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Friday, June 24, 2011

EDITORIAL 24.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month june 24, edition 000867, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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































































































Now that the Central Board of Direct Taxes will investigate allegations of unaccounted wealth against Mr KG Balakrishnan, it is time that the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission quit his job. We are yet to find the truth behind the various charges levelled against him but the fact that they have been slapped on him while he holds a statutory post is reason enough for him to gracefully relinquish charge and then fight his legal battles. By holding onto his position, he will only tarnish the reputation of the high office he holds. Mr Balakrishnan's decision to voluntarily resign is all the more crucial because there is no other immediate way by which he can be eased out of office. The Government could have sought his removal under the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 on grounds of proven misconduct but that too is not applicable since the alleged misconduct does not relate to his tenure as NHRC chief. The allegations of illegal wealth pertain almost entirely to his term as the Chief Justice of India — a post he held immediately prior to taking over as NHRC chief. Mr Balakrishnan can of course refuse to resign stating that he cannot be punished on the basis of mere insinuation. But he must remember that this is not the first time that charges have been levelled against him. For months now reports hinting that he has illegally acquired assets in the name of his close relatives have been doing the rounds. This has already caused immense embarrassment to the institution he heads, if not to him. The alleged beneficiaries of his acquisitions have also not been spared as the reports made public all their details as well. Consequently, one of his relatives even lost his position within a political party. Moreover, Mr Balakrishnan has only made things worse by refusing to provide to an RTI applicant the income tax return that he had filed for the financial year 2007-08 on the pretext that he is not obliged to do so. But the issue here is not about the former Chief Justice of India's privileges and obligations; it is about what he ought to have done to clear the air. The fact that he has been reluctant to do so only adds to the suspicion of some serious wrongdoing.

Since the matter at hand deals with the idea propriety, of having a person with questionable credentials head the NHRC, it will be relevant to recall that as Chief Justice of India, Mr Balakrishnan had glossed over a complaint filed by a Madras High Court judge alleging that as Union Telecom Minister, A Raja had tried to influence him in a case. At the time, Mr Balakrishnan had said that the then Chief Justice of the High Court had not mentioned anything about A Raja while forwarding the judge's complaint. Later when the Madras High Court Chief Justice, who had by then moved on to the Supreme Court, contested Mr Balakrishnan's claim, they were found to be untrue. That episode still remains a blot on Mr Balakrishnan's professional profile. And that is not all. At a time when there is a popular demand for public servants to disclose information under the Right to Information Act, Mr Balakrishnan has claimed that judges are not public servants and, therefore, do not fall within the purview of the RTI. Irrespective of the legal strength of his claim, it is clear that Mr Balakrishnan does not believe in probity and transparency in public life.







Ten very long years ago when US troops first landed in Afghanistan to launch what was then known as Operation Enduring Freedom, they had two stated goals: First, to rid the nation of the ruling Taliban and destroy its sister organisation the Al Qaeda and second, to establish democratic rule in Afghanistan. On Wednesday when US President Barack Obama shared his plans for a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan where his country is still fighting its longest war yet, his announcement marked the beginning of the end of that war. There is much debate going on about Mr Obama's plans — 33,000 troops over a period of 15 months — and whether it as "deliberate" as the outgoing US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates would like it to be or if it significantly more than the "token amount" Vice President Joe Biden had warned against. But strangely, no one seems to ask the most important question: Has the US achieved either of its stated goals? Clearly, not. The Taliban is still very much around and there is the distinct possibility that as soon as the Americans leave, they will take back control and together with Pakistan, happily plan terrorist attacks against India; that is, of course, when they are not stoning women to death for sport. Years of targeted bombing and drone attacks has done little to weaken the Taliban who successfully regrouped in recent years. In 2009, Mr Obama even sent additional troops to fight a resurgent Taliban. At the time, he had promised that the surge would "disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat Al-Qaeda, break the momentum of the Taliban and stabilise Afghanistan" — just like he had promised that they would be out of Libya in a matter of days.

To be fair to Mr Obama, he did get the one 'bad guy' the civilised world had been gunning for: Osama bin Laden; but the death of the Al Qaeda chief is only a minor setback to the network. Perhaps, the only goal that the Americans have achieved, partially that too, is the establishment of democracy in Afghanistan. But then again, President Hamid Karzai's influence extends little beyond his presidential palace making the lawless country a regional liability. That the Americans are now negotiating with the Taliban — the very same people they went to war to destroy — is a telling comment. And then of course, there is Pakistan: The global exporter of terror that is also a US ally in the war on terror. What a mess! And now, they may not leave without cleaning it up. Sure, there is pressure on Mr Obama to 'bring back the boys' and and spend those war dollars at home where the economy is crumbling. Given that the 2012 Presidential elections are around the corner, he has good reason to give into those demands too but he must keep in mind what Admiral Mike Mullen said: "The job is not done".








Rearranging the global order in the interests of power brokers is not for the morally squeamish. To stand up and deliver is their driving motto.

Asked by a British reporter what he thought of Western civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi replied famously that he thought "it was a good idea". That was 80 years ago. There is less optimism on the Western ascendancy today, despite US President Barack Obama's rousing calls to the faithful to be of good cheer as they embrace the future.

But despair is abroad. Greece, once the cradle of Western civilisation, is in financial meltdown. Crowds throng the streets of Athens in violent and abusive mood at the severe austerity measures the Greek Government is required to undertake by diktat of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, otherwise the requested billion-dollar bailout package that stands between a default and precarious survival would be withheld. A Greek default could bring disaster to the entire European banking system, already laid low by dry rot, with an equally devastating prospect for European politics and the institutional arrangements that sustain it.

Signs elsewhere are far from propitious. Nero fiddling while Rome burned and Caligula's horse in occupation of a seat in the Roman Senate were tell-tale features of a state and empire beyond redemption. So how does one divine the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the IMF, as he awaits trial in a US court for breaking and entering, the salacious details to be revealed shortly from the witness box by an aggrieved New York hotel chamber-maid. What price Gallic gallantry and the disappearance of the silken Casanovan arts?

There is now recourse to the black art of imperial reconquest in Libya and other foreign fields in North Africa and the Gulf. As these operations carry the Anglo-French imprimatur — shades of Suez misadventure of October 1956 — they guarantee failure and bankruptcy. The unedifying spectacle of British troops chased out of the Iraqi port city of Basra by Shia jihadi levies, continuing British travails in Afghanistan, the futile gyrations against Colonel Gadaffi, and much else besides, are straining the treasury to breaking point. The ill-equipped, ineffectual British military is seeding declining morale among servicemen and women and their families. But Prime Minister David Cameron, ever the door-to-door salesman with the appropriate soundbite, presses on regardless. The opposition Labour Party is in perpetual labour with no credible policy in sight.

The Independent's columnist Matthew Norman summed up the situation with admirable honesty. "What more concrete evidence does anyone need that British power, hard and soft, is as risible as the lack of geopolitical strategic content? Neither convincingly in Europe nor out of it, we remain hitched to the United States as a client kingdom as the era of American supremacy hurriedly draws to its close. We suck up to the gerontocracy of Beijing, closing our eyes to its filthy human rights abuses, as we did to Libya's, Egypt's and once to Iraq, because China... recovering from the loss of one mighty empire is building another."

Apropos of the Obama visit to Britain and his appearance in Parliament, Peter Oborne, in the Right-wing Daily Mail, called the event "a national embarrassment... It took the President a long time to force his way through Westminster Hall after making his over-hyped speech. This was because each and every member of our political class wanted to talk to him or shake his hand. It was like teenagers surrounding a pop star... The face of John Bercow (the Speaker) as Obama spoke was a picture: Like many other members of the audience... he appeared to be undergoing a profound, mystical experience... Obama's rhetoric was impeccable as he spoke of how we 'stand squarely on the side of those who want to be free', and of how the 'longing for human dignity is universal'. But away from the gilded elite in Westminster Hall, these words make no sense." In other words, the verbal finery failed to conceal its essential vacuity.

Mr Norman suggested a British roadmap to sanity and common sense. This had to be predicated on relinquishing "the independent nuclear deterrent that is neither independent nor any kind of deterrent... We know that whatever minimal relevance Trident once had collapsed along with the Berlin Wall, and that it is retained solely as a cheap short cut, for all the billions wasted, to the familiar affectation of Great Power status. It is no coincidence that the missiles are shaped after the phallus. The system is no more than a geopolitical codpiece..." Which reminds me of an Oxford wit who, reacting to the cod war in the North Sea between Britain and some its neighbours, many moons ago, called for a cod peace as the solution to the divisive fishing dispute.

Meanwhile, the Coalition's eulogies on Britain's humanitarian mission to save Libyan lives, that includes,alas, the ritual aerial bombing of Libyan cities and towns, the rising costs of the exercise into many millions of pounds per week. More shaming is the lack of literacy among growing numbers of poor children in Britain's capital city, provoking the Evening Standard to launch a national appeal for funds to institute remedial measures. At the other end of the spectrum came news that the secretive Bilderberg Group, a Clockwork Orange syndicate of financiers, politicians, media controllers had met in closed session in Switzerland, with the Swiss police making sure that international protesters were kept at a respectable distance from the rarefied conclave.

Rearranging the global order in the interests of power brokers is not for the morally squeamish. To stand up and deliver is their driving motto. Expect, therefore, stock market manipulation, growing stories of insider trading, coups and counter-coups and myriad innovations of skulduggery that should keep the rumour mills frenetically active. It comes with the territory.

Mr Henry Kissinger has produced another of his voluminous works. His book On China is something of an apologia for a predatory totalitarian state with whom the Nixon Administration was joined at the hip in Pakistan's war with India in 1971. National Security Adviser Kissinger hoped to rope in Mao's China by enticing it to open a front against India, a fact verified by Patrick Tyler in his book, A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China. Mr Kissinger's proposition was relayed to Beijing by China's UN representative Huang Hua. The offer of US intervention in the eventuality of Soviet retaliation against China was politely declined, with the observation that Moscow had massed 40 nuclear-armed divisions on China's border, hence the risks for Beijing were considered too great.

The Chinese dragon is spitting fire over its exclusive claim to the South China Sea. What now, noble doctor?







There was widespread fear of political violence after the fall of the Left Front Government. Those oppressed by Marxist cadre were expected to strike back. But Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has held the peace, signalling change for the better

Having personally interacted with a considerable number of senior leaders who were taking a keen interest in West Bengal, I know there was one key speculation that was happening around Ms Mamata Banerjee before she threw the CPI(M) out of power recently after 34 years of Left Front rule. Of these 34 years, barring the great first 10 years, the rest can be easily termed as the greatest Stalinist rule in the history of independent India.

The speculation was that in world history, whenever such Stalinist rule of repression has ended, it has ended with a massive revenge mission with thousands of lives being lost, since those who have been oppressed and exploited for so long almost logically seek their pound of flesh. In the case of West Bengal, there is not one intellectual — including the strongest of supporters of Ms Banerjee — that I met who did not forecast massive bloodshed after her electoral win.

I was on a forum sometime back with Ms Banerjee where panelists were openly talking about this fear. And they had a point. Apart from history to support their point, they had one more reason: The grassroots workers who were now working for the Trinamool Congress comprised of a large number of former CPI(M) goons who had recently changed sides, yet not necessarily reformed their murderous character traits.

At the forum, when such speculation was being voiced, Ms Banerjee had a look of disdain, and quite rightly so. Here she was almost on the verge of creating history with her life of struggle and sacrifice, and there were these people who were questioning her even before she had arrived — almost negating the import of her humongous effort.

Cut to exactly a month after her historic win. All those critics are now biting the dust. In the last 30 days, if one considers that there are around 40,000 villages in West Bengal, then a minimum of one person dead per village, that is 40,000 deaths by now, would have been the scale of the expected massacre. Increase that ten times, and the figure of 4,00,000 deaths could have even made the potential massacre a repeat of Indonesia. However, the death count as of now is at 16.

This has been possible only due to Ms Banerjee's amazing leadership and genuine commitment to bringing about real change and make West Bengal violence-free. One of her statements that best highlighted the same was, "We want 'badal' (change) and not 'badla' (revenge)". The instruction to her party workers was very clear. No post-poll killings. In fact, she banned any kind of massive victory procession as well, to ensure that her instructions were adhered to. Today, a month later, it can be safely said that Ms Banerjee's leadership helped avoid a killing spree that was waiting to happen — and this is her single biggest achievement.

It, however, doesn't end at that. It's what she is doing on a daily basis by leading from the front that is creating the biggest impact. She starts her work sharp at 10 in the morning and ends office at 10 in the night. This means that the office staff, the bureaucracy... everyone is work ing hard. True, this cannot continue forever, but even if it continues for a few months, Bengal could be a changed placed in terms of the Government's work culture. She has kept some of the key portfolios with herself — like Health, Home, Hill Affairs, etc. And this, she is making full use of by starting the day with surprise visits to any and every place that concerns the Ministries in her hand. She has already visited six hospitals, caught doctors coming late and initiated strict action. Officials have no idea of who could be next in her firing line and are on their toes trying their best not to get caught on the wrong foot. Her genuine commitment has given the Gorkhaland leaders an opportunity to come to an agreement, because they are realising that her promises are not empty.

Currently, India's biggest internal security threat comes from the Maoists. However, if truth be told, this movement has more to do with the Government's lack of commitment towards ensuring access to health, employment and education to disadvantaged masses than anything else. This is exactly what Ms Banerjee also realises. After coming to power, she has shown her commitment to the Jungalmahal areas (Maoist infested forest areas) by increasing the minimum family income limit for access to the Rs 2 per kg rice from Rs 24,000 to Rs 42,000. What this ensures is that while previously, only families earning below Rs 24,000 could have obtained the low priced rice, now more families can do the same even if they earn more. Not just that, to ensure that this doesn't remain a promise on pen and paper only, she has introduced mobile ration vans which are go door to door and distribute rice. Thus nipping pilferage and black marketing in the bud.

And finally in the education sector , though not much has been done yet — after all, it's just a month that she has stepped in — she has already initiated the process of freeing Presidency College from the clutch of destructive student union activities. To bring back the institution's lost glory she has also appointed Mr Sugata Basu and Mr Amartya Sen as key mentors. No leader in post-independent India has perhaps shown this kind of a genuine sense of urgent commitment to real action. Her simple living, untarnished track record, her white saree and chappals and nonstop brisk walk from one corner of Bengal to another (accompanied with her most efficient administrative manager and leader Dola Sen) — it all comes together to set a huge example of genuine leadership that Indian politicians would do well to emulate. However, given the mess that the CPI(M) has left behind, the the road ahead is not going to easy at all.

-- The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian.







Indian establishment must pay heed to secret conclaves

Between January 26-30, the annual World Economic Forum meet was held at Davos in Switzerland. For more than four decades, politicians, business leaders, journalists and intellectuals have assembled at this ski resort at the beginning of each year to deliberate on the pressing issues facing mankind. The international media gives the event wide coverage. However, there is another annual high-powered meet of world leaders, international policy-makers, global bankers, think-tank analysts, MNC CEOs, British and European ruling elite/aristocracy, economists and selected journalists from the mainstream media, which, by convention, is held in complete secrecy in some part of Europe, usually. That secrecy is now being dispelled by inquisitive members of the fourth estate, independent politicos and civil activists, who feel that it is time that the confabulations became public knowledge as these may well be shaping the world's future.

Thus, in early June, hordes of journalists descended on the Suvretta Hotel in the Swiss town of St Moritz, where this exclusive band of invitees, known in popular parlance as the Bilderberg Group or Club, was holding parleys, and wining and dining behind closed doors. The meeting, held between June 9-12 this year, like the widely publicised Davos meets, is an annual ritual, involving the most influential and wealthy. Except that it is meant to be held in utmost secrecy, with the outside world never to have an inkling of the nature of the discussions. But with news getting around about this mysterious power cabal in recent years, a thriving industry of bestsellers, breaking news stories and conspiracy theories in the non-mainstream media, has grown around the Bilderberg Group. The Western mainstream Press and news channels have largely ignored it, reportedly because they are owned by members of the group!

Some British papers are an exception. This year, too, the Guardian extensively covered the event, posting a series of reports. Charlie Skelton, tongue in cheek, observed in 'Bilderberg 2011: The tipping point': "I've got a bit of a crush on the Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs. Move over Queen Beatrix. Fu Ying is my new postergirl. I can't help myself. She just seems so... fun. Always hopping about, taking photos of wild flowers, pointing at the view, laughing — she's like, I don't know, a normal person or something. I look at Ying and have to wonder if China's really such an oppressive place after all. It can't be! Not with people like lovely Fu Ying running it. I think we've been misinformed. Western lies. Fu is the real China."

Another entry on the Guardian site, dated June 18, states under the sub-heading 'BBC turns up!': "But only in the form of Marcus Agius, the senior non-executive director on the BBC's executive board. He's also chairman of Barclays, and extremely well connected. Here he is, queuing to get on a private jet home."

The tongue-in-cheek allusion to the Dutch Queen Beatrix needs to be clarified. She is an old-time Bilderberg member. The Dutch queen, in fact, is part of the core group as her father, King Bernhard, along with American tycoon David Rockefeller, is credited with being one of the principal architects of the power cabal, which derived its name from the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland. The first meeting of the group was held here from May 29 to May 31, 1954. Former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is a regular at these conclaves. Indian origin Pepsi Co head Indra Nooyi is also on the Bilderberg list.

Mr Skelton reports on the media coverage of the event thus: "The Swiss Press have been reporting Bilderberg with gusto. Russia Today sent a film crew, the Italian media is here, Alex Jones sent a team, the Canadian Broadcasting Company are doing interviews, there's even a French journalist somewhere, I'm told. "But from Britain? Not so much".

The Indian media and political establishment are still to get a whiff of the most happening event on earth despite their expertise at uncovering scams. They need to start asking whether this secret group influences our policy-making. This time, a member of the Italian European Parliament, Mr Mario Borghezio, who was not an invitee, was badly manhandled by security personnel at the hotel when he tried to force his way in. He announced at a Press conference later that he would take legal action. Those outside the charmed circle are now vocal in questioning the purport and credentials of this power cabal. The common surmise is that business cartels, combined with powerful ruling families, lending agencies, global banks and their stooges, are exerting pressure to shape and control economic policies around the world; dictate modalities of growth; and if needs be, cause wars; engineer economic recession and depression; destabilise sovereign nations; and foist ruling regimes. Their eventual aim is to create a 'one world order'.

This power cabal is linked by some analysts to the Committee of 300, an earlier power cabal that still exists, and whose origins reportedly lie in the Venetian Black Nobility. The latter refers to a conglomerate of European bankers-families that, by marrying commerce with politics and religion, not only infiltrated British and European ruling dynasties in the middle ages but eventually drove colonisation. They were the force behind the East India Company and American slave trade.

As suspicions of secret conclaves and oligarchies are openly voiced, those demanding greater transparency in policy-making would do well to heed these reports.







With a Cabinet reshuffle approaching, the games have already begun. But instead of doling out Ministries as loyalty awards, Manmohan Singh would do well to pick the best man for the job

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of speculation about the impending Cabinet reshuffle. Aspirants are anxiously waiting near their telephones for that important phone call from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence while those in the Council of Ministers are nervous about keeping their job as it has been said that the Prime Minister may axe those who have not performed well. This of course has provoked a tongue in cheek remark that the cleansing process should begin right at the top.

Rumours about a possible change of guard were also doing the rounds as Congress leaders like Mr Digvijay Singh, Mr Motilal Vohra and Mr Birendra Singh spoke about Mr Rahul Gandhi talking over as Prime Minister. Of course, following protests from Race Course Road those rumours were quickly laid to rest. So now that it has been made clear that the Prime Minister's position is not vacant, it is time that Mr Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi come out with the new Cabinet list.

But the question is why is there a need for a Cabinet reshuffle? First, it is an opportunity to assess the performance of the UPA2 Cabinet two years since it came to power. At the moment, the Government is not projecting an image of cohesiveness. Even within the Congress, instances of personal and professional rivalry between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram have come out in the open. The bugging of Mr Mukherjee's office has shocked the political class. If any mid-course correction is required, it has to be done now. Second, the Prime Minister himself has announced some time ago that he will undertake a major reshuffle before the next Parliament session, which has now been scheduled to begin on August 1. Therefore, there is some urgency as well.

Moreover, the Mr Singh had carried out his reshuffles without touching the allies but this time around he will have to bring them in. Following the arrest of Kanimozhi and A Raja, both DMK members, the DMK-Congress relationship has soured significantly. There is also the Damocles' sword hanging over another DMK Minister Dayanidhi Maran — the CBI is already investigating his involvement in the 2G Spectrum scam. There is a big question mark over whether the DMK will continue its ties with the Congress although for the time being, it will swallow all humiliation for the sake of political compulsions. On its part, the Congress will first have to decide whether or not to drop Mr Maran as well as get DMK chief M Karunanidhi to recommend two new names. Moreover, it is now widely believed that the Congress would like to hold on to Telecom Ministry and not offer it to the DMK. Mr Karunanidhi is clearly displeased with the situation and has shown it well by not meeting Mr Singh or Ms Gandhi during his recent visit to New Delhi.

The Trinamool Congress, another ally of the Congress, also needs to do some thinking about its candidates for the Cabinet. Party chief and new Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has already met Mr Singh and discussed potential candidates from her party. Her party has the second biggest contingent within the UPA and can get as many as four Cabinet berths, much like the DMK, but Ms Banerjee does not want any. She is only particular about keeping the Railways portfolio which she had earlier. So, consultations with the Trinamool Congress are also on. As for the NCP, the National Conference and the Muslim League there will neither be addition nor subtraction as their quota is full.

Now, comes the tricky issue of retaining or firing Congress Ministers. The Prime Minister alone cannot decide on this as the Congress president has the final say. In fact, often new Ministers receive congratulatory phone calls from 10 Janpath rather than 7, Race Course Road! Also, there is talk in the corridors of power that Mr Chidambaram might get a new portfolio while Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil is supposed to make a come back. Minister of External Affairs SM Krishna is possibly going to Karnataka as its PCC chief while some Ministers like Mr MS Gill may be dropped entirely.

Inducting a Minister into the Cabinet is easy but dropping one is very difficult as any Prime Minister will vouch for. Some or all of these changes may or may not happen but if Mr Singh wants to have a younger Cabinet he will have to look for younger talent. That is why the exercise is even more difficult.

The Congress is also focussing on elections in Uttar Pradesh that are scheduled for 2012, therefore it is crucial for the party to have the support of the INLD. There is a possibility that its party chief Ajit Singh might be given a Cabinet berth. These political considerations are also important.

Finally all, vacancies in the Cabinet have to be filled up. Currently, some Ministers are holding temporary charge of major Ministries such as Mr Kapil Sibal who is Minister of Human Resources Development but also holds charge of Communications. This needs to be sorted out as governance suffers under uncertainty. Mr Singh must quickly distribute portfolios and also choose the right man for the right job. At a time of trust deficit, this is a good opportunity for Mr Singh to show that there is still hope.







While Hamid Karzai is persuading the Taliban to accept reality and give way to a liberal democracy, the US is simply walking away from the chaos it had intended to rectify when it invaded Afghanistan 10 years ago

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced over the weekend that talks between the US Administration, the Afghan Government and the Taliban "have started already" and are "going well", officially confirming what everyone already knows.

The Afghan President has been speaking forcefully in recent months, including some harsh words for the United States. A day before his speech, three Taliban fighters attacked a police compound in Kabul, killing nine.

He said that foreign powers are "using our country" in their national interest and that their weapons "pollute the environment." There is also growing antagonism between US and Nato troops in the country, ie between the US and its European allies.

Clearly, Mr Karzai is not just preparing for the withdrawal of American troops; he is positioning himself in the role of national leader. A Pashtun and a southerner (the heartland of the Taliban), Mr Karzai could theoretically broker an agreement.

Kabul's policy is to persuade the Taliban to accept the reality that has taken shape in the country in the ten years since their overthrow by the US-led coalition in 2001, as well as to acknowledge the need for a free Press, women's rights and democracy in general. Mr Karzai is as exasperated by the foreign military presence as anyone in Afghanistan, so there is no reason to doubt that his efforts to make peace with the Taliban are sincere.

Negotiations between the US and the Taliban are being hosted by Germany and Oman (evidently in those countries). The media first reported this one month ago. Recently, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates confirmed in comments on Mr Karzai's speech.

There have been no hints about the substance of those talks nor the participants. There has been speculation that Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader, is involved in the talks. Omar was the head of the state at the start of the invasion in 2001, and has a stature no less than Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden's death was followed by a slight flurry of speculation in the media that Omar, too, had been living in Pakistan the whole time, but then mysteriously vanished.

It was Henry Kissinger, the most respected foreign policy figure in the US over the past 50 years, who in his recent article, "How to Exit Afghanistan", both mentioned the talks and indicated that Mullah Omar's people are involved.

He writes in the article that there is a national search for an exit strategy, with more than 70 per cent of Americans in favour of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. In this type of situation, what is most important is how agreements on what follows the withdrawal are fulfilled. The Taliban would like to stymie these agreements. So an international strategy is needed to maintain the status quo in view of the fact that practically all countries in the region and its neighbours — Russia, India, China and others — want this status quo. One cannot exist without such a strategy, because a regional war may flare up. Formulating this strategy would mean at the same time formulating a new role for the US in the world after the Cold War.

Kissinger always commands attention in the US, and now more than ever. It was Kissinger who oversaw the US withdrawal from a similar war in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.

In the spring of 1975, US embassy officials were airlifted by helicopters from the roof of the embassy in Saigon, in a striking symbol of US failure. But four years previously Kissinger was in China. The war in Vietnam was fought between the US and China to the same extent as between the US and the USSR. The strained relations between the two Communist powers had no effect on the situation in Vietnam. But Kissinger deepened the wedge between the two. Thanks to his efforts, Washington recognised China, President Richard Nixon visited Mao Zedong in Beijing and the USSR became the strategic loser.

You can win the battle and lose the war. Kissinger lost the war but won the world for America.

It's hard to see the 88-old retiree — and a Republican at that — pulling off a similar miracle today. An international agreement on Afghanistan has yet to be achieved. But a statement on the withdrawal of US troops cannot wait.

Mr Obama named July 2011 as the start date of the drawdown of US forces after a long and painstaking debate in the beginning of his term in 2009. It was decided first to add 30,000 troops (now they number 100,000), deal the Taliban a crushing blow and then, beginning July 2011, start gradually pulling them out.

Should the plan be revised, especially now that the Republican House of Representatives is trying to bring Mr Obama to account for getting the US involved in the strange Libyan operation without consulting Congress?

That would be difficult, perhaps impossible. So the question now is only how quickly to leave and what to leave behind.

-- The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs columnist.







Faced with accusations of non-performance, the standard government response is to propose new laws to fill the governance vacuum. While good laws are needed to enable sound policies, legislation is no substitute for effective governance and executive action. Take the proposal to draft a law to protect journalists in the wake of the murder of senior investigative journalist J Dey. Journalists, like every other member of society, require protection from criminal elements. However, bringing in a new law will not serve the purpose. What's needed is better policing standards in general. In this case, it requires nabbing Dey's killers.

Similarly, the UP government's proposal to tighten laws in response to the recent spate of crimes against women in the state won't help if the rot is in the police force itself. The Centre's Right to Education Act, though commendable in principle, is yet another instance of emphasis on law rather than systems. The Act's focus on the quality of school infrastructure - teachers with bachelor's degree in education, minimum land requirement etc - is not only divorced from the realities of the education sector but could also throttle it. Strictly enforced, the Act would compel small NGO-run schools or those established through local private initiatives to shut down or operate illegally. Instead of boosting capacity to take in more students, it would have exactly the opposite effect.

Another area where the government approach is heading for trouble is food security. The proposed National Food Security Bill entails massive procurement of foodgrains such as rice and wheat - estimated at 80 million tonnes - and distributing the cereals through the existing PDS system at heavily subsidised rates. This would lead to a mammoth food subsidy bill that could go beyond Rs 1,25,000 crore annually. Failure to cap fiscal deficits could fuel further inflation. Yet there is no guarantee that the food would actually reach the people - 58% of the food distributed through PDS is leaked out. It would have been much better to follow the examples of Brazil and China and boost agricultural production through reform, innovation and incorporation of technology. Better targeting of the poor could be achieved through food coupons or conditional cash transfers augmented by systems such as the UID.

Legislation, no matter how well-intentioned, is no solution in itself. A government that unnecessarily multiplies the number of laws to cure systemic deficiencies is guilty of abdicating its duty to ensure effective governance. Instead of burdening itself with laws it simply can't implement, it should focus on improving administrative and service delivery - incorporating the latest technologies available and leveraging India's fabled IT prowess.







As fresh bilateral talks begin, it's important to remember India-Pakistan relations have often been characterised by high-voltage dramatics - stormy fallouts, picture-perfect love-fests and cold stand-offs. It's important to now move into a quieter engagement that avoids the flash and fury of spectacular breakthroughs or major fallouts. The shift is linked to where Pakistan stands today. Following the Abbottabad episode the nation is struggling with angry anti-US sentiment, accompanied by serious economic troubles and social instability. Resultant emotions are volatile and violent, including a sharp spike in anti-India feelings. According to a recent Pew Research Centre poll, three in four Pakistanis view India with disfavour; 57% believe India's a bigger threat to Pakistan than the Taliban or al-Qaida.


In this scenario, it's essential India presents a calm countenance to its neighbour. It would be unrealistic to expect much movement on the 'big' issues - such as terror or Kashmir - at this point. While they should be discussed the talks should also spotlight smaller pragmatic topics, like improving bilateral trade and smoothening visa processes, both of which tangibly impact ordinary citizens. Further confidence-building measures (CBMs) should be discussed including greater people-to-people contact, possibly helpful to Pakistan whose liberal spaces are under threat. Nuclear and military CBMs should be reviewed and enhanced. Positive indications should be drawn from relatively little friction occurring between both nations despite a recent naval skirmish. As the talks happen, it's also significant for India to remember the army remains Pakistan's most powerful institution. Being able to engage it is crucial.









Misfortunes have a way of bringing out the best in people and the worst in institutions. Thalassemia struck Sukhsohit Singh, but he challenged himself to overcome the odds and qualified to be an IAS officer. No favours asked or given: he did it all on his own. Obviously, his medical condition was not insurmountable and he showed how adversity can be fought with dignity and determination.

That is when the institution struck back and did its best to wreck Sukhsohit's dream. According to current government rules, Sukhsohit cannot join the services because he has thalassemia. But why should that matter? Thalassemia is troublesome, but it is not a crippling ailment. It does not stop one from performing at superior levels, and Sukhsohit Singh just proved that.

Sukhsohit, however, is not done yet. He has raised his performance level even higher by challenging the decree and taking the fight to the courts. Fortunately, he is not alone, nor is thalassemia the only medical condition that is wronged by the Indian government.

The present Persons and Disabilities Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act, 1995, in India only offers protection to those who have suffered a permanent disability, like loss of sight or a limb, or have HIV/AIDS. This leaves a big gap as it ignores the plight of those who are not technically disabled but are burdened by the stigma of not being "normal". Not just those with thalassemia, but a growing number of cancer survivors as well come under this category. They, too, suffer from needless discrimination because of the present employment policies of the government and fall between two stools.

It is really a case of adding insult to injury. Far from helping people with chronic ailments, the administration actually sets out to hunt them down and rob them of their rights as ordinary citizens.

Thanks to persistent pressure from civil society networks, the US in 1990 passed four federal laws to provide some job protection to cancer survivors. These Acts offer protection to cancer survivors who face employment discrimination because of a "disability", a "record of a disability", or those "regarded as having a disability". The latter is particularly significant for, to quote from a judgment handed out by the United States Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in a case related to discrimination at the workplace in 1987, "Society's accumulated myths and fears about disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that flow from actual impairment."

What makes the Americans with Disabilities Act stand out is that not only does it offer protection to the person diagnosed with cancer but also to members of the family. The Act requires an employer to provide "reasonable accommodation" by letting the employee work flexible hours until the treatment, if it is a child or spouse, is over.

The fear that cancer survivors and those with life-limiting and chronic conditions will ask for more leave and will be an extra cost to the company is also not borne out. Research studies and experience have shown that when given a chance such people outperform their colleagues, perhaps because they have something to prove. Records also show that their attendance rates are higher than the "normal" population.

The pressure exerted by civil society in the US also resulted in the right of people seeking employment to refuse to answer questions that pertain to their health status if this is not directly pertinent to the requirements of the job at hand. The employer, too, may not demand this information on the same basis.

Getting health insurance cover, leave alone life insurance, is another bugbear. This is particularly unfair on childhood survivors of cancer who though considered cured will not be provided a safety net as they grow older and their risk of getting cancer begins to approximate that of the general population. In the US, group insurance is one way the risk has been shared so that people with pre-existing conditions can get covered. The latest health Bill proposed by President Barack Obama has gone even further and made it illegal to deny anyone in the US health insurance on the grounds that they have a pre-existing condition or illness. We must follow suit.

Is it not high time, therefore, for the government of India to spell out a policy that seeks to protect the right to livelihood and dignity of people with life-limiting and chronic conditions who currently face widespread discrimination? They are not asking for special privileges or for separate quotas. All they want is the right to be treated as equals and as people who still have something worthwhile to contribute to society. Our Disabilities Act must be amended so that people like Sukhsohit are given the support they need and the chance they deserve.

It is also time we began to heed what the WHO and other international health agencies have been saying for some time. They have alerted us to the fact that changing lifestyles and longer life spans are going to see non-communicable diseases like diabetes, chronic respiratory and cardio-vascular conditions, depression, as well as diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, etc, fight for attention with infectious diseases. Are we going to shut off a whole chunk of our population because they are deemed "not normal" by some archaic standard?

The writer is founder-president of CanSupport, a non-profit organisation that runs a home care programme for people with advanced cancer in Delhi.




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Q & A




The British Council is a cultural relations body, but what is culture?

Culture is a very wide word. It embraces how people think of themselves and express that thought about themselves to others. In short, how people interact. Cultural relations is what we focus on and that's about how to engage and build trust with people around the world. We do it using our cultural assets, the arts, education and society. One of the core areas is social sector leadership and the English language. On the latter, English is a great cultural tool because it's both our language and our asset. We use it along with other assets to seed opportunities. Our aim is to bring opportunities to India and elsewhere using these tools.

How are you seeding opportunities in India?

It's a two way process. We plan to create opportunities for young Britons to come and spend six weeks in India working, to learn about India. Nehru said that India was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed. We want to expose those to our young. Allied to this is tourism, which i think is a massive area of growth for India. On the other hand we're also committed to creating a confluence between academia and industry, to create research and development. Making that happen, to get them to work together, is a cultural process, both between countries and between two different types of organisations. I'm here to participate in a dialogue, to find areas where we can move ahead. We're interested in university-level collaboration and also providing English language training which will undoubtedly help your economy. Sport is another area where we can contribute given our successful Olympic bid. There's also the role of civil society and fostering leadership. And of course the arts; we're interested not only in the big-ticket Kapoor type exhibitions but reaching out to more people and sustaining it in an environment where government support for the arts is somewhat obscure.

Corporate social responsibility and corporate giving are two relatively new ideas here but have a long pedigree in the UK. Could this be an area of cooperation?

It could be. In fact i did something with your paper the other day. The most important thing is that charity for charity's sake isn't as successful as when the philosophy is that of mutuality. What i mean is that companies give when they feel improving society is also in their interest. Inculcating here that culture would be a core aim for us by, as you say, demonstrating how it's paid off in the UK.

You've come to the council after a lifelong career in the private sector. Is the practice of successful private sector managers transitioning into the public sector something that should happen with greater frequency here?

Yes indeed, but you've got to be a particular type to make the transition. My position isn't paid and it had to be cleared by the foreign secretary. I bring a particular type of managerial expertise because both organisations are large ones. It means that making them effective requires a knowledge specific to such organisations. The council is in 120 countries and employs 7,000 people and therefore displays complexities and synergies similar to Accenture. The transition has been much easier than i was told it would be. We have to deal with Whitehall which is a new experience but i've not found it aggravating. Challenging is a good way of putting it, though you do recognise elements of Yes Minister.







For years i've been building up my in-body stocks of Omega III oil with the zeal of a hoarder. The reason? I'd read in one of these health reports that newspapers and magazines are increasingly full of that Omega III - a fat found in certain kinds of fish - is very effective in lowering the level of bad cholesterol, also known as LDL, to distinguish it from HDL, or good cholesterol, like those Bollywood movies about twin brothers who get separated at birth and one becomes a baddie and the other becomes a cop and they meet up at the end when the good brother kicks the ass of the bad brother from Bandra to Borivali and back. Omega III, it seems, is a great butt-kicker when it comes to bad cholesterol, which causes coronary disease, to which South Asians are said to be particularly susceptible. So i began to eat fish in Moby Dick quantities, imagining all that Omega III buzzing about in my bloodstream like gangbusters, beating the crap out of any bad cholesterol dumb enough to be caught loitering with intent in dark corners.

Then recently i read, in another health report, that while Omega III did indeed sock it to bad cholesterol, it could also cause collateral damage in males by significantly increasing the risk of prostate cancer. So now i have a choice: keep on eating Omega III-loaded fish and give myself prostate cancer or go cold turkey on fish, to mix dietary metaphors, and drop dead of a heart attack. Which of the two big Cs - Cancer or Coronary - is my preferred way to go? What's the rational, scientific basis for making a choice between the two? Toss a coin? Go eenie-meenie-mina-mo?

And it's not just about Omega III. It's about almost anything that we eat or drink on a regular basis and about which medical science - as represented by the health advice doled out in the media - holds self-contradictory views. Like sugar. Indians - all Indians - love sugar. We eat sweets on all festive occasions. Indeed there is a theory to suggest that the reason that India has so many festivals is that they provide us an excuse to eat sweets. Then along came medical science, in the form of health reports, to tell us that apart from promoting celebratory cheer, all that sugar in sweets also promoted obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. No wonder Indians are among the highest-risk group for diabetes. It's all that villainous sugar in our sweets. So everyone switched to artificial sweeteners for tea, coffee, soft drinks, gulab jamuns. Until another health report came out saying that most of the sweeteners in common use contain chemicals like aspartame which for all you didn't know could give you cancer, make your liver malfunction or cause hair to sprout out of your eyeballs. So go with sugar and get diabetes? Or switch to aspartame and risk taking your eyeballs to the barbershop every two weeks?

How about we give up sweets altogether and stick solely to savouries? Savouries? You know what puts the savour in savouries? Salt. You know what salt is? It's sodium. And along comes yet another health report which tells you that sodium will spike your blood pressure and give you a stroke. Butter? Everyone agreed that butter - particularly in the clarified form of asli ghee - was good for you. Good for your eyesight and your brain. Didn't we offer asli ghee to our gods? No wonder they were all so smart. Then a health report showed that asli ghee had triglycerides which would choke your arteries with plaque. Everyone switched to margarine, including Ganesh and Lakshmi and Amul's utterly-butterly baba log. Till a health report said margarine had trans-fats which had even more triglycerides than ghee did. Back to butter and ghee? Switch to microwaved food that doesn't require any cooking medium? Hey, have you read that report that says micros emit cancer-causing radiation?

The problem is not with our health but with our health reports. And the problem is one of spelling: they should be spelt hellth reports. Because, coming or going, that's what they give us - pure, unadulterated hell.








The Tatas' challenge to a West Bengal law that returns land to villagers in Singur, the site for a car factory, could help define the government's role in land acquisition across the country. If the courts - and this case looks headed for the Supreme Court - uphold Mamata Banerjee's gesture of gratit ude to the cause that catapulted her to power, each action of the previous Left Front government in facilitating the transfer of land will come up for scrutiny. Some of them will pass muster, some won't.  If, on the other hand, Ms Banerjee's law is found to be an act of unacceptable repudiation, provincial parties will in any case have drawn their lessons from the political upheaval in West Bengal over forcible land acquisition. In either case, no-go areas in the state's attempts to acquire land for industrialisation will have been marked out. The ballot box and the gavel speak louder than any federal effort to lessen the competition among states for capital.


The pace of infrastructure development will have to double for India to be able to house half its people in cities in a couple of decades. The government - both at the Centre and in the states - does not have the money to do this on its own. Private partners will have to be sought. The government's stake in such projects is increasingly land that private capital finds logistically and financially difficult to acquire.  With tax arbitrage and energy subsidies no longer viable options in the competitive provincial market for big-ticket investments, states perforce have to fall back on the one asset they can offer cheap to industry: land. In this scenario, the Centre finds it difficult to persuade states to adopt a model law that frowns on excessive zeal in land acquisition. In a sense, the Centre has driven state governments into this frenzy over land by plugging tax giveaways and cheap power.


For sanity to prevail, all government land acquisition must internalise a basic premise: the people being displaced are paid for the land they hand over at today's market rates while profits are made on rates that obtain after a project is fully developed, be it industrial complex, mine or township. This is readily addressed by breaking the compensation in two parts: an outright purchase and stock options in the company setting up the project. The idea of making the dispossessed stakeholders in development is old, it is a matter of actualising it. Equity, being skill and technology neutral, is a more transparent currency for transfer of resources from one section of society to another. The alternative to symbiotic growth with the dispossessed is stifled industrialisation. Ms Banerjee has provided us with a glimpse of the latter; her deep insights into the issue could hopefully lead to the former.






Have you ever got a feeling of déjà vu about a feeling of déjà vu? Well, that is the feeling coming over us as the women's reservation bill falls by the wayside yet again. The Speaker has jumped into the fray saying she will try to evolve a consensus on the issue. Well, more grease to her elbow becau se those who have tried before her have found themselves blasted out of the water by some of our political worthies whose logic is really staggering. So while Indian women may think they have a right to political power, our lads feel that they are better employed churning out rotis and also by keeping their hair a suitable length.


Since our male politicians find these qualities appropriate in a woman, we think there should be a few criteria for men as well. We could devise a quiz to this effect and here are a few suggestions for questions that they should answer correctly and which have as much relevance as roti-making prowess and long hair in women. How often did Jawaharlal Nehru cut his hair in a year? What was Choudhary Charan Singh's favourite snack? If any of our male politicos can't answer such questions, and we will come up with more, they must forfeit their seats to a woman candidate. Thus by a process of elimination we might have at least 10% women in Parliament. But all we ask is that this present farce of getting the women's bill passed in the Lok Sabha not be continued any further.


Just to make things palatable, we could even have Simi Grewal host the quiz. Given that her plummy accent won't be understood by most of our male politicos, we might just see a quantum jump in female representation. Or we might, and this is a bone-chilling thought, find Ms Grewal become an MP. If you think this is all very trivial and farcical, it is no more so than these periodic pretences of passing this bill about which there are so many reservations.








There is dismay and concern among the medical fraternity regarding the membership of the reconstituted Medical Council of India (MCI). Rumo-urs are afloat that most members don't meet the capability or integrity criteria and that once again we are failing to ensure due diligence and adhere to procedu res for filling up positions in statutory authorities.


The increasing number of instances of clinical incompetence, disturbing absence of professionalism in patient care and deficit in ethical values among health providers prove that there is a need for a strong regulatory system. There is also a growing concern that under-staffed and unequipped medical colleges are churning out incompetent doctors.


Often crisis accompanied by a loss of public trust propel governments to act. In 2000 and again in 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation indicted MCI president Ketan Desai for corruption. After Desai's arrest, a body of professionals replaced the MCI and a bill was drafted to set up the National Commission for Human Resources for Health.


According to the bill, the Commission would replace the three regulators governing medical, nursing and dental education and would help in setting standards, accreditation and governance of medical practice.


In the the above context, Britain's example could be instructive. In 2000, the General Medical Council (the regulator) lost public confidence after the death of several children due to poorly trained doctors. After this incident a series of measures were undertaken to strengthen the regulatory system like earmarking half of the 24-member GMC with lay members, and more importantly, all 24 being appointed by the Public Appointments Service Commission (like our UPSC) to insulate the GMC from political control; tightening regulatory oversight on undergraduate and post-graduate education by instituting legally mandated officers as supervisors; laying down what the doctors need to know; revamping the UG/PG curriculum and the system of supervision/examination/evaluation. Thus while medical schools can innovate, draw up their curriculum and expand courses for undergraduate education, the GMC has the residual power to withdraw the power of granting degrees from deviant medical schools.


Moreover, the inspection teams now have members from different disciplines and such teams comprise deans of medical schools, general practitioners, hospital superintendents, public health specialists, students and people involved with health policy. In India, inspection teams comprise two or three persons selected by the MCI president. The Council for Health Regulatory Excellence (CHRE), an overarching body to oversee the functioning of the nine regulators governing healthcare, was also set up.


We need to learn from Britain's reform process. There must be institutional arrangements to oversee the quality of medical education. Moreover, experts and lay persons must be involved at every level since in this country all power is concentrated in the hands of the MCI (read president) who often operate in an authoritarian manner.


The GMC, on the other hand, functions through a professional team of administrators and over 14 committees constituted for various aspects of regulation.


The much-needed reform process in medical education has been a disappointing story in India thanks to well-entrenched vested interests. We need political consensus to reform this system. Till that is obtained and the hedge does not stop eating its own crop, India will continue to be treated by doctors who are below par.


Sujatha Rao is former secretary, ministry of health and family welfare.


The views expressed by the author are personal.







CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has poured cold water on the over-enthusiasm about initiating a 'merger' of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). Yet the reunification of the two communist parties is being debated, despite the silencing of second-in-com mand in the CPI(M) politburo Sitaram Yechury, who admitted after the central committee meeting in Hyderabad earlier this month that a camaraderie between the two is reflected at the grassroots level for a merger in the not-too-distant future. Little wonder that CPI central secretariat member Atul Kumar Anjaan presumed that inner-party deliberations mirror Yechury's comments.


Ever since Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan became CPI general secretary, he frequently called for a merger, only to be rebuffed by the erstwhile CPI(M) general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet. However, the over-enthusiasm of the CPI(M)'s Tamil Nadu secretary and central executive council member DK Pandian on the merger 'by 2012' was puerile.


The only CPI(M) leader who had a clear perspective of the reunification of the parties that split in 1964 from the original CPI was EMS Namboodiripad, who first replaced the contemptuous usage of the 'right' communist party and 'wrong' communist party with 'two communist parties'. Nonetheless, reunification - as opposed to a merger -continues to be a tough proposition. CPI(M) semi-ideologues like Surjeet and M Basavapunnaiah had throughout been trying to justify the split. They could, however, never rise above petty polemics on tactical lines. They cited the parliamentary growth of the CPI(M) in contrast to the decimation of CPI to refute reunification. Gloating over parliamentary successes in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura can't cover up the failure of not making inroads into the Hindi heartland where the majority of the working class and peasantry, as well as millions of unorganised subalterns, live.


The CPI(M)'s success story is almost a story of hypocrisy. Until the drubbing in this year's assembly elections in West Bengal, CPI(M) leaders pooh-poohed any appeal for reunification. Now the mandarins at AK Gopalan Bhavan have got a rude wake-up call.


By airing the possibility of a reunification, Yechury divulged a not too-secret demand. Things would have been different had there been encouragement from the CPI's Bardhan. Until the mid-1980s sparks of ideological brilliance were seen in the polemics waged against the CPI(M) by CPI leaders like Rajsekhar Reddy, NK Krishnan and Jagannath Sarkar. Bardhan discouraged any fraternal debate on the history of the split and had even censored an article, 'Relevance of Ajoy Ghosh in the Indian Communist Movement', written by Ranen Sen and myself in 2001 (which is still unpublished).


In the article, we focused on how before his untimely death in 1962, two years before the split in the undivided CPI, general secretary Ghosh had conducted an inner-party politico-ideological struggle during the 1950s. Responding to the article, Bardhan wrote to Sen on July 3, 2001, that it "rakes up certain issues and events which will only open a pandora's box of controversies and mutual attacks without, in our view, helping in any way to further the process of unity". Sen shot back: "To describe what was stated in the article as one-sided is to take an erroneous stand on the genesis of inner-party political and ideological struggle in the Indian communist movement… Our party began shrinking gradually. Now it is a very small party and, truly speaking, under your leadership, the CPI is a satellite of the CPI(M), thanks to your leadership."


Thus, the reunification of the two communist parties still remains an absurdity. CPI historian Narahari Kaviraj disagrees with the rationale for a 'merger' for one reason: the CPI(M)'s severance from the international communist movement and proletarian internationalism. Members of the CPI may feel agonised to address 'harmads' - the CPI(M) stormtroopers at Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh - as comrades.


Sankar Ray is a Delhi-based writer specialising in Left politics and history.


The views expressed by the author are personal.







'Consultant', like 'professional', is an often used - and abused - word. Having functioned as a consultant in the area of organisation and management, I am conscious of the dilemma a consultant of the old school faces: should I make the client self-reliant thus working myself out of a job? Or should I do just enough to ensure a steady income? This is a classic conflict of interest situation. But does it work at the national level?


The society and polity in India are at crossroads today. Corruption has permeated the innards of society and the value system. Almost no one in the country seems unaffected by it. Penetration of such phenomena to this extent doesn't happen without acquiescence and active abetment by significant portions of society. Who has been responsible for it in India is less relevant than what - if anything - can be done about it. That brings us to the national conflict of interest.


Two recent phenomena illustrate this. The first is the current flavour of the month, the lokpal; the second is a perennial favourite, State funding of elections. Under our Constitution, both these need to be voted on in Parliament.


Holding the Parliament in the highest possible esteem and with no intention to compromise its dignity as the highest democratic institution in the country, one has to admit that its performance, or of the honourable members who comprise it, has not really covered it in glory of late. Without casting any aspersion on the institution as a whole, one can't wish away the fact that almost 30% (162 of 543) members have criminal cases pending against them in which charges have been framed by the court of law and the punishment for which is two or more years of imprisonment. This number has increased from 156 in the 2004 Lok Sabha.


With the number of crorepatis in the Lok Sabha having increased from 128 to 315 from 2004 to 2009, when almost half of India's population lives on s Rs 20 or less per day, and with almost 78% members of the 2009 Lok Sabha having had more votes cast against them than for them, what can be said about the 'representativeness' of the elected representatives? But what does this have to do with the conflict of interest?


Lots actually. It is these honourable members who will vote on whether there should be a lokpal or not, and if there should be one, what its powers should be. How would anyone vote if the choice is between (a) ensuring that one's party continues to function in a way so that the chances of it remaining in power or acquiring power are maximised, and (b) taking a leap into the unknown where one doesn't know what might happen? And can the honourable members be blamed for voting to ensure their, their progeny's, and their party's future well-being? The nation's well-being is not considered to be an issue these days. This is the conflict of interest the current political and electoral system creates.


Now to the perennial favourite: State funding of elections. This paper reported on June 20 that in a draft Cabinet note, the law ministry has proposed State funding for women and schedules castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) candidates.


The saga of State funding is similar to the lokpal but in the opposite direction. While the political establishment has successfully thwarted the lokpal for 42 years, it has been chasing State funding of elections for 38 years since 1972. Despite all kinds of recommendations, the spectre of financial transparency as a prerequisite somehow gets raised and enthusiasm for State funding wanes. The Cabinet note this time has taken two precautions. Following the 'thin end of the wedge' principle, it proposes State funding only for women and SC/ST candidates, and makes it part of a 'package' deal, the other part being barring candidates with criminal cases pending against them.


How would anyone vote if there were a prospect of getting free money to contest elections now, or later, once the system becomes acceptable in the public eye with women and SC/ST candidates? It is obvious that our elected representatives face severe conflicts of interest.


Is there a way out? How do we deal with such national conflicts of interests? Can we deal with them, short of expecting our elected representatives to be utter paragons of virtue, completely devoid of self-interest? Two ways seem possible.


Gopalkrishna Gandhi suggested the first on this page (A spectacular story, Incidentally, June 18) - a meeting held at Sevagram in March 1948 "between those who had entered public life through the portal of elections and those who were doing 'constructive work'." He concluded with two questions: "Is it impossible for a Sevagram 1948-type meeting to be convened by the equivalents of those who organised that meeting to discuss corruption? Is it inconceivable that they can be inspired to gather for a meeting chaired by the Congress president, inaugurated by the PM and addressed by representatives of the 'unelected' to discuss corruption?"


Sadly, saying an unqualified 'no' to these questions seems unrealistic. Other questions arise. Should such a meeting be chaired by the president of only one party? All the parties in power? At the Centre or in the states? Should this meeting be preceded by an all-party meeting? The past record of all-party meetings on issues of national interest is not very encouraging. There are no easy answers. But then, we should not expect easy answers to highly complex questions.


If the existing dispensation is unable to answer the questions adequately, do we go beyond the existing dispensation? That is what leads us to the other option. Should we - can we - seek the opinion of 'We, the People', going beyond, not above, our elected representatives? The dreaded word is 'referendum', which our Constitution does not provide for, so far. This, then, is the national dilemma. And the conflict of interest.


Jagdeep S Chhokar is former Dean, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.


The views expressed by the author are personal.










There were no surprises in US President Barack Obama's speech on Wednesday defining the scale and scope of American troop withdrawals from Afghanistan starting next month. In the new form of American political communication, the broad outline of the president's speech was shared with media outlets before it was formally delivered. That Obama was going to reject advice from the military and civilian leadership of the Pentagon for a small and slow withdrawal was known. What we have now are the specific numbers and a timeline from him for a significant and speedy reduction of the US military footprint in Afghanistan. Ten thousand troops will be out of Afghanistan this year and another 20,000 or so by September next year, thereby reversing the surge of 30,000 troops ordered by Obama in December 2009. He now promises to end the US combat role in Afghanistan by 2014. After that the security of Afghanistan will be the responsibility of its armed forces.

It is never easy for a president of the US, especially a Democrat like Obama, to be seen as walking away from a war. Obama's task had become somewhat easier thanks to the rapid evolution of the popular American perceptions of the war in Afghanistan. American weariness with the war, the longest in US history, has been palpable and set the stage for the president's decisions. While there have been many suggesting that Obama stay the course in Afghanistan until the country is stabilised, others have insisted that the US cannot prevail in Afghanistan and must look for the exits now. This division, which has enveloped both the Democrats and the Republicans, allowed Obama to occupy the middle ground and unveil what he called a "responsible approach" to ending the war in Afghanistan. The bold raid and the killing of Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan last month allowed Obama to claim that he is leaving Afghanistan from a position of strength and after achieving US goals there.

As India ponders the consequences of Obama's decision, it can learn one immediate lesson. Unlike Obama, who set aside the recommendations of the military establishment and has taken political responsibility in ordering the surge as well as the exit, the UPA government has shown little political will to lead on defence issues. As the US retreats from Afghanistan over the next three and a half years and the new turbulence on our north-western frontiers begins to test India's strategic resolve, the UPA government can no longer duck major defence and national security decisions.






Karnataka's politics touched a new and incredible low after JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy claimed that Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa privately offered him hush money and political favours if he went easy on the anti-corruption campaign that has battered Yeddyurappa and his family in recent months. BSY splashed advertisements in newspapers and openly challenged Kumaraswamy to a face-off of faith at the Dharmasthala temple, where both of them could "take an oath in front of Lord Manjunatha Swamy". Yeddyurappa has also been accused of facilitating land deals that benefit his family, and income-tax evasion to the tune of Rs 340 crore.

After much bombast on both sides, it turns out that this showdown may not actually take place, as the temple's overseers expressed their discomfort with political battles being fought on the temple's floors. Others have questioned the idea of irrelevantly invoking gods in questions that demand a rigorous investigation, because these leaders are elected by Karnataka citizens, not installed by divine will. This is not the first time that supernatural forces have intervened in Karnataka politics — Yeddyurappa has earlier accused H.D. Deve Gowda and his family of using black magic to hurt him — a charge that exposed him to wide ridicule and almost led to his resignation.

Karnataka is the BJP's biggest moral liability, a state whose mismanagement has made it impossible for the national opposition to credibly talk about corruption or legislative propriety, crony capitalism, or resource allocation. Now, serious and consequential questions about the chief minister's probity have been reduced to this farce, one that should offend both the religious and the godless others who equally believe in accountable governance.






The agitation led by the Trinamool Congress against the Tata Motors plant at Singur was a landmark in several ways. It demonstrated that the Left's control of the Bengal countryside was cracking; it showed that Bengal politics would find it particularly difficult to break out of its old gherao-and-dharna mode; and it revealed to outside investors, crucial for the growth of new jobs in an unemployment-riddled state, that something major had to change before West Bengal would be a worthy investment.

It is to be hoped that the mandate that swept the Trinamool-Congress combine to power is precisely that major change, and therefore signalling is important. Many of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's initial steps have been positive — for instance, she suggested that the Tatas return to Singur and set up a plant on 600 acres of land. Yet that initial promise seems to have foundered somewhat. The confrontationist atmosphere at the site after the passage of the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act and the Tatas's subsequent decision to challenge it in court will test Banerjee's transition from an oppositional leader to a mature administrator. Singur brought Banerjee to power; how she settles it now she is CM will be closely watched. The methods used by an opposition leader — morchas and michils — should not be those of the democratically elected chief minister, who should work through policy and compromise, abandoning the sort of ugliness that marked the Left's rule.

Moving on was never going to be painless. There are complex political trade-offs to be made; tens of thousands in Singur gave up their land, and they will resist any deal that, in their opinion, is unfair. There are constitutional hurdles, too. The new government must address these not as an obstructive opposition party but as a party of government. It ill behoves the ruling party to be its own main obstruction. The agitational politics that brought them to power should no longer be their preferred method of getting things done; after all, the reins, and burdens, of power are now theirs. The atmospherics matter, and mobilisation of Trinamool workers on the streets of Singur is absolutely the wrong signal.








There is quite legitimate anguish about the astronomical cut-offs for admission to undergraduate courses announced by most colleges of the University of Delhi. Much pleasure has been derived from ridicule of the 100 per cent cut-off declared by Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) for admission to BCom (Honours), though it is applicable to only a very small section of students. (That cut-off, it seems, was derived mechanically from a formula followed in the past; a 99 per cent cut-off would have done the job just as well.)

