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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

EDITORIAL 05.07.11

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

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month july 05, edition 000876, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. LEGISLATURE RESCUED
  2. AN AMERICAN FOLLY
  3. RECIPE FOR DISASTER - SANDHYA JAIN
  4. SALMAN KHURSHID HAS IT RIGHT - PRAFULL GORADIA
  5. TIME FOR ZAWAHIRI TO PROVE HIS METTLE
  6. INERTIA, NOT CHANGE, RULES KREMLIN - FYODOR LUKYANOV

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. NEW MEETING GROUND
  2. TIME TO HEAL
  3. AN ARAB SUMMER - RUDRONEEL GHOSHRUDRONEEL GHOSH
  4. BOOST FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT
  5. UNREALISTIC, EXPENSIVE SOLUTION - JAY KUMARJAY KUMAR
  6. OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD - RAGHU KRISHNANRAGHU KRISHNAN

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. THIS IS JUST THE HALFWAY MARK
  2. TAX THE TEMPLES
  3. THE BUZZ
  4. LIFE OF CONTRADICTIONS - SITARAM YECHURY
  5. NO EASTERLY WIND NOW - JOYEETA BHATTACHARJEE

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      PART OF THE JOB

2.      NOT JUST LOKPAL

3.      ART OF THE NOVEL

4.      THE DELHI-DHAKA DISTANCE - MIHIR S SHARMA

5.      GOOD LUCK YINGLUCK - ALIA ALLANA

6.      'BILL SAYS LOKPAL SHOULD PROVE HE HAS BEEN A FIGHTER AGAINST CORRUPTION. WHERE ARE THOSE PEOPLE? IN MEDIA AND CIVIL SOCIETY?' - SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. GET THOSE PIGEONS NOW
  2. BROADENING THE NET
  3. FORMALISING THE INFORMAL SECTOR - M GOVINDA RAO
  4. NO END IN SIGHT - MEGHNAD DESAI

THE HINDU

  1. WHO RELEASES NEW GUIDELINES ON DRINKING WATER QUALITY
  2. CORPORATE CASH CON
  3. WITH SHUTTLE PROGRAMME ENDING, FEARS OF DECLINE AT NASA - WILLIAM J. BROAD
  4. THE MAKING OFTHE NEW CHAMP
  5. DON'T SQUANDERTHE MANDATE
  6. MYANMAR: CHALLENGES AND WAY FORWARD - RAJIV BHATIA
  7. THE KILLING OF A CRIME REPORTER - PRAVEEN SWAMI

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. LOKPAL: LET PARTIES REFLECT, TAKE CHARGE
  2. GAMESMANSHIP - ASHOK MALIK
  3. PM & A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTIES - PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
  4. THE IDEOLOGY BOGEY - PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. THE ROOTS OF CULTURE
  2. THE MESS OF YATRA
  3. GURU HARGOBIND: THE 6TH NANAK - BY INDER JEET S. 'PRINCE'
  4. RAISING INTEREST RATES IS NO SOLUTION FOR INFLATION - BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN
  5. REVIEWING DEFENCE PREPAREDNESS - BY DR P. K . VASUDEVA

THE TRIBUNE

  1. BAIL, NOT JAIL
  2. PLAYING WITH LIVES
  3. TEMPORARY MARRIAGE MART 
  4. REFURBISHING GOVT'S IMAGE - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  5. PASSING ON - BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI (RETD)
  6. A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY IN J&K 
  7. A POTENTIAL GAME-CHANGER - MOHAMMAD SAYEED MALIK

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. SUBSIDISING AUTO POLLUTION
  2. BUILDING A SOLID CORE
  3. A SMART SOLUTION TO POWER SHORTAGE - RAHUL TONGIA
  4. DELHI, WARTS AND ALL - NILANJANA S ROY

BUSINESS LINE

  1. MONSOON CHECK
  2. RECIPE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT
  3. SHEKAR SWAMY
  4. SO MUCH FOR FERTILISER DECONTROL - UTTAM GUPTA
  5. QUALITY WATER, A PIPE DREAM - K.GOPALAN

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. NOT THE RIGHT MOVE
  2. DO IT IN PARLIAMENT
  3. GOOD LORD
  4. SMALL MATTER? SMALL DOES MATTER
  5. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  6. HOTLINE KOLKATA
  7. EXPORT PRICE FOR DOMESTIC ORE  - JAIDEEP MISHRA

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE BATTLE AFTER THE WAR

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. LOKPAL: LET PARTIES REFLECT, TAKE CHARGE
  2. GAMESMANSHIP
  3. FATTENING CORPORATES WON'T BRING JOBS
  4. PM & A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTIES
  5. THE IDEOLOGY BOGEY
  6. KNOWLEDGE FINDS DIVINITY

THE STATESMAN

  1. COURTING CONSENSUS
  2. PM ON BANGLADESH
  3. VERDICT IN THAILAND
  4. POLITICIANS VS CIVIL SOCIETY - MG DEVASAHAYAM
  5. GIVE AND TAKE  -  AMIT KUSHARI 
  6. NOW & AGAIN  - SURAJIT KUMAR DAS
  7. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY  - OCCASIONAL NOTES

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. IN PLAIN SIGHT
  2. SISTER ACT
  3. IDEAS MISSING IN ACTION  - MALVIKA SINGH
  4. DELICATE AND DIFFICULT BORDERLINE

HAARETZ

  1. THE REAL TRANSPORTATION REFORM
  2. FACING THE GRIM PICTURE  - BY AMIR OREN
  3. WE'RE OVERJOYED - WE WON AGAIN!  -  BY YITZHAK LAOR
  4. THERE'S A COW BEHIND THE COTTAGE  - BY YOAV KENNY
  5. NETANYAHU WILL MAKE THE DESERT BLOOM - BY ZAFRIR RINAT

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. UN TAKES FIRST STEP ON GLOBAL PEACE MEDIATION
  2. PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS LA MEME CHOSE?
  3. EU MINISTRY AND THE NEW DEPUTY MINISTERS
  4. REFORMING ARAB POLICE - JOSEPH BAUDE
  5. TURKEY REACHES OUT TO THE NEW MIDDLE EAST
  6. GREAT PARTY, WHERE IS COMMUNISM? - MINXIN PEI
  7. IRAQ: A TEST FOR AL-QAEDA'S NEW LEADER - JOHN DRAKE & GEOFF BAIER
  8. MODEL DEMOCRACY FOR SALE

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. MORE FOLLY IN THE DEBT LIMIT TALKS
  2. POWER-HUNGRY DEVICES
  3. INVESTIGATING GOOGLE
  4. NEW YORK'S ESPECIALLY UNDEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS
  5. THE D.A. DID THE RIGHT THING - BY JOE NOCERA
  6. THE MOTHER OF ALL NO-BRAINERS - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. THINK INSIDE THE BOX - BY STEVEN WOLOSHIN AND LISA M. SCHWARTZ
  8. LET'S NOT LINGER IN AFGHANISTAN - BY JEFF MERKLEY, RAND PAUL AND TOM UDALL

THE NEWS

  1. ALLIANCE POLITICS
  2. OFF TRACK
  3. UNEXPECTED TTP ATTACK IN SHANGLA   -  RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
  4. THE AMERICA OF TODAY  -  HUZAIMA BUKHARI AND DR IKRAMUL HAQ
  5. THE HOMECOMING  - MIR ADNAN AZIZ
  6. FOG OF COVERT WAR  -  DR MALEEHA LODHI
  7. DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO!  -  ADNAN GILL

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. LET GOVT COMPLETE ITS TENURE
  2. RAO GIVES CERTIFICATE TO PAKISTAN
  3. POLITICAL CONTOURS OF WTO
  4. THAR COAL & REKO DIQ - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. GREECE: DEFAULT OR ROLLOVER - RIZWAN GHANI
  6. THE POWER OF STIGMA - SAEED QURESHI
  7. BEGINNING OF AN END? - HUSSAIN MOHI-UD-DIN QADRI
  8. COURAGE FAR FROM HOME - DAVID IGNATIUS

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. PETROL FUELS GROWING HEAT IN CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE
  2. THAILAND'S CHANCE FOR STABILITY
  3. CATTLE IMPASSE WILL TEST RUDD

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. STANDING UP FOR AUSTRALIAN VALUES
  2. THAILAND CHANGES COLOUR
  3. THAI POLL PUTS THE COUNTRY'S ELITES ON NOTICE
  4. REGULATOR RIGHT TO PULL TIGER'S CLAWS

THE GUARDIAN

  1. DILNOT CARE COMMISSION: IN PLACE OF FEAR
  2. THAILAND ELECTIONS: MILITARY CRACKDOWN REJECTED
  3. IN PRAISE OF… FULNECK

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. POWER CONSERVATION IN SUMMER
  2. SAFETY OF GENKAI NUCLEAR PLANT
  3. ARE THE MEEK SET TO INHERIT RUSSIA? - BY NINA L. KHRUSHCHEVA

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. A LANDSLIDE, YET INCONCLUSIVE
  2. THE HARD-WON BATTLE
  3. FILLON'S VISIT AND QUALITY FRANCE-RI RELATIONS - RETNO L.P. MARSUDI
  4. INT'L RELATIONS: TIME TO RIDE THE INDONESIAN WAVE - KHOIRUL AMIN
  5. LAW REVISION AS PILLAR FOR CONTRACT RENEGOTIATION  - SATYA WIDYA YUDHA

DAILY MIRROR

  1. SCRUBBING OUT CRITICISM
  2. A NOTE ON SMART-ASS DEVOLUTIONISTS
  3. ARSENIC IN WATER' RICE AND PESTICIDES
  4. CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS DOES MATTER
  5. IN THE LAND OF LOTUS-EATERS
  6. FREE MEDIA: HEADLINES AND DEADLINES

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. AFGHANISTAN - THE FAILED ADVENTURE  -  BY GWYNNE DYER
  2. THE REBELS WITHOUT A CLUE...    -  BY DR AMIN AL ARABY  

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

LEGISLATURE RESCUED

OPPOSITION RESTORES PARLIAMENT'S PRIMACY


If the Congress thought that an all-party meeting would help extricate the Government from the mess in which it finds itself over the Lok Pal Bill, it obviously underestimated the Opposition which has rightly refused to bail out the party and the regime it heads. For, there is no reason why the Opposition should rush to the Congress's aid after being ignored all this while. While negotiating the composition of the 'Joint Drafting Committee' for the Lok Pal Bill with Anna Hazare, the Government could have very well insisted that it should include representatives of the Opposition parties, or at least the Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Instead, too-clever-by-half representatives of the Government struck a deal with Anna Hazare who was equally contemptuous of the Opposition — recall how he dismissed the need for any debate or discussion on the Bill in Parliament, insisted that it should be adopted unanimously without any voting and darkly hinted that any naysayer would have to face his wrath — in the mistaken belief that all glory would be the Congress's. Hence, the Opposition was kept out of the committee. It's only after negotiations over the contents of the Bill, largely to do with the powers of the Lok Pal, collapsed on account of Anna Hazare and his team refusing to dilute their demands that the Government, or more specifically the Congress, thought of roping in the Opposition. The idea was to share the blame and not to look for a solution; in many ways, it's reminiscent of how the main Opposition was kept in the dark when the Prime Minister was negotiating the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the US. On that occasion the Congress had sought to divide the Opposition by setting up a joint committee with the Left, which did not really deliver the expected results. This time, the entire Opposition was kept in the dark. Hence, there really is no reason to feel sorry for either the Congress or the Government — they alone are to blame for situation that prevails.

