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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

EDITORIAL 21.06.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month june 21, edition 000864, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. UP'S JUNGLE LAW
  2. BIRTHDAY BUMPS
  3. DRIFT IS NOT AN OPTION - SEEMA SIROHI
  4. NEEDED FOR A COMPREHENSIVE BILL
  5. FOR THE GOOD OF LOKPAL, EXCLUDE THE PM - DEEP K DATTA-RAY
  6. EATING HUMBLE PIE - MURALI A RAGHAVAN
  7. CHANGE AND CHANGELESSNESS - ARUP MITRA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. AN ASSAULT ON OUR VALUES
  2. ON RELATIVE TERMS
  3. THE BUZZ
  4. KEPT OUT OF THE LIST - HARSH MANDER
  5. THERE'S NOTHING CIVIL ABOUT IT - SUHEL SETH

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. ROAD TO MYANMAR
  2. MEETING GROUND
  3. OLD RIVALS, NEW CHALLENGE - SEEMA CHISHTI
  4. BRINGING HOME THE CHILD - FLAVIAAGNES
  5. 'I ALWAYS TELL (ACTIVISTS) UNPARLIAMENTARY WORDS SHOULD NOT BE USED...I ONLY PITY THEM WHO USE SUCH LANGUAGE' - SHEKHAR GUPTA

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. NMIZS NO TAX HAVENS
  2. TERMINAL MATTERS
  3. A CRISIS OF FAITH - MK VENU
  4. HOLD BACK THE ONGC FPO - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

THE HINDU

  1. YOU GO GIRLS
  2. WILL TIGER ROAR AGAIN?
  3. A BILL TO SETTLE A TERRIBLE DEBT  - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
  4. WAR EVOLVES WITH DRONES  - ELISABETH BUMILLER AND THOM SHANKER
  5. AUNG SAN SUU KYI TELLS OF MYANMAR'S STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM AND ITS COST  - SIMON TISDALL
  6. WORLD HERITAGE COMMITTEE TO DISCUSS 2011 NOMINATIONS  - MAEV KENNEDY

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. WHY IS INDIA'S PR SO SHODDY?
  2. A PRICE FOR DEMOCRACY - ASHOK MALIK
  3. CAN DIDI SET A HEALTHY EXAMPLE? - PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  4. DON'T CAGE CAG - PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. FLAWED PLANNING
  2. INCREASING MBBS SEATS
  3. PEACE AND PROGRESS IN PAK LIES IN INDO-PAK FRIENDSHIP - BY KUNDAN KASHMIRI
  4. NEED TO SAVE FORESTS - BY REHANA AKHTER (JULIE)
  5. LAND GRABBING IN INDIA - BY RAMESH KANITKAR

THE TRIBUNE

  1. RAHUL GANDHI AS PM?
  2. MAIMED BY MINES
  3. CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN
  4. DEVELOPING TIES WITH MYANMAR - BY GEN V. P. MALIK (RETD)
  5. RISK-TAKERS, CARETAKERS, UNDERTAKERS - BY V.K. KAPOOR  
  6. ALL SET FOR INDO-BANGLA LAND SWAP DEAL - ASHOK TUTEJA
  7. OPENING 'HAATS' TO OPEN HEARTS - PARBINA RASHID

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. DECODING DIGVIJAY
  2. POWER PROBLEMS
  3. IS NREGS STEALING LABOUR? - AJIT RANADE
  4. CAN INDIAN NEWSPAPERS SURVIVE THE NET? - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
  5. FILL IN THE BLANKS  - A K BHATTACHARYA
  6. LALLA AND KABIR, RESURRECTED - NILANJANA S ROY

BUSINESS LINE

  1. GETTING REAL ON FARM RESEARCH
  2. LIMITS TO ANTI-INFLATION AGENDA - HARI SHANKAR SINGHANIA
  3. FTA WITH JAPAN HOLDS PROMISE - C.P. RAVINDRANATHAN
  4. WHAT KEEPS BIG BLUE GOING - R. SUNDARAM
  5. POLICY OPTIONS FOR ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN  - G. SRINIVASAN

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. SYSTEMIC GAPS
  2. BAIL, NOT JAIL
  3. SHIP SHAPE
  4. A MONTH OF MAMATA  - ABHEEK BARMAN
  5. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  6. POLICY PLAY, OUTCOME & GROWTH  - JAIDEEP MISHRA

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. WHEN THEY WERE KINGS

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. A PRICE FOR DEMOCRACY
  2. IN THE MIDST OF CLIMATE CHANGE MONKEYS
  3. DON'T CAGE CAG
  4. PORTRAIT OF A BAREFOOT ARTIST
  5. CAN DIDI SET A HEALTHY EXAMPLE?

THE STATESMAN

  1. SCATHING COMMENT
  2. US-AFGHAN RIFT
  3. NSCN(K)'S PRIVATE WAR
  4. AGRICULTURAL UNIVERSITIES - BY YP GUPTA
  5. ACROSS THE STRAIT
  6. FROM THE UN
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. GAME PLAN
  2. TRUE CONCERN
  3. ANNA HAZARE AND GANDHI
  4. NO NEED TO DECLAIM  - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. GOVERNMENT IN SEARCH OF LEADERS  - S.L. RAO
  6. WATERSHED MOMENT

HAARETZ

  1. BIBI'S CHEESY PAST  - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  2. UNNECESSARY HARASSMENT  
  3. PEOPLE IN THEIR OWN RIGHT, NOT ADJUNCTS  - BY MERAV MICHAELI
  4. THEY WON'T JOIN THE ARMY  - BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY
  5. A YIZKOR FOR WHOM?  - BY UDI LEBEL

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. WAL-MART WINS. WORKERS LOSE.
  2. DOING RIGHT BY THE POOREST COUNTRIES
  3. HYPOCRISY, LOCKED AND LOADED
  4. ELENA GEORGIEVNA BONNER, A TRUE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST FOR 40 YEARS
  5. BANKING'S MOMENT OF TRUTH - BY JOE NOCERA
  6. SMART POWER SETBACK - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. THE SUN IS THE BEST OPTOMETRIST - BY SANDRA AAMODT AND SAM WANG
  8. LEGAL ACROBATICS, ILLEGAL WAR - BY BRUCE ACKERMAN

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. CELEBRITIES ROCK, JOURNALISTS SUCK
  2. WHY THE MAVI MARMARA PULLED OUT?
  3. EMBEDDED JOURNALISM AND SYRIA
  4. SYRIA FINALLY GETTING ON THE RIGHT TRACK
  5. THE KURDISH ISSUE WILL ENABLE ERDOĞAN TO MAKE HISTORY
  6. MISSING: PROPER TOILETS FOR 2.6 BILLION - WILLEM-ALEXANDER

THE NEWS

  1. THE COMMISSIONS
  2. ENDANGERED
  3. CLEAR AS MUD
  4. REMAKING OF OURSELVES  - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
  5. THE FINANCE MINISTER'S BUDGET SPEECH  -  DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
  6. BREAK THE DEAL  -  AHMED QURAISHI
  7. SWAT: CHANGED, BUT NOT REALLY  -  ADEEL PATHAN
  8. MORE PROCESS THAN SUBSTANCE?  -  DR MALEEHA LODHI
  9. COLONISING AFGHANISTAN  -  RIZWAN ASGHAR

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. THEY ARE TALKING WITH TALIBAN, WE ARE FIGHTING
  2. INDEED MEHRAN ATTACKERS WERE NOT PAKISTANIS
  3. WILL SAMAR STAND UP AND ANSWER?
  4. REVISING EVIDENCE ACT - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. TURKEY A ROLE MODEL! - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)
  6. WHERE IS THE BROKEN BACKBONE?  - DR KHALIL AHMAD
  7. IDENTIFYING THE MALAISE - HUSSAIN MOHI-UD-DIN QADRI
  8. INDIA'S CONSERVATIVE VACUUM - SADANAND DHUME

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. ONE-SIZE EURO NO LONGER FITS ALL
  2. DEBATE IS FUEL FOR DEMOCRACY
  3. IT'S THE PLEBISCITE THAT WE DON'T HAVE TO HAVE

 THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. CURRAWONG FOG MAY LIFT
  2. SCRAPPING THE VIABLE FOR A DUD
  3. ABBOTT'S PLEBISCITE PLAN A DEMOCRATIC SHAM
  4. SLIM CHANCE OF PROTECTION FOR DIETERS

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF… ANDREI SAKHAROV AND YELENA BONNER
  2. BRITISH POLITICS: RASPBERRIES ALL ROUND
  3. SYRIA: THE NATIONAL MONOLOGUE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. R. GATES' FAREWELL
  2. ANGST-FUELED ENERGY POLICY - BY HUGH CORTAZZI
  3. POVERTY HIGHLIGHTS GAPS IN INDIA'S ECONOMY - BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. THE PROBLEM WITH CIVILIAN CONTROL - BROTO WARDOYO
  2. UNDERSTANDING CHINA AS KISSINGER DOES - TOM PLATE
  3. STRUCTURAL INTERVENTIONS TO FIGHT HIV/AIDS - SUDIRMAN NASIR
  4. SBY'S ECONOMIC PLAN AMID PUBLIC APATHY - WINARNO ZAIN

DAILY MIRROR

  1. INSTEAD OF PSC, WE NEED STATESMANSHIP
  2. THE NEED FOR PEOPLE TO KNOW OF EDUCATIONAL REFORMS
  3. THIS IS BBC CALLING - NOW CLICK ON TO CHANNEL 4
  4. CHANNEL-4 AND HIDDEN PAWS
  5. IMPRECISE NATO
  6. TNA REVISITING TAMIL CHAUVINISM'S GAME PLAN OF MAY 14, 1976?

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. LIFE EXPECTANCY RISING ... BUT – BY ALYSSA SEWLAL

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. ENTRAPPING INNOCENT MUSLIMS - BY STEPHEN LENDMAN
  2. TURKEY ON THE PATH OF DEMOCRACY - BY GHOLAM ALI LATIFI
  3. THE FLEECING OF GREECE - BY DAVID D'AMATO 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

UP'S JUNGLE LAW

 

If there were any doubts about the deteriorating law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh, they were put to rest in the last 48 hours. Incidents of ghastly crimes against minor girls and women in the state flew in the face of chief minister Mayawati's assertion that the local police have things under control. Last Saturday, two youths blinded a 13-year-old girl in Kannauj in a case of attempted rape. When the victim's parents went to the local police station to lodge a complaint, they were unceremoniously turned away. On Sunday, a 35-year-old woman was allegedly gangraped by five men and burnt to death in Etah. In Firozabad, a 12-year-old girl was raped by two men and is currently in medical care at the local district hospital. The body of a student of Gorakhpur University was found dumped by the roadside; rape and torture are suspected. Similar cases of brutality have been reported from Gonda, Lalitpur and Mohammadabad.


Is UP, then, the new Bihar? While the latter has experienced significant improvements in its law and order situation under the Nitish Kumar regime, UP under Mayawati seems headed in the opposite direction. Last week's widely reported Lakhimpur-Kheri incident exemplifies the deplorable scenario. That a minor girl should be found dead within the premises of a police station is shocking. It would appear that the local police are neither capable of bringing the guilty to book nor are they interested. Indeed, in the Lakhimpur-Kheri case policemen themselves are prime suspects in committing a ghastly crime.


The current law and order machinery in UP has atrophied in the face of a criminal-politician nexus. Though the state has witnessed the emergence of new political formations that strike at the roots of the old social order, this social churning has also created space for criminal elements to thrive under political patronage. As a result, the law and order infrastructure in the state is crumbling.


All of this bodes ill for Mayawati as UP prepares for tough assembly elections next year. Her autocratic style of functioning - mistaken for efficiency - has only created toothless, subservient institutions. The panacea lies in initiating time-bound probes into the reported cases, punishing the guilty and undertaking substantial reforms in the police. The latter must be held accountable and heads should roll where necessary. UP bears testimony to the follies of making the state administration synonymous with the cult of a single political persona and her party. It is a grim warning of the noxious mix of power, criminality and identity politics.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BIRTHDAY BUMPS

 

As smoke from the yagnas settles, a significant statement's emerged from Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh marking Rahul Gandhi's 41st birthday. He believes that it's time Rahul became the prime minister. The Gandhi scion's birthday is one of many occasions for Congress members to display craven sycophancy - dancing in the streets, bursting firecrackers, displaying posters that state 'Today is God's birthday', feeding vanilla cake with pink rosebuds to Gandhi's picture. In the clouds of colourful chamchagiri surrounding the day, it's easy to mistake Gandhi's vizier-in-chief's remarks as just more butter on the birthday cake.


Given that the Gandhi family calls the shots within the Congress, there is perhaps some sense to Digvijay's statement. Through the drift that has characterised UPA-II, the sorriest figure emerging has been Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seemingly unable to get his way on most issues. The real nerve centre of political power remains the Gandhi family, to whom those disagreeing with the PMO inevitably turn. The prime minister has the unenviable task of dealing both with mammoth corruption - over which he apparently has no control - and fighting fire within his government, often from well-protected corners like the naysaying NAC. In this situation, it's best for Rahul Gandhi to name himself as contender for 2014's top job. It'll be a pleasant change to have someone in charge with real power in his hands, towards whom demands for accountability can be directed - without deflection. Of course, this might mean Gandhi's meanderings on motorcycles and similar jaunts draw to an end. But then, the thing about birthdays is, you've got to grow up.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

DRIFT IS NOT AN OPTION

SEEMA SIROHI

India and the US need to fix the funk they are in, take a deep breath and rejuvenate interest in each other. Misreading, misunderstanding, or simply losing interest are not options because of that overused idea - strategic necessity. There is a need to return to the basics and inject some new action, not just reactions, into the bilateral equation. To question whether either side is really interested in a real " strategic partnership" - as some US politicians have done lately - is unwise for the times.


Yes, the two sides continue to speak different dialects of the same language, take actions that puzzle each other, have manifestly exaggerated expectations and respond to domestic compulsions. Being open democracies, they are susceptible to Chinese whispers from people who serve small, immediate constituencies, and who are not shy of misusing issues to bolster the interests of their business clients.


No rocket science here and therefore little need for the silly season in India-US relations after the short burst of irrational exuberance around President Barack Obama's India visit last November. The visit was preceded by a dry spell. About 21 dialogues and working groups exist between the two countries, some freshly repackaged after Obama's visit, which plod away but whose fruits are difficult to touch and feel. Unfortunately, there is no senior political voice in the White House driving the relationship, and not naming a new ambassador to India is not helping either.

 

When finance minister Pranab Mukherjee visits the US next week to fight the ennui and enthuse investors about India, he will hear complaints. The Congress party's most seasoned politician will tackle it politically but he may want to bring a new big idea or two to explore and force-feed energy into the system. The next round of the strategic dialogue should be used for a truly frank discussion.


The "cooling off" on Capitol Hill needs to be arrested and not by taking a defensive posture. Three issues are cited repeatedly by members of the US Congress and some in the White House for the "drift" in relations - elimination of the two US fighter planes from the largest defence contract India would grant, the nuclear liability law which makes it hard for American companies to get a slice of India's nuclear pie and India's abstention in the UN Security Council on the vote authorising force against Libya. Add to the list the lingering issues of market access, caps on foreign investments in the insurance, retail and defence sectors. US companies complain they are kept off balance by the Indian tendency to issue random, informal declarations.

Complaints about the regulatory chaos are legitimate. But things would be much easier if Washington recognised and treated India as a "partner", not competitor. US lawmakers tend to cast India as a job stealer and a climate changer. They ignore investments and job creation by Indian companies - from Arkansas to
New Jersey - worth $5.5 billion. Indian companies have bought dying mines and dead factories and turned them around.

But the US Congress is focussed on the big contract lost and the US defence industry is "shocked" by India's decision to reject American jets. It finds procedures and decision-making unpredictable and feels it cannot compete in the Indian market. An India fatigue is building up. But if the industry and the administration wanted to show commitment to the partnership and make a qualitative leap, the US would have offered its more advanced fighters.


The elimination of the Russian fighter is a signal that should also be read for its long-term implications. India has embraced US defence technology and already signed up to buy 10 US C-17 heavy lift aircraft worth $4.1 billion, with talk of another six in the future worth $6 billion. It has bought American military transport planes and Boeing will sell 30 B737 ($2.7 billion) to SpiceJet. No small change.


As for the nuclear liability law, it came against the background of demands for justice for Bhopal gas victims and the BP oil spill on American shores. The US Congress forced BP to establish a $20 billion-fund even before a legal case was established. It diligently extracted from BP what it could as it should. Any Indian government also has to secure the interests of its people in case of an accident. This is democracy.


And anger on India's abstention on Libya seems quaint given that Obama, reluctant warrior, was literally forced by the French and the human rights community to act. The US Congress and Pentagon were both against US involvement. To cast India's abstention - India did not vote "no" in deference to American wishes - as a relic of non-aligned days is to expect a kind of blind fidelity impossible in a large, complex polity.


To be clear, India has over the years watched US policy on Pakistan and tolerated the go-soft approach on terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. Many Pakistani actions against India - the Mumbai attacks, bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul - are thinly disguised acts of war. Yet, self-interest and US persuasion have kept the Indo-Pak dialogue going. Now Afghanistan's long-term stability is an open question after US troops leave in 2014, a date set because of Obama's domestic compulsions. A deal-at-any-cost with the Taliban will be forged and India will face the consequences.


The good politicians in Washington must understand the needs of a partner which is neither a challenge like China nor reflexively anti-American like Pakistan.


The writer is a senior journalist.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

                                                                                                                                                                                                                TIMES VIEW

NEEDED FOR A COMPREHENSIVE BILL

 

The final meeting of the Lokpal Bill's joint drafting committee is in progress and there is still no consensus on a core demand made by Anna Hazare and his supporters - that the prime minister come within its ambit. If the government's gambit of keeping the PM out of the purview of the Lokpal Bill succeeds, it will have managed to de-fang the entire concept of the Lokpal to some extent.


Given the extent to which corruption has permeated the entire Indian political system, it would be naive in the extreme to believe that the prime minister's office is immune to it. Bringing it into this new system would strengthen an interlocking system of checks and balances. The Lokpal would serve as a guarantor of the PMO's incorruptibility - or in worst-case scenarios, the rectifier - while the judiciary would keep the Lokpal in check, ensuring that an overzealous or politically motivated appointee does not hobble the prime minister. The Hazare team insists that the judiciary, too, should be under the Lokpal. But this is where it should cede ground in the name of practicality and a balance of power.


As for the Congress's argument that such a set-up would inhibit the PMO too much - and that a corrupt prime minister can be investigated after his term in office anyway - it is disingenuous. Did the Bofors investigation inhibit Rajiv Gandhi? And should a corrupt prime minister be given complete immunity, looting taxpayers for years as long as he is in office? Prosecution after the fact would be difficult in the extreme. The trail of evidence would have grown cold and money can buy many favours. Besides, where does this end? If this logic is applied to the prime minister, will we next have chief ministers demanding that their offices be kept out of the Lokpal Bill's purview because they too would be hobbled in governing their states?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

FOR THE GOOD OF LOKPAL, EXCLUDE THE PM

DEEP K DATTA-RAY

Government is right to exclude the PM from the purview of the Lokpal Bill. Doing so actually keeps to the overall aims and goals of the Bill.


This becomes obvious if one understands the Bill's purpose. The intention is to ensure smooth and effective governance. That's been undermined by corruption, hence the Lokpal. But to extend its jurisdiction over the PM undermines the Bill's ultimate purpose because the PM might become the target of an overzealous Lokpal. The Lokpal might become politically motivated or anti-state. Even if such eventualities never arise, the Lokpal will be inundated by politically motivated and false accusations against the PM. It's the Lokpal's job to investigate all accusations which means the PM will be constantly occupied, on the defensive. How then can our government - reliant as it is on the PM - work? Rather than risk paralysis, it's better to ensure such potentialities never arise, especially since the Lokpal will cover the bulk of the higher bureaucracy and politicians. That means it'll be extremely difficult for the PM to be corrupt. After all, the PM can hardly be crooked in isolation. That should be the situation if the Lokpal functions as intended and weeds out wrongdoing at the level below the PM. For this, government must accede to demands that the higher judiciary and MPs be placed under the Lokpal's scrutiny.


That ought to satisfy Hazare and simultaneously ensure that contingencies arising from a dysfunctional Lokpal do not undermine governance. In any case the PM may be investigated after giving up the post. In short, there's no getting away for a deviant PM! It would be sensible for Hazare and his team to accept what it has achieved - a remarkable feat by any standard - and not delay what promises to be a revolutionary Bill.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

EATING HUMBLE PIE

MURALI A RAGHAVAN

For the past few months, barring the IPL, television viewers were starved of entertainment on the idiot box. So when the do-gooder Anna Hazare and demigod Baba Ramdev stepped on the scene with protest fasts, the media discovered that this seemingly insipid stuff could be turned into a full-fledged farce - with some help from political parties and public figures.


Empty threats were bellowed on empty stomachs and the government responded with equally empty promises. Digvijay Singh was drafted to write the screenplay. Is he so named because of his ability to take a dig at everyone? The Delhi police was cast in the villain's role and Kapil Sibal assigned the comedian's role. The media filled the character slots with Congress PR men and character assassination slots with BJP spokespersons. This is how the slapstick comedy-cum-mystery thriller-cum-horror show currently running on all channels was set in motion. Wake up Kurt Vonnegut Jr and Stephen King. You guys have serious competition in this part of the world.


The three principal actors in the lead roles present quite a contrasting study. Hazare, the bespectacled old man dressed in plain white kurta and pyjama, donning a traditional white cap on his head, is indistinguishable from an ordinary villager unless he introduces himself or his name is printed below his photograph. His USP is sincerity and lack of any political ambition. He is economical with words and probably a frugal eater too.

Baba Ramdev, meanwhile - a brash, outspoken and authoritative firebrand yogi - is as difficult to decipher as some of the intricate yogasanas he performs. With his thick, bushy beard, flowing hair and angular visage, he can pass off as a medieval rishi. His war against black money landed him in hospital and now the Congressmen are busy yodelling Ba Ba Black Sheep.


The Congress has given several sterling performances as a villain in the past. It is a master in the art of doubletalk, prevarication and stage-management. Pulling the rug from under the feet of those treading the moral path is its forte. Its expertise includes putting hot issues on the backburner by setting up committees and letting the issue die on its own and giving it a decent burial.


The camera work is brilliant and so is editing. As volleys of questions are fired by the anchor the camera pans from one location to another at breathtaking speed, allowing no one to complete his dialogue. This is a standard cinematic technique to heighten the mystery where there is none.


To understand why so much heat and dust, noise and hype is being caused by a few men going on fast, we need to look at the other forms of protest in vogue. Sit-down strikes and pen-down strikes are quite popular with government employees. They have no emotional value. And people indulging in pen-down strikes more often than not do not know how to hold a pen, let alone make use of it. Candlelight protests are devoid of any drama that evokes media interest. Slogan-shouting and bandhs are considered more of a hindrance than a legitimate form of protest by the general public. Stone-throwing and setting buses and taxis on fire may offer some visual delight, but these are criminal activities which the media cannot aggressively glamorise and claim credit for.

But the protest fast is desi stuff with 'made in India' stamped all over it. It has glamour, emotional appeal and evokes sympathy. On one side is a man who stakes his life and honour, and on the other side, the authorities who will leave no stone unturned to keep him alive, humiliate him and finally dishonour him. In conventional fasting, only the enemy within needs to be tackled. But in the protest fast, the fire inside the belly and the fiery opponent outside will both squeeze the juice out of the faster. Baba Ramdev will vouch for it.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

CHANGE AND CHANGELESSNESS

ARUP MITRA

Change is the basic truth of our existence. Has it not been said that nothing is certain or permanent in life except change? The entire cosmos is changing every moment. The Samkhya system of Indic philosophy talks about the evolution theory concerning the entire universe. It was many centuries later that Darwin came up with his theory of evolution.

 

Constantly and continuously, change is occurring to improve the outcome of effort. Nothing remains static. In every evolution there is a movement towards perfection. Perfection is a relative term, though. What perfection may mean in one situation may mean something else in another. Our perception of what is perfect is also something that undergoes change, depending on the circumstances and the level of evolution of our consciousness.

The changes, however, are not limited to the physical sphere only. At the emotional and intellectual levels as well, and even within a finite time horizon, changes can take place at a rapid pace, whether we are aware of this or not. Sorrow and joy, upswings and downswings are all part of this process of change. Every moment we are created and recreated. Every moment we are evolving. Those who are steady and have a relatively stable mind that is alert and aware, are able to understand this process of constant change. Therefore they remain unmoved by the impact of the transformation. They do not get alarmed by change.


In the process of unending change the seeking that characterises the human mind extends to what is and has been changeless. That changelessness exists when the entire universe is embodied in a single point and when it appears in its most extensive and spread-out form. The human mind is able to comprehend all of this. The vastness which appears externally is present within us as well. The capacity to hold or to realise the nature of the entire universe receives mention in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita as Krishna unfolds and reveals his Vishwa Roopa or universal form to Arjuna, who stands dazzled by what he sees.


The senses have limitations but the capacity to go beyond experience exists in us. As Rabindranath Tagore said, within the limited spheres of what we have known we are able to perceive the unknown. This is a wonderful capacity we are blessed with as human beings. The wonder is that within the microcosm exists the universal, the macrocosm - within the confines lives the limitless and within the illusion is the truth. Between zero and one there are infinite possibilities.


The superconsciousness pervading the whole cosmos is beyond any change. It holds the basic notes of all music which is emerging like bubbles in an ocean. Once we recognise that basic note, it is possible to see similarities in diversity and comprehend what remains beyond any transformation. Rather, in every new transformation, the indispensable old exists.


Once the mind looks inward and starts experiencing notes that are basic to all the music around, then the transformation appears superfluous - the permanence becomes prominent. And it is that state of mind which can claim 'This is That'. A piece of stone and a living being are the same at that level of awareness and awakening. It is then valid to say that if we deduct anything that is complete from something that is also complete, then, the residual is complete, too.


Infinity minus infinity is infinity, not zero. Hence, where is the loss or gain? It is peace, and peace only.

arup@iegindia.org


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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

AN ASSAULT ON OUR VALUES

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 the 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.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

ON RELATIVE TERMS

The longest-running entertainment show that keeps India occupied and amused — the constant sparring among our colourful political parties and their posterboys — may end very soon, if we don't stop a certain Uma Bharti. The fiery sanyasin, who returned to the BJP after six years earlier this month, is on an acquisition spree. No, they are not material things but relationships, which casts doubt on her detached sanyasin tag.

On Sunday, at a meeting in Lucknow, the fiery sanyasin who was expelled from the BJP in 2005 after she took on her 'elder brother' LK Advani, addressed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP superboss Mayawati as her sister. Naturally, there was a little bit of sibling rivalry there too. She, the elder sister, we presume, said that her support would be for the state's farmers who have lost their land to development and not her 'sister', Mayawati. Of course, we might as well slip in the fact that assembly elections in this crucial state are due next year. The lady from Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh, did not stop at this. As she held up a sword that was presented to her, she lovingly offered her blessings to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on his 41st birthday and called him the 'son' of her 'elder brother' Rajiv Gandhi. Here too there was a touch of realpolitik: she asked the Gandhi scion to remember that if his mother, Sonia Gandhi,  belongs from Rome, then his bua belongs to Ram. And no, she did not call Sonia Gandhi bhabhi.

If Ms Bharti continues at this rate and others follow suit we will have a peaceful political landscape in this country since everyone will be part of the same family. And that would be disastrous for people like us; minus our daily dose of tu-tu mein- mein politics, we will have nothing to look forward to every morning. But the greater risk is that Ms Bharti is in danger of losing the 'fiery sanyasin' tag. How can she openly squabble those within the parivar, sangh or otherwise?

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE BUZZ

It's the wrong number

Are the Marans trying to patch up with former Aircel chief C Sivasankaran? The buzz is that industrialist Kalanidhi Maran and his wife flew to Singapore to attempt a truce with Sivasankaran after he had told the CBI in the 2G probe that he was forced by Kalanidhi's brother and the textile minister, Dayanidhi Maran, to sell his stake in Aircel to Maxis. But the Malaysia-based businessman was in no mood for any compromise. For the Marans, it seems all lines to this route are busy.

Proving to be too taxing

Last Saturday, reports quoting an unnamed finance ministry official stated that Indian firms had paid 77% more in advance taxes for the first quarter of 2011 than they did in the same period last year. Companies pay advance tax every quarter on the basis of  their projected income for the year. An increase in these figures reflects a rise in corporate income. Such huge tax collections went contrary to other anecdotal and empirical evidence that point to an imminent slowdown. As some papers headlined these numbers, the finance ministry swung into damage control mode and chairman, central board of direct taxes, Prakash Chandra, clarified on the same day that the comparisons were incorrect. Figure that out now.

Possible train of thought

It is common knowledge that Mamata Banerjee has anointed loyalist Mukul Roy to succeed her as the railways minister. Roy has also started sitting in the chamber occupied by Banerjee. But there could be a twist in the tale in store for Roy. Ever since Banerjee's exit from the Rail Bhavan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been regularly summoning KH Muniyappa, the other minister of state (MoS), for discussions concerning rail projects. Muniyappa is the senior-most amongst the railway MoSs and enjoys the PM's trust. Could Muniyappa be on track to end Roy's ministerial ambitions?

Not keeping it bottled up

As television crews milled around Claridges Hotel on June 3, the men they were waiting to hear, Baba Ramdev and government emissaries Kapil Sibal and Subodh Kant Sahay, were busy in a game of 'water diplomacy'. As waiters brought bottles of Kinley mineral water for the ministers, Ramdev and his aides, Baba tersely turned it down, saying that he does not drink Kinley — a Coca-Cola product. But the ministers were equally quick on their feet, offering him Himalaya water bottles instead. A few days later, news reports on the yoga guru's selective opposition to multinational products appeared. With almost every room in his ashram adorned with a Samsung flat-screen television, his opposition holds no water.

Keeping a fine balance

Recovering from his illness in Singapore, superstar Rajnikanth called up Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa to say that her party's victory in the assembly polls had "saved" the state. The following day, he spoke to DMK chief M Karunanidhi, asking him to focus on his health. While the state government gave out one version of the conversation, the DMK gave out the other. Quick gun Murugan, it would seem.

The dragon's no democrat

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is highly impressed with everything about China after his seven-day visit there. But he isn't convinced by the idea of a "democratic" Bihar following in the footsteps of the communist giant. "Here, we debate everything. There, they just do it (by force). But every country must stick to its own path," he said.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

KEPT OUT OF THE LIST

HARSH MANDER

On a hot midsummer afternoon in May, I joined an unusual protest outside India's Planning Commission in New Delhi. The protesters displayed placards, raised slogans, but also brought boxes as 'gifts' for members of the apex planning body. The gifts were refused and the protesters dispersed by the police after a mild altercation.

According to the report of the expert group appointed by the plan panel, chaired by Suresh Tendulkar, to estimate levels of poverty in India, a person is poor if she spends, at 2004-05 prices, less than Rs 20 a day in cities, or Rs 16 in rural India. At today's prices, this means that a person is not poor if she is able to pay out more than Rs 23 in a village or Rs 29 rupees a day in a city.

The 'gifts' that the protestors from the Right to Food Campaign carried were cardboard boxes filled with what could be bought for R29 a day in Delhi, the ceiling to qualify in the government's definition of poverty. One box had two bus tickets of Rs 15 each, the cost of travel to and from work. This would leave nothing for food or any other essentials. Another box contained half a pencil, 25 grams of rajma beans, four pieces of okra, 25 grams of flour and one arm of a shirt. In another were stuffed 50 grams of masoor dal, half a shirt for a child, beans for one meal and 50 grams of washing powder. One more box had half a soap bar, half a banana, five pieces of okra, half a notebook and half a toothbrush.

The placards were more stark: 'Poor person allowed to eat only half a katori of dal everyday'; 'Fruits poor people can eat every month — two bananas; two shirts and two pants — all that a poor person can buy every year — what about warm clothes?'; 'Poor family allowed to spend on conveyance — Rs 50 per month. If commuting by bus, minimum daily fare — Rs 10'.

This creative protest illuminated the absurd assumptions on which official poverty lines are fixed. Tendulkar's report claims its poverty line is derived from official household expenditure surveys "validated by checking the adequacy of actual private expenditure per capita near the poverty lines on food, education and health and by comparing them with normative expenditures consistent with nutritional, educational and health outcomes". But I find it hard to comprehend what kind of validation would arrive at a poverty threshold which normatively allows the poor so little.

I work with streetchildren in Delhi. A young boy recycling plastic and other waste earns an average of Rs 120 a day. This is four times higher than the official poverty line. In the eyes of our learned planners, the homeless child is positively wealthy. But he sleeps under the open sky or on the railway platform, he is routinely thrashed by policemen and sexually abused by older men, he often scrounges for food in rubbish heaps, he has to pay each time he bathes or defecates in a public toilet, he is barred from health care in public hospitals and no school will open its doors for him.

Poverty has many dimensions. Its economic aspects include low income, poor consumption including of food, few assets such as land and household goods and low-paid, uncertain and casual livelihoods. But it also manifests in poor access to public services like clean drinking water, sanitation, healthcare and education. It involves social discrimination and devaluation, such as of gender, caste and religious identity and political powerlessness. But planners estimating poverty include only those elements which can be counted — economic dimensions such as consumption and household expenditure. Even estimating these involves many unrealistic assumptions, normatively condemning the poor to bleak deprived lives, on standards which would be inconceivable for the middle classes. It is as though the rich and poor live on different planets.

What is deeply worrying is that applying even these absolutely rock-bottom indicators of poverty — more starvation line than poverty line — the expert group estimates that more than a third of our people are poor. If the government adopts more humane poverty line thresholds, such as the internationally accepted $2  a day (adjusted for purchasing power parity), it is likely that the numbers would be closer to 74%, as estimated by the World Bank.

If official estimates of poverty were just of academic interest, their vision of what life is acceptable for India's poor would be troubling enough. But the government in recent decades has used these highly depressed estimates of poverty to limit access to social services — such as subsidised food, free medical care, social security pensions for the aged, and cheap housing — to people the government identifies as poor. The problem is compounded by the government's inability to identify not just how many people are poor but who actually is poor, and official studies indicate that 60% of the impoverished are left out of government lists of the 'poor'.

An enormous chasm separates planners and economists, and indeed the middle classes, from the lived realities of impoverished people in India. Unless this is bridged, they will continue to assume that poor people can live with dignity at the price of two bus tickets each day.

Harsh Mander is director, Centre for Equity Studies. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THERE'S NOTHING CIVIL ABOUT IT

SUHEL SETH

Over the last few months, we have seen a culture of 'fasts' develop in India. From social activists who have now renamed themselves 'civil society' to godmen who want to politicise everything including their own illegalities, the development is something that does not augur well for any democracy and certainly not ours. We are nurturing a demon that will continue to devour every edifice left of some of our institutions. What saddens me most is the level of discourse that is now part of the public domain. I cannot fathom how an Arvind Kejriwal speaks the way he does. He is not the arbiter of all morality in India. How can he make statements that are not just abusive but damning about a society that he represents and hopes to change?

By alleging falsehoods on both the people and the process that is responsible for creating the lokpal bill, we are allowing these people to hijack what must be a governmental agenda. I am tired of being told by these so-called 'civil society' members that it is their business to get things done if the government doesn't. Illogical and farcical. We are all part of a system that allows us to choose our representatives. On top of that, we have a vibrant and free media. So what prevents the 'people' as it were, from taking up issues through these channels?

India has been in existence as a nation since 1947. Haven't we had bills passed before or are we awakening to a new dawn? I was aghast at the manner in which Ramdev held Delhi hostage. I kept wondering, when I gave him the right to represent me? What angered me even more was why my government was negotiating with self-styled representatives of the people? Is corruption new to India? Is it unique to us a nation? And will one bill change all that? Will the municipal worker stop asking for a bribe? Will we never need to pay cops just so they do their duty? Will  there be no delays as far as the legal machinery is concerned? What is it that we are talking about?

Enough has been said about blackmail and how the government has been held to ransom. Equally distressing was the role that the BJP and the RSS played — political opportunists to the hilt. Is this going to be the new way of defining an Opposition in India? To my mind, the personal remarks against Sonia Gandhi by Nitin Gadkari belonged to the gutter and not to someone who claims to head a political party. We have become so indecent that almost anything goes and no individual or institution is sacred. This cynicism and abuse will destroy India quicker than we can imagine. The tremors of this self-hatred are being felt abroad. In the many meetings with global editors, the first question I am asked is: 'Why is India so self-destructive?' Just when everything was going right for us, foreign direct investment has slowed down and investor confidence has waned.

I have always maintained that the role of civil society is to flag issues and then build sustainable pressure for governments to act. Blackmail is not a tool that helps countries legislate. It only opens doors to dubious people as we saw in the case of Ramdev. The Kejriwals of this world need to know that unless elected, they are mere citizens and not law-makers. This distinction cannot be blurred the way it has been over the past few weeks. What is worse is the intolerance. Over the last many days, I have gone against the popular sentiment and been pilloried for it. I have been  called a government stooge and a Congress agent. What I have found shocking is that very few in the media are  analysing this ridiculous situation or taking a contrarian view. I hope they realise that sensationalism and populism do not make for sustainable legislation.

This country has to be run by India's Parliament, not by a motley crew that assembles periodically either at Jantar Mantar or the Ramlila Maidan. We are not some loose confederation of states run by independent warlords. We are a nation governed by a constitution. If we could lock up Binayak Sen for sedition, why are we silent on some of these civil society blokes who are causing even greater harm?

Suhel Seth is the CEO of Counselage, a Delhi-based brand and marketing consultancy. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ROAD TO MYANMAR

 

China inaugurates gas pipelines. India inaugurates rice silos. Now, that may be too reductive a study in contrast, but it should be on the mind of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna as he engages with the new, nominally civilian government in Myanmar. Of course, there's nothing ignoble about the rice silos being built in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, they are every bit humanitarian and part of economic diplomacy. Nevertheless, there are larger aspects to India's economic and strategic diplomacy in Myanmar that need to be foregrounded and pursued urgently — issues which have seen India shaky at the worst, slow and indecisive at best. Notwithstanding international criticism, India had rightly engaged with the junta that ruled till recently, given the rapid strides China was making in this key common neighbour. But unlike China, which would prefer a weak state in Myanmar, India's relationship is layered, envisioning a strong and united nation central to its "Look East" policy.

India's interests constitute security, energy (natural gas resources and hydel projects), infrastructure and connectivity, communications and information technology. Myanmar, with its own insurgency problems, is crucial to the security of India's Northeast. It also bears the potential to transform the economic fortunes of the seven landlocked states. While the Kaladan multi-modal transportation project has reached construction stage, an MoU will be signed on linking Manipur to Tiddim. A trans-Asian road system through Myanmar and the maritime gateway for India's Northeast via the Sitwe port need speedier work. There will be several other MoUs signed, such as the one on an industrial park. However, what is being closely watched is the NHPC's delivery on the revival of two hydel power projects, wherein delays on the Indian side were criticised by the Indian ambassador to Myanmar.

India-Myanmar bilateral trade has more than doubled since 2006, reaching $1.5 billion last year. But even as India fell a good distance behind China in a country with nearly 20 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas reserves, little changed in the way Delhi did business. Myanmar's new president has already visited Beijing, while scepticism has grown about India's ability to deliver. Certainly, there are questions about how genuinely democratic the new political order is. Nonetheless, India needs to deepen and thicken its involvement, looking beyond stale rhetoric and standard MoUs to devise institutional mechanisms to implement projects in its neighbourhood. Its ties to Myanmar are historic, and not a simple counterpoint to China for influence and access. What the bilateral relationship needs now is solid and speedy work on the ground, not continuing listlessness.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MEETING GROUND

 

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has returned from a goodwill trip to China, brimming with ideas for creative partnership. Bihar, as the birthplace of Buddhism, is perhaps best-positioned to articulate the old civilisational connect between India and China, and Kumar certainly laid great emphasis on Buddhism as a binding agent. This visit fits in with India's sharpened efforts to engage its neighbours, and it demonstrates the value of drafting chief ministers into the diplomatic agenda, especially when they have shared stakes — as in many of our border states.

In some cases, the state's politics dictates the tenor of diplomacy, the most obvious example being Tamil Nadu. However, in far too many instances, the state isn't represented in the bilateral exchange, even though its concerns have everything to do with the content. Many northeastern states are directly impacted by the questions of infrastructure, water-sharing, access to ports or migration discussed between India and its immediate neighbours like China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. And yet, CMs of these states rarely take the lead in initiating and furthering these conversations, and Delhi has rarely made place for them at the table.

States that share a border with a neighbouring country are likely to be attached to it in strong and instinctively understood ways, in terms of language and culture, and are also directly affected by the bilateral exchange. For instance, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has a strong personal rapport with Sheikh Hasina. Surely, it stands to sense that Bengal's leadership should serve as the bridge with Bangladesh, or that Nitish Kumar should have a direct line to Nepal? Punjab, of course, has a more intuitive understanding of its place in reconciling India's and Pakistan's interests, and Amarinder Singh, especially, had done much to energise trans-border engagement. These states are threshold zones, places where either/or logic between nations gives way to an awareness of the reciprocal bonds that tie us to our neighbours. So it makes sense, from every angle, to give CMs a greater role in deepening those ties.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

                                                                                                EDITORIAL

MEETING GROUND

 

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has returned from a goodwill trip to China, brimming with ideas for creative partnership. Bihar, as the birthplace of Buddhism, is perhaps best-positioned to articulate the old civilisational connect between India and China, and Kumar certainly laid great emphasis on Buddhism as a binding agent. This visit fits in with India's sharpened efforts to engage its neighbours, and it demonstrates the value of drafting chief ministers into the diplomatic agenda, especially when they have shared stakes — as in many of our border states.

In some cases, the state's politics dictates the tenor of diplomacy, the most obvious example being Tamil Nadu. However, in far too many instances, the state isn't represented in the bilateral exchange, even though its concerns have everything to do with the content. Many northeastern states are directly impacted by the questions of infrastructure, water-sharing, access to ports or migration discussed between India and its immediate neighbours like China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. And yet, CMs of these states rarely take the lead in initiating and furthering these conversations, and Delhi has rarely made place for them at the table.

States that share a border with a neighbouring country are likely to be attached to it in strong and instinctively understood ways, in terms of language and culture, and are also directly affected by the bilateral exchange. For instance, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has a strong personal rapport with Sheikh Hasina. Surely, it stands to sense that Bengal's leadership should serve as the bridge with Bangladesh, or that Nitish Kumar should have a direct line to Nepal? Punjab, of course, has a more intuitive understanding of its place in reconciling India's and Pakistan's interests, and Amarinder Singh, especially, had done much to energise trans-border engagement. These states are threshold zones, places where either/or logic between nations gives way to an awareness of the reciprocal bonds that tie us to our neighbours. So it makes sense, from every angle, to give CMs a greater role in deepening those ties.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

OLD RIVALS, NEW CHALLENGE

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

If Abhishek Bachchan had been old enough in the eighties, he would have certainly reacted to his superstar father's contesting from Allahabad with, "What an idea, sirji." Amitabh Bachchan's stint ended oddly, but it was a good idea to throw him in the ring at the time. Just one of the marvellous new ideas and experiments in the past that have marked out Uttar Pradesh on India's political map.

The heartland of India's politics, UP has been the epicentre for all kinds of contesting ideas and experiments — the Mandir idea, the Mandal movement, Lohiaite socialism, or the Ambedkarite idea. The electorate too has been hugely experimental in the past 21 years, ever since they stunningly voted out the Congress in 1989 (despite the party having secured more than 50 per cent of the vote and 83 of the then 85 seats in 1984).

The electorate has tried the BJP alone, SP-BSP, SP with Congress support, BJP-BSP, SP with smaller parties and then a single-party rule with the BSP in 2007. Nonetheless, this past decade, UP has played a somewhat peripheral role in politics at the Centre, especially in contrast to the early decades of the Indian Republic. With a non-Uttar Pradesh MP being sworn in as prime minister only as late as in 1977, it had enjoyed a long run as the make-or-break state in India. The last PM from UP is supposed to have famously said, the road to Delhi goes through Lucknow.

The fragmentation of the vote, even in successive Lok Sabha elections, resulted in both the Congress and the BJP getting marginalised, and the SP and the BSP somehow unable to lend their heft to the Centre in a way that would yield the proverbial link that state capitals seek to the Centre.

But with political parties sharpening their plans for assembly elections in 2012, that too facing a formidable incumbent like Mayawati, one would expect a little more political spunk and robust ideas to be contesting for space. But what one sees now are mostly old solutions and incapable of setting the Sangam on fire.

First, the BJP. The main opposition party is still wondering why it is unable to turn the "swell" of "anger" and "irritation" of an increasingly aspirant, hopeful middle class, against what is seen as rampant "corruption" of the ruling party, into visible support for them. What the BJP thought would happen automatically, that it would emerge as the "alternative", is not really working out. The inability to channel middle-class rage in their favour appears to have unsettled the party. Hence the return more or less to time-tested formulas: the charms of Uma Bharti, the harking back to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the touch of Hindutva. Bharti's strength is seen to be the fact that she is a woman and OBC and therefore well-placed to pick up the Samajwadi Party's drifting voters. Having sidelined their last successful OBC leader Kalyan Singh — with Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra having done little to raise the BJP's lot — Bharti seems to be the surer bet. This strategy, however, will set off "push" factors too — the minorities can again be expected to act tactically.

As far as the Congress is concerned, by dramatically raising the pitch at Bhatta-Parsaul, at least among the party loyalists, it signalled energy and a good gig to try and capture the anti-Mayawati space. But other steps have not been so encouraging. With the call to OBCs and Muslims, it appears to be a way of just mopping up a listless SP support base, and a drastic shift away from its own success formula of 2009 based on the aam admi formulation. However, now the party looks defensive about its record at the Centre and wary about trying to drag in Central leaders without a chief ministerial hopeful, a face as it were. The call for Rahul Gandhi's birthday to be marked as a day with meaning for farmers seems to be another old idea, especially with the "celebrations" taking place in absentia. Unless, of course, the Congress has decided to boldly do what it has not done so far: make Rahul Gandhi the face for its shot at wresting power in the state after 21 years.

The two regional parties that have, in the past 15 or so years, cornered the bulk of the seats face a peculiar situation, precisely because they have what the Congress and the BJP now lack: local networks. While these are indispensable for galvanising voters, these are reminders of the entrenched and jaded "system" that has blighted the lives of those out of the game — those who are out of "the system".

The SP, having emerged as a party protecting its family over everything else, has suffered several big changes — its flip-flop over the UPA, gaining and losing the support of OBC leader Kalyan Singh and then its most visible Rajput face, Amar Singh. The party is not even sure if these are an advantage or the lack of it. Not knowing what to peddle as its USP, with even its non-BJP platform having limitations now, the SP is focusing its ammunition on the Congress at present.

The BSP, in power and quieter than most as usual, may have gained by Dalit iconography that it has boldly pushed in the past five years, but has little to even offer its support base in the name of tweaking the system to benefit them. The challenge the BSP faces is how to convince its core supporters that it stands for their interests, despite the emergence of and attempts to retain the "rainbow coalition" that drove it to power five years ago. Meanwhile, Mayawati has, especially against the Bhatta-Parsaul backdrop, tried to stay ahead of the curve on the issue of land by meeting political agitations with bold formulas on compensation. Unlike her rivals, her bid for power will be based on the facts of her incumbency.

A new idea, a fresh push from any formation that could prove to be the wild card against this old rhythm, doesn't seem to be there, yet. It would be left once again for the most experimental populace in India to try and craft out the semblance of a solution. That is the voter's own Mission 2012.

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

BRINGING HOME THE CHILD

FLAVIAAGNES

 

The new guidelines for adoption of children, framed by the ministry of women and child development, under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000, will soon be implemented through a gazette notification. The comprehensive scheme, to be implemented by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), will supersede the guidelines for in-country adoption issued in 2004 and inter-country adoption in 2006, which were popularly referred to as CARA guidelines.

The new guidelines seem to address three dominant concerns — safety of the child through stringent post-adoption stipulations; an expeditious adoption process; and curbing of adoption rackets that have flourished in the past two decades. There have been instances, though few, of agencies luring poor parents to sell their infants, picking up abandoned babies, or kidnapping children to sell them to foreigners. These raised an important issue for the Indian state, especially after the courts expressed great concern in this regard.

The most important aspect the guidelines seem to tackle is adoption rackets, by bringing all adoption under a centralised scheme. The guidelines make it mandatory for Child Welfare Committees (CWC) in each district to verify the whereabouts of each child before it is placed for adoption and put an end all kinds of donations from prospective adoptive parents and foreign agencies to an adoption centre. Under the centralised system, applications for all in-country adoption will be received by CARA and forwarded to an agency where children are available for adoption. All agencies are required to register at the Central Adoption Resource Information and Guidance System and stringent procedures are stipulated for their functioning. There will be periodic inspections and even a procedure for de-recognition.

These look good on paper, but in a system plagued with malpractice, where police officials and CWC members themselves have colluded with racketeers, these guidelines do not inspire much hope. It is anyone's guess how these guidelines will help to improve the situation on the ground.

The second aspect of the proposed rules is to cut the red tape and expedite adoption process by eliminating the requirement of certain clearances. Permanent recognition of foreign adoption agencies, authorised by CARA for sponsoring applications of prospective NRI, OCI, PIO and foreign adoptive parents, and Indian agencies is meant to minimise undue delay and ensure smooth functioning of the adoption process. A special process is also laid down for adoption of children with special needs.

The third important aspect is to provide safeguards through stringent post-adoption follow-up procedures. All in-country adoptions will be followed up for two years. All inter-country adoptions will proceed only after a final decree under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act to ensure citizenship of the adopted child. Adoptions will be made only to counties that are signatories to the Hague convention. This will ensure that the country of adoption is bound by the rules of the convention to provide due protection to the child. Only Indian nationals in non-Hague ratified countries will be permitted to adopt. In order to promote bonding between the child and adoptive parents, a provision has been made for pre-adoption foster care to provide early deinstitutionalisation of the child.

In view of the problem of repatriation of an adopted child, an issue pending before the Bombay High Court, in all cases of inter-country adoption, the adoptive parents will be required to make the provision of $5,000 in the name of the repatriated child.

The ratio of in-country and inter-country adoption, which was 50:50, will now be changed to 80:20, and more Indian couples will be encouraged to adopt. However, stipulations on the eligibility of an adoptive parent seem to be regressive. A couple in a live-in relationship are not entitled to adopt. A couple should be in a "stable" marriage for at least two years prior to adoption. A person below 25 years and beyond 50 years cannot adopt a child under three years, and the aggregate age of the parents should not be more than 90 years. For adopting a child above three years, the age bar is extended to 55 years and the aggregate age to 105 years.

A single person is entitled to adopt, but the age bar gets more constricted — between 30 and 45 for adopting a child under three, and is extended to 50 years if the child is above three years. A single male cannot adopt a girl child. The presence of a female member is a precautionary measure. While gays and lesbians cannot adopt as a couple, they may be eligible as single persons. But if a preliminary enquiry reveals the gay or live-in status of the person, there is a possibility that it may cause a moral dilemma to the authorities.

With surrogacy gaining popularity and India becoming a cheap hub for childless and gay couples, there is a possibility that couples wishing to have a child may opt for surrogacy since there are no guidelines for the mother or the child. And this may render adoption a thing of the past.

The writer is a lawyer and director of Majlis in Mumbai
express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'I ALWAYS TELL (ACTIVISTS) UNPARLIAMENTARY WORDS SHOULD NOT BE USED...I ONLY PITY THEM WHO USE SUCH LANGUAGE'

SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

I am at the Art of Living Centre on the outskirts of Bangalore. This is a very busy season for both spirituality as well as activism and my guest this week is somebody who is the rockstar of both, spirituality and activism—Guruji, Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji.

Nice. I always walk the talk. And it's nice to walk the talk with you.

Thank you, and I have to express my gratitude in particular because you had graced the first Walk the Talk, seven years ago.

How is it going now? So many years.

And if I may say so, you seem to have got seven years younger since then.

Yoga and meditation does work.

Right. Also, taking over other people's problems.

You know if you are young in your spirit, that's all that matters.

Let me convey my condolences for your father's demise.

My father was very vibrant. Anywhere he goes, you would feel his presence. He would make his presence felt and he would voice his concerns. And he was a great freedom fighter as well.

It was so soon after your father's death that you went to Haridwar for the rituals, and you were immediately informed about Swami Ramdev's situation and you got involved in troubleshooting. Is it spiritual training that you were able to take it so stoically?

I like to resolve conflict wherever it arises. It has become sort of my nature. I can't but stop. As soon as I landed there, I saw the Himalayan Institute Hospital next to the airport. Babaji (Baba Ramdev) had been admitted there and he was in a serious condition. So even before going for my ritual, I first went to see Babaji and he was in very bad shape. Then I completed my work and visited him again. And convinced him, and thank god, it worked.

But tell us a little bit more about how you can put aside your grief so quickly and get involved in duty. You had to intervene in Swami Ramdev's situation.

That is what spirituality does to you when you are in touch with the centre core of your existence, the self. You know, I'm not the body; I'm the light, the consciousness. Then grief doesn't touch you at all. You will see that happening. Not just with me, but millions of people here. The day pitaji expired, it was like a celebration, people were there, deep in meditation, they were singing. This is the beauty of this land. We don't mourn death. In this country, we even celebrate death. If you see any dead body being carried, you will see the drums and celebration.

Did Swami Ramdev sound very adamant when you met him?

Of course. As he's always been. Very adamant. He was not going to give up the fast. And I told him, look, I may look younger, but I am elder to you, so you have to listen to me. He used to say that I am his elder brother. I said, if that is the case, you will have to listen to me. He listened.

But what was your view on his action? Was it a bit hasty?

In many ways, we are very different. He has a different style of working. Of course, I am also against corruption, and very much want black money to come back to the country, but my ways of working are very different. But the cause—stopping corruption—being a very good cause, we said we'll all support the cause. This anti-corruption movement, we brought it up together—Anna Hazareji, myself, Arvind Kejriwal, Swami Ramdevji...

How did you first come in touch? Because you are all diverse people.

This is the call of the people. We are only voicing what—we ourselves have been a victim of corruption. To register a small piece of land or to get a little work done, we cannot move a step forward without bribing.

Even Sri Sri?

Yes. We never did, we said no to it, even if the work doesn't happen, never mind.

But people have asked you?

Yes. I don't myself go anywhere. But our organisation, our schools, colleges, which are running all over the country, they face that menace. Everyday I meet people and they all come and cry, they ask what to do. Whether it's the police, bureaucracy, politicians, corruption has taken such deep roots. So people are fed up with this. So naturally, there was such anger when, thanks to the media, you brought up all the scams and problems happening in the country. So it cannot be just one person doing this work. It's the media, the general civil society, and leaders and responsible people, everyone got together.

So how did four or five of you first get in touch? They are not your devotees, some of them are devotees of different orders and systems.

RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal wanted to come up with this Lokpal Bill. And he met me and we met Anna Hazare. We have been in touch with Anna Hazare for a long time. I have known him for the last 30 years. He's a thorough Gandhian. He is very committed to the cause of farmers. We have also been working with farmers in Maharashtra to educate them in organic farming. And we create ideal villages in Maharashtra. Anna Hazare has been coming to many of our programmes.

Is it friendship or mutual respect that has developed over this time?

He has also been coming and addressing our youth workers and inspiring them about sacrifice and working with villagers. So this has been a long association, in the social sector. We have never been into anything political...I want this whole movement to be apolitical. When it gets a little bit politicised, it doesn't suit me so much.

So where have you seen signs of politicisation which may have disturbed you?

Like, for example, when Anna Hazare's fasting was happening, many politicians wanted to jump on the bandwagon, and they wanted to take credit or discredit or whatever. Or you know political parties trying to have a smear campaign against people who want to do some work. This is all giving a sort of political colour to it.

So the fault lies with political parties.

I won't say the parties, some people of political parties. Not everyone. My main contention is, we have to have a social movement in this country. An apolitical, socio-economic movement for the betterment of society. Then people from every political spectrum can join in and make the country better. We don't want the country to be divided on communal, political lines. That is very important.

But in a democracy, the country will be divided in political or ideological lines. That's how people vote. There cannot be any apolitical democracy.

That is fine, but there are certain actions that a political movement can also take forward, instead of making it a political issue. And this is one such issue, I would say.

So you are saying that politics can remain political, democracy, elections can remain political. But the anti-corruption movement should not become political.

Correct. So that if there are people within the ruling party, in whichever state or in the Centre, who want to raise their voice against corruption, (they can join in). If it becomes political, a big section of people cannot raise their voice, though their heart is for the anti-corruption movement.

That is the allegation now, not against you, but against Swami Ramdev, and indirectly against Anna Hazare, that certain political forces are behind them. And that, if I may add, started with the presence of Sadhvi Ritambhara, at Swami Ramdev's stage.

I would say that when the cause is common for everybody, it doesn't matter what their backgrounds are. But if they are coming there and using some communal agenda, it's a different issue. But if the agenda is only against corruption, I don't want to see what their backgrounds are. They can all come. Anybody can come.

But when activists use language like calling government ministers cheats, thugs, liars.

There should not be unparliamentary words used.

Did you tell them that?

I always tell them. I always tell everybody.

But they repeated it yesterday. They've repeated it three times in a week now.

Yes, I know who will listen to me and who doesn't.

Does that frustrate you?

No, it only brings more compassion in me. I only pity them.

...who use such language?

Yes. Because what are they up to? This mudslinging and using such bad words to each other...they're not going to achieve anything. It's just a drain of energy.

Do you see a degree of arrogance also deflecting, beginning to show in the manner of the civil society activists?

Different people have different lifestyles and their behaviours are very different. If you're getting stuck with what that person said and how this person behaved, you will go nowhere. When the cause is the prime thing in front of you, you should ignore that.

So could this arrogance hurt the cause?

It shouldn't hurt the cause. If someone is behaving a little arrogantly, they should see beyond their arrogance if their intention is wanting the Bill to happen. But I am sure it does hurt when there is arrogance, when there are egotistic attitudes, but what I am saying is...

That the cause should be protected?

Yes.

But Gurudev, you have a sharp eye, have you detected arrogance?

Yes, you can see that arrogance. I don't expect everyone to have an ideal behaviour pattern. When ego is hurt from one side, the other side will put up a defence. I don't blame them. I don't blame anybody for that matter. But what I am saying is, in all these human emotions and interactions, if we are committed to a goal or a cause, we won't flare up with small little happenings.

But have you counselled them since they listen to you? Although you said you know who will listen to you and who will not.

I do, I keep counselling people.

If you see some of the statements, there is the Lokpal Bill or black money that Swami Ramdev talks about. But now other things are coming in—model of economic development, boycott of multinational corporations, and suspicion of India's private sector too. Now Land Acquisition has come in. So this agenda is now becoming widely political, willy-nilly.

Yes, the country is facing many of these issues. You know, just sweet talk doesn't work all the time. You have to be tough sometimes. And sometimes tough talk may appear to be a little bit arrogant. Or it may take a colour of aggressiveness. But I would say one has to take certain tough stands at some times. It's necessary.

So that tough stand would include a fast unto death?

There could be many other ways. I'm not for sitting on a long fast, if you ask me personally. I would say when you have to raise your voice, that's when you have to eat well and speak loud. In the olden days, the government was very sensitive, people were very sensitive about a celebrity going on a fast, but today it has lost that sensibility, sensitivity and charm. So today, I would say there should be peaceful demonstrations. No doubt, there should be non-violent demonstrations and we should bring pressure tactics...

But a fast unto death—that you do it now, or I'm going to kill myself by not eating—also smacks of blackmail.

See, a sadhu did this recently, he was in coma, in the same hospital as Baba Ramdevji. He wanted illegal mining to be stopped on the Ganges bank. It was a right cause, but it fell on deaf ears for six months. He was in coma and he passed away on June 13. It was a pathetic thing. So I would say, we should do whatever works. If fasting works, we should go for it. But when Anna was fasting, several Art of Living volunteers were also fasting. One of them was a diabetes patient. And they were all enthusiastic, they want to sit and fast. I was abroad, I called that boy from there. I said, I want you to break your fast and have your food. And he did it, otherwise he would have lost his eyes, three or four days down the fast. Life is more important.