Sky-high cut-offs are only the symptoms of a deeper malaise that afflicts higher education in India. Unless the real problems are tackled, it is but inevitable that cut-offs will touch 100 per cent in many more of the popular courses in most of the so-called "good" colleges. Even this year, it has become clear that SRCC's cut-offs were not that irrational after all: it has already admitted more students than the number of sanctioned seats without lowering the cut-offs!

The high cut-offs are the inevitable consequence of three underlying causes. First, there is a widening demand-supply mismatch. India has a large and growing population of young people of college-going age. With growing incomes, the affordability of college education has risen; there has been an increase in the aspirational levels amongst young school-leavers and amongst their parents, who quite frequently try to realise the unfulfilled dreams of their youth through their children. There has also been a structural shift in the demand towards colleges located in metropolitan cities, especially in Delhi, since many formerly good institutions under the control of state governments have suffered serious erosion in quality standards.

Some cynics might wonder whether students have an irrational preference for a handful of colleges. What matters is the popular perception. As long as a sufficiently large number of good students and members of faculty continue to join a so-called "reputed" institution, the reputation will be self-perpetuating. The alumni will continue to do well and this, by itself, will continue to attract good students in future.

Unfortunately, state policy on expansion of higher education in India works in fits and starts, is characterised by apathy alternating with political expediency, and decades of stagnation are followed by overnight doubling or tripling of the number of IITs, IIMs and Central universities. It is not surprising that these new institutions are not able to attract competent faculty and bright students who are at par with their established counterparts, because so many of them start competing for them simultaneously. Thus the number of institutions that provide quality education in India is at best stagnant.

In St Stephen's College, for instance, the total number of seats in economics honours has actually declined from 80 in the early 1980s to 50 now, and the extent of reservation has gone up from about 20 per cent to 60 per cent. As a result, the number of "general category" seats has actually shrunk from over 60 to exactly 20 now! Not surprisingly, the admission cut-offs have zoomed. As a matter of fact, concerned about the rising cut-offs, last year, St Stephen's requested the University of Delhi to increase the number of seats in some disciplines. The file still lies buried somewhere in the university hierarchy.

The allocation of a fixed or declining number of highly valued seats amongst an ever rising number of aspirants is bound to give rise to shortages and rationing. The primary rationing mechanism is Class 12 marks.

This brings us to the second reason for exploding cut-offs. If Class 12 marks are to be used, the least one would expect from such a unit of measurement is that it should be stable. What good is a yardstick that keeps on stretching in your hands? Further, a yardstick, to be useful, should give different measurements for objects of different lengths; if there is not much dispersion amongst marks, board marks lose value as a sifting device. When I left school, only exceptional students got 80 per cent. This magic percentage increased to 85 per cent, then to 90 per cent, and a few years back it reached 95 per cent. This year, several thousand students have obtained over 95 per cent marks in Class 12. With grade inflation from the CBSE, ISC and other boards, ever rising cut-offs are only to be expected.

The increase in first-list cut-offs is somewhat exaggerated due to the recent, ill-conceived policy of the University of Delhi to do away with pre-admission application forms, asking the colleges instead to announce the cut-offs in the absence of any data — along with a direction to admit all students with marks above the announced cut-off. If the colleges fix cut-offs too high, the consequences are not disastrous: they can always lower them in the next list. If, however, the cut-offs are fixed too low, the colleges would be stuck with students far in excess of their intake capacity. The colleges, quite rationally, erred on the side of caution.

The third and final reason is the use of Class 12 marks as the sole criterion for admissions. Everybody realises how imperfect the examination and marking systems are. The statistical correlation of board marks with ability of any kind, except perhaps the ability to pay for coaching classes, has declined over time. Everybody who has had anything to do with the field of education realises that there can't be a single measure of ability that will suffice for all disciplines. Yet, we continue to rely on board marks as the sole determinant of admissions to all courses, because the alternatives are far too complicated or might give rise to fears of manipulation and favouritism.

But the time has come to change that. The university should seriously consider a two-stage procedure. Use board marks as a crude screening device to limit the number of applicants it wants to consider: fix a reasonable percentage in board marks to make candidates eligible to appear in a subject-specific aptitude test, and then use a weighted average of board marks and score in the aptitude test to come up with a composite score that can be used by colleges to offer slots to students.

Subject-specific aptitude tests constitute only a short-term solution, though, to the problem of dealing with shortages of opportunities for quality higher education. The long-term solution can only be to have colleges like SRCC, LSR and St Stephen's in every state, if not district, of the Indian Union.

The writer teaches economics at St Stephen's College, Delhi,







The uproar against the Slut Walk in New Delhi fails to acknowledge the changing urban Indian woman — on the outside and within — on the streets, at homes and in offices. This walk, despite its contentious moniker, is a vital act of protest. And for that reason it must be supported despite the fiercest criticisms of it being non-serious, derivative and without agenda. Women are not new to perceptions, so let this be perceived as one big female block party and let it be the biggest street party of women this country has seen. The idea behind Slut Walk is not the adoption of the term slut — that is a facile way of looking at it. The real aim is the claiming of the streets, these lacerating Delhi streets where women are violated, brutalised and, yes, called sluts.

Feminism as an instinct calls for a woman to take charge of a situation that is not in her control, compelling her to act. It does not lie in some ironclad definition that needs to be ingested like a morning after pill, once the instinct has announced itself. For the young urban Indian woman who has a life of relative privileges — that is education, career, etc — there is a struggle to define oneself in terms that ring authentic. She is often denied the authenticity of "real" experience in the context of larger Indian womanhood, being immediately inducted into the growing mass of teeming apologists — urban, educated women, who are told in different ways to shut up because circumstances have been kinder to them. It takes a while to realise that this reductionist principle, aided by the denial and dismissal of concerns and opinions, is being applied, again, by society. Women need not be shamed and silenced for having privileges and an education and for being relatively sheltered.

The Slut Walk is organised by young, college girls. Today's urban woman is entering the male domain like never before and is choosing different ways to express herself. The dual realities of rural and urban India — of modern living with traditional values — has led the Indian woman to lead a polyphonic existence. She is not a homogenous entity. For many, female foeticide and dowry deaths do not hold personal resonance and, if anything, we should work towards ensuring these numbers swell, not diminish their preoccupations. For these women too it is debilitating to be called a slut. It isn't just a word, it is an articulation of her perpetual incarceration and guilt. So listen to her. Don't dismiss it, even if it falls low on your scale of the many ills meted out to women.

If you are appalled that the Slut Walk of Canada inspires more than the anti-dowry dharna by the mahila morcha, where have you been? If there appear to be two separate Indias, the real concern should be the bridging of this gap, not highlighting the disparity. Female experience transcends geography — female genital mutilation is abhorrent even if it happens in Africa. The two-finger test for rape recently outlawed in India has no place in modern society. What took so long? There are no easy answers for what attracts protest and what we silently accept despite sympathising. But deriding one form of protest as not being the "right fit" is peevish.

As there is greater assimilation of genders, the role the urban woman plays in defining herself and making her city safer is invaluable. To dismiss a young woman who is finding her voice as frivolous, is to have done so without looking at the motivations behind her reaction. Look at the recent crimes against women in this city — one working at a bar, another driving home late from work, a third walking to college — all cases of women in places or situations that have traditionally been closed to her, some in situations that are not "advisable" for her safety. The urban woman identifies with the girl walking to college, not with the one sixty miles down the road who is murdered by her father, in a display of moral rectitude. She sympathises with it, she does not identify with it. You can judge it all you want, but it is our collective inconvenient truth. All of us are perpetrators of a systematic desensitisation, be it about urban poverty or honour killings. So let us not stand in judgment of a crime we are all complicit in — looking the other way.

Is it the name that bothers you? Change it if you wish. Women have been called worse and for every word you erase there will be another to replace it.

Advaita Kala is a novelist and screenwriter,







Sober Pakistanis are deeply concerned about the state of the nation and worry that things are not getting better. The Social Policy and Development Centre, Karachi, a reputed institution, has incisively analysed the situation in its annual review for 2009-10 titled Social Impact of the Security Crisis. It makes sombre reading.

The study notes that Pakistan faces "a dire and unprecedented crisis" brought on by "militancy, extremism, violence and intolerance" with "deep-seated roots embedded in systemic failure both of institutions and social development policies... characterised by a political-security-development nexus where each factor feeds into the other and the failure on one front raises the possibility of failure on all fronts." The war on terror has dislocated economic activity, life and property and created a climate of fear. Poor governance, rising poverty, the population explosion, inflation, food insecurity, unemployment and the failure to provide quality education and health care, energy shortages, an economic slowdown, decline in investment and rising fiscal deficits "have all created despondency, violence and lawlessness."

The cost of defence and police services has risen from $6 billion in 2007-08 to $10 billion in 2009-10, three times more than the bilateral assistance, military and economic, coming from the US. The public feeling is that despite increasing US assistance, Pakistan is paying a disproportionate cost in blood and treasure of the war on terror. Yet to any objective observer it would seem that, despite large remittances from the Pakistani diaspora, US military and economic aid is absolutely critical; without it, Pakistan would collapse.

Military and security/police expenditure accounted for 4.7 per cent of GDP in 2010-11 (military expenditure alone constituting 3.2 per cent). This is apart from the mushroom growth in private security services, with the Institute of Public Policy placing the number of private security guards in 2007-08 at over 200,000 personnel while the Daily Times estimates the figure at or more than the country's total police force.

The nation has suffered from diversion of funds from "a social surge to a security surge", especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Swat and Waziristan campaigns against the Taliban resulted in large-scale damage to infrastructure, livestock and property and internally displaced 3.5 million people. Adverse impacts have fallen disproportionately on women and girls, an already disadvantaged group in a conservative society.

The study argues that terrorism embraces more than violence by religious extremists. "The seeds of violence, intolerance and extremism lie within the highly divisive, inequitable and discriminatory system of governance practiced in Pakistan. Civil society believes that feudalism, poverty, lack of investment in human development, and lack of attention to civil facilities for the poor and less privileged are the main factors for widespread despair and dissatisfaction in the country." In FATA, women suffer "as Islam has been interpreted to them in a manner where women do not have any say... They are easily influenced and give their children for religious causes to become Mujahid."

The terrorism confronted by Pakistan has "cross-border dynamics", with security issues surrounded by threat perceptions, underlain by strong religious undertones related to political, ideological and cultural intolerance or biases. Non-state actors that pose a challenge to national security are also described as "a force multiplier in Pakistan." The US is viewed both as partner and adversary while "the Tehreek-e-Taliban continues to use violence/terror to force the government to comply with its demands." The conflict environment created by Afghanistan and the war on terror, the study says, is closely linked to the issue of social and religious identities backed by overt and covert foreign support. The dichotomy between concepts of a just society and an Islamic society, each claiming exclusive right to the truth, hinders dialogue. This has caused brutal divisions and thwarted efforts to cope with diverse moral values both within societies and cultures.

In the absence of alternative educational streams, madrasas (16,000 in 2005) have become important stakeholders in civil society in many areas, particularly Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. They focus on the study of Islam but do provide other basic education. Many view them with suspicion for allegedly teaching hate and intolerance. Of 245 religious organisations active in the country, 145 are sectarian, 25 are politically active and 12 are trying to establish "the Islamic caliphate system." At least 24 are militant and "most are running madrasas and training camps."

The trouble is that even the officially-mandated school textbooks exhibit strong bias. The SDPC's own report The Subtle Subversion documents the warped history taught, distorting Pakistan's antecedents and portraying India in a light that evokes scorn and enmity. Promised textbook reforms are still awaited. This in turn reflects Pakistan's unwillingness and, now, inability in the face of huge vested interests in the military and religious right, to give itself a positive identity and get on with building a nation that is in some ways yet to be. "Kashmir", "Afghanistan","the US" et al, are mere alibis for an inner cancer that only Pakistan can remove.

Now there are reports of discontent in the Pakistan army and resentment against the army and ISI chiefs. Though a "colonel's coup" is being ruled out, the very speculation is dangerous. The magistrate conducting the in camera trial of 26/11 suspects in a Rawalpindi jail has been transferred for the fourth time! Islamabad has rejected calls for action against LeT and Jaish leaders for fear of an unmanageable backlash at home. The murder of Saleem Shahzad, who reported on links between elements in the Pakistan navy and al-Qaeda, allegedly by the ISI, is another straw in the wind.

Indians should not gloat if Pakistan appears to be sinking. This is not good news. We too have formidable problems and have grievously underperformed in many sectors. Yet a vibrant democracy precludes collapse and provides ballast in troubled times. The army-Mullah ruling combination however threatens the future of the Pakistani state. Only the people of Pakistan can defuse this ticking time-bomb. The SPDC has posed the problem. More steps must follow.

The writer is a former editor of 'The Indian Express'







So here's the deal. Critics annihilated Salman Khan's latest caper Ready but the box office tells its own story. The film has joined the Rs 100-crore club and is on its way to be in the league of all-time smashers like 3 Idiots, Dabangg and Ghajini .

Once again, the audience verdict trumps over a film's critical merit. Call any producer in B town, especially those who specialise in what they call "mainstream commercial film" and they gleefully rattle off the Ready booty. Spurned by the critics for the staple mindless fare that they usually serve, these moneybags revel in the glory of a critic-proof film. Jerry Maguire got it right. In this part of town, it is all about "Show me the money".

The word on the street is pretty deafening. Post the humongous success of Dabangg and now Ready, the Salman stock is at an all time high. A top-line producer recently shared his pearls of wisdom with me. He did not wish to be quoted because he is trying to work out a project with one of the other Khans and does not want the "equation" to go wrong. According to this wily old guard, "Abhi Salman ka time hai. Woh Rajinikanth ban gaya hai. Log uske style ko dekhne jaate hain. Woh collar upar kar le toh style, woh pocket mein haath daal ke dance kare toh style. Log uska style dekhne jaate hain, picture kaisi bhi ho. Superstar toh pehle se tha abhi toh maha superstar ban gaya hai, Salman ." (Now it's Salman's time. He has become Rajinikanth. People go to see his style. If he turns his collar up, that's style. If he dances with his hands in his pockets, then that is style. People go to see his style, irrespective of the film he is in. He was always a superstar but now Salman has become a maha-superstar.)

The industry reacts to a blockbuster in its usual way. Imitation, as we all know, is the in-house specialty. All it takes is a bit of grassroot Bollywood cognisance to know that post-Dabangg we should brace ourselves for 10 more of the same. Why, even Ready's first promo carried the Dabangg surcharge: "Salman is back with Da Bang", remember? And the trend of Dabangg-styled promos continues. Check out the first look of the Ajay Devgn-starrer Singham and Amitabh Bachchan's Bbuddah... Hoga Tera Baap and rank them on their Dabangg quotient. Do it, you'll enjoy it.

Now with Ready also filling the coffers of its makers, get ready for more Ready (pun completely unintended) styled entertainment. The success of Ready is already being taken as a licence to bankroll an assembly line confection of gags, jokes and thrills, which is what passes of as "mainstream commercial film" in our country. In this part of B town, a hit is the only template that matters. It's the only currency.

Cut next to the other side of the town. It's a whole new world out here. It's dark, edgy, raw and psychedelic. Some famously refer it as The Anurag Kashyap Territory. Here critical merit is consciously sought and duly toasted. The inhabitants of The Anurag Kashyap Territory don't tom-tom numbers, instead they talk camera angles and mise-en-scene. They go into raptures discussing the brilliant execution of a shootout in Shaitan on the refrains of the vintage Khoya Khoya Chand melody. Cinema is but a trip, where God lies in the parts in the sum of the whole.

The world of Ready where Salman Khan says the dialogue, "Main kutta hoon aur yeh meri kuttiya hai" is termed paisa vasool whereas Kashyap's world, with its protagonists with mommy and daddy issues, is of the avant garde variety. And never the twain shall meet. The only heartening aspect is that in today's Bollywood, there's space for both these ideologies.

So, choose your poison. Ready, steady, go.







In response to Ashutosh Varshney's illuminating article ('State of civil society', IE, June 14), I would like to offer some comments. It is indeed true that law-making is the legislature's business, not civil society's. We are not talking about law-making, but about drafting a bill. If civil society (whatever that may be) can raise political issues, offer comments and suggestions, advocate radical changes in policies, and so on — and I doubt if Varshney would disapprove of that — there is no reason why it cannot put forward draft laws for consideration.

I see nothing inappropriate in non-officials putting forward a draft order or bill for the government's consideration. In fact they do not have to go the government. They can get a member of Parliament to introduce a bill. Is there not a quaint practice known as a private member's bill? It rarely happens but theoretically I presume it is a possibility. Leaving that aside, I repeat, I see nothing improper in a private person drafting a bill and offering it to the government for consideration. If that is wrong, I plead guilty: I have just drafted a national water framework law, first for consideration by a group of which I am the chairman, then by the Planning Commission, but eventually for the government's consideration.

Secondly, should civil society sit with government in a drafting committee? Why not? The government sets up numerous commissions and committees, very often with both official and non-official members, and both kinds of members function together in those commissions and committees and sign their reports. The reports make recommendations on all kinds of subjects, and there is no reason why those recommendations should not include a draft bill. Thereafter, it is of course for the government to accept or reject the recommendations; and of course Parliament may reject the bill.

In the present case, the government must have given due consideration to legal aspects before setting up a joint drafting committee. They did so reluctantly, and would have flat refused to do so, if any illegality or serious impropriety were involved. I have had serious misgivings about the idea of a joint drafting committee, and now those are being proved right. The question is not one of legality, but one of wisdom. Why embark on a venture that was foredoomed to failure? If both the government and the non-government members had decided to stand firm on certain issues, then the joint committee was bound to fail. The government loses nothing in this process. It is the civil society members who stand to lose.

What then should the civil society members have done? I think they should have provided their own draft to the government, put it in the public domain and carried on a campaign for it. They could not of course have compelled the government to accept their draft or Parliament to pass it, but they could have created strong public opinion in favour of their cause, as indeed Anna Hazare did with his fast. I wish this contretemps had been avoided.

Finally, a word about the NAC. Varshney has criticised it for drafting legislation. As pointed out earlier, only Parliament can pass laws, but there is nothing wrong in others outside drafting bills. My point, however, is that the NAC is not civil society. It is part of government — a government-established advisory committee or council. It has been a good channel for communication between the government and NGOs. There is room and need for such channels.

The writer is a former secretary, water resources, and is currently at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi







Turkey's recipe

The victory of Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey under the leadership of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a third successive term is greatly welcomed. Jamaat-e-Islami's biweekly Daawat writes on June 19: "At a time of rebellion and change against long-term Islamic regimes... this hat-trick by the Islamist Justice and Development Party has not only attracted the world's attention, but it also offers a lesson for the rulers of Islamic countries... The manner in which Erdogan has brought success to his party in the parliamentary elections can be described as a revolution in Turkey's multi-party system."

Siasat (Hyderabad and Bangalore) writes in its editorial on June 16: "Leaving aside the danger from terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda, Turkey has presented an example for its neighbours, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, showing how a successful way can be found amidst democracy, Islam and fundamentalism... Turkey has successfully integated its traditional society into the global framework."

Hyderabad's leading daily Munsif, in its June 14 editorial, is greatly critical of the policies of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, his "zeal for secularisation" and the "attempt to kill the Islamic identity not only of the government, but also of the people" and army supremacy, which continued until Erdogan came to power. The paper writes: "Israel had great support from Turkey in the Six-Day Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The Islamist AK Party coming to power marked the beginning of the end of the warmth of the Turkish-Israeli relationship. So much so that when relief vessels for the besieged Palestinians in Gaza were attacked by the Israeli army recently, Erdogan openly condemned Israel in the most severe terms."

Uma Bharti is back

Munsif, in its June 9 editorial, writes: "The RSS senior leadership had been planning for a while to bring Uma Bharti back to the BJP to pep up its workers caught up in the fight between the party's leaders, to take care of the backward caste votes, energise the party's campaign in Uttar Pradesh, present an outspoken face (moonhphat chehra) and inflame the Hindutva fire." But it also says, "There is little chance that the Sangh Parivar will succeed in its objective in UP, because Indian voters are now more aware, and have little interest in communal ideologies and the Hindutva agenda. They want development, an administration free from corruption, employment opportunities and food security."

Sahafat, published from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun, writes in an editorial (June 10): "It is obvious that the major reason is to keep Uma Bharti away from MP. It is no secret that the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Chauhan, is allergic to Bharti and Bharti cannot get over her grouse that Chauhan was picked over her by the party." Forecasting the political scenario in UP, Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar writes on June 12: "Bharti has entered the political field in UP in her provocative style, where she will have to face the state's CM. Mayawati has a firm grip on her administration and if Uma Bharti tries to create a communal environment in the state, her fate will be no different from that of Swami Ramdev."

M.F. Husain, R.I.P.

Paying a glowing tribute to the celebrated artist, M.F. Husain, the daily Inquilab (now published from Mumbai, Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur and Bareilly) writes in its June 10 editorial: "Five years ago, Husain had to go into self-imposed exile when the 'narrow-minded' became a danger to him and the 'broad-minded' failed to provide him security... Husain intensely minded the fact that the Indian government that had decorated him with honours, including three Padma awards, could not prevent him from being compelled to leave, despite the fact that he had even apologised in an interview... it is regrettable that the government could not bring him back."

Siasat, in its tribute on June 12, describes Husain's close links with Hyderabad. His wife belonged to this city and he always said, "I have an unbreakable relationship with Hyderabad." The paper adds that he regularly visited the city of the Charminar for over 50 years. Many newspapers have published special articles on the painter's art and life. Some have quoted Bahadurshah Zafar's famous line, "Do gaz zameen bhi na milee kuye yaar mein" (could not get even two yards of land for burial in the beloved's lane) — as true for Husain as it was for the last Mughal king, who died in exile in Rangoon.









The timing is atrocious. At a time when the world is yet to get over the aftershocks of the financial crisis where derivatives had such a large role to play, the World Bank is encouraging developing countries to use derivatives to insure against volatility in agricultural prices. But once you get over the initial shock, and stick to keeping the derivatives simple, the idea is worth exploring. The World Bank is not just talking in the air, it has put its money on the line. It has tied up with investment bank JP Morgan, each will put in $200 mn and this, the Bank says, will allow developing countries to buy $4 bn of price protection. In simple terms, farmers can now offer to sell $4 bn of their commodities at some date in the future. If the price falls below this, to say $3.5 bn, those entering into a contract with the farmers will have to make good the $4 bn. The cost of this insurance, as it were, will be a maximum of $400 mn according to the Bank. What if the price goes above $4bn? The important thing to keep in mind, of course, is that the farmers' income is getting protected. But to address the specific situation, if a country allows 'put' options—India does not, as amendments to the Forward Contract Regulations Act of 1952 have been pending for over a decade—farmers can opt out of the contract.


Obviously the safeguards have to be in place, and that means a regulator which ensures contracts are understood by all parties concerned; the commodities in which this is to be allowed have to be very liquid—the fiasco with guar gum prices some years ago comes to mind; regulators in India have been thinking about these safeguards for many years and will obviously come up with more as further lacunae are exposed, but there's no excuse for the refusal to experiment with 'put' and 'call' options (a 'call' is the opposite of a 'put' in the sense it is an option to buy, not sell, at a certain price). The other interesting issue relates to India's policy of providing price support to farmers through the Minimum Support Price (MSP). While MSP guarantees price support to farmers through the Food Corporation of India's (FCI) procurement, this is limited to 3-4 states. A system of 'put' and 'call' options, where the premium is paid by the government, would allow the government to extend price guarantees to farmers across the country, and at a fraction of the current cost. It is no one's case, FCI shouldn't have food buffers, but using options allows FCI to keep the buffers to the minimum while still supporting farmers.





Manufacturing is once again poised to come to the limelight with the government preparing a road map to increase the share of manufacturing in the GDP from the current nearly 15% to 25%, and create an additional 100 mn new jobs. While the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) is finalising the National Manufacturing Policy, the Planning Commission is coming up with a comprehensive National Manufacturing Plan as a part of its 12th Plan exercise. But one important aspect that both agencies would have to focus on is the sparse presence of manufacturing in most parts of the country, with the production concentrated in a handful of states. The numbers from the Annual Survey of Industries show that the top five states in the country account for 57% of the factories, 55% of the employment and 56% of the output in the organised manufacturing sector. Which means that only the remaining 45% of the manufacturing sector is distributed across 26 states and union territories. At the top end are states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu who have a disproportionately large share of the sector. Maharashtra, which has 9% of the total population, accounts for 18% of the total manufacturing sector output and 13% each of the factories and the workforce employed. Similarly, the share of manufacturing sector output in Gujarat is more than three times its share in population, with the numbers being 16% and 5%, respectively. The worst case scenario is of Bihar, which accounts for 9% of the population but just 1% of the factories, employment and output of the manufacturing sector. West Bengal is another pathetic case. While the state accounts for 8% of the population, its share of manufacturing sector output is just 2%, although it accounts for 4% each of the factories and manufacturing employment.

One reason for the skewed spread of the manufacturing sector is the concentration of different industries in a few states. For instance, in the case of traditional industries with the maximum employment potential, like food products and textiles, 40-50% of the output is concentrated in three leading states. In the case chemicals—another major industrial segment—the top three states account for 56% of the production. And the trend continues in sunrise sectors like computers & electronic products and motor vehicles. While the top three states account for 53% of the total output of the former, the share is a still more substantial 74% in the latter. Agglomeration economies and logistic chains almost always ensure manufacturing industries flourish in a few chosen locations. Extending the presence of the manufacturing sector into the less developed states would require innovative strategies to attract new investments into the regions.






JPMorgan Chase this week became the second Wall Street bank after Goldman Sachs to face a large fine and a stiff warning over its sales of mortgage-backed bonds in the last days of the housing bubble in spring 2007. Others are to come, perhaps including Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup.

It is no coincidence that the Wall Street banks have lobbied with such energy against efforts to force trading of more derivatives on to exchanges and through clearing houses. They do not want the black box of fixed income and derivatives trading, which has provided so much of their profits for so long, to be exposed to plain view.

The failure of US prosecutors to secure criminal convictions against any senior bankers or hedge fund managers apart from Raj Rajaratnam is a let-down. They have been defeated by the difficulty of proving fraudulent intent in the deceptions that flourished as banks struggled with mortgage losses.

Yet JPMorgan's battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in which it paid $153m to settle civil fraud charges, carries an important lesson. The behaviour revealed in the JPMorgan and Goldman cases is a product of the conflicts of interest embedded in how integrated Wall Street banks work. As they say in Silicon Valley, it's not a bug—it's a feature.

That feature is inherent in most of what banks do, but the opacity and complexity of credit derivatives—especially mortgage-related securities such as collateralised debt obligations—let deception, overpricing and ultimately fraud flourish. From this black box came the bulk of revenues and bonuses.

In some ways, JPMorgan's case is less serious than that of Goldman. It has been wilier in keeping its head down, its fine was lower ($133m versus $300m) and the SEC did not impose such serious conditions on the settlement. There was no equivalent of Goldman's "Fabulous Fab" Tourre and his lurid e-mails.

But the difference is a matter of degree. In other ways, the case against JPMorgan is a carbon copy of the Goldman one. The SEC caught both of them failing to be honest with the investors to which they were selling securities about the involvement of a hedge fund in designing the instruments.

That was the alleged fraud (neither bank conceded it) but, to my mind, JPMorgan and Goldman's most egregious behaviour came when they found themselves stuck with the flawed securities in spring 2007. Both scrambled to find gullible investors on whom to dump the problem.

In JPMorgan's case, that meant passing on $150m of mezzanine securities (soon to become worthless) to, among others, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a faith-based life insurer from Minneapolis; two Taiwanese life insurance companies, Far Glory Life and Taiwan Life; and Security Benefit Corporation, a life and pensions company from Topeka, Kansas, which woke up to find it wasn't in Kansas any more.

The internal e-mails urging the JPMorgan sales team to pass along its securities ("We are sooo pregnant with this deal, we need a wheel-barrel [sic] to move around") are like those at Goldman at the same time. "Things we need to do ... Get out of everything," Dan Sparks, Goldman's former mortgage head, noted after a call with another executive.

The Wall Street defence for this kind of behaviour is that these were sophisticated investors that were qualified to make up their own mind about mortgage securities—even immensely complex ones. JPMorgan has been told to pay the money back not because it was inherently wrong to sell securities it no longer trusted but because it did not make the right disclosures.

Even if the securities had been labelled correctly, however, there was something wrong about the entire way that Wall Street behaved. These institutions were not widows and orphans themselves but they represented ordinary people's retirement funds and the losses they suffered would, had the financial crisis not occurred and investigations been made, ended up as a levy on annuities and pensions.

The synthetic CDOs that caused the trouble were expensive bespoke instruments that were very profitable for the banks involved—JPMorgan was paid $19m to structure and market the Squared CDO alone before it got stuck with $880m in unanticipated losses. Their complexity meant that only a few professionals could grasp them—most "sophisticated" investors went by credit ratings.

For investors, it was akin to being informed by a mechanic at the local garage that your vehicle needs expensive new parts and servicing. The garage has an incentive to charge you as much as possible and the information asymmetry between professional and customer makes it easy to pad the bill.

As long as the structure encourages it, investment banks will place their interests above those of their clients, no matter what they say. That is one reason why the US and European reforms to push as much of the derivatives market on to to exchanges and clearing houses—and into sight—are vital.

It also reminds me of the way the City of London was organised before the Big Bang deregulation in 1986, when stock brokers were separated from stock jobbers (what would now be known as marketmakers). That was partly to ensure that brokers did not pass on shares to customers to avoid losses themselves.

It seems old fashioned, and was ended by the Thatcher government in an effort to make the City competitive with Wall Street. But it had virtues that, reading the SEC's settlements with JPMorgan and Goldman, make me nostalgic.

©The Financial Times Limited 2011





Say what you will about the IMF, but the problems dropping in the Washington, DC-based institution's lap are massive. The job, in fact, is too large for any one person to handle. Plus, the IMF has had an unfortunate tendency in recent years, well beyond the current calamity, of seeing its boss, or managing director, not serve out their term.

That has led to a series of rather acrimonious succession races, which the institution cannot afford. It would be much better to always have somebody in the number two slot to move up to number one, in case the need arises.

For that to happen, however, something needs to change inside the IMF's structure. Traditionally, the No 2 job—that of first deputy managing director—has always gone to a US national, usually one of the country's top economists. In Madame Lagarde and Mr Carstens, the IMF is blessed with having two very well-qualified candidates. Both individuals have impressive track records while in office in their home countries. However, Christine Lagarde's eventual elevation to the top post, if it comes to pass, does not resolve the problem of the under-representation of the emerging markets at the top level of the IMF.

Fortunately, the US government—in an enlightened display of wisely applied self-interest—is in a position to unilaterally fix the problem. Forfeiting the right to pick a US national as first deputy managing director and suggesting Agustin Carstens for that post, who is Mexican by nationality, would do wonders for the US relationship with Mexico, Latin America and the developing world.

In policy terms, it would cost the US next to nothing. The University of Chicago-trained Mr Carstens, after all, de facto is a US economist. He is as rigorous as they come.

In light of that option, I would argue that, yes, we can have it all—a woman at the top of the IMF, alongside an emerging market representative. It would be a truly Solomonic solution—and one that that is forward-looking and dependable.

Rather than just Europe, Christine Lagarde represents a much larger global constituency that has never received the nod for one of the top global jobs: the half of humanity comprised of women.

She is a consummate professional, very global and smart, a good manager and, this will matter a great deal in the years to come, a very good explainer to the public at large of complex economic challenges on the global agenda.

And offering Mexico's former finance minister and current central bank president, the wily Agustin Carstens, the "American" post currently held by John Lipsky, the former chief economist at Salomon Brothers and JP Morgan, should come natural.

Making this offer doesn't even lead to any power loss for the US at the institution. The organisation's agenda is really determined by a board of directors that is in permanent session. Consisting of 24 executive directors, representing single governments, groups of countries and broader regional constituencies, this body is quite unequal in structure.

Far from being "one man, one vote", or consensus-based, what counts here is money. Voting rights are effectively based on capital percentages of paid-in funds. And here, one country stands above all others: the US. Its share of about 17% effectively gives it veto power at the Fund, as important decisions require a supermajority of 85%.

For all the focus on the Europeans, and they do remain overrepresented at the Fund (but don't vote in unison), the real kingpin of the IMF is the US government. Unlike the UN, the IMF in essence has a permanent "security council" composed not of five members, but one: the US. Given that veto power, one must wonder why the US indeed does get to "double dip".

That veto is exercised by the US executive director at the IMF. Without any doubt, the views of the US government do get extremely close consideration in board discussions at the IMF. They may not always be the determining factor but, by practice and track record, are clearly the overpowering one. That makes it plain that there is no need for the US to have another "chief control officer" in the post of first deputy managing director.

Finally, is it really feasible to have a true condominium in the IMF leadership? I would answer yes. Clearly, the IMF is a pivotal institution. Having a healthy dose of economic management insight from the battle-experienced—and disciplined (and potentially disciplining) emerging markets is important.

Given the challenges at hand, the IMF's top bosses need to live in an airplane, while at the same time managing the institution and coming up with responses to crises. Why not have two of them, in a co-directorate? The two individuals under consideration would make a great team: one for the complex politics, the other for the complex economics.

For all of Mr Carstens's indubitable talents, being part chummy and part resolute with top-level political counterparts, as the job requires when things burn, isn't one of them. And for all of Ms Lagarde's indisputable communications and leadership skills, thinking through the ins and outs of complex economic and financial recovery strategies doesn't come naturally to her. But the two would make a good team in the sense that their respective sets of analytical skills are not just top-notch, but highly complementary.

Time therefore for the US government to act in an enlightened and conciliatory manner and state that the presumed US seat, this time around, really is an "Americas" seat, to be occupied by one of Chicago's finest minds, Agustin Carstens.

The author is president, The Globalist Research Center and Publisher,






External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has returned from a three-day official visit to Myanmar without meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and international democracy icon who was freed in late 2010 by that country's military regime after several years under house arrest. He left that chore to Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. The Minister's visit was billed as India's first high-level interaction with the "new civilian government." It would be best to drop the pretence. The Myanmar government is not civilian by any standards. It is run by the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a military proxy that unsurprisingly won a sham election in October 2010. Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy boycotted the election as the junta introduced new rules to keep the Nobel Laureate out of the process. The newly elected Parliament, dominated by the military and its proxies, chose USDP leader Thein Sein as the new "civilian" President in March 2011 after he was handpicked by Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the junta's outgoing State Peace and Development Council. President Sein was a serving general until last year and the Prime Minister in the SPDC regime. A junta loyalist, he is expected to maintain continuity with the junta's policies. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we know that the Indian foreign policy establishment thinks Ms Suu Kyi's "day has come and gone," and that India's engagement with the Myanmarese military is based on security considerations in the North-East and its fears of losing influence to China. But if this is India's state policy, it should say this openly instead of projecting its dance with the generals as "engagement" with civilians.

India and Myanmar have come a long way in their bilateral ties since New Delhi's barely remembered conferment of the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding on Ms Suu Kyi in 1991. Engagement with the generals has paid India dividends: Myanmar is no longer soft on militant groups that operate in India's North-East; New Delhi is involved in a dozen ventures in the energy, agriculture, power, telecommunications, and infrastructure sectors. The construction of a $110 million "multi-nodal" Kaladan transport project linking the landlocked North-East with Sittwe seaport in Myanmar is well under way, and Mr. Krishna's visit has netted more MoUs. But while New Delhi furthers its ties with Myanmar's men in uniform, it will live on India's conscience that it quietly abandoned the Gandhian Ms Suu Kyi. Only last week, on the occasion of her 66th birthday, she reiterated a plea to India to live up to its democratic credentials by "engaging more" with Myanmar's democracy activists. It seems even that was too much to ask.






The e-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, have the potential to turn a growing problem into a development opportunity. With almost a year to go before the rules take effect, there is enough time to create the necessary infrastructure for collection, dismantling, and recycling of electronic waste. The focus must be on sincere and efficient implementation. Only decisive action can eliminate the scandalous pollution and health costs associated with India's hazardous waste recycling industry. If India can achieve a transformation, it will be creating a whole new employment sector that provides good wages and working conditions for tens of thousands. The legacy response of the States to even the basic law on urban waste, the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, has been one of indifference; many cities continue to simply burn the garbage or dump it in lakes. With the emphasis now on segregation of waste at source and recovery of materials, it should be feasible to implement both sets of rules efficiently. A welcome feature of the new e-waste rules is the emphasis on extended producer responsibility. In other words, producers must take responsibility for the disposal of end-of-life products. For this provision to work, they must ensure that consumers who sell scrap get some form of financial incentive.

The e-waste rules, which derive from those pertaining to hazardous waste, are scheduled to come into force on May 1, 2012. Sound as they are, the task of scientifically disposing of a few hundred thousand tonnes of trash electronics annually depends heavily on a system of oversight by State Pollution Control Boards. Unfortunately, most PCBs remain unaccountable and often lack the resources for active enforcement. It must be pointed out that, although agencies handling e-waste must obtain environmental clearances and be authorised and registered by the PCBs even under the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008, there has been little practical impact. Over 95 per cent of electronic waste is collected and recycled by the informal sector. The way forward is for the PCBs to be made accountable for enforcement of the e-waste rules, and the levy of penalties under environmental laws. Clearly, the first order priority is to create a system that will absorb the 80,000-strong workforce in the informal sector into the proposed scheme for scientific recycling. Facilities must be created to upgrade the skills of these workers through training and their occupational health must be ensured.







"Disability need not be an obstacle to success … It is my hope that … this century will mark a turning point for inclusion of people with disabilities in the lives of their societies." — Professor Stephen Hawking, "Foreword," World Report on Disability.

The inauguration of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2008 signalled the recognition of disability as a human rights issue. Research in different countries has demonstrated the ways in which disability is a development issue as well by mapping its bidirectional link to poverty. The World Health Organisation's World Report on Disability (WRD), prepared in response to a request of the World Health Assembly, affirms the work of disability rights advocates and attempts to fill the knowledge and information gap on disability.

The lack of a standard measure of disability across countries makes definition, comparisons and statistical estimates of the incidence a challenging task. Combining the 2010 population estimates and the 2004 disability prevalence estimates of the World Health Survey and Global Burden of Disease, the WRD estimates that there are over a billion people, i.e. 15 per cent of the world's population (including children), living with disability (p.29). The National Disability Policy of India estimated in 2006 that the disabled constitute 2.13 per cent of the country's population.

It is now widely understood that environment determines a person's experience of disability — either as a facilitator or barrier. But what do we mean by "environment?" The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), which the WRD draws on, maps environmental factors ranging from technological and built environment to emotional and psycho-social environments that influence active participation. Importantly, this classification makes a distinction between capacity and actual performance, the gap between which could be indicative of the environmental barriers that need to be eliminated.

Accessibility is a concern that cuts across different domains of environment and must reach persons across disabilities. While it is widely acknowledged that accessibility standards are indispensable to inclusion and non-discrimination on grounds of disabilities, these have largely been left to the goodwill of the institutions — state and private. The WRD observes, "Laws with mandatory access standards are the most effective way to achieve accessibility" (page 175).

Disability audits of public and health care services, of existing and proposed policy and of institutions and organisations, have pointed to the practices of exclusion and indirect discrimination resulting from a lack of sensitivity to the needs of people with disabilities. A global survey in 2005 showed that of 114 countries, 37 had no training in place for rehabilitation professionals and 56 had not updated medical knowledge of health care providers on disability (WRD, page 110). Aggravating these barriers in the structural and systemic environment are mental barriers — negative stereotypes and stigmatisation — that question the right to choice, family life, adoption and such for persons with disabilities (page 6).

While there is a general tendency to homogenise disability and flatten out the diversity of condition and capability, disability is, in fact, stunningly diverse and encompasses the child with learning disabilities, the injured soldier and the elderly man with severely impaired mobility, not to speak of survivors of violence and the mentally ill.

The distinction between disability and ill-health is an important one. The WRD cites an Australian National Health Survey in which 40 per cent of people with severe or profound disability rated their health as good, very good or excellent (p. 8). Yet, unarguably, ensuring the prevention of health conditions that lead to disability is a development concern. The World Health Survey cited in the WRD draws attention to attitudinal, physical and systemic barriers that impede the access of the disabled to health care, drawing on the findings of research in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu that pointed to cost, lack of local services and transportation as being the top three obstacles to using health facilities (p. 62-63). The financing of health care, making it affordable and making medical equipment accessible to the disabled remain an urgent concern. The failure of service providers to communicate in appropriate formats or with sensitivity to the needs of the disabled care seekers might result, as it did in Zimbabwe, in the exclusion of the disabled from routine screening and counselling services (p. 72). Care coordination, in this context, is extremely important, and short-term increases in service delivery costs are compensated by efficiency and effective delivery in the long term.

The exposure of children to multiple risks, compounded by children screening positive for a high risk of disability being denied access to adequate childcare and nutrition, foregrounds the criticality of the family in providing care to children who are disabled and those facing increased risk. A 2005 study by UNICEF estimated 150 million children with disabilities. Data from specific countries also suggest a higher risk in children belonging to ethnic minorities (p. 36). There is a sizable enrolment gap between children with and without disabilities, with figures across Asia, Europe, Africa and South America showing higher enrolment rates for non-disabled children across age groups (page 207-208). School problems, the report found, revolved around curriculum, pedagogy, inadequate training of teachers, physical barriers, labelling, violence, bullying and abuse (p. 209).

The denial of equality, dignity and autonomy to persons with disabilities lies at the core of disability rights as human rights. An important finding of the WRD, and one that confirms our experience in India, is that persons with disabilities are at a greater risk of being targeted by violence. In the United States, the risk is 4-10 times more. Among the various forms of violence, sexual violence, especially against intellectually challenged persons who are in institutional care, is a major concern. The recent Chandigarh Administration case is an example. Even more serious are the legitimate incarceration of the mentally ill and the denial of fundamental rights under the Constitution. This treatment is echoed in the Disability Rights International report on the mentally ill in Paraguay, which documented life-threatening abuses and incarceration in dehumanising conditions (p. 146). In this regard, the Italian experience of deinstitutionalising the mentally ill and equipping general hospitals to care for mentally ill patients, thus integrating mental health care with general health care, merits special mention. Although the coverage is far from adequate, the enactment of legislation and the drawing up of concrete plans of action supported by budgetary allocations and inter-sectoral professional services show the way forward (p. 106). This trend towards deinstitutionalising has also been followed in some countries in Eastern Europe, notably Romania.

Article 12 of the UNCRPD places an obligation on governments to put in place adequate mechanisms for effective, supported decision-making by persons with disabilities, ensuring thereby that they do not lose legal capacity on grounds of disability. The WRD finds large gaps in meeting support needs across the world — China, for instance, reported a shortage of personnel; and 30 countries (including Iraq, Madagascar, Mexico, Sudan, Thailand, and the United Republic of Tanzania) reported having fewer than 20 sign language interpreters (p. 140). The Disabled Children's Action Group set up by parents of children with disabilities to address the needs of children from black and coloured communities in South Africa in 1993 is an example of how a mutual support group can actually change the contexts in which children grow up (p. 143).

This report is particularly relevant for us in India at a time when we are witnessing a concerted effort to put an effective and comprehensive national law in place.

(Kalpana Kannabiran is Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad.)








On June 26, the people of "Azad Jammu and Kashmir" or Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) will elect a new Assembly. Speaking at a recent international conference on Kashmir in the PoK capital Muzaffarabad, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, declared that the election would be "free and fair."

To the participants from Jammu and Kashmir, including this correspondent, Mr. Gilani's assurance reminded us of a similar one given by former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. On August 15, 2002, he declared from the ramparts of the Red Fort that elections to the Assembly would be conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner. The same promise was given by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of 2008 Assembly elections.

Normally there should not be a need to give such assurances. But as with New Delhi's role in the Jammu and Kashmir elections, particularly those held before 2002, Islamabad's role in the PoK elections has always been viewed with suspicion. And in PoK, it's not just the ruling political party in Pakistan — the Army too is believed to have a major say in "choosing" the government and the candidate for "Prime Minister."

In the past three years, PoK has seen three Prime Ministers succeeding each other, mainly due to differences within the Muslim Conference, the ruling party. But Islamabad's "choice" is important.

The current Prime Minister Sardar Attique Khan was the frontrunner for the post in 2001 but could not make it due to a lack of support from then President Pervez Musharraf and the Army. Sikandar Hayat Khan was the chosen one then. Later, it was Sardar Yaqoob Khan. In between, Raja Farooq Haider, known for advocating more powers for the Prime Minister succeeded him but could not survive for more than nine months.

While the political parties are not above manoeuvring Pakistan's ruling establishment to retain power, there is little confidence that the elections in PoK will be free or fair. Observers said Prime Minister Gilani was simply trying to offer a justification in advance for the "likelihood" of his People's Party coming to power in PoK.

"By saying so, he wanted to clear the air that even if the PPP returns to power it would be outcome of a free and fair process," said an analyst in Muzaffarabad. Islamabad also retains the right to select the head of PoK's government, who is designated as Prime Minister.

Nawaz Sharif's pledge

Interestingly, former Prime Minister of Pakistan and head of Pakistan Muslim League (N) Nawaz Sharif has pledged to the people of PoK that his party would rid them of "military democracy."

"PML-N would establish an exemplary democracy in the State by providing the people their due rights, justice, development and prosperity. The PML-N AJK would restore people's right to rule, end corruption and plundering and establish good governance," Pakistan's leading daily The Nation quoted him as saying in a report headlined "PML-N to rid AJK of 'military democracy."

In Jammu and Kashmir too, elections have always been questioned. Before the elections in 2002 and 2008, and bar the one in 1977, people's confidence in the entire process had taken a beating. The common refrain was that New Delhi either "manipulated or managed" the elections to "select" the men of its choice.

It was such an election in 1987 that turned the tide in Kashmir, enabling an armed militant struggle to occupy the political space. Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin who fought those elections as Mohammad Yousuf Shah, told this writer "by large-scale rigging in those elections, New Delhi performed the last rites of democracy in Kashmir."

It is another matter that the confidence deficit in the political system in PoK has not pushed the people towards militancy even though the issues causing discontent are eerily similar.

In Jammu and Kashmir, demands for restoration of greater autonomy are loudly voiced by parties like the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which describes it as "self-rule."

These demands have an echo in PoK, where — if the political grapevine is to be believed — the ouster of Raja Farooq Haider as the Prime Minister was not purely because he lost confidence in the house but "manipulated" by Islamabad as he had turned more vocal in his demands for empowering his office.

Mr. Haider had demanded that the Kashmir Council, headed by the Pakistan Prime Minister should not overrule the authority of the PoK government, particularly in financial matters. A general grievance is that PoK does not get an equal share in federal taxes nor has there been an equal share and representation in Pakistan's National Finance Commission Award.

As in Jammu and Kashmir, the tussle over water resources in PoK is another contentious issue that bedevils its relations with the Centre, with PoK demanding its share in the profits from hydel power generated from the region. A long-standing wrangle over the Mangla dam has found new voice with the demand that PoK should get royalties just as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is being duly compensated from the Tarbela dam.

People in PoK are concerned also about two more power projects being constructed by Chinese companies on the Neelum-Jhelum confluence and Kohala with a capacity of over 2,000 MW each. They fear that what they see as their just compensation will be looted from them.

Clearly, in PoK as in J&K, despite elections being held regularly, there is a feeling of being ridden roughshod by the Centre. Even if political relations between New Delhi and Srinagar are substantially different from those between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), political discontent clearly revolves around similar issues, linked to "control" exerted by the respective capital cities and the demand for greater autonomy.






Europe has led the world in the practice of democracy. It is therefore worrying that the dangers to democratic governance today, coming through the back door of financial priority, are not receiving the attention they should. There are profound issues to be faced about how Europe's democratic governance could be undermined by the hugely heightened role of financial institutions and rating agencies, which now lord it freely over parts of Europe's political terrain.

Two distinct issues need to be separated. The first concerns the place of democratic priorities, including what Walter Bagehot and John Stuart Mill saw as the need for "governance by discussion." Suppose we accept that the powerful financial bosses have a realistic understanding of what needs to be done. This would strengthen the case for paying attention to their voices in a democratic dialogue. But that is not the same thing as allowing the international financial institutions and rating agencies the unilateral power to command democratically elected governments.

Second, it is quite hard to see that the sacrifices that the financial commanders have been demanding from precarious countries would deliver the ultimate viability of these countries and guarantee the continuation of the euro within an unreformed pattern of financial amalgamation and an unchanged membership of the euro club. The diagnosis of economic problems by rating agencies is not the voice of verity that they pretend. It is worth remembering that the record of rating agencies in certifying financial and business institutions preceding the 2008 economic crisis was so abysmal that the U.S. Congress seriously debated whether they should be prosecuted.

Since much of Europe is now engaged in achieving quick reduction of public deficits through drastic reduction of public expenditure, it is crucial to scrutinise realistically what the likely impact of the chosen policies may be, both on people and the generating of public revenue through economic growth. The high morals of "sacrifice" do, of course, have an intoxicating effect. This is the philosophy of the "right" corset: "If madam is at all comfortable in it, then madam certainly needs a smaller size." However, if the demands of financial appropriateness are linked too mechanically to immediate cuts, the result could be the killing of the goose that lays the golden egg of economic growth.

This concern applies to a number of countries, from Britain to Greece. The commonality of the "blood, sweat and tears" strategy of deficit reduction gives some apparent plausibility to what is being imposed on more precarious countries like Greece or Portugal. It also makes it harder to have a united political voice in Europe that can stand up to the panic generated in the financial markets.

Greek protesters during a peaceful rally before Parliament against plans for new austerity measures.

In addition to a bigger political vision, there is a need for clearer economic thinking. The tendency to ignore the importance of economic growth in generating public revenue should be a major item for scrutiny. The strong connection between growth and public revenue has been observed in many countries, from China and India to the U.S. and Brazil.

There are lessons from history here, too. The big public debts of many countries when the Second World War ended caused huge anxieties, but the burden diminished rapidly thanks to fast economic growth. Similarly, the huge deficits that President Clinton faced when he came to office in 1992 melted away during his presidency, greatly aided by speedy economic growth.

The fear of a threat to democracy does not, of course, apply to Britain, since these policies have been chosen by a government empowered by democratic elections. Even though the unfolding of a strategy that was not revealed at the time of election can be a reason for some pause, this is the kind of freedom that a democratic system does allow the electorally victorious. But that does not eliminate the need for more public discussion, even in Britain. There is also a need to recognise how the self-chosen restrictive policies in Britain seem to give plausibility to the even more drastic policies being imposed on Greece.

How did some of the Euro countries get into this mess? The oddity of going for a united currency without more political and economic integration has certainly played a part, even after taking note of financial transgressions that have undoubtedly been committed in the past by countries such as Greece or Portugal (and even after noting Mario Monti's important point that a culture of "excessive deference" in the EU has allowed these transgressions to go unchecked). It is to the huge credit of the Greek government — George Papandreou, the Prime Minister, in particular — that it is doing what it can despite political resistance, but the pained willingness of Athens to comply does not eliminate the European need to examine the wisdom of the requirements — and the timing — being imposed on Greece.

Worry about the euro

It is no consolation for me to recollect that I was firmly opposed to the euro, despite being very strongly in favour of European unity. My worry about the euro was partly connected with each country giving up the freedom of monetary policy and of exchange rate adjustments, which have greatly helped countries in difficulty in the past, and prevented the necessity of massive destabilisation of human lives in frantic efforts to stabilise the financial markets. That monetary freedom could be given up when there is also political and fiscal integration (as the states in the U.S. have), but the halfway house of the eurozone has been a recipe for disaster. The wonderful political idea of a united democratic Europe has been made to incorporate a precarious programme of incoherent financial amalgamation. Rearranging the eurozone now would have many problems, but difficult issues have to be intelligently discussed, rather than allowing Europe to drift in financial winds fed by narrow-minded thinking with a terrible track record. The process has to begin with some immediate restraining of the unopposed power of rating agencies to issue unilateral commands. These agencies are hard to discipline despite their abysmal record, but a well-reflected voice of legitimate governments can make a big difference to financial confidence while solutions are worked out, especially if the international financial institutions lend their support. Stopping the marginalisation of the democratic tradition of Europe has an urgency that is hard to exaggerate. European democracy is important for Europe — and for the world. ( Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate, is professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University.) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






The oldest cliche in Afghanistan is to describe the country in terms of the "Great Game," the 19th-century geostrategic chessboard of British colonists, Afghan kings and Russian tsars.

Yet there is little doubt that, with the start of a phased American troop withdrawal, the bugle has been sounded for a fresh bout of political and military scrambling to shape the destiny of a perilously fragile nation.

In the short term, last night's (June 22) announcement from Washington will have a greater impact on U.S. politics than on Afghan security. Just 10 per cent of the American force is due to leave this year, leaving some 90,000 soldiers behind. It's easy to forget that only six years ago the U.S. contingent was just 12,000 strong.

But it does signal the starting point of Taliban peace talks. On Sunday, June 19, the outgoing U.S. Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, confirmed the Obama administration was engaged in "outreach" talks with Taliban members, the first U.S. acknowledgement of such contacts.

The political landscape is already changing. Once reviled figures, such as the former Taliban Minister Maulvi Qalamuddin, have been rehabilitated. So have another five Taliban figures appointed by President Hamid Karzai to a "high peace council" that will help negotiate with the insurgency.

Yet this process leaves many Afghans queasy and apprehensive. Yesterday, Thomas Ruttig, an analyst with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, visited Kabul University to talk to students. "They were really frightened the troops were leaving," he said. "There's a lot of criticism of western forces, of course. But if push comes to shove, they're worried the Taliban will ultimately take over again." Insecurity is fed by the lack of information about the insurgents' political demands. "We have to find out if they really want to talk, what they want and — the key question — whether they are ready to accept a pluralistic society," said Ruttig.

Security forces

In the meantime, the western goal is to "Afghanise" the security forces. It starts next month when North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) hands control of two small provinces and five urban centres, including most of Kabul, to the fledgling Afghan army.

The Afghans claim to be prepared. The army will have more than 170,000 troops by October and an arsenal of western-supplied weapons, according to the defence ministry. But questions remain about the ability of Afghan soldiers to use their weapons against a formidable guerrilla force.

The violence graph is heading in the wrong direction. Last May was the deadliest month for Afghan civilians since the UN started tracking deaths in 2007, with the Taliban responsible for the majority of the 368 deaths.

Civilian security forces are also weak. The western city of Herat, for example, with 7,50,000 people, has just 180 police. Residents say some are drug addicts, others irredeemably corrupt. Change is also looming in the aid business. A decade of western assistance has brought visible benefits to the streets of Kabul, where a small elite has prospered through a combination of legitimate business, political corruption and lucrative security contracts. Property prices have soared, streets been paved and electricity improved. But many ordinary Afghans remain trapped deep in poverty. Now the troop drawdown will slow the flow of western money.

The Canadian government says it will halve development assistance as it withdraws most of its soldiers this year. The World Food Programme says it is slashing projects in half of the country.

The greatest changes will take place in 2014, when all U.S. and British combat troops are due to leave. The most pressing question now is what will take their place.

In recent months, President Karzai has become strongly critical of his western allies, recently engaging in a bitter public spat with the U.S. Ambassador. Pakistan, India, Russia and China, with one eye on a peace deal, are already jockeying for position. But it is still early days, and much remains unclear.

Meanwhile, western officials are facing up to the fact that, after a decade and billions in foreign aid, they made modest gains in a country where education remains poor, poverty is widespread and corruption is endemic. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






U.S. President Barack Obama's much-awaited speech on Wednesday on the way forward in Afghanistan — as he prepares for his re-election bid — confirms prognostications that the US domestic political agenda would trump the merits of the case in Afghanistan. Clearly, the address is intended to quell domestic anxieties on the economic front and serve as an assurance to the American people to "responsibly end the wars" (including in Iraq).

The new focus of the Obama administration in the remainder of its present term is thus quite plainly to be on "nation-building" in the US after a trillion dollars have been spent in the last decade on war at a time of economic hardships in the country. Specifically the President alluded to unleashing innovation for new jobs and industries and the building of infrastructure.

If this backdrop has guided the President's analysis of the American war effort in the AfPak region, there naturally appeared in the speech only a passing and symbolic reference to the Pakistan factor in the Afghanistan conundrum, the centrepiece of which is the dynamics of Al Qaeda and Taliban penetration of AfPak in response to which America had sent in its forces in the first place. In an unobtrusive manner this also suggests the importance Washington continues to attach to its ally of many decades, undercutting simplistic assumptions about the relationship going sour after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the anger resulting from this inside that country. And not to put too fine a point on it, the US leader appears to be pointing out almost apologetically in his speech that seven years of the war (now about 10 years old) had already passed when he took office, implying that he be not held responsible if the Afghan battlefield now presents the picture of a military stalemate although there have been occasional bright spots for the US war effort.

The President has announced the drawing down of 10,000 soldiers by the end of this year and a total of 33,000 by next September — in effect, the removal of the so-called "surge" troops that were inserted in March-April last year. Thus, when electioneering for the presidency will be at its peak, US soldiers will be seen heading home (regardless of the state of military play in AfPak). Mr Obama doubtless expects this to give his chances a shot in the arm. Alongside this, to drive home the point, in Chicago will be scheduled next summer a summit of America's Nato allies and partners — and this naturally means Pakistan — on how to manage the "transition" in Afghanistan. At this point, it is easy to see this as a PR exercise more than anything else in which the so-called political aspects of the Afghan case may be expected to be underlined.

Peace cannot come without a "political settlement" in Afghanistan that includes the Taliban, the President noted. Lip service continues to be paid to the requirement that for this to materialise the extremist fighters must dissociate from Al Qaeda, eschew violence and proclaim allegiance to the present Afghan Constitution. But with Pakistan — their ballast — given the pride of place in the current US scheme, it is hard to see how any of this can be seriously contemplated when the Americans are pulling out, and will complete the disengagement exercise by 2014. Mr Obama noted that the "draw-down" is about to commence "from a position of strength". To support this he states that Al Qaeda is under "enormous pressure" (after Bin Laden's killing), and "serious losses" have been inflicted on the Taliban in Afghanistan, a factor that has "helped to stabilise much of the country". Observers of the Afghan scene are likely to be mystified by such a sweeping generalisation.





