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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

EDITORIAL 29.06.11

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Editorial

month june 29, edition 000871, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. NSG SHIFTS GOAL POSTS
  2. NECESSARY INTERVENTION
  3. CHEATING ON THE CHEETAH - MANVENDRA SINGH
  4. HASINA ABANDONS SECULARISM - SANCHITA BHATTACHARYA
  5. THE FALSE MESSIAH PAKISTAN AWAITS - NADEEM F PARACHA
  6. RUSSIANS ARE BACK WITH A BANG IN PRAGUE

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. BOOST MANUFACTURING
  2. NO MORE DESI GIRLS?
  3. FOR A SOUTH ASIAN RENAISSANCE - MOONIS AHMARMOONIS AHMAR
  4. I URGE INDIA TO SET AN EXAMPLE IN OPENNESS TO THE REGION'
  5. LET THEM CHIPAK - JUG SURAIYAJUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. NO MORE GIFTS FOR THE GREEKS
  2. SHOOT THE RUNNER
  3. WAITING TO EXPLODE - GD BAKSHI
  4. OPERATING PROCEDURES - SV KOTWAL
  5. SPARRING PARTNERS - NANDINI SUNDAR

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. STANDING STRONG
  2. OWNING THE REFORMER
  3. FUELLING A TRANSITION - ILA PATNAIK
  4. BOMBAY'S BAUMGARTNERS
  5. PROPERTY TAX REFORM CAN FUND OUR CITIES - ISHER JUDGE AHLUWALIA
  6. SUMMER OF STRUGGLE - C. RAJA MOHAN
  7. 160 MILLION AND COUNTING
  8. RESPECT PARLIAMENT - MANOJCG

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. CAIRN BLINKS
  2. ALL DRESSED UP...
  3. SOLVING THE LABOUR CONUNDRUM - ARINDAM BHATTACHARYA
  4. PROTECTED BY IMPERFECTIONS! - AMITENDU PALIT

THE HINDU

  1. THE CAG'S MANDATE
  2. GIVE PALESTINE ITS DUE
  3. KOREA'S ENDLESS NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE  - PRAVEEN SWAMI
  4. THE OCEANS AND THE MONSOON  - N. GOPAL RAJ
  5. ELDERS OFFER HELP AT JAPAN'S CRIPPLED REACTOR  - KEN BELSON
  6. U.S. EXPANDS HUMAN TRAFFICKING BLACKLIST

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. CHANGES IN CRICKET: BCCI GETS ITS WAY
  2. INNER STRENGTH FIRST - INDER MALHOTRA
  3. IS LAND THE NEW HIGH-RISK ASSET? - INDRANIL BANERJIE
  4. MUZZLED IN MALAYSIA - SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. YATRA BEGINS
  2. PROFILING MILITANTS
  3. GREEK ECONOMIC CRISIS AND INDIA - BY DR SATISH MISRA
  4. SYNERGY BETWEEN TOURISM AND ECO-TOURISM - BY JEET DOGRA
  5. TACKELING THE HIGH SPEED CORRUPTION - BY S K REKHI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. HEAVY TAXES ON OIL
  2. GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITIES
  3. UP'S CRIME RECORD
  4. CHANGING POWER BALANCE IN E. ASIA - BY HARSH V. PANT
  5. MY FAST AFTER BREAKFAST - BY RAJ KANWAR
  6. AMONG (UN)EQUALS - MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. GREEN SIGNAL FOR FDI
  2. NOT FIT FOR THE GODS
  3. THINKING BEYOND ECONOMIC RECOVERY - SHAHID JAVED BURKI
  4. TWENTY YEARS OF FOREIGN TRADE - A K BHATTACHARYA
  5. CRIMES & PUNISHMENT - M J ANTONY
  6. SHOULD EPF INVEST MORE MONEY IN EQUITY?

BUSINESS LINE

  1. NO TEARS FOR THE DEPB
  2. FEDERALISM IN CHOPPY WATERS - NIRMA LA SITHARAMAN
  3. PLAY OF DEMAND AND INFLATION  - RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY
  4. DR SINGH'S GIBBARD–SATTERTHWAITE MOMENT - EKALAVYA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. BARREN THINKING
  2. A CAPITAL IDEA
  3. NOT FOR BATSMEN?
  4. REMEMBERING SURESH TENDULKAR
  5. SHOULD THE CBI COME UNDER THE PURVIEW OF RTI?
  6. ZONAL FOLLY ON MANUFACTURING  - MANMOHAN S SODHI

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. REST IN PEACE, PETER PARKER

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. CHANGES IN CRICKET: BCCI GETS ITS WAY
  2. INNER STRENGTH FIRST
  3. WHAT AMERICA NEEDS IS AN AWAKENING
  4. IS LAND THE NEW HIGH-RISK ASSET?

THE STATESMAN

  1. NSG ENDS WAIVER
  2. JAWANS JEOPARDISED
  3. KHAPS AND POLLS
  4. AMBIT OF THE LOKPAL - RAJINDAR SACHAR
  5. HOME ALONE  - MARIYA SALIM
  6. NAYACHAR NOT REALLY AN OPTION  - SUBRATA SINHA
  7. OWNING UP OMISSIONS  - SANKAR SEN

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. NUMERICAL MIST
  2. STOP PLAY
  3. DRIVING FORCE
  4. LEGAL FAQS
  5. PROTECTING THE PEN FROM THE SWORD

HAARETZ

  1. RABBI DOV LIOR SHOULD BE FIRED
  2. ISRAEL'S DEFENSE CHIEFS FAILED IN DETERRING IRAN - BY ALUF BENN
  3. MITZNA IS NOT THE MAN  - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
  4. BOYCOTT REALITY SHOWS  - BY YAIR SHELEG
  5. NO ONE IS QUESTIONING ISRAEL'S LEGITIMACY - BY SHLOMO AVINERI

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. THE TURKISH SUMMER
  2. 'TURKEY IS SHAPING THE ARAB SPRING'
  3. 'TURKEY IS SHAPING THE ARAB SPRING'
  4. 77,669 VOTES CAST FOR DICLE
  5. 'DECEPTIONOCRACY' OR DEMOCRACY?
  6. WHEN THE SENSE OF JUSTICE IS LOST
  7. WHY TURKEY WILL NOT BECOME ITALY

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. LEADERLESS IN EUROPE
  2. DEBT LIMIT DOG DAYS
  3. THE JUDGE WHO CRACKED THE BULGER CASE
  4. MINING AND THE CANYON
  5. UTOPIA ON THE HUDSON - BY MAUREEN DOWD
  6. SHOULD JUSTICES KEEP THEIR OPINIONS TO THEMSELVES? - BY JEFF SHESOL

THE NEWS

  1. WHAT NOW?
  2. TERROR AND MEDIA
  3. INDIA'S UNWANTED CHILDREN  - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
  4. WHAT WOULD YOU DO?  -  MOHAMMAD MALICK
  5. SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF PAKISTAN  -  S KHALID HUSAIN
  6. CROSS-BORDER RAIDS: A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE  -  MUNIR AHMED BALOCH
  7. FOR PEACE TO PREVAIL  -  ZAFAR HILALY....THE WRITER IS A FORMER AMBASSADOR.
  8. WAITING FOR A BREAKTHROUGH  - TANVIR AHMAD KHAN

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. MQM QUITS, ONCE AGAIN
  2. NOW REGIME CHANGE INEVITABLE IN LIBYA
  3. NEW TRADE POINT AT WAHGA
  4. AMERICA'S COVERT OPERATIONS - ASIF HAROON RAJA
  5. PEACE PROCESS IN AFGHANISTAN - ALI SUKHANVER
  6. LOOMING DRUG PROBLEM - QUDRAT ULLAH
  7. WHY LOW TOLERANCE? - M SULEMAN SHAHID
  8. ANOTHER SIGN OF AMERICA'S DECLINE - AYAAN HIRSI ALI

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. HAPPINESS IS A LAND CALLED OZ
  2. WE CAN'T EXPORT OUR MORALITY
  3. CLOCKS ARE FROZEN ON VITAL ECONOMIC REFORMS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. A SHOT ACROSS THE ABBOTT BOW
  2. THE CULTURES OF EDUCATION
  3. LIBS HARK BACK TO THE PAST IN A POLICY VACUUM

THE GUARDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF … THOSE WHO FOUGHT FOR SPAIN
  2. FRANCE: SOCIALIST SUNRISE
  3. UNIVERSITIES: SUMMER ASSESSMENT

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. BOOSTING JAPAN'S FLAGGING TOURISM
  2. FORUM FOR BETTER LOCAL GOVERNMENT
  3. SOUTH CHINA SEA: MAKING SENSE OF NONSENSE - BY MARK VALENCIA
  4. CHINESE FINANCE COMES OF AGE - BY HOWARD DAVIES
  5. BEIJING BETS ON THE EURO - BY GWYNNE DYER

DAILY MIRROR

  1. DIPLO-MUTS DRAG LANKA TOWARDS DISASTER
  2. HOPE FOR YEMEN?
  3. MOON'S RE –ELECTION: WHAT IS UP HIS SLEEVE?

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. MILLIONS HUNGRY AS FOOD WASTED   - BY CHEE YOKE HEONG

TEHRAN TIMES

  1. IF THE SEA IS IN TROUBLE, WE ARE ALL IN TROUBLE - BY SYLVIA EARLE
  2. JAPAN'S MELTDOWNS DEMAND NEW NO-NUKES THINKING - BY AMY GOODMAN
  3. BAHRAIN TAKES A PAGE OUT OF STALIN'S TEXTBOOK - BY DR. ALA'A SHEHABI
  4. CAMPAIGN AGAINST TERRORISM REQUIRES COMMITMENT - BY ELHAM POURMOHAMMADI 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

NSG SHIFTS GOAL POSTS

WILL UPA MAKE FURTHER COMPROMISES?


Apprehensions about the Nuclear Suppliers' Group shifting the goalposts after getting India to agree to its tough conditions by compromising national strategic interests for what was touted in 2008 as a 'clean waiver' of guidelines appear to be slowly but surely coming true. In a recent move, the 46-member NSG has indicated plans to 'strengthen' its guidelines on supplying fuel enrichment and reprocessing equipment. If the changes were to be carried through, it is more than likely India will be adversely impacted when it seeks to acquire ENR technology. Needless to add, setting up nuclear power plants would be meaningless in the absence of enrichment and reprocessing technology. The much-publicised India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement and the subsequent 'clean waiver' given by the NSG were supposed to have set the nation free from the shackles of sanctions related to technology and fuel supply; it was claimed that the two together marked the end of our 'isolation'. But with the NSG now moving to "strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies", a big question mark has come to loom over that claim. True, the exact details of the US-backed changes being incorporated in the NSG guidelines are not known. But the little that is known — for instance, making it mandatory for those seeking enrichment and reprocessing technology to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or the NPT as it is popularly known and to which India is not a signatory — could undo the 'great achievement' of the UPA regime, unless it agrees to capitulate and abandon national interest altogether. Given the craven desire of this Government to appease America at any cost, neither should come as a surprise. The Prime Minister would claim this to be another feather in his cap. The issue, however, is far more serious than an individual's predilections as it involves the future of India's nuclear policy and programmes.

Ironically, the proposed changes in the NSG's guidelines have come at a time when India has already entered into agreements with the US, Russia and France for the setting up of nuclear power plants and the supply of fuel. These countries have also promised to provide fuel enrichment and reprocessing technology, apart from pushing for India's inclusion in an expanded NSG. The sudden move to amend the guidelines, therefore, raises the question: Is there a hidden motive? The NSG says the proposed amendments are meant to rein in rogue states like Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, but that is not entirely convincing. For, the NSG could only twiddle its thumbs when China decided to set up new nuclear power plants in Pakistan and supply fuel for them, cocking a snook at the suppliers' group and the US. Nor has the non-proliferation regime prevented Pakistan from adding bombs to its arsenal. Therefore, it is unlikely that tightening of guidelines will impose curbs on either transfer of technology or supply of fuel. Are we then to believe that all this amounts to pressure tactics to force India into watering down its nuclear liability law? Or will we be asked to accept full scope safeguards for all nuclear facilities and subject them to international inspection? The coming days will provide answers to these and related questions. Meanwhile, the Government would be well advised not to make tall claims like the proposed amendments will not impact us adversely as we have a watertight 'clean waiver'.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

NECESSARY INTERVENTION

INDIA MUST GET SRI LANKA TO KEEP ITS PROMISES


For long now India has enjoyed a high level of influence over Sri Lanka. Yet, despite its long-standing relationship with Colombo, New Delhi's attempts to encourage its southern neighbour to address crucial post-war challenges and work towards sustainable peace has only met with limited success. Active political engagement and a generous financial assistance package have failed to convince President Mahinda Rajapaksa to bring about an equitable post-war settlement in the country. Consequently, Sri Lanka now runs the risk of an authoritarian Government and a dangerously powerful military. This does not bode well for India. Already saddled with a failed, terrorist state in its west and a young, floundering democracy in the north, India can do without a highly militarised autocratic neighbour in the south. To this extent, it is imperative that New Delhi work with Colombo to lay the foundation of a strong democratic state. Since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009, India has focussed on providing humanitarian assistance to displaced Tamils located in the north and the east of Sri Lanka, while negotiating with that country's Government to devolve power to the Tamils in areas where they are the majority so as to resolve the long-drawn ethnic conflict between them and the Sinhalese, who form the majority in the rest of the country. Additionally, India also supports several major development projects and is working to bring about greater economic integration. However, these policies and initiatives have fallen tragically short: In the face of widespread Sinhalisation, Sri Lankan Tamils continue to be politically marginalised while increased militarisation of the northern province has left them feeling more insecure than ever before. In the rest of the country, democratic institutions remain under constant threat especially as political power becomes concentrated in the hands of Mr Rajapaksa, his family and the military.

In this context, New Delhi would do well to encourage Colombo to show better results. India's unequivocal support to Mr Rajapaksa as his Government fought to defeat the much despised LTTE should have fetched India greater leverage but South Block has been reluctant to use that to press for more reforms and greater accountability. This must change: Not only because a politically stable and peaceful Sri Lanka is strategic to Indian interests but because China's increasing influence in that country must also be contained. India has vast economic interests, as well as security interests in Sri Lanka, and China must not be allowed to threaten those. Mr Rajapaksa, who has been courting the Chinese while gladly accepting Indian assistance, should be asked to keep his promises.

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

CHEATING ON THE CHEETAH

MANVENDRA SINGH


The proposal to implant the African Cheetah deep in the desert is bizarre. It reflects the lopsided thinking of India's conservationists.

Big Cat Diary must really be high on the Indian conservationists' watching list. It is one of the more exciting programmes on one of the naturalist channels. And it must have had an impact on the minds of those who plan and execute conservation programmes across the country. For the Indian executive really seems to have a big cat obsession. Any conversation about conservation invariably revolves around one of the cats. And big cat stories are pretty much all that there is to read, and watch, when it comes to covering conservation in India.

The latest to hit the news is a proposal to implant the African Cheetah in a specially designated zone deep in the desert. So deep that the specially designated zone will be closer to Kandahar than it will be to Delhi, geographically anyway. And implant, because that is what the proposal entails, releasing about half-a-dozen cheetahs in the desert, where it will be a foreign entity. Nothing could be a more bizarre proposal, and nothing could be more reflective of Indian attitudes to conservation than importing, and implanting, the African Cheetah into the desert.

It is a bizarre proposal because the African Cheetah is an alien to Indian conditions, terrain, and climate. The DNA of the African Cheetah never matched with that of the long lost Indian cousin which, in fact, was closer to the Iranian species, some of which are still thought to exist in the wild. The extinction of the Indian Cheetah is forever recounted as one of the great losses in the world of nature and all its beauties. And it is truly one of the great losses, and a tale of immense tragedy. Any wildlife lover recoils at the mention of that terrible loss of such a graceful animal.

But it is gone, and there is nothing that can be done to revive the Indian Cheetah. Certainly not by importing the African Cheetah. They cannot become Indian in any sense of the word. All imported animals, and other species of nature, extract another greater cost when implanted in an alien land. The African Cheetah will undoubtedly do the same, wherever it were to be introduced in India.

Which then begs the question: Why the desert? The idea currently doing the rounds amongst the decision-makers is to clear a specially designated part of the zone called the Shahgarh Bulge. It is a distinctive bulge on the map of India. And it is a distinctive eco-system in itself. The most sparsely populated part of the desert, which is in any case thinly peopled, Shahgarh is distinctive in its extremely soft sand and its enormous shifting dunes. So soft and so enormous that the border fencing with Pakistan failed in this bulge.

Sand dunes move with a greater rapidity and cover a greater distance in this part of the desert than any other. Cheetahs imported and implanted into Shahgarh will have an easy passage into Pakistan, far easier than the smugglers who largely avoid this stretch of treacherous terrain. For there is little in terms of shade, water, and natural foodstock. The charming oases are few, and far in between.

The Shahgarh Bulge is not the African savannah, the climate and terrain most suited to the peculiar hunting skills of the cheetah. After all, it is only for the hunting footage of the cheetah that it makes the charts on big cat programmes. Even in its most suitable terrain, the cheetah has the poorest survival rates among the big cats. So how can the African Cheetah be expected to hunt prey that is far lesser in numbers in Shahgarh and on sand that is far too soft for its paws?

The cheetah has to outsprint its prey, but the sand will not allow it to gather speed. So what does it hunt then? The herds of goats of course. And that will then bring the whole man versus big cat debate back into focus, dramatically. This conflict too will end the way all such conflicts go — tragically for the cheetah. Why then don't conservationists in India answer the basic conflict points first before pushing the cheetah further towards doom? The very notion, therefore, that this could be considered a suitable zone for the cheetah vividly reflects the Indian approach to the big cats conservation programme. Because when it comes to the big cats, there are big budgets involved.

The tiger in India pushed the lion into a corner of Gujarat. This was the land of the lion for many millennia, until the tiger appeared and took over the country. The tiger finally met its match in the Indian hunter, poacher and the Chinese medicine man. Imperial Britain began the hunt of the tiger and independent India continued until the world began to point fingers of doom. The slide into extinction has just about slowed, but the necks are still deep in the water. The tiger in India is still not out of the extreme danger zone, and yet the cheetah is being imported for further entertainment. Unless India can preserve, protect and promote what it already has, there is little sense in pushing another species into the gorge. Which is really where the cheetah programme will head.

The cheetah is gone from India, and the country is rightly shamed by that act of brutality. But instead of atoning for our sins by a contrived confession, it is better to focus on what we already have and which continue to be on the critically endangered list — tiger, lion and leopard for the big cat conscious. The three of them make the news almost every week.

Making news in the world of conservation is not always a good thing because it is generally occasioned by a tragic tale. A threatened Indian tiger continues to make sorry news. A ghettoised Indian lion runs a very serious risk of genetic imbalance. There are common sense cures for ghettoisation. Provincial poaching has resulted in the leopard looking for food within human habitations and ending up tied between sticks.

It doesn't require rocket science to get at the root of the problem. All that it entails is looking at the entire food chain which begins with the common grass and ends with the big cats. The fact that India is loosing its botanical treasures at an alarming rate should become the starting point of a relook at the conservation programmes. Without the plants the big cats cannot survive. And there aren't enough plants in Shahgarh Bulge for an imported African Cheetah to depend for its food chain.

-- The accompanying visual shows an African Cheetah mother with her cubs at Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

HASINA ABANDONS SECULARISM

SANCHITA BHATTACHARYA


Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League, which had swept the last parliamentary election in Bangladesh on the promise of restoring secularism and democracy, are now eager to pander to Islamists and fanatics. Despite the Supreme Court restoring the secular credentials of Bangladesh's 1972 Constitution, Sheikh Hasina wants Islam as the 'State Religion'.

In a dramatic volte face, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, has declared that she wished to keep Islam as the 'State Religion'. The announcement is in complete contrast to the ruling Awami League's declared pro-secular approach. Sheikh Hasina, who also leads the AL, appears to be targeting the support of some radical Muslim formations in a replay of her last tenure, 1996-2001. The present posture suggests that the AL Government may increasingly incline to the use of Islam for political manoeuvre. Meanwhile, the Dhaka High Court, on June 8, asked the Government to explain the legality of its standpoint on the status of Islam as the 'State Religion'.

The instrumentalisation of Islam to secure political legitimacy began in Bangladesh after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. The successor President and Chief Martial Law Administrator, General Zia-ur-Rahman, passed a Presidential Decree in 1977, removing the principle of secularism from the Preamble of the Constitution and, instead, inserted the infamous Fifth Amendment declaring "absolute trust and faith in the Almighty Allah". Further, in 1988, Islam was given the status of 'State Religion' through the Eighth Amendment by the even more zealous military regime of Lt Gen HM Ershad — Gen Rahman's successor.

The ongoing controversy regarding the status of Islam and its legality as the 'State Religion' came to the forefront after the general election that restored Sheikh Hasina to power in January 2009. Her Government immediately focussed attention on the challenge of tackling religious extremism and terrorism. At that time, the AL Government had made it clear that it would re-introduce the original 'Four State Principles' — democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism.

Meanwhile, on January 3, 2010, Bangladesh's Supreme Court lifted a four-year stay against a ban on "the abuse of religion for political purposes". By lifting the stay, the Supreme Court approved the August 29, 2005, judgement of a three-judge Bench, led by Justice ABM Khairul Haque, which declared the Fifth Amendment illegal. The Bench also defined the meaning of secularism as religious tolerance and religious freedom. Subsequently, on February 20, 2010, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed stated, "Now we don't have any bar to return to the four state principles of democracy, nationalism, secularism and socialism, as had been heralded in the 1972 statute of the state".

Finally, the 184-page judgement of the Supreme Court was issued on July 28, 2010. The Supreme Court got rid of the bulk of the Fifth Amendment, including provisions that had allowed religious political parties to prosper, or that legitimised military dictatorship. The verdict further dubbed such parties as extra-constitutional adventurers and suggested "suitable punishment" for those who installed military regimes and imposed martial laws. The simultaneous trial of those guilty of 1971 War Crimes and the arrest of prominent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami on such charges further heated up the debate on the role of Islamic parties in the political arena.

At that juncture, it appeared that Sheikh Hasina's Government was determined to take on the radical Islamic groups — both militant outfits and political parties. On March 16, 2009, Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder placed a report that identified 12 'militant' outfits — the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh, Hizb-ut-Tawhid, Ulama Anjuman al Bainat, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islami Democratic Party, Islami Samaj, Touhid Trust, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, Shahadat-e-al-Hikma Party Bangladesh, Tamir-ud-Deen (Hizb-e-Abu Omar) and Allahr Dal. The Government has so far banned four Islamist militant groups — the JMB, HuJIB, JMJB and Shahadat-e-al-Hikma. The main targets of the law enforcers, however, were the party activists and cadre of five main groups — Islami Chhatra Shibir (youth wing of the JeI), JMB, HuJIB, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Hizb-ut-Tawhid. There was quick follow-up action to arrest leaders and cadre of these militant formations. Among the arrested are important leaders, such as the founder of HuJIB, Sheikh Abdus Salam; its current chief, Mufti Abdul Hannan Sabbir; the chief of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Mahiuddin Ahmad; the regional leader of Hizb-ut-Tawhid, Mohammed Moinuddin; and many others. Recoveries have included arms and ammunition, with typical variety of cocktail and handmade bombs, bomb-making manuals, jihadi literature and anti-Government leaflets.

Contradictions were, however, sharpening within the country, with three visible and polarising trends consolidating: The ongoing 1971 War Crimes trials; the anti-women Islamist demonstrations protesting the formulation of the National Women's Development Policy (2011); and the re-emergence of mass and violent street politics after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party called a 36-hour national protest on June 13, 2011. The Islamist Parties clearly have huge stakes in all three issues, with JeI as the principal target of War Crimes trials, and Islamist allies of the BNP as key components in the anti-women and street demonstrations and protests. Bangladesh has, moreover, a long and infamous tradition of protracted and violent street protests and shutdowns that have paralysed the country for weeks and months at end in the past.

It is under these cumulative pressures that the AL's stand on Islam began to shift. When Sheikh Hasina appeared before a Parliamentary Committee which was reviewing the Constitution in the light of the Supreme Court's verdict in April 2010, she had already modified her position to concede that her party was "not against having Islam as state religion". This constituted a complete reversal of the policy laid down by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Hasina also stated that her party was against banning religion-based political parties, though it wanted 'some restrictions' on them.

Internal conflicts within the ruling alliance make Sheikh Hasina's situation more complex. The Jatiya Party, headed by Lt Gen HM Ershad and commanding 29 MPs, is against any ban on religion-based political parties. On the other hand, Left-leaning parties — including the Workers Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Ganotantri Party and National Awami Party — are strongly opposed to the Jatiya Party's proposal. The Left parties are lightweight, with three MPs in the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, two in the Workers Party, and none in Ganotantri Party and National Awami Party. The AL, with more than a three-fourths majority in Parliament (270 MPs in a House of 345) is, in any event, under no threat, but values the alliances for the stability and inclusive mandate they provide. The management of the alliance, consequently, will remain a matter of concern as polarising issues come to dominate the agenda.

Against this backdrop, Sheikh Hasina's June 7 statement can only worsen the political muddle in Bangladesh as it dilutes its projected constitutional identity, in the words of Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, as "a secular, not moderate Muslim, country", and embarks on the slippery slope of an Islam pasand (committed to Islam) country. The AL's progressive 'secular disillusionment' can only intensify the percolation of radical thought through Bangladeshi politics and society, even as voices against Islamist extremist dogma are gradually stifled by the original initiator of secular politics in the country.

The writer is a Research Assistant at Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE FALSE MESSIAH PAKISTAN AWAITS

NADEEM F PARACHA


A fantastic cricketer, Imran Khan once seemed to possess all the right ingredients to become a truly progressive politician. Unfortunately, he landed on his face. Now it is all too obvious who is trying to pick him back up and that too for all the wrong reasons!

What can one say about Imran Khan? A great former cricketer, a compassionate philanthropist... and a sorry excuse for a politician? But his continuing forays into bad politics and tactical blunders can be excused, for he is yet to understand that politics is not a game of cricket and that the democratic election process does not follow the selection policy he enforced as the captain of the Pakistan cricket squad.

The truth is Khan's penchant for picking up talented players seemed to have gone haywire when he decided to pick his early political mentors. By the time Khan officially entered politics some time in late 1995 it wasn't his pristine education at Oxford University or a more insightful understanding of Pakistan's political history that was informing his political make-up.

On the contrary, his ideology was weaved from the usual reactionary claptrap one expects from former ISI men and political Islamic parties, especially those who got emotionally involved in Pakistan's counter-productive Afghan jihad project in the 1980s. Thus, the next logical step for him, was, of course, going further down the reactionary rabbit hole. This hole is the same one into which a number of urban, middle-class Pakistanis have decided to fall, becoming an isolated (albeit growing) cult of sorts with its own set of prophets that include certain music and fashion celebrities, TV personalities, cricketers, journalists, televangelists et al.

This cult also has its own understanding of Pakistani politics, society and the faith. Its worldview espouses a narrative that puts Pakistan at the centre of the universe around which malicious anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam forces (mostly Western) are constantly trying to undermine the country's political and cultural wellbeing and sovereignty. But the funny thing is that a majority of those following this cult are rather westernised in their habits and many are also well settled in various European countries and the US.

There is a clear lack of self-awareness on their part due to which they seem to completely miss noticing the ideological and existential dichotomy that their outlook exhibits. It's like knowing the spelling of the word hypocrisy but not knowing what it means. This cult's messiahs too demonstrate similar dichotomies.

For example, it is ironic hearing men such as Imran Khan, Hamid Gul, Munawar Hassan and Zaid Hamid spout lectures and speeches on corruption, sovereignty and patriotism, when the truth is that much of what these gentlemen are spouting is nothing more than a populist version of a slippery narrative propagated by a political and economic elite. Their roots are not in the so-called masses but in the smoky corridors of Pakistan's intelligence agencies and in the comfortable TV lounges of the country's urban middle and upper classes.

Since lack of self-awareness is the highlight of this cult's gung-ho behaviour, I wonder if Khan is conscious of the fact that much of what he chants in the name of the poor people, free judiciary and national sovereignty is largely a by-product of the nonsense generated for years by the country's economic, military and social elite groups. That's why even though the media and politicians have only just begun to suggest that Khan might be being propped up by certain sections of the intelligence agencies, the truth is, as far as his political beliefs are concerned, he was always the establishment's man.

This cult of 'leaders' that Khan belongs to is somewhat oxymoronic. They are being used to preach a revolution from above so that a genuine revolution from below (ie from the masses) can be kept in check to safeguard the economic and political interests of those sitting at the helm of Pakistan's establishment. But is Khan really such a novice? Since he has not been above hypocrisy and contradiction himself, blundering over and again by questioning the moral make-up of various politicians, from Mr Asif Ali Zardari to Mr Nawaz Sharif to Mr Altaf Hussain, in response, he has constantly faced some ugly reminders of his own not-so-moralistic past.

This can let one assume that he is conscious of the said dichotomy, but more so, also conscious of the fact that in a country like Pakistan such dichotomies get lost in the usual hullabaloo about honour. An honour that has more to do with imaginary wars and mythical warriors rather than something a tad more realistic.

What's more, the more tenacity mainstream political parties in Parliament exhibit in the face of a rabid onslaught against its character, the more frustrated this cult's leaders and supporters get, consequently becoming more audacious and absurd in their attacks. They foam at the mouth, blasting incoherent rants about patriotism and Islam, sometimes sounding as if they are suffering from a rapid case of reverse evolution.

A man like Imran Khan with such a fantastic cricketing career and an impressive record of philanthropy, a man who once seemed to possess all the right ingredients to become a truly progressive politician, has, unfortunately, landed on his face. It is all too obvious now who is trying to pick him back up, and that too for all the wrong reasons. His supporters, mostly through social media, are just fodder to feed his delusion of being the messiah that Pakistanis await.

The writer is among the most popular Pakistani columnists. He writes for Dawn. Courtesy: Dawn.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

RUSSIANS ARE BACK WITH A BANG IN PRAGUE

AP


With an increasing number of Russians investing in the Czech Republic, Moscow fears the rise of what was once the USSR's outpost, writes Karel Janicek

Twenty years after Soviet troops left to the delight of a liberated nation, Russian schools, businesses, newspapers and communities are thriving in and around Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.

But while many Czechs seem to be leaving decades of bad blood behind them, there's alarm in Russia at the economic impact of a new wave of middle-class emigration to eastern Europe, where life seems far simpler and where EU membership brings dynamism.

"Private property rights are questioned every day. It's an awful business environment here (in Russia). There is even a danger for people's freedom," Russian opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov told The Associated Press.

Statistics reveal a deep loss of confidence in Russia among foreigners and Russians alike. In the first five months of this year, net capital outflow from Russia hit a staggering $35 billion, which even the Government admits is due to a highly unfavourable investment climate.

Some of that money is finding a new home in countries like the Czech Republic, and many newcomers plan on staying for the foreseeable future. Kasyanov — a former Prime Minister — said Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Baltic states Latvia and Estonia are also proving popular, as Russians seek destinations cheaper than London or New York.

"Don't return!" was the advice given to 20-year-old Valeriya Tarhanova by her parents. She left the city of Krasnoyarsk in central Siberia to study at a hotel business school in Prague.

"I'll stay here and hope to work possibly in a hotel," she said, speaking in Czech. "I don't know what to do in Russia. There are no jobs and life's much worse."

But Boris Pankin, a former Soviet Foreign Minister under Mikhail Gorbachev, says he considers the Russian exodus a source of pride.

"It's exactly what we were fighting for during perestroika," Pankin told the AP on Monday in Prague, where he was attending a conference looking at the fall of communism. "It is a very important achievement — a right for people to leave whenever they would like to leave. I welcome it."

The Armies of five Warsaw Pact countries — the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany — invaded then Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the 'Prague Spring,' the extraordinary flourishing of personal and artistic freedoms ushered in by leader Alexander Dubcek's reforms.

Almost overnight, the brutal crackdown turned Czechoslovakia into one of the most hardline regimes behind the Iron Curtain, killing the dreams of an entire generation, poisoning life with fear, and sending dissidents to prison. At least 108 people were killed by Soviet troops in 1968, dozens of others in following years.

Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel brought communism to an end here in 1989. Two years later the last of 75,000 troops departed.

Many Czechs, especially the younger generations, refuse to dwell on the past.

"I don't consider it a problem. To be honest, I just don't think much about it," said Katerina Heilmann, a 32-year-old Prague translator. "But I read about the Russian mafia operating here, and that's a cause for concern."

Czech officials say over 30,000 Russians now have residency permits, although the real number is considered much higher. There are almost four times as many Ukrainians. Like Russia, Ukraine also suffers from systemic corruption and a stifling bureaucracy. Ukraine also was devastated by the global financial crisis.

A survey conducted in June by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center showed that 39 per cent of Russians aged 18 to 24 would like to leave the country. The polling agency surveyed 1,600 people in 138 cities and towns across Russia on June 4-5. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Russian emigration to the Czech Republic dates back to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, when some 30,000 people fled Russia.

"They all settled here well," said Milan Pospisil, of the Czech Government Council for National Minorities. "It's not a serious problem for them to understand the language."

For years, Russia's mega-rich have been setting up residence in Britain and sending their children to British schools. The new wave to eastern Europe, though, has a very different feel.

"You wouldn't find here any billionaires like in Britain," said Anna Chlebina, editor-in-chief of the Russian Word, a monthly magazine released in Prague. She has settled with her husband and 5-year-old daughter in what she calls a "more predictable country, where trams go on schedule."

She said many families with boys simply leave to avoid conscription: "For a common person, it's a huge problem to do military service in Russia."

Alexandr Barabanov, a 30-year-old businessman and chairman of the Association of Russian-speaking youth in the Czech Republic, revels in his personal freedom.

"It's quiet here," said Barabanov, who came to Prague in 1999 to study medicine before switching to business. "You don't have to worry that one day your offices could be raided by policemen with Kalashnikovs."

Roman Avanessian, the Armenian co-owner of the Arbat store, which sells Russian products including caviar, vodka and DVDs, said he was attracted to the country by the way in which then-Czechoslovakia separated peacefully into two nations in 1993.

"The Czech Republic and Slovakia are probably the only two nations in the world that are able to split in such a way," he said, reflecting on his last home in Russia's volatile North Caucasus region.

"I know very well what it means when nations start to fight each other."

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BOOST MANUFACTURING

 

In manufacturing competitiveness, no one beats China. A study by Deloitte and the US Council on Competitiveness revealed that last year. But it was India's No.2 ranking among 26 nations that drew whistles. Evidently, with a vast, English-speaking workforce and engineering talent, India holds out promise as a global manufacturing hub. Concerning cost of labour, today we have an edge over China, a traditionally export-led nation now preoccupied with spurring consumption at home. Chinese manufacturing wages rose nearly 12% annually during 2000-09, and the trend continues. India compared to its neighbour is already buoyed by domestic demand and has an abundance of young, cheap labour. The question is, can we leverage this to our gain?

The answer depends on how far down the reformist path we're willing to go to energise manufacturing and build the skilled manpower it needs. For starters,
China has the kind of world-class infrastructure we're still huffing and puffing to build. Factories need power, connectivity and distribution chains. But industrialisation and infrastructure creation demand reform of archaic land acquisition rules. We need a new market-oriented policy that trims scope for government ham-handedness in land transactions and links buyers to sellers. Nor can industry grow sans a liberalised regulatory framework for conduct of business. There, too, China scores higher with investors.

Moreover, UPA's proposed national manufacturing policy (NMP) can scarcely push manufacturing's share in GDP to 25% from the current 16% without labour reform. We need only look at the latest government data to confirm the trend of labour's casualisation. While 51% of India's total workforce is self-employed, 33.5% is casual labour. Only 15.6% are regular wage-earners or salaried workers. Read these statistics against the fact that a yawning gap exists between the organised and unorganised sectors vis-a-vis manufacturing jobs and output. The latter sector provides 90% employment but accounts for less than one-third of manufacturing production.

Envisaging mega national investment and manufacturing zones (NIMZ), the
NMP does propose "rational exit mechanisms" for businesses. But will intention translate into action? Factories won't multiply if their operators can't take economically rational decisions. Labour reform, which shouldn't be limited to NIMZs, will ensure employers invest in workers' skills upgrade. This in turn will show up in improved productivity and more globally benchmarked products. That's apart from giving labour market entrants job security and access to social benefits. Without mass-scale absorption of underpaid, underemployed farm labour into factories, we can't match China's success in poverty alleviation. Schemes like NREGA may mean well but make workers dole-dependent. Inclusive growth is delivered far more effectively via labour's empowerment.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

NO MORE DESI GIRLS?

 

Reports of hundreds of baby girls turned into boys via medical surgery in Indore are shocking and must be thoroughly probed. If found correct, they are not only in serious violation of child rights but also provide painful evidence of an Indian preference for male children and the extent people can go to secure it.

Against claims that sex-changing surgeries - ideally performed only on consenting adults or for medical emergencies - have been executed on infants, it's heartening the
PMO has taken note, demanding reports from concerned ministries to decide if new legal safeguards must be developed, particularly to protect girl children from operations they don't need.

Tackling the larger issue of pervasive gender bias remains. India's violent attitudes towards women are becoming notorious in appalling statistics of infanticide, rape and diverse forms of discrimination - from nourishment to education, health, labour and dignity.

According to a
Thomson Reuters Trustlaw survey, India is the world's fourth most dangerous country for women, sharing disgrace with Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan and Somalia. The irony is, India has a fairly comprehensive range of laws around women's rights. The trouble lies in weak implementation, fusing with backward customs.

Today, as Indian women stand upon a ledge of crisis, it's imperative our laws and executive wield their combined heft. Besides, female literacy must improve while police forces must become more women-friendly. Schemes providing economic incentives for having girl children - like the Ladli scheme in some states or Bihar's initiative in giving bicycles to school-going girls - can also significantly reduce stigmas around being female.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

FOR A SOUTH ASIAN RENAISSANCE

MOONIS AHMARMOONIS AHMAR

The cordial spirit of talks held last week, between Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries in Islamabad, augurs well for relations between the two countries. When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said to the media while travelling to Kazakhstan in April, "If i can succeed in normalising relations between India and Pakistan as they should prevail between two normal states, i would consider my job well done", it meant not only optimism but also vision on his part for a better future for Pakistan and India.

In the backdrop of the assassination of Osama bin Laden by the
American Navy Seals in Abbottabad on May 2, one can observe a responsible handling of affairs by New Delhi and Islamabad, as hawks from the two sides tried to exploit the situation and launch a new phase of confrontation. Still, there are forces from both sides that will miss no opportunity to derail the Indo-Pak peace process. History proves that opportunities and moments of hope had also appeared in the past, but were wasted. What then is needed to ensure a peace process which can help bring a qualitative change in Indo-Pak relations?

As pointed out by
Harold Saunders, an American expert on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, dismantling the "other walls" is a major condition for establishing a constituency of peace. But more than the "other walls" which impede the Indo-Pak normalisation process, it is the absence of a renaissance perspective which results in stand-offs, missed opportunities and the hardening of enemy images. The Indo-Pak peace process should not be confined to official rhetoric from the two sides but requires a movement at the popular level, so that a sense of ownership is created for a process which can bring enormous benefits for the poverty-stricken people of the two countries.

The term renaissance is generally understood in terms of the revival and rebirth of civilisation in
Europe after the medieval era. Spread over a period from the 14th to 16th centuries, the renaissance built the foundations of modern Europe. One cannot compare the renaissance of Europe and the prevailing conditions in India and Pakistan. But as the custodians of a centuries-old civilisation, the two countries can certainly move in the direction of reviving the culture of peace and tolerance which was the hallmark of the Indian subcontinent.

The civilisation of the Indus and Ganges was a source of inspiration for people in other parts of the world. When Europe was marginal, the Indus-Ganges civilisation was at its peak. It is another story that the Indian subcontinent drifted into oblivion because of internal cleavages and colonisation, and Europe began to dominate the world after the renaissance and age of enlightenment. After decades of hostility and confrontation, it is time for India and Pakistan to think in terms of launching a renaissance so that the two, regardless of past bitterness, can cause the rebirth of a centuries-old civilisation. This will certainly help take the peace process to its logical conclusion.

Three important steps are required on the part of India and Pakistan. First, a renaissance approach would require focus on promoting better sharing of art, culture, music, history, archaeology and education. While maintaining their identities, India and Pakistan must lift restrictions which impede the revival of their cultural heritage so that the present generation of the two countries is able to understand how tolerant and peaceful their ancient past was, and why the generations following the partition of the subcontinent pursued a violent and confrontationist path.

Second, in the political sphere, a renaissance approach would require reviving some of the symbols of peace and harmony which existed amidst the environment of hostility and mistrust. These symbols are the Liaquat-Nehru pact of April 1950 for establishing communal peace, the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 which tried to resolve a water conflict, the 1972 Simla Pact which enabled New Delhi and
Islamabad to move forward following the Indo-Pak war of 1971, the agreement on not attacking each other's nuclear installations of December 1988, the Lahore Declaration of February 1999 and the Islamabad Declaration of January 2004 which provided a road map for the Indo-Pak peace process.

Third, symbols of Indo-Pak peace initiatives under track II and III - like the Neemrana dialogue, popular discourse which took place under the auspices of the Indo-Pak People's Forum for Peace and
Democracy, and other such forums - must be revitalised. What is needed in the renaissance of the Indo-Pak peace process is to provide ownership to track II and III peace initiatives and to make them more practical and useful.

When the revival of tolerance, accommodation and reasoning will prevail in the Indo-Pak peace process, the stage will come when policy makers, including those who wield considerable power, will be persuaded to change their approach on issues which for long have acted as an impediment to Indo-Pak normalisation. Perhaps Manmohan Singh's dream will have a practical application when his hope and vision get a positive response not only in his own country but also in Pakistan.

The writer is professor, department of international relations, University of Karachi.

 

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

I URGE INDIA TO SET AN EXAMPLE IN OPENNESS TO THE REGION'

 

Sarmila Bose is a senior research fellow at Oxford University and has written Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh war. She spoke about what is proving to be a controversial book with Deep K Datta-Ray :

The 1971 war is well known so why another book on it?
Actually there are hardly any dispassionate researched studies. The vast majority of material consists of personal accounts of those directly involved or partisan accounts. Some memoirs are very useful as primary data, but they're not researched studies. Many accounts show little regard for fact checking and sometimes contain deliberate misrepresentation. The only major researched work is the book published 20 years ago by
Richard Sisson and Leo Rose. It's excellent on a macro level of policy. Mine focusses on the opposite end of the spectrum, using detailed information on particular incidents. The 1971 conflict needs many more well-researched studies. A few are on the way, but there is scope for more.

Why do we have so few good studies of what was a just war, waged by us, for Bangladeshis?
What constitutes a 'just war' can be a contested issue.
India acted in its own strategic interests. The public discourse is a continuation of wartime partisan propaganda and nationalist myth-making by all sides. That's because of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh's unwillingness to open official documents to scholars. The US meanwhile has published secret documents from that period. India's role can only be properly assessed if official documents from 40 years ago are made public through the national archives and if covert operatives from the war put their experiences on record. I urge India to set an example in openness to the region.

Have your interviews with the bit-players of history led to your rethinking what passes for the history of the war?
The testimony of participants and eyewitnesses to events on the ground forms the crucial building blocks of chronicling and analysing the larger events and brings out the complexity of conflicts such as the 1971 war. My interviews with people from all sides of the conflict who witnessed, participated in, were the victims of or got caught up in a range of different events, shows a brutal fratricidal war. All the sides - the regime, pro-regime East Pakistanis or pro-liberation Bengali nationalists - treated those they perceived as the 'other' with violence and inhumanity. All committed massacres and other serious crimes against humanity, including the side India chose to support. This was a brutal struggle for power. While there were humane individuals on all sides, no warring party is in a position to take the moral high ground in this conflict.

It sounds like you're rewriting history. How does one go about doing that? Is it just a question of new sources or also new interpretations?
Actually i am 'writing' history, not 'rewriting'. Most of what's been written isn't history but partisan accounts. As the war is poorly documented from a dispassionate and balanced perspective, there was a great need to chronicle what actually happened in many events, as without enough and reliable data, analysis isn't possible. I have done a lot of new data gathering for my book, and hope others will do more in the coming years, though with the passage of time opportunities are disappearing. I've also compared the new information gathered with existing personal accounts to arrive at a judgment based on all available evidence. It's important to consider the conflict with an open mind and allow the evidence to tell the story. One of the most interesting results is the picture that emerges of the 'Bengali nationalist' side.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SECOND OPINION

LET THEM CHIPAK

JUG SURAIYAJUG SURAIYA

 

Should New Delhi be unduly worried about ChiPak? ChiPak is not a misspelling of Sunderlal Bahuguna's Chipko movement; ChiPak is the telescoped term to denote growing chumminess between China and Pakistan.

Teetering on the brink of being declared a failed state by an international community increasingly alarmed by its dangerous and growing instability,
Pakistan desperately needs a friend who'll provide a strong and dependable shoulder to lean on. That friend used to be the US, which still remains Pakistan's closest ally and biggest donor of much-needed foreign aid to fill Islamabad's empty coffers (empty largely because of a ruinously high defence budget inflated by ingrained Indo-phobia).

However, after Operation Geronimo, and the elimination of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil by raiding US Seals, Washington-Islamabad relations have shown signs of strain. There is growing anger and dismay in Pakistan - not just among the army and the
ISI but also in civilian circles - that a foreign power could with impunity carry out what in effect was a mini invasion of their country. Bad as this slap in the face to Pakistan's national sovereignty is, what's worse is that bin Laden's presence in the country buttresses the charge - long made by New Delhi, and now belatedly being echoed by Washington - that Islamabad is the world's biggest sponsor of global terrorism.

Islamabad's support - no matter how compromised and suspect - to Washington's efforts to neutralise the terrorist threat in the region remains crucial to US interests, ensuring that, despite occasional raps across the knuckles, Pakistan continues to be the beneficiary of Uncle Sam's largesse. But the growing groundswell of anti-Americanism at home makes it tactically necessary for Islamabad to flaunt another friend to counter the big, bad US bully. Inevitably, that friend has to be China, whose rivalry and unresolved border disputes with
India make it Pakistan's natural ally.

An Islamabad-Beijing connect would not only keep Washington on its toes and make it mind its manners in its increasingly high-handed dealings with Pakistan, but would also act as a curb on New Delhi's ambitions of regional power status and its growing cosiness with the US. China has long helped Pakistan be as painful a thorn in India's side as possible; without Beijing's covert and overt help Islamabad would not have been New Delhi's nuclear nightmare as it is today.

Has talk of ChiPak made that nightmare worse? Not necessarily. An increasingly isolated and desperate Pakistan which feels impelled into a nuclear confrontation with India is a far worse threat than a Pakistan whose self-confidence and sense of security has been boosted by Beijing. On its part, China would certainly like Pakistan to remain a festering sore impeding India's progress. That said,
Beijing has its eyes firmly set on its main goal, which self-professedly is to overtake the US and become the world's biggest economy in the next two decades. China is not going to let anything interfere with that single-minded objective. So a symbolic show of solidarity with Pakistan is fine. But any nuclear adventurism on Islamabad's part vis-a-vis India, which could lead to a much wider confrontation and threaten to derail Beijing's impetus to global economic hegemony, is in China's worst interests and is not an option that the Dragon would allow Pakistan to entertain.

For all its issues with New Delhi, Beijing is only too aware of India's growing economic importance not just as a huge potential market for Chinese goods but also as a stakeholder in common concerns in forums like the
WTO where the long-established paramountcy of the western world is being challenged by the so-called BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Chindia is, and will be, more important to Beijing than ChiPak can ever be. So what should New Delhi's reaction be? ChiPak? Chipakne doh!

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

NO MORE GIFTS FOR THE GREEKS

Two years ago, the European currency union was seen as part of the firmament of the 21st century. In the past one week it has become the nightmare of 2011. Greece is on the periphy of the European Union (EU). But its fiscal profligacy and the rigidities imposed by euro membership have made it a powder-keg that is already dragging down world equity markets and could cause a relapse of the global financial crisis. All eyes are on the protests in Greece and a coming parliamentary vote on austerity measures. If the former makes the latter go awry, the Greek government will not be able to access the next part of its $110 billion euro bailout fund. Athens would then default on debts it must pay in July. Greek bonds would then be as lethal to the European banking system as subprime mortgages were to Wall Street. The EU, the world's largest economy, and the euro, the world's number two currency, would be in free fall. Under this scenario, this would mark the start of GFC 2.0.

On the face of it, Greece is a simple case of a small economy that went on a red ink binge and is now being forced to pay its debts. But it also represents long-standing structural problems with the eurozone. Continental economies contain simultaneous booms and busts. Welfare payments and labour migration allow the growth regions to help the recession-hit areas recover. This doesn't work in the eurozone because economic union has stalled after currency union. A single currency, however, denies a government the ability to devalue and kickstart a stalled economy. Greece, in crisis, is thus without the full benefits of a continental economy and minus a benefit of a sovereign one.

Greece's problem, though aggravated by its own fiscal laxity, is one that could afflict any weak European economies. This fear of contagion is what worries the European and world markets the most. However, it is a problem built into the nature of the European economic union and could easily rear its head every time a European country is mired in recession. There is no evidence Europeans have the stomach for integrating their economy further. If anything, the largest European economy, Germany, is seeing public support for unity plummet. In the short-term, optimism about Greece is hard to generate. Greece has debt repayments scheduled twice in July, again in August and so on from here to eternity. Every economic ripple will resurrect the spectre of default — and demands for greater austerity. The present crisis is just the first pothole in a long, cratered highway. Exactly the sort of thing a recovering global economy could have done without.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

SHOOT THE RUNNER

The International Cricket Council (ICC), in its infinite wisdom, has brought about a few changes in the rules of the game. We say cheers and huzzah to that! It's not quite the Jan Lokpal Bill, but there are some changes that are more than just noticeable. The use of two new balls in one-dayers instead of just one and powerplay allowed only in the middle of the innings (and not towards the end) should get average bowlers and batsmen respectively happy. The theological debate over the Decision Review System (DRS) has thankfully ended with technology allowed to be a big help for umpires making difficult calls. That the Hawk-Eye technology in the DRS has been rejected in favour of Hot Spot thermal imaging doesn't point to the latter being better than the other but probably one set of contractors being favoured over the other. But the real major change — and frankly we must now take back our cheer and huzzah — is the prohibition of the runner.

As anyone familiar with Sukanta Bhattacharya's poem 'Runner' (although chances are you'll know Walt Whitman's The Runner considering that it's more de rigeur to know a famous 19th century American poet than a famous 20th century Bengali one), the man who runs lies at the heart of the world of sports and physical prowess. (Bhattacharya's 'runner', though, was essentially a mailman, who ran to bring news and missives as swiftly as possible.). In cricket, the runner's mythical status is akin to that of Vasudeva carrying the infant Krishna across the Yamuna. In cricketing terms, the injured batsman unable to run quickly between the wickets is the Krishna. With the new rule, the sedentary batsman is stranded. Or, is confined to the dressing room. Howzat for fair play and nobility?!

The ICC masters point to the rampant misuse of runners. The corpulent and the slow — Yuvraj Singh and VVS Laxman randomly come to mind — have done well with fast runners in the middle. Cricket being more of a mind game than a physical one, whatever was wrong with using runners? In any case, the tragedy of being run out even when one isn't running was one of the finest metaphors of life that cricket provided. Until now. A pity.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WAITING TO EXPLODE

GD BAKSHI

Never since the 1971 war debacle has the image of the Pakistani army reached such a nadir. The killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad turned the spotlight on Pakistan's amazing duplicity (or astounding incompetence). Initially, the Pakistani army was in a painful cleft about which facet to plead guilty to. Both were equally damning. For 36 hours after the raid, there was a stunned official silence in Islamabad. A spate of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks followed in the country, which culminated in the Taliban raid on the naval base at Mehran.

The high-strung Taliban reaction against the Pakistani armed forces sprang from a sense of outrage and betrayal. They had put bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other top Taliban leaders in the safekeeping of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The killing of bin Laden was, for the Taliban, a monstrous sell out. The fact that the army itself was shell-shocked by the American raid meant nothing to the Taliban. The Pakistani rank and file, in turn, is deeply offended that the Americans could pull off such a raid deep inside their country. It has opened them to a spate of ridicule from the civilians, which has wounded the army's amour propre for being the only functional institution in an otherwise dysfunctional Pakistan.

The level of discontent has now reached serious proportions. Apparently, enraged enlisted men have demanded that General Ashfaq Kayani and General Ahmad Shuja Pasha must step down. Today, Kayani faces intense discontent over his allegedly cosy relationship with the US. The anger intensified when he (with apparent US backing) got himself an extension for three years. This torpedoed the promotional prospects of 27 lieutenant generals of the army and added to their sense of outrage.

After Abbottabad, at a conference of the Collegium of the XI Corps Commanders, Kayani was informed about the outrage and apparently asked that he talk to the men himself before the situation went out of hand. Accordingly, a panic-stricken Kayani started a tour of the military cantonments to meet the officers in town hall-type meetings. By now, Kayani has addressed over a dozen such military gatherings where, in some cases, the 'question rounds' slated for an hour extended up to three hours. The military press briefs described them as "very frank". This is an unprecedented situation in a disciplined army where the chief feels compelled to explain his conduct to his men.

An alarmed Kayani has, in response to this unnerving feedback, hardened his stand on America too. Around 140 US trainers have been sent back and, apparently, food and water supplies to the US drone base in Pakistan have been cut. The five Pakistanis who gave information to the CIA about bin Laden have been arrested. So much for the war on terror. There is speculation that the gory details of the anger within the army have been put in the Pakistani media to put pressure on America to not insist on carrying out operations in North Waziristan or target top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan.

These are the long overdue consequences of the schizophrenic policy that Pakistan has been following since 9/11. It is noteworthy that General Zia-ul-Haq had not only thoroughly radicalised the Pakistani army and the ISI but he had also equally radicalised the school curriculum to extol jihad. Having systematically been fed on a diet of radical Islam and virulently anti-American worldviews, the population of Pakistan is now among the most radicalised in the world. Pakistan's 45,000 madrasas have become a jihad factory, turning out fanatical recruits and suicide bombers for the global jihad. Bin Laden and his men have become icons for the Pakistani youth. The Zia Bharti (officers who joined the army in Zia's time) have reached the rank of major generals and some of them have even become lieutenant generals. They rose because of their Islamic credentials and radicalised outlook.

Will there be a colonels' coup in Pakistan? It's unlikely. It is the Collegium of Corps Commanders that usually ushers in non-linear changes (usually in the form of institutional coups). But the creeping radicalisation of the Pakistani rank and file is now cause for acute concern. Post-Mehran, there are serious question marks on the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Above all, this radicalisation via deep infiltration could presage the emergence of a jihadi State. Bruce Reidel, in his book Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad, describes this as the worst nightmare for America. He writes, "A jihadist Pakistan would be the most serious threat the US has faced since the end of the Cold War." Aligned with al-Qaeda and armed with nuclear weapons, it would be a global security nightmare. It would be prudent for India to 'war game' possible collapse scenarios. Peace talks with such a rapidly failing State, which is fast getting radicalised, unfortunately, make little sense at this stage.

GD Bakshi is a retired Major General of the Indian Army. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OPERATING PROCEDURES

SV KOTWAL

In a society where parents sometimes willingly kill their girl child, it is easy to believe news reports claiming that doctors in Indore are performing sex-change operations on 'scores' of girls as young as one to five years. But can sex really be changed at such a young age? To the best of my knowledge, no surgeon has performed sex-change surgery at infancy and I personally know the world leaders in the field. Changing sex involves many stages of surgery and anyone who claims to have changed a girl-child into a perfect little boy is either a charlatan or a godman (given that the distinction between the two is often blurred).

Among children, inter-sex surgeries are  done to correct birth defects or early injuries of the genitalia. These should not be confused with transsexualism or Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID). Each year, many children are born with 'manufacturing defects' in their sexual organs like undescended testes. Little boys with advanced forms of hypospadias are often mistaken for girls and are even brought up as girls.

Left untreated, they grow up into imperfect adults, and urologists, paediatric surgeons and reconstructive surgeons strive legitimately to correct such defects. The surgeon correcting it is not really changing sex, he is only correcting a congenital defect. Also, such surgeries must be performed before the age of three. Correction of ambiguous genitalia is a legal and validated procedure and it shouldn't be confused with 'sex change'.

Sex reassignment surgery is done only to cure GID. Some doctors too are unaware of this condition, as it is not part of their curriculum. It is a condition where a woman is 'trapped' inside a man's body and vice-versa. Research tells us that there are structural differences in the brains of heterosexuals, homosexuals and transsexuals. So, an individual can't do anything about it. Transsexualism, like homosexuality, is not a disease that can be cured by medication, counselling, reward or even punishment. It can even lead to death, for I know about one person committing suicide and another jumping off the fourth floor while awaiting surgery. Several of our patients have attempted suicide at least once.

It is essential to have highly-trained psychiatrists, endocrinologists and other specialists in the team performing a sex-change surgery. There are internationally recognised criteria for GID, which have been refined over the years. The most difficult part is doing a diagnosis, which is done by qualified psychiatrists through multiple interviews and tests. This is followed by hormonal treatment. The individual undergoes various cosmetic procedures during this process. To qualify for surgery, one must have a sound mind, be above the age of consent, be healthy, must have at least six months of hormones and must have lived in the gender of choosing for at least one year. Typically, the waiting period before the surgery ranges between 18-24 months. There are no shortcuts and the rejection rate is high. The ultimate aim should be to completely rehabilitate the individual in society, not to create a freak or a misfit.

The surgery is long and taxing, particularly the female-to-male one. One of our patients spent 25 hours on the operation table! Many secondary corrections are made and the final outcome may even take a couple of years. It is only then that the person can assume his pre-ordained sexual role, albeit a sterile one. Can you imagine this procedure being carried out on 'scores' of little children in one stage in places that lack proper facilities?

