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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

EDITORIAL 20.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month june 20, edition 000863, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























































































Interesting though not entirely unexpected developments have taken the endgame in Afghanistan a step towards the denouement as envisaged by Washington, DC and Islamabad, both separately and in consonance with each other's interests. First, the facts as they emerged late last week from Kabul and New York. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has let it be known that the US is involved in negotiating a deal — coyly referred to as 'pace talks' — with the Taliban "and other countrymen". While the American intention to do so has been known for some time and secret talks are believed to have started many months ago, this is a formal declaration of what the US is up to as it prepares to begin pulling out troops from Afghanistan this summer. In fact, such a 'reconciliation' has been on the cards ever since last year's London Conference when the idea of cutting a deal with the Taliban was first mooted and endorsed by the US and its European allies in Nato. Mr Karzai has been cautious enough to add a caveat: "Those who accept the Constitution, freedom, democracy and development of Afghanistan can take part in this negotiation." Clever as it may sound, this merely serves to underscore the disingenuousness of the exercise. For the Taliban would not be the Taliban were they to accept the Constitution of Afghanistan as it exists today or embrace freedom, democracy and development which are antithetical to all that they believe in and stand for. Had it not been so, they would have long abandoned the organisation and given up their murderous campaign to restore the brutal reign of Mullah Omar and his thugs. It is equally facetious to suggest that there are 'good' Taliban and 'bad' Taliban; such bogus distinction may serve the interests of America's AfPak policy such as it is, but beyond that it means nothing.

The other development has been reported from New York where the UN Security Council has voted 'unanimously' to split the list of organisations and individuals on which and whom sanctions have been imposed, separating Al Qaeda from the Taliban. This will enable the sanctions committee of the Security Council to delete names from the Taliban list as the 'peace talks' proceed and a deal begins to take shape. Officially, the reason that shall be cited for the deletions will be that the individuals have cut themselves free from Al Qaeda, if not the Taliban, and hence no longer qualify to be classified as terrorists. Sadly India has chosen to go along with the US-led initiative, although any 'reconciliation' that may happen will ensure we are excluded from playing a meaningful, leave alone major, role in Afghanistan. Officially, of course, India has backed the Security Council decision because New Delhi supports "an Afghan-led inclusive and transparent process of reconciliation". However, credit is due to India's Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr Hardeep Puri, for at least placing on record that the syndicate of terrorism involving Al Qaeda, elements of the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and other groups pose the biggest threat and that "the bonds (between these outfits) have strengthened over the years". He has also done well to mention that "the functioning of the 1267 Sanctions Committee has been subject to political pulls and pressure". But such cautionary words are of little or no relevance as the deed is done.







There was a time when the snow-clad mountains and lush green valleys of Jammu & Kashmir served as the ultimate honeymoon destination for every newlywed Indian couple, many of whom are now celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. No Hindi film worth its song-and-dance sequences, from Raj Kapoor's Barsaat (1949) right up to Mani Ratnam's Roja (1992), was complete without one that was shot in the picturesque Mughal Gardens. But then the State, once described as 'Paradise on Earth', came under the grip of separatist violence and India's newlyweds moved to the beaches of Goa while film crews flew out to Switzerland. The once bustling streets of Srinagar were all but deserted with gun-toting men in uniform patrolling them. Curfew, strikes and bombings clamped down on daily life and deterred even the most braveheart of tourists from venturing into Kashmir Valley. Terrorists from Pakistan turned jannat into jahannum. Over the years, however, as terrorism has waned and separatists have realised that they are losing popular support among Kashmiris who just want to get on with their lives, there has been an overarching attempt to reinvigorate tourism, the mainstay of the State's economy. And this summer it seems like those efforts have finally borne fruit. Tourism is once again on the upswing: Travel agents have their phones buzzing with inquiries, empty hotels are slowly filling up and new ones are reportedly being commissioned, the shikaras and house-boats are being repainted for newlyweds who have gladly returned and so have the Bollywood crews. That Raj Kapoor's grandson Ranbir Kapoor recently shot in Kashmir for an upcoming film is possibly an indicator of things having come full circle. This is a welcome development. State Government and law enforcement authorities deserve special mention for their efforts not only to revive tourism but also to ensure that the cities remain safe, peaceful and devoid of violence.

Yet, a note of caution is called for. This is not the first time that Kashmir Valley has witnessed a relatively calm summer. Every few years there would be a dip in militancy and tourists would trickle back only to be turned away as terrorism returned with a vengeance. The calm of the tourist season was only the lull before the storm. Jammu & Kashmir today is still very fragile and a single incident of violence can shatter the peace in the Valley, much like what happened last summer when the death of a teenager by a teargas shell lobbed by the police triggered a chain of violent incidents. This year, steps have reportedly been taken to avoid such incidents and, hopefully, they will be effective enough to keep miscreants away. We could be seeing the return of the Kashmir we knew once upon a time.









As the Congress's woes mount with each passing day, the party is seeking to blame others for its follies. The brunt of the ire is being faced by 'civil society'.

It started with the Congress-led UPA regime accusing the two leaders of India's anti-corruption movement, Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, of acting at the behest of the RSS and the BJP but now it seems like 'civil society' as a whole has become a legitimate target of the regime. For even as Baba Ramdev was ending his nine-day long fast at the urging of spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee, while releasing a Congress-sponsored study on 'civil society' in Kolkata, was attacking anti-corruption activists for trying to "paralyse" a democratically elected Union Government.

Mr Mukherjee's tirade against 'civil society' has left no doubt in the minds of the people that the Congress, and the Union Government it leads, is so unnerved by its approaching nemesis that it has threatened to set its investigation agencies not upon those who have stashed away black money in foreign bank accounts and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, but upon 'civil society' leaders. "There is a growing trend of undermining the democratic process and constitutional authorities in these movements," said Mr Mukherjee. He even forecast that such movements would create an extra-constitutional authority that could lead to a complete collapse of Government's authority and eventually make way for dictatorship.


These are tactics that the Congress has historically used not only against its political opponents but also against dissenters within the party, much like the Stalinists of yore. For example, when Jayaprakash Narayan, or 'JP' as he was popularly known, launched a movement against the widespread corruption that was prevalent during Ms Indira Gandhi's rule, he was accused of being an agent of the RSS, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and even the CIA. The Congress also set up the infamous Kudal Commission to malign institutions that were headed by JP, such as the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi. Predictably, the inquiry fizzled out despite Justice Kudal's coloured 'findings'.

Clearly, not much has changed since then. Even today the Congress is seeking to cover up its members' involvement in corruption and their possible links to black money stashed abroad by accusing the 'civil society' leaders of having the same connections. The whole purpose is to slander them by levelling wild allegations and thus seek to tar their reputation irreparably. Earlier the same tactics were used against the Opposition before, during and after the Emergency; it is now being used against the 'civil society' leaders.

Also, the doublespeak that Anna Hazare has accused the Congress president of is no vacuous rhetoric. How can one possibly justify the Congress president condemning the 'civil society' movement as anti-democratic on the one hand while chairing the National Advisory Council, which comprises un-elected 'civil society' activists such as Ms Aruna Roy and Mr Harsh Mander, on the other?

A stage has been reached where the NAC is dictating policy to the Union Cabinet by framing legislation on food security, land acquisition and fighting communal violence. Every public policy analyst and political commentator has dubbed the NAC as a "super cabinet" whose job is to keep the Prime Minister on a tight leash.

The Congress has questioned the legality of unelected 'civil society' leaders like Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev who have demonstrated that they enjoy tremendous public support — their fasts attracted thousands in Delhi and inspired similar protests in State capitals — despite the Government's hostility towards them. But what is the constitutional validity of the NAC? Is it not running a parallel Government and short-circuiting the constitutional process? During the general elections of 2004 and 2009, people elected the UPA to power and, therefore, it has the right to govern. But who elected the members of the NAC? Only its chairperson is an elected representative of the people. So what is the NAC's status within the constitutional framework?

It can only be concluded that while Ms Sonia Gandhi's 'civil society' organisation is allowed to ride roughshod over an elected Government led by members of her own party, the larger 'civil society' does not have the right to even vent its frustration at the prevarication and inaction of elected representatives. Are we to believe this amounts to subverting the Constitution and the democratic process?

Meanwhile, articles and commentary published in the Congress mouthpiece, Sandesh, have exposed the division between the Government and the party despite its general secretary claiming that both speak in one voice. It is clear that the Prime Minister was in favour of adopting a soft line in dealing with Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare but he was overruled by the party high command. As a result Mr Manmohan Singh (as also Mr Mukherjee) must now swallow this humiliation. Their frustration is manifest in their tirade against the BJP.

The Congress would do well to remember that the BJP's senior leaders are also elected representatives of the people, that they are members of the ruling party in nine States across the country. The BJP is thus as much part of the constitutional process and democratic structure as the Congress. Hence, if the BJP supports the 'civil society' for coming forward to back its demand on the need to fight corruption and get back the black money stashed in foreign accounts, as reiterated during the 2009 general election, the Congress really cannot characterise it as something that is anti-democracy.

In 1989, the Congress, despite its huge majority in the Lok Sabha, had to bite dust when it sought a fresh mandate following the Opposition's campaign against corruption in high places symbolised by the Bofors scandal. 'Civil society' was very much a part of that campaign. Today the Congress has many such scandals, ranging from the 2G Spectrum scam to the CWG scandal, to hide .

The Congress's campaign of calumny to malign 'civil society' leaders and paint the main Opposition party as the villain of the piece betrays its growing desperation as one scandal after another tumbles out of its closet. The party and the Government have promised tough action to fight corruption. We are yet to see that action being initiated.







There is much chatter in the Western media about the Pakistani Army chief facing a revolt by junior officers seething with rage over what they perceive as his willingly doing the bidding of America and thus demeaning their country's sovereignty. But there's nothing new about Pakistani Army chiefs letting the US have its way provided the price is right

Can there be a revolt against General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff, either by the subalterns or by senior officers due to their extreme unhappiness over his perceived or alleged amenability to American pressure?

There has been an interesting and exciting debate on this question in the wake of the publication of a report by The New York Times on June 15, 2011, pointing out that Gen Kayani stands increasingly isolated.

Anti-American anger in Pakistan — in the streets as well as in the barracks — is nothing new. It has always been there right from the 1950s when Pakistan enthusiastically joined the US-sponsored regional military pacts.

Pakistani leaders, civil as well as military, had given a free play to this anger in order to extract more assistance from the US. They did so without letting the anger become uncontrollable. Using anti-American anger without letting themselves be burnt by it has become a fine art in Pakistan.

The anti-American anger being seen in Pakistan since the beginning of this year due to the surge in the US drone strikes in the tribal areas, the increase in the presence of US intelligence officers and Special Forces commandoes in Pakistani territory, and the unilateral and clandestine raid by the US Navy SEALs on the residence of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2 is not a new phenomenon. It is a re-enactment of an old phenomenon.

The only thing new this time is that this anger against the US has been accompanied by feelings of humiliation in the public as well as in the barracks over the perceived disregard by America of Pakistani sensitivities relating to the repeated violations of its sovereignty.

Pakistani leaders have never had any qualms over letting themselves be used by the Americans in a manner designed to serve US interests provided the payment for such use was adequate. They had let themselves be used by the US for its U-2 flights over the USSR. They had let themselves be used by the US for monitoring Chinese nuclear tests in Lop Nor. They had let themselves be used by the US against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. They are letting themselves be used by the US in the post-9/11 war against terrorism emanating from the AfPak region.

Fears of public anger never inhibited the actions of the Pakistani military leadership in entering into a quid pro quo relationship with the US provided the compensation and benefit to Pakistan were adequate.

What is worrying the Pakistani military leadership this time are the feelings of national humiliation caused partly by the unilateral nature of some of the US decisions and operations. The frequency of such unilateral decisions and actions by the US has been dictated by growing doubts over Pakistan's sincerity in countering terrorism.

The former Army chief and President, General Pervez Musharraf was more sensitive to American interests and more accommodating to US demands than Gen Kayani. He readily agreed — without ever dragging his feet — to many of the requests that emanated from the George W Bush Administration. He shifted senior Lieutenant Generals and a chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence because the US viewed them with suspicion as being close to the Afghan Taliban; he allowed the US Air Force to use Pakistani bases in Balochistan for mounting rescue operations in Afghanistan; he permitted an immense increase in the US intelligence presence in Pakistani territory; he agreed to US intelligence and investigating officers accompanying joint teams of the ISI and the police when they raided suspected hideouts of Al Qaeda operatives in places such as Faisalabad, Karachi and Rawalpindi; he enforced restrictions on the admission of foreign students in madarsas; and he allowed the movement of logistical supplies to American and Nato troops in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory.

Apart from that, Gen Musharraf facilitated the interrogation of two retired senior Pakistani nuclear scientists by the US, he placed AQ Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, under house arrest after the discovery of his proliferation activities by the Americans, and he ordered his intelligence and investigating agencies to informally hand over hundreds of terrorism suspects to the US for rendition and interrogation in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center and other places without following the due process of law.

These actions of Gen Musharraf caused anger at the lower levels of the Pakistani military which triggered three unsuccessful attempts to kill him — once in Karachi through an explosive device which malfunctioned and twice in Rawalpindi through commando-style ambushes that failed. But the anger at the lower levels in the barracks was kept under control by the commissioned officers and core commanders who remained loyal to Gen Musharraf despite whatever misgivings they might have had about the wisdom of his unreserved co-operation with the US. Even senior Lieutenant Generals whose promotion chances were stymied by Gen Musharraf's continuing to hold the post of the Chief of the Army Staff never wavered in their loyalty to him.

A chief is a chief, right or wrong, for most in the Pakistani Army. There have been plots in the past, but these plots failed because of the failure of the plotters to enlist widespread support against the chief. Have things become different under Gen Kayani? It is difficult to accept this on the basis of the currently available information.

Yes, Gen Kayani co-operated with the US, but not as extensively as Gen Musharraf did. Yes, there is anger against Gen Kayani at the lower levels, but he has never been the target of a serious assassination attempt as Gen Musharraf repeatedly was. Yes, there is a feeling of humiliation in the Army as there never was when Gen Musharraf was the chief, but there are no signs that this humiliation has reached a critical point or could do so.

Yes, Kayani could face threats of assassination, but could he face the threat of being overthrown by his own officers? That's doubtful for the present. We should resist the urge to over-assess Pakistan — positively or negatively.

-- The writer is a retired senior officer of R&AW and a commentator on strategic affairs.







The needless controversy over who helped the crew of MV Suez when it was attacked by Somali pirates could have been avoided if the Government of India had been more alert. To deal with piracy and related issues, India needs a Maritime Security Management Task Force

Other than the fact that six of its 22 sailors were Indian nationals, MV Suez, an Egyptian-owned, Panamanian-flagged ship, was more about Pakistan. It was captained by a Pakistani national and was on a voyage from Karachi to the Eritrean port of Massawa in July-August 2010 when it was hijacked by Somalian pirates in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor, off the Horn of Africa. It sent distress signals to the EU Naval Force patrolling the region but was seized before naval helicopters could arrive. The ship, cargo and crew had been held for ransom since then.

Its release was also, on the face of it, a largely Pakistani affair. Negotiations between the ship's Egyptian owners and the pirates were deadlocked until February 2011, when Mr Ansar Burney, a prominent Pakistani human rights activist, entered the scene. A ransom was arranged through his good offices and paid sometime in late May. As is usual with such arrangements, the source of the funds, its final recipients and suchlike are unclear. Somalia's transitional federal Government, which is against ransom payments, might even have apprehended the individuals and cash (which may be between $2 million and $4 million) in Mogadishu on May 25. Eventually though, the pirates released the ship and its crew.

But the drama didn't end there. Pirates attacked it again after it was released, and a Pakistani naval ship, PNS Babur, which happened to be in the vicinity as part of the international coalition task force (CTF-151) came to its assistance and chased the pirates away. The Pakistani initiatives received well-deserved applause all around, including in the Indian media. After all, Pakistani individuals and the Pakistani Navy had helped secure the return of Indian sailors when the Government of India, on the face of it, didn't.

Indeed, the episode turns a little bizarre thereafter. The crew of MV Suez claims they called an Indian naval ship, INS Godavari, for assistance, but it didn't respond. According to the Indian Navy, INS Godavari diverted course from the two ships it was escorting and tried to contact MV Suez, failed, and returned to its original course. The Pakistani authorities now charge that INS Godavari "hampered humanitarian operations", violated international codes of conduct and brushed against PNS Babur. Whoa!

Now it is extremely unlikely that the captain of INS Godavari would deliberately engage in such behaviour. It won't be difficult to establish facts of the case, as video footage is likely to be available. The Pakistani Navy is under a cloud at this moment, and the officers of PNS Babur might have resented the presence of all ships, an Indian one at their moment of glory. Interestingly, the captain of MV Suez has suggested that even PNS Babur was attacked by pirates, which was denied by the Pakistani Navy chief.

The media coverage does not emphasise the reality that the high seas are global commons. The world's navies on anti-piracy operations are securing the world's shipping, providing international public goods. This is, of course, interpreted selectively, but by and large, it is not uncommon for one country's naval ship to assist ships of other countries.

In any case, international shipping is a truly international enterprise: With owners, flags, crews and cargos belonging to different countries. One's own security lies in everyone's security. So it is that as of November 2010, more than 1,037 foreign-flagged ships have benefitted from the Indian Navy's protection, compared to only 144 Indian-flagged ones. You can be sure that most of those ships, Indian or foreign, had some crew members who were Indian nationals.

The Government of India was in a bind because it could neither pay out ransoms itself nor condone the payment of ransom by others. It, therefore, couldn't satisfy the relatives of the hostages. This is understandable. What is not understandable, and certainly not excusable, is its inability to manage the hostage crisis competently. The Ministry of External Affairs explained the limits of its mandate, passing the buck to the Director-General of Shipping. The Ministry of Shipping had little to offer. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs made promises it was unlikely to be able to keep. The lack of purposefulness is palpable even if the Indian Navy continues to discharge its duties admirably.

The Cabinet Committee on Security must create a Maritime Security Management Task Force, headed by a serving or retired officer with expertise in maritime security and intelligence. Reporting to the National Security Adviser, it must have senior officers from the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Shipping, Commerce, the Cabinet Secretariat, in addition to the three armed services. The buck on piracy matters should stop there.

-- The writer is editor of Pragati and a commentator on security and foreign affairs. He blogs at







One option to fight global warming is geo-engineering. We should do the research on geo-engineering now: What works, what doesn't; what are the side-effects? We don't have the answers. So let's do it on a small scale, in local areas, as safely as possible

We are getting into very risky territory," said Ms Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently. But she acknowledged that we may have to go there anyway.

She was talking about geo-engineering, the manipulation of the world's climate to avoid catastrophic warming. Nobody actually wants to do that, because we don't understand the climate system well enough to foresee all the possible side-effects. But a large number of people think that in the end we'll have to do it anyway, because we're not going to get the warming under control in time without it.

Geo-engineering might involve putting sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere (to reflect some incoming sunlight), spraying fine droplets of seawater into low-lying marine clouds to thicken them up (and reflect more sunlight), or painting the world's roads and roofs white. There are also proposed techniques for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for slowing the acidification of the oceans. In fact, there are dozens of proposals in all.

The topic is now on the table because sixty scientific experts are meeting in Peru Today (June 20) to begin an exploration of geo-engineering options that will probably end up in the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014. This has caused outrage in some sections of the environmental movement, and 125 organisations wrote an open letter to the IPCC head, Mr Rajendra Pachauri, condemning the whole concept.

"The IPCC ... must take great care not to squander its credibility on geo-engineering, a topic that is gathering steam precisely when there is no real progress on mitigation and adaptation," said the letter. "International peasant organisations, indigenous peoples, and social movements have all expressed outright opposition to such measures as a false solution to the climate crisis."

Then came the suggestion that scientists in this field are a bunch of greedy frauds: "Asking a group of geo-engineering scientists if more research should be done on the topic is like asking a group of hungry bears if they would like honey." This is clearly a subject that inspires passionate opposition on the Left, although the geo-engineers themselves spread right across the political spectrum.

The overwhelming majority of the open letter's signatories are organisations you have never heard of — Terra-1530 Moldova, the Dogwood Alliance of North Carolina, and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, for example — but they include a few well-known organisations like Friends of the Earth International. Their goal is not just to ban large-scale geo-engineering. It is to ban even small-scale experiments in geo-engineering. Why so angry?

Part of the problem is that there has indeed been "no real progress on mitigation and adaptation" in recent years, and the enemies of geo-engineering are afraid that efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions will be abandoned in favour of just trying to hold the temperature down artificially. I have never met a geo-engineer who thought that would work, but there is profound suspicion of them among the Greens.

There has been a remarkable reversal of roles in environmental issues over the past century. The old Left loved industry, modernity, man "conquering" nature, whereas the old Right believed in tradition, conservation and preserving nature. The new Left, or large parts of it, hugs trees and romanticises peasants, while the new Right, at least in the United States, denies climate change outright.

They are both wrong, and it is not an ideological issue at all. The problem the scientists see, and many other people too, is that an industrialising world of seven billion people poses a grave threat to the very environment it depends on, notably in terms of changing the climate.

Ending greenhouse gas emissions, reducing population, and adopting sustainable patterns of consumption are the necessary long-term responses to the threat of runaway warming, but they are not happening fast enough to avoid catastrophic changes and mass death. At the moment, in fact, they are not happening at all. So we had better come up with some stopgap measures that give us more time to make the long-term changes.

That is what geo-engineering is about: holding the global average temperature down below the tipping point at two degrees C (3.5 degrees F) higher after which we get runaway heating, while we work frantically to get our emissions down and restore the self-regulating, comfortable climate that we have already destabilised. We have not yet begun to work on that agenda seriously, let alone frantically.

On our current course, according a study released by the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research eighteen months ago, the average global temperature will be four degrees C (seven degrees F) higher by 2060. If that happens, billions will probably die. If it stays below two degrees C hotter, on the other hand, most of them will probably live.

So do the research on geo-engineering now: What works, what doesn't; what are the side-effects? Do it on a small scale, in local areas, as safely as possible. Because when we are passing through plus two degrees C and the famines are spreading, there will be overwhelming demands to do something now to halt the warming.

At that point, we had better already know the answers to those questions, because the technologies will then be deployed, ready or not.

-- An updated version of Gwynne Dyer's book Climate Wars is distributed worldwide by Oneworld.









The Reserve Bank of India doesn't see itself in the role of Harry Potter. This much was implied when RBI deputy governor K C Chakrabarty said his institution didn't possess a magic wand to tame inflation, despite 10 upward revisions of key policy rates intended to achieve precisely this effect within the last 18 months. But even if monetary or fiscal measures alone cannot achieve this, surely it is not beyond the government as a whole to curtail inflation.

Chakrabarty hinted, too, at how this could be done - by raising productivity and reducing the cost of services. There's no way out but introducing market efficiencies to not just services and industry but also agriculture, retail and banking. On the last, Pranab Mukherjee's assurance that the RBI is to issue additional licences to private players is reassuring. So too is his promise to simplify and put online processes relating to tax, trade and welfare transfers. The question is how much will be done and how soon. Retail is another area crying out for investment. The economic affairs secretary says carefully managing the opening of retail to FDI will not decimate local kirana shops. The government, for instance, could insist that products be sourced locally. That will ensure shopkeepers aren't disadvantaged while making them more efficient. More FDI would mean new technologies, business processes and basic infrastructure. Their lack is devastating and may be gauged by the damage caused in Delhi on one rainy May day, when wheat worth Rs 15 crore was destroyed in one mandi thanks to poor facilities and management.

Farming too is riddled with waste. Its effects are magnified by a large majority of Indians being dependent on agriculture, a sector that accounts for only 15% of GDP. Farming efficiencies would thus reverberate through society and economy. Gujarat's corporate farming, whereby villagers pool together to form farming companies, should be the model. Besides, water conservation and micro-irrigation projects, the promotion of scientific methods for farming and animal husbandry, and better roads and power have improved agricultural productivity in Gujarat dramatically. With Gujarat's agricultural sector growing at an average rate of 9% annually since 2000, clearly something is working in the state which deserves emulation across the country.

Reform and deregulation across the board are needed to solve the supply side crises that are fuelling India's inflation. Monetary measures alone aren't going to cut it any more. And the only magic that can raise productivity is the magic of the market. India's policymakers generally try reform when everything else has failed. That moment has arrived now.







Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh's recent comment that over the last decade there have been more bomb blasts in the country by Hindu fundamentalists than Muslim fundamentalists is totally unwarranted. It betrays a propensity among politicians to colour-code terrorism. While it is true that certain right-wing Hindu fundamentalist elements have been accused of carrying out acts of terror, categorising them as 'Hindu terror' as opposed to 'Islamic terror' is objectionable. Both tags amount to stereotyping what are violent acts against the people of this country. The paradox is that while the general secretary of the Congress fulminates about Hindu terror, the UPA government has yet to nail those responsible for the Samjhauta Express blasts or those involved in a terror campaign against Muslim religious places. It's only now that the National Investigation Agency has filed a chargesheet in the Samjhauta Express case, more than four years after the blasts which killed 68 people.

What must be avoided is politicising the issue. The religious identity of the accused in the Samjhauta, Mecca Masjid, Parliament or any other terror attack should neither determine the investigation of these cases nor have any bearing on our anti-terror policies. While acts of terrorism are carried out by fringe elements inspired by a radical interpretation of religion, our response must remain secular. It is the very aim of terror groups to divide society along religious lines. Mainstream politicians, driven by compulsions of vote-bank politics, often fall prey to the temptation of verbalising parochial opinions. And security agencies may look in the wrong place. The aim of the security establishment must be to wrap up all forms of terrorism irrespective of religious affiliations. Only then can we fight the scourge of terror effectively.








Pakistan's deceit in cocooning Osama bin Laden in Abottabad as well as the ISI support to the Mumbai attackers has angered Indian public opinion. Unfortunately, Pakistan is a geographical reality and it will always be a neighbour. Punishing Pakistan by not engaging it in areas of our national interest is therefore not wise. Given this, the upcoming meeting between the foreign secretaries of both countries in Islamabad on June 23 is a crucial forward step.

After the previous meeting between them in Thimphu in February, the Indian external affairs ministry had directed the foreign secretary to resume talks on the same eight well-known subjects as before. In the meanwhile, Track II talks have progressed so well on nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) that a Track I discussion on the subject could bear fruit immediately, kick-starting the entire process. Secondly, Afghanistan's outcome hangs threateningly over the entire relationship, and the eight subjects referred to do not include an understanding on Afghanistan. Here again, the forward thinking Track II dialogue has cleared a path for Track I.

When India and Pakistan weaponised in 1998, they had a humble vision of what their arsenals would look like, both countries forswearing the Cold War example. Thirteen years later, there is every indication that beyond the core arsenals are quite a few weapon systems that are either useless or systems that will destabilise deterrence at low levels. In their haste to induct any delivery system, India and Pakistan acquired short-range missiles that today are obsolete and are probably being used as monstrously expensive artillery with conventional warheads. These include the Pakistani Ghazhnavi and Abdali, and on the Indian side, the Prithvi I. Nuclear experts from both countries have agreed in Track II talks that these missiles confuse the perception of the other side and, if withdrawn, would strengthen deterrence considerably at low levels.

Then again, India feels that the induction of the Babur I, the long-range cruise missile with a small circular error probability, and the new Hatf IX will induce Pakistan to abandon its declared doctrine of minimum credible deterrence, and opt for counter force. The Pakistanis have pointed to any number of threats from the Indian side based on the imminence of the Indian Ballistic Missile Defence. If this were to occur as declared by the DRDO, Pakistan's deterrence would degrade and hence the need for a cruise missile.

This issue is too complex to take up immediately without going through the process of establishing crisis stability. Since we have already had two full alerts under the nuclear overhang, in 1999 and 2002, nuclear CBMs cannot wait for too long. Some sample ones have been discussed at Track II forums and are amenable to being transferred to Track I. These include the adoption of a common vocabulary and a Nuclear Risk Reduction Centre. Indian apprehensions about the Chinese arsenal are all the more reason for coming to an agreement with Pakistan in the first instance.

As for the other major issue, discussions on Afghanistan revealed the depth of Pakistan's suspicions and anxieties. India, it was alleged, was engaged in destabilising their country with Indian consulates assisting dissident groups like the Baloch separatists. By creating a second front, India was using "covertisation" - i.e. bringing in military and security personnel under the cover of development projects - and was acting as a 'spoiler' in Afghanistan. The charges flew thick and fast, but as the discussions proceeded, voices emerged from within the Pakistani group urging their colleagues to stop demonising India and recognise that it also has legitimate interests in Afghanistan.

The most recent meeting of the Ottawa dialogue held in Istanbul saw a more accommodating Pakistan position. It has vital strategic interests in Afghanistan derived from historical-cultural-ethnic linkages and was not prepared to open a permanent front on its western border. A former senior military officer explained that Afghanistan was for Pakistan what Nepal signified for India. Pakistan, nevertheless, did not claim an exclusive or dominant status in Afghan affairs. The concept of 'strategic depth' was decisively rejected.

India's strategic interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia are equally legitimate and should be recognised. It is time for Afghan issues to be discussed in official meetings so that each country does not overstate its interests and can hence avoid the other's red lines. To placate Indian anxieties, the Taliban leadership, according to them, no longer seeks a return to a pre-9/11, Sharia-based regime; it would respect the rights of women. They were also willing to terminate their links with al-Qaida and evict foreign militant groups from the country and not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. According to our Pakistani colleagues, it would be possible to reach agreement on the following: after the withdrawal of foreign troops, Afghanistan would require a transitional peace-keeping force to be drawn from friendly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. And secondly, a regional contact group would facilitate Afghanistan's political transition. The members would be inter alia India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and the Central Asian republics.

Agreement on Afghanistan is possible and could lead to a joint approach provided India makes clear its own vision of the endgame after 2014 - and can assure the Pakistanis that it has no interests beyond traditional friendship and communication linkages.

Menon is a strategic affairs analyst and Mansingh is former foreign secretary.





                                                                                                                                                                                                                                'Jazz is AN EXERCISE OF DEMOCRACY'


Milan-based pianist Cesare Picco has composed music for ballets and theatre. He wrote the opera "Il Viaggio di Hans" for the Verona Arena, and has also composed ballets for the Italian dancer Luciana Savignano. Trained since the age of four in classical, modern and other genres, the 41 year old was the opening act at the Delhi Jazz Festival. He spoke to Kim Arora :

How did you get into jazz?

I started learning classical music when i was four. My mother was my first teacher. Up to the age of 12 i played classical. Then one day i listened to a Bill Evans album, and my life changed. It was a shock. He was a piano player so classical, so modern and so jazzy at the same time. So i started to learn another kind of alphabet. Music is a mix of many alphabets. Music is not a universal language. It is an alphabet with rules and grammar, and if you know that grammar, you can go deeper into that kind of music. I don't know the grammar of Indian classical music. I can listen to it from my point of view.

Do you follow Indian music?

I know of Anoushka Shankar and Zakir Hussain. I really like the sound of the sarod. I would like to collaborate with an Indian musician, to see what we can produce with a piano.


What does jazz mean to you?

To me jazz is an exercise of democracy. We have to play respecting the rules. But we have a real freedom to play inside those rules. I know i have to respect the rules and the audience. It is important for me to share my joy with the audience. I don't like people playing just for themselves.

What kind of music do you personally enjoy?

I enjoy playing jazz when i feel free to play without restriction. Every time i play i don't just want to use my hands, i want to transfer something from me to the piano. I love the lightness of modern music. But this lightness is very deep. It's a matter of layers. I think my music has different layers. You can stop at the first layer of melody, but if you want to go deeper, you can.

You are on the EastWest 2011 musical tour right now. Tell us about it?

Yes, my performance at the Delhi Jazz Festival was a part of it. I plan to play in Italy, India, Vietnam, Singapore and Japan till July. Then i'll be back to Europe, Canada and the US. EastWest to me is one word. Maybe i'm from the West, but you are from the West for my friend in Tokyo. I think EastWest is the way for my music to mix various elements, such as silence. It's a very oriental approach, something i learnt in Japan.

Do you go there a lot?

I have been playing there 2-3 times a year for the past five years. After the tsunami, i was shocked. I'm Italian, i know i have my culture in my blood, but the Japanese spiritual approach has changed my approach to music. I decided a couple of days after the tsunami to do something for my friends. I composed a new song called Hope at Sunrise, a piano and cello piece which was telecast over Japanese national radio. I was ready to go there the day after the tsunami. But i'm a musician. There's only so much i can do. I can't possibly help them in the way a doctor can.








There is a strong case for setting up a committee to review the problem that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has with the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS). The BCCI has faith in committees, doesn't it? And if a committee says so, it might even reverse the ostrich-like position it has taken on UDRS.

The BCCI is a monopoly and doesn't feel the need to give any explanation for its decisions. And it can't be blamed for this. What, after all, is the benefit of financial might if you can't even get away with your unreasonable actions but have to account for them like any commoner? Why should the BCCI let go of this most basic pleasure that comes gift-wrapped with power?

A minor irritant is that it creates a vacuum for all kinds of speculation about the motives of the board and sometimes even puts a question mark on the players more identified with opposing the UDRS. The BCCI is practically in charge of ensuring the global health of the game. But it likes to function in a manner that would make the Opus Dei look like Transparency International.

Now our all-weather Test-playing friend England has also deserted us. And if that wasn't complicated enough, Sachin Tendulkar suddenly had a mood change in London. Tendulkar and M S Dhoni have in the past been identified as staunch opponents of UDRS.

A blog post in the Guardian seems like the place from where the fresh trouble has started. Bar one point, the writer has not said anything alarming. It has casually solved the mother of all induction problems. That of deriving a general conclusion from a specific case: "India does not like it [UDRS]. Or more specifically M S Dhoni and Tendulkar do not like it, which pretty much amounts to the same thing." If you never thought that Tendulkar and Dhoni spoke for more than a billion souls, well, you've been educated differently now.

The board and those who oppose the UDRS say that it is not 100% reliable. We take it, then, that the board is 100% reliable. We can even go further and say that life is perfect, so we object to all things that are not 100% foolproof.

It began in Sri Lanka where we lost 2-1 in 2008 when Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan combined well with the UDRS to leave all our top batsmen bleeding. This is where we need some perspective to move on.

I look back at the recent past and see how the UDRS would have helped India in general and Tendulkar in particular. The away series in England would have been a draw as Sreesanth was out leg before at Lord's. We may have won the acrimonious Sydney Test of 2008 and thus the series.

Tendulkar, who made 90 plus in Mohali against Pakistan, would have gone at a low score but in the very next match where he was playing better, he would have survived at 50 plus. At least four times he would have survived in the nineties and his hundreds would have been at least 103 and possibly around 110 as he has had more than his fair share of howlers.

The problem is just how to deal with the board and it is here that most of the mistakes are being made; like openly attempting to send a strong protest message to the board. Taking on the board is stupidity as it makes the board more unreasonable. The best thing would be to join hands and unanimously oppose the use of UDRS. The board would then use its power and take the contrary stand of plumping for the DRS. At this point the detractors should acquiesce, giving the impression that they are scared of the board. That way, they can get what they want without any bloodshed. All we need at this point is someone who can bell the board.








It is said that if a man speaks truth uninterruptedly for 12 years, whatever he speaks thereafter will come true. The saying, at once, reveals the power of truth as also the difficulty of remaining conscious of truth consistently for any length of time.

Theoretically speaking, truth should be a simple task as the most natural thing to do. Truth about oneself is always self-evident. Our thoughts and feelings, fears and aspirations, likes and dislikes are known to us and yet, we hardly express ourselves fully and truthfully. Instead, we battle with our conscience, concoct stories and manipulate our expressions to camouflage our thoughts and true feelings. We choose the hard option driven by all sorts of fears: fear of being found out, of rejection, of losing honour, status and image. As long as the veneer lasts it is fine but the foundation underneath remains ever brittle and shaky.

Seers who reached the summit of existence have done so as they have boldly ventured onto the path of truth with conscience as their sole guide. Gandhiji's uncompromising attitude towards truth is what made him a mahatma. In his autobiographical work, 'My Experiments with Truth', he unabashedly confesses his innermost thoughts and feelings, weaknesses and failings, adducing that 'if something is shameful to reveal, it is more shameful to hide'. Those who did not know him called him a half-naked fakir. But this frail man, partially-clad in a skimpy dhoti but fully clothed in the attire of truth, was more powerful than battalions of armed men dressed in uniform.

In the Ramayana, there are many instances where the miraculous power of truth is revealed. Sita boldly proclaims that if she has been truthful and chaste, Hanuman's tail that was set afire by enemies would not scorch him. The fire god had no option but to bow before the truth. Hanuman's tail remained unharmed despite the raging fire. Again, towards the end of the epic, Sita is asked to prove her chastity before an assembly. This was the second such instance after the fire-ordeal she was made to undergo soon after the war. Mother Earth, unable to bear the travesty of justice, opened up and took her daughter back into her womb.

In more recent times, a distraught middle-aged woman came sobbing and fell at the feet of Kanchi Mahaswami. The compassionate saint blessed her as was his wont, and said: "Sowbhagyavati bhava" - May you enjoy a long and happy married life. The startled woman informed him that she had just received the news of her husband's death on the war front. Upon hearing this, the swami said the words came from him spontaneously and, hence, should be presumed to be God's decree. News arrives that the woman's husband was taken prisoner and that his return was imminent.

Truth is immortal. A shadow of lie can temporarily dim its illumination but only in passing. Lies, however, have a limited life and need to continuously breed and proliferate to keep up the pretence of constancy. Truth is like fresh water, cleansing the mind of sensory debris like desire, hatred, greed, jealousy, envy and animosity. Pursuing truth in thought and action, the mind attains a state of tranquillity and starts mirroring the truth of people, objects, events and situations well beyond constraints of time and space.

It is said that truth is God and God is truth. Hanuman achieved nirvana by chanting the name of Rama. Do we require greater proof?

The author is a Mumbai-based stock market consultant.








Al Qaeda is struggling for relevance. That is the general interpretation of the terror network's decision to appoint Ayman al Zawahiri as its new leader. Zawahiri was number two to Osama bin Laden and so his appointment after his boss's death seems a natural progression. However, business as usual is exactly what al Qaeda did not need if it wanted to remain the head of violent militant Islamicism. Over the past few years al Qaeda has lost much of its support among Arab Muslims, its original base. It has been unable to give much of a boost to regional terror groups in Iraq and Saudi Arabia that swore allegiance to bin Laden. The US has also confined al Qaeda, but it has been the jasmine revolutions that have done the most damage in terms of making the organisation irrelevant.

Zawahiri is a symbol of how much al Qaeda has been sidelined. However, this does not mean the end of Islamicist terror. What it does confirm is that terror is today much less of an Arab Muslim issue as it is an Afghan-Pakistani issue. Zawahiri and the original Arab leaders of al Qaeda live probably in Pakistan. And the closest allies of al Qaeda, most notably the more violent elements of the Taliban, live in the same area. Only two other facets of jihadi terrorism are not Af-Pak centred. First, the remaining al Qaeda affiliates, notably in North Africa, Yemen and Somalia. These may develop potency in future, especially if places like Yemen fall into further chaos. The other are homegrown, isolated terrorist cells among Muslim minorities in the West, Russia and India. Many of these, however, receive inspiration and training from within the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan.

Pakistan's northwest frontier is the new epicentre of Islamicist terror. That it is the likely home of Zawahiri is only part of the reason for this. Pakistan has for decades supported terrorist groups to further political interests against India and now, Afghanistan. The arrival of al Qaeda has meant these groups increasingly became motivated by a larger pan-Islamicist ideology. They do not see allegiance to Pakistan as necessary and, increasingly, sees the State as one of the enemies of jihad. Bin Laden's death's main accomplishment was to remove what was a symbolic detraction from what has been the main terrorist issue of the world for at least the past five or six years: the problem of Pakistan.






We are in dire need of the magic potion that gives tiny Asterix the strength of a Roman army and makes rotund Obelix invincible. Then we could lay about the killjoys who have now computed the traumatic brain injuries notched up in Asterix comics. It is 704 if you must know. Of these 698 were male, 63 .9% were Roman, four were extraterrestrials, yada, yada, yada.

Oh, and the magic potion has a component of mistletoe which contains a compound which has an effect on brain tumours. Why, oh why must some researcher with too much money and nothing to do dissect all the things that make our life worth living?

The very essence of Asterix comics is the scrummage between the indomitable Gauls and the lily-livered Romans. Bashing each other with rotten fish and bopping the bard on the noggin are pastimes for both us and the Gauls. It is unimaginable that the Gauls and the Romans will sit across the table in a civilised manner sipping Pinot Noir and nibbling delicately at chicken vol au vents while discussing forest rights. No, all fights have to end with the Romans hobbling off grievously wounded and the Gauls gnawing savagely at wild boars topped off with vino of doubtful provenance from horns. The problem with such so-called research is that it might give some litigious shyster the idea that he must weigh in against violence, or some such horrifying politically correct notion. First, they ruined it for us by attributing racist motives to the creators of Tintin, then they sanitised our nursery rhymes to the extent of discerning sexually abusive undertones in Little Red Riding Hood. And now that last bastion defended by the Gauls could well fall, something even mighty Caesar has not been able to achieve till now.

But, we shall not give up without a fight to enjoy our fix of mayhem. As the pirate in Asterix would say while gently sinking into the ocean, we say to those who rob us of our rights, Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris (If Caesar were alive, you'd be chained to an oar).







The impossibly high cut-offs for admission in Delhi University (DU) colleges reaching the absurdity of 100% is an emergency that has been brought about by not taking a meaningful note of the progressively rising cut-off marks every year over the last few years. But what can be done? To begin with, i t might be useful to analyse the factors that have brought about this situation. One is the limited number of quality institutions. But we must also acknowledge that an ingredient in the clamour for admission to a particular institution is a matter of perception and brand creation. Then there is the mad race for commerce and economics, as if these are the only courses that promise a future. There is no system in the world that can provide admission to all the students in only two courses in a handful of colleges. If that is the aspiration, then these colleges should be turned into independent universities.

Having said that, there is also no justification for the admission process as it exists today in the DU colleges, whether academically or pedagogically. It is a mere academic convenience, which bases itself on a process of exclusion rather than inclusion. Academically, it wants to slot students into various 'streams' from Class 11 onwards and expects them to live with it for the rest of their academic careers. This makes a mockery of broad-based education and kills creativity and innovation. The education system today is like an assembly-line production in which the child, the raw material, enters from one end and comes out from the other as a mass-produced finished product.

The university can at least make a beginning by taking some small steps. One is not to base its admissions on cut-off marks scored only in Class 12. It is cruel to decide a student's future on just one, three-hour-long examination that comes at the end of 12 years of schooling. Anything can go wrong on a particular day — one may be unwell, there could be a family problem or someone gets caught in a traffic jam on the way to the examination centre.

Besides, the stress of knowing that one exam will decide the 'future' can be benumbing. We all know the pathology of board exams — the child is made to drop extracurricular activities, go from one tuition to another, reduce interactions with friends to the minimum, etc. But the solution doesn't lie in diluting the standards of the boards or awarding unnaturally liberal marks. The problem is not so much about the board exams and results as it is about the admission process to DU colleges.

Why does DU act like a handmaiden to the Central Board of Secondary Education? It must create its own parameters. It can decide to work in percentiles for both Class 10 and Class 12 rather than depend only on marks, and take both into account. It will create a greater parity among the different boards in India, each of which has its own marking system, and DU, being a central university, can't distinguish among them. Finally, it can launch a SAT-like (Scholastic Aptitude Test) examination. Since at least 1986, the National Education Policy has aimed to develop a National Testing Service for India. But that hasn't happened so far. However, if DU can put some of these things in place — it has the potential to do so — it will not only solve its own problem but also show the way to other academic institutions.

Kavita A Sharma is former principal, Hindu College , University of Delhi.
The views expressed by the author are personal




The pattern is consistent. Every time a rape case is reported, especially in Uttar Pradesh, which seems to be topping the list at the moment, the scramble to cover up the crime appears to be the priority for the police rather than making efforts to bring the culprits to book. Witness the latest of t he five rapes over the last two days in the state. A 35-year-old woman is raped and burnt alive, allegedly by five people. The policeman investigating says with a chilling lack of concern that he feels it is only one person who raped her, as though this makes this heinous crime any less. What is alarming is the increasing levels of savagery in such incidents. In another case, the victim was blinded for offering resistance. When a young Dalit girl was allegedly raped and hanged recently, it would appear that the police themselves were either complicit or were the culprits. The Pavlovian response from the police to such crimes appears to be to discredit the victim's statement or, worse still, disregard the complaint. This naturally emboldens criminals who feel that women are fair game and that they have every chance of getting away with it. The police invariably drags its feet on registering cases, and makes it forensically difficult to prove by neglecting to collect the physical evidence. And worse, there is the attitude that somehow or the other, the woman either deserved this punishment or had asked for it. At the lower levels, the judiciary too seems weighted against women who have been sexually assaulted even though the laws are strong and clear on this subject.

It does not help at all that no sooner are such crimes brought to light than they are politicised. So we see a situation of politicians bringing up the rape cases as a weapon against the Mayawati government. There is no doubt that lawlessness in UP is a very worrying factor and one which encourages such crimes. But violence against women is not confined to UP alone. Sexual crimes against women take place right in the heart of the high-security Capital. It is an indication of the lack of value placed on a woman's physical autonomy that men feel that they have a licence to molest in public places. It is also suggestive of a level of societal indifference to such crimes. We have seen people get all hot and bothered about the issue of corruption, and rightly so. But we rarely see such passion when it comes to condemning violence against women. The media too does not go beyond reporting such incidents when they take place, rarely bothering with a follow-up. So, unfortunately, it is quite certain that the pattern which perpetuates sexual crimes is going to play itself out with regularity unless society and the law combine to break the mould.



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






When the Left Front lost power in West Bengal in the recent assembly elections, one consequence was that the empowered committee of state finance ministers that was supposed to guide the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, or GST, lost its head. The Centre's first choice to replace Dasgupta was from the BJP: Bihar's deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi. That didn't happen; Modi's party didn't want to be seen as cooperating with the Centre at a time when it seemed the UPA was on the defensive. Yet Modi, although not the point-person for the GST, hasn't allowed himself to be silenced; he told The Sunday Express: "The GST is in the interest of the country. It is in the interest of the states. Even when the NDA government proposed VAT, many states had opposed and expressed reservations. But ultimately, states have gained. GST is phase II of that process. I believe states will be the gainers after implementation of GST."

This an admirably precise statement of what is, indeed the case. The GST will aid tax collections, allow for growth, and bolster state revenues. There will, of course, be an adjustment period, and some states will have to alter their tax-collection structures. But the BJP is playing petty politics with what is one of the most crucial reforms of the past 20 years, and one essential to kick-start what is becoming increasingly clear is a faltering economy. Modi is to be appreciated for sticking his neck out and saying that he will attempt to "convince" his party into seeing the merits of the proposal. The BJP has committed itself to a simpler tax system in its manifesto, and BJP-ruled states were among the first to implement the VAT.

The GST is not an ordinary reform. Not only does it have the potential to complete rework and invigorate the interface between the productive sectors and the state, but it also requires more work than most. It requires, after all, a constitutional amendment: in other words, it needs the approval of two-thirds of Parliament and half of the state assemblies to come into force. In other words, the BJP could block it quite easily. The prime minister has in the past singled out the Gujarat government for making a U-turn on the GST for non-economic reasons. Hopefully Sushil Modi will be able to persuade his party's other Modi to reverse his stand.






This month when schools across Tamil Nadu reopened after summer vacation, a school in Erode created a bit of stir. Enrolled in the school, it turned out, was a six-year-old girl called Gopika, whose father happens to be the district collector, R. Anandakumar. The Tamil-medium Panchayat Union primary school has no other child of a government official and, reportedly, even teachers prefer to send their children elsewhere — as it is their legitimate right to do, to enrol their children where they think their life chances are better served. Anandakumar's decision to send his daughter to the panchayat school is, instead, a reminder of the need for the privileged and well-connected to be invested in state schools and to narrow the gap, both perceived and very real, with private schools.

A seemingly stray development after Gopika's enrolment is revealing. When news spread that the collector's child was a student there, officials of the panchayat visited the school to recce the facilities. Education is central to the promise of equality of opportunity, a crucial part of the essential contract of our Constitution. This contract has been dishonoured in many ways. In ways that curriculums have been framed, for instance, so that state schools have been denied a beneficially multilingual mix, in the name of protecting local languages. Yet when in such a policy framework when children of those who make and implement the policy are sent to private schools, mostly English-medium, it raises questions about sensitivity to aspirations. And as the Erode case shows, how facilities are checked when a child of a somebody enlists in state-run schools, the message is also reinforced that when the elites opt out of common schools, the responsibility to maintain them too is often abdicated.

It is a careful balance to maintain equality of opportunity without coercion, to have a level playing field in a way that raises the bar. By backing the right to education by law, one side of the problem has been sought to be addressed: private schools have to make available space to under-privileged children. But as the Erode collector has highlighted, there is a bigger challenge yet: to raise the bar at state schools, to pressure the authorities to deliver. It would help if the elite made common cause.






The grand convulsions of change that swept through the Middle East, the mass movements demanding rights, dignity and democracy and dramatically unseating dictatorships, have not reached Saudi Arabia. Instead, what one saw on the roads of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam on June 17 was relatively discreet, uncharacteristically subtle in its numbers and noise, as a few women in abayas drove around in their Hummers and Hondas. Yet, it was a quiet quake, a breakthrough moment against gender discrimination, as they defied the ban on women driving automobiles in the ultra-conservative kingdom — not the best champion of women's rights and possibly the only country to enforce such a law.

It began when a young woman, Manal al-Sharif, posted a YouTube video of her driving and got arrested for 10 days. As with the many revolutions of Arab Spring, the Internet has been the great facilitator in Saudi Arabia's right to drive campaign. Facebook posts, Twitter timelines and Web pages have explained how to flout the restriction and initiated a conversation on rights. Enraged traditionalists have retorted that freedom to drive encourages temptation and vice, and endangers women, discrimination couched in the old codes and canards of safety and morality. It is a reminder of the shape-shifting form of discrimination against women across cultures and countries and of the many freedoms that still remain to be fought for and gained.

Will this movement fade away like the first act of defiance in 1990 when a group of 47 women drove around in their cars and were subsequently made to pledge that they would not repeat the offence? For revolutions to succeed, the enormous will to change should be met with a leadership that accepts, in its wisdom or weakening of power, the need to change. Only then can this inchoate movement perhaps turn into a Rosa Parks moment for women's rights in Saudi Arabia.








The RBI credit policy continued with its anti-inflationary stance, raising interest rates, and indicated that controlling inflation would be its priority. For a central bank to be able to prevent price shocks from becoming persistent inflation, its policy strategy has to go beyond episodic rate hikes to a full-blown strategy of commitment, communication and consistency.

While most people expected the rate hike, considering the increase in inflation as seen in the most recent data, others, such as industry lobbies, objected to the rate hike. It is argued that when inflation is being caused by factors that the central bank has no control over, such as food prices, global commodity price shocks or a large fiscal deficit, there is no role for monetary policy.

It is true that the central bank cannot control an increase in onion prices if the harvest fails, and shocks to inflation will continue to be caused by such difficulties. The only thing monetary policy can do in this situation is to control the medium- or long-run inflation rate. It can ensure that owing to a credible commitment to a low inflation rate in the medium term, the rise in inflation owing to an episodic food price shock is seen by the public as a one-time temporary increase in inflation. That way it will not feed into inflationary expectations, into wage bargains and cost of production, and hence become generalised.

Inflation is the increase in prices in this period compared to the last period. All countries face global commodity price shocks. Price shocks and fiscal deficits create bouts of inflation. The difference is that in some countries, each shock creates a sharp increase in prices, or temporary inflation, which then subsides away. In others, the shocks seem to result in stubborn and persistent inflation. Whether we fall into one case or the other depends entirely upon monetary policy strategy.