The Arab Spring is not quite shading into our Indian monsoon, but it has claimed some impressive results already. The long-serving Presidents of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, in that order, have fled their palaces for refuge elsewhere (or in the case of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, for a jail cell in Cairo).

Libya is in the throes of civil war, and no observer would bet on its leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, extending his 42-year tenure in power to a 43rd. The Bahraini monarchy tottered briefly, till being shored up after vigorous Saudi intervention. The Syrian regime has had to resort to fairly brutal repression to survive, and the events in that ancient land still continue to unfold amidst mounting uncertainty. Even if the wave of change that has marked the first half of 2010 in the Arab world goes no further, its impact on these six countries, at least, may well have changed Arab politics irreversibly.
There are obviously local factors in each of these countries that have influenced the nature and shape of the unfolding revolutions. But what are the deeper trends underlying them?
The first of these is undoubtedly demography. Population growth across the Arab world in the last 60 years has been astonishingly rapid, as life-saving medical techniques and better nutrition has dramatically improved child mortality figures.
To take a look at some startling UN numbers: the population of the United Arab Emirates has increased by a whopping 10,698 per cent between 1950 and 2010; Jordan's by 1,278 per cent, Libya's by 518 per cent, Syria's by 498 per cent, Egypt's (bigger to begin with) by 277 per cent and Tunisia's by 197 per cent. These figures represent a significantly larger number of mouths to feed; they make the challenge of governance so much greater than ever before. Compounding the problem is galloping urbanisation, concentrating more and more Arabs in crowded cities where services rarely match needs. And who are these cities filling up with? A burgeoning cohort of youth, especially in the 15-29 age group — impatient, hot-headed, under-educated, looking for work and, in most of the Arab world, deeply frustrated by the lack of opportunities in their countries' sclerotic systems. Cumulatively, this is a recipe for revolt.
But demography alone cannot explain everything. Economics underlies most political problems, and the Arab world is no exception. It is not that the Arab governments have failed — gross domestic product growth throughout the region is far more impressive than in the West, ranging from some 5.1 per cent in Egypt in 2010 to 3.7 per cent in Tunisia and 3.2 per cent in Syria. It's just that this level of economic growth is simply not enough to keep pace with the demands of the population, and it is growth that hasn't generated enough jobs. Unemployment has grown, adding to the pressure in the streets. In every society, and not just in the Arab world, there is no more potent vehicle for the expression of discontent than a mob of unemployed young men — believing they have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from change, whatever form that change might take.
The respected New York-based International Peace Institute (IPI) undertook and reviewed a number of polls across the Arab world this year. Their findings are instructive: the percentages of those who feel they are not "thriving" correlate closely to those countries that have been caught up in the recent upheaval. So does the level of those who pronounce themselves dissatisfied with their nation's economies — only 18 per cent of Yemenis and 28 per cent of Egyptians and Libyans, for instance, think that things are getting better in their local economies.
This is hardly surprising, but economic dissatisfaction naturally ties in to the demographic reality to pose a mounting challenge to politically inflexible regimes.
All of this has been happening at a time that we are learning to call the "information age" — an era of rapid development in telecommunications. Mobile penetration has gone up by leaps and bounds across the Arab world, enhancing people's ability to communicate with each other (and therefore to organise and to mobilise protests). Satellite television, notably Al-Jazeera and its imitators, has brought news, views and images from one corner of the Arab region to the rest, inflaming larger numbers of people than would have been possible in the days when most people could only see their nationally controlled TV channels. While the IPI reports that trust in media is not high (only 32 per cent of Egyptians, for instance, say they trust their media), neither is trust in officially conducted elections (28 per cent in Egypt).
This is not all bad news, except for the autocrats who have ruled for decades with scant regard for their subjects. Interestingly, when IPI's pollsters asked people in Arab countries their views about a democratic form of government for their countries, an overwhelming number of respondents opted for democracy — 81per cent in Yemen and 85 per cent in Egypt. And a separate poll in Egypt, where parliamentary and presidential elections loom in the next few months, secular parties are preferred by large numbers of voters to the Islamist ones in the fray. These are encouraging signs, giving the lie to those cynics who suggest that the spasm of revolt in the Arab world will merely replace one kind of despotic regime with another. By this time next year, the nature of the governments that will have come to power in Tunisia, Egypt and perhaps Yemen and Libya, will undoubtedly be much more democratic than their predecessors.
Obviously all these represent a portrait of a flowing wave, which will cascade onwards in the coming weeks. But even if the details of the portrait may change as the wave flows, they point to an underlying reality it would be unwise to discount. If I were serving the government of a country like Jordan, where (unlike the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia or Bahrain) oil revenues are not available to offset the ineluctable trends of demography and economics, I would certainly begin to worry.

The author is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency





The last day of December 1978 found a motley crowd of students and young people — all volunteers of the World Wildlife Fund — at Race Course Road, New Delhi. The conjoint purpose was to meet the external affairs minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to protest against the permission given to Saudi princes to hunt down bustards with falcons in the Thar desert, Rajasthan.

The ground-living, slow-flying birds were to be hawked for the pot. Hence the slogan, "Eat custard, not the bustard".
If the quarry was significant, so too was the hunters' companion. Falcons have long been used to hunt wild birds. In his epic book, Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent, the leading chronicler of hawks, eagles and falcons in this part of the world, Rishad Naoroji dips into history to make a point.
Naoroji tells us that the female falcon is larger than the male. The latter is supposed to be one-third the size of the female. For this reason it is known as the tiercel. A century or so ago, the female falcon was flown at prey larger than herself. Common cranes and storks, ibises and bustards were common fare.
But the bustard itself has long been sought after as quarry. Nearly half a millennium ago, Timurid prince Babur was at home in India, hunting the houbara. At least 20 Peregrine falcons were kept at any time in the Mughal court.
Old habits die hard. The palate was not complete for the landed gentry in western India without the famous taloor as the bird was called.
Salim Ali, later to be a doyen of ornithology, recalled the hunts of 1910 in Sind. Here, there were no falcons. The bustard was ridden after on a trained camel. "To pick out with the naked eye a houbara in its native sandy environment", he recalled later, "at a distance of 500 yards is a feat few can perform even with binoculars without previous experience".
The protective coloration of the bustard kept it safe till it moved. More often, it was shot not from camel back but on foot. Birds were driven towards the hunters who shot them on the wing.
The houbara or the McQueen's is the smaller of the bustards. The pride of place goes to the great Indian bustard (GIB), the heaviest land bird in Asia.
The Godawan, as it is known, is not quite the prey for a falcon. But it made a nice enough dish for hunters to have reduced numbers by the early 1960s for it to get a measure of protection.
On that wintry morning of 1978, these distinctions between one bustard and the rest meant little to the protesters. When they — and let me admit, I was there as a high school student — got to South Block all that Mr Vajpayee would give was five minutes.
He did sound amused by the bird's name and quipped that we were simply troublemakers. "Bustard, wustard", what he asked is all this. He was charming but not quite aware of what the fuss was all about.
When told there were children out to protest at his decision, he simply brushed it aside. "Bacche nahin aaye hain", he said, "aap unhe laye hain". (Children are not here to protest, you brought them here, he said.)
The case was a simple one. The houbara was a threatened species, its larger cousin was endangered. Both were firmly protected by law. There was no reason anyone — least of all a guest of the country — ought to be allowed to hunt it.
The minister did not bat an eyelid. It was sad, he said, but it had begun during the Emergency — the first hunts being held in the winter of 1975. What could he do now? Maybe next year. When reminded that the New Year was but hours away, he looked sheepish and gave in.
The bustard got a reprieve. The Saudis never came back to hunt in India. Rajasthan was spared further hunts. Earlier the same year, it has demarcated a vast nature reserve that would help both the bustards and the raptors: the Desert National Park.
The Saudis sought better hunting grounds: in neighbouring Pakistan. In fact, in his book, Taliban, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid recounts how the first encounter of the Saudi head of intelligence, prince Bandar, with the Taliban took place on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Saudis went across to hunt the houbara, only there was a far bigger player on the horizon: Mullah Omar himself. As in the 1970s so too again, the houbara was central as a bit player to a political drama.
Does it really matter? It is tempting to think it does not. Yet, the bustard is but a symbol of the grasslands and dry open country. It looks dead and barren to the untrained eye. That silence is illusory. It has a wealth of wildlife. Black buck prance in open spaces. Larks flutter away. Where it survives, the grey wolf still emerges at nightfall. In this setting, the bustard, certainly the larger one, stands out for its majesty.
Sheer size and looks make it a flagship for a biome every bit as important as the mature
tree forest. Salim Ali thought so and championed it as national bird.
Of course, as critics pointed out, few Indians have ever seen the bird or know what it is. The peacock, which bagged the spot, is far more apt.
Pity the bustard. The name is a shame. When a young wildlife biologist wrote to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi about its impending local extinction in Saurashtra in 1985, he
was shocked to find the reply had made an all too common error.
The "u" in the bustard gave way to an "a" with disastrous consequences. A further letter raising the issue elicited the same reply. Someone at the Prime Minister's Office knew little of spelling. And even less of ornithology!
Now, a new paper by a team led by Farah Ishtiaq, (Conservation Genetics, 2011) has more grim news. Genetic sampling and mapping of DNA shows that the GIBs are not very genetically diverse. They are not just in danger but "critically endangered".
This is all the more reason to protect them in their grassland home. The females lay an egg a year and that is when they need protection. Having bred and raised their young, they disperse. Secure them at the time of year in these patches and you are halfway home.
The bustard will then live to thrive another day. That protest of 1978 will not have been in vain.

The author is an environmental historian and co-editor of The Environmental History of India (Permanent Black,
In Press)








Democracy means that elected representatives whether in or out of the Government maintain close contacts with the people in general and of their constituencies in particular. This connection, though primarily meant to keep the representatives apprised of the ground situation in their respective constituencies and the develop0mental work that is going on or is likely to be taken in hand. But apart from that, there is the need of leaders educating the masses of people on matters pertaining to the future of the nation. During past two decades of militancy, the process of educating people and bringing awareness to them on what was the right course along which they needed to plan and build their future, had come under great strain. There ensued a gap in communication between the masses of people and their leaders. This was part of the game plan of saboteurs and miscreants. The media and the civil society were conscious of the fact that the elected leaders were not able to open their wings in a manner as they normally should. This had caused many misunderstandings between he local leadership and sections of society.
It is in this background that the Chief Minister has taken the bold initiative of utilizing every opportunity of interacting with the masses of people from different parts of the state including far-flung hilly and less accessible areas. His initiative is bound to galvanize other ministers and MLAs into mobility and they will also establish more frequent liaison with their respective constituencies. That process has been started and is expected to gain momentum with the passage of time. A very laudable decision taken by the Chief Minister is of weekly public meetings called Awami Mulakat. Initially some doubts were expressed about the feasibility and also the utility of such public durbars. But time has shown that the Chief Minister has taken a right decision which is good enough to instill trust and confidence of the people in his Government. As many as 70 deputations and over 2000 individuals met the Chief Minister at Awami Mulakat session this week in Srinagar. They presented him memoranda of demands relating to the community development and of individual nature. These deputations came from all the four corners of the State; Uri, Gantmulla, Rafiabad, Baramulla, Sopore, Pattan, Nihalpora, Burn, Tangmarg, Sangrama, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian, Homeshalibug, Anantnag, Pahalgam, Nihama, D H Pora, Kandi and various areas of Jammu. It shows that after successful conclusion of Panchayati Raj elections, a new wave of people-government understanding and interaction is sweeping over the state. These weekly public audiences provide first hand information to the Chief Minster about the problems facing people in different parts of the state. In some cases the CM issued orders on spot and thus saved the parties the lengthy and tortuous process of going through the red tape. With each passing day, the Chief Minster is becoming more and more clear and determined to work for the realization of the goals he has set forth for his Government. He seizes these opportunities of public audience to brief the delegations on his government's people -related policies and programmes. During the recent interaction he told a delegation that five important sectors of road, communication, health, education, power and water supply had been flagged as priority concerns of the Government and appropriate tackling of unemployment crisis was receiving focused attention. These are the sectors that determine the ground situation in the State and are the parameters of adjudging whether peace and normalcy prevails in the state in coming weeks and months. It has to be reminded that Omar Abdullah-led coalition government is seriously tackling the issue of unemployment among the educated youth in the state. The Chief Minister has reiterated repeatedly that his Government works for just and equitable development of all the regions and sub-regions of the state and there would be no chance of discrimination against any of them. The Awami Mulakat is gradually becoming a strong instrument of popularizing the Chief Minister's developmental plans and programmes and of conveying that message to the common man in the State. There is no doubt about the importance and utility of these sessions, and keeping in mind how fruitful these are proving, it might be in the mind of the CM to hold such sessions twice a week if time permits.






Lack of a sense of responsibility has led the two State departments of Irrigation and Flood Control and Rural Development (RDD) come to loggerheads over an issue of extreme public importance. This is the matter of de-silting of Ranbir Canal which supplies water to the farmers engaged in agrarian practices. Now that the season for sowing paddy and other Kharif crops is on, and farmers need water supply to proceed with sowing activities, so far neither de-silting of the canal has been undertaken nor water supplied for the cultivation of essential crops. The functionaries of the two aforementioned departments are passing the buck and thus leaving the farmers in suspense. Around 264 de-silting works were given to Rural Development Department (RDD) under NREGA scheme but it only completed 54 works owing to which de-silting of canals could not be done in time. RDD officials say that because of shortage of labour they won't be able to complete the remaining works. Contrary to the claims of Irrigation department, ADC of Rural Development Department maintains that during a meeting with Deputy Commissioner Jammu in February, they had agreed to execute only 90 works as per their availability of work force. Under NREGA scheme, the department totally depends on the labourers of concerned Panchayat and during current days most of the job card holders are busy in their agriculture related works. "Department officials only request the job card holders to work under NREGA but cannot compel anybody," says a functionary, adding that most of the people of these areas preferred private works or agriculture works due to the vast difference in the daily wages. A labourer gets more than Rs 200 a day if engaged in private works but under NREGA scheme he gets only Rs 121 per day. RDD asserts that the main responsibility of de-silting of canals was that of Irrigation department.
The point is that a farmer and a cultivator need water to sow the seeds and proceed with his agrarian activity. He is not concerned who is to do what at Government level. The passing of the buck indicates administrative collapse in the sector and the Divisional Commissioner Jammu should immediately intervene and find a breakthrough of the impasse. Sarpanch Kulbhushan Khajuria of Sohanjana Panchayat of Marh block said that sowing of paddy had already started in their bloc but all the tributaries in their area were filled with silt and garbage. The farmers had already approached the concerned department for the completion of de-silting of canals but except assurances nothing was done so far. This is a sordid state of affairs and higher authorities in Jammu have the responsibility of galvanizing all concerned into rapid action








Last week when Digvijay Singh declared that it was time for Rahul Gandhi to become prime minister he could not have dreamt of the effect it would have in Delhi's very nervous political circles. It was as if a bomb had been flung through the window of a building that was already on its last legs. Debris from the Government started to fly in so many directions that it was hard to go anywhere without being asked whether I, as a veteran political correspondent, had any idea when the prime minister was going to be replaced. I was asked this question in drawing rooms, bazaars and the homes of senior political leaders as if it was only a matter of time now before Dr. Manmohan Singh faded into the sunset. Along with it came questions about where the Gandhis themselves were. They were asked with prurient curiosity and knowing smiles. Were they really just visiting Sonia Gandhi's ailing mother or were there other, more sinister, reasons for them disappearing to Europe at a time of such grave political turmoil. Some of the rumours that have spread across the city are unrepeatable and libelous but suffice it to say that even within the Congress Party people are getting a sense of being left rudderless in very choppy waters.
Into this saga of missing leaders have happily stepped Anna Hazare and his team. They wandered from television studio to television studio last week explaining why they believed that the Government was not serious about ending corruption. They made it sound as if they were messiahs from some other planet with sole knowledge of a miracle cure. They made it clear that they were sure that a strong Lokpal bill was being denied them only because everyone in the government of Dr. Manmohan Singh was corrupt, devious and untrustworthy. They succeeded so well in making their case that I personally witnessed an auditorium filled with ordinary, middle class people hurling abuse at panelists (including me) for daring to contradict anything Anna said.
In long years of covering politics I have rarely been witness to a moment when the Government of India has appeared so feeble and leaderless as it does today. And, this is because nobody (not even diehard Congress loyalists) knows any more who is really in charge. Everyone knows that Sonia Gandhi is the most powerful leader in this government, that Rahul comes second and that the prime minister is only there as long as they want him to be there but what nobody knows is which of these three people should be held accountable in this crisis of confidence in the Government.
When the United Progressive Alliance won a second term in the summer of 2009 it appeared to be made clear by the Congress Party's political managers that at some point Dr. Manmohan Singh would resign in favour of Rahul Gandhi. To this end the Congress Party's spokesmen and women wove tales of magic and mystique around the young prince. In the early months of last year Rahul appeared regularly on the covers of major newsmagazines as India's future leader and polls showed that most Indians wanted him as prime minister. He himself showed signs of following the sort of populist politics that his grandmother excelled in. She may not have made much dent in reducing poverty in India but she succeeded admirably in convincing the poor that she was their leader. Rahul tried to do the same.
He became famous for spending nights in the homes of desperately poor rural folk. Pictures of him dining with them appeared in the national press and he even succeeded in persuading Congress MPs to emulate his example. It is another matter that they showed up for their field trips with air-conditioned tents and feather pillows and turned his campaign into a farce. Rahul's personal efforts to connect with the poorest of the poor continued to be widely admired as were his efforts to strengthen the organization of the Congress Party by launching massive membership drives. He was so politically active all of last year that he seemed never off the front pages of national newspapers and was pursued by television cameras wherever he went.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister seemed to take premature retirement. So absent did he make himself from the public square that there was serious speculation about his health and to disprove them he was forced to address one of his rare televised press conferences. But, then he disappeared again even as the rotten smell of scandals arose from different departments of his Government. It was these scandals that led to the uprising of 'civil society' that we have seen in recent weeks and the rising tide of public anger against the daily harassment that every Indian, rich or poor, encounters at every interface with officials everywhere in India. On account of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev this rage has been directed at the Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi and their Government in Delhi.
It should have been a time when both of them, or at least one of them, had come forward and shown leadership. Instead the prime minister allowed ministers like Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid to speak on his behalf and Sonia Gandhi allowed members of her National Advisory Council to take up cudgels on her behalf. If strategic thinking went into this, if it is part of some grand plan, there is no evidence that it is working. This is the reason for the nervous hysteria that grips political Delhi this summer. It is the sort of atmosphere in which ugly rumours breed easily and wild allegations become perceived as truth. It was not a good time for a senior general secretary of the Congress Party to suggest leadership change at the top but now that he has we should know from Rahul Gandhi whether he plans to become prime minister or not. If there was ever a moment for him to show that he has what it takes to lead this country that moment is now. Seen from a different angle it is an equally good moment for him to declare publicly that he does not plan to become prime minister so that the man who is prime minister can get on with the job and be made accountable if he fails. Rarely has India been so desperately in need of a leader.








Food security in broader terms means that an individual and also the household should have access to sufficient food both in quantity and quality to meet their nutritional requirement. To meet the needs of growing population, agriculture sector will have to have the objective of achieving increase in production, resource efficiency, conservation of natural resources and human resource development. Adoption of modern techniques of farming has contributed to an unprecedented growth in food production and security, but posed the problem of insect-pests, weeds and diseases. These techniques of farming led to an increased dependence on chemicals in order to enhance food production and security. Pesticides had a glorious past and did service to mankind by increasing the agricultural production and improving food and health quality. They are one of the major agro-inputs that have significantly contributed to food security in India. At the same time, non-judicious and indiscriminate pesticide use has considerable controversy and concern in the society. This concern was the subject of a monumental publication "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson in 1962 in U.S.A. In spite of the fact that Rachel Carson succeeded remarkably in rousing world awareness about the harmful effects due the indiscriminate use of pesticides, their use has grown manifold in all the countries of the world.
As a civilized part of the human race we tend to get paranoid about the harmful effects of chemicals and at times seems to harbor a feelings that we can do away with chemicals entirely. This is a utopia for two good reasons. Firstly, it is not necessary and secondly it is not at all feasible for our worldly existence. It is not at all possible to have zero exposure to chemicals. It has been the main propaganda and people have been lobbying at both domestic and international levels to ban pesticides for agricultural farming across the world.
Agriculture in India is a growing enterprise and has made appreciable progress and not only achieved self-sufficiency, but also has become an exporting country. This has been possible as a result of Green Revolution. India is having the second largest area under cultivation of rice, wheat, fruits and vegetables in the world. It is also the largest producer of milk. It has achieved a significant increase in the average yield almost in all major crops. Pesticides play an important role in sustaining food production. The estimated losses due to pest attack in India are over 30 per cent worth more than Rs 60,000 crores annually, despite the fact that more than 48,000 metric tons of technical grade chemical pesticides are used to manage the pests in the country. Therefore, efficient, effective and timely pest control measures alone can help, not only in reducing these losses but also in increasing the production.
Pesticide Stewardship:
What can Governments do: Governments must enhance direct or indirect subsidies to pesticide industry, make available vital inputs at an affordable price, abolition of excise duty on pesticides, funding to pesticide industry to develop new molecules and their commercialization, and creating a development fund on the lines of pharmaceutical industry, for enhancing and strengthening the research activities. Pesticide policies need to be strengthened for promotion of IPM, production of bio-pesticides and promotion of research and development to ensure a better environment and safer foods.
Distributors/ retailers in pesticide trade closely interact with farmers and often provide information related to agriculture. Government needs to stipulate a certain critical educational qualification, i.e. either a diploma or a degree to obtain a license for trading various agro-inputs. Besides, they also need to undergo regular training on various developments in the field of agriculture particularly on plant protection. Additional efforts are required to improve the pest-related surveillance and forecasting systems. Location-specific spray schedules to optimize pesticide use, pesticide application methods in pace with the development of technology, labeling of the products in local languages and also effective regulation of pesticide trade. Only registered pesticide companies should be authorized to market the products. Through regular checks and a strict legislation, marketing of spurious or sub standards chemicals can be prevented. The result of such tests should be made public, so that farmers can be made aware of the quality of the products sold in the market. India unfortunately still uses pesticides which are banned by developed countries, unlike other countries which have policies related to de-registration of molecules after a particular period, India continues to use pesticides, which have been subsequently banned in many other countries. It is time that the government should ban and phased out some of the deadly pesticides produced and used here, and increase its support for organic farming.
Many respondents in the hotspots of pesticide poisoning informed that personal safety equipments currently available do not suit them because of warm weather and heavy perspiration. There is a need to devise personal safety equipments suitable for local climatic conditions. Establishment of Integrated Pest Management units or cells in each Zone/ Sub Division will help to monitor crop pests on day-to-day basis and also provide information about the Economic Threshold Level. Un-employed educated youths need to be encouraged to participate in IPM activities and to produce IPM inputs at the village level as a cottage industry by providing necessary assistance and training. Pest and natural enemy identification kits should be provided to the farmers in the form of photographs.
What can Industry do: Research and development divisions in the pesticide industries need to promote those chemicals, which are effective but environmentally safe. Company representatives have established a strong extension network with agricultural community and farmers are highly dependent on company representatives or dealers for information on plant protection. This network can be used for regular flow of pesticide stewardship information. Industry needs to intensify training of farmers about safe and judicious use of pesticides. Also, regular checks are required to prevent sale of outdated pesticides.
What can Farmers do: While handling the pesticides the farmers should follow safety norms and also rotate the pesticides with safe formulations in order to avoid the development of resistance. Efforts should be made for timely application of pesticides and in appropriate dosages. The need of the hour is transformation from chemical -based farming practices to eco-friendly alternatives, such as diversification in cropping patterns, crop rotation, inter-cropping, integrated pest and disease management, integrated nutrient management, increasing use of green manure in field, etc. Mixed cropping will discourage monoculture without disturbing the yield or profits by encouraging the activities of natural enemies of pests and also reduce the dependence on expensive and hazardous chemical inputs. Finally, stress must be laid on self-reliance and timely action for agricultural operations. The concept of group farming needs to be re-initiated, with the primary objective of reducing cost of farming for small and marginal farmers. Farmers need to take up subsidiary farm enterprises like dairy, poultry, etc. In the event of unforeseen crop failure, these activities would help them to avoid income risks, and thus reduce agrarian distress.
In view of our growing economy and population, which is increasing @ 1.7 per cent per annum and expected to grow130 crores by the year 2030? Therefore, the challenge for us is to double our production by 2025 and triple by 2050, with less per capita arable land, which is 0.15 ha/ capita in the year 2000 and expected to go down to 0.09 ha/ capita in the year 2050. So, pesticides have played and will continue to play a significant role in food security in India.
Pesticides are essential for realizing the full economic benefits of modern farming. In the absence of pesticides, even the highest quality seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation systems will not deliver their potential productivity. So, banning the pesticides is not a desirable action. There is a great array of possibilities and opportunities in pesticide management to combat the various ills associated with pesticide use. So, industry, distributors, farmers and pesticide enforcement and regulatory agencies need to work together at various levels of pesticide production and use. Adoption of safety norms and effective pesticide stewardship practices would go a long way to preserve environment and prevent agricultural community from catastrophic situations.







As the Lokpal Bill was being given the final touches, it looked like the Cabinet would receive two drafts from the joint drafting committee, one each from ministers and representatives of civil society. There is some virtue in agreeing to disagree when talks are at an impasse but unfortunately, only one draft will actually be considered. The ministers in the committee are also in the Cabinet, and their say will trump the voice of civil society.
It is sad that this had to happen now, at the culmination of a trend which has seen a healthy involvement of the middle class in the political process, which it had shunned for over half a century. The turning point was the public uproar over 26/ 11, which called the government to account for inadequate intelligence and security. Another high point was the Pink Chaddi Campaign, led by women, against the arbitrary violence unleashed by Pramod Muthalik's Sri Ram Sene on women who went to pubs. It stopped the menace in its tracks, shamed governments which are perennially diffident about taking on right wing Hindu extremism, and made it clear that if government could not protect the people, they would protect themselves.
The movement for a meaningful Lokpal Bill is the logical culmination of this process. Until now, the public had contributed to the decision making process through elections, which decide who will decide. It has outsourced its right to make laws and policy to its elected representatives.
Now, for the first time, it is directly involved in legislation and policymaking, outside the electoral process. Otherwise, too, the time was just right.
The players who remain at the table, whether representing civil society or Government, are serious people interested in drafting a meaningful Bill and disinterested in grandstanding. And yet the process has gone awry and the public is being cheated of a unique opportunity to participate in governance.
This is a new kind of process which is not validated by past practices. In fact, praxis will lay down the outlines of future democratic theory. In such a situation, trust between partners in the process is essential to its success. And trust is based on the ability to make compromises, not on inflexibility.
The Achilles heel of the Anna Hazare campaign is an unusually keen awareness of the fact that the people have been denied working anti- corruption law for far too long. While this awareness is propelling the movement, it also urges the activists to insist on a bullet proof law, at the expense of reasonableness. They differ with the Government on six points, but the sticking point is whether the prime minister will be covered by the law. The government will clearly not accept this. It may be noted that the NDA government had not accepted it either. So, is this non-negotiable point important enough to risk jeopardising the whole project, or would it be better to go with what the government is conceding which is quite substantial establish the office of the Lokpal and develop it later? Law is not etched in stone. It is always open to judicial and legislative review.
The Bill which is being drafted now may be altered during Parliamentary debate and amended repeatedly in the future.
Anna Hazares team's draft is only one of several possible forms that the law may take in usage. Besides, the PM is the least important target of the Lokpal. The ruling party would go to great lengths to keep him clean out of obvious political compulsions. And if he or she is actually ousted as corrupt, it is more likely to be done by the media than the Lokpal. And the media would also ensure the utter ruin of the ruling party as it raked up the muck on the story of the decade. Rajiv Gandhi was destroyed by the media and the political process, without benefit of any ombudsman.
However, the activists and the Government are at loggerheads over the PM, and the latter has brought the war of words to an unacceptably low level. The activists have been accused of blackmail, of trying to compromise the sovereignty of Parliament, and of being inauthentic and perhaps even illegal. However, when the finance minister and the home minister denigrate them for being altogether unelected representatives they are dangerously close to being anti- democratic.
The democratic process is not limited to elections. It includes many threads of valid political activity outside the election system public debate, protest, even revolutionary movements, so long as they are not seditious. One thread, which is widely accepted as a political activity in India, is the tradition of fasting unto death. It's rather surprising to find home minister P. Chidambaram protesting. I don't think anywhere in the world, fasting is the way to draft a Bill. It's perfectly acceptable in India, which became independent thanks to political fasting, blackmail as government ministers have called it.
Finally, there is the very real issue of Parliaments sovereignty being eroded. But it's very curious that politicians should be expressing this fear, since they have themselves done all they can to bring down the tone of the House. Or perhaps it's not so strange, since one of the demands of the activists is that the Lokpal should have the right to move against MPs who take bribes for raising questions or voting, in spite of Parliamentary privilege.
But actually, these are secondary issues which can be ironed out over time. If the people feel a real need for the prime minister to be brought under the purview of the proposed law, or for Parliamentary privilege to be curtailed, they will press these demands home in a manner which no Government would be able to resist.
The public has tasted the joy of pressuring government and will persist. And anyway, how can one dismiss the need for the direct involvement of the people in governance on the one hand while celebrating public- private partnerships and privatisation on the other? They are two sides of the same coin. For now, it is in the public interest to pass the Bill, even in an imperfect form.
Corruption is at the heart of the engine which runs government and politics in India, so when we discuss anti- corruption law, we are talking about systemic change. This is bound to be a long process, not something which can be achieved at one go. The important thing is to make a beginning. Even a tentative one. (INAV)










After the thumbs up for Chandigarh in principle, Ludhiana metro's project report has got the Punjab Cabinet's nod. The success of Delhi Metro has sparked interest in this expensive mode of rapid transport. But Delhi had the financial muscle to provide a world-class travel experience at an affordable rate to citizens, hitherto moving in crowded and creaky state transport buses on intra-city routes. As cities grow haphazardly there is greater pressure on roads, which cannot be widened beyond a point. Poor public transport services as well as rising incomes drive people to go in for personal vehicles. The number of bikes, cars and SUVs is rising at a faster pace than roads can carry. The result is traffic chaos, accidents and brawls.


In this backdrop the metro rail provides a ray of hope to harried commuters. The Delhi experiment is being replicated in various cities. The Punjab Cabinet has taken the first step by clearing the detailed project report prepared by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. A similar project is taking shape in Chandigarh. It is for experts to decide the technical suitability and financial viability of a project of this size. Such ventures cannot be left to the whims of politicians. Significantly, E. Sreedharan, the Delhi Metro chief and outstanding engineer, has unequivocally stated that the metro project in the tricity of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali is financially unviable. He considers trams a better option for the Union Territory.


If the metro rail is unviable for the Centrally funded Chandigarh, will it be suitable for Ludhiana? Given the population density and congestion on Ludhiana's narrow streets and roads, the metro rail project, which needs Central clearances to take off, could cause widespread dislocation. The Punjab government's poor fiscal health may also come in the way. All aspects should be weighed before giving the project a green signal. It is not unusual for the Punjab government to embark on a large project without giving a thought to funds. It looks up to the Centre for help.









As President Barack Obama had promised after taking up the reins of power, he has announced that 10,000 US troops will leave Afghanistan this year, beginning next month. An additional 20,000 troops will be back to the US in 2012. This means that he will try his luck for a second presidential term when nearly 70,000 members of the US armed forces will be there in the Afghan battlefield. The complete withdrawal will have to wait till 2014. Will the US voters accept this? There is a strong feeling among the US public that the pullout of the US forces should be as quick as possible. People do not want the US to remain bogged down in as dangerous a place as Afghanistan, where billions of dollars are being spent without the intended result being in sight — taming of the Taliban.


The US has encouraged President Hamid Karzai to hold negotiations with what are being described as the "good" Taliban for their induction in the Afghanistan government. The idea is that it is better to win over those Taliban factions who agree to lay down their arms. Achieving military victory over them is just not possible. The efforts to hunt down the key Taliban figures like Mullah Omar will continue, but maintaining law and order will be the task of Afghanistan's own security forces.


If the US public wants the American forces to be flown back home, the Afghans too will be happy with this development. But will the US really leave Afghanistan to its own fate? This is unthinkable at this stage. The US has made a huge investment in terms of money and human capital to achieve its objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. It is believed that the US presence will remain there for a long time to come so that extremist forces never feel easy in this most dangerous part of the world. However, the US dependence on Pakistan for the purpose is not in the interest of peace and stability in the region. Islamabad can use the opportunity to meddle in the Afghan affairs with the help of pro-Pakistan extremist forces. The cause of peace demands that no third country's involvement should be allowed in Afghanistan after the US troop pullout.











A common defence for the poor showing of Indian athletes in international events, especially the Olympics, is the lack of facilities where they can train. As reported in the columns of this newspaper, even when we spend thousands of crores of rupees of public funds on these facilities, we still make them unavailable to the very segment of people they are built for — sportsmen. While the UPA government is still reeling in a season of scams that started with the Commonwealth Games scam, another one would just be an additional number, were it not for the fact that this time, money is not being made, it is being lost, through neglect and apathy on the part of officials concerned.


Stadia are not built for one-time use. At a time when the stadia should have been buzzing with activity, they are closed down. Not only are they deserted, in the absence of proper maintenance, they are also quickly going to seed. When you see debris in a swimming pool, garbage in stadia, and grime everywhere, the high price that the nation is paying for this apathy becomes all-too-apparent. Maintenance is seldom a priority in such institutions, but the speed at which these facilities have deteriorated is distressing. The only way to keep stadia alive is by hosting events that bring people to them.


A mindset issue, as regards the facilities for sportsmen, also needs to be resolved. Just as for many years, computers issued to government schools were 'safely' kept under lock and key and the students were not allowed to touch them, lest they 'soil' them, similarly, sports facilities built by for the CWG are not kept open to athletes. Crores of rupees in public funds were not spent on them so that they would be accessible only during VIP visits and for auditors. They should be used to ignite young minds and attract them towards sports, and the officials concerned must not only be flexible in their thinking, they must come up with fresh ideas to revitalise the stadia and make them hubs of sporting activity in the nation, rather than visible symbols of waste that they have become. 









DYSFUNCTIONAL the Congress and its government have been for quite a long time. Now they seem to be becoming dangerously chaotic, if not self-destructive. There can be no other explanation for senior Congress leader and the AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh's utterly uncalled for statement that it "was time Rahul Gandhi became Prime Minister". To be sure, the former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, to whom the Congress high command seems to have outsourced the task of speaking on the party's behalf, has been extolling the duly designated heir's qualifications to head the government for a while. On young Mr Gandhi's 41st birthday on Sunday, however, Mr Singh's tone implied that Rahul should take over here and now.


Yet, when asked by the media whether he was advocating a changeover, he replied laconically: "No". This only underscores that hypocrisy is as much a part of Congress culture as sycophancy. Curiously, Mr Singh also used the occasion to advise young Mr Gandhi on a purely personal matter when he told him to get married. Why? Will a married man be more acceptable as Prime Minister than a bachelor? The Congress has had several successful bachelor chief ministers in the past: P. C. Ghosh, B. C. Roy, and P. C. Sen in West Bengal and K. Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu.


The pertinent point is that no one in the country believes that Mr Singh was simply shooting his mouth. The general belief is that he had at least tacit encouragement from top leadership. Whatever the facts, perceptions do matter. It is also known that many of his ceaseless pronouncements, of which some at least were unbecoming, have been at the leadership's express behest. Remarkably, no one has yet rebuked the errant Mr Singh though he himself did try disingenuously to backtrack a day later. On the same day, in a damage-limitation exercise, the Congress spokesperson, Ms Jayanthi Natarajan, declared: "Our Prime Minister has done an excellent job… for the last seven years. Manmohan Singh is our PM and he continues to be that".


Without beating about the bush, let it be said that Mr Digvijaya Singh-led Rahul-for-PM-now chorus is offensive and unfair to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He is doubtless beleaguered and has had a bad time lately. But the fault is not his alone. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the party as a whole must share the blame. For all his limitations, the Prime Minister is a man personifying decency, diligence, ability and impeccable integrity. Even his staunch critics respect him. Of course, he is no politician. But then everyone knew this when Mrs Gandhi, wisely reluctant to be Prime Minister in 2004, chose him for the tough assignment.


At a press conference immediately after returning to power with a much stronger mandate in 2009, Dr Singh had declared that since he had a lot more to do, he was not thinking of retiring. But he had clearly added that whenever Mr Rahul Gandhi was ready to be Prime Minister, he would happily vacate his office.


In view of this, if it were felt in appropriate quarters that the time has come for Mr Gandhi to take over, a polite and private hint to the good doctor would have done. Why should Mr Digvijaya Singh and some others be allowed publicly to undermine the Prime Minister's authority and prestige?


This is by no means all. Also in Mr Digvijaya Singh's line of fire are the two most senior ministers in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet — Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P. Chidambaram. He called on Mr Mukherjee to "protest" against the visit to the airport of four ministers to greet Baba Ramdev on arrival. He then repeated this criticism publicly. Mr Chidambaram has been Mr Digvijaya Singh's target for long. At one time, he accused the Home Minister of being "intellectually arrogant", and since then has never missed an opportunity to take pot shots at him. What is the purpose? Is the idea that all three top leaders of the government should be replaced in one go?


The horror of horrors is that the Congress - which is no longer the mere core of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in its second tenure (UPA-II), but solely in charge of the government because of the ignominious collapse of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) ministry in Tamil Nadu and Ms Mamata Banerjee's triumphant march from Rail Bhavan in New Delhi to Writers' Building in Kolkata - is in a crisis far deeper than could have been thought possible in the heady month of May 2009. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say both the government and the party are paralyzed, with catastrophic consequences, economically, politically and even in the spheres of foreign policy and security, which surely is not the best time for Mr Gandhi's coronation.


With rates of growth and industrial production going down and inflation on the increase, a 30 per cent drop in foreign direct investment and the stock exchange tumbling every third day, it is becoming embarrassing to talk of Rising India. The flip-flop in the government's relationship with the leader of the civil society activists, Anna Hazare, and to an extent even with Baba Ramdev, whose close association with the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) was never a secret, speaks for itself. Despite all the tall talk, the armed forces are in a mess and the much-touted military infrastructure on the China border remains vastly below par, and so on. In this connection the failure of the bureaucratic leadership is even worse than the woeful performance of the political leadership.


About the overall state of Indian polity, the less said the better. The principal Opposition party, the BJP, is far more divided and dysfunctional than even the Congress. Moreover, it is ill-served by the leader the RSS has saddled it with. No party leader likes him but no one dares protest against the head of the Sangh parivar. In the department of corruption too the BJP's government in Karnataka can hold its own in relation to the Rajas of this country. The intensely hostile relations between the Congress and the BJP make even minimum cooperation between the two mainstream parties virtually impossible.


All this said, the point must be made that given the foul atmosphere created by the likes of Mr Digvijaya Singh, without ever being disciplined by the Congress high command, Dr Manmohan Singh should also ponder whether continuance in office is worth it.









Engineer RSS Chauhan sends me interesting e-mails. Recently he sent me one in which 75- year-old Kenneth Way had applied in a different way to Wal-Mart and got selected. That has stimulated me to say "I am available for employment". If there is any employer looking out for a 75-year young, here is my bio-data:


Name: Shriniwas Joshi (People call me-Sattar-bahattariya fuddduddy)


Sex: I agree with former Samajwadi leader Amar Singh telling Bipasha Basu, "Age matters. But between the legs.


Education: It gives knowledge: knowledge is power and power corrupts. Yes, I am educated.


Desired position: Deserve to be the Chief Executive Officer but that post is for catty, cunning, cut-throat competitor, so any post other than that.


Desired salary: ?ofty $alary: $uper-duper accommodation: ?amborghini Murcielago car: €fficient $ervants or else you recommend; I accept.


Last position held: Do not know because after my retirement, the court decided a long pending case and informed me that the position that I held was deemed to have been held as if I did not hold that.


Most notable achievement: An incredible collection of Himachali caps and woollen mufflers that were presented to me whenever I climbed the stage as Chief Guest, etc. Reasons for leaving: Blame the Pay Commission; it did not consider government service as STD (Service till Death).


Hours of work: In government, de-facto office hours are from 1.30 to 2.30 with an hour off for lunch.


Do you have special skills?: I cannot disclose those: reserved for intimate settings.


Do you have any physical shortcoming that may hamper your job? : I am a little blind and deaf. But they say:' "Be a little blind to your juniors and a little deaf to your seniors: you will pull on well anywhere."


Have you ever won an award or recognition?: Government service and awards? It is an "ID Ten T I See" question. Never heard of this expression? Write it like ID IO T IC and improve vocabulary.


What would you like to be doing after five years? Shaking hands with Mr. God.


Nearest relative: 7730 miles or 12437.57 km. away as the Boeing flies.


Do you certify that the above is true and complete to the best of your knowledge? Yes, if I am not suffering from an attack of dementia."










There is an ongoing outbreak of an unusual strain of a common bacterium, Escherichia coli, with some mutational changes, in the European continent, particularly involving Germany, affecting over 3500 persons with fatal consequences, as per the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC). This bacterium is popularly known as E. coli. Most of the patients are suffering from blood-tinged diarrhoea with renal damage. This outbreak has taken a serious proportion and is being debated not only in European Parliament but also the world over, as it has serious financial implications as well, in addition to the usual health concerns.


Clinical features


The patients suffer from a life-threatening complication known as hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). The onset of the symptoms may take 3-4 days after the exposure, as the incubation period ranges from 2-10 days. The diarrhoea begins, the red blood cells suddenly disintegrate, blood-clotting stops working and the kidneys start failing. In many cases, the patients need dialysis. This bacterial strain causes bloody diarrhoea along with abdominal pain. The outbreak is unusual in that it has developed very rapidly and an unusually high number of cases are affecting adults, particularly women, instead of the normal high-risk groups, which are young children and the elderly. Treatment with anti-diarrhoeal products or antibiotics is not usually recommended, as these may worsen the situation. The antimicrobial resistance pattern of this isolate is also quite unusual. This could reflect the use of antimicrobial agents in the feed of the original host animals. It should be stated, however, that antimicrobials should not be empirically used in VTEC infections since the use increases the risk of HUS. It has not been stated if antimicrobial use was a factor in the prominent risk of HUS in this outbreak.


The European Union has given the case definition for diarrhoea and HUS caused by the epidemic strain Shiga toxin 2-producing E. coli (STEC) O104:H4. The result was that customers who ate sprouts were found to be almost nine times more likely to be infected than other diners. It was this trail, from hospital beds to restaurants, that led health inspectors back along the food chain to an organic farm at Bienenbuttel, southeast of Hamburg, where the sprouts originated. The farm has been shut down and is no longer delivering vegetables to the market.


The outbreak

The epicentre of the present outbreak is in northern Germany, in Hamburg and its vicinity, with hundreds of other suspected cases. It had found the first direct E. coli link to the organic farm in the neighbouring state of Lower Saxony, near the small town of Bienenbuettel. Such cases have also been reported from 10 other European countries like France, Sweden, Denmark, Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Greece, Luxemburg, Norway and The Netherlands. The present outbreak is considered as the third largest involving E. coli in history and it may be the deadliest one. Twelve persons died in a 1996 Japanese outbreak that reportedly sickened more than 12,000 persons and seven died in a 2000 Canadian outbreak. However, those were due to different strains of this bacterium, not be the present one.


The German authorities have notified WHO about the outbreak, under the International Health Regulations (IHR), as a potential public health event of worldwide concern. Therefore, the WHO is sharing information with health authorities in other countries. The WHO has also offered technical assistance and stands ready to facilitate collaboration between laboratories to assist countries without the capacity to detect the unusual E. coli Sero-group O104.


The diagnostic laboratories are requested to send STEC isolates to the National Reference Centre for Salmonella and other Bacterial Enteric Pathogens in Germany for the epidemiological investigations. The Protection Against Infection Act of 2001 renders both the laboratory confirmation of an STEC infection and the clinical diagnosis of HUS or suspected HUS notifiable to the local health department.


The WHO is not making any new recommendations for treatment however; normal hygiene measures should be observed like hand washing after toilet use and before food preparation or consumption, particularly for people who care for small children or are immunocompromised, as the bacterium can be passed from person to person, as well as through food, water and direct contact with animals. Anyone who develops bloody diarrhoea and abdominal pain and who has had contact recently with northern Germany should seek medical advice urgently. Physicians are advised to initiate STEC stool diagnostics for these patients and to closely monitor them for the development of HUS.


The authorities from the Robert Koch-Institute (RKI), the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) jointly stated that mounting epidemiological and food-chain evidence indicated that bean and seed sprouts (including fenugreek, moong beans, lentils, adzuki beans and alfalfa) are the vehicle of the outbreak in Germany, caused by the unusual enteroaggregative verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (EAggEC VTEC) O104:H4 bacterium.


The outbreak remains primarily centred in Germany, hence the authorities now recommend that people in Germany should not eat raw bean and seed sprouts of any origin. The households, caterers and restaurants should dispose of any bean and seed sprouts that they have and any food items that might have been in contact with them, until further notice. The recommendation not to eat cucumbers, tomatoes, and leafy salads in northern Germany has been cancelled as the Spanish cucumber was blamed in the beginning, which could, however, not be substantiated on detailed investigations. They recommend withdrawal from the market of all food products from a farm in Lower Saxony, where the implicated bean and seed sprouts originated. Numerous investigations continue, including into delivery chains. So far, there is no evidence that bean and seed sprouts from the farm have been exported beyond Germany. The authorities recommend strict adherence to general hygiene advice when handling food items, after using the toilet and when health professionals are in contact with patients.


In addition to the identification of strains done by the German institutes, this has been confirmed by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Escherichia and Klebsiella i.e. the Statens Serum Institute, Denmark. The molecular and genetic features of this pathogen are important in helping authorities to identify cases in other countries that could be associated with the outbreak in Germany and to identify the source of the current outbreak.




It is recommended that washing hands regularly to prevent person-to-person spread of the bacterium and washing vegetables before consumption will also help to remove bacterium from the surface as well as peeling or cooking.


The bacterium, Escherichia coli, being a coliform, is the indicator organism for checking the microbiological status of potable water as far as its safety is concerned by performing the presumptive coliform count. If the most probable number (MPN) is found to be beyond 3-4, then the water is not considered to be worth drinking.


The writer is Professor & Head, Department of Microbiology, Govt. Medical College Hospital, Sector 32,Chandigarh


Indian context


In the developing countries, like India, Escherichia coli is taken as a normal commensal of the intestine, hence not seriously considered as a pathogenic organism among adults. Moreover, other pathogenic bacteria like Vibrio cholera, protozoa like Entamoeba histolytica and viruses like Rotavirus are found to be prominent agents of gastrointestinal infections. Moreover, if at all a small fraction of infections caused be E. coli do exist, they go undetected as sero-grouping of this bacterium is not done in most of the laboratories across the country as a routine practice because it is considered as commensal.


The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSA) has the mandate of laying down scientific standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption, as per the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. The FSSA intends to engage a multi-skilled consultancy agency of national/international repute for the preparation of a blueprint and to assist in structuring and operationalising the Food Authority. Recently, on May 5, 2011, it was notified in the Gazette of India, vide GSR 362 (E), that the Union Government proposes to make draft Food Safety and Standards Rules, 2011, in the exercise of the powers conferred by Section 91 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.


The outbreak being faced by Germany and other European countries may take place in our country as well. During the past one year, the common bacteria producing certain enzymes, like the New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamases-1 (NDM-1), hit the headlines in our country. However, this time it is not any developing country rather the most advanced country of Europe that has been affected. The National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Disease (NICED), Kolkata, and the National Centre of Disease Control (NCDC), Delhi, look after all diagnostic and therapeutic guidelines about such matters. These institutes have full-fledged infrastructure and technical know-how in handling such situations. The rules and regulations dealing with eatables should be implemented in letter and sprit in case of any such outbreak.


What is E. coli


The name to this bacterium, Escherichia coli, was given after its discoverer, a German-Austrian bacteriologist and pediatrician, Theodor Escherich, in the year 1885. This is classified as a member of the family Enterobacteriaceae, where other common bacterial pathogens like Salmonella and Shigella are placed. A total of about 170 serogroups under this genus, Escherichia, have been divided in five categories i.e. enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), enteroinvasive E. coli (EIEC), enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC). These are considered as normal commensals of the colon flora and hence called as coliform bacterium. However, it may rarely cause urinary tract infections, sepsis, wound infections, diarrhoea as well as dysentery associated with some of the systemic manifestations. The present outbreak, originating in the first week of May 2011 from Hamburg, northern Germany, is due to an unusual strain of enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) [O104:H4].


harmful strain


While most of E. coli strains are harmless, the sero-group EHEC can produce toxins, known as Shiga toxins or verotoxins, which damage blood cells and the kidneys. Hence, the EHEC strains that produce these toxins are known as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) or vero-cytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC), respectively. In the past, most of such outbreaks have been caused by another strain i.e. E. coli O157:H7. The other strains involved in the outbreaks with similar features are called as non-O157:H7 and the present one is E. coli O104:H4, which has rarely been implicated in human infections.




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




The Union government cannot expect the media and Parliament to remain silent on the news report that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had written Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a letter demanding an inquiry into a possible breach of security in the Union finance ministry, involving the possible placing of listening devices in the rooms of the finance minister, his personal secretary and advisor. These are key functionaries of a highly sensitive ministry. The finance ministry would rank on a par with the defence ministry and the Prime Minister's Office as far as the need for foolproof security is concerned. Any leak of classified information and privileged conversations can have significant economic and national security ramifications. For a ministry that has the capability and experience to seal itself from the outside world at Budget time, to prevent Budget secrets from being leaked, ensuring the security of the finance minister's room at all times should be a matter of routine and regular procedure. That this did not happen has obviously shocked the public. The government must enquire into what happened and inform Parliament and the people, reassuring them that no known harm has been done as a result of this breach. If, indeed, it is found that some harm was done, the government must take necessary action and share such information. Mr Mukherjee has termed the news reports "bogus". If they are "bogus" then the government must sue the newspaper that reported this. If, however, the news report was accurate, merely dismissing it as "bogus" cannot end the controversy. The government and Mr Mukherjee must come clean on the facts.

That it was not just the finance minister's room that was allegedly "bugged", but also that of his advisor Omita Paul, brings into question the role of such non-professional advisors in the finance ministry. What exactly do they do? One understands the role of professional economists as advisors in the finance ministry. Indeed, the finance ministry has had an array of highly qualified advisors like Raja J Chelliah, Parthasarathi Shome, Ashok Desai and Shubhashish Gangopadhyay. But non-professional "political advisors" to the finance minister – like Jairam Ramesh in P Chidambaram's office in 1996-98 and Mohan Guruswamy in Yashwant Sinha's office in 1998-99 – have left a trail of controversy on their role. What exactly do they do? In the case of Ms Paul, newspaper reports suggest that senior officials of the government, of various agencies under the finance ministry and of financial institutions report to her on policy and related matters. In the interests of transparency, and to end all avoidable and ill-informed speculation, the role of such non-officials should be publicly clarified. Every minister is entitled to hire non-government professionals. Indeed, there is no reason the administrative, foreign and other central services should have a monopoly on senior positions in government. But, it is necessary and relevant that the role and powers of such advisors be clearly spelt out so that the public at large and those reporting to the finance minister are better informed.






Just when it seemed that stable fuel supply linkages to the domestic power sector were crystallising comes the double whammy of lower domestic gas availability (mainly from the Krishna-Godavari basin) and higher prospective price of coal imports due to a global surge of "resource nationalism" in countries ranging from Australia to Indonesia. The downstream effects are beginning to be felt, particularly in the domestic power and fertiliser industries. The reverberations across the economy will be severe, with end-users being forced to simultaneously confront supply constraints and higher prices. The discovery of huge quantities of natural gas in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin, mainly Reliance Industry Limited's (RIL's) D6 gas field, ushered visions of a North Sea-style oil- and gas-powered growth, particularly in the power and fertiliser space. Recent announcements ranging from stoppage of work on current projects and paring of expansion plans owing to the uncertainty over future supplies symbolise the unravelling of an economic agenda that portended much for the regional economy.

The biggest disappointment has been RIL's inability to meet targets. While RIL is admittedly only one of many producers in the KG basin, it is by far the largest and as such its performance expectedly does a lot more to drive sentiment compared to smaller players. While an earlier company announcement admitted that the proposed target of 80 million standard cubic metres per day (mscmd) by 2014 would not be met, current production has actually fallen to just 40 mscmd. This is a cause for serious concern. What explains the shortfall? First, the geology in the KG basin is more complicated than assumed. Second, RIL has drilled only 18 wells (against an expected 27 by this date), which would provide a partial explanation for the lower output. Third, RIL and domestic producers have limited experience in very deep sub-surface exploration. The recent tie-up between RIL and British Petroleum is expected to help bridge this technology deficit and accordingly raise output, though the benefits will not materialise immediately.


The decision by the governments of Indonesia and Australia to sell coal at "market prices" symbolises an aggressive rent-seeking behaviour that can only be expected to increase from here as producers exercise their market power. This will certainly have an adverse impact on the bottom lines of power producers, whose expansion plans depended on a steady supply of imported thermal grade coal obtained through long-term contracts. Independent power producers who won their domestic power supply contracts under tariff-based bidding and are, consequently, forbidden from passing on the cost increases to consumers will be especially affected. The Association of Power Producers (APP) has already lobbied the government to allow producers to raise tariffs to compensate them for this unforeseen increase. The government's position is unenviable: agreeing to the APP's demand would mean the price increase would be transmitted right down the line, while a refusal to do so would reduce the incentives for private participation, a highlight of the power sector's recent performance.

Resource prices will continue to play an increasingly important role in ensuring uninterrupted fuel supply. Gas prices in India are currently far lower than global prices, which discourages entry. Similarly, a rationalisation of international coal prices is unavoidable. Economic growth in the years to come will have to be predicated upon this "new normal" in resource prices.






The conventional view of national territorial boundaries is that these are, or ought to be, strong and durable fences, safeguarding the country from hostile external forces. Passage across these fences must, therefore, be through tightly controlled, carefully regulated and narrow gateways. This is an outdated notion in the modern world and the time has come for us to begin to look at our borders as "connectors" or "transmission belts", which bring us closer to our neighbours in a mutually beneficial embrace rather than as impenetrable walls behind which we insulate ourselves.

This is the first mindset change we need to foster.


As corollary to this, we must also stop treating our border areas as belonging to the periphery or serving as "buffer zones", preventing ingress into the heartland. We must rid ourselves of this "outpost" mentality and acknowledge that our border states and regions are as much part of our national territory as are the so-called heartland states. The notion that these areas should be left underdeveloped and remote, as is reflected in the outdated colonial instrument of inner-line permits, must be abandoned. An empire ruled by a foreign power may have had some logic in creating buffer zones. This, however, has no place in an independent, sovereign country, where citizens living in any part of the national territory are equally entitled to the fruits of development and economic integration.

If borders are connectors then border states become important platforms for mutual interaction with our neighbours. They can serve as bridges linking India with its neighbours. Such interaction could become the catalyst for economic development of border regions both in India and in neighbouring countries.

Pursuing such interaction requires convenient and hassle-free cross-border movement and, therefore, efficient cross-border connectivity. We have neglected the development of our land border areas and our outlying islands precisely because of an outdated mindset. This is beginning to change but far too slowly. In the Indian subcontinent, cross-border connectivity today is far less than in pre-partition India. The vision of an economically integrated south Asia leveraging its obvious complementarities cannot become reality without efficient transport, communication and, now, digital connectivity.

We need to follow certain principles in undertaking cross-border infrastructure projects.

One, while putting in place such projects, it is important that this goes in parallel with the establishment of appropriate backward linkages. The progress in cross-border infrastructure must never outpace the all-round integration of our frontier regions with the rest of the country. If this happens, it will be a recipe for alienation in these sensitive frontier regions, endangering our security. One sees this phenomenon in northern Myanmar, which is today more closely integrated with southern China than the rest of the country.

Two, we must abandon the concept of border trade and replace it with trade through border points. Border trade in an agreed list of designated local commodities, limited to a designated zone on either side of the border, is thoroughly outdated at most places. Several points on the India-Myanmar or India-Nepal borders are well connected with the rest of the country on either side. Trade in local items is far outstripped in volume and value by a great variety of goods which are officially "contraband". On my visits to the Tamu-Moreh border point on the India-Myanmar border, I have witnessed how truckloads of Chinese goods, all contraband, find their way into our north-east and beyond. The only way to address this is to open border trade points to regular most-favoured nation trade. It should not really matter what goods are coming in from which country of origin as long as requisite duties are paid. The government earns revenue while minimising the opportunities for corruption.

This does not mean that in truly remote areas we should stop the holding of traditional border "haats" or local trade fairs. However, we should make certain that these areas do not become channels for illegal trade.

The criminalisation of much of our border trade, the involvement of local mafias in such trade and the corruption this engenders among precisely those of our authorities that are assigned the job of looking after our sensitive borders, are threatening our national security much more than the opening up of our borders to regular trade and economic activities. The lesson to be learnt is that the economic development and prosperity of our border regions will greatly enhance, not diminish, our national security.

It is time we re-imagined our country's borders and made our border regions full stakeholders in India's development. This is also a prerequisite for realising our vision of a south Asia, where borders have ceased to matter and there is a free flow of goods, peoples and ideas across our frontiers.

