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Thursday, June 30, 2011

EDITORIAL 30.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month june 30, edition 000872, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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






























  2. THE SUMMER OF 2014





































If by telling a group of carefully selected editors that he is very much in command of the Government he heads and there are no obstacles that prevent him from doing that which is good for the nation the Prime Minister could salvage his battered and bruised image, then a question mark would loom large over the collective intelligence of this nation. By now Mr Manmohan Singh should have realised that few are willing to believe that he has the capacity to lead from the front or the authority to take decisions that are crucial to governance. If the UPA is seen as a non-performing Government steeped in corruption, then the Prime Minister is viewed with diminishing respect and even lesser regard: He has elected to remain indifferent to increasing governance deficit; he has chosen to maintain silence while his Ministers steal with gay abandon; he has preferred to capitulate to the most damaging demands of his party boss; and, he has willingly misled Parliament on more than one occasion to white-wash the many sins of omission and commission for which he cannot disown responsibility. He has displayed amazing lack of grace while dealing with the Opposition while pandering to those who keep him in office though without any power. He has skilfully used the image of a 'decent' and 'honest' man as a cloak to cover his appalling lack of intellectual integrity and concern for probity. He has looked away from domestic issues that agitate the masses while persisting with a two-point foreign policy agenda: Appeasing America and pleasing Pakistan. He has repeatedly promised to control the price line but done nothing to ensure that food doesn't continue to disappear from households and people are not pushed into impoverishment. He has a fixation with economic growth that benefits a wafer-thin section of Indians while the masses find their real income falling with each passing day. And he has the gall to blame the Opposition for his failures and those of the Government he heads, albeit notionally.

Mr Manmohan Singh is utterly mistaken if he believes the perception that his "lame duck" Government has gone "comatose" is no more than "clever propaganda" of the Opposition "to which some sections of the media have lent ear". The Opposition has at best capitalised on what is now popular perception which, for a change, reflects the reality. Much as Mr Singh may find it difficult to accept, the truth that he refers to has little or nothing to do with his "performance" (of which he was so boastful during his interaction with the editors) but everything to do with his failure — as a Prime Minister, as a leader. In the past, too, he has used similar means to deflect attention from his failure by slyly pointing a finger at the Opposition. Recall his interaction with another group of selected editors before the Budget Session of Parliament when he blamed the Opposition for highlighting corruption in high places and accused the media of damaging India's image and reputation. This is what those who are weak and unsure of where they stand do: Blame others for their shortcomings and lapses. The Prime Minister of India is expected to be honest and honourable. Even if we were to grant that there is no reason to doubt the personal honesty of Mr Singh, there is nothing honourable about his being so petty-minded.






Following an enormously successful five-day, three-country trip to Europe, when a triumphant Chinese Prime Minister flew back to Beijing on Wednesday he left behind a continent that was somewhat surprised but significantly overawed by the tremendous might of the Asian dragon economy. At the start of his tour, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao received a warm welcome in Budapest where he indicated to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr Viktor Orbán, that China would buy some of the country's sovereign debt and provide a $1.4 billion loan. He also pledged to support the euro to help the EU find its way out of the ongoing currency crisis — a promise he reiterated in London during his meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and his predecessors, Mr Tony Blair and Mr Gordon Brown. Yet much of this paled in comparison to what Mr Wen achieved in Berlin, where he concluded several billion euros worth of trade deals and, more importantly, strengthened China's strategic partnership with Germany. In recent years, bilateral trade between the two countries has grown by leaps and bounds — last year it was valued at €130 billion, an increase of 34 per cent from 2009 when China surpassed Germany as the world's largest exporter, and is expected to increase to a whopping €200 billion by 2015. As a reflection of this "significant deepening" of economic ties, the two countries agreed to establish special Government consultations that will ensure their representatives meet on a regular basis to discuss a wide range of issues. Currently, Germany only conducts such consultations with France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Russia and Israel, with India joining the club only this year, while China has no such arrangement with any other country. The political weightage China attached to the last leg of Mr Wen's tour of Europe was evident in the huge entourage that accompanied him in Germany: 13 Ministers and more than 300 managers. The Germans, in turn, rolled out the red carpet for the man who has promised to bail them out of a financial catastrophe.

Yet, not all is fine. Germany is still uneasy about China's human rights record, regarding which the latter has made clear it will not tolerate foreign bullying or 'lectures.' It is also particularly displeased with Beijing's low-cost loans to Chinese firms competing for contracts in eastern Europe, while the Chinese approach towards intellectual property rights also make the Germans uncomfortable, especially as they look to trade in high-technology products. However, seeing how China has 'forgiven' German Chancellor Angela Merkel for meeting the Dalai Lama in 2007, it is unlikely that the world's two largest exporters will let such 'value-based' issues jeopardise their economic interests. That's the way it should be. ***************************************







As a nation we are driven by the urge to save and invest in gold and silver, while skimping on infrastructure that can propel growth.

A recent issue of Time offers an interesting snippet of information: 47 per cent of Americans can't raise $2,000 in 30 days without selling an asset. I dare say most of the middle classes in India, including the lower echelons of the descriptor, can find, or borrow, one solitary lakh of rupees in one month without liquidating any asset.

Of course, our poor, some 500 million Indians, and almost the same percentage of our 1.25 billion population, can't think of raising that kind of money. However, the comparison is between the richest country in the world, which is going through a rough economic patch, and the country with the second fastest growing economy which is going through political turbulence and governance deficit.

But then America is largely made up of wage-earners. These range from the mind-boggling compensation of the business leaders to the millions of Americans living on weekly pay-slips. This is because some three per cent of the US's population actually owns everything there and has a predominant say in most areas of American influence across the world. Capitalism has its advantages, but they are rarely spread evenly.

Another major difference between the US and India is the sheer extent of national debt.

India, with an economy hovering short of $2 trillion, has a large current account deficit, but in percentage terms, it is still in single digit. India also has a sizeable chunk of national debt, measured against GDP, and in percentage terms this is definitely in double digits. Our off-book liabilities, such as those of various poorly-run State power corporations, ad hoc 'non-Plan' expenditure and the like, are considerable. We probably owe at least one-third to two-fifths of our GDP when all of it is accurately admitted to.

This could have been higher, but partly because of our infrastructure bottlenecks in power, roads, trains, ports, airports, automation, health, education, methodology, etc, they collectively act to dampen confidence in our economy and slow it down. We are growing at anywhere between seven to nine percent per annum nevertheless.

In comparison, America, the world's sole superpower, is hardly growing now but continues to borrow in many multiples, not percentages, of its $13 trillion to $15 trillion economy. The US's national debt is reported at 64 per cent of its GDP, but add in all the off-balance sheet liabilities and it is more like 500 per cent, according to Fortune.

Mr Bob Rodriguez, the CEO of a $16 billion money management firm, First Pacific Advisors, thinks there will be a debt crisis in the American economy within two to five years and that it will shake the global financial systems much harder than the financial crisis of 2008. Mr Rodriguez expects US Government borrowing to hit a wall of international under-confidence, sending global interest costs spiralling out of control.

America is the greatest debtor in the world and China, alongside most of the other leading countries, including India, is its greatest lender. And the US dollar is the main currency of global trade. So, if America goes through a debt burden crisis, it will be many magnitudes bigger than the 2008 financial crisis. It will have a horrific domino effect and hit most national economies.

To prevent that from happening, Mr Rodriguez says, the US should consider fiscal belt-tightening now, not more and more borrow-and-spend policies to promote growth. However, many do not agree with Mr Rodriguez's prescription, citing the Great Depression of the 1930s when precisely this was done.

India, on the other hand, goes too much the opposite way, ever ready to strangulate growth by citing inflation but never really looking for efficiencies and modernisation as substitute strategies. We end up being feted by the World Bank, the IMF and the WEF by default. But it is interesting to note that no other country wants to follow the Indian way, lacking perhaps our sizeable domestic demand.

That we routinely sacrifice our destiny on the altar of fiscal prudence is cold comfort to those of us who want this country to first, for once, achieve its true potential, because that could heave us into a different shore and paradigm going forward.

Slowdowns hit the poorest hardest and this is as true of people as of nations. But a recent book by management guru Upendra Kachru, India: Land of a billion entrepreneurs, meditates entertainingly on how we have the largest number of shops and mobile hawkers, in urban and rural India alike, relative to our population, in the world. He writes, "The way entrepreneurs operate, whether their strategy is attack or defence, differentiates them." Indian fiscal policy, on the whole, is defensive.

This prudent stance may well be built into the national DNA. Traditional Indian business always emphasises the balancing of the daily cash books with a bias towards income over expenditure. Our middle classes can come up with a lakh of rupees because they have salted it away in public sector banks and post office PPF accounts or invested it in life insurance policies and even in the relatively new-fangled mutual funds with open plan formats.

Welfarism, including the NAC variety, is largely, if not wholly, directed at the poor and the destitute, even as it infamously enriches the gravy train. Perhaps the Americans, long used to being on top, are habituated to spending every cent they have, something we cannot afford to do in any event. There will be no bailouts for us because we at least have food on the table and a roof above our heads.

When the middle classes in India have no money to fall back upon, given the less than dire nature of our needs, they are on their own. The poor are much worse off, yet we have over 25 lakh better off farmers committing suicide.

Perhaps this lack of bold carpe diem is a civilisational deficit in a nation that boasts of traditions that go back more than 5,000 years. Preferring to always err on the side of caution, we don't seem to have the guts to realise our full potential, not only just now, but at any time during our long story of survival.

This virtue of making sure we have a financial cushion is partly due to our innate conservatism, our trust in gold and silver over currency, and the saving habit that has only strengthened with greater prosperity after 20 years of the reforms process. The savings rate has actually gone up by over 10 per cent to about 32 per cent of household earnings instead of the other way around.

Another country that saves like us is China. The Chinese have also been around for centuries and gone through many ups, like today, and downs too. But just because they save the Chinese don't skimp on infrastructure, national security or growth like we Indians do.






The peculiar marriage of convenience, where America was minimally appeased as long as the Generals were well compensated and their interests protected, was torn asunder by the events of May 2. But what escalated the crisis in US-Pakistan relations since that day was something unanticipated: The Army's plummeting credibility in the eyes of Pakistan's populace

The daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden marked a turning point not only in US-Pakistan ties but also in power relations within Pakistan. Most observers have focussed on the first, but have failed to understand how worsening civil-military relations in Pakistan have contributed to the recent meltdown between Washington and Islamabad.

US President Barack Obama's decision to launch 'Operation Neptune Spear' without informing Pakistan exploded the myth of the US-Pakistani 'strategic partnership'. The discovery of Osama bin Laden close to the Pakistani Military Academy in Abbottabad — almost certainly protected by elements of its 'deep state' — marked Pakistan as a 'frenemy' rather than the 'ally' it regularly claimed to be.

The consequent upsurge in American resentment, in turn, reinforced the Pakistani military view of Washington as a formidable but fickle friend. This peculiar marriage of convenience, where America was minimally appeased as long as the Generals were well compensated and their interests protected, was torn asunder by the events of May 2, 2011. But what escalated the crisis in US-Pakistan relations since that day was something unanticipated: The Army's plummeting credibility in the eyes of its own populace.

The shock that the US could discover Osama bin Laden from thousands of miles away in a cantonment town, when he was overlooked by the military and its powerful intelligence services, confronted the Pakistani public with one of two possibilities: Either their Army was malicious, harbouring an enemy whose allies were ravaging Pakistan every day, or it was incompetent, incapable of discharging its principal task of protecting the nation.

In either case, the Osama bin Laden affair raised the fundamental question of why such a military was offered preferential access to the public trough given its debilitating failures. The ease with which homegrown insurgents were able to attack a major Pakistani naval base, even as the intelligence services, for all their fecklessness, were widely suspected of torturing and killing a prominent Pakistani journalist who had uncovered connections between the deep state and extremists, filled the Pakistani populace with dismay and revulsion.

Not since the disastrous Kargil war of 1999 has the Army's reputation fallen so low. In a praetorian state, a loss of credibility is a threat to survival and, hence, the Pakistani Army struck back resolutely and early.

In the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden raid, it looked like Pakistan might have finally seized a moment for introspection. In his phone conversation with Mr Obama, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari struck exactly the right note, recognising correctly that Osama bin Laden's death was a victory for both the US and Pakistan. Given the disasters Islamist radicals have wreaked in Pakistan, his elimination — however achieved — was welcome news and the main task for both countries was to resolutely pursue the anti-terrorism campaign because, as Mr Zardari later put it, "the forces of modernity and moderation remain under serious threat".

Unfortunately for Mr Zardari, Rawalpindi — the headquarters of the Pakistani military — did not get the memo. Within days of his conversation with Mr Obama, the Army began hounding the civilian Government for betraying the national interest by weakly opposing American military action after first having liberally issued visas to US operatives that allegedly made the intrusion both inevitable and easy.

Before long, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani would be threatening the US with a military response in the event of another similar operation, while defending the honour of the military and the intelligence services. Far from exploiting the opening created by Osama bin Laden's death for reflection on Pakistan's continued dalliance with jihadism, the official debate pressed by the Army now centered on Pakistani sovereignty and the contempt conveyed by the US in breaching it.

Except for small bastions of Pakistani liberalism, which persisted in asking the hard questions about the Army's involvement in Osama bin Laden's sanctuary and what that meant for Pakistan's future, the deep state successfully kept up the diversionary drumbeat about bruised sovereignty — a particularly ironic focus given that the purported ignorance about Osama bin Laden's presence illuminated Pakistan's empty sovereignty even more than the ensuing American raid.

A strong civilian Government might have used this moment to demand the resignation of the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff and the Director-General of the ISI, holding them accountable for their failures. In Pakistan, however, the opposite happened: In a particularly galling moment, some civilian politicians close to the Army actually called on Mr Zardari and Mr Gilani to resign on the grounds that the Osama bin Laden episode demonstrated that their management of national security — on which they exercise no oversight, let alone control — was found wanting!

Operation Neptune Spear has thus proved to be a turning point — but not in the manner expected, at least concerning Pakistan. Far from strengthening civilian authority, the Army's embarrassment has provided new opportunities to decisively undermine counter-terrorism cooperation with the US and further weaken the civilian regime — even as the Pakistani military sold fantastic stories about the Army chief's struggle to keep his job because of 'excessive' cooperation with the US.

While recent Pakistani actions, such as the arrest of US informants who supported the Osama bin Laden mission, the compromise of operations targeting facilities that produce improvised explosive devices, the reduction of Special Forces components training the Pakistani Frontier Corps, the sharply increased constraints on clandestine American counter-terrorism operations inside Pakistan, the demanded diminution in the size and the status of the US military assistance mission in Islamabad and the continued support of jihadi groups that continue to target US troops in Afghanistan, remain disconcerting, the US will find ways to circumvent these problems, albeit at greater cost and with greater risks.

More significant, however, is the damaging enervation of Pakistan's already frail civilian authority. While continuing American appeasement of its Generals has contributed mightily to this outcome, the demise of the civilian Government on issues of national security will not only undermine Mr Zardari's bold assurance that "the war on terrorism is as much Pakistan's war as it is America's," but it will also subvert Pakistan's stability by further strengthening the power of the very military that has taken the country to perdition repeatedly since its formation.

-The writer is Senior Associate, South Asia Programme, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.






There is a growing realisation that the future growth of Indian companies will be influenced by the share that they can garner in the world market. They are acquiring overseas assets to establish overseas presence and to upgrade their competitive strength in overseas markets

Sometime back, the investment by Indian companies abroad was looked at as a positive sign. Now it is being sensed as concern of the Indian companies about safety of their investments in the country. So it won't be wrong to say that they are possibly looking for a safer destination.

A recent survey carried out by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch showed that India is among the least favoured investment destinations at minus 20 per cent, the lowest in the last six months. The survey also noted that among the Asia-Pacific investors, India has a minus 13 per cent preference, worse than Korea at minus eight per cent.

The FIIs have for the first time in nine months reduced their total stake in top Indian companies. The survey finds that the FIIs now put less weight on India. They are reportedly shaken by the series of arrests of high-profile corporate people and politicians found involved in a number of scams.

On the macro-economic front, for months the rate of inflation has been hovering around the double-digit mark. In addition, RBI's raising interest rates for the tenth time since March 2010 is also proving a dampener as it results in increasing the cost of investment. The growth has also plunged from 9.4 per cent in March 2009 to 7.8 per cent in March 2011.

Over the last few years, the growing ambitions of Indian firms — both big and small — have added a new dimension to the Indian economy. This has been made possible through a reverse flow of resources as outward FDI from companies in India looking to become global players. With the result some ambitious and daring steps were taken by the Indian Inc lately. Hindalco-Novelis, Tata Steel-Corus, Tata-Jaguar, Suzlon-REpower, Wipro-Infocrossing, United Spirits-Whyte & Mackay are some of the major acquisitions by the Indian corporate abroad.

As per the RBI's data for the year 2007-08, the total outward investment from India, excluding that made by individuals and banks, rose 29.6 per cent to $17.4 billion, largely due to acquisitions. A large part of this was through the equity route. If we consider a sectoral spread of India's investments abroad, manufacturing topped the charts followed by the non-financial service sector.

Earlier, there was an accent on inward flows — FDI, portfolio investments, joint ventures and collaborations to tap the growing Indian market, and also technology transfers for enhancing competitiveness of Indian firms. Exports were predominantly the main door to step out towards globalisation. Now, the scenario is changing.

There is a growing realisation that the future growth of Indian companies will be influenced by the share that they can garner in the world market by acquiring overseas assets, including intangibles like brands and goodwill, to establish overseas presence and to upgrade their competitive strength in the overseas markets.

Though it looks as a spread of Indian corporate, it is now being read as their inherent fear that possibly everything is not fine within the shores of the country. Still nobody has said that it was reflection of their receding confidence but it is gradually being interpreted like that.

The direction of investment proposals reveals that the US, Singapore, Netherlands, European Union, Mauritius and Britain together accounted for more than 60 per cent of proposed outward investment from India. Some other destinations are Singapore, Korea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Fiji and Cambodia.

The process started in 2005-06 with $2.7 billion investment largely in the manufacturing sector.

The FII shareholding pattern in Indian companies point to a decline in interest in Indian stocks. It is stated to be a major reason for the continuous fall in Bombay stock sensex. The ICICI Securities recently analysed the pattern for BSE 500 companies. It indicated a gradual decline in FII interest in Indian companies. Between March 2009 and December 2010, FII holding had increased in these top 500 companies from nine per cent to 13.1 per cent.

But in March 2011 it dipped to 12.6 per cent. The FII data shows a net outflow of Rs 13,253 crore (about $3 billion). During the last one-and-a-half month alone it declined by Rs 5,300 crore.

The trend is continuing. The Indian companies are continuing their search for greener pastures. Africa has emerged as one of the major destinations. In the last five years scores of Indian companies have bought or invested about $16 billion in a range of businesses in Africa. Among them is Bharti Telecommunications whose $9 billion deal to acquire mobile phone operations in 15 African countries is the biggest investment by an Indian company.

The fear among fund managers, according to Mr G Banga, CEO of Indiabulls Financial Services, is that India may lose its premium over emerging markets if the Government does not make progress in infrastructure and invest efforts to control scandals.







President Barack Obama's announcement of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan has clearly conveyed a global message — America's self-appropriated role as the sole 'super policeman' has proved costly and extremely counter-productive because nation's economy cannot carry the burden of fighting wars to protect its so-called national interests. Though Mr Obama has observed that "the tide of war is receding" but in blunt recognition of domestic economic strains, he frankly admits that "it's time to focus on nation-building at home".

It's not just the US that feels the heat of economic downturn at home, other European members of the Nato forces are also pulling out of war in Afghanistan as European economies too confront a 'stagnation of growth'. That apart, many crisis-ridden members of the European community are engaged in 'crisis management' on the basis of short-term and long-term 'bail out programmes'. Moreover, 20 years of American global 'hegemony' has taken a heavy toll on economic and socio-political fabric of the country. This could better explain the erosion in popular support for the war-mongering activities of the US Presidents from Mr George W Bush to Mr Obama.

Notwithstanding the alarming reality, the foreign policy-makers in India reposed full faith in the capacity of our 'strategic partner' on bilateral issues related to India-Pakistan and Indian-Afghanistan. But in the process they overlook the fact that the Pakistani Army — the real centre of power in the country — considers India its enemy number one and that it has not revised its military doctrine of directing all its energy against India. It shows that India has not learnt any lessons from the past relationship with Pakistan.

Yet India and Pakistan cannot turn their faces away from the compulsions of geographically determined status. The persistent 'trust-deficit' between these two neighbouring countries is the product of Pakistan's India-focussed strategic doctrine. In this context, it seems that India-Pakistan bilateral disputes were not enough to create disturbed situation in South Asia, a difficult new chapter of Afghanistan has opened new areas of conflict between India and Pakistan.

America's long war against Al Qaeda and Taliban for the last 10 years has completely shattered every structure of the Government in Afghanistan. A defeated and humiliated America and Nato armed forces are in disarray because popular opinion in their countries suffering from the impact of severe economic crisis are retreating in haste and leaving Afghan people to their own fate. The retreating Americans recognise this fact and General David Petraeus stated, that "More needs to be done, not only against those extremist elements that are threatening the security of Pakistan but also against those that are causing problems for neighbouring countries — Afghanistan foremost among them."

The real implication of American approach towards Afghanistan problem is that the armed forces need to be withdrawn 'gradually'. But at the same time, it looks that the US is in no mood to completely vacate the space occupied by it in Afghanistan because American security policy-makers are convinced that the presence of the forces in Afghanistan is essential for safeguarding strategic interests in Central Asia, South Asia and Russia. What Mr Obama has given from left hand, he has kept his military options in his right hand and its means Nato forces are permanently going to stay in this region.

The new strategic orientation of America in Afghanistan leaves India and Pakistan to fight their own battles because Pakistan wants 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan and India has its own stakes in Afghanistan which bring it in confrontation with Pakistan.

On the other hand, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai may be feeling happy at the turn of events. But he must not forget that other warlords, Al Qaeda and Taliban, are not interested in keeping his Government in the saddle. And the Pakistani Army, with the support of Islamic militants both in its own country and in Afghanistan, is not going to leave easily the territorial boundaries of its very precious neighbour.

American and other interested parties want India to support nation-building and infrastructural development of Afghanistan. This is a very tall agenda for India to handle such an enormous task in unsettled conditions in Afghanistan. America is handing over the burden of reconstruction of wreaked economy without the protective umbrella of Americans who have to play an active role in Pakistan. In fact, the US cannot withdraw its forces without ensuring a guaranteed role for India.

Pakistan is an active player in Afghanistan irrespective of whether or not the Americans are engaged in Pakistan or vacating the military space in the region. The central issue is that India is bound to operate in hostile territory in Afghanistan because Pakistan has always considered Afghanistan as its zone of influence. It deserves to be mentioned that Mrs Indira Gandhi, considered as friend of Soviet Union, did not agree with Brezhnev–Kosygin interventionist policy in 1979 because as the Prime Minister of India she considered Afghanistan an Indian zone of influence. And much water has flown down the Ganges from 1979 to 2011 because Americans with the full support of Pakistan have given birth to Islamic fundamentalists like Al Qaeda, Taliban and other anti-India religious fanatic forces during their post-September 11, 2011 adventure in that area.

It is no secret that Pakistani agencies like the ISI have patronised and lionised the religious fanatics and allowed the anti-terrorist forces to operate openly against America and India. The American and Pakistani and Army and the ISI do not have any control over the Islamic religious zealots and India has been left to fight its own battles on its own. This is the situation at the ground level. The option before India and Pakistan is to resolve its own dispute on the basis of the available resources.

Recently concluded Foreign Secretaries-level meeting between these two countries in Pakistan has come to recognise that it has to fight against Islamic militants and if both these countries realise that terrorism is their common enemy, new steps in positive manner can be evolved.







He's not in silent mode. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seemingly sought to convey this message by interacting with mediapersons. Such exchanges, it's said, will be the UPA's communications strategy from now on.

That's just as well. Silence at the top is rather deafening when controversies abound, be it corruption scandals, persisting inflation or the Lokpal gridlock.

This is the age of instantaneously accessed information. Leaders flout the spirit of the times if they remain behind a veil of silence and secrecy denoting distance between those governing and the governed. What's expected today of politicians is accessibility, transparency and accountability, as manifested in willingness to provide ready answers to people's questions.

It has been said that talking to the media isn't the same as talking to the people, to whom the prime minister is answerable. But democracy isn't just about poll-eve rhetoric and electoral judgment days. It's also about governance delivery between one election and another. Here, the media's a key channel via which governments reach out. Did Singh do so? Yes and no.

For starters, he said he wasn't a "lame-duck prime minister". While he welcomed Rahul Gandhi succeeding him, he suggested change of guard wasn't imminent. If that sets to rest popular misgivings, is the Congress itself convinced? To link doubts about prime ministerial authority with opposition "propaganda" won't do; Singh's own partymen haven't desisted from fuelling speculation on this score by their statements.

Singh did well to signal readiness to be under the Lokpal's ambit. In fighting corruption, the prime minister's office must set an example. For, like any manmade institution, it too can be vulnerable to taint. Rather than weaken the top office, scrutiny by the Lokpal - itself subject to checks and balances - will make it stronger, more upright and accountable. But Singh's clearly enunciated stand has a caveat.

All decisions will taken be by "consensus". With deep cleavages on the issue between government and civil society and between political parties, a marriage of minds is unlikely. Will the Lokpal become a casualty of the quest for an elusive consensus?

Singh justifiably says combating black money, tax evasion and corruption isn't a one-time operation. But surely more urgency is needed to push technology-aided transparency in government dealings and systemic and regulatory reform, including by curbing discretionary powers and exposing sources of political funding.

The prime minister may have used the opportunity better to dispel anxieties about the economy. Regarding inflation, why the inaction on farm sector reform? And why the moratorium on reforms in general, given the fears of a renewed slowdown? Nor was he too forthcoming on the expected cabinet reshuffle. Given the UPA's troubles, the rejig must be more than a merry-go-round for seat-holders. Only by infusing young blood and keeping out habitual slackers can the UPA give itself the fresh impetus it so badly needs.






In many ways the annual conference of the International Cricket Council in Hong Kong has been a significant affair. While the decisions taken at the meeting are certainly up for debate, they reflect the direction in which world cricket is heading.

Technical decisions such as introducing two new balls per innings and making elective powerplays mandatory between the 16th and 40th overs of ODIs should help bring some parity in a game loaded in favour of batsmen and make the middle-overs exciting. On the other hand, only time will tell if the decision to do away with runners is prudent.

It is positive that the ICC has endorsed the Umpire Decision Review System following a compromise with the BCCI. Notwithstanding the complications involved in implementing the system, that too minus ball-tracking technology, it is desirable for technology to be leveraged wherever possible to improve the standards of the game.

On the commercial front, the most significant decision has to be the unofficial window period for the IPL. Gaps have been left in the Future Tours Programme from 2012 to 2020 that will free up cricketers from most nations to participate in the marquee event.

Given the innovative platform IPL represents, this should encourage similar formats to come up and take cricket to uncharted territories. Equally important for the game's development is the decision to include associate nations in the 2015 World Cup, which will give minnow teams a chance to prove their mettle. On the whole, it is welcome that cricket's apex body has been responsive to the demands of commercial logic and sought to innovate with an eye to the future of the game.








The home minister, writing in early 2010, expressed his confidence that "if we remain steadfast in this path of carefully controlled, calibrated operations to reclaim territories that are dominated (by) Maoists, we should be able to rid ourselves of this menace in about two-three years".

The paramilitary forces were accordingly mobilised in pursuance of his plan of 'Clear, Hold and Develop', and placed at the disposal of the worst-affected states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Maharashtra. The results so far, however, have been far from satisfactory.

The Maoists continue to be on a rampage. In 2010, the total casualties in Maoist-related incidents for the first time touched four figures - 1,003 killed in 2,212 incidents. It was always unlikely 2011 would see a turnaround. Last month, the Maoists were again on the offensive. Seven CRPF men were killed in an explosion when the Maoists blew up a vehicle in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh, on May 17. Four policemen were killed in two firefights in the forests of Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra, on May 19. Maoists ambushed and killed nine policemen, including an additional superintendent of police belonging to Gariyaband district of Chhattisgargh, in the Naopara area of Orissa on May 24. Seven policemen and eight SPOs were killed on June 9 in two separate incidents in Narayanpur and Dantewada districts. More attacks have taken place since, including in Dantewada and Kanker.

A number of factors have contributed to blunting the sharpness of the security forces' offensive against the Maoists. There is no clarity on the policy the government should pursue. P Chidambaram's approach was clear: he wanted to go all out against the Maoists, put them down with a heavy hand, and thereafter undertake development in the area. However, he found himself hamstrung by the Congress party's perception articulated by general secretary Digvijay Singh, who emphasised the developmental approach and expressed his opposition to the use of brute force.

Mamata Banerjee also has a different take on the Maoists. At a rally in Lalgarh on August 9, 2010, she was reported to have referred to them sympathetically. In Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar has been repeatedly saying that the Maoists could not be countered by force and that all-round development and welfare measures alone would bring them back to the mainstream. Nonetheless, the government claimed on October 7 last year that the security forces had regained control over 10,000 sq km of area dominated by the Maoists in Naxalite-affected states.

The stalemate in anti-Maoist operations can also be attributed to internal wrangling within the Congress. There is speculation that a powerful section within the ruling party does not want Chidambaram to be very successful as home minister because of suspicions of his prime ministerial ambitions. They want him to go thus far and no further. Unfortunately, Rahul Gandhi's rise to the top post seems more important for some ruling party members than success in anti-Maoist operations.

On his part, the problem with the home minister is that he does not appear amenable to advice, not even from experts or officers who spent the better part of their lives fighting insurgents and terrorists of different hues in the troubled theatres of the country. Seemingly, he has yet to understand that being an astute politician and an able general are two different things, and he cannot combine both roles. His selection of officers for top positions leaves much to be desired. Two paramilitary chiefs chosen by him proved a disaster. Besides, the home ministry appears to have no strategic plan. Nor is there monitoring of results achieved by the security forces.

Paramilitary commanders, on their part, are content as long as their troops do not suffer casualties. There are hardly any aggressive operations. The one honourable exception now is the current CRPF director general, who has been camping in the most interior areas and trying to motivate his men. But, unfortunately, his force requires restructuring and overhaul. Some police chiefs in affected states have also cut sorry figures. There are officers who do not visit the hot spots and prefer to issue directions from the safety of state capitals. The bureaucracy has not shown much commitment, and many of its minions have in fact developed a vested interest in continued insurgency because that ensures liberal grants from the Centre.

Political leadership in most of the states is either non-serious or indifferent to the Maoist problem or making hay while the sun shines. Raman Singh is the only chief minister taking the Maoists head-on. But he appears too much of a gentleman to wield the whip, which is what is needed today to galvanise the administration.

The future is a big question mark. Much will depend on the faithful implementation of the government's flagship schemes. The government recently announced a Rs 3,300 crore Integrated Action Plan for 60 Naxalite-affected districts across nine states to ensure overall development of these areas - setting up schools, health facilities, roads and access to safe drinking water, etc. The government's sincerity in wanting to develop Naxalite-hit areas cannot be questioned. But the fact remains that, partly because of lack of commitment and partly because of rampant corruption, the fruits of development are not reaching the intended beneficiaries. The government must understand that corruption and a successful campaign against the Maoists cannot go together.

The writer is a retired police chief.







Actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley isn't content with her much-publicised debut film, Transformers. She's now eyeing one of the most glamorous roles actresses can aspire to. She wants to be a "Bond Girl". This is entirely understandable.

Those who'd accuse her of not setting her sights 'higher' possibly base their judgment on the stereotypical notion of Bond girls as being no more than arm candy, an ornamental foil to James Bond, the famous spy. Bond girls, they think, denote superficial, commodified women who pander to men. Such views are not just misplaced, but are marked by a crushing lack of humour or sense of fun.

Yes, Bond girls celebrate glamour and femininity. What's wrong with that? Why, they also display wit and intelligence, apart from giving Bond a hard punch or two in fight sequences. Nor are they sexualised caricatures any longer. Today's Bond girls epitomise both the beauty and strength of womanhood. They portray well-rounded, psychologically complex and realistic characters conveying a range of emotions.

Take actress Sophie Marceau in the film, The World Is Not Enough, or Eva Green's character in Casino Royale. Nor is sensuality highlighted at the expense of all other facets of womanhood. The Bond flick Quantum of Solace didn't even have the female lead romantically involved with Bond, as is the tradition. Rather, she helps him in his mission as an equal! Bond movies today include diverse roles for women. Don't forget his middle-aged boss, played impeccably by Judi Dench.

There's another reason actresses want to partner Bond. Diana Rigg, Michelle Yeoh and Halle Berry may have been stars before they became part of the Bond story. But other relative newcomers saw fame only afterwards. Playing the part is seen as a good career move. Bond being a highly successful movie franchise, Bond girls want instant celebrity - and get it too.







If Rosie Huntington-Whiteley expects that landing the role of a Bond girl will lead her to bigger and better roles, she should take a cue from the careers of legions of actresses who've sold themselves short by playing 'It' girls, and so failed to break into the big league.

In fact, they ultimately faded into oblivion. While scouting around for roles is justifiable for Hollywood beginners, Whiteley would do well to adopt a guarded strategy. More so, when it comes to roles like that of a Bond girl who's essentially a showpiece. It's Bond who hogs all the limelight.

Starring as a Bond girl may give the initial kick of a high-flying career riding on the back of a movie series known for churning out blockbusters. But what happens after that? The answer to that lies in journalist Jeremy Clarkson's words: "Bond girls are like fruit flies. They come...And then they are gone." Even a cursory glance at the trajectories of many a Bond heroine shows that despite the initial hype and attention surrounding them during the making of the movies, they eventually vanished into obscurity.

Playing a Bond girl is hardly a mark of achievement for an actress given that Bond films are known for their sexist portrayals of women.

Even if today's Bond girls share more screen space and time with Bond, that's still the case. Surely there's a reason why we can't imagine accomplished and award-winning actresses like Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep ever playing a Bond girl.

Angelina Jolie, on her part, ensured she starred as a Bond-like spy herself in the film, Salt. She was the main protagonist, not a sidekick. Instead of eyeing superficial roles that don't give women their due, Whiteley should aim for more meaningful parts that'll give a definite direction to her acting career.







However much you have savoured the organised delights of the West, you begin to yearn for the chaos of home. You don't even have to wait till you land back; the disorderliness begins on the last leg of your return journey itself. Regardless of the airport of your transit, there are Seven Signals which tell you for certain that there's a flight about to take off for India.

In the past fortnight, it had been as wonderful discovering Seattle for the first time as exploring London for the umpteenth. The city of organic chic turned out to be much more than Bill Gates and Amazon. Apart from soaking in the touristy charm of Pike Place Market or the sun-dappled bay of Puget Sound with its surreal flank of snow-covered mountains, i had been flung into a wild 'bachelorette party' as soon as i landed - and i had participated in something as far removed as the Pacific Health Summit.

Now i was ready to return home, and put my Seven Signal theory to the test again. My flight to Mumbai via Heathrow displayed the whole set. Here they are.

One, after Security, there will be desperate announcements featuring truant Indian passengers. We have the disconcerting habit of disappearing into the maw of Duty Free instead of reporting at our designated gate.

Two, the transit train taking you to your gate resembles a Mumbai local. The same people have behaved quite correctly on the London Underground, but the old habit kicks in within sniffing distance of home. There's the same milling and jostling on the 'platform', the same elbowing to get inside. No one moves considerately to the back of the coach.

Three, again in contrast to the orderly way we have lined up for museum entry or theatre loos during our trip, all semblance of a queue disintegrates at the departure gate. The ground stewardess may put on her strictest schoolmarm voice, but 'tis in vain. Everyone has become deaf to the instruction to 'board only if you are in rows 44 to 30'.

Four, carry-on bags rival checked-in luggage. So, once on board, you will witness a Herculean struggle to squeeze strolleys and stuffed plastic bags into the overhead bins in disbelieving defiance of the laws of mass, volume and space.

Five, throughout the flight, babies will bawl their heads off at a decibel level only Indian infants are genetically programmed to achieve.

Six, there will always be water on the plane's bathroom floor. 'Ablutions' have to be carried out, no?

Seven, on landing, several announcements will be made in ascending order of sternness ordering passengers 'Not to stand up but to remain seated with seat belts securely fastened and not switch on mobile phones because the plane still hasn't reached its parking bay'.

There is also an eighth signal, but this one is in our own terminal building. Airports have become swankier; immigration is quicker, Customs is a breeze (unless you are a Bollywood star); there's even toilet paper in the bathrooms. But baggage reclaim remains unredeemed.

Nowhere else in the world is there the same crowding as papa, mummy, Bunty, Pinky, whole tour-party jam their legs against the carousel yielding not an inch to those jumping up and down behind them. Nowhere else is there the same tangle of trolleys, the same frantic pulling off of bags not one's own, the same desperate scanning of the horizon as the belt trundles on and periodically sighs to a halt as if it were the cycle of life and death itself. Welcome home.







Last week's hike in fuel prices and the ensuing flurry of tax cuts by states in an attempt to ease the pain is a reminder to the government that it shouldn't be subsidising energy use. And if it must, there are better ways of going about it. Trying to put a lid on oil prices is an expensive endeavour for a nation that imports two out of every three barrels it burns. When, as is inevitable, rising prices of crude oil need to be passed on to the "protected" Indian customer, it comes as a shock because incremental changes bunch up over the time the government has been trying to cushion the blow. This jolt can be avoided if transport and cooking fuel prices are freed from bureaucratic control. Then again there is a fundamental argument against price controls: these lull us into a false sense of security and we end up burning fuel faster than we can afford to.

Yet if cheap energy remains critical to Indian policy- making, we ought to be asking ourselves whether price controls serve the purpose. Artificially low diesel prices benefit the bloke riding a bus to work as well the guy driving his own car. Do we need to subsidise both? The free rider problem — as economists describe it — is inherent to any imposed ceiling, or floor, for market prices. It makes eminently more sense to free fuel prices and  pay the bus rider cash if his ticket costs too much. As a country with an intimate relationship with subsidies, India needs to target them better. Cash handouts to select households will go much further than the jungle of price controls we have erected in vast swathes of the economy, arresting the invisible hand in markets as diverse as food and fuel.

The flip side of economy-wide subsidies are high taxes. Fuel is a good example. Taxes on a litre of diesel in India are much higher than the subsidy on it. In effect, the subsidy lowers the tax rate on diesel. It would be simpler, then, to lower the tax and dispense with the subsidy. The relentless rise in the price of oil is perversely steering our policy-makers to this realisation. For one, the government gets to test its ability to withstand international market forces. And it also realises the limits to lazy taxation. Dear energy in India traces its roots to high taxes as much as it does to the underlying price of crude oil. The government can fix the former instead of engaging in a futile battle with the latter. It's time the penny dropped.




As with most things Pakistani, even a possible war with India has a schizophrenic quality to it. We heaved a sigh of relief when disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan spoke of how the two countries would never go to war thanks to the nuclear bombs he helped make and India's capability on that front. Before you rush to the Wagah border for a thanksgiving candlelight vigil, let us inform you that war is not very far from the mind of the Pakistani establishment, the only problem being that it does not think it can win it. But, say the dear souls, the two could be in the trenches for at least 20 days before the Pakistanis would have to call it quits while the Indian lads could last about 45 days. Oh, now we get it, they are thinking of a conventional war.

What a letdown for the nuclear hawks on both sides whose eyes glow in the dark at the prospect of a little radioactivity. Even the no-first-use clause does little to deter them, confident as they are in the devastating efficacy of a second strike. If the lily-livered among you are going to start yammering on about the millions who may lose their lives, rest assured, say our experts, there are many more millions to go around. But we have a better idea on how we can settle things without having to get down and dirty.

We could start by sending across the most annoying people on both sides to each other. Thus, we could perhaps learn to count our own blessings. They could send us Asif Zardari for a chat on corruption with Anna Hazare. And we could send Baba Ramdev to Rawalpindi or Karachi where he could hold his breath until the Lashkar-e-Taiba agrees to declare its assets, material and otherwise. If all this doesn't put us off from trying to conquer each other's territory, nothing will. But given the choice between a nuclear war and the normal sort, we vote for a little dust-up any day.





Oh, you may sit down.

But prime minister, you're the prime minister!

Oh, that's all right. Why such formalities? Come on, ask me questions.

Sir, you think corruption is bad for the country?

I certainly do!

Mr Prime Minister, many bad people trying to destabilise the country are suggesting you are a lameduck PM. Do you have any opinion on this?

Personally speaking, I am not a lameduck PM.

Would you consider the PM coming under the purview of the lokpal?

Personally speaking, I have no hesitation in bringing myself under the purview of lokpal but many of my Cabinet colleagues feel that bringing the institution of PM under it will create instability.

And you are not in favour of instability, are you?

No, I dislike instability.

Do you think Rahul Gandhi is ready to be PM?

Publicly speaking, he can be PM any damn time he wants to! Sorry, I get angry and agitated because I'm my own man and not a lameduck PM.

And privately, sir?

How dare you ask me about my private life! You media have become accuser, prosecutor and judge!

But sir, we love you! [PM is whisked away and editors are left to field questions from TV reporters]

Do say: Did you see us on TV talk to the media about our intense grilling of the PM?

Don't say: Lameduck.





The jurisdiction of the Jan Lokpal Bill is all-pervasive. It covers all public servants including members of the higher judiciary. This has far-reaching consequences. Some eminent jurists believe it might fall foul of the basic structure of the Constitution. The autonomy and independence of the judiciary is protected under the Constitution, which allows a member of the higher judiciary to be removed only through a cumbersome impeachment process. The intent was to ensure that justice is administered without fear or favour. What we need is a robust Judicial Accountability Bill.

The Jan Lokpal Bill provides an alternative wherein 11 unelected wise men will have the sole authority to prosecute a member of the higher judiciary. The consequences are worse when you consider that the Jan Lokpal Bill will have independent investigating and prosecuting agencies. No judge will ever dare to differ with the views of a prosecutor of the lokpal since he might face prosecution himself if his orders are misunderstood.

One of the litigants to a dispute is always unhappy with the outcome of a court proceeding. Presently, unhappy litigants are willing to face the wrath of the court by hurling unsubstantiated allegations against judges. With the jan lokpal in place, these allegations will be made daily, threatening the autonomy of the judicial process and vitiating the course of justice.

The second concern is that the jan lokpal seeks to arrogate to itself the power to discipline government servants. This would require a constitutional amendment. At present, the tenure of a government servant is protected by the procedural requirements embedded in Article 311 of the Constitution. Besides, the quantum of punishment is required to be determined by the Union Public Service Commission on a reference made to it under Article 320 (3)(c) of the Constitution. In the event of such an amendment, the jan lokpal will have the authority to discipline all employees of the central government. This is a directional shift from the existing constitutional structure and interferes directly in matters of maladministration.

Such a step will paralyse government functioning. Government servants will be fearful of possible disciplinary proceedings, loath to obey the officers and lodge complaints against each other to settle personal grievances. Decision-making will become a casualty. Those far removed from administration are providing solutions, which are both utopian and impractical. The jan lokpal also wishes to bring the office of the PM under its jurisdiction. In a democracy, all public servants are accountable. No one can object in principle to such a proposition. The issue is whether the jan lokpal should be given that authority? One jurist (Rajinder Sachar, Scared of the spark, June 24) has pointed out that experience does not show that all our PMs have been angels. That holds true of our judges as well. The future is likely to prove that members of the jan lokpal are not angels either. Independence does not make functionaries angelic.

None of us is being more loyal than the king when we seek to protect, not the individual, but the office of the PM. Given the nature of our polity, quick-fire unsubstantiated allegations made for political mileage are likely to paralyse institutions. The office of the PM is the lynchpin of our parliamentary democracy. An independent, non-angelic jan lokpal could well destabilise the entire system and investigate a PM only to find out that the allegations were not true. Under the present system, the PM is not immune from prosecution. In a given case, when facts are in the public domain, the system will not allow a corrupt PM to continue in office. The reference to Jacques Chirac by an eminent jurist is inapt because his prosecution started several years after demitting office, since the French president is immune from prosecution while in office. Besides, the prosecution relates to a time when he was the mayor of Paris (1977-1995). The reference to Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is equally inappropriate. Given an unstable neighbourhood and the threat of terrorism, weakening the institution of the PM would be a monumental folly.

Yet another concern is the attempt by the jan lokpal to prosecute members of Parliament, who are protected under Article 105(2) of the Constitution only for speeches made, and the right to vote exercised, in the House. These are two precious rights. To allow them to be the subject of investigation would encourage members of an intensely polarised polity to question every speech made and every vote cast. Such a power vested in the lokpal would again require an amendment to the Constitution.  The remedy lies with the ethics committees of Parliament to be far more vigilant and unrelenting in dealing with members against whom there is prima facie proof of corrupt practices and for the Speaker to sanction persecution. Other controversial provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill include transferring the chief vigilance commissioner and the anti-corruption wing of the Central Bureau of Investigation to the jan lokpal; the lokpal under Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act becoming an authority, authorised to interfere and monitor messages, voice and data transmitted through telephone, internet or any other media without reference to existing legal procedures; having the authority to bind the finance minister to its budgetary demands; issuing directions in public interest during the course of an investigation for taking action as recommended by the jan lokpal; impose fine up to five times the loss caused to the public on business entities who may be beneficiaries of corrupt acts, and having it recovered from the assets of the business entity as well as personal assets of its managing director and others.

Anna Hazare, the Pied Piper, has enchanted people with his melody. But neither he nor those who follow him are aware that the journey ahead might threaten the republic.

Kapil Sibal is a union cabinet minister and a member of the joint drafting committee of the lokpal bill The views expressed by the author are personal.






Queen Cleopatra of Egypt boasted of a wonderful complexion that was maintained by bathing in ass's milk. Did her complexion glow? Did the queen's palace have a stable of asses? How much milk would be needed for the daily ritual? Did Julius Caesar and Mark Antony have problems putting up with the smell of ass's milk or did the queen use special cosmetics?

During Cleopatra's time, bathing in ass's milk was fine. But 2,000 years later comes the news that donkey's milk helps you to stay in shape. The momentous discovery — that regular consumption of donkey's milk keeps waistlines slim — was recently made  in Rome. Rich in omega-3 and calcium, the milk was found to be better for the heart and kept energy levels high.

Mind you, Italian scientists worked hard on this discovery. Dozens of rats were fed on cow's and donkey's milk. The first made the rats put on weight and sluggish while those given donkey's milk were trim and active. The latter had lower levels of blood and other fats that damaged the arteries and the heart. Earlier, research had proved that ass's milk helped in curing allergies.

In India, where people are increasingly watching their weight, ass's milk could become the rage. Till now, Indians have nurtured a healthy contempt for the donkey. This will disappear when fashion mags and fitness experts advocate its virtues. Imagine the boost to donkey's milk if it was known that Aishwarya Rai consumed it during and after pregnancy and that 'Jalsa', the Bachchan household, had a separate stable for the animals.

We keep hearing strange anecdotes about fitness foods. Recently, a South Korean footballer ket it be known that the concoction prescribed by his grandfather to stay fit was frog juice. He admitted that frog juice tasted lousy but couldn't deny that his fitness levels had reached new heights.

Travelling in rural Rajasthan long ago, I once sampled tea flavoured with camel's milk. The milk was thick and a few drops were enough for a cup of tea. But the flavour  was strong enough to put people off. While travelling to Shimla and Kufri with my family, we were served a yellowish, gooey substance that was butter made from yak milk. Earlier, my two kids had enjoyed their ride on the yak. But despite the best intentions, they did not take to yak butter.

It takes all things to make the world. And who knows, ass's milk could become part of the beauty and health regimen.

V Gangadhar is a Mumbai-based journalist. The views expressed by the author are personal.






Beware of the manipulation of language for political propaganda

We might wish politicians and pundits to engage in reasoned debate about the truth. But as we know, this is not the reality of political discourse.
Instead we often encounter bizarre and improbable claims about public figures.
Words are misappropriated and meanings twisted. These tactics are not really about making substantive claims, but rather play the role of silencing. They are, if you will, linguistic strategies for stealing the voices of others.

In her 1993 paper, `Speech Acts and Pornography', philosopher of language Jennifer Hornsby used an example: Suppose that men are led to believe that when women refuse a sexual advance they don't mean it. Women, then, will not be understood to be refusing, even when they are. If certain kinds of pornography lead men to think that women are not sincere when they utter the word `no', and women are aware that men think this, those kinds of pornography would rob women of the ability to refuse. Using `no' to refuse a sexual advance is what is known as a speech act -a way of doing something by using words. Hornsby and Rae Langton's work raises the possibility that a medium may undermine the ability of a person or group -in this case, women -to employ a speech act by representing that person or group as insincere in their use of it. There are multiple purposes to political speech, only one of which is to assert truths. Nevertheless, we expect a core of sincerity from our leaders, not a Muammar Qaddafi.

Silencing robs others of the ability to engage in speech acts, such as assertion.
But there is another kind of silencing familiar in the political domain. It is possible to silence people by denying them access to the vocabulary to express their claims. One of the best investigations of propaganda was presented by Victor Klemperer in his book The Language of the Third Reich. As he writes, propaganda "changes the value of words and the frequency of their occurrence... it commandeers for the party that which was previously common property and in the process steeps words and groups of words and sentence structures in its poison." Klemperer was thinking of the incessant use of the term "heroisch" ("heroic") to justify the military adventures of the National Socialist State. Obviously, the mechanism described by Klemperer is not used for such odious purposes today. Nevertheless, there has been a similar appropriation of the term "freedom" in political discourse.
Most would agree that heroism and freedom are fundamentally good things. But the terms "heroisch" and "freedom" have been appropriated for purposes that don't have much connection with the virtues of their original meanings.

Similarly, whatever one thinks of taxcuts, it is difficult to engage in reasoned debate when they have been relabeled "tax relief". It is easy to say "a tax cut is not always good policy," but considerably more difficult to say "tax relief is not always good policy".

Silencing is only one kind of propaganda. In silencing, one removes the ability of a target person or group to communicate. Given our current environment, it is worthwhile bearing in mind the dangers of the manipulation of language. What may begin as a temporary method to circumvent reasoned discussion and debate for the sake of a prized political goal may very well end up permanently undermining the trust required for its existence.

Jason Stanley is professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, USA The New York Times The views expressed by the author are personal







We don't want any more Nandigrams," said the Supreme Court, hearing the petition on the Allahabad high court's cancellation of land acquisition projects in Greater Noida, because of the complaint that this land was acquired for industrial purposes and then transferred for residential use. The court also warned the UP government that it would have to intervene if the state relied on the urgency clause to take over land, which overrides the objections of farmers who own it. "We will not keep our eyes closed. You take it [agricultural land] from one side and give it to the other... This has to go and if it does not go, this court will step in to ensure that. It is development of one section of society only," the court told UP state authorities.

But Nandigram was an entirely different issue — not one square inch of land was actually acquired. It was, instead, a shocking instance of state-backed violence from party cadre. The central failure at Nandigram was not a question of law: it was a political failure. Since then, the Trinamool Congress-led recalcitrance on land has ended up stalling a new and improved land acquisition law, and different states have been compelled to come up with their own interim solutions. The Mayawati government has largely practised a nimbler politics with land acquisition — offering greater compensation to farmers, and often outpacing her opposition. The point is that "land acquisition" is a large category that encompasses very different struggles and adjustments. Can one conflate a case of clear resistance to acquisition, as in Nandigram, with wrangles over pricing and stakes in real estate as in Noida?

Specifics are everything with land acquisition projects in various states. This is why we must be careful even in observations. Given the high esteem in which we hold the Supreme Court, there is a real danger in these obiter dicta, analogies that are not part of the judgment but yet frame it in normative terms. There are many views on what the ideal land acquisition process should look like. However, until land acquisition amendments, long-deferred by political battles, are passed by Parliament, states muddle along as best as they can. We need a clear and considered legislation to balance these complex interests, not ready comparisons.






Few people are required, in their new jobs, to hit the ground running as fast as Christine Lagarde is, the new head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Many in Greece are stiff in their opposition to the conditions attached to a euro120 billion bailout set up by the European Union and the IMF. The national parliament may have voted on Wednesday to accept the terms, but Lagarde will have to handle the fallout, which will test both the strength of the euro and the IMF's nerves. She will have to do so while simultaneously assuring IMF watchers in the developing world — some countries wherein have been subject to similar requirements, of cutbacks in government spending — that there will be no separate rules for European countries, just because the IMF chief is traditionally a European.

It was hoped, following Dominique Strauss-Kahn's fall from grace, that that convention, a relic of the post-World War II international order, would be abandoned. There was some chatter that Strauss-Kahn's replacement might be from Asia, but no common candidate was found. Unusually, Lagarde's candidacy didn't go uncontested, however, with the governor of Mexico's central bank mounting a spirited challenge.

Lagarde's aggressive wooing of Asian countries in response was a nod to changing times. That acknowledgement will have to go further, and take tangible shape in Lagarde's stewardship of the Fund. It's not just a question of priorities, but of ensuring that emerging economies have a stake in the institutional order of things. One sensible way in which to do so is to consider very carefully whether the tradition that the IMF's number two be a nominee of the US Treasury Department be continued. A nod to the greater internationalisation of the international financial system is overdue.






The recent political past has been marked by the continued reticence of the powers-that-be in engaging with a very concerned public on matters of policy. This loss of the art of conversation, in a season of real as well as exaggerated controversies, had a serious and unfortunate consequence: it reinforced the perceived sense of drift in the government. But good politics is all about reinventing the style at short notice. It is, therefore, welcome that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reached out to the media, meeting a group of senior editors on Wednesday. This is, reportedly, the first of many such interactions that he plans to hold at regular intervals, in which he will hopefully articulate and assert his — and his government's — views.

The PM was decisive as he said that he did indeed hope for a strong Lokpal bill, but that it would be no "panacea". No pressure group with opinions on the bill's final shape, he insisted, could have things all its own way; it's necessary to develop a national consensus on the shape of the bill, and he himself would be "guided" by the views of various political parties. He also spoke about inflation, saying frankly that he expected prices would not moderate till April next year. On the Lokpal and on inflation — two of the most charged issues in politics at the moment — these words of good sense, from the very top of the political pyramid, will count for a great deal. It's a pity, therefore, that they have not been delivered earlier, when they could have made even more of an impact.

In a mature democracy, such as India aspires to be, the head of the government needs to be willing to explain his government's actions, lay out the constraints it labours under, and spell out a vision for the future — not just occasionally, but continually and repeatedly. Dr Singh's grasp of issues, his command of their minutiae, and the credibility which he brings to policy discussions, are beyond contestation. It's good that he has shed his inexplicable reticence.








Regulatory institutions evolve in a capitalist system necessarily through a robust interface between the state and market forces. Twenty years of economic reforms in India have seen some fascinating see-saw battles between the state and market forces, scripting a fascinating journey for various regulatory institutions. Since regulators do not exist in a vacuum, their conduct also reflects the spirit of the times, especially the imperatives of the political economy. For instance, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) can also be broadly seen as performing a regulatory function — examining the terms on which government resources are handed over to the private sector, either through auctions or through public private partnerships.

In the past, the CAG would come out with scathing criticisms of public sector asset sales but its reports would hardly be noticed even by the media. But today every word of the CAG is lapped up by the media and opposition alike, even when the former gets into uncharted territory, advising the government on policy matters. A decade ago, when the consensus was to push economic reforms vigorously, the general discourse in policy-making circles was that public sector units must be insulated from the CAG's "petty accounting interpretations" so that they could function more autonomously in the marketplace. Today, given the combative political climate built around the issue of corruption, nobody dares to question the CAG, even when its findings are prima facie exaggerated. A decade ago, the government would have ignored the CAG and moved on. Not any more.

So are the regulators striking back? In the past, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) had to keep the powerful corporate houses and brokers of Mumbai in good humour. Otherwise, these well-connected businessmen would constantly give negative feedback about Sebi's top brass to the finance ministry. But Sebi members seem to have come into their own. Recently, one member of its board wrote to the prime minister directly requesting that anonymous complaints against Sebi from corporate houses be filtered through the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) before the finance ministry decides to send them to the market regulator for an inquiry. It would have been difficult to imagine a Sebi board member writing directly to the PM some years ago. In recent times, Sebi has also passed bold punitive orders against politically well-connected business houses, the latest one being against the Sahara Group.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI), which was a toothless body until a few years ago, is now fully empowered to consider cases of abuse of dominance by monopoly businesses. They can also examine with a fine-toothed comb mergers and acquisitions which may be detrimental to the development of the market. The CCI has come a long way in its struggle to get these powers. Around 2001-02, the top economic policy-makers firmly believed that it was too premature to have a fully empowered CCI to check the rise of monopolies, because Indian businesses were too small compared with the size of big global companies. It was then argued that keeping low import duties was enough of a check on domestic businesses trying to abuse dominance. The consumer could simply import from abroad.

However, this discourse has also changed as Indian businesses have built scale rapidly over the past decade. Besides, low import duties have not prevented an oligopoly-like situation in many sectors.

Many of these regulatory bodies had to wage intense struggles, especially in the initial years of reforms, to wrest much needed autonomy from the neta-babu complex. Experience showed the bureaucrat-politician combination would try to undermine the regulator by encouraging the public sector units to lodge complaints of favouritism to private players. This happened particularly with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) which was initially seen as forcing PSU behemoths like VSNL and MTNL to compete on a level playing field with private players. This led to ugly battles between the government and the regulators, with the entire Trai board being replaced summarily on one occasion. In due course, the government made some peace with the regulators by creating another tier of appellate authority where judicial appeals could be made against the regulator's orders. This was a successful model, and implemented with most regulators, including the CCI.

