glasgow home berth. That would be a loss: the Waverley's passing presence enlivens seaside resorts but, as they have declined, so has her custom. Built in 1946, the Waverley chugged its way around Scotland's sea lochs and islands for the first part of its life, and has been kept afloat since then by a keen group of supporters. A few times a year she sails into London, passing under Tower Bridge; this week she is in the Bristol Channel, a living and active ship rather than the static museum piece she might one day become. Sunshine draws out the crowds: a wet summer this year, and a fall off in passenger numbers, might spell the end of a unique way to travel.






In a referendum Monday, an overwhelming 94 percent of Italian voters rejected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's plan to have Italy return to nuclear power generation. They also rejected water supply privatization and a law exempting him and other ministers from appearance in courts.

Clearly the people of Italy take a serious view of the accidents at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was badly damaged in the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Germany decided June 6 to abolish its 17 reactors by 2022 and Switzerland decided June 8 to stop its five reactors by 2034. Italy had stopped the operation of its five reactors at four locations by 1990, following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

After the Italian referendum, industry minister Banri Kaieda expressed his intention of continuing nuclear power generation by saying that nuclear power is an important pillar of Japan's energy policy. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara characterized Italian voters' decision as a product of "mass hysteria."

Japan may have to rely on nuclear power as a short-term policy to secure energy supply, since it cannot import electricity as European countries do. But these factors should not be used as an excuse to maintain reliance on nuclear power.

The Fukushima nuclear crisis has shown the risks of nuclear power generation. It is an unstable provider of electricity and is costly if indirect outlays, such as accident compensation, subsidies for host municipalities and the costs of disposing of spent nuclear fuel, are included.

Japan should accelerate the development of renewable sources for power generation, on which the policy pushed by the nuclear power establishment has put a brake for more than 10 years. The nation should strive to make full use of geothermal, solar and wind power sources, and to exploit the potential of biomass derived from wood and grass. Japan should also improve energy conservation and heat insulation of buildings. These efforts will help open a new frontier in technological innovation and create new job opportunities.

The monopoly in the power market must be broken so that small-scale green power generation can flourish. The process to make energy policy decisions must be made transparent to fully expose moves of the nuclear power lobby.





In meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Singapore on June 3, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told him that Japan would allow the United States to export to other countries an anti-missile missile being jointly developed by Japan and the U.S. if certain conditions are met.

Japan is expected to confirm this position in a meeting of Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers to be held in Washington on June 21.

The move could undermine Japan's long-standing weapons-exports ban, one of Japan's postwar diplomatic principles, first formed by the Sato Cabinet in 1967 and strengthened in 1976 by the Miki Cabinet.

It is highly regrettable that the Kan administration has made such an important decision without calling for informed discussions on the matter first. Since 1999, Japan and the U.S. have been jointly developing the SM-3 Block IIA missile, due to be a core element of a missile defense system and more capable than current missiles.

The missile's burnout velocity will be about 50 percent greater than that of earlier versions, and its kinetic warhead will be wider. It is expected that a prototype missile will be manufactured in 2011 for a launch test from a ship at sea. Components of the missile that Japan is in charge of developing include the rocket motor.

The U.S. has repeatedly requested that it be allowed to re-export the new missile system to other countries. In September 2009, the Obama administration disclosed a plan to deploy the SM-3 Block IIA missile by 2018 in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

In the meeting with Mr. Gates, Mr. Kitazawa set conditions for allowing the re-export of the missile: The re-export must contribute to Japan's security as well as international peace and security. And the missile must not be exported to yet another country from the country that has purchased it.

These conditions are too general. Japan should renew its determination not to become a country that relies on the defense industry and its exports for prosperity.

Japan should realize that the weapons-export ban serves as an important asset of diplomacy with regard to peace-building efforts in conflict-ravaged countries and areas.






MADRID — Just five months ago, Osama bin Laden was alive, Hosni Mubarak was firmly in control in Egypt, and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali ruled Tunisia with an iron hand. Today, popular rebellion and political change have spread throughout the region.

We have witnessed brutal repression of protests in Syria and Yemen, Saudi troops crossing into Bahrain, and an ongoing battle for Libya.

For Europe, the "Arab Spring" should refocus attention on an issue largely ignored in recent months: the benefits of Turkey's full membership in the European Union. Given the tremendous opportunities present in the current circumstances, the advantages for Europe of Turkey's accession should be obvious.

With Recep Tayyip Erdogan now elected to another term as Turkey's prime minister, and with Poland, a country well acquainted with the importance of Europe's strategic position in the world, assuming the EU presidency at the end of the month, now is a time for the EU and Turkey to "reset" their negotiations over Turkish membership.

The good that Turkey can bring to Europe was visible even before the Arab Spring. Europe is, by definition, culturally diverse, so diversity is the EU's destiny. And, if Europe is to become an active global player, rather than a museum, it needs the fresh perspective and energy of the people of Turkey.

Europe today is both larger and different compared to the Europe of 1999, when Turkey was invited to begin the accession process. It is also experiencing a profound economic crisis, which erupted around the same time that the Lisbon Treaty — aimed at accommodating EU enlargement — was finally approved. Had the treaty been approved in 2005 as intended, it would have been in place for six years, and the strain placed by the crisis on EU economic governance — so visible in the euro zone's recent problems — would have been much more manageable.

But the EU always faces problems, resolves them, and moves on. Today, we don't have a treasury, but we are about to have something similar. Similarly, the European Central Bank has capacities today that no one imagined in, say, 1997.

A major challenge that Europe must still face is migration, which will only become a bigger problem over time. Between now and 2050, Europe's workforce will decrease by 70 million. Maintaining our economy requires migration and open EU borders — and facing down the populist movements in Europe that would shun "outsiders."

Today's Turkey has also changed dramatically since 1999, both politically and economically, and this has much to do with the EU accession process. Indeed, without the attraction of the EU — its "soft" power — such changes would not have occurred.

Economically, Turkey is now in the G20 — and playing an effective role there. And, politically, Turkey has emerged as a regional leader, a role that it takes extremely seriously.

With just-concluded parliamentary elections, and a new constitution to be approved, Turkey is approaching an epochal moment. I was a member of the Spanish Constitutional Commission that wrote the Spanish Constitution in 1975 and 1976, following the death of Franco, so I know what it is to move from dictatorship to democracy — and how important it is that a constitution be framed by consensus.

The EU-Turkey relationship began with an association agreement signed in 1963. Now the accession negotiations have started, and 35 "chapters" — covering everything from agriculture to energy, competition, environment, employment, social policy, and beyond — must be opened. We have already opened 19 chapters — fewer than we would like. But the real problem is that we have closed only one, and, worse, the pace of negotiations has slowed. In fact, in the second half of 2010, nothing happened. I hope that meaningful progress comes in 2011.

Turkey and the EU need each other. The EU now accounts for 75 percent of foreign investment in Turkey and roughly half its exports and inward tourism. Likewise, Europe's energy security depends on cooperation with Turkey on transit of oil and natural gas from Central Asia and the Middle East.

We need each other politically as well. Turkey's neighborhood is our neighborhood; its problems are our problems. The security benefits and strategic advantages for the EU with Turkey as a member would be many, starting with the relationship between the EU and NATO, of which Turkey has long been a member.

Likewise, the EU's involvement in today's problems in the Mediterranean region would be much easier in concert with Turkey. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, EU-Turkey cooperation is fundamental to achieving a durable solution.

In 1999, Turkey did not want to become an accession candidate, because its leaders thought that the conditions would be too tough. I was there; I talked to Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit at midnight, then to President Süleyman Demirel. And, two days later, Ecevit was in Helsinki to declare formally Turkey's wish to become an EU member. And we said: Turkey will be an EU member. I supported the signature of that document; I would do the same today.

In these times, difficult and unpredictable but full of hope, the world needs Turkey and the EU to work together. That does not mean meeting every now and then to decide how to handle a certain problem. It means something much deeper and well defined. It means Turkey's admission to the EU.

That is my dream, and I will continue to fight to make it a reality.