The author is a former foreign secretary
He is currently chairman, Research and Information System for Developing Countries and senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research








One of the arguments in favour of India's long-term growth prospects is that half the population is below 30 — people at that age are ready to take risks more than, say, people above 45 who need to plan their retirement and, therefore, have no appetite for financial adventures. To put it differently, India for long will sprout entrepreneurs like no other country in the world. This sure is good news. There are signs of entrepreneurship all over. The stranglehold of families over industry is a thing of the past. But has it reached the lowest strata of the society, the Dalits?


Unfortunately, there exists no data on Dalit entrepreneurship. Surveys done by the government capture the assets owned by Dalit households, and there is some vague information on the number of self-employed Dalits. But there is absolutely nothing on entrepreneurs and businessmen. Now, the Centre for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) in the University of Pennsylvania has initiated a survey to count the Dalits who have a business of Rs 1 crore or more. So far, 500 or so have been profiled in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, the National Capital Region of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The survey next moves to the southern states. The number may look good but please remember there are 166 million Dalits in the country.

According to Chandra Bhan Prasad, who is involved in the survey, it will take another year and a half to draw a nationwide map of Dalit entrepreneurs. Thus far, the survey team has come across Dalit entrepreneurs (with a business of over a crore) across sectors — from healthcare and hospitality to manufacturing, trading and construction. For some strange reason, their maximum concentration is in manufacturing and construction. Some, according to Mr Prasad, have a turnover of over Rs 1,000 crore! Most of these companies are not listed on the stock market, so it's difficult to ascertain the worth of these entrepreneurs.

There is some more good news on this front. A recent study by Devesh Kapur (he heads CASI), Mr Prasad, Lant Pritchett and D Shyam Babu done in 20,000 Dalit households of Uttar Pradesh found that there has been a significant improvement in the socio-economic condition of the Dalits between 1990, the year before economic reforms were initiated, and 2008. Thus, they were found to (1) live in better houses, (2) eat better food, and (3) own more consumer goods. The material markers, says Mr Prasad, have overtaken the social markers in rural India. The study also showed that there has been a sharp fall in the number of Dalits working as farm labour, while there has been a perceptible rise in the number of Dalits running businesses. The societal damage done over centuries has been undone, to some extent, by economic reforms in two decades!

Another sign of this change is the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry or DICCI. Though formed in 2005, the industry association has really got going in the recent past. According to its president, Milind Prahlad Kamble, who runs a construction business, DICCI has over 1,000 members. At the moment, Maharashtra seems to dominate with over 400 members (Gujarat comes next with about 200 members), but that's because DICCI started in Pune. Anybody with a turnover of Rs 25 lakh and above can become a member; the annual fee is Rs 2,500. DICCI has added two chapters, one each at Mumbai and Sangli, and more could come up in the days ahead at Ludhiana, Nagpur and Delhi. Mr Kamble has an ambitious target to put up 50 chapters by the end of the year.

Industry associations lobby the government on behalf of their members. What does DICCI do? The first, and biggest, problem Dalit entrepreneurs face, says Mr Kamble, is finance. Because they have no assets, banks are reluctant to lend. True, the ministry of social justice and empowerment runs the National Schedule Caste Finance Development Corporation but the size of its loans is small – from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh –, though the interest rate is subsidised by the government. The corporation sanctioned loans worth Rs 232 crore in 2010-11, and disbursed Rs 180 crore. Mr Kamble says one can become self-employed with this kind of money but not an entrepreneur. So, this is at the heart of what DICCI does. Mr Kamble had recently met Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia over this problem. Mr Ahluwalia, he says, suggested a venture capital fund for Dalits to which the government could contribute.

Mr Kamble is an energetic man. He has organised an interaction between DICCI and the Confederation of Indian Industry in Pune so that his members could network with larger businessmen. DICCI has also taken on board three mentors: Raghunath Anant Mashelkar (the former director general of the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research), Mr Prasad and Anu Aga. Dr Mashelkar, who is a member of the National Innovation Council, had visited an exhibition held by DICCI in Pune, where Mr Kamble asked him to become a mentor and Dr Mashelkar readily agreed. While Mr Prasad and Dr Mashelkar are like guides, DICCI members stand to gain the most from Ms Aga's mentorship. She, claims Mr Kamble, has taken a list of DICCI members who could get some work from Thermax. Well begun is half done!





Skill improvement has failed to keep pace with salary hikes

Vineet Nayyar says the "incredible" wage push will make India's information technology (IT) and information technology-enabled services (ITES) industry uncompetitive. The Tech Mahindra vice-chairman and MD also says it will soon be cheaper to hire in certain locations abroad because there will be no economic rationale to hire here.


Calculations made by the Business Standard Research Bureau shows that Nayyar's concerns are not misplaced. The wage cost of the top-10 IT companies in India has grown by an average17 per cent over the last three years, more than the 10-12 per cent growth in most other industries.

A job portal for MBA students – – has also shown that salaries grew fastest at 12.7 per cent for professionals in the IT sector, taking them closer to their group mates working in finance and consulting. The average salary for MBAs working in IT divisions was Rs 12.9 lakh for three to four years of experience and Rs 17.3 lakh for five to seven years of experience.

The trend will only increase since companies are forced to go in for huge hiring plans partly because of the huge attrition rate (60 per cent in the business process outsourcing industry alone). TCS and Infosys, for example, have said they will hire 30,000 people this year.

It's tempting to dismiss Nayyar's concerns as an exaggeration. After all, despite a steep increase in wages, India still offers significant labour cost savings. Starting salaries of graduates in India are still 80-85 per cent lower than in developed countries. Even with a low average employability of 10-15 per cent for graduates in general and 25 per cent for IT and engineering graduates, India contributes half the current employed global sourcing talent pool.

There is more. As much as 80 per cent of top companies that are globally sourcing have a centre in India or have a contract with an Indian provider.

All this is good news. But a Nasscom-McKinsey study has shown why this advantage can go away soon in an industry whose wage bill is growing too fast and will continue to do so due to the future talent demand and lack of employable manpower. For example, the technology and business service industry will face a talent shortage of over 2 million people by 2020. As it is, the average salary at the entry level in the industry is Rs 20,000 compared to Rs 12,000 in, for example, the hotels industry.

Moreover, the industry has to spend a lot on training. An average company is investing 16 weeks to train one employee. So the huge attrition rate means a double whammy for these companies: Pay more to a fresh graduate and pay more for training since the rapid increase in job switching has not kept pace with improvement in the skill level.

The emergence of alternative locations is making the situation even more complicated. Though Mexico and Philippines have already emerged as cost-competitive centres, there are others as well. Malaysia has positioned itself as a location for high-end knowledge services and Egypt and Morocco are positioning themselves as options for low-cost European language locations.

Several others such as Midwestern US, Brazil and Vietnam are also coming up fast owing to a large pool of low-cost talent, strong government support and robust infrastructure. For example, the US Midwest can offer up to 25 per cent savings in cost due to salary differentials, training costs and tax incentives, and has a good enough talent pool with around 50,000 new graduates every year.

Many major companies such as Wipro, Firstsource, Genpact and Convergys (which now employs more people in Philippines than in India) and so on are rapidly expanding their presence in the Philippines. Already, Manila ranks number two for offering effective BPO solutions, second only to Bangalore. The UK National Outsourcing Association has awarded Philippines the best outsourcing destination for its BPO sector.

Apart from the rapidly improving infrastructure, what make Philippines more attractive is better skill levels and lower relative wages. For instance, salaries might be the same in India and Phillipines at the lower level, but a Filipino staffer scores on productivity. While a worker in India, on an average, is able to handle 80 inbound or outbound calls per day, his or her Filipino counterpart handles over 100, according to industry estimates.

It's time, therefore, for a majority of Indian companies to analyse their productivity and identify areas of potential improvement. The Nasscom-McKinsey study looked at the basic voice processes across business services and found a wide variation in platform costs, with the top quartile players operating at 46 per cent lower costs than bottom quartile players. Moreover, top performers are seen to continuously improve their operating costs with time, while the industry average operating performance is seen to decline.

That's a wake-up call for many Indian IT companies.








With the swift recovery of the Asia-Pacific region in 2010, a sense of complacency seems to be taking hold that all was back to business as usual. However, it is important not to lose sight of the challenge of rebalancing Asia-Pacific economies in favour of greater domestic consumption, and investment remains relevant to sustain the region's dynamism over the medium and long term. The dynamism of the Asia-Pacific economies over the past decade was significantly driven by debt-fuelled excess consumption in the advanced economies of the West. The rising current account surpluses of east and south-east Asian countries were being recycled to advanced economies, especially the US to fund its growing current account deficit. The rising current account deficit (and fiscal deficit) of the US and rising surpluses of east Asian countries are referred to as global imbalances.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that advanced countries will be restraining their debt-fuelled consumption in an effort to unwind global imbalances. The Economic Reports of the US President clearly indicate the focus of the government in the medium term on raising savings and exports. This means that the growth of imports by advanced economies of Asian products may not go back to its pre-crisis trend. The dynamism of the Asia-Pacific economies will, therefore, have to be supported by new supplementary sources of aggregate demand. These new sources of demand generation will have to be found within the region. In other words, the Asia-Pacific region's economic growth has to be rebalanced in favour of greater domestic and regional demand over the coming decade.

There are many opportunities for rebalancing the Asia-Pacific economy. The latest Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2011 by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) has pointed to a growing imbalance between the Asia-Pacific sub-regions. In east Asian countries, the share of consumption in growth has declined over time while in south-east Asian countries investment has lagged behind. India is an exception, with growth fuelled by rising domestic consumption and investment. Therefore, east Asian countries will need to enhance consumption and south-east Asian countries will have to promote investment as part of the rebalancing strategy.

Other opportunities for rebalancing include poverty alleviation and closing other development gaps through inclusive policies. With over 950 million people living in poverty, the region has much headroom for generating additional aggregate demand by creating new consumers out of the poor. For this it is important to focus on agriculture in a way that sustains the bulk of the population, especially the poor and vulnerable. In the past two decades, the focus of development policies was on promoting modern sectors such as industry and services as part of the strategy to accelerate growth, while neglecting agriculture. The resultant growth created fewer jobs per unit of investment, given the focus of industry and services on automation. Future growth will have to be made more job-creating. Agriculture and rural development will create jobs and enhance consumption while strengthening food security.

Other policies to enhance domestic demand include financial inclusion and strengthening social protection. By reducing the precautionary motive for savings, social protection helps expand household consumption. An important experiment in this direction is India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which is strengthening income security of millions of households, thus attacking poverty frontally. Other schemes in the region include conditional cash transfers in Indonesia, the Philippines and so on.

Other opportunities for rebalancing include enhancing investment for closing the gaps in infrastructure development. The ESCAP report presents a composite index of infrastructure development showing wide variations across countries in the region in terms of infrastructure development, with Singapore, Japan, Australia, Republic of Korea and Malaysia occupying the top slots in terms of infrastructure development, with Papua New Guinea among other least developed countries on the other side of the spectrum and other developing countries between the two ends. India occupies a middle slot, which clearly shows large gaps.

Closing the infrastructure gap will require huge investments, which, in turn, will create aggregate demand besides contributing to growth. Recent estimates suggest that the region would need annual investments of $800 billion to close these gaps. India has recently projected the need for investments of the order of $1,000 billion over the 12th five year plan or annual investments of $200 billion.

While these investment requirements appear huge and cannot be funded by existing financial arrangements, there are opportunities for financing them within the region through institutional development. The governments of the Asia-Pacific region now own foreign exchange reserves worth more than $5 trillion, which remain invested in western securities, such as the US treasury bills, because of underdeveloped regional financial architecture. When the region's governments and companies need to raise capital, they also go to western capital markets. Hence, the intermediation of Asian savings and their investment needs is being done by western capital markets. With the development of regional financial architecture in the Asia-Pacific region, it may be possible to deploy a small part of such reserves to finance infrastructure investment. The development of regional financial architecture to facilitate infrastructure development is, therefore, an important policy priority. ESCAP Secretariat is elaborating elements of such an architecture as part of a mandate given to it by the member states.

Finally, a major challenge for the Asia-Pacific region to sustain its dynamism in the post-crisis era would be rebalancing its economies in favour of itself. Through an emphasis on poverty reduction, job-creating growth and closing the infrastructure development gaps, it would be possible to not only enhance domestic demand but also evolve a more inclusive pattern of development. The other aspect of rebalancing is deepening regional economic integration. That will be discussed in the next column.

The author is chief economist of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific, Bangkok

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the UN  









The top priority today is to pare foodgrain stocks down to manageable levels, either through subsidised domestic sale or export, or both.

It is a sad irony of overflowing granaries and empty stomachs. Even as large sections of the population reel under unabated food inflation — many of them diluting their already frugal nutritional intake, with its long-term adverse health consequences — the government is accumulating vast quantities of foodgrains despite limited infrastructure and financial capacity to manage them. If the policymakers sitting in New Delhi think that bin-bursting buffer stocks make for food security, they are mistaken. Foodgrains are meant for consumption. Instead of rotting in the Government's shoddy warehouses, the grains ought to be in the kitchens of several hundred millions of poor Indians.

Actually, the unconscionable level of current stocks — 65 million tonnes of wheat and rice at last count — adds to the fiscal burden through high carrying costs, apart from pilferage and quality deterioration. Even the highest court of the land has pulled up the government for letting foodgrains rot. There are only two practical ways to liquidate wheat and rice stored beyond the government's requirement: domestic consumption or export; or a combination of both. Sale in the domestic market would entail huge subsidies or losses as the open market prices are below the total cost incurred by the Food Corporation of India. But that should hardly be reason for not liquidating excessive stocks in the open market. If it involves a subsidy, so be it. The FCI is currently nursing wheat stocks, a part of which is about three years old and on which the carrying cost is as high as Rs 7,200 per tonne. So, these old stocks are out-priced and uncompetitive.

The other option is to permit export, at least in limited quantities of, say, 3-5 million tonnes. This will entail no subsidy because globally wheat prices have hardened and Indian origin wheat will have straight parity. However, with the onset of the monsoon, grain export activity usually slows down considerably. In other words, the government may have lost an opportunity to liquidate a part of the surplus. With each passing month, every tonne of grain stored with the government would cost Rs 200 a tonne more, making it even more uncompetitive in the market. By September, the kharif paddy crop should be ready for harvest, and should there be a further rebound in output, the pressure on warehousing space will only increase. The government is duty-bound to explain why it is sitting on such excessive inventory. No doubt, the National Food Security Bill is a laudable initiative of this government. But implementation of the Bill — as and when it becomes law — is not immediate. Today, the top priority is to pare official stocks down to manageable levels, either through subsidised domestic sale or export, or both.





Nokia's D. Shivakumar is confident the company is now on right track

How does it feel to head the modern-day version of the gigantic Pterosaurs? We asked this — in politer terms, of course, of D. Shivakumar, Managing Director of the largest MNC in India. No, it's not Hindustan Unilever or IBM or any of those behemoths. We are talking Finnish cellphone giant Nokia, the new leader in terms of revenues in India.

"Being the largest is a matter of pride, but scale alone is not an antidote to failure ever in this world. Scale with agility of learning and response is what makes you powerful. Imagine a big organisation that is nimble. Wow. That's a killer," he says.

The IIT-Chennai, IIM-Kolkata product cut his teeth selling hair-care products in that tough school for CEOs called Hindustan UniLever and is today sought after for his marketing insights.

He lectures on brands, consumer behaviour and retailing, not just at B-schools, but at CEO and industry forums — and he always has numbers and statistics in his armoury to prove his points.

Football, golf, cricket and F1 racing are his sporting passions — he watches a lot of all, even flying to Wembley and Rome to watch his favourite team ManU . "Both times they lost," he mutters.

Good fit

Inevitably, he shares leadership learnings from sports — especially lauding Fiji Indian Vijay Singh's hard work and determination.

"For a man from Fiji islands to go on to become world No.1 in golf — it's like if an American were to apply himself in cricket and become the best batsman!" he exclaims.

"I like the guys who are committed and want to better their craft. You should do your best and bring change in your craft," he says.

Hmm. sisu — or quiet determination — is a Finnish characteristic. Clearly, Shivakumar and Nokia are a good fit.

What about cricket?

"I used to be a batsman and keeper at the university level. But a lot of cricket is now because of our sponsorship of the Kolkata Knight Riders," he says.

"Nice to see KKR performing well this year," we congratulate him.

Unable to resist the marketing gyan, he cuts in. "This is the point. A lot of people say companies and brands do not have long-term focus. Here's a great example of a long-term focus. We stuck with the team, invested in it. It is the most recognised franchise in the IPL today because we stuck to the team. Success and failure will come and go. But as long as you are doing the right things, you will win more than you lose," he says.

We are lunching at the Earth, a spacious Italian Lounge Bar in Gurgaon — a place with nice food, good music and comfortable corners; it took us a bit of effort to agree upon as the location for this meeting.

But any other place would have done just as well for all the interest Shivakumar shows in the menu. "For me, food is simply fuel," he says, as he tanks up on a thin crust Pizza Pepperonata. His order has taken not even a minute.

We take a bit more time deciding our dishes, finally gofor a Pesce Milanese, a Pollo Ripieno and a Pizza Giardinara with spinach and feta cheese. With its rugged white walls and tavern like atmosphere, it could well be in Europe.

The Nokia way

Can Nokia, which has fast been losing market share, learn to become as fleet-footed as the Pterosaurs, feared as much for its agility as its size?

The mild-mannered Shivakumar seems pretty confident that it can.

"These are cycles that tech companies go through. We are embarking on a new direction with Windows phone connecting the next billion. Nokia is on its journey of redefining itself. I am sure we will see a very different Nokia next year," he asserts.

But why have they been so slow in the first place? On smartphones, Nokia is in danger of being left behind by Samsung.

On tablets too, it's taking its own sweet time, though Shivakumar's bet is the tablet will spell the end of PC. Even a small innovation like the multi-sim phone has only been launched this month — many moons after competition!

"The key thing is to judge the potential of a form factor or technology at any point of time. In today's world you can introduce any product and copy it in a month's time. But you have to do it the Nokia way," he says.

So, what is the Nokia way?

"We bring a string of innovations," he claims. "To be a fast follower is fine, but an innovator has to offer a differentiated product," he says.

He whips out a model of the new C200 multi-Sim model that Nokia has just launched – it has one Sim under the battery, and another that can go into a groove in the side like a memory card.

"This is what we call a Hot Swap," he says. "We know we were not quick to the market with the Multi-Sim, but we have a differentiated product now".

Anchored to brands

Nokia may be skating on thin ice lately on technology, but it hasn't been a slouch on the marketing front.

Here is where Shivakumar's own strengths come in. We get treated to a small, lyrical lecture on brands.

"I think that irrespective of the business you are in, a brand plays an important role. In India, if you advertise a brand, you get legitimacy with trade. You attract the right trade partners. A brand is a very significant thing in India, because of the set-up of our distribution centres. The Indian economy is $1.5 trillion and it has 8-10 million retail outlets while the US with a $14-trillion economy has just one million outlets. The American economy is ten times our size, but their retail outlets are one tenth our size. It tells you there is no concentration of power in retail in India. What does that favour? It favours brands. Brands are a huge emotional anchor for India," he says.

"The Indian media is forever and forever only talking price," he goes on. "I think it is underestimating consumer intelligence on price. Price is important, but value is even more important. Offering low price is an innovation if you are the lowest cost producer. Otherwise you are just cutting your margins."

Shivakumar is a voracious reader. Then he dumps the books on his colleagues. He actually takes the trouble of making slide presentations out of what he reads in a book and distributes them in the office.

He admits that his readings have shaped his thinking. In the early days, Drucker, McNamara, Iacocca and Jack Welch all have been strong influences. But he's also kept up with the latest management moves.

Learn, distill and apply

"In today's world, ability to learn and unlearn determines the success of a leader otherwise you are in complete trouble. An organisation where the leader does not learn is doomed to failure. You need to learn, distill it and apply it to your business. Example, the world is going digital, but a lot of companies do not have a digital strategy yet," he says.

"Leaders' thinking is also shaped by circumstances and experience is the best teacher," he adds.

"You cannot think QSQT – quarter se quarter tak," he says with a rare flash of humour. "You have to think ahead of a life beyond December 31 or March 31."

He says he leaves office at 7.30 p.m. on most days, but is never switched off from work. "As technology gets better and better, the pressure on senior management rises more and more. In the old days, the boss got a week to decide on a proposal. Today, the proposal will come to me at eight or nine in the evening. And, I have to take an instant call," he says.

Well, given the crossroads they are at, hopefully Shivakumar — and Nokia — are making the right calls.





It has all the right ingredients of a bestseller. A Jewish General in the Indian army who takes potshots at Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw even as he describes the behind-the-scenes action that forced the surrender at Dhaka in 1971. One who talks about his political innings with the BJP and the non-kosher things that some politicians asked him to do. And, for good measure, includes pictures of himself clasping the hands of an oomphy Parveen Babi.

Well, yes, Lt. General J.F.R. Jacob's memoirs – despite a boring title (surely, Roli could have done better) - is an unputdownable read, gripping one from start to finish.

But like most memoirs, An Odyssey in War and Peace -An Autobiography (Lotus Roli) tends often to be a one-sided account in which the raconteur is painted as larger than life.

To be fair, the life and times of Jacob Farj-Rafael Jacob – Jake to his friends – who retired as GOC in C, Eastern Command, is quite an extraordinary one. The Kolkata-born Jewish lad joined the Indian army in 1941 wanting to fight the Nazis in World War II, but ended up fighting the Japanese in Burma. After seeing action on various fronts, from Baghdad to Sumatra, and training in England, he returned to independent India only to find many of his coursemates in a different army!

From the peace years to the war times back to peace era, you get an insider's intimate view of army life. But the meat of the book is undoubtedly the 1971 war against Bangladesh at which time Jacob was the Chief of Staff, Eastern Army while Lt. Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora was the GOC-in C and Gen Manekshaw, the Army Chief.

And then come the post-retirement years, the account of his political innings with the BJP and the governorship of Goa and Punjab. Goa especially was an eventful period as in six months four governments changed and President's rule was imposed. Jacob has a way with words and he successfully brings on a wave of nostalgia when he describes the city he loves, Kolkata , and the boyhood days of catching a ferry from Prinsep Ghat to the pier at Botanical gardens and the movies he saw at Lighthouse.

Fascinating account

Through his schoolboy years in Darjeeling on to the soldering years, of his travels through Europe including Russia and of the various stints from Golconda to Ladakh to Deolali (his favourite cantonment), it's a fascinating account. During the peace years, you get insights into how the army is pressed into service for all kinds of things from running water supply to providing manpower for tasks that are not of a military nature. "We were even required to provide horses and soldiers for the film Mughal-e-Azam," he points out.

Jacob does not mince words about what he thinks of various defence ministers and colleagues. He has nothing but contempt for Krishna Menon and several army chiefs, whom he describes as public relations- oriented and bending backwards to accede to whims of political masters. Also, when he gets into the Dhaka skirmish, you actually have to suspend disbelief in some parts, especially where he describes how he fed US political officer George Griffin with false information on Indian deployments and the sections where Manekshaw and Aurora are made to look rather silly. In fact, there appear to have been constant differences between Manekshaw and Jacob over the 1971 operations.

Given his Jewish connections and the fact that he had a hand in setting in motion the wheels of India's new relationship with Israel, one would have liked to have read a bit more about that in this memoir. But perhaps, the general is reserving his artillery for another round!









Reports say that land acquisition for the proposed mega plant of Korean steel major Posco, off Paradip in coastal Orissa, has come to a grinding halt following incessant protests by men, women and children in the affected villages in the area, especially Dhinkia and Govindpur. It is now glaringly evident that a sorry lack of vision in garnering land for project implementation is stalling industry, new jobs and attendant economic modernisation. It is essential that the project-affected perceive themselves as having a stake in the Posco plant, and that they stand to gainfully benefit thanks to the investment in the pipeline. And if the people feel they are being made to give up their land and livelihood for measly sums, they are unlikely to play ball with the authorities. Posco surely needs to offer fair compensation to those directly affected — both landowners and those dependent on it — rather than farm out land acquisition to the state government, with generous scope for strong-arm tactics and the like. That would delay and perhaps stall the whole process indefinitely. Reportedly, Posco has begun building housing colonies for the other three villages on the project site where land acquisition has taken place. The hope apparently is that the provision of housing would persuade the two remaining villages to agree to land being acquired.

But the point remains that only a tiny part of the total project costs of $12 billion would be for land acquisition, and it is vital that those directly affected do not feel shortchanged. Local leaders in Dhinkia and Govindpur villages, egged on by bleeding hearts from elsewhere, seem opposed to the Posco project whatever the terms. But this is simply elitism. The idea that village folk continue to cultivate betel vines on a sandy stretch of land adjoining the sea and drive away industry in the process implies status quo and worse. It suggests a backward stance. Reports say the Posco project requires about 3,700 acres of land, much of it government-owned, of which only about 150 acres is private land. Nevertheless, what is crucial is proper compensation for loss of land and livelihood and enough scope for re-skilling and rehabilitation.







Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) chairman U K Sinha plans to have a single know-yourcustomer (KYC) clearance for all capital market functions. This is welcome. A single identity proof will make investing hassle-free for investors, due diligence easier for the regulator and boost capital market transactions. It will enable all the market intermediaries to have access to a common data base, which is not the case now. KYC norms are meant to ensure that stock markets, banks or insurance companies as not used as channels to route funds that are not kosher. However, it is unfair to make an investor produce certificates each time she opens an account with a stockbroker or walks into a new fund company. A single identity proof will eliminate such duplication of effort and also save back-office costs for intermediaries. It would be akin to the government's unique identity number for citizens. Earlier, Sebi had made it compulsory for investors — with transactions of over . 1 lakh — to secure a Market Participation Identification Number, but it was scrapped in 2007. A single identity proof is an extension of MAPIN. This calls for evolving uniform KYC norms for all entities regulated by Sebi. Sebi's move to incentivise mutual fund distributors is also sound. This would boost sales that dipped after the regulator scrapped entry loads on mutual funds. Distribution of financial products is a distinct activity. Incentives to market these products, without making them too expensive for investors, are in order. Today, the new pension scheme (NPS), that offers superior returns, is tottering due to a faulty marketing model. The thin asset management fee prevents fund managers from marketing the scheme using their funds. There is also no incentive for the points of presence — banks that open NPS accounts for subscribers — and others, to enrol subscribers. The government should offer to pay the NPS agents' commission as it does for the public provident fund (PPF) scheme. It can rope in the same agents who sell small savings for the NPS. This would be a more effective way to market the scheme than offering subsidy to NPS subscribers.








In this season, no one can rest easy that their premises are free of bugs and other creepy crawlies. Blame it on India, in fact, if not its lax civic agencies. We know that bugs exist but we believe in live and let live, until someone cries foul. Thorough examination of all habitations that are likely to invite the presence of bugs should be a matter of procedure, surely. Yet cleanups and anti-bug sweeps are made only after affected people complain and send irate letters demanding investigation. Authorities obviously wait for someone to be once bitten, before they become twice shy about ineffective measures. By now, though, they should know complaints are bound to pour in when conditions are ripe for infestation. At times like this, when the atmosphere is overcast and darkness descends unexpectedly, cesspools tend to fester in unknown corners, providing the right environs for bugs to thrive. Little wonder then that they not only feed off insecure victims — as even the most experienced of us rarely take pre-emptive measures against these little menaces — but also spread seasonal diseases.

At such times, however, it is also silly to chew up the cleaning staff for letting bugs lurk in dark crevices. Not only are these creatures engineered to avoid the inexperienced human hand and eye, they also rarely stay gummed to one place for very long as that can lead to detection and extermination. Keeping all potential infestation areas squeaky clean is quite difficult given treacherous Indian conditions. Instead, as the agencies dealing with them have a fair idea of where they come from, the best course of action would be to have them eliminate the source of the bugs promptly. At least till conditions become conducive once again for new ones to come out of the woodwork.







As the war in Libya drags on without an end in sight, the stubbornness with which Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces are holding on to their turf has renewed attention to the sources of wealth sustaining them. There has been speculation about hidden stashes of hoarded cash in dollars and euros worth billions which is backstopping the regime. And now comes an unsurprising but significant expose of major global financial firms for involvement in multiplying the vast oil money of the Libyan sovereign wealth fund for years. The anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness has released a detailed investigation into the lasting collusion of the biggest names in international banking — Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Societe Generale, JP Morgan and UniCredit — with the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), whose net worth, as of June 2010, was $53 billion. The damning report demands to know whether these financial giants are continuing to serve as bankers of Qaddafi's personalised hoard of capital, a plausibility since international banking titans are notorious for spinning surreptitious faux accounts and shell companies.
Ever since Libya was brought back from the diplomatic and business cold during the presidency of George W Bush, numerous western corporations have invested in Libya's energy sector, while the LIA in turn bought shares worth billions in blue-chip companies such as General Electric, BP, Vivendi and Deutsche Telekom. The respectability accorded to the Gaddafi dictatorship by western political leaders through normalisation of relations in the last few years was an opening that permitted banks and multinationals in the manufacturing and service sectors to cash in on yet another brutal Middle Eastern rentier state that was open for mutually beneficial deals.
For defenders of Wall Street and its interlinked firms in Europe and Australia, the easy alibi in response to the revelations of Global Witness is that they were acting as Libya's wealth managers (presumably until UN sanctions kicked off in February 2011) while being perfectly within the bounds of laws and political imprimaturs of states in which they are headquartered. This argument parallels the elaborate general defence Wall Street has constructed since the financial meltdown of 2008 that its titans rarely broke existing laws.
As the chorus of laments rises that the 'fat cat' bankers whose greed and innovation collapsed whole economies and unleashed mass unemployment get away without even one of them standing trial, the Global Witness report on Libya is a reminder that ethical conduct is a far broader matter than proving guilt in a legal sense. A company could always dodge its way out of embarrassing publicity by claiming to have been fully lawful, but what about the damage its commissions and omissions have perpetrated on society? Who pays the price for it?
In the case of Libya, the people are suffering the consequences of a prolonged war and they have reasons to blame Gaddafi for his ruthless will for selfpreservation. But as Global Witness' previous inquests into 'blood diamonds' in Africa have already proved, iron will to prosecute bloody wars can only be effective when supported by a sophisticated financial structure. The political economy of Libya's war thus leads to the doorsteps and vaults of western capitalist icons.
Wall Street, which has been engaged in public relations campaigns to soften the edge of public criticism since 2008, has other unsavoury connections to intractable wars. Bloomberg News dug into the money laundering trail of Mexican drug cartels, which have waged a terrible war with over 30,000 casualties in the last five years, and found that they were financed through the good offices of familiar financial stars like Wachovia, Bank of America, Santander and HSBC. Wachovia even paid US prosecutors a record fine of $160 million (barely 2% of the bank's profits) in March for knowingly abetting the violent drug gangs of Mexico.
    The triviality of this fine vis-à-vis the terrible human toll being exacted in the Mexican 'war on drugs' just goes on to reinforce the point that legal penalties are insufficient to curb financial profiteering at the cost of human lives. The same holds true for the token fine of $550 million paid by Goldman Sachs for securities fraud in the Abacus Collateralised Debt Obligation (CDO) fraud. Whenever big banks get technically caught for violations of the law, they pay their way out of trouble through minimal fines. Their cost-benefit calculation for abetting drug lords or dictators does not get altered through legal storms in teacups.
Though Global Witness is advocating new laws for banks to disclose all sovereign wealth funds they handle, repetition of unscrupulous deeds cannot be solved through the law. Clients and shareholders continue to retain faith in financial firms as long as they yield healthy dividends and interest. Even so-called activist investors tend to be worried only about the financial bottom lines. 'Shareholder democracy' is driven by the narrow aim of maximising returns on investment, not on preventing a company one partially owns from destroying lives of poor Libyans or Mexicans.
The only way to infuse morality into Wall Street and its affiliates in advanced countries is through sustained citizen pressure amounting to social and parliamentary audits of banks suspected of being associated with deadly regimes and nonstate actors. But if Goldman Sachs and its ilk indeed "rule the world" with money and power, as Fortune magazine's William Cohan's new book contends, will naming and shaming banks for complicity in bloodthirsty regimes and criminal syndicates ever produce corrective behaviour? Everybody, including the quintessential 'bad guys' needs finance, and regulating this sector of the global economy is arguably the greatest challenge facing the drive against transnational corruption.









Americans are impatient — and increasingly despairing — about the war in Afghanistan. After 10 years of fighting, more than 1,500 US lives lost and $450 billion spent, they need to know there is a clear way out.
On Wednesday night, President Barack Obama announced that US troops will soon begin to withdraw, but at a size and pace unlikely to satisfy many Americans.

He said that 10,000 of the 33,000 troops from the "surge" would come home before the end of this year, with the rest out by next summer. He vowed that reductions would continue "at a steady pace" after that, and that "the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security" by sometime in 2014.
We are not military planners, so we won't play the too big/too small numbers game. Obama argued that the US is starting the drawdown "from a position of strength" — that Al-Qaida has been pummeled and the Taliban have suffered serious losses — and that his goals are limited. "We won't try to make Afghanistan a perfect place." It was a particular relief to hear him say that "the tide of war is receding" in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he will need to do a lot more to explain why it is in this country's strategic interest to stick things out for another three-plus years. And why his drawdown plan has a credible chance of leaving behind an Afghanistan that won't implode as soon as US troops are gone.

This was a sound speech, as far as it went. But 13 minutes for something this important? Obama said that his fundamental goal is simple: "No safe haven from which AlQaida or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland." Americans have good reason to be skeptical, especially after listening to George W. Bush's claims that Iraq was a front line in the war on terror. It wasn't. Afghanistan is.

Obama would have been more persuasive if he had just flatly declared that without a base in Afghanistan, the US would never have been able to carry out the raid that got Osama bin Laden.

Obama had some tough words for Pakistan. But Americans need to hear exactly how close Pakistan is to the edge. If Afghanistan implodes, it could quickly become the base for Al-Qaida and other extremists for whom the real prize is Pakistan and its 90 or so nuclear weapons. This is no dominoes fantasy.
Does Obama have a credible plan for both building a minimally stable Afghanistan and bringing the troops home? His speech was short on specifics. A US drawdown must be based on a build-up of capable Afghan forces. Obama's team has made a serious effort on that front, unlike its predecessors. His argument would have been more credible if he had also acknowledged the real problems of attrition and illiteracy.
Obama said in the clearest terms yet that he is open to Afghan-led negotiations with Taliban leaders. It is an effort well worth pursuing if it is tempered with significant skepticism. Programs to bring lower-level Taliban fighters in from the cold are moving far too slowly.

Obama did not mention the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, whose behaviour has been particularly bizarre and offensive of late. He also said nothing about the troubled US assistance programme. A recent report by the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned that billions have been wasted on corruption and poorly conceived or unsustainable programmes.

We know that "nation building" has become taboo in Washington, but helping Afghanistan build a minimally functional government is also part of the way out. Obama and his team clearly need to come up with a better way to manage Karzai, or work around him, and a more rational assistance plan. Obama acknowledged Americans' deep anxiety about this war. But one speech isn't going to calm their fears.
At his best, the president can be hugely persuasive. But we are constantly dismayed by his unwillingness to engage debates early and press them hard. The country needs to hear more from him, and a lot more frequently, about this war and his plans for getting out.

— NYT editorial, June 22 © 2011 New York Times News Service







The sentence reads: CDB. DBSABZB or rather: See the Bee, the Bee is a busy bee. 'CDB', is in fact a famous children's book, first written by William Steign in 1968 and its popularity remains unabated. Thus, when I came across the word, CCCTB, I immediately had this vision of an overeager kid excitedly pointing to a bee in the garden. But what stand for is the European Union's: Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base proposals, which are now up on the drawing board.

Under the proposed mechanism, a company or group of companies would have to comply with just one EU tax system for computing their taxable income, rather than following different rules in each EU country in which they operate and would have to file a single tax return for the whole of their activity in the EU.
The single consolidated tax return would be used to establish the tax base of the company, after which all EU countries in which the company is active would be entitled to tax a certain portion of that base, according to a specific formula based on three equally-weighted factors (assets, employees and sales).

The objective of the proposed approach is to create the possibility for such companies to pool profits and losses among their EU group companies, minimise tax compliance costs and mitigate transfer pricing complexities. Currently, companies operating in the EU may have one single currency to transact in, but they have to deal with 27 different tax provisions for calculating their taxable profits, and must file returns with the tax authorities in each EU country in which they operate. This is neither cost-effective nor tax-efficient. Besides reduction in compliance costs, by allowing the consolidation of profits and losses at EU level, the CCCTB would enable the cross-border activities of businesses to be fully taken into account and would avoid over-taxation.
Information available in cyberspace indicates that the EU Commission views that the CCCTB will save corporate groups across the EU something like €700 million in compliance cost savings each year. In addition, by allowing businesses to offset losses in one EU country against profits elsewhere in the EU for tax purposes (i.e., consolidation), The CCCTB could result in additional savings for companies operating in the EU of around €1.3 billion.

In fact, the CCCTB proposals are proposed to include not just the blue-blooded (if one may use this term), but also covers companies established under the laws of a third country, such as India, that have similar legal forms and are subject to corporate taxation in at least one member EU country. Thus, if an Indian company has branches or subsidiaries in the EU member country, it could opt for the CCCTB in relation to its EU business activities.

The point to note is that CCCTB is optional. However, once a group of companies opts to use the CCCTB, the member companies are no longer able to utilise individual member country tax incentives. While Germany and France have supported the movement towards the CCCTB, it has not enjoyed universal support, with current opposition from Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Sweden, Poland, Malta and Romania. A UK tax expert tells Zenobia Aunty that member countries will continue to have the right to decide on their own corporate tax rates, as the CCCTB deals with the tax base and not the tax rate. However, a member country could choose to apply a different tax rate for the CCCTB if its own national base was extremely different and it wanted to maintain the same effective tax rate (i.e., the real level of tax paid once the rate, base and various deductibles are taken into account).

For example, if the CCCTB base were broader than the national base, the member country may choose to set a lower rate for the CCCTB to maintain the same effective tax rate. Or member countries could align their national bases close enough to the CCCTB in order to avoid having different rates for the two.
However, there is growing competition among countries to attract investments and be a good jurisdiction for housing of corporate headquarters. Take the UK's recent tax developments. It wishes to have a low tax rate among the G20 so as to attract foreign companies.

The competition is stiffening to capture more activity in one's country by offering various sops such as low tax rates, full territorial taxation and so on. Given this, it remains to be seen how the final picture on the CCCTB will emerge, a common base and no consolidation may be a possibility, or some countries could join in and kickstart the movement. For now, all one can say is let us wait and C (see).









As our world gets more complex, so do our statutes. We now have laws for everything from the preservation of wild elephants (1,879; seriously) to the running of cybercafes. This statutory morass is confusing and intimidating, and the citizen is more often victim than intended beneficiary.


The problem is exacerbated by the lack of adequate public access to the law itself. Till fairly recently, it wasn't even possible to find court decisions or statutes. You had to consult a lawyer. The decision by the Law Ministry and the higher judiciary to open up access to laws and judgements for the first time allowed the common man free access to the law.


At least in theory; in practice, it was another story. The official Indian government statutes website ( provides the full text of central government acts. For local laws, you must look elsewhere; and the site isn't terribly userfriendly in the first place. The central caselaw database,, is entirely separate, unlinked to the statutes and has no search across all courts, and each court has its own peculiar search features.


Others are trying to address this, in different ways. The Bombay High Court's official website's ( best-kept secret is the mysteriously named "e-library". It's linked off the main webpage but it's one that few use or even know about.


At least part of the reason is the terrible design of the entire website — a mess of odd colours, awful graphics and layout, little flashing icons, no typography to speak of and the proliferation of ugly buttons (the kind with little icons of a house on them for 'home'). Even lawyers use the site only for limited purposes — checking the daily lists, tracking the status of their cases or downloading orders.


This is a shame, because once you dig past the design, the e-library, which opens on a different page with even more virulent colours, is both helpful and rewarding. There is a long list of statutes both central and local.


There are the all-important rules under various acts. And there are links to caselaw from India and overseas, texts of historical cases, online legal journals and databases, lecture series, newspaper and magazine links. And then there's a section called e-books. This has links to some delights. I found a link to Arthur Quiller-Couch's lectures On the Art of Reading and On the Art of Writing and there are other links to the collected works of Shakespeare, essays by Orwell, poems by Yeats and more.


Not so much a repository — it doesn't actually hold the material itself — as an intelligent and thoughtful aggregation of harvested links, the e-library is the work of Uma Narayan, the High Court's chief librarian, who has the active support of several High Court judges. Soft-spoken and self-effacing almost to a fault, Ms Narayan is visibly embarrassed when, at a chance meeting in the High Court, I compliment her work. "There is so much yet to be done," she tells me. "We must start including government notifications and gazettes because people can't find these very easily and they are important."

Halfway across the world, Dr Sushant Sinha, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, has done something even more remarkable. In January 2008, he launched and in less than three years it has grown to include caselaw from across the country (the Supreme Court, 24 high courts, 17 tribunals), parliamentary debates (25,000 and counting), the Constituent Assembly Debates, law commission reports, and more. The caselaw goes back to the 1800s.


His software 'scrapes' the various publicly accessible websites of Indian courts and actually collates the material. There are cross-references to earlier cases, notes of later cases which refer to the one being viewed, links to the statutes in question and notations of the official law journal citations. It uses a familiar Google-style search interface, which you can refine with an advanced search. The site is clean, almost bare: no advertising, no images, no mass of text. Just the search box and then the results. And it is entirely free.


Legal empowerment in a statute is one thing; awareness of it is another; and the lack of awareness drives the common man, as Dr Sinha says, away from courts instead of to them. Ignorance of the law may be no excuse, but it certainly breeds fear, oppression and corruption.


Dr Sinha realised that keeping laws and judgements in separate databases creates an gap in legal awareness, especially when the interpretation of a convoluted, linguistically opaque, statute comes from a court's decision. Indiankanoon attempts to overcome this.


It integrates court decisions with cross-references to the statutes in question and tries to make the law intelligible. From its small beginnings, the site today has over 400,000 users and 2.5 million monthly page views. It has received recognition from the University of Montreal and MIT. Hopefully, it will soon receive investment support. It may not have the thunder of the Lokpal Bill, but this notion of making the law accessible is a revolution in its own quiet way. Information is power, and public information is power to the people.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




U.S. President Barack Obama's much-awaited speech on Wednesday on the way forward in Afghanistan — as he prepares for his re-election bid — confirms prognostications that the US domestic political agenda would trump the merits of the case in Afghanistan. Clearly, the address is intended to quell domestic anxieties on the economic front and serve as an assurance to the American people to "responsibly end the wars" (including in Iraq). The new focus of the Obama administration in the remainder of its present term is thus quite plainly to be on "nation-building" in the US after a trillion dollars have been spent in the last decade on war at a time of economic hardships in the country. Specifically the President alluded to unleashing innovation for new jobs and industries and the building of infrastructure. If this backdrop has guided the President's analysis of the American war effort in the AfPak region, there naturally appeared in the speech only a passing and symbolic reference to the Pakistan factor in the Afghanistan conundrum, the centrepiece of which is the dynamics of Al Qaeda and Taliban penetration of AfPak in response to which America had sent in its forces in the first place. In an unobtrusive manner this also suggests the importance Washington continues to attach to its ally of many decades, undercutting simplistic assumptions about the relationship going sour after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the anger resulting from this inside that country. And not to put too fine a point on it, the US leader appears to be pointing out almost apologetically in his speech that seven years of the war (now about 10 years old) had already passed when he took office, implying that he be not held responsible if the Afghan battlefield now presents the picture of a military stalemate although there have been occasional bright spots for the US war effort. The President has announced the drawing down of 10,000 soldiers by the end of this year and a total of 33,000 by next September — in effect, the removal of the so-called "surge" troops that were inserted in March-April last year. Thus, when electioneering for the presidency will be at its peak, US soldiers will be seen heading home (regardless of the state of military play in AfPak). Mr Obama doubtless expects this to give his chances a shot in the arm. Alongside this, to drive home the point, in Chicago will be scheduled next summer a summit of America's Nato allies and partners — and this naturally means Pakistan — on how to manage the "transition" in Afghanistan. At this point, it is easy to see this as a PR exercise more than anything else in which the so-called political aspects of the Afghan case may be expected to be underlined. Peace cannot come without a "political settlement" in Afghanistan that includes the Taliban, the President noted. Lip service continues to be paid to the requirement that for this to materialise the extremist fighters must dissociate from Al Qaeda, eschew violence and proclaim allegiance to the present Afghan Constitution. But with Pakistan — their ballast — given the pride of place in the current US scheme, it is hard to see how any of this can be seriously contemplated when the Americans are pulling out, and will complete the disengagement exercise by 2014. Mr Obama noted that the "draw-down" is about to commence "from a position of strength". To support this he states that Al Qaeda is under "enormous pressure" (after Bin Laden's killing), and "serious losses" have been inflicted on the Taliban in Afghanistan, a factor that has "helped to stabilise much of the country". Observers of the Afghan scene are likely to be mystified by such a sweeping generalisation.






In U.S. ambassador Ivo Daalder's surreal world of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) "more than 150,000 troops participate in six Nato operations on three continents"; in Afghanistan, "a Nato-led force made up of troops from 48 nations is helping to build security"; in Libya, "17 allies and partner nations have taken on the new responsibility of helping the Libyan people determine their own destiny"; and Nato "continues its long-standing commitment to stabilise the Balkans". The reality, of course, is very different. In the real world, the war in Afghanistan isn't Nato-led; it is led by the United States, which would never let its forces in Afghanistan be run by Nato. That would be a disaster. Just look at the Nato-led war in Libya in which only six out of the 28 Nato countries are participating, and only three of those actually attack Libyan targets to enforce the United Nations' mandate. In the real world, after a mere 11 weeks of conflict against Libya, the "mightiest alliance in the world" has run out of munitions, does not have enough aircraft to conduct its missions, and seems unable to prevail against a minor military power. As for the Balkans, after more than 20 years of operations, Nato has still not succeeded in stabilising it. Not surprisingly, most of America's next generation of military leaders has lost confidence in Nato. At a recent talk I gave at an elite US military institution, just five participants out of an audience of some 60 raised their hands when asked how many believed Nato ought to continue in business. An American colonel, recently returned from Afghanistan, told me that when he asked an officer from a European Nato member country to lead a supply convoy one evening, the officer explained that he was only paid to work for a set number of hours and his working day was done. Reminded that there was a war in progress, the officer said, "Maybe your country is at war, but not mine". European lack of support for the wars in Afghanistan and Libya has nothing to do with the bravery of Europeans soldiers or their fighting skills. Europeans simply do not feel as threatened as Americans do, and are not interested in using their tax dollars to fight in distant lands. This European/American schism within Nato is further aggravated by a split between Central and Eastern European members on one side, and Western ones on the other. The former continue to regard Russia as a threat, the latter do not. If this Nato is "an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world", heaven help us all. One more point: Nato's disarray has begun to chip away at the wider European-American relationship currently contributing 14 million jobs and $3 trillion in commercial sales. American officials regularly berate the Europeans with calls to spend ever more money on defence, even when the European Union's total defence budget is already $300 billion, pretty close to America's defence budget prior to 9/11. The real problem is the way in which this money is spent — for example, the wasteful duplication of weapons procurement programmes. This will not change unless there is political will among EU leaders for change. After speaking with over 50 military and political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, I am convinced this will to change will only come about when America decides to take away its defence credit card and asks Europe to take responsibility for its own security. The European Union is increasingly capable of defending itself under its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), through which the EU has already deployed 27 military and civilian missions from Asia to Africa, and just approved the 28th — a military force for Libya that is ready to be deployed as soon as the UN asks for it. CSDP should be the pre-eminent vehicle to defend Europe; Nato should be bridged to CSDP and only come into action when Europe, America, and Canada wish to act together in conflicts where all three share vital national interests. Nato has truly done a magnificent job, but it is time to move on. The author is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's International Security Programme and the author of NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete? By arrangement with International Herald Tribune







The slowdown in investments in India — both domestic and foreign direct investment and portfolio investment — is a cause for grave concern. But this is only a symptom of a much larger problem. Local investments by the Indian private sector and government entities is down to a trickle. High interest rates and the high fiscal deficit are the main culprits. Last week the Reserve Bank of India raised interest rates for the 10th time in just over a year, with very little or no effect on inflation. But in view of the government's inability to tackle supply-side issues, the RBI had to look as if it was doing something. While failing to curb inflation, these interest rate hikes have instead succeeded in curbing investment and growth. This is a dangerous situation — for unlike most other emerging economies that depend on exports for their growth, India's growth is primarily driven by domestic demand. So the fall in investments and high interest rates have already taken their toll in varying degrees on areas like manufacturing, consumer goods, construction, auto, real estate, etc. The corporate sector finds credit expensive and so has been forced to either postpone capital expenditure or to abandon it altogether. The government too has cut down on its expenditure as it has to control its fiscal deficit. It has been unable to reduce subsidies on fertiliser and fuel; but unless it can do this the public expenditure on badly-needed infrastructure such as roads, highways, ports and transport facilities will suffer. Most analysts believe the government will miss its fiscal deficit target of 4.6 per cent of GDP as it simply does not have the political will to curb unproductive expenditure. A conducive environment is absolutely essential if investments are to start flowing once again. There has to be a clearer picture of where the economy is headed. In today's India we have multiple uncertainties — over critical issues like inflation, interest rates, the uncertain level of demand, the fiscal deficit and growth levels. And the biggest problem of all is the absence of political leadership, with irregularities even among the higher bureaucracy. This is a major disincentive for foreign investors, who simply do not like uncertainties and delays. While it is true that the overall flow of foreign funds flows has slowed down globally, India is getting far less than the other emerging markets. Major decisions — such as on a fuel policy and a land acquisition policy — have been pending for a long time, and there is no indication when there will be some forward movement. The government seems unable to decide which way to go: given that crony capitalism is so obviously out of tune with the current public mood. Big ticket projects are actually being delayed due to this. Imagine in a country like ours that suffers from chronic brownouts and blackouts a major public sector power undertaking had to back down on generation as the state electricity boards cannot afford to buy power. Most of them are bankrupt and, according to one estimate, have suffered a total loss of around `1.04 lakh crores. In the past few months we have seen a new scam emerge almost every single day, causing huge losses to the exchequer and of course blackening the nation's image. There are some signs of softening in the commodity rates; this to an extent might ease the pressure on inflation and thus on interest rates, which then could lead to more investments and production. But that's still a long way off.







The last day of December 1978 found a motley crowd of students and young people — all volunteers of the World Wildlife Fund — at Race Course Road, New Delhi. The conjoint purpose was to meet the external affairs minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to protest against the permission given to Saudi princes to hunt down bustards with falcons in the Thar desert, Rajasthan. The ground-living, slow-flying birds were to be hawked for the pot. Hence the slogan, "Eat custard, not the bustard". If the quarry was significant, so too was the hunters' companion. Falcons have long been used to hunt wild birds. In his epic book, Birds of Prey of the Indian Subcontinent, the leading chronicler of hawks, eagles and falcons in this part of the world, Rishad Naoroji dips into history to make a point. Naoroji tells us that the female falcon is larger than the male. The latter is supposed to be one-third the size of the female. For this reason it is known as the tiercel. A century or so ago, the female falcon was flown at prey larger than herself. Common cranes and storks, ibises and bustards were common fare. But the bustard itself has long been sought after as quarry. Nearly half a millennium ago, Timurid prince Babur was at home in India, hunting the houbara. At least 20 Peregrine falcons were kept at any time in the Mughal court. Old habits die hard. The palate was not complete for the landed gentry in western India without the famous taloor as the bird was called. Salim Ali, later to be a doyen of ornithology, recalled the hunts of 1910 in Sind. Here, there were no falcons. The bustard was ridden after on a trained camel. "To pick out with the naked eye a houbara in its native sandy environment", he recalled later, "at a distance of 500 yards is a feat few can perform even with binoculars without previous experience". The protective coloration of the bustard kept it safe till it moved. More often, it was shot not from camel back but on foot. Birds were driven towards the hunters who shot them on the wing. The houbara or the McQueen's is the smaller of the bustards. The pride of place goes to the great Indian bustard (GIB), the heaviest land bird in Asia. The Godawan, as it is known, is not quite the prey for a falcon. But it made a nice enough dish for hunters to have reduced numbers by the early 1960s for it to get a measure of protection. On that wintry morning of 1978, these distinctions between one bustard and the rest meant little to the protesters. When they — and let me admit, I was there as a high school student — got to South Block all that Mr Vajpayee would give was five minutes. He did sound amused by the bird's name and quipped that we were simply troublemakers. "Bustard, wustard", what he asked is all this. He was charming but not quite aware of what the fuss was all about. When told there were children out to protest at his decision, he simply brushed it aside. "Bacche nahin aaye hain", he said, "aap unhe laye hain". (Children are not here to protest, you brought them here, he said.) The case was a simple one. The houbara was a threatened species, its larger cousin was endangered. Both were firmly protected by law. There was no reason anyone — least of all a guest of the country — ought to be allowed to hunt it. The minister did not bat an eyelid. It was sad, he said, but it had begun during the Emergency — the first hunts being held in the winter of 1975. What could he do now? Maybe next year. When reminded that the New Year was but hours away, he looked sheepish and gave in. The bustard got a reprieve. The Saudis never came back to hunt in India. Rajasthan was spared further hunts. Earlier the same year, it has demarcated a vast nature reserve that would help both the bustards and the raptors: the Desert National Park. The Saudis sought better hunting grounds: in neighbouring Pakistan. In fact, in his book, Taliban, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid recounts how the first encounter of the Saudi head of intelligence, prince Bandar, with the Taliban took place on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Saudis went across to hunt the houbara, only there was a far bigger player on the horizon: Mullah Omar himself. As in the 1970s so too again, the houbara was central as a bit player to a political drama. Does it really matter? It is tempting to think it does not. Yet, the bustard is but a symbol of the grasslands and dry open country. It looks dead and barren to the untrained eye. That silence is illusory. It has a wealth of wildlife. Black buck prance in open spaces. Larks flutter away. Where it survives, the grey wolf still emerges at nightfall. In this setting, the bustard, certainly the larger one, stands out for its majesty. Sheer size and looks make it a flagship for a biome every bit as important as the mature tree forest. Salim Ali thought so and championed it as national bird. Of course, as critics pointed out, few Indians have ever seen the bird or know what it is. The peacock, which bagged the spot, is far more apt. Pity the bustard. The name is a shame. When a young wildlife biologist wrote to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi about its impending local extinction in Saurashtra in 1985, he was shocked to find the reply had made an all too common error. The "u" in the bustard gave way to an "a" with disastrous consequences. A further letter raising the issue elicited the same reply. Someone at the Prime Minister's Office knew little of spelling. And even less of ornithology! Now, a new paper by a team led by Farah Ishtiaq, (Conservation Genetics, 2011) has more grim news. Genetic sampling and mapping of DNA shows that the GIBs are not very genetically diverse. They are not just in danger but "critically endangered". This is all the more reason to protect them in their grassland home. The females lay an egg a year and that is when they need protection. Having bred and raised their young, they disperse. Secure them at the time of year in these patches and you are halfway home. The bustard will then live to thrive another day. That protest of 1978 will not have been in vain. The author is an environmental historian and co-editor of The Environmental History of India (Permanent Black, In Press)






Knowledge should bring about inner transformation in a person. There should be a positive change, a blossoming of the personality. Such a transformation can happen only with true knowledge, the discovery of Truth. Knowledge of the Truth transforms a person, whereas mere information does not. It is sad that although we talk of quality education, the quality of our life has not changed. Adi Shankaracharya says that the purpose of knowledge is the elimination of falsehood. This implies that if we have realised something as false, we should immediately withdraw ourselves from it. Right knowledge transforms our thinking and action. We may have based our lives upon certain notions, but once we realise they are wrong we should let them go and not hold on to the false notions. Once a man walking down a road saw something that was shining. Thinking it to be silver, he stopped, looked around and quietly picked it up and put it into his pocket, feeling very happy that he had found something precious. But when he looked at it closely, he realised how foolish he had been, for the shiny object was a piece of stone wrapped in silver paper. When he discovered that it was not silver his false notion gave way and he threw the stone away. Would he then boast about his foolishness? He will probably never talk about the incident. Even if he does, it would only be to illustrate how he was misled by his sight and greed. Partial knowledge makes one arrogant. True knowledge alone gives humility. It brings an end to all our sufferings. Very often, our education, rather than removing our misconceptions about life, only seems to strengthen them. What are these misconceptions? First, we think of ourselves as the physical body. When we talk about or introduce ourselves, we refer to our physical body as the person. This is not true. Second, we think money gives us security. Without money, we feel insecure. However, this is false. It is seen that even a billionaire may feel insecure and a pauper secure. At times, the more the money, the more fear one seems to have. So can money be a source of true happiness and security? Third, we think the more the comforts and luxuries we have, the happier we will be. But do wealth and luxuries always make a person happy? Do people living in luxury and comfort not suffer? Sincere people of learning should put forth all efforts to free themselves from all delusions. Once a king felt very sick. Doctors from all over the country came to treat him. But no one could find anything physically wrong with him. Then a wise man who came to see the king told him that if he could manage to wear the shirt of a happy man, he would be free of illness. The king ordered his ministers to bring him the shirt of a happy man. Everyone was surprised, for they thought that the king himself must have been the happiest man! The king's ministers looked all over. Looking for such a shirt, one of them went to a party hosted by a rich businessman. He asked the host to give him his shirt. The host replied, "But who told you that I am happy? See my neighbour. He is richer than me. I am jealous of him. Go to him". So, the minister went next door. The neighbour said, "I am not a happy person. I have no children. What is the use of all this wealth?" Then finally one day, one of the ministers saw a man who was sitting on a rock on the bank of a river, looking very peaceful and happy. He asked him, "Are you happy?" He replied, "Doubtlessly so!" The minister asked, "Will you give me your shirt?" He replied, "Shirt? What shirt? I have never worn one!" The minister then explained the situation of the king and sought a remedy. Hearing this, the man asked him to tell the king that happiness and sorrow come from within. When one knows this, one need not seek objects in order to be happy. One should seek the true source of happiness within oneself. The author, head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit © Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.