Monetary policy cannot control price shocks and the inflation it causes, but it can control inflation persistence. However, this control is a complex and time-taking process. It does not happen merely by hiking interest rates. It happens by communicating to the public that the central bank is committed to inflation control. If the central bank's commitment is credible, and the public believes that the central bank will do what it takes to bring inflation under control, temporary inflation will not feed into wages and price-setting. The inflation rate would go down once the effect of the shock is over. This is the reason why central banks worldwide promise an inflation target. The public understands that the central bank does not control the price shocks but believes that once the shock is over, the inflation rate will come back to target levels.

The second concern about hiking rates is that the RBI should be mindful of the slowdown in output. Here the argument is based on the grounds that today in India investment has slowed. Interest costs form part of the decision to invest. It is, then, feared that rising interest costs will further hinder investment and output growth. However, interest payments are only a small component of investment. Expectations of higher growth, certainty about the policy environment and good governance are some of the other important elements that feed into it. Interest rates have been low all over the world. Real interest rates, measured as nominal interest rates adjusted for inflation, have been low in India as well. However, neither in the rest of the world nor in India have these low interest rates pushed investment rates up. The low rates were intended to help keep consumer demand high to offset the effects of the recession. Once the worst of the recession fears were over, it was time to bring interest rates back up. We erred in letting them remain low for too long.

What is the role of monetary policy in growth? The central bank tries to minimise output volatility. However, in the case of inflation, central banks have a much more direct impact given their integral role in fiat money. In the case of output, the long-run growth rate of output in a country depends on productivity growth which comes from growth in labour, capital and total factor productivity. Merely doing things better, organising and managing them differently or improvements in technology can increase total factor productivity. The best thing that central banks can do to foster long-term growth is to deliver low price volatility, which helps the private sector plan for the future with greater confidence.

Can output volatility be reduced by specifically targeting output growth? Should the RBI not be looking at trying to increase output growth in India today? Central banks usually focus on inflation rather than output for a number of reasons. Traditionally, the Taylor rule for monetary policy puts a positive weight on output gap. The output gap is supposed to measure the difference between the present level of output and potential output. It is, however, very difficult to measure potential output. At any point of time, given the time lags in data, it is also difficult to measure actual output.

Second, a specific focus on output makes communication with the public much harder. A discussion about how much is the output gap and what is the weight being given to it by the central bank has the danger of making the public question the central bank's commitment to inflation control and believe that if output falls far enough, the central bank may turn its focus to it and allow inflation to rise. This again has the danger of allowing inflationary expectations to rise.

We have now seen 10 rate hikes by the RBI in the present interest rate cycle. It is striking that despite the rate hikes, there has been an increase in inflationary expectations. This points towards the need for the RBI to build credibility about its inflation control. Currently the RBI is saddled with a number of other functions. In the medium term, these conflicts of interest need to be removed, but in the short run it is not possible to improve the RBI's credibility through this process. Hence, in the short run, the full power of RBI communication must focus on inflation control as its mantra. If the RBI could succeed in doing that under C. Rangarajan's governorship, surely today's RBI can try too as well.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi







Peace in Sudan is merely the absence of war. Once it was in Darfur where mass killings resulted in the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir. Again the alarm bells are ringing: similar scenes of ethnic cleansing, migration of thousands of refugees and rebels-versus-the-state threaten to plunge the country into civil war.

Not much has changed except for the location. This time it is in Abyei and South Kordofan.

Peace in Sudan has always been elusive. For two decades, the North and the South were involved in a bitter civil war. An end to hostilities came about through the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a deal brokered between the warring factions by Washington. A key component of the CPA was a referendum in which the South would vote "yes" or "no" for secession. The referendum held in January this year saw an overwhelming majority vote for an independent South. The new state will come into being in less than three weeks — on July 9. Now, violence has flared up over points the CPA did not address, chief among them being the status of disputed territories, which include Abyei and South Kordofan.

Drawing a line in the sand is never going to be easy, especially when oil is at stake. In Sudan, 75 per cent of oil fields lie in the South. Abyei is the stretch of land where Arabia touches Africa, nomadic Muslim Arab herders meeting African Christian cattle herders, and the oil fields start. Both sides, the North and the South, stake claim to the territory. In 2005, when the CPA was conceptualised, Abyei too was supposed to have a referendum but the potential of violence over the vote resulted in Abyei being brushed under the carpet.

Now there are reports of Bashir attempting to tilt the demographics of Abyei. Reports from the UN indicate forced migration of Muslim herders, the Misseriya, into the region. On May 21, Bashir's government moved troops towards Abyei. The Southern rebels attacked and in response the Northern army razed villages. The UN has detailed the laying of mines in the region by the Northern army.

The fight now is between the rebels and the North. The catalyst was the official Northern announcement of a potential annexation of two other disputed territories — the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions. Armies from these regions had once fought the government in Khartoum alongside the Southerners and they are now clamouring for freedoms.

Like Abyei, neighbouring Kordofan and its Nuban population too have their status unanswered. They lie within the boundaries of Arab-dominated Northern Sudan but their people are Christians and once allies in the war against the South. The UN has reported acts of genocide against the Nuban people, but the Nubans are no strangers to it; only their story never became too popular.

Even before Darfur happened, the Sudanese government in Khartoum had waged a war against South Kordofan in the 1980s and 1990s. Thousands of Nubans were brandished into "peace camps", where they were forced to convert to Islam, but theirs is a forgotten story. The Nubans have since resisted advances made by Khartoum.

As the date for the formal recognition to South Sudan approaches, the Nubans find themselves in a precarious position: they are a part of North Sudan, a land they once fought with but where they are ethnically outnumbered and religiously marginalised. Calls from the government in Khartoum for South Kordofan to disarm have been ignored. The possibility of unity between Nubans and Khartoum is very low.

These areas are victims of unresolved issues of the partition. Under the rules mandated by the CPA, both areas should have had a referendum following consultations with local people, but this did not materialise.

Calls from the US, the UN and Europe for a cessation of hostilities have been ignored by Bashir. In South Kordofan, echoes of Darfur resonate: Ahmed Haroun, indicted for crimes against humanity and who allegedly orchestrated many of Darfur's murders, has been elected as governor of South Kordofan.

The delineation of this strip of land remains unanswered, as does the sharing of oil revenue and citizenship and once again the North and South stand divided and the road ahead threatens civil war.







As the India-China crisis escalated, so did vehement criticism of Nehru. Dorothy Woodman, an eminent British politician and scholar of that time, has written that the prime minister was "loudly abused". Critics demanded that he should fight the Chinese head-on, if necessary, by entering into "cooperative defence with other powers", a euphemism for accepting foreign military aid. For the first time, Nehru found it impossible to lead public opinion — but also refused to be led by it.

Even considering any abandonment of nonalignment was unacceptable to him. "It is the surest sign of weakness to ask others to save us from external danger... (That) would jeopardise our freedom and shatter completely our place in the world". He explained that his policy was to "settle matters peacefully, so far as possible," just as it was also his "firm policy to fight, if necessary."

By then Nehru clearly stood alone. So much so that on November 27, 1959, he told the Lok Sabha: "If this House thinks that the way our government has carried on this particular work is not satisfactory, it is open to the House to choose more competent men... But if this prime minister has to face this challenge, then hold to him and help him, and don't come in his way."

Meanwhile, the exchange of angry notes between India and China and threatening Chinese activity along the border continued. But there was an important change. There was no repetition of the kind of bloodletting that had taken place at Kongka-La in October ('How Chinese Challenge Erupted', IE, May 23). Instead, the emphasis was on talks. In December 1959, Nehru declined Zhou's sudden invitation, at a mere fortnight's notice, to meet him either in Rangoon or Beijing. The suggested terms of discourse were exactly what Nehru had rejected already.

In early February 1960, however, India acquiesced to Zhou's persistent plea for a summit meeting with Nehru, perhaps because of advice from then Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, who stopped over in Delhi twice during his journey to Jakarta. The long-sought summit took place in the Indian capital from April 20 to 25. It was the last meeting between the two outstanding statesmen who had much in common — high intellect, sophistication, a grasp of history and a sensitivity to world issues — but had become "paired antagonists locked together", in the words of Nehru's official biographer, S. Gopal.

As expected, the talks were a total failure. But to avoid a complete breakdown the two PMs agreed that their officials should jointly examine all the evidence "in their possession with regard to the facts about boundary alignment and present a report; meanwhile both sides should make every effort to avoid friction and clashes on the border." However, the two rival reports in one cover, when they came in November 1960, served no purpose. China did not even publish the volume.

Before and during the failed summit, bitter domestic discord raged in this country, at times theatrically. Nehru had to brush aside strident demands that there should be no welcome for Zhou throughout his stay. Despite the chill all courtesies were maintained. But on the demand for the exclusion from the negotiations of his protégé, the controversial Defence Minister Krishna Menon, Nehru had no option but to yield. However, when Menon did manage to have a pow-wow with Zhou, popular rage knew no bounds.

For his part, Nehru thought that it would be a good idea to expose the Chinese prime minister to the strong sentiment among senior Indian ministers. He therefore told him that some of his colleagues would call on him. Zhou insisted that he would call on them. His talks with Vice-President (later president) Radhakrishnan and Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant went off well. Those with Finance Minister Morarji Desai were a disaster.

On way to India, Zhou had stopped over in Burma (now Myanmar) and concluded a boundary agreement with Prime Minister U. Nu. In it he accepted the McMahon Line in relation to Burma but made Nu agree to the Chinese position that the entire border was "un-delimited" and was negotiated afresh — something China wanted India also to accept. Since the Zhou-Nu talks had been going on for years, as early as April 1957, Nu had informed Nehru that while conveying his acceptance of the McMahon Line as Burma's northern border, Zhou had remarked that he would call it "traditional border" because any reference to the "so-called McMahon Line" would create "problems with India". Before arriving in Rangoon Zhou had signed in Beijing a roughly identical border settlement with Nepal, too.

After the summit fell flat, Zhou flew to Kathmandu to sign a treaty of peace and friendship with the Himalayan kingdom. There he delivered a bitterly anti-India speech, virulently criticising Nehru. Even so, his drive to isolate India did not adequately register on this country.

The pious hope of avoiding "friction and clashes on the border" was a non-starter. While avoiding violence the Chinese had started intruding into vast lands of Ladakh, first in the Chip Chap valley and then further south to areas far beyond not only China's 1956 Claim Line, but also the one they had drawn in 1960.

No wonder Nehru, in consultation with Menon, Army HQ and the ubiquitous intelligence chief, B.N. Mullik, directed that army posts be established as far as possible towards the border, but without clashing with the posts already established by the Chinese. What to do about these Chinese encroachments, he left to the future; but he felt confident that the establishment of Indian posts would restrain further Chinese incursions. Incongruously, this was called the Forward Policy. The Chinese exploited "the provocation", and Britain's Field-Marshal Lord Carver described it as "militarily nonsensical."

And then something startling and unprecedented happened at a platoon-strong post at Galwan in Ladakh in July 1961. Unlike at Kongka-La (1959) the Chinese did not use force but menacingly besieged the post. Only when they withdrew a week later could the post be supplied by air. This was a significant landmark in the inexorable march towards the catastrophic Border War of 1962.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








Institutions today are redefining childhood. A recent newspaper insert stood out as a shocking revelation of what is perhaps brewing in our subconscious: "Personality school for kids six to thirteen, by Gautam Garry Guptaa." I instantly cast a glance at my little one who is fast approaching this "personality" age of six. As he jumps on the bed ecstatically after beating my El Drago beyblade with his Pegasus, I dread to imagine what this could become post such a course. Little angels being taught the art of the handshake and a confident self-introduction. Speech delivery, body language — and wait, what did I just read... voice culture?

So now there will be neurotic mothers banging their heads on the walls while the seven-year-old is very composed and "etiquettely" and counsels her: "Mother, kindly do not over-react. Everything is but transactional in life and you must learn to cope with things. Why don't we just shake hands and call a truce. OK?"

The ad starts by goading kids to become the "cool" kid in town. Is it really important to be the cool kid in town? No. And it's a reality my son has made me aware of. When I too, like typical parents, kept pushing him to do things my way, on the pretext that all children do so and why can't he be like other children, he gently reminded me: "But Mamma, I am not like other children." It is much more important to recognise that each child has his or her own skills, inherent, latent, waiting to be discovered than to condition their minds at such an early age. And, add to that, conditioning the child's body language. How preposterous: to dictate and alter the child's natural rhythm.

As a marketing person, I certainly recognise the business potential of this model. Great business this, with more and more over-ambitious parents flocking to quack educationists who "culture" the young ones with artificial ornamentation rather than inner development. I recently witnessed a kids' party where much of the conversation amongst parents was around which university in Europe and Australia would be ideal. Then you looked around the room and saw a bunch of four-to-eight-year-olds oblivious of such purposeful conversation and enjoying a meaningless magic show with squeaks and squeals that attracted sharp disapproving glares from moms. Tch tch... didn't send your little one to Mr Guptaa's finishing school, did you?

Seriously, what happened to learning these skills through drama, sports, music and elocution? And what happened to discovering a child's passion and interests through life? Through their squeaks and squeals?

There is an age and place for everything. And six is not it. Becoming "cool" or "rich" or "successful" should not be the benchmark placed before such innocence. Such finishing schools are not even suitable for crowned heads. Creating Little Emperors takes away the charm of living. Don't believe me? Ask the royal family, mate.

And what are we grooming our children for? For life or for living the fantasy that has been falsely created by the insecurities that we, as parents, face ourselves? I understand the early levels adopted by the schools like the Sainik Schools, to groom the children to be interested in joining the forces. But this too starts only at the age of 11. But to make adults out of them is undesirable.

I may be wrong. But I would hate to see my child come home after a session of being a conditioned guinea pig and behave all prim and proper. No, Mr Guptaa.

I want him jumping on the bed.

I want him rolling on the carpet, I want him to express his feelings, I want him to laugh aloud, to cry, to sing, to sulk, to obey, to disobey. I want him to fly the way he wants. My son is a six-year-old child. I will not make him a six-year-old CEO.

He doesn't know that just-right handshake yet. But he sure knows how to express love when he puts his little hands around you and holds you tight.

The writer is CEO, Product of the Year, India






While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have gotten a lot of things right on foreign policy, they've made quite a mess in Israeli-Palestinian relations, where they've alienated all sides and generated zero progress. They've been inconsistent — demanding a settlements freeze then backing down — unimaginative, and politically wimpy. Then again, the actors they've had to work with were both lemons — a Palestinian government that was too divided to make any big decisions and an elusive right-wing Israeli government that was strong enough to make big decisions but had no will to do so.

But you know what they say to do with lemons? Make lemonade.

The Obama team is in a fix. The Palestinian Authority, having lost faith in both Israel and the US, is pushing for the United Nations to recognise an independent Palestinian state, within the 1967 lines in the West Bank and Gaza. Once that is in hand, the Palestinian Authority could then start a global push to pressure Israel into withdrawing its settlers and security forces, or face sanctions and delegitimisation. Israel is obviously opposed to this move.

As an alternative, the US is trying to get the parties to resume peace talks on a comprehensive agreement based on terms laid out by the president in mid-May — two states for two peoples, with the 1967 lines as the starting point, and then whatever land swaps Israelis and Palestinians mutually agree to beyond that. But if the parties won't accept this — and for now they are resisting — then we're headed for a real train wreck at the UN in September.

How about a different approach?

If the Palestinians want to take this whole problem back to where it started — the UN — I say let's do it. But let's think much bigger and with more imagination.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the UN passed General Assembly Resolution 181, partitioning Palestine into two homes for two peoples — described as "Independent Arab and Jewish States." So why don't we just update Resolution 181 and take it through the more prestigious Security Council? "This body reaffirms that the area of historic Palestine should be divided into two homes for two peoples — a Palestinian Arab state and a Jewish state. The dividing line should be based on the 1967 borders — with mutually agreed border adjustments and security arrangements for both sides. This body recognises the Palestinian state as a member of the General Assembly and urges both sides to enter into negotiations to resolve all the other outstanding issues." Very simple.

Each side would get something vital provided it gives the other what it wants. The Palestinians would gain recognition of statehood and UN membership, within provisional boundaries, with Israel and America voting in favor. And the Israelis would get formal UN recognition as a Jewish state — with the Palestinians and Arabs voting in favor.

Moreover, the Palestinians would get negotiations based on the 1967 borders and Israel would get a UN-US assurance that the final border would be shaped in negotiations between the parties, with land swaps, so theoretically the 5 percent of the West Bank where 80 percent of the settlers live could be traded for parts of pre-1967 Israel.

Both sides would have the framework for resuming negotiations they can live with. Meanwhile, the US, rather than being isolated in a corner with Israel, can get credit for restarting talks — without remaining stuck on the settlements issue.






When I was 17, I took a record of John Cage's piano pieces out of the library. The pieces were interesting, but what really arrested my attention was the B-side of the album — a work called The Dreamer That Remains, by a composer I'd never heard of named Harry Partch. This was music from another planet: unearthly yowling strings, metallic twangs, rippling liquid percussion. I couldn't even identify the instruments.

I loaned the record to a friend of mine. For years, as far as we could tell, we were the only people who knew about Harry Partch. He was, in a sense, ours.

This was in the '80s, a time when there was simply no way of learning much more about Harry Partch, at least not that I knew of. If I were a 17-year-old discovering Harry Partch today, I could Google him, and I'd immediately find the Harry Partch Information Centre, where I'd learn all about his system of intonation with a 43-note octave and his instruments made of bamboo, jet-engine nose cones, artillery-shell casings and whiskey bottles, with names like the Gourd Tree, Boo II, Zymo-Xyl and Marimba Eroica. I'd be able to connect with hundreds of other people who were interested in Harry Partch, avant-garde music and other weird stuff, and not have to feel so eccentric and freakish and alone.

All of which is good, of course. That's what the Internet is for, yes? Information — zettabytes of information — at our instantaneous disposal.

Except if I'm recalling correctly, adolescents secretly like feeling eccentric and freakish and alone, hoarding pop arcana and cultivating ever-dweebier erudition. They recite lines from cult movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo Man and Napoleon Dynamite as though they were passwords to a speakeasy; wear buttons bearing the names of obscure music groups as if they were campaign ribbons; and list favorite films and books and bands on their Facebook pages as if they were as essential as name and age and gender.

That proprietary sense that my friend and I had about Harry Partch, our sense of belonging to an exclusive club of cognoscenti, is why teenagers get so disgusted when everybody else in the world finds out about their favorite band. It's fun being In The Know, but once everyone's in it, there's nothing to know anymore.

When I was older, I pored over a book called Cult Films that described the plots of movies like King of Hearts, Harold and Maude and Behind the Green Door. This was before home video; the only way you were ever going to see any of these films was if they happened to be on TV late at night.

There are some celebrated films that have long been hard to find on DVD or the Internet: Stanley Kubrick's first film, Fear and Desire, for example. When I found out it had become available, I was almost disappointed. It was fun not being able to see it, not having every last thing a click away. Because what we cannot find inflames the imagination.

Kurt Cobain once said in an interview that long before he'd heard any actual punk rock music, he studied magazine photos of punk musicians and imagined what the music sounded like. It must have sounded to him — who knows? — something like what would later be called grunge.

Instant accessibility leaves us oddly disappointed, bored, endlessly craving more. I've often had the experience of reading a science article that purported to explain some question I'd always wondered about, only to find myself getting distracted as soon as I started reading the explanation. Just knowing that there is an answer is somehow deflating. If some cryptozoologist actually bagged a Yeti and gave it a Latin name, it would just be another animal. An intriguing animal, no doubt, but would it really be any more bizarre or improbable than a giraffe or a giant squid?

I hope kids are still finding some way, despite Google and Wikipedia, of not knowing things. Learning how to transform mere ignorance into mystery, simple not knowing into wonder, is a useful skill. Because it turns out that the most important things in this life — why the universe is here instead of not, what happens to us when we die, how the people we love really feel about us — are things we're never going to know.









The insurance regulator seems to be on the verge of postponing another one of its promises. After a long debate, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) had issued orders in February this year for portability of health insurance policies to be effective from July 1. Portability means dissatisfied policyholders will not have to put up with poor service from their insurance companies for fear of losing the no-claim bonus and the pre-existing disease cover. Instead, they can now switch to another insurer. The insurance regulator has now called a meeting of all general and specialist health insurers on June 24 to take stock of their preparedness and the hurdles in the smooth transition of portability. But reading into the concerns raised by insurance companies on how to price a product where consumers can be fickle, the rollout of portability is unlikely to happen from the scheduled date. Basically, the companies are saying they need to have more freedom to build their policies in a market where consumers can shop without loss of cover. The exclusions for coverage of certain treatments as suggested by Irda in its draft guidelines are very few while most of the current products in the markets have a host of exclusions. The regulator needs to figure these and arrive at a standardised rate across the same kind of product. The concerns have some merit for the R8,305 crore industry. If customers get the impression that portability has its perils, that will go against the very objective of the switching system.

Perhaps both the regulator and the insurers can take a lesson from their counterparts in the telecom industry, which has managed the transition more smoothly. In this context, probably a common pool or a company that centralises the data of customers who want to switch can be considered even at this stage, though this could be tricky, given the intense sensitivities of the insurance companies about sharing data. General insurers, especially the public sectors ones, are bleeding on their health insurance portfolio so they have reason to fear portability. The experience of last year, when public sector insurers suddenly withdrew the cashless facility that was being offered to policyholders, is something the industry considers seriously. The experience with portability suggests that the regulator needs to be more careful in planning changes that the nascent nature of the industry will not allow. The plan for public issue, for example, has had to be postponed too many times, mostly because the industry is not ready for it. But the postponements do not reflect too well on the regulator. Is the Irda working too much in a silo?





In February this year, Coal India announced that it planned to pick up a 15% stake in the Australian assets of US-based coal firm Peabody. When a company of the size of Coal India makes this sort of announcement, people in the trade sit up and take notice. Other companies followed suit, and some picked up pace on their bids, like Rio Tinto for Riversdale. All of them completed their deals. But last week, Coal India said the joint venture will take more time to sew up. This comes after the coal company was informed it can bid for only listed companies overseas, automatically eliminating the scope for picking up unlisted bargains. The current delay is as usual, the doing of a government that is taking its time over clearances on issues like the listing of the proposed company. Remember, all this comes despite the government dangling the Maharatna tag on the company, meant to override just such delays. Peabody Energy is the world's largest private sector coal company, not some nondescript entity with an opaque financial structure. Valuations of a joint venture with it shouldn't be a problem. There are two implications from the delay. It pushes back the chance to acquire new coal mines that India badly needs. The second is the possibility that some other company may put in a rival bid.

Meanwhile, as widely reported by media, India is in the middle of a coal crisis. With around two-thirds of the coal produced in the country being used in power generation, according to Planning Commission data, any shortage in coal availability is sure to hit the power sector in a big way. The power ministry predicts that a coal shortage would mean the production of 26,000 MW (12.3% of India's 1,71,000 MW of installed capacity) less electricity in 2011-12. The delays are, therefore, precisely quantifiable and ought to be charged to the coal ministry. The coal ministry is like many of India's line ministries, with little knowledge of issues like mergers and valuations. They were set up to allocate scarce resource among competing ends. There can be no other reason why the same ministry acquiesced to a plan to set up Coal Videsh with five ministries to report to for any decision. That company has no assets till date.







Between them, RIL, ONGC and Coal India make up 12% of the market cap of all listed companies on the BSE. Each of them has run into competition with the other in the last few months, ironically for bad news. Each of those relate to some policy aspect of the government of India.

You cannot have a situation that in a stock market top three companies are in trouble but the economy is in fine health. This is a trouble, and a big one at that. But the way to fix their problems is also a fine lesson on how to get the better of the corruption debate in India.

The corruption that excites Indians the most, happens where the government impacts the lives of the citizens. So, it follows, the way to cut down corruption is not to run for more governmental role but root for a leaner entity.

As the experience of these three companies show, when the government abandons this principle and tries to bite more than it can chew, blue-chip companies go down and corruption surfaces.

In the case of Coal India and ONGC, the government has foisted on them social responsibilities that should not be part of their role at all. In the process, it has created a fine avenue for corruption as the companies have struggled with conflicting demands, which any management will find impossible to satisfy. In the case of RIL, where there was a need for vigilance and clarity in drawing up contracts, it has fallen short.

Given the massive weightage of these three, it will be a brave fund manager indeed who can decide to invest in India and yet steer clear of these from her portfolio. The impact is, therefore, making itself felt in the stock market which, in terms of performance among the emerging market economies, is now just one rung above the bottom.

So, fixing the problems that afflict these three can salvage a lot from the current feel-bad about the India investment story. At the cost of replication, the ONGC problems stem around the rising subsidy burden it is being asked to bear, even as its own revenue growth is falling off. It has not come into this situation suddenly. For the past two years, fund houses have issued warnings about the stock. The sad aspect is that the money this company is shelling out as subsidy for oil marketing has created the most deadly oil mafia in the country. Its latest victim is Jyotirmoy Dey. The ONGC payout is thus the government's contribution to corruption.

Similar is the case of Coal India. Since coal nationalisation in the 1960s, the exclusive right to market-free coal has passed on to this company. In terms of documentation, corruption in coal is perhaps India's most recorded bit of economic history. Again, it all came up because of the monopoly to sell coal given to the company. This monopoly was written in to save the people from the excesses of the private sector. Obviously, if instead of nationalisation at that point, had the government pushed for hard regulations enforced by a regulator, the corruption in the sector would not have so flared up. Dhanbad is a town where it is so easy to point out houses of ex-Coal India employees—they have the most impressive ones. The coal mafia is second only to the petrol mafia in this country in terms of reach.

Both Coal India and ONGC will shine once this link between corruption-government control-loss is taken care off by them.

There are other problems that these two face, like the issue of environmental problems vis-à-vis mining, or the lack of railway rakes in the case of Coal India, or ageing wells and shortage of rigs for ONGC. But those are business risks that they can handle far better once their revenue stream is sequestered from the social burdens.

On the face of it, the problems regarding RIL could look more difficult. But they are not. The issue of fixing the dwindling gas reserves from its offshore fields is again a business risk that hopefully its new partner BP will be able to take care of. But analysts are more worried about the fallout of the CAG report. The report has alleged that the company has run up more than permissible cost to cut back payment to the government from its revenue. Of course, this is a draft report, which means that many of the paragraphs will be knocked off by the auditor after discussions with the petroleum ministry. But the charges are tough and, whatever may the petroleum ministry's explanations, do show the production sharing contract was rather loosely drawn up. Since the ministry has all through been busy allocating petrol pumps and gas agencies, the technical finesse of such contracts was basically outsourced.

This is also the crux of the corruption cycle. Government officers narrow their focus on supremely avoidable stuff and leave the gates open for big contractors to draw up rules that favour them.

All these mistakes have not been committed by a coterie of devious guys bent on creaming off India's fortunes. These have evolved as supposedly laudable plans to make the lives of the people better, over decades. Well meaning bureaucrats and even politicians actually thought they were doing good for the country. But the lessons are obvious—that more government at the wrong place is another word for corruption.

The debate on the Lokpal Bill will take quite some time to navigate until it becomes an Act. And then people will have to be appointed and so on. For the time being, it is possible to use our domestic equivalent of the 123 rule to fix the problems of these companies fast. Those are not controversial ones which the Lokpal will pick up for examination. Instead, they are plain vanilla issues, but sort out a good percentage of the incidence of corruption for a lot of Indians. There is really little time to lose.






Even as the IMF board ponders on its important decision as to who to choose between the two candidates it has before it, the drama in the Eurozone is moving into melodrama. The argument for a European candidate once again for the IMF job is that a European alone can tackle the euro crisis. Apart from being racist (or continentalist), this statement is also wrong. Eurozone decision makers, including the French minister of finance Christine Lagarde, have so far failed to get to grips with the Eurozone problem. They were in denial at first; then tried to deal with Greece in isolation last May and then, when three more countries went under, they were at a loss to know how to tackle the structural defects in the euro monetary system. They have tried to deal with each country on a case by case basis but failed to calm the markets on any one of them.

Christine Lagarde is a big player in this game. France and Germany together are meant to drive the European Union and are major stakeholders in the Eurozone. France only wants to tie the economies in a tighter control grid so that their budgets would be co-ordinated or some central oversight would be possible. Germany for a long time wanted all Eurozone members to behave like Germany did—prudent and fiscally responsible. Then its desire changed to saving the German banks who had a big position in Eurozone debt. Now it is quite clear that Germany thinks, or at least its finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says, that it would accept some restructuring, i.e., a haircut being taken by private bondholders.

Alas, the decision-making structure in the Eurozone is not simple; if a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Eurozone decision-making structure is something worse. The European Central Bank does not like haircuts and cannot hold Greek bonds if they have been reneged upon and will have to sell them in the event of a haircut. This will exacerbate the Greek problem. The IMF, which is also involved in the rescue cases, is blowing hot and cold on whether it will meet its commitment for the next tranche of Greek borrowing of 110 billion euros due next month.

The Greek parliament, in the meantime, is meeting and facing angry crowds (no Anna Hazare on fast here). The government has few options and is now hoping that if it privatises many of Greece's assets—worth around 250 billion euros—it may have some respite. But this is a tricky political decision for an ostensibly Socialist Party. Even if the government decided to sell, it may not get its hands on the money for a while and a fire-sale may be counter-productive. Greece's deficit is around 9% of its GDP and the debt-GDP ratio is around 157%.

The tragedy is that even if Greece eliminates the deficit at a great cost in fiscal pain, its debt would only stop rising, not disappear. There is no life after deficit elimination; not until the debt is a reasonable proportion of GDP. Germany went through a decade of austerity when it had to absorb the dysfunctional East German economy after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But Germany had sound finances in its western part and a people willing to work hard and save a lot. Its East German assets proved worthless since no one wanted to buy the junk capital stock of East Germany, but it managed to come through, with its economic health restored.

This is one reason why Germans have no sympathy for the Greeks who they think are lazy, retire too early and pay no taxes. Of course, Greece should never have been allowed to join the Eurozone. But then, political considerations demanded that the euro have many members, so gross irregularities in Greece's national accounts were ignored. Now everyone is paying for the Greek fiddle.

There is, by contrast, the case of Iceland, which went bankrupt two years ago. Iceland, like Ireland, had a problem with its private banks which built up excessive liabilities by offering an above market rate interest rate on deposits and then crashed when Lehman Brothers crashed. The debt—which were the deposits taken by the banks operating abroad—was left with the Iceland Treasury. But in a referendum the Icelanders voted to renege on the debt and forced the creditor countries, mainly the UK and the Netherlands, to renegotiate. Iceland could let its currency depreciate, which is painful but still lets individual citizens make their adjustments to inflation. Now, two years on, Iceland has come back to international markets and can borrow at 5%, way below what Greece has to pay.

There is a lesson for the Eurozone here. Not every creditor deserves a break. They should have known it was risky to lend to Greece; let them bear the cost.

The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer






Ten years after 9/11, al-Qaeda has been destroyed by the hideous violence it unleashed. Key leaders have been killed, the organisation's fighting capabilities degraded, its financial infrastructure demolished. In western Asia, democratic movements have succeeded in challenging despotic regimes, undermining al-Qaeda's claims that violence alone could catalyse change. Few experts believe Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organisation's new chief, has the charisma, the resources, or the legitimacy needed to raise al-Qaeda from the ruins. Yet the ideas that drove 9/11 exert more influence than ever before. From the Indian Ocean to the deserts surrounding Timbuktu, its message has been taken up by a new generation of jihadist leaders. Last week, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb battled Niger's military near the uranium mines of Arlit, where it has kidnapped several French and African nationals; in Indonesia, the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyya plotted to poison police personnel. Islamists linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, another regional affiliate, are resurgent in Yemen; large parts of Pakistan are inching ever closer to the abyss because of the depredations of jihadists; Somalia's descent into chaos is complete. Each of these regions has served as a launch pad for transnational mass-casualty plots; sooner or later, one will succeed.

How has this come about — and what does it portend? Al-Qaeda emerged from a movement, not the imagination of one man. It represented a flowering, at a particular point in history, of a strain of Islamist thought that was enabled, among other things, by Saudi cash, and empowered by the United States' war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Though al-Qaeda itself has been destroyed by its decision to turn on its historic patrons, no real challenge exists to the ideological tide that it rode. This, in turn, is a consequence of the west's propping-up of authoritarian regimes in many of the regions where al-Qaeda affiliates have flourished. These regimes stamped out democratic political opposition and used competitive religious chauvinism to shore up legitimacy. Each of al-Qaeda's new affiliates thus is underpinned by a complex welter of political conflicts and conflicts of class and identity that no military will ever resolve. The bottom line: al-Qaeda might be on its knees, but there's no reason to believe the jihadist movement, of which it was even at its peak a small part, is anywhere near defeat. "History," wrote Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden's mentor, "does not write its lines except with blood. Glory does not build its lofty edifice except with skulls; honour and respect cannot be established except on a foundation of cripples and corpses." Despite bin Laden's death, and the uncertain future of the jihadist project over which al-Zawahiri now presides, that foundation seems set to grow.






The position of the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) on the Decision Review System (DRS) is not merely untenable; it's arrogant and autocratic. The timing of its rejection of the use of DRS for the series in England shows as much. The first Test starts on July 21, more than three weeks after a meeting of the International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executives in Hong Kong to consider the cricket committee's recommendation that DRS be incorporated in all forms of the game. The BCCI — in not waiting till the end of June for the meeting, in which evidence of the improvement in technology will be presented — acted with the high-handedness it has often been criticised of. Its resistance to DRS has been particularly striking, marked by a desire to control the discourse: when Duncan Fletcher, unveiled as the coach of India, was asked about the system, a senior BCCI official intervened, ensuring the question wasn't answered. It was Fletcher, incidentally, who first presented the idea of a player referral system to the ICC in 1999, an idea that was at that time dismissed by the game's governing body.

The BCCI's resistance stems from its view that ball-tracking technology isn't error-free. The board reportedly also has misgivings about the expenses involved, and about who should bear them. Both excuses are easily countered. First, it's perplexing that the BCCI, which is so vehemently opposed to Hawk Eye, a ball-tracking system, has no problems with the accuracy of Hot Spot, which uses infra-red imaging, and Snickometer, which works on audio data. Hot Spot may appear convincing, but it has run into trouble on very hot days; Snickometer is instructive but rarely clinching. The premise of the BCCI's stand that a system must be 100 per cent accurate if it is to be used is fatally flawed. Umpiring decisions, especially those pertaining to leg before appeals and thin edges, are estimates. The goals must be to achieve the most precise approximation and ensure that 'howlers,' the most egregious of errors, are reduced. DRS achieves both aims — empirical evidence suggests as much. Crucially, a large majority of umpires and players support it. The ICC, which can be faulted for piecemeal implementation of the system, must commit itself to greater research and development, and to evolving a formula that makes DRS commercially viable. But it's the BCCI that has the bigger commitment to make — to stop acting like a bully and act responsibly as the most influential entity in the world game.







The latest draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on hydrocarbon production sharing contracts and the transfer of oilfields to Reliance is only the latest of the mega scams to surface in the country. The breadth and depth of corruption in India is clear from the country's plunging ranking in Transparency International's global corruption survey. Corruption has come to affect every citizen in the country. Bribes have to be paid for ration cards, passports, building permits, and for doing even normal business. Street vendors and rickshaw pullers are forced to pay bribes for exercising their fundamental rights. Villagers are forced to pay bribes for getting their wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) or for any other entitlements in other schemes. High-level corruption is plundering the public exchequer, distorting government policies, and creating a criminal mafia, which has come to dominate all institutions of power. Low-level corruption is making life impossible for common citizens.

A major reason for this rampant, widespread corruption is the lack of an independent, empowered, and accountable anti-corruption institution that can be trusted to credibly investigate complaints of corruption and prosecute the guilty. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is controlled by the very people who are the fountainheads of this corruption and is required to seek the permission of the very people who need to be investigated and prosecuted. The Central Vigilance Commissioner of India (CVC) is selected by the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, and the Leader of Opposition, who have a vested interest in ensuring that weak bureaucrats get selected. Moreover, the CVC has only recommendatory powers and most of his or her recommendations are disregarded by the government, which wants to protect corrupt public servants. The courts take years to conclude trials and there is also considerable corruption in the judiciary because of the lack of accountability of the higher judiciary and the lack of an effective anti-corruption agency to investigate corruption within its ranks.

This is why we have been demanding the constitution of an independent Lokpal institution — which will be completely independent of the government, empowered to effectively investigate corruption of all public servants of the Central government, including the Prime Minister, the judiciary, etc. (with Lokayuktas in the States to investigate public servants of the State governments and local bodies), and accountable in multiple ways to ensure that any corruption in the Lokpal institution would be immediately investigated and action taken. This is exactly what is required by the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which has just been ratified by India after much delay.

In the Jan Lokpal Bill proposed by us, the 11-member Lokpal would be selected by a broad-based selection committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition, the Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC), the CAG, two Judges of the Supreme Court, and two Chief Justices of the High Courts. The selection would be done transparently by first setting up a search committee consisting of retired CECs and CAGs who would first call for public nominations, then prepare a shortlist which would be put up on a website for public comments about the shortlisted candidates after which the selection committee would finally select the members.

This 11-member Lokpal would have a full investigative agency under its control through which it would get complaints investigated. If corruption is found after investigation, the corrupt public servant would be prosecuted in special courts within the judicial system. The Bill provides that the number of special courts to try corruption cases would be increased to ensure that trials are completed within a year. Proceedings for removal of the corrupt public servant would also be initiated by the Vigilance Department under the Lokpal, which would give a full opportunity for hearing to the public servant. The Lokpal's final recommendation for penalty against the public servant would be binding on the government. This would ensure that the bosses of the corrupt public servants who are often complicit in their corruption cannot protect them, as is happening today.

The Lokpal would thus be a comprehensive anti-corruption institution independent of the government. The 11 members of the Lokpal would be accountable to the Supreme Court of India, which would examine complaints against them and order their removal. The investigative and vigilance machinery under the Lokpal would be accountable to independent complaints authorities created in each State, apart from to the Lokpal itself. Moreover, the Lokpal institution would be subject to a financial and performance audit by the CAG. Most importantly, the functioning of the Lokpal would be mandated to be transparent and the details of its investigations would be put up on its website. Also, the orders of the Lokpal would be subject to judicial review by the High Courts and the Supreme Court.

In the last two meetings of the Joint Drafting Committee (JDC), the Ministers representing the government rejected most of the critical elements in this vision of the Lokpal. They see the Lokpal as an essentially 11-member institution where all decisions would have to be taken by these members themselves. Instead of a comprehensive anti-corruption machinery, they see it as an institution to look at a few cases of high-level corruption. Even there, they do not want the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary, and the Members of Parliament who take bribes for voting or speaking in Parliament to be covered. Also, they want the Lokpal to be merely a recommendatory body like the CVC in matters relating to the removal of corrupt public servants.

They were neither willing to debate these issues publicly nor even willing to place the audio records of the meetings on a public website. They were also not prepared to debate these issues further between us. It has therefore been decided that the Ministers would prepare their own draft and we would prepare our draft of the Lokpal Bill, each of which would be placed before the Cabinet, which would decide which Bill would be placed before Parliament.

We are repeatedly being told that laws have to be made by the elected representatives of the people and civil society has no role to play. This view shows an arrogance of power. Those running the government have forgotten that they are merely the representatives of the people and they must run the government and make laws as per their wishes. Therefore, while deciding which Lokpal Bill to pass, they must find out what the people want and, if they have any doubt about that, they can have a referendum on the disputed issues.

The people of this country are fed up with the all-pervasive massive corruption in the country and are determined to have a strong and independent Lokpal. Any government or party that goes against the wishes of the people will do it at its own peril.

( This article by Team Anna was submitted to The Hindu by Prashant Bhushan, one of the members of Team Anna on the Joint Drafting Committee of the Jan Lokpal Bill.)







"You fought for others' rights. Now who will fight for you?" screamed in grief Beena, the mother of Jyotirmoy Dey, Editor, Crime Investigation, Mid-Day, who was shot dead by a gang of four from the underworld on June 11 in Mumbai ( The Hindu, June 13, 2011). Shubha, his journalist wife, said, controlling her grief: "There were no threats. Nothing he spoke of." J. Dey's sister Leela lamented: "You got us fame and a good status. But we wanted only you."

These are heart-rending laments from a family that has been shattered. There is perhaps no better way of telling in brief the tale of this much loved and respected journalist with the highest commitment to his chosen profession. His family was supportive of his all-consuming professional mission of exposing to the public anti-social elements, whether they were hired killers or cartels of criminals or terrorists or corrupt Ministers, bureaucrats and police officers, in the larger interest of the society.

A late entrant to journalism, J Dey had in a highly productive period of two decades published scores of well-researched and bold articles about Mumbai's mysterious underworld. In the process, he won the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of readers and was acknowledged and admired by scores of fellow-journalists. Many of his colleagues have recorded the way in which an endearing Jyotirmoy meticulously built up contacts among different sections of people with a "bottom-to-top" approach.

Jyotirmoy's fearless articles on "encounter deaths" received wide acclaim for their accuracy. Many of his recent reports were on the oil mafia, which included a well-researched piece on the pilferage of oil from other States, which allegedly involved a "Rs. 10,000-crore scam." His most recent assessment was that the underworld activity had started reviving itself after a long gap, in a new form in the context of expanding global trade. His "Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers" was published last year. Top police officials were among his avid readers.

Other intrepid Indian journalists have been killed or maimed in targeted attacks. But those attacks didn't become national news, at least not in any sustained way. But the coverage of the gunning down of Jyotirmoy Dey, and of the implications of the failure to apprehend the murderers for several days after the brutal murder, by the print and broadcast news media has been detailed and impactful. This owes in no small measure to the spontaneous solidarity and determination shown by Mumbai journalists who have been on a non-stop vigil to press for concrete state efforts to bring justice not only to the bereaved family, but also to the journalist fraternity.

The media coverage has led to serious public discussion on issues revolving round the underworld in Mumbai and elsewhere and what has come to be perceived as an unholy nexus comprising mafiosi, politicians, and police. The state of freedom of expression, and in particular the safety of journalists who are determined to expose this nexus, have come into sharp focus. The police delay in tracing the murders is being watched with great concern by the people.

Although Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was quick to promise that a new law would be put in place to protect the lives of journalists in the light of the growing violence against them, one wonders whether the government is serious about this. The Chief Minister, who reportedly came under pressure from some heavyweight Ministers, subsequently seemed to resile from his original position by noting that there was a broad consensus in the Cabinet on bringing a law to protect journalists but also on a provision to address complaints against the media. As matters stand, according to Mr. Chavan, a committee of Ministers will prepare a new draft law and introduce it in the next session of the State Assembly.

Hearteningly, journalists in Mumbai seem determined not to let this appalling crime, and the issues arising out of it, go the way of previous attacks on journalists and media organisations and the issues they raised. Two organisations of journalists, the Mumbai Press Club and the Marathi Patrakar Parishad, and an advocate have filed public interest litigation (PIL) petitions in the High Court to press their demand for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the death of J. Dey. (A former journalist has also filed a petition in the court.) The High Court ordered the Maharashtra government to file a status report on the investigation on June 21. The advocate-petitioner, V.P. Patil, expressed the apprehension that if the investigation was not entrusted to the CBI urgently, the matter might end up as a case of "fake investigation," very much like a fake encounter.






As the Obama administration nears a crucial decision on how rapidly to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan, high-ranking officials say that al-Qaeda's original network in the region has been crippled, providing a rationale for an accelerated reduction of troops.

The officials said the intense campaign of drone strikes and other covert operations in Pakistan — most dramatically the raid that killed Osama bin Laden — had left al-Qaeda paralysed, with its leaders either dead or pinned down in the frontier area near Afghanistan. Of 30 prominent members of the terrorist organisation in the region identified by intelligence agencies as targets, 20 have been killed in the last year and a half, they said, reducing the threat they pose.

Their confidence, these officials said, was buttressed by information found in bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. They said the trove revealed disarray within al-Qaeda's leadership, with a frustrated bin Laden indicating that he could no longer direct terrorist attacks by lieutenants who feared for their own lives.

The American success in the counterterrorism campaign would seem to bolster arguments for a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan — an issue the administration is currently examining. The officials emphasised that Mr. Obama had not yet made a determination on that question.

Fighting al-Qaeda, they noted, was the main reason Mr. Obama agreed to deploy 30,000 more troops last year, even as he adopted a broader, more troop-intensive and time-consuming strategy of making key towns in Afghanistan safe from the Taliban and helping the Afghans to build up security forces and a better-functioning government.

The focus on progress against al-Qaeda was also a counter to arguments made by Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates and other military officials in recent days that the initial reduction of troops should be modest, and that American combat pressure should be maintained as long as possible so that the gains from the surge in troops are not sacrificed.

The military has been pressing for a plan under which only a few thousands troops out of the 1,00,000 currently in Afghanistan would come home immediately, with the bulk of the 30,000 troops sent last year remaining for another year or more.

The officials declined to discuss Mr. Obama's views on how many troops should be withdrawn, or how quickly. But their analysis of the counterterrorism operations clearly reflected conclusions presented to the president as the deliberations over force levels reach their final stage. The conclusions would seem to give Mr. Obama room to justify a more accelerated withdrawal than the plan sought by the Pentagon.

The White House appears to be moving swiftly to conclude the internal debate, with officials saying that the President may announce a decision as early as next week, avoiding the kind of drawn-out deliberations that preceded Mr. Obama's decision in late 2009 to increase troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000.

Mr. Gates, in an interview on Friday, said: "This was a much more abbreviated process. Nobody wanted to go through what we went through in the fall of 2009."

In the 18 months since then, one official said, Mr. Obama has developed strong views about what has worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The infusion of troops into Afghanistan, he said, had broken the momentum of the Taliban, which in 2009 had made alarming inroads toward its goal of toppling the Afghan government.

Far from broken

But the success in singling out terrorists in neighbouring Pakistan has been far more striking, with another official saying that the United States was "poised" to defeat al-Qaeda in what was once its most thriving haven. The organisation could no longer use that region as a "launching pad for attacks," he said. "The safe haven is a misnomer now," he added. "It is anything but safe for Al Qaeda."

Officials acknowledge that worldwide, al-Qaeda is far from broken. They consider al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to be the most immediate threat to the United States homeland, hatching plots from its base in Yemen like the attempt to blow up a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.

The recent success against al-Qaeda also does not guarantee that its militants will not take root again in Afghanistan, particularly as the United States turns security over to a shaky Afghan government. And a fast reduction of troops could allow the Taliban, which is stalled but not destroyed, to regain power it recently lost to the surge.

In Pakistan, the recent gains could be reversed by the deteriorating relationship between the Pakistani and American governments, which threatens to curtail cooperation in counterterrorism operations and increase Pakistani opposition to drone strikes.

Still, for Mr. Obama, who is weighing the heavy costs of the Afghan war as well as an increasingly restive Congress and public, counterterrorism success is a potentially appealing argument for a relatively rapid American withdrawal.

In 2009, intelligence officials identified 30 top Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border, a senior administration official said. "We took 15 off the battlefield last year," he said, including Sheik Saeed al-Masri, the group's third-ranking operative until he was killed in a drone strike in 2010.

In addition, he said, five more of the 30 leaders on the 2009 list were killed this year, including Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani veteran of the Soviet-Afghan war who was accused in 2009 of conspiring with two Chicago men to attack a Danish newspaper that had published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

While typically new operatives take the place of those killed, the rapid pace of attacks has dealt an unusually heavy blow to the organisation. An American intelligence assessment concluded that the 28 drone strikes the Central Intelligence Agency has carried out in Pakistan since mid-January have killed about 150 militants, according to an official.

And then there was the spectacular raid by the Navy Seal team that killed Bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2. It produced a cache of information — documents, hard drives and other materials — that officials said contained revealing discussions between Bin Laden and his key commanders. "The sense was clear that morale was hurt," an official said, describing the findings without offering documentation or specifics about the internal communications. "They worried most about safety."

The officials interviewed Friday made no attempt to disguise their belief that the counterterrorism campaign, which was favoured by Vice-President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2009, has outperformed the more troop-intensive counterinsurgency campaign pushed by Mr. Gates, Gen. David H. Petraeus and other top military planners.

"This progress has been enabled by our surge, and the training of A.N.S.F., which will be critical to the durability of gains against the safe haven and against the Taliban," said Tommy Vietor, a National Security Council spokesman, referring to the Afghan National Security Force. "These gains would not have been possible at this rate and quality without the service of our men and women in uniform."

Besides going after Qaeda and Taliban operatives, the counterinsurgency campaign includes a broad plan to try to improve governance in Afghanistan, fight corruption, train the Afghan Army, wean farmers off the cultivation of poppies, promote women's rights and protect local population centres.

When Mr. Obama decided in December 2009 to go with the more ambitious plan backed by the Pentagon, the President said he would allow "18 months to test those concepts," a senior White House official said.

"What we've seen is the pursuit of Al-Qaeda has yielded probably even greater successes than we thought," the official said. As for the assortment of projects under the banner of counterinsurgency, the official said that the "infusion of resources has allowed the Afghan National Army forces to be trained up." ( David E. Sanger, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.) — © New York Times News Service






Until last year, when I told people I was from Burma (Myanmar), people would say: "Oh, I hear it's really bad there. Isn't that where that woman is under arrest." Now when I tell people I am from Myanmar they often say: "Oh, aren't things getting better there now?" The answer is no, but the fact that some people have this impression is good news for Myanmar's new dictator, Thein Sein.

Aung San Suu Kyi may have been released, and is free to celebrate her birthday, but about 2,000 political prisoners remain in jail, and are treated worse than in the past. Many, including my father, have been moved to remote prisons to make it harder for family members to visit. More than 150 are being denied medical care for illnesses, a cruel form of torture that causes suffering and even death. And they are serving much longer sentences than before, with many set to stay in prison for 65 years.

Recently political prisoners protesting about their conditions were thrown into "dog cells," prison cages for dogs where they are forced to act like dogs and beg for food and are often not even allowed to talk.

Ethnic minorities

At the same time Thein Sein has stepped up attacks against ethnic minorities in Myanmar's border areas. Amnesty International and Burma Campaign UK have received reports of Myanmarese army soldiers mortar-bombing villages, assaulting women and executing and torturing people. Thein Sein is breaking 20-year ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups and bringing the country to the verge of civil war.

When the previous dictator, Than Shwe, came to power in 1992, he admitted that there were political prisoners, and released more than 400. In contrast, Thein Sein denies political prisoners even exist.

With human rights abuses on the increase, the threat of widespread civil war and no genuine political change, you would expect the international community to be taking urgent action. Instead, the response has been to wait and see what the new dictator does.

This has been the standard response to events in Myanmar for my entire life. I was born in 1989, a year when the dictatorship was rounding up and jailing leaders of the democracy movement, including Aung San Suu Kyi. At the time the international community argued we must wait and see what happened with elections planned for 1990. The regime lost the elections but refused to hand over power.

In 1994 I started school in Rangoon (Yangon). At the time the international community was arguing we must wait and see what happened at a national convention that was drafting a new constitution. It was another 13 years before that convention finished its task — a constitution designed to legalise dictatorship, passed in a rigged referendum in 2008.

Elections and after

From 2008 we were told to wait and see what happened in elections that were held in 2010. The elections were rigged and the main pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, was banned. In any case, under the new constitution parliament is completely powerless: a showcase to present an image of change, while the generals take off their uniforms and run the country just as before.

Now we are told to wait and see what Thein Sein's new government does. We don't need to wait any longer. We already know his regime sends soldiers to assault women. We already know his regime bombs villages, killing civilians. We already know that his regime tortures those who peacefully protest for their rights. Thein Sein is no reformer, it is business as usual — and while the world says we must wait and see, my people are suffering and dying.

It is time for urgent and concrete action from the international community, there must be no more "wait and see".

Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, must appoint a new UN envoy to Myanmar and restart UN efforts to secure political dialogue between the dictatorship, Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic groups. Ban must ensure the envoy has the backing of world leaders in achieving two urgent objectives: the release of all political prisoners, and a nationwide ceasefire. When it meets later this year, the UN General Assembly should establish a commission of inquiry into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We know from experience that when real pressure is applied the dictatorship is forced to respond. A UN inquiry is likely to reduce human rights abuses, and encourage Thein Sein to start dialogue, because he'll be afraid of real consequences if he doesn't.

