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Monday, July 4, 2011

EDITORIAL 01.07.11


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

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Editorial

month july 01, edition 000873, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

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

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month july 01, edition 000873, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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


THE PIONEER

  1. ABSURD PROPOSITION
  2. BACK TO TAHRIR SQUARE
  3. LONDON ISN'T KOLKATA - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. BUSYBODIES GO AFTER NHRC - MAYURI MUKHERJEE
  5. BOUNTIFUL MONSOON - ANURADHA DUTT
  6. PAY MORE FOR FOOD UNDER UPA - KALYANI SHANKAR
  7. ARCHITECTURE OF GLOBAL FINANCE - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. ALL IN IT TOGETHER
  2. SYSTEMS GO
  3. LAW BEFORE MAGNANIMITY - DIPANKAR GUPTADIPANKAR GUPTA
  4. 'INDIA GAVE US OUR LIVES AND THE US OUR LIVELIHOOD'
  5. ODE TO A PIGEON - ANEESH AANEESH A

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. ACTION LOUDER THAN WORDS
  2. GIVE IT A BRAKE
  3. GOGGLE-EYED WATCHMEN - SHIVAM VIJ
  4. BEYOND THE BITE - EXILE ON MAIN STREET - RAJDEEP SARDESAI

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. BY THE BOOK
  2. BURNT PAPER
  3. NO-PM PRIME TIME  - MIHIR S SHARMA
  4. MANTRA WITHOUT MEANING  - C. RAJA MOHAN
  5. REPUBLICANS DON'T WANT TO RUN THE WORLD
  6. ONE MAN, ONE VOTE?
  7. NO QUALITY WITHOUT EQUITY - R GOVINDA
  8. THE NINE LIVES OF LENINISM - SRINATH RAGHAVAN

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. SMALL CARS IN TOP GEAR
  2. LET'S EXPORT NOW
  3. DON'T JUST BLAME THE SPECULATORS - JEFFREY FRANKEL
  4. UNLUCKY PSBS, SOME LUCKY FARMERS - KRISHNAMURTHY SUBRAMANIAN

THE HINDU

  1. FLAWED MEDIUM AND MESSAGE
  2. ROWLING & THE FUTURE OF READING
  3. SAUDI ARABIA'S THREE WORRIES - JASON BURKE
  4. THE CPC'S JOURNEY TO REINVIGORATE CHINA
  5. LOKPAL BILL AND THE PRIME MINISTER - ANIL DIVAN
  6. FROM FIG LEAF TO BANANA REPUBLIC - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. LET PM SPEAK TO COUNTRY DIRECTLY
  2. WAR IS WEARY OF KABUL - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
  3. 1953: A Kashmir story - Jagmohan
  4. 3 FABLES & A MORAL - SHIV VISVANATHAN

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. FULFILLING COMMITMENT
  2. EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT
  3. ONE SMALL CHANGE COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE - BY TAVLEEN SINGH
  4. LOST CHILDHOOD - BY NIKHITA JAIN
  5. PEACEFUL AND PROSPEROUS KASHMIR  - BY FAROOQ GANDERBALI

THE TRIBUNE

  1. MID-COURSE CORRECTION
  2. TESTING TEACHERS
  3. THE GREEK CRISIS
  4. THE PARTY BEGINS AT 90 - BY SREERAM CHAULIA
  5. TO PAKISTAN AND BACK - BY ASHOK TUTEJA
  6. THE GREAT CUT-OFF CONTROVERSY
  7. MISPLACED ANXIETY

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. PRUDENCE VS POPULISM
  2. A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS
  3. A DICKENSIAN MUMBAI - NILANJANA S ROY
  4. A TORTOISE NAMED DURANTO - BARUN ROY
  5. THE MISSING P-WORD - MADHUKAR SABNAVIS

BUSINESS LINE

  1. MARICO'S MARATHON MAN - VINAY KAMATH
  2. DRUG ABUSE: THE ROAD TO NOWHERE - ADITI NIGAM
  3. TAKE COTTON SUCCESS STORY FORWARD  - RAM KAUNDINYA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. INTERVENE, PM
  2. SAFE SKIES
  3. BURSTING SOON?
  4. 70/30 IS NOT 20/20 VISION
  5. DO WE NEED A CHIEF OF DEFENCE STAFF?
  6. NEW VISTAS FOR INDIA-NZ TRADE  - TIM GROSER

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. EXTERMINATING COMMUNITIES

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. TIME TO ACT
  2. FIRE POWER
  3. MORE EQUAL THAN MOST  - ASHOK MITRA
  4. IT IS REAL CHANGE THAT MATTERS  - MALVIKA SINGH

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. POSSIBILITIES FOR SYRIAN TRANSFORMATION
  2. SHOOTING THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
  3. MIND THE HANGOVER
  4. MURPHY RUNS AMOK IN TURKEY

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. ETHICS, POLITICS AND THE LAW
  2. THE LIBYA CAMPAIGN
  3. LIES AND TRUTH ABOUT UPPER BIG BRANCH
  4. SPEAKER QUINN ON MARRIAGE
  5. SMELLS LIKE SCHOOL SPIRIT - BY DAVID BROOKS
  6. THE PRICE OF LIBERTY: WEEDS - BY RICHARD MABEY
  7. PRACTICING MEDICINE CAN BE GRIMM WORK - BY VALERIE GRIBBEN
  8. TO THE LIMIT – BY PAUL KRUGMAN

THE NEWS

  1. MERE RHETORIC?
  2. HOMECOMING
  3. THE GAS SHOCK
  4. MISUSING THE INDUS TREATY  - ASIF H KAZI
  5. AFTER THE 18TH AMENDMENT  -  DR FOUZIA SAEED
  6. ENDGAME IN AFGHANISTAN  -  DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  7. MISMANAGED STATE, RESILIENT SOCIETY  -  SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  8. SIDE-EFFECT  - HARRIS KHALIQUE
  9. WHAT'LL THE NEXT ELECTIONS BE ABOUT?  -  AYAZ AMIR

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. NWA OPERATION TO FURTHER DESTABILISE PAK
  2. A STATE WITHOUT FOREIGN & DEFENCE MINISTERS
  3. AFRIDI SHOULD NOT BE LOST LIKE THAT
  4. PAK INSECURITY MEANS US INSECURITY - SAJJAD SHAUKAT
  5. WEAK LEADERSHIP - SHAUKAT MASOOD ZAFAR
  6. WHERE IS THAT LEADER? - SAEED QURESHI
  7. BUDGET — EXPECTATIONS & POSSIBILITIES - MALIK M ASHRAF
  8. MINI-WEAPONS FOR NEW AGE OF WARFARE - W J HENNIGAN

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. KABUL ATTACK IS A DIRE WARNING
  2. A SINGLE CURRENCY ADDS UP TO A EUROPEAN DISASTER
  3. JUST THE TOMIC FOR TENNIS FANS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. A CLEARER VIEW OF TRANSPORT
  2. HIS BEST IS YET TO COME
  3. AUSTRALIA TURNS A DEEPER SHADE OF GREEN
  4. WEST V THE REST? IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. RUPERT MURDOCH: EMPIRE OF THE SUN
  2. PALESTINIAN ACTIVISTS: UNWELCOME GUESTS?
  3. IN PRAISE OF ... PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. ACCESS TO FINANCIAL SERVICES
  2. EMERGING COUNTRIES: PROJECTIONS AND PITFALLS  - JUWONO SUDARSONO
  3. UNBALANCED POWER IN TRADE - MAXINE CARR AND INDAH SUKSMANINGSIH
  4. THE 'POOR' MIND-SET OF THE POOR - TARI LESTARI
  5. LETTER TO THE EDITOR: RESPONSE FROM THAI EMBASSY

DAILY MIRROR

  1. NOT TO WIN OR LOSE, BUT HOW YOU PLAYED THE GAME
  2. THE COST OF WARFARE
  3. WEST TURNS ARAB SPRING INTO MIRAGE

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

ABSURD PROPOSITION

CONGRESS WANTS STATES TO PAY FOR NAC'S PARTY


Nothing could be more absurd than the Congress demanding that State Governments lower the rates of their taxes on petroleum products to cushion the impact of the steep increase in the prices of petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene imposed by the UPA regime. There is something perverse about the Congress expecting others to carry the can for the all-round failure of the UPA regime which it leads. Our so-called 'economist' Prime Minister who is far removed from the realities of the day — ranging from rampant corruption in the Government he heads to back-breaking inflation that is driving people to despair — and his key aides, including the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission who bizarrely believes that the path to prosperity lies through deprivation, have clearly failed to come up with either a strategy to hold the price line in the short and medium terms or a policy to fight inflation in the long-term. Waffle is not strategy, nor is periodic raising of policy rates by the RBI policy — the first serves to fool the dwindling tribe of faithful and drumbeaters of the Government; the second leaves wage-earners with less money in their pockets to spend on education, health and housing. The steep hike in the prices of petroleum products, including kerosene which is the staple fuel of millions of people living below the poverty line and for whose welfare this Government claims to be toiling hard day and night, it could be argued, has less to do with global prices or the notional losses of ill-managed and inefficient public sector oil companies than with mopping up additional revenue to fund cockamamie schemes devised by the NAC, the extra-constitutional authority that has come to supplant the executive. For, higher prices also mean higher collection of revenue on account of Central duties and taxes which outweigh the actual cost of petroleum products. With the NAC passing on bills running into thousands of crores of rupees to the Government, it needs to mop up as much money as it can at the expense of the people.

Had the Congress been really mindful of the interests of the masses it would have asked the Union Government to cut back on Central duties and taxes. But it won't do so because that would mean less money to waste in the name of helping the poor. Hence, the Congress wants State Governments to lower their taxes on petroleum products. State Governments controlled by the party and its allies like the Trinamool Congress have done so, secure in the belief that their losses will be more than made up by additional Central largesse. But State Governments controlled by the BJP and other opposition parties cannot afford the risk of reducing taxes: They are more than likely to be denied compensatory funding by the Union Government. In any event, any kind of pressure on State Governments to pander to New Delhi's whims and fancies amounts to abridgement of their rights under the Constitution. True, the Delhi durbar which increasingly resembles the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar (including the palace intrigues that further hobbled a weakling who had neither power nor authority and yet wore the crown) has not issued a firman to State Governments. But that only serves to highlight the perfidy of the Congress which wants State Governments to cut corners so that the NAC can continue to splurge on a party that began in 2004.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

BACK TO TAHRIR SQUARE

BUT THIS TIME THE ARMY MUST STAND UP TO MOBS


As Egyptian security forces fired teargas at protesters gathered in Tahrir Square demanding the removal of the Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, General Hussein Tantawi, who is currently in charge of the interim Government, questions are being asked about the role and power of the military. An 18-member body composed of top military officials, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over the reins of power from President Hosni Mubarak when he resigned from office on February 11. The popular perception was that the officials were reluctant leaders thrust into power without much preparation — the military has traditionally maintained a strong influence on Egyptian politics but has rarely been involved in day-to-day governance issues. Yet when Gen Tantawi and his men took political office, they immediately undertook measures to allay popular fears and appease the public. At the time, it seemed like all would go well. Five months later, that perception has changed quite a bit. Although Egypt's military leaders have well responded to the more important demands of the revolution, they haven't done much about several others. This has led to the brewing of an anti-Mubarak like resentment against Team Tantawi. One of the most important demands that the military is yet to fulfil is the lifting of the Emergency which had been in force almost the whole time that Mr Mubarak was in power. Months after his resignation, Emergency laws still remain in place despite the ruling military council's promises to do away with them "once the current circumstances end."

Another irritant has been the constantly shifting timeline for presidential and parliamentary elections. Originally, elections were scheduled for August but have since been postponed to September and now there is talk that they may be delayed further. While Egypt's newly-formed political parties have all requested more time to organise themselves better for the elections — the Muslim Brotherhood is the only party that stands to benefit from early polls because it is already well organised — the masses are becoming increasingly frustrated. This is possibly because they are currently overwhelmed by what they have supposedly achieved by ousting an autocratic President through a popular agitation and are impatient to get on with democracy, but the temptation to do so must be resisted. It is imperative that the military does not give in to such populist demands and instead move slowly but steadily towards democratic rule. By suspending the old Constitution and trying former officials of the Mubarak regime, it has shown that while it has no intentions of holding on to power, it is quite capable of guiding the country through these very challenging times. The question is: Is Egypt ready for democracy?

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

LONDON ISN'T KOLKATA

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


It's silly to get exercised over club rules or make a show of being thrown out. West Bengal has far greater pressing problems.

It's happened again. MF Husain, Mr Khushwant Singh and now a Bengali artist who was asked to leave the Calcutta Club for not being dressed according to club regulations. The regulations might be tedious and archaic, but if you don't like them, the honourable thing is to ignore the place. To go there only to flout rules is childish posturing. I don't try to enter the India International Centre lounge in shorts after walking in Lodhi Garden.

That trivial incident merits mention for two reasons. First, and at a personal level, it exposes again how avid many well-placed Indians are for publicity. The gamble paid off richly in this case. Not only was the fracas widely reported here but in two London dailies, the Independent and the Daily Telegraph, as well. Second, and more fundamentally, the 'victim' in this instance being not just a painter but one of Ms Mamata Banerjee's most visible and vocal cheerleaders, the dispute is a reminder of how far removed Kolkata is in spirit from the London of her dreams. It reminds us that London is not the London Eye which Burkina Faso can buy and install in Ouagadougou. Nor is London only the Bengali economic refugees who reside there but live in West Bengal and whom a local TV channel has been projecting. Sartorial and behavioural dissonances are not unknown in London's clubland, from which India's clubs are derived, but a street demonstration with placards and petitions would be unthinkable there.

As always in such situations, people tend to invoke that icon of nationalist austerity, Mahatma Gandhi. But Gandhi was a realist not swept away by illusion. Soothing Nellie Sen-Gupta when other Congress folk were attacking her husband, Deshapriya Jatin Sen-Gupta, for socialising at the Calcutta Club, he made the surprising confession, "I wish I was a member of the Calcutta Club whose members, I know, are all decent people." Disregarding racial slights, the Mahatma allowed himself to be smuggled into a bedroom of the Whites-only Bengal Club by a correspondent of the same Daily Telegraph. He didn't mind not being allowed into the public rooms. His dignity wasn't so easily shattered. Besides, he also valued coverage in Britain.

That's the kind of sturdy commonsense Trinamool Congress can't afford to forsake if it is to meet public expectations after so many years of stagnation. It must not dissipate energy in inconsequential spats to feed the vanity of stellar supporters. The artist isn't himself a member of the Calcutta Club but was the guest of a veteran footballer who joined in 1981 and should have known the rules. Apparently, the artist was asked to change his attire and when he refused, was asked to leave. It's unfortunate but such things happen everywhere. London's Royal Overseas League once lent my sweater-clad lunch guest a jacket; when it turned out that the jacket was too small, the steward gave us a table behind a pillar so that other members couldn't see my inappropriately clad friend. The Calcutta Club also keeps a standby jacket and tie for such occasions, as does the Tollygunge Club. Differences are usually resolved in good humour. Sometimes they can't be resolved, as when none of Tolly's spare trousers fitted an American musician who had turned up for lunch in shorts. He left.

Eric Newby, the well-known English travel writer who died in 2006, didn't mind when the Kanpur Club rebuffed him, albeit for a different reason, when he and his wife sought accommodation during their 1,200-mile journey down the Ganga. The secretary said rooms were only for members. A member would have to propose Newby for temporary membership but he didn't know any. He produced what he thought was his trump card — a letter of introduction from Jawaharlal Nehru but it cut no ice. "The Prime Minister is not a member of the Kanpur Club," the secretary said.

Newby didn't throw a tantrum. He didn't rant and rave about "racism", "feudalism" and "colonialism" or organise a demonstration by those public-spirited men and women who are forever fighting for a cause, be it flowered elastic drawers for monkeys or a woman's fundamental right to be called 'Mister'. Having been brought up in a world of clubs, he recognised them as private institutions that make their own rules and regulations and can't be dictated to by those who don't belong. Members alone can do that according to a prescribed democratic procedure. "We crept out of the building, boarded the waiting ricksha (sic) and were pedalled away," he wrote.

The British newspaper reports I mentioned dredged up the old but uncorroborated story of the Bengal Club refusing to serve Lord Minto's dinner guest, Sir Rajendranath Mookerjee, founder of Indian Iron and Steel Company. I would have thought both the Viceroy and Mookerjee were sufficiently aware of club rules not to risk the snub. Perhaps the story is also fictitious like the Daily Telegraph's claim that "Gopalkrishna Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, declined an invitation (to the Calcutta Club) because he was not allowed to wear a baggy-shirt kurta". When he was Governor of West Bengal, Mr Gandhi did refuse to go but because the club didn't then admit women members. It had nothing to do with attire.

His brother's case is different. Many years ago, the Madras Club refused to let in Mr Rajmohan Gandhi for being in slippers. Again, the suspicion of a calculated gesture of defiance could not be ruled out for Chakravarti Rajagopalachari's grandson must have known everything there is to be known about the city that was then Madras.

Their Gandhi grandfather wasn't taken in by appearances. Neither can Ms Banerjee be if her tenure is not to let West Bengal down. Her unannounced visits to offices and hospitals and sudden fiats against executives who are found wanting are like her promise to make Kolkata like London. Impetuousness is not matched by a mature grasp of problems; nor is it backed by well thought-out plans of remedial action. Singur offers the most glaring instance of the tendency to speak before thinking. Having committed herself to bringing back the Nano project, she has embarked on a unilateral land restoration programme that can only further antagonise the Tatas. Clubs don't matter but London will be even further from Ms Banerjee's dreams if she can't woo back industry.

--sunandadr@yahoo.co.in ***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

BUSYBODIES GO AFTER NHRC

MAYURI MUKHERJEE


Thankfully the bogus report produced by self-appointed guardians of human rights meant to show the NHRC in a poor light has been rejected. This has enabled the NHRC to maintain both its global image as well as status. But a lot more needs to be done

If what they say about the proof of the pudding lying in the eating is true, then the Geneva-based International Coordinating Committee of the National Human Rights Institutions' decision to re-accredit India's National Human Rights Commission as an 'A' grade institution is evidence enough of its effectiveness and organisational value. The decision, which was taken by the Accreditation Sub-Committee of the ICC-NHRI in early June, allows the NHRC to enjoy the high status it has had with the ICC since 1999. It also reiterates the organisation's status as an NHRI that is fully compliant with the 'Paris Principles' that govern activities undertaken for the promotion and protection of human rights.

This affirmation also serves as a major boost for the NHRC which had come under much criticism in the months leading up to the accreditation session in Geneva. In fact, a coordinated 'public awareness' campaign was undertaken to malign the NHRC by a group of individuals and organisations, who called themselves the 'All-India Network of NGOs and Individuals'. A subsidiary of the NGO People's Watch, the AiNNI was set up to monitor human rights institutions such as the NHRC, the National Commission for Women, National Commission for Minorities, etc, for their compliance with the Paris Principles. The AiNNI in its wisdom decided that the NHRC was not an effective and efficient enough organisation and, therefore, did not deserve an 'A' status with the ICC.

In support of its view, the AiNNI brought out a 99-page long report explaining why the ICC should downgrade the NHRC to a 'B' status institution so as to provide an impetus to the latter to improve itself. The report, titled An NGO Report on the Compliance with the Paris Principles by the National Human Rights Commission of India, even enjoyed a multi-city release: In New Delhi, former NHRC chairperson Justice JS Verma presented the report at a Press conference while in Mumbai a former High Court judge, Justice H Suresh, did the honours.

Thankfully the ICC chose to overlook the presence of political and judicial heavyweights who had associated themselves with the AiNNI report and gave it only its due credence which was of not much value at all. One, the report had several factual errors as a result of which the AiNNI had to pay a heavy price in terms of credibility. For example, the report notes that Chapter II, Section 3(2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, which delineates the composition of the commission, calls for the inclusion of the chairpersons of the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Women, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes as ex-officio members so as to make best of their valuable experience while also ensuring that the concerns of these special interest groups are addressed.

However, according to the report, the NHRC failed to work together with other 'thematic commissions' — it points to the solitary reference of the NCM in the NHRC's first annual report as proof of inadequate collaboration. Yet, in reality the fact remains that the NHRC works very closely with its sister organisations. Indeed, the chairperson and members of the NHRC, together with the chairpersons of the National Commissions for Minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Women, constitute the NHRC. They also meet on a regular basis and participate in all major functions of the NHRC. Clearly, the report was prepared by a person who lacks insight into the daily functioning of the commission.

Similarly, the report points out that following the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna which was convened around the same time that the NHRC was established, the commission was mandated to prepare a National Human Rights Action Plan, which till date has not been released. While this is true, the report conveniently does not mention that it was the Union Government and not the NHRC's duty to prepare Action Plan. It also ignores the fact that the NHRC has consistently undertaken measures to put the formulations of a National Human Rights Action Plan on the Government's agenda but has received only lukewarm response. Worse still, the NHRC even called on NGOs, some of whom were involved in the preparation of the bogus report, to put forth suggestions for the Action Plan but not one organisation came forward. This point to two disturbing trends: First, it shows that the AiNNI purposely hid crucial facts and manipulated its narrative to depict the Commission in poor light; second, it also turns the spotlight on the AiNNI itself and raises questions about its integrity and commitment.

One of the major allegations put forth in the AiNNI report — and one of the most important reasons why it believed that the NHRC should not be granted 'A' status — was that the NHRC was no longer an institution independent of Government influence or control. Of course, the report fails to clearly mention why it believes that such is the case; nonetheless, the AiNNI contention is surprising given that the Commission has consistently taken up the Government on issues of human rights abuse and similar concerns. For example, following the assault on Baba Ramdev and his supporters at Ramlila Ground in the wee hours of June 05, the NHRC immediately demanded an explanation from the Government. Similarly, the Commission, along with the NCW, also investigated claims that policemen had raped women in Bhatta-Parsaul in Uttar Pradesh. With specific regard to the Commission's financing, the AiNNI report alleged that its finances are controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which again is untrue. The aforementioned Ministry only serves as the conduit through which the NHRC presents its Budget to the Government.

Such falsities and half-truths litter the AiNNI report which has now been exposed as a blatant tool to malign the NHRC. But what is far more worrying and dangerous is that such groups and their dubious claims and reports have been allowed access to international organisations such as the ICC. Consequently, not only does this do harm to the organisation in question, it also tarnishes the country's reputation on the international forum. This must stop..

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BOUNTIFUL MONSOON

ANURADHA DUTT


It's time we began harnessing and preserving rainwater for future use

The monsoons are here early. While the rains might invoke the fragrance of wet earth; romance of poetry; greening of trees; craving for hot tea and savouries, and much else, scientists at the Muradnagar Agriculture Research Centre are elated for another reason. They expect above-average rainfall this year. This would boost the groundwater level, which has been falling alarmingly because of its extraction for ceaseless construction in Delhi and NCR areas. Last year and in 2005, too, above-average rainfall was recorded. Between 2006-2009, rainfall was below average, and it became hotter in Ghaziabad and surrounding areas. The ground water level fell sharply. Farmers will benefit if the above-average projection is realised.

The average rainfall in this region, as per official sources, is about 720.20 mm. But it could be much lower. A rain water harvesting internet site, — www.rainwaterharvesting.org — lists the following annual average rainfall estimates: 464.5 mm in Faridabad district; 577.8 mm in Gurgaon district; and 611.8 mm in Delhi. West Rajasthan has 313 mm average rainfall, and the eastern part, 675 mm. The figures for Chandigarh and Punjab are 617 mm and 649 mm, respectively. In Gujarat, it is 1,017 mm, barring the desert and arid areas; and in Maharashtra, the average rainfall varies between 3,005 mm and 882 mm. A comparison of the estimates for all of India's States and Union Territores indicates that Delhi and the adjoining NCR towns, along with Chandigarh and Punjab, and, of course, the desert State of Rajasthan, have the least amount of rainfall in a year. Yet, construction work and consequent extraction of ground water seem most frenzied here.

The drying up of lakes and other water bodies in these areas are a tragic fallout of such reckless development. A good monsoon last year may have undone some of the damage by filling up the dried up Badkal, Damdama, Sultanpur and some other lakes but these are certain to drain out if groundwater continues to be extracted; mining of the Aravalli hills does not stop; and tree cover is further denuded. Even as the precincts of the Yamuna are targeted by developers, with the Commonwealth Games Village being the latest encroachment on the riverbed and floodplains of the Yamuna on the eastern side; and the Hindon in Ghaziabad changes course on account of an embankment, created to facilitate the construction of a third bridge, conservationists despair that sense will ever dawn on our policy-makers. The groundwater recharge area of the Yamuna has drastically shrunk in view of the concretisation of its environs. Now, the Hindon faces the same fate, with part of the river bed being filled up with sand for the project. The deflection in its flow poses the additional danger of floods in nearby areas.

The immediate fallout of shrinking ground water levels, inadequate rainfall, dried up lakes and badly polluted rivers is scarce supply of water to homes. To cite the example of Gurgaon, where average rainfall is 662.7 mm, the fancy colonies, condominiums, malls, MNC offices and golf courses are fast guzzling up scarce groundwater, with the water level falling drastically. Municipal authorities and developers alike have wilfully overlooked illegal underground storage tanks in homes and water theft via booster pumps from the supply lines. Since Haryana hardly has any water sources, and has to share the Yamuna waters with Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, prudence dictates that groundwater be conserved and water-harvesting be undertaken on an emergency basis. Tragically, neither is being done. This indicates a disastrous lack of foresight, the very opposite of sustainable development. The State Government's decision to set up rain water harvesting systems in schools and other institutions in Jind district under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is an inadequate attempt to redress the problem. Scientists fear that a time may come when water scarcity will lead to the mushrooming new settlements being abandoned, just as the magnificent Fatehpur Sikri, built by the Mughals, was deserted.

Or, policy-makers may choose to forge a ghastly solution by damming up rivers and, in the process, destroy vast swathes of bio spheres. The Tehri Dam was built on the upper reaches of the Himalaya, upon a 43 sq km area at the confluence of the Bhilangana and Bhagirathi, so that privileged pockets in Uttarakhand, Western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi would get uninterrupted power and water supply. However, the Ganga and its tributaries began to dry up, in consequence, and these objectives have not been attained. The Delhi Government is now pressurising the Centre to approve the Renuka Dam upon the Giri, a tributary of the Yamuna in Himachal Pradesh. This would entail destruction of a large part of the Renuka Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as jeopardise the ancient Renukaji temple and lake, a popular pilgrimage.

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's insistence, in the face of all opposition, that the supply from the Renuka Dam alone can meet the capital's burgeoning water needs is intriguing. Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh seems not at all in favour of the dam, instead advising a check on losses, resulting from technical glitches, and water thefts due to non-metered connections. He seriously recommends rain water harvesting. Mr Ramesh laments that despite his writing to the Chief Minister to harvest water, nothing was done in 2010. The monsoon of 2010 was, therefore, a "lost opportunity".

It would thus seem that the sole rationale for choosing to build dams and divert rivers instead of conserving water is the cost involved.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

PAY MORE FOR FOOD UNDER UPA

KALYANI SHANKAR


If there is one issue the Opposition must agitate against, it is food inflation which affects all Indians. Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev should have focussed on this important issue

The Government has done it again and increased the prices of diesel and kerosene, which will have a cascading effect on the common man and also increase food inflation. The people are already facing spiraling price rise in essential commodities and consumer goods. In all probability the inflation will go on increasing till early-September as the impact of the latest hike will take some time to percolate. Food prices are expected to go up by 10 to 15 per cent in the next two months and that will complicate the situation further.

Starting from the morning cup of tea and breakfast to lunch and dinner and the transport to the work place, many things are set to go for a hike in the coming days. There would be an impact on the prices of grocery, milk, vegetables and other consumer products. Diesel being the fuel for transport all these will become dearer. A recent Crisil study has noted that the inflation has eroded the purchasing power of money by Rs 5.8 lakhs crores in the last three years.

The Opposition parties and even some UPA allies like the Trinamool Congress and the NCP have expressed concern about the latest price hike, which is sure to become an issue in the coming Monsoon session of Parliamemt. If there is one issue the Opposition must agitate against, it is price rice and food inflation as it affects all sections of the people. Had Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev focussed on these two issues, they would have received greater public support.

A renowned economist like Mr R Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, has also predicted that inflation will soon cross 10 per cent but hopes that it may come down to 6.5 per cent by 2012. Even if he is right, who knows what will happen in the interim?

The situation is very grim for the Manmohan Singh Government. The economy despite its 8.5 per cent growth is not in very good shape as the foreign direct investment has slowed down. Growth in the manufacturing sector is of concern as well. The fiscal deficit is not under control either. Tax collection this year is not to the expectations. All these should worry the Government.

Both the Congress and the UPA2 regime will have to bear the brunt of public criticism and the Opposition attack for spiraling price rise and food inflation. Even within the Congress party, the ordinary worker does not know how to explain these issues.

Why has the Government taken this step? Petroleum Minister S Jaipal Reddy feels that the price rise is 'moderate' and that he is getting sandwiched between economists and populists. The argument is that the price hike was to help the state owned oil firms, which were suffering from huge losses. The prices of the fuels currently are below the market price and firms lose Rs 15 per litre on diesel, Rs 27 per litre on kerosene and Rs 381 on the sale of average domestic use of gas cylinder. The oil companies, which are presently losing Rs 1.71 lakh crores will decrease their losses by Rs 50, 000 crores by the latest hike. The Centre's excuse is that the burden of subsidies was beyond bearable limits. The BJP argues that the total amount collected by the Government was Rs 1,35,000 crores of which the subsidy was Rs 40,000 crores.

There is no point in raising alarm every time the prices go up. Instead the accent should be on a long term and transparent energy policy and oil policy. Instead, efforts should be undertaken to reduce the dependence on imported oil. It is time that the Government think of dealing with the situation and look for ways to reduce oil imports. The country has a huge deficit between demand and supply and there should be ways of bridging the gap. Wastage should be stopped forthwith and luxury cars and SUVs should not be encouraged. Alternate sources of fuel supply should also be encouraged like use of electric cars. Experts say that the oil companies have a cartel and do not allow a market price to prevail. Therefore if other players come in, the market will determine the prices and the monopoly would end. Moreover, a transparent oil pricing formula should be explored.

After the recent fuel hike, the States have been told to share the burden by reducing the cess and VAT. Some like West Bengal have already taken lead and others are to follow soon. The competition between the UPA ruled States and the NDA ruled Sates might ultimately benefit the consumers if they reduce the cess. However, it this is to happen, the centre should consult the states before hiking the prices.

The price hike will add fuel to the fight between the Government and the Opposition. The people are restive and at long last, the Opposition has got a perfect opportunity to take on the Government.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

ARCHITECTURE OF GLOBAL FINANCE

VINAYSHIL GAUTAM


The Indian economic strategy would do well to create a policy framework of reference where the governance process can play a facilitative role. It should encourage bona fide economic activity

The complexity of the Indian economy is a source of strength and a source of bewilderment. It consists of so many layers and so many geographical zones that to develop an algorithm of the process is, at the best of times, elusive.

Be that as it may. The attempt to over simplify is not likely to cease. The reason is simple. It helps the commentator to project his own frame work onto an otherwise random economic situation and then serve as an interpreter to people who would like to take a commercial advantage of the Indian and economic story. It would, therefore, be a good practice if all economic treatise or analysis began with a definition of the universe it seeks to unravel and the universe where its data comes from. This would help to define the boundary conditions of the conclusions the commentators comes to.

Once this is kept in mind, it is not difficult to understand; how the Indian economy has grown in parts, even when there have been financial crisis in other parts of the world. Sometimes the manufacturing is in slump but the service sector is in the upward curve. Sometimes the large sector is in trouble but the medium and the small sector are growing. On other occasions what may be a sinking situation in Punjab may have its own parallel growth stories in Karnataka. The situation can be vice-versa and the examples endless.

Be that as it may, there may be a situation when, there is growth in parts of the domestic market and a concurrent slump in the export market. Or one can have a situation where the growth in the export market may have kept the corporate afloat when the domestic market was on the decline. Put it all together, the developmental story of India is an aggregation of an entity which very often is self equilibrating.

The situation is made even more inscrutable if one recognises the emergence of regional hubs in a global frame or regional hubs in the national frame.

The time may be right to carry out a national mapping of service/manufacturing/production centers nationally and by the same token carry out a mapping of the different types of markets that exists. Putting the two together may mark a way forward. It is obvious that this is not going to be easy or happen overnight. Yet a beginning has to be marked somewhere. In such circumstances, the corporate which is best poised to survive will be the corporate which operates a number of domains ranging from manufacturing to servicing to production and in a number of regional domains of the nation, if not globally.

This, however, cannot come easy to all players as it requires a certain critical mass. It is not surprising, therefore, that the larger corporate entities have been making a concerted bid to open out across the borders in other economies. This, too, is nothing revolutionary or new. The Indian entrepreneur has had a tradition of entrepreneuring across the boundary even to meet the exigencies of over controlled regimes which have existed in India at different points of time. Basically the spirit of entrepreneurship has been aided by the diversity and richness of the Indian resources and enterprise.

Projecting it in contemporary terms, competitiveness of India is, therefore, a natural outcome, especially if one keeps in mind the large range of options which the Indian entrepreneur can draw upon. The Indian fiscal analysis and economic strategy should, therefore, do well to create a policy frame work of reference where the governance process can play a facilitative role. It should also be a framework which encourages clean and bonafide economic activity.

When this is matched with increasing global integration, India would appear a natural leader. Global integration is taking place in trade, exports and imports where value addition takes place at the most strategically located centers, globally. Similarly, R&D efforts should have a contextual overtone while keeping in touch with international reference points. Diplomacy and trade relations not to overlook effective communication and mutually supportive exchange of resources can play a critical role in such efforts. South-South Corporation would be an important component of this effort as would be the possibilities of other international combinations.

Clearly, a new architecture of international finance and business is waiting to be born and envelope the world not just increasingly but in a steady incremental manner.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

ALL IN IT TOGETHER

If things don't work as they should, responsibility is not the prime minister's alone. Institutions function suboptimally, while opposition politicians - sometimes even coalition allies - revel in opposition for opposition's sake. That is a strand that came through during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interaction with the media on Wednesday, and it deserves to be considered sympathetically. Populist and intransigent postures struck by parties stymie action time and again, whether it be on India's modernisation agenda or the anti-graft fight mandating systemic changes such as freeing up the land market or expanding the UID scheme.

Consider some reforms the PM marked out as key: land acquisition revamp, liberalising retail and insurance, the much-awaited goods and services tax (GST). We know that forward movement here has been blocked either by UPA allies or opposition parties. Overhaul of the land acquisition framework is urgent, given that land is proving the rock on which industrial and infrastructure projects are floundering with alarming regularity. A pending Bill vastly improves on the existing archaic law, making land deals more of a direct transaction between buyer and seller. Yet parties like the Trinamool have posted roadblocks, holding up the passage of this crucial Bill.

On its part, GST has been a non-starter thanks to BJP-ruled states, as Singh justifiably points out. While the anti-reforms Left is at least ideologically consistent, the BJP often seems to adopt opposition for opposition's sake. The party was itself pro-reforms when in power at the Centre and says it believes in responsible opposition. Neither trait is on display in its newfound stand on GST. Surely GST's rationale is to uproot an inefficient, non-transparent and labyrinthine tax regime that imposes multiple levies at the central and state levels. Moreover GST would check the generation of black money, which the BJP professes to be against.

If GST looks set to miss its April 1, 2012 deadline, similar delay seems the fate of retail reform. BJP-ruled Gujarat and Akali-BJP-ruled Punjab aren't averse to FDI in multibrand retail. But the BJP at the national level opposes it, just like it opposes the government on the corruption issue without proposing too many concrete solutions. As Singh says, more private investment can transform the farm sector by helping build infrastructure. The PM has set out a good reforms blueprint calling for structural change, whether related to education to help skills development or modernisation of infrastructure. And he rightly suggests that implementing this nation-building road map requires all hands on deck - government, opposition and civil society at large. It certainly is the PM's responsibility to lead. But it's also up to other politicians not simply to dig their heels in.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SYSTEMS GO

What looked like an intractable quandary might soon be resolved thanks to an American precedent. The predicament, brewing since 2008, involves BlackBerrys and the Indian government. The latter has been pressing Research In Motion (RIM), the company that makes the device, to decode encrypted communications over its devices for security agencies. RIM refuses because secure communications are its biggest selling point. That's why everyone from CEOs to President Barack Obama uses BlackBerrys. The government however wants to scale RIM's security perimeter for an equally convincing reason: terror. Pakistani handlers used mobile and satellite phones to manoeuvre their foot soldiers around Mumbai, an operation in which 166 people died. Naturally, if eavesdropping on suspected terrorist conversations is what it takes to thwart such attacks, the government must listen in. Hence the deadlock between the two.

A national agreement between India and Canada - which is where RIM comes from - could resolve the issue. Such an agreement would make it mandatory for RIM to disclose communications that interest our security agencies. Talks along these lines were held during the Canadian national security adviser's visit sometime ago. That a precedent - a 'government to government' agreement between Canada and the US - already exists should only help terminate the dispute quickly. So too should the fact that RIM already permits some countries to monitor some types of BlackBerry communications. It is now imperative that the department of telecommunications expedites matters by quickly processing the proposals RIM has submitted. Obviously, they should meet the home ministry's concerns. That looks increasingly possible. The alternative is to shut down BlackBerry in India. Although the government has threatened to do so, that would be bad for business and tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

LAW BEFORE MAGNANIMITY

DIPANKAR GUPTADIPANKAR GUPTA

 

What was the home minister thinking of when he pressed the delete button and removed the names of 142 Sikhs from the "blacklist"? If these terrorists were killers once, they are killers now. None of them have shown contrition, and some even live in Pakistan. Why then, all this magnanimity?

Or, did the home ministry make a mistake in entering their names in the blacklist? In which case, the government should apologise instead of seeking credit. There is enough evidence of administrative gaffes already. Jagjit Singh Chauhan appears among those removed from the blacklist, but he has been dead for years. As for Jafarwal and Barapind, they have been in India for all this time without a cloud over their heads.

Or, does P Chidambaram think that the terrorists represent the ordinary Sikhs? Wrong again! Minorities are not hurt because the state is prosecuting a few monsters who happen to be from their community. What upsets Sikhs and Muslims the most is that those who led attacks against them are walking about freely, even holding positions of office. As long as they are roaming in the wild, minorities will find it hard to forget the past and get on with their lives.

Sikhs do not really care if Paramjit Singh Panjwar and Ganga Singh Dhillon and 140 others are blacklisted in stone. Nor would the entry of the likes of Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel or David Headley to India warm the hearts of Muslims. Terrorists have never represented minorities, either Muslim or Sikh. Why then should they rejoice because the state is looking the other way and opening up the cage?

If anything, minorities are more conscious of the law than perhaps the majority community is. They too want to forget, but amnesia is not on their side. The only way they can release their pain is if those who brutalised them are punished by the courts. That is the peacemaking gesture they are looking for and not the release of alleged terrorists. Time and time again, often against tremendous odds, minorities in this country have given evidence of their democratic intentions.

Not only was the Muslim turnout in Gujarat's recent panchayat elections impressive, it was also difficult to figure out whether they voted for, or against, Narendra Modi. On several occasions in Punjab, Sikhs defied the terrorists and came out in large numbers to cast their ballots. The Muslims too disregarded the Shahi Imam's appeal to abstain from Republic Day celebrations after the Babri masjid episode. Even in normal times, neither Muslims nor Sikhs have succumbed to admonitions from religious heads, granthis or mullahs, and elected whoever they wished.

After the 2002 carnage, many felt that the situation in Gujarat was just what the terrorists would have ordered. Notwithstanding the hardships Muslims faced, subsequent years have shown that there has been no fundamentalist surge in that state. If anything, madrassa education has few takers there. This has encouraged Anjuman-run establishments in Ahmedabad, and elsewhere, to teach a secular curriculum in Gujarati medium. Their Republic Day celebrations are often the most elaborate among all the schools in the neighbourhood.

At times, even clerics of different Islamic organisations faced the displeasure of Muslims in Ahmedabad. One can hear loud complaints against them in refugee colonies like Ramola and Citizen Nagar, set up by the Jamiat-i-Ulema or the Jamaat-i-Islami. Angry though they may be, yet these Muslims are afraid to return to their earlier homes. Such is the magnitude of their fear, and this is what should be addressed. If Chidambaram were now to pardon a few Muslim terrorists, it would hardly help the situation.

Whether Mangolpuri in Delhi or Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad, the survivors of 1984 and 2002 respectively continue to weep with their eyes dry and wide open. Why should they rejoice in the return of Bhindranwale's nephew Lakhbir Singh Rode or Wadhwa Singh Chachi of the Babbar Khalsa? As long as the guilty of 1984 and 2002 are still at large, the past will haunt their future.

Looking behind your shoulder is not the recommended way to lead a normal life, but that is the best minorities can do. When the next political turmoil happens, will there be a target on their backs again? History, after all, has a way of repeating itself. No wonder, fear is a constant fixture at their door.

Democracy functions on the principles of law, not on charity or noblesse oblige. It would have made Sikhs and Muslims happier if the home minister had worked a little harder and sentenced those guilty of minority bashing. This is the healing balm that the affected communities are looking for. It makes no difference to them if the blacklisted lot is kept in a safari park or a zoo.

When Sonia Gandhi visited the Golden Temple in 1999, the Jathedars were courteous, but withheld gifting her the saropa. She apologised for 1984, but did nothing to bring in the killers. Later, Manmohan Singh's apology in Parliament in 2005 struck a hopeful note, but that soon faded away. The Sikhs that had tuned in then, slowly began to tune out.

Chidamabaram's grand gesture in pruning the Sikh blacklist was like singing to the choir. It was an impressive show orchestrated by Tarvinder Singh Marwah, a Congress legislator. But as it played to an in-house audience, it left the ordinary Sikh out and as tone deaf as before.

( The writer is former professor, JNU.)

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'INDIA GAVE US OUR LIVES AND THE US OUR LIVELIHOOD'

 

Swadesh Chatterjee lobbied the US Congress for the India-US civilian nuclear deal and to lift US sanctions against India imposed in 1998. He's a member of the prime minister's Global Advisory Council and was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001 in recognition of his contributions to India. He recently spoke to Aditi Bhaduri :

You were present at the swearing-in of Mamata Banerjee as the new Chief Minister of West Bengal. Will you promote American investment in the state?

I have spent much time in Delhi while building US-India relations. Now Mamata Banerjee has taken over and she has proved what a difference just one person can make. This is a new dawn in West Bengal and i am glad that she is the new chief minister. I will definitely promote more investment in West Bengal.

What was your role in the India-US civil nuclear deal?

Well, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush announced the nuclear deal, there was almost no chance of its passage as the Bill necessitated a change in an important law, the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. Only congressional action could enable this change. A major obstacle to making this change was that Bush was quite weak at the time this Bill was presented to the Congress. We formed a virtual organisation, the US-India Friendship Council, made up of community leaders from various states, for the sole purpose of lobbying for this deal. I was chairman of the council and we visited senators and congressmen, held rallies and events in the capital, engaged the media, reached out to other Indians and so on. It was the first time the Indian-American community demonstrated that it now not only had economic power but was also able to influence policy in the US.

As a member of the prime minister's Global Advisory Council how do you think India-US relations should be steered?

The council is geared towards how India can take advantage of the Indian diaspora. My generation is the first generation of Indians in the US. We grew up in India with Indian values. India gave us our lives and the US our livelihood. While you can take a person out of India, you cannot take India out of him. So we want to give back to India. For example, my mission is to engage second-generation Indians in the US who do not have that emotive bonding with India as my generation does.

What is the future of American investments in India?

It was a defining moment in India-US bilateral relations when President Obama came to India in November 2010 and addressed Parliament. Till then we were not quite sure what his opinion on bilateral issues was. But his visit to India was a major event and he even got Indian deals. However, after his visit, India has been hit by scandals. But the equation between Obama and Singh is excellent. I am sure US FDI will come to India but India must demonstrate its ability to be transparent so as to not scare away foreign investors weary of corruption. Regarding outsourcing, it's made out to be a bigger issue than it is. I would like to echo Jeffrey Emmelt, the CEO of GE, who said outsourcing is the 7US's problem and it will look into that, let India take care of infrastructure and other issues which are needed for attracting FDI. We will, of course, continue to lobby for American investments in India, but it's important that the Indian government resolve the corruption issue, otherwise India's great potential may be lost.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

ODE TO A PIGEON

ANEESH AAneesh A

 

This is a confession, an apology and a eulogy. About two weeks ago, i moved into my new apartment on the third floor and spent the afternoon doing one of my favourite things - watching Hollywood movies dubbed in Hindi. It's an experience as bizarre as watching Alfred Hitchcock in a dress. It's amazing how a bad Hindi dub can completely change the genre of the movie. Titanic becomes a comedy; Transformers becomes a tear-jerker; and Godzilla becomes semi-porn.

As i was enjoying this mind-molesting cinematic experience, i noticed that there were a couple of uninvited guests looking on from their balcony seats. We all know this inappropriate habit of uninvited guests where they make themselves a little too comfortable. Well, these two guests took inappropriateness to a whole new level. They sat in my balcony and engaged in what can only be called an extremely extravagant excretory endeavour. Before you concoct some grotesque imagery, let me clarify that i'm talking about the envy of every crow - pigeons.

Instead of welcoming me to the neighbourhood with cheerful chirps and convivial coos, these pigeons decided to beautify my balcony with such an enormous quantity of faeces that i was fully convinced they had had some Mughlai food for lunch. Enraged by this exhibition of impropriety, i headed towards them like a PMS-ing Chulbul Pandey and shooed them away. By then the pigeons had left their mark. I went back to watching the romantic comedy Schindler's List.

Hardly five minutes had passed when one member of the disgusting duo reappeared. I kept my temper in check believing that he couldn't do further damage since he and his buddy had just taken the dump of the decade. But i learned you should never pigeonhole a pigeon. He started his second innings. I ran towards him armed with a shoo so terrifying a normal bird would've required a trauma counsellor after that.

I headed back inside with the same thought i had during the recent fasting-against-corruption competition: when is this going to end? I took a few deep breaths and tried calming myself down. I had barely touched my chair when the pigeon returned a third time and began round three. If i had a pair of wings and that pigeon's nest address i would have personally gone there and returned the favour. I flailed my limbs at him while summoning all the invectives i knew, prefixing and suffixing them with the word 'pigeon'. But this time i decided i would send the pigeon a message. I left the balcony fan on.

Twenty minutes passed and not a single chirp or flutter. I was in the middle of flashing my victory smile when suddenly a feathery explosion jolted me out of my seat. I raced towards the balcony and what i saw made me feel like the basest human being on this planet. Sprawled on the floor motionless, with an eye open, was the intruder. Some of his feathers were still flying about in the air as i knelt down hoping he was the Irrfan Khan of pigeons. But it was no act, he was gone. With a broken heart, a broom and a bucket, i removed him and gave him a solemn burial.

I would like to apologise for my unintentional act of cruelty to three individuals. The pigeon i accidentally delivered from earth, his toilet buddy and Prasoon Joshi (for only a true pigeon-lover can write a song like Masakali). As penance, i vow to never switch on my balcony fan ever again and to create tiny toilets on the ledge of my balcony for the pigeon community. From this day onwards, i declare my balcony a paradise for pigeons.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

ACTION LOUDER THAN WORDS

During his interaction with editors on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remarked that "poverty is the biggest polluter" and India needs to achieve a balance between environment and development-industrialisation. While his observations were spot on, achieving that 'balance' is proving to be a formidable task for the Indian State, despite all its human and financial resources. Across the country, thousands of disenfranchised are up in arms against what state and central governments believe to be 'development projects' and related issues of land acquisition and rehabilitation.

To farmers, who form the bulk of these protestors, land is far more economically essential than a job of a petty unskilled worker in a factory. While the former can hope to assure them and the generation that follows a chance of earning a decent livelihood, the factory worker will only become a substitute for one who loses his land. Their fears are not unjustified as successive governments have had abysmally poor track records when it comes to rehabilitation. According to reports, even people who lost their land during the building of the Hirakud dam in 1957 in Orissa — ostensibly in the name of the greater common good — are yet to be rehabilitated. So it is not also surprising that those who had been in favour of the Posco (Pohang Steel Company) project, have now joined the 'anti-Posco' camp in Orissa.