What do we know about the new head of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri? Not very much. We know he's a former "emir" of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad who spent three years in an Egyptian prison after his group assassinated the pro-Western President Anwar Sadat. He's also said to be a qualified surgeon, who became Osama Bin Laden's personal physician and adviser in the late 1980s. But there is one curious fact about him that it would be foolish for the West to ignore: his links with the KGB, and its successor, Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB. It was Alexander Litvinenko, the rebel FSB officer assassinated with radioactive material in London in 2006, who named al-Zawahiri as "Moscow's man in Al Qaeda". In an interview following the July 7, 2005 attacks in London, he claimed that the future Al Qaeda chief had stayed in an FSB training centre in Dagestan, in the North Caucasus, in 1998. "He took a six-month special training course there. Then he was sent to Afghanistan, where he had never been before. Immediately after that, under supervision of his FSB bosses, he penetrated bin Laden's entourage and soon became his deputy in Al Qaeda… I saw those officers from the FSB directorate for Dagestan, who had been training al-Zawahiri shortly before, being reassigned to Moscow and getting promotions." Litvinenko repeated this allegation in a number of other interviews. And Ahmed Zakayev, regarded by many as the leader of independent Chechnya's government-in-exile, finds the claim credible. He told me that "a number of emissaries" came from West Asia to the North Caucasus to "preach global jihad" after his government made peace with Russia in 1996. "All of them spoke Russian, had Russian visas, and travelled through Moscow. Al-Zawahiri is simply the most infamous." Moscow, he says, always wanted the Chechens to talk of global jihad rather than independence; it legitimised the war against them. In 2003, the FSB gave their version: they said they had arrested al-Zawahiri in 1997 with a fake passport, held him in Dagestan for six months and then, having failed to establish his identity, deported him as an illegal immigrant. It was only after 9/11, they said, while exchanging intelligence with Americans, that they realised they had let one of the world's most wanted terrorists off the hook. Litvinenko dismissed this as "ridiculous": as far as he was concerned, the FSB had been caught red-handed helping terrorists and were trying to wriggle out of it. The Kremlin wanted instability in the Muslim world, he said, because it raised Russia's status in the "global war on terror", and because the regime depended on oil prices. As for al-Zawahiri, Litvinenko believed his friendship with Russia might go right back to the Cold War. From the 1960s right until the collapse of the Soviet regime, the KGB would train, finance and arm various terrorist organisations — from Palestinian militants to ultra-left "liberation fronts" all over the world. The typical form of assistance was "special training" in KGB camps. Courses covered such subjects as "party security", "intelligence and counterintelligence", "clandestine techniques", "clandestine communications", and "combining legal and illegal party work". The standard course took six months, exactly how long al-Zawahiri allegedly spent in FSB custody. Corroborating evidence comes from the files smuggled out of Russia by the former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin. In his book with the intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, Mitrokhin suggests Soviet involvement in the assassination of Sadat. They say groundwork for the assassination was laid by the Syrian special services and Palestinian terrorists, with the KGB's knowledge and at least tacit approval. And after that? Did Russia's support for terrorism end with the Soviet Union? Litvinenko maintained it did not. "There were people in Andropov's KGB who orchestrated terrorism all over the world", he said in a 2005 interview with Radio Liberty. "They were all taken back in the FSB as consultants under Vladimir Putin, and restored their contacts with former KGB agents in various terrorist groups." With al-Zawahiri now at the top of Al Qaeda, Litvinenko's claims deserve close attention. After all, most Russians view their country's recent history as one long heroic battle against Western imperialism. Why should they have changed their spots? Litvinenko's terrible death is the ultimate indication that his allegations are credible. By arrangement with the Spectator










IF "jokepal" is the current status of proposed legislation to establish a national-level ombudsman, what can be said of the almost 15-year-long tamasha ~ the unparliamentary term is being used intentionally ~ over the Women's Reservation Bill? Another exercise in futility, at best a masquerade of good intention, has just been undertaken at the behest of the Speaker of the Lok Sabha: expectedly not an inch of forward movement was registered. It was not just a question of well-known dissenting views being re-stated: there was emphasis added to that in the boycott by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The demand for an OBC sub-quota was iterated, as was the suggestion that parties first allot 33 per cent of electoral "tickets" to women. Queering the pitch a trifle further was Sushma Swaraj's insistence that the Bill be processed in the Lok Sabha like any other: an indication that the support of the main Opposition party was conditional to there being no repeat of what took place in the Rajya Sabha when an obviously rattled Chairman made a personal issue of it, cast precedent aside, and rushed through passage of the Bill. He had actually declared it passed, then had to backtrack and permit discussion of sorts. It would be easy to slam the known opponents of the Bill for using uproar as a stalling tactic: they, at least, are brazen. Many male members of other parties, including the Congress, are actually thrilled at the blockage. The failure of the Deve Gowda government to secure a consensus before a commitment to women's reservations was made in a Women's Day resolution has never been remedied. And there are few signs of that being achieved.

It is more than intriguing that the Speaker should take it upon herself to try and facilitate passage of the Bill ~ the stumbling blocks are not merely parliamentary procedural. While her gender-sensitivity might be admired, not so her fishing in non-parliamentary troubled waters. It is for the government to undertake the exercise to iron out creases, get all parties on board or, in the event of not being able to do that, opt for playing the numbers game. When the government shows little active interest in doing that ~ it is struggling to contain more fiercely raging blazes ~ the Speaker need not take an initiative. Her "batting" for women could so easily be misinterpreted as aimed at giving a floundering UPA-II something to "show".




IF the National Advisory Council's approval to the draft Food Security Bill is to be viewed as a forward movement, it must be tempered with the thought that this is but one link in the chain. The discourse over one of life's essentials has dragged for more than two years, precisely since May 2009 when UPA-II renewed its mandate. Almost certainly, that other embroidery called the Group of Ministers, notably the likes of Sharad Pawar, will take a call as will the Planning Commission. In terms of calibration and entitlement, neither Yojana Bhavan nor the GoM has been on the same wavelength as the Sonia Gandhi-headed NAC. To the extent that it is the GoM that almost invariably calls the shots, the NAC has not been particularly effective.  At best, the council has now been able to finalise the parameters of food security, and the recommendations to be advanced to the government bear the imprint of the social activists within the NAC, pre-eminently Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander. That Dreze is now set to leave for his campus at Allahabad University suggests that the full stop has been placed as of the rights activists. The acceptability of the proposals by the Planning Commission and the government must remain an open question.

Broadly, the council has taken care of the vulnerable sections and their entitlement to substantially subsidised foodgrain. It is not clear though whether nutrition levels have been factored in. Nor for that matter has the problem of an abundance of grain in the absence of storage facilities been addressed. Arguably, this may not be within the NAC's remit; but the reality of hunger amidst rotting grain is directly linked to food security. It is an issue over which the Centre has been rapped on the knuckles by the Supreme Court. There are two inherent risks in the government's proposal to sell the grain at near-zero prices, one that has been advanced in response to the court's directive. First, the grain could well be unfit for consumption. Second, the near-zero rate might encourage diversion to the open market. In a word, there are red herrings along the trail and the Centre will have to reach an agreeable decision on the proposals ~ chiefly to guarantee subsidised foodgrain to at least 90 per cent of rural and 50 per cent of urban households. They will be entitled to receive foodgrain weighing seven kg per head at rupees three, two and one for wheat or rice or millets respectively. The Centre owes it to aam aadmi without further ado over who all should eat and how much. Enough time has been wasted already.




ONE man has walked free, famously the artist Ai Weiwei. But the grim reality of China, the emergent superpower, will probably plague the country for a long while yet. Thousands of political prisoners continue to languish, and almost indelible must be the blot on the human rights record. Ai Weiwei, who had mounted exhibitions in London's Tate Modern, was arrested for publicly condemning the oppression and, no less crucially, calling upon the government to initiate reform. Beijing could hardly delude the comity of nations with the claim, as contrived as it was ridiculous, that he had been detained for tax evasion. Has the worldwide campaign for his release had an impact? Very probably, it has. Yet the discourse over reform has made no headway despite a degree of discord within the establishment. There is little doubt that a section of the leadership is in favour of reform though a reformation geared to the protection of human rights may still be anathema to the predominant group. Authoritarianism remains deeply entrenched, almost institutionalised. The profound testament to that gross violation of rights must be the fact that China is believed to have the highest number of political prisoners in the world. Latest estimates place the figure at between 2000 and 3000; the exact number may never be known.

The common charge is "endangering state security" ~ Beijing's choice of euphemism that was introduced in 1997 to replace the term 'counter-revolution'. The change was at best semantic, at worst a plea to justify political arrests that have only increased over the past 14 years.  There is also a stark disconnect in the fact that China is just ahead of the USA, the fountainhead of democracy, with the highest number of people doomed to capital punishment. The repression of dissent is relentless. In mathematical terms, Ai Weiwei's release works out to thousands minus one in prison.  If the economic glitz is the envy of the world, the grot of the human rights record must equally be the source of revulsion.








THE Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan, old diplomatic colleagues and sparring partners, are all set for another round of talks. As ever, there are many who doubt whether much can possibly come of it, but still hope and expectation refuse to be entirely quelled. The fact that they are meeting and thus keeping in train the revived sequence of talks initiated on the sidelines of the Thimphu Summit last year is something to note and weigh: despite each of them being beset at home by a sea of troubles, both the countries mean to persist in the attempt, and they retain sufficient political will to keep going. In other circumstances, the domestic difficulties they both face, and events like the close encounter between their warships in the Arabian Sea, not to mention the revelations from the trial in Chicago, might well have imposed a halt. That this has not happened bespeaks positive intent on both sides.

Under the agreement of 1997 that initiated the regular dialogue process and adopted an agenda and procedure, the Foreign Secretaries have a somewhat different task to perform than their colleagues in the process: while the others address specific subjects, like trade for the Commerce Secretaries and Siachen for the Defence Secretaries, the Foreign Secretaries are supposed to take an overview of the bilateral engagement, assess what has been achieved, and consider where the two sides can go next. They thus prepare the ground for their ministers, and maybe also the Heads of Government, to meet and take the exchanges to a higher level ~ assuming, of course, that the ministers are willing and the circumstances are conducive. So much could come from the impending talks of the secretaries, and they merit the close attention they are receiving.
In assessing where we are today, including the results of earlier rounds of dialogue that took place this year, the officials will no doubt see something of a mixed picture. There is progress on the matter of trade, with Pakistan having given some positive indications, including readiness to meet India's long- standing demand for MFN treatment. Pakistan has its own demands, especially easing of non-tariff barriers (NTBs), which India seems prepared to consider. It seems that real progress was made when the two Commerce Secretaries met a few weeks ago, in marked contrast to earlier such meetings. At the time when trade was first taken up in the regular dialogue, there was much skepticism among the trading community on both sides. They saw a thicket of rules designed to inhibit free exchanges and had no great interest in trying to thread their way through. But since then there has been a steady increase in trade, and piecemeal measures in response to exigent demands, like those for cement or onions, have added up so that a substantial, and growing, volume of trade exchanges now takes place. With that, interest groups have come up demanding more, which is an encouraging sign.

On more political issues, however, notably Siachen, the meeting of Secretaries yielded little. They met, talked, failed to concur, and could not go beyond agreeing to meet again at an appropriate time. It was all too reminiscent of earlier days when the two sides repeatedly failed to make headway despite the many meetings they shared. Siachen is a special case with a history of its own. On more than one occasion officials of the two sides have been able to come to a common perception on how the matter can be resolved but final agreement has not been attained as the overall state of relations was not conducive.

Since then the Kargil episode has added to the mistrust and made it more difficult to reach agreement on military disengagement. The extreme altitudes of this battleground ensure that effective oversight is virtually impossible and a measure of mutual confidence in the other side's readiness to abide by its commitments is indispensable to any agreement. There is thus a belief that the Siachen issue is to be solved not in isolation but as part of an overall settlement between the two countries, though this need not inhibit the search for a constructive outcome.
Paradoxically, it is the knottiest and most explosive of issues, that of Jammu and Kashmir, that has come closest to some sort of settlement in recent years. There is every reason to believe that the back-channel talks conducted by Dr Manmohan Singh and Gen. Musharraf did in fact sketch out the essential outlines of an agreement on Kashmir. The removal of Gen. Musharraf from the scene and the intense hostility he continues to arouse from practically to use every section of Pakistani opinion make it difficult anything that bears his stamp as a useful basis for further efforts towards a settlement. Yet many in his country who revile him as a dictator see merit in the four-point plan he helped shape through back-channel discussions. It would be a notable achievement for the Foreign Secretaries to succeed in disentangling this matter from its damaging association with the former dictator and put the discussions on Kashmir back on track. At the same time, it is necessary to develop and expand the measures of the last few years for cross-LOC exchanges. Opening bus routes and permitting some border trade have already had a salutary effect and raised a demand for more and better facilities to serve the populations divided by the LOC. Agreed measures that breach the LOC are in fact an important part of the long-term solution in Kashmir and need to be promoted actively.

The matter of terrorism remains a barrier for which no convincing answers are yet to be seen. The revelations of Rana and Headley in Chicago have further confirmed India's worst fears about Pakistan's role in nurturing cross-border terrorism. And the stunning assault on Osama bin Laden has shown how Pakistan has become a haven for global terrorism. These are matters that are bound to hover over the Foreign Secretaries in their deliberations and will limit what can be achieved when they meet.

Pakistan has been going through severe difficulties on many fronts after bin Laden's killing: revenge attacks have taken a great toll of life, the army has come under unprecedented criticism, and the relationship with the USA on which so much depends is in disrepair. India has responded cautiously to events in Pakistan. It has iterated its abiding interest in a friendly relationship with this important neighbour. Within Pakistan, there are those who recognize that if there is an existential threat to their country, it is not an external one from India but an internal one from within. Sustained, regular, high level dialogue is the only available means for India to convey this message in convincing fashion.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary








to begin with, let's legalise corruption. that will not only help defuse the crisis of conscience but also make all the stakeholders ~ that is, most of the country that matters ~ happy

The headlines say that Mr Anna Hazare's team of civil society representatives and senior ministers of the UPA government have agreed to disagree on the Lokpal Bill. After meeting for the nth time, the two sides decided to part ways carrying each other's versions of the Bill. Mr Hazare said he would begin his fast on 16 August, while the government, nowadays in a permanent state of panic, postponed the monsoon session of Parliament by two weeks.
Since journalists are now no longer required only to report, but also use news space on both television and in print to come up with solutions, this columnist has decided to join those who cannot be beaten. So, here is a solution that is not just "outside the box" ~ a favourite phrase of Prime Ministers these days, but also, if one may, rather ingenuous. And it will not only solve the problem of corruption but will make all the stakeholders ~ that is, most of the country that matters ~ happy.
The solution rests on the premise that the government does not want an end to corruption at all. Not only the government, but also the UPA and its allies, the Opposition, including the BJP other than all those regional parties whose leaders are facing charges of graft. In other words, our political class does not want to fight corruption and who, exactly, is civil society to join swords with the powerful and the influential? The premise of course rests on facts, whereby one has seen ministers rushing to appease self-pronounced gurus, warring amongst themselves, attacking ordinary members of civil society with every weapon they could dig out, and now, even postponing a Parliament session to buy time. It is thus imperative that one suggests a solution that would give the Congress and its allies, including the poor, jail-bound Mr A Raja and Ms Kanamozhi, peaceful nights.
To begin with, let's legalise corruption. The government should pass a law saying corruption is good, it is fine, it has given India a flourishing parallel economy, it has made so many politicians, bureaucrats, journalists and industrialists rich; it has allowed shopkeepers, cops, municipal workers to stash away lakhs, it has made life worth living! No longer will then India need to feel embarrassed about making it to the list of the most corrupt nations of the world. Such a law would allow us to flaunt our status and even jeer at those who still cling to honesty.
Two, set grades for corruption. The grades should be directly linked to the money that one makes illegally. For instance, the amount that a traffic policeman earns in a month by accepting bribes could be the benchmark for the starting grade. Naturally, a deputy commissioner of police would make a higher grade and politicians of the ruling party the top grade. Also, the Prime Minister should make as much, if not more, than the president of the ruling party. Promotions will depend on raking in an amount at least equivalent to the one that sets the mark for the next incremental grade. As such, a policeman will be promoted if he can make as much money illegally in his current grade as his immediate superior. An MP will be considered for elevation to a minister and politicians will qualify for poll tickets in the same way. At one stroke, we will do away with formalities such as declaration of assets, inquiries, committees and commissions. The judiciary will suddenly find its workload reduced and the government will be free of such unnecessary and highly-inconvenient niceties as accountability, transparency and honesty.
Three, let corruption determine selection of candidates for national awards. There is a tendency to nominate not-so-distinguished people for key honours merely because of their proximity to the powers-that-be. This practice gives rise to criticism and mumblings in the power corridors. Do away with all hypocrisy at one stroke! Make it clear that the corrupt will be rewarded and that the honours will be reserved for those industrialists, academics, journalists and artists who have evaded tax as a matter of principle and who have contributed handsomely to India's parallel economy.
Four, let's recognise this so-called parallel economy as the legitimate economy. And bring in stringent tax laws for those who want to remain honest. Such souls must be made to pay through the nose for wanting to stay out of the new system. Once the going gets tough, they, naturally will join the flock. The result will be a happy marriage of the two economies with the parallel becoming the mainstream and the mainstream disappearing altogether.
Five, sweeping privatisation could rid the government of such bothers as maintenance of roads, street lights, sewage system and the like. In fact, it will be necessary to privatise everything to make the new order work with those paying the maximum bribe securing contracts to build roads and flyovers and airports. This is happening already but a stamp of legitimacy would go a long way in ridding the parties concerned of any guilt that they may still be feeling. To keep the government coffers functional, some percentage of the bribes received could be diverted there to fund projects. Even contractors should be allowed to make full use of such a self-financing scheme ~ they should be legally allowed to use inferior-quality material without being accountable, so that they can save more money and thereby offer more bribes.
Six, as a journalist colleague suggested, the cycle of corruption could be completed with a proviso that only those candidates who bribe the best would win the polls. The Election Commission will thus be rid of the bother with electronic voting machines but will have to ensure that it logs in full public view the bribes paid by candidates to voters. Gifts of saris and television would then become passé with voters using the opportunity to extract anything they may want ~ land, houses, electricity connection, schools, hospitals, roads… the list could go on. This would complete the circle and ensure that the corrupt in India come out in glory and be rewarded for that.
I would request Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to take my suggestions seriously. He will then be able to stop agonising over the possibility of the Lokpal Bill (such Bills will no longer be necessary) bringing him in the anti-graft ombudsman's purview even as he insists he would love to be scrutinised. He should enlist the economists who had helped him put India on the economic fast-track to flesh out my suggestions. I am not an economist, but as a true journalist, can only make suggestions. Now, it is up to the government to do all that's necessary to put a new system in place. I have done my job.
As for the poor, we can leave them out of all this. They do not have the money to be a part of the system. They can't get bribes because they have nothing to offer. Well, the poor can be ignored as they always have been, they do not have a voice. And, government need not be burdened by considerations for the poor as in the new system, there will be no place for them. But they still have their uses ~ bonded labour, exploited workers, landless labourers, sex workers and what have you. So, let's get cracking Mr Prime Minister, make your government and your party happy!

The writer is The Statesman's Consulting Editor 





Kanti Devi, a resident of Pather village in Saharanpur district (Uttar Pradesh), used to dread the time she needed a loan. It involved the humiliation brought about by every visit to the sahukar (private money lender), agreeing to the five per cent monthly interest demanded by him and what is more, mortgaging her jewellery.
But the situation has changed now. Kanti Devi thrice required a loan of around Rs 1,000. All she had to do was to approach the self-help group (SHG) of which she is a member. No question of humiliation, and certainly no need to mortgage her jewellery. All the group needed to do was check was whether it had enough balance to cover a loan to her. That done, the group advanced Kanti Devi the amount she needed without making any dent on her dignity and self-respect. The interest she was required to pay was also way lower than what the private moneylender would charge her. What is more, the interest paid stayed with her group and not an outsider. On all three occasions that she borrowed from the SHG, Kanti Devi was able to return the loan in time along with the interest. This is just one of the hundreds of such SHGs set up by Disha, a leading voluntary organisation active in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Disha encourages 10 to 20 residents of a village to form an SHG to which each member makes a monthly contribution. As the bank balance of the group keeps growing, the members can meet their credit needs from the fund. The interest they pay only expands the fund and serves as an insurance for their future credit needs. This saves them from being fleeced by private moneylenders. But for an SHG to work well, it is imperative that loans are returned promptly. Disha says its experience of loan recovery was good with regard to a project it was associated with along with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard). Disha's successful implementation of the project twice earned it Nabard awards.

The voluntary organisation's success has been made possible by by the close community ties it has developed for more than 30 years. Disha coordinators are well known and trusted by most SHG members, and vice-versa. Close monitoring and frequent meetings ensure that problems do not fester. Disha also has a cultural wing which composes songs and stages street plays to take the message of SHGs to remote villages. At one such performance in Khera Mewat village, the author saw how villagers, particularly women, were inspired by the play and started a discussion on setting up a local SHG soon after the show.
Disha secretary Mr KN Tiwari says: "Quite often, even small loans, or a series of small loans, cause poor families to get trapped in the web of moneylenders from which it becomes difficult to escape. SHGs provide people's own alternative to meet the need for small loans." Kamlesh, a Disha member, said timely repayment of loans happened to be the defining feature of the micro-finance initiative undertaken by the voluntary organisation. He said several rural households had availed small loans ranging from Rs 6,000 to Rs 15,000 to start cottage-scale enterprises.

How come micro-finance clicked in these parts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand when it faces a serious crisis elsewhere? Mr Tiwari said: "Big companies pursue micro-finance purely as a commercial activity without bothering about social concerns and linkages. This approach tends to be dominated by a drive to maximise profits and the concerns of the poor are ignored. But economically-backward people make up our base and will continue to do so. As such, we handle our responsibilities in such a way so that the poor benefit and loans are returned promptly."

The Disha experience makes it clear that unless policies are geared towards the economic requirements of the country's poorest people and are sympathetic towards their social needs, micro-finance will not become successful.

The writer is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi







If words really mean what they are intended to, Afghanistan may very soon be rid of its unending conflict. No less a person than Hamid Karzai, the President of the war-ravaged country, is quoted as saying over the past week that he was in the middle of serious talks with the Afghan Taliban. More importantly, the American administration is said to be very much interested in the Karzai mission.

The war that the country has witnessed for years now has had just one aim: to keep the Taliban from picking up the reins in Afghanistan. Wasn't Mr Karzai's emergence as the democratically-elected successor to the Taliban regime celebrated with great élan by the Americans, unknown to them that their closest ally in the war effort ~ Pakistan ~ was in cahoots with the very same Taliban? In fact, Pakistan had really never given up on Afghanistan. And, it was Islamabad which discovered what it calls "the good Taliban" who are guided by Pakistan's Intelligence establishment ~ the ISI. So, one cannot really blame the Americans if they take a keen interest in Mr Karzai's negotiations with the Taliban. Mr Karzai spoke about his intention to talk to the Taliban, to offer them peace with a share of power in Kabul, while in Pakistan recently. I am not sure what to make of the Afghan interpretation that the Pakistani Taliban is no part of the Afghan Taliban-Karzai talks.
Mr Karzai knows that the Taliban were born and brought up in Pakistan. Mullah Omar, the chief of the Afghan Taliban, is the product one of Karachi's best known seminaries and lived for many years in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Chaman. His forays into Afghanistan to pep up Taliban fighters are always made from Quetta which is home to the Taliban elite. The Americans know all that but are helpless. Washington's ties with Islamabad has undergone a sea change since its commandos killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil last month. Several CIA informers have been dismissed by the Pakistanis and domestic compulsions won't allow Washington to do anything more than venting its displeasure despite knowing that Islamabad is not eager to honour its commitment to counter terrorism. The Pakistani military has been distancing itself from the American Intelligence machinery and counter-terrorism operations against militant groups in Pakistan. This may have angered many in Washington, but American officials say that ISI operatives have lately been unwilling to carry out surveillance for the CIA. Pakistan has also scaled down the number of visas granted to CIA agents to follow the terror trail.

A less known fact remains that even before Osama's death, Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir ~ the Taliban military chief and former Guantanamo inmate ~ had been working like a man possessed, visiting Taliban fighters at their bases and preparing them for the "final push". He is apparently planning what he calls Operation Badar ~ a terrorist attack poised to disabuse the world of the notion that Osama's slaying has broken the Taliban's back. He doesn't want a single Afghan Taliban to stay back in Pakistan when D-day comes. The problem with Zakir is his  foolhardy courage, and he sees himself as the man who would fight it out till the very end. It's time, he is reported to have said, for the Taliban to reclaim their supremacy in Afghanistan. According to reports, Zakir and his men are operating with impunity in the deserts of the southwestern part of the Pakistani province of Balochistan. The Pakistani military has declared the province off limits for Americans drones. The Taliban have the run of the province ~ their moves supervised and orchestrated by the ISI. Many old hands say that the situation reminds them of Peshawar of 1980s, where the anti-Soviet Mujahideen used to operate openly with the ISI's blessings.

I have toured the entire region from Peshawar to Torkhum, and can visualise how Zakir must be moving freely from Quetta to Balochistan and across the border at will to reach his tribal homeland. As per one description, Zakir is a tall, dark 38-year-old, with intense black eyes and an air of authority; he crisis-crosses the province non-stop, usually astride his Honda 125, trailed by half a dozen or so aides on their own motorcycles. He holds up to a dozen meetings a day, exhorting his clansmen, for the most part Pashtuns, to prepare for the final assault.

The very existence of Taliban fanatics like Zakir could undermine Mr Karzai's offer of friendship to the Taliban. Zakir, who is well liked by the Taliban rank and file for his accessibility would very much like the Afghan President to be out of his way. And, mind you, he has not forgotten his years in US detention. Until his fire of revenge is doused, the jihad will continue. Zakir is reported to have said: "We have plenty of 'melon' (Talibanese for IEDs) and fidayeen suicide bombers to last this summer and fall. This will be the year of the bombs and the fidayeen."
In the circumstances, it would appear that Mr Karzai is on the wrong track. He speaks of roping in the Taliban as peacemakers and giving the multiple tribes, clans and warlords of Afghanistan a chance to build a strong, unified nation. He shares with an overwhelming majority of Taliban members on either side of the Afghan border a common Pashtun lineage. But none of this is likely to guarantee lasting peace in the region after nearly four decades of brutal strife. Pakistan has a stake in letting the Taliban have a control over the levers of powers in the neighbouring country.

I am not sure if Mr Karzai shares Pakistan's wisdom of making a distinction between good and bad Taliban. Kabul, regardless of the friendly noises Pakistan and Afghanistan made at a recent top-level meeting, is aware of Indian stakes in Afghanistan. New Delhi wants to stay a friendly neighbour and Mr Karzai is fully aware of that. The Americans too have been informed about Indian concerns in Afghanistan. But that does not mean that Washington would be overly concerned about Indian views should Mr Karzai's move to forge an alliance with the Taliban succeeds. Mr Barack Obama wants all American troops out of Afghanistan by 2012. The sacrifices made by India in helping build Afghan infrastructure could easily be overlooked by the Americans when it came to protecting their own interest. But it's also true that only the other day, US defence secretary Mr Robert Gates went on record to say that though Americans had made initial contact with the Taliban, the US administration was not particularly hopeful of a positive outcome.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor of The Statesman, Delhi








Ten years and over a trillion dollars spent on a war are reasons enough to end it, especially when the country waging it is in serious economic crisis itself. So, following the wishes of a majority of his people, Barack Obama, the president of the United States of America, seems to have done the right thing by charting out a plan to withdraw a third of the US troops from Afghanistan by next year. Such a step will not only help Mr Obama curry favour with a large section of the Democrats but also improve his chances of retaining power in the presidential polls next year. However, at the root of Mr Obama's audacious exit plan remains a profound conceptual flaw: his over-optimistic assumption that the 'war on terror' has been won by the US. Although Mr Obama did not make the mistake of repeating George W. Bush's premature boast of "mission accomplished" in Iraq in 2003, he did seem to consider the death of Osama bin Laden as something of a closure for the war on terror. However, as things stand at present, it is nothing short of naivete to believe that the killing of the al Qaida leader by US troops has either reversed the Taliban's momentum or acted as a true deterrent for the perpetrators of terrorism all over the world.

Although Mr Obama's move may please a section of the electorate and the political class, it is not entirely free from political self-interest. Rather than giving due importance to the professional judgment of the military commanders directing the operations in Afghanistan, the president gave priority to personal decision-making. As a result, there is a well-founded fear that years of hard-earned gains may go to waste in Afghanistan. The Afghan security forces are far from ready to defend the country against a takeover by the Taliban, who are biding time for the US army to clear the scene. Moreover, while emphasizing the need for nation-building at home, Mr Obama has not made any promise of giving long-term assistance to Afghanistan to help it make a fresh start after the degradation of a decade-long war. More alarmingly, the president has remained silent on the US's policy on Pakistan, which continues to be a key player in Central Asia. Mr Obama's AfPak policy will be pitifully myopic unless Pakistan is also factored into the US's exit plan from Afghanistan.






It was almost certain that the latest protests would halt the Orissa government's acquisition of land for the Posco project yet again. Naveen Patnaik had no option but to go slow in the face of a more determined resistance by the people opposing the project. One could question the morality of the protesters using children and women as 'human shields'. But the strategy rules out the use of force by the government. The larger issue that the agitation over the Posco project presents is not one of law and order. It is not even one of partisan politics, although different opposition parties have been trying to exploit the protests. What Mr Patnaik faces is essentially an issue that is of crucial importance to India's new economy. It is about the economic uses of land and about the transition of an agricultural economy to an industrial one. Clearly, these are not issues that a government can force on the polity. If the people who will lose their farmland to the Posco project end up feeling insecure, rather than hopeful, about their economic future, they have a right to question the government's wisdom. It is the government's responsibility to earn the people's trust and persuade them that industries can improve the quality of their lives in ways that traditional agriculture cannot.

However, the tussles over the acquisition of land across the country present new legal and administrative challenges that require both the Centre and the state governments to think of holistic approaches to the issue. It is likely that a bill to amend the old Land Acquisition Act will be introduced in Parliament during its monsoon session. Although the new Act may offer a uniform policy for the acquisition of land for industries, the state governments may have to take different steps to tackle specific problems. Compensation packages for losers of land already vary widely among the states. What is more important, though, is to evolve a political consensus about the urgency of an economic transformation driven by industrialization. Given the farmers' tendency to continue to live off their land, politicians find it easy to stir passions against land acquisition. It is true that governments had sometimes been unfair and even oppressive in their responses to the farmers' demands for adequate compensation or alternative livelihoods. But how governments and politicians tackle the issue will determine the speed and scale of India's economic growth.





Frequent visitors to the All India Congress Committee offices on Delhi's Akbar Road are all agreed that there is only one person on the premises worth meeting: the party's outspoken general-secretary, Digvijay Singh. Over the past two years, the personable former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh has carved out a special place for himself in the Congress. First, he has acquired a reputation of having the ear of fellow general-secretary and the pre-ordained heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi. Whatever Digvijay says is said to have the tacit blessings and endorsement of the 41-year-old Gandhi. Secondly, Digvijay has acquired the image of being the only real Muslim leader of the Congress, an honour that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel once conferred, and not without a touch of sarcasm, on Jawaharlal Nehru.

Ever since 'civil society' injected itself into the political landscape with the fast of Anna Hazare and the shenanigans surrounding Baba Ramdev, Digvijay has not lost an opportunity to demarcate the Congress from the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government. When the joint committee of cabinet ministers and Team Anna was established to draft a lok pal bill, Digvijay questioned the credentials of the 'civil society' brigade. When four ministers and senior bureaucrats rushed to the airport to confer with Baba Ramdev and persuade him that the government was ready to meet all his demands, Digvijay struck a discordant note by denouncing the yoga guru as a "maha thug" who had been put up to political mischief by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party. When Congress workers celebrated Rahul's 41st birthday (the birthday boy was, predictably, not anywhere in sight), Digvijay solemnly announced that given his "sound political instincts… it is time that Rahul becomes the Prime Minister."

The first time, the silver-tongued James Bond once said, is an accident; the second time is a coincidence; but the third time is a conspiracy. The unending frequency of Digvijay's statements puncturing the UPA government and the prime minister is no longer being treated casually. A functionary in the prime minister's office bravely suggested to me last week that it was imprudent to attach too much significance to TV sound bites. Unfortunately for Race Course Road, the perception of Digvijay as the proverbial loose cannon isn't widely shared in the rest of the political class.

The Congress has its own way of capping loose cannons and, when expedient, opening them up for rounds of undirected fire. Those with memories may recall the role of Congress ministers such as Kalpnath Rai and K.K. Tiwari in the last months of the Rajiv Gandhi government. They may also recall the intelligent use of the Young Turks — Chandra Shekhar, Shashi Bhushan, Mohan Dharia, et al — by Indira Gandhi in her war with the so-called Syndicate in 1969.

No two situations are similar but it stands to reason that if Digvijay had indeed been talking out of turn, the proprietors of the Congress would have told him quite firmly that it is the function of underlings to be seen and not heard. Since no such message appears to have been passed on, it is safe to conclude that there is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink stamp of approval on what Digvijay says, but with a built-in deniability clause in case something goes horribly wrong — as it did over his over-enthusiastic birthday message to Rahul.

That Digvijay is much more than a mere stalking horse for the Congress's first family is becoming increasingly clear with each passing day. Initially, it may have made some sense to maintain a discreet distance between the party and the government's dealings with sundry Gandhians and yogic 'civil society' groups. The Congress, after all, had its own most-favoured 'civil society' representatives (as Digvijay made no attempt to conceal) in the National Advisory Council. Yet, the systematic manner in which Digvijay mounted personal attacks on Team Anna and then ridiculed Ramdev mercilessly made the breakdown of civil relations between the activists and government seem unavoidable.

It is significant that Digvijay didn't stop at targeting the non-elected custodians of public morality. His frontal attack on the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, for putting his entire political reputation at stake was more than an act of insolence. It was carefully designed to signal that Digvijay's sharp indictment of the government's pusillanimity was backed by some considerable authority.

If Digvijay's larger purpose was merely to nudge the Congress in the direction of shrill anti-BJPism, he has succeeded. As the focus shifts in mid-July from a lok pal bill to deliberations in Parliament, the government may find itself facing an Opposition that is in no mood to oblige the government even remotely. The refusal of Bihar's deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi, to accept responsibility for heading the working group on the much-delayed goods and services tax is an indication of the breakdown of relations between the government and the Opposition. Unless some working relationship is re-established, the government may find itself in a situation akin to that which prevailed in the final year of Rajiv Gandhi's government. In 1989, however, the Congress had a steamroller parliamentary majority in both Houses of Parliament. This is no longer the case.

The net effect of the inner-party turbulence in the Congress has been the growing loss of the prime minister's authority. An understated man with a low public profile, Manmohan Singh conveys the impression of being beleaguered — an impression fuelled by the capital's bush telegraph. Six months ago, political discussions in the Congress centred invariably on the next ministerial reshuffle — that great panacea for all ills. Today, speculation over who's in and who's out has been replaced by the question: will the UPA see a mid-term leadership change?

This may be a wildly speculative non-question, as the Congress establishment did its best to suggest throughout this week, but that the issue gained currency is itself ominous. When, on top of Digvijay's advocacy of a Rahul takeover, a politically ambitious minister of environment, Jairam Ramesh, resumes his aggressive flexing of 'green' muscle against industry, can political watchers be blamed for concluding that the prime minister is both helpless and powerless?

The impression of a lame duck regime prone to either desperation or total paralysis has had a debilitating effect on governance. Always inclined to play it safe, the bureaucracy has more or less abandoned decision-making; the judiciary is in a vengeful mood; and bodies such as the comptroller and auditor general have opted to go well beyond the scrutiny of public expenditure and undertaken policy reviews. The thin walls of separation of powers appear to have been breached and there is a Constitutional free for all.

To cap it all, the political crisis has coincided with growing economic problems for India. The aam aadmi has been affected by nine per cent inflation; industry has been dismayed by volatile interest rates and falling consumer demand; and investor confidence has been shaken by a rising fiscal deficit, the shelving of reforms and the gloom surrounding big ticket projects such as Posco.

In a perfect world, the Congress too should have been alarmed since the fine distinction Digvijay has made between the party and the government is notional. However, the BJP's inability to make political capital out of the Congress's woes appears to have injected an unreal level of complacency.

In any country where democracy isn't as firmly embedded, the situation would have been conducive to a military coup; in a rarefied Delhi, it is becoming the encouragement for a Thakur-directed palace coup. The adventurism won't succeed but it may well leave the Congress in disarray.






One is hugely baffled watching the events unfold as they do on television 24x7. Apart from the ongoing, albeit rapidly disintegrating, saga of Team Anna, the 'godmen' of India too are competing for small-screen space. As one watches cash and other goodies emerge from secret rooms and residences of men who claim to be incarnations of all that is sacred, good, law-abiding and godly, one is staggered by the scale of unaccounted wealth that babas, swamis and suchlike are permitted to hord. Had a similar haul taken place in the home of an ordinary citizen, all hell would have broken loose and the person marched into judicial custody. Indians watching these shenanigans are learning how to beat the system, following in the footsteps of their gurus. One wonders how the administration can turn a blind eye to such illegalities.

Surely, the fight against corruption, against those who openly and blatantly break the laws of this land, must start with men and women who are political, social and religious leaders. They have to be squeaky clean. How can people with undeclared donations and incomes, who have not paid tax, speak about probity and honesty in public life? How can they who accept land at throwaway prices, or for free, to build an ashram, denying owners the legitimate market rates, speak about the invasion of corruption in India? It makes a complete mockery of the great philosophies of this civilization that stem from sacrifice and austerity. Where are the learned spiritual leaders?

The comparison that is being made between Anna Hazare and Gandhiji makes one squirm. The fine-tuned intellect of M.K. Gandhi, his profound experience as a barrister in apartheid South Africa, his decision to discard Western dress for a dhoti in an effort to identify with the Indian masses, his sharp mind and ability to engage in dialogue with his people as well as the colonial rulers and much more make it impossible to compare him with the leadership that we have today across political and activist groups.

New idiom

There are no real national heroes. Those who are around today behave like little potentates, supercilious and cocky about their self-proclaimed status as civil society representatives. They come across as simplistic figureheads, propped up by one-dimensional aides, unable to be creative. The scene is depressing and unnerving.

For an anti-corruption 'movement' to link itself to 'religiosity' is dangerous, to say the least. It manages to alienate large sections of the people of this pluralistic society. It is regressive. It has shades of what has damaged other cultures and societies where 'religious' leaders have entered the fray of the 'executive', thereby killing liberal democracy. In this age of information, the pursuit of knowledge, the reaching out to find food for thought and fresh action, the breaking out of narrow boxes that limit thought and action, must take the lead. The young generation that is the majority in India must have a liberal space to grow and infuse the polity with fresh ideas and initiatives to energize its future. Religion is personal and true faith is that which one absorbs into one's being. To misuse it in the larger public and political domain is sacrilegious.

Here is a suggestion for all those who believe that fasts- unto-death are the tool to cleanse India — why not make a plea to all Indians to not pay a bribe for anything and wait it out? Also, make a list of those who ask for a bribe to do what they are mandated to do, and then relentlessly flood the prime minister's office with such lists. The 'activists' could orchestrate the exercise. Fasting has become a tamasha and does not have the impact it had in the last century. We need new idioms for today.








"For I have seen with my own eyes a seed sown in Jezreel / By a handful of starving, wretched unknowns / And its sheaf has since sprouted and risen and grown / Into the State of Israel."


Any analysis of present-day Israel, be it political or economic, must come to grips with the riveting story enfolded in these lines, written in 1948 by Hebrew poet Shin Shalom. It is a moving poem, despite its romantic idealization. To be sure, Israel was not borne of unsung pioneer heroes alone. During the years 1882-1948, when Jews from many countries came together in the Ottoman and Mandatory region of Palestine to build a national home, personal sacrifice and individual idealism were complemented by shrewd policy making, diplomatic sophistication, military prowess, and deft maneuver of historical contingency. The Zionist movement had to be pragmatic, self-critical and open-minded. Likewise, the young Hebrew culture was self-aware, ironic and politically alert to an extent you don't often see in other national awakenings. The greatest of writers, Bialik, Brenner and Alterman, propagated their social and political criticism even as the new Jewish polity was being founded and built.

But Shin Shalom was correct in saying he had witnessed a miracle.

Today's Israel - depending on your preference, a regional superpower, a fast-tracking start-up nation or the bane of the Middle East - germinated in a process so swift, dramatic and inventive, that it defies comparison with any other nation-building module in modern times. Recently, the delegitimizing narratives of this history have begun to relegate all Zionist discourse to the domain of propaganda, purporting to show how Zionism was mere colonialism: A bunch of scheming Jewish movers-and-shakers colonized Palestine and tricked the world into recognizing Israeli statehood. This - if nothing else - is lazy historiography.

I have evoked Shin Shalom to make a simple point: The rise of modern Jewish national consciousness was as grassroots, as genuine, as its later Palestinian counterpart or other national movements. It was also a singular phenomenon, because the national territorial claim was predicated on mass migration (and later the mass flight of Holocaust survivors and refugees of persecution). But migration does not equal colonialism.

To call the 25,000 Jews from Russia, Romania and Yemen who comprised the first wave of Zionist influx (the First Aliyah ), and their followers, run-of-the-mill colonialists is to miss the profoundly unique aspects of Israel's evolution.

The Jewish national movement rose from the multitudes, although it was lucky enough to generate fine leaders on many levels. It came from a profound and warranted collective premonition of existential danger. It articulated a unique motivation of homecoming - not conquest. It drew on the memory of a people steeped in reading from a shared bookshelf. Its nature, from the very start, was deeply democratic. The interplay between distinct origins and a new "melting pot" was immensely inventive, and enabled the greatest accomplishment of modern Jewish culture: modern Hebrew. The language and the literature.

Even the ways in which Zionist thinkers and doers tried to deal with the Arab population of the Land of Israel, which had not yet formed into a counter-nation, were not flatly colonialist. A national home was promised to the Jews in 1917, and two sovereign states were offered to Jews and Arabs in 1947; mainstream Zionist thought and practice, from Herzl onward, aimed to build a parliamentary democracy with equal citizenship for Arabs alongside Jews.

Nevertheless, the Arab residents of Ottoman and Mandatory Palestine, perhaps justifiably from their vantage point, saw the land-buying Jews as colonial settlers rather than future fellow citizens, and opted for violence. In the ensuing tragedy of conflicting national claims, the Jews gained the upper hand in three crucial senses: They militarized successfully, practiced brilliant diplomacy, and claimed the moral high ground by accepting the UN partition resolution - that early two-state solution that the Palestinians rejected wholesale.

Is Israel's pre-state miracle relevant, in any way, to its present-day economic miracle - or to its less-than-miraculous political inability to attain peace with the Palestinians and Syria?

I believe it is deeply relevant. Not for the sake of triumphalism. Not in order to reiterate, for the umpteenth time, that post-Holocaust Jews played their meager historical cards far better than pre-Nakba Palestinians. Today's Palestinians have a right to claim the sovereign state that their grandfathers threw to the winds, although the lines of division will differ a great deal from the old UN partition map.

But no historical narrative upholding Palestinian hopes and suffering can dispense with Jewish hopes and suffering. Zionism was an authentic national movement, and any attempt to demonize it (and denounce the State of Israel ) while otherwise "having nothing against" the Jewish people (and disclaiming anti-Semitism ) is a historical non sequitur. Only a serious engagement with the human energies, accomplishments and failures of the pre-Israeli Zionist movement can explain the tenacity, success and shortcomings of Israel. Israelis, in particular, must shun the politics of despair sometimes heard in political discourse. Existential panic and cynicism have never been part of the Zionist ethos. Sowing seeds in dry soil, peace-seeking self-defense, hoping and building - these were the true hallmarks of Israel's grassroots founders.

In my childhood, on Kibbutz Hulda, every Independence Day, a tiny old pioneer woman named Hadassah would light a candle and recite Shin Shalom's poem in a quietly passionate voice. She had been one of the seed-sowers. And I, a grandchild of Hadassah's generation, still saw them, the sowers and their sprouting seeds, with my own eyes.

Fania Oz-Salzberger is a professor of history in the law faculty, University of Haifa, and the Leon Liberman Chair in Modern Israel Studies at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. She participated this week in a discussion of Israel-Diaspora relations at the third Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.







You might wonder what would motivate a Jewish American college student to participate in what may be the most celebrated - and controversial - sea voyage of the 21st century, one that aims to nonviolently challenge U.S.-supported Israeli military power in the occupied territories. I simply cannot sit idle while my country aids and abets Israel's siege, occupation and repression of the Palestinians. I would rather use my personal influence and power, in concert with other members of American civil society, to actively and nonviolently resist policies that I consider abominable. So, next week, I and more than 30 other American civilians will be sailing on the U.S. ship the Audacity of Hope, to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

I am one of a growing number of young American Jews who are determined to shake off an assumed - and largely imposed - association with Israel. Prominent advocacy organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee, which proudly proclaim their unconditional support of Israel, for several years have been declaring their "serious concern" over the increasing "distancing" of young American Jews from the state.

But what Israel apologists like the AJC view as a crisis, I see as a positive development for American Jews, who, like other parts of U.S. society, are shifting from blind support for Israel to a more critical position that reflects opposition to our country's backing for Israel's policies.

If Israel's apologists in the U.S. are alarmed by a falling off in unconditional support for Israel, they should be even more concerned that such a diverse range of youth - especially young Jews - are joining up with constituencies that actively organize against America's role in the occupation. Today, the so-called crisis has expanded from the coasts to such places as Arizona. It probably was just a matter of time before a Jewish anti-occupation group emerged in my home state, given that a fairly substantial portion of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on the University of Arizona campus (in Tucson ) were Jewish. For our part, we Jews launched an initial chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace at the UA campus in spring 2010 - one of nearly 30 JVP chapters throughout the country, which has a mailing list of 100,000 - and thereafter branches in the general Tucson and Northern Arizona communities, and at Arizona State University, in Phoenix.

Through JVP, I discovered there were a great many others like me, who were experiencing profound internal conflicts regarding Israel. They included people who had been intimidated from expressing public criticism of Israel, and others who were afraid to speak out in defense of Palestinian rights for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic.

It was clear that a campus JVP opened up a powerful, organic outlet through which Jewish students could safely exchange and process - without fear, intimidation or a need for self-censorship - their critiques, concerns, ideas, knowledge, questions, discoveries and plans to promote achievement of a genuinely mutual peace in Palestine/Israel. Before JVP came along, it wasn't possible to have an open discussion, or feel that we as Jews had an alternative to either unquestioning support of Israel (the status quo ) or staying silent and thus supporting it by default. I myself was silent and timid for much too long.

We are committed to acting out of Jewish ethical traditions, while holding Israel to the same standard as any other state in the international system - no more, no less. Before JVP, there was nothing on my campus that was critical of Israel from an American Jewish perspective. Zero. The group's success demonstrated that young Jews - moved by their cultural or religious values, which include a belief in universal human rights - have been on campus all the while, ready and willing to join a human rights-based cause for justice in Palestine/Israel. All it took to gain support on campus and elsewhere in the state was a potent sprinkling of opportunity, initiative and political will.

In Athens, as I write, waiting to board the Audacity of Hope, I am wearing a Star of David amulet around my neck, which was given to me the night before I left Arizona by a dear friend and fellow JVP organizer. She got it from a silversmith in Haifa while on a "Birthright" trip as an adolescent. For her, it had always been the reminder of the crude brainwashing she felt she had encountered on that trip. But when she came across the star recently, she decided it might be put to good use if I were to wear it on my journey. And so that's what I'm doing.

I wear it as a symbol of the basic values of Judaism that I feel are not emphasized sufficiently today: the imperative to welcome the stranger as you would want to be welcomed; and of helping to free the slave from a bondage that you would not wish to suffer.

As a consequence of various nonviolent actions undertaken all over the world, led crucially by Palestinians on the ground, the Israeli occupation will one day end. Those of us who face up to the unavoidable choice of either tolerating or resisting these crimes will determine how long the death and suffering of mainly Palestinian noncombatants continues, and how long a lasting peace in Palestine/Israel remains out of reach.

Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a Chicano-Jewish American from Tucson, and coordinator of Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Arizona.







We live at a time when serious decisions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are under discussion, the resolution of which will have implications not just for the future of Israel but for Jews living all over the world. It's not surprising that these discussions are accompanied by deep tensions, as they raise questions of life and death, and about the success or failure of the State of Israel and the heart and the soul of the Jewish people.

How we engage in our disagreements over these questions and what rules govern our communal conversation on these vital issues is of the utmost importance. I'd like to suggest, as a starting point, that we reject out of hand the notion that criticizing the policies of the government of Israel in some way exhibits disloyalty to the State of Israel or to the Jewish people. Are we not, after all, being loyal to our family members when we urge them to change their behavior? Don't loyal friends give advice about tough decisions - even knowing that that advice may not be heeded? I would argue that friendship and loyalty are demonstrated by caring enough to engage. At a time when Israel finds itself increasingly isolated internationally, it should welcome its friends rather than imposing on them litmus tests based on loyalty or the substance of our views.

A national policy built on the concept that loyalty means refraining from criticism runs counter to the tradition of open debate that is a hallmark of Jewish history and Israeli democracy, and one of the strengths of the Jewish people. According to a recent poll commissioned by B'nai B'rith, 71 percent of Israelis share this view and believe that the government should be ready to engage with Jewish organizations that are critical of its policies.

The intense focus on loyalty and, by extension, on the size of what is called the "pro-Israel tent," is distracting the Jewish people from engaging seriously with the significant issues facing the State of Israel and the Jewish people today.

Just a week ago, Haaretz reported that President Shimon Peres had expressed deep concern to friends over the continued freeze in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. According to Yossi Verter's report, the president has told friends: "I'm concerned that Israel will become a binational state. What is happening now is total foot-dragging. We're about to crash into the wall. We're galloping at full speed toward a situation where Israel will cease to exist as a Jewish state."

In effect, the captain of our ship has expressed his belief that there's an iceberg dead ahead. Yet just when we should be gathering as a community in an emergency session to discuss how to change the direction of the ship, we seem to be spending inordinate amounts of time debating the right of the passengers to question the ship's course and to raise the alarm about the impending disaster.

Throughout the global Jewish community, opponents of the two-state solution - those who oppose reaching peace based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps - are more than happy to divert communal discourse away from the looming existential crisis facing Israel and toward questions of loyalty. We need to call this strategy what it is: a deliberate effort to distract attention from a conversation about the sustainability of the path that Israel is on today and its implications for Israel's democracy, its security and the values of the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, the focus on loyalty and on the right to criticize and dissent has created an atmosphere of fear, and this in turn has made too many of our community leaders reluctant to place these critical issues squarely before the communities they lead. Attacks on their "pro-Israel" credentials have prompted many to tone down their criticism, to divert discussions to safer topics or in some cases to silence their voices altogether.

Sadly, the effort to quiet critics is the more respectable public face of a far less respectable campaign of smears and lies being waged against those who dissent, in an effort to delegitimize them and to push them to the fringes of the communal discussion.

The words of President Peres about the dangers ahead precisely echo the central call being issued across the global Jewish community by so many of us who fear the demise of the Zionist dream that we and our families have worked for over a century to realize. We, too, see the iceberg dead ahead. We who do not live here may not be on board the ship, but the disaster - should it happen - will have an impact on us all.

It is time for both Israeli and Jewish leaders to step forward and to encourage a meaningful conversation about how we change course before it is too late, so as to preserve the very existence of this most precious country. If we do not, I fear that, in a couple of decades, we'll be called to provide an answer as to how it came to pass that with the iceberg dead ahead and the captain sounding the alarm, we were too busy administering loyalty oaths and litmus tests to save the ship.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president and founder of J Street, the political home of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.







Everyone talks about Israel's great divide - that tension between the religious sector and the secular one. As Hebrew Book Week draws to a close, tomorrow night, it seems fitting to ask what the publishing world might do to help bridge this gap. Or, one wonders, is it in fact contributing to the problem? Are publishers perhaps ignoring the needs of families who fall between the two ends of the spectrum - that large swathe of Israeli Jews who are interested in their heritage, care about Jewish holidays, but may not identify themselves as religious? What are they doing to face the challenge of integrating themes and values that can be shared across the divide?

As the director of a pre-literacy program that works with the Education Ministry to distribute hundreds of thousands of books to preschool children at no cost, I know that there are lots of wonderful, high-quality Hebrew books for children on the market. However, it has also become increasingly evident to me that the number of titles that enrich children's appreciation of their Jewish heritage in a joyous, noncoercive way is very limited. And, if we are hard-pressed to find such books, it is likely that parents are too.

The discovery that Israel's children's book market offers so few books based on Jewish heritage is surprising, especially in light of the Talmudic concept known as "girsa d'yankuta la miskakha" - what is ingested at a young age, stays with us. By promoting early-childhood books based on Jewish stories that can inculcate wisdom and values in an entertaining and personal way, it is possible to tie children to their heritage in a way that will sustain them all their lives and give them treasures that will remain part of their earliest memories.

And yet, Israeli stories for preschool children based on the rich tapestry of Jewish folktales, or the personal experience of immigrants, or the intriguing legends of the sages - written in ways that could resonate with Jews across the spectrum of belief and observance - are hard to come by. For example, in English, there are at least five picture-book versions of the traditional Jewish tale of the poor man whose house is unbearably crowded with children and who is advised by his rabbi to stuff his goat and other animals into the house, so that when he eventually takes the animals out, his home suddenly seems spacious. There is not even one version of this most Jewish of tales in print for children in Hebrew. Why? The books that are available here with Jewish themes that appeal to a broad audience are often translations of American books, and have a strong sense of the galut about them. We can only wonder how such stories would be treated by contemporary Israeli authors; what magic they could muster if they were encouraged to take on these topics and themes. Publishers need to consider whether both their own commercial interests and the interest of the public might be served by making a more concerted effort to fill this literary gap.

To be fair, recently a few early books by local authors have been put back into the marketplace that do speak to Jewish/Zionist heritage and values. And there are a few welcome new titles. With an authentic indigenous flavor, they do what good literature should do: tell a great story, use language well, and open the mind and the heart. But these efforts are by no means enough.

In today's technology-driven world, where children are increasingly bombarded by the messages emanating from their TV, computer and mobile screens, it has become a greater challenge for parents to transmit their beliefs and values to their children. The special encounter of parent and child with quality children's books provides a great opportunity.

On a national level, the publication of quality books that can also help to foster a common Jewish heritage - one that allows children of different backgrounds to know and appreciate the same books - must be encouraged. Authors and publishers have an important role to play in helping the next generation understand who we are as a people and as a country. Let us hope they meet the challenge.

Galina Vromen is executive director of Keren Grinspoon Israel (an Israeli non-profit) and of Sifriyat Pijama, the Israeli version of the PJ Library ( The two programs have together distributed some 2.5 million high-quality children's books in America and Israel.







The Israelis and the Palestinians are alike in their inexplicable fear of the dentist. They postpone one appointment after another with various excuses, knowing in their hearts that their teeth will not improve. They avoid the painful operation, but in the end the inevitable will happen. It will be both painful and expensive.

Both patients know the truth and the serious consequences of avoidance, but they can't bring themselves to the frightening dentist's chair. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, if we stick with this metaphor, is playing the self-confident hero, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak is describing the situation as an approaching tsunami. The two complement one another with confidence that everything will be all right. What did the hunchback say? Do you know how I got to be a hunchback? Everyone slapped me on the back saying that everything would be all right.

There are moments in history, says opposition leader Tzipi Livni, when the approaching fiasco is written on the wall: We're on a collision course with the world. It makes no difference whether it happens in September or October - the process has already begun. There is less understanding for Israel's behavior; Israel is being described as a colonialist country. "In politics, as in criminal law, a failure to prevent a crime is considered a failure after the fact," Livni says.

At this stage it's still not too late. It's not yet September. It's not yet certain that the Palestinians have decided they want to carry out the threat of UN recognition of a Palestinian state. At a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week, it was reported that the Palestinian leaders are having second thoughts about whether to stick with the "gesture" of recognition by the UN General Assembly - not only because of the danger that the United Nations might base its decision on the 1947 partition plan, which divided the country into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The UN decision is liable to turn out to be a joke. While Israel will be recognized as a Jewish state to which the Palestinians object so strongly, the burden of proof that the Arabs in the original decision are actually Palestinians will hit them like a hammer.

September has become an important month not only because of the discussion that will or won't take place about recognizing divided Palestine as a state. Something else will be happening then far more important than the hollow decision at the United Nations: the Egyptian election. This event is important for us when it comes to the peace treaty that has lasted 30 years, but above all when it comes to the kind of Egypt that will arise after the Tahrir Square uprising. Will the election produce a government ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood? Will Egypt continue to be a responsible, stable and peace-loving nation? Will America, Europe and the moderate countries in the region be able to see it as an island of sanity and responsibility?

It's crucial that Israel be removed from the discourse about Egypt's election battle. It's important for Israel to be in advanced negotiations for an agreement with the Palestinians at the time of the Egyptian elections, not in a state of stagnation. So we have to switch from a mode of propaganda and haggling to a mode of a moderate policy. We've been operating for too long in the propaganda arena and not enough with a positive and pragmatic policy. The switch to rapprochement and recognition must be the product of an Israeli initiative.

American commentators say U.S. President Barack Obama does not have outbursts of anger, or a tendency to publicly insult people who have hurt him. But he doesn't forget. The trick that Bibi pulled on him in Washington is the type of thing one doesn't forget, unless we understand where we erred and how to help the administration in the two tests in September, both with an initiative to renew negotiations based on the 1967 lines and by refraining from presenting ultimatums.