Javier Solana formerly the European Union's high representative for foreign and security policy, and a former secretary general of NATO, is a distinguished senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and president of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics. © 2011 Project Syndicate






For most Palestinians, leaving Gaza through Egypt is as exasperating a process as entering it. Governed by political and cultural sensitivities, most Palestinian officials and public figures refrain from criticizing the way Palestinians are treated at the Rafah border.

There is really no diplomatic language to describe the relationship between desperate Palestinians — some literally fighting for their lives — and Egyptian officials at the crossing which separates Gaza from Egypt.

"Gazans are treated like animals at the border," I was told by a friend who was afraid that her fiancé would not be allowed to leave Gaza, despite having his papers in order. Having crossed the border myself just a few days earlier, I could not disagree with her statement.

The New York Times reported June 8: "After days of acrimony between Hamas and Egypt over limitations on who could pass through the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, Hamas said Egypt had agreed to allow 550 people a day to leave Gaza and to lengthen the operating hours of the crossing."

And so the saga continues.

A few weeks after an official Egyptian announcement to "permanently" open the border — thus extending a lifeline for trapped Palestinians under siege in Gaza — the Rafah border was opened for two days of conditional operation in late May, and then closed again for four days. Now it has once more "reopened."

All the announcements are proving to be no more than rhetoric. The latest "permanent" reopening has come with its own conditions and limitations, involving such factors as gender, age, purpose of visit, and so on.

"Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country," states Article 13 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This universal principle, however, continues to evade most Palestinians in Gaza. I was one of the very first Palestinians who stood at Rafah following the announcement of a "permanent" opening. Our bus waited at the gate for a long time. I watched a father repeatedly try to reassure his crying 6-year-old child, who displayed obvious signs of a terrible bone disease.

"Get the children out or they will die," shouted an older passenger as he gasped for air. The heat in the bus, combined with the smell of trapped sweat was unbearable.

Passengers took it upon themselves to leave the bus and stand outside, enduring disapproving looks from the Egyptian officials. Our next task was finding clean water and a shady spot in the arid zone separating the Egypt and Palestinian sides. There were no restrooms.

A tangible feeling of despair and humiliation could be read on the faces of the Gaza passengers. No one seemed to be in the mood to speak of the Egyptian revolution, a favorite topic of conversation among most Palestinians. This zone is governed by an odd relationship, one that goes back many years — well before Egypt, under Hosni Mubarak, decided to shut down the border in 2006 in order to aid in the political demise of Hamas.

The issue actually has nothing to do with gender, age or logistics. All Palestinians are treated very poorly at the Rafah crossing, and they continue to endure even after the toppling of Mubarak, his family and the dismissal of the corrupt security apparatus. The Egyptian revolution is yet to reach Gaza.

When the bus was finally allowed to enter about five hours later, Palestinians dashed into the gate, desperately hoping to be among the lucky ones allowed to go in. The anxiety of the travelers usually makes them vulnerable to workers at the border who promise them help in exchange for negotiated amounts of money. All of this is actually a con, as the decision is made by a single man, referred to as al-Mukhabarat, the "intelligence."

Some are sent back while others are allowed entry. Everyone is forced to wait for many hours — sometimes even days — with no clear explanation as to what they are waiting for, or why they are being sent back.

The very ill 6-year-old held onto his dad's jacket as they walked about, frantically trying to fulfill all the requirements. Both seemed like they were about to collapse.

The Mukhabarat determined that three Gaza students on their way to their universities in Russia were to be sent back. They had jumped through many hoops already to make it so far. Their hearts sank when they heard the verdict. I protested on their behalf, and the decision was as arbitrarily reversed as it was originally made.

Those who are sent back to Gaza are escorted by unsympathetic officers to the same open spot, to wait for the same haggard bus. Some of those who are allowed entry are escorted by security personnel across the Sinai desert, all the way to Cairo International Airport to be "deported" to their final destinations. They are all treated like common criminals.

"I can't watch my son die in front of my eyes," screamed the father of 11-year-old Mohammed Ali Saleh, according to Mohammed Omer for IPS (June 10). He was addressing Egyptian troops days after the border was supposedly "permanently" reopened — for the second time in less than a week.

Such compelling needs as medical treatment, education and freedom keep bringing Palestinians back. The Israeli siege has choked Gaza to the point of near strangulation. Egypt is Gaza's only hope.

"I beg you to open the crossing ... You brothers of Egypt have humiliated us for so long. Isn't it time we had our dignity back?" said Naziha Al-Sebakhi, 63, one of the many distressed faces at the Rafah border, according to Mohammed Omer.

As they crossed into Egypt, some of the passengers seemed euphoric. Despite everything, the young men seemed to hold no resentment whatsoever towards Egypt. "I just love Egypt ... I don't know why," said Majid.

I thought of the 6-year-old boy and his dad. I wonder if they made it to the hospital on time.

Ramzy Baroud is a columnist and editor of







LONDON — The unexpected visibility and assertiveness of women in the revolutions unfolding across the Arab world — in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and elsewhere — has helped propel what has become variously known as the "Arab awakening" or "Arab Spring." Major changes have occurred in the minds and lives of women, helping them to break through the shackles of the past, and to demand their freedom and dignity.

Since January, images of millions of Arab women demonstrating alongside men have been beamed around the world by television journalists, posted on YouTube, and splashed on the front pages of newspapers. One saw women from all walks of life marching in hope of a better future, for themselves and for their countries.

They appeared prominently — eloquent and outspoken, marching daily, holding caricatures of dictators and chanting calls for democratic change. They walked, bussed, traveled in carts, telephoned and tweeted with compatriots, motivated in part by social demands — above all for their own empowerment.

The contrast between this dynamic space for open protest and Saudi Arabia could hardly be starker. Saudi women find themselves living in a petrified system. Faces of the royal family are seen everywhere; the faces of women are shrouded, forcibly hidden.

Nowhere else in the world do we see modernity experienced as such a problem. Skyscrapers rise out of the desert, yet women are not permitted to ride with men in their lifts. Nor are they allowed to walk in the streets, drive a car, or leave the country without the permission of a male guardian.

Fatima, a young woman from Mecca, sent me an email at the height of the Egyptian revolution: "Forget about the cries for freedom; I can't even give birth without being accompanied to hospital by a mihrim (male guardian)." She went on, "And the mataw'a (the religious police, known officially as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, and whose leader has ministerial rank) have been given the right to humiliate us in public." Indeed, the mataw'a saw their wide powers enhanced even more by decrees issued by King Abdullah in March, after helping to suppress protests in the kingdom earlier in the month.

Yet globalization knows no limits, not even those set by the guardians of Islamic probity. Nine-year-old Saudi girls chat online, disregarding fatwas issued by Wahhabi clerics that forbid them access to the Internet without the supervision of a male guardian. Many women remain secretly glued to satellite television channels, watching their peers in the public squares of Egypt or Yemen, beyond their reach but not beyond their imagination.

On May 21, a brave woman named Manal al Sharif broke the silence and apathy, daring to defy the ban on women driving. For the next week, she sat in a Saudi prison. But, within two days of her detention, 500,000 viewers had watched the YouTube video of her excursion. Thousands of Saudi women, frustrated and humiliated by the ban, have vowed to stage a "driving day" on Friday.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women to drive cars. The system of confinement that the ban represents is justified neither by Islamic texts, nor by the nature of the diverse society that the Al Saud and their Wahhabi partners' rule. Indeed, it is far removed even from the rest of the Arab world — which has become glaringly obvious in the context of massive social upheaval almost everywhere else in the region.

Enforced segregation is mirrored in every aspect of Saudi life. Religious education constitutes up to 50 percent of students' curriculum. As a result, Wahhabi dogma penetrates every home in the country. Textbooks — pink for girls, blue for boys, each with different contents — emphasize the rules prescribed by Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, an eighteenth-century cleric and the founder of Wahhabism.

The Saudi judicial system is one of the most formidable obstacles to women's aspirations, relying on Islamic interpretations that protect a defensive patriarchal system. Indeed, not only do judges' decisions support the system, but the reverse is also true: patriarchy has become the driving force of the law.