My take on what is happening in Indore is this: perhaps there was one (or more) talented surgeon who specialised in correcting congenital defects of the genitalia. The grateful parents believed that the surgeon 'gave' them a son. The surgeon did not deny it because it got him more patients! The news of the 'miracle' spread like wildfire and soon became 'breaking news'. Quite possible, don't you think?

SV Kotwal is a senior consultant urologist who has performed 32 sex-change surgeries at the Sitaram Bhartia Institute, Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

SPARRING PARTNERS

NANDINI SUNDAR

Rather than shutting its doors on 'civil society', the government should be thanking its stars that the latter wants to make law, not war. Distributing tee-shirts with this slogan would be a better use of the government's 'hearts and minds' funds than the integrated action plan to counter Naxals, or the army's tourism trips to Pune for Kashmiri schoolgirls.

The UPA regime has been unprecedented for the spate of legislation that has been pushed by various people's movements — on information, education, employment, and forest rights. And now we have the Communal and Targeted Violence (CTV) Bill, the Food Security Bill and the Jan Lokpal Bill. Apparently born out of a disillusionment with existing institutions, they, in fact, reflect the opposite — a renewed public faith in the idea of government and law. If there is any danger from the flirtation, it is certainly not to the State, but to civil society, through the risk of an over-judicialisation of resistance and aspirations. The adivasi rebels of the colonial period struggling for jal, jungle and jameen never sat in the offices of advocates to frame their political strategies that their counterparts today often end up doing.

A signal of how much power a group enjoys is not the noise it makes on the street but how silently it can effect the changes it wants. Apart from the Special Economic Zones Act 2005, the UPA has in place a number of legal and regulatory instruments to promote corporate interests. Quite apart from industry representatives serving as experts on drafting committees (and now even as parliamentarians), given the frequency with which the PM or his ministers attend corporate functions, there is no need for them to go on hunger fasts or camp at Jantar Mantar to make their point heard. More insidiously, one of the biggest sources of law-making today is through supposedly 'apolitical' channels, through the importation of best-practices in particular projects, by the World Bank, or consultancy organisations like McKinsey. In its 2004 'Initiatives in Legal and Judicial Reforms', the World Bank made no bones about the fact that legal reforms were conditionalities for structural adjustment programmes. Many of these legal reforms prioritise market-friendliness and downsizing the State, and were they to be openly debated, it is doubtful whether most parliamentarians could justify them to their constituents or to the Constitution.

Paradoxically, all the solutions suggested by civil society involve an expansion of government bureaucracy. Each bill —  the Lokpal included — envisions a separate authority. But past attempts at creating such institutions of exception, to redress the failure of the ordinary course of government or law, have been noticeable by their calculated ineffectiveness. The most significant function of the Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, for example, is to redress the grievances of SC and ST government employees. They have played no role on the major issues affecting these communities today. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is overwhelmed by complaints and its most common strategy is to refer the matter back to the concerned government department for comments.

In the case of Salwa Judum, its investigation wing comprising serving police officers on deputation, was devoted to defending the police cause, but because they functioned under the NHRC, they managed to set the cause of human rights back by several years. Even under laws like the Domestic Violence Act that try to fast-track cases to completion within six months, cases can last for years together.

Civil society's response has been to try and ensure independence at the top — through transparent nomination and selection procedures. But little thought has been given to the fact that they will have to work through the same bureaucracy. By refusing to provide office space and staff, the best initiatives can be successfully stalled. Take for instance the government's current flagship Right To Education Act. Despite mandating the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to do the monitoring the Act requires, the government has not created a secure post for this and the NCPCR is dependent on consultants.

Even as new laws are added on, fundamental colonial era laws like the Indian Penal Code or the Land Acquisition Act remain unchanged. Without addressing these and the structural problems in the bureaucracies they underpin, both State and civil society are evading the real problem.

The problem with the mainstream political parties is not that they object to pressure from outside per se, but that they want organisations they can control and use. The BJP is adept at this, with the Liberhan report describing the demolition of the Babri Masjid as a "joint common enterprise" between the BJP-ruled government and the various fronts of the RSS in civil society. In praising the Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh as a "self-initiated people's organisation", the BJP was trying to claim the mantle of civil society, even as it denied legitimacy to the Maoists, who, whatever else they are, are self-initiated. The Congress has been no pushover either, with Rajiv Gandhi claiming helplessness in the face of so-called 'public' anger in 1984: "When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake," he had said after the anti-Sikh riots following Indira Gandhi's death.

However, activists too forget how malleable this imaginary public is. If Anna Hazare claims to represents 'the people', so  does Baba Ramdev and so does the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. And so does the elected government.  Since the criteria for measuring public support are themselves contentious, the ultimate measure to test laws should not be public backing, but whether they fulfill the constitutional ideals of equality, liberty, secularism and transparency. The path to this, too, is debatable. But at least we are on a different terrain.

Nandini Sundar is professor of Sociology, Delhi University. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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

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

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

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STANDING STRONG

 

Jayalalithaa has articulated what no one else in politics has managed to do so far — explain precisely and firmly why the Lokpal bill's proposals are untenable. The prime minister cannot be under the Lokpal, the Tamil Nadu chief minister said in an interview with television channel Times Now, because it could seriously destabilise his position — even if no charges stick, it would be a blow to his authority, particularly in times of round-the-clock news coverage where any slander would be amplified and repeated. Any foreign force with an agenda could seek to implicate the PM, and leave his office preoccupied with responding to frivolous or motivated accusations rather than concentrating on their own critical duties. The PM, she pointed out, is answerable to the CBI under the Prevention of Corruption Act anyway, and that the Lokpal would end up being a parallel government of sorts if it were granted such large powers. Constitutional experts like Fali Nariman have also objected to the impropriety of having a Lokpal who will be, de facto, bigger than the PM — emphasising that the PM can be removed only if Parliament resolves so.

Though two other chief ministers, Parkash Singh Badal and Sheila Dikshit, have voiced objections too, Jayalalithaa presented the most articulate case. "Nothing should erode or undermine the prime minister's authority," she said, something the Congress has still not managed to say so simply and unequivocally, despite its many huddles and meetings over the issue. When confronted with the question of whether the PM must account to the Lokpal, the Congress had stalled for days, various members said yes and no while others rejected the binary altogether, it tried to seek other parties' views — in other words, it looked cornered and confused.

Which is why Jayalalithaa's clarity over a point of principle must be commended — she stressed that, for her, it was about defending the institution rather than the individual now occupying the post of PM. This was patently a display of sound sense and federal fairplay, and it is noteworthy. Just as the Centre is duty-bound to not encroach on a state's powers, the states must be committed to preserving the strength of our national institutions. Her claim that she had matured over the years, and was now looking forward to a more productive exchange with the Centre for her state as well as the nation, seemed to be borne out by her stand. And now that Jayalalithaa has cut through the muddle, perhaps other political parties will follow her lead and affirm, on principle, the inviolability of the prime minister's position.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OWNING THE REFORMER

 

Just under 20 years ago, the 73-year history of the Soviet Union was coming to an end, and with it whatever remained of the Cold War. India's diplomatic response was surprisingly nimble, opening up to the possibility of a differently polar world — most notably, by recognising Israel. Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had once, as foreign minister, steered India's leadership of the non-aligned movement. Now, showing a reformer's instinct, he steered a new path for India through tricky diplomatic waters. Tuesday would have been his 90th birth anniversary. And the Andhra Pradesh government's commemoration programme served, curiously, to highlight the Congress party's wilful ambiguity about his role in the economic and foreign-policy reforms that are still a work in progress.

The present-day Congress's uneasy, graceless relationship with Narasimha Rao has hurt it in many ways. It has left it in a bind, for example, in Uttar Pradesh, where the subtle blaming of Rao for the demolition of the Babri Masjid forced his party into years in the wilderness, which succeeded in completely eroding its support structure in the state. But, most of all, it prevents the Congress from wholeheartedly embracing the idea of itself as a reformist party, as the party that initiated reform, that upped its pace, and determined its nature. If it happened under Narasimha Rao, practically a

Soviet-style non-person in the Congress's conception of its

history, did it actually happen? And thus the party appears ideologically rudderless, incapable of mobilising, again, the constituencies for reform that Rao did.

The drift in the UPA government has a reason. It is acting at cross-purposes. Perhaps, before it knows where it must go, it should remember where it is coming from. And where the modern Congress is coming from is the Rao years, when it forced itself to face a future without a thumping mandate every five years, and when it was forced to reinvent itself as a party of reform, updating its old goals and shibboleths for a new India. Until it owns its own past history of reform, a past which includes Narasimha Rao, it will fail to check the policy drift that is undermining its rule.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

                                                                                                EDITORIAL

FUELLING A TRANSITION

ILA PATNAIK

 

The government recently raised the administered price of kerosene, diesel and cooking gas at which oil companies sell their products. At the same time, it reduced custom and excise duties on these products, and has appealed to state governments to cut sales taxes on them to soften the impact on consumers. While this combination may be for short-term political gains, it could pave the way for reform to bring in a rationalisation of the tax and subsidy structure in the sector.

At first blush, the diesel and kerosene price hike and cut in excise and custom duties appears to be rather odd. The government increased the price of kerosene and diesel so that the pre-tax price of these products received by oil companies rose, and then cut excise and customs duties on them, so that the price paid by the customer increases by a marginal amount. The hike will reduce the losses of oil companies and their monthly borrowings required to cover losses. The tax cuts will reduce Central government revenue.

Mamata Banerjee responded to the package by cutting sales taxes in West Bengal. So did Kerala. Other state governments may come under political pressure to do the same. State governments which cut sales taxes will also see a reduction in their tax collections. As a consequence of the price and tax change, both the Central and state governments are likely to see larger fiscal deficits.

The policy package as a whole will not reduce the borrowing requirement of the public sector as a whole (including government and public sector companies). For this reason, it seems odd that the government should taken on so much political opposition when the real impact of the step on its overall balance sheet will be very small. What sense does the policy package make?

In the immediate context, this policy combination addresses two issues. First, it reduces the cash crunch being faced by oil companies. While they will continue to have a large stock of borrowing as they sell at prices that do not cover their costs, this amount will come down. If their cash problems were likely to lead to a disruption of supplies, then the probability of that happening has been reduced. The second part of the package, the reduction in custom and excise duties, it has been argued, is because the government chickened out. It needed to restore the health of oil companies but could not take the political risk involved in raising diesel and kerosene prices when inflation is already running high.

It is most likely true that these were the immediate compulsions that guided the package announced. However, these policy changes may have other, perhaps unintended, consequences. If this policy change suggests the direction of change, then this could take the sector to a point where oil companies are allowed to cover their costs and there are no under-recoveries of cost of oil companies. The subsidy to be provided to the oil sector would have to be transparent, and the present hidden subsidy and lack of clarity on what is subsidised and what is taxed would go.

Currently, the oil subsidy comes in the shape of oil bonds as well as transfer of profits of state-owned oil and gas production companies like ONGC to oil refining companies. The choice of instrument used to deliver the subsidies is ad hoc and often changes. Not long ago, the oil pool subsidy was not even clearly stated in the Union budget and it did not count as part of the fiscal deficit. Merely moving away from the fog that exists on petroleum product taxes and subsidies would be a step in the right direction. The corporate governance difficulties the present regime raises for minority shareholders of oil companies, including for oil producers, will be reduced.

Once the under-recovery is out of the way, oil marketing companies would then no longer be eligible for money from the government or oil bonds and would have to compete fair and square with other companies. This will make the marketing business a more level playing field. Though the sector is open to private companies, and one of the biggest refineries in the world, the Reliance Jamnagar refinery, is in India, private sector companies like Reliance and Essar Oil which established retail outlets in 2002 shut down after they were unable to cover their costs under the administered price regime.

Further, in the long run, it has been well recognised that India needs to move away from the administered price mechanism in petroleum products. It has also been recommended in many committee reports that India must rationalise petroleum taxes. One way of thinking about petroleum taxes is that India should have a GST and a carbon tax on petroleum products. Additional issues about strategic dependence, as petroleum is imported, may influence policy. For giving relief to the poor, instead of products subsidies on kerosene and LPG, direct cash transfers may be given.

However, all this can be done only when there is a clear price, tax and subsidy, and these are not all mixed up and are different for each product. The first step towards a clean policy framework would be to get rid of the administered price mechanism and remove any scope for government lending to public sector oil companies when they cannot cover their costs.

Once the slate is clean, meaningful discussions on how to impose the carbon tax, or on how much cash subsidy is to be given to poor households, can take place. Hopefully, the effort of the UIDAI working on a scheme for cash transfers for kerosene and LPG will also yield results and the huge waste, corruption, distortions and deficits created by the present product subsidy regime would change.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

BOMBAY'S BAUMGARTNERS

 

It is easy to romanticise the Bombayness of Bombay novels, the latest being Aravind Adiga's Last Man in Tower. The city's clichés are easily listed: underworld crime, Bollywood and the evil deeds of developers. Fortunately, because Mumbai is only the financial and not the political capital of India, it is rare to find politics in its fiction.

However, these clichés miss the point. The thing about Mumbai is that despite the clichés — the crime, Bollywood, developers — despite all these, it is a city of the working people.

In Mumbai, if you don't work, you are nothing. Every morning is a project filled with courage, enterprise and often heartbreak. The children selling flowers and pirated books at traffic signals; thelocal trains crowded beyond belief with dabbawallas, fisherwomen, salaried employees, suburban students commuting to downtown colleges, and train hawkers vending baubles to them all: all these are part of a living, working city. Mumbai is a palimpsest that continues to hold out its arms to the waves of migrants who wash up on its shores: the uprooted village families huddled under the flyover that they have built; the teenage runaway curled up in a corner of the chai shop; the young MBA hanging on to the train strap, perspiring in his white shirt and tie, making the journey from Malad to Churchgate hoping to be part of the India story.

The other thing about Mumbai is this: that it is not one but two cities, and it is acutely aware of this split identity. In one Mumbai, half the population of the city lives in slums, with one toilet for every couple of thousand people; in the great churning engine of Dharavi, the population density can reach up to 1 million per square mile. Mumbai's poverty is in some ways more acute than anywhere else because of the lack of space on this narrow island-city: everywhere in this city of reclaimed land, inside one-room chawls, in the long lines for community toilets, there is a struggle for privacy and for the time and space to think. In the other Mumbai, armies of workers polish the silverware in the homes of those on the richest lists, homes equipped with helipads, ballrooms, private gyms and terrace gardens. Do the two worlds meet? Yes, every day.

Where else but in fiction can so many hopes, so much violence, such contradictions, find expression? In novels, such as Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters, where a professional letter-writer pens letters for illiterate migrants who watch him "like the hungry on a feast to which they had no hope of being invited". In the South Bombay of Salman Rushdie's Saleem Sinai, a magic-realist and fantastical "insaan-soup" full of colour and diversity; and in the great shrieking grief of The Moor's Last Sigh when that fabric of community is ripped apart. In Kiran Nagarkar's Ravan and Eddie, which follows the intertwined lives of two chawl boys, one Hindu and the other Christian. Even Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games, ostensibly a crime novel, is interesting not because of flamboyant underworld don Ganesh Gaitonde as because of Sartaj Singh, a divorced Sardar policeman with middling prospects who finds himself involved in a matter beyond his depth.

The best Bombay fiction is lit up by the lives of ordinary men and women, their quest for dignity, their daily struggles and failures. There is no better example of this than Saadat Hasan Manto. Though he wrote for the film industry, some of his most humane fiction tells of the lives of people on the fringes in the city, including sex workers and their clients; and some of his finest Bombay fiction was written after he had left the city that he loved for ever. Similarly Anita Desai, in Baumgartner's Bombay, writes about the city through the eyes of the gentle Jew Hugo Baumgartner. Although he has fled the Nazis and been interned in India, it is in the Bombay of the 1970s that the novel opens, where Baumgartner is feeding stray cats among the vagrants in the alleys of Colaba behind the Taj Hotel, unwittingly preparing for the final tragic chapter in his life.

Finally, it is not even fiction but poetry in which the most fleeting of urban moments can be captured. Arun Kolatkar's eye for the city's smallest living things misses nothing, not even the pi-dog "who thinks of himself / as the original / inhabitant of the island", and not the scrawniest kitten, not even tiniest shrimp in the fish-wife's basket.

In a Kala Ghoda poem he writes about Annapoorna, "Our Lady of Idlis", perched on the traffic island, who serves up a feast. When she wraps up, the moment is gone:

The pop-up cafeteria/ disappears like a castle in a children's book/— along with the king and the queen,/ the courtiers,/ the court jester and the banqueting hall,/ the roast pheasants and the suckling pigs,/ as soon as the witch/ shuts the book on herself —/ and the island returns/ to its flat old boring self.

The writer is a Mumbai-based IAS officer, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

PROPERTY TAX REFORM CAN FUND OUR CITIES

ISHER JUDGE AHLUWALIA

 

The poor state of finances of our cities is a source of major concern. On the one hand, the adequacy and quality of public services leaves a lot to be desired, and on the other hand, payment for these services and collection of local taxes falls far short of what is needed to cover the costs of delivery. This chicken-and-egg problem has got us into an apparently intractable situation. Bangalore's property tax reform offers a ray of hope.

Property tax is the largest potential source of own revenue for municipal corporations and municipalities in India today, but its contribution to their revenues is small and inelastic. The property tax reform initiated by the Bangalore Mahanagar Palika (BMP) in 2000 and taken forward by Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palika (BBMP) in 2008, has shown that property tax buoyancy can be gained by moving towards a system which allows revaluation of properties at specified time intervals. Revaluation enhances the base on which property tax is levied, and yields rising tax revenues.

Prior to these reforms, the provisions of the Rent Control Act often came in conflict with the then prevailing system of assessment of property values under annual rateable value (ARV). Tax officials inspected the premises when a property was assessed for the first time and issued a notice determining the tax payable, based on "reasonable" expectation of rent. The scope for discretion was immense and it created an environment for corruption and litigation. The ARV system benefited neither the taxpayer nor the corporation.

In April, 2000, the BMC introduced a self-assessment scheme (SAS) which was effectively a self-declaration scheme, based on simple and transparent guidelines for assessment — using a formula which included the location of the property, its built-up area, type of construction, usage (residential or commercial), occupancy (with a rebate for own use), and age (for depreciation). The tax rate was 20 per cent for residential property and 25 per cent for non-residential. Owner-occupied property received a 50 per cent rebate. Bangalore, with its area of 200 square km, was divided into 6 land-value zones for assessment purposes, based on the published guidance value of the department of stamps and registration. Guidance value was to be revised every 4 years, thus ensuring buoyancy of the tax. The approach resembled an assessment under capital value system.

The scheme was made optional, to avoid any legal disputes arising from the fact that the Karnataka Municipal Act, 1976, had not been amended. The tax assessed under the scheme would be in force for the next five years, thereby creating an environment of certainty for the tax payer. Apart from the option of filing the return at any branch of eight public-sector banks, 50 payment clinics were opened to assist taxpayers filing returns.

The BMC's commissioner, K. Jairaj, showed tremendous leadership in pushing the self-assessment scheme with considerable sensitivity. For example, increase in property tax liability was capped at 2.5 times the original liability, but any calculated decrease over the previous period was also restricted to 25 per cent. The government set up the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF), as a group of private-sector technocrats and eminent citizens to understand citizen's concerns, reach out, and suggest solutions. BATF made a difference in pushing SAS as a significant measure of good governance. A campaign was carried out for 45 days in newspapers through answering frequently asked questions about the SAS, so as to build taxpayer confidence. Support of resident welfare associations was procured through extensive interactions with them.

The results were dramatic. Property tax collection shot up by 33 per cent in 2000-01, revealing that taxpayers were keen to get the middlemen out. There was an increase in the collection rate, increase in the number of properties on the tax roll, and increase in tax per property. The one time sharp increase was to be expected. But growth in collections dropped sharply to 3.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent in the subsequent two years. Since the scheme was voluntary, most owners of new properties did not join in. The system needed to be supplemented by strong enforcement, random checks, and stringent recovery provisions. Such efforts in 2003-04 and 2005-06 yielded revenue growth of 15-16 per cent per annum. But it was clear that buoyancy in revenue collection from property tax can only be ensured if property valuation is revised at regular intervals.

It was time for reform again. By 2007, after the BMP's expansion and the merger of a number of jurisdictions, the BBMP had emerged as a much larger municipal corporation, covering 800 square km, and with a population of 75 lakh in 198 wards and eight zones. Taxpayers in greater Bangalore had got so comfortable with SAS that they strongly resisted the attempt to move to a capital value system legislated in the year 2002. As U.A. Vasanth Rao, then deputy commissioner (resources), BBMP, who drafted the legislation, put it: "The success of SAS and its endorsement by hundreds of taxpayers including eminent citizens in the media made it possible to respond by improving on SAS to achieve an effect similar to a capital-value system."

A bold step was taken: to pass an amendment to the KMC Act, and adopt an area-based system (known as the unit area value system) for assessment of properties with effect from 2008-09. This reform was carried out, again, with active support of civil society, print media and endorsement of taxpayers. The revised guidance value published in 2007 was taken as the basis for revaluation. Though a conscious decision was taken not to raise the rental rates for each of the three zones of the erstwhile BMP areas, many properties in the lower zone in 2000 moved to two higher places in zoning in 2008. In order to ease the burden, the zone classification of property to higher zones was restricted to the next higher zone. There was also a rebate of 5 per cent for early payment; over 70 per cent of taxpayers took advantage of this rebate. The option of filing returns online was also made available to taxpayers.

The new legislation stipulates a mandatory random check of 15 per cent of the returns filed each year and provides for penalty for false declaration. The tax paid by all taxpayers is uploaded on the BBMP website. Taxpayers can see how they have paid compared with their neighbours and this has a positive reinforcing effect on payments. Collection Registers which are currently maintained at each zone are being computerised.

The results have been phenomenal. The number of properties covered have increased from 7 lakh in 2007-08 (prior to reform) to 8 lakh in 2008-09, 9 lakh in 2009-10 and 12 lakh in 2010-11 (the total number of properties as per GIS is 15 lakh). The amount of tax collected has increased from Rs 430 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 780 crore in 2008-09, Rs 880 crore in 2009-10, and Rs 1120 crore in 2010-11.

If Bangalore can improve its finances through property tax reform with active support of taxpayers, why not other Indian cities?

The writer is chairperson of ICRIER, and also chaired the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure services, which submitted its report in March 2011

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

SUMMER OF STRUGGLE

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

Summer of struggle

Two years ago, thousands of activists of the Green Movement poured out into the streets of Iran's cities to challenge the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president. But Iran's political establishment led by the "Supreme Leader", Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei, rallied around Ahmadinejad and crushed the movement.

While the reformists have found it hard to sustain the popular resistance despite the Arab Spring in the neighbourhood, Ahmadinejad is now facing the threat of impeachment from the very conservative coalition that saved him in 2009.

For nearly three months now, the political battle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei has been out in the open. After initial veiled attacks on Ahmadinejad, the clerical establishment has now directly targeted Ahmadinejad's political aides and arrested many of his supporters in the government.

The latest to be locked up are a former deputy foreign minister and two heads of Special Economic Zones in the north and south of Iran. Until now, more than 50 of Ahmadinejad's aides have been arrested either for holding "unauthorised beliefs" or on charges of corruption.

The power struggle between the president and the Supreme Leader came into public view earlier this year when Ahmadinejad dismissed the minister for intelligence but was forced to reinstate him under orders from Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad tried to rejig his cabinet and bring the all important oil ministry under his control, but had to backtrack again amidst Khamenei's displeasure. In the unique structure of the Iranian state, power resides in the hands of the Supreme Leader while the elected president can only operate at his pleasure.

In recent weeks, Khamenei has sought to publicly assert his authority over Ahmadinejad even on seemingly small issues such as a proposed visit by the Iranian foreign minister to Saudi Arabia. Almost all of Ahmadinejad's predecessors have had problems with the Supreme Leader and have had to withdraw in disgrace after trying to assert themselves.

A few weeks ago, a contrite Ahmadinejad expressed his loyalty to the Supreme Leader on television. That neither ended the contest nor the speculation that Ahmadinejad's days are numbered. The conventional wisdom is that Ahmadinejad has no chance of political survival in defiance of Khamenei. Some observers of Iran, however, insist that Ahmadinejad might not be a pushover.

Meanwhile hundreds of supporters are deserting Ahmadinejad amidst the accusations that the president and his inner circle form a "deviant current". In all ideological states — Communist or Islamic — there can be no bigger crime than "deviation" from the official canon.

Deviance and defiance

The president and his aides, especially his chief of staff Efsandiar Rahim Mashai, have been accused of voodoo and sorcery. The best defence Ahmadinejad has had is that he is under the "spell" of Mashai, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son.

After his reelection in 2009, Ahmadinejad appointed Mashai as the first vice president. Mashai, touted as a potential successor to Ahmadinejad, had to resign because of Khamenei's opposition. Ahmadinejad did the next best thing — making Mashai his chief of staff.

Ahmadinejad and Mashai say that the "Hidden Imam", the messiah of Shi'ite Islam, would reappear in the near future to establish a just and perfect Islamic state. The hidden Imam is said to be the 12th direct descendant of Prophet Mohammad, who disappeared or was hidden from the enemies of the Shia faith in the 9th century.

On the face of it, Ahmadinejad's claims that he is often in touch with the Hidden Imam do seem strange. Ahmadinejad's assertion that the 12th Imam will return soon has a political implication that directly challenges the ideological basis of Khamenei's political hegemony over Iran.

The Islamic Republic, established by Khamenei's predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei in 1979, is based on the thesis that the clerics have the right to rule until the Hidden Imam appears. This principle is known as the "velayat-e-faqih".

Ahmadinejad and Mashai are saying Iran no longer needs an increasingly unpopular clerical rule and that power must be exercised by the elected leaders of the nation. As an alternative to Velayat-e-Faqih, Ahmadinejad and his friends have sought to glorify Iran's pre-Islamic past and the great contributions of the Persian civilisation to world history.

For Khamenei and the ideologues of the Islamic republic, this is utterly unacceptable.

Pure Persian

Last month, the President's office approved a decision by the Iranian National Academy to replace the French word "police", in use in Iran since the 19th century, with the Persian word "passvar."

This was part of Ahmadinejad's efforts to "purify" the Persian language by expunging Arabic and other foreign words. Khamenei vetoed the decision, because it was seen as yet another sign of "Iranian nationalism" that the clerics think has no place in the discourse of the Islamic republic.

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

160 MILLION AND COUNTING

 

In 1990, the economist Amartya Sen published an essay in The New York Review of Books with a bombshell title: "More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing." His subject was the wildly off-kilter sex ratios in India, China and elsewhere in the developing world. To explain the numbers, Sen invoked the "neglect" of third-world women, citing disparities in health care, nutrition and education. He also noted that under China's one-child policy, "some evidence exists of female infanticide." The essay did not mention abortion.

Twenty years later, the number of "missing" women has risen to more than 160 million, and a journalist named Mara Hvistendahl has given us a much more complete picture of what's happened. Her book is called Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. As the title suggests, Hvistendahl argues that most of the missing females weren't victims of neglect. They were selected out of existence, by ultrasound technology and second-trimester abortion.

The spread of sex-selective abortion is often framed as a simple case of modern science being abused by patriarchal, misogynistic cultures. Patriarchy is certainly part of the story, but as Hvistendahl points out, the reality is more complicated — and more depressing. Thus far, female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less. In many communities, she writes, "women use their increased autonomy to select for sons," because male offspring bring higher social status. In countries like India, sex selection began in "the urban, well-educated stratum of society," before spreading down the income ladder.

Hvistendahl's book is filled with unsettling scenes, from abandoned female foetuses littering an Indian hospital to the signs in Chinese villages at the height of the one-child policy's enforcement. ("You can beat it out! You can make it fall out! You can abort it! But you cannot give birth to it!") The most disturbing passages, though, are the ones that depict self-consciously progressive Westerners persuading themselves that fewer girls might be exactly what the teeming societies of the third world needed.

Unnatural Selection reads like a great historical detective story, written with the sense of moral urgency that accompanies the revelation of some enormous crime.

But what kind of crime? This is the question that haunts Hvistendahl's book, and the broader debate over the vanished 160 million.

The scale of that number evokes the genocidal horrors of the 20th century. But most of the abortions were (and continue to be) uncoerced. The US establishment helped create the problem, but now it's metastasising: the population-control movement is a shadow of its former self, yet sex selection has spread inexorably with access to abortion, and sex ratios are out of balance from Central Asia to the Balkans to Asian-American communities in the US.

This places many Western liberals, Hvistendahl included, in a distinctly uncomfortable position. Their own premises insist that the unborn aren't human beings yet, and that the right to an abortion is nearly absolute. A self-proclaimed agnostic about when life begins, Hvistendahl insists that she hasn't written "a book about death and killing." But this leaves her struggling to define a victim for the crime that she's uncovered.

It's society at large, she argues, citing evidence that gender-imbalanced countries tend to be violent and unstable. It's the women in those countries, she adds, pointing out that skewed sex ratios are associated with increased prostitution and sex trafficking.

These are important points. But the sense of outrage that pervades her story seems to have been inspired by the missing girls themselves, not the consequences of their absence.

Here the anti-abortion side has it easier. We can say outright what's implied on every page of Unnatural Selection, even if the author can't quite bring herself around.

The tragedy of the world's 160 million missing girls isn't that they're "missing." The tragedy is that they're dead.ROSS DOUTHAT

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

RESPECT PARLIAMENT

MANOJCG

 

Respect Parliament

An editorial in CPM journal People's Democracy slams sections of civil society for their "absolutely outrageous" remarks questioning the right of MLAs and MPs to represent millions of Indians. It also criticises the government for its decision to postpone the monsoon session of Parliament, saying that panicky, knee-jerk reactions have become a familiar characteristic of UPA 2. This postponement, it says, is an attempt to buy time while it works out a better response to the opposition's pressure over corruption, including the latest scam in the gas sector. "This decision of the government only compounds the demeaning of the system of parliamentary democracy by sections of civil society," it says. It argues that the contempt these civil society leaders have for the people, the voters and the electoral system must be rejected.

Convenient untruth

The CPI, on the other hand, raises a different point. While acknowledging that corruption and black money have gripped the popular imagination, it accuses the media of playing up these issues, and claims the same vested interests behind corruption and black money are now using this phenomenon to sideline other serious issues. "First an attempt was made to project the self-appointed representatives of the so-called civil society as the sole voice of the people. Political parties and other representatives of the society were ignored. An impression was sought to be created that whatever the ten "wise men" of the joint drafting committee including five appointed by an individual will produce as Lokpal bill, will be imposed on the country as fait accompli," says the editorial in CPI weekly New Age.

It argues that while everyone knew that no law can be legislated ignoring Parliament, the media kept harping on the point that civil society will have the final say. It accuses the media of ignoring issues like the resistance to "forceful acquisition" of land for Posco in Orissa, rising prices of essential commodities, education and public healthcare and the threat of Hindutva terrorism.

Exaggerating death

An article in People's Democracy says a "highly successful vilification campaign" was launched against Mao Zedong with the claimthat 27-30 million people died in China between 1958 and 1961, the 'Great Leap Forward' period.

The basis of this assertion, the article claims, was the population deficit in China during that period and the work of two North American demographers — A.J. Coale and Judith Banister — and argues while the capitalist press repeated the allegation, "no one bothered to look at the highly dubious method through which these demographers had arrived at their apocalyptic figures."

The article goes on to dissect the famine death theory. It says looking at China's population data from its 1953 and 1964 censuses, if the rate of population increase up to 1958 had been maintained, the population should have been 27 million higher over the period over 1959-1961 than it actually was. "This population deficit was widely equated with 'famine deaths.' But 18 million of the people alleged to have died in a famine were not born in the first place. The decline in the birth rate from 29 in 1958 to 18 in 1961 is being counted as famine deaths. The Chinese are a highly talented people, but they have not learnt the art of dying without being born," it points out.

It, however, admits that since foodgrain output declined from 1959, there was a rise in the officially measured death rate. It says that 1960 was an abnormal year with about 8 million deaths in excess of the 1958 level."

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CAIRN BLINKS

The good news: the Cairn-Vedanta deal, on hold for almost a year now, is almost certain to go through now since Cairn Energy Plc has decided there's little to be gained by taking on the government. So when the Group of Ministers (GoM) meets later this week to review the deal, chances are it will give Cairn Energy Plc the go ahead to sell a 40% stake in Cairn India to Vedanta Resources Plc. Late Monday, Vedanta announced that the two companies had agreed to an 'adjustment' in prices, taking the cost of the deal down from $6.65 bn to $6.02 bn. Since the cost of agreeing to the government proposal—that Cairn India allow the royalty payments by ONGC to be considered an expense—is going to be around $1.2 bn (based on the current oil price of $100 per barrel) on an NPV basis, it would appear Cairn Energy Plc and Vedanta Resources Plc have agreed to split the costs. The government stands to lose around $800 mn if royalty payments are to be expensed as this will lower profits and hence the government's share as well.

As has been pointed out by FE on various occasions, if ONGC had a problem with its contract to pay all the royalty on oil produced while it owned just 30% of the joint venture (JV) with Cairn India, it should have gone in for arbitration in exactly the way Cairn India has—Cairn makes the cess payments on the oil produced but has gone to the arbitration court arguing the payment has to be made by ONGC under the original contract. Indeed, for ONGC, going in for arbitration would have been pretty much a win-win situation. The original deal, which is a loss-making proposition for ONGC (the 30% dividends it gets from the JV are less than the 100% royalty it pays), was signed when ONGC was the Oil and Natural Gas Commission and directly under the formal control of the petroleum ministry—so even if ONGC the company lost the arbitration, the government would have to make good the loss it caused to Oil and Natural Gas Commission. If Cairn agrees to allowing royalty payments to be expensed, ONGC will no longer be out of pocket on the deal.

The bad news is that the sign global investors are getting is that the government has no problems playing the heavy and ignoring the legitimate business interests of investors. That's not a great situation to be in at any time, much less when foreign investors seem to be losing some of their interest in the country.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ALL DRESSED UP...

It's a tad ironical that at a time when retail investors in the country are fleeing mutual funds—the number of equity folios has fallen by about 16.5 lakh in the last one year—the fund industry is being thrown open to foreign retail investors. Nonetheless, following up on its proposal in the Union Budget for 2011-12, the government on Monday announced it would allow Qualified Financial Investors (QFI) foreign individuals to buy into Indian mutual fund (MF) schemes up to a limit of $10 bn. A QFI, the finance ministry says, could be an individual or it could be an insurance or pension fund. As of now, non-resident Indians and Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) are allowed to buy into mutual funds schemes—Birla Sun Life AMC, for instance, has some $300 mn of FII money across its schemes. However, FII investment in MF schemes is estimated at a little over 1% of their total exposure to the Indian stock market of roughly $280 bn. That's despite the fact that there are some big foreign players in the Indian MF market like BlackRock and Fidelity.

As for retail money, which the government is targeting, it's hard to see foreign individuals wanting a direct exposure to the Indian market just yet; one would think they would prefer to avoid cumbersome procedures—clearing the KYC, opening a demat account, placing orders—and instead park their savings with a reputed fund overseas, which, in turn, could invest in India either directly or through local mutual funds. That might just be a simpler way to go about it. Indeed, it could be a while before Indian MFs build up a sizeable foreign retail clientele even if they teamed up with distributors in those markets rather than setting up marketing and sales offices on their own. They could, however, tap offshore customers of foreign banks operating in India, in return for a fee. Nonetheless, the task at hand is not easy; products would need to be registered with local regulators before investors feel comfortable parting with their savings and, of course, fund managers would need to have a good enough track record to convince investors that it's worth all the trouble. So perhaps MFs would want to pick the low-hanging fruit—smaller institutional investors—to begin with. It may be just easier to persuade local retail investors to start buying MF schemes again.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SOLVING THE LABOUR CONUNDRUM

ARINDAM BHATTACHARYA

 

The recent labour strike at Maruti's plant at Manesar had hit the headlines of all the business newspapers. When it ended, one of the press reports seemed to suggest that both the management and workers were left unhappy with the final agreement; while, I am sure, Haryana's state labour authorities heaved a sigh of relief. While such industrial action brings sharp focus on the specific issues between the management and the workers, and labour authorities get into a 'solution' mode to solve these issues, once the strike is called off, it is back to business as usual. The core structural labour issues facing us, which have resulted in a distorted employment structure in India and also impact our long-term manufacturing competitiveness, remain unaddressed.

Many believe that the Gurgaon-Manesar belt, one of the India's major manufacturing hubs, is facing a time bomb in the form of a large number of contract workers who constitute 50-75% of the employees in the plants dotting the region. Ask the business leaders the reason and they will tell you that they are forced to adopt this approach not so much from the need to reduce wage costs, but more to get around the rigidities imposed by our labour laws.

This has led to two unintended consequences, one direct and the other indirect. The direct consequence is on the growth of organised employment in manufacturing sector. While the 1990s saw hardly any growth in manufacturing employment, the last decade saw growth but only in the unorganised sector, which today, as a consequence, constitutes nearly 90% of the 60 million manufacturing employees. The indirect second consequence has been on the impact on labour productivity. To achieve our aspiration of becoming one of the leading manufacturing nations, we have to significantly improve our labour productivity growth from the current level of 3-7% per annum. As a comparison, Chinese manufacturing labour productivity grew annually at 12-13% in the last decade as it became the largest manufacturing country in the world. Having such a large share of contract employees in each plant is a big roadblock to any productivity improvement drive.

Why can we not go beyond addressing the symptoms that surface from time to time via industrial actions, like the strike at Maruti's Manesar plant, and solve the core structural issues in the management of our labour? Unfortunately, liberalising our labour policies to address these issues has been a virtual 'no-go' area for our policymakers under the guise of protecting worker rights.

Given the challenges as articulated earlier, it is high time we start a debate on objectives of our labour policies. Is it to generate organised and 'fair' jobs and improve manufacturing labour productivity, or to 'protect worker rights' through maintaining status quo? Unless we openly debate this fundamental question, we will not shake up the mind-set that locks us into the status quo. At the same time, we have to also recognise that the labour unions have a legitimate fear that changing the laws to make it easy to 'hire and fire' can lead to its misuse. Understanding this fear and addressing it squarely has to be a critical part of any solution. The second mistake we make is to see the labour issue as a simple fight between greater labour flexibility for businesses and maintaining worker rights. It is clear that if we want to break this labour conundrum, we have to look beyond the simplistic description of the problem as labour flexibility vs worker rights trade-off.

Such a solution has to necessarily have four inter-related sets of policy measures. The first set of measures should be focused on driving manufacturing employment. These could include creating mega-manufacturing zones to policies that make it easier to set up MSMEs through effective micro-credit programmes and institutions that help them reduce cost of compliance. The second set of measures have to focus on improving employability through better training and skill development programmes, which is the core objective for the Prime Minister's National Council for Skill Development (and various ministries with skill development programmes and agencies like the National Skill Development Corporation). The key is to align their activities with the other labour policies and not run them as independent initiatives. The third set of measures should deal with protection of worker rights in an environment where businesses have greater flexibility in managing their labour with changing market conditions. These could include institutional arrangements to provide direct cash support, job-loss insurance and re-training and re-deployment. The final set of measures should be to create a more efficient way to match demand and supply by completely revamping our employment exchanges.

It is not to say that we have not taken steps in the above four policy areas. However, in my view, these initiatives suffer from two problems. First, they end up as half measures from a 'two-step forward and one-step back' approach and, second, they are often formulated independent of each other, the victim of our governance model where each central ministry and state government seem to go their own way. If we want to achieve the aspirational target of increasing manufacturing sector's contribution to India's GDP from 16% to 25% and creating 100 million new jobs as set out in the draft Manufacturing Policy from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), we have to integrate the initiatives in these four areas into an effective and holistic solution to our labour conundrum.

Trying to do this across the country at the same time makes it a virtual non-starter. From that perspective, the recommendation by DIPP to create National Manufacturing and Investment Zones across the country, where all the four policy measures can be integrated in a contained geographical location without any baggage from the past, is a pragmatic and workable solution. We can, of course, continue to debate the issue of labour flexibility vs worker rights till the cows come home. Or decide that time is ripe to enter into a 'new labour contract' with our workers that will generate new organised jobs and improve the competitiveness of our manufacturing sector.

The author is managing director, the Boston Consulting Group, India. These are his personal views

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PROTECTED BY IMPERFECTIONS!

AMITENDU PALIT

Is the Chinese economic miracle coming to an end?

Of late, some experts are predicting that China might take the 'Japan' route to economic stagnation. Their views are influenced by China's decision to bring down its GDP growth rate during the 12th Five Year Plan and make consumption, rather than investment, the future driver of growth. For an economy propelled by high investment for several years, it is felt that such a switch can produce catastrophic outcomes as the Chinese economy is not geared for ushering in such change.

How true are these fears?

One of the biggest problems in analysing the Chinese economy is its steadfast resistance to be explained by straightforward mainstream neo-classical economic explanations. These explanations hardly explain why China is what it is. They do not accommodate the imperfections that the Chinese economy has and cannot explain why China has been growing at amazingly high rates despite imperfections. China's decision to 'cool' down its economy is again an exogenous move, hardly anticipated in the mainstream economic discourse. As a result, the move has set the cat among the pigeons.

Contrary to the doubts expressed, it is unlikely that China will suffer an economic slump, much less an economic disaster. Ironically, the Chinese economy's inability to adapt quickly to the proposed structural changes is likely to maintain its current growth pattern and thwart setbacks, rather than creating them.

Despite what Chinese policymakers have decided, China's GDP growth is unlikely to come down to 7% or thereabout in the near term. Growth moderation was announced as an objective in the earlier Plan as well. But annual GDP growth remained consistently above the targets set. The Chinese command control was unable to rein in the growth. It is unlikely to be much different this time around as well.

Why? China's GDP growth is shaped by performances of its provinces. Incentive structures in provinces are fashioned in a manner encouraging implementation of growth-oriented, scale-intensive projects. Success in kick-starting projects contributing to GDP determines career progression of provincial officials. Not only does this incentive structure needs to change for curbing the provincial hunger for high growth, it needs to change while maintaining positive career prospects of the provincial administrations. This is obviously difficult and there is little evidence of China experimenting with new incentive structures till now.

Even a casual glance at China's recent economic activity, particularly in the months following the financial crisis, can't avoid noticing the emphasis on new infrastructure. High-speed rail corridors have been the buzzword in China, with bullet trains linking various parts of the country at amazing speed and in little time. The rail infrastructure is powered by massive investments and is a state-sponsored initiative. There is little possibility of the infrastructure expansion being curtailed. China will continue to spend well on railways in the foreseeable future. State-directed bank lending into special purpose vehicles managing infrastructure projects is unlikely to reduce. Infrastructure investment will remain a major determinant of aggregate demand and GDP growth.

Discussions on China often underestimate the pronounced informal character of its economy. Credit expansion and economic growth have released phenomenal liquidity in the economy. Chinese household savings include substantive amounts of idle cash due to the absence of an adequate variety of sophisticated financial instruments for parking the cash. Transactions through plastic money are also relatively less. Large chunks of idle money circulate among informal guanxi business networks, finding their way into diverse commercial activities both in the mainland as well as in neighbouring Hong Kong and Taiwan. These have been going on for years, unsupported by official incentives, thriving purely on networks developed through personal associations over the years. Will the decision to reduce GDP growth be able to limit the robustness of these activities?

Finally, exports and exchange rate. China has realised the difficulty of pursuing an export-oriented growth strategy through an artificially pegged exchange rate. While it will gradually distance itself from the peg, as an economy, it is unlikely to transform overnight from a net exporter to a net importer vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Thousands of manufacturers and migrant labourers depend on China's export competitiveness for survival. The transition to an import-intensive, consumption-based framework must factor in alternate occupational opportunities for these communities. Until then, China is expected to free the renminbi only in carefully measured amounts.

Analysts overlook the fact that in spite of the overarching diktat of the Chinese Communist Party in the country's economic decision-making, China's size and complexity can make the central directions difficult to fructify in their entirety. China's growth has been driven by horizontal decentralisation, with the provinces maintaining the momentum. More than two decades of free run given to provinces, as well as award of incentives not always consistent with principles of market economy for encouraging exports, has created a high growth economy with certain systemic imperfections, which are the biggest hindrances to China's cooling down.

Had the Chinese economy been devoid of imperfections and completely amenable to top-down announcements, it would have taken much less time and effort for the economy to change course. But, with the economy having developed home-grown structural peculiarities, and with domestic stakeholders having significant interests in maintaining high growth on largely the prevailing lines, China's GDP growth trajectory is unlikely to experience a major dip in the coming years.

China's economic collapse is predicated on the assumption of its ability to cut its own growth. China is unlikely to be successful in doing so. And the lack of success is expected to deter potential catastrophes.

The author is a visiting senior research fellow in the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE CAG'S MANDATE

As auditor to a nation whose institutions of oversight are weak and underdeveloped, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India is more than just the keeper of our national accounts. It is, in many ways, a conscience-keeper and a watchdog, which may not bite but can bark and warn ordinary citizens that something is amiss in the wider affairs of state. Like the Election Commission and the Supreme Court, the CAG has managed to protect its integrity and independence despite pressure from various arms of the state. If conducted freely and fairly, a robust audit can serve as a catalyst for corrective action. The CAG's report on Bofors in 1989 had major political consequences. Its explosive 2010 report on the allocation of 2G spectrum led to the filing of criminal charges against politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen. Other reports may have had a less dramatic political impact but they have been equally useful. The CAG's observations may be politically embarrassing to the government but they clearly contribute to the public good. Democratic India must ensure that the government takes the work of this constitutionally sanctioned institution very seriously and removes the obstacles placed in the path of a more effective and efficient audit process.

Aware of the limitations of its mandate, the CAG has asked the United Progressive Alliance government to make three broad amendments in the 1971 Audit Act, which governs the functioning of the audit authorities. The first amendment is intended to ensure that government departments reply to audit enquiries in 30 days rather than in the open-ended manner as now. Secondly, the CAG wants the statute to stipulate a clear timeframe for the tabling of completed audit reports on the floor of the relevant legislature. The Act, as it stands today, gives the Central and State governments wide latitude in this regard and it is hardly surprising that this freedom has been abused to delay making public the audit reports that contain embarrassing observations. The third set of proposed amendments is aimed at bringing the CAG's legal mandate up to speed with the changes that have taken place in the way public money is spent. Since the 1971 Act was passed, the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution have been adopted, adding a layer of decentralised governance — and hence expenditure management — to the institutions of the state. Liberalisation has meant public money is increasingly utilised in joint ventures and public-private partnerships. Because of ambiguities in its mandate, the CAG feels unable adequately to audit this vast area of public economic activity. The government should deal with the call for a modernised Audit Act proactively.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

GIVE PALESTINE ITS DUE

Palestinians have yet again been denied their due. The recently concluded session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee rejected the first-ever Palestinian nomination. While it considered proposals from six West Asian countries, it overlooked Palestine's proposal to include the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one the oldest functioning churches, in the world heritage list. The proposal was rejected not on merits, but because UNESCO did not consider Palestine a sovereign state. Getting world heritage status has been critical to improving the protection of heritage sites. In 2002, the Israeli forces besieged and damaged parts of the Church of the Nativity, which is more than 1500 years old and a site of importance for Muslims as well. In 2005, experts listed many more instances of wanton destruction. For example, the Israeli Military Command destroyed 22 historic structures in the old city of Hebron, and permanent structures were built atop the archaeological site of Tell Rumeida. As recently as in 2010, instances of illegitimate appropriation of Palestinian monuments were reported. The hope was that a formal international recognition would serve as an additional deterrent and help Palestinians in nation-building.

Realising the urgent need to protect the cultural sites, UNESCO started training Palestinians to identify important heritage structures and implement the World Heritage Convention. In 2005, a list of 17 monuments located in historic cities such as Bethlehem and Nablus was published. Unfortunately, when it came to the critical phase of nomination, UNESCO, which might plead its hands are tied by convention and the limitations of international law, failed to demonstrate the innovativeness and progressive spirit expected of it. It needs to revisit the founding moments of the World Heritage movement. About 50 years ago, the world came together to save Abu Simbel. Collective concern and gravity of the situation compelled the international community to act creatively and boldly. UNESCO demonstrated some of these traits in 1981, when it overruled Israel's objection and accepted Jordan's proposal to nominate the old city of Jerusalem and its walls for the world heritage list. The reality is that many of the identified heritage sites are in areas administered by the Palestinian National Authority, which is an internationally accepted representative of the Palestinians, and the formation of Palestine State is inevitable. There is no convincing reason to further deny Palestine heritage sites the protection and recognition they deserve and urgently need.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

KOREA'S ENDLESS NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE

SIX DECADES SINCE NUCLEAR WEAPONS FIRST FLEW TOWARDS THE PENINSULA, SLUNG UNDER A B29, THEY CONTINUE TO CAST A MALEVOLENT SHADOW.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

Even as victorious North Korean troops surged into Seoul on June 30, 1950, nine B29 bombers armed with nuclear bombs began the long flight across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Guam.

Harry Truman, President of the United States, had signed a directive authorising a nuclear task force to stand by to use the bombs if communist forces took control of all Korea. It began badly: one aircraft crashed as it took off from the Fairfield-Suisan base, killing a dozen people and scattering radioactive material across the area. The long-term fallout has proved even more lethal.

South Korea commemorated the 61st anniversary of that war last week. Before it ground to a stalemate in July 1953, 1,37,899 of its soldiers had been killed in action, along with 2,15,000 North Koreans, 1,83,108 Chinese, 33,686 Americans, and thousands more from 15 other countries; 2.5 million civilians were butchered by the war and its grim handmaidens, hunger and disease.

Every day, the Korean peninsula lives with the fear that it could see new carnage. "The miracle on the Han river," South Koreans call their fairy-tale economic success. For long, among Asia's poorest countries, their war-torn land is now the 15th largest economy in the world.

South Koreans hoped the miracle would heal history's wounds. In 1998, Kim Dae-jung, South Korea's former President, initiated a dramatic reconciliation process called the "Sunshine Policy." He injected billions of dollars into North Korea's economy — as well as several million, credible accounts have it, into the personal accounts of the country's ruler, Kim Jong-il.

Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts but storm clouds gathered not long after the ink dried on the citation. In 1999, naval clashes left at least 30 North Korean sailors dead. Then, in the wake of 9/11, the U.S. declared North Korea part of the "axis of evil." North Korea responded by calling off talks, and adopting increasingly confrontational tactics.

Four years later, North Korea tested its nuclear weapons. The country conducted a second nuclear test in 2009, and accelerated work on long-range ballistic missiles.

Last year, North Korean forces torpedoed a South Korean corvette, killing 46 sailors, and then shelled the island of Yeonpyeong, killing four and injuring 19 — sparking off the worst military crisis on the peninsula since 1953. Furious, South Korea threatened retaliation — but neither it, nor its regional allies, nor the world's great powers, have proved able to act.

North Korean forces have long held a gun to South Korea's heart: the Seoul national capital area, the hub of the country's economy and home to almost half the country's 50 million citizens, is just 50 kilometres from the border. The North's conventional weapons, which include over 10,000 artillery and rocket pieces, could devastate Seoul, killing hundreds of thousands.

In addition, the country is believed to maintain an arsenal of over 600 Hwasong-5 short-range missiles with ranges of around 300 km, clones of the Soviet-manufactured Scud-B it obtained from Egypt in 1976. North Korea also has some 200 Rodong missiles, the model for Iran's Shahab-3 and Pakistan's Ghauri missiles, which can hit targets up to 1,200 km away.

Tonchang-ri, a new super-secret long-range missile test site, has seen a surge of activity. In January, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates publicly said North Korea could threaten the U.S. itself inside of five years. Experts are divided on just how close North Korea is to having a nuclear device light enough to be mounted on its missiles — but no one can take the risk it might already have one.

Put together, North Korea's capabilities allow it to pursue the kinds of low-level aggression seen last year — secure in the knowledge that its ability to target Seoul with conventional weapons, and threaten its allies with missiles, will deter large-scale retaliation.

Even though Kim Jong-il and his dysfunctional regime are often cast as insane, there is method in their apparent madness. In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union saw North Korea lose its principal source of patronage. Following the death, in 1994, of Kim Il-Sung, the founding patriarch of the country and its ruling dynasty, 3.5 million people died in a famine called "the march of tribulations."

Kim Dae-jung's government saw this as an opportunity: North Korea's economic need, it believed, could provide an opening to unify the two states. But North Korea's ruling élite understood that the massive asymmetry of economic power between the two states meant Seoul would have control of any new dispensation. In effect, the Sunshine Policy was an invitation to commit suicide.

Pyongyang thus milked the Sunshine Policy, but simultaneously forged a strategy to extort the cash needed to sustain the regime. It was an uncomplicated enterprise, which would have been comprehensible to any big-city organised crime cartel.

Kim Jong-il's son and heir-apparent, Kim Jong-un, is now pushing an ambitious 10-year plan intended to raise the country's GDP from an estimated $40 billion to $360-400 billion. Pyongyang hopes, among other things, to build a ship construction zone at Wonsan, pharmaceutical plants in Nampho and offshore special economic zones. Taepung International Investment Group, owned by millionaire Korean-Chinese businessman Park Chol-Su, has control of the projects.

For the plan to succeed, North Korea needs capital. South Korea and the U.S. are willing to make cash available, but only if the North gives up its nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. Kim Jong-il's regime fears, though, that the deal would end in its own destruction — its suspicions underlined by the experience of Libyan ruler Muammar Qadhafi, who shut down his weapons of mass destruction programmes in return for an end to western sanctions, only to find himself without a bargaining chip to protect his regime from destruction.

Put simply, North Korea is likely to continue using the threat of terror as a bargaining chip, hoping to extort what rents it can secure in return for keeping the peace.

It isn't as high-risk a gamble as it might seem.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has taken a hard line position. "It is inconceivable that we will allow future attacks to go unpunished," a senior South Korean government official told The Hindu. South Korea has put some muscle behind the talk, deploying its arsenal of 221 Lockheed Martin-manufactured MGM140 tactical missiles, which will allow it to target the North's artillery.

But few believe South Korea can actually destroy the North's weapons fast enough to prevent unacceptable losses. South Korea's 2010 Defence White Paper focuses on means to deter an all-out war with the North — but does not lay out any doctrinal response to the kind of low-grade warfare waged by North Korea.

"Even though South Korea would without doubt win an all-out war," says Andrei Lankov, a leading strategic expert at Seoul's Kookmin university, "the victory would be ruinous."

How might events then play out? Great powers China and the U.S. have an interest in reining in North Korea. South Korea is among their most valued economic partners. Beijing does not want a regional crisis that would draw more U.S. forces into the region — nor the U.S. the costs of doing so. Neither side wants to strengthen elements in South Korea which are calling on the country to develop an independent nuclear deterrent.

But mutual suspicions also make it hard for them to act in unison. President Barack Obama's pursuit of a ballistic missile defence shield, which would protect the U.S. and its allies from a nuclear attack, are seen in Beijing as undermining China's nuclear deterrent. China has thus begun expanding its arsenal — fuelling concern among its neighbours and the U.S. North Korea thus forms a bargaining chip in larger contestation.

Even if Beijing does run out of patience with its irksome ally, though, there may not be a great deal it can do. "It could cut off oil, or shut down trade," Dr. Lankov argues, "but these moves would plunge the country into chaos, and potentially precipitate even more confrontational North Korean behaviour.

"People talk about Chinese leverage", he says, "but the truth is it has a hammer — not a lever."

Even though no one wants a crisis in the Korean peninsula, therefore, each side is locked into a strategic impasse which will continue to threaten the world's most economically dynamic region.

In 1954, Mr. Truman warned that "we are being hurried forward, in our mastery of the atom, toward yet unforeseeable peaks of destructive power." He was right: those nuclear peaks still cast a malevolent shadow over the Korean peninsula's geo-strategic landscape.

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 THE HINDU

OPED

THE OCEANS AND THE MONSOON

THE MONSOON, A COMPLEX AND CHAOTIC PHENOMENON, INVOLVES AN INTRICATE INTERPLAY AMONG THE OCEANS, LAND AND THE ATMOSPHERE. MUCH THOUGH NEEDS TO BE DECIPHERED.

N. GOPAL RAJ

Keralites call it " Idavapathy," the rains that come in the middle of the Malayalam month of " Idavam." It marks the arrival of the South-West monsoon in India, the end of a long, hot summer and the start of a four-month season that provides well over three-quarters of the rain that this country receives each year. Once the monsoon sets in, its changing moods, be it the torrential downpours or maddening lulls, are closely watched, endlessly discussed and fretted over.

The monsoon is a hugely complex and chaotic phenomenon that involves an intricate interplay among the oceans, land and the atmosphere. Scientific understanding of the subtle choreography that decides how the the rainy season unfolds has grown by leaps and bounds. There is, nevertheless, much that must be deciphered. One part of that puzzle is the role that the oceans around India play in bringing and sustaining the monsoon.

'An ocean drama'

"There is a drama going on in the Indian Ocean," remarked P.V. Joseph, a veteran meteorologist who has continued to pursue his research interests after retiring from the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Dr. Joseph was speaking at a meeting on the monsoon organised by the Thiruvananthapuram Met. Office in May this year.

About a month and a half before the monsoon arrives in Kerala, the central Bay of Bengal warms. An extensive cloud band then forms in the southern Bay, which produces pre-monsoon rains in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and moves north-east, taking the monsoon to Myanmar and South-East Asia.

The Bay cools as a result while a large stretch of the central Arabian Sea grows steadily warmer. Then, to the south of this warm patch of ocean, rain clouds begin building up near the equator. "It is those clouds that develop, move north and bring the monsoon to Kerala," he said.

Onset over Kerala

The timing of the onset over Kerala is strongly influenced by temperatures on either side of the equator in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, Dr. Joseph told this correspondent. If the southern side near the equator is unusually warm while the northern part is cold, the monsoon will be delayed.