Interestingly, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) initially saw the regulatory authorities in various sectors as a threat to its own existence. But the IAS's cockroach-like survival instinct eventually converted into an opportunity the proliferation of regulatory authorities in various sectors. Today, these regulatory bodies are largely populated with the IAS lot.

The debate over the autonomy of the regulator is by no means over. Some time ago, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a provocative statement that regulators do not fall from heaven. The FM was suggesting that the regulators are no special creatures and must stay within the limits set by Parliament which returns elected representatives. Indeed, it is Parliament which enacts regulatory laws giving quasi-judicial powers to a regulator, like in the case of Sebi.

Though many regulatory institutions in India have evolved and matured over the years, they still have to deftly manage the politicians and bureaucrats who wield the power to appoint them. Yet, within these constraints, India has evolved a reasonably strong regulatory culture over the past 20 years. There are certainly many shortcomings still; the glass can be seen as half-full or half-empty. For example, on the negative side, the government has still not resolved the owner-as-regulator syndrome in some critical sectors.

Classically, the regulator should be seen as developing the larger industry or market by providing a level playing field to public and private sector players. However, in the upstream oil sector, the director-general for hydrocarbons, an important regulatory functionary, remains a part of government. This anomaly has landed the DG's office in all sorts of problems. He is seen as adopting a different standard for ONGC, a government oil company, as opposed to the private oil companies.

The owner-as-regulator also afflicts the oldest financial regulator, the Reserve Bank of India. It feels obliged to protect the public sector banks in various ways in the name of maintaining overall financial stability. PSU banks still have over 75 per cent market share in bank assets.

Clearly, Indian regulatory institutions have come a long way, but they are still a work in progress.

The writer is managing editor, 'The Financial Express';







In an unprecedented move in 2008, the 46-nation nuclear cartel, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), granted a crucial waiver to India enabling it to carry out nuclear commerce and ended 34 years of India's isolation from the international mainstream in the wake of the 1974 nuclear tests. Describing it as a "historic deal," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it "a recognition of India's impeccable non-proliferation credentials and its status as a state with advanced nuclear technology". The NSG exemption was a major step in the implementation of the US-India nuclear accord and since then Delhi has been working towards establishing a mutually beneficial partnership with friendly countries in an area important for both global energy security and climate change.

Last week, however, at its 2011 plenary meeting in the Netherlands, the NSG came up with new guidelines regarding tightening of exports of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies that seem to go against the spirit of its exemption to India. The transfer of ENR technologies will exclude nations that are not signatories to the NPT and do not have full-scope safeguards. Indian officials have already expressed their concerns, suggesting the new ENR rules would make the 2008 exemption to India rather meaningless.

The US State Department has tried to allay growing concerns in Delhi by suggesting that "nothing about the new ENR transfer restrictions agreed to by NSG members should be construed as detracting from the unique impact and importance of the US-India agreement or our commitment to full civil nuclear cooperation". It goes on to argue that "the NSG's NPT references, including those in the ENR guidelines, in no way detract from the exception granted to India by NSG members in 2008 and in no way reflect upon India's non-proliferation record".

But there is a growing disquiet in India. Some of it is rooted in genuine apprehensions about India's ability to take part in global nuclear commerce in future, but a lot of it is ideological. Every setback is viewed as a triumph by those who have been against the nuclear deal on ideological grounds. The CPM has accused the government of "misleading" the people and Parliament even as the anti-US lobby is back with a bang, underscoring America's perfidious behaviour in trying to scuttle Indian nuclear ambitions.

The fact remains that India enjoys a unique status in the global nuclear hierarchy and it was always going to be a difficult exercise in bringing India into the nuclear mainstream. It was the US that expended precious diplomatic capital in bringing the naysayers around when the exemption was granted in 2008.

The Obama administration's support for the new ENR guidelines stems from its ideological commitment to the extant nuclear non-proliferation regime. Successive US administrations have viewed proliferations on WMDs as the biggest threat to US and global security; but unlike its predecessor the present dispensation in Washington believes the regime framework needs to be strengthened to counter the proliferation threat.

Meanwhile, India has been signalling that it doesn't really need Washington to operationalise the nuclear deal and garner its benefits. This has been applauded by those who want a more independent (read anti-US) foreign policy. More applause followed when Parliament passed a nuclear liability law that makes it virtually impossible for US companies to operate in the Indian market. And now when the US is refusing to put its weight behind the NSG deliberations in favour of India, there is much heartburn about American duplicity.

Mired in domestic problems, the Indian government lost crucial time over the last three years when it could have settled this issue with some finality. Now, the never-ending chaos surrounding UPA 2 is raising doubts about the ability of this government to take decisive steps in the realm of foreign policy. With two non-serious governments in Delhi and Washington, is it any wonder that the gains of the landmark treaty are likely to be frittered away?

Delhi needs to engage its nuclear partners bilaterally now, seeking reassurances that they would stand by their earlier commitments. Nuclear commerce is not a one-way street. India remains a huge market and it should leverage its assets accordingly. While the new ENR guidelines are a setback, ground realities can be altered by astute diplomacy. After all, NSG guidelines are voluntary, so that its member states can have the flexibility necessary to deal with issues related to nuclear commerce. It is this flexibility that India should try to use to its advantage. Railing against American duplicity won't help, identifying challenges and using diplomatic capital to overcome them is the way forward.

The writer teaches at King's College, London,







Critics of India's political parties often draw attention to their utter lack of organisational mechanisms and intra-party democracy. Parties are always seen as being the monopoly of a small coterie. Indeed, political parties themselves use the same descriptions to criticise each other! In this backdrop, a re-reading of the Munde episode that recently beset the main opposition party, the BJP, could be instructive of what does not ail our political parties.

While it is easy to pour ridicule on the BJP for the plight in which it found itself, we need to realise that running and managing a national party with a mass base is a gigantic challenge. Losing a Munde may be a blow for the BJP in Maharashtra, just as losing a Jaganmohan can be a blow to the Congress in Andhra. Both the BJP and Congress chose to act tough with their dissidents.

If one does not adopt the moral high ground, and sit in judgement and decide who is right and who is wrong, here is a fascinating dilemma: if the party caves in to demands by Munde (or Jaganmohan), the leadership loses authority and the wrong message goes out to the rank and file. If, on the other hand, the party acts tough, it runs the risk of losing the dissident leader and her or his followers. Besides, to the extent politics is about symbols and tokens, such action is easily translated as injustice to a certain constituency — in Munde's case, OBCs.

Critics of India's political parties will say that this complication arises in the first place because of the absence of well-settled norms for running an organisation. In other words, the burden of the argument is often that our political parties are organisationally flawed; they do not have mechanisms for sorting out such disputes; and worse, they lack internal democracy. We should perhaps give a more careful and sympathetic attention to what goes on in our political parties.

In newly established parties, the leadership overwhelms everything. It is also possible that parties that limit themselves to specific regional terrain are more easily controlled by just one leader. It is also true that towering and authoritarian leadership does emerge from time to time in many political parties. And yet, the Munde episode is instructive to disabuse ourselves of at least some parts of the conventional argument.

That episode was caused by rivalry between Munde and the BJP's national president, Nitin Gadkari, which goes back to the state from which both of them hail — Maharashtra. Both have been trying to outwit the other by mobilising support within the party, and by managing to get their own followers appointed as key party functionaries. The same happens in the case of distribution of tickets. During most of the '90s, both were state-level players, and over time started nursing ambitions to make it big in Delhi. To any observer of Indian politics, this would be a routine matter, and described as "factionalism". While to those who never join and run political parties, factionalism is a dirty word, party politics is all about groups and factions. It is only natural that political players build their support base, then try to gain control over the party and start claiming a share in what the party can distribute. That is all competitive politics is about.

That all the details of the Munde episode spilled out into the public domain was mainly due to the intense media attention such developments attract. This is both unavoidable and somewhat welcome in an open democratic society. So, how has the BJP been handling the issue?  Nobody denied that Munde was sulking (and one should not grudge the right to be dissatisfied with the distribution of power within the party). The party then tried to sort this out through a series of parleys, both between Munde and some top party leaders, and among the party leaders themselves. Munde brought pressure to bear by making moves to shift to another party, and also by threatening to hurt the party organisation in his home state. Then there was some counter-pressurising; and finally, at least for the moment, Munde had to beat a strategic retreat, though he is far from quiet or pacified.

So the intra-party competition will certainly continue. All these are the signs of a living (though chaotic) political organisation. Competition, power struggles and negotiations mark the life of political parties.

This is not to give a certificate to any one political party. It is helpful to understand that political parties in India do not entirely lack intra-party democracy or intra-party negotiations; they do not lack deliberative mechanisms — albeit of a less bureaucratised or routinised nature.

This same process can be seen in the case of the other large political party, the Congress. Whether it is the Jaganmohan episode or the famous spat between Chidambaram and Digvijaya Singh on the Maoist issue, it is necessary that we read the unfolding drama in the right perspective.

This is not to say that all is well with our parties. Yet, it is necessary that we first decide what is not a core issue when critiquing them. The extent of negotiation, and the style or mechanism for dispute resolution, will vary from party to party — but let us not trap ourselves into incorrectly criticising parties as having no intra-party democracy. Such criticisms stem from sanitised ideas of party functioning based on the experience of very small-scale and only nominally mass-based parties in the Western democracies.

The writer teaches political science at the University of Pune







The corporate vote

In the context of the RBI's latest report, which said the outward flow of FDI in May was up 59 per cent at $3.7 billion, the RSS has claimed that the flight of capital from India was now official, given that the outward flow of FDI in the same month last year was $1.39 billion. "Blame it on policy paralysis, the unconcealed civil war in the economic ministries, absence of governance or a deliberate drift to jeopardise India's growth, the UPA has practically succeeded in killing the India story," says an editorial in Organiser.

The editorial argues there is nothing wrong with Indian firms investing abroad in a globalised world. "The problem is when it starts pinching the domestic economy, affects growth, investment and employment generation and disincentivises FDI inflow. This also is a reflection of the corporate perception that there are better, more profitable destinations for investment," it says.

"In a way, it is an expression of no-confidence by corporates on the present regime. Has Manmohan Singh done anything to the arrest of this trend? No. In fact, the UPA government is wilfully encouraging this flight of Indian capital. This at a time, when FDI inflows from the rest are drying up. Other Asian countries have emerged stronger contenders for foreign investment," it says.

"The UPA, it seems, is bent on instigating a capital flight from India. It has created a super-cabinet of frustrated, retired babus, over-ground Maoists and Left fellow-travellers as Sonia's advisory club, which obstructs all economic reforms. This Sonia club has devised a number of schemes to perpetuate poverty in the country and create a captive votebank for the dynasty," it concludes.

Judge not

In an article in Organiser, Rajya Sabha member and former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high Court, M. Rama Jois argues against bringing judges of the Supreme Court and high courts under the ambit of the Lokpal. Observing that opinion appears to be divided on this question, he says: "Having regard to the scheme of the Constitution and the exalted position assigned to the Supreme Court under the Constitution, the answer to the question has to be in the negative." He bases his argument on the unanimous decision of a seven-judge SC bench in the 1997 L. Chandra Kumar case, from which it follows that the proposed Lokpal would be amenable to the writ jurisdiction of the high courts under Article 226 and the Supreme Court under Article 32 and Article 136 of the Constitution.

"Even if an amendment to the Constitution were to be made providing for excluding the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high courts in respect of matters falling within the jurisdiction of Lokpal, such provision would be unconstitutional and liable to be struck down in view of the ratio of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Kumar's case," he argues. While admitting that the impeachment provisions against Supreme Court and high court judges are "difficult and impractical", he said "that is no reason to bring them under Lokpal and bring them down from the exalted position assigned to them by the founding fathers of the Constitution". He favours an alternative procedure that would not affect their security of tenure.

Rifts in government

The Panchjanya reads a deeper conspiracy into the attempted bugging of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's office as reported by The Indian Express last week. Echoing the BJP line, it says the bugging could be a result of internal rivalry within the Congress or prompted by big business lobbies. "But this government does not want the truth to come out," it says. "There are several unanswered questions. Primarily, the fact that the complaint was made by none other than Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee himself in a letter to the prime minister requesting a secret probe.

"This should normally have been treated as a security incident, which is the responsibility of the home ministry, but by writing to the PM, Mukherjee displayed his no-confidence in the home ministry. This has brought Home Minister P. Chidambaram under suspicion," the article says.






There is little doubt that Thais like the idea of democracy. They have been fighting for it on and off since 1932, when absolute monarchy was overthrown. Most Thais will vote on July 3 for the third time in six years. Campaigning is feverish, posters omnipresent and a raucous media offer endless news, comment and speculation.

Yet this election is about Thailand's repeated failure to agree on what constitutes democracy and on how democracy fits with the older institutions — themonarchy, the military and the centralised bureaucracy. Those failures have been seen in the cycle of elections and coups that has repeated itself since the 1973 overthrow of the Thanom Kittikachorn dictatorship.

But two things are different that make this election especially important and also unlikely to resolve political tensions. The first is the personality of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled prime minister deposed by a coup in 2006 who is fighting this election through a surrogate party, Pheu Thai, headed by his photogenic youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Thailand has had several democratically elected prime ministers but none aimed for, let alone achieved, populist appeal. They got to the top through deal-making between parties. Thaksin, however, was an authentic populist who identified the potential power of the nation's poorer classes and used his wealth and organising ability to exploit it.

The second is a broad generational change that manifests itself in different ways. Wealth gaps are getting wider but there is no shortage of work; Thailand now relies on about three million foreign workers to do its dirtiest jobs. Political awareness has increased thanks to education and the ubiquitous media creating a feeling among many Thais, particularly in the lower income groups, that they are not getting a fair share of the cake. Generational change also affects views of the role of the old institutions.

For Thaksin's defenders the problem has been the unwillingness of the military and monarchists to accept democracy: Thaksin was overthrown, the constitution was changed, and many Thaksin supporters believe the judiciary was manipulated. They see the incumbent prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party, as a front for conservative forces that want a veto over who is prime minister, and, as in Bangkok last spring, is willing to use violence against peaceful demonstrators.

The anti-Thaksin forces accuse him, with some reason, of abusing his power in office for personal and political gain, and undermining the institutions and checks and balances built into the 1997 constitution — then viewed as a democratic model. Less convincingly, Thaksin's opponents also accuse him of fomenting antimonarchist sentiment and threatening economic stability through populist spending.

So the country has two choices. An Abhisit government that has proven competent but owes its existence to the military and is viewed by many to represent a self-interested elite, a choice that risks a backlash in the streets. Or, a return to the Thaksin camp, a choice that risks a possible military crackdown.

This being Thailand some kind of deal is always possible, even one that allows for the eventual return and pardon of Thaksin. Money speaks loudly in Thai politics, and big business, though tending to be critical of Thaksin, is more concerned with avoiding political mayhem.

Given the passions that Thaksin arouses and that the king is no longer seen as peacemaker, finding a liberal and democratic way forward will not be easy. Neither Thaksin nor his military and monarchist enemies are at ease with the freedoms, rules and compromises necessary for democratic politics. But most Thais are, which suggests that the election will neither resolve nor worsen the tensions arising from economic success and social change. Philip Bowring






The 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 adrenalin 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 GIs 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 US 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 US response to this crisis seems to be one of a country in middle age, a nation that has lost its can-do moral edge, the ability to come together and overcome. In this critical regard 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.

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 6 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 2 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 program" rather than a tax cut.

This is madness, the ne plus ultra of American politicians betraying the American people.

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. Roger Cohen







The Prime Minister's job is not to talk up the market. It is, however, his and his Cabinet's job to get on with solving policy problems that keep markets down. But what Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday promises very few action points on that score. Instead, by taking the CAG to task, he has opened a front that was just not needed. While the Prime Minister has underscored the need to steer away from suggesting facile solutions to the problems of corruption and black money that will lead to the re-emergence of the licence-control permit raj we have been dismantling since 1991, what he did not have to say was that it was his government's reluctance to move ahead with reforms that has brought these issues centrestage. The tone of the entire introductory statement in his meeting with some editors was instead one of fault-finding that does very little to restore the image of the government. He painted a very accurate picture of the global problems that can be catastrophic for India. But what he missed out is that few of them have impacted more than domestic factors on the growth slowdown that India now faces.

The UPA government, until recently, sniped at road development, held back on disinvestment and even now is not committed on whether the insurance Bill will sail through Parliament. In these circumstances, if the Cassandras are out in full force, the government can hardly blame anyone else. Modernisation of infrastructure, education reforms and healthcare—the three priorities he identified—are held up not because of opposition from outside but due to problems of missing ministers. For instance, the Prime Minister's talk just ahead of a legislative session gave no indication about which Bills or policies he expects his ministries to steer through Parliament. Since none of those figured in his chat with the editors on Wednesday, one can only hope Manmohan Singh will follow up this one with more such chats where he would have more to say on policy priorities. Until then, the clouds of uncertainty are unlikely to move away.






This is one race that was probably won as soon as it began. No sooner did the French finance minister Christine Lagarde announce her candidacy for IMF headship than the EU rallied behind her solidly. This bloc, together with the US, holds 50% of the voting shares on IMF's board, making it pretty unbeatable. It was only because the US withheld its official endorsement till the last minute that some drama was able to develop, and the focal point of this drama was no more surprising than its denouement—let waning Europe give way to emerging economies. It does not advance the legitimacy of IMF that when BRICS contribute 25.7% of the world's GDP on a PPP basis, they should only get 11.5% of the voting share. Europeans, on the other hand, are hugely over-represented. Consider Lagarde's France, whose share of global output on PPP basis is short of each of the BRIC countries but which has already held the top post for 35 of IMF's 65 years so far. The ungainliness of such arrangements has obviously come centrestage in the post-Lehman world, where emerging economies have delivered most of the growth. What's particularly ironical is that while IMF has shown little qualms about shoving bitter pills down Asia and others during their moments of crisis, it is tiptoeing now that the developed countries that dominate the fund are also plunged in a crisis. Lagarde will really have to prove her neutral credentials on this one as she has been at the centre of one failed bailout package for Greece after another. Europe's worsening debt problem and China's currency policy will clearly be two of her main challenges.

During a blitzkrieg of a campaign through China, Brazil and India, Lagarde made lots of promises about giving emerging market countries greater influence at IMF. This is why all the aforementioned could justify putting their weight behind her instead of going with the emerging market rival, Mexico's central bank governor Agustin Carstens. Still, all the momentum that the latter gathered and the conversation about governance reform that he pushed through will not be for nought. Notwithstanding its embarrassing record, IMF's role in managing crises and tensions in the world appears plain for now. What appears equally plain is that a reshuffling of rights will take place in the global lender's boardroom sooner rather than later.






Enjoy the coming slump. That is not what the Bank for International Settlements says to the US and other overindebted economies. But it is what its latest annual report implies. I admired the warnings of monetary and financial excesses that the BIS gave under its former economic adviser, William White. I respect Stephen Cecchetti, his successor. But I disagree with the thrust of this report. It understates the obstacles to across-the-board austerity.

Persisting with monetary and fiscal accommodation is uncomfortable. But unconventional times demand unconventional policies. What makes these times unconventional? The answer is that a number of economies are in what the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center calls a "contained depression"—a period of sustained private sector deleveraging.

Implicitly, the BIS report rejects such a view. It argues for monetary and fiscal tightening across the globe. This argument rests on two beliefs. First, the world economy is close to full capacity. Second, "addressing overindebtedness, private as well as public, is the key to building a solid foundation for high, balanced real growth and a stable financial system. This means both driving up private savings and taking substantial action now to reduce deficits in the countries that were at the core of the crisis."

Consider, first, monetary policy. Suppose we had an inflation-targeting central bank for the world. How should it respond to rising commodity prices when inflation expectations are also under control? Such a bank would recognise that this is a shift in relative prices, which reduces capacity and real wages. It would not know whether the rises are a one-off or a lasting trend. It would want to avoid a jump in inflationary expectation or a wage-price spiral. But would it also wish to reduce nominal wage rises, to offset the inflationary impact of the rise in commodity prices, even if that risked a significant slowdown? I think not. If it did, it would impart instability into the real economy in response to erratic and unpredictable movements in prices of commodities.

In practice, not only do we have no global central bank but inflation conditions are divergent. In high-income countries inflation is reasonably under control. In many emerging countries it is shooting upwards, partly because the latter consume commodities more intensely and partly because their economies have expanded more strongly.

The right monetary policy would also be diverse. This, happily, is just what our world allows: emerging countries should tighten; and high-income countries should tighten more slowly. This is happening but not enough, because many emerging countries are desperate to avoid exchange rate appreciation.

What should high-income countries do? On this the BIS report does a signal service: it demonstrates that hysteria about the impact of larger central bank balance sheets is unjustified. But it argues that economic slack has disappeared. That this is true of emerging countries seems plausible. The BIS also points to the mistake made in the 1970s, when the impact of the oil price shock on capacity was underestimated. It argues that today, too, the amount of spare capacity is exaggerated. Yet unit labour costs and expectations are far better under control than then. Now, I would argue, is when central banks use up their credibility. They must watch inflation expectations. But they do not have to act pre-emptively.

Now turn to the yet more debated question of fiscal policy. The question I have is this: does the BIS know that every sector cannot run financial surpluses at the same time?

Few doubt there is excessive private sector debt in a number of high-income countries. But how is it to be reduced? The BIS notes four answers: repayment, default, higher real incomes and inflation. Let us rule out the last and focus on the first. Repayment means spending less than one's income. That is what is happening in the US private sector. Households ran a financial deficit (an excess of spending over income) of 3.5% of GDP in the third quarter of 2005. This had shifted to a surplus of 3.3% in the first quarter of 2011. The business sector is also running a modest surplus. Since the US has a current account deficit, the rest of the world is also, by definition, spending less than its income. Who is taking the opposite side? The answer is: the government. This is what a controlled depression means: every sector, other than the government, is seeking to strengthen its balance sheet at the same time.

The BIS insists this is not good enough: highly leveraged countries are running structural fiscal deficits, which must be eliminated as soon as possible. Fair enough, but where are the offsetting adjustments to occur?

The evidence suggests that the foreign surpluses are structural or at least highly persistent. Given these debt overhangs, surpluses of household sectors are also likely to be sustained. So a big reduction in these fiscal deficits probably demands an offsetting reduction in business sector financial surpluses. That can happen in two ways: a surge in business investment or a reduction in retained earnings. The former would be adjustment via growth and the latter adjustment via a slump. Which is more likely? If you believe a sharp monetary and fiscal tightening would result in an investment boom, I have a bridge to sell you. If the more plausible adjustment is via shrinking profits, that surely implies a fall in output. If so, this would preclude lowering the debt overhang via higher real incomes. That then leaves default. This would work, but via a slump and destruction of financial assets.

This process of thinking through offsets to a sharp fiscal tightening is inescapable. The answer that avoids yet more problems in the private sectors of overindebted countries is a shift in external balances. Thus, the external rebalancing—more or less blocked, at present—and fiscal rebalancing are two sides of a coin.

The BIS is right: normalisation of monetary and fiscal policy is needed. But it is impossible to eliminate structural fiscal deficits until either the private sector structural adjustment is complete or we see big shifts in the external balances. It is impossible, finally, for this external adjustment to occur without big changes in the surplus economies.

The BIS boldly calls for simultaneous private and public deleveraging. But what are to be the offsets? That is the question. The BIS provides no convincing answer.

©The Financial Times Limited 2011





Philanthropy is a good thing to talk about, and the visit of Warren Buffet to India has added more spice to the art of giving, which is what everyone wants others to do today. Several corporate honchos have gone on to have it well publicised that they give an awful lot of money for the needy and several pages in the media have been devoted to the same. At another level, it is averred that philanthropy should always be anonymous or else it is the cost of branding, of either the company or the individual. It works well both ways and is a win-win situation for everyone.

At a more serious level, it has been argued that companies should devote a certain amount for CSR (corporate social responsibility) or, more specifically, set aside money for the poor or social causes that are distinct from making statements on saving the planet. In fact, critics say that this should be mandatory and must be reckoned as a fixed percentage of their profits. This is so because society enables corporates to grow and prosper. Hence, it becomes obligatory for this sector to give something in return. Is there merit in this argument?

If one takes the overall net profits of the corporate sector, it would have been around R3.2 lakh crore in FY10. This is substantial and would be around 4% of India's GDP at current market prices. Taking a portion out (1% would mean around R3,200 crore) can be benchmarked with various development schemes that will help society at large. Or so the argument goes.

While CSR is a good idea, it cannot and should not be made mandatory. Corporates are like any entity in the country that work for a profit and abide by the rules of the game. Therefore, taxes are paid and several other regulatory covenants are adhered to in the process. There would be a lot of lobbying going on to seek concessions but that is another issue as they are decided on merit. Therefore, we should not be going beyond the rules already laid down. If it were done, then it should be extended to individuals too, as there are several millionaires in the country who could contribute to CSR by the same logic.

There are essentially three arguments that can be made in this context. First, let us go back to the world of Adam Smith, which we are trying to pursue based on free markets. In this capitalist society driven by markets, private enterprise works with self interest in mind to earn profits. The government lays down the framework and ensures that the rules are obeyed. As we never do have a fully capitalist system, the government also enters economic activity and undertakes projects, for which we have the Budget and the entire tax system. At times, the government could go a step ahead and earmark specific charges in the form of additional taxes or cess for specific purposes. This goes for drought relief or education and is levied universally on all entities, which are fair measures. Instead of charging a corporate tax rate of, say, 30.6%, it is broken up into 30% tax on which there is a cess of 2%. The idea is that there is transparency insofar as the money from this additional charge is earmarked for a purpose. This being the case, CSR cannot be imposed beyond the realm of the tax system.

Second, it should be recognised that a company belongs to investors finally as the shareholders have made investments in the enterprise. While they could vote for such an allocation, it can never be made a rule for all as it comes in the way of economic freedom and imposes an additional cost to running an enterprise. Any mandatory move should be opposed, though corporates can always be made more responsible for the harm that may be coming about on account of their business activity. Asking them to pay for fuel emission is okay while asking them to donate to the poor is not in order. It has to evidently to come from within and we cannot stand on any such judgement.

The third is, even if we make it mandatory, who will administer the same? The public sector is considered to be inefficient when it comes to creating social infrastructure. Currently, there is little accountability for the money allocated for, say, health and education in the Budgets. We have hospitals without doctors and schools without teachers. These are issues beyond the leakages that are there. It is not surprising that even when corporates indulge in philanthropy; it goes in the name of the organisation or person because keeping it within one's own purview makes sure that resources are better utilised. However, the core competence of companies is in specific lines of business and diversification into social infrastructure is inefficient.

Addressing the concerns of the poor is a public sector issue that has to be addressed separately by the government. Asking the private sector to mandatorily pitch in is against the grain of free enterprise and imposes costs, besides leading to undesirable and inefficient solutions. This should be opposed.

The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views






The Reserve Bank of India's latest Financial Stability Report attempts to assess the health of India's financial sector in a holistic manner and pinpoint the incipient risks to stability that may arise in a systemic sense. Like its counterparts in the advanced economies, the RBI seeks to draw the right lessons from the interplay of the macroeconomic setting, policies, markets and institutions, for which it claims to rely on up-to-date techniques and methodology. The report declares that India's financial system remains "stable in the face of some fragilities being observed in the global macro-financial environment." Growth has been slackening in most parts of the world and the risks arising from global imbalances and the European debt crisis show no signs of abating. The truth is that the causes for some of these persistent problems have never been fully addressed. India's growth momentum has moderated slightly on account of both domestic and global factors, but its economic fundamentals continue to remain strong despite concerns over inflation and the fiscal situation. The widening current account deficit also is not a matter of serious concern for now, although a slowdown in capital inflows could occur as the advanced economies exit from their accommodative policies. However, government expenditure needs to be more tightly managed as part of a well thought-out process of fiscal consolidation.

The domestic financial markets remain stress-free and are expected to be so in the near future. There has been a strong demand for credit and, consequently, liquidity has tightened recently. One subject of concern has been the currency mismatches that have arisen in the wake of domestic companies relying more extensively than before on external commercial borrowings. A related problem is that many domestic corporate issuers of foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs) might face refunding risks by March 2013, when it would be time for redemption. The conversion prices on many of these bonds are much higher than the current prices of the linked equity shares, and it is unlikely that the gap will narrow. The Indian banking system remains well capitalised, with both core capital adequacy and leverage ratios ruling at comfortable levels. Even as credit off-take has rebounded recently, asset quality has improved although certain specific sectors of the economy could pose problems. For now, a rise in net interest income has boosted the profitability of banks, but over the near-term rising costs may weigh in. Banks need to be vigilant in facing up to interest rate risks in the prevailing inflation scenario.






The July 3 parliamentary election in Thailand is the culmination of a bitter five-year-political battle that haunted the country, leading to constant unrest and uncertainty. In December 2007, a year after the Thai Army removed the billionaire Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra in a coup and banned his political party, its proxy, the People Power Party, managed to win the parliamentary elections impressively. However, within a year, it found itself outmanoeuvred, and the opposition Democrat Party led by Abhisit Vejjajiva put together a coalition and took office. Since then, there has been a rash of protests resulting in bouts of political paralysis. Last year, security forces put down anti-government protesters with bullets, leaving some 90 people dead. Clearly, in the coming election, Mr. Thaksin, who lives in self-exile abroad after fleeing Thailand to escape prosecution on corruption charges, is eager to avenge his 2006 removal. His party, now called the Pheu Thai, has fielded his sister Yingluck Shinawatra as the prime ministerial candidate. Evidently, the former Prime Minister hopes to run the country through her. There are fears that the election itself will not remove the tensions between the colour-coded political camps — Red Shirts, comprising mainly the rural and urban poor, for the Shinawatra clan; and Yellow Shirts, made up of the prosperous old ruling elites, for Mr. Abhisit and his Democrat Party — until Thailand addresses the deeper malaise of the military's role in politics.

The Royal Thai Army — which has carried out a total of 18 coups, and like the Pakistan Army, has played a backroom role supported by the monarchy during times of civilian rule — is a powerful player in this election. Army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha declared recently that as a neutral entity, it had no intention of meddling in the election. But his warning that the monarchy was under threat and his demand that voters must elect "good people" have left no one in doubt that the Army has already made its choice. General Prayuth led the 2006 coup, and his televised speech came as polls predicted Mr. Thaksin's PTP in the lead. With the Army having helped put together the 2008 Democrat Party-led coalition, there is concern that if the Pheu Thai Party wins this election it will not be allowed to remain in office for long. On the other hand, it is certain too that the political roiling will continue should voters choose the Democrats — Mr. Thaksin has enough money and street power to ensure that the government will never have it easy. Either way, it appears that political peace in Thailand is still a distant prospect.







The march of capitalism, with its reduced emphasis on public spending, while improving many national economies has also widened the gap between the rich and the poor. For millions of Indians, hunger is routine, malnutrition rife, employment insecure, health care expensive and livelihoods are under threat, arguing for an urgent need for social security. Over 80 per cent of the world's population lives in conditions without any guarantees to manage life's risks. The United Nations and other international agencies have argued that only 2 per cent of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is required to provide basic social security to the world's poor. They contend that such programmes provide growth with equity and are in the national interest of many countries.

Successful social protection programmes, many of them in South America, have demonstrated the use of innovative social security schemes and have countered capitalism's attempts to roll back social expenditures, cut deficits and finance fiscal stimulus packages for the economy. Argentina's universal child allowance programme and Brazil and Mexico's conditional cash transfer schemes are credited with reducing poverty and improving the health of populations. South Africa's Child Support Grants and Thailand's universal health care are also notable successes. Most of these schemes run on less than 0.5 per cent of national GDPs.

Redistributive transfers are not only desirable but are also hallmarks of civilised nations. They have multiplier effects and create more secure societies. Nevertheless, the philosophy, structures, economics and impact of these innovations are debated. Do they add to existing nutrition, health, education and employment services? Or do they replace existing public services and provisions? Are conditional cash transfer programmes a panacea to reduce poverty and improve health? Two schemes related to health are discussed here to highlight the complexity of the issues involved.

JSY a success: The Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) scheme is a conditional cash transfer (CCT) scheme to incentivise the use of health services. It is an intervention for safe motherhood and aims at reducing maternal and neo-natal mortality among poor women by encouraging institutional deliveries. It integrates financial assistance with delivery and post-delivery care for the mother and baby. The scheme also provides for the identification of pregnant women, antenatal care, assistance with transport and certification, postnatal care, and support and counselling services. Recent additions to these services include the cost of all medication and treatments, blood transfusions, consumables and diet. In some States, the scheme is complemented by the provision of public funds to private service providers in rural areas.

The programme has caught the attention of public health experts around the world for its scope, coverage and budget. The success of the scheme is currently being measured by the number of institutional deliveries, beneficiaries and financial assistance provided. Independent evaluations of the programme have confirmed its beneficial impact on antenatal care, health facility births and neonatal deaths. However, the assessment also noted wide inter-State and inter-district variations in the programme. It also documented the fact that the poorest and the least educated women had the lowest odds for enrolment.

While the JSY is a path-breaking initiative, its impact, when measured by maternal and child health outcomes, is dependent on the availability and accessibility of good health care services. Although the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has revitalised a neglected public health care delivery system, increased health finance, improved infrastructure, increased health personnel, established standards, trained health care staff, improved and streamlined health care delivery structures, many challenges still remain. The NRHM's functioning in its project mode and its competition with the State health services with their old ideas, platforms, ethos and morale complicate issues. These conflicts are not apparent in the evaluation of the NRHM with its focus on process indicators. For example, it records the monies spent on infrastructure, documents the increase in personnel, describes new priorities and records the recent benchmarks. However, there is a need to also evaluate indicators of efficient functioning. It needs to correlate its inputs and processes with health outputs in order to assess their effectiveness and to fine-tune its procedures. For example, data on the number of normal and complicated deliveries, maternal and neonatal outcomes should be correlated with the type of hospital infrastructure, personnel and health care provided. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that 24 x7 health facilities with adequate medical staffing on their rolls continue to provide sub-standard care in violation of the established norms. The failure to document health outcomes of mothers and babies allows poor health care standards in many institutions to be masked by process indicators (e.g. institutional deliveries) employed for assessments. Unless good health care is provided at health institutions, CCTs for institutional deliveries will fall short of their goal of reducing infant and maternal mortality and improving standards of health.

Incentives for sterilisation: India's population policy with its narrow focus on surgical sterilisation, aided by incentives and coercion, resulted in disastrous consequences during the Emergency (1975-77). The vehement rejection, not just of the programme but of the government in power, made such measures taboo in the nation's public and political discourse.

And yet, sterilisation continues to be the sole population stabilisation strategy. While governments are conscious of avoiding coercive practices, incentives for tubal ligation and vasectomy continue to be provided. Vasectomy, despite its greater monetary value (compared to tubectomy), is not commonly accepted by Indian men. Its unpopularity is rooted in the cultural concepts of manhood and virility. Consequently, women continue to bear the responsibility for family size. However, the incentives for sterilisation have not reduced the fertility rate in many parts of India.

The correlation between family size, illiteracy and poverty, leads the naive and uninformed to conclude that the large number of children in each family is the cause of poverty, malnutrition and ill health. Little do they realise that for the uneducated and poor, larger the number of children, better their insurance and social security, particularly in their old age. The complete absence of social security forces the poor to rely on their children to provide the safety net. Class and caste issues interact and preclude universal explanations and call for a sensitive analysis of the context. Simplistic demographic transition models, which linked population growth to development without understanding non-European history, politics and contexts, have legitimised the argument that population control reduces poverty. The fact that poverty without social security results in increasing populations is rarely considered. Consequently, maps of "high risk" populations incorrectly identify the already marginalised groups (e.g. the poor, women, Muslims, Dalits, adivasis, etc.) for further stigmatisation. And yet, politicians, administrators and governments continue to emphasise contraception and sterilisation as the sole focus of population policies. Our current demographic approaches disregard questions of context, class, caste, religion and gender and classify people, us and them, based on narrow frameworks and value judgments. Without the provision of basic social security for the poor, the country's population will continue to increase. CCTs as tools to bring about social change, based on a simplistic understanding of issues, are doomed to failure.

Nuanced approach: CCTs are not a panacea for poverty, ill health or for stabilising populations. As related to health, they will deliver only within the context of an effective health care system. Without a good public health delivery system, the aim of CCTs to bring people to hospital, to obtain effective health interventions, will be defeated. The use of CCTs as a proxy for the delivery of good health care is fallacious. They may change health-seeking behaviour, but it requires a good health care system to reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Similarly, CCTs for population stabilisation, by rewarding contraception and sterilisation, without a basic social security net for the poor will not be utilised and will be ineffective.

CCTs are complex interventions and part solutions within a range of services provided for people. They cannot be an alternative to good health and social security services. Social determinants of health like clean water, sanitation, nutrition, housing, education, employment and social security play a major role in population health and growth. The use of CCTs should not result in the government abdicating its responsibility of providing public services to the poor. They should also not be viewed as another business opportunity for free market players. While recent efforts at improving health care delivery, food security and employment guarantee have made an impact, they have a long way to go before significantly influencing maternal and child mortality, family sizes and population numbers. CCTs are not complete solutions and call for a nuanced understanding of the strategy, context and issues.

(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)









Kyeong-Mi Rhee's phone avatar identifies her, improbably, as "Honey Baby." In the photograph, she is dressed in faux-schoolgirl chic: bright pink lipstick painted on implausibly perfect skin, her ponytails carefully flipped to one side. She clutches two outsized teddy bears in her arms.

Earlier this year, Ms Rhee completed an incredible five-year journey that led her from a North Korean labour camp to Seoul's suburbs, through China's booming northern cities and the jungles of northern Thailand.

Her extraordinary story offers rare insight into the lives of ordinary North Koreans — country that remains extraordinarily closed to the outside world.

Born in 1990, Ms Rhee grew up in a small village near Musan — a dying industrial centre along the Tuman river, which separates North Korea from China.

From the handful of videos occasional visitors to the mining town have posted online, it appears a grim place: row after row of grey shacks and decaying factories, cloaked in snow and the rising smoke from wood fires.

Like many rural families, the Rhees survived the great famine of 1992-2002 — known as the March of Tribulations — relatively unscathed. Ms Rhee says she has no childhood memories of real hunger, an account quite different from those of North Korean refugees from other regions: 3.5 million people were to die in the famine, and two-thirds of the country's children are still malnourished.

Ms Rhee's mother, widowed in 1993, did what she needed to do to feed her children. Like others in the village, she tilled an illegal field gouged out of the mountains that surround the Paekmu plateau, and raised rabbits and chickens.

The family sold its produce in Musan, at one of the dozens of street markets which sprang up across North Korea after 1994, when the government allowed some private-sector economic activity, in an ineffectual effort to battle the famine.

But Ms Rhee lost her mother in 2005, after a minor infection in her foot became sceptic: antibiotics, the accounts of many refugees from North Korea show, have become almost impossible to obtain.

It was a terrible blow to the family. Ill, because of a congenital heart condition, Ms Rhee had never been able to work the fields. Her older sister, Sang-mi Rhee, now had to feed both — all the while, fulfilling a labour quota as part of a group of 15 villagers assigned to a local collective farm.

Fear of authorities

Later that year, Sang-mi's boyfriend, Myung-chul Choi disappeared. Mr Choi, a university graduate who worked a youth trade union linked to the ruling Workers' Party, had a better job than most — but had not been paid for several months. He left for what he told Sang-mi would be a three-month visit to China, where he hoped to save some money working as an illegal migrant worker.

"I did not even tell the woman I loved of my plans," he says, cradling a green-tea flavoured iced drink, "because I was scared she might inform the authorities. In North Korea, you learn to trust no-one."

A South Korean Marine on Baengnyeong Island, surveying the North Korean side, near the border.

Mr Choi made his way west, as hundreds of North Koreans before him had done, through the great Gobi desert that straddles China and Mongolia. He survived the journey — and, arriving at the South Korean embassy in Ulan Baatar, received the travel documents that let him fly to Seoul.

Increasingly desperate, the Rhee sisters decided to make their own way to China, hoping to find Mr Choi. In the summer of 2007, they crossed the Tumen river. "The water was just waist-deep," Ms Rhee recalls, "and there were no guards."

More than a quarter of a million North Koreans have had the same idea: the Chinese porcelain making town of Dehua, home to a large ethnic-Korean population, draws more migrants every day. Some are fleeing political oppression — but more than a few, like the Rhees, are like economic migrants everywhere, simply in search of a better life. Although China discourages the flow of illegal immigrants, its prosperity draws them in ever-growing numbers.

Even though the crossing was easy, the life that lay ahead wasn't. Helped by a relative, the Rhee sisters found work along with two other North Korean girls, in a small businesses providing online sex-chat services to South Korean men. Fearful of being arrested and deported by Chinese authorities, the one-room building the girls worked in was also their home.

"I was locked in 24 hours a day," Ms Rhee recalls, "I really regretted what we had done." Then, late in 2008, Chinese border police finally came calling. Sang-mi was out that day, with one of the other girls, on a rare shopping trip. In the weeks that followed the raid, Sang-mi succeeded in making contact with Mr Choi, and travelled to South Korea where she married her boyfriend.

Kyeong-mi Rhee, though, was deported to North Korea, and was to serve 18 months at a labour camp in North Hamgyong. The conditions, she says, were horrific. There was little food, and prisoners were made to engage in back-breaking work, chopping firewood in the mountains.

"In the winter," she recalls, "sometimes five or six people would die in a single night. The prisoners would have the job of clearing away the bodies. I was excused, because I would faint."

Ms Rhee came out of prison in 2010, to find a man she had never met before waiting for her. He wanted to make sure, the man said, that she was alive. Behind the scenes, her sister and new brother-in-law had been working to bring her to South Korea. The man was a broker, who took potential North Korean refugees into China.

For the next several months, Ms Rhee was shifted from town to town, finally crossing the mountains near the Kunmin border with Thailand before heading by boat to Bangkok. There, armed with a new South Korean passport, she flew to Seoul.

"It cost me $10,000 or so," says Mr. Choi, some pride in his voice, "I still owe $4,000, but it is the least I could do."

Like all North Korean refugees, Ms Rhee has received generous compensation from the South Korean government: after three months at a rehabilitation centre, learning the life skills needed to cope with a relentlessly-capitalist society.

"I do not feel this is all that strange a land," she says, "because like many people in the North, I knew it thorough television soap-opera and films we used to watch secretly. It is difficult, though. I have still not made friends, and have not yet picked up the courage to get a job."

Film-maker Park Jung-bum's "The Journals of Musan," which premiered to critical acclaim in April — the same month Ms. Rhee arrived in Seoul — provides some insight into what challenges he might face. Mr Park's film traced the grim life of refugee Seung-chul, who makes a living plastering posters of sex shops in Seoul's streets, underpaid and cut off from the society around him. North Korean refugees have often struggled to integrate.

Ms Rhee's phone avatar suggests the kind of life she aspires to. That dream, more likely than not, is still some distance, and many struggles, away.

( Some names and personal details have been altered to protect the families of individuals still living in North Korea.)






Health is currently a privilege in India. Not a right. Maternal and child health remains neglected even after countless plans, programmes and political proclamations. Every year, nearly 60,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth, while approximately 1.7 million children less than five years of age also die. In absolute numbers, India outranks all other countries in both regards. Sadly, most deaths can be prevented with available technologies. Many diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia kill thousands every year. While infectious diseases are very much a concern, chronic diseases are now rapidly catching up. India has become the capital of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Health targets in plan after plan have not been achieved, yet there has been no systematic analysis of why health systems fail to achieve these targets.

The fundamental reason why our health targets are not achieved and will not also be achieved, unless we radically change our strategies, is that we set targets without setting strategies; without understanding what is preventing progress; and without putting adequate human and financial resources toward achieving targets.

First, we equate the number of buildings to available health services. The Planning Commission and Central and State governments only count the number of health centres, without bothering to find out what is happening at these centres. Many are without staff, electricity, a telephone, water, medicines or an ambulance. No wonder these centres do not have patients — mothers or children — to take care of. Surveys have shown the inadequacy of our health infrastructure and that health workers are not staying where they are posted. There are good reasons why health staff do not stay in villages. But health departments have not bothered to study this problem or remedy it. Not only are workers not staying, studies have also shown that they are quite frequently absent without reason. Such unaccountability is treated as routine and not discussed in health policy forums.

The second reason for a lack of services is underfunding and poor management of medicines, leading to a lack of availability. How can an army fight without ammunition? The lack of medicines forces poor patients to buy medicines from private pharmacy shops, which can be expensive. Often times, the quality of medicines available from these shops and government health centres is poor due to the government's weak oversight on pharmacies and poor procurement policies. Patients do not want to go to clinics where they do not get medicines or where they are of poor quality.


While planning and funding are major problems, the root of the health problem in India, I feel, is the lack of adequate numbers of well-trained managers. Many national health programmes cover millions of beneficiaries, yet they are managed by just two or three technical managers who are general or specialist doctors.

Most of the time these individuals are without any public health or management training. They learn this on the job. This is also true for health secretaries and ministers — they all learn on the job. We are obsessed with training an eighth standard-passed village health worker with six to seven modules — but there is no training or even orientation for top policymakers and managers in the health department before they take up such important managerial and policymaking jobs. Why isn't health systems management made compulsory before an officer takes up the job of director or secretary in the health department?

The way out

Fortunately, things can rapidly change in the next few years, if government and society pay a little more attention to health. During the last five years, the government has put in significant resources into the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). At the same time, many States are also using local solutions to various problems. Preparations are underway for the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP), and thus we should be looking at what radical changes are needed in the public health system.

Budgets for health services will need to increase by a factor of three to five times. The national government is committed to take health funding from less than one per cent to two to three per cent of the GDP. This is critical. The government must chart out how the Centre and States will increase these budgets over the next five years. This will also require advocacy on behalf of the health community. And we must also be more smart in how to spend the money that is already available. Money remains unspent in health because the regulations around spending are so complicated and confining that doctors and health works cannot spend the money. Many times, money does not arrive in time for it to be useful.

Health care is provided by humans. Not by buildings or physical infrastructure. We need to get doctors and nurses to go to remote and rural areas and work there. This means paying them much higher wages, providing much better housing and other amenities, and making the working environment conducive to their lives.

Appreciation of the doctors and nurses who work in remote areas will ensure that younger doctors go to rural areas and serve the poor. Another solution could be to contract private providers, where government providers are unavailable and unwilling to provide services. Gujarat did just this through its much acclaimed "Chiranjeevi Scheme." Here, the government pays private doctors a fixed fee for conducting child birth services for poor women in their private hospitals. "Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana" also provides financial access to care in private and public services to the poor throughout the country. This is truly innovative and revolutionary.

Technology and drugs

While improving health systems is critically important, we cannot afford to wait until such changes are made before also improving the technological base for health systems. This means better machines and newer drugs and vaccines. For example, new vaccines and diagnostic techniques that can prevent or diagnose early some of the diseases among children and women are currently available in the private sector, but these technologies remain out of reach for the poor. The health department must have a division of technology assessment that is responsible for identifying and rigorously evaluating potentially useful and cost effective technologies for adoption in national health programmes in India.

All this can happen if there is a high-level of political commitment and the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers take personal interest in health improvements.

Of course, more resources need much better management in order to deliver results. Health departments must have an adequate number of qualified programme managers and health planners to ensure better programme design and effective implementation. I strongly believe that we can do this in 12th FYP, and it will be a big step towards universal access to health.

( Prof. Dileep Mavalankar is Dean, Academics, Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar.)






One of the hundreds of thousands of pieces of space-age litter orbiting Earth zipped uncomfortably close to the International Space Station on Tuesday.

The six crew members of the space station took refuge in their "lifeboats" — two Soyuz space capsules they would use to escape a crippled station — as the unidentified object hurtled past them at a speed of 29,000 miles per hour, missing the space station by only 1,100 feet. The episode took place at 8:08 a.m. Eastern time.

"We believe the probability that it would the hit the station was about 1 in 360," said Lark Howorth, who leads the team at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that tracks the space station's trajectory. NASA rules call for precautions when the risk of impact is greater than 1 in 10,000.

In the section of the station run by the United States, astronauts closed the hatches in case the debris — commonly known as space junk — crashed through, to limit the danger of explosive decompression. To prepare for a rapid departure, the clamps holding the Soyuz capsules to the station were released.

"They would be one command away from releasing the hooks and undocking," said Edward Van Cise, NASA's lead flight director.

Mission controllers gave the all-clear signal four minutes later, and the crew members returned to work. There was no sign of damage or impact to the station.

Second time

It was only the second time in the 10-year history of people living on the space station that the crew needed to take such precautions; on March 12, 2009, a piece of an old satellite motor went zipping by.

If the station had been hit, the crew could have quickly undocked and returned to Earth. The risk of space junk hitting a Soyuz capsule is much slimmer.

Usually, when NASA gets a warning, several days in advance, that something that might come too close to the station, it moves the station by firing thrusters. Or, if a space shuttle happened to be visiting at the time, the shuttle would nudge the station out of danger. That has happened 12 times.

This time, however, the warning came Monday evening, less than 15 hours in advance, too little time to plan a manoeuvre.

Since the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched was in 1957, the space neighbourhood has become cluttered with human-made detritus — more than half a million pieces, by recent estimates, from the size of a marble on up. If the orbits of two intersect, the result can be a destructive collision.

"It's getting kind of dangerous," said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has become an expert on space debris. "Most active satellites now have a regular process of manoeuvring to avoid debris."

NASA estimates that for each six-month period, there is a 1-in-100 chance that some or all of the space station crew might need to evacuate, and most of that risk comes from the possibility of impact from debris or natural micrometeroids. Over 10 years, the current planned lifetime of the station, the cumulative risk is nearly one in five.

"It's at the level where it probably won't happen in the lifetime of the station, but it could easily," Dr. McDowell said.

The debris includes spent rocket stages, and sometimes over time residual fuel combines and explodes. "You now no longer have a rocket stage," Dr. McDowell said. "You have 500 pieces of shrapnel."

Also still in orbit are broken satellites or almost incidental litter. In the past, lens covers on satellite cameras and sensors were simply popped off and left to float away. Now satellite makers put the lens cap on a hinge.

Military antisatellite tests also make a big mess, notably when the Chinese blew up one of their satellites in 2007.

© New York Times News Service





The Israel Defence Force (IDF) is planning to test a wearable device capable of monitoring a soldier's physical condition and alerting commanders to life-threatening situations, the Ma'ariv daily reported on June 29.

The "physiological sensor," a miniature device developed by Israeli start-up Life Beam, is attached to the ear of a person and simultaneously monitors critical physiological parameters, including blood pressure, breathing and heart rate, while the soldier is engaged in rigorous activities. The sensor can instantly discern life-threatening changes that point to heat stroke or dehydration, enabling early evacuation and treatment.

Life Beam was founded by two former Israeli Air Force pilots, who served together and came up with the idea during their tour of duty.

"We saw incidents in which people died or nearly died, and began thinking of ways to prevent them," one of the founders, in his early 30s, told Ma'ariv. While training-related fatalities are a rare occurrence in the IDF, which routinely operates in extreme weather conditions, a handful of soldiers, mostly young trainees, have died over the past decade during desert exercises.

"Soldiers will be monitored in the future battlefield," a senior IDF's Medical Corps officer has said, adding that "militaries around the world are still only thinking about the idea." A prototype of the device has undergone successful lab trials, and the Medical Corps said it plans to launch its own testing in coming months.

While the IDF has already placed orders for the sensor for some special forces units, its developers say their vision is to develop a civilian version that would save the lives of infants, the elderly, athletes and patients with chronic illnesses.

1        Xinhua






The Supreme Court has had a significant impact in framing the terms of debate on key public questions recently. It is not unlikely that but for the forceful intervention of the nation's highest court, issues relating to corruption in high places may have moved only very slowly. The political executive's timidity in such matters has been all too glaring, and for several years now. In many recent instances — such as the 2G affair and the related Radia tapes — governmental lethargy has permitted the judiciary to make firm institutional interventions.

The public have been heartened by the higher judiciary's boldness, and may well come to regard this as natural — given the slow government response — in dealing with complex matters of governance. Other than corruption, one other issue which has caught the people's imagination of late is acquisition of agricultural land by the state to be transferred to private parties for commercial and industrial purposes. It has led to violence in some states, excited the imagination of political parties and ignited a wide debate on the methods used to obtain land for non-agricultural purposes.

It is to be hoped that the probing questions put by a Supreme Court bench on Monday to both the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government will galvanise our political system into action. As the Supreme Court noted, the anachronistic 1894 Land Acquisition Act, enacted during the British Raj, is at the root of much of our current problems regarding land acquisition. And while the UPA-2 government has promised to bring in a new law to replace it in the coming Monsoon Session of Parliament, now just weeks away, we have no inkling of what the government's thinking is. A public debate on such a vital issue is absolutely essential, and will only enrich and improve the proposed legislation.

In its observations on Monday while hearing petitions filed by the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority and some real estate groups, the Supreme Court came down hard on the routine practice of state governments to purchase from farmers land on which food is grown to transfer it to non-farm interests. The two-judge bench insisted that the terms of trade were steeply skewed against agriculturists in such cases. The bench was also annoyed that villagers in Greater Noida were not even allowed to record objections as the state government used the so-called "urgency" clause in the 1894 Act. The court held the Centre responsible for this state of affairs as it had permitted an antiquated law to remain on the statute book. It also pointedly noted that it is barren land that should be acquired for industrial or commercial activity. While valid in principle, such an inventory is difficult to make until all land — along with the names of title-holders — is duly mapped and stored electronically. Another consideration must be addressed: what when all the barren land in a state is exhausted?

The Supreme Court, as it itself acknowledged, has been influenced by the Singur syndrome in West Bengal, where the mobilisation of farmers unwilling to part with their land led to the Tatas cancelling plans to set up the Nano plant there. Interestingly, on a petition by the Tatas to restrain the Mamata Banerjee government from returning those lands to farmers (as these now belonged to the Tatas), the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the state government not to proceed further with the return of land till the matter is sorted out in the Calcutta high court. The outcome of this case will be watched with keen interest across the country. Will the Supreme Court be able to square its observations in the Greater Noida matter with what eventually transpires in the Singur case?





The much anticipated endgame in Afghanistan has formally begun. The American President has laid out his plan to extricate US troops while preserving and building on the fragile gains made in the past few months. The fog of uncertainty that hung around American strategy is beginning to lift. That does not mean that the road out of Afghanistan is absolutely clear.

As Helmuth von Moltke once observed, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. Much will depend on how the US' adversaries as well as putative allies like Pakistan respond to these moves. India is reasonably well poised to deal with the unfolding situation. The challenge, as always in Afghanistan, is to keep our ears close to the ground but also maintain adequate flexibility of posture.
The killing of Osama bin Laden has, as anticipated, provided the requisite political context for the American drawdown. From the outset, the Obama administration had been divided between those who called for a protracted counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan and those who preferred a narrower counter-terrorism posture. Since entering the White House, US President Barack Obama has committed an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total number to around 100,000. The figure of 33,000 was lower than what the advocates of counter-insurgency strategy wanted, and much higher than what the counter-terrorism were willing to contemplate. Mr Obama, after much deliberation, chose the middle ground. But his political instincts were always against a troop-heavy strategy. At a time when domestic challenges loomed large, a prolonged and bulky military presence in Afghanistan seemed untenable. Yet a quick exit with little results to show risked a conservative backlash at home. The elimination of Bin Laden has shored up Mr Obama's domestic position and paved the way for a sharp drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.
According to the plan announced by Mr Obama last week, 10,000 American troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year and another 23,000 by the summer of 2012. The military surge will effectively end by middle of next year. In the following two years, US forces will transition from combat to support role by handing over responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). By 2014 this transition will be completed. But US forces will stay on in smaller numbers as advisers and trainers. Besides, there will be a small but strong counter-terrorism presence comprising mainly of special forces and intelligence operatives. Mr Obama also made it clear that drone attacks and targeted operations will continue against Al Qaeda in Pakistan. On the political and diplomatic front, the US has openly acknowledged contacts with the Taliban — even if it is only "very preliminary outreach" in US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's formulation. A "core group" comprising the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been created to coordinate the efforts towards reconciliation with the insurgents. The Americans have also orchestrated the splitting of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on Al Qaeda and the Taliban into two lists: one of individuals connected with Al Qaeda and the other of Taliban members who are focused on Afghanistan alone. This is intended to facilitate the reconciliation process.
The strategic and the political dimensions of the exit plan are not unproblematic. For a start, the claim that the "momentum" of insurgency has been broken reflects a serious misunderstanding of the nature of counter-insurgency. The idea of momentum may be useful in prosecuting conventional operations, but it is not useful in analysing the progress of insurgencies. Control of territory, not momentum of operations, is the key factor in counter-insurgency campaigns — especially when the insurgency has an external base. The American performance on this score has so far been mixed and it is too soon to predict whether the gains of the recent operations will hold. A related problem is the assumption of a smooth transition to operations led by Afghan forces. The US claims that in the past year an additional 100,000 ANSF personnel have been inducted and trained. The operational performance of the ANSF has yet to be tested seriously. But given the persistent problems over the availability of Western trainers — problems that have only recently begun to be addressed — it would be prudent not to set too much store by the capacity of the ANSF.
It is difficult to avoid concluding that the Mr Obama is following the advice offered by Senator George Aiken at the height of the Vietnam War: declare victory and get out. From a political standpoint, the Obama administration's stance is entirely understandable. Just that Kabul and its friends should not swallow these claims wholly.
The efforts to reach out to the Taliban are likely to be even more problematic. The Afghan President has already constituted 27 provincial peace councils as well as a High Peace Council. This arrangement reflects the fact that the Taliban is increasingly functioning as a collection of myriad factions and splinter groups. The best outcome possible may be a patchwork of agreements that holds long enough for the Afghan state to bolster its enforcement capacities. Reaching out to the more powerful groups like the Haqqanis will require cooperation from Pakistan. In the current state of US-Pakistan relations, this will call for more sweeteners for the Pakistan Army but without any assurance that a deal will be struck.
Washington has reiterated its redlines for reconciliation with the Taliban: sever ties with Al Qaeda, forsake violence, abide by the Afghan Constitution. These redlines as well as Mr Obama's call for an Afghan-led process are in sync with India's position as articulated by the Prime Minister during his recent visit to Afghanistan. Despite its reservations about making too fine a distinction between the Taliban and the other groups, India voted in the UNSC in favour of splitting the sanctions list. From this point, New Delhi will have to closely watch both the reconciliation process and the balance of forces on the ground. India's interests in Afghanistan are limited, but preserving them will require an adroit combination of strategic clarity and tactical agility.