That said, the Opposition, especially the BJP, did well to attend the all-party meeting, if only to point out to the Government its stupendous folly. The Opposition has also done well to reassert the primacy of the legislature which alone has the right to enact a law based on a Bill drafted by the executive or reject it in toto. The resolution adopted at the all-party meeting has called for a "strong and effective" Lok Pal Bill, to be introduced in the Monsoon session and dealt with as per "established procedure", which means the Bill will be sent to a Select Committee for scrutiny and proposed amendments prior to a full debate and subsequent voting. That's the way it should have been all along. Unfortunately, the Congress sought to cut corners with the 'established procedure' in collaboration with 'civil society' representatives in the Joint Drafting Committee. The Congress has had to abandon that attempt in view of irreconcilable differences with Anna Hazare and his fellow 'civil society' representatives. Both the party and the Government no doubt stand shamed by the turn of events, but law-making has been restored to the political domain: Parliament's constitutional mandate has been upheld. This will no doubt leave many individuals distressed, but democracy cannot be held hostage by them.The mi

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

AN AMERICAN FOLLY

DSK EPISODE POINTS TO FLAWED US ATTITUDE


With the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn all set to collapse following a series of discomfiting revelations regarding the hotel maid who had charged the former IMF chief with sexual assault, the spotlight has rightly been shone on the media-driven US system of justice, exposing, in the process, its gaping holes and flawed structure. When Strauss-Kahn, popularly known as DSK, was dragged out of an aircraft and placed under arrest at John F Kennedy Airport, the abrasive behavior of the New York Police Department elicited a sense of collective shock from the civilised world; his televised court appearance during which he was paraded unshaven and handcuffed drew further flak while the initial decision to deny him bail and incarcerate him at Riker's Island prison, under suicide watch that too, came under severe criticism from all quarters. The manner in which DSK was being harassed and humiliated by American law enforcement agencies, who were clearly playing into the hands of a sensationalist media, produced a sense that the high profile French national was being specifically targetted. Former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin opined that "he (DSK) was thrown to the wolves" while another senior politician of that country described the ordeal as "a lynching, a murder by media." And they were absolutely right. There is no denying that even before DSK could be tried in a court of law, he was pronounced guilty, until proven innocent, by a vicious tabloid media feeding off the brashness of the NYPD. Some of this can be attributed to the inherent flaws of the US justice system wherein public prosecutors are elected by the people and much depends on how they are portrayed in the media. But this cannot be an excuse to turn every high profile case into a PR exercise.

Critics may point out that it was ultimately the public prosecutors who discovered the unsavoury details about the maid: The day after her possibly consensual sexual encounter with DSK, she had an incriminating phone conversation with an imprisoned man (hence, the call was recorded); she made false statements in her asylum application, lied to the police about a previous 'rape' and was allegedly involved in the drug trade. But the fact remains that by treating DSK worse than a petty criminal even before a preliminary investigation was launched, US law enforcement agencies have done themselves no good. Moreover, the incident points to worrying all-pervasive biases: People just assumed that the immigrant maid was the victim while the rich, old man was the culprit. This is a dangerous trend. It cost DSK his job and his political career (he was supposed to run for the French presidential poll in 2012) but more importantly, it has tarnished the reputation of a nation that takes great pride in its principles of equality and justice for all.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

RECIPE FOR DISASTER

SANDHYA JAIN


As the world abandons nuclear power plants India persists with acquiring technology for nuclear energy. Are we prepared for the consequences?

New Delhi's determination in pursuing access to enrichment and reprocessing technology with the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, after receiving a 'clean waiver' in September 2008, is disturbing because it shows we are probably the only major world capital that is not reassessing atomic energy after the Fukushima tragedy.

This is doubly distressing as South Block must be aware of the strategic silence the nuclear energy industry has managed in mainstream media everywhere regarding serious problems in at least three nuclear power sites in America at the present moment. Indeed, experts feel the nuclear energy industry's recurrent disasters have virtually become an annual event. While Chernobyl and Fukushima could not be concealed, the British successfully blacked out Sellafield where the first nuclear leak occurred in 1957.

Now, danger is brewing at Nebraska and Los Alamos in the US, while Fukushima's escalating crisis is being downsized. Two whales caught 650 km away from the melting reactors have shown intense radiation, and plutonium — just one pound evenly distributed to every person on Earth could kill all — has been found dangerously far from the site.

At Fukushima, five nuclear reactors are burning over three months after the crisis began (the reactor at Chernobyl burnt for 10 days); and plutonium, strontium, cesium, uranium and other nuclear materials are being released into the atmosphere. A newly installed water treatment system at Fukushima #1, designed to remove radiation from the colossal amounts of water at the plant, had to be shut down. Workers need to enter Fukushima #2 to inject nitrogen into the reactor to prevent a hydrogen blast; they can't enter because of excessive humidity.

At Los Alamos, a massive wildfire is threatening the US national laboratory that hosted its atomic bomb programme and still contains stored radioactive material. So far, no one knows how much there is, how gravely it is endangered, how much (if any) has been overwhelmed by flames, and the potential for radioactive fallout.

At Nebraska, on June 6 the Missouri river flooded at least two reactors at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Facility near Omaha city. Yet, there is ominous silence about the impact of flooded cores and fuel cooling ponds on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and the eco-system up to the Gulf of Mexico which is still reeling from BP's toxic oil spill. A 16 feet wide and eight feet high rubber floodwall has been punctured, but the company claims the "same level of protection is in place". How?

There is silence about whether flood waters will continue to rise at the plant; if the operators can protect the reactors; and, what happens if they can't. Fort Calhoun is cooling its reactors and spent fuel pools with back-up diesel generators. The buildings are designed to withstand flooding of 1,014 feet; the waters have reached 1,006 feet and were still rising at the time of writing. On June 7, a fire broke out in an electrical switchgear room and cut off power to a pump that cools the pool where spent fuel rods are stored for about 90 minutes. The plant stores 840 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel rods at ground level, open to the sky. An expert said if the Missouri river pours in there, Fukushima will look like an X-ray.

The floods could also endanger the Cooper Nuclear Facility at Brownville in Nebraska. On June 20, Cooper declared a "Notification of Unusual Event" because Missouri river's level reached a dangerous 42.5 feet. Cooper can't discharge sludge into Missouri river due to flooding, and has "overtopped" its sludge pond. Yet, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says there's no cause for panic (read: there are no evacuation plans).

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's constant collusion with the nuclear industry to lower safety standards regarding 'acceptable radiation damage to reactors' is the most disquieting aspect of the crisis. Three Senators are now demanding a Congressional probe into the safety of America's aging nuclear power plants. The Associated Press correspondent Jeff Donn has revealed that radioactive tritium has leaked from 48 of 65 American commercial nuclear power sites and entered groundwater from corroded, buried piping; 37 leaks exceeded the federal drinking water standard.

Many nuclear power plants have underground piping, which is rarely inspected properly. Much of this is corroding, causing radioactive leaks and spills of tritium and other radionuclides at several sites. But when certain parts or systems of American nuclear plants come close to violating standards, either the Government or the industry undertakes 'research' and both conclude that standards can be lowered! The excuse is, "the standards were overly conservative". Thus, failing parts and systems are allowed to conform to diluted standards. And when the systems and parts still do not conform, the regulators issue waivers or amendments or special exceptions and let the nuclear plants keep operating.

A serious issue pertains to the integrity of the cooling systems. Some of the underground piping carries water to cool the reactors. In a Fukushima-type of crisis there is a desperate need to cool the reactors, because radiation produces immense heat. There is equally the danger of other radioactive materials like strontium or cesium leaking. At Indian Point, 25 miles north of New York city, the nuclear plant had many radioactive leaks from the spent fuel pools. Even Mr Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has hinted at the need to revisit the security of spent fuel pools.

Another issue is embrittlement of the steel containers around the reactors, which can cause them to shatter suddenly. The American Government and regulators, finding reactors approaching or even violating the embrittlement standard, instead of demanding repairing (a process called annealing) or outright replacement, are compromising on the standard and letting the vessels become even more brittle (and disaster-prone). This is post-Fukushima.

In a classic case, Entergy, which owns a reactor in Vermont, is suing the State for its decision to shut down the reactor on March 21, 2012, after it spewed tritium into groundwater and the Connecticut river from underground pipes whose existence the company had denied. A cooling tower also collapsed. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the reactor's licence and asked the federal Justice Department to intervene on behalf of the utility.

Are these the standards the UPA Government will import to India along with the nuclear energy plants it is doggedly pursuing with multiple foreign entities, all hailing from countries whose own people are beginning to have serious reservations about the viability and desirability of nuclear energy? ***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

SALMAN KHURSHID HAS IT RIGHT

PRAFULL GORADIA


India's Muslims can prosper only if they join the national mainstream and abandon the mullah-dictated path that has led them to deprivation. The Sachar Committee's ill-conceived recommendations will naturally gladden the hearts of the clergy, but they will do nothing for the welfare of the Muslim community. A case in point is the contentious issue of waqfs and their utility in the 21st century

Union Minister for Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid has taken a welcome lead in the national essential of enabling Muslims to join the country's mainstream. In his report, Justice Rajinder Sachar has made several destructive recommendations, one of them being the creation of a waqf cadre on the lines of the IAS. For opposing this suggestion, Mr Khurshid has unfortunately been castigated by Mufti Mukkaram of Fatehpuri Masjid.

Whether the mufti issued a fatwa or otherwise, his contention reflected an extraordinarily reactionary attitude of some clerics. Evidently, he finds the thought of Muslims integrating themselves with the rest of Indian society unacceptable, presumably because that would dilute the control of the clergy over the community. To accuse Mr Khurshid of blasphemy for merely questioning the wisdom of Mr Sachar's ill-conceived recommendation is to cross all boundaries of reasonableness.

This controversy takes me back to the winter of 2006 when Professor James Mayall of Oxford University had directed a seminar at India International Centre. One of the sessions was chaired by Mr Boothalingam, son of the illustrious ICS officer. A participant of the session was Mr Sachar. When questions were being answered, I asked Mr Sachar whether he had harboured a particulary soft corner in his heart for the Muslim community and whether the city of Lahore enjoyed his special affection. His answer to both the questions was, "Yes of course." Which in turn led me to inquire as to why had he then come away from Lahore in 1947, never to go back. His forthright reply was that the Sachar family had no plans to leave Pakistan and, therefore, his father, Bhimsen Sachar, went to hear Mohammed Ali Jinnah address Pakistan's Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. He had accompanied his father.

After attending the session, Mr Sachar expressed his deep desire to travel in an aeroplane, which he had not done before, to his father. Since there was no plane service then between Karachi and Lahore, father and sone flew to Delhi. The next day, they called on Jawaharlal Nehru who told them that they must not return to Lahore as it was burning and insisted on their staying back in Delhi. They had no choice but to obey him and thus they stayed back in India, said Mr Sachar. The narrative, however, convinced only a few and amused everyone.

This takes us to another function at India International Centre arranged for the release of a book by a former editor of Organiser, KR Malkani. In the course of the discussion that followed, several nationalists turned to former ICS officer Badruddin Tyabji and criticised what they described as Muslim pampering. The gentle Tyabji replied as to how he could answer such questions when the Government in India as well as its policies were framed and run by Hindu leaders.