The international community must face the fact that there will be no reform in Myanmar without real pressure. "Wait and see" costs lives. It's time for action. ( Waihnin Pwint Thon is a campaigns officer at Burma Campaign UK, and the daughter of Ko Mya Aye, one of the Generation 88 student leaders who is currently serving a 65-year jail sentence in Myanmar for his part in the 2007 protests.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






Food prices will soar by as much as 30 per cent over the next 10 years, the United Nations and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have predicted.

Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the OECD, said that any further increase in global food prices, which have risen by 40 per cent over the past year, will have a "devastating" impact on the world's poor and is likely to lead to political unrest, famine and starvation. "People are going to be forced either to eat less or find other sources of income." The joint UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and OECD report predicted that the cost of cereals is likely to increase by 20 per cent and the price of meat, particularly chicken, may soar by up to 30 per cent .

World food prices are already at a near-record high as droughts and floods threaten to seriously damage this year's harvest. The report said the global harvest is in a "critical" condition and warned that prices will continue to rise until depleted stocks are rebuilt.

Global food prices hit a record high in February, prompting demonstrations across the world. The last extreme food price rise in 2008 led to riots in 20 countries across three continents.

Gurria called on world leaders to ban speculators from pushing up food prices. The G20 will meet in Paris this week to thrash out a deal aimed at imposing strict rules on trading in food commodities and policies that distort global food market.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly attacked hedge funds and specialised financial institutions for pushing up food prices. "Speculation, panic and lack of transparency have seen prices soaring," he said. "Is that the world we want? France is saying quite clearly it is not." He compared the lack of regulation on food price speculators to lax regulation that drove financial markets to the "edge of the abyss" during the 2008 financial crisis. The report predicted global agricultural production would grow at an annual rate of 1.7 per cent a year over the next decade, compared with 2.6 per cent the past 10 years. "Slower growth is expected for most crops, especially oilseeds and coarse grains," it said. "The global slowdown in projected yield improvements of important crops will continue to exert pressure on international prices." The slowdown in production comes as new forecasts predict the global population will climb to 9.2 billion by 2050, compared with previous estimates of 6.9 billion. The FAO said agricultural production would have to increase by 70 per cent to match the expected increase.

Meat exports are expected to rise by only 1.7 per cent by 2010, compared with a 4.4 per cent increase over the previous decade. In contrast, fish production is expected to increase by 14.7 per cent over the same period. Most of this will come from fish farms, which are due to overtake open sea fishing by 2015. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








The discussions around the Lokpal issue, brought into focus by the Anna Hazare group, have been quite fruitless. Also, quite needlessly, the self-serving impression has been sought to be spread that the government's position on the principal points raised is necessarily wrong and those of Mr Hazare's followers necessarily right. What is true is that the points at issue are complex and admit of a variety of viewpoints that ought to be respected, and aspersions not be cast even in an implied fashion.

People should also be aware that many leading civil society groups and men of experience in public affairs are not in accord with the Hazare position, which they think will undermine the basic principles of our Constitution. No one — not even the government — differs on the necessity of rooting out corruption. Differences arise on how to go about the task and the nature of the instrument to be brought into play. Precisely because the questions in focus are difficult, points regarding what precisely the institution of the Lokpal should mean, or indeed the nature of its composition, have not been approached yet. Thus definition issues lie in suspended animation. The deadlock between Mr Hazare's men and the government on whether or not to bring the office of Prime Minister and the higher judiciary within the proposed Lokpal's scrutiny is also far from being resolved. The gulf is as wide as when the issue first arose in April.

This is not surprising, for such questions typically do attract a variety of responses within society; indeed within the government itself. Within individual parties too there might exist more than a single viewpoint, if news reports are to be taken into account. In recent days, key senior Congress leaders — its so-called core group, which includes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi — have met twice to review their position on key questions raised on the Lokpal matter, but so far there are no intimations of clarity. As for other major parties — national or regional — they have not yet bothered to have an internal brainstorming session. Perhaps the risk of internal fissures being exposed is not inconsiderable. These parties would rather wait for the government to detail its own position and would choose merely to respond, rather than spell out their viewpoint on a matter that has generated so much heat and all too little light.

As government parties are wont to do, the Congress has asked for an all-party meeting. This might be nothing more than a way to tell the country that it is doing what it can to promote a political consensus. But the main parties are hardly likely to attend an all-party debating session unless the forum is Parliament itself. Only two have let their base positions be known. The Bahujan Samaj Party, led by UP chief minister Mayawati, has suggested civil society groups should contest the next general election so that their MPs push their viewpoint in Parliament. This probably means the BSP is out of sync with the known Hazare position. The CPI(M) has said it would like the PM brought in under the Lokpal's scrutiny, but it is not clear if the constitutional issues this would involve have been investigated. It is indeed time for the government not to beat about the bush any longer, but to bring its own bill on the Lokpal to Parliament regardless of the Hazare position. This would also be in accord with the existing practice. An important civil society body has been consulted at length, and it is now up to Parliament to take a decision.





The cameras did not flash in the room just a few feet away from the deluxe ward where Baba Ramdev broke his fast in the Himalayan hospital of Dehra Dun where Swami Nigmananda died, after having been on a fast for 115 days against illegal mining on the banks of river Ganga in Hardwar.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Uttarakhand took no notice of this fast or of the corruption in Uttarakhand, fighting for which Swami Nigmananda gave up his life. Even more predictable was the BJP national leadership's stony silence on the subject, just as it refuses to break its implacable vow of silence regarding corruption in Karnataka or in Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. As far as the BJP is concerned, it seems that it has selective amnesia, which is a highly convenient, if ideologically bankrupt, political skill.
But that is the way of political parties and is nothing more than expected behaviour from the BJP. This whole concept of "civil society" as represented by four select individuals is something that TV channels have gone completely overboard about. It is something that needs to be quite seriously pondered over by thoughtful citizens. The electronic media has been screaming about a war of words and how the government first sent four ministers to talk to Baba Ramdev and then broke up his yoga camp, which turned into a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) platform, at the dead of the night. The media and the Opposition were quick to condemn the midnight action of the police. Social activist Anna Hazare went on a fast at Rajghat to condemn this action and went so far as to compare it to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Is it, then, Mr Hazare's case that the present democratically elected United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is the same as the British colonial government? Is that all the respect he has for the Indian Constitution and our parliamentary system? Mr Hazare also called for a second freedom movement. Against whom? The lawfully elected government of this country? What does that make Mr Hazare? What do you call a person who advocates overthrowing a lawfully elected government by means of anything else other than elections conducted by the Election Commission? Yet, nobody dares to articulate these sentiments because certain sections of the media have decided to lionise the cause of this tiny section of civil society. Which is why the entire fast was beamed live throughout the day and a gathering of 50 people to start with, which swelled to about 3,000 people, was called collectively "the people of India" by Arvind Kejriwal.

Mr Kejriwal made a rousing speech at the Rajghat event. He mostly abused the government, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the Congress, the BJP and the Prime Minister and called all of them cheats and liars. He promised that he and his ilk would never stand for an election and he then further promised that after the Jan Lokpal Bill, their "civil society" would move on to other issues. Needless to say, nobody who spoke there had any remarks to offer on Ramdev's threat to raise a private army of armed youth. They simply ignored it. Nor did they have any comment to offer on the campaign of Ramdev being communalised by the presence of Sadhvi Rithambara and having been carefully orchestrated by the frustrated RSS, which had lost one election after another, and desperately needed to regain lost ground. The RSS connection had been carefully documented by the home minister who gave dates and times of the RSS meeting where Ramdev had been formally anointed patron of the so-called anti-corruption movement. These details have not been denied till date.

The time has come for the average Indian citizen to reflect upon some very serious issues. First, we cannot allow our parliamentary democracy to be subverted by the unelected and self-appointed members of civil society. Every citizen has the right and should indeed express a view on anything that concerns or agitates him. However, under the Constitution that we have given ourselves and adopted, it is the Legislature, and only the Legislature may enact laws. No member of civil society, howsoever eminent, can take this right away from the Legislature. At best, civil society may offer suggestions and it is entirely up to the Legislature to accept or reject these suggestions. That is the essence of parliamentary democracy and the sooner "Team Hazare", as they are fondly dubbed by the media, understands this, the better.

On TV and elsewhere, the contempt of "Team Hazare" for the government, political parties, the judiciary and indeed the entire constitutional scheme of things is patent, and dangerous in the extreme. They essentially claim that they will never stand for election, never be directly accountable to the people of India; they reject the process of elections (Prashant Bhushan contemptuously declared on national TV that "we all know how elections are won") but yet claim to speak "for the people of India". One might well ask "Which people?" Who exactly do they represent? If they alone are civil society, what are you and I? Should the fact that I am a member of Parliament exclude me from being a member of "civil society?" Or for that matter why can't some woman in rural Bihar concerned about her ration card, or in distant Kanyakumari worried about her caste certificate be any less civil society than Mr Kejriwal? If "Team Hazare" is never going to face an election, who do they represent? The answer is inexorably — only themselves. And they insult the people of India, at large, when they reject the power of elections to bring about changes in democracy.

There can be no doubt that the fight against corruption is a burning issue today and one to which every Indian is passionately committed. Equally, there is no doubt, that corruption is a scourge, which must be eradicated if our democracy is to thrive. In my view, the Right to Information Act, passed by UPA-1 was a tremendous foundation upon which the crusade against corruption is being fought today, the credit for which should go to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister. The battle is joined and will continue, in the manner laid down by the Indian Constitution. To suggest any unconstitutional alternative, whether parallel legislatures or unelected lawmakers, would not only be unconstitutional, but actively detrimental to our democratic polity.

The author is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in this column are her own.





A 13-year-old boy is allegedly tortured to death by security forces on suspicion that he was part of an anti-government protest. His broken body leads to anger and further protests. The government, claiming that the protests are being fuelled by foreign terrorists and that the demonstrations are not peaceful at all, engages in further crackdowns.

The government's false claims turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as civilians increasingly resort to violence, saying that they need to protect their women and children and stop the repression.
Sound familiar? Except that this is not Kashmir in the early 1990s, but Syria in 2011. Even as many write eloquently of the Arab Spring, the power of people's protest against repressive regimes, in Syria, government forces continue what is often described as a scorched-earth campaign. Syrian soldiers who deserted claim they could not stomach the atrocities they were ordered to commit.
The Syrian government insists that the protests are fuelled by "armed terrorist gangs". Although independent research is difficult because of limited access, human rights groups including Human Rights Watch found that the overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful. Some civilians took up arms and some soldiers defected and defended the protesters, but these were limited incidents, often in reaction to shootings by security forces.
India, along with China and Russia, however, have accepted the Syrian government's claims at face value, allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ignore international calls for restraint.
The protests were sparked from Daraa, in southern Syria, where security forces detained and tortured 15 young boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti slogans. On March 18, following Friday prayers, several thousand protesters marched through the streets calling for the release of the children and greater political freedom, and accusing government officials of corruption. Security forces initially used water cannons and teargas against the protesters, and then opened fire with live ammunition, killing at least four people. This led to further protests, with more and more people joining the demonstrations and being met with bullets.
According to lists compiled by human rights groups, security forces have killed at least 1,200 protesters and bystanders. Syrian state media also report the death of 300 security personnel but without specifying the exact circumstances. Thousands have been detained and tens of thousands displaced.
India should know better than to simply accept Syria's claims. India understands from its own experience that human rights violations perpetuate a cycle of violence. As atrocities spiral, many are likely to take to vengeful retaliation because of the abuses they suffer. In Kashmir, when unarmed protesters in the early 1990s were treated with brutality, it only ceded space to Islamist extremists eager to exploit the sentiments of the agitated youth and recruit them for militancy. This led to widespread suffering as civilians were caught between armed militants and government forces, with both responsible for abuses.
Syria may face a similar predicament if the international community does not act to prevent further violence against protesters. As the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) mulls over a resolution, inaction is winning out over meaningful action against Syria. Among those members states advocating silence on Syria, a range of reasons are given, including suspicion about the West's aversion to a pro-Iran regime, the risk of losing control over Hamas or Hezbollah, and the current Nato actions in Libya.
Yet again, nations have to decide whether they wish to side with an abusive government or support an oppressed population. Many Indian policymakers have long criticised the US for warmly embracing dictatorships in West Asia and North Africa for political and economic benefit without regard for those living under these governments.
But pointing to flawed Washington policy is not enough. As an emerging global power that aspires to a permanent seat in the UNSC, New Delhi needs to find its own voice — and one that speaks for people and their aspirations. It can no longer stick to the comfort of "good relations" with a particular government, when those rulers are despised by their own citizens and have engaged in widespread human rights violations.
Earlier this year, states outraged by the abuses in Syria rightfully encouraged Damascus to drop out of the race for membership of the Human Rights Council. At that time, India's ambassador to the United Nations, Hardeep Singh Puri, said: "The point that needs to be made is that you cannot keep this score of 120 killed every Friday and be on the Human Rights Council". India needs to continue approaching its Syria policy from that human rights perspective.
Whatever the outcome of the brutal crackdown in Syria, those who have stood up for their basic rights will not look at their government the same way again. It is not only morally right for India to recognise these hopes, it is a prudent long-term investment. People will remember those that backed their struggles.

The author is the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch







In recent weeks voices have been raised seeking change in the leadership of the State coalition government. A controversy is deliberately fanned with unexplained motives. The mantra is of rotational chief minister-ship. What is more, some responsible Congress members have occasionally made subtle statements giving vent to the mantra. Those who have been keeping a close track of events in Kashmir know that this type of controversy is bound to harm efforts made by the government aimed at stabilizing peace in the state. The administration is struggling to ensure that the story of previous three summers is not repeated as that causes immense economic damage to the State. We fail to understand why peace is not given a chance in Kashmir and what is in the mind of those who are pursuing the rotational theory despite the fact that they are devout nationalists and care for the peace and tranquility of the state.

It has to be reminded that at the time of formation of this government in the state in 2008, there was a clear and tacit understanding between the Congress Chief and the NC echelons that NC would be in the driver's seat for the full term of six years. With this understanding, the NC leadership formulated its policy and populist developmental plans for the entire period of its forthcoming tenure. It chartered out its yearly schedule of developmental work and underlined its priorities which had popular support. Consequently, the governance had a direction for onward movement. Omar Abdullah government has inherited some of the administrative and governance problems from previous governments, and these are not new to the state. Undoubtedly efforts have been made to rectify the wrong if any, and meet the aspirations of the people. Peaceful and satisfactory conduct of Panchayat elections in the entire state has won appreciation not only of the ruling circles but of the opposition as well as a major step with the purpose of devolution of power to the people, prioritizing the developmental works, cementing good governance and eradicating corruption. With these major aims being addressed, the Omar Abdullah government deserves to be given the opportunity of consolidating the gains, which in reality means the gains for the people in general. In other words, it means that the groundwork having been done, the government would like to go ahead with full determination to monitor the results of its policies and efforts and the level to which peoples aspirations have been met. To replace the leadership of the coalition at this time would mean that NC will be denied the credit for all that it has done and wanted to cap it with a grand finale. Denying NC that credit and opportunity is neither a piece of good statesmanship nor serves an assurance to the people of the State that stability and peace are among the priorities of New Delhi. Raising the bogey of rotation is to handover intermittent threats to the Omar Abdullah government. What purpose does it serve except that it undermines long cherished peace? It will weaken the authority of the Chief Minister and reinforce the elements interested in the instability of the state.

The Congress High Command would be well advised to see to it that the coalition manifesto is implemented in letter and spirit, and the NC leadership is allowed to complete the full term of its tenure. Only then can one judge the quantum of achievements made by the coalition government. If there are minor difference on policy matters, and these are bound to be there because it is inherent in the dynamics of a democratic dispensation, these can be sorted out by mutual consultations and discourse. In coalition structure, changes in personal capacity could also be brought under consideration as that would have only minimal impact on policy planning. But in all probability, changing horses in midstream would hardly be in the larger interests of the State. The unnecessary raking up of a controversy should stop and the NC-led government in the State should be allowed to run the full course. Allocation of highest-ever funds by the Planning Commission for many innovative and novel developmental schemes aimed at engaging the unemployed youth for creative activity is a major achievement of this government. Those who conceived these innovative plans and schemes should be given time to implement them in actuality.







Indian civil society is locked in a grim battle with the government for eradicating the menace of corruption from all organs of the state. There is nothing to cheer us that our state is spared by this pervasive menace. Being part of the larger civil society, we in the State are also very much concerned that corruption so rampant in all state organs should be uprooted. The State government has already set up institutions and legislation to combat the curse but more remains to be done in this sector to clear the deck. The government cannot claim that it has succeeded in uprooting corruption from state institutions. For example the much hyped Accountability Commission (AC) remains headless till date. This impairs its functionality. One fails to understand why the government delays appointment of a honest person to head this prestigious institution despite the fact the Chief Minister has made it sufficiently clear through his public statements that his government would do all it can to stamp out corruption from government departments. We have the Vigilance Department in place and it has been functioning to the best of its capacity but the fact is that its powers are limited and in many cases it becomes rather helpless. This necessitated inception of Accountability Commission in the State with widened powers so much so that law makers, ministers and senior bureaucrats would come under its jurisdiction for accountability of their assets and functions. Indefinite delay in appointing the Chairman of this institution casts aspersions on the intentions of the government. In particular, at a time when the entire country is going through a heated debate on the means and methods of eradicating corruption, our State cannot remain complacent and just stand by and watch what is happening elsewhere while our house is on fire.








The Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, has constituted a high power committee, headed by the Chief Secretary Madhav Lal for formulating a road map for the transfer of vital functions and finances to the panchayats, to which elections are being held from April 17.

Why could this be done before announcing the elections? And the road map prepared by the high power committee be publicly debated or at least discussed in the assembly, the session of which is just ended? Till the map is released, we have to keep our figures crossed. As it is, the present Panchyati Raj Act is mere an instrument of further centralisation of power rather then a genuine measure of empowerment of the people.
Here I raise some pertinent questions which the high powered committee should consider:

Last time panchayati election was held in 2001.There was hectic discussion between political parties, including the coalition parties in the state government, on some reforms in the Panchayati Raj before this announcement. The Congress party and the opposition parties of Jammu had demanded that the new panchayats should be formed after adoption by the state of 73rd amendment to the Indian constitution which would have made panchayats a genuine instrument of decentralisation of power. It is not 73rd amendment as such that is important. The state, after studying its working in other states of country could have adopted even a better law than elsewhere if the objective was empowerment of the people.

The state assembly, however, did enact a law to constitute an Election Commission to conduct the election. But by that time code of conduct had been enforced which means the Commission would work from next elections. The coming election would be conducted by the Election department of the state government.
The fears about centralization of power through the cover of panchayati raj are further confirmed by some provisions of the State law. While the Central Law provides for direct election to all panchayati raj institutions, it is not so in the state. For instance, not a single member of the district board, under the J&K law shall be directly elected. Chairman shall be nominated by the government who is elected under the Central law. A provision has now been added for an elected Vice-Chairperson of the board. But the supreme power will continue to be exercised by the chairperson.

Other members include chairman of the Block Development Councils, Town Area Committees and Municipal Council in the district, MLA's and MP's would be ex-officio members of the District Board. Though they are elected, it is well known that voters often choose different parties at local, State and national levels as the issues are different at these levels. Members of the Assembly and Parliament, in their capacity as members of the district boards, cannot therefore be said to represent the wishes of the people. In many States where MLA's and MP's are members of the district boards, they have no voting rights. But under the J&K law, they shall have these rights also.

At the block level also, unlike the Central law, the State Act does not provide for direct election of any member. It shall comprise sarpanches of halqa panchayats and chairman of the marketing society within the jurisdiction of the block. With the Block Development Officer, an ex-officio secretary, the block development council is also brought under the influence of the government. The government shall also have power to nominate two members to give representation each to women, scheduled caste or any other class. The Central Act provides for 33 per cent reservation for women and, according to the population ratio, for the Schedule Castes, but it does not, provide for any nomination at any level. The State law provides for nomination but not reservation. Further the term other class is so vague that it can be used by the State Government to nominate any person on the block council to represent it. The nominations can always ensure majority for the ruling party.
It is only at the halqa panchayat level where all members shall be directly elected. But even at this level, a government employee, i.e., the village level worker, shall be the member secretary who shall thus ensure government presence at the base of the panchayati raj system. Moreover, the government shall have the power to nominate two members on the halqa panchayat on the same pattern as it does on the block council.
One more flaw in the State law with regard to the functions of the halqa panchayat is that its members have not been made accountable to the people after they are elected. There is no provision for a gram sabha which could act as a sort of assembly for the panachyat and could meet once or twice a year to pass the budget and to exercise some control on the working of the panchayat, including the right to pass a vote of no confidence against the members and elect new members in their place.

A pre-requisite of the success of the panchayati raj system is its financial viability and autonomy. The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution also provides for appointment of a Finance Commission by the State Governments to make recommendations for a) determination of the taxes, duties, tolls and fees which may be assigned to panchayats, b) distribution between the State and panchayats of the net proceeds of taxes, duties, etc; c) grant-in-aid to the panchayats by the States.

J&K law neither fixes minimum amount of grant-in-aid by the State to the panchayats for providing nor autonomous machinery for objective allocation of funds. It has no assured source of income, either. The law, therefore, does not ensure financial viability and autonomy of the panchayats and leaves enough financial power in the hands of he State government which it could use arbitrarily to influence the working of the panchayats.
Panchayat adalat is another important feature of the new panchayati raj law of the State. For the modern system of justice is not only very expensive and time consuming, but is also virtually inaccessible to most of the rural and far-off areas. Panchayati adalats have been used in many states to supplement the formal judicial system by reviving and legitimizing the traditional system of justice.

But by empowering the State government to nominate members of the panchayati adalat, and to remove its chairman or any member, the new law robs independence of the institution of justice at the grass roots level. It amounts to supplementing the judicial system and the traditional system of justice, both supposed to be independent of the executive, by a third sector of justice controlled by the State Government.
Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act does not accept the jurisdiction of the Union Election Commission "for superintendence, direction and control of the conduct of elections in the State" nor that of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India "for the audit of the accounts of the panchayats" as the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution proposes to do for other States.

The State is not only independent of the federal autonomous institutions like the Election Commission and CAG, it has also not made any Amendment in its own Constitution corresponding to the Amendment in the Indian Constitution. Such an Amendment would not have compromised autonomy of the State, but would have projected the interests of the panchayati institutions against bureaucratic encroachments by, say, making re-election of superseded panchayats constitutionally mandatory and reserving a list of subjects in the constitution for exclusive management by the panchayats. J&K State needs genuine panchayat raj, more than any other state. For it has much more diversities than others. In view of its multi-ethnic and multi-religious character, the panchayati raj is not only a means for devolution of power and participatory democracy but also is vital instrument of accommodating its wide diversities. Panchayati raj implies a federal continuum through which power devolves form Centre to State and then to District, Block and Villages. In the case of J&K, regional tier is an indispensable part of the federal continuum.

Lack of trust in the people seems to be the only plausible explanation for the type of law the State has passed. Which is more an instrument of regimentation and centralization than empowerment of the people.







The Doha Round of the WTO has collapsed-unofficially at least. The Industrial countries are unwilling to lower their barriers to agricultural imports and, in retaliation; the Developing countries are unwilling to lower barriers on imports of manufactured goods from the Industrial countries. At the time of forming the WTO, the Industrial countries had agreed in principle to reduce their domestic agricultural subsidies at some future unspecified time. The main demand of the developing countries in the Doha Round was that the Industrial countries deliver on that commitment. But the Industrial countries demanded steep cut in import duties on manufactured goods and services by the developing countries in return. The developing countries, however, did not agree to this because the livelihoods of millions would be adversely impacted by indiscriminate opening of these sectors on which millions of their people depended for survival. Some farmers form the developing countries who are growing export-oriented high-value crops will surely gain from open access to Industrial counties but much larger numbers will be hit by cheap imports. Hence the developing countries wanted special provisions to impose higher tariffs where livelihood of large number of persons was likely to be impacted. The talks have broken down because the two groups could not agree on these issues.

Crux of the matter is this: Both sides acknowledge that gains are to be made from free trade but are afraid that particular sectors, countries or people can be adversely affected. In other words, free trade is not a win-win situation for all the stakeholders.

First problem with the mantra of free trade is that of movement of natural persons. Economic theory tells us that free movement of goods and capital will lead to each country specializing in what it does best. Bangladesh will produce more jute and Malaysia more palm oil. This will provide good quality goods at low prices to the consumers across the world and enhance welfare of all consumers. Global competition would lead to better products being available to the consumers. The improvement in quality of cars, TV and computers in the country during the last 20 years of reforms in India is a proof of this beneficial effect of free trade. The problem, however, is that the consumer may not have the purchasing power to buy the excellent things lying on the shelf.
Say an imported 25-inch flat screen TV is available for Rs 5,000. The farmer needs to sell wheat in order to buy the TV. But the cost of production of wheat in Australia is less. Cheap Australian imported wheat has flooded the markets of the country and the farmer is unable to sell his produce. The Haryana farmer decides to produce jute but finds that Bangladesh produces that cheaper than him. Similarly Malaysia produces cheaper palm oil, Brazil sugar and Vietnam coffee. He does not have a comparative advantage in any crop. What is he to do in a free trade regime?

According to the theory of free trade, the Haryana farmer should migrate to Australia where the climate is more suitable for the production of wheat. There was less restriction on such migration in the past. People from the Indus Valley migrated to the Ganges basin and those from Europe migrated to America. But such freedom to migrate is not part of the free trade model espoused by the WTO. The poor farmer is hemmed in within his country's borders while cheap imports are allowed to come in. The result is certain poverty for all people who do not have a clear comparative advantage in some product according to global standards. The theory of free trade falls apart in absence of free migration of natural persons.

The solution lies in protectionism. The Haryana farmer can happily produce his high-cost wheat and buy a high-cost TV if Government of India imposes high rates of import duty on wheat imported from Australia. Surely the urban Indian consumer will be deprived of cheaper wheat and the farmer of the cheaper flat screen TV; but they will at least get the expensive ones. In the free trade model they will get nothing. Thus, protectionism, not free trade, is the route to people's welfare when free migration is not obtaining.
The second problem is that of competitive lowering of wages. He wins in free trade who produces goods cheapest; or who gives lowest wages to his labour. The wage of an American software programmer is about Rs 8,000 per day against Rs 1,000 per day for an Indian programmer. Companies find it profitable to employ Indian programmers. The American programmer can, however, save his job if he agrees to accept lower wages. The hue and cry in America due to outsourcing is proof that free trade leads to reduction of wages to the global minimum. Similarly, advances in transport and communication technology have made it possible for companies like Wal-Mart to buy goods produced from cheap labour in China. Thus free trade necessarily means lowest wages. In such a situation the welfare of the US workers is secured by protectionism, not free trade.
The third problem with free trade is that of national security. United States can indeed get cheap rice from India. But what happens in case of war? What will the Americans eat? It may be better to produce expensive domestic wheat rather than buy cheap imported one from this standpoint. Conclusion is that people's welfare can only be secured by protectionism in absence of free movement of natural persons. Every country can then raise import tariffs such that domestic inefficient production can survive and people can earn their bread.
The difficulty with protectionism is that protection is often used by corrupt governments to extract rents. For example, high import duties on imported TV can be a smokescreen behind which the government can impose high taxes on domestic producers. That was exactly the situation in India before the reforms. The total taxes were as high as 60 to 70 percent of the sale price of many commodities. These monies were being used by Ministers and bureaucrats to stash away ill-begotten wealth abroad. The collapse of Soviet Russia and Communist China owes itself substantially to such rent seeking by the party bureaucracies. Free trade prevents such rent extraction. But it also deprives people of livelihood as explained above.

The solution to this predicament is protectionist economic policy with domestic good governance. Protection will ensure that people are protected from cheap imports and can earn their livelihood from inefficient production behind closed borders. Good governance will ensure that the high tariffs are used to raise wages and not to extract bureaucratic rents. So let us celebrate the impending collapse of the Doha round.








According to the findings of the World Bank's "social protection for a changing India" report, only 40 per cent of the poor benefit from the safety net provided by governments while the funds meant for the other 60 per cent are waylaid. The margin of error, not being negligible, points to vast leakages and structural inefficiencies in delivery mechanisms.

It turns out that our public distribution system (PDS) that accounts for 1 per cent of the GDP leaks or diverts almost 60 per cent of the foodgrains meant for the poor. Even flagship plans for the common man such as the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) have not been above board as the process of selection has raised questions. Crores of rupees waived in terms of farm loans have actually helped rich landlords already flush with untaxed agricultural income.

Who is responsible for the leakage? Corruption is surely an issue, besides the lackadaisical approach of some states to ensure better fund utilisation and more effective implementation of projects. For this unconscionable margin of error, India is home to a third of the world's malnourished children under the age of five, and ranks below China and Pakistan in the International Food Policy Research Institute's global hunger index.
Wasteful government expenditure is not a phenomenon unique to India or to developing countries, but for India, where a considerable section of its population lives outside any modicum of social security, any systemic leakage amounts to a criminal offence.

Rajiv Gandhi was surely not off the mark when he famously remarked in 1985 that for every one rupee spent on poverty alleviation programmes in India only 15 paise reached the intended beneficiary. While the much-quoted observation has become a cliché, it is surprising why, 26- years down the line, little has been done to plug the loopholes.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman to the Planning Commission, for instance, admits to the vast scale of omission in allocating the poverty eradication funds. He pointed to inter-regional inequalities, to a situation where in a state like Maharashtra which was doing reasonably well on the over-all social development index, Marathwada or the drier regions were lagging.

Evening out allocations for development and sprucing up local bodies with monitoring agencies could be an answer to the problem of inter-regional inequalities. In terms of social security, the rural poor has so far been prioritised over the urban poor. States must be held to account for non-performance that leads to poor utilisation of funds. It is also open to scrutiny why states with higher poverty that are allocated more funds, have the lowest capacity to spend effectively.

Perhaps as long as our poverty figures are fuzzy, we cannot distinguish the leftouts from the beneficiaries and the fake from the deserving. India spends over two per cent of GDP on core safety net programmes much of which get siphoned off, because of which the reduction in poverty and improvement in livelihoods of the vulnerable have not reached full potential.

The loss of government spending to waste, fraud or abuse is unsustainable more because India has a generation-long backlog of infrastructure to build mass transport, urban housing, power generation, pollution control, waste treatment and water systems. Besides, India's greatest fiscal challenge has been the mass subsidisation of public investment in areas like electricity and fertilisers.

Some commentators attribute India's double-digit inflation to wasteful expenditure as the Centre's annual expenditure stands nearly 50 per cent higher than revenue. In one account, cutting wasteful subsidies, routinely appropriated by middlemen, out of a total subsidy bill of Rs.1.16 lakh crore the government could save as much as Rs. 45,000 crore.

If the government runs large budget deficit, then it crowds out efficient private expenditure with wasteful government ones, creates inflation, and leaves the future generation with a higher tax burden. As has been envisaged in the presentation of the 2011-12 budget, India's standing on the debt front is poor but its general fiscal deficit of 9.8 per cent in 2010 is almost twice that of emerging economies.

The problem with subsidies is that they are not well-targeted. Besides, any talk of reducing subsidies is politically explosive. But it is important to put a cap on overspending to an extreme degree and at unacceptable levels like on unrestrained subsidies both overt (through the budget) and implicit. It is imperative as well to cut down on unproductive costs and raise expenditure on productive assets. Surely, our social security system cannot be allowed to rot in the hands of fraudsters (INAV)










Nine months ahead of the assembly elections in Punjab, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has sworn in three more Chief Parliamentary Secretaries, disregarding propriety and the state's depleted treasury. The post of Chief Parliamentary Secretary (CPS) is used to circumvent the constitutional restriction limiting the number of ministers to one-third of the strength of the House. One high court has described the practice as "a fraud on the Constitution". The state now has as many Chief Parliamentary Secretaries as ministers. A CPS has no significant role to play but the post carries the status of a minister. One BJP CPS, in fact, resigned citing lack of work. The state has many loss-making, unwanted boards and corporations which are also filled with politicians.


The debt-ridden state reeling under a financial crisis can ill-afford to have a large, workless battalion of politicians at the top. For the past several years there has been a ban on general recruitment in Punjab, which has the highest rate of unemployment in the northern region. A large number of posts in schools, colleges and hospitals are lying vacant. Reports indicate that 8,000 teachers working in government aided-schools have not been paid their salaries for the past seven months. Institutions like Punjab Agricultural University and the power utilities are crumbling for want of funds.


Flawed, self-serving policies have slowed down the state's development. When the government assumed power Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal claimed that the state would be power surplus in three years. The state still buys power at exorbitant rates to partly meet the shortage. The appointment of three CPSs at the fag end of the government's term stems from political nervousness. This is also evident from Sukhbir Badal's hasty announcements. First he said 30 per cent of the MLAs would be denied the party ticket and then retracted the statement. A political leadership lacking in confidence desperately tries to share the spoils of office to keep its flock together.









Iran has once again declared that it is going ahead with the pipeline project to supply its gas to Pakistan if India is not interested in it. So far, however, India has also been one of the parties to the ambitious project. It has been trying to sort out the issues relating to pricing and the security aspect of the pipeline, but it has maintained all along that it is interested in the project. The Iranians are not being fair when they say that India is disinclined to join what has come to be known as the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project. Why should India abandon an option for energy supply when it needs this resource to meet its growing power requirement? Iran will have to be more accommodative so that India remains a part of the project, which may also help in promoting peace between India and Pakistan.


Yes, it is true that the security concerns expressed about the IPI gas pipeline are no different from those related to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas project. It is also true that TAPI has US backing whereas Washington DC is opposed to India, Pakistan or any other country buying the Iranian gas that will be supplied through the controversial pipeline. But Turkmenistan has been flexible in negotiations whereas Iran is not. Yet India must find a way to ensure that it remains associated with the IPI in the country's long-term energy interests, regardless of US opposition. When Pakistan is not bothered about US concerns, there is no reason why India should take a decision reflecting American influence.


Both pipelines will pass through Pakistan. In fact, TAPI, which will first enter Afghanistan to reach Pakistan and then India, will require stricter security arrangement because even now the writ of Taliban factions runs in many areas in Afghanistan. The US security guarantees make India comfortable, and this is not there in the case of the IPI. The security aspect of the IPI can be taken care of if Iran gives an undertaking for uninterrupted supply of gas. India should continue to remain engaged with Iran keeping in view the China factor. China is ready to join the pipeline once India dissociates itself from the project. 











Tomes have been written on women's empowerment in India and a host of laws have been passed to enable women to fight oppression. Yet the ground reality remains as dismal as ever. Safety of women in India has always been a cause for consternation throwing to winds all talk of women's emancipation. Now a new study that puts India as the fourth most dangerous place for women gives enough reason for us to hang our heads in shame. India cannot take comfort in the fact that it's for high incidence of female foeticide and infanticide that it finds itself in the unenviable company of nations like Afghanistan that tops the list.


Denying female the right to be born is no less a heinous crime. If women are not safe in the wombs of their mothers, expecting their well-being in society at large and particularly in marital homes is like asking for the impossible. Violence at homes despite the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is yet another shocking reminder of gnawing gender gaps. While female foeticide is believed to have led to disappearance of 50 million unborn daughters, violence at home is linked to the death of girls as well. Human trafficking is another grave area. What is even more shocking is that out of three million prostitutes in the country 40 per cent are children. Incidents of rape show little sign of abating and recently the National Commission for Women has expressed concern over fast growing cases of rape.


However, merely making the right kind of noises is not enough. While providing more teeth to existing laws meant to protect women should be welcomed the key lies in its proper implementation. Be it the PNDT Act or PWDVA, the law enforcing agencies must ensure that the guilty do not go scot-free. Women too must be encouraged to seek legal intervention for redressal of their grievances. In the 21st century the least that India owes to its women is the right to be safe both within and outside their homes. 









Understandably, there was much exultation in the United States and gloating in India when Osama bin Laden, sequestered in Abbottabad by the Pakistan Army and its faithful ISI, was eliminated in a clinically executed operation by U.S. Navy SEALS. Pakistan protested loudly that its sovereignty had been infringed when its territory was invaded and Osama killed in Abbottabad. This is all very true. Recent reports from Islamabad inform that General Kayani is under pressure from his corps commanders to loosen ties with the US to express their dissatisfaction with Washington's cavalier behaviour.


These overt protestations, however, are only histrionics meant for domestic consumption. Why? Pakistan is living far beyond its means — its defence budget reportedly exceeds its revenue income; it has to depend, therefore, on external assistance to remain solvent. Significantly, US financial aid to Pakistan since 9/11 — estimated around $20 billion — is much greater than the assistance provided to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia and China. This should be a sobering thought for Pakistan's ruling elite, who might glibly calculate that if the US withdraws its subvention to its bankrupt economy, Islamabad could turn to the eager Saudis and/ or the Chinese to bale them out. In short, Pakistan's current fulminations with Osama's elimination in Abbottabad and its sovereignty being infringed are hugely contrived, and will settle down quickly. And Pakistan will hope to revert to its earlier status as the most favoured client ally of the US.


But will the US continue as before in its dealings with Pakistan? It had anointed Osama with a larger-than-life image as Al-Qaida's supreme leader, who perpetrated the 9/11 outrage and diminished America's global image. Osama's capture or elimination had become the Holy Grail of US foreign policy, and it had expended considerable blood and treasure on this enterprise, which only makes Pakistan's perfidy more perfidious. No doubt, the US remains dependent on Islamabad to permit logistics supplies for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan to use the land route from Karachi. In the past, Pakistan had connived at these supply lines being attacked and looted to convey its disapproval with some aspect or the other of American policy. This could be seen in the drone attacks that have Pakistan's tacit approval, but have occasionally caused disproportionate civilian deaths or strayed into unapproved areas. Will Pakistan continue these blackmail tactics post-Osama?


Perhaps, the first indication that the US expects more credible cooperation from the ISI was the recent drone attack that eliminated Ilyas Kashmiri. Suspiciously, few details of this incident are available in the public domain. But timely and accurate information of Kashmiri's presence had permitted this successful attack since the top Al-Qaida leaders have been observing great discipline in their use of electronic communications. The human intelligence regarding Ilyas Kashmiri's location could have been provided by the ISI as part of a new post-Osama deal with the US. Ayman al-Zawahari is next on the list. Watch this space. Still, American concerns persist. Washington is disturbed by Pakistan arresting several persons who gave information to the CIA regarding Osama's hideout. And the US greatly fears that Pakistan might proliferate nuclear-weapons technology to aberrant states and/or terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda. Pakistan has a long history of proliferation to Iran, Libya and North Korea by the former head of its nuclear weapons programme, A.Q. Khan. There are further concerns that insiders could collect weapons-usable nuclear material from Pakistan's nuclear facilities to build a crude nuclear device.


There are some indications, however, that the US is getting increasingly reconciled to a Taliban comeback in Afghanistan, and is preparing to abandon President Hamid Karzai. Hence the logic proceeds; it will compromise with Pakistan to establish a stable government in Kabul before it pulls its forces out in 2014. But there are other indications that the US is unlikely to commit the same error that it did in 1990 by abandoning Afghanistan, which enabled the Taliban to overrun the country, provide shelter to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida, leading to 9/11, and the present imbroglio. No doubt, there is tremendous domestic pressure on the US Administration to "bring the boys back home" and leave Afghanistan to its fate, but the inevitability of another Greek tragedy unfolding will influence Washington DC to continue its physical presence in Afghanistan, either in the form of training teams or airbases from which drone attacks and surgical strikes could be launched. It is most unlikely, indeed, that the US will leave Afghanistan in 2014.


So, what does all this portend for the totality of Pakistan-American relations? Quite obviously, the US will not loosen its grip on Pakistan. Nor will Pakistan, despite its protests and protestations, loosen its semi-alliance with the US. The glue will be American global interests in the oil-rich Gulf region, while checkmating China and Russia in Central Asia. Pakistan's interests will largely be monetary. A new relevance will attend the hyphenation of Afghanistan to Pakistan constituting the Af-Pak nexus, which epitomises the current threats to international security — religious terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, nuclear proliferation and the consequences of states' facing disintegration. Clearly, the US, which occupies the apex of the international security system, cannot deal singly with these diffuse security threats emanating from the Af-Pak region, but will need to harness the neighbouring countries to grapple collectively with them. And, this harsh reality provides the most convincing reason for the US staying engaged with Pakistan and the Af-Pak region.


So, what are India's options in this milieu? There is little reason for it to be apologetic about its strategic interests in Afghanistan by rebuilding its shattered economy, or by strengthening its governance structures. But a greater coordination of its efforts in these and other feasible directions with the US is required. An opportunity for discussing these issues post-Osama will come next month when Mrs Hilary Clinton visits New Delhi for the Indo-US Strategic Dialogue.









"Doctor doctor I have a prayer,

For all you have given,

I thank you even before God.

I thank you for making me accept things I couldn't change.

I thank you to have made me realize about my strength and courage.

I thank you for all you have withheld,

I am glad for all you have permitted.

Doctor doctor I am thankful you were there…

to show me the way to hardships,

And adding to my pain."

Who says changing times has nothing to do with the way we offer our prayers? Except for God, which is now replaced by a doc. Everything is same, long queues, longing to be able to have the first glimpse, same wish to be able to stay for a minute more with God and above all the same trust and faith. Nothing, absolutely nothing has changed in the way we offer our prayers.


A prayer to a doctor is perhaps as important as remembering God in times when your dear ones take to bed. For them, you don't mind queuing up for hours just to have a word with the modern "talking God", who measures each word before uttering and write in a language that you often don't understand, but you simply trust that they will do wonders and all your sufferings will vanish.


I, too, prayed to the modern God, when my dad fell ill and trusted him blindly. Some prayers were answered just, too, quickly and some were delayed. First, I didn't understand and later the picture became clear. The "quick heal" was to make some quick bucks and the delayed ones were perhaps a way to keep the source of "income alive". With the instant recovery I, too, became happy and slowly with the delay I became suspicious, so much so that, with each visit to the "modern temple", I started losing hope in the God and with the system. To make things worst, one day we (I and my dad) reached the "modern temple" (hospital), the doors were closed and suddenly we found there was no God there. All our hopes were dashed and instead of protesting I, helplessly, again prayed to God, but this time to the traditional one. Sadly, Gods, whether traditional or conventional, don't answer prayers.


Gosh, why do these Gods come from big cities to small towns? Do they come to do some serious healing work, to do some charity, to get some fame or just to find bait, which they think, is easy to find in small towns?


"Doctor doctor I thank you again,


For opening my eyes and killing my emotions,


Now, I truly owe you a lot for what you have prepared me for!"










The use of modern antibiotics on British farms has risen dramatically in the past decade, fuelling the development of resistant organisms and weakening the power of human medicine to cure disease. Three classes of antibiotics rated as "critically important in human medicine" by the World Health Organisation — cephalosporins, fluouroquinolones and macrolides — have increased in use by up to eightfold in the animal population over the past decade.


Widespread use of antibiotics


Over the same period, livestock numbers have fallen by 27 per cent in the case of pigs, 10 per cent for cattle and 11 per cent for poultry. Experts say intensive farming, with thousands of animals reared in cramped conditions driven by price pressure imposed by the big supermarket chains, means infections spread faster and the need for antibiotics is greater. The widespread use of antibiotics in livestock farming is recognised as a major contributor to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Last month British scientists identified a new type of MRSA in milk, the first time the resistant organism had been found in farm animals in the UK. Although the superbug is killed by pasteurisation, there are fears it could spread from cattle to humans.


Resistant genes for toxic forms of E.coli can jump from animal to human strains. The outbreak of a virulent antibiotic-resistant strain of E.coli in Germany last month, which has claimed 39 lives and left more than 3,300 people requiring hospital treatment, has been blamed on the overuse of antibiotics in farming.


The developments highlight the global threat from the spread of untreatable superbugs. An estimated 25,000 people die each year in the European Union from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, according to the WHO.


Global public health concern


The Health Protection Agency (HPA) of the UK has published the latest figures showing a sharp rise in bacteria resistant to carbapenems, a new and strong type of antibiotic, which it says are a "global public health concern". The first resistant organisms were identified in 2003 and until 2007 there were fewer than five cases a year. This year 657 cases have been identified up to May, more than twice the total for 2010. In some patients they caused fatal blood poisoning.


The HPA, the European Medicines Agency and independent scientists have warned about the link between the use of modern cephalasporins and the incidence of MRSA. Use of the drugs has also been linked to the emergence in farm animals of resistant organisms, including E.coli and Salmonella. Mark Holmes, lecturer in veterinary medicine at the University of Cambridge who led the research into the new type of MRSA, said: "(Cephalosporins) are some of the most effective, most modern antibiotics which are heavily used in farming. Maybe we should hold them back for human use."


Norway, Denmark and Sweden have strict controls on the use of antibiotics in farming, requiring a specific diagnosis to be made with laboratory tests to show which antibiotic is required. But in Britain, the drugs are used routinely in cows to prevent mastitis, an infection of the udder, which occurs much more frequently in animals that are intensively milked.


Selling directly to farmers


"We are the only country in the EU that allows drug companies to market antibiotics direct to farmers. I think it is unreasonable for the authorities to expect individuals to restrict their use," Dr Holmes said. "There are 18,000 dairy farmers and many are barely making a living — to point at them and say stop using antibiotics is ridiculous. The authorities should be more proactive — they need to think very hard about how we can guard against generating antibiotic-resistant strains."


The Soil Association has demanded an end to routine antibiotic use in dairy farming and the introduction of comprehensive tests for MRSA of farm animals, farm workers, milk and meat.


Richard Young, policy adviser to the Association, said the increasing medicinal use of antibiotics was driven by the unnatural demands of intensive farming. "The basic problem is that supermarkets see animals as cogs in a big industrial process. The profit margins are incredibly tight. Most of these problems can be avoided by having less intensive systems so the animals are naturally healthier," he said.


Scientists have been warning about antibiotic resistance for decades, but the problem has become acute as the supply of new drugs has dried up. At a WHO briefing last month, they warned that the reckless use of antibiotics could return the world to a pre-antibiotic era where infections did not respond to treatment.


— The Independent








Here is a news story that could determine whether you live or die. Many of the world's scientists are warning that one of the mightiest weapons doctors have against sickness is being rendered useless — so a few people can get richer, for a while. If they aren't stopped soon, the World Health Organisation warns we are facing "a doomsday scenario of a world without antibiotics". It will be a world where transplant surgery is impossible. It will be a world where a simple appendix operation will be as routinely lethal as it was in 1927, before the discovery of penicillin. It will be a world where pneumonia and TB and gonorrhea are far harder to deal with, and claim many more of us. But it's a world that you and I don't have to see — if we act on this warning now.


As the scientists I've interviewed explain it, antibiotics do something simple. They kill, slow down or stall the growth of bacteria. They were one of the great advances of the 20th century, and they have saved millions of us. But they inherently contain a problem — one that was known about from very early on. They start an arms race. Use an antibiotic against bacteria, and it kills most of it — but it can also prompt the bacteria to evolve a tougher, stronger, meaner strain that can fight back. The bacteria is constantly mutating and dividing. The stronger the antibiotic, the stronger some bacteria will become to survive. It's Darwin dancing at super-speed.


So the more we use antibiotics, the more we lose them. It's a battle played out on human bodies and in human wounds, with sky-high stakes. In many developed countries today, MRSA kills more people than Aids. The obvious conclusion, then, is that we should use antibiotics sparingly, and only when they are really needed to treat the sick. But in one crucial area we are doing the exact opposite — for the sake of a few people's profits.


In the United States, Latin America, and Asia, animals being farmed for meat and milk are being automatically given antibiotics in their food all day — irrespective of whether they are healthy or sick.


To some degree, this arms race is an inevitable part of nature — but our factory farms are massively artificially accelerating it. They are bringing the day when antibiotics won't work much closer.


Why? Why would factory farms automatically feed antibiotics to healthy animals, given the obvious risk? If you cram animals together, give them little room to move, and make them grow and produce far beyond the level they would in natural circumstances, they will routinely get ill — and they do. It is cheaper for their owners to simply automatically and pre-emptively drug them all than to try to treat their illness individually, or to create an environment where sickness is not standard.


The animals in these factory farms can become reservoirs of stronger superbugs. Sometimes it spreads to us through contamination of raw meat, but more often it filters out through workers who have contact with the animals. Dutch pig farmers are 760 times more likely to be carrying pig-MRSA than the rest of the population. This story ends eventually with the death of antibiotics — and routine operations becoming deadly once more.


We always knew factory farming was a scar on our conscience, but it turns out it is also an urgent threat to our health. Of course, factory farming is not the only source of growing antibiotic resistance. Doctors have been overprescribing them, and patients have too often not been taking their full course, enabling tougher bacteria to survive and thrive. But this is the most egregious cause.


A few years ago, it looked like the European Union had taken the lead, by banning the routine use of some types of antibiotics simply to promote the growth of animals. But research published this week by the Soil Association suggests farmers are sidestepping the real issue. The prescription of modern cephalosporins, the antibiotics which are most widely believed to promote stronger variants of MRSA in animals and humans — has quadrupled in the past decade in Britain. Why? They are advertised to farmers, who are under greater pressure than ever to get more and more out of their herds because supermarkets have ratcheted up the pressure for quick profit. Decent small farmers who want to resist these trends find themselves out of business.


It might seem strange that governments all over the world are taking such a gamble with public health, in the face of the best scientific advice. But Big Agriculture has armies of lobbyists and open chequebooks, while the people trying to protect the public have only the facts and reason and truth on their side.


Small groups of rich people, determined to maximise profits, are buying or bamboozling politicians into serving their interests and into ignoring the interests of the vast majority of the population. This is the trend that is making it so hard to (say) re-regulate the banks to prevent another global crash, or prevent the unravelling of the climate.


It doesn't have to be this way. The majority of the population can organise and shout louder than these self-interested juntas of profit.


Fighting back on issues like this works — and we need to step it up. Otherwise, the history books will record something startling. Our demand for cheap meat turned us, in turn, into cheap meat.


— The Independent




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




The 13-day strike at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd's Manesar plant, which ended last Friday, may well be the beginning of a new phase in labour relations for India's largest car maker and for big industry in general. It has also brought into focus the issue of the rights of contract labour. The management's initial refusal to grant the workers' demand for a new union, on the grounds that it was opposed to the idea of two unions for the same company as also to the proposal that the new union would have one-third representation from an outside trade union with political affiliation, was unsustainable. The situation aggravated when the Maruti Suzuki management dismissed 11 employees on disciplinary grounds and threatened to enforce an eight-day wage cut for every day of production loss caused by the strike. After 13 days of strike, an estimated production loss of Rs 420 crore and several rounds of negotiations including a referral of the matter to the Haryana chief minister, the management appears to have conceded almost all the major points the striking workers had raised.

The workers now maintain that they will form a new union, subject to its registration by the state government. Moreover, the workers, not the management, will decide whether they should allow representation by a trade union affiliated to a political party. The company will take back the dismissed employees, but will subject them to disciplinary action. Instead of eight days of pay cut for every day's production loss, the management has now reportedly agreed to cut only three days' wages. Yes, the management says it has got the Haryana chief minister's assurance that it will not allow the formation of a new union, but the workers point out that this is their right and they are prepared to move the court if the state government refuses them permission. Given the manner in which the Maruti Suzuki management handled the agitation, it appears the workers have a good reason to celebrate and the management must do some introspection.


The question that arises is whether Maruti Suzuki ignored the real reasons why a trade union like the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), a trade union affiliated to the Communist Party of India, has managed to make inroads into an area where it had an insignificant presence a decade ago. Even as the automobile industry expanded in Gurgaon and Manesar, making it the country's largest auto hub, the tendency to hire more contract workers was also on the rise, raising their share to almost 60 per cent of the total auto industry workforce in the area. AITUC, which had moved away from its base in the east, where industry was already on the decline, found in the prosperous auto belt a good cause that it could champion. Even Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant has about 700 contract workers (28 per cent of the total), many of whom get absorbed later, but the salary differential with regular employees is an issue that rankles most of them. If the auto industry in Haryana has to find a durable solution to its labour troubles, it must resolve the issue of contract workers. The solution does not lie in ignoring it or shifting to new plants in Tamil Nadu or Gujarat, as some of them are planning, since the contract labour issue is not going to go away.