The author is senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi





Anyone who has moved cities in India for a job will agree, starting life afresh can be quite a task. Renting an apartment, then getting to know the new environment and coping with an alien culture is tough enough, but even simple things can prove to be enormously complicated. Try opening a bank account, for example.

Even if you have an account with the same bank in your previous location, you will have to surmount a mountain of formalities and provide a wide spectrum of documentation, all to prove your identity.
Proving who you are is a tough job in India. At one time it was simpler — you just produced a ration card and, if employed, a letter from the office. Over the years the ration card has lost its power, not the least because many middle-class people do not keep it any more and there are millions of fakes floating around. Since then, the PAN card and passport have also been deemed acceptable, but if you have shifted homes after getting the latter, you still have to provide proof of address. What if you live in a rented flat — the rent agreement should ordinarily be enough, but not everyone has one (the poor certainly don't).
So back to the original question — how do you prove who you are? To surmount this monumental problem, the government has introduced the unique identity number (UID), which is supposed to be the most reliable indicator of identity, because it has, embedded in it, information that is unique to you. But — and there is always a but — to get it, you have to provide documents proving who you are, which include passports, PAN cards, electricity bill (for proof of address) etc. Sounds scary in more than one way, especially when one considers that all this information will be stored in vast databases controlled by the government. Just thinking about the potential for misuse and abuse is frightening, though the worthies running the UID assure us that there is no danger of that. In a country where the finance minister's office is bugged; this is not very reassuring. All these documents are already recorded in some data base or the other. What is the need for one more?
The number of ways the government keeps an eye on its citizens has been steadily increasing. Apart from all the above named documents and now the UID, there are many other ways the government knows what you have been up to. Some are unavoidable — use of credit cards, PAN cards, filling of immigration forms (while entering and leaving the country). Some are newer and very frightening, the latest being the new rules for Internet monitoring. These regulations put the onus of content on intermediaries; put simply, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot and even ebay will also be held liable for any content that appears on their sites. If you post a comment on Twitter that angers anyone — say a political party — it can complain and Twitter will not only have to remove it but also face prosecution. How do you think such intermediaries are going to react? It could be goodbye to fair comment, because as we know, there is no dearth of people and organisations who feel offended.
Meanwhile, efforts to make Blackberry, Skype and others to give up proprietary technology to allow monitoring of phone calls and chats continue. The government says it wants to keep an eye on mischief makers, a perfectly valid argument. But who is to say that the privacy of innocent citizens will not be invaded? And at the rate technology is developing, criminals and other malcontents will find newer ways of staying below the official radar.
Clearly, big government is here to stay and its getting bigger and more intrusive. It appears that we not only do not mind it, we are welcoming it. The agitation of "civil society" for a Lokpal will create another humongous bureaucratic monster which will have the power to intrude into our lives in different ways. It will be judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. Now, as if this wasn't dangerous enough, there is a proposal to have one more body that will oversee the Lokpal. And this is an agitation that has the approval of our educated middle classes. Franz Kafka would have felt right at home here.
Twenty years ago, the then finance minister Manmohan Singh loosened the tight controls on the Indian economy. The fruits of those reforms are visible to us today. But while we celebrate these economic freedoms and choices, we are giving in — willingly, it appears — to personal restrictions. As long as the latest models of cellphones, cars and games are available on our shelves, who cares if Big Daddy is watching us?

The author is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai








In a jibe, Dr. Farooq Abdullah has made light of the Kashmir rhetoric of OIC. Representatives of 57 Islamic countries to the 38th session of its Council of Foreign Ministers began their work on 28 June at Astana, Kazakhstan. On its side lines Dr Ekmeleddin, the Secretary General, was chairing the meeting of OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir. His Special Representative on J&K, Ambassador Abdullah Abdul Rehman Al-Alim was present. In his address to the Contact Group, leader of the "True Representatives" of the Muslims of Kashmir Valley, Agha Sayyid Hassan Al-Mousvi, a pro-Khumeini Shi'a leader, updated the meeting on "Indian brutalities and human rights situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir." OIC hangs the board of NO ENTRY for the World's second largest group of Muslims in India.
OIC is a religious and political organization. Close to the Muslim World League of the Muslim Brotherhood, it shares the Brotherhood's strategic and cultural vision: that of a universal religious community, the ummah, based upon the Qur'an, the Sunna, and the canonical orthodoxy of shari'a. Its structure is unique among nations and human societies. The Vatican and the various churches are de facto devoid of political power, even if they take part in politics, because in Christianity, as in Judaism, the religious and political functions have to be separated. Asian religions, too, do not represent systems that bring together religion, strategy, politics, and law within a single organizational structure.
Not only does the OIC enjoy unlimited power through the union and cohesion of all its bodies, it also adds the infallibility conferred by religion. Bringing together 57 countries, including some of the richest in the world, it controls the lion's share of global energy resources. The European Union (EU), far from anticipating the problems caused by such a concentration of power and investing in the diversification and autonomy of energy sources since 1973, acted to weaken America internationally in order to substitute for it the U.N., the OIC's docile agent. In the hope of garnering a few crumbs of influence, the EU privileged a massive Muslim immigration into Europe, paid billions to the Mediterranean Union and Palestinian Authority, weakened the European states, undermined their unity, and wrapped itself in the flag of Palestinian justice. In their Charter (2008), Member States confirm that their union and solidarity are inspired by Islamic values. They affirm their aim to reinforce within the international arena their shared interests and the promotion of Islamic values. They commit themselves to revitalizing the pioneering role of Islam in the world, increasing the prosperity of the member states, and -- in contrast to the European states -- to ensure the defense of their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. They proclaim their support for Palestine with al-Quds (Jerusalem), as its capital, and exhort each other to promote human rights, basic freedoms, the state of law (shari'a), and democracy according to their constitutional and legal system -- in other words, compliance with shari'a.
The OIC supports all the jihadist movements considered to be resisting "foreign occupation," including those in "occupied" Indian Kashmir, and condemns the "humiliation and oppression" of Muslims in India. But one can note that Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, accused of genocide committed in Southern Sudan and Darfur, and has not been troubled by the Islamic Court of Justice. His colleagues at the OIC do not consider him in any way a criminal and receive him with great respect, as does Turkish PM Erdogan. They will not condemn the broad day killing of the chief of Jamiat-e Ahl-e Hadith in Kashmir, Maulana Showkat Ali.
Within its organization, the Charter presents characteristics similar to those of the EU; however, in terms of its spirit, functions, principles, and objectives, it is the EU's very antithesis. Present-day aspiration of the ummah to submit to a caliphate which embodies a combined political-religious institution can only surprise the Westerner and highlight the gap that separates the two. Rooted in individualism, Europeans cultivate the search for happiness and cherish freedom of thought and of rational, scientific exploration, which are perceived as a human being's greatest privilege and finest adventure. Conversely, aspiring to the Caliphate indicates the longing for a supreme authority owing its infallibility to Allah and his intermediary. According to Ibn Khaldoun, this institution placing politics at the service of worldwide, religious expansionism was created as instrument for the mandatory Islamization of mankind. However, non governmental agencies speaking in more realistic terms have found vital contradiction in the word and the deed that direct OIC.
Human Rights Watch says that OIC has "fought doggedly" and successfully within the United Nations Human Rights Council to shield states from criticism, except when it comes to criticism of Israel. For example, when independent experts reported violations of human rights in the 2006 Lebanon War, "state after state from the OIC took the floor to denounce the experts for daring to look beyond Israeli violations to discuss Hezbollah's as well." OIC demands that the council "should work cooperatively with abusive governments rather than condemn them." The OIC has been criticized for diverting its activities solely on Muslim minorities within majority non-Muslim countries but putting a taboo on the plight, the treatment of ethnic minorities within Muslim-majority countries or regions, such as the oppression of the Kurds in Syria, the Ahwaz in Iran, the Hazars in Afghanistan, the Baluchis in Pakistan, the 'Al-Akhdam' in Yemen, the Berbers in Algeria and the Pandits in Kashmir.
With all said and done, the tone and tenor of the address of the host, President Nursultan Nazabayev of Kazakhstan, who chaired the session, must have come like a bolt from the blue for the Caliphatists when he said, "There is a serious imbalance in development among the OIC countries. For example, GDP per capita between the most developed and least developed states differs by more than 100 times." He asked: Why are Islamic countries - with their immense natural and human resources, and financial capacities - at a modest level in the hierarchy of the global development? Why are Islamic universities not in the top leading higher educational institutions of the world? Why have there been no world scale discoveries in natural sciences and technology in Muslim countries over the last twenty years? It is impossible not to notice these realities. Apparently, neither money, nor rich natural resources will play a defining role in achieving innovations and the development of Islamic civilization. But the intellectual environment and socio-political climate will", he asserted.







The roller-coaster ride of the Government-civil society Joint Drafting Committee on the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill has ended in a draw, but left both sides badly injured. Whether the tie will be broken when they present their separate recommendations to a proposed all-party committee in July remains an open question. Yet, this is a good time to draw up a balance-sheet of the government's first-ever effort to take on board civil society concerns on fighting corruption.
The Government decided to set up the Committee because it panicked at the response that Anna Hazare's fast was drawing from the middle classes, which could "get out of hand". So great was its concern to create a safety valve through the Committee that it gave 50 percent representation to non-government members. If the Government started with bad faith, Team Anna too tarred all politicians with the same bribe-soaked brush and questioned the government's intentions.
The Committee debate was bound to be fractious. It was also accompanied by abuse and accusations. The shadow of Baba Ramdev's fast, and the government's gross mishandling of it, hung over the Committee's deliberations. That they resulted in at least partial agreement in nine rounds of meetings is an affirmation of the value of debate and reasoning on public policy issues.
There are not only substantive differences between the Committee's two components, but also differences over the area of agreement. Yet, optimistically, the areas of convergence and discord could both serve to take the debate forward and result in a better Lokpal Act than the Government would have drafted.
A precondition for this is that the Government doesn't scuttle the debate and the Congress party doesn't play its usual Machiavellian tactic of accepting under pressure cosmetic changes to the way its Government functions, without making it truly accountable. It would be suicidal for the Congress to do this when its government's credibility stands badly battered by numerous scams, the latest-and one of the greatest-involving the padding up by $6 billion the capital expenditure claimed by Reliance Industries on Krishna-Godavari gas, at public expense.
So, assuming the Congress plays clean, how should the government and Team Anna alter their Lokpal Bill drafts? The main differences pertain to the inclusion of the Prime Minister's Office and the higher judiciary under the Lokpal's ambit; the Lokpal's appointment and removal; funding; putting the CBI's anti-corruption wing under the Lokpal; the term of punishment for corruption; and extending the Lokpal's ambit to the conduct of MPs in Parliament.
Some matters have been sorted out, including the size of the Lokpal team (11 members) and a separate investigation wing for the Lokpal. The Government agrees the Lokpal can prosecute public servants without prior Government sanction.
The Government insists that the Prime Minister should be excluded from the Lokpal's ambit. At maximum, the Lokpal would receive complaints against the PM, but defer investigation until s/he demits office. In support, it cites the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (2002) set up by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, which said "The nation cannot afford to have a Prime Minister under a cloud …. The PM should not be subjected to [the] Lokpal as this would severely impair his independence and freedom of judgment."
There is merit in this argument. The Lokpal should not destabilise the Government or make the PM dysfunctional. But whether a mere investigation would do so is questionable. Rajiv Gandhi didn't stop functioning after the Bofors investigation started. Nor was PV Narasimha Rao paralysed by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery scandal.
All these areas should be brought under the Lokpal's scrutiny with adequate safeguards to rule out frivolous complaints. The PM's authority should not be wantonly weakened-unless a strong prima facie case of corruption, or misjudgment leading to corruption or defrauding of the exchequer, is established. The Lokpal's scrutiny should cover the scope for corruption contained in policies initiated or shaped by the PMO.
There is a good case for excluding the higher judiciary from the Lokpal's ambit, and subjecting it to the proposed National Judicial Commission. This will avert a potential conflict of interest with the Lokpal, who must petition the Supreme Court in certain cases.
Team Anna would like the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Chief Election Commissioner to be part of the Lokpal selection committee, in addition to the PM, the Speaker, Leaders of the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament, the Home Minister, senior bureaucrats, etc. This should prove no great obstacle. The Government should also consider how to bring corrupt bureaucrats under the Lokpal's purview. The Lokpal should be able to recommend disciplinary proceedings against them once their guilt is established.
However, Team Anna must also show some flexibility. It should not see the Lokpal as a countervailing force to the Government or a permanent supervisory authority. That simply doesn't make sense in a democracy, where the executive has its own autonomous function, subject to checks and balances, and to the overall separation of powers.
Team Anna is totally wrong to demand a huge budget for the Lokpal-one-quarter of the government's gross revenues-, and to insist on a life sentence for corruption.
The Committee's civil society members are mistaken in exaggerating the Lokpal's role in fighting corruption. It's hard to accept that "a major reason for … rampant, widespread corruption is the lack of an independent, empowered, and accountable anti-corruption institution that can … credibly investigate complaints of corruption …".
Corruption is widespread largely because of other reasons, including an economic policy regime that encourages privatisation of common property resources through sweetheart deals and a politician-bureaucrat-businessman nexus; the rise of super-greedy entrepreneurs; collapse of the integrity of the civil service; poor monitoring and supervision of important public service delivery programmes; and a dysfunctional delivery justice system.
The Lokpal is no silver bullet. S/he would come into the picture typically after corruption has already occurred. But to stop, prevent and control corruption, it is necessary to look at many places, especially where corruption affects the poor. This will need administrative reform, social audits of important programmes, grievance redressal, and transparency in appointments-and new laws, including a Judicial Accountability Bill, Protection of Whistleblowers Bill, and Rights to Services Bill. No less important is reform of the police. Only 11 states have legislated the Police Commission-recommended new police Act.
These measures will promote accountable governance, reduce the scope for diversion of public resources, and prevent and punish corruption. It's only when we create enforceable entitlements to public services that we can eliminate the scope offered by discretionary powers and the sheer bullying authority of the local constable over the vegetable vendor or paan-bidi shopkeeper. This will help foster accountability and responsibility on the part of Government functionaries.
Fighting corruption is a priority. But it must be fought in ways that strengthen democracy without creating new unaccountable power centres. One can only hope that Team Anna's adversarial posture-natural and necessary in such contestations-does not blind it to this reality. The Government too must understand that its legitimacy would be undermined if it betrays its promise to act in good faith in drafting an effective Lokpal law. (IPA)







Eco-system, life and development are inter-related and extensively inter-dependent. Requisite eco-system originates life and sustains it. Life struggles for existence and development by making scientific inventions leading to industrialization undertaking remedial measures to maintain life sustaining eco-system.
The life sustaining eco-system has to be neat and clean, pure and serene, calm and quiet, smoke and dust free and densely vegetated with plenty of water sources. The physiography of the area having dense vegetable, neat and clean topography and drainage system i.e. tributaries and distributaries and presence of water bodies like lagoons, lakes, estuaries, springs and ponds contribute much more to the eco-system.
Imbalance in eco-system affects the life and thus, maintaining of life-sustaining eco-system becomes an essential and bounden duty of the Government as well as of public.
Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India has laid down rules and regulations and amendments from time to time for strictly observing the same so that eco-system is protected for survival of life.
To set up projects and industries, environmental clearance is to be sought from Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India and is granted only to those who adopt necessary methods and mitigation measures to maintain life sustainable eco-system.
The different departments of environment, forests and wild life of Centre as well of State Governments are entrusted the main duties to protect and develop them. These departments respectively are duty bound to undertake necessary measures to maintain eco-system for keeping the environment neat and clean, afforest the deforested portions of forests and grow and develop the wild life. Are these departments doing their duty honestly and sincerely, is the question? And this can be well judged from the state of environments, forests and wild life in every province and state of the country. The departments of Himachal Pradesh evidently appear to be performing the job effectively.
Public has to play a great role in maintaining and developing the eco-system. Every vacant space available anywhere or along the roads, tracks, paths and lanes ought to be vegetated. The available vacant spaces in the house accommodations also need to be vegetated instead of making them concrete.
Pollution caused by the public by plying vehicles on roads, streets and lanes is needed to be controlled. The vehicular conveyance ought to only be used when very essentially required . The means of conveyance and transport which do not use P.O.L, may be preferred because it will help to balance the eco-system and shall save petrol and diesel.
In most of the cities, 90% of the population is diseased as there are more industries or factories. The vehicular traffic being run by the inhabitants of that city as a means of conveyance is polluting its environment by emitting heat, smoke, dirt and dust.
Concluding, it is emphasized that every department and citizen of India ought to understand the importance of eco-system and devise various means besides enumerate above to contribute honestly and sincerely to maintain the eco-system for the sustenance of life. Comparatively, imbalance in eco-system is very less being caused by industrialization than otherwise.









Most experts on Afghanistan are convinced that former US President George Bush's strategy of using the military to establish peace in that strife-torn country has proved to be a failure. The various Taliban factions, the real source of trouble in Afghanistan, remain as potent a force as they were ever. Even the country's capital, Kabul, is not out of bounds for them.


Nine Taliban suicide bombers, believed to be men of the Haqqani faction, attacked Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel, popular with Westerners, on Wednesday in a daring manner. It is a different matter that they were soon killed by NATO forces. Yet 11 civilians and two policemen lost their lives. NATO's intervention came because the authorities were not confident of the Afghan security forces successfully handling the situation.


The Taliban factions continue to control large parts of Afghanistan despite the US-led multinational forces remaining there in large numbers. The extremists have not been defeated militarily and there is no hope of their getting vanquished in this manner in the future. The sceptics should revise their opinion now when one of the most respected experts on Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, Britain's former Ambassador in Kabul, has expressed the view that it is not possible to achieve "the wider strategic goal of stabilising Afghanistan to the point where the Afghan authorities can secure and govern the country with only money and advise from outside". Almost similar observations were made by senior military leaders of the US after President Barack Obama occupied the White House. Thus, the Obama strategy of withdrawal from Afghanistan is based on sound logic: Why waste your resources when the goal is not achievable militarily?


The best way out of the Afghan imbroglio is to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. This is what is being done in the case of what are described as the "good Taliban". Keeping in view the emerging reality, India will have to review its strategy so that the enormous investments it has made in various sectors in Afghanistan do not go waste. Most Taliban factions are anti-India, but those who may join the government in Kabul as part of a future arrangement may change their thinking. They are basically power-hungry and may not behave the way they did in the late nineties when they ruled Afghanistan.









As if the low conviction rate (a dismal 27 per cent) in rape cases was not enough to push up the rising graph of rape incidents, now comes a proposal from the Centre to compensate rape victims. The effort, claimed to be "restorative justice", will, in fact, subvert the already slow process of justice for the victims.


This unique way of delivering "justice" by offering financial assistance between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 3 lakh to a traumatised rape victim by the government supports former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan's view expressed during a speech. He said, "Due regard must be given to their (the rape victims') personal autonomy since in some cases the victim may choose to marry the perpetrator or choose to give birth to a child conceived through forced intercourse."


In many societies which may be considered primitive, similar practices are followed under the garb of social justice. In Namibia, the parents of a rape victim get the issue settled through the traditional court; the culprits' parents compensate them with money or cattle. In many countries, Islamic courts have asked the rapist to marry the victim. If these solutions are regressive for a modern society like ours that claims to offer equal rights to all, why should rape victims be treated perpetually as vulnerable, and not as equal contenders for their right to live with dignity? What justice will the government offer to a victim of rape whose financial needs are nil?


At a time when human rights advocates are deliberating upon punitive laws for marital rape, is it not irresponsible to talk of financial compensation for rape victims? Like the practice of offering blood money, it will only absolve the perpetrator of legal and moral responsibility and the consequences of committing a heinous crime. If the government sincerely wants to control incidents of rape, it should allow rape cases to be handled by fast- track courts and free the administrative and law-enforcing machinery of its caste biases. There is need to ensure that another Bhanwari Devi does not waste her 15 years in the courts, without getting justice.











The International Cricket Council's decision to scrap the use of runners from all forms of the game, like every major issue, can be argued from both sides. On the one side are those who think this is a move in the right direction since this system has come in for abuse quite frequently.There have been many instances of batsmen feigning injury in order to bring in a runner.


As senior batsmen grow in age and girth, they tend to slow down between the wickets. So, injuries are feigned and a runner is called, who almost always is younger and faster. Two things are achieved — the senior batsman gets some rest and the younger lot can convert singles into twos and twos into threes, shoring up the team total. But on the other side are veterans like Sunil Gavaskar, who think that the bowlers and fielders also flout fitness norms, even more than the batsmen do.


This is true to an extent since fielders can call in substitutes at any stage, and the penalties for not being on the field for the entire session or day, and then coming in to bat, are minimal. Gavaskar is right in saying that bowlers get energy drinks at the boundary after every over but, then, even batsmen have extra fielders running in at the drop of a hat with drink bottles. The rules of cricket are far too flexible and all cricketers bend them as per their own convenience. While Gavaskar himself may not have used a runner, everyone in the game takes the advantage of these rules somewhere down the line.


In any event, cricket is a batsman's game, and this ban on the use of runners is not something that shifts the balance radically. Even the adoption of the Decision Review System shows how rules can be bent. As the BCCI agrees to the principle of using reviews, they have not really moved an inch from their original stand. In the end, the BCCI still gets away with its stand while the ICC portrays that it has prevailed. That is not quite true.









High inflation is back with us — it is reflected by the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) which rose to 9.06 per cent in May 2011. Now the diesel, kerosene and cooking gas price hike will make things worse for the common man. Food inflation, which had receded on June 4 to 8.9 per cent, is also back at 9.13 per cent.


India is experiencing the fastest increase in prices among the big emerging market countries (Brazil, Russia, China) which is already having deep ramifications on foreign investment and its stock markets. Inflation in China, causing problems of competitiveness to its manufactures, is almost half (5.5 per cent) of that in India. Basically, the Government of India is facing problems of mismanagement and lack of governance in being able to control runaway prices. The Central government is not taking enough strong steps either to stop corruption or arrest the rising inequalities or tackling inflation. Regarding stock markets, India's is one of the worst performing ones and even Pakistan's stock market is doing better. Inflation in India is discouraging foreign institutional investments.


The Reserve Bank of India has raised interest rates 10 times since March 2010 to control inflation, and its adverse impact on the demand for goods and services, investment and corporate profits is already visible. The Index of Industrial Production fell to 6.3 per cent in April from 8.8 per cent in March 2011. The GDP growth has also slowed down to 7.8 per cent in the three months ending March 31. Unfortunately, the multiple rate hikes have not been able to tame inflation.


Some basic problems of the Indian economy also remain unresolved. In agriculture, inadequacies in infrastructure, mainly in storage space, irrigation and transport of perishable goods, remain. The minimum support prices for foodgrains, on the other hand, have been raised again which means that there will certainly be higher foodgrain prices next season despite the bumper crop.


The hike in diesel prices will hit all transportation costs and it will have a cascading effect on the prices of all commodities. Another petrol price hike is also imminent, given the current losses of the government oil companies. The excise and customs duty cuts on petroleum products, aimed at relieving the burden on the common man, will mean Rs 49,000 crore revenue loss for the government's exchequer which will cause problems in controlling the size of the fiscal deficit.


How will the poor cope with high food and non-food inflation? Even going by the Planning Commission figures, there are over 300 million people living in abject poverty. According to it, there are less poor today than three years ago and poverty is supposed to have come down from 37 per cent to 32 per cent in 2009-2010. But there are many more millions who are just "above the poverty line" and are still miserably poor.


India's growth story could indeed be spoilt if we have large numbers of poor without skills, employability and good health, and also have high inflation. This is because with meagre incomes in times of inflation, poor people spend a large chunk of their earnings on food which leaves them with very little for other essential requirements like health, education, housing and nutrition of children. It is a dangerous situation as it affects the welfare of the future generation.


In many parts of India, poverty is persisting and people are getting deeper into it. This is the case in tribal areas where the level of human development is very low, and people inhabiting those areas have for centuries depended on forest produce. With their land taken away from them by the state and sold to private mining or manufacturing companies, a sizeable tribal population has nothing to live on. They are not trained in skills and cannot get jobs. They are easy recruits for the Maoists, who keep looking for disgruntled youth having no future.


Unskilled labourers, who have no assets but only labour to sell, are also at the risk of remaining poor for generations and with high inflation, their expenditure on education and health of children will fall further.


While it is true that the Indian middle class is growing and more than before people are enjoying foreign travel, can afford private schools for their children and own cars, houses/ flats, yet there are millions who are outside this charmed circle and are suffering multiple kinds of deprivation. The middle class does not mind a hike in petrol/diesel prices because it is a small proportion of its budget, but the poor have to pay higher prices for all goods. Inflation is making the poor poorer.


Instead of concentrating on controlling inflation through hikes in interest rate and expecting people to save more and spend less by raising EMIs (equated monthly instalments), the government ought to make its public distribution system, health care, water supply, education and public transport facilities more efficient and accessible.


In times of high inflation, subsidised foodgrains help the poor because these provide for their basic nutritional needs. But, instead of trying to improve it by plugging the loopholes, the government seems keen to dismantle it and substitute it with direct cash subsidies from next year.


The poor ought to have more access to public goods than the rich which is the basis of an egalitarian society. Here in India, more and more people are going for personalised transport — cars and two wheelers — choking the roads and highways and increasing congestion and air pollution because of lack of a satisfactory public transport system. All industrialised countries have spent huge amounts on an efficient public transport system over decades, and have encouraged people to use mass rapid transport facilities, but this is not the case in India so far. This lack of efficient/cheap transport will affect the poor more.


The EU members, Canada and Nordic countries also have an efficient health care system and a good public schooling facility. In India, even the poor have to go to private clinics and hospitals.


The water supply system is also good in most developed countries, where everyone has access to tap water. In India, water treatment plants are not doing a sufficiently good job, and most urban people (even the poor) drink filtered, boiled or bottled water, adding to the cost of living of the average citizen.


As for rural India, inflation is having a severe impact on the health of children and their schooling. Higher kerosene prices will increase the lighting and cooking expenditure of the rural population. The rural poor will suffer in many ways and this will have long-term effects on human development in the country.









The intoxication caused by bhang (cannabis) is probably the worst, especially for an unassuming victim. Years ago, I became one such hapless victim consuming it by mistake.


For three days, I floated in a vicious endless circle, gripped in fear and reliving the events that took place immediately after I was tricked by my two colleagues in Patiala into taking a strong dose of bhang as prasad on Shivratri day.


It was all fun for others though. I just remember putting a paper into the typewriter until a colleague shook me.


He saw me staring fixedly at the plain paper with my hands in the air and fingers pointing towards the keypad, "Bhang has gripped your head," he said.


I felt fear.


He took me to our boss who laughed as I repeated many times, "Sir, I have taken Bhang prasad. I am intoxicated." He ordered the colleague to take me home and directed me that I should take some rum or whisky that was a good antidote.


Riding pillion on the colleague's black Vespa, I kept repeating, "I have got bhang nasha(intoxication). Bhaji (Sir) said go home and take rum. I will recover."


The colleague recalls much more. I pulled his hair and ears at the sight of vehicles, especially trucks coming from the opposite direction. I shrieked in fear and gripped him so tight that he was almost strangled. At the same time, I kept repeating, "I have got bhang nasha….."


My mom had a fit of laughter as I kept saying the same sentence again and again. She gave me three glasses of buttermilk and later a huge quantity of mango pickles on the advice of concerned neighbours.


In my mind, events repeated themselves. I was at the office, sitting, telling the boss, on the road, coming home, seeking rum, made to lie down, getting up out of fear and people laughing and lying down again. My boss called me a couple of times only to be flabbergasted when I said, "Bhaji, I got bhang nasha…" and repeated everything.


Eventually, on the third day, my father returned from some outstation work and gave me rum. I came back to reality within a few hours. By that time I had consumed buckets of buttermilk and over a kg of pickles as well.


The two tricksters had their own harrowing time. One of them belonged to a hill station and was for the last few days crossing a narrow trench dug for laying telephone wires, on the way of our office. That day he couldn't dare ply his scooter on a small plank over the trench, "It is a deep khud (gorge)." It took 8 or 10 people to lift him across while he resisted his best.


The second one got stuck at traffic lights.


He kept accelerating his Chetak scooter without putting it in gears as the lights turned red to green to red to again green and so on. Eventually, a friendly cop helped him by pushing his vehicle with the help of others as my colleague sat on the vehicle shouting 'vroooommm'.


He used gears later but got stuck at the next intersection and the next as well before somehow reaching home. We all laugh at it now but we tell all not to play such tricks.








Are you unhappy with your children's performance in exams? Disturbed with their behaviour? Worried about their lack of concentration? There is mounting evidence to suggest that children who eat a diet containing sufficient Omega 3 fats are better behaved, more intelligent and even show lower levels of allergies
D. S. Samloke


Modern-day parents are facing new challenges in the growing needs of their children, which directly impact their academic results, behaviour and concentration. Junk food, coupled with an increased intake of processed food by growing children, is not adequate enough to take care of their nutritional needs. Most of us have had a harrowing time with these problems, despite expecting great performance from them by sending them to the best of schools that we could afford.


Some common problems in children can be anxiety, depression, aggression, mental performance, temperament, relationship disturbances with friends and family, poor-school performance, behavioural regression, phobia, thumbsucking, repetitive movements of muscle groups, stuttering, dysfluent speech, anxiety disorders, fearfulness, disruptive behaviour, arson, anti-social behaviour, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, careless mistakes, avoiding sustained mental effort, fidgeting, impulsiveness, sleep disorders and a score of more such problems.


The world-over scientists, researchers and doctors have documented some studies, which are as surprising as revealing. There is mounting evidence to suggest that children, who eat a diet containing sufficient Omega 3s, are better behaved, more intelligent and even show lower levels of allergies.


What is Omega 3? Two fats, which are essential to good health, are called Omega 3 and Omega 6. These belong to a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids known as "essential fatty acids" or EFAs. These fats are vital for good health and normal growth. These are called "essential" because the body cannot manufacture these fats, or store much of these fats. These fats have to be taken through the diet. In other words, they have to be eaten regularly. To make matters more complicated — Omega 3 and 6 only maintain their status as "Good Fats" when these are eaten in the right balance.


The typical diet that our children eat contains too much of Omega 6 and too little of Omega 3 fats. That's way we need to increase our intake of Omega 3 in isolation, as our Omega 6 intake is normally sufficient. Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is the principal Omega 3 fatty acid, which a healthy human being will convert into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and later into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and the gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) synthesised from linoleic (Omega-6) acid are later converted into hormone-like compounds known as eicosanoids, which aid in many bodily functions, including vital organ functions and intra-cellular activity.


Omega 3s are used in the formation of cell walls, making the walls supple and flexible, and improving circulation and oxygen uptake with proper red-blood cell flexibility and function. Omega 3 deficiencies are linked to decreased memory and mental abilities, tingling sensation of the nerves, poor vision, increased tendency to form blood clots, diminished immune function, increased triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol (LDL) levels, impaired membrane function, hypertension, irregular heartbeat, learning disorders, menopausal discomfort, itchiness on the front of the lower leg(s), and growth retardation in infants, children and pregnant women.


In an intensive trial conducted by Dr Alex Richardson, a senior research fellow in physiology at Mansfield College, University of Oxford, and Madeleine Portwood, a special educational psychologist with the Durham Local Education Authority, it was reported by the BBC, UK, that statistically significant improvement was seen in the school performance in the group of children who were given Omega 3 supplements.


The dramatic effects of Omega 3 fatty acids on the children in the Durham trial may hinge on several functions of fatty acids in the brain. It was found that Omega 3s may make it easier for signals to cross the gap between brain cells and also improve brain function at the very simplest level, by improving blood flow. However, studies such as the Durham trial suggest that all is not lost, and that boosting Omega 3 intake may still confer significant benefits.


Western diets contain very little Omega 3 fatty acid. Hydrogenation, the process used to give foods a long shelf life, removes them. But certain people may break down Omega 3 fatty acids faster than others. Some of the children, who showed greatest improvement in the Durham trial, might fall into this category.


According to the American Dietetic Association, adults should receive 20 to 35 per cent of energy from dietary fats, avoiding saturated and trans or "bad" fats, and increasing intake of Omega 3 fatty acids. The association also found that substitution of canola oil for fat commonly used in the US would increase compliance with dietary recommendations for fatty acids, particularly in lowering saturated fat and increasing heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.


Dr Basant Puri, a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at London's Imperial College, released his findings on Omega 3 and its effect on brain function and depression.



It was found that:


l Daily supplements of Omega 3 fatty acids will boost the brain development of children by three years in only three months. Scans showed their brains developed three years in as many months as nerve fibres grew additional branches.


l Children given capsules of Omega 3 grew additional "grey matter" which helps intelligence.


l Brain scans, which showed the evidence of changes, were reinforced by results in tests of reading, concentration and short-term memory.


l Children, who took part in the study, increased their reading ability by an average of a year and a quarter during the Omega 3 trial. The average increase in their reading age was a year and a quarter and their handwriting became more accurate.


Studies over the past two years have consistently confirmed that Omega 3, a substance lacking in today's diet, is a key component in the brain's development and proper functioning. While the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids can be noticed on many levels, the biggest breakthroughs documented have occurred in improved mental functions and health. Omega 3 has been reported to be effective in the treatment of depression.


The main reported benefits of Omega 3 for the body occur in the heart. The American Heart Association recommends including oils and foods rich in alphalinolenic acid (canola, flaxseeds and walnuts) in order to reduce the likelihood of heart disease.


While research is still ongoing into the effects of Omega 3 on the heart, research so far date has shown that Omega 3 fats decrease the risk of arrhythmias, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, decrease triglyceride levels, decrease growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, lower blood pressure. Additionally, Omega 3 has been reported to be effective as an anti-inflammatory. And according to an article by Judith Horstman for Arthritis Today, there is strong evidence that oil supplements with Omega 3 fatty acids can ease rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms.


The problem is to identify the most commonly used diet without changing your lifestyle a lot. It can be seen that cooking oil can be the one common link in each one of our lives. It can be a good source of Omega 3 nutrition for not only our children but also for the parents too, if chosen carefully.


It is said the Japanese have been found to have very low incidence of depression, heart diseases and their children have been found to be the most intelligent, due to their Omega 3-rich diet. Any good doctor or nutritionist will tell you that the best way to get any nutrient is to go right to the source and eat it through the foods in which they originate. In the case of Omega 3, this would most likely be in the form of canola oil, fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts etc. And it is a relief to know that finally a small change in dietary habits like switching over to healthier oils like canola can bring about a turnaround in the family's health.


It is said "you are what you eat" but now it also seems that "you act what you eat", too.


(Dr D. S. Samloke is a practicing physician, child psychologist and researcher in the fields of child behaviour and intelligence).


Tall claims


l Most of the cooking oils lay tall claims as being Omega 3 rich but the truth is that, either their percentage of Omega 3 is too less or the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 is badly skewed. The lower the ratio, the better the oil.


l Here are the Omega 3 content and ratios of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids in some common cooking oils:


l Canola oil like Jivo (content 11 per cent), Ratio 1:2


l Olive oils like Figaro and Leonardo (1 per cent), 1:13


l Sunflower oils like Sundrop and Sweekar (1 per cent), 1:71


l Safflower oils like Saffola 1:88


l Soybean oils like Fortune and Nature Fresh (7 per cent), 1:7


l Corn oils (1 per cent), 1:57


l Groundnut oils (negligible Omega 3) and


l Palm oils like Ruchi Gold (negligible Omega 3).


l Typical Western diets provide ratios between 1:10 and 1:30 - i.e., dramatically higher levels of Omega 6.



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




The Planning Commission, the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) and the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) are being overseen by some of the brightest minds in the Indian government for many years now. Both together and individually they have made a travesty of the data being brought out, debated and used for policy making. Thus, whether it is poverty or employment, the figures are so far away from reality that it is unclear whether they should be used even in an indicative manner.

As is well known, poverty figures computed by the Planning Commission are based on a survey that captures less than half of the total household consumption expenditure. Yet the same organisations complain that the poverty figures are way too low! If actual consumption was more than double that reported by the NSSO, would poverty levels not be much lower? This is now being followed by another farcical exercise in which the government is going to identify who is poor and who is not by looking at a combination of reported caste occupation and assets owned. What happened to the great system designed by the late P C Mahalanobis, which was arguably among the best in the world?


Employment figures are another farce being played out by organisations that have been made defunct. The great hungama over how India has had jobless growth continues, with few paying attention to the quality of data or the role of policy. According to a new theory that has been floated, Indian unemployment figures are not comparable internationally because most Indians are self-employed! These arguments can only be offered by the Planning Commission and the economists/statisticians it employs and consults. On a similar note, organised-sector employment estimates from the NSSO data are found to be 30 million or thereabouts for more than two decades. Meanwhile, the number of Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) account holders is in the vicinity of 45 million. Why can the NSSO not make a more realistic estimate? The answer lies not in its sampling or quality of data collection; it simply does not ask the obvious questions. And no one bothers to change the questionnaire, which is more or less the same as in the seventies. It is well known to everyone except those in the ministry of statistics and programme implementation as well as the Planning Commission that the organised sector in India has circumvented many rigid labour laws by hiring temporary and/or contract workers. In some cases, employment from the organised sector has been outsourced to entities in the unorganised sector. In many of these "newer" models of employment, provident fund is still paid and, consequently, organisations such as the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation can capture it, but the Planning Commission and the CSO cannot.

Employment is by far the most important measure of economic activity. It is also an objective in itself and perhaps one of the best measures of inclusive growth. But its character is far more complex today than in the past — there are the regular employees, temporary employees, on-demand staff, contract employees, paid internships, both paid and unpaid work in family businesses, apprentices, and so on. In addition, many people are simultaneously undertaking more than one type of income- earning activity. The tools used to measure employment in the sixties and the seventies will not work half a century later. India needs more up-to-date and robust employment data so that meaningful conclusions can be drawn about the nature of the growth process and its impact on jobs.






No one can deny that in a country like India, wasting food and ostentatious consumption at social gatherings are a social crime. A social movement espousing moderation in consumption habits would instantly strike a chord with a large number of Indians. Also, few would deny that India's newly rich and upwardly mobile like to indulge in conspicuous consumption to show off to their peers and neighbours that they have arrived. From your neighbourhood get-rich-quick real estate broker to the new billionaires, everyone who has come into wealth likes to show off, especially at family events like a wedding or a birthday party. So, the idea of promoting temperance and moderation, of campaigning against wastage, is well taken. Yet, visible prosperity of the upwardly mobile has the positive social externality of encouraging the less energetic to work harder and be smarter. "Enrich yourself", the famous slogan attributed to China's great moderniser Deng Xiaoping, can spur enterprise and growth. So a campaign against conspicuous consumption will have its advocates and critics. However, few would suggest that reviving the old 1960's Guest Control Order (GCO), introduced in an era of war, drought and "ship-to-mouth" dependence on imported food, is the best way to address the problem of food going to waste. Yet, and perhaps not surprisingly, an official group headed by secretary, consumer affairs, Government of India, constituted to suggest ways to address the problem of food wastage at public gatherings and social functions, is considering a revival of GCO. Few today may recall that GCO bred corruption and contributed to needless harassment and to hypocritical response from those who obeyed the law in theory and ignored it in practice.

The fact is that the real wastage of food is happening between farm and the retail market. Post-harvest loss of foodgrain has been recently estimated to be as much as Rs 44,000 crore a year. Worse, between 30 and 50 per cent of all fruit and vegetables produced in the country are spoiled at various stages of their handling, and at least one study calculates the loss to be almost Rs 28,000 crore. Besides, huge quantities of foodgrain perish every year owing to rot and mismanagement at the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. At present, over five million tonnes of foodgrain are officially stated to be lying in the premises of government godowns without proper shelter, running the risk of spoilage in the ongoing monsoon season. Compared to all this, the total wastage of cooked food at social events would be peanuts, so to speak! The best way to deal with food wastage by the rich is to launch a social awareness campaign against conspicuous consumption, addressed to school children and young adults. The young can be great agents of change.









Each new round of data increases the probability of another downturn in the US economy

The American economy has recently slowed dramatically, and the probability of another economic downturn increases with each new round of data. This is a sharp change from the economic situation at the end of last year — and represents a return to the very weak pace of expansion since the recovery began in the summer of 2009.

Economic growth in the United States during the first three quarters of 2010 was not only slow, but was also dominated by inventory accumulation rather than sales to consumers or other forms of final sales. The last quarter of 2010 brought a welcome change, with consumer spending rising at a four per cent annual rate, enough to increase total real GDP by 3.1 per cent from the third quarter to the fourth. The economy seemed to have escaped its dependence on inventory accumulation.

This favourable performance led private forecasters and government officials to predict continued strong growth in 2011, with higher production, employment and incomes leading to further increases in consumer spending and a self-sustaining recovery. A one-year cut of the payroll tax rate by two percentage points was enacted in order to lock in this favourable outlook.

Unfortunately, the projected recovery in consumer spending didn't occur. The rise in food and energy prices outpaced the gain in nominal wages, causing real average weekly earnings to decline in January, while the continued fall in home prices reduced wealth for the majority of households. As a result, real personal consumer expenditures rose at an annual rate of just about one per cent in January, down from the previous quarter's four per cent increase.

That pattern of rising prices and declining real earnings repeated itself in February and March, with a sharp rise in the consumer price index causing real average weekly earnings to decline at an annual rate of more than five per cent. Not surprisingly, survey measures of consumer sentiment fell sharply and consumer spending remained almost flat from month to month.

The fall in house prices pushed down sales of both new and existing homes. That, in turn, caused a dramatic decline in the volume of housing starts and housing construction. That decline is likely to continue, because nearly 30 per cent of homes with mortgages are worth less than the value of the mortgage. This creates a strong incentive to default, because mortgages in the US are effectively non-recourse loans: the creditor may take the property if the borrower doesn't pay, but cannot take other assets or a portion of wage income. As a result, 10 per cent of mortgages are now in default or foreclosure, creating an overhang of properties that will have to be sold at declining prices.

Businesses have responded negatively to the weakness of household demand, with indices maintained by the Institute of Supply Management falling for both manufacturing and service firms. Although large firms continue to have very substantial cash on their balance sheets, their cash flow from current operations fell in the first quarter. The most recent measure of orders for non-defence capital goods signalled a decline in business investment.

The pattern of weakness accelerated in April and May. The relatively rapid rise in payroll employment that occurred in the first four months of the year came to a halt in May, when only 54,000 new jobs were created, less than one-third of the average for employment growth in the first four months. As a result, the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 per cent of the labour force.

The bond market and share prices have responded to all of this bad news in a predictable fashion. The interest rate on 10-year government bonds fell to three per cent, and the stock market declined for six weeks in a row, the longest bearish stretch since 2002, with a cumulative fall in share prices of more than six per cent. Lower share prices will now have negative effects on consumer spending and business investment.

Monetary and fiscal policies cannot be expected to turn this situation around. The US Federal Reserve will maintain its policy of keeping the overnight interest rate at near zero, but, given a fear of asset-price bubbles, it will not reverse its decision to end its policy of buying Treasury bonds – so-called "quantitative easing" – at the end of June.

Moreover, fiscal policy will actually be contractionary in the months ahead. The fiscal stimulus programme enacted in 2009 is coming to an end, with stimulus spending declining from $400 billion in 2010 to only $137 billion this year. And negotiations are under way to cut spending more and raise taxes in order to reduce further the fiscal deficits projected for 2011 and later years.

So the near-term outlook for the US economy is weak at best. Fundamental policy changes will probably have to wait until after the presidential and congressional elections in November 2012.

The author is professor of economics at Harvard, was chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers and is former president of the National Bureau for Economic Research

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

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The year 1971 saw the arrival of two stellar intellectual contributions that would eventually revolutionise the discourse in their respective fields. Susan Strange's Sterling and British Policy: A Political Study of an International Currency in Decline (Oxford University Press) was the first major work to give substance to the idea of a merger of economics and politics. Ms Strange's subsequent work (along with other significant contributions, notably from Robert Gilpin) provided the intellectual foundation for International Political Economy, a field that has grown by leaps and bounds over four decades and continues to make seminal contributions as the world grapples with the aftermath of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press) was the other. While Ms Strange was an intellectual pioneer of sorts, Dr Rawls' genius lay in providing a methodological foundation to a dense and deeply divided literature on human welfare that straddled economics and philosophy. Intellect apart, it took uncommon courage of conviction to seek to overturn what was (despite sporadic criticism) the most deep-rooted tenet of the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, Utilitarianism, which posited that justice was best defined as that "which provided the greatest good for the greatest number". It should come as no surprise that "maximising efficiency" is, in turn, the guiding dictum of Utilitarianism and by extension neo-classical economics, with its strong roots in positivism.


Dr Rawls' arguments went beyond efficiency and focused on fair outcomes. In doing so, he insisted that even "efficient" outcomes would be normatively guided if they were to be fair. Dr Rawls' preoccupation with distributive justice did not constrain his pragmatism in any way. The Difference Principle, the point of departure in Dr Rawls' work, was motivated by an uncompromising tenet — equal respect for all people. Given that the wealth in an economy varied from one period to the next, the most common (and "fair") way of producing more wealth is to have a system where those who are more productive earn greater incomes without making anybody worse off. While it may sound utopian at first glance, it has exerted considerable influence on various branches of economic theory ranging from social choice theory to mechanism design, which seek to minimise the adverse effects of market imperfections.

A Theory of Justice was anything but an exercise in idealism. It was intended to provide insights into the vexing questions of the day, mainly involving the distribution of the fruits of economic growth. For example, Dr Rawls' main concern was with the relative welfare of the individual as opposed to the absolute level. This has important implications for social policy on issues ranging from income distribution within societies as well as at the level of the firm. Dr Rawls' arguments refute the position long held by neo-classicists that income differences have little meaning as long as the poorest are assured of the wherewithal to survive: very large differences in wealth may make it impossible for the poor to be elected to political office and have their political views heard. As a second example, the long-held link between productivity and wages – more productive people are entitled to higher wages – is itself questioned in a Rawlsian framework, where productivity itself is seen as being endogenously determined by several factors often beyond an individual's control. Second-generation affirmative action programmes, especially in developed countries, seek to redress this imbalance.

The intellectual influence that A Theory of Justice and subsequent work by Dr Rawls have exerted on a whole generation of welfare theorists is stupendous and extends to issues of justice at a global level (the problem of resource and ecological burden sharing) as well as the questions that have an inter-temporal dimension (justice across generations). Like other great intellectual pioneers, notably Robert Merton and Noam Chomsky before him, Dr Rawls' work has its fair share of critics. Libertarians object on the grounds that the Difference Principle involves unacceptable infringements on liberty, while others have criticised it on the grounds that it mostly ignores claims that people deserve certain benefits in light of their actions. Feminist theorists complain that the Difference Principle does not adequately criticise the constraints patriarchy imposes on the choices women can make, notably in the amount of time they can spend in the labour market.

While much of this criticism is definitely valid, it cannot and should not diminish the contributions of a body of work that did much to reconcile the philosophical and economic aspects of welfare theory, provided a firm empirical basis to evaluate welfare choices and, above all, liberated the field from its narrow preoccupation with efficiency. Dr Rawls' work was a relentless quest for ensuring the dignity of the individual. Amartya Sen summed it up best when in a Harvard University speech in 1990, he described equalisation as a "social necessity".

John Rawls was the James Conant Bryant Professor of Moral and Political Philosophy at Harvard University at the time of his death in 2002. President Bill Clinton, while awarding Dr Rawls the National Humanities Medal in 1999, described his work as having "helped a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself". It was the culmination of a process of scholarly activism that produced great work, with A Theory of Justice as its pinnacle.








At the onset of economic recession in 2008, it was widely feared that most economies would take shelter in protectionist trade measures to shield domestic industry. G20, fearing the worst, declared during the Washington meet (November 2008), "not to turn inward in times of financial uncertainty." The leaders of G20 reaffirmed their commitment in London (April 2009) and Pittsburgh (September 2009), and declared to follow it until the end of 2013 during the Seoul (November 2010) meet. Irrespective of the fears, world trade bounced back in 2010, providing interesting insights into the changing global trade patterns and raising unsettling questions.

It is evident that G20 members declared not to take measures that are WTO-inconsistent. But what about WTO-consistent measures? Protectionist measures that are WTO-consistent predominantly involve trade remedy, border measures and exports measure. Trade measures comprise anti-dumping duty, countervailing duty and special safeguard duty. A recent report by WTO reveals that during April 2009-April 2011, 407 trade-restrictive measures have been initiated by G20 economies, including 212 trade measures. Further, the number of potentially trade-restrictive measures taken by G20 economies from mid-October 2010 to April 2011 increased to 122 from 54 during mid-May to mid-October 2010 that covers around 0.5 per cent of total world imports, and 0.6 per cent of total G20 imports. Export restrictions, including export taxes on agricultural products and quotas on metals and mineral products, have been predominant restrictive practices for the past one year mainly to contain inflation and favour domestic consumers.

World trade data present a different picture as the volume of merchandise trade increased 14.5 per cent in 2010 and world trade surpassed its peak level of 2008 in 2010. Counter-intuitive data make the protectionist measures appear as populist choices. According to Dadush, Ali and Odell*, the growth in the world trade is attributed to the resilience of the global trade that developed in the past two decades owing to following factors:  

·      Most economies of the world today have liberal trade policies that are not easy to reverse.

·      The production structure of most industries has changed and spread across the globe and has increased the trade of intermediate trade. This structure makes the domestic industry dependent on imports to reduce cost of production and any import restriction harms the domestic producers along with the importers. For instance, Walmart spent a considerable amount on lobbying against punitive legislation on Chinese imports and currency. 

·      Consumers worldwide have also got used to more product variety that has been made available with increase in international trade. These economic realities have contributed to restoring trade levels to pre-recession period within a two-year span.

The contradiction of an increase in the WTO-consistent restrictions along with a rise in world trade raises the following question. Is it the WTO discipline or the changed contours of the international trade that rendered the protectionist measures ineffective? The issue will be resolved if there is evidence that WTO has contributed to changing the economic situation. The evidence on this is rather ambiguous as a study shows that multilateral trade agreements contributed to a mere 25 per cent of liberalisation of trade policies against 66 per cent by the autonomous liberalisation in the countries. On the other hand, studies have shown that WTO has a positive influence on world trade. The wavering interest of the members in the completion of the Doha Round casts further doubt on the faith in the multilateral system. An obituary of the Doha Round has already been written.

The economic recession has shown protectionism in a different light. On the one hand, economies are severely constrained in taking extreme measures either due to WTO compulsions or due to the integration of the economic interest of the domestic producers and importers. On the other hand, when it comes to furthering the globalisation process, economies are shying away from multilateral negotiations. Having learnt their ropes, it seems that countries do not intend to make commitments at the multilateral level that may severely limit their capabilities to follow populist policies in the future.

*Is Protectionism Dying, May 2011, The Carnegie Papers The author is Assistant Professor of Economics in IIT Indore







Many Indian infants are still shockingly undernourished, especially in rural areas.

The prevalence of malnutrition in India is among the highest in the world. Given its impact on health, education and productivity, persistent undernutrition is a major obstacle to overall growth, especially among the poor. Following the World Health Organisation (WHO) Child Growth Standards, malnutrition is generally measured by three parameters — stunted (low height for age), underweight (low weight for age) and wasted (low weight for height). World Bank statistics show that in 2006 around 48 per cent of Indian children below the age of five were too small for their age and 44 per cent were underweight. The corresponding estimates for China were 11 per cent and five per cent. Looking at the trend of malnourished children in 1992-93, it is obvious that India lags countries with similar growth patterns.

Nutritional status: Proportion of children  below three years of age
                         (figures in %)

















Source: NFHS-3, 2005-06

The third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), carried out in 2005-06, showed that the proportion of stunted children below three years declined by 11 percentage points. And the proportion of underweight children declined by five percentage points from 1998-99 to 2005-06. Over the same period, however, there was an increase in the proportion of wasted children from about 20 per cent to 23 per cent.(Click here for graph)

The 2005-06 survey showed that in rural areas, half of the young children were stunted, almost half were underweight, and one out of every five was wasted, while in urban areas, 40 per cent of young children were stunted and 17 per cent were wasted. Interestingly, despite the strong preference for sons in India, boys are as likely as girls to be underweight, stunted and wasted. NFHS data, in fact, note a strong inverse relationship between all three measures of nutrition and the level of the mother's education, clearly indicating the impact of female schooling on the country's health status .

There is large inter-state variation in the patterns of malnourishment among children. Looking at the proportion of children below the age of three, at least one in two children in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand is underweight. The situation is equally worrying in Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat where more than 40 per cent of the children are underweight. These states also stand out with a strikingly high prevalence of stunted children. The lowest proportion of underweight children is in Mizoram, followed by Sikkim and Manipur, while Punjab, Goa and Kerala also perform relatively well on this indicator. More than half the children below three years are stunted in Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

At the other end, the proportion of stunted children in the best performing states like Goa and Kerala is almost half of what it is in the worst performing states. Sikkim, Tamil Nadu and Manipur also show good scores with less than a third of the children estimated as being stunted.

Clearly, while aggregate levels of undernutrition are shockingly high, the picture is exacerbated by the significant inequalities across states. With numerous causes for malnutrition, it is only with a rapid scaling up of health and education interventions that the children of next generation India will lead healthier and more productive lives.

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







For the farmers of Gadag, in Karnataka, their lands are still profitable. The State, bent on industrialisation, does not think so.

Mention Posco and the first word that springs to mind is Orissa. Given the sea of troubles in which the Korean steel giant found itself in its attempt to build a steel plant at Jagatsinghpur in that State, both Posco and the Centre must have heaved a sigh of relief when Karnataka offered to play host with a generous offer of land. Posco seemed to have struck pay dirt when it signed the MoU 12 months ago. But that moment was all too brief, for now farmers in Gadag district of North Karnataka, close to the Bellary-Hospet mining belt, are building up a slow opposition to land acquisition by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board, the mandated agency to acquire more than 3,000 acres for the steel plant. Will Posco witness an Orissa in Karnataka?

Quite naturally, the State authorities are sanguine that project will go ahead and that the process of land acquisition will not be hampered. Posco is said to have deposited Rs 120 crore for the initial land acquisition; the farmers, according to one official, want more compensation than they are being offered. But is the quantum of compensation the real reason for the emerging confrontation? The lands being acquired, or slated, for the project are rain-fed black-soil arable lands and farmers appear to want to continue cultivation; what is more, they aver that a lift irrigation scheme has already been sanctioned and so view the urgency to acquire land for the steel project as a bolt from the blue. This is the heart of the problem; for the farmers, the lands are still profitable. The State, bent on industrialisation, does not think so. Unlike in Singur, the farmers of North Karnataka have more than an emotional attachment to their land. In Karnataka, two economic view points appear to be clashing and this is a matter that the State Government cannot dismiss lightly. What it must do is engage the farmers in dialogue to ensure that the trust deficit implicit in the feeling of being let down on the promise of lift irrigation is filled before assuming that cultivators would buy its idea.

Gadag reveals yet another facet of the complex issue of land acquisition, not just in one State, but all over the country. Land is a State subject, to be sure, but industrial expansion and its detractors are not.






Biotechnology can play a major role in bridging the supply-demand gap in food by raising input efficiencies. However, a misconception has been created that this technology is genetic modification and little else.

For almost 25 years post independence, India imported food grains, particularly wheat. Under a programme called PL480, we received aid in the form of foodgrains. We did not have the capacity to produce the wheat required to feed our population. The first breakthrough in our wheat productivity came through the introduction of dwarf Mexican varieties.

Similarly, a revolution in rice productivity came about through the introduction of IRRI varieties from the Philippines such as IR8 and IR64. Later, we combined the imported varieties with our own varieties and developed even higher yielding varieties. In fact, India's food security and self-sufficiency story is a result of a free flow of varieties and lines from several other countries; international institutions and Indian agricultural scientists combined their best materials with such lines to produce high-yielding varieties and hybrids.

The enormous progress we made in food production during the 1970s and 1980s has given us a sense of food security. However, the situation does not look comfortable, given the ever-growing population.


According to a working paper by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), India would have to double its food production by 2020. The demand for meat, fish and eggs is expected to go up by 2.8 times; the demand for cereals is expected to double; the demand for vegetables and fruits is expected to go up by 1.8 times and the demand for milk is expected to go up by 2.6 times compared with 2007. This rising demand will create further pressure on land and water in India over next 10-15 years.

Between 1991 and 2007, the crop yields in India have been stagnant, except in the case of cotton. Ministry of Agriculture data reveals that during this period the yields of crops like wheat, rice, pulses, soybeans and sugarcane have grown by 0.19- 1.4 per cent per annum.