No doubt, there are persons like Mr Abusaleh Shariff, Member Secretary of the Sachar Committee, who keep repeating that Muslims have been discriminated against in the context of education, employment, banking, urban living space, et al. Little does Mr Shariff recall that his community solidly voted in the 1945-46 election for the Muslim League whose single point programme was India's partition.

When Rajendra Prasad wrote his book India Divided in reply to Jinnah's Pakistan Resolution of March 1940, he had reminded the Quaid-e-Azam that his proposal would render the Muslims remaining in Hindustan as aliens and not citizens. The latter kept silent. Probably, he remembered what he had told the Cabinet Mission sent by the Atlee Government in 1946 — that the minorities in both the dominions would act as reciprocal hostages. Any ill-treatment of its minority by one dominion would be met with a tit-for-tat by the other dominion. Evidently, scholars like Mr Shariff and his empathisers have chosen to ignore history.

Scholars unaware of much history may not also be aware of the origin of the waqf as an institution and what followed over the centuries. The subject is dealt with in lucid detail by Professor Asaf AA Fyzee in his well known work, Outlines of Muhamaddan Law (OUP Delhi, 1999). The word waqf means 'Dead Hand'. Prof Fyzee considers the institution to be a handicap for the natural growth and development of a healthy national economy. The charity implicit in waqf keeps people away from industry and lethargy breeds degeneration. Agricultural land deteriorates and its yield lessens. All in all, waqf is not an unmixed blessing for the Muslim community.

In 1830, waqfs were abolished in Algeria and Morocco while in 1924 Turkey nationalised waqfs and their assets were handed over to a Ministry. Egypt soon followed this example. Little wonder that Prof Fyzee regretted that the verdict of the Calcutta High Court, which was endorsed in 1894 by the Privy Council in London, was not allowed to prevail in India by an Act of 1913 which the British Parliament passed for the Indian Empire.

The Privy Council had endorsed the opinion that the waqf was a perpetuity of the worst and the most pernicious kind and was, therefore, invalid. The Oxford History of Islam (OUP New York 1999) has similarly criticised the institution; it is also an Islamic source of revenue at the cost of other communities. The book describes at length how the Ottomans had used waqfs for squeezing out Christianity from eastern Europe.

Mr Shariff could be correct in his belief that Muslims have been discriminated against. For example, on the one hand waqfs have been left alone whereas zamindars and jagirdars were deprived of their ancestral lands. The princes, who had been solemnly promised privy purses and paid for years, were all deprived by Mrs Indira Gandhi. Any number of industries largely owned by Hindus were nationalised: Coal, banking, general insurance, etc. Would Mr Shariff still like to pursue a separate IAS-like service for administering waqfs? ***************************************


THE PIONEER

OPED

TIME FOR ZAWAHIRI TO PROVE HIS METTLE

AL QAEDA WITHOUT SAMA BIN LADEN NEEDS TO SHOW IT CAN KEEP UP THE BATTLE WORLDWIDE, ESPECIALLY WHERE IT HAS BEEN INFLUENTIAL, BUT FACES POWERFUL RIVALS, AS IN IRAQ: SUCCESS OR FAILURE HERE WILL REBOUND ACROSS THE NETWORK, ENCOURAGING OR DISCOURAGING RECRUITS TO JIHAD, WRITE JOHN DRAKE & GEOFF BAIER


So Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's former number two, has officially taken control of the organisation and needs to show he can sustain the fight. While he may be regarded as less charismatic than his predecessor, at least one major jihadi organisation in Iraq has already endorsed him.

Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiyyah, the Islamic State of Iraq, has killed hundreds of Iraqis over the past seven years, with dozens in 2011 alone: This Al Qaeda affiliate declared support for Zawahiri a few days after US commandos killed founder and leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Strategically, this transition of leadership might lead to a decline in jihadi recruits worldwide. Would-be fighters may not be as widely attracted to Zawahiri's message as they were to Osama bin Laden's and he has nowhere near the cult of personality — although Osama bin Laden's symbolic appeal remains intact, dead or alive, like Che Guevara's. However, at the tactical level, new leadership will have a negligible impact, particularly in the case of the diffuse and independent Islamic State of Iraq.

Al Qaeda has always been more of an association than an organisation, with regional sub-units or franchises worldwide. In addition to the ISI, there are two other notable groups in West Asia and North Africa: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The ISI's goals are very similar to other Al Qaeda affiliates' but theirs are notably domestic. The group can be best described as fighting for Sunni dominance in an Iraq free from foreign influence, although it has also fought rival Shia organisations. Indeed, Iraq has many militant groups to contend with on both sides of the sectarian divide, such as Jaysh al-Mahdi, under radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The ISI's methods include terrorist attacks on security forces, foreign interests and the Government. These bloody incidents continue to remind the population of the fragility of Iraq's security. At one point, notably after 2006, security deteriorated to the extent that Al Qaeda was able to control large swathes of the country, enforcing religious edicts.

The Islamic State of Iraq still seeks this type of influence, if only in predominantly Sunni central parts of the country. Conditions may currently be far better than the days prior to the US-led military 'surge' of 2007, when 33,000 troops were deployed to create stability. Nonetheless, there has been a gradual rise in attacks over the last six months, with three police and government facilities attacked by suicide bombers in recent days alone.

This increase in co-ordinated and devastating attacks shows extensive planning and finance. It is not clear to what extent Al Qaeda's regional affiliates rely financially on the central leadership but it is clear that the ISI is not completely self-sufficient: Iraqi security forces have caught couriers carrying large sums of cash believed to be for the ISI. The group also generates its own funds locally with violent robberies against banks, jewellers and company wage deliveries over recent months.

These, however, are not likely to yield enough revenue for large-scale attacks. The ISI may have declared support for Zawahiri in the hope of ensuring revenue from its backers. If so, Iraq may hope to clamp down on the illegal financing of the group with stricter border controls. Counter-insurgency operations also continue to net fundraisers — as well as commanders.

Many of the most recent raids by the Iraqi authorities, however, have been in conjunction with US forces. The question is whether this success will continue after Washington has withdrawn most of its troops by the end of this year.

The Iraqi security forces still lack sufficient resources and training so militant groups, including the ISI, may simply be biding their time. A subsequent increase in terrorism could damage reconstruction, undermine fragile community relations and disrupt growth in the crucial oil sector — now close to pre-war output.

Al Qaeda without Osama bin Laden needs to show it can keep up the battle worldwide, especially where it has been influential but faces powerful rivals, as in Iraq: Success or failure here will rebound across the network, encouraging or discouraging recruits to jihad.

-- John Drake is a senior risk consultant and Geoff Baier a researcher with AKE Group, a British security and risk analysis firm working in Iraq since before 2003 and throughout West Asia and North Africa.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

INERTIA, NOT CHANGE, RULES KREMLIN

FYODOR LUKYANOV


The 2010-2011 season has not been the best in the history of Russian foreign policy. Any progress was mostly the result of previous efforts. Russia's approach, which has bordered on inconsistency, was designed to mitigate risks in this turbulent and uncertain global situation

July is a quiet time in international politics, which gives us a chance to tally the results of the most recent season in Russian foreign policy. Here's my take on the events that have had the greatest influence on Russian policy.

First, there was the vote on UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which sanctioned the use of force against Tripoli. For the first time since 1990, Moscow did not block a resolution sanctioning outside interference in the affairs of a sovereign state. Though Russia's leaders then made contradictory statements about the resolution, the importance of Russia's abstention should not be underrated. It was a departure from principle (inviolable sovereignty) in favour of political expediency. This makes Russian policy more flexible but less predictable.

This unpredictability was on display in Russia's approach to the election of a new IMF director following the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In the span of a single week, Moscow first supported a candidate from Kazakhstan (the head of its Central Bank Grigory Marchenko), then sided with BRICS (the new director should come from an emerging economy, not Europe), and finally welcomed the candidacy of France's Christine Lagard together with the G8. This attempt to sit between several stools did not help strengthen BRICS, a process the Russian President and his four colleagues described as the new global reality two weeks before.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to feel hemmed in by a rising China. Beijing's assertive behaviour at the 10th anniversary SCO summit and the ongoing bargaining over the terms of energy deals have made it clear that Russia needs to adopt a new, respectful but tougher tone in its talks with China.

The most recent escalation in the territorial dispute with Japan following President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the Kuril Islands has broader implications than may appear. The Kuril Islands are decidedly peripheral to Russian policy, but Moscow decided to emphasise its interests in Asia and its intention not to withdraw from that part of the world. This hint grew even louder when Moscow announced its plan to deploy the Mistral helicopter carriers it bought from France in the Pacific. Russia continues to look for ways to consolidate its positions in Asia and the Pacific, but for the time being its gestures remain symbolic.

The deal to buy the Mistral helicopter carriers was clear evidence of that the old borders between the blocs in Europe are coming down. The weakening of institutional ties within Nato against the background of the deep EU crisis is compelling countries with economic or political ambitions to look for ways to achieve them independently. The former military and political discipline is breaking down, and this process will most likely continue.

The ratification of the New Start Treaty put the finishing touches on the 'reset' policy. The architects of the policy have achieved practically all of their goals and improved considerably the atmosphere of Russian-US relations. But having fulfilled the agenda, the sides do not know what to do next. The two issues that were supposed to be resolved — Russia's accession to the WTO and progress on missile defence — are hanging in the air again and are likely to remain unanswered at least until the 2012 elections in the United States and Russia are over and the power configuration in each country is clear.

Contrary to the consensus, the discussion of missile defence that lasted for six months and ended with Nato's renunciation of Russia's proposals was neither pointless nor unsuccessful. Given the mistrust between the two sides, it is naïve to hope that they would rapidly come to terms on cooperation in such a sensitive sphere as missile defence. However, the very fact that there was a discussion, during which the sides made ad hominem attacks but also meaningful pro and con arguments, should not be underrated. This is an important and essential step. The two sides will resume this discussion, and the work done will be helpful in the future.

The stormy events in Belarus and in its relations with Russia have finally changed the character of ties between Moscow and Minsk. Talk of union and brotherly relations seems a distant memory now. In light of the Belarusian economic crisis, Russia has begun to dictate in the relationship. Minsk is being pressured into selling its key assets and it seems that President Alexander Lukashenko cannot avoid this. His consent to the transfer of the most lucrative property to Russia will put an end to the era of his country's genuine sovereignty.

The extension of terms of Russia's military base presence in Armenia until the middle of this century has not only confirmed the existing balance of power but also drawn attention to the knot of contradictions in the South Caucasus. Moscow's unsuccessful attempts to mediate a Nagorny-Karabakh peace deal, the vague political situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi's provocations in the North Caucasus (its Parliament's decision to recognise the Circassian genocide in the Russian Empire) and Turkey's more active foreign policy are forming an increasingly complex mosaic.

Finally, the commissioning of the ill-fated Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran has become a bright spot in an otherwise dark time in Russian-Iranian relations. Tehran's regional position is growing. Meanwhile, Russia's prestige in Asia is not increasing because its position in Iran is universally perceived as dependent on its relations with America.

In general the 2010-2011 season has not been the best in the history of Russian foreign
policy. Any progress was mostly the result of previous efforts. Russia's maneuvering, which has bordered on inconsistency, was designed to mitigate risks in this turbulent and uncertain global situation. Russia will most likely continue this approach in the next season, all the more so since a change in its power configuration will consume the lion's share of the country's political energy during peak season.