Thus, Saudi women are barred from the legal profession on the basis of a Wahhabi stricture that "a woman is lacking in mind and religion." In other words, the rule of law in Saudi Arabia is the rule of misogyny — the comprehensive legal exclusion of women from the public sphere.

Saudi rulers have announced that demonstrations are haram — a sin punishable by jail and flogging. Now some clerics have pronounced driving by women to be foreign-inspired haram, punishable in the same way. Yet, despite such threats, thousands of Saudi women joined "We are all Manal al Sharif" on Facebook, and countless other videos of women driving have appeared on YouTube since her arrest.

Like Mamal, they, too, have been detained, and the government appears determined to prosecute them. But Wajeha al Huwaider, Bahia al Mansour, Rasha al Maliki, and many other activists are nonetheless insisting that driving a car is their legitimate right, and are eloquently demanding the removal of restrictions and an end to women's dependency.

Rosa Parks' revolutionary bravery in refusing to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, municipal bus in 1955 helped spark the American civil rights movement. We shall soon find out whether Manal al Sharif's defiance of the Saudi regime's systemic confinement of women produces a similar effect.

Mai Yamani's most recent book is "Cradle of Islam." © 2011 Project Syndicate








The country's path to becoming a full-fledged democracy is at stake. An inquiry into an allegedly forged document that affected the outcome of one lawmaker's election in 2009 has brought to light blatant flaws in election organization – the key element of Indonesia's democracy.

The case has jeopardized the process of the democratization that was initiated in the wake of the fall of the New Order regime in 1998. Further, former Democratic party treasurer and House legislator Muhammad Nazaruddin has been implicated in a high-profile corruption scandal.

All these allegations will tarnish the nation's status as the world's third largest democracy after India and the United States. The forgery allegations implicate Andi Nurpati, the former General Elections Commission (KPU) member who resigned to join the ruling Democratic Party last year.

After a week of media speculation, indications of flaws in the organization of the 2009 House elections were unveiled during during a hearing of the House of Representative's Commission II overseeing domestic governance and top officials of the KPU and the Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) on Tuesday.

The case came into the spotlight after Constitutional Court chief Mahfud MD filed a police report in February 2010 alleging that Andi, currently Democratic Party spokeswoman, forged a court letter during the 2009 elections.

At that time, the Constitutional Court (MK) was hearing a dispute between Dewi Yasin Limpo of the People's Conscience Party (Hanura) and Mestariyani Habie of the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), both of whom claimed to have won a seat in the House to represent the South Sulawesi I electoral district.

The KPU eventually awarded Hanura the disputed seat during an Aug. 21, 2009, plenary session based on a MK letter dated Aug. 14, 2009.

KPU chief Abdul Hafiz Anshary, however, told the lawmakers on Commission II that the letter, which, incidentally, turned out to be bogus, was found on a staff member's desk on Aug. 15, 2009.

On Sept. 11, 2009, the Constitutional Court sent a letter to the KPU with the authentic letter attached, stating that the substance of the forged letter did not accord with the court's ruling. In the authentic letter, dated Aug. 17, 2009, the court ruled that Gerindra had won the dispute and the House seat.

Andi denied the allegations, saying that she never received the authentic court letter and blamed her former driver at the KPU for his failure to forward the letter to the appropriate people in the KPU.

Despite Andi's denials, the revelation by Constitutional Court chief Mahfud in February last year and the confirmation by the KPU chief on Tuesday are clear indications of irregularities surrounding the 2009 legislative election.

The officials' statements have supported claims made by individual legislative candidates and their supporting political parties prior to the announcement of the election's final results at the end of 2009.

Legally, the statements by the chiefs of the Constitutional Court and the KPU will need to be supported by evidence to prove allegations of irregularities and flaws in the 2009 legislative election are true.

It is the duty of the nation's law enforcement agencies to follow up these allegations. The country's future as a democracy is at stake.





Recent talks about bringing Pancasila classes back into the school curriculum give me an eerie feeling that we have been there before.

But what I find most disturbing is that there has been little or no opposition to the plan to indoctrinate our children with the state ideology once again.

Does this silence mean that everyone agrees, or do those who have reservations keep their mouth shut for fear being branded "un-Pancasila"? The myth of Pancasila power remains strong.

If recent history is any indication, this new fixation with indoctrination would not stop with schools. The class would soon be extended to universities, and before long, it would become a required course for civil servants, teachers, journalists and other professions considered strategic. Anyone aspiring for leadership positions in government, business and non-profit organizations must pass certain loyalty tests run by the state.

Déjà vu. Soeharto is back.

Once every one of us has taken the class, we would all become Pancasila-ists, and some of us are more Pancasila-ist than others. Everyone would be measured by their loyalty to the state ideology. Those who flunk the classes would be considered as enemies of the state.

Since there is no institution more loyal to the state than the military, the tasks of formulating and administering the Pancasila indoctrination classes would fall into their hand. Is this an entry point for our men in uniform to return to politics? God forbid.

The nation became privy to see who among our leaders is the most Pancasila-ist during the 66th anniversary commemoration of the state ideology last week. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and former presidents B.J. Habibie and Megawati Soekarnoputri took turns to speak, in which all agreed that the nation's comprehension of Pancasila is rapidly fading.

The event turned into a speech competition of sort as each tried to outdo the others in denouncing the nation's failure to live up to the ideals of Pancasila. Ironically, they were talking about a period when Indonesia was under their watch. Either they were self-deprecating, or each was trying to pass the buck.

Megawati said the nation was losing its orientation, identity and hopes. Habibie talked about how Pancasila is disappearing from the nation's collective memory. Yu-dhoyono cited a survey that showed an overwhelming majority believe in Pancasila, but this was somewhat contradicted by the answer from the same respondents about the need to revive Pancasila classes in school. If everyone believes in Pancasila, why do we still need to take classes?

In the absence of any real debate, you cannot blame the President if he followed up his plan to revitalize Pancasila along the lines suggested by the survey: Through schools and universities.

At the risk of being branded as un-Pancasila, let me be the one to openly state my objection (and here, I want to invoke my constitutional right to free speech).

While I am all for Pancasila, it is best to leave those principles alone, without trying to elaborate upon them and turn them into a political doctrine. Indonesia's first president Sukarno, who was accredited with developing Pancasila and the other founding fathers of the republic were correct in putting those principles in the Preamble to the Constitution.

They never called it a state ideology, but recognized that these are principles or values that define Indonesia. Everyone in the country is welcome to come up with his or her interpretation of what those words mean. They are so general that most everyone in the country can feel comfortable with. There is nothing to reject among those five principles (unless you're an atheist, which will be in violation of the first principle: Belief in One God).

Pancasila becomes a set of restrictive principles when it is turned into a state ideology. Soeharto came up with his interpretation and then imposed it on the rest of the nation, through schools and organizations. In his hand, Pancasila became a tool of repression.

When you turn Pancasila into an ideology, you are putting it head to head against other ideologies that are bound to flourish in an open society such as Indonesia. Before long, the state would feel compelled to ban all those other "foreign" ideologies that could threaten Pancasila and the state.

You couldn't do a greater disservice to Pancasila by turning it into an ideology as you would kill democracy.

In his speech President Yudhoyono put the nation on this dangerous course when he singled out religious-based doctrines as the greatest threats to Pancasila. He has alienated political Islam, the ideology of many political parties in Indonesia, two of which are in his coalition government. Soeharto suppressed political Islam, in the name of Pancasila, but he only forced it to go underground, which made it invincible and more dangerous.

This perception of ideological threats to Pancasila comes from misreading the situation.

Indonesia is not under threat from Islamist ideology — or from any other ideology for that matter. But Indonesia is coming under threat from the repeated violence perpetrated by groups that wave the Islamic banners. This is not a problem of ideology as much as a problem of law enforcement (or a gross lack of it). If the government seriously wants to live up to the Pancasila ideals, it should crack down against groups that threaten the religious plurality of the nation.

If Pancasila is not an ideology, how do you best describe what it is?

How about making it something akin to the American Dream — the national ethos that guarantees every US citizen rights to pursue the greatest happiness in the land of equal opportunities?