However, in the same period, the yields of cotton have grown by 4.38 per cent per annum, which actually demonstrates the push GM technology managed to give to this crop. So far, Bt cotton is the only GM crop approved for cultivation in India and has delivered enormous benefits to Indian farmers. About 5.8 million Indian cotton farmers are now growing Bt cotton on more than 25 million acres of land. Cotton yields have doubled since the introduction of the technology in 2002. From a net importer of cotton, India is now the second largest exporter and producer of cotton.

The current rate of growth in crop yields cannot help us meet the challenge of doubling our food production by 2020. We need to think of ways and means to achieve this objective. One important way to increase the availability of food is to increase the productivity of land and water in the country. This is not an easy task in view of pressure of industrialisation, lack of arable land and depleting water tables. However, there is great scope for increasing crop yields through improved agronomic practices and crop improvement. It is estimated that improved agronomic practices can increase yields by about 50 per cent, while crop improvement can increase yields by more than 50 per cent.

All these measures like minimising wastage in the supply chain, improving the productivity of land, water and saline soils, improving agronomic practices and crop improvement have to be used as a package to make adequate food available to our growing population in the next 25-40 years. Against the above realities, agricultural biotechnology offers a key solution to meeting these growing challenges.


A misconception has been created that all agricultural biotechnology is genetic modification. This is not correct. Agricultural biotechnology consists of many traits and techniques, of which the genetic modification is the most popular. Molecular marker-based selection is the tool now extensively used in India and abroad to enhance the speed and precision of plant breeding. Apart from this, there are many other tools like dihaploids, tissue culture and others which are biotech tools used extensively to improve plant breeding.

Genetically improved seeds were introduced in the world in 1996. In 2010, a record 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries planted 148 million hectares of biotech crops, with 90 per cent, or 14.4 million being small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries. This share has been growing very rapidly in the last five years as the acceptance of GM crops has gone up substantially.

There are two types of GM traits — input traits and the output traits. Input traits are those which incorporate a character into the plant, as a result of which the way in which an input is used on the crop is modified. The primary beneficiary of these traits is the farmer. An example is the insect tolerant trait (Bt) which gives the plant the strength to fight the insect pests that attack the crop. This trait modifies the way insecticides are used on the crop. Another example is the herbicide tolerant trait which modifies the way herbicides are used on the crop.

Very exciting input traits are in the pipeline. For example, water use efficiency trait which will reduce the water requirements of the crops considerably (estimated to be 30 per cent reduction) and can help the vast number of farmers who cultivate rainfed crops in the country in more than 100 million hectares. Similarly, the nitrogen use efficiency trait which will reduce the use of nitrogenous fertiliser on the crops by an estimated 30 per cent.

Another trait that is waiting in the wings is the salt tolerance trait which can help farmers grow crops in saline soils of more than 20 million ha in India. These three traits can make a huge difference to Indian agriculture.

On the other hand the output traits are those which modify the character of the output of the crop. The primary beneficiary of these traits is the consumer. These traits will require identity-preserved output management from the field to the fork. Contract farming systems will be important to make this technology successful. An example is the Golden Rice technology which produces Vitamin A-enriched rice grain. Similarly, there are healthy oils being produced with modified fatty acid profile.The safety of GM technology is well established by a rigorous regulatory process the world over, after which it is approved for use. The regulatory process for GM crops is stringent in all countries and the resultant data that is submitted to the Governments is adequate to prove the safety of this technology.

(The author is CEO, Advanta India, and Chairman, Association of Biotech Led Enterprises - Agriculture Group.






Power is intoxicating, especially that drawn by a leader from the people. It takes a very balanced, mature personality to ensure that it does not go to the head. More often than not, in politics especially, this balance and maturity is absent. Political history is replete with examples where leaders, elected with massive mandates, muffed it by allowing power to get to their heads.

At risk now of joining that long list of leaders is our very own Didi, who has been going about the Tata Motors-Singur land issue like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Her sole focus in the month that she has been in power has been Singur, and the restoration of status quo as it prevailed before Tata Motors ventured to set up its Nano car plant there. Nothing wrong with that, especially because Singur was what provided her the momentum to take on the Left. Besides, she has a promise to keep to the farmers from Singur, and elsewhere in West Bengal, who have been dispossessed of their land in the name of industrialisation.

Didi's strategy

But wasn't there a better way to go about fulfilling the promise than to use the overwhelming majority in the Assembly to pass an Act and dispossess the Tatas and their vendors of the land? Did Ms Mamata Banerjee imagine that the Tatas would sit by idly and watch the government seize the land from them and without paying any compensation?

Surely not. Didi's strategy appears simple. Pass the Act and seize the land from the Tatas. Take them on legally if they go to Court. If the Court rules in the government's favour, the job is done. If it rules in favour of the Tatas, well, you can tell the people that you tried your best to redeem your pledge, but thanks to the Court verdict, that is now not possible.

This is a dangerous approach because the dispossessed people can turn angry and they are not going to distinguish between the government and the Court. They had voted for Didi in the expectation of a return of their land and she would be seen as breaching that promise. The feeling that they have been let down will quickly set in and the groundswell of people's support can then quickly turn into disenchantment. In sum, Didi is riding a tiger now.

Could Ms Banerjee have handled this differently, in a less confrontational manner? Wouldn't it have been a more elegant approach to invite the Tatas, discuss with them how best to sort out the issue in a manner that would keep all the parties — the farmers, the government and the Tatas — happy?

Yes, the Tatas were forced out of Singur when they were on the verge of launching the Nano from there. But, surely, they are pragmatic enough to understand the circumstances that prevailed then, and what prevails now, and settle for a compromise that would minimise their losses. With the Nano driving out of Sanand in Gujarat now, the Singur plant is not important in the scheme of things for the Tatas at this point in time.

With a fair recompense for the land and the efforts they put in there, who knows, the Tatas may have agreed to quietly leave Singur, if that is what Didi wanted.

Unpleasant environment

With such an approach, the Mamata Banerjee Government would have also sent out the right signals to others eyeing investment opportunities in West Bengal. Instead, what we have now is an unpleasant environment that is sure to repel prospective investors.

If the Tatas, howsoever depleted their goodwill after all that has happened in the last few months, can be trampled upon in this manner, other industrialists are bound to think twice before doing business in and with West Bengal.

This is surely not a good augury for the State which desperately needs investment in industry. Ms Banerjee may have captured power with her promise of protecting farmers but as she is bound to realise, she needs industry as much as agriculture to propel the State forward.

Whether she has damaged that cause by the approach of the last month, only time will tell.








The cynical view of Tuesday's appointment of French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is that the old order (read, the US and Europe) is invincible. That for all the talk of the rising clout of Asia, nothing has changed when it comes to global institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. Their top positions are reserved, for the US in the case of the Bank and for Europe when it comes to the Fund. That is how it has been since these institutions were set up 64 years ago and that is how it is going to remain. But that would be too facile a view. It would also mean ignoring a notable aspect of the latest appointment: the high-profile, furious (and completely unprecedented) lobbying by the European candidate for the support of the developing world. Unlike in the past, when the victory of the candidate favoured by the US and Europe was a given, this time round there was a real contest, even if one-sided. That is a notable first. Agustin Carstens, Mexico's finance minister, was a credible rival who had the support not only of Latin America but also Canada and Australia.

Lagarde comes to the helm at a particularly challenging time for the global economy. Apart from the immediate problem of averting a Greek collapse, with its attendant risk of contagion to the rest of Europe and beyond, there is the issue of redrawing the global financial architecture. The old regime established at the end of World War II has plainly outlived its utility but the new one is not yet in sight. Nor will it be till the IMF recasts its Board to reflect the new global economic dynamics. For that, the new head will have to live up to what she said in the runup to her selection: "The IMF must be relevant, responsive, effective, and legitimate (emphasis added) to achieve stronger and sustainable growth, macroeconomic stability, and a better future for all." The first step for that would be to pare Europe's vote share from the present 40% to closer to 20% (its share in world GDP) as many developing countries have been demanding. That is not going to be easy. But Lagarde, the first woman to head the IMF, can make a beginning and add another first.






he latest round in the tussle between the Opposition and the UPA over the 2G spectrum scam is over the fate of the report prepared by the previous Public Accounts Committee. The chairperson of the PAC, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, is pushing for that report to be brought before the newly constituted PAC, with the Congress members of the committee arguing the report was redundant as it was 'rejected' by the Lok Sabha Speaker. There is little merit in the latter argument. For one, there is no sanctity about such a report that can prevent it from being passed on for discussion. Or, indeed, why there can't even be a new report, which can draw from the earlier one. It would also be pointless to quibble over whether the report has such a status or is to be termed a 'draft', since it wasn't adopted by the last PAC. The primary consideration is that the PAC should be doing its job, and there is no reason why its members can't argue and debate points of difference and discrepancies before submitting the report to the Speaker. The Congress also can't now use the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the 2G issue as an excuse against the PAC's report — which stems from the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the 2G allocation — after having tried to point to the PAC itself while seeking to deny the Opposition's demand for a JPC.

It is once again clear that such manoeuvring by political parties on the issue is part of the tussle over managing public perceptions on combating corruption. The entire narrative on probing the spectrum scam, including the brouhaha over setting up a JPC, has thus been one of petty politicking. This paper had argued that there was logic in the point as to what a JPC could achieve given that a report from such a body does not have any penal consequences. That even the last PAC's draft/report now is likely to be the site of more politicking brings home how the political class deviates from the larger issue of ridding India of systemic corruption. And as long as such political 'compulsions' dictate conduct, not much progress can be made on that critical front.








 Much is written about the world becoming a flatter place, the levelling of aspirations and modes of behaviour across the globe. But there do exist two dissimilar dimensions. At the level of amorous relationships, that is. In one world, comprising mostly the twittering uber urban lot, one finds people partner-hopping with the felicity of, well, rabbits. Breaking off with someone no longer even seems to invoke the genteel phrase of a relationship having ended. It is called, simply, aptly, dumping; often communicated in the form of the exquisitely abbreviated message: u r dumpd. Familiarity didn't even get time to breed contempt, leave alone children. Then there is the Indian dimension, rather, often the small-town, mofussil one. Where lie stories with drama, emotion, maybe some action, and certainly tragedy. Take the case of the newly-married couple from one such north Indian town who, after the bride on the night of their wedding revealed to her husband that she was in love with someone else — indeed, had married the first chap a few days prior to this momentous night — decided to tie the sibling knot. The r a k h i having been dutifully procured and planted on the arm of this outrightly noble chap, the latter decided to unite his (illegal?) new wife-turned-newer sister with her former lover/first husband. The latter, however, added further sting and twist to the tale by shunning the girl.
All this begs the question whether one of the aforementioned worlds should be shamed by the notions of belonging, fealty and sacrifice inhabiting the other. Or whether the latter feels those are ideals best, well, dumped as they can, like in this case, arise from stifling social norms and skewed gender equations. It's the s a a s - b a h userial vs Splitsvilla question. Decide for yourself.






So, the Prime Minister has spoken. Going by what the five editors who met the PM told news organisations, Manmohan Singh spoke "confidently" and seemed "in charge". Neither, according to Dr Singh's interlocutors, did the PM appear to evade any question. And that's good, isn't it? Especially because the Congress has decided that the PM must talk to the media more. Every time Dr Singh talks to the media, he appears confident and in-charge; he doesn't duck questions, and before you can read through the entire CBI charge-sheet on the 2G scam, Dr Singh and UPA-II execute a fantastic makeover.

Except they won't, of course, never mind the number of future media interactions. Any government should try and use its media interactions to get a good message out and the frequency of meetings is a factor, as are appearances (say, leaders appearing confident as opposed to appearing hesitant). But the iron rule of political spin is that you can't spin on empty for very long. In Wednesday's chat with five editors Dr Singh pretty much spun on empty. Given the nearnovelty of a speaking Prime Minister that greeted us on Wednesday, and given that he seemed to have got his signalling right, Dr Singh's probably got away with spinning on empty this time.
What did he say, really? Sonia Gandhi is superb as Congress president, Rahul Gandhi can become PM, the Ramdev police action was sad but necessary, that he asked ministers to receive Ramdev, the Anna brigade can't alone decide whether PM should be under Lokpal, that he as PM deserves 5 to 7 on 10 for his performance, that much of the bad news was Opposition propaganda that seemed to have influenced the media and the media in any case was hellbent on giving him and his government a bad time. We are ignoring — yawn — the foreign policy observations. If you think about these observations carefully, then even granting that they were delivered with, say, mesmerising confidence by the PM, you can't but conclude Dr Singh said nothing — repeat, nothing — on the substance of his prime ministership. Perhaps, the PM will talk substance about his job very soon. It's only fair to assume this might be a possibility. That Dr Singh, a serious man after all, won't be spinning on empty. In which case, the point is how he is going to define the parameters of his prime ministership in the three remaining years of UPA-II. There's no doubt he needs to do that because that's how leaders of governments are assessed — by a relatively narrow set of priorities. Indeed, that's how governments are assessed as well.
UPA-II and Dr Singh-II have been characterised by an almost surreal inability to define and work on a narrow set of priorities. That the PM didn't address the media and therefore appeared to be under siege — that's always the media's conclusion in all democracies about silent government leaders — was a part of the symptom. The real problem for Dr Singh-II is that we have no idea whether a speaking, confident and incharge-looking PM will define a set of priorities and start making it clear that prime ministerial energy is behind these goals.
Actually, even one priority might work for Dr Singh-II, just as it did for Dr Singh-I. If he makes reforming land laws his priority, if that becomes what the nuclear deal was during his first tenure as PM, there's enough time left for him to look like a PM who's leading a government which is doing something big and important and paradigm shifting.

Unreformed land acquisition laws, to very briefly summarise the much-elaborated and much-argued, is already probably the single-biggest constraint on medium-term growth. To Dr Singh's advantage, the political circumstances for him lending the power and prestige of his office behind this are propitious.
    First, as the Supreme Court's observations in two consecutive days over Mayawati's and Mamata Banerjee's land policies show, both dodgy acquisition from people and dodgy dispossession of industry are going to be legally frowned on. Mayawati's use of the emergency provision in the land acquisition law to acquire land for real estate projects in Greater Noida and Mamata's Singur bill taking land away from Tatas are examples of two bad policies that will help frame a good policy by the Centre.

Second, an amended land bill is reportedly almost ready and if prime ministerial prestige is attached to the bill, it can easily be put on legislative fast track. Third, the BJP, if it is consulted properly, will find it hard to be obstructive for the heck of it on a subject that confronts every state government, including its own. The same should hold for other non-UPA parties.

Mamata Banerjee? Dr Singh-II let Mamata (land law), then DMK ministers (telecom) and then Congress's egregiously badly behaved Suresh Kalmadi (CWG) to do what they wanted, and what they did only brought him grief. If the PM is not to appear merely confident but to be actually doing something, he must tackle Mamata's obstreperousness, assuming there's any, on land acquisition law reform firmly. Making and passing a good law that obtains a rough political consensus is obviously not an easy job, but it is entirely doable given the time Dr Singh-II has left.

What are the downsides for the PM? None. Any controversy engendered by his persistent efforts to give India a rational land law will make him look like a PM who's doing something big. Even if he doesn't succeed, he will end his term looking better than he would if he speaks to the media frequently and confidently but doesn't undertake a real, definable task.

It's good to know, Dr Singh, that you appear to be in charge. Now, tell us what you will take charge of.









Fourteen years, six metro rail lines, 133 stations and 208 trains later, India's 'Metro Man' Ellattuvalapil Sreedharan intends to say goodbye this December to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) — having rescued nearly two million denizens of commuter-unfriendly New Delhi from the clutches of fatal buses, rogue auto-rickshaw drivers and the mysteriously non-existent culture of hailing a cab on the go. A fortnight ago, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit said that the procedure to choose a new DMRC chief 'will start shortly'. Sreedharan is learnt to have told the CM to expedite the process so he can spend at least three months 'handing over' to his successor — a process that must include a run-down on how to get metro projects executed on time while working with multiple government agencies with sniping tendencies. The government is expected to invite applications and a committee that should include the urban development secretary and a top Delhi government official would screen contenders before proposing candidates.

Sreedharan has asked to be included in the search panel because he has the best idea of what the job needs. He wants the selection process to be transparent, professional and focused on getting the best man for the job. "It will not be a political posting," the 80-year-old Sreedharan said in an interview earlier this month. Having a no-nonsense executioner at the DMRC's helm after Sreedharan is crucial for the capital — where the proposed Phase-III lines and connectivity to Faridabad can help the city get the maximum juice out of its metro investments.

But the DMRC is not just about Delhi — it is also actively involved in conceiving various metro projects planned across the country from Jaipur to Chennai. To turn these projects into reality quick enough to deal with Indian urban commuters' growing angst is no mean task in a country whose first metro rail transit system (in Kolkata) took nearly three decades to get from the planning stage to actually ferrying passengers. So, when the Delhi Metro's first train was flagged off by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Christmas Eve in 2002 — within its deadline of five years — Sreedharan turned into an infrastructure icon whom the Delhi government has given five tenure extensions. But if one looks at the wrangling that preceded his appointment as DMRC managing director, finding Sreedharan's successor is going to be far from smooth — and that's without factoring in the challenge of finding a person with the necessary skill-sets.

Former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian's memoir

Journeys through Babudom and Netaland: Governance in India reveals some fascinating details of how the Delhi Metro's five-year target was almost derailed even after the Centre and the Delhi government thrashed out their differences to clear the project and tied up vital Japanese finances. "After some months when, one day, I checked…I learnt to my horror that there was no forward movement, as there was no agreement on the appointment of the managing director for the project," Subramanian recalled. Apparently, there had been a big tug-of-war on nominating the Delhi Metro MD — the Railways was keen to put its officer in charge, the central government wanted an IAS officer, while the Delhi government wanted its own man on top.

"As usual, every agency wanted a hand in the till," concluded Subramanian, before intervening and proposing Sreedharan's name on the basis of his successful execution of the very difficult Konkan Railways project. The proposal met with stiff resistance — government rulebooks were dusted off to find reasons why Sreedharan couldn't take charge, including the fact that he was over-age. It was only when Subramanian convinced Delhi's lieutenant governor to back Sreedharan did his appointment as the Delhi Metro chief get a green signal. Nearly a decade and a half may have passed since then, but there's little reason to believe that intra-government wrangling will not vitiate the hunt for India's next Metro Man. The UPA-II's habit of deciding not to decide on important appointments won't help. India's road-building agency — the National Highways Authority of India — has probably been the worsthit by this dithering. After five bosses in five years, it has been without a regular chief for over a year now.

The danger for Indian commuters is that Sreedharan's exit could put metro projects in the same limbo as the ambitious Golden Quadrilateral highway project. In the UPA's seven years, the project has crawled from about 98% completion to 99.7%.







Every time the Prime Minister interacts with the media, someone would walk in a lame duck and Dr Manmohan Singh would shoo him out, halfapologetically. The non-voting classes who have switched channels from a sitcom for the nonce would cackle at the spectacle. He might be honest but if he cannot control corruption, why doesn't he just quit, they grumble. Yes, Manmohan Singh is an easy target of middle-class disdain for the unsavouriness of politics.

This is not just unkind and unfair but also intellectually shallow. Dr Singh took on a job whose many tasks just do not fit within the framework of simplistic morality.

You are against violence, but when an armed intruder attacks your family, can you retreat into a shell of non-violence? You are against the caste system but born a Brahmin; can you personally be held to moral account for the totality of historical injustice caused by caste hierarchy? Can you abdicate all responsibility? When there is a conflict between loyalty to your friend and loyalty to your country; what do you choose? You should love your neighbour, but what if your neighbour comes to rape you? Stealing is wrong, but so is allowing your child to starve; how immoral is stealing a loaf of bread to feed a child?

Ethics and morality interlace at the levels of the individual and the collective in a complex fashion. The facile binariness of calls for the PM to resign and get out if he can't be perfect is a luxury of the elite that the real world cannot afford.

Dr Singh faces a peculiar situation. He is the administrative head of the government, but not its political head, that role going to the chairperson of the ruling coalition, Sonia Gandhi. This form of diarchy poses enormous challenges to the incumbent of the Prime Minister's office. Yet, when he fought for the Indo-US nuclear deal and overcame entrenched opposition within his own party and coalition and in the opportunistic opposition, staking the survival of the government and finding new allies when old ones departed, Dr Singh showed grit, determination and considerable political skill.

But the political arrangement between the Congress president and her nominee for PM is not the central tension in the polity or cause of governmental inertia. That lies in the conflict between the new dynamic of the economy, after two decades of reform, and the unchanged tradition of politics. The vocal disgust of those who drive the dynamic of the economy holds the polity in thrall, liberation from which depends on radical reform of the polity.

The economy still has its fair share of crony capitalism, but that is not its main dynamic. That has shifted to entrepreneurship, innovation and skill as the driving force of business. This calls for transparency and working within commonly applicable rules. This dynamic is in conflict with corruption, which means bending rules to benefit someone. But corruption funds Indian democracy. All political parties fund themselves through the proceeds of corruption, filching money from the exchequer, extorting money from the public or selling patronage. Almost all political expenditure is funded by black money, for which economic agents generate funds off their books, making a mockery of corporate governance and the haloed standards of audit and accounts. Funding politics through corruptions helps individual politicians to amass personal fortunes. Since use of state machinery to generate corrupt proceeds calls for collusion by the civil service, officials also become corrupt. This is a system in which no insider has an inherent incentive to change anything.
When all of politics is funded by corruption, did it make sense for an honest Prime Minister to risk the cohesion of his rickety coalition and the survival of his government to stop individual acts of corruption? What would be the political implications of a Congress-led coalition not being able to complete a fiveyear term, on the heels of a BJP-led coalition completing its full term? Would the return of a BJP-led government at the Centre and the consequential boost to the Sangh Parivar and its majoritarian ideology help India's political cohesion and long-term prosperity? Should such macro level priorities have any bearing on individual distaste for the corruption that feeds the entire political process?

The central challenge for Dr Singh today, however, is to institutionalise political funding, make receipts and expenditure of political parties transparent, open to challenge and verification. This is the key to toppling corruption from its present status as systemic necessity. This is the only way to align politics with the dynamic of the economy. The Lokpal movement is a sideshow of little real consequence. Reform of political funding and the justice system are the substantive challenges. Proactive steps to act on these will restore political authority, and precipitate decision-making, stalled for a while. That would once again galvanise the economy.










Mala Sen, author, activist, friend, whose death late in May has left all those close to her devastated: This is for her rather than about her, but some things must be said. What was remarkable about her activism was that, whether she was meeting Bangladeshi immigrants in Brick Lane in London, young offenders in detention, bandits and their families in India, she did not feel she had to condescend by "dressing down." She was always elegantly dressed, and I saw for myself when I went with her to Brick Lane that her appearance had nothing to do with the kind of rapport she established with immigrants who lived in grotty rooms, with wallpaper in a dozen different patterns, and holes in the walls.


I remember, years ago, listening to someone who went on and on about "leftists" who discussed social problems over a glass of whisky, and young revolutionaries who became staid businessmen in middle age. Well, I am happy to say that Mala could enjoy a good meal, loved elegant appointments in her flat in London, and was past middle age when she, still committed to various causes, died. In brief, she defied clichés about activists, feminists, trade unionists and any other "ists" you can think of.


In her honour, I would like to discuss Jean Rhys, a writer both she and I admired. At some stage, Mala gave me both Rhys' autobiography and a collection of her letters. Rhys' bestknown book continues to be the rewrite of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847), which she titled Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). It humanizes Bronte's "mad woman in the attic," the first Mrs Rochester by giving her a background where she grew up, people who loved her, before she was slowly driven to despair and madness.


The novel is set in 1834 or so, after the Emancipation of slaves in Britishowned Jamaica. The slaves have been freed, but there has been no compensation. The freed slaves refuse to work, and many estates go down the hill. One of them is Coulibri, the estate on which Antoinette Cosway, the future Mrs Rochester lives. There is immense hostility towards the one-time slaveowners. Antoinette is constantly taunted by chants about a "white cockroach". One day, during a protest, the freed slaves accidentally set fire to the house. Pierre, Antoinette's brother is killed, and Antoinette's mother goes round the bend. Mr Mason, an Englishman who had married her because of her beauty and her estate, leaves her with caretakers and spends most of his time away.
    The novel also humanizes Mr Rochester who, in the Bronte novel appears to be an erotic fantasy figure. Rochester too is, in a sense, an orphan. As the second son of an English family, he has to find his way in the world, as the estate will go to the oldest son. He goes to the West Indies in search of an heiress, and is persuaded by a bribe of 30,000 pounds to marry Antoinette. The marriage is arranged by Richard Mason, Antoniette's stepfather's son. But he finds everything disturbing: "Everything is too much," he thinks." Too much blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too high, the hills too near. And the woman is a stranger."


Wide Sargasso Sea is a haunting novel. Jean Rhys was herself a white West Indian, born in Dominica. Despite the fact that she had written several fine novels and stories, she remained unknown till the publication of Wide Sargasso Sea. Her fame, she said in an interview, came too late for her to care very much about it.

While re-reading the book this week, I came across one or two details I wasn't sure of. I thought, automatically, as one does, I must ask Mala.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Supreme Court has had a significant impact in framing the terms of debate on key public questions recently. It is not unlikely that but for the forceful intervention of the nation's highest court, issues relating to corruption in high places may have moved only very slowly. The political executive's timidity in such matters has been all too glaring, and for several years now. In many recent instances, governmental lethargy has permitted the judiciary to make firm institutional interventions. The public have been heartened by the higher judiciary's boldness, and may well come to regard this as natural in dealing with complex matters of governance. Other than corruption, one other issue which has caught the people's imagination of late is acquisition of agricultural land by the state to be transferred to private parties for commercial and industrial purposes. It has led to violence in some states, excited the imagination of political parties and ignited a wide debate on the methods used to obtain land for non-agricultural purposes. It is to be hoped that the probing questions put by a SC bench on Monday to both the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government will galvanise our political system into action. As the SC noted, the anachronistic 1894 Land Acquisition Act, enacted during the British Raj, is at the root of much of our current problems regarding land acquisition. And while the UPA-II government has promised to bring in a new law to replace it in the coming Monsoon Session of Parliament, we have no inkling of what the government's thinking is. A public debate on such a vital issue is absolutely essential. In its observations on Monday while hearing petitions filed by the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority and some real estate groups, the SC came down hard on the routine practice of state governments to purchase from farmers land on which food is grown to transfer it to non-farm interests. The two-judge bench insisted that the terms of trade were steeply skewed against agriculturists in such cases. The bench was also annoyed that villagers in Greater Noida were not even allowed to record objections as the state government used the so-called "urgency" clause in the 1894 Act. The court held the Centre responsible for this state of affairs as it had permitted an antiquated law to remain on the statute book. It also pointedly noted that it is barren land that should be acquired for industrial or commercial activity. While valid in principle, such an inventory is difficult to make until all land is duly mapped and stored electronically. Another consideration must be addressed: what when all the barren land in a state is exhausted? The SC, as it itself acknowledged, has been influenced by the Singur syndrome in West Bengal, where the mobilisation of farmers unwilling to part with their land led to the Tatas cancelling plans to set up the Nano plant there. Interestingly, on a petition by the Tatas to restrain the Mamata Banerjee government from returning those lands to farmers, the SC on Wednesday directed the state government not to proceed further with the return of land till the matter is sorted out in the Calcutta High Court. The outcome of this case will be watched with keen interest across the country. Will the Supreme Court be able to square its observations in the Greater Noida matter with what eventually transpires in the Singur case?






The much anticipated endgame in Afghanistan has formally begun. The American President has laid out his plan to extricate US troops while preserving and building on the fragile gains made in the past few months. The fog of uncertainty that hung around American strategy is beginning to lift. That does not mean that the road out of Afghanistan is absolutely clear. As Helmuth von Moltke once observed, no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. Much will depend on how the US' adversaries as well as putative allies like Pakistan respond to these moves. India is reasonably well poised to deal with the unfolding situation. The challenge, as always in Afghanistan, is to keep our ears close to the ground but also maintain adequate flexibility of posture. The killing of Osama bin Laden has, as anticipated, provided the requisite political context for the American drawdown. From the outset, the Obama administration had been divided between those who called for a protracted counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan and those who preferred a narrower counter-terrorism posture. Since entering the White House, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, has committed an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total number to around 100,000. The figure of 33,000 was lower than what the advocates of counter-insurgency strategy wanted, and much higher than what the counter-terrorism were willing to contemplate. Mr Obama, after much deliberation, chose the middle ground. But his political instincts were always against a troop-heavy strategy. At a time when domestic challenges loomed large, a prolonged and bulky military presence in Afghanistan seemed untenable. Yet a quick exit with little results to show risked a conservative backlash at home. The elimination of Bin Laden has shored up Mr Obama's domestic position and paved the way for a sharp drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. According to the plan announced by Mr Obama, 10,000 American troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year and another 23,000 by the summer of 2012. The military surge will effectively end by middle of next year. In the following two years, US forces will transition from combat to support role by handing over responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). By 2014, this transition will be completed. But US forces will stay on in smaller numbers as advisers and trainers. Besides, there will be a small but strong counter-terrorism presence comprising mainly of special forces and intelligence operatives. Mr Obama also made it clear that drone attacks and targeted operations will continue against Al Qaeda in Pakistan. On the political and diplomatic front, the US has openly acknowledged contacts with the Taliban — even if it is only "very preliminary outreach" in the US secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton's formulation. A "core group" comprising the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been created to coordinate the efforts towards reconciliation with the insurgents. The Americans have also orchestrated the splitting of UNSC sanctions on Al Qaeda and the Taliban into two lists: one of individuals connected with Al Qaeda and the other of Taliban members who are focused on Afghanistan alone. This is intended to facilitate the reconciliation process. The strategic and the political dimensions of the exit plan are not unproblematic. For a start, the claim that the "momentum" of insurgency has been broken reflects a serious misunderstanding of the nature of counter-insurgency. The idea of momentum may be useful in prosecuting conventional operations, but it is not useful in analysing the progress of insurgencies. Control of territory, not momentum of operations, is the key factor in counter-insurgency campaigns — especially when the insurgency has an external base. The American performance on this score has so far been mixed and it is too soon to predict whether the gains of the recent operations will hold. A related problem is the assumption of a smooth transition to operations led by Afghan forces. The US claims that in the past year an additional 1,00,000 ANSF personnel have been inducted and trained. The operational performance of the ANSF has yet to be tested seriously. But given the persistent problems over the availability of Western trainers — problems that have only recently begun to be addressed — it would be prudent not to set too much store by the capacity of the ANSF. It is difficult to avoid concluding that the Mr Obama is following the advice offered by Senator, Mr George Aiken, at the height of the Vietnam War: declare victory and get out. From a political standpoint, the Obama administration's stance is entirely understandable. Just that Kabul and its friends should not swallow these claims wholly. The efforts to reach out to the Taliban are likely to be even more problematic. The Afghan President has already constituted 27 provincial peace councils as well as a High Peace Council. This arrangement reflects the fact that the Taliban is increasingly functioning as a collection of myriad factions and splinter groups. The best outcome possible may be a patchwork of agreements that holds long enough for the Afghan state to bolster its enforcement capacities. Reaching out to the more powerful groups like the Haqqanis will require cooperation from Pakistan. In the current state of US-Pakistan relations, this will call for more sweeteners for the Pakistan Army but without any assurance that a deal will be struck. Washington has reiterated its redlines for reconciliation with the Taliban: sever ties with Al Qaeda, forsake violence, abide by the Afghan Constitution. These redlines as well as Mr Obama's call for an Afghan-led process are in sync with India's position as articulated by the Prime Minister during his recent visit to Afghanistan. Despite its reservations about making too fine a distinction between the Taliban and the other groups, India voted in the UNSC in favour of splitting the sanctions list. From this point, New Delhi will have to closely watch both the reconciliation process and the balance of forces on the ground. India's interests in Afghanistan are limited, but preserving them will require an adroit combination of strategic clarity and tactical agility. * The author is senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








One of the greatest strengths of science is that it can fix its own mistakes. "There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong", astrophysicist Carl Sagan once said. "That's perfectly all right: it's the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process." If only it were that simple. Scientists can certainly point with pride to many self-corrections, but science is not like an iPhone; it does not instantly auto-correct. As a series of controversies over the past few months have demonstrated, science fixes its mistakes more slowly, more fitfully and with more difficulty than Sagan's words would suggest. Science runs forward better than it does backward. Why? One simple answer is that it takes a lot of time to look back over other scientists' work and replicate their experiments. Scientists are busy people, scrambling to get grants and tenure. As a result, papers that attract harsh criticism may nonetheless escape the careful scrutiny required if they are to be refuted. In May, for instance, the journal Science published eight critiques of a controversial paper that it had run in December. In the paper, a team of scientists described a species of bacteria that seemed to defy the known rules of biology by using arsenic instead of phosphorus to build its DNA. Chemists and microbiologists roundly condemned the paper; in the eight critiques, researchers attacked the study for using sloppy techniques and failing to rule out more plausible alternatives. But none of those critics had actually tried to replicate the initial results. That would take months of research. Many scientists are leery of spending so much time on what they consider a foregone conclusion, and graduate students are reluctant because they want their first experiments to make a big splash, not confirm what everyone already suspects. "I've got my own science to do", Mr John Helmann, a microbiologist at Cornell and a critic of the Science paper, told Nature. The most persistent critic, Ms Rosie Redfield, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia, announced this month on her blog that she would try to replicate the original results — but only the most basic ones, and only for the sake of science's public reputation. "Scientifically I think trying to replicate the claimed results is a waste of time", she wrote in an email. For now, the original paper has not been retracted; the results still stand. Even when scientists rerun an experiment and even when they find that the original result is flawed, they still may have trouble getting their paper published. The reason is surprisingly mundane: journal editors typically prefer to publish ground-breaking new research, not dutiful replications. Even when follow-up studies manage to see the light of day, they still don't necessarily bring matters to a close. Sometimes the original authors will declare the follow-up studies to be flawed and refuse to retract their paper. Such a stand-off is now taking place over a controversial claim that chronic fatigue syndrome is caused by a virus. In October 2009, virologist Judy Mikovits and colleagues reported in Science that people with chronic fatigue syndrome had high levels of a virus called XMRV. They suggested that XMRV might be the cause of the disorder. Several other teams have since tried — and failed — to find XMRV in people with chronic fatigue syndrome. As they've published their studies over the past year, scepticism has grown. The editors of Science asked the authors of the XMRV study to retract their paper. But the scientists refused; Ms Mikovits declared that a retraction would be "premature". The editors have since published an "editorial expression of concern". Once again, the result still stands. But perhaps not for ever. Mr Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University who is renowned in scientific circles for discovering new viruses behind mysterious outbreaks, is also known for doing what he calls "de-discovery": intensely scrutinising controversial claims about diseases. Last September, Mr Lipkin laid out several tips for effective de-discovery in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews. He recommended engaging other scientists — including those who published the original findings — as well as any relevant advocacy groups. Together, everyone must agree on a rigorous series of steps for the experiment. Each laboratory then carries out the same test, and then all the results are gathered together. At the request of the National Institutes of Health, Mr Lipkin is running just such a project with Ms Mikovits and other researchers to test the link between viruses and chronic fatigue, based on a large-scale study of 300 subjects. He expects results by the end of this year. This sort of study, however, is the exception rather than the rule. If the scientific community put more value on replication — by setting aside time, money and journal space — science would do a better job of living up to Carl Sagan's words.







Anyone who has moved cities in India for a job will agree, starting life afresh can be quite a task. Renting an apartment, then getting to know the new environment and coping with an alien culture is tough enough, but even simple things can prove to be enormously complicated. Try opening a bank account, for example. Even if you have an account with the same bank in your previous location, you will have to surmount a mountain of formalities and provide a wide spectrum of documentation, all to prove your identity. Proving who you are is a tough job in India. At one time it was simpler — you just produced a ration card and, if employed, a letter from the office. Over the years the ration card has lost its power, not the least because many middle-class people do not keep it any more and there are millions of fakes floating around. Since then, the PAN card and passport have also been deemed acceptable, but if you have shifted homes after getting the latter, you still have to provide proof of address. What if you live in a rented flat — the rent agreement should ordinarily be enough, but not everyone has one (the poor certainly don't). So back to the original question — how do you prove who you are? To surmount this monumental problem, the government has introduced the unique identity number (UID), which is supposed to be the most reliable indicator of identity, because it has, embedded in it, information that is unique to you. But — and there is always a but — to get it, you have to provide documents proving who you are, which include passports, PAN cards, electricity bill (for proof of address) etc. Sounds scary in more than one way, especially when one considers that all this information will be stored in vast databases controlled by the government. Just thinking about the potential for misuse and abuse is frightening, though the worthies running the UID assure us that there is no danger of that. In a country where the finance minister's office is bugged; this is not very reassuring. All these documents are already recorded in some data base or the other. What is the need for one more? The number of ways the government keeps an eye on its citizens has been steadily increasing. Apart from all the above named documents and now the UID, there are many other ways the government knows what you have been up to. Some are unavoidable — use of credit cards, PAN cards, filling of immigration forms (while entering and leaving the country). Some are newer and very frightening, the latest being the new rules for Internet monitoring. These regulations put the onus of content on intermediaries; put simply, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot and even ebay will also be held liable for any content that appears on their sites. If you post a comment on Twitter that angers anyone — say a political party — it can complain and Twitter will not only have to remove it but also face prosecution. How do you think such intermediaries are going to react? It could be goodbye to fair comment, because as we know, there is no dearth of people and organisations who feel offended. Meanwhile, efforts to make Blackberry, Skype and others to give up proprietary technology to allow monitoring of phone calls and chats continue. The government says it wants to keep an eye on mischief makers, a perfectly valid argument. But who is to say that the privacy of innocent citizens will not be invaded? And at the rate technology is developing, criminals and other malcontents will find newer ways of staying below the official radar. Clearly, big government is here to stay and its getting bigger and more intrusive. It appears that we not only do not mind it, we are welcoming it. The agitation of "civil society" for a Lokpal will create another humongous bureaucratic monster which will have the power to intrude into our lives in different ways. It will be judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. Now, as if this wasn't dangerous enough, there is a proposal to have one more body that will oversee the Lokpal. And this is an agitation that has the approval of our educated middle classes. Franz Kafka would have felt right at home here. Twenty years ago, the then finance minister Manmohan Singh loosened the tight controls on the Indian economy. The fruits of those reforms are visible to us today. But while we celebrate these economic freedoms and choices, we are giving in — willingly, it appears — to personal restrictions. As long as the latest models of cellphones, cars and games are available on our shelves, who cares if Big Daddy is watching us? * The author is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai






There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings prevalent about spirituality that I thought it necessary to explore what it actually is. As I understand, and I am no guru, just a seeker on the path, spirituality is a way of seeing things radically differently from what we have been used to, from birth until now. It is an uncovering of layers, a peeling away of blindfold upon blindfold, in order to begin seeing things as they actually are. To get as real as possible, which is why viewing spirituality as some sort of an exotic, other-worldly pursuit, is to completely miss the point. Since the goal is an unconditioned knowing, of the big truth that underlies everything, if you wish, the process of getting there is not only seminal to the endeavour, it is its very heart. This is the reason why spirituality is often described as a path, a search, a seeking or a journey. The reason for this is, spirituality is about constant, unrelenting practice. Not the popular cliché of passive navel-gazing, but a deep commitment to and a persistent engagement in the task of clarifying one's perception and purifying one's being. Anyone who has ever tried to not retort with anger when provoked, or find compassion for anybody other than oneself or one's loved ones, can imagine how mammoth a task it might be to completely root out all afflictive emotions and replace them entirely with positive and wholesome mental states. Why is it so difficult, though? Most of us have heard often enough that we must be good, we mustn't be mean, we mustn't lie, we must help others. And yet, how many of us can truly say that all the choices we make are governed by selflessness, humility, compassion and love, especially if it involves people who are not our loved ones, and who might have even harmed us or harboured ill-feelings towards us? Even if we think we are all of the above, good and kind that is, how many of us can truly say we are completely and absolutely happy, that we don't need another thing or person or circumstance to make us feel complete and fulfilled? My hand will certainly not rise in response to this question! So, one could say that spirituality and its practice is not just about "doing good", it is also about being good, in the sense of being happy, balanced, peaceful and fulfilled. And to get there, we need to realise the reality of ourselves and of life. We're back to the blindfolds. They need to come off. What are these blindfolds I keep referring to? They are limited ways of seeing and relating that one might attribute to individual conditioning, the habit patterns we have developed over time, the memories, emotions, desires and revulsions that drive us for most of our lives. As a result, what is known as "original mind", our basic nature, becomes clouded, and we live in ignorance of our own potential for clarity, goodness, joyousness. Over the centuries, different wisdom traditions have shown different ways of taking off the blindfolds, perhaps to cater to the diverse needs and abilities of humankind. Some paths have made use of the energy of our emotionality, like the bhakti and Sufi traditions, some of the physical to refine mind and being, like the branches of yoga and tantra. Still others, like Buddhism, have focused on the mind and its cognitive and imaginative capabilities. And there are many more, all of which have acted as rafts to ferry us to new shores of knowing since times immemorial. In the same way, we are all waves in an ocean of "interbeing", to borrow an exquisite term from Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Even as we create our worlds around ourselves, we remain inextricably interlinked to everyone and everything. The way we live, what we consume, how we behave, what we buy — every action affects the ocean of consciousness we inhabit with everybody else. This is why spiritual practice can never be about "I" alone. As the wave merges back into the ocean, or at least realises it is not separate from it, it has found a way of being that is vast, open, free. All blindfolds are, finally, off. * The author has written Women Awakened: Stories of Contemporary Spirituality in India, Buddhism: On the Path to Nirvana and Dharamsala Diaries. She can be contacted at









THE Trinamul election manifesto's pledge to revive the Legislative Council is a commitment that West Bengal can well do without. This is quite the most charitable construct that can be placed upon the move. Tuesday's motion, introduced by the Chief Minister, comes 42 years after the Council was abolished by the United Front in 1969, and significantly with the support of the Congress Opposition leader, Siddhartha Shankar Ray. A bicameral legislature at the state level is an anachronism in this day and age. Apparently the only raison d'etre is to constitute a House for Miss Banerjee's loyalists, who had lent her moral support during the Left Front's disastrous phase (2006-11). Trinamul's steamroller majority will ensure their election to the Council. Many of them have already been rewarded by their induction into various committees. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the West Bengal Legislative Council will be an almost institutional reward for services rendered. Miss Banerjee's argument that the Council will afford an opportunity to those, who fight shy of contesting elections, to participate in the legislative process is as laboured as it is specious. The Council will not be an elected entity in the profoundly democratic sense. Ergo, it cannot be an embodiment of the will of the people.
The other critical issue on which the government must take a call is whether a parlous West Bengal can really afford this profligacy. Quite simply, it can't. Thus far, the fiscal implications have been totally ignored. If the salary and perquisites that every MLC is entitled to is factored in, considerable will be the drain on a bankrupt exchequer. The productivity of their role must remain open to question. The Council is an avoidable adjunct to the Assembly, crucially for a state that is groping for ways and means and market borrowing to pay salaries and pensions, let alone clear the staggering debt. The Opposition does have a point when it calls the proposed Council a "white elephant". Hopefully, the 15-member advisory committee that has been set up to examine its utility will be engaged in deeper reflection than has been in evidence thus far. It isn't a matter that can be rushed through in keeping with the style of the present dispensation. Is the Council really necessary?  And where are Miss Banerjee's famed political instincts? Do they tell her that having a second House will be a popular move?



THE 'committee raj' in West Bengal has suffered a severe setback with the resignation of the exceptionally distinguished Sukanta Chaudhuri ~ a Congratulatory First from Oxford and Emeritus Professor of English, Jadavpur University ~ from the advisory committee on higher education. On the face of it, he has stepped out of the panel because of "overseas assignments" over the next one month, commitments that were finalised before the overarching authority was set up. He has been brutally frank in submitting that he shan't be able to spare the requisite time considering that the committee has a three-month deadline to firm up its recommendations. One would expect the committee's chairman, Professor Sunanda Sanyal, to be equally forthright not least because of reports of differences, if not discord, within the ten-member panel.  His immediate response ~ "It is not for me to comment on the resignation" ~ is a somewhat pregnant observation. As chairman, he needs to clear the air in the context of reports that Prof. Chaudhuri was unhappy with the working of the committee. This can only be speculated upon. But at least one other member is said to be mulling over resignation. Any attempt to hedge or obfuscate matters will bring the panel under a cloud within three weeks of its creation.

Formed on 9 June, the committee has registered little or no forward movement in the two meetings held on 14 and 24 June. It hasn't even framed its terms of reference. And education will be mired in deeper chaos if the final report is not unanimous. A far greater sense of urgency is expected not least because the Governor has kept on hold faculty appointments till the committee advances its suggestions. A huge responsibility devolves on the panel. The vacancies can't be allowed to remain in the realm of the present indefinite; teaching in campuses across the state has been seriously impeded. Guidelines to determine the appointments ought to have been firmed up before the start of the next academic session in July-August. It is a serious issue if one group wants the appointment recommendations to be advanced with urgent despatch, and another that would rather that the recruitment freeze continues. The functioning of the committee remains fogbound. Is it contending with a turmoil of ideas? As a matter of public policy there is need to come upfront. The members owe it to the students.



HAD it not been for AK Antony's pointing out that apart from not filling ex-servicemen's re-employment quotas some states were actually trying to whittle them down, the meeting of the Kendriya Sainik Board would have been another round of routine jaw-jaw. Yet of greater significance than the defence minister's plea for opening up more avenues for the 50-60,000 men who return to civilian life each year will be the action he takes to have all quotas filled. Unfortunately he offered nothing more authoritative than an "exhortation", when ground realities point to appeals and letters having consistently failed to deliver. Also valid was his pointing out that while private industry did absorb a fair number from the officer cadres ~ well trained and experienced in both technical and managerial duties ~ few "men" are thus rehabilitated. Again, no ministry-led solution was indicated. What is also disturbing is that the defence ministry and service headquarters persist with the "failed" thinking that lateral induction from olive green to khaki is the panacea. After 15-20 hard years in the army most veterans are not enthusiastic about switching to an almost equally difficult innings in khaki  ~ in organisations which do not boast matching support systems, organisations which they have traditionally deemed poor cousins. Nor are paramilitary units thrilled at having to induct them ~ they too desire to maintain a youthful profile. Perhaps a more workable solution could be lateral induction within the army ~ from the fighting arms to the support services. But that would involve tackling huge ego problems ~ the stumbling block to all manpower-related reform in the defence forces.

Re-employment of veterans has to be seen in the larger context of nationwide indifference to their welfare, the lack of appreciation of their having given the best years of their lives on national duty. Election manifestos of major parties promise one-rank one-pension but none sets about implementation. Few welfare schemes actually "work", soldiers seem to return from their annual leave very frustrated at having left much unfinished business behind, even the financial rewards for gallant acts vary from state to state. While former "brass" find avenues to express their grievances the jawan remains joyless. The nation's apathy has found articulate if negative expression in that even as the 40th anniversary of the Indian military's finest action approaches there are no signs of a National War Memorial.









AFTER considerable churning in Washington, President Obama has announced that 10,000 US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan this year, and a further 23,000 by September-end next year. He described this as the beginning but not the end of the effort to wind down the war. The decision to commence withdrawal in this fashion is that of the President himself, and was taken against the advice of his topmost military and diplomatic advisers, who would have preferred a slower reduction.

In the latest phase, as dramatized in the raid on Obama bin Laden, the US military campaign has achieved considerable results, and the military managers had wanted another full season of action before beginning to wind down. Further attrition among the Taliban before all foreign troops were withdrawn, it was argued, would ensure better long-term prospects for Afghanistan. But President Obama felt able to claim that the tide of war was receding and that the US withdrawal would be starting from a position of strength, not of weakness. He thus came down in favour of a relatively quick start to the process, in effect announcing the undoing of the 'surge' of little more than a year ago which had brought in additional troops that helped tilt the battlefield balance against the insurgents; even after these reductions, some 68,000 US troops will still remain in Afghanistan.

While making his announcement, Mr Obama called attention to the numerous pressing domestic issues that needed to be addressed, thereby indicating that priorities have shifted away from the massively expensive and increasingly unpopular Afghan war, and tacitly acknowledging that the themes for next year's US presidential election, which is already beginning to loom, will be found in preoccupations nearer home, not in remote foreign fields.

The reduction of US forces has long been anticipated and there has been much speculation about its size, and, even more, about its consequences. What has been made known now is the first instalment, and the function of the large number of US troops that will remain in Afghanistan has raised lively discussion. By most accounts, the newly-constituted Afghan army is not yet in a position to assure adequate internal security. Training and arming a central force that will overshadow the many insurgent groups has been a key aim of the international coalition in Afghanistan; despite some progress, the central force as it exists today is not widely regarded as being up to this basic task ~ not for lack of basic fighting quality, for after all the Afghans are the most reputed of the martial people of the region, but because of the intense political rivalries and disagreements that divide them. Even with powerful external support, Kabul is hard pressed to impose its writ within the land, so there are doubts about what it can do when external support is withdrawn.

The matter is made more complex by the attempts now in train to come to some sort of accommodation with the Taliban. It is only very recently that the USA has acknowledged that it has been in talks with some of the Taliban, and this has raised fresh challenges for the combatants, who must simultaneously fight and parley with the foe. Kabul has shown confidence in its ability to control events by warmly welcoming the US announcement of progressive withdrawal, despite the uncertainties it is bound to create. Historically, the rulers in Kabul have succeeded through a combination of their own military strength and a chronically divided opposition; perhaps they can succeed again, even though the long travail of Afghanistan over the last several decades has hardened ethnic and regional divisions and upturned many of the accepted truths.
The shadow of the disorders witnessed during the civil war remains, and with it the fear of anarchic strife beyond the capacity of anyone to control. Some pessimists even foresee a virtual splitting of the country along faultlines hardened in those days of endemic internal strife. They also believe that as the Taliban have been dispersed but not eliminated, the risk remains that they can re-emerge and bid for power, much as they did when they first came into the reckoning.

Warding off any such development, which would effectively nullify virtually all that the USA had tried to achieve, is necessarily a major concern even as the withdrawal begins. Some participants in current discussions about future arrangements are believed to favour a drawn out process that may lead to a quasi-permanent, albeit greatly reduced, US presence for the future. This would be confined to a few strategically positioned bases, from where support could be given to the ruling authority against attempts by insurgents to overrun the country. The model for such a system, as it was for the 'surge', is to be found in Iraq, where something similar has been instituted. Whether or not such ideas take substantial shape, they grow out of the sense that even after eventual withdrawal, when Kabul alone will be in charge of all nation-building activity, a foreign military presence would still be needed to keep an eye on and to curb terrorist elements that may arise again as an international threat. In this context, watchful eyes will continue to be directed at Pakistan which is now regarded as a more hazardous environment than its neighbour Afghanistan.

In the present uneasy state of US-Pak relations, talk of an extended US presence next door can only seem provocative in Islamabad, especially if Pakistan is to be on the radar screen. Pakistan is regarded as having many undisclosed links with Taliban groups and to retain the notion of acquiring 'strategic depth' through strengthened influence in Afghanistan. It is thus an uncertain quantity in the advancing endgame. Nevertheless, Islamabad remains a key factor, notwithstanding the constant fluctuation in its relations with the other important players.

While the chief impact of US withdrawal will be on Afghanistan itself, the consequences within the region have also to be taken into account. Reference has already been made to what is discernible in Pakistan even at this early stage, and India, too, is very much within the affected area and is faced with serious policy challenges.
The Prime Minister's recent Kabul visit reaffirmed some essentials: India, a traditional friend, will retain its commitment to a strong and stable Afghanistan, and it will continue to provide significant economic support to that country as part of the ongoing international effort. At the same time, it will not seek advantage at the expense of anyone else ~ this is the crucial issue, for Pakistan has been hostile to India's presence and has done what it could to neutralize Indian influence. The challenge now is not to see Afghanistan as a field for Indo-Pak rivalry but to promote genuine international cooperation in support of that country, as a centrepiece of regional cooperation in South Asia.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







A government which seems to have run out of steam cannot prove its dynamism with the Prime Minister briefing some editors. He should come out of purdah more often and face the nation

Governments run out of steam after traversing some distance. It happens all over the world because the enthusiasm with which they start peters out, the promises which they make become remote and the schemes which they take up lack push. This is the most charitable explanation for the Manmohan Singh government's non-performance. It has no sense of direction. How can it direct the nation? This comes out clearly as the government is midway to its five-year tenure.

Yet, it does not realise how strong is the groundswell of public opinion against it. The agitation spearheaded by Mr Anna Hazare gave evidence of that. People came out in the open in his support throughout the country. The government assessed the mood at that time correctly and sat with the representatives of civil society to draft the Lokpal Bill. The issue is corruption and the government has to attend to it.

By reshuffling the Cabinet, people's anger is not going to go away unless they see some concrete steps to eliminate corruption. The battered government has to come up with an answer to explain why the system does not function. The government's ham-handedness can be judged by the way even the finance minister's office in the secure North Block was broken in to bug it and chewing gum was left behind to mock at the security apparatus.
By changing portfolios, the Prime Minister would not necessarily improve the efficiency of government departments or quicken the pace of decisions. And what do you do about integrity? Practically all ministers of Dr Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are mixed up with one magnet in the corporate sector or the other. Ineptness has, in fact, become the hallmark of this government.
Even if one were to leave out corruption, which has spread its tentacles the maximum since Independence, one would find numerous examples of the administration overrun by sloth. Maybe, there is a purpose behind it, probably to cover up the fallout of an unholy alliance between ministers and bureaucrats. The government seems to live under the illusion that the subsidies and pro-poor yojanas (plans) keep the aam aadmi happy. Half of the allocation does not reach him and what does tends to make most among them indolent and hopelessly dependent. Punjab and Haryana are two examples where the agriculture labourer prefers to draw a dole than work.
What depresses me is the Prime Minister's belief that nothing is wrong with the government and that its image has been damaged by the media and the judiciary ~ in that order. He should realise that if that has happened it is a consequence, not the cause. The cause is the series of scams which would have remained unexposed if journalists had not brought them to the fore and judges had not pulled up the administration. Dr Singh goes by what the bureaucrats tell him or his senior ministers suggest. They are cut off from the public and do not know about its thinks. Having been a bureaucrat all his life, Dr Singh should have known how to make the administration function quickly and be responsive.
My feeling is that time is running out. The Prime Minister does not realise that he has no leeway and must act now if he does not want the situation to go out of hand. He should compare his last tenure with the current one. His earlier stint suggested that he had thought over the steps he had taken. Despite the pressure of coalition partners, he had his way. True, he performance didn't exactly meet expectations, but the Prime Minister did not seem as out of depth as he seems today.
In his current tenure, he does not seem to get anything right. Understandably, he feels uncertain because he has to manage some 24 parties and does not have the chunk of 60-odd members from the Left to depend on (they themselves have been reduced to 16). But coalition dharma does not mean that he should be passive about the corruption that his allies are indulging in. The correspondence between him and former telecommunication minister Mr A Raja shows that he had known about what the DMK members in the Union Cabinet were up to but still he chose not do anything about it. Dr Singh should have at least warned DMK chief Mr K Karunanidhi instead of placating him. True, Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi dictates the terms and she was not willing to disturb the applecart at the beginning of the second term.
The issue of price rise is a serious one. There must be something wrong something to make inflation climb up with impunity. By saying that inflation is "causing worry," the government does not mollify the angry nation. I get the impression that the rulers have no idea of coping with ever-increasing prices. "We have no magic wand," is the stock reply when pressed to explain why prices are inordinately high. Why did the government let the situation reach such a pass in the first instance? No economist is required to tell the government that it is a question of demand and supply. What is required is productivity. Probably, it has referred the matter to the Planning Commission which will tell us in good time what steps to take. By that time inflation would have risen still further.
Has the government ever tried to cut its expenditure? I do not hear the word austerity in official circles any longer. Almost 75 per cent of petrol and diesel available in this country is utilised by vehicles of government and the public sector undertakings at the Centre and in the states. Why doesn't the government reduce the cavalcade of cars and security personnel accompanying a minister or a VIP? I thought BJP leader Mr LK Advani would have been sensitive enough to voluntarily cut the number of cars and security men when he travels at least within New Delhi, a protected area. In fact, all Opposition leaders in the country should unilaterally surrender the vehicles that follow them around save the one which carries the security personnel. This may be one way to shame the government.
The Prime Minister and the Congress president are now engaged in an exercise to refurbish the image of the government. They should recall how Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri stressed on curtailing government expenditure. Shastri even gave a call for "miss a meal" since food was in short supply. That leadership spirit is lacking.
Concrete steps are required to convince people that the government is serious about eliminating corruption as well as avoiding wasteful expenditure. A government which seems to have run out of steam cannot prove its dynamism with the Prime Minister briefing some editors. He should come out of purdah more often and face the nation.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator






In occasional spells of nostalgia, humorous incidents of my stint in the Air Force flash across my mental premises. Whether it is the Flight Safety Conference discussing the problem of donkeys surreptiously getting on to the runway for a spot of romancing or the occasional neelgai having a romantic tete-a-tete with an attractive imported Friesian cow, there's never a dull moment.
Even the medical inspection (MI) room with the evanescent aroma of disinfectants, chloroform and other medical flavours had its own share of humour. As a young subaltern, I was feeling slightly under the weather one morning and decided to see the station medical officer. As I was waiting for my turn, a young medical assistant from the lab came over to the warrant officer in charge and asked him: "Which is the station commander's urine that I'm supposed to test. Some of the labels from the urine samples have come off." The warrant officer was obviously annoyed. "Don't tell me that you cannot recognise the station commander's urine." He got up from his chair in a huff and walked up to the lab. He picked up the first beaker of urine, looked at it closely and put it down. He picked up the second and third beakers and examined them critically shaking them around as you would do a beaker of John Exshaw Brandy. He picked up the next beaker of urine and after due scrutiny, he looked at the hapless medical assistant and said: "This is the station commander's urine."
Momentarily, I was foxed. I had heard about blue-blooded VVIPs but I was not aware that with the elevation in rank, the colour and aroma of urine also undergoes change. In this particular case, the pathological report was a bombshell. It stated that the station commander was three months pregnant. This is no laughing matter as such things do happen in the Air Force, sometimes through human error. I have no idea as to how the pregnancy problem was eventually resolved.
On another occasion, once again in the MI room, a young officer landed up with his three-year old daughter. The officer was rather agitated, as a bead had got stuck inside one of the nostrils of the child. In the process of repeated efforts by the child and her mother to take out the bead, it had got further up her nostril. The doctor examined the Lilliputian nose and shook his head. After a pause he added: "I am afraid you will have to take your daughter to the hospital. The only answer would be to operate on the nose to extract the bead." The father of the little girl was aghast. "Operate on the nose?" he began, "this is preposterous! It is such a small nose. Do you realise that with a mutilated nose, my daughter will never get married?"
In the meanwhile the Tamilian ayah had a brainwave. While this nose problem was being discussed, she placed the little girl on her lap. Opening her snuff-box, she inserted a pinch of snuff into the child's nostrils. With one loud sneeze, the bead evacuated itself with great velocity and after three parabolic turns it landed up at the feet of the doctor.