So if not fasting, what is a good method?

Educating people—education and persuasion. Make people understand the wider cause, the larger interest of society. These methods have to be introduced.

Have you?

Yes, I have travelled in 16 states in the last few months and all I did was ask people to take a vow. Three vows. First, I said everyone take a vow that you will not bribe people. If there is no giver of bribe, nobody will take bribe. So first of all, civil society people have to vow that they will not give bribe. Second, I said all the officers should put a sticker on their table, saying, 'I don't take bribe'. Third, is the political Bill. For that the Lokpal Bill is being drafted. I don't know much about the law or the Bill. So I request both sides to iron out the differences, think about the larger good of the society, of the people.

With flexibility or by saying that this is my law, take it or I am going on fast?

I don't think people like Anna Hazare would do that. I know Anna. He is a very amicable man. He listens, and at this age, at 70 years...

Seventy is young. Particularly for somebody who led such a disciplined life.

Yes. I don't think he's so unapproachable or he is beyond communication. It has to be from both sides. Everyone should iron out differences.

Transcribed by Akanksha Kapoor
To be continued

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NMIZS NO TAX HAVENS

The objections raised by the different arms of the finance ministry to the proposed National Manufacturing and Investment Zones (NMIZs) are remarkable for their unanimous tone. This is very different from the initial response to the SEZs, where the revenue department was seen as fighting a lone battle in 2005-06 to rein in the tax breaks and which, therefore, did not pass muster. But while the common front is laudable, it runs the risk of tarring the NMIZs with the same brush as the SEZs, which obviously must not be the intention of the government. As per finance ministry data, it has lost R14,073 crore because of the SEZ scheme in 2010-11. So far as one can see, the NMIZ plan has not been structured on similar lines. But if it has been, then this speaks very little about the supposed inter-ministerial coordination that even after a clear anti-tax-incentive-based position has been accepted by the government, another variant of the same has managed to get the PM's approval. Even if the supposed freebies are lopped off at the stage of committee of secretaries, this does not inspire confidence in the decision-making process in the top echelons of the government. In terms of principle, the objections raised by the finance ministry to tax incentives are, however, appropriate.

The focus of the NMIZs—which have been conceived as a part of the national manufacturing plan being prepared by the Planning Commission for increasing the foothold of the manufacturing sector in the economy—is on developing greenfield industrial townships. The zones are intended to attract industrial investments by focusing on building physical infrastructure, putting in place facilitative regulatory and exit policies, providing incentives to develop technologies and in-house facilities for knowledge and skill development, and instituting consultative and participatory administrative structures, rather than by deploying any special package of fiscal measures. Thus, the key feature of the NMIZs is not any set of special fiscal concessions but to ensure more business friendly policy, procedures, a smooth approval ecosystem, and superior physical infrastructure. However, the zones are supposed to subsume the SEZs and this is a troublesome aspect of the new policy. The Direct Taxes Code (DTC) plans to set a cut-off date for the SEZs' tax rebates and for grandfathering the rest. Is the finance ministry worried that the new plan could scupper the DTC plans. A reading of the NMIZs' policyspeak does not give any indication that this should be so. But again, it is up to the two ministries to clearly state the goals of the new industrial city states. Unless this is done, the NMIZs could degenerate into a mud-slinging match, not the best way to push the manufacturing agenda for the country.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TERMINAL MATTERS

Civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi is reading the wrong script for a genuine problem. He wants to set up a fund to underwrite expenditure of airline companies that fly un-economic routes. The essential air service fund reads suspiciously like a scheme to cream the private sector airlines to partly finance Air India's huge losses. The minister had to just take a quick read from his party colleague Kapil Sibal to find out how telecom companies came into rural telephony to realise why the plan will not succeed. For years the rural telephony fund remained unused, with even state-owned BSNL not able to make headway. Once the sector achieved a critical mass, the fund has again remained unused as the private sector did not need an incentive to chase rural buyers. In the aviation sector, the same virtuous cycle is gathering mass. For starters, there are already over 120 daily flights to the Northeast, presumably the region that the minister had in mind for the fund. These flights are not running on social conscience but as profitable routes. True, compared to the national grid of about 1,600 daily flights, this is less than 10% but that itself is expanding. As the region becomes more connected through highways, the markets will develop more, giving a fillip to better connections.

In Jammu & Kashmir, flights are restricted because of the safety issues. The Srinagar airport, for instance, does not operate at night, automatically restricting the numbers. What is needed right now is a big push for developing genuine low-cost airports that has been in the works for ages. Setting up a fund instead, with the attendant issues of administration, will only give an additional role to the officers of Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan that we can safely do without.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

A CRISIS OF FAITH
MK VENU

The stock markets are normally seen as the best barometer of the overall economic outlook in the medium term. If one goes by this logic, then things don't look very good for the Indian economy, besieged as it is by factors both local and global. And some of the issues dogging the economy will not go away anytime soon. On Monday, there was a big scare in the stock market as it fell sharply on rumours that India was renegotiating its double taxation treaty with Mauritius from where most of foreign portfolio investments come into India. Now, anybody with the most cursory knowledge of the Indo-Mauritius Treaty would know that it cannot be changed overnight. Besides, the finance ministry would be stupid to take any precipitate action that would bring the markets crashing down. Yet rumours to the contrary did shake the market, even if temporarily. Analysts are suddenly talking about the sensitive index going to sub-16,000 levels. When confidence is low, rumours become all the more believable. Are the animal spirits in decline again?

Confidence levels are very low on various counts. The domestic factors include signs of a discernible slowdown in private investment, inflation remaining stubbornly elevated, GDP forecasts for 2011-12 being lowered to about 8% by most experts now. Most analysts cite 'government inaction' as another major cause for business sentiment getting depressed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a much publicised press conference with television channel editors some months ago and said the government would get back to its business of pushing much-needed reforms to keep growth ticking at a good pace. Not much has been heard on the subject from either the Prime Minister or any of his senior colleagues since. Senior Cabinet ministers in New Delhi are spending much of their time responding in a paranoic manner to incipient threats from civil society players. The minister of water resources, Salman Khurshid, was at the Indian Express office the other day for an extensive interaction with the journalists of the Express Group. Indeed, it was a telling comment on the general state of affairs that the entire session was devoted to the problems the government faced in coming up with an agreeable draft of the proposed Lokpal Bill that would satisfy civil society representatives. Of course, there was no time to discuss Mr Khurshid's main portfolio, water resources, which requires equal attention from a development perspective.

Ditto is the case with telecom/HRD/science and technology minister Kapil Sibal, who too is perhaps expending much of his energies these days on the Lokpal draft. It might be useful to ask him how much time he gives to the major reforms agenda waiting to be implemented in the departments of HRD and telecom. Most of these ministers, whether they are in office, home or TV studios, seem preoccupied with dealing with the amorphous civil society. At this rate, we may soon have a Union minister for civil society! Well, one may not be enough.

On a more serious note, daily, bread and butter decision-making has come to a standstill. Last week, a crucial meeting of Cabinet ministers to decide the freeing up of coal mines to meet massive coal shortages had to be postponed as the UPA is grappling with various political crises. Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee continues to head some three dozen GoMs and EGoMs, which have a large number of economic and other governance reform items to clear.

But there seems to be little urgency in dealing with many of these pressing issues. Meanwhile, the Congress's relations with the main opposition, the BJP, are again back to an all-time low. There appeared a silver lining some months ago when the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, gave out a conciliatory signal, suggesting her party would cooperate on some of the critical legislative reform items that are not politically fractious. Of course, the BJP has now tasted blood and will go back to its cussed position on most of these issues.

The stock market, of course, is anticipating future political instability and a significant slowing of GDP growth. No wonder there is talk of the Sensex testing the 16,000 levels now. Even if the fear over some of these domestic factors proves somewhat exaggerated, the global macro indicators are not helping. The dreaded term 'double dip' is firmly back in the discourse of global economic analysts. Political instability in Greece and other crises-ridden countries is threatening to blow into a larger crisis, though there is still some sanguine hope that the stronger European economies could work with ECB and IMF to work out reasonable deals with the crisis economies. One worrying data point is that many major European banks' stock prices are near the lows that existed after the 2008 global financial meltdown. There are toxic assets informally estimated at over $300 billion lying in the European banks, including German banks, which are yet to be marked to the market. They are being held at face value till maturity in the hope that reasonable economic growth in Europe will eventually mitigate the massive erosion in the value of these assets in the bank balance sheets.

However, if economic growth is what the West is relying on, it is surely not reviving either in Europe or in the US anytime soon. Most analysts believe America will take at least 5 years to come back to a normal unemployment rate of about 5% from the current 9.4%. In previous recessions, the bounce-back was much quicker. Unemployment rate among the youth is about 40% in Spain, and over 20% in Greece and some other European economies. There are too many macro headwinds emerging economies like India will face in the near future. Domestic governance issues and political instability will only add fuel to the fire.

mk.venu@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

HOLD BACK THE ONGC FPO
SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

Media reports say the ONGC management would like to kick off the roadshows sometime soon for its follow-on issue and launch the issue in early July. It might want to hold its horses. For one, the sale of shares will not fetch the government a good price; since last December, the stock price has come off by about 20% from R323 to R256 currently. For another, foreign fund managers are disillusioned with the government's inertia on reforms and continue to remain underweight on India. As for the retail investor, he may soon become an extinct species.

Investors are particularly missed because the government suddenly decided to up ONGC's subsidy burden for under-recoveries by oil marketing firms to about 39% from 33%. The move was unfortunate because, by and large, public sector companies have been allowed to function with a fair degree of freedom. PSUs like BHEL, NTPC, BEL and SAIL have turned in fairly good numbers over the years. The apprehension that the government would constantly and needlessly interfere in the running of the companies hasn't quite come true except in the case of oil marketing companies, where fuel prices are yet to be fully deregulated. But then the Street was always aware that the umbilical cord wouldn't be cut off completely.

Indeed, disinvestments in public sector firms have in general been a good idea and, with the benefit of hindsight, have probably worked better than privatisation might have. The government, which continues to hold a majority stake in many of the companies, has become richer over the years but small investors have made money too. Between 2001 and now, for a clutch of 32 PSUs, the market capitalisation rose 750% while the Sensex returned 433%. In the same time, the market capitalisation of 13 banks rose 1,230%. For a sample of 44 PSUs, the market capitalisation has more than doubled in the last six years from R4.21 lakh crore in June 2005 to R8.67 lakh crore in June 2011. In the case of public sectors banks, the returns have been even more impressive; for a sample of 21 banks, the market capitalisation has trebled from R1.2 lakh crore to R3.6 lakh crore.

True, not everything has always gone right and there have been some miscalculations along the way. For instance, the R8,286-crore NTPC follow-on issue had to be bailed out by LIC and SBI; the French auction method that disallows institutional investors from retracting a bid simply didn't work and a 5% discount for retail investors wasn't enough money left on the table at a time when the markets were volatile. In fact, although small investors typically take a cue from what their institutional counterparts are doing, they weren't fooled. The NMDC follow-on issue, too, was a bit of a flop, again bailed out by LIC. The government should have realised that the stock is an illiquid one and left more money on the table for small investors; the price today is R250 whereas the issue price was R300. In fact, with the markets in bad shape, shareholders have been continuing to lose money of late. Of the dozen stake sales of PSUs in the past two years, most are trading below their issue prices. Clearly, many of them were mispriced.

In all this gloom, the thundering success of CIL, the country's biggest IPO, which fetched the government around R15,000 crore, is evidence that PSUs can make for good investments if rightly priced. Even now, the CIL stock trades at well above its issue price of R245. Of course, there was some novelty value but nonetheless it was the pricing that did the trick. Again, it's somewhat easier to price an IPO rather than an FPO because when a stock is already listed, investors tend to sell it down in the hope of getting fresh stock at a lower price; the overhang of new shares coming into the market and expanding the equity base also has an adverse impact on the price.

The government's predicament is understandable. Last year, it had set itself a disinvestment target of R40,000 crore but managed to collect just around R22,500 crore. This year too, the government wants to mop up a similar amount but has so far managed a paltry R1,200 from the sale of shares of Power Grid Corporation. Nonetheless, given the mood in the market, it might be advisable to stay away until fund managers are more confident that the drift in government has been arrested. If the issue flops, it could queer the pitch for other issues that will follow, including those of IOC or SAIL. And if that happens, the government will not be able to mop up even half of what it did last year.

shobhana.subramanian@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

YOU GO GIRLS

As an 'Arab spring' sweeps through West Asia, one country has managed to remain insulated from the unrest. Early on, the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, bought peace with a hefty $137 billion largesse for his subjects in unemployment, housing, and other benefits. It included a $200 million package for the religious establishment that had obligingly decreed that street protests were forbidden in Islam. The move paid off. Still, a slight whiff of jasmine over the kingdom was unmistakable when a handful of Saudi women took the wheels of their cars on June 17 in protest against an official ban on women driving. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with such a ban. Driving was prohibited after a similar protest in 1990 by a group of women who decided it was time to challenge the unofficial ban that had existed until then. The prohibition was based on the dubious ground that it led to ikhtilat or 'gender mixing,' ruled by Saudi clerics as not permitted in Islam. Paradoxically, women can own cars. In some rural areas, and inside compounds such as a university or an office layout, they drive them too. But the ban is strictly followed in most places, with women dependent on men to chauffeur them around. Manal al-Sharif was doubtless emboldened by the democracy movements in the neighbourhood when she used social media networks to launch Women2Drive, a campaign urging Saudi women to break the ban, starting from the third Friday of June. The call evidently rattled the Saudi government, as seen from its swift moves to snuff out the campaign by arresting the 32-year-old Aramco engineer for over a week and taking her pages off the Internet. But the idea had already found resonance.

Mobility empowers women, and Saudi women see driving as the first step to win more freedoms from a brazenly anti-women regime. But Saudi women want to drive for some practical reasons also: it makes more economic sense than employing a driver and allows better time management. Many even argue it means less 'gender-mixing,' as it reduces dependence on non-family male drivers. That the Saudi authorities decided, after the initial reaction, not to use a heavy hand against the women who participated in the protest is a sign of its caution in the present regional environment. Two decades ago, it sacked the protesting women from their jobs, and penalised their male relatives. The regime's maximum response this time — a traffic ticket to one woman for driving without a Saudi licence — may mean one of two things: hope that ignoring the protest will make it go away; or a possibility of relaxation of the ban in the belief that such limited 'reform' will act as a safety valve, keeping the lid on demands for more far-reaching political reform. Either way, it is a small step forward for women.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WILL TIGER ROAR AGAIN?

Thanks to a lingering knee injury, Tiger Woods was absent — for the first time since 1995 — from last weekend's U.S. Open. But has his game been wounded in a much more debilitating and lasting way? Ever since the sex scandal destroyed his marriage and family life in late 2009, Woods has not won even one tournament; he has lost the last 22 in which he played. Notwithstanding his promises to return to his earlier form, rivals such as Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, and Martin Kaymer have climbed to the top of the rankings ladder as he has slipped to a lowly 13th. Before the stories about his infidelities broke in rapid succession, it seemed only a matter of time before Woods, with 14 titles in golf's four major tournaments — the U.S. Open, the U.S. PGA, the British Open and the Masters — would surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 victories. Now the chances of his doing so, and establishing his place as the greatest golfer ever beyond a smidgeon of doubt, have virtually vanished. He seemed to have it for the asking and he blew it. This is what makes the Tiger Woods story so painful for the legion of fans, who marvelled at his genius, celebrated his victories, and believed they were witnessing history in the making.

Of course, it is too early to write Tiger off. At 35, he may no longer be young, but golf is a sport where champions often blossom in their thirties (the current number one Luke Donald is 33) and, on occasion, remain in bloom until much later (Jack Nicklaus won his last major when he was 46). Recently, he has made radical alterations to his golf swing. While these have been fiercely criticised by some experts, the new swing probably needs more time to settle in and more time before a proper assessment is made of its merits. Golf is very much a mental game and it is possible that Woods may return to form with the return of some focus and equanimity in his personal life. But one thing seems certain. It will be impossible for Woods to recapture those glory days in the early 2000s when he routinely won tournaments by huge margins, when he rewrote golfing record after golfing record, when he alone was on Mount Olympus while the others seemed to merely labour in the foothills. In fact, Tiger had lost that kind of supremacy well before he was scandal-scarred; to hope to regain it now is simply unfeasible. What he can do, however, is to show he has the talent and the appetite to win tournaments again and re-establish himself as one of the world's top-ranking golfers. It would be a personal triumph and an emotional catharsis if he does this. For his many fans, it would be a fitting end to a shining, if chequered, golfing career.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

A BILL TO SETTLE A TERRIBLE DEBT

FOR DECADES, THE VICTIMS OF COMMUNAL AND TARGETED VIOLENCE HAVE BEEN DENIED PROTECTIONS OF LAW THAT THE REST OF US TAKE FOR GRANTED. IT'S TIME TO END THIS INJUSTICE.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

In a vibrant and mature democracy, there would be no need to have special laws to prosecute the powerful or protect the weak. If a crime takes place, the law would simply take its course. In a country like ours, however, life is not so simple. Terrible crimes can be committed involving the murder of hundreds and even thousands of people, or the loot of billions of rupees. But the law in India does not take its course. More often than not, it stands still.

If the Lokpal bill represents an effort to get the law to change its course on the crime of corruption, the new draft bill on the prevention of communal and targeted violence is a modest contribution towards ensuring that India's citizens enjoy the protection of the state regardless of their religion, language or caste.

The draft law framed by the National Advisory Council and released earlier this month for comment and feedback is a huge improvement over the bill originally drawn up by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2005. The earlier version paid lip service to the need for a law to tackle communal violence but made matters worse by giving the authorities greater coercive powers instead of finding ways to eliminate the institutional bias against the minorities, Dalits and adivasis, which lies at the heart of all targeted violence in India.

The November 1984 massacre of Sikhs provides a good illustration of how the institutionalised "riot system" works. Let us start with the victim. She is unable to get the local police to protect the lives of her family members or property. She is unable to file a proper complaint in a police station. Senior police officers, bureaucrats and Ministers, who by now are getting reports from all across the city, State and country, do not act immediately to ensure the targeted minorities are protected. Incendiary language against the victims is freely used. Women who are raped or sexually assaulted get no sympathy or assistance. When the riot victims form makeshift relief camps, the authorities harass them and try to make them leave. The victims have to struggle for years before the authorities finally provide some compensation for the death, injury and destruction they have suffered. As for the perpetrators of the violence, they get away since the police and the government do not gather evidence, conduct no investigation and appoint biased prosecutors, thereby sabotaging the chances of conviction and punishment.

With some modifications here and there, this is the same sickening script which played out in Gujarat in 2002, when Muslims were the targeted group. On a smaller scale, all victims of organised, targeted violence — be they Tamils in Karnataka or Hindi speakers in Maharashtra or Dalits in Haryana and other parts of the country — know from experience and instinct that they cannot automatically count on the local police coming to their help should they be attacked.

If one were to abstract the single most important stylised fact from the Indian "riot system", it is this: violence occurs and is not immediately controlled because policemen and local administrators refuse to do their duty. It is also evident that they do so because the victims belong to a minority group, precisely the kind of situation the Constituent Assembly had in mind when it wrote Article 15(1) of the Constitution: "The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them".

How are policemen and officials able to get away with violating the Constitution in this manner? Because they know that neither the law nor their superiors will act against them. What we need, thus, is not so much a new law defining new crimes (although that would be useful too) but a law to ensure that the police and bureaucrats and their political masters follow the existing law of the land. In other words, we need a law that punishes them for discriminating against citizens who happen to be minorities. This is what the draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011 does.

The CTV bill sets out to protect religious and linguistic minorities in any State in India, as well as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, from targeted violence, including organised violence. Apart from including the usual Indian Penal Code offences, the NAC draft modernises the definition of sexual assault to cover crimes other than rape and elaborates on the crime of hate propaganda already covered by Section 153A of the IPC. Most importantly, it broadens the definition of dereliction of duty — which is already a crime — and, for the first time in India, adds offences by public servants or other superiors for breach of command responsibility. "Where it is shown that continuous widespread or systematic unlawful activity has occurred," the draft says, "it can be reasonably presumed that the superior in command of the public servant whose duty it was to prevent the commission of communal and targeted violence, failed to exercise supervision … and shall be guilty of the offence of breach of command responsibility." With 10 years imprisonment prescribed for this offence, superiors will hopefully be deterred from allowing a Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002 to happen on their watch.

Another important feature is the dilution of the standard requirement that officials can only be prosecuted with the prior sanction of the government. The CTV bill says no sanction will be required to prosecute officials charged with offences which broadly fall under the category of dereliction of duty. For other offences, sanction to prosecute must be given or denied within 30 days, failing which it is deemed to have been given. Although the bill says the reasons for denial of sanction must be recorded in writing, it should also explicitly say that this denial is open to judicial review.

Another lacuna the bill fills is on compensation for those affected by communal and targeted violence. Today, the relief that victims get is decided by the government on an ad hoc and sometimes discriminatory basis. Section 90 and 102 of the CTV bill rectify this by prescribing an equal entitlement to relief, reparation, restitution and compensation for all persons who suffer physical, mental, psychological or monetary harm as a result of the violence, regardless of whether they belong to a minority group or not. While a review of existing state practice suggests victims who belong to a religious or linguistic 'majority' group in a given state do not require special legal crutches to get the police or administration to register and act on their complaints, the CTV bill correctly recognises that they are entitled to the same enhanced and prompt relief as minority victims. The language of these Sections could, however, be strengthened to bring this aspect out more strongly.

The CTV bill also envisages the creation of a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation. The authority's role will be to serve as a catalyst for implementation of the new law. Its functions will include receiving and investigating complaints of violence and dereliction of duty, and monitoring the build up of an atmosphere likely to lead to violence. It cannot compel a State government to take action — in deference to the federal nature of law enforcement — but can approach the courts for directions to be given. There will also be State-level authorities, staffed, like the National Authority, by a process the ruling party cannot rig. The monitoring of relief and rehabilitation of victims will be a major part of their responsibilities.

On the negative side of the ledger, the NAC draft makes an unnecessary reference to the power of the Centre and to Article 355 of the Constitution. The aim, presumably, is to remind the Centre of its duties in the event of a State government failing to act against incidents of organised communal or targeted violence. But the Centre already has the statutory right to intervene in such situations; if it doesn't, the reasons are political rather than legal. The draft also unnecessarily complicates the definition of communal and targeted violence by saying the acts concerned must not only be targeted against a person by virtue of his or her membership of any group but must also "destroy the secular fabric of the nation." Like the reference to Art. 355, this additional requirement can safely be deleted without diluting what is otherwise a sound law.

The BJP and others who have attacked the bill by raising the bogey of "minority appeasement" have got it completely wrong again. This is a law which does away with the appeasement of corrupt, dishonest and rotten policemen and which ends the discrimination to which India's religious and linguistic minorities are routinely subjected during incidents of targeted violence. The BJP never tires of talking about what happened to the Sikhs in 1984 when the Congress was in power. Now that a law has finally been framed to make that kind of mass violence more difficult, it must not muddy the water by asking why it covers "only" the minorities. In any case, the Bill's definition covers Hindus as Hindus in States where they are in a minority (such as Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Nagaland), as linguistic minorities in virtually every State, and as SCs and STs. More importantly, persons from majority communities who suffer in the course of communal and targeted incidents will be entitled to the same relief as minority victims. If someone feels there is any ambiguity about this, the bill's language can easily be strengthened to clarify this.

At the end of the day, however, we need to be clear about one thing: India needs a law to protect its most vulnerable citizens from mass violence, its minorities. This is a duty no civilised society can wash its hands of.

 

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 THE HINDU

OPED

WAR EVOLVES WITH DRONES

THE MACHINES ARE TRANSFORMING THE WAY AMERICA FIGHTS AND THINKS ABOUT ITS WARS.

ELISABETH BUMILLER AND THOM SHANKER

Two miles from the cow pasture where the Wright Brothers learned to fly the first airplanes, military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones, the kind that fire missiles into Pakistan and spy on insurgents in Afghanistan, to the size of insects and birds.

The base's indoor flight lab is called the "microaviary," and for good reason. The drones in development here are designed to replicate the flight mechanics of moths, hawks and other inhabitants of the natural world. "We're looking at how you hide in plain sight," said Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, as he held up a prototype of a mechanical hawk that in the future might carry out espionage or kill.

Half a world away in Afghanistan, Marines marvel at one of the new blimplike spy balloons that float from a tether 15,000 feet above one of the bloodiest outposts of the war, Sangin in Helmand Province. The balloon, called an aerostat, can transmit live video — from as far as 20 miles away — of insurgents planting homemade bombs. "It's been a game-changer for me," Capt. Nickoli Johnson said in Sangin this spring. "I want a bunch more put in."

From blimps to bugs, an explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars. Predator drones, the Cessna-sized workhorses that have dominated unmanned flight since the September 11, 2001, attacks, are by now a brand name, known and feared around the world. But far less widely known are the sheer size, variety and audaciousness of a rapidly expanding drone universe, along with the dilemmas that come with it.

The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. Within the next decade the Air Force anticipates a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of "multirole" aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined.

"It's a growth market," said Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer.

The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones next year, and by 2030 envisions ever more stuff of science fiction: "spy flies" equipped with sensors and microcameras to detect enemies, nuclear weapons or victims in rubble. Peter W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of " Wired for War," a book about military robotics, calls them "bugs with bugs."

Osama, Kashmiri missions

In recent months drones have been more crucial than ever in fighting wars and terrorism. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) spied on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan by video transmitted from a new bat-winged stealth drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, otherwise known as the "Beast of Kandahar," named after it was first spotted on a runway in Afghanistan. One of Pakistan's most wanted militants, Ilyas Kashmiri, was reported dead this month in a C.I.A. drone strike, part of an aggressive drone campaign that administration officials say has helped paralyse al-Qaeda in the region — and has become a possible rationale for an accelerated withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. More than 1,900 insurgents in Pakistan's tribal areas have been killed by American drones since 2006, according to the Web site www.longwarjournal.com.

In April the United States began using armed Predator drones against Col. Muammar el-Qadhafi's forces in Libya. Last month a C.I.A.-armed Predator aimed a missile at Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in Yemen. The Predator missed, but American drones continue to patrol Yemen's skies.

Disconnect?

Large or small, drones raise questions about the growing disconnect between the American public and its wars. Military ethicists concede that drones can turn war into a video game, inflict civilian casualties and, with no Americans directly at risk, more easily draw the United States into conflicts. Drones have also created a crisis of information for analysts on the end of a daily video deluge. Not least, the Federal Aviation Administration has qualms about expanding their test flights at home, as the Pentagon would like. Last summer, fighter jets were almost scrambled after a rogue Fire Scout drone, the size of a small helicopter, wandered into Washington's restricted airspace.

Within the military, no one disputes that drones save American lives. Many see them as advanced versions of "stand-off weapons systems," like tanks or bombs dropped from aircraft, that the United States has used for decades. "There's a kind of nostalgia for the way wars used to be," said Deane-Peter Baker, an ethics professor at the United States Naval Academy, referring to noble notions of knight-on-knight conflict. Drones are part of a post-heroic age, he said, and in his view it is not always a problem if they lower the threshold for war. "It is a bad thing if we didn't have a just cause in the first place," Mr. Baker said. "But if we did have a just cause, we should celebrate anything that allows us to pursue that just cause."

To Mr. Singer of Brookings, the debate over drones is like debating the merits of computers in 1979: They are here to stay, and the boom has barely begun. "We are at the Wright Brothers Flier stage of this," he said.

Mimicking insects

A tiny helicopter is buzzing menacingly as it prepares to lift off in the Wright-Patterson aviary, a warehouse-like room lined with 60 motion-capture cameras to track the little drone's every move. The helicopter, a foot-long hobbyists' model, has been programmed by a computer to fly itself. Soon it is up in the air making purposeful figure eights.

"What it's doing out here is nothing special," said Dr. Parker, the aerospace engineer. The researchers are using the helicopter to test technology that would make it possible for a computer to fly, say, a drone that looks like a dragonfly. "To have a computer do it 100 per cent of the time, and to do it with winds, and to do it when it doesn't really know where the vehicle is, those are the kinds of technologies that we're trying to develop," Dr. Parker said.

The push right now is developing "flapping wing" technology, or recreating the physics of natural flight, but with a focus on insects rather than birds. Birds have complex muscles that move their wings, making it difficult to copy their aerodynamics. Designing insects is hard, too, but their wing motions are simpler. "It's a lot easier problem," Dr. Parker said.

In February, researchers unveiled a hummingbird drone, built by the firm AeroVironment for the secretive Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which can fly at 11 miles per hour and perch on a windowsill. But it is still a prototype. One of the smallest drones in use on the battlefield is the three-foot-long Raven, which troops in Afghanistan toss by hand like a model airplane to peer over the next hill.

There are some 4,800 Ravens in operation in the Army, although plenty get lost. One American service member in Germany recalled how five soldiers and officers spent six hours tramping through a dark Bavarian forest — and then sent a helicopter — on a fruitless search for a Raven that failed to return home from a training exercise. The next month a Raven went AWOL again, this time because of a programming error that sent it south. "The initial call I got was that the Raven was going to Africa," said the service member, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss drone glitches.

In the midsize range: The Predator, the larger Reaper and the smaller Shadow, all flown by remote pilots using joysticks and computer screens, many from military bases in the United States. A Navy entry is the X-47B, a prototype designed to take off and land from aircraft carriers automatically and, when commanded, drop bombs. The X-47B had a maiden 29-minute flight over land in February. A larger drone is the Global Hawk, which is used for keeping an eye on North Korea's nuclear weapons activities. In March, the Pentagon sent a Global Hawk over the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan to assess the damage.

A tsunami of data

The future world of drones is here inside the Air Force headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., where hundreds of flat-screen TVs hang from industrial metal skeletons in a cavernous room, a scene vaguely reminiscent of a rave club. In fact, this is one of the most sensitive installations for processing, exploiting and disseminating a tsunami of information from a global network of flying sensors.

The numbers are overwhelming: Since the September 11 attacks, the hours the Air Force devotes to flying missions for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have gone up 3,100 per cent, most of that from increased operations of drones. Every day, the Air Force must process almost 1,500 hours of full-motion video and another 1,500 still images, much of it from Predators and Reapers on around-the-clock combat air patrols.

The pressures on humans will only increase as the military moves from the limited "soda straw" views of today's sensors to new "Gorgon Stare" technology that can capture live video of an entire city — but that requires 2,000 analysts to process the data feeds from a single drone, compared with 19 analysts per drone today.

At Wright-Patterson, Maj. Michael L. Anderson, a doctoral student at the base's advanced navigation technology centre, is focussed on another part of the future: building wings for a drone that might replicate the flight of the hawk moth, known for its hovering skills. "It's impressive what they can do," Major Anderson said, "compared to what our clumsy aircraft can do." — © New York Times News Service

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THE HINDU

AUNG SAN SUU KYI TELLS OF MYANMAR'S STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM AND ITS COST

SHE SPEAKS MOVINGLY OF THE PRICE OF RESISTANCE IN THE BBC'S 'REITH LECTURES.'

SIMON TISDALL

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese (Myanmarese) democracy leader and Nobel peace prize winner, has issued a passionate manifesto for freedom in an unprecedented international broadcast describing the continuing 21-year-long struggle against Burma's military junta and the inspirational impact of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

On June 28

Delivering the first of this year's BBC Reith lectures, which was secretly recorded in Burma (Myanmar) and will be broadcast on June 28 (Tuesday), Aung San Suu Kyi speaks movingly of the price she and fellow activists have paid while travelling what she calls the "hard road to freedom" — and of her heartfelt belief in the justice of their cause, which sustained her during nearly 15 years in jail or under house arrest.

"What is this passion? What is the cause to which we are so passionately dedicated as to forgo the comforts of a conventional existence?" she asks. "Going back to [former Czech dissident leader] Vaclav Havel's definition of the basic job of dissidents, we are dedicated to the defence of the right of individuals to free and truthful life. In other words, our passion is liberty." Aung San Suu Kyi describes the way those who choose the path of resistance and protest can become isolated, physically and spiritually, from ordinary life — and the toll such deprivation exacts. "Human contact is one of the most basic needs that those who decide to go into, and to persevere in, the business of dissent have to be prepared to live without.

"In fact living without is a huge part of the existence of dissidents. What kind of people deliberately choose to walk the path of deprivation? Max Weber identifies three qualities of decisive importance for politicians as passion, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of proportion.

"The first — passion — he interprets as the passionate dedication to a cause. Such a passion is of crucial importance for those who engage in the most dangerous kind of politics: the politics of dissent. Such a passion has to be at the core of each and every person who makes the decision, declared or undeclared, to live in a world apart from the rest of their fellow citizens; a precarious world with its own unwritten rules and regulations, the world of dissidence."

Speaking of the vital importance to her of poetry and faith, she goes on: "Passion translates as suffering and I would contend that in the political context, as in the religious one, it implies suffering by choice: a deliberate decision to grasp the cup that we would rather let pass.

"It is not a decision made lightly — we do not enjoy suffering; we are not masochists. It is because of the high value we put on the object of our passion that we are able, sometimes in spite of ourselves, to choose suffering." Aung San Suu Kyi discusses the dangers inherent in the feeling of "separateness" experienced by the dissident, be they Burmese, Yemeni, Czech or Korean. To counter this, Myanmar's most committed regime opponents are focussed as far as possible on pragmatic, tangible objectives, such as freedom of speech, the freeing of political prisoners, or democratic elections, rather than the academic or philosophical benefits of liberty, she says.

"Whenever I was asked at the end of each stretch of house arrest how it felt to be free, I would answer that I felt no different because my mind had always been free. I have spoken out often of the inner freedom that comes out from following a course in harmony with one's conscience."

In what may be seen as a response to critics who claim her personal story and international celebrity status have got in the way of Myanmar's quest for democratic reform, she goes on: "There is certainly a danger that the acceptance of spiritual freedom as a satisfactory substitute for all other freedoms could lead to passivity and resignation. But an inner sense of freedom can reinforce a practical drive for the more fundamental freedoms in the form of human rights and rule of law." Aung San Suu Kyi speaks of her self-doubt when, after her motorcade was attacked by pro-government thugs in 2003 and many supporters were killed or arrested, she survived and was held in relatively good conditions in a prison bungalow.

She quotes the Ukrainian poet Anna Akhmatova: "No, this is not me. This is somebody else that suffers. I could never face that and all that happened."

She continues: "I felt almost as a physical force the strong bond that linked those of us who had only our inner resources to fall back on when we were most in need of strength and endurance." She also speaks with affection and pride of the supporters who turn up daily to help at the ramshackle headquarters of her much suppressed and harassed party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a 1990 landslide election victory, only to see it annulled by the military junta.

Arab revolutions

"More than once it has been described as the NLD 'cowshed.' Since this remark is usually made with a sympathetic and often admiring smile, we do not take offence. After all, didn't one of the most influential movements in the world begin in a cowshed?" The bravery of these people, she says, is extraordinary. "They pretend to be unafraid as they go about their duties and pretend not to see that their comrades are also pretending. This is not hypocrisy. This is courage that has to be renewed consciously from day to day and moment to moment. This is how the battle for freedom has to be fought until such time as we have the right to be free from the fear imposed by brutality and injustice." Aung San Suu Kyi draws comparisons between Myanmar's plight and the revolution in Tunisia, which was ignited by a selfless act of defiance by an ordinary person who could no longer tolerate the "unbearable burden" of injustice. The main difference, she argues, was how free and uncensored communications, especially via young people's social media networks, allowed the world to know what was happening in many Arab countries. This was not yet the case in Myanmar. Speaking in general of dissenters' attempts to challenge or bring down authoritarian regimes, she says: "A friend once said she thought the straw that broke the camel's back became intolerable because the animal had caught a glimpse of itself in a mirror. The realisation dawned that the burden it was bearing was of unacceptable magnitude and its collapse was in fact a refusal to continue bearing so oppressive a load.

"In Tunis and in Burma, the deaths of two young men were the mirrors that made the people see how unbearable were the burdens of injustice and oppression they had to endure.

"Do we envy the people of Tunisia and Egypt? Yes, we do envy them their quick and peaceful transitions. But more than envy is a sense of solidarity and of renewed commitment to our cause, which is the cause of all women and men who value human dignity and freedom. In our quest for freedom, we learn to be free."

Aung San Suu Kyi, who will deliver two of this year's Reith lectures, received the Sakharov prize for freedom of thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Released, she is unable to travel outside Burma. ( Aung San Suu Kyi's BBC 'Reith lectures' will be broadcast on June 28 and July 5 at 9 a.m. U.K. time on BBC Radio 4.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

WORLD HERITAGE COMMITTEE TO DISCUSS 2011 NOMINATIONS

CARVINGS IN MONGOLIA, BUDDHIST SITES IN JAPAN AND THE MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE OF LE CORBUSIER ARE AMONG THE 42 NOMINATIONS.

MAEV KENNEDY

Ancient German beech forests, rock carvings in Mongolia, Buddhist sites in Japan and the architectural works of the modernist genius Le Corbusier are among the nominations before UNESCO this week as it debates which of the world's cultural treasures to elevate to its World Heritage list.

The 35th session of the World Heritage committee will meet in Paris to discuss 42 nominations for the list, which for almost 40 years has aimed to define and cherish places of universal significance.

It will not be a serene process of looking at images of awe-inspiring ancient monuments and ravishing landscapes. Although joining the list brings no money nor even statutory protection, countries among the wealthiest and poorest on Earth are keen to be included, and the debates are often passionate.

New sites

Six countries are likely to have sites accepted for the first time: Congo, which has jointly nominated the Sangha forests with its African neighbours; Barbados, for the Bridgetown garrison; Jamaica, for the Blue and John Crow mountain ranges; Micronesia and Palau, which have jointly nominated the sites of the massive Yap stone money discs; and the United Arab Emirates, for the oases of Al Ain. The list already covers more than 900 castles, walled towns, derelict ironworks, ravines, bays and rainforests. Before deciding which places should be added, the committee must consider the knottier problem of dozens of places now in such trouble they risk being moved to the separate list of sites threatened by development, earthquakes, climate change or the shifting tides of international politics.

There has been concern for years over sites in Iran — although it was the devastating earthquake, not war, that brought the ancient city of Bam on to the endangered list — as well as Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. The conference itself has been affected by the aftermath of the Arab spring: it was originally due to be held in Bahrain, which has nominated its island pearl fishing tradition to join the list, but the political instability caused it to be moved to UNESCO's Paris headquarters. Even nominating a site can be a political act. Jerusalem's Old City and city walls have been officially regarded as under threat for almost 20 years, since Jordan proposed they be moved to the endangered list.

Those left out

Bethlehem, one of the most famous places in the world, will not be among those considered this year. UNESCO rejected the nomination from the Palestinian authorities because Palestine is not recognised as a state.

Another site missing from the debate will be the home in Kent and the surrounding countryside where Charles Darwin wrote On The Origin of Species. Despite being turned down twice, the British government still hopes the property will join the list eventually — but it won't be this year. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

YOUNG ABORIGINAL PRISONERS ARE A 'NATIONAL CRISIS'

Australia's burgeoning population of young Aboriginal prisoners is a "national crisis" that needs urgent and wide-ranging government action, an Australian Parliamentary report warned on June 20.

Aboriginal children are 28 times more likely than other Australian children to be sent to a juvenile detention centre, the report on indigenous youth in the criminal justice system found. The report comes as the government strives to close the life expectancy gap of more than a decade between Aborigines and other Australians by addressing poor health, unemployment, low education levels as well as alcohol and drug abuse among indigenous people.

While Aborigines make up an impoverished minority of only 2.5 per cent of Australia's 22 million population, 25 per cent of the Australian prison population is indigenous.

The 346-page report released by a committee of seven government and opposition lawmakers specialising in indigenous issues made 40 wide-ranging recommendations that attack many underlying causes for young indigenous Australians getting in trouble with police.

They recommend the government recognise as a registered disability the brain damage suffered by Aboriginal children whose their mothers drank alcohol, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They also found many children are partially deaf because they suffer more middle ear diseases than other Australians. This deafness has negative consequences for their school attendance and their experiences with police, courts and detention centres. The report recommends that the government tests the hearing of all Aboriginal children in their first years of school. — AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

WHY IS INDIA'S PR SO SHODDY?

The silly "confrontation" between an Indian and a Pakistani warship — flowing from the recent minor episode of the rescue from Somali pirates of the Egyptian merchant ship MV Suez, whose crew of 22 included six Indian nationals — won't even merit a footnote in a study of India-Pakistan relations. But there has been a lot of noise, a lot of smoke without fire, and a lot of uninformed breathless television reporting, before which the Indian government simply keeled over. It was overwhelmed by the rush of events and their high-pitched media reporting. Since our bureaucrats are fundamentally trained to communicate only with one another, and only on file, in a situation deemed to be "sensitive" they tend to close shop and cite rules and precedents that might satisfy their superiors but does little to assuage sentiments in the public sphere. It is thus that India lost the battle of the waves to Pakistan when INS Godavari had a "brush" with PNS Babur, and there rose a cry that the Indian government was immune to the plight of Indian sailors aboard a foreign vessel on the high seas.

Communicating in time, and in an appropriate manner, is not one of the strong points of our state system, which basically means the higher bureaucracy and senior politicians. Admittedly, such real-time communication with the public is a relatively new concept, while the mindset of the Indian state was shaped by the colonial experience and is still rooted in the 19th century discourse of power which held it foolish to let on things to ordinary citizens. Not communicating with the people arose from disdain for them, and that above all was the rationale for secrecy and confidentiality over the smallest matter. However, in a far more open world in which information, ideas and propaganda travel at the speed of lightning if not light, it does no harm to get your punch in first. Once beaten on that count, your side of the story is usually as good as dead. And then the narrative of the other side takes centrestage and becomes the basis for discussion and opinion-making. This is what seems to have happened in the case of the Indian warship. Its rescue-making efforts were not heeded by the trapped Egyptian vessel, which had a Pakistani captain. So it played an also-ran while the Pakistani warship took the credit for the humanitarian rescue, including that of Indian seamen who are presumably still under Pakistani supervision. In the process, the Pakistani warship also aggressively nudged the Indian military boat, presumably taking revenge for the humiliation the Pakistan Navy had suffered in 1971. The pity is that this sideshow played out just a few days before a scheduled round of talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries. It is not inconceivable that in being aggressive, Pakistan's overall plan was to manufacture an unpleasant incident before a round of talks. But this is nothing compared to what might happen if the six Indian crew are not released by Pakistan swiftly, as that would set off an outcry within this country, forcing the government into a crouch of sorts.

Much of this could have been prevented if the Indian government's public diplomacy machinery was proactive and shipshape. Its own narrative could have been built on an entirely different basis — say, one of courtesy and magnanimity to the Pakistani ship that took the lead as it was in closer proximity to the Egyptian vessel in distress. As things turned out, the Indian reaction gave the impression of being late, churlish and inapposite. Late communications and defensive responses have often been the bane of our diplomacy, especially while dealing with masters of the art of propaganda who reside in places like Islamabad.

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THE ASIAN AGE

A PRICE FOR DEMOCRACY

ASHOK MALIK

Six months have passed since 2011 began and increasingly this is being written off as India's wasted year. Caught — some would say enthralled — by domestic political theatre, it has been easy for India to ignore the wider implications of the series of corruption scandals, a paralysed government and policy and public initiatives being hijacked by amateurs belonging to one or the other civil society platform.

India will survive 2011, survive the United Progressive Alliance government and survive this storm. Yet the India story has been substantially damaged. From falling foreign investment figures to rising home-grown pessimism, the signs are telling. It is for us to read them.

There is a substantial change from even eight months ago, when US President Barack Obama addressed Parliament and called India a power that had emerged and deserved permanent Security Council membership. This summer a vacancy arose at Roosevelt House, home of the American ambassador in New Delhi. If India were still the India of Mr Obama's praise, there would have been a clamour in Washington, D.C., for the India job. Political high-fliers would have lobbied for themselves.

Instead, a veteran diplomat — an old India hand admittedly — has been appointed. He is a trusted professional but not the sort of "A list" insider the United States President would have sent to India if it were really top of his mind.

The Americans are not alone. One by one many ancient demons are coming back to haunt perceptions of India. Egregious corruption, ineffectual governance, inability to promptly honour contracts, failure to appear consistent in economic or strategic policy and goal-making: the doubts are surfacing again.

From Australia to the Netherlands, a clutch of foreign missions is constantly urging the ministry of external affairs to help clear payments to Australian or Dutch (or other) companies for services rendered during the Commonwealth Games. There have been no definite answers offered. The government is too scared to approve any payments till investigations into Games-related embezzlement are over. This could take years. In at least one case, an Australian company of long standing has gone bankrupt.

These may seem minor incidents but they are adding up. Exasperation with India, disgust with its venal and unreformed political system and concern it is slipping back to its mid-1990s (or even pre-1990s) ostrich-headed world view is growing. It would be futile to run away from that reality. In the past year India has not just stayed where it is; it has actually lost ground.

It is facile to pretend India is paying the price for democracy. Everything from coalition governments — and the failure of the Prime Minister to rein in wild political partners who may have won elections in a specific state — to Baba Ramdev submitting a list of outlandish demands, to lack of urgency on infrastructure reforms till a mythical "unanimity" is achieved can be blamed, rationalised and explained in the name of democracy.
Unfortunately, this so-called "democracy tax" is an excuse for a line of least resistance. That apart, while India's commitment to universal franchise and free speech are applauded worldwide, the rest of the planet is driven by both political processes and economic outcomes. For India's external stakeholders, it is not an "either/or" situation.

Global powers began to take India seriously in about 2002-2003 due to a happy confluence of phenomena. India's economy shifted gears and GDP growth rates zoomed. The outsourcing boom matured. Key sectors — pharmaceuticals, automobiles — started to offer early evidence of India's manufacturing prowess.
In parallel, India adopted a sober, pragmatic and modern foreign policy. It went out of its way to allay apprehensions that it was an unpredictable international actor that harboured adventurist tendencies. Finally, the US presence in Afghanistan and pressure on the Taliban and its backers in Pakistan took care of some of India's near-term security apprehensions.

Other than 9/11 and the US intervention in Kabul, none of those events happened without effort on India's part. Each was a hard won victory. Today, all three props of that edifice are vulnerable. The economy is shaky. A combination of high interest rates and a downbeat mood is keeping consumers from buying and manufacturers from increasing capacities (and so creating jobs).

In economic and foreign policy alike, the government has not fulfilled the potential India had demonstrated. Infrastructure, retail, land acquisition, an agricultural technology revolution, a genuine manufacturing thrust: India has been regurgitating the same promises and citing the problems for a half decade now. Where is the movement?

As for foreign policy, a country that was rewarded with an exceptional nuclear deal three years ago — the rules of global nuclear commerce rewritten only to accommodate India — has reverted to trademark diffidence. It barely counts even in Afghanistan, where the Americans are pushing for talks with the Taliban if only to give Mr Obama space and make symbolic "the tide is turning" gestures for his planned 2012 re-election. In short, India's decade of good fortune is over.

Of course what this also means is that the supposed India-China rivalry has, in the medium term at least, devolved into a no-contest. India has chosen the worst moment to resort to navel gazing, give its economy sleeping pills and doggedly aim for strategic self-goals. In the past few months, China's stock has actually risen. Its consumers are beginning to buy more, not enough for the West to be satisfied but more than the Chinese were willing to concede when the financial crisis broke in 2008.

The importance of China to the global economy is difficult for Indians to appreciate. In Canberra, the Prime Minister refuses to meet the Dalai Lama lest China — the largest buyer of Australian commodities — is offended. In something as obscure as the wine trade, expectation of demand from Chinese wine drinkers and collectors is pushing up 2011 prices to levels where these are 20 per cent above an anyway overheated 2010 market. In Asia, middle classes from Indonesia to the Philippines are increasingly looking to a life under the Chinese umbrella.

None of these groups and individuals has an option; and the India of 2011 is not even a ghost of an option.

The author can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

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THE ASIAN AGE

CAN DIDI SET A HEALTHY EXAMPLE?

PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

The bylanes of Kalighat, one of the oldest and most densely populated neighbourhoods of Kolkata, the white cotton sari with a slim border and flip flops (more bluntly called bathroom slippers) — Mamata didi has successfully converted these into hot talking points. Now, one eagerly waits for her to do the same to West Bengal's healthcare system.

Elder sister or Didi's unannounced visits to various hospitals in her state and her plans to revamp the health services have predictably attracted an avalanche of publicity — some of it good and some of it bad. During one such visit to a Kolkata hospital, excited onlookers reportedly rushed in behind her into the hospital premises. A verbal joust is reported to have broken out between Didi and the hospital director, leading to the latter's suspension. Many theories are doing the rounds as to what really happened and the underlying reasons. Not having been there, I would not hazard a guess, except to say that generally speaking many of the points that Mamata didi, candidate of change-turned-chief minister, has been making about hospitals are unexceptionable. Nobody would question the need to keep hospitals clean, to manage medicine stocks better, to have staff coming to work on time and treating patients with a smile. However, Didi would be better advised to keep a check on the enthusiastic throngs that tail her, particularly while visiting hospital wards.
Whether it is publicity or good politics that spurred Didi to personally check out the state of hospitals in her state is not that relevant. What is of greater importance is her firm focus on the pages of history and rebranding Bengal. On that lies hope.

These are early days. So far, most of Didi's observations about the healthcare system in the state have been commonplace and uncontroversial. While setting up a recruitment board for health workers, she said that local boys and girls should be given preference, that senior health officials should spend more time in the field rather than in the office, that better coordination is necessary between health officials to implement government policies etc. She has announced the setting up of four super-speciality hospitals across the state, plus one in Kolkata, that 3,000 beds will be added to various hospitals and medical colleges will have more seats. How this is done and how soon remains to be seen.

To put things in context — West Bengal is not one of the worst states in healthcare. In fact, in recent years, it has seen improvements in several health indicators — infant and child mortality rates have come down, more babies are now born in hospitals than before, more children are being immunised. However, as Mamata didi surely knows by now, a lot more needs to be done. For example, although West Bengal's infant mortality rate (infant deaths per 1,000 births in the state) is much lower than in India as a whole (33 against India's 50), it is still higher than in 13 other Indian states. Among the bigger states, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra still do better than Bengal in savings their infants. Within the state, there are huge disparities as well — the highest anaemia rates (86 per cent) are found among Scheduled Tribe children. Given this background, it is to Didi's credit that she has picked healthcare as a priority area for reforms.

The rest of India and others are keenly watching how West Bengal shapes up under team Mamata. It has a unique opportunity in showcasing itself as a healthy state that can be an inspiration for others in the country. The surprise visits by Didi have revealed what many of us already know — rampant absenteeism among doctors, attendants and others, unfilled vacancies, inadequate medical equipment and so on. The solutions call for resources, but money alone will not change anything. What ultimately matters is political will and determination to translate plans into practice.

Didi's lack of ideology and fixed notions combined with grit and that famous, can-do spirit could just be what is needed.

Most analysts are waiting to see if Didi will walk the talk and bring back industry and jobs to Bengal. That is of utmost importance, but a wealthier Bengal will not automatically be a healthier Bengal. Economic success is necessary but not sufficient for better health indicators. Look no further than the United States, which continues to be a wealthy country despite an economic downturn. Many Americans, however, have health indicators that are similar to, or in some instances, even worse than those found in developing countries. A new study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, published in the online journal Population Health Metrics, found that in hundreds of US counties, average life expectancy rates are falling though the national average is at an all-time high. Five counties in Mississippi, for example, have the lowest life expectancies for women — below 74.5 years. This puts them behind developing countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Peru. Interestingly, the US spends more per capita on healthcare than any other nation in the world. The researchers point to high rates of obesity, tobacco use and other preventable risk factors as the leading drivers of the gap between the US and other developed nations.

If West Bengal can show that it is possible to have healthy people without being the richest state in India, it will inspire others and add to the sheen of Brand Bengal.

India, as a country, has some of the worst health indicators in the club of emerging economies. In its latest economic survey of the country, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) pointed out that India spends one per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health, and that only seven countries in the world devote a lower share of their GDP to health expenditure.

The vast majority of Indians have to pay out of their pocket for illnesses and millions across the country fall into deep debt doing so. Less than 20 per cent of the population is covered by health insurance. Sometimes, it is a heartrending choice — to let a family member die or to go bankrupt trying to save him or her.
This is a matter of great shame. Didi has dazzled the country and made history by felling the world's longest-running democratically elected Communist government. She can stun her admirers further and win over the sceptics by demonstrating that Bengal can shake off its proverbial lethargy and shake a leg in the health as well as wealth stakes. Go, Didi, go...

The author writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

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THE ASIAN AGE

DON'T CAGE CAG

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

Union minister for human resources development Kapil Sibal has called for a debate on the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. This suggestion has come in the wake of recent findings of the CAG that have embarrassed the government considerably. The government would be making a huge mistake if, in the name of a debate on the role of the CAG, the prestige of this body were sought to be diminished merely because the auditor of the country's public finances has done its job diligently.
Even as supporters of the ruling regime seek to deny that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister P. Chidambaram (in his capacity as the finance minister) had turned a blind eye to the 2G spectrum scam by passing on the blame to disgraced former telecom minister A. Raja, the leaked draft report of the CAG highlighting how the ministry of petroleum and natural gas allegedly favoured Reliance Industries Limited, among other companies, while putting together a contract to extract natural gas found in the Krishna-Godavari basin, has added to the government's discomfiture.

On November 16 last year — ironically on the day the CAG's report on the 2G scam was tabled in Parliament and a day before Mr Raja was arm-twisted into putting in his papers — Dr Singh delivered a speech to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the office of the CAG, in which he stated that the authority's reports were taken "very seriously" not just by the media, but also by the public, the government and Parliament.

Dr Singh said: "(There is) a huge responsibility on the institution to ensure that its reports are accurate, balanced and fair. Very often, there is a very thin line between fair criticism and fault finding, between hazarding a guess and making a reasonable estimate, between a bona fide genuine error and a deliberate mistake. As an important watchdog in our democracy, it falls upon this institution to sift the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish between wrong-doing and genuine errors, to appreciate the context and circumstances of decision-making processes".
Dr Singh was careful choosing his words. Mr Sibal has been less circumspect. Soon after he was given additional charge of the communications portfolio, he argued at a media conference that since the official policy for allocation of spectrum in 2008 was "first come first served", there was no loss to the exchequer thereby indirectly seeking to trash the CAG's claim that the notional loss on account of undervaluation and misallocation of spectrum was a huge `1,76,000 crore or the equivalent of nearly $40 billion. He contended that the "presumptive" loss to the exchequer that had been calculated by the CAG on the basis of certain assumptions was "utterly erroneous".

Mr Sibal's claim threw up a number of questions that have not been answered. If Mr Raja's claim that he did what he did with the knowledge and consent of the Prime Minister, why then did Dr Singh ask him to resign? Why are Mr Raja, officials who worked closely with him and representatives of telecom companies behind bars if the government had indeed not lost even a single paisa, as Mr Sibal claimed? Why were officials of the CAG not convinced by the answers given by officials of the department of telecommunications to their queries?
On June 18, Mr Sibal reportedly said about the CAG: "What should be the CAG's role in the post-1990s economic scenario? There are two views. One that says the CAG should comment on policy and there is another classical view that it should only deal with the expenditure incurred and whether it has moved away from the intent of allocation. That it should not comment on the merits of a transaction without understanding the circumstances in which the decision was taken. Yes, there should be a debate".

Whereas it is nobody's case that the CAG should be formulating government policies, the country's apex auditing body and guardian of public funds has every right to question and criticise the government's policies when they lead to losses to the exchequer. The CAG derives his powers from Articles 149, 150 and 151 of the Constitution of India. He is appointed by the President of India and can be removed from office only in the manner in which a Supreme Court judge is removed, that is, through an elaborate process of impeachment. After retirement, the CAG is not eligible to hold any other office in either the Union government or any state government. He holds a unique position — he is neither an officer of Parliament nor a functionary of the Executive.

When the alleged kickbacks on the sale of howitzers or field guns by Sweden's Bofors to the Indian Army blew up into a major political scandal in 1987, the controversy had been kicked off by a CAG report. The CAG then was T.N. Chaturvedi who went on to join the Bharatiya Janata Party, become an member of Parliament and then a governor. In the late-1980s, although the Congress vehemently denied that bribes had been received by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the party never attacked the institution of the CAG.

Times have changed a lot since then. The role of the government in the economy has come down making it all the more important that the CAG scrutinises how the people's money is spent in so-called public-private partnerships. There is much that needs improving. Barely one-third of the CAG's recommendations are acted upon by Public Accounts Committees at the Centre and in the states. The CAG's reports often come rather late in the day, after the damage has been done.

But today's rulers would be doing the country a huge disservice if they were to trash an institution that could check the discretionary powers of our politicians and bureaucrats and curb their proclivity to misuse public money.

The author is an educator and commentator

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FLAWED PLANNING

 

It sounds ridiculous that a well-established undertaking, namely J&K Project Construction Corporation, should do flawed planning and mislead the authorities about the actual delivery when asked for. Even a layman knows some of the basics of road, culvert, and bund or bridge construction. But it is strange that the JKPCC invested a huge amount Rs. 18.25 crore for building a bridge over Manova nullah at Kathar in Akhnoor tehsil as a measure of necessity. But all this investment seems unfruitful as it does not serve the purpose for which the project was undertaken. The actual purpose of constructing the bridge was to reduce the distance between Akhnoor and Pauni for a large population of more than 15 thousand souls inhabiting the area. The flaw is that there is no connecting road on the other end of the bridge and it renders the construction of the bridge meaningless when people don't use it.


The Corporation gave the construction of the bridge to a private contractor who started the work on the bridge in 2003 and brought it to completion after about nine years in May last. In the first place it is debatable whether under recognized practice of JKPCC, a bridge of 414-meter span and 5.5 meter carriageway is allowed to take nearly nine years to bring it to completion. The second flaw in the planning is that how did the organization undertake the construction without addressing the pre-requisite of constructing the link road at the other end of the bridge. What was the urgency of approaching the CM for the inauguration of the bridge on 14 May 2011 when the connectivity was still nowhere in sight. It is reported that the Chief Minister did make a query about the connecting road on the other end of the bridge and he was told that its construction was underway. The fact of the matter is that no construction of the link road was ever taken up by any agency and the Chief Minister was misinformed. According to available reports, the Chief Engineer Roads and Buildings told a correspondent that " the project for the construction of the road beyond the bridge up to Pouni has been proposed and submitted for funding under NABARD as we don't have sufficient funds to execute the task." This is strange logic. How come the R&B authorized the construction of the bridge without ensuring that the road at the other end, too, would come up simultaneously? When the bridge serves no purpose, what was the fun in making a fanfare of its inauguration, mislead the Chief Minister and now say that the department has not sufficient funds to the tune of 20-25 crore rupees to construct the road leading to Pouni. The entire exercise seems to be defeated by the intransigence of the R&B authorities. Despite huge expenditure incurred on the construction of a bridge over the nullah, no relief has been brought to the people for whom it was meant and their difficulty has not been mitigated. The proper course was that a comprehensive blueprint of the road and bridge under discussion should have been prepared and got sanctioned for funding and implementation from proper authority. But piecemeal undertaking of the project, making long delay in the construction of the bridge while ignoring the link road, hastily inviting the CM to inaugurate it and then conveying him incorrect information, all this raises many questions about the intentions of the authorities that allocated the work of building the bridge to a contractor. It is, therefore, in fitness of things that an enquiry is made into the matter and doubts removed. At the same time the government should ensure that the people of the region are not left in lurch for want of much needed facility for which the state exchequer had to spend a hefty amount of nearly 19 crore. Such flawed planning should not be repeated in future.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

INCREASING MBBS SEATS

 

The Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare hails from the State and has also had a three-year stint as its Chief Minster. It is expected of him to extend his largesse to the State while he is at the helm of the Union Health Ministry. Reports are that he has strongly pleaded increase in the two government medical colleges of Jammu and Srinagar from 100 to 150 seats in each. Prior to this announcement, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had deputed a team of Medical Council of India (MCI) to submit a detailed report on the status of each Government Medical College. The team paid two visits; the second one took place only recently. The actual target, as per reports would be to have 300 medical seats in each college after some time.
Increasing seats for MBBS is a welcome step and an encouragement to the medical aspirants in the state. There is already shortage of doctors in the state and the consciousness among the masses about health and family care is increasing. The decision of the government has come at a right time. However the subject has a number of dimensions which the policy planners ought to take note of. This is a heterogeneous state in linguistic, cultural and social terms. All regions, sub-regions and sections of society have to be done justice as per their rights, requirements and aspirations. Admission to the MBBS has to be equitable, balanced and transparent. In the past, there have been a number of complaints about admission through entrance test, reservation and related matters. Increasing the number of seats also adds to the responsibility of a fair deal to the aspirants in all the regions. Another important aspect of this development is that since our state is mostly a hilly state and the majority of people live in villages in remote and hilly areas, it is incumbent upon the government to provide them proper medical assistance. The foremost responsibility of the government would be to make the services of qualified medical staff available to them within the closest range so that they have not to travel long distances and face many hardship while looking for medical assistance. We know that after obtaining MBBS degrees, medical students are reluctant to serve in far flung areas and manage to get posted to urban areas or at premier institutes. There should be an undertaking for the freshers to serve in remote rural areas at least for two years in the first instance. In short, increase in medical seats should be rationalized by making medical services available to rural population in particular.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PEACE AND PROGRESS IN PAK LIES IN INDO-PAK FRIENDSHIP

BY KUNDAN KASHMIRI

 

Pakistan's undeclared war against India over Kashmir has brought immense loss and destruction to Pakistan itself. Consequently, the entire world views Pakistan as a country with no stability. Foreign investors are now extremely reluctant to invest in Pakistan. The proxy war in Kashmir has led to rapidly escalating instability and violence within Pakistan itself, causing grave problems for its own people. Scores of Pakistan's religious and educational institutions have turned into centers of violence and destruction. Because of all this, Pakistan is witnessing an alarming brain-drain, with most of its highly-qualified and capable people fleeing the country because of the ongoing violence, the lack of developmental opportunities, and the poor state of infrastructure in the country.