The sea surface temperature has a critical bearing on cloud formation. In 1984, Sulochana Gadgil, an honorary professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Dr. Joseph, and N.V. Joshi, also on the faculty of the IISc, published a paper in the journal Nature that showed that over tropical oceans, the propensity for occurrence of deep cloud systems, such as depressions, becomes high once the sea surface temperature crosses 28° Celsius.

Warm oceans are a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for such cloud formation (a process scientists term as convection). When ocean temperatures are maintained at above the threshold of 28° degrees Celsius, as is the case with the Bay of Bengal much of the time, it ceases to be the limiting factor for convection, noted Prof. Gadgil when she spoke to The Hindu.

Atmospheric conditions then influence the extent of cloud formation. Water that evaporates from the ocean surface must be able to rise high up into the atmosphere and form deep clouds. Gradients in temperature across the ocean surface can, it appears, play a significant role in creating such conditions in the atmosphere above them.

When the rains failed

Consequently, these temperature gradients can strongly influence the course of the monsoon. In 2009, for instance, the rains failed and the country suffered one of the worst droughts in over a century. That year, the rains had been especially poor in June and the shortfall in nationwide rainfall that resulted was not made up in the rest of the season.

During a monsoon's onset and subsequently, a cloud band develops near the equatorial Indian Ocean from time to time and then migrates northward across India. This vast cloud belt, which will typically stretch from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal and beyond, is what provides large-scale rain.

As the cloud band moves over the country, weather systems, such as lows and depressions, form in the Bay and move westwards across the land, bringing much rain. Ample convection over the surrounding oceans is therefore essential for the northward propogation of the cloud band as well as for generating weather systems over the Bay and sustaining the rain they produce.

Generally, in May and June during the monsoon's onset, the Bay is warmer than the eastern equatorial Indian Ocean and convection is favoured at the former location. However, in June 2009, the surface waters of the Bay were colder than usual while a large stretch of the equatorial Indian Ocean was exceptionally warm.

Consequently, convection over the Bay appears to have been suppressed, resulting in the massive deficit in all-India rainfall that was observed, pointed out P.A. Francis of the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) at Hyderabad (an autonomous body under the Ministry of Earth Sciences) and Prof. Gadgil in a paper published later that year. Such an adverse gradient in sea surface temperature was a rare event, they noted.

During the course of a monsoon, weather systems spawned over the Bay deliver a great deal of rain over large parts of the country. Researchers have found that a gradient in the surface temperature between the northern and southern part of the Bay can be a crucial trigger for convection and rainfall over the central Bay.

The temperature in the northern Bay can rise and fall by as much as 1° to 2° Celsius, sometimes in just a few days. Such oscillations in temperature are possible because the top layer of water in this part of the ocean has low salinity. This low-salinity layer acts like a thin plate that can heat up and cool rapidly, explained D. Shankar of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).

Temperature changes

In a paper that appeared in the Journal of Earth System Science in 2007, Dr. Shankar, along with S.R. Shetye, the NIO director, and Dr. Joseph, looked at temperature changes during the monsoon in the northern and southern Bay and correlated that with rainfall events in the central Bay for seven years, from 1998. They reported that when the northern Bay was warmer than the southern part by more than 0.75°, it began to rain in the central Bay shortly afterwards (the lag was seven days or less in most cases).

The north-south gradient in the ocean surface temperatures led to an atmospheric pressure gradient, which, in turn, drew in winds from the west. The result was a swirling cyclonic circulation in the atmosphere that enhanced convection and produced rain, the scientists explained in their paper.

But to better understand how the oceans around India are influencing the monsoon, scientists need know more about what's happening below the waves as well, not just the temperature at the surface.

The sea surface temperature is only an expression of what happens to the top layer of the ocean, observed P.N. Vinayachandran of the IISc. This upper strata, which varies in depth, is known as the "mixed layer" because it is stirred and mixed well by the winds. As a result of such stirring, temperature and salinity are uniform in this layer. Warmed by the sun's rays, it also has the highest temperature. Below it, the temperature of the ocean falls sharply with depth.

Rain, river discharges

As the Bay of Bengal receives more rain as well as greater river discharges than the Arabian Sea, its surface waters are much less salty.

With the less salty and therefore less dense water floating on top, the stirring created by winds produces a much shallower mixed layer in the Bay than in the Arabian Sea.

"That helps the Bay remain warm," he said. During the monsoon, once a weather system develops and then moves over to the land, it cools the Bay only a little. The Bay also has the advantage that, unlike in the Arabian Sea, upwelling, that brings up colder water from deeper down in the ocean, is very inefficient. Since the mixed layer in the Bay is shallow, it heats quickly with solar radiation and is soon ready to support the next weather system.

Consequently, the Bay is able to sustain weather systems right through the monsoon and beyond, remarked Dr. Vinayachandran.

Given the importance of the mixed layer, the temperature and salinity profile in the oceans around India need to be monitored at least up to a depth of 100 metres, according to Dr. Joseph. This was vital for understanding the monsoon and thereby to increase the capability to forecast its course.

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THE HINDU

ELDERS OFFER HELP AT JAPAN'S CRIPPLED REACTOR

KEN BELSON

By any measure, the thousands of people toiling to cool the crippled nuclear reactors in Fukushima are engaged in jobs that the Japanese consider kitanai, kitsui and kiken, or dirty, difficult and dangerous.

Seemingly against logic, Yasuteru Yamada, 72, is eager for the chance to take part. After seeing hundreds of younger men on television struggle to control the damage at the Daiichi power plant, Mr. Yamada struck on an idea: Recruit other older engineers and other specialists to help tame the rogue reactors.

Not only do they have some of the skills needed, but because of their advanced age, they are at less risk of getting cancer and other diseases that develop slowly as a result of exposure to high levels of radiation. Their volunteering would spare younger Japanese from dangers that could leave them childless, or worse.

"We have to contain this accident, and for that, someone should do the work," said Mr. Yamada, a retired plant engineer who had worked for Sumitomo Metal Industries. "It would benefit society if the older generation took the job because we will get less damage from working there."

Formation and debate

Weeks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck, he and Nobuhiro Shiotani, a childhood friend who is also an engineer, formed the Skilled Veterans Corps in early April. They sent out thousands of e-mails and letters, and even set up a Twitter account. On his blog, bouhatsusoshi.jp/english, Mr. Yamada called on people over age 60 who have "the physical strength and experience to bear the burden of this front-line work."

The response was instant. About 400 people have volunteered, including a singer, a cook and an 82-year-old man. Some 1,200 others have offered support, while donations have topped ¥4.3 million, or $54,000. His blog has been translated into 12 languages.

Although Mr. Yamada, a soft-spoken cancer survivor, started with a simple goal, he has triggered a much wider debate about the role of the elderly in Japan, the meaning of volunteerism and the growing reality that the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which owns the reactors, will face an increasingly difficult time recruiting workers. Some experts expect that Japan will ultimately import labourers to help with the clean-up. More than 3,000 workers, many of them poorly paid part-timers, are at the Daiichi site. Already, several have suffered heat stroke and nine have absorbed more than their legal limit of radiation. Dozens of workers have stopped showing up.

Mr. Yamada and his group have been described as selfless patriots surrendering for the greater good, mindless kooks willing to throw themselves in harm's way, or pensioners with too much leisure time. The descriptions miss the point, according to Mr. Shiotani, who had a more practical idea in mind.

"Nuclear power plants are the brainchild of scientists and engineers," he said. "They created this mess, and they have to fix it."

In conditions this dangerous, wanting to help and being allowed to help are different things. Some lawmakers initially scoffed at the volunteers, including Goshi Hosono, an aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who told reporters last month that the work in Fukushima did not yet require a "suicide corps."

"It is very precious that they sacrifice their lives and volunteer to resolve this situation," Mr. Hosono later explained. But "they are at a certain age, so we don't want them to get sick after working in such a dangerous environment with full face masks."

Has captured attention

But in a country starved for feel-good stories, the Skilled Veterans Corps has captured the hearts of many. Requests for interviews have poured in from around the world. Politicians have slowly come on board. On June 6, Mr. Yamada met Banri Kaieda, the Minister of Economy, Trade And Industry, who promised to help the volunteers before their "enthusiasm burns out."

"I thought, what a brave idea when so many Japanese and non-Japanese are afraid to go to Fukushima," said Hiroe Makiyama, a Parliament member in Mr. Kan's Democratic Party of Japan who is helping promote the project. "No one intends to die there. They don't really want to do this, but they feel they have to do this."

Mr. Yamada got so busy working from home that he found some office space in a narrow walk-up in Tokyo's Shimbashi neighbourhood. In a spartan room with a couple of computers, a hot water pot and a few folding chairs, Mr. Yamada and his team are applying to become a non-profit group and awaiting approval of their application to visit the Daiichi plant in July.

Mr. Yamada and Mr. Shiotani say the hardest part of their jobs may be dealing with officials at Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, as it is known. As engineers, they understand that their counterparts, who undoubtedly are very busy, likely will have bruised egos, given the scale of the damage and the tumbling status of the company.

But unlike high-paid consultants and vendors, the Skilled Veterans Corps has nothing to sell but ideas and hard work. As volunteers, they do not have a conflict of interest and can speak openly, they say. Still, Mr. Yamada and Mr. Shiotani recognise that they must be humble. Yoshimi Hitotsugi, a spokesman for Tepco, said that the company is "highly appreciative" of the offers of help, but that it is still deciding what the volunteers are capable of doing and how to ensure their safety. ( Yasuko Kamiizumi contributed reporting.)

© New York Times News Service

 

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THE HINDU

U.S. EXPANDS HUMAN TRAFFICKING BLACKLIST

The Obama administration is expanding the number of countries that may face U.S. sanctions for not doing enough to combat human trafficking.

In its annual Trafficking in Persons report released on June 27, the State Department identified 23 nations as failing to meet minimum international standards to curb the scourge, which claims mainly women and children as victims. That's up from 13 in 2010. Another 41 countries were placed on a "watch list" that could lead to sanctions unless their records improve. Among the countries on the blacklist are Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and North Korea along with frequent U.S. foes Libya, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Others include Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Yemen.

The report also cited six nations for using child soldiers and not taking steps to end the practice.

AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

CHANGES IN CRICKET: BCCI GETS ITS WAY

The far-reaching changes in the way the game will be played — if the recommendations of the International Cricket Council's chief executives' committee are accepted at the ongoing executive board meeting in Hong Kong — mark the next step in the evolution of the sport in tune with changing times. Several of the alterations mooted relate to 50-over cricket and are aimed at shaking the game out of the rut it seems to have fallen into. Others simply accept that cricket is no longer the gentlemen's game that it was once believed to be.

In essence, what the ICC's cricket committee has put forward is the sum of amendments noticed in the way the ODI format needed to be tweaked. The use of new balls from either end in a 50-over game will do away with the need to change the ball after 34 overs as is now mandatory. The compulsory use of the power play overs between the 16th and 40th seeks to break the boring pattern which ODIs had settled into. Harsher punishments for captains in cases of slack over rates seek to ensure that matches do not meander as they tend to do now with endless adjustments in the field setting and whatnot.
Most interesting, though, is the acceptance/capitulation of the ICC to Indian demands over the Umpire Decision Review System. The Indian cricket board has for the past two years held out against accepting the existing ball-tracking technology that the Indians first fell foul of on their 2009 tour of Sri Lanka, and had steadfastly opposed in all bilateral series thereafter. The ICC has now agreed to do away with the Hawk-Eye programme in leg before wicket decisions that would follow the line of the ball till the point it struck a batsman's pads, and thereafter predict its likely path. With the referral system now confined to infra-red technology (Hot-Spot) and enhanced or "clean" audio from stump mikes (Snicko-Meter), it will eliminate the possibility of challenging LBW decisions based on where the ball pitched simply because the third or TV umpire will no longer have access to the dark wicket-to-wicket strip overlaid on a virtual pitch when such calls were being made. In doing so, the Indians have achieved victory of sorts for all the other member nations of the ICC had no problems with the admittedly flawed system currently in use. Having been at the receiving end once, the Boys in Blue were chary of being singed again in a hurry, and found the ideal argument to buttress their opposition in that the technology had to be foolproof. On that ground, this issue — which was threatening to snowball into a major one on India's coming tour of England — can be looked at as a victory for both the ICC as well as the BCCI. With India appearing to be something of a bully in the matter, it could well have ended up vitiating the atmosphere during this summer series for some of the English side had already begun to air snide comments about India running scared of umpire reviews. That hopefully will now stop.
Most of all, though, purists will rue the passing away of the "runner" wherein the fielding captain — if so inclined — would graciously agree to a request that a settled batsman had injured himself sufficiently enough to require a substitute to scamper between the wickets even as he went about the business of piling up yet more runs. For now, this will be restricted to international cricket, so all is not lost!

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THE ASIAN AGE

INNER STRENGTH FIRST

INDER MALHOTRA

Beleaguered though it is for various reasons, some of them of its own creation, the Union government's decision to appoint a task force on national security, internal and external, merits a welcome. It hasn't come a day too soon. The composition of the task force is also reassuring.

Its chairman, Naresh Chandra, is a former defence secretary, home secretary, Cabinet secretary, ambassador to the US and currently, chairman of the National Security Advisory Board. The choice of other security experts on the panel, including a diplomat and a non-official, is equally apt.
However, there is a deficiency in the panel's terms of reference, though even its limited remit is of undoubted importance and urgency. The group of experts has been asked to recommend both the broad strategy and specific steps to cope with major changes in external and internal threats to India's national security, keeping in mind the nuclear environment, security challenges and the country's needs of energy and raw materials. There are areas where internal security challenges and external threats are inextricably intermixed. But in the field of purely internal security the daunting task is to curb and eventually eliminate what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accurately describes as the "biggest internal security threat": Left-wing extremism, also called Naxalism or Maoism.
To achieve this objective successfully would require an adroit combination of removing the legitimate and long-ignored grievances of the tribal population of the Red Corridor on one hand and elimination of the woeful and chronic inadequacies of paramilitary and state police forces on the other. Sadly, these formations continue to be ill-equipped, ill-trained and badly led. Repeated killings of security forces' personnel speak for themselves. The task force therefore has its task cut out for it.
Without detracting from the significance of the work assigned to the existing panel, let me say that what the country needs, and needs immediately, is a comprehensive and thorough review and reform of the entire national security structure, especially of the state of the three armed forces, their relations with one another and the relationship between all three and the civilians of the ministry of defence (MoD).
To their credit, at the time of every crisis the armed forces have managed to rise to the occasion and, despite their many limitations, including those of resources, managed to cope. However, to muddle through this is not enough. Surely, not at a time when China's still expanding military might is much greater than ours in both quantity and quality, the Chinese deployments and infrastructure along our border far superior to ours, and the "all-weather" military cooperation between China and Pakistan is in full blast.
Whoever heard 19 retired military officers of three-star rank on the current state of the armed forces at a seminar in New Delhi recently had felt a chill down the spine. The consensus among the speakers was that the Army was "overage", "under-provisioned even in ammunition", dangerously short of officers at the cutting-edge level of majors and captains but had a needless glut of lieutenant-generals. Even more depressing was the regret expressed at the seminar over growing corruption within the armed forces, underscored by the Adarsh scam and the court-martial of serving lieutenant-generals for the first time since Independence. The dismal controversy over the Army Chief's date of birth, which should have been squashed instantly, has become a running sore.
The shortage of fighter squadrons in the Indian Air Force is frightening and will persist for years because it will take a long time for the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to arrive. Their purchase has yet to be finalised. Mercifully, the Navy is in somewhat better shape.
Above all, the paramount issue of inter-services integration, under a chief of defence staff (CDS), and of removal of apartheid between the armed forces and the MoD remains unsettled, resulting in such aberrations as the Air Chief's public pronouncement only the other day that CDS was unnecessary. If this is indeed the considered view of the top policymakers, then the appointment of a CDS should be firmly ruled out for ever with whatever consequences this would have. An acute problem, in that case, would be how to have effective integrated Theatre Commands, without which a modern war cannot be fought.
Up to now, the curious CDS story is as follows. In February 2001 — in the light of the report of the Kargil Committee, headed by the incomparable late K. Subrahmanyam — a group of ministers (GoM), presided over by former Bharatiya Janata Party president Lal Krishna Advani, had strongly recommended that the armed forces should have a CDS and concomitant institutions. A host of other suggestions of the GoM were accepted and implemented (with varying degrees of success) but the one on CDS was kept "pending".
It is no secret that the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, held it over for two reasons: First, because of the "bad blood" created by the Air Force's vehement opposition to the proposal (nine former Air Chiefs had called on him to voice their protest) and secondly, the advice he had sought and received from former President R. Venkataraman and former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, both of whom had earlier served as defence ministers.
Some weeks later I had occasion to ask Mr Vajpayee how long it would be before a decision was taken. He replied that the issue would be settled before the end of the year. Not only this did not happen, but the matter hangs fire to this day, often causing acrimony among the defence forces. It is time that the crucial matter was resolved one way or the other without further dithering.
That, of course, is not all. The working of the entire national security system, including that of the National Security Council and the Defence Research and Development Organisation, also needs to be reviewed holistically so that it can be upgraded and even reorganised, if necessary. Another task force for this purpose should include national security experts, scientists and economists aware of the imperatives of national defence. Whatever the proposed panel's nomenclature, it must have the status of what the Americans call a blue-ribbon commission and the British describe as a royal commission.

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THE ASIAN AGE

IS LAND THE NEW HIGH-RISK ASSET?

INDRANIL BANERJIE

Land is fast becoming a high-risk asset in many parts of India. Once a relatively abundant resource, especially in areas away from major urban centres, land is increasingly becoming difficult to acquire and prone to uncertainties. Landholders, especially politically organised farmers, are resisting large-scale government land acquisitions and even questioning past buyouts.

Much of this is the result of forcible land acquisition by state governments at rates determined by administrative fiat and not market. An antiquated colonial law on land acquisition has allowed local governments to compulsorily acquire land merely by declaring it to be in public interest and without issuing notice to the land owner. The original idea behind this 1894 law was to get land for essential works such as roads, public buildings, railways and similar infrastructure projects.
In recent times, however, much of the acquired farm acreage has gone towards private housing schemes. Much of these lands acquired by local governments have been and continue to be transferred to private real-estate players, industrialists and powerful individuals at relatively modest prices. This has helped private players, and in some instances government institutions, reap huge profits, leaving villagers dispossessed and marginalised.
Resentment against this clearly unfair process has been growing in different parts of the country and in recent times has become a potent political issue. The best-publicised examples of this include the Singur land agitation in West Bengal, the Bhatta-Parsaul episode in Uttar Pradesh, the continuing anti-Posco agitation in Orissa and the Jaitapur protests in Maharashtra.
The cannier politicians in the country are beginning to realise that land acquisition has become an issue fraught with great political, and at times, security risks. Judging from available trends, the political class is responding by increasingly washing its hands of this process, even though land has often been the single largest source of political funds.
Earlier, anti-acquisition agitations were localised affairs, a significant percentage confined to remote tribal areas, that attracted little media or political attention. The politicisation of this process was inevitable and once politicians like Bengal's chief minister Mamata Banerjee, and more recently the Congress' Rahul Gandhi, jumped into the fray to make capital of such agitations, the equations changed abruptly and dramatically. Today, every political party is fast getting into the land agitation bandwagon. In Orissa, for instance, as many as five different political parties — the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Forward Bloc, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal — have joined peasants in their agitation against the South Korean giant Posco's $12 billion steel project.
Government land acquisition in many parts of the country has consequently become the principal political issue of the day. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose government has been sitting on the proposed changes to existing land acquisition law for the past four years, has commented on the urgent need to amend them. In contrast, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati has moved swiftly to contain the political fallout of the Bhatta-Parsaul uprising, where two policemen were shot dead by protesters and an unknown number of villagers killed in police retaliation, by issuing an amendment to the land acquisition process.
Ms Mayawati has declared that the government henceforth will not involve itself in acquiring land for private developers. Further clauses in her land acquisition policy stipulate that bulk land transfers will not be valid unless 70 per cent of the farmers consent to the project and that, apart from cash compensation, 16 per cent of the developed land will be given to those dispossessed by the acquisitions.
Ms Banerjee has not as yet legislated on the subject but has told a group of industrialists that the state government would not involve itself in land acquisition for private industry. This declaration has left industry cold. For, as the chief of the ITC group pointed out, the do-it-yourself suggestion has little practical merit given that even his company has not been able to get land for its project in the state even after trying for five long years.
Telling the private sector to go its own way in land acquisition is not going to work. Industrialists, real-estate developers and even agricultural-estate developers require governmental assurances and guarantees without which the whole process becomes highly uncertain. Two further risks have become apparent in recent times: legal issues and renewed agitations for retrospective additional payments even after sale has been long concluded. In Noida, for instance, farmers have been agitating for more money from private developers on the ground that the value of the land they had sold previously has risen sharply in recent times!
Public sector and infrastructure projects too are bound to be hit. Recently, the government scrapped plans to set up an expressways authority to speed up road construction because it would involve land acquisitions. Several railways projects, including a prestigious freight-corridor proposal, have been held up by protests in parts of Maharashtra. Such protests have only been growing all across the country.
The problem is unlikely to disappear soon for several reasons. It is very likely that more and more state governments will follow the non-interventionist Mayawati-Banerjee model. The pendulum that once swung in favour of state intervention in the matter of land acquisitions is rapidly swinging in the opposite direction. The result is another disequilibrium that is bound to add to business uncertainties in this country and stymie growth.

The author is an independent security and political risk consultant

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THE ASIAN AGE

MUZZLED IN MALAYSIA

SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN

Those who have been following the developments on the Lokpal Bill and the debates in the camps of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev believe that these are intrinsic to the traditions of political participation, which most Indians have taken almost for granted.
However, it is a privilege not enjoyed by many countries even in our own extended neighbourhood.

In a globally surcharged environment where the Internet and communications network have led to information moving at super speeds, the waves created by activism are likely to spread. The resonance of civil society activism is like a transnational infection that tends to spread beyond the borders of nation states and has a global impact on the governments that face it.
One of the interesting cases that needs focus is Campaign Bersih, which is one of the hot topics of debate these days in Malaysia. Campaign Bersih is an attempt by civil society groups to spread awareness and garner support for implementing important reforms of a very biased and lopsided electoral system. Bersih in Malay means "clean" or "to clean". The political fallout of the bersih movement for the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Barisan National (BN) is critical. The UMNO has been the leading political party in Malaysia since its independence in 1957 and has ensured that there is no Opposition within the country.
On July 9, 2011 activist groups will rally for a cleaner election in Malaysia. More than 60 civil society groups have come together calling themselves the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, under whose banner they will organise a rally or a "walk for democracy". In a state where the gathering of people for protest is considered sedition, this walk for democracy is a rare show. This demonstration is being called Bersih 2.0 because it is the second part of a protest rally calling for a cleanup of the electoral system that is both racially and religiously biased in favour of the dominant ethnic Malay community. Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan says the demonstration aims to create awareness among people about the lacunas in the electoral system in Malaysia. However, even if people are protesting quietly and democratically, in the Malay context it is almost synonymous with sedition and considered a threat to national security.
Prior to this, the campaign for clean and free elections took place in November 2007 in which the protesters wore yellow T-shirt similar to the Thai protesters who were against the Thaksin government. This campaign was followed closely by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) movement, where the ethnic Indian community protested outside the British High Commission and demanded indemnity from the queen for being taken by the colonial government as indentured labourers and being evicted from their homeland. The government responded to these two protests in a very high-handed and ruthless manner, which, in fact, dented their results in the 2008 election. In five states, Opposition parties made inroads into the ruling base, toppling the UMNO and posing the BN a critical political challenge.
Another aspect that needs to be considered in Malaysia is the role of the media. In a country where the media, too, remains at loggerheads over the rights of freedom with the government, there is very little support for civil society movements. The limited freedom given to the media is evident from the incident in 1987 when the government under Mahatir Mohamad imposed the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) on four newspaper houses, leading to a situation where the freedom of press was found to be severely curtailed.
Keeping the crackdown on the media in mind, recent attacks and blocking of two Web portals are clear indications of the degree of political repression in Malaysia. The office of Sarawak Report, a Web portal that attacks illegal mining and political and corporate nexus in timber trade, was vandalised and the portal was blocked by government-run agencies. Another website that has always opposed a lot of government stands was the Malaysiakini. It too has been blocked because it was anti-UMNO and raised issues of corruption and abuse of political power.
Another news website that came under government crackdown was Malaysia Today. In fact, the editor of the website had even considered talks with Hindraf, which had protested in 2007, and there were suggestions that Hindraf needed to project its identity more along the lines that are inclusive of the ethnic communities rather than narrowing itself to represent only the Indian minorities. It believed that poverty did not distinguish between race and ethnicity and that the political culture in Malaysia had led to a deepening of the economic and political disparity in the society.
Unfortunately, Bersih 2.0 is already seeing signs of racial discord by way of pronouncements made by alternate groups. Both the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) — the leading Opposition party — and Perkasa have called for alternate rallies. The call given by Perkasa to counter the Bersih movement has been strident in its anti-Chinese stand, which has led to some misgivings. Perkasa, a Right-wing group, is very rigid in its views on the rights of the indigenous Malay community vis-a-vis the other two dominant ethnic communities, the Chinese and the Indians. For almost 50 years Malaysia has a policy of protection for the ethnic Malay community called the Bumiputera or "the sons of the soil'', but today the policy is being increasingly questioned because it leaves the other ethnic communities at a disadvantage.
The UMNO, in an attempt to push its own agendas, has been at loggerheads with the Opposition. In March, in a vitriolic campaign against PAS leader Anwar Ibrahim, videos alleging the involvement of Mr Ibrahim with a sex worker were doing the rounds. In a country that vows to follow ethical lines and Islamic values strongly, this incident drove home the point that in politics there is little room for values of any kind. Also, in a bid to distance itself from Perkasa, the UMNO is organising a counter-rally of its youth wing, which will seek to drown out the resonance of Bersih 2.0. With its own political legitimacy being questioned, the UMNO is likely to take draconian measures against the forthcoming rally.
A movement that wants to ensure free and fair elections is the need of the hour and should be welcomed, rather than thwarted. But given the state control that the UMNO and the BN have had over the years, the situation is unlikely to look up. The manner in which Prime Minister Najib's government will react to Bersih 2.0 will tell how far Malaysia and the region at large are moving in the direction of greater democratic freedoms and rights.

The author is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

YATRA BEGINS

 

With adequate arrangements of security and spot facilities, this year's pilgrimage to the cave - shrine of Baba Amarnath in the Himalayas has commenced with full reverence. Pilgrims are vying with one another to steal the march and be the first to have the darshan of the holy lingam. All aspects related to the pilgrimage like temporary shelter, free catering service by philanthropist organizations, medical aid, and transport facilities have been taken care of. Security along the entire National Highway from Jammu to Baltal and onwards has been beefed up. It will be noted that the Governor who is the Chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board made several visits to key points to be assured that all arrangements are in place. Besides him, the DG, Police also made it sure that every aspect of the pilgrimage was taken into account. So far nearly 2.5 lakh pilgrims have registered their names for the pilgrimage and they have been issued necessary documents. Additionally, the traffic department has taken some salutary steps to make the journey of the pilgrims more comfortable. For example, the vehicles of the pilgrims have been exempted from road toll which is usually two thousand rupees per vehicle. A separate lane has been created at Lakhanpur check post to ease the entry of the vehicles into the state territory. Otherwise these vehicles would have to fall in line and make long queues that would have meant loss of good deal of time. Voluntary organizations have opened free kitchen at various points along the route.
All these arrangements indicate that the Government is now seriously addressing the event as it should and is not running away from its responsibilities. The Shrine Board is the nodal agency through which all facilitating arrangements flow. It is heartening to know that after three summers of turmoil, resentment, accusations and counter accusations, beginning with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board row of 2008, the overall atmosphere of the pilgrimage has returned to normalcy and nothing untoward is going to happen till it concludes on 13 August. The number of pilgrims is increasing year after year and this factor is of significance when looked at in terms of logistics entailed thereupon. The region through which the pilgrims move is of great scenic beauty and of superb ecological purity. It is of much importance that pilgrims keep in mind the ecology of the region and take all possible measures to maintain the pristine purity of the track and the region. The pilgrims should voluntarily propose measures of keeping the environs clean and without pollution. Throwing away along the path the litter like polythene bags, empty bottles, crumbs, wasted food stuff, torn shoes and sandals, and other disposables is unacceptable. They can put these in a big polythene bag and deposit that in the bins provided for the purpose. Toilets have been provided and these need to be used and flushed and kept clean. Cleanliness is part of pilgrimage and the pilgrims should make it a deliberate resolve to keep the environment clean.
Lastly, while the pilgrimage to the holy cave has been provided major facilities by the Shrine Board and the Government, and thus have won the thanks of the pilgrims, we should suggest the Shrine Board to consider that Jammu is the virtual base for the commencement of the annual pilgrimage to Amarnath ji. As such, Jammu base camp should be commodious enough to accommodate the large number of pilgrims. Each year the number will be increasing and the base camp has very limited accommodation. Before a crisis situation happens, the Shrine Board would be well advised to purchase a fifty kanal piece of land in the peripheries of the city of Jammu, and raise on it the requisite structure that would serve as the base camp for the pilgrims to the holy cave in years to come.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PROFILING MILITANTS

 

In an informal interaction the Chief Minister said that his Government was working in consultation with the Union Home Ministry on a plan of rehabilitating the militants who had gone over to PoK for training in militancy and are now willing to return to their fold in Kashmir. The Chief Minister disclosed that the prospective returnees were being profiled under the order of the government so that their employment keeping their skills in mind could be facilitated. The decision of rehabilitating the militants back in Kashmir has already been taken by the State Government and endorsed by the Union Home Ministry. It will be in the larger interests of the State and particularly peace initiatives in the State if these militants decide to lay down their arms and return to the fold and live the straightforward life of ordinary citizens. That the Government would extend its support and largesse to them is also understandable. But experience has shown that many of these who pretended to return to the peaceful life have misused the relaxation provided to them by the Government. In some cases the arrested criminals have been the people from among this category of pardoned and rehabilitated militants. Normally we say a wolf may lose his teeth but not his nature. It is a long exercise to make them adjust to non-violent civil life though it is not altogether impossible. It would be in fitness of things that the Government engages these rehabilitated militants in various social activities where they receive the remuneration for survival and at the same time they get deeper and deeper into healthy social commitments. First thing they need would be to wriggle out of the stigma of militancy. Second thing is their social acceptability. True, as militants they might have received euphoric applause from the more volatile sections of society. But the truth is that as a former militant turned peace loving civilian, they will have to do a lot of exercise to get accommodated in the rank and file of civil society. For example the Government could open reading rooms all over the sensitive places in the state where the rehabilitated militants would hold classes of ordinary youth educating them on the need to think of positive politics in Kashmir and the need of shunning violence as a cult. Their experience as a militant ending up in returning to the fold will have much impact on the youngsters who are still goaded into militancy by external agencies.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

GREEK ECONOMIC CRISIS AND INDIA

BY DR SATISH MISRA

 

Crisis in Greece continues as the next tranche of a 110 Euro billion bailout package remains undecided. On surface, inability of the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund to clear the decks for the loan payment to enable Greece to avoid defaulting on its debt is posing a serious challenge to the international economic order.
Greece would have to meet the conditions imposed by the EU and IMF. The debt ridden Mediterranean state would have to approve a new five-year package of painful economic reforms in next two weeks or would have to miss out on a 12 billion Euro aid tranche to avoid bankruptcy. Adoption of economic reforms would result in slew of austerity measures which would be painful to the common men and women.
The Greek Government is already facing public anger. Unions and grassroots activists are already up in arms against the government and there have been fissures in the ruling PASOK party. Irrespective of the outcome of the present Greek crisis, the problem is much deep-seated.
According to The Economist newspaper, present crisis in Greece "threatens the whole project of European integration". The project was sought to be completed by creating a monetary union without laying the fiscal and political foundations of the EU.
At the root of it, there is a conflict between the rising expectations of the people and the constraints of the present economic system. The problem faced by Greece is not restricted to one country as many European countries are waiting for the crisis to strike them. Portugal, Spain and Ireland are said to be next in the row.
International economic architecture which was created by the Bretton Woods System, created after the Great Depression of the early 20th century which had engulfed the world economy in the preceding years of the World War II, is facing a serious crisis as developments in some of the European countries suggest.
International economy is faced with its existentialist crisis and international market indexes are in continuous swirl. Pertinent question is whether this crisis is temporary or is going to last long marking the end of the reining financial and monetary arrangement.
Institutions like the IMF, World Bank and to that extent EU need either total overhauling or require complete restructuring as they are unable to meet new economic and political realities.
Global economic meltdown of 2008 was just a beginning. It had sent shivers down the spines of major developed economies as growth stagnated and affluent life style challenged. It took over two years for turbulence to calm down but periodical shocks continue to challenge the wits of those who sit on the control of levers of financial powers.
But even before the US or the European Union could fully or even partially recover from the lows of the economic depression, political instability in the Afro-Arab world has accentuated the continuing economic instability across the world.

It is now internationally acknowledged that China and India have contributed significantly to bring back the international economy from the brink of collapse after the global meltdown but there are serious challenges.
In today's globalised world in which national economies are getting increasingly intertwined, even Beijing and New Delhi cannot insulate their economies from upheavals in any part of the mother earth.
Yes, it is true that India and China, because of the size of their respective economies, would be able to meet the present challenges relatively easily though in two different ways but road ahead has many obstacles.
Indian markets have been experiencing turmoil with BSE index witnessing a downward trend for last couple of weeks. This has been both because of domestic as well as international factors. Notwithstanding the rise and fall in share markets, Indian economy would be able to move on the growth path but its pace would definitely be affected by regional and international developments.
One of the main requisites of economic development and growth is political stability not only within the country but regionally and internationally as well. It is here that both India and China are going to face numerous hurdles.
While the current political turmoil in the Afro-Arab world has created uncertainties, developments in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal are not very conducive to economic growth.
Apart from the political crisis in the Middle-East and South Asia, new set of socio-economic and socio-political are confronting the global order. Newer forms of communication have contributed significantly to sharpening of focus on issues of human rights and democracy.
In today's world of rising aspirations and their continued denial, there are serious threats to international stability and in absence of timely intervention the world may slip into a chaos. These are challenging times ahead as the international global order is crying for a change. Political class has bigger responsibilities on their shoulders. This applies both to political leaders of the developing as well as the developed world. They can no more afford to follow the beaten path.
The present situation is not of either-or and not even neither-nor and that is why it is imperative to take a comprehensive review of the present international economic order for creating conducive conditions for the birth of a new order which is just and equitable. [NPA]

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SYNERGY BETWEEN TOURISM AND ECO-TOURISM

BY JEET DOGRA

 

The International nodal agency for tourism i.e. United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) gives the definition for tourism as "tourism comprises the activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from within place visited." As far as the tourism-international and national scenario is concerned, it is the sector which is growing at a rapid rate especially from the last two decades. As per the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009 by the World Economic Forum, India is ranked 11th in the Asia Pacific region and 62nd overall on the list of the world's attractive destinations while the Indian Travel and Tourism Industry is ranked 5th in the long-term (10-year) growth and is expected to be the second largest employer in the world by 2019. In India, tourism is viewed and promoted as a "development paradigm" by the governments and it also considered as a major sector for economic as well as social growth.
No doubt that tourism plays its role as a backbone for most of the countries but one cannot ignore the adverse impacts of tourism on the environment and the socio-cultural. Moreover, several tourism destinations are facing increasing pressures on their social and economic structures as well as their natural environments. Although, tourism sector can generate high income and is known for its multiplier effects but inflation and economic leakages also come along with it. To earn the high economic yield from tourism, its infrastructural and super-structural impacts are underestimated. In our country, tourism heavily flourishes on environmental and natural resources, besides the biodiversity. The primary responsibility should be to protect these bio-diverse places.
Ecotourism is the vital type of tourism while the term "ecotourism" was given by a marketing agency that was promoting Costa Rica as a rainforest destination way back in the early 1970s. Because of the ill-effects of tourism, the need to develop a certain form of tourism that was sensitive towards the environment and was felt to the local community. After 1970s, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has seen ecotourism as a niche market. The several international and national organizations see ecotourism as sustainable development and it also helps to ensure the sustainable and responsible use of environmental and natural resources. Ecotourism has been formulated and studied as instrument for sustainable and equitable tourism by various international organizations like United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people." In India, ecotourism also means to protect areas of ecological values like the national parks, wildlife sanctuaries etc. and in short it assumes as "nature based tourism" which include both sustainable and responsible tourism. In our country, there is a conflict between tourism, community and conservation because of the motive of high-income generation attitude of tourism service providers. They are less concerned with practicing the concept of sustainable and responsible tourism development. Basically tourism is linked to people and heavily rely on them for their overall survival and hence the role of local community or host community is vital. The immediate need to minimize the social impact and environment impact should be prioritized by the authorities so that there should be no hurdle between practicing the responsible tourism.
In Jammu a two day workshop from April 6 to 7, 2011 on the topic "Practising Responsible Tourism" was jointly organized by the Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI), J&K Tourism Department and World Wide Fund (WWF) Green Hiker and it was supported by Pacific Asia Tourism Association (PATA), India Chapter. On the first day of the workshop, the people from the central and state tourism ministries highlighted the importance of responsible and sustainable tourism and also discussed the role of ecotourism in it. This was the first step with in our region to sensitize the people regarding the ill-effects of tourism and the ways to minimize these effects for better green-full tomorrow. Several academicians, experts, scholars and students within and outside the state attended this workshop. The next two workshops will be organized in Srinagar and Leh region in the near future to aware the local people regarding the importance of conservation of biodiversity.
There is direct relationship between tourism and ecotourism and the survival of both depends each-other. The tourism industry can highly contribute in sustaining the ecotourism and if ecotourism will flourish, the tourism will also flourishes; in short both compliment each-other perfectly. The need of the hour is to educate the local communities as well as the tourists, service-providers, consumers and the people on in decision-making seats, students who study in the schools regarding the benefits of practicing the responsible environment practices. It's the high time to act now and do some constructive work and try to contribute in sustaining the environment.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TACKELING THE HIGH SPEED CORRUPTION

BY S K REKHI

 

How strange it sounds that the Government has asked the ministers, All India Civil Service Cadre Officers besides some others to declare their assets when Anna Hazare joined by some influential people from the civil society, carrying the voice of suffering masses, made them (the Govt.) to realize that they have failed to perform their duty. The Govt. taking such steps under pressure suggests that it wants to convey that it is making very serious efforts to curb the menace of corruption and amassing of wealth by unlawful means and that they are losing no chance to bring transparency and accountability in the functions performed by the ministers and the IAS, IPS Officers. Had it been true then why the Lok Pal Bill got dragged to a stage where the slogans of Anna Hazare and Baba Ram Dev joined by some prominent members of the civil society got support from all corners of the country? Corruption, as we all know, has been institutionalized in our systems.
After winning the freedom we started losing the moral values, common man's security, rule of law and above all the sense of duty towards the nation and the society. Mahatma Gandhi, sometime, before his death had said in an Indian National Congress session, that political corruption has started in India and just after some time the infamous Jeep scandal case created uproar in the Parliament. This is what A. G. Noorani a prominent critic of the Govt. writes in his book "The Minister's Misconduct". He writes as to how the monster of corruption started gripping our earlier years of democracy. Babu Rao Patel and R K Kranjia, two tall journalists also brought to light some scandals during the said period but unfortunately this started happening because of the weak opposition which besides creating some committed institutions of national importance gave boosting to corruption and gradually it engulfed all the fields of human activity except those where the possibilities were little or where it could not penetrate because of style of working of then constituents of the then steel frame administration which started fading away with the weight of some politicians who wanted and encouraged the committed Babus of the top cadre.
Ever increasing corrupt practices and activities kept on encouraging the negative human values in our society and with the passage of time personal/family interests of most of the politicians, some next generation officers of the All India Civil Service Cadre joined by the opportunist business shots took the place of national and social interests and that is what we have badly been trapped in the character assassination. Corruption in our system is the most accepted way of life, so for as a common man knows. He believes that instead of going to police, court or big bosses of anticorruption fora it is better to pay the rasoom (conventional charges) and get the things done. We have the anticorruption laws in place and more are in the pipe line, as announced by the Govt. but unfortunately a common man has very little faith in all the institutions including media even. The only hope and faith is our higher judiciary the saviour of this bleeding democracy. People sometimes think that the opposition parties which day in and day out call the ruling parties as corrupt, anti-people and anti-national, may prove cleaner and better but the history has proved that when they come to power, they are no better. People link the corruption with exchange of currency notes, gold, land and building etc. for some undue favour done but actually it is far beyond that. The corruption free mind cannot be influenced by any greed, lust, fear or the man made powers and which will always be willing to sacrifice anything or everything for doing his/her duty justly, honesty and without any sort of bias whereas a corrupt mind has arguments to justify the unlawful, immoral, anti-people and anti-national activities for personal and other narrow gains. Percentage of the people who are caught committing offences under the relevant enactments for personal gains is very low and the percentage of conviction, for various reasons, is very very small.
It is impossible to completely eradicate the corruption but it can surely be reduced if very serious endeavors are made at all levels by educating the people about use of the RTI Act, by protecting and rewarding the whistle blowers, by creating the rapid enquiry and redressal cells at the sub district level, by inviting comments of the local people about performance of the important functionaries and by creating the all powerful institutions like Lok Pal and Accountability Commission the structure whereof is being framed by some eminent lawyers, members of the civil society and the social activist Anna Hazare. The Govt has accepted 34 points out of 40 proposed by the civil society members for inclusion in the Lok Pal Bill and the remaining six of utmost importance and to make the Lok Pal Bill inclusive of what the people in general want the same should also be included as the politicians have their own interest. Anna Ji can boast of what an Urdu poet has said:-
Mein To Nikla Tha Akela Janebe Manzil Magar
Log Saath Aate Gaye Aur Qafila Banta Gaya.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HEAVY TAXES ON OIL

GOOD GOVERNANCE CAN CUT COSTS

 

By absorbing a Rs 49,000 crore revenue loss due to tax cuts on petroleum products, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee might have gained the moral high ground to ask states to make similar sacrifices but most states are in dire financial straits due to poor governance and mismanagement. Corruption, red tape and lack of reforms have dented their economic performance. Poor governance deprives states like Punjab a proper share of Central funds. As a result, their capacity for helping people in distress is limited. Delhi and Haryana have the financial muscle and political will to soften the blow of oil price hikes on people, but others like Punjab, Himachal and Uttarakhand can do something on a relatively limited level. Their poor financial condition comes in the way.

 

The stiff hike in the prices of diesel, kerosene and LPG brings the focus back on the unreasonably high taxes on oil. Without taxes, the price of petrol would be almost half of the present market rate. If BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi's reported figures are to be believed, the government collected Rs 1,35,000 crore in taxes from the petroleum sector last year while paying a total subsidy of Rs 40,430 crore. If the share of state taxes, which comes to Rs 55,000 crore, is separated, the Centre still got Rs 40,000 crore from this sector. Of course, the government collects taxes to run its affairs and pay subsidies to the poor. But the question is: should the diesel prices be raised at a time when inflation is so high and growth is slowing? The whole economy runs on diesel.

 

Instead of taking the easy tax route, there are other ways of raising resources. Wasteful expenditure can be cut. All-pervasive corruption raises the costs for all. Inefficient governments raise taxes to cover up their failures and drive people to protests and tax evasion. A well-governed state has its priorities right. It uses taxes to bring balance in society –taking away a bit from the well-off to help the needy. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITIES

EX-SERVICEMEN SHOULD BE RE-EMPLOYED

 

Every year over 50,000 officers and jawans, who are relatively young, retire from the armed forces. They still have much to give to the nation, and the Defence Minister, Mr A K Antony, has rightly focused on the need to re-employ these jawans. While the government has, over the years, tried out various ways in which ex-servicemen can be re-employed, they remain largely on paper and as a result of that the nation loses the services of a trained, disciplined workforce. Ex-servicemen have hands-on work experience in about 300 trades, according to the Minister, and they need to be properly utilised.

 

There has been much talk about vertical induction of ex-servicemen into the para-military forces. This is an obvious solution that would benefit many ex-servicemen, and at the same time provide a much-needed boost to the para-military forces whose resources, both men and material, are stretched tremendously. However, progress on this front has been slow. The Defence Minister's plea brings much hope, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be.

 

It is unfair to expect the government alone to take care of the problem. The private sector, too, should make space for these skilled individuals and utilise their experience. At the same time, much more needs to be done in providing retiring men and officers the requisite training and education to equip them for civilian life. The armed forces have a long and proud tradition of serving the nation, and it is only fitting that men who are retired when they are still young and far more fit than their civilian counterparts should be looked after not only by being provided pension and other benefits but also by being gainfully employed. The Defence Minister should go beyond the statement and ensure his Cabinet colleagues' cooperation in securing re-employment avenues for ex-serviceman, both in paramilitary forces and otherwise. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

UP'S CRIME RECORD

MAYAWATI UNDER INCREASING PRESSURE

 

The Bahujan Samaj Party government in UP, headed by Ms Mayawati, is facing flak for the sharp deterioration in the law and order situation in the politically most important state of the country. Opposition parties particularly cite an alarming rise in the number of rape cases. The Congress organised a state-wide "Nyaya March" on Monday to highlight the point that the state government was unable to control the crime situation effectively. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party has been trying to use the opportunity to tell the people that the Mayawati government has completely failed on the law and order front. This is what was said about the Mulayam Singh government, too, which influenced voters to favour Ms Mayawati's paty in the 2007 assembly elections.

 

Though the Chief Minister has been defending her rule, saying that the crime situation in UP is not as bad as it was during Mr Mulayam Singh's rule, she is showing signs of nervousness with no end to the rise in the incidents of crime, particularly those against the fair sex. She has warned the officials concerned that they will be punished severely for any laxity on their part. Her prompt action in suspending two police officers of Lucknow who tried to falsely implicate a TV journalist in a criminal case should be seen against this backdrop. She has divided the state in three zones and asked the zonal chiefs to regularly keep her abreast of the law and order situation in their respective areas. Clearly, she has started handing the crime problem on a war footing.

 

Interestingly, the National Crime Records Bureau's figures show that UP's crime control record is better than many major states, including Delhi. But the available statistics relates to the situation till 2009. Besides this, people in general do not form their opinion on such figures. They go by what is carried in the newspapers and TV channels everyday. The Mayawati government has lost its image of being tough with criminals. This may get reflected in the 2012 assembly elections if the situation remains unchanged by that time. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

CHANGING POWER BALANCE IN E. ASIA

THE IMPLICATIONS FOR INDIA

BY HARSH V. PANT

 

Maritime disputes in the South China Sea are once again hitting the headlines. Vietnam and China are at odds over a recent incident between a Vietnamese survey ship and Chinese patrol boats in waters off the southern coast of Vietnam, and the Philippines is protesting China's recent unloading of building materials on Amy Douglas Bank, an area claimed by the Philippines. This is a repeat of last year when China's aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea caused a lot of rancour in the region and beyond.

 

What the present disputes underline, however, is that the geopolitical competition between China and the US is in full swing. The Obama Administration tried to pursue a policy of cooperative strategic engagement vis-à-vis China. It attempted to construct a cooperative partnership under the assumption that China wants to operate within the international order given that the US and China share same threats and interests, including terrorism, economic instability and nuclear proliferation. As was suggested by Hillary Clinton, the multi-polar world would be a multi-partner world where the US could use its unique global role to foster cooperation among major powers for collective benefits.

 

China was key to this worldview. The Obama Administration went all out to woo Beijing - Obama refused to meet the Dalai Lama, did not raise the issue of human rights while visiting China last year, postponed the decision to sell arms to Taiwan and downgraded India in America's strategic calculus. But China read it as a symbol of US decline and saw it an opportunity to assert itself as never before. The regional allies of the US became nervous and urged the US to restore its traditional leadership in the region.

 

This changing Sino-US dynamic is palpable on the issue of expansive claims in the South China Sea and America's response to the challenge. The US has undertaken military exercises with South Korea to underline commitments and has even offered to mediate on disputes in the South China Sea, much to Beijing's irritation. Beijing has claimed that the bulk of the South China Sea constitutes Chinese territorial waters, defining it as a "core national interest," a phrase previously used in reference to Tibet and Taiwan.

 

This came as a shock to regional states such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan who also have territorial claims in the sea. This sea passage is too important to be controlled by a single country and that too by one that is located far away from these waters. Hillary Clinton responded that the US was willing to help in mediating conflicting claims in the South China Sea, thereby drawing clear red lines for China.

 

The US-South Korea joint air and naval exercises also irritated Beijing though they were meant as a show of resolve in response to North Korea's sinking of a South Korean naval vessel. The Chinese protested against the exercises describing them as being provocative, especially about the possible presence of US aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea, directly off their coast. The US went ahead with the exercises but confined it to the waters west of Japan.

 

China has made strident claims to virtually the entire South China Sea in recent years. This has resulted in the detention of hundreds of Vietnamese fishermen, the harassment of US and other navies and threats to international oil giants aimed at ending their exploration deals with Hanoi.

 

After being on the sidelines of the South China Sea dispute for the past two decades, the US has now decided to change its posture to reassure its allies in the region that China's growing regional dominance would not go unchallenged. The dispute in South China Sea is not merely about resources, it is also central to China's ambitions for a blue water navy able to operate away from its shores. The South China Sea has also suddenly assumed significance arguably because of the SSBN base China has chosen to build in Hainan to the south, partly enveloped by the Vietnamese coast. The choice of Hainan is poor, but no alternative exists as other places are hemmed in by islands. So, China's chief maritime nuclear base is also what is for now her southern-most point. It wants the waters around clear so that, among other things, no one can track China's subs.

 

Last year there were reports of confrontations involving the Malaysian Navy, the Indonesian Navy and the Vietnamese Navy each separately with the PLA Navy. It was in April 2011 that a flotilla of 10 ships of the Chinese Navy's East Sea Fleet conducted exercises that involved passage through international waters between the main island of Okinawa and Miyakojima Island. During these exercises, two Chinese Navy helicopters came within about 90 meters of a Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyer of Japan watching over the exercises. There was an outcry in the Japanese media over this dangerous act.

 

More significantly, some three weeks before the April incident, six ships of the Chinese Navy's North Sea Fleet based in Qingdao, Shandong province, passed through the waters between the Okinawa and Miyakojima islands, headed to the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines, and went on to operate in the South China Sea. By purposely deploying the North Sea Fleet, China was demonstrating its great interest in this sea area.

 

Japan's dispatch of large SDF transport vessels to participate fully in the humanitarian aid operation "Pacific Partnership" led by the US early this year was meant as a response to China's moves. This is happening even as South Korea is re-evaluating its ties with China. Seoul is disillusioned with Beijing's shielding of North Korea from the global outrage over the Cheonan incident when North torpedoed the 88-meter-long warship, the Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors last year in March. China even watered down a presidential statement from the UN Security Council condemning the attack in which North Korea was not even identified as the culprit. As a result, no punishment was meted out.

 

China would like to extend its territorial waters, which usually run to 12 miles, to include the entire exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 miles. China is challenging the fundamental principle of free navigation. All maritime powers, including India, have a national interest in the freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons and respect for international law in the South China Sea. But India should also be aware of the changing balance of power dynamic between the US and China, and fashion its foreign policy accordingly.n

 

The writer teaches at King's College, London.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

MY FAST AFTER BREAKFAST

BY RAJ KANWAR

 

In this season of fasts, I too observed a day-long fast. But unlike Anna Hazare who observed his fast at Rajghat in Delhi, I did not choose Gandhi Park in Dehra Dun where a statue of Gandhiji is also installed. Instead I preferred the familiar surroundings of my home.

 

The day of fast began as usual with a cup of morning tea and a piece of banana. After performing my morning chores and rituals, I had my regular breakfast. Being a karmayogi, I did not abandon my daily routine and scrupulously did writing and newspaper reading. I also watched news channels to break the monotony of reading and writing. I also answered telephone calls from friends and made sure to casually tell them that I was fasting that day. There were expected gasps of surprise and disbelief from them. There were questions galore. One asked, what is your demand? Is this fast in support of Baba Ramdev's or Anna Hazare's fast? "No, not at all. I have no demands; I just want to cleanse my soul of any impurities," I told them. What time will you break your fast? Eight p.m., I said. Two of them threatened to come in the evening.

 

During the day, I had my usual siesta and woke up quite refreshed and light. "Why don't you have a mango?" my wife asked solicitously. "No mango, shango. Don't forget that I am on a fast", I told my wife firmly.

 

As the fast-breaking time of 8 p.m. approached, my wife asked me if I would sip some juice. "Why should I drink juice after keeping a day-long fast?" Two of my friends arrived as if on a cue. One carried a bottle of "Blender's Pride" and the other a bottle of chilled champagne. The wife was horrified. "What, whisky for breaking fast. Are you crazy?" The friends however, pacified her saying that "it is not every day that Mr Kanwar keeps fast. His is a unique fast and should also have a unique liquid to break it." As the champagne bottle opened with a bang, my face was drenched with the sparkling wine. I licked the drops that had fallen on my lips. The other friend poured the rest of the liquid into three glasses and offered orange juice to my wife and said "cheers to your breaking the fast". We then sat down in the living room and helped ourselves to a few drinks.

 

After an hour, we three friends were quite high to the horror of my wife. "If this is your way of fasting, you are much better off without it," she said by way of a reprimand.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

AMONG (UN)EQUALS

TRUSTLAW LISTED AFGHANISTAN, CONGO, PAKISTAN, INDIA AND SOMALIA AS THE WORLD'S FIVE MOST DANGEROUS COUNTRIES FOR WOMEN. CAN THEY REALLY BE PLACED ON THE SAME PAGE? THE ABUSED, MUTILATED WOMEN FROM THE WAR- RAVAGED ZONES, THE OPPRESSED WOMEN OF TALIBANISED SOCIETIES AND THE WOMEN OF INDIA ARE ALL WRITING DIFFERENT SCRIPTS AND ARE NOT COMPARABLE.

MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR

 

The intent as well as the methodology adopted by Thomson Reuters Foundation to declare that India ranks 4th after Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan as the most dangerous countries in the world for women, is highly suspect. They handpicked 213 researchers and asked them to rate countries where women are most endangered. The livelihood of such "development experts" depends on finding gruesome realities in third- world countries, to prove that these former colonies of Europe still need the help of the West to become "civilized." They are trained to prepare, what Gandhi once famously described as a 'drain inspector's report.' Their job is to show how horrible the life is in these countries, so that they remain in business of proposing solutions to the problems of us wretched third world women, men and children.

 

In a BBC discussion to which I was invited, the promoter of this Report admitted that India's high rating on women's misery graph is to do with the fact that India has a free press, which allows regular reporting and discussion on human rights abuses. Media reviews have shaped their perceptions, she stressed. That is what explains why authoritarian states like China or Saudi Arabia don't figure in at the top because they tightly control their media. This amounts to penalizing India for being a vibrant democracy!

 

As I mentioned in my BBC interview, I do accept and acknowledge that declining sex- ratio in our society is one of the biggest challenges facing Indian society. This issue needs to be addressed seriously. But if sex ratio is the litmus test, then, China should figure much higher in that list of "most dangerous places for women on earth." If crippling forms of restrictions on women's mobility were to be the yardstick, Saudi Arabia would qualify to be close to the very top.

 

But it does not because China and Saudi Arabia do not allow westerners to mess around with their problems, nor do they allow free access to data on human rights abuses.

 

For those who earn their living by "poverty and atrocity mongering", normal life does not exist in countries like India. For example, if I have to carry out a research on the state of marriage in the US or any other society, I would have to take into account the entire range of marriages-from the normal, mundane, boring and abusive marriages as well as genuinely happy and ecstatic partnerships. If my source of information comes only from battered women's homes in the US or the accounts of divorced women, people are bound to say, I am hopelessly jaundiced in my view. But, these so called experts get away by presenting us precisely such a view for India where every man is an oppressive patriarch and every woman a hapless victim of atrocities.

 

As far as violence against women is concerned, statistics show that the rate of wife or sexual partner's murder per 100.000 persons is higher in the US than in India. But since wife murder is mistakenly presented as an oriental crime and called "dowry murder" it looks as though India is unique in wife abuse. Similarly, if one were to use the consumption of pornography as one of the litmus tests for judging the status of women in any society -which in my view is a sure shot indicator of demeaning women in the most hideous manner--- most western countries would show up more poorly than many of the Third world countries.

 

In the BBC interview the representative of the Foundation argued that pornography cannot be equated with feticide because latter amounts to murder. If feticide is murder, and we are termed as female hating society because Indian families abort unborn girls, then, by the same logic, western countries could well be described as child hating societies because the general abortion rate even among teenagers is very high. Western feminists present right to abortion as a sacred right of women over their bodies. By that logic sex selective abortion can well be viewed as the right of a woman to decide the gender of her child. I personally strongly disapprove of sex selective abortions because they have a very disastrous effect on society both in the short and long run. But morally I do not see it any different from abortion of any foetus-male or female.

 

Another indicator chosen by these development experts is that over 44% of females in India are married before the age of 18. There is another way of looking at this issue: In the US the number of unwed, teenage mothers who are abandoned by their boyfriends is very high as is the incidence of teenage abortions. Most of us in India would consider it far safer to be married in our late teens than to end up as single mothers in teens!

 

It is time that the West gave up on its pretence at "civilizing" the rest of us "underdeveloped" people and set its own house in order. I am happy no one in India is paying much attention to this absurd report. It was meant as an act of provocation to garner attention. It would be foolish to waste our time and energy over such a sensation mongering survey.

 

Madhu Purnima Kishwar is Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, and Founder Editor, Manushi Journal

 

 

A few unpalatable facts

 

* According to 2011 census, the country's sex ratio of girls to boys at age 6 was plummeted to - 914 girls for every 1,000 boys, down from a ratio of 927 to 1,000 boys in 2001.

 

* Data compiled for 2008 by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) showed that there were 8,172 dowry deaths in the country, and for the same year, there were 81,344 cases of cruelty towards women by husbands and relatives. The actual numbers are probably much higher since many cases go unreported, or are reported as suicide.