The look on the face of the doctor and the erstwhile patient's father was sheer poetry.






A new kind of Internet soliciting, dubbed "sexting" is raging in the USA. A debate is continuing for days in the media after the US Representative for New York's Ninth Congressional district, Mr Anthony David Weiner, 47, admitted having indulged in it. Early this month, he admitted having sent sexually-explicit photographs of himself to at least six women "followers" on Twitter, both before and after his marriage. Soon after, a minority leader and former Speaker, Ms Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation but on 9 June, a poll showed that 56 per cent of voters in Mr Weiner's district wanted him to stay, while only 33 per cent thought that he should resign. On 15 June, Mr Weiner resigned from the House of Representatives under pressure from colleagues, the electorate of his district and his pregnant wife who returned from Africa where she had gone with Mrs Hillary Clinton on an official mission.

Before the scandal broke, "sexting" was considered an adolescent aberration; many girls admitted to receiving and sending sexually-explicit e-mails; a few even committed suicides ~ shocked at seeing themselves featured. A Senator has proposed, drafted and circulated a private Bill to educate youngsters and adults about its evils at an annual cost of more than $1.4 billion. The sexting debate was going on since 2009, but only this June, following Mr Weinar's confession, the ubiquity of computers and networking in US homes has given it a boost. But neither any American state nor the federal government is doing anything to stem the tide of "sexting".
While teenagers' exchange of sexually-explicit messages or their own nude photos are subjects of research in many US colleges and universities, there is not enough data on "sexting" among adults. One research centre found that six per cent of Americans over the age of 18 years reported having sent a nude or near-nude image of themselves to someone else and 15 per cent said that they had received one. In the 30-49 age-group, 17 per cent reported having received such messages. A professor of sociology, Pepper Schwartz writes in a book that "sexting" to a partner is a form of flirtation. She thinks "it's a dangerous flirtation if nude pictures are being sent, or for that matter, any picture you might not want 200 million people worldwide to see... 'Sexting' between mutually consenting adults is fine; but we have a right to block unwanted pictures and gross messages". A free Internet policy, she argues, should not permit people "to harass us, or send us sentiments or pictures that offend us...I would imagine that 'sexting' is used by a high proportion of people in a dating or coupled relationship….There are certainly men, and relatively few women, who get their arousal from sending pictures of their body out to the masses". She thinks nothing should be done if consenting adults indulge in it.
 Letters to the editors and contributors to opinion pages in US newspapers hold varied views. A professor of religious studies, Mr John E Portmann, looks at "sexting" differently. He writes: "I do not think Anthony Weiner has committed adultery unless there's more going on than he has confessed to. Given how many American men cheat on their wives by taking girl friends on the side, I would urge Mrs Weiner to celebrate her husband's fidelity… I would tell her she had to wait in line behind Mrs Strauss-Kahn, Mrs Schwarzenegger, Mrs Spitzer and even Mrs Clinton."

Co-authors of a book Facebook and Your Marriage ~ K. Jason & Kelly Krafsky ~ cite an issue "overlooked by debaters" which they is "the double standard that applies to the virtual world and real world with two different sets of rules, acceptable behaviour and consequences". They say, "showing your private parts online is called 'sexting', but in the real world, it is a crime called indecent exposure… you are legally responsible and ethically accountable for your actions in both the virtual world and the real world. Weinergate demonstrates several double standards. Making unwanted sexual advances virtually is called 'cyber-flirting', but in the real world, it is sexual harassment."

After conducting an Online survey, New York psychologist Dr Susan Lipkins said: "'Sexting' adults may be doing so to assert their power within a group, or toward a particular person, to increase their popularity, to use their status and enhance it, or to display their aggression…. 'Sexting' has its own allure, because as one starts to 'sext', the messages are traded back and forth at a quick rate. Sexting relationships can be emotional relationships which compete with marriage and commitment. In general, 'sexters' view it as harmless and fun, whereas non-'sexters' see it as dangerous." She says: "One thing is sure, sexting, like sex, is here to stay."
Another professor, also author of the book The Young and the Digital ~ S Craig Watkins says: "Even before web-browsers, personal pages and Online video, adults and teenagers did everything from cross-dressing and flirting to participating in sexually suggestive chat rooms and virtual worlds. Just as digital media has allowed people to customise the content they stream, it has also allowed them to customise their personal and sexual fantasies." The revelations of Anthony Weiner illustrate "how the courtship rituals, flirtation habits and sexual desires of adults are evolving in the digital age… The ubiquity of cameras and video, as well as the fascination with watching ourselves, has led to a do-it-yourself aesthetic in our sexual lives…Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can blur the lines between our private and public selves while also appealing to the voyeur in all of us."

One correspondent says the question should be "what's wrong with the people who care so much about someone else's sexting, that they make it their own business?" Another correspondent says: "If someone sends me an image I find 'ugly', I can delete it and send a message to the sender to quit sending me such. If the sender persists then I can ask the 'moral police' to assist me in stopping this now intrusion. If anything, this 'sexting' business is a sign of immature adolescent behaviour. Adults doing it is regression or, at the least, failure to grow up enough to take on a real life." A 76-year old woman writes: "The thing that bothers me about the dust-up about Anthony Weiner is his appaling stupidity in engaging what might be considered harmless flirting till hitting the wrong key undid his career." This is a fragment of the debate on "sexting" currently going on the print and electronic media in the USA and every day it is getting curiouser
and curiouser.  

"Sexting" is probably not occurring in India yet, although youngsters and adults indulge in Internet pornography, despite an ineffective police vigil. These days, youngsters are caught taking and circulating, on the sly, nude photographs of girls for fun and for blackmailing the unwilling among them or to ruin prospects of their arranged marriages. In this age of fast-breeding cyber crime and in light of the debate in the USA, the Central and state governments should ban "sexting" from public web platforms. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

The writer is a retired member of the Indian Information Service








The two halves of Kashmir have just undergone the most remarkable elections ever. The Indian side recently witnessed a 16-phase panchayat election, held on a non-party basis, after a decade. In comparison, Pakistan- occupied Kashmir, called Azad Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan, saw unusually rancorous assembly elections that have left three dead and the national government amidst another crisis. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, an ally in the Pakistan People's Party-led federal government, has resigned from the coalition at the centre and in Sindh over allegations of electoral malpractice committed by the PPP in the AJK elections held in three constituencies in Sindh. Of the 41 seats in the AJK assembly, 12 are contested from the provinces to allow the Kashmiri diaspora to have a voice. The MQM believes that the PPP atrocities were committed after the former refused to let the PPP have one of the two AJK seats the MQM holds in Sindh. The PPP, which has won the AJK elections and is hoping to form the government in Kashmir, obviously denies the charge. But it is trying its best to patch things up with the MQM. This is not so much to salvage the federal government, which can survive without the MQM, now that the PPP has enough help from the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid). The PPP's attempt to kiss and make up with the MQM has a wider context — the general elections of 2013, which, the PPP fears, could be brought forward if fickle allies such as the MQM team up with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

The AJK assembly elections, in fact, became a microcosm of this larger political battle. Little wonder then that the national parties fought tooth and nail against one another. The PML(N), which had so long supported the incumbent Muslim Conference, directly contested the polls this time. With the presence of so many political bigwigs, the poll campaign itself was often reduced to a barrage of personal attacks on leaders of the two main opposing parties at the centre — the PPP and the PML(N). The needs and aspirations of the people of AJK became irrelevant in this exchange of invectives. The region has always been ruled by proxy, with the prime minister of Pakistan managing affairs through the Kashmir council. With the PPP at the helm, the AJK legislative assembly is likely to empathize more with the overriding political concerns of the party than with those of the people it seeks to represent.






There was never any question of the Centre accepting the demand for bifurcating Assam in order to create a Bodoland state. Yet, it was necessary for New Delhi to spell out its mind on this issue in unambiguous terms. It was good that the Centre did exactly that during its meeting with a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and some other ethnic groups last week. The demand for a Bodoland state never had much substance or a realistic hope of getting a sympathetic hearing from either the Union or the Assam government. The leaders of the NDFB themselves probably raised the demand only with the hope of securing a good bargain from New Delhi on other issues. Statehood demands have also become a common tool in identity politics in different parts of the country. But the leaders often ignore the dangerous consequences of such politics. Worse still, this brand of identity politics can actually harm the democratic aspirations of the people in a particular area. Instead of uniting them, statehood stirs can end up dividing the people on sectarian lines.

Assam already has an autonomous council for Bodo-majority areas. If the council fails to fulfil the aspirations of the Bodos, the remedy lies not in creating a state but in strengthening the institutions functioning under the council. New Delhi and Dispur should have no problem in helping the council with more development schemes. Not only the Bodos but also several other ethnic groups living in the council's area are among the poorest people in Assam. Negotiations between the Bodo groups and New Delhi can be more fruitful if they focus on development issues. The Union home ministry's anxiety to resolve the disputes in the Northeast within a stipulated time-frame is understandable. The longer these disputes persist, the more the people in these areas will suffer from economic and social deprivation. For ordinary Bodos, basic facilities for education and healthcare matter more than the unrealistic demand for a state. The Bodo leaders can make a real difference to the people's lives if they can give them better bargains on development issues. First of all, though, the Bodo groups have to lay down arms and give peace a chance.






The competition for the 126 medium multirole combat aircraft deal has sprung a surprise. The two American aircraft, the F-16 and the F-18, have been eliminated after technical evaluation by the Indian air force, belying the expectations of the government of the United States of America, American companies and most Indian analysts.

American officials and specialists on India had built up anticipation that a US aircraft would eventually win the contract. In their view, this would be tangibly rewarding the US for the nuclear deal and the nuclear suppliers group exception permitting international cooperation in India's civilian nuclear sector. Indeed, it was seen as a legitimate 'deliverable' for steps the US took to end our nuclear isolation, more so as our nuclear liability legislation has put on hold prospects for Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation.

American analysts saw it also as a concrete demonstration of India's readiness to give substance to its strategic partnership with the US. Quite obviously, defence cooperation has to be an integral part of any serious strategic partnership between countries. Even before the consummation of the nuclear deal, military exercises between the two countries featured prominently in bilateral ties. Over 50 such exercises, increasingly elaborate and covering all three services, have been held in the last seven years, providing exposure to each others' operational practices. Third country participation has extended their regional scope. The most recent exercise off Okinawa involved the Indian, American and Japanese navies. The strategic import of such exercises is apparent.

Our readiness to buy US arms on a significant scale post the nuclear deal indicates developing confidence in longer term US strategic intentions towards India. The first tentative step in this direction was actually taken prior to the nuclear deal, in the context of the National Democratic Alliance regime's declared willingness to expand ties between "natural allies". A number of weapons locating radars were ordered from the US. The US has possibly obtained in the last few years larger actual orders for equipment compared to other sources. These have included, apart from the Trenton, six C-130J transport aircraft, eight P-8 maritime reconnaissance aircraft and a number of VVIP planes equipped with advanced electronic warfare suites. The government has approved most recently the acquisition of ten C-17 heavy lift transport aircraft for a hefty $4.1 billion. The US is, by all accounts, well placed to bag the sizable order for a supply of attack helicopters and potentially of light howitzers as well.

It is in this background of growing acquisitions from the US and the United Progressive Alliance government's reputed pro-US leanings that it was expected India would go American for the massive $10 billion MMRCA deal. Indeed, the eventual value of the deal will be far greater if supply of services and spare parts and inevitable upgrades are taken into account over the 40-year service life of the aircraft. Given the developing India-US strategic ties, the acknowledgment that the US possesses the world's most advanced military technologies, the field efforts put in by Boeing and Lockheed Martin to secure the deal by way of lavish promises of technology transfers and tying up with big private-sector Indian companies for offsets and so on, and the much lower cost of the US planes compared to the other contenders, the question was whether a contract of such proportions could conceivably be denied to the Americans? The worst case scenario supposed a division of the contract between the Americans and the Europeans, following the civilian aircraft pattern with orders divided between Boeing and Airbus, although professional circles considered such an option most unsound. No one imagined, as has happened, that the Americans would lose the race , effectively, after the first heat.

That the US chose to immediately express its disappointment officially at this setback underlined how political the MMRCA deal had become, and also the excessive nature of US assumptions. The Indian defence acquisition process has been long plagued by political wheeling-dealing, charges of corruption, lack of transparency, delays and so on. The government has tried to steer the high-visibility MMRCA contract away from such shoals. If politics were to dictate awarding the contract to a US company, then where was the need for international tendering? The acquisition could have been directly negotiated with the US government through the foreign military sales route. The political argument is double-edged — political considerations could equally have weighed in Europe's favour, given outstanding concerns about the reliability of the US as a supplier in a conflict situation. No contending party can ask that politics should not vitiate decision-making and yet put forward its own superior political claims for a favourable decision.

If, in the case of the US, the positive trends in the overall relationship are driving defence ties in the right direction, the negatives in the relationship have not yet been wrinkled out. It is not merely the remaining Cold Warriors on both sides at policy level, as the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, believes, that are impediments. On defence procurement, the US insists on legal arrangements that infringe upon the recipient country's sovereignty, which is why some key framework agreements that the US seeks to enable supply of advanced technologies remain pending. If the US continues to arm a military-dominated Pakistan, if its tolerance levels of Pakistan's official complicity with terrorist groups that target its own interests as well as India's are inexplicably high, if its policy in Afghanistan disregards vital Indian interests as a country central to this region, if it chooses not to focus politically on Pakistan's expanding nuclear programme with Chinese assistance, it has little to do with Cold War attitudes.

The judgment that the US makes of what is best for its interests in the current situation weighs against substantive Indian interests. On global political, economic and environmental issues that have emerged in the post-Cold War period, Indian and US positions remain apart in many respects, as the objective requirements and goals of the two countries are not alike. The US preference is to integrate India into the present global system set up and dominated by the US, or make India its collaborator in bringing about inevitable changes. India would want to be on the right side of the US as much as possible, but will be compelled to be on its wrong side at times because of lack of congruence in their respective short-term and strategic interests

Consequently, those who cavil that in choosing a European aircraft over an American one, India has bought a plane but not a relationship are engaging in sophistry. Firstly, this is gratuitously slighting the Europeans. Furthermore, if the large signed or about to be signed contracts with the Americans are insufficient to buy a relationship, what is the guarantee the MMRCA deal would have satisfied the US appetite? Wisely, after the initial flush of disappointment, the Americans have corrected their stance by rightly stating that the India-US relationship does not depend on the outcome of a single deal, and that US companies will continue to look for opportunities in India's defence sector. The US should look for a bigger share of India's defence pie, which it will get, but not feel entitled to have most of it.

The author is former foreign secretary of India







Peace and literacy are the requisites of good governance. These are also the hallmarks of Mizoram, a tiny state nestling in the blue Lushai and Mizo hills, on the verge of a historic celebration. For it was on June 30, exactly a quarter of a century ago, that India's most militancy-infested region ended two decades of the bloodiest insurgency to walk the path of peace.

The Mizoram Accord of 1986 was a tripartite one. The Centre (represented by the then home secretary, government of India, R.D. Pradhan), the state government (represented by Mizoram's chief secretary, Lalkhama) and the powerful Mizo National Front, led by the firebrand Laldenga, were signatories to the agreement.

As accords go, this one was not perfect, but what made it work is possibly the sincerity and effort from all sides to make it effective. According to the only living Mizo signatory to the accord, Lalkhama, "The MNF fulfilled all the requirements of the accord, namely, to abjure violence and surrender all arms, come overground and not assist rebels elsewhere in the Northeast. It agreed to accept the Constitution and acknowledge Mizoram as an integral part of India in letter and spirit. The Centre, however, fulfilled the terms in letter, but not in spirit."

Some remaining loopholes and heartburn have been addressed to the extent possible and sundry obstacles like rehabilitation and border trade surmounted partially. The Mizo people and their unceasing endeavours have brought the state a long way — from the mautam (famine following bamboo flowering) of 1960, which gave rise to the bloodiest insurgency, to topping the country's literacy list and offering a blueprint for peace.

Peace, peace

Twenty-five years of peace in a turbulent region is indeed a cause for celebration. Mizoram is planning to record the biggest guitar ensemble to mark the occasion, besides a scintillating concert after sombre meetings, prayers and pledges. The youth love their music, and most of them, born after the two turbulent decades, possibly take peace for granted.

Not so the veterans. "Today reminds me of June 30, 1986 and brings back memories of Rajiv Gandhi and Laldenga. Their courage in befriending each other should be an example for national leaders when they face difficult political issues. That the accord brought about lasting peace and tranquillity is also a measure of the political maturity of the people in this state," Lalkhama says.

Time, then, for a re-enactment of the happy denouement of the warm June night 25 years ago, when people thronged the streets of Aizawl chanting "mauna, mauna (peace, peace)", church bells pealed and security personnel fired rockets in celebration. Twenty-five peaceful years later, the Mizos are ready to rejoice. A panel was set up for the occasion and funds allocated to every district: to celebrate the day like never before.

It is in the fitness of things that the man at the helm of the state, Chief Minister Lalthanhawla, was the one to step aside from this very post a quarter of a century ago to allow a surrendered militant leader to take up the reins. Mizoram's progress is intrinsically linked to his long innings. Today, as chief guest at a national seminar on Peace and Development in Mizoram, Lalthanhawla will be proud to host the Remna Ni (Peace Day) celebrations.

But perhaps the final tribute should go to the Peace Accord MNF Returnees Association, the erstwhile rebels, who have been working for months to mark the event. At the end of the day, it is they who have fought for ideals, lost comrades in battle, and lived to tell the tale. Unlike those who made it to the seats of power (and subsequent prosperity), it is this band of Laldenga loyalists for whom June 30 will always be significant.







China's worst-kept military secret is finally out. After years of denying any intention of building one, the People's Liberation Army has finally acknowledged that it is preparing to launch its first aircraft carrier. The 67,500-tonne vessel being upgraded at China's Dalian naval shipyard is a defunct Soviet-era carrier formerly known as the Varyag, which was bought in 1998 from Ukraine by a Hong Kong company on the pretext that it would be used as a floating casino off the shores of Macau. Earlier this year, China declared that its official defence budget for 2011 will rise by 12.7 per cent from the previous year. Last year, there was a lot of hoopla surrounding the fact that China had announced a mere 7.5 per cent jump in its defence budget. It was the first time since the 1980s that China's defence spending had increased by a single-digit percentage figure. But this year, we are back to the norm of a double-digit increase. The international community has long demanded that China be more transparent about its intentions behind the rapid defence spending. Now the Chinese military is making its strategic intent clear.

Divisions within China about the future course of the nation's foreign policy are starker than ever before. It is now being suggested that much like young Japanese officers of the 1930s, young Chinese military officers are increasingly taking charge of strategy, with the result that concerns about rapid military growth are shaping the nation's broader foreign policy objectives. Civil-military relations in China are under stress with the PLA asserting its pride more forcefully than even before and demanding respect from other States. Not surprisingly, China has been more aggressive in asserting its interests not only vis-à-vis India but also vis-à-vis the United States of America, the European Union, Japan and the Southeast Asian countries.

The increasing assertiveness of the Chinese military and the changing balance of power in the nation's civil-military relations should be a real cause of concern for China's neighbours. The pace of modernization of the Chinese military has already taken the world by surprise. A growing economic power, China is now concentrating on the accretion of military might so as to secure and enhance its strategic interests. China, which has the largest standing army in the world, with more than 2.3 million members, continues to make the most dramatic improvements in its nuclear force, and the improvements in its conventional military capabilities are even more impressive. What has been causing concern in Asia and beyond is the seeming opacity of China's military set-up, with an emerging consensus that Beijing's real military spending is at least double the announced figure. The official figures announced by the Chinese government do not include the cost of new weapon purchases, research or other big-ticket items for China's highly secretive military. As a result, the real figures are much higher than the revealed amount. And in the past year, the Chinese military has surprised even the US with the speed of its weapons development.

But India's own defence modernization programme is faltering. This year, the Indian government has allocated only 1.8 per cent of its gross domestic product to defence, although, ostensibly, military expenditure has gone up by 11.58 per cent. This is only the second time in over three decades that the defence to GDP ratio has fallen below 2 per cent of the GDP. This is happening at a time when India is expected to spend $112 billion on capital defence acquisitions over the next five years in what is being described as "one of the largest procurement cycles in the world". Indian military planners are shifting their focus away from Pakistan as China takes centre-stage in future strategic planning.

Over the last two decades, the military expenditure of India has been around 2.75 per cent. But since India has been experiencing significantly higher rates of economic growth over the last decade compared to any other time in its history, the overall resources it has been able to allocate to its defence needs have grown significantly. The armed forces, for long, have been asking for an allocation of 3 per cent of the nation's GDP to defence. This has received broad political support in recent years. The Indian prime minister has been explicit about this, suggesting that "if our economy grows at about 8 per cent per annum, it will not be difficult for [the Indian government] to allocate about 3 per cent of GDP for national defence".

But greater defence expenditure alone will not solve the problems plaguing Indian defence policy. For several years, the defence ministry has been unable to spend its budgetary allocation, this year being an exception. The defence acquisition process remains mired in corruption and bureaucratic hassles. India's indigenous defence production industry has made its inadequacy to meet the demands of the armed forces apparent time and again. The Indian armed forces keep waiting for arms and equipment while the finance ministry is left with unspent budgetary allocation year after year. Most large procurement programmes get delayed, resulting in cost escalation and technological or strategic obsolescence of the budgeted items.

The Indian government is yet to demonstrate the political will to tackle the defence policy paralysis, which seems to be rendering all the claims of India's rise as a military power increasingly hollow. The capability differential between China and India is rising at an alarming rate. This will continue to constrain India's rise to the position of a major regional and global player.










A U.S. State Department report released this week found that Israel is not complying with U.S. standards for combating human trafficking (as reported by Natasha Mozgovaya and Gili Cohen in Haaretz on June 29).

This is a shameful testimony to Israel's deterioration in the realm of human rights in general and the rights of aliens and labor migrants in particular.

The report found that while the government is trying to improve its protection of trafficking victims, a large proportion of them are penalized for offenses committed as part of their being trafficked and deprived of adequate treatment. It also said that foreign workers, both legal and illegal, "face conditions of forced labor ... restrictions on movement, inability to change or otherwise choose one's employer, nonpayment of wages, threats, sexual assault and physical intimidation."

These facts are well known to human rights groups, professionals and volunteers who work with labor migrants and victims of traffic in women. Israel makes lofty declarations about its treatment of foreigners, but its real policy is conducted in the Knesset, and in backyards that the manpower agencies and the traffickers in slaves rule with an iron fist.

Only a month ago, the Knesset passed a law binding foreign workers to their employers and to a specific region of the country. The authorities fail to enforce the prohibition on charging recruitment fees to labor migrants; the number of inspectors is meager; and the government is continuing the "revolving door" policy. This policy - in which, due to pressure from interested parties, increasing numbers of foreign laborers are deported even as ever-growing numbers of new ones are brought to Israel - makes it easier for the government to deny the problem.

Israeli society grew indifferent to the ongoing occupation and the abuse of tens of thousands of cheap, unprotected Palestinian laborers. When they disappeared, for what was termed reasons of security, new workers were found - transparent, frightened aliens, deprived of their rights. The indifference turned into obtuseness.

This ugly anomaly will not change overnight, but Israel must adopt the report's recommendations to increase supervision and enforcement and revoke the law binding labor migrants to employers. This is the least it can do as a first step toward ending Israel's dubious status as a paradise for human trafficking.







Are we listening to ourselves? Are we still aware of the awful noise coming from here? Have we noticed how the discourse is becoming more and more violent and how the language of force has just about become Israel's only official language?

A group of international activists is slated to sail a flotilla to the shores of the Gaza Strip. Many of them are social activists and fighters for peace and justice, veterans of the struggle against apartheid, colonialism, imperialism, pointless wars and injustice. Just stating that is difficult here, since they have already been described as thugs.

There are intellectuals, Holocaust survivors and people of conscience among them. When they fought against apartheid in South Africa or the war in Vietnam, they won admiration for their actions even here. But to say an admiring word now about these people, some of whom are elderly, who are risking their lives and investing their money and time for a goal they see as just, is considered treason. It's possible that some violent people have intermingled with them, but the vast majority are people of peace, not haters of Israel but those who hate its injustices. They have decided not to remain silent - to challenge the existing order, which is unacceptable to them, which cannot be acceptable to any moral person.

Yes, they want to create a provocation - the only way to remind the world about Gaza's situation, in which no one takes an interest unless Qassam rockets or flotillas are involved. Yes, the situation in Gaza has improved in recent months, in part because of the previous flotilla. But no, Gaza is still not free - far from it. It has no outlet to the sea or air, there are no exports, and its inhabitants are still partially imprisoned. Israelis who freak out if Ben-Gurion International Airport shuts down for two hours should be able to understand what life without a port is like. Gaza is entitled to its freedom, and those aboard the flotilla are entitled to take action in an effort to achieve this. Israel should be allowing them to demonstrate.

But look at how Israel is reacting. The flotilla was described immediately, by everyone, as a security threat; its activists were classified as enemies, and there was no doubt cast on the ridiculous assumptions that defense officials are making and the press has lapped up eagerly. We haven't heard the last of the campaign to demonize the previous flotilla, in which Turkish citizens were killed for no reason, yet the new campaign has already begun. It has all the buzzwords: danger, chemical substances, hand-to-hand combat, Muslims, Turks, Arabs, terrorists and maybe some suicide bombers. Blood and fire and pillars of smoke!

The unavoidable conclusion is that there is only one way to act against the passengers aboard the flotilla: by force, and only by force, as with every security threat. This is a recurring pattern: first demonization, then legitimization (to act violently ). Remember the tall tales about sophisticated Iranian weaponry coming through arms-smuggling tunnels in Gaza, or those about how the Strip was booby-trapped? Then Operation Cast Lead came along and the soldiers hardly encountered anything like that.

The attitude toward the flotilla is a continuation of the same behavior. The campaign of scare tactics and demonization is what contributes to the violent rhetoric that is taking over the entire public discourse. For what will Israelis think about when they are spoon-fed scary stories about the flotilla, if not about the use of force? Those activists want to kill Israel Defense Forces soldiers? We'll arise and kill them first.

Now the politicians, the generals and the commentators are competing with one another over who can provide the most frightening description of the flotilla, who can most inflame the public, who can best praise the soldiers who will save us, and who can deliver the most pompous rhetoric of the kind one would expect before a war. One important commentator, Dan Margalit, has already waxed poetic in his newspaper column: "Blessed are the hands," he wrote of the hands that sabotaged one of the ships meant to take part in the flotilla. That's another thuggish and illegal action, one that wins immediate applause here, without anyone asking: By what right?

This flotilla, too, will not get through. The prime minister and the defense minister have promised us this. Once again Israel will show them, those activists, who's more of a man - who's strongest and who's in charge, in the air, on land and at sea. The "lessons" of the previous flotilla have been learned well - not the lessons of the pointless killing or the violent and unnecessary takeover of the ship, but of the humiliation of Israel's military.

But the truth is the real humiliation lies in the fact that naval commandos were deployed to intercept the ships in the first place, and that is something that reflects on us all: how we have become a society whose language is violence, a country that seeks to resolve nearly everything by force, and only by force.







At this time of year, every former Jerusalemite is overtaken by longings for the city without humidity, which this year offers the added advantage of an especially rich array of cultural event. In addition to the excellent, longstanding film festival, there is also the "cultural season" that falls entirely in the summer and only in Jerusalem, with its fabulous offerings.

The trouble is that the more you feel like going to Jerusalem the more nearly impossible the mission becomes if you need to rely on public transportation. One day this week, just an ordinary day, I decided to visit my children in Jerusalem. The trip on the 480 bus dragged on unexpectedly for an hour and 20 minutes, even though it wasn't rush hour. On the only inter-city highway open to buses traveling to Jerusalem, a vehicle had caught fire. And if that weren't enough, at the entrance to the city, we were delayed again because of the ultra-Orthodox demonstration being held to protest the arrest of the inciting rabbi, Dov Lior.

For reasons I cannot fathom to this day, I decided to travel to the city center by bus as well. Every since Jerusalem found itself in the awful predicament called "the light rail," moving traffic in Jerusalem looks more like a still photograph. For 20 minutes I sat on a bus inching its way from the beginning of Agrippas Street to the fifth building on that street. The passenger next to me, who began her trip back in the Nayot neighborhood, told me the ride to Talpiot used to take 40 minutes, but today she has to leave for work an hour and half before she has to be there and she is still sometimes late.

My frazzled nerves and childhood memories caused me to stand up and address my fellow passengers in an emotional outcry. "Why are you being as quiet as clods?" I asked them. "Revolt." In response, they stuck their faces even deeper into the Israel Post newspapers placed on every seat, as though they had never seen a terrible newspaper before in their lives. "Come on now, let's all get off and walk to the mayor's office and pound on his desk," I urged the commuters who had suddenly gone amazingly silent.

Those poor Jerusalemites. The terrible travails they suffer, beginning back in the days of the siege in 1948, through the ultra-Orthodox demonstrations, the religious coercion and especially the two intifadas, the promised train and the fast train to Tel Aviv that apparently will never leave the station - all these have transformed them from a congregation of saints into a herd of obedient calves. Where are the Betar fans when you need them? Is Jerusalem still that same city that gave rise to the most radical left-wing movements and to this day boasts of the courageous members of the right-wing undergrounds who grew up in its midst and found shelter refuge there?

After pleading to the driver, I managed to get off the bus not at a bus stop, but straight into the hands of an inspector who threatened to give me a ticket. Fortunately, I managed to flee into an alley.

My luck was running out, as I found myself in the neighborhood of the righteous men of Munkatsh, from where I fled with no further ado as I was dressed in tight pants.

Ultimately, I found myself a seat in my favorite cafe on Schatz Street and a dry, pleasant breeze cooled my anger.

I did the return trip to the Central Bus Station on foot (a walk of no more than two kilometers ), passing the hideous display windows on Jaffa Street, adorned with the word "Mehadrin" (very strictly kosher ) in huge letters, women in long denim skirts and men in all kinds of headgear. I also walked past a light railway carriage that was stuck at the time on the rails. And my heart filled with sorrow for the city, whose beauty will remain unknown for eternity if it continues this way.







Last month the feminist psychologist and theoretician Carol Gilligan visited Israel as a guest of the Mishpat journal. Among Gilligan's greatest contributions is her formulation of the feminist struggle as a joint struggle by women and men to free themselves from the shackles of patriarchy, which prevent them from realizing and enjoying the full range of their abilities.

One of the arenas in which we manifestly remain shackled is that of romantic love. In analyzing the concept of "free love" that developed in the United States in the 1960s, Gilligan stresses that anyone who understands it to mean only the removal from sexual relations of monogamous inhibitions is missing a critical part of the picture. "Free love" was about loving people who in the past were not considered legitimate objects of love for them. Thus, in the 1960s men demanded the right to love men, women demanded the right to love women, and whites and blacks in the United States demanded the right to love each other.

Now, more than 30 years later, we are more liberated sexually than previous generations. But does the fact that as a society we place fewer sanctions on exchanging sexual partners mean we can love freely? Consider the case of an Israeli-born, 24-year-old Jewish woman who believes she has spontaneously found her match. It is highly likely that the object of her desires will be a Jewish man, at least slightly older than herself and with a higher earning potential. The field of opportunities for the average Israeli man is identical, in reverse.

Does this not somewhat diminish the fantasy that out of all the people we come into contact with, it is when we are looking at "the One" that Cupid shoots his arrow? Isn't the truth that cultural shackles prevent us from experiencing people around us as legitimate objects of love?

Leaving aside those groundbreaking Hollywood couples, let us ask how many Israeli women could fall in love with a significantly younger man? How many Israeli men could fall in love with a woman who is more successful professionally than they are? The reality shows featuring eligible bachelors and bachelorettes searching for love demonstrate the narrowness and predictability of the experience by which we seek to live with intoxicating spontaneity.

Were we to look more closely at these definitions we would find they tell us something about the strong grip of the patriarchal worldview. The fact that a woman is only "allowed" to love those who are above her on the class ladder and is not supposed to fall in love with someone who is younger, less successful and below her in social status (and preferably not a woman ) is more evidence of women's lower social status.

Because of this, if a woman wants to be seen as having climbed the patriarchal social ladder she must partner with someone of higher status (male, older, more successful, with the same or a higher social background ). In other words, the feminist struggle to liberate of love, represented by Gilligan, will continue for a long time. We experience passion and falling in love as spontaneous, even uncontrollable emotions, and that is part of the charm. But so long as our love is constrained by prejudice on either side, it is no freer than the gaze of a horse with blinders.







The reason Gilad Shalit is not being freed is that the consensus in his case is no consensus. Gilad Shalit has been in prison for five years because between the big words uttered about him and the emotional readiness to pay the required price lies a big gap, to which we are not prepared to admit. Shalit will not be freed because, contrary to conventional wisdom, the push for his release is not nonpartisan; it is part of a struggle that falls along classic political lines.

It is noteworthy that the recent host of gimmicks and gestures related to Shalit's release, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement that he plans to worsen the conditions of Hamas militants held in Israel, were intended to commemorate Shalit's fifth anniversary in prison. In other words, the interest these acts generate is tied to a trigger, a symbolic moment - the five-year anniversary. All was quiet again a few days later, after Israelis got over local celebrities spending an hour in a mock prison cell (essentially creating the Gilad Shalit reality show ) and seeing Gilad Shalit's parents and brother chaining themselves together outside Netanyahu's official residence. Shalit's tragedy is seen and experienced as an "event," as an emotional peak that should be marked, rather than an ongoing reality that must be stopped.

Treating Shalit's tragedy as an event corresponds with the duplicity characterizing large swaths of the Israeli public. On the one hand, people feel a natural need to display empathy. On the other hand, deep inside they refuse to pay the price. Treating the Shalit issue as an event solves the dilemma. An event is something that happens and then fades away. It enables people to express some emotion without having to accompany those feelings with significant action once the ceremony ends.

Treating the Shalit issue as an event also makes it possible to use the misleading term "consensus." There is no consensus about the price Israel will have to pay in released Palestinian prisoners in order to secure Shalit's release, just about treating his continued captivity as a ceremony that should be marked on symbolic dates. The sweeping agreement is not about the list of Hamas prisoners but about the issue being a "national tragedy." The empathy is indeed nonpartisan, but what does it consist of aside from some initial solidarity? What happens when you dig beneath the external emotional layer?

Suffice it to look at reality itself - Gilad Shalit is still in captivity - to receive an answer. The seeming gap between the public's desire to "pay any price" for Shalit's freedom and the government's opposition to doing so is deceptive. The fact that the situation has not changed means there isn't really a gap, that pressure isn't really being exerted from below - and if it is, it's not strong enough to break the ruling paradigm.

The absence of such pressure is no accident. It faithfully reflects the fact that the issue fall along classic political lines: the left is in favor of releasing Shalit, the right is against it, and the center says it's in favor but acts against it. Everyone denies that the Shalit issue follows the traditional political blueprint, because Israelis feel ashamed before the Shalit family. After all, the issue had been declared apolitical, nonpartisan, a national tragedy. What can we say now?

The shame is being papered over with the gush of energy now being put into the pyrotechnics and choreography that are going into marking the event as a colossal tragedy in a spectacular way. This is done as compensation for the lack of real desire to "pay any price" and for the inability to admit it. The tumult surrounding the Shalit affair is necessary as a way of covering up the internal mumbles of objection, of dealing with the need to keep "prisoners with blood on their hands" where they belong.

Since Israelis are in deep denial about the refusal to get Shalit out by meeting Hamas' demands, synthetic substitutes are infused into the atmosphere to magnify the tragedy rather than resolve it. The substitutes have names like "the isolation cell project" and "the national consensus to return Gilad Shalit." In other words, they are gimmicks openly intended to draw attention. Their hidden intention is to merge tragedy with entertainment, television and shallow, superficial sensationalism. These make it easier to treat the issue as a national ceremony, a sort of end-of-season episode, after which life can go on, without guilt feelings.







It was with vivid language decades ago that California's newspaper sage Jim Hayes alerted to me to who and what I would encounter in my then-beginning journey through newspaperdom.

"First thing you've got to know is that there are more assholes per square inch in journalism than in any other business on God's green earth," Jim told the earnest reporter headed off toward a weekly in the Sierra Mountains. "The second thing is, if you can endure them and get past that group, then you'll find the warriors, the poets and the scholars."

Jim did not tell me I would find the three archetypes of that second category wrapped up as a journalistic one-man band. But I did: Turkey's Mehmet Ali Birand.

In Turkey, Mehmet Ali is synonymous with success. The founder of Turkey's longest running news documentary, "32nd Day," began as a reporter at Milliyet in 1964. He was to found that newspaper's Moscow bureau at the height of the Cold War. Later, he did the same for state television in Brussels when earnest talks toward European Union membership began to look possible. In recent years, he's headed two television news teams, those of CNN Türk and Kanal D. At the second, he anchored the news each evening until last week. He has also written five books. For all of this, his face and work are known to millions in Turkey.

"There are many sides of his professionalism to admire," Cengiz Çandar, a longtime colleague wrote in Tuesday's Radikal. "Everyone knows of his tireless work in the print media, of his many firsts in television."

For his work in Brussels, and his long-running daily column in this newspaper, Mehmet Ali is well known to thousands outside of Turkey. Along with Milliyet's Sami Kohen and Radikal's Çandar, he is among the best known international voices on Turkey.

As Çandar says, there are many professional praises to be sung. But in the past seven years as I have gotten to know Mehmet Ali, I have admired him for something else. In a profession of limitless pomposity – among so many proving Jim Hayes' point about the worst among us – Mehmet Ali has grace.

I've witnessed him train questions on the chairman of the military chief of staff, leaving a general infuriated. On the bus leaving the high command, Mehmet Ali was in the back, talking shop with the young reporters. I've watched him take a phone call from the Greek prime minister, check off a daily assignment list and then turn his full attention to an intern on his first day at work. At a cocktail party on the Bosphorus, Mehmet Ali will share a joke with a titan of industry then turn to kiss the hand of a cinema star. Then you'll see him talking to the waiter, enquiring of his hometown and listening to his views on sports, politics or just girls.

Not that Mehmet Ali lacks critics. His "enthusiasms are an excellent guide to Turkey's power dynamics," wrote American journalist Claire Berlinski in a post-election essay this month. "Whoever has it, he's for them."

I wonder how his driver might regard that assessment. Most senior journalists in Turkey have a driver. Mehmet Ali is the only one I've ever met who always sits in the front seat, addressing the man at the wheel as "captain."

So it was entirely in character last week when Mehmet Ali concluded his newscast with what he told viewers was "good news." This was that the medical therapy he has been undergoing in recent months has prepared him for surgery: "Tomorrow I surrender to the surgeons." He didn't ask for sympathy. Just prayers.

By all reports he is doing well. The day after nine hours of surgery he asked for an Istanbul think tank's new report on means to solve the "Kurdish question."

Jim was right, the warriors, poets and scholars are rare. More rare are all three in a single package.

Editor's note: Well wishers can write to Mehmet Ali Birand c/o He has publicly asked that those wishing to send flowers instead make a contribution to the Kasımpaşa orphanage:

Kasımpaşa Cocuk Yuvası Koruma Derneği

Türkiye İş Bankası Kasımpaşa Branch (22448)

IBAN : 44000 6400 0001 1030 0022 448








U.S. taxpayers have spent $ 1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many Western soldiers have lost lives there as well. No one in the United States or in the Europe wants to waste money and lives anymore. The politicians and generals are under serious pressure. In Western democracies, citizens have demonstrated in the elections that they do not want to fight.

However, U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have promised to encourage and support the "democratic" opposition in the Middle East. They encouraged the societies to revolt in expectation of support. Nowadays, those who have faith in what they have promised are holding protest marches on streets, shouting, and being hit by bullets.

We have to find answers for two questions about Obama's statements. First, which country's taxpayers will pay the costs of supporting the insurgents? Second, which countries' armies will run the risk of sacrificing soldiers for the sake of that protection?

Ending out-of-date regimes necessitates a price to be paid. Nevertheless, as the mission is not accomplished, the character of the insurgencies has rapidly been changing, which makes the issue more complicated, adding to its cost.

As seen in Libya, it is difficult and time consuming to try to topple a government solely by using air forces. The generals and politicians feel comfortable for the time being, since the casualties are at a minimum with this strategy. However, as the burden on the national defense budgets of the interventionist countries increase, the taxpayers will inevitably raise their voices more loudly.

The generals and politicians, thinking that they are unable to tolerate a larger number of casualties, will not consent to an intervention led by land forces.

The issue in Syria, however, is a bit more complicated. "The West" is only able to send "harsh messages" to President Bashar al-Assad (i.e. "If you do not make reforms, a military intervention might be an option"). Yet who is going to handle such an intervention is unclear. Is it Obama, who is choosing to withdraw U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan? Is it the U.K., which is dramatically cutting its military spending? Is it France, which is whining already? In this sense, it seems a good idea for the West to unload the burden on others, especially on those who are interested in "establishing democracies."

When a small Syrian military unit approached the Turkish border, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "The two countries may fight."

In my opinion, there is no need to worry about such an event for two reasons: First, historical experience, and second, developing democracy in Turkey.

Turkey's recent history is full of such "worrisome" statements. For instance, when the Kingdom of Iraq was toppled, there were many statements in the Western media calling on Turkey for action. Also, after the Iranian revolution in 1979, similar statements were frequent. Similarly, nowadays, there is anxiety about Syria. Turkey's steps toward democratization and liberalization should also eliminate worries. The Turkish people, just as in other Western democracies, are not happy paying taxes for small-scale wars. They have enjoyed a high-quality and comfortable life. They have discovered the meanings of the liberal economy and new consumption patterns thanks to the economy and trade. They have also learned to reward and punish politicians with their votes.

To conclude, military interventions in the Middle East may replace politicians in the near future; yet whether these politicians are going to be in the Europe or in the Middle East depends on the increasing costs and what time brings.








There are many gaps in the socioeconomics fabric of this world. The technological divide, which represents the huge difference in available technologies in between the developed and undeveloped world, is one of the most important of those divides. The inequality of technology is one of the fundamental reasons why the developed world is falling ever behind. However there is a gender gap in technology usage as well and it is disabling women, in emerging markets or third world countries, to catch up with men.

According to Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity 2010 report by GSM Association and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, there are 300 million fewer female mobile phone owners than men in the developing world. The initiative called "Women's Movement in Technology," which will be the Turkey leg of the global women's program conducted by the Cherie Blair Foundation and the GSMA Development Fund, aims at closing this gap. In a letter to Economist Blair stated, "Mobile phones can transform lives with technology such as mobile banking. They can also provide vital information about health and education and create new economic opportunities for people who live in remote areas, often many miles from a bank, school or health centre. However, too many women in the developing world are losing out on these benefits because they are less likely than a man to own a mobile phone."

The report also reveals that a woman is 23 percent less likely to own a mobile than a man if she lives in Africa and 37 percent less likely if she lives in South Asia. Given that this gap represents incremental annual revenue of $13 billion, mobile operators have a major commercial incentive to close it. There is a broader economic imperative too. By providing women with technology it is hoped that they will be more active in both social and economic activities. It will create a psychological boost to women as well, as nine out of 10 women told that they feel safer with a mobile phone. Accordingly the vision of the program is that by increasing access to mobile connectivity and services, women living on less than $2 per day will achieve a greater sense of security, independence, economic opportunity and connection with the world outside their homes. This in turn will lead to greater empowerment and control over their lives and those of their families.

The key components of the GSMA mWomen Programme include; offering technical assistance, with activities focused on catalyzing the mobile industry to work collectively to close the gender gap and track progress, including development of business cases for mobile phone operators; and providing value-added and life-changing services in the areas of health, education, finance and entrepreneurship, to be delivered by mobile phone operators in partnership with the international development community. There is strong involvement by the international business circles. The GSMA has already secured commitment to this program from the following 20 leading global mobile companies operating in over 115 developing countries: AT&T, Banglalink, Bharti Airtel, Cell C, Dialog, Digicel, IDEA Cellular, Maxis, Mobitel, Mobilink, MTN, France Telecom/Orange, Orascom, Roshan, Safaricom, SMART, Telenor, Telefonica, Uninor and Vodafone. Nokia has also committed to the program by piloting women's information initiatives under its Ovi Life Tools service, focusing specifically on healthcare and education. Nokia will share with the GSMA mWomen Programme elements of its commissioned research into the barriers that may be preventing access to telecommunications services from a functional design, technological and affordability perspective. They will also work with other GSMA committed partners in exploring ways to reduce the total cost of ownership.

I will be keeping a close eye on the project and how it will affect Turkish women as all of its goals are in line with Turkish women's needs.







We, a group of foreign policy geeks, met at a restaurant in the city of angels to discuss an exceptionally dangerous man, Prof. Ahmet Davutoğlu¸ the Turkish foreign minister. While I was driving to the restaurant, I knew well I would be under fire. My friends have not been shy to share their concern through all possible means of social media for the last couple of weeks. One had sent PJ Crowley's tweet "Told @alhurranews #Turkey wants zero problems with its neighbors, but now it has one with #Syria. Interesting to see how Turkey handles it." A friend in her giddy voice mail commented "I thought Syrians were your cousins, whatever happened?" Another emailed Steven Cook's piece titled "Arab Spring, Turkish Fall" where Cook boldly concluded that Turkish foreign policy is "timorous, maladroit, and diminished" under the challenge of the Arab Spring. Yet another message referred to Davutoğlu's recent words where he claimed he had anticipated the Arab Spring 10 years ago. My cheeky friend asked, "Did he really say that? Can you give us some evidence?"

Contentious issues are political scientists' carnivals. As I ordered my drink, I repeated an old Guinness ad: "Not just good, but good for you." I first told them, yes, Davutoğlu was quoted saying he had anticipated the Arab Spring. His masterpiece, Strategic Depth (2001), one of the most influential books in explaining what Turkey's position is and should be in the world, discusses the conditions under which such events will take place. Indeed, let me kick it up a notch! His book provides evidence that Davutoğlu's policies in the last nine years can indeed be viewed as one of the stepping stones to the Arab Spring.

To give just one example, after discussing the significance of Arab nationalism and how it has waxed and waned, Davutoğlu explains that the extended cooperation agreements between Turkey and Israel of the late 1990s are to the detriment of Turkey because they help legitimize Arab nationalism. He argues that when a predominantly Muslim but non-Arab country has close relations with the state of Israel, this produces further justification for the next wave of Arab nationalism. Davutoğlu not only emphasizes how risky it would be for Turkey if Arab nationalism gains further momentum but also how this momentum will be one of the factors sustaining the regimes that lack political legitimacy. If we fast forward to post-Davos days, we may see that Turkish-Israeli relations have changed quite a bit since those words were penned.

Just as I finished explaining how well-crafted and witty Turkish foreign policy change has been through the years, my friend passionately suggested "now it has collapsed," because Syria definitely has problems with Turkey. Here, we need to go back to the drawing board, I told her. The zero-problems policy is an ideal, it aims to design win-win scenarios for both parties so that the contentious issues can be resolved in time. It has worked rather well with Syria, but it does not mean Turkey can control the domestic problems of another country. The international arena is still anarchic. However, I proudly underlined, Turkey has stepped up to the plate, and kept its borders open for humanitarian reasons. It has exhausted many avenues to encourage the Syrian regime to engage in non-violent ways of reform in line with its principled foreign policy.

That is when our lunch ended. I remember quoting Foucault that "knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting." Davutoğlu, having anticipated the events, has prepared well for these turbulent times. I believe Turkey will ride the tides of Arab Spring shrewdly. Friendship established with Iran and Syria will not be discarded recklessly. For those who are still concerned, I suggest a better reading of Davutoğlu's words. No need for WikiLeaks or classified information neither, he writes clearly and is rather predictable. The conclusion of our lunch was that Turkey matters differently in the regional politics now. One needs to learn its new language to understand Turks' updated interests and abilities. And as my snarky friend says, "Maybe it takes an exceptionally dangerous man to design policies 'not just good, but good for you.'"

* Pınar Tremblay is a PhD candidate in the department of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, or UCLA. She can be reached at






It is a surprise development that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has allowed his opponents to have a meeting in Damascus.

It can be counted as a "first" that 190 dissidents, among them intellectuals who have been jailed before for their views, can convene in a hotel at the center of the capital to make their voices heard. Indeed, these opponents do not represent the entire "opposition front" that includes protestors that take to the streets for anti-Assad demonstrations and anti-regime exiles. The people's uprising that started with the "Arab Spring" has demonstrated that there exists a serious opposition against the Assad administration. However, this front is quite intricate and scattered. It contains religious, liberals, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians. Moreover, there is no leader or a personality rising above them guiding these people. Anyhow, one of the differences of the popular movements in the Arab world from the uprisings in East Europe in the 1980s is this. It is Bashar al-Assad's luck that the opposition front is in such a scatter without a strong leader ahead of them.

The fact al-Assad has allowed the meeting in Damascus shows both he is not much afraid of these opponents and that he wants to give the message to Syrians and to the world that he is ready to lend an ear to people's voices. As a matter of fact, the Assad administration has announced that after this meeting in Damascus, the "National Dialogue Commission" will be activated July 10.

The key issue is how much al-Assad is ready to meet the demands of the opponents. At the Damascus meeting, the opponents demanded some fundamental changes. For the transfer to democracy, they demanded first and foremost new laws to be issued on political parties, elections and the media. Meanwhile, they set conditions that the arrested are released immediately and that troops withdraw from those cities and towns that were the target of recent attacks. They even went further to advocate that people's "right to protest" should be respected. We will observe in the coming weeks what stance the Syrian leader will adopt toward these demand and expectations of the opponents within the framework of the "National Dialogue." However, if Assad acts as if he is setting up a dialogue with the people and listening to his opponents while he continues to attack mercilessly to those opposing the regime and those who take to the streets and continue to shed blood, he will not be able to have a command of the situation in the long run.

There were a set of factors that al-Assad relied on to maintain his autocratic regime for years. Domestically, it is a political system that enables the silencing of the opposition, the power of the Baath, the dedication of the army, the intelligence organization and his entourage to him. And, internationally Iran, Russia and China that support him. There is no change yet in these factors. Consequently, it is quite a weak possibility for al-Assad to withdraw or be toppled in the near future and even in the medium future. However, if he does not initiate fundamental changes other than false gestures like allowing some opponents to convene and continues the same violence policy he exerts on those on the streets, Syria will still be the stage of bloody clashes and turmoil for weeks, even for months.







"The graveyards are full of indispensable men," growled Charles de Gaulle, but French history would have been very different if he had died in 1940 (no Free French government, probably a Communist take-over attempt when France was liberated in 1944) or even in 1960 (no quick exit from Algeria, no Fifth Republic). There are a few people whose absence would really make a difference.

Two such people seem to be hovering on the brink of death at the moment, though we have no trustworthy medical information about either one. In each case, their death could open the way to civil war. One is Thai King Bhumibol; the other is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Bhumibol, now 83 years old, has been the king of Thailand since he was 21, and although he is a constitutional monarch his influence is all-pervasive. It has, on the whole, been exercised in ways that promoted Thai independence, calmed domestic political quarrels, and supported the emergence of democracy. He has been the still center at the heart of the storm for many decades, and he is revered by most Thais.

King Bhumibol has spent most of the past two years in hospital, and few Thais expect him to live much longer (although this is never discussed in public). When he goes, the crown will probably pass to somebody who takes sides in the ongoing battle between "red shirts" and "yellow shirts" that has divided Thailand, and has already caused many deaths, over the past few years.

There is an election due in Thailand on July 3. Opinion polls suggest that, as before, a majority of Thais will vote for the party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006. Some 90 red shirts, the mostly poor and rural supporters of Thaksin, were massacred by the army in a confrontation in central Bangkok last year, and the army may try yet again to reject a pro-Thaksin election outcome.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn was once close to Thaksin and probably still secretly supports him, but he is a playboy who is neither loved nor respected by the public. His mother, Queen Sikirit, sympathizes with the yellow shirts, and is rumored to be angling for the army's support to make her regent when her (estranged) husband Bhumibol dies, rather than letting the crown prince have the throne.

If the two royals were to align themselves publicly with the opposing sides in a struggle for the throne after Bhumibol dies, they would substantially raise the probability that Thailand could stumble into a full-scale civil war.

Whereas if Bhumibol can hang on for another year the dispute may be settled at the ballot boxes, with the army grudgingly accepting a restoration of the normal democratic order. He may not be utterly indispensable, but he is pretty important for Thailand right now.

And then there is Hugo Chavez. He is not exactly the "dictator" of Venezuela, as U.S. propaganda often calls him (he has been elected a number of times in free elections), but certainly he is a "strongman" in the classic Latin American style. He comes from the army, he once led an attempted coup, and he is a full-time demagogue. The only difference is that he is a strongman of the left. And he may be dying.

The official story is that Chavez was in Cuba on June 9, in a private meeting with Fidel Castro, when he suddenly fell ill. Cuban doctors were called in, and immediately operated on him for a "pelvic abscess." But he is still in hospital in Havana two weeks later, virtually incommunicado.

Chavez is an inveterate user of Twitter, but he has only tweeted once in all that time, to announce that his mother, his favorite daughter and his ex-wife had flown to Cuba to see him. He also reportedly telephoned a meeting of his ruling party's senior leaders on Monday, but that may not be true. Venezuelans are speculating that his illness may be fatal, and the people close to Chavez are struggling to re-assure his supporters.

If Chavez does recover, he might lose the 2012 presidential election anyway. He will have been in power for 14 years by then, and the mere passage of time has seriously eroded his power base. He has improved the lives of the poor, but a government with an oil income of bazillions of dollars that cannot even produce enough electricity to keep the lights on is bound to lose popularity.

Should Chavez die now, however, there might not even be a 2012 election. His elder brother Adan, the governor of the state of Barinas, reminded everybody that although the socialist government won power through the ballot box, "we cannot forget, as authentic revolutionaries, other methods of fighting." And the army, whose senior ranks have been stuffed with Chavez loyalists, might well back a "revolutionary" seizure of power.

On the whole, then, it would be better if Chavez survived and came back to Venezuela, only to lose the election honestly next year. Like King Bhumibol, he is the indispensable man for the next little while. After that, if all goes well, he can die whenever he wants.



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



The Internet is getting scary. In recent weeks, hackers known as Lulz Security attacked the Web sites of Sony, the United States Senate, the C.I.A., PBS, among others. They stole names, e-mail addresses and passwords of millions of users and published them online. Then, last weekend, they regrouped under a new name.

These attacks are among the hundreds of online security breaches this year alone, compromising data of more than 22 million people, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Targets have included Citigroup, Lockheed Martin and even RSA Security, which makes password tokens that big companies use to protect themselves from intrusion. A survey earlier this month by the Ponemon Institute found that 9 out of 10 companies had suffered an online attack in the last 12 months.

Companies and the government are unprepared. Citigroup didn't track patterns of activity on its credit card site and failed to notice immediately when hackers took data on more than two million card users, said Avivah Litan, a security expert of Gartner. Sony didn't encrypt the data of users of its PlayStation network — phone numbers, passwords, e-mail addresses and account histories.

Recently, for several hours, Dropbox, a popular service for storing documents and other files in the so-called computing cloud, allowed anyone to log into any of its 25 million user accounts using any password. The company tried to keep the glitch quiet but was exposed by a security researcher. No wonder concern about Internet security from Americans has jumped sharply in the past few months. Technology professionals are getting cold feet about moving more operations onto the cloud when poor corporate security practices are exposing customers to devastating identity theft and fraud. This vulnerability could stymie the Internet economy.

There is no fail-safe technology that is immune to hacking. Online security will evolve as hackers and security experts work continuously to outwit each other. Still, current standards are too low. Companies — and the government — must devote substantially more resources to security, making it integral to every new application, rather than patching it on as an afterthought.

There are some signs of progress. Security experts are deploying a new worldwide system to identify Internet addresses that will make it very difficult to forge or spoof a Web site. In May, the Obama administration proposed legislation with sensible provisions to ensure that companies running critical infrastructure — like the nation's power grid — have adequate systems to reduce the risk of an attack online.