The completely unrealistic policies of Pakistan with regard to Kashmir have proven to be a stumbling block that is blocking the path to Pakistan's further development. The only way out for Pakistan is to change its policy as regards Kashmir, that is, it should rather focus on the opportunities for positive development and progress that are available to it. Pakistan must now admit & settle the fact that whole J&K including PoK is part of India. If not possible to return PoK to India under present circumstances then recognize the status quo in Kashmir and accept the line of Control in Kashmir as the international border between India and Pakistan, albeit perhaps with some necessary adjustments. This can be a permanent solution to the Kashmir conflict. For this, Pakistan must cease its emotion-driven policies and politics with regard to Kashmir and instead adopt a sensible, realistic and pragmatic approach. Once it is able to establish peace with India by settling the Kashmir dispute, it will be able to work towards establishing peace within its own borders and work for the progress and development of the country.


For the last sixty years Pakistan's politics have revolved round the Kashmir issue. However, Pakistan's efforts to annex Kashmir, that is, to change the status quo in Kashmir, have only resulted in massive destruction – in Kashmir and within Pakistan itself. Nothing positive has ever come out of these efforts in the past, nor will they bear fruit in the future. For both India & Pakistan to accept the status quo in Kashmir and the Line of Control as a permanent and accepted border between India and Pakistan is, admittedly, difficult. But If Indian & Pakistani leaders gather the courage to take this bold step, it is bound to lead to miraculous consequences. It will break down the barrier between India and Pakistan and build a relationship of close friendship between the two countries. The negative mentality of the Pakistani people, built on hatred for India, will give way to a positive approach. Trade links between the two countries will flourish, to the benefit of both. In spite of being one as regards language and culture, both countries, have become 'distant neighbors. Subsequently, with the restoration of all the links, they will be able to benefit from each other in the fields of education and culture. By ending its enmity with India, Pakistan will be able to progress in the same manner as Japan was able to after it ceased its enmity with the United States in the aftermath of the Second World War.


The Truth is that when any individual or group tries to achieve any goal, he finds himself in a set of situations which may be called the status quo. This suggestion to build better relations between India and Pakistan through acceptance of the status quo is not a new one. As long ago as the early 1960s, during the rule of Jawaharlal Nehru, the governments of both the countries had evidently agreed on this principle. The Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah, had even left for Pakistan as a mediator. However, because of Nehru's sudden demise, this historic agreement could not be arrived at. "By 1956, Nehru had publicly offered a settlement of Kashmir with Pakistan over the Ceasefire line. On May 23, 1964, Nehru asked Sheikh Abdullah to meet Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi in an effort to resolve the Kashmir imbroglio. The Pakistani leader agreed to a summit with Nehru, to be held in June 1964. This message was urgently telegraphed to Nehru on May 26. But just as Nehru's consent reached Karachi, the world also learnt that Nehru had died in his sleep. And with that a major opportunity for peaceful solution over Kashmir was lost.


If both the countries were to accept the status quo in Kashmir as a permanent settlement and the Line of Control as the international border it would entail no harm at all for Pakistan and indeed for the Muslims as a whole. In spite of remaining separate from Pakistan, Kashmir would still remain in Muslim majority area. Further more, it is an uncontestable fact that the Muslims who stayed on in India are in a much better position than those who opted for Pakistan and Bangladesh. Thus joining India will only help the Kashmiris in many ways.
Another point is that adopting a policy of conciliation with India would amount to putting an end to confrontation with its powerful neighbor. Such a step could throw open the doors to all kinds of progress. An example of this is provided by the present Japan. Before the Second World War Japan and America were each other's enemies. But after the war Japan opted for a policy of total reconciliation. Consequently, Japan emerged on the world map as an economic superpower. It must also be recognized that the policies that Pakistan has been pursuing have proven to be a major reason for Islam getting a bad name. In line with its present policy, Pakistan has used hatred against India as a means to create an artificial sense of Pakistani unity. The result of this wrong policy has been that Pakistan has failed to unite in the name of Islam but appears to be totally united on the basis of hatred for India. This has given critics an excuse to argue that Islam lacks the capacity to unite the Muslims and it does not hold Pakistan together any more, but anti-Indianism does. If Pakistan adopted a conciliatory approach, its people would develop a positive approach and attitude to life, which would facilitate the emergence of a new era, wherein Islam, not anti-Indianism, could become the basis of Pakistani unity. It might open all doors of peace and progress to presently disturbed Pakistan.


We believe this will also pave the way to settle down the issue of minorities in Kashmir once for all by restoring their all basic rights and right to live together as community in the valley under free flow of Indian Constitution.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

NEED TO SAVE FORESTS

BY REHANA AKHTER (JULIE)

 

Today's world is beset with the issues of environmental degradation. The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity, is commonly referred to as biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth. Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as being integral to any approach. In some way or form, almost all cultures have recognized the importance of nature and its biological diversity for their societies and have therefore understood the need to maintain it. Yet, power, greed and politics have affected the precarious balance. The climate is changing. The earth is warming up, and there is now overwhelming scientific consensus that it is happening, and human-induced. With global warming on the increase and species and their habitats on the decrease, chances for ecosystems to adapt naturally are diminishing. Many are agreed that climate change may be one of the greatest threats facing the planet.


Major environmental issues are forest and agricultural degradation of land, resource depletion (water, mineral, forest, sand, rocks etc.), environmental degradation, public health, loss of biodiversity, loss of resilience in ecosystems, livelihood security for the poor. Degradation of forests is one of the manifestations of our insensitivity to environment. Pressure of growing human population and poverty on our forests and man's greed for more industrialization for material prosperity have resulted in relentless exploitation of natural resources and degradation of forests.


Through World Environment Day (WED), the UN Environment Programme is able to personalize environmental issues and enable everyone to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development. WED is also a day for people from all walks of life to come together to ensure a Cleaner, Greener and Brighter outlook for themselves and future generations.


Green Lungs Of The Earth:


Forests cover one third of the earth's land mass, performing vital functions and services around the world which make our planet alive with possibilities. In fact, 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. They play a key role in our battle against climate change, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere while storing carbon dioxide.


Forests feed our rivers and are essential to supplying the water for nearly 50% of our largest cities. They create and maintain soil fertility; they help to regulate the often-devastating impact of storms, floods and fires. Splendid and inspiring, forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on land, and are home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Forests also provide shelter, jobs, security and cultural relevance for forest-dependent populations. They are the green lungs of the earth, vital to the survival of people everywhere -- all seven billion of us. Forests embody so much of what is good and strong in our lives. Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, we are destroying the very forests we need to live and breathe.


Global deforestation continues at an alarming rate -- every year, 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed. That's equal to the size of Portugal. Short-term investments for immediate gains (e.g., logging) compound these losses. People who depend on forests for their livelihoods are struggling to survive. Many precious species face extinction. Biodiversity is being obliterated. What's more, economists around the world have proven that by not integrating the values of forests into their budgets, countries and businesses are paying a high price. One that ultimately impoverishes us all as harm to our forest life-support system continues each and every single day. But this trend is not irreversible. It's not too late to transform life as we know it into a greener future where forests are at the heart of our sustainable development and green economies. The services forests provide are essential to every aspect of our quality of life. And the answer to sustainable forest management, moving towards a green economy, lies in our hands. So we are called this day to reaffirm: God almighty has created forest to liberate the human and other cosmic communities from Ecological and Climate catastrophes. Forests serve as life giving and life caring agent of God. Without Forest no Earth: No Earth without Forests.
Conserving forests and expanding them need to be recognized as a business opportunity. When we add it up, an investment of US$30 billion fighting deforestation and degradation could provide a return of US$2.5 trillion in new products and services. Furthermore, targeted investments in forestry could generate up to 10 million new jobs around the world. Already, many leaders are glimpsing the potential for renewable energy and nature-based assets, but for transformation to happen, forests need to become a universal political priority. ??The services forests provide are essentially to every aspect of our quality of life. And the answer to sustainable forest management, moving towards a green economy, lies in our hands.


Better Plant a Tree to Curse the Desert


While we are aware of the beauty and benefits of trees, we might not realize that many of our larger trees are suffering from environmental stress and neglect. Unless we protect them, a majority of our heritage trees will disappear within 20 to 30 years. Air pollution, soil compaction and contamination, construction injury, exotic invasive insect pests and limited water, oxygen and nutrient availability has taken a toll.


Mother Nature also causes stress with sudden ice storms, high winds, extreme low temperatures, a devastating spring snowstorm or summer drought. Many new, large growing trees are planted in confined spaces with soil devoid of essential micronutrients. And the life expectancy of newly planted street trees is only 25 years; it is unlikely they will ever reach the grandeur of the majestic trees today. Trees are slow to respond to wounding and stress. It's not unusual for trees to die years after an adverse situation and unfortunately, an arborist is typically called when it is usually too late to save it. Root and branch dieback, decay and foliage scorching are all symptoms of stress and put the tree into a weakened condition.


The question today is not whether or not afforestation but how. Our very survival depends upon how successful we are in our mission. Let us think about future. In the greed for short term gains, let us not put our very survival at stake. We all have role to play in this movement. If each one of us grows just one healthy and suitable tree in his life time, the problem will be solved. It is a small task for each one of us but a giant task for the mankind.


[Rehana Akhter works at Stoma Clinic of SKIMS, Srinagar]

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

LAND GRABBING IN INDIA

BY RAMESH KANITKAR

 

We are a strange economy wherein the number of billionaires is increasing by the day, but we hardly have any worthwhile billion dollar global product. And this weird, inexplicable phenomenon - where billions are being made without having commensurate global products - is only prevalent in India. One wonders how these billionaires manage to make their billions without a supporting product.


Well, of all the inexplicable means that are being adopted, one of the most fashionable has been the act of blatant land grabbing! In fact, land acquisition in India has been always the most ignored legislation, and obviously for understandable reasons! Not even three months have passed and 2011 has already seen its share of illegal transactions of land meant for public purposes. Among these innumerable and mostly untraceable public land deals, there are three deals that caught my fancy mostly due to the sheer nature of the deals!
The first one being that of the Tamil Nadu government - in January this year, they attempted to divert a stretch of land reserved for slum redevelopment and low-income housing to private players (against the Tamil Nadu Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act of 1971), a move which could have made nearly 7,000 families homeless! In January again, it was found out how Maharashtra and Housing Area Development Authority (MHADA) sold a 3-acre plot worth Rs.300 crore to a private developer; the plot had been originally allotted for developing 900 flats for low and middle-income groups. Similarly, in February 2011, bodies like HUDA and HSIIDC acquired almost 350 acres of panchayat land in Wazirabad village under the reasoning of providing public utilities and then later sold it to a private player for Rs.1,700 crores for residential and commercial development.


From politicians to bureaucrats to industrialists, all eye various developmental projects to grab a share of prime land. And the process is simplified further as the law governing land purchases in India is over 110-years- old (the Land Acquisition Act dates back to 1894). In spite of this law having been amended a few times, the amendments have only strengthened the government's land grabbing powers. As per the act, the government - both at the state and at the Centre - is absolutely free to acquire any land anywhere in India for public purposes. This means that the government has all the rights to acquire private land even without the consent of the land owners, if the acquisition is done for "public purpose." In most of such acquisitions, the land owners manage to get token money as compensation, which is far below the market price! Most of the times, the land acquired by the government is developed under the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model where, eventually, the private component in this partnership corners every benefit, caring two hoots about any public convenience or need!
Take for instance the Uttar Pradesh government's initiatives of building the Greater Noida expressway, where the initial owners - the farmers - were paid as less as Rs. 50 per square meter for an area which is being sold currently for a minimum of Rs. 1500 per square meter - a staggering 3000 per cent markup. Similar have been the cases with the much-touted Vedanta and Posco! A few weeks back, the Supreme Court had to itself direct the Haryana state government to evict encroachers from the land belonging to village communities; much of this land was unofficially transferred to private players for commercial use.


In the past, the courts have had to intervene in many such matters, especially in Gurgaon, where panchayat land meant for public utilities was sold and leased out to private players. Among all these various cases, the one which needs a special mention is the one that got exposed in November 2010.The High Court of Punjab and Haryana criticized the Haryana government for acquiring 19 acres of panchayat land in Nathupur and selling the land to DLF - consequently, making a profit of Rs. 47 crore. In 2009, BMC redirected acres of land meant for public development to private players for commercial development - this primarily filled the coffers of civic officials. And the saga continues. It requires no audit or surveys to comprehend that a large sum of money is transacted, from all sides of the table under such arrangements.


Further, when it comes to development projects involving huge acres of land meant for public usage, most of the time, unprecedented amounts of money change hands within the unholy nexus of politicians and corporations. And it is this nexus and its misdeeds that are being forced down the throats of the poor, who are at the receiving end perpetually. What is worse is the bigger monster in the making - and that is with respect to realty prices, which defy any economic rationality! This is bound to happen again and again as more and more prime land is siphoned off to fewer hands, creating an all round artificial scarcity! What is even worse is the fact that all this happens in a country where there are around 80 million people who do not have a basic shelter for themselves - and for those who have them, almost a third do not own them!


After all, in a nation like India, it is always pelf before people! Land grabbing and making billions is just one of the means! (INAV)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RAHUL GANDHI AS PM?

FIRST THE CONGRESS MUST GET ITS ACT TOGETHER

 

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh's statement that the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family Rahul Gandhi should don the mantle of the country's Prime Minister is a typical example of this once-successful Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh shooting his mouth off in a calculated bid to test the waters. It is true that Rahul Gandhi has been working with sincerity to re-build the Congress party and while he has been devoting his attention to working at the grassroots, he has ingratiated himself to a sizable section of the country's youth. A ministerial position for him was for the asking, but he has chosen to work on a low key. It is equally pertinent that he has identified himself with the down-trodden and espoused some of the causes for which the poor strive. Yet, it is difficult to believe that the apprenticeship that Rahul has gone through has given him adequate wherewithal to govern a country as diverse and as difficult to govern as India. He still needs to prove himself in the crucible of democracy, Parliament, where his contribution to debates has been nothing to write home about.

 

Congressmen may be loathe to acknowledging it but the fact is that the Manmohan Singh government has been in the throes of a crisis of credibility. Scam after scam has exposed its flanks and with its coalition partners doing their own thing, there is lack of collective thinking and action. Prices have hit the roof and foreign investment is shying away from the country. That despite all this the Central Government has managed a healthy growth rate for the economy is an index of what it is capable of. Instead of talking of a leadership change, the party needs to ensure that the Government gets its act together before it is too late for the next Lok Sabha elections.

 

The immediate task of the Government should be to arrest the downslide through effective governance. As for Rahul Gandhi he has time on his side and must work towards his goal in a sustained manner, like Barack Obama did by diligently intervening in Senate debates on key issues, holding himself out as presidential material. The U.P. Assembly elections early next year will be Rahul's acid test as a politician. But he also needs to establish himself as a statesman.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MAIMED BY MINES

PROTECTING CIVILIANS ON INDO-PAK BORDER

 

Many borders have weight-triggered explosive devices that can blast off with a human or inanimate contact. The difficult-to-patrol Indo-Pak border is dotted with them, a legacy of turbulent times and wars during which landmines were placed by the Army. With distressing frequency, the landmines are triggered by civilians who are then maimed or even sometimes killed by the blasts. Many of those affected are young people and indeed, a United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children maintains that landmines represent "an insidious and persistent danger" to children affected by war. Young people are far more likely to die from their mine injuries than adults, and even if they survive, seldom do they receive prostheses with the regularity that is necessary because of their growth.

 

Landmines were extensively used all over the world by armed forces till the 1990s, but after that, thanks to many voices being raised against their use, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, was signed in Ottawa, Canada, in 1997. Unfortunately, among the significant nations that have not signed the pact are India, Pakistan, Myanmar Nepal and China. That, however, did not deter Nepal from taking action and it was declared landmine-free zone only last week.

 

While the use of landmines has dropped dramatically worldwide since the Ottawa Treaty, obviously the border regions in India are unlikely to register such a fall. Naturally, the Army is expected to take a pro-active role in minimising the exposure of landmines to civilians who live near the border areas. People, especially children, living there must be sensitised so that they can recognise the threat. The Army must regularly sweep the border to remove any landmines that have moved from their original locations, as often happens. If anyone is hurt, it must work with the local administration to ensure proper, long-term care of the victims. Landmines are a deadly inheritance of wars; we must protect civilians from them. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CRIMES AGAINST WOMEN

MAYAWATI NEEDS TO GEAR UP

 

Uttar Pradesh is once again earning notoriety for its high rate of crimes against women. The unfortunate incidents of young girls being raped, hanged and mutilated, remind one of the horrifying humiliation of Phoolan Devi, who took the gun as a bandit to avenge her repeated gang rapes and naked parades by the high caste men of her village in the early 80s. Her side of the story would never have come to be known, had it not been for the poignant portrayal of her life in the film 'Bandit Queen.'

 

Similarly, as media claimed, had it not been for their intervention, the alleged strangulation and rape of a 14 year old girl of Nighasan village ( Lakhimpur dist), where she was found hanging from a tree branch inside a police post, would have been covered up as suicide. Even though all the 11 policemen, who tried their best to prove her death as suicide, were suspended last week under media pressure, it is anybody's guess, how long and tedious the process of justice is going to be for a poorly paid guard, that the girl's father is. Yesterday, in another shocking incident, two ruffians of Kannauj village, brutally thrashed a minor girl of 14, and pierced her eyes, when she resisted their effort to rape her. Here again, the FIR was not registered till the media intervened, nor did the police arrange for medical help. The SI and constable were suspended under pressure from the media. In another incident, a 19-year old Dalit girl was allegedly raped by a youth in Ranipur Beladi village in Basti on Friday night.

 

The gruesomeness of these crimes reminds one of the lawlessness of the days of caste-wars in UP, which, one believed, ended under the regime of Mayawati. In her first term, Mayawati came to establish herself as an effective administrator, the only plank she used to woo non -Dalit voters to her side, which she seems to be losing now with growing number of incidents that put a question mark on the role of the police in the state. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

DEVELOPING TIES WITH MYANMAR

REALISM MORE IMPORTANT THAN ETHICS

BY GEN V. P. MALIK (RETD)

 

Since Independence India has tended to neglect its east, within and outside the national boundaries. In the west, despite irrational hostility towards us, we have maintained a comprehensive diplomatic dialogue with Pakistan's military dictators. In the east, we shied away from meaningful diplomatic dialogue with Myanmar ever since its Generals took charge of the nation nearly six decades ago. In fact, despite our historical relations, a 1600-km-long undisputed common boundary and several geo-strategic interests, India became a persistent critic of the military rule in Myanmar until the mid-1990s.

 

Due to ideologicpolitic policies followed during this period, Yangon drew close to Beijing for political and economic support and for military weapons, equipment and training. China developed road communications and trade links from Yunnan (China) to North Myanmar which caused heavy influx of Chinese immigrants (approximately 1.5 million) and their economic influence right up to the Irrawady river. Secessionist gangs from India's Northeast were able to establish and operate from their safe sanctuaries in North Myanmar. Gunrunning and drug traffic from the Golden Triangle into Northeast had increased substantially.

 

The credit for changing the course of the ethics-based policy to realpolitic in Indo-Myanmar relations goes to the governments of Prime Ministers PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They realised that without proper diplomatic relations and cooperation with Myanmar, it would be impossible to control insurgencies and bring about stability in our Northeastern states. Besides, shifting the balance of power and the growing influence of China in India's immediate eastern neighborhood and Southeast Asia, our long-term political and economic interests required a "Look East" policy.

 

Myanmar was seen as a natural bridge to Southeast Asia. These imperatives made it necessary to engage with the military regime in Myanmar. It was not principle but realpolitik that guided New Delhi's changed attitude towards Yangon.

 

In March 1993, Foreign Secretary JN Dixit visited Yangon and signed a bilateral agreement to control drug trafficking and border trade. A Memorandum of Understanding to maintain border tranquillity was signed in 1994. Military visits were started at a low key. The real shift and a new momentum in India-Myanmar relations, however, came after the Vajpayee government assumed power.

 

In 1999, several proposals on India-Myanmar cooperation were under consideration, but there was no progress due to the lack of political contacts. Prime Minister Vajpayee and National Security Adviser (NSA) Brajesh Mishra then decided to utilise military diplomacy to supplement India's foreign policy objectives.

 

In November 1999, Ambassador Shyam Saran (later Foreign Secretary) proposed to the military government in Myanmar that l, then Chief of Army Staff, have a "quiet" meeting with General Maung Aye, Vice-Chairman, Government of Myanmar, Deputy C-in-C, Armed Forces, and C-in-C, Myanmar Army. This could then lead to my inviting Maung Aye and senior military officers in charge of relevant ministries for a meeting with Union ministers in India.

 

Initially, our Ministry of External Affairs suggested that this meeting should be held at Tamu-Moreh on the Myanmar-India border. I rejected such a border meeting at the level of the Chiefs. After discussions with the NSA, it was agreed that I would go with a small military delegation to Mandalay and after our meetings, bring the Myanmarese delegation to Shillong.

 

On January 5, 2000, after canceling all engagements for the next four days, I left for Imphal in an Air Force Avro aircraft along with a small tri-service delegation. Early next morning, after flying across the Chindwin river and thick forested Chin Hills, we landed in Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar on the eastern bank of the Irrawady. We were received on the red-carpeted tarmac by Maung Aye and almost the entire Myanmarese Cabinet (mostly Generals). Ambassador Shyam Saran and the Military Attache Colonel Jasbir Singh were at hand. From the airport, Maung Aye escorted me personally to an impressive guard of honour and then to the room allotted to me in Nanmyo Guest House.

 

Over the next 48 hours, besides a formal meeting, dinner, a visit to the nearby military institutes (in Pyin Oo Lwin) and local sightseeing, I had several one-on-one discussions with Maung Aye. We discussed the need to enlarge India-Myanmar cooperation in the military field to include greater border contacts, passing of real-time information and coordinated operations against the insurgents on both sides of the border. I also apprised him of the training programmes and non-lethal equipment that we could offer. The need to expedite planning and implementation of the civil projects already accepted in principle by our two countries and widening diplomatic exchanges were also discussed.

 

Maung Aye and his colleagues never spoke about China but quite apparently were keen on enlarging civil and military ties with India. I also managed a surprise visit to the local market to look for the Chinese influence and to buy a pair of ruby earrings for my wife.

 

On January 8, our respective delegations, in separate aircraft, flew to Shillong via Gauhati. The Air Force gave the guard of honour to the visiting Vice-Chairman of Myanmar. Maung Aye and his delegation met Murasoli Maran, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, and Kumaramanglam, Union Minister for Power and civil officials from several ministries who had flown in from New Delhi. After a formal introductory meeting, Maung Aye and I withdrew to the bungalow where we were put up together while the ministers and officials from our countries started discussions on the development of road and trade links and hydro-power projects in Myanmar.

 

When Maung Aye left Shillong with his delegation next day, I gave him a map marked with locations of hostile Naga gangs in North Myanmar. A fortnight later, these locations were raided and destroyed by the Myanmar Army. When the hostile elements attempted to run across the boundary into India, they were ambushed by our troops and suffered further casualties.

 

In April 2000, I was invited by the Government of Myanmar, this time more formally, to visit historical places and civil and military institutions in different parts of the country. To keep the momentum going, an India-Myanmar Foreign Secretary-level meeting was held in August 2000. Political exchanges increased substantially. This, it was hoped, would lead to greater and more practical and meaningful cooperation in the economic and security fields.

 

It is a matter of regret that these efforts have started floundering lately due to political inhibitions, diplomatic neglect and attempts to align ourselves with US and European Union human rights and environmental policies. While India has been slow in establishing political and economic foothold, China has managed to gain access to Myanmar's waterways, harbours and territorial waters and dominate its important jade and gems trade in North Myanmar. Myanmar is getting drawn into China's orbit more and more.

 

It needs to be reiterated that strategy and diplomacy in international relations are based not on sentiments but the art of the possible and the advancement of national interests. Kautilya had stated, "When the interests of the country are involved, ethics are a burdensome irrelevance."

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

RISK-TAKERS, CARETAKERS, UNDERTAKERS

BY V.K. KAPOOR

 

Most of the people are the product of their landscape. In a world divided between the domineering and the dependent, there are broadly three categories of people: risk-takers, caretakers and undertakers.

 

Risk-takers are usually rule-breakers. They exude an aura of power and certainty. A combustible mix of ruthlessness, charm and ingenuity, the end result is all that matters to them. It does not matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice. They move to their target on a direct road and not on something vague. They fish in troubled waters and bait the hook to suit the fish.

 

They understand political linkages, know when to attack, when to retreat and when to hide. They are street-smart and gutter-tough. They have a knack of attracting attention. Hollywood actress Mae West remarked, "It is better to be looked at than to be overlooked."

 

They have a dark side also. The flash hides the flaws. There is always a feel of a hidden and sinister dimension. Risk-takers are neither moral nor immoral; they are amoral. Stanley Baldwin remarked, "I would rather be an opportunist and float rather than go to the bottom with my principles round my neck." Most of the politicians are in this category.

 

Caretakers have an intuitive sense of self-promotion and self-preservation. Paul Vallery remarked, "Extraordinary people bring changes in the world but the ordinary people give it stability." Their behaviour is situation-dependent rather than ego or emotion-dependent. Caretakers observe, accurately understand, properly hear correctly and consider sufficiently. Most of the senior bureaucrats belong to this category. They anticipate the direction of the wind and accordingly bend. They inherently do not like aggression. They make hay without going haywire. They make good power-vendors and influence-peddlers. They are like wasps on a bag of sugar.

 

Caretakers choose certainty over uncertainty. By nature they are tactful. Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy. They have a satin-smooth quality. Abraham Lincoln said, "A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall."

 

An undertaker is the last man to let you down. They are two halves of an incoherent whole. They are stupid and extremely opinionated. Bertrand Russel remarked, "The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves but wiser people are so full of doubt." A prickly mix of arrogance and inferiority, they are good at annoying everybody coming in their way. They are inherently negative. Most of the cops belong to this category.

 

They have big visions, but take dumb decisions. They criticise, condemn and complain about everybody and everything. They show their superiority by being rude. Eric Hoffman said, "Rudeness is a weak man's imitation of strength. A matchstick has a head but does not have a brain. They are junkies by prescription, hedonists by inclination and profligate by longing."

 

We all have some traits of all these categories. That makes the world an interesting place to live in, and life a festival.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

 

ALL SET FOR INDO-BANGLA LAND SWAP DEAL

ASHOK TUTEJA

 

Land is an emotive issue. It drives passions. And who knows it better than the people of the subcontinent? Hence India and Bangladesh are treading cautiously as the two countries work overtime to resolve their long-standing border dispute by finalising a land-swap deal, expected to be signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka later this year.

 

It obviously will be an unenviable task for the two countries to decide the future of the nearly 40,000 inhabitants of the territories that are likely to be exchanged under the deal. The inhabitants of the more than 150 enclaves in the 6.5 km territory could be given the option of deciding to opt for the citizenship of India or Bangladesh if they want to continue residing in the same area of migrating to the other side. But the move again is certainly going to raise passions in both countries, what with opposition parties already on a collision course in both New Delhi and Dhaka with the ruling groups in the two capitals.

 

However, the Manmohan Singh government and the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League regime in Bangladesh have decided to take the bull by its horns and ordered a headcount of such residents and also agreed on the performa that will have to be filled up by the residents of these areas.

 

The land deal will not be the singular achievement of the long-overdue visit by the Indian Prime Minister to the neighbouring country. Officials say agreements on river water sharing, upgrading infrastructure, improving connectivity and enhancing bilateral trade are also in the pipeline. The two countries are discussing the text of the draft agreement on water sharing of the Teesta and Feni rivers while dredging of the Icchamati river and works on embankments continue.

 

Delhi and Dhaka, meanwhile, are witnessing a flurry of diplomatic activity in the run-up to Dr Singh's visit, his first bilateral tour of Bangladesh since becoming the Prime Minister. He had last visited Dhaka to participate in the SAARC Summit in 2005. Water Resources Minister Salman Khurshid is visiting Dhaka soon to discuss the broad contours of the water sharing agreement. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is slated to visit the Bangladesh capital in the first week of July.

 

Home Minister P Chidambaram's visit is also said to be on the cards. Relations between the two neighbours have grown from strength to strength after Sheikh Hasina came to power at the head of an Awami League government in Dhaka in December 2008. Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was obviously not in the good books of New Delhi and tension was quite palpable between the two countries when she was at the helm of affairs in Dhaka.

 

Despite friendly gestures by India, Begum Zia turned a blind eye to New Delhi's concerns over security issues and was often charged with providing safe havens in Bangladesh to ULFA militants. Her attempts to play the "Pakistan card" off and on just to irritate India had also not gone down well with New Delhi.

 

It is to the credit of Sheikh Hasina that she launched a massive crackdown on ULFA cadres soon after assuming office and assured New Delhi that she would not allow the Bangladeshi territory to be used for launching terror strikes in India. She has stood by her promise and New Delhi feels obliged to her. And to demonstrate its gratitude to Sheikh Hasina, New Delhi pulled out all the stops to accord her a red carpet welcome in New Delhi in January last year. India also announced a $1billion Line of Credit (LoC) for Bangladesh. However, the problem is that the Indian LoC is still lying unused because of what Bangladesh feels strict Indian conditions for its utilisation. In this regard, Bangladesh officials pointed towards one of the "irritating" conditions — Indian companies will supply 80 per cent of the materials for any project undertaken under the LoC.

 

Bangladesh is said to have sought a quick clarification from India on procurement complexities concerning 20 projects to be financed under the LoC sanctioned by New Delhi.

 

There is also a sense of disquiet in Dhaka about the slowdown in the tempo of bilateral ties during the last one and a half years after Sheikh Hasina's visit. There is a feeling in Dhaka, which to an extent shared by New Delhi, that not much has been done to sustain the momentum in relations and that the two countries must move faster or the forces inimical to India-Bangladesh friendship would once again raise their ugly head to spoil what has been achieved during Sheikh Hasina's regime.

 

Indian officials are, however, quite confident that Dr Singh's visit to Dhaka will open a new chapter in bilateral ties. ''India attaches the highest importance to its relations with Bangladesh and seeks a deeper and stronger partnership. The historic bonds between India and Bangladesh are deep-rooted and people on both sides want mutual prosperity and cooperation", a senior Indian official said. He also referred to the joint launching of the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore in both New Delhi and Dhaka as reflective of the close bonds between the two countries. Such events are planned for the whole of this year.

 

Problem area

 

The Bangladesh border is the longest land border that India shares with any of its neighbours. It covers a length of 4,095 kilometres abutting the states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. The border, which was carved out by the Radcliffe Line, was not demarcated on the ground. As a result, the border cuts through the middle of several villages and in some cases, while one section of a house is one country, another is in the other. In West Bengal , for instance, there are more than 100 villages located right on the zero line, and in many villages there are houses where the front door is in India and the rear door opens into Bangladesh. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

OPENING 'HAATS' TO OPEN HEARTS

PARBINA RASHID

 

There couldn't have been a more paradoxical beginning to one's association with a country than this. During the days of what came to be known as the Assam revolution, one listened to the fiery speeches of student leaders talking about the need to deport illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the evenings and then falling asleep under a beautiful embroidered pink mosquito net - a "gift" from Dhaka!

 

The net was soon replaced by a mosquito repellent gadget —another "gift" from Dhaka. In fact, among the available gifts (which formed part of illegal trade) were Bangladesh's potato chips, Dhaka's Khan Namkeen packets and even cakes and biscuits, which were and still are available in most north-eastern border towns.

 

Well, the process of "gifting" is set to get a definite direction. Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma recently announced that the India-Bangladesh border "haats" (markets) will be inaugurated soon to facilitate bilateral trade.

 

Historically, the hills of Meghalaya have always had vibrant and symbiotic relations with the plains of East Bengal, now Bangladesh. Much of the products of the Khasi and Jaintia hills found their way to the plains of Sylhet. After Partition, the border "haats" continued to function but after the Bangladesh War of Liberation, most of these border markets were closed down. As a result. the economy of the region was severely affected and the communication channels, which were mostly in Bangladesh, got disrupted. The Northeast became a landlocked region with access to the nearby ports and railway lines being denied by Bangladesh.

 

The reopening of border "haats" is hailed as a positive step towards opening up the economy of the region and bringing about benefit to both nations.

 

Border 'haats' are reopening at the remote border points where villagers of both countries have been historically poor. They produce either minor agricultural products or make handicrafts on a very small scale, but they face difficulties in marketing these. Incidentally, before the Partition of India in 1947, and even for some time after that, these people on both sides of the redrawn borders were used to trading with each other. So, border 'haats' may help them in marketing their products. Moreover, border 'haats' will help change the mindsets of the people of both countries. "These 'haats', in a sense, represent reinstitution of the age-old practice within new parameters," says Tariq A. Karim, High Commissioner of Bangladesh in India.

According to Karim, two border "haats" will first start functioning on a pilot basis. Depending on their success, more would be opened along the India-Bangladesh border in Tripura and West Bengal, for instance.

 

What about smuggling that goes on unchecked at most places along the Indo-Bangla border? Karim is hopeful that it would end once the "haats" start functioning. "The Union Government will be setting up and upgrading 13 Integrated Check-Posts (ICPs) as part of its development plans along its border with its neighbours — one with Pakistan, one with Myanmar, four with Nepal and seven with Bangladesh. These numbers are a reflection of the importance India attaches to its growing relations with friendly Bangladesh," he says.

 

Indian industrialists, too, have begun looking at Bangladesh as a good investment centre, partly because of cheaper labour and excellent skills. The Sriram group is planning big investments in Bangladesh, and so is the Arvind Lalbhai group. But that reminds us of the fate of the Tata group, which too showed interest in investing in Bangladesh but was refused. So, has the policies changed this time?

 

Tariq, a keen observer of the changing political scenario in both the countries that has taken place over the years, explains, "Big investment and trade are always influenced by politics. This is more resonant in South Asia where for so long politics has held business hostage. "The Indo-Bangl trade and investment scenario also, unfortunately, fell within this constrained reality. The situation is vastly different now following the elections in Bangladesh in December 2008, when an Awami League grand alliance was voted to power. Relations between the two countries have never been better. The visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister to India in January 2010 was historic and game-changing. Together, the leaders of the two countries have set forth a bold and visionary road-map for forging strong and mutually beneficial relations between the two countries and peoples. Among these was envisaged increased trade and removal of trade barriers, as well as investment in each other's countries. "Bangladesh welcomes Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from any country, including India, for enhancing its economic activities and creating more jobs," he says.

 

Another area of concern which leaves one with a niggling doubt is the social mindset of the people - specially with the generation which grew up raising slogans against illegal Bangladeshi migrants and the political accusations of Bangladesh giving shelter to the outlawed ultras, how open are the people of Northeast to embrace the changes?

 

While Tariq considers the issue of illegal migration a sensitive and complex one, and would rather have it handled "with humanism ruling our rational perceptions and judgment", he is confident that Bangladesh has effectively addressed the concerns of India in general and Assam in particular.

 

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EDITORIAL

DECODING DIGVIJAY

POLITICS ABHORS A VACUUM, POLITICIANS LOVE STEPPING INTO ONE

BUSINESS STANDARD

There is still more than a year left for former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and Congress party General Secretary Digvijay Singh's self-imposed ten-year exile from political power to end. So, no one can accuse Mr Singh of harbouring personal ambition when he routinely criticises his own party's ministers for their acts of omission and commission. The Congress party has perfected the art of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares, but its too-clever-by-half strategy of playing the role of both ruling party and Opposition can sometimes go awry. There is a difference between a party leader criticising a minister in her own party's government on policy issues, as Mr Singh did when he upbraided Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and in flying kites about whether it is time for a new leader to head the government. While Mr Singh's loud thinking about Rahul Gandhi being ready to take charge as prime minister, and the suggestion that it is time to get married, may have been his idea of a birthday gift for a 41-year-old, such sycophantic speculation in a feudal political dispensation can damage the standing of the incumbent prime minister, weakening the party's own government.

Sniping at a prime minister by members of his own party is not new to Indian politics. Through most of his term, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to face attempts by self-appointed loyalists of L K Advani seeking a change of leadership in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. They had to be reminded every now and then that Mr Vajpayee was not the head of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, but that of an NDA government, and the views of the allies also mattered. The same holds true for the United Progressive Alliance. That apart, it is unclear whether Mr Singh speaks for himself when he thinks loudly or is flying kites on behalf of others. Whatever the motivation behind such supplication to the party's first family, it does not help the party, its government and, indeed, the family that leads the party. What Mr Singh's loud thinking, however, does is to further weaken the political position of a beleaguered prime minister. It also draws attention to a power vacuum at the very top of the central government. When faced with a similar situation, Mr Vajpayee threatened to call it a day. Perhaps Dr Manmohan Singh should also tell his party that enough is enough. The choice for Dr Singh is clear. Either he takes charge, is seen to be doing so and runs a more effective office and government, or he calls it a day, letting those in queue take his place. While Mr Digvijay Singh has issued the usual clarification and a Congress party spokesperson has reiterated the party's confidence in Dr Singh's leadership of government, the fact is that while till now Opposition and "civil society" activism and governmental inertia have been contributing to political instability, taking their toll on governance and the economy, now the ruling party may be destabilising its own government. This incipient irreverence needs to be nipped in the bud. Equally, the perceived vacuum at the top needs to be filled with policy activism and political initiative to prevent implosion of the extant dispensation.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

POWER PROBLEMS

INCOMPLETE POLICY REFORM LIMITS BENEFITS FROM NEW PROJECTS

Shortages, outages, load shedding, poor-quality supply and transmission and distribution (T&D) losses continue to haunt India's power sector. Despite these problems, India has now acquired the capacity and capability to add at least 15,000 Mw a year, having demonstrated the ability to add 12,000 Mw a year in the past five years. This still compares poorly with China's ability to add 100,000 Mw every year. Clearly, the challenge of adding capacity remains a major problem for India's power sector. Equally important is the challenge of making investment in power pay for itself and ensuring delivery of good- quality power for all consumers. Recent trends do provide some basis for optimism, though the past five years have been hugely disappointing as far as getting a forward-looking power policy in place is concerned. The sharp rise in private sector participation in generation, thanks to the landmark Electricity Act, 2003, has helped. Its contribution to incremental capacity addition during the 11th plan has been approximately 40 per cent and is expected to increase even further to 50 per cent during the 12th plan. Moreover, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, still the largest domestic supplier of power equipment, is expected to boost production from 15,000 Mw to 20,000 Mw by the end of FY12. Domestic production of power equipment will be augmented as output from a spate of joint ventures between Indian and foreign firms (L&T-Mitsubishi, BGR-Hitachi and Bharat Forge-Alstom) comes on stream within a year. These developments have engendered a well-founded optimism that India's power deficit will decline to 3.8 per cent by 2013.

These successes, however noteworthy, should not be allowed to camouflage the serious structural problems that afflict the sector as a whole, ranging from the problems of land acquisition to the establishment of secure fuel linkages. Coal India's inability to meet commitments has been compounded by regulations that restrict access to coal reserves in "no-go" areas and the belated realisation that many private sector players allotted mining rights do not have the required experience. While larger players in the power space have been aggressively acquiring assets abroad, these are second-best solutions, given the high transaction costs involved. Distribution continues to be the sector's biggest bugbear! The stubborn resistance of state electricity boards (SEBs) to liberalise T&D segments has precluded any secondary reform. As a result, the collective losses of SEBs during FY11 were of the order of Rs 78,000 crore (approximately 1 per cent of GDP). An analysis of these losses identifies the following reasons: unacceptably high aggregate technical and commercial losses (28 per cent against a target of 15 per cent), inability to raise tariffs and cross-subsidies that are not compensated by the respective state governments. The upsurge in generation capacity risks being seriously undermined by bottlenecks in distribution. While the generation segment will continue to be the power sector's star performer, especially as both private- and public-sector players internalise the experience gained from project execution in the 11th plan, policy reform in the distribution segment, including getting all consumers to pay, will remain a major challenge, limiting not just future investment but also the ability to derive the full benefits of existing investment in power.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

IS NREGS STEALING LABOUR?

THE COEXISTENCE OF BOTH JOB AND LABOUR SHORTAGES POINTS TO THE URGENT NEED TO TWEAK THE SCHEME AND REFORM LABOUR LAWS

AJIT RANADE

The data on last year's economic growth in India had one curious aspect. It was related to construction activity. Usually it is a sector that is highly correlated with the overall economy. It captures commercial and residential real estate, public and private infrastructure and decisions of millions of single home builders, as also their architects, masons, painters and bricklayers. If we had a better organised mortgage market and more transparent process of title registrations, we could also have used "housing starts" as a leading indicator of the economy. After all when home builders commit themselves to creating a housing asset, it represents a substantial long-term financial commitment and vote of confidence for the future. Hence, housing starts if properly measured are a good bellwether of what to expect in the economy. The proportion of decision makers who are building a single home (not a flat) is remarkably high in India, and if these decisions are aggregated systematically, they can be a good leading economic indicator. Last year, the construction services grew at only 8 per cent, below the GDP growth rate of 8.5 per cent. This is odd, since the services sector as a whole (which makes up two-thirds of GDP) usually grows faster than GDP, making up for slow growth in agriculture, and also industry that fluctuates around the mean. But even more curiously, the cement and construction material sector grew at less than 6 per cent, much below the GDP. This kind of negative divergence has not been seen for a long time. This abnormal deviation does not have one solid explanation. It seems to be a combination of several factors. Unseasonal rains caused some disruption. The protracted elections in five states caused many public projects to be temporarily suspended. The Telangana agitation and related uncertainty caused many construction-related investments to be put on hold. Subsequently, there is the impact of repeated interest rate increases which have affected private construction negatively. Many of these factors have appeared in previous business cycles, during which cement and construction still kept ahead of GDP growth. So, were there any new factors? 

One new factor is the shortage of sand, owing to a ban on sand mining in certain key markets like Maharashtra. The ban was motivated, in turn, due to environmental damage. The second new factor is the shortage of labour. It is remarkable that several construction projects across the country have been hit by an acute scarcity of not just skilled but unskilled workers as well. These workers would be typically migrant labour from states like Bihar and Orissa, and also from eastern Uttar Pradesh. This shortage of workers has been an important supply bottleneck, which explains the shortfall in construction activity.

 

The Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Association says they are facing a shortage of 10 million workers. The absence of workers is being felt in other sectors as well, such as rubber plantations of Kerala, or rice and wheat fields of Punjab, or garment units around Tirupur. Even diamond polishing and ship-breaking activities are running into labour scarcity. For a country with an impressive demographic advantage, this is a strange phenomenon. We have people but they are not available. And it is not as if there is an abundance of jobs that is causing this labour scarcity. Any government recruitment camp, whether it is the railways, or the police, or even cooks and gardeners for the Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol, attracts a stampede of applicants. There are hundreds of seekers for every low-level government job. So, there is a simultaneity of job and labour shortage.

For some time now, many employers have been muttering about the role played by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in the emergent labour shortage.  Whether it is farmers in Punjab, or construction projects in Mumbai, or garment makers, they are all saying that the NREGS is keeping labour from moving out. If you can get minimum wages at home (with relatively less hardship), why would you venture out halfway round the country? This year the NREGS completed six years, and it is growing in strength. Social audits are getting better, leakage is reducing, women and Dalit participation is substantial. It is the world's largest publicly sponsored employment programme, and it generated more than 2.5 billion person-days of work last year. But this makes up less than 2 per cent of all work, so how can you blame the NREGS for labour shortage? That's because at the margin, it has a bigger impact. Thanks to this scheme, wages have risen by 30 to 100 per cent across sectors. In agriculture, higher farm wages, coupled with a need to introduce labour saving mechanisation, lead to much higher costs, causing higher food prices. Even though employment creation is only 2 per cent, the number of NREGS job card holders is 50 per cent of the workforce. Even highly urbanised states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have a high number of NREGS card holders. The scheme was supposed to be an unemployment insurance proxy. But it has become an entitlement scheme, and is now manifesting as a distortionary labour market intervention.

It is time to tweak and reform the NREGS. The scheme was inspired by Maharashtra's three decade-long successful experiment with the rural employment guarantee. But even in Maharashtra, the scheme was periodically tweaked. It was modified to include private sector activity (like horticulture) and higher capital outlay for better asset creation. The NREGS definition should now be expanded and private- sector employment like farm, garments and construction should be made eligible to be counted as NREGS. After all the government will not be paying this additional bill. Just as the public distribution system was modified in 1997, the NREGS can also be made region-specific ("targeted"). It was meant for the most backward districts initially, and that focus can be re-introduced. It was meant for only one adult member of every rural household, not all adults. Most importantly, the NREGS' success is not to be seen as an end in itself to be pursued mindlessly. Instead, it is to be seen in terms of its long-term impact on rural livelihoods, productivity enhancement, asset creation, labour markets and, of course, public budgets. It is very important that NREGS converges back to being an unemployment insurance, and does not expand and swallow everything else. 

The author is chief economist, Aditya Birla Group.
The views expressed are personal

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BUSINESS STANDARD

CAN INDIAN NEWSPAPERS SURVIVE THE NET?

IS THE INDIAN NEWSPAPER MARKET DIFFERENT? CAN ITS 'UNIQUENESS' HELP IT SURVIVE THE INTERNET?

VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

 

The Pew Research Centre's latest "The State of the News Media (2011)" report says extreme dependence on advertisements made American newspapers an easy target for the internet. Readership, circulation and revenues have gone into free fall in the US market as readers shift to the internet. While this is true for large parts of Western Europe too, the rate of revenue fall in the US is sharper than in Europe. This is because of various factors, says the report. The biggest is the dis-aggregation of news by the internet. Since people go to specialised websites for news on, say, cars or technology, that advertising no longer comes to newspapers, which earlier used it to cross-subsidise plain news.

 

The report reckons that globally newspapers earn 57 per cent of their revenues from advertising and 43 per cent from other sources such as subscription, syndication and so on. In the US, the proportion is 73:27 in favour of advertising. In India, it is 80:20. Theoretically, therefore, the Indian market is as susceptible as the US market.

There are, however, some obvious and some not-so-obvious differences. The obvious ones: India, like other developing markets, is on a growth trajectory. As the economy, literacy and population grow, the circulation and readership of newspapers are growing. At more than 156 million copies sold every day (against 46 million in the US), India is one of the largest and fastest-growing newspaper markets in the world by volume. There are 330 million newspaper readers in India against 92.5 million in the US.

However, the ad revenue size in India is very small — just over $2.5 billion against $42 billion in the US. However, India, Egypt and Lebanon were the only three countries that saw a rise in newspaper advertising revenues from 2008 to 2009, says the World Press Trends Report for 2010.

Newspapers in India have phenomenal aspirational value, especially in small towns and non-metros, from where the maximum growth in newspaper readership and circulation is coming. The biggest difference between India and the US is net penetration — at 83 million surfers, we are way behind the 239 million American figure. Then there are the infrastructure constraints — electricity, lack of language content and poor PC penetration.

These obvious differences simply mean that it will be a long time before the net truly threatens newspapers in India.

There are two not-so-obvious differences. First, Indian newspaper groups are leaner and more productive. Their fixed costs (of content and people) are spread over a larger number of copies sold.

The second is the sheer energy of Indian newspaper groups, thanks to competition. DB Corporation, Jagran Prakashan, Hindustan Media, Malayala Manorama or Loksatta, among others, work hard at wooing advertisers and readers. There are reader workshops, house-to-house-surveys of readers, special campaigns on local issues and so on. On the advertising side, workshops are organised for local advertisers, dealers and others to educate them on the benefits of advertising. In fact, most newspaper groups actually do the creative bit for small, local advertisers. In most international conferences, Indian newspaper groups inevitably win awards for innovation. In comparison, most American and European groups look bloated, lazy and out of touch with their readers.

You could argue that such operational efficiency and innovation still don't produce world-class content — in the same league as, say, The New York Times. That is a matter of market evolution. As the market demands better content, Indian newspapers will deliver it.

What the not-so-obvious differences mean is that the Indian newspaper groups are nimbler. Does that give them a better chance to survive?

Perhaps it does, but for one thing. For all their "innovative nimbleness" most haven't done much about the one big advantage they have vis-à-vis mature markets — the luxury of time. They have at least 10 years or so before growing net penetration starts battering topline and bottomline numbers. In mature markets, most of the brands that are managing to gain a toehold in cyberspace have been at it for more than ten years.

So, Indian newspaper groups have to start now if they want to go through the whole trial-and-error thing of what works on the Net. Most haven't even had a serious stab at it. That could be fatal in the long run. And no amount of "uniqueness" can then undo the havoc that the Net would have unleashed on balance sheets.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

FILL IN THE BLANKS

WHY SECRETARY-LEVEL JOBS HAVE LOST THEIR CHARM FOR SENIOR OFFICIALS

A K BHATTACHARYA

In the next few weeks, the Union government will have to fill four key secretarial posts that will fall vacant following the incumbents' retirement or completion of tenure. Home Secretary Gopal Pillai and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar will complete their two-year tenures by the end of June and July, respectively. Similarly, Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra, who is also finance secretary, will retire by the end of this month, while Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao will complete her extended tenure on July 31.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has so far restricted its extension largesse primarily to the post of cabinet secretary and a couple of key senior positions including a few in the Prime Minister's Office. So, in all likelihood, the government will replace these officers with new incumbents selected from among the current batch of senior officers belonging to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Foreign Service.

 

The race for the foreign secretary's job is the most interesting with India's Ambassador to the United Nations Hardeep Puri, India's Ambassador to France Ranjan Mathai and India's High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal emerging as strong contenders. The race for the top secretarial job in the home ministry and the defence ministry has also become intense, although little is out in the public domain on the favourites for the two jobs.

The choice of Pradeep Kumar as defence secretary two years ago indicates how the government views this job. A Haryana-cadre IAS officer, Kumar spent five years as joint secretary in the ministry of heavy industries and public enterprises between 1997 and 2002 and two-and-a-half years as additional secretary in the ministry of mines and minerals between 2003 and 2006. In between, he spent a few months each as Haryana's resident commissioner in New Delhi and chairman of the National Highways Authority of India before becoming secretary first in the department of disinvestment in 2007 and then in the department of defence production in 2008. Thus, in the 12 years before he became defence secretary, his only assignment that brought him close to the defence ministry was as secretary in the department of defence production. The speculation now is whether the government will look for a secretary with some experience in the defence ministry or follow the precedent.

The bureaucracy in New Delhi is also discussing whether Home Secretary Gopal Pillai's successor will be one of the chief secretaries in the states (the names of Punjab Chief Secretary S C Agrawal and Bihar Chief Secretary Anup Mukherjee are doing the rounds). The choice could also fall on one of the two senior women IAS officers. The contenders here are Alka Sirohi, who is secretary in the department of personnel and training, and Sindhushree Khullar, who is secretary in the ministry of youth affairs. The question is whether the country will see independent India's first woman home secretary in 2011, after having seen the first woman finance secretary in Sushama Nath earlier this year. Remember that Khullar was the personal assistant to Home Minister P Chidambaram when he was commerce minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government, almost 20 years ago.

For the revenue secretary's job, an interesting race is on. If the officer chosen as the new revenue secretary happens to be junior to Sumit Bose, who is now the expenditure secretary and next to Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra in seniority, the mantle of the next finance secretary will fall on Bose. However, if the government chooses to bring the finance ministry a senior official, say, somebody like Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar, then Bose may not become the next finance secretary. Khullar as commerce secretary has presided over an exports sector that of late seems to be on steroids, registering healthy growth in spite of a slowdown in developed markets.

Yet, many senior officials do not covet these secretarial jobs as much as they would have, say, a few years ago. This is because the UPA government has perpetuated a new kind of governance that was actually introduced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. The secretaries in charge of these ministries may head them, but when it comes to running them, they are not really in the driver's seat. This is not official, but the secretaries in charge know the new limits on their powers and functional flexibility.

For instance, whoever is the final choice, the new foreign secretary will have to contend with the presence of a powerful former foreign secretary who, as the national security advisor, will continue to wield influence over the manner in which the foreign ministry conducts its policies. Similarly, the new finance secretary will have to recognise and accept the new reality of dealing with a powerful advisor to the finance minister, who has considerable say in all the key policies that the finance ministry formulates. The lure of these two prime secretarial jobs, therefore, appears considerably diminished. The situation in the ministries of home and defence may be better, but, who knows, a similar structure may come up there as well.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

LALLA AND KABIR, RESURRECTED

NILANJANA S ROY

No one could claim that poetry is dead in India; the closest we can come is the lament of the (English language) publisher who says that poetry doesn't sell. We still think in rhyme and stanza, from the advertising jingles on TV to the slogans painted by the Border Roads Organisation on twisting mountain paths to the ancient mantra on trucks: "Bure nazar waala, tera muh kala." This is what Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, poet, critic, a living, walking library, calls "a listenership".

The "listenership" for Kabir and Lal Ded has stayed constant over the centuries; the words of these mystics of the 15th and 13th centuries have been internalised to the point where their dohas and vakhs form part of our subconscious grammar. To have fresh and definitive translations of two of the great mystics, by two of India's most linguistically acute poets, is a major literary event. Ranjit Hoskote's translation, I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics) came out within a month of the release of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's Songs of Kabir (NYRB/ Hachette India).

 

Both mystics left behind patchwork biographies; in their times, as in ours, chronicling the lives of saints and of poets came a distant second to chronicling the lives of rulers and warriors. But Mr Mehrotra and Mr Hoskote have a similar understanding of what is important, and what is unessential: "An authentic Kabir poem, in the thousands attributed to him, may never be found, nor does it matter," Mr Mehrotra writes in his introduction. "If you catch the spirit, anyone can write an authentic Kabir poem. Innumerable anonymous poets have done so in the past and continue to do so even today, adding their voices to his."

And Mr Hoskote, acknowledging the many gaps in the popular rendering of the life of Lalla, explains: "Lalla, to me, is not the person who composed these vakhs; rather, she is the person who emerges from these vakhs."

These books stand testimony to the argument that only poets should translate poets. Mr Mehrotra, translating Kabir's Chewing Slowly, begins with an epigraph from the late poet Arun Kolatkar. Chewing Slowly describes how the seeker finally finds the beloved, only after cutting the cord with family, in-laws and the town's inhabitants. The epigraph Mr Mehrotra chooses is from Kolatkar's translation of the 14th century Marathi poet Janabai: "god my darling/ do me a favour and kill my mother-in-law." There they are, speaking to each other across the ages; two translators who are also poets, placing in conversation with each other two poets who are also mystics. Mr Mehrotra's translations are superb, true to the ear, true to the line; soaring with Kabir's own images and Mr Mehrotra's occasional contemporarisations. "Kabir knows everything," he writes, "including a Jamaican sect and the name of a London publishing house."

If you pressed either poet, Mr Mehrotra or Mr Hoskote, they might not be able to tell you with exactitude when one starts a translation. Mr Mehrotra's translations of Kabir may have begun, technically, just a few years ago; but as he references Cavafy and Kolatkar and Rasta poets, what comes through in these precise, richly shaped lines is a lifetime's understanding of poetry. Mr Hoskote writes, "I began this translation of Lal Ded's poems in February 1991, a month short of twenty-two; I am nearly forty-two as I come to the end of the process."

Living with Lalla's words for years and decades shaped him; he had begun to translate her vakhs because she provided a connection to his own Kashmiri past, a lost heritage. But as he continued, he moved slowly to an engagement with faith, his life as a poet following the arc of the poet he was trying to translate and understand: the very different experience of "a religious seeker, a social rebel, a woman". "The translator is always humbled, broken and remade in the act of translation."

There is no room to write about the meaning of their lives and work, the four poets who are inexorably twinned twice over in these two books. And perhaps this column is not the right place in which to explore the kind of faith – so sharply opposed to the unassailable, mean-spirited dogma that passes often as faith these days – that Kabir and Lalla had to offer. That exploration should be done by one better versed in religious studies and in poetry than this columnist.

But these two mystics shared a similar path, a similar way of thinking. This verse, written by Lalla, could have been spoken by Kabir: "First the washerman pounded me on his washing stone,/ scrubbed me with clay and soap./ Then the tailor measured me, piece by piece/ with his scissors. Only then could I, Lalla, find the road to heaven."

To read these translations is to rediscover what you already know and love, but also to have the well-known, cherished dohas and vakhs of Kabir and Lalla made new. Both Mr Hoskote and Mr Mehrotra ask an uncomfortable but thought-provoking question: what kind of reception would a Kabir or a Lalla be given today?

Would they be ignored, would they be invited to the literary festivals of the hour, would their words invite bans for offending religious sentiments, or would they, perhaps, still have an audience? I don't have answers, but it's an interesting question.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

GETTING REAL ON FARM RESEARCH

The yield breakthroughs by private seed companies in cotton and corn hold clear lessons on how to take research expertise to the farmer.

The 'crisis' discourse that has come to dominate discussions on Indian agriculture leads one to often overlook some bright spots in an otherwise dismal landscape. Two success stories that come immediately to mind are cotton and maize (corn), which have both registered impressive production increases in recent times. Between 2002-03 and 2010-11, India's cotton output jumped from 136 lakh bales to over 310 lakh bales, while in respect of corn, it almost doubled, from 11.15 million tonnes (mt) to 20.23 mt. The primary driver here has been technology — Bt transgenics in cotton and single-cross hybrids (SCH) in place of conventional open-pollinated varieties or composites for corn. The rapid diffusion of these technologies — to the extent of covering 90 per cent of the area under cotton and 30 per cent in corn — has helped raise average per-hectare yields in these two crops, from 300 kg to 500 kg and from 1.6-1.7 tonnes to 2.4-2.5 tonnes, respectively.

There are two points particularly worth taking note of in the above-mentioned yield breakthrough cases. The first is that the lead has come from the private sector — unlike in the past, when the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was at the forefront of breeding the 'magic' high-yielding varieties that gave us the Green Revolution. The second has to do with their timing, which could not have been better. Bt cotton came to India when production had fallen below even the 175-lakh-bale levels of the mid-1990s, turning the country into a net importer. It is now the world's No. 2 exporter behind the US, which has seen its own output decline by a fifth since 2005-06. Increased demand, from exporters as well as domestic textile mills, has enabled cotton growers to gain from both higher prices and yields, courtesy Bt: Last year, they netted upwards of Rs 40,000 an acre, on an average. Likewise for corn, where the adoption of SCH has coincided with growing consumption of eggs, meat and dairy products, fuelled by rising incomes. The resultant demand, including from exports of some 2.5 mt (mainly to South-East Asia, where India enjoys a freight advantage over the US or Argentina), has made corn (a feed-grain) costlier than wheat (a food-grain)!