Like the American Dream, Pancasila is a living entity, one that embodies Indonesia.

A state based on Pancasila is a market place for all ideas and ideologies from which the nation chooses what is best for them, through democratic means, in the pursuit of a just and prosperous society. The fact that Indonesia is home to all the religions in the world is a testament to the openness of our people to beliefs and cultures from outside for hundreds of years, long before the republic came into being.

Next year on June 1, instead of going through another round of speeches, we should mark the birth of Pancasila with arts and cultural performances — songs, dances, movies and others — that reflect the rich diversity of this nation.

We will be celebrating the fact that every citizen can make Indonesia their home, irrespective of race, ethnicity, customs and tradition, language, religion, gender and sexual orientation, age, social and economic status, and yes, political beliefs too, in their common pursuit of a just and prosperous society.

The writer is senior editor of The Jakarta Post and is currently a fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.







The fact that Japanese PM Naoto Kan recently survived no confidence motion signals that the country's triple tragedy is being compounded by a fourth.

After the earthquake and Tsunami, and with on-going uncertainty over nuclear power plants, the Japanese society has responded with stoicism and solidarity. But Japanese politics is an emerging tragedy.

Kan survived only by giving a vague promise to quit after the current crisis abates. His is only the latest twist in a long drawn out crisis of confidence, seeing five Premiers in four years. Political divisions are not just between the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), so long in power, but also within factions of the DPJ.

PM Kan does not enjoy widespread support. But nor does any other politician. Now in opposition, the LDP is threatening to block the budget for reconstruction even as the country grapples with the aftermath, with 100,000 still homeless from the Tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear yet to be contained. The LDP has attacked Kan's handling of the nuclear crisis, with little self-awareness that it regulated the nuclear power industry since its infancy.

Hope is fading that in response to the tragedy, Japan might rally, reform and restart growth. The dysfunction of the Japanese political system is of concern, and not just to the country itself.

The Japanese economy still matters. Disruptions in Japan have rippled through global supply chains, affecting production in Thailand and other Asian manufacturing locations. With the American economy facing a double-dip and European softness, the number 3 economy in the world needs to do better.

Japan also matters in the regional politics. This is some question the nature of a rising China and the capacity of a more constrained America to continue its forward presence in the Asia Pacific.

Japan cannot and should not seek to contain China. But its active diplomacy could an important component in the region's overall balance. Conversely, internal preoccupations and a revolving door of leaders will increase concerns about Chinese dominance.

The normal politics is not working and Japanese need to think of abnormal solutions.

If PM Kan cannot control factions in the DPJ, including former PM Hatoyama, should he not appeal directly to citizens?

PM Kan asked for a grand alliance between his DPJ-led government and the LDP but this was rejected. Should Kan look to beyond the current leaders to someone like retired PM Koizumi who left while still popular and tried to reform the LDP from within?

While politicians bicker, the Imperial household has been appreciated for its attention to the victims of the tragedy. Might not this symbolic institution of the country try to foster consensus?

Many may dismiss these suggestions as unrealistic. But this is an extraordinary time for Japan, akin to the aftermath of war, and demands extraordinary answers. Japanese must themselves think outside of the Bento-box of political divisions. Otherwise, two trends are emerging.

First, American influence on Japan is increasing and the US-Japan alliance has re-strengthened. This results from both the quick and generous support the US has given to the tragedy as well as the real Japanese concerns arising from the dispute with China over the Senkaku islands. The US — concerned about Asia but facing domestic issues and budget tightening — may also find it useful to lean on Tokyo.

While their alliance is a given, an assertive America and a drifting Japan will make for over-dependence. Japan's role in Asian regionalism will be colored accordingly, especially if relations with China grow tense.

The second trend is that citizens and corporations in Japan are not looking to the politicians to provide answers. Self help groups and community organizations have grown to shoulder many of the burdens post-crisis. Japanese corporations have been responding to the disruptions to get their businesses and exports back to normal.

The emerging responses is for corporate and civic improvisations, and not government action. But this does not happily translate to a consistent policy for foreign engagements. Looking past government can be especially dangerous given the amount of rebuilding that must come next, and the already enormous government debt in the country. Confidence in the Japanese government is important.

Historically, American black ships opened up Japanese to foreign trade and, post-WWII, Japan was effectively run and remade by MacArthur. Today's Japan needs a re-opening and reform, as PM Kan has already recognized and called for.

But a solution — and perhaps an unorthodox one to break the present politics and head off the  next crisis — needs to come from Japan itself.

The writer is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and author of Asia Alone: The Dangerous Post Crisis Divide from America






Since the scandal surrounding the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) broke, you'd be forgiven for thinking the inevitable because judging by the glowing words in leading papers across Europe and the US, it appears that it is a fait accompli that it will be Christine Lagarde, the finance minister of France who will be replacing him.

A not so dissimilar thing happened when the American Robert Zoellick walked (some would say strolled) into the World Bank job when Paul Wolfowitz resigned. So the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are right to challenge this and the continued duopoly of Europe and the US over the IMF and the World Bank respectively.

The IMF and the World Bank were founded as the two main financial organizations of the post-war economic restructuring. Though their roles have changed over time, their symbolism remains constant, particularly in asserting the importance of economic cooperation against isolationism.

However, this principal should be extended further so that the choice of leaders at their head becomes more transparent and open rather than a political stitch up. We could for example, learn from the appointment of the director general of the World Trade Organization.

This was a hotly contested battle the last time with the two leading candidates splitting their term between Michael Moore of New Zealand and Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand.

However, it is not only the structural nature of the IMF, which has been called into question. It should also reflect on its stagnant economic ideology.

Take for example the response to the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98. During the 1990s, the IMF developed an economic philosophy whereby it issued large rescue loans contingent on extensive "conditionality" generally including tight fiscal policy, widespread privatization and other structural reform.

Namely, most fund members believe in markets and market-based solutions to problems, which is quite different from the interventionist instincts of many in Asia.

The application of this philosophy in the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98 caused lingering resentment among some emerging market borrowers forced to undertake extensive medium-term restructuring of their economies in return for short-term crisis loans.

Added to this mix is the rapidly evolving global economy, which has changed radically particularly with the rise of the emerging economies. For example, the huge US current account deficit is financed by the inflow of surplus savings from countries such as China.

According to the IMF's own statistics, the share of the EU in global output and purchase power parity will shrink from 25 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2015 reflecting well the growth in South-South trade particularly between India and China.

Appointing an IMF CEO from outside Europe would be a belated but significant recognition of this shift in economic influence. Indeed the G7 forum of the main industrialized economies has naturally expanded to become G20, to reflect this change.

Is it not time, therefore, for the IMF and World Bank to do the same with its share-holding make up? On the IMF Executive Board the US and EU countries are dominant with their respective 17 and 32 percent share blocks.

How then, can the Dutch continue to sustain a similar shareholding to India?

Also the leading candidate is not without baggage. The first thing to land in the IMF in-tray for the new CEO is the impending Euro zone crisis again.

Lagarde has a public record of defending the indefensible according to the Economist magazine, as she has already played a central role in forming the Euro zone's response to its debt crisis.

Here the IMF would have to be an impartial arbiter of good economic policy and thus the only organization, which could force a rethink of the Euro zone strategy toward Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Could the poacher really become game keeper and retain creditability on this critical issue?

This when it is regarded that the IMF has been soft on Europe so far and a lot tougher with Asian countries during its financial crisis in the late 1990s.

So with the 10th of June deadline already passed, a stitch-up would truly be a disgrace. Such powerful and influential international posts like this should be filled according to merit.

Otherwise, what's the difference between this selection process and the FIFA election of its "President for Life", Sepp Blatter, which we recently witnessed?

At least each country's football federation shared an equal vote, as opposed to the share percentage bias enjoyed by the US and Europe on the IMF Executive Board. This must change as well, but first Europe's monopoly on the IMF leadership needs to end.

If it refuses to change, then its very relevance within the global economy will inevitably be called into question, particularly with the increasingly relevant and influential emerging economies.