Our readers who turn 20 this year should track the news coming out of Greece to get a feel of what India was like in the year of their birth. It all started in the autumn of 1990, like most 20-year-olds this summer!


Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 sent oil prices spiralling, adding to India's foreign exchange outgo. The crisis in West Asia hit dollar remittances to India and India's exports westwards. In September 1990, India drew $660 million from its reserves with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bolster its foreign currency holdings.

By October 1990, western credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's started downgrading India's sovereign rating, contributing to reduced capital inflows and higher cost of external funds. In November 1990, the then prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh lost power. Chandra Shekhar took charge and appointed Dr Manmohan Singh as economic advisor in the Prime Minister's Office. The finance minister of the day, Yashwant Sinha, dispatched the then deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), C Rangarajan, and Government of India's Chief Economic Advisor Deepak Nayyar on a secret mission to see if the IMF would lend.

I happened to be in Washington DC in the second week of December and went to the IMF office. I chanced upon India's executive director at the IMF, Gopi Arora, in the company of Dr Rangarajan and Dr Nayyar. The three of them swore me to secrecy and extracted a promise that I would not report what I saw! Mr Arora was a friend of my father's, Dr Rangarajan was my father-in-law's friend and Dr Nayyar was a former colleague from our teaching days at the Jawaharlal Nehru University! A front page story got killed!

The negotiations helped India secure $1.03 billion under the IMF's Compensatory and Contingency Financing Facility (CCFF) and $789 million as the first tranche of a standby arrangement. A decade later, on the 10th anniversary of the reforms in 2001, all three of them made public the nature of this secret mission. In his autobiography, former finance minister Yashwant Sinha also finally confessed that the economic liberalisation package of July 1991 that the then finance minister Manmohan Singh presented to Parliament had indeed been readied by December 1990, but the Chandra Shekhar government failed to unveil it because days before Mr Sinha could present his Budget, the Congress party decided to withdraw support to the Chandra Shekhar government.

Six months of political uncertainty between December 1990 and June 1991 saw the economic situation turn even graver. Non-resident Indians were the first to panic. Over a billion dollars went out of their accounts in India. In May 1991, the government "leased" 20 tonnes of "confiscated gold" to State Bank of India, which, in turn, sold it to an international bank and raised $200 million. The RBI then physically moved 46.9 tonnes of gold by air cargo from its vaults in Mumbai to the vaults of the Bank of England in London to raise a loan of $405 million that was jointly financed by the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan.

In June 1991, the RBI's foreign currency assets stood at $1.12 billion, equivalent to less than three weeks of imports at the time. India was on the verge of default as a new government, under the leadership of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, took charge. The first and the most important policy step that India took to regain credibility with its creditors and rating agencies was to go in for a massive devaluation of the rupee.

In a two-stage operation code named "hop, skip and jump" by the architects of the move – then finance minister Manmohan Singh and RBI's C Rangarajan – the rupee was devalued by 9 per cent on July 1, 1991 and by another 11 per cent on July 3. The "hop" on July 1 was meant to test the waters. The political reaction at home was strongly negative. Congress party leaders rushed to Prime Minister Rao and warned him that devaluation had cost even the mighty Indira Gandhi dearly in June 1966, and it would unseat him. Barely a month in office, Mr Rao panicked. He called Dr Singh and asked him to stop further action.

Both Dr Singh and Dr Rangarajan knew that a half-hearted move would make matters worse. Global financial markets and the IMF expected more. Dr Singh pretended to get in touch with the deputy governor in Mumbai and claimed he was unable to get him. Mercifully, those were not the days of cell phones and SMS. Good old MTNL could be depended upon not to put a call through! A night of failed communication between North Block and Mint Road enabled the "jump" after the intervening "skip".

The rupee devaluation was followed by trade liberalisation. This improved India's sovereign rating and its ability to borrow more from the IMF and attract funds back home. On July 24, 1991 Dr Singh presented his first Union Budget. The rest, as they say, is history.

Many mocked the reforms of the day. For months on end, the Left parties organised protests, much like what one sees on the streets of Athens these days. By December 1991, India's staunchest ally and strategic partner, the Soviet Union, disappeared. Greece has Germany, India had nobody. In that difficult, dark and lonely world, India rebuilt its economy, its credibility, its credit rating and its reputation.

Today's teenagers were born in a different India. They know not the humiliation of a nation that mortgaged gold, much like any poor farmer or weaver, in exchange for cash to buy fuel.

The delicensing and decontrol, and the end of the licence permit raj that followed, destroyed an entire edifice of corruption as sector after sector saw entrepreneurs and consumers participating in more open markets. The Indian economy demonstrated incredible resilience and emerged Phoenix- like. Even Bollywood has made a film about it all!








This is because food inspectors refuse to look where it matters. The fact is that something is seriously wrong with the way the world is producing food and even more with the way it is managing its regulations for safety. But we just don't get it.

Let's recap past food scares to understand the crisis and the response.

In 2005, avian influenza hit the chicken we eat. The world went on the rampage, killing chickens and wild birds to contain the deadly virus spreading across the connected world. But nobody targeted the real problem: the nature of the modern world's poultry business, which is highly vertically integrated and globalised, and produces factory chickens, not food. In this business, companies strive for lower cost of production because agri-business requires scale and global reach.

It is widely accepted that chicken-manufacturing practices leave the birds susceptible to diseases and consumers vulnerable to mutated virus. This is an inconvenient truth.

So what did the world do? It went after the backyard poultry business. Vietnam, under pressure from international food inspectors, went as far as asking its people to convert to factory-style methods. Ironically, in the name of hygienic food, the world ended up promoting the very nature of the business that was bringing it shock and shame.

Cut to 2009, when the next big food scare hit the world: Influenza A (H1N1) virus, formerly named swine flu. Across the developing world, pigs, important sources of food for the poor, were slaughtered. But mega hog factories, run by powerful food giants, were not indicted for their toxin-rich practices. The modern factory uses everything from antibiotics and hormones to biocides and vaccines to grow pigs in highly concentrated and unhealthy environments. The nature of the business was not questioned.

Worse, the food crisis allowed big business to further concentrate its hold over the lucrative pork. Family farms went out of business because of tightened safety regulations and cost of surveillance.

Now, in this case, instead of looking at the business of food, growing healthy food may be the target. How convenient!

The fact is that food has become a dangerous business. Just consider how a relatively controlled food scare over E coli, which is confined to the city of Hamburg, has hit farmers and shaken consumers across Europe. The reason is that food is no longer a local – or even national – business. It could be grown in one place, packed in another country, shipped to yet another nation for processing and then lifted to supermarket shelves across the globe. It is an anonymous business built to scale and is, therefore, profitable.

What's worse, food regulations, designed for environmental safety and public health, end up promoting this fundamentally flawed and fatal model of growing food.

The focus of food regulations is on good manufacturing practices, which boil down to all that can be done to improve internal hygiene, like donning white coats and hair nets, scrubbing factory floors and using plastic in packaging. This regulation ends up driving out small producers and local food vendors. They cannot keep up with the cost of meeting tougher standards and, more importantly, the cost of inspectors, and now certification.

How, then, should it work? Cheap, mass-produced food, which forces farmers to cut corners and use intensive practices to be competitive, cannot be the way to secure our health. Securing health requires food regulators to see food as food, not business. It will mean drawing guidelines, which will incentivise food by small producers, grown naturally and locally. It also means we must be willing to pay more for food as consumers — or to subsidise farmers for growing healthy and safe food.

This recognition is growing perhaps for the first time even in the US, the mecca of the food business. In a recent article in Science, leading academics have argued that the US must transform its agriculture, which has become environmentally and socially destructive. But it can do this only by transforming policies, particularly those that reward the consolidated agro-food industry's thrust for large volumes of low-cost food, feed, fibre and fuel. This requires going back to the drawing board to invest once again in knowledge systems for agriculture that are driven by public interest and public funds.

I write this knowing well that we in India are succumbing to the definition of food that sells us the idea of modern lifestyle, which must begin by discarding the culture of locally grown, home-cooked and seasonal food. This is not accidental; this is a deliberate strategy to seduce us to be part of the food business that compromises our health for profit.  







A Perfect Storm" is how Nouriel Roubini recently characterised the prospects for the global economy. In the European Union (EU), a major crisis seems to be brewing in Greece. At the time of writing, several members of the ruling Socialist Party had resigned on the issue of the austerity plan aimed at cutting the budget deficit by ¤78 billion over the next five years. The cabinet is being reshuffled, and the plan needs to be approved by Parliament before the EU agrees to release a ¤12 bn tranche under the existing package, hopefully over the weekend. There is escalating social unrest in Greece with riots, strikes and demonstrations on the streets. And, the credit default swap (CDS) premium has shot up to almost 20 per cent. Rating agencies have downgraded Greece to CCC! Greece apart, Ireland,too, needs more assistance. However these problems are resolved, it increasingly looks like the choices are narrowing to an even closer integration through a zone-wide fiscal policy; or some countries leaving the euro (but there are too many political, technical and practical issues involved); or re-structuring the debt of some of the weaker countries. Greek bonds worth an estimated euro 100 bn are held outside Greece, mainly by banks within the euro zone and the European Central Bank.


But leaving the problems of the euro zone aside, there are enough signs that the two largest national economies globally, the US and China, are slowing. As for the US, GDP growth had dropped to 1.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, from 3.1 per cent in the previous quarter. And two-thirds of the growth is accounted for by increased business inventories. This, obviously, is not a sustainable model and economists are downgrading the growth prospects. The monetary policy stimulus has not really helped; and unemployment remains close to 10 per cent. QE2 is ending and QE3 looks unlikely as loosening the strings of monetary policy seems unlikely to lead to a pick-up in final demand. During the last few decades, real wages of a large proportion of the population have been stagnant, even as the rich grew much, much richer. The illusion of higher living standards and increased consumption for this segment required a continuous increase in house prices. This led to a major financial crisis until the real estate bubble burst; there are few signs that housing prices will start growing again. The second was a "strong dollar policy" that led to ever greater consumption of imported goods, external deficits, and major global imbalances. Clearly, the consumer-driven model of economic growth needs replacement. An export-led growth is also unlikely. A recent report suggests that US manufacturing labour costs per hour were 25 times more than China's in 2008.

To add to the problems, fiscal deficits have reached unsustainable levels and there are few signs of a consensus between the Democratic and Republican Party leaderships on the issue. And the Presidential election looming next year is unlikely to be conducive to constructive dialogue. Rating agencies have threatened a downgrade and the ceiling on federal debt will be reached in the next few weeks. The dollar did strengthen last week on the back of the deterioration in Greece, but its external value is equally, if not even more, susceptible to Beijing's policy on reserves deployment.

The Asian economy, too, is showing more signs of a slowdown. Turning first to the two largest, in China, the property bubble could well be on the point of bursting thanks to tightening monetary policy in response to rising inflation (to be sure, even now it is at 5.3 per cent). Lending growth in China has come down sharply. New loans in the first five months of the year were 12 per cent lower than the corresponding period last year and down 40 per cent compared to 2009! All this is hardly calculated to spur growth. Japanese output is stagnant partly also as a result of the natural calamities it has suffered recently.

What about India? We, too, seem to be heading for slower growth, particularly after last week's further tightening of the monetary screw. Commenting on the last Budget, I had argued that the numbers seemed to be based on a 14 per cent growth in nominal GDP in fiscal 2011-12, consisting of 9 per cent real growth and 5 per cent inflation. At that time, I had said 7+7 looks more likely that 9+5. I wonder whether I should be even more pessimistic now, given that governance and decision-making are on the sidelines with senior ministers busy dealing with the blackmail of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev and more recently in dealing with the political fallout of the fiasco in which negotiations ended. But more on the prospects for India in later columns.

Tailpiece: In West Bengal, during the initial couple of decades of Marxist power, militant trade unionism de-industrialised the economy; Mamatadi seems to be bent on continuing the tradition through her land policies.  







A Perfect Storm" is how Nouriel Roubini recently characterised the prospects for the global economy. In the European Union (EU), a major crisis seems to be brewing in Greece. At the time of writing, several members of the ruling Socialist Party had resigned on the issue of the austerity plan aimed at cutting the budget deficit by ¤78 billion over the next five years. The cabinet is being reshuffled, and the plan needs to be approved by Parliament before the EU agrees to release a ¤12 bn tranche under the existing package, hopefully over the weekend. There is escalating social unrest in Greece with riots, strikes and demonstrations on the streets. And, the credit default swap (CDS) premium has shot up to almost 20 per cent. Rating agencies have downgraded Greece to CCC! Greece apart, Ireland,too, needs more assistance. However these problems are resolved, it increasingly looks like the choices are narrowing to an even closer integration through a zone-wide fiscal policy; or some countries leaving the euro (but there are too many political, technical and practical issues involved); or re-structuring the debt of some of the weaker countries. Greek bonds worth an estimated euro 100 bn are held outside Greece, mainly by banks within the euro zone and the European Central Bank.

 But leaving the problems of the euro zone aside, there are enough signs that the two largest national economies globally, the US and China, are slowing. As for the US, GDP growth had dropped to 1.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, from 3.1 per cent in the previous quarter. And two-thirds of the growth is accounted for by increased business inventories. This, obviously, is not a sustainable model and economists are downgrading the growth prospects. The monetary policy stimulus has not really helped; and unemployment remains close to 10 per cent. QE2 is ending and QE3 looks unlikely as loosening the strings of monetary policy seems unlikely to lead to a pick-up in final demand. During the last few decades, real wages of a large proportion of the population have been stagnant, even as the rich grew much, much richer. The illusion of higher living standards and increased consumption for this segment required a continuous increase in house prices. This led to a major financial crisis until the real estate bubble burst; there are few signs that housing prices will start growing again. The second was a "strong dollar policy" that led to ever greater consumption of imported goods, external deficits, and major global imbalances. Clearly, the consumer-driven model of economic growth needs replacement. An export-led growth is also unlikely. A recent report suggests that US manufacturing labour costs per hour were 25 times more than China's in 2008.

To add to the problems, fiscal deficits have reached unsustainable levels and there are few signs of a consensus between the Democratic and Republican Party leaderships on the issue. And the Presidential election looming next year is unlikely to be conducive to constructive dialogue. Rating agencies have threatened a downgrade and the ceiling on federal debt will be reached in the next few weeks. The dollar did strengthen last week on the back of the deterioration in Greece, but its external value is equally, if not even more, susceptible to Beijing's policy on reserves deployment.

The Asian economy, too, is showing more signs of a slowdown. Turning first to the two largest, in China, the property bubble could well be on the point of bursting thanks to tightening monetary policy in response to rising inflation (to be sure, even now it is at 5.3 per cent). Lending growth in China has come down sharply. New loans in the first five months of the year were 12 per cent lower than the corresponding period last year and down 40 per cent compared to 2009! All this is hardly calculated to spur growth. Japanese output is stagnant partly also as a result of the natural calamities it has suffered recently.

What about India? We, too, seem to be heading for slower growth, particularly after last week's further tightening of the monetary screw. Commenting on the last Budget, I had argued that the numbers seemed to be based on a 14 per cent growth in nominal GDP in fiscal 2011-12, consisting of 9 per cent real growth and 5 per cent inflation. At that time, I had said 7+7 looks more likely that 9+5. I wonder whether I should be even more pessimistic now, given that governance and decision-making are on the sidelines with senior ministers busy dealing with the blackmail of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev and more recently in dealing with the political fallout of the fiasco in which negotiations ended. But more on the prospects for India in later columns.

Tailpiece: In West Bengal, during the initial couple of decades of Marxist power, militant trade unionism de-industrialised the economy; Mamatadi seems to be bent on continuing the tradition through her land policies.  








We use tools to summarily exclude rather to select; to rebuff and repulse rather than to select, groom and train. The American selection system is fair and humane, even if tedious, and remains the world's envy.

On a humid morning this past week, headlines in a range of India's top newspapers highlighted what most Indian school students constantly labour and persevere to overcome: The obsession India's colleges have with cut-off marks for admission. As an alumnus of the Shri Ram College of Commerce, which this year required a stratospheric cut-off mark of 100 per cent for non-commerce stream students to secure a seat in the college, I was particularly piqued by the storm of responses from India's elite, ranging from the frenzied and harried to the blasé and complacent.

What is obvious is that there is a need, but not the capacity, for a more holistic application process. The obsession with cut-off marks is understandable, but a touch too convenient for educational institutions. For students, cut-offs are their entry visa into the larger educational process in India. For educational institutions, the higher the cut-off marks, the greater the claim to prestige in the larger educational ecosystem.


This model is dated and unfair to both students and to society at large. With our educational system continuing to emphasise performance as measured by examinations, memorisation and marks will persist as poor proxies for measuring "educational" outcomes. Yet, as the political scientists Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Devesh Kapur have remarked, "The fact that the system nonetheless produces a noticeable number of high quality students has to do with the sheer number of students and the Darwinian struggle at the high school to get admission into the few good institutions."

Or consider the question posed by Stefan H. Thomke, a professor at Harvard Business School, based on his recent study of Mumbai's dabbawallas: "People with average skills and education can do extraordinary things. Perhaps there is a bigger lesson here. India has many people, but are all of them being used to their fullest potential?"

This is precisely the moot point. The Indian educational system appears to be based more on systems and mechanisms of exclusion rather than inclusion: Whether it is entrance examinations or board examination cut-offs, or even the UPSC's system of choosing India's future bureaucrats, we as a society appear to be taking the "lazy way out", by using these tools and filters as means to exclude rather to select; to rebuff and repulse rather than to select, groom and train.

To paraphrase Thomke: Is our educational system doing the best to select and train our students to reach a high degree of their potential?


Salient in this context is the model of admissions followed by the decentralised US higher education system — a superb example of research excellence, undergraduate teaching, and democratic access to higher education. Consider what I would call the four building blocks of how the best American institutions assess and admit students into the groves of academia. First, a range of standardised tests — whether it is the SAT or the ACT at the undergraduate level, or the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or other allied tests at the post-graduate level — are used to generate a quantitative score to assess the mathematical, reading, verbal comprehension and cognitive skills of students.

These scientifically designed standardised tests are periodically revised and revamped. Second, the emphasis on writing essays for admissions evaluates the ability of the student to express himself or herself in ways that are not captured by high school exams, assessments or mark-sheets. Essays are as valid for undergraduate admissions as they are for applying to do research at the PhD level for most American institutions of higher education. In short, whether a student wants to pursue a PhD to study nanotechnology at Stanford or to pursue an undergraduate course at a selective liberal arts college such as, say, Wellesley or Swarthmore, the admissions process simply does not compromise on assessing the ability of that student to communicate his ideas to an audience in writing.

Indubitably, communicating is a key skill that will prove useful to anyone in any career — so why should it not be a factor (though admittedly not the factor) in giving the student an inclusive, participatory voice in the process? Third, the emphasis on letters of recommendation showcases the importance of incorporating subjective (but hopefully reasonably fair if not empathetic) assessments by those who teach or supervise that student. Finally, the overall history of the grades and exams of a student over a period of time provides a trajectory of overall progress.

In sum, these four parameters capture a large array of the effects and outcomes that education ought to seek to attain. These parameters offer a credible way of assessing the overall gestalt of the individual student as a human being captured by a range of measures over time.

To push an HR metaphor, this model of a holistic admissions process is not very far off from a "360 degree performance appraisal". This process does not as much brutally and summarily eliminate a student as it serves to evaluate a candidate for admission. American admissions officers will tell you that oftentimes, a single student's file can be debated and read by at least three different officers over the course of time before a decision is made.

At the level of MBA, Master's or PhD admissions, other graduate students have also been known to read incoming applications and provide inputs to admissions committees.Telephone calls and in-person interviews, at times, supplement the inputs going into this process. All this is not only fair, but a humane — albeit complicated and tedious — process. Yet the results of this Western emphasis on the individual are present for all of us to see: To date, the American model of higher education continues to remain the world's envy.


Admittedly, this holistic model of the admissions process is tedious, and complex and nuanced — but it is ultimately fair and rigorous — both to the student as well as educational institutions seeking a certain kind of candidate with a general matrix of traits, aptitudes and gifts.

Without diagnosing the roots of the institutional malaise in Indian higher education or proposing some sort of overhauling of the modus operandi of our rote-memorisation based system of teaching in schools, India may continue to witness episodes of cut-offs going to the 100 per cent mark level.

This is unreasonable. Yet it need not be the case — if we would but learn the appropriate lessons from the example of the US higher educational system.

(The author is Senior Educational Advisor at the United States-India Educational Foundation, New Delhi. The views are personal.






Despite the absence of bilateral trade talks for three years, commerce did not cease. But politics overrides economics.

The Commerce Secretaries of India and Pakistan, Messrs Rahul Khullar and Zafar Mehmood, who met at Islamabad in the last week of April, had no structured agenda to enhance economic engagement between their two countries. This was because New Delhi and Islamabad had suspended Commerce Secretary level trade talks for the last three years following the November 2008 terrorist strikes on Mumbai. To that extent, it would be appropriate to assume the two sides had embarked only on preliminary discussions to shape an agenda for future meetings.

It is reported that the two sides would attempt to focus on the problem of non-tariff barriers that plague bilateral trade. Pakistan's priority issue would be to discuss India's opposition to the European Union's decision to provide duty-free access to Pakistani goods. For India, the agenda is to sell oil and electricity to Pakistan.

Demand and supply pull

The two countries are interested in better coordination and establishing systems that would boost bilateral trade in compliance with multilateral and regional obligations like the South Asian Free Trade Area pact. The average annual Pakistan-India trade volume is around $2 billion. A total of 1,946 items are now traded between the two countries.

Despite the absence of trade talks between the two sides for three years, commerce did not cease, which only suggests the strong demand and supply pull across the borders.

India-Pakistan trade ties have three components, namely: 'black' or illegal trade transacted through the land borders; circular or 'informal' trade which is carried out through 'third' countries and re-exported from there to Pakistan; finally, formal trade through imports/exports of merchandise through all recognised seaports, airports, land customs stations and inland container depots.

The illegal trade channels are smugglers who operate along the 675-km unfenced stretch of the Rajasthan sector along the contiguous Indo-Pakistan border; besides, carriers misuse personal baggage through the "green channel" facilities at international airports. Circular trade is conducted through agents who are stationed in free ports like Singapore or Dubai, and is estimated to be $1 billion.

Thus, the combined volumes of illegal and circular trade are much larger than formal levels of trade which in reality, therefore, amounts to 'pseudo' trade between the two countries.

Pakistan is estimated to be the second or third largest tea consumer in the world with a market size of around 100 million kg per annum and for several years it did not import tea from India. Eventually, India and Pakistan signed a contract for the sale of tea in August 1997 owing to compulsions, as the tea gardens in Kenya, Sri Lanka and Indonesia were hit by drought. Otherwise, Pakistan has never imported tea from India since 1988. Instead, Pakistan imports tea from Kenya because it is cheaper than doing so from India via the Dubai route.

Obstacles to growth

Pakistan imports iron ore from Brazil and Australia, though these items could be available at lower rates from India. Similarly, considering Indian pharmaceutical products are 30 per cent cheaper than Pakistani products, it would certainly make a difference to the common citizen in that country. In turn, this would help Indian pharmaceutical products to sell larger volumes in geographically proximate markets, besides impacting positively on industrial growth.

The constraints that hamper the growth of India-Pakistan trade include: Visa restrictions, absence of banking facilities, telecommunication and trade logistics. The business communities in both countries face visa restrictions which are inconvenient for their work. For instance, businessmen have to exit the country only through the city of entry which curtails their flexible travel plans and adds to travel costs. Also, they have to report their presence to police stations regularly, which is a major irritant. The inability to open Letters of Credit owing to the absence of mutual banking protocols between the two sides proves problematic to conduct business.

Whenever tensions occur along the India-Pakistan border telecommunication links become non-operational and businessmen cannot talk to each other. Transportation of goods across the India-Pakistan border is through air, sea and rail links, while no road links have been opened. While the air and rail links tend to be erratic, the sea route Mumbai-Karachi is more useful. Such limited options for trade logistics often results in high transaction costs. For instance, adherence to procedural clearances creates scope for bribery which involves Railways, police, ports and customs officials, and sometimes results in bribes accounting for 30 per cent of transaction costs.

Trade bodies both in India and Pakistan have tried to stimulate bilateral trade, but politics overrides economics between the two neighbours plagued by trust deficit.

(The writer is a Visiting Fellow with the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)








Will the drama unfolding over Greece prove a tragedy or a farce? Nobody has a clue, even though rating agencies have confidently accorded Greek debt the status of junk. The most sensible thing to do is for Greece to come out of the European monetary union, at least temporarily, revert to the drachma as its currency from the pricey euro it now uses and allow a flexible exchange rate to do its job in reining in the current account deficit and real consumption. The alternative to currency flexibility is to force the workforce to accept nominal cuts in wages and salaries and to bring product prices down. Such flexibility is difficult to achieve in a democracy where people will resist a direct, transparent lowering of their living standards. Simultaneously, Greece could default on its debt or a part of it, forcing lending banks to absorb the loss and recapitalise themselves, rather than force the entire burden of adjustment on its own population. But these are political calls that affect not just Greece but also the major European powers that have been driving European integration. New Delhi is not in a position to influence these decisions, but has to countenance their fallout in terms of making world growth more fragile and global financial flows more volatile. A constructive response to what promises to be another episode of global finance losing its essential motility is to get domestic policy fully in order. How to release land for urbanisation (building factories or towns), end irrational state monopoly in mining coal, deploy in inclusive banking India's telecom companies' unique expertise in making millions of small transactions yield crores of rupees of profit, reallocate scarce public finances from harmful subsidy, such as on fuels, to growth-inducing investment — these are but some of the urgent questions that await answers, not from rocket science but from political resolve.

But the most urgent task is to signal an end to a perceived tendency to wilt under pressure. The government must announce its planned reshuffle, its own credible anti-corruption initiative and signal it is in charge. Choppy waters call for firm command.






The surge in the number of students from outside Delhi seeking admission to the capital's prestigious colleges only shows the crisis of our higher education system. The lack of quality education in home states compels students to turn to Delhi, while the elite opt for foreign universities. Indian students rank second after their Chinese peers, accounting for 15% of all foreign students in US higher education. Drastic reform is called for, given the extent of rot in the system — poorquality school graduates, inadequate facilities, lack of accountability and poor quality outcome. We need to expand the higher education sector and improve quality at all levels. The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) holds that the higher education system needs around 1,500 universities nationwide to enable India to attain a gross enrolment of at least 15% by 2015. Such an expansion would need major changes in the funding and regulation of education. Expanding the base of education is also a key component of reform. The government should step up support for higher education. It should make education loans cheap and also explore lending directly to educational institutions as is done in the US. The cost of education will increase when private institutions fill the gap between demand for education and state-funded supply. Student loans should, therefore, be made available easily. Private companies should also expand their endowments and scholarships to build a rich talent pool.

An improvement in the quality of education is a must in all segments, starting with primary schooling, given that only 15% of our graduates are fit to be employed. Making schools accountable to the local community, rather than to a distant state capital, would be a key reform. We also need a radical overhaul in our examination system and teaching. Standardised tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to assess the study potential of students enrolling in universities in the US, are worth emulating. It should possible for students to take the tests throughout the year, and also multiple times. Reform brooks no delay.









That the Maharashtra government is being pusillanimous about a canine shows how much the tail is being allowed to wag the dog. Even if an outfit claiming to be the custodian of Maratha pride direct its fire at a statue of a purported furry friend of the legendary warrior king Shivaji, all the authorities had to do is give some historical allusions. Instead it retreated tail between legs and asked for a month's time to decide whether Waghya the Dog's statue should be demolished or removed. What would the Sambhaji Brigade think, then, of Alexander the Great's decision to name a city after his beloved dog Peritas? If Balto the sled dog can have a statue in New York's Central Park to commemorate his role in bringing a diphtheria antitoxin across Alaska to fend off an epidemic, and Hachiko the Akita gets one in Tokyo for waiting at a station for his master for 9 years, Waghya surely deserved one in Raigad Fort for faithfully following his master right to the funeral pyre. Dogs, indeed, are almost d e r i - g u e u rfor leaders, from Tito's German Shepherd Luks who saved his life during World War II to hotelier Leona Helmsley's white Maltese called Trouble, who inherited her $12 million fortune and died recently, not to mention Hitler's beloved Blondi. How the eagle-eyed brigade decided that the statue in Raigad is of a 'foreign' dog (and, therefore, could not have been a patriotic Maratha king's pet) is also unclear.

Not that anything can be done about skewed perceptions. After all, it is said that the sight of King Edward VII's fox terrier Caesar at the royal funeral procession in 1910 is what convinced the German Kaiser Wilhelm II that British arrogance had to be tamed. Still, Britain has the Dickin medal for dogs who are brave in battle; the least India can do is have a statue.







The dark and enormous banking shadow depriving the poor of economic opportunities in India can only be removed through shadow banking. Rain shadow is a dry area, where because of its topography, there is very little rainfall while areas around it get abundant rain. Similarly, there are a very large number of low-income families, particularly in rural areas, who are in a banking shadow, i.e., they are not served at all or served well by the formal banking system. They are thus deprived of the opportunities of economic advancement enjoyed by the middle-income and upper-income families. The disparities caused by this banking shadow are increasing the income gap between the rich and the poor, which is likely to exacerbate social tensions.
Itis estimated that nearly half of our population does not have operating bank accounts or access to bank credit. Only 10% of our six lakh villages have a bank branch. Despite extensive efforts by the government over the past several decades, the availability of financial services to the poor families has not improved.
A recent study by Skoch Development in Delhi has reported that the government's ambitious financial inclusion plan is not yielding desired results and most of the programmes, including no-frills accounts offered by commercial banks, are ineffective. Out of the 74 million no-frills accounts opened last year, the number of active accounts reported by the banks was between 3% and 20%. The poor families in rural areas continue to be financially excluded. Microfinance institutions (MFIs), which were the most successful in promoting financial inclusion by delivering credit to 26 million poor families, are in disarray after the crises in Andhra Pradesh last year. It is true that there were problems of over-lending and aggressive collection by a few MFIs, but the new regulations are likely to shrink the MFI sector. This will thwart the credit availability to the poor all over India. The banking shadow will become darker and larger.

The government's approach to expand financial inclusion has not yielded desired results. The fundamental mistake is to try force the mainstream commercial banks to serve the poor, particularly the rural poor. Commercial banks are multiproduct, complex institutions which do not have the interest, skills and capabilities to serve the poor families. Their employees are well-educated urban professionals with average compensation of over .6 lakh per year. It is not possible for them to understand the needs of poor families earning less than .1 lakh per year, relate to them and provide service to them. Unlike MFIs, bank employees are not comfortable extending unsecured credit to the poor. The bank employees in the rural branches are generally disinterested and some are quite corrupt.

It is clear that we need an alternative to the commercial banking system to provide financial service to nearly half of India's population living in banking shadow. Some of these alternative delivery systems, sometimes referred to as 'shadow banking' systems, are already in place and working effectively. These include nonbanking financial companies (NBFCs) focused on serving low-income families and small businesses (like kirana shop owners, truck drivers, tailors, repair shops, agriculturists), MFIs, chit funds, credit cooperatives, etc. However,alternative delivery systems need to be strengthened and significantly expanded to reduce the banking shadow.
    To do this, the government and the Reserve Bank of India will have to:

• Accept the reality that the current banking system cannot serve low-income families and small businesses effectively and profitably. The banking system should collaborate with the alternative delivery systems for last-mile delivery of financial services, particularly credit delivery to the poor.

• The government should establish a financial inclusion organisation charged with the responsibility of developing and expanding alternative delivery systems without excessive regulatory impediments and price controls. At present, less than 1% of the total bank credit is availed by the low-income families and small businesses. The goal should be to increase it to 5% in the next five years through alternative delivery systems.

• The regulatory framework and capital requirement for low-risk NBFCs serving the poor should be lighter as compared to high-risk NBFCs promoted by business houses, foreign banks, private equity firms engaged in promoter financing, M&A financing, mezzanine financing, real estate and commodity financing.

• The financial inclusion organisation should proactively monitor and be accountable for the growth and health of alternative delivery systems and its effectiveness in serving the poor.

• Banks should be encouraged to lend to alternative delivery systems and treat them as an extension of the formal banking system. Innovations to reduce cost and improve products and services should be encouraged, particularly using the mobile phone technology to provide savings product to the poor. Let us experiment of allowing some of the best-managed MFIs to take deposits on a restricted basis; small accounts, only from the borrowers and cover them with deposit insurance. The chit fund sector needs removal of price control, lowering of capital requirement, upgrading of technology and rationalisation of regulatory reporting.

• The credit extension by alternative delivery systems to poor families and small businesses should be treated eligible as priority sector lending. By these measures, the government and Reserve Bank can enhance financial inclusion and reduce the number of poor families living and suffering in banking shadow. Financial inclusion can be an effective and profitable business focused on the bottom of the pyramid with rich social dividends.









A high level of female infanticide and sex trafficking make India the fourth most dangerous country in which to be born a woman, according to a global survey released last week. Afghanistan tops the list of the five worst states followed by Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan, shows the poll among 213 gender experts from five continents by TrustLaw, a legal news service.

The inclusion of India, a democracy known for its growing economic prowess, above Somalia has surprised many experts, including Monique Villa, CEO, of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which runs TrustLaw.
"Yes, it was a huge surprise that the biggest democracy in the world was Number 4," she says. "The main reasons are human trafficking, which involves 100 million Indians, mostly women and girls according to official numbers, female foeticide and female infanticide, which are both massive."

The survey found that the Central Bureau of Investigation estimated that in 2009, about 90% of trafficking took place within the country and that there were some 3 million prostitutes, of which about 40% were children. It also pointed to the then Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta's estimate in 2009 that 100 million people, mostly women and girls, were involved in trafficking in India that year. Forced marriage and labour trafficking added to the dangers for women, the survey said, referring to a UN Population Fund report that says, "Up to 50 million girls are thought to be 'missing' over the past century due to female infanticide and foeticide", because parents prefer to have young boys rather than girls. But in India's defence, Villla says the country's appearance in the list "is probably because India is such a vibrant democracy" and is more forthcoming than other countries in describing its problems. "Everything is in the open, the government doesn't hide the extent of the issues and newspapers are full of horrific stories like the discovery last week of nine female foetuses dumped in a drain in western India." Female foeticide, Villa says, also happens on a large scale in China, for instance, but the authorities are less open about it. "If other countries were equally open about their biggest issues, the result of our poll would probably be very different."

One must never forget, she says, India is home to fantastic women. "Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister way before any woman was in Europe." Villa says India also has very charismatic pioneers like Kiran Bedi.
The poll asked the experts to rank countries by overall perceptions of danger as well as by six risks: health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural or religious factors, and lack of access to resources and trafficking. The survey has been compiled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark the launch of a website, TrustLaw Woman, a global hub of news and information on women's legal rights, aimed at providing free legal advice to women's groups around the world.

The peculiarity with India's case was "the massive human trafficking — 100 million people involved!" says Villa. "This is under-reported really and includes sex trafficking, girls forced into sex trade, girls taken in rural India brought to cities, and also sold as slaves, etc."

The experts, she says, also noted the massive number of "missing" girls since decades, a euphemism for the killing of female foetuses. They also noted the high level of child marriage and the "horrendous number of dowry deaths". India is not the only country where this happens, but given that it is such a big country with a big population, the numbers are staggering, says Villa.

Villa says her team's role at the Thomson Reuters Foundation is to help women through information and legal support. "We give loads of information to help women know and defend their rights. We are also building a database of all the laws regarding women's rights in every country with the American Bar Association." The foundation also gives a lawyer for free to NGOs and social entrepreneurs when they need it for their contracts, tax or HR problems . "This is a hugely successful service we launched a year ago and many Indian law firms and NGOs and social entrepreneurs are members." Information, says Villa, is a form of aid. The poll had a huge impact around the world, she says. "I hope it will contribute to help women defend their rights everywhere."
As for India, the fact is it is still dangerous to be a woman in the country and poverty is once again at the root of it, says Villa. "That's what we call the "hidden dangers" for women: lack of education, lack of access to healthcare, lack of access to economic resources, etc, etc," she says. "The indirect dangers affect more women and girls than rape."










The one thing that comes through loud and clear on a reading of the RBI's mid-quarter review of its monetary policy announced last Thursday is the sense of inevitability to the hike in repo rate (by 25 basis points to 7.50%) and the corresponding changes in the reverse repo rate. A sentiment that industry clearly does not share going by the reactions from the chambers of commerce! A parsing of the statement into the positives and the negatives of the underlying macroeconomic fundamentals, however, shows the RBI really had no choice. Consider:

The Positives

The biggest positive is that though the global environment has changed for the worse since the Annual Policy Statement of May 3, 2011, domestic conditions have not. These remain 'broadly consistent' with the projections made by the Bank.

True, there are signs of moderation in some sectors but broad indicators of activity — 2010-11 fourth quarter profit growth and margins and credit growth — do not suggest a sharp or broadbased deceleration. Contrary to widespread belief, industrial growth remains healthy. While the old series of industrial production suggested a sharp deceleration from 10.4 % in the first half of 2010-11 to 5.5% in the second half, the new series of industrial production, with 2004-05 as base, suggests there has been no deceleration with growth at little over 8% in both halves of the year. More importantly, while the year-on-year (y-oy) IIP growth moderated to 6.3% in April 2011, growth in capital goods production at 14.5% was buoyant.

During April-May 2011, both exports and imports increased sharply and the trade deficit widened. Since exports have fared far better than anyone had hoped at the beginning of the year, the widening of trade deficit can only mean healthy import demand (read: a healthy economy).

Year-on-year non-food credit growth has moderated from 21.3% in March 2011 to 20.6% in early June 2011, showing that while credit is responding to the RBI's policy signals, it remains above the indicative projection of 19%. Better still, deposit growth that had slowed considerably following the sharp decline in interest rates has also reversed direction. Year-on-year deposit growth increased to 18.2% in early June 2011 from 17.0% in March 2011, showing monetary transmission has been quite strong.

The progress of southwest monsoon 2011 has been satisfactory so far.

The government's cash balances have moved from a surplus of . 89,000 crore on an average during Q4 of 2010-11 to a deficit of . 29,000 crore during Q1 of 2011-12 (up to June 15, 2011), suggesting government spending is finally picking up. This should have a multiplier effect on the economy, though the sharp swings of this order (. 1,18,000 crore) greatly complicate the RBI's task in liquidity management.

To sum up, the Indian economy has held its own despite global conditions turning adverse.
The Negatives

Inflation persists at uncomfortable levels. Moreover, the headline numbers understate the pressures because fuel prices are yet to reflect global crude oil prices. The headline WPI inflation rate has been close to 9.0% since March 2011 while the consumer price inflation for industrial workers (CPIIW) rose from 8.8% in March 2011 to 9.4% in April 2011. Non-food manufactured products inflation was 8.5% in March 2011, much above its medium-term trend of 4.0%, suggesting inflationary pressures have become more generalised even as domestic fuel prices are yet to reflect current trends in global prices. Meanwhile inflation, data released by the CSO on the same day as the policy review showed the annual rate of inflation for primary articles and fuel and power calculated on point to point basis, stood at 12.86 % (Provisional) for the week ended 04/06/2011 (over 05/ 06/2010) compared to 11.52 % (Provisional) for the previous week (ended 28/05/2011). GDP growth decelerated to 7.8% in Q4 of 2010-11 from 8.3% in the previous quarter and 9.4% in the corresponding quarter a year ago. While private consumption was robust, investment activity moderated in Q4 of 2010-11. Growth expectations in advanced economies are visibly moderating, even as inflationary pressures, primarily from commodity prices, have increased. Worse, the scope for conventional policy responses appears limited. Uncertainty about the resolution of the sovereign debt problem in the euro area has increased. On balance, therefore, we have much less reason to worry on the growth front than on the inflation front. The slowdown in growth might seem like a negative but to the extent it reflects the success of policy measures to cool down the economy in order to contain inflationary pressures, it is less so. For now the focus must remain on fighting inflation.









Among the litany of mistakes that have littered the Congress' path around the crisis it finds itself in now, two structural ones stand out for special mention. The first was an inexplicable strategic call early on that it could somehow pretend that the party was in some way separate from the government, that the sins of the latter would have no bearing on the former.


To pretend that the party could in some way remain holier-than-thou and keep its nose up while its own government sank deeper and deeper into a muddy quagmire was always going to be a ridiculous proposition. Soaked in the special kind of self-destroying hubris that Congress leaders of a certain ilk seem to specialise in, it goes to the heart of the dysfunction that has come to characterise this government's public imagery.

The Congress' confusion and crisis of confidence are inextricably linked to a deeper, more fundamental problem with its political communication. In a crisis that has essentially been driven by the new media and the 24-hour TV news wheel, everybody and their hysterical uncle have had their say but the voices of the three people who matter most in the government have been missing: the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.


By not coming out at all to speak for his government, the Prime Minister has left a vacuum that has been filled with adjectives like 'weak', 'adrift' and 'powerless'. By not speaking up for the party line, Sonia Gandhi has left the impression of a rudderless party, represented by clueless spokespersons running around in circles. By keeping his silence, Rahul Gandhi has reinforced the perception of only speaking up in carefully orchestrated political productions and of being reluctant to get his hands dirty.


At a time when the Congress and the government are facing their greatest crisis of credibility since 2004, all the heavy lifting has been left to Kapil Sibal and Digvijay Singh. An army whose generals are missing from the front is bound to lose direction.


It is like the TV revolution only happened for the party's mid-level leaders and spokespersons who remain constantly on the rollercoaster of 24-hour news. The top level seems to pretend that they can remain cloistered within protected walls and carefully calibrated appearances will suffice.


It is a fundamental misjudgement of the nature of the modern media. In terms of political communications, the Congress seems to be running a 2011 government with a 1950s-style culture of outreach.


This is not to say that the Prime Minister should provide a soundbyte a day. It is to point out that among all mature democracies, it is India alone where the head of the government does not routinely put himself out there to answer difficult questions on his government's priorities and policies.

President Obama, for instance, posts a weekly video address on the issues that matter on the White House website, his press secretary holds a daily briefing to answer questions on his views and he routinely appears on well-chosen talk shows. In February this year, he even took the risk of appearing on the most rabid of Republican platforms, the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News to defend his administration's record.
    In Australia, Prime Ministers appearing on TV and radio shows is a phenomenon so regular that it doesn't even make news by itself and in the UK, David Cameron regularly answers questions personally in Parliamentary question time.


The current Congress propensity to wrap up the top leadership of the government in cotton-wool is so archaic that is retrograde even by the standards of the 1950s.


Nehru, for instance, used to conduct a forthright monthly press conference as prime minister to put forth his views on issues of national importance. That culture ended with Indira Gandhi and the Emergency and as Inder Malhotra once pointed out, the idea of a regular prime ministerial interface with the press became redundant after Doordarshan turned into a daily gazette of officious prime ministerial engagements in the 1980s.


But in the age of Twitter, Facebook and 24-hour TV, however superfluous it may be, the Congress and the PMO must adapt to the new social realities. A government must have a voice and that voice must come from the top and in the public domain.


Before the 2004 general election, an internal Congress committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee prepared a blueprint for Sonia Gandhi on electoral strategy. It had a special section on the changed post-television social landscape which recommended 'highly professional and politically fine-tuned electronic election warfare'. It went on to point out, 'it is the electronic media which in 21st century India, as in all developed democracies, has to emerge as the premier campaign media'.


The question is did the party's top brass really understand the import of this message?

    Television cannot solve the government's problems. But it can certainly be the vehicle to pass on its message. Or it can be the conduit of its rudderless swivelling, magnified in sharp detail.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The discussions around the Lokpal issue, brought into focus by the Anna Hazare group, have been quite fruitless. Also, quite needlessly, the self-serving impression has been sought to be spread that the government's position on the principal points raised is necessarily wrong and those of Mr Hazare's followers necessarily right. What is true is that the points at issue are complex and admit of a variety of viewpoints that ought to be respected, and aspersions not be cast even in an implied fashion. People should also be aware that many leading civil society groups and men of experience in public affairs are not in accord with the Hazare position, which they think will undermine the basic principles of our Constitution. No one — not even the government — differs on the necessity of rooting out corruption. Differences arise on how to go about the task and the nature of the instrument to be brought into play. Precisely because the questions in focus are difficult, points regarding what precisely the institution of the Lokpal should mean, or indeed the nature of its composition, have not been approached yet. Thus definition issues lie in suspended animation. T he deadlock between Mr Hazare's men and the government on whether or not to bring the office of Prime Minister and the higher judiciary within the proposed Lokpal's scrutiny is also far from being resolved. The gulf is as wide as when the issue first arose in April. This is not surprising, for such questions typically do attract a variety of responses within society; indeed within the government itself. Within individual parties too there might exist more than a single viewpoint, if news reports are to be taken into account. In recent days, key senior Congress leaders — its so-called core group, which includes the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and party president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi — have met twice to review their position on key questions raised on the Lokpal matter, but so far there are no intimations of clarity. As for other major parties — national or regional — they have not yet bothered to have an internal brainstorming session. Perhaps the risk of internal fissures being exposed is not inconsiderable. These parties would rather wait for the government to detail its own position and would choose merely to respond, rather than spell out their viewpoint on a matter that has generated so much heat and all too little light. As government parties are wont to do, the Congress has asked for an all-party meeting. This might be nothing more than a way to tell the country that it is doing what it can to promote a political consensus. But the main parties are hardly likely to attend an all-party debating session unless the forum is Parliament itself. Only two have let their base positions be known. The Bahujan Samaj Party, led by the UP Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, has suggested civil society groups should contest the next general election so that their MPs push their viewpoint in Parliament. This probably means the BSP is out of sync with the known Hazare position. The CPM has said it would like the PM brought in under the Lokpal's scrutiny, but it is not clear if the constitutional issues this would involve have been investigated. It is indeed time for the government not to beat about the bush any longer, but to bring its own bill on the Lokpal to Parliament regardless of the Hazare position. This would also be in accord with the existing practice. An important civil society body has been consulted at length, and it is now up to Parliament to take a decision.






Lord this is tough, even for you This is going to be a tough call even for an enshrined god. Come June 27 and Karnataka's Dharmasthala, where the deity who arbitrates devotees' litigations, mostly on land and property, will have two high-profile litigants. Its presiding deity, Lord Manjunatha, will have to decide who is telling the truth — Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa or former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. Mr Kumaraswamy, who has threatened to expose Mr Yeddyurappa's land scams on June 22, alleges that Mr Yeddyurappa tried to buy his silence on the matter through intermediaries. In rebuttal, Mr Yeddyurappa says that's humbug, and has challenged Mr Kumaraswamy to stand before Lord Manjunatha and reiterate the charge. Mr Kumaraswamy has accepted the challenge. There's a snag in the divine adjudication process this time, though. Lord Manjunatha usually gives "justice" through Veerendra Heggade, the dharmadhikari of Dharmasthala. But, for understandable reasons, Mr Heggade has excused himself from sitting in judgment. So, with his human agency not in the judicial seat, the Lord will have to hear the "arguments", arrive at a "judgement". Sibal a good sepoy Human resources development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal, known for giving an opinion on almost everything under the sky, was caught off guard recently. In his opening remarks at the meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education, Mr Sibal referred to the 1857 War of Independence as "mutiny". This was objected to by Madhya Pradesh education minister Archana Chitnis, who asked the HRD minister to clarify what he said. Ms Chitnis stated that it was a sensitive issue and added that the education minister needs to view the events from the Indian perspective and not through the eyes of British historians. Quick on the uptake, Mr Sibal then referred to the 1857 events as the first war of India's Independence. A lawyer and a good Congress sepoy, he can think on his feet. Lokpal and leeches The unabated war of words between government representatives and Team Anna Hazare in the joint Lokpal Bill drafting committee on June 16 hit a low as Arvind Kejriwal, a member of the drafting panel, accused that the official version of the bill is not Lokpal, but "jokepal". Responding to the accusation, one of the government representatives in the drafting panel, Salman Khurshid, said, "If we take the word 'joke' in Hindi, it means leech, which sucks blood. We will not allow anyone to suck blood". It is Baba vs Baba Baba Ramdev's so-called crusade against corruption has got the Congress and the BJP to paint each other "as baba-centric". The Congress points out that the BJP has always sought help from babas to resolve issues or retain power in Rajasthan. "When the Gujjars were on a collision course with the BJP government and refused to call off their agitation, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar rushed in to bail out the then BJP government, but it could not help," says a Congress leader. During the second Gujjar agitation, a baba close to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Raghvacharya Maharaj, came forward to pacify the agitating Gujjar community. He met the agitators in Dausa and asked them to receive the bodies of Gujjars killed in police action, saying it would be a sin if they did not perform the last rites. But this irked the Gujjars and the he was almost manhandled. But the BJP, undettered, has a tongue-in-cheek riposte. "We take pride in our sadhus and saints", says a BJP leader. "But the Congress also depends on a Baba whose praises they sing, it is none other than Rahul Baba." The Congress admits that there is a grain of truth in this. Banking on Ramdev Yoga guru Baba Ramdev is undoubtedly the flavour of the month and no one knows it better than the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. As soon as the Baba broke his fast, his posters came up at vantage points in Lucknow. Anyone who is someone in the BJP put up strikingly similar posters that said "Baba tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain". A source said that the directive to put up posters came from the top and even design was handed out. BJP leaders apparently feel that the Baba's newfound popularity could translate into votes for the party if they publicly announced their support to him. Party leaders now plan to give the Baba a rousing reception whenever he comes to Lucknow. It seems the Baba has already turned into a star campaigner for the BJP — at least in Uttar Pradesh. That this indicates the paucity of the state leadership of the party has not dawned on the BJP. Fearing online backlash Many cops in Assam have accepted friend requests from one Paresh Barua on Facebook. They were stunned recently after it was revealed that he was reportedly the self-styled commander-in-chief of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom. It came to light after the Facebook user posted his photographs and videos on the social networking site, raising alarm among the police officers who had added him to their friends list. Some of the police officers are said to have already deleted their Facebook profiles fearing backlash or action. However, it is yet to be ascertained by the police if Barua himself has joined Facebook or some impersonator or sympathiser is operating the account in his name. Anyway, he is having all the fun.