The success achieved by private seed companies in cotton and corn — to a degree, also in hybrid rice and vegetables — holds clear lessons for ICAR and others. The latter suffer today not from a dearth of breeding and research expertise as much as a capacity to take these to the farmer. Pusa-1121, a publicly-bred basmati variety that fetches over $1 billion in export revenues, would have remained in the ICAR's fields but for the commercialisation initiative of a Delhi-based rice miller. More such public-private farm research partnerships are needed.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

LIMITS TO ANTI-INFLATION AGENDA

HARI SHANKAR SINGHANIA

Cooperation among emerging economies is essential to keep growth going. If EMEs slow down, there could be a global recession, with rising poverty and unemployment.

The world economy is facing an unprecedented phenomenon of persistent high inflation. It is a problem common to the developed world and all high-growth emerging economies, including India. China, too, has been dealing with indomitable inflationary pressure, and the authority there is almost at its wits' end as to what more it can do to contain inflation. It has apparently exhausted all monetary measures, and yet CPI inflation in China is hovering at around 5.5 per cent. Today, inflation is essentially a problem associated with growth.

With prices moving incessantly northward, many central banks, like ours, seem to have decided that enough is enough, and inflation control must be given priority over growth, which they feel can be sacrificed. This is where we need to reflect a bit, before it is decided to kill the growth momentum. It has never happened that so many economies are on the growth path at the same time. The world economic order is changing rapidly. The North-South divide has already disappeared, and what we see instead now is emergence of a new divide between the advanced economies and the emerging market economies (EMEs), which are fast-moving and demand-inducing.

The significance of the latter lies in the fact that, with the advanced economies faltering, only the EMEs can propel the world economy. It was the EMEs which had helped the world economy out of the crisis. But now the problem of inflation in the EMEs is threatening the outlook for world economic recovery.

DEMAND-LED INFLATION

The five year period 2003-07 was a one of high growth for world economy and trade. While world output had grown at annual average rate of 5 per cent, world trade volume was growing at near 8 per cent. It was during this period that the phenomenon of emerging economies was first observed. The end of the period had, however, witnessed sharp and unprecedented surge in commodity prices, including oil that had almost reached $150 a barrel.

The financial and economic crisis of 2007-09 was a kind of blessing in disguise, in the sense that it eliminated the upward trend in commodity prices by puncturing world growth. On the negative side, the emerging economies too had gone into crisis mode.

In 2009, EMEs had recorded a collective growth of only 2.4 per cent, and the world GDP had actually declined by 0.6 per cent. In 2010, the EMEs recovered and recorded a growth of 6.3 per cent in GDP, but the recovery brought back food and commodity price inflation. An additional factor this time has been political upheavals in the Arab world that have pushed up oil prices.

Massive adoption of market-oriented economic reforms in countries belonging to erstwhile 'South' have given rise to the new breed of emerging economies, which could be called fast-moving high and medium-growth economies. During 2003-07, such economies put together, led by China and India, registered an average annual growth of 7.5 per cent. An obvious outcome was a rapid increase in commodity and energy prices, which had then translated into increase in prices of finished products.

The CPI inflation in EMEs had risen to 9.2 per cent in 2008, up from 6.5 per cent in 2007. The fact is that the EMEs are easy prey to demand-driven inflation in their drive for growth. The demographic structure in such economies is yet another factor contributing to inflationary pressure. As such, growth means reduction in poverty, and hence rising demand for food (leading to food price inflation). Besides, the bulk of the population is young.

In the non-OECD countries, for instance, more than half of the population is below 25 years of age. Also, note the burgeoning number of middle-class population in all the EMEs. Further, many of the EMEs have population growing at around 2 per cent a year or a little less. Implications of these factors for demand-side scenario are only too obvious.

The EMEs are huge demand volcanoes, waiting to erupt. When this is the case, supply-side uncertainties are bound to grow, more so if growth is hampered in pursuit of inflation control. Given the situation, it is obvious that actions on the part of central banks to curb inflationary pressure are bound to be of limited relevance at this stage, but run the risk of denting growth badly.

COORDINATED ACTION

Solutions to the problem of inflation versus growth have to be found beyond the purview of monetary policy actions. There is a need for more coordination and cooperation among EME governments. If the EMEs lose their growth momentum, the prospects for world economic recovery would recede.

Economic recovery in the advanced economies looks doubtful at this stage, but if the emerging economies also go down the path of slower growth, then, not only will the world economy suffer prolonged recession, but the incidence of poverty will also dramatically increase, giving rise to many other problems that come with growing poverty and rising unemployment.

(The author is President, JK Organisation. The views are personal. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

FTA WITH JAPAN HOLDS PROMISE

C.P. RAVINDRANATHAN

Textiles, leather products, pharmaceuticals and chemicals exports from India could look up as a result.

The tsunami and its aftermath might have pushed the recently signed India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), popularly known as the 'free trade agreement', into the background, but it does mark a turning point in the bilateral trade and economic relationship.

Over the last decade, India and Japan have chosen to deviate from their traditional preference for multilateral trade liberalisation within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), towards free trade agreements with select countries, including Sri Lanka and Singapore (by India), Mexico (Japan) and the Asean, by both.

Trade Gains for India

India-Japan trade may not overly impress with its figures, particularly when compared with China-Japan trade, which amounts to a large portion of India's aggregate global trade itself. The comparison, however, should not be pushed too far. The future of Indo-Japan trade, as visualised by a joint study group of the two countries five years ago, provided the inspiration for India to go for a free trade relationship with Japan.

A country would do well to play the game of free trade with another country that is more advanced than itself. The gains will come eventually through competition with more efficient producers, on the one hand, and in demanding markets, on the other. The India-Japan CEPA, through its free trade provisions, holds such possibilities for India.

GRADED TARIFF CUTS

All free trade agreements between countries are given to protection of domestic agriculture and industry, and the Indo-Japan agreement is no different. Commitments in the accord have been hammered out through arduous bargaining on the scope of tariff reductions and the pace of transition towards free trade.

The core of the agreement is an eight-fold classification of goods for tariff reductions, ranging from category X, comprising goods which are excluded from the process altogether because of their sensitivity vis-à-vis domestic agriculture or industry, to category A for immediate elimination of customs duties. Between these two are a range of groups of products on which duties will be eliminated in varying instalments.

From an Indian point of view, however, the nub is how far the CEPA would help Indian exports, particularly those that have the best potential in the Japanese market. Obviously, the inclusion in category A of whole clusters of textiles, garments, leather products, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and a wide range of manufactured and engineering goods speaks for itself.

In addition, there are a vast number of goods falling in the lists for phased tariff elimination. In all this, the CEPA provides a substantial leg-up to Indian exports, not only traditional, but those resulting from newly created capacities.

The agreement carefully measures out market access for Japan; categories such as textiles have been opened up while imports from Japan, wherever important for domestic consumption or use in production, have been liberalised, mostly placing them in the category of tariff reductions over 10 years.

Japan's simple average tariff rates being in the region of 6 per cent with numerous goods already subjected to low duties, it is the non-tariff measures that a CEPA should be addressing. Japan has a reputation for all manner of non-tariff trade barriers, notably in the shape of technical standards and regulatory procedures. The agreement provides broad-based measures to deal with such barriers. Sub-committees on Customs procedures, technical standards and business environment under the Joint Committee on implementation are prominent features.

As the world's second largest market for pharmaceutical products, Japan holds exceptional interest for the Indian pharmaceutical industry, all the more because of the Japanese government's policy disposition to encourage prescription of generic medicines so as to bring down the costs of healthcare for an aging population. Hence, the significance of the specific reference to cooperation on generic medicine in Article 54.

But seizing the opportunities for generic and other medicines in the Japanese market would call for a long-haul strategy for Indian pharmaceutical industry. It would need to overcome the challenge posed by the Japanese consumers' wariness about the quality of medical products from developing countries and the restrictive nature of the Japanese distribution system.

Joint ventures with Japanese companies, as already being attempted by some Indian companies, would seem to be the best course. The CEPA provides enabling conditions for such ventures.

Services and Investment

The part relating to services in the CEPA is important in view of the increasing salience of service exports in India's external trade. There are provisions for mutual recognition of educational and practical qualifications, as well as of licensing procedures.

For effective implementation of provisions on trade in services, a sub-committee on trade in services has also been set out in the agreement. The separate Annex on trans-border movement of people permits entry and temporary residence in Japan for IT and related services. Employment of qualified Indian nurses is expressly foreshadowed in a paragraph in the Annex, with stipulation for negotiations on a time-bound basis.

The agreement seeks to reinforce the increasing Japanese interest in investing in India through a kind of bilateral investment protocol, with national and most favoured treatment for investors from each other's countries. The shyness of Japanese investors towards India has been overcome in recent years because of the opportunities that India offers, including better protection of intellectual property rights, compared with China.

(The author, a former Indian envoy is now Professor at XIME, Bangalore.)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

WHAT KEEPS BIG BLUE GOING

R. SUNDARAM

Many articles are being written about how and why IBM lasted as long as it did — a hundred years as an MNC of the US and as an extraordinary pioneer in computer research. The company has, reportedly celebrated the event worldwide with many charity acts. My purpose, however, is to pay tribute to this unbeatable S&T cornucopia — remember Deep Blue beating Grand Masters in Chess and "Jeopardy" the near Turing Machine — stemming from my association with its products and services.

Many star performers such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook may have appeared since then in the technology firmament and beaten IBM's market valuations many times, but none evokes IBM's nostalgia.

Reorganise Defence production

It may be recalled that the Chinese aggression in 1962 brought in its wake a cosy relationship between a weakened Nehru regime in India and the Pentagon in the US. The latter was not only supplying arms and ammunition, but a whole small arms ammunition facility to Varangoan in Maharashtra. It was also willing to offer its expertise in management, built on the personal reputation of , Robert McNamara, who was US Secretary of State for Defence in 1961-1968. Arthur D. Little was appointed to make recommendations to the Ministry of Defence, to restructure Defence production in India. One of its recommendations was about the need for a computer to calculate quickly the materials required for an arsenal build-up. It is amusing to recall that what looked so formidable to programme on an IBM 1401 machine then, can be accomplished today by a schoolboy well versed in spread-sheets on a laptop.

It so happened that Pandit Nehru took a look at the demo piece brought to Pragathi Maidan in 1963. He was immediately presented with a portrait of himself printed on IBM 1403 with alphanumeric characters. After the expo, IBM offered the machine on lease to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). MoD realised the potential of a computer and orders were placed.

Grand entry of IBM

Of course, MoD did not know how to use the machine in its own offices. Almost all the offices in the headquarters, including the military, were offered the computer, but due to lack of knowledge of the computer even as a concept, the offer was turned down. However, the then Director-General, Ordnance Factories (DGOF), S. J. Sahaney, had the temerity to came forward to house it in his office at Calcutta. That, I believe, was the grand entry of the first IBM computer into India, soon to be followed by a system for the Tatas.

The IBM warhorse at DGOF worked non-stop 24x7 for over 15 years. Attempts by the DGOF to keep pace with the growing technological prowess of IBM, when it brought out its epoch-making "compatible" Mainframe 360 and 370 systems after years of research, were thwarted by policy wonks in the Department of Electronics, who were rooting for mainframes made by Russia.

The Public Accounts Committee looked askance at the import of computers from America, while George Fernandes as Industries Minister in 1977 drove IBM and Coca-Cola out of India. Soon, this petulant act no longer mattered as the existing computing world was turned upside down with the game-changing IBM PCs. Those who have dealt with IBM at any point of time will but agree with The Economist's observation that the "secret of Big Blue's longevity has less to do with machines or software than with strong customer relationship".

(The author is former Member, Ordnance Factories Board.)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

POLICY OPTIONS FOR ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN

G. SRINIVASAN

The global economy is going through an arduous process of recovery after the financial tsunami of 2008. The trade and employment processes during this period have been well documented in Trade & Employment in the Global Crisis. Based on the findings of the ILO-sponsored studies of employment impact in Brazil, Egypt, India, Liberia, South Africa, Uganda and Ukraine during the global crisis, the book by senior officials of the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation, Ms Marion Jansen, and Mr Erik von Uexkull, highlights with clarity how cross-border trade had acted as a transmission channel, transporting the crisis to developing and emerging economies.

The economic slowdown crippled labour markets in the OECD and post-Soviet countries, swayed, presumably, by both the financial and the trade impact of the crisis, the authors said. However, countries with relatively sheltered financial systems too felt substantial employment effects.

Studies show that the employment effects of the trade shocks have been significant in all countries surveyed, but particularly severe in countries with exports concentrated in the sectors that encountered the largest drop in trade during the crisis, such as iron and steel and products related to automobiles. The employment effects of the trade shocks are not circumscribed to trading sectors but affect the whole economy through two channels — a reduced demand for supplies by exporting companies and a general reduction in demand because of reduced incomes in the exporting sectors.

Create fiscal space

The authors' contention is that while measures to protect domestic producers against imports and sector-specific measures would be antithetical to each country's multilateral trade agreements, sectoral measures targeting employment are likely to be less problematic than those targeting capital. Again, their prescription that infrastructure projects are also less likely to be trade-distorting with "strong and multiplier employment creation effects" is a pragmatic one from the perspective of labour-surplus emerging economies such as India.

The ILO officials contend that social dialogue may turn out to be the most crucial element of crisis management in countries with no or low fiscal space. Again, nobody could fault them for suggesting that countries create fiscal space during times of growth so as to prepare economies for external or internal disruptions. So is their advocacy of a strong social protection system as a crucial element of a sustainable system of global trade. But this requires beefing up countries' capacity to put in place a robust social protection system for which multilateral moves should be made by global organisations.

Data machinery deficient

It is also time the authorities in India and South Africa wake up to the stark reality of deficiency in their data machinery even as they are in the big league of G-20.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SYSTEMIC GAPS

FILL THEM RATHER THAN SET OUT ON A WITCH HUNT AFTER THE CAG'S OIL AND GAS REPORT


The Comptroller and Auditor General's draft report on the performance of hydrocarbon production sharing contracts has the potential to kick off yet another high-decibel scam scrutiny. It should not: it would be a mistake to stymie exploitation of India's scarce oil and natural gas resources in the name of raising the moral quotient of India's polity, which calls for institutional reforms of a different kind. The leaked version of the CAG report is spot on when it says that there is considerable scope to improve management of hydrocarbon exploration and production with private sector participation. The effort should be to plug systemic gaps rather than to set out on a witch-hunt, which has the potential to further dim the muted appeal India's fields hold for the world's oil and gas players. The draft report cites the possibility that Reliance Industries Ltd gold-plated costs in its gas field, so as to reduce its payout obligation to the government. The report also says the CAG is not in a position to estimate the loss the government could have sustained. Both the possibility and the quantification difficulty cited by the CAG are real, and arise from the institutional structure put in place to vet costs. Together, they spell a case for institutional reform, not charges of fraud that would ring hollow when possible losses cannot be quantified. India has a system of letting a managing committee, on which the government has its representatives, vet and clear costs claimed by the operator. If the managing committee approves the costs claimed by the operator, for malafide reasons or otherwise, it becomes difficult for any ex-post audit to establish their veracity. An alternative possible arrangement is to lay down detailed norms for permissible costs under different conditions. An audit, or multiple audits, of the company's claims against such norms would establish actual costs and the rightful share of the government in 'profit petroleum.' This practice is followed in some countries.


If systems are weak, the solution is to reform them, not to spew accusations. Investigations to nail impropriety are welcome; bluster for political gains is not, particularly when it can do serious economic damage.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BAIL, NOT JAIL

IMPRISON PEOPLE AFTER THEY ARE PROVED GUILTY, NOT BEFORE THEY HAVE BEEN TRIED


The Supreme Court's decision to deny bail to Kanimozhi, one of the accused in the 2G case, violates the most important principle of natural justice. This says a person is innocent until proved guilty. While turning down her bail petition, the judges have said that she can apply later, after the CBI, which is investigating the case, comes up with its chargesheets. This is hard to understand: without even a proper chargesheet, let alone trial and conviction, what exactly are Kanimozhi — and a clutch of other accused — being held for? The CBI argues that if they were to be released, they'd tamper with some evidence. It forgets that many months passed between the time Andimuthu Raja, then telecom minister, issued licences to new telecom players and the time when the 2G probe began. That would have given Kanimozhi or Raja or anyone else, ample time to have destroyed whatever evidence they wanted to hide. Another argument is that most of the people in jail are powerful or wealthy and they can browbeat or influence witnesses to take a stand in their favour. If the investigators really believe this, they could hold the accused in house arrest till the trial is over one way or the other. In America, that is exactly what has happened to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is under house arrest till his trial for assault and attempted rape gets over. The other conditions that would obviate bail, flight and repetition of the crime, do not apply in the present case, as well.


The Indian practice of jailing people before they're proved guilty, is probably an outcome of the abysmally poor conviction rate of our investigating agencies arising from a range of factors. Given that, the entire system has become geared towards pre-trial detention, so that those accused of crimes are made to suffer in prison without being proved guilty. And even here, the judiciary has acted unevenly. All the accused in the NHAI trial are out on bail, as is Amit Shah, a former home minister of Gujarat, charged in the encounter killings case. Many others can be cited, as well. Jail before conviction must stop. The time to start is now.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHIP SHAPE

THE WISDOM OF MAKING A VIRTUE OUT OF GROUNDED NECESSITY


James Bond fans may recall a half-sunken ship (the actual remnants of the decommissioned RMS Queen Elizabeth of the Cunard cruise line) in the harbour in Hong Kong that is revealed to be the local outpost of MI6 in the film M a n w i t h t h e G old e n G u n. By way of an explanation for the unusual choice of HQ by the British Secret Service in the middle of a busy waterway in one of the most bustling cities of the east, a Naval officer told 007 that real estate costs being what they were in Hong Kong, it made sense to use the junked ship. By that same coin, the MV Wisdom that has unexpectedly found a berth on Mumbai's popular Juhu beach en route to certain oblivion in the shipbreakers' yard at Alang could be a boon in hindsight. Now that an RTI-armed civil society is questioning all manner of land deals in space-strapped Mumbai, the beaching of a defunct ship could work out to be a real bonanza, especially since the authorities are already claiming that the ship is not oozing any dangerous cargo or fuel into the coastal waters.


The Bond solution may not find many takers in India considering Mumbai is not located at the geo-political crossroads Hong Kong was at the time of the film. So, in case the MV Wisdom cannot be tugged out of Juhu, the authorities could consider what the Cunard ship's last owners were planning for it before a fire during a refit partially sank the ship: a floating university. Teaching ships are not uncommon, and there is no doubt that India is woefully short of colleges. Since the ship is otherwise deemed safe, a more careful refit can make it a university with one of the most coveted addresses in the city. Even the Hong Kong ship's final fate is an option: cutting and sinking it into a landfill so that it can be used to extend an airport runway into the sea!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

A MONTH OF MAMATA

THIRTY DAYS AFTER VICTORY, BANERJEE'S ADMINISTRATION DISCOVERS A 35-YEAR WORTH TO-DO LIST

ABHEEK BARMAN


One month after Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress alliance swept to victory in Bengal, people there can heave a sigh of relief. Before the results came out, the victory was widely anticipated. With that, was the widespread fear of reprisal killings across the state. In Bengal, people shook their heads worriedly and feared that bands of Trinamool supporters would put their tormentors of over three decades to the sword, with the police looking on. Something like that would have dragged Bengal back to the dark days of the 1970s, a time of midnight knocks on the door and hundreds of people disappearing without trace.


Nothing of the sort has happened. Credit for that goes squarely to Banerjee and her fledgling administration. Even before results were announced, Banerjee asked her boisterous supporters to hold their horses and be calm — not once or twice, but every time she spoke. She also insisted that central paramilitaries remain in the state after elections were over, which signalled that she was serious about keeping the peace.


Now the expected overhang of violence is gone and Banerjee is like a whirlwind, trying to breathe life into Bengal's economy, moribund for nearly 30 years. She met businessmen recently and told them she could be extra cautious, do a very small number of things and get each one right; but she preferred to do many, many things, stumble a few times, but get results from all the rest. "The intent is very important, the idea of getting things done is a novelty in Bengal," Trinamool vice president Derek O'Brien told me.
He's right: intent matters, it's important to be seen as a purposeful administration. But, the number of things that the new administration must do is mind-boggling. For starters, healthcare and education are a shambles in Bengal.


Recent research by Jyotsna Jalan of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences on primary education found that kids in Class IV couldn't answer simple things they should have been taught in Classes I, II and III.
Children were surveyed in six districts across the state and tested in two subjects: mathematics and Bengali. In maths, the average score was less than 28 out of 100; in Bengali, it was less than 22 out of 100. But don't blame the kids. The Left with its crony-everything system were perfectly fine with schoolteachers who attended party meetings, but did not teach. Government doctors, as a villager in Bankura told me recently, organised Left rallies in their spare time and treated patients for a fee at home. Under the Left, nobody needed to work at the work hospitals.


How will Mamata deal with these problems? She can't sack all teachers and doctors in one fell swoop and conjure up an entirely new crop from the blue. She's encouraging those close to retirement to go into the sunset, she's promised changes at the top in higher education and healthcare, and everybody's hoping that the new administration will manage to wring performance and accountability out of the existing bunch of people. When Mamata announced her deal with the Gorkha Janmukti Council (GJM), now the leader of the 30-year long Gorkhaland movement, which wants parts of north Bengal to break away, she took the breath away from many detractors.


After all, the Left had struggled to control the movement, unsuccessfully, for decades. For the last five years or so, Darjeeling and its surroundings had been ruined by violence. Today, the call for independence is off the table. The area will get the status of an autonomous hill council.

 If Mamata's looking for a blueprint for the Darjeeling autonomous area, she doesn't have to look very far: the Gorkha agreement should be modelled along the lines of the Bodo Territorial Council of Assam. This has administrative, financial, legislative and executive powers in four districts of the state. Indeed, India's north-east, with as many as 10 autonomous councils, can be the blueprint for the new-improved Darjeeling council.
Political parties in India are getting to know about the high cost of land. The Left's brutal, hamhanded landgrab in Singur and Nandigram provided the ammunition that Mamata needed to ratchet her campaign into high gear.
A committee in her new administration has outlined what Bengal's new land acquisition policy will be: for private projects, project developers will have to negotiate for and buy all the land. This makes eminent sense in southern, central and parts of north Bengal, where populations are dense, land fertile or ecologically sensitive.
In the western — and most backward — part of the state, much of the land is barren, growing one crop a year when it rains. The state should nudge businesses like manufacturing, which need large plots, towards Birbhum, Bankura, Purulia and west Midnapore.


The CPI-M's union CITU is feared in Bengal for many reasons. Yet Mamata might just have to sidestep, not attack it. The Left, steeped in European textbooks, defined workers as factory and industrial employees. As Bengal became a rust belt, the CITU's core competence faded. Its leadership is geriatric and in the last days of the Left, concentrated on evicting workers from factories, so that property developers could build malls there.
Mamata needs to focus on unorganised workers — small shopkeepers and betelnut sellers, bus drivers, housemaids and landless farmers. Almost all are harassed every day by a corrupt system. A crackdown on petty corruption and harassment will win her many followers.


It's a long list. But Banerjee still has 59 months to check things off one by one.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE


War of Positions

The Congress Core Committee's decision to call an all-party meeting to discuss the Lokpal issue means the leadership is revisiting a course of action that was earlier dismissed by a section of government managers. When the Anna Hazare camp started asserting itself, a section among Congress leaders had argued the government should not allow the whole thing to become a "Congress vs Team Hazare tussle", so it tactically sought to bring all other political parties to the table. However, that proposal was shot down by some tactless managers. But having learnt from the Baba Ramdev episode, the party has now chosen to politically deal with Anna too. The fact that all major political parties chose to duck the Pranab Mukherjee letter, seeking their response to the civil rights activists views on the Lokpal Bill, was seen by Congress managers as the political class' unease with the Hazare proposals. Though the opposition enjoys the UPA's discomfiture with Hazare & Co, the Congress now feels an all-party meeting could make it a tussle between "elected politicians and unaccountable activists". And in case the opposition boycotts the meeting, the Congress could project it as a case of double standards. Watch out for the opposition's counter-plot.


New Bridge

Kerala CM Oomman Chandy's move to rope in ex-Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar as the deputy chairman of the state planning board has alerted quite a few people. The move was aimed at tapping Chandrasekhar's good contacts with senior ministers/bureaucrats in Delhi to help fast-track projects in Kerala. It also helped the CM project a contrasting picture: of his regime bringing an experienced administrator to man the state plan body, unlike the previous LDF regime which handed over the post to JNU's Marxist theoretician Prabhat Patnaik who has no administrative experience. By propping up Chandrasekhar as the bridge between the state government and Raisina Hill, some people feel Chandy might also be trying to short-circuit the clout of T K A Nair, the principal secretary to the PM, who has been projected by certain quarters as the only 'workable bridge between the Kerala secretariat and the PMO'.


Hit-and-Run
It is not surprising to see Prakash Karat fielding his two trusted polit bureau allies — Brinda Karat and S Ramachandran Pillai — to describe as 'unofficial' Sitaram Yechury's advocacy of a 'reunification of the CPI-M and CPI'. The Karat loyalists clarified that the merger of the two communist parties is not a subject for consideration. After all, it is a recorded fact that the CPI-M, conscious of its 'Big Brother status', has always been dismissive of any suggestion for a reunification. The last such example was CPI leader A B Bardhan's call in the early 2000s — through an interview in The Statesman — for the reunification of the CPI and CPI-M, saying that the Marxists' theoretical/strategic reasoning of the 1964 Communist split has "now become irrelevant". That triggered a heated exchange between the two parties, with the then CPI-M chief H K S Surjeet and Bardhan rebutting each other through their "open letters". So, many now feel the CPI-M 'official distancing' of itself from Yechury's 'reunification enthusiasm' was a way of guarding against a potential snub from the CPI leadership. Lo and behold, many CPI leaders at the party's national council meeting recalled the CPI-M's traditional dismissive attitude to the 'reunification theme' and wondered whether it was the present political and electoral crisis of the Marxists that made them finally wake up to the merit of reunification. With the CPI now leaving it to the CPI-M to come clean on its stand on the matter, it is unlikely that Big Brother would let Yechury say something on this again.


Tutor's Absence

With the RSS forcing the BJP to readmit Uma Bharti, many eyes are on Govindacharya, especially after his strategist's role in the Baba Ramdev show. Though the former 'ideological acharya' at the BJP headquarters tries to show a lack of interest in a 'home-coming', whispers have already started at 11, Ashoka Road that the RSS might require the services of a Govindacharya for an "ideological re-drive" within the BJP. Well, we may have to wait and watch the coming episodes of the "Govind katha' and its fallout on the shallow soundbyte warriors who thrive in "the post-acharya ideological vacuum" in the BJP headquarters. But if Nitin Gadkari's leadership skills can make even a Gopinath Munde a rebel, then the BJP president, many think, really does need an acharyato tutor him.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NOW & THEN

POLICY PLAY, OUTCOME & GROWTH

JAIDEEP MISHRA


Things tend to get better and worse at the same time in India, and this summer appears to be no exception to the motto. Notice that advance corporate tax collections are buoyant for the June quarter, and more important, the latest industrial figures, for April, show credible broad-based growth in the pipeline. In tandem, the political executive at the Centre seems to be wallowing in nondecision, dither and generally hoping that things will quieten down on their own with the magic of the monsoons and lower prices of consumables. Also, in the backdrop of a sustained price spiral, read inflation, and a series of allegations of scams in high-places — the latest is about questionable capital costs in off-shore gas production — the perception is that the government is being defensive and playing on its backfoot when it comes to proactive policy action. There has of late also been quite needless mis-steps by the Cabinet, such as fawning over a protest fast on corruption in the Capital — a media-space hogging event — by a populist, successful yoga guru, and which only culminated in the dispersal of all and sundry assembled protestors in a botched mid-night raid.


What's notable is that the seemingly non-functional policy-making also coincides with reasonably high economic growth in the offing. The fact of the matter is that there's been structural change in the economy since the path-breaking 1990s, and better access to capital and human resources, relatively speaking, have indeed revved-up markets, enterprise and growth. Looking ahead, and going by the latest numbers and trends such as buoyant export figures, overall growth appears unlikely to significantly decelerate and should exceed 8% year-onyear. Provided that the external environment does not change for the worse — especially given the dicey fiscal situation in the peripheral economies in the European Union — and the still fragile economic recovery, following the financial crisis abroad, is willy-nilly sustained internationally in the medium term and beyond.
In any case, the latest events in Europe, such as the reported move by the treasuries in the two biggest economies in the union to iron out their differences on backing sovereign bonds in troubled economies like Greece, should stabilise matters, for now. There would be much multilateral aid around the corner as well. A Greek default on sovereign debt may yet happen. But don't hold your breath.


The point is that the bond markets in the mature economies are unlikely to take extended contra-positions in debt trading, never mind the surfeit of liquidity in the system thanks to extra loose monetary policy in the main markets abroad. Doing so would be fraught with risks, as interest rates begin to climb up from record lows and bond prices drop, what with the global recovery slow and apparently headed for a wobbly phase. It remains to be seen how and to what extent the Greeks tighten their belts and economise, in a regime of fixed exchange rates and with the euro continuing as legal tender domestically.


But the larger structural issues would remain current beyond any short-term fix, including the effectiveness of Keynesian-style loose fiscal policy, complete with lower tax rates and the like to shore up growth after a considerable downturn in economic activity, for instance the financial crisis of 2007-10, in the advanced, high-income economies of the EU, US and elsewhere. Back in the 1930s, when Keynes outlined his thesis in his magnum opus — although he never really formalised it — none of the mature economies of today had attained high incomes and did not have much external openness either. And thanks to the relatively low incomes, and the inherent growth potential, the treasuries in the respective countries could leverage their balance sheets and have stepped up fiscal support for increased output. Now Keynesianism implies distortions, even statist policy design, but the outcome can be rewarding overall for, rapidly industrialising economies that is. And the growth record is that Keynesianism paid rich policy dividends right up to the halcyon days of the 1960s, in the mature economies of today.


But in the here and now, in the post-industrial, high-income economies much open to international trade and financial flows, Keynesian packages can well leak out as demand abroad, and hamper domestic job creation, where thanks to relatively high-incomes, social security, etc., job seekers can be finicky too. It calls for taking note abroad of the policy advice of Keynes' contemporary Hayek, who instead of governmental prop-ups, called for discouraging central bank credit expansion and related malinvestments economy-wide. In any case, with less than a decade of high-growth here, which is predominantly private sector-led, there is much scope for long-term growth. But policy proactivity now would mean quality growth and improve efficiencies and productivity. However, aiming to clean outright the Augean stables of corruption amidst political uncertainty would be naïve though.

 

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

WHEN THEY WERE KINGS

LOOKING AT THE STATE OF WINDIES CRICKET TODAY, IT'S EASY TO FORGET THAT THEY ONCE WENT THE 'OLE 'OG


Green, for the land itself. Yellow, for the gold that was stripped. Red, for the blood that was shed. As he hooked the ball over the mid-wicket fence, the colours of Africa on Vivian Richards's wrist-band symbolised the fight against oppression – through civil rights movements, through music, and through cricket.

 

In Fire in Babylon, a documentary about how a few Black men from the Caribbean, representing small dots on the world map, ruled the most colonial of all disciplines, Richards talks about an innate desire in them to prove they were truly free. The film is linear and superficial. It's neither deep enough, nor broad enough, to capture the hows and whys of what made West Indies the most dominant force in the history of team sport. But it leaves you with enough glimpses of why they were the most feared – batsmen hit on the jaw, ribs and groin; bowlers stared at until they walked back to the top of their run-ups; and a sense of purpose that seemed grand, almost holy.

 

In the Indian team that stepped on to Sabina Park yesterday for the first Test, perhaps no one other than Rahul Dravid (whose 15 years of experience is complemented by a sense of history) will understand what the ground they're walking on once signified. It was at this venue, in 1975, that five Indian batsmen had chosen to be absent hurt than face the music from Michael Holding & Co. On match-eve, when captain MS Dhoni talked about being wary of the West Indies quicks, Andy Roberts, Holding, Joel Garner, and Colin Croft – the four surviving members of the 1980s quintet – would've wanted a cricket ball in their hands.

 

Looking at the state of West Indies cricket today – the empty stands, the poor results – it's easy to forget there was a time when they played with 'eart, when they went the 'ole 'og. When several different countries shared a pan-Caribbean consciousness that chose cricket as an expression of their rebellion. When they were determined to shed the tag of Calypso/Collapso Kings. When they were desperate to be the best in a game that was heaped upon them as part of a grand design, in which the best they could do was aspire to be honorary Whites.
    The reasons for the decline of West Indies cricket since the mid-90s are several: social factors, change in mind-sets, and the talent pool moving to other sports. Jamaica's lack of cricketers, for example, has coincided with the emergence of football's Raggae Boyz and a sprinting revolution led by Usain Bolt (who was once a fast bowler) and Asafa Powell. This push for football, athletics, and even boxing and basketball, is seen throughout the Caribbean islands, especially since the poorly run West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) hasn't made cricket a viable profession. If you want to get out of a ghetto in Kingston, you're better off running, or playing music, than picking up a cricket ball.

 

Where racism was a common theme 20 years ago, poverty is perhaps the only common theme now. Their hip-hop stars, who've made it big over the last decade, sing about shotguns and bling, rather than freedom and human rights that Bob Marley talked about. The single largest factor for the cricket team's decline, as represented by the paradigm shift in lyrics, is that the different countries that make up the West Indies don't share any urgent common concerns any more. They were fighting for freedom together; they got it. They wanted to be treated as equals; achieved, at least to an acceptable level. They desired some tangible proof they could be better than their so-called masters; through cricket, they got that as well.

So, now what?

 

For it to flourish, cricket needed to become more than a means to an end. Passion for the sport itself needed to act as a driving force. But it wasn't just cricket that made Holding of Jamaica, Roberts of Antigua, Marshall and Garner of Barbados, and Croft of Guyana the fieriest fast-bowling machine in history. Both fortunate, given what they did for their generation; and unfortunate, given how their legacy didn't last.

 

In Rastafarian ideology, the ancient city of Babylon is representative of oppression due to slavery. Instead of "tyranny must end", they said, "Babylon must fall". It did. But is cricket, as a part of the West Indian way of life, slowly disappearing as well?


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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A PRICE FOR DEMOCRACY

 

Six months have passed since 2011 began and increasingly this is being written off as India's wasted year. Caught — some would say enthralled — by domestic political theatre, it has been easy for India to ignore the wider implications of the series of corruption scandals, a paralysed government and policy and public initiatives being hijacked by amateurs belonging to one or the other civil society platform. India will survive 2011, survive the United Progressive Alliance government and survive this storm. Yet the India story has been substantially damaged. From falling foreign investment figures to rising home-grown pessimism, the signs are telling. It is for us to read them. There is a substantial change from even eight months ago, when US President Barack Obama addressed Parliament and called India a power that had emerged and deserved permanent Security Council membership. This summer a vacancy arose at Roosevelt House, home of the American ambassador in New Delhi. If India were still the India of Mr Obama's praise, there would have been a clamour in Washington, D.C., for the India job. Political high-fliers would have lobbied for themselves. Instead, a veteran diplomat — an old India hand admittedly — has been appointed. He is a trusted professional but not the sort of "A list" insider the United States President would have sent to India if it were really top of his mind. The Americans are not alone. One by one many ancient demons are coming back to haunt perceptions of India. Egregious corruption, ineffectual governance, inability to promptly honour contracts, failure to appear consistent in economic or strategic policy and goal-making: the doubts are surfacing again. From Australia to the Netherlands, a clutch of foreign missions is constantly urging the ministry of external affairs to help clear payments to Australian or Dutch (or other) companies for services rendered during the Commonwealth Games. There have been no definite answers offered. The government is too scared to approve any payments till investigations into Games-related embezzlement are over. This could take years. In at least one case, an Australian company of long standing has gone bankrupt. These may seem minor incidents but they are adding up. Exasperation with India, disgust with its venal and unreformed political system and concern it is slipping back to its mid-1990s (or even pre-1990s) ostrich-headed world view is growing. It would be futile to run away from that reality. In the past year India has not just stayed where it is; it has actually lost ground. It is facile to pretend India is paying the price for democracy. Everything from coalition governments — and the failure of the Prime Minister to rein in wild political partners who may have won elections in a specific state — to Baba Ramdev submitting a list of outlandish demands, to lack of urgency on infrastructure reforms till a mythical "unanimity" is achieved can be blamed, rationalised and explained in the name of democracy. Unfortunately, this so-called "democracy tax" is an excuse for a line of least resistance. That apart, while India's commitment to universal franchise and free speech are applauded worldwide, the rest of the planet is driven by both political processes and economic outcomes. For India's external stakeholders, it is not an "either/or" situation. Global powers began to take India seriously in about 2002-2003 due to a happy confluence of phenomena. India's economy shifted gears and GDP growth rates zoomed. The outsourcing boom matured. Key sectors — pharmaceuticals, automobiles — started to offer early evidence of India's manufacturing prowess. In parallel, India adopted a sober, pragmatic and modern foreign policy. It went out of its way to allay apprehensions that it was an unpredictable international actor that harboured adventurist tendencies. Finally, the US presence in Afghanistan and pressure on the Taliban and its backers in Pakistan took care of some of India's near-term security apprehensions. Other than 9/11 and the US intervention in Kabul, none of those events happened without effort on India's part. Each was a hard won victory. Today, all three props of that edifice are vulnerable. The economy is shaky. A combination of high interest rates and a downbeat mood is keeping consumers from buying and manufacturers from increasing capacities (and so creating jobs). In economic and foreign policy alike, the government has not fulfilled the potential India had demonstrated. Infrastructure, retail, land acquisition, an agricultural technology revolution, a genuine manufacturing thrust: India has been regurgitating the same promises and citing the problems for a half decade now. Where is the movement? As for foreign policy, a country that was rewarded with an exceptional nuclear deal three years ago — the rules of global nuclear commerce rewritten only to accommodate India — has reverted to trademark diffidence. It barely counts even in Afghanistan, where the Americans are pushing for talks with the Taliban if only to give Mr Obama space and make symbolic "the tide is turning" gestures for his planned 2012 re-election. In short, India's decade of good fortune is over. Of course what this also means is that the supposed India-China rivalry has, in the medium term at least, devolved into a no-contest. India has chosen the worst moment to resort to navel gazing, give its economy sleeping pills and doggedly aim for strategic self-goals. In the past few months, China's stock has actually risen. Its consumers are beginning to buy more, not enough for the West to be satisfied but more than the Chinese were willing to concede when the financial crisis broke in 2008. The importance of China to the global economy is difficult for Indians to appreciate. In Canberra, the Prime Minister refuses to meet the Dalai Lama lest China — the largest buyer of Australian commodities — is offended. In something as obscure as the wine trade, expectation of demand from Chinese wine drinkers and collectors is pushing up 2011 prices to levels where these are 20 per cent above an anyway overheated 2010 market. In Asia, middle classes from Indonesia to the Philippines are increasingly looking to a life under the Chinese umbrella. None of these groups and individuals has an option; and the India of 2011 is not even a ghost of an option. * The author can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IN THE MIDST OF CLIMATE CHANGE MONKEYS

 

What do you suppose the chances are of this being the coldest June since records began, or maybe the dampest June since records began? My guess is that it will almost certainly be the most dramatic of some climatic variation since records began; paradoxically, every other month is. Every season is. Every year is. Every year is something. The weather is on a roll, it keeps breaking records, nothing can stop it. Why is this? The most obvious answer is climate change; we are seeing more extreme weather patterns both globally and locally. We know that the weather patterns are more extreme because we are told that they are, every week, every month, every season. Extreme weather is a consequence of man-made climate change, so we shouldn't be surprised at this. Don't take my word for it — read John Vidal, writing in the Guardian this week, about what he called the "climate roller coaster" and the establishment of what some experts call the "new normal" for weather, i.e. the following: "Drought zones have been declared across much of England and Wales, yet Scotland has just experienced its wettest ever May. The warmest spring in 100 years followed one of the coldest UK winters in 300 years. June in London has been colder than March... February was warm enough to strip on Snowdon' and so on. John then quotes some climate expert who tells him: "We are being battered by the adverse impacts of climate change". QED, then. Well, let's take a look at this ambitious, hyperactive weather we're all enjoying. The comment "drought zones have been declared across much of England and Wales" seems to refer to, er, East Anglia. A few other areas are indeed at the "near drought" stage, and the water companies are warning, as they do every year, that restrictions on water usage might be brought in. However, no restrictions are in place anywhere, yet at least, not even in the parched Mojave wastelands of Norfolk. Spring? April was lovely and warm, well above the average. March was a little cooler than the average, May a little above. The Met Office pronounced spring to be the driest for 20 years in some areas. In other areas, presumably, it wasn't. January was colder than usual — bloody nippy, to use the technical term — while February was pleasantly warm (the ninth mildest in 100 years, in point of fact. Which means you could quite regularly get your kit off on Snowdon, if you wanted, over the last century). My point is that almost every month qualifies for some shock and horror headline about its extreme weather, because there are so many variables with which one can do the measuring and so many different records to be broken. We might say that in June we had the longest continual spell of rain for the month "since records began", or the most rain (a different thing) in one area, or the least rain in another "since records began". And those records — the Met Office refers to at least four starting points. There is 1971, which it uses each month as a reference point for recent climatic variations, and then there's 1910, 1766 and 1659. When you multiply the number of record books by the number of variables on offer, you are statistically certain to come up with a shock horror headline every day, never mind every month or season. The most snow in a single day since one or another record began; the most continuous snow; the most days with snow; the coldest, the warmest, the most sunshine, the least sunshine — and so on, ad infinitum. The mean temperature for a single month may be 10°C, but the local variations will be massive (indeed, in May this year the range of temperature stretched from minus 6.3°C to 25.4°C). It is not evidence, by itself, of a "climate roller coaster"; it is what happens when you are calculating a mean figure. Does any of this statistical arcania matter? The problem, I think, is that totally normal variations from the mean and the continual screaming headlines about records being broken are used by the climate change lobby to insist that this is a consequence of our own actions, a direct result of man-made global warming. This is a slight change of tack, of course; previously we were told that global warming meant Britain would become, well, warmer — but two sharpish winters put paid to that prediction. Now everything is the consequence of man-made global warming. That cold December we endured was the consequence and so too was the mildly mild weather we enjoyed in the February of the following year. Drought is a consequence of global warming; so too are floods. Hot weather and cold weather. Sunshine and no sunshine. And it helps if they can imply that there is something abnormal about it all, something terribly extreme and disquieting. I am not suggesting that they are trying to hoodwink us; I think they probably believe it themselves, much as those millennialist end-timers believe that we are about to be devoured by the righteous wrath of God. And then, when the much-vaunted wrath fails to materialise, they move the goalposts, just like the climate change monkeys.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DON'T CAGE CAG

 

The Union minister for human resources development, Mr Kapil Sibal, has called for a debate on the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. This suggestion has come in the wake of recent findings of the CAG that have embarrassed the government considerably. The government would be making a huge mistake if, in the name of a debate on the role of the CAG, the prestige of this body were sought to be diminished merely because the auditor of the country's public finances has done its job diligently. Even as supporters of the ruling regime seek to deny that the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, (in his capacity as the finance minister) had turned a blind eye to the 2G spectrum scam by passing on the blame to disgraced former telecom minister A. Raja, the leaked draft of the CAG highlighting how the ministry of petroleum and natural gas allegedly favoured Reliance Industries Limited, among other companies, while putting together a contract to extract natural gas found in the Krishna-Godavari basin, has added to the government's discomfiture. On November 16 last year — ironically on the day the CAG's report on the 2G scam was tabled in Parliament and a day before Mr Raja was arm-twisted into putting in his papers — Dr Singh delivered a speech to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the office of the CAG, in which he stated that the authority's reports were taken "very seriously" not just by the media, but also by the public, the government and Parliament. Dr Singh said: "(There is) a huge responsibility on the institution to ensure that its reports are accurate, balanced and fair. Very often, there is a very thin line between fair criticism and fault finding, between hazarding a guess and making a reasonable estimate, between a bona fide genuine error and a deliberate mistake. As an important watchdog in our democracy, it falls upon this institution to sift the wheat from the chaff, to distinguish between wrong-doing and genuine errors, to appreciate the context and circumstances of decision-making processes". Dr Singh was careful choosing his words. Mr Sibal has been less circumspect. Soon after he was given additional charge of the communications portfolio, he argued at a media conference that since the official policy for allocation of spectrum in 2008 was "first come first served", there was no loss to the exchequer thereby indirectly seeking to trash the CAG's claim that the notional loss on account of undervaluation and misallocation of spectrum was a huge `1,76,000 crore or the equivalent of nearly $40 billion. He contended that the "presumptive" loss to the exchequer that had been calculated by the CAG on the basis of certain assumptions was "utterly erroneous". Mr Sibal's claim threw up a number of questions that have not been answered. If Mr Raja's claim that he did what he did with the knowledge and consent of the Prime Minister, why then did Dr Singh ask him to resign? Why are Mr Raja, officials who worked closely with him and representatives of telecom companies behind bars if the government had indeed not lost even a single paisa, as Mr Sibal claimed? Why were officials of the CAG not convinced by the answers given by officials of the department of telecommunications to their queries? On June 18, Mr Sibal reportedly said about the CAG: "What should be the CAG's role in the post-1990s economic scenario? There are two views. One that says the CAG should comment on policy and there is another classical view that it should only deal with the expenditure incurred and whether it has moved away from the intent of allocation. That it should not comment on the merits of a transaction without understanding the circumstances in which the decision was taken. Yes, there should be a debate". Whereas it is nobody's case that the CAG should be formulating government policies, the country's apex auditing body and guardian of public funds has every right to question and criticise the government's policies when they lead to losses to the exchequer. The CAG derives his powers from Articles 149, 150 and 151 of the Constitution of India. He is appointed by the President of India and can be removed from office only in the manner in which a Supreme Court judge is removed, that is, through an elaborate process of impeachment. After retirement, the CAG is not eligible to hold any other office in either the Union government or any state government. He holds a unique position — he is neither an officer of Parliament nor a functionary of the Executive. When the alleged kickbacks on the sale of howitzers or field guns by Sweden's Bofors to the Indian Army blew up into a major political scandal in 1987, the controversy had been kicked off by a CAG report. The CAG then was Mr T.N. Chaturvedi who went on to join the Bharatiya Janata Party, become an member of Parliament and then a governor. In the late-1980s, although the Congress vehemently denied that bribes had been received by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the party never attacked the institution of the CAG. Times have changed a lot since then. The role of the government in the economy has come down making it all the more important that the CAG scrutinises how the people's money is spent in so-called public-private partnerships. There is much that needs improving. Barely one-third of the CAG's recommendations are acted upon by Public Accounts Committees at the Centre and in the states. The CAG's reports often come rather late in the day, after the damage has been done. But today's rulers would be doing the country a huge disservice if they were to trash an institution that could check the discretionary powers of our politicians and bureaucrats and curb their proclivity to misuse public money. * The author is an educator and commentator

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PORTRAIT OF A BAREFOOT ARTIST

 

The street holds many wonders for us if we keep our eyes and ears open. One such sight could be to see M.F. Husain walking down. Such men are not born every day and when they go they leave a void. "When a great man dies it is the day he is born. Unfortunately he has no way of seeing his greatness that day". Said my 20-year-old daughter Sama when she saw media plastered with news of Maqbool Fida Husain passing away. I did not realise how so many people knew him so intimately and how he was part of so many peoples' lives. I too did not realise how intimate he made me feel over the period of nearly four decades I knew him. He was indeed a great communicator. He was as imaginative in words as he was in form and colour. He was as articulate in Urdu as he was in English. He thought in both with equal creativity. He was one of the most successful storytellers of this age. The greatest thing about Husain was the confidence in the stroke of his brush that brought about this faith. He never faltered, stood alert and ready to take off like his horse. He saw his art from a distance, like the conditioning of billboard artist. This made him instant and prolific. Besides a regular evolution of a muse, he was faithful to symbols and toys. And as he grew, his toys and symbols found places in history and became larger than life. And as he became bankable he left everyone leagues behind. But the Husain who speaks to me is a gentle and playful philosopher, down to earth, yet up in the sky. He would go into the deeper meaning of the cause and effect of artistic expression and make it an easy mantra for success. "Na aane ki khushi na jaane ka gam, kamaye duniya, khayen hum", said he to me, as he was dropping me for a meeting, after lunch in his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce in London. He said "sab filmmaking waking chhodiye, isme doosron ki chamcha giri karna parti hai. Main kehta hun painting kijeye". Shaking the No 12 brush in his hand he added "this will give you independence!" "But I take ages to do a painting and then I don't want to part with it", he guffawed "jaldi wali kya hai, logon ko koi farak nahin padta!" Tea was the common bond. That tea was made of gossip and brewed in humour. It tasted of forgiveness. Gratitude. This tea was timeless as its steam blended into the azaan five times a day and was left to become cold till the faithful returned from the masjid. Husain poured forth his doodles on napkins and the guest book at Karims as he walked out barefoot into the crowded street, where there was always way for him. And one felt proud being with him. He always made you feel equal walking with. There was no banda no bandanawaz, no Mahmud, no Ayaz. He was a man of his own free will, did not conform to anyone's agenda and yet belonged to everyone. I am a testimony to this quality and I am sure there are thousands of people like me who will agree with me. You almost felt that he was making the earth sacred by walking on it barefoot. And this was across the globe — universal. I have a fetish for walking barefoot at home and when someone enters with their shoes I feel a grainy feeling under my feet. But when a barefoot person from outside walks in his feet are pure. So whenever Husain came home I got this feeling. The other evening as part of a friend's 65th birth celebrations bhajans were being sung; a large porcelain, silver and crystal Hanuman adorned the podium with a flame lighting his form and features. And all around were paintings of Husain. I realised how much a part of a religious Hindu household Husain was. Husain was always someone who appeared out of nowhere and disappeared into nowhere. And this is how he will be remembered. Not anyone can afford a Husain but everyone can learn from how freely he lived. — The author is a filmmaker and painter. He is the executive director and secretary of the Rumi Foundation and can be contacted at www.rumifoundation.in

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CAN DIDI SET A HEALTHY EXAMPLE?

 

The bylanes of Kalighat, one of the oldest and most densely populated neighbourhoods of Kolkata, the white cotton sari with a slim border and flip flops (more bluntly called bathroom slippers) — Mamata didi has successfully converted these into hot talking points. Now, one eagerly waits for her to do the same to West Bengal's healthcare system. Elder sister or Didi's unannounced visits to various hospitals in her state and her plans to revamp the health services have predictably attracted an avalanche of publicity — some of it good and some of it bad. During one such visit to a Kolkata hospital, excited onlookers reportedly rushed in behind her into the hospital premises. A verbal joust is reported to have broken out between Didi and the hospital director, leading to the latter's suspension. Many theories are doing the rounds as to what really happened and the underlying reasons. Not having been there, I would not hazard a guess, except to say that generally speaking many of the points that Mamata didi, candidate of change-turned-Chief Minister, has been making about hospitals are unexceptionable. Nobody would question the need to keep hospitals clean, to manage medicine stocks better, to have staff coming to work on time and treating patients with a smile. However, Didi would be better advised to keep a check on the enthusiastic throngs that tail her, particularly while visiting hospital wards. Whether it is publicity or good politics that spurred Didi to personally check out the state of hospitals in her state is not that relevant. What is of greater importance is her firm focus on the pages of history and rebranding Bengal. On that lies hope. These are early days. So far, most of Didi's observations about the healthcare system in the state have been commonplace and uncontroversial. While setting up a recruitment board for health workers, she said that local boys and girls should be given preference, that senior health officials should spend more time in the field rather than in the office, that better coordination is necessary between health officials to implement government policies etc. She has announced the setting up of four super-speciality hospitals across the state, plus one in Kolkata, that 3,000 beds will be added to various hospitals and medical colleges will have more seats. How this is done and how soon remains to be seen. To put things in context — West Bengal is not one of the worst states in healthcare. In fact, in recent years, it has seen improvements in several health indicators — infant and child mortality rates have come down, more babies are now born in hospitals than before, more children are being immunised. However, as Mamata didi surely knows by now, a lot more needs to be done. For example, although West Bengal's infant mortality rate (infant deaths per 1,000 births in the state) is much lower than in India as a whole (33 against India's 50), it is still higher than in 13 other Indian states. Among the bigger states, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra still do better than Bengal in saving their infants. Within the state, there are huge disparities as well — the highest anaemia rates (86 per cent) are found among Scheduled Tribe children. Given this background, it is to Didi's credit that she has picked healthcare as a priority area for reforms. The rest of India and others are keenly watching how West Bengal shapes up under team Mamata. It has a unique opportunity in showcasing itself as a healthy state that can be an inspiration for others in the country. The surprise visits by Didi have revealed what many of us already know — rampant absenteeism among doctors, attendants and others, unfilled vacancies, inadequate medical equipment and so on. The solutions call for resources, but money alone will not change anything. What ultimately matters is political will and determination to translate plans into practice. Didi's lack of ideology and fixed notions combined with grit and that famous, can-do spirit could just be what is needed. Most analysts are waiting to see if Didi will walk the talk and bring back industry and jobs to Bengal. That is of utmost importance, but a wealthier Bengal will not automatically be a healthier Bengal. Economic success is necessary but not sufficient for better health indicators. Look no further than the United States, which continues to be a wealthy country despite an economic downturn. Many Americans, however, have health indicators that are similar to, or in some instances, even worse than those found in developing countries. A new study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, published in the online journal Population Health Metrics, found that in hundreds of US counties, average life expectancy rates are falling though the national average is at an all-time high. Five counties in Mississippi, for example, have the lowest life expectancies for women — below 74.5 years. This puts them behind developing countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Peru. Interestingly, the US spends more per capita on healthcare than any other nation in the world. The researchers point to high rates of obesity, tobacco use and other preventable risk factors as the leading drivers of the gap between the US and other developed nations. If Bengal can show that it is possible to have healthy people without being the richest state in India, it will inspire others and add to the sheen of Brand Bengal. India, as a country, has some of the worst health indicators in the club of emerging economies. In its latest economic survey of the country, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) pointed out that India spends one per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health, and that only seven countries in the world devote a lower share of their GDP to health expenditure. The vast majority of Indians have to pay out of their pocket for illnesses and millions across the country fall into deep debt doing so. Less than 20 per cent of the population is covered by health insurance. Sometimes, it is a heartrending choice — to let a family member die or to go bankrupt trying to save him or her. This is a matter of great shame. Didi has dazzled the country and made history by felling the world's longest-running democratically elected Communist government. She can stun her admirers further and win over the sceptics by demonstrating that Bengal can shake off its proverbial lethargy and shake a leg in the health as well as wealth stakes. Go, Didi, go... * The author writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SCATHING COMMENT

ARMY'S CUMULATIVE IMAGE-LOSS


"YOU cannot say that an Army man can enter any home, commit a rape, and say he enjoys immunity as it has been done in discharge of his official duties". That comment from the Supreme Court may have been made in a specific context, and provoked by a government counsel taking "diametrically different views" (the court's term) on two controversial encounter-killings, but it has massive implications for security force personnel and counter-insurgency operations. For not only did their Lordships decline to de-link cases pertaining to the Chittisinghpora (Jammu & Kashmir) killings in 2004 and another fake encounter by the CRPF in Assam, it indicated an intention to re-examine some aspects of the "protection" accorded under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the CRPF Act. Civil rights activists will welcome judicial review of AFSPA, which is widely perceived as grossly abused.


  The J&K government has advocated its withdrawal, the home ministry is pressing for it to be rendered less-draconian, legal panels like the law commission have recommended its dilution. And if the voice of "civil society" means anything, who can forget the decade-long hunger strike by Irom Sharmila in Manipur, and the day her "sisters" bared-all in protest against the enactment approved 60 years ago  ~ when human rights were not on the agenda? The military, however, has consistently stated that its fight against anti-national elements would be severely hindered if its men were denied AFSPA cover. The Supreme Court, as is now customary, could make the critical determination.


Much as the military might fume, contend that nobody appreciates the trying conditions in which it seeks to preserve national interests, and allege that most charges of trampling upon human rights are motivated, it actually has itself largely to blame for the climate in which its functioning is being questioned. Its image has been "blown". It is not just a question of fake encounters or excesses: rampant corruption, nepotism, manipulated awards and instances of indiscipline ~ spelling out details would ensure embarrassment for both jawan and general ~ have deprived the uniform of the public respect and admiration it once enjoyed. True there must be no blanket condemnation: many officers and men are giving of their best for their country, but it is equally true that "black sheep" are flourishing. The self-destruction of the military ethos and aura is at the root of this vexatious situation.

 

US-AFGHAN RIFT

KARZAI RANTS AT THE 'OCCUPIER' 

THE President of Afghanistan was quite plainly thinking aloud in his reference to the coalition forces as "occupiers". In countering that blunt observation, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, was as diplomatic as he could be. While he stopped short of naming Hamid Karzai in course of his address at Herat University,  he did go beyond customary diplomatic niceties by advancing the snub. "When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost ~ in terms of life and treasure ~ hear themselves compared with occupiers, they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here." Karzai couldn't have chosen a more critical juncture to describe NATO as "occupiers" and then to articulate his perception that the Western forces are in Afghanistan for "their own purposes". The verbal standoff comes ahead of the scheduled pullout of US troops.
  Ten years after George Bush mobilised his forces to "smoke out" an elusive Osama bin Laden, Karzai has bared his angst by voicing the sentiment of the average Afghan... not necessarily the Taliban. He has obliquely questioned the rationale of the Af-Pak strategy. In the event, he has opened an unexpected flank to the relentless ferment in a fractious land. He has struck at America and NATO at large after winning their tacit support in the aftermath of a fraudulent election. Not that this is the first time that he has spoken against NATO's presence; but he has seldom been so trenchant, a verbal offensive rooted in the death of civilians and the night-time raids that perhaps go against the rules of engagement. Mr Eikenberry was decidedly passionate and virulent in his retort. "When I hear some of your leaders call us occupiers, I cannot look these mourning parents, spouses and children in the eye and give them a comforting reply."


It is increasingly obvious that equations between the US and Afghanistan are becoming dangerously strained on the eve of Barack Obama's planned troop reduction. In parallel with the weekend's developments, President Karzai's emphasis on negotiations with the Taliban has been undercut by the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates. He has advised against withdrawal of US troops, arguing that the Taliban must be militarily engaged to facilitate the political talks. The rift between the two countries is only too palpable. The prospects of what Mr Gates calls the USA's "war of choice" remains ever so grim.

 

NSCN(K)'S PRIVATE WAR

MULTIPLICITY OF FACTIONS BODES ILL

NSCN(K)  chairman SS Khaplang's dream of a sovereign Nagaland seems to be fading with internal dissension rocking the organisation. It is no longer in its original form having split recently over the reconciliation issue. The trouble started with Khaplang "unilaterally" dismissing commander-in-chief Kholi Konyak and appointing a new vice-chairman. Not to be outdone, the outfit's parliament "expelled" him. In return Khaplang sacked general-secretary Kitovi Zhimomi and six other functionaries. In a swift move the dissidents installed Konyak as the organisation's acting chairman. Reports suggest they were unhappy  over Khaplang's style of functioning ~ not holding the national assembly session for more than ten years, his lack of commitment on important issues and not being in touch with the cadres.


  Now it is clear that the rift in the organisation appeared after Zhimomi attended the 18 September Dimapur meeting of the leaders of all three warring groups, including NSCN(IM) general-secretary Th Muivah. Khaplang explained that he was not against reconciliation as such but backed out because of its violation by the NSCN(IM).