While people have been protesting against the proposed steel plant since 2005 when a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Orissa government and Posco-India, it is only now that the 'pro-Posco' farmers are articulating their fear: the paltry compensation amount they received will run out very soon and then they would have to fend for themselves. The joining of the two forces in Orissa will only give the anti-Posco fight more ammunition. Recently, anti-land acquisition protestors in Uttar Pradesh had similar fears and demanded better compensation from the government.

Instead of battling out the environment vs development debate on the streets, the government should ensure that the rehabilitation package is adequate and timely. The efforts should refocus on how to sell their idea in a more effective manner not just in words but in action too. If that means taking a relook at certain projects that have been cleared, readjusting the foreign direct investment targets and reworking a project (adding a few riders don't convince people), so be it.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

GIVE IT A BRAKE

The last time we heard, the Koran doesn't prohibit women from driving a car. In fact, it doesn't say a word about women driving cars at all. So before we proceed any further, let it be known that there is nothing 'un-Islamic' about women behind steering wheels. 'Non-Islamic' yes, but 'un-Islamic' nope. So unless the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is suggesting that countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Malaysia are being 'un-Islamic', we should realise that when five women were held in police custody for driving cars in Jeddah, they were seen as breaking 'traditional' Saudi laws, not Islamic ones.

For some time now, Saudi women have been growing restless about this mindless restriction. From early June, there have been women who, in an act of practical defiance rather than as an act of overt political protest, have clicked their seat belts on and turned the ignition key. They fully well know that it's only the prohibition that makes the act seem like a radical act whereas all they want to do is drive and pick up their kid from school, go to a salon, meet a friend without having to depend on a male driver. For, remember, Saudi Arabia is not only a misogynist society but also a 'classist' one without any public transport system.

There was some hope when under the relatively more moderate disposition of King Abdullah, the few women who were breaking the 'driving' law earlier last month were being challaned for breaking 'traffic' rules. In the ensuing backlash, and most probably under pressure from 'traditionalists' that include women, the Saudi regime has started a 'crackdown' — well, at least against five rebels — on burqas behind wheels. While many Indian women drivers are wondering how wonderful it would be to be driven, rather than to drive, through office hour traffic in Mumbai, Kolkata or Delhi, may we remind you the joys of being free to drive. For those five Saudi women, let's honk to lend them our support.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

GOGGLE-EYED WATCHMEN

SHIVAM VIJ

 

Millions of Indians use Google and its myriad web services every day. We do not pay for them, nor have we elected the people who run Google. Google does not have to be accountable to us. In the 'terms of services' that we click 'agree' on, they could say anything because we do not read it anyway. Yet, Google convened a conference in Budapest in September 2010 to tell internet users from across the world about a problem it faced.

The problem was that while Google wanted to be nice and fair to those who use its services, in keeping with its 'Do no evil' motto, they weren't allowed to do so by governments across the world. This included repressive, undemocratic regimes but also avowedly democratic ones like India. The data about India reveals that as the number of requests from India went up, Google started complying with them less and less. Google's lawyers check whether the request is compatible with Indian law, and if the agency making it is empowered to do so. Between July-December 2009, Google complied with 77% of 142 requests.

In January-June 2010, Google removed 53% of the 125 items it was asked to. In July-December, the number of items India wanted deleted went up to 282, Google's compliance came down to 22%. In the latter half of 2009, most of India's requests (119 of 142) related to Orkut, followed by YouTube (15). Only one such, removal of something from Google Books, was a court order.

There were also two requests to disallow some pages from appearing on Google search. Google doesn't tell us anything beyond these numbers: we don't know which book was removed or which pages don't show up when you Google. Between January-June 2010, Google complied with 55% of 30 requests it got to remove 125 items from the web. In this period, we saw YouTube become the new Orkut: they wanted 97 YouTube videos and five Orkut items removed.

In this period, one-fourth of the requests were court orders. In this period too, one more court order had something removed from Google Books. Worryingly, the number of requests to remove web searches went up to 13, of which only two were court orders. For July-December 2010, different arms and branches of the Government of India sent 67 letters and notices to Google asking them to remove 282 items.

Of these 282 items, 199 were about YouTube, of which 100 were related to defamation, of which only one was a court order. In just two requests, someone who represents us asked them to remove 53 videos. Three requests were made to remove ten videos that were about "government criticism"; some were considered pornographic or thought to be hate speech. The second-biggest target was Google Web Search: 50 items were sought to be removed. One hundred and thrty-three of 282 items were allegedly defamatory; these requests were made through 26 executive/police orders and only two court orders. If a government official found this article defamatory he would sue me and this newspaper.

But online, he can ask Google to remove it without going through the due process of law, which would give me a chance to defend myself. That this mechanism of 'regulation' has already stepped the Lakshman Rekha of censorship is clear when Google reveals, "We received requests from different law enforcement agencies to remove a blog and YouTube videos that were critical of chief ministers and senior officials of different states. We did not comply with these requests." We deserve to know who these CMs were. Google has also revealed "user data requests" — that is, requests made by government authorities to reveal the private data of users.

For example: the emails you sent, or even the ones you didn't, lying in your drafts folder. Between June 2009 and December 2010, 4,190 such requests were made. Google does not give us any detailed break-down of these numbers, and only about the third set for July-December 2010 does it tell us what percentage of requests it complied with: 79%. Which means that it did not find over a fifth of the requests to have been made within the limits of Indian law.

We can only believe in Google's sense of fairness and dogged refusal to assist Indian government officials in doing what the law does not allow them to do. But at the end of the day, Google is a commercial organisation that has offices in India and advertising space to sell, paid services to offer companies and the government alike. Who knows when Google is under pressure to do something it does not consider appropriate — as it does in China?

Two things need to be done. One, we need to make our government accountable and make it mandatory by law for them to reveal all such requests to internet companies as and when they are made. Two, the forthcoming Privacy Bill should take into account these revelations and bring such passing on of user data from internet companies to the government under its umbrella to prevent misuse. Shivam Vij is Delhi-based journalist The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

BEYOND THE BITE - EXILE ON MAIN STREET

RAJDEEP SARDESAI

 

Digvijaya Singh is to UPA 2 what the Left was to UPA 1. With his USP as a `secular fundamentalist', there's much method to his madness

 

Sanyas obviously means different things to different people. In 2003, soon after losing the Madhya Pradesh elections, Digvijaya Singh rather dramatically announced, "I have decided to take political sanyas for the next 10 years."

 

Eight years later, far from living the life of renunciation, the Congress leader appears to be making headlines every other day. Remind him about his claim of taking sanyas, and the impish smile returns: "When I said sanyas I meant that I would not seek any government post for 10 years. Have I been a minister or do I hold any official position in government?" Minister he may be not, but there is little doubt that Singh is now a power centre within the complex UPA-Congress equation. In a sense, the two time Madhya Pradesh chief minister is to UPA 2 what the Left was to Manmohan Singh's first government: the opposition within. In the first UPA avatar, the Left would openly red flag any issue which they felt would hurt their political ideology: be it the Indo-US nuclear deal or public sector privatisation. In UPA 2, it's been left to Digvijaya Singh to play that adversarial role. Be it the Naxal policy, land acquisition or anti-terror laws, the Congress general secretary has been determinedly pursuing what appears to be a contrarian agenda to that of the UPA government, often creating dissonance within the ruling arrangement, quite apart from providing fodder to a ravenous media.

 

And yet, there is clearly a method to the seeming madness of what appears to be Singh's role of house dissident. For many traditional Congressmen, Manmohan Singh is still the `outsider', the lateral entrant whose reform-friendly economist avatar is not quite what a party system based on populist hand-outs is comfortable with. Digvijaya's rhetoric appeals to the old style Congressman, more familiar with slogans rather than policy prescriptions. Take Digvijaya's remarks on Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare. By calling Ramdev a `thug' and suggesting that Hazare was an RSS agent, he has brought in a `saffron' edge to the debate over the anti-corruption agitation. By questioning the government's action in sending Cabinet ministers to the airport to receive the yoga guru, he has virtually accused it of compromising with religious babas of questionable credentials. In the process, he has sought to reinforce his own identity as a `secular fundamentalist' whose politics revolves around being the matador who is constantly getting under the skin of the Sangh parivar bull.

 

As a result, after the Gandhi family, Digvijaya is now political Hindutva's No. 1 hate figure. Whether on Twitter or at public rallies, Digvijaya has now become a favourite whipping boy for the saffron brotherhood, a classic exemplar of what they see as Congress pseudo-secularism. By raising doubts over the arrest of Muslim youth in terror plots while openly targeting `Hindu terror', Digvijaya is accused by his critics of having stirred the pot of minority communalism in the guise of secularism. Digvijaya Singh has defended himself by claiming that he has resisted all forms of religious extremism: that as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, he arrested VHP leader Praveen Togadia and also acted against minority extremist groups. And yet, he cannot shake off the popular middle class perception of being a leader who is `appeasing' the minorities. After all, when you rail against a Sadhvi Pragya but refer to Osama bin Laden as Osamaji, you are asking to be labelled as a pseudo-secularist.

 

Perhaps, that's an image which suits Digvijaya in the contemporary political context. The classic Congress worldview has been that the key to winning elections is the strong support of minorities: be it Muslims, Dalits or adivasis. The Congress's electoral struggles over the last two decades across north India have been primarily because the party has lost the support of precisely these social groups. As an astute politician who is now in charge of the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, Singh knows that any Congress revival is predicated on a Dalit-Muslim alliance on the ground. While the Dalits have been significantly empowered by Mayawati, the Muslims remain vulnerable to emotional appeals that address their insecurities over being targeted for their religious status. Singh is attempting to tap into precisely these feelings every time he dares the Sangh parivar. In a way he is emulating another MP Congressman, the late Arjun Singh who also wore the badge of `secularism' and `social justice' by consciously wooing the minorities and the backward castes.

 

But in the age of 8% economic growth, identity politics of the Muslim-Mandal variety does have its limits. We are slowly inching forward from the politics of grievance to the politics of aspiration. Fear and division cannot be the basis of a new India politics. `Inclusiveness' is the new mantra. Which means that old style politics of community consolidation is losing out to good governance and bijli-sadak-pani. Neither can the BJP win elections by promising to build a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, nor can the Congress win by simply raising the Hindutva bogey at election time. Perhaps, Digvijaya knows this, but he also knows that giving it up would mean losing out on his political USP.

 

Post-script: There is one X factor in Digvijaya Singh's political ambitions: the man who he has pitched for as India's next leader, Rahul Gandhi. We know little of Rahul's politics, but they broadly seem to parallel the left-of-centre vision of Digvijaya. If in 2014, Rahul chooses not to take up the Congress leadership, will he look for his own Manmohan to drive his agenda? By 2014, the 10 years of Diggy Raja's `sanyas' could be well and truly over.

 

Rajdeep Sardesai is editor-in-chief, IBN 18 Network rajdeep.sardesai@network18online.com The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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

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

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

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BY THE BOOK

 

After a season of excess and excitability, the prime minister's assertion of constitutional propriety was welcome. In recent months, public discourse has been roiled by a series of corruption scandals, and to add to that, some of the solutions suggested by civil society champions of the Lokpal bill have been rash and potentially destabilising. The PM spoke up for the Constitution, and the importance of preserving the inbuilt set of checks and balances that operate upon all branches of government. A Lokpal conceived along maximalist lines would disrupt this arrangement, giving them unprecedented power over executive decisions, and encroaching on the independence of the judiciary.

At the PM's meeting with the press, he shared his views on many of these questions, and came out firmly on the side of institutional decorum — whether it was on the CAG's overreach, the media's role or his belief that the higher judiciary should be kept out of the Lokpal's ambit. Abiding by the constitutional framework is not a matter of choice — it is what keeps our democracy ticking. The separation of powers is hardwired into our democracy, the principle that no limb of government will be able to subordinate the other. The legislature chosen by the people enacts laws and oversees their implementation, the executive gives practical shape to this legislation, and the judiciary interprets the Constitution to make sure these branches function right.

Justice A.P. Shah has observed that the draft Lokpal bill "seeks to create a gigantic institution that draws its powers from a statute that will be based on questionable principles". While judicial accountability is certainly needed, it must not interfere with the higher courts' capacity to pronounce on complex matters, as the PM stressed. He also said that while he was personally open to the Lokpal's scrutiny, the question was about the dangers of eroding the authority of the office, and the decision would have to be made politically. Most importantly, he brought a measure of level-headedness to the corruption rhetoric, saying there were no magic wands and insta-solutions. Corruption must be combated, but not by upending or disregarding democratic processes and institutions. The Constitution is our founding document, one that constrains and guides our legislature, executive and judiciary, and its procedures cannot be flicked away to make way for supra-institutions. The PM has injected some much-needed balance into the debate, and he must continue this reasonable conversation.

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 THE INDIAN EXPRESS

                                                                                                EDITORIAL

BURNT PAPER

 

Almost a decade later, the questions that were raised about the degree of involvement of officials of the Gujarat state government in the riots of 2002 should surely have made some progress towards answers. Several commissions have been set up to inquire into the matter; the Supreme Court itself has taken a stand; and the state government has tried to develop a reputation for efficiency and transparency — which means it should privilege the ability to hold itself to account. It's disturbing, therefore, that the state government — which has been consistently re-elected since 2002 — should have told one of those commissions of inquiry, the Nanavati Commission, that all official documents from the period had already been destroyed: "As per general government rules the telephone call records, vehicle log book, the officers' movement diary are destroyed after a certain period. The state intelligence bureau records were also destroyed in 2007."

These documents would speak to the movement and activities of senior police officers during the riots. The atmosphere has been particularly charged, since these documents would be crucial evidence linking Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah with police action and inaction; Sanjiv Bhatt, who had been a senior police officer in the state Intelligence Bureau at the time, had alleged that Modi had told the police to let Hindu anger play itself out on the streets. The state government has attacked his credibility, with its lawyer telling him that speaking of the CM thus was "crossing the line".

The Nanavati Commission was set up in 2002. The records were destroyed in 2007. It seems worrying, to say the least, that no commissions of inquiry have examined these documents yet. And the fact that a state government that knew the period was under investigation would destroy these documents is going to raise questions. Every time Narendra Modi, his government, and his party think the shadow of 2002 will go away for ever, some act or action of theirs seems to bring it back.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

NO-PM PRIME TIME

MIHIR S SHARMA

 

This is it. Now it's war. You thought news television was tough on the prime minister earlier? They're really mad now. The PM is Speaking to an Anxious Nation — and he didn't bother to invite anyone from television?

News TV knows why this happened. It is because they are tough on people. They are never cowed or silenced in the face of power! They speak truth to it! That was the problem, Arnab Goswami explained to his guests on Times Now's News Hour: "Leave alone a third question, Swami, if you asked a second question, you might be told it's not a news conference, but an inquisition, I can say that from personal experience." Goswami had been interrupted by the prime minister's media advisor at a previous press conference, and wasn't ready to let go. Indeed, he started the programme following the announcement by saying, "Last time the PM faced the editors, he faced some tough questions", before implying that this time, TV wouldn't be going, so that was unlikely to be true. ("Unfortunately, tonight I don't even know if tomorrow I will have a tape of what the prime minister.... I might have a graphic screen!") Goswami got increasingly worked up about it during the discussion — or so he claimed, saying he was "getting nostalgic" for the last time and "agitated." As a small punishment, he didn't want to help the PM at all: when he asked his panel for questions they would ask Dr Singh, he said "I do not want at all an opportunity for a full dress rehearsal to the prime minister tonight" [sic]. Right. Because Dr Singh was watching to prepare.

Times Now's outrage — there's a phrase that writes itself — that news TV is the only credible method of interrogation would perhaps be more justified if we hadn't just watched its riveting interview, one day earlier, of Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa. It was a very different Times Now. Arnab Goswami's voice was hushed, like a penitent speaking to the Pope; indeed, I don't think I have ever heard anyone say, "May I contest that?" so quietly. (Wait, actually, on news TV, I've rarely heard them ask.)

Not that Jayalalithaa is easy to interview. When she is bored with a question, she will show it; she will stop looking at you and gaze elsewhere. She seems willing to let silence fill up airtime. And she can put an interviewer in his place: "You are expecting some sensational statements from me perhaps.... being bold is one thing, being pragmatic when you're leading a state is another thing."

Also, perhaps, moderating discussions and interviewing are two different skills. Moderating, you know where you want everyone to go. In interviews, it seems you'd want to draw the person out. You may not know what the story is to start off with.

For example, Goswami kept on asking Jayalalithaa about the "national mood" — specifically, about "anger" at the UPA. But that wasn't Jayalalithaa's story. Hers was more novel and interesting, but Goswami didn't seem to want it. She kept on saying she needed to be pragmatic, get "the best possible deal for her state" — but he never asked her what that meant. He wanted, instead, "candid observations of the national picture".

Indeed, she had to shoehorn a mention of Tamil Nadu's debt in. "So what are you willing to do in order to get that debt fixed?" she could have been asked. But she wasn't. She practically wrote the interviewer's script for him: I need the Congress's favour, because I have no money for any populism I might want to try. So I will be "pragmatic" about what I say. Goswami's response: "These are two distinct things." Instead, "the national mood" came up again.

"I find a contradiction in your assessment of the PM and of the national mood," said Goswami at one point, taken aback by her coolly laid out (pointwise) argument that the PM shouldn't be subject to the Lokpal. "The national mood is clearly one of anger."

And then, a moment of sublime beauty: Jayalalithaa interrupts Goswami. "National mood is because of what happens today," she reminded us, "I am not lending my support to any individual; it is about the institution."

But news TV likes to think about individuals.

So Goswami's response was — to bring up A Raja.

mihir.sharma@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

MANTRA WITHOUT MEANING

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

You can't teach new tricks to an old dog. That is one message from the latest meeting of the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group that regulates the international commerce in nuclear technology and material.

The other is that the non-proliferation ayatollahs in Washington and beyond mouth the mantra of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) even when it has no meaning in the real world.

Consider the reports that the NSG has decided, at its plenary last week in The Hague, not to export uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing (ENR) technologies to countries that are not parties to the NPT.

The exact formulation of the new guideline on tightening the export of ENR technologies — critical for the making of nuclear weapons — is not in the public domain.

Assuming the worst for a moment, the latest move by the NSG makes no sense either in terms of the NPT or the NSG's objective of controlling the transfer of sensitive nuclear technologies.

The NPT, the "urtext" of the nuclear fundamentalists, in whose name the new guideline has been invoked does not in fact prohibit ENR transfers to non-signatories. In effect, the new taboo applies only to three countries that are not parties to the NPT — India, Pakistan and Israel.

All three already have nuclear weapons. The guideline adds zero value to the non-proliferation regime, because India, Pakistan and Israel already have either one or both of the ENR technologies. For the nuclear brahmins, though, chanting the NPT mantra is a virtue in itself.

The ENR debate began seven years ago, when the then American president, George W. Bush, proposed banning the export of these technologies to those nations that did not have them. Bush's proposal was simple in its conception.

It divided the world into those who had ENR technologies and those who did not. His diplomacy was about persuading those who had it from agreeing not to sell it to others who didn't.

This practical approach of freezing the number of countries with ENR technologies was free of NPT clutter. For Bush had recognised that the NPT was part of the problem. The Bush team argued that the NPT allowed members like Iran to acquire ENR technologies in the name of civilian uses but had no power to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons and walking out of the treaty at short notice.

The ENR challenge, then, was about fixing the NPT's structural problems by transcending it. Since it was defined in non-NPT terms and included India in the "ENR haves", Delhi was happy to endorse the Bush proposal.

The Obama administration, however, has translated Bush's ENR proposal into a meaningless mantra centred on the NPT and in the process thrown some mud on the biggest achievement to date in bilateral relations — the historic civil nuclear initiative.

How should India respond to the new development?

The last thing Delhi would want to do is to get into an argument with the NSG as a collective, especially when India is seeking membership of this club. Entry into this club is indeed important for India to have a say in the making of nuclear rules and stop the sanctimonious humbug of the kind that the NSG has just dished out.

The worst thing India could do is to view the NSG's latest move in legalistic terms. India's tradition of self-deluding rhetoric of moralpolitik and its adolescent literalism in reading international nuclear arrangements have proved rather costly for the nation over the last decades.

Delhi, instead, should see the NSG through the geopolitical lens. It could indeed benefit by following the Chinese lead in the NSG.

Recall how the nuclear fundamentalists were tongue-tied in responding to Beijing's recent decision to sell additional nuclear reactors to Pakistan in defiance of the NSG guidelines. All the major powers had other business to do with China and were unwilling to confront Beijing's haughty disregard for the NSG rules.

India will gain nothing by presenting itself as a plaintiff at the multilateral NSG. It has a reasonable chance to redress the ENR problem if it acts bilaterally with the nuclear big three — United States, Russia and France.

Delhi must put across a simple proposition to Washington, Moscow and Paris — "No ENR, No Reactor Deals." India must remind all three that if they can't keep their word, they should not expect a share in India's nuclear pie.

The Bush administration had promised that while its extant domestic laws do not permit the export of ENR technologies to anyone, such transfers could be considered in future. Washington had also assured Delhi that it would not come in the way of other countries wanting to transfer these technologies to India.

The Indo-Russian nuclear cooperation agreement, it has been reported, has a provision for the transfer of ENR technologies. (For some strange reason, the nuclear agreements with Russia remain secrets while those with America are public.)

Similarly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly assured Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that France will offer ENR technologies to India.

Does India have the leverage to hold the nuclear big three to their word? It is worth finding out.

After the meltdown of the Fukushima reactors in Japan earlier this year, the nuclear market is down after high expectations of rapid expansion during the last decade. Given the continuing economic downturn in the US and Europe, there is mounting pressure on both to promote exports and create jobs at home.

Other than China, India remains the biggest market for nuclear power generation in the coming decades and has the capacity to influence decision-making by major nuclear equipment producers in the world.

India must also consider cross-sector linkages by linking major arms purchases from the big three to their position on ENR transfers. As it puts the nuclear deals with the big three on hold, India must accelerate negotiations on atomic cooperation with other nuclear suppliers like South

Korea and Canada.

Put simply, Delhi has much room for assertive and productive diplomacy on the question of sensitive nuclear technology transfers if its political class and the strategic community don't flail about like headless chicken in the wake of the latest NSG move.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

REPUBLICANS DON'T WANT TO RUN THE WORLD

 

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.

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 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 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 Jews. 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 Harbour 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, members of the party's Midwestern faction vainly fought efforts to promote collective security, including NATO.

The GOP's isolationist strain, though submerged, survived the internationalist Eisenhower. 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. In a 1976 vice presidential debate, Bob Dole seethed over the century's four "Democrat wars."

A string of internationalist GOP presidents, from Nixon to the first 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 Bush's foreign affairs focus blinded him to economic suffering at home — led Republican congressmen to oppose Bill Clinton's myriad global initiatives, from the Balkan campaigns to UN financing to arms control treaties.

Given the Republican chest-thumping after 9/11, it was easy to assume that the party had finally 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 stabilising role.

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.

David Greenberg, the writer is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

ONE MAN, ONE VOTE?

 

Speculation is rife whether President Dmitri Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will end up running next year in Russia's presidential election. The supposed rivalry between a youthful reformer and his conservative mentor makes for welcome intrigue in a country where competing political views have long gone missing. Putin, president from 2000 to 2008, handpicked Medvedev because of a constitutional ban on three consecutive terms. Now Putin could legally return to the presidency twice more — conceivably holding office until 2024, since one of Medvedev's first legislative initiatives was to extend presidential terms from four years to six.

The partners in the so-called ruling tandem have left open which one of them will run for president next March, reacting with a mixture of irritation and embarrassment when journalists confront them with "the 2012 question." All the two leaders are willing to reveal is that they'll reach a decision together, at the appropriate time. A premature announcement, Putin said in April, would cause half the government to stop working in anticipation of changes at the top.

While the choice between Medvedev, 45, and Putin, 58, may affect the career paths of individual ministers, it won't change anything for ordinary Russians. For one, the two leaders themselves have repeatedly rejected the notion that there are significant differences between them. More importantly, it's a foregone conclusion that the candidate with Putin's name — or endorsement — will win. The top-down "power vertical" that Putin built endures, guaranteeing election results and locking out genuine opponents. Of Russia's more than 100 million eligible voters, Putin has essentially become the only one whose voice counts.

Not even Medvedev, officially Putin's boss, has much say. Plucked from obscurity, he owes his current job entirely to Putin. Although he made modernisation of Russia's corrupt, oil-based economy the catchword of his presidency, he has little to show for it. More than once he has presided over tragicomic government meetings complaining that ministers ignore his orders. If Medvedev vanished from the political scene tomorrow, he wouldn't leave a trace. He is a president without ambition, a power base or an electorate.

Russians expected more of democracy when they flocked to their first presidential elections 20 years ago this summer and overwhelmingly elected Boris Yeltsin. While Yeltsin tolerated political opponents and media criticism, he also did not hesitate to use force against rebel legislators or to tap into "administrative resources" to get re-elected in 1996. As his second term drew to a close, Yeltsin designated Putin, then a little-known Kremlin official, to preserve his legacy. The transfer of power from one generation to the next has been a factor of instability throughout Russian history.

For now, Putin is focusing on December's parliamentary elections. In May he seized the initiative with the creation of a "People's Front," an amorphous umbrella group that would merge his United Russia party with hundreds of professional and civic organisations. In a single move, Putin widened his base while acknowledging that the governing party — a growing target of scorn — is no longer capable of delivering a resounding victory on its own.

The predictability of his political machine has effectively disenfranchised voters, depriving Russia of elections as a gauge of popular will. The leadership can never be sure of its true level of support, since its hold on power is premised on the passivity of the population rather than on the backing of an active citizenry.

The tandem is likely to announce its presidential candidate only after the parliamentary election has been squared away, as Putin did four years ago when he nominated Medvedev. Then, if all goes according to plan, the Kremlin candidate will sweep the election as the standard-bearer of strength and stability. Whatever the next president's name, the winner will be Putin.

The greatest failure of Russia's experiment with democracy is that no institutions have taken root that can check executive power and ensure continuity during times of political change. As recent history has demonstrated, political systems centered on personalities are inherently fragile, no matter how durable they may appear from the outside. Lucian Kim

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NO QUALITY WITHOUT EQUITY

R GOVINDA

 

Traditionally, the universalisation of elementary education was interpreted as a question of providing access to education for all children. The National Policy on Education in 1986 expanded this definition by emphasising that access is meaningful only when it is coupled with quality in terms of active participation in learning and achieving competencies and capabilities. The Right to Education (RTE) act of 2009 endorses full-time schooling as the fundamental right of every child, and sets explicit standards for this provision.

These are fairly minimal requirements like a pupil-teacher ratio of 30-1, one classroom for every teacher, textbooks for all children, schools functioning for at least a minimum number of hours and days. The RTE also envisions schools as inclusive spaces that accommodate all children irrespective of gender, caste, community, language, ethnicity, etc. This again is only a reiteration of what is already guaranteed in the Constitution. However, the current situation in

India's school system changes these simple expectations into huge challenges.

The schooling system has certainly expanded to an unprecedented scale in the last two decades, but it has been a highly uneven expansion. While poor and marginalised groups living in rural peripheries or in remote tribal localities have to contend with single- or two-roomed schools with a single teacher (on contract, poorly paid and called titles like shiksha karmi or shiksha mitra), at the other end of the spectrum, the government provides well-endowed institutions such as Central schools and Navodaya Vidyalayas. In the private sector too, some high-end schools provide the best physical and human resources, while the poor have to make do with substandard low-fee schools. Then there are the NGO-run schools that operate on shoestring budgets and underpaid teachers, even though they serve clear needs among the poor. The challenge of bringing them all together to RTE standards is enormous, but not impossible, as is the task of making schools more diverse and inclusive spaces.

Whether run by the government, private sector or NGOs, it is the low-end, less-endowed schools that serve the poor and the marginalised. Therefore, the state's response has to be more nuanced than simply ordering schools to meet RTE standards or proposing to close them down for non-compliance. First, it is essential to reestablish faith among the general public in government schools. One occasionally comes across a reverse flow of students from private to government schools when they begin functioning better. But the state needs more strategies. For instance, it must pay special attention to schools in tribal areas and highly backward localities, where private or even NGO providers are unlikely to go. Small private schools if they are located in unserved or underserved areas may be financially supported to function better with improved facilities, beyond the subvention for 25 per cent children from weaker sections. NGO schools functioning in urban slums and rural areas could be supported through grants-in-aid provisions for upgradation; this is important as many NGOs are engaged in unique and innovative programmes that deserve to be sustained and emulated.

Inclusivity is an even more complex task — the school system is splintered into many categories, and in urban areas they have become virtual islands of exclusivity or ghettos. Further, few schools volunteer to accommodate differently-abled children. Tackling this problem will take basic reforms in governance. Schools have to be treated as public spaces irrespective of their financing and management (by private, government, or NGO entities). The RTE Act imposes certain compulsions in this direction on all categories of schools. But this cannot be achieved only through legislative measures. Both government and private school systems have to be reorganised. It is often the issues of facilities, regularity of functioning, ensuring learning standards, language policy including medium of instruction, etc. that divide government and private schools.

The state cannot remain unconcerned about the choices and aspirations of parents; and nor can it mutely watch the growing social divide. While the government is primarily responsible for improving the inclusiveness in schools under its direct management and making them free from any discrimination, it cannot remain aloof to the policies and practices adopted in others. Even private providers must view managing a school as dispensing a public service rather than rendering services under a commercial contract. For this to happen, it is necessary to explore ways making good education free through charitable sources during the basic education stage. The government must reciprocate through policy measures and incentives, and the engagement of the government with the private and NGO sector need not imply control and coercion.

After all, some of the best institutions of higher learning in the country are flourishing within the government sector without serious infringement of their autonomy. A common refrain against making schools open for all is that it will affect the quality of education. But as the UNESCO Report on Quality put it, "quality must pass the test of equity" — an education system or institution characterised by exclusion and discrimination on any ground is clearly not fulfilling its mission. The future of RTE depends on how effectively we transform our schools into inclusive public spaces that not only accommodate but welcome diversity in classrooms and adopt non-discriminatory policies and practices.

The writer is vice-chancellor of the National University for Educational Planning and Administration and a member of the national advisory committee on the right to education

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE NINE LIVES OF LENINISM

SRINATH RAGHAVAN

 

In July 1921, 12 men from various parts of China met on the top floor of a girls' school in Shanghai. This was the first plenary meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The party was formed on the instructions of the Comintern recently created by Lenin. As the delegates discussed the prospects of a socialist revolution, they would not in their wildest dreams have imagined that the party they were creating would not only be the most successful Leninist outfit of the 20th century but also preside over the second largest capitalist economy in the first decade of the 21st .

These paradoxical achievements seem all the more striking when we recall that the CCP was at several points close to being destroyed by its adversaries or on the brink of self-destruction. Today the CCP is faced with a range of daunting challenges: socio-economic inequality, urban-rural divide, regional disparities, environmental degradation, political transition and China's rise in the international system. In assessing its ability to cope with these, it may be useful to look back in time.

For a large chunk of its existence, the CCP's appeal and legitimacy rested on its revolutionary and nationalist credentials. These boiled down to two key political and programmatic stances: mobilisation of China's rural society and resistance to imperial powers. The sweeping land reforms instituted immediately after 1949 and the involvement in the Korean war attested these credentials. In retrospect, it is clear that the CCP's standing among the peasantry even withstood the massive catastrophe visited on the countryside by the party's Great Leap Forward.

But the Cultural Revolution unleashed by Mao in the next decade posed an entirely different challenge for the party. It was, after all, targeted at the party itself. Mao was at once concerned about the criticism emanating from the party of the Great Leap Forward and about the bureaucratisation of this revolutionary outfit. When the mobilisation of the younger generation against the party began to get out of hand, the People's Liberation Army was tasked with bringing the young radicals under control. Universities and schools were suspended as an estimated 17 million youngsters were sent to work in the countryside.

Yet the psychedelic decade of the Cultural Revolution did not unhinge the party's position. This is usually explained by the wise and pragmatic economic policies adopted by the post-Mao dispensation. But this is only part of the reason. One of the centrepieces of the reform agenda was set in place in Mao's own lifetime. This was the opening to the US — a policy shift without which none of the subsequent reform and opening up would have been possible. Such a dramatic change of policy could only have been taken by a Leninist party, which placed a high premium on discipline, tactical patience and bold initiatives.

Equally, the subsequent economic reforms were not simply policy measures imposed from on high. They were also responses to pressures from below. And the party showed itself capable of responding to these pressures. The dismantling of the rural commune system, to take but one example, followed in the wake of prior decisions by some peasants to link household labour to household income — the first of these being an initiative by a group of peasants in the Anhui province. But political reform was another matter. From clamping down on the Democracy Wall to the crackdown on protestors at Tiananmen, the party refused to countenance demands for democratising the system.

This pattern has been replicated in more recent times. The party has proved to be a learning organisation, adapting to challenges ranging from collapse of the Soviet Union to the Asian financial crisis, from the SARS outbreak to the rise of corruption by improvisatory and at times imaginative initiatives. But its paranoid refusal to consider any serious political reform and its eagerness to crackdown on the first hint of trouble has also resulted in the creation of the "Great Firewall" in China.

Perhaps the pre-requisite for such reforms is the party's recognition that the demands for political opening up are also a product of the social transformations wrought by the Chinese revolution. That still leaves open the question of what kinds of reforms may be undertaken. A full-fledged parliamentary democracy can more or less be ruled out. Electoral contest amongst groupings within the CCP will also be problematic for a party that has stoutly resisted factionalism. The models of Taiwan and Singapore are unlikely to be replicable in China. Democracy came to Taiwan mainly in response to the change in its international standing brought about by the withdrawal of US recognition. The Singapore model rests on a bounteous welfare system that is unsustainable in a country the size of China.

The political trajectory of China is likely to be as sui generis as its economic growth. It will also be as significant. Indeed, historical judgements on the CCP may well rest on how the party manages these changes. On the 90th anniversary of the party's creation, we can only echo Zhou Enlai's observation on the significance of the French Revolution — It's too soon to say.

Raghavan is the author of 'War and Peace in Modern India'

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SMALL CARS IN TOP GEAR

The government's vision of making India a manufacturing hub for small cars a couple of years ago, which saw duty breaks for them, has shown the desired results. Today, after China, India is the second-fastest growing auto market in the world. Before Toyota, global manufacturers like Ford, GM, Nissan and Honda had already forayed into the small car segment. Of course, Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai are the strongest and major players in the segment. Some of the manufacturers—Maruti for its A-Star model, Hyundai for all its models, Nissan for Micra and Ford for Figo—have made India their manufacturing hub for exporting cars to overseas destinations. With rising inflation and interest rates, auto growth has been slowing in recent months, which would further accelerate all the manufacturers' plans to enter into the small car segment, which constitutes close to 70% of the country's overall passenger car sales. No wonder, in the next one year, players like Honda, Hyundai, Skoda etc are going to come out with newer small car models. Domestic manufacturer Tata Motors has already shown its innovative skills by developing the world's cheapest car, Nano.

While consumers will continue to have a good time with a highly developed auto market offering a range of choices at competitive prices, and state governments will vie for investments from the manufacturers for setting up plants that would fuel employment growth, there are also a few bumps ahead. Auto plants have seen the maximum number of strikes by labourers in the past two years. The top two manufacturers—Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai—have witnessed major labour troubles. Two wheeler manufacturers like Honda Motorcycles and Scooters and Hero Honda have also had a similar experience. Data shows that the majority of workers employed by the manufacturers are contract employees, whose rising aspirations are one of the reasons for labour strife. The government needs to reform rigid and archaic labour laws to solve this problem.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LET'S EXPORT NOW

In major stock markets of the world, funds that invest in the commodity exporting economies do not particularly track India. One of the reasons for this disinterest is India's reluctance to harness its strength in the global market as a large commodity producer. The on-off syndrome costs us in terms of lost markets abroad and in terms of wastage of foodgrains at home. Worse, when stocks rise, the price discovery for farmers suffers despite the minimum support price. So, food minister KV Thomas's statement that his ministry is not averse to allowing exports, and that the issue will be placed before the EGoM, makes one hopeful. One expects the government will now remove the restrictions on exports, especially for rice and wheat. The EGoM's recent decision to permit an additional half a million tonnes of sugar exports also gives hope of change in the food export policies. Rice and wheat stocks in the central government pool have gone up to almost 28 million and 37 million tonnes, respectively, putting the total food stocks at 65 million tonnes, a record high. This is more than twice the buffer stock norms of 25 million tonnes and far exceeds the 62 million storage capacity of FCI and the Centre, including the open storage of around 18 million tonnes. Recent numbers show that the increase in price of rice has come down to 2.6% in May, on a YoY basis, much below that of sugar, which is rising by 5.3%. With total food stocks steadily rising from 16.6 million tonnes in 2005-06 to around 55 million tonnes in 2010-11, the Centre's food subsidy bill has gone up too, from R23,077 crore to R60,600 crore.

The record increase in foodgrain stocks is happening when the prospects for exports have improved significantly. Global food markets have seen a significant turnaround during 2011 as comfortable supply and a relatively stable price scenario have given way to a more worrisome outlook. Though unfavourable weather conditions were the main reason for this deterioration, food markets were also impacted by the Japanese disaster, the political unrest in north Africa, plus an uncertain global economy. Short-sighted policies on export show India's share of global food exports has shrunk from 1.4% to 1.3% over 1990-2009, even as its share of global imports went up five-fold from 0.2% to 1%. Improving national food security, therefore, requires increasing India's share of global food trade and removing export restrictions—important steps in this direction.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DON'T JUST BLAME THE SPECULATORS

JEFFREY FRANKEL

 

Under French President Nicolas Sarkozy's leadership, the G20 has made addressing food-price volatility a top priority this year, with member states' agriculture ministers meeting recently in Paris to come up with solutions. Small wonder: world food prices reached a record high earlier in the year, recalling a similar price spike in 2008.

Consumers are hurting worldwide, especially the poor, for whom food takes a major bite out of household budgets. Popular discontent over food prices has fueled political instability in some countries, most notably in Egypt and Tunisia. Even agricultural producers would prefer some price stability over the wild ups and downs of the last five years.

The G20's efforts will culminate in the Cannes Summit in November. But, when it comes to specific policies, caution will be very much in order, for there is a long history of measures aimed at reducing commodity-price volatility that have ended up doing more harm than good.

For example, some inflation-targeting central banks have reacted to increases in prices of imported commodities by tightening monetary policy and thereby increasing the value of the currency. But adverse movements in the terms of trade must be accommodated; they cannot be fought with monetary policy. Producing countries have also tried to contain price volatility by forming international cartels. But these have seldom worked. In theory, government stockpiles might be able to smooth price fluctuations. But this depends on how stockpiles are administered. The historical record is not encouraging.

In rich countries, where the primary producing sector usually has political power, stockpiles of food products are used as a means of keeping prices high rather than low. The EU's Common Agricultural Policy is a classic example—and is disastrous for EU budgets, economic efficiency, and consumer pocketbooks. In many developing countries, on the other hand, farmers lack political power. African countries adopted commodity boards for coffee and cocoa. Although the original rationale was to buy the crop in years of excess supply and sell in years of excess demand, thereby stabilising prices, in practice the price paid to cocoa and coffee farmers, who were politically weak, was always below the world price in the early decades of independence. As a result, production fell.

Politicians often seek to shield consumers through price controls on staple foods and energy. But artificially suppressing prices usually requires rationing to domestic households. (Shortages and long lines can fuel political rage just as surely as higher prices can.) Otherwise, the policy satisfies the excess demand via imports, and so raises the world price even more. If the country is a producer of the commodity in question, it may use export controls to insulate domestic consumers from increases in the world price. In 2008, India capped rice exports, and Argentina did the same for wheat exports, as did Russia in 2010.

Export restrictions in producing countries and price controls in importing countries both serve to exacerbate the magnitude of the world price upswing, owing to the artificially reduced quantity that is still internationally traded. If producing and consuming countries in grain markets could cooperatively agree to refrain from such government intervention (probably by working through the WTO), world price volatility might be lower.

In the meantime, some obvious steps should be taken. For starters, biofuel subsidies should be abolished. Ethanol subsidies, such as those paid to American corn farmers, do not accomplish policymakers' avowed environmental goals, but do divert grain and thus help drive up world food prices. By now this should be clear to everybody. But one cannot really expect the G20 agriculture ministers to be able to fix the problem.

After all, their constituents, the farmers, are the ones pocketing the money. The US, it must be said, is the biggest obstacle here.

It is probably best to accept that commodity prices will be volatile, and to create ways to limit the adverse economic effects—for example, financial instruments that allow hedging of the terms of trade. What the G-20 agriculture ministers have agreed is to forge a system to improve transparency in agricultural markets, including information about production, stocks, and prices. More complete and timely information might indeed help.

But the broader sort of policy that Sarkozy evidently has in mind is to confront speculators, who are perceived as destabilising agricultural commodity markets. True, in recent years, commodities have become more like assets and less like goods. Prices are not determined solely by the flow of current supply and demand and their current economic fundamentals (such as disruptions from weather or politics). They are increasingly determined also by calculations regarding expected future fundamentals (such as economic growth in Asia) and alternative returns (such as interest rates)—in other words, by speculators.

But speculation is not necessarily destabilizing. Sarkozy is right that leverage is not necessarily good just because the free market allows it, and that speculators occasionally act in a destabilising way. But speculators more often act as detectors of changes in economic fundamentals, or provide the signals that smooth transitory fluctuations. In other words, they often are a stabilising force.

The French have not yet been able to obtain agreement from the other G20 members on measures aimed at regulating commodity speculators, such as limits on the size of their investment positions. I hope it stays that way. Shooting the messenger is no way to respond to the message.

The author is Professor of Government at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

UNLUCKY PSBS, SOME LUCKY FARMERS

KRISHNAMURTHY SUBRAMANIAN

 

While it has been known for long that politicians exploit the state machinery for their narrow political gains, for the first time, we have systematic evidence informing us of such misuse. In his study of how the lending patterns of Indian banks coincide with national elections, Professor Shawn Cole of the Harvard Business School finds that the lending by public sector banks tracks the electoral cycle, with agricultural credit provided by the public sector banks increasing by about 10 percentage points in an election year. The author employs his district level data on bank lending from the Reserve Bank of India together with the data on elections from the Election Commission of India. The author investigates and reassures readers that this effect of elections on agricultural credit is not due to aggregate annual shocks to agricultural investment. Nor can this pattern be attributed to budgetary manipulation since state governments were not found to spend more in the election years. Also, there is no such pattern coinciding with elections in non-agricultural credit. And, such correlation with election years does not show up in the credit provided to agriculture by the private sector banks or foreign banks.

Is it possible that when the threat of a re-election looms, politicians are just ensuring that banks are fulfilling their legal obligation to provide credit to the poor sections of society? If this were the case, an increase in agricultural credit would be observed across all districts that face an election. However, the author finds that such increases in agricultural lending by public sector banks in the election year are particularly targeted in the swing districts—districts in which the election ended up a posteriori to be particularly close. Districts whose populations were strongly in favour or strongly opposed to the incumbent majority party did not receive this largesse in the election year. Of course, this outcome is expected since the marginal value of directed credit is more in those districts where the election is expected to be close. Since politicians would have a good assessment a priori of which districts would be the swing districts, directed agricultural lending to districts that eventually turned out to be so is consistent with political manoeuvring of public sector banks. Since it is the public sector banks that are controlled by the politicians and a significant part of the electorate is involved in agriculture, the author convincingly makes the case that this directed credit by public sector banks is an unhealthy outcome of the race for the "Supreme Parliament".

The author finds a different pattern with respect to forgiving of agricultural loans coinciding with election years. In the years following an election, in a district where the margin of victory was about 15 percentage points, write-offs of agricultural loans is approximately 27 percentage points higher. In contrast, in districts where the ruling party lost, there is no increase in write-offs of agricultural loans. Note that the author is not using across-the-board loan waivers like the UPA-1's loan waiver scheme in 2008-09. Instead, these are specific loan write-offs in some districts but not in others. Thus, politicians reward their supporters immediately following elections by causing public sector banks to write off loans to borrowers in constituencies in which governing politicians enjoyed the greatest support. These patterns stand in contrast to those for lending, where only the marginal districts are rewarded. From an economic point of view, such targeted agricultural credit and forgiveness of agricultural loans are essentially money down the drain. The author finds that neither does such credit increase agricultural investment in the targeted district nor does it increase its agricultural output.

Note that such targeted lending does not constitute public spending of an anti-cyclical nature. If this directed lending were indeed anti-cyclical, then such spending is useful. However, election times do not necessarily coincide with the troughs in economic cycles. In fact, if at all possible, the incumbent government would choose to have an early election precisely when the economy is doing well (the 2004 early election recommended by the NDA government is a case in point). In other words, election times are more likely to coincide with good economic times. Public spending during election times cannot necessarily be labelled "anti-cyclical public spending". It is more likely to be pro-cyclical public spending that is purely a transfer from the taxpayers to some fortunate farmers.

What is the magnitude of the loss to the taxpayer from the political machinations indulged in by governing politicians? To estimate this amount, note that the total amount of direct credit provided to agriculture by public sector banks is more than R2,65,000 crore (figures for 2010 from IndiaStat database). Most agricultural loans are short-term credit with maturities less than one year since these are loans provided for the purchase of inputs such as fertiliser and seed. Thus, the total stock of credit is also equal to the flow of credit to agriculture in a year. Therefore, a 10% increase in the election year translates into more than R26,500 crore of public money down the drain. If we use the figures for all forms of agricultural credit (including indirect credit to agriculture as well), the loss amounts to a staggering R37,000 crore. If we go by the CBI's estimate of the loss due to the 2G scam to the national exchequer of about R50,000 crore, we lose more than three quarters of the 2G scam amount every five years. The fact that such politically motivated redirection of credit did not occur in private banks clearly pinpoints the egregiously negative effects that government ownership has on public sector banks in India.

The author is a PhD in finance from the University of Chicago and is currently faculty in finance at the Indian School of Business

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FLAWED MEDIUM AND MESSAGE

If regular elections and a constitutionally mandated separation of powers have been the traditional hallmarks of democracy, frequent and effective communication between leaders and citizens is surely a key ingredient of a modern republic. In India, however, our principal political leaders seldom speak without the prop of a prepared text. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fields questions when he travels abroad but has held only two press conferences and two interactions with editors in Delhi in the past seven years. As for interviews, he has allowed himself to be questioned by an Indian newspaper only once and never by an Indian news channel. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, too, has not really been heard from at close quarters except for the briefest of triumphal soundbites just after the Rajya Sabha passed the Women's Reservation Bill. These are extraordinary facts by any yardstick. They speak either of our leaders' lack of confidence or their lack of concern for addressing the sort of questions a democratic polity throws up from time to time. This absence of communication is made worse by the dissonance generated by disparate voices from the ruling party and government. If Dr. Singh bemoans the media helping to create an "atmosphere of cynicism" all around, he and the government and the Congress have only themselves to blame.

The Prime Minister's interaction with a small group of editors was intended to clear the air on issues like corruption but his answers will likely have the opposite effect. Dr. Singh sought refuge in the claim that the decisions for which his government is being pilloried now "post facto" were taken under conditions of "uncertainty" and that the accusations of wrongdoing and corruption would paralyse the government and discourage "entrepreneurial impulses." Nothing could be further from the truth. There was no uncertainty about true prices, for example, when bloated contracts were awarded to companies during the Commonwealth Games. And the CBI's charge sheet makes it clear that 2G spectrum was not distributed by the Telecom ministry under uncertain conditions at all: Former minister A. Raja and his associates and the companies that allegedly colluded with them knew very well what the true value of the licences were. Dr. Singh's biggest blunder, however, was to upbraid the Comptroller and Auditor General, one of the few state institutions that the public at large still has faith in. Since it is thanks to the CAG report on 2G that the criminal investigation into the telecom scam really got moving, ordinary Indians are likely to view the Prime Minister's remarks as further evidence of the unwillingness of this government to seriously tackle the problem of graft.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

ROWLING & THE FUTURE OF READING

For years J.K. Rowling refused to release e-book editions of the hugely successful Harry Potter series, citing piracy concerns. Of course, this had the opposite effect; the traffic in illegal e-copies of her seven HP novels reached record proportions. Now the author has done a complete turnaround by announcing the launch of Pottermore.com, a website that will carry digital editions of her books. While Ms Rowling's hand may have been forced, her plan is revolutionary in some critical respects and has implications for the future of digital publishing. Since Pottermore.com will be the single legal source for the HP e-books, it is likely to demonstrate that successful authors can find a way around major e-book sellers, who take a share of the profit; predictably, some have reacted with alarm to the author's initiative. The books will not be under the restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) regime, which means they will not be locked on one platform but can be accessed on a variety of electronic book reading devices; the piracy problem will be tackled by means of a digital watermark that can assist in tracking those who illegally share a purchased e-book.