Bibi speaks of unconditional negotiations but presents the Palestinians with the condition that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And let's say they recognize us and sign, then what? Don't we have experience from the time of the road map, when the first condition was to stop terror? All these caprices from both sides are not to the point. We're creating the problem and we're suffering the consequences. This is nearly the last moment to be serious about the summons to the dentist. Without teeth we'll be forced to eat cottage cheese, and that's too high a price to pay for giving up on peace.







Although cottage cheese was the star this week, and the dairy industry is undeniably the prime example of a planned, cartel economy, which benefits from blocks to imports and charges extravagantly, this is but one example of many in the economy's distorted structure.

Consider an entirely different industry - the seaports. The story's different, but the result is identical: inflated prices. A reform in the ports was supposed to lead to competition, streamlining and privatization, but nothing happened. The workers' committees are still in control, there's no privatization on the horizon, and we paying for that with high prices.

Three months ago, the Finance Ministry discovered that the ports management distributes a "steak incentive" to the workers, coupons for restaurant meals. Wages director Ilan Levine ordered an end to that, and got work stoppages and ships being unloaded at a snail's pace. Is it any wonder that the cost of loading and unloading in Israeli ports is the highest in the world? Is it any wonder this cost affects the price of all products in the market? Let's call it the "steak tax."

In 2008, the government decided to move fish farms for denise (sea bream ) from the Gulf of Eilat to an area near the Ashdod Port but not belonging to the port. The port workers demanded a slice of the fish business in the shape of four work slots. Ardag and Dag-Suf said they had no need for port workers, but the companies were to pay for "phantom workers," to ensure there would be no trouble with port workers. Is it any wonder that denise is worth its weight in gold? Let's call it the "denise levy."

Three months ago, the head of the Ashkelon port works committee, Alon Hassan, celebrated his son's bar mitzvah, and all the port workers were invited to the hall; the gates of the port were closed for four whole hours. Trucks waited, and ships were not unloaded. That was the bar mitzvah present from the Jewish people to Hassan.

It's not only the ports. In banking there are only two or three major competitors, and so service charges are sky-high. In the capital market we pay the highest management costs in the world for trust funds that deal in stocks. The same is true of cell phones, fuel, and marketing chains. The cement monopoly bars competitive imports, and flight services are very expensive because of the monopoly of the Airports Authority.

In the food industry there are in effect four major manufacturers: Tnuva, Strauss, Osem and Unilever, without whom no marketing chain can manage. Therefore, they can play with the prices. Should a small manufacturer try to enter a supermarket, he will face considerable abuse. He will have to shell out and help fund the chain's "advertising and sales promotion." If he dares to introduce a new product, he must pay a fine called "an introductory discount" - all of which increases expenses and raise prices.

This week, there was a lot of talk about the very high duties for imported dairy products. But there are high duties on numerous food products - 190 percent on the import of fresh beef, and 170 percent on the import of fresh chicken. The duty for importing honey is 250 percent. For potatoes it's 230 percent. For fresh garlic the duty is NIS 8.9 per kilogram. For fresh olives 120 percent; for shelled almonds 100 percent; for olive oil NIS 4.84 per kilogram; for canned tuna 12 percent plus NIS 3.45 per kilogram. Is it any wonder prices are so high if competitive imports are blocked?

Let's not forget to add the cost of kashrut, which makes everything more expensive, high taxes, the murderous property tax for businesses, and the general uncertainty, which also contributes to high prices.

Not only cottage cheese is to blame. Everyone is making a laughing stock of the Israeli consumer.







In June last year, Peter Beinart published an article in the New York Review of Books that created quite a storm by pointing out the deep estrangement between the young generation of American Jews and Israel. A year later, it is time to take stock.

Unfortunately, the situation has only grown a lot worse. In my travels to Europe I speak to predominantly Jewish audiences, but also to non-Jews who care deeply about Israel. They voice their pain and anguish openly: They want to understand what has happened to Israel. They desperately want to stand by it, but they are, increasingly, at a loss of knowing how to do so.

Their questions are simple. They know that Israel is located in one of the world's most difficult neighborhoods; they have no illusions about the Iranian regime or Hezbollah; and they know the Hamas charter. But they don't understand how any of this is connected with Israel's settlement policies, the dispossession of Palestinian property in Jerusalem, and the utterly racist talk about the 'Judaization' of Jerusalem. They feel that they no longer have arguments, even words, to defend Israel.

Israel has never had a government that so blatantly violates the core values of liberal democracy. Never has a Knesset passed laws that are as manifestly racist as the current one. Israel has had foreign ministers who were unworldly and didn't know English; but it has never had a foreign minister whose only goal is to pander to his right-wing constituency by flaunting his disdain for international law and the idea of human rights with such relish.

Moreover, there has never been a government so totally oblivious of its relation to world Jewry. It passes laws that increase the Orthodox establishment's stranglehold on religious affairs and personal life - completely disregarding that 85 percent of world Jewry are not Orthodox - and simply dismissing their Jewish identities and their institutions. As a result, this majority of world Jewry feels Israel couldn't care less about its values and identity.

Israel's Orthodox establishment claims that by monopolizing conversion to Judaism and the laws of marriage, they are preventing a rift in the Jewish people. The exact opposite is true: It is Israel's turn toward racism that extends not only toward its Arab citizens, but toward Ethiopian youth not accepted into schools in Petah Tikva, toward Sephardic girls not allowed to study in Haredi schools in Immanuel, that most Jews in the world cannot stand for. It is the unholy coalition between nationalism and Orthodoxy that is tearing the Jewish people apart.

The overwhelming majority of American and European Jews are deeply committed to Universalist values, and have been so for most of their existence. This commitment is not a fad or an attempt to be fashionable and politically correct. It is the deeply felt conclusion the majority of world Jewry draws from Jewish history: After all that has happened to us, we Jews must never, ever allow violation of universal human rights.

This is why Jews in the U.S. have been central in the Civil Rights movement; this is why Jews in Europe will never forget that only Universalist liberals stood by Alfred Dreyfus in 1890s France. For most Jews of the world, it is simply unfathomable: How can we, who have suffered from racial and religious discrimination, use language and hold views that - as Israel Prize laureate and historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell argued - were last held in the Western world by the Franco regime?

For most of world Jewry, the idea of Yiddishkeit in the second half of the 20th century meant that Jews must never compromise on the equality of human beings before the law and the inviolability of their rights. So how can they stand by a state that continues to pay rabbis who argue that Jewish life has a sanctity that doesn't extend to gentiles, and that it is forbidden to rent property to Arabs?

In moments of despair, I try to remember that Israel's move to the right is driven by fear and confusion, ruthlessly fanned by politicians whose hold on power depends on the panic of Israel's citizens. I feel it can't be true that the country that was supposed not only to be the homeland of the Jews, but a moral beacon, is descending into such darkness. I try to remember that such times of darkness do not reflect on the human quality of a whole nation; that countries like Spain, Greece and Portugal emerged from dark times into the free world; that even though the winds of right-wing nationalism are sweeping over Israel, it is still a democracy.

Sometimes, along with the majority of Jews committed to liberal and Universalist values, I feel as if I were simply in a bad dream; that when I wake up, Herzl's vision of a Jewish state committed to the core values of liberalism will be the reality.







Soccer fans and broadcasters are fond of using three cliches - the ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes and the referee comes from questionable stock. That last charge reflects fans' disappointment and suspicion when decisions go against their team.

The first two reflect naivete. The ball is not round; its shape can be changed. The air can be taken out of it to divert its flight in a secret deal between the owners and coaches, the players and referees. And you don't play soccer 90 minutes but much longer, in all the hours of skulduggery before and after the game, to fix the result according to the transgressors' wishes.

Hence the police investigation into the affair is not in itself earthshaking news. Since its beginnings, Israeli soccer has seen more scandals than successes. The corruption has merely taken on a different shape.

As in politics, where the committees forming the Knesset lists were replaced by primary elections, and power simply shifted from the senior functionaries to the vote-contractors, so it is in soccer. In the 1950s, sports clubs such as Hapoel and Maccabi, Beitar and Elitzur were identified with certain parties. In a match between two teams affiliated with the same party, party functionaries could dictate to the weaker team to lose to the stronger team, the candidate for the championship.

Conversely, they could instruct a stronger team to lose to a weaker one if the latter risked relegation. The Israeli national team was sometimes put together based on the political balance of power, until a job was invented for putting the team together. The first person appointed to this task was a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, Shmuel Soher.

In those days the players weren't yet professionals, or more accurately, employees pretending to be professionals, and gambling had not yet spread to epidemic proportions. With the penetration of big money, crime entered soccer as well. Fixing games became extremely profitable for criminals hoping to get rich from gambling while laundering their ill-begotten wealth.

What makes this affair unique is the suspicion against the chairman of the Israel Football Association, Avi Luzon. It's like a country in which the president and prime minister are on trial, and that, as the cliche goes, "is inconceivable."




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



Congressional Republicans, who played a major role in piling up the government's unsustainable debt in the first place, have thrown a tantrum and walked out of the debt limit talks. This bit of grandstanding has brought the nation closer to the financial crisis that Republicans have been threatening for weeks. But, at least now, their real goals are in sharp focus.

The two Republicans in the talks, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and Senator Jon Kyl, the minority whip, had no intention of actually negotiating. Negotiations require listening to those on the other side and giving them something they want in exchange for some of your goals.

It has been obvious all along that cutting government services alone is not a solution to either the budget deficit or the mounting national debt. The Democrats, at least, acknowledged that reality at the bargaining table by saying that along with the cuts the Republicans cherish, there would have to be increases in revenue — an end to unnecessary tax loopholes for corporations or the rich.

Those demands were modest — too modest — and Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., who is leading the talks, said they were making progress. But any compromise at all proved too much for the Republicans.

Mr. Cantor said that because he and the House would not support a tax increase, he was walking out of the talks until President Obama "resolved" the tax issue himself with House Speaker John Boehner. In other words, Mr. Cantor and Mr. Kyl preferred striking a Tea Party pose to the hard work of reaching a deal.

The negotiators say they have essentially agreed on about $2 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years, which could be acceptable if they are phased in gradually and exempt the nation's most vulnerable. But Democrats in the talks say that in exchange for agreeing to those cuts, they asked for some balancing increases in revenues. Their proposals were not to raise tax rates, but rather to end credits like those for oil and gas companies. One Democratic negotiator, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, said they also want to curb tax deductions for the very rich.

It was inevitable that Mr. Obama, Mr. Boehner and Senate leaders would have to write the final chapter of these talks, and Republicans were at least correct in asking for a more public role from the president, who has shied away from leadership here. Mr. Boehner has, so far, limited his opposition to tax rate increases, and he may prove more willing to accept reality and the need for revenue than Mr. Cantor.

But at least 11 hard-line Senate Republicans have already said they will oppose any deal that does not include a balanced-budget amendment — a nonstarter for Democrats — and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said this week that all revenue increases are the same as raising taxes and are unacceptable.

The deadline for raising the debt limit or facing a default is Aug. 2. Republicans cannot walk away from their responsibility to pay the bills and keep the economy out of further crisis.






House Republicans are gearing up to vote, likely Friday, on whether to authorize continued United States support for NATO-led military operations over Libya. There are two main proposals — and a clear choice to be made. We fear they are leaning in a wrongheaded and dangerous direction.

One measure, sponsored by Representative Thomas Rooney and apparently backed by the House leadership, would allow financing only for American surveillance, search-and-rescue missions, planning and aerial refueling. Republicans say that if it passes, the Pentagon would have to halt drone strikes and attacks on Libyan air defenses.

They claimed it would do minimal damage to the alliance and its campaign because the United States would still be providing some support. But the damage to this country's credibility, and its leadership of NATO, would be enormous. Any sign that the United States is bailing out could lead others to follow.

It is hard to view this bill as anything but a partisan play to embarrass the president. The one sure victor would be Libya's strongman, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, who would see it as a sign that NATO's resolve is faltering and another reason to keep brutalizing his people.

The second measure — and much preferred alternative — is a version of a bipartisan resolution proposed in the Senate by John Kerry and John McCain. It would authorize American participation in the Libya air campaign for one year but bar the use of ground troops, which President Obama has said he has no plans of deploying.

Mr. Obama made the wrong choice, trying to evade his responsibility under the 1973 War Powers Act to seek Congressional authorization within 60 days of introducing armed forces into "hostilities" — or terminate the operation. The White House claimed that the Pentagon's limited operations are not the sort of "hostilities" covered by the act. It is not credible.

Mr. Obama would have done better arguing his case for the Libyan operation. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was playing catch-up on Capitol Hill on Thursday. We are certain if NATO had not intervened, thousands more Libyans would have been slaughtered. We also believe Congress has an important role to play in this debate. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to vote on the Kerry-McCain measure next week. The majority leader, Harry Reid, has said he has the votes in the Senate. Thankfully, some Senate Republicans also seem to understand the importance of the United States following through on its national security commitments.

We hope, after Friday, we will be able to say the same thing about the House.





As we wrote this editorial on Thursday evening, we were still waiting for the New York State Senate to do what it should have done long ago — end a basic inequality under the law by allowing same-sex couples the full right to marry. The solution is obvious: Pass a clean bill that allows all adult New Yorkers to marry whomever they choose to marry, without unneeded exemptions for religious-affiliated organizations.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a good bill, which was promptly approved by the Assembly. In the Senate, the measure seemed to be only one vote shy of passage, but Republicans have kept it from the floor.

It was also galling that despite the crowds of protesters engaging in a passionate debate in the Capitol this week, the real debate on marriage equality was held in secret. Governor Cuomo, his staff, a few Republican state senators and several gay-rights advocates were quietly considering ways to compromise on this historic bill.

In Albany, they say hidden talks are necessary to get anything done. Nonsense. The state's leaders just don't want public scrutiny. It's a cowardly way to conduct the public's business.

Mr. Cuomo, who once promised new openness in Albany, sealed negotiations on marriage and ethics and other matters in ways that rival some of his most secretive predecessors. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, said on Thursday that he had seen revised language for the governor's marriage-equality bill and that it was "acceptable." But he refused to share it with the public.

The issue — apparently — has been how far Republicans could push same-sex marriage advocates for special exceptions. The big question became whether nonprofit groups affiliated with religious institutions can bar ceremonies or wedding parties on their property because the couple are of the same gender. Mr. Cuomo's bill handled the balance between religious freedom and the freedom against discrimination just right. No one needed to change it, and especially not furtively.





Pharmaceutical companies, which spend billions of dollars a year promoting their products to doctors, have found that it is very useful to know what drugs a doctor has prescribed in the past. Many use data collected from prescriptions processed by pharmacies — a doctor's name, the drugs and the dosage — to refine their marketing practices and increase sales.

The Supreme Court on Thursday made it harder for states to protect medical privacy with laws that regulate such practices. In 2007, Vermont passed a law that forbade the sale of such records by pharmacies and their use for marketing purposes. The ruling upheld a lower court decision that struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 6-to-3 majority, said the law violates First Amendment rights by imposing a "burden on protected expression" on specific speakers (drug marketers) and specific speech (information about the doctors and what they prescribed). It is unconstitutional because it restricts the transfer of that information and what the marketers have to say.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer explains that the law's only restriction is on access to data "that could help pharmaceutical companies create better sales messages." He notes that any speech-related effects are "indirect, incidental, and entirely commercial." By applying strict First Amendment scrutiny to this ordinary economic regulation, he warns, the court threatens to substitute "judicial for democratic decision-making."

The law would have been upheld, Justice Breyer says, if the court had treated it as a restriction on commercial speech, which is less robustly protected than political speech. The court's majority unwisely narrows the gap between commercial and political speech, and makes it harder to protect consumers.






There weren't a lot of blacks in my high school graduation class — two, to be exact — which meant that race was somewhat of an abstraction, happening elsewhere, mostly on a screen or from the grooves of a record.

And then I saw Clarence Clemons with Bruce Springsteen. Mind you, this was a stage, only a bit more of projected reality than television. Still, the Big Man and the Boss — opposites in look and style, Southern Baptist black and Jersey Shore white — projected a kind of joy that made it easy to believe that this mess of a country could get along. My friends and I came home from that first concert doing air saxophone riffs.

They were fused, these musicians from an iconic album cover, and not just in the magical merge of Clemons's sax with Springsteen's vocal charisma. Clemons was one tradition, of gospel, storytelling, and swagger; Springsteen was another, the garage band with blue-collar urgency and a poet's lyrical touch. But even when they met in the early 1970s, the great American hybrid of rock 'n' roll was becoming a single-race affair.

"You had your black bands and your white bands, and if you mixed the two you found less places to play," Clemons wrote in his memoir. Sad to say, his voice and his soulful sax are gone, following his death on Saturday at the age of 69.

The ideal he represented, at least in rock 'n' roll, may have followed him to the grave as well. With a few exceptions, the most segregated place in America on a given night can be a stadium rock concert — on stage, and in the audience. In one sense, rock mirrors Major League Baseball, where black players made up only 8.5 percent of rosters on Opening Day this year, a 50 percent decline from 20 years ago.

In baseball, blacks integrated the big leagues by force of a few brave pioneers. In rock, whites basically stole the genre, and in some cases have taken it to odious extremes, as with Ted Nugent and his Confederate flag T-shirts and machine gun props.

Springsteen's E Street Band was all about possibility, uplift, and how music could save a soul. Playing off of Clemons, the grandson of a Baptist preacher, Springsteen could always turn one of his concerts into a spiritual revival from the Church of Rock 'n' Roll. It was a nod to the roots of the music, as well as the 6-foot-4 sideman. And for someone from a homogenous background, it was transformative.

In its infancy and through its early years, rock had plenty of African-American stars, of course, from Fats Domino and Little Richard to my fellow Pacific Northwesterner, Jimi Hendrix. In their hands, rhythm-and-blues jumped to another dimension.

When rock went big-time and, ultimately, corporate with British bands and the California sound, most of the black, bluesy edge had been stripped away. The Beatles, near the end, recorded with Billy Preston, who brought a gospel-infused keyboard to the band. And, yes, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards paid homage to their Chicago and Mississippi Delta heroes. They were whites doing black music, as they honestly admitted.

Clemons made his splash on the cover of the greatest American rock album of the last century, "Born to Run." He is the man Springsteen is leaning on, in more ways than one, and smiling back at. The sentiment — hey, these guys really like each other — came through in concert after concert. "He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we fell in love," Springsteen once recalled of their first encounter. "And it's still there."

That kind of racial bromance can be forced and phony in cop-flick movies that try to convey the same feeling — two buddies, one black, one white, on a mission. Springsteen and Clemons never seemed to fake it. A crowd-rousing moment of any show was when Springsteen sang the lyric from "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," that goes to the mythic foundations of the band:

"When the change was made uptown

And the Big Man joined the band

From the coastline to the city

All the little pretties raise their hands"

After the death on Saturday, Springsteen issued a short statement. "He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music," he said.

Far deeper, indeed — for it was a story that affected many rock fans. With Clemons' death, we are one vibrant man short of a cultural example of how the divides of race can come together over music. Bruce Springsteen lost a friend of 40 years; the rest of us lost an ideal.






In 1900, Theodore Dreiser wrote "Sister Carrie," about a young woman who left the farm and got mauled by the crushing forces of industrial America: the loneliness of urban life, the squalid conditions of the factory, the easy allure of the theater, the materialism of the new consumer culture.

If Dreiser were around today, he might write about Kiki Ostrenga. Kiki, who was the subject of a haunting profile by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in the April issue of Rolling Stone, was a young teenager who got mauled by the some of the worst forces of the information age.

Lonely at school, she took refuge by creating an online persona, Kiki Kannibal, posting photos of herself with various hairstyles and looks — goth one day; sexually charged, Lady Gaga-style temptress the next.

Though 13, Ostrenga was a phenomenally good shape-shifter. The photos often show her in her underwear or short skirts, with lurid make-up, edgy poses and pouty come-hither expressions. In them, you see the child's ability to mimic the looks and attitudes of what she admires — in this case the cult of high-fashion celebrity as glamorized in Vogue or Cosmopolitan, on E!, TMZ, "Real World" and a thousand other outlets.

In sports, speed and strength are king. In music, talent and application are king. But online, eyeballs and page-views are king. Achievement is redefined as the ability to attract attention. And, with today's technology, this sort of celebrity is not just a dream. Young people can create it for themselves.

Kiki must have sensed the tremendous erotic capital that a pretty, vulnerable, barely pubescent girl possesses on the Internet — even if she didn't understand the consequences of her appeal. Sure enough, she became a MySpace sensation. Two million people are recorded to have logged on to her live stream video. Before long, there were 530 Facebook profiles from people claiming to be her (none of them were). She became an object of celebration, ridicule and hatred.

People talk about the online "community," but it's more accurate to see the response as a guerrilla war. Ostrenga made an aggressive bid for attention. Other people made a bid for attention by savaging her. Most of the viciousness hurled her way can't be quoted here, but the article in Rolling Stone accurately described the mob-like behavior: death threats, savage sexual appraisals. "I know where you live, and I'm gonna kill" your cat, one person flamed. "Kiki go die you ugly [expletive]," another wrote.

Ostrenga inspired a wave of ridicule and defense, which spilled over into real life, including a punch to the head at a concert and the word "slut" painted in giant letters across her garage.

She was contacted by an 18-year-old man named Danny Cespedes, who charmed Kiki and her parents and became intertwined with their household. Unbeknownst to them, Danny had tried to seduce a string of young girls, some as young as 12. After her mother discovered that he had forced himself on Kiki one night, the Ostrengas pressed charges. As he was being arrested, he jumped off the second floor of a parking garage and ended up in a coma. He died two months later.

Next, she was victimized by the owner of a for-profit, teen-exploitation site called Stickydrama. The site's owner both organized mass hate sessions against Kiki and invited her to live with him and become one of the site's exhibitionist playthings. "If I can't have you, I will destroy you," he wrote in a Twitter message, according to Rolling Stone.

Addicted to the attention and now running an online jewelry business, Kiki couldn't get offline, even while being painfully aware of the distinction between celebrity performance and the two-way loving relationships that she longed for. Her parents couldn't seem to take the reins, even after they saw her online presence was not just a way of being creative.

In the end, they had to move to escape the threats. They were bankrupted in the process. Kiki lost any semblance of a normal adolescence.

She is an extreme case of an enormous uncontrolled experiment that is playing out across the world. Young people's brains are developing while they are immersed in fast, multitasking technology. No one quite knows what effect this is having.

The culture of childhood is being compressed. Those things that young people once knew at 18, they now know at 10 or 12. No one quite knows the effect of that either.

Most important, some young people seem to be growing up without learning the distinction between respectability and attention. I doubt adults can really shelter young people from the things they will find online, but adults can provide the norms and values that will help them put that world in perspective, so it seems like trashy or amusing make-believe and not anything any decent person would want to be part of themselves.

Kiki's story is not only about what can happen online, but what doesn't happen off of it.






Claremont, Calif.

THE emerging debate over the future of entitlements is forcing an overdue identity crisis at AARP. Last week, leaders of the 37-million-member group issued a vague half-denial after news accounts reported that they were prepared to accept cutbacks in Social Security benefits. It was a wavering, confusing response that reflected mission drift and a loss of organizational focus and identity.

AARP, founded in 1958, needs to get its groove back and narrow a policy agenda that has become too broad, too busy and too ambitious, with multiple and competing identities, interests and constituencies. Over the past decade, under the leadership of the former advertising executive Bill Novelli, it developed a big-tent ideology in response to critics' charges that it had been a lobby for "greedy geezers."

But that trend has gone too far. Critics within the organization rightly say that what was once known as the American Association of Retired Persons might as well be renamed the "Association of Persons" — a tendency apparent in advertising messages like "AARP is an organization for people who have birthdays."

Whose AARP is it?

Too many members — as evidenced by angry responses from readers of the recent news reports — would say that AARP has become greedy and self-serving, ready to sacrifice older Americans' political interests to its own economic bottom line, which is no longer dependent just on members' dues, but has broadened to include a range of profit-making activities. The suspicion is partly grounded in AARP's unusual status: it is a giant nonprofit organization that uses dues, as well as sales of consumer services by its profit-making subsidiaries, to finance its policy advocacy and charitable activities and free or low-cost services like tax preparation and driver education.

The image of AARP as a money-making machine was sharpened during Mr. Novelli's tenure, from 2001 to 2009, when the organization greatly enhanced revenues and made a commensurate increase in advertising to sell an ever expanding range of products and services: AARP-branded health, home and auto insurance, credit cards, and cellphone and travel service discounts.

AARP must get back to the basics: it stands for Americans 50 and older and the policies and programs that protect them. Period.

My primary interest in AARP is as a social scientist, but I am also a member, as my parents were. In the course of my research, a former AARP board member told me, "We own Social Security and Medicare." Fine. But in an era of retrenchment, AARP must be prepared to defend those programs with the most aggressive voter education, member mobilization and lobbying campaigns it has ever organized.

Aging boomers need AARP; there is no one with clout left to defend them. They will be as dependent as their parents were on Medicare and Social Security, but in many cases they are far less prepared for retirement. It is worrisome that younger generations fear that they will never collect benefits. But they are not AARP's primary constituency. Other interest groups, and lawmakers in Congress, will cynically use calls for greater generational equity as an ax for deeper cutbacks now.

AARP has adopted a pragmatic, bipartisan approach over the last decade. Using its well-financed lobbying machine, the group was instrumental in obtaining Medicare prescription drug coverage in 2003, blocking George W. Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security in 2005 and getting President Obama's health care plan passed in 2010.

But this time is different.

If AARP's leaders have already agreed to accept limited reductions in Social Security benefits as part of a strategic play to preserve a dominant role in the coming debate over entitlement reform, as has been reported, it is a grave error that will only encourage further concessions and demoralize activist members.

Legendary allies, like Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Claude Pepper of Florida, are gone. A formidable phalanx of key policy players have mobilized to advance proposals for deep cuts or radical restructuring of entitlements. AARP's ambivalence will only embolden politicians who already have challenged the alleged unity of the "senior vote," realizing that it has long been fragmented by differences in income, ideology, education, race, religion, gender and marital status.

But a strong AARP stand on Social Security and Medicare has the potential support of not only 78 million aging boomers but also the general public; polls have found broad majorities opposed to slashing Social Security and converting Medicare into a voucher system.

It might also heal the ideological rifts and mini-mutiny wrought by AARP's support of Mr. Obama's health care plan. That episode cost AARP at least 400,000 members, many of whom wrote angry letters and e-mails accusing it of selling out older Americans and redistributing Medicare funds to other groups (a suspicion that lingers because the Obama health care overhaul projects a reduction in the rate of increase in Medicare spending). Finally, leading a popular political crusade might dispel the stereotype that AARP puts profits over principles.

This could be AARP's finest hour. In surveys, the organization has usually ranked among the most trusted institutions in the nation, along with groups like the American Red Cross and the Consumers Union. AARP knows there is political power in numbers — and in organization. In the past, however, it had only to activate a small portion of its huge membership base to register political impact. "All they have to do is whisper," one consultant told me.

This time they will have to roar.

Frederick R. Lynch, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, is the author of "One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, and America's Future."







WILL the New York State Legislature ultimately put itself on the right side of history by allowing same-sex couples to marry? Many of us in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, amazed at how quickly public opinion has evolved on this issue, are eager for this historic civil rights victory.

My hope comes with some worry, however.

While many in our community have worked hard to secure the right of same-sex couples to marry, others of us have been working equally hard to develop alternatives to marriage. For us, domestic partnerships and civil unions aren't a consolation prize made available to lesbian and gay couples because we are barred from legally marrying. Rather, they have offered us an opportunity to order our lives in ways that have given us greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.

It's not that we're antimarriage; rather, we think marriage ought to be one choice in a menu of options by which relationships can be recognized and gain security. Like New York City's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who has been in a relationship for over 10 years without marrying, one can be an ardent supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples while also recognizing that serious, committed relationships can be formed outside of marriage.

Here's why I'm worried: Winning the right to marry is one thing; being forced to marry is quite another. How's that? If the rollout of marriage equality in other states, like Massachusetts, is any guide, lesbian and gay people who have obtained health and other benefits for their domestic partners will be required by both public and private employers to marry their partners in order to keep those rights. In other words, "winning" the right to marry may mean "losing" the rights we have now as domestic partners, as we'll be folded into the all-or-nothing world of marriage.

Of course, this means we'll be treated just as straight people are now. But this moment provides an opportunity to reconsider whether we ought to force people to marry — whether they be gay or straight — to have their committed relationships recognized and valued.

At Columbia University, where I work, the benefits office tells heterosexual employees that they must marry to get their partners on the health plan. A male graduate student I know, informed that he'd have to marry his longtime girlfriend for her to get benefits, was told, "Too bad your girlfriend isn't a man — it would be so much easier!"

They ended up marrying, though they were politically and personally uninterested in doing so. I, by contrast, only had to fill out a form saying that my partner and I lived in the same household, to add her to my policy. An institution like Columbia (which is secular, I might add) should not be in the marriage-promotion business for either straight or gay employees, particularly when domestic partnerships can do the gate-keeping job just as effectively as marriage does.

In fact, New York City has a domestic partnership law that allows both same-sex and different-sex couples to register as domestic partners, and many private and public employers treat employees who are in such partnerships as entitled to the same rights as married employees. But they have done this to rectify the injustice created by same-sex couples' inability to legally marry. Once the marriage ban in New York State is lifted, domestic-partner couples, both gay and straight, will risk losing access to health care and other benefits if their employers treat marriage as the only ticket for entitlement to these benefits, which are increasingly expensive.

Our phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from well-meaning relatives and friends who want to "save the date" for our wedding once it's legal. It's been hard to break it to them that we don't plan on marrying, though we are glad that many of our friends can and will.

What's difficult to explain is that for some lesbians and gay men, having our relationships sanctioned and regulated by the state is hardly something to celebrate. It was only a few years ago that we were criminals in the eyes of the law simply because of whom we loved. As strangers to marriage for so long, we've created loving and committed forms of family, care and attachment that far exceed, and often improve on, the narrow legal definition of marriage. Many of us are not ready to abandon those nonmarital ways of loving once we can legally marry.

Of course, lots of same-sex couples will want to marry as soon as they are allowed to, and we will congratulate them when they do even if we ourselves choose not to. But we shouldn't be forced to marry to keep the benefits we now have, to earn and keep the respect of our friends and family, and to be seen as good citizens.

Katherine M. Franke is a professor of law and the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School.







Ankara found itself in a political deadlock as courts ruled to keep two elected opposition deputies in jail after vetoing an elected Kurdish activist's right to be a member of the Turkish Parliament.

An Istanbul court said despite being elected to Parliament in the June 12 elections, professor of medicine Mehmet Haberal and renowned journalist Mustafa Balbay should not be let out to take their oath in order to become an MP. Both are under arrest for nearly two years with accusations of being a member of an organization, namely Ergenekon, to conspire against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or the AK Parti. Both were elected from the lists of the main opposition the Republican People's Party, or CHP.

The CHP central committee convened in Ankara right after the ruling and reacted strongly.

In Diyarbakır, there was a meeting of the fellow deputies of Hatip Dicle, who also were elected while kept under arrest again for nearly two years with accusations of being members of Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, a front organization of the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Dicle was elected as an independent deputy, but was backed by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which shares the same grassroots as the PKK, in order to bypass a 10 percent election threshold defended by the AK Parti government.

The decision in Diyarbakır was that, if the veto of Turkey's Supreme Election Board, or YSK, on Dicle was not lifted, then the other 35 would not join the Parliament, hopefully next week. Actually six of the 35 are still in jail, because of similar KCK reasons and their fates might look like those of Haberal and Balbay.

There was one condition of the forum in Diyarbakır for revising their boycott decision: If Oya Eronat, the AK Parti candidate who was announced to fill the gap created by Dicle, withdrew from Parliament, then they would consider revising their decision.

Then it was time for the AK Parti to react in Ankara. They ruled out a CHP proposal to change the law for elected deputies to be MPs, which was similar to what the AK Parti and CHP carried out together in 2002 to allow Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to be elected.

The reaction of Bekir Bozdağ, an AK Parti spokesman, was that the cases of Erdoğan and Dicle were different and there is not much to do in legislative terms. It was more or less obvious that the AK Parti would try to carry on with business as usual and using its dominating presence in Parliament will continue the proceedings as if nothing big has happened.

That statement further thickened the political atmosphere of Ankara.

The Turkish capital is looking to find a way out, but the situation which is closely linked with the Kurdish issue and the legislative work for a new and upgraded constitution, is not promising for the time being.

Yet, there is still room for hope and almost everyone in Ankara is anticipating Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's return from his post-election vacation.





Short of having my own words on this extraordinary profile, allow me to refer to an open source narrative of the recipe for remarkable political success. Please note, none of the words below belong to this columnist:

"He and his followers reorganized a disintegrating party as a mass movement and won financial backing from business leaders…

"He promised the people what they wanted and needed to hear, especially addressing people who were tired of their poor quality of life. He promised to make their country proud again. He promised to restore the nation's honor…

"His party's populist orientation was little more than a ploy to attract working class support. In fact, he was fiercely right-wing and he saw his party as a vehicle to reach his political ends…

"He was arrested and spent time in jail before being released a few months later…

"As opposed to his political movement's former strategies, he decided to seize power constitutionally rather than by force…

"He had a mesmerizing oratorical career. His emotional delivery of impromptu speeches always captivated his audience. Party meetings attracted thousands of supporters eager to hear the young, forceful and hypnotic leader. His speeches, often based on the idea of the promotion of popular welfare, electrified the audience with his masterful demagoguery…

"His propaganda captured the imagination of a disillusioned population and gave them fresh hope… An image had been created of a powerful party with strong leadership… The movement offered something for everyone…

"The rise of his party was achieved over an incredibly short period of time… His party had devised an electoral strategy to win the poorer masses and white-collar workers, people in smaller towns, which produced a landslide victory… He won support primarily from the lower middle class and peasantry. These voters were strongly nationalistic in their political views and firm in their religious beliefs…

"His party had now begun drawing thousands of new members many of whom were the victims of hyperinflation from previous administrations… As the economy improved popular support for his regime became strong, and a cult of leader worship was propagated by his capable propagandists...

"With an improving economy he claimed credit and consolidated power, having democratically succeeded in eliminating challenges from other political parties and government institutions…

"He extended the economic sphere although the property and profits of capitalists were protected…

"His political principles included 'Be proud but not arrogant.' He demanded of party members the greatest devotion… He wanted an ideological conquest of the nation…

"He began to think that conceivably the party and state is one and the same thing… He believed in the idea that laws promulgated by the government can depart from the Constitution…

"Under his rule the police suppressed much of his party's opposition. A powerful police force set about arresting political opponents. The destruction of rival political parties and the liquidation of dissent were visible themes under his rule…

"His Phase III was characterized by rapid, bloodless diplomatic and military strokes to win applause at home while liquidating opposition elements in the military…

"He had the idea of uniting the prime ministry and presidency…

"Finally, he rammed through constitutional changes, and no significant opposition emerged…"

That's the narrative. Why did I compile facts, commentary and analyses from open sources everyone has access to? Extremely bored of Turkish politics and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, I merely wanted to change the subject and publish an altogether irrelevant text on German politics in the 1930s and the German leader of the time






There are two fundamental principles that should be respected "out of our love for democracy." One is the supremacy of law, in the absence of which there can be no democracy and thus is one of the main pillars of democratic governance. The other is the will of the nation on which the game of democracy is indeed constructed. Which is supreme? Is it possible to place the will of the nation in front of the fundamental principle of supremacy of law? Or, is it possible to give way to the supremacy of law because the majority of the people preferred illegality to legality; wanting to take justice into its own hands?

Obviously, in a democracy, the supremacy of law is supreme even to the national will, as long as the national will does not legislate amendments to the law to reflect its preferences. It may sound like the famous chicken and the egg problem, but that's the way it is. The fundamental principle is that until amended by parliament –the organ exercising legislative power as representative of the national will – laws are binding to all citizens irrespective of who or what they are in the society.

As George Orwell put it skillfully in his famous Animal Farm, however, "some animals are more equal than others," and they enjoy immunity and thus temporarily enjoy the luxury of being above most articles of the Penal Code of the country. But, even those privileged more equals cannot escape for ever – at least theoretically – and when their "more equal" status, being parliamentary duty, ends they are stripped of the immunity shield granted to them.

Turkey was plunged into a very unfortunate representation or indeed democracy problem with a Higher Electoral Board decision cancelling as "null and void," the election of Hatip Dicle as an independent Diyarbakır deputy on the grounds he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for abetting separatist terrorists under the anti-terrorism act. His sentence was finalized by the Court of Appeals. Court decisions should of course be respected by everyone, yet they can be criticized. Dicle should have been prevented from running in the elections and if that was not achieved, the vote of the people sending him to parliament should have been respected.

When was the sentencing finalized by the Court of Appeals? On March 22, months before the June 12 election and more than two months before the finalization of the candidate list. Should the electoral board consider that verdict and under the constitutional article barring people sentenced under the anti-terrorism act from running for parliament reject such a candidacy application? Obviously yes.

Particularly, if one of the top judges of the Supreme Electoral Board was as well one of the Court of Appeals judges that upheld the sentence delivered against Dicle on March 22, can the electoral board come up with the claim it was not notified of the verdict? Why did Dicle and his lawyers hide the verdict? It is as if Dicle and the judge – who was among the judges who upheld Dicle's sentencing and who remained silent on Dicle's criminal record until he was elected and the issue became a national controversy because of a newspaper report pointing at the oddity – collaborated in an incredible plot to land the country into a crisis. What would happen now if the Kurdish independent deputies went ahead with their plans of boycotting parliament?

It is clear this country needs a brand new and democratic constitution devoid of such oddities. At least this country must start seriously considering restricting the scope of parliamentary immunity for common crimes and enhancing it for the so-called political crimes. After all, it is indeed difficult to accommodate the concept of an "advanced democracy" with people who advanced in politics with a Machiavellian opportunism, assuming democracy is a train car that "when you come to your stop, you get off.





The economy is what lays behind the resounding election success of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, say many respected analysts. As the narrative goes, the AKP presided over an era of stability: Annual inflation of 65 percent in November 2002 was pulled down to 7.2 percent as of May, for example. Or, nominal interest rates fell from as high as 70 percent to just above 10 percent. The economy grew robustly, as displayed in 2010's stellar growth rate of 8.9 percent.

It should come as no surprise that in his election campaign, PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan focused on the economy. But then, why did opposition parties also base their campaigns on the same economy? Because the performance outlined above came at a price that has been paid by some sections of the society, in the form of chronic unemployment, for example. Furthermore, it looks increasingly likely that a much bigger price will be paid by all.

On this darker side of the coin, lies booming debt that manifests itself in a current account deficit of $63.4 billion making Turkey a net debtor to the rest of the world. In a June 20 statement, the banking regulator said the ratio of household debt to household assets stood at 35.1 percent as of April, up from 29.6 percent at the end of 2009. The ratio of personal loans to bank deposits, which was at 48 percent before the global crisis hit, has increased to 54 percent, surpassing 200 billion Turkish Liras.

The overall picture is one that tells of an economy growing on cheap foreign credit. And that picture, sadly, shows the AKP's "economic miracle" was not about solving the structural problems of the economy. Because Turkey has been here in the previous crises of 2001, 1994 and earlier.

Then, what the AKP did was to "ride the wave" of a favorable business cycle, as Turkey recovered from the 2001 crisis through brutal austerity imposed by the previous coalition government. But AKP was also "lucky" in that it came to power during an extremely favorable period in the global economy, a time which many call as the Great Moderation. This era was characterized with the growth of emerging economies, with China at the fore: Suppressing domestic demand and wages, these economies were able to attract huge amounts of foreign investment as they became the new manufacturing and service hubs of the world as globalization reached its peak.

And their unrivaled competitiveness has created what is called imported disinflation. "Tumbling ... prices helped keep down the overall inflation average - this imported disinflation, courtesy of China ... did wonders for living standards," said Allister Heath, in a November 2010 column for City A.M.

In a June 2011 study, economists Jean Bartheelemy and Guillaume Cleaud calculated that "the contribution of the imbalanced development of international trade on euro area inflation" has been minus 0.7 percentage point on average. They focus on the eurozone, but what they say also applies to Turkey: "A country with an increasing propensity to consume foreign goods rather than domestic ones undergoes deflationary pressures due to lower demand for its domestic goods." ("Global Imbalances and Imported Disinflation in the Euro Area.")

As the "Great Moderation" comes to an end, with inflation showing its ugly face in emerging economies again, Turkey awaits a "correction" that would make foreign currency more expensive. And the Turkish private sector is looking into the abyss with a foreign debt load of $148 billion.





I no longer am angry at the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, or criticize the judiciary for those decisions that are different than each other. I have given up. You all see the turmoil we are experiencing now.

The YSK makes a decision before the elections and tells the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, candidates they are not eligible for candidacy. Afterwards, when reactions emerge, they create a weird excuse and revoke their decision. When you ask them, they say both decisions are correct according to laws currently valid. "Do not get angry at us, go and change the laws," they say. I take a look and they are right.

Then I turn to the courts on the issue of releasing people who have won elections and the right to become a deputy while they were under arrest. Some judges make different decisions based on different grounds. Some others interpret the same laws in a different way or base them on very interesting grounds to reach yet much different decisions. All are based on laws. And, this way we put ourselves in dire straits. The Gordian knot comes from here. Old laws and old minds. As long as both the laws and the minds that interpret the laws do not change, we will not be able to get out of this turmoil.

In the past, such laws have been made in the name of fighting terror; and we have all been so brainwashed we have confined ourselves. We have woven a cobweb and have tied ourselves into the web. We have fallen into the trap with our own efforts. Starting from the Constitution, the day we change these laws and our stance toward the Kurdish issue, we would be out of the woods. Otherwise, we would fall into another trap, even if we climb out of one.

We should see this fact and roll up our sleeves. We should know the chant, "This is Turkey, there is no way out of here!" does not get us anywhere. Let us not make Turkey hell for our Kurdish origin citizens. If we do this, they will not stay idle either.

Öcalan should hold BDP in the parliament

The general approach in the BDP is that as long as Hatip Dicle does not enter parliament, they will not participate in the parliament sessions. Also Ahmet Türk has said the streets would turn into a fire ball.

I understand the frustration and anger of the BDP, but I completely disagree boycotting the parliament and the threat of stirring up the streets. The people of the Southeast have elected them for a mission. They have sent them to parliament to advocate their political rights and solve the problem. Not for them to fight and put on a show. If they do not enter parliament, the remaining option is only fight and battle. That option leads nowhere, even they themselves know it. No, the BDP should enter parliament and should not stir up the streets. Not anybody but Abdullah Öcalan is able to calm down the reaction in the BDP. He should show the road of commonsense to them in this issue.

Only Erdoğan can untangle this knot

You are probably seeing very clearly the turmoil we are experiencing. YSK has a say but the judiciary has a completely different approach. I cannot blame them. Such a cobweb has been woven for years that it has become impossible to deal with the situation.

Somebody has to cut, rip the Gordian knot. Now, I am asking all of my readers. Which political leader can solve the Kurdish issue and make the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, come down from the mountains? Let us not fool each other. More importantly, let us leave aside the pro-government and pro-opposition accusations and look for a serious solution.

Who do you think, anybody but Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with a 50 percent victory in the elections, can handle this burden? Who, but Erdoğan can persuade this society to agree to sacrifices in order to make the PKK come down from the mountains? Who can, but Erdoğan, demonstrate such courage?

I think no other leader besides Erdoğan has such a power. Just so, he really sets his mind to the issue, adopts a solution and clarifies what he understands from the Kurdish issue.

I have recently developed some doubts on the issue. In the first years, there was an Erdoğan with a different discourse, addressing us. Because it was only the first steps that were taken, the issue was not examined in depth. Not many questions were asked. He was the leader who was demonstrating the boldest and the most realistic stance. He made an important portion of both the Kurds and the Turks happy.

Especially when he started the famous Kurdish Initiative, hopes in the society skyrocketed. But, unfortunately, he did not or could not resist more against reactions. He stepped back in order not to let the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, snatch its votes. The elections are over; he won the votes and now it is time to act.

But there are doubts. Especially his television interviews during the election campaign, his town square rallies and his battering approach against the BDP almost made the former Erdoğan more preferable. There was a different Erdoğan facing us. There was an impression as if what Erdoğan held in his mind as the Kurdish issue and what was being spoken in the region as the Kurdish issue were different from each other. For Erdoğan, this issue stemmed from individual needs and expectations of Kurdish origin citizens and once they were met, everything would be on the right track.

The Kurdish issue that is being spoken in the region is the question of an amnesty for the PKK, Öcalan's upgrading to a house arrest, the identity problem, education in mother tongue and being allowed to self-govern.

I might be wrong, but my concerns are still valid.

Erdoğan will first handle the constitution and simultaneously the Kurdish issue. There is no other way out of this. What is expected now of the prime minister is for him to identify the real Kurdish problem and act immediately.

If he cannot succeed with this in the next term, Turkey will again struggle with terrorism, blood will be shed and its future will be blocked.

There will not be any 2023 projects and other efforts exerted for so many years.

Note: While we are going through such important days, I ask permission from you to take a break for some time. While there is so much turmoil in politics, it is a huge mistake to take a break; but I have to. I'm not going on vacation. I will surrender myself to the doctors to solve a health issue. I will not be able to write during that time. I do not know how long that would be. I'm sure you will excuse me. Health is above all. We will meet again soon. I want you to know I will miss all of you. Just don't omit your prayers.





As someone who wrote about the Turkish model and its relevant democratization in the Arab world more than five years ago, it is frustrating to see the evolution of the debate on the issue. It seems that the concept has not been used in terms of its content and their implications. Rather it has been used in a utilitarian way by all the relevant parties.

The U.S. administrations have used it this way since the end of the Cold War. First, it was the Clinton administration right after the end of the collapse of the Soviet Union that talked about the "Turkish model" in the context of the Central Asian and Caucasus states. Then the issue for the U.S. was to encourage these newly independent countries to choose the secular Turkish model as opposed to Iranian theocracy. After that, came the Bush administration. This time the context was post-9/11 era and the "war on terrorism". In that context, Turkey was made the model for reconciliation between Islam and democracy, an example of "moderate Islam," much to the dismay of seculars in Turkey.

Now in the wake of Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, one hears references to the Turkish model as regards to civil-military relations. What is meant by it is to manage the transition in these countries under the watchdog of their militaries: A model that seems to be appealing to the seculars in these Arab countries, who have increasingly become worrisome about prospects of Islamists winning the elections.

In fact, since the early 2000s the so-called Turkish model has been discussed in the Arab world in a utilitarian fashion. Both the Islamists and the secular leftists and liberal opposition made references to the aspects of the Turkish model they liked. Even the coming of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in power in 2002 was interpreted differently by these groups. For the Islamists, it demonstrated the failure of secularism or, at best, attest to their commitment to democracy. For seculars, on the other hand, coming of power of the AKP demonstrated the possibility of integrating Islamists into a democratic system.

The discussion in Turkey has also presented utilitarian use. In fact, there has been a discussion on the content of the Turkish model itself as polarized political positions in Turkey highlighted its different aspects.

In this momentous period of transformations in the Arab world, a more in-depth and nuanced discussion of Turkish experience in political and economic transformation is needed. Such a discussion would be extremely relevant to what is going on in the region particularly if it focuses on its successes as well as its failures.






The remarkable thing about the Turkish election result is not that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won but the unanimity in the international press that it would not be good for Turkish democracy if they gained 330 seats or more in the Turkish parliament. In the event, half the votes only resulted in 326 seats, falling short of the 330 seats needed to change the constitution with a referendum and the 367 seats which would have made it possible for the government to change the constitution alone.

The other common denominator was the fear that an overwhelming victory would reinforce what the Financial Times called the AKP's "unsettling authoritarian tendencies". This was demonstrated when The Economist recommended that Turks voted for the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, to put a brake on Erdoğan's autocratic style of government.

The reaction was not long coming. Erdoğan blasted The Economist for being part of "a global gang" which took its orders from Israel, and for good measure blasted the CHP's leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for also being "a project of international gangs". The Wall Street Journal in turn accused Erdoğan of "reviving the crackpot anti-Semitic media theories of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad".

In a report published five days before the election, the Pew Research Center confirmed the reasons for Erdoğan's success. Some 49 percent of the Turks interviewed were upbeat about the economy as opposed to 14 percent in 2002 (when the AKP was first elected) and 46 percent in 2007 (the second election). In addition, 62 percent expressed confidence that Erdoğan would do the right thing in world affairs.

The AKP government's foreign policy orientation was clearly displayed in Erdoğan's victory speech when he declared: "Today Sarajevo won as much as Istanbul, Beirut won as much as Izmir, Damascus won as much as Ankara, Ramallah, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza won as much as Diyarbakır. Today, the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans and Europe won as much as Turkey." ´

However, the exercise of Turkey's "soft power" and its policy of "zero problems with neighbors" have already met their first setbacks in Libya and Syria, and Erdoğan has been forced to distance himself from Bashar al-Assad's savage repression. A greater challenge lies with the growing unrest in Turkey's southeast and Kurdish demands for regional autonomy, which will not diminish now that the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has almost doubled its number of seats in the Turkish parliament.

The main stumbling block to Turkey's European Union accession prospects is Cyprus. To date only limited progress has been made in the current negotiations and the core issues of property, territory and the Turkish settlers remain to be broached. At a meeting of the European Parliament's Friends of Turkey at the end of March Andrew Duff stated Turkey would be making "a profound and historic strategic mistake" if it put Cyprus before the EU. But the onus now lies on Turkey – and in particular Erdoğan – to take the necessary steps to end the impasse.

The balance of power has changed, as Erdoğan underlined in Strasbourg in April. Turkey is no longer the supplicant at the gates, but Turkey needs Europe as much as Europe needs Turkey. Nevertheless, the Pew Research Center's survey points out that only 17 percent of Turks believe their country should look to Europe in the future, whereas 25 percent look to the Middle East. Some 37 percent believe that both regions are equally important.

Columnist Semih İdiz recently mooted the notion that Ankara's relations with Europe should be based more on economic self-interest than integration, and called for the establishment of a new "modus vivendi" and a new narrative between Turkey and Europe.

Now that a number of European and Turkish politicians are no longer laboring under the illusion of Turkish EU membership, this might be an opportune moment to reassess the situation.

*Morten Messerschmidt, MEP, and Robert Ellis are the chairman and advisor to the

Turkey Assessment Group in the European Parliament.








It's now official: the PPP and the PML-N have returned to the zero-sum view of politics they shared in the 1990s. While the PML-N has been especially critical of the PPP since the Abbottabad incident, it has upped the ante during the Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) election campaign, in public speeches against the PPP's corruption and its defence of the security establishment. In the cacophony of accusations, very little has been heard from the PML-N about the problems of the people of AJK. The PPP has responded with equal fury. President Zardari has personally come onboard to criticise Nawaz for his attempts to "divide the army and pit the government against it." He has called his rival "Maulvi Nawaz Sharif". In response, Chaudhry Nisar has called Zardari an "army spokesman," while clarifying that the PML-N respects the armed forces and is only against the few generals who have maimed the institution's name.

There is no doubt that Zardari should not be the one to defend the PPP against Nawaz's onslaught. This is an insult to the chair of the president, which is a symbol of the federation's unity. It also brings into focus Zardari's lack of respect for the court ruling against using the platform of president to work for partisan political purposes. It is also unbecoming of the president to publically defend the military against allegations. As for the PML-N, their claim of being engaged in 'principled politics' rings somewhat hollow and there are several indications that the Sharifs are in the business of politics to win. In the last days of the Musharraf regime, the happy coincidence of smart politics and principles helped the Sharifs ride a wave of populist support back into power. By opposing a deeply disliked Musharraf and supporting an intensely popular chief justice, they succeeded in becoming heroes while playing politics. But once in power, the 'reality check' of office always sounds its knell. Even today, much of the PML-N's criticism of the PPP is valid also for the Punjab government: an autocratic leader; fiscal mismanagement; inability to provide basic services, rampant crime; and so on. The PML-N, therefore, may also want to look within before it takes digs at the PPP, even if much of the criticism may be well deserved. The public is by now wearily familiar with both parties' bags of tricks. It may be time to embrace maturity at a moment of great threat to the state itself. As the third transition to democracy draws closer to its end, our leaders must not forget that what the people have given them, the people can take away – unless they put the peoples' concerns above their own interests.







Just how dangerous are the waters we are treading? The struggle to keep our heads above the surface seems to be growing tougher by the day. We learn now that the enemy may have infiltrated deep into the core of our institutions, weakening them from within - as termites do when they eat into the woodwork of strong structures. The arrest in May of Brigadier Ali Khan, whose links with the banned Hizb-ut-Tehrir (HT) are said to have been established, has been followed by a shocking confirmation by the Inter Services Public Relations that four unnamed serving majors have also been held for interrogation. The suspicion is that they are linked to the same organisation. The ISPR spokesman has been rather brave in admitting that loopholes may have played a role in the PNS Mehran incident and that other acts of terrorism need to be examined in greater detail. Corrections can only be made when faults are admitted. The failure to own up to shortcomings in the past has contributed to the problems we face now. We do not know how many personnel in uniform the HT may have recruited over the years. It may also have picked up individuals in other places - including bureaucrats, well-placed professionals, and others in positions of some importance. The luring over to its ranks of powerful members of society in various countries has long been the hallmark of the group.

From Pakistan's perspective, reports that the country has been a key focus of HT activities since 1999 – given its acquisition at the time of nuclear arms – are especially alarming. The implications are appalling – all the more so if there exists support for the group within the army. A report in this newspaper speaks of a possible HT-led coup attempt and suggests that the detained officers are being questioned along these lines. It seems we need to take a very hard look at how extremists operate. The allegations that Brigadier Ali Khan was held for criticising the military during a review of the Abbottabad raid do not sound convincing. We need an in-depth inquiry into the dramatic chain of events that has unfolded, and also an examination of why the HT, banned in 2004, has been able to continue operations - using Pakistan, it would seem, as a key base from where to stage its struggle and spread its message.







As a nation, we have come to live with death. Death never seems to be far away, and unless large numbers are involved, tends to go virtually unnoticed. Yet the relentless, insidious killings we see almost every day weaken us terribly, leaving wounds from which blood flows constantly. The attack by gunmen on a bus carrying 30 pilgrims who were passing through Quetta on their way to Taftan in Iran falls in this category. Four were killed, 11 injured. The death toll could rise still further.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Was it sectarian in nature, like other attacks in Balochistan? Was it ethnic? We simply do not know. And the failure to find answers to these pressing questions adds to our burdens. It makes it harder to determine, even in theory, how to set things right and how we can do more to keep lives safe – regardless of whose lives they are. What is clear, however, is that Balochistan is a province spiralling downwards rapidly into an abyss of chaos and senseless violence. The problem is rooted in the political realities of that province, but the situation has to be salvaged. Otherwise we may find ourselves no longer in a position to bring matters under control and to give the people of this province the peaceful existence that is their right. The basic security of life must be restored and the constant killings that make headlines must be brought to a halt. Perhaps our leaders, the government and the opposition, can take some time off from making personal attacks on each other and devote some of their attention to this issue.









Never a dull moment in the Islamic Republic. Pakistani politics, always interesting, is now getting positively exciting. But this, instead of leading the regular doom-and-gloom brigade into more depression, should be cause for come cheer. The disorder under the heavens it portrays could be the harbinger of glad tidings.

Pakistan's problem is a truly democratic transition. In all our history not one democratic government has been able to complete its term and hand over the torch of responsibility to another popularly-elected government. It just might happen this time if, with all its shortcomings, the present dispensation holds and we safely come up to the next elections. It won't be the magical cure to end power and other shortages, or show us the outline of the promised kingdom of our dreams, but it will be a crucial step in the right direction.

So patience and a little forbearance, and the fervent prayer that we don't wreck the national train in the meantime. Just last year media jihadis, their deadly fervour never to be underestimated, were giving one deadline after another about imminent change at the top. Now, Allah be praised, even the foam around their mouths has dried up, their frustration being a sight to behold.

The heating up of the national atmosphere thus should cause us no great distress. This should be as it is, the battle-lines drawn sharper and national discourse developing along clearer lines. As this heat grows, and it should, the greater the pressure on all political parties to spell out their positions on important issues.

If there is one national problem, the severest of all, it is empty rhetoric. We could do with a bit more of substance in our national conversation. So let us take heart from the present clamour and not be dismayed by it.

One fallacy, however, is easily dismissed. On present evidence, there aren't going to be early elections, no one being in a position to force this issue. So it is a bit of a long wait...between now and the end of 2012, which too should be counted a blessing – enough time for necessary homework. Any party relying only on the drumbeats of hollow rhetoric may be setting itself up for huge disappointment. So this is perhaps a cue for comrades to get cracking. No time to waste.

But the season of one exercise should now definitely be over...that of army-bashing. We've had enough of it, in buckets and with spades. There has been some cynical and sadistic pleasure in the exercise, as was bound to happen when a holy sanctum, long immune to any form of criticism or accountability, was caught all of a sudden in the glare of unwelcome and harsh publicity. But all of us having cast our stones, in fact hurled them with all our might, we could now do with some rest to our arms.

After all, this is our army and we don't have the luxury of creating a new one. Even when nations lose wars and suffer catastrophic defeats, they don't destroy their armies but strengthen them anew.

Our national ills are many but they weren't all invented by the army. The army did not write the Objectives Resolution. It did not linger over the writing of our first constitution. Our national leadership, right from Jinnah onwards, were predisposed to seeking alliances with the United States. This did not happen because of the army, despite the army too being inclined in the same direction. The cry of Islam in danger, which we have been shouting from the housetops ever since the founding of Pakistan, was not devised by General Headquarters.

Jinnah took no orders from the army and it was Jinnah who said that Urdu should be the national language, causing anger and riots in East Pakistan. One can go on with this list.

Yes, the army is the author of many of our sorrows but not the sole author. Elements of the governing class with a say in determining the course of national elements have been equally responsible. If the army's outlook needs to be reformed – and there's no question of this – so does the outlook of the rest of us, all of us having made our little contributions to the cesspool of confusion which the Islamic Republic, in all its bewildering manifestations, has become. So the task and agenda of reform are wider than we care to think.