The cumulative effect of multiplicity of factions ~ the NSCN(IM) has a splinter group, so has the Naga National Council and now comes the parting of company in the NSCN(K) ~ may well push back Nagaland to the days of fear and uncertainty. All this would not have come up if the Centre had set the deadline for the ongoing peace process. One is tempted to say that the division in the NSCN(K) smacks of some motivation to isolate Khaplang who is a Hemi from Myanmar and wants part of it included in any future accord. In the game of oneupmanship the NSCN (IM) is well ahead of others but it cannot claim to be the voice of the people, however much it claims to be. It will be interesting to watch how the Centre deals with  Khaplang who is also in a ceasefire mode.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

AGRICULTURAL UNIVERSITIES

A THOROUGH REVAMP IS IMPERATIVE

BY YP GUPTA


THE Veerappa Moily committee had portrayed a grim scenario of education in the agricultural sector. The Vice-Chancellors of agricultural universities had suggested that farm education be reoriented, particularly at the under-graduate level to meet global challenges. The need to revamp farm education has assumed considerable urgency in view of the dismal state of affairs in the agricultural sector.


There are 46 agricultural universities and one central farm university in the country. These were set up on the American pattern of "land grant college education", based on an internal grade evaluation system. The annual state expenditure in some of these universities is quite enormous. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) provides funds for financing the research projects.


The primary objective of these universities is to impart agricultural education at the graduate and post-graduate levels, provide practical training in respect of field problems,  integrate research, teaching and extension work for development.


The progress of these institutions, with some exceptions, has been far from satisfactory because of the utter chaos that prevails in these institutions. There is little or no accountability in these universities. Many of them are plagued by intrigue and infighting. This has affected both farm education and academic standards as a whole.


Casteism, in particular, has wrought havoc. There have been frequent agitations over the removal of Vice-Chancellors. To that is added the wasteful expenditure and irregularities in some universities.


The decline in farm education can also be attributed to the faulty system of internal evaluation. An earlier study had revealed that the practice of awarding high marks in internal assessment is fairly common. The internal system was blindly adopted without considering its suitability to Indian conditions. As it is, there is widespread corruption in society. The standard of morality is low. Students, once admitted, consider it their birthright to acquire degrees at any cost within the stipulated period.


The consequences have been disastrous. Many teachers have had to sacrifice quality and standards of teaching to earn popularity on the cheap. Those with integrity became unpopular.


A committee set up to evaluate the performance of these universities had reported that the quality of education had suffered because the grading pattern and examination system are defective. The committee observed that there is a sharp divergence in the standard of evaluation by different teachers.


Students neglected their studies and followed "short-cuts" to obtain good grades with the minimum of effort. In the process, standards and norms are sacrificed and the academic atmosphere is vitiated.


In the net, the value of doctoral degrees has been considerably denuded. It  is almost as if it can be had for the asking. A stereotyped system has made it easy to obtain degrees.


These universities are easily amenable to local and political influence. Students are exploited and patronised by local leaders to suit their personal convenience. The post of Vice-Chancellor has become a political appointment. They are often chosen to suit the political masters rather than for their academic or managerial skill. They survive on political patronage.


These institutions have been granted autonomy to ensure efficient functioning and help them achieve their objectives. However, political interference has made a travesty of the autonomy. Academic standards have deteriorated. The autonomous character has been exploited to build up "empires" with a coterie of "yes-men".
A farcical impression is created that these institutions are functioning democratically through various committees, and that policy decisions are taken with the participation of teachers. In reality, these bodies, often consist of "yes-men" and those who are subservient to the Vice-Chancellor. These universities are far from independent. They do more harm than good by empowering the Vice-Chancellor to endorse and approve arbitrary actions. Very often, appointments are made on the whims of the Vice-Chancellor and not on merit.
The prevailing situation in the country's agricultural institutions calls for reflection and a thorough review of the working of  these so-called temples of higher learning. This is imperative if the declining trend in farm education is to be checked.


The agricultural universities have not been able to make an impact in disseminating scientific knowledge and skills to the farming community in order to raise productivity and improve their livelihood. Apart from these universities, there are 49 ICAR research institutes, 25 project directorates and 78  all-India coordinated projects.
But despite the increase in agricultural production, food security for all remains a distant dream. Hunger is widespread. Over 300 million Indians are languishing in poverty. And the present food output is not enough to feed the rising population, if the entire half-fed populace is fully fed. Presently, one-third of the population is half-fed due to poverty and lack of purchasing power.


The urgent need for reforms is obvious. The exercise must be geared to modernise and improve the standard of  agricultural universities to meet global challenges. In the changing scenario, a review of the "land grant system for education" is imperative to make it relevant to the present needs. The course curriculum needs to be revised and restructured with emphasis on practical training both at the under-graduate and post-graduate levels. The teaching programmes must be relevant to the needs of the farming community.


The selection procedure for the appointment of Vice-Chancellors must be strengthened to get competent academics with the requisite scientific and managerial experience. There must be a system of accountability in the management of public funds.

The writer is ex-Principal Scientist, IARI,
New Delhi

 

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THE STATESMAN

ACROSS THE STRAIT

REACTING TO AN EDITORIAL IN THE STATESMAN ("JAYA SHOWS THE WAY", 12-13 JUNE) PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, THE SRI LANKAN HIGH COMMISSIONER TO INDIA, SAYS THERE ARE SOME ELEMENTS ENGAGING IN NEGATIVE SPECULATION AND WEAVING CONSPIRACY THEORIES

 

Over the last six decades, independent India and Sri Lanka have been through several phases in building their bilateral relations. As neighbours, both countries recognise the need to strive to work together in harmony, in the best interest of the peoples of the two nations and the region as a whole. As Mahatma Gandhi said: "It is, at least it should be, impossible for India and Sri Lanka to quarrel. We are the nearest neighbours. We are inheritors of a common culture." Relations between the two neighbours ~ India and Sri Lanka ~ in the post-Independence era has matured over the years and diversified with the passage of time, encompassing all areas of contemporary relevance, including trade, services and investment, development cooperation, science and technology, culture and education. The conclusion of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009 created the space for new opportunities and further expansion of areas of cooperation between the two countries. The state visit by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in June 2010 was a landmark event that laid a strong foundation for the future development of bilateral relations with the two leaders agreeing to harness the enormous potential available for consolidating and strengthening the bilateral partnership.


Today, India and Sri Lanka work together on the basis of mutual respect and understanding. Interactions take place at different levels on a regular basis. all issues are discussed and resolved amicably through direct bilateral discussions. On the matter of fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL), the two governments have now agreed without question that the use of force cannot be justified under any circumstances and that all fishermen must be treated in a humane manner and that their safety and security must be ensured. During the conflict spanning three decades, there were instances when Indian fishermen lost their lives in the seas of the Palk Strait. The circumstances under which such unfortunate incidents occurred are well known, and the causes have since been removed with the demise of the LTTE terror machine. The issue regarding fishermen now relates to Indian fishermen crossing the IMBL into Sri Lankan waters in large numbers on a regular basis. Indian fishermen did cross the IMBL during the long conflict in Sri lanka as well. At the time, Sri Lankan fishermen in the north were not allowed to fish in the sea in the Palk Bay for security reasons. With the conclusion of the conflict, the Sri Lankan fishermen in the north have resumed their traditional means of livelihood of fishing and demand that Sri Lankan waters should be reserved for them and should thus be free of Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters. They often express concern regarding the fishing methods used by the Indian fishermen, such as bottom trawling and nylon nets that cause harm to the sea bed and its rich resource base. These are issues that the two governments are treating with due seriousness while being sensitive and alive to the problems faced by the fishing communities of both countries. India and Sri Lanka therefore remain engaged and are dealing with these issues in a constructive and meaningful manner through institutional and otehr arrangements including meetings between fishermen's associations of the two countries as well as the India-Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on Fisheries. Moreover, the two countries will begin working on means to develop fishing and maritime resources in the Palk Bay area and conducting consultations on conservation of marine resources and protection of the environment as well as support for the fishing industry in Northern Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. The two nations are committed to finding amicable and balanced solutions to all issues relating to fisher folks of both countries.


The development partnership between India and Sri Lanka too has expanded in the post-conflict era. While the Colombo-Tuticorin ferry service was launched this week, physical connectivity between the two countries has increased exponentially. There are more than 100 flights a week between the two countries and Sri Lanka received the largest number of tourists from India. One of Sri Lanka's largest companies, Brandix, has established a fully integrated textile city in Vishakapatnam. The Colombo Port and the Colombo Dockyard feed on substantial Indian business. Many Indian corporations are investing in Sri Lanka, the most prominent being Tata, Ceat, Indian Oil Corporation, Airtel, Ultratech and Ircon. Indian banks and insurance companies operate in Sri Lanka as well. People of India and Sri Lanka have tremendous goodwill towards each other and the approach of the leaders of the two countries that can become a model for deep trust, friendship, understanding and cooperation between two close neighbours.


It is therefore unfortunate that in both countries, there are some elements engaging in negative speculation weaving conspiracy theories and opening up issues that have long been settled and are of little or no relevance to the current state of bilateral relations except to undermine the constructive and meaningful partnership that exists and continues to grow. I hope that such prejudiced action, mostly based on inimical perceptions of the past would subside soon, allowing the two countries to march forward and work together to expand common ground for the good of the peoples of both India and Sri lanka, as well as South Asian region.

 

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THE STATESMAN

FROM THE UN

BAN 'HONOURED' BY SECOND TERM PROPOSAL

After the United Nations Security Council recommended to the General Assembly that Mr Ban Ki-moon be appointed to a second consecutive term as Secretary-General of the world body, the South Korean, an unopposed candidate who has been in office since January 2007, said he was "deeply honored".  
In a closed door meeting in New York, the Security Council adopted by acclamation a resolution on extending Mr Ban's time in office. It recommended that Mr Ban serve a second term starting on 1 January, 2012 and ending on 31 December, 2016, Ambassador Nelson Messone of Gabon, Council president for this month, told journalists. Under Article 97 of the UN Charter, the Security Council makes a recommendation and then the General Assembly decides on the appointment. The consistent practice is that the Council recommends one candidate. According to Mr Martin Nesirky, the spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Mr Ban sent a letter to the 192 member states in which he had offered himself for consideration to continue to lead the organisation.
In a statement issued by his spokesman in New York after the Council's recommendation, Mr Ban said: "It is an immense privilege to serve this great organisation as Secretary-General, and I am grateful for the confidence and support.


 "I am proud of all we have done together, even as I am aware of formidable challenges ahead. In the 21st century, the United Nations matters in a different and deeper way. "I am motivated and prepared to continue our work together with the member states, upholding the principles enshrined in the Charter."


Scribe murder

The head of Unesco, Ms Irina Bokova, has condemned the murder of Indian journalist Jyotirmoy Dey whose killing is linked to his reporting on the oil mafia in Mumbai. According to a statement issued in New York, Ms Bokova urged the authorities to investigate the murder of Dey and bring the perpetrators to justice. "This is vital if journalists are to meet their duty to serve as watchdogs reporting professionally on the work of government, civil society and business. Journalists need to be supported as they ensure that informed citizens are able to take an active part in society," the Unesco director-general said. Ms Bokova noted that Dey was a senior journalist and special investigations editor of the daily Midday and had published articles about the oil mafia. Dey was shot dead as he was riding his motorcycle in a suburb of Mumbai.


Lanka rights abuses

UN spokesman Mr Martin Nesirky has told reporters in New York that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is aware of a documentary report concerning rights abuses in Sri Lanka. He said that the Secretary-General had reviewed the recommendations of the panel of experts' report on Sri Lanka and was working with his secretariat to determine how to follow up on them. Mr Ban believes that it is first and foremost the responsibility of the Sri Lankan government to follow up by investigating alleged violations of human rights, the UN spokesman said. Mr Nesirky added that the Secretary-General had made the report of the panel of experts available to member states and the public and that the member states were in a position to act on its contents and recommendations. He said that in order to institute an international inquiry into war crimes having executive or judicial powers, Mr Ban would need the host country's consent or an appropriate intergovernmental mandate, such as the one from the Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the General Assembly.


Suu Kyi call

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Maynmar's pro-democracy leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the International Labour Organization (ILO) to expand its activities in Myanmar and help promote social justice, labor rights in the country. Ms Suu Kyi, in a video message to the ILO, said the agency's previous work in Myanmar had highlighted how social, political and economic challenges couldn't be separated.
"In its attempt to eliminate forced labour and the recruitment of child soldiers, the ILO has inevitably been drawn into work related to rule of law, prisoners of conscience and freedom of association," she said. Ms Suu Kyi noted that the ILO's guiding philosophy, the so-called "decent work agenda," was based on international labor standards, employment, social protection and social dialogue.

She added that the National League for Democracy wanted the ILO to expand its activities in Myanmar "to help usher in an era of broad-based social justice in our country. We are particularly concerned that our workers should be enabled to form trade unions, concerned with the highest international standards as soon as possible. Labor rights are integral to the triumphant development of a nation".


anjali sharma 

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THE STATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

 

DALHOUSIE SQUARE BOMB OUTRAGE

Ex-Professor Discharged From The Case


Mr Jyotish Ch Ghose, the ex-Professor of Hooghly College, who was arrested some time ago on suspicion of being an accomplice in the Dalhousie Square Bomb outrage, and who was released on his own surety, appeared on Friday for the seventh time before Mr C Tegart, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Special Branch. As a result of exhaustive enquiries made into the case, it appeared to Mr Tegart that there were no sufficient reasons to warrant a fresh order of appearance against the professor, who in accordance with this finding, was finally discharged.

RAILWAYS AND THE RAINS

Breach On East Indian Chord Line

Intimation was received at the East Indian Railway morning that the railway line between Pandeshwar and Panjra, on the Ondal-Sainthia Chord line was breached on Wednesday, owing to the river Adjai being in full flood caused by the incessant heavy rain. The strong current made a breach in the abutment, washing it away to a length of one hundred and twenty feet. Traffic has been rendered impossible and all trains have ceased to run on that line, as transhipment, is a matter of impossibility. There is little hope of carrying out any repairs unless the river goes down and it ceases raining.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

GAME PLAN

Few will doubt the agility India has shown in refashioning its Afghanistan policy since the Istanbul summit of January 2010. India's exclusion from that conference drove home the unkind truth that its unqualified opposition to talks with the Taliban as part of the peace process in Afghanistan was likely to leave it high and dry in a region where it has invested a lot of time, money and emotions to develop healthy neighbourly ties. Since then, and now with its vote in the United Nations in support of the Afghanistan government's reconciliation drive, India has travelled a great distance. The only conditionality it puts by way of the Afghan government's plan is the demand that the talks and the peace drive be Afghan-led. The subtext is that Afghanistan should not allow itself to be dictated into compromises by either a regional bully like Pakistan or a supra-regional authority like the United States of America. Current developments, however, show that the government of Hamid Karzai is in no position to prevent either from happening. The US, which has evidently dumped its previous plans for an early withdrawal from Afghanistan in favour of a long-term presence in the country to checkmate China, has set up independent channels of communication with the Taliban. Its unseemly hurry has pushed the Afghanistan president closer into the arms of an obliging Pakistan, which is keen to ensure that the great game in the region is played out to its strategic advantage.

The balancing act that India has to perform to offset chances of being isolated in the region is stupendous. The new thrust in India's Afghan policy, which has seen it enter into a strategic partnership with Afghanistan, and its attempt to extend this partnership to other Central Asian nations, show that India understands the job at hand. India's latest move to seek the membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia and China, is also part of this careful balancing act. There can be peace in Afghanistan only if the regional players realize that each has a stake in ensuring a peaceful neighbourhood which remains free from the scourge of terrorism. This means that the peace drive in Afghanistan cannot be so selective (or expansive) as to allow terror networks to thrive. Unfortunately, except India, few of the players in the great game in Afghanistan seem to have this in mind.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TRUE CONCERN

It is strange that in begetting a child, or in adopting him or her, the parents involved always seem to think more about themselves than about the child who is to enter their lives. If their relationship breaks up in future, the child will have to bear the burden of a fractured life. While it is true that if every couple had such paralysing forebodings then the population count of a country would drop alarmingly, it is also true that parental responsibility involves imagining every possible situation that may affect a child adversely and taking measures to avoid these. In India, where child protection laws are woefully inadequate, if not faulty, it is good to know that the government is acting with the child's interests in mind. A soon-to-be-issued government notification will make it mandatory for couples to have at least two years of a stable marital relationship before they can adopt. Conversely, couples in live-in relationships will not be considered eligible for adoption of children. Nor can a single male adopt a girl child. This might seem conservative at first, but the proposed law is actually premised on laudable concern for a child's well being.

It is necessary that a child gets a stable environment at home, perhaps even more so when he or she is adopted. However difficult, and embarrassing, it might be to acknowledge this, the fact remains that at least a semblance of stability can be provided by a legally and socially sanctioned relationship such as marriage. There are, in India, still sufficient social constraints for married couples to try and hold on together in spite of stresses. Live-in relationships are free of this pressure, and cannot offer the adopted child even this appearance of a legal guarantee. What would happen to the adopted child if the live-in couple chose to separate? The Supreme Court has ruled that children born out of wedlock can be legal heirs to their parents' property. But this does not extend to adopted children. If a live-in arrangement breaks up, an adopted child could be left adrift, in a position similar to the one from which he or she was adopted. The other clause of the government guideline, denying single males the right to adopt girl children, is as sound as the one discussed. In an issue such as adoption, while much depends on the presumed goodness of the future parents, it should never be taken for granted. It is always better to be safe than sorry when a child's life is at stake.

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THE TELEGRAPH

ANNA HAZARE AND GANDHI

WHATEVER DEVALUES PARLIAMENT STRIKES AT THE ROOT OF DEMOCRACY PRABHAT PATNAIK

To call Anna Hazare the 21st-century Gandhi, as some have started doing, is pure hyperbole, but many would see a similarity in their methods — in particular, in their resorting to fasts to achieve their objectives. This, however, is erroneous. Indeed, the fact that so many people consider Anna Hazare's method to be similar to Gandhiji's only indicates how little contemporary India remembers or understands Gandhiji.

Gandhiji undertook 17 fasts in all, of which three were major fasts-unto-death. All these three had the objective of uniting people against violence, rather than extracting specific concessions from the colonial State. His 1932 fast against the British government's proposal to have separate electorates for the "depressed classes" may appear to contradict this assertion; but even that fast was directed more against the practice of "untouchability" than against the British government, which abandoned the idea of separate electorates once the Yerwada pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar had been worked out. (Tagore, in fact, had blessed the fast, saying: "It is worth sacrificing precious life for the sake of India's unity and her social integrity.") The 1932 fast was not really anti-British, nor was it even a purely political fast, a fact underscored by Gandhiji's starting, within eight months, another 21-day fast to express his anguish at the continued oppression of "Harijans" by "caste-Hindus". (See Sudhir Chandra's paper in the Economic and Political Weekly of June 4, 2011).

In short, Gandhiji's fasts-unto-death were never a binary affair, with himself and the colonial State as adversaries, to extract specific concessions. He did not, for instance, go on a fast-unto-death to demand the withdrawal of the salt tax; he launched instead a movement against it. And at no stage did Gandhiji ever consider going on a fast-unto-death to demand India's independence; instead he launched movement after movement for achieving it. Indeed Gandhiji would have considered a fast-unto-death to enforce a particular demand even upon the colonial State, or to extract a particular concession from it, an act not of non-violence but of violence.

Underlying such a fast-unto-death is the threat of violence: unless you concede my demand, I shall end my life, and in that case you will be swept aside by a torrent of violence that the people, angered by my death, will visit upon you; hence you better concede my demand. A fast-unto-death directed against the government or some specific institution to extract a specific set of demands is therefore an implicit act of violence; it holds out an implicit threat of violence and its success is predicated upon the credibility of this threat. Even when the cause for which such a fast is undertaken is a noble one, the nature of this threat is no different from that of an extortionist who demands that all one's belongings should be handed over peacefully, failing which violence would be visited upon one.

Gandhiji would not have had any of it. The man who withdrew the non-cooperation movement because of a single incident of violence in Chauri Chaura and went on a fast-unto-death as a "cleansing act" would never have pressed any demand, even against the colonial State, under any such implicit threat of violence. His fasts-unto-death were directed at the people, not so much at an institution or government, with the objective of uniting them against violence. Even if any such fast-unto-death had claimed Gandhiji's life, this would have had no fallout by way of popular anger against any person or institution and hence no visitation of violence against such a target; what it would have produced is a general sense of shock that would have shamed people precisely into the kind of behaviour that Gandhiji had wanted when he undertook the fast in the first place. For instance, his fast-unto-death for communal harmony, even if it had claimed his life, would only have shocked people into maintaining communal harmony and refraining from violence, exactly as Gandhiji wanted to happen when he undertook such a fast, and exactly as did happen before his fast-unto-death could claim his life.

It follows that there are fasts-unto-death and fasts-unto-death. There are fasts-unto-death whose objective is to extract some specific concession from an adversary, and which by nature, therefore, are coercive and entail an implicit threat of violence; and there are fasts-unto-death which are not directed against any particular adversary, which seek to unite the people, and which, therefore, entail no threat of violence. Anna Hazare's and Baba Ramdev's fasts fall into the former category; Gandhiji's fell into the latter. They were as different from one another as chalk from cheese. To call the methods of Hazare and Ramdev Gandhian is a misnomer; to call their fasts-unto-death "non-violent" is wrong, since they are of the "concede-our-demands-or-else-there-will-be-violence" sort, that is, of the coercive sort. Gandhiji's fasts were not of this type.

A coercive fast-unto-death is not only anti-Gandhian; it is anti- democratic in the context of independent India. And even when the objective it seeks to achieve is laudable, it is fraught with dangerous implications for our constitutional order. This order is not to be pooh-poohed, because it represents perhaps the biggest advance for the people in the last two millennia of our history, based as it is on a concept of "equality" which is a negation of the logic of the caste-system that had sanctified such inhuman practices as "untouchability" and "unseeability". The coming into being of this order is a milestone in India's "Long Revolution".

True, this de jure equality has not transformed itself into a de facto equality, given the enormous and widening economic disparities in our society. But this de jure equality itself strikes at the root of the conceptual apparatus that had justified the existence of an oppressive system for centuries. Lenin had once said that "equality" was the most revolutionary idea in the struggle against feudal exploitation; it is even more revolutionary where feudal exploitation is enmeshed in caste oppression.

The most palpable institutional expression of this "equality" is the Parliament, elected as it is on the principle of "one person one vote". True, it is full of billionaires, insensitive to the people's needs and aspirations, and of self-seeking careerists of the political class; but, even so, there exists no other institution in the country which can claim the same degree of legitimacy. It is not surprising that elections in this country bring out the most enthusiastic participation from the most deprived segments of the population; they constitute even now a carnival of the oppressed. Anything that devalues the Parliament as an institution strikes at the root of India's Long Revolution. And the recent "civil society" activism around Anna Hazare, even though it may have been motivated by high ideals and has witnessed the participation of several distinguished public personalities of the country, does precisely that.

I am not talking here of the Ramdev project which belongs to a different genre altogether. I am also not talking here of the alleged links between Anna Hazare and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which, though of great significance for understanding the totality of the phenomenon, are not germane to my present argument. And I also have no quarrels with 'civil society' activism per se; on the contrary, I value it. My problem is that such activism in the present instance, sustained by a fast-unto-death of the coercive kind, has sought to devalue the position of the Parliament, instead of being directed at strengthening it.

The JP movement with which it may be compared had never undermined the status of the Parliament; on the contrary, its denouement was the capture of a majority of seats in Parliament by the Janata Party formed through JP's initiative. 'Civil society' activism today seeks not to capture Parliament but to by-pass it, for what else can be the meaning of civil society representatives and government ministers sitting together and working out an agreed lok pal bill, unless it is assumed that the Parliament will be only a titular body giving such an agreed document an automatic stamp of approval?

Corruption has got a great boost from the pervasive culture of money-making that neo-liberal capitalism has introduced into our society. It must, of course, be fought, but the fight will be necessarily limited unless the economic regime in which it thrives is altered. And above all we have to be careful that this fight does not lead to a substitution of messiahs surrounded by well-meaning members of the elite for the constitutional order that forms the basis of our "modern" nation.

(The author is a former professor, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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THE TELEGRAPH

NO NEED TO DECLAIM

MALVIKA SINGH

The Lokpal tamasha has reached a point where serious debate and discussion have been thrown to the winds, with allegations and counter allegations being flung around, making the entire exercise contentious and unacceptable. We have something called 'Team Anna' that claims to represent 'civil society'. It clearly does not. The last few weeks have shown that there are many in 'civil society' — experienced professionals, thinkers and activists — who are vociferously questioning the premise of many demands raised by Team Anna. The television shows have no debate, only hysteria and endless political main main tu tu. Anchors have ceased to be non-partisan and are brandishing personal views, thereby diluting all discussions. The hero of the TV anchors is Anna Hazare, who comes across as being equally superficial and simplistic when addressing this issue of enormous future importance for our democracy. The cavalier manner, devoid of intellectual strength, is scary, to say the least, and the prospect of leaving governance to this 'alternative' is frightening.

What 'Team Anna' seems to want from the bill is the creation of a parallel government, peopled with self-appointed individuals, who believe that they are more honest than their fellow men, and are without any accountability at all to established democratic institutions, the Constitution, Parliament and the judiciary, even to the people of India. This is much like a movement for anarchy. Surely, the lok pal, like the ombudsman, needs to play the role of the watchdog of society, putting pressure on the government and its diverse administrative arms to regulate governance with probity, using the mechanisms and delivery systems according to stated laws.

Very boring

This is the humungous corrective that has to be initiated and made operative. India does not need anarchy to replace democracy. We need our democratic systems to be rebooted and restored. We need collective political will to do that. We need Parliament to be respected by the elected representatives themselves. We need to conduct ourselves with dignity. And this 'we' includes Team Anna, political parties of India, the administrative service, the judiciary and the people. To exchange one dreadful, failed mess with another is suicidal.

The press, an essential and critical player in a democracy, has failed us by not being able to transmit the pros and cons of issues that are fundamental to our everyday lives. With a few exceptions, TV channels have reduced debate to sarcastic comments, banal questioning and rather supercilious, personal comments.

Had there been a proactive government at the Centre, it would have seized the moment to reinvent Doordarshan so that it could compete with the frivolous channels in our media space. There is a crying need for a public interest channel that will treat the viewer with respect and not dumb down every idea to the lowest common denominator. Our people think and hear even if they cannot read and write. We have an oral tradition handed down over the generations that is alive and volatile. It hears and listens, and does not accept the drivel that is communicated.

We need to speak to our people through the small screen. We need to engage with them and keep them connected. We do not need to declaim. Sadly, the untrained electronic lot screams at us, pushes its agendas in high-pitched, aggressive tones and kills the potential strength of the television. Anchors get away with anything. The same, predictable faces from civil society appear for the discussions. They flit like flies from one channel to the next. They represent themselves and their 'hosts'. Boring, uninspiring and disconnected.

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THE TELEGRAPH

GOVERNMENT IN SEARCH OF LEADERS

COMMENTARAO S.L. RAO

The principal political parties offer no leadership on issues agitating the public. They have yet not realized the fundamental changes wrought by urbanization, growing literacy, increasingly effective use of the Right to Information Act to extract information from governments, the influence of social media in mobilizing urban youth, the transformation of the Supreme Court under a new chief justice from a supine to a concerned and activist court, the activism in some of the high courts, and the aggressive attempt of completely unfettered news media, especially television, to build viewership and advertising revenues. Neither have they realized the depths of public disgust at corruption and the strength of the demand for corrective measures.

Even the governments of Chandra Sekhar, V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral did not communicate as much confusion and intolerance of public opinion as the present Central government has done. The Congress, leading a second coalition government, appears to have made many Congressmen and 'leaders' feel that they have an unquestionable mandate. The prime minister gives no leadership and public responses are left to two or three ministers — Kapil Sibal, Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram. The Congress president has said nothing about the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as partner, the election debacle in Tamil Nadu, the 2G scam, the large thefts by her partyman from the Commonwealth Games, the involvement of Congressmen in the Adarsh housing scam, or the Hazare-Ramdev agitations against corruption and the late night brutal clearing of the Ramlila grounds.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has shown no leadership. It has opportunistically seized media exposures to attack the government on these scams, but has no policy for systemic correctives. It has prevented the functioning of Parliament, delayed essential legislation and won a notional victory for a joint parliamentary committee on the 2G scam, but is unlikely to offer any speedy solutions. Its leader in Parliament is associated with the Bellary mining mafia. Congress and BJP functionaries may have little interest in systemic changes. Many in their parties may be involved in black money, money laundering, and corruption.

We excused the United Progressive Alliance I its lack of reformist zeal because it was a prisoner of the rigid Left parties. Yet the UPA-I staked the continuance of its government on the fate of the nuclear agreement with the United States of America without examining the economic viability of nuclear energy in India. The Indian consumer does not pay full costs of electricity, and the present actual costs of nuclear energy are much higher than disclosed. For this agreement, Parliament was treated to the obscene display of vast sums of cash paid to some members of parliament for switching votes in favour of the government. This was a signal of the UPA's lack of moral fibre and its willingness to stoop to any level to achieve its ends. The UPA-II showed the same qualities in dealing with Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev. (No one yet knows whose money was shown in Parliament.)

The UPA-II was expected to unleash the reformist and social welfare zeal of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Instead, it has presided over the unabashed loot of vast amounts of national resources by people in power. It blatantly disregarded continuous detailed media exposures of the different loot, and the looters who were named, their modus operandi, and the estimated looted amounts. At no time was there even a semblance of preemptive action, either from the prime minister or the leader of the party.

The prime minister ignored warnings to tackle double-digit food inflation because it might hurt growth. The government encouraged volatile foreign exchange inflows and did not close the loopholes that helped black money to go abroad, return to be laundered, make a profit and help save on tax. Beneficiaries must have included politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. Growth was paramount, not peoples' suffering or the looting of the nation.

Continuing double-digit food inflation, growing income inequalities and obscenely lavish personal expenditure in the midst of mass poverty, created a growing public resistance to corruption. Both government and Opposition failed to appreciate this. The mixture awaited a Gandhian-style leadership. Anna Hazare provided it.

The government dropped the minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer, who questioned the enormous and escalating expenditures on the Commonwealth Games, wanted the chairman, Suresh Kalmadi, removed and the budgets pruned. He was replaced by an ex-bureaucrat, unconcerned about the corruption, creating the climate for Hazare.

Hazare defined himself and his movement clearly. He wanted to eradicate corruption with strong legislation and institutions. The lok pal bill was only one among them. He did not belong to any political group or support any individual. If any supporter was found flawed, he would be subject to the law. If the government would not respond, he would use Gandhian methods of nonviolent satyagraha and fasting to compel action. These are legitimate tools in a democracy to make governments behave. His method and leadership evoked a massive response in urban India but the rural and the less educated also watched with interest. Anna Hazare's mistake was in not building cadres around the country and making more use of the internet to attract followers and funds. He may do so now since the government and Opposition are unwilling to draft strong legislation.

Baba Ramdev, a great yoga teacher but an otherwise confused individual with a non-transparent past expected his yoga students to become his crusaders in a political movement. Shrewd ministers manipulated him to divide the anti-corruption campaign of Hazare through flattery and insincere promises. They played on Ramdev's lack of clear objectives, knowledgeable advisors, craze for media appearances and for being the Leader. Instead of systemic changes to tackle corruption their attempt was to discredit the anti-corruption movement and Hazare, who was weakened by Ramdev and government tactics. But Hazare's reputation is intact and we can expect years of agitation.

Clearly, the government and the Congress wanted to prevent the rise of "civil society" leaders. In marginalizing Ramdev, the UPA government and the Congress were insincere about tackling corruption. This is reinforced by the weight of top ministers used to destroy Ramdev and the lack of it in negotiating with Hazare.

The prime minister showed utterly confused leadership in selecting his top negotiator and dealing with the whole situation. Ramdev was looking for commitments, however foolish; the government was aiming to send him home. The subsequent unleashing of police brutality on an unwary sleeping crowd at the Ramlila grounds will haunt the UPA in the next elections. With Anna Hazare, the prime minister is even more confused. His minions are against the 'tyranny' of an unelected civilian, forgetting that this is a democracy and the government serves civilians.

If the Congress wants to survive the disgraces of 2010 and 2011, it must find a new, younger, experienced, political, prime minister. In the process the family will be marginalized, and rightly so, allowing the Congress to get inner party democracy. The BJP must also develop an agenda for itself and stick to it. It must get politically experienced leaders who have run governments. Its present leadership cannot offer consistent and well-crafted opposition.

India today suffers from a comprehensive failure of leadership in government and political governance.

(The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research)

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THE TELEGRAPH

WATERSHED MOMENT

NEW DEAL THE RUSSIAN NAVY MAY SEEM DOWN AT PRESENT, BUT IS FAR FROM BEING OUT YET

Twenty years ago, at the time of the demise of the Soviet Union, not a single ocean-going ship of the Moscow navy was of foreign origin. Now the successors of the red fleet are banking on the French naval shipyard to augment their strength and technical knowhow.

The finalization of a 1.5 billion euro agreement to buy four Mistral-class warships (picture) this May from France is a high point for the French industry. From being a rival, Russia is now an important arms purchaser for the first time since the end of the Cold War. One wishes that the Russians had also responded to the recurring Indian plea for the delivery of the old, once-partially-burnt and used aircraft carrier, Gorshkov, without time and cost overrun.

The question now is: what is this Mistral ship which Russia cannot build but would love to possess? Mistral is a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault vessel with a storage capacity for 60 armoured vehicles, and 450 fully-equipped troops, which could be doubled during emergencies or evacuations. The Mistral-class vessel, two of which thus far have been commissioned in the French flotilla in 2006 and 2007, is virtually an aircraft carrier with additional capability of troop transport and out-of-area offensive posture. The Mistral's essential role is force projection, forward presence, logistic support for deployed force (ashore or at sea), humanitarian aid, disaster relief and to command ship for joint operations. With an endurance of 45 days on high seas, the Mistral is likely to be a promising performer.

Since Russia still has the industrial design and construction capacity to build new amphibious ships, why did it go for import? Because it feels that the purchase of ship or ship design from the French would be quicker, cheaper and better. But Moscow wants a large share of the construction workload in order to gain experience of building amphibious ships. Since Russia also wants transfer of technology, it is evident that the present Russian technique, knowledge and skill are not up to the mark. So should India still go for Russian vessels or should it explore the possibility of having fresh vendors for the inventory of its navy?

The French-built Mistral ships will have to be "modified" to operate on cold water and the helicopter pads will be strengthened to operate heavier and bigger Russian rotorcraft. A further report claiming that the "ships would be delivered without armaments, radar or combat systems" makes things intriguing. Has Russian talent dwindled so much that it can produce "armament, radar or combat systems" but not the basic structure of a combat vessel of 21,600 tonnes?

The fact remains that Russia has never been a great naval power. Even during the heady days of Admiral Sergei Gorshkov in the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet navy failed to develop a true strategic capability despite possessing a large fleet of nuclear submarines. Moscow marine's French connection started fructifying in all earnest in the 21st century only.

With new enterprise also comes the bad news of Russia's sacking of senior defence personnel owing to their poor performance in overseeing Moscow's defence procurement goals. So, although Russia accounted for 77 per cent of India's arms imports as late as 2005-2009, India cannot be faulted for trying to diversify its production, procurement and purchase sources owing to its own security compulsions. The time and cost overrun for the aircraft carrier, Gorshkov, has also partially dented the otherwise harmonious Delhi-Moscow arms bilaterals so far. In 2009, India and Russia concluded a 10-year agreement on military-technical co-operation under which commitments were made for the "joint development of helicopters, infantry fighting vehicles and a fifth generation fighter aircraft". Russia may seem down at present but it will be incorrect to presume that it is out of Delhi's radar just yet.

ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BIBI'S CHEESY PAST

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

There is no argument about the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu's sense of humor is very dry. Otherwise it's impossible to explain his big show at the cabinet meeting two days ago. He turned to Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, and through her to the rest of the cabinet, and said: "Get up, act, learn from [MK Moshe] Kahlon how to find solutions," referring to the struggle of the Communications Minister with the cellular telephone companies.

Why is this funny? Because Netanyahu is "the minister overseeing economic strategy" and also the prime minister. Therefore he is the one who should act. Not turn to others. It is also funny that Netanyahu chose to turn to Noked, when he knows that she is part of the agricultural lobby. Noked is a member of Kibbutz Shefayim, which has a large dairy farm, and all her actions are summarized by a simple agenda: improving the lot of farmers. And if this comes at the expense of the other 7.7 million Israeli citizens, so be it.

The third reason for which I burst out laughing was that I remembered how Bibi behaved in similar circumstances when he was Finance Minister. It was in 2003 when the budgets' department presented him with an overall program for dealing with the milk cartel. The plan called for gradual reduction, over a 5-7 year period, of the high tariffs imposed on imported dairy products, in order to allow the import of cheeses, yogurt, butter, powder milk, and thus create competition for Tnuva, Strauss and Tara. The program also concluded that there must be an end to quotas, to "target prices" for milk, and to the organization of dairy farms into cartels. In order to sweeten the bitter pill a bit, it was agreed that as part of the reforms the regulation of prices on most dairy products would be lifted.

Netanyahu heard what the economists of the budgets' department had to say, and was enthused. He immediately said that he is in favor, and even came out with a new slogan for the public: "Breaking the monopolies," of cellular telephony, in ports, and in the dairy market. He realized that the minute the dairy market opens up to competition, the prices would drop, quality would improve, and it would be possible for the dairy business to grow.

The problem was that the agricultural lobby heard him and was shocked: How can they undermine the most profitable branch of agriculture? Immediately MKs from all parties rallied against the reform, and the farmers' magazines put out an emergency announcement explaining that Netanyahu is planning to "destroy the dairy market, harm the settlement that is protecting state lands, and destroy the productive population that lives along the borders." Against such forces Netanyahu could not stand his ground, and in December 2003 he shelved the reform plan.

Today there is no chance that Netanyahu would even dream of raising it for discussion. All he wants now is quiet. The sad part of this story is that what was left of the grand plan of 2003 is the sweetener. And thus, in August 2005 the Sharon government lifted price controls on many dairy products, including the famous cottage cheese, and the prices skyrocketed.

Now, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz says that he will study the entire subject in depth. He says that he will consider whether it is appropriate to lower tariffs and allow imports. He says that he will examine the milk cartel of the dairy farms and the Milk Council which sets the price for milk. He says that he will seek to do away with restrictions exempting the field of agriculture from coming under the scrutiny of the antitrust authorities, so that they could deal with the milk cartel. He also says that he will consider restoring cottage cheese and other products back into the list of items whose price is regulated.

If I may wager, all that will remain of all this high and mighty talk, in the end of the day will be that cottage cheese (and possibly other items ) will once more be brought under regulation. Because this is the easy solution. Because it is the populist solution that the public will appreciate. Because this will not require a fight with the powerful agricultural lobby.

The quality of cottage cheese, whose price will be regulated, will deteriorate, and the companies will put out an "improved" cottage, with vitamins and iron, and that will be marketed to the people. They will increase the price of other dairy products, which are not regulated, so that we will gain cottage cheese, but lose out on the other products.

As long as we have not altered the basic structure of this oligopoly,the cartel of dairy farms, dairy companies, and supermarket chains will continue their party at our expense.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

UNNECESSARY HARASSMENT

Members of Barcelona's gay community who were official guests of the Foreign Ministry say they were put through a rigorous security check, complete with bizarre questions and humiliating treatment, when they left the country last week. The Israel Airports Authority insisted that the check was routine and polite, but the damage to Israel's image had already been done: The delegation members, who took part in Tel Aviv's Gay Pride parade despite pressure by anti-Israel organizations, declared they would never return to Israel.

It seems the Airports Authority and the Shin Bet security service, which is responsible for the security checkers, have misinterpreted their job. Yes, they must conduct comprehensive security checks for the benefit of all the passengers. But the checks are supposed to be carried out politely and courteously, as a service to the citizen, not like a military hazing.

In some cases, the checkers permit themselves to deviate from the usual security procedure and put outgoing passengers through a rigorous, offensive interrogation that looks more like intelligence gathering than protection. This is especially grave when the examination is done via the controversial profiling method, which mainly singles out Israel's Arab citizens.

In March, the High Court of Justice responded to a petition on this matter by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel by ordering the state to explain why security checks at Ben-Gurion Airport should not be conducted on the basis of "equal, pertinent and uniform" criteria. The justices, who examined all the complex aspects of this issue and compared Israel's procedures with those of other states, said it was unacceptable to label an entire population. By the same token, it is unacceptable to label entire groups, or individuals, for unclear reasons and and publicly humiliate them.

Security personnel in airplanes and airports worldwide must contend with risks and terrorist threats, and it is clear that all passengers must be checked. But this must be done in an egalitarian manner, even if it entails inconveniencing all passengers. It must be done more by using innovative technologies and less by rummaging manually through suitcases, and by a polite staff that understands it is providing a service to the public, not giving orders.

Israel cannot afford to rudely drive away those who come to visit it.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

PEOPLE IN THEIR OWN RIGHT, NOT ADJUNCTS

A LARGE NUMBER OF STUDIES AND STATISTICS PROVE THAT ADVANCING WOMEN'S EQUALITY IS GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY, THE SOCIETY AND THE COUNTRY. YET THE LARGE NUMBER OF LAWS THAT GO UNIMPLEMENTED PROVE THAT LAWS ARE NOT SUFFICIENT.

BY MERAV MICHAELI

This week, the "cottage cheese protest" diverted attention from the battle over women's retirement age, the doctors' strike and the nurses' labor sanctions. But all these battles are connected to the same economic policy, which strengthens the strong and weakens the weak, especially if they are female.

They are all related to the fact that almost every woman also takes care of her home and family without pay. Accordingly, even when it comes to salaried caregivers, 90 percent are women in today's Israel, while other professions related to education, social welfare and caregiving are considered feminine and remunerated accordingly. On average, women earn only 60 percent of what men do. That perpetuates their dependence on men and leaves the power, positions of power and money in men's hands.

But things could be different. This week, Gertrud Astrom, an expert on economic policy, visited Israel. Her goal, as it was formulated in Sweden, is that "Women and men shall have the same power to shape society and their own lives. That men and women shall decide equally regarding their own lives." That is the law that was passed there in 2006, which is called "Shared Power - Shared Responsibility." Astrom was one of its authors.

Under this policy, the overall budget and every line item in it is scrutinized to see how it affects men and how it affects women. In one Swedish town, for example, it turned out that 90 percent of those using public sports facilities were men, while 70 percent of the sports budget served men only. An examination of the welfare services demonstrated that requests for assistance by men were accepted more readily than similar requests by women - not out of objective considerations of real need, but due to the stigma that men are unable to manage alone.

This policy treats women as people in their own right rather than as adjuncts. Sweden today has only an individual income tax; there is no joint filing by families or couples. Every person for himself or herself. This also necessitates ending women's exclusive role as caregivers, an equal division of unpaid child care and housework, and equal responsibility for men and women in these two fields.

Even in Sweden, there is as yet no sweeping agreement on this issue: It is hard to give up free labor when you are on the side that benefits from it. But there is paternity leave for fathers that does not come at the expense of maternity leave for mothers, and every working person is entitled to subsidized education and day care for his or her children from the age of one year old.

That is called "gender mainstreaming": introducing so-called gender thinking into the mainstream, into the general, overall budget. And it is not a feminist whim. The OECD has decided that by 2015, all the organization's member countries must make progress on a gender analysis of their budgets. The idea is to work for an equal sharing of power and influence between men and women, to ensure that they have the same rights and opportunities to be engaged citizens.

Astrom termed this a particular understanding of what is called democracy. Or as feminist philosopher Carol Gilligan said recently in Israel: "Feminism is the movement to free democracy from patriarchy."

A large number of studies and statistics prove that advancing women's equality is good for the economy, the society and the country. And it's clear that equality is the moral, correct and constitutional thing for a democratic country to do.

Yet the large number of laws that go unimplemented, such as the law mandating equal pay for equal work or the one requiring suitable representation for women on public committees and negotiating teams, prove that laws are not sufficient. The decisive factor, as Astrom correctly says, is political will. And Israel's political will was evident in policy makers' attendance at a meeting with Astrom in the Knesset this week that was sponsored by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima ) and the Women's Forum for a Fair Budget: Exactly two MKs, Doron Avital and Arie Bibi (both of Kadima ), showed up.

John Stuart Mill, author of "The Subjection of Women," wrote back in 1869 that men who benefit from the subjection of women are "satisfied pigs" - and in his opinion, "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." Men, take note.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THEY WON'T JOIN THE ARMY

'MAY GOD REMEMBER HIS SONS AND DAUGHTERS' IS A HAIR-RAISING MESSIANIC FORMULA; MAKING IT THE OBLIGATORY WORDING OF THE OFFICIAL YIZKOR MEMORIAL PRAYER IS A TRUE REVOLUTION, ONE THAT ALTERS THE IDF'S VERY ESSENCE: IT HAS NOW BECOME THE ISRAEL DIVINE OFFENSE FORCES.

BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY

Imagine if hundreds of 18-year-olds were to inform the government and the chief of staff this summer that they will not enlist in the Israel Defense Forces unless three demands are met: an end to the discriminatory and growing practice of drafting every secular girl for two years while not drafting religious girls at all; an end to the shameful practice, which has been getting worse, whereby a secular student who wants to study for four years is allowed to do so only rarely and in exchange for longer military service later on, while a student who signs up for four years of extremist religious studies is exempt from the draft for life; and a proclamation by the government that the IDF will defend Israel within its borders, and that the government has no interest in a single inch beyond them. These borders, in case Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has forgotten, are, according to our own laws, based on the 1967 borders, with the sole addition of the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem (the non-Jews of East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens, so their neighborhoods are not part of the state ).

Income tax levied on Ashkenazi Jews alone would be illegal and immoral. A red light that applied only to brunettes would be invalid. Similarly, there's no such thing as drafting only nonreligious men and women. A law based on grievous discrimination is not a law and must not be obeyed.

Moreover, a country's laws and its army are supposed to defend its borders. You go abroad with a passport, not a tank.

The distorted reality that has taken Israel over is nothing new, but three straws have now broken the donkey's back: the preposterous expansion of the faith-based exemption; Netanyahu's commitment to eternal conflict because of his unwillingness to make do with a legal Israel based on the 1967 borders; and the decision by Netanyahu's adjutant, Benny Gantz - the chief of staff whose ability to stop Netanyahu from embarking on a destructive war was doubted by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan - that recruits must now sacrifice themselves for God, who is their father.

"May God remember his sons and daughters" is a hair-raising messianic formula. Making it the obligatory wording of the official Yizkor memorial prayer is a true revolution, one that alters the IDF's very essence: It has now become the Israel Divine Offense Forces. Author Haim Gouri wrote of fathers forced to sacrifice their sons, who were born with a knife in their heart. Now it's even worse: Those exempted from the draft are turning the nonreligious into future sacrifices for "God" and the messianic settlements.

But Netanyahu and Gantz only really need one recruit for the Army of God - God himself. After all, he's supposed to be omnipotent. If those who see themselves as God's children think he might run into difficulties again, they are welcome to join in. The Israel Divine Offense Forces will be staffed with his believers, sons and daughters alike, who will go to fight His wars outside Israel's borders, rather than on its behalf.

This is no summer joke. This week, Israel is training for a scenario in which it is bombarded with over 1,000 missiles a day. The locations for mass graves have already been prepared in the center of the country, where thousands of people will be buried at once to prevent the spread of disease.

The disease that's already here and now is messianism. In the messianic world, there is a popular saying that goes "when it's time to act for God, they violate Your Torah"; what it means is that in times of struggle, what is normally nonkosher becomes a mitzvah, or commandment. This same logic, in its secular version, drove a right-winger like Dagan to thunder out a warning in order to prevent a catastrophe and thousands of victims, and a centrist like Peres to whisper his own warning about the impending existential threat.

Now is the time to mobilize for Israel. Thousands of young people created the Haganah and Palmach prestate undergrounds, and later the IDF itself. Thousands of young people can once again save the IDF and Israel from catastrophe.

A real Israel Defense Forces will arise only when the army that has replaced it - the Israel Divine Offense Forces, the army that is leading us to destruction - is dismantled. Netanyahu, Gantz, the "murdered" of the Altalena, the World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division and God all seem to be quickening their steps in a way that will lead thousands of young people to decide that for Israel's sake, they have a duty not to join such an army.

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A YIZKOR FOR WHOM?

BY UDI LEBEL

For years, the Israel Defense Forces has been working to modify its values and objectives for the groups who serve in it, trying to find images that are likely to find favor in the eyes of those who influence the opinion of its fighters. In the First Lebanon War, it was groups such as Yesh Gvul that forced the army to change its operational plans, not to mention stopping the fighting and withdraw to the security zone.

During the intifadas, when confronting the "human rights discourse," the IDF adopted "legal language" and Chief of Staff Dan Shomron even declared that "there is no military solution to the intifada." This was no trivial statement from the commander of the army, and was meant for the ears of those who had heard from philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz that if 500 reservist soldiers would simultaneously refuse to serve in the territories, the occupation would end. This was done in the hope that the leftist authorities would give their blessing to the operational activity.

In the late 1990s, when refusal to serve had already become a permanent phenomenon and was compounded by the panic aroused by possible soldier fatalities, it was decided that only soldiers doing compulsory service would be sent to Lebanon. Simultaneously, the Kfir Brigade was established in order to operate in the territories. And there was, of course, the withdrawal from South Lebanon, which attests to the amount of power and "military extortion" in the hands of civilian groups that were thought to have a moral influence on the soldiers and "battalions" of fighters behind them; even if, in fact, only a few would obey their demands.

That's how it was already in the days of Mapam (a forerunner of Meretz ) and the "officers' circle." Dov Weisglass, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon's senior adviser, claimed that Sharon initiated the disengagement from Gaza because he realized there was internal erosion: "We were hit with the letters of officers and letters of pilots and letters of commandos [refusing to serve in the territories]. These were not weird kids with green ponytails and a ring in their nose, with a strong odor of grass. These were people like Spector's group [Yiftah Spector, a renowned Air Force pilot who signed the pilots' letter]. Really our finest young people."

There are parts of the army that must not be influenced by politics. Politics should not affect the nature of its missions, its values, certainly not the funeral prayers for its fallen. But the unnecessary change in the Yizkor (Remembrance ) prayer is no different from dynamics used to placate the strong group.

This is not the first time they've played with a "Jewish symbol." As chief of staff, Ehud Barak wanted to earn the trust of the elite who influenced the behavior of future recruits - those who were experiencing a "crisis in motivation" at the time - and began to "brand" the army in a manner that would suit the "new values." For that purpose he brought Prof. Asa Kasher, formerly one of the leaders of the protests against the Lebanon War, into the Education Corps - so he would create a code of conduct in the spirit of that time [1994]. Accordingly, the army would be given an image that would suit the values of the "civil rights" generation.

We mustn't forget what made many people angry: The term "love of the land" was removed from Kasher's ethical code, and Israel was defined within it only as a democratic state. And the soldiers were asked to fight for its democratic nature, not its Jewish one. Uproar ensued, but Kasher insisted and Barak supported him. Only when a religious Zionist was appointed head of the Personnel Directorate did the code become "The Spirit of the IDF," with love of the homeland and Jewish awareness returned to it. At the time, the code of conduct had not been tailored for tradition-observing fighters. At the time the army was attempting to hold on to its recruits from the moshavim and the kibbutzim.

Unfortunately, in an era when most of the fighters come from another place in society - from a close connection to Jewish tradition, from settlements and yeshivas - the version of Yizkor has been adapted, unpleasant as it is to say, to those for whom the prayer might be said.

The writer teaches political science at the Ariel University Center of Samaria.

 

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

EDITORIAL

WAL-MART WINS. WORKERS LOSE.

Wal-Mart Stores asked the Supreme Court to make a million or more of the company's current and former female employees fend for themselves in individual lawsuits instead of seeking billions of dollars for discrimination in a class-action lawsuit. Wal-Mart got what it wanted from the court — unanimous dismissal of the suit as the plaintiffs presented it — and more from the five conservative justices, who went further in restricting class actions in general.

The majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia will make it substantially more difficult for class-action suits in all manner of cases to move forward. For 45 years, since Congress approved the criteria for class actions, the threshold for certification of a class has been low, with good reason because certification is merely the first step in a suit. Members of a potential class have had to show that they were numerous, had questions of law or fact in common and had representatives with typical claims who would protect the interests of the class.

Justice Scalia significantly raised the threshold of certification, writing that there must be "glue" holding together the claims of a would-be class. Now, without saying what the actual standard of proof is, the majority requires that potential members of a class show that they are likely to prevail at trial when they seek initial certification. In this change, the court has made fact-finding a major part of certification, increasing the cost and the stakes of starting a class action.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the four moderates on the court, dissented from Justice Scalia's broader analysis and sought a much narrower holding. The minority found that the plaintiffs had cleared the bar for certification with evidence suggesting that "gender bias suffused Wal-Mart's company culture" but would have sent the case back to the trial court to consider whether the class action should have gone forward in a different form.

The plaintiffs in this case sought three forms of relief: to stop Wal-Mart's employment practices that allegedly discriminated against women, to have the company adopt equitable ones and to recover wages lost as a result of unfair practices. The justices have all but ended this mix of remedies under one part of the main class-action rule — even though Congress and most courts of appeals have allowed it for decades.

Without a class action, it will be very difficult for most of the women potentially affected to pursue individual claims. The average wages lost per year for a member of the rejected Wal-Mart class are around $1,100 — too little to give lawyers an incentive to represent such an individual. For the plaintiffs, for groups seeking back pay in class actions, and for class actions in general, it was a bad day in court.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

DOING RIGHT BY THE POOREST COUNTRIES

Ten years ago in Doha, Qatar, the world's leading trading nations began the so-called development round of trade negotiations, billed as an effort to open markets in rich countries to the exports of the world's poorest nations to help them rise out of destitution.

The promise was empty. The talks imploded in April when big trading nations failed to agree on a deal to reduce tariffs. While hope remained that a narrow package of benefits for the least-developed countries could be rescued from the process, that hope collapsed this month when the leading traders refused to see beyond their interests and failed, again, to reach a deal.

Much of the blame for this disaster rightly falls on the United States. But all big trading nations should give more.

Fearing Congressional opposition — and especially the power of the cotton lobby — the Obama administration rejected a plan that would have granted duty-free and quota-free access for most exports from the poorest countries and frozen cotton subsidies at the current low level to give cotton farmers in poor countries a shot at competing.

The European Union already grants duty-free and quota-free access to most exports from all the least developed countries. The United States offers this access to most exports from Africa, but preferences granted to some poor Asian countries, like Bangladesh, are not so comprehensive. Washington said it would not offer more concessions unless others made concessions, too.

China, for example, is probably the world's biggest subsidizer of cotton. It imposes a 40 percent tariff on imported cotton, but, because it is deemed a developing country, China isn't obliged to make any concessions as part of the offer for the poorest countries.

The United States is right to call for a cut in the huge fishing subsidies by China, the European Union and some other countries like Japan and South Korea. American calls for a trade facilitation deal — essentially streamlining customs procedures — are also sensible. The competitiveness of the poorest countries is too often hampered by such regulations entangled in corrupt bureaucracies.

There is still time to cobble together a narrow trade agreement to help the poorest nations on earth before the World Trade Organization's ministerial meeting in December. After that, the opportunity for a deal would evaporate. Progress now will require the big trading nations to overcome their narrow self interest.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HYPOCRISY, LOCKED AND LOADED

If Congressional Republicans are really intent on getting to the bottom of an ill-conceived sting operation along the border by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, they should call President Felipe Calderón of Mexico as an expert witness.

Mr. Calderón has the data showing that the tens of thousands of weapons seized from the Mexican drug cartels in the last four years mostly came from the United States. Three out of five of those guns were battlefield weapons that were outlawed here until the assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. To help him stop the bloody mayhem, he is pleading with Washington to re-enact the ban and impose other needed controls.

That is the last thing Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, wants to hear. He and Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, issued a report last week castigating the A.T.F. for an operation in which federal agents, hoping to track guns to Mexican cartels, monitored but did not stop gun sales to people suspected of obtaining weapons for those criminal groups. Two of the American-sold guns showed up at the scene of a fatal shooting of an American border patrol agent in Arizona last year.

The Justice Department has ordered an investigation, and it must be candid in assessing what happened.

Congress needs to be candid about how loophole-ridden laws have created a huge market for assault weapons, which end up in Mexico. At a hearing, Mr. Issa insisted, "We're not here to talk about proposed gun legislation." Federal officials in February sought authority to require gun dealers to report bulk sales of assault rifles only to have it blocked by a provision in the Republican budget. A responsible Congress would re-enact the assault weapons ban, outlaw uncontrolled gun-show sales and reform regulations that allow corrupt dealers to stay in business.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

ELENA GEORGIEVNA BONNER, A TRUE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST FOR 40 YEARS

On Jan. 22, 1980, shortly after I arrived in Moscow as a reporter, but before I met him, Andrei Sakharov was arrested and flown to internal exile in Gorky, a city closed to foreigners (now called Nizhny Novgorod). The operation was a stunning show of the Soviet state's paranoia about a mild man who did nothing more than publicly criticize its human-rights violations. All the traffic around Sakharov's apartment on Chkalova Street was halted and phones in the neighborhood turned off as if armed dissidents were out there ready to defend him.

Some time later, Sakharov's wife, Elena Bonner, returned from Gorky to Moscow and reported on the small and intimately watched apartment to which they had been sent. The authorities had evidently decided at that initial stage of Sakharov's exile that they would seem less malicious if some information was allowed out. Thus began my acquaintance with the formidable Elena Bonner, who died Saturday at the age of 88.

With time I came to know when Bonner was in Moscow because the small tan Zhiguli sedan that sometimes followed me would be replaced by a larger gray Volga. The K.G.B. blocked her apartment, but only until 2 a.m.

She was an imposing presence with her thick glasses and a loud, clear voice that carried the authority of a sergeant major — which she was to dissidents and refuseniks, helping them get their message out through her many contacts among foreign correspondents and diplomats.

She could be peremptory with reporters, demanding that they publish her communiqués verbatim or not at all. But at times she was also ready to sit back with a cigarette and a dreamy smile and talk about being a front-line medic in World War II; her postwar life as a pediatrician and believing Communist Party member, her two children, and finally her conversion to open dissent after the Prague Spring of 1968.

One of the gathering places of dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s was outside the courthouses where a comrade was being tried, and it was outside such a trial in Kaluga in 1970 that Bonner met Sakharov. Together, they became a clearinghouse of human-rights information. Bonner was one of the founders of the Helsinki Group, which became the most prominent and effective dissident movement with its dispassionate chronicles of the Kremlin's violations of its laws and undertakings under the Helsinki Accord of 1975.

My strongest recollection of Bonner is not in connection with Sakharov. In June 1980, a dissident named Vladimir Borisov, leader of an illegal free trade union, was expelled to the West. A month later, I received a call from his wife, Irina Kaplun, asking to see me. As we met in the street, a man with a huge camera popped up from behind a car and took some shots. Kaplun, a veteran of dissident activities, was not impressed. She passed on some information and told me she was off to Tallinn on the night train. On the next day, she was killed in a car crash outside the Estonian capital. From abroad, her husband accused the K.G.B. of murder.

Bonner was in Moscow on a visit, but she went directly to Tallinn. She called on her return to report that all signs pointed to a real accident. The dissident cause would have been advanced by letting suspicions fester, but Bonner and the Helsinki Group saw their strength in speaking truth, not in propaganda.

I came to her a few times after that to seek guidance about dissidents who had approached me, and she steered me clear of one or two. She did not say why, but I trusted her because it was simply impossible to imagine that she would not have made sure of her information.

Bonner remained a human-rights warrior to the end, raising her voice in support of many causes after she joined her children in the West. It was hard to agree with her on every one. But to me, that report from Tallinn in 1980, at a time when she had every reason to let the Kremlin squirm, established her forever as a model of honesty and courage.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

BANKING'S MOMENT OF TRUTH

BY JOE NOCERA

Capital matters. Let me put that another way. The current fight over additional capital requirements for the banking industry, eye-glazing though it is, also happens to be the most important reform moment since the financial crisis broke out three years ago. More important than the wrangling over Dodd-Frank. More important than the ongoing effort to regulate derivatives. More important even than the jousting over the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If investment banks like Merrill Lynch had had adequate capital requirements, they would not have been able to pile on so much disastrous debt. If A.I.G. had been required to put up enough capital against its credit default swaps, it's quite likely that the government would not have had to take over the company. If the big banks had not been able to so easily game their capital requirements, they might not have needed taxpayer bailouts. A real capital cushion would have allowed the banks to absorb the losses instead of the taxpayers. That's the role capital serves.