To help humanity towards the realisation of its higher possibilities, it is very important to understand how water, air, earth, fire and the fifth dimension, the largest one, the space or akash, behave. Today modern science has recognised that there is something called as akashik intelligence; that is, empty space has a certain kind of intelligence. Whether this intelligence works for you or against you will determine the nature of your life. Whether you are a blessed being or one who is going to be knocked around for the rest of your life depends on your use of this intelligence. For no reason, some people are buffeted around by life while some people are blessed with life's beauty and bounties. However, the truth is no action takes place without any reason. It is your ability — either consciously or unconsciously — to be able to get the cooperation of this larger intelligence, which is at work all the while. It is improper to call akash the fifth element, because it is the cardinal element. All the other four just play upon it. Now we live on a planet that is round in shape. The earth, the solar system, this galaxy, the whole cosmos, everything is held in place only by akash. You yourself are held in place by akash. At any time, when you hit a peak experience, physically without even your awareness, your body in gratitude looks upward because somewhere there is a recognition – there is an intelligence in every human being which recognises that. If you know how to get the cooperation of akash in your life, yours will be a blessed life. An intelligence that you have never thought of will become yours, as an intelligence which is beyond your conscious understanding and grasp is right now functioning right here within you. It is that intelligence which is holding the whole cosmos together; it is that intelligence which is the womb for creation. It is in the womb of that intelligence that all creation is happening. So to get the cooperation of akash, there is one simple process you can follow. After sunrise, before the sun crosses the 30-degree angle from the horizon, look up at the sky once and bow down to it for holding you in place today. After the sun crosses 30 degrees, sometime during the day, any time, look up and bow down again. After the sun sets, once again look up and bow down; not to some god up there, just to the empty space for holding you where you are today. If you just do this, life will change dramatically. If you consciously do this three times a day, if you get cooperation from akash, life will move on in a magical way. — Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominent spiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, an author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted at







A 13-year-old boy is allegedly tortured to death by security forces on suspicion that he was part of an anti-government protest. His broken body leads to anger and further protests. The government, claiming that the protests are being fuelled by foreign terrorists and that the demonstrations are not peaceful at all, engages in further crackdowns. The government's false claims turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as civilians increasingly resort to violence, saying that they need to protect their women and children and stop the repression. Sound familiar? Except that this is not Kashmir in the early 1990s, but Syria in 2011. Even as many write eloquently of the Arab Spring, the power of people's protest against repressive regimes, in Syria, government forces continue what is often described as a scorched-earth campaign. Syrian soldiers who deserted claim they could not stomach the atrocities they were ordered to commit. The Syrian government insists that the protests are fuelled by "armed terrorist gangs". Although independent research is difficult because of limited access, human rights groups including Human Rights Watch found that the overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful. Some civilians took up arms and some soldiers defected and defended the protesters, but these were limited incidents, often in reaction to shootings by security forces. India, along with China and Russia, however, have accepted the Syrian government's claims at face value, allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to ignore international calls for restraint. The protests were sparked from Daraa, in southern Syria, where security forces detained and tortured 15 young boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti slogans. On March 18, following Friday prayers, several thousand protesters marched through the streets calling for the release of the children and greater political freedom, and accusing government officials of corruption. Security forces initially used water cannons and teargas against the protesters, and then opened fire with live ammunition, killing at least four people. This led to further protests, with more and more people joining the demonstrations and being met with bullets. According to lists compiled by human rights groups, security forces have killed at least 1,200 protesters and bystanders. Syrian state media also report the death of 300 security personnel but without specifying the exact circumstances. Thousands have been detained and tens of thousands displaced. India should know better than to simply accept Syria's claims. India understands from its own experience that human rights violations perpetuate a cycle of violence. As atrocities spiral, many are likely to take to vengeful retaliation because of the abuses they suffer. In Kashmir, when unarmed protesters in the early 1990s were treated with brutality, it only ceded space to Islamist extremists eager to exploit the sentiments of the agitated youth and recruit them for militancy. This led to widespread suffering as civilians were caught between armed militants and government forces, with both responsible for abuses. Syria may face a similar predicament if the international community does not act to prevent further violence against protesters. As the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) mulls over a resolution, inaction is winning out over meaningful action against Syria. Among those members states advocating silence on Syria, a range of reasons are given, including suspicion about the West's aversion to a pro-Iran regime, the risk of losing control over Hamas or Hezbollah, and the current Nato actions in Libya. Yet again, nations have to decide whether they wish to side with an abusive government or support an oppressed population. Many Indian policymakers have long criticised the US for warmly embracing dictatorships in West Asia and North Africa for political and economic benefit without regard for those living under these governments. But pointing to flawed Washington policy is not enough. As an emerging global power that aspires to a permanent seat in the UNSC, New Delhi needs to find its own voice — and one that speaks for people and their aspirations. It can no longer stick to the comfort of "good relations" with a particular government, when those rulers are despised by their own citizens and have engaged in widespread human rights violations. Earlier this year, states outraged by the abuses in Syria rightfully encouraged Damascus to drop out of the race for membership of the Human Rights Council. At that time, India's ambassador to the United Nations, Hardeep Singh Puri, said: "The point that needs to be made is that you cannot keep this score of 120 killed every Friday and be on the Human Rights Council". India needs to continue approaching its Syria policy from that human rights perspective. Whatever the outcome of the brutal crackdown in Syria, those who have stood up for their basic rights will not look at their government the same way again. It is not only morally right for India to recognise these hopes, it is a prudent long-term investment. People will remember those that backed their struggles. * The author is the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch









SUCH ironies shape history. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor, is set to take over as leader of the Al Qaida. Almost ipso facto as it were, the successor to Osama bin Laden becomes the world's most wanted man. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has promptly threatened that Zawahiri is doomed to Bin Laden's fate. It is an open question whether the new chief's control over the organisation will be as tight as that of his predecessor; the fact that it took the "general command" six weeks to announce the appointment suggests that the decision may not have been quite so unanimous, after all. Zawahiri has served as the operational head of the terror group for the past six years; yet misgivings have already been expressed as to whether he will be able to preside over a famously cohesive entity or bear witness to the emergence of smaller localised groups. Indeed, such a group does exist in Yemen with the ambition to assume power. For the past decade, Bin Laden's presence was doubtless elusive; yet it was profoundly symbolic. There is little doubt that he had a certain institutional significance within the structure of Al Qaida. Trends since the beginning of May suggest that his one-time deputy quite plainly doesn't. Of course, the Pakistani Taliban, believed to be the most dangerous Al Qaida affiliate, has promptly extended its support. The instant solidarity must be more than a little unnerving to the country's military and civilian establishment.

However, the same cannot be said of what are called "Al Qaida franchises" in the tumultuous Arab world. And Zawahiri's influence may not be quite as effective against the Afro-Arab regimes tottering in the aftermath of the Arab spring. For all its  fanatical fury, the Al Qaida has failed to make headway amidst the tumult of the Jasmine Revolution. To an extent, it has been marginalised by the Arab Spring; across the beleaguered countries, it has been thwarted in its efforts to execute its murderous methods to topple dictators. The Al Qaida's presence can be lethal in Pakistan; it is doubtful in the extreme whether the jihadists of the Gulf will defer to the dictates of an Egyptian jihadist. Ayman al-Zawahiri doesn't have the mystique of his Saudi predeccessor.



EXTREMELY low mindsets have been exposed by the controversy over Pakistan "doing more" than India for bringing the hostages of  MV Suez to safety. Rather than hail the initial action as an example of cooperation against the common adversary ~ Somali piracy ~ a Pakistan navy ship's escorting the vessel on its return has triggered comments as if it were a disgrace to receive such protection. The knee-jerk reaction under public pressure to divert the INS Godavari was duly snubbed by the MV Suez's master. Was that "double escort" not an insult to the Pakistani navy? Each hijacking has its own complexities, in this case Pakistan was better placed to pressure the vessel's Egyptian owner to pay $2.1 million as ransom, and noted Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney worked for the release of all 22 crew members ~ not just the Pakistanis. And a Pak naval ship was in proximity to offer protection. Strong emotions from Indians who suffered are understandable, but what is not acceptable is the manner in which sections of the media have tried to project the relief effort as some kind of Indo-Pak competition. It is not as though the Indian Navy and Coast Guard are inactive ~ its operations in the Gulf of Aden and Seychelles have been internationally appreciated ~ but piracy-infested waters are too vast for them to be present everywhere. It is physically impossible for every merchant vessel to be provided naval escort, or for the government to ensure that ship owners from different nations successfully negotiate ransom deals. Such realities have to be recognised.

This is not to give the government a clean chit. Apart from not working out a comprehensive yet flexible policy, it has not cared to set up a nodal agency to which the families of captured sailors can turn in time of trouble. They are seldom informed of the progress in efforts to secure the release of hijacked vessels and crew. There is typical official indifference to the emotional and other needs of the mariners' families. This is shameful: it must be remedied immediately. Indians constitute a fair section of the international mercantile marine, they are taxpayers, they deserve better. The story doing the rounds is that the government could not "present its case" to the media and affected families because the man tasked with doing that was on leave. Does New Delhi expect pirates to act only when that babu "is on his seat"?



AFTER meeting Union home minister P Chidambaram, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said talks with Ulfa leaders would start "shortly". And "shortly" conceals more than it reveals given that the Centre's lexicon has no place for a timeframe. Had this not been the case, the Naga peace talks would not have dragged on for more than 13 years, perhaps the longest anywhere in the world, and as things now stand, no one is sure when a final settlement will be reached. Perhaps the process will continue even after the present leaders fade away. After the Centre signed ceasefire accords with various ethnic militant groups, their leaders and cadres are in designated camps and talks with some of them have been initiated ~ but these appear to be merely perfunctory gestures. The Centre now wants Ulfa leaders to send a formal letter or statement committing themselves to peace talks and only after this formality is completed will New Delhi decide a course of action. If memory serves, Union home secretary GK Pillai had said three months after the Ulfa leaders showed up that if they displayed an interest in negotiations then New Delhi would not insist on a formal written commitment. So why this sudden change of attitude?

Two days after his release on bail in January this year, Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa said peace prospects depended entirely on the Centre's sincerity. All this after the Centre had proven its sincerity by meeting the demand for release of all its leaders in jail. Now Rajkhowa's insistence on contacting Ulfa general secretary Anup Chetia ~ in Bangladesh after serving a jail term for entering that country without valid documents ~ could be a ploy to delay the peace process. For  that matter, why raise the question of only Chetia and not of elusive commander-in-chief Paresh Barua who is the bigger fish? It is unfortunate indeed that even at this stage, when the first contact between the Centre and Ulfa had been made in February, they should suspect each other's sincerity.






IT is now obvious that the government and the civil society representatives are adversaries and not partners jointly drafting the Lokpal bill. The difference between the two sides is too wide at present to be bridged. While the government wants the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary, the conduct of MPs inside Parliament and the lower bureaucracy out of the ombudsman's ambit, the civil society wants them in.

But even if some of these differences are narrowed down or eliminated, such as bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal, there is no way that the government will accept the civil society's demand to endow the proposed institution with the powers of investigation and prosecution. In the official view, the Lokpal can only lodge a complaint with the relevant authorities, such as the Lok Sabha Speaker, and leave it to the government to act. The Lokpal cannot acquire the powers of the executive.

It should have been obvious to everyone from the start, including the two lawyers, the father-son duo of Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, and the former judge Santosh Hegde, who are among the civil society representatives, that it was unrealistic of them to expect the ombudsman to usurp the executive's authority. The government could have also made this point clear at the first meeting of the joint committee so that so much time would not have been wasted, and false hopes raised, about an amicable solution.

But the government was seemingly so nervous about the upsurge of popular feeling about the civil society agitators, which was also hyped up by the media, that it initially pretended that an agreement was possible. Similarly, the civil society felt so elated by the government's initial capitulation, evident in the VIP treatment given to Baba Ramdev in the early stages, that its representatives harboured the belief that their demands have more than a fair chance of being accepted.

If Baba Ramdev did not land himself in such a mess by allowing the controversial saffron propagandist, Sadhvi Rithambara, to share his stage, thereby exposing his RSS links, and then tried to run away dressed as a woman during the police raid on him and his followers, then the government might still have been on the defensive and more amenable to the civil society's demands.

But, after the fiasco involving the yoga guru, the Anna Hazare camp also played its cards wrong. First, it stayed away from a meeting of the drafting committee in protest against the police action, allowing the government to claim that it could go ahead with the task of preparing the Bill on its own. Secondly, Anna Hazare not only decided to go on another fast, albeit a short one, but even threatened to observe another one if the Bill was not ready by 15 August.

Like general strikes by trade unions, fasts should be observed as a measure of last resort and not at the drop of a hat. By saying that he would again go on fast from 16 August,  Anna Hazare seemingly conceded that he did not expect any agreement on the Bill, thereby hinting that the government had firmed up its position. But, more than that, his threat provoked newspapers to mock him by saying "Anna ends fast, lines up the next" or "Anna hungry for another fast" or "It's all about fasting, not drafting".

Nothing is more damaging to a political movement than sarcasm. If Anna Hazare has exposed himself to such ridicule, the reason was that he had never before handled an agitation of this magnitude and that, too, on the national stage. Till now, he had been involved in such movements at the state level. But, the adulation and publicity that he received must have made him believe that he was on a roll. His inexperience was  compounded by the inexperience of his colleagues, who might be well-known figures in the legal profession or prominent social activists, but they had never before played such a major role at the national level.

The government, too, in the meantime had recovered its poise. It realized that, for all the hype, the civil society representatives were impractical utopians with an inflated notion of their importance as moral crusaders. They were also unused to the give-and-take of negotiations, did not have any organizational backing and no effective gameplan except that of their leader threatening to go on a fast. But their main disadvantage was the openly expressed contempt for the political class and even for the voters, who were described as bikaau or purchasable by Anna Hazare. Such an attitude, which was patently undemocratic, enabled the Congress to accuse them of being "unelected and unelectable tyrants".

It goes without saying, of course, that the civil society would not have reached this far but for the bad name which the politicians have earned for themselves for their corruption and skullduggery. The very fact that the Lokpal Bill could not be drafted despite being introduced in Parliament way back in 1968 was evidence enough that the political class did not want its acts to be scrutinized. The way in which the ruling parties have ignored the Supreme Court's 2006 diktat to insulate the police from political influence also shows that the politicians want to continue using the police for partisan purposes.

There is no reason to be pleased, therefore, over the fact that the government now has the upper hand over civil society. It would have taken someone of Jayaprakash Narayan's stature to offer it a sustained challenge. Even then, however ineffectual a fight that Anna Hazare and Co have put up, it may still be enough to ensure that the Lokpal Bill, which is now expected to be drafted wholly by the government, will not be as toothless as its original version, which had set off the furore.





BERLIN, 19 JUNE: Hannelore Kohl, the wife of Helmut Kohl, Germany's "unification chancellor", was raped by Russian soldiers when she was 12 and spent her married life in the shadow of her fanatically ambitious husband, a new biography has revealed. Published this week, The Woman at His Side ~ the Life and Suffering of Hannelore Kohl was written by Heribert Schwan, a journalist who gained unprecedented access to the former chancellor's wife and eventually became her confidant in the months before her death in 2001.
"I understood her openness to be her granting me permission to one day publish what she told me over the months and weeks before her death," Schwan writes. Mrs Kohl committed suicide after contracting a crippling allergy to light which caused her to lose her hair and made even watching television unbearable.
Schwan's biography starts with a graphic and hitherto unpublished account of the traumatic experience which would affect Mrs Kohl for the rest of her life. It describes how the young Hannelore and her mother were set upon by a group of Red Army soldiers in May 1945 and gangraped.

Mrs Kohl recalls how she was "dumped like a sack of cement" out of a first floor window by the Russians, suffering damage to her back from which she would never recover. The psychological scars were worse; Schwan writes that the "smell of male sweat, garlic and alcohol, and even the sound of spoken Russian" haunted her permanently.

Her marriage to Helmut Kohl, at the time a provincial conservative politician in the Rhineland palatinate, began with high hopes. But Hannelore did not expect her husband to enter national politics. When he became Chancellor in 1982, it came as a shock. Loathing the glare of publicity, she refused to discuss politics and forbade her two sons to do so.

the independent







The European Union's rules to deal with fiscal imprudence have a desperate tone. All its member countries will have to get their long-term fiscal plans approved by the European Commission. If a country fails to conform to its plan, it would pay a fine of 0.1 per cent of its gross domestic product. If the departure from the plan is deemed to be severe and deliberate, the fine would be 0.3 per cent of the GDP. If the country is found to have falsified its accounts, the fine would be 0.5 per cent. Greece was found to have done so; the next time it does so, it would have to pay the Commission about $1.5 billion. That may not sound much to a country with decent growth. But Greece's GDP has fallen by about 10 per cent in the past three years; half a per cent's fine would add considerably to its woes.

It may be expected that the threat of severe punishment would persuade all member countries to conform. But such an expectation fails to consider the consequences of conforming. The overwhelming bulk of European countries' public expenditure consists of pensions, debt service, health and education. There is so little scope to cut it — or, at any rate, the political consequences of cutting it are so severe — that lying would be a less costly option for countries in dire circumstances. However, the idea that countries may lie is an outlandish or, at any rate, a European one. Governments in India indulge in many kinds of mischief, but that they would falsify accounts is somehow beyond Indians' imagination. The reason is that government accounts are kept by the Reserve Bank of India, and audited by independent agencies reporting directly to legislature. This is a simple arrangement which should not be beyond the EU. Europe has a common currency, and a central bank; nothing could be easier than that the accounts of all European governments should be transferred to the European Central Bank. If that were done, the draconian provisions for punishment of governments would become unnecessary. The European Central Bank could be directed not to allow injudicious government expenditures; governments would then behave well because they would not get money to misbehave.

That would solve the problem of injudicious finance, but not the problem of Greece, and of countries that may follow it into bankruptcy. For their problem is not budgetary folly. It is stagnant or falling GDPs combined with inflexible public expenditure; the two together make it impossible for them to balance budgets. The EU's basic problem is lack of growth; uneven distribution of the growth that occurs worsens the problem. The Germans may think they are virtuous and the Greeks are wastrels; but it is much easier for a country to be virtuous if it is growing. Europe needs good economists, not more punitive schoolmasters.






There are the big things and the small things. But when blinding rain and high winds strike city and village, lives are put at risk because of both big and small things. The official anxiety over the missing fishing trawlers has abated somewhat, with the majority of them having been located by Sunday. Losing trawlers is a big thing, particularly since a bad weather warning was sent out by the meteorological office. But the fishermen manning the trawlers did not get the warning before setting off. This seems especially worrying in this age of advanced communications. Apparently All India Radio, on which the fishermen rely for weather warnings, was not broadcasting widely enough at the time because of repairs to its system. In the absence of a foolproof method of communication — weather reports through the internet and regular cell alerts, for example — should there not be a backup plan for warning since so many lives hang in the balance? At least the owners of the trawlers would have cell phones even if there be no internet connection nearby.

Small things can be lethal. Two hundred children in Sankrail in Howrah district escaped injury or worse on Saturday when villagers collecting water from their school tube-well found that the tube-well had become charged. The entire school had become electrified because a power line had snapped during the storm and fallen on it. This may have been a freakish occurrence, but the number of electrocution deaths during rains — this time, too — demands special attention. It may not be possible to stop electric lines from breaking during a heavy storm, but deaths must be prevented as far as possible. That electricity was switched off in pockets possibly helped lessen them. It may not be possible to switch off electricity for longer periods in wider areas. But a way must be found to set up a monitoring system during bad weather as an emergency service.





The small news item, with a London dateline, was missed by most newspapers in the country, including those based in Calcutta. Joe Galibardy, the rage of Calcutta hockey in the pre-World War II decades and right half-back in Dhyan Chand's victorious team in the 1936 Olympics, died on May 17 last. He had migrated to England in 1956 and settled in a London suburb; he was 96.

Memory is a stock of joint supplies. The very mention of Joe Galibardy chokes the corridors of the mind with a harum-scarum procession of other exotic-sounding names: Tapsell, Carr, Furtado, Carvalho, Carapiet, suchlike; these names spelled the hockey season in Calcutta in the 1930s. Field hockey in that era was almost unknown in the rest of the world. It was the pastime of British colonials of the lesser breed who had come out on business or on a job to South Asia. The caste system was pronounced among these expatriates: the top layers of the ruling class in Calcutta, if not privileged to be the seat of the imperial administration, still the hub of major mercantile activities. The city's all-white crème de la crème had cricket and tennis as their preferred modes of relaxation. They used to congregate in two or three hoity-toity clubs in which membership was severely restricted. Those belonging to the subordinate species among the expatriates, even if of pure British stock, had to look for a different address. That went for other offal like Anglo-Indians, Jews — whether of Caucasian or other lineage — and descendents of the heterogeneity arriving in the previous two centuries from near and distant foreign shores in search of a living in the burgeoning second city of the empire. All such species trooped into either the Dalhousie Club or a sporting body sponsored by this or that profession or service group. Hockey in Calcutta was for a long while dominated by four clubs, with a riot of ethnic diversity in their roll of members — Calcutta Customs, Calcutta Port Commissioners, Bengal Nagpur Railway, the Rangers. A round robin league competition under the aegis of the Bengal Hockey Association took up most of the season. It had the format of teams distributed over a hierarchy of three or four divisions and providing for both promotion and relegation, depending on the performance of the clubs. While the Jhansi Heroes, shepherded by Dhyan Chand and his brother, Roop Singh, shone in lonely splendour in that regimental establishment in the far interior of the country, Indian hockey was really the story of the Calcutta and Bombay outfits. Bombay had that dazzlingly marvellous team, the Lusitanians, with its bevy of Fernandeses and D'Mellos. Both the Lusitanians and the Jhansi Heroes would visit Calcutta to take part in the Beighton Cup tournament that followed the hockey league fixtures. Excitement would run high.

Admittedly, this excitement had a specificity. It was confined to stray sections of the sports-crazy clientele of the city. Hockey as a sports event involved substantially greater outlay than the ubiquitous football called for; the lay Bengali kept generally aloof from it. Interest in hockey grew only in the wake of the stunning exploits of Dhyan Chand and his team-mates in successive Olympics; patriotic emotions would swell at the flimsiest opportunity in those otherwise glum and dull colonial days. Even so, the passion of those who crowded the few galleries in the Calcutta Maidan swirled mostly around football. The out-of-the-blue annexation of the Indian Football Association Shield by the goody-goody Bengali team, Mohun Bagan, by defeating a British regimental team in 1911 — exactly a century ago — spurred further their sectarian passion for football.

The natives, anyway, maintained some distance from hockey. At the other end, to the upper- crust expatriate establishment groups too, the game was non-U; they continued with cricket and, of course, tennis. Hockey was for their menials. The city police commissioner, for instance, would relax on indolent late autumn afternoons serving gentle lobs in a mixed doubles on the lawns of the sprawling Ballygunge Sports Club; the wife of the joint commissioner would be his partner. The police sergeants, although very often pure-breed English or Scot or Welsh, would find it awfully difficult to gain entry into this exclusive club; they sauntered to either the Dalhousie Club or that shelter of last resort, the Calcutta Police Club, sulked and played hockey. In contrast, the heterogeneous mix of the Eurasian underclass who succeeded in wrangling jobs in the railways or customs or the office of the Calcutta Port Commissioners or in the forest ranges of Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Orissa — Anglo-Indians, Anglo-Portuguese, Anglo-Italian, Anglo-Dutch, native Christians, Goans, Jews, Armenians of other hues, Parsis — suffered from no inhibition. They took in good grace their inferior ranking and exclusion from the elite clubs and joyfully concentrated on hockey. Nimble on their feet, with a flair for dribbling the ball with their sticks, and possessing an eerie skill in converting short corners into goals, they lorded over the game. The leading teams took their turn to win the annual league championship, and it was carnival time when the Beighton Cup tourney commenced in late April. The hockey season was breathlessly short, but crowded. Along with the Jhansi Heroes and the Lusitanians, there would also be a number of other out-station teams participating in the Beighton.

A pot pourri of wide-ranging surnames crammed the sports page in the hockey season, apart from Galibardy and Tapsell, other ones, like Costello, Carapiet, Lazarus, Surita, Pinto, Bannister, Bareto, D'Costa, and, of course, Lumsden. The three Lumsden brothers in the Rangers Club played hockey, cricket, football, tennis. One team playing in the hockey league was the Armenian Club, chock-full of members of the Jewish community. Armenian merchants for a long time had a near-monopoly of the city's real estate business; they loved hockey. Their scions did courses at St. Xavier's College till as late as the fag end of the 1940s, when some of them drifted into Utpal Dutt's Little Theatre Group. To go back to the not too remote past, Siegfried Sassoon, the World War I poet, was of Calcutta Jewish stock. So were the Cohens, one of whom, decades later, joined the Communist Party of India and stayed with it for quite a while. That heritage is totally lost.

The fate of the Armenians has been no different from that of the other ethnic group which contributed so sumptuously to Calcutta's hockey. Galibardy, who had quietly migrated to England more than half-a-century ago, has emerged as a news item only on the occasion of his death. Nobody knows what happened to the Tapsell and Carvalho families and to the rest of the lot. The extraordinary churning of ethnic diversity that marked the city's fading colonial phase had a flavour of its own. Does not this slice of social history cry out to be researched?

To be fair, the cricket teams too would now and then spring a surprise. The Calcutta Cricket Club was snobbish to the core. Its skipper for more than a decade, A.L. Hosie, had impeccable managing agency background. His successor, T.C. Longfield — now a minor footnote in cricket annals because Ted Dexter, Test captain of England in a later period, married his daughter — was equally high caste. But Calcutta CC's long-time opening batsman was one Behrendt, a nondescript half-Dutch, a lefty, stockily build, who would routinely despatch the first ball he faced to the boundary for a four. Another prominent member of the team had a surname which was Flemish all over, Van der Gutch, even as a Pugsley, supposedly of mixed Burmese-Irish-Portuguese descent, became a Calcutta football hero in the same period.

Did Joe Galibardy — or, for the matter, Charlie Tapsell — deserve a biography? Who knows? Or is it a case of who cares? Cultural anthropologists can have a lovely intra-mural debate on the issue.





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

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

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

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

In late 1989, after the East German, Czech and Romanian regimes had fallen with scarcely a shot being fired, the head of the National Intelligence Service, the South African secret police, went to the president, F.W. de Klerk, and warned him that if the African National Congress put half a million people on the street in Johannesburg, he would only have two options: to kill 10,000 of them, or to surrender power unconditionally.

Know it

If Klerk did not like either of those options, he should start negotiating the transfer of power now. So Nelson Mandela was released, and eventually there was a peaceful transition from apartheid to majority rule. Then there's a long gap, perhaps partly explained by the fact that the number of dictatorships in the world had already shrunk considerably. An attempted non-violent revolution in Iran in 2009 was mercilessly crushed. People worried that repressive regimes might have finally figured out how to counter non-violent revolution. And then along came the 'Arab Spring'.

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

The original "people power" revolution in the Philippines was followed by two decades of political turbulence. Yugoslavia splintered into half a dozen warring fragments. Russia, though it escaped mass violence, is not exactly a model democracy. On the other hand, South Korea, Indonesia and South Africa are now all democracies. So are Poland, Romania and Taiwan.

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









Is Syria turning to democracy? Will its regime structure change? Will Assad step down? President Bashar Assad has answered each of these three questions, which stand at the heart of the Syrian civil rebellion, with a definitive no.

Assad's more than hour-long speech to the Syrian and international public on Monday showed that Assad believes that Syria is being subjected to an attack of schemes which can be prevented by the government's planned reforms, scheduled according to the regime's timetable.

The main principle of the reform he suggested deals with a series of laws that have yet to be written or approved and are meant to better Syrian bureaucracy, not the actual structure of the regime. He suggested changing the law regarding political parties, without mentioning whether the opposition will be allowed to have a vote, and to (maybe) change the constitution, without announcing a change of regime structure.

The initial reactions to the speech by the Syrian opposition show that Assad's address failed to convince the people, and they do not intend on ceasing their protests until Assad and his staff step down from power.

Assad's main outlook, that the state is the "merciful mother" whose citizens need to be loyal to at any price, has not changed. According to this view, Syrian citizens are divided into three types: citizens with legitimate demands which the state must answer; felons prepared to break the law (he even mentioned the number 64,000 felons) but who the state can rehabilitate, and a minority of terrorists acting according to a foreign agenda whose purpose is to destroy Syria and bring it back to the days when it was a "village country."

Assad abstained from specifically mentioning the foreign conspirators, and did not mention the U.S., Israel, or Turkey even once, but "every loyal Syrian citizen" knows well who the enemies of his state are.

Assad offered the "good" public a national dialogue through which the demands will be outlined and then be transferred to the operational stage by drawing up laws or handing out administrative instructions. The dialogue is also commanded by the same "fatherly" outlook: several hundred public officials chosen by the regime will be the participants and a committee set up by the regime will be choosing the topics and which subjects will be passed on.

Assad also said the crisis could last months and even years and that Syrians will just have to learn to live with it. His call on the public to support the military and to cooperate with it shows that even Assad is not deluding himself that his speech will end the rebellion.

Assad's descriptions of Syria's bureaucratic and economic failures and his recognition in the need to change laws and battle corruption illustrate a rare self-criticism by the Syrian president not only in face of his staff but also in the face of Syrian history, including the period of his father's rule, Hafez Assad.

This is the most serious and perhaps most critical crisis in four decades that the Assad family's reign has been entrenched in – and much more than a fatherly speech will be needed to put a stop to it.






In the State of Israel, well-versed in disasters, almost every day is a good time to test the readiness of the home front - whether for earthquakes or rocket attacks. Thus, there is no great surprise in the proximity between last week's lethal gas explosion in Netanya and Turning Point 5, the national defense drill that begins this week and is meant to test and train emergency service personnel. There's no need to wait until the drill is finished before reaching the unfortunate conclusions about the way things are being done.

Netanya is a city with a history of crime and terror attacks. Its location close to the Green Line has made it easier for suicide bombers to reach it in the past decade, ultimately giving rise to Operation Defensive Shield. The Shin Bet security service, Israel Defense Forces and the separation fence have succeeded in greatly reducing the number of terror attacks there, but Netanya is still a site of underworld warfare, which takes a toll on civilians as well as crime families.

In such circumstances, one could have expected that local police would work more closely with fire and rescue services, government ministries like the Infrastructure Ministry, and municipal emergency and social services. But these services have only a loose alliance. And not just in Netanya, of course: In most cities and districts, there is no common language linking these various institutions.

Had the necessary coordination existed, when the first warning of a gas leak came in, the matter would have been dealt with rapidly and properly, and there would have been some follow-up. In the absence of such coordination, however, there was an outrageous delay of several hours during which nothing was done - and then an explosion that killed four. This appears to indicate serious negligence.

The local authorities have a tough time, not just in terms of their budgets, but also vis-a-vis administration. It would be appropriate to examine whether the intermittent suggestions about instituting municipal policing would improve the situation or just make it worse. Other options may also be worth implementing, like the idea of establishing a municipal advisory panel next to police headquarters, which Uri Bar-Lev did when he was in charge of the police's Southern District.

Whichever recommendations are ultimately adopted, the primary goal has to be creation of a closer connection between the various institutions involved, facilitated by the presence of police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and representatives of certain municipal departments in a single location.

Israel is liable to be hit by disasters far greater than the gas explosion in Netanya. We must not delay any longer in acting to remove hazards and preparing for the day of distress that is yet to come.







This week Turning Point 5, the annual home front defense exercise, will begin, the fifth such drill since the Second Lebanon War, which was marked as a turning point in the government's attitude toward the civilian front.

Getting the population and the various authorities prepared was diagnosed as a key issue in home front readiness for extensive hostilities in which - according to the Israel Defense Forces threat scenarios - scores of missiles and rockets would fall on population centers for about a month, most of them carrying conventional warheads and some of them perhaps with chemical warheads.

Such an attack would result in heavy casualties and extensive damage to essential installations, for example the Israel Electric Corporation, thanks partly to new technologies which allow for pinpoint-precise warheads and computer network attacks.

The threat scenario presented by the IDF is grave. There is no doubt that drilling the public and the responsible institutions is essential and proper. Those responsible for civil defense are doing well to hold an extensive annual exercise, despite what appears to be continued indifference on the part of the public and reservations by some about scare tactics.

A comprehensive drill of this sort, which constitutes the climax of a year of local and sectoral training and practice, should not only improve the skills of the various systems and the cooperation among them - but should also expose shortcomings and enable the drawing of conclusions for the coming year of work. Drilling children in the schools is of particular importance with an eye toward the future.

Nevertheless, in these circumstances there is also no way to avoid a reckoning of conscience with regard to the progress in Israel during the five years since the Second Lebanon War.

Indeed, much has been done since then. During the past year there has been a step up in active defense, with the impressive success of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system and with the continued development of other multi-layered defense systems. Joining this are important advances in the area of pinpoint warnings, control and inspection, reinforcement of the local authorities and community strength.

However, all these and more do not coalesce into a comprehensive integrative answer based on a national security doctrine with respect to defense of the civilian front.

As long as there is no such comprehensive doctrine Israel will not fulfill its potential for answering the developing threats and it is doubtful it will reduce, as is necessary, the large gap between the threat and Israel's ability to confront it.

Much of what has been done thus far - and this is not negligible - is being done tardily and hesitantly and usually in the wake of pressure from below. The picture is emerging as quite a random collection of moves.

The problem stems from a lack of any authorized governmental body clearly and legally in charge of civil defense readiness and its management in a time of emergency.

Establishing a ministry of civil defense could serve as a very important opportunity for fundamental change in this troubling situation. Given the necessary authority, the new ministry and minister, it is to be hoped, would be able to formulate a basic national civil defense doctrine and to derive from it an official working plan with a multi-year budget that will serve as a solid and agreed upon basis for building the needed systemic solution. Turning Point 5 could then become a real turning point in home front preparedness.


The writer, a brigadier general, is head of the program for civilian front studies at the Institute for National Security Studies.








Family and friends gathered last week at the Kochav Hayarden community to dedicate a bird observatory in the name of former chief of staff Dan Shomron. He will be commemorated too at the Tze'elim military training base, which he nurtured when establishing the Field Corps Command. But this isn't enough: The terminal at Entebbe Airport should be named after him too.

Although he served as chief of staff during years in which Israel was bogged down in Southern Lebanon, prepared for air and tank battles against Syria, and was surprised by the Intifada uprising in the territories and the Scud missile attacks from Iraq, Shomron will be remembered in admiration - as long as efforts to obscure his role as commander of the Entebbe operation do not bear fruit.

In two weeks, that operation will mark its 35th anniversary.

Speaking at the ceremony in Kochav Hayarden, Colonel (res. ) Muki Betzer, who served as the commander of the raid team at Entebbe, called Shomron "the hero of the operation, not only because he was commander, but also because of his personality, his leadership and the sense of security he instilled in those around him."

In his appeals to then defense minister Shimon Peres and chief of staff at the time Mordechai Gur, Shomron turned events around and persuaded the decision-makers, who had previously been ready to concede to the kidnappers.

"To go ahead or to give up - it was all hanging in the balance," Betzer said. "It took a man who had deep internal integrity, courage, experience in special operations, rhetorical ability, leadership skills and responsibility, and also persuasive abilities and an impressive appearance; all of this helped [the decision-makers] distinguish between fact and fantasy, as they decided in favor of an operation that had a reasonable chance of success, and would justify the risks posed to the soldiers and the hostages."

Some 35 years have gone by, and it's hard to imagine that Israel's leadership today would be able to reach decisions on the scale of the Entebbe operation. Israel Defense Forces officers continue to recite the slogan of "standing firm with the mission and attaining its objective," but objectives materialize as a function of social expectation, and the society will no longer allow the army, and the government that commands it, to undertake prolonged wars of choice that entail many casualties.

Patience and the public pain threshold have drained out. The price, particularly in terms of casualties, has become an intolerable side effect that deters actions from being carried out in the first place. In 21st century society, private needs trump general concerns.

In the 1948 War of Independence, First Lieutenant Filon Friedman, for whom the Filon base is named, was considered a hero not only because of his brave service as a soldier and commander, but also because he ended up killing two of his men and committing suicide, rather than being taken hostage.

Under the ethos of "being exposed at the turret," which held sway in the 1960s, before tanks installed sighting systems, a command necessity transformed as sacred heroism. In proportion to the extent that enemy casualties mounted up around the force, soldiers received decorations. Only in very rare instances did the IDF provide medals for actions that did not involve contact with the other side, as in the case of the Matkal commando unit's infiltrations into Egypt before the Six-Day War, when Ehud Barak and his comrades in the raid, and helicopter crews, received medals of honor.

Barak said at the time that it was fortunate the action for which the medals were bestowed remained classified, else it would have been revealed that the medals were given not really due to the heroism of soldiers who didn't fight, but rather to allay the anxieties of those who sent them.

Another exception was Shomron, who received a citation for a cunning maneuver that saved lives during the Six-Day War.

Battle, in its original incarnation, stemmed from close range, hand-to-hand, combat with the enemy. Contemporary warfare prefers the remote, rather than close-range battle. Command experience still makes a difference, but the weight carried by physical courage has lessened. The communications revolution has broken soldiers' isolation, and their dependence on the chain of command.

An army based on mandatory service and reservists will not diligently heed the orders of failed leaders. The mounting dependence on unmanned equipment, which will transform as a kind of robotic legion, is a laudatory technological trend, and also a socially dangerous one - to the extent that the human cost (on the military front, though not necessarily on the civilian front ) seems less steep, an adventurous leadership might feel more at liberty to get entangled in war.

This has yet to happen: For the time being, the robots have taken over the political leadership.



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




American Electric Power, one of the nation's largest utilities, warned last week that new air quality rules could force it to "prematurely" shut down about two dozen big coal-fired units and fire hundreds of workers. This is a deceptive and particularly cynical claim. The utility is making a business decision that has little to do with the rules.

Here is what A.E.P. is not saying: These units are, on average, 55 years old. Some are running at only 5 percent of capacity. Many had long been slated for retirement, in part to comply with a 2007 settlement with the George W. Bush administration in which the company agreed to settle violations of the Clean Air Act by spending $4.7 billion to retire or retrofit aging units.

Blaming the rules is a transparent scare tactic designed to weaken the administration's resolve while playing to industry supporters on Capitol Hill. Fortunately, Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, which proposed the rules, refuses to be bullied.

Ms. Jackson called the A.E.P. charges "misleading at best" and made clear she would not retreat from her statutory duty to protect public health. She said she would stick to her timetable and make the rules final this year. We hope that the White House is equally determined.

Two rules are at issue. One, proposed last year, would require utilities to sharply reduce emissions of already-regulated soot and smog-forming pollutants like sulfur dioxide. The other, for the first time, would mandate reductions in toxic pollutants like mercury. Coal-fired plants, which generate the vast bulk of A.E.P.'s power, are by far the biggest producers of all these pollutants. Companies will have to begin complying with the soot and smog rules next year and the air toxics rule by 2015.

A.E.P. says this timeline is "unrealistic" and asks for a delay of up to five years; otherwise, it says, it will have to shut down one-fourth of its coal-fired capacity and lay off up to 600 workers. Yet in a June 1 meeting with investors, Michael Morris, the utility's chairman, who last week warned about the impact of the proposed regulations on "our customers and local economies," told investors that the closings were "the appropriate way to go" for customers and shareholders.

As for the utility's claims of undue haste, they don't stand up to even minimal review. Both rules have been in the works since the Clinton administration, and companies that have made their plants more efficient or invested in cleaner-burning fuels or up-to-date pollution control technologies are by now well prepared to deal with them.

A.E.P., by contrast, has always seemed much more interested in fighting the Clean Air Act than in finding sensible ways to meet its requirements. It fought the statute after it passed in 1970 and resisted efforts to strengthen the law under President George H. W. Bush. Even now it is shopping a bill around Capitol Hill that would block or delay the proposed new standards.

The bill does not so far have a sponsor, though it will likely have plenty of sympathizers among Republicans and some Rust Belt Democrats. It does not reflect the interests or wishes of the vast majority of Americans, for whom cleaner air is rightly a higher priority than any company's bottom line.






Watching the clumsy and clubby way the International Monetary Fund has been choosing a new managing director, you would not guess that its credibility as an impartial arbiter of global economic policies is at stake. It is.

The I.M.F. has less than two weeks to rescue itself from a habit of treating leadership selection as an exercise of political power rather than as a contest of merit. Its decision will be announced by June 30.

The next managing director will have to deal with a faltering and unbalanced global economic recovery, Europe's worsening sovereign debt and banking crisis, and, almost certainly, currency and balance-of-payments crises. So far, the fund's governing board has done little to encourage a broad range of candidates qualified for these challenges. It seems determined to skew the selection toward the trans-Atlantic establishment's favorite, Christine Lagarde, France's finance minister.

Emerging economies like China, India and Brazil resent the fund for considering only candidates from Western Europe. Asian, African and Latin American countries feel, with reason, that the fund has taken a harsher line toward their debt problems than those of richer economies.

With only two candidates now in the race — Ms. Lagarde and her long-shot rival, Agustín Carstens, governor of Mexico's central bank — it is crucial that they offer clear answers to questions about the economic policies they have favored in the past and how open they would be to other approaches.

Ms. Lagarde, for one, has strongly backed the harsh austerity strategy that has failed to rescue Greece because it left no room for debt restructuring and economic growth. French banks and the European Central Bank, now among Greece's biggest creditors, are still doing all they can to block restructuring. Does Ms. Lagarde still agree with that approach? Would she be more open to restructuring in Greece and other troubled countries as part of a comprehensive strategy for reform and growth?

As Mexico's central banker since 2010, Mr. Carstens has delivered enviable price stability. But before that, as finance minister, he badly underestimated the depths of the global crisis, and provided Mexico with far too little fiscal stimulus, letting the country slide into a much deeper recession. Would he insist that other countries sacrifice jobs and growth to a monetarist and fiscal orthodoxy?

Both candidates have impressive skills and practical experience. But we need to know more to decide who would make the best I.M.F. leader at this critical juncture.





With many local governments and states insisting they want out, the Obama administration says it is working to improve Secure Communities, its troubled data-sharing program that pushes local police to the front lines of immigration enforcement.

New York, Illinois and Massachusetts are among the states that have said they don't want fingerprints of every person arrested to be run through immigration databases. They say Secure Communities catches too many noncriminals and undermines public safety by making crime witnesses and victims fear the police.

The administration still insists the program is mandatory and will roll out nationwide by 2013. It isn't budging on its refusal to let localities opt out. On Friday, John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced a grab bag of changes — an implicit acknowledgment of the growing uproar.

He said he was creating an advisory committee to suggest improvements and issuing memos to guide immigration officers and lawyers on using discretion "where appropriate" to make sure the focus is on dangerous criminals rather than on the traffic violators and misdemeanor offenders who end up in the Secure Communities dragnet in disproportionate numbers.

He said his agency would look closely at arrest data for signs of racial profiling and other discriminatory practices and take action where necessary. We welcome the news that ICE lawyers will be freer to drop deportation cases against immigrants who pose no conceivable threat, the very people the administration has long promised, emptily, to put on a path to citizenship.

If Mr. Morton really wants advice from experts, he already has the testimony of police chiefs and sheriffs, leaders of immigrant communities and a growing number of state politicians. They say the best thing that can be done with Secure Communities is to shut it down.





Last week, the wind pulled apart a sugar maple on the edge of the pasture. It left a long, tapering wound on the side of the standing trunk, and a huge, forking branch on the ground. Late one afternoon, I began disassembling it with a chainsaw. I loaded my tools — saw, sharpener, logging chain, gas — in the tractor bucket and put on my hearing protectors — orange plastic earmuffs — for the drive. Before I started the saw, I switched to a helmet with a face guard and built-in orange plastic earmuffs.

I live in my own world on this farm, but when I put on hearing protectors I retreat to an even own-er world. Time after time, I've stepped off the tractor and started working without remembering to take off the muffs. My thoughts go walkabout. Then I become aware of the tide of my own breathing and realize I'm still wearing orange plastic earmuffs. Often as not, I leave them on.

The reason, I think, is that they heighten the feeling of dwelling in a task. They help me hear my body as it works, even as they muffle the ringing of the T-post I'm pounding. When they come off, it's like leaving my self-consciousness behind. I back the tractor into the barn, shut it down and hang up the earmuffs. The first thing I hear is the barn swallows chiding me.

Years ago, this house had loose single-pane windows. When the wind blew, they rattled and moaned. It was like living in the treetops. The windows have been replaced, and now when a thunderstorm comes crashing in from the west, it spills its winds silently. I'm glad to be spared that sound — to judge the strength of the storm by the tossing of the trees. I'm glad to wait it out in silence and discover what fell and what broke only after a night's sleep.








WITH an eye toward the 2012 elections, legislators in six states have been debating laws explicitly prohibiting courts from considering or using Sharia law, with 14 more looking at wider bans on "foreign law." They're taking a clear cue from Oklahoma's wildly popular Sharia ban, which voters approved as a state constitutional amendment last year by more than 70 percent.

Such laws are discriminatory and pointless. Civil liberties groups are fighting them in court and calling on state legislators to abandon such bills. But there is an additional reason everyone, including would-be proponents of the laws and the federal government, should oppose them: they pose a significant threat to national security.

To begin with, the bans' justifications are thin. Despite the worries voiced by candidates in the recent Republican candidates' debate in New Hampshire, no state, county or municipality is about to realign its laws with religious doctrine, Islamic or otherwise. Nor does any state or federal court today in Oklahoma, or anywhere else, need to enforce a foreign rule repugnant to public policy. Under the legal system's well-established "choice of law" doctrines, the courts are already unlikely to help out someone who claims their religion allows, say, the subordination or mistreatment of women.

Instead, the bans would deprive Muslims of equal access to the law. A butcher would no longer be able to enforce his contract for halal meat — contracts that, like deals for kosher or other faith-sanctioned foods, are regularly enforced around the country. Nor could a Muslim banker seek damages for violations of a financial instrument certified as "Sharia compliant" since it pays no interest.

Moreover, these bans increase bias among the public by endorsing the idea that Muslims are second-class citizens. They encourage and accelerate both the acceptability of negative views of Muslims and the expression of those negative views by the public and government agencies like the police.

Such indignities arise amid a pattern of growing animus toward American Muslims. Reports of employment discrimination against Muslims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which declined after a post-9/11 peak, have recently surged. Gallup, Pew and ABC polls confirm a new spike in anti-Muslim views. Most troubling, tallies of hate crimes collected by nongovernmental organizations show the same trend.

In this context, bans like the one in Oklahoma will serve to chill cooperation by the Muslim-American community with counterterrorism efforts. This makes sense: in such an environment, it would be fair for Muslims to pause before, say, passing on a lead to the police, worrying about whether the police would then look at them with suspicion as well.

But the likelihood of such a chill is also supported by four large, random-sample surveys that I conducted with two colleagues, Tom Tyler and Stephen Schulhofer. Our data, collected from Muslims and non-Muslims in New York and London, suggest that the experience and perception of private discrimination have a significant negative effect on cooperation.

This not only affects everyday public safety, but also the interaction necessary to gather information about self-radicalization and domestic efforts to recruit terrorists. After all, it's simply impossible for the government to gather all that information. For that it must rely on the public, both as a filter and as an aid in interpreting it. If the government lacks strong ties to the Muslim-American community, that kind of filter falls apart.

To prevent the erosion of such support, the Justice Department should better publicize its support for a pending challenge to the Oklahoma amendment. It should also announce that it will challenge similar measures as violations of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. Doing so would not only protect the rights of Muslim-Americans, but also send a signal that they can rely on the federal government's support.

To be sure, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has taken steps against anti-Muslim bias, for example by supporting a California schoolteacher's suit challenging her dismissal for taking time off to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. But these steps are inadequate compared to the scope of public and private discrimination facing Muslim-Americans.

America has been here before. In 1952, Attorney General James P. McGranery filed a legal brief for the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education, in part, he said, out of national security concerns. "Racial discrimination furnishes grist for Communist propaganda mills," he said, and "raises doubts even among friendly nations as to the intensity of our devotion to the democratic faith."

McGranery's insight remains true today. The federal government needs to do more to defend equal access to the law regardless of faith. To do so is not simply to uphold our core values — it is also to work to improve our nation's security.

Aziz Huq is an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago.






 AS a labor lawyer I cringe when Democrats talk of "saving" Social Security. We should not "save" it but raise it. Right now Social Security pays out 39 percent of the average worker's preretirement earnings. While jaws may drop inside the Beltway, we could raise that to 50 percent. We'd still be near the bottom of the league of the world's richest countries — but at least it would be a basement with some food and air. We have elderly people living on less than $10,000 a year. Is that what Democrats want to "save"?

"But we can't afford it!" Oh, come on: We have a federal tax rate equal to nearly 15 percent of our G.D.P. — far below the take in most wealthy countries. Let's wake up: the biggest crisis we face is that most of us have nothing meaningful saved for retirement. I know. I started my career wanting to be a pension lawyer. In the 1970s, lawyers like me expected there to be big pots of private pensions for hourly workers. By the 1980s, as factories closed, I was filing hopeless lawsuits to claw back bits and pieces of benefits. Now there are even fewer bits and pieces to get.

A recent Harris poll found that 34 percent of Americans have nothing saved for retirement — not even a hundred bucks. In this lost decade, that percentage is sure to go up. At retirement the lucky few with a 401(k) typically have $98,000. As an annuity that's about $600 a month — not exactly an upper-middle-class lifestyle. It's too late for Congress to come up with some new savings plan — a new I.R.A. that grows hair, or something. There's no time. We have to improve the one public pension program in place. Should we means-test it? No. I don't care if they go out and buy bottles of Jim Beam: let our elderly have an occasional night out at a restaurant.

The most paralyzing half-truth in this country is that people hate taxes. People are willing to pay taxes that they spend on themselves. Two-thirds of those surveyed in a CBS/New York Times poll in January were willing to pay more taxes to save Social Security at its modest level. To "save" it, most of us don't need to pay. We could lift the cap on high earners, the 6 percent of workers who make over $106,800 a year. If earnings above the cap were subject to the payroll tax with no increase in benefits to high earners, there would be no deficit in the Social Security trust fund in 2037, as projected.

If people are willing to pay more just to "save" Social Security, they should be glad to pay more to raise it.

What does it take to get Social Security up to half the average worker's earnings? According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, to close the deficit and raise benefits to nearly half of average worker earnings, we would need to find an additional 5 percent of taxable payroll, or find the money elsewhere. If we lift the cap on the payroll tax without paying more benefits to those above it, that gets us 2.32 percent (or a bit less if we slightly increase benefits to the rich). Dedicating revenues from the estate tax at its 2009 levels to Social Security gets another half percent. A few other tweaks, like covering new public employees, add another 0.42 percent. The remainder can be found by raising the payroll tax by roughly 1 percentage point for both employees and employers.

I can hear the argument: It will discourage jobs, blah, blah. While I sympathize with the health costs employers pay (I am an employer, at our tiny law firm), they have had a windfall on pensions. In 1975, when I left law school, around two-fifths of American workers were in defined-benefit plans. Now it's just a fifth, and dropping. For employers, that's not the real bonanza.

Retirees today are shortchanged on Social Security because they have been shortchanged on wages for their entire working lives. The labor economist Richard B. Freeman points out that the hourly earnings of workers dropped by 8 percent from 1973 to 2005 while productivity shot up 55 percent or more. The United States is one of the few developed countries where workers are routinely cheated of a share in higher productivity.

And where has the money from the extra productivity gone? It's gone right to the top, to the top few percent. If wages had been paid fairly based on productivity, there would have been enough money subject to the payroll tax to avoid even a modest shortfall.

As I write, the Democrats are proposing to cut payroll taxes — supposedly to create jobs. But the last cut in the payroll tax, a few months back, led to little or no hiring. And did I mention the Paul Ryan plan? Just wait until the Democrats accept some "reasonable" version of this Republican document.

A bigger pension — a raise in Social Security benefits — is the stimulus this demoralized country needs. Come on, Democrats: think of F.D.R., Robert Wagner, or heck, even Lyndon B. Johnson. Let's ask ourselves: Who are we for?

Thomas Geoghegan is the author of "Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back."






On domestic policy, the Republican candidates in last week's primary debate seemed to speak with one voice: Cut taxes, cut spending, repeal Obamacare, declare victory.

On foreign policy, though, they sounded a more uncertain trumpet. There were flashes of the old post-9/11 confidence — as in Tim Pawlenty's declaration that post-Saddam Iraq represents a "shining example" to the Middle East. But there was also pessimism about Afghanistan, skepticism about the Libyan intervention, and a general sense that the United States is bearing too many burdens overseas, and paying too high a price.

For the first time in a decade, it seems, the Republican Party doesn't know where it stands on foreign policy. Instead of being united around George W. Bush's vision of democratic revolution, conservatives are increasingly divided over what lessons to draw from America's post-9/11 interventions.

But while this division shows up in the current presidential field, it's distilled to its essence in two high-profile Republicans who aren't running (not in 2012, at least): Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

As The American Spectator's Jim Antle pointed out last month, Rubio and Paul have followed similar paths to prominence. Both were discouraged from running for the Senate by party leaders. Both rode Tea Party support to unexpected primary victories. In Washington, both have defined themselves as stringent government-cutters.

But on foreign policy, the similarities disappear. Rubio is the great neoconservative hope, the champion of a foreign policy that boldly goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy. In the Senate, he's constantly pressed for a more hawkish line against the Mideast's bad actors. His maiden Senate speech was a paean to national greatness, whose peroration invoked John F. Kennedy and insisted that America remain the "watchman on the wall of world freedom."

Paul, on the other hand, has smoothed the crankish edges off his famous father's antiwar conservatism, reframing it in the language of constitutionalism, the national interest and the budget deficit. (As Matt Continetti noted in The Weekly Standard, "Whereas Ron Paul criticizes U.S. interventionism in tropes familiar to the left — anti-imperial blowback, manipulation by neocons, moral equivalence — Rand Paul merely says America doesn't have the money.")

In a recent address at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Paul presented himself as the real foreign-policy "moderate" — neither an isolationist nor a Wilsonian idealist, but someone who believes we should be "somewhere some of the time" without trying to be "everything to everyone."