-- The writer is the editor-in-chief, Russia in Global Affairs journal.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

NEW MEETING GROUND

 

The recent all-party meeting discussing the upcoming Lokpal Bill ended on agreement - and argument. The assembled groups agreed in principle on the institution of a strong anti-corruption Lokpal, the Bill towards this to be introduced in Parliament's monsoon session. The abiding irony is that while most political parties took swipes at civil society for agitating on the issue, had it not been for civil society agitation it would have remained on the back burner, as it was for the last 42 years when left to the political class. The very fact that political parties are meeting now to address an urgent issue is a tribute to civil society activism.


In that sense, what an out-of-touch political class has failed to grasp so far is that public opinion has been increasingly disturbed over corruption, the current season of scams - Commonwealth Games to 2G to Adarsh - being the last straw that broke the camel's back. The rise of civil society activism reflects the depths of public feeling - and the political vacuum around the issue. Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI is an honourable exception to this blind spot among politicians. He stated that civil society and media should both be commended for challenging corruption. By contrast the RJD and SP - parties that have been associated with headline-hitting corruption - were also the most vituperative in condemning civil society activism. It certainly looks as if they have something to hide.

Overall, it's welcome that corruption is much higher on the political agenda than before. While the prime minister provided some direction regarding the Lokpal fitting into the matrix of constitutional checks and balances, the BJP refused to specify its exact stand on issues like MPs in Parliament and the PM being under the Lokpal's purview, reserving insights for the House. The sleight of hand was heavy enough to escape none. The BJP should note it's not gathering fans as it tries capitalising on the Congress's discomfort without clarifying its own position - or cleaning up its act in Karnataka.

Now that a debate has been started it's important that considerable attention be devoted to the systemic causes of corruption and generation of unaccounted incomes. This is an element that has been missing from past debates on corruption. Unless we talk about how high stamp duties and a distorted land market incentivise sleaze in real estate - to take just one example - even a duly empowered Lokpal will not be a panacea. It's going to be a long battle. Civil society must also display the patience to stay engaged. Corruption, after all, is too important an issue to be left to the politicians alone.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

TIME TO HEAL

 

Five years after Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted, his sister's victory at the hustings presents the best opportunity yet to bridge Thailand's political and socio-economic fissures that were highlighted when savage fighting broke out between opposing political factions on Bangkok's streets last year. The margin by which Yingluck Shinawatra has swept the polls should go some way towards bridging the distance between the yellow shirts and Thaksin's supporters - the red shirts. It will impart legitimacy to the government that comes to power now, one that would be difficult to counter through military or constitutional coups and therefore reduce the temptation to do so. Hopefully, Thailand's soon-to-be first female prime minister will find the political space to bring about a democratic stability that had been severely eroded in the last five years.

She will have to move carefully, however. Hasty attempts to sweep the corruption charges against her brother under the carpet and rehabilitate him politically could revitalise the yellow shirts. For the moment, her focus must be on the reconciliation she promised on the campaign trail. The bitter enmity between the urban elite - represented by the yellow shirts - and the less privileged, mainly rural supporters of the red shirts has created divisions that will take an extended period of stable, effective governance and sound economic policies to bridge. The strength of her mandate and the fact that she is a fresh face with no involvement in the troubles of the past few years as baggage have given her a solid base. Now, she must build upon it.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

AN ARAB SUMMER

RUDRONEEL GHOSHRUDRONEEL GHOSH

 

The Arab world finds itself at a significant crossroads. While the wave of pro-democracy protests witnessed over the last six months has shaken up regimes from Bahrain to Syria, the Arab Spring has slowly turned into a sapping Arab Summer. With the initial momentum ebbing, confusion and uncertainty are setting in.

Libya continues to be in the clutches of civil war. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to fight till "death and beyond" and even threatened attacks on Europe. Nato air raids might have weakened Gaddafi's forces, but he still holds a significant military advantage over the rebels in the country's east. Gaddafi always predicted that it would be the east, the bastion of the rival Senussi movement, which would rise up first in case of a revolt. Despite rich deposits of oil, the region was deliberately denied the fruits of development. Given Nato and US reluctance to put troops on the ground, a stalemate has set in. The rebels have offered Gaddafi sanctuary within Libya if he chooses to relinquish all powers. However, it is difficult to see Gaddafi retire to a quiet life and not exert any political influence.

In Syria, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is unwilling to give any quarter. Around 1,400 people have been killed by government security forces since the protests began more than three months ago. While the pro-democracy demonstrations have been largely secular, the undercurrent of sectarian strife is strong. The ruling Assad family and the military leadership are Alawites, who make up roughly 11% of the Syrian population but control the lion's share of the country's resources. The rest of the country is predominantly Sunni Muslim. The possibility of Syria descending into open sectarian conflict in the days ahead cannot be ruled out.

In Yemen, an attack on the presidential palace last month forced President Ali Abdullah Saleh to retreat to Saudi Arabia to seek medical recuperation. This followed Saleh's reluctance to sign on to a transition deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council. His regime is even being blamed for using the bogey of the al-Qaida to hold on to power. The recent takeover of at least two southern Yemeni towns by al-Qaida-affiliated militants is said to have been facilitated by the Saleh administration to raise concerns of terrorism in the West.

At the other end of the scale are Tunisia and Egypt: countries that did manage to overthrow authoritarian regimes. Yet, genuine democracy remains a shimmering mirage in the distance. In Tunisia Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the largest political party al-Nahda, has already warned that the gains of the revolution risk being frittered away. As the country that gave birth to the Jasmine Revolution that set off the Arab Spring, it is disappointing that elections to the constituent assembly - which will be tasked with drafting a new Constitution - have been postponed from July to October. If the Commission for the Achievement of the Objectives of the Revolution and Democratic Transition isn't careful, the political vacuum could provide breathing space to the vestiges of the Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime to regroup and attempt a comeback.

In Egypt, the historic March 19 referendum that provided a framework for parliamentary elections in September followed by presidential polls in November has been lost in the debate over Constitution writing versus elections. The aftermath of the revolution has seen a mushrooming of political parties. Yet the most organised political formation remains that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Many of the new secular parties argue they need time to organise themselves. They insist on a new Constitution first to safeguard against a scenario where Islamists come to dominate the new parliament. On the other hand, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces overseeing the process of transition has itself been accused of high-handedness, illegal detentions and curbing press freedoms since the exit of Hosni Mubarak as president. It is telling that the Egyptian youth, the backbone of the pro-democracy protests in February, are calling for a return to Tahrir Square to save the revolution.

But there is some positive news. Despite the chaos in its neighbourhood, Morocco and its monarch, King Mohammed VI, have pushed ahead with constitutional reforms that seek to enhance democratic institutions. On June 17, the king proclaimed a new draft Constitution, which envisaged a modern constitutional monarchy based on the principles of pluralism, equality and commitment to international conventions. The draft charter was put to a nationwide referendum on July 1. Around 98% of the vote endorsed the reforms, paving the way for separation of powers, an independent judiciary, greater prerogatives to parliament and devolution of powers to regional councils and local governance bodies. In seeking to guarantee rights such as that of freedom of the press, assembly, access to information and human rights, Morocco has stolen a march over other Arab nations in the throes of transition.

Though the king still retains significant influence and a lot will depend on the implementation of the new Constitution, developments in Morocco are encouraging. At the very least, the process of democratic engagement and discourse there can be a model for rest of the Arab nations. Transition to genuine democracy was never going to be easy. For years the West preferred to deal with autocratic strongmen instead of coming to terms with the region's socio-political complexities. Democracy was an inconvenience and, hence, subverted. But faced with pressure from the grassroots, the old structures of power are no longer tenable. They must reform or perish.

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 THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

BOOST FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT

 

It would be unfair and pessimistic to scoff at the proposed bullet train project linking Delhi to towns around the National Capital Region. While the project is an ambitious one, there is no reason to doubt its fruition. The Delhi Metro bears testimony to the success of rapid mass transportation projects if they are implemented in the right manner. It is welcome that the proposed high-speed rail corridors - Delhi-Meerut, Delhi-Panipat and Delhi-Alwar - will be implemented along the lines of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. This should free the project from bureaucratic red tape and reduce delays. Once operational, the project would yield massive economic benefits for the entire region.

Given the demographic pressures on Delhi, it is impossible for the city's current infrastructure to sustain such a large resident population - estimated at around two crore. Urban planning demands a hub and spoke model of transporting goods and people quickly between Delhi and surrounding areas. Just as in China and Japan, fast bullet trains can reduce the travelling time by half. This way Delhi could continue to be the regional economic hub with the satellite towns easing pressure on the city. Also, such a virtuous link would distribute the fruits of development to the outlying region. Just as the construction of an expressway stimulates economic activities along the route, the bullet train links could spawn prosperous industrial corridors.

Another area where bullet trains score is environment. Research has shown that high-speed rail travel emits a fraction of the greenhouse gases emitted per capita in other modes of travel over the same distance. The number is as low as one-tenth when compared to air travel. For Delhi itself, the construction of state-of-the-art bullet train stations would help integrate the other modes of travel, moving towards a quality multi-modal public transportation network. Taken together, the bullet trains would be a massive boon.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

                                                                                                                                                                                                COUNTERVIEW

UNREALISTIC, EXPENSIVE SOLUTION

JAY KUMARJAY KUMAR

 

The urban development ministry's bid to introduce high-speed bullet trains is a vision that the government does not have the capability of realising. Under the pretext of providing a 21st-century travel mode to a growing and resurgent India, the ministry has skilfully evaded some of the fundamental issues plaguing the country's transportation system. These bullet trains speeding at 300kph and running between major cities may appear great for business executives. But can they solve the problems and challenges faced by an ordinary commuter in a realistic and affordable manner? Worse, they smack of an urban bias against rural India.

Rather than high-speed bullet trains, the answer to the travelling woes of millions of Indians lies in improving the efficiency and management of the existing transportation systems, particularly Indian Railways. It hardly makes sense to pump Rs 17,63,545 million for creating dedicated bullet train corridors when most of our existing rail networks lack automatic signalling systems. These could enhance rail safety and save many precious lives lost in fatal accidents. In that sense, building high-speed bullet trains in India is not only expensive but disruptive for other transport modes. It will divert national resources and focus. Besides, the project will invariably require acquisition of land, as separate tracks will have to be built. Given that land acquisition has become a major political flashpoint in the country, the feasibility of such a project will remain under a cloud.

Again, to draw lessons from Chinese experience, the platforms for these trains are built outside the city which has created its own set of accessibility problems for passengers. If the idea is to cut travel time, surely passengers will have to spend extra time getting into a city from its suburbs - making it all rather pointless. Rather than blindly aping foreign travel modes, our authorities would do well to come up with realistic and affordable solutions.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD

RAGHU KRISHNANRAGHU KRISHNAN

 

Guess what's the most common pastime for senior citizens in the pensioner's paradise of Bangalore or elsewhere? After hanging up their organisational boots and ties, senior citizens usually end up as members of the managing committee of the apartment owners' association where they stay. Demand is always more than supply since not too many people are willing to take on a responsibility where there are no real perks barring the smart salute which the security guards throw at managing committee members at the drop of a hat. However, even that might not compensate for the irritation of being treated like a 24X7 Wailing Wall where all the neighbourhood grievances can be dumped. More often than not, pensioners end up on these committees since they can no longer offer the excuse of working all hours of the day and night to meet organisational deadlines.