The proposal would standardize 47 state laws on breach reporting, requiring notification of customers whose accounts were compromised. This could be a powerful incentive for firms to take security more seriously.

Other tactics are also needed. The Federal Trade Commission wants rules to force companies to minimize the information they collect from customers and to dispose of such data as soon as possible. The stolen Sony data, for example, had been on dormant servers for years.

We are putting our lives in the cloud, as companies and consumers store everything from family photos to corporate business secrets on remote servers. Beefing up online security is of paramount importance.






Free trade is good for this country. So is helping American workers displaced by foreign competition. Therefore, it was a relief to hear on Tuesday about a bipartisan Congressional deal to pass long-delayed trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and salvage some of the expanded benefits for workers under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

Our relief didn't last for long. While the deal — negotiated by Dave Camp, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee — was lauded by business groups, Republicans immediately threw up roadblocks.

The deal was aimed at trimming T.A.A. benefits somewhat so Republicans would vote for it. The goal was to get all the trade agreements and T.A.A. approved before the summer break. Even before the ink had dried, Republican leaders started griping about procedure.

The House speaker, John Boehner, objected to Democrats' plan to package T.A.A. and the South Korean trade agreement into one bill, arguing that each should be considered in separate legislation. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said that if the administration combined the South Korean agreement with the extension of T.A.A., "I would be compelled to vote against it."

Many Republicans, including Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, have repeatedly called for the passage of the trade agreements. A bill to extend T.A.A. was approved by a voice vote in the House last year — only to founder against Republican opposition in the Senate.

It is hard to see these postdeal objections as anything but pandering to their party's antigovernment fervor mixed with a fundamental resistance to going along with anything the White House also supports.

The trade agreements would boost American exports and help create more American jobs. More trade would also, inevitably, mean that some American workers would lose their jobs. Continuing the expanded adjustment assistance means those workers would receive income support, a health insurance subsidy and training to help them find other jobs.

The deal is a good one. Both parties should support it and move on.





The 1986 federal drug law that punished people caught with crack cocaine far more severely than those caught with powder cocaine was a disaster on many levels. It undermined faith in the justice system by discriminating against poor and mainly minority crack users and favoring affluent white users who preferred the chemically identical powdered form.

Congress tinkered at the margins of the law but failed to eliminate the sentencing disparity when it passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Now Republican lawmakers are trying to compound a longstanding injustice by opposing a proposal that would allow some people sentenced under the original law to apply for reductions in their prison terms.

The original law was grossly unjust. It mandated a minimum 10-year sentence for anyone caught with 50 grams of crack — about the weight of a candy bar. To get a comparable sentence, a person arrested for powdered cocaine would have to be caught with 5,000 grams — enough to fill a briefcase.

Instead of equalizing sentences when it revisited the issue in 2010, Congress lowered the penalties for some crack offenses and reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powered cocaine from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1.

The United States Sentencing Commission, which sets federal guidelines, has issued temporary sentencing rules for people who were convicted of offenses after the new law took effect last fall. The commission is also empowered to determine if people convicted of trafficking under the original law should be eligible to apply for limited sentence reductions.

The commission has allowed retroactive reductions in other cases. If it votes to do so at a meeting scheduled for Thursday, about 12,000 federal inmates could become eligible to apply for an average reduction of 37 months.

Republican lawmakers, however, are trying to intimidate the commission into rejecting retroactivity. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, for example, has threatened to require the commission to pay the administrative costs of reducing sentences out of its budget. The commission should ignore this harassment and vote in favor of sentencing fairness.





It is a good idea to require able-bodied welfare recipients to work in exchange for benefits. But research has discredited inflexible workfare programs that shunt people into dead-end jobs instead of giving them education and training that could improve their long-term prospects.

Several cities have adopted a more sensible approach under which people who are ready to work are pushed to find jobs right away and those who lack the most basic skills are given education and training. This mixed-strategy approach has helped raise employment rates and increase earnings for former welfare recipients.

New York City is striving to follow this model but appears to be falling short. The city must do more to connect young adults on public assistance with educational programs that could help them succeed in the labor market.

A new report by the Community Service Society, an advocacy group that focuses on poverty, surveyed scores of impoverished and distressed young people when they applied for welfare benefits between 2009 and 2011.

Those who lacked diplomas, some as young as 18, almost universally said they wanted to attend G.E.D. programs, which are a particularly good investment for young people who have never held jobs. But, according to the study, nearly all were sent to a chaotic and ineffective back-to-work program that consists mainly of job-search activities. Worse still, according to the study, some were told that they would have to quit a highly regarded G.E.D. and training program to receive public assistance.

This is alarming given that a fifth of nearly 900,000 New Yorkers between the ages of 17 and 24 are both unemployed and out of school. Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, has promised legislation to require the city to better screen young welfare applicants and direct them to appropriate services. That would be a good start.






The world capital for crimes against humanity this month probably isn't in Libya or Syria. Instead, it's arguably the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, where we're getting accounts of what appears to be a particularly vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing, murder and rape.

In its effort to preclude witnesses, the Sudanese government has barred humanitarian access to the area and threatened to shoot down United Nations helicopters. Sudanese troops even detained four United Nations peacekeepers and subjected them to "a mock firing squad," the U.N. said.

An internal U.N. report says that Sudanese authorities are putting on uniforms of the Sudanese Red Crescent — a local version of the Red Cross — to order displaced people to move away from the United Nations compound. They were then herded into a stadium in the town of Kadugli, where their fate is uncertain.

Western aid workers have been forced to flee, and there are credible reports of government troops and government-backed Arab militias systematically hunting down members of the black-skinned Nuba ethnic group and killing them.

"Door-to-door executions of completely innocent and defenseless civilians, often by throat-cutting, by special internal security forces," a Westerner with long experience in Sudan recounted in a terse e-mail that I posted on my blog. The writer, who was on the scene but has now left, does not want to be named for fear of losing access.

The Rt. Rev. Andudu Elnail, an Episcopal bishop for the Nuba Mountains area, told me that the Sudanese government has targeted many Nuban Christians. Armed forces burned down his cathedral, said Bishop Andudu, who is temporarily in the United States but remains in touch daily with people in the area.

"They're killing educated people, especially black people, and they don't like the church," he said. Women are also being routinely raped, Bishop Andudu said, estimating that the death toll is "more than a few thousand" across the Sudanese state of South Kordofan.

This isn't religious warfare, for many Nubans are Muslim and have also been targeted (including a mosque bombed the other day). The Sudanese military has been dropping bombs on markets and village wells.

The airstrip that I used when I visited the Nuba Mountains has now been bombed to keep humanitarians from flying in relief supplies; the markets I visited are now deserted, according to accounts smuggled out to monitoring groups. At least 73,000 people have fled their homes, the United Nations says.

A network of brave people on the ground, virtually all locals, have been secretly taking photos and transmitting them to human rights organizations in the West like the Enough Project. My hard drive overflows with photos of children bleeding from shrapnel.

Samuel Totten, a genocide scholar at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, visited the Nuba Mountains a year ago to gather historical accounts of the mass killings of Nuba by the Sudanese government in the 1990s. Now, he says, it is all beginning to happen again.

"As I watch the international community dither as the people of the Nuba Mountains are being killed, impunity reigns," said Professor Totten.

The Sudanese government signed a framework agreement on Tuesday that could be a step to end the violence in South Kordofan, but there has been no deal on cessation of hostilities. Sudan has a long record of agreements reached and then breached (by the South as well as the North).

Sudan is preparing for a split on July 9, when South Sudan emerges as an independent nation after decades of on-and-off war between North and South. The Nuba Mountains will remain in the North when the South secedes, but many Nuba sided with the South during the war and still serve in a rebel military force dug into the mountains.

Most of the violence in the Nuba Mountains has been by northern Arabs against the Nuba, but there are also reports of rebel soldiers attacking Arab civilians. There is a risk that violence will spread to the neighboring state of Blue Nile and ultimately trigger a full-blown North-South war, although both sides want to avoid that.

It's critical that the United Nations retain its presence. Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, already indicted for genocide in Darfur, is now visiting China, and Chinese leaders need to insist that he stop the killing of civilians and allow the U.N. to function.

The appeals from Nubans today feel like an anguished echo of those from Darfur eight years ago. Samaritan's Purse, a Christian organization that has long worked in the Nuba Mountains, said it received a message from a Nuban pastor: "With grief today, I want to inform you that the new church is burned down. We have lost everything. The house where my staff lives was looted, and the offices were burned. Many people fled from town, but some stayed. There is no food or water now."






AFTER Barack Obama announced new troop withdrawals from Afghanistan last week, it was no surprise to hear rebukes from the mushrooming field of Republican presidential candidates. The surprise came in what they said: although some predictably implied that he was looking to cut and run, several others declared the move too little, too late.

That break from the usual Republican hawkishness has also been on view in the House, where Republican leaders have faulted the president for using force in Libya without Congressional authorization, especially now that he has run afoul of the War Powers Act. And balanced-budget mania has enabled talk of scaling back defense spending of a sort that Republicans would once have never dared broach.

Suddenly, after the aggressive, militaristic foreign policy of the Bush years, isolationism — a stance that rejects America's leadership role in the world — is on the rise among Republicans. But if this comes as an abrupt break, it is also a return to form: the impulse to retreat from the world stage has a long and hardy pedigree within Republican ranks. And while a dose of caution among conservatives can be refreshing, a Tea Party-led reversion to a dogmatic America First stance could damage both the party and the country.

Modern Republican isolationism began with the 1919 battle over joining the League of Nations, when Senate Republicans, led by so-called Irreconcilables like William Borah of Idaho, killed the deal — even though without American guidance, European affairs were doomed to explode again. A pattern emerged, as liberal Democrats, along with Northeastern Republicans, wanted America to actively manage world affairs, while the Republicans' powerful Midwestern and Western factions viewed cooperative international ventures as dangerously entangling alliances.

The isolationists had complex motives: Congressional vigilance against presidential encroachments on their constitutional powers; a small-town obsession with balanced budgets; and conspiratorial suspicions of foreigners, financiers and — in the case of anti-Semites like Charles A. Lindbergh — Jews. Naturally, isolationism thrived among Congressional Republicans when a Democrat held the White House — as it does again today — but it continued through the Coolidge and Hoover years, too.

Later, Republicans resisted Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to gird the nation for war, passing legislation that limited rearmament and support for European allies. Only the bombing of Pearl Harbor banished the isolationists to the margins.

Some thought World War II, which proved the need for American leadership, would kill off isolationism. Yet with Harry S. Truman as president and the Republicans running Congress after 1946, members of the party's Midwestern faction — led by Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio — vainly fought efforts to promote collective security, including NATO and the Marshall Plan.

Right-wing isolationism seemed to die again after 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower, an internationalist, vanquished Taft in an epic battle for the presidential nomination. As vigorous a cold warrior as Truman, Eisenhower articulated a staunch anti-Communism behind which most of his party could unite.

Yet the G.O.P.'s isolationist strain, though submerged, remained alive. Shattering the cold war consensus, the Vietnam War not only spawned a new "Come Home, America" sentiment on the left but also brought out the old-fashioned isolationism of Midwestern reactionaries like the activist Phyllis Schlafly and the radio host Paul Harvey. In a 1976 vice presidential debate, Senator Bob Dole, the Republican nominee, seethed over the century's four "Democrat wars."

A string of internationalist G.O.P. presidents, from Richard M. Nixon to the first George Bush, helped recast the Republicans on foreign policy, but isolationism emerged once more in the 1990s. Several events — the fall of the Soviet Union, the perception that Mr. Bush's foreign affairs focus blinded him to economic suffering at home — led Republican congressmen to oppose President Bill Clinton's myriad global initiatives, from the Balkan campaigns to United Nations financing to arms control treaties.

Given the Republican chest-thumping after 9/11, it was easy to assume that the party had finally and completely jettisoned its isolationist tendencies. But a decade later, with fear of Islamist terrorism subsiding, they are again in evidence, at a moment when the world needs America to play a stabilizing role. And this time, the G.O.P.'s old Eastern wing, which used to provide internationalist ballast, is almost nonexistent.

A healthy democracy needs critics, particularly when it engages in risky overseas adventures. But the doctrinaire call to drastically scale back our global leadership role has usually led us into error, making the world a more chaotic and dangerous place. Following the path of isolationism today won't serve America well. Nor will it help the Republicans.

David Greenberg, a historian at Rutgers, is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.






FOOD is responsible for 10 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. By many estimates, cooking represents more of a meal's carbon footprint than transport. For certain vegetables, it accounts for more emissions than agriculture, transport and disposal combined.

Fourth of July, the national celebration of combustion, presents an opportunity for atonement.

I'm not advising you to forsake grilling this holiday and join the ranks of raw-foodists. Nor do I believe that we can reverse climate change by eating burgers rare instead of well done. But a little creative thinking can reduce this year's Fourth of July carbon emissions without gustatory sacrifice. And maybe that awareness will carry into other days and other parts of our lives.

Consider potato salad: a pale mixture of boiled potatoes and mayonnaise that is sometimes appetizing but always wasteful. An overwhelming majority of the energy in boiling goes into heating the water rather than cooking the potatoes.

Direct-heat methods are more efficient and usually tastier. Cubed and pan-fried potatoes take just 10 minutes to cook and require less than one-third the energy of boiling. (According to my math, microwaving potatoes is about 40 percent more efficient than pan-frying them on an electric stove, but when I do it the potatoes come out rubbery, and that is too much sacrifice for a holiday.)

If you insist on boiling, lower the heat once bubbles appear. Keeping the burner on high only speeds evaporation; it doesn't make the water any hotter or shorten cooking time. And cut the pieces small, because cooking time decreases as surface area increases.

Now for the burgers and dogs. First, a green disclaimer. Beef is an environmental disaster, no matter how you cook it. However, if you can't resist grilled cow, your big decision is between charcoal and propane.

Charcoal is made of wood, so the carbon it releases upon combustion is approximately equal to the carbon the tree it came from once removed from the atmosphere. In theory, charcoal should be less damaging than propane, which releases carbon that has been sequestered harmlessly underground for hundreds of millions of years.

It's far more complicated in practice, though. We get most lump charcoal from cutting down mesquite trees, and in addition to the deforestation effect, it takes more fuel to produce and transport charcoal than it does propane. As a result, according to a 2009 study in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review, propane is nearly three times as efficient as lump charcoal.

Charcoal briquettes, however, are a different story. The compressed round briquettes are made from scrap wood that would otherwise go to waste. The better manufacturers build their plants near construction centers and use recycled heat from those centers to power their briquette kilns. If you take that into account, charcoal briquettes are ahead of lump charcoal and propane as the best option in terms of climate change. (Any kind of charcoal, however, releases more particulate matter than propane, which makes charcoal a greater contributor to air pollution. There are few easy choices in environmental analysis.)

And finally we come to dessert. Skip the pie. Baking is so energy profligate that the government hasn't yet figured out a way to reward any residential ovens with the Energy Star label.

Here's where you can really make use of your briquettes. One problem with charcoal is that you can't turn it off when the burgers are done. In most backyards that means lots of heat — and carbon dioxide — goes to waste. Not in your yard, though.

Use that leftover charcoal glow to grill up dessert. Apples, pears, peaches and nectarines grill beautifully, and are even better à la mode. Or you can prepare a cobbler in a foil pan and grill it on the dying coals. From an environmental perspective, that's free energy.

Maybe an Independence Day meal of pan-fried potatoes and grilled peaches seems un-American. But the tradition of backyard grilling isn't exactly Jeffersonian in pedigree. Independence Day feasts in the early 1800s featured such classic American fare as turtle soup. By midcentury, revelers were gathering en masse to buy parts of whole roast pigs from street vendors. (A British visitor pondered, "What association can there be between roast pig and independence?") Backyard grilling didn't become popular until the interwar period at the earliest, and accelerated with the baby boom and suburbanization that followed World War II.

In other words, there's nothing so very sacred about the Fourth of July cookout. So this year, why not experiment?

Brian Palmer writes for Slate and The Washington Post.






YESTERDAY, the whole world was watching Greece as its Parliament voted to pass a divisive package of austerity measures that could have critical ramifications for the global financial system. It may come as a surprise that this tiny tip of the Balkan Peninsula could command such attention. We usually think of Greece as the home of Plato and Pericles, its real importance lying deep in antiquity. But this is hardly the first time that to understand Europe's future, you need to turn away from the big powers at the center of the continent and look closely at what is happening in Athens. For the past 200 years, Greece has been at the forefront of Europe's evolution.

In the 1820s, as it waged a war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, Greece became an early symbol of escape from the prison house of empire. For philhellenes, its resurrection represented the noblest of causes. "In the great morning of the world," Shelley wrote in "Hellas," his poem about the country's struggle for independence, "Freedom's splendor burst and shone!" Victory would mean liberty's triumph not only over the Turks but also over all those dynasts who had kept so many Europeans enslaved. Germans, Italians, Poles and Americans flocked to fight under the Greek blue and white for the sake of democracy. And within a decade, the country won its freedom.

Over the next century, the radically new combination of constitutional democracy and ethnic nationalism that Greece embodied spread across the continent, culminating in "the peace to end all peace" at the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman, Hapsburg and Russian empires disintegrated and were replaced by nation-states.

In the aftermath of the First World War, Greece again paved the way for Europe's future. Only now it was democracy's dark side that came to the fore. In a world of nation-states, ethnic minorities like Greece's Muslim population and the Orthodox Christians of Asia Minor were a recipe for international instability. In the early 1920s, Greek and Turkish leaders decided to swap their minority populations, expelling some two million Christians and Muslims in the interest of national homogeneity. The Greco-Turkish population exchange was the largest such organized refugee movement in history to that point and a model that the Nazis and others would point to later for displacing peoples in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India.

It is ironic, then, that Greece was in the vanguard of resistance to the Nazis, too. In the winter of 1940-41, it was the first country to fight back effectively against the Axis powers, humiliating Mussolini in the Greco-Italian war while the rest of Europe cheered. And many cheered again a few months later when a young left-wing resistance fighter named Manolis Glezos climbed the Acropolis one night with a friend and pulled down a swastika flag that the Germans had recently unfurled. (Almost 70 years later, Mr. Glezos would be tear-gassed by the Greek police while protesting the austerity program.) Ultimately, however, Greece succumbed to German occupation. Nazi rule brought with it political disintegration, mass starvation and, after liberation, the descent of the country into outright civil war between Communist and anti-Communist forces.

Only a few years after Hitler's defeat, Greece found itself in the center of history again, as a front line in the cold war. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman used the intensifying civil war there to galvanize Congress behind the Truman Doctrine and his sweeping peacetime commitment of American resources to fight Communism and rebuild Europe. Suddenly elevated into a trans-Atlantic cause, Greece now stood for a very different Europe — one that had crippled itself by tearing itself apart, whose only path out of the destitution of the mid-1940s was as a junior partner with Washington. As the dollars poured in, American advisers sat in Athens telling Greek policy makers what to do and American napalm scorched the Greek mountains as the Communists were put to flight.

European political and economic integration was supposed to end the weakness and dependency of the divided continent, and here, too, Greece was an emblem of a new phase in its history. The fall of its military dictatorship in 1974 not only brought the country full membership in what would become the European Union; it also (along with the transitions in Spain and Portugal at the same time) prefigured the global democratization wave of the 1980s and '90s, first in South America and Southeast Asia and then in Eastern Europe. And it gave the European Union the taste for enlargement and the ambition to turn itself from a small club of wealthy Western European states into a voice for the newly democratic continent as a whole, extending far to the south and east.

And now today, after the euphoria of the '90s has faded and a new modesty sets in among the Europeans, it falls again to Greece to challenge the mandarins of the European Union and to ask what lies ahead for the continent. The European Union was supposed to shore up a fragmented Europe, to consolidate its democratic potential and to transform the continent into a force capable of competing on the global stage. It is perhaps fitting that one of Europe's oldest and most democratic nation-states should be on the new front line, throwing all these achievements into question. For we are all small powers now, and once again Greece is in the forefront of the fight for the future.

Mark Mazower is a professor of history at Columbia University.








The elections in Azad Jammu Kashmir have produced results which suggest a distinct change in the prevailing order in the region. The results have also brought a great deal of acrimony to the political scene. Such serious repercussions have rarely stemmed from the polls in Kashmir; in the past, Kashmir was generally isolated from other parts of the country, even if there was sometimes an unhealthy degree of intervention in its affairs. This year, the PPP has won the lion's share of seats, claiming 21 of the 36 seats announced. The PML-N, making its first entry into the often murky world of AJK politics has claimed eight seats while the Muslim Conference – the party that has for decades dominated the politics of Kashmir – has been effectively wiped out, left clinging rather pathetically to only four seats. Even the sitting Prime Minister Sardar Attique struggled to hold onto his seat while his son lost the one he contested. Perhaps, more significant than the actual results are the widespread allegations of rigging that accompanied them. The PPP has accused the PML-N of fixing the results in Punjab while almost every other party has accused the PPP of arranging widespread manipulation. The rifts that have developed over the AJK polls have had a significant impact on events at the national level. The coalition partnership between the MQM and the PPP has collapsed. This time a patch-up seems a lot less likely. The PPP may have secured Kashmir. But we must ask what it has lost in the process.

Looking beyond the MQM issue, there is also growing hostility between the PPP and the PML-N. Violent clashes between the two sides took place in various constituencies in Kashmir. The structure of the Kashmir Assembly may have been decided for now. But a great deal hangs in the air with the action now likely to move to the courts and also quite possibly on to the streets in both Kashmir and other parts of the country as the full fall-out from the polling process becomes more apparent. This acute rise in tensions influences many aspects of life in the country. The lack of political stability is a key reason for the problems we face in finding economic equilibrium. It is clear that the discord between parties does not help matters. In Kashmir, this mistrust has been reflected more clearly than ever before in the unruly polling process.








Gen Pervez Musharraf's personal ambitions neatly coincided with the state of the State in October 1999; despite Mian Nawaz Sharif's "heavy mandate", Musharraf's military takeover was widely welcomed by all sections of society. Expected to correct the system of governance turned by a decade of 'democracy' into a complete farce, the premise was that if Musharraf succeeded in correcting the anomalies disfiguring democracy, Pakistan would succeed. His "A" team of technocrats ranged from "below average" to "brilliant" individuals. Muting any criticism of the "Chief Executive", as the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) styled himself, many applauded his achievements – the establishment of the National Accountability Bureau (Nab) to target endemic corruption was particularly stupendous.

For a dictator to be successful he has to be sincere and be served by honest and efficient colleagues to articulate his policies and initiatives. His Principal Staff Officer (PSO) Lt Gen Ghulam Ahmad who ensured Musharraf's first years had far more pros than cons, was unfortunately killed in a car crash. Surrounded by sycophants and courtiers, it was all downhill thereafter. From an international pariah, 9/11 made Musharraf the "darling of the West," only delaying the inevitable.

Ziaur Rahman's Martial Law in Bangladesh from 1975 to 1978 was reasonably successful, mainly because his own honesty and integrity combined well with the brilliance of his PSO, Maj Gen Nurul Islam. Rahman won generally free and fair direct presidential elections post-martial law by a wide margin. However when it came to transitioning to civilian life, he and his military colleagues failed. The ultimate and ironic tragedy is that this honest leader's wife, Khaleda Zia, along with her two sons broke all records for corruption.

In the effort to prolong his rule Musharraf bartered away Nab's integrity by being selective about accountability. Musharraf lost his credibility totally when in a last ditch effort to cling to presidential office by hook or by crook, he sold the country's soul by enacting the NRO.

To quote from my article of June 29, 1995, "Why do Martial Laws fail?" "Martial Laws fail because the initiators of all extra-constitutional rule ride into town on tanks with the lofty Aim of saving the country, relying on that platonic "national purpose" to make themselves credible. They soon adjust the Aim to more material (and less patriotic) reasons of self-perpetuation. The original Aim remains publically the same but becomes an exercise in self-delusion. This diversion of the Aim means that one individual or group is simply replaced by another (or others), instead of being a transition mechanism that provides for and facilitates the process of the democratic system being repaired and renovated to reflect "the real genius and aspirations of the people" (Incidentally these were the words of president Iskandar Mirza who declared Pakistan's first countrywide martial law on Oct 7, 1958), Gen Ayub Khan deposed him 20 days later. His Martial Law was tough, complete with Martial Law courts and punishment thereof.

While both Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq emulated Ayub, Musharraf's discarded the usual trappings of military courts, intelligently camouflaging Martial Law under a civilian façade. In my article "A Refined Pakistani Model" on July 17, 2008, I added "In both the models, the Army went wrong in (1) instead of using the civilian bureaucracy for governance, they targeted them and opted for technocrats (2) replaced bureaucrats wholesale with Army officers and above all (3) the Army Chiefs put their personal ambition over the national interest. The Musharraf model was refined by Gen Moeen in Bangladesh in early 2006 by keeping Army officers away from civilian governance. Unfortunately the "Bangladesh model" was only partially successful. Instead of leaving it to the Supreme Court (SC), the Army got involved in the accountability process. This tended to become selective and was compounded by allowing the military intelligence services to manipulate the political system. One major success was a clean and honest Election Commission making credible electoral rolls and cleansing the electoral system of bogus votes. In contrast, the recent elections in Azad Kashmir have shown that our electoral exercise will always be fraudulent – the bedrock of bogus votes makes democracy a farce.

Before Musharraf was ceremoniously shown the door, my article "A Failed Civilian Coup" on July 31, 2008 said, "Pervez Musharraf may be vilified for any number of reasons, no one can question his patriotism. For the sake of Pakistan, one appeals to the President to correct two major blunders immediately viz (1) repeal the NRO and (2) withdraw the Nov 3 PCO action. Whenever nations are in crisis, leaders are expected to rise above their individual agendas to secure the country's sovereignty and integrity", unquote. Despite a lot of rhetoric emanating from the SC, the NRO judgement has not been acted upon; Nab has not only become non-functional, it is a standing example that crime does pay in Pakistan.

Notwithstanding Asif Zardari claiming to have "educated" our military hierarchy to enjoy their material benefits rather than attempting treason. Martial Law has been imposed before, in whatever form it will be imposed in the future. Those who believe that the 18th Amendment is the ultimate deterrence are living in a fool's world, subverting the Constitution was always treason but it did not deter earlier bouts of military rule. The intelligentsia has the naïve perception that Western democracies will never accept military rule; if this is really true, why is everyone and their uncle comfortable with the Egyptian and Tunisian Armies overturning the Constitution?

Crass materialism weakens the courage of conviction and moral obligation to one's conscience to act above and beyond the call of responsibility. One can send others to their deaths for a higher cause but how many of us can gamble losing the comforts of living around (and even in) golf courses?

The country is not yet in a state of anarchy that the federal government seems to be. Damage control and recovery of stable governance will be that much harder if the situation rapidly deteriorates. One can only pick up the pieces if there are any pieces left to pick. To safeguard the nascent democratic system would require the president to change the present mode of governance from one of nepotism and corruption to that of honesty and integrity. But with the military hierarchy seemingly compromised, Zardari is not in any tearing hurry to do so.

The ultimate option, a refined "Pakistan model", is the route of last resort but lessons need to be learnt from the 1999 Pakistan and 2007 Bangladesh military interventions. Uniformed personnel must support honest and capable bureaucrats in running the affairs of governance as only they can, with a few specialist technocrats thrown in. Only a swift return to democratic rule – with accountability extending to the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the military – holds hope for Pakistan.

We still do not qualify for the list of failed States, but we are trekking a fail-safe line of sorts. Unless the present democracy opts for course correction, the state of the State is such that intervention will again become a viable option, Article 6 and the 18th Amendment notwithstanding.

If we act too late, we are indeed doomed.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@








Shrouded in an overwhelming dust, Kabul hasn't changed much since 2008 when I last visited the town. An aggressive construction spree goes on while the streets, save some artery roads, remain unpaved. These unpaved streets contribute to the dust but it is the massacre of trees during the 90s that is responsible for the stifling cloud of dust that emerges every summer.

Arriving from Pakistan, one is indeed pleasantly surprised not to be tormented by power outages. Three years ago, electricity was a three-hour-a-day affair in most parts of Kabul. However, electrification outside of Kabul remains a distant dream. Electrification has touched hardly 10 percent of the country, mostly big towns. It, therefore, is curiously interesting to note the media explosion in Afghanistan ever since the Taliban's exit.

There are at least 25 TV channels, including the state-owned RTA, wandering the country's airwaves and vying for an audience. Since penetration of the television is indeed limited, radio remains the major source of mediatisation. There has been a phenomenal growth in the number of privately-owned radio stations. There are at least 110 radio stations, most of them are accessible on FM and target a certain city or region. With the advent of local radio stations, even the BBC's Persian and Pashto services are losing their audiences.

Similarly, the print medium has been revived. Counting on a global focus on Afghanistan, at least two English-language dailies have been launched from Kabul. A host of Persian-language and Pashto-language publications have also appeared. Social media is also offering opportunities that were not available under the Taliban's anti-development tyranny. Like television, the internet was also banned. Only Mullah Omar and a handful of other Taliban leaders had access to the internet.

It was, ironically, a website run by women rights' group, Rawa that documented and exposed the Taliban's atrocities. The Rawa website remains a great window of alternative information on Afghanistan. Similarly, Kabulpress has made a mark through its expose of governmental corruption scandals. There are 70,000 Facebook users while thousands of bloggers try to create a space for themselves. Bosa, for instance, is a Persian-Pashto blog by a left activist attracting hundreds of daily visits. However, like elsewhere in the present world, urbanised Afghans remain glued to TV screens especially when TV remains the only source of entertainment. Besides business-as-usual talk shows, prime time TV is consumed by soap operas.

Last time I came to Kabul, Indian soap operas were dominating the screens. These days, Turkish soap operas command total control. A couple of Pakistani plays have also been aired. These days Kausar TV is airing an Iranian soap opera, Piamber Yusuf (Prophet Joseph) that indeed is a novelty in the Muslim world. Then there is TV 7 that endlessly shows Bollywood productions. Ariya, launched by woman politician Shukriya Barakzai, is a children's channel. There are three religious channels (Kausar, Dawat, and Tamadun). There isn't any sports channel and only one channel, Tolo News, is fully dedicated to news. Owing to the popularity of these channels, BBC Persian is considering collaborating with a local TV channel while Euronews is already collaborating with TV 1.

But how do these channels sustain themselves economically? Well, ill-gotten money ruthlessly minted by Afghanistan's brutal warlords, is the engine for the Afghan media's political economy.

Even if TV channels and newspapers dare not speak the truth, dissident voices manage to convey subversive ideas through alternative means of communications. Social media outlets have become a menace. Hence, it was important for the warlords to have a machine of their own to put their own spin on the truth.

Therefore, we find Rashid Dostum running Aiena (Mirror) TV. It is broadcast in Afghanistan and through a Turkish satellite, across the region. Sheikh Asif Mohseni, a warlord backed by Iran, has launched Tamadun (Civilisation) TV. Haji Mohaqiq, yet another Iran-backed warlord, is running Farda (Tomorrow). Haji Arif, a notorious warlord from the Northern Alliance, owns Noorin (Lights) while Burhanudin Rabbani controls Noor (Light). Karim Khalili, also an Iranian boot, lords over Negah TV. The Sepaher TV is Amanullah Guzar's brainchild. He is another ruthless crook from the Northern Alliance. Arzo TV is owned by Tajik warlord Atta Muhammad Noor. Dawat is the most interesting case; it is run by Abdulrab Rasol Sayyaf. A Wahabi fundamentalist, Sayyaf was a darling of the ISI and Saudi intelligence back in the 80s. Many Taliban leaders arose out of Sayyaf's Ittehad-e-Islami. In a changed world, he not merely embraced Uncle Sam the infidel but also gave up his anti-TV ideology. He regularly lectures on Dawat!

Some of these media moguls have a record of serious human rights abuses. The Human Rights Watch, for instance, has named Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, Haji Muhammad Mohaqiq, and Burhanudin Rabbani as war criminals.

True, not all the TV channels are run by warlords. Tolo network (consisting of Tolo, Tolo News, Lemar), TV 1, TV 7, Ariya, Shamshad, Zhwandoon etc are purely commercial ventures initiated by adventurous businessmen. However, in an atmosphere of fear and terror, truth often proves costly. Ever since Hamid Karzai has been imposed on Kabul, over 20 Afghan journalists have been murdered while over 200 violent physical attacks against journalists have been reported. Many have fled Afghanistan after receiving threats. One young journalist, Kambaksh, was sentenced to death though the sentence was commuted under international pressure. Several remain in jail after being arrested for their work. Radio and television stations, print media, and internet services have been attacked.

Meanwhile, women journalists have been systematically target-killed by the misogynistic Taliban as well as their counterparts in Karzai's team. These misogynists consider women's very appearance on screen an obscenity.

Zakia Zaki, for instance, was killed in 2007. Nilofar Habibi, working with Heart TV, was stabbed. She had been warned against appearing on TV. A presenter on Tolo TV, Shaima Razayee was warned by fundamentalists about her 'unIslamic' programmes. One day she was found shot dead in her apartment. She was only 24. On June 1, 2007 a newscaster for Shamshad TV was killed in Kabul.

The writer is a freelance contributor.









Let me begin this article by saying that it is inspired by the Fatima Bhutto gave when she was invited to 'open' the Sydney Writer's Festival last month. A scion of the Bhutto clan that has held power off and on in Pakistan, she was asked to talk about the present state of her country – the nervous breakdown of Pakistan, as she called it. The topic was bound to generate much attention at the festival, especially because the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is just around the corner.

It became even more interesting to have a Pakistani deliver the opening speech because two weeks before the festival, the saga (read western obsession) that was Bin Laden, was finally put to rest. Not only did Fatima's words draw applause from the festival's audience, but the social media such as Facebook delivered her speech to our doorstep within minutes. One month later, the video continues to generate hundreds of views everyday.

Fatima's witty, yet eloquent rhetoric was indeed commendable. Her opinion on the American (man)handling of Pakistan was candid, and she had a very open, no-nonsense choice of words when it came to detailing Pakistan's problems. She did not, of course have solutions for any of them, but then, with the kind of issues faced by Pakistan, there cannot be just one solution. As she said, it has to be several consistent changes that are carried out by people like you and me.

Now before you jump to conclusions, let me clarify that I am not a particularly great admirer of the Bhutto legacy and what it has left behind in Pakistan. In fact, I am not a fan at all. But what Fatima said resonated exceptionally well with what most sane, educated and enlightened Pakistanis are already saying. It is also what many journalists have already stated in articles, news reports and documentaries, many losing their lives for doing so. But as I read the comments that people left behind after hearing her speech, I wondered why we raise such a hue and cry if someone decides to take our case to a forum beyond the borders of Pakistan. Why should we wash our dirty laundry in public, they asked. My answer, we have no reason not to.

No matter how destitute a country, or how limited its resources, there is at least a semblance of what they can call justice. Be it the west or India, which continues to be a sort of benchmark for Pakistanis when it comes to making comparisons, a mode of justice prevails everywhere.

In Pakistan, justice is not integrated at any level whether official or un-official governing body. There is never any guarantee that people's woes and concerns will be redressed, no matter how heinous the crime committed against them.

So while educated Pakistanis are willing to talk about the country's woes behind closed doors of their drawing rooms, no one (except for journalists) dares to step out and speak. And frankly speaking, who can blame them? After all, this is a country where ministers holding public offices are easily shot dead – in broad daylight too. Journalists (the count is in dozens) are kidnapped for days before they return to their loved ones, gift-wrapped in body bags. And the common man cannot venture out for so much as even a walk in the neighbourhood park without being afraid of being shot!

Many of those who commit such breaches of law have the audacity to accept and speak out about their misdeeds in public because they know that the country's set-up will grant them the impunity to do what they want.

Some years ago when Mukhtaran Mai (the courageous woman who went public about her gang-rape and forced naked parade in her village for no fault of her own) wanted to travel to the US and have someone narrate her pitiful story to the world, people said that she was hungry for fame. Even the ex-president Musharraf was extremely upset. NGOs were using her to humiliate and debase Pakistan, he said.

Why would a woman who was gang-raped come up with a publicity stunt like that? Forget that. Tell me, did Mai ever get justice in her country?

After having her case knocked about in various courts for nine years, it finally reached the Supreme Court. And I am ashamed (and disgusted) to say that her legal battle was tossed out of there last month, acquitting all except one of those who were accused of the atrocious crime.

Remember those two young boys in Sialkot who were lynched by a mob. A whole cross-section of the society bore witness to the heinous act, with some even cheering on the killers. Was anyone punished for the crime – twin murders in this instance?

And yes, the most recent theory about the man who was shot point blank by Rangers in a neighbourhood park in Karachi. Apparently, the initial video was incomplete, and did not show the said man (who lost his life) arguing with the rangers and scuffling, to take away the gun of one of the six Rangers who were all carrying weapons.

In fact, instead of acknowledging our flaws and working towards rectifying our actions, we like to take refuge, as Fatima Bhutto said, in a shadowy world of maybes and maybe nots. We thrive on conspiracy theories.

Maybe Mai was hoping for a marriage proposal from one of those accused of raping her.

Maybe the two boys in Sialkot really were thieves, intent on stealing from the 'good' people of their city. And yes, the most recent theory about the man who was shot point blank by Rangers in a neighbourhood park in Karachi. Apparently, the initial video was incomplete, and did not show the said man (who lost his life) arguing with the rangers and scuffling, to take away the gun of one of the six Rangers who were all carrying weapons.

The best way to save our country from the accusation that holds all of us responsible for this lack of accountability is to stand up and tell the world that we don't agree with it. And no, that does not mean disowning our country.

To work towards betterment, we might have to admit to the world that things really are as bad as they think. Yes, it's true that in our country, corruption starts at the grassroots level and moves up, that accountability is non-existent, and that people are using our peace-loving religion, Islam, for their own motives.

If we are unwilling to speak out in Pakistan for fear of losing limbs, loved ones or our lives, then we must speak at forums where we can. Yes, even international ones.

The beginning must be with an acceptance of our problems (at every level) rather than brushing them under the carpet on the pretext of defending our country's impression globally.

We must have a unity of objective. That objective may be to introduce accountability and justice into the country's governing bodies. Or work towards abolishing the feudal system that should have been done away with in 1947.

But most important of all, we must learn tolerance. We have to co-exist and work together, even when there are myriad opinions and difference in outlook. We must also learn to express our views and dissent in a more disciplined manner than we do.









The federal cabinet has approved the devolution of seven more ministries to the provinces, completing the devolution process two days before the deadline stipulated under the 18th Amendment. This latest round marks the third and final phase of the implementation of the 18th Amendment and brings the total number of devolved ministries to 17. However, a large number of the ministries' functions have been retained and reassigned either to the cabinet, or planning and inter-provincial coordination divisions. These exceptions, reportedly made for 'technical reasons,' such as the need for central planning of projects that go beyond provincial borders, will surely spark political problems. Interestingly the ministers of the devolved ministries are to stay in the cabinet on account of what the prime minister termed their valuable services. And people will of course continue to bear the burden of the perks and privileges these cabinet members will continue to enjoy.

Apprehensions are already rife that the transfer of assets to the provinces might be hampered. In this regard, the Punjab chief minister has sent a letter to the prime minister seeking a meeting of the Council of Common Interests. It seems the federal government wants to retain institutions of 'national importance' while the Punjab government wants complete devolution in "letter and spirit." For instance, the devolution of the Sports Ministry means nothing if the PCB is excluded, which the federal government wants to retain in the 'national interest'. Similarly, while the Ministry of Minority Affairs has been devolved, the centre wants to retain the Evacuee Property Trust Board. Conflict also surrounds the Workers Welfare Fund and the Employees Old Age Benefit Institution under the Labour Ministry. The provinces still have to sort out a way of distributing funds, and while proposals were considered on the basis of the NFC Award, nothing could be finalised, and the federal government has finally decided to share ownership of the WWF and EOBI with the provinces. The completion of the final phase of devolution marks a stride towards realising the promise of the 1973 Constitution. But while the formal process is complete, there is no denying that provincial authorities lack the capacity to discharge their added responsibilities. However, it is also important to consider that the provinces won't acquire this capacity until they are assigned this task. Devolution will surely pose some teething problems but these problems can, and should, be solved through sober dialogue and sustained and sincere efforts at capacity building.







At least five suicide bombers attacked a famous Kabul hotel on Tuesday and waged a battle with security forces for almost five hours. The Kabul police say 10 Afghans, mostly hotel workers, have died in the attack. Ironically, at the time of the strike, guests at the hotel included provincial governors present in Kabul to attend a conference on the transition of civil and military responsibility from the foreign forces to the Afghans. Earlier in the day, before the attack began, officials from the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan had met to discuss prospects for making peace with Taliban insurgents. The attack was a stark reminder that many challenges remain. The assault seems calculated to prove that insurgents have the ability to attack the centre of power in Afghanistan - an ominous reminder a week after President Obama made an announcement about US troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan. That the raid ended when a Nato helicopter killed the remaining insurgents in a final rooftop battle was embarrassing for an Afghan government that claims that local forces are ready for security challenges.

Violence in the Afghan capital has increased the start of the Taliban's annual spring offensive. In the wake of the latest attack, many believe that those who want an immediate, full exit of US and Nato forces from Afghanistan are making a grave mistake, risking a Taliban takeover of substantial portions of Afghanistan. Sceptics also believe a hasty exist may undermine peace negotiations if the Taliban believe they could simply wait out the departure. Withdrawing US combat forces from areas that have seen a loss of Taliban control also threatens to unhinge the fragile, hard-fought success. On the other hand, a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan flies in the face of serious negotiations to end the war. Besides ending foreign occupation, the biggest challenge is to end Afghanistan's 35 year-old civil war. Talks among all Afghan stakeholders, including the Taliban, seem to be the best option.








This is in response to Adiah Afraz's column titled "My superheroes at close range" (Jun 26) printed in The News. Adiah Afraz's depiction of the scene at the lower courts is indeed telling. For the millions of poor souls who have had to approach the courts, time and again, often under situations of great distress, these horrors are only too well-known. But the narrative that emerges from Adiah's column, 'My superheroes at close range' seems to put the blame on the shoulders of the lower court judges, who are depicted as a complacent lot, endlessly vacationing and living lives of great luxury, while the litigant public suffers. This seems to be in line with an emerging narrative about our legal system. Notice, for instance, the recent editorial of a major English daily which mentions "cutting judges` vacations till the backlog is cleared" as a possible solution to the backlog problem. Various directives of the superior judiciary, urging lower court judges to expedite case disposal, also seem to be locked in this narrative.

Perhaps a more balanced picture would emerge if we took stock of three critical facts about the Pakistani legal system. Firstly, in all, there are only around two thousand judges in this country of 170 million. This means that we have, roughly, just one judge for a hundred thousand citizens. By international or even historical standards, this is clearly a case of acute shortage. In this situation, trying to squeeze yet more work hours out of already overburdened judges can be counterproductive because judging is not a mechanical task. To discharge their jobs effectively, judges require peace of mind and composure, which over-worked workhorses cannot possibly have.

Secondly, we must remember that until about three years back, when Mian Shahbaz Sharif took the courageous step of giving the judges in Punjab a three-fold pay raise, the judges of the lower courts were being paid peanuts. Even today, salaries of the senior-most lower court judges do not come close to those of their compatriots in the legal fraternity or, even more so, in the corporate world. If Adiah wonders aloud "oh why, was I not a judge of the lower court myself?" that's probably because at the time she was planning her future career, a freshly-inducted lower court judge in the country was only getting a notch more than, perhaps, a clerk in a private office. The sad but undeniable reality of the modern world is that talent cannot be attracted, and excellence cannot be expected, without paying for it. Perhaps because of a belated national realisation about the importance of spending on the justice sector, this situation is gradually improving. Judges' (and court staff's) salaries are being raised in province after province, but the work ethic will take longer to change.

Thirdly, Adiah should know that the lower courts are not just called 'subordinate' courts, they are actually treated like that by the superior courts; the lawyers also take a cue from this and do not accord judges of the lower courts the respect which is due to the office of a judge, if justice is ever to flourish in a society. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing 'lowly' about the job of the 'lower' courts; it's just that they are the 'trial courts', while the 'superior' courts are 'appellate courts'. It is the so-called lower courts which are the mainstay of the judicial system; the 'superior courts', despite all their pomp and privilege, are actually only supposed to get into action in the rare case that the 'lower' courts make a mistake. All the Hollywood shows that fostered Adiah's illusions about glamorous lawyers and drama-filled court-rooms in the US, are actually about the 'lower courts'. That the limelight in Pakistan has been stolen by the appellate courts is a sure sign of an unhealthy dispensation in the justice sector.

For all of these reasons, when apportioning blame for the malaise that afflicts the lower courts, blaming the judges there is most unfair.

The final point that I wish to make is that while the symptoms of dysfunction in our judicial system have long been known to everyone, an accurate, fact-based and nuanced analysis is still not there. If you ask our judges, court administrators, hot-shot lawyers and law reform experts about it, they will never admit it; but the sad fact is that when you dig a bit deeper, you discover that no one has either a clear picture of the malaise, nor a well-research action plan. This is probably because just as the nation failed to make the requisite investment in its judges, it also didn't breed a cadre of capable 'legal academics', who could provide the analysis that is needed.

It is high time that we start investing in our lower court judges and in our legal academics. The close range observation of journalists searching for superheroes in the big, bad world of flawed mortals, serves the useful function of alarming us about the problem; but it cannot tell us how to solve it.

The writer is a lawyer and researcher based in Islamabad. E-mail:









The writer is a freelance columnist

and former newspaper editor

As was the case with men in ancient times, we too seem to be living on the very edge of civilisation, and are entirely caught up it seems, in waging a daily struggle for survival. The lack of electricity has meant a drastic loss in productivity - and consequent unemployment. It has also, according to medical experts in Islamabad, brought a tidal wave of psychological disorders with around 180 people arriving daily at the main city hospitals, suffering anxiety-related disorders, and mainly insomnia caused by frequent power outages.

If this is the situation in the twin cities, we can only imagine what the situation is like in other places, where loadshedding is still more prolonged and can run to 20 hours a day or more.

As a result of this crisis we seem to have been pushed to the very brink of survival. Certainly, the lives people lead here are not civilised ones. In order to survive the present heat wave, people are resorting to theft; continual theft of ice is being reported from factory units. It appears that people are trying to obtain blocks of ice that can be used to cool water or rags that they may then tie around their heads.

Others balance beds on precariously narrow balconies or roof-tops to try and get some air. To make matters worse, while we are told there is a power deficit of nearly 5000 MWs, all kinds of conspiracy theories abound as to what the reality is and whether some element of conspiracy is involved in the whole matter. There is really no way of knowing, given the swirl of confusion we live in and differing views on the matter.

But this is not the only sign that we may be falling off the brink of the civilised world. In both Karachi and Balochistan, bodies turn up at regular intervals. No one knows who is killing whom, and the violence has nationalist, ethnic, and sectarian undertones. Agency involvement is suspected.

But even as bodies litter streets or fall onto pavements in an apparent re-enactment of the final scenes of some Shakespearean tragedy no one seems especially moved or disturbed by the violence that has become a regular part of life in the country. The same holds true in the case of the bomb blasts and other acts of terrorism that take place on a virtually daily basis.

The allegations that have surfaced recently of possible links between agencies and terrorist groups, as in the case of the recent report in the New York Times of how Osama Bin Laden was protected by a ring in Abbottabad, only adds to the degree of uncertainty which affects us all. In the ongoing game of 'Cowboys and Indians', we do not even know who is on our side and who plays against us.

In more minor matters too we seem to have strayed away from the path of civilised behaviour. The chaos on the roads, the manner in which people in shops treat each other and the behaviour seen in so many other places, are all symptomatic of a nation that is suffering from a malaise that has for too many years been left untreated and unaddressed by those who should be offering cures.

We have seen instead a rapid collapse of governance and the order that should be imposed through the actions of those in charge of running the affairs of State. In place of this order we have lynching, beheading, floggings and the "honour" killings which have placed Pakistan on the list of ignominy in the way it treats its women.

It has also remained on the list of "failed states" put out each year by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine to document the performance of countries in various spheres. At number 12 on the list, Pakistan stands some distance away from Somalia, which takes top place, but is ranked as perhaps the most dangerous place on earth for its own people. Unsurprisingly, most other nations in the South Asian region fare considerably better than us.

The kind of disorder we are talking about now is quite visible on any return to the country from beyond its borders. At immigration counters, even those holding the green Pakistani passports struggle to gain re-entry into their own country. Many have struggled, with visas and other documentations required, to leave it in the first place. The queues are long; signs indicating specific lines are intended for families or the elderly are routinely abused.

The privileged routinely resort to nepotism in order to bypass procedure and for reasons which are entirely unclear staff at counters seems especially uncouth and unhappy about the idea of allowing citizens back into their own country with anything that resembles a pleasant demeanour.

Fist fights and fierce verbal exchanges are known to have broken out in these places and the cameras installed at checkpoints have on occasion been broken by irate passengers frustrated by the entire situation. The contrast with the smiles which greet most people at airports in other parts of the world is, to say the very least, quite striking. We need to consider why we have failed to develop a similar sense of courtesy when it comes to interacting with fellow human beings.

The descent into complete disarray has been speeded up in recent years. The map we are following seems to be leading nowhere. There is doubt in fact as to whether a map exists at all, and if so who is holding it. Sometimes is seems as though tiny pieces of a torn up map are held by different persons who have no desire to piece them together.

It is no wonder we cannot find our way to any place of significance. All kinds of diverse suggestions come up from time to time. But the fact is that if we are to move back into the realm of civilisation, we will need a drastic change in the order of things and a very serious consideration of all that

has gone wrong both in the present and the past.

Other nations scattered across the globe have been able to make a great deal of progress; the lives of their people have improved. There is no reason why we cannot set about the task of emulating them and using the potential we possess to move towards success.








The handing over of seven more ministries to the provinces, announced amidst much fanfare by the prime minister after the federal cabinet and the implementation commission made to carry out the plan set out under the 18th Amendment Bill approved it, completes the process of devolution envisaged under the law.

Senator Raza Rabbani, the architect of the 18th Amendment, described this as the most significant restructuring process since 1947 – though he agreed the provinces still did not have the full degree of autonomy they required.

The declaration of July 1st as Provincial Autonomy Day by the prime minister, coinciding with end of the One Unit system in 1970, indicates how much significance the government attaches to the process. How successful it will be is, for now, an open issue.

The 17 ministries and divisions identified for devolution under the 18th Amendment have now all been handed over to the provinces.

The seven ministries cast away by the centre on Tuesday were the ministries of women development; minorities affairs; sports; environment; health; food and agriculture; and labour and manpower.

Rather strangely – given our need to cut down on administrative expenses and reduce the expansive size of government – the federal ministers in charge of these ministries are to retain their places in cabinet, and of course the powers and privileges that come with them.

The ministries that had already been devolved in earlier phases include those for special initiatives, zakat and ushr, population welfare, youth affairs, local government and rural development, education, social welfare, special education, culture, tourism, livestock and dairy development.

This of course means the provinces acquire charge of key spheres. As a result of the devolution process, the system of local government, put in place under the Musharraf regime, has already been dismantled.

There is also question over whether the provinces have the capacity to handle key areas such as education and health, which have an impact on the lives of millions in the country.

We simply cannot afford to see further deterioration in these areas, given the desperate need to meet the basic needs of the people.

There has also been significant confusion over the fate of bodies such as the Higher Education Commission, the National Commission for the Status of Women and the Workers' Welfare Fund.

Senator Rabbani has said it had been proposed the NCSW be made an autonomous body, while the Workers' Welfare Fund could go under joint provincial and federal ownership.

The status of some 37,400 federal government employees will also be affected, with the majority being transferred to the provinces.

The capacity of the government to manage national affairs has so far been limited and efforts have indeed often been rather clumsy.

Much of the success of the devolution plan will depend on how deftly the process is handled by both the centre and the provinces over the coming days.

If this is not exhibited, the potentially beneficial devolution process could end in chaos.

— Kamila Hyat










AS per announcement of the Federal Cabinet and Chairman Implementation Commission Senator Mian Raza Rabbani the process of devolution of ministries and divisions to the provinces stands completed as provided in the 18th amendment. At a news conference Tuesday, Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said completion of the process marked fulfillment of another commitment made by the PPP in its manifesto.

There is no doubt that transfer of various ministries, divisions and organizations from the Centre to the provinces would go a long way in strengthening the much-talked-about provincial autonomy that is at the heart of sense of deprivation among the smaller provinces. With the transfer of more financial resources to the provinces under 7th NFC Award and delegation of responsibilities under the 18th constitutional amendment, the provinces are now in a better position to respond to the aspirations of their people. But claims of the Government notwithstanding, the fact remains that the process of devolution took much time as the 18th amendment was adopted in April 2010 and even after more than one year, there is still uncertainty about fate of various institutions and many legal questions are also left unattended. While some vested interests took advantage of the situation and tried to get rid of powerful and effective institutions like Higher Education Commission (HEC), there were others who wanted to scuttle the process by retaining ministries despite the fact that there was no ambiguity at all in the Constitution about their future. These ministries have ultimately been devolved within the stipulated period but there are reports that the Government intends to revive them under some other nomenclatures like "Ministry of Food Security", "Ministry of Inter-Faith Harmony" and "Ministry of Drug Control". This would effectively mean negation of the devolution process and undermine its spirit, which should not be done in a democratic polity. There is also strange logic that the Ministers would continue to be within the folds of cabinet when the number of ministries and divisions have reduced, thereby denying the exchequer of the resultant relief. Fate of National Commission for Human Development and "Pakistan Educational Foundation" also hangs in balance. Then a number of laws and Rules of Business of the Federal Government need to be amended as per requirements of the 18th amendment but the Government just started moving towards that direction on the fag end of the deadline. The provinces too have to undertake a comprehensive exercise to take the new responsibilities and all this should be done on fast track basis.






THE Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), which serves as voice of about 1.5 billion Muslims, has changed its name and emblem within the framework of its new vision. But interestingly it will still remain the 'OIC' as 'C' for 'Conference' has been replaced with 'C' for 'Cooperation' and it would now be called 'Organization of Islamic Cooperation'.

The announcement to this effect was made by Secretary General of the organization Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu at the meeting of the OIC Foreign Ministers in Kazakh capital Astana. The new name is indeed more reflective of the aims and objectives of the organization, which, at its first summit meeting in Rabat in 1969 decided that member states would hold talks and consultations together for better and close cooperation in the economic, cultural and spiritual fields, inspired by Islamic teachings. The body was supposed to represent feelings and aspirations of the Ummah and safeguard and promote its interests in an increasingly hostile atmosphere but regrettably it could not perform its duties and functions as per expectations of the Muslims living in different parts of the globe. Late religio-political leader Shah Ahmad Noorani's remarks that it was "Oh I See" epitomized general feelings of the Ummah about the organization that represented their will. At the Makkah Summit in 2005, a group of 'eminent persons' which included Pakistan's Mushahid Hussain Syed as well, was assigned the task of redoing the charter of the organization but even after six years the OIC is nowhere close to the required restructuring to turn it into a dynamic and effective entity. It is time that apart from change of nomenclature, the OIC takes concrete steps not only to safeguard political sovereignty of its member states but also promote economic cooperation at the strength of immense natural resources and human capital of the member countries.






CENTURIES old background and cultural ties have interlinked the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and the three countries need to address the concerns of each other for building trust and cooperative relationship. While Pakistan, because of its centrality and strategic location is endeavouring to resolve its issues with India, we would emphasise it should also focus more on building bridges of understanding with Afghanistan.

In this perspective, the Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, while in Kabul has rightly pointed out that there should be an end to blame game and each side must take responsibility to do its bit and try to remove reservations of the other side. Addressing a press conference in Kabul after Pak,Afghan and US meeting, the Foreign Secretary emphasised for working together to achieve the lofty ideals of peace and stability in the region. In fact there had been some disturbing developments in the past few weeks which dismayed the people in Pakistan. Militants from Afghanistan side launched several raids at Pakistani security check posts and civilian populated areas. These attacks were repulsed and as pointed out by the ISPR spokesman some rockets might have landed across the border during the fighting. In our view the leadership in Afghanistan should strictly avoid hurling allegations on Pakistan and instead work through formal channels, which are available to it, so that the issues are discussed and resolved at appropriate forums. Pakistan for the last three decades has been extending all the support to Afghanistan leadership and its people. Still over three million Afghanis are present in Pakistan and it looks that Durand Line does not exist at Torkham and Chaman as people cross it in thousands particularly during the winter season. On the other hand, talks between Pakistan and India at Secretaries level have resumed and both sides appear to be interested to reduce the atmosphere of mistrust. We hope that the leadership of three countries and particularly Afghanistan will show greater maturity and avoid repeatedly making unpleasant statements. In any case the process of dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the one side and on the other between Pakistan and India should continue to resolve outstanding differences and build trust for the establishment of much needed peace and stability in the region.







On June 25, 2011, during Tehran counter-terrorism Summit the Presidents of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan agreed to join forces in combating militancy. The participants of the summit stressed that their efforts would be aimed at eliminating extremism, militancy, terrorism, as well as rejecting foreign interference, which is in blatant opposition to the spirit of Islam, the peaceful cultural traditions of the region and its peoples' interests," the statement said. It is notable here that three sides conference was held just after the few days of Obama's announcement of withdrawal of 33000 troops from Afghanistan this year.