Pottermore.com, which will be up and running in October 2011, has been conceived as much more than a website selling e-book editions of the HP series. Yes of course, there will be new material about the characters and places. But the real attraction of the website, on which Ms Rowling has worked for about a year in close collaboration with web developers, will be its interactivity. Expect to find illustrations, quizzes, gaming, video streaming, and meet other HP fans online. The digital revolution has already had a huge impact on the book trade, and the e-book sales have seen an explosive growth worldwide. Recently, Amazon.com, which describes itself as the "world's biggest bookstore," announced that it now sells more electronic books than print editions. But the way we read and learn in the future is also likely to be transformed, given the potential the web holds for interactivity. Last month, in a presentation that outlined his company's vision for the future, the CEO of Penguin Books, John Makinson, talked of embedding interactive content such as audio and video streaming into its e-books. Apart from providing a new kind of reading experience, such interactivity has enormous potential as a teaching and learning aid. So while Ms Rowling's new experiment may be viewed as a business venture by a phenomenally successful writer, at another level she may be a step ahead of others in foreseeing the evolution of reading.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SAUDI ARABIA'S THREE WORRIES

JASON BURKE

 

It was a very discreet meeting deep in the English countryside. The main speaker was Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia's best-known and best-connected royals. The audience was composed of senior American and British military officials. The location was RAF Molesworth, one of three bases used by American forces in the U.K. since the Second World War. Now a Nato intelligence centre focused on the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the sprawling compound amid green fields was an ideal venue for the sensitive topics that Turki, former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, wanted to raise.

After an anecdote about how Franklin D. Roosevelt was told by Winston Churchill that nothing between them or their countries should be hidden, Turki warmed to his theme: "A Saudi national security doctrine for the next decade."

For the next half an hour, the diplomat, a former ambassador to Washington and tipped to be the next foreign minister in Riyadh, entertained his audience to a sweeping survey of his country's concerns in a region seized by momentous changes. Like Churchill, Turki said, the kingdom "had nothing to hide."

Even if they wanted to, the leaders of the desert kingdom would have difficulty concealing their concern at the stunning developments across the Arab world. Few — excepting the vast revenues pouring in from oil selling at around $100 a barrel for much of the year — have brought much relief to Riyadh.

Stability

Chief among the challenges, from the perspective of the Saudi royal rulers, are the difficulties of preserving stability in the region when autocracies that have lasted for decades are falling one after another; of preserving security when the resultant chaos provides opportunities to all kinds of groups deemed enemies; of maintaining good relations with the west; and, perhaps most importantly of all, of ensuring that Iran, the bigger but poorer historic regional and religious rival just across the Gulf from Saudi Arabia's eastern provinces, does not emerge as the winner as the upheavals of the Arab spring continue into the summer.

"The [Saudi king], crown prince and government cannot ignore the Arab situations, we live the Arab situation and hope stability returns," theal-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted Prince Nayef, the second in line to the throne and Minister of the Interior, as saying in Riyadh last week.

Iran, a majority Shia state committed to a rigorous and highly politicised Islamist ideology, remains at the heart of such fears in Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Sunni state ruled by the al-Saud family since its foundation in 1932. Recent moves such as the Saudi-inspired invitation to Morocco and Jordan, both Sunni monarchies, to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of Sunni autocratic states, are seen by analysts as part of Riyadh's effort to bolster defences against Tehran. So too is the deployment of Saudi troops under the umbrella of the GCC to Bahrain, where largely Shia demonstrators took to the streets to demand greater democratic rights from the Sunni rulers.

One fear in Riyadh is that the 15 per cent or so of Saudi citizens who are Shia — and who largely live in the oil-rich eastern province — might mobilise in response to an Iranian call to arms.

"It is a kind of ideological struggle," said a Ministry of Interior official. Describing Iran as a "paper tiger" because of its "dysfunctional government ... whose hold on power is only possible if it is able, as it barely is now, to maintain a level of economic prosperity that is just enough to pacify its people," Turki, according to a copy of his speech at RAF Molesworth, said the rival state still had "steel claws", which were "effective tools ... to interfere in other countries."

This Tehran did with "destructive" consequences in countries with very large Shia communities such as Iraq, which Turki said was taking a "sectarian, Iranian-influenced direction", as well as states with smaller ones such as Kuwait and Lebanon. Until Iraq changed course, the former intelligence chief warned, Riyadh would not write off Baghdad's $20bn debts or send an ambassador.

More worryingly for western diplomats was Turki's implicit threat that if Iran looked close to obtaining nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would follow suit. "Iran [developing] a nuclear weapon would compel Saudi Arabia ... to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences," Turki said.

A senior adviser said it was "inconceivable that there would be a day when Iran had a nuclear weapon and Saudi Arabia did not".

"If they successfully pursue a military programme, we will have to follow suit," he said. For the moment, however, the prince told his audience, "sanctions [against Iran] are working" and military strikes would be "counterproductive."

One alternative, Turki told his audience, would be to "squeeze" Iran by undermining its profits from oil, explaining that this was something the Saudis, with new spare pumping capacity and deep pockets, were ideally positioned to do.

Money

Money has long been a key foreign policy tool for Saudi Arabia. Turki's speech reveals the extent to which the kingdom is relying on its wealth to buy goodwill and support allies. In Lebanon, to counter Syrian influence and the Shia Hezbollah movement, the kingdom has spent $2.5bn since 2006.

The aim of such expenditure — only a fraction of the state's $550bn reserves — is to minimise any potential ill-will towards Saudi Arabia among populations who have deposed rulers backed previously by Riyadh.

King Abdullah, who has ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005, initially backed long-term ally Hosni Mubarak, reportedly personally interceding on his behalf with President Barack Obama.

"The calculation in Riyadh is very simple: you cannot stop the Arab spring so the question is how to accommodate the new reality on the ground. So far there is no hostility to the Saudis in Tunisia, Egypt or elsewhere, popular or political," said Dr. Mustafa Alani, from the Gulf Research Centre, Dubai.

One difficult issue is that of the "unwanted house guests." Saudi Arabia has a long tradition of offering a comfortable retirement home to ex-dictators, and two of the deposed leaders — Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen — are now in the kingdom. Ben Ali is reported to have been housed in a villa on the Red Sea coast. Saleh is in a luxury hospital receiving treatment for wounds caused by the bomb that forced his flight from the country he ruled for 21 years as president, and is now under pressure from his hosts to retire permanently.

Other regional rulers are being gently pressured to ease crackdowns, in part in response to western outcry over human-rights abuses, one official said.

Yemen, however, remains a major security concern to the Saudis, who worry about the presence of Islamic militants and Shia rebels who, again, they view as proxies of Iran.

"It is very important to make sure Yemen is stable and secure and without any internal struggle," said one Interior Ministry official.

In his speech in the U.K., Turki worried that Yemen's more remote areas had become a safe haven for terrorism comparable to Pakistan's tribal areas.— ©Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

In a speech, Prince Turki al-Faisal outlines Saudi Arabia's concerns relating to the Arab spring, its foreign policies and Iran.

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 THE HINDU

OPED

THE CPC'S JOURNEY TO REINVIGORATE CHINA

What started off as a humble group of over 50 idealistic Chinese has now grown into an 80-million-strong political party, ruling over the world's most populous country. The first National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was held in Shanghai in July 1921. Thirteen delegates, including Mao Zedong, representing over 50 Party members nationwide, attended the meeting, which marked the founding of the CPC.

After nine decades, China has become the world's second largest economy under the CPC's leadership. With foreign exchange reserves totalling $3 trillion, China has become the largest creditor of the United States. China also boasts the world's largest banking, petroleum and telecommunications companies by market value.

The CPC has brought this country, with a civilisation of over 5,000 years, back to the centre of the international arena. Nevertheless, the country is facing challenges. For instance, while the per capita GDP is still around the world's 100th, corruption is still rampant in some areas.

Where will the CPC lead China to and what are the implications of China's development to the world?

Organisational construction

In September 1927, Mao Zedong decreed that every company in the revolutionary army should have a party branch, with a commissar to give political instruction to the company. This military rearrangement gave the CPC absolute control over its military forces and is considered to have had a profound impact on the Chinese revolution.

Today, such party branches are not only established in the party's strongholds, like the army, governments, universities and State-owned enterprises, but also private enterprises and foreign-owned enterprises.

An increasing number of foreign-owned enterprises in China's economically prosperous coastal cities are also forming their own party branches. For instance, Suzhou, a city in east China's Jiangsu Province, is home to more than 6,000 foreign-owned enterprises, over 1,000 of which have established their own party branches.

The party constitution stipulates that "primary Party organisations may be formed in enterprises, rural areas, government organs, schools, research institutes, communities, social organisations, companies of the People's Liberation Army and other basic units where there are at least three full Party members." By the end of 2010, the CPC had had over 3.892 million grassroots Party organisations, through which the CPC fulfils effective leadership to the country.

Prof. Zheng Yongnian, director of East Asia Institute of the National University of Singapore, said that "the successful ruling of the CPC lies in its strong mobilisation mechanism." For instance, China's success in holding Beijing Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo, as well as the efficient reconstruction in earthquake-affected areas could be attributed to the Party's strong mobilisation mechanism and its solid organisational system," said Zheng.

Before the 90th anniversary of the CPC's founding, about one million copies of a new book on the history of the Communist Party of China (1949-1978) have been sold since being published on January 11.

This year, a book, translated as "Why and How the CPC works in China," compiled by Xie Chuntao, professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, is fast becoming a bestseller. It tries to answer why the CPC can maintain vitality 90 years after its founding and more than 60 years after it came to power.

A chapter explains why the Communist Parties in the former Soviet Union and East European countries lost their ruling status, while China has not and will not.

Unlike other political powers, the CPC has never sought external expansion during its development and rise, preferring to focus on improving the country's domestic situation.

To that end, one of the CPC's greatest successes has been its alleviation of poverty. The CPC has eliminated hunger for many people in China, ensuring the Party's long-term support from t

he Chinese people. China had 26.88 million people living below the country's poverty line in 2010, compared with 250 million living in absolute poverty in 1978.

It is a great success, considering that 925 million people in the world still suffer from hunger.

However, the Party now faces the challenge of ensuring that the country's citizens live relatively comfortable lives and achieve common prosperity.

Foreign big names in politics, business and academia are no stranger to podiums at cadre schools of the CPC, but as the country grows interdependent with the outside world, their previously occasional lectures have become a compulsory course in the curriculum. CPC cadres are also going abroad for studies. The year 2011 not only marks the 90th anniversary of the CPC's founding, but the 10th anniversary for China's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

China's foreign trade soared after the WTO entry, providing momentum for its economic development. Presently, China is the world's largest exporter and second largest importer.

Globalisation is an irreversible trend. China felt the pinch of the global financial crisis as well in year 2008. To address its impact and maintain the steady and relatively fast growth of the economy, China quickly adjusted its macroeconomic policies, putting in place a package plan to boost domestic demand and stimulate economic growth.

As a result, China's economy in 2009 and 2010 maintained steady and relatively fast growth and contributed to the economic recovery of the region and the world. China is now facing challenges as well, such as transforming the economic development mode, bridging the yawning income gap, maintaining social stability and harmony. That will be new contributions to the world, if the challenges are overcome, said Zheng.

On development

"Development is the absolute principle," late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said during his famous inspection tour of south China in 1992. The motto has been working and will still work. It is expected that under the leadership of CPC, China in future will seek more balanced development, or say scientific development in domestic issues, while continuing to seek peaceful development in international affairs.

The country's planned economy worked for some time, but its flaws created obstacles for China's development. The mixed functions of government and enterprises, egalitarianism in distribution, and other problems resulted in low industrial efficiency, low agricultural output and stagnant living standards.

China officially abolished grain coupons in 1993, a milestone in its shift from being a planned economy to being a market economy. The CPC explicitly stated that it would create a socialist market economy at its 14th National Congress in October 1992. Observers believe this reflected the CPC's flexibility and innovation at the time.

In dogmatic views of communism, market economies are considered to be specific to capitalism. Even discussing market economics was taboo at one time.

However, Deng, in his 1992 tour, said "planned economies are not equivalent to socialism, because there is also planning under capitalism. Market economies are not equivalent to capitalism, because there are markets under socialism as well. Planning and marketing are both economic means." Deng, who is widely regarded as the chief architect of China's period of reform and opening-up, greatly boosted efforts for the reformation of China's economic system with his remarks. However, the creation of a market economy under China's existing socialist structure was an arduous task.

A main feature of the country's socialist market economy is the joint impact of the government and the market itself. In socialist market economies, the government uses macro-level control mechanisms to restrain the spontaneity and blindness of the market. This feature allowed China to withstand the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, Ding Yuanzhu, deputy director of the Department of Policy-Making Consultation of the Chinese Academy of Governance, said.

The creation of a socialist market economy had an incredible effect on the country's development. China's GDP ballooned from 2.4 trillion yuan in 1992 to 39.8 trillion yuan in 2010. China's international status and the living standard of its people improved accordingly.

However, some economic experts have said that market-oriented reforms in some key areas have yet to be completed. They say that the CPC needs greater wisdom and a broader vision in order to allow the country to continue to develop in the face of complicated international situations. "The root cause of some of the problems that China now faces is the inadequacy of market-based reforms, which has left systemic problems unsolved. It is important to improve the way these reforms are designed, including market system reforms," Ding said.

Experts believe that the CPC has the ability to draw on collective wisdom in the face of challenges, adapt to changes and implement its decisions with efficiency. Despite the challenges facing it, the CPC will advance its reforms by using a practical, flexible and open-minded style of governance.

"The success of the socialist market economy is an important contribution to the world. It was made by the Chinese people under the CPC's leadership," said Prof. Xie Chuntao in the book "Why and How the CPC Works in China." —Xinhua

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China's founding.

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THE HINDU

LOKPAL BILL AND THE PRIME MINISTER

ANIL DIVAN

The Indian citizenry is up in arms against corruption at the highest levels of government. Anna Hazare's movement has caught the people's imagination. The former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has pitched in and called upon the youth to start a mass movement against corruption under the banner "What can I give?" (The Hindu, June 27, 2011).

According to a CRISIL report (The Hindu, June 29, 2011), inflation has caused the Indian public to be squeezed to the extent of Rs. 2.3 lakh crores. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the estimate of loss to the exchequer owing to the 2G spectrum scam is Rs. 1.22 lakh crores.

That corruption is a disease consuming the body politic is a fear expressed by dignitaries in India over many years. As far back as 1979, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer observed in a judgment in his inimitable style: "Fearless investigation is a 'sine qua non' of exposure of delinquent 'greats' and if the investigative agencies tremble to probe or make public the felonies of high office, white-collar offenders in the peaks may be unruffled by the law. An independent investigative agency to be set in motion by any responsible citizen is a desideratum."

Mark the words:fearless investigationby an independent investigative agency against delinquent 'greats'. A good Lokpal bill has to be nothing less.

It is in this context that this article addresses the issue of whether the Prime Minister should be brought under the ambit of an Ombudsman (Lokpal) and be subject to its scrutiny. It is important to observe that in most of the Lokpal bills, including the 2010 government draft (except the 1985 version), the Prime Minister is within the ambit of the Lokpal.

The Constitution

Under the Indian Constitution there is no provision to give immunity to the Prime Minister, Chief Ministers or Ministers. Under Article 361, immunity from criminal proceedings is conferred on the President and the Governor (formerly the Rajpramukh) only "during his term of office."

So what is the principle behind such immunity being given? The line is clearly drawn. Constitutional heads who do not directly exercise executive powers are given immunity as heads of state. Active politicians such as Ministers, who cannot remain aloof from the hurly-burly of electoral and party politics, ethical or unethical, honest or corrupt, are not given any immunity. They are subject to penal laws and criminal liability.

The basic structure of the Constitution clearly denies immunity to the Prime Minister.

Internal Emergency

During the period of the Internal Emergency (1975-77), Indira Gandhi enjoyed dictatorial powers. She detained without trial prominent Opposition leaders and was supported by a captive and rump Parliament.

The Constitution (Fortieth Amendment) Bill was moved in, and passed by, the Rajya Sabha in August 1975 and later it was to go before the Lok Sabha. The Bill was blacked out from the media and hence very few people knew about it. It never became law because it was not moved in the Lok Sabha.

The Bill sought to amend Article 361 by substituting sub-clause (2) thus: "(2) No criminal proceedings whatsoever, against or concerning a person who is or has been the President or the Prime Minister or the Governor of a State, shall lie in any court, or shall be instituted or continued in any court in respect of any act done by him,whether before he entered upon his office or during his term of officeas President or Prime Minister or Governor of a State, as the case may be, and no process whatsoever including process for arrest or imprisonment shall issue from any court against such person in respect of any such act."

The attempt to give life-time immunity from criminal proceedings for acts done during and even prior to assuming office, of the President, the Governor and additionally the Prime Minister, did not materialise.

Foreign jurisdictions

In Japan, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka (July 1972 to December 1974) was found guilty of bribery and sentenced. In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was indicted in corruption scandals in August 2009. In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi enacted, through a pliant legislature, a law by which he shielded himself from prosecution. The Italian Constitutional Court recently invalidated crucial parts of that law, which may result in his trial being revived.

The following are some of the main arguments against bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal's scrutiny. The first one runs thus: "The simple answer is, if the Prime Minister is covered under ordinary law (the Prevention of Corruption Act), you don't need him covered under Lokpal." This is a view that has been attributed to the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma (Hindustan Times, June 27, 2011). Any misconduct by a Prime Minister can be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation: this view is that of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa (The Hindu, June 28, 2011). This objection concedes the principle that the Prime Minister is not immune from criminal liability and can be investigated, but argues and assumes that the Prevention of Corruption Act and the CBI present effective existing alternative procedures. Nothing could be farther from the truth and the ground realities.

What is the ground reality? First, the CBI, the premier anti-corruption investigative agency, is under the Department of Personnel and Training, which is controlled by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Secondly, the career prospects of CBI officers and other personnel are dependent on the political executive, and all officers are subject to transfer except the Director. Thus, the investigative arm is controlled by the 'political suspects' themselves. Thirdly, the Single Directive, a secret administrative directive that was invalidated by the Supreme Court in the Jain hawala case in 1997 (Vineet Narain v. Union of India) has been legislatively revived. Consequently, under Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, the CBI is disabled from starting an inquiry or investigation against Joint Secretary or higher level bureaucrats without the Central government's prior approval. Therefore, the Prevention of Corruption Act is a non-starter against Ministers and high-level bureaucrats who may act in concert. It is imperative that the CBI's anti-corruption wing be brought under the Lokpal and not under the PMO. This alone would meet the test of an independent and fearless investigative agency as enunciated by Justice Krishna Iyer.

Secondly, it is argued that if the Prime Minister is within its ambit, the Lokpal could be used by foreign powers to destabilise the government. Today, the checks on the executive government are the higher judiciary, which has actively intervened in the 2G spectrum scam and other scams; the CAG, whose reports against the functioning of the telecommunications sector triggered investigations into scams; the Election Commission headed by the Chief Election Commissioner, which conducted elections in West Bengal in the most efficient and orderly fashion. All these authorities could be undermined by a foreign power. Why should the Lokpal alone be the target of a foreign power? Why not the intelligence and defence services? Why not leaks from Cabinet Ministers and their offices — bugged or not?

Thirdly, it is argued that bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal's scrutiny would mean a parallel government being put in place. This objection is disingenuous. Do the Supreme Court and the higher judiciary constitute a parallel government? Is the CAG a parallel government? Is the CEC a parallel government? Is the CBI a parallel government? The answer is clear. These constitute checks and restraints on the political executive and the administration so that public funds are not misappropriated and constitutional democracy and citizen rights are not subverted. The Lokpal will be under the Constitution and subject to judicial review, and it is imperative that the anti-corruption wing of the CBI be brought under the Lokpal. There is no question of any parallel government. The Lokpal will be only a check on the corrupt activities of the Executive. If all checks and balances are to be regarded as the marks of a parallel government and therefore abolished, it will be a recipe for dictatorship.

William Shakespeare wrote: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." There is a tide in the affairs of this country and there is a great opportunity to promote good governance through a powerful and independent Ombudsman. India's economic reforms, for which the Prime Minister deserves approbation, should not be derailed at the altar of scams and corruption. Will his leadership ride on the tide of fortune and take the country forward to greater heights?

(Anil Divan is a Senior Advocate, and president of the Bar Association of India. E-mail: abdsad@airtelmail.in)

When the basic structure of the Constitution denies the Prime Minister immunity from prosecution, how could it be argued that

the office should not be brought under the scrutiny of the Lokpal?

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THE HINDU

FROM FIG LEAF TO BANANA REPUBLIC

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

In his interaction with a group of editors, Dr. Manmohan Singh made a number of arguments to justifythe half-hearted action that has been taken against the politicians, officials and businessmen suspectedof corruption.— PHOTO: PTI

The Prime Minister and his advisors just don't get it. At a time when the public is looking for an end to the loot of public money, the last thing they want to hear from their government is a bunch of excuses and alibis.

In his interaction with a small group of editors on Wednesday, Dr. Manmohan Singh made a number of arguments to justify the half-hearted action that has been taken so far against the politicians, officials and businessmen suspected of corruption in the telecom, hydrocarbon and other sectors.

First he said the decisions which the media and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) are citing as evidence of irregularities and graft were all taken in good faith under conditions of uncertainty. "If out of 10 decisions that I take, seven turn out to be right ex-post, that would be considered an excellent performance," he said. "But if you have a system which is required to perform [in] 10 out of 10 cases, no system can be effective and satisfy that onerous condition."

His second argument was to attack all bearers of bad tidings, accusing the CAG of going beyond the limits prescribed by Constitution and the media of being judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. The Prime Minister then invoked the spectre of India becoming a police state — a situation "where everybody is policing everybody else" and the entrepreneurial spirit of our businessmen is crushed — if the present atmosphere of "cynicism" about government decisions continued. Finally, he sought to puncture the popular demand for a strong and effective Lokpal, saying an ombudsman of that kind was not a panacea. Instead, he suggested the government's Unique ID programme might be the magic wand people are looking for: "If … [we] can give unique ID numbers to all our residents, we would have discovered a new pathway to eliminate the scope for corruption and leakages in the management and distribution of various subsidies."

Taken together, these arguments tell us not only how far the government is from reality but also how divorced the Congress and its leaders are from the political pulse of the country.

2G spectrum issue

To begin with, it is doubtful whether any of the decisions which have proved this government's undoing were taken under conditions of uncertainty. Let us consider the 2G spectrum allocation issue. Dr. Singh knew the decision to auction spectrum was questionable. Like a risk-averse bureaucrat, however, he recorded his objections on paper before letting the Telecom Minister, A. Raja, have his way. What he forgot, of course, was that he was not a bureaucrat but a Prime Minister and a top-notch economist to boot. Economics teaches us that whether the government prices spectrum properly or not, the market will. Any scarce asset allocated preferentially is bound to change hands until its true value is realised. This, in essence, was what the 2G scam was all about. As an economist, Dr. Singh would surely have suspected that selling spectrum for less than its market value would generate rent seeking behaviour by both the Minister and the telecom industry. And as Prime Minister, he had the administrative and investigative wherewithal to nip this corruption in the bud. Dr. Singh now says he shouldn't be blamed for not acting on the basis of newspaper reports. But there was a context to those reports which he knew only too well, since he had already red-flagged Mr. Raja's decision to avoid an open auction. The minute the stories surfaced of the Telecom Ministry cherry-picking companies for the coveted licenses, alarm bells should have started ringing in his office. Dr. Singh should have gone, "Aha! I knew he was up to something." But he kept his counsel. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) eventually got around to raiding the Telecom Ministry but made no headway whatsoever for several months. It was only when the CAG report documented in cold print the theft which had taken place that the government realised inaction was no longer a viable political strategy. But even as the CBI moved finally to make arrests, the Congress party attacked the CAG for over-reaching itself. While Dr. Singh did well not to repeat the folly of Kapil Sibal's "zero loss" theory, he did accuse the constitutionally-mandated auditing watchdog of overstepping its mandate. Curiously, he also faulted the CAG for holding a press conference, even though it has done so in the past and there is a ruling of the Madras High Court upholding its right to speak directly to the public after a report has been tabled.

CAG

If his attack on the CAG was uncalled for, the Prime Minister's warning about corruption accusations turning the country into a virtual police state is likely to leave many people shaking their heads in disbelief. The police and intelligence agencies have snooped and spied and harassed innocent citizens and political activists throughout the country for decades without any one in authority ever worrying about the consequences. But the minute the voice of a Ratan Tata or a Mukesh Ambani is heard on a tapped telephone, or senior executives from some of India's biggest private companies are arrested for having paid bribes, the cry goes out that we are on the verge of becoming a "banana republic," that we are bringing back the bad old days of the "license permit raj." Dr. Singh's lament may go down well in corporate boardrooms but not with the crores of ordinary Indians who are demanding accountability and transparency in the functioning of their government.

Of course the Lokpal is not a panacea (nor indeed is the UID) but the government's aversion to accepting the proposals made by various civil society representatives would be more credible if it were backed by a clear will to tackle corruption. So far, that will is lacking. In his interaction with the editors, the Prime Minister said he was not a lame duck. Sadly, the excuses he trotted out on corruption were.

Nobody sheds a tear when the police harass ordinary citizens. But with the rich

and powerful under the corruption scanner, the Prime Minister now fears

a police state.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

LET PM SPEAK TO COUNTRY DIRECTLY

Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had a scholarly command of some half a dozen Indian and foreign languages but did not speak to his fellow citizens in any one of them. Many believe that this contributed not a little to his political downfall as he declined to take the people into confidence on key questions, Ayodhya being a good example. On this, he salvaged his reputation in considerable measure when he rendered a masterly speech in Parliament on India's civilisational ethos, and the political, social, historical and philosophical underpinnings of Indian secularism.

But this came too late in the day to matter in electoral terms. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not in the same league when it comes to reticence, although it is a matter of chagrin that for months he kept up a stoical silence even as his government was being pilloried on runaway prices (which hurt the poor the most), and on corruption that began to take a toll at the Cabinet level and has now come to preface any discussion — informed or otherwise — on governance. At last Dr Singh went public after many months when he met a few newspaper editors on Wednesday. But has he spoken to the country?
In the soft interaction with editors, he asserted he was not a "lame duck" Prime Minister, that he enjoyed the confidence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi (to whom he made warm references) and the rest of the party, that he had a job to do as long as he remained in the PM's chair, although he had little difficulty with younger people taking charge and would happily leave if his party asked him to. The PM had expressed much the same sentiments in February when he chose to have a chat with a few prominent television anchors. And yet, the sense would not abate that he was shying of taking the country into confidence.
Wednesday's session with newspaper editors addressed the price issue only in passing when the PM said inflation would drop to about six per cent (from the current nine per cent) by March next year if international oil prices fell and other commodity prices did not rise. This does not count as reassurance. The government needs to intervene now, and its head was supposed to give some idea of the effective steps he might take to alleviate the conditions in which the vast majority of our population lives, who are now groaning under the weight of ever-rising prices. Similarly, the PM was expected to pronounce himself with authority on the institutional and constitutional dimensions of the silly — even dangerous — demands being made by some groups on the Lokpal question and black money. But the PM only said he was willing to submit himself at the personal level to the proposed Lokpal's jurisdiction, but was being advised by his Cabinet colleagues that such a step might lead to political instability. This is regrettably sketchy as well as skittish. The country needs a more elaborate enunciation of the key issues at stake that might help lead the debate in the run-up to the introduction of a Lokpal Bill in Parliament.
It is evident that the Prime Minister seized the opportunity to be sharp on the media and the CAG — institutions which have been critical of the functioning of the UPA-2 government (fortunately he excluded the courts); although it has been repeatedly underlined that the PM"s own conduct has consistently been above suspicion. This is a pity. Dr Singh apparently intends to meet editors more often, but the way to go is to offer himself up for interrogation at frequent press conferences, and to address the substance of sensitive issues through public speeches, as leaders are wont to.

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THE ASIAN AGE

WAR IS WEARY OF KABUL

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

Over the centuries, Britons have acquired the ability to laugh at themselves — particularly when the going gets rough. When he was the British foreign secretary's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles had an enlarged cartoon hung in his office. It showed an elderly man, just out of bed and drawing the curtains to let the light in while his wife looks on with her cup of morning tea.

The caption read: "Another day, another Afghan strategy".
Cowper-Coles, who also served as Britain's ambassador in Kabul, has reproduced this self-deprecating cartoon in his very telling Cables from Kabul, published earlier this summer in London. What is interesting and obvious is how the cartoon, presumably published some three years ago, hasn't dated. Ten years into a war that initially promised a cakewalk victory, the US-led Nato forces have successfully converted effortless triumph into ignominious retreat. The latest Afghan strategy unveiled by US President Barack Obama earlier in June nullifies the so-called "surge" approach of Gen. McChrystal — a thinking officer who got the sack after an indiscreet interview he gave to Rolling Stone where he questioned his Commander-in-Chief's interest in Afghan matters.
The US generals are right to question their President's application of mind but the problem isn't limited to one man's disinterest. If Mr Obama has more time for climate change than he has for Afghanistan, he is merely reflecting his overall weariness with a place they neither understand nor cared for. The White House wants to leave Afghanistan to god and anarchy because the American people don't have the stomach to stay on and fight. As far as a tired US military establishment is concerned, the death of Osama bin Laden means that there is at least a credible reason to return home without winning the war.
At one time, the British were said to be the repository of accumulated Western wisdom on the mysterious Orient. Certainly, distinguished members of the Indian Civil Service such as Sir Mortimer Durand and Sir Olaf Caroe and politicians such as Lord Curzon played the Great Game with aplomb. However, more than 50 years after the disengagement from Empire, even Britain appears to have been infected by the same "health and safety" mindset that has undermined its economic competitiveness. In an earlier age, a Conservative Prime Minister would have done anything to revive Britain's importance in the land mass between the Suez Canal and India. Reflecting the public mood, David Cameron is in no position to cajole Britain into accepting additional imperial responsibilities. A Britain that — if the Cowper-Coles story is to be believed — had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to organise a chartered aircraft to ferry President Hamid Karzai to Britain and back for a "Guest of Government" visit, wasn't in any state of mind to invest in Afghanistan's future.
For the West, investment was often calculated in purely financial terms. Over the years, mind-boggling sums are said to have been "invested" in Afghanistan. It is said that the government in Kabul generates revenues of nearly $80 million annually and receives 40 times more in foreign aid (including a fair amount from India). Today, as the time to desert Afghanistan approaches, the West is kicking itself for throwing vast sums of money down a bottomless pit and leaving few tangible assets that will outlive the conflict.
It is difficult to compress the reasons for this failure of "development" in a few sentences. When the many thousands of aid consultants engaged by big donor countries put their heads together for a future post-mortem they will identify many villains: a trigger-happy occupation force, an equally trigger-happy Taliban that is wary of economic progress, a corrupt political dispensation nurtured by Mr Karzai, etc. It is highly unlikely that the development consultants (on whom an estimated 40 per cent of the aid money was spent) will perceive themselves as being a major part of the problem.
Yet, the first thing that struck anyone visiting Kabul after 2002 was the fact that Afghanistan was experiencing something akin to what is best described as "radical colonialism". It was radical insofar as the thrust was towards the creation of modern institutions and a modern economic infrastructure. However, since the priorities were determined by foreign experts alone, the system was also colonial. If the money spent on the foreign experts had been spent on making the salaries of the Afghan Army, police and bureaucrats more rewarding, the state of Afghanistan would have been very different.
On my first day in Kabul some four years ago, I attended a party at the old UN complex in Kabul. The crowd was fairly cosmopolitan and young but the only Afghan present was the waiter. In his book, Cowper-Coles has reaffirmed my impressions of a skewed development process by mentioning that the two Afghan bearers attached to him provided him a sense of the vox populi. No wonder Mr Karzai's attitude towards the West's efforts turned from enthusiasm to prickliness to outright hostility. The innate nationalism of Mr Karzai made him see red at the sheer effrontery of European diplomats and trouble-shooters deciding what's good and what's unacceptable to Afghanistan. India escaped relatively unaffected by the Afghan nationalist backlash because its aid programme was linked to government ministries run by Afghans.
It is this imperial attitude that may explain why the endgame is unlikely to be smooth. The West wants to control the process of engagement with the Taliban, and is even willing to outsource part of the process to Pakistan. Earlier, it was insistent that the starting point of the initiative was an acceptance of the Afghan Constitution. Now as the deadline for departure comes closer, it is no longer that sure. Yet, what remains a constant feature of the attempts to woo the Taliban is that there is no attempt to devolve the responsibility for peace-making to the Karzai Government.
The failure in Afghanistan was caused by the West's unwillingness to trust the Afghan people.

The author is a senior journalist

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THE ASIAN AGE

1953: A Kashmir story

Jagmohan

It was 58 years ago, on June 23, that Syama Prasad Mookerjee died as a detainee of the state government in the Srinagar Camp Jail at the relatively young age of 51. He had gone there to protest against a system under which even Indian citizens, including the President of India, could not enter, without a permit, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, despite it being a part of the Union.

To highlight its gross unfairness and anachronism, Mookerjee defied the system on May 11, 1953. Arrested, he remained in detention —without trial — till his death in circumstances that have remained unclear till date.
Following this tragedy, a wave of public anger swept the country. Bengal was particularly incensed. Mookerjee's funeral procession was the biggest gathering ever seen in Kolkata. In his letter of June 29, Atulya Ghosh warned Jawaharlal Nehru: "The public feeling in our state has risen very high".
Soon after Mookerjee's death, his mother, Jogmaya Devi, posed a poignant question to Prime Minister Nehru: "Had my son, a citizen of India, a member of the House of People, a leader of Opposition, no fundamental right to enter Kashmir without any obstruction from any quarter?" This question alone raised the level of national consciousness so high that no government, howsoever insensitive, could afford to maintain the status quo. Soon thereafter, the permit system was abolished and the need for establishing a just and meaningful relationship between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India gained both earnestness and urgency.
An able administrator, a skilful parliamentarian and a firm believer in building a strong and united India, Mookerjee stood out as a stalwart of the 1946-53 era. Despite differences in outlook and attachment to different political philosophies, Nehru and Mookerjee had respect for each other and remained in the same Cabinet for a number of years. It was in April 1950 that Mookerjee resigned from the Union Cabinet on the issue of harsh treatment accorded to the minorities in East Pakistan. But the impact of his powerful intellect and animated leadership continued on the national scene. He was fearless to a fault and never hesitated to call a spade a spade.
Mookerjee was the first to sense Abdullah's hidden ambition to bring about a virtual sheikhdom of his own. In a letter written about four months before his death, he told Abdullah in no uncertain words: "You are now developing a three-nation theory, the third being the 'Kashmir nation'. These are dangerous symptoms and not good for your state or the whole of India". On May 21, 1952, he also posed a pertinent question to Nehru in Parliament: "Are Kashmiris Indians first and Kashmiris next, or are they Kashmiris first and Indians next, or are they Kashmiris first, second and third and not Indian at all?" There was no reply. Mookerjee quipped: "Nehru claims to have discovered India. But he has yet to discover his mind".
Grant of special status to Jammu and Kashmir was anathema to Mookerjee. He deplored government's lack of clarity on the subject. On August 7, 1952, he asked the Prime Minister: "Was Sheikh Abdullah not a party to the Constitution of India? Did he not accept this Constitution in relation to the rest of India, including about 562 Princely States? If it is good enough for all of them, why should it not be good enough for him in Kashmir?" Elaborating, he said: "Suppose some sort of fulfilment of the pledge that we are thinking of so literally in relation to Kashmir was demanded by other states, would we have agreed to give that? We would not have, because that would have destroyed India".
Mookerjee denounced the tendency of labelling the critics of the government policy on Kashmir as non-secular and narrow-minded. He once commented in the Lok Sabha: "The Prime Minister said the other day that even if Kashmir had not acceded to India when it was attacked by raiders, the Indian Army, on humanitarian grounds, could have marched to Kashmir and protected the distressed and oppressed. If I make a similar statement, I am a communalist, I am a reactionary. I am a war-monger!"
Mookerjee cautioned Parliament: "If you just want to play with the wind and say we are helpless and let Sheikh Abdullah do what he likes, then Kashmir will be lost. I say this with great deliberation, that Kashmir will be lost." Parliament, unfortunately, did not rise to the occasion. It let the then Prime Minister do what clearly had seeds for future troubles.
And these troubles came in abundance. The Delhi Agreement, arrived at between Nehru and Abdullah in July 1952, proved largely one-sided. The provisions of this agreement included the abolition of hereditary rulership, the election of a constitutional head of state, Sadar-i-Riyasat, by the state Assembly from among the state subjects, denial of citizenship rights to non-state subjects and the flying of a separate flag for the state. Sorely disappointed, Mookerjee lent his powerful support to the Jammu-Praja-Parishad agitation and raised it to all-India level. The main plank of this agitation was that "in one country, two Constitutions; in one country two flags; in one country two Prime Ministers;" would not be tolerated. About the flag, Mookerjee's lament was particularly sharp: "You cannot have a divided loyalty. It is not a question of 50-50. It is not a question of parity".
The special status to the state has also caused acute resentment amongst the people of Jammu and Ladakh. They think that this status has enabled the Kashmiri leadership to establish its hegemony over them. For example, they nurse a long-standing grievance that, under the cover of Article 370 and the state Constitution, decisions have been so manipulated by the leaders of the Valley that the power structure in the state has permanently tilted in favour of the Kashmir region. In this regard, it has been frequently pointed out that for the Lok Sabha, Jammu returns one member for every 1.5 million people, while Kashmir sends one representative for every 1.1 million. In the 2008 Assembly elections, 30,84,417 voters in the Jammu region elected 37 members of legislative Assembly (MLAs) at 83,263 apiece, while 32,60,663 voters in the Kashmir region elected 46 MLAs at 70,884 apiece, thereby giving disproportionately higher representation to the Valley in the state Assembly. Likewise, the people of Ladakh, too, have been complaining that, instead of being made "free sons of free India", they have been thrown "at the mercy of the Kashmiris".
What is worse, Abdullah proved insincere even to Nehru who had travelled miles to accommodate him. Nehru was shocked when he discovered that his "loyal friend" was seeking the support of the Anglo-American block for an independent Kashmir. He was left with no option but to have Abdullah removed from the scene. But much damage had already been done. And, unfortunately, the fallout of this damage still continues.

The author is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister

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THE ASIAN AGE

3 FABLES & A MORAL

SHIV VISVANATHAN

Education is a social drama that expresses many of the tensions in our society. Unfortunately, it polarises many of these battles into either-or situations without realising that many of these oppositions are invitations for negotiation. The system turns the battles between excellence-relevance, mobility-justice, growth-diversity, centralisation-decentralisation

into do or die battles where diversity gets destroyed. Polarisation is hardly the way of syncretic cultures that combine and mix ideas in creative ways.
The minister for education reveals the illiteracy of such linear thinking. His ministry has enforced the ruling that a BEd degree is essential for teachers. Virtually all those who lack this qualification are being forced to acquire one or drop out of teaching.
I admit standards are important. They help assure basic minimum quality but a standardisation that becomes a fetish destroys diversity, threatens alternatives, fetters the imagination. Some of the best experiments in education have been conducted by alternative schools and social movements, by creative people who had no claim to a BEd degree. These experiments in education have ranged across the social spectrum. The presence of experimental schools for the rich and poor conveys a plurality of perspectives. A stupid standardisation order will strangle this innovation, destroy the eccentricity of these movements. Our bureaucrats, drunk on the magic of growth and numbers, may not even recognise the tragedy they have created. But this is a tragedy that governance and development are creating repeatedly. Development that eliminates diversity is lethal. I want to generalise this point by considering three conversations.
The first story is about Ela Bhatt, a remarkable activist, who founded Self Employed Women's Association (Sewa), the world's largest trade union for women. It has strength of 1.2 million people. Ms Bhatt also works for the Council of Elders, a peace group with Carter, Bishop Tutu and Mary Robinson as members.
For Ms Bhatt, a critique of development demands a theory of peace. She argued that the current notion of peace is based on dichotomies that make no sense, where the whole is less than the sum of the parts. A peace of nation states is a peace hatched by men. Recurrent peace is a policeman's model of security and stability. It is a policing operation where you police not just dissent but the categories at the centre of the world.
A housewife thinks differently. A poor housewife cooks, cleans and lives on waste work with recipes, not formulas. It is a pragmatic act of living. Her collective models of coping present a critique of development. To break development, you have to de-economise economics, think of the market in a different way, give to subsistence a dignity that economics is indifferent to. A rag-picking woman moving across the city collecting waste and fuel is an economic life world that development does not understand.
Ms Bhatt added that our economists are sweet, good boys but their manners, their mathematics and their models are an insult to the world of the housewife.
My next fable is around my encounters with C.V. Seshadri, one of India's great chemists and engineers. He asked me one day to think of the forest. Why is it that when we apply modern science, modern economics, the tribal loses to the paper industry? Think of the notions of time that are lost in the decision. Once a forest is considered as that many logs of wood, that many tonnes of timber, the forest and the tribal and the worlds they embody disappear.
For Mr Seshadri, to break development, you have to break the epistemologies of development, the notions of efficiency, economy, the sense of science stemming from a Judeo-Christian world view.
Development was a Trojan horse that colonialism left behind, where Mountbatten yielded to the softer tyranny of Truman. For Mr Seshadri, to critique development as a mode of knowledge one must recreate the anthropology of innovation chains, the alphabet of development. One has to ask what is the genocidal quotient of development as obsolescence, displacement, of erasure as violence destroying diversity of worlds we may not recover.
My third fable comes from my old friend U.R. Ananthamurthy, one of India's greatest storytellers.
For Mr Ananthamurthy, development as discourse is a failed literary text, a bowdlerised discourse, where Charles Lamb erases Shakespeare, or makes Blake irrelevant. Development is bowdlerised history. It invokes creativity but all it offers is a theory of innovation, a guided managerialism. It has no epiphany. The banality of development is but part of a class of wider banalities and it needs to be unravelled.
He used a word from a Kannada poem. Development, he claimed, has no bhoota. Bhoota implies a ghost, it evokes a living point, suggests the life in a seed. Development has no language of diversity. Once you accept development and globalisation, then with Bruno Latour you can claim that "diversity is a left-over gathered together in a museum, a reserve or a hospital. Then anthropology becomes a theory of left-overs; the more exotic the better". Diversity in a development model has no prior claim to being.
Development has no dialects. It creates language as a stencil, imposing its reality on other worlds. Development for him is like catechism, a written text. Instead of reciting its civics, one has to challenge the language of salvation behind it.
Three different stories. Three different perspectives of development. How do we use them as lenses to break into the development discourse? The three voices I spoke about are ethical voices, marginal voices, each of whom felt that the 9/11 at the heart of America has become 9/11 as the soul of the world.
This is the tragedy one has to battle. It needs not an obsession with numbers and pie charts but a sense of the story. When these alternative experiments are destroyed, a story dies, a way of life disappears. This is the ultimate sadness we have to contend with in our obsession with development. The knowledge of development has no sense of her as citizen, an economist, as survivor who thrives on diversity.