Adequate capital hides a plethora of sins. And because, by definition, it forces banks to use less debt, it can also prevent sins from being committed in the first place. "There is no credible way to get rid of bailouts except with capital," says Anat Admati, a finance professor at Stanford Business School and a leading voice for higher capital requirements. "The only cure is capital," says Daniel Alpert, a founding managing partner of Westwood Capital. A few days ago, The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial applauding the recent suggestion by Daniel Tarullo, a Federal Reserve governor, that the biggest banks hold as much as 14 percent of assets in capital. I couldn't agree more.

Which is why a hearing held last week by the House Financial Services Committee was such a sorry sight. Under the guise of examining whether the new financial regulations — including proposed capital requirements — were making American banks less competitive, the Republican majority peppered U.S. regulators, including Tarullo, with skeptical questions about the need for increased capital requirements. It was pathetic.

I should point out that the proposed international standards — Basel III, as they're called, which are still being negotiated by regulators around the globe — would require banks to hew to capital requirements of only 7 percent, not 14 percent. They are also talking about adding capital surcharges of up to 3 percent, on a sliding scale, to the 30 largest, most systemically important institutions worldwide, meaning that JPMorgan Chase, for instance, would have capital requirements of 10 percent.

There are many experts, including Admati and, one suspects, Tarullo himself, who think this is still too low. The Basel committee has already agreed, somewhat absurdly, to delay the implementation of the requirements until 2019. (Good thing the world's banks aren't going to have any big problems between now and then!) And because the Basel standards, whatever their final form, must still be enacted and enforced by individual country regulators, there is no guarantee that every country will agree to them.

But the U.S. should, no matter what other countries do. Banks always want capital requirements to be as low as possible, because the less capital they have, the more risk they can take and thus the more money they can make (and the bigger the executives' bonuses). But so what? Trading some bank profits for a safer financial system is a deal most Americans would take in a heartbeat.

Indeed, every argument put forth by the big banks and their Congressional spokesmen against higher capital requirements have been demolished by Admati as well as Simon Johnson, the banking expert, whose devastating rebuttal can be found in The New York Times's Economix blog. But the idea that they will make U.S. banks less competitive with European banks deserves particular scorn.

European banks, to be sure, have fought fiercely against higher capital requirements. It's not really because they hope to get a leg up on the rest of the world, though. It is because these banks are in far worse shape than the banks in other parts of the world; they can't afford higher capital requirements. If Europe began insisting that its banks begin holding enough capital to cushion against all the risk on their books — starting with Greek debt — the truth would be out: Their insolvency would suddenly be apparent. If Europe wants to keep kicking the can, by turning its back on the surest measure to increase the safety of its financial system, why on earth would we want to go along?

Tarullo will soon travel to Basel, Switzerland, (yes, that's why they call them the Basel accords) to push for the highest capital requirements he can get the rest of the world to agree to. He will also try to convince the international standard-setters that a significant surcharge on the most systemically important banks is vitally important. Really, there's only one appropriate response:

Good luck, sir.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SMART POWER SETBACK

BY DAVID BROOKS

So far, few politicians have embraced my plan for a Marshall Plan Tax. The idea is that every time a think-tanker, op-ed writer or retired senator calls for a new Marshall Plan or a moonshot-type initiative to solve a social problem, they would have to pay a tax of $50. Within a few months, we'd have enough money to pay for an actual new Marshall Plan.

The problem with my proposal is this: Do Marshall Plans work? If this country really did galvanize its best minds and billions of dollars to alleviate poverty somewhere or to solve some complicated problem, could we actually do it?

Well, the U.S. has been engaged in a new Marshall Plan for most of the past decade. Between 2002 and 2010, the U.S. spent roughly $19 billion to promote development in Afghanistan. Many other nations have also sent thousands of aid workers and billions of dollars.

In some spheres the results have been impressive. Nearly two-thirds of Afghans now have access to basic health services, up from 9 percent a decade ago. Under the Taliban, 900,000 boys and no girls attended schools. Now more than seven million Afghans attend school, and 35 percent of them are girls, according to the United States Agency for International Development.

But when it comes to laying the foundation for economic growth and stability, the results have been discouraging.

Stuart Gordon of Chatham House, a British think tank, studied aid efforts in Helmand Province and concluded that in places where state capacity is weak and security is uncertain, foreign aid "may have as many negative, unintended effects as positive ones." After a thorough two-year review of U.S. aid efforts in Afghanistan, the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee emphasized, "The unintended consequences of pumping large amounts of money into a war zone cannot be underestimated."

Much of the aid effort was premised on the assumption that development would foster stability. Young men with jobs wouldn't plant roadside bombs. Communities with growing economies would reject the Taliban. This assumption was based on the modern prejudice that bad behavior has material roots. Give people money and jobs and you will improve their character and behavior.

In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, this assumption seems not to be true. A conference of experts brought together last year in Wilton Park in Britain concluded that there is a "surprisingly weak evidence base for the effectiveness of aid in promoting stabilization and security objectives" in Afghanistan.

Violence doesn't stem from poverty. It stems from grudges, tribal dynamics and religious fanaticism — none of which can be ameliorated by building new roads. The poorest parts of the country are not the most violent.

Meanwhile, the influx of aid has, in many cases, created dependency, fed corruption, contributed to insecurity and undermined the host government's capacity to oversee sustainable programs.

In the district of Nawa, for example, Usaid spent $400 per person last year. The per-capita income before aid was $300. According to the World Bank, 97 percent of Afghanistan's G.D.P. derives from spending related to the military and donor community presence.

This incredible infusion distorts labor markets. An Afghan can make $75 a month as a teacher but more than $1,000 a month as a translator or driver for aid workers. The most talented people get sucked out of the real economy and into the aid economy.

It overwhelms provincial governments. It fuels corruption. As aid workers grow frustrated by nonfunctioning Afghan bureaucracies, they build their own parallel ones that, in turn, take responsibility from and infantilize the Afghan agencies that are going to have to administer the country in the long run.

Meanwhile, turnover among U.S. civilians in Afghanistan is about 85 percent a year, according to the Senate report. Many in Congress fixate on "burn rates" — how fast a program can disperse money — not effectiveness.

Many gains that have been made may be unsustainable. A flood of money washed into Afghanistan, and the reports warn about what will happen when the flood dries up in a few years.

The sad thing is, we are not foreign aid rookies. People have spent years trying to learn from past foreign aid disappointments and still, with all these resources, the results are discouraging.

This experience should have a chastening influence on the advocates of smart power. When she became secretary of state, Hillary Clinton sketched out a very attractive foreign policy vision that would use "the full range of tools at our disposal: diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural." But it could be that cultural and economic development works on a different timetable than traditional foreign policy.

Perhaps we don't know enough, can't plan enough, can't implement effectively enough to coordinate nation building with national security objectives.

The peace and security timetable is measured in years or decades. Development progress, if it comes at all, is measured in generations.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE SUN IS THE BEST OPTOMETRIST

BY SANDRA AAMODT AND SAM WANG

WHY is nearsightedness so common in the modern world? In the early 1970s, 25 percent of Americans were nearsighted; three decades later, the rate had risen to 42 percent, and similar increases have occurred around the world.

There is significant evidence that the trait is inherited, so you might wonder why our myopic ancestors weren't just removed from the gene pool long ago, when they blundered into a hungry lion or off a cliff. But although genes do influence our fates, they are not the only factors at play.

In this case, the rapid increase in nearsightedness appears to be due to a characteristic of modern life: more and more time spent indoors under artificial lights.

Our genes were originally selected to succeed in a very different world from the one we live in today. Humans' brains and eyes originated long ago, when we spent most of our waking hours in the sun. The process of development takes advantage of such reliable features of the environment, which then may become necessary for normal growth.

Researchers suspect that bright outdoor light helps children's developing eyes maintain the correct distance between the lens and the retina — which keeps vision in focus. Dim indoor lighting doesn't seem to provide the same kind of feedback. As a result, when children spend too many hours inside, their eyes fail to grow correctly and the distance between the lens and retina becomes too long, causing far-away objects to look blurry.

One study published in 2008 in the Archives of Ophthalmology compared 6- and 7-year-old children of Chinese ethnicity living in Sydney, Australia, with those living in Singapore. The rate of nearsightedness in Singapore (29 percent) was nearly nine times higher than in Sydney. The rates of nearsightedness among the parents of the two groups of children were similar, but the children in Sydney spent on average nearly 14 hours per week outside, compared with just three hours per week in Singapore.

Similarly, a 2007 study by scholars at Ohio State University found that, among American children with two myopic parents, those who spent at least two hours per day outdoors were four times less likely to be nearsighted than those who spent less than one hour per day outside.

In short, the biological mechanism that kept our vision naturally sharp for thousands of sunny years has, under new environmental conditions, driven visual development off course. This capacity for previously well-adapted genes to be flummoxed by the modern world can account for many apparent imperfections. Brain wiring that effortlessly recognizes faces, animals and other symmetrical objects can be thrown off by letters and numbers, leading to reading difficulties. A restless nature was once helpful to people who needed to find food sources in the wild, but in today's classrooms, it's often classified as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. When brains that are adapted for face-to-face social interactions instead encounter a world of e-mail and Twitter — well, recent headlines show what can happen.

Luckily, there is a simple way to lower the risk of nearsightedness, and today, the summer solstice — the longest day of the year — is the perfect time to begin embracing it: get children to spend more time outside.

Parents concerned about their children's spending time playing instead of studying may be relieved to know that the common belief that "near work" — reading or computer use — leads to nearsightedness is incorrect. Among children who spend the same amount of time outside, the amount of near work has no correlation with nearsightedness. Hours spent indoors looking at a screen or book simply means less time spent outside, which is what really matters.

This leads us to a recommendation that may satisfy tiger and soccer moms alike: if your child is going to stick his nose in a book this summer, get him to do it outdoors.

Sandra Aamodt, a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, and Sam Wang, an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton University, are the authors of the forthcoming "Welcome to Your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

LEGAL ACROBATICS, ILLEGAL WAR

BY BRUCE ACKERMAN

New Haven

IT has now been over three months since the first NATO bombs fell on Libya, yet President Obama has failed to request Congressional approval for military action, as required by the War Powers Act of 1973. The legal machinations Mr. Obama has used to justify war without Congressional consent set a troubling precedent that could allow future administrations to wage war at their convenience — free of legislative checks and balances.

When Mr. Obama first announced American military involvement in Libya, he notified Congress within 48 hours, as prescribed by the War Powers Act. This initiated a 60-day period, during which he was required to obtain approval from Congress; if he failed to do so, the act gave him at most 30 days to halt all "hostilities."

Last Sunday was the 90th day of bombing in Libya, but Mr. Obama — armed with dubious legal opinions — is refusing to stop America's military engagement there. His White House counsel, Robert F. Bauer, has declared that, despite the War Powers Act, the president can continue the Libya campaign indefinitely without legislative support. This conclusion lacks a solid legal foundation. And by adopting it, the White House has shattered the traditional legal process the executive branch has developed to sustain the rule of law over the past 75 years.

Since the 1930s, it has been the job of an elite office in the Justice Department — the Office of Legal Counsel — to serve as the authoritative voice on matters of legal interpretation. The approximately 25 lawyers in this office write legal opinions after hearing arguments from the White House as well as other executive branch departments.

But not this time. After Caroline D. Krass, acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel, told the president that he had to abide by the act's requirements, the White House counsel decided to pre-empt the Justice Department's traditional role. As the war powers deadline approached, Mr. Bauer held a series of White House meetings at which he contested the Office of Legal Counsel's interpretation and invited leading lawyers from the State Department and the Pentagon to join him in preparing competing legal opinions for the president.

This pre-emptive move was not unprecedented. During George W. Bush's administration, shortly after 9/11, the White House counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, led an ad hoc war council that included State and Defense Department officials. It was in this hyper-politicized setting that John Yoo, representing the Office of Legal Counsel, prepared his notorious "torture memos" for President Bush's approval.

The players are different this time around, but the dynamic is the same. Mr. Obama is creating a decisive and dangerous precedent for the next commander in chief, who is unlikely to have the Harvard Law Review on his résumé.

From a moral perspective, there is a significant difference between authorizing torture and continuing a bombing campaign that may save thousands of Libyans from slaughter by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But from a legal viewpoint, Mr. Obama is setting an even worse precedent.

Although Mr. Yoo's memos made a mockery of the applicable law, they at least had the approval of the Office of Legal Counsel. In contrast, Mr. Obama's decision to disregard that office's opinion and embrace the White House counsel's view is undermining a key legal check on arbitrary presidential power.

This is a Beltway detail of major significance. Unlike the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, the White House counsel is not confirmed by the Senate — which means that the president can appoint whomever he likes. Some presidents have picked leading legal statesmen like Lloyd N. Cutler, who served both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. But others have turned to personal friends to fill the office. In such cases, it is especially difficult for the White House counsel to say no to a top presidential priority on the grounds that the law prohibits it.

Mr. Bauer is not the only administration lawyer to conclude that the billion-dollar bombing campaign in Libya does not amount to "hostilities" under the War Powers Act. The State Department's legal adviser and former Yale Law School dean, Harold H. Koh, has also taken this position. This is surprising, since Mr. Koh's legal scholarship over the years has been highly critical of presidential overreach on matters of national security, emphasizing the importance of Congress's constitutional powers over war and peace.

If the precedent Mr. Obama has created is allowed to stand, future presidents who do not like what the Justice Department is telling them could simply cite the example of Mr. Obama's war in Libya and instruct the White House counsel to organize a supportive "coalition of the willing" made up of the administration's top lawyers. Even if just one or two agreed, this would be enough to push ahead and claim that the law was on the president's side.

Allowing the trivialization of the War Powers Act to stand will open the way for even more blatant acts of presidential war-making in the decades ahead. Congress must confront the increasingly politicized methods White House lawyers are using to circumvent established law and stop them from transforming it into an infinitely malleable instrument of presidential power.

If Congress does not act, the Constitution's command that the president "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" will become nothing more than an unfulfilled hope on an old piece of parchment.

Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale, is the author of "The Decline and Fall of the American Republic."

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CELEBRITIES ROCK, JOURNALISTS SUCK

Along with other ideas queued at the turnstile of global reform, let's add management of the "Celebritocracy." When diplomats and statesmen fail, it is the international coterie of do-gooders cooling down hotspots and thawing frozen conflicts.

Bob Dylan said it best: "I always thought that one man, the lone balladeer with the guitar, could blow an entire army off the stage." Sure enough – So let's turn up the volume.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Angelina Jolie has riveted the world's attention on the plight of 10,000 Syrian refugees cowering on the Turkish side of the border in flight from the despot Bashar al-Assad. Now the world knows a lot more about this unfolding tragedy. Without George Clooney the world would know far less about genocide in Sudan's Darfur. Only Richard Gere can make China's leaders tremble when the topic is their oppression of Tibet.

I will concede mild annoyance that Hürriyet Daily News reporter İpek Yezdani was left last week to interview Syrian refugees by hollering questions under a fence after journalists were banned from entering the camps. In contrast, Jolie arrived on a private jet, ushered in by enough escorts to ring al-Assad's presidential palace. But I am also realistic. The odds that Jolie's efforts will improve the lives of the refugees are infinitely greater than Yezdani's prospects. Stars rock. Journalists suck.

Which is why we need to get serious about managing and channeling this precious commodity of star power. Back in 1931 when American humorist Will Rogers was seeking a Sino-Japanese truce, or even in 1972 when Joan Baez was singing for Bangladesh, the stars could wing it. No more. We need to be systematic.

A Canadian newspaper, the National Post, has suggested a standardized conversion rate. By its calculation, the aggregate star power of 17 American celebrities is equivalent to 29 Canadian celebrities. These are the kind of issues that demand robust debate and discussion.

We need to calculate beyond the Canadians' conversion rates: 17 U.S. celebrities = 29 Canadian celebrities = ?? And what about Turkish celebrities? Nouriel Roubini can complete the formula. We need to rate the social challenges involved. Support for the American Kidney Foundation by Larry Hagman (aka "J.R.") is obviously not on a par with Bono's engineering of debt relief for most of Africa. How to rate global virtue? Perhaps this can be a new line of work for Standard and Poor's.

The United Nations has an agency in Rome to counsel farmers and another to manage telephone tariffs in Geneva. And all the U.N. can offer to Jolie and her ilk is the paltry title of "Goodwill Ambassador"? Let's make the "Celebritocracy" a mega-NGO. If the Organization of the Islamic Conference deserves observer status at the U.N., this virtuous "Celebritocracy" is at least as entitled. Let's mobilize on celebrity-less conflict fronts: Selma Hayek to the Mexican "narco war" front, Celine Dion to East Timor, Justin Timberlake to Uzbekistan.

Lady Gaga's fans on Twitter number more than twice the entire newspaper circulation of Turkey. Let's have her solve Nagorno-Karabakh. We've had the Arab Spring. Let's keep it going with a Celebrity Summer. Journalists and other amateurs need not apply.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHY THE MAVI MARMARA PULLED OUT?

There is no surprise in the news that the Mavi Marmara will not be part of the fleet expected to set sail soon to force the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The reason for this development is now being explained as the result of "technical difficulties." It is clear however, there is much more involved than mere "technical difficulties."

Representatives of the Turkish Islamic charity group, known as the İHH, are going out of their way to say there was no government pressure on them in their decision not to include the Mavi Marmara in the fleet. There is however every reason to believe the opposite.

It is nevertheless clear, the impression the government applied pressure on the İHH not to send this ship to Gaza, is not one that suits the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration either.

If it were known the AKP could put pressure on the organizers not to include the Mavi Marmara in this new attempt to force the Israeli blockade, then the question would arise as to why the government did not prevent the ship last year and thus avert the developments that resulted in the death of nine Turks at the hands of the Israeli military.

Then there is the "Fethullah Gülen" dimension in all this. Gülen, the leader of a very influential Turkish Islamic group, who lives in self imposed exile in the United States and who has a very large following among AKP supporters, spoke out against the Mavi Marmara's attempt to break the Israeli blockade last year.

These remarks sent a shock wave among Islamist groups who waited in vain for a denial from Gülen that he has said anything disapproving of the Mavi Marmara's attempt. Put another way, there are also Islamists who questioned the rationality of the Mavi Marmara being involved in a new Gaza flotilla.

In addition to this, there are the statements by the international organizers of the flotilla that suggest there was some dissatisfaction that the attempt to force the blockade on Gaza, was being successfully presented by Israel as being essentially a Turkish-Islamist initiative, which of course it was not.

In the meantime Israel announced the Turkish Red Crescent Society had been given permission to take in all the necessary medical material required to Gaza through the Erez crossing point.

It was clear this was aimed at disarming the İHH's argument that they were taking urgently needed medical supplies with the Mavi Marmara. It is hard to believe the Turkish government was not somehow involved in this development.

And of course developments in Syria, where the regimes brutality against its own people continues unabated, cannot be overlooked either. The honesty of the İHH would have been questioned if it insisted on emphasizing Gaza at a time when it should, as a humanitarian aid organization, be rushing with all its capabilities to the Turkish-Syrian border to help the refugees there.

Neither must the fact there was no insurance company that would insure the Mavi Marmara under these circumstances, be overlooked. The Turkish government could not afford to be seen as having done nothing if an uninsured ship carrying hundreds of Turkish citizens was to head out to the high seas under these circumstances.

In the end the fact the Mavi Marmara would be heading for Gaza and thus causing a new crisis for Turkey at a time when its regional responsibilities are increasing, is not something Ankara could have risked. An unnecessary and untimely crisis has thus been averted.

This, of course, begs the question as to whether this will be a step in improving Turkish-Israeli ties. That does not seem likely any time soon since Israel has shed Turkish blood and as far as Turks across the board are concerned, must atone for it.

Israel however does not appear set to do this and so the strain will continue for the foreseeable future.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

EMBEDDED JOURNALISM AND SYRIA

On Apr. 9, 2003, one of the most memorable images of the occupation of Iraq was created when a U.S. Marine armored recovery vehicle helped topple the statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad's Firdos Square. The international media was soon preoccupied with news stories of that event where thousands of "liberated" Iraqis were joyfully dancing.

The handling of that particular issue by the media, however, was a fiasco. It was a carefully staged media event. In their memoirs titled "Café Bagdad," two German journalists, Christoph Reuter and Susanne Fischer, explained that there were no more than 150 people there, most of them American marines sealing off the square. Those Iraqis present were members of pro-U.S. Ahmed Chalabi's militia who were hastily flown into Iraq by the Pentagon.

This event was indeed part of well-orchestrated plans of the American propaganda machine. One of the bitter lessons drawn by the duo of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney during the First Gulf War of 1991 was to assure, at any cost, the control of information flow. Surprisingly, it was Saddam in those days who better realized the role the media could play in the course of a war and it is precisely for this reason that he allowed CNN to broadcast from within Iraq during military operations.

Indeed, this was an astute decision. The U.S. air campaign targeting al-Firdos Bunker in February 1991 was the first blow to Washington. When CNN beamed the carnage around the world where civilians, actually families of the regime's ruling elite, were killed, U.S. leaders were compelled to declare targets within Baghdad off limits.

The second blow to the U.S. came when the media started to publish images of the "highway of death," the scene of strikes on Iraqi troops retreating. In fact, worldwide reaction to the photographs of the massacred Iraqi soldiers was so strong that Washington soon decided to halt the ground war. Had the Republican Guard been destroyed, Saddam would have undoubtedly fallen long before.

It is in this milieu that the concept of embedded journalism was developed by the Rumsfeld-Cheney pair. During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the information flow was indeed a Pentagon monopoly. The only exception was Al-Jazeera. Its reporting was so influential that Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of coalition forces in Iraq, says in his memoirs ("Wiser in Battle"), "The Sunni rebellion would not have been of such magnitude had it not been for [Al-Jazeera]." This is the reason why Al-Jazeera would "mistakenly" be bombed in the following days.

Having said that, the question of grave importance should be where journalists stand in this broader picture of media manipulation. Is the way we are handling the events in Syria an example in that regard?

Those readers who regularly follow this column should know that I don't have any sympathy at all for what Bashar al-Assad's regime is doing in Syria to its own citizens. Yet I am tired of this Hollywood-like scenario where Angelina Jolie stars in the leading role.

The way the media handled the developments in Iraq, actually in the name of democracy, was one of the main causes behind the civil war among the Iraqi people. I am afraid to say our current approach to the events in Syria will create another such ethnic and sectarian civil war.

My hope is that we, as media consumers, will cast a more critical eye over the scenes that we are being presented with while taking into consideration the concept of embedded journalism.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

SYRIA FINALLY GETTING ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Should Turkey be a standard-setting country or a trading country? Should commercial ties be a priority for Turkey's foreign policy at the expense of violating human rights, or should Turkey uphold democratic standards at the expense of commercial ties? To what degree should democracy and human rights be a part of bilateral ties? These questions were raised at the last yearly meetings of Turkish ambassadors. But since no one knew that in a few weeks the Arab revolutions would spark, the subject matter was not thoroughly discussed.

Looking back, one can easily say that democratic standards and human rights violations have never been a priority in Turkey's bilateral ties. In fact, this government draws its strength from its strong commercial ties with its near abroad. During the course of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's governance, Turkish leadership nurtured the hope that increased interaction could trigger democratic transformation. As Turkey has invested a lot in Syria's young leader, President Bashar al-Assad's reaction to the call for reform within his own country stands as a main test case for Turkey's policy of triggering reform through constructive engagement.

Al-Assad's initial reaction has been a major disappointment to Turkish leadership and has shown that Turkey's policy has its limits. Those who are trying to make a fool of Turkey's policy by saying the Arab Spring has been the end of Turkey's spring in the Arab world should not, however, be rubbing their hands together with glee. At the end of the day, when you look at Turkey's stance on Syria and compare it with that of Europe and the United States, one can clearly see that Ankara's position still stands as the best one to influence the tide of the events in that country.

Syria is basically under the pressure of three sources of influence. One is Iran, which is pressuring Syria to crack down on the opposition. The other one is the Western camp, which is calling for reform at the threat of sanctions. The third one is Turkey, which not only calls for reform, but also gives a road map – a list of measures designed not to satisfy the West but to satisfy the Syrian people. Al-Assad's speech Monday was promising as he talked about concrete steps with a concrete timetable. I am sure that most of the measures he mentioned were the ones advised by the Turkish officials over the course of the last two months.

On another note, while we might criticize Turkey for preferring to be a trading state rather than a standard setter when it comes to human rights, we have to credit it for being a standard setter on how to handle humanitarian crises.

Two weeks ago, I was a guest speaker for a BBC radio program, where the other speaker, a Greek colleague, mentioned how concerned she was about the state of Syrian refugees due to Turkey's "abysmal" record on handling refugees. I guess she was referring to the first Gulf crisis: when Turkey was caught totally unprepared by hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraq. As I said on the program, at a time when NATO comes under attack for failing to rescue Libyan refugees, letting them drown in the Mediterranean, Turkey chose to set an example. At a time when all Europe can do is have its interior ministers convene to think about making visa regulations harder, Turkey set a good example on opening its doors to thousands fleeing Syria.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE KURDISH ISSUE WILL ENABLE ERDOĞAN TO MAKE HISTORY

Every person has a passion for "not being forgotten."

Because we know we are all mortals, we dream of being remembered in the future. All through our life, those who have the means, always try to leave something permanent. Some build apartment buildings and name them after themselves; another erects a mosque and name it. Others make donations and try to have streets and avenues named after them.

I am sure you have similar passions.

I wonder awfully, what is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's passion?

Politicians have a much greater opportunity to be recorded in history. Because their countries have the power to change history.

As a matter of fact, nowadays, when one looks at Erdoğan's balance sheet of eight years, whether you like it or not, one can very clearly see that he has transformed Turkey.

I wonder if he would like to stay this way. Or maybe, would he want to become one of these leaders who rewrites history?

If we look at his general policies of the past eight years and his speeches during the election campaign, the prime minister does have dreams.

He does not hide it. That is to say, he says he has not finished his job.

What are these dreams, I wonder?

Is it to create two new cities for Istanbul, or make the channel?

Or to complete the new crazy projects he has promised?

Or maybe, it is to increase the 50 percent vote ratio to 75 percent and run for presidential elections and be elected with a record percentage of votes.

No crazy project and no vote ratio make history

No, no… None of these are good enough to go down in history.

They will make people be remembered from time to time. They remain individual statistics.

Do you now remember who it was that opened Istanbul's main traffic arteries; who it was that changed the city's composition at first; who it was that made the bridges? These leaders will be remembered from time to time but they will remain in statistics and yellow pages of books.

Erdoğan's situation is much different.

The prime minister has a huge opportunity in his hand. And that is, the Kurdish issue that has made Turkey bleed for years.

Erdoğan's huge chance lies in a balancing with the Kurds

Also, Erdoğan, again whether you like it or not, has made a fine tuning in that same Turkey. He has transformed the country and tried to make a balance between the conservative segment and the secular segment. If this transformation stays within balance and actually settles in, nobody can stop Turkey.

But, this is not enough.

The principal matter that would change Turkey's fortune and course is the Kurdish issue.

This is where Erdoğan's chance comes from.

A very critical milestone has been reached in the Kurdish issue, which has been blocking the way forward for this country.

For the first time, things have started falling into place and the probability of a solution has increased.

- The Kurds have selected their own representatives. Even though they cannot launch policies on their own and are stuck between Kandil and İmralı, the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP's, self-esteem has been established.

- İmralı believes life cannot go on like this and time has come for a solution. He wants to gain the maximum he can and get out of this. He shows, with all of his attitudes that he is in favor of a solution.

- Kandil very well knows the armed struggle has now come to an end and it cannot continue this way for years. They are also tired and prefer to get away from this turmoil with honor, and if necessary, continue the struggle in the political platform.

The key is at Erdoğan's pocket

From whichever angle one looks, domestic circumstances, international circumstances and the attitude of the Kurds, they all show that a solution is very near.

Only if Erdoğan acts with courage. He should act, not like a politician who is after daily ratings, but as a leader who wants to be recorded in history. Moreover, he had clearly demonstrated this stance before in the Cyprus issue, in the relations with the military and several other subjects.

Now, it is trial time.

Will Erdoğan remain in statistics and certain segments of history, or will he take his place in history and become one of those unforgettable leaders by facilitating advances in the Kurdish issue and making the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, come down from the mountains?

The key is in the prime minister's pocket.

He has the support of the public; he is in control of his party. A significant portion of the public is ready for a solution. He is going though the last term of his political life as a prime minister. He will not be a politician any more.

In other words, the situation is right; the gears are compatible with each other.

Let us see how he uses this key.

Will he be able to give this golden opportunity to us as a gift? Or, will he continue the vicious circle and cause Turkey to lose dozens of more years?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

MISSING: PROPER TOILETS FOR 2.6 BILLION

WILLEM-ALEXANDER

That 2.6 billion people live each day without a proper toilet is shocking. Break that number down, however, and it's even worse. Of these 2.6 billion people, the vast majority live in developing countries, which means half the people in the developing world do not have a proper toilet. Take into account socioeconomic status and the inequalities are worse still: In South Asia, amongst the poorest 40 percent, only 2 out of 10 households benefit from a safe, clean and dignified place to defecate.

Despite impressive development gains since 2000, we are simply not making much progress expanding proper toilet coverage. According to current trends, by 2015, the year when global leaders will assess if we have reached the United Nations Millennium Development Goal target to halve the number of people lacking basic sanitation, more people, not fewer, will lack safe sanitation facilities. Daunting statistics and behind them, immeasurable human suffering, a disheartening case of global inequity, lost opportunities for economic growth, and growing environmental degradation.

No one can ignore the costs that the lack of sanitation imposes at all levels. More children die of diarrhea, a preventable condition directly linked to fecal exposure, than of AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Even when diarrhea does not kill, it severely debilitates. It makes people, particularly the poorest children, more susceptible to acute respiratory infection and chronic under nutrition and other afflictions. Fecal exposure also transmits tropical diseases such as trachoma, commonly known as river blindness, roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and schistosomiasis. If you are one of the millions upon millions of people suffering from these neglected tropical diseases, you just may be lucky enough to receive medication. But better sanitation could drastically decrease and would eventually end, the occurrence of these easily preventable conditions for all, more cheaply than medication, while bringing a host of other development benefits.

Lack of proper toilets suppresses economic growth. The World Bank recently assessed the annual costs of poor sanitation in India at $53.8 billion; $6.3 billion in Indonesia; and $193 million in Lao PDR, mainly due to health and environmental impacts. Imagine if all those dollars were spent on hygiene education, infrastructure projects and community development. We could end the sanitation crisis. Children, women and men would already be enjoying the health benefits, economic opportunities and basic human dignity that come with good sanitation.

You might ask yourself, why it is, in the year 2011, that 2.6 billion people don't have a proper toilet. Many capable people have tried to answer this question, and clearly there is not one single answer. Certainly, it is difficult to expand sanitation services in pace with rapid population growth. However, the experts all agree on a fundamental reason, decision makers are reluctant to speak publicly about sanitation and, as long as sanitation is stigmatized, the crisis will continue. We urgently need public education, targeted policy and, above all, the political will to tackle this challenge.

Today, I would argue we are at a tipping point - more and more people are seeing sanitation's fundamental value and there are many reasons to be hopeful. Recently, the U.N. has demonstrated a genuine willingness to push sanitation to the center of the international development agenda. Countries have recognized that access to sanitation is a human right. And just a few months ago, U.N. member states passed a resolution calling for an end to open defecation, increased funding and coordinated action through the Sustainable Sanitation: Five-year Drive to 2015. This Drive to 2015, which will target decision makers in an effort to build political will for sanitation, was officially launched today at the U.N. in New York. Please join our effort. In 2015, do we want more people to have a proper toilet? Of course, we do – for 2.6 billion reasons.

* Willem-Alexander, the Prince of Orange, is chair of the United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE COMMISSIONS

 

We hope the situation now has changed for better following the approval by the Supreme Court of the names of the judges to head the commissions to probe the Abbottabad fiasco and the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad. What on the face of it looks like bumbling ineptitude on the part of the government, considered more closely, looks increasingly like a sustained effort to obscure the truth in respect of the murder of the investigative journalist and the May 2 Abbottabad incident. In both cases, there have been calls for public commissions to establish the facts, and in both cases, the government fumbled the formation of commissions of enquiry. But there is a difference between bumbling and wilful procrastination, and deliberate mismanagement as a delaying tactic. The government bypassed established procedure by failing to consult with the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry in respect of appointment of judges to both proposed commissions. This prompted outrage from civil society organisations, the PML-N, and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jehangir. The government seems to have been levered by painfully applied pressure into compliance with best practice. On Sunday it was announced that the government had written to the CJ in a formal letter of consultation in respect of both commissions. By Monday evening the CJ had approved the names of Justice Javed Iqbal and Justice Saqib Nisar as heads of the Abbottabad commission and the commission to probe Saleem Shahzad's murder respectively. How much easier for all concerned it would have been if the government had written to the CJ in the first place.


As the letters winged their way to the CJ we had a partial set of answers that raise more questions about the PNS Mehran attack. The DNA of the four assailants, whose bodies are in the possession of authorities, appears to show that they may have been related – brothers or cousins - and that they were not on the Nadra database. Further, they may have been 'Eurasian' in origin and almost certainly were not Pakistanis. The single published picture of one of the dead terrorists shows a pale clean – shaven man of indeterminate ethnic origin. There should be little surprise that the men are not on the Nadra database – terrorists are hardly likely to leave an electronic trail if they can possibly avoid it. But if they looked so 'different' why weren't they noticed by our own intelligence agencies? 'Different' people stand out like sore thumbs these days when foreigners are a rarity here. If they were of foreign origin then there must be questions about how they came to be in Pakistan and who facilitated their arrival? The release of partial information tells us little, and 'bungled' efforts to set up commissions of enquiry into matters of pressing national importance all point to a government that has little interest in discovering uncomfortable truths. The slightly better news is that our rulers are discovering that civil society and the judiciary are getting better at demanding – and getting - the beginnings of accountability.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ENDANGERED

 

Just five days after the Guardian published an account of the 2008 abduction and torture of one of its reporters, Waqar Kiani, by what he alleges were intelligence agents, Kiani was once again picked up this Saturday night in Islamabad and was badly beaten by men wearing police uniforms. As the men assaulted the reporter with fists, wooden batons, and a rubber whip, they said, "We're going to make an example of you." The Guardian had withheld the story of the 2008 attack on Kiani for three years and published it only recently after the cold-blooded murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad roused journalists in Pakistan and around the world to come out in an unprecedented show of unity and force. Few see it as uncertain that coverage of the last attack on Kiani has triggered Saturday's brutal assault.


At a time when there is already unprecedented anger over the behaviour of the security forces and law enforcement agencies, this second attack on Kiani betrays hopeless arrogance and audacity. People are still reeling from the shock earlier this month when an unarmed youth was shot and left to bleed to death by Rangers in Karachi. People have still not recovered from the trauma of the Kharotabad incident. And people have certainly not forgotten the image of Saleem Shahzad's battered body. Sixteen journalists have been killed here in the past 18 months, making it clear that journalists are at the risk of becoming an endangered species in Pakistan. The public and media must unreservedly condemn these unwarranted attacks and killings of media practitioners on account of exercising their duties, and the government must intensify its action, indeed its duty, towards protecting journalists in order to enable them to work without fear of harassment and threats to their lives.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CLEAR AS MUD

 

There is an opacity about the business dealings of our president and his extended family that is reminiscent of armour plating. The latest of his dealings to emerge concerns 2,400 kanals of land him and his son Bilawal own in the Margalla Hills area. As reported in this newspaper, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has approved changes in the zoning regulations of Zone III, currently defined as being within the protected Margalla Hills National Park area, which will allow the land to be used for commercial purposes. These may include farm-housing, a golf and country club, medium-rise apartments, and the ever-ugly and noisy wedding lawns. The CDA chairman insists that this particular tract of land, part of Zone III, was actually outside the boundaries of the National Park and therefore not subject to the regulations that control development within it. The approval of the change in use of the land is going to magnify its value many-fold, and the Zardari clan will have scored a significant fiscal gain.


There will be those who argue that this is nothing more than good business. He has held the land since the mid-90s, long before the presidency beckoned and if he benefits from a change in the zoning laws, all well and good. But where did the impetus for the change come from? Why, none other than the cabinet had referred the case to the CDA and sought variation in the zoning regulations. Other Zardari associates are also interested in the rezoned land, at least one of them until recently, a federal minister. The CDA Zoning Regulation 2005 defines the whole of Zone III as: "Margalla Hills National Park as notified under section 21 of the Islamabad Wild Life (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Ordinance 1979 and other protected ranges, forest areas and un-acquired land falling between Margalla Hills and the north of Murree Road shall constitute this zone". That at least is clear as day – but how that came to be changed is as clear as mud.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

REMAKING OF OURSELVES

SHAMSHAD AHMAD

 

The last few weeks have been painful for the people of Pakistan. What happened in Abbottabad, at PNS Mehran, then with Saleem Shehzad in Islamabad and Sarfraz Shah in Karachi would shame anyone in Pakistan. These have been agonising reminders of our state's gross failure in its obligations. Even worse is the glaring absence of any urge or will on its part to diagnose its failings and to mend its erratic parts.

We are in a crisis of governance and leadership that continues as a legacy of two long spells of military rule in our country, 11 years of Gen Ziaul Haq and nine years of Gen Pervez Musharraf. Both came to power through military coups overthrowing elected leaderships in breach of their constitutional oaths. Both presided over a government system with no parallel in contemporary history. Both played havoc with the judiciary, subverted the Constitution and destroyed institutions.

Both followed subservient foreign policies in accordance with their own personal interest. They made Pakistan a battleground for proxy wars that debilitated it politically and economically, and distorted its image, seriously undermining its regional and global standing as a sovereign nation. Both ruined our social fabric by fuelling religion-based militant extremism as a tool for perpetuation of their rules.

In recent years, thanks to Musharraf's policies, Pakistan came to be known as the breeding ground of religious extremism and violence. We never had extremism in our country. Gen Musharraf allowed this monster to grow only to remain relevant to the war on terror and thus prolong his military rule. We also didn't have this intensity of violence before he took over. The only violence we knew was sectarian in nature. Woefully, today, we are seen as the most violent nation on earth.

Today we are regarded as a global hotbed of religious extremism and militancy and as a country afflicted with a culture of violence and corruption. It is a legacy of disaster that the current rulers inherited from the Musharraf era, but one doesn't see any effort on their part to get rid of this legacy. At least until now, there is no leadership or authority capable of giving any sense of direction to the country. Creative vision and wisdom are extinct in Islamabad.

What is most worrisome is that Pakistan is now going through the gravest crisis of its history. Its national edifice is being weakened methodically by keeping it engaged on multiple external and domestic fronts. Its institutional structure is being dismantled brick by brick, not from outside but from within. Its sovereignty is being violated with impunity. We have ransomed our freedom of action for personal gains. It is the only country in the world with an on-going war on its own soil and against its own people.

The use of military power within a state and against its own people has never been an acceptable norm. It is considered a recipe for intra-state implosions, a familiar scene in Africa. In our own country, we have had very bitter and tragic experiences in the past, and yet we are repeating the same mistakes. We cannot afford any more 1971-like tragedies and national debacles. We must avoid reaching points of no return. Instead of always blaming "outsiders" for our problems, we should have the courage to admit that there is something fundamentally wrong with ourselves.

Everyone wonders in agony if there will ever be an end to crises and tragedies in our country. We somehow seem to have so mismanaged our affairs as to lose respect and credibility in the eyes of the world. What a tragedy and what irony that a country which on its birth was considered a "twentieth century miracle," and which was fought for and won entirely through a democratic and constitutional struggle, should now be struggling for democracy and constitutional primacy.

We have become a warrior nation, and have been tirelessly fighting wars. These are not military wars alone. We have been fighting proxy wars for others, and we have also been fighting fratricidal, communal, sectarian, and political wars of our own. These have been suicidal wars. We have been killing ourselves and destroying our institutions. We have paid an immeasurable price in these wars, and continue to pay a heavy price for our repeated failures. No wonder, we have never been so unstable and so tormented. We have never found ourselves so weak and so vulnerable.

We have been squandering our future. And still we learnt no lessons from our wretched history. After Abbottabad fiasco and Mehran debacle, we have become the focus of the most humiliating global attention, with serious doubts on our commitment to the war on terror. It is the character of the state and the character of those governing and guarding this state that has been responsible for the current abysmal situation in the country. The nation suffers an NRO-based ruling hierarchy left behind by Gen Musharraf in his parting kick to the nation.

Ironically, while the common man in our country is suffering the worst-ever hardship, the looters, plunderers, profiteers, hoarders and murderers could not have a safer haven anywhere else in the world. The Supreme Court's Dec 16, 2009, verdict on these looters and plunderers remains unimplemented. No other country is familiar with the practice of forgiving as a matter of rule the elite usurpers of the nation's money and resources.

No one knows what lies ahead for this tortured nation, which stands completely torn apart and emotionally shattered. Unsure of our future, we are still groping in the dark with one crisis after another and have yet to figure out a sense of purpose and direction for ourselves as a nation. Unfortunately, we are never without a crisis. Our governance failures and leadership infirmities have seriously constricted our foreign policy options. But our problems are not external. Our problems are all domestic.

Even our external problems are an extension of our domestic problems. These problems have nothing to do with our foreign policy. In fact, there is no foreign policy worth its name in any country in the absence of good governance which in today's world is the real instrument of statecraft. No country has ever succeeded externally if it is weak and crippled domestically. The former Soviet Union could not survive as a superpower only because it was domestically weak in political and economic terms.

And let us not blame America, India or anyone else for our problems. We ourselves are responsible for being where we are today. Decades of political instability resulting from protracted spells of military rule, institutional paralysis, poor governance, corruption and general aversion to the rule of law have destroyed Pakistan's ethos and image. In-house Byzantine intrigues and blame-game against each other will take us nowhere.

We need to remake ourselves, politically, economically and socially. We also need to revamp and restructure our armed forces, giving them the requisite vigour and a new image worthy again of the nation's full confidence and respect.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE FINANCE MINISTER'S BUDGET SPEECH

 DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN

 

The budget speech of the finance minister is an important piece of document as it contains the government's views on the challenges besetting the economy in the foregoing year, the response of the government in addressing these challenges, and the various policies under consideration for the next fiscal year. The budget speech covers all the above elements.

In his second budget speech, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh devoted considerable time in explaining the state of the economy that the present government had inherited in March 2008. In his view, the government inherited a fragile economy which was badly affected by a consumption boom, double-digit inflation since 2006, international reserves that had declined from $16 to $6 billion, a sharp decline in the value of money, and an acute balance-of-payment crisis. He then listed various "landmark" measures taken by the government to bring stability to the economy.

The finance minister and his team and the government at large seem to be suffering from collective psychosis. Anyone suffering from psychosis experiences a complete loss of contact with reality, which impairs the individual's thought process, perception and judgment. The individual in such a state constructs what psychologists call "his own reality construct," which is a paradigm or worldview that cannot be changed by things called evidence, facts, statistics, etc. Bertrand Russell called it a "cloud of comforting beliefs."

The finance minister's budget speech was full of contradictions. While he argued that the present government had inherited a fragile economy, his own ministry submitted a written statement to the IMF in November 2008 in which it praised the all-round the performance of the economy from 2000-01 to 2007-08. Let me quote from the document, which is available on the IMF website.

"In the last decade, Pakistan's economy witnessed a major transformation. The country's real GDP increased from $60 billion in 2000-01 to $170 billion in 2007-08, with per-capita income rising from under $500 to over $1,000. During the same period, the volume of international trade increased from about $20 billion to nearly $60 billion. For most of this period, real GDP grew at more than seven percent a year with relative price stability. The improved macroeconomic performance enabled Pakistan to re-enter the international capital markets in the mid-2000s. Large capital inflows financed the current deficit and contributed to an increase in gross official reserves to $14.3 billion (3.8 months of imports) at end June 2007. Buoyant output growth, low inflation, and the government's social policies contributed to a reduction in poverty and improvement in many social indicators.

"This strong macroeconomic performance resulted from the implementation of a series of important structural reforms... The macroeconomic situation, however, deteriorated significantly in 2007-08 and the first four months of 2008-09 owing to adverse security developments, large exogenous price shocks (oil and food), global financial turmoil, and policy inaction during the political transition to the new government."

A simple comparison of these two statements reveals that either the minister or the government was facing a psychotic disorder or the speech was full of misstated facts and blatant lies to the people of Pakistan. It is high time that the minister, his team and the government chose one of these statements. Statements for local consumption to misguide the people of Pakistan and statements for international financial institutions should be the same. The minister disowns either the statement contained in the IMF document or the ones he presented to the National Assembly. Either the government has inherited a fragile economy or a robust economy as stated in the IMF document. Both the statements cannot be true.

Some facts regarding the state of the economy for the minister that his government inherited on March 31, 2008 are in order. Foreign-exchange reserves were $13.3 billion, the exchange rate stood at Rs62.76 per US dollar, the KSE index and market capitalisation were $15,125 and $73.7 billion, respectively, and inflation stood at 14.1 percent.

Foreign-exchange reserves declined to $6.8 billion in seven months. Inflation reached 25 percent in November 2008, the value of the rupee declined by 21 percent by Dec 31, 2008, food inflation jumped to over 30 percent in November 2008, from 21 percent in March, and non-food inflation surged from 9.4 percent in March 2008 to over 20 percent in November 2008.

Why did deterioration on such a large scale take place in such a short period of time? There are two reasons. First, the speed and the dimension of both domestic and external shocks were of extraordinary proportions. Second, the incoming government was initially inept at addressing economic challenges arising due to the domestic and external shocks. While the rest of the world was taking corrective measures and adjusting to higher food and fuel prices, Pakistan lurched from one crisis to another. Despite a peaceful election and smooth transition to a new government, political instability persisted. For protracted periods there were no finance, commerce, petroleum and health ministers in the country. The government lost six precious months in finding its feet. It gave the impression of having little sense of direction and purpose. A crisis of confidence intensified as investors and development partners started to walk away—the stock market nosedived, capital flight set in, foreign-exchange reserves plummeted and the rupee slumped in value by a third. Pakistan's macroeconomic vulnerability had grown unbearable and it had no option but to return to the IMF for a bailout package.

The finance minister, who is an educated person, must remain a technocrat and avoid giving political statements.

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

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

BREAK THE DEAL

 AHMED QURAISHI

 

The debate on whether Pakistan can afford an open war with the United States if we shoot down CIA drones or restrict the spy agency's illegal actions is a misleading one. A group of supposed Pakistani apologists for the US are misdirecting the debate and recasting it as a choice between going to war with the US and total surrender. The promoters of this line of analysis are essentially doing two things: obstructing any Pakistani debate on reviewing our role in America's war, and painting all those demanding a rethink as crazy warmongers.

This is a false divide. And it is alarming to note that the Americans have been successful in using diplomacy, the media and hired guns to sow maximum confusion among Pakistanis. Today, instead of protecting our interests, we have a noisy lobby that wants to see Pakistan permanently mortgaged to US interests. This lobby is resisting calls for a review of our decade-long policy of blind support to US military operations in Afghanistan. Anyone who calls for such a review is accused of "anti-Americanism," which is a ridiculous term, coined by Washington media managers to stigmatise legitimate critics of US policy.

Advocating foreign subservience has not only become acceptable in Pakistan, but those who do so get to be hired as consultants to US government advisory boards and rewarded with powerful political appointments in Pakistan. It is important to remind everyone that working as a hired mouthpiece for a foreign government is illegal under Pakistani law. We don't have a legal process by which agents and advocates of foreign governments can register themselves and concede that their paid writings and commentaries in our media are meant to promote the interests of a foreign government.

Moreover, the CIA and its contractors have been busy recruiting freshly retired Pakistani military officers who could provide access into the security establishment. The CIA has been quite successful in this as the case of DynCorp and its Pakistani affiliate company Inter-Risk proved in late 2009, where the US security contractor recruited, trained and armed a proxy militia at a location on the outskirts of Islamabad. The project was busted, but unfortunately Pakistani authorities were sweet-talked by the Americans to drop the case in exchange for a full-fledged Pakistani-US Strategic Dialogue, which has turned out to be a little more than hot air.

Such recruitments are ostensibly not possible now, but advocacy for US positions in Pakistan is an ongoing project, with a budget larger than anything that Pakistan can allocate these days for a counter-effort.

Pakistanis who are demanding a review of relations with the US are not reckless adventurists or warmongers. Such a review is natural and overdue. Several US allies in Afghanistan have opted out of the war or drastically changed the terms of their cooperation. The US government itself is continuously reviewing its involvement in this war. Pakistan is the only country where no such review is taking place. Moreover, we have apologists for the US warning Pakistanis of a war if we don't accede to American demands.

These advocates of US policy are increasingly misleading public opinion by portraying any talk of a review as a declaration of war against the US. This, in turn, is misdirecting the debate to a question of whether we can defeat the US in case of hostilities.

Our problem with the US is not whether we should be enemies or friends. It is about the role of the CIA and the US military in Afghanistan and their concerted anti-Pakistan actions from the start of our cooperation after 9/11. The US military mess has caused Pakistan unspeakable damage. The CIA has been involved in aiding and abetting terrorism and insurgencies against Pakistan since 2002. Aid continues to pour to anti-Pakistan terrorists on the Pakistani-Afghan border. Terrorism in Balochistan continues to be patronised by the CIA and its allies in Afghanistan.

Following Pakistani complaints, the CIA dragged its feet before finally cooperating in elimination of leaders of TTP terror group through the use of drone technology. But this was limited cooperation, as supplies and terrorists continue to pour from US-controlled Afghanistan into Pakistan. Attacks by unknown terrorists from the Afghan side on Pakistani border regions have multiplied recently with the downslide in Pakistan-US relations. The way the CIA used its clandestine network of agents and willing supporters inside Pakistan on May 2 to sideline and demonise our military and intelligence is indicative of its deep anti-Pakistan bias.

The above notwithstanding, the core of Pakistan's current instability is linked to a 2006-07 "deal" whose clauses remain secret. Pakistan's then president Pervez Musharraf signed the deal with the late Benazir Bhutto, prodded by the governments of the United States and Britain. The deal was meant to bring to power in Islamabad a government that would ensure Pakistan's firm alignment with US interests.

There are reports that Ms Bhutto quietly opted out of the deal by late 2007 and informed her secret American interlocutors of the decision. She was assassinated and replaced by her husband who revived the deal. One of the key interlocutors in the deal was our incumbent chief of the army staff. He was not a free agent then and the deal and its content was not his idea. He did not advocate the deal but, as director general of the ISI, found himself in the unenviable position of negotiating the deal on behalf of his boss, Gen Musharraf. Given the legendary discipline within the Pakistani armed forces, whatever military commanders thought of the deal, it went ahead regardless.

This deal and its outcome is a major cause of strategic instability in Pakistan. It is causing frequent ruptures in Pakistan-US relations because it forces the US to conduct it relations with Pakistan through proxies. It is time Pakistan opted out of this arrangement. US officials and politicians who want Pakistan-friendly relations should support ending this arrangement that has turned their country into an enemy in the eyes of most Pakistanis.

This deal was an abnormality in Pakistani politics. It was an imposed action that interrupted a natural political evolution. It institutionalised foreign meddling and allowed a foreign government to shoot up its intelligence presence inside the country. The deal has placed docile figures in key Pakistani positions to facilitate foreign meddling, like the former national security adviser and the current ambassador in Washington.

The only good to come out of the deal is to contain the separatist agenda of some extreme elements within the MQM, the PPP, and the ANP, the three parties that came to power as a result of the deal. By being absorbed into the system, the pro-Pakistan elements within these parties appear to have prevailed. This is by far the only positive in a shady deal.

A way has to be found to break this deal without causing major instability in the country, and without providing some political elements the chance to claim political martyrdom and heroism to re-emerge as false prophets of democracy a decade later.

The writer works for Geo Television. Email: aq@paknationalists.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SWAT: CHANGED, BUT NOT REALLY

 ADEEL PATHAN


Disasters, it seems, have engulfed our territory. Whether it is militants fuelling them or rainwater, returning to normality after a disaster has struck, can take a long time. In order to truly normalise conditions, the transition to normalcy should not be reinforced or imposed. It must come from within.

During my last visit to Swat Valley back in 2006, there was peace and calm in the region and it was attracting millions of tourists with its beautiful landscape and hospitality. However, the events that unfolded during the bloody conflict that took place here, followed by super floods, brought about a change in the very hearts and minds of Swat's inhabitants.

Upon visiting after four long years that left the Valley devastated, I felt a combination of anguish and fear — anguish due to the beauty lost in the operation against militants and fear, because of the presence of security forces in large numbers here, even two years after the completion of the military operation.

Walking or driving in Swat has become very difficult. You will be reminded constantly of the fact that this Valley is no longer a place for peace-loving people and pickets of security forces including army, frontier constabulary, and local police personnel are waiting around every corner to check your identity.

The citizens of Swat are disturbed; they are afraid of the violence that could be unleashed by the ousted militants at any time — the reason why security forces remain in large numbers.

Across the Valley and adjoining areas of the Malakand division, you will see portraits of martyrs - the citizens and security personnel who died in the military operation — paying homage to those who safeguarded the Valley and saved it from falling into the hands of militants.

The citizens haven't completely returned to normalcy after all the mayhem they have witnessed. First, it was the operation against the militants that forced thousands of residents of Malakand and Swat to become internally displaced persons (IDPs). Later, they were rendered homeless due to the floods that locals estimate left more than 3000 dead.

The army has considerable presence in the town of Swat and the division of Malakand. While travelling in these areas one must have one's identity card at all times to avoid any problem or confrontation with the security personnel. Ordinary people whom I encountered here didn't complain about the strong presence of the army and other security personnel because they have witnessed the aggression of militants who entered their peaceful Valley and caused bloodshed there.

But the army presence wasn't just evident in physical terms; it was also evident, rather, reinforced, with the display of Pakistani flags that had been hoisted on rooftops of shops and houses. The national flag has also been painted on the shutters of shops. These flags send out a strong message: the city has been recaptured by the army and the militants are no longer in charge.

Moving around in the markets of Swat one comes across a different kind of vigilance; even the shopkeepers can easily identify non-locals and keep an eye on anyone who looks new or different. It seems that all those who suffered the militants' aggression would resist any attempt on the part of militants to return to the Valley. This vigilance on the part of citizens is a positive sign.

While in Swat, I saw music shops selling local as well as Indian music and movies in the main markets. The one thing that remained largely absent was the presence of women customers or onlookers in the markets, even at clothing shops. This indicates that fear has not left the Valley; it still lingers in part in the very air.

The tourism industry which suffered immense damage because of the military operation here and then the floods, appears to be on the verge of closing down altogether. There is hardly any business here and little to build on. The infrastructure is poor; power breakdowns can extend to 18 hours a day here.

Perhaps a government effort to reduce the presence of security forces present in the streets of Swat would help revive the dormant tourist industry and give the citizens of Swat a chance to return to life. With the help of less overt but solid military support behind the scenes, the citizens of Swat stand a chance to get back on their own feet and learn to face the challenges on their own.

Although the military-led operation brought immense relief in the lives of the residents of Swat, it is high time to give the locals a chance to safeguard their area and return to normalcy. If the army reduces its presence in the region this will be beneficial for its own institution and will spell a strong message to outsiders - a durable peace has finally been restored in the region.

The writer is a former staff member.

Email: adeelahyd@yahoo.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

MORE PROCESS THAN SUBSTANCE?

 DR MALEEHA LODHI

 

The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

When formal dialogue resumed between Pakistan and India following agreement between the foreign secretaries of the two countries at Thimpu in February 2011, it raised hopes that the process would yield movement in some areas, however modest. But even these low expectations have yet to materialise.

So far the only 'achievement' of the renewed process is that it has remained in play. This may not be inconsequential given the erratic pattern of Indo-Pakistan diplomatic engagement. But both sides need to set their sights higher than just re-state their positions and issue anodyne statements at the end of meetings.

As foreign secretary Salman Bashir and his Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao prepare to take up the agreed agenda of Kashmir, peace and security, and friendly exchanges in their upcoming Islamabad encounter they have a chance to move the process forward before the foreign ministers meet in Delhi to conclude the present round of meetings by reviewing the progress.

It is apparent that while the tone of bilateral relations may have improved by the re-engagement of the past three months, work on substance has yet to begin. Tenor is not content. Unless the quality of relations improves the danger will remain of a relapse into tensions in what is an accident-prone relationship.

The resumption of broad based talks in March marked an important thaw in ties after a prolonged diplomatic standoff that followed Delhi's suspension of talks in the wake of the November 2008 terrorist incident in Mumbai. The impetus for this came from the political leaders of the two countries with the Mohali spirit – witnessed during the 'cricket summit' in March – aimed at injecting fresh momentum into the dialogue process.

Mohali coincided with the start of the talks on an agreed calendar of meetings covering an eight-plus-one-point agenda. Eight of these issues had previously figured in the 'composite' dialogue that took place between the two countries in one of the most intense phases of bilateral diplomacy in 2004-08.

Between March and June 2011, a full round of talks took place on Counterterrorism (including progress on the Mumbai trial), Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, commercial and economic cooperation and humanitarian affairs. A joint working group on a bilateral visa agreement also met earlier this month.

These multilayered encounters have imparted some energy to the diplomatic process. But the discussions have made little if any progress on any one of the agenda items, except in terms of mutual commitments to continue talking. Even where movement was possible – on trade – talks seemed bogged down, a fact barely obscured by the arcane language of the April 28 statement issued after the commerce secretaries' meeting.

Beyond the formal dialogue no resolution has been found to irritants of more recent vintage. Delhi did not relent on its opposition to a number of initiatives that Pakistan regards as important for its economic revival and progress. Two of these merit mention. The first is a market access deal that was approved by the European Union for Pakistan in September 2010 in the wake of the floods that struck the country. The time-bound deal under the Generalised System of Preferences needs a country-specific 'waiver' from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to be operational. Since last November India has raised multiple objections to block the deal. To date there is no change in Delhi's position.

The second issue concerns India's opposition conveyed to the Asian Development Bank over the construction of the Daimer-Bhasha Dam for which Pakistan has been seeking international support.

In the formal talks, movement was also possible on Sir Creek and Siachen, but none was made. On these two disputes, previous progress could have become the basis for substantial forward movement, even draft agreements. Instead, Pakistani officials discerned a hardening of the Indian posture on Siachen, reflecting the Indian military's resistance to any settlement. Discussions on Sir Creek similarly marked a missed opportunity.

More generally, even the modest confidence building measures that were to be unveiled last July after the meeting between the foreign ministers were not subsequently announced. When the Islamabad talks collapsed last summer amid mutual recriminations so did the planned announcement of these CBMs.

This raises a number of questions. Has the resumed dialogue become more about process than substance? Will the resuscitated peace process just limp along with no real progress in improving the quality of the relationship? How long can a dialogue without decisions last without losing direction and momentum? Will a process that is not result-oriented be particularly susceptible to a reversal, even breakdown?

One way to assess the engagement so far is to recall the fraught backdrop and the ground that has been covered since the two countries overcame their protracted diplomatic impasse. A few months of uninterrupted dialogue by this reckoning has helped put the process back on the rails, and to expect anything more would be unrealistic. After all the revived process has begun to stabilise ties and re-established channels of communication that can be useful if the relationship is rocked by another crisis.

This is a persuasive argument and helpful to evaluate the opening round of the revived dialogue. But the same measure cannot be applied to the dialogue down the road because its real test will be in the results it produces and not just the fact that it is carrying on. Any dialogue that is unable to produce solutions ultimately exhausts itself and runs out of steam. Process after all is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Without addressing the causes – and not just the symptoms – of long running tensions between Pakistan and India, no durable rapprochement is really possible. This is the lesson of history and the dictum of common sense. The appearance of normalisation does not obviate the need to address disputes without which durable peace will remain an aspiration rather than a reality.

This does not mean that 'process' is not useful in establishing a stable environment for meaningful engagement. That is a necessary first step. But any confidence building endeavour has to transition and lead to conflict resolution. It is progress on the thorny issues that will give a substantive boost to the peace process and make it sustainable.