But even this measured critique of interventionism makes a striking contrast with Marco Rubio's worldview. Where Rubio talks sweepingly about America's mission in the world, Paul expresses skepticism about nation-building and democracy promotion. Where Rubio invokes World War II and the cold war, Paul invokes the founding fathers' fears about executive power and overseas entanglements. Where Rubio borrows Ronald Reagan's expansive rhetoric, Paul praises Reagan's caution in committing American troops to foreign wars.

They do share some common ground. Both emphasize peace through strength. Both are skeptical of international institutions. And Paul has been at pains to express support for operations like the one that killed Osama bin Laden.

But the right's two rising stars would ultimately take the Republican Party in very different directions. This has been apparent in the debate over the Libyan quasi war. Both senators have criticized President Obama's handling of the intervention. But Rubio has argued that we should be striking harder against Qaddafi, while Paul has dismissed the war as both unwise and unconstitutional.

Among conservatism's foreign policy elite, Rubio's worldview commands more support. But in the grass roots, it's a different story. A recent Pew poll found that the share of conservative Republicans agreeing that the U.S. should "pay less attention to problems overseas" has risen from 36 percent in 2004 to 55 percent today. In the debate over Libya, Tea Party icons like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin have sounded more like Paul than Rubio, and a large group of House Republican backbenchers recently voted for a resolution that would have brought the intervention screeching to a halt.

This doesn't mean that Paul's vision is destined to win out. The country is weary of war, but the story Rubio tells, with eloquence and passion, is still tremendously appealing — the story of a great republic armed and righteous, with no limits on what it can accomplish in the world.

This is a story that many conservatives — and many Americans — want to believe. Once, I believed it myself.

But that was many years and many wars ago, and now I think Rand Paul is right.

Paul Krugman is off today.







Arlington, Va.

MANY urban Americans idealize "green living" and "slow food." But few realize that one of the most promising models for sustainable living is not to be found on organic farms in the United States, but in Afghanistan. A majority of its 30 million citizens still grow and process most of the food they consume. They are the ultimate locavores.

During the 12 months I spent as a State Department political adviser in northern Afghanistan, I was dismayed to see that instead of building on Afghanistan's traditional, labor-intensive agricultural and construction practices, the United States is using many of its aid dollars to transform this fragile agrarian society into a consumer-oriented, mechanized, fossil-fuel-based economy.

In 2004, the Department of Energy carried out a study of Afghanistan. It revealed abundant renewable energy resources that could be used to build small-scale wind- and solar-powered systems to generate electricity and solar thermal devices for cooking and heating water.

Rather than focus on those resources, the United States government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build large diesel generators and exploit the country's oil, gas and coal reserves. The drilling of new oil wells may provide unskilled, poorly paid jobs for some locals, but the bulk of the profits will likely flow overseas or into the pockets of a few warlords and government officials.

American taxpayers' dollars are also being used for energy-inefficient construction projects. During my year in Afghanistan, I sat for hours in meetings with local officials in remote mountain and desert locations, sweating or freezing — depending upon the season — inside concrete and cinder-block schools and police stations built with American aid. These projects are required to adhere to international building codes, which do not permit the construction of traditional earthen structures.

These structures are typically built with cob — a mixture of mud, sand, clay and chopped straw molded to form durable, elegant, super-insulated, earthquake-resistant structures. With their thick walls, small windows and natural ventilation, traditional Afghan homes may not comply with international building codes, but they are cooler in summer and warmer in winter than cinder-block buildings. They also last a long time. Some of Afghanistan's oldest structures, including sections of the defensive wall that once surrounded the 2,000-year-old Silk Road city of Balkh, are made of cob and rammed earth. In England, people are still living in cob houses built before Shakespeare was born.

Renewable energy and sustainability aren't just development issues. They are security issues, too. Seventy percent of the Defense Department's energy budget in Afghanistan is spent on transporting diesel fuel in armored convoys. In a welcome attempt to reduce this dangerous and expensive dependence on fossil fuel, the Marine Corps recently established two patrol bases in Afghanistan operating entirely on renewable energy.

Unfortunately, it is too little, too late. Had a renewable energy program been initiated a decade ago, when the United States entered Afghanistan to help overthrow the Taliban, Washington could have saved billions of dollars in fuel costs and, more important, hundreds of lives lost in transporting and guarding diesel fuel convoys.

Along with advocating the construction of a pipeline to carry natural gas from Central Asia, across Afghanistan and into Pakistan, the United States is also helping to fund a 20th-century-style power grid that will compel Afghanistan to purchase the bulk of its electricity from neighboring former Soviet republics for decades to come. Even if this grid survives future sabotage and political unrest in Central Asia, its power lines and transmission towers will be carrying this imported electricity right over the heads of rural Afghans and into Afghanistan's major cities — despite the fact that the United States Central Command has identified the lack of access to electricity in rural areas as a major obstacle to sustaining the gains achieved by our counterinsurgency strategy.

Sustainable development in Afghanistan has taken a back seat to "quick wins" that can be reported to Congress as indicators of success: tractors that farmers can't repair and that require diesel fuel they can't afford; cheaply built schools; and smooth but wafer-thin asphalt, which will never stand up to Afghanistan's punishing climate without costly annual maintenance.

If donor nations dismiss Afghans' centuries of experience in sustainability and continue to support the exploitation of fossil fuels over renewable energy, future generations of rural Afghans will be forced to watch in frustrated silence as the construction of pipelines, oil rigs and enormous power grids further degrades their fragile and beautiful land while doing little to improve their lives.

And long after American forces have departed, it will be these rural farmers, not Afghanistan's small urban population, who will decide whether to support or reject future insurgencies.

Patricia McArdle, a retired foreign service officer and Navy veteran, is the author of the novel "Farishta." She serves on the board of directors of Solar Cookers International.







A speech that is expected to be delivered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today could change the course of events for his unrest-shaken country and his own future, Turkish official sources told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

The sources also said that if Assad failed to announce a series of reforms needed to normalize Syria, he would "miss a big chance" to be able to keep his power safe and from now on he "would have great difficulty convincing Ankara" of his sincerity.

One source speaking on condition of anonymity was more specific to say regarding Ankara's point of view that "this is not the last chance for Syria, but could be the last one for Assad himself."

HDN was told yesterday that Ankara is eagerly waiting to hear what Assad has to say in today's speech in order to take a new position, considering the ongoing flood of refugees from Syria to its southern border province of Hatay. The same source said there was an indication giving some hope that Assad would announce some reformist steps to cool down the tension in his country.

That "sign of hope" was an announcement by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of President Assad, who said he quit business and from now on he would focus on "philantrophic work." Makhlouf used to own dominating shares in Syria's airline, a mobile phone company, duty-free shops and tourism businesses. He was one of the targets of protesters as a symbol of corruption and nepotism.

His unexpected retirement came on June 17, minutes before the Friday prayer and after the return from Ankara to Damascus of Hasan Turkmani, Assad's special envoy. In Ankara, he had talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. One source told HDN that "to listen to the people's voice regarding corruption claims" was among the issues conveyed to Turkmani during the talks.

But it seems the messages that Turkmani had carried to Assad were not limited to that. HDN was not able to confirm an Al Arabia story reporting that Erdoğan has asked Assad to fire the notorious 4th Army Commander, Maheer Al Assad. "That is not our style, we are not interested in names, but principles," a Turkish diplomat said. Yet, strong messages were conveyed to Assad.

Ankara gave two messages to Damascus: 1. Violence against the people should be stopped, and 2. Reform steps should be scheduled and announced as such.

Starting from the latter, Ankara remembers the last time Assad promised a reform speech to Erdoğan, which turned out to be a frustration with a self-indulgent speech on March 30. Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed in Syria and thousands more have fled from their homes to neighboring Turkey and Lebanon.

Speaking of the first message, one has to mention Davutoğlu's surprise visit to the refugee camps on the border with Syria on Wednesday, June 15. The original plan was to convene a meeting with Turkish diplomats on the Syrian crisis. But consulting with Erdoğan, Davutoğlu decided to postpone his consultation with diplomats to Thursday. He flew to Hatay and went directly to the border, in order to fly back to Ankara the same evening in order to join the dinner of Erdoğan with Turkmani (a former Syrian chief of general staff with Sunni and Turkoman origin) and tell what he had seen there.

Shocked by the eyewitness reports of the refugees, Davutoğlu changed his plans to spend the evening with them and met with Turkmani on Thursday morning in Ankara for three long hours. He carried some photos with him from the camps which showed that the refugees were not "terrorists" as Damascus claimed, but mostly dead-scared women and children.

As a result, Turkmani was told that the Assad regime had "better say what you have to tell the paper in a week's time and even better if next Monday," that is today. There are measures from a new local administrations law to bring an end to security-obsessed governance; but Ankara repeats: "It is not our style to tell them exactly what they already know better than us."

Yet, Ankara is not sure what Assad will tell to his people today, if he will not change his mind to speak at all. "Because," a diplomatic source explained: "There are groups inside and outside Syria that want to stop him from taking reformists steps, in order to see him put down at the expense of the Syrian people. Ankara doesn't want that. That's why we don't want him to miss this chance."






The minister of finance, Mehmet Şimşek, reportedly complained that people voted for "identity" in the southeastern province of Batman – his constituency – instead of the governing party's promise of "service" (Akşam, June 17). It seems that the minister has started to understand "the true nature of politics" in general and Turkish politics in particular, as a rather "new politician" who returned to Turkey from the United States to be a minister in the last Justice and Development Party, or AK Parti, government.

First of all, politics is no "service sector," even though the prime minister has wanted us to believe so for a long time. Especially in countries like Turkey where ideological, cultural, historical-social divisions are deep, people do not only vote for those who offer better social services. Second, it is not only Kurds who vote for "identity" as Minister Şimşek complains. And finally, this is not something to complain about for the members of the governing party, since the AK Parti gets its strength from its "conservative" identity more than anything else.

That is not to say that the AK Parti did not prove itself to be an efficient government and better alternative than any other political party in many fields. It is also true that the AK Parti has managed to be the most promising agent of change and democratization in Turkey. Nevertheless, the solid social support behind the party has always been "conservatism" and conservative values.

The same is true for the Republican People's Party, or CHP. Despite the fact that "the new CHP" and its new leader chose to avoid focusing on the issue of secularism during the last election campaign, almost all of those who voted for the CHP did so because it is seen as "the guardian" of the secular character of the regime. Finally, the Kurdish vote is divided between the AK Parti and the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, depending on whether religious or national identity comes first.

Turkish society is overwhelmingly conservative even beyond the rate of the AK Parti's popular vote of 50 percent. In fact, neither conservatism nor any other identity is static, so nobody can claim that the AK Parti didn't do anything other than manipulate conservative social circles. On the contrary, the success of the AK Parti stems from its ability to adapt and adjust conservative sensitivities to changing social circumstances and aspirations. There is no doubt about this.

Still, the changing social aspirations of conservative voters are largely economic. It does not seem that "more democracy," which requires more social and political freedoms, is among the priorities of the conservative electorate. I think this is the "major problem" concerning the prospect of Turkish politics.

Besides, it seems that the ultranationalist tone of the government party's election campaign only cost the AK Parti some votes in the southeast; the loss was more than compensated for by the increase in the nationalist conservative vote. This is another shortcoming of the "new conservative democrat status quo." If the AK Parti attempts to consolidate its power within the limits of nationalist-conservatism, Turkey will neither be able to attain a better standard of democracy, nor find a democratic solution to the "Kurdish problem."

The governing party successfully changed the status quo at the end of its second term and the last election confirmed the strength of "new conservative democracy" with solid social support. Now, the new challenge for Turkish politics is the governing party's definition of "the limits of conservative democracy." The AK Parti managed to find a compromise between cultural/religious conservatism and economic liberalism, but has failed to embrace political liberalism so far. The political future of Turkey will be determined by the response of "the conservative democrat status quo" to more change.






His patience running thin with slow pace of Cyprus talks, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is preparing to present the two sides on the island a road map with two exit alternatives. According to sources with deep insight of the talks, the secretary-general has prepared a five-step plan that urges the two sides on the island to walk the extra mile and establish a federal Cyprus, or face the consequences.

Sources have said the secretary-general, with particular encouragement from Britain and the United States, has come to the conclusion that Cyprus talks cannot drag on forever. Furthermore, as in June 2012 Greek Cypriots will assume the EU term presidency, there is a natural timetable for the success or failure of the process.

Thus, sources said the secretary-general is anticipated to present the two leaders at the planned July 7 trilateral summit in Geneva a final road map. The road map will reportedly have two exits: An early crash-landing around end of December or separate simultaneous referenda by the two peoples of the island the latest by end of May 2012, a month before Greek Cypriots assume the EU term presidency, on an agreement establishing a new federal Cyprus. Naturally, Turkish Cypriots will demand inclusion of a clause in the text to be put to referenda that should Greek Cypriots vote "Oxi" (No) as they did on April 24, 2004 on the so-called Annan plan, the Turkish Cypriot state should be given international recognition. Indeed, such a wording could help Greek Cypriots swallow the idea of political equality and sharing governance of the island on the basis of political equality.

The five steps

The secretary-general is expected to announce the roadmap at the press conference to be held at the end of the July 7 trilateral summit. The first step of the five-step road map will be one last round of intensified negotiations on all headings. Leaders and their representatives, as well as working groups, might meet up to five times a week, go through all chapters and register the issues they agree on, as well as those points they fail to accomplish sufficient convergences.

The second step will be reconvening of a trilateral summit, this time in New York. Though September appears to be "best" for such a summit because of Greek Cypriot fears that a trilateral summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly might lead to confusion as if the U.N. recognized the equality of the non-recognized Turkish Cypriot state with the internationally recognized Cyprus Republic, the last summit will be in October. At that summit a detailed analysis of the entire process will be done.

At the end of that last trilateral summit the secretary-general may call for an international Cyprus conference – to be attended by the two sides on the island, Turkey, Greece and Britain, the three guarantor powers under the 1960 system, and with representatives of the European Union and the U.N. Security Council's permanent members sitting on the sidelines as "observers" – to be convened in December or in early 2012. Another option for the secretary-general will be to declare the failure of the Cyprus talks process. If the process does not end and an international conference is decided to be convened, the target will be to complete a comprehensive agreement on the creation of a federal Cyprus with two politically equal constituent states and submit it to simultaneous referenda the latest by May 2012. That conference will be the fourth step and the simultaneous referenda will be the fifth step on the road map.

Will Turkish and Greek Cypriots walk this line? As for Turkish Cypriots I can vouch that they will do their best to achieve a settlement, but for Greek Cypriots unless what they might lose is not shown beforehand they will be as reluctant as ever even to consider the idea of sharing power with Turkish Cypriots. Almost 50 years of inter-communal talks testify to this bitter reality.





The showdown between the old and new administration of Turkey's main oppositional Republican People's Party, or CHP, following the disappointing election results has opened the door to an alliance between the contentious names former party leader Deniz Baykal and former secretary-general Önder Sav.

Following the sex tape scandal that forced Baykal to step down from his position last year, Sav had turned his back on Baykal and supported current leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's candidacy. Sav, however, also resigned from his position after a disagreement with Kılıçdaroğlu. Ultimately, Kılıçdaroğlu brought Baykal to Parliament, but left Sav off the list.

The former duo, following the disappointing June 12 general elections, are testing out the waters for a possible alliance. While the two have yet to meet directly, their right hand men were in contact last week. Yılmaz Ateş for Baykal spoke with Hakkı Süha Okay for Sav and agreed that the main goal should be to get enough support to hold an extraordinary convention because the elections were a failure, the axis within the CHP is shifting, and the party assembly must change.

Meanwhile, the one subject they could not agree on was the party leader. Baykal's team, knowing that they can't bring Baykal back, think that Kılıçdaroğlu should stay as party leader. Sav's team, however, agree that the party needs a new leader.

Baykal and Sav, despite not speaking since the incidents last year, could even meet up to discuss matters personally in the coming weeks. So far, no attempts have been made to get signatures to hold an extraordinary meeting.

Eyes on MHP

The oath ceremony in Parliament will divert attention to the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, who are experiencing their own tense times.

İhsan Barutçu was booted from the MHP following the sex tape scandals, but refused to step back from his candidacy and was thus selected as the deputy for Istanbul following the elections.

Party leader Devlet Bahçeli has expressed his opposition to Barutçu, sparking rumors that there may even be physical intervention to Barutçu during the ceremony.

The Hürriyet Daily News spoke to an influential member of the MHP, who said that while punches will not be thrown, a few words may be directed at Barutçu during the ceremony.

'They are on list but not in Parliament'

The elections were unlucky for quite a few people this year. 22 deputies selected as candidates by party leaders did not make it back in to Parliament.

From the ruling Justice and Development Party, Şevket Gürsoy, Ahmet Koca, Abdurrahman Arıcı, Fatih Metin, Abdulmuttalip Özbek, and Fevzi Şanverdi were left out of Parliament.

Left out of the CHP were Akif Ekici, Yaşar Ağyüz, Ali Arslan, Yaşar Tüzün, Ahmet Küçük, Çetin Soysal, and Mehmet Ali Özpolat.

From the MHP; Cemaleddin Uslu, Zekai Özcan, Şenol Bal, Recep Taner, Erdal Sipahi, Hasan Çalış, Osman Durmuş, Kadir Ural, Murat Özkan, and Behiç Çelik.

Independent candidates Zülfükar İzol and Akın Birdal were also left out of Parliament.

Thousands of seats

So how many seats are there in Parliament? Believe it or not, but that total number is five thousand! Every deputy gets two seats, one in the assembly hall and the other in their offices, with other seats in the group halls, backstage, and the commission rooms. There are also the bureaucrats, the consultants, and secretaries.

With so many chairs, keeping Parliament clean can be expensive. During the cleaning contracts bidding, one company asked for 17 million TL for the 1,300 seats at the general assembly hall.

So, Parliament rolled up it's sleeves and ordered the leather varnish from the United States and cleaned the seats with the existing staff, saving the government 12 million TL.

Two rival constituion professors in same room

Parliament's new term will also be interesting for AKP Istanbul deputy Burhan Kuzu and CHP Eskişehir deputy Süheyl Batum.

The duo shared an office for 15 years at Istanbul University when they were Constitution professors. They are extremely close friends, who were elected to rival parties during the elections, and are now preparing to face each other for the first time after standing side by side for so many years.

The two are set to serve on the Compromise Commission on Constitution and only time will tell if their close ties can survive the political world.






Although marked by violent confrontations and vehement personal attacks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's third consecutive election victory constitutes the crowning achievement in his ascent to power from humble origins. It confirms his status as Turkey's most definitive leader since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Across the Atlantic, Brazil's Luiz Inacio da Silva, affectionately known as Lula, also rose from the grassroots to become his nation's most influential leader.

Whereas Lula succeeded in bridging the wide gap between populism and statesmanship, Erdoğan remains far behind the curve. With a new mandate, Erdoğan must seize the initiative and elevate himself to a higher level. There is much he can learn from Lula during this process.

Lula began as a fiery trade union leader. He left the presidency after eight years with an approval rating of over 80 percent. He won the respect and admiration of the overwhelming majority of Brazilians. Even those originally against him acknowledged his achievements. Erdoğan's victory with a 50 percent majority is an enormous landmark. However, that still leaves another 50 percent of Turks who did not vote for him. He must reach out to them. Thus far, Erdoğan has failed in this task.

On the world stage, Lula and Erdoğan shared a cordial personal rapport and like-minded visions for their countries' growing prominence in world affairs. Last year, they even joined forces at the U.N. Security Council, as non-permanent members, to defy the Permanent Five over Iran sanctions. As regional powers, their ability to shape developments, provide leadership and earn neighbors' respect increased exponentially over the past decade. Lula and Erdoğan provided critical value-added to the countries' rising brand names.

With young populations and export-driven economies, their common pragmatism has been crucial to rapid growth. Originally, they were no friends of free markets. However, when assuming power in 2003, Lula inherited and expanded upon the responsible policies of his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Erdoğan did the same with the recovery plan of Kemal Derviş, a former technocratic minister who saved Turkey from economic disaster.

From cultures where strong charismatic personalities matter, Lula and Erdoğan have transcended their parties. At least half of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, votes are directly in support of Erdoğan. In Brazil, the victory of Dilma Rouseff, the current president, would not have been possible without Lula's active support and campaigning. Out of office since January 2011, Lula still wields enormous influence. His direct intervention to resolve a recent crisis involving President Rouseff's chief of staff was a blatant reminder.

All along, Lula and Erdoğan clearly understood the indispensability of remaining closely connected to the streets in the age of democracy. They both proved masters of feeling the pulse of ordinary people and speaking their language. The loss of this touch exponentially increases the potential for ouster. Erdoğan's regional neighbors in Syria and Libya recently experienced such a rude awakening.

Whereas Erdoğan's internal reform battles are often marked by divisive rhetoric and aggressive confrontation, greater consensus guided Lula's reform policies. Ironically, Erdoğan owes much of his success to populist tactics. The rough talk and tough image proved crucial to winning votes. It reflects the reality of mass politics in the information age, which Erdoğan mastered. However, such methods often undermine the democratic process, particularly in developing systems with fragile institutions. This further underscores Erdoğan's fundamental obligation to assume a greater role as statesman.

During his two successful, and three failed, presidential campaigns, Lula was continuously subjected to harsh insults, yet he persevered. On the other hand, Erdoğan pursued dozens of defamation lawsuits during the current election process.

During his presidency, Lula pursued a more useful alternative – the power of effective outreach to the opposition. Doing so requires a superior intellect that ventures beyond mainstream politics. Despite his extraordinary skills, Erdoğan's populism still prevails. At this stage in his career, he should be above the political fray but struggles to do so. Leading the process for a new constitution offers Erdoğan an historic, and perhaps final, opportunity to seize the initiative and substantively reach out. Whether he actually cares to do so will soon become evident.

As political outcasts, both Lula and Erdoğan often experienced humiliation, including prison time, which inevitably scarred their outlooks. Starting from the bottom often requires a strong will to overcome complexes resulting from such negative episodes. While Lula successfully moved on, Erdoğan remains mired in grudges to his own disadvantage and, above all, to the detriment of Turkish society.

Marco Vicenzino is director of Global Strategy Project, a Washington-based think-tank.






Washington, like many other capitals across the world, continued to discuss the impressive victory of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, throughout the week.

"I met [PM Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan twice and I would have also voted for him, if I could," said Steven Cook, one of the Turkey observers, who recently raised many eyebrows in Ankara by his "Arab Spring, Turkish Fall" catchy article, in which he argued that the enormous change in the Arab countries proved that Ankara has no special insights into the region compared with the West, as the leaders of AKP argued for years.

Fifty percent of the vote, as would have given to any other administration, also gave a clear mandate and confidence to the AKP leadership. While across the Middle East, from Iran to Egypt, Morocco to Saudi Arabia, the regimes are bumping into all kinds of stability troubles, having concluded a fair and free elections, Turkey once more distinguished itself from the bunch and reminded all why Turkey matters so much to the Arab Spring.

Therefore, it can be argued that the June 12 election has not changed enough of the dynamics in Ankara to make us believe that Turkey will withdraw from its pro-active ambitions. Turkish activism has to continue and the static diplomacy of the Cold War is out of the question, most would argue, because of the location it occupies, the history it relates to and the largest economic clout in its region, regardless of any particular administration.

Erdoğan's "balcony speech" on election night should have erased any doubts on this subject. Bülent Alirıza, the Turkey project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, told me to pay attention to those victory greetings that were sent from Erdoğan to several cities in the region, and argued that Washington must have caught what all this universalist tone should encompass about Ankara's future foreign policy desires.

Ankara's attitude, when it comes to bloody crackdowns in Syria, became unusually aggressive as well. Ankara hosted the Syrian opposition figures, helped them to organize, condemned Damascus for its "savage" actions and opened its borders to thousands of refugees who are fleeing from Bashar al-Assad's ruthless forces.

As if Ankara, with its outspoken demeanor toward the Assad regime, tries to erase some of the bad memories left behind from the Libya experience, during which Ankara was equally hesitant and unwilling to join to the international consensus to stop Moammar Gadhafi's ferocious behavior. The U.S. State Department for the whole week has done nothing but praised Turkish open border policy and reiterated its support.

Erdoğan, while urging Assad to reform, has not chosen to isolate him yet. Richard Armitage, chairman of the American-Turkish Council, or ATC, and former deputy to the Secretary of State, while arguing this point over the phone also claimed that "the zero problem policy is now outdated by what is taking place in especially Syria."

Even though Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu himself, in recent interviews, described the "zero problem policy" as not an absolute goal, but a mere struggle to change the old-state-mindset that considers "all neighbors as enemies," the policy is widely understood and accepted as mainly as a stabilizer reflection of the Turkish foreign policy, in which Ankara prefers dictators over unstable democratic demands.

Another Turkey observer who argues that the change in the Arab world showed the limits of Turkish policy is Henri Barkey, at the Carnegie Endowment. According to Barkey, Turkey's Middle East policies hit the wall with the Arab Spring. Barkey concluded in an interview that Turkish election results will not change much in the region because the Arab world itself is undergoing historic change, and Ankara like other capitals has no silver bullets to give any particular direction to a still much-unknown region.

According to the latest Gallup poll conducted in March-April in Egypt, Egyptians, overwhelmingly, want to create their own political path and are not in a mood to borrow from anyone else's. Mohamed Younis, a senior analyst at the Gallup Center in Washington, argued this sentiment while sharing with me with the unpublished piece of the survey that relates to Turkey. According to this survey, only 2 percent cited Turkey as a political model for Egypt. On a side note, only 15 percent of Egyptians approve of Turkish leadership, 47 percent disapprove following the revolution.

Sunday's elections proved how efficient and skillful the ruling party is. Erdoğan changed the rules of politics by increasing his party's share in the votes for the third consecutive time and challenged the many widespread assumptions of old times.

A hundred years ago, the Ottoman Turkish Empire, under attack from Europe's nationalistic sentiments in the preceding century, was at a breaking point while struggling to pay its foreign debt and to contain self-determinism.

A hundred years later, freedom, democracy and individual empowerment are the new rules of globalization, and Turkey this time around is positioning itself to reap the best long-term strategic advantages against its regional rivals, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, mainly because of its own democratic experience.

Finally, by writing and adapting a liberal, egalitarian and inclusive constitution, Turkey would guarantee to be driving aspirant of the more democratic region for years to come.

It is time Turkey cleaned its own house by setting the democratic standards much higher. If Erdoğan indeed leads such a process, as Cook said, "He can seal his place in history."






Authorities were happy when the foreign trade deficit expanded less than expected in April. It was supposed that this might reduce the current account deficit during the same month.

On the contrary, the current account deficit, or CAD, widened and exceeded forecasts. This made CAD the No. 1 economic problem. And to find a solution is very difficult. In other words, it is politically very difficult to take a decision to reduce the CAD. The reason is obvious: To reduce CAD, it is necessary to slow down the economic activity.

There are many ways to realize it. The target is total demand. For a slowdown in economic activities, it is necessary to reduce total demand. Monetary and fiscal policies have many tools to be used for this purpose. A government can reduce total demand by cutting public expenditures and/or raising taxes. Raising interest rates and banks' reserve ratios are also effective. The problem is that using these handy tools for that purpose is politically risky even after a general election has resulted in a victory for the governing party. Economic slowdown means slowdown in the growth rates of incomes, both national and individual. This might lead to a loss of popularity.

However if CAD continues to expand, Turkey's credit rating may come under pressure. The size of CAD is not the only problem. The reliance of financing the deficit mainly on short-term hot money inflows makes the external equilibrium vulnerable. This is why not only foreign credit rating institutions, but also authorities in Turkey are uneasy. When signs of economic or political turmoil, domestic or foreign, appear as has happened several times in the past, the owners of short-term foreign investments want their money back at once.

As several times repeated in this column, this creates serious problems in foreign exchange and financial markets. Exchange rates jump to unbelievable levels and it becomes necessary to raise interest rates over those levels in order to stop the rapid outflow of foreign exchange. The turmoil spreads to other sectors of the economy and creates a widespread crisis in a short time. We still remember well what happened in 2001.

The core problem is the foreign trade deficit. Exporters are trying hard, but imports are exceeding exports every month. It is impossible to reject the negative impact of the overvaluation of the Turkish Lira on exports and its encouraging effect on imports. However, because intervening in foreign exchange rates is risky, it is necessary to slow down economic activity in order to reduce the volume of imports. This is not popular, but it is the only rational alternative in the short term. It is not wise to fix the exchange rates at higher levels in order to stop the overvaluation of the lira. If markets' reaction is negative to these new high levels, the result might be disastrous for all macro-economic balances.

Another idea is to cut interest rates considerably in order to shift demand from lira to foreign exchange. This might increase foreign exchange rates and stop the overvaluation of the lira, but at the same time interest rate cuts encourage both investment and consumption expenditures and as a result the volume of imports will increase again.

If authorities do not want to raise taxes and interest rates, and if the new government does not wish to cut public expenditures considerably, the only alternative left is try to reduce private expenditures, but not by raising interest rates. It is understood that the authorities wish to control credit. This will, of course, increase costs for the banking sector and reduce profits. It is important to what extent banks can carry this burden.

If all alternatives prove to be ineffective in reducing the CAD, then changing the financing structure of the deficit can be a method. To encourage direct foreign investment instead of portfolio investments is an alternative that some emerging economies have been implementing successfully. However, it must be realized that some of their methods to attract direct foreign investments are not suitable for Turkey's practice.

In short, it must be accepted that the ever-expanding current account deficit is a very serious problem that is difficult to solve. There is not a shortcut solution and alternatives are limited; to decide on any rational alternative and to implement it is both technically and politically difficult.








Events are beginning to converge in Afghanistan that will affect us here in Pakistan. Two announcements in the last three days, one in the United Nations (UN) in New York and another from the office of President Karzai in Kabul, give us a picture of what may follow in the next few months. The UN Security Council last Friday decided to 'split' the international sanctions regime for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda as part of the effort to ease the Taliban in the direction of talks about reconciliation; and on Saturday, President Karzai officially confirmed that talks are taking place between the Afghan Taliban and the Americans and several other interested parties and brokers as well. Taking the UN decision first, this is probably a direct outcome of the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2. Hitherto Al-Qaeda and the Taliban have both been handled by the same sanctions group, but it makes sense to clear the path for inclusive talks about future governance with the Afghan Taliban. Separating the two differentiates between the global Al-Qaeda jihadist agenda and what has always been the entirely separate agenda of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan. There are of course Taliban who sit in the Al-Qaeda camp as well as the purely Afghan camp, and the split will provide them with a choice that was hitherto unavailable in clear-cut terms.

Riding alongside the UN decision is the announcement of talks with the Taliban by the Americans and other foreign powers. There have been preliminary talks for perhaps as long as a year, and unconfirmed reports that Mullah Omar's emissaries may have been party to them. The synchronicity of the two announcements is no coincidence and comes at a time when there is considerable unease among the nations contributing to the coalition force fighting in Afghanistan. Support for the war has long been waning in the electorates of the nations involved. It is expensive of lives and treasure. The upheavals in the Arab world have shifted the focus of Western states and the complex Afghan problem is one they would much rather moved to some form of resolution – which may not be entirely comfortable for all concerned but which at least left the Afghans holding the Afghan problem primarily for themselves. Many Afghans fear what the outcome of talking to the Taliban might be, and civil society groups and groups representing the interests of women are particularly concerned given past experience with a Taliban government. President Karzai on his recent visit here sketched a post-conflict road map based on mutual cooperation. Are we entering a period where conflict wanes and peace gains traction? Time will tell.






Our installed sources of power generation exceed our power needs and if all were working at capacity we would be a net exporter of power. As it is, we are on our knees. Our power shortfall has now reached 5,000 megawatts. We are generating 13,240 MWs against a peak demand of 18,065MWs. Industry has ground to a halt; productivity in key sectors like that of cotton goods has dropped almost to zero in places like Faisalabad, the hub of the cotton spinning industry. In Lahore loadshedding has reached 14 hours a day. Multan and Sargodha are powerless for up to 15 hours. The problem just got worse as eight Independent Power Producers have stopped supplying power because they have not been paid by Pepco, alongside a chronic shortage of furnace oil. Five plants are operating below capacity. The problem is affecting every province. Towns in Balochistan have outages of five hours or more and power is rarely on for more than two hours consecutively. Sindh generally and Karachi in particular swelter with cuts of up to 10 hours a day. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the problem is being compounded by an acute shortage of potable water, and it can only be a matter of time before we see a spike in gastro-intestinal disorders as a result.

At the heart of the matter lies the inability to resolve the circular debt crisis and an embedded inefficiency in power distribution along with power theft. We have lost count of the number of prime ministerial pronouncements on the management of the power crisis, the empty plans that never seem to materialise and the grand political statements that this or that much power has been added to the system since this government took office. There are another three 'hot' months before us, the monsoon is yet to arrive, snowmelt in the north of the country is giving rise to concerns about another flood though not at the level of 2010, and we are less prepared than we ever were. Pakistan needs a national power management plan that is in implementation by the end of July at the latest. This is an existential emergency.







The good part about the dispute between Shahid Afridi and the Pakistan Cricket Board is that it's over, at least for now. The bad part is that it was an unnecessary tussle that could easily have been avoided in the first place. Also, it's quite evident from Thursday's outcome that both parties continue to hold grudges and it won't be surprising if the issue crops up again in the not too distant future. Officially, the dispute that was triggered after the PCB stripped Afridi of Pakistan's one-day captaincy last month was resolved last Thursday after the board's disciplinary committee slapped the all-rounder with a hefty fine of Rs4.5 million. The board also agreed to restore a No Objection Certificate for Afridi to play abroad.

But privately, both parties continue to badmouth each other. The board is claiming victory by declaring that it has carried out disciplinary action against the country's most popular cricketer. Meanwhile, Afridi's camp believes its petition against the PCB has 'borne fruit', adding that the board only came to the negotiating table after Afridi decided to go to court to seek justice. The truth of the matter is that it was a lose-lose situation for both parties right from the start. By lashing out at the PCB, Afridi had breached discipline. By revoking his NOC, the board had abused its powers. The fact that both parties needed 'political' intervention to resolve the issue leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Afridi and Ijaz Butt, the controversial PCB chairman, were made to sit together in Islamabad by influential quarters and were instructed to reach a deal. In the end, Butt agreed to grant Afridi his NOC. In return, Afridi withdrew his court case against the PCB and appeared before its disciplinary committee. The three-man panel went through the motions and took disciplinary action against Afridi. The details, however, were already decided in Islamabad two days ago during the Afridi-Butt meeting. The match, as they say, might have been fixed.








Killing somebody, it seems, is like taking a walk in the park in Pakistan. The casual execution of Sarfaraz Shah by the paramilitary Rangers in Karachi last week has shaken a nation used to the daily drill of drone strikes and suicide bombings.

The 19-year old was nervously walking up and down trying to assure the Rangers of his innocence when he was shot point blank – without a warning and without batting an eyelid. Just like that. Coldblooded, mater-of-fact and absolutely chilling, the Rangers' action, captured by an unobtrusive television camera, has set the cyberspace on fire.

Who are these people? Are they totally devoid of humanity, if not the fear of God? Is this really the land of the pure, the Utopia founded in the name of Islam? How could you just shoot someone who is not obviously armed and poses no threat to the well being of the heavily armed group of Rangers like that? Sarfaraz begged for his life literally as he lay there on the ground writhing bleeding to death: "Haspatal pahoncha dey yaar! Mujhay haspatal toe pahoncha dey'' (Please take me to hospital, my friend! At least take me to hospital).

Of course, no one came forward. No one heeded a dying man's desperate pleas for help. His killers dispassionately watched him as if he was a slaughtered animal. No one from among the bystanders coolly watching from a safe distance offered help either. After all, it was a public park and they were there to take a stroll and have a good time. Finally, Sarfaraz was taken to a nearby hospital. He died minutes after arrival, having lost every drop of life blood as he had.

I couldn't sleep the whole night after watching the video of the cold blooded killing, forwarded to me by a distant friend. Nor could I sleep or eat the next day. I kept thinking and thinking of the utter helplessness of the teenager and the way he crumpled in a heap. It was hardly like a dramatic scene from a Hollywood thriller. Life in its reality is often more prosaic and ordinary than the imagination of a filmmaker or storyteller.

I kept thinking of the clinical, all-in-a-day's-work ruthlessness of the killers in uniform. This studied, devil-may-care barbarity was chillingly familiar. Where had I seen it before? In the murderous ruthlessness of the Israeli soldiers across the occupied and enslaved Palestine? In the scenic killing fields of Kashmir? In the drone strikes and bombing of funerals and wedding parties in Afghanistan or the obscenity of Abu Ghraib and Iraq?

How is all this different from what the guardians and defenders of law are doing in the Land of the Pure? How's the heart-wrenching tragedy of Sarfaraz different from the gunning down of the 12-year old Palestinian boy, Muhammad al Durra, in Gaza by Israeli troops even as he was desperately being shielded by his father? There's a difference though. Unlike the Palestinian father-son duo who expected and got no mercy from their killers, Sarfaraz thought he was among friends – among fellow believers!

Is this really Quaid-e-Azam's Pakistan? Whatever happened to the blessed citadel of Islam and the model, progressive Muslim state that Pakistan was supposed to be? Who's responsible for this mindboggling mess and how did Mohammad Ali Jinnah's baby end up here? More to the point, where does Pakistan go from here? These are questions that must be confronted not just by the country's fractious politicians and self-serving elites but everyone who cares for the well being and future of the South Asian nation.

The tragedy of Sarfaraz Shah is the loudest wake-up call Pakistanis could have got. Pakistan is a nation "in the midst of a nervous breakdown," as Pakistani artist and blogger Bina Shah tweeted after the incident. There's no time to heal; it's a body blow after devastating body blow, with every fresh wound draining the precious lifeblood. Most Pakistani intellectuals have convinced themselves their young country is dying a slow and painful death – just as Sarfaraz died last week. I am not so pessimistic. But even for a distant observer like me writing on the wall is ominous and hard to miss. Pakistan may indeed be negotiating the most critical point in its eventful history. This is an existential crisis perhaps more critical than the one it faced in 1971 when its other half broke up with it to declare itself Bangladesh.

What happened in Karachi last week was anything but routine police violence or highhandedness for which the subcontinent's security forces are notorious. Custodial killings happen all too often next door in India as well. However, they do not take place in broad daylight, in full view of the whole world. And in most cases, such highhandedness seldom goes unpunished.

This is what is so disturbing and scaring about this whole business. It's as though the Rangers have a license to kill-literally-and they aren't afraid to flaunt and use it, at the slightest provocation-or not. This is not just about one innocent man getting killed by a trigger-happy cop in a big, Third world metropolis. It's about the collapse of all that is sacred and sacrosanct and binds and holds a society and a nation together. It's about the unraveling of institutions and crumbling of a social order. Call it the rule of law, social contract, social fabric or whatever. The contempt with which the Rangers disposed of Sarfaraz wasn't merely for a helpless man. The disdain was reserved for the social contract, civil society and the idea of Pakistan.

Something is terribly wrong with Pakistan. This is what its legion of detractors have been shouting about ad nauseam for years and decades. And now it's increasingly difficult to deny this even for the sincerest friends and well wishers of the country. This killing holds up a mirror to Pakistani society and nation and Pakistanis should be horrified and outraged by what they see. I do not even want to get into the pointless, depressing debate about the myriad woes Pakistan faces and what or who is responsible for turning Jinnah's dream into an endless nightmare.

Petty games of big powers; stranglehold of the omnipotent and omnipresent Army; hopelessly corrupt and feudal nature of Pakistani politics and of course, and the scourge of extremism-each one of them or all of them may be responsible for the present state of the Islamic republic. We know the drill.

The question is, what are the Pakistanis going to do to about it? What can they do to stop the freefall of their amazing country? How long will they helplessly watch while their young nation is ripped apart by the vultures of all colors and kinds? And the less is said of the political lot the better. They are part of the curse haunting Pakistan.

What Pakistan badly needs is a bold, grassroots movement for change. A people's revolt, if you will, against all that is wrong, corrupt and unjust. A revolt against the forces of status quo and a return to the basics. Pakistan needs to rediscover the dream, vision and faith that created it. It probably needs an Arab spring to clean out the dirt, cobwebs and skeletons accumulated over the past six decades.

The writer is based in the Gulf and has extensively written on the Muslim world affairs. Email: aijaz.







On June 26, the electorate in Azad Jammu and Kashmir will elect a new Legislative Assembly. In the 49-member house, the voters elect 41 members, and the remaining eight seats reserved for women and technocrats are elected by the house. Unlike previous general elections, this one is not an electoral duel between the traditional rivals, the Muslim Conference and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The Muslim League (Nawaz), which recently launched its Kashmir chapter consisting mainly of Muslim Conference dissidents, has converted the electoral fray into a three-way fight.

However, the likely outcome is not hard to guess. Ever since 1970, when the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir were granted the right to vote on the basis of adult franchise, the cabinet in Muzaffarabad has been a mirror image of the ruling clique in Islamabad. Since the first general elections in Azad Kashmir were held before Zulfikar Ali Bhutto arrived at the helm in Islamabad, the GHQ was able to install its traditional puppet, the Muslim Conference, as the "government." However, in 1975, Bhutto ensured a PPP government in Muzaffarabad. His nemesis, Gen Zia, dissolved Azad Kashmir's Legislative Assembly the way he torpedoed Pakistan's elected parliament in 1977.

It is ironic that Pakistani rulers, crying hoarse since 1947 for Kashmiris' right to self-determination, denied the part of Kashmir under Pakistan's control even the right to elect its Legislative Assembly until 1970. In 1977 they snatched back even this symbolic right. Hence, to avoid an embarrassing situation, in 1985 onwards electoral process in Azad Jammu and Kashmir has gone on uninterrupted. Even when Gen Musharraf liquidated parliament in 1999, he did not tinker with the legislature in Muzaffarabad.

However, both military dictators and elected civilian governments make sure that Muzaffarabad mirrors Islamabad when it comes to the government. Understandably, in 1985 when the dictator put in place a Muslim League cabinet in Islamabad, a Muslim Conference government was inevitable in Muzaffarabad. Sardar Qayyum, the controversial First Mujahid, was sworn in by the khakis as president, remuneration for his long-time services, while Sardar Sikander Hayat was rewarded with the job of prime minister. However, the Muslim Conference ministry was not punished in 1988 by Gen Zia when he dismissed the Junejo cabinet and the parliament he had himself carefully cobbled together. When the next elections were held in Azad Kashmir in 1990, Benazir Bhutto was ruling in Islamabad. Not unexpectedly, the PPP's Kashmir chapter was able to form the government in Muzaffarabad. Mumtaz Rathore became prime minister. But he was not merely unlucky, he proved defiant too. When Benazir Bhutto was dethroned by the khakis in 1990, Rathore ordered a ceremonial guard of honour when he received Benazir Bhutto in Muzaffarabad. He did not stay long in power. After nine months, Rathore had to dissolve the Legislative Assembly and a fresh election paved the way for the return of the duo of Sardar Qayyum and Sardar Sikander. Fresh elections were held when Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League was firmly in control in Islamabad.

In 1996, Benazir Bhutto was back in power in Islamabad. Hence, elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir produced a PPP ministry. Octogenarian Sardar Ibrahim became president and Barrister Sultan Mehmoud was appointed prime minister. In 2001 and 2006, the 12 Division was supposed to cobble together the government in Muzaffarabad. Hence, the Muslim Conference conveniently emerged victorious in both these general elections. In 2001, the Sardar-Qayyum-Sardar Sikander duo enjoyed its traditional privileges. In 2006 the old duo was sent on forced retirement. However, to ensure continuity Sardar Qayyum's son, Sardar Attique, was appointed prime minister and a retired general, Raja Zulqarnain, became president.

Meantime, Zardari replaced Musharraf's as events took a dramatic turn in Pakistan. Though President Zardari, in spite of all his skills, was unable to bring down the Muslim Conference, three prime ministers faced a vote of no confidence in last three years. The Muslim Conference's Farooq Haider, in collaboration with the PPP, engineered a coup and Sardar Attique was out in 2009. Sardar Yakub was sworn in as prime minister. Only nine months later, Sardar Attique and Farooq Haider joined hands to vote out Sardar Yakub. Finally, Farooq Haider, a protege of Sardar Sikander Hayat, was in the saddle. But before long, Sardar Attique was able to engineer yet another vote of no-confidence and was himself back at the prime minister's secretariat. These petty intrigues generated such bad blood that Sikander's faction split with the Muslim Conference and launched the Kashmir chapter of Nawaz League.

Interestingly, as in Indian-held Kashmir, the Jamaat-e-Islami has never managed to receive a sizeable number of seats in the Muzaffarabad legislature. It hardly gets into the Legislative Assembly, if at all. Most likely, a coalition of the Muslim Conference and PPP will form the next government. The Nawaz League will have to wait for now until a favourable change in Islamabad. The electoral show will go on.

The writer is a freelance contributor.








I received a letter from someone who requested me to write an article on diabetes as this was a serious disease affecting a very large number of people. In deference to his request, I contacted my doctor friends Gen Riaz Ahmed Chowhan, the former surgeon general of the Pakistani army, and Dr Saleem Qureshi, medical specialist at the KRL Medical Centre in Islamabad, to get the input for this column. I also consulted some books.

Diabetes is usually referred to as diabetes mellitus, meaning excessively sweet urine. In 1776 Mathew Dobson confirmed that the sweet taste was because of excessive sugar in the urine. The Indians identified diabetes as far back as the 6th century BC and used to diagnose it by observing whether ants were attracted to the urine. A most thorough research of disease was done by Husain Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980-1037 AD), who provided a detailed account about it in his famous book The Canon of Medicine, in which he pointed out the symptom of abnormal appetite, thirst and collapse of the sexual function. He also pointed out that the disease could lead to gangrene. He treated diabetes with a mixture of herbs: lupine, trigonella and zedoary seed, which considerably control the secretion of sugar – a treatment that is still in use today. He also identified and described diabetes insipidus (meaning "without taste"), in which large volumes of sugarless liquid are produced.

In 1889, the Germans Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski showed that if the pancreas of a dog was removed, it quickly died. In 1910, Sir Edward Albert Sharpey Schafer was the first to suggest that people with diabetes lacked a single chemical that was produced by the pancreas and he proposed calling that substance "insulin," from the Latin word insula, meaning island, in reference to insulin's production of Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas.

Real progress in the field of treatment started in 1921 in Canada when Banting, Best and Collip established that they could reverse induced diabetes in dogs by giving them an extract from the pancreatic Islets of Langerhans from healthy dogs. This was the beginning of the availability of an effective treatment – insulin injections. Banting and laboratory director Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1923, which they shared with Best, Collip and other colleagues. Best and Collip made the patent for insulin production available without charge. Since 1980, Genetech USA produces biosynthetic human insulin in large quantities from genetically altered bacteria.

There are three main types of diabetes:

1. Type 1 results from the body's failure to produce insulin and presently requires regular injection of insulin.

2. Type 2 results from insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to use insulin properly, sometimes combined with an absolute insulin deficiency. Tablet medication is often sufficient in the early stages.

3. Type 3 is known as gestational diabetes and occurs in women during pregnancy without any prior history of the disease. They have high blood glucose levels during pregnancy and it may precede development of Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 is partially inherited and then triggered suddenly by certain infections. There is a genetic element in individual susceptibility to some of these triggers. However, even in those who have inherited the susceptibility, Type 1 diabetes seems to require an environmental trigger as well.

Type 2 is due primarily to lifestyle factors and genetics. Insulin production by the pancreas is, at least initially, not low, but diabetes still occurs as this normal-to-increased amount of insulin is prevented from working (or is inefficient in this) – i.e., sending glucose into cells to use it to make energy.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease which cannot be cured except in some very specific situations. Control means keeping blood-sugar levels as close to normal as possible, without causing hypoglycemia (or insulin shock) – i.e., not allowing it to go so low as to cause headache, dizziness, shakiness, queasiness, clumsy movements, etc. In such cases the vision is blurred, the speech slurred and the heart may race. In severe cases the patient may go into coma and die. In such cases a quick sugar fix – eating or drinking something sweet – helps. Diabetic patients are usually advised to keep chocolates or sweets at hand for such an eventuality.

All Type 1 diabetes patients have to inject insulin every day throughout their lives. They also need to watch their diet with extreme care and monitor their blood sugar levels regularly by having their blood or urine tested.

Type 2 diabetes patients can control the disease without injections. They need a special diet. If the patient is overweight, he/she must lose weight. This increases the sensitivity of body tissues to insulin. It can initially be controlled by pills, usually related to sulpha drugs and known as sulphonylureas.

Diabetes is the leading cause of onset of adult blindness and end-stage renal disease. It increases the incidence of heart attack, strokes and limb amputations. Since no reliable statistics are available for Pakistan, a good guess is that about 10 percent of the adult population suffers from it. Cutting down on sugars and eating dietary fibres like peas, beans, pulses, oats and leafy vegetables helps keep body sugars low. Reduced salt intake controls blood pressure and body weight. Stress-management is a key solution to many ills.

While the diabetics pandemic is global, the epidemic in our country is in a younger, more productive population compared to the West, where an aging population is the more dominant subset which is affected. This increasing epidemic of diabetes in Pakistan – we currently rank fourth in the world – is essentially due to our sedentary lifestyle and our eating habits.

It is important for people to be aware that excessive thirst, hunger, urination and weight loss are symptoms of this disease. It is equally important to consult a doctor immediately. Boils and skin infections may be another indication. Early cataract problems and kidney infections must be treated. Always go to a qualified doctor and get proper treatment. Follow the doctor's advice and prescriptions. Foot problems are a major cause of complications, even leading to amputations and death. Long-term diabetes causes numbness due to nerve damage, particularly in the hands and feet. If you notice this, consult your doctor immediately. Interestingly, babies fed on mother's milk are less likely to develop diabetes.

Recently there has been much talk about kalaunji and darcheeni (cinnamon) as being preventive medicines, but there is no reliable experimental record to substantiate these claims. Some people suggest jamon fruit and others have mentioned the juice of fresh karela (bitter melon) as quick fixes for bringing down sugar levels. However, the most trustworthy method is consulting a qualified doctor.

Contrary to what I stated in last week's column, Gen Waheed Kakar is related to the widow of Admiral Zamir, not to the admiral himself. The error is regretted.








During the budget speech in the National Assembly, the PML-N registered its protest against the federal government's economic policies by presenting the finance minister with roti and also hurled bangles at him. The PPP reciprocated by trying to garland the Punjab chief minister while his finance minister was presenting the budget in the provincial assembly.

Bangles and garlands are powerful symbols in our culture. Bangles are (normally) worn by women and signify festivity, happiness and joviality. But when it comes to men, bangles stand for sheer impotence, meaning that the person is good for nothing. Since in a chauvinistic society no one would like to admit that he is impotent – in whatever sense the word is used – no man would like to put on bangles. Nothing then can be more insulting for a man than if he is asked to wear bangles, and that too by a woman.

Thus, in connection with men, bangles exhibit a very strong sense of disapproval. However, in this case, the PML-N woman MNA who threw bangles at the finance minister wasn't targeting the person of the minister. Her target was the government of which the finance minister is an important part. The target could easily have been any other minister or, for that matter, the prime minister. However, since the annual budget speech by the minister in charge is one of the most important events that take place in parliament, the PML-N chose that occasion to ridicule the way people at the helm in Islamabad are "mismanaging" the affairs of the country. The finance minister can take solace in the fact that the bangles were hurled not at him per se but at the entire government and that the people sitting on the opposition benches regard the whole cabinet of minister as good for nothing, not particularly him.

By the same token, the roti was actually presented not to the finance minister but to all treasury members with a view to putting the message across that the popularly elected government, whose watchwords are food, clothing and shelter, has turned its back on the people, who find it increasingly difficult to make both ends meet.

The garland is a symbol of happiness and success. One of the simplest ways to acknowledge that a person has done or is about to do something worthwhile is to garland him. However, as in the case of bangles, at times the garland can stand for humiliation if it's made not of flowers but of shoes strung together. Evidently, no one would like to wear a garland of shoes. To be sure, the garland which the PPP wanted to put around the neck of the Punjab chief minister was made of flowers.