The writer is associate of Strategic Asia Europe








The announcement by the Indian center to 'strengthen' relations between Sri Lanka and India by way of a visit to the country by the Indian Premier Manmohan Singh, must come as a welcome shift in Indian diplomacy often seen taking uncalled for dips. India is the friend and neighbour we can ill afford to have on a wrong footing, especially at this stage. Coming in the wake of the recent adoption of the Tamil Nadu Assembly to seek redress on the allegations against the Sri Lankan government of crimes committed against the Tamil civilians during the last stages of the war, the compulsions that dictate the Indian center's push towards such a visit are obvious.

That the recent Indian delegation's visit to the country was preceded by a stopover in Tamil Nadu is a clear indicator of the commitments bearing heavy on New Delhi. Commitments; that Colombo must be both sensitive and alert to. Whether Colombo responds to such manoeuvrings with China strong on its back or not, we cannot afford to ignore the crucial nature of India, receiving its place in the Human Rights Council in less than three months. The fact that she replaces our strong ally Pakistan is an aspect that must bear significance in how we deal with New Delhi at this point – an aspect New Delhi must no doubt have alluded to at the recent meets.

If her deafening silence at the just ended hearings in Geneva in the midst of pressure on Colombo to move faster on a political solution based largely on its' 13th Amendment is any indicator, it is safe to assume that India has changed little in her foreign policy. Or; what little of it she desires to adopt when dealing with her immediate neighbours each time they are pushed to the wall.

It is therefore incumbent upon the Rajapaksa regime to invest in mechanisms that will prevent the means of interferences that international pressure groups including the United Nations can have a larger share in how we deal with matters domestically. A committed look at a political standing that can allow for greater engagement of the minorities is the best possible mechanism that can provide both the security and the political strength that the country desires. A strengthened LLRC that is more committed to this aspect and a speedier implementation of the rehabilitation process are the most prudent means available to the government to ensure that no further infringements of the country's sovereignty are allowed at this time.  






The 1992  Convention on the Rights of the Child, a binding convention signed by every member nation of the United Nations and formally ratified by all but Somalia and the United States, declares that the upbringing and development of children and a standard of living adequate for the children's development is a common responsibility of both parents and a fundamental human right for children, and asserts that the primary responsibility to provide such for the children rests with their parents.

Child support

In many instances of child support, the non custodial parent provides the custodial parent payments for support of children. There is no gender requirement that either a father or mother must pay.

All international and national child support regulations recognize that every parent has an obligation to support his or her child. Therefore, both parents are required to share the responsibility for their child (ren)'s expenses. Support money collected is expected to be used for the child's expenses, including food, shelter, clothing and educational needs. They are not meant to function as "spending money" for the child.

Child support orders may earmark funds for specific items for the child, such as school fees, day care or medical expenses. In some cases, the non custodial parent may pay for these items directly rather than remitting money through the custodial parent.

Collaborative parenting

Shared parenting encourages children to know both parents are actively involved and share responsibility in their upbringing. Its also referred to as "collaborative parenting", "balanced parenting" or "equal shared parenting", and can also apply after the separation of adoptive or other non-biological parents. "Equally shared parenting" refers more commonly to child raising, breadwinning, housework and recreation time that are equally shared between two parents in an intact family.

Failure of protection

While these are international norms, Sri Lanka though a signatory to the CRC with scores of laws for child protection (above) allows or actively assists in variations.

These include entertaining claims of clients colluding with lawyers who claim child support while being in the custody of a parent and actively defrauding children of their parents funds. In other instances, gender biases are shown with one parent having to bear the responsibility of support and parenting or applications for maintenance are dragged on with long dates taken, with interim benefits enjoyed by petitioners who seem in no hurry to have finality to their applications. Collaborative parenting is not always the norm particularly when children face custodial issues.

The most pernicious practice is the denial of the right of children to claim the responsibilities of both parents for their development and care. Conversely, the right of parenting of a parent is denied when children are taken away from one or in extreme instances from both parents due to social and economic reasons.

This could be argued as the State violating the CRC and abusing rights of children. Children sent to 'homes' are in most instances due to problems associated with finances and breakdown in families from low income categories who face the absence of parental contact and communication.

It is precisely in such instances every effort must be made to restore or maintain contact with parent(s) as an obligation. Efforts must be towards assisting families deal and adopt approaches to prevent institutionalizing children.

Children are voiceless and not able to make many of the claims mentioned which are their rights in Sri Lanka. Those who have been associated with promoting the rights of children bear a heavy responsibility for on going failures in protection. Many are the funds accumulated, venue reservations, meetings, projects, reports, teas and cakes associated with months and years passing with little or no progress. Charades of sickening proportions. Even a comprehensive set of recommendations on areas for implementation and reform commissioned by then Justice Minister Moragoda lay  ignored.

These include the conclusion of children's cases in three months in a context of close on 4,000 cases awaiting conclusion last year. There was exposure recently on injustices perpetrated under the archaic Vagrance Ordinance which persecuted the poor with calls for its recall. The call has been heard.

Similarly, this is  a call to ensure fundamental rights of children are safeguarded, particularly those living in unfortunate circumstances who are victims of gross insensitivity of most stakeholders meant to champion their welfare.

Is it time government agencies mandated to protect children are charged for their omissions by and on behalf of children, clients who use the law for unsavoury practices with helper lawyers are slapped with penalties for wasting Court time or flung out of court in the shortest time?

Draft List of Laws that related to children in Sri Lanka

·      Adoption of Children Ordinance No. 24 of 1949 as amended by Act No. 15 of 1992

·      Children & Young Persons Ordinance No. 48 of 1939 as amended

·      Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act No 48 of 1956

·      Citizenship (Amendment) Act No 16 of 2003 –

·      Civil Procedure Code (1889) and relevant amendments.

·      Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act No 20 of 1995; 19 of 1997 and 28 of 1998

·      Community Based Corrections Act No. 46 of 1999

·      Constitution of 1978 and 13th Amendment to the Constitution

·      Corporal Punishment (Repeal) Act No 23 of 2005

·      Drug Dependent Persons (Treatment and Rehabilitation) Act No. 54 of 2007

·      Education Ordinance No 31 of 1939

·      Employment of Women Young Persons and Children's Ordinance No 47 of 1956 as amended

·      Evidence (Special Provisions) Act No. 32 of 1999

·      Factory Ordinance (1942)

·      General Marriages Ordinance (1907) as amended

·      Houses of Detention Ordinance (1907) as amended

·      Immigration and Emigration Act (1948)

·      International Convention on Civil and Political Rights Act No. 56 of 2007

·      Judicature Act (1999)

·      Kandyan Marriage and Divorce Act in 1995

·      Maintenance Act No. 37 of 1999

·      Mediation Boards Act as amended by Act No.4 of 2011

·      National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act No. 27 of 2006

·      National Child Protection Authority Act No. 50 of 1998

·      Obscene Publications Ordinance (1927) as amended

·      Offences committed under the influence of liquor Act (1979)

·      Orphanages Ordinance (1941) as amended

·      Payment of Fines Ordinance No. 49 of 1938

·      Penal Code (1883)

·      Penal Code Amendment Acts No 16 of 2006

·      Penal Code Amendment Acts No 29 of 1998

·      Penal Code Amendment Acts No.22 of 1995

·      Prevention of Domestic Violence Act No. 34 of 2005

·      Probation of Offenders Ordinance No. 42 of 1944

·      Registration of births and deaths as amended (1951)

·      Release of Remand Prisoners Act No. 8 of 1991

·      Shops and Office Employees Act (1954)

·      Tsunami Act (2005)

·      Vagrants Ordinance No 4 of 1841

·      Youthful Offenders (Training School) Ordinance No 28 of 1939 as amended






Cont. from yesterday.

Support is always given with a price tag and these support promises do not come cheap and will always seek to drain the nation of its resources or even compromise its sovereign status. Currently threats of being taken to the International Criminal Court are meant to have the Sri Lankan Government agree to western gameplans.