 

* According to National Crime Records Bureau statistics, more than 53 rape cases are recorded everyday. In 2009, a total of 21,397 rape cases were reported countrywide. Given the fact, that for one reported case of rape, about 70 cases go unreported.

 

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

EDITORIAL

GREEN SIGNAL FOR FDI

THE TIME IS RIPE TO SCRAP SECTORAL LIMITS

The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion's, or DIPP's, latest proposal on allowing foreign direct investment (FDI) in "sensitive" sectors represents a classic half-solution to a festering issue. It has suggested that FDI in these sectors – multi-brand retail being the principal one but also defence and media – should be allowed via an indirect downstream route. Under this route, ingeniously thought up in Press Notes 2 and 4 of 2009, entities with up to 49 per cent FDI and controlled by Indians can invest in these areas through downstream units. So, if Walmart, for example, wants to set up a chain in India, it only needs to invest in a holding company with an Indian partner who holds 51 per cent which will, in turn, invest in a downstream entity that actually operates the retail chain. The purpose of this two-step process, DIPP's discussion paper explains, is to distinguish between equity and control, which somehow remains with Indians under the cover-all shibboleth of "national interest". Any investor will immediately see through this charade. As Indian promoters well know, there can be a world of difference between equity holding and control. In any case, under the Companies Act, any equity holding greater than 25 per cent gives the investor a right to block a "special resolution", so the question of limiting "control" for investors of any provenance above this limit is academic. Press notes 2 and 4 may be creative, enabling mediums for FDI but they have hardly changed the FDI landscape precisely because they do little to create the kind of healthy transparent regime that should make India an investment of choice. The scope they create for rentiering by Indian businessmen is also wide — a proclivity that can be seen in sectors as diverse as oil and telecom.

Indeed, the DIPP is clearly not convinced by this solution. The paper has questioned whether those activities that can now be done indirectly through downstream investments can as well be allowed to be done directly. It makes the important point that "through an inverted pyramid structure of downstream investments, the level of indirect FDI can be even more than 49%". Then it follows this line of reasoning to question whether there is any relevance left for equity caps, especially below 49 per cent. This recommendation, certainly radical by government standards, has important implications for a range of sectors, especially insurance, an industry that has patiently been waiting for parliamentary approval for an enhancement in FDI limits. But it is worth wondering why, in this 20th year of economic liberalisation, sectoral equity limits on FDI are not done away with altogether. Should the government have reservations about "national interest", it can always, as the DIPP paper suggests, exercise control through sectoral regulations in sensitive sectors. Noel Tata said as much in an interview to Business Standard where he suggested that FDI in multi-brand retail be linked to square footage. The case for scrapping sectoral limits is persuasive for many reasons, not least of which is dwindling FDI since 2008; it is the only major developing country that saw FDI drop in 2010. So flashing the welcome signals now would be a good way to show that India still means business.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

NOT FIT FOR THE GODS

KARNATAKA'S CHIEF MINISTER SCORES A SELF-GOAL

Politics in Karnataka temporarily left its own arena and sought to use the religious space to settle scores, with poor results. Things took a new turn recently when former chief minister and Janata Dal (Secular) leader, H D Kumaraswamy, made a startling allegation that Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa had sent a personal emissary to him offering truce in return for getting his work done through government expeditiously. Instead of simply refuting the allegation, the chief minister brought the Gods into the conflict by challenging Mr Kumaraswamy to utter his allegation under oath before the presiding deity of Dharmasthala, Lord Manjunatha, while he himself would repeat his denial in the same manner. This is because the customary belief is that anyone uttering falsehood before the deity will come to grief. Things went a bit awry for Mr Yeddyurappa thereafter. His opponent promptly took up the challenge, and what is more, the heads of several prominent religious centres asked the politicians to keep their fight in the secular arena and not disturb the peaceful and religious atmosphere of the holy places. Bharatiya Janata Party President Nitin Gadkari joined the religious heads in saying that the temporal and religious worlds should not be mixed up. Mr Yeddyurappa had no choice but to back out. The final bout happened on Monday when Mr Kumaraswamy came to Dharmasthala and repeated his allegation and Mr Yeddyurappa offered his prayers and failed to repeat his denial, further pulling down his low credibility.

The chief minister is right in claiming that under him the state is peaceful and its finances are in reasonable shape. The latter is unusual since after the last round of Assembly elections most states are claiming to be broke. The state has been fortunate to have received good rains in the last few years. However, it is not enough that Karnataka is pulling along; it must seek to regain the pre-eminence it once enjoyed. Most projects grandly announced at the last global investors' meet have so far failed to come to fruition. Besides, civic conditions in Bangalore, on which the state depends heavily for state domestic product and revenue, are going from bad to worse. Many grand plans announced by the municipal corporation, notably signal-free arterial roads, have had to be put on hold owing to an acute cash shortage. Not only is its revenue income, according to one estimate, running at about half its potential, the state government has till now given no budgetary assistance this year, against a promise of Rs 300 crore. A municipality like Bangalore, with booming real estate, should be rolling in cash but a complicit civic bureaucracy, beholden to developers who keep corporators happy, has made a mockery of the self-assessment system for paying property taxes. Consequently, the Bangalore municipality is unable to rise to the challenge it faces. To negotiate cumbersome forms, property owners have perforce to take the help of touts, which results in lower collection. Thus, Bangalore misses out on its due, pulling Karnataka down with it.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THINKING BEYOND ECONOMIC RECOVERY

INDIA AND CHINA NEED TO EMBARK ON STRUCTURAL REFORM TO SUSTAIN THE MOMENTUM OF ECONOMIC GROWTH

SHAHID JAVED BURKI

A great deal of the excitement that resulted from the fast recovery of China and India from the Great Recession of 2008-09 has begun to dissipate. Both countries raced forward while much of the industrial world continued to languish. There is now some talk of the possibility of a double-dip recession in both America and Europe and some weakening in large emerging economies. The global economy is not proceeding in the direction in which it was supposed to go.

Even as GDP growth rates diverged in the West and large emerging markets, there was talk of a faster-than-expected realignment of the global economy. It was expected that the centre of gravity of the global economy would shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific within a decade or two. Now, both parts of the world economy are hurting, though in different ways. The West is worried about the burden of debt carried by a number of economies, which is not sustainable over the medium term; the emerging economies are concerned about rising price levels.

 

According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Germany's gross public debt is 87 per cent of its GDP; Japan's is 213 per cent; Britain's is 89 per cent; and the US' is 101 per cent. Debt levels in Greece, Ireland and Portugal are much higher — high enough to trouble the bond markets, hence the ability of these countries to borrow in order to meet their obligations. But in the West, inflation is not a problem. In fact the Federal Reserve, the US' central bank, launched a programme called "quantitative easing" aimed at preventing deflation from further compromising the state of the economy.

The situation in the emerging world is very different. Both China and India are finding it hard to manage rapidly- growing economies without igniting inflation. Both have decided to focus on monetary management as the way for taming price increases. And both are finding that this cure my not deliver the results they seek. They need deep structural changes to ensure that the momentum of growth is not lost.

For political reasons, both China and India need to have their economies grow at or near 10 per cent a year. China needs a high growth rate to contain discontent among its workers. The regime has allowed some expression of unhappiness on the part of the working population. This has resulted in an increase in wages by significant amounts and would change, in quite a dramatic way, the contours of the model of growth the country has followed for several decades. It is unlikely that future growth will come from investments that produce cheap goods for western markets by low paid labour.

In India coalition politics has delayed action on a number of fronts, without which the potential of the economy will not be realised. If the economy softens, it will have political implications for the governing coalition. India needs growth to address the problem of poverty as well as interstate and interpersonal income distribution disparities.

While China crossed the 10 per cent growth target on several occasions, India remains below that threshold. The recent changes in interest rates ordered by the Reserve Bank of India, India's central bank, have resulted in reducing the rate of investment and, therefore, the rate of future growth in its domestic product. But it has not succeeded in controlling inflation. Both food and core inflation rates have crossed the levels regarded as economically and politically sustainable. China has used a combination of monetary tightening and administrative controls to tame inflation. Clearly, both China and India are not succeeding in these endeavours.

What both countries need is a combination of short-term adjustments and long-term structural changes. China needs to prepare itself for the time when it will no longer be an export powerhouse exploiting its low-wage workforce. The assumption that hundreds of millions of workers in the countryside will be prepared to move to the relatively high-productivity sectors of the economy, thus continuing to contribute to growth, proved unrealistic. The spread of new information technologies has meant the aspirations of workers in modern sectors could not be separated from those of people who remained in the countryside. There is now a widespread demand for improvement in the living standards of workers, something which even a tightly controlled political system cannot ignore. This means a significant restructuring of both the sources of supply and demand in the country. China must begin to refashion its economy to meet rapidly rising domestic demand, and not just continue to provide for Western markets which are now less hungry for cheap Chinese products.

There are somewhat different demands being placed on the Indian economy and the political system. Perhaps taking their cue from the explosion in the Arab streets, which led to the Arab Spring, Indian citizens are also prepared to come out in large numbers and ask for higher-quality governance. Over time India has developed a political system that has shown that democracy in the developing world need not retard economic progress. It must now move this system forward so that it becomes more accountable to the people. The country cannot afford to wait for periodic elections to cleanse the system. It must also have the institutional wherewithal to hold those placed in office by elections to satisfy the public demand for cleaner governance.

India also needs to open up its economy further. It was the dramatic opening up in 1991 that engendered the Indian miracle of the last two decades. But India needs to open up further if it is to take advantage of the rapid changes in the structure of the global economy. Foreign capital inflows must not be deterred by populist demands that have made it difficult for large retail firms to set up shop in the country and for manufacturing enterprises to acquire land for building new green-field plants.

What the world needs now is a new way of handling problems being confronted by its different parts. Unfortunately, for different reasons, the political establishments in almost all major world economies don't seem equal to the task of managing the needed structural change.

China and India pursued different political models to achieve the same economic result: a high rate of GDP growth. Now that their economies have matured, they will need to pursue different policies to smooth out the wrinkles that have appeared.

The author is a former finance minister of Pakistan

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

TWENTY YEARS OF FOREIGN TRADE

A STUDY OF THE CHANGE IN COMPOSITION OF INDIA'S EXPORTS AND IMPORTS OVER THESE YEARS WOULD PROVE USEFUL FOR POLICY MAKERS

A K BHATTACHARYA

 

The Indian economy has seen dramatic changes in the last 20 years, thanks largely to the economic reforms introduced by the P V Narasimha Rao government in 1991. One way of measuring that change would be to see how India's merchandise trade has performed in this period.

 

Some changes are so obvious that you cannot miss them. For instance, exports have grown rapidly. At $18 billion in 1991-92, they were about seven per cent of India's gross domestic product (GDP). By 2010-11, exports increased to $246 billion, equivalent to 14 per cent of GDP.

Imports, too, grew fast in this period — from about $20 billion or eight per cent of GDP in 1991-92 to $350 billion in 2010-11, amounting to almost 20 per cent of GDP. If India managed to keep growing and remain stable in spite of a sharp rise in trade deficit in this period, it is mainly because the reforms opened up the economy. This helped the country to receive large flows of foreign capital – both through direct investment in projects and through portfolio investments in the capital markets – and meet its balance of payments gap.

Several other changes are not too obvious and remain hidden in the trade data. In 1990-91, machinery was the second-largest import item, valued at around $5.83 billion and accounting for about 24 per cent of India's total imports of $24 billion. Twenty years later, machinery imports are much higher, but account for only about 11 per cent of India's total imports. This is a sign as much of India's growing domestic machinery manufacturing capacity as of the economy's rising demand for capital goods. Clearly, India's import basket has grown and diversified in these 20 years.

Two items that did not even figure in India's import basket in 1990-91 (indeed, they did not do so until 1993-94) but acquired a sizeable 10 per cent share in 2010-11 were gold and silver. The economic reforms of 1991 paved the way for legal imports of gold and silver and in the next 20 years, India has emerged as the world's largest destination of gold and silver exports.

The petroleum sector presents perhaps the most interesting change. Petroleum imports, which used to account for about a fourth of the country's total imports in 1990-91, accounted for about 30 per cent of India's total imports in 2010-11. That indicates how India's domestic oil and gas producers failed to step up domestic output, in keeping with the rising demand at home. This led to the sharp rise in the oil import bill.

However, that is only part of the story. The rise in the oil import bill was also because several new refinery capacities came up in this period and began to import crude oil and export petroleum products. That led to a dramatic rise in India's petroleum product exports in the last 20 years. From $0.52 billion (about three per cent of total exports) in 1990-91, petroleum product exports rose to account for more than a 17 per cent share in total exports in 2010-11. Indeed, if exports are taken into account, the net import bill on account of the petroleum sector has seen modest growth and its share in the country's total imports has declined in this period.

On the exports front, there are a few more surprises. Agriculture and textiles, which used to account for 42 to 44 per cent of India's total exports in the early nineties, are no longer the key drivers of India's merchandise exports. The share of textiles in India's total exports has fallen to less than 10 per cent and that of agriculture to seven per cent. While gems and jewellery have held ground in the last two decades, the smartest recovery took place in the engineering sector, a development that has surprised even policy makers in the government.

In 1990-91, engineering goods exports were worth $2.2 billion or 12 per cent of total exports. In 2010-11, such exports accounted for over 24 per cent. The growth rates for engineering exports in the last few years have also been impressive, making this the largest foreign exchange earning sector, even ahead of software, which fetched $59 billion in 2011.

Clearly, such growth in engineering goods exports cannot take place just because exporting firms used some incentives or concessions. India's manufacturing sector has certainly acquired a competitive edge that helps it enter export markets with relative ease. That advantage is not likely to go away easily. Nor should, therefore, anyone fear that discontinuing the duty entitlement passbook (DEPB) scheme would put brakes on engineering exports. The total annual value of the DEPB scheme is only Rs 8,000 crore, so it cannot sustain the kind of rise in engineering exports the country saw in recent years.

The story of India's exports and imports in the last 20 years will undoubtedly have many lessons for the government. As the country prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of India's economic reforms of 1991, a study of how the composition of India's exports and imports changed over these years is an exercise the government's current policy makers will find hugely useful.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

CRIMES & PUNISHMENT

THE EXCESSIVE EXPENDITURE ON JAILS CAN BE REDUCED BY MODIFYING PUNISHMENTS

M J ANTONY

There seems to be something common between those who filled the Roman amphitheatres and the televiewers who watched celebrities undergo their recent ordeals in courts and prisons. Crime has become a spectator sport.

In this media-heavy age, judges also tend to jump on the bandwagon. Three decades ago, the Supreme Court had declared that "bail is the rule, jail the exception". It had also stated that imprisonment should not turn into punishment before trial. However, judges neither follow those binding precepts nor overrule them. When the US Supreme Court did something like that recently, one of the dissenting judges, Antonin Scalia, criticised his brother judges for such "stealth overruling" and asserted that precedents should either be followed or explicitly overruled.

 

Since bail is not easily given, and a trial takes years to conclude, the 1,356 jails in the country house nearly three times their sanctioned strength. Out of 397,000 prisoners, an estimated 70 per cent are waiting for trial. The total expenditure per prisoner per day is officially put at Rs 66. The total sanctioned budget for 2007-08 was a staggering Rs 1,62,381 lakh and Rs 2,03,792 lakh the following year. The current figures might be much higher. During 2008-09, Uttar Pradesh allocated the highest sum among all states, Rs 41,293 lakh, followed by Bihar (Rs 20,952 lakh). UP doubled its allocation in 2008-09 from the previous year, 2007-08 (Rs 20,149 lakh).

The percentage of distribution of expenditure on prison inmates is 62.6 per cent on food; clothing 2.2; medical 7.2; vocational education 1; welfare activities 0.7; and others 26.4 per cent. This is a heavy burden on the tax payers. The lawmakers have given little thought to the colonial system of prison administration, leading to violence within the dark walls.

Only occasionally, the government wakes up to the problem. This year, it released some 700,000 undertrials in one go. But still there are thousands who wait for their dates with the court. Some of them have been abandoned in jail by their kin and have nowhere to go. The Supreme Court has long ago suggested reformative models, introduction of yoga and psychological help. The 78th report of the Law Commission also dealt with prison congestion. It proposed bail with easier conditions, and for more offences. But over the years, the list of non-bailable offences has lengthened. Though there are 32 open jails (where convicts can work, earn and spend time with family), the idea has not caught on.

An attempt to introduce community service as a substitute for incarceration was made by Parliament in 1978. An amendment was sought in the Indian Penal Code to provide for community service for crimes that attracted less than three years' imprisonment, like offences against human body and property and defamation. But the move was abandoned and never revived.

Some criminal courts have sentenced convicts to do community service. Two youth in Delhi convicted for assaulting a girl were recently ordered to serve an old age home. A drunken driver was told to do community service at a temple for two months. But these are stray cases. The actual loss in terms of human resources and expenditure keeps mounting proportionate to the increase in the number of inmates mindlessly consigned to the cells. Instead of the prisoners paying their debt to society, they increase the debt of tax payers.

An old idea to ease this burden of injustice and avoid unproductive expenditure is to privatise jails. The concept was originally mooted by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the English thinker, who is said to have coined the name "cell" in jails. He said punishment should be as economical as possible. He proposed calling for tenders to run private prisons. The winning company should also follow strict specifications on the treatment of inmates. It would be penalised for violence and deaths inside. This would save monitoring costs and cut down state expenditure.

Bentham also proposed industrial activities around jails and outsourcing of food, education, transport and recreation. He even devised an architectural model for jails, described in an almost fictional work — Panopticon. It would be a circular building, with maximum visibility from all angles. The manager could see the activities inside the jail. However, Bentham's obsession of 20 years did not materialise.

The idea should not be discarded with a smirk. The colonial prison architecture and penal procedures definitely require a second look. The only caveat is that officials and bidders for the new projects should not land in cells adjacent to the ones where the Commonwealth Games and other scamsters are lodged.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

SHOULD EPF INVEST MORE MONEY IN EQUITY?

The move will be risky since the finance ministry cannot give a guarantee on returns but experience indicates that this risk is compensated by higher returns.

D L Sachdeva
Member, CBT of the Employees Provident Fund

 'We feel that guaranteed returns, even if low, are preferable to non-guaranteed though higher returns from the stock market'

We are opposed to the investment of any component of provident fund in shares, whether we are talking on behalf of the trade unions or on behalf of the Central Board of Trustees (CBT). The proposal being made by the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) is not new. It has been put before the Central Board of Trustees several times before. The CBT chairman, who is also the labour minister, has opposed it each time. Today we have investments only in public sector bonds; we have never gone to the stock market with our funds.

Usually, the demand is to put a limited portion of funds, say, five to ten per cent, in shares. But a five per cent investment would open the doors for such a pattern of investment in the future. That is a risk we cannot take. There was a long correspondence between the labour and finance ministries on this. The labour ministry even offered to put some funds in the market provided the finance ministry gave a guarantee — that is, if the returns were not on a par with the funds at the prevailing interest rates offered by EPFO then the finance ministry would reimburse the difference. But the finance ministry, which was so enthusiastic about pushing this proposal, refused to take this responsibility. P Chidambaram was finance minister when this proposal was made to the EPFO three or four times in the past few years.

We knew the finance ministry would not be able to give such a guarantee on returns or reimburse the difference in the EPF rates and the money received from the stock market. But we have stood by our decision of seeking guarantee on minimum returns.

In other countries, especially the developed ones, there is investment in stock market and there is no government guarantee either. But, then, they have been working towards curtailment of social security funds. Six months ago millions of people in Great Britain were on the streets protesting against these moves by the government to shirk its obligations.

Central and state government employees who are not subscribers of the EPFO have already been hit by the Centre's shift to unguaranteed returns in the New Pension Scheme (NPS). Pensions for employees from 2004 would be given on the basis of the market value of the annuities handed to them at the time of retirement. So pensions would be dependent on market vagaries. In the EPFO, returns are guaranteed. The government wants that guaranteed component to go — that explains the constant harping on investments in the stock market. Having achieved this for government employees in the NPS, it slowly wants to bring these unguaranteed returns to non-government employees through the back door by pushing investments in stock market. But we feel that guaranteed returns, even if low, are preferable to non-guaranteed though higher returns from the stock market. The EPFO is the world's largest social security scheme covering 40 million subscribers. It is the government's duty to subsidise it or keep the funds in a special deposit scheme or SDS. Up to 2000 the funds were kept in an SDS at 12 per cent interest. Then this was discontinued. The money that remains in the SDS gets just eight per cent interest, on a par with the public provident fund.

Today there is a deficit of Rs 54,000 crore in the Employees Pension Scheme of the EPFO. This was because incomes and interest rates came down after 2000. The best way forward would be for the government to keep the provident fund investments in SDS and pay a minimum interest of 9.5 per cent.

D L Sachdeva is also National Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress

As told to Sreelatha Menon

Vetri Subramaniam
Chief Investment Officer, Religare Mutual Fund

'Equities are the best hedge against inflation. Return of capital is of no value when the value of that capital is itself eroded'

If I'd known that retirement was going to be this good I'd have done it the day after I left school…

Of course that holds true only when you have a pension that will see you through that period of your life when you cease to work for a living and for an income. In India,the ticket to a golden retirement was a job in the government or public sector where the pension benefits were guaranteed by the state. As participants or recipients of the scheme, one does not worry about the source of the pension payment because it was backed by the state. But the experience from the developed world suggests that this form of a defined benefit pension programme has proved ruinous for both governments and the private sector.

In an acknowledgment of this reality, the government established the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) in 2003 that lays down the architecture for a contributory pensions scheme for all individuals. These pension schemes allow investment in equity but this is capped at a maximum of 50 per cent. However, large pools of capital such as the government-run Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) still does not invest in equity despite several proposals to that effect. The EPFO is of the view is that equity is risky and that return of capital is more important that return on capital.

There is no doubt that equity as an asset class is more risky than bonds. This is one of the established principles of finance. But that is only half of the story because the theory and experience indicates that this risk is compensated for by a higher return. Further, it is equally true that equities are the best hedge against inflation that insidiously eats into the true value of our savings. Return of capital is of no value when the value of that capital is itself eroded.

Indian equities have returned over 18 per cent over the last 10 years and 14 per cent over the last 20 years. As anybody who has seen a mutual fund advertisement is well aware in the equity markets the standard disclaimer — past return are not indicative of future returns. So, while this past performance alone cannot be a sufficient basis for the EPFO or for private trusts to make the allocation to equity, it is a good reason to explore the issue in further detail and conceive of systems and processes to manage this risk rather than to avoid it altogether.

Today, the EPFO by its own admission is unable to earn the returns required to meet its obligations. It is worrying that it cannot see the obvious solution — raise the overall return of the portfolio by making a small allocation to equities. A small step in this direction could be made by making allocations only out of the fresh inflows rather than an attempt to change the allocation of the existing corpus. Further, in the early stages the allocation could be made using a passive approach. Once comfort with the system builds, active management styles can be added to the platform.

Using information technology it would be possible to also allow each member to choose the right allocation pattern for his or herself. This would be subject to prudent limits to prevent a member from doing harm to oneself. Experience from the pension industry in the developed world suggests that individualisation and customisation of such a system is a must. A person's asset allocation choice and needs are driven by their age and must take into account their risk tolerance.

The EPFO has over 40 million subscribers and it is time we allowed Indians to invest a part of their retirement savings in the stock market and own a portion of it.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

NO TEARS FOR THE DEPB

Scrapping the DEPB scheme, which ended up subsidising exporters instead of reimbursing them, makes sense. But the alternative must be made to work better.

It is just as well that the Duty Entitlement Passbook Scheme (DEPB) will be discontinued from September 30. Exporters warning of a consequent sharp fall in exports will impress no one. The concept of reimbursement of duty paid on inputs used in export merchandise is very much part of official policy. They will, of course, still have the alternative mechanism of 'duty drawback' to fall back on and, as such, should have no cause for complaint. If DEPB is a favourite with some exporters, it is because it pays them way more than their import levy and actually works as a generous subsidy, therefore coming under WTO scrutiny. In the four years between 2007-08 (the fiscal year before the global financial crisis) and 2010-11, Customs duty collections went up by no more than 30 per cent. The revenue sacrifice by way of Customs duty foregone under DEPB is, however, up nearly 60 per cent, suggesting prima facie a flaw in the system of duty neutralisation.

The neutralisation of import duty per se is not a problem, since it is a well settled principle that taxes should not be exported. In that regard, the duty drawback rates are more realistic than the DEPB rates. Besides, it makes little sense to have two schemes performing the same function. An ICRIER study conducted a few years ago points out that the DEPB rate is at least 50 per cent more than the drawback rate. There is no reason to suppose that duty drawback rates are not rationally determined. In the event the passbook scheme resulted in a subsidy of about Rs 4,000 crore a year. A disproportionate entitlement to duty credit is an invitation for fraudulent claims as it is not too difficult, given the weakness in our governance structure, to inflate the values of export-import transactions. Add to this the fact that the DEPB scrip is transferable, unlike under duty drawback, and the incentive for falsification of records can well be imagined. A weak governance structure is also amenable to pressure groups within the industry manipulating the system for private profit.

This is not to say that the system prior to the introduction of the DEPB scheme did not suffer from administrative delays. The duty drawback claims were not being processed fast enough, putting exporters into some difficulty in having to find additional working capital finance. The way around this is to tone up administrative processes and not come up with a bloated incentive, as the DEPB scheme ended up becoming. One hopes the expert panel looking into this system will align the duty drawback rates with accurate data on costs and import content. It will also have to factor in the introduction of GST, which would reduce the reimbursement.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

FEDERALISM IN CHOPPY WATERS

NIRMALA SITHARAMAN

The Centre is undermining the rights of States by trying to legislate on items listed in the Concurrent List, with minimum consultations.

The UPA, in its second term in office, has not missed an opportunity to take upon itself powers that rightfully belong to the States. Part XI of the Constitution demarcates the legislative and the administrative powers of the Union and the States.

The Union list has 97 items mentioned as its exclusive domain. Sixty six items are in List II exclusively for the States and 47 items are in the Concurrent list. The Centre is undermining the States and their authority by trying to legislate on items listed in the Concurrent List — with minimum consultation with the States.

The latest in this series is the Ports Regulatory Authority Bill. The proposed Bill shall regulate all ports in the country. While the 13 Major ports are managed by the Centre, being Entry 31 in the Concurrent List, non-major ports are in the domain of the States.

With respect to another subject in the Concurrent list, the Right to Education Bill too, the States felt the consultations were inadequate. The States' preparedness to implement the programme, noble as its intention and purpose may be, was not taken into consideration.

Many States did not have the resources to raise the required manpower and infrastructure in the envisaged time scale.

The National Commission for the Review on the Working of the Constitution observes, "The problems that have attracted attention in the field of Union-State relations have less to do with the structure or the rationale of the Concurrent List than with the manner in which the Union has exercised its powers." It further went on to add: "In particular, the Concurrent List, List III in the Seventh Schedule under Article 246 (2), has to be regarded as a valuable instrument for consolidating and furthering the principle of cooperative and creative federalism that has made a major contribution to nation-building.

The Commission is convinced that it is essential to institutionalise the process of consultations between the Union and the States on legislation under the Concurrent List." (http://lawmin.nic.in/ncrwc

/finalreport/v1ch8.htm)

Governance failure

Undermining cooperative federalism is a serious issue in itself. Between the Centre and the States, the Constitution envisages a relationship among equals rather than that of a 'big brother' Centre for the States to look up to. In the matter of the ports, together with the absence of cooperative federalism, there is this critical issue of governance failure.

The recent Maritime State Development Council's meet held in Hyderabad saw several State governments standing up to retain their authority. In doing so, they have exposed issues of governance – lack of foresight, poor revenue generation, inefficient utilisation of immovable assets etc.

A quick brush with statistics will explain it all.

The growth in the major ports (total 13) has been only 1.6 per cent. Non-major ports, which are 185 in number and which are spread mainly in the nine coastal States, have grown by 8.7 per cent.

In Gujarat alone, non-major ports (total 42) grew by 12.3 per cent. Gujarat also handles nearly 73 per cent of non major ports' cargo.

Furthermore, several State governments have gone ahead with plans to develop their ports along the lines of the PPP model.

As observed earlier, private ports, as also the non-major ports, fix their own tariffs.

The proposed Bill, in intending to replace the present regulatory body the Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP), it is feared, empowers the proposed regulatory Authority to fix tariffs for even the private ports, in the guise of bringing in a level playing field.

In these circumstances, Gujarat's Finance Minister, Mr Saurabh Patel, felt that States will also get into a lot of legal tussles with private operators with whom port developmental projects have been signed.

Revenue generation

The management of the water front is critical for revenue generation. States have bettered themselves each year and this is paying rich dividends. Mr Shailesh Garg of Drewry Shipping Consultants Plc felt, "Major ports have not been able to set up adequate capacity to cater to additional cargo, so shippers are looking for alternative gateways."

Mr Karan Deep Singh, of Akal Logistics India Pvt Ltd, observed, "Because of several disputes and funds spent on settling such disputes, private investors have chosen minor ports over the major ones to conduct their maritime business. There have also been several cases when a private player operating a terminal each at a major and a minor port has shifted traffic to the latter."

State governments are often under pressure to find newer avenues for revenue generation. They are also learning from one another on replicating best practices.

They are compelled to find their own resources. Ironically, sometimes the Central Government expects the States to forego their tax revenues for the decisions it imposes on them. The recent cooking gas and diesel price hike is a case in point.

Are States being punished for being efficient? Ports are a great hub of economic activity which can lubricate growth of their hinterland.

The rapid development of non-major ports is a good augury for the goodies of growth to reach far-flung areas.

The UPA government, even though mono-focused on growth, has lost the plot. Unabated inflation with spiralling fuel cost will have a "cascade effect", adversely affecting the entire economy. We want buoyant, and not dependent, States.

By punishing efficiency and creating economic backwardness, the UPA seems more than willing to draw up another flagship dole programme.

Forget the fiscal deficit! By eating into the autonomy of the States, the UPA government at the Centre is threatening the spirit of federalism.

(The author is a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The views expressed are personal).

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

PLAY OF DEMAND AND INFLATION

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

There is one school of thought which holds that the Indian economy is presently adrift with the Government not taking any major decisions – some routine (like allowing grain exports) and others distinctly reform-oriented – the firmest indication of which was conveyed in a recent survey of 75 companies.

Among the findings, the most sweeping was that more than three-fourths of those surveyed were clearly "unhappy" with the way the UPA-2 Government was conducting economic and political policies, a good 72 per cent anticipating that the "crisis in governance was going to hurt economic growth". Some 80 per cent felt that even the pace of "routine decision-making" had slowed down, with 15 per cent expecting that the present drift would affect their business and investment plans .

Infrastructure data

These, of course, are expectations, but, as far as businessmen are concerned, ones which are based on real-economy movements. What, in fact, are these movements? The most recent set of official figures pertaining to the infrastructure sector – the six core industries which comprise this sector account for a combined weight of 26.7 per cent in the index of industrial production (IIP) – clearly suggest that the economy is slowing down. Specifically, the figures for April (the latest month for which they are available) indicate that output in this sector (comprising crude oil, petroleum refinery products, coal, electricity, cement and finished steel) grew at their slowest in five months. Common sense suggests that if there is so persistent a slowing-down over a half-year period, then something is wrong with the mainsprings of economic growth.

Advance-tax figures

But, then, there is another school which feels that, despite the Government not being as active as it should be, there are indications which point to the economic situation not being so deep in the doldrums. For this group, the beacon is the advance-tax figure which, during the first quarter of 2011-12, grew at a 76.8 per cent on the year-earlier period. In view of the fact that growth in the two preceding quarters was 30 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively, the legitimate conclusion is that Indian business is looking ahead to a period of increased earnings, which in turn is being interpreted as indicating that the economy generally is still in good health with expectations being optimistic.

The point at issue is: can both the figures co-exist ? If they can, then how does one view the economy's prospects in real terms?

As is clear, this is a complex issue . What can, however, be said with some degree of certainty is that the economy is facing a difficult time with inflation rearing its head and the Reserve Bank all set to combat it by sticking to its policy of raising interest rates, thereby increasing costs for economic operations. Very recently, in view of an unacceptable subsidy-burden level, the Government raised the diesel price (among other petroleum and petroleum-based items), which must necessarily raise transport costs and thus the inflation rate even further in the months ahead.

Growth and inflation are not necessarily mutually exclusive elements in the national economic picture. But they can take up opposing roles if rising inflation begins to affect demand adversely. The all-important question is: how far away are we from this point? Clearly, reform policies can help out in this situation, but for this, the Prime Minister needs to take the initiative.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DR SINGH'S GIBBARD–SATTERTHWAITE MOMENT

EKALAVYA

Even in the most democratic systems, in the end, someone has to impose a decision that is basically dictatorial.

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, when he was teaching at the Delhi School of Economics, was a preferred tutor. Reason: he would never give you a C on your tutorials. Instead, he would make you re-do it till he could give you at least a B.

That fundamental kindness would often be mistaken for weakness by some students. Something like that seems to be happening now. He is being cruelly misjudged by persons who have no idea of the difficult choices prime ministers have to make.

So, as a form of guru-dakshina, here is the perfect suggestion for him — he should ask Dr Kaushik Basu, the Chief Economic Advisor, to give him a short lecture on the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem.

It will not provide a one-to-one mapping but it will be close enough to suit the Prime Minister's purpose. At the very least, it will show him a way out of his present dilemmas.

The democratic dilemma

The theorem says that even in the most democratic systems, in the end, someone has to impose a decision that is basically dictatorial.

If not, no good outcomes can ever be reached because with tactical voting, people can vote in ways that do not reflect their true preferences.

Even though the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem is in reference to voting for candidates in elections, it should hold largely true for policy choices also.

Indeed, because the RBI unconsciously follows this theorem, it has been largely successful with monetary policy.

The Governor listens to everyone and then decides. What the price of money will be is his decision alone, and he imposes it. One of the most appealing things about the theorem is that it actually forbids certain candidates from winning. The counterpart for policy-making would be that some policies are never to be considered.

But, in real life, this can never be so. Since you can't really forbid certain policies, or be fully dictatorial in the 'my way or highway' manner, we end up in situations that suit no one at all or, at best, suit very few.

Kenneth Arrow, the 1972 Nobel winning economist had talked of the 'non-dictatorship rule'. This rule says that social choices cannot be a single person's preferences. Everyone's preferences have to be considered.

Needed, a dictator

This sounds fine, except that these preferences then have to ordered in ascending or descending order.

But even after that is done, the problem doesn't go away: someone has to make the final choice but that final choice is invariably dictatorial!

There are several other theorems in the theory of collective decision-making that lead to unhappy outcomes which leave everyone unhappy.

Together, they constitute one of the biggest ironies of all decisions taken according to democratic rules.

This irony is precisely what is happening to the PM. If it is of any comfort, it happens to all Prime Ministers and Presidents, everywhere. It is the nature of the job.

How well or badly incumbents tackle it depends on their personalities.

But however gentle and consensus-seeking that may be, the final answer perhaps lies in adopting the least onerous of the Gibbard–Satterthwaite rules — namely, that someone must act like a dictator with a strong will.

Or, to put it differently, Dr Singh needs to say what a famous editor said at one editorial meeting. Someone asked him to define the pecking order and he said: "Oh, that's simple. There's me and there are the rest of you."

Dr Singh's problem, of course, is that both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are saying the same thing. But that is only where politics is concerned. They don't interfere in economic decisions. That privilege is left to some corporates.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BARREN THINKING

THE IDEA THAT CITIES SHOULD NOT COME UP ON FARMLAND IGNORES HISTORY

 

Eco-fundamentalists have long campaigned for restricting industry and urbanisation to barren or rocky areas, leaving fertile areas reserved for agriculture. The judiciary must steer clear of this Luddite approach. Great cities the world over are located on fertile land along rivers, not in barren wastes, deserts or rocky mountain-tops. The Nile valley is the most crowded in the world, but the solution is not to move Cairo into the desert. Productivity in cities is far higher than in agriculture, sometimes hundreds of times higher. So, when cities and industries replace farms, no matter how fertile, the resultant productivity supports far more people and far higher incomes than farming can. There remains the issue of appropriate compensation, but that must not be confused with forcing industries and towns to go to barren or rocky wasteland. Forget green warnings that food production will be endangered by urbanising farmland: all the proposed SEZs put together will total barely one million acres, just 0.25% of India's 400 million cultivated acres.


The Supreme Court has expressed concern about land acquisition by the UP state government just to re-sell to real estate developers. Arguably this is not a public purpose, and deprives farmers of a good market price. However, inter alia, the court has suggested that barren rather than fertile land should be used to prevent future Singurs. This is flawed logic. If indeed there is a public purpose in land acquisition, it should be acquired at the most appropriate spot for the purpose. This will usually be in decent agricultural areas: the deserts of Rajasthan or mountains of Nagaland are not the best locations for new towns. In rare cases, there may indeed be rocky or barren land that will suffice for the public purpose. But the guiding principle should be to locate cities and industries where they will be most productive, and to compensate farmers accordingly. Compensation will obviously be far higher in fertile than in rocky or barren land. The world over, land acquisition has occurred widely in fertile areas for public purposes, with the higher compensation this entails. India should be no different.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

A CAPITAL IDEA

A NEW WINDOW FOR MORE FOREIGN PORTFOLIO MONEY IS WELCOME REFORM, WITH CAVEATS


When many Budget promises remain on paper, the good news is the government has delivered on two of them: guidelines for infrastructure debt funds to attract overseas investment last week and now, the liberalised regime for overseas investment in the stock market. Foreign retail investors (as distinct from non-resident Indians) will now be allowed to invest up to a cumulative total of $10 billion a year in the stock market through mutual funds instead of having to come through foreign institutional investors. With this, the equity market, though not individual stocks, is now effectively open to investors, globally — although the notification talks of investment by qualified foreign investors, in practice, anyone who can satisfy KYC (know your customer) norms can invest in the market. Portfolio investment is an important channel through which countries attract overseas capital and to the extent it becomes easier for foreigners to invest in Indian stocks, the move should lead to more inflows to the stock market. Agreed, our stock market has been among the worst performers in the calendar year to date (-14.8% in dollar terms). Nonetheless, the market prognosis for any economy that is expected to grow at 8-9% in the medium to long-term cannot but be positive; so any move that eases investment restrictions is welcome.


Two caveats are in order, however. More foreign fund inflows could make the stock market even more dependent on foreign sentiment and increase volatility. The remedy is to bring more long-term domestic savings to the stock market. We need more action on this front. The other area of concern is the continuing lack of official resolve to enhance inflows of the more desirable kind of foreign investment, of the direct kind. The government should bite the bullet on liberalising foreign direct investment (FDI) in sectors like insurance and retail trade. While boosting portfolio flows and moving to liberalise FDI are not mutually exclusive choices, inaction on the latter front means enhancing the volatility of overall inflows even while forgoing the systemic gains FDI brings in.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT FOR BATSMEN?

THE ICC DECISION TO DISALLOW RUNNERS FOR INJURED BATSMEN CHANGES CRICKET


Ever since cricket was first played in England, it has been described as a batsman's game. Those who were not batsmen felt discriminated against to an extent where their favourite quip during the latter half of the 20th century was that the last bowler to be knighted was Sir Francis Drake, who was playing not cricket but bowls in 1588 when he was told that the enemy fleet was approaching, but insisted on finishing the game before setting out to destroy the Spanish Armada! The bowlers' lament continues. Switch on the telecast of any ODI (one-day international) and, if the expert commentators are not former international batsmen, you will hear them complaining about how any delivery bowled marginally outside the leg-stump is declared a wide and how the signalling of a free hit for a no-ball is yet another instance of how the dice is loaded against bowlers. Which is why Monday's decision by the International Cricket Council (ICC) that batsmen can no longer ask for substitutes to run for them if they are injured during a match comes as a shock to former international players-turned-expert commentators. First off the blocks with his criticism was India's greatest opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar who slammed the ICC for the move and demanded that bowlers fielding on the boundary should likewise be prohibited from sipping refreshing drinks between overs! In India, where the r a j a s and m a h a r a j a s first took to the game, the princes preferred to bat, leaving not just the bowling and fielding but sometimes even the running between the wickets to their minions. While everyone is equal in 21st century Indian cricket, batting is still regarded as more glamorous. Which was one reason why former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly was nicknamed Maharaja by some of his contemporaries!

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

REMEMBERING SURESH TENDULKAR

HE COMBINED ADVOCACY OF ECONOMIC REFORM WITH DEEP COMMITMENT TO ENDING POVERTY, TO THE LEFT'S DISMAY


 With the passing away of Professor Suresh Tendulkar on June 21, 2011, India has lost a leading light of the economics profession and a star scholar of poverty in India. His departure has left India a little less modest, gentle, wise and forthright — qualities he embodied aplenty.


I neither had the good fortune to study under Suresh nor to teach alongside him. As a result, even though I came to know him as far back as 35 years ago, my interactions with him were intermittent and brief, many of them by email. But that hardly mattered. So friendly, forthcoming and transparent was he that you could meet him once and only briefly and still walk away with the feeling that you knew him well.


During my first summer in the United States, I had the good fortune of landing a summer internship at the World Bank. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who was then the chief of the Income Distribution Division in the elite Development Research Center of the World Bank, had hired me. Jointly working with him on the project to which I was assigned was Suresh. Already a well-known figure in the areas of poverty and planning models, the latter had come on a two-year visit to the Bank from the Indian Statistical institute where he taught at the time.
During the summer, I learned of the close attention Suresh paid to numbers. He would often express pride in having dirtied his hands in numbers for years. The availability of a research assistant notwithstanding, he would insist on preparing his own tables on a yellow pad with squares. At the time, I thought that this was a waste of his talent and valuable time, only to realise decades later that he had got this right.


Working on my recent book on India, I found myself preparing my own tables and charts. It was then that I realised that doing so conferred two distinct advantages over relying on a research assistant to do the task: the process of manipulating the numbers and charts for a reader-friendly display allowed me to refine my thinking and also helped me keep the important numbers in my head, giving me advantage over the opponents in future policy debates.


In my subsequent interactions with Suresh, I learned that his mild manner notwithstanding, he could be deadly to authors who tried to claim too much on the basis of too little evidence. But he was symmetric: he proactively sought frank criticisms of his own work from other scholars. He saw this process as the key to sharpening his arguments.


Thus, in one specific instance, Suresh felt that the authors of two studies, which had received disproportionate amount of media attention, had pulled wool over the readers' eyes: the evidence they offered came nowhere near substantiating their claims. So he shot off a set of very critical unsolicited comments to one of the authors. Since I happened to be in correspondence with Suresh on similar issues at the time, he shared those comments with me. The pointed nature of the arguments in the comments did not surprise me — that was as expected of Suresh — but the sharpness of words did.


Nevertheless, when I wrote back to him that he had cut the authors at the knees, he replied that this was far from his intention 'as that would make me terribly uncomfortable!' His objective, he noted, was merely to engage the authors 'in intellectual combat and in the process to clarify my own thoughts.' He added that in a previous email he had even sent the author one of his own jointly authored papers seeking his 'RUTHLESSLY CRITICAL comments...' [Emphasis in the original.] "So, you can see I am being absolutely symmetrical and wanted to provoke them to read [my joint] paper and respond with the same bluntness as that indeed would help me clarify our own arguments."

 The left critics could never figure how to deal with Suresh as an unwavering advocate of economic reforms. So beyond reproach was his commitment to poverty alleviation that they did not dare try to dismiss him with the pejorative label "neo-liberal". With his impeccable credentials as a student of poverty, Suresh could fearlessly defend policies that he saw as in the national interest even if they made him unpopular with his peers. Thus, for example, as a member of the last Pay Commission, he became the lone dissenter to the recommendation of salary increase for civil servants without any consideration of merit.


Suresh remained fully engaged in scholarly activities till the end. On March 31-April 1, 2011, the Columbia Program on Indian Economic Polices, which Jagdish Bhagwati and I head, and the NCAER organised a conference on "Trade, Poverty, Inequality and Democracy" in New Delhi. At our invitation, Suresh not only came to speak at the opening session of the conference but also actively participated from the floor in other sessions. Some of his last photographs taken at the conference now adorn the NCAER website.
It is testimony to Suresh's stature among economists in India that at the last meeting of The Indian Econometric Society (TIES), which I was privileged to attend, the members unanimously elected him as its next president. In early April, when I last corresponded with him, Suresh was already working to line up guest speakers. He also planned to visit the New York City and offered to help our program in any way he could. Alas, destiny had other plans for him and he will now be missed not just at the next TIES meeting in Pondicherry but all other similar events!

 

ARVIND PANAGARIYA PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FACE OFF

SHOULD THE CBI COME UNDER THE PURVIEW OF RTI?

 

JOGINDER SINGH FORMER DIRECTOR CBI Keeping it Outside RTI is the Right Move
The Madras High Court has issued a notice, to the Union government on a public interest litigation seeking to declare a recent notification exempting Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from the purview of Right to Information Act as ultra vires. The position is, that CBI is not only an investigating agency, but also collects information about the corrupt practices and other violations.
Some say that it is a retrograde step and the CBI should not be out of the purview of Right to Information Act. It is due to a mistaken impression, as the Right to Information is not an act to combat corruption and malpractices either in the government or in the society. Each law passed by Parliament has a specific purpose. It would be interesting for the agitators, to find out as to how many cases have been registered against corruption and other laws after getting information under RTI. Investigation of cases is done, as per the procedure laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code, within the parameters prescribed by the Indian Evidence Act. Investigation is never done, in the purview of the pubic or media glare. During investigation, CBI checks and cross-checks the facts stated by the witnesses or the alleged accused, before coming to any conclusion about his guilt or otherwise. It can also involve tests like DNA or referring the matter to Forensic Science Laboratory. Not only during the investigation a full picture of any crime is to be constructed, but also credible evidence gathered to prove that a crime has been committed. The so-called activists confuse between a moral wrong and a legal violation of law. In any case, CBI files a charge-sheet, within normally 60 to 90 days. Once the case goes to the court, each charged person is given a complete set of evidence, including the statement of witnesses, scientific evidence, if any, and other complete papers. So all papers of investigation come under the public domain and anybody can get papers from the court. If any new facts are brought out by the so-called activists, a reinvestigation can always be done. The decision taken to save the CBI from busy-bodies who have nothing to do but seek publicity is a right one.

 

NIKHIL DEY RTI ACTIVIST Decision to Keep it Out is Unjustified

The decision to exempt the CBI from the provisions of the RTI Act are completely unjustified. The decision will harm the CBI as well as the RTI Act. In fact, all institutions in the country should be under the purview of the RTI Act. In any case, the exemption for intelligence and security agencies contained under section 24 of the Act cannot apply to an investigating agency. The CBI might carry out some work that requires gathering of intelligence, and it may well investigate many sensitive cases related to security of the state. However, the RTI Act contains adequate safeguards that can protect it from divulging sensitive information. Section 8 of the RTI Act exempts the disclosure of information that would prejudicially affect the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign countries, law and order, safety of an informer, investigation of a crime, etc.
There is a fundamental difference between exempting certain classes of information and providing a blanket exemption to the whole agency. By exempting the agency, it is being freed from the standards of transparency and accountability borne out of scrutiny from the citizen. There are many cases the CBI investigates where it needs to work with ordinary citizens in an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust. The CBI enquiry ordered by the Supreme Court of India into corruption in six districts in Orissa is a case in point. In a scenario of poor credibility of investigating agencies, the CBI is still the first one called to investigate matters of grand corruption. As the former director of the CBI who worked under the RTI regime, Vijay Shankar, has said, the RTI will help the CBI perform better and with more credibility. At a time when the government is struggling to show that it can create an effective anti-corruption agency, this move will irreparably damage its own credibility. Finally, this misinterpretation of an intelligence and security agency could open the floodgates to a spate of departments wanting to claim exemption from the RTI. It will be the end of the capacity of the RTI Act to enforce transparency and ensure that accountability is to the people of the country. The government must revoke this decision.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

ZONAL FOLLY ON MANUFACTURING

MANMOHAN S SODHI


Consider a hypothetical country, 16% of whose economy comprises egg production. How would we grow the economy? Eggs fall on the ground and break; so, having identified the root cause holding back production as gravity, the government proposes "gravity-free zones" or GFZs. That way, while eggs may break in other areas, they will not be broken inside the GFZs so that the production of eggs will increase overall. More eggs will lead to more chickens and more eggs still, and hence, the percentage of egg production will increase from 16% to 25% of the economy in a few years and the economy would grow as well. However, there are two questions: (1) can we really suspend gravity and if we can, why not make the whole country gravity-free? and (2) if we did create isolated GFZs, what are other things we should also do to achieve growth?


Now consider the Indian government's thinking: there is a need to increase the manufacturing component of the economy from 16% to 25%. The root causes holding back manufacturing are the difficulties with acquiring land, inflexible labour laws, inadequate infrastructure and taxation. As a solution, the government has proposed the National Manufacturing & Investment Zones or NMIZs, where the abovementioned difficulties can be suspended with all the wonderful things to follow as with our hypothetical country above.


According to a discussion paper posted by the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP), "A major policy intervention by creating National Manufacturing & Investment Zone(s) will be taken up by DIPP to push the manufacturing share in GDP.... these NMIZs would act as the key enabler in driving the growth of the sector in India. Good physical infrastructure, a progressive exit policy, structures to support clean and green technologies, appropriate investment incentives, and business-friendly approval mechanisms will be the cornerstones of this new initiative."


The first question: Can we really create NMIZs and if we can, why not make the whole country an NMIZ? If we can provide good infrastructure, progressive exit policies, business-friendly approvals, etc., why not provide these throughout the country? Creating NMIZs could be harder than making the whole country NMIZ, for instance, because of games that states and the Centre could play. Although industry may welcome the proposed NMIZs now, will it do so later? If you want to add capacity and you have a site in an NMIZ, wonderful! But if you have adequate capacity, there is a problem: (1) if you keep your plants where they are, you would be at a cost disadvantage relative to the competition from those setting up plants in NMIZs, and (2) if you shut some of your existing plants outside the NMIZs to create capacity in the NMIZ, you will have labour problems at the plants set for closure. The second question: If the government does create NMIZs as stated in this discussion document, what else should be done to achieve the growth goals? The NMIZs as proposed would be islands in a stormy sea where the difficulties of infrastructure, labour, land and taxation would remain; so, something would have to be done about that sea as well.


Recently, the chairman of a large corporation gave me valuable advice: "Turn your disadvantages into advantages." To do so, we need to consider new business and manufacturing models. For instance, manufacturers would make a generic unfinished product at low cost availing the benefits of the NMIZs and economies of scale, move this unfinished product through the existing infrastructure close to the point of consumption (or export) outside the NMIZ, and then let small and micro-enterprises finish manufacturing the product and sell it locally (or export). That way, you skill people for manufacturing and maintenance at even the village or basti level, while leveraging innovation and economies of scale at big plants inside the NMIZ. And doing so is green because you decrease transportation costs and distance overall: indeed, developing micro-enterprises is usually suggested as being better for the environment. Thus, what you do outside the NMIZ is as important as what you do inside the NMIZ to increase output.


But it is the industry rather than the government that would have to innovate and evolve these new models for manufacturing. New design philosophies would be needed for design or easy assembly or finish and for easy repair as well as new ways for partnering with small or micro-enterprises to share profits 'equitably'. Thus, our hypothetical country will need to massproduce eggs in the GFZs where they don't break and make different types of omelettes close to the point of consumption. An egg needs to be broken to make an omelette; so, gravity would be an advantage! More eggs for the economy, no egg in the face for the government!
(The author is professor at ISB Munjal Global Manufacturing Institute)

 

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

REST IN PEACE, PETER PARKER

WHY BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS DESERVES APPLAUSE FOR MAKING US WAIL

 

Sunday night, a man made me cry. I, like many others, knew Brian Michael Bendis was going to kill Peter Parker, but wasn't aware how acutely it would ache to see the webslinger lying lifelessly in Mary Jane's arms. Spider-Man is dead. Sob. Only, he kinda isn't.

 

So here's the skinny, true believers: Peter is alive and kicking and firing quips faster than his webshooter in Marvel's mainline comic book, The Amazing Spider-Man. This is the series that's been around since 1963. In 2000, however, Marvel launched another imprint, a fresh magazine called Ultimate Spider-Man, aimed at reintroducing Stan Lee's Spidey mythos to new generations. With Bendis as head writer, this retelling – with a young teenaged Spidey working at the Daily Bugle website – was fresh, original and devastatingly true to the spirit of the classic character. A younger, more clueless Spider-Man, finding his own way even as, over at ASM, the war-hardened hero battles newer, darker, more intense demons and dares to brave yet another date.
    And now the boy – all of sixteen and very recently reunited with Mary Jane Watson, the redheaded love of his confused highschool life – is dead, and it bloody well hurts. It hurts because of just how good a job Bendis and his colleagues did with the character, winning over Spidey purists with skill and sincerity. It hurts because a great kid just bit the dust, killed by naïveté and nobility. It hurts because we were just getting used to watching him grow.

 

Lamenting the death of a fictional character might seem like folly to many, but we've all felt it happen: teenage girls around the world sobbed when Goose died in Top Gun, or when Shah Rukh did in Darr; their mothers – and mine – took to their kerchiefs when Mihir Virani of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi kicked the bucket. Innumerable great works of literary genius revolve around the death of central characters, and so besieged was the Strand Magazine in 1893 by readers outraged by the death of Sherlock Holmes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to resurrect that most iconic of detectives, even if he didn't want to.

 

Bendis wept while writing out Peter's death, he admitted. His wife, overwhelmed by the sight of a grown man bawling, wondered aloud how come he hadn't felt such grief when people in their family passed away. Yet it is an understandable emotion, for as we watch a character live and grow – especially in serialised form – his or her glories and foibles help us really get under the character's skin, to know what makes him or her tick. Truly considered, it is this serialised form that breathes authenticity into the characters, making a sitcom death potentially far more profound than one in a film. We have seen the character grow, we have run into the character over and over again, establishing a reliable familiarity akin more to genuine friendship than anything else. When a character we have come to count on dies, even in purely dramatic fiction – when Colonel Blake died in M.A.S.H, or when that fellow who said 'I say, chaps' died in Fauji, or when JK Rowling kills off a lovable primary character – we feel the ache of loss, loss of a familiar comfort, the sort we think we'll always have.

 

Today, comic books may be the best examples of serialised narrative. Characters die all the time, to be honest. They also bounce miraculously back to life, ever since Superman came back from the great beyond. It's hard to place much stock in a superhero death story these days, with both stables Marvel and DC having massive nearannual events which completely shake up their respective universes only to usually settle down later with exasperating convenience.

 But this feels different, simply because of how immaculately it was handled. We saw it coming loud and clear – Death Of Spider-Man was splashed all over the press long before Peter stopped breathing – but it felt like a train wreck anyway. Bendis assures us some new kid, galvanised by Parker's death, will pick up where he left off and be the new Spider-Man, and that – now that we've seen this gutwrenching tragedy – seems easy enough to believe. I know I'd pull on the costume in a trice.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CHANGES IN CRICKET: BCCI GETS ITS WAY

 

The far-reaching changes in the way the game will be played — if the recommendations of the International Cricket Council's chief executives' committee are accepted at the ongoing executive board meeting in Hong Kong — mark the next step in the evolution of the sport in tune with changing times. Several of the alterations mooted relate to 50-over cricket and are aimed at shaking the game out of the rut it seems to have fallen into. Others simply accept that cricket is no longer the gentlemen's game that it was once believed to be. In essence, what the ICC's cricket committee has put forward is the sum of amendments noticed in the way the ODI format needed to be tweaked. The use of new balls from either end in a 50-over game will do away with the need to change the ball after 34 overs as is now mandatory. The compulsory use of the power play overs between the 16th and 40th seeks to break the boring pattern which ODIs had settled into. Harsher punishments for captains in cases of slack over rates seek to ensure that matches do not meander as they tend to do now with endless adjustments in the field setting and whatnot. Most interesting, though, is the acceptance/capitulation of the ICC to Indian demands over the Umpire Decision Review System. The Indian cricket board has for the past two years held out against accepting the existing ball-tracking technology that the Indians first fell foul of on their 2009 tour of Sri Lanka, and had steadfastly opposed in all bilateral series thereafter. The ICC has now agreed to do away with the Hawk-Eye programme in leg before wicket decisions that would follow the line of the ball till the point it struck a batsman's pads, and thereafter predict its likely path. With the referral system now confined to infra-red technology (Hot-Spot) and enhanced or "clean" audio from stump mikes (Snicko-Meter), it will eliminate the possibility of challenging LBW decisions based on where the ball pitched simply because the third or TV umpire will no longer have access to the dark wicket-to-wicket strip overlaid on a virtual pitch when such calls were being made. In doing so, the Indians have achieved victory of sorts for all the other member nations of the ICC had no problems with the admittedly flawed system currently in use. Having been at the receiving end once, the Boys in Blue were chary of being singed again in a hurry, and found the ideal argument to buttress their opposition in that the technology had to be foolproof. On that ground, this issue — which was threatening to snowball into a major one on India's coming tour of England — can be looked at as a victory for both the ICC as well as the BCCI. With India appearing to be something of a bully in the matter, it could well have ended up vitiating the atmosphere during this summer series for some of the English side had already begun to air snide comments about India running scared of umpire reviews. That hopefully will now stop. Most of all, though, purists will rue the passing away of the "runner" wherein the fielding captain — if so inclined — would graciously agree to a request that a settled batsman had injured himself sufficiently enough to require a substitute to scamper between the wickets even as he went about the business of piling up yet more runs. For now, this will be restricted to international cricket, so all is not lost!