There is no shortage of grievances, real or imaginary, in the world we live in. For instance, the apartment signboards may say 'Pets not allowed', but there is always someone who thinks she is the exception to the rule. Even well-behaved dogs who do their small and big jobs on the public highway outside the apartment complex's gates, tend to assume territorial rights on the way back home and growl at all those they think are intruding on their living space. Fortunately, pet in the Indian context usually means dog. Apartment owners in the world's most populous democracy have yet to acquire the attitude of their American counterparts, some of whom have been known to rear lion and tiger cubs, and sometimes even the more alliterative alligator.

At least with dogs and pups, there is scope for specific complaints since it does not take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that they belong to the two-footed person at the other end of the chain. Whereas kittens tend to relieve themselves in the wee hours of the morning on the doormats outside all apartments except those where they are fed, and their guardians promptly disclaim all responsibility for wards who do not seem to know the difference between a newspaper and toilet paper.

At one annual general body meeting of a Bangalore apartment block, a covert kitten-carer maintained that he was as much a victim as anyone else and even went to the extent of stating that the cat was once again pregnant and that he had nothing to do with it. The security guards of this apartment block have now been asked to shoo away not just stray dogs but cats as well, and the committee members have been asked to ensure that this diktat is followed. With cats surreptitiously entering the apartment premises not by the front gate but by the garden walls, even Spiderman would find it difficult to pre-empt their entry despite his conscientious credo of 'With great power comes great responsibility'.

And even those who are willing to do their bit for the immediate world they live in soon realise that not all managing committee members of apartment owners' associations are equal. Some are more equal than others, especially if they are men. In the male-dominated associations of even 21st-century India, the key posts of president, secretary and treasurer are invariably held by men. The female committee members end up looking after the common garden or organising activities for the residents' children.

India may have had a woman PM but the apartment block i live in is yet to get its first female president. Of course, the other way of looking at it is that some kind of occupational therapy is more necessary for male senior citizens than for their female counterparts. ''When men reach their sixties and retire, they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking,'' says Gail Sheehy in her 1974 best-seller Passages which has been called a roadmap to adult life.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

THIS IS JUST THE HALFWAY MARK

 

The Tiger economies must ensure political reforms to protect their economic gains The Southeast Asian nations were the original Tiger economies. Their export-led economic growth was held up as a model for all developing nations. There was only one missing piece in their national jigsaw: all were one-party or one-junta polities. The argument that was made then was that after they reached a certain income bracket, political reforms would follow. Spurious political science was synthesised to argue "Asian values" differed from western ones, that Asians were less interested in political rights than economic goodies. This was particularly important to China whose one-party system saw a means to legitimise repression with vibrant economic growth.

The recent experience of Southeast Asia, however, indicates that much-delayed political reforms are now being demanded -and many of these countries are feeling the pain of lacking legitimate political institutions and structures to handle these demands.
This has been underlined by the recent election results in Thailand where an opposition coalition now has three-fifths of parliament's seats. The Bangkok-based establishment has been the main beneficiary of the country's economic boom. The assumption was that this economic growth would paper over the resentments of Thailand's poorer south and west. Instead, over the past few years, the establishment has used military arm-twisting, royal diktat and a faked territorial dispute with Cambodia to keep the opposition out of power. None of this stopped Yingluck Shinawatra from sweeping the polls. Even Singapore, the world's most intelligent one-party system, saw the ruling People's Action Party experience its worst election result since 1965 thanks to a working class revolt against ruling party arrogance. Malaysia's one-party system is representative but illiberal towards its minorities. The Southeast Asian country that has made the most ambitious push to genuine democracy has been the largest and most multicultural, Indonesia. But it is experiencing a large number of teething problems.

Storm clouds can be seen as far as the eye can see in Southeast Asia's most successful economies. And the turbulence is almost solely political in origin. The problem with having put democracy on hold is that when the good times no longer roll, carrying out such reforms is even more difficult than normal. South Asian countries, except Pakistan, have bitten the political bullet first and have only begun tackling the economic questions now.
The result has been a broad political consensus: for all the noise and commotion, there is little debate as to the structure of government and sources of legitimacy in these polities. Southeast Asia, in the coming years, will have to show whether it can build such a consensus without sacrificing the economic gains of the past decades or slipping into political chaos.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

TAX THE TEMPLES

 

There's no reason why religious bodies won't like to share their wealth with those who could use it

There's no reason why religious bodies won't like to share their wealth with those who could use it

Unlike, say, Switzerland, India isn't rolling in wealth. Even as we trip GDP figures off our tongue, a country is deemed wealthy not when it has plenty of rich people but when it has no one mired in poverty. Tough scenario for a country for a billion-plus people but with India home to enough folks not getting a square meal a day, there is something awry about a temple in Kerala sitting on a treasure trove supposedly worth `R1 lakh crore' -that is R1,000,000,000,000.

Oh, we know the sanctity of the right to own your wealth and spend it (or not) in whatever manner you choose. But the Sri Padmanabha Swami temple in Kerala, now unofficially considered the richest temple in the country, isn't exactly just a fixed deposit that will take care of a family's Bugatti bills, or even the local mandir or gurdwara providing succour to souls with a cash flow on the side. In fact, such temples are gargantuan vaults of tax-free wealth. So how about dismantling what are essentially parallel economies by opening these vaults up and use the money to set up private schemes that can bring material comforts to the poor? Sure, many of these religious institutions have social schemes already running. But clearly, much more needs to be done.

If the incentive for such a move is lacking from the trusts of these temples or mosques, why not consider taxing these institutions? The purpose of taxing people much less wealthy than those who own the wealth of the Padmanabha Swami temple is to bring about some amount of redistribution of wealth through building public facilities such as roads and power stations. With the temples having enough money to spare, surely being a charitable body won't make them stingy about spreading the cash for public good? Especially, since they should be happy to share their wealth in good faith for the purpose of making India a truly rich country.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE BUZZ

He stays on track as usual

While most politicians zip across on private jets, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar loves going by train since the days he was railway minister. A senior BJP leader was surprised when Kumar told him that he was taking the Rajdhani Express back to Patna from Delhi, and that "a long journey by train is the best way" for unwinding between pressing schedules. And to maintain his train of thought, perhaps.

Not past the screen test

Megastar Chiranjeevi thought his fledgling party's entry into the Congress would mean his automatic elevation to Union minister. But AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad burst his bubble recently. "If Chiranjeevi wants to join the Kiran Kumar Reddy government, he is welcome. There is no Rajya Sabha vacancy (for him to become a central minister)," he said. Also, Chiranjeevi can't resign from his Tirupati assembly seat and let it go to the YSR Congress party or the TDP. His aides say the best he could do now is to accept actor Rekha's invitation to do a mega film with him. At least it will be a starring role for him.

Lagging behind his jetlag

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon was an unintended victim of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's jetlag after a hectic tour of the US last week. Mukherjee returned on Thursday, but on Saturday he decided to reschedule a meeting with Menon in order to catch some sleep. Menon was already on his way, when Mukherjee's office requested him to delay by one hour. He must have lost a bit of sleep over that one.

And spat came the reply

The all-party meeting on the Lokpal Bill witnessed a spat between Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Union minister Farooq Abdullah. The irrepressible National Conference leader took on the BJP for meeting Anna Hazare and his team. "You should have told them to go to hell," he told Swaraj. This prompted an angry reaction from Swaraj. "You are a minister and you're in the government, which is talking to them and had sent ministers to the airport. You should have told them to go to hell," she retorted. The verbal duel came to end only on the intervention of senior leaders who described it as a "slip of the tongue" on the part of Abdullah. Swaraj had in the meantime asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to restrain his ministers from using such language. Hell hath no fury…

Not trying to duck Beijing

When HRD and telecom minister Kapil Sibal held a press conference last week to allay concerns of national security over a joint project between the Indian Institute of Science (IIS), Bangalore and Chinese telecom firm Huawei, his relaxed smiles hid the jitters in the government that he had to personally calm before going public. Though the government is convinced that the IIS-Huawei deal has no genuine security implications, the repeated barrage of scams that have hit UPA 2 have left many defensive and desperate to avoid controversy, even if all is above board. The IIS, it's learned, told the UPA that it was planning to scrap the Huawei deal after the media furore and had to be convinced by Sibal to stay the course after assurances that the government would support the institute to the hilt. No more slaying dragons.

Real rank and file here
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee loves to spend his spare time reading books. Last week, however, the lokpal had taken over the space of literature in his life. During his US trip, he carried a fat file on the Lokpal Bill along with Tapan Roychowdhury's history-cum-memoir Bangalnama (The Tale of the East Bengali) to read during his journey. After he returned to Delhi, the department of personnel and training received an unusual request from Mukherjee's office: for a dossier to be provided on the latest events related to the bill. Mukherjee had to go to Kolkata during the weekend and he wanted to remain updated on the issue. Needless to say, another  file was provided to him on his special flight. We'll take that as read.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

LIFE OF CONTRADICTIONS

SITARAM YECHURY

 

The universal reassertion by the all-party meeting, convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the lokpal legislation, upheld our republic's basic constitutional scheme of things where the Parliament and Parliament alone can make laws of the country.

The government of the day can have the widest possible consultations, but in the final analysis it has to bring before the Parliament a Cabinet-approved draft legislation for its consideration and adoption. Eventually, this is what the all-party meet decided. When the government brings this draft legislation to the Parliament, the political parties will reflect on it and give their opinion on the contentious issues.

One can't escape from the reality that there is widespread public outrage against the mega corruption scams that are unfolding by the day. This is reflected in the support being received for the articulation of the need to combat corruption at high places by sections of 'civil society'. While such concern has received support from political parties across the board, the government has to rise to the occasion by urgently undertaking measures to comprehensively combat corruption. This requires not only  the creation of the lokpal and the lokayuktas in states but also the constitution of a National Judicial Commission to address the allegations of corruption in the judiciary and serious electoral reforms  that are aimed to contain the exponentially rising influence of money power. Unless such a holistic approach is taken, corruption can't be seriously combated.

In the process, some outrageous comments by some of the "civil society" leaders are being heard in the electronic media, questioning the right of the MLAs and MPs to represent the vast millions of Indians. This is simply unacceptable.

According to our constitutional scheme of things, the sovereignty of the people is exercised through their elected representatives to the legislatures and Parliament. The executive (government) is both answerable and accountable to the legislature and, through them, to the people. Questioning the right of elected representatives to represent the people is tantamount to undermining this very scheme. At the time of Independence, when we adopted our republican Constitution, India took a bold and courageous step in granting universal adult suffrage. Many an advanced democracy had taken decades, if not centuries, to grant this right to its people. The strength of India's freedom movement ensured such equality through a Constituent Assembly whose members themselves weren't elected on this principle but had to have certain criteria like property ownership etc. The supremacy of the sovereignty of the people in our republican Constitution was ensured through this principle of one person-one vote-one value.

It will do well to remember that it is these common voters who, through their electoral verdicts, defeated the authoritarian streak in Indian democracy in 1977. It is this very electorate that in 2004 ensured the defeat of the communal forces to uphold the fundamental secular democratic tenets of our republic. In the final analysis it is this very electorate that has created conditions for 'candle light processions' and 'hunger strikes'.