US & NATO troops have killed thousands of civilians. As of March 2011, 4,441 Americans have died in Iraq as have as many as 150,000 civilians, and another 4.5 million civilians have been displaced. In Afghanistan, 1,513 Americans have died and, as many as 8,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and another 3.7 million refugees are internally displaced or living in neighboring countries. U.S. is spending $100 million per day in Libya. A no-flight zone over the northern part of Libya could cost $400 million to $800 million for the initial strikes. It had also projected costs of $30 million to $100 million a week to patrol the area. Just one Tomahawk missile costs $1.4 million. More than 178 Tomahawk missiles were fired, worth $250 million.  Could the US, NATO and the UK not think of anything else to do with people's money?

Sri Lanka has practically re-housed all of the displaced, rehabilitating and released even hard-core LTTE fighters. Can the US, UK, NATO or even the Indians boast of anything near such achievements? 

We are made to believe that the common enemy is China. Given that India is well aware that tomorrow's power houses economically are China and Russia, it would be impractical to think India would throw in their lot with US which is bankrupt on paper.

What President Rajapaksa needs to do now is to immediately hold a referendum to ask his people what they desire. This is a perfect means to repeal the 13th amendment and be rid of these foreign interferences forever.  

True, India may need to appease the Tamil Nadu vote base and its corrupt politicians but India needs to know & India needs to be reminded that Sri Lanka is not a part of India. 

India's ruling elite are the Brahmin North Indians hence; there is a difference in treatment offered to the South Indians. Both know the reality of this statement. Similarly, the Tamils in Sri Lanka are more divided than united. How many Jaffna Tamils would today even serve tea in the same tea cups they use to low caste Tamils? How many Jaffna Tamils would today allow their children to marry Eastern Tamils or up-country Tamils? With such divides amongst them how can they ever live in an Eelam had it ever been created? Then there is the "discrimination" tag. How many Tamils openly say they would sell their houses only to Tamils? Eelam was only to hoodwink separatist tendencies away from India while in Sri Lanka the Eelam struggle was merely to allow Prabakaran and his merry men to defeat the class struggle amongst their own people and for the Tamil Diaspora to become richer by playing upon the sympathy tag and collecting funds that went primarily into their bank accounts and for their luxurious living. 

If over 90% of the 20 million population can speak and understand Sinhala why does the country need to be divided along regional languages? If there are Tamils amongst us who feel that Tamils are denied its right to a homeland they are advised to look at Tamil Nadu as the rightful place for that homeland. 97% of the world's Tamil populace lives in Tamil Nadu. If Tamils feel India will help carve Eelam in Sri Lanka, Tamils must look at history and question why India crushed the "We Tamil Movement" and quickly brought in legislature to stop any person or party from seeking to separate from India. Tamils are encouraged to go through countless attempts made by Tamil Nadu upon the North Indian regime to give due prominence to Tamil language and Tamil history which have been totally ignored. Tamils cannot forget that the orange featured on Sri Lanka's national flag depicts Tamil ethnicity as does Green for Muslims. Where has such provisions been given for just 2.4million people, where the Sinhalese number 14.8 million?

We can empathize with some Tamils who used LTTE terrorism as a means to go as refugees and help their families back home. Those who used the tag of ethnic discrimination to fill these embassy forms will have their conscience tell the actual truth. Many of these people themselves lived in fear of the LTTE and had to fill the LTTE kitty. We know the majority of them were not part of the LTTE though they remained silent because they were indirectly benefiting from the existence of the LTTE. We again can empathize with this. We know that most Jaffna Tamils hated the LTTE for their own sense of pride in their families had to be compromised and they had to bow down to low caste LTTE dictates. We again can understand this. However, there is no LTTE now. We can forget about the utopian transnational government trying to befool the Tamil people again. 

The present is an important juncture for the Tamils. They must decide to at least now make amends for the injustice done to the nation. Tamils must stop hiding behind Eelam, India, Transnational Government or any other attempts to break up Sri Lanka. They must now sincerely decide to function as Sri Lankans going forward and those that do not wish to, the Government can through discussions with India decide to offer citizenship in India if they feel India is a better home. 

Many injustices have taken place and the voice of Sri Lanka now insists that these wrongs be made right and the first step must be taken by a Government that has been given the majority by the people to make the changes needed. The Government is thus bound to act and repeal the 13th amendment.






The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stands at a defining moment. Its member states are constantly being evaluated for their economic potential and desirability as a market for investments, goods, and services.

At the same time, their effort to forge a community free from external intervention is shaping a new regional order based on common security and shared prosperity.

In geopolitical terms, ASEAN is well-placed to be an acceptable and equal partner to many larger, more powerful economies, such as China, India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea – a part of the world that, for the first time, is leading a global recovery. ASEAN has also contributed to building one of the most dynamic economic-integration platforms in the world, and now acts as a de facto regional hub of wider economic cooperation and integration.

Indeed, the importance of regional economic integration for global stability and security cannot be understated. The combined annual GDP of China, Japan, India, and ASEAN is $14.45 trillion, roughly equal to that of the United States, at $14.62 trillion. More importantly, East Asia's economies are expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.1 per cent, compared to 3.2 per cent in the US.

That said, the wide disparities and development gaps between ASEAN members call for a multi-track and multi-speed approach to deepening economic integration. In anticipation of worsening food and energy security concerns in the future, ASEAN has set priorities for programmes that increase productivity and production, strengthen policy coordination on agricultural trade, and boost efforts to alleviate poverty.

East Asia needs to maintain a fine balance of political-security requirements in much the same way. Continual restructuring and consolidation will be needed to create a balanced regional geopolitical architecture, which must broaden beyond ASEAN members to meet the needs of Japan, the US, Australia, India, China, and Russia – all of which have vital interests in the region. ASEAN pursues an inclusive growth strategy.

With the participation of the US and Russia in the expanded East Asia Summit, the regional architecture is, indeed, becoming more dynamic. Given this, it is imperative that ASEAN becomes pro-active and remains focused on relevant strategic issues. In engaging the major powers, ASEAN will not shun traditional security issues, such as maritime cooperation, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Japan has been the biggest provider of development assistance and technological know-how to ASEAN for the past four decades. Indeed, Japan's investment and aid to Southeast Asia have fuelled ASEAN's economic progress. I believe that Japan's strategic role in the region will only increase, because its economy and industrial production chains have been regionally integrated. Both sides have pledged to forge closer cooperation and initiate new programs to consolidate their relationship.Nevertheless, unresolved and overlapping maritime and territorial claims remain ASEAN's biggest challenge. We believe that maritime cooperation between ASEAN and major powers including China would benefit all countries. ASEAN will continue to address this issue strategically.

And, as to Myanmar, ASEAN has deferred the decision on its prospective chairmanship in 2014. At its recent summit, ASEAN leaders asked Myanmar for more clarification about the country's internal situation. In doing so, ASEAN showed its continued influence on Myanmar's progress towards democratic reforms.

Not all challenges, however, are external. The critical issue concerns ASEAN's engagement with civil society. Indonesia's government has expressed support for more proactive engagement with the region's civil-society organisations, pledging to organise "community conferences or forums" to engage with stakeholders in efforts to strengthen the security, economic, and socio-cultural pillars that support ASEAN as a group. Indonesia hopes that these community conferences will gradually gain acceptance at the ASEAN level.

Through these efforts, ASEAN is emerging as the fulcrum of geopolitical stability in Asia. What could have otherwise been a liability – ASEAN's diversity – was transformed into an asset that has set the benchmark for regional integration in a troubled and complex world. Yes, we have our share of challenges. Nevertheless, ASEAN is constantly demonstrating its determination to create a region where no member is left behind, even as we collectively pursue prosperity and an equitable distribution of our burgeoning wealth.

Moreover, ASEAN is seeking to forge a clearer position on key international issues to heighten its standing on world affairs. Disaster management, peace-keeping operations, and, again, maritime-security cooperation are some of the areas in which ASEAN members can work together to formulate common policy approaches and action plans. In the years to come, ASEAN will make further progress on unified responses to climate change, human trafficking, and food and energy security.