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

INNER STRENGTH FIRST

 

BELEAGUERED THOUGH it is for various reasons, some of them of its own creation, the Union government's decision to appoint a task force on national security, internal and external, merits a welcome. It hasn't come a day too soon. The composition of the task force is also reassuring. Its chairman, Naresh Chandra, is a former defence secretary, home secretary, Cabinet secretary, ambassador to the US and currently, chairman of the National Security Advisory Board. The choice of other security experts on the panel, including a diplomat and a non-official, is equally apt. However, there is a deficiency in the panel's terms of reference, though even its limited remit is of undoubted importance and urgency. The group of experts has been asked to recommend both the broad strategy and specific steps to cope with major changes in external and internal threats to India's national security, keeping in mind the nuclear environment, security challenges and the country's needs of energy and raw materials. There are areas where internal security challenges and external threats are inextricably intermixed. But in the field of purely internal security the daunting task is to curb and eventually eliminate what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accurately describes as the "biggest internal security threat": Left-wing extremism, also called Naxalism or Maoism. To achieve this objective successfully would require an adroit combination of removing the legitimate and long-ignored grievances of the tribal population of the Red Corridor on one hand and elimination of the woeful and chronic inadequacies of paramilitary and state police forces on the other. Sadly, these formations continue to be ill-equipped, ill-trained and badly led. Repeated killings of security forces' personnel speak for themselves. The task force therefore has its task cut out for it. Without detracting from the significance of the work assigned to the existing panel, let me say that what the country needs, and needs immediately, is a comprehensive and thorough review and reform of the entire national security structure, especially of the state of the three armed forces, their relations with one another and the relationship between all three and the civilians of the ministry of defence (MoD). To their credit, at the time of every crisis the armed forces have managed to rise to the occasion and, despite their many limitations, including those of resources, managed to cope. However, to muddle through this is not enough. Surely, not at a time when China's still expanding military might is much greater than ours in both quantity and quality, the Chinese deployments and infrastructure along our border far superior to ours, and the "all-weather" military cooperation between China and Pakistan is in full blast. Whoever heard 19 retired military officers of three-star rank on the current state of the armed forces at a seminar in New Delhi recently had felt a chill down the spine. The consensus among the speakers was that the Army was "overage", "under-provisioned even in ammunition", dangerously short of officers at the cutting-edge level of majors and captains but had a needless glut of lieutenant-generals. Even more depressing was the regret expressed at the seminar over growing corruption within the armed forces, underscored by the Adarsh scam and the court-martial of serving lieutenant-generals for the first time since Independence. The dismal controversy over the Army Chief's date of birth, which should have been squashed instantly, has become a running sore. The shortage of fighter squadrons in the Indian Air Force is frightening and will persist for years because it will take a long time for the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to arrive. Their purchase has yet to be finalised. Mercifully, the Navy is in somewhat better shape. Above all, the paramount issue of inter-services integration, under a chief of defence staff (CDS), and of removal of apartheid between the armed forces and the MoD remains unsettled, resulting in such aberrations as the Air Chief's public pronouncement only the other day that CDS was unnecessary. If this is indeed the considered view of the top policymakers, then the appointment of a CDS should be firmly ruled out for ever with whatever consequences this would have. An acute problem, in that case, would be how to have effective integrated Theatre Commands, without which a modern war cannot be fought. Up to now, the curious CDS story is as follows. In February 2001 — in the light of the report of the Kargil Committee, headed by the incomparable late K. Subrahmanyam — a group of ministers (GoM), presided over by former Bharatiya Janata Party president Lal Krishna Advani, had strongly recommended that the armed forces should have a CDS and concomitant institutions. A host of other suggestions of the GoM were accepted and implemented (with varying degrees of success) but the one on CDS was kept "pending". It is no secret that the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, held it over for two reasons: First, because of the "bad blood" created by the Air Force's vehement opposition to the proposal (nine former Air Chiefs had called on him to voice their protest) and secondly, the advice he had sought and received from former President R. Venkataraman and former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, both of whom had earlier served as defence ministers. Some weeks later I had occasion to ask Mr Vajpayee how long it would be before a decision was taken. He replied that the issue would be settled before the end of the year. Not only this did not happen, but the matter hangs fire to this day, often causing acrimony among the defence forces. It is time that the crucial matter was resolved one way or the other without further dithering. That, of course, is not all. The working of the entire national security system, including that of the National Security Council and the Defence Research and Development Organisation, also needs to be reviewed holistically so that it can be upgraded and even reorganised, if necessary. Another task force for this purpose should include national security experts, scientists and economists aware of the imperatives of national defence. Whatever the proposed panel's nomenclature, it must have the status of what the Americans call a blue-ribbon commission and the British describe as a royal commission.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHAT AMERICA NEEDS IS AN AWAKENING

 

Philosopher Isaiah Berlin once remarked that the United States was "aesthetically inferior but morally superior" to Europe. On the aesthetics, there's not much doubt. Savoir vivre is a French expression that English finds it needs. Style is many things but one reason Italy elevates it is because it is a fine disguise for lost power. When you're running the world you don't have much time for Windsor knots. The aesthetics of European cities offer the consolation of the past's grandeur but seldom the adrenaline of future possibility. It's wonderful to be lost in Bruges or Amsterdam, Venice or Vienna. The palaces bear no relation to current obligations. They have become outsized repositories of beauty. Sleepwalk through them and feel content. The only problem is awakening. One of the things you awaken to is that it's now almost a century since Europe ripped itself to shreds at Verdun. Geoffrey Wheatcroft recently calculated in the New York Review of Books that British losses on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, given respective populations, were the equivalent of "280,000 GI's killed between dawn and dusk". The Great War had its mid-century European sequel. And so power passed to America. It was of a United States ascendant that Berlin wrote, a confident nation assuming responsibility for the world. He found it "morally superior" to Europe. I think he meant above all the can-do vigour of a young nation still able to dream big and gather its collective resources to realise great projects. Not for America the moral relativism of tired European powers that, ambition exhausted or crushed, settled for comfort and compromise. I was talking about puritanism the other day with an American friend who observed: "Don't knock it — that's what got us this country in the first place!" There's something to that: America has been inseparable from a city-on-the-hill idealism but also from a strong work ethic. When I became an American citizen and had to do an English test the second sentence of my dictation was: "I plan to work very hard every day". But of course you can't work if you don't have a job and today that's the situation of 9.1 per cent of Americans and 24 per cent of American youth. These are shocking numbers that aren't temporary blips. They reflect shifts in the global economy. Every year developing economies are producing tens of millions of middle-class people who can do American jobs. What's most worrying is that the American response to this crisis seems to be one of a country in the middle age, a nation that has lost its can-do moral edge, the ability to come together and overcome. In this critical regard US President Barack Obama has failed to deliver. Berlin observed that Americans were a "2x2=4 sort of people who want yes or no for an answer". They've gotten neither of late, only muddle. Former US President Bill Clinton recently took Obama to task in Newsweek, proposing 14 measures to create employment. Given that the Clinton presidency saw the creation of 23 million jobs his advice is probably worth a glance even if it grates. I was struck by two underlying themes: the need for an energy policy and for an industrial policy. Here's why: It's absurd that "climate change" has become an unpronounceable phrase under Obama and that green technology initiatives have been stymied by sterile ideological dispute. Intelligent use of resources makes strategic sense for America whatever your hang-up on global warming. It's equally absurd that private US corporations, having made $1.68 trillion in profits in the last quarter of 2010 and sitting on piles of cash, are doing fine while job numbers languish and more Americans struggle. None of this makes moral or any other sense. America needs an energy policy and an industrial policy. It has to lead in green technology and — purist capitalist reflexes notwithstanding — it must find ways to get corporate America involved in a national revival. In these regards it might look to Europe: Copenhagen now heats itself in winter by burning its own garbage; Germany has six per cent unemployment in part because the government and corporations have cooperated to keep jobs. One of Clinton's energy ideas related to the cash incentive Obama had offered for start-up green companies. America moved in the past few years, the former President noted, from having less than two per cent of the world market in manufacturing high-powered batteries for hybrid or all-electric cars to 20 per cent, with 30 new battery plants built or under construction. Then — wait for it — Republicans in Congress wouldn't extend the plan because they viewed it as a "spending programme" rather than a tax cut. This is madness, the ne plus ultra of American politicians betraying the American people. As Clinton noted, "We could get lots of manufacturing jobs in the same way" — that is, combining green energy and industrial policy. It's past time for Obama to lead in these areas. Americans, Berlin also suggested, are the "largest assemblage of fundamentally benevolent human beings ever gathered together". But their representatives have lost their moral compass. History tells us where that leads.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IS LAND THE NEW HIGH-RISK ASSET?

 

Land is fast becoming a high-risk asset in many parts of India. Once a relatively abundant resource, especially in areas away from major urban centres, land is increasingly becoming difficult to acquire and prone to uncertainties. Landholders, especially politically orga-nised farmers, are resisting large-scale government land acquisitions and even questioning past buyouts. Much of this is the result of forcible land acquisition by state governments at rates determined by administrative fiat and not market. An antiquated colonial law on land acquisition has allowed local governments to compulsorily acquire land merely by declaring it to be in public interest and without issuing notice to the land owner. The original idea behind this 1894 law was to get land for essential works such as roads, public buildings, railways and similar infrastructure projects. In recent times, however, much of the acquired farm acreage has gone towards private housing schemes. Much of these lands acquired by local govern-ments have been and continue to be transferred to private real-estate players, industrialists and powerful individuals at relatively modest prices. This has helped private players, and in some instances government institutions, reap huge profits, leaving villagers dispossessed and marginalised. Resentment against this clearly unfair process has been growing in different parts of the country and in recent times has become a potent political issue. The best-publicised examples of this include the Singur land agitation in West Bengal, the Bhatta-Parsaul episode in Uttar Pradesh, the anti-Posco agitation in Orissa and the Jaitapur protests in Maharashtra. The cannier politicians in the country are beginning to realise that land acquisition has become an issue fraught with great political, and at times, security risks. Judging from available trends, the political class is responding by increasingly washing its hands of this process, even though land has often been the single largest source of political funds. Earlier, anti-acquisition agitations were localised affairs, a significant percentage confined to remote tribal areas, that attracted little media or political attention. The politicisation of this process was inevitable and once politicians like Bengal's Chief Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, and more recently the Congress' Rahul Gandhi, jumped into the fray to make capital of such agitations, the equations changed abruptly and dramatically. Today, every political party is fast getting into the land agitation bandwagon. In Odisha, five different political parties — the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Forward Bloc, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal — have joined peasants in their agitation against the South Korean giant Posco's $12 billion steel project. Government land acqui-sition in many parts of the country has consequently become the principal political issue of the day. Even the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, whose government has been sitting on the proposed changes to existing land acquisition law for the past four years, has commented on the urgent need to amend them. In contrast, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati, has moved swiftly to contain the political fallout of the Bhatta-Parsaul uprising, where two policemen were shot dead by protesters and an unknown number of villagers killed in police retaliation, by issuing an amendment to the land acquisition process. Ms Mayawati has declared that the government will not involve itself in acquiring land for private developers. Further clauses in her land acquisition policy stipulate that bulk land transfers will not be valid unless 70 per cent of the farmers consent to the project and that, apart from cash compensation, 16 per cent of the developed land will be given to those dispossessed by the acquisitions. Ms Banerjee has not as yet legislated on the subject but has told a group of industrialists that the state government would not involve itself in land acquisition for private industry. This declaration has left industry cold. For, as the chief of the ITC group pointed out, the do-it-yourself suggestion has little practical merit given that even his company has not been able to get land for its project in the state even after trying for five long years. Telling the private sector to go its own way in land acquisition is not going to work. Industrialists, real-estate developers and even agricultural-estate developers require governmental assurances and guarantees without which the whole process becomes highly uncertain. Two further risks have become apparent in recent times: legal issues and renewed agitations for retrospective additional payments even after sale has been long concluded. In Noida, for instance, farmers have been agitating for more money from private developers on the ground that the value of the land they had sold previously has risen sharply in recent times! Public sector and infrastructure projects too are bound to be hit. Recently, the government scrapped plans to set up an expressways authority to speed up road construction because it would involve land acquisitions. Several railways projects, including a prestigious freight-corridor proposal, have been held up by protests in parts of Maharashtra. Such protests have only been growing all across the country. The problem is unlikely to disappear soon for several reasons. It is very likely that more and more state governments will follow the non-interventionist Mayawati-Banerjee model. The pendulum that once swung in favour of state intervention in the matter of land acquisitions is rapidly swinging in the opposite direction. The result is another disequilibrium that is bound to add to business uncertainties in this country and stymie growth. * The author is an independent security and political risk consultant

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NSG ENDS WAIVER

INDIA TAKEN FOR A RIDE


THE 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting at Noordwijk in the Netherlands last Friday decided to "strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies," which effectively nullifies the clean waiver India received in 2008 prior to signing the Indo-US nuclear agreement. Taking credit for the agreement, the UPA government had claimed India was the only country in the world which had not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and yet was able to engage in civil nuclear trade with other willing nations. Carried away by this achievement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the people of India loved the then US President George Bush. Even at that time, the USA was not prepared to export enrichment and reprocessing technology to India unless it signed the NPT. The entire 123 Agreement was to bind India to the status of a non-nuclear weapon country and surrendering its right to reprocess spent fuel even under the International Atomic Energy Agency. The PM had assured Parliament that India would not compromise on uninterrupted nuclear fuel supply to its imported reactors and it would be allowed to build a stockpile of fuel. It could take corrective measures in case of fuel supply disruption. He also assured that India's sovereign right to conduct nuclear tests would not be taken away by the agreement. But the US-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act passed by Congress and the Senate had a new provision ~ the US President should write to the Senate saying he would influence NSG countries to apply the same restrictions as the USA would in the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to India. Another modification said if India tested a nuclear device, the US President would ensure that no country came to the rescue of India. Dr Singh has been silent on these provisions. The CPI-M and the  BJP had objected to the terms of the agreement as it compromised India's strategic autonomy. Their stand has now been vindicated by the weekend decision taken by the NSG at Noordwijk. Commenting on the decision, the USA said it was not at variance with India's clean waiver or with the civil nuclear cooperation Washington has committed itself to. It smacks of the two-facedness of President Obama who after promising to bring back American soldiers from Afghanistan ended up with a surge of US troops. The global reassessment of the efficacy of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster has given India an opportunity to revisit its energy mix but Dr Singh remains adamant on achieving 40,000 MW nuclear power capacity by 2020. After the NSG fiasco, what are we to make of Obama's statement during his visit to India last November that Indo-US relations will be a defining partnership of the 21st century?


JAWANS JEOPARDISED

'FORCE' IS MORE THAN NUMBERS

PROVERBIALLY fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The ORBAT (order of battle) is somewhat different in the hotbed of Maoist activity: it is a case of fools rushing "angels" in to adverse situations for which adequate planning and preparation have not been made. Evidence of that ~ which should bring shame to everyone from the union home minister down to the local police chief ~ is the virtually non-existent medical back-up for jawans injured in anti-Maoist operations. Statistics admittedly lend themselves to varying interpretations, but they are never totally irrelevant. Hence the calculation that the survival rate of police/paramilitary personnel seriously injured is a dismal 28 per cent merits deep reflection. For it actually mirrors conditions on the ground. There are no hospitals in all of Chhattisgarh dedicated to treating injured jawans, and local medical facilities hardly suffice to meet "normal" civilian needs. The few helicopters tasked with airlifting very serious cases to Jagdalpur are not "air ambulances" ~ all the victim has is an anti-clotting kit to reduce blood-loss. And expert medical opinion points to the critical need for attention within an hour of sustaining injury. Are not those who "talk tough" and launch major operations not guilty of crime against the jawan? They have neglected their responsibility to ensure the man in the line of fire is equipped for the mission on which he has been deployed. Not just a dearth of medical support; the jawans' camps are mosquito-infested, malaria runs riot. Few of the men leading the operations have been specially trained, have knowledge of the ground. They repeatedly walk into well-prepared traps in areas previously peppered with powerful IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and where small pressure mines have been sprinkled to prevent escape. And then heavily armed Maoists move in for the "kill". What pass as mine-protected-vehicles have proved ineffective. No wonder the morale of the security forces is so dangerously low, they are aware that they constitute the proverbial 'cannon fodder'. Despite such clinching proof that the "military" element of the anti-Maoist strategy has got it all wrong, the only "remedy" that the state and central governments have is inducting more paramilitary forces. Further jeopardising the hapless jawans:  hapless because neither neta nor babu cares a farthing for them. It is with much fanfare that top-heavy North Block talks of the NSG, NIA, NATGRID and what have you. The basics of those boots on the ground in insurgency-hit regions have consistently been "given the boot".


KHAPS AND POLLS

BETWEEN PERPETRATORS & PARTICIPANTS

THE Constitution allows an assembly of people and it must be acknowledged that not all khap panchayat meetings are convened with  murderous intent. What matters most of all is the imperative to end "honour killings", a societal scourge in the 21st century. It is of relatively lesser moment whether the participants at a khap meeting will be eligible to contest elections. The Law Commission would appear to be driven more by electoral considerations rather than the crime per se. The reported draft lends a new dimension to the Representation of the People's Act when it recommends that mere participation in a khap congregation would render the participant ineligible for five years to contest elections to Parliament, assemblies, even panchayats. This is a mite presumptuous as not every participant is a prospective electoral candidate. Yet for those who nurse such ambitions, the amended law will doubtless serve as a deterrent as will the proposal to make the offence cognisable and non-bailable. But given the constitutional sanction to meetings per se, it is doubtful if khap meetings can be banned altogether. Small wonder why the draft has stopped short of recommending that khaps be abolished. The Law Commission's draft comes in response to the Law ministry's move to tighten the law against the self-appointed matrimonial cop. The exercise needs to be sharper and focused on the perpetrators of 'honour killings' against same gotra, inter-caste and inter-community marriages. Lest it create a flutter in northern India's societal roost, the crime is yet to be bracketed with murder, which it really is. And whether or not these perpetrators can contest elections need not detain the commission just yet; after all, a bar on convicts entering Parliament is yet to be enacted seven years after the Prime Minister signalled his intent. The law needs to be suitably strengthened to empower the administration to crack down on honour killers. There has been little or no effort towards that end. It is inherently a law and order issue, and not really one of electoral eligibility.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

AMBIT OF THE LOKPAL

WHERE DOES THE PRIME MINISTER STAND?

RAJINDAR SACHAR


AS was only to be expected, the government and Anna Hazare's activists have disagreed on vital points. The question of including the Prime Minister within the ambit of the Lokpal is being blown out of proportion by the government's apologists. The Prime Minister, though head of the government, is only the first amongst equals. In a democratic country, there is no scope of a political vacuum as the cabinet wields collective responsibility. Experience doesn't suggest that all our Prime Ministers have been above board. Some of the allegations are credible enough. The standard excuse has been that in the absence of an independent entity such as the Lokpal to enquire into these allegations, the ruling party was able successfully to scuttle any honest independent enquiry.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has publicly consented to be included within the jurisdiction as did his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee. The professed concern of the ministers is puerile; they appear to be  more loyalist than the king.


The ministers want the Prime Minister to be excluded from the purview of the Lokpal Bill. The argument is specious in view of the observation of the standing committee on law and justice that the Bill should also cover the Prime Minister. The committee is headed by the Congress spokesperson, Jayanti Natarajan.
This cynicism is reinforced when we find that Digvijay Singh, the self-proclaimed alter ego of Rahul Gandhi, supports the idea that the Lokpal's jurisdiction must cover the Prime Minister. Hopefully, Rahul will spell out his position on the matter, a major bone of contention.


The suggestion to exclude the PM is sought to be justified by the ministers on the puerile plea that the Prime Minister is covered by the  Prevention  of  Corruption Act. Surprisingly, the ministers are agreeable to the idea that the Prime Minister can be prosecuted on the basis of a report by a junior police officer, but not at the instance of a high-powered body like the Lokpal. Under the Corruption Act, the CBI needs the government's sanction before initiating any investigation. Which subordinate entity will dare to sanction the Prime Minister's prosecution? The government cannot fool the people all the time. To quote John Adams, one of the founding-fathers of the US Constitution" "The people have a right, an inalienable, indisputable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge ~ I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers".
Another  ludicrous argument advanced by ministers is that the exemption will not be applicable after the Prime Minister demits office. This is akin to locking the stable after the horse has bolted. Incidentally, even the  toothless draft Lokpal Bill 2010, included the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament.
The inclusion of the higher judiciary, notably judges of the Supreme Court, within the ambit of the Lokpal is undesirable. I am conscious of the fact that certain members of the higher judiciary have tarnished the institution. I am only suggesting a separate National Judicial and Accountability Commission. It can be called Lokpal (Judicial), vested with the same powers as the Lokpal. This will serve the purpose and still maintain the distance between the executive and the judiciary as mandated by the Constitution.
Minister Kapil Sibal only exposes his ignorance when he poses a rhetorical question: "Which PM in office has been prosecuted anywhere in the world?" Possibly, Mr Sibal was not suitably assisted by his  usually competent juniors when he used to appear in court. Now, he is being misled by his public relations officer. Otherwise, he would have been told that the present Prime Minister of Italy is being prosecuted before a magistrate on charges of corruption and mafia contact and sexual deviance. In France, proceedings were initiated against the then President Chirac for misappropriation of public money. In Israel a former President has been sentenced to imprisonment for his deviant sexual behaviour.

Mr Sibal apparently holds the masses ~ protesting against corruption ~ in contempt when he compares Anna Hazare "to Pied Piper of Hamlin". Cautiously enough, the minister did not complete the story. Those who are said to have followed the Pied Piper were rats and by following the piper they just drowned in the sea. I need not comment on such crude and insulting reference to the masses who are waging a struggle against corruption.
The government is spuriously trying to project Parliament as the real sovereign. This is fallacious. To quote Dicey, the British constitutional authority; "The  electorate is in fact the sovereign of England and the conduct of the legislature should be regulated by understandings of which the object is to secure the conformity of parliament to the will of the nation".


The government appears to be against the protest meetings organised by the people to buttress the demand for worthwhile legislation against corruption. These meetings have even been described as undemocratic. According to the government, the only course before the people is to persuade legislators to pass the necessary law. If they do not agree, then the people should try out the option of  elections. This is sheer heresy and has been negated by the Supreme Court in Dr. Lohia's case (1960). He had been arrested for asking farmers not to pay the increased rates of canal water to the UP Government. Ordering the release of Dr. Lohia, the court observed: "We cannot accept the argument of the learned Advocate- General that instigation of a single individual not to pay tax or dues is a spark which may in the long run ignite a revolutionary movement destroying public order. We can only say that fundamental rights cannot be controlled on such  hypothetical and  imaginary considerations. It is said that in a democratic set-up there is no scope for the agitational approach and that if a law is bad the only course is to get it modified by democratic process and that any instigation to break the law is in itself a disturbance of the public order. If this argument without obvious limitations be accepted, it would destroy the right to freedom of speech which is the very foundation of democratic way of life."


A restrained approach by the government alone can prevent a mass collision with the masses who are determined to vigorously pursue their struggle for an effective Lokpal.


The writer is former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court

 

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THE STATESMAN

HOME ALONE

 MANY MEMBERS OF PAKISTAN'S AHMADI COMMUNITY, WHO FLED TO THAILAND FEARING FOR THEIR LIVES, ARE NOT EXACTLY WELCOME IN THE LAND OF SMILES. THE RIGHTS OF REFUGEES CONTINUE TO BE IGNORED IN THAILAND AND MANY COUNTRIES IN ASIA BECAUSE ALMOST ALL OF SOUTH ASIA IS NOT A SIGNATORY TO THE 1951 REFUGEE CONVENTION, WRITES MARIYA SALIM

Four-year-old Yumna leaped in delight and forgot all about her fight with Fauzia, her three-year-old cousin when I reassured her that she will be meeting her father soon. The little girls hugged each other and I too wanted to hold them in my arms but the iron bars came between us. The two were in a Bangkok jail for more than 24 hours along with their mother and aunt because they were born to Ahmadi parents who had fled to Thailand from Pakistan in their quest for a safe life.

Many members of Pakistan's Ahmadi community, who fled to Thailand fearing persecution or after having received repeated threats to life are not exactly welcome in the Land of Smiles. Thailand, having not ratified the Refugee Convention of 1951, considers those with expired visas as aliens despite them holding papers issued by the office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since mid-2010, Thai immigration authorities have started making mass arrests of those guilty of overstay. Among those arrested in 2010 included pregnant women and children, who were put in cells at Immigration Detention Centres (IDC). Life at IDCs is very difficult for the detainees. Before a mass bailout of more than 90 refugees early this month ~ most of whom were women and children locked up for more than six months ~ 90-100 asylum seekers and refugees would share an IDC cell with a maximum capacity of holding 40 detainees. A medical examination upon their release revealed that many were suffering from severe skin allergies as a result of unhealthy living conditions which compelled many to sleep near bathrooms for lack of space.

Thai authorities have been time and again criticised for their attitude and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. It's true that Thailand hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from Burma (living in extremely difficult conditions) alone in camps along the Thai border. The urban refugees come from many countries around the world and settle in Bangkok and its outskirts. But the fact remains that rights of refugees continue to be ignored in Thailand and many countries in Asia because almost all of South Asia is not a signatory to the 1951 convention despite a large number of refugees originating from this part of the world. While these nations need to revisit their refugee/asylum policies, countries whose citizens routinely get displaced/seek refuge should also be pressured to improve their rights record. People from Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, Somalia and Pakistan form the bulk of asylum-seekers in Thailand.

Pakistani nationals belonging to the Ahmadi sect have been fleeing their home country for the past many years to. The strict laws in Pakistan have not only labelled them non-Muslims but also spawned an extremist movement seeking their "eradication" from Pakistani society by all means. Many Pakistani-asylum seekers and refugees said in interviews conducted by the author that life in Pakistan for Ahmadis was very difficult and that the difficulties increased manifold when people came to know of their affiliation. They shared stories of friends turning foes with every passing moment. "Repeated insults to our belief was the order of the day. We love our country, but when it came to choosing between our country and our lives, we simply ran," said Amina (name changed) during an interview conducted by the author at a Thai IDC in January, 2011.

The Pakistan Penal Code proclaims Ahmadis as non-Muslims and prohibits them from reciting the Kalma, using the customary Muslim greeting of Salaam or even describing their place of worship as a mosque. Paragraph 298-C of the Pakistani Penal Code specifically deals with Ahmadis: "(A) Person of Quadiani group, etc., calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith : Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who  call themselves 'Ahmadis' or by any other name), who directly or indirectly, poses  himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or  propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken  or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages  the religious feelings of Muslims shall be punished with imprisonment of either  description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to  fine. Sec. 298-C. ins. by the Anti-Islamic Activities of Quadiani Group, Lahori Group and Ahmadis (Prohibition and Punishment) Ordinance, XX of 1984."
The attacks on Ahmadis in Pakistan have been covered by the media but not enough international pressure has been exerted on its government to provide adequate security to the members of this sect. The Ahmadi interviewees seeking asylum in Thailand agreed that extremist mullahs were causing the community a lot of problems as they used their large following to foment hatred for their sect. Another Muslim minority group detained in Thailand comprise the Rohingyas. Forty-four of them have been detained at the Bangkok IDC for more than two years now and many more in other parts of Thailand.

As more and more arrests take place even after the recent mass bailout of refugees by posting a bond of about 5 million baht from the Bangkok IDC, the situation for refugees and asylum seekers essentially remain the same. A few days before the World Refugee Day celebrations on 20 June, it was reported that some of the arrested persons, who had tried to plead not-guilty to explain their case, were treated brutally by Thai immigration authorities for doing so and were separated from their children. The UNHCR and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand intend to speak to the Thai immigration authorities yet again to "explain and persuade them to distinguish between criminals and vulnerables".

The writer is a Bangkok-based freelance contributor

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THE STATESMAN

NAYACHAR NOT REALLY AN OPTION

SUBRATA SINHA


Of the many reasons that led to the Left Front government's dismissal, one was Nayachar ~ where former chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacherjee had pledged to set up a chemical hub. The new chief minister's inclusive stance has engendered a whispering campaign for resuscitating the previous government's Nayachar proposal and got a boost following Miss Mamata Banerjee's recent interaction with top industrialists. The proponents of the hub are favouring the "Gujarat model" ~ something the new chief minister has categorically denied being enamoured of.


Located near the confluence of the Haldi river and the Bay, Nayachar is virtually within the offshore zone. This small and flat island ~ made up of unconsolidated alluvial sediments ~ stood at a height of just 3 metres above the sea in the early 1930s. Drilling and intensive scientific investigations by the Geological Survey of India and research by Jadavpur University has revealed that unconsolidated alluvial sediments were present down to 30 metres below mean sea level. Nayachar was declared totally unfit for the venture.  Such a major industry will require substantial land raising and consolidation by importing colossal quantities of material in order to tackle the basic load of installation and infrastructure. Consequent collapse (or implosion) within the foreseeable future is most probable. This author's warnings against Nayachar ~ "Nayachar – Terminal Symptoms of a Malady" were published in the The Statesman published on 12 February, 2008.


There are three main reasons why Nayachar should be ruled out. First, the island can be no safe haven for the carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic wastes generated from such a hub. Once dumped into the sea, it will wreak havoc on the offshore marine life and planktons. Most ominously, the seasonal offshore currents will transport the pollutants along the coast to the Sundarbans delta, with tidal currents pushing them inland through the massive Indo-Bangladesh Sundarbans deltaic network, resulting in inevitable toxic hazards to upland freshwater.


Second, the greatest threat relates to global warming, with the Sundarbans deltaic region and Kolkata metropolitan area already marked by the Inter-Governmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) as one of the imminently-threatened global regions. Some Jadavpur University researchers have already recorded the submergence of islands near Nayachar , including Lohacchhara, Suparibhaga, Kapasgadi and Bedford even during winter months. The rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers will hasten the eclipse of this island.
 Thirdly, Jurong Consultants (part of Indonesia's Salim Group) had endorsed Nayachar, citing examples of islands off Singapore. Those islands, however, form part of the Himalayan arc while Nayachar is an end-product of eroded Himalayan material ~ the sediments being transported over thousands of millennia, forming one of the thickest alluvial basins on earth. Singapore has no such vulnerable alluvial basin or river network that can pollute vast tracts.


This fully government-owned char was handed over to the state fisheries department about 30 years ago. Several fishing cooperatives were formed, with more than three hundred ponds leased out to local fishermen and small Haldia-based ferry entrepreneurs. A few hundred squatter-families eke out a meagre livelihood as labourers on that island.


If development is what the newly-elected government is looking at, it will do well to promote and support fisheries to be developed and run by Nayachar residents. That way, even if the island is submerged after a few decades (it must be remembered that Nayachar was submerged even during the recent rain), losses on a moderate investment will be minuscule. But that will not be the case if a full-fledged industry set up on the island is lost. Promoting fisheries is the best that can be done for such a chunk of ephemeral land. It would be sustainable and endow benefits on the overwhelming rural majority of fish-starved Bengal.



The writer is former Deputy Director-General, Geological Survey of India

 

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THE STATESMAN

OWNING UP OMISSIONS

SANKAR SEN


The responsibility of the Border Security Force (BSF) to guard the country's borders is a daunting one. After

the India-Pakistan war of 1965, the government of India decided that the guarding of the far-flung, ill-demarcated and porous border of the country should be done not by the regular army but by para-military forces so that armies of the two neighbouring countries do not snarl at each other across the border and spark off combustible situations. In the eastern front, the long porous border of 2,230 km with Bangladesh starting from sub-Himalayan terrain of Cooch Behar in the north and extending up to the mouth of Bay of Bengal to the south poses different but difficult problems. The boundary line does not follow any natural geographical alignment. It criss-crosses through the densely-populated villages, paddy fields and innumerable seasonal and perennial rivers and nullas. At the time of Partition, the boundary line drawn by the Radcliffe Commission was hastily implemented on the ground owing to paucity of time without proper field visits. The result was chaotic. Indeed, it was made historically possible what was geographically impossible. A number of villages extend up to the zero line of the border, and strangely enough, there are bordering villages with parts of them in India and parts in Bangladesh.


Though the border with Bangladesh remains by and large soft and peaceful, the task of BSF officers and jawans guarding the border is no less daunting. In most places in West Bengal, there are no lateral roads running across the border. During the monsoon and post-monsoon period, many of these areas become waterlogged and inaccessible and patrolling the border becomes a difficult as well as irksome job. Open and porous border encourages smuggling and infiltration. BSF personnel as well as their counterparts in Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) ~ the para-military force guarding Bangladesh border ~ and sometimes even officers develop a unholy nexus with these smugglers. Smuggling is indeed a thriving and lucrative business along the border. Many villagers on both sides of the border earn their livelihood through smuggling. At times, clashes would break out between BSF men and smugglers. Most of the BSF officers and men who patrol the border are from other states and do not know the local language and mores. They are at times heavy handed and trigger-happy and contemptuous of impoverished local villagers.


I still re-collect with horror a gory incident that had taken place in the village of Debnathpur in Nadia district on 19 March, 1991. I was then posted as inspector-general of BSF in Kolkata. Following an altercation with a BSF patrolling party, a group of villagers aided and abetted by smugglers surrounded them and confined them in a room. Hearing the news, a rescue party was rushed from the battalion headquarters. After rescuing the confined BSF personnel, the enraged BSF jawans wanted to teach a bitter  lesson to their captors. They opened fire  on the villagers, killing 11 of them and injuring two. It was unprovoked, uncontrolled and indiscriminate firing with a view to striking terror in the minds of the recalcitrant villagers. Hearing the news, I rushed from my Kolkata headquarters. When I arrived at Debnathpur, I could make out that the enraged BSF jawans had chased the residents around the village and opened fire on them inside the shops and houses. Blood was spattered everywhere. The assembled villagers led by some political leaders were furious and demanded immediate action against the delinquent BSF jawans and reparation to the family members of the victims.
I sat down with the villagers along with Mr AS Beddi, then deputy inspector-general, BSF, who had accompanied me to the border and got a blow-by-blow account of the horror that had unfolded there. I told the villagers that they had been wrong to confine the BSF jawans but it was totally unjustified on the part of the BSF personnel, despite the provocation, to forget their training, discipline and cause the bloodbath.
I promised to prosecute the errant jawans as per appropriate provisions of the BSF Act. I also promised financial assistance for the families of the victims from the BSF welfare fund and pledged to provide jobs in the BSF to the family members of the deceased villagers. This had a calming effect on the villagers and the tension-charge situation could be defused. While I was parleying with the villagers, the Bengal home secretary rang me to say that chief minister Jyoti Basu would like the delinquent BSF staff to be handed over to police for criminal prosecution for committing manslaughter. I disagreed and said that aberrant staff would be dealt with as per stringent provisions of the BSF Act instead of handing them to police to suffer a long-drawn trial. I assured the chief minister that our action would be swift as well as deterrent. Local CPI-M leaders, including a minister, did not like my stance and accuse me of shielding the BSF staff.


I called a Press meet in Kolkata on my return. It was a crowded conference. Representatives of all leading newspapers of Kolkata as well as the electronic media were present. I had to face a volley of pointed questions. I candidly admitted that the firing was unjustified and unprovoked and said that the trigger-happy jawans and their supervisors would be dealt with by invoking provisions of the BSF Act. I conceded that there were, as in any other organisation, some bad apples in the BSF who had links with smugglers and criminals and we were taking steps to weed them out. Discussions in the Press conference were widely covered in both print and electronic media. There were criticisms of BSF operation in the border areas and collusion of jawans with smugglers. But my stand of owning up our lapses in public instead of defending the indefensible conduct of our staff was appreciated. The members of the public also endorsed my stand and appreciated the gesture to help the victim's families.


But I was criticised in my own organisation for having owned up before the public even before an inquiry had been conducted as per the BSF Act. I was told that I should have suspended my judgment and taken a decision only after the conclusion of the  inquiry. But I felt that it was better to face the truth and eventual outcome instead of taking recourse to a blind official stance. Truth has its own strength and it is better to openly admit lapses and make amends.


Fortunately, the then director-general of BSF, Mr AP Bhatnagar,  backed my stand and advised me to organise training programme for BSF personnel and meetings with the border population so that a better rapport between the BSF and the villagers could be promoted. This was done in a regular and systematic manner and incidents of clashes between villagers and the BSF men eventually dwindled.


A week after the firing, I called on Jyoti Basu at the Writers' Buildings. The then chief secretary, Mr N Krishnamurty, told me that the chief minister was quite angry and upset with me. I found Basu in a mellow mood, though. He was very courteous as usual. He wanted to know the action taken against the errant BSF staff so that he could explain the situation to the people from the border area who were coming to meet him.  He appreciated the measures taken by me and said that there should be no repetition of similar incidents.

The writer is a retired IPS officer

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

NUMERICAL MIST

The National Sample Survey has published new figures of employment and unemployment — new in the sense that they are only a year old. They come from the 61st round, which ended last June. They are no more obfuscating than usual: there are two sorts of labour participation, two of unemployment, and for each, the NSS gives four different measures. Altogether, they permit 144 comparisons between 2004-05 and 2009-10. Of the 36 comparisons of labour force participation, about a third shows a rise and two-thirds show a fall. So it would be justified on balance to conclude that the proportion of the population working or seeking work fell in the five years. An untrained mind would jump from this to the conclusion that work became less easily available and that many people stopped looking for it. However, it is possible to make 72 comparisons of the rate of unemployment, and not a single one of them shows a rise. The first conclusion would be that people have gone crazy — unemployment has fallen, jobs are more easily available, and they refuse to take them. This conclusion would offend the standard Indian prejudice that this is a country of surplus labour and that unemployment, often disguised rather than open, is rampant.

To get a more robust solution, one would like to compare unemployment over a longer period. Four comparisons — for rural and urban males and females — over the past 10 years suggest that unemployment went up except for urban males between 1999-2000 and 2004-05. It went down in the next five years for all except rural females. So the changes in the last five years probably have no lasting significance.

Having started comparisons, it is not necessary to stop at 10 years. Looking at the past 37 years, it emerges that amongst rural males, unemployment went up and amongst urban males it changed little in the 1970s and 1980s; since then, it has been stable amongst rural males and has come down amongst urban males. Amongst females, it shows considerable instability but would seem to have gone up in the past 10 years. If unemployment is a problem, it would seem to be a female one. However, the NSS also gives figures of workers' participation rate which, if added to unemployment, give the labour force. They show that the proportion of the population having or seeking work has remained the same — about 56 per cent — amongst males, urban as well as rural. Amongst females, it has come down since the 1990s, considerably in villages and slightly in cities. This is consistent with two hypotheses — that as incomes have increased, more women are staying at home and fewer are working, and that gender bias has intensified and women are finding it more difficult to get jobs. This is convenient; both feminists and their opponents will find something in the figures to suit them.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

STOP PLAY

A farce of gigantic proportions continues to be enacted in Karnataka. The elected government of the state, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been charged with serious corruption cases, many of which are being tried in the court of law. However, neither the government nor the Opposition wishes to be circumscribed by a democratic system of governance that reserves for State-appointed institutions the sole right to adjudicate in disputes arising among the subjects of the State. The chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, must have sworn by this constitutional premise while assuming office. This template of democracy must also be known to H.D. Kumaraswamy, the Janata Dal (S) leader. Yet, Mr Yeddyurappa and Mr Kumaraswamy have felt no compunctions in carrying their acrimony to what they believe is a higher court of law. The Dharmasthala temple was chosen as the destination to carry out the slugfest and the chief temple priest or dharmadhikari was anointed the final arbiter of justice in complete disregard of all democratic norms. It was the unwillingness of the temple priest to play his part that saved Karnataka from witnessing the final act of this ridiculous drama.

The incident not only highlights the political class's contempt for democracy, but also the dangerous intermix of religion and politics that has haunted Karnataka for a while now. The burning of churches, the frequent communal riots and violence against women — all bear testimony to the effects of this highly volatile potion that has kept the BJP ticking in Karnataka. The Opposition should have caught the ruling party at its game. Instead, by following its religion-inspired vocabulary, the Opposition has forsaken its responsibility.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DRIVING FORCE

FIFTH COLUMN -ARSHI KHAN

The general elections (held on June 12, 2011) of Turkey and the pattern of voting indicate public endorsement of a shift towards a new, post-Kemalist era. The high turnout of 87 per cent, and the 49.8 per cent votes for the ruling party — Justice and Development Party (AKP) — show a legitimization of the rights of the people and a tacit rejection of the 'absolute' power and positions of the Turkish military. The poll also signifies the emergence of a two-party system, political stability, strong governance and a wealthy Turkey.

However, the poll verdict should not be read as a kind of civilian coup against the two branches of the government. At the same time, there is an emerging role of the parliamentary forces vis-à-vis the Kemalist institutions. In other words, this Turkish poll is a definite step towards a balanced government with justified jurisdictions and autonomy in its respective spheres. The main Kemalist rival — the Republican People's Party (CHP), which secured 25.8 per cent votes — has also not rejected the chief demand of the AKP for constitutional reforms.

The AKP has often been seen as a threat to the republic and to Kemalism, but on various occasions, the AKP leader and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has defended the dignity, powers and honour of the military. Soon after the poll verdict, he withdrew the accusation of libel against some politicians and journalists. He is against the concentration of power either in the judiciary or in the military as this contradicts the doctrines of division of power and that of checks and balances.

After the poll, Erdogan has hinted at constitutional reforms resulting in a new constitution fully prepared by civilians and meant for civilians. The AKP is not like any other rightist party in different parts of the world as it believes in 'harmonization' of the civilian and the military, the judiciary and the civil society, Turks and minorities, as well as of the European Union laws and the Turkish constitution. In fact, the AKP is the main driving force behind the change taking place in Europe.

For unity

Turkey has already improved relations with Armenia, Greece and other countries, and is willing to address the problems of the Kurdish community. The drive for change is focused neither on misusing religion nor on antagonizing the military but on economic advancements. The AKP is known for creating dams, industries and wealth while the CHP worried about Kemalist ideology. In the economic sphere, Turkey is ahead of Europe. The growth rate last year was nearly 9 per cent, the second highest among the G-20 nations. Turkey is the sixth largest economy in Europe, with industrial goods amounting to over 90 per cent of its exports. The country is now all set to become a member of the European fraternity.

The AKP manifesto seeks to make Turkey one of the world's top ten economies by 2023 with a tripling of its gross domestic product to $2 trillion, reduce the unemployment rate by 5 per cent and increase the average per capita income to $25,000. An exclusive policy is that of the $40,000 interest-free loan for newly married couples. It seeks to increase the participation of women in the labour force from 27 per cent to 35 per cent by 2023. The manifesto also includes projects to build an indigenous defence industry, air planes, to launch a national space programme as well as to create a third international airport in Istanbul.

This new constitution, as conceptualized by Erdogan, will be addressed to every single individual in Turkey. It will be the constitution of the Kurd, of the Turkmen, of Alevis, of all minorities, which means all of the 74 million people. It will focus on peace. This constitution will be for fraternity, for sharing, for unity and for solidarity.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

LEGAL FAQS

ADVOCATE NIBEDITA ROYE ANSWERS YOUR QUERIES

Q: I wish to leave my movable and immovable property to a trust as I do not have any children. Kindly advise me on how to form a trust.

Name withheld

A: If you want to set up a trust for the benefit of a few individuals, you can execute a registered private trust deed. However, if you want to form a trust for the benefit of the public at large, then you will have to execute a charitable trust deed in accordance with the Indian Trust Act, 1882, and The Registration Act, 1908.

Q:Fifteen years ago, we had rented out a 400-square foot space through our private limited company to a couple. Both of them have died. They have a son and a daughter who are married and have been living in the US for more than 10 years. Do the children have any right to the space? Should we issue the rent bill to them?

Sundeep Kumar, via email

A: The West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1997, provides that if a tenant expires his tenancy will be inherited by his dependants, such as children, for a period not extending five years, as long as they were living on the premises till his death. Since your tenants' children do not reside on your premises, and presuming they have their own alternate accommodation, they don't seem to have acquired any right to the tenancy. Hence, if you wish to proceed for eviction, you may do so.

Q:I have been living in a rented accommodation on the ground floor of a house for the last 45 years. I bear the cost of repairs inside the house. However, there is now a water seepage in our toilet because of a problem in the drainpipe that is outside the house and is connected to the first floor. The landlord is not attending to the problem. What legal steps can I take against him?

A. Subramanian, Calcutta

A: If the repair needs to be done urgently, you could send a notice in keeping with the provisions of The West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1997, requesting your landlord to get it done within 72 hours. If he fails to do so, submit a copy of the notice along with an estimate for the cost of these repairs to the rent controller. The latter may direct you to get it done yourself, but you will be entitled to reimbursement from your landlord.

Please send your legal queries with your name and address to Legal FAQs, The Telegraph (Features),
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street, Calcutta 700001.
Or email us at legalfaqs@abp.in. Readers are requested to please keep their queries short.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING THE PEN FROM THE SWORD

THE MAHARASHTRA GOVERNMENT IS PLANNING TO PASS A LAW TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS FROM ATTACK. CAN SUCH A LAW BE EFFECTIVE, WONDERS VELLY THEVAR

In the wake of the furore over the murder of Mid Day journalist Jyotirmoy Dey earlier this month, the Maharashtra government has declared that it would revive a long pending draft bill called the Maharashtra Journalists (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Ordinance, 2010. The law is supposed to protect journalists from attack by laying down tough provisions for punishing the offenders.

Journalists are, of course, particularly vulnerable to retaliatory or revenge attacks when they expose or are about to expose criminal activities, or write against the actions of the powers-that-be. However, while such incidents are common all over the country, Maharashtra has the dubious distinction of witnessing an astonishingly high number of assaults on the fourth estate. "In the last two years 184 incidents of attacks on journalists have taken place in Maharashtra. And since 1992, 1,750 such attacks have occurred. Not a single case has led to a conviction," says Jatin Desai, columnist and former president of the Bombay Union of Journalists.

A prominent case was the Shiv Sena activists' attack in 2009 on the offices of IBN Lokmat and IBN7, the Marathi and Hindi news channels of the IBN Network, in north-east Mumbai's Vikhroli area. Armed with iron rods and cricket wicket sticks, the Shiv Sainiks went on a rampage and attacked Nikhil Wagle, IBN Lokmat's editor-in-chief. Wagle's crime? He had commented on Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's criticism of Sachin Tendulkar for having said that Mumbai was for all Indians.

It was soon after this that journalists pressed the Maharashtra government to pass an ordinance so that whenever a media person is attacked, it would be treated as a non-bailable offence. Ashok Chavan, the then chief minister of Maharashtra, did get a law drafted to that effect. But he met with stiff resistance from his own party men as well as those from the Nationalist Congress Party.

The draft bill of the Maharashtra Journalists (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Ordinance, 2010, lays down that anyone attacking a journalist will be liable to imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 50,000. Section 5 of the bill makes attacks on journalists a non-bailable and cognisable offence while Section 6 states that those who damage the property of a media organisation will have to pay a penalty equal to twice the value of the damaged equipment or property.

Apart from the shocking murder of Mid Day editor (special investigation) J. Dey, what has also given steam to the demand for a law specially designed to protect journalists is that the Maharashtra government passed similar legislation for doctors and other medical staff in 2010. The Maharashtra Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage of Property) Act, 2010, states that anyone who attacks a doctor will be punished with a fine of Rs 50,000 and imprisonment of up to three years. Also, any attack against doctors is considered a non-bailable offence. According to unofficial reports, attacks on doctors and other medical staff have declined significantly after this law was passed.

At present, acts of violence on journalists are dealt with under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or the Criminal Procedure Code. For example, in the IBN attack, the Mumbai police booked 17 persons on the charge of attempt to murder under Section 307 of the IPC.

Other IPC sections that come into play when journalists are attacked include Sections 323, 324, 325 — all of which carry prison terms varying from one to seven years and fines. For example, Section 325 states that "whoever…voluntarily causes grievous hurt shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to a fine." But offences that come under many of these sections are non-cognisable and bailable. The proposed law for journalists, on the other hand, seeks to make these cognisable and non-bailable offences, thereby making it tougher on the culprits.

However, it is not that the draft bill is without its critics. Many journalists are worried about a provision that mentions a code of conduct for scribes. Says S.M. Deshmukh of the Patrakar Halla Virodhi Samiti (Committee Against Attacks on Journalists), "Before a complaint of attack against a journalist can be filed, one has to check the credentials of the journalist and the newspaper he is working with." Many fear that this could lead to an infringement of the freedom of the press. For example, under the guise of checking the credentials, questions may be asked about sources, which a journalist is supposed to protect at all cost, says Deshmukh.

Again, some argue that if existing laws have failed to check violence against journalists and punish the criminals who commit them, a new law could hardly be expected to work miracles. Says Sagarika Ghose, deputy editor, CNN-IBN: "We have enough laws but there is a lack of seriousness in implementing them. We need to look at that first."

Others say that it is unfair and impractical to have a special law for the protection of scribes. Ashok Shetty, a senior advocate in Mumbai, points out, "I don't think there is a necessity for such a law. Journalists like other citizens can be protected under the existing framework of our laws. You cannot distinguish between citizens. What if businessmen and lawyers also demand a similar law? Are we going to have separate laws for each section of society?"

Questions are also being raised on the Maharashtra government's motives for trying to revive the law. As Pinki Anand, a senior lawyer in Delhi, points out, "This is just a transitory move by the Maharashtra government to appease the angry journalistic fraternity after J. Dey's murder. Personally, I am wary of new legislation since it just adds to the long list of existing laws. The real problem lies in the lack of implementation at various stages."

Kumar Badal, an investigative journalist who runs a portal called indiainvestigates.com, too feels that no amount of special legislation will protect journalists from harm unless they are implemented properly. "The actual relief would be in quick conviction of offenders through the existing laws," he says.

Is the Maharashtra government listening?

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SONIA SARKAR IN DELHI

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

RABBI DOV LIOR SHOULD BE FIRED

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION MUST BE STRICTLY MAINTAINED, BUT RABBI DOV LIOR SHOULD BE DISMISSED FROM ALL HIS POSITIONS. DEMOCRACY IS NOT SUPPOSED TO EMPLOY FOMENTERS OF RIOTS WHO ARE TRYING TO CRUSH IT IN THE NAME OF HALAKHA.

The arrest of Rabbi Dov Lior two days ago is a controversial act that has aroused worrisome reactions. Those who favor freedom of expression will of course find it difficult to accept as self evident the arrest of a person, any person, for things that he said or wrote. An open and liberal democratic society is not tested by its support for speakers or writers of texts of which it approves, but by providing an opportunity to say harmful things, as infuriating and subversive as they may be, about it and even against it.

From the start, therefore, the investigation against Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, author of the inflammatory work "The King's Torah," which among other things preaches in favor of killing Arab infants - and the investigations against the rabbis who wrote their "endorsement," in other words a kind of halakhic seal, is proceeding on thin ice.

It may have been wiser for the police and the Shin Bet security services to decide to allow these inciters to continue to trade in their dubious merchandise, and at the same time to continue to keep tabs on the practical results of their words, using the methods permitted in a democracy. But from the moment that the police decided to summon Rabbi Dov Lior to an investigation, he should have reported, even if he is firmly opposed to doing so, and taken advantage of every legitimate way of protesting against the claims against him.

Rabbi Lior is a central figure among the religious right, the rabbi of a settlement (Kiryat Arba ) and the head of a hesder yeshiva (which combines Torah study and army service ), and is therefore obligated to be especially meticulous about observing the official rules and demonstrating exemplary civic behavior. But in spite of the fact that all the possible ways of protest are open to him, and the media are attentive to his every word, he preferred to wage another campaign of incitement against the law-enforcement authorities, which ignited a dangerous fire among his students and his admirers.

The battle being led by Lior against the state and its institutions is a consistent and continuing one. Just as he praised Baruch Goldstein after the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, and changed the wording of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State after the disengagement from Gaza, he is now inciting against the rule of law. Freedom of expression must be strictly maintained, but Rabbi Lior should be dismissed from all his positions. Democracy is not supposed to employ fomenters of riots who are trying to crush it in the name of halakha.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

ISRAEL'S DEFENSE CHIEFS FAILED IN DETERRING IRAN

EX-MOSSAD HEAD, MEIR DAGAN, AND EX-CHIEF OF STAFF, GABI ASHKENAZI, APPEAR TO CLAIM THEY HELPED RESCUE ISRAEL FROM A DESTRUCTIVE WAR WITH IRAN, PERHAPS THE TRUTH IS THAT DEFEMSE ESTABLISHMENT FAILED TO FULFILL THE INSTRUCTIONS OF POLITICAL LEADERS.

BY ALUF BENN

Was Israel about to embark on a destructive war with Iran but was rescued from destruction only because of the resourcefulness and daring of senior officers in the IDF and the intelligence community, who blocked the irresponsible and unbridled adventurism of the prime minister and the defense minister?

This is the version that appears to be marketed by former Mossad head, Meir Dagan (publicly ), the former Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi (in "private conversations" and in briefings to trusted aides ). In their telling, they enlisted former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, ex-Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, and President Shimon Peres, in order to foil the intentions of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak to send the air force to bomb the nuclear installations in Iran. Such a strike would have resulted in a regional war, with thousands of missiles on Tel Aviv, economic paralysis, and a crisis in relations with the United States.

According to this version, Ashkenazi and his partners deserve the Israel Prize, maybe even the Nobel Peace Prize. But there is a different version, which is no less convincing: The defense establishment did not manage to fulfill the instructions of the political echelon and failed. Now it is presenting its failure as having been exhibiting responsible behavior on a national level.

When Netanyahu took office in the spring of 2009, he placed at the top of his priorities list the foiling of Iran's nuclear program. His predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, had dealt with the Iranian threat through a combination of diplomacy and clandestine activities. They did not sufficiently prepare for a military operation, even though during their tenure Iran had less means to strike at Israel. Also, in George W. Bush, Israel had a friendly president in the White House who may have supported an Israeli attack.

In case the diplomatic means, the technical problems and the international sanctions did not stop the Iranians, Netanyahu decided to back those up by presenting a military option. As he explained more than once in public, only a credible military option could validate sanctions and other "soft" measures.

In order to avoid the use of force, the enemy must be convinced that "all the options are on the table." Netanyahu and Barak, who shared his approach, had three goals:

They hoped that an increasingly strong Israel would encourage the U.S. to take action against Iran - this was and remains their preferred option;

They wanted to reinforce the strategic understandings with Washington, and ensure that President Barack Obama will preserve Israeli deterrence - this was achieved;

They sought to prepare for an independent Israeli action, in case the international community disappointed, and Israel was left alone before the dilemma of "the Iranian bomb or to bomb Iran."

This policy enjoyed the support of the cabinet, was backed by funding and planning instructions, but was not translated into any action.

Ashkenazi, Dagan and their friends were not enthusiastic. They were troubled by the superficiality of Netanyahu and of his talk about a "second Holocaust," and the ambiguous stance of Barak. They were, of course, worried about a failed war, at the end of which the officers would be blamed, not the politicians.

Therefore they embarked on a foiling action, not against Iran but against their superiors. They warned that building capabilities against Iran would harm other tasks that were no less essential, and they pulled out a winning argument: Attacking Iran would lead to a regional war which the IDF would have trouble winning. Whoever wants to bomb Iran must first prepare for the day after. Netanyahu and Barak avoided such discussion; they only wanted the option, not the war.

As far as the politicians are concerned, Ashkenazi failed in his task. He was asked to prepare a military option, and instead prepared excuses. If he was unable to win "the day after war," Israel had a limited military option and Netanyahu's policy was foiled. Hence the second Jerusalem putsch, which the primary figures pride themselves on, and say how they rallied Peres to the plot they prepared against Netanyahu and Barak.

This is the background to the power plays that took place at the top of the defense pyramid, the Galant Affair, and the retirement of Ashkenazi and Dagan (who wanted to stay on for another year ), and of Diskin (who wanted to be the head of Mossad ).

Now, Israel is twiddling its thumbs, the defeated U.S. is pulling out of Iraq, and Iran is expediting uranium enrichment and the economy is flourishing in spite of the sanctions.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

MITZNA IS NOT THE MAN

IS SOMEONE WHO EXPRESSES SUCH A DEEP FEAR OF THE PUBLIC HE IS MEANT TO LEAD IS CAPABLE OF LEADING?

BY AVIRAMA GOLAN

A pity, a real pity about Amram Mitzna, the pale-skinned contender for the Labor Party leadership. Really, what's the big deal about saying to veteran party members in Givatayim that Shelly Yachimovich and Isaac Herzog offer "tremendous added value," while Amir Peretz and his supporters are from "a different planet?"

Didn't he already say that he didn't think the city of Yeruham was "ripe for a democratic process" of electing a mayor back in August 2008? And now, in a desperate attempt to explain himself, he adds that perhaps what he meant was that Peretz comes from "a different political culture."

Actually, Mitzna is rather quiet, polite, and sensitive. He didn't say, for example - as Herzog insists he also didn't say, despite the WikiLeaks reports - that Peretz is an aggressive Moroccan, ah, excuse me, is "portrayed as an aggressive Moroccan."

Nor did he say, as Gigi Peres said after Peretz defeated his brother, Shimon Peres, in the Labor primaries that "Like General Franco, Peretz drafted the Falangists from North Africa."

The beauty of these statements stems from the fact that those who uttered them don't understand what's so wrong with what they said. Holy simplicity!

Now everyone is obsessing over the question of whether Peretz was insulted and who will benefit and/or lose from this incident (not the two candidates with the tremendous added value, who Mitzna deigned to describe as his possible satellites - which certainly angered both of them, justifiably, and particularly Yachimovich, who sees him as a clueless neo-liberal ).

But it's more interesting to understand the remarks themselves.

Aside from the fascinating question of what leads cultured people to invoke figures from the West's darkest hours (Franco's fascism and the "other planet" of the Holocaust ), it's clear that on the surface, Mitzna believes that the conservative old boys club represents, and will continue to represent, the Labor Party.

If so, it would be better to let him know now that if he wins the leadership primary, the chances of his pulling Labor out of the mire are slim. In fact, chances are that he would lead the party into such a mortal defeat that it would make the public forget his panicked flight after the last defeat, and his vote for the 2003 budget when he was in the opposition.

On the sub-conscious level, his remarks expose a world of archaic concepts, haunted by fears.