While upholding the need to combat corruption effectively through our constitutional scheme of things, the country needs to heed Dr BR Ambedkar's warning when he commended the draft Constitution for adoption: "On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognising the principle of one man-one vote and one vote-one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man-one value.

"How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has laboriously built up."

This inequality that Dr Ambedkar has warned about has, in fact, sharply widened rather than narrow, during these decades of neo-liberal economic reforms. On the one hand, 69 billionaires in the country have an asset value that equals a third of our GDP. On the other hand, over 80 crores of our people are barely surviving on less than R20 a day.

The figures of the latest National Sample Survey (66th round) on the employment situation in the country conducted during July 2009 and June 2010 do not paint a rosy picture. Compared to the 2004-05 survey findings, both the labour force participation rate and the voter's population ratio have shown a decline while the unemployment rate has shown a marginal decline as well. This, clearly, is due to the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that was put in place due to the Left parties' insistence.

However, among all the workers in the country, 51% are characterised as self-employed while 33.5% are casual labour. This means, 84.5% of our workforce continue to remain victims of economic insecurity.

The fight against corruption must be seen in the context of this larger picture. If the huge amounts being looted were instead deployed to create greater job opportunities and provide health and education for our youth, maybe we could have begun addressing the 'life of contradictions' that Dr Ambedkar has warned us about. The political parties and 'civil society' must, together, mount popular pressure on the government to adopt policies aimed at removing these growing inequalities rather than widening them.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

HINDUSTAN TIMES

NO EASTERLY WIND NOW

JOYEETA BHATTACHARJEE

The recent 'off-the-record' comment by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about "25% of Bangladeshis being anti-India" and influenced by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during his meeting with the media last week has dented otherwise cordial relations between India and Bangladesh.

What was shocking was the damage control exercise by the authorities which removed that portion of the PM's comment with the caveat that the text that appeared on the Prime Minister's Office website was "preliminary". This reflects the lack of sensitivity of our authorities while dealing with our neighbours. There is a need for us to show more sensitivity while dealing with Bangladesh, a country that, despite strong opposition to the move, has gone out of its way to improve its relationship with India.

India-Bangladesh ties have fluctuated in the past. The relationship touched rock bottom during the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's (BNP) rule between 2001-06. But this changed after the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League came to power in 2009. It has, from the beginning, taken a keen interest in improving relationship with India. Soon after the parliamentary elections of 2008 in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Hasina declared that she wouldn't allow any group inimical to India's interests to operate in her country.

Keeping the promise, Hasina's government took action against insurgent groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), arresting some of their top leaders. She also needs to be complimented for her action against the radical Islamic militancy that flourished in Bangladesh during the BNP's rule. These extremist groups played a major role in fostering terror in India.

Bangladesh shares close socio-cultural and geographical ties with India and looks to India for inspiration, motivation and support in these areas. While this feature of the relationship has helped the two countries find grounds for cooperation, it also has been a disadvantage for bilateral relations. There is a Big Brother syndrome that plays in the minds of some sections in Bangladesh. Such a feeling, however, is understandable for a country that has to live close to a nation as large in terms of geography, economy and influence like India. The people of Bangladesh are thankful when there is a simple word of appreciation from India. They equally feel let down if there is word of criticism from their western neighbour.

The India-Bangladesh relationship has also become a complex play of internal politics within Bangladesh, where the politics has become divided along the lines of pro- and anti- India sentiments. The Jamaat-e-Islami, an influential ally of the main opposition party BNP, is open in its anti-India rhetoric. The Awami League has been criticised by the opposition for being pro-India. So, looking at things from the prism of Bangladeshi politics, Hasina has taken a big risk to go out of her way and take on the religious fundamentalists in her country. Better support from India is welcome and needed.

Religion does play an important role in the lives of Bangladeshis. But there is a great dislike among the people towards religious extremism. The Jamaat-e-Islami's defeat in the 2008 elections, when it was reduced to only two seats from the 18, is a case in point.

As India's influence grows in the global arena, it will be necessary to have stability and peace in South Asia. For this, Dhaka could be New Delhi's major partner and play a pivotal role by becoming a major point of connectivity for North-east India and South-east Asian countries thereby strengthening India's 'Look East' policy. This is a window of opportunity that we can't afford to lose by making unnecessary comments that can harm the relationship.

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

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

PART OF THE JOB

 

It appears that the Debt Management Office being set up by the government may not only manage the debt of the Central and state governments but also be allowed to manage debt of both public and some private sector companies. This feature would be a welcome addition to the functions of the DMO. Among the concerns about the DMO proposed to be set up are the availability of human capital and skills required for the job. At present, the RBI's job is simple in the sense that it is the regulator of banks and can use moral suasion to make banks (especially public sector banks) buy government bonds. Further, since debt management for the government is not its only responsibility and keeping the cost of debt low by timing the maturity and composition of the debt accurately is not something that it is held primarily accountable for, it is able to get by without requiring too much professional expertise. However, for a professional DMO, whose job is to ensure that the long-term debt costs for the government remain low, the capacity and skills of the team will need to be of extremely high quality. This will become even more important as India moves away from financial repression, embodied today in the high statutory liquidity ratio requirement of banks.

The task of managing the government's debt, which is so big that there needs to be a full calendar of transparent and predictable auctions ahead, is different from that of smaller companies, whether public or private. In the latter case, the volume of the debt is likely to be big, but not as big as that of the government. DMOs, as in the UK, watch the pulse of the financial market and work closely with them to ensure the government's debt programme does not disrupt bond markets. The benefit from the DMO managing PSU and private debt in addition to government debt is thus two-fold. First, it helps PSUs use the DMO's professional expertise. Second, it increases the interaction between the DMO and financial markets, helping the DMO to function better.

Taking a cue from DMOs in the UK and Sweden, the Indian DMO should plan to recruit openly to get the best expertise available in the market for the job. A mix of smart public servants with finance professionals may be required for genuinely carrying out a good job of managing the Indian government's huge debt.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NOT JUST LOKPAL

 

At the all-party meet to discuss the Lokpal bill, the Central government came under sharp attack from opposition parties for "bypassing" the established procedure in law-making. Yet, even in its fractiousness the gathering underscored a return to established procedure, with little support expressed for Anna Hazare's random deadline for passage of the bill. The government has committed itself to introducing the Lokpal bill in the monsoon session of Parliament next month — thereupon, most political parties, including the BJP, pointed out, it would be in possession of Parliament's processes. It should, they said, go to the standing committee so that a range of views and opinion could be invited and considered. It was unlikely therefore, they said, that it could be passed before the winter session.

This assertion of Parliament's processes and calendar is well-taken. Given the extra-constitutional scheme for a Lokpal advocated by some "civil society" representatives, the debate these past months has been as much about tackling corruption as about the existing system of checks and balances. Political leaders were not very forthcoming on their views on what the eventual shape of the Lokpal bill should be and they may have been strikingly combative — but such an exchange of views does its bits to return sanity to the debate. Of concern, recently, was a drift towards impatience with the messy, but liberty-ensuring, processes of democracy. Through the summer there was no doubt that Parliament would eventually take charge of the proposed legislation and address itself to its compatibility with the checks and balances provided in the Constitution, as the PM on Sunday underlined that it must. The anxiety was that parliamentarians needed to be sufficiently forthcoming to assert Parliament's sovereignty and articulate their role for the greater common good.

Therefore, it is not enough to have an all-party meet to gauge, by proxy, a sense of the House.

In this lead-up to the monsoon session, which will follow upon an abandoned winter session and a truncated budget session, the government must engage the opposition constructively. There is a huge backlog of legislation that requires floor management. Preparation must begin now.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

                                                                                                EDITORIAL

ART OF THE NOVEL

For all that we congratulate ourselves on jugaad and improvisation, it's obvious that India needs a sustained innovation intervention. INSEAD's global innovation index, collaborating with CII, has placed India at a so-so 62, six ranks down from last year. It's ranked lower than Brazil, Russia and China — the nations we most often measure ourselves against.

The metrics are based on various input factors including human capital, research and education, market and business sophistication, etc, as well as the outcomes they produce. Innovation is not just resourcefulness, or random, light-bulb moments, but considered policy choices within organisations and nations that arrange incentives to reward creativity — whether in products, processes or systems. They could be sharp swerves away from established practices or incremental design improvements. Intangible as innovation is, there are some clear enabling factors — like the stability of institutions over time. India seems to have slumped because of a far from reassuring business environment, as well as a paucity of knowledge workers, gaps in elementary and secondary education, among other reasons.

However, in output terms, India has been far more successful, moving up from 101 in 2010 to 9 this year on the innovation efficiency front. It excels in operating with constraints, in producing low-cost, high-volume concepts in automobiles, healthcare and telecom, whether it is the Tata Nano or solar-powered cellphones. However, in the absence of an encouraging ecosystem, such experiment is unlikely to thrive. Innovation is the result of a a firm or industry searching for ways to optimise a process or develop a product, or it can be a purer laboratory exploration. Good governance should further both sets of pursuits, even as we reorient education, research and industry practices.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE DELHI-DHAKA DISTANCE

MIHIR S SHARMA

 

A hundred years ago, the British moved India's capital from Calcutta to Delhi, and, by siting government here in these baked northern plains, in a town traditionally oriented to the dangerous northwest, subtly warped India's foreign policy today. Sometimes it seems as if everyone in Delhi is a Pakistan expert, with even those who grew up in the south able to recite bits of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and discuss the Hudood Ordinances. And, all the time, there's another neighbour to the east, almost as large and much more friendly, that New Delhi seems to have its back to permanently.

When the prime minister said that 25 per cent of Bangladeshis are "anti-Indian", he was just repeating tired old tropes that have informed too much of New Delhi's policy-making. It isn't just that the Jamaat-e-Islami — which Dr Singh identified as the focus of anti-India emotion — has never gotten more than 6 per cent of the vote. It is that the secular space there is expanding, not contracting, signalled by the decision last year by Bangladesh's supreme court striking down a constitutional amendment that, it said, infringed on its secular character. It is into this struggle for Bangladesh's soul — not a new one, but one at a very crucial moment — that Dr Singh's words have dropped, betraying New Delhi's apparent lack of understanding of how dynamic the situation is there.

Forty years after its formation, the scars of Bangladesh's early years have not yet faded. The struck-down amendment legitimised the actions of Ziaur Rahman's blood-soaked military dictatorship; Zia's rise to power followed the brutal murder of Bangladesh's first president, Mujibur Rahman, and most of his family. This is living history: the Bangladesh National Party, led by Zia's widow, is on the streets right now, leading an nationwide hartal against an Awami League government led by Mujib's daughter. Mujib's surviving murderers were executed only last year. Zia's son was controversially charged on Sunday with planning a grenade assault on a 2004 Sheikh Hasina rally. The country remains deeply divided; even what you're wearing can be an unsubtle political signal. Nehru — sorry, Mujib jackets — are the Awami League's, and safari suits are the BNP's. And it is with this backdrop of division that the country's secular character, its orientation towards India, and the role of the Jamaat-e-Islami — which earned hatred in those distant days of liberation, for siding with the Pakistan army against the Mukti Bahini — are all slowly being worked through.

The problem with the prime minister's words is not just the faulty, exaggerated numbers; it is also that saying the "the political landscape can change at any time" betrays a fatalism about Bangladesh's future. It seems that New Delhi may still not understand that relations with Dhaka must be improved till which political dispensation rules there is irrelevant to India's security and prosperity.