After OBL killing, President Obama as accepted on 22 June, 2011 has announced U.S. exit strategy from Afghanistan. In this connection Obama declared that he is withdrawing 10,000 troops by the end of this year, another 23,000 troops will leave Afghanistan in September 2012 and final transition would likely to be completed by 2014. Therefore 33, 0000 troops out of 150000 troops will fall back to their houses from the thick of the battle this year and remaining 1, 27000 would be back to U.S in the next two years.

Simultaneously to implement her exit policy from Afghanistan, Washington without taking Pakistan into confidence has also started directly contacting Taliban. Afghan President Karazai in mid Jun, 2011 has also confirmed that U.S contacted number of various groups (including Mullha Umar). Astonishingly, at the same time American leadership has also started showing concern over Pakistani nuclear programme and claimed that U.S. can win war without Pakistan. On June 17, Washington expressed apprehension while saying that the Pakistani nuclear weapons and technology might fall into the hands of terrorists and thus stressed on having the lines of communications open with Islamabad. In this connection, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in a joint conference said that Pakistan is a country with an awful lot of terrorists on that border. Mullen further said that, "Things that I fear in the future, it's the proliferation of that technology, and it's the opportunity and the potential that it could fall into the hands of terrorists, many of whom are alive and well and seek that in that region. On May 24, the head of NATO in Afghanistan, Anders Fogh Rasmussen also stated, "He was confident that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were safe, but admitted that security had become a matter of concern, the day after the worst assault on a Pakistani military base." It is worth mentioning here that U.S. Sectary of State, Hilary Clinton also sounded out that policy of military aid to Pakistan has to be reviewed since Pakistan failed to produce desire result of global war on terror. This time it is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issuing the warning, saying that the administration is "not prepared to continue providing" military aid at the level of $3 billion annually without the concessions from the Zardari government.

Earlier too, on June 7, 2011 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated in a press conference with domestic and foreign reporters that Americans have planned to sabotage in Pakistan's nuclear facilities to find dominance over the country and undermine its government and nation. He further disclosed that U.S will use the United Nations Security Council and some other international organizations as tools to exercise pressure on Pakistan and weaken its national integrity. In this regard Iranian President openly claimed that he has exact reports about U.S intentions of attacking Pakistani nuclear programme. However, Iran failed to provide any solid documentary evidence to Pakistan. In response to Iranian president statement, Pakistani political and military categorically spelled out that they are well aware of the emerging scenario and declared that our nuclear programme is in safe hands. The leadership has also made it clear that the possibility of any hostile action or misadventure against our strategic assets will be responded and dealt with full strength. Anyhow, months of May and June 2011 remained very critical and significant due to American decision of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, OBL killing, raid on PN base, killing of alleged robber by the rangers, murder of American and Indian biased journalist Saleem Shahzad and lastly currant blasts wave in various cities. However out of stated incidents, unilateral U.S action of Abbottabad, and raid on PN base have seriously threaten Pakistani security and sovereignty and as well posed challenges to the democratic government and military leadership. In these months, the venomous propaganda against Pakistan security forces, intelligence agencies and nuclear programme were remained the main features of foreign media campaign. Unfortunately, ours media has toed the foreign lines without going into the details and evaluating the repercussions of negativity of foreign propaganda,

These incidents have also put a biggest question mark on our national security institutions. Both actions were carried out overtly and covertly by American and Indian with the help of internal traitors. In this regard, DG ISI while addressing the parliament accepted the security lapse and also made it clear that presence of Osama was not in the knowledge of Pakistan. Anyway, to remove the bugs of security and to know the real factual position of both the incidents, government has announced Judicial Commission. But meanwhile some political hardliners and segments of foreign sponsored media started criticising security agencies and the forces. The negative criticism after the parliament meeting is not understandable because the same is providing chance to American, Western and Indian to censure Pakistani armed forces and intelligence agencies. Similarly Western media as usual started campaign against safety of Pakistan nuclear weapons. At this occasion Indian also displayed traditional enmity and her armed forces chiefs openly threaten Pakistan. In first week of May 2011, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik while answering to queries by journalists on the subject after recent US Special Forces action against Osama Bin Laden in northern Pakistan has said that India has the capability to launch surgical strikes against terrorists.

Thus, changing regional political and security scenario and linkage of events mentioned in above paragraphs very clearly depicts that some sort of intrigue against Pakistan is under its way. But these challenges to Pakistan security have been further compounded because of continuous Pak-U.S deteriorated relations, Iranian desire of keeping international watchdogs away from her nuclear programme, U.S undue concern over Pakistan's plan of handing over the operational control of Gawadar Port to China and last but not the least Indian hegemonic design. American and Indian joint venture of working for greater Balochistan is another threat to the region and to Pakistan as well. Many foreign intelligence missions under the garb of geological surveyors and NGOs are being observed in carrying out covertly their tasks. Thus, there is a need to respond and counter the intrigues against Pakistan externally and internally. The engagement of these anti forces is only possible with the support of messes, good governance, taking firm stand on the issues, supremacy of parliaments and keeping national interests on forefronts while making foreign policy. In short now it is the time that Pakistan should reconsider the policy of participating in global war on terror and follows the option of practically withdrawal of forces from the western border. At the same time there is a need to tell Washington that any out of box solution regarding Afghanistan problem would not be acceptable to the Pakistan.

Although, Pakistan is facing security dilemma but even then is taking profound and elaborate arrangement to meet any stiff external and internal potential threat to her strategic assets. Despite these security arrangements of nuclear arsenals, Pakistani political and military top brass has to enhance and take certain technical measures, so that in future recurrences of under discussions incidents could be avoided. In this connection Pakistan should procure latest equipments and make sound and elaborate arrangements against American, Israeli and Indian's offensive armaments. For this purpose she should extend her hand in improving her relations with Russia and take China into confidence being major regional players. Concluding, I will say that all segments of the society should come forward, stand up with Pakistan's security forces and get united to defeat foreign agenda.







As most of the country's poorest people are farmers, helping them grow and earn more from their crops by providing liberal credit facilities is the best way to increase productivity fight poverty and associated ills. But all is not well with agricultural credit in Pakistan. The numbers and figures on paper and the presentations are impressive but situation on the ground is quite bleak. There is so much potential in agricultural development because most poor people in Pakistan feed their families and earn their income from farming in addition to feeding the community. The small farmers need to be supported by providing them access to credit for real development of the agriculture sector. Agriculture has been plagued by low productivity and under-investment, making it difficult for Pakistanis to feed themselves and earn an income from farming.

Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan (Now renamed as Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited) was established for uplift of agriculture and to accelerate economic and social development. Yet increasing evidence indicates that the Bank do not contribute strongly to agricultural development and poverty alleviation. In spite of multifold activities and enormous investment, the performance of the Bank is unfortunately now far from satisfactory. The National Assembly Standing Committee on Food and Agriculture had in the recent past expressed grave concern over the performance of Zarai Taraqqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) in developing agriculture sector and also summoned Bank's President to remove the committee's apprehensions. The committee members observed that the Bank was established for developing the agriculture sector, but bank has failed to take any concrete step regarding agriculture development. The Chairman of the Committee clearly remarked that Bank officers are misusing their powers and bank has totally failed in achieving its target of improving agriculture sector and advised that malpractices should be stopped immediately, but all in vain. The Bank presently is in very poor state. Political interference, corruption, overstaffing, lack of vision, a dearth of skills, inadequate investment, inexperienced and incapable management all these factors have lead to huge losses. The Bank pays millions and millions for the high price of inefficiency.

The system of state enterprises was established in Pakistan to provide support for consumers in the form of better products and services at less cost. Support for workers in the form of rewarding and meaningful employment. Support for the government in the form of revenues. But many state enterprises can no longer provide this support. The Zarai Taraqiati Bank is one of those incapacitated enterprises. In fact, it is in need of support itself. Support from the government that provides endless subsidies and costly protection mechanisms. At the outset the Bank pursued its objectives independently of government development policy but later failed to perform efficiently and effectively for which it was created due to political intervention and strenuous government control. Although till 80s the Bank was managed effectively and did well provide services that were needed for agricultural development, after 80s merely it became another bureaucracy plagued by inefficiency, ineffectiveness, corruption, and incompetence, draining resources from the public treasury. Our country is blighted by unemployment, poverty, and ignorance. In this critical situation, the gross misuse of its resources is shamefully on the rise. Corruption is everywhere and our government has reached the terrible state of having to repeatedly stretch out its hands to the donors for aid. The Bank is no exception. The Bank has completely lost its efficacy as instruments for economic and social development for a variety of reasons: because governments after 80s never infused them with strong developmental missions or because they used them for purposes that were not directly related to economic and social development, or because the inherent limitations of state ownership render the Bank ineffective. There is some evidence that suggests that incremental credit is, in fact, going to the same set of already credit-worthy farmers, with new borrowers still struggling to secure credit. The government's loan waiver schemes and concessional interest rates for the farmers have also tended to benefit farmers who already have access to credit. The loan waiver schemes have, on the other hand, discouraged the bank from lending to new borrowers. Most of these farmers are, predictably, medium and large farmers with multiple sources of income, not relying wholly on risk-prone crop production. The genuinely needy farmers, who should actually be getting relatively cheaper bank loans that would enable them to liberate themselves from the stranglehold of moneylenders, are often left out. This, indeed, defeats the very purpose of augmenting credit flow to the farm sector.

The Bank is now convenient organization for locating highly surplus labor and providing a wide array of social benefits for workers. Directorships and senior managerial positions in the Bank are now viewed as political patronage positions for retired military, police and high level civil servants or for relatives and friends of powerful political leaders. The management has sidelined almost all the honest and dedicated employees of the bank to get rid of their interference.

The Bank has hired large numbers of redundant employees at managerial posts on contractual basis to reduce social disaffection and to build political support. None of these executives do have relevant qualification and experience and they do not even have any stakes in the ZTBL. The politicians have imposed strong burdens on the Bank to hire redundant executives while at the same time allowing them to operate with soft budget constraints, leading to inefficiency, low levels of productivity, and financial losses. Years of political interference, corruption, mismanagement, inadequate investment, lack of vision and discipline have stripped the Bank of its potential making it colossal liability. I have often felt depressed when reading about the huge leakages from the Bank. It has been even more disheartening to witness the corrupt elite, one after another, escaping prosecution and conviction for their crimes. Just imagine for this highly strategic unlucky Bank responsible to cater the needs of the farming community to ensure the food security for 180 million people in the country the following irrelevant and inexperienced "management team" has been deployed, quite contrary to the policy clearly defined by the Establishment Division, which I think is no more than a joke with this country and its 180 million people.

The Bank has appointed above 24 officers on lucrative benefits besides luxurious packages of kingly rewards. Besides the lucrative salary packages, house building finance, car advance, educational stipend, unlimited medical facilities, and term insurance facilities are also awarded to these officers of ZTBL. These officers were appointed on contract basis. This team has totally failed to bring any progressive change and development in the agriculture. The loss caused to the Bank due to inefficiency and incapacity of this team is manifold, far more than our imagination, which in fact has practically collapsed this premier Bank.

There is no transparency in the Bank and all the actions of its management smacks of cronyism and corruption. Governance in the Bank is almost in a state of collapse. The performance of management in the Bank is ineffective and inefficient.








People kill each other for a reason or for a cause, but hardly ever they shed each other's blood blindly and senselessly without knowing why they are taking a human being's life who they don't even know. This is probably the most cruel and inhuman act committed by a human being. Karachi has been going through this carnage on the basis of ethnic or sectarian divide or political expediency. No religion or creed allows this but most often Mullahs in their Friday Khutbas and politicians in their public meetings arouse peoples' sentiments to kill each other on sectarian or ethnic grounds. The man who kills his fellow human being, whom he does not even know, commits a sin of murdering an entire family which loses a son, a brother, or a husband who might have been the only bread earners of his family. The unfortunate Karachi which once was a peaceful city of lights where people of all religions and ethnic and sectarian backgrounds lived peacefully without any fear has become a den of deadly crime, violence and murder. There are certain valid reasons for this. The Sindhi majority in the provincial government has always been at loggerheads with the Mohajir community of Karachi and some of its important ministers who had been in charge of home department have been creating situations detrimental to the Mohajir community and then putting the blame on them. Mohajirs also retaliated and a spree of killings and counter killings has continued unabated. Unfortunately, the federal interior minister too failed to control the ugly situations many times even when President Zardari was present in Karachi.

Media which is active these days to raise its voice for human causes, recently held a marathon sit in outside the parliament building to raise their voice for a judicial enquiry in the case of the brutal murder of a journalist Saleem Shehzad. The Supreme Court took immediate notice and ordered an enquiry forthwith. Likewise the court also ordered similar enquiry in the killing of Osama Bin Laden at Abbottabad. Media might as well agitate for a judicial enquiry into the random and target killing of the people on the streets of Karachi.

Apart from killings, robberies on a large scale are also becoming quite frequent. Recently a gang of serving police men looted rupees 57 million – Rs 40 million and $200,000-from a man who was carrying this huge amount of Havala money to Quetta in a passenger bus. I think this is the biggest and most dare devil robbery committed by serving policemen in Karachi. Such crimes can happen only in a corrupt society. The details of this robbery by in-service policemen will gradually emerge.

The political scene in the country has also taken a turn for the worse by demeaning and insulting remarks made by Mian Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari against each other in public meetings. Up until now the two leaders were opposing each other in civilized language and hoping to continue amicable relationship but now they have come out in an aggressive mode. Punjab which is being governed by the brother of Mian Nawaz Sharif is a key to any election victory in the country. It has been voting for the PPP in the past but now with growing rift between the leaders of PPP and PML-N which is already ruling the province, the voting pattern may change in favor of PML-N. Otherwise also the present government has abysmally failed in solving the basic problems of the people. The economy is in tatters and prices of essential goods have risen sky high. The poor people are almost starving. The acute shortage of electricity has forced people to come out on the streets almost every day. The government has no means to fulfill the peoples' demands because of the acute shortage of its resources it depends entirely on US aid and IMF dole outs. There is acute power shortage due to corruption and mismanagement. This curse cannot be controlled because the rulers themselves are part of the corrupt establishment.

Despite generous US aid, Pakistan army, rangers and police have failed in controlling rampant terror attacks in various parts of the country causing great loss of innocent lives. Now with the arrest of a Brigadier and some of his accomplices, all working in the GHQ it has been established that the tentacles of terrorism have also infiltrated in the Pakistan army. This seems to be a highly dangerous trend and must be nipped in the bud.

Pakistan was conceived by Quaid-e-Azam as a liberal and progressive Muslim state and not an obscurantist theological country run by the Molvies. The government is spending as lavishly as it can despite warnings by IMF and the United States to control expenditure and divert more resources to the welfare of the poor people. But all these warnings are falling on deaf ears.







Today, Computers and internet are the most commonly use and become an integral part in our daily life. Nothing has changed the world more drastically as the internet did, everyone regardless age and sex is depending on internet. It is a daily routine for all of us to log on internet for reading newspaper, banking, shopping, social and business networking, job searching, researching, downloading and others. Advancement in technology makes our life easier and comfortable. It proved to be beneficial for all of us but every new thing or technology have some advantages and disadvantages. Increase in popularity of using internet, may exploit our lives in the same ratio by doing Cyber crimes. Everyone who works on internet must familiar with the term "Cyber Crime". It refers as all criminal activities related with internet or information technology done on computers, servers and networks. It is also named as computer crime, high tech crime or electronic crime.

Cyber crimes can be done in number of different ways, such as targeting computers for unauthorized accessing, altering, damaging and deleting data, theft information contained within computers or networks, hacking password of emails, bank account, ATM card, severs and computer networks, electronic fraud, spamming, sending harmful viruses, attacking on websites, email scamming, distributing and posting of someone pictures and other personal information, threatening by sending e-mails or chatting, software piracy and spreading harassment. This all not only cause a financial stress but also leads to psychological stress as well. Hacking computers, personal information, passwords and threatening emails are most common forms of cybercrime in the cyber world.

Most of the people and companies become a victim of cyber crimes. Most dangerous cyber crime for all government called as cyber terrorism, in which brilliant hacker attack on government or military websites to obtain private and confidential data. Hackers are also attack on websites of opponent countries to find out internal secrets of that country. Owner of companies and business pay special attention to secured confidential data and information from cyber crimes. Cyber criminals start maintaining good relationship by using social networking sites and later exploiting your information for their own good. No doubt Electronic banking will make our lives simpler, but it will also make easier for criminals to access our bank accounts. If your personal information goes in wrong hands, you may become bankrupt and start receiving absurd mails. The growing popularity of cloud computing among companies across the world will be next possible target of cyber criminals. It is the newest thing in computing, which allows corporations or individuals to store data remotely on servers instead of computers via internet.

Cyber crime is done from different areas, regions, and countries of the world. Due to which, it's really hard to get true picture of whole crime process for investigations. It is one of the most difficult and challenging to detect and investigate. Hackers usually operate from different countries through multiple networks to make them save from capturing. Due to advancement in technology, large numbers of tools are available for tracking footprints or monitoring activities of hackers. It is easily to trace certain crime originated in which country, which city, through which ISP, in which office and building by using their telephone number, IP address and other related information. Russia, China, India and Brazil are considered as a major hub of cyber crimes.

With all the benefits that computers and technology bring also raising threats of cyber crime. Precautions are definitely better then cure so follow following precautions to prevent your self from becoming a victim of cyber crime. Try to avoid sending personal and sensitive data from internet. It's in our hands to safeguard our personal information while doing online transactions and others. Every bit of information you transmit through internet may having risk of falling victim in cyber crime Use best internet security system to protect from cyber attacks. Install a powerful anti virus software to protect against trojans, viruses and malware. Updated your operating system and firewalls. Use strong password to protect email or bank accounts, documents or other important data.

Constantly keep changing passwords of your accounts. Don't give your password and personal information to any one on internet. If someone asked in email, you quickly mark it as Spam and report it. Most of these emails will used to attract you with schemes such as "Congrats, you have been selected as winner for a trip to Switzerland" or "you won millions of dollars in an online lottery", in excitement you may give your information but in the end you will suffer from big loss. Never stored important details online or in the computer like user names and passwords of bank account, emails, severs and network. Never open and reply unknown emails Be careful while sharing online information with others. There is urgent need to create awareness in the general public on the threats of cyber crimes. The government must setup cyber wings to counter their activities, identifying and arresting of criminals. Make strict laws for giving punishment to them. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), most law enforcement experts agree that vast majority of cyber crimes are not reported, which allows criminals to continue their crimes and victimize others.








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 non-performing 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 Basle 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 capitalisation. 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 Basle 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 scepticism.

For example, recent criticism of Asian regulators by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is viewed across the region with scorn, not to mention incredulity. A little more humility is in order, given US 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 Basle. 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.

— Courtesy: The Japan Times







ALMOST a decade ago, Labor's then rising star Mark Latham told an audience of policy-shapers that "ripping down the rich does not necessarily provide a solution for the poor".

How much more important is his warning -- delivered at the 2002 Economic and Social Outlook conference run by The Australian and the Melbourne Institute -- as the nation grapples with a mining boom that is squeezing some sectors of the economy even as it delivers unprecedented prosperity.

The nation has reached a critical point: the political decisions we take now will shape our society for decades. The choice is clear -- we can use the squeeze as an excuse to dodge the tough decisions and yield to calls for more protection, or we can take the opportunity to embrace a productivity agenda to take the nation forward. We can take the easy path favoured by Greens leader Bob Brown of "ripping" the heart out of mining with his naive approach to foreign investment and taxes; or we can begin the difficult reforms that will help not just the poor, but the entire country.

These issues will be centrestage at the seventh Economic and Social Outlook conference in Melbourne. Over the next two days, the nation's most powerful people will debate how to best build on the China boom. This year's conference is titled Growth Challenge: riding the resources boom to lasting prosperity. The Australian believes there is no more important goal than to capture and expand on the present wealth generated by our export of resources. There is no more important goal than to increase productivity by deregulating the labour market, embracing genuine tax reform and building appropriate infrastructure. Yet, as we note above, Canberra is not really paying attention. The politics of carbon have sucked the policy oxgen out of the atmosphere. The debate we have to have on productivity has been marginalised, and neither the government nor the opposition will embark on the rigorous analysis and tough decisions that must underpin reform.

Julia Gillard talks about taking on the policy mantle of the Hawke and Keating administrations but does little to prosecute reform. The reregulation of the labour market that she oversaw during the Rudd government is increasingly shown to hinder productivity. Labor demonstrates a desultory interest at best in tax reform, limping half-heartedly towards its October tax forum.

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott ignores calls from some on his side to start talking about industrial relations reform. His promise of tax cuts may prove politically popular but he has to show where the money will come from before he simply inflates expectations. Both sides need to address the structure of the tax system so individual effort is rewarded and Australia remains internationally competitive.

No one pretends that managing our China luck is easy. John Howard, for all his policy courage, frittered away the opportunities of the first boom through middle-class welfare. It is crucial our politicians do not make the same mistake this time.





A VIDEO question from David Strain in Queensland stole the show on the ABC's Q&A program on Monday night.

"I am part of the non-local construction workforce in Gladstone and it is currently Sunday morning," he said. "I've worked a six-day week for 12 hours a day and I'm about to head in for a few hours on my day off. It is a difficult job, but I get remunerated well for it -- you could say I am a direct beneficiary of the resources boom. I am trying to make the most of this opportunity by saving as much as I can, so in the future I can buy my first home, invest in shares or even start my own business. My question to the panel is: what is the government doing so we as a nation do not waste the opportunities this boom is affording us?"

As Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said, the question was a "cracker". It went to the core opportunity and challenge confronting this nation and it was an insightful demonstration from an "outsider" about how the political "insiders" are failing to engage in a national policy debate around these issues.

Mr Albanese responded by referring to the mining tax, which certainly is part of the answer. But economist Judith Sloan was closer to the mark when she said our politicians were ignoring a deeper and broader discussion of the challenges thrown up by our two-speed economy. The purchase of large tracts of our prime agricultural land for more mines, the encroachment of exploration on our urban fringes and the transport log-jams that impact on our roads, railways and ports are just some of the planning issues that governments and industry need to tackle. We also need to discuss the comparative social and economic consequences of relying on fly-in-fly-out mining compared to encouraging permanent communities. Yet in the rarefied atmosphere of Canberra the political debate ignores most of this.

Speaking at the National Press Club yesterday, Greens leader Bob Brown wandered off into a populist and arguably xenophobic spiel about foreign ownership that can only distract the nation, and our politicians, from the real issues. Senator Brown argued to keep more tax onshore by reviving the discredited resources super-profits tax the government scrapped last year in favour of the mineral resources rent tax. The Greens are displaying a Hansonite view of foreign investment that fails to comprehend its crucial role in funding the development of Australia's vast natural resources and generating our national wealth. We have relied on foreign funds for decades and are likely to for decades to come, as we benefit from the resultant job creation, economic stimulation, taxes and royalties. Quoting a report produced by his former adviser, Senator Brown raises alarm about how "$50 billion reaped from Australia's mineral resources will be sent overseas as dividends to foreign owners over the next five years". What he failed to mention is how hundreds of billions of dollars ($100bn next year alone) is being invested to create the jobs, build the infrastructure and pay the taxes that will underpin our wealth for decades to come. Nor does he nominate alternative sources for that investment.

Senator Brown seeks to place what has been shown to be a burdensome tax on our mining industry while at the same time he argues that our largest exporter, the coal industry, should be shut down. So the Greens' version of voodoo economics suggests we live from the profits of the very industry they seek to destroy.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Tony Abbott opposing the MRRT and promising to rescind it if elected. It is understandable that the Opposition, along with the industry, railed against the original super-profits tax, but now the government has negotiated a compromise that the miners are willing to pay Mr Abbott's stance is irresponsible. With our major exporters offering an extra $3bn or more a year in taxation, accepting their capacity to pay without endangering future investments, ordinary taxpayers might expect Mr Abbott to gratefully accept those dollars on their behalf. Instead, even with the budget deep in deficit, Mr Abbott says "No".

On the mining tax, the Prime Minister has got the balance right. Julia Gillard seized the top job partly on the back of the super-profits backlash and her compromise is artful. It allows continued resource development, but shares the benefits of the boom. Her steadfast refusal to bow to Mr Abbott's stubborn opposition on the one hand or Senator Brown's politics of envy on the other is to be applauded.

However, implementing her mining tax should be just a start. Ms Gillard needs to lift her gaze above that battle, which is as good as won, and also look beyond the barnyard squabble over the carbon tax. For all its importance to the political fight, the carbon tax is not a productivity-enhancing economic reform. To that extent, it is not the main game. This newspaper continues to support a price on carbon as an efficient means to reduce emissions, so long as Australia does not disadvantage itself by getting ahead of our competitors. However, the fact is that whether the tax is in place or not over the next few years it will have very little impact on the national economy or the daily lives of Australians. What will matter to most of us is how well the government manages the resources boom.

Mr Strain, Q&A's Gladstone construction worker, clearly is planning for his future. It is high time our political leaders planned for Australia's.






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.






A HISTORIC, if little understood, power shift will take place tomorrow when the Greens gain the balance of power in the federal Senate. The election of four new Greens senators delivers, from July 1, the balance of power, previously shared with two independents, to the party, marking a historic high point for the Greens Party in Australia. Greens senators will now have the final say on all legislation on which Labor and the Coalition disagree, which, these days, is pretty much all of it.

The ascendancy of the Greens promises to change the political landscape and deliver much awaited action to put a price on carbon and introduce a mining tax, both of which we have argued will be good for the nation.

But power is a heady thing. The risk is that in a rush of blood to the head, the Greens seek to use their parliamentary power to hijack every piece of legislation to advance myriad single issue agendas.

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, in a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, demonstrated a keenness to start flexing his party's new legislative muscle, arguing for an extension of the mining tax. To make his point, Brown pointed out that much of the profit earned by the big miners goes to foreign shareholders. This is a dangerously xenophobic line of inquiry. Without the cash of foreign investors, mining companies would be unable to invest as much as they are in expanding operations, creating jobs and income for Australians. Foreign investors deserve a return on their money.

Encouragingly, however, Brown concedes any mining tax is better than no mining tax at all, and promises to pass the mining tax legislation regardless of whether he wins support for it to be beefed up. He pledged yesterday the Greens would be a ''secure rock of stability in the Senate''. We must hope Brown's parliamentary colleagues also intend to keep faith with that promise, for this new era will be a test not only of Brown's skills as an elder statesman, but also his skills as leader of his new parliamentary recruits.

The Greens must ensure they use their new power judiciously or risk, in their desire to do good, becoming the best enemy of the good. The Greens have come a long way in the transition from an activist, single-issue party to a maturing political force with policies spanning the entire business of government. But there is much further to go, too, in spelling out the Greens agenda. What do they stand for on industrial relations, the economy, tax reform, debt retirement?

One way or another, we are about to find out.





AS GOVERNMENT incentives go, a $7000 handout to help families shift from the big smoke to the quiet life of regional NSW has promise, at least on scant examination. Sydney and (to a lesser extent) its flanks of Newcastle and Wollongong have long been beneficiaries of the population drift. Youth, particularly, has succumbed to the lure of education, jobs and excitement by packing their bags and moving from farms, country towns and regional hubs.

Some come to regret the shift and some reverse it, but most stay the distance, sometimes depriving home towns and home districts of talent and the critical mass needed to build or maintain state-of-art schools, hospitals, commerce, lifestyle outlets and other social and economic infrastructure. About 80 per cent of the state's population resides on a strip that extends little more than 300 kilometres north to south, ensuring a concentration of political clout that underpins the old bush resentment about NSW standing for Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong.

But the squeeze is accompanied by its own pain. The spoils of Sydney's growth are not evenly spread. Not everyone gets the residential location of their choice or joins the education path to stimulating and financially rewarding work. Not everyone can avoid the daily congestion

of long-distance peak-hour traffic. Not everyone gets to save for a better life

or even home ownership. And for reasons that have nothing to do with the amenity or otherwise of our whereabouts, not everyone finds contentment.

Some city dwellers may find a shift to the regions renews opportunity and happiness, even induces catharsis. Others who have enjoyed the city good life may feel the allure of quieter times. Together, both groups stand to benefit themselves and the communities they choose to join.

The $7000 grant will not cover many costs but might tip a family to move if that family already was inclined to go.

But the state government scheme, intended to assist the relocation of about 27,000 city families over four years, has shortcomings if left to stand alone. To prove effective, decentralisation initiatives must be part of a broad package that might involve tax breaks for business investment or provision of public works that facilitate business opportunity.

Schemes will not work if those being invited to shift are not offered secure and worthwhile jobs. Without that, they are leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Relocation assistance is but one piece of a jigsaw, a top-up to incentives needed to shape the whole puzzle. And it is a small piece at that.






TWELVE months ago, when the Brumby government auctioned licences to operate the 27,000 poker machines outside Crown Casino, ending the Tattersalls and Tabcorp duopoly from next year, accusations flew about whether the licences had been sold too cheaply. At an average price

of $37,500 a machine, the return to taxpayers was only

$981 million. Industry expectations had ranged from $1.5 billion to more than $3 billion, and yesterday a report by state Auditor-General Des Pearson nudged the estimate of what might have been earned up to about $4 billion. In other words, the result of the biggest shakeup in the gambling industry since the Kirner government legalised pokies two decades ago has been a $3 billion loss for taxpayers.

As this newspaper commented at the time of the auction, comparatively little else changed. What was a duopoly has become an oligopoly, with gaming-venue owner Bruce Mathieson and his business partner, Woolworths, scooping up more than a third of the pub-based machines for a total of $182.56 million. AFL clubs, too, bought their way into the new era, with most getting their licences for below-average prices. But otherwise it is a case of pokies as normal: the state will continue to reap more than $1 billion a year in revenue from poker machines, that will continue to be disproportionately concentrated in poorer towns and suburbs where the consequences of addictive gambling are most devastating. And that, of course, raises a question that the Auditor-General's report will prompt Victorians to ask again. Why, given the addiction of treasurers of all political persuasions to gambling revenue, did the former government pass up a chance to bring in another $4 billion? It would have gone a long way towards paying for some of the major infrastructure projects that the Brumby government had planned, and for which the Baillieu government is now either chasing funds or perhaps is deciding to forgo.

In the immediate aftermath of the auction, then gaming minister Tony Robinson tried to hose down speculation about the modest proceeds. Bidding had been low, he said, because of the Brumby government's initiatives to reduce the harm caused by problem gambling, such as installing

''pre-commitment'' controls on new machines, regional and municipal caps on machine numbers, and imposing a maximum bet of $5 a spin. All of this, apparently, had made operating pokies less appealing - but that's all right, Mr Robinson said, because ''sometimes good policy costs''. The Age is not a cynical newspaper, but we are unpersuaded by this ingenious explanation. It seems to us that Mr Mathieson must be smiling at the suggestion his business is not as lucrative as it used to be.

The Auditor-General offers more plausible explanations for the auction result: a pre-auction, fixed-price sale of entitlements to existing clubs - which as we report today, National Party leader Peter Ryan encouraged Mr Robinson to allow; the setting of a low reserve price for a relatively small number of bidders; and deficiencies in the design and conduct of the auction, and in information and training given to the industry. Taken together, these suggest ineptitude either by the Justice Department's gambling licences review project team, which conducted the sale, or the steering committee that directed the team, or both. That is worrying enough, but the Auditor-General's most disturbing conclusion is that he could not definitively conclude there were no major breaches of probity in the process of allocating poker machine entitlements. There was insufficient documentary evidence or ''third-party assurance'' for him to reach such a conclusion.

With $3 billion lost, Victorians deserve to know the full truth. An independent judicial inquiry should be instituted to seek the answers Mr Pearson could not obtain.






'SIMPLY put, the classification system in Australia is in many ways 'broken', and requires substantial and urgent reform.'' Such was the view of the Senate committee report into the National Classification Scheme - which governs film, TV, magazines and computer games - tabled in Parliament last week, and it is one many Australians might agree with. But fixing the system is far from easy.

The classification system in Australia is built on four key principles: adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want; minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them; everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material they find offensive; and community concerns should be taken into account, especially with regard to explicit violence and sex. Clearly, there is a lot of ground for dispute. What one person finds offensive another may shrug off. But the key issue is choice.

The Senate committee was Liberal-dominated, and many of those giving evidence represented the viewpoint of ''family values''. Perhaps understandably, the committee's recommendations reflect a tension between upholding those values through expanded oversight and leaving it to industry self-regulation.

Absent from its recommendations was any call to impose a uniform G classification upon outdoor advertising and billboards, despite the fact the public has precious little choice about whether it sees ''Longer Lasting Sex'' ads while driving down a freeway. The absence is surprising, since this might have been one of the more popular recommendations. The committee also avoided entering the debate over the mooted introduction of an R18+ category for computer games, which potentially would see the range of violent and sexually explicit material available to adult gamers increase while making some games now played legally off limits to those under 18. Also off-limits was the elephant in the room of the entire classification regime: the internet - how, whether, and whether it is even possible to regulate this rapidly evolving borderless space is a question numerous reviews are grappling with.

Chief among them are the Australian Law Reform Commission review of the National Classification Scheme, which is due to report next January, and the Convergence Review, due next March. That the Senate committee chose to leave some of the toughest decisions to others might have been its wisest recommendation of all.









Banks have stopped the cheque card, but it is not time yet to sign and date the warrant killing off the cheque

Today, in one of those small moments of change that delete once routine parts of national life, the cheque guarantee card dies. 1969 - 2011: 40 years of insignificant assistance, more a fiddle and a cause of delay in shop queues than anything better. But where the card has gone, the cheque itself will soon be heading – and this loss should concern us. Banks have declared cheques to be in terminal decline and want to shred them completely by October 2018. They are expensive to process, prone to fraud, used disproportionately by the old and the poor and do not – unlike credit cards – allow banks to take a cut of the transaction. A snappier world of instant digital transactions and pin numbers awaits. But with this arrival, as the Treasury select committee chair Andrew Tyrie has pointed out, will go an easy way for charities and small businesses to take payments. Not every village shop can afford a card machine, and not every bank account holder can remember their pin code. A bit like digital radio, this is a modernisation for which there is questionable demand. The Treasury committee (with characteristic vigour) is now pursuing banks: demanding a cost benefit analysis and collating protests from charities and the public. No one doubts cheques are in decline: but they are still useful and much used (1.4bn were written in 2010). Queuing at a cashpoint is not an alternative. Banks have stopped the cheque card, but it is not time yet to sign and date the warrant killing off the cheque.





It is easy to predict the rival but equally self-reinforcing ways in which some will seek to frame Britain's day of strikes

It is easy to predict the rival but equally self-reinforcing ways in which some will seek to frame Britain's day of public sector strikes. On the one side, the defiant marches and rallies of tens of thousands, kids and parents cheering the striking teachers, pensioners' groups alongside protesting unions, the very picture of heart-stirring working-class solidarity aroused to defend its conditions. On the other, a wholly different set of images, of queues of frustrated holidaymakers fuming about missing their flights, of headteachers and plucky parents battling to keep classrooms open in the face of union bullying, a photographers' hunt to find Ed Miliband crossing a picket line, perhaps even a punch-up with the police, if the Daily Mail really gets lucky.

Two nations with irreconcilable views of the dispute? That's what some on both sides want you to believe, seeing only what they want to see and pointing to opinion polls which show a public divide – although a majority is actually against the strikes. Yet this picture of a polarised Britain is neither helpful nor true – not yet, anyway. It is perfectly possible to believe both that the workers have a grievance and that they should not strike. Or that the rightwing rhetoric about gold-plated pensions and runaway costs is offensive, even though the system also needs realistic reform and restraint. What the public really wants, we strongly suspect, is a fair, pragmatic and lasting settlement. In many ways, we are still more one nation than two about this – and we will still be so tomorrow.

The strikes are a milestone. But do not exaggerate them. They are a significant expression of feeling, not the start of an all-out battle for mastery of the state. But that does not mean dismissing the strikes as having no consequence. The government should understand that the public seems to accept that there are strong feelings among the workforce, recognises that there are difficult and serious issues at stake, and is sympathetic to the predicament of people who are being asked to accept some worsening of their conditions. Ministers would therefore be extremely unwise to overplay their hand.

Yet the unions also need to grasp that there may be another less sympathetic side to the public's view of the dispute. Many aspects of the pensions system are not sustainable. There need to be changes, which are likely to involve working longer and paying in a bit more, where that is affordable, as is the case with private sector pensions and the state pension. And the defined benefit commitment that has been promised to the unions is a benefit very much worth having – as the millions who have lost it in the private sector know only too well. The unions need to be acutely sensitive to the limits of public sympathy.

Neither side has negotiated entirely seriously. On both sides there are those who see the dispute more as an opportunity to embarrass Mr Miliband – who is right to keep his distance from it – than as an event that can pave the way to a settlement. But there are undoubtedly areas for negotiation and Unison's Dave Prentis, who has rattled his sabre in the past, said this week that the latest talks were serious negotiations. There is room for compromise on local authority pensions and on transitional arrangements, which can be used to ease concerns among those who are expecting to retire soon. These are big areas for discussion. So, we say, discuss them and make a deal. The country wants a solution, not on absolutely any terms, but on the basis of a fair and affordable set of changes that will last and which can be brought in with as much sensitivity and flexibility as possible. Today's strike is neither a festival of the oppressed nor a threat to all we hold dear. It is a stage to be got through. Further strikes would be wrong. The important thing is to negotiate a just compromise. Government and unions must get on and settle this dispute.





For anyone who has ever worried about the democratic deficit in Europe, here it was, laid bare

A funny kind of democracy was on display in Greeceon Wednesday. Under orders from Brussels and Washington, MPs in Athens passed a slew of stringent measures to raise €28bn (£25bn) in a hurry – even while hundreds of thousands of protesting Greeks faced massive amounts of teargas and riot police. After the package was voted through by a wafer-thin majority, politicians were escorted out of the parliament by police. For anyone who has ever worried about the democratic deficit in Europe, here it was, laid bare on the rolling-news channels. And those protesters were not a vocal minority; polls suggest that up to 80% of Greeks reject these austerity measures.

This is not only criticism; it is an analytical point too. As Alexis Tsipras, head of the far left Synaspismos party, shouted outside the parliament building: "You won't go far with all the people against you." The majority of lawmakers inside would probably agree with him. Having passed the austerity measureson Wednesday, Athens MPs will on Thursday vote on laws to implement them. It is hard now to believe that prime minister George Papandreou will not succeed here, too. Still, legislating does not make it so – in Greece, with its long-standing mistrust of the state, more than anywhere else in western Europe. And what the socialist government has just accepted is just as brutal and radical as any structural-adjustment policy imposed by the International Monetary Fund – only it has been forced on Greece by its supposed friends and neighbours in the eurozone.

To glance through the headline measures passed on Wednesday is rather like reading through a wishlist drawn up by the officials from Washington arriving in Buenos Aires: a big increase in income taxes and national insurance contributions, 150,000 public-sector jobs to be cut, with those keeping their posts having their salaries cut by 15%.

Politically, this will feel like an imposition by European elites on Greeks who missed out of the best bits of the previous decade's boom; practically, it will be impossible to pull off within four years without more massive retaliation by the trade unions; economically it will be disastrous. Indeed, the Greek economy is already in depression. The combination of €110bn loan and fiscal austerity accepted by Mr Papandreou last year has failed to lift the economy. There is no reason to believe that another €100bn loan (as is being discussed) and a rollover of government debt will do much good. Greece is being pumped with cash so it can repay its debts to German and French banks. The financiers are being bailed out, while the economy craters, society is pushed to breaking point and Greek politics becomes ever more combustible.






After two and a half months of deliberation, the Reconstruction Design Council on June 25 submitted to Prime Minister Naoto Kan a set of proposals for the reconstruction of the Tohoku-Pacific coastal region, which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and Fukushima Prefecture, which is suffering from the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The time has come for the government, which has been slow to respond to the disasters, to push reconstruction at full speed.

Mr. Kan and his Cabinet members and aides must make strenuous efforts to put the reconstruction on a smooth path: flesh out the council's proposals by working out the details of bills needed to implement them, and writing second and third fiscal 2011 supplementary budgets to pay for the effort.

In its proposals, the council presents a basic approach of "disaster reduction," in place of the traditional approach of completely containing major natural disasters.

In addition to building "hardware," such as embankments and sea walls, the new approach pushes "software," such as an emphasis on evacuating people to safe zones once a calamity strikes and restrictions on the construction of buildings in areas likely to be hit by disasters. Given the experience of March 11, the new approach seems reasonable.

The central and local governments must adjust to this new approach to disaster planning when adopting policies and budgets.

As a principle for reconstruction, the council stresses that municipalities and residents should play leading roles in reconstruction planning and that the central government should support them. This is a reasonable approach, too, but it is easier said than done.

It is very likely that opinions within municipalities are divided over designs of their future communities. The reconstruction efforts will offer local governments and residents a chance to learn anew the democratic process for finding the best solutions.

The council proposes creating "special zones" in selected devastated areas to revitalize local industries through such means as tax privileges and deregulation. The central government should determine local needs and devise the best solutions for each zone.

The central and local governments should refrain from imposing their ideas on special zones on local residents and industries. In fact, fishing cooperatives have expressed opposition to the idea of allowing private companies to enter the fisheries business.

Focusing on Fukushima Prefecture, which is exposed to radiation from the crippled power plant, the council is calling on the central government to monitor radiation levels there coherently and continually, and to remove radioactive debris and soil quickly. It also calls for the establishment of a research center for the development of renewable energy sources and to concentrate medical-industry related research in the prefecture.

In view of the severity of the crisis at Fukushima No. 1, the council is calling on the central government to establish new safety standards for nuclear power plants.

The council also stresses the importance of promoting green energy sources by making power companies buy electricity generated by such sources at fixed prices as well as of promoting a system under which small power generating facilities are dispersed throughout the nation.

The council did not call for the long-term goal of phasing out nuclear power generation. This points to the existence of strong pressure from bureaucrats within the council's secretariat who represent the views of Japan's nuclear power establishment.

Apparently concerned about Japan's deteriorating financial conditions, the council proposes raising consumption, income and corporate taxes to repay "reconstruction bonds" the government will issue to cover the cost of the reconstruction, which is expected to total more than ¥10 trillion.

It is clear that the Finance Ministry exerted its influence on the council members to adopt this proposal. But the government already has a plan to raise the consumption tax to pay for welfare spending. It will also have to increase taxes to pay compensation to people who have been infected by hepatitis B through mass vaccination.

Under the government plan, people would face triple tax increases, which would negatively impact Japan's economy. The government should seriously consider whether there are other ways to raise funds and be very careful about the timing of tax increases.

In pushing reconstruction, the central government must take utmost care so that administrative jockeying over turf by various government ministries and agencies does not impede or slow the rebuilding work and that local governments receive sufficient grant funding without any strings attached. It may have to take drastic measures.

The council will have to carefully monitor whether the government faithfully carries out its proposals, which are designed to bring "hope" to people, and to restore and strengthen their sense of "bonding."





HONG KONG — The renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, held for 80 days without charge, was finally released under conditions that among other things forbid him to talk to the media. Ai has apologized to reporters, explaining that he is not allowed to talk about his case and, in fact, "I can't say anything."

But he went out of his way to pay tribute to Hong Kong, whose people had come out in great numbers to show their support for him after he was detained in April.

Ai risked official retribution by voicing respect and gratitude for people in Hong Kong, saying he was very moved by their actions.

"Hong Kong is a very rational society," he said, "a society with a social conscience. It wasn't just for me, but for what they believe in."

"I was aware that many people in Hong Kong have appealed for and supported my release," he said. "I'm very touched by that. We Chinese should head toward being more open and reasonable, which is the indicator of an advanced society. Hong Kong is the model of being open and reasonable."

Thus, 14 years after it came again under Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong continues to play a unique role within China.

During the century and a half that it was a British colony, Hong Kong offered refuge to political dissidents from the mainland. Thus, after the Empress Dowager crushed the 1898 reforms supported by the Guangxu Emperor, the British colony offered refuge to the political thinker Kang Youwei, who had a price on his head.

This role of providing refuge continued in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, when many student leaders were able to flee overseas by first escaping to Hong Kong.

More recently, after Zhao Lianhai, an activist who fought for the rights of children sickened by tainted milk powder, was sentenced to 2? years in prison for "disturbing social order," protesters in Hong Kong demanded his release.

Even pro-Beijing individuals, such as deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the advisory body the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, wrote to the Chinese government in protest. Zhao was eventually granted medical parole.

The milk activist acknowledged the territory's role after he was granted medical parole in December by writing on the internet: "Hong Kong has not fallen yet, that's where our hope lies."

There were also demonstrations in Hong Kong after the arrest and sentencing of Liu Xiaobo, the recipient of last year's Nobel peace prize. Although Liu remains in prison, the protests show that many in Hong Kong support his aspirations for democracy and human rights, which were contained in the Charter 08 manifesto, which he helped to draft.

After Ai's arrest in April, spontaneous protests by groups and individuals in Hong Kong arose. Some protesters spray-painted stencil drawings of the artist on sidewalks and footbridge walls, prompting a police investigation into suspected criminal damage.

Ai's remarks on the values and beliefs of Hong Kong people are reminiscent of words spoken many years ago by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Chinese Republic, who attended secondary school in Hong Kong and then went on to study medicine in the British colony.

Sun, in a speech at the University of Hong Kong in February 1923, explained where his revolutionary views had come from. "I got my ideas in this very place," he said, "in the colony of Hong Kong."

"I began to wonder," he explained, "how it was that foreigners, that Englishmen could do such things as they had done, for example, with the barren rock of Hong Kong, within 70 or 80 years, while China in 4,000 years had no places like Hong Kong."

More than half a century later, another Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping, also expressed such admiration for the British colony that that he wanted to see many Hong Kongs emerge within China.

But of course this was not possible. Hong Kong is built on its values and, unless values change, new Hong Kongs cannot emerge on the mainland, except in the most superficial manner.

Today, it is important that Hong Kong remain true to itself, to its values, its beliefs and, yes, its social conscience.

This is what makes Hong Kong different from other Chinese cities. And this is what makes Hong Kong of value to China — as a model of openness and rationality, as Ai has properly pointed out.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer. Email:






 "Polling is merely an instrument for gauging public opinion. When a president or any other leader pays attention to poll results, he is, in effect, paying attention to the views of the people …," said George Gallup, an American pioneer of survey sampling techniques and inventor of the phenomenal Gallup poll.

Similar positive feedback is expected from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whose job approval rating has significantly dropped from the time of his reelection in 2009. Any reactive response from him or his supporters will only bring his popularity down further instead of regaining the hearts and support of his voters.

The latest survey by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI), which was conducted before last week's execution of Ruyati binti Satubi, an Indonesian migrant worker in Saudi Arabia, revealed Yudhoyono's ratings had plunged from 56.7 percent in January this year to a new low of 47.2 percent this month.

"If the LSI conducted the survey after Ruyati's execution by beheading, the President's approval rating could have dropped even further," Sunarto Ciptoharjono, director of the Public Policy Survey Circle (LSKP), a subsidiary of the LSI that helped conduct the survey, said.

Yudhoyono's tendency for publicly venting personal and trivial thoughts and the absence of competent political operators among his confidants are cited as among the factors behind his poor ratings in the survey, which was based on interviews with 600 male and 600 female respondents in cities and villages in all 33 provinces from June 1-7, 2011. Respondents were also disappointed in the fact there are several unresolved cases, including the assassination of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib, the controversial Bank Century bailout and the surge of rights violations against minorities in the country.

Earlier this month, a similar survey by the Indonesian Survey Institute (also abbreviated as LSI) found public satisfaction toward Yudhoyono's leadership had plunged to 47 percent from about 61 percent at the start of his second term in 2009. The survey was also based on interviews with 1,200 respondents in 33 provinces.

Unlike the latest survey, the preceding one by the Indonesian Survey Institute revealed that Yudhoyono's declining popularity resulted from scandals that had implicated Democratic Party members, including former party treasurer Muhammad Nazaruddin, Angelina Sondakh and Andi Nurpati. Nazaruddin and Angelina were implicated in bribery allegations surrounding the construction of an athletes' dormitory for the Southeast Asian Games in Palembang, South Sumatra, while Andi had allegedly fabricated a letter involving a dispute over a House seat in 2009.

As the two surveys came to nearly the same conclusion, the President should therefore pay more serious attention and take immediate action in response to the public views expressed in the two surveys. The President, who according to the Constitution is not eligible to run for a third term, still has three more years to complete his current term and most importantly to produce policies or programs the nation will recall as his legacy.

The fact that Yudhoyono's approval rating or popularity is below the psychological limit of 50 percent might indicate that the majority of the public no longer trust the President. And unless he can produce tangible — not necessarily spectacular or landmark — policies or programs throughout the rest of his tenure, he would be remembered as a mediocre president in the country's history, despite his success of staying in office twice. It is a rare, but not impossible, feat of a democratic election.






I was led to believe that if I wanted a good career I would have to settle for a not-so-good family life, and that if I wanted a good family life then I would have to settle for a mediocre career.

But I recently discovered I can actually have both. I believe the stumbling block to achieving what I want was the idea that women can't have it all.

I have been reading the work of motivators and what I have come to understand from them is that anything I really dream of or wish for can become a reality.

There is no question about whether I will be willing to work hard for it because I will.

The thing is, I grew up believing that all I wanted was a family and a comfortable life. In the society where I grew up, working mothers are common, but achieving something big was not really encouraged.

Wives were careful not to overshadow the careers of their husbands. I even remembered that at my mother's elementary school, the only male teacher was the supervisor.

I'm not saying here that women should become superwomen who excel in their chosen field of endeavors. I would jokingly label a colleague "superwoman" because aside from having a job and a family to take care of without the assistance of a housemaid, she also serves her church together with her husband. She is very human, just like you and me. Her secret weapon is her husband, who helps her with the household chores and to take care of the children.

For women to succeed, we need a lot of support from our husbands and children.

The few women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are helped by their husbands to keep up with their hectic schedules.

Angela F. Braly, the president and CEO of WellPoint, judged by The Wall Street Journal (Nove. 19, 2007) as no. 1 in "The 50 women to watch" has three children and since her appointment to the top position, her husband has decided to become a stay-at-home dad.

I think men are better at taking care of children. They are more fun to be with and are less fussy and worry a lot less than women. They are not like us who follow our children around nagging them about eating their fruits and vegetables, etc. Men are also better at discipline because they are less emotional.

It is touching to know that the former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid would wake up in the middle of the night to change his baby's diaper before giving the baby to his wife for breastfeeding. Then when the baby went back to sleep he would again take the baby back to the crib.

And in Gus Dur's political career, his wife was always at his side. This is what husbands and wives are for; to support one another.

It is important for women to have the support of their husbands if they are to contribute to building the Indonesian economy.

Most men, even if they are educated abroad, still believe that taking care of the home and children is largely the responsibility of the wives/mothers. So, if children are not doing well at school, it's the mother's fault.

There was recent controversy between a prominent couple whose marriage was in a shambles because the husband demanded that his wife, a famous singer and composer, should devote her time to being a full-time housewife.

There is nothing lowly about being a housewife. But if a woman is capable of doing more then she should be given the freedom to express herself, as long as what she's doing is within the bounds of morality.

Every person, man or woman, has the right to develop themselves to the fullest. The reduced time she has with her children should be taken care of by her husband. Husbands and wives have to help one another.

Having to work at the same time take care of one's family in the women's movement is called a "double burden".

If the husband does not help his wife take care of the family, indeed it becomes a double burden. But if the husband takes part in the child-rearing, like my husband does, it becomes a "double joy."

To be able to work and create something, be productive and contribute to nation-building is a joy. To bring up children to become responsible and creative adults together with a husband is a pleasure.

Of course, in the process of doing all these things, we have our ups and downs. We can get frustrated with our colleagues or bosses or subordinates at work.

Our children can drive us nuts and show us sometimes that we have not been good examples to them.

How do we slowly change society's attitudes toward supporting women to also dare to dream for something greater? We have to start in our homes.

We have to show to our daughters that it is important for them to be more ambitious and prepare for a career that will contribute more to society. If we have sons, fathers should set a good example by supporting their wives in their career.

This kind of education should be continued in school. Women should be encouraged to run for presidency in student councils and clubs. This is where they will first acquire their leadership skills.

Also, schools, through teachers, who ironically are mostly women, should emphasize that women should have satisfying careers. This makes women grow to be more fulfilled and therefore happier human beings. Eventually, they become better mothers and more productive citizens.

Employers also have an important role in making women succeed in the workplace and in their family lives. Companies should allow managers and employees (male and female) to have balanced working lives.

The provision of childcare in offices and factories would reduce absenteeism among employees with babies and young children. When the labor market becomes tighter like in first-world countries, more people will demand childcare and educational insurance for their children, which is something Indonesian companies should be prepared to provide in the near future.

Having fewer women in the workplace deprives Indonesia of a more humane, ethical, productive, innovative and customer-focused workforce.

Not only that, it deprives itself of managers who are more at home with routine work and have greater endurance when it comes to occasional long hours. Women can be up the whole night taking care of their sick children and be at the office the next day.

The world is just waiting for us women to start dreaming big dreams. We are already running our households. Now is the time to expand our reach. We can be a great force in all areas, in business, government and politics, science and technology. Happy Family Day!

The writer is the general manager of GS FAME Institute of Business aka Institut Bisnis Nusantara International Programs, Jakarta.






On June 1, 2011 Indonesians celebrated the sanctity day of the Pancasila. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his predecessors, Megawati Soekarnoputri and B.J. Habibie, made a public statement during its commemoration. They shared the view and reaffirmed that the Pancasila is the national ideology and the essence of our nationhood.

Despite broad discussions on the Pancasila as national ideology, more light needs to be shed on the role of the Pancasila in Indonesia's foreign relations and foreign policy. In what ways has the Pancasila shaped our foreign policy? Is there a place for the Pancasila in today's Indonesian foreign policy?

Ideology is an important factor that affects one country's foreign policy. The country's behavior toward other countries has often been driven by the ideological underpinning of its foreign policy. This is particularly noticeable during the Cold War era although historians continue to contend on the significance of ideology on the Cold War international relations.

The bipolar system that was a prominent feature of the Cold War reflected the competition of two ideologies — liberal democracy and Marxism Leninism, or as quoted by President Sukarno in his "To build the world anew" speech, in Bertnard Russell's words as the Declaration of Independence versus the Communist Manifesto.

Yet, in reality the bipolar world was not fully bipolar. In the midst of the ideological contention, new ideologies outside the mainstream emerged. Maoism that continues to reverberate until today, especially in Nepal and India, came into sight. Many countries chose the non-alignment ideology as their foreign policy orientation.

In today's context, the bipolar pattern is no longer evident. The world now has a wide range of ideological poles. These ideological underpinnings manifest in many variants that stretch across economic and political domains — from neo-capitalism, neo-liberal utopia of total market, globalism and neo-globalism, post-modernism, humanitarianism, and greenism or environmentalism, regionalism, inter-regionalism, just to name a few.

Linking the Pancasila to Indonesia's foreign policy would sound conceptual and normative. To some realists, this would be nonsensical. But, since its formal inception in 1945, one cannot ignore the fact that either intentionally or by chance, Pancasila has been embedded in the Indonesian foreign policy. Since Independence, it affected in one way or another the formulation and implementing of Indonesian foreign policy.

As Indonesia held on to the values and principles enshrined in Pancasila, Indonesia confidently called for the convening of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference, the creation of the Non-aligned Movement, the creation of ASEAN, the abolition of apartheid, independence for the Palestinians, a just and more balanced global financial architecture, and the building of a new era of social justice.

Indonesia may develop a diplomacy aimed at constructing an architecture of international relations based upon the values and principles preserved in the Pancasila. This is a lofty idea, and practical challenges in realizing the idea are obvious. But an attempt to levelize this ideology from the state level to the global level was made.

In 1960, when speaking to the UN General Assembly, the same vision was strongly voiced by President Sukarno. In his "To build the world anew" speech, the President said, "I believe, yes, I firmly believe that the adoption of those five principles and the writing of them into the Charter would greatly strengthen the United Nations ...Finally, I believe that the adoption of [the Pancasila] as a foundation of the Charter would ensure the Charter was more whole-hearted to all members, both old and new."

The Pancasila also commands the focuses in Indonesia's foreign relations. When competing interests do not really reflect the true interest of Indonesia as a nation-state, foreign policy decision makers could turn to Pancasila as a guide in aggregating a genuinely national interest.

In an increasingly democratic country like Indonesia, proliferation of foreign policy actors is possible. More civil society groups take greater interest in and make responses to global issues that affect Indonesia such as climate change and environment, MDGs, food and energy security. Businesses are also part of the Indonesian foreign policy establishment. When all parties have their interests that seem to raise questions on whether those interests are truly of national interest, one can resort to the Pancasila as a standard in assessing the nature of those interests.

The Pancasila also can become the source of foreign policy preferences. It guides Indonesia to choose policy options and a preferred course of action. This is what has inspired Indonesia to adopt bebas aktif (free and active) foreign policy and a non-aligned orientation. This is also what drives Indonesia to pursue a million friends and zero enemies, a fairer and more balanced and inclusive globalization process, a dynamic and moving Doha Development Round.

At the individual level, Indonesian diplomats may wish to manifest the values of the Pancasila in their personal behavior and behavior toward fellow diplomats. As they are frequently posted abroad, diplomats generally have the opportunity to be exposed to other values and norms that are recognized in internationally diplomatic practices and traditions. Their contacts with foreign cultures may only equip them with more horizons of normative references that they could align with, in addition to the Pancasila.

There is no need to invent a concept of a Pancasila diplomacy or diplomat. Most important is how the values and principles in the Pancasila make the spirit of all aspects of Indonesian foreign policy and at all levels of diplomacy. Thus, actualization is more important than verbalism.

On a final note, values and norms do matter in international relations, and the Pancasila is an important part of these norm-based interstate relations.