This urges the need for a two-track approach to manage and improve bilateral relations. If one track aims at defusing or managing tensions and building confidence by deepening the process of engagement, the other track must concern itself with problem solving. The latter requires leaders on both sides to invest more political capital than they have done and show a readiness to accommodate the other's core concerns.

The process of managing a difficult relationship should also identify enduring and emerging threats that can de-rail relations or even plunge the region into crisis. The key threats include: a) Terrorism b) India's destabilising arms build up and provocative military doctrines and c) the fraught situation in Indian-held Kashmir where a general strike last week shut down the Valley in memory of those killed in three stormy summers of anti-India protests.

In the foreign secretaries talks later this week, a slew of Kashmir-related CBMs - including on cross-Line of Control trade and travel – agreed earlier but never announced or implemented are likely to be re-affirmed. They can contribute to establishing a less tense climate in Kashmir and give its long-suffering people some relief and comfort.

But at the end of the day these CBMs like those in other areas will prove useful if they become the means to build a stable environment and galvanise the political will to resolve disputes. Ultimately the success or failure of the resumed bilateral endeavours for peace will be determined by the mutual willingness to address the real issues that divide the two countries, rather than a diplomatic dance around them.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

COLONISING AFGHANISTAN

 RIZWAN ASGHAR

 

Last week, a very alarming development was reported in the Guardian which has created a state of frenzy in international media. The news that the US is holding secret talks with the Karzai administration about the long-term presence of its troops on Afghan soil sparked deep concern among Afghanistan's neighbouring countries and beyond. The talks in progress for more than a month are expected to ensure the permanent presence of US troops and spies in Afghanistan.


A number of other news reports have also confirmed that US military generals are seeking to remain in Afghanistan for several decades and want to secure a "strategic partnership" agreement with the Karzai administration. A delegation of American negotiators is arriving in Kabul for a new round of talks to determine the nature of US presence in Afghanistan after 2014 which is the agreed date for all 130,000 combat troops to leave. There are at least five bases in Afghanistan which are considered likely candidates for housing large contingents of American forces, intelligence operatives, surveillance equipment, and military hardware after 2014.

US State Department official Daniel Benjamin has denied reports that the Obama administration is seeking permanent bases in Afghanistan but many other US officials have suggested that the Obama administration might reach deals on joint bases with the Afghan government as well as agreements on permanent bases. US Senator Lindsey Graham has recently stated that the US should establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan to "secure the gains and tell the bad guys and the good guys we're not leaving, we are staying."

This is a distressing reminder that despite President Obama's promise to pull out all foreign troops by 2014, all senior US officials have signalled that American troops will remain in the country much longer. Meanwhile, Nato officials have predicted that British troops will remain in Afghanistan far beyond 2014 and will continue taking part in combat operations.


Nato officials have also predicted that the insurgency in Afghanistan will continue after 2014. Now the people should understand that the US occupation of Afghanistan is really about sordid material interests and power. In defence of these interests, the Pentagon is inciting an insurgency in Afghanistan and secretly giving money and weapons to the Taliban in order to justify their presence in this region for an indefinite period of time. Everyone knows that Osama bin Laden was among the mujihadin recruited by the CIA to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

It is beyond any kind of doubt that the longer the US and Nato forces stay in Afghanistan, the more they will destabilise the region. The Nato senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, has recently spoken of the threat of a "Great Game 3" in the region. Russia and China have voiced serious concerns over any 'strategic partnership' deal that would prolong US presence in the region. In the heart of one of the most unstable regions in the world and close to the borders of Pakistan, Iran, and the Persian Gulf, the presence of US bases would surely serve no good purpose.


The presence of any foreign troops – be it Nato, US, or Soviet troops – has always inspired violence and radicalism. The war in Afghanistan is not only directly destabilising Pakistan but is also seriously undermining the Pakistan army's efforts to counter extremism within our borders. The US may also use its forces in Afghanistan to conduct secret operations in Pakistan as recently American helicopters took off from Afghanistan to conduct the raid in Abbottabad which allegedly killed Bin Laden.

Concluding a strategic partnership agreement could also clash with efforts to find a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan. President Karzai, in his efforts to remain in power with US support, is setting off a wider conflagration that may engulf the entire region for many decades to come. If no one steps in to seize the helm and change the course of affairs, the US will continue killing innocent people in Afghanistan.

Email:
rizwanasghar7@yahoo.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THEY ARE TALKING WITH TALIBAN, WE ARE FIGHTING

 

THE announcement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the United States and other foreign powers were engaged in talks with the Taliban about a possible settlement to the decade long war in Afghanistan has not surprised the observers who have been closely watching the developments in the war torn country. Such leaks had been coming out for quite sometime and even US media that is regularly briefed by the officials had reported about the dialogue with Taliban through back channels.


According to reports American envoys have met Tayeb Agha, a former close aide to Mullah Omar, several times in Qatar. Diplomats have already said there have been months of preliminary talks between the two sides, and Karzai, who is a strong advocate of peace talks, has long said that Afghans are in contact with insurgent groups. Despite hopes that talks with the Taliban could provide the political underpinning for the US staged withdrawal from Afghanistan, the discussions are still not at the stage where they can be a deciding factor. However the statement by Hamid Karzai makes it clear that formal talks between Taliban and US have started because of understandable reasons and the foremost of which is mounting pressure of public opinion on President Obama that US must immediately withdraw as the number of bodybags going back is increasing and there is also negative impact of war on the US economy as around $ 110 billions are being spent on it annually. US Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, told PBS Newshour on Friday that he was expecting a "substantial" reduction in troop numbers from Afghanistan. In this perspective the question arises that while US has started dialogue why Pakistan cannot start formal and announced dialogue with the Afghan resistance and the Pakistani Taliban. What is more regrettable is that while Washington is continuing dialogue, Islamabad is being pressurized to launch more operations against Taliban particularly in North Waziristan. Regrettably some in Pakistan are also coming out with arguments in support of US demand. We think the statement of Karzai that US and NATO troops are in Afghanistan for their own national interests and using his country's soil, should be an eye opener for the policy makers in Islamabad and we must also start the dialogue process with Taliban not only to bring peace on our side of the border but also to protect our strategic interests.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

INDEED MEHRAN ATTACKERS WERE NOT PAKISTANIS

 

THE way PNS Mehran base attack had shaken the Pakistani society and it was a big news the world over, it was the considered opinion of defence experts that the attack was meticulously planned and executed and this could be the handiwork of highly trained commandos and military professionals. The illiterate and poorly trained Taliban could not be expected to distinguish between the American supplied P3C Orion and other aircraft at the base and only target the maritime surveillance aircraft.


Now startling disclosures have emerged that the killed militants were not on the NADRA database thus proving that they were foreign agents. Suspicions had grown up when the terrorists destroyed the maritime surveillance aircraft to weaken Pakistan Navy's ability to guard its coastline. Defence experts are of the opinion that the attack was far more dangerous than the 2009 Pakistan Army General Headquarters attack and was better planned and more rehearsed than the previous attacks. A month prior to the attack on Naval Base Mehran, the Pakistan Navy was twice targeted for bombings in various locations of Karachi by unknown perpetrators. SSP Niaz Ahmed Khosa, one of the senior members of the probe team stated that he had received the DNA test report of the killed militants which states that all the four militants were not Pakistanis. Another disclosure was that the killed terrorists could be Eurasian origin as the blood traces were found matching of the killed terrorists. One is certain that in addition to the proofs gathered through NADRA data base and DNA tests, the inquiry commission would come out with a comprehensive report about the number of terrorists, their identity and motives. There is need to go further deep into the whole affair as the enemy might have gathered information about the naval assets and security system from someone inside. Similarly the terrorists might definitely be having their supporters inside the city and could have hired some hideouts near the base. It is a known fact that there are some countries, which are known to every one, destabilizing Pakistan through funding, equipment and training of terrorists. Therefore we would urge Pakistan Government that time has come to call spade a spade, expose these elements and take the nation into confidence about the looming dangers. We would also appeal the people of Pakistan that they have to stand guard and vigilant about what is happening in their neighborhoods and inform the security agencies to avoid such happenings in the future.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WILL SAMAR STAND UP AND ANSWER?

 

Dr Samar Mubarakmand has once again stated that the country has third biggest coal reserves which could be utilized for producing cheap electricity and the scientists were working on the Thar coal project for this purpose. This is not for the first time that Dr Samar has made this statement as he has been rubbing this matter since long and the potential of Thar coal deposits has become a popular talk across the country. It has been estimated that beside producing cheaper electricity, the deposits could produce 100 million barrel diesel and gas could also be produced from the field. But one is justified to remind Dr Samar that while giving a briefing on the project he had stated that Thar region will witness first test burn of the underground coal gasification project in March 2011 that will produce initial electricity of three to five MW which will be enhanced to 100MW in a year's time. May we ask Dr Samar to stand up and give an answer to the nation as to what has stopped him to fulfill his commitment for first test burn in March, 2011. We may also say that rhetorics have become order of the day in Pakistan and scientists of his stature must not follow the culture of politicians who make tall claims but never deliver. We would like to remind Dr Saheb that in the present situation when ten to twelve hours of load shedding is being forced on the people and the economy has nose-dived, we need persons in power projects who can deliver.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

REVISING EVIDENCE ACT

AMBASSADOR'S DIARY

DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI

 

According to reports in the Press, there is a proposal to revise the Evidence Act in force, because many accused in terrorist cases are released because the evidence produced against them was insufficient for the Courts to convict them. It is implied that this is mainly due to the stringent criteria laid down in the Evidence Act to sentence an accused.


It seems that there is need to revise our Law of Evidence. I had written several times on this subject , not my views but those of a Chief Justice of a Supreme Court – of Nigeria- that our Evidence Act seems to protect the accused so much that it makes it difficult to sentence him. When I was a young High Commissioner to Nigeria, during 1969-72 my very good friend Fatai Williams, a Yoruba Muslim, said that as we knew Nigeria borrowed all the basic laws on its independence from Pakistan, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code etc,- I think Justice Sharif ? had gone to Nigeria during Tafawa Balewa's regime in early Sixties to advise Nigeria on this matter after Nigeria became idependent.. Fatai Williams, who had studied law in Cambridge University- he was a boxing Blue of Cambridge University- had many Pakistani fellow students in Cambridge University – who were our mutual friends which made us good friends. I had enquired from him how a case for defamation against a Government department was settled from the lower Courts to the High Court, in about less than a year. At that time he was a Judge of Lagos High Court but subsequently he rose to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court may be in 1984. It could never have happened in our own case. It was then that he made this remark on our Evidence Act. Well where a Chief Justice of a country larger than Pakistan in territory with a population of about 100 million, who learnt his law in the same country from which we took our legal system makes this remark , I considered it the view of a competent legal expert. So I wrote on this subject many times in the hope that the words of an experienced Chief Justice were worthy of respect they deserved. The entire system of justice is based on evidence produced for or against the accused . This is the first step in dispensation of justice. The effectiveness of a judicial system depends on reliability of witness and his evidence.


But while there is a matter of straightening our Law of Evidence I should say that it is not only the question of the law of evidence but also of a question of the attitude of the Courts towards tolerating all kinds of statements. It seems to me that the standard of the Courts over long period has also changed, in some vital respects. I am not in a position to use the correct words for the attitude of the old trying judges – of the hay days of the British rule but there is case I refer to.. I saw the diary of a grand uncle of mine, who was some kind of Police Prosecutor in Agra in the beginning of the twentieth century, written by him in his own hand. The dairy was with a Cousin of mine, Javaid Kazim, It was about the trail of a greatly feared dacoit, some Rajput Hindu, who was tried at the lower court for dacoity and murders and finally by the High Court of Allahabad which sentenced him to death. My grand uncle writing "Today so and so Singh was hanged in Agra District Jail" Now this trial was conducted under the same Penal Code and Law of Evidence we have in Pakistan where the trial goes on and on, and there are appeals and so on. I presume the Judges were Englishmen both in the Sessions Court and the High Court of Allahabad. I am not a lawyer; but what I have written above is personally known to me, and the Diary should still be with Javaid Kazim .


In Pakistan we have another problem, that of the reluctance of the witnesses to bear testimony for a number of reasons, which are connected with the personal ideas of social taboos in our communities- that is about bearing witness against powerful parties who can harm the witness if the accused is convicted , as well as the unwillingness of the witness to testify against a friend. It is supposed to be against the community code of conduct to bear witness against a friend. I would like to quote from my book " Diplomats & Diplomacy- Story of an Era" (p 45) on my posting in Canada. This is what I had written: I was then a 25 year old Third Secretary in our High Commission:in Ottawa.

 

"I might narrate an incident of uprightness of the Canadian people. There were two young lady stenographers in the High Commission. They were great friends to each other and almost inseparable. Once one of them was taking my dictation when she was called down to the Reception to receive summon by the Police. When she returned I asked her why the Police had come to see her. She said some evening ago, she and her friend were taking alcohol drinks in the Britannia bay while sitting n the car. Her friend was on the steering wheel. A policeman came and booked her for drinking , since her friend was on the steering wheel even when the car was stationary, She had been asked to bear witness to this effect . I asked her will she bear witness against her best friend. Would her friend not mind it. She replied What a question Mr Koreshi.. Was it not a fact. Why should she mind it? " I thought in Pakistan this would never be done"

Western social morality when it comes to observing it in Western countries is sublime, but when it comes to treatment of the Third World it is appauling. Our Courts seldom if ever convict the person giving false evidence. In the West this would not be the case. They would be sentenced harshly for perjury. If false evidence is severely punished it may stop prevalence of false witnesses. In Islam the injunction is to bear correct witness even if it be against you. But in Pakistan in the Courts a different morality has taken over. Every thing goes to win a case, that does not matter.

As regards quick decisions in terrorist cases, it is a different matter. I recall that in Greece in 1960 and around the same time or earlier there was the problem of communist guerrillas and of a serious nature. How it was suppressed is something which may be consulted. Revising the Evidence Act may take some longer time than copying the Greek and Malay practices . Perhaps in these two countries summary military courts dealt with the communist guerrillas.

Turning to another burning topic of these days, on 17th June in the Dawn I read an AFP news of China and Russia opposing NATO & Western imperialist war on Libya which also added that these two countries are going to ask regional player India to join them in opposing the NATO War on Libya. That the region in which India is a "player " includes Muslim world, Africa and Middle East is a news to any in Pakistan. Unless this addition was AFP's own addition it is a news to any Muslim, Arab and African. If it is true that Russia and China are going to ask India to join the denunciation of the West it is a wishful thinking. Perhaps they had excluded Pakistan from joining because they know who are patron saints of the regime in Pakistan or that because Prime Minister of Pakistan was visiting Sarkozy in Paris just when NATO's imperialist game was gaining momentum an impression was gathered that Pakistan was silently supporting NATO regime change attacks on Libya. In foreign policy often such visits are counted as pointers of that country's policy even if not correct . It would be better to avoid creating such pointers. Any way, it is a news to me that India's regional play covers such wide area. Congratulation ! one of our regime's many achievement is the prestige Pakistan has achieved even in the Muslim world vis-à-vis India. Ban Ki Moon's second term is a sad day for third world and a victory for imperialists.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

TURKEY A ROLE MODEL!

AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)

 

Within less than a decade Turkey has really turned around in almost all strategic aspects. In 2002, it suffered from almost all the ills that Pakistan is facing today. A sinking economy, political instability, 'junta' dominated civil-military equation and polarized society were the hall-marks of Turkey. It prided itself with secular ideals and shunned its Muslim identity. Getting the membership of European Union was a matter of life and death.

Nevertheless, this was the profile of the state only. Public sentiment was quite the opposite. Shrine going jeans wearing youngsters, privately praying elderly and masses flocking to see the Islamic relics in the specially arranged centers represented the simmering attachment of the public with Islam. Undercurrents were visible indicating that people were looking for an outlet, an opportunity and a genuine political leadership.

Earlier Prime Minister Najmudin Erbkan's government had represented the Islamic aspirations of the Turkish people. His government came to power in 1996, but was ousted by 'Junta' in 1997, and elderly Erbkan was later jailed on flimsy charges. Late Erbakan is referred to as the "teacher" of a number of Turkey's leading political figures. He was indeed the mentor of current leadership including President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They owe Najmudin Erbkan the foundation of their political thought process.

Third consecutive victory of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) indicates amazing confidence reposed by the people of Turkey in the leadership of Prime Minister Erdogan, who has taken bold and visionary decisions for the uplift of his people and to carve out a place of respect for the country in the comity of nations. Before becoming the prime minster, Erdogan had already established his credential as charismatic leader, a visionary, and as an agent of change during his tenure as Mayor of Istanbul during 1994-98.

Ruling party has clinched a record landslide (50.3%) in last week's parliamentary polls. It is party's highest electoral tally since it came to power. However, AKP fell short of the two-third majority in the parliament, which it was eagerly seeking to amend the constitution; which is a legacy of a 1980 military coup. Nevertheless, third time around mandate to AKP is a clear proof of approval of its policies by majority of the nation. The electoral outcome is indeed a potent endorsement of the balance between economic liberalism and religious conservatism offered by Erdogan. The main opposition 'Republican People's Party' (CHP) is second with 25.9%, followed by the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) with 13.1%. Out of national population of around 73 million, more than 50 million people were eligible to vote; turnout was around 87 per cent. Generally the voting was peaceful and orderly, with large crowds gathered to cast ballots. For the first time, voters cast ballots in transparent plastic boxes. The measure was designed to prevent any allegations of fraud. These elections are an indicator of stability in an increasingly confident country.

This victory is a tribute to the excellent performance of the AKP which has presided over strong economic growth and has adopted an assertive foreign policy. Per capita income of the country, which tripled to $10,079 during the tenure of AKP is indicative of the success of its economic policies; the party aims to further jack it up to $25,000 by 2023, when Turks commemorate the centenary of the Turkish Republic. The AKP owes its enduring popularity mostly to economic success and improved public services following years of financial instability. The growth rate last year was 8.9 per cent, the second highest among G-20 nations after China. Turkey has become an economic powerhouse and influential player on the global stage. Inflation, which had, for decades, adversely affected the country's economy, was brought under control and the Turkish Lira regained its former prestige through the elimination of six zeros. As prime minister, Erdogan implemented numerous reforms. Forty five years after Turkey signed an Association Agreement with the EU, the negotiations for Turkey's accession to the EU started during Erdogan's tenure, and that too in a respectable way.

Erdogan's foreign policy reflects the sentiments of the Turkish people, in the context of daunting challenge facing the Muslim Ummah. Middle-East, Afghanistan, and Kashmir issue have attracted his special attention. His initiatives like brokering an arrangement between Brazil and Iran to avert a nuclear impasse during 'NPT Review Conference of 2010', opening of an office for Taliban in Turkey, abstention in UNSC resolution 1973 pertaining establishment of no fly zone over Libya, and refusal to participate in NATO operations in Libya are reflections of a robust foreign policy with Islamic inclinations. Turkey has repeatedly spoken for the rights of protesters in uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. On symbolic plane, he has snatched back the respect for 'Hijab from Sarkozy's fanatic jaws.

'Freedom Flotilla' episode in 2010 brought the Palestinian issue under intense international focus. Israel committed high sea piracy against a modest convoy of six boats carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Nine innocent pacifists were killed and the boats were impounded. Reaction by the comity of nations and agencies like UN, OIC and Arab League etc was of severe denunciation of Israel's brutal acts. Erdogan came out with flying colours by expressing his desire to join the struggle by being on board such subsequent Flotilla to break the inhuman blockade of Gaza. He indeed set the tempo for rest of the statesmen to follow. Due to his defiant rhythm, pressure snowballed on Israel resulting into prompt release of prisoners.

Turkey stands out as an island of peace in a region marred with uprisings and instability. The government says it seeks to craft a Western-style democracy and join the European Union. However, its Islamic roots are a source of suspicion among secular circles that once dominated Turkey with the military help. Once in power, secular fanatics had given Turkey poverty, dependence and instability. During recent years, the government has sharply reduced the political clout of the military, and taken some steps to ease restrictions on minorities. Erdogan has promised that the new constitution would be more democratic and would include "basic rights and freedoms". Beside economic success, Erdogan's sustained public support has been built on ending decades of chaotic coalitions, military coups and failed international financial bailouts.

Erdogan's victory has been received with joy in Pakistan because the Turkish Prime Minister has been instrumental in bringing the two nations still closer. The resolve shown by him and his spouse in helping the flood and earth quake affected masses has earned him a permanent place in the hearts of Pakistani people.

Turkey presents a role model for Pakistan. Public sentiment in Pakistan is indeed on a look out for its Erdogan!

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WHERE IS THE BROKEN BACKBONE?

DR KHALIL AHMAD

 

It was on April 23 that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the most powerful man in Pakistan, while addressing the passing out parade ceremony of the 123rd Long Course, Integrated Course 42 and Lady Cadet Course 8 at the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) Kakul, Abbottabad, declared: 'the security forces have broken the backbone of the terrorists and the nation will soon prevail over this menace.' He also reiterated: 'the Pakistan Army is fully aware of internal and external threats to the country and will come up to the expectations of the nation.'

Exactly on the 9th day of his speech, during the night of May 2 and 3, the US Seals raided a house in the same Abbottabad, not far away from the Kakul Academy, and killed Osama Bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world. Again exactly on the 30th day of his speech, just 6 (as yet no one knows the exact number) terrorists entered the PNS Mehran in Karachi, managed collectively by Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force, and held sort of hostage the whole base as well as the whole nation.

Throughout this fight that continued through the next 17 or so hours no one from the military establishment or the government was available to tell the citizens what was happening. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, the Supreme Commander, the President of Pakistan, the Master Politician of the country, too was nowhere on the scene to be seen. Mr. Ahmad Mukhtar, the poor Defense Minister, may have made an appearance after a considerable period of time, and he did make, but his comments meant nothing. The ever active ISPR that never lets go any opportunity to know its Position on the issues of importance, such as the 'Kerry-Lugar Bill,' was maybe fast asleep.

It's no use counting the number of terrorist attacks against the Army, ISI, Police, FIA, etc, but one needs reminding the attack on the GHQ of Pakistan's Security Forces. That would have been treated as the last symbolic blow and proved to be an eye-opener, but did not. All in all, there were countless attacks on civilian targets that killed considerable number of innocent men, women and children and caused damage of millions of rupees to the private property. Nothing seemed to move anything in the power corridors of Pakistan. Obviously, no change effected in the security establishment's overt policies as the previously made arrangements still seem in tact. Its on-board groups and lashkars continue enjoying the blanket protection against the rule of law. That's what we see, Sir, with our own eyes and through the eyes of print and electronic media, and whatever is available on the world-wide-web!

Sir, when Osama Bin Laden was killed under the nose of a premier training institution of Pakistan Military, I did not want Pakistani forces under your command (Iqbal's Mamula) to set fighting against the US forces (Shahbaz) as most nationalists urged, but I do have a right to know how the most sought for criminal was living there for the last 5 years safe and sound! Sir, incompetence is forgivable, complicity should not be! Sir, so often I read about the Deep State, about the Strategic Depth, and such things, I do have a right to know how and why so much time is spared to delve into such matters which according to the Constitution of the country its Parliament is entrusted with! Sir, on record you said, you are India-centric, I do have a right to know how and why such a statement makes its impact on the foreign policy of Pakistan the making of which according to the Constitution of Pakistan is the prerogative of its Parliament!

Sir, now it's an open secret that the security forces of Pakistan are too busy in running various businesses which include real estate, bakeries, banking, logistics, construction, agricultural, wedding and consumer goods services, how and why such engagements find their way into the barracks and cantonments if not at the expense of professionalism of an army!

Sir, through media I am told that an Orion aircraft costs more than 3 billion rupees, and two such aircrafts were completely destroyed at the Mehran base by a handful of terrorists, how and why this billions of rupees' loss was incurred to the poor citizens of this country, and whether the responsibility will ever be fixed for such flagrant lapse and costs recovered!

Sir, about half of the taxes the citizens of this country pay this or that way go to your huge security establishment and instead of protecting life and property of the citizens of this country from the outside aggressors, this establishment has become a burden on their stomach and well-being, and instead has created new enemies both inside and outside the borders of the country, and that for the sake of its own survival, how and why such a policy could augur well for the citizens of this country! Sir, would you mind conceiving a smart army that is light and professional and capable of following the orders of the civilian leadership!

Sir, at this moment as because of such happenings morale of an ordinary army man as well as an ordinary citizen is at its lowest, you on behalf of your institution ought to come forward, apologize to the nation for overstepping the constitutional mandate, for letting your intelligence agencies going beyond their legal domains, for interfering in the civilian affairs, un-constitutionally taking in your hands making of the defense and foreign policy, for creating and nurturing illegal groups of fighters, for engaging in uncalled for commercial activities, and not giving due attention to the professional duties!

Sir, that is what will break the backbone of the terrorists, not your words! —The writer is founder/head of the Alternate Solutions Institute.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

IDENTIFYING THE MALAISE

HUSSAIN MOHI-UD-DIN QADRI

 

Quaid-e-Azam, Pakistan's founding father, wanted to formulate the country's foreign policy on the principle of parity in line with its unique geographical location to safeguard her interests in the region and beyond. He wanted Pakistan not only to become invincible by treading the path of economic and political sovereignty but also become a role model for the rest of the Islamic world. After his death, the policies contrary to his vision, continue to be followed. The situation has come to such a point whereby serious dangers have been posed to the country's security, sovereignty and integrity.

Today the ruling elite is intent on neglecting those friends of Pakistan with whom the Quaid-e-Azam wanted to forge ties. Alas! Today's foreign policy represents the continuation of the same. Our body politic is getting wound after wound to the point that the feeling of numbness has marked our conduct. Whenever efforts on improving relations with China get underway, resistance against such efforts emerges. This aspect needs to be probed and looked into. In view of Pakistan's regional and global interests, there is a dire need to reformulate its foreign policy on the guidelines given by the father of the nation. The present policy does not represent the will of people and is premised on trading country's sovereignty for a few dollars.

On the one hand, Pakistan is fighting a war against terrorism. The banned organizations are busy in implementing their nefarious designs and agendas on the other. The terrorists are getting the supply of arms and ammunition to fight against the security forces. The religious seminaries also continue to impart lessons based on hatred, extremist tendencies and violence to their students. The militants are getting training, while the process of brain-washing the impressionable minds into suicide bombers is also underway unabated. The fact of the matter is that the nurseries of terrorism are those religious seminaries in whose syllabi lie the seeds of hatred, violence, sectarianism and extremism. A tendency of neglecting these glaring and dangerous realities is manifestly present in the officialdom, while the country fights off terrorism and extremism as well. The branches of trees of terrorism are being chopped off, whereas the roots of these trees continue to be watered at the same time.

An organized attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team was interpreted as an isolated incident of terrorism and the entire matter was laid to rest. The result of this ostrich-like approach is that no cricket team of the world is ready to visit Pakistan. The impression of Pakistan being an insecure and unstable state is getting further strengthened in the world today. This explains why the country's economy is not on track in the absence of international investment. It is about time that the military and civilian leaderships put their heads together and identified the malaise which afflicts our body politic.

Coming on the heels of the Abotabad incident, the attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi is a watershed deserving of serious reflection and soul-searching at the collective level. These and other incidents have shaken the security establishment. If we shrug off our shoulders and term them as merely acts of terrorism, then this attitude of dilly-dallying can result into serious consequences in future. What we need to understand is that undeclared war has been launched against Pakistan in the garb of terrorism. The earlier we understand it, the better.

The way PNS Mehran Naval base and Sri Lankan team was attacked does not seem to have been undertaken by simple terrorists. Rather, it is the work of professionally trained anti-Pakistan elements, who through their resistance, put a strong question mark over the security of our military installations. That they were helped from within is only stating the obvious.

Any sane person can discern that the attack on PNS Mehran naval base was much more than merely an act of terror. This is an important point that warrants deep consideration. The military needs to discriminate between simple acts of terrorism and direct attacks on the country. Both modes of attacks need to de-hyphenated, for we stand at a critical juncture of history where erring is not an option any more.

The hundreds of covert agents such as Raymond Davis are wandering in the streets of Pakistan. The people are justified to ask whether this is part of Pakistan's foreign policy. Why is superior judiciary, which won its rightful independence after many sacrifices, mum over the matter of direct attacks on the country? Why have those responsible for this state of affairs not brought to face law?

Whether it is about foreign policy, end to terrorism or difference between terrorism and foreign aggression, the powers that be and the military establishment need to face reality instead of following the shadows. The domestic and foreign policies should be formulated in the light of ground realities. Unless we identify the real malaise, we cannot get out of the present crises.—The writer is Australia-based PhD candidate

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

INDIA'S CONSERVATIVE VACUUM

SADANAND DHUME

 

With business confidence sagging, relations with the US listless and the government in New Delhi paralysed by a series of corruption scandals, you might expect the world's largest democracy to throw up a principled alternative to the failed policies of the ruling left-leaning Congress Party.

Some supporters of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claim it is just that: a recognisably conservative political party, an Indian equivalent of America's Republicans or Britain's Tories or Israel's Likud. But there are ample inconsistencies to this claim, because of which the BJP hasn't been able to offer voters a reliable choice—even in foreign policy questions such as New Delhi's ties with Washington. As the party prepares for its parliamentary delegation to officially visit the US later this month, it should ponder why that is so.

If you tilt your head and squint, you might see the outlines of a modern conservative party. Like many conservatives, BJP supporters tend to be robustly patriotic. The party plays up its respect for the armed forces, and senior BJP leaders Jaswant Singh and B.C. Khanduri began their careers in the army before switching to politics. Largely unconcerned about alienating Muslim voters, the BJP supports tougher anti-terrorism laws than Congress. And so it is with foreign policy. Historically the BJP was regarded as reliably pro-US, in part as a response to Congress's pro-Soviet tilt during the Cold War. And indeed, after an initial hiccup in the aftermath of India's 1998 nuclear tests, the BJP used its six years in office to put the US-India relationship on arguably its firmest footing in five decades. The BJP also remains Israel's only unambiguous friend in Indian politics. It's no coincidence that Ariel Sharon, the only Israeli prime minister to visit India, did so in 2003, while the BJP was in office.

In economic policy, BJP supporters argue that the party's traditional base of traders and shopkeepers makes it leery of government interference. Gujarat's BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the darling of Indian big business, is the only major Indian politician to espouse a philosophy of minimum government that Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher might recognise. Nitin Gadkari, the party's president, is a businessman with interests in paper mills and power plants.

The BJP is also devotedly Hindu. It espouses "Hindutva," or cultural nationalism revolving around Hinduness, and relies on the vast Hindu-nationalist grassroots group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for ideological direction; it also recruits cadres from the RSS. The comparison would be to Republicans turning to evangelical Christians for support, or Likud to the more muscular sort of Zionist. On closer examination, however, the case for the BJP as a modern conservative party falls apart. The party does not consistently espouse faith in free markets. It remains ambivalent about India's ties with the US and the West. And it lacks the capacity to draw a clear line between its largely moderate mainstream supporters and the assorted flakes and bigots who seem to consider the party their natural home.

In recent months, for instance, the BJP has attacked the government's tawdry record on corruption not by demanding less government and fewer cumbersome regulations, but by backing assorted crackpots and activists: from lawyer Prashant Bhushan, to yoga guru Baba Ramdev, to ardent alcohol-prohibitionist Anna Hazare. Mr. Bhushan believes that corruption in India has soared on account of too much liberalisation rather than too little. The less said about Mr. Ramdev's bizarre views on currency valuations and punishment for tax offenders, the better.

The BJP's foreign-policy credentials would otherwise seem right-thinking and pro-Western, unlike the Congress Party. But in an abrupt about-face, three years ago the party voted against the landmark US-India nuclear deal in parliament, on the absurd charge that New Delhi had sold out to Washington. The party's 2009 election manifesto spoke of restoring "balance" in relations with America. Unlike, say, the Tories, whom nobody confuses with the quasi-fascist British National Party, the BJP appears unable to draw a line between assertive political Hindus and flaming bigots. One of its most prominent young leaders, Varun Gandhi, was caught on tape in 2009 describing Muslims in the vilest terms. And though Gujarat's Mr. Modi has moderated his rhetoric in recent years, a question mark hangs over him for his alleged complicity in Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat nine years ago that killed 1000 people, about three-quarters of them Muslim. Even today, it's hard to imagine a BJP leader being punished rather than rewarded by the party for expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.

The BJP's tough line against terrorism, its commitment to a strong defence and its espousal of pride in India's Hindu culture are all within the bounds of a responsible Indian conservatism. But to enter the global mainstream the party needs to grow up and become a responsible voice for limited government, market-based solutions to India's myriad problems and pragmatic foreign policy. As long as it continues to be limited by a narrow focus on identity politics, and as long as it pursues policies based on opportunism rather than on principle, the BJP will fail both India and itself. The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. — Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

ONE-SIZE EURO NO LONGER FITS ALL

SHORTLY before she was driven from office in 1990, Margaret Thatcher warned her then euro-friendly chancellor, John Major, that a single European currency could not effectively accommodate industrial powerhouses such as Germany alongside smaller, poorer countries such as Greece.

She recognised that "a classic Utopian project" laden with bureaucracy imposing minute regulation across disparate economies with no uniform fiscal policies would unravel. It has, with Ireland, Portugal and especially Greece mired in debt crises and other nations struggling. Their problems are exacerbated by the euro system, which denies nations the autonomy and flexibility to devalue their currencies as a first step in rebuilding and trading their way to economic health.

As strikes and riots continue in Athens, Greece's socialist government has no alternative but to pass draconian budget cuts equivalent to $37 billion if European finance ministers are to help it avoid defaulting on its debts. At stake is the next stage of the $149bn eurozone/IMF bailout and a second rescue package tipped to be $135bn.

To Australians, the magnitude of the crisis is almost incomprehensible, although economists expect that the fallout from a Greek default would rival that triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. More importantly, with Australian federal and state liabilities set to exceed half a trillion dollars, governments should heed the pertinent warning of Future Fund chairman David Murray and avoid emulating Europe's predicament by not over-borrowing.

The crisis in Greece has prompted an increasing number of economists to float an idea that was unthinkable a decade ago - that crippled economies such as Greece should exit the euro. Others, however, argue any such change when economies are stricken by recession would send Europe into an even more catastrophic tailspin. Generations of Eurocentric politicians and intellectuals have been captive to a delusion that a single currency was an essential part of the integration needed to avoid a third European "world war" - a spurious concept when the world's power centres are in Asia and north America. The forced reappraisal of the EU financial system now under way is desperately overdue. There is no pain-free solution.

 

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

DEBATE IS FUEL FOR DEMOCRACY

THERE should be nothing remarkable in the defence mounted last night by union leader Paul Howes of Melbourne-based columnist and television show host Andrew Bolt.

The Australian Workers Union national secretary stated the blinding obvious when he said he might not agree with Bolt's views but he would oppose any moves to shut him up.

It is a mark of how modern life has eroded the great Australian tradition of a fair go for any and every opinion that the Institute of Public Affairs felt the need to run a forum on free speech. In recent years, there has been an unhealthy move to shut down the debate that is the bread of life for the kind of liberal democracy we describe in our first leader today. Sections of the Fairfax press, along with many broadcasters at the ABC, appear to think their role is to be gatekeepers, filtering out any opinions that do not coincide with their world view. We see it time and time again - in the amazement of many ABC staffers when their progressive views are challenged or in the arguments raised recently in The Sydney Morning Herald by columnist Elizabeth Farrelly, who demonised as "cane toads" radio presenters who disseminated views contrary to a soft-Left, green-tinged, big-government notion of the world. Senator Doug Cameron is another who has trouble understanding that the parliament in which he serves depends on a culture that welcomes rather than blocks a range of views. On Sunday, he told Sky's Australian Agenda that "the biggest problem for democracy is the behaviour of The Australian and the Murdoch press".

We assume he's unhappy about this paper's running all sides of the carbon debate, including the views of businesses that will be affected by a tax. Or perhaps he disagrees with our canvassing of objections from all sides to Julia Gillard's Malaysian solution. Or our reporting of cattle farmers as well as the RSPCA on live exports. Or is it that Senator Cameron would prefer we did not report the view of Mr Howes that the steel industry should be excluded from the carbon tax or be awarded more compensation? Closing down debate disenfranchises voters and threatens democracy. We prefer to acknowledge the right of Mr Howes and other citizens to hold views and put them to the public. In our pages, we are committed to publishing all sides of an issue and allowing readers to decide for themselves.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

IT'S THE PLEBISCITE THAT WE DON'T HAVE TO HAVE

TONY Abbott's pitch for a plebiscite on a carbon tax is a smart political trick that could attract strong support from the electorate - in the short term.

Talkback radio was alive yesterday with the notion that people would get a direct vote on Julia Gillard's tax. There is no surprise the Opposition Leader's move has traction with an electorate that has simply lost trust in the Prime Minister for her backflip on carbon - although Mr Abbott somewhat undermined his case by saying that even if the tax passed at a plebiscite, he would go to the next election promising to rescind it.

Mr Abbott cannot be blamed for adopting an aggressive approach to carbon politics, but he has put a short-term stunt ahead of the national interest by advocating a plebiscite. As an intelligent politician steeped in our parliamentary democracy, he knows the correct time for a vote on Labor's tax is at the next election, not at a "people's vote" that would set a terrible precedent for the way governments determine policy. Indeed, his move suggests he is struggling with what to do about the tax down the track, and looking for a diversion to mask the problems with his own potentially very expensive direct-action carbon plan.

The odds are that a tax will be legislated within months and will be in operation from July 1 next year. Mr Abbott will then face a conundrum: how to rescind the tax as promised, and presumably the accompanying compensation to households, without risking the ire of voters. Pontificating about a plebiscite is easy compared with the hard political and policy issues that Mr Abbott will face if he wins government at the next election.

If parliament votes to hold a plebiscite, or even if there is a continuing campaign in favour of holding one, Mr Abbott could find the public scrutiny of carbon politics leads to some unintended consequences. A long campaign would reveal the high cost of the opposition's scheme compared with a market-driven emissions trading scheme, which is Labor's long-term plan, with the carbon tax as the first step. At present, Mr Abbott is being let off the hook because of the focus on the costs of Labor's plan.

The tax is deeply unpopular with voters who have a double complaint: confusion about what it will do to their cost of living, and a deep sense the Prime Minister betrayed them by lying when she said she would not introduce a carbon tax. They see Ms Gillard putting the interests of Bob Brown ahead of the interests of millions of Australian households; they see her putting her political survival ahead of the promise she made not to introduce a carbon tax.

Labor is reaping what it has sown on carbon since Kevin Rudd went to the 2007 election determined to paint John Howard as a climate change recalcitrant for refusing to ratify Kyoto, even as the Coalition proposed an emissions trading scheme akin to his own. Ms Gillard is reaping a bitter harvest and is likely to be severely punished at the election. Neither she nor Mr Rudd will be treated kindly when the history of this period is written. Their decision in 2006 to combine to destroy the leadership of Kim Beazley, in hindsight the best person for the job, helped create the environment that allows bad ideas such as a plebiscite to flourish.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

CURRAWONG FOG MAY LIFT

THE Independent Commission against Corruption will hold public hearings into the events surrounding the sale of Currawong, the union holiday cottages and associated land. That is as it should be. Even if eventually, with the government's purchase, the property ended up as it should always have been - added to a national park - the process by which it got there was, to say the least, mysterious.

The mystery covers not only the actions of officials in the Land and Property Management Authority, but also their motives, and those of the then minister, Tony Kelly, who resigned his seat in the Legislative Council two weeks ago. The purchase, just days before a state election, was negotiated by a senior official of the authority, Warwick Watkins. Once the exchange of contracts with the owner, Eco-Villages, became known, it aroused concerns within the Premier's Department, which referred it to the ICAC. An internal investigation was also set up into the matter. The latter found a letter from Kelly to Watkins authorising the sale. But there is a possibility that the letter was backdated. ICAC is investigating that possibility, along with the possibility that the chief financial officer of the authority, Robert Costello, used the letter to represent falsely that Watkins had the authority to negotiate the purchase. It will also investigate whether Kelly himself had the power to authorise the transaction.

Due process is certainly important in government's dealings with business, and ICAC's inquiries should throw light on whether the proper forms and procedures were followed. But the commission should also interest itself in the background to the entire transaction - a long-drawn-out affair which was mysterious throughout. It would help if ICAC would inquire into why the sale to the government had to be completed in such a hurry - before Labor left office. The need for haste may be related to the fact that Eco-Villages had only finally acquired the property in January - after protracted negotiations for a sale from Unions NSW. The firm, which had bid $15 million for Currawong in 2007 and had negotiated the price down to $11 million because

of a legal dispute, finally bought the property for $9.5 million - before selling it to the government six weeks later for $12.2 million. The incoming Coalition might not have been so generous.

Despite the desirable outcome, taxpayers need to be reassured that the price eventually negotiated was fair, and the process which led to it stands up to transparent scrutiny. At present taxpayers are still completely in the dark.



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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

SCRAPPING THE VIABLE FOR A DUD

FIRST, a plaudit. In February, the state government opened some data banks so web developers and public servants could ''come together and make web apps'' using government-gathered information. That seemed to indicate somebody in government had come to recognise that government information was indeed the public's, that such information was gathered to serve the public and that public interest should be the measure of how information was put to work.

Quick to take advantage of this novel opportunity was the web developer Ben Hosken, whose firm took information gathered by the Roads and Traffic Authority and used it a mobile phone application that assisted travellers on State Transit buses.

The RTA uses GPS tags on buses to follow their progress in city traffic. Anyone who has stood at a bus stop waiting for an overdue bus will know the frustration of being kept in the dark until the bus finally arrives. These travellers know, too, their appreciation for an application that allowed them to zoom in on mobile phone screens to follow bus movements according to colour-coded routes, and to see the location of their next bus.

So far, so good. Commuters loved the system and recorded 200,000 views in

its first two weeks of operation. Problem is, it was the application's only two weeks. Soon after State Transit asked the web developer to explain the source of its data - and was told it was made available by the government, as per the aforementioned agreement. The tap was turned off and the application ceased. Compounding its blundering, State Transit embarked on a replacement scheme using a text message service to tell commuters the waiting time for their next bus.

The result should surprise few. Government lacks the computer power needed to provide a permanent flow of real-time bus information. ''The system is not yet able to provide a reliable or sustainable freed,'' said a Transport Ministry spokesman. Government actions forced the closure of a method that appeared to work and replaced it with a scheme that demonstrably does not. Sorry about that, commuters.

If such failure was just about bus timetables, community annoyance might be a little tempered by the expectation or hope that it was isolated and promptly fixed. Regrettably, the tale of the bus route app reflects the blinkered way of government thinking when it assumes it knows best. The public pays for the accumulation of information about itself. That information should be available to those who can put it to public service.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

ABBOTT'S PLEBISCITE PLAN A DEMOCRATIC SHAM

Setting a carbon price is a matter for Parliament to settle.

TONY Abbott is a late and surprising convert to direct democracy. This week the Opposition Leader announced that he will introduce into Federal Parliament a private member's bill requiring the Gillard government to hold an indicative plebiscite on its plan to legislate a carbon price. Mr Abbott said that voters should get their say on the carbon price before the next election - in other words, before the price is legislated - because the government has no mandate for imposing a carbon tax, which is what the price would effectively be. The lack of a mandate, as Mr Abbott never tires of pointing out, derives from the fact that during last year's election campaign Ms Gillard promised that the government would not introduce a carbon tax. Well yes, the promise was a rash one. The Opposition Leader must think voters have extremely short memories, however, if he thinks he can credibly argue that a plebiscite is the way to deal with legislation not flagged in an election campaign.

Mr Abbott was a cabinet minister in the Howard government, which in its last term introduced a radical overhaul of industrial relations that tilted the balance of power in the workplace decisively towards employers. WorkChoices, as the law was known, pared back protections against unfair dismissal and allowed employers to use individual contracts to undermine the wages and conditions obtained by collective bargaining. The legislation was contentious from the day it was introduced, not least because the Howard government gave no indication in the 2004 election campaign that it was contemplating such changes. Mr Abbott has subsequently uttered many contorted and confusing remarks about WorkChoices, including a rash promise of his own in last year's federal campaign that the Coalition would never seek to reintroduce it. He has not, however, said that the Howard government behaved undemocratically by acting without an explicit mandate, and that it should have sought a mandate for the law in a subsequent plebiscite.

WorkChoices is only the most recent and conspicuous example of a government agenda introduced without being previously submitted to the judgment of the people in an election campaign. The Hawke government's comprehensive economic reforms - floating the dollar, deregulation of financial markets and the dismantling of tariff protection - were not debated in the 1983 campaign. Indeed, compared with both WorkChoices and the '80s restructuring, the Gillard government's carbon price hardly rates as unannounced at all. True, the Prime Minister promised there would not be a tax; more broadly, however, she certainly gave notice that the government intended to revisit the issue of using pricing mechanisms to curb carbon-dioxide emissions.

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Mr Abbott knows this history. Why, then, has he begun what amounts to a stunt? The bill will probably not pass either house, and if it does its result would not bind the government. The Opposition Leader's sincerity may also be doubted. He says that the moral force of a ''no'' answer to the question ''are you in favour of a law to impose a carbon tax'' would compel Ms Gillard either to abandon her plan or call an early election; he is evasive, however, when asked whether the Coalition would accept a ''yes'' vote.

A clue to Mr Abbott's motive may lie in the form of the question, which replaces debate on the complexities of setting a carbon price and appropriate compensation with a simple ''yes'' or ''no'' response. A plebiscite would continue the populist politics of fear that the Coalition has incited in opposing a carbon price. It would also - ironically, since its advocate is an avowed conservative - weaken the institution of Parliament. Popular votes are necessarily required for alteration of the constitution itself, but the task of scrutinising detailed legislation can only properly be done by elected assemblies. Mr Abbott should not shrink from it.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

SLIM CHANCE OF PROTECTION FOR DIETERS

 

AUSTRALIANS expect the health products they buy to do what they are claimed to do. Such products must comply with guidelines regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure they ''are consistently safe, effective and of high quality''. Yet the TGA is powerless to act on more than half-a-dozen complaints about extravagant claims made for a weight-loss product, SensaSlim, because the company has sued one complainant, Dr Ken Harvey, for defamation. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating the business, but its product can be freely sold.

Acting on an anonymous complaint in January, the TGA's Complaints Resolution Panel had, in fact, made a damning determination on SensaSlim. It found SensaSlim's claims breached several guidelines, and were unverified and misleading. The company was ordered to stop making the claims and to issue a retraction. Because SensaSlim was not given adequate opportunity to respond, however, the determination was withdrawn.

Dr Harvey, a La Trobe University lecturer, lodged his complaint in March and a copy was posted on a pharmacists' website, Auspharm. SensaSlim successfully demanded its removal and began defamation action against Dr Harvey. By law, the TGA cannot act on a complaint that is the subject of court action. The effect has been to stop the TGA from acting on all complaints about SensaSlim. The company denies this was its intent, but a newsletter to distributors said: ''This defamation action, which could be in the courts for a year or two or even longer, basically gives an iron-clad protection that nobody can raise a complaint against SensaSlim to the [Complaints Resolution Panel] and hurt us.''

The complaints are not trivial. The person still touted as SensaSlim's research director, Dr Matthew Capehorn, whose ''white paper'' it cites, has dissociated himself from the product and company since May, as he told franchisees in an email. The review he wrote relied on information provided by SensaSlim and he ''never saw any evidence to substantiate the weight-loss claims'', he writes. ''Despite requests, I have never seen evidence of the original clinical trial and it has never been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.''

The way to settle doubts on SensaSlim would be to produce evidence from the scientifically conducted clinical trials the company says took place. However, the current legal action has left the TGA powerless to do its job. That includes protecting people desperate to lose weight from being duped by false claims. This is abject regulatory failure.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… ANDREI SAKHAROV AND YELENA BONNER

Together they endured exile, arrest, hunger strike, harassment, humiliation, ill health and enormous personal loss – but their memory will surely endure

As a couple, Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner achieved more for human rights in their country than any other. He, one of the greatest Soviet physicists and the youngest member of its Academy of Sciences, became the politburo's most implacable opponent. Introducing him to the wider dissident movement, she became his ferocious gatekeeper. Together they endured exile, arrest, hunger strike, harassment, humiliation, ill health and enormous personal loss – but their memory will surely endure Bonner's death last week. Brought back from Gorky by Mikhail Gorbachev, courted by Boris Yeltsin, she retained an instinctive distrust of opportunists who conscripted the memory of her husband for their cause. Post-communism was to rob the final decades of Bonner's life of a redemptive ending. By 1996, she had fallen out with Yeltsin so badly over Chechnya and the grand theft of the oligarchs that she said democracy had turned into "dermocratia" (shitocracy). Under Putin, she spent more and more of her time with her family in Boston, but lacerated him for human rights violations. In a letter read out to a rally against racism and ethnic violence in Moscow last year, Bonner described herself as a Moscovite, Jew and Caucasus national. "Consider that I have come, again to save my homeland, although my legs cannot carry me." She had cried once for her father, who was shot in 1937, cried again for her mother, who spent 17 years in the labour camps, but had never, it seemed, stopped crying for her country.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

BRITISH POLITICS: RASPBERRIES ALL ROUND

A generally negative mood may now be reasserting itself as early optimism surrounding the coalition drains away and the media becomes bored

In Wonderland all could have prizes. In polling land all just get raspberries. Today's Guardian-ICM opinion poll is tough reading for each political party. Labour, narrowly in the lead on 39%, are nevertheless badly adrift from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition on the key issue of the economy, while Ed Miliband's personal ratings continue to slide. The Conservatives, though holding on to 37% support, now head a coalition that is slipping deep into negative ratings after an early honeymoon, while David Cameron is unpopular overall for the first time since the election. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, now plumb their lowest recent level of support, 12%, at a time when Nick Clegg also has the worst negative rating of all the leaders. Across this whole land of lost political content only one party has currently got much to cheer – Alex Salmond's rampant Scottish Nationalists.

It is possible that this generally negative mood, except in Scotland, is part of a continuing plague-on-all-your-houses sentiment of the kind that swept through politics during the expenses scandal, and that may now be reasserting itself as early optimism surrounding the coalition drains away and the media becomes bored. This anti-political mood undoubtedly exists and should not be dismissed.

The poll suggests, however, that the woes of each of the parties are particular, rather than general. Labour, for example, has bounced back from its 2010 general election low under Gordon Brown, largely at Lib Dem expense, but its wider support level is still fragile, as the local elections showed. Part of the evidence for this is in Mr Miliband's low ratings, in this as in other polls. As Mr Salmond proved positively and Mr Brown negatively, a leader's ratings can be crucial in an election contest. By that yardstick, Mr Miliband, running 11 points behind his party, risks holding back any Labour recovery. But it is Labour's poor showing on the economy that ought to alarm not just Mr Miliband but his whole party. The stalled economy, the rise in inflation and the cuts in public services ought to be Labour's great opportunity. Instead Labour is stalled. Until it can make a more persuasive case on the economy, Labour will lack election-winning credibility, whoever its leader.

This is some comfort for the government parties. But not much. Though the coalition continues to run ahead of Labour on economic policy, slow growth and high prices mean it is no longer master of the economic argument in the way it once was. Levels of economic confidence are low. George Osborne's reputation as chancellor has lurched downwards, at the same time as Labour continues to struggle. A slide in coalition ratings from –5 to –15 in three months marks a real hardening of public scepticism, with large numbers of both Conservative and Lib Dem voters now saying the coalition is doing a bad job. It is hard to see this changing significantly any time soon.

It would be far too crude to say that the country wants to see Labour values alongside coalition policies. But it is increasingly clear that, having rejected Labour a year ago, the country is now in turn losing confidence in the coalition parties – but not yet to Labour's advantage. The polls suggest that this is a country that accepts the case for tough choices on fiscal and economic policy – including on public sector pensions, ICM finds today – but one that recoils from much of the peremptory toughness of the coalition's solutions. In this sense the Archbishop of Canterbury was right. There is a mismatch between what the parties are offering and what the country wants. The U-turn on health, widely popular, is one sort of response. But it would be far better to have a government which from the start could combine truthful diagnosis, strategic credibility, pragmatic solutions and a reflexive sensitivity about inequality. Unfortunately, this is not currently on offer anywhere – even in Scotland.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

SYRIA: THE NATIONAL MONOLOGUE

Bashar al-Assad presented himself as the fulcrum of change, but in reality the ironwork is firmly jammed

President Bashar al-Assad yesterday addressed the nation for the third time since the uprising began three months ago, promising what would have been, 98 days ago, an ambitious and far-reaching programme of reform. He continued to call the demonstrations a conspiracy fomented by foreign enemies. To the growing list of epithets he has used in the past to describe the people being shot at – vandals, saboteurs, Muslim extremists, wanted criminals – he added another one: "germs".

But yesterday he acknowledged the regime's inherent weakness, and the legitimacy of some demands. He promised to set up a national dialogue and a law which would see the emergence of a multi-party democracy. He even appeared to promise accountability, saying he held those who had shed Syrian blood responsible for their actions. As the first person to appear on that charge sheet would be his brother, Maher, who commands the fourth division and the presidential guards – responsible for the worst atrocities – no one took this seriously.

If his audience inside the hall of Damascus university, where he made his speech, erupted in ecstatic applause, Assad's audience outside took to the streets in 19 different cities around the country. People said they were infuriated by his patronising tone, and of the dreamworld he inhabited. He was a man in denial, not someone capable of seizing Syria's defining moment. Hailed in advance as groundbreaking, this speech broke no new ground. If the main demand was that he order troops back to their barracks, his response was to fluff it. He merely said he would like to see them go back to their bases.

For some weeks, the Syrian opposition has been saying that a point of no return has been reached. The fury the speech generated among Syrians at home and abroad appears to confirm the view that the uprising is indeed unstoppable. Assad can inflame passions, but no longer has the ability to quench them. On the day he called for a national dialogue, the idea of dialogue is dead. Nor can Assad persuade some of the 10,500 refugees in Turkey to return home. After the fighting at Jisr al-Shughour, where streets were raked with indiscriminate machine-gun fire, the idea that security forces exist to protect residents, rather than mow them down, is treated with derision.

Senior army commanders will eventually decide Assad's fate. But they are not there yet, and Assad will continue to think all he has to do is to dangle vague promises of a brighter future. Yesterday, he presented himself as the fulcrum of change in his country. The reality is the ironwork is firmly jammed, and will not move again until he goes.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

R. GATES' FAREWELL

It is an open question whether United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would have been as blunt in his criticism of NATO's European members in a speech on June 10 if he was not stepping down. He warned that U.S. patience and its bankroll are running thin. Mr. Gates' words need to be heard by other U.S. allies as well. The United States has entered a new fiscal era. Washington will be far more focused on efficiency and creating genuine partnerships with its allies. Failure will lead to "a dire if not dismal future" for those alliances and possible irrelevance.

Mr. Gates has been on a farewell tour in recent weeks, circumnavigating the globe as he prepares to leave office after serving as secretary of defense for four years. He announced last year that he would step down this summer and in recent weeks he has offered both advice and warnings to policy makers in the U.S. and elsewhere. The constant in his remarks has been acknowledgement of the new fiscal reality that exists in his country and the need for America to get its own house in order. That demands a new approach to defense decision making, one with the potential to have severe effects on U.S. allies.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned of a "dwindling appetite and patience" among U.S. taxpayers "to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources to be serious and capable partners in their own defense." His irritation is understandable: With a military budget of $700 billion, the U.S. accounts for roughly three-quarters of all military spending by all NATO countries -more than three times the combined military spending of all 26 European members, which slightly exceeds $220 billion. And in recent years, military spending among those European nations has decreased by $45 billion.

The result is an alliance increasingly under strain. Take the campaign in Libya to support rebels fighting the government of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, for example. While the U.S. has ceded the leading role to European governments, U.S. forces took out the air defenses, a critical first step in the establishment of a no-fly zone. Since then, U.S. intelligence and refueling aircraft have made the campaign possible. And yet, Mr. Gates warned, in Libya, "the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference." NATO troops are similarly committed — and overextended — in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates' message is not new. In February of last year, he complained that the "demilitarization of Europe has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st." In fact, it was the absolute certainty about his commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership that muted the response to his speech. The audience knows that few individuals have worked harder or longer — and his is a particularly long and distinguished career; he has served eight U.S. presidents.

But the truth is that there is a new fiscal reality, not just in the U.S. but in all developed countries. The continuing crises in the euro-zone are the most immediate expression of a new economic environment that will demand hard choices for politicians and publics. Historically, the U.S. has been able to pick up the slack as Europeans downplayed defense priorities. That is no longer the case.

European governments are already economizing. Britain announced that it will cut defense spending by 8 percent over four years; Germany plans to shrink its army by about 50,000 troops, a little less than one-quarter of its size. Done intelligently, the impact of such cuts can be minimized. There are some signs that European governments are adapting to this new reality. Britain and France last November signed a defense cooperation agreement under which they will establish a joint force to share an aircraft carrier. Earlier this year, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia announced the formation of a battle group that would be led by Poland.

Still, the results are less than impressive. Mr. Gates rightly point out that NATO members could get a lot more bang for their buck if they better coordinated their defense spending.

There is a lesson for Japan as well. This country faces straitened economic circumstances in the aftermath of the March 11 triple disaster. At the same time, the Japan-U.S. alliance is undergoing modernization and transformation. This process reflects both demands by Japan for the U.S. to lighten its footprint in this country as well as the need to be better prepared to respond to an evolving security environment. Success will require the two countries to develop new capabilities, spending money efficiently on new technology and the means to ensure that both the new capabilities and new technology are used properly.

The U.S. will be looking to its partners to be partners — that is to shoulder equitable burdens and contribute to the realization of shared goals and objectives.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ANGST-FUELED ENERGY POLICY

BY HUGH CORTAZZI

LONDON — The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster has induced many people to question whether and how far the world should become dependent on atomic power.

The threat of radiation on the lives of people, especially children, resulting from an accident at a nuclear power station is real and must rightly be an important consideration in drawing up plans for power supplies in the future.

Those responsible for deciding the direction of energy policy and the most deserving investment recipients must take into account a variety of other factors and must assess carefully the cost/benefits of the choices available.

No source of energy is without cost or implications for our environment and there is no magic formula which will spell out the right balance.

Inevitably some politicians will want to give the greatest weight to safety factors and others to the environmental impact of differing methods of power generation, but all have to take into account the economic costs. Coal remains a major natural resource for power generation.

In many countries, including China and the United States, open cast as well as deep-pit mining provide a relatively cheap raw material for the production of electricity.

But burning coal is a major pollutant of the atmosphere and through carbon dioxide (CO?) emissions a significant contributor to global warming and climate change. Pollution and CO? can be reduced by the use of modern technology, but these can add significantly to costs.

World supplies of coal are sufficient to meet demand for many decades if not centuries, but are not infinite. Crude oil reserves remain huge both in the Middle East and elsewhere, and oil companies are finding further supplies through the drilling of new wells.

But reserves of oil are probably more limited than those of coal and are likely to become more expensive to tap in the future. The increased price of oil has made it economical to tap oil sands and drill in deep waters.

But oil is a major pollutant and emitter of CO? and as the recent BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico shows deep-water drilling can cause environmental disasters.

Oil is also a doubtful long term source because it is particularly susceptible to political and monopolistic pressures.

The OPEC cartel, although weaker than it was, still controls nearly a half of all oil supplies. Russia and Venezuela are mavericks and it would be unwise to rely on their remaining trustworthy long term suppliers.

Gas supplies and reserves have grown hugely in recent years. Of all hydro-carbons they are the least polluting, but supplies will eventually become scarcer and as Russia has shown pipelines can be cut and used to force up prices.

Alternative "green" methods of producing electricity are being developed. In the twentieth century the main alternative was hydroelectric, but this involved the building of huge dams that led to the destruction of whole communities and sometimes caused ecological disasters.

Most suitable sites have probably now been developed and there is a general consensus that hydroelectricity is unlikely to be able to meet increasing demands for 'green' electricity.

Wind power has become the focus of attention in the developed world. It does not pollute the atmosphere or emit CO?, but it does have environmental implications.

Headlands and moorlands are often scenic spots beloved by country lovers. Windmills emit disturbing noises when operating, especially in high winds.

Moreover, there can be no certainty that, when electricity demand is high, the wind will be blowing, or that, when the wind is blowing, electric power companies will need the power the windmills can produce.