Of course, as it moves forward, ASEAN will have to make structural and policy adjustments to strengthen its voice. And the ability to deter and resolve conflicts among its members must remain one of its priorities. At its recent summit, ASEAN agreed to establish an ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation that will deal with issues of peace and reconciliation – a milestone achievement for ASEAN.

There will be many more innovative breakthroughs as ASEAN develops into an integrated, open, peaceful, and outward-looking region. That outcome will benefit ASEAN's members – and the world.

Surin Pitsuwan is Secretary-General of ASEAN





Lebanon will now finally have a government, months after the national unity coalition of Saad Hariri collapsed in January, following a pull out of Hezbollah.

The Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati's recent announcement of a new cabinet is clearly dominated by Hezbollah, prompting Hariri and allies to denounce the new "Hezbollah government". Irrespective of premier Mikati's refuting this and instead insisting that his government is the representative of the whole of Lebanon, the new political formation is clearly tilted towards the Shiite political group with half the cabinet comprising Hezbollah allied seats.

While this may not be unusual given the multifaceted politics of Lebanon, it could prove challenging once the UN Tribunal investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri gives its verdict. In fact, the investigation findings were the reason for the fall out between Hezbollah and Hariri.

Hezbollah, that enjoys Iranian and Syrian backing has denied any involvement in the assassination and has vowed retaliation in case any of its members are indicted.

The possibility of infighting between political supporters of Hezbollah and other groups is very real as is a bigger conflagration involving regional states. Take for example the situation in the neighbourhood, which is highly tense with Syria. Similarly, given the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Israel is increasingly worried about the consequences of the imploding Arab spring.  The situation has rendered it to be extra sensitive. In such circumstances, any political instability in Lebanon may well trigger even regional rivals to start off a proxy war in the country — something that is not unusual given past occurrences.

The difference is that now the geopolitical situation has undergone a dramatic shift over the past many months. Therefore, the political leadership in all concerned states should understand that the past dynamics might not bear the same results now. Fed-up with the wrong policies of their leaders, the people who have had to bear the brunt in the past may now not take being pushed into corners for the sake of political wrangling.

It is, therefore, highly important that Lebanon refrains from sliding down the path to instability. The truth of the matter is that the perpetrators responsible for the Hariri assassination have to be dealt with. It is something the Lebanese people desire. In such a volatile situation, Hezbollah must take care to exercise restrain and assist in investigating the assassination rather than adopting a threatening attitude and vowing retaliation.






Roshen Chanaka, a twenty two year old free trade zone worker has already paid the supreme sacrifice in the defense of and in defiance against the proposal to tinker with the EPF and ETF systems in the form of a pension scheme for private sector workers. The large scale protests, the shooting dead of a young demonstrator, the strong protest by the German Ambassador of the police assault on workers inside German investor factories, the consequent early retirement of the Inspector General of Police, the incoherence of the minister concerned regarding the proposal, the mixed messages from various government spokespersons, the sudden presidential decision to exempt free trade zone workers from the scheme, the lack of public information on the proposal as a whole and the strong caution by employer groups with regards the same, makes the proposed private sector pension scheme the most relevant and dominant topic in the public policy arena and an essential issue that needs close examination in the public interest.

There have been some claims that the government has decided to drop the proposal. However, clearly this is not so. Government insiders indicate it is more in keeping with the old Marxist maxim of taking one step backwards to take two steps forward. The pension proposal in the face of fierce opposition is currently on the back burner, ready to be taken up and rushed through parliament as an urgent bill, no sooner the protests die down. However there are several areas of concern with regards the proposal and the process by which it sought to be implemented.

A non transparent and opaque process

Firstly the entire process of implementing such far reaching changes that impact the retirement savings of all those employed in the formal sector of the economy, baring public servants, has been shrouded in secrecy and developed with a complete lack of transparency. There has been no white paper published, no consultation with trade unions and business chambers. No academic or professional examination and exploration of the concepts or rationale behind the scheme and the modalities of implementing it. An issue as fundamental as reform of the retirement funds of the entire non state sector of the formal economy, at least warrants a parliamentary select committee process, none of which of course occurred. 

Essentially cannibalizes the EPF and ETF

Given the lack of information on the proposal, it is hard to know specifics, but the responsibility for this lack of clarity has to rest with those who deliberately seek to be non transparent about significant national policy changes with far reaching implications for the welfare of a waste swathe of society. However the essential element of the scheme seems to be a cannibalization of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and the Employees Trust Fund (ETF). How the government touching these two funds is particularly insidious since government actually makes no contribution towards them. Neither the EPF nor the ETF is funded by tax money or government revenues. The employees themselves have their salaries deducted and together with a matching contribution from the employer, such monies are credited to the EPF while the ETF is solely a contribution by the employers. So essentially while the government manages the funds and indeed uses the same as a captive source of funds to subscribe to government borrowings in the form of treasury bills, the source of funds for the EPF and ETF are employer and employee contribution and receives no government assistance whatsoever. Accordingly it is particularly distressing when the government seeks to access and tap into funds that it makes no contribution to.

 Workers are really worse off

Currently under the EPF and ETF a private sector worker retiring, draws out his EPF and ETF in a lump sum upon retirement. The retiree pays a hefty one time flat rate tax on the lump sum and thereafter has the capital to do as he wishes. Many invest this in a fixed deposit for future income while those that have other sources of income use the lump sum for a capital expenditure item, such as completion of a home, a child's higher education or other such high expenditure item. The most insidious part of the proposed scheme is that it seeks to essentially do away with the lump sum withdrawal by a retiree and replace the same with a monthly payment, limited to the amount of funds in the retiree's respective account. Such an arrangement definitely makes the worker a lot worse off and should be avoided at all costs.

(The writer served as Presidential Spokesman from 2001-2005)









ON Tuesday, the UK's Independent newspaper published one of Robert Fisk's most libelous columns about Bahrain to date.

Fisk has turned his highly inflammatory method of so-called journalism on Bahrain since the would-be revolution began.

But he seems unaware that Bahrain is a sovereign state with a system of law and order.

It's quite simple really: people accused of breaking the law are tried and, if found guilty, are punished. It doesn't matter if they are doctors, teachers, artists or businessmen. It doesn't matter if they are Shi'ite, Sunni, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or atheists. They can be Bahraini, British, Pakistani, American or any nationality. If they break the law, they must face justice.

Why is this so hard for people like Robert Fisk, Nic Robertson and Nick Kristof to understand? Would they accept people in their countries breaking the law, but escaping punishment because of their profession? As an American, I would not accept this and neither would my fellow citizens. We have been where Bahrain is now on 9/11 - our government and society under attack by people led by foreign interests. What was our response to this crisis? Military trials and Guantanamo Bay, supported by a network of our allies (including the UK) that aided American security efforts with "extraordinary rendition".

According to Fisk, Bahrain is nothing but a Saudi colony that was "invaded" and is being controlled from Riyadh. I realise that makes a good story for conspiracy theorists, but it is nowhere near the truth. Doesn't journalism have any remaining interest in truth? Or is it simply a medium by which we can buy and sell ideas, in essence buying and selling people by feeding them a steady stream of histrionic lies and attention grabbing headlines?

What is it about the GCC alliance that Fisk doesn't understand? The six nations of the Gulf Co-operation Council have common strategic interests. When one country is under threat, others come to their brother's aid. There are obligations that go with this alliance; for example, the obligation to deploy forces in an emergency when requested by one of the member countries. As a citizen of Nato, the British Fisk surely understands this concept.

Bahrain asked for the GCC Peninsula Shield forces to come to their aide and they responded. Cast your mind back to the days of utter lawlessness and terror that gripped Bahrain. Chants of "peaceful, peaceful" were used as cover for something much darker and more dangerous than we could have imagined.

People worried about their safety as they locked themselves in their homes.

The day that GCC Peninsula Shield forces drove into Bahrain was a day I will always remember with gratitude.

Fisk has accused Bahrain of bulldozing historic Shi'ite mosques, as if there was a government plot to wipe out Shi'ite culture and history, but this is just another ploy to drum up sectarianism and sell papers.