Gen Musharraf wanted it otherwise, but the present army command saw to it that the 2008 elections were free and fair. In all the army-bashing which seems to have become the flavour of the season this should not be forgotten.

The return to professionalism, the eschewing of overt political games (although the same, alas, cannot be said of covert games), and the operations in Swat and South Waziristan are not small achievements. If the army continues to call the shots on important issues it may partly be due to conscious design but to a great extent because of political inadequacy.

No one, after all, will accuse Yousuf Raza Gilani of being a Tayyip Erdogan. With a chief executive like him, with his own sense of priorities and his own brand of humour – and let no one say that the prime minister is a man without humour – any general, even the most vapid, would be inclined to spread his wings.

So we should keep things in perspective. Pakistan's multifarious ills will not be cured in a day. The army's outlook will not change overnight. If we have taken a long time to nurture our distresses, it will take some time to remove the various cobwebs clogging the national mind. That is, if we are at all lucky in this undertaking – there being equal chances, if not more, that we will remain beset by the ideological claptrap which has had such an enduring grip on our national thinking.

There may have been bitterness and anger in the statement issued after the last Corps Commanders' Conference but didn't it also call upon the people of North Waziristan not to allow foreigners to make their territory a base for operations against Pakistan? This is a departure from the Hamid Gul and Aslam Beg schools of ideological thought, the jihadi theology we should finally be consigning to the trashcan of history. Shouldn't we welcome it? And shouldn't we welcome the fact that the army is doing this on its own instead of under American suggestion or dictation?

The strangest thing of all is that this army command, after all the bowing and scraping of the Musharraf years, is finally standing up to the Americans and trying to work out new rules of engagement with them. And yet this very command is coming under harsh criticism from the very elements whose foremost mantra is national dignity and honour and national sovereignty.

There is no winning this game: being attacked for subservience and then coming under more attack for showing a rare streak of independence. There is no suiting some tastes.

If the army is going after a banned religious outfit like the Hizb-ut-Tehrir what is there to object about it? All of us are entitled to our religious beliefs but there should be no place in the army for an outfit which subscribes, as the Hizb does, to a form of the caliphate.

Soldiers are bound by their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of Pakistan. If they subscribe to something else, they can create their own salvation army or erect some other temple to their beliefs but they should leave the army alone. So it is not a little surprising to find politicians – mercifully, not too many – cavilling at the arrest of some Hizb-inclined officers.

There is much to set right in the army. But then there is much to set right in the nation. If the army, at long last, is moving in the right direction it deserves our support, instead of becoming an object of reflexive a mark, I suppose, of some higher kind of patriotism.









As the two main political parties of Pakistan sharpen their teeth, dulled by greed and mutual bargaining, let it be said once again that it is too late to fool people; there have been noora kushtis one too many for people to take the current reciprocal diatribes as anything but false. The lions of Punjab and Sindh may rest assured that they might be the only contenders in the ring, but those who hopelessly watch them cannot take their fight seriously. If the gallery is full, it is not because people are genuinely interested in their rotten politics; it is just because Pakistanis have not lost their hunger for superficial fun.

The performance of Nawaz Sharif, now on his first leg of Azad Kashmir's tour, is so poor that one cannot even be amused. It is as if one is listening to a broken record filled with self-pity, defeatism, self-constructed past glories, repeated apologies to the army ("I am not criticising anyone"), repeated mention of what he thinks he achieved during his previous stints, and helpless pleas to be given a chance once again.

Nothing concrete comes out of these speeches. There is no indication of a policy - whether foreign or domestic - that he intends to implement if he comes into power. There is no indication of how he will tackle problems faced by the country, such as power shortage, poverty, corruption. There is nothing, except empty rhetoric filled with self-pity: my heart aches, my heart aches about Pakistan! Ache it may, but that is not what a politician is supposed to be telling his audience, gathered from here and there in busloads to listen to him.

Pity the nation has nothing but these nauseating faces that have destroyed Pakistan through mismanagement and corruption for as long as one can remember. The ruling party has nothing different to offer. Comfortably enjoying its secure position in the absence of any real opposition, it has no fear from any quarter, at least not until the next general elections when unpredictable results may rock the boat. But until then, all is well. The presidency has a full grip on the party, the parliament, the senate and the sheepish elected members of the two houses. Those who could not stand the corruption and feudal control left. The smoothly oiled machinery is yielding what it was primed for.

The boss is happy as well, despite his little uproar over the May 2nd drama. Actually, the Americans never had it so good: a political setup so fine tuned to the dictates of its wishes that it does not even need to send its emissaries on urgent missions; a military fully supportive of the idea of a long-term American presence in the region. Thus configured, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is rolling along at full speed toward its disastrous future: with every passing day adding to the miseries of its teaming millions, with no plan to curb the increasing power deficit, hunger, lack of educational and health facilities, and poverty. Its politicians, with scant self-respect, sitting in the driver's seat facing backwards, the engine rolling on its own on a steep incline, the whole train is destined to fall in some ravine.

Silence is the best thing in these times of strife, but one cannot remain silent when lives are taken out on a regular basis through state violence. When children and women are killed in drone attacks and no one stands up for these devastating violations of Pakistan's sovereignty. What future can there be for a nation for whom all the major decisions are made in another capital?

Pakistan's foreign policy is made in Washington DC; its economic policy is determined in Brussels; even decisions about its educational institutions are made outside the country. All that the ruling party is interested in is an unending supply of lucrative deals and equally unending postings of its own cronies across the country.

There is no ray of hope in this gloomy scenario. Carefully considered, the situation seems to be a direct result of lack of genuine leadership in Pakistan. This has been the case since 1948, a long and barren stretch of time which has shaped the present state of this country and which continues to shape its future. There is not even a process through which a new generation of leaders can come to the forefront. All avenues have been suffocated. The only possibility to salvage the situation is a violent reawakening of masses through desperation, but even that scenario is only remotely possible since masses are struggling to merely survive.

Survival has been made difficult by successive military and civil regimes. The middle class has all but disappeared and there is an increasing gap between those who have and those who do not. The wretched and the poor are dispossessed to such an extent that they do not even have a consciousness of what they are dispossessed of; such is the scale of Pakistan's tragic millions. There is not even a poet left to say, with dismay: this is not the dawn for which we had hoped for, as one from the previous generation was able to say. In the absence of even a poetic protest, one can only hope for miraculous resurrection and awakening, a possibility that keeps one's hopes alive to some extent, even if it is not grounded in any rational consideration.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:








One of my recent articles evoked a response from a childhood friend. He wrote that my "lament is familiar ad nauseum. What's the cure? Meanwhile we continue living in a state of complete denial. The solutions attempted by our so called intelligentsia draw upon the same old faulty myths and paranoid beliefs divorced from all reality and pragmatism".

As he chose to post a public comment on these pages, it is appropriate to answer on the same. Before the present set-up took over, the ministry of industries in the caretaker set-up solicited applications for the post of Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Engineering Development Board (EDB). One of the many applicants was this friend, a mechanical engineer by profession, a voracious reader and go-getter. After various interviews, the final one being with the then minister of industries, the late Salmaan Taseer, he was selected. Before the impending elections, a summary was put before the caretaker prime minister for the notification of his appointment.

The unsigned summary saw Prime Minister Gilani assume office. Bypassing all procedures, he appointed a retired secretary statistics as CEO, EDB. This placement also circumvented the prescribed mandatory age limit and the requirement of being an engineer. For the demoralised friend, who had since been held up and robbed thrice in Karachi, this was the last straw. He packed up and went to Canada.

A couple of days after he landed, I asked him how he was doing. He replied, "No bomb-explosions, no hold-ups and no loadshedding". Today the EDB is headed by a school mate, an engineer but far more important, a former jail-mate of the leading duo. Individual reactions, as that of my friend, to injustice and wrongs perpetuate the same. It was a victory for the prevalent system, a gain for his adopted land, and a loss for this country.

Another friend tried his utmost to make a comeback from the United States. An industrial engineer, CPA, and an MBA, his last assignment was heading Oracle's South Asia and Middle East operations. Giving up the security of an excellent job, he tried everything possible to contribute something here for 10 long years. He too applied for a post advertised by the ministry of information technology. An MP1 post, it paid not even a fraction of what he earned in the US. He comes from a family with relatives at the highest echelons of the political, military, and bureaucratic hierarchy. Being who he is, he went to extra lengths not to propagate the same. After going through the selection rituals, he came to know that the whole process was a farce. A senior bureaucrat (a favourite of the IT minister) had already been vetted for the post.

Undeterred, he kept on trying to make headway. He failed in a system where integrity and professionalism have become unwanted traits. Ultimately he went back, but his heart still lies in Pakistan. The death of his cousin and dear friend Sifwat Ghayur, an officer and gentleman par excellence, in a targeted Peshawar suicide bombing was a devastating blow. The deceased is buried at the feet of his mother. With threats to desecrate the grave, security personnel and an APC guard the same. This is the depth of our regression. What exacerbates the same is the total dearth of effort towards reform. Those who lead us, the placid few, continue to play Chopin even as the ship sinks.

Human capital is crucial in a nation's development. Leaving one's native land is never an easy decision, yet many have taken that agonising step. Economic necessity used to be the lore, yet expatriates earned money and returned to set up businesses here. Today insecurity, injustice, instability, corruption and cronyism fuel lack of motivation and dent nationalism. They are also major contributory factors to the exodus, with none wanting to return. Prone to capital flight, human capital too is flying away.

Indeed, we all know about the malaise that plagues us. Our sin is that we have accepted the same. We keep asking ourselves what the solution to our problems is. But the issues at hand are not so complex as to baffle an ordinary mind. What solution does one need to perform a given task with honesty and responsibility? What enables those who act otherwise to survive and thrive? Those who plunder the country go to extraordinary lengths to "provide" for and protect their kith and kin. On an individual level we seek the best for ourselves. Just imagine the due diligence that goes in tying a nuptial knot or other facets of our personal lives. What makes us elect a known cheat to public office and why do those in positions of power or otherwise bypass everything humane in matters that affect the country or society at large?

An independent election commission is a precondition for fair participative elections. We have a political system that was spawned by the infamous NRO. We allowed it to happen; that was our greatest undoing. The election that culminated in the fox guarding the hen-house had a staggering 37.18 million (45.67 percent) bogus votes out of a total of 81.21 registered ones. This is apart from fake degrees and false asset declarations. Expecting anything else than corruption and cronyism from the resulting entity is, if anything, a fallacy. Monetary and intellectual corruption has been the bane of every society. Our country falters because we have allowed it to triumph.

Legislature is a fundamental component of democracy. How can a parliament lacking the capacity to monitor the executive or influence policies be deemed democratic? A strong opposition signifies a strong political system. With all the political parties sharing power, parliament is left totally devoid of the necessary checks and balances. Our political "opposition" has played, if not more, then at least an equally dubious role in ensuring the present pathetic state of affairs. Another crucial factor, the judiciary, has a constitutional jurisdiction to ensure fundamental rights and hold public officers accountable. In our democracy, the executive has flouted almost every Supreme Court decision.

All signs point to a disastrous continuation even after the next election. The manipulation of the system has been more blatant than ever before; our collective apathy ensures the same. It is only when each and every single one of us thinks of himself as a precipitator of this malaise and works towards undoing the same, that we shall see change. Lament, ad nauseum as it may sound, is an attempt to needle nationalism, evoke empathy, awareness and responsibility; if a shred survives somewhere within us all.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







It was the summer of 2007. My mother came to Islamabad from Karachi for her annual sojourn. She insisted that she wanted to visit her college. It was the year marking her 69thth birthday and the 50 years of her graduation from Government College for Women, Lyallpur. According to her, she spent the best part of her youth in Lyallpur before moving to Punjab University, Lahore, and then eventually to Karachi where she got settled and married my father. She may retreat from her position in social situations once in a while, but in private her nostalgia and a deep sense of belonging to the old name never allows my mother to call Lyallpur by its new name, Faisalabad.

We drove down to Faisalabad one afternoon and went straight to her college. My mother was a little disappointed when she came to know that it happened to be a holiday. But she found a few girls, who lived in the hostel, playing volleyball. They looked excited on meeting an alumnus. My mother shared her being a part of the debating team of the college and bragged about her prize winning speech in the All Punjab Persian Debating Contest.

Seeing strangers in the college premises, a young man approached us and wanted to know what we were doing there. He was a little uneasy with two unknown men roaming about the grounds. My mother told him why she was there and that my friend and I were accompanying her. Then she asked for his introduction. He said he was the gardener. "Oh, it's been too long. But in our times, there was a young man like you who was our gardener. He was a very nice, sober and hardworking man. His name was Khushi Mohammed", my mother recalled. "He died long ago. I am his son," the young man said. He and my mother embraced each other. They stepped away from us and chatted for a while.

On our return from the college, my mother was in a contemplative mood. She had been a teacher all her life. She said, "Khushi Mohammed was our gardener, a good man but uneducated and poor. His son after fifty years is also a gardener. There is nothing wrong in being a gardener. But he told me he is uneducated and also poor like his father was."

The elitist state and the classist society of Pakistan, the institutions, intelligentsia and businesses, perpetually fail to offer an opportunity, a fair chance, a hope and a possibility for the son or daughter of a common Pakistani to improve their lot. Neither can the incomes be equalled nor can everybody in the society acquire the same professional level. But the state is responsible for creating equal opportunities and providing similar fundamental services to all its citizens. The majority of the poor remain poor or become poorer.

The inherent discrimination against the children of the poor and disadvantaged majority in Pakistan gets reflected and ably documented in the report titled 'The State of Pakistan's Children' coming out annually for 15 years. This report is brought out on the basis of facts, figures and systematic analysis by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC). The 2010 report again confirms the dismal state of health, education, juvenile justice, child labour and violence against children. Ratifying international conventions and promulgating progressive constitutional amendments has translated into nothing for the common people of Pakistan. And then we have the gall to be concerned about disillusionment with the state, rising crime and street violence.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris.khalique@







Pakistan is caught today in a web of complex geopolitics and internal strife. Standing between it and total collapse are a smattering of political forces and discipline within the military. If either is undermined, it will be the end.

It is hard to find an overriding reason for the continued US and NATO presence in Afghanistan. If the stated purpose of denying Al-Qaeda a base is taken at face value, it stands partially achieved. The Afghan Taliban are ready to distance themselves from it and a majority of Al-Qaeda-allied militants are no longer in the country.

The death of Osama bin Laden, while symbolic, also signifies attrition in top ranks of the organisation. Its viability as a coherent entity with a unified command structure is seriously in doubt. Yet, the Americans are keen to have a continuing presence in Afghanistan with up to 50,000 troops permanently stationed there.

What this implies is that the war in Afghanistan is unlikely to end soon. While the Taliban led by Mullah Omar are ready to talk, their principle demand of no foreign forces in the country cannot be met if the Americans are determined to remain there. Even President Karzai, who is an American creation, has begun to describe the US-Nato presence in the country as an occupation force.

The Americans have loudly protested this description but essentially do not give much importance to what Karzai says. They have enough levers to pressurise him to sign off on a so-called strategic pact, which would allow the US to have troops permanently in the country. Their real problem are the Taliban, because they would not agree.

If the endgame in Afghanistan were only about bringing the war to an honourable close – for all parties – it would not be so hard to achieve. The Taliban would happily give the US safe exit and agree to accept the new Afghan constitution. They would also accept a minor role in the central government. What they would not agree to is permanent presence of American forces in their country.

This explains the strong US emphasis on degrading the Taliban's fighting ability, to an extent that the remaining rump can agree to the Americans' main demand of permanent military bases. It also is the reason why President Obama, despite intense pressure from domestic public opinion and his own party, has only agreed to withdraw 30,000 troops by next summer and leave nearly 70,000 still in place. The goal of bringing a weakened Taliban to the negotiating table remains in place.

This brings Pakistan into focus. It is fervently believed in Washington that a victory against the Afghan Taliban is not possible unless the Pakistani military joins the battle. This is not surprising, because many of the Afghan groups, elements of Al-Qaeda and their local allies find safe havens in the hilly terrain of the Pakistani-Afghan border. Some are also reported to be in Balochistan.

The US believes that if the Pakistani military is able to evict them from this side and push them across, their forces would be able to finish them off. While the reality may be more complex than this simple equation, the Americans have been pressurising Pakistan to do its part. Using a mixture of inducements—aid and military assistance—and threats—boots on the ground, expansion of drone attacks, plus fiery rhetoric from its politicians and generals—the bullying is on.

It is also understood in Washington that the real resistance is not coming from the ruling political class in Pakistan but the military and its intelligence agencies. President Zardari and his team are considered compliant while Gen Kayani and his commanders seen as obdurate.

The rhetoric coming from the US is thus craftily fashioned to support democracy, which sounds moral and principled, but is actually an endorsement of the submissive political leadership. Its other essential objective is to demonise the stubborn military.

Recent events—some deliberate, others coincidental—have made the US task easier. There is little doubt that while planning the get Osama operation, some consideration in Washington went into its impact on Pakistan. It must not have taken much to infer that major damage would be inflicted on its armed forces and main intelligence agency, the ISI. This probably was seen as a plus.

Then a series of events took place that turned the intelligentsia against the military. The Mehran base attack was demoralising, but Saleem Shehzad's murder, the Kharotabad incident and the Rangers' killing brought the military under intense civil society pressure. Now, with the discovery of some mid-ranking and senior officers involved with militant organisations, the heat is truly on. Never before has the army been under so much sustained media attack and its innards so exposed to public view.

There are also some in the media who have gone beyond attacking the military to scaring everyone of how the Americans will "savage" us if we do not do their bidding. There is now a strong reason to believe, as pointed out by former Indian ambassador M K Bhadrakumar in an article, that the top Pakistani army leadership is the target. The American press has even been putting out stories of a possible "colonels' coup."

While there is every reason to believe that the training of the army is such that its discipline is unlikely to break down, it is a scary possibility. Much as we would like the army to reform and come under greater democratic scrutiny, there is also little doubt that without its strength and discipline, Pakistan cannot survive.

I don't think the US also wants any serious damage to Pakistan or its military because an anarchic country would bring much greater headaches for it and the international community. However, it would certainly want the Pakistani military to do its bidding and is prepared to carry on the brinkmanship of threats and inducements to achieve its objective.

It is important for the political class and the civil society to understand this larger game. We need to have a strong debate about the kind of military we want but within the confines of not harming it as an institution. Abusive language and knee-jerk condemnations are not helpful.

Similarly, there has to be much thinking and discussion, about support or otherwise, for the US objective of a permanent presence in Afghanistan. There is little doubt that Pakistan's role is critical in it, as is recognised by the US, but it is for us to conclude whether it is in our national interest or not.

This is what parliament, the civil society and media should be debating because whatever decision we take has huge repercussions. If we decide to go against the Afghan Taliban it could give a massive fillip to domestic terrorism. If we say no to the US, we risk alienating it and its Western allies.

We are caught between very difficult options, the need is to focus on them, rather than attack one institution or another, and in the process undermine ourselves.








The New York Times, relying on its usual and conveniently anonymous sources who brief selectively and effectively on Pakistan, has reported that General Kayani is "fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden."

What an intriguing concept. Has the army chief any reason to "fight to save" himself from "top generals and junior officers"? Who are these energetic conspirators, one wonders? The notion that "top generals" are somehow influencing majors and captains to encourage them to revolt against their commander is fascinating. Or maybe it's the majors and captains who are pressuring the generals. Taking advice from Elvis and Michael Jackson, perhaps. Anything is possible in the fevered imagination of tastily-briefed reporters. But how do they imagine that these bold plotters will overthrow the army chief and seize command of the army?

Now this doesn't mean to say that officers – and non-commissioned officers and soldiers, as well – are not mightily upset with the way the army is being treated by the United States of America. It appears that some people in Washington are intent on humiliating the army and, for that matter, the entire Pakistani nation, and it would be a natural human reaction for those most affected to feel aggrieved about this.

From the talk-shop on Constitution Avenue to the do-shop in suburban Rawalpindi there is indeed evidence of what the New York Times ecstatically describes as "seething anger", which is understandable. But this doesn't mean to say that the fury is focused on the Chief of Army Staff or even on the international joke who lives and loves in sybaritic splendour in downtown Islamabad.

Some reporters of the New York Times and the Washington Post have tidy, instantly accessible and delectably spicy US sources, never-to-be-named, who feed them with tidbits of disinformation which are based, cleverly and plausibly, on juicy gossip from around the world.

These frisky tipsters are empowered and encouraged by their Washington bosses to talk to reporters. If there were no permission given to do so, there would indeed be a drought of unattributable tittle-tattle. We should bear in mind that leaks to the media are greeted with energetic condemnation and savage reprisals by the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA – when the leaks aren't authorised as a matter of policy. Given official reaction to leakers who have had the courage to provide uncomfortable facts publicly, as distinct from passing on officially embroidered rumours, it would be a very brave American official who dared reveal the truth to the media off the record.

So the anonymous official leakers plant disinformation. They are purveyors of the sort of stuff we like to believe. (Come on, let's be honest with ourselves – we all love scandalous chitter-chatter.) And the genius of such operations is that some of it – just a fraction – a grain, a scrap, a peck on occasions – is pleasingly, attractively, compellingly true. It's what sells the New York Times' pages commenting on Pakistan. And it can influence people. That's what the anonymous 'sources' are told to do; and they are good at carrying out their orders.

It appears that the main targets of government agencies' propaganda are their own and foreign citizens. So the point-people are reporters.

Here's another one of them, saying that "The military has to be understood to be a world unto itself in Pakistan. If you walk onto a military base, if you see how people are housed, if you see the quality of living, the quality of just basic food supplies amongst the military families, you understand that there is a real Catch 22 situation."

I very much doubt that this man – described as "Sebastian Gorka, a military affairs analyst at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracy in Washington who advises the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies, as well as the British military and the United States Special Operations Command" – has walked around a battalion or regimental lines or visited a married quarters' building in Pakistan. (The head of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracy is Mr Clifford May, formerly of the New York Times, the Republican National Committee, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.)

The quality of living on Pakistan Army bases and domestic areas is pretty much the same as in every army in the world, even Mr Gorka's, although it has to be said that some cantonments are a bit basic. There aren't any caviar jars or gold taps in the kitchens.

But Mr Gorka is believed by the people who want to believe him. Just like those who trust the New York Times reporters who write that General Kayani is "fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden."

There is a campaign being mounted against the Pakistan Army and government, and it's proving to be quite effective in stirring up hostility against these institutions. Who are the directors of the Crusade? Just who is stage-managing all this? And why?

The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website is









AMIDST growing suspicion and doubts about US intentions and various moves vis-à-vis Pakistan, President Barack Obama on Wednesday thought it appropriate to telephone President Asif Ali Zardari and take him into confidence on future US policy in Afghanistan. He availed the opportunity to assure the Pakistani President that his country wants to repair the ties with Pakistan on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit.

Pakistan-US ties were passing through a period turbulence and therefore, the move of the American President to do damage control is welcome. However, we are sorry to point out that American policies and actions concerning Pakistan belie verbal assurance that President Obama gave during his cosmetic diplomatic initiative. There are scores of depressing incidents and happenings that understandably generate deep and genuine concern in Pakistan. There is a feeling in Pakistan that the United States indulges day in and day out in arm-twisting of the country and leaves no opportunity to humiliate it and harm its interests. This is amply borne out by the utterly hostile attitude adopted by the Western media that churns out consistently anti-Pakistan propaganda on the basis of leaks by relevant officials in Washington. Apart from drone and missile attacks and questionable activities of CIA operatives in Pakistan, the United States is actively promoting policies that will seriously jeopardize Pakistan's strategic interest. Earlier, Washington entered into a nuclear deal with India and encouraged other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to follow the suit and now it has declared its support for Indian bid to secure membership of the Group. This amounts to legitimizing Indian nuclear programme and that too at a time when the United States and some of its coteries are churning out venom against Pakistan's nuclear programme, which is purely defensive in nature. There are also reasons to believe that hundreds of militants that cross over from Afghanistan to attack villages and posts of law enforcing agencies in Pakistan enjoy support of the occupation forces in Afghanistan. We would, therefore, point out that rhetoric and declaration of pious intentions alone will not change the situation until and unless the United States changes its policies and posture towards Pakistan because actions speak louder than words.








THE young and vibrant lawmaker Marvi Memon made history on Wednesday by tendering resignation not only from the membership of her party–PML(Q) – but also from her National Assembly seat. Before presenting her resignation to the Speaker, the eloquent lady, who is daughter of equally articulate father Nisar Memon, read out a paper citing reasons that prompted her to say goodbye to the National Assembly, which mainly related to failure of the Government on different accounts.

The way Marvi Memon entered the politics with a mission and carved out a place of respect and prominence for her should serve as a role model for other young parliamentarians. She has demonstrated remarkable moral courage by sacrificing the remaining period of her National Assembly membership that carried not only prestige but also perks and privileges. Earlier too, she had been raising voices in favour of disadvantaged people – be they Haris of Sindh, quake and flood affected people in AJK and KPK or poverty hit sections in Gilgit-Baltistan. She has been instrumental in creating awareness about rights of people especially women and also went on hunger strike to highlight these issues. Her decision to resign from the NA seat on principles would certainly enhance her respect and prestige in the eyes of the people. But we would point out that mere resignation would not suffice and people expected from her to make concerted efforts to give practical shape to her ideas and ideals. And this can be done by bringing a number of other young parliamentarians and politicians who are feeling uneasy among ranks of old hawks in different political parties where their voices are suppressed or ignored. All of them, irrespective of their political affiliations or parties, should be involved in a process of consultation and a consensus strategy formed to help bring Pakistan out of existing quagmire.








is a tragedy that Mirani Dam, the first mega water project in Turbat district of Makran in Balochistan was completed in 2007 but despite the passage of five years its full benefits could not be accrued. The project was executed for socio economic uplift of the backward areas as it was to boost agriculture, develop fisheries and livestock, help mitigate floods and provide water for domestic use.

Secretary WAPDA in a briefing to Senator Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has stated that the benefits of the project could not be fully utilized as the command area could not be developed. So far 8,000 acres of land has been developed while development in rest of the command area is to be carried out by the Provincial Government to bring a total of 33,000 acres of land under cultivation. It is neglect of the highest order on the part of the Provincial Government. Already there is opposition to the construction of big or small dams while the existing facilities are not being utilized to the optimum level. As a result of this neglect strong resentment is being expressed by the people of the area and they are terming the dam as a major disaster. Some officials and affected people say that the command area will not see the development of irrigated agriculture so long the big land owners do not come forward and utilize their lands for farming. That means that political interests are taking precedence over the national interests as well as the prosperity of the poor masses. One can understand that the priorities of the provincial government are either different or it lacks knowledge and commitment and is focussing on trivial political point scoring rather than paying attention to the development of vast lands for agricultural purposes which could improve the living standard of the masses. We wish the mercurial Chief Minister spare some of his time and pay attention to utmost utilization of scarce water resources including that of Mirani dam, which is on decay because of lethargy and corruption under his administration. He must also realize that the future of the country and the province is linked to preservation of precious water resources and there is dire need to develop dams in Balochistan because plenty of rain water goes waste every year which can be stored and chanelized for productive use.









Those who planned the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai in 2008 were aware that the Mumbai police is widely regarded as being among the most corrupt in the world. Although all levels of the force are routinely said to accept money in exchange for official favours,a distinction has to be made between juniors and seniors. Harm gets done to the national interest only when the higher rungs of the police become corrupt, which is the case in Mumbai. Like their counterparts in Colombia or Mexico, many of whom are on the payroll of the narco mafia, too many top policemen in Mumbai are reported to think nothing of accepting money and other gifts from the underworld, including that section which funds and facilitates terror attacks. Just as corruption in the force has helped narco traffickers to use Colombia and Mexico as safe havens for their operations, terror networks in India use their corrupt contacts in the Mumbai police to facilitate their

There is a difference between corruption that causes harm to national security and other types of graft. In an economy and a society at the stage that India is in, it is utopian to visualize a situation when corruption will disappear the way that it has in Finland, Sweden or Norway ( but certainly not in Spain, Italy or France, in each of which large pools of corrupt officials thrive, including at the highest levels). Hence, the war on corruption must principally target (1) the higher levels of the administrative structure and (2) those forms of graft that immediately impact national security. In the case of Mumbai,this is represented by the senior officers of the police force who accept cash from narco traffickers, even though they are aware that many of them are also associated with terrorist networks operating in India and overseas. Indeed, narcotics and terror go hand-in-hand in South Asia, as the results of the poppy trade in Afghanistan have made clear.

In the case of 26/11, key sources within the security establishment say that at least two senior police officers of Maharashtra state ( of which Mumbai is the capital) have been in the pay of a Dubai-based operator since the middle of the 1990s. They say that this is the reason why the Mumbai accomplices of the 26/11 plotters have escaped detection. Instructions were given "from the top to ignore any possible local leads to the conspiracy". Even in the identification of the external players, almost all the detective work was done by the FBI, with the Indian authorities playing second fiddle. In particular,the grave security lapses by the Mumbai police that allowed the 26/11 terrorists to continue on their destructive path for three days has yet to be addressed. Not a single top official – including those guilty of clear dereliction of duty and worse - has been cashiered. Instead, a few have been promoted and all shielded. The reason behind this is the influence that a certain businessman based in Karachi has over key politicians in the central and state level. This operator - who may be regarded as a Mohajir, in view of the fact that he has exchanged his Indian passport for Pakistani documents – has more influence over the Mumbai police than Home Secretary G K Pillai, an inoffensive officer who from the goodness of his heart shrinks from administering the harsh punishment needed if wayward officers are to be brought back to the path of rectitude.

Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar - who is the businessman in question - has been known to use unorthodox means to get quality time with his high-level contacts in India. One method is for a contact ( such as a Union Minister) to transit via Dubai on his way to a European destination. By sheer happenstance, and to the delight of the minister, it will be Dawood who gets the seat next to him on the Dubai-Europe flight. Enough time for a detailed discussion on mutual business interests. Other ways include evenings spent together at the hotel rooms of visiting Bollywood starlets,so that the minister can do a few hours of "aerobic exercise" after discussing business matters with Dawood, who is ever a considerate and generous host. Small wonder that his Indian operations are now close to $6 billion in turnover, and $900 million in profits. If the Dawood group is no longer as active in masterminding violent actions in India, it is not because of a police force that they have vast influence over, but because he himself does not want to place is immensely lucrative Indian operations in jeopardy by launching a terror strike that may make it difficult for even his Cabinet-level accomplices to bail him out. That India is enjoying a respite from terror strikes is due not only to the profits being made by those based in Karachi and Dubai who would otherwise be active planning bombings in India, but because of the fact that the US sees India as the only counterweight to China in Asia. Because of this perception, the US authorities have been

immensely helpful in sharing input with their Indian counterparts, except in so far as providing evidence against those in the Pakistan establishment is concerned. Some in India would like to present the UN and the International Court of Justice with evidence against some members of the Pakistan establishment, so that they may be sanctioned and prosecuted as accomplices to terrorism. However, the US side has refused to help India collect evidence against Pakistani officials, even while Washington is helping Delhi to identify and defuse specific threats against the country. Such cooperation is the reason why even a government as incompetent and venal as the UPA is able to ensure relatively few terror attacks in India since the Mumbai attack in 2008.

However, the vulnerability remains. The police in key cities continue to be corrupt, and more than a few senior officers are partners of narco syndicates. The Manmohan Singh government has ensured that the functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) gets kept out of the provisions of the Right to Information Act. The purpose behind this is so that they can continue to use the CBI to blackmail politicians ( by filing corruption cases) or save from prosecution those who are allied to key politicians. Indeed, the Press Club in Delhi is well aware that the real boss of the CBI has been the soft-spoken Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel. A telephone call from Patel has key ministers standing to attention, the reason being that he is the only Congress leader trusted implictly by Sonia Gandhi. The UPA Chairperson has the knack of locating people who are totally loyal to her and who are thereafter looked after by her. An example is a former high official in the PMO, who ensured a couple of years ago that coal blocks got allocated to those friendly to Number Ten ( 10 Janpath, the residence of Sonia Gandhi). This official was smart enough to usually rely on oral orders for allocation, rather than put such commands in writing, and was responsible for most of the key allotments. Now, the entire episode of the allocation of coal mining blocks has become a scandal that has the potential to seriously wound Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The official, of course, has in the meantime moved out of the PMO, although it must be said to his credit that it is loyalty to Number Ten rather than cash that has been the motivation behind his frequent oral and other interventions while at the PMO. He himself is personally clean of financial wrongdoing, unlike many of his brother officers in high positions in the UPA government

It takes a lot of cash to operate in the political system in India, and because the laws are archaic and still reflect the colonial era of a century ago, the system is such that most of the actions ( such as campaign contributions or spending) regarded as normal in the civilised world are outlawed in India. The consequence is that political parties are forced to break the law to function, just as officials are forced into corruption in order to maintain their families. The system needs a complete overhaul so that it reflects the 21st century rather than the 19th.However, to a political and bureaucratic class that has fattened on the colonial-era system, any talk of change is anathema. Hence the resistance to civil society, when it demands change.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








Several news items relative to the War on Terror have made their appearance of late. The first of these related to the extra-ordinary pressure put on Pakistan by its 'strategic partner' to do it all. In what appeared to be an ultimatum fairly high up on the Richter scale, reminiscent of the one delivered after nine/eleven, Pakistan was told in no uncertain terms to deliver or face the music.

Then came the relatively minor bombshell delivered by President Hamid Karzai to the effect that 1) the motives of the 'coalition allies' were suspect and 2) the United States was negotiating with the Taliban. It may be recalled that the Taliban had categorically denied this assertion, as did the Americans until Defense Secretary Robert Gates let the cat out of the bag the other day.

The most important development came from the United Nations in New York, wherein it was reported that the UN Security Council had 'split' the international sanctions regime for the Taliban from that of Al-Qaeda ostensibly 'to encourage the Taliban to join reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan'. Reportedly the powers that be wanted to highlight the 'divide' between Al-Qaeda's global 'jihadist' agenda and the Taliban's focus on Afghanistan. The action by the UN Security Council connotes much more than meets the eye.

Another report discloses that the United States has for the first time taken Pakistan into confidence about its clandestine dialogue with the Taliban. Apparently the United States has taken a belated decision to go public on its changing stance vis-à-vis the Taliban. The United Nations Security Council decision aforementioned also points towards this. The question that presents itself is: where does this volta face leave entities like Pakistan that have hitched their wagons to the WOT for better or for worse?

Meanwhile, it may be pertinent to mention that the United Nations is becoming more and more responsive to the demands of the power(s) that be in the US War on Terror. What the US wants, the UN does! Connection between this phenomenon and the recent vote in the UN General Assembly to re-elect the present Secretary General for another term may be a tad more than coincidental.

The aforementioned developments represent something heavier than straws in the wind. One can only express the trust that our mandarins in the Foreign Office – and whoever else has a hand in fashioning what passes for our foreign policy - are aware of this sudden change in wind direction and the ominous clouds looming over the international horizon.

It may be recalled that the WOT was launched a decade ago with the express objective of eliminating the entity named Al-Qaeda and, as a corollary, to punish the Taliban for having provided the latter with refuge and succour. The goal posts were subsequently moved to equate the Taliban with Al-Qaeda.

This may have been necessitated by the 'desire' to install the less than popular 'northern alliance' regime in control of Kabul. The resistance to this foreign-imposed regime turned out to be more intense than anticipated. Hence the decision to go after the Taliban in a big way!

To the task was added the 'elimination' of the remnants of the Taliban resistance crossing over into for sanctuary. The United States responded by 'outsourcing' the daunting task to Pakistan and its armed forces. The Pakistan leadership of the time grasped the assignment as a golden opportunity to curry favour with the American Administration. This epoch marked the beginning of the insurgency in Pakistan and the indigenous terrorist threat that continues to this day.

Since then, this tormented country has had to face a virtual war situation on its frontier, retaliatory terror attacks and suicide bombings within its cities, not to talk of the horrid drone attacks that kill more civilians than so-called militants and all in defense of a cause that is not and was never its own. The country has lost thousands of its gallant soldiers as well as countless innocent civilians conveniently bunched together as 'co-lateral damage'. All to what end? There are people who sincerely believe that our shaheeds sacrificed their lives in order to protect the soldiers of the NATO allies in Afghanistan from harm. And what about the innocent men, women and children who were cut down in the process? These are some of the factors that will come back to haunt the nation in the years to come.

Those who have been asserting from the housetops that the WOT is 'our war' had better be prepared for the day when the originators of this war will effortlessly extricate themselves from the maze, leaving Pakistan high and dry holding the WOT baby. If history is any guide, there are several instances of big powers extricating themselves from sticky situations leaving their weaker allies to fend for themselves. Cambodia's sorry state after the end of the Vietnam War is a case in point.

We now find ourselves at a fork in the road. The choice is ours. A wrong choice can lead us to a dead end with its myriad deadly ramifications. Sooner or later, the United States and NATO are bound to reach an understanding with the Afghan resistance. The priority of the former will be to safeguard their economic and security interests and then withdraw the bulk of their combat forces. We need to act before that stage is reached.

The present may well be the opportune time for our leadership to take a firm decision on when to say 'enough is enough', on when to cut our losses and lead the country onto the path of national conciliation and pacification. The ship of the state, regrettably, is fast approaching choppy and uncharted waters. The need is for all good men to come to the aid of the party. What is needed above all is national unity. And what are all men of substance in this blessed land engaged in? They are busy playing ducks and drakes with the destiny of the state. It is not too late for the people who matter to rise to the occasion and make amends.









No one can deny the supreme sacrifice and care that a mother renders to her child. The mother carries him (in her womb) by enduring strain after strain. And subsequently, at the time of birth, she is suspended between life and death. All this she faces with determination as much as patience barring any regret or anger.

After the child is born, the mother looks after him and brings him up with enormous love. She breast-feeds him for as long as two years, after which she continues to look after her child with all sincerity, regardless of the strain and travail (hard labour) that accompanies such a task. Without doubt, the mother sacrifices time, energy and much more in bringing up her child.

Because of her child, the mother is often forced to go without sufficient sleep sacrificing and forgoing much-needed rest. As a consequence, it is only but natural that she would constantly suffer from exhaustion and fatigue. But strangely enough,in reality, the opposite occurs. She is always happy and energetic.

The mother is the one who is up earliest. And at night, it is usually the mother who is the last to go to bed. It is the mother who prepares breakfast for the child and the rest of the family. And when everyone leaves the house, be it for work, for school or for any other reason, it is the mother who is left alone at home. She does not rest, but continues to work busy with cooking and the daily household chores without stopping to rest. And when the child comes home from school, his meal is ready; and he proceeds to eat such with great relish. The mother, however, more often than not, has not had anything to eat as yet.

The mother is always energetic. She performs her chores with a feeling of elation and happiness. Why? Because of her love for her children and family. She does not feel the exhaustion that naturally comes with such work, because it gladdens her heart to know that her child's future will be a happy and successful one. A mother wishes that all her children will succeed that is, becoming useful citizens, children who are pious, children who are devoted and respectful to their parents, who obey Allah (fearful of God) and who are useful to their family, society and country as well . Because of her high aspirations for her children, she is always happy and in high spirit; never tired and exhausted, in spite of her heavy work load. She never sighs and complains, but is ever grateful.

A father's sacrifice is just as big. It is the father who is the bread winner in the family; he provides money for food, clothing, shelter, education, health and other necessities for the family. Every day, without wasting time, the father has to earn and provide be it by using his mental faculties, or thru physical labour such as working under the scorching heat of the sun , or endangering his life by going out in the stormy seas. He goes through all these with perseverance and determination, solely for the purpose of providing the needs of the family.

The father also harbors hopes for his children similar to that of the mother, which means that his children succeed in becoming useful individuals.Expectations of parents with regard to their children are towering. And it would make them extremely happy if their hopes become reality, their child doing so well in his studies, their child having good and praise-worthy manners. A child who has achieved this is a pleasure to behold; one who gladdens the heart of his parents, and like a child who is mentioned in the following Du'a (supplication): O our Sustainer (Allah - the Creator)! Grant that our spouse and our offsprings be a joy to our eyes, and cause us to be foremost among those who are conscious of thee! (Quran, 25/74). Thus, every child must aspire to fulfill the desires and hopes of his parents. If he is still a student, he should study conscientiously and earnestly in order that he may perform well. If he completed schooling and gets into society, he should put into practice all that he has learnt. He should behave well at all times and should never himself be a burden to society. He should constantly strive to be a virtuous son who is always obedient to Allah's (God's) commandments; and he should pray for his parents with good intentions and supplication.

If the son is far away from home, he should not forget his parents who may be feeling lonely. He should write to them often; visit them during his vacation time especially during the Muslim festive season. He should always try to make them happy; and he should never hurt their feelings.

If the son has made a failure of his life, and has led a life abound with sins, he should make a conscious effort to return to the Right Path. He should seek repentance from Allah. He should strive to make amends and should not cause his parents any further grief and unhappiness.

Parents will definitely benefit if their child turns out to be virtuous. A virtuous child who has strong faith and has acquired an understanding of submission (following the will of Allah {God}) which is called Islam and puts it into practice that is,he prays five times a day, fasts during the month of Ramadan, goes for congregation prayers, attends religious lectures/seminars and participates in religious activities. Such a child will gladden his parents' hearts while they are in this world as well as in the hereafter. The Prophet (pbuh), said: "When a person dies, he ceases to receive reward for his deeds with the exception of the following: establishing a foundation for the welfare of the public (for example, building a mosque, school, hospital, etc.), knowledge which has benefited others, and a virtuous offspring who supplicates for him." (Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawud).

A virtuous child will fulfill his obligations towards his parents, as is prescribed by Islam. Obligations of a child towards his parent: To treat his parents politely and gently. He must be gentle and devoted towards his parents. He should not adopt rough and coarse attitude towards them, especially in their old age. He should not utter anything that might upset them, but should always speak politely to them.

The teachings of the Holy Quraan for the child to follow during his life: "Your Lord (Allah) has ordained that you should worship none except Him and show kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain to old age with you, say not 'Fie' unto them nor reproach them but speak to them a gracious word.








Contrary to western propaganda, China has a firm control over its economy. Prudent planning, astute strategizing and futuristic forecasting has brought Chinese economy from the downtrodden and battered in the 1950s, to the current state where it is second only to the US but according to the IMF, likely to overtake it by 2016. Economic historian Angus Maddison estimates that the Soviet Union at its peak produced only a third as many goods and services as the US; Japan's economy at its peak was still less than half the size of the US economy. China's ascension has been startlingly different, in speed and size. If it grows at anything like the 10 per cent rate it has averaged since 1980, its economy will be far bigger than that of the US within a generation. China's growth has been unprecedented. In 1980, when its economic reforms were just starting, the IMF estimates the US produced more than 10 times as many goods and services. Even 10 years ago, when China overtook Japan to become the world's second-biggest economy, the US still produced three times as much.

But since then China's share of global output has doubled, while that of the US has shrunk rapidly. From 25 per cent of global output in 1986, the US share has shrunk to less than 20 per cent and a projected 17.8 per cent by 2016. China produced just 2.2 per cent of the world's output in 1980, but this rose to 7 per cent by 2000, 14 per cent now, and is projected to top 18 per cent by 2016. By 2016, the IMF estimates, China will be producing more in a fortnight than it did in a year when the reforms began. Over that period, its output would have risen to 30 times its starting level; US output would have risen to 2.7 times its 1980 level.

However this rapid rise does not come without pitfalls, but it is heartening to note that Chinese economists and planners have taken cognizance of the dangers lurking ahead. There are concerns about inflation, excess investment, soaring wages, and bad bank loans. Prominent academics warn that China could fall victim to the dreaded "middle-income trap", which has derailed many a developing nation. Strategy and commitment have been applied to forestall any disasters. Since 1953, China has framed its macro objectives in the context of five-year plans, with clearly defined targets and policy initiatives designed to hit those targets. The recently enacted 12th Five-Year Plan could well be a strategic turning point – ushering in a shift from the highly successful producer model of the past 30 years to a flourishing consumer society. Seared by memories of turmoil, reinforced by the Cultural Revolution of the 1970's, China's leadership places the highest priority on stability. Such a commitment served China extremely well in avoiding collateral damage from the crisis of 2008-2009. It stands to play an equally important role in driving the fight against inflation, asset bubbles, and deteriorating loan quality. A domestic saving rate in excess of 50% has served China well. It funded the investment imperatives of economic development and boosted the cushion of foreign-exchange reserves that has shielded China from external shocks. China now stands ready to absorb some of that surplus saving to promote a shift toward internal demand.

Over the past 30 years, the urban share of the Chinese population has risen from 20% to 46%. According to OECD estimates, another 316mn people should move from the countryside to China's cities over the next 20 years. Such an unprecedented wave of urbanization provides solid support for infrastructure investment and commercial and residential construction activity. China has taken enormous strides in building human capital. The adult literacy rate is now almost 95%, and secondary school enrollment rates are up to 80%. Shanghai's 15-year-old students were recently ranked first globally in math and reading as per the standardized PISA metric. Chinese universities now graduate more than 1.5mn engineers and scientists annually. The country is well on its way to a knowledge-based economy. More importantly, Chinese planners are willing to prove the doubting Thomases wrong and are prepared to risk the slowing down of its economy deliberately, to shake off the aftereffects of inflation.

Investors are apprehensive of the supposed rising inflationary trends in China; their apprehension is that Chinese central bank will end global growth. The most recent inflation digits of China: 5.3% may be considered spiraling since the annals of Chinese history are replete with social, economic and political upheaval. However, despite its extraordinary growth record since Deng Xiao Ping opened China in 1978, China's per-capita GDP is just $4,399 ($7,481 purchasing power adjusted), less than one-tenth of the $48,157 U.S. level. China requires 30 to 50 years of uninterrupted high growth to bring the living standards of Chinese up to current developed country levels. That's why its central bank, the People's Bank of China, has raised reserve requirements for Chinese banks five times so far this year to more than 20% today and adopted a number of other policies to curb price increases, such as selling food from government stockpiles.

Another factor to comprehend is that China's inflation is not high across the board—it has been driven by two factors: rising food prices and rising energy and industrial commodity prices. So-called "core" inflation, excluding food and energy, is still quite low, productivity is growing 10-12% per year, and there is widespread excess capacity in Chinese industry that is keeping finished goods prices in check. According to Dr. Rutledge, the Chairman of Rutledge Capital, a CNBC economics contributor, and a former Reagan economic advisor, since China's currency is, effectively, pegged to the dollar, notwithstanding western bickering of keeping the exchange rate low, soaring global food, oil and commodity prices, expressed in dollars, are the culprit. Both can be traced to U.S. policy mistakes. The Fed tsunami that increased bank reserves by 17x since 2008 is driving global energy and industrial commodity inflation. And Fed policy, along with its misguided ethanol policy that has diverted 40% of U.S. corn production into ethanol, have more than doubled corn prices in the past year. Ultimately, it will be US that will suffer and not China, whose economy is steadily progressing.








Hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Pakistan's leaders were given an ultimatum by the Bush administration: Because the looming war in Afghanistan could not be won without Pakistan's help, Islamabad would have to choose between continuing its alliance with the Taliban or joining forces with the United States. Just shy of 10 years later, President Obama's announcement on Wednesday night that he is beginning the long-anticipated withdrawal from Afghanistan marks another step in the gradual reversal of that calculus. Though the president could not say so directly, one of the constraints on America's retreat from a hard and bloody decade is the recognition that, more than ever, the United States will be relying on Afghanistan's help to deal with the threats emerging from Pakistan.

The administration argues that the killing of Osama bin Laden last month at his compound deep inside Pakistan, combined with scores of other counterterrorism strikes, have given it greater leeway to reduce its troop numbers in Afghanistan. Yet Pakistan's angry reaction to that raid also makes it more urgent than ever that the United States maintain sites outside the country to launch drone and commando raids against the militant networks that remain in Pakistan, and to make sure that Pakistan's fast-growing nuclear arsenal never falls into the wrong hands. What the raid of the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, "demonstrated more vividly than ever is that we need a base to strike targets in Pakistan, and the geography is simple: You need to do that from Afghanistan," said Bruce Reidel, a retired C.I.A. officer who conducted Mr. Obama's first review of strategy in the region.

As such, there are two reasons American planners hope to negotiate with the government of President Hamid Karzai an agreement to keep upward of 25,000 American forces in Afghanistan, even after the 30,000 "surge" troops are withdrawn over the next 14 months, and tens of thousands of more by the end of 2014. Their first is to assure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base for attacks on the United States. But the more urgent reason is Pakistan. In his speech, Mr. Obama invited Pakistan to expand its peaceful cooperation in the region, but he also noted that Pakistan must live up to its commitments and that "the U.S. will never tolerate a safe haven for those who would destroy us." Pakistan has already made it clear, however, that it will never allow American forces to be based there. As relations have turned more hostile with the United States in recent months, it has refused to issue visas to large numbers of C.I.A. officers and seems to be moving quickly to close the American drone base in Shamsi, Pakistan.

For their part, administration officials make it clearer than ever that they view Pakistan's harboring of terrorist groups as the more urgent problem. "We don't see a transnational threat coming out of Afghanistan," a senior administration official said Wednesday in briefing reporters before the president's speech. Later he added, "The threat has come from Pakistan." Those realities have placed increasing pressure on Obama administration officials to secure some long-term success from the war in Afghanistan. That is by no means guaranteed. As the bulk of international forces leave, the country may yet descend into civil war and chaos. Indeed, several senior administration officials acknowledged in recent days that the announcement by Mr. Obama merely put the best face possible on a three-year plan to retreat from what was once an expansive experiment in nation-building.

The key goal now will be a diminished one — counterterrorism work to finish off Al Qaeda — that is far closer to the mission that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and some political aides at the White House argued for 18 months ago. With Wednesday's announcement, President Obama indicated that he has slowly inched toward that view as well. "The hard part over the next few years will be proving to the Afghans that there is something in this for them," Mr. Reidel said. That is particularly difficult because what the Afghans may well draw from Mr. Obama's prime-time speech is that the Americans are leaving again — just as they did after the Soviet Union gave up its war in 1989 — but this time more slowly.

Over the past decade, the Afghans heard many promises from Washington. Months after ordering the invasion that drove out the Taliban government, President George W. Bush declared that the United States would initiate a new Marshall Plan for Afghanistan; it never fully materialized. In 2009 Mr. Obama spoke of a "civilian surge" of "agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers" who would train Afghans how to create a modern country. The results have been limited, and Mr. Obama never mentioned those goals in the speech Wednesday night.

Administration officials insist that those efforts will continue, despite the drawdown. Even after all the "surge" forces return home, there will still be 68,000 American troops on the ground next year — more than twice the number that were in Afghanistan the day Mr. Obama took office. But over time, the counterterrorism mission will require fewer troops in the region, administration officials said.

"When we think about Al Qaeda and we talk about them within Afghanistan, we say it is about 50 or 75 folks who are actually in there as fighters, and mostly they are embedded within Haqqani units," one senior administration official said in an interview last week, referring to a militant network based in Pakistan's tribal areas. The official made clear that the administration's primary focus now was a much larger, and more dangerous, presence of insurgents remaining in Pakistan. The essence of Mr. Obama's decision is to accelerate what's working — no matter how loudly the Pakistanis protest about drone strikes and violations of their sovereignty.

Over the past few weeks, officials have used that same logic to justify a steeper reduction of forces in Afghanistan. "What they are doing, of course, is changing the metrics of success," said David Rothkopf, who wrote a leading history of the National Security Council, which has led Mr. Obama's effort to narrow the objectives in Afghanistan — and focus anew on counterterrorism strikes inside Pakistan. "It was only a few years ago that we debated how long it would take to train the Afghan military to take the lead in securing the most violent, contested parts of the country," he added. "Or how long it would take to build schools and courts and provide basic services. No one wants to talk about that very much any more — the time lines are longer and the costs larger than the politics here at home will bear." —The New York Times








Of that there is no doubt since nothing, it appears, is being allowed to stand in her way. Not competition from Telstra or Optus, who will be paid by the government to shut down a rival service on the upgraded hybrid fibre network. Not advances in wireless technology, since Telstra is now barred for 20 years from promoting wireless as an alternative to the NBN. Not the Trade Practices laws, which would normally be invoked to stop such a sweetheart deal, since NBC Co has been removed from itsreach. Not the Productivity Commission, which has not been near this plan - or a cost-benefit study - since none has been commissioned. And not a lack of funds, since the government is prepared to invest the considerable proceeds of the mining boom on this business venture that completes the break-up of Telstra's monopoly, but puts another telecommunications behemoth back in the government's hands.

This is what Labor has the front to call economic reform. On the bright side, Julia Gillard finally was able to promote something positive because the announcement of the deals with Telstra and Optus are a step forward in what Labor sees as a popular project. By purchasing access to existing infrastructure and ducts used by Telstra, the deal does at least remove the need for costly and unnecessary duplication. And by guaranteeing a role for Telstra in the NBN's future it might return some value to the telco's long-suffering shareholders.

But taxpayers might find it disconcerting that much of the infrastructure they sold off when Telstra was privatised just a few years ago has now been brought back into public hands for $11 billion. Like all sides of politics, The Australian shares the goal of delivering fast broadband to all, but this was not the way to do it.

The ultimate aim of the government is to privatise the NBN, but before we reach that stage taxpayers are likely to be exposed to the tune of $5bn or more, and there are no guarantees about the eventual returns. There will be no competition to keep wholesale charges down, with the only downward pressure on costs coming through competition at the retail level.

Perhaps trumping all these concerns is the monumental technological risk of relying on one technology - fibre to the home. This is, currently, the leading technology available - the "Rolls Royce" broadband delivery vehicle. But this makes it the most expensive, delivering a level of service far in excess of what most households require.

Homes and businesses that need high speeds will have their costs subsidised by all users. This is where Labor's priorities are questionable. As with their renewable energy targets, the government will be forcing higher costs on working families to pay for services favoured by a privileged few.

It is instructive that Barack Obama intends to spend about half as much delivering fast broadband in the US, a similar land mass, to a population about 15 times larger, because he will use a mix of technologies and leverage private investment. That, of course, would have been a wiser course for Australia. Labor wants a legacy project. For good or ill, the NBN is certain to fit the bill.






JENNY Macklin was not available on Tuesday when the ABC's AM program asked her to respond to criticism of the Northern Territory intervention into Aboriginal communities.

Perhaps that's not such a bad thing. We would never let politicians off the hook when it comes to fronting the media, but the Minister for Indigenous Affairs is busy implementing the intervention. And the criticism from Darwin identities of Canberra's effort to protect the most vulnerable members of these dysfunctional indigenous communities is indulgent and retrograde.

It is beyond argument that the intervention must be maintained, not watered down to satisfy critics who are often more interested in philosophical debates about rights and discrimination than in addressing the real-world desperation of these Australians. Indeed, Ms Macklin and the Prime Minister are rock-solid on the exercise Labor inherited from John Howard. Julia Gillard doubtless was pleased with some positive news this week as she announced a six-week consultation ahead of creating new laws, due next August, to continue the intervention. With her legislative program mired in confusion and waste, it is rare for the Prime Minister to feel she has the country behind her. But she can be proud of this policy and she should be in no doubt that Australians are with her on this one. Indeed, it's impact is not restricted to indigenous Australia, for it has shifted public assumptions about the balance between social welfare and individual responsibility.

The failure of decades of effort and funding directed at indigenous Australians is a cause of great sadness as well as frustration in the community. The support for the radical action taken by prime minister Howard in 2007 was prompted by the appalling revelations of child abuse, addiction to drink and drugs, violence and despair in remote communities. The Australian had long reported on this tragic story, exposing over many years the folly of believing the solution lay in land rights rather than in improved housing and health, access to work and protecting women and children from appalling crimes. National coverage on the ABC's Lateline also helped spur the Coalition into action.

This week, the Prime Minister pointed to real progress in the past four years - school meals, programs to control alcohol, methods to ensure families spend benefits on clothing and food, real improvement in the safety of women and children. These metrics help shore up support for the intervention, but we should all understand this is a long haul. Changing habits takes time and the intervention could be in place one way or another for many years to come. This is particularly the case in the key area of providing housing in remote areas. As Ms Macklin writes in our pages today, the Northern Territory still has the widest gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people "by a long way". "In life expectancy, in infant mortality, in education and employment - the gap is still too large," she notes.

She and Ms Gillard acknowledge some people feel the intervention was imposed without consultation. They have offered an opportunity to fine-tune the approach, but they have not gone to water. They know the intervention offers hope of changing destructive patterns in remote communities; that no government can contemplate a reversal; and that it could prove to be the most important legacy of the Rudd-Gillard years.





CHIEF scientist Ian Chubb is not a climate change expert but he has nailed an important aspect of the present debate.

On ABC TV's Lateline, Professor Chubb refused to take up the invitation to call for climate change critic Christopher Monckton to be banned from a platform in Australia because he called climate change adviser Ross Garnaut a nazi.

Professor Chubb managed to demonstrate the silliness of Lord Monckton's remark while making clear free speech is not an optional extra to be applied depending on whether you agree with the speech, but a non-negotiable plank of our democracy. Others, including Lord Monckton, who yesterday apologised, should take a leaf out of the chief scientist's book. Around the world, the debate on how to minimise carbon emissions is proving to be very bitter. This is an intense contest of ideas and facts touching directly on the world view of individuals. But that is no excuse for insults designed to inflame, not illuminate. Professor Garnaut is not a nazi, but nor is Lord Monckton.

Both men are free to put their case strongly, but wild commentary does not advance the debate. Meanwhile, those who would ban, rather than engage with, their opponents, would do well to remember censorship has always been a central element of fascist regimes.







FOR four years now, the middle of June has brought one of Australia's more sombre anniversaries - that of the federal intervention into indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory. The Gillard government has marked this year's by announcing it will renew the intervention on its fifth anniversary next year, but will review it beforehand. The review will, the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, says, give more weight to the views of those who normally lack a voice - the victims of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. It is the right approach.