The characterization "from another planet/culture" does not have real political substance. It derives from a worldview that gives primacy to a specific culture, one that is pretty vague but easily deciphered by the internal codes of its members who define themselves as enlightened, liberal and Western - that is, Ashkenazim of a high socio-economic status (who embraces Mitzna as "one of ours" ).

This worldview, which with consistent conservatism denies that anything has changed in its surroundings, entails the defensive and panicked withdrawal from everything that seems different from the tried and true, the demonizing of the "other," and the pathetic idealization of the old, even if its expiration date has long passed.

The trouble is that demonizing a political rival insults not him, but his supporters, proven or potential. Disparaging a rival who has demonstrated an impressive ability to attract votes from socio-political groups that had long viewed Labor as taboo is problematic enough. But describing Peretz as someone who succeeded in recruiting new party members through primitive, corrupt and fraudulent politics - a description that suffers the same non-reasoned, emotionally associative vagueness that afflicts the congenital enlightenment and incorruptibility of the camp Mitzna is identified with - is much more serious. It defines these new recruits as an irrational herd, easily manipulated, and even worse - illegitimate.

This position is also invalid when it comes to Likud voters, but it is especially contemptible when those being slandered are voters whom Mitzna himself will start courting after the first round of the primaries, if he succeeds in advancing, to ask for their support.

So the question isn't whether Mitzna insulted Peretz, or whether Yachimovich or Herzog can join forces with him after the patronizing prank he pulled on them. It's whether someone who expresses such deep fear of the public he is meant to lead is capable of leading. Mitzna has already proven that the answer is no.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

BOYCOTT REALITY SHOWS

INSTEAD OF COTTAGE CHEESE, ISRAELIS SHOULD BOYCOTT THE REALITY SHOWS THAT CAUSE SERIOUS SOCIO-CULTURAL DAMAGE.

BY YAIR SHELEG

 The boycott declared against cottage cheese is important. The apathetic Israeli has finally woken up and is willing to fight for his basic needs. But at the same time there's something very disturbing about this campaign. The fact that the Israeli awakens from his apathy only when his pocket is affected seems only to confirm the assumption of the barons who control our lives (the barons of the economy, the media and politics ), that only money interests us. The rare resource called a "consumer boycott" should also be used for more important issues than the price of cottage cheese. There is a product that must be boycotted not for economic reasons, but for very important cultural and social reasons. I am referring to reality shows.

Prof. Gabi Weimann was correct when, in the Hebrew edition of this newspaper ("On the slippery slope of reality," June 17 ), he discussed the built-in process of deterioration of these programs, which each time have to excite the audience with a more potent dosage, and of course with greater insults and a higher level of voyeurism. But it is also important to discuss what Weimann only implied: the serious socio-cultural damage these programs cause.

The combination of the frequency of the programs, the centrality of the TV channels and the hours when they are broadcast, the endless discussions about them in the other media are all leading to a situation where not only are insults and voyeurism no longer considered offensive traits, they are "the name of the game" in the new Israeli society. And most important, they are at the top of the food chain that ends with too many young Israelis declaring that their mission in life is "to make money and become famous."

There are of course many factors responsible for that, but the reality shows are the most blatant symbol of this philosophy. Because what causes ordinary people to agree to the endless humiliations they endure on the reality shows (exposing their obesity, their foolishness, their inarticulateness etc. ), or the blatant invasion of their privacy by the television camera (from their bank account to their family relationships and up to their bedrooms ), if not the opportunity "to become famous" and perhaps even to "make it big" and to win the big prize?

It's not a good idea to treat these programs as merely a pleasant evening entertainment when everyone is tired. Every Jewish mother should be aware that when her child is humiliated in school, it happens because of the reality show that she watched the previous evening. Every Jewish father should be aware that he has no chance of educating his children to something more exalted than money and fame, if every evening they watch a reality show in his home.

Weimann passed the ball to the regulators and demanded that they rein in the broadcasts. That is certainly a legitimate demand, but before they start to implement it we, the potential consumers, have to take steps that will encourage the regulator to act and perhaps will even make his intervention unnecessary.

First and foremost, a boycott. Not a single one of those shows should be watched. They should not be turned into a subject of discussion in the other media. The people who behind them - the channel directors, the producers, editors and presenters - should not be treated as "cultural heroes" and "success stories," but with the disgust deserved by people who drug the public and whose powerful influence makes them dangerous. Like Cato the Elder in Rome, every MK and public figure should end his speeches and his appearances with the words: "And aside from that, the reality shows must be boycotted." Maybe they should even be dubbed "the polluted shows."

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NO ONE IS QUESTIONING ISRAEL'S LEGITIMACY

UNCRITICAL USAGE OF THE TERM 'DELEGITIMIZATION,' WHICH IS CHARACTERISTIC OF ISRAEL'S POLITICAL DISCOURSE, THE GOVERNMENT'S PUBLIC RELATIONS EFFORTS AND THE ACTIVITY OF OVERSEAS JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS, DOES DAMAGE TO ISRAEL.

BY SHLOMO AVINERI

A very senior minister, who belongs to neither Likud nor Yisrael Beiteinu, voiced his concern to me some while back over the possibility that the General Assembly of the UN would decide to recognize a Palestinian state in the June 1967 borders. Such a decision, he said, would amount to delegitimizing Israel.

Such uncritical usage of the term "delegitimization" is characteristic of Israel's political discourse, the government's public relations efforts and the activity of overseas Jewish organizations, some of which have set up special task forces on "the war against delegitimization." Despite the best of intentions, all of this does damage to Israel.

There is no doubt that UN support for establishing a Palestinian state without negotiations would pose a difficult problem for Israel. But such a decision would not delegitimize the state of Israel. Indeed, one could even argue the opposite: Recognizing a Palestinian state within 1967 borders also means recognizing that Israel's borders are the 1967 lines. These borders include West Jerusalem, thus effectively recognizing it as part of Israel - something even the country's best friends have hitherto been unwilling to do.

The truth is there are no significant moves afoot anywhere on Earth to delegitimize Israel. There are small, marginal groups, primarily among extreme left wing academics, that are nourished in part by Arab propaganda and cast doubt on Israel's right to exist. But no country that maintains diplomatic relations with Israel has ever made any claim against its legitimate existence, and Israel's membership in the UN is the best possible proof of this.

Israel's government has turned delegitimization - an issue located on the vocal but ephemeral margins of international political discourse - into a problem that must be dealt with. It has thereby granted a marginal, unimportant position a status out of all proportion to its true dimensions.

Even Adm. Eliezer Marom, the commander of the navy - who is a bold warrior, but not exactly an expert in political theory or international law - warned that the latest planned flotilla to the Gaza Strip is meant to delegitimize Israel. This is far too reminiscent of the (failed ) tropes of Soviet propaganda, which presented every criticism of the Soviet Union as an assault on the Soviet state's very right to exist. Such claims are completely delusional: Criticism of the naval blockade on Gaza does not constitute delegitimization of Israel.

It's clear why right wing political figures have an interest in inflating every criticism of Israel and raising it to the level of delegitimization: Most criticism of Israel relates to its settlement policy, which is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, but is far from being accepted by the entire Israeli political spectrum.

Since it is hard to defend this policy overseas, partly because there is so much domestic criticism of it, nothing could be more convenient than mobilizing a consensus for the battle against delegitimization instead. But this effort is foolish, cynical and dangerous for Israel. For we thereby confer legitimacy on the very discourse that doubts the Jewish nation-state's right to exist.

The expected campaign at the United Nations must be waged honestly, and most Israelis would agree that a solution of two states for two peoples can only be reached through negotiations. There is no need to be dragged into the realm of demagoguery and lies, or to intimidate Israel's citizens.

There is criticism of Israel's control of Palestinian territory and its settlement policy. But that is what the argument is about, not Israel's legitimacy. No one is seriously questioning the latter.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE TURKISH SUMMER

The 'Arab Spring' was a name given by the media to a push by people who flooded the streets in the Arab region in reference to the Prague Spring of 1968, which is regarded as the first crack in the Soviet world.

The Arab Spring is a real flood of Arab people's oppressed desires to take to the streets for more freedom and democratic rights, of which they were deprived of for decades.

This summer was supposed to be a cool one after the June 12 elections and under the control of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, or AK Parti. After winning rare, 50 percent support from Turkish voters, Erdoğan's plan was to get the Parliament into summer recess after having the formality oaths taken by the elected deputies, elect the Parliamentary speaker, announce the new Parliament and get the vote of confidence. Then he would start working on the new constitution and see the results of the covert talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the head of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, for a relaxation in the Kurdish problem.

It did not work out like that. Who knows; perhaps because of the politicians' exaggerated playing with the judicial system in recent years, perhaps because of a reaction from within the judicial system, and perhaps because of highly politicized new members in the judiciary who are after revenge against the former system or new politicians, Turkish politics is entrapped by the judiciary. The votes in the ballot boxes are taken hostage by court decisions and Ankara has started to experience one of the hottest summers for years in political terms.

At first, it became impossible to talk about a quiet and cool summer regarding the Kurdish issue. Boycotting the Parliament since five of their fellow deputies are still in jail and have been denied release to take their oaths (after another one, Hatip Dicle was totally stripped of the right of being a member of Parliament), Kurdish-origin deputies announced yesterday that unless they can be a full team, they would have their "parliamentary group meetings" in Diyarbakır from now on; not in Ankara, the country's capital.

Having two of their elected deputies in jail – these are not convicted yet and are still under arrest for nearly two years and denied release – the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, refused to take oaths yesterday, a protest that has not been seen before in the Turkish Parliament on such a massive scale.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP leader, said yesterday that unless (not only their members, but) all elected deputies will be able to take oath (which is a necessary formality to take part in legislative work) the whole CHP group would refrain as well.

AK Parti officials who were snubbing the CHP, thinking that they were just bluffing, changed their attitude after Kılıçdaroğlu's move. Erdoğan decided to send two of his close aides to Kılıçdaroğlu, justified by "consultations on the election of the new Parliamentary speaker," knowing that without taking their oaths, CHP deputies will not be able to use votes in the General Assembly.

What we are witnessing is the Turkish Summer. It is not taking place on the streets, but in the corridors of Parliament; showing the maturity of the Turkish democracy, when considered from a different angle. Yet it is caused by decades-long problems swept under the carpet by consecutive governments. Its effects in parliamentary politics will be corrective, it seems. But how will this crisis affect the Kurdish issue and the Constitution work? We are going to see that through this Turkish Summer.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

 

'TURKEY IS SHAPING THE ARAB SPRING'

So says Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's top foreign policy advisor, Ibrahim Kalın. Mr. Kalın defends the idea that it was wise for Turkey in the past to engage the Middle East's rogue states and black sheep like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now that engagement has paid off, according to Mr. Erdoğan's aide.

But remember only half a year ago Mr. Erdoğan happily received the Gadhafi Human Rights Prize. Half a year ago, Mr. Erdoğan was planning to launch what this columnist dubbed the Middle Eastern Coal and Steel Union – with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Half a year ago, Mr. Erdoğan and his "dear friend and brother" Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, were all smiles when they removed visa restrictions on travel between their two brotherly countries.

Today the Turkish-Syrian border reminds one of the same border in 1998 when Turkey threatened Syria with war. Syrian tanks parade along the border areas while a Turkish army commander inspects the readiness of his troops in the unwanted event of a clash.

Travel is still visa-free, but Syrian officials make it extremely difficult for Turkish commercial trucks and even taxis to cross the border. Agence France-Presse quoted one Turkish truck driver as saying the honeymoon is over. "When I stop to buy gas, I am told they ran out of gas," the driver said. Another truck driver complained that "Syrian officials and police have become aggressive."

Only a week after an official Iranian newspaper accused Turkey of providing arms to Syrian protestors, Syrian officials for the first time declared that their best friend until half a year ago was helping the revolt (the "terrorists"). So, only half a year was sufficient to turn one of Syria's best friends into a sponsor of terrorism.

In Ankara, Mr. Erdoğan seems to be preparing to completely abandon his great friend and brother, Mr. Assad and find a new great friend and brother in Egypt, with which Turkey will soon hold a strategic council meeting. Mr. Erdoğan hopes the Muslim Brotherhood performs well in Egypt's elections later this year. For Ankara, Cairo can be the new Damascus until another Arab capital becomes the new Cairo.

Meanwhile in Tehran, another "great friend and brother," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must be curious about the latest Turkish zigzag, which he must by now be prepared for – zigzags have always been an essential tool of Turkish foreign policy based on a generous dose of pragmatism with occasional and interchangeable touches of third-worldism, neo-Ottomanism and Islamism.

In a speech at a Middle East Institute forum in Washington, Mr. Kalın said 65 to 70 percent of Turks approved of Mr. Erdoğan's foreign policy (62 percent, according to Pew research), an indication that the Turks are happy to be "shaping the Arab Spring."

In fact, Turkey is not shaping but is trying to synchronize its zigzagging path with the Arab Spring, while an increasing number of Arabs (and Persians) now think "the Ottomans are back" with their habitual betrayals and confusing crisscrossing between Western and Eastern interests, not even knowing all too well where the Turkish interests lie.

This is Turkey's eternal "purgatory role" in the Middle East, with or without new friends and brothers, as new friends can quickly become new foes and vice versa.

At best, Mr. Erdoğan will find a new great friend and brother in Damascus after Mr. Assad has left for good. But that new great friend and brother will always know well he too may one day be abandoned by these new Ottomans. Ask the Iranians, and they will privately tell you if they view Mr. Erdoğan as a friend or as a part-time asset disguised as a Trojan Horse.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

'TURKEY IS SHAPING THE ARAB SPRING'

So says Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's top foreign policy advisor, Ibrahim Kalın. Mr. Kalın defends the idea that it was wise for Turkey in the past to engage the Middle East's rogue states and black sheep like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now that engagement has paid off, according to Mr. Erdoğan's aide.

But remember only half a year ago Mr. Erdoğan happily received the Gadhafi Human Rights Prize. Half a year ago, Mr. Erdoğan was planning to launch what this columnist dubbed the Middle Eastern Coal and Steel Union – with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Half a year ago, Mr. Erdoğan and his "dear friend and brother" Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, were all smiles when they removed visa restrictions on travel between their two brotherly countries.

Today the Turkish-Syrian border reminds one of the same border in 1998 when Turkey threatened Syria with war. Syrian tanks parade along the border areas while a Turkish army commander inspects the readiness of his troops in the unwanted event of a clash.

Travel is still visa-free, but Syrian officials make it extremely difficult for Turkish commercial trucks and even taxis to cross the border. Agence France-Presse quoted one Turkish truck driver as saying the honeymoon is over. "When I stop to buy gas, I am told they ran out of gas," the driver said. Another truck driver complained that "Syrian officials and police have become aggressive."

Only a week after an official Iranian newspaper accused Turkey of providing arms to Syrian protestors, Syrian officials for the first time declared that their best friend until half a year ago was helping the revolt (the "terrorists"). So, only half a year was sufficient to turn one of Syria's best friends into a sponsor of terrorism.

In Ankara, Mr. Erdoğan seems to be preparing to completely abandon his great friend and brother, Mr. Assad and find a new great friend and brother in Egypt, with which Turkey will soon hold a strategic council meeting. Mr. Erdoğan hopes the Muslim Brotherhood performs well in Egypt's elections later this year. For Ankara, Cairo can be the new Damascus until another Arab capital becomes the new Cairo.

Meanwhile in Tehran, another "great friend and brother," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must be curious about the latest Turkish zigzag, which he must by now be prepared for – zigzags have always been an essential tool of Turkish foreign policy based on a generous dose of pragmatism with occasional and interchangeable touches of third-worldism, neo-Ottomanism and Islamism.

In a speech at a Middle East Institute forum in Washington, Mr. Kalın said 65 to 70 percent of Turks approved of Mr. Erdoğan's foreign policy (62 percent, according to Pew research), an indication that the Turks are happy to be "shaping the Arab Spring."

In fact, Turkey is not shaping but is trying to synchronize its zigzagging path with the Arab Spring, while an increasing number of Arabs (and Persians) now think "the Ottomans are back" with their habitual betrayals and confusing crisscrossing between Western and Eastern interests, not even knowing all too well where the Turkish interests lie.

This is Turkey's eternal "purgatory role" in the Middle East, with or without new friends and brothers, as new friends can quickly become new foes and vice versa.

At best, Mr. Erdoğan will find a new great friend and brother in Damascus after Mr. Assad has left for good. But that new great friend and brother will always know well he too may one day be abandoned by these new Ottomans. Ask the Iranians, and they will privately tell you if they view Mr. Erdoğan as a friend or as a part-time asset disguised as a Trojan Horse.

***************************************


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

 

77,669 VOTES CAST FOR DICLE

Let's forget for a moment all the bureaucratic-juristocratic chains of mistakes that barred Hatip Dicle's deputyship. Let's not try to produce fresh conspiracy theories over the Supreme Court of Appeals' delay in reporting Dicle's approved one-year-eight-month conviction on a terrorism-related charge. Let's also be naïve in believing that the Supreme Election Board, or YSK's, handing over of Dicle's seat to Oya Eronat from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was nothing but an implementation of the law, compatible with the Constitution. Let's even be blind to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP's, decision to nominate Dicle to run Parliament like turkeys voting for an early Christmas.

But what we cannot blink at is the 77,669 votes cast for Dicle on June 12. Amid so many legal experts and politicians who commented on Dicle's case, Rıza Türmen, a former judge on the European Court of Human Rights who was elected to Parliament from the ranks of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, stood distinguished with his clear approach to the issue. For Türmen, a chain of mistakes and the wrongdoings of the state at the hands of judicial bureaucracy should not be put on the shoulders of either those elected or the electorate.

"What is important is the fact that Dicle was elected by thousands of people. The YSK has seized the electorate's right to elect its own representative. It's not only against universal laws, it also violates national regulation and norms," Türmen was quoted as saying. He went on to say that Dicle's votes were then unfairly and illegally transferred to another candidate from another party in full violation of the universal principles of justice.

Citing a similar case in Greece, Türmen said the European court was very keen on protecting voters' rights to elect their own representatives according to their will. His proposal was to persuade Eronat to take an oath in Parliament and resign from her post, making room for the political parties to discuss a potential way out.

 Altan Tan, another independently elected deputy from Diyarbakır, said Dicle's electorate was getting prepared to take legal action against the YSK for their part in awarding Eronat votes won by Dicle. Among so many other reactions from the BDP and its affiliates, this one seems to be the most sensible. It shows how people will maintain their claim to their votes.

A consequence of this confusion is that Parliament currently has 551 elected deputies, one more than required. Both Dicle and Eronat claim they were fairly elected based on the fact that both received mandates from the local election board in Diyarbakır. Although Dicle's was later annulled, many people believe that, after a person receives a mandate, he or she is an elected representative of the people. In this case, both politicians' claim on the seat seems to be legally valid. That's why Dicle's lawyers applied to the Constitutional Court on Monday to annul Eronat's deputyship on the grounds that the YSK has no authority to quash an elected deputy's right to take his seat at Parliament.

A Parliament with 551 deputies (or 550, according to official figures), 39 of whom (or 38, according to official figures) were missing at the opening, signals interesting times ahead.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

'DECEPTIONOCRACY' OR DEMOCRACY?

The last time such a high number of deputies were missing at the inaugural session of parliament was perhaps in the 1920 inaugural session of the Turkish parliament in Ankara. Of course conditions were different. Istanbul was under occupation. Many deputies were banished by the occupying British administration to prison in Malta. Many deputies were loyal to the sultan and die-hard opponent of the "traitors" in Anatolia. Yet, out of 169 deputies of the Ottoman parliament 115 were present together with other "elected" deputies in the first congregation of parliament in Ankara.

Of course, this is the first ever parliament since the last Ottoman parliament whose eight members are in prison, though the country is not under occupation and therefore not a single deputy is jailed at a remote island prison under the rule of that occupation power.

The Hatip Dicle case is the most awkward and perhaps the landmark development of the past election period. Whatever Turkey might say to defend itself at a hearing on the Dicle case at the European Court of Human Rights it most likely to be sentenced. Why? While under Turkish law the Supreme Election Board might be perfectly right in declaring Dicle's election as deputy null and void because an 20-month imprisonment he was condemned to was finalized by the Court of Appeals, it is the fact Dicle was sentenced, not because of a violent act he committed, but because he expressed his unwelcome ideas. In any modern democracy as long as there is no violence or incitement to violence it is rather difficult to understand why someone is sentenced.

But, the other eight cases, though very different than Dicle's case, are rather awful as well. Naturally, no one with any brains and a little bit self respect would try to fool anyone in the world that it is compatible with the notion of democracy or justice to place someone behind bars and keep him/her there for months or years – journalist Mustafa Balbay has almost completed three years in prison – because evidence gathering was still continuing or there is possibility of the detained hiding evidence or escaping abroad. Criminals should of course be punished, but detention should not replace punishment or should not itself become some sort of punishment. That's what Turkish laws on procedures of trial underline. Yet, when will Turkey abandon the practice of imprisoning the "criminal" and "finding" the evidence later?

It is obvious that over the years Turkey has succeeded in finding ways and means of fooling the world that it is advancing in democracy while most of antidemocratic applications of the past were being continued under some disguise. For example, under pressure from prodemocracy local public and the international community, particularly the European Union this country has been aspiring to join in, Turkey has not terminated the condemned State Security Courts when it said it terminated them. While "closing down" those specially powerful courts Turkey established courts with the same special powers that were not named State Security Courts but "Heavy Criminal Courts with Special Powers." As is said, Veli Ali or Ali Veli, same powers, new name… The difference? The world was fooled as if Turkey was progressing in democracy. Deleting a contentious article and inserting an identical or similar paragraph under another law and thus maintaining and even consolidating the antidemocratic clause somehow has become the name of the game in this country run by the masters of deception.

Would the decision of the Peace and democracy Party, or BDP, member independents to boycott Parliament, the refusal of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, to take oath in Parliament and maneuvers by the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, be enough to force the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to accept to lift its hegemony on the justice or agree at least partial removal of the veil of "deceptionocracy" and its replacement by a bit of democracy?

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHEN THE SENSE OF JUSTICE IS LOST

If the 10 percent threshold was not applied and Hatip Dicle had run for election from Diyarbakır not as an independent candidate but from the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, list, what would the picture we are experiencing today have looked like?

In the case that the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, annulled Dicle's parliamentary membership because he is under arrest for the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, trial, would his deputyship have been passed onto the next person on the list of the Justice and Development Party, or AK Parti?

If the threshold did not exist, the BDP would have received 4 to 7 percent.

In general elections held on June 12, in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, there were 679,364 valid votes cast. The total number of votes cast for the six independent candidates of the Freedom and Democracy Block supported by the BDP reached 411,232. This figure corresponds to 58.5 percent of the total number of valid votes. Hatip Dicle, with 78,220 votes, was the most successful in the province. The next independent candidate to follow him closely was Leyla Zana with 71,231 votes.

On the other hand, the total votes of the ruling party have remained at 230,213 in Diyarbakır. This figure corresponds to 32.88 percent of total votes. While the independents gained six seats in Parliament, AK Parti had only five seats. But when the YSK annulled Dicle's membership and gave that seat to the AK Parti, the distribution ratio turned against the BDP, 5 to 6.

If a just system without the threshold was being applied, in that case, because BDP voters would have cast their votes directly for one list of the BDP instead of dispersing their votes among independent candidates, we would have come up with a different table.

When we apply a proportional representation system without any threshold to the Diyarbakır results, BDP would have gained seven seats, while the AK Parti would only have been able to gain four seats.

An interesting point is that even if the YSK had decided to annul Dicle's membership in a system without a threshold, the distribution would still have been 7 to 4 for the BDP. This is because the candidate in eighth place on the BDP's list would have been ahead of the closest AK Parti candidate by 5,350 votes based on the ranking of the candidates, according to proportional representation.

The government also had a role in the process

As can be seen clearly, the threshold system has not only obstructed the BDP from gaining the number of seats it truly deserves in Parliament, but has also magnified the injustice by causing one of their annulled deputyships to be allocated to another party.

The noteworthy aspects of this incident are not limited to the YSK's acceptance of Dicle's candidacy and then later annulling it.

What is actually thought-provoking is that one of the steps that caused the annulment of Dicle's membership and the transfer of his seat to the AK Parti was in reality taken by the ruling party.

According to news stories that were published in daily Radikal toward the end of last week and were not subsequently denied, it nobody but Haluk İpek, deputy president in charge of election affairs of the ruling AK Parti, who filed the petition to YSK to annul Dicle's parliamentary seat.

The error had to be reported

The Diyarbakır Provincial Election Board handed the mandate for Dicle's parliamentary seat to his lawyers on June 17. The next day, AK Parti executive İpek filed a petition to the YSK, pointing out that the decision of the Provincial Election Board was inaccurate and that Dicle did not meet the eligibility criteria to stand for election. Three days later on June 21, the YSK decided to annul Dicle's mandate at a meeting and decided to hand the mandate to AK Parti candidate Oya Eronat instead.

Speaking to Radikal, Haluk İpek said: "The process was continuing. While the file was [still being debated] at the YSK, it was illegal for the YSK to hand the mandate to Dicle. We reported this irregularity to the YSK. One person has lost his eligibility to be elected but received his mandate. The other candidate [Oya Eronat] is our candidate. We had to report this mistake to the YSK. The YSK's decision is in accordance with the constitution and the laws," without hiding the move they initiated.

In this case, we have to acknowledge the triggering role of a step taken by the ruling party in reaching today's crisis point.

Then, just how realistic is it to expect the party that has taken this step, even though its name starts with the word "justice," to find a solution to the problem now?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHY TURKEY WILL NOT BECOME ITALY

Attending an Italian gathering of the Council for the United States and Italy, I was struck by the extent to which Italy reminded me of Turkey before 2002: a country run by an octogenarian and Cold War-era elite, lacking the imagination to reform. Italy is stuck in the past because its elites live there.

Thanks to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, Turkey's traditional secular elites are being forced to rejuvenate themselves – saving themselves and their country from the fate that has struck Italy.

A case in point is the transformation of Turkey's largest opposition movement, the Republican People's Party, or CHP.

After a decade of stagnating in comparison to the AKP, the CHP now appears to be reborn as Turkey's first truly liberal mass political opposition movement. Since electing a new leader in 2010, the party gained over 3.5 million new voters in the June 12 elections, boosting its support by over one quarter.

Since 2002, the AKP has been the party of change in Turkey, promoting a blend of free markets and social conservatism.

Many Turks pointed to the fact that while Turkey faced conservatism and growing authoritarianism within the ranks of the AKP, the lack of a credible opposition to check the governing party's power posed an even bigger problem. The CHP provided no viable liberal alternative, simply offering the Turks pro-status quo nationalism. While the AKP stood for an agenda of change, albeit toward a more conservative Turkey, the CHP failed to put forth any alternative vision for a 21st-century Turkey.

The choice between the AKP and the CHP was, in fact, a false choice for a democracy that had lost its vigor, much like the dilemma facing Italy today.

Part of the problem lay in the fact that while the AKP mastered grassroots politics, the CHP remained oblivious to such a tactic, ostensibly waiting for the masses to embrace it.

Furthermore, the CHP stuck to the wrong side of Kemalist legacy, turning off many Turks. As an early 20th-century modernizing movement rooted in French positivism, Kemalism envisioned a Turkey at peace with Western values, but resorted to state-led modernization to reach this goal. The old CHP fixated upon the latter part of this legacy, a "we know what is best for you" paternalism that no longer fits Turkey's diverse population.

This is now changing. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is fashioning a new CHP, embracing certain Kemalist values, such as gender equality and individual liberties, while jettisoning its methodology. More importantly, after the AKP dropped the ball on European Union accession, the new CHP picked it up, arguing that EU membership must remain a top foreign policy priority if Turkey is to become a true liberal democracy.

With a record number of women in the new party assembly and a fresh approach to the country's festering Kurdish question (such as their proposal to implement Kurdish language education), the CHP appears to be emerging as a liberal force.

For the first time, the Turks have a credible progressive alternative to the AKP. As a result, Turkey, a unique democracy balancing Islam, secularism and a sense of Western identity, has a chance to address its "yin and yang" problem.

But now, with the AKP having won the elections for a third term, will the liberal version of the CHP continue to thrive? The answer would appear to be yes. After centuries of Westernization, Turkey has millions of would-be liberals who finally have a party with which they can identify.

Turks no longer have a false choice between the AKP's top-down social conservatism and the old CHP's top-down Kemalism. Although seemingly diametrically opposed in values, these two approaches mirrored one another, as each wished to shape society in its own image by imposing its weight on Turkey's diverse population.

Now, Turkey appears to have a second way, a liberal vision enshrined in the new CHP. After shedding its ill-fitting form, secular Turkey is rising out of its own ashes. In short, while Italy is in a sore state under the weight of its old elites, it appears that Turkey will not follow the same path.

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

EDITORIAL

LEADERLESS IN EUROPE

The survival of the common European Union currency, free movement across national borders and trans-Atlantic collective security are all in serious doubt. Europe's leaders are in denial or paralyzed.

How could any European leader let these pillars of the Continent's well-being be jeopardized? The problem is there are no European leaders, just a German chancellor, a French president, an Italian prime minister and others who profess a continental vision but never look much beyond their local political interests.

Europe's unraveling is also a problem for Americans. A fracturing of the euro could drag down the global economy. A breakdown of NATO would mean the United States would have to bear an even bigger security burden. More than a year into their debt crisis, major European leaders are still unable to make the necessary tough decisions. The constructive way out would be to restructure excessive debt, recapitalize affected banks and relax austerity enough to let debtor countries — Greece, Ireland and Portugal are most at risk — grow their way back to solvency. No one country could afford to finance such a solution, but Europe as a whole could.

In a welcome concession to reality, France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced that French banks are now prepared to "voluntarily" extend the maturity of some Greek debt. That could help, but only if all of Europe follows France's lead — Germany's banks have yet to sign on — and then eases its pressure on Athens for still more austerity. Selling this to European voters will require politicians to tell the truth. The alternative is to let the euro-zone break apart and trade suffer across the Continent.

The opening of most European internal borders over the past two decades has been an economic boon. But almost every country has also seen an alarming rise of anti-immigrant political parties. Economic crisis and the arrival of tens of thousands of Tunisian and Libyan refugees have pushed this xenophobia to new levels. France, Italy and Denmark have sought to selectively opt out of the historic Schengen agreement, with its passport-free borders. The refugee problem is also too big for any one country to handle. It, too, requires real European leadership.

Europe's early response to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi's brutality in Libya was promising. France pushed hard for international action, and NATO allies agreed to assume leadership after a round of American airstrikes.

But the cost of years of military underinvestment by most European members quickly became clear, as they had to turn to Washington for bombs and other basic support. Collective defense always assumed that America would come to Europe's aid against a superpower like the Soviet Union. But European NATO's inability to master a minor challenge like Libya should frighten every defense ministry in Europe.

Americans are weary of war — and fear of weakening NATO no longer deters politicians, as the fight over the Libya campaign has made clear. We don't know how much longer voters here will support an alliance in which the United States shoulders 75 percent of the military spending and a much higher percentage of the fighting.

Europe's leaders need to find some broader vision of their own quickly, or Europeans — and their American allies — could pay a huge price.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

DEBT LIMIT DOG DAYS

Monday's meeting between President Obama and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, was intended to revive the debt-limit talks after Republican negotiators walked out last week, insisting that they won't agree to raise the limit unless Democrats agree to trillions of dollars in deficit reduction — with no tax increases at all.

Before the meeting, Mr. McConnell insisted that "it's time for Washington to take the hit, not the taxpayers." While both sides said the talks would continue, there is little sign the Republicans will consider a compromise. The government has barely a month to raise the debt limit or begin to default on its obligations, with potentially disastrous consequences for the economy.

Talking about Washington taking the hit may play well on the hustings, for now. But the truth is that if the Republicans get their way, taxpayers will be the ones to take the hit, as basic services are cut drastically.

Nor will a spending-cuts-only approach fix the deficit. If the Bush tax cuts are extended beyond their expiration at the end of 2012, lost revenue from the cuts — plus related interest costs — would account for 45 percent of the projected $11.2 trillion in deficits in this decade.

The Republicans' fierce opposition is even more absurd when you consider the relatively modest tax increases proposed by Democrats.

Ending unnecessary subsides for oil companies would raise $40 billion over 10 years, while a tax accounting change that would also apply mainly to oil companies could raise $72 billion over five years. Getting rid of a tax break for corporate jets would raise about $3 billion. Closing a loophole that allows private-equity money mangers to pay tax at about the lowest rate in the tax code would raise about $20 billion over 10 years.

The Democrats' most ambitious proposal would limit the value of various write-offs for taxpayers making more than $500,000. That could possibly save upwards of $100 billion over a decade. Those are all workable ideas, but they do not add up to much in the context of a deal that is aiming for $2 trillion to $4 trillion in deficit reduction.

The fixation on the deficit has drawn attention away from the far more urgent problem of unemployment. Deficit reduction, done right, requires enactment of a plan for spending cuts and tax increases that can be implemented as the economy recovers.

President Obama needs to do a better job of explaining the stakes to Americans. The Republicans need to put the country's economic interests above their partisan ambitions. There is not a lot of time.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE JUDGE WHO CRACKED THE BULGER CASE

For anyone trying to fathom James (Whitey) Bulger's long, pathological career on both sides of the law, a 661-page opinion by Mark Wolf, chief judge of the Federal District Court in Massachusetts, tells the inside story.

In 1998, the judge held a 10-month hearing on the F.B.I.'s failure to tell the United States attorney in Boston that Mr. Bulger and Stephen (the Rifleman) Flemmi were their informants against organized crime.

The judge uncovered that John Connolly Jr., the F.B.I. agent who was their handler, had protected Mr. Bulger, a 15-year informant, and Mr. Flemmi, a 25-year informant, as they committed murder and conspired with the Mafia, in exchange for leads about the Mafia. It was Mr. Connolly who tipped off Mr. Bulger that he was about to be indicted and sent him on the lam. Judge Wolf testified against the F.B.I. agent at a 2002 trial before another judge. Mr. Connolly was sentenced to 10 years for racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements to investigators.

From his investigation, Judge Wolf also concluded that the government couldn't use crucial evidence against Mr. Flemmi that it had gathered through wiretaps against other mobsters because it had granted him partial immunity. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, overturned that part of the judge's ruling, holding that only prosecutors and not the F.B.I. could grant immunity.

The Wolf opinion is famous in the world of criminal justice. It led to high-profile hearings in Congress on "The F.B.I.'s Use of Murderers as Informants."

The only time Judge Wolf commented publicly about this saga was a decade ago when he sentenced Mr. Flemmi to life in prison for his part in 10 murders. He said that "the F.B.I.'s relationship with Bulger and Flemmi was not an isolated, aberrant occurrence" when it came to the Top Echelon informants program. He found "a long pattern of the F.B.I." ignoring the Constitution's requirement that it be "candid with the courts" and prosecutors.

Judges are supposed to dispense justice but rarely root out crimes. As a result of Judge Wolf's courage and persistence, the government has paid more than $100 million in claims to families of people murdered by informants shielded by the F.B.I. There is no good evidence that the F.B.I. has set up independent oversight of its informants program like what the judge called for. It's high time.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MINING AND THE CANYON

The Obama administration has extended for six months a 2009 moratorium on new uranium mining claims on one million acres around the Grand Canyon. This is good news; even better is the promise from Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, that he will soon recommend a 20-year ban on new claims in the region. That is the maximum allowed under the 1872 mining law.

With uranium prices rising, the number of mining claims have jumped sharply over the last few years. There have been about 3,500 claims in the Grand Canyon-area alone. If developed, they would generate toxic wastes that would threaten the Colorado River — the source of drinking water for roughly 27 million people — the aquifer and the Grand Canyon ecosystem in general.

Mr. Salazar said he could not cancel valid existing claims, but there is likely to be little actual mining. The decision to "withdraw" the land from future claims creates new regulatory hurdles for existing claimants, who must demonstrate, among other things, that they had discovered actual mineral deposits before the 2009 moratorium. Only a handful have been able to do so.

There have been the usual complaints from mining lobbyists and their Congressional allies. Representative Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, has threatened to use the interior appropriations bill to block Mr. Salazar's plan. The moratorium will have little effect on the country's uranium supply, most of which comes from Wyoming and New Mexico.

It will protect a treasured national park and the drinking water for millions of people.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

UTOPIA ON THE HUDSON

BY MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

I FIGURED I'd get straight to it.

"So, Governor," I asked, "are you afraid you're going to hell?"

Andrew Cuomo, inculcated at Immaculate Conception grade school, Archbishop Molloy High School and Fordham University, chuckled. "There are forms of hell, Maureen," he answered. "The question is, which level?"

He's his father's son, all right.

"It's troubling for me as a Catholic to be at odds with the church," he began, before dissolving into a wry laugh. "Having said that, it seems that my entire political life, the tension with the church has come up again and again."

Just as his father seized a social issue and established himself in opposition to the church with his Notre Dame speech on abortion, now the son has seized a social issue and established himself in opposition to the church with gay marriage.

Is it genetic, I wonder.

"I have a portrait of Saint Thomas More in my office," the governor said, calling from the statehouse in Albany. It is a picture Mario Cuomo once kept in his office. He gave it to Andrew as a present when he graduated from Albany Law School, and the younger Cuomo has kept it with him for 30 years as he moved from job to job and city to city. "It's not the first time there is a tension between the teachings of the church and the administration of the law, for my father and for myself." Dryly, he adds: "I haven't lost my head yet."

Far from it. The New York governor says he still goes to church with his three teenage daughters. He received Communion at his Inaugural Day Mass, but mostly abstains. He has managed to stay on good terms with New York's pugnacious archbishop, Timothy Dolan, who waged a relatively muted battle against gay marriage that Cuomo calls "reasonable."

When I asked if the archbishop would preside over the ceremony if the governor decides to tie the knot with the Food  Network glamour girl Sandra Lee, Cuomo says it couldn't happen "because I'm divorced."

He shrugged off the shrill complaint of Vatican adviser Edward Peters that he's living in "public concubinage" with his girlfriend in their Westchester home.

"He was a blogger, not from my state," Cuomo  said of Peters. "I didn't want to give it too much credibility."

As for whether Lee was hurt by the crude, archaic term, he conceded, "It was not a pleasant conversation for anyone."

Back when he was a young strategist for his dad, Andrew Cuomo attracted adjectives like  arrogant, ruthless, intimidating and manipulative.

These days, having risen from the painful ashes of a failed gubernatorial run in 2002 and a marriage to Kerry Kennedy that ended in divorce in 2003 — a time when those close to him worried that he had lost his way — he seems remarkably Zen.

"That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger," the 53-year-old murmurs about the nightmare years.

Mario Cuomo told me that Andrew said to him in that period of despond, " 'I guess I'm through with politics. What do you think, Pop?' I told him if you can get up off the canvas after two really hard shots, we're all with you and now you've got something else — the experience of being on the canvas.

"We love him; that's easy. But admiring him, too, that's unusual."

Andrew Cuomo is still a master schemer and relentless phoner. "I don't hang up until you say yes," he says. But he has also studied his predecessors' flaws and talents and added a healthy dose of Rockefeller wining-and-dining to his portfolio.

Having debuted with a flawless six months as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative (he passed an austere budget with a property tax cap and no tax increases), Cuomo seems happy. His dad calls his accomplishment "unique," saying he has done more faster than anyone he's watched in Albany, including himself, to break down partisan barriers and move things forward.

Andrew calls himself "an aggressive progressive" and thinks liberals have to reorient themselves toward a government with goals and effective service, rather than big government.

Those who have followed Cuomo's career for decades do not think he took on the same-sex marriage issue out of the goodness of his heart. They think he saw how he could get a strategic win with little downside.

But like Ted Olson when he fought Prop. 8 in court in California, Cuomo seems genuinely moved by the reaction. He says that at many points "I did not think we were going to win," which explains why he signed it so quickly on Friday just before the clock struck midnight "with the ink still wet."

At Sunday's gay pride parade in Manhattan, the guy who was once the cold insider blossomed into the cherished hero.

"I have never been in anything like that in my life, period," he said. "Not when I worked with Clinton. Not with my father. In my 30 years in government, I never felt what I felt in that parade. Just the difference we made in people's lives, how we touched people and made them feel good about society. It was really magic.

"A father, maybe 60 years old, came up to me and said, 'You know, I have a gay son, and I never really accepted him and I shouldn't have needed you to tell me that it was O.K. to accept my own boy. But I did.' "

For the moment, and it may only be a moment given all the thorny issues he has coming up, he is in that imaginary place his idol Sir Thomas More  invented: utopia. 

He wanted to prove government could work and the two parties could trust each other, and he has — avoiding his father's mistake of being too highhanded with lawmakers. He wanted to transform a dysfunctional Albany from a joke, after the shenanigans of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, to a respected place where young people once more aspired to work, and he has.

"For a moment in time, you had people in this state capital who really heard their better angels and responded," he said. "Government here has a renewed bounce in its step."

The governor says he sold the marriage-equality bill as a matter of conscience and didn't try to buy off any recalcitrant lawmakers with promises about roads or bridges.

He said Senator Roy McDonald, a Republican who grew up in public housing and represents a somewhat conservative district in the Albany area, told him that he wanted to vote for the bill because "it's the right thing. I believe my God is a God of love and acceptance."

When Republican donors were brought in to assuage skittish Republican legislators, Cuomo said, "It wasn't really about the money. It was to say the Republican Party in this state has always been a moderate Republican Party, a Rockefeller party."

If a politician's character is defined by what he chooses to put himself on the line for, then Cuomo has shown character.

I asked him if President Obama had missed the moment when he stuck to his position at a Democratic fund-raiser for the gay community in Manhattan that states should decide the issue.

"No, there will be other moments," he said diplomatically. "The president comes to New York and they ask him that question. That question didn't exist a year ago. There's been an amazingly rapid evolution on this."

But, for many gays, Cuomo is now the civil rights leader among elected officials, a role President Obama should have proudly held. Cuomo, who now has a huge and excited base of millions of volunteers, activists and donors across the country, can press a button and raise millions.

And that, of course, has led to talk of 2016, when he could face his neighbor Chris Christie, who says he is not a fan of the gay marriage legislation, and even Michele Bachmann, who reacted to the joy in New York by saying she wants a Constitutional amendment protecting marriage.

"If I'm breathing in 2016, I'll be happy," said the man who learned the value of humility.

He says he does not tease his father about the fact that his poll numbers are now higher.

"Some things you don't kid about and that's one of them," he says.

They talk at least once a day, and he says he values his father's advice on any issue the "always rational" Mario chooses to weigh in on.

It is a stark contrast to the Bush 43, who was still afraid of his dad's shadow as president and avoided talking issues with 41.

By contrast, 56 says of 52: "I ask him everything. When you work together as intensely as we did, either you're very, very close, binary, or it destroys the relationship. He's so smart, so informed, such a gift to me. I understand him more and more."  He said he believes that a big part of his job is "leadership on the social, moral and legal issues of the day" because "that's the model of leadership that I was exposed to as a boy.

"My father was against the death penalty, and that was hard in the Son of Sam summer when fear was driving the desire for the death penalty. You can see a line of continuity from the death penalty to choice to marriage equality. You could argue there's a 30-year span of the pressing social, moral and legal issues of the day."

I ask him if it bothers him that he lives with a Food Network star but often keeps a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. schedule at work that causes him to miss out on his girlfriend's famous "semi-homemade" meals at home. (His mom's criticism of her lasagna is another thing you don't kid about.)

"The first six months were a sprint, but I make time for my private life," he says. "My personal life is all good. The kids are good. Sandy's good."

So how does the workaholic on the Hudson relax?

"I'm a Queens boy at the end of the day," he said. "I go fishing. I ride my motorcycle. I work on my cars. I spend time at home. I try to amuse my daughters, although teenagers do not have all that much use for a slightly controlling father."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHOULD JUSTICES KEEP THEIR OPINIONS TO THEMSELVES?

BY JEFF SHESOL

Washington

ARE there really only nine Supreme Court justices?

It seems that everywhere you look, you see one popping up: giving speeches, signing books, leading workshops, posing for pictures at charity functions. This is what law professors call "extrajudicial activity," and we have seen a spate of it lately, not only during the court's summer recesses, when justices fly the marble coop, but throughout the term that began last October and ended this week.

"Extrajudicial" is a term that covers most of what judges do when they are not judging. Of course, in the public sphere, there is really no such thing as purely extrajudicial activity for a Supreme Court justice, any more than there is extrapresidential activity for Barack Obama. Virtually everything the nine do and say — whether in robes, suits or leisure wear — has potential bearing on the reputation of the court.

Which helps explain why the justices' activities have aroused so much controversy during this past term, perhaps more so than in recent years. As much as any string of decisions, this has been a central story line of the term. The complaint — expressed mostly on the left about justices on the right — centers on activities with a strong ideological inflection or an obvious, if unacknowledged, partisan bent.

This, recall, was the term in which Justice Antonin Scalia delivered a tutorial on the Constitution to the House Tea Party caucus; Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. went to The American Spectator's annual fund-raising dinner, where he had previously given the keynote speech; and Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas each drew fire for attending separate meetings hosted by the conservative Koch brothers. Justice Thomas has also been made to defend the political activism of his wife, Virginia, and, in recent weeks, faced questions about his entanglement with Harlan Crow, a benefactor of conservative causes.

This flurry of judicial fraternization at the front lines of the biggest political battles of our time gives new life to some very old questions. Namely, is there something wrong with extrajudicial activity? And if so, can anything be done about it?

Surely there is nothing new or unnatural about justices holding political views and seeking the company of others who share them. It is to be expected that when one believes that right-thinking Americans are locked in an existential struggle with home-grown "Bolsheviki," as Chief Justice William Howard Taft did in the 1920s, one would invite the patriots, not the Reds, to Sunday brunch. It is hardly scandalous that justices are more likely to speak to friendly audiences than hostile ones. The court's history, moreover, is filled with political machinations, like Justice William O. Douglas's attempts to lead or at least join the Democratic presidential ticket; justices' back-channel consultations with presidents, from F.D.R. to L.B.J.; and speechmaking about subjects far and (sometimes too) wide.

Yet there are few, if any, precedents for the involvement of Justices Thomas and Scalia with the fund-raising efforts of the Koch brothers. In an invitation to a meeting earlier this year in Palm Springs, Calif., Charles Koch cautioned financial contributors that "our ultimate goal is not 'fun in the sun.' This is a gathering of doers." The meeting's objective was "to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it." Last summer's sessions included "Framing the Debate on Spending" and "Mobilizing Citizens for November." The invitation listed Justices Scalia and Thomas first among the "notable leaders" who had attended past meetings.

Organizers describe the dinner for The American Spectator, which Justice Alito attended last fall and previously, as a benefit for the nonprofit magazine, which is dedicated to "holding elected officials' feet to the fire." Yet it is hardly coincidental that all the feet in question seem to be left feet, belonging to Democrats like Nancy Pelosi. The magazine, for its part, urges readers to "just say no to liberal vulgarity," and an ad on its home page sends you to Web sites that boast of "back-handing the Left into submission." Indeed, when Justice Alito delivered the keynote address in 2008, just a few weeks after the presidential election, he made a running joke out of the past plagiarism of the incoming vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Of course, it's also true that the more liberal justices speak to liberal audiences. As conservative critics have pointed out, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has taken part in Aspen Institute seminars, which receive some financing from George Soros, the bête noire of Glenn Beck. Justice Stephen G. Breyer has turned up at Renaissance Weekend, the conclave that the Clintons put on the map in the 1990s. But programs for these events reveal a greater emphasis on policy ideas than on political strategy, in contrast to the Koch retreat. If conference materials tell us anything, it's that liberals ponder, conservatives plot.

The conservative confabs are what the corporate world calls "team-building exercises." They are, by design, circles of self-reinforcement and mutual affirmation, where the same familiar gospels — of low taxation, deregulation and strict construction — are preached, and where the high priests of American law sometimes deliver homilies. "We are focused on defending liberty," Justice Thomas said in a recent speech to conservative law students, aligning himself with his wife and "the people around me." In an obvious reference to the health care law, Justice Thomas wondered aloud whether the "fundamental changes that are going on now" were "reversible in any way." He conceded that he did not know, but added that "they're so big" that he thought it was worth trying.

Comments like these raise an important, if somewhat metaphysical, question: if a justice delivers a speech to conservative law students and virtually nobody else listens, does he make a sound? Judge Richard A. Posner, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, is not so sure. "The justices' antics do little harm — or good," he wrote recently. He cited a paradox: "The justices have become more public," he said, "... without being much noticed by the public." A recent Pew Research Center study called "The Invisible Court" — a title that speaks for itself — confirms that view, revealing (if this counts as a revelation) that most Americans cannot name the man now serving as chief justice.

All the same, the justices live in an era of increased scrutiny. Outside the Spectator dinner, Justice Alito was accosted by a blogger with a camera phone shooting video. "It's not important that I'm here," the justice said. There will surely be more of this, coming soon to the screen in your hand. And appearances have consequences. It's not for nothing that "the appearance of impropriety" is a core ethical standard in the code of conduct for United States judges — that is, all federal judges other than Supreme Court justices, who are ostensibly exempt from its strictures. The test in the code is not whether an activity is actually improper; it is whether "reasonable minds" might think that it is. And reasonable minds could well conclude it improper for a justice to bestow his imprimatur on a gathering that aims to drive a political party into oblivion.

We are not naïve. Americans no longer imagine, as a renowned lawyer insisted in 1932, that "the Supreme Court is above and beyond politics." We do not ask our justices to retreat into a monastery or convent and take a vow of silence. All of us gain something meaningful from their willingness to engage with the public. Presumably the justices do, too, albeit less so when they step from their judicial chambers into echo chambers like the Koch or Spectator events, trading one kind of isolation for another — physical for intellectual.

The public's faith in the rule of law depends, to no small degree, on the idea that judges try, as best they can, to maintain a judicial temperament — that they keep a certain distance from public and even private events that appear, in the truest sense of the word, partisan, and that they maintain an open mind. Not a blank mind, devoid of a judicial philosophy, but an open mind — a certain receptiveness to reason, argument and fact. It's not that we need justices without political impulses; we need justices who can keep them in check. "We need to believe in Santa Claus a little bit," said a former Supreme Court clerk, "and these guys aren't making it easy."

During this past term, editorial boards, law professors and others have come forward with proposals to curb the court in various ways — changing the guidelines for recusal, for example, or holding justices accountable to the code of conduct. Whatever their virtues, none of these ideas are likely to take root. For more than a century, every meaningful attempt at Supreme Court reform has collapsed, and not for lack of ingenuity. The founders gave us a court that makes its own rules. As Justice Harlan Fiske Stone wrote in the 1930s, sternly rebuking some of his brethren, "the only check upon our own exercise of power is our own sense of self-restraint."

In the face of criticism, the court's conservatives may be doubling down. Justice Thomas, in particular, has lashed back, refusing to disclose activities and relationships that have been called into question. Stone's admonition, clearly, is as relevant as ever. Over its history, the Supreme Court has faced periodic threats to its legitimacy and has survived with its powers intact, thanks in large part to its public esteem. At some point, another challenge will come. And the court, next time, may find fewer Americans on its side if its members allow themselves to be perceived, in Justice Breyer's words, as "junior-varsity politicians" who possess, but do not merit, the last word.

Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, is the author of "Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court."

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

WHAT NOW?

 

A day after declaring the PPP-led government autocratic and dictatorial, the MQM quit coalition governments at the centre as well as in Sindh. For the first time, governor Ishratul Ebad Khan has also stepped down. The MQM had won two seats in AJK in the last round of elections and the PPP was reportedly pressuring the party to give up one of these seats. When the MQM refused, the AJK Election Commission announced that the law and order situation in Karachi was not conducive for elections. The result: a PPP-MQM fallout that MQM leader Altaf Hussain has called "the end of the PPP." Will the MQM's departure usher in the beginning of the end for the PPP? With the PML-Q on the PPP's side, the MQM's decision to quit doesn't pose a real threat to the coalition. Historically, the MQM and the PML-Q were partners during the Musharraf years. Indeed, when joining the PPP-led government earlier this May, the PML-Q actually fought for the inclusion of the MQM in the coalition. Given the real trust deficit between the PPP and the PML-Q, the latter wanted the former to be a part of the coalition as an insurance against the possibility of being ousted. And it is perhaps a renewal of this fear in light of the latest developments that have sprung Shujaat Hussain into action, leading him to ask Altaf Hussain to exercise patience and to meet the prime minister in Islamabad about the issue.

In the PPP, however, many think, or are at least publically indicating, that reconciliation is still possible. Qamar Zaman Kaira is convinced the PPP can make the MQM and Ebad revert their decision. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has also said the MQM's grievances will be addressed through reconciliation while Federal Law Minister Maula Baksh Chandio has called the disagreements a regular occurrence and expressed hope for an early resolution. But while the coalition may be stable, the AJK fallout reflects the PPP's weak commitment to democracy. For a country that's already confronting innumerable domestic crises and mounting pressure from the West to do more against extremists, - an effort that requires consensus and joint endeavours above all - instability and fission on the political front doesn't ring well. Already, the PML-N has expressed hope that the MQM will join it in collectively challenging the AJK election results. While the prime minister has argued on several occasions that the time for midterm polls is long gone, the PML-N sees the latest developments as a fresh opening to call for early elections. Imran Khan has also launched a campaign to remove the government while the ANP has boycotted the National Assembly and Senate over the PPP's sidelining of the party in the KP government. Even if the PPP government survives these myriad assaults, the fate of Project Democracy hangs by a thread. It is this fate that the custodian of the transition to democracy, the PPP, seems to care the least about.
 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TERROR AND MEDIA

 

As the 'War on Terror' continues to unfold, with its many twists, turns and loops, many of us have become addicted to the news and events that at times unravel like a lurid soap opera, complete with a cast of heroes, villains, and side characters. It is easy to forget while following these dramas that they are brought to us by people who put their own lives at risk to keep us informed and to keep the news flowing in to the desks that process it before it appears on TV screens or the pages of newspapers. Since the 'War on Terror' began in 2001, 31 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, according to the New York-based watchdog body, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ has also reported that Pakistan is now the most dangerous place in the world for media professionals, crawling ahead of Iraq, Somalia, and other war-torn countries.

This is not a comforting thought. The issue has also perhaps not received the degree of attention it deserves. The seminar held in Lahore and addressed by senior newsmen who sought better protection for their colleagues is therefore good news. Reporters, stringers in remote areas, and cameramen who most often come under fire need to be better protected. The authorities need to act to make this possible. But rules also need to be laid down by media organisations, especially at a time when the fierce competition to "get there first" pushes reporters into more and more dangerous situations. Insurance schemes are required and safety must be made a bigger priority. Most disturbing of all is the possible involvement of authorities in some of these acts of violence against journalists. The murder of Saleem Shahzad just weeks ago led to allegations of ISI involvement in the abduction and murder of the investigative journalist. Following strong protests from the journalist community, the government was forced to take the matter more seriously than it first intended, but still not seriously enough. The way it has been dealing with the issue of the commission to enquire into the incident does not offer much hope in terms of government protection for media persons. In many cases, the police have been known to brutally punish newsmen. The latest example of this comes from Lahore where a cameraman for Geo TV reportedly suffered a beating and his equipment was broken because he attempted to film the torture of a boy held by the police. Such acts depict a climate of brutality and must not go unpunished. Allowing this to happen can only add to the climate of violence that prevents journalists from performing their work and endangers their lives. Too many lives have been lost to brutality over the last decade. The trend must stop before more lives are lost in other such tragedies.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S UNWANTED CHILDREN

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

 

We are a fascinating land of amazing contrasts. We produce prophets of peace like Buddha and Gandhi only to hound and kill them when their convictions and worldview become inconvenient. We welcome guests as gods, generously embracing and celebrating all ideas, faiths and cultures as our own. And when the tide turns the respect and tolerance are as easily replaced by hatred and bigotry. From razing dwellings of God to roasting alive pregnant women, everything is fair game.

Everything else, however, pales against our treatment of women. In the land of Sita, Saraswati and Durga, women daily experience the depths of depravity. Last week, Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, witnessed more than a dozen rapes in about 72 hours. And this is a state that not just sends the largest number of lawmakers to parliament, it's ruled by a powerful woman chief minister. Things are not much different in the rest of the country. In fact, the national capital New Delhi is also the 'rape capital' of the nation.

The largest democracy on the planet is turning increasingly inhospitable to the other half of the population. For all its breathless economic growth of recent years, India reports a high incidence of sexual assaults on women, one of the highest in the world. As many as 85 percent of women living in the capital fear being sexually targeted when they step out of their homes.

Again, New Delhi is ruled by a woman chief minister, Sheila Dikshit. Indeed, for the first time in history, we have four women heading four crucial states, not to forget Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president and power behind Dr Manmohan Singh's throne.

In fact, women have never had it so good in terms of both political and economic empowerment. They just do not beat boys every year in every examination, they have been challenging male dominance in virtually every sphere of activity – from banking and business to Bollywood to sports and in professions that have traditionally been male bastions. Yet this extraordinary economic and political ascent has also seen a disturbing and proportionate rise in crimes against women, probably a natural progression of male chauvinism.

This silent war on women is not confined to sexual abuse and harassment at the work place, in colleges and universities. We are killing women even before they arrive in this world. While we have always been a sexist society, science and new technology have honed our deep-seated prejudices and old-fashioned insecurities to a deadly perfection.

The 2011 census offers disturbing findings. The gap between the number of girls per 1,000 boys has widened to 914, a decrease from 927 a decade ago. The girl child is fast becoming an endangered species, thanks to an increasing use of what is euphemistically known as "gender selection".

This is nothing but cold blooded murder, as ruthless as the heinous practice of the pagan Arabs and ancient Rajputs to bury girls alive in the name of some elusive honour. As India gets richer and its economic growth rate competes with China, it's increasingly shutting the door on its girl child. And female feticide or the so-called sex selection using ultrasound technology is not limited to metros or big cities anymore.

Thanks to economic liberation and an increasingly profit-driven medical industry, the blessing of ultrasound technology has now invaded the remotest parts of rural India. Identifying and eliminating the females of the species has become a massive, self-feeding industry. Indeed, it's a booming market out there that sells death and thrives with hospitals, companies selling ultrasound machines and prospective parents of course all being part of a conspiracy of silence.