Though at least, you could think, the government understands that this period of the Awami League's unquestioned majority is one that India must take advantage of. Perhaps the PM was trying to convey that sense of urgency? Except that, since Sheikh Hasina's landmark visit to India in January 2010, an enormous amount of nothing has been achieved. Five joint agreements were signed then, focusing on cooperation against Islamist terror and on electricity generation. Others, on boundary demarcation and trade transit, were being worked out.

And then India demonstrated not urgency, but its exact opposite. For each item, it appeared that the Bangladeshi side created the foundations for further cooperation, making what was already agreed-on happen. And, each time, the Indian side failed to reciprocate, or did so with sloth and delay. India postponed boundary discussions for almost a year after Hasina's visit, for example.

As for trade and transit issues, India's attitude has been abysmal. When Bangladesh's commerce minister snapped, after meeting Anand Sharma, that the concessions being offered were "peanuts", his departure from normal diplomatic protocol was understandable. Sharma had just implied that a minor hike in Bangladesh's textile quota was a giant favour. It wasn't a fraction of what Bangladesh had a right to expect. The Tamil Nadu textile lobby, in particular, based around Coimbatore and Salem, has been particularly vocal in demanding continued protection from Bangladeshi imports, and seems to be able to twist India's trade policy — and its foreign policy — around its little finger. Various tariff and non-tariff barriers come in the way of freer trade with India's neighbours, and that's just the way New Delhi likes it — but it's petty and shortsighted, and hurts us above all.

Sheikh Hasina has to face re-election in two years. She cannot sink political capital into this relationship endlessly without reciprocation. So fixated is New Delhi on the western border, that the benefits of looking east are continually forgotten: not just access to natural gas reserves, or to electricity for the power-starved belt of eastern India, but also the possibility that India's Northeast, long short of routes to the outside world, will gain affordable transit rights to the sea, completely transforming its economy. For the rest of India, too, longed-for integration with the markets of Southeast Asia cannot happen if we have to go around Bangladesh to get there.

The prime minister's office has announced that he will visit Dhaka in September. Much must be done before then. Most importantly, New Delhi's mindset must change. India needs to go the extra mile, ensuring market access for Bangladesh, visibly demonstrating enthusiasm for détente, and not just on our terms. India's Bangladesh policy must be liberated from those who imagine the country as attitudinally frozen in time, when it is unfreezing itself quite ably. Its economy is booming; its human development indicators are better than India's, when income is accounted for; and it is boiling with cultural expression. (Its culture of photography, for example, is the most robust in South Asia.)

But they don't quote Faiz enough. So they will never, perhaps, have quite enough mindspace here in New Delhi, where poets from the other Punjab are worshipped, and inherited nostalgia for lost homes on that side of the border colours every political interaction. Another common culture, one perhaps richer, definitely shared by more Indians, spreads across the eastern border — but in this Punjabi-dominated city, that will never quite give relations the shove they need.

Perhaps the time has come to outsource Bangladesh foreign policy to Mamata Banerjee? At least the railway connections might get built.

mihir.sharma@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

GOOD LUCK YINGLUCK

ALIA ALLANA

 

In Thailand, a country where region, religion and riches divide, it is rare to see a southerner standing alongside a northerner. Until her electoral victory and her new position as the first woman to become the prime minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra's Facebook profile picture was of her and another woman. Yingluck, a northern Buddhist, had her hair covered; the other, a southern Muslim, stood next to her, held up a camera and the two veiled women smiled into the lens.

Maybe it was all show, a pantomime in the lead up to the election, but Yingluck's smile, wide and beaming, has been plastered all across Thailand — in magazines and pamphlets, on billboards and badges. It's easy to forget that Yingluck entered the Thai political game a mere two months ago. It's easier still to discredit her climb to power. She is after all the little sister, a "clone" and proxy of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thai politics of the past 10 years has been dominated by one name: Shinawatra. At first, it was the brother and his populist policies that struck a chord with the impoverished Thais. It was he who challenged the Bangkok elite, went head-to-head with the revered king and the mighty army. It was also he who embezzled the country and faces a raft of criminal charges.

But somewhere in between teleconferencing with her brother, who is in self-imposed exile in Dubai, and self-tutoring in politics, the other Shinawatra, Yingluck, came into her own. She travelled across the country: in the north, she asked the people to love her like they did her brother; in the south, she promised progress despite their differences. In the race, the then PM Abhisit Vejjajiva looked distinctly uncomfortable with the people, unaccustomed to the masses.

But they have both brought to Thailand something novel: the semblance of a democratic process. The Thaksin mandate of populist policies — equitable wealth distribution, minimum wages and incentives to small businesses — has been emulated by the opposition. They have also made another promise: to go beyond Bangkok.

Unfortunately, Thailand's recent politics has been about control over Bangkok. The political system has been suspended time and again for street battles between the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts. If the Red Shirts weren't staging a protest, the Yellow Shirts were shutting down the airport — street warfare had overtaken political debate. So on Sunday, when the cheering Red Shirts were not met with resistance from the royalist Yellow Shirts on the streets of Bangkok, one had reasons to wonder: has Thailand entered a new era of politics? Is this actual progress?

Yes and no. Yes, because Shinawatra's Pheu Thai party has formed an alliance with five major parties, and Vejjajiva promises to form a genuine opposition. The army, the hand that rocks the cradle of Thai politics, has accepted the defeat of its affiliated party and has gone as far as congratulating the new PM. But Thai politics is never quite as simple.

Forty years of constitutional neglect, of coups at the whims and fancies of Bangkok's elite and its power over the army have led to a curious civil-military relationship. Though the situation seems at ease now, the question of Thaksin's return is sounded often. Will Yingluck grant him amnesty? Will he return — after all, it is he who has gone in exile?

Thaksin's return would, of course, be a politically polarising development. Traditionally, in such situations, the monarch becomes the arbiter of Thailand's woes. Last year, King Bhumibol spoke out when law and order crumbled in the country. He is respected and adored by most Thais, but there is cause for worry: he is 83, unwell and has not appointed an heir.

Yingluck, one should recall, is not the first Thaksin affiliate to come to power. Two other governments — of Samak Sundaravej and of Thaksin's brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat — had been in power after Thaksin's exit. They were swiftly ousted on dubious charges: Sundaravej lost his job because he used to host a cookery show and Wongsawat was forced to step down after being accused of electoral fraud. It was during these two governments that the king intervened to restore law and order. The question in Thai politics is: who will have such sway over the army and the people after Bhumibol?

Politics in Thailand is far from consistent, the military too influential and Bangkok's elite too interfering. Thailand does enter a new phase though and this will be further stabilised by the appointment of an heir.

alia.allana@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'BILL SAYS LOKPAL SHOULD PROVE HE HAS BEEN A FIGHTER AGAINST CORRUPTION. WHERE ARE THOSE PEOPLE? IN MEDIA AND CIVIL SOCIETY?'

SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

In a season when every self-styled warrior against corruption is trying to look for a new weapon to fight it, my guest today is Satyananda Mishra, Chief Information Commissioner—someone who has in his control the strongest of those weapons, the RTI.

Actually when it all began, nobody thought it would be so effective. In a period of five-and-a-half years, it has touched the hearts and minds of people. The number of RTI applications is doubling every year.

As a former bureaucrat, you don't see merit in what so many of your colleagues say—that RTI has now become a nuisance?

If you are in the government, then you will look at it as a nuisance. When you have to provide certain information, it might be embarrassing. But we must realise it's very important to have this kind of a law.

But do you think people have learnt to use the RTI?

Quite a few have, but we should not be disappointed at the pace of its progress. No other law would have got such enthusiasm in five-and-a-half years. Around three million people are seeking information every year.

But this has also caught the bad guy's attention, with so many RTI activists being attacked.

Firstly, anyone who seeks information can't be called an RTI activist. An RTI activist is someone seeking information for public good. Any good district magistrate or superintendent of police will know who the RTI activists in their area are and they should provide them the necessary cover.

The potential of the RTI is now being realised, people are learning to use it. Yet, the discourse now seems to be completely different—from sledgehammer to machine gun to a canon now to a nuclear weapon.

We have a tendency—both the government and the people—to think that if you have a problem, then a law can solve it. I have seen it in Madhya Pradesh where a dozen laws were made in a year. A Corruption Eradication Act was enacted in the early Eighties, but nothing happened.

You have said that if the Lokpal comes into being, you will have to paratroop Yudhishtir to India in Kalyug.

Yes, I said that. One of the proponents of that Bill is that it will have 15,000 people. Where will you get so many people with unimpeachable integrity, who have shown their resolve for fierce independence, with no track record of even a complaint against them? Where are those people?

Why the Yudhishtir simile?

In the Mahabharata, he was the paragon of all virtues, so the Lokpal under discussion is a person who should have these attributes, only then you will be able to tower over the Supreme Court judges, the Cabinet secretaries, Army Chief, Air Chief, all CAGs, CECs; that's impractical.

Impractical or impossible?

Both. Having been a secretary in the government of India in charge of some of these agencies, I can tell you that it has been such a difficult thing to get the personnel... getting 11 people may not be so difficult. Even then I think it will be very difficult unless you are going to choose some of the mediapersons who have been campaigning against corruption.

Because one of the attributes of the new Lokpal would be that he should prove that he has been a fierce fighter against corruption. I can't produce such a certificate. Who in the government will be able to produce a testimonial, because there is a clause that the applicant for the post of Lokpal will have to produce documentary evidence for that.

So no one in the government can produce such evidence?

Only people in media and civil society will be able to do that.

In this complicated country, even Yudhishtir was made to tell a lie and he did it under the divine advice of Lord Krishna. Governance is complicated, you said the law seems to have been drafted by people who don't know how government functions.

Government decision-making is not simple. There is no black and white; rules are being made, they are being changed from time to time. That means the government is in a dynamic situation, engaging with the realities around and then changing itself. Of course, the government is slow, but nevertheless it changes. So there can't be a body which is distanced from the talk. The premise is that it should have no linkage with the government; being under the control of the government and being distant from the government are completely different. If you are completely distant from the government, you are totally unaware of what is going on in the government. You can't appreciate how decisions are being made.

Jayalalithaa now says that Lokpal will be a kind of parallel government.

From the structure of the Bill, as it exists, you will need another Shastri Bhavan or Nirman Bhavan to house the new Lokpal. Because if they have to look into complaints against 42 lakh central government employees, imagine if there are complaints against even 1 per cent of them, that is 42,000 complaints. And they have promised that every single complaint will be looked into. So think how many people will be required to look into that.

Have you seen complaints filed against your colleagues—you were secretary (personnel), DoPT?

Yes, I saw a complaint against one of the secretaries in which the complainant had taken the Delhi telephone directory and collected eight properties bearing the surname of this particular individual, claiming these properties belong to this officer and he has not reported it in the annual property return. So the inquiry began. Currently, the inquiry is done discreetly. Under the proposed Lokpal, the inquiry will be public. The data will be videographed and probably even telecast in the evening. Just imagine what would be the authority of the secretary when everyone in the department will be talking about him that this fellow has eight properties. Maybe at the end of the month you will say the complaint was wrong, but his reputation has been tarnished.

What about the case of this secretary, did you find any substance in the complaint?

No, none. There must be some respect for the system.

In your own interactions, have you found this respect lacking?