The author is a social scientist

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FULFILLING COMMITMENT

 

For some time in the past, the State Congress has been showing signs of a divided house. It has virtually split into two factions, not because of any serious and consequential ideological difference but as manifestation of personality cult. Differences of perceptions and approach are not unknown to political parties. The bigger the party with very large constituencies, the bigger and more complicated are differences among the leaders. This is considered a sign of health. But since they are required to stick to democratic norms, the differences have to be ironed out and consensus of opinion is built on major policy issues concerning the state. Factionalism in state Congress was clearly manifest when both the functions organized separate functions in Jammu commemorating the death anniversary of the father of the nation. Undoubtedly this was in a bad taste as it disappointed all nationalistic elements in the civil society. Such open rivalry and its aftermath in the shape of one faction bringing its complaints to the Congress high command was something unprecedented in the history of the State Congress.
J&K is a very sensitive state in terms of domestic politics. Since Congress has been at the helm of affairs in the country for a long time, it is number one mainstream political party that is expected to be equipped with deep and wide knowledge of the rather uneasy situation in the State. With this assumption, it seems rather naïve for the State Congress to be indulging in a blame game or one-upmanship so as to score a point over the other. The history of J&K State, especially with reference to accession and the post-independence period is closely linked with Congress Party. As such, nobody expects the State Congress to be insensitive to this situation.
As Omar Abdullah-led coalition is to complete three years in January next year, some voices within the Congress fold were raised in favour or rotational chief minister. These voices favoured that Congress as the largest coalition partner after NC stake claim to lead the coalition for the remaining three years. They seem to have borrowed the idea from Congress' experience and experiment with the preceding coalition government led by PDP. But those who raised the demand of rotation forgot that there was a commitment by the Congress High Command to let NC-led coalition complete the full term of six years in office and not ask for rotation. This is precisely what the Prime Minister said when he was recently replying questions at a press meet in the capital. He not only made it clear that the commitment would be adhered to but also endorsed it by reference to the Congress chief who had endorsed full term stay in office for Omar Abdullah. This clarification should silence the voices that have fed baseless speculations of a change in the Government. The point is that once the commitment has been made, and made after due thought, it has to be fulfilled come what may. With the clear cut assent given by the PM, Omar Abdullah should put all his force behind his programmes and plans of taking the state onwards on its march to prosperity and development. Panchayat elections become meaningful only if Panchayats are empowered in letter and in spirit to contribute towards the progress of the state. There are ambitious plans of power generation, employment generation, of expansion of education and eradication of corruption. Omar Abdullah's claim to complete term will be justified if his Government is able to deliver in these areas. He has received the highest plan allocations so far to the tune of 6600 crore plus another 2000 crore from Prime Minister's fund for the fiscal year 2011-12. On that count he has at his hands all wherewithals to see to it that all projects are undertaken and brought to completion within the stipulated time. The centre has conducted in-depth study of unrest among the youth in the valley and has come out with various remedial measures touching at almost all aspects of life. It is for the Chief Minister to make most fruitful use of conveniences provided. The major task before him is to change the mindset of the people so that it no more entertains misleading propaganda unleashed by our enemies.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT

 

One of the things that make me very angry is the sight of bags of food grain rotting in the open. It reminds me every time that 45% of India's children are malnourished which translated into more simple language means that every second Indian child goes to bed hungry at night. This shameful fact made the Supreme Court angry enough to demand that the government distribute the food grain to the poor rather than let it rot in the open or be eaten by rats. Unfortunately, the Government of India referred the matter to Sonia Gandhi's kitchen cabinet, the National Advisory Council, who have come up with another one of their amateur solutions in the form of a Food Security bill that, when implemented, will do no more than create fresh channels of corruption. Keep in mind that, according to most experts, more than 60% of food grain distributed through the Public Distribution System ends up in the wrong hands and you will understand what I mean. Sonia's NAC plans to use this very leaky distribution network to distribute its free food grain. Surely it would have been wiser to suggest a more effective way of distribution before pouring more food grain into a system that leaks like a sieve?
Last week when the monsoon reached northern India we saw pictures on television of huge stacks of grain rotting in the open and once more. Our news channels have played a stellar role in highlighting this shameful waste of our rice and wheat supplies. Looking at the pictures I found myself not just angry but seriously puzzled about why we cannot build enough warehouses. My brother is a farmer in Haryana where 20,000 tonnes of wheat lies in the open because the Food Corporation of India has not managed yet to transport out of its limited warehouses more than 80,000 tonnes of rice stocks. According to a recent story in the Indian Express stocks of food grain lying in the open across the country has doubled in the past three years while the FCI's covered storage facilities have remained the same in more than five years.
To find out why it is so hard to build warehouses I rang my brother and asked him to make some inquiries. He is well connected with local farmers in his village and with other people in the agricultural community so it did not take him long to find out that one of the reasons why we build warehouses at such a slow pace is because to build one you need a license and to get a license you need to pay a bribe. This piece of information interested me and I made further inquiries that revealed that the biggest problem in Indian agriculture is that the license raj continues to be alive and well. There have been no attempts to end the license raj because over the past sixty years huge vested interests have developed in the limitless channels of corruption that the license raj generates. It is really no different to the state of Indian industry before the economic reforms began in 1991. Except for one grim difference. Industrial licenses strangled enterprise and kept India poor but it did not cause starvation and suicides. The license raj in agriculture could lead to farmers giving up farming for other jobs and then who would grow the wheat and rice for us?
If you think this is an exaggeration pay attention to the figures I am about to give you. They come from Haryana where there is irrigated land widely available and even here the most that a farmer can make out of an acre of land is Rs 30,000 a year. But, if his land happens to be on the edge of some spreading urban centre he could sell it for as much as Rs 25 lakhs an acre. Why should he waste his time farming?
Not only has there been no reform in the agricultural sector the government has done almost nothing to build the infrastructure that is so essential if farming is to be a profitable business. If farmers grew cash crops like fruit and vegetables they could become quite rich but just as we have not bothered to build warehouses we have not built sufficient cold storages. According to expert estimates more than 40% of the fruit and vegetables that Indian farmers grow rots in the fields. This is believed to be more than all the fruit and vegetables that are produced in the United Kingdom every year. For the situation to change we need rural roads that provide speedy access to markets.
Most land holdings in India are very small. Five acres is considered a big land holding. Compare this with the United States where the average size of a farm is 418 acres. In socialist times it was the policy of the Government of India to impose a ceiling on the amount of land a farmer could own and the surplus land was supposedly distributed to the landless and the poor. This would have provided a decent income to small farmers if we had invested in irrigation. But, even in an agricultural state like Haryana, there have been no new canal systems built since the British left. And, now comes a new problem. In this unreformed, corrupt, desperately poor landscape that is Indian agriculture has appeared the corporate farmer. Huge corporations are moving in to invest in contract farming. This may nullify the purpose of land reforms but it might bring prosperity and investment.
Meanwhile, can we hope that someone sitting in the Ministry of Agriculture in Delhi will notice that if they remove licensing in the building of warehouses it could make a huge difference? Before we begin to think of the massive reforms that need to be made in agriculture we would be spared the horrific sight of food grain rotting in the open every time the rains come. Warehouses would come up by the hundreds of thousands if they could be built without a license. They do not cost much to build and it would be in the interest of farmers to see them built.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ONE SMALL CHANGE COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE

ON THE SPOT

BY TAVLEEN SINGH

 

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)

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

LOST CHILDHOOD

CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD

BY NIKHITA JAIN

 

'' What are you waiting for,
another day, another dawn
someday you have to find a new way to peace!! ''
Yes...this is the peace of the air of freedom, air of self dependence, air of contentment, and the air of fearless dreams, the peace which many of our Indian brothers and sisters have, for centuries, been deprived of. All this deplorable toil of mind-numbing sweats taking has given way to one of the most prevalent stigma of the Indian society- THE CHILD LABOUR. This is one vicious circle which binds generations together, traps families for eons, into the lament of their elders. According to statistics, India houses more than 15 million child laborers. Child labour is not just a crime against law, but a crime against the moral and ethical human values, a crime that engulfs the poor in a spiral of injustice. In a country like India, where half of the population is below the age of thirty-five years, it is really disheartening to acknowledge the fact that India is also a home to the largest number of child-labourers, children below the age of fourteen years, who in their school going age, work day and night to wash someone's sink, to polish somebody's shoes, to clean somebody's toilets, and to carry bitter loads - they not just do the physical labour , but also face the mental trauma of losing their childhood to earn their bread. Education is neglected in the process, because the poor parents view their children as a tool to fulfill the needs of the entire clan- their parents, their younger siblings, and the like. And when they see their child getting absorbed in any activity which will be financially rewarding, no matter how horrendous and unbearable that might be given their age, the parents look at it as a golden opportunity to throw formal education in some dark inaccessible corner, and look at the apparent financial reward that their manufactured units can produce.
Indian Government might have made laws which render employment of child laborers illegal except in family owned enterprises, where children are absorbed in their own family business. But where there is a law, there must be a loophole. Factories find ways out to somehow declare the child laborer as a distant relative, and to make matters worse, they are frugally fed and ill-treated to the core. Self-respect is an unheard word, if the children are at the receiving end. The most tragic cases are the ones of bonded labor. Even the meagre income they earn is used up by their families. Being uneducated, they work for nobody but their masters. Education teaches them to work for themselves and their families. The lack of it just leaves them to get grinded by the blades of a life-snatching machine called child labor.
Here in towns and cities, we dream of becoming a business tycoon, an entrepreneur, an engineer, an actor, and so much more. But have we ever reflected upon the scope of their dreams???? All that they can dream about is getting a customized stitched white uniform of a chauffer, or the free rides enjoyed by a bus conductor, or being literate enough to read someone's letter. Is it then, not a slap on our face, if we, lecture on the consequences of child labour in the morning, and come back home in the evening, only to shout at a child servant at home, to pick up our shoes and give us water..?? How insensitive it is, that the North Indians give a brash enough reason for child labor- the ultimate tool for the alleviation of poverty. Don't they deserve something better, anything but better?? Fine, obviously, we are not responsible for everybody and every problem in this big bad world, but then, we can at least be responsible for our own self, our own home and our own surroundings.
Child labor is one of the most understated malaises of our country. It needs our collective effort to shun out such malpractices, and let our children, grow up in a society, where they learn to value each individual, howsoever small he/she may be. Let us strive to create serenity in the lives of the under-privileged. They are economically, socially, emotionally, as well as physically, weak. But they do have limbs, and they need a bit of nourishment. And then, they would be running, to the path of glory. All of us, in our very little ways, can make a difference to their lives. If, after reading these few words, you pledge that at least you would never promote child labour in any form, this write-up is a success. Like the old adage goes, every penny counts. Do not worry over the fact that you alone can not make a difference. It starts with a 'me', becomes an 'us', and then, it shall become 'all of us'. If not anything else, we can at least help those noble people who work for the cause of such children, by giving financial assistance. A penny or two would not pinch our pockets for such a noble cause. We, as a true society, need to come forward in the form of non-governmental organizations to help and support these children of a lesser God. They need our love, care, and support, for GOD MADE HUMANS FOR HUMANS.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PEACEFUL AND PROSPEROUS KASHMIR

BY FAROOQ GANDERBALI

 

The soaring temperature outside Kashmir and cooling weather on secessionist elements in Kashmir has played a wonderful camaraderie in Kashmir. The two things in unison have ensured that people all over India visit Kashmir and in Kashmiris throw away dictates of secessionists elements to wholeheartedly welcome the guests.
During the last few weeks the temperature has been soaring in rest of India. The extreme heat wave has caused the temperatures to soar well above 43 degrees and sometimes nearing even 50. On the other hand Kashmir is basking in a cool temperature with mercury hardly hitting 30. At some hill stations it is shivering cold during nights.
This temperature difference is acting as a magnet for tourists to come to Kashmir. Thousands of tourists are coming to Kashmir to enjoy its beautiful landscape and weather. Kashmir is proving to be a great escape from the scorching heat elsewhere.
The successful conduct of panchayati elections have put forward a loud message from the people of Kashmir that we want peace and prosperity. The democratic Government in place and improved security situation are doubling as incentives for the people who wish to visit this paradise on earth. Traders associated with tourism sector believe that the coming months will witness house full scenario for Kashmir.
The year started with a positive note in Kashmir. There was a record arrival of winter tourists to Kashmir. Thousands of tourists, both local and foreigners, enjoyed the skiing at breathtaking slopes of Gulmarg. The famous ski resort even witnessed the arrival of heli skiing after almost three decades.
The winter season was followed by successful Tulip festival. One of the Asia's largest Tulip gardens on the banks of Dal Lake mesmerized those who had a chance to visit it. Now the Government has plans to make the garden as a year round place of activity with the planting of newer and exotic varieties of flowers. It will surely go a long way in increasing the appeal of Kashmir.
Pilgrim tourism too is on all time high. Millions have visited Mata Vaishnodevi shrine and half a million is expected to pay their obeisance at Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir.
Kashmir has another attraction of being the cheapest tourist destinations available of its kind in the world. Even as the world is reeling under economic slowdown, Kashmir is yet to be affected in that manner. The economic slowdown forced people to cut on their expenses as their purchasing power dwindled. This led people to curtail their holidays or shift from expensive holiday spots to a cheaper versions.
In almost entire India, hoteliers have downed their rates so as to attract tourists, who are otherwise staying away. Kashmir on the other hand need not to do that as the rates are already at the rock bottom. As thousands of foreign bound tourists cancelled their trips due to recession, they found a matching version of their destinations in Kashmir. The scenario has led to the influx of high spending tourists in the state, who otherwise used to hit foreign shores every year. Businessmen, film stars, socialites and other big wigs are coming to Kashmir to spend their holidays in this dream land.
Billions of rupees have been pumped into the local economy due to the increase in high spending tourist arrival. The state government too has moved forward to further help the local traders. They have provided big relief to local hoteliers by reducing or fully exempting them from the tax net.
Film crews from Hollywood, Bollywood as well as regional film units of India have started inquiring about the shooting of their films in Kashmir. One bollywood film about Kashmir footballer has already hit the international film festivals with rave reviews with more in the pipeline.
The State Government has also speeded up the road construction to various tourist destinations to provide a better connectivity. The morning flights at Srinagar International Airport have already commenced and even international flights are in the offing. In the days to come foreign arrival by Srinagar international airport is bound to increase.
The election of young and dynamic Omar Abdullah as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir has a visible effect on the overall psyche. It has given a new confidence in the people and the image of state has been projected in a healthy light all over the world. With his reign just started, one expects that Kashmir's journey to development and progress has just begun.
Even civil society is coming forward to promote the tourism activity in the state. Recently a leading NGO of the state Jammu Kashmir Youth Development Forum (JKYDF) organized a seminar on tourism promotion. The seminar was attended by intellectuals, journalists, doctors, engineers and who is who of the state. It gave a platform for the people to voice their opinion over this vital sector. People know that how much important is tourism for the state economy and they are wholeheartedly coming forward to promote it.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

MID-COURSE CORRECTION

DR SINGH HAS HIS TASK CUT OUT

 

IT is heartening that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has chosen to speak to some distinguished newspaper editors to set the record straight on issues on which his handling of the government has been under public and media scrutiny. Dr Singh's earnestness never fails to impress but with the spate of recent corruption scandals sullying his government's image, the Prime Minister would be watched not so much by what he professes but what he achieves on the ground. Hemmed in by the increasing perception that there is a governance deficit, Dr Singh was at pains to dispel that impression. By declaring that the succession issue was not on the party leadership's table, and reiterating that he had Mrs Sonia Gandhi's full backing, the Prime Minister has sought to control the damage caused by Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh's recent remark that time was ripe for the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, Rahul Gandhi, to take over the reins of the country.

 

Prime Minister Singh's message to civil society was polite yet firm. While agreeing that the Lokpal Bill was an essential and desirable legislation and tackling corruption was a priority area, he made it clear, justifiably, that no group, howsoever important, could insist that its views were the last word on what the people needed. The Prime Minister was forthright in rueing that the civil society activists (Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev) had not played by the rules.

 

With three years left in the UPA's second term in office, the coalition indeed has much to accomplish if it is to go back to the electorate with confidence. There is a dire need for a mid-course correction. While corruption needs to be reined in and accountability sharpened at various levels, the economic reforms require a much-needed impetus. The Manmohan Singh government must not only articulate its vision but also act on the pending pieces of legislation like the right to food for India's poor, overhaul of archaic mining laws and revamping land acquisition to make sure that the government stays out of the messy business of buying land for private projects. The impending Cabinet reshuffle would be a test of the government's intent.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TESTING TEACHERS

PROTESTS BY THE JOBLESS UNWARRANTED

 

Unemployment has seldom been an issue in Punjab. It is only when unemployed youth protest, climb on water tanks, threatening suicide, that newspapers take notice. If after investing heavily in education youngsters fail to get jobs, their anger is understandable. For the police it is a law and order problem. Given their training and working conditions, policemen do not show the required sensitivity to the jobless protesters. Teachers too are not blameless as they often block roads, inconveniencing ordinary people. They broke the rules of peaceful protest at Bathinda on Tuesday.

 

The unemployed youth oppose the teachers' eligibility test, which is mandatory for securing a government job. There appears nothing wrong with a test to pick up the most suitable candidates. In recent years private teacher training institutions have been opened by politicians and businessmen. Some treat education as a commercial activity and resort to unethical tactics to make money. The quality of teachers, infrastructure and education is less than adequate. To separate grains from the chaff, a test becomes necessary and the government's decision is quite logical.

 

The protesting teachers claim they had got admissions to B. Ed colleges on merit and another test to check their job worthiness is uncalled for. Education is a key to personal and national growth. The future of children cannot be left in undeserving hands. Hence, the effort to improve quality should be appreciated. What needs to be opposed is the mis-spending of limited resources, which hinders economic growth and the creation of jobs. Education is not a priority with most states. The state expenditure on education needs to be raised to at least 6 per cent of the GDP from the present levels of 2-3 per cent. To make the Right to Education a reality, the country needs good educational institutions, both private and public.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE GREEK CRISIS

POLITICAL CLASS AT THE RECEIVING END

 

People in Greece are up in arms against an austerity measure the government has sought to adopt through Parliament so that it is able to meet its international debt obligations. The austerity measure will help the government generate $40 billion by imposing taxes even on minimum wage earners, struggling to survive. And only then will Greece be in a position to fulfil the condition to get bailout funds from European Union banks and the IMF to save it from becoming the first Eurozone country to default on its loan repayments. Greece has to honour its loan repayment obligations by mid-July. If Greece fails, the fear is that the contagion will spread to many other EU members like Ireland, Portugal and Spain, ultimately affecting adversely the EU banking system itself. French and German banks too may suffer, as they are largely the holders of the Greek debt instruments.

 

The ordinary Greeks, however, refuse to believe what the ruling politicians say. They consider the entire political class as "thugs", who are mainly interested in their own welfare. A recent study by Transparency International brought out the fact that an overwhelming number of Greeks (80 per cent) are of the view that their Parliament has lost credibility. That is why any measure that the government announces is viewed with suspicion. The people are right when they want to know what sacrifices the political class is making for protecting the interests of their country.

 

The image of politicians has suffered considerably after a large number of New Democracy Party and Socialist Party members have been found involved in corruption cases. The people's anger has got aggravated with the fact that legislators have immunity from prosecution unless Parliament votes for it. The widespread public anger has led to Prime Minister George Papandreou announcing that he will constitute a committee to find out if the number of Parliament members can be reduced. He has also promised to get the immunity for legislators from prosecution removed. These will be major achievements for him if he succeeds.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

THE PARTY BEGINS AT 90

TIME FOR NEW PERMUTATIONS & COMBINATIONS IN CHINA

BY SREERAM CHAULIA

 

WHEN someone turns 90 years old and is still going strong, the natural question that begs a retrospective reflection is, "What is the secret of such longevity"? In the case of institutions that last generations, it requires a deeper reflection how they behaved at historical points and avoided the fate of their peers who became passé.

 

July 1 is the 90th anniversary day of the most powerful political institution Asia has seen over the last half a century — the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As celebrations unfold across China to commemorate this extraordinary milestone, it occasions an understanding of what makes the party tick at the helm of affairs while most other communist parties have faded or disappeared.

 

Like the communist parties that emerged from the class divisions fomented by the industrial revolution in Europe, the early CCP adopted a combination of brutality and ideological indoctrination of society against feudalism, Western imperialism and capitalism. Influenced by the October Revolution in Russia, the CCP's pre-Maoist intellectual leaders saw the same revolutionary potential in the urban industrial proletariat and unions as Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin did.

 

But the rise of Mao Zedong to prominence in the party redirected the vision towards agrarian peasantry as the vehicle for achieving a classless society. It was the first critical adjustment of lenses which proved to be a winning bet. The schism between the Mao-led CCP and the Moscow-backed Kuomintang on ideological and tactical grounds in the 1930s revealed that the CCP was a different beast. The party's eternal mistrust of Moscow's intentions would come back to haunt the worldwide communist movement in the 1960s and reshape world order.

 

As is the norm in revolutionary parties, the CCP demanded loyalty unto death for its cadres and they fought the Japanese occupiers with courage and conviction during World War II. The hardscrabble means and desperate measures adopted by CCP guerrillas against the Japanese occupation are now the stuff of legend, but they formed a memory base of sacrifice and suffering which carried forward into the "party-state" that triumphed and rode to power in 1949.

 

The corruption and incompetence of the Kuomintang was in sharp contrast to the CCP's orderly and upright conduct during and after World War II. This legacy also ensured that the party maintained an idealist reputation soon after it became the sovereign over the whole of mainland China. Mao's reign (of which the present-day CCP accepts only 30 per cent was "wrong") as an absolutist dictatorship for 28 years had costly repercussions for Chinese society even as it cemented the party-state's base.

 

The great helmsman performed numerous recalibrations and juggling acts as per evolving domestic and international developments, displaying the flexibility of a guerrilla warfare specialist. The Sino-Soviet split and the subsequent "tripolarisation" of the world — wherein Mao cozied up to the United States in the 1970s and established China as a distinct third pole which could sleep with the capitalist enemy to counter-balance a pesky communist rival — were masterstrokes of contemporary diplomacy that did not enjoy universal consent within the CCP's factions and ranks of that time.

 

Yet, by innovating in foreign policy (while sticking to a staunch anti-market stance at home), the Mao-era party once again showed its congenital quality of reinventing itself at opportune moments. After Mao exited the stage and a brief power struggle concluded, pragmatism on the domestic economy began flowing freely under Deng Xiaoping. His economic reforms agenda of gradual privatisation with heavy state stewardship coincided with the rise of Reaganomics and Thatcherism in the West.

 

While the CCP of the last two decades has criticised the process of globalisation, it has also harnessed its opportunities to move China from an industrial laggard into an exporting powerhouse and the "factory of the world." The party-state embraced aspects of liberal capitalism and imbued it with Chinese characteristics, just as its CCP ancestors carved out "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

 

Had the CCP not converted to a "cadre-capitalist" model of suppressing wages and attracting record foreign investment, it might have decayed and fallen long ago into what Leon Trotsky labelled as the "dustbin of history". Mao may turn in his grave as Chinese entrepreneurs get rich and over-represent the list of the world's billionaires, but the party lives on in a new avatar. 

 

As is the wont of long-entrenched institutions in power, the CCP has developed cracks in its edifice that will take some weeding out. Provincial party elites are at serious odds with the goals of the CCP's high command in Beijing. Corruption has permeated the party cancerously and so has a culture of unaccountability, threats and arbitrary violence against citizens and neighbouring countries.

 

State-sponsored hyper-nationalism dates back to Maoist roots and even to the Sino-centrism of the imperial past, but it poses a graver danger now because China has never been as consequential as it is today in world affairs. In Napoleon's famous oracle, China would "shake the world when she wakes up". The CCP has brandished the formula of a "peaceful rise" for China, but the party-state's reputation for legalised suppression of Chinese society (especially of minorities like the Tibetans and Uyghurs) and its determination to dominate Asia and other developing regions of the world leave a trail of insecurity and fear.

 

In the digital age, can the 90-year-old CCP's "Great Firewall" to curb free information flows succeed in keeping the lid on the pressure cooker? Keeping in view the West Asian uprisings this year, the answer is a clear "No", and the next generation of Deng Xiaopings who will steer China in the 21st century has to devise new permutations and combinations of compromise-cum-obstinacy to stay afloat. The party has just begun.

 

The writer is Professor and Vice-Dean, Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat, Haryana.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

TO PAKISTAN AND BACK

BY ASHOK TUTEJA

 

EVERY time I travel to Pakistan, my family looks worried. As soon as I board the aircraft, they start praying for my safe return. All my efforts to convince them to give up their apprehensions about Pakistan have been exercises in futility.

 

I still remember when I went to Pakistan in November 1988 for the first time to cover the elections there for the news agency I used to work for those days. I had got married just 10 days back when this all-important assignment came my way. I cut short my honeymoon in Shimla to go to Islamabad. My wife and even my mother came to the airport to see me off. My wife would not say anything and just kept looking at me, perhaps wondering whether she would ever see me again.

 

Since then I have travelled to many countries and visited Pakistan too on several occasions. My visits anywhere else in the world, however, do not matter much to my family. It's only when I have to visit Pakistan that they are curious to know where I am going to stay and when I am returning.

 

This time around when I was going to Islamabad to cover the Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, both my wife and son, now an adult, dissuaded me from going there. "Almost everyday there are bomb blasts or other such incidents. Why do you want to go to Pakistan?" wondered my son as I quietly packed my suitcase for the visit.

 

There were clear instructions from wife too: stay in a safe hotel, don't move out, and if at all you go out, be in safe company. Now, how can I tell her that it is difficult for a journalist to perform his job until he moves out of the safety of his hotel room?

 

I wish I could explain to my family how an ordinary Pakistani yearns for peace and also wants his country to progress like India.

 

I have now decided that I will take my family on a trip to Pakistan, provided they get visa. And I would certainly like to travel to Dera Ismail Khan (Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province), where my ancestors came from. I hope the Pakistanis are generous enough to give visa to my family members.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE GREAT CUT-OFF CONTROVERSY

THE RUSH FOR ADMISSION IN SO-CALLED GOOD COLLEGES IN DELHI UNIVERSITY THIS YEAR HAS GIVEN RISE TO A RAGING DEBATE ON ABSURDLY HIGH CUT-OFF MARKS LEAVING STUDENTS IN THE LURCH. IS THERE ANY SOLUTION IN SIGHT?

MISPLACED ANXIETY

 

The recent expression of anxiety around high cut offs in certain colleges of Delhi University is unfounded. We must remember that the number of students entering higher education is increasing and so are the levels of students' performance. That's pushing up cut offs in colleges which are the most sought after. Higher cut offs are thus a reflection of students' enhanced performance and by criticising the trend, we are only demoralising our students and castigating them for scoring well.

 

That's not to say high cut offs are not exerting pressure on the system. The higher the cut offs, the greater the pressure on colleges such as ours where non-commerce streams were required to have 100 per cent marks this year. For the record, cut offs for B.Com (Hons) increased marginally by 0.75 per cent over the last year's. But because there were several students who scored above the cut off level, the pressure on the college was high.

 

As against 252 seats in B.Com (Hons), we had 413 students qualifying this year. It's not a happy situation for us either because we have to give admission to everyone who scores above the cut off level whereas we have limited infrastructure and limited faculty. The session starts on July 21 and we are still calculating how many more teachers we would require to handle the enhanced admission rush this year. As per UGC faculty norms, each teacher is required to put in 18 hours of teaching per week. If we have to meet this standard, we need more teachers and we are in need of help from the UGC for approvals which do not come easily in an overregulated education sector such as ours.

 

To come back to the problem of high cut offs and resultant pressure on students seeking entry to good colleges – the solution really lies not in debating why the cut offs are rising but in building a nationwide network of excellent institutions that would ease the pressure on select colleges. Gone are the days when seven IITs would suffice for the whole of India. We now need an IIT, an IIM and a Central University in every state and even more in the larger states where the number of higher education seekers is high.

 

The Government must be lauded for setting ambitious goals like the achievement of 30 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio in higher education up to 2020. Right now that ratio is around 12.4 per cent. But the question is – are we creating enough centres of learning to help us achieve this mighty goal? Over the next decade, the Right to Education will further add to the pool of students seeking to enter colleges. Are we prepared to absorb that rush?

 

The solution lies in creating more institutes of excellence and redefining excellence. The Government must gradually move towards de-regulating the higher education sector, granting good colleges the freedom to experiment and innovate with course design, the freedom to recruit teachers, to alter pedagogy, to evolve their own examination policy. Functional and financial autonomy will boost excellence and merit.

 

That's not to suggest every institute be allowed autonomy in one go. The Government can begin by allowing freedom to colleges which have a history of academic excellence. That will set an example for other institutes to do well and we would then be debating which course to join, instead of which college to join.

 

 

P.C. Jain Principal, Sri Ram College of Commerce, university of delhi
(As told to Aditi Tandon)

 

Re-design exams

 

There is nothing wrong with high cut offs per se because if the brighter students have to make it to the few good institutes that we have, cut off is the only system available to us. We have traditionally depended on marks as the yardstick for admission to higher education institutes.

 

We do, however, need to revisit the formula we have been using to calculate the cut offs and evolve a more comprehensive, rational system of admission to colleges. At present, we depend on the marks of school leaving exams, mainly Class XII of the CBSE. But I have a problem with the CBSE's structure of liberal marking. We all know that school teachers are invariably under pressure to give more marks to students. This is a very good, liberal view but unfortunately it does not work in a country such as ours where there is lack of uniformity in education. Liberal marking is essentially a western model.

 

My view is that we can't be trying to pass everyone. Look at the IITs, for instance. They are the best institutes in our country and they follow a very rigorous system of selection through the Joint Entrance Examination which is considered a very high difficulty level test.

 

The CBSE would do well to set papers in a format that is designed to test everything. You can't have only easy questions. You need a combination of the easy, the moderate and the difficult ones so that you can grade the students accordingly. There is a proposal to have a common national level test for entry to all higher education institutes. I don't think dependence on one exam is a good idea. A better formula for cut off determination would be to look at the scores of Classes X, XI and XII along with the scores of students in the proposed common entrance test whose structure is currently being designed.

 

I am also not comfortable with the idea of optional class X CBSE boards. Common sense tells me that this system won't help. Our students have to take the Class XII CBSE exams anyway. Abolition of compulsory boards in Class X will put them out of practice. The CBSE needs to put its systems in place and redesign test papers to solve the problem of exceptionally high cut offs. It would also have to discuss this matter with the state level boards so as to have a consensus on the issue. We have to remember that education is a concurrent list subject.

 

Prof Deepak Pental, Former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University
(As told to Aditi Tandon)

Marks can't be the only criterion

 

Indian Railways stands reinvented. It manages with admirable efficiency a complex network of routes and plethora of user choices exerted by a population of overwhelming diversity. Why can't entry to our erudite institutions of higher learning emulate the best of Indian Railways instead of perpetuating the jostle of yester years?

 

The enigmatic "cut-off" is based on a perceptual model that takes into account semi-quantitative analysis of current board results, distribution of marks of the previous batches, previous and leaked cut-offs of other institutions. It is also coloured by notions of brand image, the pecking order, societal trends and other opportunities across the country.

 

Despite raising our cut-off by a whopping 10% in Physics and Chemistry in the last two years, we have ended up taking double the number of sanctioned students in these years. What we failed to anticipate is the sudden spurt of eligible students from across the country, especially from the neighbouring states of Haryana and UP, brought closer to Delhi by the metro. This year, we have logged nearly 60% outstation students and admitted more students than sanctioned seats in most courses.

 

With pressure on the school system to deliver, the examining boards are awarding liberally. Although recognised to be equivalent, national and state boards differ wildly in quality. As students from across boards transcend carefully tuned cut-offs, it is no longer a tenable criteria for eligibility. The obvious solution is to do away with declaration of cut-offs, leveraging technology to offer placements strictly on the basis of sanctioned seats in order of merit, accounting for individual preference of college and course. Successful examples of centralised admissions abound across the country. What works well for courses with Entrance Tests can work equally well for Entrance on Board Results.

 

Score-based admission, literally and metaphorically, symbolises all that is wrong with our education system with its undue emphasis on absolute marks and cut throat competition. It is well known that end of the year exams do not provide a reliable or valid measure of scholastic competence. We need to learn to fairly assess qualitatively the multifaceted portfolio of achievements and the statement of purpose of an aspiring student. Often augmented by a highly standardised scholastic aptitude test on critical skills, this is the praxis in many parts of the world.

 

Dr Pratibha Jolly, Principal, Miranda House, DU

Clear pending Bills

 

The recent developments regarding 100 per cent cut off for undergraduate admission to commerce stream in Sri Ram College of Commerce (Delhi University) is an indication of dearth of quality higher education institutions in the country.

 

We are aware that a majority of India's population is between 15 to 64 years, resulting in a low dependency ratio and a substantial working population unlike in the developed countries. However, in the absence of appropriate education and training, India would lose out on the demographic dividend.

 

A FICCI World Bank employer Satisfaction Survey in 2009 and FICCI Voters Survey in 2010 showed that about 60-65 per cent of the employers were only somewhat satisfied with the current engineering and general graduates' skills.

 

In the last decade or so the poor quality of our higher education has fuelled the "graduate unemployment" phenomenon, which paints a grim scenario.

 

I suggest an early passage of the four pending higher education reform bills on accreditation of institutions, entry of foreign education providers into India; prohibition of malpractices and establishment of education tribunal to adjudicate on education matters. The proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill 2010 which seeks to replace and subsume the UGC, AICTE and MCI must also see light of the day.

 

Further, expansion of higher education is taking place at a frenetic pace. The current quality assurance framework is unable to meet the challenges of expansion and has led to the mushrooming of substandard institutions. In a country of 500 plus universities and 25000 colleges, only 40 pc institutions are accredited. It is extremely crucial to accord high priority to the implementation of the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010.

 

Also, as per the WTO norms, foreign providers are free to come into India through automatic routes. About 165 foreign higher education providers are already in the Indian higher education market and many of them unaccredited in their own countries. As per the existing norms, a foreign provider can't provide degrees in India. This deters good foreign institutions from coming. We therefore need to expedite the passing of Foreign Education Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010.

Once the structures are in place, quality of institutions will improve, allowing students more choice. They would then not have to flock to a few top colleges for admissions.

 

Rajeev Kumar, Secretary General, The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)

 

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

EDITORIAL

PRUDENCE VS POPULISM

MS BANERJEE MUST SETTLE DOWN TO HARD WORK OF GOVERNANCE

 

By staying the state government's hand on the return of the land acquired by the Tatas for their automobile project in Singur, the Supreme Court has injected some sense into the handling of the matter. The Mamata Banerjee government created an avoidable mess with its hasty decision to find a legislative way out of a difficult political situation. Even as the Calcutta High Court was hearing the Tata petition, the state government had begun the process of returning the land to the farmers, forcing the company to move the Supreme Court. With the apex court's stay order, which also asks the high court to complete the hearing of the case in one month, prospects of an early resolution of the Singur land dispute have brightened and the fears of a long-drawn court battle have disappeared.

However, the very first policy issue that Ms Banerjee has had to deal with has raised concerns about her arbitrary and whimsical style of governance. As developments in the past few weeks have demonstrated, Ms Banerjee's zeal for the farmers of Singur has taken precedence over her larger concern for the entire state and its people. As West Bengal's newly elected chief minister, Ms Banerjee should be as concerned for the farmers of Singur as for the need to attract fresh industrial investment to the state. The two goals are not necessarily contradictory and it is possible to frame laws in a manner that promotes industrial investment without compromising the farmers' interests. It is also possible for the state government to have amicable negotiations with the Tatas to resolve the issues over returning the land and the payment of compensation. But the manner in which Ms Banerjee has dealt with the Singur land issue, industries across the country will have second thoughts about considering West Bengal as their next investment destination.

 

 Ms Banerjee's populism, as shown in her instruction to power distribution companies to desist from raising tariffs, even though the regulator has given its approval for a revision, and her knee-jerk tax reduction on petroleum products, will raise concerns about her fiscal management. Granting relief to the poorer sections of people from an increase in tariffs for public services or goods is a politically- and socially-desirable goal, but such a move can be counterproductive if the government fails to tailor the scheme to benefit only the needy. Failure to target such subsidies to the poor, as also evident in the general relief granted by her for all domestic consumers of liquefied petroleum gas last week, can put more strain on the state's finances, which are already suffering from years of fiscal indiscipline. West Bengal's fiscal deficit at 4.6 per cent of gross state domestic product (GSDP) is the second highest among the non-special category states and its debt at 40.8 per cent of GSDP is higher than that of Bihar. A state that is seeking a financial bailout from the Centre cannot afford either the luxury of financial imprudence or the misadventure of an uncertain industrial investment climate.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS

PRIME MINISTER SINGH REASSURES BY SPEAKING HIS MIND

The simple lesson that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should learn from his occasional interactions with the media is that he should do this more often. Of course, at a time and place of his choosing, focusing attention on issues he considers important (so that he can guide public thinking and political discourse) and addressing doubts uppermost in the public mind. Mr Singh is his own best spokesperson and his transparent honesty, sincerity, humility and grasp of information and events always win over his interlocutors, save the ideological opponents. If his media interactions end up calming nerves, reassuring citizens and restoring trust, why does he not do this more often? Clearly, the answer lies in his preference to maintain a low political profile, in deference to the Congress party's first family. This may have been necessary in the first half of his first term, when Dr Singh was still earning his spurs as prime minister and the Opposition was working ceaselessly to dethrone him. However, it is now crystal clear that this low-profile style has become counterproductive in the second term. All the more so when the government is being asked so many questions and only he seems to carry conviction whenever he responds. All the destabilising talk about a change of guard, and the transfer of office to Rahul Gandhi, would be seen as nothing more than the usual sycophancy by Congress party loyalists if the prime minister is seen as being more assertive, more in charge and more communicative.

Dr Singh has another three years in office, which are both long enough and critical for India. As the prime minister has said in his media interaction, uncertainty continues to grip the world economy; the "animal spirits" of Indian entrepreneurs have been dampened by a combination of circumstances ranging from political uncertainty, paralysis of decision making in the government, a difficult external economic environment, regional instability and so on. At a time like this, India desperately needs political stability and a safe pair of hands at the helm of affairs. Dr Singh's reassuring leadership can calm nerves and sustain the growth momentum. In times like these, the head of government cannot afford to shy away, encourage talk of a change of leadership, bury his head Ostrich-like and pretend that problems confronting his government will simply disappear.

 

Dr Singh is right to worry about the debilitating impact of the government's perceived paralysis on the economy. Going beyond worrying about it, he must grapple with the problem and re-energise his government. Apart from continuing global economic uncertainties, new regional uncertainties are also hurting economic growth. Dr Singh is rightly worried about the consequences of a United States that is unwinding and a China that is winding up. Managing the regional and global economic and strategic environment is as important for sustaining India's growth as managing domestic sources of political instability. Dr Singh remains the ruling coalition's best bet and every time he interacts with the media, this impression gets reinforced. The prime minister must derive energy and reassurance from this sentiment and march on, empowering those who can deliver, disempowering those who do not or cannot, and reassuring citizens and investors alike, rather than retreating into silence once again.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A DICKENSIAN MUMBAI

NILANJANA S ROY

The Vishram Society in Santa Cruz is a pucca society, despite its proximity to the "polyp-like" slums of Vakola, ethnically and religiously mixed, its reassuring middle-classness emphasised by the vehicles parked along its compound wall: a dozen scooters and motorbikes, three Maruti-Suzukis, two Tata Indicas, a battered Toyota Qualis and a few children's bicycles. 

It is an unlikely setting for a morality tale about greed, ruthlessness, complicity and death, but Aravind Adiga's strength lies in his journalist's ability to take the ordinary and make the reader see it differently. Last Man in Tower, to be published later this month, is his third book, following his Booker Prize-winning novel, The White Tiger, and his collection of short stories, Between the Assassinations. The book is as heavily populated as Vishram Society itself, but two characters stand out. 

 

The builder Dharmen Shah, the corrosion of his lungs symbolic shorthand for the man's moral rot, makes an offer to the members of Vishram Society to buy out their flats at a rate they can't refuse. The only man who refuses to consider selling his flat is Yogesh Murthy, the last man of the title; a retired teacher and widower whose stubborn attachment to his home will have terrible repercussions. Mr Adiga's descriptive prose is crisp and glittering, his dialogue perhaps less convincing, but Last Man in Tower remains compelling despite the flaws. 

The central conceit of Last Man in Tower is hardly new; Rohinton Mistry set his gentle, affectionate portrait of Parsis in decline in Firozesha Bag, as fictional a Bombay neighbourhood as Vishram Society. Mr Mistry's short stories were rich in his particular brand of humanism, but they were sepia snapshots. Manil Suri's The Death of Vishnu, also set in a Bombay apartment building, set a dying servant on the landing of a staircase that served as a kind of stage set, which was just as well for a book that was more Bombay Burlesque than Mumbai Noir. 

Mr Adiga does this often in his writing, employing a shaky central conceit – a chauffeur-turned-millionaire writing letters to the Chinese Premier in The White Tiger, the lives and times of the TV-soap opera inhabitants of Vishram Society – as the scaffolding that allows a surprisingly solid story to grow up behind its frail lines. 

Mr Adiga is probably one of the most popular and polarising contemporary writers working in India today. The White Tiger divided readers. Many loved the story of Balram Halwai, the driver who kills his employer and ascends to wealth, for Mr Adiga's sharp editorialising and bitter condemnation of India Shining. 

Many loved the book because it was a fast-paced read that didn't condescend to its audience. The distinction between those who hated the book because it exposed the dark innards of the new, shining India and those who were uneasy about what they saw as a deep inauthenticity in the writing is a key one. 

The former group of readers tends to dislike any portrayal of India – especially of the middle class – that is critical, or sharply questioning of the basic inequalities we'd prefer to brush under the carpet. The latter group of readers, and writers like Manjula Padmanabhan or Amitava Kumar, often question the nuances of a story like The White Tiger — Mr Kumar, for instance, found on nearly every page both a fine phrase, and also something "utterly cartoonish" or that sounded false. 

But people will read Last Man in Tower for many reasons. Mr Adiga writes novels the way a really good journalist writes editorials — fuelled by a combination of rage and statistics. In an essay he wrote about Mumbai and how it had shaped his writing, he mentions meeting a lawyer's son: "Boastful, proud of his status, obscenely well-connected, he seemed to me the incarnation of old money, old privilege, and old stupidity — the living reason that people like me from small towns had to leave India. There must be a whole caste of men like this in Mumbai, I thought, sipping gin-and-tonic and sucking the country dry." 

These are his targets, as much as the builders and the builders' henchmen, and he is on far more secure ground analysing Bombay, where he lived, than he was on extrapolating on Bihar, where he travelled briefly. Mr Adiga writes cinematically, with an understanding of the rhythms of Indian English; reading Last Man in Tower is often like reading a screenplay, with exactly the same drawbacks and rewards. The writing can be erratic: the lift at Vishram Society moves in Mr Adiga's compact, brilliant comparison, like "a coffin on wheels", but a description of young people as fat and glossy, like "glazed chicken breasts turning on a rotisserie spit" misses the mark. 

Almost a decade ago, Chetan Bhagat proved that Indian popular fiction could thrive. He did it with novels that struck a deep chord by mirroring the everyday concerns of Mr Average, written in unpolished, often sentimental prose. What we needed was a better popular novelist; someone who would replace that sentimentality with a more political anger, and articulate the frustrations and betrayal that ran in the veins of those who had been excluded, in one way or another, from privilege. Mr Adiga's Last Man in Tower is uneven and schematic, but it marries a Dickensian grimness and satire with classic Bombay noir. 

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A TORTOISE NAMED DURANTO

OUR POOR RAILWAY NETWORK IS A REFLECTION OF HOW WE, AS A NATION, WAIT FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN UNLIKE CHINA THAT MAKES THINGS HAPPEN

BARUN ROY

 

To date, India, with one of the largest railway networks in the world, doesn't have a single kilometre of railway that can be called high-speed, dedicated to trains running at 200 km or more an hour. To date, China has 8,358 km of such tracks laid out and in service and 17,000 km more under construction.

 

Readers may draw their own conclusions. As far as I am concerned, the attitudinal difference of the two nations couldn't be starker. We keep hoping things will fall in place by themselves some day. They think "some day" isn't good enough when a nation waits to grow, and things must be made to fall in place. The railways are just one example of how they're forcing things to fall in place, instead of simply waiting for them to happen.

Our fastest trains still can't best 160 km per hour. Their latest bullet between Shanghai and Beijing runs at 300 km per hour, bringing the two cities, 1,318 km apart, within five hours of each other. We may have as many Durantos as we like, but, in today's speeding world, these are nothing but a bunch of tortoises in disguise, let loose to fool a gullible nation. The hares are much wiser now and slow and steady is no longer a race-winning quality.

We may not bother because even a bullock cart is capable of getting us to our destination, some day. But we aren't in bullock-cart India. If we wish to be seen as a dynamic economy, we have to be seen to be moving faster too, since economic growth, after all, is a matter of overcoming time and space barriers to expand opportunities and benefits.

Growth scenarios change when distances shrink and airways alone aren't a good enough substitute for efficient surface transportation simply because of the breadth of physical ground the latter is able to cover along the way. This is something we don't seem to comprehend. There's no better way to bring growth to virgin or little-exploited countryside, and transform it into an integrated economic hinterland, than to build a full-blown network of speedier roads and railways. Our highways, for the most part, are like dressed-up country roads, where even cyclists and pedestrians demand the right of way. Our railways haven't advanced much beyond their colonial past and hardly run on time.

Of course, we have half a dozen high-speed rail corridors in mind, but for now they're only visions. Let's be happy with that, calling up mental images of our very own bullets hurtling across our landscape at 200 km – or 350, even 500, if you like – an hour. Isn't mind travel the best form of travel for the lazy, where speed has no limit?

China is obsessive about reducing distances and overcoming the vastness of its geographic space. It has had at least six speed increases on its trains nationwide since 1997. In the Beijing-Shanghai section itself, travel time has come down from 14 hours in 2001 to nine hours and 48 minutes in 2006. Now, with 300 km-per-hour bullets in service, one can make the journey in less than five hours. It reflects a degree of keenness to improve, to bring the nation closer together in every possible way, which India has so far been unable to show.

Actually, two sets of high-speed trains are being introduced on the Beijing-Shanghai route, 90 trains in all. Sixty-three trains will run at 300 km per hour, covering the distance in four hours and 48 minutes, while 27 trains will run at 250 km per hour with a travel time of seven hours and 56 minutes. What does it mean for travellers? A train every five minutes during daily peak hours! And when one remembers that all the 136 existing trains on this route, running on separate tracks, are also going to stay, the connectivity assumes the dimensions of a virtual metro network.

Connectivity at increasing levels of efficiency is the name of the game, and China has been at it heart and soul with its railways since 2005. Its aim is to have 120,000 km of total railways by 2015, of which 45,000 km will be high-speed, including 8,870 km of railways with top speeds of 350 km per hour.

Will this put us into introspection? Don't even ask. Introspection is not in our nature. Besides, the moment China and India are compared, our nationalist bristles begin to stand up and the dictatorship-versus-democracy arguments start flying. All other questions become moot, even harmless ones like why do we keep introducing more and more lumbering trains on the same old tracks that haven't been renewed for ages? Is it progress? Doesn't efficiency matter? Is it forbidden in a democracy?

rbarun@gmail.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A TORTOISE NAMED DURANTO

OUR POOR RAILWAY NETWORK IS A REFLECTION OF HOW WE, AS A NATION, WAIT FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN UNLIKE CHINA THAT MAKES THINGS HAPPEN

BARUN ROY

 

To date, India, with one of the largest railway networks in the world, doesn't have a single kilometre of railway that can be called high-speed, dedicated to trains running at 200 km or more an hour. To date, China has 8,358 km of such tracks laid out and in service and 17,000 km more under construction.

 

Readers may draw their own conclusions. As far as I am concerned, the attitudinal difference of the two nations couldn't be starker. We keep hoping things will fall in place by themselves some day. They think "some day" isn't good enough when a nation waits to grow, and things must be made to fall in place. The railways are just one example of how they're forcing things to fall in place, instead of simply waiting for them to happen.

Our fastest trains still can't best 160 km per hour. Their latest bullet between Shanghai and Beijing runs at 300 km per hour, bringing the two cities, 1,318 km apart, within five hours of each other. We may have as many Durantos as we like, but, in today's speeding world, these are nothing but a bunch of tortoises in disguise, let loose to fool a gullible nation. The hares are much wiser now and slow and steady is no longer a race-winning quality.

We may not bother because even a bullock cart is capable of getting us to our destination, some day. But we aren't in bullock-cart India. If we wish to be seen as a dynamic economy, we have to be seen to be moving faster too, since economic growth, after all, is a matter of overcoming time and space barriers to expand opportunities and benefits.

Growth scenarios change when distances shrink and airways alone aren't a good enough substitute for efficient surface transportation simply because of the breadth of physical ground the latter is able to cover along the way. This is something we don't seem to comprehend. There's no better way to bring growth to virgin or little-exploited countryside, and transform it into an integrated economic hinterland, than to build a full-blown network of speedier roads and railways. Our highways, for the most part, are like dressed-up country roads, where even cyclists and pedestrians demand the right of way. Our railways haven't advanced much beyond their colonial past and hardly run on time.

Of course, we have half a dozen high-speed rail corridors in mind, but for now they're only visions. Let's be happy with that, calling up mental images of our very own bullets hurtling across our landscape at 200 km – or 350, even 500, if you like – an hour. Isn't mind travel the best form of travel for the lazy, where speed has no limit?

China is obsessive about reducing distances and overcoming the vastness of its geographic space. It has had at least six speed increases on its trains nationwide since 1997. In the Beijing-Shanghai section itself, travel time has come down from 14 hours in 2001 to nine hours and 48 minutes in 2006. Now, with 300 km-per-hour bullets in service, one can make the journey in less than five hours. It reflects a degree of keenness to improve, to bring the nation closer together in every possible way, which India has so far been unable to show.

Actually, two sets of high-speed trains are being introduced on the Beijing-Shanghai route, 90 trains in all. Sixty-three trains will run at 300 km per hour, covering the distance in four hours and 48 minutes, while 27 trains will run at 250 km per hour with a travel time of seven hours and 56 minutes. What does it mean for travellers? A train every five minutes during daily peak hours! And when one remembers that all the 136 existing trains on this route, running on separate tracks, are also going to stay, the connectivity assumes the dimensions of a virtual metro network.

Connectivity at increasing levels of efficiency is the name of the game, and China has been at it heart and soul with its railways since 2005. Its aim is to have 120,000 km of total railways by 2015, of which 45,000 km will be high-speed, including 8,870 km of railways with top speeds of 350 km per hour.

Will this put us into introspection? Don't even ask. Introspection is not in our nature. Besides, the moment China and India are compared, our nationalist bristles begin to stand up and the dictatorship-versus-democracy arguments start flying. All other questions become moot, even harmless ones like why do we keep introducing more and more lumbering trains on the same old tracks that haven't been renewed for ages? Is it progress? Doesn't efficiency matter? Is it forbidden in a democracy?

rbarun@gmail.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE MISSING P-WORD

MARKETERS SHY AWAY FROM TALKING ABOUT PRICE AS A MARKETING TACTIC

MADHUKAR SABNAVIS

 

Many years ago when a premium brand decided to run a money-off promotion, the agency fought for weeks telling the client that this would hurt the brand. After much to and fro, the marketing director took me aside and said, "I appreciate the agency's passion for the brand; however, remember we also care for our brand. We have decided to run the promotion so I request we just go ahead and do the campaign rather than give ourselves last-minute ulcers."

 

More recently, a client decided to cut his product's price by 25 per cent. He believed that the only barrier to sales was the product's price — the product was seen as effective and people trusted and liked the brand. However, when we got down to doing the television commercial, the client was uncomfortable when it came to talking price – he wanted to do "thematic" advertising, that is, talk about the brand and its benefits – and was, at best, willing to flash the reduced price at the end. So I said, "Are we whispering the biggest news instead of announcing it?"

If the role of advertising is ultimately about, as advertising guru David Ogilvy said, "we sell or else", then why do marketers shy away from presenting price as a proposition? Why is it demeaning to talk price to the consumer even though it is a critical factor while buying a product or service?

The most important "P" often discussed in boardrooms – and I guess in most business meetings – is price. It is the purpose for which brands remain in business since it determines the returns to the business. Yet when it comes to marketing discussions, it is the least discussed subject — left mostly to promotions and, at the most, stock-keeping units announcements. In my experience spanning over two decades, pricing as a communication platform has mostly been tactical, a means to garner quick sales. This is not surprising since the primary role of marketing is to enable consumers to justify the price they are paying through the activities they do. At the same time, the other very important statement made in marketing meetings is that the consumer is always seeking "value" — a euphemism for price perception. This parameter is determined by what the consumer is getting for the money she is forking out. Moreover, as marketing guru Philip Kotler enunciates, pricing is often determined by market and not necessarily by a cost-plus approach and is, therefore, seen as a "P" outside the control of marketers. Finally, the pricing advantage, if it exists for a brand, is mostly left as a pleasant discovery to be made by the consumer at the last mile. In itself, it is not a bad idea. However, the question remains: is pricing a bad word for branding and branding communication?