Every Indonesian may have a dream that the values and principles preserved in the Pancasila would become the normative foundation of the present and future global community, as President Sukarno dreamt of. This is a valid dream despite huge practical challenges to realize it. But we can begin at home, and in the daily life of each and every Indonesian.

The writer is assistant special staff to the president for international relations. The opinions expressed are personal.






Ten, countries in the region should develop cooperative efforts so that potential conflicts could be managed by converting them into actual cooperation.

Any potential conflicts also contain elements for cooperation. Efforts to formulate and implement cooperative projects should move beyond the expression of political support to actual implementation by providing the necessary financial, technical and administrative support.

11. Countries in the region should develop various forums for dialogue — either bilateral or multilateral, either formal or informal. The various forums should hopefully, in the end, be able to produce a set of agreed upon codes of conduct for the region. The contribution of track-two activities to preventive diplomacy should not be underestimated.

12. Countries should pursue various avenues of peaceful settlement of disputes through negotiation, bilateral if the disputes are bilateral or multilateral if the disputes are multilateral. Since most of the parties are already members of the UN and parties to the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea and all have pledged their commitments to peaceful dispute settlements, they should put those commitments to practice by solving their disputes peacefully as soon as possible.

13. Third-party mechanisms for settling disputes should also be explored and utilized, such as good offices, mediation, arbitration and, if necessary, adjudication through the International Court of Justice or the Law of the Sea Tribunal. The 1976 ASEAN TAC (Treaty of Amity and Cooperation) had already formulated certain mechanisms for settling disputes among ASEAN countries, although they were never invoked. A new mechanism for the South China Sea as a whole should be considered, either by drawing from the TAC or from other models.

14. The countries in the region should attempt to settle their land, maritime and jurisdictional boundaries as soon as possible and respect the agreed upon boundaries. They should not settle boundary problems by unilaterally enacting national legislation, because legislation tends to harden positions rather than enabling parties to seek solutions. Delays in settling territorial and jurisdictional disputes are not helpful in promoting regional peace and stability. In fact, the longer the delay, the more each party's position hardens, making it more difficult to settle the dispute, detrimental to the countries concerned and to the region as a whole.

15. In some disputed areas, the application of a joint development concept might be useful as long as the zone of the dispute, the subjects to be jointly developed, the mechanism for such a joint development and the participants in such a joint development concept can be identified and the parties concerned are willing to negotiate seriously on the modalities for the joint development concept in a particular area.

16. While encouraging track one activities in the Asia Pacific region to be more responsive and imaginative in dealing with potential conflicts, more discussion through track two activities – including academics and think tanks – could also be helpful.

17. The interests of non-regional countries should be taken into account, and their potential contribution to avoid conflict in the region should not be discarded altogether.

18. Recently, there have been suggestions that certain ASEAN countries should unite against China on the South China Sea territorial and jurisdictional issues (for instance, as published in Kompas, on June 1, 2011). This endeavor may be difficult for several reasons:

a. Some ASEAN countries are already in dispute with each other, such as the Philippines and Malaysia. In fact, when Malaysia and Vietnam jointly submitted the limits of their continental margin in the South China Sea to the United Nations Continental Shelves Commission, it was protested by the Philippines and China.

b. Among the 10 ASEAN Countries, there are four countries involved in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea (Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines), the other six (Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar) are not involved or are not directly involved. Except within the context of solidarity, the six may not have specific interests to get involved in the territorial dispute, except for the need to assure peace and stability in the region. It may be possible, though, that the six ASEAN non-claimants may make a joint initiative to offer good offices to bring the four claimants to the negotiating table with the other two non-ASEAN claimants.

c. The formation of ASEAN unity against China would seem to be a confrontational approach rather than cooperational. The SCSW process was motivated by a cooperational approach within the last 20 years in order to avoid confrontational situations. Experiences have indicated that China seems to be more responsive to cooperation than confrontation.

d. Finally, with regard to possible joint development for the hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea, this possibility exists if the countries concerned can take into consideration some of the lessons that I have enumerated.

Prof. Dr. Hasyim Djalal represents Indonesia at several UN conferences on maritime law. He has been an Ambassador in Ottawa and Bonn. This article is based on his presentation at the "Conference on Joint Development and the South China Sea", hosted by the Singapore Center for International Law.






I've been married for two-thirds of my life, and not once have I been an obedient wife.

The first time, I was married for 27 years to Ami Priyono, a prominent Indonesian film director, until his death in 2001. In all the time we were married, I don't think Ami ever expected me to be obedient.

What he loved about me was precisely my independent, rebellious and adventurous spirit. Unlike many husbands, he never tried to "tame" his wife, because then I wouldn't have been me. And if I stopped being me, I would have been unhappy, and he sure didn't want an unhappy wife.

Since 2005, I've been married to Tim Lindsey, a professor at the University of Melbourne. He would also laugh his head off at the idea of my being obedient. Obedience is simply not something you'd associate with me — or, for that matter, any self-respecting woman who has integrity and values herself.

If you don't understand what I mean, then check out the dictionary definition of "obedience". You'll find something like, "complying with orders or requests (from those in authority), submissive to another's will". See what I mean? Not much room for integrity or independent thought there, huh?

So why would any woman want to belong to the new Indonesian Obedient Wives' Club (OWC), launched on June 18 in Jakarta? Founded by Dr. Ing. Gina Puspita, the club is affiliated with the conservative Global Ikhwan business organization, which also set up the controversial Polygamy Club. Ikhwan means "brothers" in Arabic, and the raison d'etre of both clubs is to prevent husbands straying, whether through marital affairs, prostitution or other forms of debauchery.

The solution for sex-crazed husbands, according to the OWC, is for their wives to become like first-class whores! Gina — who has three co-wives — says a husband who is "sated" sexually will not be tempted to "snack" outside the home front, and will become a responsible head of the household.

This is a woman with a PhD? Ah well, let's not expect too much from higher degree qualifications these days. After all, Azahari Husin, aka "Demolition Man", the Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah bomb-maker believed to be the technical mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombing, also had a PhD, and that didn't prevent him from being a murderous madman.

Gina, whose PhD is in flight structural engineering, probably knows all there is to know about airplane structures. But that obviously isn't enough to stop her from being misguided on men and marriage, and to subscribe to an ultraconservative Islamic ideology.

Does she seriously think men want subservient, docile, sheep-like puppets-cum-prostitutes-cum-slaves, who can be at their beck-and-call? Even in Malaysia, where the OWC originated, Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, said many husbands complained. They were embarrassed to be portrayed as under the sway of such limited and base needs.

Shahrizat slammed the OWC, saying a club dedicated to teaching wives to be "better than first-class prostitutes" did not represent Islam in Malaysia. She was also very worried that the club might give negative impressions of the teachings of Islam in the eyes of the world. It sure does!

For me, the OWC smacks a lot of Dharma Wanita, the civil servants' wives association in Soeharto's New Order. Within this association, a wife's position in the hierarchy mirrored that of her husband's. She had no autonomy whatsoever. If the husband changed his position in the bureaucracy or left it, so did she.

The ideology behind "state ibuism" (a term I coined) was that women existed to serve their husbands, children, family, community and state. Obedience was a central pillar of Dharma Wanita. For conservative Muslims, obedience to the husband is also part of their orthodoxy, something that sits well with the dominant worldwide culture of patriarchy.

One of the hadiths the conservatives often cite to justify their beliefs is from Abu Dawud. He claims that the Prophet Muhammad said, "Shall I tell you what the best thing is to treasure? A righteous woman: when he looks at her she pleases him, when he commands her she obeys him, and when he is away she preserves herself for him."

However, according to Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir in his wonderful book Hadith and Gender Justice (Fahmina, 2007), one hadith cannot be relied on to define a good wife. There are other hadiths and Koranic verses where the term "righteous woman" is interpreted only as "an ultimate blessing" with no specific description of the woman's duties. In these other hadiths, the Prophet is reported as saying that the most precious thing a man could have is a wife with whom he could share all his problems, who would be loyal to him in happiness or sorrow, and who would please him, but in relation to their mutual interests.

Dharma Wanita was part-and-parcel of an authoritarian state ideology that suppressed human rights and where social and political organizations were created to buttress oligarchic state power.

Likewise, an organization like the OWC — while ridiculously silly in itself — is part-and-parcel of a conservative and oppressive Islam that depends on women's submission and subservience to imprison the ummah in dogma, rather than liberate them with the ijtihad (independent, rational thinking) that the Prophet advocated.

Hmmm … Perhaps someone should set up a Disobedient Wives Club?!?

The writer ( is the author of "State Ibuisme" (Komunitas Bambu, 2011)






The ongoing international operation in Libya has set in motion a global debate about the rationale for that operation: The notion of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), and the idea that the international community must respond when national governments threaten their own people with egregious violence. This debate has underscored areas of certainty, but also areas of great ambiguity.

One key point is that the international community has now committed itself to an overriding principle: when populations are at risk of being massacred by their governments, it will no longer remain idle the way it did for instance in Rwanda.

Abiding questions remain, though, about how an international response to such events should unfold, and the criteria through which its success should be measured.

Another crucial element underscored by this debate is the need for both global and regional actors to endorse RtoP operations if they are to be seen as legitimate and valid.

In all these debates, Asia's voice must be heard. It is in that spirit that the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) recently set up a study group on these issues. Its final report underscores some of the crucial points which should be part of any regional discussion about the RtoP. (The full report can be found at

Two fundamental realities should frame these discussions. Plainly, debates about the RtoP must conform to the principles of the UN Charter and to the established practices of regional diplomacy.

In clear, any understanding of the RtoP which undermines national sovereignty, any application of the concept which serves as a cover for neo-imperialism, is a non-starter. In counterpoint, though, regional actors must recognize that the core of the RtoP lies elsewhere, in prevention rather than intervention.

This is what the concept aims to underscore: the need to address acts of widespread violence exists well before these acts occur, in the responsibility of all states to prevent violence against their own citizens and also in the responsibility of regional and global actors to assist in that process.

If this is the point of entry into the discussion, then current debates about the RtoP connect much more closely to ongoing efforts in the region to develop more efficient mechanisms of conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

Indeed, the unfolding global debate about the RtoP should spur these efforts on, and give them a clearer sense of direction.

In particular, the region should establish a risk reduction center charged with developing an early warning and response capability regarding the different crimes addressed by the RtoP: Genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

At the moment, regional state and non-state actors do not have a mechanism allowing them to conduct early warning analysis of impending mass violence and to then alert decision-makers in order to prevent that violence. Such a mechanism should be created immediately. The ASEAN Regional Forum should take the lead on this issue and develop this proposed risk reduction center under its auspices.

This focus on early warning and response regarding the type of mass atrocities meant to be addressed by the RtoP should also entail the development of tighter functional relations between the region and the UN agencies dealing with these issues.

Most notably, the UN has now established the Joint Office of the Special Advisors to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and the RtoP. There should be a sustained dialogue between regional governments and this Office, with the goal of setting up the frameworks of consultation and cooperation which could kick in if the risk of mass violence flares up in the region.

Such recommendations are modest and realistic. And yet, moving in that direction would place Asia at the center of debates about the RtoP which the region cannot bypass. If only for that, the time to act is now.

The writer is a Canadian academic. He co-chaired the CSCAP Study Group on Asia and the Responsibility to Protect








We can not write enough of Rizana's plight. Till the innocent who sacrificed her freedoms to better the lives of her poverty stricken family is granted justice as we in the democratic world believe it; the luxury of putting down our pens would not be ours. This however, cannot remain the duty of the journalists or a handful of activists. Hers' is a plight we must address as a nation because the outcome can have serious bearings upon the hundreds of thousands toiling away in the Middle East today. The more we refuse to treat it with the force with which we must, the louder our sentiments to Middle Eastern employers who violate their basic rights. Long treated as slaves and rarely seen as human beings with equal rights, it is our own treatment towards these innocents that we see reflected in this treatment they receive.

Those officials who make their living supposedly working for the betterment of these women in government departments like the Foreign Employment Bureau has a lot to answer for. Much that remained undone as the arrest was made, from demanding the results of the postmortem of the little baby, to getting a thorough translation done of the documents made available to providing legal assistance to Rizana, the failures of the officials can not be ignored. It is clearly in the time lost doing nothing that the case against this innocent child took a negative turn.

If the very departments that promote the exodus of our poverty stricken people to the scorching deserts for foreign exchange we can no loner do without, can dismiss this case with the ignorance exhibited, a lot remain desired of such officials. The very fact that a mere 17-year-old left our shores for employment demands looking into. The obvious practice of changing the age in documents to secure jobs cannot be a practice that the Bureau can express ignorance to. Investigations and prevention of such practices must necessarily fall in to the purview of the officials within.

No amount of expressions of regret can possibly fill the void created in the hearts of Rizana's parents who have laid all faith on prayer today. We must demand accountability of those who make money exploiting these innocents. Who pays for the lost childhood and its many wonderments denied for such children by these agents of death?





Multilateralism is not working in Greece. The prevailing standoff between the private-public sector combined and the government threatens to snowball into a wider economic conundrum for the rest of Europe.

 While Athens has been holding the bankruptcy peg for long now, how it further sustains is not difficult to estimate. The two-day trade unions strike across the country as Prime Minister George Papandreou urged parliament to back his highly contested austerity package is a telling tale of how recession is unravelling its economy and subsequently imploding into a civil war-like situation.

Greece is in a fix. The tailor-made policies of the international organisations have overwhelmingly drawn criticism from people across all walks of life. In such a scenario, pressing the embattled government to go ahead with the austerity measures that will amount to cutting down of subsidies might be suicidal. Though economic pundits argue that it's time for tightening the belt and the 28 billion euro programme can make wonders, how practically it could be rolled down remains a mystery. If the government loses, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have already hinted that it could lead to suspension of 12 billion euros, and a subsequent insolvency recipe. At the same time, the unrest that is purely economic in essence has already brought the wheel of development and services to a standstill — a bad omen for an already trailing economy. Greece has to find a middle ground to come back from the brink, and it practically seems to be an impossible task as the parliament too is on the shaky side. The way out for Greece is to enter into bilateral restructuring arrangements, as indicated by Paris, to avoid an imminent default. At the same time it has to revisit its reforms package that it initiated in 2002 as it went the euro way, and indulged in borrowing without an iota of consideration for how and when that will be paid back. That has now squarely come to haunt it. The country's banking, insurance, bourses and industrial sectors are in need of structural revamping, and could effectively be bailed out without making them penalise with austerity drives. Nonetheless, this vote due from parl
Khaleej Times





It should make even the casual observer wonder why the stridency of International calls for accountability in Sri Lanka has been increasing over time and has now reached a multi faceted crescendo. From the Indians to the UN system, from the US to the EU,from the Commonwealth Secretariat to the British Foreign Office, from the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to the Shadow Foreign Secretary of Britain, the calls for Sri Lanka on alleged violations of international laws in the context of conflict has been increasing. To add to that a law suit has been filed against President Rajapakse in the Federal District Court system in the USA, under the principal of command responsibility.

A difficult situation likely at the UNHRC in September

It is speculated that Sri Lanka only received a brief breathing space in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, earlier this month. Come the September sessions, a resolution that will essentially start the ball rolling on follow up action on the Experts Panel report or the Darussman report as the state media have been instructed to call it, may be mooted by the EU. Anything less than a sterling defense of Sri Lanka by India, even an abstention, would mean that those sitting on the fence and those that are influenced by India, will swing against the Lankan regime. Thumbing our noses at Indian suggestions to implement the 13th amendment (it is after all our constitution and basic law), together with their need to accommodate Jayalalitha, it is interesting to see how India can defend Sri Lanka come September.

This columnist has long argued that the world is really concerned about is not so much the past but the future. Not really our war, which it considered just and indeed supported by banning the LTTE and in many other ways. It is the nature of our peace, that the world is looking at askance and with some concern. As we celebrated the second year anniversary of the end of the war with a grand military parade, our post war reconciliation process leaves was being questioned. Two years after the end of the war, a state of emergency exists in the country.

Remember we had no emergency even during the CFA years, survived and won the war when it resumed. Two years after the war, the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections have not been held. With presidential and general elections concluded, there is no excuse for not holding the NPC election. The resettlement process is allegedly moving at a slower pace, the 50,000 Indian housing scheme is yet to get off the ground and no one else, and including the government or INGOs has built houses either. Accordingly the resettled Wanni civilians are living in temporary shelters and tents, unless personal resources enable rebuilding their own homes. With rural infrastructure for agriculture and fishing in the North destroyed in the fighting there is not much support for livelihoods either.

Making a case for the 13th amendment

Sri Lankan society needs national reconciliation after the LTTE's defeat and the war's conclusion. The claim that the Tamil polity is divided is hollow. True, it is diverse in a party sense, but dominantly represented by the TNA. Only two Tamil parties are represented in parliament. The TNA and the EPDP. Douglas too wants the 13th implemented now, wants an NPC election soon held and for him to be the UPFA chief ministerial candidate. The EPDP party program, calls for the re-merger of the North and East. The 13th amendment is already a part of our basic law and implemented everywhere else in the country. It is overdue for the North in a free and fair election.





China, France, India, Russia, UK, USA and a few other countries with enormous financial and technical resources, and highly trained and disciplined work forces, are going ahead with the construction of nuclear power stations whereas an equally advanced country like Germany has decided to phase out even its existing ones. What should Sri Lanka do?

There is no question that, if you ignore certain major factors which apply particularly to small and relatively poor countries, nuclear power can superficially be shown to be one of the more economical sources of energy for the production of electricity. But can Sri Lanka afford to ignore these factors? That is the question that the Citizens' Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) has asked itself and offers its answers for the consideration of our technical and political decision-makers, and the Sri Lankan public.

The first point of consequence is that the advanced nuclear power countries possess the required scientific and engineering knowledge themselves. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, would have to pay a premium to gain access to almost all this knowledge and keep on paying heavily for all subsequent improvements. As in most commercial transactions, the prices quoted at the time of tendering or initial negotiations would be held at an attractively low level to persuade the customer to accept the suppliers' proposals. Once a commitment is made and the project is completed, the supplier would be free to raise its prices for technical supervision, consumables (especially nuclear fuel) and spares. There would be little room for bargaining. This type of disadvantage would not be experienced to anything like the same extent in the case of other forms of power production, where the technical requirements are invariably far less complex. The monopolistic element would be there, say, in a coal power station as well but not to the degree of exclusivity that would be associated with nuclear power. Hence, Sri Lanka would be very much more vulnerable to extremely high price increases in the case of nuclear power than in the case of the other less complex means of power production.

The next point of importance is that most of the funds that an advanced country spends on its nuclear plants remains within that country and it is only a few items, eg. uranium, which it would have to buy from outside. On the other hand, in the case of a less developed country, 80-90 per cent of the total expenditure would be in foreign exchange and only 10- 20% would remain within that country. Contrastingly, if other simpler types of plant are considered, the corresponding percentages would be much more favourable, except perhaps for photovoltaic installations. Whereas the expenditure on a nuclear power station could significantly help the economy of a country with nuclear capability, it would have a large negative effect on the economy of a less developed country. Therefore, one should take into account the collateral disadvantages of spending money on a nuclear power station in relation to its impact on the rest of the economy. This cannot be done with great precision but a good economist would be able to make a useful assessment.

We next turn to the incidence of accidents, technical failures and Nature's interventions by first considering the hypothetical failure of a large dam, which could in extreme circumstances kill hundreds of thousands of those living downstream. We may note immediately that catastrophic collapses of large dams are unknown because of the simplicity of the structures and electromechanical components, apart from the precautions taken in the investigations, planning, design, construction, operation, monitoring and maintenance of such projects. Nevertheless, in the extremely improbable case of one failing, immense volumes of water would pour out and flood the valleys below but almost everything on high ground would be generally unaffected - and certainly not anything that is outside the river basin. The effects of the flooding would be "local" in effect and could, for all practical purposes, be erased within a period of some years, at a cost that can at least be computed, albeit roughly. As opposed to this, radiation and contaminated material from a nuclear calamity could affect large areas of our planet and some of the wind-blown radioactive particles may render far distant areas unfit for the survival of most forms of life. The cost of mitigating the damage caused by such an occurrence would, in CIMOGG's view, be so enormous as to be impossible of estimation beforehand because one cannot be certain of the way the winds and sea currents will carry the contaminated air and cooling water, or how much radioactive material would be consumed by fish and other marine organisms. The worst aspect is that, in the case of some of the biologically harmful materials which are likely to be released, their radioactivity would decay to only half the original value even after some hundreds of years. Although nuclear power promoters will say that there are stringent safeguards to prevent or limit radiation damage, there have been a number of serious and threatening precedents - Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima being the best known - that do not encourage one to lay great store by such assurances.

The fourth issue that we must be aware of is the scale of compensation that we would have to pay other countries (apart from our own citizens) for radiation which spreads outside our borders, affecting not only the land and air but all biological systems. Whilst we may be able to get away by paying compensation of a million rupees to a Sri Lankan for death, injury or a living death, the reparations that would be claimed by foreign victims could run into many billions of dollars.

The US spent long years to identify and to try to develop, within a mountain of geologically stable rock, a huge cavern to store spent nuclear fuel but the public reaction in the chosen State was so adverse that the authorities had to abandon the scheme. As for Sri Lanka, is it conceivable that there could be any place within its borders where nuclear fuel could be stored safely for centuries?

Operating a nuclear power station requires a degree of supervision and assiduity which is of a whole order more intense than that required by any other source of energy because the consequences of a major mishap in a nuclear power station would far exceed in scale those of any other type of power facility. The discipline, self-sacrifice and commitment to the welfare of the public that was seen in the case of the Fukushima disaster were so exemplary that we would have to admit that, as a nation, we have yet to reach those levels by a very wide margin. There was no looting of abandoned buildings. Queues for emergency supplies were orderly and patient. Strikingly, the personnel of the nuclear power station did not let the frightful danger of exposure to high levels of radiation prevent them from going about the work of trying to limit further damage and release of additional radiation. The most heartwarming of the stories that came to be associated with the Fukushima disaster was the offer by long retired personnel of the station to take over damage limitation and repair work from the employees currently working in highly hazardous conditions. By doing so they were trying to ensure that these younger personnel would not have their lives cut short prematurely by being exposed to more radiation than they had already received. In all honesty, could we be sure that we would be able to rely, to the same extent as those of the Japanese, on the work ethic and sense of responsibility of present day Sri Lankans? Could we leave the running of a nuclear power station to those who are not highly committed and responsible or are we going to rely on foreign personnel to run these stations? Would they be as duty-bound to Sri Lanka as they would be to their own countries? There is no use talking about isolated instances of our countrymen who have in the past sacrificed their lives to save those of others in danger. It is the whole of society which has to reach the higher standards required.

On the face of it, one could grade the sources of power for a small, developing country approximately as follows -

Nuclear - Potentially the cheapest but with excessive open-ended risks, both economic and environmental.

Coal power - More expensive than nuclear but with less economic risks. Substantial environmental negatives.

Wind and Solar Panels - Most expensive but with the smallest environmental negatives and physical risks.

The other sources, such as geothermal, tidal, wave-activated, solar heating etc, will need a lot more study before they can become serious competitors in our conditions. Consequently, our fellow citizens may find it prudent, in the long term, to rely on the old "Chinese" adage:

"Good things no cheap; cheap things no good", and commit themselves to the higher priced but safer sources of electricity based on wind and solar panels, now that we have only a relatively small amount of untapped hydropower left.

As far as one can judge, the matters referred to above are not taken into account by those who advocate nuclear power for Sri Lanka. CIMOGG does not claim to be an authority on nuclear power or any other type of power but puts forward these common-sense observations in order to promote wide public discussion so that vested interests and technocrats do not puzzle us with figures which do take into account simple realities, and thereby push us into a desperate situation from which there could be no retreat.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam

President, CIMOGG






Sundarlingam Kamaleswari* has a recurring dream. She is in a raging battlefield, surrounded by sounds of gun-fire and bombs. Even through the chaos around her, she distinctly hears her daughter call out to her – "Amma! Amma! Come to me, I'm here". She spots her daughter lying on the ground – a look of pain registered on her face; the left leg missing. Unexpectedly she shuts her eyes, shocked by a loud blast. A second later she opens her eyes to find her daughter is missing.

Kamaleswari has lived this dream.

Kamaleswari last saw her only daughter – Krishnikala*, two years ago during the final stages of the war. "It was in the Wattuwal area in Mulaithivu. As the battles grew intense, we had to live in ditches which we were made to dig to protect ourselves from the crossfire. But as the clashes grew fierce, the LTTE started retreating. I grabbed the chance and decided to look for my daughter," Kamaleswari said as she began recalling the day she saw her daughter for the last time.

Krishnikala had been recruited to the LTTE eight years ago; she had been barely 20 years old. "One evening she went out to buy some groceries and never returned. Later I found out she was taken away by the LTTE." Kamaleswari says that Krishnikala ran away from LTTE detention three times. "We hid her everytime she escaped because she was petrified and did not want to rejoin the LTTE. She simply did not want to fight or be in a battlefield. But they always found her no matter where we hid her," Kamaleswari said as tears rolled down her sunken face. 

A mother's determination

Determined to find her daughter, Kamaleswari had dragged herself through the wilderness into areas where some LTTE bunkers were located. "I hadn't had a proper meal for over a month by then, so I was too weak. I could hardly see where I was going. The sound of gun-fire was deafening and I felt like I was walking to my death with every step I took forward. But it wasn't the gun-fire or the bullets that worried me – it was the risk of having to die without seeing my daughter. But I kept praying and the Gods heard my lament." After several hours of crawling in the wild, Kamaleswari had spotted Krishnikala.

She had been conscious but her left leg had been amputated. "She had probably been left behind because of her damaged leg. When she saw me, her eyes lit up. I tried carrying her to a shelter to protect ourselves from the cross-fire but I wasn't strong enough. So I wandered back, to try and find help to carry her, but couldn't find anyone. By this time the Army had entered the area. I quickly returned to the spot where I found her, she was missing," Kamaleswari said, her voice coming out in staccatos. "I looked for her as much as I could and as far as my eyes would take me. But there was no trace of her. The last I heard her voice was when she begged me for some water before I took off to get help," she said between sobs.

Wiping the tears off her face, Kamaleswari opened a file she was clutching on to and took out some documents including Krishnikala's birth certificate and a picture. The picture was of a young girl stiffly posing against a multicoloured studio-backdrop, dressed in a yellow shalwar and her long, plaited hair decked with jasmines. "This is the only picture I have of her," she sighed.

Although one might argue that Krishnikala might have died during the clashes, Kamaleswari feels she is alive still. "Several people had seen her in another IDP camp. I went to the camp where she was claimed to be seen but I couldn't obtain any information that would help find my daughter. I have provided her information to all the relevant authorities but I have not received any response," she said with a look of doubt clouding her face.

"My husband passed away 24 years ago because of a heart attack and now I have lost my daughter too. There is not a single day that passes by in which I don't think about her. All I am asking for is some closure. If I don't get to see her, I would at least like to know whether she is dead or alive," Kamaleswari said as tears continued to stain her wearied, sun-blackened face as she held her daughter's photograph in her hand and caressed the outlines of Krishnikala's face in the image – the sole memory left of her only kin.

* Names withheld to protect identity

"No detainees held by Military" – Sri Lanka Army


"It is completely incorrect of the Police to state that detainees are held by the Military because there are absolutely no detainees being held by us," Military Spokesman Major General Ubhaya Madewela said speaking to Daily Mirror. 

He pointed out that since the war is over, the individuals arrested on suspicion of having links with the LTTE or involved with the LTTE are no longer their responsibility and are therefore under the purview of the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms. "Although the Rehabilitation Commissioner is a military officer, his department too comes under the purview of the Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms Minister. Hence, it is their responsibility to declare details of the detainees as well as ensure their wellbeing," he added.

"Only about 7 per cent have obtained details on detainees…" – Police


Police media spokesman SP Prishantha Jayakody said that only about seven per cent of the detainees' relatives and family members who visit or contact the TID have been able to obtain information as the majority of inquiries have been on detainees in military custody.

"Over 1,300 family members and relatives of the detainees have visited the TID information centres in Vavuniya, Boossa and TID Headquarters in Colombo and the centres have also received over 250 calls requesting information," he said. He also stated that the information of the detainees in custody of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) will be provided only to their family members or close relatives.

"We have already established three information centres in Vavuniya, Colombo and Boossa – TID Headquarters in Colombo 1, the rock house office in Boossa, Galle and the TID office in Vavuniya opposite the Vavuniya DIG's office. All these centres are being operated by the TID. The information of the detainees' whereabouts and wellbeing will only be provided upon request of the detainees," he said while adding that the centres are operational 24 hours.

Some of the detainees were arrested under detention orders and some are in remand. SP Jayakody stated that information will be given only about the detainees held under detention orders. However, he also mentioned that information about the suspects detained by the Military will not be available.

Family members or close relatives who wish to obtain details about the detainees in custody of the TID can be contacted on the following numbers: TID Headquarters Tel: 0112384400, TID office in Vavuniya Tel: 0243243207 and TID office in Boossa Tel: 0912267087 or upon visiting the information centres.

"These family members need some closure" - WESL


'We Are Sri Lankans' (WESL), an organization rallying for the release of detained Tamil youth speaking to Daily Mirror urged the government to release details of detained Tamil youth to the public. "Currently the release of detainee information is carried out only upon request. But we believe that it is only through the declaration of their details, the security of their lives would be assured," WESL Executive Committee member Udul Premaratne said.

According to Premaratne, a majority of families residing in the North and the East have at least one missing each. "Based on the research we have carried out in the areas, in Mannar the percentage of missing people in families is about 25, Vavuniya 60 per cent and Trincomalee 20 per cent,' he added.

"These family members need some closure as to what happened to their children or loved ones. They were arrested in areas where the LTTE controlled for over two decades, so it is obvious that all of these families had some connection with the LTTE because they were forced into it. Today, these parents and relatives are not even able to obtain a death certificate for these missing individuals because they have no idea what befell them," he said.

He also pointed out that if the government takes measures to release details about the Tamil youth who are being detained, it would also help resolve many allegations that are made against Sri Lanka by the international community.


"Detention camps not under our purview" - Prison Reform and Rehabilitation Ministry

Prison Reforms and Rehabilitation Ministry Secretary A. Dissanayake commenting on the issue said that the detention camps in Boossa, Vavuniya and Colombo do not come under their purview. "They are managed by the TID and details of detainees in those camps would have to be obtained by the TID," he added.

Mr. Dissanayake said that they are only responsible for the ex-LTTE cadres in rehabilitation camps. "When the arrests were made the LTTE cadres were categorized into six groups as A, B, C, D, E, and F. The groups A, B, and C were hardcore LTTE cadres and they are held in detention camps. The rest were individuals who were compelled to join the LTTE and they are being rehabilitated," he added.

Speaking further he stated that currently only 3,470 rehabilitants are remaining to be released and the number of rehabilitation camps have decreased from 26 up to just nine.










THE summary for policymakers of the long- awaited Special Report on Renewables by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was recently released. The scientists analysed more than 160 scenarios to calculate the potential of renewable energy to meet the global needs in 2050.

The most optimistic scenario predicts renewables will constitute 80 per cent of our energy matrix if certain conditions are met. Renewable energies considered are bio, solar, geothermal, hydropower, ocean and wind.

They accounted for 12.9pc of primary energy supply in 2008, although a vast majority was biomass. Renewable energy capacity grew rapidly in 2009. Its technical potential exceeds future demand. Developing countries host over half of global capacity.

Renewable energy technologies are at different stages of maturity and can have adverse impacts. For example, hydropower has limited capacity to grow. Large dams have resulted in the displacement of millions of people and fragmented over half of the world's rivers. Hydropower reflects the importance of weighing the impacts of a renewable energy source.

Other technologies such as using the potential, kinetic, thermal and chemical energy of seawater are at the demonstration and the pilot phase and require research and development.

Renewable energy is generally more expensive than conventional technologies, but under certain circumstances, it is price competitive. If costs related to emissions of greenhouse gases during the burning of fossil fuels were internalised, renewable energy technologies would be competitive.

Proactive policy measures will be essential to level the playing field between renewable and conventional sources. Feed-in tariffs, quotas and priority grid access subsidise renewable energy so that it can compete. Fiscal incentives also play a role such as carbon taxes, rebates and grants to end users for choosing renewable energy sources.

Policy measures are more successful if paired with public investment in research and development.

The IPCC took on the "double challenge" of ensuring energy is produced without greenhouse gas emissions and the world's poor have a right to sustainable development. More than two billion people have little or no access to electricity. Renewable energy can break this cycle, since it lends itself well to decentralised distribution.

But accessibility is also linked to affordability. Poor people spend a higher percentage of their income on energy. Therefore, it is not enough to make renewables more competitive with fossil fuels. The price of renewables must drop to become the choice of the poor.

The poor primarily burn firewood for cooking and heating. Biomass burning is inefficient and a major cause of indoor air pollution. It is classified as renewable energy because a tree cut down and burned for fuel can be replaced by planting another.

Bioenergy is not limited to the burning of biomass. Ethanol production from sugar and starch is commercially viable, whereas production of fuels from ligno-cellulosis and algae are at the pre-commercial and research and development stage.

The report gets us started in the right direction. We must use this adverse situation of meeting energy needs in a fair and just way as an opportunity to find new paths forward.









The efforts to overthrow the Syrian government have a lot in common with what has been undertaken in Libya. However, the results are substantially different owing to each country's social and political background. The project to break up these two States simultaneously was initially brought up by John Bolton on 6 May 2002 when he was serving as Undersecretary of State in the Bush administration. It's implementation by the Obama administration nine years down the line -- in the context of the Arab Awakening -- is not without problems.

Like in Libya, the original plan intended to bring about a military coup, but it soon proved impossible owing to the lack of willing Syrian military officers. According to our sources, an analogous plan had also been envisaged for Lebanon. In Libya, the plot was leaked and Colonel Gaddafi proceeded to have Colonel Abdallah Gehani arrested. In any case, the initial plan had to be revised in light of the unexpected "Arab Spring" scenario.

Military action

The central idea was to foment unrest in a well circumscribed area and to proclaim the establishment of an Islamic emirate that would serve as a platform for the dismemberment of the country. The choice of the Daraa district can be explained by its proximity to the Jordanian border and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. This layout would make it easy to funnel supplies to the secessionists.

An incident was contrived involving students who engaged in provocations. It succeeded beyond all expectations given the brutality and stupidity of the local governor and police chief. When the demonstrations started, snipers were positioned on the roofs to shoot at random into the crowd and against the police forces. A similar script had been used in Benghazi to fuel the revolt.

Other clashes were planned, invariably in a border area to secure a support base, first in Northern Lebanon, then on the border with Turkey.

The skirmishes were led by small commandos, mostly made up of some forty men, combining individuals recruited on the spot with foreign mercenary overseers belonging to Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan's network. Bandar travelled to Jordan where he supervised the kick off of operations, together with CIA and Mossad officials.

But Syria is not Libya and the outcome was reversed. Indeed, whereas Libya is a state that was created by the colonial powers which united Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan by force, Syria is a historical country which was reduced to its simplest form by those same powers. Therefore, while Libya is spontaneously at the mercy of centrifugal forces, Syria attracts centripetal forces bent on reconstructing Greater Syria (comprising Jordan, occupied Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and part of Iraq). Syria's population today cannot but repudiate any plan to partition the country.

Also, a parallel can be made between Colonel Gaddafi's authority and that of Hafez al-Assad (Bashar's father). They rose to power during the same period and both made use of their intelligence and… to hold sway.

Bashar al-Assad, on the contrary, did not seize power nor did he expect to inherit it. He accepted to fill the office of president when his father died because his older brother had perished in an accident and because only his family heritage could have prevented a power struggle among his father's generals.

Although it was the army who went to look for him in London, where he was quietly practicing his profession as an ophthalmologist, it is his people who be-knighted him. He is undeniably the most popular political leader in the Middle East. Up to two months ago, he was also the only one who moved around without armed guards, and felt comfortable in a crowd.

The military operation to destabilize Syria and the propaganda campaign that came with it have been orchestrated by a coalition of states under US coordination, in exactly the same way that NATO coordinates its member and non-member states to bombard and stigmatize Libya. As indicated above, the mercenary forces have been provided with the compliments of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was forced to knock on several doors, including in Pakistan and Malaysia, seeking to boost his personal army deployed in Manama and Tripoli. As an example, we can cite the installation of an ad hoc telecommunications center on the premises of the Ministry of Telecommunications in Lebanon.

Far from arousing the population against the "regime", this blood bath triggered a national outpouring for President Bashar al-Assad. Aware that they are being drawn into a civil war by design, the Syrians are standing shoulder to shoulder. The overall number of anti-government protest rallies garnered between 150 000 and 200 000 people out of a population of 22 million inhabitants. By contrast, the pro-government drew crowds the likes of which the country had never seen before.

The authorities reacted with calm in the face of such events. The President finally enacted the reforms that had been on his agenda for a long time, but which the majority of the population had resisted for fear they might westernize their society. Anxious not to fall into archaism, the Ba'ath Party has embraced a multiparty system. The army did not crackdown on the demonstrators - contrary to what the Western and Saudi media have reported - but reined in the armed groups. Unfortunately, the high-ranking military officers, most of whom were trained in the USSR, failed to practice any restraint towards the civilians who were caught in the middle.

The economic war

At that point, the Western-Saudi strategy needed to be revised. Realizing that military action would fall short of plunging the country into chaos in the near term, Washington decided to undermine Syrian society in the middle term. The rationale is that the policies of the Al-Assad government have been forging a middle class (the true mainstay of a democracy) and that it would be feasible to turn this class against him. In that case, an economic collapse of the country would have to be engineered.

Now, Syria's main resource is oil, even if its production cannot compare in volume with that of its rich neighbors. To market the oil, Syria must have assets deposited in Western banks to serve as guarantee during the transactions. It would be enough to freeze them in order to pull the country down. Hence, the expediency of tarnishing its image to mold western public opinion into accepting the "sanctions against the regime."

In principle, an asset freeze requires a resolution by the UN Security Council, which appears problematic. China, for one, may not be in a position to oppose it since it has already been blackmailed to renounce its veto power in the Libyan context under threat of losing access to Saudi oil. But Russia could do it, without which it would lose its naval base in the Mediterranean would have to keep its Black Sea cooped up behind the Dardanelles. The Pentagon has already attempted to intimidate Russia by deploying its guided-missile cruiser, the USS Monterrey, in the Black Sea to underscore the futility of Russia's naval ambitions.

Be that as it may, the Obama administration may decide to revive the 2003 Syrian Accountability Act allowing it to freeze Syrian assets independently of a UN resolution or Congress approval. Recent history has shown, especially as regards Cuba and Iran, that Washington can easily convince its European partners to endorse sanctions that it applies unilaterally.

Thus, the stakes have currently shifted from the battle field towards the media. Public opinion will allow the wool to be pulled over its eyes all the more given its ignorance of Syria and its blind faith in the new technologies.

The media war

At first, the propaganda campaign focused the public's attention on the crimes allegedly committed by the "regime" so as to avert any questions regarding the nature of the new opposition. In fact, these armed groups have little in common with the intellectual dissidents that drafted the Damascus Declaration. They emerge from Sunni religious extremist circles. These fanatics repudiate the religious pluralism of the Levant and long for a state to their image and likeness. They don't challenge President Bashar Al-Assad because they deem he is too authoritarian, but because he is an Alawi, that is a heretic in their eyes.

Reality reversal is a principle being applied on a large scale. We may recall the United Nations reports on the humanitarian crisis in Libya alleging that tens of thousands of immigrant workers were fleeing the country to escape from violence. The conclusion drawn and spewed by the Western media was that the Gaddafi "regime" had to be toppled in favor of the Benghazi rebels. And yet, it was not the government of Tripoli who was responsible for this tragedy, but the so-called revolutionaries in Cyrenaica who were hunting down black Africans. Stirred by a racist ideology, they accused them of being at the service of Colonel Gaddafi and lynched whoever they could get their hands on.

In Syria, the images of armed groups perched on the rooftops and firing at random into the crowd or on police forces were broadcast on national television networks. Yet, these same images were relayed and used by Western and Saudi television channels to attribute these crimes to the government of Damascus.

At the end of the day, the plan to destabilize Syria is not working all that well. It succeeded in persuading public opinion that the country is in the grips of a brutal dictatorship, but it also welded the vast majority of the Syrian population firmly behind its government. Ultimately, the plan could backfire on those who masterminded it, notably Tel Aviv. In January-February 2011 we witnessed a revolutionary wave in the Arab world, followed in April-May by a counter-revolutionary wave. The swing of the pendulum is still in motion.

(Source: Voltaire Network)

Photo: President Bashar al-Assad supporters demonstrate on June 27, 2011 in Damascus. (Reuters photo)







On Saturday, 25 June, the French boat, Dignity/Karama, left the port of l'ile Rousse in Corsica, France, to meet up with at least nine other vessels sailing to Gaza to challenge Israel's illegal blockade. Israel's best efforts to stop our boats at port, including pressure on governments, threats against insurance and communications companies, intimidation of human rights defenders, frivolous lawsuits and other underhanded tactics, have thus far failed. The Freedom Flotilla has set sail.

In the coming days the rest of the vessels in the flotilla, two cargo ships and seven other passenger boats, will leave from various ports to a meeting point in international waters from which the boats will sail all together towards Gaza. We will carry nearly three thousand tons of aid and hundreds of civilians from dozens of countries, including members of parliament, politicians, writers, artists, journalists and sports figures, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples and various faith groups.

Unfortunately some of our vessels are facing delays admittedly initiated by bogus complaints from the Israel Law Center, attempted sabotage of some boats, as well as administrative obstacles created by the Greek government in response to Israeli pressure. We call upon the Greek government not to become complicit in Israel's illegal actions by succumbing to this pressure, and to join France in standing unopposed to the flotilla.

There is no question that Israel's near hermetic closure of the Gaza Strip is illegal; this has been affirmed again and again by numerous international human rights bodies including the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. And, when prompted by the flotilla effort, international consensus has been unequivocal in the demand for the Israeli siege to end. There is no question that Israel's closure policy has had a devastating effect on the occupied people of Gaza. This has also been well documented. The only question is why does the international community of states allow Israel to keep violating the law and rights of the Palestinian people with impunity?

Recent steps taken by Israel to address the concerns raised in the public eye by the Freedom Flotilla II -- Stay Human initiative, including last week's announcement of authorization for construction materials for 1,200 homes and 18 schools in Gaza, prove that flotillas work. However, this is not enough, as our effort is not simply about increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza. It is about freedom for Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. Calls by some world leaders for flotilla organizers to use "established channels" to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza show a fundamental disregard for Palestinian human rights. The Palestinian people do not want handouts from the international community; rather they demand liberation -- a call we must all support.

Therefore, despite intimidation, pressure, and threats of violence from the Israeli government, which is not ashamed to boast that it will use snipers and attack dogs against unarmed civilians, we will sail. We are part of a growing movement, led by Palestinian civil society campaigning for their freedom, that Israel's strong-arm tactics cannot stop. We call on our governments to do their utmost to protect their citizens as we take to the sea, without weapons, protection or threat of force, in defense of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Gaza, we are coming.

Photo: An activist holds a placard during a news conference regarding preparations of a flotilla, which is due to set sail to Gaza from Greece, in Athens June 27, 2011.







The recent wave of popular movements in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa is actually seeking to overthrow the despotic regimes that have ruled those nations for decades. These movements arose partly due to the strong will and vigorous determination of the people and partly due to the interference of foreign elements that are trying to settle their disputes with certain governments of the region.

Specifically, this is the case in Syria, where the role of the external stimuli is much greater than the role of the popular protests against the government. In other words, unlike other countries of the region, the popular nature of the uprising in Syria is overshadowed by external players that have been seeking to topple the Syrian government for a long time.

The situation in Syria is quite different than the situation in other countries of the region because the United States and Israel are directly interfering in the current crisis, but in other countries, the role of the people has been more important from the very beginning.

It seems that these external players are taking advantage of one major weakness in the Syrian government. The political structure of Syria and issues such as freedom, legal rights, and the standard of living have been damaged over the past four decades mainly because of the state of emergency and the general security situation in the country.

For a very long time, the Syrian government did not pay enough attention to these issues, and the external elements used these weaknesses to promote their own interests. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government finally realized the gravity of the situation and made a series of new decisions, but unfortunately, it was too late.

However, many believe that there is still an opportunity for the Syrian government to normalize the situation. To do this, the government must accept the reasonable demands of the opposition, and if it is necessary to negotiate with some elements in the opposition, talks should be held because they could effectively normalize the situation. Of course, in this case, the government should not give the foreign elements any chance to interfere in the process.

The Syrian government should attempt to bring the situation under control in an appropriate manner. Although the current president and his father, Hafez al-Assad, were only able to rule the country for the past four decades through the use of special methods, this does not necessarily mean that it will be possible for Bashar al-Assad to continue to rule Syria based on these old assumptions.

It is not yet clear how the Syrian government will deal with the current situation, but undoubtedly, if the government wants to win the people over and convince them to remain calm, it must accept their legitimate demands and promise them a brighter future.

Dr. Javad Mansouri previously served as Iran's ambassador to China.







Israel keeps exerting pressure to block humanitarian efforts to deliver vital to life and other essential aid to besieged Gazans.

Endorsing Israeli lawlessness, the State Department issued a June 22 "Travel Warning -- Israel, the West Bank and Gaza," saying in part:

"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and about threats to themselves and to U.S. interests in those locations," adding "avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip."

On June 23, Secretary of State Clinton added:

"We do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza. And we think that it's not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves."

Defend against whom she didn't explain or that Gazan waters belong to Palestine, not Israel. Moreover, delivering humanitarian aid is essential until Gaza's blockade is ended, a crime against humanity Washington funds and supports.

This week, "Freedom Flotilla II -- Stay Human" sails to Gaza. Neither Israel nor Clinton will stop it, but they're trying by blocking its departure or planned interdiction surprises if it comes.

The U.S. Boat to Gaza (The Audacity of Hope) is one of 10 participating ships, now blocked by Greek officials, saying the vessel is unseaworthy, a spurious claim with no validity.

A June 26 U.S. Boat to Gaza press release asked "Greek government officials to clarify whether (their leased boat) is being blocked....because of an anonymous request of a private citizen....or whether (Greece) made a political response to U.S. and Israeli" pressure.

Specifically they want to know if bailout help is contingent on succumbing to blackmail, besides Greece already surrendering its sovereignty to foreign bankers.

On June 27, a U.S. Boat to Gaza press release responded to reports that an Israeli "Lawfare" group (Shurat HaDin) complaint is delaying the boat's departure.

Israel, Washington, AIPAC, and the Shurat HaDin Law Center (SH) are directly involved. In fact, SH's web site claims it's "bankrupting terrorism one lawsuit at a time," adding on June 19:

"I am happy to report that we have achieved some important victories in the struggle to block the anti-Israel Flotilla from 'smuggling contraband' to the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip."

Specifically, it referred to a French insurance company succumbing to intimidation not to cover a French boat from Marseilles, and the Turkish ship pressured by Ankara to cancel its participation.

On June 15, SH announced a Manhattan federal court lawsuit to "confiscate 14 ships outfitted with funds unlawfully raised in the United States by anti-Israeli groups, including the Free Gaza Movement."

SH, the Obama administration, AIPAC and other Israeli Lobby members clearly support state terrorism in violation of international, U.S. and Israeli law. Nonetheless, America's "Audacity of Hope" is confident it will sail, saying:

SH is notorious for filing "frivolous legal complaints against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. We reiterate that the boat we are leasing....was surveyed by a professional surveyor and successfully completed its sea trials."

At noon Athens time on June 27, a press conference announced its readiness to sail, but expect continued pressure to stop it -- criminal co-conspirators determined to lawlessly suffocate besieged Gazans.

On June 27, a Haaretz editorial headlined, "Let the flotilla go," saying:

Israel equates "flotilla" with terrorism or "a declaration of war," no matter that cargo includes food, medicines, educational materials and other humanitarian aid raised by private donations.

Nonetheless, Israel "seems to be as frightened of the flotilla as one would think it would be of an attack by an armed naval fleet." As a result, it's "preparing to fight an enemy" comprised of unarmed, nonviolent men and women who care enough to risk their safety to deliver vital aid and symbolically oppose Israeli lawlessness.

Thirteen months after the Mavi Marmara massacre, "Israel is showing that it has learned just one lesson: the military lesson....The country is not willing to give up a display of power, thereby no doubt contributing to inflating the flotilla's importance" and Israel as a rogue terror state. "From Israel, we can at least demand that it let the flotilla get through....without once again endangering the country's position in the world."

On June 27, Israel National News said former U.S. Ecuador ambassador Samuel Hart (a 27-year Foreign Service veteran) will participate in the Flotilla mission.

In a 1992 Foreign Affairs Oral History Project for the Association for Diplomatic Studies interview, Hart said:

"I've always felt that Israel has been a little bit of a burr in the saddle in our foreign policy. Here is a small country with no particular interest to us in any real strategic terms, yet it sort of jerks us around because it has not only a very vocal Jewish population, but also supporters of Israel from non-Jewish groups."

He also once wrote an essay calling Israel "an exhausting place to live (because) the tension, anxiety and intensity wear you out."

Now aged 77, he told a Jacksonville, FL newspaper he joined the Flotilla because he "missed" participating in the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement to end segregation. "I see great similarities between this and the civil rights movement," he said. "I am pleased to be part of it."

He also asked, "What did the residents of Gaza do to deserve such punishment? The honest answer is they" elected Hamas in 2006 democratically and now suffer lawlessly.

On June 26, New York Times writer Ethan Bronner headlined, "Avoid Gaza Flotilla, Israel Warns Foreign Journalists," saying:

"Israel threatened Sunday to bar for up to a decade any foreign journalist who boards a flotilla seeking to challenge an Israeli naval blockade of Gaza."

Moreover, Israel's Government Press Office director Oren Helman said their equipment will be impounded and they'll be subjected to "additional sanctions." He sent a warning letter to registered foreign correspondents, stopping short of saying they'll be arrested and jailed.

Perhaps all Flotilla participants will be mistreated, imprisoned, their personal possessions confiscated, then summarily deported the way Flotilla I activists were treated after being attacked, beaten and otherwise abused, besides nine on board massacred in cold blood.

On June 26, Israel's Foreign Press Association responded, saying:

Journalists "covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threat and intimidation. (Helman's letter) sends a chilling message to the international media and raises serious questions about Israel's commitment to freedom of the press."

Bronner said an unnamed New York Times journalist would participate, joining other international correspondents.

Further updates will follow, highlighting courageous activism against lawless Israeli brutality, complicit with its Washington paymaster/partner.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at








Last week, newly-arrived in Athens as part of the U.S. Boat to Gaza project, our team of activists gathered for nonviolence training. We are here to sail to Gaza, in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, in our ship, "The Audacity of Hope." Our team, and nine other ships' crews from countries around the world, want Israel to end its lethal blockade of Gaza by letting our crews through to shore to meet with Gazans. The U.S. ship will bring over 3,000 letters of support to a population suffering its fifth continuous decade of de facto occupation, now in the form of a military blockade controlling Gaza's sea and sky, punctuated by frequent deadly military incursions, that has starved Gaza's economy and people to the exact level of cruelty considered acceptable to the domestic population of our own United States, Israel's staunchest ally.

The international flotilla last year was brutally attacked and the Turkish ship fired on from the air, with a cherrypicked video clip of the resulting panic presented to the world to justify nine deaths, one of a United States citizen, most of them execution-style killings. So it's essential, albeit a bit bizarre, to plan for how we will respond to military assaults. Israeli news reports say that their naval commandos are preparing to use attack dogs and snipers to board the boats. In the past, they have used water cannons, taser guns, stink bombs, sound bombs, stun guns, tear gas, and pepper spray against flotilla passengers. I've tried to make a mental list of plausible responses: remove glasses, don life jacket, affix clip line which might prevent sliding off the deck, carry a half onion to offset effect of tear gas, remember to breathe.

Israel Defense Forces are reportedly training for a fierce assault intended to "secure" each boat in the flotilla, the "Freedom Flotilla 2". As passengers specifically on the U.S. boat, we may be spared the most violent responses, although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not ruled out such violent responses and has preemptively certified any response we may "provoke" (in sailing from international waters to a coastline that is not part of Israel) is an expression of Israel's "right to defend themselves". Israel says it is prepared for a number of scenarios, ranging "from no violence" (which it knows full well to expect) to "extreme violence". We are preparing ourselves not to panic, and to practice disciplined nonviolence whatever scenario Israel decides to enact.

If they overcome our boat swiftly, they will presumably handcuff us and possibly hood us, before commandeering our ship toward an Israeli port, removing us from the ship, jailing us and (judging from their past actions) deporting us. I don't know what country I would be deported to, but I would eventually return to the U.S. and to my home city of Chicago, and to a safety I cannot share with the desperate people of Gaza, or friends from throughout this region so troubled by war, much of it instigated by my own country.

The slogan of our flotilla is "Stay Human." It's advice that exposure to violence, real or imagined, always tempts us to forget. Young friends I have met in Afghanistan, faced with pervasive everyday precocity I cannot easily imagine, have expressed this idea in a YouTube video which utterly takes my breath away. They ask Gazan youth to hold on to hope and to the capacity for childlike joy: "To friends in Gaza: don't stay angry for too long, Stay together, and love from us in Afghanistan!"

My fellow passenger John Barber recently visited Gaza, and this morning he told me a harrowing story of a Gazan family, that of a farmer named Nasr, living near the Gazan-Israeli buffer zone. The first attack took place in June of 2010. To quote John's website: "…the Israeli army attacked the family home while the children were playing outside…Nasr's wife, Naama, was in the front yard when a tank 500 meters from the home fired shells packed with nails at the home. Nasr's wife, torn to ribbons, bled to death in the yard when ambulances were not permitted down the narrow dirt road to his home." Ambulance stoppages are a frequent punitive measure used against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza."

"After the second attack," which occurred in April 2011, "Nasr's family moved to a house in the village, near to the cemetery where his wife was buried. One night, around midnight, Nasr woke to find his children gone. He went outside and found them at their mother's grave." The next day he took them away from that village and back to their land, to try and put the past behind them, and await a future they can barely hope will be kind.

I hope that our ship will make it to Gaza. I hope Johnny Barber can again visit Nasr, and that I can visit the family and the trapped young men who sheltered me during the final days of the crushing December 2008 "Operation Cast Lead" bombardment. I hope that our ship will make it out of dock - acting on an "anonymous complaint," the government here has demanded an inspection of several days before they will allow our (entirely seaworthy) ship to sail. With its world-headline-producing economic troubles, Greece seems incredibly vulnerable to the intense pressure that the Israeli and U.S. governments seem openly prepared to exert: we hope that neither economic nor political blackmail will succeed at stopping our ship from leaving the spot near Athens where it is waiting to receive us.

"Please don't lose the human capacity for happiness." My Afghan friends in the video urge us to stay human. Ali, who speaks in the video, has been harassed by Afghan security forces since becoming active with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. So has his family. Others of his companions have faced death threats, interrogation, arson and theft. Their persistence encourages and guides me, and I struggle to let their persistence urge me on, because staying human is also about doing what is right.

I think of Nasr's children watching their mother die, and I think that if they're going to stay human then I and my countrymen and women ought to help. We have to become more human than we've so far managed to be: We have to make sacrifices to stop the crimes that are ultimately being committed in our names. In different ways, we have to risk the consequences of being where we need to be when we need to be there. We have to stand up to injustice and with the victims of injustice, and rely on our opponents to find their humanity in time, given enough examples of what it can look like. When we find ourselves, against all odds, staying human, that example surprises us and helps sustain us in hope for the power of humanity. We hope we will be allowed through to Gaza, we hope that the siege will be lifted, and that in this time when humankind can so little afford the nightmares of greed and ignorance that rend the Middle East and that render our leaders incapable of uniting to address ever-more desperate, ever-more-frightening global crises, we as a species, one with no assurance of its perpetual survival, will somehow find some way to stay human.

- Kathy Kelly coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She contributed this article to







The continued presence of the United States forces in Iraq has created many serious problems for people.

The U.S. still has 47,000 troops in Iraq and this annoys the Iraqis who want foreign forces leave their territory as soon as possible.

Experts on regional issues believe that none but the U.S. wrong policy is responsible for unwanted and dangerous events in Iraq.

In April Iraqis held sit-ins in front of U.S. military bases across Iraq, demanding an immediate pullout of occupation forces from their country.

Most Iraqis believe that the U.S. is one of the biggest threats to peace and security in Iraq and this is why they have demanded the government to put an end to all forms of occupation by foreign forces before the end of the current year.

Most Iraqis believe that when the U.S. forces leave their country, they are able to pave the way for peace, security and development in their country.

After eight years since the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime, U.S. forces have not yet pulled out of Iraq. Based an agreement signed between Baghdad and Washington occupation forces must leave Iraq by December 31, 2001, however, under an agreement the U.S. is seeking to perpetuate its presence in Iraq.

At the very beginning when the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq some analysts and state officials said Washington was seeking to get access to Iraq's huge oil resources and find a foothold in the strategic and oil-rich region of the Persian Gulf and dismissed claims by neo-cons at the White House that the Saddam regime was seeking a secret program to develop weapons of mass destruction program.

Finally, as the UN, through its intensive inspections, had certified Iraq had no WMD program and the argument by analysts and some state officials that the U.S. had other ambitions in invading Iraq came true.

Washington is seeking to compensate war costs by inking lucrative economic deals especially in the oil sector with Iraq.

Now, the United States looks at Iraq as an economic opportunity as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered remarks at a business forum promoting commercial opportunities in Iraq saying "it's time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity."








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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