But does that mean that the PPP believed that the CM had done something which deserved accolades? No, not in the slightest. In point of fact, the party is highly critical of him and alleges that his policies and governance style have driven the provincial government to bankruptcy. Of course, the PPP could have given the PML-N a taste of its own medicine by throwing bangles at the CM or his finance minister or presenting either of them with roti. But doing so would have meant that the party didn't have ideas of its own and couldn't come up with an out-of-the-box way of humiliating or ridiculing its adversaries. The choice of the CM is also suggestive of the fact that the more than anyone else the PPP regards him – for his allegedly authoritarian style of governance and misplaced priorities – as responsible for the "economic mess" into which the province has been thrown.

Ever since an Iraqi journalist in Baghdad did that to George W Bush in late 2008, throwing shoes to express one's anger or register one's protest has gained currency. Some of our leaders have also been at the receiving end of shoe-throwing abroad. However, both the PPP and the PML-N restrained themselves from hurling shoe at the respective finance minister or the chief minister. We still have some courtesy left in our politics.

From symbolism we move to realism. The incidents in the National and Punjab Assemblies bring out the growing strain in relations between the two largest political parties of the country remind one of the tug of war between them that characterised national politics during the 1990s. The PML-N is endeavouring to cast off the impression of being a friendly opposition. The party thinks that all along it has been too soft on the PPP government, which has taken it for a ride on several occasions. And logically if the PML-N goes all out against the PPP, the latter would have to pay it back in the same coin.

The fact of the matter, however, is that both parties are pointing the finger at each other to cover up their own failings and failure. Both the federal and provincial governments have cut a sorry figure when it comes to delivering the goods to the people and therefore both deserve to be presented with bangles and garlanded. The one is as impotent as the other.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email:







The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

If there is anything positive that has resulted from the Abbottabad raid, it is that it has triggered an unprecedented nation-wide demand that the country's armed forces be made fully accountable to the elected civilian authorities. This demand assumed the proportions of a crescendo after the daring terrorist attack on the Mehran naval base three weeks later which exposed some striking gaps in the security of the country's defence installations. In the US military operation that killed Osama, the invading force came from the world's only superpower. The Mehran raid was in one sense even more alarming because it made our armed forces look helpless even in the face of a handful of locally trained and equipped suicide commandos.

Even before these two disasters, the military's public standing had been dented by its ambivalence on US drone attacks and by the mishandling of the Raymond Davis case. As if all this was not enough, the perception that the ISI was behind the murder of Saleem Shahzad finally seems to have broken the long-standing taboo that shielded the military from the oversight of the civilian authorities and the scrutiny of the media.

In response to the public demand for uncovering the truth behind these fiascos, the government has set up – or promised the setting up of – commissions of inquiry. If the purpose was to defuse the public pressure, the move is unlikely to succeed. There is a perception that the government, for its own political reasons, would like to protect the armed forces from an inquiry that exposes their failings before the whole world. The military has received support from some unlikely quarters. None other than Fazlur Rahman has come out against the Abbottabad commission, arguing that if it finds the military to be at fault, Pakistan will suffer. That may or may not be a smart political move on the part of the JUI-F leader, but the fact is that a cover-up will help neither the military, nor the country. It will only further erode the standing of the country's defence forces in a public already angered at seeing the army and especially the ISI acting as a law unto itself.

Nevertheless, some of the debate in the wake of Abbottabad on the army's role in national life has been characterised more by fiery rhetoric rather than the thoughtful deliberation that we need. Typical of the invective being spewed these days by some of our commentators is the outburst denounced the army generals as "political duffers" who support and encourage terrorism and the calls for saving the people of Pakistan from such an army and daring it to "win a war."

Viewed against the background of vituperations of this kind, the statement issued by the corps commanders on 9 June expressing regret that some quarters were trying to deliberately run down the armed forces in general and the army in particular, was a model of restraint and statesmanship. The army also did well to point out that it will defer to the findings of the Abbottabad inquiry commission.

That does not of course mean that all criticism of the military is unpatriotic. The Abbottabad and Mehran raids brought to the fore some of the weaknesses but there is a lot more that needs to be fixed. These issues should be debated openly and without any taboos.

One such area is the lucrative perks accumulated over the years by the top brass, such as gifts of agricultural land, plots in urban housing estates, shares in business ventures and exclusive golf courses for the recreation of the senior officers. The taxpayer has a right to ask how these hefty rewards are contributing to the country's defence.

But those who argue that the threat from India has been invented or exaggerated by the military to justify high defence outlays are either naïve or perverse. The Indian threat has no doubt receded since Pakistan acquired a nuclear deterrent but it has not vanished. India has responded to the nuclear environment by developing the Cold Start doctrine. Unveiled in 2004, it envisions about eight division-size armoured battle groups, backed by air power and advanced reconnaissance capabilities, carrying out lightning strikes inside Pakistani territory and holding key pockets. The Hind Shakti war exercise conducted by the Indian army last May in the plains of Indian Punjab was intended to fine-tune this proactive strategy.

The ordinary people of Pakistan have never shrunk from making the sacrifice necessary – "eating grass" in Bhutto's words – to defend their country. The problem is with the small ruling elite which brazenly refuses to pay its due share of the taxes. It is this class and its allies that have recently become the main critics of Pakistan's defence budget.

While playing down the Indian threat or denying its existence, this same class has declared that the primary danger facing the country is terrorism; that this problem has been created by the army's sponsorship of militant proxies to fight the jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir; and that it is now for the army to crush them through military force. This is a line which is in tune with the current US policies in the region.

But both the diagnosis and the prescription are wrong. The breeding ground for terrorism has in reality been provided by the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. People like Ilyas Kashmiri who take up arms against the state are not suffering from some genetic defect. They have been driven to it by the attempt of the ruling class to perpetuate the current unjust and repressive economic and social order. The army is being used by the ruling class to do its dirty work. How dirty it can get was shown in a video recording of the execution by army personnel of some suspected Taliban captives in Swat last year.

Establishing civilian authority over the military will require not only a change in the military mind-set as Nawaz Sharif has been calling for in his thunderous speeches but also vastly improved performance by the civilian institutions and organs of the state. If the military has in the past been able to grab the space reserved for the civilians, the fault lies in no small measure with our politicians.

In an unusual speech in the National Assembly on 11 June, a PML-N member said that two-thirds of the 342 members of the house do not pay their taxes, though many of them use expensive luxury cars. He wondered how their preaching could be meaningful unless they themselves set an example of honesty. Not surprisingly, his words fell on deaf ears in the august house.

But outside the Parliament, questions are increasingly being put by the people why a tiny predatory class has been given the license to plunder the national wealth. Why is Pakistan probably the only country in the world where the poor man subsidises the rich man through the tax system? What business do those who themselves cheat on taxes have to impose them on others? And what right do they have to pass the budget?

If we are to establish civilian control over the military, we will also have to purge our political institutions of such people. Making the armed forces respect the red lines of the constitution will not be enough.








Getting five opinionated and articulate people around a table in a popular Zamzama coffe-and-cakes café was never going to be a quiet affair. It wasn't, and at one point I noticed from the corner of my eye, the waiters glancing a little nervously in our direction as debate filled the air. Two bloggers, one of them a businessman the other a scribbler, two journos, one being myself and the curator at one of our more significant art galleries were an interesting mix, and what I discovered as a pleasant evening passed by was that, although I had never met three of those at the table before, we had links that went deep into our lives.

The curator and I shared a common friend, now dead, an artist who I had known well. The businessman, when not blogging, was a leading light in the informal flood relief operations that were put together in 2010 and may be replicated if necessary in the future. The scribbler was a blogger I regularly read and has been around the media world for much of their adult life. Those of us that write for a living or for pleasure were all familiar with the work of the others present. The café we were sitting in is owned by the sister of a close friend of mine and the talk around the table for much of the evening was about the place that blogging has in the journalistic spectrum in Pakistan.

It is now about 10 years since the first 'blogs' appeared – 'blog' being a contraction of 'web-log' – effectively an online journal or diary recording the thoughts and feelings of the blogger and open to all who have access to the internet. Blogs have mushroomed like the social media – Twitter, Facebook, Bebo et-al – and Pakistan has no shortage of people who go online to share with the world just what it is that is getting up their nose on that day.

Let me be clear from the outset – I do not blog. I dipped my toe in many years ago, decided I had far more useful things to say in hard print, and abandoned my infant blog after a couple of weeks, never to return. But the bloggers of Pakistan have found themselves an increasingly large niche, and some of them have found their way into the mainstream press where they fulminate and fizz away among the more staid columnists.

Inevitably, discussion in our little kaffee-klatch turned to whether blogging was journalism or not. There were some sharp divides, and given that I am a late arrival on the journalistic scene for the most part I shut up and listened.

At the risk of alienating friends and colleagues I would venture the opinion that blogging is not journalism – yet. It is a form of self-expression that is highly personal and makes no pretence of balance or objectivity (there are exceptions of course) but most importantly it is an authentic 'voice of the people'. Perhaps more specifically it is the voice that speaks to those people in Pakistan who have internet access – 20 million was a figure I heard last week. We agreed that most of that 20 million were looking at porn, horoscopes or matrimonial matching sites but there was still a significant number that, potentially, our bloggers reached not including their global readership which may be in the hundreds of thousands in some cases.

It was a happy friendly evening. We all learned a little of one another. And I got yet another reminder that in Pakistan it's not what you know, it's who you know.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:







THE Queensland ALP's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Committee, known as Rainbow Labor Queensland, had a win yesterday when the state conference endorsed its push to include same-sex marriage in the party's national platform.

In doing so, the conference created another headache for Julia Gillard at a time when the party is struggling to reconnect with its base.

The Australian upholds the rights of individuals to live their personal lives as they choose, but cautions against governments moving too far ahead of mainstream opinion on social issues. Politically, the downside of yesterday's vote is that it will trigger a divisive, heated debate that will draw energy away from higher order issues that should be Labor's priorities, including productivity, industrial relations, the mining tax, the carbon tax, the NBN, interest rates, capturing the proceeds of the boom in a sovereign wealth fund, asylum-seekers and live cattle exports.

Unlike the Greens, whose prosperous, inner-urban constituents are obsessed with boutique issues such as euthanasia, Labor should avoid being sucked into the same vortex. A divisive debate over same-sex marriage at the party's national conference in Sydney in December will do nothing to repair Labor's brand in NSW and Queensland coastal seats where the next election will be decided and where most voters are either indifferent to the issue or socially conservative.

In recent weeks, party elders Neville Wran, John Faulkner and Kristina Keneally have been ruminating about Labor's future. Yesterday's vote might placate some of those whom Senator Faulkner, a son of the Left, fears have abandoned the party in favour of GetUp!. Mr Wran, however, identified a much bigger problem when he said the party no longer represented its traditional base. As Ms Keneally said on Saturday, Labor does not speak well to middle Australia, where the marital "rights" of same-sex couples barely rate a mention alongside concerns over soaring living costs and healthcare.

As Labor struggles to decide what it stands for, a heated debate over the cost benefits of the NBN or the $12 million advertising campaign to sell the carbon tax before the price is announced would have resonated better with voters. Ms Gillard, an opponent of legalising same-sex marriage, needs a heated row over a fringe issue about as much as she needs an invitation to Kevin's Rudd's "assassination day" shindig.






A MONTH ago, Julia Gillard stood by her Fair Work industrial relations system at the Australian Agenda forum hosted by The Australian and UBS, insisting that she did not encounter many business people advocating changes.

At the same forum, the Westfield group's Steven Lowy, Westpac's Gail Kelly and the Seven Group's Kerry Stokes were united about the need for workplace laws to be reformed. Several more major employers have now joined the rising tide of criticism, with retailers Myer and Woolworths and the National Retail Association warning that rigid labour laws are damaging a major sector of the economy and forcing steep wage rises that could cost jobs.

Faced with such advice, Ms Gillard can no longer pretend that her so-called Fair Work system is not a frontline issue as retailers battle robust competition from GST-free internet retailing and the national interest demands that productivity be increased. Nor can Tony Abbott, who fears another Work Choices-style political campaign, sidestep the issue indefinitely now that business has responded to his challenge to speak out about Labor's regime.

Woolworths, which employs 170,000 people, has told the Productivity Commission's inquiry into the Economic Structure and Performance of the Australian Retail Industry that customers want flexible shopping hours but retailers are thwarted by a retail industry award "drafted on the assumption that shopping mainly occurs Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm". As Myer's submission to the commission points out, retail sales have not grown in line with higher penalty rates but more customers are choosing to shop at night and at weekends when the higher rates apply.

It is not tenable that Australian retailers trading after 6pm should pay almost three times the hourly rate paid to staff in the US. As Westfield's submission says, penalty rates have increased costs to the point where it has becomes uneconomic to trade at certain times. This is especially so on public holidays, when shopping centres and latte hubs increasingly resemble deserted villages as traders find the $43-plus hourly wage rates, more than double the normal $17.50, prohibitive. Paradoxically, the students and casual workers whom Fair Work was supposed to protect suffer most as their shifts disappear. The retailers' call for an overhaul of penalties so that retailers have the flexibility to hire staff at times that best serve the needs of customers is sound. The sooner the government acts upon it and the opposition embraces it in an updated policy the better.

Through the Council of Australian Governments, the Gillard government and the states should also boost productivity by acting to abolish restrictive trading hours in different states. Trading restrictions should be limited nationally to Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day morning, as several companies argued. In a global marketplace, rigid trading and IR laws geared to the sleepier, nine-to-five world of the middle of last century no longer serve Australia's national interest. The Prime Minister should free up a workplace relations system that is making a mockery of her "moving forward" election mantra.





PEACE in Afghanistan is a long way off and President Hamid Karzai's announcement that talks with the Taliban involving the US are going well should be treated with caution.

At best, contacts in Qatar with Tayyeb Agha, an aide to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, appear to be talks about the possibility of talks, rather than anything more. There will be added caution, too, because of the previous embarrassing debacle when what was believed to be a Taliban peace negotiator turned out to be an enterprising imposter.

For all that, the current contacts in Qatar represent a potentially significant development at a critical time, since the Taliban have previously maintained that talks were out of the question while foreign forces were in Afghanistan. Mr Karzai's announcement suggests an important softening of this hardline stance. It must be hoped that the killing of Osama bin Laden, as well as 20 al-Qa'ida leaders over the past 18 months, out of 30 identified by Western surveillance, have persuaded Omar to think again. He cannot remain impervious to the much more daunting scenario that confronts him following the success of drone attacks, the annihilation of much of the leadership of both al-Qa'ida and the Taliban and with Pakistan under intense pressure to act more decisively against militants.

The Taliban was never going to be beaten by military means alone. There was always going to come a time for talk. If that process has started it will be assisted by the weekend UN decision to split the sanctions blacklist covering the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. But there is a need for the utmost caution. Terrorism, wherever it occurs, must be confronted, be it in Indonesia, where, hopefully, Abu Bakar Bashir will spend the rest of his days behind bars, or in Afghanistan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said reconciling with an adversary as brutal as the Taliban is distasteful, even unimaginable. But she has also correctly observed that diplomacy would be no challenge if it meant talking only to friends.

The Taliban's medieval obscurantism remains beyond the pale and it is imperative that they be left in no doubt that a precondition for coming in from the cold will be that they renounce the cruel terrorism that is their stock-in-trade. To do otherwise would be to betray the many sacrifices that have been made in Afghanistan.







WITH construction due to start soon on the first of 12 towers planned at Barangaroo, and the first commercial building scheduled to open just three years later, it seems strange that Sydney's planning authorities have still not worked out how people will get there. The first tower alone will house nearly 6000 workers. By the time Barangaroo is finished in 12 years, almost 60,000 workers, residents and visitors will throng there daily. Wynyard, the closest railway station, built in the 1920s and now at bursting point, will be unable to cope. As the NSW Auditor-General's report on Barangaroo's transport planning put it too kindly last week, unless something is done now, "Barangaroo's success could be limited".

Given Sydney's dismal record in transport planning, this inertia is perhaps not so strange. But Barangaroo is not just any development. Occupying a strategic site on the city's western edge, one of its planned functions is to be the headquarters for Sydney's ambitions as an Asia-Pacific financial hub. For most other global cities, modern transport links are integral to such plans. The Barangaroo Delivery Authority claims its plans are world's best practice for new urban precincts. Those plans envisage only 4 per cent of commuters arriving at Barangaroo by car (versus 18 per cent across the CBD now), and63 per cent by train. But, as the Auditor-General notes, achieving world's best practice will only happen "if facilities at Wynyard are also world class". With Barangaroo's high demands, the prospects for that are dim.

The solution lies in upgrading not just Wynyard, but Sydney's whole rail system. A decade ago the consultant Ron Christie warned the then state Labor government that the system was approaching gridlock. Building on Christie's ideas, Bob Carr as premier announced a grand north-south rail extension in 2005, linked through the CBD by a second harbour tunnel. Like the later Sydney metro plan, this could have dovetailed Barangaroo well to the wider network. Both were ditched.

There is now a sense of urgency for the O'Farrell government to move beyond Macquarie Street's glutinous transport history. It is no good for the Premier and Gladys Berejiklian, the Transport Minister, to harp on Labor's failures without offering fresh ideas. The north-west rail line, their showcase project, will not solve things alone: Sydney's gridlock is now such that more than two trains an hour on that line would mean trains having to come off elsewhere. In the transport masterplan the government promises, it should revive the harbour rail tunnel idea. Without it Sydney's future, let alone Barangaroo's, will be limited.


WITH construction due to start soon on the first of 12 towers planned at Barangaroo, and the first commercial building scheduled to open just three years later, it seems strange that Sydney's planning authorities have still not worked out how people will get there. The first tower alone will house nearly 6000 workers. By the time Barangaroo is finished in 12 years, almost 60,000 workers, residents and visitors will throng there daily. Wynyard, the closest railway station, built in the 1920s and now at bursting point, will be unable to cope. As the NSW Auditor-General's report on Barangaroo's transport planning put it too kindly last week, unless something is done now, "Barangaroo's success could be limited".

Given Sydney's dismal record in transport planning, this inertia is perhaps not so strange. But Barangaroo is not just any development. Occupying a strategic site on the city's western edge, one of its planned functions is to be the headquarters for Sydney's ambitions as an Asia-Pacific financial hub. For most other global cities, modern transport links are integral to such plans. The Barangaroo Delivery Authority claims its plans are world's best practice for new urban precincts. Those plans envisage only 4 per cent of commuters arriving at Barangaroo by car (versus 18 per cent across the CBD now), and

63 per cent by train. But, as the Auditor-General notes, achieving world's best practice will only happen "if facilities at Wynyard are also world class". With Barangaroo's high demands, the prospects for that are dim.

The solution lies in upgrading not just Wynyard, but Sydney's whole rail system. A decade ago the consultant Ron Christie warned the then state Labor government that the system was approaching gridlock. Building on Christie's ideas, Bob Carr as premier announced a grand north-south rail extension in 2005, linked through the CBD by a second harbour tunnel. Like the later Sydney metro plan, this could have dovetailed Barangaroo well to the wider network. Both were ditched.

There is now a sense of urgency for the O'Farrell government to move beyond Macquarie Street's glutinous transport history. It is no good for the Premier and Gladys Berejiklian, the Transport Minister, to harp on Labor's failures without offering fresh ideas. The north-west rail line, their showcase project, will not solve things alone: Sydney's gridlock is now such that more than two trains an hour on that line would mean trains having to come off elsewhere. In the transport masterplan the government promises, it should revive the harbour rail tunnel idea. Without it Sydney's future, let alone Barangaroo's, will be limited.






IT SEEMS we'll try just about anything when it comes to losing weight; except eating less and exercising more. The thriving global weight loss products industry is worth about $470 billion a year and when it comes to diet potions even savvy consumers seem to be blinded by wishful thinking. Why else would we be willing to pay for "ear stapling" or the extract of a succulent plant called "hoodia" - once used by African tribes in the Kalahari Desert to suppress their appetite on long hunts - or a spray to "desensitise" our tastebuds and so reduce our food intake. Part of the answer lies in the complex web of social, psychological and dietary factors feeding the obesity crisis in developed nations. However, one issue is simple. We waste our money on all manner of diet quackery because - unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs which must jump multiple regulatory barriers - weight loss products find their way relatively easily onto the shelves.

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) cautions on its website that although "listed medicines" with low risk, pre-approved ingredients, such as herbal weight loss products, are regulated for safety, it cannot guarantee they work. Nevertheless, TGA regulations are also supposed to prevent any claims or implications that these concoctions offer any benefits "in the treatment or prevention of serious illness". This is where the latest "miracle diet aid", SensaSlim, should have come unstuck, claiming as it does to be "the most effective slimming solution available in the world today". Obesity is arguably one of the most serious diseases of affluent societies. More than 60 per cent of Australians were overweight or obese last year, leading to elevated risks of multiple diseases and conditions. The TGA should now be investigating SensaSlim's claims, following a number of complaints. However, the company's lawyers have managed to cynically exploit a legal loophole. By suing one of the complainants for defamation, SensaSlim has managed to delay the TGA's investigation panel because it cannot act while legal proceedings are under way. Meanwhile, SensaSlim can continue to be marketed and sold.

A century ago advertisements reassured the well-padded that they could "abandon table restraint" and "drink not illiberally" simply by popping "Marmola" tablets, an unsafe compound of ground animal thyroid glands and laxatives. SensaSlim is peddling a similar "do nothing" weight loss myth. While the active ingredients in today's diet products are tested for safety, some of the products are dangerous nonetheless. That's because they continue to divert us from the only effective weight loss formula around; fewer calories in, more energy out.






LAST week's resignation of Victoria's chief police commissioner raises questions that go beyond the performance of any one individual. In recent decades politics has intruded on the way the police force operates to the extent that, in the absence of reform, petty rivalries and electoral ambition will continue to undermine the pursuit of justice. Fundamental changes are needed to guarantee the independence of future police chiefs and ensure that the job is kept at arm's length from government.

This is not to imply that Simon Overland or his predecessors were political pawns. The matter is one of perception. Mr Overland, who had achieved much in the fight against organised crime in this state, was appointed by Labor premier John Brumby and from the start was burdened by being seen as Labor's man. This notion gained credence when Mr Brumby and then police minister Bob Cameron indulged in a cheap picture opportunity by pinning the new commissioner's epaulets to his uniform.

Through no fault of his own, Mr Overland was tainted - and the Police Association found it suited their purposes to persuade the public that their chief was aligned to the former government. Of course, the commissioner's decision, in the lead-up to the election, to release incomplete statistics showing a dramatic drop in city assaults and a lower overall crime rate did not give the impression of independence.

Mr Overland's tenure lasted less than seven months beyond the life of the Brumby government. His successor will be appointed by the Baillieu government and will, accordingly, be perceived to be a creature of that government. Given recent trends, it can be expected that there will be tension surrounding police leadership when the government changes again, whether this be after four, eight or more years. Clearly there is a strong case for a new approach.

Kel Glare, who was Victoria's chief police commissioner from 1987 to 1992, has recommended that appointments be made by a joint parliamentary committee to avoid the appearance of political interference. The Age endorses this idea and is disappointed that Police Minister Peter Ryan has ruled it out. On Friday he said: ''The process which has applied for many years under governments of all persuasions will continue to occur.''

Longevity is never sufficient reason for maintaining an unsatisfactory arrangement, yet Mr Ryan has offered no other rationale for his decision. Even his claim that ''this is the finest police force in the Australian nation and we want to make sure we have it being led by someone appropriate to the task'' fails to reassure. At issue is the method of appointment and the independence of the chief commissioner following his or her appointment. Mr Overland was undoubtedly ''appropriate to the task'' but clearly was not seen to have a desirable degree of autonomy. Nor did he receive sufficient support when the Police Association, assisted by sections of the media, ran a relentless campaign against him.

The role of chief commissioner of police should be akin to that of a senior member of the judiciary. As The Age's senior crime reporter, John Silvester, wrote on Saturday, ''If the Supreme Court was placed under the same political pressure as senior police, it would rightly be seen as a threat to the criminal justice system. And yet senior police are forced to battle on without a formal and clearly defined framework.''

He suggested the adoption of a charter of independence - an agreement between the chief commissioner and the government that would protect both sides and make it clear that the top police officer's job is not to help a government win political points. If this were combined with the appointment of the chief commissioner by Parliament, rather than by the government, the public might have more confidence in the operation of the state's police force.





ABU Bakar Bashir is now serving 15 years in an Indonesian jail for inciting terrorism. It has taken almost a decade but justice caught up with the founder of Jemaah Islamiah, the group that carried out the 2002 Bali bombings. This is a milestone in the long struggle against terrorists who pervert Islam to justify their cause. Coming so soon after the killing by US forces of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the September 11 attacks, the conviction highlights Indonesia's success in tackling terrorism as a criminal problem compared with the toxic ''war on terror'' fallout in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

For a decade, The Age has cautioned that military force is not the answer to terrorism. It is sobering to consider that in the months after the Bali bombings, then prime minister John Howard advocated pre-emptive strikes in countries to our north. Indonesia, in particular, showed considerable forbearance. Jakarta and Canberra embarked on a different approach, based on close co-operation between their police and intelligence agencies.

Indonesians, after all, had been every bit as much victims of terrorism. In the Bali bombings, another 130 people died alongside the 90 Australians. A key figure in the partnership, former federal police chief Mick Keelty, was deservedly among the Queen's Birthday Honours recipients last week. He chose to make this observation: ''I think countries all around the world have learnt that you actually need to build societies rather than tear them apart with military force.''

The processes of intelligence gathering, diligent policing and judicial prosecutions can be frustrating. Bashir previously has escaped serious charges or won court appeals. Last week's conviction, based on evidence from fellow extremists, will be much harder to overturn. The trial highlighted the value of capturing terrorists - as opposed to summary execution - to gain intelligence and build a case. The court faced threats and protests, but the Indonesian approach, with its focus on deradicalisation and puncturing the myths of martyrdom, is working. Significant arrests continue to be made. Radical Islamists are being marginalised. Claims of a ''war on Islam'' ring false when the world's largest Muslim nation is prosecuting the case.

Indonesia deserves respect for this achievement despite its profound handicaps of poverty and corruption. The contrast with Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have been plunged into existential crises by the war on terror, is stark. The advances in Indonesia and the wider region show up the immensely costly folly of relying too heavily on military ''solutions''.







A ready-minted new cult figure has stepped forward in the improbable shape of a Dennis the Menacelookalike from Ulster

When Rory McIlroy choked in the final round of the US Masters two months ago, throwing away a four-stroke lead and finishing tied for 15th place after a humiliating round of 80, the golf obituarists were instantly on his case. It would take the young Ulsterman years to get over his collapse, they said. He and his game might never recover. So much for the experts.

Over the past four days, Mr McIlroy has gone right back out and won the next major tournament in the golfing calendar, the US Open. Won it, what's more, in another spectacular lead-from-the-front performance that dwarfs what he nearly achieved at Augusta. Done it, moreover, aged 22 and with the maturity of someone twice that age. And done it, most remarkably, without apparently changing any aspect of his big-hitting game and endearing style.

Mr McIlroy's brilliant victory last night was achieved in precisely the same swashbuckling way that he always plays. It is also a vindication of the human capacity to get over a bad experience, a textbook endorsement of the claim that the best thing to do after a fall is get back on a horse, and dreadful news for trauma counsellors and sports psychologists everywhere. It is amazing luck for golf that, just when the greatest player of the era, Tiger Woods, has gone into apparent eclipse and the greatest player of the generation before, Severiano Ballesteros, has died, a ready-minted new cult figure should have stepped forward in the improbable shape of a Dennis the Menace lookalike from Ulster.





One of the foremost organisations in the burgeoning rural community shop and pub sector and the co-operator's co-operative

The hardest step to take, as any self-help manual begins by explaining, is the first. Organisations that are geared to making that step less formidable are invaluable. One of the foremost is the Plunkett Foundation, which has become the engine of the burgeoning rural community shop and pub sector. The foundation is a second flowering of an idea that came from a visionary Anglo-Irishman, Horace Plunkett, who, in the late 19th-century, saw the co-operative movement as a way of bringing some security to struggling dairy farmers in the Irish south west. As the political situation worsened, he persevered in reforming the administration of Irish agriculture and, when Dublin became too hostile an environment (he was a moderate nationalist at a time when moderation was out of fashion), he took his ideas about "Better farming, better business, better living" to England. His Plunkett Foundation tottered on for another 50 years, mainly as a resource centre, until it found a new mission, once again among struggling rural communities where small farms were a disappearing feature, taking with them the pubs and shops of the locality which were under attack from the cheap convenience of out-of-town supermarkets. The foundation is now the essential first call for any community that wants to keep a shop or pub going. It provides, mostly for free, retail expertise, advice and guides through the legal maze of setting up. It is the co-operators' co-operative






On June 11, just three months after a massive quake of magnitude 9.1 and a mega-tsunami devastated the Tohoku-Pacific coastal areas, the Reconstruction Design Council, a government panel responsible for drawing up a blueprint for reconstruction of the areas, made public a draft of its first proposal, which was to be handed to Prime Minister Naoto Kan over the weekend.

The draft came one day after the Lower House passed a bill for a basic law stipulating guiding principles and a framework for the reconstruction. The Upper House is expected to pass the bill this afternoon. The council took two months to draw up the draft — not exactly an example of speedy work.

The council is Mr. Kan's pet idea. He entrusted it with the work of drawing up a blueprint for reconstruction. But it is unclear whether the council's ideas will be faithfully implemented because Mr. Kan may soon step down as prime minister.

The draft presents measures covering many areas in a rather general manner. It is difficult to discern a definite direction of the council's thinking from the draft.

The draft also avoids mentioning particular points people appear to be interested in, such as whether to continue with nuclear power generation and whether new communities should be built in elevated areas instead of near the ocean.

In the preamble and general remarks, the draft stresses the importance of imagining the worst-case scenario and making efforts to minimize damage from disasters.

In another part, it calls for building a nation resilient to disasters by combining "hardware" such as sea walls and "software" such as educating people on how to deal with disasters. This sounds like just a truism.

The draft rightly calls for thorough studies of how the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant occurred, how it has affected the land and its people, and whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government are properly coping with the crisis.

The draft calls for a drastic review of Japan's energy policy and an accelerated introduction of renewable energy sources. It proposes that Fukushima Prefecture, whose residents are suffering from the nuclear crisis, become the site of studies on how to decontaminate land contaminated with radioactive substances and on the development of green energy sources.

But the draft refrains from saying what Japan should do with the nation's 54 commercial reactors and whether Japan should shrink its nuclear power-generation capability.

At present, more than 30 reactors are out of operation due to regular checks or the effects of the March 11 disasters.

The biggest issue facing reconstruction efforts is how to secure the necessary funds for reconstruction, which is expected to cost more than ¥10 trillion. It is certain that the government will have to float bonds to raise the funds.

The draft proposes that the government pay back the debts by raising "basic taxes," meaning income, consumption and corporate taxes.

One opinion in the council said the repayment of the debts should not be left to future generations, meaning that the current generation should repay the debts through tax increases. Another opinion opposed raising taxes on the grounds that it would negatively affect the economy.

One wonders whether it is wise for the council, which is not a chartered government panel on tax matters, to suggest how to finance the reconstruction. The government and political parties should involve the public in discussions of the issue. There is the possibility that some people will regard the council as merely a means for Mr. Kan to raise support for his idea of raising the consumption tax.

Specific measures mentioned in the draft include increasing agriculture's added value while lowering the costs of the industry; rapidly reconstructing important fishing ports, collectivizing fishing boats and gear, and actively introducing private capital into the fishing industry, and quickly establishing a system in which power companies will be required to purchase all electricity made available by firms that generate power from renewable sources.

The draft also calls for establishment of "reconstruction special zones" to which support measures such as special deregulation and tax privileges will be applied, and for the unification and simplification of rules for land use.

At present different laws are applied to agricultural and residential land.

The draft does not include a specific proposal such as moving local residents to elevated areas from coastal areas so that they will be relieved of the risk of exposure to future tsunami.

This is a difficult issue. Elderly people have strong affinity with their old communities. If the idea of rebuilding communities in coastal areas is abandoned, young people may stop engaging in fisheries and local fisheries may decline. Wide public discussions will be needed on this issue.

The draft also says that the basic units for pushing reconstruction are municipalities. Both the central and local governments should seriously consider how to attain consensus on the reconstruction at the grass-roots level.






In fiscal 2004, the state-run national universities in Japan were given the status of "corporations." The initial six-year "medium term" after this shift to "national university corporations" ended in fiscal 2009. The current fiscal year is the second year of the second medium term.

From the outset, I opposed the "corporatization" of national universities. Indeed, on April 23, 2003, I pointed out a number of difficulties with such a scheme when I testified before the Education and Science Committee of the Lower House.

I believe what I predicted at that time — the consequences of corporatization — has been borne out by events that have happened over the past seven years, although some readers may think I am simply blowing my own horn.

My answer is "no" if asked whether Japan's international competitiveness in science and technology has been strengthened as a result of creating corporations out of the national universities. On the contrary, this country is being caught or even being passed by countries like South Korea and China.

Nor would I agree with the assertion that the quality of education has been visibly improved. Although the number of students from abroad studying in Japan has increased, I see no qualitative improvement.

Teachers at national university corporations now spend much of their precious time drawing up medium-term targets and plans, preparing progress reports and annual programs and writing explanations about research projects in order to win research funding in competition with other schools. As a result, they find it extremely hard to concentrate on their own research.

Moreover, there have been a series of reports by whistle-blowers about embezzlement of research funds by well-known professors at highly reputed universities after they'd been granted research budgets in the hundreds of millions of yen — a phenomenon least befitting to "a sanctuary of learning."

Even without such scandals, a research budget totaling several hundreds of millions of yen is simply too big. Such a large amount of money may be needed at the initial stage of a research project if expensive experimental equipment has to be installed. In my opinion, once the equipment has been installed and the project has started rolling, no more than ¥50 million a year should be allocated toward the costs of expendables, salaries and travel expenses.

But the course of action adopted by the government has been to pour several hundred million yen a year into each of a limited number of projects for five years, on the principle of "selecting and concentrating (investment) on a small number of projects."

For some time, I have been proposing that if there is a budget of ¥3 billion per year, it would be far more desirable to allocate it to 30 projects at ¥100 million each than to support six projects at ¥500 million each.

If the budget is to be shared by a larger number of projects — such as 30 in this case — a review of each project must be conducted at the end of the second year if each is a five-year project. The budget would be discontinued for those projects unlikely to bear fruit and additional funds given to more promising projects.

Since multiple-year projects in general have uncertain factors that humans cannot foresee, it is far more desirable from the viewpoint of cost-effectiveness to let a larger number of projects get started simultaneously than to limit the budget only to a small number of projects.

Ordinary income for a national university corporation consists of operational subsidies granted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, plus its own income from entrance examination fees, admission fees, tuition, and revenues from hospitals. As extra income, it receives scientific research funds from the ministry, remunerations for research projects commissioned by other government ministries and private enterprises, and contributions from business entities.

Expenditures are divided between personnel and nonpersonnel costs.

Most of the national university corporations are in the black, primarily because they have taken thoroughgoing measures to curtail personnel expenses.

For example, when a full-time professor reaches retirement age, a "special duty" teacher who teaches for just three to five years is hired. His or her salary is about two-thirds of the salary paid to his or her predecessor. And no bonus is given.

By the time the initial six-year medium term came to an end, most of the surplus money accumulated had already been invested in hakomono (boxlike objects) — buildings and halls.

Because operational subsidies from the education ministry have been reduced at the rate of 1 percent per year, most universities have sought to reduce personnel expenses to cope with the situation. Thus the quality of their education and research programs has inevitably suffered — unforgivable for an institution of higher education.

The protracted recession, rising unemployment and other unfavorable economic factors in recent years have prompted a growing number of high school students to apply to universities within their localities rather than to big-name universities in large cities. In other words, Japanese national university corporations have become similar to state universities in the United States.

In view of this tendency, the government should endeavor to strengthen national universities located away from metropolitan areas as a way of providing broader opportunities for young men and women in the countryside.

There are a large number of cases of prominent American scholars who first received their undergraduate education at state universities and then pursued postgraduate work at famous private universities with scholarships before moving to a brilliant career.

Not only for the promotion of science and technology but also for a new economic growth strategy in Japan, it is tantamount that all youths at least 18 be provided with equal opportunities to get a higher education at a national university corporation in their area, where admission fees and tuitions are relatively inexpensive compared with private universities.

For all these reasons, I have no choice except to conclude that the introduction of the national university corporation system has been a failure. But we cannot turn back the clock.

I have long argued that because of a serious disparity between large universities and small ones at the outset, and because of the unfair competition between them that necessarily follows, the corporation scheme would bring about a situation in which small universities fall prey to the larger ones.

Now, having been appointed president of Shiga University, a typical, small national university near Lake Biwa and having publicly stated the advantages as well as the disadvantages of a small university, I have been trying to make Shiga University both attractive and vigorous. After having taught at a big national university for 37 years and spending another 13 years as head of an economic research institute, I have learned how difficult it is to implement reform at a large university.

One of the advantages of being small is that reform can be carried out easily.

I call upon officials of Japan's education ministry to bear in mind that the best means of improving the quality of higher education lies in following in the footsteps of Finland: Elevate the standards of primary and secondary education to the highest in the world, and don't concentrate investments on a select few institutions and projects.

Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Japan.






OXFORD, England — Can moral judgments be true or false? Or is ethics, at bottom, a purely subjective matter, for individuals to choose, or perhaps relative to the culture of the society in which one lives?

We might have just found out the answer. Among philosophers, the view that moral judgments state objective truths has been out of fashion since the 1930s, when logical positivists asserted that, because there seems to be no way of verifying the truth of moral judgments, they cannot be anything other than expressions of our feelings or attitudes.

So, for example, when we say, "You ought not to hit that child," all we are really doing is expressing our disapproval of your hitting the child, or encouraging you to stop hitting the child. There is no truth to the matter of whether or not it is wrong for you to hit the child.

Although this view of ethics has often been challenged, many of the objections have come from religious thinkers who appealed to God's commands. Such arguments have limited appeal in the largely secular world of Western philosophy.

Other defenses of objective truth in ethics made no appeal to religion, but could make little headway against the prevailing philosophical mood.

Last month, however, saw a major philosophical event: the publication of Derek Parfit's long-awaited book "On What Matters." Until now, Parfit, who is emeritus fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, had written only one book, "Reasons and Persons," which appeared in 1984, to great acclaim. Parfit's entirely secular arguments, and the comprehensive way in which he tackles alternative positions, have, for the first time in decades, put those who reject objectivism in ethics on the defensive.

"On What Matters" is a book of daunting length: two large volumes, totaling more than 1,400 pages, of densely argued text. But the core of the argument comes in the first 400 pages, which is not an insurmountable challenge for the intellectually curious — particularly given that Parfit, in the best tradition of English-language philosophy, always strives for lucidity, never using obscure words where simple ones will do.

Each sentence is straightforward, the argument is clear, and Parfit often uses vivid examples to make his points. Thus, the book is an intellectual treat for anyone who wants to understand not so much "what matters" as whether anything really can matter, in an objective sense.

Many people assume that rationality is always instrumental: Reason can tell us only how to get what we want, but our basic wants and desires are beyond the scope of reasoning.

Not so, Parfit argues. Just as we can grasp the truth that 1 + 1 = 2, so we can see that I have a reason to avoid suffering agony at some future time, regardless of whether I now care about, or have desires about, whether I will suffer agony at that time. We can also have reasons (though not always conclusive reasons) to prevent others from suffering agony. Such self-evident normative truths provide the basis for Parfit's defense of objectivity in ethics.

One major argument against objectivism in ethics is that people disagree deeply about right and wrong, and this disagreement extends to philosophers who cannot be accused of being ignorant or confused. If great thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham disagree about what we ought to do, can there really be an objectively true answer to that question?

Parfit's response to this line of argument leads him to make a claim that is perhaps even bolder than his defense of objectivism in ethics. He considers three leading theories about what we ought to do — one deriving from Kant, one from the social-contract tradition of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the contemporary philosophers John Rawls and T.M. Scanlon, and one from Bentham's utilitarianism — and argues that the Kantian and social-contract theories must be revised in order to be defensible.

Then he argues that these revised theories coincide with a particular form of consequentialism, which is a theory in the same broad family as utilitarianism.

If Parfit is right, there is much less disagreement between apparently conflicting moral theories than we all thought. The defenders of each of these theories are, in Parfit's vivid phrase, "climbing the same mountain on different sides." Readers who go to "On What Matters" seeking an answer to the question posed by its title might be disappointed. Parfit's real interest is in combating subjectivism and nihilism. Unless he can show that objectivism is true, he believes, nothing matters.

When Parfit does come to the question of "what matters," his answer might seem surprisingly obvious. He tells us, for example, that what matters most now is that "we rich people give up some of our luxuries, cease overheating the Earth's atmosphere, and take care of this planet in other ways so that it continues to support intelligent life."

Many of us had already reached that conclusion. What we gain from Parfit's work is the possibility of defending these and other moral claims as objective truths.

Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the University of Melbourne. Revised editions of his books "Practical Ethics" and "The Expanding Circle" have just been published. © 2011 Project Syndicate








NEW YORK — By a relatively slight margin, the U.S. Congress has rejected an amendment by Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey to declassify files on Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

The refusal to declassify the files is likely to stymie efforts to determine the fate of hundreds of babies stolen or "disappeared" during those years. Many of those babies were born in clandestine torture centers, while others were adopted, or given away for adoption, by the same members of the military or police personnel responsible for their parents' disappearance.

It is not altogether clear whose interests the refusal is intended to protect. One can hardly imagine that national security, or the work of U.S. spies fighting al-Qaida as suggested by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, would be put in jeopardy by not keeping these files secret.

It is not clear whether President Cristina Kirchner's administration is interested in having these files opened. However, if an official request from the Argentine government were submitted, the U.S. government would be hard-pressed, as a matter of international comity, not to reveal at least redacted text of the files.

Aside from governmental interests and politicians' desires to keep secrets, what is at stake are human lives, victims and the administration of justice.

In 1999, during the Clinton administration, Rep. Hinchey presented a similar amendment to declassify documents related to General Augusto Pinochet's administration in Chile. Declassification resulted in the publication of 24,000 documents, some of which proved to be crucial in prosecuting crimes committed during the Chilean dictatorship. It provided clear evidence of Pinochet's connections to the 1976 assassination, in Washington, D.C., of Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his secretary Ronni Karpen Moffitt.

Also disclosed were the plans of Pinochet's secret police to assassinate former Chilean President Patricio Aylwin, the presidential candidate of the coalition, who ultimately defeated General Pinochet in 1988.

In December 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order titled "Classified National Security Information", stating: "I expect that the order will produce measurable progress toward greater openness and transparency in the government's classification and declassification programs while protecting the government's legitimate interests, and I will closely monitor the results."

Failure to disclose information on Argentina's brutal reign of terror cannot be in the interest of the U.S. Government and, to the extent that it may in the interest of some members of the Argentine government, it is unlikely that those interests may qualify as "legitimate."

Both the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have been searching for decades for their disappeared children and grandchildren.

This decision by the U.S. Congress not to open the files only adds to their difficulties in finding their loved ones.

As Rep. Hinchey stated, "The United States can play a vital role in lifting the veil of secrecy that has shrouded the terrible human rights abuses of the despotic military regime that ruled Argentina."

It is about time.

Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award for "Missing or Dead in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims," which was a cover story for The New York Times Magazine. Alejandro M. Garro teaches comparative law at Columbia Law School and sits on the advisory boards for Human Rights Watch/Americas, the Center for Justice and International Law, and the Due Process of Law Foundation.






SINGAPORE — As China's power becomes ever more obvious, especially to neighbors in Asia, Chinese leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile soothing words with assertive actions.

The recent attempt by China's defense minister to assure Southeast Asian countries and other nations that see the South China Sea as a security and economic lifeline shows how Beijing's credibility is on the line.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, General Liang Guanglie recited the mantra intoned by top Chinese officials from President Hu Jintao down: that China's security policy is "purely defensive in nature"; that Beijing will "never seek hegemony or military expansion"; and that China was "committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea."

In his speech to an audience of international defense specialists, General Liang did not mention China's long-standing claim to sovereignty over all the main island groups in the South China Sea and to jurisdiction over surrounding waters, fisheries and seabed resources, including oil and natural gas.

China's claim overlaps those of Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. It forms a vast U-shape covering about 80 percent of the 3.35-million-square-kilometer South China Sea, stretching from Singapore in the south to Taiwan in the north.

From an official Chinese perspective, there is no contradiction between pledges and policy. Since the South China Sea is an "indisputable" part of China's national unity and territorial integrity, protecting it by all means, including the use or threat of force, can only be "defensive."

Shortly after General Liang spoke, the defense ministers of Vietnam and the Philippines challenged China's commitments to a peaceful solution over who should control the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Vietnam's General Phung Quang Thanh warned that there must be no repetition of a May 26 incident in which a Chinese ship cut cables towed by an oil exploration vessel in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone, about 220 km from the coast and over 630 km from Hainan Island, the nearest uncontested Chinese territory in the South China Sea.

Yet, on June 9, Hanoi complained that another of its petroleum survey vessels had been deliberately obstructed by a Chinese fishing boat in Vietnam's EEZ, over 1,000 km from Hainan.

In Manila, China's ambassador Liu Jianchao warned other South China Sea claimants to stop the search for oil and gas in waters claimed by Beijing without its permission.

If a Philippine claim is correct that Chinese vessels unloaded construction materials on unoccupied Amy Douglas reef in the Spratlys between March 21 and 24, while General Liang was in Manila for talks to defuse tensions, it would a serious breach of the Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea signed by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China in 2002. China refuses to make the code legally binding.

Vietnam, the biggest claimant in the South China Sea after China and Taiwan (which maintain similar claims), is also assertive and intransigent in defending its interests. So, too, are the smaller and weaker claimants, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

However, all the Southeast Asian claimants and Taiwan are dwarfed in economic and military power by China. And the gap is getting steadily wider.

Nonetheless, as computer hackers from Vietnam and China campaigned against each other, targeting hundreds of websites, including government ones, amid rising anger over the territorial dispute, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung entered the fray publicly for the first time June 9.

He said that Vietnam's sovereignty over the Chinese-occupied Paracel Islands and over the widely-scattered Spratlys — some of which are garrisoned by China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as Vietnam — was incontestable and would be defended by the armed forces.

Vietnam and the Philippines are accelerating petroleum exploration in waters disputed with China. Beijing is intensifying efforts to deter them.

Chinese officials say that by mid-2010, 180 oil and gas fields and over 200 prospective petroleum reservoirs had been found in the South China Sea. They say that losses for China are equivalent to 20 million tons of oil annually, about 40 percent of the country's total offshore production.

The struggle for control of the South China Sea is not only about national sovereignty and valuable resources. There is a strategic dimension as well. Writing in the China Daily on June 8, Gong Jianhua, a politics professor at the Guangdong Ocean University, explained why.

"With only a small number of disputed islands under its actual control, China lacks channels that connect the sea to the (Pacific) ocean," he wrote. "To become an influential power, China has to transform from a 'continental power' to a 'maritime power.' And the South China Sea dispute is a real test for it to achieve that goal."

Chinese policy, backed by rapid military modernization and an expanding fleet of naval and other patrol ships, is becoming suspiciously like a Monroe Doctrine for maritime Asia.

The original Monroe Doctrine was an 1823 policy statement by the United States forbidding European empires from reasserting control in the Western Hemisphere. Over time, as U.S. power grew, Washington built a navy strong enough to enforce the doctrine.

China may be trying to do the same in the South China Sea.

Michael Richardson is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.








CAIRO — Various internal and external factors have prompted Japan to keep its involvement profile in the Middle East as low as possible for the past four decades.

Since the eruption of the first oil crisis in 1973, Japan has feared negative consequences from any explicit political engagement in the region.

For a country that imports 99 percent of its oil — 90 percent of which comes from the Middle East — any risk that may affect its main source of energy must be diminished.

Internally, its focus on economic policy, together with the legacy of the Second World War that directed the Japanese way of thinking toward not only standing against militarism but also against any expansion in the scope of its foreign policy, accompanied by the international conditions of the Cold War and the strategic U.S.-Japan alliance, put restrictions on the Japanese foreign policy behavior in general and toward the Middle East in Particular.

However, the Persian Gulf War in 1991 represented a very stunning experience for Japan. In spite of contributing a total of $13 billion for both logistic support for the coalition forces and aid to the neighboring countries, Japan was accused of doing " too little and too late," even government of Kuwait failed to list Japan among the countries to which it felt obliged and thankful. Since that time, Japan has learned to approach the region in a different way.

Besides its economic high profile, Japan started to pay much more attention to the security and politics of the Middle East. Japanese direct involvement in the Madrid Conference in 1991 between Arabs and Israelis, dispatching 77 Japanese observers in the Palestine election in 1996 and 45 soldiers to U.N. disengagement troops in Golan Heights, as the first Japanese peacekeeping mission outside East and Southeast Asia, were just a few indicators of Japan's new approach to the region.

The 9/11 attacks in 2001 were another incentive for Japan to keep a relatively high involvement in the area. After those attacks, Japan enacted the Terrorism Law followed by special laws to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq in 2003.

This increasing involvement had three main features: (1) It was directed toward economic and security issues at the expense of political ones; (2) it was based on U.S. foreign policy toward the region and not independently made; and (3) it was directed for the most part toward governments and not toward civil society and ordinary people.

Now with people changing their maps of the region after two complete revolutions created new political systems in Tunisia and Egypt, with the continued uprisings in Libya, Syria and Yemen, which are expected sooner or later to succeed, and with many Arab governments hurrying to take defensive countermeasures in Palestine, Jordan and the Persian Gulf countries, Japan should start restructuring its foreign policy toward the Middle East.

As many changes will follow such uprisings and revolutions in the region, there are expectations that:

• Policymaking will be built on wider participation of nongovernmental actors including civil society and other social movements.

Even in Persian Gulf countries where revolutions seem difficult and could be easily oppressed — Bahrain is a model — it is expected that wider participation and consideration to impoverished classes and other social movements will be admitted.

• Youth, minorities and other historically vulnerable groups in the region will fight more for their rights and most likely they will be able to reach their goals.

• Islamism and nationalism, though being old rivals in the area, will have more common grounds especially toward issues such as democracy, independent national and foreign policies, and Arab-Israeli conflict.

• The cold peace between Arabs and Israel will melt down soon with high possibilities of minor tensions in the short run and more escalations in the long run.

Amid such changes and uncertainties, If Japan wants to secure oil supply, keep its investments and markets highly competitive to the Chinese booming existence and hold Arabs' support for a likely permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, it needs to approach the region differently.

Economically, the old policy of directing Official Development Assistance only to governments must be changed to a direct technical and human assistance for impoverished areas and groups with more cohesive followup schemes.

Cooperation and coordination with governments instead of full dependence on corrupt bureaucratic apparatuses to perform ODA projects are necessities in the coming period.

Grassroots-based economic studies to understand the new mode, needs and mentalities of people in the region to keep Japanese investments and markets open and competitive are highly recommended.

Politically, a direct, explicit and independent involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to be a must now. Costs of such direct involvement are still high, but neutrality or low involvement in such a critical moment seems even more expensive.

Being a critical player in the hot Arab-Israeli conflict like the United States, the European Union, Russia and recently China seems to be the only guarantee for gaining benefits from radical changes in the region where there will be no more gains for free riders or neutrals.

Socially and culturally, Japan needs to work more with people in the region. Understanding and building bridges with civil societies, youth, minorities and Islamists is highly recommended during this transitional period.

Using cultural and exchange programs, opening a strategic dialogue with former education ministry and Japan International Cooperation Agency students, as most of them are now in strategic positions in governments, academia and civil societies and simultaneously owe much to Japan, are all cards Japan can and should play in the region for the coming period.

Enjoying wide respect among people in the Middle East for maintaining a clean and peaceful history in the region, Japan's foreign policy has to have a high political and cultural profile toward the uprising region.

Ahmed Abd Rabou is assistant professor of Comparative and Asian Studies at Cairo University.









Surprising developments on the first working day of the week have overturned the gloomy prospect of the anticorruption campaign in the past weeks into positive progress — despite still in a gloomy mood.

The arrival of reputable candidates, including lawyer Bambang Widjojanto and outgoing chairman of the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK) Yunus Husein, to file their application with the selection committee for the leadership posts of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) on the closing registration day on Monday has wiped out doubts over the future commission's technical capacity and independency.