 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the last two decades, brands have learnt how to communicate price in an interesting manner. Initially, it used to be either just flashes (only rupee so much) or more explicit (now available at a slashed price). In fact, truly low-priced brands – with Nirma leading on this front – actually made attempts to hide their price advantage and left it purely to discovery. The brand's advertising strategy attempted to disguise the price advantage by selling "glamorous" images for an otherwise "cheap" product in respects other than its price. That was a clever thing to do for the mix at that time. Then came the wave of "value delivery" with the famous "zara sa" campaign by Rin detergent bar to show how much more you could get for the same price. Next, two brands introduced new price idioms. Hutch with its "chota recharge" tapped into the lives of consumers and positioned its low-priced product as an antidote to depleting consumer wallets during a month. It was based on a real consumer insight. The campaign featuring actor Irrfan Khan in the mid-2000s opened a new facet to pricing. And Deccan Airlines, less visibly but more charmingly (and Airtel more visibly but perhaps less charmingly), made the price proposition that anyone could use the category with its offerings. Deccan Airlines celebrated the first-time flyer (in a commercial showing the father of a son who loved airplanes) and Airtel showed how ordinary people also received calls on mobile phones (showing paan wallahs and doodh wallahs in its commercials). Airtel flashed its tariff at the end to complete the loop. Deccan's pricing was more well known through media coverage so it did not have to strive too hard. But it still made the point that airlines (just as Airtel did for mobile phones) were now accessible to the common man.

The paradox between intent and communication action has its truth in insights beyond marketing principles. Culturally, "cheap is inferior quality" and, therefore, there has been deep hesitation to talk low price for a brand. Brands that have aimed to democratise a category have always felt that they have perhaps traded off some quality to give the consumer a price advantage. This is reflected in the hesitation. Even today, "store brands" are seen with a certain amount of scepticism compared to large advertised brands.

But the world is changing. Categories are getting commoditised, quality is getting democratised and modern trade is becoming the shopping place for, at least, a segment of Indian population. Above all, it is important to realise that brands have built enough equity for themselves in the last two decades. To compete in that space for the share of wallet of the "spending" upper middle-class consumer, pricing can be a brand weapon. However, it has to start with the beginning, with pricing as a strategic tool in the marketing mix. Brands need to think of more interesting ways to price their products, linking them with the consumer's lifestyle and spending patterns and then making it a "talking" point. Already, prices of cars or computers are no longer in lakhs or ten thousands, thanks to equated monthly installments. Brands also need to find ways to position the price advantage charmingly and endearingly.

There could be many emotional propositions based on a "price advantage". From smartness to being non-indulgent for the good things in life to just being austere in an otherwise consumerist society are all possible triggers for brands keen to make their price advantage a marketing tool.

Views expressed are personal
madhukar.sabnavis@ogilvy.com  

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

MARICO'S MARATHON MAN

VINAY KAMATH

 

"One needs to operate to one's strengths and the FMCG business is to my strengths and the one that I love to do."SAUGATA GUPTA, CEO,CONSUMER PRODUCTS, MARICO LTD

Lunch and Mr Saugata Gupta were waiting for us when we entered his modestly-sized cabin at the consumer goods company, Marico's headquarters at Rang Sharda, Bandra, famous for its auditorium which hosts quite a bit of Mumbai's theatrical action. The dapper 43-year-old CEO of Marico's consumer goods business leaps up to greet us, hospitable and informal as ever.

Over the next two hours or so, he'll talk passionately about his brands, his convictions and some strategy, over large Subway sandwiches, which he has ordered as a working lunch for us.

The thing about these gargantuan Subway sandwiches, you soon realise, is as you bite into one end with gusto, stuff starts spilling out at the other end. We decide to take turns plying him with questions, interspersing our queries on Marico's brands with mouthfuls of unwieldy sandwich.

Maintaining a level of etiquette around Mr Gupta's small conference table, as cold beverage is served, we ask him what's with the acquisition fever that has had Marico and many other FMCG companies scouting for brands from Africa to West Asia and South-East Asia. "Isn't India where the action is, on all things relating to consumption?" we 'Sub'-intone.

Ready explanation

Mr Gupta has a ready explanation. Operating in Africa or West Asia may be complex, but competition there is less bruising than it is at home.

"All of us are looking at multiple pillars of growth. It's still not a focus market for many MNCs, but a focus market for many Indian companies. If you look at Africa, there are lots of similarities (with India). Category penetration is low, so there's scope for potential growth. Also, it's a complex market; one of the competencies of Indian managers is to work in a slightly chaotic environment. The market (there) is still not competitive. While complexity is there, the relative competitive intensity being low, we're investing ahead of the curve."

But for all its appetite for African and Asian forays, Marico, he says, is a "boringly consistent" company. Not for it that tall talk about a huge war chest, and being "on the prowl" for acquisitions. "Yet we are growing at a 20-per-cent CAGR. The number of exciting news items is less, but that's okay, but the pace of growth is equally good. The focus is something we believe in."

Mr Gupta, a seasoned marketer who cut his teeth in Cadbury, is emphatic when he says he won't launch a new brand or step into a new category just for the sake of it. Right now, he's content with the brand stretch that his two power brands, Saffola and Parachute, are undergoing. Marico has clearly defined itself, he says, in the "beauty and wellness" space.

"Should we want to participate in any new categories, we now have access to products. At the same time, to market an unknown brand, common distribution, media footprint and consumers will determine it. And, I don't think we have acquired that scale right now."

One of the things Marico did in the last two years was to take a hard look at the brands and categories it was supporting and deciding to shelve a few! Mr Gupta warns of the trap many FMCG players fall into: pursuing the Indian "consumption story" too ardently.

"If you look at a growing market such as India, everyone will come up with the same list of categories which are attractive. What is critical for any organisation is the ability to win in that category and that happens when you have shared customers or a supply chain. One of the reasons we withdrew Sparsh (a baby care brand launched by Marico) was that, the product was wonderful, but we didn't have the right to win because the key influencers were paediatricians and young mothers. Our target group (for its other products) did not have shared consumers."

Leit motif

Focus, in fact, is a leitmotif right through Mr Gupta's conversation.

"We were chasing too many small things; one of the things we decided was to have a 'stop doing' list! We had a few big bets, and are persisting with it. That's one key strategic shift we've done and we've seen results and will continue to do so," Mr Gupta gesticulates emphatically.

So, while Saffola, the healthy oil brand, has been extended to functional foods and oats, coconut oil brand Parachute has seen many extensions to make it more appealing, such as its recent hair fall prevention oil which has found its way into the Kerala and Tamil Nadu markets, "and, doing very well; consumers believe a 'leave-on' product will nourish the hair better!"

Intermediate foods

By now most of the innards of our Subs are on the plate and we're trying to pick up the pieces. Mr Gupta is already through, managing to polish off the sandwich even as he fielded our rapidfire questions.

If Saffola has got into oats and other functional foods, will it look to be a breakfast foods brand, we venture to ask?

Mr Gupta has an interesting take. "In India, I don't see ready-to-eat products having a big market, because there is still a concept of 'fresh' food, there's labour available and the housewife would still like to prepare the food. Now, because of lack of time and convenience, what she doesn't like is negative labour. That could be cutting vegetables, preparing a masala — there's a huge market for intermediate foods."

He also has an insight into why the same household may take to a breakfast cereal.

"Today with increasing double income families, they are time-poor as far as the morning is concerned; you can have help cooking a meal later in the day, but you won't have help cooking breakfast."

Meal done (whew!) we glug our drink, shift gears and ask him about his career move from consumer goods to insurance and back.

A chemical engineer from IIT-Kharagpur ("always wondered what use it was in my career, but at least I'm not flummoxed when I see process plants!"), Mr Gupta went on to do an MBA from-IIM, Bangalore.

Later, he was recruited into Cadbury by Ms Vinita Bali (Britannia MD) and then head of marketing for the chocolates company. Mr Gupta spent nine years marketing Cadbury brands and made an unlikely shift to head marketing at ICICI Prudential.

"The reason I went from FMCG to insurance is that I wanted to be with a start-up and start something new. That time I was 32, age was on my side. I learnt quite a lot about managing ambiguity and also about speed and aggression. A lot of learning and maturing as a leader happened . But one needs to operate to one's strengths and the FMCG business is to my strengths and the one that I love to do."

Joining Marico as head of marketing, Mr Gupta was made CEO in 2007 at the age of 39.

"It's been exciting driving growth; also the organisation has changed a lot. Without disturbing the fabric of the organisation which has a strong culture of transparency, openness, fairness, we have brought in two new values: bias for action and a global outlook. The next challenge is as we scale up. The domestic business has crossed Rs 2,000 crore and the group Rs 3,000 crore. We have gone through times of volatility. That is the new challenge, inflation is here to stay, and we have to manage it; that's' the new normal."

As a dyed-in-the-wool marketer, Mr Gupta believes there is nothing like working the markets himself to glean consumer insights.

He talks about how he validated his own strategy for Marico's Shanti Amla brand while sitting in Agra's wholesale market sipping tea with the largest amla dealer. Simple, homespun views from the dealer and Mr Gupta knew he was on the right track.

An inveterate traveller, as is his wife, a banker, both of them make sure that neither is travelling at the same time to be with their 11-year-old daughter.

"And, if we need to travel to the same destination, we make sure we are on separate flights!"

One can see that his daughter, Sanjana, whose many pictures are in his cabin, has Papa wrapped around her little finger. She's the one who brings him back to reality, he says, when sometimes she throws up both her hands and quizzes, "Your numbers were okay, na, this month?"

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DRUG ABUSE: THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

ADITI NIGAM

There could not have been a better day for a headline-grabbing expose — 300 youngsters arrested in a rave party in Karjat, near Mumbai. The occasion for the 'good deed': International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which happens to fall on June 26 every year.

 The incident throws up more questions than answers — how and why was that particular day chosen to bust the party? Don't such rave parties happen ever so often in the outskirts of cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore? Why did the police wait for the "right" day to prove that they can stop such wrong-doings?

Can the easy availability of illegal substances such as brown sugar, liquid drugs, cocaine, heroin, found in plenty at the Karjat party be possible without the complicity of law-enforcing agencies?

The answer to these questions, perhaps, lies in the fact that a senior police officer from Mumbai's anti-narcotics squad was present at that party and is said to have been one of the organisers.

Dream kingdom 

A daily walk after work to the Metro station in the highest security zone in New Delhi is more revealing. Rag-pickers and sundry loiterers can be seen inhaling smack and other narcotic substances in the dark corners of the station's entrance. Where do these people get money for this and why aren't they nabbed by the police?

If such things can happen right in front of Parliament House, then Karjat and Mumbai are surely in the boondocks.

 The poor and the homeless get hooked to drugs to forget their own abuse by the society and its keepers.

One sniff or drag numbs them enough to forget the pangs of hunger and pain and changes their misery into a sense of bliss, before they quietly crash out on the pavements. To quote T.S. Eliot, these people live 'in death's dream kingdom'.

 The abuse is as rampant, if not more, among the city's top tier — the high society — which has everything that money can buy; yet the yearning for a kick and a desire to fill up the hollowness of their existence pushes them into drugs.

 Data INADEQUACIES

As per a 2004 National Drug Survey Report, there are 62.46 million users of alcohol, 8.57 million users of cannabis and 2.04 million users of opiates such as heroin and opium in India.

 But, the fact that the last available comprehensive national data on drug abuse is of 2004 itself speaks volumes about the sorry state of affairs of policing and control. To top it, the complicity of law-enforcing agencies in the murky affairs of the cream as well as the crust of society is fast becoming part of folklore.

 This trail of destruction can only be stemmed if the root of the problem — the nexus of drug lords, cops and officials — is struck at hard. But, the big question is: Who will do that? Till then, we, as a society, will keep going on the 'road to nowhere'. 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

TAKE COTTON SUCCESS STORY FORWARD

RAM KAUNDINYA

Chinthi Reddy, a farmer in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, who cultivates cotton with Bt seeds on his five-acre land, says: "Life has never been so good." Reddy has installed drip irrigation in his field at an investment of Rs 70,000 and sent his son to the UK for MS studies in 2008. What's more, earning Rs 20,000 per acre in his cotton fields and saving Rs 7,500 per acre on account of less pesticide use has given him the added financial muscle to purchase more land for farming.

Reddy's story resonates with that of 60 lakh farmers who plant cotton with insect-protection technologies across India. This is a story of the transformation of cotton farming in India since 2002.

COTTON REVOLUTION

Across the large cotton-growing States, Bt cotton technology seeds are improving the lives of Indian farmers by providing them with savings on insecticide , higher yields, higher income, and helping them live with dignity.

Cotton production in Andhra Pradesh increased two-and-three-quarter times since the first planting of Bt cotton seeds, and farmers earn Rs 4,500 crore incremental income per annum by using hybrid Bt cotton seeds, as opposed to non-Bt varieties.

Imagine the improved status of our farmers if we can leverage the potential of these technologies with the right regulatory and market policies across crops. The power of plant technologies cannot be denied — they lifted India to the position of world's second largest producer and exporter of cotton, from being a large importer until 2002.

Today, the cotton farmer has more choices than ever before with 300 Bt cotton hybrids approved by the Government for cultivation.

The Indian farmer has rapidly adopted higher-yielding hybrid seeds with Bt cotton technologies, twice as fast as US farmers, and a third faster than Chinese farmers — a clear sign of the robust value derived from these technologies. Why stop them or deny them access to the latest technologies?

Benefits of technology

Today, India has the world's fourth largest area cultivated under biotech crops. Technologies have provided farmers with cumulative benefits surpassing Rs 31,500 crore from 2002 to 2009 (ISAAA). Studies further reveal that 87 per cent of India's Bt cotton farmers enjoy better lifestyles, 72 per cent invested in their children's education, and a significant 67 per cent repaid their long-pending debts (IMRB).

Seed biotechnology enhances food, feed, and fibre crop production; promotes resource conservation and energy efficiency; reduces the environmental footprint of agriculture by using lesser water, land and energy; improves economic viability for farmers and communities; and advances agriculture product safety.

India needs farmer-friendly regulation comparable to Brazil, the Philippines, and the US, and encouragement of R&D. Plant science and politics must not mix.

With population increasing and arable land decreasing, increasing yield and productivity is the only way to solve the food insufficiency problems.

Biotech seeds can help provide these benefits in a sustainable way, so that increasing populations can be fed without additional pressure on natural habitats, and simultaneously give a much needed fillip to rural incomes and quality of life.

The first fallacy is that farmers need to purchase hybrid seeds every year. GM technology is independent of the farmer's choice to buy seeds every year or save seeds from his crop. More importantly, it is recommended that hybrid seeds are bought every year as the virility or vigour of the seeds weaken every time the saved seeds are re-sown. The fact is Bt technology can be inserted either in hybrids or OP varieties. The seed is the hardware, the Bt technology is the software.

Second, it is believed that GM technology leads to loss of biodiversity. The variety of biological and genetic diversity is progressively reduced in the commercial arena because of the process of selection and breeding.

Genetic diversity is maintained in the gene banks of various governments and institutes. Current biotech crops have equal or less impact on biodiversity compared with conventional crops. Biotech crops have contributed to the development of conservation farming, which can significantly reduce erosion and restore soil quality, and conserve topsoil and moisture content, which in turn helps preserve biodiversity. Another commonly cited argument is that GM technology increases the cost of seeds. Farmers are intelligent and choose the seeds that provide them with the highest yield, income and ease of cultivation. The farmer's cost of Bt cotton hybrid seeds account for around 5 per cent of the total cost of cultivation, while labour and fertiliser costs account for over 30 per cent of his input costs. Plus, hybrid Bt cotton seeds help him double his production, creating significant insecticide savings.

Wide choice

It is said that Indian farmers will become dependent on foreign companies as seeds are imported. First, Indian cotton farmers have the widest choice as India is the world's most competitive market for cotton seed. Bt cotton technology is available from five different sources, including Indian and global technologies, with one source being the the Government's of India's CICR. Second, more than 350 Bt cotton hybrids are approved for use by the Government of India, providing the farmers with a wide choice. In India, it is compulsory to test and register all seeds at local State Agriculture Universities within the ICAR system. This ensures that only good quality locally relevant seeds are available. Farmers always only buy seeds developed to suit their agronomic and environmental conditions and based on their experience. In any case, the actual seed is produced by the Indian companies. Even in Bt cotton that is the only GM crop approved and is being used in India, 90 per cent of the seed used by the farmer is produced by Indian companies. No Bt cotton seed is imported and sold to the farmers.

SAFETY CERTIFIED

As for the belief that GM foods are not safe for human beings, the safety of GM crops is established through various rigorous regulatory data generation work done in different parts of the world, including India.

Scientists and international health organisations including WHO, FAO, among others, have concluded that biotech crops, foods, and feeds are as safe as conventionally bred crops, foods, and feeds. Over 3,200 renowned scientists worldwide have signed a declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology and its safety to humans, animals, and the environment. Biotech crops are among the most extensively tested foods in the history of food safety.

The view that Europe does not grow GM crops and hence we should also not grow them is also commonly voiced. GM crops are being cultivated in six European countries and another 27 European countries have approved the consumption of GM foods by their population. They import and consume GM food in these countries.

(The author is CEO, Advanta India and Chairman of the Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises - Agriculture Group. The first part of the article appeared on June 30.)

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INTERVENE, PM

THE DISPUTE BETWEEN DEFENCE AND TELECOM ON VACATING SPECTRUM MUST END


After the ministries of defence and telecom agreed, in May 2009, to make 45 MHz of spectrum used for defence purposes available for commercial 2G and 3G mobile services, there has been regular exchange of letters between the two ministries, but no action to release spectrum. The ministry of defence says that its commitment was subject to the department of telecom (DoT) laying a . 10,000 crore optical fibre network for it and, further, waiving any charges for spectrum use for defence purposes. These conditions have not been met and so Defence is not in a position to release any spectrum now. At a time when the number of subscribers continues to grow at a rapid pace and spectrum availability squeezes telecom companies' ability to offer quality service, this is not an acceptable state of affairs. When two ministries of the government are unable to reach an agreement on a matter that concerns both of them, it should be resolved through an intervention by the Prime Minister. And the matter brooks no delay.


The effort should be to provide every Indian with highspeed data connectivity, for India to realise the productive potential of her 1.2 billion people. Developed countries are making sound progress in this regard; the French now deeming broadband access a fundamental right and the US rolling out a national broadband plan to provide every home with 100 Mbps connectivity (in India, mere 256 kbps still qualifies as broadband). It is also criminal to permit state-owned broadcaster Prasar Bharati to squat on a huge swathe of spectrum that it uses for analogue terrestrial broadcast. There is every need to fully fund and accelerate Prasar Bharati's desultory digitalisation programme, so as to release additional spectrum for mobile networks. India has to target achieving a high-speed data network reaching all parts of the country, on which voice is just one functionality. For meaningful inclusion of the poor in the growth process, such data networks are imperative, to provide banking, health and education services. Wireless would be an integral part of it. The PM must ensure availability of the needed spectrum, amidst the squabbles among his ministers.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SAFE SKIES

THE MOVE TO OVERHAUL AND STRENGTHEN INDIA'S AIRLINE SAFETY SET-UP IS WELCOME


 The government's decision to expand the powers of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and form a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is welcome. Today, the DGCA looks after aviation safety, issues licences and investigates crashes. In addition to these, the CAA will also have powers to monitor ticket prices and rule on consumer grievances. These are necessary powers, because in the past, airlines have shown that they are capable of colluding to raise prices during peak season or in sectors where some flights have been temporarily disrupted. In addition to these powers, the CAA should also be the agency monitoring India's air traffic control (ATC), a key component of our air safety systems. India's ATC, said to be among the most efficient in the world, operates under tremendous pressure in fairly adverse circumstances to keep an ever-growing number of aircraft safe in air and guide them through landing and takeoff, in mostly-congested airports. The cloud of aircraft hovering above India is getting bigger — and is forecast to only grow over time. To minimise the chances of accidents, it is necessary to boost safety measures, the quality of airports and the ATC's capability.


For example, India's civil aviation sector will need 1,500 aircraft over the next 20 years. In another 10 years, the number of people travelling by air is forecast to rise six times, from today's 60 million to above 360 million. The government has realised that this will need a massive boost to building physical infrastructure and has called in the private sector to build and operate airports. Already, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kochi have airports built by private players; more will surely come. When private airports and airports owned by public sector Airport Authority of India coexist, it makes sense to divest ATC from the Airports Authority and bring it under the umbrella regulator. Air safety, like policing, is too vital a task to be left to private players; therefore, the government will need agencies like the CAA and the ATC to make sure that the ever-growing crowd of people taking to the skies finish their journeys safely.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BURSTING SOON?

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, ANOTHER BUBBLE IS ABOUT TO POP — THIS TIME, A TECH BUBBLE


A month ago, social networking site LinkedIn listed at the NYSE. Markets, which are supposed to be rational and investors, who're supposed to be hardheaded, valued it at $4.3 billion on listing, which eventually soared to $10 billion as the stock rose and rose on the exchange. Last year, the site made less than $245 million in revenues. At that rate, LinkedIn will take 40 years to make a topline equal to its value, forget about earnings per share. LinkedIn is an early warning: a gigantic bubble is blowing in American markets, and just now, everyone's willing to blow some more air into it. Two IPOs are on the anvil from the Facebook company, social networking is hyped as the next big thing and fatcat banks and institutional investors are waiting to scalp everyone. They will still be left with a face, you bet, when investors would have lost theirs.
What's interesting is not that banks are gulling investors, but how they're doing it: delivering abstruse reports based on incredible premises, all of which end with a 'buy' recommendation. LinkedIn listed at $45. It's now around $85 and UBS projects a $90 price, 40 times its estimate for 2013 EBITDA. It also expects this to grow 108% to 2014. Actually, the site's costs are soaring and revenues are struggling to keep up. Never mind. JP Morgan says that the fact that less than 10% of outstanding stock has been floated is reason enough to buy. But supply will increase when institutional buyers sell to take profits. Meanwhile, BofA Merrill Lynch pegs the target price at $92, arguing that the price is "65 times discounting 2014 earnings per share back 2 years at 10%, a multiple equal to one time 4-year profit growth." Huh? Exactly. If you could decipher that, you'd probably be running for your life, away from the bubble.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

70/30 is Not 20/20 Vision

The new land acquisition law must seek to reduce market distortions and segmentation, not aggravate them



    Land is contentious. With urbanisation and demand for non-agricultural use, coupled with lack of employment and skills for those in small-holder and subsistence-level agriculture, this is understandable. In western Europe, especially in Britain, and more especially in England, land markets were freed up before the Industrial Revolution and access to education and skills became more broad-based. We haven't introduced reforms that enable people to move out of agriculture, or diversify within agriculture. Nor are there marketable skills. Much of the controversy over land is actually a skills problem. That doesn't mean status quo of small-holder and subsistencelevel agriculture is desirable. Had that rural Arcadia existed, poverty levels would have been significantly lower. Given low agricultural productivity levels, nor does diversion of land to non-agricultural use mean India will starve.


What's this argument about fertile and irrigated agricultural land not being available for non-agricultural use? Some land is valuable, others are not. Had we done a better job of irrigation, much more of agricultural land would have become valuable. Whether it is for agriculture or whether it is for nonagricultural use, everyone will want what is more valuable and not what is less valuable. There is a famous Oscar Wilde quote, to the effect that a cynic is one who knows the price of everything and value of nothing. This is from Lady Windermere's Fan and is Lord Darlington speaking, replying to Cecil Graham's question. Usually, we don't remember Cecil Graham's response. "And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn't know the market price of any single thing." How do we know value of any object? From prices in the market, and forces of demand and supply, assuming we allow markets to operate. We had two Bills floating around, an amendment to Land Acquisition Act (LAA) of 1894 and a Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) Bill (RRB). Both lapsed and have to be placed before Parliament again. From NAC's (National Advisory Council) website, we learn there are differing views within NAC on what revamped LAA should contain. However, NAC agrees that the two Bills should not be separated and should be consolidated. Media reports suggest such a consolidated Bill will now be prepared by rural development ministry.
There are cogent reasons for unification. However, isthere a conceptual difference between "compensation" under LAA and R&R? Common sense suggests there ought to be. Why is the word "acquisition" used in LAA? Its use suggests land is forcibly being acquired; there is coercion. It should not apply at all to voluntary transfer between two willing parties, provided there is no unfairness in the contract. Private markets function and if there is a problem with the functioning of private markets, the State steps in and acquires land, for public or private use. Hence, there is compensation. As a legal principle, I can only compensate someone who has some kind of right. Contrast this with R&R. The R&R Bill not only talks about those who have rights (tenure-holder, tenant, lessee, owner), but also those who don't possess rights but whose livelihoods are disrupted.
This is a legitimate social concern and we should have R&R clauses. But that cannot and should not be mixed up with compensation. When we say there are problems with land acquisition, are those problems with acquisition process or with R&R? Perhaps both. However, if we do not have conceptual clarity, we will be sentimentalists.


    In several sectors in India, we do not know market price for anything, because markets aren't allowed to function. Land is a good example. A general principle is preventing the functioning of markets is bad idea. Segmenting markets is a bad idea. Creating distortions in markets is a bad idea. Take the 70/30 rule, floating around in LAA and endorsed by NAC. State will acquire land if 70% of land has been acquired through free market principles. The rural/urban distinction is artificial. While de jure LAA does apply to urban land too, de facto it has come to mean rural land. When there is acquisition, it is rural land that is being acquired. However, there is discretion in conversion to non-agricultural use, which is how the political system makes its money. Thus, converted land has a higher value than non-converted land. High stamp duties, and evasion because the source of income is illegal or because taxes are avoided, reduce price at which sales are registered. For ST land, there are restrictions on its alienation.


This leads to higher demand for general land and lower demand for ST land. Apart from resulting in higher prices for general land, this can be circumvented, either by questioning ownership, or by disguising the sale. We don't have clean titles, cadastral surveys are old. There is no title insurance. Why do companies ask the State to step in? Not only because there may be an unwilling person sitting in the middle who is unwilling to sell, at any price, because titles are unclear. There is no point passing LAA (amendment) and R&R, unless we do something about the Titling Bill too. Tenancy is illegal in some places, driving it underground. Apart from other problems, this makes it impossible for tenants to establish rights. Land acquisition isn't simultaneous. It is sequential, even now. Land acquired earlier tends to have lower prices, creating issues about sanctity of contract. The 70/30 rule increases this sequential segmentation more. It further distorts and reduces operation of private markets. As sentimentalists, we cannot make recommendations that run counter to economic rationality. We need to reduce distortions and segmentation, not increase them.

 

BIBEK DEBROY PROFESSOR, CENTRE FOR POLICY RESEARCH

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FACE-OFF

DO WE NEED A CHIEF OF DEFENCE STAFF?

 

ADITYA SINGH LIEUTENANT-GENERAL (RETIRED) Yes, It's Crucial for National Security
The recent remarks of the Air Chief are in keeping with the long-stated air force position and misplaced apprehension that they would be swamped if CDS was appointed. Other detractors include the civilian bureaucracy and political leadership who feel threatened by an 'allpowerful figure'. Drawing strength from this divide amongst the services, they are quite happy at the status quo, all to India's peril. These views are, however, out of sync with the larger strategic community whose response to the above query would be an unequivocal 'yes'.


The Kargil Review Committee comprised India's finest strategic thinkers. It was followed up by the task force on defence headed by Arun Singh. Thus when the post of CDS was recommended, it was after considerable debate and discussion amongst the best. Sadly, 10 years have been lost in which the security environment has become vastly complex and demanding.


India has two nuclear-armed neighbours, one of whom is modernising at a ferocious pace that has even the world's major powers worried. Confronting this full spectrum operations capability requires the highest degree of integration which, today, is woefully lacking. This can only come about under a CDS.


Also consider peacetime challenges, i.e., those of asymmetric war, counterterrorism, cyber war, space-based threats, sea trade, need for raw materials, disaster management, information and perception operations, all these require inter-service and inter-ministerial coordination. Have we forgotten the lessons of Kargil or 26/11? Only a CDS could ensure an integrated approach to meeting these diverse and varied threats, leaving chiefs to look after respective services. The argument that the present system has worked will crumble in the face of any major national calamity. We appear to have closed our eyes to the rapidly changing world and enormity of the multi-dimensional threat.


Future wars will be vastly different and building defence capability requires an integrated approach which, too, can only be ensured by a CDS. In his absence, individual services will continue to push for independent requirements resulting in wastage of scarce resources. The debate has gone on for far too long and is seriously detrimental to national security. We need the CDS, and now!

 

VINOD PATNEY AIR MARSHAL (RETIRED) There's No Urgency for Such a Post
History records that in all the wars we have fought since Independence, our armed force have acquitted themselves creditably in every case with the exception of the 1962 conflict with China. Coincidentally, the 1962 conflict was the only single service operation where the chief of the service was, for all practical purposes, the equivalent of a CDS. In every other conflict, where we fared much better, two or more services were involved. In all these cases, although cooperation was not 100%, it was adequate and improved with time. The synergy was much in evidence. Thus, there is no real urgency to appoint a CDS.
Unfortunately, the issue has become more emotive at the expense of a reasoned debate. Many emphatically state the CDS is long overdue without spelling out the operational philosophy that the CDS will preside over. There are many others who would much rather first work out the manner in which we wish to fight, and the operational dictates that must inform our planning for war and use of forces in combat. Only then can we assess the desirability of a CDS and then outline his tasks and responsibilities. We cannot and should not try and ape other countries whose systems and requirements are very different. We should use our genius to work out what suits us best.
Whether there is a CDS or not, the critical factor is the need for joint planning and the incorporation of a system that will ensure it. We should work towards a system of joint planning without waiting for a CDS. In fact, if we were to do so today, we will better comprehend the desirability and role of the CDS.
Another critical factor is that any organisation must ensure that authority, accountability and responsibility are coincident. This is not the case in the proposal that was mooted so many years ago and little has been done to improve it in the light of experience gained in the interim. Much work needs to be done before a sound decision can be arrived at. Otherwise it will be like what Steven Wright once quipped — "Car mechanic to owner: 'I could not repair the brakes so I made the horn louder'."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

NEW VISTAS FOR INDIA-NZ TRADE

TIM GROSER

 

New Zealand and India may well appear to be two widely different nations in the Asia-Pacific region, but we share strong and deep people-to-people links across sport, education and tourism. This week New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and I, along with a delegation of senior New Zealand business and government leaders, have had a chance to build on these bonds —from the boardroom to Bollywood. With both countries committed to strengthening the existing bilateral relationship, developing greater economic interaction and enhancing socioeconomic cooperation, the New Zealand-India relationship has a solid base for strong growth and development.


Over the past 12 months, India has become New Zealand's seventh largest export market, with exports increasing by 40% from March 2010 to March 2011. There has also been growth in imports and two-way trade between India and New Zealand is now at NZ$1.28 billion per annum. But both the New Zealand government and our counterparts here in India believe that this relationship has much further to grow — and it is in the interest of both nations to realise this potential. There has been much talk during our visit about our recent Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which are still in discussion. A comprehensive FTA is the single-most important bilateral platform for increasing trade, allowing more open access and investment flows, and its conclusion would provide the impetus for each country to grasp mutual benefits.


The FTA will provide a platform for the New Zealand-India economic relationship to soar. It will improve business and investment links between both countries. It will set up a more strategic relationship, offering partnership and development opportunities across industries — for example, New Zealand helping India to meet food security objectives. India is looking to ramp up production to meet increasing demand and New Zealand has a long agricultural history. We are widely regarded as leading the international farming community in animal welfare, traceability and food safety, and agricultural sustainability — and we believe we can work closely with the agricultural sector in revolutionising post-harvest management logistics in India.
New Zealand can also offer technology in a broad range of areas, including agri-processing, food processing, technology transfer in refrigeration, cold chains, storage and logistics for minimising post-production losses.
New Zealand's interest is in growing trade in agricultural products, including dairy, horticulture and wine. But we are aware of the need to complement, rather than compete with, Indian goods — as with apples. New Zealand is not just known as a safe food basket though — we also have niche skill-sets, in areas such as aviation, wood, ICT, highvalue manufacturing, and green technologies.


During the New Zealand delegation's time in India, I was happy to witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between New Zealand technology company Finzsoft and HCL Technologies, around innovative banking software. The two companies will work in partnership to deliver new high-value technology solutions into India, New Zealand, Australia — and ultimately further afield.


We also witnessed an MoU signing between the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Center and health IT provider Medtech Global, also from New Zealand shores. Medtech currently employs more than 150 people in India and is providing training both here and in New Zealand to meet increasing demand for healthcare technology solutions in India.


Other New Zealand businesses here in India include Glidepath, which is providing advanced baggage handling technology to the aviation sector. Leading global ICT business Rakon has a very active Indian joint venture, Centum Rakon, is not only a leader in frequency control solutions for the GPS market, but is also providing solutions that are literally 'out of this world' to the Indian aerospace market. Vista Entertainment, global leaders in entertainment software solutions and one of the leading producers of software for the worldwide cinema market, now have their product in over 47 countries, including India, with their local partner Bigtree Entertainment.


These are just a few examples, but the list of New Zealand companies who have transformational solutions that can be scaled up with Indian partners is growing — they are committed, as is the New Zealand government, to work together to forge strong and long-lasting relationships.


A lot of ground has been covered over the past few months and more still during our visit this week. Significant deals were concluded and many more negotiations are on their way. We are at the beginning of an interesting time for economic cooperation between the two countries — our hope is to realise the promise, to both our benefit.
(The author is minister for trade and climate change negotiations, New Zealand)

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

EXTERMINATING COMMUNITIES

OUR REFUSAL TO ACKNOWLEDGE SLUMS AS COMMUNITIES IS THE SIGNAL FAILURE OF THE GOVERNMENT'S REHABILITATION LAWS


 What kind of government, what kind of system allows suffering like this? Very early in Gregory David Roberts's Shantaram comes this reaction to a first view of Mumbai slums. It is a reaction fuelled by shame, guilt and rage, and it is the view of an outsider. We who live here have passed beyond such feelings. We simply do not even notice them any more. Perhaps this has to do with our 'culture' of the philosophical shrug that answers all problems, and the always-reliable excuse of karma. But karma and justice are uneasy bedfellows.
    Depending on your politics, the numbers vary. For a xenophobic political pretender, tens of thousands migrate into the city and make their homes in slums; other studies put the number much lower – Delhi has a higher daily influx than Mumbai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad combined, they say. The reasons for this migration are well known, of course, and as Charles Correa says nobody comes to the city to live in a slum. They come looking for work.

 

 Given that truth, for a government to have absolutely no policy on affordable housing borders on criminality. Successive governments plead helplessness and, when the problem is brought to courts, file affidavits saying that the government is unable to prevent encroachments on government lands. This is patently untrue, of course: there are no slums on the lawns of the High Court or the chief minister's or mayor's or municipal commissioner's splendid bungalows, and all these are government lands. And the coda to these excuses is to say that there is no solution.


    As everybody knows but nobody in government or in court will openly acknowledge is that there is simply no will to consider any meaningful solution. The result is a distortion of perspective and a corruption of language: rather than 'rehousing' we say 'rehabilitation', as though living in a slum is a birth anomaly; we automatically associate slums with poverty and crime; and we turn our slums into icons (Dharavi) and permit 'slum tourism'. There is conceivably nothing more degrading than allowing busloads of camera-festooned tourists to photograph degradation.


    The solutions our governments offer are travesties. One is to simply evict city workers and throw them away without any form of support systems. Another is our wonderful Slum Rehabilitation statute, a law that trespasses on insanity. This is a law that has bred corruption of inconceivable proportions from the top down. It proceeds on a deliberate refusal to understand that living in a slum is not just a matter of makeshift partitions and tin sheet roofing. These are homes, and some have existed for a very long time, permitted and even silently encouraged: ration cards, electricity connections, bus routes, municipal schools and places of worship, factories and workshops all exist in slums. Unlike the semi-detached lives of the rich, these are also communities, and the refusal to acknowledge this is the signal failure of our slum rehabilitation laws. Redeveloping these slums by rotating them through 90 degrees, and piling and squashing people into tower blocks fractures these communities. It tears the social fabric of the city and creates increasingly stark dichotomies: rehab buildings with scarce water, no lifts, little by way of amenities must face the 'free sale' developer-incentive luxury structures.


    What our slum laws also do not recognise, perhaps deliberately, is that these schemes are doomed to failure because they fail in a second aspect: they do not provide the intangible benefits of property rights. Instead, by merely allotting spaces in rebuilt towers, these laws have become a lottery. People rehoused in towers soon sell them at hugely inflated rates and move to another slum. The going rate for slum rehab flats in south Mumbai is over Rs 35 lakh; and at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, those shifted out have sold their flats and moved back into slums in the park.
    A policy that protects government lands and also provides property rights, forces payment for these rights, limits transferability and enforces penalties against illegal transfers and provides transportation systems can work. An attempt was actually made by MHADA in a World Bank assisted project at Charkop, and the result was a community proud of itself, banding together to improve and maintain its space. Now that the freeze-period on sales and transfers is over, this community has been reduced to a small enclave. All around it, on lands meant for similar public affordable housing projects are tower developments, many of them on illegally reclaimed land.


    The problem of slums and housing is not intractable. But it demands strength of political will, clarity of vision and recognition that slums are not building blocks for developers but real communities in need of assistance.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

TIME TO ACT

It is better for a prime minister to speak up and be partially understood than to stay silent and be completely misunderstood. Manmohan Singh's interaction with a select group of editors may not have answered all the questions that his government faces over issues such as corruption, inflation and the slow pace of reforms. But it serves one important purpose — it helps reassure the nation and the international community that he will not shy away from rebuffing attempts to undermine the dignity of his office. This is not to deny that his government faces challenges on several fronts. Not all the challenges are, however, posed by the opposition parties. If Mr Singh had to repudiate insinuations that he was only a lame-duck prime minister who was keeping the seat warm for Rahul Gandhi, some leaders of the Congress were responsible for forcing him to do so. This was a spurious controversy and had little to do with the performance of the prime minister or his government. As long as he holds the office, Mr Singh cannot but be in charge and be responsible for the government's actions or inaction. The prime minister did the right thing by saying as much in unambiguous terms.

However, the prime minister's remarks reflected his worries over some major issues of governance. There is no denying the fact that corruption has raised serious questions about the quality of governance. Mr Singh, though, feels his government is more sinned against sinning. But his complaints against sections of the media and other critics show that he cannot wish away the damage such criticism has done to the government's image. Perhaps he could have been more forthcoming in his views on the question of the prime minister's office being brought under the purview of the lok pal. His worries about confrontational politics holding up reforms are understandable. But his remarks do not do enough to dispel misgivings about long-delayed reforms in important sectors of the economy. It should be agonizing for Mr Singh to see his reform agenda held hostage to avoidable political controversies. His interaction with the media comes on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament, which may enact crucial new laws on land acquisition, foreign direct investment, insurance and the retail trade. It is clearly a time for Mr Singh to assert himself more — both with words and action.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

FIRE POWER

Given that all policy initiatives in Afghanistan are unerringly greeted with suicide attacks or an escalation in violence, it would be foolhardy to expect that the announcement of troop withdrawal by the president of the United States of America would be met with calm and foresight by his adversaries on the ground. On the day the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, initiated discussions on the transition with the US president's special envoy, and Afghanistan's provincial governors congregated in Kabul to deliberate on the process, the Taliban launched a spectacular attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul where some of the discussions were to be held. The message written into the siege has been repeated ad nauseam — the Taliban remain undefeated. The message needed to be repeated again at this juncture to deny the US the sense of closure it had claimed for itself when declaring its intention to withdraw by 2014. It was meant to show that neither the troop surge of 2010 nor the much-advertised negotiations with the Taliban had dented the latter's strength. In other words, there was no military victory, even less a moral victory — a decade of occupation had yielded nothing for the US and its allies.

As expected, the attack has left in its wake a lot of uncomfortable questions about Afghan security, most of which will have to be faced by Mr Karzai, who continues to insist that his transition plans, as also the reconciliation process with the Taliban, are on the right track. Public confidence in him, however, continues to plummet. The attack on the hotel once again showed how heavily the Afghan police still depend on Nato troops to bail them out of trouble. If the Afghan troops repeatedly fail to deliver during Taliban onslaughts, which are likely to increase now that the allies have thrown in the towel, Mr Karzai will be forced to carry the can alone. That, however, suits the Taliban fine. Not many of them are reconciled with the idea of negotiating with opponents who are already on their knees. With the foreign allies packed off, and a national government unable to get its act together, the Taliban await a future custom-made for them. The attack on the Intercontinental shows how fraught this future could be for the people of Afghanistan, who are at the receiving end of all machinations, be they of foreign powers, the Afghan bounty-hunters or the Taliban.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

MORE EQUAL THAN MOST

- MANY INDIAN POLITICIANS STILL LIKE AUTHORITARIAN DEMOCRACY CUTTING CORNERS: ASHOK MITRA

A dose of cynicism is in order. The corporate sector already occupies all the commanding heights in the polity. Hullabaloo over the contents of the lok pal bill cannot but be only a divertissement: let controversy rage over the modalities of fighting corruption in high places, the interregnum will provide enough breathing space to plan new strategies to cover up shenanigans-by-courtesy-of-neo-liberalism. Most of the Supreme Court judges smitten by the activism bug are also bound to retire meanwhile. Once the judicial passion gets spent, anti-graft crusaders too will return to their cloister. Calm, too, will automatically return to the nation's capital which is the centre of the Indian universe.

The debate on the modalities of tackling corruption in high places has nonetheless yielded one useful by-product: we now have a clue to how some minds that matter are working. A major issue apparently dividing the government and the motley crowd of so-styled civil society warriors is whether the prime minister should or should not come under the purview of the lok pal's surveillance. Prima facie, there is no reason why he/she should not. He/she may be primus inter pares, but is still a minister; if other ministers come under the lok pal's scanner, the prime minister too ought to. The government and the party that heads the government coalition are not willing to go along; they abhor the idea of treating the prime minister on a par with other ministers. As points and counterpoints fly across the television channels, the heavyweight of a cabinet minister who has emerged as the principal spokesperson on behalf of the government shot a rhetorical question: is there any country in the world where its prime minister has ever been charged with corruption? The minister was confident there was none. It is therefore, he concluded, ridiculous — and demeaning to the country by implication — to introduce any legal provision to prosecute our prime minister on grounds of corruption; the lok pal must not be allowed to embark on a fishing expedition to find out whether the prime minister has or has not deviated, in the conduct of public affairs, from the straight and narrow path.

Rhetoric deserves counter-rhetoric. Can the official super spokesperson cite the instance of any other country where a prime minister admits that he had been presiding over a bunch of ministers some of whom were corrupt to the core but he/she will not take responsibility for their misdeeds and feels no reason to resign? Do not certain other facts stare at our face too? In Japan, it is standard political practice for the prime minister to seek forgiveness of the people for any major or minor dereliction of duty on the part of the government or any individual minister and vacate office without further ado. In Britain, Harold Macmillan stepped down as prime minister owning responsibility for some sexual dalliance on the part of one of his junior colleagues. Once the convention is firmly established that under circumstances which embarrass the regime the prime minister resigns, no occasion arises to prosecute him/ her. The person elected president is both head of state and head of government in the United States of America. In not too distant a past, one such president, Richard Nixon, had to resign from his august office on the eve of his impeachment in accordance with procedures spelled in the nation's constitution.

Caesar's spouse may be above suspicion, but Caesar himself is not in most parts of what is known as the democratic world. The obtuseness embedded in the argument that the prime minister is no ordinary mortal, therefore, provides food for some thought. Democracy means freedom of choice. Is that freedom being availed of to contribute a new definition of democracy itself? Perhaps the intent is to drop the hint that if there could be such a phenomenon as popular democracy or guided democracy, why not accept the notion of authoritarian or totalitarian — or, for the matter, dynastic — as well; others might abide the question, but the prime minister — conceivably belonging to only one particular family — would be free, the ordinary laws of the land would not apply to him/her. Since, exception supposedly proves the rule, the exceptional treatment of the office and person of prime minister would confirm India's standing as the world's largest democracy.

Much of this, though, is not original thought and has a distinguished antecedent. Let there be a flashback to the year 1975. Indira Gandhi was peeved no end by that silly judgment of the up-to-no-good Allahabad High Court holding her guilty of electoral malpractices. The judgment, how annoying, imperilled her tenure as prime minister. Poor she; in the event, declaring an Emergency alongside suspension of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution was the only alternative left to her. It is however an ill wind that does not yield somebody at least some good. The congenial ambience of the Emergency made it easy for Indira Gandhi to ram through a constitutional amendment. The Constitution (39th Amendment) Act of 1975 introduced a special proviso concerning the election to Parliament of the prime minister and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha; no court in the country was permitted to question, on any ground whatsoever, the validity of the election of these two eminences. The amendment was made retroactive, thereby rendering the Allahabad High Court's verdict on Indira Gandhi's election ultra vires of the Constitution; it was like waving a magic wand. Another point is also worth noticing. An authoritarian approach to things does not amount to abandoning a sense of aesthetics: it was a bit inelegant to treat the prime minister as a sui generis case; to keep her/him company, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha was tagged on to constitute the duet the validity of whose election to Parliament would be beyond the reach of the legal process.

Indira Gandhi's experiment with totalitarian democracy met a sorry end in 1977. The Janata regime that followed could at least take time out from its unending internal squabbles to pilot the Constitution (44th Amendment) Act of 1978 which got rid of the 39th amendment; the prime minister (and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha) re-entered the earth and were once more at par with one billion or thereabouts of other citizens who make up the nation.

It is given to human beings to learn from experience. Since democracy grants freedom of choice, it is equally the privilege of human beings, or any collection of human beings, not to learn from experience. Maybe decision-makers in the country's largest political party have not ever been able to forsake their passion for authoritarian democracy. Was it not sheer bliss to be ruling during those two heavenly years between 1975 and 1977? The wishes and whimsies of an urchin from you-know-which family had the imprimatur of law, thousands of recalcitrant and potentially recalcitrant elements could be locked up without trial in prison, encounter deaths could take care of cheeky, restless youth, the wretched inmates of ramshackle slums besmirching the texture of metropolitan beauty could be loaded like cattle in trucks and dumped in a wilderness fifty or a hundred kilometres away.

Possibly the memory of that paradise still haunts and the blueprint of a new edition of authoritarian democracy is firmly etched on the subconscious. The occasion of the ersatz debate over the nitty-gritty of the lok pal bill is being put to excellent use. It is a sort of a preview of the re-touched dream: the prime minister is no ordinary citizen, she/he is the be-all and end-all of Indian democracy, not just holier than holy, but the holiest; how can anyone even dare to suggest that he/she should be the target of dirty investigation for this or that piffling alleged misdemeanour while in the pursuit of official duties?

If the incumbent prime minister assumes that such solicitude is to protect his dignity and honour, he was born yesterday.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

IT IS REAL CHANGE THAT MATTERS

BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

The government has ceased to function. It is under siege. It is rudderless. Senior bureaucrats, waiting to move up the ladder, seem to be in 'mark-time' mode, not wanting to take any decision that may 'upset' their bosses. Decisions on transfers and to fill vacant positions are kept pending, encouraging endless lobbying and the pulling of strings. Those who are away from the centre of power do not have that luxury and tend to miss out on the shuffling that is happening at the moment. It is scandalous that a firm position has not been taken on the age of the chief of the Indian army. This kind of wishy-washy administrative approach, tinged with nepotism, has endorsed malpractices. The mechanisms of governance have been corroded beyond repair.

An ambassador to Nepal is announced, but he cannot move to his new job because the demitting official is cooling his heels in Kathmandu, waiting to fill a vacancy in Europe. Listening to the gup-shup in Delhi gives one the impression that professional discipline has been thrown to the winds and that most decisions are in limbo because of influence and interference. Clearly, individuals who benefit from this confusion have powerful maai-baaps in the capital.

Therefore, trying to understand what is happening in the defence ministry and the ministry of external affairs requires the deftness of a seasoned sleuth. Rumour mills grind out all manner of chaff. It is believed that there will be a change at the helm of both these critical ministries. Will the reshuffle, as this game of non-musical chairs is referred to, force the restructuring and reformation of the two ministries? Will both operations be infused with intellectual energy as well as accountability? Both external affairs and defence are of critical importance, and they need creative inputs as well as a clear and stringent policy. We need to extricate ourselves from being seen as a bungling power stuck in a convoluted time warp.

Tough ask

The same criteria should apply to other areas and ministries. We have seen a farce unveil itself in one particular ministry where an early 'eyewash' grabbed the media's attention. This was followed by a complete reversal of values that determine critical decisions that have to do with land and citizens. This kind of ridiculous, but carefully conceived and calibrated, oscillation aimed at fooling and mocking the intelligence of the people of this country needs to be rectified immediately. Needless to say, the next slot that the same person gets will contort in a similar fashion. Machinations of this kind are an intrinsic character trait.