By implication, however, it raises the issues which divide the intervention's supporters from its opponents. The former see as more important the intervention's practical benefits in reducing violence, keeping part of welfare payments for food and other essentials, and making children attend school. The latter see something else: the abrogation of human rights and anti-discrimination laws which some measures have required, and the parallels the intervention measures imply with former paternalistic policies. What makes the issue so difficult is that there are indigenous voices in support of each, and both sides have a point.

Rhetoric about human rights and freedoms claims they are universal - but in truth they suit some societies better than others. To achieve the freedom which is their aim, they assume a predictable, ordered world in which individuals can be left to make their own decisions - to sink or swim, in the expectation that they are far more likely to swim than sink. The bitter experience which led to the intervention suggested that the same rights and choices offered within chaotic indigenous society can contribute to the opposite result.

Moreover (to continue the metaphor) sinking can become desirable. To swim is to compromise with non-indigenous values; to sink is to be genuinely Aboriginal. As an example: for indigenous boys, a first jail term can be a rite of passage, a step towards maturity and social acceptance. In a society as broken as that, it takes enormous strength - superhuman, almost - for an individual to maintain a moral compass against the pressure to conform and abandon it.

A renewed intervention must help free people from that sick cultural trap. Yet the intervention will have to end eventually, as medical treatment ends once the body returns to health. For now, it must try to help by curtailing individuals' freedom of choice. As time goes on, though, that limitation will only make things worse. Indigenous Australians must take responsibility for their own choices, like everyone else. The renewed intervention's hardest task will be devising its own end.





WE ARE used to slow change in the NSW Legislative Council, so for small mercies we are grateful. The latest comes as notice of a vote later this year on whether members of the upper house (some have been known to refer to themselves as state senators) should be restricted in loquaciousness by having to keep their spoken remarks to 20 minutes.

For 187 years as Australia's first legislature (it wasn't directly elected until 33 years ago), the upper house never imposed a time limit on its speakers. Gentlemen, it seems, were above the coarse restraint deserved by the hoi polloi in "the other place" - the Legislative Assembly, where governments are decided.

Freedom to speak without end, however, is an indulgence best restricted to the isolation of

one's own company. Government patience ran out in the upper house this month when the filibustering of Labor and Greens MLCs sought to drag out divisive debate on government legislation to tie public service pay rises to inflation and actual productivity gains. Two Greens MPs spoke for nearly six hours each and the upper house sat through to a weekend, adding a new dimension to cruel and unusual punishment.

"We don't want to see any more childish behaviour that takes the time of the Parliament," declared the minister Duncan Gay, whose own attempts at oratory can seem to go on forever. That the Coalition engaged in its own parliamentary time-wasting when in opposition is neither here nor there.

Of course, it's motivated here by self-interest but this is a case where the end justifies the means. Coalition numbers don't comprise an upper house majority so the government needs the upper house to rule excessive verbosity out of order because filibustering is an irritant to government, not a tool.

But for Luke Foley, the Labor leader in the council, to complain that time limits reveal the government "reaching straight for the dictator's handbook" is to seek to justify the puerile. If you cannot make a spoken case in 20 minutes, you shouldn't be in Parliament. Sure, let policies be debated robustly but don't give the public any more incentive to tune out. Engage them with the power of ideas conveyed with eloquence.

Brevity and clarity would do everyone a favour, a lesson not lost on Edward Everett, the politician and noted orator whose misfortune was to precede Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours and you did in two minutes," he told his president later. Hear, hear.





Australia should set a withdrawal timetable, too.

HE DID not announce ''mission accomplished''. But President Barack Obama's speech in Washington yesterday, Australian time, was as clear an indication as any commander-in-chief could give that the US has decided to end the longest war in its history. The last American troops will not leave Afghanistan before 2014, but by the end of the next northern summer one-third of the 100,000 serving there will already have been withdrawn. That will, in Mr Obama's words, ''recover'' the surge, or military build-up, he ordered in December 2009 in an attempt to defeat the Taliban revolt against the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Not for the first time, the course of the war in Afghanistan has seemed to parallel the hapless US intervention against an earlier insurgency in Vietnam. As had happened by the time the Nixon administration began withdrawing troops from Vietnam, public opinion in the US has turned against the war. The latest poll records that 59 per cent of Americans oppose a continuation of the commitment to Afghanistan. And, as had also happened with Vietnam, the conflict has become a massive drain on American resources and an obstacle to economic recovery. The war is costing US taxpayers more than $10 billion a month, while at home unemployment remains stubbornly above 9 per cent. Finally, as in Vietnam, the language chosen to announce the withdrawal masked the military reality: despite the loss since 2001 of nearly 2500 coalition lives, more than 1500 of them American, the Taliban have still not been decisively defeated. The future of Afghanistan, as US and other coalition forces pull out over the next three years, is not likely to be decided on the battlefield but in the negotiations, revealed last week by Mr Karzai, between the Taliban and the coalition.

Mr Obama did not resort to cant phrases such as ''peace with honour'', which Richard Nixon used in referring to Vietnam, but - no doubt partly with next year's re-election campaign in mind - he insisted that the US will be ''starting this drawdown from a position of strength''. That is true if America's enemy is regarded, as it was when the Bush administration launched its invasion of Afghanistan, as al-Qaeda. The group that planned and perpetrated the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has largely moved its focus in the region from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and in the past 18 months 20 of the 30 most senior al-Qaeda commanders identified by US intelligence have been killed in attacks by aerial drones or special forces. Most notably, one of the latter attacks resulted in the death of al-Qaeda's spiritual leader and the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. Mr Obama can portray himself as having succeeded where his predecessor George W. Bush failed, while also bringing troops home from the two wars in which Mr Bush embroiled the US, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The President has indicated that future US military responses to terrorism will be modelled on the commando raid that killed bin Laden, not on protracted operations by expeditionary forces, as in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard's oft-repeated claim that continuing the war in Afghanistan is necessary to prevent the country becoming a haven for terrorists has never been persuasive, because terrorism is already global, but President Obama's announcement undermines her case completely. Hitherto Ms Gillard has insisted that Australia will stay the course for as long as it takes, without being too precise about how long that might be. She has suggested Australians might even remain until 2020, but with the major ally now moving to quit the country well before then, it may be assumed that her horizons are rapidly contracting. The Prime Minister should tell Australians when our 1550 troops will be coming home.





THE three Rs have been venerated ever since the phrase was coined, with knowing irony, in 1825. While much has changed since then, students cannot make progress without mastering the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Struggling schools almost invariably have a large proportion of students who, for whatever reason, lag behind their peers in literacy and numeracy. The former Labor government established programs of literacy specialists and maths and science teaching coaches to support such schools. The Baillieu government's axing of these programs ranks alongside its broken election promise on teachers' pay as a betrayal of state schools.

The decisions flow from the Coalition's $481.1 million target for savings in education. Education Minister Martin Dixon argues that the programs were intended to lapse after this year - which Labor hotly disputes - and that NAPLAN results at schools with coaches are almost identical to those without them. He seems to think that means the program does not work, but the evidence he cites suggests the opposite. The one in four schools selected for the program previously had results well below average.

The 200 teaching and learning coaches were deployed in 380 schools to improve maths and science teaching across the board. It is hard to see how the Coalition's $24 million promise of an extra 100 maths and science specialists over five years can have an equally broad impact. At the same time as the government saves $57 million on teaching coaches and $22 million on literacy specialists, it has boosted private school funding by $240 million.

Principals scoff at the claim that budget cuts will not hurt their schools because they know gains in basic literacy, maths and science skills have such broad benefits in areas such as morale, behaviour and aspirations. A recipient of this year's education excellence awards said ''the evidence in our case is overwhelming''.

School leaders tell the same story about specialist programs in the northern metropolitan region, which once had the state's worst NAPLAN results. Teacher coaching has helped achieve a rapid rise up the rankings of the nine regions. Principals in the Loddon Mallee region are so keen to retain literacy specialists that most plan to fund half the cost from meagre school budgets. The state has failed in its duty to ensure no student falls behind for want of teaching.

The Kennett government erred badly when it axed specialist teaching services. The Baillieu government risks doing the same if it treats literacy and numeracy programs as dispensable and not as core elements of a decent school system.







A bungled liberal intervention is exacting its true price, a return to a pungent strain of isolationism

When Barack Obama ordered the surge of 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, he said he was determined to finish the job. That was in December 2009, when Osama bin Laden was alive, the sovereign debt crisis had yet to erupt and America was not as panicked as it is today by the size of the deficit it is running. Sixteen months on, all three fundaments have changed, as Mr Obama announced a drawdown of 10,000 troops this year and 23,000 next summer. War fatigue is widespread. The latest Republican to declare that he is seeking the party's nomination, Jon Huntsman, asked this week what America had achieved out of a war that had lasted nine years and 50 days, and cost (along with Iraq) well over $1 trillion. Why was America building Kandahar and neglecting Kansas City? Mr Huntsman got his answer when Mr Obama declared: "America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home."

From a crass attempt to "build democracy" in Kabul as some form of Maginot line against terrorism, the pendulum has swung back, and now it is once more acceptable to question the cost and purpose of the war and wrap yourself in the stars and stripes. A bungled liberal intervention is exacting its true price, a return to a pungent strain of isolationism. Neither democracy promotion nor its opposite, a world power in full retreat, show much regard for the people who have taken the brunt of these vacillations, the Afghans themselves. So it is pertinent to ask in what sense the job has been finished. Granted, the job description itself has been changed. No one is talking any more of building the capacity of the Afghan state. An army is the most that is being aspired to. In a debate which is dominated by numbers, there is little talk of strategy or policy. America's singular role in the course of human events, as the president grandiosely put it on Wednesday night, amounts to what in Afghanistan? An incorruptible president, democratic institutions, reliable elections, tolerable governance? All still decades away.

In ordering the surge Mr Obama set himself three objectives; attacking al-Qaida, reversing the Taliban's momentum, and training Afghan security forces. If al-Qaida is indeed on the path to defeat after the killing of Bin Laden in Pakistan, it was proof not only that the original response to 9/11 should have been counter-terrorist not counter-insurgent, but that for most of the last 10 years we have been fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country. On the second of those objectives, the Taliban's momentum has been checked in the south, but it has been displaced, not defeated. And the all-but-public opposition of the outgoing commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, to the scale and speed of the drawdown is testament to a lack of faith in the policy he promoted. Only one of his three counterinsurgency aims has worked. Foreign troops can clear, but they can't yet hold, still less build. So Kandahar's relative peace is Jawzjan province's war in the north. Arguably, the insurgency is now stronger still in the east, than it is in the south, which is why General Petraeus wanted to reinvest the bulk of the 30,000 troops in the east next year.

What is stopping the generals from continuing to dictate the policy in the White House is not the resistance troops encounter from the Taliban, but the resistance a war in its 11th year is getting at home. The same happened in Vietnam. When Republican presidential candidates are calling for withdrawal, you know the game is up. If the mission continues, but closer to the one that Vice-President Joseph Biden argued for 18 months ago, it will be difficult to explain to the Afghans what is in this for them. The conditions in which a ceasefire could be negotiated with the various Taliban groups are far off. The potential for destablising Pakistan remains high. If this is counts as job done, Mr Obama is in the wrong profession.





A better solution would be to hold on to these banks and use them to foster a sustainable recovery

It is one of the curious features of British politics that government ministers on a worthy-but-dull trip to a faraway place often try to get a few juicy headlines by sounding off about an issue that's big back home but nowhere near their agenda. So it appears to be with Nick Clegg this week, because the deputy prime minister has used a round of trade negotiations in Rio de Janeiro to brief the press not about tariffs or a memorandum of understanding, but the British banking system. Mr Clegg certainly made a satisfactory splash with his proposal to give away shares in the nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds to every adult. But the idea is a terrible one, and terribly confused.

Before coming on to the whys and wherefores, however, it is worth making one note about the politics. Mr Clegg has made his intervention just days after George Osborne made it clear that he had his own plans for the nationalised banks. Speaking at Mansion House last week, the chancellor made clear that he wanted to sell the state-owned Northern Rock to any willing bidder. That approach is diametrically opposed to Mr Clegg's vision of freely scattering bank shares like confetti on to the heads of the British public. (See also Vince Cable's growling this week at company directors on what he called "actually outrageous" salaries, a phrase unlikely ever to be used by his old rival Mr Osborne). The Liberal Democrat leader is obviously signalling that he is independent from his senior coalition partners.

Which would be all to the good, were Mr Clegg's position at all attractive. But it is not. In doling out stock willy-nilly, the Lib Dem is failing either to raise much-needed cash for the Treasury by selling these state shares, or to use the government's stake in these high-street titans to reform the banking industry. To miss one or other of these objectives may be inevitable, to miss both is surely hapless. Mr Clegg describes his freebie as "psychologically immensely important" – a pretty flimsy pretext to forgo tens of billions of pounds through a sale. He has also learned nothing from the Russian privatisations of the 90s, in which citizens flogged their free shares for a few roubles to a nascent oligarchy.

A better solution would be to hold on to these banks and use them to foster a sustainable recovery. RBS and Lloyds should be directed to lend to strategically important regions and industries that will otherwise be credit-starved. Difficult? Yes. Complicated? Undoubtedly. But it is time for ministers to think much bigger about Britain's banking system, rather than grab easy headlines. Let us hope Mr Clegg devotes the rest of his week to fostering trade with Brazil – the ostensible purpose of his trip.





No need for black tie, no need to picnic: opera for everybody, that old counterintuitive idea, is almost here

Today is Johannistag – and if you don't know what that signifies, you have probably never seen Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Richard Wagner's much-discussed opera contains (to some ears) some of the most beautiful music ever written for the stage; but opera, however much performed, is by definition also exclusive. Recordings have made music available to anyone at any time, but they can lack the spontaneity that gives performance art its spark. Hence perhaps the growing enthusiasm for live relays of opera (plays too, the National Theatre has found). Matinee performances from New York's Metropolitan Opera are now shown in real time in cinemas around the world. Time differences mean an afternoon in America is perfect for early evening in cinemas from Aberdeen to Yeovil. London's Royal Opera House now does much the same: if you are reading this in Sydney, you can see last night's performance of Macbeth, as live on screen, next week. Competing for a cinematic song prize this weekend is Glyndebourne's much-praised production of Meistersinger. It will be shown live from 2.45pm on Sunday in Picturehouse cinemas and London's Science Museum, and streamed online on the Guardian website, where it will be available on demand for a week. No need for black tie, no need to picnic or join a 10-year wait for festival membership. Johannistag – St John's day – celebrated in the opera will just have passed, but opera for everybody, that old counterintuitive ambition, is almost here.






Trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda on June 18 declared that the nation's 11 companies operating nuclear power facilities had taken adequate measures to handle severe accidents and called for restarting the power plants.

What occupies his mind is the fear of power shortages during the summer and of unstable power supplies hampering economic activities that may compel Japanese manufacturing firms to move their factories overseas.

Of Japan's 54 commercial reactors, 35 are out of operation because of either regular checks or damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

In view of the circumstances in which Mr. Kaieda's declaration and call were made, people will not yet be convinced that Japan's nuclear power plants are adequately safe.

People will not fully support his fear of power shortages, either, unless he and the power companies enumerate all available nonnuclear power plants, and disclose their total capacity and expected demand.

The accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have deepened people's suspicion about the safety of nuclear power generation. More than three months after the March 11 quake and tsunami hit the facility, Tepco has been unable to bring the accidents under control. Three reactors suffered meltdowns.

As Tepco injects water into the reactors to cool them, water contaminated with radioactive substances is leaking from the plant, raising fears of further contamination of the environment. There is also a suspicion that Tepco has withheld vital information from the public. Under the circumstances, people will not take Mr. Kaieda's declaration at face value. As a procedure, utilities must gain consent from local governments concerned before they restart reactors. Most governors of the 13 prefectures where nuclear power plants are located are skeptical about Mr. Kaieda's declaration.

Gov. Yuichiro Ito of Kagoshima Prefecture, where two reactors are located, said that he understood Mr. Kaieda's statement as an official responsible for the stable supply of electricity.

But Gov. Issei Nishikawa of Fukui Prefecture, where 13 commercial reactors and the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju are located, said priority should be given to the safety of prefectural residents and Japanese people and that Mr. Kaieda's talk about power shortages' impact on economic activities does not correctly respond to what he (the governor) is thinking.

Gov. Nishikawa also pointed out that it is unclear how not only the tsunami but also the quake and the aging of the reactors contributed to the accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 facility. This is an important point. All six reactors at the power plant are more than 30 years.

In Fukui Prefecture, eight reactors are more than 30 years old. A high-ranking official of the Fukui prefectural government said that if Mr. Kaieda thinks that the measures recently taken at the reactors have greatly improved their safety, his thinking is hard to understand.

Many governors also wonder on what grounds the central government, which ordered the suspension of Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka nuclear power plant, believes that other nuclear power plants are safe.

On March 30, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Mr. Kaieda's ministry instructed the reactor operators to take short-term steps to cope with the loss of outside power supplies, the loss of functions to cool reactors with sea water and the loss of cooling functions of spent nuclear fuel storage pools — all in the event of tsunami. The measures included deployment of power generation vehicles, fire engines to supply cooling water and fire hoses. In early May, NISA approved the measures taken by the operators. It is clear that NISA's thinking excludes the possibility of a quake damaging reactors.

On June 7, NISA instructed the reactor operators to take additional short-term measures to deal with severe accidents, including the securing of power supplies to the central control room when power is lost, steps to prevent a hydrogen explosion, preparation of alternative means of communication in the event of an emergency, deployment of heavy construction machines to remove debris and the deployment of gear to protect workers against radiation exposure. NISA inspected the reactors on June 15 and 16 and approved the measures taken, after receiving notification on June 14 from the utilities.

If local government officials and people take a careful look at these measures, they will not consider them adequate to bring serious accidents under control.

On June 19, Prime Minister Naoto Kan endorsed Mr. Kaieda's move. It is hard to understand how his endorsement is congruous with his earlier call for increasing the percentage of electricity from renewable sources to 20 percent of Japan's power supply by the early 2020s.

Mr. Kan should quickly announce a long-term road map to reduce Japan's dependence on nuclear power and ways to offset the phasing out of nuclear energy.

Without such a plan, Japan under the force of inertia will continue to depend on nuclear power for a large part of its energy needs.






Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said the United States needed to "out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world" to remain competitive and "win the future." In his short history, though, Obama has not proved very adept at turning brave words into action.

Is the U.S. finished as an economic superpower? Its optimists assert that the U.S. retains critical cutting-edge advantages. Adam Segal, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has written a thoughtful book asserting that American innovation can overcome the challenges from rapidly growing Asia. He draws a distinction between what he calls, "the hardware of innovation" — meaning the amount of spending on research and development, the number of engineers and scientists, patents and publications — and the "software," which he terms as "the political, cultural and social institutions and understandings that help move ideas from lab to marketplace."

Segal acknowledges that China is spending vast sums and will eventually outspend the U.S. in research and development, but believes that the U.S. still leads as an innovator, able to make "the discovery that, under the right conditions, can spark the creation of a whole new industry and drive economic growth."

Other Americans have written whole operas on this theme — that the U.S. encourages creativity, and the spirit of freethinking that can lead to a huge leap in the dark. China on the other hand trammels its citizens. It is clear enough in political matters, which business executives wisely steer clear of as they concentrate on making money. Still, the private sector suffers from the massive presence of state-owned enterprises and big banks that act as their handmaids.

Segal starts his book "Advantage: How American innovation can overcome the Asian challenge" (published by W.W. Norton) by drawing attention to the growing challenge from China in high technology. He singles out nanotechnology, the manipulation of molecules and individual atoms. Nanotechnology is already important in hundreds of products, from stain resistant fabrics to camera sensors and light-emitting diodes. Some of the hopes of nanotechnology are still the stuff of science fiction, such as creating supercomputers so small they are invisible to the naked eye, or swarms of "nanobots" that break down the metal in enemy tanks.

Segal cites the achievements of Cui Fuzhai, professor at Tsinghua University, in creating "nanobones" to replace the metal pins that traditionally hold broken bones together. Cui's work was interrupted by the closure of hospitals during the SARS outbreak, but he succeeded in creating artificial bones that dissolved as the patient's own bones hardened.

Nevertheless, China's spending on nanotechnology is in the hundreds of millions of dollars whereas the U.S. spends several billions. In addition, says Segal, China's massive numbers of engineers mostly don't have soft skills because China's education system focuses on rote learning and examinations, and the pressure on scientists has resulted in much plagiarism and data theft. The expansion of China's entrepreneurs is in C2C — "copy to China" — meaning taking a U.S. model and applying it to the Chinese market.

This movement is being helped by China's determination to reduce its dependence on foreign technology and encouraging reverse engineering rather than looking to science-based product innovation. Beijing's policy to become "an innovative nation in the next 15 years and a world power in science and technology fields by the middle of the 21st century" is also more easily said than done, even though China has outlined its 20 world-beating fields, including nanotechnology, biotechnology and new drugs, high-end generic microchips and aircraft.

The U.S. advantage is being eroded, as even Segal concedes. He passionately pleads for more sensible attitudes on visa policy. The U.S. as the land with an open embrace for people with great new dreams is being betrayed by policies that send away thousands of foreigners with degrees from American universities in science and engineering just when they would be able to contribute to a new 21st century.

It would be savagely ironic if the seeds of the next great invention were planted in Boston or Stanford but bore fruit in Bangalore or Beijing because Washington had slammed the door on the foreign scientists it had educated. Washington is rightly worried about theft and copying of its technology, yet sends bright foreign Ph.D.s home with their ideas.

In spite of faith in the free market, Segal and others applaud increased U.S. government spending on blue-sky research. This should be worrying: Will the planned spending survive the budget cuts? Why isn't the private sector the driving force in the Land of the Free?

Alcatel-Lucent, Segal noted at the Council on Foreign Relations in early June, "announced in 2008 that Bells Labs — responsible for six Nobel prizes as well as the invention of the transistor, the laser and numerous other communications and computer technologies — would no longer conduct basic research in material physics and semiconductors, but instead would focus on networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, software and other commercial applications."

In the opening lines of the film "The Social Network," Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, tells his girlfriend that there are more people in China with genius-level IQs than the entire population of the U.S. That is patently untrue, but it touches on a number of issues that should be worrying for the U.S. and its claims to innovative economic leadership.

Is Facebook really the best flag-bearer of U.S. creativity, a successor to the electric light, the laser, the transistor? Can the U.S. retain any sort of innovative or political or moral leadership when its best brains devote themselves to financial engineering? And to take up the other side of Zuckerberg's point, how can the U.S. be a world beater or leader with so many high school dropouts, so many unemployed living on credit and fixated on their Facebook profiles?

Former Intel chairman Craig Barrett noted in 2006: "We're all fat, dumb and happy, which is one reason why this is so insidious."

Kevin Rafferty is editor in chief of PlainWords Media, a consortium of journalists concerned about issues of economic development.






From the legal perspective, the Corruption Court's verdicts against eight Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politicians issued at two separate hearings Wednesday were inconsistent and ignored the principle of equality before the law.

The politicians were each sentenced to 17 months in jail for receiving bribes to elect Miranda S. Goeltom the Central Bank (BI) senior deputy governor in 2004, despite differences in the amount of money they received and the roles they played in the crime.

The eight were the last in a batch of 30 politicians implicated in the vote-buying case.

The inconsistency was visible in court, as the politicians' jail terms were lighter than most of the other 22 politicians who were convicted earlier, even though they were all charged under the same articles in the 2001 Anticorruption Law (Article 5, paragraphs 2 and 1) and the Criminal Code (Article 55, paragraph 1), which each carry a maximum sentence of five years.

The first hearing on Wednesday saw four PDI-P politicians — Ni Luh Mariani, Sutanto Pranoto, Suwarno and Matheos Pormes — convicted of receiving bribes amounting to Rp 350 million (US$40,700), Rp 500 million and Rp 600 million. They were also required to pay fines of Rp 50 million or else serve an extra three months in jail.

At the afternoon hearing, the judges found Panda Nababan guilty of receiving Rp 1.45 billion while Engelina Pattiasina, Muhammad Iqbal and Budiningsih accepted Rp 500 million each. The four were also required to pay fines of Rp 50 million or serve an extra three months.

The case was made public after fellow PDI-P politician Agus Condro Prayitno confessed to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in 2008. His confession led to the prosecution of the 30 politicians: 15 from the PDI-P, 11 from the Golkar Party, three from the United Development Party (PPP) and one from the military/police faction at the House of Representatives in 2004.

Whatever the legal arguments they provided, the judges have in fact treated the criminal cases differently.

Whether intentional or not, the judges issued jail sentences based on the defendants' political party affiliations, aside from the different amounts of money they each had received.

Agus, for example, was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment last week, a punishment he said was too severe given his role as the whistleblower.

Hamka Yandhu from Golkar was sentenced to two and a half years in 2010, Dudhie Makmun Murod of the PDI-P and Udju Djuhaeri of the military/police faction were sentenced to two years and Endin Soefihara from the PPP got 15 months.

Paskah Suzetta, the former national development planning minister, and his nine fellow Golkar politicians were sentenced to 16 months for the same crime.

So inconsistent and unfair were the judges' rulings in the case that they only extend the list of controversial verdicts issued by Indonesian courts.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that the general public, and justice seekers in particular, have their doubts about the country's judicial system.

Distrust is a fair punishment if the courts, through judges as the last bastion for those seeking justice, fail to perform their noble duty.





The 10-year-old Doha Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is dying. The round, named after the city in Qatar where negotiations were started in November 2001, was planned to be a development agenda whereby global trade could create jobs and eradicate poverty — especially in poor and developing countries.

Nonetheless, there are so many unbridgeable gaps in the negotiations right now. The trade talks themselves have been intensified since January at the WTO office in Geneva, but this has only resulted in frustration from its members.

This could suggest that the era of big, multilateral trade deals is over. All 153 members have experienced the black and blue of creating a global trade master plan in almost a decade. At last, we realize that it is almost impossible to create the master recipe.

In the future, trade deals will either not involve every WTO member, a so-called plurilateral deal, or will be limited in scope. A glimpse of "hope" from the dying Doha Round is a Doha-lite, a Plan B, which is far less ambitious than what is now at the table: a maneuver to save faces. WTO director-general Pascal Lamy calls it an "early harvest" program.

There is long history of imbalance in the WTO, and it is getting more difficult for the institution to move ahead on its current trajectory because many poor and developing countries are being left behind. In order to survive, there is a need for revolutionary acts to address the imbalance.

Developing countries actually have been pushing for this since the 3rd Ministerial Meeting in Cancún, Mexico in 2003. The stratagem mastered by India and Brazil successfully replaced Japan and Canada as the power "quad" in the WTO. This continues until the era of agriculture: Many countries whose economies are agriculture-related have been central in negotiations, such as South Africa, Argentina and Indonesia. However, this is still not sufficient because the core problems of subsidies and market access are still dominated by the United States and European Union.

The WTO now faces the same critics as the other Bretton Woods institutions. The International Monetary Funds and the World Bank have also been blasted for imbalances between countries. These institutions have prompted to overhaul their systems and work on how to empower the poor and developing countries in the near future.

On the other hand, the crisis plaguing the WTO has revealed that the long outcry from the opposition to the idea of free trade — most notably farmer organizations, trade unions and indigenous peoples, since the historical Battle of Seattle in 1999 — has born fruits. In a general sense, the enormous gap has been exposed and shows that the WTO has not really functioned for everyone. Hence a huge amount of pressure has materialized: one extreme outcome could be to kill the WTO, another milder side would be to reform the institution.

Consequently, the question of creating alternatives to the WTO is fully logical. The world needs to really think about this because once again the constellation has really changed.

Nonetheless, creating alternatives might not be that simple. It would neither be enough to state that the United Nations, as one legitimate forum, should be responsible for creating a sui generis institution, nor to believe that existing organizations like the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) can really be up to the task of handling global trade. It would need a great deal of resources to create a new international institution and go beyond what the WTO has done to global trade.

Given the complexity of the former option, one can think that reform is seen as more visible option.

Looking back to both options, there are a couple of points that need to be carefully observed.

First, there are expectations that the constellation can really change and the two options can be implemented if only developed countries, especially the US and EU, are ready for a redistribution of power in the global trade decision-making process. This would lead to many changes in global trade, especially regarding subsidies and market access. This would also mean both the US and EU would expect their economies to slow down. It is easy for us to raise our eyebrows now and ask the perfect question: Would they be willing to do that?

Second, a push is needed from emerging blocs in global trade. There are strong trade negotiation blocs right now, such as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the G-20. The new net exporters (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay) are also likely to ask for greater market access. These emerging blocs, among others, would shape the future global trade. These are the players that can do much in trade talks.

These changes could lead to benefits for poor and developing countries, as long as the emerging powers are willing to coordinate among themselves.

On top of all these factors, Indonesia as one of the emerging powers in global trade should really think about where multilateral trade agreements in the WTO are headed — and anticipate by taking an active role toward alternatives. Indonesia cannot afford to just be the good kid like we have been so far in WTO talks, especially when we are willing to water down almost all our stances in global trade — stances that are supposed to protect our people and empower our potentials in development.

Dismantling or reforming the WTO will not take place in the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, all recent dynamics should be acknowledged as these would shape the future global trade. The final destination should be global trade justice, trade that respects human rights and is translated into development.

The writer is the head of the international relations department at the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI). The opinions expressed are his own.







Ruyati binti Satubi, an Indonesian migrant worker from Bekasi, was executed in Saudi Arabia for murder and another migrant worker found guilty of murder, Darsem, may follow suit if she fails to pay diyat (blood money) amounting to 2 million riyals (US$547,000).

Unlike Ruyati, Darsem received an apology from the victim's heirs following negotiations involving the Indonesian Embassy, the Lajnah Islah (similar to the Judicial Commission) and the acting governor of Riyadh. A Saudi Arabian donor who requested anonymity gave 1 million riyals to Darsem.

In Saudi Arabian law, crimes, based on their natures, are divided into two categories: had and ta'zir. The first refers to crimes for which punishment is governed by the Koran without any human intervention.

Murder, adultery, theft, robbery and drunkenness fall under this category. The punishments for the second group of crimes are decided by the kingdom after consulting scholars, legal experts and indigenous people.

In case of a murder, the murderer must be put to death as an equal retribution (qisas). But unlike the other four had crimes, the family of the murdered victim can forgive the perpetrator based on the chapter of al-Baqarah verse 178 of the Koran.

In fact, the Koran asserts that forgiveness is a relief from Almighty God. God says, "So whoever gets forgiveness from his brother, let [forgiveness] be followed by a good way and let [the forgiven person] pay [blood money] in a way that is good [too].

That is alleviation from your Lord and a mercy. Whoever exceeds the limit after that, so for him a painful chastisement." The fine figure mentioned in a saying of the Prophet is equivalent to 100 camels. So, if a camel costs 2000 riyals, then Darsem must pay 100 camels x 2000 riyals = 2 million riyals.

Based on the schools of law that developed and are adhered to in Saudi Arabia, murder is categorized as qatl bil amd (intentional murder) and qatl ghair amd (unintentional murder/manslaughter).

They are distinguished based on the nature of the murder and evidence. Of course, the punishments are different. A murder can be declared intentional or not based on evidence and witnesses' testimony.

Referring to the cases of Ruyati and Darsem, there are three interesting things we can observe. First, in pre-Islamic Arab tradition, any crime that resulted in blood was deemed as a hereditary issue if it involved a nomadic tribe and other tribes without any clear rules. Islam then arranged qisas, which applied to non-members of the tribe and clan. Qisas were meant to create a peaceful life.

Hence, Islamic law gives room for clemency to perpetrators in exchange for the death penalty. While some countries try to do away with capital punishment, the Prophet of Allah had addressed it many centuries ago. Narrated by Abu Huraira, Allah's apostle said, "God laughs at the two [bodies].

One of them is a killer, but both enter the paradise. The male one was fighting in Allah's way and then was killed [he entered the paradise]. Then the murderer repented and converted to Islam and found martyrdom [entered the paradise too]." The prophet's message is very clear: give room for forgiveness to the perpetrators, repentance will make it better. For that reason, qisas are void if, for example, out of 10 heirs, one person chooses to forgive the convicted.

Second, Saudi Arabia's Criminal Procedure Code is a manifestation of Hanbali fiqh as outlined in the form of legislation. Unlike in Indonesia, the Saudi Arabian Criminal Procedure Code contains a lot of jurisprudences. So, if you are a litigation lawyer, you have to memorize verses of the Koran, hadits (the prophet's traditions) and thousands of jurisprudences that have been in place for centuries. In Saudi Arabia, the judicial authority is part of the kingdom, with the minister of justice chairing the Supreme Court.

Third, most of the criminal cases that involve Indonesian citizens occur in very private spaces. We know housemaids work in the domestic sector where legal protection is fragile and difficult.

In the case of Darsem, the murder took place as self-defense against a rape attempt. The problem,
however, the locus delicti is a private space.

Furthermore, an autopsy on the body of a Muslim should be conducted by a Muslim doctor. Examination of the witnesses or the accused must be accompanied by officers and lawyers of the same gender.

Indonesia could learn from the case of Sarah Balabagan, a Philippine maid who was sentenced to death in the United Arab Emirates six years ago.

Thanks to the lobby of president Fidel Ramos, Sheikh Zaed bin Sultan an-Nahyan asked the relatives of the victim to forgive Balabagan. And the Philippine government raised money to pay the fine. Balabagan was set for free at last.

Hopefully, Ruyati is the last Indonesian citizen executed in the Middle East, and Darsem can be set free.

The writer is a lecturer at the school of law at the University of Djuanda, Bogor, and a legal consultant.






The risk of default has haunted Greece. The country is predicted to be unable to pay its debts after series of bailouts from the European Central Bank and the IMF. There has been rising discussion of whether Greece should leave the Euro zone and use its old currency, returning its monetary policy authority to the Greek Central Bank.

As the situation worsens, it is a good opportunity to decide whether a single currency should be adopted by ASEAN in the future, as the region most likely will advance toward the next stage of economic integration.

The European Union has been hailed as the most advanced example of regional integration by reaching the economic and monetary union, characterized by member states adopting the single currency.

However, there is a price to pay when using the Euro, as the currency is regulated by the European Central Bank. The domestic central banks no longer have power to regulate monetary policy.

An integrated monetary policy is not ideal when member countries have different inflation rates due to different economic conditions and must follow the supranational central bank monetary policy.

Problems occur if one or two member countries cannot cope with the demands to adjust interest rates because of the differences. Conflicts of interest most likely occur as member states must also tolerate the central bank adjusting interest rates in favor of troubled states or to sustain the stability in the region as a whole.

The European debt crisis has shown that an integrated economy is bad for the region if the countries have different capacities and lack prudential fiscal management, as exemplified by Greece. A single currency might no longer be a viable option. The risk would be too high if ASEAN was to force its way forward amid the current economic disparity.

ASEAN member states are usually categorized in two different economic power groups. The first are the advanced economies, the ASEAN-6 – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Second is the group of the least-developed states: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, which known as the CLMV group. In its regional integration, ASEAN is currently in the free trade area stage, having removed tariff and non-tariff barriers among member states.

ASEAN must decide whether it will take the next step of economic integration and move to a single currency with a supranational central bank that coordinates member states' monetary policy.

While the scene of adopting a single currency is still far away and only limited to academic possibilities, ASEAN cannot ignore the fact that economic and monetary unions should not be an option when inflation rate disparity among member states is still wide.

The European debt crisis has taught another bitter lesson of economic unpreparedness. The high level of debt in the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) fueled anxiety after the economic crisis in 2008 and led to a series of bailouts.

During the economic crisis, financial contagion followed, as investors pulled out, causing capital outflows and liquidity to run dry. Liquidity crises usually spread to other regions and trigger domino effects such as dramatic currency depreciation, stock market crashes and government bond defaults, after which the IMF enters the scene.

The classic IMF recipe usually causes further disasters, offering solutions that create other problems such as issuing more debt with high yield, privatizing state-owned enterprises, liberalizing markets and selling assets. Governments must end subsidiaries and health plans, triggering a spiral of deflation and low consumption.

The European debt crisis has taught the world well the heavy price of currency integration. A single currency may no longer be a viable option, for now or for the future.

The writer is a researcher from HD Asia Advisory. The article reflects his personal opinion.









From the beginning the creative force has been intelligently creating and transforming society. If we look within, we discover the seeds of that transformed society that is to be one day, a society that is free from fear and want. A good leader is one who is gifted in discovering that seed within. He or she yearns to want "put right" that what is wrong in society. All of us have it in various degrees; this desire. Some have it more than others, or they work into it, to make that hidden dream within, to become a reality.

People like Martin Luther King, speaking about the emancipation of the Afro-Americans, said he had a dream, that one day, on the other side of the mountain, he could see these people and whites co-existing in harmony. He worked towards that vision and was rewarded by seeing it come true.

Nobel Laureate, Desmond Tutu, was long admired throughout the world for the heroism and grace he displayed while encouraging countless South Africans in their struggle for human rights. He saw how individual and global suffering could be transformed into joy and liberation. His liberating message of light, in those dark days, is for our era too. He writes in his book, "God says to you, 1 have a dream, please help me to realize it. It is a dream of a world, whose ugliness, squalor and poverty; whose war and hostility, greed and harsh competitiveness, alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counter parts." We can do this, by cultivating in society, the qualities of love, forgiveness, humility generosity and courage, and thereby change ourselves and our world.

From primitive society to the modern, the longing has been there for such leaders. Leaders, who can protect, guide and fulfill the deepest aspirations of society. Each age and generation produces leaders, who immerge and are also dispensed with when they fail to cooperate with the evolution of society.

Today we may see a crisis in leadership. There is a dearth of good leaders. Our educational system, may be churning out stereo types to fit into a mould. We may not be placing much emphasis on making each individual to be that unique person that's meant to be. The need of the hour is to make each a creative and questioning individual. To discover and bring out in every person, that latent uniqueness that lies buried within each of us.

Most of today's leaders, in both the secular and religious, appear to be far from being concerned about others' needs and the society's liberation from self-centredness. Their concerns seem to be largely about themselves and holding onto their authority. Such are soon dethroned by fate. The mystics have revealed the truth that says, leaders are given their mandate by higher spiritual powers. Such are called to cooperate with divine principles that are in operation. Failure to do so would bring about their downfall.

The framework of these principals is to let go of worldly values, of self interest, personal gain, pride power or self glory. Many leaders blindly run behind these vices. These are what we are called to deal with and be careful about. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, known and loved throughout India and the world, was a leader, who lifted the poor and the rejected off the streets, and gave dignity and meaning to their lives. This great leader lived and moved among the poor. She was like a Mahatma Gandhi who when asked why he travelled third class, by train, replied that it was because there was no fourth class. May our motherland give birth to such leaders holding noble visions.





International terrorism expert and Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University Prof. Rohan Gunaratne speaks to Hard Talk about the recent allegations against the government and security forces.

Stressing that terrorists are the worst human rights violators he emphasizes that the LTTE assigned a significant portion of their budget to lobby human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and International Crisis Group. Citing such action as being behind the Channel 4 fiasco, he maintains that the LTTE even had a dedicated budget for "Geneva Travel" to lobby NGO advocacy groups. 'Terrorists are the worst human rights violators and the conduct of the LTTE was the best example of it. The LTTE will continue to trick human rights groups and media organizations and some will fall into the LTTE trap,' he warns.

The militaries, law enforcement agencies and intelligence services worldwide have hailed Sri Lankas defeat of the LTTE. As the recent Army seminar in Colombo, pre-eminent experts on counter terrorism, including from the West, praised Sri Lankas strategy. The only failure they highlighted was the inability of the Sri Lankan government especially its political leaders to understand and develop an effective information strategy to counter these allegations.

These allegations are directed and inspired by the LTTE that has now transformed from a ruthless terrorist group to a sophisticated propaganda organization. Unfortunately, a handful of Western politicians are trying to play cheap politics at Sri Lankas expense. Driven by the marginal diaspora Tamil vote manipulated by the LTTE, these unethical politicians, primarily from the UK, are parroting LTTE slogans under the guise of advocating human rights. Shamelessly, the same politicians advocated the US/UK invasion destroying the lives of nearly a million Iraqi civilians based on disinformation!

A few of these European and North American political leaders have accepted not only LTTE votes but LTTE funds. They are not genuinely interested in improving the quality of life of Sri Lankans but in their own political survival. Like a Wikileak exposed David Miliband's primary motivation to focus on Sri Lanka was Tamil votes, Western governments should investigate LTTE links to these politicians.

 According to a British government officer, the LTTE exercises electoral pressure on the British politicians greedy for votes, the politicians put pressure on government bureaucrats, and that affects British policy on Sri Lanka.

Q:Yet the victory has been seen to be devalued in the face of charges of war crimes on the forces by certain individuals, how do you see this situation?

Wars are no longer won only in the battlefield
Sri Lanka won the war on the ground but lost it in the information space. The Sri Lankan political leadership did not understand the importance of countering the LTTE directed and LTTE inspired propaganda. The Ministry of External Affairs and its missions overseas and the Ministry of Information miserably failed to rise to this challenge. Until the Sri Lankan government builds a robust information operations capability, the disinformation and misinformation campaign of the LTTE will damage Sri Lankas image and reputation. 

The LTTE developed the war crimes canard because the remnant leaders of the defeated LTTE want to remain relevant. Today, the LTTE is a militarily spent force but it has emerged as a propaganda organization. With the LTTE dismantled, the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese are living happily.  Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of the Tamils living overseas travel to Sri Lanka. They are the biggest investors in Sri Lanka and government needs to engage them by creating a dedicated diaspora affairs department.

The Sri Lankan government must be undeterred by such baseless criticism. However, it must not fall into the trap of non-response. Sri Lanka must respond to every single allegation and share the unprecedented steps taken by the government to rehabilitate former LTTE cadres, rapidly resettle IDPS, rebuild the north and the east and reconcile the communities. Additionally, government must create an international centre for human rights to investigate human rights violations committed by the terrorists and highlight the stories of the victims of terrorism.

Q: How concerned are you with the criticism over the quoted misconceptions on the security forces' role during the humanitarian debacle over the last stages of the war?

Throughout the Sri Lankan war, even when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was deployed in Sri Lanka, LTTE produced its version of events.

 The LTTE often accused its opponents of the crimes the LTTE committed on the civilians. For instance, the LTTE spoke of genocide when it engaged in ethnocide by expelling Muslims and Sinhalese from the north and east. Through propaganda, the LTTE was able to convince a segment of the Sri Lankan Tamils and a narrow segment of the international community of its lies.

Having failed to engineer a humanitarian catastrophe to draw western intervention, the strategy of the LTTE remnants is lobby Western media; NGOs, especially rights advocacy NGOs; and western politicians susceptible to Tamil electoral pressure and campaign funds who can pressurize international organizations such as the UN. Sri Lankan government must publicize how it freed nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians held hostage and eventually shot at by the LTTE. To counter LTTE directed and inspired misinformation and disinformation campaign, the government must engage in an image and a perception management exercise. But I do not see the Sri Lankan government taking this challenge seriously.   

Sri Lankan security forces have nothing to hide except current operations to maintain current and future security. It is paramount for the Sri Lankan government to investigate every single allegations levelled against its security forces. The Sri Lankan rmy Commander General Jagath Jayasuriya publicly stated that the army will investigate any specific incident that has been brought to its attention.

Throughout the war, the LTTE assigned a significant portion of their budget to lobby human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and International Crisis Group. Recovery of LTTE documents show that the LTTE even had a dedicated budget for "Geneva Travel" to lobby NGO advocacy groups. Terrorists are the worst human rights violators and the conduct of the LTTE was the best example of it. The LTTE will continue to trick human rights groups and media organizations and some will fall into the LTTE trap.

Q: The allegations made by Channel 4 are doing serious damage to the country and the forces. As an international expert on terrorism how would you decipher the allegations and weigh the consequences?

 Channel 4 is the latest victim of LTTE disinformation and misinformation.

For example, Channel 4 portrays Thamilvany Kumar as a civilian.  On the contrary, Thamilvany Kumar is a LTTE weapons trained activist from the UK that worked for Castro, who was in charge of LTTE international network including propaganda. Furthermore, Channel 4 portrays Issipriya as a journalist but she is a weapons trained LTTE cadre who received the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the LTTE. While Issipriya contributed to the radicalization and militarization of an entire generation, her husband Sri Ram killed security forces personnel both in land and maritime attacks.

Sri Lanka's Ministry of Information must produce a film a month to portray the unprecedented development in the north and the east of Sri Lanka. The government should give access to film makers to make films on nation building. Rather than funding anti-government journalists to write stories attacking the government, foreign missions in Colombo should be encouraged to provide assistance to independent film producers to produce films on terrorist rehabilitation, IDP resettlement, reconstruction in the north and the east and reconciliation between the communities.

Q: The government recently announced plans to strengthen the legal framework in seizing LTTE assests by amending the Financial Transactions Act, Prevention of Terrorism Financing Act etc. What key areas would you suggest the government concentrate on to better meet the related demands?

Terrorism as a threat will persist in Sri Lanka in the immediate, mid and in the long term.

 As such PTA and Emergency regulations must not be repealed. The LTTE remnants are funding some TNA MPS who are still engaged in Tiger activity. While developing a mainstream Tamil political leadership in the north and the east, the Government must target the terrorist financial infrastructure and prosecute anyone financially connected with the LTTE factions overseas even if they are TNA MPs. In addition to dispensing severe punishment, the government must enact laws to seize their assets.Sri Lankan courts do not have extra-territorial jurisdiction, to try persons such as LTTE operatives who have committed offences overseas, and not engaged in any illegal activities on Sri Lankan soil. It would be important for Sri Lankan authorities to pay due regard to this weakness of the Sri Lankan criminal justice system and adopt legislative reform so as to vest extra-territorial jurisdiction in Sri Lankan criminal courts and to amend the substantive criminal law of Sri Lanka to recognize as punishable offences LTTE activism overseas. As two years have passed, Sri Lanka must now move forward to criminalize advocacy, support and participation in separatist activities an offense.

Q: The Indian interest in resolving the Sri Lankan 'issue' is seen by a majority as an interference that must not be tolerated. Do you see room  for such concerns in view of the undeniable political realities that are shared between?

Sri Lanka must not follow the Indian model of devolution.

 Every country is unique. Sri Lanka must develop its own methods to manage its challenges. A wise Indian familiar with recent Indo-Lankan history will not dictate terms to or impose its will on Sri Lanka!India is partially responsible for creating the LTTE. Today, it is no secret that the Indian government armed, trained, financed and directed over 20,000 LTTE and other cadres from Indian soil from 1983-1987. Having assisted the LTTE first, by non interference in the final phase of the operation against the LTTE in 2008-2009, India is also partially responsible for destroying the LTTE. Sri Lanka must remain grateful to India for its non role in the final phase.

India supported the LTTE and other groups because New Delhi perceived that Sri Lanka had stepped out of the non aligned orbit and was flirting with the US, Israel, China, and Pakistan. Now the Americans and the Israelis have become the best friends of Indians. Although India's relations with China and Pakistan are improving there is deep mistrust between these nations.  As such, Sri Lanka must maintain cordial relations with New Delhi and with Chennai. Otherwise, India will punish Sri Lanka once again. To prevent the LTTE from regrouping in Tamil Nadu and re-emerging as a threat both Indian and Sri Lankan law enforcement and intelligence services must build a special relationship.

 Although most Tamil Nadu politicians are crooks and corrupt, Sri Lanka must build a formidable relationship with Tamil Nadu politicians and officials. They must invite the Chief Minister and all her top officials to visit Sri Lanka's north east and show case the unprecedented development and invite their participation.





After nearly two months of trade union action by the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA), some relief for students seems tangible in the coming week. Minister of Higher Education S.B Dissanayake promised on Wednesday to resolve the issue within a week and FUTA President Dr. Nirmal Dewasiri mirrored his sentiments.

Q: After the protest and public lecture on Tuesday FUTA had met with the Minister. What was discussed?

After our protest on Tuesday we did have a meeting with the Minister and we discussed a number of issues and technicalities regarding the implementation of the interim resolution that we had presented before we began the trade union action.

This is an alternative proposal to our original demands and he basically agreed to this proposal. We discussed that a senior lecturers salary would be a gross of Rs. 132,000. This was the amount that we suggested be put into practice in the September 2010 budget. During our discussions we made some amendments and the amounts are slightly different.

However there was no formal agreement that was reached and the minister's tone in the interview he gave the Daily Mirror was somewhat different to the discussions that took place. Yet he was right when he said that there would be some resolution in the next week, that is something he told us and it is what we want as well.

Q: When will the trade union action be stopped, did you agree to any particular date?

These were only discussions there was no formal agreement on the matter.

There is a formal agreement that is reached then we will stop the trade union action, hopefully within a week. What we want is a formal agreement and not only that but some implementation of the proposal. Then we will stop the trade union action. Implementation should be in the form of circulars and concrete action that shows that the interim proposals will be put into practice at once and our demands will be met speedily.

Q:What is the systematic plan agreed to by the FUTA and the government to bring correct the salary anomalies for university lecturers in the long run?

There are two further steps that we have suggested be implemented in the 2012 and 2013 budgets to bring the final figure of university lecturers salaries to 168,000.

 We have made a few changes to the main demands that we presented but essentially these the demands that we made and they have been agreed to informally. But we are hoping that the government will put them into practice. Our final and long term goal is to have university lecturers' salaries to equal that of Central Bank






Despite the new pledge for reforms and amnesty announced by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, the situation in Syria is deteriorating rapidly.

 In the midst of all the political upheavals at home, comes additional pressure from outside, in the shape of an extension in sanctions. The European Union, in light of the continued use of brute force against civilians by the Syrian government recently announced an extension of the sanctions against some firms and persons who are believed to be involved in protests suppression. A number of lists proposing sanctions against Syrian government affiliates and companies have been prepared by EU states and may obtain approval in absence of any objections in the near future.

While this may be the least of Assad's worries at present, this could act as a catalyst and may also be the reason for the start of dissent in his inner circle. The whole purpose of these sanctions is (to implement measures demonstrative of international disapproval of the current going on's and to put much-needed pressure on a regime that has chosen the path of suppression and force to quieten any legitimate demands.

The problem is that even Assad's well-meaning promises to reform the administration and reconstitute the political mechanism are no longer acceptable. First is the problem of credibility. The people no longer trust the government, which is essential for any leader's stay in power. Second, by adopting contradictory policies, the government has only earned a bad name.  On the one hand the people are offered amnesty with several hundred prisoners being released and on the other hand larger numbers are detained and subjected to brutalities and torture.

To date at least 1,300 people have been killed and thousands detained and displaced.  Even as tens of thousands seek refuge across the border in Turkey, the United Nations has appealed to Syria to allow missions access to determine facts and extend humanitarian help.

Though Syria recently agreed to give Red Cross wider access to civilians it is unlikely to allow fact finding missions, given the closed nature of the regime and its paranoia about leakage of information to the outside world.

Each passing day has seen the death toll mount amid rising instability. It is time the Syrian government immediately starts its National Dialogue initiative in order to prevent the situation from exacerbating. 

Khaleej Times





Righting the wrong is part of civilized behaviour. But it is not known whether the Nobel committee believes in this norm. If it does, it should request United States President Barack Obama to return the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize and the prize money.

The call to strip Obama of his Nobel peace prize is as old as the decision to award him the prize. At that time, the president, just eight-month in office, had hardly proved his peace credentials except for rhetoric. But the committee in its defence said Obama's speeches had revived the hope for peace in a conflict-ridden world. It cited Obama's "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples".

Far from being so, in retrospect, it appears that the committee has only given a veneer of legitimacy to the United States' wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover it has given a licence to the Obama administration to launch wars in Libya and if necessary in other places where the US interests are in jeopardy or where resources, especially oil, gas and minerals, make US capitalists salivate.

When Obama decided to join the war on Libya in March this year, Bolivia's socialists President Evo Morales asked: "How is it possible that a Nobel Peace Prize winner leads a gang to attack and invade? This is not a defence of human rights or self-determination."

Morales was right, the decision to attack Libya was taken well before the peaceful means of conflict resolution were fully exhausted.

Armed with the Nobel licence to wage war, President Obama, a Harvard-educated constitutional law lecturer, has even dared to defy the US constitution and Congress. Under the US constitution, any military action the President takes needs to be referred to the Congress for approval before 60 days. But in the case of Obama's Libya war, this did not happen. Many see Obama's stance, which seems to convey that a war president is superior to the constitution, as a challenge to constitutionalism.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul, a possible candidate for 2012 presidential race, says, "Our founders understood that waging war is not something that should be taken lightly, which is why Article 1, Section 8 of the United States constitution gives Congress — not the president — the authority to declare war. This was meant to be an important check on presidential power. The last thing the founders wanted was an out-of-control executive branch engaging in unnecessary and unpopular wars without so much as a Congressional debate. Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation we have today in Libya."

Paul and several other Congressmen have filed a lawsuit for a ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama's Libya war.

The White House in a response said the president need not seek congressional approval for limited engagements such as the US involvement in Libya.

Given Obama's increasingly hawkish credentials, such a response came as no surprise to the peace lobby and constitutionalists.

Pardon me for labelling a president who was elected on an anti-Iraq war platform, a war president or a hawk. But the compulsion to label him thus overrides my reluctance to do so.

The compulsion prevails even after he made an announcement on Wednesday that US troops would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan from next month and by the end of this year 10,000 troops would leave the war-ravaged country. According to his plans, another 23,000 will leave Afghanistan by the end of next summer and by 2014 the troop withdrawal will be complete. This means that 70,000 US troops plus another 40,000 from other NATO nations will continue to remain in Afghanistan till 2014.

Well, 2014 is three and a half years away and the period gives enough time to manipulate events which may warrant a longer US presence not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan.

The Nobel peace laureate's just war has killed, according to a conservative estimate, more than 12,000 innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the war began in October 2001. Some reports say that in any given US or NATO attack on a target the militant casualties account for only two percent with 98 percent being civilian deaths.

What Obama did not tell the Americans on Wednesday was that his administration is holding talks with the Hamid Karzai government to work out an agreement that will allow a permanent US presence in Afghanistan after 2014. Similar talks are underway in Iraq to let the American forces stay in Iraq after the December 31 deadline.

According to opinion polls, nearly 70 percent of the Americans are pessimistic about the Afghan war and prefer a substantial troop withdrawal by next month because there is no justification to remain there, now that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is history.

The people feel the country cannot spend two billions dollars every week on the Afghan war at a time when the economy is in a deep mess. Obama also acknowledged it in his Wednesday's speech.

But power-politics seems to take precedence over the welfare of the American people. The United State's talks with the Karzai government and secret talks with the Taliban indicate that Washington regards Afghanistan as a strategically important base to check the growing influence of China in the Central Asian region. Afghanistan would also be useful as a base if hostilities break out between Iran and the United States.

The irony is that Obama who was elected on an anti-war platform is now getting ready to seek his reelection with three wars under his belt and more up his sleeve. If the Nobel committee does not take note of this and take action, the conclusion one may draw is that the committee also has jumped on the war bandwagon.

Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite later gave all his wealth for the Nobel awards, when he saw how his invention was being used more for destructive purposes than for constructive purposes; just as it was with Albert Einstein's discovery of nuclear power. If it is possible for graves to be filled with tears, then that may be the case with these famous scientists. 







Meetings begin late, the transport system chugs along slowly and almost everybody in Mumbai treads a little warily to avoid any mishap.

So, it wasn't all that unusual when our university term's first lecture was cancelled.

Only later did we know that our elderly lecturer had met with an accident and won't be returning for the rest of the year.

The next day in class, we discovered that a book written by him was one of our textbooks. Priced at Rs495 (BD4), it was a little expensive for most and soon there seemed to be a general consensus that it would be economical to take photocopies of the 150-page book.

In a corner, my friend and I were feverishly trying to make everyone feel guilty.

"He deserves the royalties from the book," my friend told the class.

"He's been injured badly and won't be able to work again. He needs this money," I added.

"Besides, we can't do this to him, he was to be our lecturer," my friend argued. After much soul-searching, the class agreed that we would order en masse from an online bookstore.

In Mumbai, flouting copyright laws comes easy. Colaba causeway and areas around the Victoria Terminus in the south are a haven for booklovers. Strolling along the quiet pavements, you can find every imaginable title for a fraction of the price you would pay in a bookstore.

The trouble is, all these books are photocopied and bound with a matching front cover to give it the feel of authenticity.

They are sold in broad daylight, on pavements, roadside kiosks and in malls that specialise in selling contraband items. All this is illegal according to Indian and international laws, but here it is considered just one of the many entrepreneurial ways to earn a livelihood.

There are a few, however, who think otherwise - that turning a blind eye to this flourishing market is in violation of the authors' intellectual property rights.

The owner of a popular bookstore in Colaba told me that when he left Mangalore in south India to earn a living here, he was never tempted to join the illegal book trade.

Though illiterate, he taught himself to read and write and believes that authors, especially those who have just debuted, should not be denied their profit.

His biggest threat, however, comes in the form of hawkers outside.

Displaying the same titles outside for bargainable prices, these men are the primary cause of the declining footfalls in his store.

Bollywood is another major violator of copyright laws. Storylines for most movies are heavily borrowed from Hollywood and elsewhere and you'll be in a fix to find original content in this industry.

Partners in Crime, a documentary by Paromita Vohra I watched last week, featured people who sold pirated movies, downloaded films and plagiarised music talking about their trade with little fear of being apprehended.

There were others from music industry who claimed what they did was not plagiarism but a give-and-take as there is no such thing called original content as everything was sometime borrowed from someone.

The worst sufferers are folk artists from rural India whose songs are regularly "borrowed" and featured in Bollywood film with no royalties to them as the original creators of the music.

Many old cinema halls are facing closure because movies can be bought on pirated DVDs and the film industry that regularly flouted copyright laws is now forced to protect their own content.

It is a vicious circle and piracy here or anywhere won't come to a stop until people realised that art while it can inspire ideas is not meant to be borrowed.

l Ms Gnana is a former Bahrain resident now studying in Mumbai.



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