Ironically, India's most prosperous states, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana, are also its deadliest for girls. 10 to 15 percent of girls in these states are killed in their mothers' wombs. Over the past one decade, an estimated 15 million girls were killed using the technology that was actually supposed to save lives.

Nearly 1500 girls are aborted everyday, as against 250 Indians who are killed in traffic accidents. Natural selection should and would have yielded an additional 600,000 girls every year. According to Unicef, some 7,000 fewer girls are born every day than ought to be.

The financial capital and home of the Bollywood dream industry, Mumbai, boasts a ratio of 874 girls, one of the lowest in the country. Jhajjar district in Haryana, could well be the capital of female feticide, with 774 girls against 1,000 boys.

No wonder in recent years the ratio of women across the billion plus nation has fallen to alarming proportions. This was perhaps only inevitable in a culture in which boys have always been celebrated and pampered and girls made to feel unwelcome like nowhere else in the world. The child sex ratio is actually emblematic of the status of women in the country.

Stand back and look at the issue: This is nothing but another form of rape and abuse. Except it enjoys the sanction of society. Killing machines that these 'ultrasound clinics' essentially are do not operate in secret. They do business with impunity in full public view and right in the heart of our cities and towns and no eyebrows are raised.

And all this has been happening right under the nose of successive governments led by Sonia Gandhi's Congress and the sole champions and defenders of Mother India, Bharatiya Janata Party.

It's not as if there are no laws. The Prohibition of Sex Selection Act or PNDT came into being in 1994 but has never been enforced. In 2001, the Supreme Court ordered central and state governments to strictly enforce the law by forming vigil squads. Little has changed though. Indeed, the last decade has turned out to be the deadliest yet for girl children.

Why do we insecure and arrogant men forget that our own existence is owed to women? Would we exist without the existence and magnanimity of our mothers? And I say this as a son, brother and father of girl children. We should be ashamed of ourselves and what we have visited on our women over the years and decades. Who has given us the right to deny a fellow human something that does not belong to us? Since when have we started playing God? The giving and taking of life is the right of the One who gave us life too, isn't it?

Where do we go from here, or rather, where would we end up with our sick, morbid obsession with boys at the cost of girls? Some answers are offered by a chilling, if slightly skewed, film called Mathrubhoomi (Motherland): A Nation Without Women.

The movie is set in a future Indian village that, yearning for a boy, kills its newborn girls one after another. It eventually ends up as a village with no women. So the men try to quench their natural cravings with the help of porn and animals. When a father finally finds a bride for his youngest son, she ends up being shared not just by the entire family but the whole village. I know the movie is absurdly exaggerated. But if we are going the way we are going, we could very well end up in another Mathrubhoomi.



The writer is based in the Gulf. Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

 MOHAMMAD MALICK

 

The manner in which the armed forces of the country were publically targeted in the last 64 days has no parallel in the entire 64-year existence of this country. They were mauled by the media, ripped apart by politicians, and reviled by the man on the street. And the timing couldn't be worse with the forces fighting a deadly war on the western borders of the country. What had initially started as simmering rage over the khaki facilitated fleeing of US defence contractor Raymond Davis blew into outright fury over the humiliatingly daring US raid in Abbottabad, which made the Pakistani security establishment look like losers, to put it kindly. And then the Mehran base incident happened.


For the people these events were discomforting proofs of intelligence failure and gross professional incompetence. But what the political elements recognised here was an opportunity to forever put the khakis back in their barracks.


Has this public criticism of the defence establishment, which has undoubtedly put it on the back foot, moved the country away from the spectre of another military-political clash, or will the force of circumstances eventually force even a hitherto reluctant army chief like Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to utter the infamous words, "...mairay hamwatno..."?

The army is under fire from all quarters. There are no two opinions about an internal rage of its own. The top brass found itself squirming at the intensity and boldness of questions raised, both by foot soldiers and officers alike, during the darbars held in the wake of OBL's Abbottabad operation. Not so muffled opinions are being expressed about the "inexplicable tolerance" of their chief, enjoying an unprecedented three-year term extension. For their part, the corps commanders only recently publicly came out with a note complaining of "conceptual biases" against the armed forces, amongst other laments. The permanent source of succour in the past, the US military establishment, is now one of the greatest sources of irritation and posing a threat to the very existence of the defence establishment, both in terms of its structure and its operational methodologies and preferences.

The political parties want to use the current situation to constrain the armed forces forever. The media wants guaranteed security and a military-exclusionary democratic dispensation. The common man, for his part, just wants a safe and prosperous existence and doesn't care two hoots about the form of the solution to all problems. Is the situation leading us away from a military intervention or towards it?

The popular perception holds that right now the armed forces are too deep in the hole to even think about any desperate action. The series of humiliating professional lapses have devastated their public image. Their civilian supreme commander, no matter how controversial, is one tricky variable and not someone to be taken or dealt with lightly. The US is no longer the good old buddy and wants the defence establishment to change according to Washington's wishes. The US-led world opinion hardly appears in the mood to brook any adventurism because foreign leaderships have a lot at stake directly in this theatre, both in terms of financial and energy interests, but also taxing political consequences in their own electorates. The economy is in a shambles and with the current economic czars there is no danger of it improving in the short term. Once again: is the military possibility now an impossibility?

Contrary to the prevailing perception, we were never closer to a forced round of a khaki-inspired solution to the myriad problems being faced by the country.

The khaki and civilian minds think differently. What were unforgettable incidents for us civilians are mere tactical failures at the end of the day for the army, which need to be assessed and factored for in the future. For the strategist, these are transitory in nature regardless of their immense short-term fallout. Official statements coming out of corps commanders' meetings reflect the growing sense of the us-them syndrome. Background interviews with the top brass reveal a sense of "hurt" at being "...viciously attacked by the politicians and the media at a time when thousands of us are laying down our lives. Do you know that since OBL, 28 young officers have already been martyred in anti-militant operations? You guys have treated us worse than the Americans," as one highly emotional top general put it.

The army chief will either have to do something historic to justify his historic extension in office or be relegated to a position of shame amongst his peers. The armed forces have been hit as an institution and desperately need the revival of their image, and will definitely want to retake their traditional position in the power equation. The situation is fast evolving. The executive is already flaunting the orders of the Supreme Court and will definitely not obey any major orders on matters of significance, such as the NRO. Judicial mayhem is on the cards. Nobody has the numbers to democratically vote out the extremely corrupt and overbearing federal government or for that matter those ruling the roost in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. So how do you stop the pillage of national wealth? The economy is in its death throes and the present ruling dispensation does not have the ability to change its course. We are looking at disastrous inflation and unemployment down the road. Political forces are fighting it out for power and not for the people (the surprising MQM split is hardly surprisingly for the power corridors).

Unlike OBL and Mehran, it is these long-term problems that will ultimately decide the future course of events. All one has to do is to weather out the ongoing blizzard and wait for the people to start clamouring for the knight in shining armour. As for the world opinion, if the US-led world had its way then the defence establishment would soon find itself redesigned on the lines of the Japan national defence force and it is under no illusion either that the civilian equation will come to its rescue on this count. For the khakis it's a choice of damned if we do, and dissolved if we don't. So what would you do if you were the army?



The writer is editor The News, Islamabad

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF PAKISTAN

 S KHALID HUSAIN

 

SUVs with fake license plates, with the grandees driven in them escorted in 4WD vehicles by uniformed armed brutes for guards, the convoy running red lights at speed. Beat-up water tankers – no number plates and no tail lights, with the drivers having little traffic sense, but nevertheless being waved on by friendly traffic policemen.

Shazia Marri, Sindh's minister for electricity, presiding over a programme titled, "Benazir Bhutto: the architect of reconciliation." But who is looking after Karachi's energy crisis while the minister for electricity is busy holding programmes that have nothing to do with reconciling the two sides in the KESC labour dispute?

MNA Marvi Memon resigns. Ms Memon, who is from Sindh, owed her presence in the National Assembly to the PML-Q on a reserved seat in Punjab, from a constituency whose exact name and location she may not recall anymore. It is almost as if Ms Memon has pulled another Firdous Awan on the PML-Q, which must now be quite wary of its women MNAs. Minister of Information Firdous Awan also owes her membership of the National Assembly in 2002 to the PML-Q, again on a reserved seat from Punjab. She resigned in 2007 to join the PPP, and has since become one of the top sycophants of the party leadership. Ms Memon claims to have "offers" from the PML-N and Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf, which she is probably weighing like a corporate manager considers new job offers after he ditches his original company.

Hina Rabbani Khar could be the next foreign minister of the country, the first woman to hold that position in Pakistan. Her likely elevation would be an expedient measure, meant to enable Ms Khar to attend ministerial meetings, particularly with the Indians in New Delhi. As minister of state she cannot attend them on an equal footing with foreign ministers. Her expected elevation is already being treated in India as a joke, with the media quoting unnamed official Indian sources as saying "she is not taken seriously in India." Ms Khar's elevation is seen as confirmation that the foreign minister's portfolio in Pakistan is merely decorative. The last thing the foreign minister does is run foreign policy, or even be involved in its framing. The same goes for the person holding the defence portfolio.

Defence? Amid all the flurry of activity – Abbottabad, the attack on Mehran naval base, the agencies under fire after Saleem Shahzad's murder, the Rangers shooting the youth in Karachi – one person not to be seen or heard of was the defence minister of the country, Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar. He is said to have reported sick and flown off to the US "for treatment."

The defence minister says his medical appointment was made a month earlier and could not be rescheduled, no matter what. There were reports, however, that Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar actually went to the US to attend the graduation of his son-in-law.

The minister clearly very close to his in-laws. Brother-in-law Ijaz Butt, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, found himself in a tight corner because of his grudge against Shahid Afridi, and a situation developed where it was him or Afridi (and Butt happened to be on weaker ground). The defence minister took his brother-in-law to President Zardari so he could plead his case to him in person. The president is patron of the PCB and had appointed Butt as its chairman, apparently to oblige Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar. However, Butt brought nothing but ignominy to Pakistani cricket. Afridi was being a realist when he paid the fine of Rs4.5 million in the interest of his own international career, which also saved Butt from total humiliation.

Coming back to electricity. Whatever happened to the furnace-oil-guzzling and circular-debt creating IPPs for power generation installed during the PPPs second and third governments? Are they in any way helping with the power shortage? If they are, at what cost? What happened to the rental power plants (RPPs)? Is the Turkish seaborne plant which docked months ago operational now? As soon as the Sindh minister for electricity is done with her programmes on reconciliation, maybe she would find time to explain all this.

The president's principal advisor, or secretary, Salman Farooqi, uncle of presidential horn-blower Sharmila Farooqi, can perhaps tell us what came out of the daylong televised brouhaha on Thar coal during the Benazir Bhutto's government, with the prime minister herself in attendance, and of a Chinese coal tycoon's "commitment" to invest in a coal-fired power plant in Thar?

In all its past three governments the PPP has been more clamorous than any in claiming it will overcome the fuel and power crisis. Some of the most grandiose moves in this respect have been initiated by PPP governments, but there have been zero results.

The present energy and power supply situation is the worst the country has ever had to face. Who are the real beneficiaries of IPPs and RPPs? Or the LNG import contracts?



The writer is a former corporate executive. Email: husainsk@cyber.net.pk

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

CROSS-BORDER RAIDS: A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE

 MUNIR AHMED BALOCH

 

A series of cross-border attacks from across the border in June, carried out by what are supposed to be Afghan Taliban, is a significant change of tactics by the manipulators of the war in Afghanistan. Thus far in June, there have been at least three raids from inside Afghanistan. Two months ago, at least 13 Pakistani security personnel were killed in a similar cross-border attack in Lower Dir. The repeated attacks, especially those from areas in Afghanistan that are under heavy deployment of US-Nato forces, imply these forces' complicity in them.

The US-Nato forces, having the advanced technological capability to detect movements on border crossings, can prevent the attackers from sneaking into Pakistan. Pakistan is already giving away far too much in the war on terror, in terms of military losses alone. But Washington continues to insist that Islamabad must "do more." In other words, Pakistan must accept US terms in their entirety or suffer incursions into its territory by irregular forces.

These attacks are in addition to the raids openly carried out by the United States in Fata and deeper into Pakistani territory, through drones and missiles, helicopter gunships and even land operations. The United States carries them out despite the fact that they violate Pakistani sovereignty, and thereby deepen the trust deficit which is already worsening between Islamabad and Washington.


The incursions into Pakistani territory could be sponsored by the CIA and the Indian intelligence agency RAW to keep the Pakistani army bogged down in the area. At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that US-Nato forces are themselves directly encouraging and assisting these irregular forces to cross the borders into Pakistan, in an effort to pressure its army into carrying the fight against the Taliban to North Waziristan.

A spokesman of the Pakistani army recently admitted that it is under pressure from external forces to take the fight against terrorism into North Waziristan. In North and South Waziristan the locals are already taking up arms against military personnel and any expansion of the war in these areas under US pressure could start a conflagration there.


The use of drone attacks by US forces in the tribal areas of Pakistan is not only illegal and illegitimate (and Pakistan thereby has the right to approach the International Court of Justice against the attacks), but the drone strikes are extremely unpopular there, especially because they kill numerous civilians. The Pakistani parliament has passed unanimous resolutions against drone attacks in Fata. Pakistan is not at war with the United States, but it is the Americans who are acting as a hostile party against this country.

International law requires that states prevent non-state elements from carrying out sabotage and violence in other countries' territories, or indulging in any act that can endanger those countries' national security. Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter says that "all member-states shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations.''


As for the "Taliban" incursions in question, there is little doubt who benefits from these cross-border raids. Aren't these series of incursions by irregular forces a clear manifestation of the pressure from Washington that Pakistan "do more" and send its army into North Waziristan? Few people can have any doubt that it is.

Pakistan has deployed more than 145,000 soldiers in Fata, and stretching this force into North Waziristan would entail the need for this country to withdraw more forces from its border with India. India appears to support the Pakistani army's taking on the Taliban, but on the other hand it has taken no measures to try to reduce Pakistan's threat perception on the two countries' common frontier. With the army already overstretched, Pakistan's withdrawal of more troops from its border with India would weaken its military position against its traditional rival. With the history of four wars between the two countries, Pakistan can hardly be expected to agree to further withdrawal from its eastern border.


The series of cross-border attacks from Afghanistan have highlighted the supposed Taliban's ability to move large numbers of their fighters with impunity across the border with Pakistan--along with heavy weaponry. What explains this capability is the fact that some of the trails the raiders use in Afghanistan are in areas where US-Nato forces are deployed. These raiders cross the border at official and non-official crossings that exist all along the chain of mountains that separate the two countries, and they do it with surprising ease. Given their easy access into Pakistani territory, the raiders will continue to enter Pakistani territory whenever they chose to, or are asked to.


There are two possible options in efforts to stop these raids. One is to close these entry points since sealing the entire border is a virtually impossible task. Pakistan's failure to seal the porous crossing points with Afghanistan would mean continuing raids and attacks on Pakistan's security forces. Every time an incursion takes place, reinforcements are required, and that puts Pakistan's limited resources under greater stress.

Alternatively, a joint task force consisting of personnel from Pakistan and Afghanistan should be formed to oversee the crossing points all along the border between the two countries, on the basis of shared intelligence. It may not be possible to make an accurate assessment of how many insurgents are operating on either side of the border as some are dedicated fighters and some are mercenaries. Shared intelligence on their presence and their movements will help both sides forestall such attacks


On similar lines, the ISAF, Pakistan and Afghanistan had earlier agreed to build Border Coordination Centres with the aim of preventing cross-border movements by insurgents, again on the basis of shared intelligence. Out of eight coordination centres agreed, only one is operational at present. However, with the lack of commitment of the United States to sharing of intelligence, the initiative has not made any progress. Progress in construction work on the remaining seven centres is little more than nominal, and it appears the whole concept is destined to die its own death.


During his June 10-12 visit to Islamabad, President Hamid Karzai termed the recent series of cross-border attacks from across Afghanistan as a "worrying sign" that points to a need for the two countries to work harder to remove radical elements and their sanctuaries in the border areas. He promised to take action if it became evident that these attacks originated in Afghanistan. To what extent he can be effective in stopping the cross-border raids is uncertain.

 

E-mail: munir.baloch@ janggroup.com.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

FOR PEACE TO PREVAIL

 ZAFAR HILALY....THE WRITER IS A FORMER AMBASSADOR.

 

Barack Obama's claim that the war in Afghanistan has 'turned the corner' enough for the US to begin its withdrawal hardly reflects the reality. If anything, the situation in Afghanistan has seldom seemed more parlous. There were more civilian deaths in May (368) than in any other month since 2007. Neither have the Afghan security personnel acquired a level of proficiency needed to cope with the Taliban challenge; nor will they by 2014, when the Americans plan to complete their withdrawal. Besides, the Afghan army being overwhelmingly Tajik in composition is hardly national and hence lacks stature.


Secondly, the legitimacy of Afghan state institutions has not taken root. The current parliament, for example, is being reduced to a rubber stamp with Karzai's machinations, one of which is to have 62 opposing MPs disqualified by a special tribunal appointed for this very purpose. Moreover, Karzai has neither shaken off his image of a quisling nor demonstrated panache for leadership. Under him massive corruption has transpired with his brothers and cousins taking the lead.


In other words, the American strategy in Afghanistan has little to do with Afghanistan 'turning the corner' and more with Obama's internal compulsions. The chief of which is public disenchantment with the inconclusive Afghan War; changing opinion in Congress due to the debt crisis and growing cost considerations; reduced concern about Al-Qaeda after OBL's killing and, of course, the presidential election campaign that will soon begin.

Hence, Obama's claim that the worst is over in Afghanistan is beguiling to say the least. Not that it fooled anyone at home or abroad. The 'isolationist' lobby in Congress finds the cut-back too small and the withdrawal process too dilatory, while 'interventionists' are appalled that he is pulling out when so much remains to be done. Abroad it is being taken as an admission of defeat.

But what concerns Pakistan more than the withdrawal plan is the language in which it was couched. 'We will not tolerate safe havens in Pakistan and we will hold you to your commitment to fight (our) enemies', said Obama, in nearly those words. Hillary was more forthright, 'Pakistan must fight or else forget the cash and weapons promised'. And Gates, as he leaves office, chimed in with 'We don't need Pakistan either to fight or to win in Afghanistan.'

The New York Times, that repository of American-Jewish wisdom, followed with a bunch of stories hinting at the ISI's complicity in OBL's extended sojourn in Abbottabad. An 'intriguing lead' from the cell phone belonging to OBL's courier sufficed to give the story front page coverage. Reacting with exceptional alacrity, the ISPR succinctly claimed that 'actions on the ground (by the ISI in apprehending numerous Al-Qaeda terrorists) spoke louder than the words of the NYT'.

Soon after announcing the troop withdrawal, Obama described the current US-Pakistan relationship as 'more honest' than before. What he perhaps meant was that the while the people of both countries had always been honest about their mutual suspicions, the truth had finally caught up with the situation. However, this is not the time for recriminations and especially not for Pakistan since it has too much at stake to indulge in suspicions and aspersions. What then are the prospects for peace?

On Afghan peace, the US continues to reiterate that the Afghan Taliban must be prepared to concede on three things: making a break with Al-Qaeda; abandoning violence; and accepting the existing Afghan constitution.

Making a break with Al-Qaeda should not be a big problem for the mainstream Taliban leadership. The latter lost its grip on power because of Al-Qaeda's declared war on the US and its use of Afghan territory as its headquarters until both were ousted after 9/11. Abandoning violence will test their intentions with regard to reconciliation and giving up any ambition they may still harbour to regain the control they enjoyed before 9/11. But more challenging will be accepting the existing constitution. Of course, if they decide to convert to a political force and abandon their old ambitions, then accepting the constitution will be less difficult but they may still want changes that decentralise the country in favour of more power for the provinces.

The most challenging will be the permanent military presence the US seems determined to maintain in Afghanistan. Without some resolution of this issue, it is impossible to start serious negotiations or to bring any negotiations to a positive conclusion. A trade-off on this issue will have to occur at some stage for an eventual peace settlement.

For the moment, at any rate, serious negotiations seem premature. This is not just because some tough issues may have to be discussed confidentially first to see if either side is prepared to show reciprocal flexibility, but also because we have another year of war under Obama's withdrawal plan.

The Pentagon is going to use this period to fight the Taliban while it still has the surge troops at its disposal and the Taliban will likely hold their ground and bounce back after the combat withdrawal starts in earnest next summer. So even if there are some tactical shifts on the ground, at the political level, a stalemate will most likely persist.

Yet, it would be myopic for the Obama administration to wait another year before it signals serious interest in a negotiated peace. Another year of intense fighting would mean little to the Taliban if only because they can sit it out until the going gets easier next year. It is the US that faces a serious problem with its aggressive military strategy. A year will not make much difference to the ground situation. Indeed, the US may have to concede some ground seized from the Taliban once the Afghan army takes over and is unable to consolidate those gains, as is widely accepted to happen.

So instead of prevaricating or delaying the inevitable, the US should abandon its war strategy altogether and replace it with a peace strategy. And that will not only require showing some flexibility towards the Afghan Taliban but also a major overhaul of its underlying policy – that is, a paradigm shift to a multilateral approach. Just as its unilateral military approach has failed, so will America's political approach if that too remains essentially unilateral when stripped of its rhetoric.

Unless this shift occurs, the key regional players, notably Pakistan, will not find enough space to help Afghanistan make the difficult transition from war to peace. These persisting problems should not however deter Pakistan from rebuilding its frayed ties with Kabul. The two countries must recognise their legitimate interest in improved relations.

Pakistan's supreme interest lies in helping to bring about reconciliation in Afghanistan. If bilateral ties move forward, it will be a lot less difficult to counteract American unilateralism. So even if a stalemate persists for the moment, there is a lot that a regional diplomacy initiative can do in the meantime to lay the ground work for an eventual peace process.

Unfortunately, that may not happen. Having lost his patience, Obama has designated Pakistan as the next battle ground for America's War on Terror and seems eager to launch his complement of drones and Special Ops teams. To what end is clear, but to what avail, is not. Unshackling the United States from its failed policies in the Muslim world seems a task beyond Obama.

To sum up, if the veritable Afghan knot is to be untied, the irreducible minimum prerequisites for peace would be: the Afghan Taliban transform themselves into a political force; the US abandons a permanent military presence in Afghanistan; and Pakistan helps out in the Afghan reconciliation process. All these prerequisites presuppose that the principal protagonists (Afghanistan, the US and Pakistan) can be convinced to trade off irreconcilable ambitions for a pluralistic peace.



Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WAITING FOR A BREAKTHROUGH

TANVIR AHMAD KHAN

 

It is a measure of the lack of substantive progress between India and Pakistan over the years that any new event in the process evokes the inevitable question if there has been a breakthrough. This was the leading media question after the two foreign secretaries met in Islamabad on June 23-24 as indeed when the home/interior and defence secretaries met earlier. At the popular level, expectations have been rather high since cricket brought the prime ministers of the two countries together in Mohali. In fact, the media hype about the Mohali spirit, especially in Pakistan, had briefly created the hope that cricket would become the vehicle of some more meetings at the highest level.

It took the two countries a long time to overcome the formidable obstacle posed by the relentless Indian demand that a meaningful dialogue can be resumed only after the individuals suspected by New Delhi to have been associated with the Mumbai atrocity have been punished to Indian satisfaction. This factor has not disappeared altogether though its tyrannical grip on the inter-state negotiations has loosened. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said in Islamabad that complex issues like Kashmir cannot be resolved under the 'shadow of gun'. This was an understandable reiteration of the fundamental truth that India-Pakistani disputes are not amenable to a military solution but she was also reassuring Indians that New Delhi had not given up the priority attached to Mumbai. Given the constraints imposed by years of anti-Pakistan propaganda in India and abroad, it was unrealistic to expect India to offer the "breakthrough" awaited in Pakistan.

There are other factors as well militating against rapid progress in bilateral relations. The internal situation in Pakistan is read differently by different groups in the Indian power structure. There is a minority view that any further weakening of Pakistan by the undiminished onslaught of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and by the resultant poor governance would not be in India's long-term interest. But this enlightened approach is still eclipsed by the opinion that India should avoid closure of any issue till Pakistan comes down another few rungs of the ladder. Presumably Pakistan's current difficulties with the United States strengthen this latter attitude. The failure to move forward significantly on Siachen and Sir Creek prior to the meeting of the foreign secretaries underlines the dominance of this second view.

Against the backdrop of ambivalent thinking in both countries, the foreign secretaries have done reasonably well. The optics were notably pleasant, something that should make it easier for the political leaders to take decisions; the political will to resolve issues that can be settled now or in the near future has to come from them. Since Mumbai, the confidence building measures already agreed upon had become anaemic; they have been infused with some new blood. The dust on the CBMs, particularly on trade and travel across the LoC in Kashmir could have been removed prior to the meeting of foreign secretaries but has been left to the working groups meeting next month.

There are known concerns on nuclear issues. India has been playing up Pakistan's decision to branch out into tactical nuclear weapons and related delivery systems. The reasons that led to this decision warrant an agreed regime on the deployment of greatly expanded and better equipped conventional forces by India; there was agreement to hold experts' meetings but without a time frame. The foreign secretaries have, however, set the stage for the foreign ministers to be more specific that should enable them to ask the Lazarus of the 'composite dialogue' to rise and breathe again.

 

The writer is a former ambassador and foreign secretary

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

MQM QUITS, ONCE AGAIN

 

AS the ruling PPP is dropping hints for the formation of a coalition government in Azad Kashmir where it has secured a simple majority in the just concluded polls, one of its coalition partners in Sindh as well as in the Centre has parted ways with it over differences on handling of electoral process in AJK. MQM had done so in the past as well but every time it returned back to the coalition folds after dialogue and discussions with the PPP leadership and therefore, nothing can be said with certainty about the fate of the latest decision.

There has been a mixed reaction from the PPP over MQM's announcement to quit the coalition with top leadership expressing hopes that it would once again be able to persuade the MQM to change its decision while some middle ranking leaders claiming that they would welcome it on the opposition benches. The history of PPP-MQM relations tells us that circumstances force them to retain their bond but clash of interests mars this relationship quite frequently. We have seen in the past that some fiery brand leaders of the PPP had been making deliberate attacks on the MQM, things were taken to a point of virtual break up of ties and then top leadership of the two parties intervened to save the situation. MQM too has apparently dented its image by hurling threats of leaving the coalition every now and then, just to rescind them at the next available opportunity. However, the MQM has a valid point to agitate this time as the PPP maneuvered postponement of elections in two constituencies (of AJK Legislative Assembly) in Karachi, which is seen by MQM as an attempt to deprive it of the two sure shot seats. Irrespective of the final outcome of the MQM decision, the move would take the focus away from economy, which is in a shambles and badly needs attention of the rulers. During the last three and a half years, we have seen shuttle diplomacy between Islamabad and Karachi, Islamabad and London aimed at sorting out differences, consuming much time that should have been devoted to resolution of the day-to-day problems of the masses and restoration of peace and stability to Karachi, which is industrial and commercial capital of the country. Some sections of the PPP have also opened fronts against Punjab Government with apprehensions that the political situation in the province could take an ugly turn any time. Under these circumstances, prudence demands that the PPP leadership restrains its hawks and continues with its policy of reconciliation that has paid it well so far.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NOW REGIME CHANGE INEVITABLE IN LIBYA

 

THE West is applying all tactics at its disposal to malign the Libyan leader Moammer al-Kadhafi and force him to leave the office. In the latest move, it has secured from the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants of Kadhafi, one of his sons and the country's intelligence chief for so-called crimes against humanity allegedly committed since the Western-inspired turbulence began in February this year.


International Criminal Court was founded in 2002 by the Rome Statute to bring to justice perpetrators of worst crimes known to humankind — war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide — especially when the national courts are unwilling or unable to do so. But countries like the United States, Israel and India have not yet ratified the treaty only because actions of their troops fall within the definitions of crimes that the ICC can take notice of. It has, therefore, become yet another tool at the hands of the West to terrorize and malign small and weaker nations and issuance of arrest warrants of Sudanese President and Libyan leader bear testimony to this belief. The United States and its coteries have been doing their utmost to bring about a regime change in Libya as per declared policy of Washington for regime change and pre-emptive strikes against sovereign countries. Writing in the Independent of UK, prominent Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn has exposed black propaganda of the West and rebels against Coloney Kadhafi by pointing out "don't believe in everything you see and read about Kadhafi' as crimes committed by rebels and invading forces are also blamed on the Libyan government. In fact, it is United States and its allies, that are bombing Libya to stone age and killing dozens of innocent people daily, that should appear before the ICC for crimes against humanity.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

NEW TRADE POINT AT WAHGA

 

PAKISTAN and India have agreed to open another trade point at Wahga border to boost their bilateral trade. An understanding, written or otherwise between the incumbent government and India has understandably been reached to gradually enhance the volume of trade without much publicity to avoid strong reaction by the people of Pakistan.


The decision comes after Secretary level talks between the two countries ended last Friday. On the face of it, there appears to be no harm in promotion of trade relations yet we would say that there are a series of reservations in certain trade circles in Pakistan and according to their analysis, it would give a further jolt to Pakistan industry which is already facing crises of all sorts. There are reservations that India would flood the Pakistani markets with goods that are already being produced in Pakistan. Though the quality of Pakistani products is much better than the Indians, yet New Delhi as part of its policy to weaken our economic base, could give more incentives to exporters to Pakistan to make our products incompetitive. To prevent that, necessary regulatory duties must be levied on the Indian imports so that there is a healthy competition and in no case dumping of Indian products is allowed. At the same time it must be made clear to the Indians that they would not impose any restrictions and allow free access to Pakistani products in their markets so as to ensure balance of trade between the two countries. Pak-India Business Council has welcomed the agreement and in principle no one would object to increased trade with India or any other country on the basis of mutual interest yet we would urge the government to take private sector leadership on-board so that there was no negative impact on our industry. At the same time political irritants, which have made the whole region hostage, should not be put on the back burner and instead the forward movement in trade and other relations be utilised to resolve the problems between the two countries including the core issue of Kashmir.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

AMERICA'S COVERT OPERATIONS

ASIF HAROON RAJA

America 's past and present testifies the fact that there is no country in the world matching its destructive oriented policies. The US is the sole country which annihilated millions of inhabitants of Nagasaki and Hiroshima by using atom bombs. Even today no living being in the two affected cities are safe from the radiation aftereffects. Large number of countries had to go through rigors of civil war on account of US intrigues. In its bid to bring down populist elected governments of targeted countries, CIA and FBI secretly provided arms and funds to rebel groups and converted democracy into dictatorship. After making full use of the selected dictator, when he outlived his utility and became a liability, he was branded a traitor and popular movement organized against him. After creating political and economic instability, spreading lawlessness and inducing a civil war like situation, the US forces were pushed in under the pretext of saving the people from the cruel clutches of dictator. Tunes of freedom and democracy were played up full blast. Afghanistan , Iraq and now Libya are cases in point where the people have been deprived of peace and independence.

In order to break-up USSR , USA turned Afghanistan into a battleground. Osama bin Laden (OBL) and thousands of Muslim Jihadis were enticed from all over the Muslim world to promote culture of Jihad against godless communist super power. After accomplishing its objectives, the US abandoned the region in haste and got involved in renovation of Eastern Europe and expanding NATO towards the east. Afghan Mujahideen who had paid the heaviest price in pushing out Soviet troops and Pakistan that had led the proxy war had to go through a long period of trial and tribulation. Left at their own, both Afghanistan and Pakistan were unable to repair the badly bruised socio-economic fabric. After 9/11, the blue-eyed boy OBL and his holy warriors who were profusely acclaimed by USA and entire western world were declared as most dangerous terrorists. After declaring OBL responsible for attacks on WTC in New York without furnishing any proof, the US destroyed Afghanistan in October-November 2001. Ever since, Afghanistan remains an occupied country and trigger-happy occupation forces have killed tens of thousands of Afghans. Vices that had been purged from the society by the Taliban during their 5-year rule (1996-2001) have resurfaced in a big way.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was supplied with dangerous chemical weapons by USA for use against Iran in Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). Tens of thousands of Iraqis and Iranians perished in the war which ended without any side emerging as a victor. Later on, the Saddam who was given full support for a decade was labeled as a ruthless dictator and falsely charged with storing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and having links with al-Qaeda. Under the pretext of locating WMDs, every nook and corner of Iraq was combed by UN inspectors for well over two years. Even though the inspectors gave clear report, Iraq was invaded and destroyed without obtaining UN approval and disregarding world protests. 1.6 million Iraqis have died since March 2003 and bloodletting is still continuing.

After 9/11, Pakistan was coerced to become a coalition partner and to combat global terrorism. Pak Army was made to fight own tribesmen in FATA supposedly sheltering al-Qaeda operatives. The flames of war lit in Afghanistan were pushed into Pakistan . USA pampered and encouraged India to indulge in covert operations to destabilize Pakistan which on papers was US close ally and a frontline state. Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan was CIA's creation which is funded, equipped and guided by several foreign agencies. Likewise, Baloch separatists are also supported by the same gang. Over 30000 Pakistani civilians and 5000 security personnel have died as a result of foreign sponsored terrorism. Pakistan has suffered an economic loss of $68 billion and its industrial and agriculture sectors and stock exchange have suffered grievously, while foreign investments have ceased. All this has resulted in high inflation, price spiral, and electricity, gas and food items shortages. Barbarity of America didn't end here. Unending spate of drone strikes in tribal areas has added to the woes of Pakistanis.

CIA as a master planner and coordinator has been supervising the gory drama from Kabul in concert with RAW, Mossad, MI-6 and RAAM and making Pakistan blood soaked. Bloody game has kept CIA's drug business and defence industry of US war merchants running. India is now indulging in water terrorism to dry up Pakistan but US media and officials are mum over this flagrant violation of 1961 Indus Basin Treaty since it is part of the game to make Pakistan helpless. India mobilized its forces against Pakistan in 2002 and in 2009 with tacit blessing of USA.

The US has kept silent over unspeakable atrocities against hapless Kashmiris in occupied Kashmir since end 1988 killing over 100,000 in fake encounters, extra judicial killings, raids and indiscriminate firings on peaceful demonstrators. Gang rapes and molestation of women at the hands of security forces who have been give license to kill under draconian laws are routine. Ironically, the freedom fighters seeking a plebiscite as envisaged in UN resolutions have been branded as terrorists by USA at the behest of India. India has never been questioned over its defiance of UN resolutions.

The US which promptly labels Muslims as terrorists simply because they are anti-US, has for several decades been keeping its ears and eyes shut and lips sealed over barbarism of Israelis against Palestinians. Israel had attacked Lebanon in 2006 after getting a nod from Washington . It didn't object to inhuman economic blockade of Gaza by Israel and didn't condemn brutal invasion of Gaza in December 2008. Likewise, when the US remained tight lipped over cowardly attack of Israeli forces on Peace Flotilla carrying relief goods for stranded Gazans, it proved beyond doubt that Israel had full backing of USA .

Thousands of Iraqis, Afghans and al-Qaeda detainees were put in horrific Gitmo, Abu Gharib, Baghram jails as suspects involved in terrorism where they were subjected to most gruesome torture for years without trials and without anyone hearing their cries. Among several torture techniques, water boarding is the most dreadful. After years of detention and torture most were found innocent and released but they got mentally incapacitated for life.

Going through the track record and conduct of USA , there is no doubt left in anyone's mind that American foreign policy revolves around intrigues, lies, deceit, conspiracies, terrorism, false flag operations and use of force. There is no dearth of extremist Americans who remain on lookout how to injure the religious beliefs of others particularly Muslims, exactly the same way as in India .

We do not have to dig too deep in the past. The US court sentenced Dr Afia Siddiqui to 86 years jail term on account of uncommitted offences merely because of deep seated prejudice against Muslims. The extremist mindset of the US Pastor Terry Jones who burnt Holy Quran is also a glaring example of religious intolerance and bigotry prevalent in USA .

Prejudice, fanaticism, extremism, intolerance and cruelty are some of the characteristics deeply ingrained into the minds of US officials and elites. With such hideous traits, on what basis the US is voicing its concerns about terrorism when it is the biggest terrorist state of the world? The huge network of CIA operatives secretly deployed in Pakistan is stoking flames of terrorism to create anarchic conditions. Pakistan has no moral justification to become an ally of biggest terrorist state and fight its war when it has been confirmed that it is fuelling rather than curbing terrorism to harm Pakistan .

—The writer is Rawalpindi based defence analyst.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

PEACE PROCESS IN AFGHANISTAN

ALI SUKHANVER

Pakistan is a problem or solution to the problem; the American High ups are in a continuous state of confusion regarding the role of Pakistan in the Afghan war since day one. Their confusions are giving birth to more perplexity and the bitter consequences of these confusions are affecting none but the innocent and peace-loving people of Pakistan. Things could have been much better if USA had openly declared Pakistan an enemy-state. Though Pakistan has paid a very high price for this enmity hidden under the cover of friendship and fellowship but it could never win US trust and confidence. From President Obama to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and from the outgoing Defence Secretary Robert Gates to the Secretary-General of US patronized NATO, each and every person is polluted with a very strong air of disbelief and suspicions regarding the role of Pakistan in the Afghan war.


Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had a meeting with President Hamid Karzai last month in Kabul. The basic purpose of this meeting was to discuss the transition of security from Nato-led troops to Afghan security forces expected in July 2011. Talking to the media-men after the meeting Anders Fogh Rasmussen said , "On the whole security issues of Pakistan have become a matter of serious concern particularly after the worst attacks on two of Pakistan's military set ups respectively the GHQ Rawalpindi and the Mehran naval base Karachi." He further said, "We are following the situation closely. NATO will protect its troops and Afghans from militants based across the border in Pakistan."


A few days back, addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Pakistan must be a part of the Afghan peace process. She said, "Around a common vision of an independent stable Afghanistan and a region free of Al Qaeda the US intends to engage other countries also in the peace process." The outgoing Defence Secretary Robert Gates was of a different opinion. In the same meeting he said that success was possible in the war in Afghanistan even if Pakistan failed to fully cooperate in countering militants along its border. 'The cancer is in Pakistan,' said President Obama talking to the media-men in his office somewhere in late 2009. In his book Obama's War, renowned analyst Bob Woodward has also referred to the words uttered by President Obama, 'We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan'.

The people of Pakistan must no get depressed by the statements made by various US hi-ups. They must try to realize the fact that these statements are nothing but a part of US official policy based on conspiracies meant to divide the Pakistani nation. The terrorists' attack on the GHQ , the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the attacks on Mehran naval base ; all these episodes are in fact part of the US strategy of creating distances and misunderstandings between the Armed forces and the Pakistani nation and the ultimate target are the nuclear arsenals of Pakistan . It is the result of this shrewd US strategy that criticism against intelligence agencies and security institutions of Pakistan in international media is growing moment by moment unceasingly. The Indian media is also doing its best possible in promoting this air of distrust and disbelief with reference to the security forces of Pakistan. The sole aim is to spread depression and dejection among the Pakistani nation and disintegrate and destabilize the Pakistani society.


As far as the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan is concerned, US can never ignore Pakistan in bringing a feasible solution in Afghanistan because of .Pakistan's geo-strategic position The US is so helpless in Afghanistan that it cannot even withdraw from Afghanistan without the support of Pakistan.


The US authorities are also very well aware of this deplorable helplessness but more pathetic reality is that they are playing in the hands of India. Since very after the US intrusion in Afghanistan India has been trying to establish her foothold in Afghanistan to promote her evil designs and treacherous objectives which are severely harmful to the regional as well as to the international peace. According to various media reports, the US authorities have asked Mr. Karzai to seek for a viable solution to the problem of peace and stability in Afghanistan. In the light of this direction Kabul has decided to seek Pakistan's help in reconciling with the Taliban. This decision could be fruitful at some stage but presently it has fueled serious concerns in New Delhi. The fact of the matter is that India wants to push Pakistan to a dark corner by increasing her influence in Afghanistan. Indian hostility against Pakistan is never ending and exceedingly vindictive in nature. It is her evergreen animosity which has compelled her to spend limitless resources on her consulates in Afghanistan. These consulates are doing nothing but training the insurgents inside Afghanistan to strike at the very foundations of Pakistan. In short, her presence in Afghanistan is proving the worst threat to the regional peace.

Pakistan is neither promoting terrorism in Afghanistan nor sheltering the terrorists inside its boundaries. Pakistan and Afghanistan are two brother countries having a common ethnic, cultural, social and religious background. They have a glorious history certainly leading to a luminous future. Pakistan is always desirous of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. Our American friends must try to come out of their misunderstandings and confusions based on their baseless suspicions that Pakistan is supporting terrorists and terrorism. The benefit of this state of confusion, mistrust and disbelief would go to the actual culprits whose sole aim is to cultivate all possible upheaval and disturbance in Afghanistan. They know very well that disturbance in Afghanistan means disturbance in Pakistan.


—The writer is defence and strategic affairs analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

LOOMING DRUG PROBLEM

QUDRAT ULLAH

 

The world has just celebrated International Day Against Drug Abuse & Illicit Trafficking on June 26th. Established by the UN General Assembly in 1987, this Day serves as a strong reminder of the goals agreed upon by the member States for developing a global culture free of drugs and all sorts of exploitation. The theme from 2007 to 2009 was "Do Drugs Control Your Life? Your Life Your Community, No Place for Drugs." However, health is an ongoing theme since 2010. We are well-aware of the fact that drugs-addiction is a worldwide phenomenon. Narcotics are not targeting one country or any particular society as there are millions of addicts in developed and under-developed countries around the world. Drug-abuse poses a much greater threat to the humanity all over the world as its use is alarmingly increasing particularly among the youth- the most vulnerable to the menace.


Pakistan is an under-developed country with limited resources. The literacy rate is also low as compared to other South East Asia countries. Due to ignorance of its hidden hazards, the drug-abuse is increasing; now in the form of 'Sheesha' which is quite popular among the trendy youth who use it as a fashion. It is quite difficult to tackle this problem at the individual level. Most people believe that barely some persons are drug-addicts and only a limited number of young persons are involved in it which is not an alarming situation. However, problem of drugs and involvement of younger generation in crimes are two very serious issues which we don't realize due to ignorance. There are many drug related crimes in the society which are ignored by us. It is shocking that after Heroin, the use of "Charas" is increased 50 percent among the addicts. On the other hand, use of 'Sheesha' is increasing in women in Karachi, Islamabad and in Lahore. STC drugs are very expensive which are mainly coming from the UK and its use is considered as a fashion in upper class as party-drug. Young people use STC as a pleasure for long hours. The other drugs including opium, cigarettes, Paan, Naswar, Bhang, cannabis, stimulant drugs and Heroin are increasingly being used to get rid of worries of life.


Bajour, Mohmand and Dir Districts in the North were known for growing opium in the past. US government spent huge money to complete roads and other communication networks, provided clean water supplies, telephone lines and electricity to motivate people to avoid growing poppy. It is important to note that Pakistan has a big threat of drugs smuggling from Afghanistan. Poppy crop is cultivated in Afghanistan under the control of Northern Alliance and some areas held under Taliban. The first-ever UNODC Afghanistan Cannabis Survey produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, shows that the world's biggest producer of opium is also a major producer of cannabis. Precise point estimates prove is not to be technically possible. However, using converging methodologies estimate that 10,000 to 24,000 hectares of cannabis are grown in Afghanistan every year. While other countries have even larger cannabis cultivation, the astonishing yield of Afghan cannabis crop (145kg/ha of hashish, the resin produced from cannabis, as compared to around 40 kg/ha in Morocco) makes Afghanistan as world's biggest producer of hashish, estimated at between 1,500 and 3,500 tons a year, If we see the survey that produced from cannabis, (as compared to around 40 kg/ha in Morocco) makes Afghanistan the biggest producer of hashish, estimated at between 1,500 and 3,500 tons a year. It shows that there is large-scale cannabis cultivation in exactly half (17 out of 34) of Afghanistan's provinces.

Cannabis reaps a high return. The gross income per hectare of cannabis (US$ 3,900) is higher than from opium (US$ 3,600). Opium is still favoured over cannabis among Afghan farmers: unlike opium, cannabis has a short shelf-life, and is a summer crop when less water is available for irrigation. In the aggregate, the value of cannabis resin production in Afghanistan was estimated at between US$39-94 million, about 10-20 per cent of the farm-gate value of opium production which was US $438 million in 2009. In the past five years, cannabis cultivation has shifted away from the north to the south of Afghanistan. Pakistan is facing a lot of problems due to illegal production of Heroin and opium. Pakistani government is trying hard to stop all sort of smuggling. Pakistani position is that of a pipeline, and some times, the pipeline is leaked and as a result our younger generation suffers.


An estimated 200 million people internationally consume illegal drugs; In Europe recent studies among 15 years old suggest that use of cannabis is from under 10 per cent to over 30 percent. With highest rates reported among boys in the United Kingdom which is 42.5 percent. Use of Cocaine in the UK is highest in Europe with 5 percent of 16 to 34 years old reporting its use, but its use among young people has also increased in Australia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Netherlands. Production, processing, trafficking or distribution of narcotics is all interlinked. In this regard, the role of law enforcement agencies is very important. In Pakistan, there are Anti Narcotics Force (ANF), Central Excise and Customs, Provincial Excise & Taxation departments, Frontier Constabulary, Cost Guards, Pakistan Rangers, Police, Air Port Security Force (ASF) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to fight drugs. There were only five thousand hard drug addicts in 1983 but according to National Survey on Drug Abuse of 1993, there were 3.1 million drug addicts, whose number has now risen to 8 million.


Parents, women, social workers, community & religious leaders and teachers have a valuable role in supporting the young people. However, not all parents can do so particularly when dealing with their child's drug testing. On initial discovery that their child has indulged into drug addiction, parents may be shocked, hurt and fearful. They may need support and education to understand the behaviour of their child and how to help him. We need to consider how they can educate and support, so they can help their child in addressing his drug related needs. We need to talk and listen to our children about their problems to understand them. If the government wants to get rid of narcotics and desirous of converting Pakistan into a drug free country, then it should arrange better medical facilities for the addicts besides ensuring tight police vigilance on sale of narcotics.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WHY LOW TOLERANCE?

M SULEMAN SHAHID

 

The recent horrifying incidents of 'Kharotabad' and killing of unarmed person by Rangers personnel in Karachi, has shocked everyone. Immediately after these incidents the security personnel blamed that the killed people were suicide bombers and looters trying to justify their killings. However after a few hours, the truth was revealed through media. It might be first time in history of Pakistan that people are pointing their fingers towards Armed Forces. Prior to these incidents, Pakistan's history is witness to Sialkot incident where two brothers were killed brutally which shook the whole country. There are many incidents in Pakistan in which people, security personnel and in particular the police forces killed people brutally or staging an encounter before the case reached the courts. Due to the freedom of media now everyone has access to the electronic form of media and is aware of most of the things. Now the question is that why are these so-called protectors of the common man killing their own people? Why are people becoming so cruel? Why are they becoming looters, robbers and terrorists?


Among others another argument directly affects these personnel in question. It is true that these personnel have been confronted with death with a number of times with an enemy who does not care whether he lives or dies but wants to take the life of every one. In this scenario, it is likely that every personnel would try to save his life as well as to kill this irrational enemy in question. So if he gives a chance to the skeptic suicide bomber then the chances of his own life and of others are decreased. Armed personnel also belong to poor families and mostly live their life from hand to mouth. Like normal people of Pakistan, they are also the victims of poverty, basic necessities, inflation, and problem of education of their children etc. So these depriviations also depress them and make them harsh. It is true that our justice system is very slow and weak. It is commom knowledge that majority of the looters, killers and gangsters are released due to them having strong back and lack of evidences. So when these criminal people return they again begin their illegal activities and create the difficulties for security personnel. So the armed personnel see no reason to be confronted with these people again maybe that is the reason of them killing them in cold blood.

 

On the other hand we are seeing that the common man is also becoming harsh, looting and getting involved in criminal and terrorist activities. In this context, we can see the recently incident of Sarfraz Shah who was killed by Rangers in a brutal manner. Although he was accused of robbery but murdering him was not the answer as was done by the rangers. The Sialkot incident is yet another example of the brutal killing of two brothers at the hand of security personnel. Many robbers were burned by people before being handed over to the police. Our young generation is inclined to looting, gang fights, suicide attacks or jihadis rather than becoming responsible citizen of this country. It is true the activities of these looters or robbers are not true, but it is in actuality that the brutally killing of these criminals by the people or law enforcement personnel is not justifiable. Now the question is that why people are getting involved in such terrible activities?


Do people hate Pakistan that much? Are they against the government and its institutional policies? Are they victim of Government policies and this is their way of reacting? Why are they taking the law in their own hands and becoming criminal and terrorists? It is not a hidden fact that people of Pakistan do love their country but due to the policies of our leaders, people are very disappointed. Due to the inequality policies gifted to us by our leaders, Bangladesh had been separated from us, and we have been and still put the blame on India.

Of course one cannot ignore the facts that India had a hand in Bangladesh's separation, but we have to remember that India is our enemy and no matter what happens an enemy never misses out to weaken our integrity. Question is that when we know that we have enemies then why we are giving them chances by depriving rights of our own people. When our own people stood against our own government then we called them 'Mukti Bahni', 'Baloch Insurgence' TTP' etc. If we observe them up close then one can realize that these people claiming to be 'Mukti Bahni', 'Baloch Insurgence' and 'TTP' were or are majority our own people, but due to the wrong policies of our leaders these people are being incited by our enemies against our own country.

If a man who is uneducated, deprived from basic necessities of life and has no source of employment then what is the value of the million billion rupees that our government spends for their own decoration? How can then the government have the gall to expect patriotism from that man? Where is the law or punishment for a person who is a minister or appointed at high level authority? But there is no law or punishment for him.

However on the other side if a poor person commits any mistake then our law makers sign him off as an admonitory. If we want to maintain peace and unity within the country then we have to provide the basic rights to people such as justice, equality, education, and basic needs of life rather than to force them to stand in line the whole the day for flour and other basic needs. So the first step from our side should be to admit that the critical flaws that exist in our state's policies should be reviewed in the favour of people rather than compromising each other and giving extensions, because Pakistan cannot and should not sustain further loss.

—The writer is a scholar at the Strategic & Nuclear Studies Department, NDU, Islamabad.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

ANOTHER SIGN OF AMERICA'S DECLINE

AYAAN HIRSI ALI

 

On Wednesday last, President Obama announced he would order a gradual troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. On a superficial level there is nothing surprising about this decision. Mr. Obama is simply implementing what he had promised the American people in 2009 when he agreed to honor Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops. The surge was always going to be temporary, especially in view of budgetary pressures caused by the financial crisis. A second glance at the president's speech reveals something more interesting, however. In between the lines, what he said amounts to the elimination of a key component in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the elevation of a minor practice?

The eliminated component is the counter-insurgency program that in practice is a euphemism for nation-building. The elevated one is the use of drones and targeted bombing of selected individuals and groups. This is a new counter-terrorism strategy. It is sugar coated in grand speeches such as those delivered by the president in Cairo two years ago, and it is not difficult to sell to Americans who are struggling with the weight of economic problems. The difference between counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism is profound. The latter means targeting Al Qaeda and affiliates while seeking to minimise harm to the civilian populations where they operate. The former was more ambitious: to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda and to build a strong government that would marginalize radical Islam.

From the onset it was clear that killing Al Qaeda members was relatively easy and, thanks to drone technology, inexpensive in terms of American life. It was the nation-building aspect of counter-insurgency that was more controversial at home and more difficult to effect. The generals and military advisers of the previous and current administrations made it clear that counter-insurgency would only succeed if the military were given enough men, resources, and time. Obama's message to Gen. David Petraeus was clear: Time is up. Ten years, a trillion dollars, and 1,600 American casualties later, the White House is essentially abandoning the attempt to build law and order in Afghanistan. The political response to the speech was remarkable. It used to be that Democrats were more squeamish about the use of bombs of any kind. Liberals in America have tended to prefer soft power, and when hard power becomes inevitable, they insist that a United Nations or NATO force lead the way, as in Libya, all the time pressing for a minimum of civilian casualties. Imagine how these same liberals would have reacted three years ago if it had been President George W. Bush who had been ordering a campaign of targeted assassinations – not to mention overriding legal advice on the decision to launch air strikes against the Libyan government.

The strident calls from some Republicans, including several seeking the party's nomination to run for president, to cut overseas troop levels even faster are notable because they suggest there is now a bipartisan consensus. But what is this consensus on and how strong is it? There appears to be a general agreement on the high cost of the war, the prevailing importance of domestic issues – above all the economy – and the need for Afghans to take responsibility for their destiny as soon as possible. By quietly conceding to Obama's decision to expand the use of drones, liberals seem to have accepted the basic assumptions of Mr. Bush that terrorists are enemy combatants and that the US is at war. Try explaining to a Yemeni, Somali, or Afghan survivor of a drone attack that America is not at war with Islam and means well. Many in the US and around the world wonder if Obama's speech – and the broad bipartisan support for it – is yet another sign of America's decline. American power and weakness is often a matter of perception.

From the Taliban's perspective, the withdrawal is a sign of US weakness and their impending victory. Not only the Taliban will see it this way: Iran and Syria's regimes and the malignant units in the Pakistani military and secret service see a weak America that roars but retreats when the going gets tough. The short-term benefits of abandoning counter-insurgency may be politically appealing.

—The writer is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Courtesy: Christian Science Monitor

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

HAPPINESS IS A LAND CALLED OZ

ONE of the great lessons of the Clinton presidency in the US was that national prosperity creates a more coherent and ordered society.

Australians are proving this again as they enjoy high rates of employment and revel in having dodged the global financial crisis. So we didn't really need the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to tell us that we are the happiest people in the world -- although it is nice to have confirmation we are more satisfied than those living in the other 33 member countries.

The OECD survey suggests that money can indeed make you happy, especially combined with the things it can buy a society -- like healthcare, education and housing. Those naysayers who lament rather than laud our decades of prosperity will have to look for a new way to argue their case for turning out the lights and slowing national growth. Time for a reality check, for example, for academic Clive Hamilton and the thesis he expounded in his book, Affluenza, that Australians labour under, rather than love, prosperity. It always looked a limited analysis, one forged in the world-weary, middle-class, inner-city suburbs rather than across the broad spectrum of Australian society. Now we see how niche such thinking really is.

We understand there is plenty of room for improvement in the lives of many Australians. Not everyone is happy and there are disparities in income levels. But it is also the case that a strong economy allows people to exercise choice and control over their lives and offers them the opportunities they seek for themselves and their families. Former Labor leader Mark Latham, who grew up on the Green Valley housing estate in Sydney's outer-west, understood that people were happy when they could see a future for their children. Paul Keating, too, knew that improving the lives of individual people should be core business for any social democratic government. Former Coalition prime minister John Howard was derided for wanting us to be "relaxed and comfortable", but perhaps that's just what we wanted as Australians enjoyed a decade of prosperity under the Coalition. We can never be complacent about national wellbeing. Politicians of all colours must constantly look to expand the economic pie in ways that ensure everyone gets a bigger slice. In the meantime, here's to our unashamed embrace of the lucky country.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

WE CAN'T EXPORT OUR MORALITY

THE Gillard government had little choice but to stop live cattle exports to Indonesia while it assessed troubling reports of animal cruelty.

Community distress demanded action. That Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig has mishandled the matter does not detract from the validity of the suspension. But for reasons of morality, as much as for the 1000 jobs at stake, the ban on the industry should now be reversed as soon as possible.

If we are serious about stopping cruelty to animals, we cannot salve our consciences by halting trade and turning a blind eye to the conditions in which cattle from other countries are slaughtered. It's true a total ban -- as introduced by New Zealand -- would protect Australian cattle from the horrors revealed on the ABC TV Four Corners program that stung the government into action. But such a narrow reading of morality is dishonest. One of the characteristics that sets humans apart from animals is our empathy towards other species and our willingness to reduce their suffering. In this case, the best way to help is by continuing to engage with the Indonesians in a mix of commercial pressure, aid and training, and diplomatic negotiation to ensure all cattle -- not just our own -- are killed humanely. We cannot directly control Indonesian abattoirs but we have a duty to influence operations.

Here's another conundrum for those preaching the morality of a ban. The people of developing nations such as Indonesia are in urgent need of protein in their diets, yet our decision leaves them short. Already the ban has prompted the Indonesian government to offer incentives to farmers to protect valuable breeding stock, now made vulnerable to slaughter because of local demand. The future of the Australian trade must also be addressed. Live export from the north of Australia is likely the most efficient way for the industry to operate: transporting cattle to centres for halal processing could render the trade less viable.

Senator Ludwig must move quickly to repair the damage. He has known about the problem since he took on the portfolio last September but made the mistake of leaving it to the industry to sort out. Empathy for mistreated animals drove the ban; now empathy for animals, the Indonesian people and the local industry must drive the resumption of trade.

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

CLOCKS ARE FROZEN ON VITAL ECONOMIC REFORMS

THE Prime Minister is clutching at straws when she blames her dismal standing in the opinion polls on some kind of voter resentment about reform.

Her proposed carbon tax, or the issue of electoral honesty that goes with it, is certainly causing Julia Gillard some pain. But the carbon tax is hardly a standard-bearer for economic reform. Putting a price on carbon at the right time and in an efficient manner will be a necessary economic adjustment to a new global emissions reduction era. The disappointing reality is that aside from the constant political turmoil surrounding this economic adaptation, the real economic reform agenda is noticeable mainly by its absence.

At the beginning of last year, then-prime minister Kevin Rudd emerged from his post-Copenhagen funk to change the topic from climate change. Wisely, he chose the key challenge for our nation's future, productivity. As we have consistently argued, the way to lock in the proceeds of our resources boom, continue to modernise our economy and ensure that the non-mining sectors are not left in the shade, is to boost productivity. Mr Rudd's plan focused on important areas such as infrastructure and education, but avoided the central task of workplace reform. It was, at least, a start.