Some 'gentlemen' need to revert to their states and work towards bucking the trend of the Congress losing ground. Enough of sitting pretty in Delhi — the time is here to deliver in the states. Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, all these states need undivided attention and creative politics. The politicking that has dominated the public space for decades has to be buried if India is to mature into a power with a mind of its own in the international domain. Sadly, that same genre of 'politics' has managed to overwhelm all the arms of the administrative service and diseased the body politic.

Will the reshuffle take on the avatar of one that is intelligently crafted and determined to alter the sliding, embarrassing course that India is on? Will the prime minister reveal his grand plan of reinventing a young and aspiring nation state, addressing both rich and poor? Is the Congress gearing up for the challenge of bringing about real change?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

POSSIBILITIES FOR SYRIAN TRANSFORMATION

In June 2000, the Baath party nominated Bashar al-Assad for president. His father, the late Hafez al-Assad, groomed him as his replacement. When the elder Assad died unexpectedly, Article 83 of the Syrian constitution, which stated that the president of the republic must be 40 years old, was amended overnight.

It is ironic now to remember that when Bashar rose to power, his presidency was met with hope in Syria and abroad in spite of his unorthodox ascension. His early speeches and actions were considered a sign of the new direction Syria would take under his leadership. He criticized bureaucracy as a major obstacle to development, highlighted the need for "modern thinking" and emphasized the role young people should play in transforming Syria. There was the talk of a "Damascus Spring" then. One of the important elements of this Damascus Spring was the release of political prisoners. The change of atmosphere led to the mushrooming of political forums and a civil-society movement in the country. In 2000 the Committees for the Revival of Civil Society in Syria was established. This was followed by a political forum called Friends of Civil Society in Syria. These groups published manifestos demanding rights.

The Damascus Spring, however, did not last very long. Soon the regime crushed these organizations and many activists were jailed. The belief at that time was that the so-called "old guard" had warned Bashar that this could bring down the regime. He apparently agreed.

The Syrian regime's response to the current uprisings is seemingly following the same pattern. Speeches by the Syrian president have generally dashed hopes that the regime will initiate any meaningful change. Familiar accusations against the protestors of being "foreign agents," essentially branding them as waging a military war against Syria, recall the discourse of the early 2000s.

This time, however, the opposition is much more determined. They seem to have passed the threshold of fear. But it is still unclear whether the events in Syria will lead the country in the direction of Egypt and Tunisia. There are already important differences. The regime in Syria continues to resist the uprising more fiercely than the others. Moreover, there is a sectarian dimension in Syria less present in the more homogeneous societies of Egypt and especially Tunisia. Even though minorities in Syria, especially Alawites, Druze and Christians, may have their own grievances with the regime and the political class that runs it, they tend to support it for fear of repercussions from a Sunni-dominated regime. The new business elite, which prospered due to its ties with the regime, also do not want drastic change. There are also those belonging to other communities who do not want instability and fear a civil war. All this makes Syria different. Ironically what happened in Tunisia and Egypt after the leaders left power provides important lessons to Bashar: namely, there may not be an exit strategy.

One hopeful development has been the meeting of the Syrian opposition in Damascus. Around 200 opposition figures came out, including longtime human rights activist Michel Kilo, who recently ended another three-year prison term. The messages that came out of the meeting were very meaningful. Reiterating the desire for democracy and reform, they called for a peaceful transition to democracy and an end to the Assad family's 40-year rule. The meeting came up with specific proposals as to how to proceed. Although the initial announcement of the meeting generated suspicions that the regime might use it for its own purposes, the statements that came out of it were impressive. Now it seems possible that a domestic leadership for the Syrian transformation may emerge. That development would differentiate Syria from another of its neighbors: Iraq.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

 

SHOOTING THE FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

Whether the "invisible hand" that caused technical problems and kept the Mavi Marmara docked on the Golden Horn belongs to a body in Ankara or in Pennsylvania, it must be shaken with heartfelt praise. Not to have another Turkish cruise to the shores of Gaza was the right decision for the organizers of last year's Freedom Flotilla.

There are other signs that Mssrs. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ahmet Davutoğlu may be slowly retreating from their pre-election rhetoric which even included a deep regret that Turkey recognized Israel in 1948. That, however, will be a tactical retreat based on fears of crossing an invisible red line. Neither Mr. Erdoğan nor Mr. Davutoğlu will delete their ideological genes overnight, nor their dedication to the dream of praying at the al-Aqsa Mosque in the "Palestinian capital Jerusalem."

All the same, they must be encouraged to understand that international politics is not about sentiments or dreams, but largely about interests. They must be encouraged to calculate, for instance, how much the average Palestinian in Gaza may have benefited from the 59 percent decline in Israeli tourist arrivals in Turkey in the first five months of 2011.

The longer-term risk to peaceful relations between Turkey and Israel is not about whether the Mavi Marmara sets sail for Gaza or remains anchored in Turkish waters. The risk is not about whether Israel should apologize or instead reiterate regret for last year's deadly attack on the Mavi Marmara. It is not about low chairs or reparations for the Turkish victims either. The risk is about the systematic injection of Islamist sentiments about Israel into the minds of younger, ordinary Turks, especially in the past two and a half years.

In 2009 – before the Mavi Marmara incident – a basketball game between Türk Telekom and Bnei Hasharon was suspended before it even started. During the warm-ups Turkish fans threw objects at the visiting team's players and shouted "Death to the Jews," while waving Palestinian flags.

In 2010, a women's volleyball game in Ankara between Israeli and Serbian national teams had to be played without spectators to prevent a kind of "Turkish Munich."

In April, a group of Israeli cyclists was banned from the 2011 Tour of Isparta after the Syrian and Iraqi teams threatened to withdraw from the competition.

At the end of May, a prominent Israeli theater company, Cameri, was forced to cancel a performance in Antalya because protestors planned to disrupt the play.

In early June, an Istanbul concert by an award-winning Israeli musician, Yuval Ron, was cancelled due to threats from the "humanitarian aid organization" which spearheaded last year's flotilla.

And most recently, Israeli jazz musician Itamar Erez and his ensemble were forced to cancel a weekend show in Istanbul due to threats from pro-Islamic protesters.

None of that was a coincidence.

In January, Polat Alemdar, the Turkish James Bond-plus-Rambo-plus-every other hero character, returned to theaters with his "Valley of the Wolves: Palestine." It debuted, coincidentally, on the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the film, Alemdar emerges from a series of bloody clashes to track down and kill the Israeli commander who ordered the storming of the Mavi Marmara (in one particularly heart-wrenching scene, an Israeli soldier asks Alemdar why he came to Israel, and he replies: "I didn't come to Israel, I came to Palestine!").

Box office figures show that since its debut on Jan. 28, over 2 million Turks watched "Valley of the Wolves: Palestine," making it the year's third most popular film and generating over $10 million in revenues. The figures exclude private screening and DVD sales.

Can anyone guess how unlikely (or likely) it is that one of the young viewers of the film, applauding Alemdar and cursing the "blood-thirsty Israelis," will become Turkey's prime minister in 20 or so years? How unlikely is it that someone from the film's younger fans today will one day occupy the seat Mr. Davutoğlu today occupies?

How soon until a Turkish theater spectator draws out a pistol and shoots the "fiddler on the roof?"

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

MIND THE HANGOVER

Contrasting Turkey's stellar economic growth in the first quarter to the picture drawn by the Central Bank's Monetary Policy Committee on June 23 could yield interesting results.

The Turkish gross domestic product, or GDP, expanded by a whopping 11 percent in the first quarter when compared to the first quarter of 2010. Thus, Turkey has become the "growth champion" of the world, surpassing China as the "Eurasian tiger," according to Royal Bank of Scotland economist Timothy Ash. GDP growth compared to the previous quarter is also a robust 1.4 percent.

Breaking down the official data, we first notice the contribution from private consumption - a massive 8.7 percentage points. Investment spending accounted for an impressive 7.2 percentage points, emphasizing that as households continue spending at a never-before-seen pace, companies are encouraged to invest more. On the other side of the coin lies the contribution of net exports - at minus 5.5 percentage points. This piece of data complements another set of figures released yesterday by TurkStat: In May, the trade deficit soared to $10.1 billion, breaking a new record. The 12-month rolling trade deficit stands at $92 billion - reflecting $123 billion in exports, but $215 billion in imports.

Looking into the production side, the combined contribution of industry and trade to GDP is at 5.7 percentage points. On the spending side, the combined contribution of private consumption and private investment is at 16 percentage points - a figure that is chopped down by 5.5 percentage points due to negative contribution from net foreign demand.

The overall picture is one of robust private domestic spending, which fuels an industry that is dependent on imports of intermediary goods and energy. As exports fail miserably to keep up with imports, Turkey's current account deficit surges to levels many analysts call "unsustainable."

Enter the debate on whether the economy is "overheating" or not. The Central Bank's Monetary Policy Committee, or MPC, takes a pretty dovish stance on this issue. In their June 23 meeting minutes, released yesterday, MPC members announce that "aggregate demand conditions do not point toward overheating." They add: "As domestic demand follows a moderate outlook, capacity utilization rates in manufacturing preserve their low levels, due to weak foreign demand."

Of course, this statement is essentially about the end of the first half of the year, while the GDP data tells us about the first quarter. Thus, the Central Bank is content that its "unorthodox" monetary policy measures, whose implementation started late last year, are working. Regarding the latest phase of that policy, MPC members say that the precautions taken by the banking regulator will "support efforts to control fast credit growth." Furthermore, they say, these precautions are "limiting the need for extra hikes in bank reserve requirements." One could easily interpret this as "no more new measures" on the monetary policy front.

Thus, the Central Bank in essence thinks that the precautions taken since November last year are having their effect on the economy, preventing overheating. This would mean a "dramatic" decline in GDP growth rate in the second quarter, but the meager decline in industrial output (a 0.6 percent monthly drop in April) and high loan expansion (annually 35 percent) are hardly signs for such an optimistic perspective.

This is precisely where economy gets political – the boom in sales of cars, homes, home appliances, holidays and cell phones is surely part of the story of how the ruling party got half of all votes, though it has been in office for nearly a decade. The Turkish people are spending, riding high on the wave of a credit-fueled growth and loving it – and policy makers have no intention to spoil the party.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

 

MURPHY RUNS AMOK IN TURKEY

Turks have a tendency to subscribe to Murphy's Law with vengeance. It is not just the case that "anything that can go wrong will go wrong," as the law indicates. Turks will make sure things go wrong. This may be a cynical way to enter the subject but the present logjam in the new Parliament, elected on June 12, leaves one with few choices.

The bloc of independents acting under the banner of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, refused even to enter Parliament on Tuesday, let alone take the necessary oath of allegiance. This was to protest the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, decision to annul the Parliamentary membership of its elected member, Hatip Dicle, on the grounds of a previous conviction for promoting Kurdish separatist terrorism.

The main opposition Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, for its part entered Parliament but refused to take the oath because of a court decision refusing to free its elected deputies Mustafa Balbay and Prof. Mehmet Haberal. They are in prison for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government but have not been found guilty yet.

The exception was the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, which decided to take the oath, despite the fact that one of its elected deputies, a retired general who is in prison facing charges similar to Balbay and Haberal, was also not allowed to take his seat in Parliament.

The immediate question that comes to mind is why these people were allowed to run in the first place by the YSK if there was the risk that they would be prevented from entering Parliament. Inevitably accusations are now flying about "meddling in the will of the electorate by bureaucrats and the judiciary."

The bottom line is that with the boycott by the CHP and the BDP, 30 percent of the deputies who should have taken the oath Tuesday did not do so and few know how this mess is going to be resolved.

The attempted dialogue between the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which swept 50 percent of the votes in the elections, and the CHP, which was aimed at trying to resolve the deadlock, seems to have fallen through. President Abdullah Gül has now intervened to try and solve the unprecedented problem.

The case of Dicle, however, remains a special one since he has a conviction. A further complication for him is that the runner-up who gained his seat once his parliamentary membership was annulled was sworn in Tuesday from the AKP.

The BDP and the CHP are being criticized now for trying to pull the carpet from under Parliament by means of their boycott. It is felt they should have entered Parliament and taken the oath of allegiance and to demand the rights of their banned members there – although there were other complications for the BDP, which finds the present oath chauvinistically Turkish.

A bitter irony of Turkey's must be noted here: 20 years ago the attempt was to throw the Kurdish deputies – including Leyla Zana who was elected again on June 12 – out of Parliament, and this was done. Today the attempt is to throw them into Parliament and it remains to be seen how this will be done.

Such an inauspicious start for the new Parliament does not bode well for the spirit of compromise that will be needed in drafting a new constitution for the country. If one is to look on the brighter side, however, it could be argued that the present crisis may act as a catalyst in bringing out this spirit that will be required in large doses in the coming period.

If all the parties can come up with a legislative formula enabling all elected deputies to enter Parliament and thus avert a major political crisis; this would also represent a good start for politicians as they prepare to draft a new constitution.

This however is a very big "IF" for a country where the spirit of Murphy's Law is alive and kicking. Still, this is Turkey where strange things do happen when least expected.

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

EDITORIAL

ETHICS, POLITICS AND THE LAW

The ethical judgments of the Supreme Court justices became an important issue in the just completed term. The court cannot maintain its legitimacy as guardian of the rule of law when justices behave like politicians. Yet, in several instances, justices acted in ways that weakened the court's reputation for being independent and impartial.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito Jr., for example, appeared at political events. That kind of activity makes it less likely that the court's decisions will be accepted as nonpartisan judgments. Part of the problem is that the justices are not bound by an ethics code. At the very least, the court should make itself subject to the code of conduct that applies to the rest of the federal judiciary.

Among the court's 82 rulings this term, 16 were 5-to-4 decisions. Of those, 10 were split along ideological lines, with Justice Anthony Kennedy supplying the fifth conservative vote. These rulings reveal the court's fundamental inclination to the right, with the conservative majority further expanding the ability of the wealthy to prevail in electoral politics and the prerogatives of businesses against the interests of consumers and workers.

¶It struck down public matching funds in Arizona's campaign finance system, showing again a contempt for laws that provide some balance to the unlimited amounts of money flooding the political system.

¶It made it much harder for private lawsuits to succeed against mutual fund malefactors, even when they have admitted to lying and cheating.

¶It tore down the ability of citizens to hold prosecutors' offices accountable for failing to train their lawyers, even when prosecutors hide exculpatory evidence and send innocent people to prison.

¶It issued a devastating blow to consumer rights by upholding the arbitration clause in AT&T's customer agreement, which required the signer to waive the right to take part in a class action.

¶Finally, in the complex Wal-Mart case, the conservative majority, going beyond the particular issues in that case, made it substantially more difficult for class-action suits in all manner of cases to move forward.

These and other decisions raise the question of whether there is still a line between the court and politics, an issue since the Republican-led Rehnquist court decided Bush v. Gore in 2000, though the federal judiciary's shift to the right has been happening since the administration of Ronald Reagan.

The framers of the Constitution envisioned law as having authority apart from politics. They gave justices life tenure so they would be free to upset the powerful and have no need to cultivate political support. Our legal system was designed to set law apart from politics precisely because they are so closely tied.

Constitutional law is political because it results from choices rooted in fundamental social concepts like liberty and property. When the court deals with social policy decisions, the law it shapes is inescapably political — which is why decisions split along ideological lines are so easily dismissed as partisan.

The justices must address doubts about the court's legitimacy by making themselves accountable to the code of conduct. That would make their rulings more likely to be seen as separate from politics and, as a result, convincing as law.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE LIBYA CAMPAIGN

Four months into the NATO air campaign, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is still in power, protected by loyalists and mercenaries. Americans are weary of war, and patience in Europe is also wearing thin. But NATO must not give up.

If Colonel Qaddafi is allowed to have his way, thousands more Libyans will die. The credibility of NATO and this country would also be severely damaged. Colonel Qaddafi, who has a long history of sponsoring international terrorism, is not one to let bygones be bygones.

There is progress. The make-shift rebel army — aided by British, French and Italian advisers and armed by France and Qatar — is slowly improving. NATO strikes on military command centers, including Colonel Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli, have done real damage. This week's International Criminal Court indictment of Colonel Qaddafi, one of his sons and his intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity should be a warning to all of his cronies.

A naval blockade and international sanctions are increasingly having an effect. Oil revenues, the government's main income, are down by two-thirds. There are reports of long gasoline lines in Tripoli and rising bread prices. On Thursday, people fleeing Tripoli told of overnight gunfire and signs of revolt.

The Qaddafi clan is watching closely for signs that NATO's will is flagging. Italy's recent call for a cease-fire (which could give government forces time to regroup) and second-guessing by the Arab League's outgoing leader, Amr Moussa, are not helpful. Neither are Congressional efforts to force an end to American support for the air campaign.

President Obama was wrong to ignore the War Powers Act, but that should not stop the House and Senate from adopting the Kerry-McCain resolution authorizing the mission to continue for another year.

NATO must help, but the Libyan people are the only ones who can bring the regime down.

The rebels need more military advisers and weapons and access to $30 billion in frozen Qaddafi government funds. The United States and other countries need to remove the legal obstacles to getting that money.

The alliance should extend sanctions to more of Colonel Qaddafi's cronies and the subsidiaries of state-owned enterprises. Washington and its partners should also help the rebels start building the political and civil institutions they will need to keep a post-Qaddafi Libya from descending into chaos.

There has been recent talk by all sides about a possible political deal between the rebels and the government. We are eager to see an end to the fighting. But Washington and NATO must stand firmly with the rebels and reject any solution that does not involve the swift ouster of Colonel Qaddafi and real freedom for Libyans.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

LIES AND TRUTH ABOUT UPPER BIG BRANCH

Profits trumped all, including the safety and lives of 29 miners. That is the clear conclusion of a yearlong federal investigation into the Upper Big Branch disaster. Industry must finally learn its lesson. Congress and federal regulators must ensure that it does.

The investigation by the Mine Safety and Health Administration faults the mine's owner, Massey Energy, for deadly mismanagement. "This explosion could and should have been prevented by the mine operator," it said, rejecting the company's claim that a sudden infusion of methane gas caused the explosion.

Investigators instead found a chain of safety neglect: a dangerous buildup of coal dust had gone unattended and finally exploded after faulty water sprays failed to douse sparks from a cutting machine.

It also found that mine executives kept two sets of safety books to hide lethal hazards from inspectors, while also intimidating foremen and safety monitors into misrepresenting the true dangers down below.

The findings are being referred to criminal prosecutors. The mine's security chief has already been indicted, and more than a dozen company officials are under investigation and, thus far, declining to cooperate.

Senator John Rockefeller IV, a Democrat of West Virginia, is sponsoring legislation urgently needed to prevent further disasters. It would strengthen the mine safety agency with subpoena power against routinely evasive owners, impose tough civil and criminal penalties for violators and provide protections for whistle-blowers who come forward with the harsh truth.

Republicans, ever eager to do the bidding of Big Coal, have been ducking reform with calls for further study. What more is needed than these findings of management by greed and double bookkeeping?

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SPEAKER QUINN ON MARRIAGE

Christine Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council, is one of the state's most powerful politicians and the nation's most prominent openly gay officials. On Charlie Rose's program earlier this week, she spoke of the legalization of same-sex marriage in personal terms. (Ms. Quinn plans to marry Kim Catullo in New York in 2012.)

The vote: "That stigma of being left out of this enormous important institution was gone. And it was just amazing. You felt really kind of lifted up in a way and freed in a way."

The pain of exclusion: Before, "the law actually pointed a finger at people like me and Kim and said you're less than. Your family isn't as good. You can say that doesn't bother you, but, of course, it does."

Their fathers: "Kim and I both lost our moms when we were both girls. My mom died of cancer, and Kim's died of cancer. Mine died in '84 and Kim's in '85. I want those two men to be able to go and dance and be at their daughters' wedding. They're 84 and 85 and, God willing, they will be with me for a long time."

The broader message: "Think of a child somewhere in New York State, or anywhere in the country who is in their room watching TV. They see this happen. They know they're gay. They think they're gay. They can't tell their parents. They're terrified. They may not know another gay person. And they see New York State, New York just say that gay families are the same as straight families. That's something that child will hold on to when they're bullied, hold on to when their parents don't accept them."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

SMELLS LIKE SCHOOL SPIRIT

BY DAVID BROOKS

Aspen, Colo.

Diane Ravitch is the nation's most vocal educational historian. She once was one of the leading intellects behind the education reform movement — emphasizing charter schools, testing and accountability. Over the past few years, she has become that movement's most vehement critic.

She pours out books, op-ed essays and speeches, including two this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She is very forceful, but there are parts of her new message that are hard to take. She is quick to accuse people who disagree with her of being frauds and greed-heads. She picks and chooses what studies to cite, even beyond the normal standards of people who are trying to make a point.

She has come to adopt the party-line view of the most change-averse elements of the teachers' unions: There is no education crisis. Poverty is the real issue, not bad schools. We don't need fundamental reform; we mainly need to give teachers more money and job security.

Nonetheless, Ravitch makes some serious points.

Most important, she is right that teaching is a humane art built upon loving relationships between teachers and students. If you orient the system exclusively around a series of multiple choice accountability assessments, you distort it.

If you make tests all-important, you give schools an incentive to drop the subjects that don't show up on the exams but that help students become fully rounded individuals — like history, poetry, art and sports. You may end up with schools that emphasize test-taking, not genuine learning. You may create incentives for schools to game the system by easing out kids who might bring the average scores down, for example.

In sum, Ravitch highlights a core tension. Teaching is humane. Testing is mechanistic.

This is true, but look at which schools are most distorted by testing. As the education blogger Whitney Tilson has pointed out, the schools that best represent the reform movement, like the KIPP academies or the Harlem Success schools, put tremendous emphasis on testing. But these schools are also the places where students are most likely to participate in chess and dance. They are the places where they are most likely to read Shakespeare and argue about philosophy and physics.

In these places, tests are not the end. They are a lever to begin the process of change. They are one way of measuring change. But they are only one piece of the larger mission. The mission may involve E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curricula, or character education, or performance arts specialties. But the mission transcends the test. These schools know what kind of graduate they want to produce. The schools that are most accountability-centric are also the most alive.

Contrary to Ravitch's assertions, these places are not just skimming the best students. At the Urban Prep Academy of Chicago, which Ravitch holds up as an example of a bogus success story, over 15 percent of the students are special ed. Ninety-six percent of the school's first incoming class were reading below grade level.

And contrary to Ravitch's assertions, these schools, hundreds of them, have taken their students and put them on trajectories much different than the ones you would predict just by looking at the socio-demographic backgrounds. Caroline Hoxby has rigorously shown good charter results in New York and Chicago. New Orleans is dominated by charters and choice. Since 2007, the New Orleans schools have doubled the percentage of students scoring at basic competence levels or above. Schools in New Orleans are improving faster than schools in any other district in the state.

The places where the corrosive testing incentives have had their worst effect are not in the schools associated with the reformers. They are in the schools the reformers haven't touched. These are the mediocre schools without strong leaders and without vibrant missions. In those places, of course, the teaching-to-the-test ethos prevails. There is no other.

The reform movement is most famous for tests and assessments. But the untrumpeted and undeveloped secret of the reform movement is the content — the willingness to develop character curriculum or Core Knowledge curriculum, the willingness to infuse the school with spiritual fervor.

Ravitch thinks the solution is to get rid of the tests. But that way just leads to lethargy and perpetual mediocrity. The real answer is to keep the tests and the accountability but make sure every school has a clear sense of mission, an outstanding principal and an invigorating moral culture that hits you when you walk in the door.

Ravitch's narrative is that America has humane local schools that are being threatened by testing wonks. The fact is that many schools have become spiritually enervated and even great teachers struggle in an inert culture. It's the reformers who often bring the passion, using tests as a lever.

If your school teaches to the test, it's not the test's fault. It's the leaders of your school.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 1, 2011

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE PRICE OF LIBERTY: WEEDS

BY RICHARD MABEY

Norfolk, England

AS the United States celebrates the Fourth of July, perhaps we English finally should let you in on a little secret. You didn't quite win total independence: we left behind a covert occupation force, in the shape of our weeds, which rapidly became your weeds, pesky and persistent.

They came as stowaways in those first shiploads of cattle and seed corn and none-too-hygienic European settlers. The New World's ancient landscapes, unused to gung-ho farmers and trampling cattle, didn't stand a chance. As East Coast forests were cleared, a riot of foreign weeds — dandelion, groundsel, dock — took over, promptly followed by European grasses. It came as a shock to me to discover that Kentucky bluegrass — which I'd thought as American as the haze over the Appalachians — was none other than our backyard meadow grass, which assuredly never looks blue under our gray skies.

While we're at it, I should apologize for our Charles Darwin, who made a joke in rather poor taste at the expense of his friend the American botanist Asa Gray. "Does it not hurt your Yankee pride," he asked, "that we thrash you so confoundedly? I am sure Mrs. Gray will stick up for your weeds. Ask her if they are not more honest, downright good sort of weeds." (Mrs. Gray's reply was impeccable: American weeds, she said, were "modest, woodland, retiring things; and no match for the intrusive, pretentious, self-asserting foreigners.")

But this intrusive colonialism is of course the weeds' way. They wouldn't be the plants they are if they were not assertive, hugely adaptable, cosmopolitan. They've tagged onto the coattails of global trade, agricultural adventure and gardening fashion, so that there is no real sense in which a weed can be said anymore to "belong" to any one nation. They are citizens of the world — or at least of the world of frenzied environmental disturbance that humans spin around themselves. I find it oddly comforting to see familiar home weeds like bindweed and bracken in Manhattan back lots. Perhaps Americans feel similarly pleased to find North American fleabane (whose seeds are thought to have ended up in Europe inside a stuffed bird) flourishing on the stonework around the Bank of England. The commonest city weeds are now virtually identical across the planet. They seem to have the botanical right stuff for urban environments: streetwise and opportunistic, resilient fillers of metropolitan dead spaces.

But it would be stretching our "special relationship" too far to suggest that our shared weeds make up a kind of agreeable green commonwealth. Vagabond plants can change their behavior dramatically when taken away from their native habitats, and all their traditional predators and constraints. In Britain the magenta sprays of purple loosestrife have made it one of our best-loved riverside flowers. It's elegant and well behaved and knows its place. It figures in the margins of John Everett Millais's unforgettable painting of a floating Ophelia, Hamlet's rejected love interest, before she drowns. But it was inadvertently introduced to United States shorelines with dumped ships' ballast in the early 19th century and has become quite a different character, monolithic and invasive.

This is not, of course, the fault of the weeds. From the Japanese knotweed that jumped the walls of big country houses to become Britain's most notorious plant demon to the casually ditched aquarium plants now suffocating Florida's lakes and rivers, we create our own weed nuisances. This has been true since the very beginnings of civilization. We've opened opportunities for a whole range of adaptable plant species to gate-crash our ordered lives by the reckless way we treat the earth. It's time, I think, for a new perspective on them, for a curiosity about why they are there and a more critical view of our own role in their fortunes.

And it's here, I feel, that American attitudes toward weeds have a lot to teach us Europeans. I learned the strict protocol of poison ivy recognition and respect from a farmer in Maryland — a mantra for which there is no equivalent for any of our toxic weeds. I've enjoyed the conspiracy theories and black jokes about kudzu vine in the South. ("Shut your windows at night.") I give thanks for Thoreau's "Bean-Field" essay in "Walden," the best literary defense of the ecological role of weeds. And for the incomparable Euell Gibbons, whose books revived weed foraging in Britain. All these approaches seem to me to accept that weeds are part of creation too, and that we need to find a way of living with them.

Richard Mabey is the author of "Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRACTICING MEDICINE CAN BE GRIMM WORK

BY VALERIE GRIBBEN

Birmingham, Ala.

TODAY, after four arduous years of examinations, graduating medical doctors will report to their residency programs. Armed with stethoscopes and scalpels, they're preparing to lead the charge against disease in its ravaging, chimerical forms. They carry with them the classic tomes: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine and Gray's Anatomy. But I have an unlikely addition for their mental rucksacks: "Grimm's Fairy Tales."

Fairy tales have always fascinated me: fishermen and talking flounder, siblings wending their way through a shadowy forest, seven brothers transformed into ravens. Although I always wanted to be a doctor and took the requisite courses to be admitted to medical school, in my undergraduate years I majored in English and studied Victorian fairy tales. Immersing myself in period documents, I saw tenuous connections between the worlds of fantasy and medicine, between fairy dust and consumption.

But when I started medical school, I packed up my youthful literary indiscretions. I reordered my bookshelf, moving my well-thumbed but now irrelevant Brothers Grimm stories behind a biochemistry textbook. Within weeks my desk was crammed with printouts on fractures of the humerus and the intermediates of oxidative phosphorylation. I was thinking in terms of proximal and distal, instead of hither and thither.

Then I started my third year of medical school, when students rotate through the different specialties, crisp white coats venturing into the grime of clinical medicine. I felt I was prepared with my color-coded pharmacology flashcards and issues of The New England Journal of Medicine.

But soon I came across an elderly woman with hyponatremia, a sodium deficiency. I knew what treatment she needed. But my textbooks and articles let me down. They couldn't tell me why her adult children had been neglecting her and denying her food. They gave no answers to the mysteries behind the physical symptoms, or how to process them.

In pediatrics, my team discovered long, thin scratches on a child's back — made by metal clothes hangers that someone had dug into her skin and pulled.

In physical medicine and rehabilitation, we supervised occupational therapy for a 10-year-old who'd shot himself in the head. He shrugged when we asked why: "I dunno."

In neurology, a stroke patient went off life support on his daughter's birthday, and the sound of her convulsive weeping went up and down the hallways, knocking against other patients' doors.

In internal medicine, I cared for a woman who had been so badly beaten by her late husband that her eyes pointed in different directions. She came in for trouble swallowing, and I had to hold her down during an endoscopy to see if esophageal cancer was the cause.

In surgery, a handsome young man was being eaten alive by cancer. From above the operating table, I could peer inside him and see tumors wrapping themselves around his vital organs.

In psychiatry, a waifish princess look-alike — mascara dripping down her porcelain cheekbones — was committed to our ward for hearing voices not of this world.

The practice of medicine bestows the sacred privilege to ask about the unmentionable. But what happens when the door to Bluebeard's horror chamber opens, and the bloody secrets spill onto your aseptic field of study? How do you process the pain of your patients?

I found my way back to stories. The Grimm fairy tales once seemed as if they took place in lands far, far away, but I see them now in my everyday hospital rotations. I've met the eternal cast of characters. I've taken down their histories (the abandoned prince, the barren couple) or seen their handiwork (the evil stepmother, the lecherous king).

Fairy tales are, at their core, heightened portrayals of human nature, revealing, as the glare of injury and illness does, the underbelly of mankind. Both fairy tales and medical charts chronicle the bizarre, the unfair, the tragic. And the terrifying things that go bump in the night are what doctors treat at 3 a.m. in emergency rooms.

So I now find comfort in fairy tales. They remind me that happy endings are possible. With a few days of rest and proper medication, the bewildered princess left relaxed and smiling, with a set of goals and a new job in sight. The endoscopy on my cross-eyed confidante showed she was cancer-free.

They also remind me that what I'm seeing now has come before. Child endangerment is not an invention of the Facebook age. Elder neglect didn't arrive with Gen X. And discharge summaries are not always happy; "Cinderella" originally ended with a blinding, and Death, in his tattered shroud, waits at the end of many journeys.

Healing, I'm learning, begins with kindness, and most fairy tales teach us to show kindness wherever we can, to the stooped little beggar and the highest nobleman. In another year, I'll be among the new doctors reporting to residency training. And the Brothers Grimm will be with me.

Valerie Gribben, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is the author of "The Fairytale Trilogy."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TO THE LIMIT

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

In about a month, if nothing is done, the federal government will hit its legal debt limit. There will be dire consequences if this limit isn't raised. At best, we'll suffer an economic slowdown; at worst we'll plunge back into the depths of the 2008-9 financial crisis.

So is a failure to raise the debt ceiling unthinkable? Not at all.

Many commentators remain complacent about the debt ceiling; the very gravity of the consequences if the ceiling isn't raised, they say, ensures that in the end politicians will do what must be done. But this complacency misses two important facts about the situation: the extremism of the modern G.O.P., and the urgent need for President Obama to draw a line in the sand against further extortion.

Let's talk about how we got here.

The federal debt limit is a strange quirk of U.S. budget law: since debt is the consequence of decisions about taxing and spending, and Congress already makes those taxing and spending decisions, why require an additional vote on debt? And traditionally the debt limit has been treated as a minor detail. During the administration of former President George W. Bush — who added more than $4 trillion to the national debt — Congress, with little fanfare, voted to raise the debt ceiling no less than seven times.

So the use of the debt ceiling to extort political concessions is something new in American politics. And it seems to have come as a complete surprise to Mr. Obama.

Last December, after Mr. Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts — a move that many people, myself included, viewed as in effect a concession to Republican blackmail — Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked why the deal hadn't included a rise in the debt limit, so as to forestall another hostage situation (my words, not Mr. Ambinder's).

The president's response seemed clueless even then. He asserted that "nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse," and that he was sure that John Boehner, as speaker of the House, would accept his "responsibilities to govern."

Well, we've seen how that worked out.

Now, Mr. Obama was right about the dangers of failing to raise the debt limit. In fact, he understated the case, by focusing only on financial confidence.

Not that the confidence issue is trivial. Failure to raise the debt limit — which would, among other things, disrupt payments on existing debt — could convince investors that the United States is no longer a serious, responsible country, with nasty consequences. Furthermore, nobody knows what a U.S. default would do to the world financial system, which is built on the presumption that U.S. government debt is the ultimate safe asset.

But confidence isn't the only thing at stake. Failure to raise the debt limit would also force the U.S. government to make drastic, immediate spending cuts, on a scale that would dwarf the austerity currently being imposed on Greece. And don't believe the nonsense about the benefits of spending cuts that has taken over much of our public discourse: slashing spending at a time when the economy is deeply depressed would destroy hundreds of thousands and quite possibly millions of jobs.

So failure to reach a debt deal would have very bad consequences. But here's the thing: Mr. Obama must be prepared to face those consequences if he wants his presidency to survive.

Bear in mind that G.O.P. leaders don't actually care about the level of debt. Instead, they're using the threat of a debt crisis to impose an ideological agenda. If you had any doubt about that, last week's tantrum should have convinced you. Democrats engaged in debt negotiations argued that since we're supposedly in dire fiscal straits, we should talk about limiting tax breaks for corporate jets and hedge-fund managers as well as slashing aid to the poor and unlucky. And Republicans, in response, walked out of the talks.

So what's really going on is extortion pure and simple. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute puts it, the G.O.P. has, in effect, come around with baseball bats and declared, "Nice economy you have here. A real shame if something happened to it."

And the reason Republicans are doing this is because they must believe that it will work: Mr. Obama caved in over tax cuts, and they expect him to cave again. They believe that they have the upper hand, because the public will blame the president for the economic crisis they're threatening to create. In fact, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that G.O.P. leaders actually want the economy to perform badly.

Republicans believe, in short, that they've got Mr. Obama's number, that he may still live in the White House but that for practical purposes his presidency is already over. It's time — indeed, long past time — for him to prove them wrong.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MERE RHETORIC?

 

Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar has said that the US has been told to leave the Shamsi Airbase, located in a remote desert area of Balochistan. It is from this base that many of the drone strikes that have claimed numerous lives in the tribal areas are carried out. We do not know if there is substance behind these words and if they are not mere rhetoric intended to appease people angered by US activities in the country, notably since the Abbottabad raid in May. These actions have complicated the fight against terror, building deeper resentment against the US.

The minister tells us that the removal of forces based at Shamsi and other areas has already been discussed with US officials. We hope that this is true. But it is also important to acknowledge that Pakistan's relationship with the US is a complex one. The US, for example, has already promised to replace the P3C Orion aircraft that was destroyed in the attack at PNS Mehran. The ties with Washington and the offers of help that have come in from time to time are not something Islamabad can give up easily. The matter needs to be handled with both diplomacy and determination. It is, however, a good sign that Pakistan seems to have decided to demonstrate some of this determination. As the defence minister stated, it is vital that the country takes charge of its own affairs. Doing so will not be easy given the country's prolonged dependence on Washington and other allies. However, an attempt must be made and an end, or even a reduction in the drone attacks that have been taking place for years, would be a very welcome step along this route.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

HOMECOMING

 

The delight of the five fishermen from Sindh who were finally able to return home on Monday after seven months away from their families was shared by the rest of the country. But it also gave rise to a valid question: Why did it take so long for them to get home? The unfortunate men were part of the 18-member crew of a fishing trawler captured by Somali pirates seven months ago. They had been used as bait by the pirates in an attempt to draw in other vessels, before they were rescued by the Indian navy, at which point began another four-month ordeal for them. While Iranian officials, whose men had also been rescued by the Indian authorities, were quick to claim their citizens and arrange for them to return home, the Pakistani authorities failed to do anything to help their men return home. Only efforts made by the fishermen's families and the media seem to have moved the bureaucracy into action a few weeks ago, enabling the fishermen to finally come home.

This indifference is worth considering. Most countries make it a point to help their citizens in times of need. Our High Commission in New Delhi and those in Islamabad who direct its affairs seem to have done just the opposite, making it clear that something is seriously amiss. The fishermen are finally home; their suffering is over - but it could have been cut much shorter had the authorities acted responsibly and with some degree of compassion for their countrymen.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE GAS SHOCK

 

Late on Thursday evening it was reported that the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), in a meeting chaired by Federal Minister for Water and Power Syed Naveed Qamar, had 'deferred' the hike in gas tariff and that CNG stations in Sindh would now be closed for two days a week. What we can make of this "deferment" will be seen in the coming days but it is clear that there is little respite for people from their ever-increasing misery under the present government, be it the shortage of things or the constantly rising prices at which people can buy them. The question of why Pakistani citizens must pay the price for the mismanagement of natural resources and their use loomed even larger following the harrowing news that gas tariffs were to go up by 15 percent for domestic consumers and up to 100 percent for the fertiliser industry from July 1, the first day of the new financial year. The Ministry of Petroleum said the move was intended to rationalise the use of gas, at a time when a gas shortage is being faced even during the summer when consumption of the utility usually falls. Gas loadshedding, with its disastrous impact on both the commercial and domestic sectors, is all too familiar for us. According to the announcement by the ministry, while the textile sector was to be spared a raise, given its status as a key source of exports, fertiliser units were to be slapped with a 100 percent raise. Such a measure will trigger a rise in the cost of urea, with an inevitable impact on the cost of all agricultural produce.

Once again, it is consumers who will pay the final price – even though it is unclear whether gas shortages are actually caused by irrational use or by the poor management of an aging infrastructure. The production of gas from the key fields in Balochistan has also declined, and there have been accusations that sufficient exploration has not been carried out to explore other reserves or alternative sources of energy such as Thar Coal. To make matters even worse for consumers, CNG prices, already up to 45 percent of those of petrol, will rise to 65 percent of petrol. People who, in the hope of saving on costs, had CNG kits installed in vehicles with active government encouragement, may as well have them removed and dump the units which they had been assured would allow cars, rickshaws, and buses to run more cheaply and cause less pollution. Minister for Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain confirmed plans for the raise, though he said a final decision revolves around an LHC verdict in a case challenging the gas tariff hike and on the ECC decision in this regard. The minister made no comment on how this increase would affect a commercial sector already paralysed by the unresolved energy shortfall and ordinary citizens who receive shock upon shock as prices steadily rise. Quite obviously, the government is disinterested in their fate and indifferent to their suffering.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

MISUSING THE INDUS TREATY

ASIF H KAZI


Prof John Briscoe of Harvard University has identified India's various unfair dealings with Pakistan in water-sharing. He has said that India must not interpret the treaty with the sole objective of punishing Pakistan.

There is growing feeling in Pakistan that while India is increasingly building dams on its western rivers, it is simultaneously engaged in activities aimed at stopping Pakistan, the lower riparian, from building storage dams on Pakistani rivers. In the case of its upper riparian neighbour, Nepal, India has even deployed heavy artillery to partially destroy dams which were being constructed by the Nepalese. India's water strategy thus boils down to construction of more and more dams on cross-boundary rivers inside its own territory while obstructing dams in lower-riparian neighbours and destroying those in upper-riparian Nepal.

Pakistan's farmlands have been deprived of the uses of the waters of three eastern rivers, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The flows of these rivers were allocated to India under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. Authorities on the subject accept that when rivers and canals in Pakistan's demarcated area were classified as Pakistan's assets under the Partition Act, 1947, it meant only one thing: that these rivers and canals were to continue to receive water in the same way as before. Under the treaty, Pakistan was to enjoy the unrestricted use of the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab. However, exceptions were inserted as annexures which allowed India to develop and use certain specified quantities of water of the three western rivers as well.

Annexure E established Indian storage limits on the western rivers, which add up to 3.6 MAF (million acre feet). If Indian dams under rapid construction since then were to impound this storage water during high flood periods, as specifically defined in the treaty, Pakistan could live with the situation. However, India deliberately followed a pattern of filling water behind Baglihar Dam constructed on the Chenab River by impounding flows in the low-flow month of September, a clear breach of the treaty which prescribes the filling period as being from June 21 to Aug 31.

Ironically, the 3.6 MAF of Indian storage share exceeds the sum total of the entire flow of the three remaining rivers entering Pakistan during the low-flow months of December, January and February. Thus the 3.6 MAF of storage creation, combined with its operational control over impounding and releases by India could mean completely drying up Pakistan's three rivers for as long as three months. The consequences of this will be disastrous.

Obviously, the foregoing was not the intent of the Indus Waters Treaty. And it is precisely for this reason that Pakistan has been insisting that India adopt well-known dam design features, especially for the outlets, which can easily ensure that the reservoir operators would not be able to manipulate flows of the western rivers at their own sweet will. India is opposing this using as an excuse the need for the prolongation of the reservoirs' lifespan through sediment flushing.

Prof Raymond Lafitte of Switzerland, the neutral expert on the Bhaglihar Dam dispute who gave his decision in favour of India, has acted as a pure professional engineer since he is trained to look at projects in the strictest sense of their operational efficacy and economic performance. Taking it for granted that the upper riparian would not resort to immoral or unethical practices, he failed to take into account the psyches and mindsets of the litigants in the context of their historic rivalry. Had he kept these factors in view, he might have concluded that, in the absence of spirit of cooperation, the only checks on an upper riparian to keep it from doing harm to the downstream country were constraints, as were proposed by Pakistan, in the shape of "minimum needed sizes of water outlets to be located at the highest levels" to prevent emptying and refilling of reservoirs at will.

In respect of India's Kishenganga River (which takes the name of Neelum when it enters Pakistan), the treaty allows India to construct a hydroelectric project with storage within a certain limit, on a tributary of the Jhelum River. But it does not permit diversion of flows to either another tributary or to a storage such as Wullar Lake on the main Jhelum. Even when the permitted storage dam is constructed on the Kishenganga River, Paragraph 21(b) of Annex E makes it obligatory to deliver a quantity of water downstream of the hydropower station into the Kishenganga during any period of seven consecutive days, which shall not be less than the volume of water received in the river upstream of the project in that period. Such elaborate provisions have been embodied with the sole purpose of causing minimum changes in the natural river flow of these rivers to protect Pakistan's interests.

In violation of these specific provisions, the proposed Kishenganga project violates the treaty in a most glaring way. Firstly, the hydroelectric plant is not located on the Kishenganga but way off the channel at the end of a long tunnel that discharges into another tributary. And, secondly, the recipient tributary ultimately outfalls upstream of the Wullar Lake, and this completely changes the patterns of the flows of both Kishenganga and Jhelum Rivers.

The position taken by the Pakistani government, as reported by Khalid Mustafa in The News of June 15, will not lead us anywhere. The news item says that whichever of the two countries completed their project first will be the winner in the eyes of the Court of Arbitration that recently visited Pakistan to verify, inter alia, our project status. Such a competitive race is a confusion being created which diverts attention from the real issue, that the treaty absolutely forbids India from undertaking their project.

As regards the Wullar Barrage Project, India again cannot undertake any construction under the treaty that would develop storage for whatever purpose, under Paragraphs 7 and 9 of Annexure E, on the Jhelum Main River. The very basic provision under the treaty is to restrain India from changing the river's flow pattern (both quantity-wise and time-wise).

Several foreign experts have held the view that the highly sensitive and charged water issues between Pakistan and India have emerged out of the way the 1947 partition lines were drawn. A seemingly minor change, but one with far-reaching consequences, was introduced in the partition map, in violation of all principles laid down by the British government. It came about at the very last minute when, upon the insistence of the Indian leaders, the partition award turned over to India three vital districts that were originally allocated to Pakistan, with the sole objective of providing India with access to Kashmir. The three remaining western rivers on which Pakistan now relies upon all originate in or pass through Kashmir before entering Pakistan. In other words, India, after having obtained the waters of the three eastern rivers through Indus Waters Treaty, is now trying to take control of our three western rivers as well.



The writer is honorary vice-president of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD)

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

AFTER THE 18TH AMENDMENT

 DR FOUZIA SAEED

 

They say that in China you find Chinese, in India you find Indians, in America you find Americans, but in Pakistan you find Punjabis, Sindhis, Baloch, Pakhtuns, and so on. It is one of those quips you find around the world that poke fun at the idiosyncrasies of individual countries. In the case of Pakistan, it's no joke. Why have we failed to become a nation 64 years after independence?

Things have come to a point many people, especially in Balochistan, are unwilling to fly the Pakistani flag, not even on Independence Day on Aug 14. Then there are those in that restless province who refuse to call themselves Pakistani. A similar situation exists in some parts of the two other "smaller provinces," Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. There are "freedom movements" with the objective of the secession of the province in question. There are ethnic and other tensions which manifest themselves in the form of violence and militancy. Regional causes become rallying points for people who in many cases are merely voicing resentment against the Centre, and these resentments are used by local political groups for use against rival organisations.

It was centralised decision-making and centralised control over resources that resulted in this resentment against the federation, which often borders on hate now. The federation has increasingly alienated itself from the federating units. It is necessary to view the current process of devolution from this perspective.

The passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was a major step towards addressing many long-standing grievances of the provinces. Provincial autonomy has been a demand for decades, but no one wanted to touch the subject. It is not difficult to see why. The forces that kept the centralised systems intact had grown so big and so strong that no one could oppose them.

The process of the implementation of the amendment showed just how rotten our centralised system had become. Over the past year, we have witnessed leading politicians, bureaucrats and several other players acting shamelessly to undermine the Constitution. They dragged their feet, they picked fights and they launched campaigns of disinformation to stop what a process that had formally become a part of the Constitution. Some of them who continued to enjoy centralised power with the "right" kind of backing were able to save themselves in the last round of devolution.

Overall, we see that massive good was achieved by devolving 17 ministries and shifting several themes to the federal list where now the provinces will jointly take decisions with the federation. Hats off to the parliamentarians of the Constitutional Reform Committee and the Implementation Commission. Senator Mian Raza Rabbani served as an experienced and credible captain who guided his small and vulnerable ship through rough tides and storms and brought it to its destination safely, and on time.

There will still be issues that will require wrapping up. Now is the time for the provinces to take centre stage. It is time for them to prove that they can handle the responsibilities that they had been demanding all this time. The provinces need to strategise, engage their expertise among their people, build their teams, energise them and move on.

Our eyes are now set on the performances of the provinces. We hope that issues of poverty and security have local solutions. We expect to see a process whereby the provincial governments prepare themselves to take on the additional responsibilities. However, it is important at this time for the central government to become a facilitative agent.

It seems that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will show results soon. We hope that its people can set examples for the other provinces. Punjab has expertise and a leadership which is loyal to the province. However, the provincial government's withdrawal from the devolution process at the very end raised concerns. We hope that they will not only take the process forward with full vigour but will also initiate action to decentralise institutions that have saved themselves from devolution in the last round of cabinet approvals.

We need a good one-year process where provinces mobilise their own experts to make strategies for them. The provincial thinking might come up with more creative solutions to the problems that have persisted for years. It is now the turn of the provinces to show innovation, sincerity and commitment to resolve the issues of their people.