Personally, whenever I read one of Fisk's columns I consider the source and brace myself for what I know will be an outrageous hatchet job. I'll never forget the litany of lies this man published about Bahrain, the most notable being his macabre account of refrigerated trucks containing stacks of human corpses being hauled away from Pearl Roundabout when it was first cleared on February 17. It wasn't true.

I mourn the death of journalistic integrity and am more determined than ever to speak out. Perhaps in time, the truth will drown out the Robert Fisks of the world.










Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popularity is beyond party affiliations and there is not a single politician in Turkey who can challenge his control over Turkish politics for a long time to come.

All Turks agree that Erdogan is one of the strongest leaders in the modern Turkey. After Turgut Ozal (Prime Minister of Turkey from 1983 to1989 and President from 1989 to1993), I can say as a leader he is the most popular man in Turkey.

The more interesting part about Erdogan is that if you vote for Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) or not he is still your favorite leader since his days of Mayor of Istanbul (1994 to 1998).

And another point is that Erdogan's fame is beyond the AK Party, that is why he is dreaming of changing country's parliamentary system to a presidential system of government.

And, also, there is no strong competitor against him in any other party or in the political arena of Turkey.

The old popular names, like Tansu Ciller (Prime Minister from 1993 to 1996) and Mesut Yilmaz (Prime Minister from June 1991 to October 1991, March 1996 to June 1996, June 1997 to January 1999) have simply disappeared from the scene. And politicians like Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Deniz Baykal have no chance against Erdogan.

Erdogan is really strong in his party and in all of the country, so, there is no argument about his leadership qualities.

Future of Turkey

When there is no strong competition between the AKP and other political parties the AK Party seems the only solution for Turkey. And all Turks agree that now the economy is better if you compare it with the 1990s to 2001.

Turkey still has economic problems like unemployment, and significant income deficit between the poor and the elite classes. However, there is a positive point that the middle class in Turkey is flourishing.

If the AK Party leaders would be able to attract more international investment and have better relations with the Middle East, Europe and the United States the middle class population will increase further. In a globalized world Turkey should play with the global rules and it should try to get more economic value against its competitors.

I am thinking positively because I am 35-year-old and have never seen interest rates that low in my life. We can borrow money with 10 to 12 percent interest rate per year.

However, I am not that happy of Turkish currency's valuation against dollar and euro since it is affecting country's export power negatively.

With low interest rates, businessmen and entrepreneurs have more chance to do business rather than putting their money in banks and getting interest over it.

The only problem is that although our exports are rising our imports are also growing more strongly. Last month, the deficit between the exports and imports reached around $9.1 billion, i.e. record in Turkey's recent history.

And we believe that Turkish government is financing this deficit from the short term loans coming from different funds from all over the world (big amount is coming from the Arab states).

Rising Turkey looks towards East

There has been great support among people for the AKP -- now which has been translated to 50 percent votes and third election victory for the party -- first in the Turkish history, but another thing we should consider is that western side and eastern side of Turkey are really different.

The AKP is giving more support to its followers who are more Islamic people; I mean who live their lives according to Islamic principles. They are much more active in the social life, in business and everywhere else. They are becoming stronger and getting richer.

Liberal people are more affected because of some restrictions, but I can not say that their life is totally influenced.

Economic statistics are showing that Turkey's economy is growing, but Erdogan and his economic team should do extra efforts in order to make Turkish currency stronger, decrease unemployment, and get longer term investments from all over the world.

The AKP leadership has to concentrate on the production and get people's interest in producing something than only consuming. Only producer economies have a chance to solve problem of unemployment.

After the AKP hit the political landscape I as a businessman visited Iran and Syria first time in my life. In the pre-AKP days we were afraid of visiting our neighboring countries. I saw personally that we have much more closer affinities with our neighbors. We really forgot them for a long time. I realized that we have very close cultural values. And these closer ties also gave us some business.

However, in my personal view, during this period of getting better relations with the Islamic countries we also did some mistakes with our relations toward European countries. Because of our endless story of EU nomination the Turkish government seems a bit more tired of endless problems that the EU is creating.

Many Turks believe that it will be not that easy to be a member of the EU since we are an Islamic country. A long time ago I had a similar discussion with one Spanish businessman in an international exhibition. He knew Turkey (of course more of its western side) and Turkish people and delicious Turkish foods. He was in love with the Turks, but he was of the opinion that if Turkey's western cities like Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, and Antalya (is Turkey and) want to join the EU there should not be any problem for it to get EU membership.

But, Turkey is also the east, north and many other cities where people are living according to different cultural values.

The AKP leadership seems giving some reaction to EU countries because we are the only country that is still in the waiting list since a long time; we became a nominee for the EU in the 1960s.

So because of this reaction our government thinks that it should concentrate more on the Middle Eastern countries and Russia.

Another positive thing I can add is that now we would be able to go to 47 countries without a visa.

So it's a good change for tourism, business and for cultural understanding between the peoples. One of the most interesting and important one is with Russia. Now every year millions of Russians are coming to Turkey. The Mediterranean side of Turkey has become like a Russian city. Turkish citizens can also go to Russia without visa and stay there for 30 days as a tourist.

This has provided an opportunity for us to enter one of the strongest and biggest markets, which is near to us, Russia, and former Soviet Union states.

I am currently in Uzbekistan and doing business here since 2006.

Another big change is that once military men were really strong in Turkey; they were seemed as if they were behind many important things, but this has really changed after the AKP's success in 2002.

There is no pride of having one of the biggest armies of the world. We should be proud of having strong economies, inventions, cultural values, sport successes, and achievements in the arts, that is a pride for any nation.

Devrim Basar Turan is Turkey's globetrotting entrepreneur. He has written this article for the Tehran Times.







The events that played out over the past few days in Yemen were the manifestations of a secret agreement between the United States and some regional governments that finally resulted in the removal of the president.

Ali Abdullah Saleh's reluctance to step down in recent months was creating many problems for countries like Saudi Arabia, and thus removing him was the best option for Riyadh, since it would allow the Saudis to gain more support for their plans in the region.

However, Yemen is still entangled in many internal conflicts between various tribes, especially the tribes that formerly supported Saleh but have now turned against him. There is a high probability that a civil war will break out as a result of the machinations of internal and external elements.

But Yemen's sectarian and tribal conflicts can be eliminated by empowering everyone in the new political structure. If all Yemen's diverse groups and tribes are empowered, Yemeni society will experience peace and tranquility.

Unfortunately, the prospects for such an outcome are not bright, and Saudi Arabia is continuing to interfere in the country's internal affairs.

The general theory about tribal Yemen is that if there is a conflict over the central government, clashes in the border areas decrease and the battle moves to the capital and the major cities. But if the country's diverse groups and parties can reach an agreement on a clear plan of cooperation and coordination, they can guarantee their regional and tribal interests, and the conflict and tension will move back to the border areas, leaving Sanaa and the other major cities calm.

Along those lines, Saudi officials thought that they would be able to control the situation if they could take Saleh out of Yemen. Thus, they devised a scenario in which Saleh was injured and transferred to Saudi Arabia, supposedly to receive medical treatment. The Saudis tried to lay the groundwork for a situation in which a consensus could be reached among Yemeni groups based on the proposals of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. However, this plan is not completely consistent with the current reality in Yemen.

In fact, the main crisis in Yemen cannot be resolved by simply removing Saleh, and there is a long way to go before a long-term solution acceptable to all political parties can be reached. Moreover, there are many other unresolved issues, which clearly increase the possibility of U.S. interference in the near future. Issues such as the demarcation of the Saudi-Yemen border or the security of shipping lanes of the region could be used as pretexts for U.S. intervention in Yemen in the future.

There is also the possibility that Al-Qaeda will step up its operations in the country in response to the perceived U.S. interference.

All this shows how complex the situation is.

Many political analysts believe that Yemen's tribal disputes can only be resolved through the establishment of an inclusive political system that would bring in all the parties, groups, tribes, and nomads of the nation from the south to north of the country.

It will not be an easy task. But if the Yemenis can pull it off, all the diverse groups of the country will have a bright future as a united nation.

Hossein Sabah Zanganeh is an international relations expert based in Tehran.


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