Unfortunately, thanks to the leadership tumult that followed soon afterwards, Australia's productivity agenda suddenly became stuck -- a little like Miss Havisham, all dressed up, clocks frozen and going nowhere.

There is enough blame for this imbroglio to be shared around. The government must shoulder most of it and the Prime Minister needs to understand that it is not a reform backlash that is holding her back but lack of a reform agenda. Labor has frittered money away on school halls rather than productive infrastructure, re-regulated the labour market rather than increase flexibility and has devoted most of its resources to the on-again, off-again uncertainty of the carbon pricing scheme.

Ms Gillard is committed to a 2 per cent productivity growth target but has no prescription for getting there and has flatly rejected any revisions to her restrictive Fair Work regime. Business should be arguing more stridently for greater labour market freedom instead of whingeing through back-channels -- although it must be said that until now the private sector has been intimidated by a vindictive Canberra culture.

The opposition also shows an aversion to reform, especially in the area of industrial relations. Spooked by the spectre of Work Choices, Tony Abbott has studiously avoided a robust policy debate, through last year's election campaign to the present time. This is why the provocative posturing yesterday by the defeated and disgruntled Liberal Party presidential candidate Peter Reith could do more good than harm. Already his advocacy for labour market reform has prodded the Australian Industry Group to speak out, calling for changes to the Fair Work Act and for our politicians to move on from Work Choices taunts.

It is understandable Mr Abbott does not want to draw attention to himself when the government is struggling. But with three decades of successful economic reform now stalling, Australia needs a mature leader to forge a constructive reform debate.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A SHOT ACROSS THE ABBOTT BOW

PETER REITH is entitled to be annoyed at being rebuffed as the Liberal Party federal president, losing the ballot to the incumbent Alan Stockdale on Saturday. This was a spirited contest for a role more often decided in advance of the official vote. That it came down to the wire - Stockdale won by a single vote - is testimony to the ferment within the upper ranks of the alternative government, and this result will not bury it.

But Reith is not a poor loser. He has come out swinging because he senses a certain betrayal by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, who Reith says encouraged him to contest the party presidency, thereby encouraging Reith to believe he had the parliamentary leader's backing. In return, Reith says he agreed to keep his agitation for workplace law reform within the privacy of party forums should the presidency fall his way. As it was, it did not. But had Abbott voted as Reith expected him to (instead of transparently voting for Stockdale), the presidency would have been Reith's.

Now, Reith says Abbott's disloyalty lets him off the leash in publicly reminding Abbott that his small-target approach - particularly on workplace reform - is political timidity verging on spinelessness. The problem for Abbott is that Reith is no lone voice. Business is increasingly perplexed about what Abbott stands for (what he stands against is much clearer) and his backbench is more and more restive over the muzzle it is made to wear in terms of advocating policies once the natural domain of conservative politics.

Abbott, of course, is persuaded to a tactic employed by many before him. It holds that one can coast to government office on a wave of voter resentment directed at the chief political adversary - in this case, Julia Gillard's Labor government. To date, the tactic has served Abbott mostly well. But it is high-risk because usually there comes a point where voters want also to weigh up the policy stock of the alternative. And if - like John Howard in 2001 (when Kim Beazley relied on remaining a small target) - government suddenly begins to restore its standing with an array of initiatives that swings public opinion its way, a risk-averse opposition can look weak-boned and lily-livered.

And the odd thing about events of the past few days? A Reith presidency might actually have helped Abbott overcome, as inevitably he must, this deficiency in perception. As a Howard government minister, Reith was usually more interested in policy outcomes than electoral confectionery.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE CULTURES OF EDUCATION

WHAT conclusion is to be drawn from the differing performance of various ethnic groups in winning entry to selective schools? We reported yesterday that among children of parents from non-English-speaking backgrounds, those from Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean families gain the most places in selective schools, while those from Arabic-speaking backgrounds - the second-largest migrant group at public schools - gain the least.

The difference will not represent a gap in intelligence or ability. Instead it will reflect the differing value which the various cultures place on education. It is no surprise to learn that children from Asian backgrounds are focused on academic success. For more than two millenniums Confucianism with its meritocratic ideas has been a powerful influence on Chinese and other cultures. Academic success is a central element.

Islam, the culture of the Arab lands, has an equally powerful intellectual tradition. But in recent decades it has expressed itself more distinctly in extravagant religiosity and opposition to Western values than in respect for secular learning of the kind provided in government schools. That will be one influence explaining the difficulty which students from Arabic-speaking backgrounds and newly arrived in Australia have in showing interest in scholarly achievement.

Moreover, many of those students arrive in Australia having lived through disturbing times in their countries of origin, with irregular attendance at school there - as refugees, uprooted from their native soil, they may not have the grounding in basic intellectual techniques, or their minds may be so distracted, perhaps traumatised, by their experiences that they find it hard to knuckle down. For such students the most important task a school can achieve may be just to introduce them into the mainstream of their adopted country - and for that purpose the experience of attending comprehensive local primary and high schools is ideal.

As the Herald reported, teachers have found students of Arabic-speaking background, as is only to be expected, to be perfectly capable of benefiting from a comprehensive education, and to gain admission to university should they choose to go on to higher education. Some, of course, will be both able and motivated early enough to buck the observed cultural trend and win a place in selective schools; others whose families can afford it will be able to attend private schools - possibly one of the various Islamic high schools operating in Sydney.

What the information suggests is the importance of a range of schools, each offering a high-quality education, from which parents from whatever cultural background can choose for their children.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

LIBS HARK BACK TO THE PAST IN A POLICY VACUUM

IT WAS a promise that became emblematic of Tony Abbott's approach to campaigning during last year's federal election. WorkChoices, he cried, was ''dead, buried and cremated''. No confusion there, although there was some quibbling about his choice of words. Mr Abbott knew then as he does now that the labour movement's most potent weapon in that election, as in 2007 when Labor gained government, was a fear campaign about the loss of workers' rights. He also knew that many traditional supporters of the Liberal Party, especially those in small business, regretted the softening of industrial relations policy. Given this, the Opposition Leader attempted to leave an escape clause that would allow the amendment of Labor's Fair Work regime. ''I can't say that there will never, ever, ever, for a hundred or 1000 years' time, be any change to any aspect of industrial legislation,'' he said in what was seen as a coded message to business to be patient, change would come.

The hyperbole was overwhelming. Australians would not have to wait 1000 years for change; ''never, ever'', in the tradition of John Howard's promise about the GST, probably meant sooner rather than later. And so the party faithful held their fire - until now. A section of the Liberal Party clearly feels there is unfinished business on WorkChoices. Peter Reith's re-emergence as a public figure in the party will be interpreted by many as a sign that change is imminent (despite his loss in a close ballot for the party presidency). This may be reasonable given that he is not alone in seeking a strong IR policy. Other senior party members - including shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop - have made it clear they want unfair-dismissal laws reviewed.

Mr Reith, who left Parliament in 2001, was minister for workplace relations from 1996 to 2000. His time in office predated the Howard government's radical overhaul of industrial relations that tilted the balance of power in the workplace decisively towards employers - but his handling of the waterfront dispute in 1998 gained him a reputation as a tough, ideological fighter determined to smash the maritime union. Mr Reith arguably laid the groundwork for WorkChoices, which pared back protections against unfair dismissal and allowed employers to use individual contracts to undermine the wages and conditions obtained by collective bargaining.

The Age believes WorkChoices went too far and created an unjust imbalance between employers and employees. The 2007 election result suggests most voters took the same view. Labor's Fair Work legislation is more equitable. This does not mean it is perfect, or should not be changed as the workplace effects become clear. No laws or policies should be spared review, and promises to the contrary invite disbelief. But the Coalition must be very careful about its approach and it should not rely on half-truths and rhetoric to imply that it has the political capital to revive a discredited policy.

Mr Reith's citing of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu as a leader prepared to take strong action against the union movement is a furphy. Yes, Mr Baillieu wants to rein in construction costs in Victoria by overhauling the industrial relations principles on which the building code is founded. But the Victorian Premier does not have the power to do this. In the 1990s then premier Jeff Kennett handed over all award-setting powers to the Commonwealth, a decision obviously not predicated on the return of a federal Labor government.

Industrial relations remains a challenge for the Coalition. It must be tempting, in the absence of any current policy, to look to the past for inspiration. But the public deserves better than a regurgitated ideology that fails to take account of recent developments. Above all, it deserves a clearly articulated and modern policy on this important issue from the man who would be Australia's next prime minister.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … THOSE WHO FOUGHT FOR SPAIN

More than 4,000 British people volunteered on behalf of the Spanish Republic in the civil war of 1936-39 - and they should be remembered in honour

The first name on the list is John Angus. The records say little about him. He was, they suspected, from London. In September 1938, he was reported "fighting in Spain". He was a communist. In longhand, someone has later added "Returned". Further than that, the record is silent. But Angus is caught in the spotlight today because he is on a remarkable list of more than 4,000 British people who volunteered on behalf of the Spanish Republic in the civil war of 1936-39, which has now been made public in the National Archives. To MI5, which compiled the list, John Angus and the others who fought for Spain were suspicious, perhaps with reason in some cases. To many reading the newly released list today, however, Angus and his companions are heroes, bathed in romance. A few – like the poet John Cornford, against whose name a clerk wrote "DEAD" in December 1936, and then underlined it – were famous in their time. Most were not. They were mainly working-class, often communists, Scots and Jewish. More than 500 people from these islands died for Spain in those three years – more than have died in Afghanistan in nearly a decade. The names of the dead have long been collected together on the International Brigade Memorial Trust website. Now, thanks to a liberal gesture by the security service, the dead and their comrades who survived have been reunited in this much longer list, an enduring roll call of a generation and a company who should be remembered in honour.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

FRANCE: SOCIALIST SUNRISE

In a Europe that has turned en bloc to the right, France is living up to its role as a land apart

As things stand, and the elections are a year away, a socialist is set to become the next president of France. Barring a dramatic comeback by Nicolas Sarkozy, and barring another midair explosion of the sort that knocked Dominique Strauss-Kahn out of the skies, a France disillusioned with the quixotic and divisive leadership of the incumbent will turn to the centre-left for a calmer head and a safer pair of hands. If anything, the disaster which befell Lionel Jospin, the socialist candidate in 2002 who was knocked out in the first round by the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen, is more likely to recur on the right, as Mr Sarkozy suffers at the hands of Le Pen's cleverly rebranded daughter Marine. The big if in all this is whether the left can unite around a candidate with the ability to broadcast over the full bandwidth of politics.

The two frontrunners for the socialist nomination are the former party leader François Hollande – now thinner, less pally with journalists and more presidential – and his successor Martine Aubry, who launched her bid to become France's first woman president yesterday. There are differences between the two. Mr Hollande is more likely to attract votes from the centre-right. Indeed, the 78-year-old former president Jacques Chirac sent a Taser electroshock through the nervous system of the Élysée Palace by saying he would vote for Mr Hollande next year. Mr Hollande brushed it off as a joke. Mr Sarkozy did not. The incident showed how vulnerable he is from both flanks, the far and centre-right.

Ms Aubry, on the other hand, has greater appeal to the left as a whole. In 2008 she inherited the leadership of a party that was profoundly divided. She has since managed to knit together a party of polar opposites, the leftwing partisans of Laurent Fabius and those of Mr Strauss-Kahn. So that today she counts among her supporters not only key figures of the left but Strauss-Kahnians like Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. She and Mr Hollande also differ on France's nuclear future. Ms Aubry has followed Germany's lead on this issue and is more likely to appeal to the greens.

Both candidates are vulnerable to attack. A former labour minister best known for creating the 35-hour week, Ms Aubry has her work cut out convincing those who run small businesses that France's future lies in more control, not less of it. Nothing will stop Ségolène Royal, Hollande's former wife, from entertaining the illusion that she can succeed in 2012 where she failed in 2007, and she may split the centre-left still further. In a Europe that has turned en bloc to the right, France is living up to its role as a land apart. The presidential contest of 2012 will not disappoint

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

UNIVERSITIES: SUMMER ASSESSMENT

A near-tripling of fees was always going to spark student rage, but eliminating most teaching subsidies made other enemies

Within the confines of a blue-yellow coalition, Vince Cable and David Willetts should have been the universities' dream team – the business secretary, after all, was once a lecturer, while his deputy is the most donnish of Tories. The misfortunes of their first year, however, have been such that Mr Willetts's alma mater at Oxford has already voted no confidence in him, and a similar stunt is under way at Cambridge. Few students, academics or even managers were inclined to grant the white paper the duo published on Tuesday a respectful audience.

Any fair recap of the annus horribilis on campus must start by acknowledging that Labour bequeathed something of a poisonous legacy – Peter Mandelson pencilled in cuts that continue to smart. But in David Cameron's austerity Britain, there would be no respite, only a redoubling of pain. A near-tripling of maximum fees to £9,000 was always going to spark student rage, but once it emerged that it was being coupled to the elimination of most teaching subsidies it made other enemies too. Universities were robbed by Peter in Whitehall, and then invited to rob Paul at freshers' week to make good the losses. The proposition was hardly attractive, but – with nowhere left to turn – redbricks and dreaming spires alike followed its logic, and lined up to hit their students for the full £9,000. At this juncture, it was not merely the scholars directly hit by the cuts who discerned incompetence, but the country as a whole. With all manner of colleges demanding extra money for doing no more, ministerial waffle about choice and market discipline sounded deluded. To make matters worse, it was widely reported that the runaway fees would end up blowing big holes in the budget, by necessitating the costly financing of bigger loans.

This last point has been overdone. Whatever the cash-flow and wider problems, forcing students to foot more of the bill for their education will ease the ultimate burden on the taxpayer. But there is a desperate need to demonstrate to sceptical students what their bigger bills are buying. The white paper is an implicit admission that the practice of the emerging market has abjectly failed to live up to the theory. Instead of carrying all before them, competitive forces turn out to require help from the visible hand of Whitehall. There will be a new push to assess teaching quality, and intervene where it falls short. In principle, that has to be right: no university ought to be allowed to coast along on the strength of its research, and then collect big cheques for teaching that is an institutional afterthought. Assessing quality, however, is no easy matter. Student surveys are becoming the norm, but dons sniff that they reveal no more about what really counts than patients' ratings of the meals on a cancer ward.

There will be more radical action at both the top and bottom end, to try to spur the differentiation which variable fees were meant foster. A clutch of new private colleges may, perhaps, gee some institutions into cutting bills. The stick of competition comes alongside a carrot, in the form of an offer of extra places for institutions that keep costs down. Up in university club class, meanwhile, extra seats will also be created for students with top A-levels.

If the questionable logic of the educational market is accepted, all this is commonsensical. The whole aim is bankrupting the costly and bad, while enabling the expansion of excellence. But it carries the risk of creating a squeezed middle tier. Within the stretched resources available, more room at the top can only be created by cutbacks elsewhere. Yet the UK fares particularly strongly in the mid-table of the world's university league, a point obscured by the elitist obsession with enabling Oxbridge, Imperial and the LSE to secure Ivy League-style resourcing. Worthwhile as some of Tuesday's suggestions may be, they will not materially bolster the dismal year one grade of Messrs Cable and Willetts.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BOOSTING JAPAN'S FLAGGING TOURISM

In 2010, a record number 8,612,000 tourists from abroad visited Japan — up 26.8 percent from 2009 — and it was hoped that more than 10 million tourists would visit this year. But the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters dashed this hope.

The news is not all bad, however. China recently lifted restrictions on visits to Japan with the exception of Fukushima Prefecture. Chinese tourists have begun once again to visit Kyushu, Kansai and even Tokyo.

Even so, it is unlikely that there will be a surge of foreign tourists in coming months. In March, 352,800 visitors from abroad entered Japan — just half the corresponding number the previous year. The figure for April was even worse, plunging by more than 60 percent compared with the previous year at under 300,000.

The Japanese government, travel agencies, tourism associations, tourism-related businesses, transportation companies and local governments should work together to make Japanese tourism more attractive.

The top task at hand is for the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to bring the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant's reactors in Fukushima under control as fast as possible.

The government also must disseminate accurate information as quickly as possible on the efforts being made to end the nuclear crisis, on radiation levels in various areas of Japan and on the progress being made to rebuild infrastructure in the areas of Tohoku that were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

Many visitors comment that they have been most impressed with the beauty and culture of Japan and the hospitality of its people. But Japan has its share of downsides, including high costs and difficult-to-understand information on transportation and tourist attractions.

If Japan's tourist industry remains complacent and makes no effort to improve its shortcomings, the number of tourists visiting Japan will never reach the goal set by the government.

Tourism agencies should put together travel packages suitable for a wide range of budgets. Maps and signs should be written in a manner that is easy to understand for non-Japanese.

Tour guides should at the very least be fluent in English, if not additional foreign languages, and people working at sites popular with tourists, including temples, shrines, restaurants and bars, should be capable of giving brief explanations in English.

Grass-roots efforts as well as government efforts will be equally important.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

FORUM FOR BETTER LOCAL GOVERNMENT

In the current session, the Diet has enacted a law to give legal backing to a forum in which the Cabinet members concerned and local government leaders exchange opinions on policy matters.

The law is the result of the Democratic Party of Japan government's efforts to give more power to local governments.

The enactment of the law makes it difficult for the central government to impose its policy decisions on local governments. It is hoped that both sides will engage in constructive discussions in the forum that spur the improvement of social welfare and other administrative services provided by local governments.

A forum for the Cabinet members concerned and local government leaders was first established under the Koizumi administration but it lacked legal teeth.

After the DPJ came to power, the Hatoyama administration submitted a bill to the Diet to remedy this defect.

Now the central and local governments are required to "respect" points they have agreed on and the content of their discussions will be reported to the Diet.

The forum is attended by the chief Cabinet secretary, the internal affairs minister and other Cabinet ministers concerned as well as leaders of the national associations of prefectural governors and municipal mayors, and the national associations of chairpersons of prefectural and municipal assemblies.

The first meeting of the forum since the enactment of the law was June 13 at the prime minister's official residence and dealt with concrete issues — reconstruction of areas devastated March 11 and the central government's plan to raise the consumption tax to 10 percent from the current 5 percent by fiscal 2015.

Local leaders protested the central government's failure to mention that revenues from the consumption tax will be used for such services provided by local governments as cancer tests, medical checkups of infants and young children and vaccination against influenza. The central government agreed to present them a revised plan.

It is hoped that the forum will help create a system in which local governments can provide services free from rigid rules while at the same time avoiding waste.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SOUTH CHINA SEA: MAKING SENSE OF NONSENSE

BY MARK VALENCIA

KANEOHE, Hawaii — After a series of aggressive incidents involving Chinese patrol boats and subsequent soothing official statements, many analysts are trying to figure out what is really going on.

More specifically, why have different sections of China's government given mixed signals and chosen in nearly one fell swoop to embarrass their own leaders, undermine China's carefully nurtured and reasonably successful "charm offensive" toward the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and play right into the U.S. strategy of convincing ASEAN nations that they need its protection from a bullying China?

In China, has the political train left the station and are ASEAN nations thus just changing seats or cars on the train?

We are talking here not just about blatant violations of the solemnly agreed Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) — all parties are guilty of that — but also of contradicting, by poorly timed actions, the words of leaders. When Chinese Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie was telling the Shangri-la Dialogue on June 3 in Singapore that "China is committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea" and that "China stood by" the DOC, news media were reporting that on May 26 a Vietnamese survey ship operating on its claimed continental shelf had its seismic cables cut by a Chinese patrol boat.

Shortly after that event China sent two vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission to Southeast Asia to try to reassure other ASEAN claimants. But a second such incident occurred on June 9 — only two weeks later. Earlier, on March 4, the Philippines protested an incident on the Reed Bank in which two Chinese patrol boats allegedly threatened to ram a Philippine survey ship.

Then on the eve of Gen. Liang's visit to Manila, Chinese fighter jets allegedly harassed members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines near disputed islands in the South China Sea.

China responded to frenetic protests from Vietnam and the Philippines that any exploration in the Spratly area without its consent is a violation of its jurisdiction and sovereignty. This real time link between its stark and sweeping position and its enforcement has sent a chill down the spines of other ASEAN claimant and drawn U.S. attention. These disputes and even such incidents are certainly not new but why are they occurring now, and why is China sending very mixed signals?

This was supposed to be a period of negotiations to transform the DOC into an official enforceable code. Needless to say, this effort may now be moribund.

Despite China's rhetoric, ASEAN nations are genuinely alarmed and are looking to the United States for succor and support. The U.S. — having confronted China and injected itself into the issue via U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech at the ARF Foreign Minister's meeting in Hanoi in July 2010 — is only too happy to help — at least verbally and with signals that militaries understand.

The great irony is that none of this was necessary for China. Its problem with the U.S., or vice versa, concerns the intelligence-gathering activities of U.S. military vessels and aircraft — the EP-3, the Impeccable, the Victorious, the Bowditch in what it claims is its waters — not conflicting claims to islands or ocean space. These can only be linked in one worst scenario: that China has decided that it disagrees with portions of the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty that it ratified and with international law that Western powers developed and have imposed on China while it was weak and that it now is set on revamping the international system.

In other words China is indeed serious about its nine-dashed line claim to all features, waters and resources of the South China Sea and it alone will decide the passage regime to be imposed therein.

This is radical and could lead to war.Otherwise, China could claim most of what it wants by using existing international law and the Law of the Sea Treaty. It could claim the features and, for legal islands, a continental shelf and 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone for each. Of course it would have to negotiate boundaries with the other claimants.

But that is the present situation anyway and China's legal position is very weak. The area claimed would be almost the same as that within the nine-dashed line and the argument would be legitimate — supported by the convention.

Regarding the navigational issues with the U.S., the U.S. has not ratified the convention and has little legitimacy in arguing it or its interpretation thereof. The U.S. would be widely seen as a "bully" if it tried to force its interpretation on the world.

The puzzle is that China has excellent experts on Law of the Sea who are aware of this opportunity and yet China seems to be eschewing this option.

Perhaps U.S. strategy and tactics have pushed a portion of China's military leadership "over the edge." Maybe they have concluded from what they perceive as the U.S. "containment" policy and the constant and active probing by high-tech spy vessels and planes that war is inevitable. In this scenario China feels it must defend its exposed underbelly and push its defense "zone" as far south and seaward as possible.

Of course, this is anathema to the U.S., particularly its navy. In this case, the DOC or even a convention will be of little utility. Let us hope that the real explanation is more benign. One possibility is confusion and lack of coordination between high policy officials in foreign affairs and the military, particularly the PLA Navy. But this could also mean that China's foreign policy is in flux or disarray on this issue and that the PLA Navy has emerged as a trendsetter and spokesperson thereon.

Remember that just as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived in January on his historic visit to China, its military tested a stealth fighter and the civilian leadership appeared to have been caught unawares.

If the military is on occasion acting independently of the civilian leadership, this could explain the seeming dichotomy between Chinese officials' words and PLA Navy actions. But this would indeed be worrying.

In any event the situation looks likely to get worse before it gets better. More surveys and exploratory drilling are planned in areas claimed by China. And Vietnam has conducted an offshore live-fire drill and has called for international — including U.S. — help to resolve the issues. Rare anti-China protests have broken out in Hanoi and Manila. At this point all one can say is hold on to your hat.

Mark Valencia, a former senior fellow with the East-West Center, is a maritime policy analyst.

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHINESE FINANCE COMES OF AGE

BY HOWARD DAVIES

LONDON — The Chinese financial system's evolution in recent years has been extraordinary. I have observed its transformation as a member of the International Advisory Council of the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC).

Back in 2002, all of China's major banks were awash in nonperforming loans (NPLs), which in some cases amounted to more than 10 percent of the total balance sheet. None of the major banks met even the Basel 1 standards for capital adequacy. Few financiers in London or New York could have named any bank other than Bank of China, which was often wrongly thought to be the central bank.

And to suggest that the United States Federal Reserve, or the United Kingdom's Financial Services Authority, might have anything to learn from China's financial authorities would have been thought absurd.

Less than a decade later, much has changed. The old NPL problem was resolved, primarily by establishing asset-management companies to take over doubtful assets, and injecting new capital into the commercial banks. Now, reported NPLs amount to little more than 1 percent of assets. Foreign partners have been brought in to transfer skills, and minority shareholdings have been floated. Current valuations put four Chinese banks in the global top ten by market capitalization. They are now expanding overseas, fortified by their strong capital backing.

Of course, challenges remain. Even in China there is no magic potion that can revive a loan to a defunct exporter. And China's big banks have lent large sums, willingly or otherwise, to local governments for infrastructure projects — many of them of dubious economic value. There is an ever-present risk that the property market might one day collapse, though banks would emerge in better shape than have banks in the U.S. and the U.K., because much speculative investment has been funded with cash, or with only modest leverage.

The authorities in Beijing, especially the CBRC and the People's Bank of China (the real central bank), have a good record of managing incipient booms and busts, and I would not bet against their success this time. They have considerable flexibility, owing to a range of policy tools, including variable capital and reserve requirements and direct controls on mortgage lending terms. They have already been tightening the screws on credit growth for several months, with positive effects.

It would be flattering to think that this turnaround in China's financial system been attributable to the wise counsels of foreign advisers. But, while external influences have been helpful in some ways — the stimulus of Basel 1 and 2 strengthened the hands of those in Beijing determined to clean up the banking system — the Chinese now, not unreasonably, treat advice from the City of London and Wall Street with some skepticism.

For example, recent criticism of Asian regulators by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is viewed across the region with scorn, not to mention incredulity. A little more humility is in order, given U.S. regulators' performance in the run-up to the crisis. People who live in glass houses should not throw even rhetorical stones.

The most interesting development is that we can now see increasing convergence in the regulatory philosophies and toolkits in Beijing, London, and New York. Until the recent near-implosion of Western capitalism, the North Atlantic authorities thought that the end of financial history had been reached. Financial conditions could be controlled with one tool — the short-term interest rate — deployed exclusively in pursuit of a target, implicit or explicit, for consumer price inflation.

Banks' capital-adequacy ratios were set globally, and, once set, remained fixed. Otherwise, the market knew best. Banks had their own incentives to lend wisely, and controls on lending would necessarily prove ineffective. By contrast, in China, all aspects of a bank's business were directly overseen. Indeed, most banks were under the sway of the central bank.

Now, in Beijing, officials see the advantages of a more hands-off approach, and of institutions with a primarily commercial focus. But they have not eschewed the use of variable capital and reserve requirements, loan-to-deposit ratios, and thresholds for minimum deposits and maximum leverage as controls on property lending.

Meanwhile, in developed capital markets, we are busily reinventing these "macroprudential instruments," to use the term now in vogue in Basel.

We can now see the utility of a more flexible toolkit to respond to excessive credit expansion or asset-price bubbles, where the manipulation of short-term interest rates can be a blunt instrument or, worse, a double-edged sword. An interest-rate rise might take the heat out of the mortgage market, but it will also chill the rest of the economy.

Regulatory philosophies are converging, too. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's famous injunction that "you cannot buck the market" was part of the regulatory mind set in the pre-crisis Anglosphere. And former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan resisted any attempts to rein in the animal spirits of the wealth creators on Wall Street.

The Chinese were less ideological. They had no compunction about calling a bubble a bubble, or in intervening to deflate it. Now, only Sarah Palin reveres Thatcher's views on all issues, and Greenspan has been airbrushed out of financial history, Chinese-style.

When the G-7 morphed into the G-20 in early 2009, many were understandably worried that, with such a diverse range of participants, coming from such different traditions, it would be difficult to achieve consensus on regulatory matters in the Basel Committee and elsewhere. These concerns turned out to have been overstated. The elements of a broader consensus on the future role of financial regulation are in place, as long as Americans like Geithner can resist their constant desire to tell the rest of the world to do as they say, not as they do.

Howard Davies, former chairman of Britain's Financial Services Authority, former deputy governor of the Bank of England and former director of the London School of Economics, is the author of "Banking on the Future: The Fall and Rise of Central Banking." © 2011 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BEIJING BETS ON THE EURO

BY GWYNNE DYER

LONDON — The deadline is now July 3. That's when the European Union's finance ministers meet again, and by then the Greek parliament should have passed legislation mandating ?28 billion of spending cuts and tax rises over the next five years.

If it goes through, each of the 10 million Greeks will ultimately be about ?2,800 ($4,000) poorer.

That's why they're rioting in the street these days in Athens. But unless the European finance ministers approve the plan, Greece will not get the next ?12 billion ($17 billion) installment of the current EU-International Monetary Fund bailout package in July, and it will default on its gigantic debt.

As the IMF recently warned, "A disorderly outcome cannot be excluded." It was hinting that the euro itself might crash, taking the European or even the global economy down with it — and yet China seems strangely unworried.

Used-car salesmen know that if you don't give the customers credit, they won't buy your cars. For the past decade China has operated on the same principle, lending the U.S. government money in order to keep the dollar high and the orders for Chinese goods flowing. Beijing now holds $1.15 trillion of U.S. treasury bills — but as of late last year, it has stopped expanding its dollar holdings.

This makes sense, given that the U.S. budget deficit is 11 percent of GDP. The U.S. is so deeply indebted that it might be tempted to inflate its way out of its problem, and nobody wants to be sitting on a pile of a trillion dollars when the value of the currency collapses. What is astonishing is that China is now buying large amounts of euros instead. So what do the Chinese know that the pundits don't?

They know that there is nowhere to hide. Holding euros is risky, but holding dollars is riskier, and the British pound and the yen are only marginally safer. China has to put its money somewhere, and it calculates that the euro is not quite as bad a bet as it seems. Even though Greece certainly will default at some point, and probably quite soon.

Greece can never repay the ?300 billion ($425 billion) it owes, no matter how harsh the austerity measures that it forces on its own population. If it still had its old currency, it could make the debt shrink by printing more drachmas and inflating the currency, but it's stuck with the euro.

Like other Mediterranean countries that joined the euro, it has a less efficient economy than the big northern European countries that dominate the currency. It used to stay competitive by letting inflation rip, thus making its exports cheaper in foreign markets. But the European Central Bank keeps the euro's inflation rate low, so now it can't do that.

It's a trap. The euro's low inflation rate meant a low interest rate, so although Greece could not keep its economy competitive, it could borrow money very cheaply. And since the euro's value is backed by much stronger economies the banks were willing to lend Greece large sums. Ridiculously large sums, in fact. So large that Greece could never pay them back.

Didn't the banks realize this? Of course they did — but they reckoned that the richer countries in the euro zone would cover Greece's debts in order to preserve the integrity of the currency. That is what is happening now.

The banks stopped lending Greece money after 2008, and the European Union stepped in to prevent a default. The enormous sums that it and the IMF are now lending Greece (at a high interest rate) are immediately handed over to the foreign banks that let the situation get so far out of hand in the first place. But the political price extracted from Greece for this bailout is savage cuts in the country's budget and a soaring unemployment rate.

A lot of Greeks don't see why they should pay such a high price for this charade. They are far from blameless — they cynically milked the EU system for a long time — but their rage is entirely understandable. So at some point Greece will decide to default on its debt.

The money that the EU and the IMF are currently giving to the banks by laundering it through Greece will then have to be shoveled directly into their coffers by the financial authorities, embarrassing though that is. And Greece, using heavily devalued drachmas, will still face a long period of austerity and falling living standards, but at least it will be in charge of its own fate.

The euro will survive all this because everybody knows that the default is coming, and is quietly making arrangements to contain the damage. China is putting its money in the right place.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

 

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

DIPLO-MUTS DRAG LANKA TOWARDS DISASTER

Since the non-violent people power revolution of 1956 brought the S.W.R.D Bandaranaike government to office, the bedrock and cornerstone of Sri Lanka's foreign policy has been the hallowed, time tested principle of non-alignment.

Successive governments of both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party essentially followed this policy, though we saw tilts to the socialist east block during the Sirimavo Bandaranaike era and to the capitalist western block during the J.R. Jayewardene era when Sri Lanka adapted the globolised capitalist market economy policy for which the people are still paying a terrible price.

S.W.R.D Bandaranaike said non-alignment was not just a passive fence-sitting attitude or approach to international affairs but a commitment to the hilt – a commitment to dialogue and accommodation in conflict resolution and to a more equitable distribution of the world's wealth and resources.

Political giants like Yugoslavias Jozef Tito, Egypts Gamal Abdul Nasser and Cubas Fidel Castro played a major role in building and consolidating the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). For Sri Lanka the high point came in 1976 when the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government hosted in Colombo the summit of the 102 nation NAM.

In recent months, especially in the aftermath of the report of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's panel of experts who probed alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksa Regime appears to be in a foreign policy muddle and drifting away if not damning NAM.

Two weeks ago – amidst increasing pressure from the United States, the European Union and even India for the setting up of an international independent court to probe alleged genocide here – President Mahinda Rajapakse visited St. Petersburg in Russia to attend a summit of what appears to be a new Sino-Russian political and economic bloc.

While the west and India are often known to play double games or treble games to achieve their own geo-political and economic agendas, the role of China, Russia and other countries may also be the same. The difference is that despite all the deception and double standards in the west, the principals of democracy are kept alive through checks and balances among the executive, the legislature and the judiciary with good governance, transparency and accountability ensured to  a large extent by a vibrant free media. This is not the case in China and Russia.

Trade and exports are vital in developing a new Sri Lanka and 90 percent of our trade and exports are with the west and India. The government is also relying heavily on a tourism boom and it must be aware that last year only about 15,000 tourists came from Russia and China while as many as 150,000 came from the U.S and E.U countries.

Instead of taking reactive decisions which have dangerous long-term consequences the government needs to work out a clear-cut foreign policy and remain on the middle path of non-alignment.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

HOPE FOR YEMEN?

Months of political instability in Yemen may be nearing an end. Reports indicate that the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's powerful son Ahmed — who heads the elite Republican Guards — may support the ongoing efforts to end the crisis.

With Saleh currently in Saudi Arabia where he is said to be recuperating from injuries sustained during a bomb attack a few weeks back in Sanaa, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the opposition groups have been engaging in talks.  Apparently, the pressure from Riyadh on Saleh's allies and family has resulted in the reopening of dialogue with (the opposition.

Moreover, the growing instability with Al Qaeda and affiliated groups wresting control in some areas has raised the security threat to an alarming level.  Internal discord between various tribes amid sectarian tensions, Yemen could well implode if the necessary steps are not taken with immediate effect.

Despite Saleh's reported avowals to return, the widely held perception is that the Saudi government may not allow him to do so in order to avoid a further deterioration of the situation. This is why Riyadh and Washington have been trying to reason with key figures in the regime to agree to an arrangement where a transition government is formed before elections. Saleh, thrice rejected a similar arrangement proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council even after the opposition factions agreed to it, thus exacerbating (the crisis.

At least with Saleh now out of the picture or at least in the background, there is hope that his sons and loyalists may be persuaded to revise the policy being followed to date. Yemens particular situations merits extreme caution in order to maintain internal stability. Fears of the country sliding again into civil war were rampant only weeks back.  The threat remains and can resurge in no time if the crisis is not dealt with.

In the midst of all this, reports of Saleh making a public appearance on television have come about.  It is hoped that the Yemeni leader relinquishes his obdurate stand and in fact advises those he left behind to make haste and reach an agreement, thus ending the current turmoil. The people have clearly lost confidence  rejected Saleh's promised political and economic reforms. In any case things have now reached a point where any reforms will not help unless Saleh and his inner circle of associates give up power and leave Yemen. The crisis in Yemen is not only a threat to neighbouring Saudi Arabia vis-a-vis border security and the terrorist threat but also poses a security challenge to other states on the Arabian Peninsula. It is therefore hoped it is dealt with peacefully at the earliest without further bloodshed.

Khaleej Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

MOON'S RE –ELECTION: WHAT IS UP HIS SLEEVE?

The Government of Sri Lanka (SL) expressed its opposition to the re- election of Ban Ki-moon to the post of UN Secretary General coinciding with the time when Moon appointed a panel of advisors to investigate the SL war crimes. The media also declared after the Moons' report was released in April that the SL Govt. should not support Moon's bid for re -election.

On the 1st of May, the Govt. supporters went in a procession and agitated that the support of the friendly countries be enlisted to oust Moon from his present position and disallow his re election.  Yet when the proposal for the re appointment of Moon for a second term was presented at the Asia group, SL raised no objections to the proposal, and concurred in the appointment. Cuba and Latin American countries however opposed Moon's re election. SL too like those countries could have opposed Moon's appointment for a second term. But SL in contrast, along with the other countries backed Moon's appointment. It is not certain whether the SL Govt. took this decision either because it had no voice within the Asia group or to curry favour with Ban Ki-moon. In any case the appointment of Ban Ki-moon could not be averted in spite of the opposition mounted by Cuba and Latin America. At any rate this constituted a minus point in respect of Moon's image. If SL too had objected to the re election of Moon at the Asia group, it could have also created a dent in Moon's image. On the contrary, what SL decided was to assent to Moon's re election and remain silent. The media too did not carry any reports that SL questioned on the appointment of Moon for a second term.

It was evident at the time when the report on war crimes was released by the panel appointed by Moon, the latter was perched precipitously – a critical position where he had to win over to his side all the countries across the globe towards his re election. No sooner the report was released than he left for Russia. It is significant to note that Russia during the Kosovo conflict rejected Moon's directives and threatened to exercise its veto power at the UN Security Council against his re- appointment to the office of UN Secretary General. Moon however succeeded during his Russian tour in securing the support of Russia for his re election. China on the other hand, was a country that extended its support from the very outset for Moons' candidacy for a second term in office. A Diplomat speaking to Reuter News Agency said, 'Ban has managed to keep China happy and placate Russia' The International media however are of the opinion that the principal reason for Moon's re election is Americas support.  'The South Korean UN Secretary General has gained a reputation at the World Body as a staunch friend of the United States and its Western allies', the international media highlighted, while reporting, 'some Diplomats there complain that former South Korean Foreign Minister has a tendency to echo the positions of the White House or State Department, and they interpret this as a sign that he may be coordinating his moves with Washington …..'. Some sections of the international media stated however, 'UN officials deny that the Secretary General coordinates with Washington, though they acknowledge that his views often sound similar to America's ……'

It is for the SL Govt. to exercise caution at this juncture. If Ban's views often sound similar to Americas, then as regards SL war crime charges, Americas views cannot be different from Ban Ki-moon's. Pertaining to the panel report on SL war crimes, Moon said, he has no powers of implementation. He made this declaration at a time when he was mustering the support of all the countries for his re election. Of course Ban was precariously perched at that time when he made that statement, but now he is very safe and sound. Hence, what decisions Moon will take in future cannot be deciphered at present.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

MILLIONS HUNGRY AS FOOD WASTED 

BY CHEE YOKE HEONG

At a time of soaring food prices which have heightened poverty and hunger in many parts of the world, a new UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report highlights the amount of food that goes down the drain yearly.

"Roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally," according to the Global Food Losses and Food Waste report. This is about 1.3 billion tonnes per year, wasted throughout the supply chain, from the fields to the consumer.

In terms of food wasted by consumers on a per capita basis, the industrialised countries clocked the highest levels, with countries in Europe and North America leading the way at 95-115 kg/year compared to 6-11 kg/year for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South/Southeast Asia.

Food losses in developing countries are as high, but more than 40 per cent losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels, while in industrialised countries, more than 40pc losses happen at retail and consumer levels. Consumers in industrialised countries waste 220 million tonnes, on par with the food produced in SSA, which is 230m tonnes.

In addition to the economic cost associated with loss of earnings from food produced, lost or wasted, it also "means that amounts of the resources used in food production are used in vain (such as land, water and energy), and the greenhouse gas emissions caused by production of food lost or wasted are also emissions in vain", the report said.

These facts should wake us up to the scale of wastage, while millions suffer from hunger and malnutrition and the effects of climate change. If the amount of food wasted and lost could be reduced and channelled to those who need it, it will go a long way to addressing food insecurity.

The report looks at the losses and waste of seven groups of foods consumed by humans - cereals (wheat and rice), roots and tubers, oil crops and pulses, fruits and vegetables, meat and its products, fish and seafoods and milk.

The causes range from over-production to unsafe food and poor infrastructure and marketing channels, which may differ between industrialised and developing countries.

One important cause of waste at the consumption level in rich countries is that people can afford to waste food. Consumers in developing countries usually buy smaller amounts at a time and often just enough for the day, therefore wastage is minimal. Poverty and lesser income also limit the amount of wastage, said the report.

Failure to meet high "appearance quality standards" from supermarkets is another factor that leads to waste. Some fresh produce are rejected by supermarkets at the farm gate because they do not meet standards concerning weight, size, shape and appearance. Therefore, much of the crops never leave the farm and may end up as animal feed, according to the report.

Food is also lost in industrialised processing lines which carry out trimmings to ensure the end product is in the right shape and size. Trimmings could be used for human consumption but are usually disposed of because it is cheaper to throw them away than to use or reuse them.

Food is also lost due to spoilage when errors occur down the production line resulting in final products with the wrong weight, shape or appearance, or damaged packaging.

Unsafe foods which are not fit for human consumption can lead to losses.

The report makes recommendations and stresses the importance of reducing losses, especially in poor countries.

One of the recommendations is the strengthening of the supply chain in developing countries by encouraging farmers to organise and diversify, and to increase production and marketing and invest in infrastructure and transportation.

In a world with limited natural resources, reducing food losses should also be given priority.

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

IF THE SEA IS IN TROUBLE, WE ARE ALL IN TROUBLE

BY SYLVIA EARLE

 

The report that the ocean is in trouble is no surprise. What is shocking is that it has taken so long for us to make the connection between the state of the ocean and everything we care about -- the economy, health, security -- and the existence of life itself.

If the ocean is in trouble -- and it is -- we are in trouble. Charles Clover pointed this out in The End of the Line, and Callum Roberts provided detailed documentation of the collapse of ocean wildlife -- and the consequences -- in The Unnatural History of the Sea.

Since the middle of the 20th century, more has been learned about the ocean than during all preceding human history; at the same time, more has been lost. Some 90 per cent of many fish, large and small, have been extracted. Some face extinction owing to the ocean's most voracious predator -- us.

We are now appearing to wage war on life in the sea with sonars, spotter aircraft, advanced communications, factory trawlers, thousands of miles of long lines, and global marketing of creatures no one had heard of until recent years. Nothing has prepared sharks, squid, krill and other sea creatures for industrial-scale extraction that destroys entire ecosystems while targeting a few species.

The concept of ""peak oil"" has penetrated the hearts and minds of people concerned about energy for the future. ""Peak fish"" occurred around the end of the 1980s. As near-shore areas have been depleted of easy catches, fishing operations have gone deeper, further offshore, using increasingly sophisticated -- and environmentally costly -- methods of capture.

The concern is not loss of fish for people to eat. Rather, the greatest concern about destructive fishing activities of the past century, especially the past several decades, is the dismemberment of the fine-tuned ocean ecosystems that are, in effect, our life-support system.

Photosynthetic organisms in the sea yield most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, take up and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide, shape planetary chemistry, and hold the planet steady.

The ocean is a living system that makes our lives possible. Even if you never see the ocean, your life depends on its existence. With every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, you are connected to the sea.

I support this report and its calls to stop exploitative fishing -- especially in the high seas – map and reduce pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But I would add three other actions.

First, only 5 per cent of the ocean has been seen, let alone mapped or explored. We know how to exploit the sea. Should we not first go see what is there?

Second, it is critically important to protect large areas of the ocean that remain in good condition – and guard them as if our lives depend on them, because they do. Large marine-protected areas would provide an insurance policy -- and data bank -- against the large-scale changes now under way, and provide hope for a world that will continue to be hospitable for humankind.

Third, take this report seriously. It should lift people from complacency to positive action -- itself cause for hope.

Sylvia Earle is 'National Geographic' explorer in residence, the author of 'The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Oceans Are One', and the former chief scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

(Source: The Independent)

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

JAPAN'S MELTDOWNS DEMAND NEW NO-NUKES THINKING

BY AMY GOODMAN

 

New details are emerging that indicate the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is far worse than previously known, with three of the four affected reactors experiencing full meltdowns. Meanwhile, in the U.S., massive flooding along the Missouri River has put Nebraska's two nuclear plants, both near Omaha, on alert. The Cooper Nuclear Station declared a low-level emergency and will have to close down if the river rises another 3 inches. The Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant has been shut down since April 9, in part due to flooding. At Prairie Island, Minn., extreme heat caused the nuclear plant's two emergency diesel generators to fail. Emergency-generator failure was one of the key problems that led to the meltdowns at Fukushima.

In May, in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, Nikolaus Berlakovich, Austria's federal minister of agriculture, forestry, environment and water management, convened a meeting of Europe's 11 nuclear-free countries. Those gathered resolved to push for a nuclear-free Europe, even as Germany announced it will phase out nuclear power in 10 years and push ahead on renewable-energy research. Then, in last week's national elections in Italy, more than 90 percent of voters resoundingly rejected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's plans to restart the country's nuclear power program.

Leaders of national nuclear-energy programs are gathering this week in Vienna for the International Atomic Energy Agency's Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety. The meeting was called in response to Fukushima. Ironically, the ministers, including U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko, held their meeting safely in a country with no nuclear power plants. Austria is at the forefront of Europe's new anti-nuclear alliance.

The IAEA meeting was preceded by the release of an Associated Press report stating that consistently, and for decades, U.S. nuclear regulators lowered the bar on safety regulations in order to allow operators to keep the nuclear plants running. Nuclear power plants were constructed in the U.S. in the decades leading up to the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979. These 104 plants are all getting on in years. The original licenses were granted for 40 years.

The AP's Jeff Donn wrote, "When the first ones were being built in the 1960s and 1970s, it was expected that they would be replaced with improved models long before those licenses expired." Enormous upfront construction costs, safety concerns and the problem of storing radioactive nuclear waste for thousands of years drove away private investors. Instead of developing and building new nuclear plants, the owners—typically for-profit companies like Exelon Corp., a major donor to the Obama campaigns through the years—simply try to run the old reactors longer, applying to the NRC for 20-year extensions.

Europe, already ahead of the U.S. in development and deployment of renewable-energy technology, is now poised to accelerate in the field. In the U.S., the NRC has provided preliminary approval of the Southern Company's planned expansion of the Vogtle power plant in Georgia, which would allow the first construction of new nuclear power plants in the U.S. since Three Mile Island. The project got a boost from President Barack Obama, who pledged an $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee. Southern plans on using Westinghouse's new AP1000 reactor. But a coalition of environmental groups has filed to block the permit, noting that the new reactor design is inherently unsafe.

Obama established what he called his Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. One of its 15 members is John Rowe, the chairman and chief executive officer of Exelon Corp. (the same nuclear-energy company that has lavished campaign contributions on Obama). The commission made a fact-finding trip to Japan to see how that country was thriving with nuclear power—one month before the Fukushima disaster. In May, the commission reiterated its position, which is Obama's position, that nuclear ought to be part of the U.S. energy mix.

The U.S. energy mix, instead, should include a national jobs program to make existing buildings energy efficient, and to install solar and wind-power technology where appropriate. These jobs could not be outsourced and would immediately reduce our energy use and, thus, our reliance on foreign oil and domestic coal and nuclear. Such a program could favor U.S. manufacturers, to keep the money in the U.S. economy. That would be a simple, effective and sane reaction to Fukushima.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2011 Amy Goodman, distributed by King Features Syndicate

(Source: Truthdig.com)

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BAHRAIN TAKES A PAGE OUT OF STALIN'S TEXTBOOK

BY DR. ALA'A SHEHABI

 

For the first time in its history, Bahrain has embarked on mass military trials of hundreds of civilians on fatuous charges of crimes against the state. While more than 1,000 remain in detention, the opposition estimates that 400 are going through the process of military trials and 100 have been convicted so far. The swift summary justice churned out in these tribunals are a throwback to early 20th century Stalin show trials, designed to punish and humiliate dissenters. One of those being tried is my husband, Ghazi Farhan. On June 21, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment.

 

Having been born and educated in the UK, I moved to Bahrain in 2009 to marry Ghazi Farhan, a 31-year-old energetic businessman, leaving a respectable job in Cambridge to start a new family life in the land of my ancestors. Little did I imagine that in 2011, when the Arab Spring hit the shores of this island, it would be swiftly nipped in the bud, and would sweep my blossoming family along with it.

On April 12, on his way back from his lunch break, my husband was abducted from his office car park. Blindfolded, handcuffed and taken away by unknown plain-clothed men. Some 48 days later, he was summoned before the Orwellian-named "National Safety Court", a military tribunal. He was charged with participating in an illegal assembly of more than five persons (having visited the Pearl Roundabout) and spreading false information on the internet (referring to a single Facebook comment). Therein began an extraordinary ordeal of Ghazi's military trial and his sentencing.

Using Stalin's textbook

Joseph Stalin introduced "the show trial" -- secretive military tribunals that bypass the judiciary -- during the Great Purge of the 1930s. It appears that Bahrain has taken a chapter straight out of Stalin's textbook, in which verdicts are predetermined and then justified through the use of coerced confessions, obtained through torture and threats against defendants' families. The only new addition to this chapter is that the government of Bahrain has insisted, since the 1980s, on airing these filmed confessions on state TV -- often with the defendant apologizing to the king. Ayat al Qurmuzi, a poet sentenced to one year's imprisonment for reading a poem critical of the king, had one such confession aired, possibly to pave the way for some kind of royal pardon.

Credible reports from now-free detainees who were held with Ayat have said how a toilet brush was forced into her mouth. All those on trial are "traitors to the state", says the relentless propaganda of hate speech, spewed on state media -- a chapter in the Arab Tyrant's manual that could have been written by Goebbels. The media has described protestors as "termites" and Shia as "the evil group"; they have dehumanized "the other", who deserve treatment worse than animals.

Since March, hundreds have shared a similar experience to mine. There are several stages to the ordeal that are particularly distressing for all involved. The first stage is the sudden arrest, in a dawn raid or at a checkpoint, or in some cases, at work, and then they are taken away to an unknown location by unknown forces and for long periods of time. In Ghazi's case, 48 days.

The agony of families

I have compared this to the feeling of losing a child in a supermarket -- and then discovering they have been taken hostage by the same forces you would usually expect to seek protection from, and with a justified fear of the victim's abuse, torture and maybe even death. At the peak of the crackdown, four men were killed in police custody within a space of nine days. Often, police deny they have any record or knowledge of the person when their families try to locate them. This may be true, for the National Security Agency is a supra-national organization, with the power to do what it wants with total impunity. In my husband's case, I read a confirmation of his arrest on Twitter a few hours later. That is how this wonderful social media is now being used, by the same security agencies that have been driving a brutal crackdown on the very people who had earlier used the technology to mobilize, publicize and criticize openly.

After living on hope that the detained will be released without charge, the second stage of the ordeal that was particularly disturbing for the family is when the victim is suddenly dragged to the military court and charged. Very few get an opportunity to call their families or to request a lawyer beforehand.

The military court buildings in Riffa are relatively new. Built in 2007, one wonders if they were built with its current use in mind. Upon entering, one is only allowed to carry their ID card, no watch, no paper, no pens, no jewelry -- not even a wedding ring. I had to remove my headscarf and earrings during the painstaking electronic and hand search. There is an army officer standing every couple of meters in the lobbies and court rooms. This building, with only two courtrooms, was clearly not designed to handle this number of trials in one day. Female detainees are held in the lawyers' room for lack of space, male detainees are made to stand in the sun because of overcrowding in their holding cells and lawyers have to hang about in the lobby -- as their room is now occupied by the female prisoners.

The waiting room is cramped full with mothers, sisters and wives who haven't seen their loved ones for months, the worry weighing heavy on their brows, the outbursts frequent and quickly suppressed. I get given some friendly advice from a young woman who was in her final sitting: "Firm up your heart, my dear, the first time you see him will be tough. If they hear you even whimper, you will be taken out -- as I was."

God help the guilty

There is a long wait before the sessions usually begin. With no watches or clocks, the wait seems endless. I catch a glimpse inside the holding area as an army officer opens a door, I see the defendants lining the walls of a holding room facing the walls in silence. Their fate is decided here, not by God, but by a remorseless military judge. What you look like, what you say, what you do, what you feel is strictly controlled here. Their heads are shaven, and they know the words they are allowed to say. The judge has a looming pile of cases he needs to get through swiftly and promptly during the next hour.

When Ghazi first appeared in court he was visibly shocked and disorientated. To suddenly be paraded in a courtroom in front of three judges and read a list of serious charges you hear of for the first time, and told to plead guilty or not guilty, while overcoming the emotions of catching a glimpse of his loved ones after such a long time. It was overwhelming. He had lost at least 10kgs of weight, his eyes were bloodshot, and there were red marks around his hands -- a result of sitting for several hours blindfolded and handcuffed. If innocent men are treated this way then God help the guilty.

This whole spectacle is designed to degrade, punish and humiliate. Does military justice for civilians ever seek to achieve otherwise? Once you enter the courts, you realize that they themselves a tool of repression. It has become clear to me that the verdicts are preordained, and the trials are merely to offer a very thin veneer of legitimacy. For despite the best efforts of our lawyer in presenting a strong defense, the maximum sentence was passed. On June 21, Ghazi was found guilty of all charges against him and sentenced to three years in prison.

This fateful verdict is the third stage of the ordeal shared by many. I had come to expect the worst at this point. The complete disregard of the strong defense plea made by the lawyer is a testament to the political motivations behind the judge's verdict. The fact that Ghazi had not once been able to consult with his lawyer before the trial is a violation of due process since the verdict is preordained. The lawyer himself tells me he feels he is being used as a prop in these staged trials. He tells me we must carry out our act to appease our own consciousness. How uncannily Kafkaesque this all is.

A case among cases

In one of the sessions that I attended, alongside Ghazi's case was an array of seemingly absurd cases. These involved a bodybuilder accused of attacking an Asian expat, three overweight young men accused of stonethrowing, one man who pleaded guilty of driving speedily at a checkpoint, and a photographer sentenced to five years for fabricating a photo.

As in Stalin's era, a purge such as this needs its special show-piece trials. The first of the key show trials that most recently concluded -- with sentences reaching life imprisonment -- was of 21 key opposition leaders accused of plotting to overthrow the regime. The second, and in my view much more abominable, is the trial of 47 medical workers -- including the best consultants in Bahrain -- again on ludicrous charges of trying to overthrow the regime. They are expected also to receive severe sentences. Though my husband's trial is a relatively minor one, the personal ordeal I have described is shared among all.

Military tribunals are being used as the primary vehicle for political justice in order to confer an element of legitimacy. Due process is compromised for speed and efficiency. The use of torture, even death, in a place beyond the rule of law, suggests that the use of military trials is tactical. This is what makes the use of military justice attractive to authoritarian rulers seeking a forum where outcomes of hearings are, for the most part, preordained.

Today, the best of the best in Bahraini society are being dragged through military courts. Doctors and nurses are being punished for treating protesters, teachers and engineers for participating in a national strike, footballers for protesting -- academics, journalists, students, businessmen are all dragged through the ordeal of this military court. As Human Rights Watch testifies, this is a "travesty of justice".

These military courts must be disbanded and prisoners of conscience must be released immediately. Such show trials undermine the rule of law by forcefully reinforcing the regime's sense of power and control -- and are not sustainable. Justice needs to prevail for any enduring peace and security to exist on this island.

Dr. Ala'a Shehabi is an economics lecturer in Bahrain and a former policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. She has a Ph.D. in Econometrics from Imperial College Business School.

(Source: Al Jazeera)

 

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TEHRAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CAMPAIGN AGAINST TERRORISM REQUIRES COMMITMENT

BY ELHAM POURMOHAMMADI

 

The two-day International Conference on Global Fight against Terrorism was successfully brought to a close in Tehran on Sunday.

 

The conference, which was the first of its kind, gathered together officials and scholars from sixty countries who said yes to Iran's call for a world without terrorism and extended a hand of cooperation to the Islamic Republic in the campaign against this evil phenomenon.

Five presidents, including the Pakistani, Afghan, and Iraqi presidents, whose countries are some of the main victims of terrorism, also saw a ray of hope shining in the Iranian capital for the nations victimized by terror and enthusiastically participated in the event in the hope of drumming up support for a global campaign against terrorism through sharing with others the untold suffering that terrorists have inflicted on their people.

The fact that Iran took the initiative to hold such a conference and set in train the process of holding a conference on the campaign against terrorism in rotating host countries on a yearly basis can be looked at from various angles.

First of all, Iran's decision to host the conference indicated that the country, as one of the main victims of terrorism, is true to its word and is hammering away at achieving a workable solution to the scourge of terrorism at the international level.

In fact, Iran woke the participating representatives up to the fact that it is serious in its efforts to help uproot terrorism, unlike certain Western countries that have taken advantage of the slogan "war on terrorism" to establish a military presence in certain countries, maintain a tight rein on Southwest Asia, achieve their political objectives, and advance their illegitimate interests.

Iran also shed light on the fact that the hegemonistic powers are making every endeavor to sully the names of freedom fighters by labeling them terrorists while the true terrorists are at their beck and call.

In addition, the event helped Iran foil the enemies' propaganda campaign against the country to a certain extent and perhaps helped prevent further denigration of the image of Islam and the reputation of Iran through assembling representatives of a number of countries and informing them of the realities on the ground.

Above all, Iran took a key step to show that a world without terrorism would not look like a distant dream if all countries unite in the struggle against terrorism.

Iran also encouraged other countries to host similar conferences.

Iran has taken considerable steps in the campaign against terrorism, and the conference proved Iran's goodwill to the world once again, but there is still much more to do.

Effective mechanisms should be developed to achieve concrete results from such conferences and to make sure that the slogans chanted would not remain mere slogans and would be effectively put into practice, otherwise no one will take similar conferences seriously, and such an important issue will be marginalized.

In addition, an international center should be established to coordinate counter-terrorism activities and urge the countries that pledge to cooperate in the campaign against terrorism to make binding commitments in this regard.

It is hoped that all the world's countries will pool their efforts to combat terrorism more systematically and will keep track of whether the promises made at the conferences in question are being effectively fulfilled or not in order to help make the dream of a world without terrorism a reality.

 

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 EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.

 

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