The mindset of the Centre also persists in the provinces. The landlords are not the only ones with a feudal mindset of control and suppression. This is a common phenomenon among politicians, police officials, bureaucrats, religious leaders and male heads of households. Similarly, the centralised mindset is not only the problem of people at the federal level but is also found in many influential leaders in the provinces. It is this centralisation mindset that prevented the provinces from being satisfied. They have stopped all attempts to decentralise their powers. What we expect is not just a shift of centralised thinking from the power base in Islamabad to the power bases of the provinces, we also expect a transformation from the mindset of centralised governance to an appreciation of devolution and empowerment. We have to realise that devolved powers can give us more strength in the long run, and therefore it is the mindset as well as the governance structures that needs to change. We will not get a better opportunity to do this than right now when a major step has already been taken.

 

The writer is a social scientist and author of the book 'Taboo' Email: fouziasaeed@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

ENDGAME IN AFGHANISTAN

 DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


The United States has never admitted defeat; this is perfectly in line with its self-image. No super power can ridicule the very notion of its "superness" by admitting defeat. This unwillingness, however, does not change the verdict of history: Vietnam was a humiliating affair; Iraq has been a mixed situation; Bush was able to remove Saddam Hussein but that led to the emergence of the first Shia dominated Arab state in modern history and no one knows how this will change the entire Middle East equation.

Afghanistan is, however, neither Vietnam nor Iraq. Thus when President Barack Obama admitted that American involvement in Afghanistan is no more financially viable – though not in these words – he admitted defeat, albeit American style. For an American president to admit what he admitted, after ten long years, is another characteristic of the American attitude toward the dictates of history.

What the president said after ten long years was already commonly known without spending the hefty sum of 500 billion dollars. History bears witness that no one has been able to rule that rugged country called Afghanistan whose inhabitants have fought outsiders as a profession carried down from father to son for centuries. Afghanistan remained defiant to the British colonisers, it proved to be an impossible land for the Soviets and now the Americans are planning to call it a day.

President Obama is making no concession to the Afghans in his decision to pull back American troops; his second term is his most obvious personal consideration while he has America's economy as his national consideration. Furthermore, in making his announcement against the desires of his generals, he has proven one more time that America is a country with an army, not an army with a country, as is the case for Pakistan. Wars are hugely costly and after ten years, America has accomplished in Afghanistan is no more than what any other occupier has accomplished there as history reveals.

One has to admit that the ragtag Taliban have once again proven that faith is stronger than weapons; that no one, not even the lone superpower, can overcome those who possess faith. All that Taliban have to do now is bide time and continue to do what they are doing and the future is theirs'. What would they make of that future remains to be seen but one thing is clear: the newly trained Afghan army will collapse like a house of cards and the Taliban will simply sweep through the country just like they did last time. If they have gained any wisdom, they will make much more of their victory this time around.

Before we get to that point, however, there are numerous "ifs" and "buts". To be sure, the puppet regime will want to prolong its hold. It will offer permanent bases to the departing occupiers; it will raise a lot of helpless cries about the future of the country, but none of this is unknown to the Americans; they know what could not be achieved with $500 billion and 130,000 soldiers will not be achievable with a fraction of that amount both in money and in troops. In addition, even the most protected military base will always remain an easy target of a resurgent Taliban force.

No matter what decision America eventually makes, the entire equation is about to change because the proverbial hen laying golden eggs will depart and with it, a most ludicrous business for the generals in Afghanistan and Pakistan will come to an end. They must now find another paymaster.

In a world dominated by the green buck, no one is going to talk about the human cost of this war, especially of the Afghans. To be sure, the country has been destroyed and its population traumatised. However no one has been counting the 'non-white' dead bodies. So, no one really knows the cost of war to the Afghans, but with their faith stronger than the mighty mountains which enclose this beautiful land, their wounds will heal in good time and their villages will gain a degree of tranquillity and stability.

The American pullout from Afghanistan has tremendous challenges for Pakistan. If all goes well, by 2014 Pakistan would already be in the hands of a second civilian government. The authority of the generals would have further weakened and hopefully, there will be a way to reconfigure Pakistan's political, economic and military priorities in the wake of American withdrawal from Afghanistan. It has been so long that it is almost impossible to imagine Pakistan's main security and military agenda without the Afghan war. But one must attempt to foresee possible scenarios.

Without a war in Afghanistan and with a reduced animosity with India, Pakistan can drastically cut its defence spending. A wise and stable civilian government may be able to curtail the power of the generals. This power can only be curtailed if there is a strong civilian rule and the judiciary is functioning autonomously. A strong civilian rule requires a very representative parliament not beholden to a lion of Punjab or Sindh and that is exactly what Pakistan is lacking since its birth: it has failed to evolve a political culture which is independent of a political lord. Just like Afghanistan cannot function without war lords, Pakistan has never been able to function without political lords.

There is, thus, an urgent need for a few individuals to come forward and attempt to establish a mechanism through which a new political force can come into existence. All the factors are in place for this new force to evolve: a relatively young and educated population, a chronic political disorder; a sense of hopelessness which can be converted into an action plan, and an opportunity the like of which has never existed before as people are now sick and tired of the faces which have dominated Pakistan's politics for as long as one can remember.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:
quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

MISMANAGED STATE, RESILIENT SOCIETY

 SHAFQAT MAHMOOD

 

Finally, enough is happening on the political front to push security related stories into the background. The Pakistan People's Party did whatever it took to gain a majority in the Kashmir elections and surprisingly, the MQM decided once again to quit the ruling coalition. Is there any connection between the two?

On the face of it, yes, because the reason given by the MQM leadership is the postponement of polling in Hyderabad and Karachi. But, was this the only reason, considering that more serious matters in the past have not led to such a strong reaction?

It is obvious that some problems were simmering in the background and have come to the fore in this latest disagreement. And it does not require deep analysis to figure out that the political tug of war in Karachi is at the heart of it.

Mr Zardari has a crafty way of undermining his opponents and he must be doing it in Karachi too. This probably includes empowering the Baloch and Pakhtuns and redrawing the Karachi administrative map to reduce the MQM's hold on the city. There are also rumours that Zulfikar Mirza is on his way back to perhaps the top position in the province. This must be an anathema to the MQM.

There are conspiracy theories too regarding the MQM's decision. It does not take long in the fraught national atmosphere for people to start speculating that this is the first step in a long anticipated removal of the federal government by the military. But, as in most such theories, there is no hard evidence other than that the country is in a rapid slide downhill.

This too is not new. We have been sliding down for some time but it must be a long slide as the end is nowhere near. Some would argue that actually, on the ground, things are not so bad. The farmers have never made so much money. The banks and industries, by and large, seem to be doing well. And, exports and remittances are up. So, what's the big deal?

The big deal is that while the non-governmental sector is showing surprising resilience, the government is bereft of ideas and is just meandering along. Beset with huge power shortages, inconsistent policies, decaying infrastructure and more, the private sector is still able to stand on its feet and make money.

And, overseas Pakistanis are not ready to give up on their country. Some living here may be seeking alternate citizenships and investing money in properties abroad, but those of our compatriots actually living there see no reason to stop sending their savings back home. This has become an unexpected bonus with remittances this year totalling $11.2 billion.

This strength of the citizenry is not reflected in the government, which dithers on taking hard decisions to improve the economy or governance. Public finances are an absolute mess with a shortfall of over a trillion rupees in the budget and no rescue in sight. The Americans are cheesed off and their assistance has been reduced to a trickle. And, perhaps their anger has given the IMF the autonomy to cut off further financing.

So, how will the gap be filled up and from where? Government borrowing from the banks has already squeezed the private sector and there is a likelihood of further reduction in this. Domestic savings would thus be mopped up by the government. The public sector development programme has been cut to the bare bones. The only other alternative would be the printing of money and that would add to the price hike that is crushing the middle classes and the poor.

This could have been avoided if the government had the guts to tax the elite and this is true for the federation and the provinces. Some effort has been made in Punjab to create new revenue avenues but overall the performance of all governments is below par. Politics and voter backlash are actually hampering any possibility of improving public finances.

The much trumpeted, and rightly so because it is a fine document, Economic Growth Strategy devised by Nadeem ul Haq in the Planning Commission is finding no takers in the government. The top leaders do not have the intellectual capacity, attention span, or even the desire to understand it.

But the real problem is that our economic managers, all fine minds with the right ideas, have little or no political clout. They are new comers to the hierarchy of power at the federal level, and are only tolerated because there is no one in the PPP who can handle economic management. Their ability to push through difficult but necessary measures is virtually nonexistent. The stalemate in economic decision making is thus likely to persist.

The area of governance is a bigger mess with the state's ability to maintain order, provide justice, and deliver services going down at a rapid pace. Unlike the intricacies of economic management, everyone in power, at some perceptual level, understands this but remains strangely paralysed in doing something about it.

Partly, they don't know how but there is no shortage of donor money to hire experts to guide them. There are rumours that another Civil Services Commission is being formed to look at the structure of government and suggest ways to make it more effective. Whether this is correct or not, if the fate of this commission is going to be the same as that of earlier such bodies, then what's the point.

Unless there is a genuine commitment to governance reform, at the federation and provinces, no amount of good advice will have any effect. The problem with structural reform is that it does not have an immediate political impact. It takes time to make a difference and politicians have little patience for that. They would rather build monuments that everyone can see and appreciate.

So, to revisit the point made earlier, the people of this country at all levels have much to offer. Even in these difficult times, with high inflation, a power crisis, decaying state organs, and fear of terrorism, they are not only surviving but through their ingenuity, thriving. If only the political managers of the state had the vision and commitment to top this people's energy with better governance.

This is a cross we have to bear because there is no choice other than democracy. Elections will keep throwing up people with little understanding of how to manage the state but over time, it will get better. Already, many of the younger people coming into politics are of a much higher calibre and this trend may continue.

The challenge is to survive these difficult and dangerous times and hope that in the long run our democracy will mature and the leadership would have better ability to manage the state. Hopefully, at a state level we can then prove the economist John Maynard Keynes wrong who said that 'in the long run, we'll all be dead'.



Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

 

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

SIDE-EFFECT

HARRIS KHALIQUE

 

While Karachi remains unstable with political target killing, indiscriminate bombing, land grabbing, businesses paying extortion money, alarming crime rate and economic hardships faced by the struggling underclass, a new factor for increased instability is added as the MQM has once again parted ways with the PPP-led ruling coalition. The hide and seek between the PPP and the MQM in the corridors of power is continuously being played since the 2008 elections.

The MQM gets angry with its senior coalition partner on some administrative step it takes that goes against the MQM's interest or some unfulfilled promise that was made by the PPP high command when it wooed the MQM back into the coalition at some point or in the present scenario the postponement of elections for Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly on the two refugee seats in Karachi that were bagged by the MQM during the previous elections.

However, the actual issue remains the turf war in Karachi between the MQM, PPP and ANP with the issue of the administrative division of Hyderabad also tagged along. At times it becomes latent but continues to be the main apple of discord between the MQM and its political adversaries. The PPP enjoys support among the citizens of all ethnic and linguistic denominations but its definite electoral support comes from the Baloch, Sindhi and Katchi communities in the city.

Some crime rings in places like Lyari and Malir also take refuge in the PPP folds. But there are other constituencies as well where a large number of those who speak Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati as their first languages would vote for the PPP. A fresh delimitation of constituencies will increase the PPP seats and consequently its power in the metropolis.

Already in 2008, independent election observers were sceptical about the MQM bagging 17 out of 20 seats in Karachi. The figure fails to reflect the demographic diversity, electoral support and the mood of Karachi at that point in time. But the PPP leadership did not want to take it up because it had cut a deal with the MQM. Also, if the APDM had not boycotted the last polls, religio-political parties may also have claimed a seat or two.

On the other hand, the ANP is predominantly a Pashtun party in Karachi and with the rising population of permanent resident Pashtuns in the city, the party wants a bigger share in power, be it in the local government or provincial and national legislatures. Pashtun supporters of the ANP have huge stakes in both the formal and informal, legal and illegal economic markets of Karachi. It is widely held that the disposition of the financiers and sponsors of the ANP in Karachi is very different from that of the ANP in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. But, of course, its voters remain common folk, workers and small traders of Pashtun origin.

The real power that the MQM enjoys is not supported by demographics anymore if we compare it with the late 1980s. There are a host of reasons for that. Rural-urban migration and comparatively small family sizes of middle and lower-middle class urban supporters of the MQM being the first two. The MQM continues to draw power from its ability to bring city life to a halt through its rank and file that consists of armed and cantankerous youth.

The MQM has to revise its political paradigm if it is really serious about countrywide politics. Sitting in opposition as a genuine political party for a change and acting as one rather than behaving like a militant pressure group would do it good in the long run



The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris.khalique@ gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WHAT'LL THE NEXT ELECTIONS BE ABOUT?

 AYAZ AMIR

 

 The clock is ticking, and before we know it, before we've done our homework – because being Pakistanis we are not very good at boring stuff like homework – the next elections will be upon us. But for the life of me, although I'm trying hard to figure this out, I haven't the faintest idea what we'll be talking about, the issues that will be agitated, the great positions that will be taken.

I think the elections will turn upon incumbency, the goodness or badness of the present order, which really boils down to the person we all love to hate: the occupant of one of the worst pieces of architecture, the Presidency, in a capital that Ayub Khan should never have built.

It's quite a line attacking the occupant because the familiar things we know about him, and the world too knows about, make for an easy target. But if it is just this, and nothing else, nothing that can count as an alternative narrative – forgive the social science slang – the ground is going to be pretty thin on which to enter the elections.

At the risk of upsetting the chattering classes whose feelings on incumbency are well known – there is no shortage of people who seem about to suffer a stroke when incumbency is discussed – the demonisation of a single target, and I know I am speaking in code, may not quite be the trick that turns the elections.

People are fed up of the political class. But this affects everyone in the political pecking order, not only the president and his party but everyone holding political office – which covers quite a bit of the political spectrum.

It is not enough to say...ah, this corruption and mis-governance will ruin us. It is also necessary to go a step further and present an alternative. If this is bad, what do I have to offer? And if a compelling alternative is not available, or you lack the wit to frame one, demonisation works only up to a point. The human ear can only take so much of criticism and denunciation.

Not to forget another point: familiarity takes the edge off demonisation. When Zardari declared his candidacy it struck a note of disbelief across the country. Zardari as president: it sounded too preposterous to be true.

I once happened to visit that remarkable seat of learning called the National Defence University – won't call it a white elephant any more – and I remember several near-apoplectic officers in uniform pointing to a photo of the Supreme Commander on a wall, barely able to hide their indignation. If they could have done it, the photo would have been pulled down. Such were the feelings the Supreme Commander aroused.

And there were stalwarts of civil society – I suppose there is no escaping this term any more – retired civil service and foreign office stars who would go red in the face discussing the incumbent when he was elected. If anyone proffered the opinion that it was best and proper for his term to finish, swift would come the response: could the country afford the horror of a Zardari presidency?

And media jihadis – a small, dedicated band of them, with rolling eyes and solemn faces – were setting deadlines about imminent and inescapable change at the top, one of my media friends making that famous prediction about an ambulance coming round to the Presidency when the hour of change struck.

After nearly three years the hard edges of that early disdain have worn off. Since wonders will never cease, what people just could not digest then, they are getting used to now. Of course, not a day passes without the mantra that the country is going to the dogs. But there is no denying the obvious. The president is still around.

Not only that, he is gaining a reputation for slick cleverness. Previously, in the public imagination, his CV began with the word corruption and ended with it. The staple of the presidential broth remains corruption. But to that have been added other ingredients, cleverness being one of them.

Those in the business of politics – and politics is the foremost passion in the Islamic Republic, that and the drumbeats of false piety – have to realise one thing: wishes, alas, are not horses. And merely expressing the wish for change is not going to deliver it. The political class, if it is so keen about it, will have to work for change. But there are precious few signs of anything along those lines happening.

The PML-N was the party in waiting. It is still the party in waiting. But to enter the lists next year and grab the prize on offer it will have to put things together. What will be its clarion call, the bugle it will sound? It has to go to the electorate with something compelling. A one-point agenda of Zardari-baiting – this is my feeling, and I could be wrong – is not likely to be enough.

After all, having been in office in Punjab it is its performance there that will count. What has it to show for itself? This is the challenge before it: putting together a stirring election narrative, something that touches people, making them think daring thoughts.

How much of a factor will Imran Khan be? More and more people predict that the young are going to root for him. Perhaps they will, because the established parties – and let me not name names – have engendered a sense of weariness and anger. I keep meeting people who shake their heads and say that the burger crowd in cities – denizens of Defence, etc. – will go Imran Khan's way. But does he really have that spark which will set people on fire? Will "electable" candidates gather around him?

Looking angry and always looking angry is one thing, but then you should also have something to say...something beyond the regular broadsides against corruption and its attendant ills.

If the president has to be beaten at his own game, his opponents will have to be smarter than him. It has not paid to underestimate him. It will not pay merely to mutter imprecations against him. The arrows shot at him have done him little harm. Some sharper ones have to be found.

If a week is a long time in politics, three-and-a-half years in power in the context of Pakistani politics is almost an eternity. Powerful governments with convincing majorities have not been able to last as long. What we are seeing is a party with no majority in the National Assembly cobbling together the most unlikely alliances and sticking to power.

There is not much on the credit side of the PPP government but sometimes, when the odds are stacked against you, mere survival becomes the highest virtue. Would anyone two years or a year ago have given the president the ability to complete his term? But on this score, if no other, he has proved his detractors wrong. This must be taken into account when we take stock of the current situation or lay any bets on the shape of things to come next year.

The past, in one crucial respect, has already been stood on its head. Who could have thought that of all the forces on earth the PPP, historically an anathema for the armed forces, would emerge as the foremost defender and champion of the army and what we call the agencies? Time was when it was rumoured about Gen Kayani that he was averse to meeting the Supreme Commander alone, without witnesses. How distant that time seems.

I know this is pretty depressing stuff. But the point is worth repeating that mere frothing at the mouth is of little use in this most practical and merciless of games called politics.



Email: winlust@yahoo.com

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NWA OPERATION TO FURTHER DESTABILISE PAK

 

THOUGH there is no official confirmation from Pakistan side but reports trickling down in pieces from different directions clearly indicate that ultimately Pakistani authorities have succumbed to intense pressure from Washington and launching of a full-fledged military operation in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) of FATA is now a matter of time. Pakistan has so far been resisting demands of Washington in this regard because of genuine reasons and factors but it seems it has now been forced to take a plunge into dreadful dark.

It is regrettable that a decision, which will have grave implications and consequences for the country, has been made in a hush-hush manner by our leadership. Reports appearing in American media suggest that the understanding was arrived at during the visits of Senator John Kerry and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton/Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen to Pakistan. On both occasions, it was the American side that revealed that the two countries have agreed on a set of immediate measures to rebuild the dented relationship and the sense of achievement was visible from their remarks and statements. And now Mike Mullen, in an interview to a US television network, has announced in a categorical manner that Pakistan Government would launch a major offensive on militants in North Waziristan. Reports in Pakistani media also corroborated his revelation, as authorities have reportedly asked aid agencies to be ready for evacuation. We would warn all concerned that if Pakistan actually went for an all out military operation in NWA then it would further destabilise the country, rather we may say it would be suicidal. Though information leaked by relevant circles tried to mitigate the seriousness of the situation by telling people that it would be selected and targeted operation but war has its own dynamics and you can't fight it as per your own plans and wishes. Pakistan has already deployed 140,000 troops on the Western border but military experts in Washington say the country will have to bring in more troops for the operation to succeed, which means thinning of the strength on the eastern border and other important locations. It is understood that borders on the whole would be more insecure and that too at this point of time when India has adopted a hostile posture and is indulging in provocative acts as highlighted by firing of Indian troops in Sialkot sector the other day leading to martyrdom of an innocent person. It is also a foregone conclusion that the collateral damage of the operation would cause resentment and give birth to more extremism and terrorism, the consequences of which will have to be borne by people of Pakistan. As the cost is horrendous, we will urge both civilian and military leadership as well as the opposition to review the decision and adopt a united and unified stand.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

A STATE WITHOUT FOREIGN & DEFENCE MINISTERS

 

PAKISTAN is passing through a highly critical phase of its existence with serious challenges to its security and very survival but unfortunately the Government lacks necessary seriousness and vision to provide an effective leadership. This is evident from a number of things but more importantly absence of a full-fledged Foreign Minister and absence of the Defence Minister for all practical purposes because of his lacklustre attitude towards his onerous responsibilities.


At a time when Pakistan is in a very delicate and intricate diplomatic engagement with important regional and global players, it needs a vibrant personality with highly communicative skills at the Foreign Office to put across the country's point of view in a persuasive manner but the slot of the FM is vacant ever since Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi was dropped in a cabinet reshuffle because of differences over Raymond Davis incident. Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar enjoys good reputation because of her habit of doing her homework well but it is understood that she has certain limitations and the country needs an experienced and seasoned personality at the helm of foreign affairs. We have a defence minister in Ahmad Mukhtar but he has more interest in business ventures, an aptitude that would have made him a good commerce minister, than his coveted office. He has hardly made any contribution to the cause of defence and security during his entire tenure and instead, at times, some of his statements created frustration among masses. All this shows that affairs of the state are being run in whimsical manner and almost all things are done either by the presidency or the interior ministry whose incumbent pokes his nose everywhere.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

AFRIDI SHOULD NOT BE LOST LIKE THAT

 

FOR understandable reasons, Shahid Afridi Pakistan's recently axed one-day captain has announced his conditional retirement from the international game, as a mark of protest against the way he has been humiliated by the PCB.


The former Pakistan captain took the decision saying that there is nothing bigger than a person's self-respect and emphasised that there is a limit to everything. One may say that Afridi is not the first victim but several prominent cricketers earlier sacrificed their career due to vested interests who have been given lucrative jobs in the Board. Things were not smooth during the West Indies tour as Afridi had developed differences with coach Waqar Younis, in particular over matters of selection. Afridi on his return also referred to that and stated that he would talk with the Chairman of PCB. That was his natural reaction because as a Captain it is his responsibility to deliver in the field. Once the Selection Board selects a team, it should be left to the Captain to decide who should be included in the final eleven because he is answerable to the Board and above all to the Pakistani nation. The former Captain who is very fondly and popularly known as boom-boom Afridi and considered as a cricket hero should not be lost by the dictatorial handling of the PCB. He electrifies the crowd when he enters the stadium and gives his hundred per cent in fielding, encourages the teammates and his presence is felt in the stadium not only by the players but by the crowd as well. Though we may say that as a batsman his performance in the World Cup and during the West Indies tour was not up to the mark, but he proved his worth in bowling and fielding and emerged as the top wicket-taker in the tournament. Pakistani is already a broken team and we cannot afford to loose a player like Afridi. Therefore we hope that better sense would prevail in the PCB and Afridi would be persuaded to return to the team.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

PAK INSECURITY MEANS US INSECURITY

SAJJAD SHAUKAT

 

Despite tough statements of the US high officials, showing a paradoxical approach of Washington against Islamabad in connection with Osama Bin Laden who was killed in a US military raid at Abbottabad in Pakistan, America wants to continue its relationship with Pakistan which is a frontline state of war on terror. On May 18, this year, some US Senators and law-makers urged the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates to review the security assistance of Pakistan, while some suggested cutting off the aid of the former, saying that some of its intelligence agencies were aware of the hideout of Bin Laden. But on May 19, Defence Secretary Gates and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen stated that there was no evidence that leaders in Islamabad knew the whereabouts of the Al Qaeda chief before a US raid. They also advised against cutting off aid to Pakistan for its failure to go after terrorist leaders, while indicating that Washington had important interests at stake and that Islamabad had already been "humiliated" by the raid.

Meanwhile in wake of trust deficit and strained relations between Islamabad and Washington, the visit of the US Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry to Islamabad was of great significance. While showing previous contradictory approach of America towards Pakistan, on May I6, John Kerry pointed out that future relations of the United States with Islamabad would be determined by "its actions, not words," emphasizing to 'do more' against the militants by ignoring the sacrifices of Pak Army and intelligence agencies—especially ISI regarding war against terrorism. However, having resolved some of the puzzles, lingering since Bin Laden's death in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the US agreed to work together in any future actions against high-value targets in Pakistan. Senator Kerry also remarked that the US respects Pakistan's national interest and sovereignty. But his words coincided with the CIA-operated two drone attacks which killed more than ten people in Miranshah. At the same time, Pakistani ground troops opened fire on two NATO helicopters that crossed into Pakistan's airspace from Afghanistan and targeted a security check post of our country. Afterwards, attacks by the US predators continued intermittently, killing a number of innocent persons on Pakistan's soil.

While on May 15, during his trip to Afghanistan, John Kerry had clearly revealed that the US will consider "all options" including high-value targets in Pakistan, if it has intelligence that the elusive Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar is hiding in Pakistan. The statement of Kerry was verified by the US President Obama who made it clear in a BBC interview on May 22 that he would "approve a new incursion into Pakistan, if the United States found another leading militant there."

Nevertheless, America's such an ambivalent policy is not without some hidden agenda. In this context, under the pretext of high-value targets in Pakistan, cross-border-terrorism in relation to Afghanistan, blame game against Pakistan's spy agency ISI and allegation about other Al Qaeda leaders' presence in Pakistan—the US which is in collusion with India and Israel, wants to 'denuclearize' Pakistan as the latter is the only Islamic country, possessing nuclear weapons. In this regard, secret agencies such as American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad are collectively destabilizing Pakistan by supporting various subversive acts like bomb blasts, suicide attacks and targeted killings. It is mentionable that on September 3, 2008, American Special Operations forces attacked a Pakistani village, Angoor Ada, conducting a ground raid on Pakistani soil, which killed more than 60 innocent people. Notably, since the announcement of the US new strategy to "include targeting Pakistan's tribal areas" as disclosed by the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen on September 10, 2008, US drone strikes on Pakistan's tribal areas have intensified, while May 2 raid at Abbottabad including American intentions to conduct more high-value targets in Pakistan are clear indications that the US wants to make Pakistan insecure. In fact, due to its failed adventure in coping with the Afghan Taliban, America has already made itself insecure as ambush assaults and suicide attacks continue on the Afghans and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Now by ignoring the dangers of its new strategy to directly strike Pakistan's tribal regions—violation of the sovereignty of an independent state, without caring for the reaction of the elected government as well as the people of the country, Washington is challenging the security of our country, thus making itself more insecure in turn. This is of particular attention that renowned power-theorists, Morgenthau, Waltz and Kissinger see international relations as constituting a search for security in the world where there is no super agency to impose law, and where maximization of power is the only route to state security. This is because of this reason that America and its allies of war on terror want security only for themselves, and seek to guarantee it through lethal force. Intermittently, heavy aerial bombardment and ground shelling by their forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and inside Pakistani border, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians might be cited as an example. A similar pattern of state terrorism could be noted in case of Palestine, Kashmir, Somalia etc.

On the other side, Muslim militants, fighting against the imperialist powers through ambush rocket attacks and suicide bombers have broken the myth of old model of power-based security which only safeguards the interest of the US-led western countries at the cost of the small states. In this regard, particularly Pakistan has already been facing multifaceted crises owing to its support to Washington. In this respect, a perennial wave of suicide attacks in the country, targeting law-enforcement agencies coupled with a continuous battle with the militants in the Frontier Province could be noted as an instance. As violations of Pakistan's sovereignty show that America does not care for any internal backlash in Pakistan, so it is determined to create insecurity in the country.

Nonetheless, US war-mongering hidden strategy against Pakistan will further expedite extremism among the young men, turning them into suicide bombers, radicalizing a vast region from Pakistan to Syria, ultimately making America insecure—besides endangering the world peace. In Pakistan, it will certainly result into more unity among the elected government, security forces, the general masses and even the Pakistani religious organisations, consequently massive hostility and resistance against Americans. In such a scenario, Islamabad could be compelled to stop NATO supply to Afghanistan as public in the country is already protesting against the NATO containers which pass through Pakistan. In the present era of globalization, there is a direct relationship between internal and external security. If America intends to convert Pakistan into a "failed state" by causing instability, it is, in fact, creating external insecurity which is likely to further harm America's larger geo-political and economic interests on regional and global level.

In the aftermath of 9/11, western thinktanks have recognized inter-relationship between economics, politics and terrorism. Now, they agree in light of the US failed strategy, prolonged war against terrorism and defeatism in Afghanistan that religious fanaticism and stiff resistance of the Islamic militants are linked to political and economic injustices. Taking cognizance of this fact, the US must abandon its revised military strategy which entails Pakistan as the former still depends upon old power factor which has already failed. Instead, America should increase its economic and security aid to Pakistan and must make practical efforts for the development of infrastructure in FATA. In this context, Washington should also favour peace deals with the militants not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan where more lawlessness is causing more terrorism. As regards the question of Pak-US security, perhaps Washington has failed to recognize that security is a two-way traffic. If America needs security, Pakistan also wants the same. Security cannot be obtained by endangering the security of our country. In these, terms, Pakistan's insecurity means US insecurity.

—The writer is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WEAK LEADERSHIP

SHAUKAT MASOOD ZAFAR

 

US continuing presence in Afghanistan as well as its increasingly aggressive "creep" over the Afghan-Pakistani border has been justified under the ambiguous and omnipresent threat of "terrorism." In reality, the true goal is to contain the rise of China and other emerging economies using the pretense of "terrorism." It is notable that Pakistan is the only nuclear country in the Islamic World; hence the US, India, Israel and some western powers are determined to weaken it. The fact of the matter is that CIA, RAW and Mossad are collectively working inside Pakistan. In this context, these secret agencies have been spending huge money to train and equip the militants who have been entering Pakistan on daily basis and have been conducting suicide attacks in our country, and assaults on our security forces including targetted killings—inciting sectarian violence.

Yet another reason is that in fact US want to break and divide Pakistan to easily get Baluchistan's rich minerals. Pakistan's extensive oil and gas reserves, largely located in Balochistan province, as well as its pipeline corridors are considered strategic by the US and its allies, requiring the concurrent militarization of Pakistani territory. Balochistan's strategic energy reserves have a bearing on the separatist agenda. Following a familiar pattern, there are indications that the Baloch insurgency is being supported and abetted by UK and the US. The American Administration is in complete favor of this Baluchistan's freedom. This plan has gained great popularity in US diplomatic and policy making circles. Baluchistan remains totally under the radar of the US news cycle. Gwader is the main part of new US great game. Pakistani rulers can not even think of standing as a barrier in front of any US interest and they would be ready to play any mega project or any contract drama to handover the minerals to them. So an independent Baluchistan would serve U.S. strategic interests in addition to the immediate goal of countering Islamist forces." In addition to the Gwadar port in Pakistan's Baluchistan region, China has also built dams, roads, and even nuclear power plants in the country. China has also supplied Pakistan with a tremendous amount of military technology. The only cards US seems to have left in its hand to counter this growing relationship are threats of destabilization, the subsequent stripping of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and Pakistan's Balkanization into smaller, ineffectual states.

During the present regime, with the help of Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad, Blackwater has rapidly established its network in Pakistan. Ex- ISI Punjab Regional Commander, Brigadier (retired) Ghazanfar says "Days after the mystery of 9/11, the CIA operatives landed in Pakistan in order to train Pakistani troops and authorities concerned for counter terrorism, but with the passage of time, their demands increased, and now the CIA network has a strong grip". It has recruited those Pakistani nationals who are vulnerable giving them high financial incentives. This force has been recruited, trained and equipped by the CIA operatives to target the Pakistan Army personnel, armed forces' installations, markets, hospitals, schools and public places to destabilise Pakistan. It has also been reported that Blackwater has been recruiting smugglers, employees of the security companies, experts of the psychological warfare, scholars and journalists in order to fulfill anti-Pakistan designs of America including India and Israel. CIA operatives and its ally agencies have infiltrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda networks, and have created their own Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) force in order to destabilise Pakistan. There are also other factors at work. The so-called leaders of the Pakistani Taliban are on the US payroll. One was Baitullah Mehsud, the self-styled leader of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan. Similarly, in Swat, Mullah Fazlullah, another self-proclaimed Taliban leader, was frequently visited by CIA operatives. The US also recruited a large number of tribal leaders as well as politicians in the Frontier Province. Today, the CIA has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Pakistanis on its payroll, earning $10,000 per month or more and operating in Pakistan. The same is true of tribal leaders bought for sacks full of dollars. Although Pakistan's security forces have successfully coped with the Taliban militants in the Malakand Division and South Waziristan, yet situation has deteriorated in the country where subversive events like suicide attacks, targeted killings, attacks on buildings, oil pipelines, sectarian violence etc. During the Malakand and Waziristan military operations, ISPR spokesman, Maj-Gen. Athar Abbas has repeatedly indicated foreign hands in helping the insurgents in order to destabilize Pakistan. The CIA's operations in collaboration with RAW and Mossad, which were suspended in Balochistan, Punjab, Islamabad and other areas of the country after the Raymond Allen Davis (RAD) incident, have now been restored. All US policies toward Pakistan are bad, and some are perhaps worse than others. The entire terrorism network has been managed by CIA, RAW, and Mossad stationed in Pakistan. Pakistan is unstable because of Zardari and his civilian government's complete lack of leadership — a lack of moral fiber and weakness. With the US preparing a major military escalation in Pakistan, the corrupt ruling elites have demonstrated their contempt for the Pakistani people. Unable, and unwilling, to solve the deep-seated structural problems facing their nation—unemployment, lack of security, rampant crime and corruption, the lack of public education, the absence of health care, free expression and the right to be left alone to live in peace— the Zardari administration has cut a deal with the imperialist overlords who now threaten destruction on a planetary scale.

Zardari is weak and ineffective. He and his government on the one hand depend on the Pakistani army to keep the country under control and on the other hand have close coordination with US authorities and CIA who is operating to destabilize the country. There seems failure in Pakistan on all counts. It is a fact that US has pushed for a compliant political leadership in Pakistan, with no commitment to the national interest, a leadership which serves US imperial interests, while concurrently contributing under the disguise of "decentralization", to the weakening of the central government and the fracture of Pakistan's fragile federal structure. The political impasse is deliberate. It is part of an evolving US foreign policy agenda, which favors disruption and disarray in the structures of the Pakistani State.

The symptoms of a deeper problem are quite visible. There is not going to be any good news from Pakistan for the last three years, because the fundamentals of the state are either failing or questionable. Under the present regime Pakistan is rapidly loosing its "stateness," that is the qualities that make a modern government function effectively. It is not likely to recover easily from political and economic mismanagement, divisive policies, lawlessness, corruption and ethnic friction. The Pakistani ruling elite have created a narrative of U.S.-Pakistan relations which is showing the United States letting Pakistan down. It is the incapacity of the state to educate its people in a modern fashion; it's the failure of the Pakistani economy to grow at all. In addition to its territory, which is strategically important, there is much more in Pakistan that is of benefit to its people yet it always needs outsiders for economic help. The conflict with India drains most of its budget. Our rulers think US some superflous power. If everything done in this world was under US wishes, so countries like Iran and North Korea wouldn't have existed in the world map. In Pakistan's case, it has already been divided into different parts and is in state of war which is due to the evil-doings of its own rulers who now miss no chance to malign the armed forces.

Wake up my countrymen, Get rid of America and get out of being allies of America in America's war of terror. This is our home, our nation, our forces, our Pakistan we are talking about. The U.S. continues to attack Pakistani territories and killing innocent Pakistani people in FATA and other areas. Our forces are already in trouble and encountering severe problems. If you can't do something physically, for god sake at least don't discourage the ones who are actually striving for their nation's security, who are under oath to protect the country and they stand by it whenever needed. U.S. and Pakistan share no mutual interests in Asia. U.S. wants a strong India to compete with China, and is worried about China's rise. Admittedly the military has made many mistakes and must be held accountable at some appropriate time.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

WHERE IS THAT LEADER?

COLUMN FROM DALLAS

SAEED QURESHI

Two indispensible features have all along been lacking in the political landscape of Pakistan. One is selfless, motivated and patriotic leadership. The other is the institution building. The newly born country had fallen prey to the vandals of worst pedigree. It has been wantonly and relentlessly pillaged financially and crippled institutionally, by self-perpetuating people and rapacious groups that had scant concern or interest in its welfare, stability and its evolution as a modern nation state.

From the dawn of independence, it remained lorded-over by creepy bureaucrats, ravenous feudal classes, insidious dwarf politicians, hypocritical religionists and murderous mafias that kept exacting their pound of flesh throughout. There has always been severe and acute famine of leaders with nobility of character and sublimity of spirit to serve this county for its greatness and glory. The foundational and structural flaw was its two wings that were poles apart in every manner except the religion. Religion failed as a cohesive and uniting force between Former East Pakistan and the present West Pakistan. The dismemberment of Pakistan was destined to happen sooner or later. The egalitarian and democratic spirit of the Bengali nation was a check on the parasitic and fiefdom mentalities of West Pakistan. However, after 1971, when East Pakistan seceded, the left over western part had become an exclusive grazing ground for all exploitative classes and greedy ruffians to turn it into a barren land politically, socially and economically.

The search for a great leader has been elusive so far. It is a dismaying coincidence that the perpetual crises in Pakistan have not produced a leader of sterling integrity and high caliber with powerful intellect, iron will and lofty ideals to lead Pakistan towards a splendid destiny. There have been mediocre, mean-spirited, self-centered, exploitative, oppressive individuals grabbing power by trickery, deceit and ignoble machinations. The leaders on the whole, were infected with the undying desire of self fortification in the power citadel, loot of national wealth by every conceivable devious means, destroy or dibilatate democratic traditions and nation building institutions.

The political parties and their stalwarts depend more on intrigues and back door maneuvers to dislodge and depose the sitting governments and not by established democratic traditions of fair and free elections. The political anarchy that interminably hovers over Pakistan has been the dirty and loathsome work of the politicians than the army. The generals always stepped in at the behest of the selfish political cronies or as a result of a totally collapsed system of governance. If politicians would have behaved and adhered to and promoted democracy culture, the army could have never ruled Pakistan for half of its post independence period.

The accumulated mess of six decades has to be cleared by someone or else Pakistan's survival as a viable state is at stake. You name one institution and you would lament that it is dysfunctional due to incompetency, kickbacks, bribery, and lack of funds or malafide intentions not to make it efficient. The Parliament, Senate, ministries, police, airlines, railways, courts, municipal administrations, industries, presidency, Prime Minister House, education, health, social services, law and order are being run on borrowed time. The state or national institutions are in a state of complete or near wreck. The worst sufferers are the majority of the people of Pakistan. The elite classes, the aristocracy, the ruling cliques, the big businessmen, and snobbish bureaucarts are immune from the myriad predicaments and day to day tragedies and hardships that a common man encounters. So let us talk about a unique leader who can address this morbid situation and redeem Pakistan from a colossal drift and national calamity that if remained unchecked could push it towards an irredeemable decay and terminal disintegration.

Such divinely gifted leaders have appeared in history who changed the destiny of their nations from total collapse to resplendent redemption. Let us indulge in a fanciful utopia, and subjective reckoning and wishful reflection. Let us ponder that if we have one like Hazrat Omar, Mamun-ur-Rshid of Abbasid dynasty, Salahuddin Ayub of medieval Iraq, Kamal Ataturk of 20th century, Imam Khomeini of Iran, Li Kuan of Singapore, Fidel Castro of Cuba, founding fathers of the United States, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan, De-Gaulle of France, Mau Zedong or Ding Xiaoping of China, Hochi Minh of Vietnam and so on. Bhutto was a dazzling flash in the chequered and tumultuous history of Pakistan but it extinguished for his own temperamental flaws and by the external forces in league with the local quislings. His achievements are distinctive and excel his failings. He was a trendsetter but fell victim to the work of local intriguers and the foreign string pullers. On the political horizon of Pakistan there is no other lofty figure (leave the founder of Pakistan) who could be portrayed as a leader of true national stature. Pakistan needs a radical progressive, reformist, a firebrand, iron willed revolutionary, chivalrous and visionary leader. He should be a leader who is incorruptible, astute and farsighted. He should be the one who can keep his nose to the grindstone and never budge or bend on matters pertaining to national honor, sublime mission for change and reconstruction of Pakistan as a modern, developed state. He should be the enemy of status quo, of sectarianism, of vested interests, of selfish pressure groups and cartel, corruption, nepotism, feudalism, comprador classes, and the false and exploitative sainthood. He could lay down his life but would not dither nor compromise on his lofty ideals of nation building. He should be a person hating self aggrandizement, wealth, personal galore and glorification, live a simple life and shun ostentation.

He should speak and plead for the masses He should mobilize the downtrodden and intellectuals and intelligentsia for a gubernatorial change. He should stand for consolidation of healthy and efficient institutions, for equality, unalloyed justice and social services for all on equal basis. Am I asking too much for a leader to rescue this harassed nation from a catastrophic abyss of sufferings? Well if it is a wishful thinking then let it be so. There have been such matchless and legendary leaders who led their nations in the most critical periods and drove them out of the dire straits of untold afflictions and rejuvenated them from the ashes of annihilation. Can this miracle happen in Pakistan too?

—The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

BUDGET — EXPECTATIONS & POSSIBILITIES

MALIK M ASHRAF

In the modern era budgets are not merely a statement of revenue and expenditure of the government but a comprehensive manuscript that mirrors state of the economy, delineates a set of policy initiatives to nudge and accelerate growth and unfurls measures envisioned to promote the well being of the masses. Because of their wholesome character they affect each and every segment of the society in one way or the other. That adequately explains why people evince so much interest in the budget and the expectations that they have in regards to improvement in their economic situation.

Frankly speaking the state of the economy is not in an enviable position with projections of a 2.4 % growth in GDP during the current fiscal year and the budgetary deficit escalating between 6-7% of the GDP. The mother of all the economic ailments afflicting the economy and obstructing growth, the budgetary deficit has spiked to Rs.11.2 trillion. It has increased sharply to 66 percent of the GDP in March this year from 54.5 per cent in June 2007 which is attributed to excessive borrowing by the government from outside and from the banking system within the country. The detractors of the government heap opprobrium on the government for its inability to check this trend and pushing the country into an economic spin. The criticism of the government in this regard, is not wholly justified and is being hurled completely out of context. These critics are not prepared to give it the allowance for the fact that the country had to bear an additional burden of US$ 74 billion due to war on terror, the devastation wrought by the floods that will require Rs.160 billion to rebuild the infrastructure and the huge liability that had to be shouldered for the rehabilitation of the IDPs. The dilemma for the government is that it perforce has to borrow considerably to invest in defence, public services, infrastructure projects, dams, electricity generation, etc. etc. During the current fiscal year it had to borrow excessively from the central and commercial banks because of its inability to implement RGST for raising tax revenue and the squeeze on the external funds which were reduced to Rs.89 billion in the first 10 months of the year against an anticipated inflow of Rs.566 million for the entire year.The precarious law and order situation in the country, a corollary to the war on terror, also discouraged the prospective foreign investors to invest in the country. Rising oil and food prices internationally also had a negative affect on the economy besides adding to the economic woes of the people by nudging inflation. It is thus evident that all these factors were beyond the control of the government. The sluggish economic growth, uncertain political and security environment and irregular flow of funds from donors and multilateral financial institution forced government's hand to continue borrowing to meet its inescapable needs. There is no doubt that the government is committed to reversing this trend. It is targeting reduction in the fiscal deficit from 6% of GDP to 4.5% and a growth rate of 4.2% during the next financial year. The Asian Development Bank has forecast a growth rate of 3.7 percent during the next year citing persistent energy crisis and security situation as the hampering factors. There is a unanimity of view among the economic managers of the government and the economists that the reversal is only possible through reduction in the fiscal deficit driven by expansion in the tax net and reduction in subsidies, as being contemplated by the government. The government is envisaging to net Rs.1.9 trillion through different taxes and fiscal measures during the next financial year which represents 16% increase over the target for the current year. Most of the analysts are of the view that there is hardly any room to cut on the expenditure side as 75% of the revenue collected by the FBR goes to debt servicing, interest repayment and security related expenditure.

In regards to expanding the tax net, the government is relying on taxing all kinds of incomes including incomes from agriculture ( which will be implemented with the cooperation of the provinces as the subject has fallen into their domain after Eighteenth Amendment), imposition of RGST if it can win the support of its allies and the opposition, resort to greater emphasis on direct taxes instead of indirect taxes that spur inflation and adoption of a system of targeted subsidies benefiting the poorer sections of the population. Additional revenues are also likely to be generated through removal of general sales tax (GST) exemptions on given on fertilizers, tractors, pesticides, garments, leather, carpets, surgical and medicines. These steps are in line with the IMF recommendations and do not require parliamentary approval. The new Transit Trade Agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan could also immensely contribute to raising additional revenues. Presently the estimated trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan is over US$ I billion, while the black market trade is several times greater than the legitimate bilateral trade due to the loopholes in the previous agreement. The new protocol, to a great extent, plugs those cleavages and takes care of the illegal trade by providing an appropriate mechanism to check the unscrupulous elements.

The resort to direct taxes will help in bringing down the inflation from the present 14% to the contemplated figure of 12% during the next year, supplemented by targeted subsidies and reduction in the government borrowing that will curtail the money flow into the economy. In regards to accelerating growth and tackling the problem of un-employment, the government has decided to rely on private-sector led growth instead of leading the process itself. Plans are also on the anvil to strengthen the existing security nets and providing relief to the salaried class. Conceptually it is hard to take issue with the policies that the government contemplates to unfurl but under the prevailing situation, understandably, one should not expect miracles to happen..

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

MINI-WEAPONS FOR NEW AGE OF WARFARE

W J HENNIGAN

 

Under mounting pressure to keep its massive budget in check, the Pentagon is looking to cheaper, smaller weapons to wage war in the 21st century. A new generation of weaponry is being readied in clandestine laboratories across the nation that puts a priority on pintsized technology that would be more precise in warfare and less likely to cause civilian casualties. Increasingly, the Pentagon is being forced to discard expensive, hulking, Cold War-era armaments that exact a heavy toll on property and human lives. At L-3 Interstate Electronics Corp. in Anaheim, technicians work in secure rooms developing a GPS guidance system for a 13-pound "smart bomb" that would be attached to small, low-flying drone. Engineers in Simi Valley at AeroVironment Inc. are developing a mini-cruise missile designed to fit into a soldier's rucksack, be fired from a mortar and scour the battlefield for enemy targets. And in suburban Portland, Ore. Voxtel Inc. is concocting an invisible mist to be sprayed on enemy fighters and make them shine brightly in night-vision goggles.

These miniature weapons have one thing in common: They will be delivered with the help of small robotic planes. Drones have grown in importance as the Pentagon has seen them play a vital role in Iraq, Afghanistan and reportedly in the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Now, engineers in Southern California and elsewhere are refining drone technology to deliver a powerful wallop with increasingly smaller robotic planes — many of which resemble model aircraft buzzing around local parks. This work is aimed primarily at one buyer —the Pentagon, which is seeking a total of $671 billion for fiscal 2012. Of that, drones represent $4.8 billion, a small but growing segment of the defense budget — and that doesn't include spending on robotic weapons technology in the classified portion of the budget.

This comes at a time when expensive weapons programs, like Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles and Navy cruisers, are being eyed for trims. Although some mini-weapons may resemble toys, they represent a new wave of sophisticated technology in modern warfare, which has forced the military and weapons-makers to think small. And they are just a few under development that have been disclosed. "There are a lot of weapons in the military's arsenal," said Lt. Col. Brad Beach, an official who coordinates the Marines' drone technology. "But what we don't have is something small." The military is flush with multi-ton bunker-busting bombs designed to reduce fortified buildings into smoldering rubble. But Marines on the front lines in Afghanistan say there is an urgent need for a weapon that is small and powerful enough to protect them from insurgents planting roadside bombs. Marines already have small spy drones with high-powered cameras, but what they need is a way to destroy the enemies that their drones discover.

Looking to fill the need, the 13-pound "smart bomb" has been under development for three years. The 2-foot-long bomb is steered by a GPS-guided system made in Anaheim. The bomb is called Small Tactical Munition, or STM, and is under development by Raytheon Co. "Soldiers are watching bad guys plant" roadside bombs and "can't do anything about it," said Cody Tretschok, who leads work on the program at Raytheon. "They have to call in an air strike, which can take 30 to 60 minutes. The time lapse is too great."

The idea is that the small bomb could be slung under the spy plane's wing, dropped to a specific point using GPS coordinates or a laser-guidance system, and blast apart "soft" targets, such as pickup trucks and individuals, located 15,000 feet below. Raytheon does not yet have a contract for the bomb and is building it entirely with its own money. "We're proactively anticipating the military's need," said Tretschok, who is testing the technology at the Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

— Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

KABUL ATTACK IS A DIRE WARNING

AS an ominous rejoinder to Barack Obama's announcement of US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, the audacious attack by Taliban insurgents on the Kabul Intercontinental, one of the city's most heavily guarded landmarks, could hardly be more telling.