Solar may be a better source of power than wind, but solar power generation cannot be relied on especially in northern climes. Solar panels can be disguised and need not be as disfiguring as wind turbines. Costs of panels have been dropping and solar is clearly going to be a major source of power in the 21st century.

In Britain and elsewhere in developed countries much effort is being put into developing machinery to harness wave and tidal power. There seems significant potential for further investment, but this will depend on how competitive wave and tidal power can be in relation to other forms of "green" energy.

An important alternative source of future power generation is likely to be nuclear fusion, which proponents argue will be much safer, more economical and "green" than nuclear fission used in current atomic power plants.

International research on power generation through nuclear fusion is being pursued at ITER in Caderache in southern France, where Motojima Osamu, an atomic energy specialist from Japan, is playing an important role.

The British thought many decades ago that they had found how to use nuclear fusion to generate electricity, but the great theoretical and practical difficulties have meant that this solution to the world's energy problems will not be available for some years yet. The first operational plant will, it is hoped, be ready by 2018.

In the long term we may be able to rely mainly on "green" forms of energy generation, but the world faces a real danger that if all current atomic power stations are taken out of service in the next decade or so as Germany has decided to do and as Japanese prefectures may wish to do, there will be significant power failures that could have a serious impact on manufacturers and consumers.

If government opts, instead of atomic power, for coal and other hydrocarbons, this will have a serious impact on global warming and climate change.

There are sadly many influential people especially in the United States and in Australia who continue to deny global warming or recognize that this is largely due to man-made CO? emissions, which it is their duty to try to mitigate.

Hugh Cortazzi, a career British diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980-1984.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

POVERTY HIGHLIGHTS GAPS IN INDIA'S ECONOMY

BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN

CHENNAI, India — In many ways, India can be highly deceptive and contradictory. There are millions of mobile phones floating around. Dozens of swank hotels. Just about every major car manufacturer has set up shop in the country. Several designers are showcasing and selling clothes that are seen on the fashion streets of Paris, Milan and New York.

So visible are these that a foreign visitor might just about be blinded by them, the reflection from the sheen of a state-of-the art car or from a full-glass façade eclipsing the grime, dirt and degrading poverty that make up three-fourths of India. But it is this quarter of shimmer that the nation's political bosses and bureaucrats have never failed to brag about at home and abroad.

What they hide, though not always successfully, is the fact that the poor live in terrifying conditions, and that their numbers are huge. Hundreds of slums dot the surface, while skyscrapers tower over them, and from a distance it looks like a land of enormous prosperity. By entering a five- or seven-star hotel in New Delhi or Mumbai, one would feel like having stepped into a different world with its English-speaking staff, plush interiors, polished silverware and what have you.

Strangely, India is renowned for its stark contrasts, and often its big neighbor to the north becomes a referral point for comparisons. Especially for India's economic progress. Experts argue that despite all that is made out of India's success — popularly and sometimes jocularly termed "India Shinning" — its growth has been slower than that of China's. Its national income per head surged past India's 20 years ago, and the gap has been widening since then.

Yet, the International Monetary Fund said last year that India' economy grew by 10.4 percent, which was higher than China's. New Delhi measures this growth differently and places the figure at a more modest 8.6 percent. But even this is impressive and it is being affirmed that in some years from now, India can "supplant" China as the world's fastest growing economy.

So, one would have expected foreign businesses to rush into India with their grand plans to make a quick buck, and in the bargain boost the country's economy and employment. No such luck though. Foreign direct investment fell by a third last year.

And Indian entrepreneurs have been scathing in their criticism. They point out how difficult it is to do business in the nation of teeming millions that can translate into a hugely lucrative market. The major impediment between the seller and the buyer is red tape. This is true, to say the least, and not as the government would explain away as the ravings and rantings of a few disgruntled, failed businessmen.

The World Bank has an index known as Ease of Doing Business in which India holds the unenviable 134th position out of 183 countries. The index is divided under different heads: India, for instance, trails Angola as far as starting a business venture is concerned. India's number is 165th here!

An entrepreneur wanting to start an enterprise faces many obstacles. Each Indian state has its set of rules, one more cumbersome than the other. It can take up to 200 days to clear 37 impediments to secure a "sanction" to build a warehouse in Mumbai, India's financial hub. In Kolkata, one needs an additional 58 days, though with fewer licenses at 27.

When the businessman gets all his approvals (after greasing tens of palms), he has to cope with terribly inferior infrastructure. Roads are dreadful in many parts of India, railways overbooked, seaports jammed and airports struggling to cope with thousands of fliers. Electricity generation is inadequate in large areas, and water supply is scarce.

A survey by Legatum Institute found that only 11 percent of Indians thought that their government was doing fine. In China, 30 percent felt that their administration was helpful. Yet, the survey showed that 83 percent of Indian businessmen think that India is good for an entrepreneur to succeed. And 50 percent said that India would be the top global economic power in 20 years. Who knows, this may after all happen, given the country's favorable demographic profile and the investment taking place from rich Indians returning home.

In the final argument, it is imperative that New Delhi seek to solve two problems.

One problem is that businesses are finding it difficult to retain employees that have been trained at the cost of the companies concerned. It is not easy for the hospitality industry to get English-speaking employees. Some IT firms rue the fact that their graduate staffers have to be taught what they ought to have learned in school. Manufacturing units cannot find workers with basic literacy skills. Everybody, it seems, wants to make more and more money in the shortest possible time without qualifying for it.

The other problem is corruption. It is endemic, but is beginning to cause real rage among Indians. Everybody appears to benefit from scams, from the parking attendant to the journalist to the executive to the bureaucrat to the minister. Those who fall outside this charmed circle tacitly encourage corruption by doling out favors and bribes to get their work done. Nobody can say where all this will end.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a journalist based in Chennai, India.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

THE PROBLEM WITH CIVILIAN CONTROL

BROTO WARDOYO

Democratization, or transition to democracy, has two dimensions. The first is the normative dimension that deals with how institutions are organized.

The second is the behavioral dimension, which deals with how democratic mindsets are implanted within all elements of society.

One important aspect in the process of transition to democracy is the establishment of democratic civilian control over the military.

The term democratic civilian control itself is related to the principle of military professionalism, which at the same time is also related to civilian professionalism.

It deals with how to ensure that the military obeys a democratically-elected civilian government, regardless of their origin, or how to enforce the military's loyalty to the state.

Military neutrality in politics is usually regarded as one of the important indicators.

In terms of democratization, Taiwan and Indonesia may have the same experience. Both Taiwan and Indonesia have been undergoing a transition to democracy.

Indonesia started the process following the fall of Soeharto in 1998, while Taiwan started in 1987 when Chiang Ching-Kuo withdrew martial law.

Both processes became possible due to the contributions made by internal and external pressures.

One important issue in the transition to democracy in both Taiwan and Indonesia is the problem of the role of the military in governance.

During their respective authoritarian eras, the military was used by the regime to protect its power. In the case of Indonesia, some might argue that the military itself was part of the ruling power.

The major task in creating democratic civil-military relations during the transition to democracy in Taiwan and Indonesia is, then, how to ensure the military's loyalty to the state, regardless of who is in power. This is sometime referred to as the nationalization of the military.

A number of steps have been taken to create mechanisms to ensure democratic civilian control. This process, however, is neither short nor easy.

On the normative dimension of the efforts to establish democratic civilian control, both Taiwan and Indonesia have already passed a set of regulations concerning management of the military and military affairs.

The enactment of these sets of regulations is regarded as an important step to ensuring democratic civilian control.

In 2000, Taiwan introduced the National Defense Law and the Ministry of National Defense Organization Law (effective in 2002).

The primary purposes of these laws are to enhance civilian control by reorganizing the defense bureaucracies and to nationalize the military.

The enactment of those two defense laws has provided the Defense Minister with control of both military administration and military command.

It makes the Defense Minister the real head of the defense establishment. In Indonesia, similar laws have also been introduced.

The Law on National Defense was passed in 2002, followed by the Law on the Indonesian Military (TNI) in 2004.

The enactment of those laws is not enough. Taiwan and Indonesia need to internalize the democratic values as a guiding principle in governing the relations between civilian authority and the military.

The failure in creating substantive democratic civilian control in Taiwan and Indonesia is due to the existence of a heavy penetration by civilian authority in regular military affairs; or the existence of the politicization of the military affairs.

In Taiwan, for example, several cases indicate that military affairs have become a subject for political rivalry among civilians.

On the issue of arms procurement, one can easily observe how political rivalry between the two main camps in Taiwan politics has put the decision on hold.

Another case of study is the initiation of doctrinal change during the first period of the Chen Shui-bian presidency that led to quarreling between the two parties.

Still another case study involves Chen Shui-bian's personnel policies. The fact that many of Chen's close associates have benefited from his personnel policies indicates the existence of the politicization of the military.

In Indonesia, the appointment of the TNI chief has become a political case. According to the new regulation, the President has the authority to appoint the TNI chief, but the appointee must go through a fit-and-proper test before the House.

In conclusion, to a certain degree both Taiwan and Indonesia have managed to establish democratic civilian control over the military.

On the normative dimension, both countries have adopted a set of regulations that place the military under civilian supervision and oversight.

On the behavioral dimension, Indonesia needs to embolden a stronger democratic mindset within civilian leaders, while Taiwan needs to be careful in handling the deep cleavages that exist among civilian leaders.

After all, it is not the task of the military to be faithful to the values of democracy, but it is the task of the civilian authority to cleverly draw the line.

"Riding is the art of keeping a horse between you and the ground," once an unknown writer wrote. It is, therefore, not up to horse, but up to the rider to decide whether he or she is about to fall or not.

The writer is a lecturer with the Department of International Relations at University of Indonesia.

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THE JAKARTA POST

UNDERSTANDING CHINA AS KISSINGER DOES

TOM PLATE

It is very tempting to proclaim On China as the most important new nonfiction book of 2011. But that it may well be.

Several reasons compel this judgment.

The first is that this extraordinarily clear-headed analytical study has just one central focus: China.

So it does not wander all over the lot and its central focus is not exactly some tiny study of Montenegro: For China is the home for close to one out of very four citizens of this planet and, of course, China is no longer asleep.

Reason number two is that any authoritative study of China, such as this one, helps us understand the all-important China-US relationship. What are the stakes here?

It seems reasonable to believe that if Beijing and Washington construct their policies on parallel tracks that are as accommodative of each other as is consistent with their respective national interests, then the probability of a world war occurring will be greatly reduced.

Those are therefore some stakes.

The third obvious reason why this book merits special ranking is that its author is Henry Kissinger, now 88. Whatever your politics and whatever you may think of him (the seriously illegal bombing of Cambodia, Watergate, Nixon, the wiretapping of his own aides, etc. etc.) this is a deep thinker who knows China the way (say) Bill Gates knows the logic of software or Stephen Sondheim lyrics.

The former Harvard professor was, after all, the policy pioneer who in the early '70s made history with his boss president Richard Nixon by tearing down the diplomatic wall between America and China.

Since then, Kissinger has tracked China's evolution with patience and perspective and surely understands it at least as well as anyone outside China.

This is why On China has, in the book's initial reception on the mainland, gotten such great press. China Daily, the largest English language newspaper, hailed the book, drawing on a dispatch from its New York office, as the number-one story of the day (May 31).

The banner headline across the top read: "Kissinger's Book a Warning to China, US." The point of the article was that the author's historical perspective affords an analysis of China's behavior and intent which absolutely must inform policymaking on both sides of the Pacific.

The Kissinger book, wrote China Daily, offers "a clue of how the world's two largest economies should handle their relations."

This is not exactly faint praise. And the importance of getting that relationship right (balanced, contextual, stable, mutually regarding) is vital, whatever — again — one thinks of the author.  

Implicit in the China Daily article is the fear that, in getting the bilateral relationship right, neither side is blameless. Hence the headline's finger-pointing at China as well as the US.

Kissinger's methodology is not new but it some ways, in this day and age of fancy-statistics social science, it is unusual: Let the remorseless lessons of the past be the best guide as to what the future might hold. Only the sweeping and unemotional gaze of history can offer a proper perspective on the events and personalities of our era. This is why this new book could well contribute to world peace and stability if Beijing and Washington permit its central themes to be influential.

What are those themes? Just one example will have to suffice: Consider Chapter 13, about why China decided to go to war against Communist "comrade" Vietnam in the late '70s. This took place, of course, even after the mighty US had unceremoniously withdrawn… defeated, exhausted, demoralized.

The value of the analysis of the interaction between Hanoi and Beijing is its clarity and its emphasis on the decisive role of national-interest over ideology.  After all, here were two alleged Communist countries going at each other fiercely. Most observers at the time were shocked.

But by analyzing China from the perspective of its traditional tactic of "preemptive deterrence", and viewing Hanoi from its long-held regionally imperialistic ambitions, the author demonstrates why the behavior of neither country was demonstrably irrational, much less unpredictable.

To put it plainly, the Chinese had concluded that an advancing Vietnam would not stop with the occupation of only Cambodia and, unless deterred, would go on to gobble up Thailand (and then presumably Malaysia and Singapore as well).

Yes, Beijing believed in the Domino Theory, too! The end result would be a Southeast Asian mini-empire on China's doorstep (sort of like a North and South Korea united under Seoul backed by the US military — another potential nightmare scenario for Beijing).

Why is this history so relevant? Well, just follow Kissinger's analysis further and what you get is a better understanding of the current tension and turmoil in the South China Sea. Why is China behaving as it is (that is, badly)? Why is Hanoi playing so curiously nice-nice with America, even as the scars of the terrible war with the US remain evident today (because it trusts China even less and detests it even more than the US).

Without the benefit of historical perspective, the present remains inscrutable and the future a constant surprise. But not so much if you carefully read your Kissinger. This invaluable book is very highly recommended.

Prof. Tom Plate of Loyola Marymount University has been writing syndicated columns about Asia and America continually since 1996. His recent books on Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad in the series Giants of Asia have been bestsellers in Asia.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

STRUCTURAL INTERVENTIONS TO FIGHT HIV/AIDS

SUDIRMAN NASIR

Numerous world leaders recently gathered at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting in New York City discussing several key issues on HIV/AIDS recently.

The meeting among heads of state and other leaders from the government, scientific community, private sector and civil society provided a valuable opportunity to reflect the future course of the global responses and strategies to combat the epidemic.

Prof. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a Nobel laureate and co-chairman of the UNAIDS High Level Commission on HIV Prevention, in her recent essay in The Jakarta Post maintained that the meeting took place at a critical time in which after three decades into the epidemic we have achieved several key things.

Barre-Sinoussi cited the recent report of the UN secretary-general indicated that by the end of 2010 there were more than 6 million people with access to the lifesaving antiretroviral treatments in developing countries compared to just 400,000 in 2003.

Over the last decade, the number of newly infected HIV cases decreased by nearly 20 percent. Additionally, in 2009 more than 50 percent of women living with HIV were able to assure their babies were with being infected by HIV.

It is also worthy to note that there have been significant achievements in the Asia-Pacific region. The estimated figure of new infections is 20 percent lower than in 2001 and in the past five years the number of people living with HIV appears to have remained stable.

However, Barre-Sinoussi reminded us that these gains are fragile. The fragile nature of these achievements can be seen through the fact that the HIV epidemic continues to outpace the response.

It was estimated that there are two new HIV infections for every individual initiating treatment.

Moreover, in Asia-Pacific, the most vulnerable groups to HIV infection such as sex workers, drug users, men who have sex with men and transgender people are not sufficiently reached for prevention and treatment.

The fact that 90 percent of the countries in the region have laws or practices that impede access to HIV prevention and treatment services for people living with HIV and/or people from key affected populations make the situation more fragile.

In addition, it should be noted that most current prevention programs are highly individualized or tend to overlook the crucial role of the social, cultural and economic context of the epidemic.

The limitations of the individualized programs have been shown by a synthesis of worldwide evidence that HIV prevention programs among drug injectors, which emphasize only individual behavioral changes are likely to result in only a minor reduction of susceptibility to HIV infection.

It is in this context that structural interventions to combat the HIV epidemic are highly needed.

Structural interventions focus on changing the context or environment within which individuals act for the purpose of persuading them to apply healthier and safer behaviors.

In other words, structural interventions attempt to create an enabling environment, an environment that enables or empowers people to make positive preferences by providing them a supportive context and sufficient opportunities to make healthier choices.

Structural interventions seek to affect risk environments by altering the context in which ill-health occurs.

It should also be noted that structural interventions are consistent with the principles of the "new public health" as presented in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, that explicitly advocates the need to address social and environmental determinants of health and advocate the need to develop effective responses to public health issues both at the individual and community level.

In addition, numerous studies have revealed the relevance of and the need for structural interventions in the field of drug use and HIV prevention. Structural interventions on HIV prevention and drug use should focus on three areas of change i.e. first, by addressing social change.

This approach focuses on factors affecting multiple groups (e.g. a region or country as a whole), such as legal reform, socio-economic empowerment and stigma reduction for marginalised groups, and efforts to cultivate strong leadership on HIV and drug use prevention programs.

Second, by promoting changes within a specific group. This approach addresses social structures that create vulnerability among specific populations, such as problematic drug users, drug injectors, sex workers, men who have sex with men and low-income young people.

Examples include efforts to organize and empower problematic drug users, drug injectors, sex workers, including microfinance programs for poor people as well as interventions to change harmful local norms.

Third, harm reduction and health-seeking behavior changes. This approach focuses on ensuring harm reduction programs are available to those in need, and helps to change rules, services and attitudes that impede access to these programs. Examples include efforts to provide employment and safe housing for drug users and 100-percent condom use campaigns.

Numerous studies suggested that multiple and concerted programs addressing social conditions that generate HIV-related harms could more significantly lower susceptibility to HIV particularly among the most vulnerable groups such as sex workers, problematic and injecting drug users, prisoners, men who have sex with men and transgender people.

The current achievements in combating HIV epidemics will be strengthened if we take into consideration and combat the social, cultural and economic context that produces HIV-related risks.

The writer is a lecturer and researcher at the Faculty of Public Health at Hasanuddin University, Makassar.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

SBY'S ECONOMIC PLAN AMID PUBLIC APATHY

WINARNO ZAIN

As events unfold daily depicting the country's gross mismanagement in almost every corner of public life, it is inevitable that the Indonesian public feels as if the country is being betrayed by its own political leaders.

Anger, apathy and maybe even despair have engulfed public feelings and these have been reflected in the many public demonstrations and debates all over the country.

Therefore, nobody took note at the latest World Bank report, which stated that the Indonesian economy would be among the six major emerging economies in 2025, which would account half of the world growth and would play an important role in shaping the world economy.

According to the World Bank, the Indonesian economy, together with the economy of the Republic of Korea, would be elevated and would sit on par with the BRIC economies — Brazil, Russia, India and China — the powerhouses of the world's emerging economies.

Someday, someone will change the BRIC into BRICIRK to include Indonesia and the Republic of Korea in the prestigious grouping.

Neither was the public interested in the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of the Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI), unveiled by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on May 27. The plan would carry Indonesia to 2025.

It aims to make the Indonesian economy, the 17th largest economy in the world last year, one of the world's 10 biggest economies by 2025, taking its GDP to US$4.5 trillion, or seven and a half times its current GDP.

The average Indonesian would be five times richer than today, with an average income rise to $15,000 per year. It plans to invest Rp 4,000 trillion ($464 billion) in a 14-year span and to achieve 8 to 9 percent growth starting in 2012.

To put this plan into perspective, it should be noted that even in 14 years, the income of the average Indonesian would still be lower than the income of the average Russian today.

To Indonesian people who are facing the realities of the country's continued slip into the abyss, Yudhoyono's Master Economic Plan is not a big deal.

To the average Indonesian, short-term plans — and more importantly immediate actions that aim to correct the country's wrongs and to ease their day-to-day hardships — are more relevant today than a long term plan that is detached from day-to-day realities.

Even if the World Bank puts the Indonesian economy in the same league as BRIC, the fact is that the Indonesian economy today is nowhere near the recent achievements of the BRIC economies.

Those who perceive the Indonesian economy to be worthy of joining the BRIC should notice the following facts: Indonesia's GDP was only $540 billion in 2009 and that's only one fourth of the average BRIC GDP. Indonesia's GDP was only 43 percent of the Russian GDP, which was the lowest among the BRIC countries.

In terms of income per capita, Indonesia is slightly better than India, but that is only because India has five times the population of Indonesia.

The other significant difference between the Indonesian economy and the BRIC is the level of sophistication in the economic structure. If the level of the service sector is considered to be related to the level of a country's economic advancement, then Indonesia still lags behind the BRIC economies.

The Indonesian service sector still accounts for 35 percent of its GDP, compared to China (43 percent), India (55 percent), Russia (62 percent), Brazil (69 percent) and the Republic of Korea (61 percent).

An economy with a high contribution from the service sector enjoys a high degree of competitiveness, low costs and efficient operation. Only in its rate of growth does Indonesia have some measure of respectability.

The Indonesian growth rate is below India and China, but it is much higher than Russia's and Brazil's.

Unlike BRIC countries, Indonesia would have to struggle to overcome many obstacles in implementing its Master Economic Plan. Sheer bureaucratic incompetence from the central government down to the local governments would weigh in the implementation of the plan.

Widespread corruption, waste and inefficiency in the public sectors have prevented the economy from achieving its potential growth.

The fragmentation of the decision-making power among various government levels since the Autonomy Law took effect in 1999 could pose serious problems in coordinating and implementing the plan.

It is unfortunate that SBY's Master Economic Plan is running amid the widespread apathy and cynicism of the people toward the government.

Every master plan needs political determination and public support to be successfully implemented. It is important for the public to be enthusiastic about the plan and to fully understand what the plan means for their economic well being when it is implemented.

Efforts have to be made to make the public feel that the Master Plan is their plan. It is this sense of ownership of the plan that could determine its success. Public campaigns and socialization of the Master Plan have to be carried out extensively to create public awareness and understanding about the plan.

After all, the execution of the plan in many instances requires public sacrifice. Many people will have to be relocated and many others will have to surrender some of their assets such as land to make way for the construction of the projects.

Unexpected opposition from residents could hamper the timely execution of the plan. It is important for the government at all levels to be continuously in contact with residents to inform them about the plan, how the plan will benefit them and what support or sacrifice that the plan will require from them.

But the most serious flaw in the Master Plan is its lack of political legitimacy. Government changes every five years and it is possible that the new government will have its own vision and priorities regarding long-term economic plans.

The Master Plan will not become something that is fixed for a long period of time but will undergo revisions during the course of its implementation, depending on the political whim of the political party in power.

So even though the Master Economic Plan was put forward by the SBY Administration, don't expect it to be one of SBY's legacies after his presidency.

The writer is an economist.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

INSTEAD OF PSC, WE NEED STATESMANSHIP

e myriad of problems the Sri Lankan government and its people are faced with can be whisked or wished away by ignoring them. It makes matters more complicated when government spokesmen make confusing and contradictory statements at different times. Amid this cacophony and the Babel of voices the government's official stance is rarely clear.

One of the main issues that need to be resolved is the national question. This must be done on a priority basis without allowing it to end up as a festering wound not responsive to treatment. Strangely, coinciding with the visit of a top level Indian delegation, the Eelam People's Democratic Party leader (EPDP) and Minister Douglas Devananda issued a statement calling for the setting up of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) as the best way to find a solution to the grievances and aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people.  According to Mr. Devananda who is a close ally of the Rajapaksa regime, all political parties in parliament should take part in the process so that no party could object when a final settlement is reached.

He said it could be reached within three to six months.

This suggestion has been endorsed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He said the Rajapaksa regime would back the appointment of a PSC to formulate a new package that would address Tamil grievances. He said such a package would be placed before parliament for approval and implemented within a specified time frame.

We have seen what happened to most committees appointed earlier and had to bite the dust for one reason or the other. The former Indian Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati-led International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to investigate 16 incidents of alleged serious violation of human rights in Sri Lanka just before it quit said most of its suggestions with regard to the functioning of the government's Commission of Inquiry (COI) had been ignored or rejected. Then came the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to evolve a political solution to the national question. Its much hyped final report too has been confined to the archives and now forgotten. With that kind of track record attached to commissions and committees. What will happen to the PSC if it does come out with proposals to resolve the simmering national question? Like the others will this too go down the road to nowhere?

In resolving this vital question, the government must win the trust of the people by being consistent and credible in what it says and does, matching its words with action and display a genuine and sincere desire to resolve this vital question once and for all. The need of the hour for such a step is a high level of statesmanship and President Rajapaksa is quite capable of doing the job with the same political will he displayed in eradicating terrorism and uniting all Sri Lanka.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE NEED FOR PEOPLE TO KNOW OF EDUCATIONAL REFORMS

is certainly never a dull moment in our country especially because quite often Ministers and politicians make drastic statements and take decisions which makes one wonder whether they come from authoritative sources or whether it is their own personal views and actions. For instance there was the very controversial leadership skill training for university entrants; in fact it appeared to be something like the outbound courses which were used by  some commercial firms to teach  team spirit etc, though why on earth young university entrants should learn to scale walls (and many of them sprained their ankles)  unless of course it was a means to train them to  get out of sight if any law enforcing forces entered the university premises to break up some demonstration or other!

Surely before such courses were implemented would it not have been better to consult academics, university staff and educationalists as to what type of course was needed for these young university entrants. One cannot lay the blame of the contents of the training course on the services because they would not have really been trained to train these youngsters. I remember a time when recruits to the foreign services underwent a period of  three months training at BMICH and BCIS on various aspects of diplomacy and there were senior diplomats who were available as the lecturers. How on earth trained army officials could train young university entrants as patterns of university education is a bit difficult to understand because they are regimented in army training and not on the needs of academic thinking and behaviour.

 Then again the promised computers for those who had undergone this training has not yet materialized. Furthermore one does not know whether any charge will be levied for these computers when and if they are given. Instead could not the Education Ministry have made provision for school bags to be given free or at a very nominal fee to school kids, for if a parent has about three children attending schools just imagine the cost they would have to meet? Then last year in order to bring uniformity  in certain schools, children had to purchase shoes too from the school once again the parents would have to meet the burden of these costs. Considering these factors it appears that the education department feels that uniformity in externals is more essential than in providing the other facilities needed for the school to function effectively !

The high powered bureaucrats in the Ministry of Higher Education now have stated that the English tests will be online tests. One wonders  how many of these young university entrants especially from rural schools have computers to do online tests and again what facilities have been put in to prevent another student using the same online replies on the computer of a student who is highly proficient in English.

Really our education system was said to be reorganized and streamlined so that students and young graduates would be trained to be employable instead of starting from a rudimentary level we appear to be making plans to have the education systems prevailing in highly developed countries forgetting that the majority of schools don't have even the basic facilities or even the teachers to teach the compulsory subjects efficiently. In fact a newspaper report said that a little child in a rural school presented the President with a letter stating that the only English teacher in the school had been transferred and no-one has been yet appointed to take her place. Surely the Directors of Education should be aware of such instances.

Further many primary schools were closed down so that secondary schools can be developed again one wonders whether rural children in marginalized areas will now even receive the basic education they obtained from the primary school in the area. And as the education department is very apt in stating that the closure of many schools is due to non-attendance of students have the official ever attempted to   find out why these schools do not have sufficient students is the lack of facilities and proper administration .There was a time when school inspectors regularly visited schools and each teacher had to present weekly reports for the principal's signature of the subject matter taught in each class. Today all this has gone by the board. 

Then again we have the Education departments stating that children should study four languages whether it is in addition to the present study of English and Tamil  was not that clear but apparently according to a recent radio news report the education ministry was said to introduce the study if Chinese , Hindi and Korean to the school curricular !

Perhaps it is time that the Education Ministry decided to present a white paper on Educational reforms and reorganization Both the Ministry of Higher Education and that of Education should combine their expertise for this project. For primary education must finally lead to tertiary or Higher education and university education so to consider each of their ministries as water tight departments is not really in keeping with the President's vision in the Mahinda Chintana. 

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THIS IS BBC CALLING - NOW CLICK ON TO CHANNEL 4

n Air, BBC answers to a London Call for Aunty Beeb. Her Randy Niece is Channel 4.Both live off portions of state licensing revenues while Aunty is the recipient of government grants; Aunty and Niece have to street walk to collect funds to survive - sources being predominantly fat cat corporations. Diaspora are lavish on pleasing the media. The young lass is an easier and cheaper prey to solicit than the aged relative. They live on the pride of a self proclaimed holy trinity of -objectivity, impartiality and balance- in a reality show, cause for mirth! It's like a call to a nun in a convent and hear a bar girl at a pub, speak.

Editor of Daily Mirror Piers Morgan published photographs of Iraqi prisoners being abused by British soldiers. The military labelled them as fakes and editor was sacked instantly by the proprietor on a demand by their American shareholders. In stepped, BBC in News Night (BBC2 May 14,2004), where Melanie Phillips called editor's conduct "treachery against the interest of the country and a lie which puts our troops in such an appalling light is unforgivable". BBC 2 (14.May 2004) reported "It's time the ego of one editor is measured against the life of a soldier".

In House of Lords the question was asked "what action including criminal charges, does the government anticipate will be taken against the editor?" The scene is reminiscent of Sri Lanka. BBC/Channel 4 finds us guilty on material provided by hostile parties without placing the charge before the accused. Not so, in a case where their men are in uniform -they are summarily exonerated. Brits stand up for the cross of St.George in the 'cotton fields' of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya where civilians are slaughtered like lambs by flying objects. 

Later it was established that the photographs were indeed fabricated. With those reminiscences, why did the UK Minister Alistair Burt ("shocked by horrific scenes"-soothing balm on Diaspora voters) mindful of the issues raised by experts on the authenticity of the video clips in Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, rush to judgment?  Sri Lankan press barons do not treat their editorial material as disposable syringes or our tongue loose Ministers do not insult friendly commonwealth countries  - certainly not until a fact is proved. If a newspaper office here, did the same, editors guilds around the globe  would have raised cain.

Red Cross reported from Iraq (Guardian May14,2004)"Following the arrest, men were made to kneel, face and hand against the ground, as if in a prayer position. The soldiers stamped on the back of the necks of those raising head". Later (Media Lens, 19 May 2004) they were moved to the office of the secret police of Saddam Hussein and were severely beaten resulting in deaths. Is Channel 4 short of footage to produce a documentary on exploits where US and UK soldiers kill civilians as a daily routine in their playing fields of war? Probably to them it is 'just cricket' played according to the rules of the MCC. Is that the 'neutral' and 'dispassionate' reporting, which they boast of?

Esteemed British medical journal Lancet on research by Colombia University, New York (2003) reported 100000 more Iraqi civilians died due to the invasion:84 percent of deaths were the acts of the Coalition Forces, 95 per cent of which were due to air artillery attacks. Mostly,  they were women and children.

Channel 4 in a patriotic module questioned Lancet's 100000 civilian deaths in Channel 4 News (October 29,2004) "without bodies can we trust the body count?... Given the worsening security situation it'll be a long time before we have an accurate picture for civilian losses, if ever....Definition of a civilian is not clear" is diametrically opposite the stand on Sri Lanka's alleged 40000 civilian deaths projected by them. Forked tongues do wag.

On the Iraq body check by Lancet, Channel 4 science reporter Tom Clarke defended the British Government by declaring "But the study's main weakness, and the one highlighted by Downing Street in dismissing today's figures, is that it multiplies a small sample across the whole of Iraq.A country at war, where people are aggrieved and displaced from their homes, makes household based surveys far less accurate" Fancy that, on 40000 civilian deaths in Sri Lanka, Channel 4 proclaims it without any basis, a pure hallucination number provided by the Diaspora and their foreign press legion , reflected in the Darusman Report. Where is the standard set for Iraq..."without bodies can we trust the body count"?. Interpretation is your pleasure and prerogative.

New Statesman (November 15,2004) reviewed Channel 4 body count to comment: "The BBC framed the report in terms of the government's 'doubts' and Channel 4 delivered a hatchet job, based on Downing Street briefing". Indeed, their master's voice on her majesty's service.   

NATO Forces in Serbia bombed 33 hospitals,344 schools,144 major industrial plants in addition to churches,mosques, hotels, museums, libraries, theatres,farms including a passing passenger train and the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 78 days of continuous bombing.(www.lancet.com). Civilian deaths are irrelevant and military targets are immaterial, where NATO Forces operate. The death of the first US soldier in Afghanistan, Nathan Campbell received more media space than the aggregate deaths of all civilians. Concerns of the West can be measured by the reading shown on a foot-ruler beside the news print. If a single American dies it is front page news; if scores of Afghan civilians die due to cluster bombs-it is not worth a mention.

Government sources quote, Channel 4 has published 30 reports on Sri Lanka's war against terrorism in addition to 4 video clips predominantly highlighting atrocities allegedly committed by the Security Forces.In its 27 year existence Channel 4 has failed to give similar prominence to any of the long list of war crimes committed by the LTTE though deemed a terrorist organization by 33 countries. Asking why is as benign as begging Transparency International to do an audit?

Did they ever report that all 595 child combatants were handed back to their parents after rehabilitation and of the 11598 LTTE senior combatants that  surrendered 6130 are back home  after being reconditioned to enter the mainstream of the society? More facts in favour are downstream. Naturally, hostility prevails after three of Channel 4 journalists were deported, found fixing a falsely concocted documentary film on the situation in Sri Lanka in April 2009.

In Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, US troops attacked its main hospital,shot the medical staff and patients, hit travelling ambulances, prevented the safe passage of emergency blood and medical supplies.Doctors narrated the killing of women and children carrying white flags. BBC reported none of it (John Pilger in his foreword to "Guardians of Power") that made critics call BBC....B)ush and B(lair) Corporation. Security Forces engaged in the world's largest hostage rescue operation on the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon were accused of attacking unmarked temporary LTTE medical centers and Aunty Beeb rushed to call for an international inquiry. NATO's 33 bombed hospitals in Serbia seemed to have faded into BBC's disturbed Alzheimer mindset.

The list is too long on BBC/Channel 4 misdemeanor, one writing is insufficient.

Are we on the brink of making a blunder too long by giving space to the LLRC -the all purpose vehicle- to report in mid November after the Human Rights Council gathers in mid September with the guillotine in hand to commit us to inquiry? Though respected, it's another over 60 elders club, inclined towards slumber time. A speedy interim report recommending a detailed domestic mechanism must be placed before the Government and implemented forthwith. LLRC has to cure the Government's lack of intellectual gravy; more interested in collecting flysmile bonus points doing their homework. Sri Lankans both at home and abroad do more to improve the image for the love of the country than our embassy staff.

At war, fight was against the LTTE; on war crimes we are pitted against the might that supported the LTTE silently from the sidelines.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

CHANNEL-4 AND HIDDEN PAWS

This is not the first time Channel-4 was eager to show its over-brimming media generosity towards the LTTE – which is struggling to rise from its grave -- nor will this be the last. But the question as to why the UK based channel could not extend a similar degree of sympathy towards the innocent civilians, who became victims of ruthless suicide attacks by the LTTE, is very much worth pursuing.

The documentary, irrespective of the credibility of its content, humiliates the government's efforts to provide maximum protection for the civilians and minimize human casualties during the time of the conflict. The two UN officials who come on the programme, blame only the government when they were asked to leave Killinochchi in view of insufficient security. Their sensationalizing of the situation could not have sounded more unreal.

Footage, taken at different times and places, does not verify the culprits as Sri Lankan armed forces, nor does it give valid evidence that the alleged 'deliberate government fire' was the shelling by the army and not the LTTE. Whatever goes into the army's account comes in the form of commentary given by the speakers. Besides, the technology is not unimaginably advanced to recognize a face of a person whose back is turned to the camera, nor have they come under proper identification process. After all, it had been a tactic of the LTTE terrorists to disguise themselves in army uniforms when they went in front of civilians to commit an act of atrocity.

Channel-4 not only ridicules the government's declaration of a 'No Fire Zone', but goes on to show that it was a convenient death-trap set by the forces who were eager to reach the end of war. The footage shows very little of how the LTTE was using the hapless civilians as human shields, and the efforts made by the army to rescue those who were crossing the lagoon waters.

While many Sri Lankan expatriates express their concern over the damage it is causing to the newly built image of the island nation, some travel and tour experts have predicted a possible drop-out in the number of tourists who will seek Sri Lanka as their leisure or business destinations. Situation being thus, the government should know better than to vehemently shake its head at the allegations or use it as a cheap booster of patriotism. In fact, it should have a proper diplomatic and technical mechanism to counter the allegations raised by the LTTE hidden paws.

After the programme was aired on July 14, it was re-screened by numerous Tiger-friendly channels in several parts of the globe. The documentary, viewed as a campaigning effort by the pro-LTTE groups who are trying to blow a breath of life to the dead terrorist outfit, is said to have been funded by them. However, one finds it easy to believe this considering the reputation of Channel-4 in the UK as a money-chasing media organization and the thick pockets of the pro-LTTE high profiles who live worldwide.

The long and short of it is that Channel-4 found a stale plot and made a drama. Even though the scenes were not well-connected and the lines have their loose ends they staged it well enough to attract the attention of powerful world bodies who are big enough to put pressure on Sri Lanka. It is very unlikely that United Nations Secratary General Ban ki-Moon will keep his silence just because Sri Lanka is endorsing his second term, or India will play the ice princess with the increasing international pressure.

In fact, Channel-4 has got it all wrong when in the introduction it says, the government wants people to believe that Sri Lanka is a 'beautiful place.' Perhaps the Channel-4 crew hasn't done much homework to realize that Sri Lanka is a beautiful place even with the blobs of mud thrown at its image by the likes of it.

Who could not notice Gordon Weiss' suppressed snigger at the utterance of 'war crimes'? After all, the true rescue mission was not a collection of patchwork videos!

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

IMPRECISE NATO

O will, perhaps, call it collateral damage. The death of innumerable civilians in a wayward sortie over the skies of the capital, Tripoli, is highly condemnable. The point is why can't the world's largest and hugest military muscle operate with precision, if it is ever obsessed to go ahead with a military solution of the politico-governance dispute in Libya?

Such acts of death and destruction, and that too civilian in nature, are not only against the spirit of the United Nations mandate that is limited in operation against the rogue regime, but also highly anti-human in nature. Irrespective of whether a solution is found for Libya, as and when, these berserk NATO acts are accountable and shouldn't slip under the excuse of militaristic exigencies.This foul play at the hands of NATO is momentarily building into a rebellion against the Western intervention. And, of course, this will inevitably prove to be a blessing in disguise for the barbaric regime.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who is callously secure in one of his hideouts, and has the audacity to play a game of chess with visiting international dignitaries', has little to lose. He is already a spent force as far as his utility as a national leader and international recognition is concerned, but his staying put in power will come at the expense of poor Libyans who are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea phenomenon. The United Nations and the obsessive European powers, especially Britain and France, primary intention was to buoy the wave of freedom and democracy in Libya, and maneuver the exit of the dictator for the collective betterment of the mineral-and-oil rich North African country. But that agenda seems to have gone amiss. The literal bifurcation of Libya in to rebel and Gaddafi controlled zones, and the ineffective no-fly zone that has cost too dearly, is a saga to say the least.

This phase of indecision and confusion over Libya has to come to an end. The foremost thing that needs to be done is to highly coordinate military moves, in order to ensure that civilians and public-private installations are saved from mindboggling adventures from the skies.

Khaleej Times

e precision, there is no point in pressing the trigger for point scoring. Irrespective of the fact whether Gaddafi is accounted for his four decades of crimes or not, NATO will be in the same dock for maiming Libyans with impunity.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

TNA REVISITING TAMIL CHAUVINISM'S GAME PLAN OF MAY 14, 1976?

 

flict, like all conflicts, was a monumental tragedy.  Like all tragedies it came with costs.  People died.  Property was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands were displaced. Thousands were maimed. Some scars healed, some never will.  No community in this island was spared.  No one, however, suffered as much as the Tamils, i.e. those who lived in the primary conflict zone (those who fled these areas to Colombo and preferred destinations in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand can't claim to be too unhappy – they are not returning in droves to the 'traditional homelands' now that the guns have gone silent).

There's a pathway to war.  There are contributors. There are co-conspirators. They are those who give two-cents and those who give millions. They are those who learn and those who repeat error.  There are those who are ignorant and those who are persuaded by mal-intent.  There are those who have aspirations, who take legitimate grievance, pad it up, dress it in the colours of aspiration and based on this monumental lie that has been carefully constructed declare war for non-addressing of 'grievance', even long after the original issue has been resolved.

 It is no secret that Tamil politicians wanted a separate state. Such 'wanting' is not illegitimate.  The Vadukoddai Resolution of May 14, 1976, authored by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam is a classic expression of dressing up aspiration as grievance.  This piece of paper does not require fresh rubbishing.  What is important is the fact that it contributed in great part to creating 'need' for a separate state among Tamil people, fed 'logic' to this newly constructed need and shamelessly preyed on the emotions of the ill-informed.

'And this Convention calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of TAMIL EELAM is reached.'

There was 'flourish' in that conclusion.  There was no flourish when the script was played to its logical end.  It was a recipe for a tragic outcome.  This particular delicacy was consumed for the next thirty 33  years.  It was all done on May 18, 2009.  There is only one lesson that is relevant: that path leads to Nandikadal Lagoon.

 

I re-read the Vadukkoddai Resolution a short while ago after I heard that the Tamil National Alliance was calling for a re-merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.   M.K. Sivajilingam is the TNA candidate for the Velvittithurai Urban Council.  He's a politician and he's playing the part to perfection. That's the kindest interpretation I can think of at this point.  I don't know whether he speaks for the TNA.  He has stated that the North-East merger had not been mentioned in the proposals submitted by the TNA to the Government regarding reconciliation.

The Tamil National Alliance has a history.  It was birthed, bathed, baptized, fed, breathed and lived Tamil chauvinism and separatism.  Its manifesto in 2001 was a wishy-washy re-hash of the Vadukoddai Resolution. The 2004 manifesto was an unabashed expression of servility to the LTTE.  To this date, the TNA has not engaged in any self-criticism over its past including its shameless 'tongue-tiedness' regarding atrocities committed by the LTTE.  To this date, the official website of the TNA carries the 'Eelam Map' that was on the LTTE flag. To this date, the TNA fails to acknowledge that history, demography and geography (never mind political 'doability' and economic sense) rebel against separatism, including devolution of power to existing provincial boundaries. To this date, the TNA has not worked out the logic of devolution (with or without re-merger) when more than half the Tamil population lives outside the North and East, large swathes of the Eastern Province remain non-Tamil etc.

 The TNA has not, will not and cannot deal with the objections to the assertions of the Vadukoddai Resolution, its unadulterated chauvinism, intellectual dishonesty and political demagoguery.

 All this may be 'so-what' as far as the TNA is concerned, I concede.  Politicians and political parties are seldom interested in truth and honesty.  They prey on insecurity and innocence.   The TNA forgets that the path that Chelvanayakam chartered for Tamil chauvinism not only saw its key articulators such as A. Amirthalingam being slaughtered by Chelvanayakam's political heirs, but many Tamil politicians found it impossible to live, die or even be buried in the so-called 'traditional homelands'.

A lot of Sinhalese people died over the past 30 years.  Some 27,000 combatants died.  Thousands perished in terrorist attacks carried out by the sons and daughters of the Vadukoddai Resolution.  More Tamils died.  More Tamil civilians were killed by the LTTE than by the Sri Lankan security forces.  One in every ten Muslim in this island became an IDP.   That's the end-count of the process that the Vadukoddai Resolution precipitated.  And that's where the TNA insists we should all travel towards, a second time!

 Sivajilingam talks about re-merging the North and East.  The 13th Amendment carved this country into 8 parts. The Supreme Court made it 9.  The security forces turned it back to ONE COUNTRY.  Considering the costs incurred by us all, I doubt anyone will want a re-playing of this terrible, terrible tragedy.  That, however, seems to be what the TNA wants.

 There are some numbers the TNA must not forget.  They are asking for control of ONE-THIRD the land mass and HALF the coastline for SIX PERCENT of the population!  Even if every Tamil in this country decides to go live in the so-called 'traditional homelands' this still amounts to LAND THEFT.  Sivajilingam just cannot expect the peace-loving people of this country (many of whom have lost loved ones in the struggle to eliminate the terrorist threat and many who have suffered immense deprivations courtesy of their self-appointed representatives)  not to object and, if it comes to that, to fight.

 I am wondering what Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran has to say about all this. 

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

LIFE EXPECTANCY RISING ... BUT  

BY ALYSSA SEWLAL

 

In the early 1950s, life expectancy at birth for the world was about 46.6 years. For 2010-2015, it is projected at 68.9. In Asia, it was 41.2 in 1950-1955 and is expected to reach 70.3 for 2010-2015.

Birth rates have decreased in many parts of the world, resulting in a demographic shift where the population above 60 is growing rapidly. However, in developing nations where this is happening, governments with limited resources have a short span of time to ensure they have effective retirement income schemes.

India has nearly 80 million elderly people, a number set to increase considerably in coming years. Advances in education, medicine, sanitation and family planning have a lot to do with it. As well as affecting how long people live, the advances have also changed social dimensions, particularly the joint family system.

Adult children have continued to live with their parents or in-laws, and ensure their care in old age.

But this is changing as the economy develops, leaving this population in a precarious situation. Informal old-age income support systems have been available, so a state pension has hardly been extended, and until recently denied to the workforce in the informal economy.

Employees' State Insurance Corporation in India insurance commissioner Bimal Kanti Sahu says policy-makers have suggested reviving the joint family system by enacting laws that force adult children to take care of their elderly parents and relatives. But, he says, these may exacerbate the problem. Others have suggested strengthening the requirement that the working population save for their retirement. India will have to find a balance between traditional family support and self-support in the form of pension and other schemes.

An International Labour Organisation (ILO) report shows the challenge of caring for an increasingly elderly population is an issue for developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. As in India, this means the resources of these countries are being stretched.

As the report says, the problem is compounded by the fact that a vast number of senior citizens are employed in the informal economy and have little or no access to any contributory social security schemes; this means it must be a priority to address the issues of social security provision.

Where the development discourse once focused on limiting social expenditure, it is now understood that it is necessary for growth. The report says social protection programmes, particularly social security pensions, rather than being a hindrance to economic development, have proven "very effective in preventing poverty and social insecurity throughout an individual's life cycle"; moreover, they fulfil a vital role as an economic stabiliser.

Financial institutions and economists argue social security programmes are unaffordable in developing countries. But if crises are good for anything, it is to demonstrate how valuable social security benefits and assistance are to the most vulnerable. The truth is, says the report, a basic social protection package is affordable in all countries, costing, if appropriately designed, a small percentage of GDP. The key may be to implement these programmes gradually to be successful.

Social security has been a defining element of industrialised countries, easing the blow of not only life-cycle crises, but also economic ones, and serving to reduce income inequalities. There are reasons why emerging and developing countries need to implement universal social security programmes, in particular the fact that if nothing is done, they will face a vast number of elderly people living in poverty. But it is important, says Sahu, to recognise the extent to which the ageing population have contributed in their younger days to their countries' development, and ensure they live out their lives with dignity.

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ENTRAPPING INNOCENT MUSLIMS

BY STEPHEN LENDMAN

 

A recent New York University School of Law Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) report is titled, "Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the 'Homegrown Threat' in the United States."

Post-9/11, Muslims have been ruthlessly targeted. Paid informants have infested mosques and their communities to entrap them. As a result, over 200 were persecuted on bogus terrorism related charges. Despite "touting these cases as successes in the so-called war against terrorism....former (FBI) agents, local lawmakers," and many others "have begun questioning the legitimacy and efficacy" of entrapping innocent victims for political advantage.

CHRGJ discussed several high-profile cases, using well-paid informants often performing services in return for reduced charges or sentences they face, a powerful incentive to cooperate.

Nearly always, Washington invents plots foiled in the nick of time, entrapping innocent victims with no intent to commit crimes. America's media headline them. The public feels safer with no idea they've been scammed or that blameless citizens and residents are falsely charged.

In fact, calling Muslims "potential threats" or "homegrown terrorists" violates core constitutional freedoms. Nonetheless, it's now common law enforcement practice assuming that:

-- Muslims are more likely to become terrorists;

-- they're increasingly "radicalized" and compelled to commit violence in the name of Islam; and

-- counterterrorism policies should identify and stop them before they act.

In fact, research contradicts these notions. Moreover, relying on them violates fundamental human rights long ago discarded for political and judicial expediency. As a result, Muslims most often face terrorism charges because "they hate us" or other spurious reasons.

Muslim men (and "Muslim looking people) are especially vulnerable. In addition, Muslim culture and religious practices are also cited as indicators of potential terrorism. As a result, they're maliciously targeted, surveilled, investigated, entrapped, charged, unjustly prosecuted, and convicted.

Notably, a 2007 NYPD report titled, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat" popularized these beliefs, using "thinly sourced, reductionist" notions, claiming:

"the path to terrorism has a fixed trajectory and that each step of the process has specific, identifiable markers," despite no corroborating evidence. In fact, research suggests the opposite, exposing racist, discriminatory beliefs and practices.

In fact, Washington uses these notions maliciously, targeting innocent Muslims for their faith and ethnicity. Moreover, in February, Senator Joe Lieberman called on the National and Homeland Security Councils to develop "a comprehensive national approach to countering homegrown radicalization to violent Islamist extremism.

In March, Rep. Peter King chaired a racist congressional hearing, duplicitously claiming radicalized Muslims are increasing at an alarming rate, endangering U.S. security. In fact, the only law enforcement witness testifying refuted his accusations.

Most alarming is that Obama's Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FBI, and Justice Department (DOJ) all embrace racist radicalization notions to entrap innocent victims with "preventive" policing nearly always with no evidence of wrongdoing. Instead of pursuing criminals, they target people for their faith, religious practices, and appearance unjustly, using well-paid informant snitches.

Post-9/11, repressive laws were enacted to facilitate the process, "resulting in the criminalization of a range of behaviors (not) indicative of....intent to commit...violent crime(s)." At the same time, law enforcement powers were recklessly expanded in violation of constitutional rights. As a result, abusive practices proliferated against Muslims, making it the wrong time for them to be here, even native born ones .

Using informants to illegally entrap is especially alarming when no legal limits constrain the targeting of one segment of society. Because of earlier COINTELPRO and other abuses, Attorney General Edward Levi (in 1976) established Guidelines "proceeding from the proposition that Government monitoring of individuals or groups because they hold unpopular or controversial views is intolerable in our society."

However, they eroded steadily, notably post-9/11, so today virtually anything goes extra-legally on the pretext of national security. In 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey's Guidelines were profoundly lawless, authorizing informants, surveillance, and other abusive practices in cases involving no suspected criminality.

For example, FBI agents may direct informants to collect names, emails, phone numbers, and other information about devout mosque attendees, based only on their religiosity.

Specifically, intrusive "assessments" may be made in situations with no "information or....allegations indicating" wrongdoing or threat to national security. As a result, groups or meetings infiltrated covertly, attendees questioned casually, and physical surveillance of "homes, offices and individuals" conducted extra-legally.

The FBI's Domestic Investigative Operational Guidelines (DIOGs) are used this way without supervisory approval or constraints on abusive practices. As a result, virtually anything goes, primarily against one segment of society, creating a troubling law enforcement standard common in police states unencumbered by laws.

Moreover, even though the 2003 DOJ Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies bans profiling by race and ethnicity, it implicitly permits doing so for faith and national origin purposes, as well as targeting anyone for national and border security purposes.

The Mukasey Guidelines also permit illegal entrapment and other abusive practices. As a result, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies lawlessly target Muslim communities to identify potential terrorists. In fact, New York city guidelines specifically permit intrusive investigations of "potential terrorist activity before an unlawful act occurs."

Unconstrained informants are used, subject only to Deputy Commissioner of the Intelligence Division directives. As a result, "NYPD has become a leading advocate for law enforcement based on the flawed radicalization model," authorizing illegal acts, including "inducement(s)....to engage in criminal" activity to facilitate entrapment.

FBI guidelines also authorize expansive powers, including targeting individuals or groups for their views or religious practices. Critics include former FBI counterterrorism agent (now ACLU Senior Policy Counsel) Mike German, saying "the FBI (is) out of compliance with its (own) guidelines to an extraordinary extent," by providing few checks on illegal practices, including entrapment.

It occurs when law enforcement officials or agents induce, influence, or provoke crimes that otherwise wouldn't be committed. However, it doesn't apply in willing lawlessness instances, government merely aiding, abetting, or facilitating chances to do so.

Specifically, it involves:

-- government officials or agents initiating the idea; then

-- persuading individuals to discuss, plan or commit actions they otherwise never intended.

To convict, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt no entrapment was used. In fact, it's common against innocent people, especially Muslims targeted for political or other reasons.

CHRGJ concluded that "types of evidence relied upon by the government in terrorism-related prosecutions are highly prejudicial, and build on the conflation of Muslim religious practice, political opinions critical of U.S. foreign policy, and (alleged) terrorism. The prejudicial nature of relying on such evidence is magnified" by entrapment, claiming defendants' are predisposed to commit crimes, based on fabricated, secret, or other evidence to prejudice, pressure, and intimidate juries to convict.

Based on empirical research, however, no link exists between religion or political views and a propensity to commit violent acts. Nonetheless, most convictions result from bogusly conflating them as proof of "intent or predisposition."

As a result, victims are usually defenseless against abusive government practices, including through wrongful conviction civil rights lawsuits right-wing courts rule against or disallow, especially in national security related cases involving alleged terrorism or conspiracy to commit it.

CHRGJ covered several case examples, including David Williams, one of "the Newburgh Four (NY)", bogusly charged with plotting to blow up a Bronx synagogue and shoot down military aircraft with Stinger surface-to-air missiles. Using an FBI sting, an informant was lawlessly used to entrap them. Despite no plot or crime, they were arrested, charged and convicted.

A final comment

CHRGJ said "practices described in the Report raise serious concerns about the U.S. government's compliance with its international human rights obligations," including rights to a fair trial, non-discrimination, freedom of expression, religion, and other rights under U.S. and international law.

Federal, state, and local enforcement agencies systematically violate them to target and convict unjustly, sending innocent victims to prison for being Muslims in America at the wrong time, leaving everyone just as vulnerable.

As a result, it's "proved impossible for" victims "to gain redress" at a time imperial priorities take precedence. Its ravages are felt abroad and at home, especially by Muslim families.

Wives lose husbands, children their fathers, and wrongfully convicted Muslim men their freedom, some for decades or the rest of their lives to satisfy America's lust for conquest and domination, no matter the human cost.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TURKEY ON THE PATH OF DEMOCRACY

BY GHOLAM ALI LATIFI

 

Turkey's ruling party, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won 326 seats in the recent parliamentary election. This victory means that the party can continue its efforts to improve the Turkish economy and raise the country's stature in the international arena and move forward with the process of demilitarizing Turkish politics.

However, Erdogan and his colleagues in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) were not able to win the two-thirds of the seats of the 550-member parliament required to make amendments to the constitution on their own. Therefore, the AKP will require the cooperation of other parties in the parliament to deal with issues such as the Kurdish minority.

Based on the percentage of the vote the various parties received and the increase in the number of seats they have won, many political observers in Turkey believe that the recent election was in fact a general victory for all groups that participated in the election. All groups have gained a proper voice in the parliament and no party has achieved the supermajority required to amend the constitution.

Although 15 political parties participated in the recent election, the main competition was between the three major parties, the AKP, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the People's Republic Party, led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and the Nationalist Movement Party, led by the Devlet Bahceli. An alliance formed by other independent political groups, mainly composed of Kurdish activists, was also among the main contenders.

According to current Turkish law, parties that fail to gain at least 10 percent of the vote are excluded from parliament and receive no seats. The opponents of this law believe it is actually a pretext to prevent the minority Kurds from having a say in the parliament. Therefore, the unaffiliated independent candidates formed an alliance in the recent election to thwart the plot.

The decision by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- founded by Abdullah Ocalan and currently led by Murat Karayilan -- to boycott the June 12 election was one of the other surprises of the recent poll. But the boycott was not welcomed in the Kurdish regions and six out of ten Kurdish voters cast a ballot for the AKP.

The presence of women candidates on the lists of all parties was quite impressive, resulting in the election of 78 women, who now constitute 14 percent of the legislature. Women held 10 percent of the seats in the previous parliament. The election of six candidates currently incarcerated in prison was another interesting feature of the recent election.

In addition to the unprecedented democratic reform it enacted, Erdogan's government has completely transformed Turkey's economic and social landscape, and now, with a GDP of about 800 billion dollars, Turkey is a member of the G-20.

However, Erdogan's opponents accuse him of using this success to acquire power and consolidate his position and the AKP's position.

Many believe that the victory of the AKP in three consecutive parliamentary elections is the direct result of Erdogan's leadership, which is based on his strong business instincts and his charismatic character. And many of his supporters regard Erdogan as the new sultan of modern Turkey.

However, his opponents say, "Sir, do not think so much of yourself. God is greater than you." This attitude arose in response to the extreme overconfidence displayed by Erdogan and the other members of his party, who were quite certain that they would win the two-thirds of the seats of parliament required to amend the constitution.

Right after the election, Erdogan implicitly asked for the help of other parties, and promised that he and his party would modestly consult with all the opposition groups to pave the way for the drafting of a new constitution. It is in fact a new beginning on the path of establishing a real democracy in Turkey.

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE FLEECING OF GREECE

BY DAVID D'AMATO

 

"Greek workers of all ages and professions, pensioners, students, the old and young," Reuters reports, "marched on parliament in Athens Wednesday to vent their anger at the country's politicians and their austerity plans."

The demonstrations, notable for their non-violent and non-political character, come in response to tax hikes, budget cuts and foreign creditors' demands that Greece sell off public assets. In the streets, though, "the ordinary people" see themselves as making all the sacrifices while the political class sits pretty.

The inescapable truth is that austerity measures in Greece punish laborers for the structural imbalances of the corporate state, an economic system that has proved fruitful for the very elites now talking budget cuts. And although free market types are perceived by many -- and very often rightfully so -- as harboring a reflexive antipathy to public workers, libertarians ought to carefully consider what epithets like "tax-eater" mean within the current context.

The assumption of libertarians who castigate public workers on principle seems to be that, by working for public monopolies that steal from taxpayers, these workers are not "playing by the rules" of the free market. It may not have occurred to libertarians who see public workers' unions as the devil incarnate, but their corporate darlings are, in many cases, no more creatures of the free market than those government agencies.

The rules of a purely hypothetical, completely free market are selectively applied to ordinary, working folk who had this very unfree market thrust upon them. Greek workers didn't choose state capitalism's framework of anti-competitive privilege, nor are they its true beneficiaries, but they find themselves demonized for wanting decent pay.

Within the current economic system, the distinction between a state-owned and -operated "public" economic actor (like a school or transit system) and a state-protected and -favored "private" economic actor is frequently difficult to make out.

Some "private" firms -- for example, U.S. titans like and Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing -- make most of their money through direct relationships with government. But insofar as they "bid" for government contracts, we libertarians are asked to treat them as morally superior to government-owned enterprises. Even private companies that never contract with the state benefit from the government largess -- courtesy of the taxpayers of course -- in the form of direct and indirect subsidies.

So why do we so seldom hear apostles of the free market labeling their employees (let alone themselves) "tax-eaters?" The state has so critically adulterated and altered the marketplace, so distanced it from anything like a free market, that it's far more useful to ask the age-old question: Cui bono? At the risk of giving away the ending, the answer is plainly not the average worker.

If you want to be a fireman, a schoolteacher, or even a train conductor in most countries, Greece among them, you'll find scarce few options for doing so outside of "public employee parasitism." The state forcefully removes these areas of employment from the market, compelling the fireman to either change careers or take a paycheck from the hated state.

Surely monopolization of a particular service by the state puts the organization in a position of power relative to the consumer, but no less so to the hired worker, who has no other outlet for her talents. The windfall immanent in the monopoly price we pay for such services has, rather than accruing to the worker's benefit, been hoarded to the top of both the "private" and "public" sector pyramids.

The state capitalist system, with its inbuilt limitations on labor bargaining power, is a racket of, by and for the bosses. As the market anarchist Francis D. Tandy sardonically quipped of the argument that state ownership would improve conditions for workers: "Oh, yes, State ownership will certainly prevent strikes! The workers then won't have even that chance, poor as it is, of bettering their condition."

For now, we're stuck with the state and its plutocracy. We would do well as anarchists, then, to actively vilify that plutocracy in Greece and everywhere else, showing that a genuine free market would end victimization of the working class.

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