Although there will still be administrative screening by the committee, a "political nod" by the President on the eligible candidates and a so-called fit-and-proper test by the House of Representatives, the prominent candidates' bid for the KPK leadership posts has blown fresh air into the country's anticorruption campaign. Such high expectations are not without grounds while learning of the country's poor track record in combating the crime.

High-profile cases, such as the Bank Century corruption scandal which has ended up nowhere but a stalemate, the prolonged prosecution of 25 active and former House politicians implicated in alleged bribery that marred the election of Bank Indonesia (BI) senior deputy governor Miranda Swaray Goeltom in 2004 and the latest graft cases implicating former Democratic Party treasurer and House legislator Muhammad Nazaruddin, have been considered a litmus test for the country's, particularly the KPK's, antigraft commitment.

It is therefore understandable if the general public puts much hope on figures such as Bambang and Yunus. Still, there is no guarantee that the Constitutional Court's verdict that upheld the four-year term of Busyro Muqoddas as KPK chairman until 2014 on Monday will bring no consequences on both Bambang and Yunus candidacy. The Court's ruling negated the decrees of the President and the House last year, which stipulated that Busyro, like his four deputies, would complete his term by the end of this year.

The Court's decision will therefore set the term of a KPK chairman different from the other four KPK deputies as the ongoing selection process will therefore elect four deputies of the KPK chief and their terms will end in 2015. And it remains to be seen whether Bambang and Yunus would still be willing to run for the posts of KPK deputies. Such a precaution is not without precedent as a popular and favorite candidate for the post of KPK chairmanship last year withdrew from the race unless he was sure of his chance of securing the chief post at the anticorruption commission. The future anticorruption campaign is however under serious threat as a plan by the House to revise Law No. 30/2002 on the KPK is widely seen as the latest foray intended to weaken the anticorruption drive. Among the crucial amendments sought by the politicians are curbs on KPK authorities that they say overlap those of other state institutions, including the right to wiretap people and officials thought to be involved in corruption. Major graft cases have been unveiled after KPK investigators tapped the mobile phones of certain people.

The revision also focuses on the KPK's zero tolerance on halting investigations, which has been key to the commission's firmness in its battle against corruption. Other law enforcement institutions — the Attorney General's Office and the National Police — have often dropped investigations due to lack of evidence, which in fact has given room for deals that helped breed corruption and transactional politics.

The selection of the KPK leadership is indeed important. But it is much less important than the commitment of all stakeholders of the nation to have the current KPK authorities maintained so as to ensure the war on corruption is won.




Could Ruyati Binti Sapubi have been spared from the gallows in Saudi Arabia? The government must now explain to the public yet another failure to protect its citizens abroad. The 54-year-old Ruyati was hanged on Saturday for the 2010 murder of a Saudi woman who employed her as a servant.

The National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Workers (BNP2TKI) said Ruyati was accompanied by a team of lawyers in court. It also said that she had confessed to the murder.

BNP2TKI and Migrant Care, an NGO that monitors Indonesian workers abroad, reported in March that Ruyati had been sentenced to death and the case was going through the appeals process.

Her death came as a rude awakening to the nation and left many unanswered questions. Did the trial meet minimum international standards for fairness? Assuming she had confessed to the murder voluntarily and not under coercion, was the murder committed in self-defense? Would that not be an important mitigating factor? What sort of intervention did the Indonesian embassy in Riyadh make between March and the execution? Was the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Jakarta kept informed throughout the process? Was her family informed about the imminent execution?

There seems to be a communication breakdown, or else President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono would not have spoken so eloquently at the International Labour Conference in Geneva five days earlier about how Indonesia had improved its mechanism to protect workers abroad.

If the Foreign Ministry had been more open about the case, it could have counted on the public to mobilize support to demand that Ruyati's life be spared. Never underestimate the value of public opinion in diplomacy.

Indonesia could not have interfered in the legal system of another country as it does not want other countries to tell how it runs its own laws. Although Indonesia still has capital punishment on the books, it could have asked the Saudi kingdom to show compassion for Ruyati by looking at the circumstances of the murder as well as her humble background.

The government must improve the way our missions overseas operate, particularly in countries that host many Indonesian workers. Some of these workers are bound to become entangled with local laws. When they do, they deserve the maximum protection possible from the state. This, we feel, did not happen with Ruyati.






Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries currently making the transition to democracy after decades of authoritarian rule should heed the advice given by any decent driving instructor: Check your rear view mirror from time to time, but don't ever lose concentration on what's coming ahead.

Dealing with the ugly past is certainly important, but not as important as building for what is potentially a much brighter future under a democratic rule.

Both efforts will consume much time, energy and resources -- and there will be a lot of frustrations – and they may have to compromise and let go of the past.

They would certainly be wrong to squander the future for the sake of serving justice to the deposed tyrant and members of his close inner circle for the damage they caused the nation.

This is a tough call that Egypt and Tunisia will have to make at some stage during their march toward democracy. They will learn that indulging too much with the past can seriously jeopardize their efforts
to deal with the huge challenges of the present and their uncertain future.

They must fix the economy, and provide basic social services for their people. They must build the necessary political institutions, and probably rewrite the constitution, to pave the way for democratic elections that give legitimacy to their government. They must deal with the pervasive culture of corruption and they must facilitate development.

Since they are embracing democracy, they will find themselves constantly engaging in heated debates in each of these issues. Decision making will be a far slower and cumbersome process.

The current provisional governments in Egypt and Tunisia are already pressing ahead with plans to prosecute their deposed tyrants, Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, to account for misdeeds that could include anything from rampant violations of human rights to corruption.

Going by the sentiments in the Arab streets, their prosecution could easily turn into public spectacles and be used to exact revenge rather than uphold justice.

Next, they will be going after the wealth that the former tyrants, their relatives and friends plundered during their rule.

If the Indonesian experience after its uprising in 1998 is anything to go by, Egypt and Tunisia will be mistaken to think that dealing with the definite past is easier than dealing with the blurry future.

Indonesia was confronted with this dilemma in the early years after the student-led people power movement that ended three decades of Soeharto dictatorship in 1998. Indonesia probably did just enough in trying to deal with the past before it gave up and focused on what lay ahead.

Soeharto was never brought to trial, his henchmen in the military who were responsible for many atrocities escaped with impunity, and the state never recovered a cent of the wealth his relatives and cronies amassed during the three decades of his rule.

Many Soeharto loyalists remain in power, some after turning their backs on him, but many others continue to support him. Golkar, his political machine, has remained in the top two parties in all the three general elections since 1999.

Soeharto never left Indonesia. He appeared in court once to convince judges he was too mentally ill to understand the charges. Soeharto won the battle and was largely left alone in his reclusive house in Menteng, Central Jakarta, until he died in 2008.

Soeharto lost a historic opportunity to come clean by not facing up to the charges in court. President Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000 proposed that if Soeharto agreed to appear in court, he would issue an amnesty the day after the court found him guilty.

The nation would have been more forgiving and even recognized his place in history if he had taken up the offer. Instead, he died in public disgrace. It was Soeharto's loss, but Indonesia has moved on without him.

It was the same story with the billions of rupiah in state wealth plundered by his children and cronies through massive corruption that brought Indonesia to the brink of economic collapse in 1998. His six children who controlled large and diversified conglomerates stayed put in Indonesia, keeping a low profile as they continued to control their businesses.

There were some talks about recovering assets from them, but in the end the government decided, wisely in retrospect, that it wasn't worth the effort and that more attention should be given instead to creating new wealth for the economy.

While Soeharto, his children and his henchmen escaped justice, the new Indonesia had, at the very least, defused any threat of them making a comeback to do more harm.

Once out of power, Soeharto was rapidly aging and his children had been cut off from the business privileges they once enjoyed. The military went through massive reforms and is now effectively under civilian control.

Going back to the analogy of checking the rear view mirror, Indonesia did enough checking to make sure its past remained in the past, and that those who had caused so much destruction to the nation would no longer catch up and return to do more damage.

Thirteen years after the uprising, Indonesia has come a long way to become the democracy it is today — a democracy that is delivering the economic goods as well. While it still has some way to go, the country reached this point by focusing mainly on its present and future challenges.

Egypt and Tunisia have bright futures ahead of them. They too should not let the past bog them down or prevent them from pursuing their more important agenda.

The writer is senior editor of The Jakarta Post and a visiting fellow at the East West Center office in Washington DC.






More than 500 leaders from governments, business, the media, civil society and the academic sector engaged in various sessions to address some of the most pressing issues the world is now dealing with during the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia in Jakarta recently.

With the theme "Responding to the New Globalism", the forum promoted a new idea of globalism that has moved beyond trade. It is also about political, economic, industrial, environmental and social agendas in the global economy.

The choice of Indonesia as the host country should be understood as a good indication of the significance of Indonesia's role in the world forum. As a member of the G20 and the chair of ASEAN, Indonesia has demonstrated its regional influence.

The WEF also built up the country's confidence through its reference to progress in Indonesia's rank in the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI). The country now ranks 44th among 139 economies.

What can Indonesia, as a WEF host country, learn from the WEF on East Asia?

One important lesson is how Indonesia should deal with the lack of infrastructure. The GCI suggests that infrastructure is among the most obvious shortcomings in Indonesia. Indonesia is dealing with a wide range of issues that lead to low investments in infrastructure development. These issues include monopoly practices in various sectors that may lead to inefficiency, for example the management of ports by the Indonesian Port Corporation, the supply of electricity by state power producer PT PLN and the railway sector by state railway firm PT KAI.

A huge expanse like Indonesia, which covers nearly two million square kilometers and consists of five main islands and about 30 small archipelagoes, with 17,508 islands and a population of over 234 million people, obviously faces a mammoth challenge that the government must settle to ensure equity in infrastructure development.

Inequality in access to infrastructure and public services is not only experienced by rural communities, but also those who live in urban areas. For example, with regard to water services, there are 85 million people living in the service areas of water utilities, but only 35 percent of them are served.

Decentralisation reform put more pressure on infrastructure development in Indonesia. Under the law, all public service delivery functions except for defense, foreign affairs, monetary and fiscal policies, trade affairs and the legal system have been delegated to local governments since the launch of regional autonomy in 1999. Hence, decentralization poses daunting challenges for policy coordination.

A view of India's experience with infrastructure development presented by Ajit Gulabchand, chairman and managing director of the Hindustan Construction Company, at the WEF on East Asia provided some interesting lessons for Indonesia. He said, "India is a mixed story. There are grand successes, but also utter failures."

One of the main problems that India is facing is the work allocation between local and central governments. In India, the central and state governments are very strong, while city and other local governments do not have enough authority and autonomy – and they are the ones that implement infrastructure projects.

In a similar vein, Indonesia still has high uncertainty as to which level of government is responsible for the provision of various services despite a number of regulations to clarify the matter. In addition, local governments' lack of capacity to generate income makes them highly dependent on the central government's transfers, indicating that decentralization does not necessarily improve equality in access to public services.

An important lesson from Ajit Gulabchand was the success of a national authority body based on a new model of public-private partnerships in India to develop infrastructure. Before the partnership was established, India could only build 11 kilometers of road per year. After it was established, India could build 11 kilometers of road per day!

Dominic Barton, the worldwide managing director of McKinsey & Company and a co-chair of the WEF on East Asia, added to the list of concerns of developing countries regarding the causes of infrastructure bottlenecks.

The list includes regulatory complexity especially in regard to land acquisition, difficulties that governments of developing countries face to determine their priorities given the complexity of problems they're dealing with and regulatory certainty. He said that there has not been any country that can provide the best example to respond to infrastructure bottleneck issues.

However, Columbia and Chile provide a good example in terms of how governments invite the participation of various stakeholders to plan a collective action working with the private sector to respond to the issues. Again, this highlights the importance of communication with various stakeholders.

It is worth noting that infrastructure alone is not a sufficient condition for economic growth. It is the complementarity between infrastructure development and other factors such as human capital that significantly affects the country's economic growth.

A 2011 article by Yamuchi et. al published in World Development suggests that education and local road quality are complementary, mutually increasing non-agricultural labor supply and income in remote areas.

Given relatively low investments in infrastructure by the public sector, Indonesia should further its partnerships with foreign investors. Lack of infrastructure in Indonesia obviously provides unique market opportunities for foreign investors especially given that there are no significant barriers to trade and investment in the transport and infrastructure sectors.

At the moment, inputs for the infrastructure sector in Indonesia are dominated by domestic supplies and imports from China.

At times, solving local issues requires a global perspective.






Many questions entered my mind when the plan to impose a moratorium on forest conversions was delayed for five months, beginning in January 2011.

I optimistically thought at the time that the President and his staff were pondering appropriate measures to rescue the remaining natural forest in the country.

This hope completely evaporated when Presidential Instruction (Inpres) No.10/2011 on the postponement of new license issuance and the improvement of primary forest and peat land management was announced on May 20.

It turned out the delay was not due to any substantive reason regarding the rescue of Indonesia's natural forests, but rather a maneuver to accommodate the interests of mining companies, oil palm estates, forest concessionaires and timber estates. In principle, the new instruction enables deforestation.

This is evident because the Inpres only governs the deferment of the issuance of new licenses and concerns only primary forests, which even without the regulation are subject to protection.

In other words, the President is allowing entrepreneurs to go on plundering forests that are not primary forests or peat land.

Additional studies have found primary forests and peat land can still be converted by the timber industry, mining operations and estates, owing to a stipulation regulating exceptions.

In a period of five months, the Forestry Ministry issued a number of preparatory permits so that when the Inpres was signed the relevant companies could enjoy liberties to continue deforestation.

What happened in Central Kalimantan as a pilot province for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) proves this.

The Forestry Ministry issued the following preparatory permits for mining, oil palm estates and other forestry companies: 1) Letters of approval for the use of forest zones from the Director General of Forest Planning to eight companies from June – December 2010 covering 107,083 hectares and one company in March 2011 covering 4,336 ha. 2) Letters of principle approval for loaned use of forest zones from the Forestry Ministry to three companies from June – December 2010 covering 2,204 ha and six companies from January – April 2011 covering 4,559 ha. 3) Decrees on loaned use of forest zones from the Forestry Ministry to two companies from June – October 2010 covering 2,011 ha.

The data indicates a very strong connection between the delayed moratorium and the Inpres, which is only focused on primary forests with the stipulation of exceptions. It should be stated that the Forestry Ministry plays a very good role in protecting corporate interests instead of Indonesian forests.

The formulation of the Inpres has cost taxpayers more than US$4 million, the largest budget for a policy drafting in the country's 66-year history, despite its low quality.

Lamenting the policy is no use though. Therefore, it's important for us to keep demanding the
speedy rescue of our forests, certainly by strictly implementing the moratorium on forest conversion for the sake of people's welfare and security.

The moratorium should be implemented in the following ways. First, there will be no more new licenses issued to convert primary forests and peat land and a strategy to fulfill future timber demand will be drawn up.

The existing licenses are to be audited by independent third parties. Audit results are to be used
to annul questionable licenses, particularly those issued not in line with the law.

Second, the most endangered forests will be saved by registering forest areas through re-zoning and recalculating as well as estimating public timber needs at least for the next few years.

Movements to curb timber consumption in society should be encouraged, besides revitalizing the local community's role in forest resources management and preparing the transfer of critical forest zones to local communities.

Third, social issues need solutions. Today, tree felling is only allowed on replanted forest estates or those that fall under community management, which are separately regulated and subjected to strict control.

Later, an incentive policy should be introduced for the development of downstream industries to produce valuable commodities as part of efforts to create jobs and generate added value.

The other aspect to be handed by the government in the moratorium process is the formulation of a policy concerning conflict resolution protocols as a future guide to the settlement of conflicts in the forestry sector.

In the course of the moratorium, the timber industry can continue operating by using raw materials from the existing timber estates or, if they are not yet sufficient, timber materials can be imported from other countries, because the use of materials from natural sources at home equally eliminates the benefit of the moratorium itself. To facilitate control, the types of wood imported should be different from those found in Indonesia.

The writer is head of the international relations and climate justice department at the Indonesian Environment Forum.









Global concern for human rights has rarely been about human rights. As tragic as it may be more often than not, vested interests largely swathed in dollar funds have played a heavier role. The number of international lobbyists for human rights whose agendas seek personal or political identities far outweigh those who carry real concern for humanity.

Yet, the global political reality is such that this minority can effect real harm and have the support of global giants be they in commercial or political arenas. How often has the world woken up to thermal power lobbyists blocking green energy options in the guise of environmental protection in the developing world? Or, arms dealers found lurking albeit in considerable strength behind peace groupings that never seem to succeed.

The danger however lay in the fact that these groupings can have the power to veer government policies away from a cleaner environment, greater opportunities for societies assert themselves and destabilize strong governments with clear mandates to rule. The calls for rights, democracy and equality have increasingly signified deeper and sinister practices that threaten human society. Such threats seem obvious in the Sri Lankan political theatre today.

Denied the dignity of victory over as thirty year long suffering under the cruelest form of terror under the LTTE; the manner in which certain sections of the international community is seeking to threaten our country today is a clear manifestation of all these sinister elements at work. The force with which the groupings act against the incumbent government is indicative of a global threat that smaller developing nations like Sri Lanka are increasingly faced with.

It is only in clever and diplomatic handling of such criticisms and dangerous agendas that the Colombo administration can hope to win this war. A commitment to justice that reveals itself through equal rights enjoyed by all and deeper appreciation of democracy manifest itself by the engagement of all peoples                                                                                              irrespective of class or ethnicity are ways in which the government can prove victor. It is imperative that the government uses the best possible means to go this extra mile to prove its worth both to its people and each and every member of the international community that desires its destruction.





Reports about the Government considering a parliamentary select committee to draft a Bill on a possible political solution cum power-devolution are wrought with possibilities. Thus far, Governments have been doing the drafting part in most cases, and Select Committees of Parliament examining the same for acceptability and viability. The full House, and at times in a subsequent case, courts would have had their say.

The reported plan, if true, is aimed at arriving at a national consensus to what essentially has always been described as 'the national problem'. Given the two-thirds majority that the ruling SLFP-UPFA commands in Parliament, it could cut either way. On paper, it could bulldoze its way and get any legislation, including constitutional amendments passed without a whimper. It can, at the same time, let 'democracy' prevail, and let smaller parties and ginger groups within the combine to lead the House.

The Government would still have to carry the rest of the nation's polity, particularly from within the majority Sinhala community with it, and has to be seen as doing so. At the same time, the Government cannot escape the responsibility for ensuring that an equitable package aimed at meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamil minority is not overlooked.

Perceptions flow from the basic premise that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, having won the war against the LTTE, is capable of delivering peace, the same way. The war, he won, on the terms of the Sri Lankan State. For lasting peace, he has to carry the nation's diverse polity with him. He has to have the TNA's acceptance and the Tamil Diaspora's attestation before hand, if any such proposal has to succeed.

Clearly, there is trust-deficit on this count. The world believes, and the Tamil community and polity do so even more that President Rajapaksa has been dodging and delaying. If President Rajapaksa cannot offer power-devolution and peace-package to the Tamil community now, no one in his place can do so for decades more.

That is also true of the Tamil political leadership, particularly of the TNA. If the present-day Tamil leadership cannot convince the community – and the Diaspora to a lesser extent – about the desirability of accepting an incremental, at times asymmetrical political settlement that would fall short of the pre-war expectations and goals, none in its place can do so. The Government should then be aware of the avoidable possibilities, on which theories can be postulated and episodes posited, through Sri Lanka's future.Both sides suffer from a substantial element of mutual suspicion and mistrust. Even those sections of the Tamil community that felt relieved that the armed forces had obtained freedom for 300,000 brethren held hostage by the LTTE have since been charging the Government with 'war crimes' and manslaughter. The Diaspora was as much dumb-founded by the numbers as it was vociferous about future charges of 'war crimes'.

Independent of leaders and the Government of the day the Sri Lankan State seems to be uncomfortable with the TNA, seen by some as fellow-travellers of the LTTE at its peak. Sections of the Sinhala polity, both from without and within the Government see their honest appraisal of the post-war situation as a calculated tactic to purchase time, for future generations to revive the forgotten goal of a separate nation. It is in this background that the Government and the TNA commenced official negotiations on power-devolution in the first half of January this year. Six months down the line, we are already talking about a parliamentary select committee having to draft devolution proposals. Ironically, there is no clarity if the Government and the TNA have agreed on the basics, and if the drafting stage had at all been reached.

The TNA at least is on record that the Government was stalling, through and through. There have been continuing and conflicting signals from the Government on core power-devolution issues such as Police and Land powers for Provincial Council(s). There is also no clarity if changes, where proposed and accepted, would be holistic in nature and cover the whole nation, or will be incremental in context and asymmetrical in character. There are other elements in the existing Constitution, where implementation of power-devolution has been tardy or overlooked, through decades of negotiations of differing kinds. There is lso confusion about the 'Concurrent List', where it is unclear if the current stalemate owes to the constitutional position or implementation.

Occasionally over the past weeks, the ruling SLFP and the main Opposition UNP have been trading complaints against each other that the other side had not said enough on devolution for them to act upon.  The right-leaning JHU partner in the Government has firm views on the subject, and also about the TNA. The JHU's urban middle class constituency has been pro-active in recent months.

The unquantifiable alien is the Left yet Sinhala-nationalist JVP. It has fewer parliamentary seats than in the past to dictate the course of select committee proceedings but has displayed enough lung-power across the country over the past months on other issues targeting the Government. Its history of initiating and instigating two insurgencies in living memory is not a comforting thought for whoever rules from Colombo. Yet, the JVP, since the conclusion of the ethnic war, has also been displaying a visible sympathy to the larger 'Tamil cause'. How, it would translate into action and pro-active political decisions, if at all, are unclear.

On the side of the Tamil-speaking people, the SLMC, which through the post-war period had been hinting at internal arrangements with the TNA, now wants the invisible third seat that it had demanded earlier under the Oslo process. The party is also critical of the Tamil Nadu Assembly resolution on war crimes and sanctions, proving to be more Sri Lankan than thought to be. It would have been untenable otherwise as the SLMC is very much a part of the Government, which is at the receiving end.

Less said about the respective differences within the Sri Lankan Tamil and Upcountry Tamil communities the better. The TNA, which was expected to take the initiative in evolving a consensus from within the Sri Lankan Tamil polity and the larger Tamil-speaking community, has been found wanting. Their internal divisions also keep showing up occasionally.

The responsibility of getting out of the maze is thus expanded to cover a larger arena with more stakeholders than confining it to the Government and the TNA or the spectrum of Tamil parties. The initial responsibility of convincing each other and convincing the rest is thus cast now not only on the Government but also the TNA – and neither can continue to play the blame game eternally, and expect their situation to impqove.





The world is seeing the greatest mobility of people in human history. Hundreds of millions are on the move – many without authorisation – to wealthier and growing economies north and south.

The consequences of these migration flows are challenging the capacities and finances of government authorities and intergovernmental organisations as well as public attitudes towards immigrants.

The most recent example is now playing out along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea with tens of thousands leaving northern Africa for southern Europe. These extraordinary migration flows are creating shocks that challenge the basic foundations of the EU, especially the principles of free movement, open borders and asylum. The sudden flows have led to the widely reported diplomatic spat between France and Italy and a challenge to the Schengen Agreement, which was signed in 1985 and guarantees free movement among 25 nations, covering a population of more than 400 million, which essentially share one external border. The quarrel was sparked by the French authorities' refusal to let the French-speaking Tunisian migrants with temporary residence permits issued by Italy cross the border from Italy, and was patched up by direct intervention of President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

This human tide is also shifting the political landscape throughout Europe, with mounting public support for anti-immigration legislation and parties of the extreme right. In Denmark, in response to pressure from the right-wing populist Danish People's Party, the government has unilaterally decided to reintroduce permanent border controls. Mediterranean border nations, such as Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain, regularly complain that the EU neglects immigration, burdening them with the costs of illegal immigration. In France, the immigration issue has catapulted the political career of Marine Le Pen, head of the right-wing National Front, who advocates a moratorium on immigration.

A half century ago 77 million of the globe's people were immigrants, meaning they live in a place different from their place of birth; today the figure has nearly tripled to 214 million, increasing at nearly two per cent annually. If past migratory trends continue, as seems likely, the projected number of international migrants by mid-century could exceed 500 million. Today the number of refugees is estimated at 15 million, with the largest single group – nearly 5 million – being Palestinian refugees.

Although many economies in the West are in recession, conditions in developing nations, especially in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America, are worse. Consequently, the numbers of people attempting to leave their homelands are increasing, along with border apprehensions and deportations.

More recently, political upheavals in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have produced large numbers of desperate migrants, seeking work and refuge in Europe. As a result of these abrupt migratory streams as well as fears of additional future flows, the European Commission has proposed allowing EU countries to reintroduce national border controls – on a temporary and exceptional basis – aimed at policing illegal migration. However, public opinion polls show that majorities across the EU want their national governments, not the EU, to manage who and how many enter their country. Countries such as Denmark, France, Germany and the Netherlands fear that migrants entering EU border states, in particular Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain, will gravitate to their cities, destabilising local labour markets and social solidarity.

The commission is also proposing tightening border controls outside the EU to reduce arrival of illegal migrants and asylum seekers coming mainly from war-torn countries in Africa and Asia.  While tightening border controls may reduce illegal migration at least temporarily, it's also likely to increase smuggling. Despite the high costs and risks, many young adults are not deterred in embarking on dangerous trips with hopes for better lives.

Despite the public desire in most receiving countries to reduce immigration, the huge differences in living standards and enormous demographic imbalances between the more and less developed regions are creating powerful migration forces. On the one hand, many European countries, such as Germany and Russia as well as Japan and South Korea, are entering a period of demographic decline and rapid population aging, and these trends are expected to continue. For example, while the proportions in the labour forces in those countries are projected to decline by at least a fifth, the proportions of elderly are expected to increase by more than 40 per cent. For many of these countries, a critical dilemma for the 21st century is either more immigrants with distinctly different ethnic backgrounds or fewer citizens with a decidedly older population age structure. More immigrants are economically desirable, but culturally hard to accept.

On the other hand, the populations of most sending countries, such as India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Mexico, continue to grow. During the coming decades millions are expected to migrate from these countries to the large cities of more developed regions. Without this migration, these countries would not only lose valuable remittances, but also a demographic outlet for frustrated youth.

All governments profess their intentions to manage international migration, accepting immigrants of their choice after carefully vetting them for health, income, age, education and country of origin rather than accepting those unknown who enter countries illegally. However, skimpy efforts of governments to confront illegal migration are likely to be too little, too late. Many still advocate open borders on ethical and humanitarian grounds, believing that people should be able to move as freely as capital and goods. But not effectively addressing illegal migration not only puts at risk the lives of those who attempt to enter unlawfully, but also undermines the rule and enforcement of law, increases the costs for local services and border and internal surveillance, reduces support for legal immigration and fuels anti-immigrant sentiment among the public.

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, is research (director at the Center for Migration Studies, New York.(© 2011 Yale Center for the Study of Globalisation





Actress turned politician Jayalalithaa Jayaram's triumphant return to the seat of power in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu has  added a vibrant dimension to the "Intermestic"relationship between India and Sri Lanka. Jayalalithaa elected as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the third time has in her current "avatar" seemingly  transfigured into an ardent champion of the Tamil cause both in India and Sri Lanka.

Tamil Nadu state formerly known as Madras is home to six million Tamils who share a fraternal ethno-linguistic  affinity with more than two million Tamils in Sri Lanka.This  reality has had an inevitable impact on relations between Sri Lanka and its giant neighbor.

The nature of this relationship has been described as "Intermestic"by some analysts and political commentators. The term "Intermestic" was first used by Henry Kissinger to explain international issues having domestic economic implications like for instance the middle-eastern situation abroad impacting on the price of gas in the US. The term coined by Kissinger took the "inter" from International and "mestic" from Domestic.

It was  veteran Journalist Mervyn de Silva who popularised the term in Sri Lanka.Mervyn  was then editing the "Lanka Guardian" fortnightly and writing a weekly column for "Sunday Island". Mervyn in his writings  applied the term to all issues crossing the boundaries between the International and the domestic and belonged to both spheres thereby necessitating this sub-category.

According to Mervyn, Sri Lanka's Tamil issue was for Sri Lanka a domestic issue with an international spillover and for India it was an international issue with a domestic spillover. Hence for both Colombo and New Delhi it should be regarded as INTERMESTIC, i.e. "at the interface of the international and the domestic".

The Indian establishment has in recent times taken cognizance of this intermestic reality as far as possible in dealing with Sri Lanka.When India began to actively intervene  in Sri Lankan affairs in the aftermath of July 1983 one of the reasons cited for such a stance was the Tamil Nadu factor. With more than a 100.000 Tamils seeking refuge in Tamil Nadu there were valid grounds for New Delhi to offer its "good offices" to help resolve the Tamil national problem in Sri Lanka.

The Central Governments led by Indira Gandhi , her son Rajiv and VP Singh made it a point to consult and inform former Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers MG Ramachandran and Muttuvel Karunanidhi on issues pertaining to Sri Lanka from 1983 to 1987 and 1989 to 1991.A state minister in MGR's administration –Panrutti Ramachandran-played a constructive role  in Indo –Lanka matters then.

While the intermestic factor remained a constant in Indo-Lanka relations the Tamil Nadu equation had lost its effective  vibrancy during the past few decades. The political inter-play between regional parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) and All –India Anna –Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham(AIADMK) and national parties like the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contributed to this greatly.

Instead of Tamil Nadu playing a prominent role in the interests of Sri Lankan Tamils in shaping policy towards Sri Lanka the state virtually abdicated its status and let itself be "managed" by New Delhi on this matter.

The 20 years between 1991 and 2011 has been equally shared by Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. The AIADMK ruled in 1991 -1996 and 2001 – 2006. The DMK ruled in 1996 – 2001 and 2006 – 2011.

In the case of Jayalalithaa she distanced herself voluntarily from the Sri Lankan issue in the past due to her antipathy towards the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Moreover Jayalalithaa pursued a hostile policy towards the LTTE in particular and Sri Lankan Tamils in general. This enabled the central government to continue with its "hands off"policy towards Sri Lanka in the 1991 – 2006 period.The Tamils were friendless in the  Indian corridors of power.

While Jayalalithaa was frankly forthright on her policy towards the issue her bête noire Karunanidhi was diabolically ambiguous.Karunanidhi was keen on the one hand to retain his image as a fiery Tamil nationalist and leader of the global Tamil community on the one hand while maintaining a power sharing relationship with the Indian central government on the other.In short he tried to project himself as both the protector of the milk and friend of the cat.

The DMK shared power at the centre in the years from 1996 to  2011 with different dispensations. The DMK was a component of the  "third front" configurations of Deve Gowda and Gujral as well as the BJP  and Congress led governments of AB Vajpaye and Manmohan Singh.Karunanidhi made appropriate noises and engaged in imaginative stunts occasionally on the Sri Lankan Tamil predicament but failed to initiate any meaningful transformative action.The role of Tamil Nadu acquired  controversial importance in the past few years when Indian policy changed decisively on Sri Lanka. New Delhi adopted a covert stance in assisting Colombo to prosecute its war against the LTTE towards its logical conclusion. It also prevented international efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities in the final stages of the war so that the Sri Lankan armed forces could go ahead and decimate the LTTE as envisaged by New Delhi.

Karunanidhi's core constituency of Tamil nationalists in India and abroad was disillusioned and even enraged by his conduct as chief minister during this critical phase of the war against the LTTE.Instead of protesting vehemently against the situation in Sri Lanka as was expected by Tamil nationalists the one –time Tamil ultra-nationalist went along with New Delhi diktat while making occasional squeaks. Also more evidence has come to light that the ex –chief minister was collaborating indirectly in the war effort while professing to be against it publicly.

Karunanidhi's conduct from a Tamil nationalist perspective was described as  a gross betrayal. Three reasons can be adduced for Karunanidhi toeing the New Delhi line obediently.

 Firstly the DMK was a minority government in Tamil Nadu and depended on Congress support. Secondly the DMK was a partner in the Congress led Central Government with Karunanidhi's son Azhagiri and grand nephew Dayanidhi Maran being ministers and daughter Kanimozhi  waiting in the wings for a cabinet portfolio. Thirdly the DMK was indulging in corruption on an unimaginable,gigantic scale through its influential position in the Central government.

The end result of all these developments was a perceived weakening of  Tamil Nadu's role in the intermestic equation of Indo –Lanka relations. It was indeed ironic that the most powerful embodiment of Tamil militancy in contemporary history was demolished militarily with the passive collaboration of the chief minister of  Tamil Nadu regarded at one time as the greatest champion of the Tamil cause.

It is against this backdrop that the re-emergence of Jayalalithaa has to be viewed. Before analyzing her victory and pondering on  the future of her political course let me briefly focus on her as a person. We in Sri Lanka are going to hear much of this  alluring ex-actress who is now the most powerful political leader in Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalithaa was born on Feb 24th 1948 in Mysore in Karnataka state. Because of this many think she is a Kannadiga and her political rivals often call her that.

The reality is that she is from a Tamil Aiyengar Brahmin family hailing from Sreerangam in Trichy. Her grandfather was a physician in the service of the Mysore Maharajah. Hence the family relocated to that state.In the current election she returned to her roots and contested in the Sreerangam constituency. She won with a thumping majority.

Despite her detractors ridiculing her as a "kannadiga" Jayalalithaa has always been proud to assert her Tamil identity.

In 1970 long before she entered politics Jayalalithaa told a Kannada journal that she was a Tamil and not a Kannadiga. This caused a furore in Karnataka.

When Jayalalithaa was shooting for the Tamil film "Ganga Gowri" in Bangalore (now Bengalooru) a Kannadiga mob led by Vattaal Nagaraj  surrounded her and threatened to kill her if she did not retract.

But the courageous Jayalalithaa refused to be intimidated and stood her ground re-iterating that she was "Thamizhian"and not a "Kannadiga"

Jayalalithaa's father Jayaram was a an irresponsible wastrel who squandered the family fortune. This led to her mother Vedavalli becoming a film actor to support the family.

She took on the name Sandhya. Soon she relocated to Chennai or Madras as it was known then
Jayalalithaa's given name was Komalavalli but  took on the name Jayalalitha later. Her pet name at home and school was/is  Ammu.She studied at the elite Bishop Cotton High school in Bangalore and later at the Church Park convent in Madras.

In 1964 She passed out second in the state matriculation exam and was given a merit scholarship.She did not pursue higher studies as her destiny was films.

She learnt Bharatha Natyam and carnatic music and had her dance arangetram in may 1960.It was held at the Mylapore Rasika ranjani sabha hall. The veteran actor Sivaji Ganesan who presided called her a "thangachilai" or golden statue on account of her fair, glowing skin.

Veteran film director BR Bhanthulu saw her at a film function and got her to act in a Kannada film"Chinnada Gombe". The maestro Sreedhar gave her a break in Tamil films. She played the role of a schizophrenic widow in "Vennira Aadai" (White dress) and got rave reviews.

Her passport to success was her second Tamil film "Aayirathil Oruvan" (one man in a thousand) where she played leading lady to MGR. Despite the 32 year difference in age the duo was a hot pair. They acted together in 28 films.

Among her successes were "Adimai Penn", Naan, Maatukkaara Velan"Aathiparasakthi" "pattikaadaa Pattanamaa", Kavalkaran" Engiruntho vanthaal" etc. Her last film was "Nathiyai Thedi Vantha kadal" in 1978.

Jayalalithaa has acted in more than a hundred films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada , Hindi and even one English movie "The Epistle". More than 70 of these ran for more than a hundred days in theatres.

She has also sung songs in her own voice in some if not all films. She has a creamy, croony voice. Her first film song was "amma Endraal Anbu" in the film "Adimai Penn".It was written by Vaali and music composed by KV Mahadevan.

An accomplished dancer she lit up the screen and stage by her performances. Her dance drama "Kaviri Thantha Kalaichelvi" was a smashing success.

She exuded chic and elan in her film career and was a favourite among teens of that era. Many of her costumes were designed by her.She was one of the first heroines to don bathing costumes. Jayalalithaa was a bombshell in bikini.

Jayalalitha was versatile. She has been a columnist, short story writer, novelist and film producer.

Her house named "Veda Nilaayam" after her mother is in Poes Garden. There is an indoor skating rink built there.

She also has a grape arbour in Andhra Pradesh and an estate in Kodanadu  which she uses to get away from the madding crowd.

It was MGR who brought her into politics. After his death in 1987 the ADMK founded by MGR split with his wife Janaki and paramour Jayalalithaa leading the two factions.

Jayalalithaa triumphed and the party united under her leadership to sweep the polls in 1991. She was elected chief minister.She remains the imperious yet undisputed leader of the ADMK today.

Few in her party dare to call her by name and so she is either "Amma" Or "Madam" or "Thalaivi" . Since MGR was called Puratchi Thalaiver or revolutionary leader, Jayalalithaa is addressed by its feminine equivalent "Puratchi Thalaivi". Like MGR she too is called "Ithaya Deivam" (Goddess of the heart).

Many in her party treat her as a living Deity and at least one of her former ministers used to pat  his cheeks reverentially when referring to her.

Some ministers have gone on record saying their ambition in life is to be her servant or a watchdog in her kennel
There was a time when in a movie called "Thanipiravi" MGR played Lord Muruga and Jayalalithaa his consort Valli in a dream sequence. A picture of both together as Murugan and Valli was framed and worshipped by many.

Likewise Jayalalithaa has played divine roles in many other films. Pictures of Jayalalithaa in such roles as "Ahilandeswari" and "Aathiparasakthy" are hung in many dwellings. Some people light camphor and lay flowers before them.

Sycophancy went to the extent of depicting her as the Madonna in posters. Enraged Catholics protested and the posters were removed.

Falling at her feet or touching them as a mark of respect is almost a ritual for many of her followers. Touching or falling at the feet of elders to seek their blessings is customary in India.

But in the case of Jayalalithaa, ADMK sycophants have taken this practice to ridiculous levels. Even party veterans older than Jayalalithaa prostrate themselves publicly.

Once she was questioned by a north Indian journalist about this "falling at feet" practice and asked why she did not put a stop to it. She replied that her supporters were doing so voluntarily due to their affectionate regard for her and that she was unable to prevent it .

This was not correct because it was well – known that she like it and encourage it.That's why the sycophants do so. Jayalalithaa also utilises this act to humiliate people.

In one instance a man who had left her party and criticised her returned to its folds again. The media was called in to witness the return of the prodigal. This man KKSR Ramachandran was a big – made man with a very big moustache.

He was required to prostrate himself four times before a smilingly – seated Jayalalithaa with his bristling moustache rustling her toes under the pretext that the photographers had not got a good shot. The picture was released to all papers.

Like Imelda Marcos , Jayalalithaa herself had a fascination for footwear. There were media teports and pix of her 800 plus shoes, sandals and slippers.

A funny feature  are the sycophantic references to her feet by party men when commencing their speeches. In a disgusting spectacle they begin by paying homage to her "Potpaadangal" (golden feet) or "Thamaraithiruvadigal" (Lotus feet).

One point on which she is often criticised about is her arrogance. She is virtually a dominatrix with party people and treating them like her minions and serfs.

There was a time when Jayalalithaa would be the only person sitting on a stage while others would remain standing or seated on the floor. Later she dispensed with this practice but allows only selected people to sit next to her.

At inner meetings of the party she remains seated while the rest sit on the floor or remain standing. There have been press conferences where her ministers stood behind her with folded hands while she sat on a sofa.

During election campaigns Jayalalithaa goes around on whirlwind tours in her luxurious trailer – van. Short roadside meetings are held where candidates have to stand on a stool while she talks. Even former Congress central cabinet ministers like Mani Shankar Aiyer had to undergo this.

There is no inner party democracy in the ADMK. Jayalalithaa appoints, removes, transfers, promotes, demotes, expels and recruits at her own discretion. Ministers were appointed, fired or shuffled according to her whims. Her wish was the party's command. None dared to disobey let alone defy.

She is an autocrat who does not tolerate criticism. She looks down upon the media and brooks no dissent.

While her haughty demeanor and arrogant attitude deserves to be condemned there is perhaps a rationale for such behaviour. The ascendancy of Jayalalithaa in a Tamil Nady milieu can be viewed as an ironic contradiction.

Despite the breeze of cosmopolitanism blowing in through Globalization , the state of Tamil Nadu is basically conservative. It is a patriarchal , male – dominated society with strict notions of a woman's role and place. Jayalalithaa is a woman.

Tamil Nadu society at large has contempt for women actors in the cine field who do not behave as "good" women should.Woman film stars in spite of their glamour are not respected and regarded with disdain in private. Jayalalithaa was an actress.The dominant political ideology in the state is that of Dravidianism. This is based on archaic concepts of the Aryan – Dravidian divide where the Brahmin community  is seen as Aryans and other Tamils as Dravidians.Anti – brahminism is a core element of Dravidian discourse. Jayalalithaa is a brahmin.

Thus one can see that the Jayalalithaa phenomenon goes against the grain of three dominant concepts in Tamil Nadu. She is a woman, a film star and a brahmin. The success of this embodiment in the socio – political realm of Tamil Nadu is a contradiction. Jayalalithaa in a way is an exception or aberration.

In that context the situation can be quite dicey for her. If she were to be democratic and easy – going the people surrounding her would exploit it to their advantage. Instead of appreciating her conduct they would very likely regard it as a weakness to take advantage.

After MGR's death Jayalalithaa was quite vulnerable. It was then that she realised she had to assert unquestionable superiority over her party people to remain in control. Superiority and not equality was necessary. The followers had to be put in place as inferiors.

This she began to do. Soon she became an authoritative figure. She grew into her role and her inherent traits of arrogance came to the fore.

Contd. on A16


She humiliated her followers to show who was boss and trampled them underfoot. Incredible as it may seem they seem to like it with even highly educated professionals paying pooja horizontally to the boss lady.

This state of affairs may help to understand the reasons for her arrogant conduct but it certainly cannot condone it.

Whatever her deficiencies Jayalalithaa remains a towering figure in Tamil Nadu politics.With the DMK being in decline and her octogenarian arch –rival Karunanidhi in the twilight of life,She is for now the solitary moon among lesser stars in the Tamil Nadu political firmament.


Presently the mercurial  Jayalalithaa has ridden to power on the crest of a huge anti – DM , anti – Congress wave.The AIADMK  led front has got 203 of 234 assembly seats in which  the AIADMK has 150.

 Although a number of reasons contributed to the "anti-wave" it cannot be discounted that the Sri Lankan Tamil issue also played a part in this. The extent of the issue's impact is debatable.

There is widespread sorrow in Tamil Nadu that the state could not play an effective role in preventing  innocent Tamil civilian blood being shed on a large scale.The drubbing received by the congress which won only 5 out of 63 contested is attributed by some to this sense of grievance.

What is striking about the current Tamil Nadu scenario is the remarkable reversal of roles. Karunanidhi long portrayed as the world Tamil leader and Tamil nationalist champion lies discarded in the dustbin of history with his ultra –Tamil credentials in tatters. Jayalalithaa long depicted as an anti –Tamil Aryan and avowed enemy of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause is being projected as the true champion of Tamil nationalism and ultimate benefactor of the long suffering Tamils of Sri Lanka.

There was a time when Jayalalithaa like her mentor MGR was sympathetic towards the LTTE.After MGR's death in 1987 ,it was Jayalalithaa who took up the case of the tigers when the Indian army was battling the LTTE in north –eastern Sri Lanka.On one memorable occasion in 1988  she tried to telephone Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and demand that the Indian army call off its manhunt for tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakara, Rajiv spurned her call and the lady did kick up a big fuss then.

Jayalalithaa began changing in 1989 when she assumed full control of a unified AIADMK. Earlier the party had fragmented after MGR's death with one faction under her and the other under MGR's widow Janaki Ramachandran.She realized that aligning with the Congress electorally was the way to power in Tamil Nadu. Thus she began following an anti –LTTE approach to facilitate re-alignment with the Congress.

Furthermore the violence perpetrated by the LTTE in Tamil Nadu like the assassination of EPRLF leader Pathmanabha and several of his comrades was causing resentment in Tamil Nadu. The DMK on account of its sympathy towards the LTTE was becoming unpopular. Jayalalithaa sensed this groundswell of resentment  and amended her politics accordingly.Jayalalithaa began demanding that the DMK government of Karunanidhi be dismissed because of its perceived links to the LTTE. She said law and order had deteriorated in the state known as the "park of peace" (Amaithippoonga) due to this. Her moment came when the coalition govt led by Chandrasekhar which was dependent on her support dismissed the DMK government.The Tamil Nadu legislative assembly was dissolved.

The Congress in turn withdrew support to Chandrasekhar at the centre. Elections were held simultaneously to the Lok Sabha and Tamil Nadu assembly. The AIADMK and Congress were electoral allies.It was during the election campaign that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumpudhoor in Tamil Nadu by the LTTE on May 21st 1991.

This changed public opinion in Tamil Nadu.Jayalalithaa realized this when she  was elected for the first time as chief minister. While the AIADMK – Congress combine won 220 of 234 seats the DMK was wiped out with only Karunanidhi winning a seat. Subsequently the DMK got another via a by election.

Jayalalithaa cracked down hard on the LTTE network in Tamil Nadu. The people of Tamil Nadu strongly endorsed her in this. She urged and obtained a proscription of the LTTE in India.  Hundreds of LTE suspects and supporters were detained. Her antipathy towards the LTTE extended towards the Sri Lankan Tamils in the state too. Their educational opportunities were restricted. They were subjected to heavy security measures. As a result thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils left Tamil Nadu and relocated to the west.

Jayalalithaa continued with her  campaign  against the LTTE and by extension the Sri Lankan Tamils. When the World Tamil Research Conference was held in Thanjaavoor in 1995, several Sri Lankan Tamil academics like Prof. Karthigesu Sivathamby were denied admission and entry. In 2003 she got a resolution passed in the Assembly demanding the arrest and extradition of Prabhakaran to stand trial in India.

The tiger and pro-tiger elements in India and abroad have been consistently vilifying her as a traitor, scourge of Tamil Eelam and evil Brahmin woman in the past. Today the situation is different and the very same tigerish elements are hailing her as the"Thamizh  Eezhath Thaai"(mother of Tamil Eelam).

How did this change occur? (ENDS)

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
DBS Jeyaraj…………….June 18th 2011









Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won another landslide victory in the general election on June 12.

The face of Turkey has changed since the AKP assumed power in 2002. It has emerged as an economic power and has transformed itself from a follower of the West into a key regional and international player.

The Turkish people open their arms to the AKP because it has created a dynamic economy, adopted policies in conformity with the socio-religious structure of the Turkish society, aligned itself with the Islamic world, and openly criticized Israel's policy in the occupied territories of Palestine.

Turkey has witnessed sustainable economic growth over the last nine years, to the extent that the AKP has succeeded in bringing Turkey into the ranks of the twenty wealthiest countries in the world. And Goldman Sachs has predicted Turkey will break into the top ten by 2050, if things stay on the track.

To join the European Union, Turkey, under the AKP leadership, has also carried out many reforms to bring its laws into line with European standards. But the new generation of leaders in European countries, such as Germany and France, has blocked Turkey's efforts to join the EU.

However, although Europe is facing a debt meltdown and many of the countries in Eastern Europe have faced financial crises, Turkey has managed to rebound quickly from the global downturn and its economy grew 8.9 percent last year, the fastest rate of any large country except for China and India.

Turkey's rise as an economic powerhouse has created high self-confidence among its citizens, to the extent that they no longer see joining the European Union as a paradise. For example, Barin Kayaoglu, a Turkish citizen who is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia, shrugged off the recent remarks by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had said Turkey will not join the European Union for at least 15 years. Kayaoglu says Turkey will be politically and economically more successful than France in 15 years.

Erdogan also knows how to find a place in the hearts of people at home and abroad, and particularly in the hearts of Muslim nations. Well aware of the religious sentiments of the Turkish people, the AKP has been seeking to loosen the ban on hijab, which is seen as a sign of the expansion of civil liberties.

The Turkish prime minister visited the quake-hit areas of Pakistan in October 2005 and the flood-hit areas of the South Asian country in October 2010. During those trips, he expressed sympathy with the people of Pakistan and also pledged that Turkey would provide economic support and relief.

Despite being a Sunni Muslim, Erdogan visited the shrine of Imam Ali (AS) -- the first Shia Imam -- in Najaf in March and met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shia cleric in Iraq.

Erdogan also enchanted the hearts and minds of the Arab people when he stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009 after a heated argument with Israeli President Shimon Peres about Israel's war on the people of Gaza.

Speaking at the victory rally in Ankara after his recent election triumph, Erdogan said, "Today the Western world, Tripoli, Gaza have won. The Middle East, the Balkans, Europe have won. Peace, justice and stability have won."

Turkey has also tried to play the role of a regional leader. For example, Turkey, together with Brazil, tried to broker a nuclear deal between Iran and the West in May 2010. It has also hosted meetings between Pakistani and Afghan leaders in its efforts to help end the insurgency in Afghanistan.

As a key member of NATO, Turkey is also challenging the West. For example, a joint aerial exercise conducted by the Turkish and Chinese militaries in central Anatolia shocked the West since such maneuvers were previously carried out jointly with the U.S., other NATO countries, and Israel.

Their success at home and abroad has prompted some analysts to surmise that the current rulers of Turkey have the ambition of reviving the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. But this Neo-Ottomanism would not have the imperialistic nature of the Ottoman Empire and would promote cooperation among nations.







The sheer bravery and courage with which the press in Pakistan has taken on the establishment over the killing of Saleem Shahzad, a former editor of Asia Times Online, as well as forced the Sindh government to run for cover over the daylight murder of a 18-year-old boy by the Rangers, makes me bow my head both in salute and wonderment -- but also in gratitude.

Incredibly, the Pakistani press is in the act of covering a rare moment in its nation's history, a moment that is precious yet fragile. These journalists have put their careers, their bank balances and their reputations on the line by going after He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Was it the ISI who killed Saleem Shahzad? Why did the Rangers confront a young man by pointing a gun at his chest? And in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing, the robust criticism of the Pakistani Army by the Pakistani press seems to have forced open a debate within the army on its role in nation-building.

The army was tormented enough to point its finger at 'some quarters…trying to deliberately run down the armed forces and army in particular…This is an effort to drive a wedge between the army, different organs of the state and more seriously, the people of Pakistan.'

Of course, the Pakistani press is no stranger to threat and physical intimidation. During the Ziaul Haq era, several journalists were whipped with metal chains, but they stood their ground.

As a member of the South Asian fraternity of journalists, I think it's time to salute the rare courage Pakistan's media continues to display by just going about earning its daily wages: Reporting the story as it takes place and writing it without fear or favor.

So is the fact that I am an Indian matter here? Nirupama Subramanian, a well-known journalist from India's The Hindu, who recently returned home after a particularly engaging tour of duty in Islamabad, wrote in the aftermath of the Bin Laden killing that India should stay out of the debate on democracy currently gathering ground within Pakistan because each time Delhi opens its mouth to say something, it puts its foot right into it.

Nirupama's analysis is well-taken, and some would say it applies to the Indian press as well. I disagree. I think the time has come for Indians and Pakistanis, as well as Sri Lankans, Maldivians, Bangladeshis, the Bhutanese, the Nepalis -- and yes, even the Afghans — to say our piece, as we see it, across the South Asian landscape.

The time has come, I think, for each of us to reassert our South Asian identities, along with our individual citizenships. We need to applaud and encourage and criticize our fellow communities across South Asia, as they build their histories and their nations. Naturally, the press is an integral part of this unfolding story.

But watch what really happens. If any state doesn't like what you report -- well, then, you won't get a visa the next time around to report it. This is especially true of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

But states have power over civil societies only because we let them. India -- or Pakistan, as the case may be -- is the enemy, because we've grown up with that idea. But imagine if we employ an alternative idea of simply of not being afraid/hostile.

The press in Pakistan is showing South Asia's media the way. We need each other. Let us stand up for one another.

Indian journalist Jyoti Malhotra has written for the Indian Express, Times of India, Khaleej Times and the Wall Street Journal. She currently writes for the Business Standard in Delhi and The Express Tribune.

(Source: The Express Tribune)







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Photo: Egyptian protesters react as they attend the Friday prayers during a rally in Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, May 27, 2011. (AP photo)




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