Similarly, the disclosure that Pakistan has ordered America to get out of the Shamsi air base in Balochistan - the main hub for launching the Predator drone attacks that have been increasingly successful against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban - is a reminder of just how challenging the situation is on both sides of the Durand Line despite Mr Obama's confidence.

That a handful of militants could so easily penetrate security surrounding the Intercontinental when senior government officials were meeting there to discuss the handover of civil and military authority from the NATO-led coalition to Afghan forces is both an irony and a profound embarrassment. That the Afghan forces displayed such incompetence throughout the six-hour siege, which was dealt with effectively only when NATO helicopter gunships were called in, is a sharp reminder of the gap between Mr Obama's rhetoric and the reality on the ground in Afghanistan.

One Afghan provincial leader in the hotel vented his anger by asking how Afghan forces, if they could not protect a landmark in the capital, could be expected to take over responsibility for the entire country. Another guest, noting the transition to Afghan forces is due to begin this week, scathingly said that if security responsibility was given to the current authorities in Kabul at 10am on any given day, the government could be expected to collapse by noon.

That's hyperbole, of course. But its message isn't far off the mark. It's exactly what the top US commanders, Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus, had in mind when they expressed disquiet about the President's withdrawal announcement. It's what our columnist Ayaan Hirsi Ali was referring to when she wrote this week of Taliban perceptions that the US withdrawal was a sign of American weakness and their impending victory.

It's hard to argue otherwise when the forces to which the NATO-led coalition is about to start handing over responsibility have shown such incompetence in the heart of the capital. Mr Obama, by being so pre-emptive in ordering troops home in time for next year's election campaign, has done little to force the Taliban to the negotiating table. Prospects for such talks would be enhanced only if the US was perceived to be operating from a position of strength and, as Hirsi Ali has noted, troop withdrawals will not be seen as that by the Taliban.

On its own, the situation in Afghanistan looks grim. In the context of the intertwined conflict on both sides of the Durand Line, it looks even more so. Pakistan's order for the CIA to close the Shamsi drone hub follows its expulsion of 120 US military trainers and is an indication of how relations have soured since the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abottabad.

Twenty years ago, as retiring US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has pointed out, the US prematurely withdrew from its involvement in Afghanistan, which was focused on helping the mujahideen oust Soviet forces. That premature withdrawal resulted, eventually, in 9/11.

The Kabul Intercontinental terrorist attack is a tragic warning that suggests Washington is again being far too hasty in leaving Afghanistan.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

A SINGLE CURRENCY ADDS UP TO A EUROPEAN DISASTER

IN a few months, the world will have a chance to contemplate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht Treaty that underpins the euro.

The anniversary is sure to be bitter, not celebratory. The common European currency which the treaty, adopted at a meeting in the Dutch city in February 1992, made possible, is proving a divisive innovation of modern politics. The euro is under threat as populations across Europe wonder whether it is sustainable, and as some seriously argue the answer to Greek insolvency lies in it dumping the currency. In truth, it would be calamitous if Athens attempted to inflate its way out of its problems in a Weimar-style exercise. There are no easy answers to the crisis crippling the country, despite what those protesting in Syntagma Square might suppose.

The violence in the capital shows how politically and socially tough it will be for Greece to pull itself free from debt sitting at 160 per cent of gross domestic product. Austerity measures passed by the parliament are a start, although these have been forced upon Greece by Brussels and the International Monetary Fund as a condition of bailout funds that will reach at least E200 billion over the next two years. The political will to begin the deep structural reforms is still missing, as is the revolution in attitudes among voters who regard government largesse as a right and corruption as inevitable.

The common currency is not the cause of Athens' problems but the obsession with saving it at any price threatens to lead Europe to short-term and potentially unworkable solutions. Bailing out Athens should not be seen as the only alternative to a messy debt default that would undermine the European project. The option of a debt restructure, with the EU accepting responsibility for around half of Greece's debt, is now being urged by many commentators. Whatever the outcome, the euro denies Greece, along with Portugal, Ireland and Spain, the leverage of a flexible currency that could rapidly assist their economies.

The Europeans might consider the Australian experience in the global financial crisis of 2008. In the months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, our dollar hovered just below parity with the greenback. But as the financial services sector of the northern hemisphere imploded, the dollar dropped to around 65c, making our exports competitive. It was a self-correction possible under a floating exchange rate.

More than two decades ago, Margaret Thatcher warned against a single European currency and the idea it could work across so many member states at such different levels of economic strength. She argued it could not accommodate the industrial powerhouse of Germany and the struggling economy of Greece. Her resistance to the centralising instincts of Brussels was prescient.

As the EU agonises over Greece, some are arguing for a form of "fiscal federalism" as the long-term way to save the euro. For now, any moves to a centralised control of tax, spending and social policy across the member states is a political impossibility. As hazardous, perhaps, as the single currency.

Europe cannot wait to find out. It must come up with a more immediate solution to the Greek crisis.

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

JUST THE TOMIC FOR TENNIS FANS

FORTUNATELY Bernard Tomic seems unlikely to be burdened by the high expectations of our sports-loving nation.

That's because he has the highest expectations of all. After becoming the youngest man to make the final eight at Wimbledon since the precocious 1985 champion Boris Becker, and bowing out in a hotly contested quarter final, Tomic says a championship is just "a few matches away". After what has been a breakthrough tournament for the 18-year-old, a delighted nation agrees.

Rangy, deft and powerful, Tomic plays an exciting game. Born in Germany to Croatian and Bosnian parents, his family moved to Queensland when he was a toddler, becoming just one more successful Australian immigration story. Young "Bernie" took an instant shine to tennis when he picked up a racquet at a garage sale. His father has coached him since.

After this week's heroics, Tomic's opponents, tennis experts and, no doubt, most Australians expect him to go on to greatness. On that score it was comforting to see the level head of Davis Cup captain Patrick Rafter in the Tomic box. On current evidence there is little the tyro needs to learn about tennis but there could be no better mentor than Rafter when it comes to temperament and sportsmanship on the court, and grace off it.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A CLEARER VIEW OF TRANSPORT

THE remarks of Paul Broad, the new head of Infrastructure NSW, offer renewed hope to commuters and other road and rail users - even though he didn't present any ideas in detail. Broad was speaking with circumspection: his views about his ideas for the new organisation he heads were tentative and hedged about with conditions. What he did offer, though, suggests that Broad, who was appointed to the new body this week, holds views refreshingly free from the limitations which have held back transport planning and management in NSW for some years.

Broad clearly takes a comprehensive view of the task he faces. Of great significance, we believe, is that he is as interested in the organisational and management aspects of transport as he is in the design and engineering of projects. It is an important connection. It means, in essence, that strategic thinking about this state's transport needs will also take into account questions of management: not only whether a project should be built, but who should own and run it.

Broad favours the operation of the free market. His personal preference would be to privatise the rail network. Some will cavil at that. Private enterprise solutions to public infrastructure problems have a patchy record of success here. For rail, their scale is modest and their success even more so. Road projects have depended increasingly in recent years on private investment. Some have succeeded admirably. Others have been disasters. Skewing everything, though, has been a pattern of political patronage and interference.

Labor, because of its strong links to public-sector unions, could never manage government transport assets as effectively as even that party's own ministers would have liked. One reason for the Iemma and Rees governments' increasingly desperate support of a metro rail network for Sydney was the belief that, being privately owned, it might free one part of the transport network at least from the influence of the rail union. On road projects, the politicisation of everything under Labor saw drivers on the M4 and M5 offered rebates for their tolls, while those on the M2 (serving suburbs which tend to vote Liberal) got nothing.

If Infrastructure NSW can end such pettiness, and plan and set priorities for capital works projects independently of politics, it will have achieved much. It remains to be seen, of course, how things work out in practice but certainly Broad's remarks suggest that the O'Farrell government is willing to consider all infrastructure questions without any preconceptions. That is both healthy and rational, and also a refreshing change.

As Jacob Saulwick reports today, the transport union has reacted with alarm. That is to be expected, but it should not deflect Broad or the government from their task. Broad's remarks show the government may not have all the answers - but at least it is prepared to ask the right questions, and to consider issues free from prejudice. That is the best possible start.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

HIS BEST IS YET TO COME

FOR A while, a win looked tantalisingly within reach - but it was not to be. Not all fairytales have a happy ending. For Bernard Tomic, the best performing Australian at Wimbledon this year, the fairytale ended in a loss to his friend Novak Djokovic, the world No. 2. But Tomic - and Australian tennis - can draw many positives from the experience.

For Tomic it is the distinction of having come so far so young. Not since Boris Becker in the 1980s has someone of Tomic's age made it to Wimbledon's quarter-finals. Becker, of course, went all the way in 1985, and then did the same the following year. Though Tomic did not manage to match that feat, he knows what it is like to defeat players who are among the world's best. He got to the quarter-finals by defeating four players ranked above him, including Robin Soderling, at No. 5.

He is also realistic about his achievement: being knocked out in the quarter-finals is not enough for him. But the way he behaved in defeat showed qualities that will stand him in good stead for the future. He was generous to his opponent, and also quietly confident that his own best performance is ahead of him. "Look, when you do a result like this it tells you you're only a few matches away from winning a title," he said after the match. "I think I have the game and, if I get the mental state, to win a major in the next hopefully two years."

His realistic assessment of why he lost and where he is headed mirrors the composure he displayed during the game. Having lost the first set, he came back to win the second, and broke his opponent's service in the third. Then his concentration appeared to lapse as Djokovic was regathering his, and the Australian was not able to recover fast enough to get back on top, though he held on gamely.

With Lleyton Hewitt apparently hampered by nagging injuries, Australian men's tennis can look forward to a worthy successor in coming years. Let us hope Tomic can go even further and live up to the promise he has already shown.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

AUSTRALIA TURNS A DEEPER SHADE OF GREEN

Balance of power demands a new responsibility.

Today marks a new era in Australian politics. The Greens assume the balance of power in the Senate, following the election of four new senators at the last federal poll. Each state has a Greens representative, while for good measure in the lower house, Adam Bandt sits as the Greens MP for the seat of Melbourne. This marks a significant moment in Australian politics, not only for the party itself but the nation as a whole. As the minority Gillard government navigates its survival on almost a daily basis, it is the Greens who have the certainty in their ability to influence and guide the direction of the nation through their crucial numbers in the upper house. For the party that emerged from the environmental movement, it is a remarkable rise to importance and prominence. Bob Brown, the party's leader and elder statesman, has been there for the entire journey. Four decades ago, he first stood as an unsuccessful candidate for the newly-formed United Tasmania Group, the world's first green party, which later morphed into the Tasmanian Greens. Much of the success of the Greens can be attributed to Brown's ability to articulate a different view, often infused with a sense of compassion. In an era where politicians struggle to define clear identities, Brown rises above the pack. The change in the Senate numbers from today should be a justified moment of celebration for Brown and a party that has successfully challenged the dominance of the two main players in Australian politics.

The achievement of that influence is one thing. Much more important is how that power is exercised. In his address to the National Press Club this week to mark the historic change, Brown promised the Greens ''will be a secure rock of stability in the Senate, to help make sure Australia gets the good governance it deserves''. This is a good starting point. What matters, however, is how the Greens define good governance. Despite the party's success at the polls, it still remains a policy maverick and unknown in many key areas. In the same address in which he declared the Greens a rock of stability, Brown also threw up the left-field idea of a global parliament, a ''people's assembly'' based on one vote, one value. Harmless in itself - Brown admits it won't happen in his lifetime - it reinforces that the Greens often have a very different way of thinking. In part, this is the attraction for many voters disenchanted with the two main parties. But the Greens' new-found prominence in the affairs of the nation will require some very mainstream thinking as the party grapples with issues that will have an immediate and direct impact of the lives of Australians.

The negotiations on the proposed carbon tax are the crucial test of how the Greens will exercise this power. As The Age has reported, the party is close to a deal with Labor on some of the biggest sticking points on a carbon price. This includes a package of compensation for coalminers, a concept initially opposed by the Greens. Brown has acknowledged that the Greens' ambitious target to cut emissions by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020 will not be achieved for some time. And while he has argued for an extension to the mining tax, he acknowledges that any mining tax is better than none. These concessions point to a realpolitik approach and understanding of the role the Greens now play in shaping the nation's destiny. Undoubtedly, there are political dangers for Brown and his Greens senators in this readiness to negotiate. Certainly, there is the possibility that votes will be lost among those who support more radical action on climate change, and there will be a ''dark green'' element of the party that will be disappointed. Yet the responsible exercise of power demands that the Greens govern for all voters, not just their constituency. If they do, the Greens will find their influence continues to grow.

West v the rest? It's not that simple

WESTERN Australia is different. Or at least, its inhabitants are accustomed to feeling that they differ from those of us who live in what they refer to, without further distinction, as ''the eastern states''. And, from time to time, this feeling of difference, usually fuelled by grievances about taxation, has bubbled over into calls for WA to secede from the Commonwealth of Australia and become a separate nation.

Such calls have sparked organised movements several times since WA, with some reluctance, became the last colony to agree to federation in 1901. In 1933, 68 per cent of the state's voters carried a referendum on secession, and the cause only lapsed after being referred to the Imperial Parliament at Westminster, which ruled that it had no power to approve secession unless majorities in all states agreed to it. Mining magnate Lang Hancock tried to revive the secessionist cause in the 1970s, and now the S word is being uttered, indeed shouted, again. At a speech in Perth this week, Fortescue Metals chief Andrew Forrest reminded his hearers that federal Treasurer Wayne Swan had suggested that if WA didn't like the mining resources rent tax it should secede. The audience thundered its applause.

Three things may be said about this incident. First, given the history of WA Mr Swan's quip was ill-advised. Second, although Mr Forrest was clearly able to rely on a sympathetic audience to send the Treasurer a message, there is no movement for secession with mass support, as there was in the 1930s. And third, it may be doubted whether Mr Forrest, who prudently did not endorse the secession call, would want it to succeed. Like another politically active WA miner, Lang Hancock's daughter Gina Rinehart, he can wield influence in a united Australia that would diminish in the unlikely event of federation unravelling.

If WA's strong local patriotism does again take political form as a popular demand for secession, the chances are that it would fizzle out like previous secession movements. It is easy, during a resources boom, to argue that WA suffers from federation because per capita it contributes more revenue than is spent on it. But such arguments ignore the costs independence would bring. To cite only the most obvious one: with enormous resources, some of them offshore, a long coastline and a vast, sparsely inhabited interior, WA would acquire responsibility for its own security. Would the 2.3 million West Australians really want to bear the cost of replacing the Defence Force?

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

WEST V THE REST? IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE

WESTERN Australia is different. Or at least, its inhabitants are accustomed to feeling that they differ from those of us who live in what they refer to, without further distinction, as ''the eastern states''. And, from time to time, this feeling of difference, usually fuelled by grievances about taxation, has bubbled over into calls for WA to secede from the Commonwealth of Australia and become a separate nation.

Such calls have sparked organised movements several times since WA, with some reluctance, became the last colony to agree to federation in 1901. In 1933, 68 per cent of the state's voters carried a referendum on secession, and the cause only lapsed after being referred to the Imperial Parliament at Westminster, which ruled that it had no power to approve secession unless majorities in all states agreed to it. Mining magnate Lang Hancock tried to revive the secessionist cause in the 1970s, and now the S word is being uttered, indeed shouted, again. At a speech in Perth this week, Fortescue Metals chief Andrew Forrest reminded his hearers that federal Treasurer Wayne Swan had suggested that if WA didn't like the mining resources rent tax it should secede. The audience thundered its applause.

Three things may be said about this incident. First, given the history of WA Mr Swan's quip was ill-advised. Second, although Mr Forrest was clearly able to rely on a sympathetic audience to send the Treasurer a message, there is no movement for secession with mass support, as there was in the 1930s. And third, it may be doubted whether Mr Forrest, who prudently did not endorse the secession call, would want it to succeed. Like another politically active WA miner, Lang Hancock's daughter Gina Rinehart, he can wield influence in a united Australia that would diminish in the unlikely event of federation unravelling.

If WA's strong local patriotism does again take political form as a popular demand for secession, the chances are that it would fizzle out like previous secession movements. It is easy, during a resources boom, to argue that WA suffers from federation because per capita it contributes more revenue than is spent on it. But such arguments ignore the costs independence would bring. To cite only the most obvious one: with enormous resources, some of them offshore, a long coastline and a vast, sparsely inhabited interior, WA would acquire responsibility for its own security. Would the 2.3 million West Australians really want to bear the cost of replacing the Defence Force?

 


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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

RUPERT MURDOCH: EMPIRE OF THE SUN

No well-functioning democracy should allow one man to frame its window on the world

Dragged to the House of Commons to explain why he was licensing a fresh expansion of the Murdoch media empire, Jeremy Hunt yesterday wondered aloud why it fell to politicians as opposed to independent regulators to settle such things. The culture secretary's thought was an interesting one, betraying a recognition of the terrible temptations he faced. But like an alcoholic discussing his problem over a pint, he succumbed all the same. In the midst of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, Ofcom's turn-of-the-year advice to refer the decision to the Competition Commission provided the perfect opportunity for Mr Hunt to keep his hands clean. But far from clearing the murk that always surrounds News Corporation's dealings with elected power, he has greatly thickened the fog.

The Australian-born American citizen Rupert Murdoch commands just under 40% of the UK newspaper market, and just under 40% of the vast BSkyB. Now, with Mr Hunt's help, he is set to increase that second figure to 100%, and to merge the two operations, creating unique opportunities for bundling up paper and TV advertising and sales. Even in Berlusconi's Italy there are restrictions on broadcasters moving into print. No well-functioning democracy should allow one man to frame its window on the world. But then the institutions of British democracy have hardly been functioning well of late in relation to Mr Murdoch.

The fourth estate of the free press, in which we are of course one interested party, is one of those institutions. It should check and balance political power from the outside, while itself being held in check by the ordinary processes of the criminal law. The fact that BSkyB's summer party last night was staged in the Foreign Office, however, seemed apt: Murdoch's tentacles reach deep into the establishment's heart. A fortnight before yesterday's decision, the prime minister – who had of course basked in the warmth of the Sun in last year's close election – attended a closed summit of CEOs at News International's Wapping base. But two decades after the Sun claimed to have won it for John Major, and one and a half since Tony Blair flew to Singapore to woo Mr Murdoch, reports of politicians kowtowing to News Corp have lost all power to shock. What is new – and what, surely, ought to have given Mr Hunt pause for thought – is the emerging evidence that the company has been run as a law unto itself.

After years of denials, supine Press Complaints Commission oversight and an odd reticence on the part of the police, the truth has very slowly asserted its power in the phone-hacking scandal. Dozens of detectives have been looking into the dealings of just one Murdoch paper, there are multiple lawsuits involving politicians as well as celebrities, and the News Corp board has made an unprecedented admission of guilt. With a handful of arrests already made, and with live questions remaining about whether the men and women at the top could be charged under Section 79 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, any cabinet minister worth their salt would be desperate to keep their distance from this company if it were in any other line of business. It is true that no charges have yet been pressed, and so it is proper for ministers to be cautious. Being cautious, however, would have meant passing the file to the Competition Commission. Instead, Mr Hunt clung on to it and justified this by devising special arrangements to secure the editorial independence of Sky News, wilfully disregarding the Murdoch record in thwarting safeguards for past acquisitions, from the Times to the Wall Street Journal.

Confronted with News Corp's awesome power, Mr Hunt has made it more powerful still. The web movement Avaaz is marshalling dissent from the margins. But within the mainstream, ever more voices must answer to a single empire, and democracy will pay the price.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

PALESTINIAN ACTIVISTS: UNWELCOME GUESTS?

In arresting Mr Salah for remarks he denies he made, a British home secretary is being even more intolerant than Israel

Sheikh Raed Salah, an Israeli citizen who leads the Islamic Movement in Israel, is currently in the immigration removal centre at Heathrow airport. He was three days into a visit during which he addressed public meetings in London and Leicester and the House of Commons when he was arrested and informed that he was the subject of a deportation notice issued on the grounds that his presence in the country was not "conducive to the public good".

What has made our government so agitated by his presence? Is it the fact that the sheikh was accused in some British newspapers and one website of making antisemitic statements, which he says were fabricated, and for which he has started libel proceedings? If so, the home secretary is applying a higher threshold for the public good in Britain than Israel itself applies to a man it has not been shy of prosecuting on other issues. Repeated attempts to outlaw the Islamic Movement for incitement have failed in Israel's high court. Mr Salah has not been convicted of antisemitism, and spoke recently on a platform in Tel Aviv University.

This point was not lost on the far-right Israel Beiteinu party, which, on hearing of Mr Salah's arrest in London, proposed a bill that could prohibit anyone convicted of aiding terrorist organisations from entering government-funded educational institutions. In apparently arresting Mr Salah for remarks he denies he made and which it has yet to be proved in a court of law that he did make, a British home secretary is being even more intolerant to the representatives of Israel's Arab minority, 20% of the population, than the state of Israel itself.

Another Palestinian, Dr Ahmad Nofal, a professor of Islamic law at Jordan University who acquired a visa to visit Britain, was told at Amman airport that he would not be permitted entry. If the home secretary is unwise enough to start applying her "prevent" policy to all Palestinian activists Israel has a problem with, Britain will face a backlash in the Arab world. The prime minister Salam Fayyad – no Islamist himself – said Mr Salah's arrest would harm the Palestinian Authority. Both banned men are close to the Muslim Brotherhood, one of whose leaders, Rached Ghannouchi, lived peacefully in Britain for 22 years.

Both Mr Salah and Mr Nofal were due to speak at an annual Palestinian festival in London. In a separate celebration, Jerusalem Day, rightwing Israeli activists marched into the Arab Old City shouting slogans such as "Muhammad is dead", "May your village burn", and "Butcher the Arabs". This is racist incitement for which no action is being taken. Should Britain be taking lessons from Israel on incitement?

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF ... PROVINCIAL COUNCILS

Afghanistan's provincial councillors have little to work with beyond glasses of tea and their own wits. But they represent a rare seed of democracy in a barren state

Step inside the office of a provincial council in Afghanistan and you'll find a handful of councillors listening to the travails of their constituents. A school needs a roof, a village dispute needs to be settled, the head of a family has become too ill to work. Provincial councillors have little to work with beyond glasses of tea and their own wits. But they represent a rare seed of democracy in a barren state. They are hardly immune from corruption: Kandahar provincial council is not exactly a beacon of integrity. But they are often as close to the people as the state gets, for it has been Afghanistan's misfortune that rulers since the Iron Emir, Abdur Rahman, have tried to impose a highly centralised government, sharply against the grain of society. If we were good at state-building, we would champion provincial councils, not ignore them. The kiss of death would be for more donors to rush in, to teach them how to apply for their own funds. Provincial councils need the means to do their job: transport to get around the province and access to a little expertise, and the right to hold regular public hearings with the provincial governor. The intervention in Afghanistan unleashed a torrent of rhetoric about spreading democracy. The military surge, which Barack Obama announced last week he would wind down, was supposed to be accompanied by a civilian one. If British and American governments took their own words more sincerely, we would have more to show for 10 years of state-building.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

ACCESS TO FINANCIAL SERVICES

The unfortunate fact that around 40 million people or more than 25 percent of Indonesia's adult population have no access to formal financial services, and even have never opened a bank account, is a true reflection of the skewed distribution of finance, which is hindering growth and the development of poor households and small businesses.

But the problem, as cited by Bank Indonesia deputy governor Muliaman Hadad at a conference on financial literacy and financial inclusion policy in Jakarta early this week, requires a solution from both the supply and demand sides.

This means the government should play an important regulatory and facilitating role in enhancing financial inclusion for a greater percentage of the population, while the private sector — financial service institutions — should see the huge untapped market for financial services as a great opportunity for market expansion.

It is within this perspective we see the important role of cooperation between the government (central bank) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in promoting financial inclusion to a greater share of the population.

But a financial inclusion strategy and policy is not simply a matter of providing as many people as possible with as wide access as possible to the formal financial industry, and notably banking as its most basic component. Such a drive could be counterproductive if the financial literacy of most people remains very low and the rate of inflation cannot be brought below 5 percent.

Financial literacy is especially important because financial products and services are increasingly complex and accessible from a growing number and type of providers and through a wide variety of media of communications. Financial literacy is thus mostly about educating and empowering consumers so they are knowledgable about finance in a way that is relevant to their lives, and enables them to use this knowledge to evaluate financial products and make informed decisions.

From the government's perspective, strengthening the existing legal and regulatory framework for the various formal financial institutions should also be an important step in improving access to finance and strengthening the protection of consumers' finance.

For example, given the huge number of mobile phone and Internet users in the country, the government could expand the regulatory framework for service providers to use mobile and electronic banking, and allow both banks and non-banks to provide a wider range of services through low-cost mobile banking solutions such as short message service (SMS).

According to the World Bank, in the Philippines, person-to-person transfers are allowed by mobile banking, enabling Filipino migrant workers to send remittances worth millions of US dollars home every month. Indonesia could do the same, if its regulatory framework permitted it.

On the other hand, banks and other financial service companies should create and provide easier, low-cost banking services to enable low-income earners to open bank accounts. In this context, the Tabunganku (my savings) national campaign by the central bank and commercial banks, launched by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last year, has become an entry point for educating small savers about financial services and products.

Encouraging people to use such small savings accounts gradually without administration fees would help them move toward normal savings accounts and fully utilize the range of financial services that meet their needs.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

EMERGING COUNTRIES: PROJECTIONS AND PITFALLS

JUWONO SUDARSONO

At the Indonesian Defense Ministry some years ago, a foreign management consultant advised the ministry to "streamline and restructure" its units and to be more "transparent, efficient and agile".

Like in any other industry (for example in marketing, poverty alleviation or human rights), the smooth professionalism of the management consultant had its habit of using the latest buzz words, and killer Powerpoint and pie-chart presentations, to convince potential clients to adapt his version of what constituted a "revamped and transformational" Indonesian defense force.

I was then aware of US defense secretary Don Rumsfeld's penchant to use his own favorite buzzwords about "restructuring" the Pentagon and "remaking" the US military to be both "lethal and agile". I politely told the consultant, using appropriate Rumsfeldian-speak that "goodness gracious me", the Indonesian Defense Ministry's tight budget could not afford to pay for the services offered.

As I now read advertorials, multilateral agency reviews and magazine special reports about "the dizzying economic growth rates" in Brazil, Russia, India, China and a host of other "emerging markets", I often have the same eerie feeling that optimistic prognoses about "the new globalism" driven by Asian "connectivity" and Latin American "dynamism" were recycled themes of the "East Asian Miracle" of the early 1990s.

Doubtless, some emerging countries in Asia are now better equipped to "redefine and transform" the "new globalism" of the 21st century. Asia now is different in scale as well as in its qualitative ability to push for more robust regional and global development. There is talk about "the population bonus" in India and Indonesia, for example, with each county having a demographic profile of 65 percent of the population under the age of 40 by 2040. The implied advantage is that in contrast, Japan's and China's population of those over 65 would comprise more than 60 percent of the population.

The promise of 350 million Indian or 360 million Chinese and even 50 million Indonesians seeking private housing, cars, electronic gadgets, foreign holidays and study at colleges and universities in North America and Europe is also tempting. That is the real bonus targeted by Western consultants, public relations companies, promotional outfits, advisory firms, all joining the fray to secure market share.

The myth and mystery of numbers are unabashedly regurgitated in numerous brochures and company profiles of American, European and rich Middle-Eastern banks and companies investing in manufacturing, banking and energy services in China, India and other growth markets. The annual franchises of Davos, Boao and World Economic Forum summits are part of obligatory corporate marketing schemes across Asia and Europe.

Depictions of "one billion consumers" in China, India and Indonesia are seen as a sure sign that even if only one-quarter or one-third of that number is achieved, it would be enough to entice producers of consumer goods in advanced countries to expand market share for their cars, electronics, apartments and other luxury goods. Recent hype promoted by a European bank advertorial brazenly noted that China's GDP in 2010 was US$9.2 trillion, well above the estimates of most multilateral agencies.

Data in these projections are constantly "updated" by marketing hacks and macro-economists who work in the agencies, consultancies and financial houses in Europe and North America.

Their assumptions and projections are littered with printouts of aggregate data, macro statistics and time series projections based on sophisticated "research findings" across nations and regions. Presentations, reviews, summit briefings and special reports provide statistics on "emerging urban growth centers" in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa.

It is no coincidence that they often talk more about "emerging markets" or "prospective growth economies" rather than countries and states. The difference between the "market size" and "real economic strength" of a country is never made clear or emphasized.

Market projections seldom report about quality of life indicators that are devastatingly more important: Urban blight, widespread rural poverty, meager access to clean water, limited public housing, lack of infrastructure, horizontal and vertical inequality across provinces, islands and regions within each particular country.

Least of all, there is seldom a mention of the need for public and private security by relatively responsive, relatively effective and relatively efficient military. It is only recently that in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan that many officials of NATO countries have acknowledged the need for a carefully calibrated "nation-building" program provided by the local military at ground-level.

The World Bank's World Development Report 2011 fails to mention the critical role of the military in nation stabilizing. Reflecting its liberal bias and politically correct stance, the report fails to mention the pivotal role of the military in support of civilian authorities to establish public order, particularly during critical transitional phases.

Constant revision by the bank's hurriedly hired team of economists, psychologists, anthropologists and political scientists delayed publication of the report, which may have also been influenced by the unexpected social and political unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen in early 2011.

The lessons about country economic and business prognoses are clear: There needs to be constant vigilance in discerning any presentations and projections about a particular country at any given time. Ultimately, there are hidden biases, rigid preferences as well as built-in political and economic self-interest that help a particular agency or private enterprise in courting favor to a particular client.

A failure to account for the cultural, historical and geopolitical context of any emerging economy will almost always lead to fatal pitfalls lurking beyond the experts' best guesstimates.

The writer is currently professor of international relations and geopolitics at the University of Indonesia. He is former minister of defense, of education and of environment. He has served as ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia at the Court of St. James in London. His doctor's degree in political science was obtained at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

UNBALANCED POWER IN TRADE

MAXINE CARR AND INDAH SUKSMANINGSIH

The EU and ASEAN states have been discussing the possibility of signing a Free Trade Agreement since 2007. Thankfully, the Indonesian government has decided that another one to two years is needed to fully investigate the effects of the FTA before signing.

The FTA is part of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which the Indonesia-EU Vision Group has recommended for the Indonesian and EU governments to soon start negotiations on. The recent Vision Group recommendations have stated that the "ambitious" agreement would eliminate 95 percent of tariffs on 95 percent of trade value over a nine-year period.

Among the recommendations are decreasing key tariffs on both sides by up to 95 percent, standardization and certification of Indonesian products to EU standards and creating sustainable trade in palm oil and cocoa. While ASEAN states are hoping to gain additional market access in the EU, the agreement is expected to have a much bigger impact in strengthening business opportunities for European transnational corporations in the region.

Currently, the trade of goods between EU and Indonesia amounts to ¤20 billion (US$28.96 billion) per year. In addition, more than 700 companies from European countries have investments in Indonesia valued at ¤50 billion, supplying more than 500,000 jobs in various industries, including pharmaceutical, banking and manufacturing. Because of this European penetration in the Indonesian economy, the government must prioritize to protect the Indonesian people.

It is hard to calculate the impact on services. The EU promises to help Indonesia in capacity building as part of increasing the market access. But "capacity building" can be seen as just a sweetener. Indonesia needs to fundamentally restructure first. In the Indonesia-EU Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, services are dubbed "Doha Plus", meaning that trade in services could be left in a dangerously vulnerable position, as these rules on services will be more liberal than already existing WTO rules.

The Vision Group has recommended that the level of ambition in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) as regard to Geographical Indications (GI) protection should be high. The CEPA will require GI protection should go beyond Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) obligations for foodstuffs and provide for extension of the protection at least to TRIPs article 23 level (referred to as TRIPs+). Similar to the proposed rules on services, the rules on IPR will therefore be Doha Plus.

The EU has never talked about how it would reduce its spending on subsidies on agriculture. How will Indonesia be able to compete with the EU if it continues to cushion its agriculture industry? This could easily be a source of market failure for Indonesia and therefore should become a topic of high importance for discussion during the negotiation process.

EU procedures require that all ASEAN countries sign a Partnership Cooperation Agreement, containing a commitment to human rights, as a prerequisite to an FTA. PCAs ensure that other factors, such as human rights and the environment are protected when trading. This looks as if Indonesia can benefit out of the PCA which was signed in 2009. However, by looking at the agreement carefully we can see the EU's true interest in the PCA.

Despite articles in the PCA to protect human rights in Indonesia, build infrastructure and better the health system, we can see that the EU's real interest is in trade and investment. Only articles discussing trade and investment use the words "must" and "has to" whereas all other articles use the words "may" and "can". Therefore, only articles discussing trade and investment can be enforced.

Section IV of the PCA titled Cooperation on Trade and Investment discusses Sanitary and Phytosanitary Issues, Technical Barriers to Trade, Intellectual Property Rights, Trade Facilitation, Customs Cooperation, Investment, Competition Policy and Services. There is no section on agriculture. By not discussing agriculture in this section, there is no binding agreement to protect Indonesia's agriculture sector, as only Section IV uses binding words such as "shall" and "must".

Agriculture is only discussed in Section V, titled Cooperation in Other Sectors. For Indonesia, agriculture is not "another sector", but is the most important sector which needs to be protected.

Therefore, the Indonesian government must assert its bargaining power during discussions of the EU-Indonesian FTA. If Indonesia is going to benefit, the FTA must contain enforceable benefits for its people. Indonesia has to better its standards to meet the demands of the EU. But the Indonesian government does not assert itself to protect Indonesian workers.

The gradual phasing out of tariffs gives Indonesian businesses some time to adapt to the changes. But inevitably, some businesses will prove unable to compete in the new market. Some businesses will be forced to close and unemployment will then follow in the short term, visible and politically sensitive.

We know that FTAs are inherently unequal. The richer and stronger economy, which can afford to subsidize its national economy and produce cheaper goods and services, will win. It is always poorer countries who lose out. FTAs that are not based on fair trade rules generally produce winners and losers. The majority of Indonesia's people are still poor and many people live below the standard of living. These people ultimately become of victims of free trade.

Working out the costs and benefits from implementing freer trade is complicated. While losses are often immediate and visible, benefits may not be readily apparent and require policy adjustments to take hold. Political leaders have to provide leadership not only in signing FTAs but even more in following up with prompt structural changes.

Currently, the EU-Indonesia Vision Group, established in 2010 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, comprises only business practitioners, government apparatus and scholars who work together to come up with recommendations on policies to reduce stumbling blocks in bilateral trade. Indeed, there is a platform for NGO consultation.

The writers work for the Institute for Global Justice, Jakarta.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

THE 'POOR' MIND-SET OF THE POOR

TARI LESTARI

"If generating jobs is the heart of the economy, then reducing poverty is its soul," says Paul Begala, a research professor of public policy at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute, in his book It's still the Economy Stupid (2002).

Begala wants to show how poverty issues have become important to all nations around the world. Of course, we know that poverty is a dynamic phenomenon which always appears as a cross-sectional issue from one period to the next.

As the book stresses many times, poverty is a concept that covers a range of dimensions, not only marked by the economic environment or political condition. In relation to this, we may be glad to know that our macro data shows some satisfactory results relating to poverty.

Let's have a look at the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) to review some of our achievements in eradicating hunger and poverty. The agency data shows that from 2006 to 2010, the number of the poor in
Indonesia declined dramatically from 39.3 million to 31.02 million people, a drop of 21.06 percent. In addition, the poverty gap and severity index in March 2010 was 2.12 and 0.58, down from 3.43 and 1.00 in 2006.

Together with increasing economic growth and several other macroeconomic indicators, this comes as very good news. But, if we make a list of several other facts about our country, we will end up confused about the inconsistency between the data and reality.

A few days ago I heard that Jamilah, a mother in Bojonggede, Bogor, let her children die because she was in a state of despair about her life of poverty. This episode was part of a new phenomenon in Indonesia that has been seen several times over the last few years: it's not the first time a mother has killed her own children just because she was frustrated by her situation.

In fact, the BPS data reveals that 47.34 percent of the poor in 2006 were trapped in the same poverty or maybe a worse state of poverty. This means that almost a half of the poor in Indonesia has plunged into "chronic poverty" — wherein the poor cannot escape the shackles of poverty. In particular, this condition can be more damaging to the social circumstances as it can generate more social instability and increase the possibility for the regeneration of a poor society.

So what went wrong? To begin with, it is very important for us to identify several factors that might be the root causes of poverty in developing countries such as Indonesia. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor of economics Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee said in 2006 that one key element that causes poverty is the psychology or behavior of the poor, which could be reflected in their lives in several different ways such as laziness, pessimistic attitude and risk aversion.

Sendhil Mullainathan (2011), a professor of economics from Harvard University, emphasizes that the poor are unwilling to save more and manage their inter-temporal choices. Most of them don't have a "save for tomorrow" mind-set. They don't try to balance their consumption over periods, and they don't care much about the next generation.

And when very poor people are risk averse, they are unwilling to invest in modern technology because that would involve risks and thus they will remain poor. If the poor do not invest and the rich do, gains in business or enterprise income will be restricted to the rich. Hence, the implication of this condition
is a growth of income inequality over time.

Unfortunately, thousands of facts show that the poor in Indonesia also have a serious problem with their psychology and mind-set.

For these reasons, the government should take into account what we call an individual behavioral or psychological approach in designing its poverty alleviation programs. It would be a good start to establish a social center to help the poor to become more positive, hard-working, self-confident and optimistic.

The government and banking sector were right when they introduced the "Let's save" movement. The biggest challenge now is how to get closer to the poor and convince them to allocate some of their limited money on savings.

It may be too early to say that all these solutions are the best policy recommendations, but thinking about individual behavior and how we interact with government policies would be a first step toward producing some extremely interesting insights.

The writer is a graduate student in economic policy at the University of Illinois.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: RESPONSE FROM THAI EMBASSY

Ple Priatna's article ("ICJ will not bring peace, but ASEAN will", published June 19) made a number of sweeping statements that require further elaboration.

First, Thailand has never disregarded its commitment to implement the package solution that was discussed in Jakarta between the foreign ministers of Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. Thailand had always made it clear to Cambodia and Indonesia that the dispatch of the Indonesian Observers Team (IOT) would only proceed once Cambodia withdrew its troops from the Temple of Phra Viharn and Keo Sikha Kiri Svara Pagoda and surrounding areas.

This is important because its troops there in violation of international conventions on the protection of cultural properties as well as the 2000 memorandum of understanding on the Survey and Demarcation of Land Boundaries between Thailand and Cambodia. The aforementioned has long been Thailand's position and was not just raised during recent discussions. Indeed, Thailand has communicated this position at least 13 times to various parties on different occasions.

Second, there is no reason for Thailand to prolong or escalate a conflict that would not only put Thai civilians living along the border at harm but also jeopardize what Thailand has long been working for in advancing ASEAN on its road toward becoming an ASEAN Community, and promoting relations with Cambodia, with whom we are a major trading partner and investor.

Indeed, Thailand has always sought to promote the nation-building process in Cambodia, pursuing various forms of cooperation with its government and people.

Finally, it must be reiterated that Thailand has always been sincere in its commitment to contain the situation and address it peacefully with Cambodia through dialogues and negotiations. Toward this end, we have embraced the facilitating role conducted by Indonesia as the ASEAN Chair. For example, it was in fact the initiative of Thailand to invite the IOT to the Thai side of the border — a position which was conveyed at the Informal ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Jakarta since Feb. 22.

It is therefore disappointing to see Cambodia bypass ASEAN first by referring the border issue to the United Nations Security Council in February and subsequently to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April, much to the detriment of ASEAN's credibility. Mr. Priatna was right in questioning Cambodia's motives in this regard.

Thanatip Upatising

Ambassador of Thailand to indonesia
Jakarta

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

NOT TO WIN OR LOSE, BUT HOW YOU PLAYED THE GAME

First it was about boxer Manju Wanniarachchi and not many people bothered to realize it was only a ringside view of the larger picture that was to emerge as Sri Lanka took a dubious place in the international scene as a nation dabbling heavily in doping or the use of artificial stimulants known as performance enhancing drugs.

The scandal hit local and international headlines mainly because of the role of a person who carried out his trade by pontificating he was an alternative medical practitioner – or as critics say a magic doctor.

Then came well-known cricketer Upul Tharanga and when he was found guilty of taking a banned drug mixed in some herbal concoction, the country suppressed its conscience while three Sri Lankan rugby players and two weight-lifters fell into the category of drug cheats. Now the addiction appears to be spreading dangerously even in schools with teenage sportsmen being tempted to take artificial stimulants and face the threat of being branded as cheats if not being banned from sports. It is learnt that during a random test carried out at the Junior Rugby Asiad a Sri Lankan player had been tested positive for doping. It is important to expose them rather than keep it under wraps.

Of all the victims, the investigations into the case of World Cup cricketer Upul Tharanga needs to be given priority. The left handed hard hitting batsman is no stranger to tragedies. He saw his humble abode in Ambalangoda left in ruins when the 2004 tsunami hit Sri Lanka but thanks to the support of some of his present or ex-team mates who saw the potential in him, he was able to come out of the calamity.

But now the irony is that what has befallen him is worse than the tsunami, for he will come to be known from now on as Sri Lanka's first national cricketer to get into the bad score books of the International Cricket Council, with a scar he will have to carry for the rest of his life.

Knowing Tharanga as both a human being and a sportsman, we find it hard to believe that he would have taken a banned drug on his own or deliberately cheated to ensure his continued presence in the Sri Lanka team which means not merely having the honour of playing for the country but also fame and wealth to go with it. Who or what then caused this unassuming village cricketer to fall for the vagaries of life and take his place among the world's drug cheats.

The most pertinent question that has to be raised now is from where and how did this  high profile medical practitioner come to be associated with some of the world's best known sportsmen such as India's Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Ghambir who sought his treatment and hailed the man as the re-incarnation of some modern day saint. When he told the AFP news agency last year he would be able to ensure that Britain's best known sportsman David Beckham would be able to play in the FIFA World Cup for England just days after he was operated for an ankle injury and ruled out of the best sporting showpiece of the world, one was taken back to the Biblical days when the blind saw, the lame walked and the lepers were cleansed.

It is high time the magic doctor is told to publicly answer for what has happened in the 21st century now that his name has come to be associated with sports doping or else it won't be long before the people rise up and call for action against him after what has happened to their favourite sportsmen.The government for its part has an obligation to inform the people or else risk being branded as partners in doping, and be declared as a foul starter in reaching the hallowed Olympian motto, "that when the Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he will write not whether you won or lost but how you played the game."

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE COST OF WARFARE

Washington is finally counting lives and dollars lost in wars. It's amazing to learn that the world superpower with at least a trillion dollar annual budget deficit additionally carries a war tag of around $3.5 trillion.

That count by any means is not an end in itself. The final bill for the misadventures from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan, during the last decade since 9/11 attacks, is supposed to cross over $4.7 trillion, and stares in the face a moral responsibilityin the form of nursing the wounded and compensating for the dead. The report released by the Brown Universitys Watson Institute for International Studies is a telling tale of maverick-ism and deception, all undertaken merely to appease the arrogant few warmongers in the Pentagon, White House and Capitol Hill, respectively.

Now as the Obama administration sits back to rewrite a new policy after formally announcing to thin its presence from Afghanistan — from 100,000 to 70,000 by the year 2012, it will inadvertently find itself in the woods. The war on terrorism is far from over, and leaving behind an imploding Afghanistan and a boiling Pakistan in its neighbourhood won't be an easy task. Though President Obama has categorically said that his administration would not care for leaving behind a perfect society in the war-weary country, it will not absolve him of the undercurrents that are not only serious in nature but also toiling at the same time. For long it will be bogged down in the intricate affair of convincing the Taleban to get political in substance and relinquish the terror apparatus. Last but not the least, though policy-makers in Washington are free from concerns on the count of the dreaded terrorist, Osama bin Laden, his legacy is very much around to haunt in the form of Al Qaeda rubbing shoulders with like-minded terror outfits in the region, operating with new vision and nomenclatures.

It goes without saying that though Washington can count for the pennies statistically, it could hardly account for more than 250,000 casualties in any political connotation. This is why a perpetual decision is in need of being made to end this state business of making wars, and make peace with itself. One right decision can make the difference for all times to come.

Khaleej Times

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

WEST TURNS ARAB SPRING INTO MIRAGE

Six months have passed since Tareq al-Tayyib Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze and ignited the pro-democracy revolution across the Arab world. The young Tunisian street vendor took his life after he felt he did not have freedom to earn an honourable living by selling fruits and vegetables at his country's city centre.

Demonstrations that began in Tunisia to protest Bouazizi's death gathered pace like a desert storm and forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country in January this year.

The success of the Tunisian revolution inspired the Egyptian youths to gather at Cairo's Tahrir Square and demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In spite of hundreds of deaths at the hands of Police and Mubarak's interior ministry thugs, the demonstrators continued till the dictator was forced to step down and the military council that took over promised speedy moves towards democracy. Bouazizi's fire lit up passion for democracy in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Syria and even parts of Saudi Arabia.

But six months on, the Arab Spring appears to be fading without bearing much fruit. It makes one wonder whether the West which has been apprehensive of democracy in the Arab world has taken control of events.

If the wind of democracy that blew across Eastern Europe in 1989 stands as a yardstick to measure the success of the pro-democracy revolts, then the outcome of the Arab Spring leaves much to be desired.

Developments in the Arab world indicate that dictatorships are likely to continue in the Middle East in one form or another. Take for instance, Tunisia. It was to have a constitution ready by July for democratic elections, but the interim government has postponed the deadline to October, citing the lack of progress in talks with political parties. In the meantime, human rights violations and the suppression of labour rights take place even under the interim government.

The same is true of Egypt. The parliamentary elections are to be held in September and the presidential election in November. But reports indicate that they could be postponed because the military council says it wants to give more time for political parties to prepare for the polls. What an excuse to postpone polls! What's more, the major parties which have been talking to representatives from Western governments also want the polls postponed! More delays give more time for foreign powers to meddle in Egypt's internal affairs.

Worried about a democratic Egypt's anti-West foreign policy, the United States and Saudi Arabia are in contact with the military council and political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Going by the number of US visitors meeting the junta, it seems it has already pledged obeisance to the US. The opening of the Rafah border with the Gaza Strip is a case in point. When the border was opened, the Palestinian people and their friends all over the world celebrated, thinking that the misery of living under an Israeli siege was finally over. But their happiness lasted only a day or two. The Egyptian authorities imposed tight restrictions, dashing the Palestinians' hope of free movement of men and material across the border.

Another example was Tuesday's clashes at Tahrir Square between pro-democracy supporters and the security forces. They showed that not much has changed since Mubarak was ousted. Demonstrators claim that as many as one thousand people were injured in the clashes and accuse the government headed by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi of resorting to Mubarak's methods to put down protests and hound journalists and pro-democracy activists. Tuesday's protests started peacefully, with relatives of some 800 protesters who were killed in the January-February revolt gathering outside a police centre. They were there to stage a peaceful protest against a ceremony to honour the police officers who were killed during the revolt. The scene turned ugly when the police arrested some protesters and slapped an elderly woman.

Angry that the military council is slipping away from its commitment to democracy, the pro-democracy movement has called for a major demonstration on July 8 — that is next Friday, a day of prayer and a day of protests in the new Egypt. The ground reality is that democracy and liberty are yet to be institutionalised.

In Libya, the story is different from that in Egypt and Tunisia. The demonstration in the Eastern city of Benghazi was more a protest against Muammar Gaddafi than a move to bring in democracy. The revolt which had the support of only some sections of the populace was soon hijacked by the Western powers which seek to grab Libya's oil wealth and establish military bases to control the Mediterranean and North Africa.

The military intervention by the West in Libya is three months old now and the war is still going on with the West worried about the heavy presence of anti-West Islamists in the fighting force of the Transitional National Council or the rebel government.

In the meantime, Syria uses brute force to crack down on the pro-democracy movement while the United States and the West give their full blessings to the dictators of Bahrain and Yemen to suppress the pro-democracy cry with the help of Saudi Arabia.

The fact remains that none of the Arab countries where people cried and died for democracy is democratic today. They are taking one step forward and two steps backwards. The Arab Spring appears to be facing an early winter to be frozen in it.

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 EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.

 

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