Yes. It seems we are dealing with a 'gone' case. Every system will have to have a compass. It is a huge government; there are millions of people working within this who are not so bad. And then there is a motivational factor. If you think everyone is corrupt and completely beyond redemption, then why will young people choose civil services? They have many other choices. Anyway, the quality of people joining the services is a matter of worry.

And you think that if this comes in, then simpler people will not want to come?

Yes, this will be one of the factors. When you choose a career, you evaluate the environment in which you will work. No one is saying there should be no inquiry. My personal objection to the architecture of this Bill is not about the intent—the intent is to punish—but the details of this are premised not on a desire to improve things, but on a desire to spite, to smother.

So you certainly don't want the judiciary and the Army under this?

I don't know whether the Army or judiciary should be brought under this or not. But whoever is brought under this should be brought under an independent Lokpal with sufficient inbuilt checks and balances. The present Bill structure doesn't tell me to whom the Lokpal will be answerable.

And you may find one Yudhishtir, how will you find a succession of Yudhishtirs? And eleven of them at one time?

Not just eleven, several thousands of them because the Bill very conveniently defines who a Lokpal is. He is not only these eleven people, but also the thousands of people, including the peons, who will be the Lokpal. It says every employee of the Lokpal will be called a Lokpal and will have his powers. That's the definition in Section 2 of the Bill.

What about the two other contentious questions? One is whether to put the PM under this mechanism or not?

This is something on which you and I could have extremely divergent opinions. Someone like Justice Verma has argued why he thinks the PM should not be there. He feels that in the kind of system we work, if the PM has a series of complaints pending against him and inquired into in by the Lokpal, even if he is not summoned to their office, it will impact his national and international image. One has to be extremely careful in finally deciding whether authorities such as the PM and CJI should be brought under this or not.

How about the CBI? You were Secretary, DoPT and the CBI came under your control. What's your take on the CBI being brought under the RTI?

When the RTI was made in 2005, there were 22 organisations which were put in the second schedule, taking them out of the RTI. They were security and intelligence agencies. The DoPT was framing the law. At that time, I don't know why they didn't think about this. Why did they take five-and-a-half years to think about the need for bringing the CBI under this?

So are you open-minded or do you prefer that the CBI be brought under this?

We have no problem with the CBI being under the RTI. In the last five years, I can assure you, that the CIC has not passed a single order which has put an obstacle in the right endeavours of the CBI.

Because your predecessor (Wajahat) Habibullah is a strong proponent of the CBI coming under the RTI. Two-and-a-half years ago, he said the RTI is a law whose reach and power is expanding every day. Has something about the law surprised you?

Yes, it has a surprising reach and a surprising way of empowering people. Normally, private banks are outside the RTI. The RBI has issued an advisory to ICICI Bank; somebody went to the RBI and asked for a copy, the RBI said no. The appeal came to us so we decided that the advisory should be given. Then ICICI went to the Bombay High Court and got a stay. The case was sent back to us so we passed an order that we don't see any reason for changing it. So imagine a citizen doggedly pursuing the might of huge banks. But for this law, who would stand up like this?

Today if you see the discourse, Indian bureaucracy seems to be the root of all evil. Will you defend your profession?

I will and I'm grateful to you for not using the word 'babu'. I think there is a complete disconnect somewhere and to a great extent, we in the civil services are also responsible for losing the trust and affection of the people. The people must be patient and kind because we are not dealing with foreign civil services, we are dealing with our own country's civil service. Most of the people who are criticising civil services would have someone from their family in the services.

And your experience is that civil servants are either thieves or are honest?

I completely deny this charge that civil servants are corrupt. Yes, there are some people, but they are there in every walk of life.

In a small minority or in a substantial minority?

In a minority, certainly not the majority. Among the 42 lakh government employees, I don't think the number of corrupt people will be (more than) 5 per cent or 10 per cent.

So this Lokpal will have one Lokpal for 10 corrupt people.

I can assure you that complaints are received against everybody, good or bad. Since this law proposes that every complaints will be looked into...

So these 15,000 people will become overworked very soon.

Yes, exactly.

You were in the Madhya Pradesh cadre. One of the many interesting things you have done is as the development commissioner for some of the most backward parts of the state, which also had mining. Describe some of the corruption you saw there and what tools did you find there to fight it?

In those days, in the late 70s, when I was in Korba, it had the biggest coal mines in the country—now in Chhattisgarh. Stealing coal from the mines and selling it in the black market was rampant. It was always alleged that some of the coal mine officials were mixed up with these people, you may call them the mafia. From time to time, we conducted raids and cops would detain people.

What methods did you find to empower people, to prevent exploitation because in that may lie some answers to the mining challenge for the future.

I was born in Keonjhar district of Orissa that has the second largest iron ore deposit after Bastar, and high poverty. Suddenly, the mine owners have become so rich and you can see the division in society. Unless something is done quickly and the share of the profit coming out of mines is distributed equitably among people living in the area whether or not they own the land...

What kind of a family do you come from?

I lost my parents when I was two. So my uncle, who was a teacher in a tribal school, brought me up. I began my education in a tribal school.

So you have seen a tough life.

Yes, I have seen the entire spectrum.

That's the tragedy in India. A lot of people who talk about poverty haven't actually been poor.

Yes. Moving from a place where I would trek 4 km daily until I passed high school to here in Delhi with you.

That is the beauty of this country, from poverty to power of this kind. So many of you in civil service are the salt of the earth and may your tribe increase and may we keep talking as the power of the law over which you preside unfolds in years to come.

Transcribed by Tulika Ojha

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GET THOSE PIGEONS NOW

It says volumes for how basic the functioning of India's security agencies is that the home ministry has given the telecom ministry a list of 14 services—from the ubiquitous Gmail to video chats, push mail, Skype and so on—that should be banned if their data is not made available to the security agencies in "readable, understandable, printable and audible format". The telecom ministry has done well to point out that, should this be done, it will seriously set back the country's progress since encryption is almost a way of life now, right from the time you access a bank account on the Internet to applying for a passport online; then there's the entire BPO business out of India that can get affected. Since, at the end of the day, the issue boils down to the level of encryption that is allowed—a lower level of encryption makes it easier for intelligence agencies to decipher the communication—the telecom ministry is correct in saying that the 40-bit encryption allowed in India is very low and that other government institutions like RBI and Sebi mandate higher levels of encryption for banking and financial services; most e-commerce, for instance, takes place at 128 or 256 bits.

It can be no one's case, that national security is not important, but it's worth keeping in mind that countries like the US which have equally pressing national security concerns allow such services—the key, as the telecom ministry has pointed out, is that Indian sleuths need to raise their game, to get capabilities to decrypt information sent out at higher levels of encryption. While the solutions proposed by sleuths that service providers be forced to set up servers in India or deposit their 'keys' look reasonable, they too are behind the times. The BlackBerry, for instance, generates one-time keys automatically for each transaction, so there's nothing a server in India will do; and it is not possible to deposit any 'keys' to decrypt either—this applies to several other such transactions as well. BlackBerry's solution, evidently not found suitable as yet, is to offer data to security agencies (after suitable authorisation has been given) on the size of data transfers between suspects who are being monitored—for the actual data, all that BlackBerry or any other provider can offer, is the IP address of the users' server; after that, it's up to the security agencies to get the data. Perhaps Indian sleuths would do well to spend time with their US counterparts to figure out how the latter deal with such issues, given that banning is not even among the list of available options.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BROADENING THE NET

The report that the finance ministry is preparing a negative list of services—as a precursor to its move to bring all services under the tax net—is a positive step that would extend the tax base, increase equity and improve the buoyancy of service taxes. Service tax, which was introduced in 1994 following the recommendations of the Raja Chelliah Committee, has been widely accepted with hardly any resistance, except on some rare occasions when public sector undertakings like Railways resisted these efforts. Although service tax—which was initially limited to just three services (telecom, stock broking and insurance)—has expanded significantly to cover more than a hundred services, the earlier gains made have dissipated in recent years. Also, while the total collection of service tax has gone up from R407 crore in 1994-95 to R82,000 crore in the budget estimates for 2011-12, the share of service tax in the gross taxes collected by the central government has declined. Consequently, the gains made in the early years—when the share of service tax went up from 0.4% to the peak level of 10.1% in 2008-09—have now been reversed, with the share of service tax in total taxes shrinking to 9.4% in 2009-10 and further to 8.8% in 2010-11.

Similarly, the ratio of service tax to GDP has also slipped from the peak level of 1.1% to 0.9% in the more recent years. With the services sector accounting for more than half the GDP, this is a negligible number and only a substantial extension of the service tax base would ensure a more equitable tax base and help remove the bias against manufacturing, which bears a disproportionately large share of the indirect tax burden. Ensuring the neutrality of the tax system and tax buoyancy requires a substantial extension of the tax base, by extending the tax base to all services except for a few items to be put on the negative list. In fact, at the turn of the millennium, a committee headed by NIPFP chief M Govinda Rao had recommended dispensing with the current approach of selectively taxing services in favour of a general taxation of all traded services with minimum exemptions, which may be restricted to all public services, services of meritorious nature, services with significant externalities and to those in the unorganised sector, all of which may be kept outside the service tax net. So, any step to extend the service tax base to the whole sector would bring in significant gains and ensure greater equity in the tax system.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FORMALISING THE INFORMAL SECTOR

M GOVINDA RAO

There has been considerable consternation over the issue of the large and growing underground or informal economy. The main focus has been on the drafting of the Lokpal Bill, defining the scope, powers and functions of the Lokpal. Debate has been raging on whether the Lokpal should have jurisdiction over the functioning of the Prime Minister and higher judiciary and whether he/she should have an investigative agency working independently under him/her. Most people are lost in this melee and, in the process, there is hardly any discussion on what the factors that drive the informal economy are, and what policy measures are needed to formalise them. Isn't prevention better than the cure?

One of the most important sources of the underground economy is in the urban land and housing market. In urban areas, the transactions are many and the values of transactions are large. Further, the impact of fast spreading the informal market is widespread as whoever wants to buy or sell land and houses is automatically embroiled in the parallel economy and forced to break the law. Of course, unlike in the case of ill-gotten money parked in tax havens abroad, this form of underground economy has a vibrant domestic economic activity and creates income and employment.

However, proliferation of the informal sector results in significant resource misallocation. It forces even law abiding individuals to violate the law. As the sector substantially escapes the tax net, a large and disproportionate burden of tax is placed on the formal sector.

There are a variety of laws that have prevented the development of an organised market in this sector. There has been much focus on land ceiling and rent control acts and, even as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission has mandated reforms to free the land market, they continue to constrain formalisation of the markets for urban land and housing in many states. Continuation of these archaic laws, poor information of land records and the prevailing tax treatment of capital gains and stamp duties have been responsible for the proliferation of an informal economy in the sector.

The most important impediment preventing the organised development of land and housing markets in urban areas is the prevailing tax system. The tax system provides enormous incentives to understate the value of properties for both the seller and buyer. In a situation where urban land and housing prices have been sky rocketing, the prevailing system of taxing capital gains provides incentives to suppress the sale value. If the property is held for less than 36 months, the capital gain, which is equivalent to the sale value netted from the value of acquisition, cost incurred in the acquisition and cost of improvements made, is taxed at 20%. In the case of properties held for more than 36 months, the cost of acquisition is indexed for inflation in addition to taking account of the cost of acquisition and improvements. Given that the increase in the prices of urban land and housing has been phenomenal in the last decade, 20% tax on capital gains provides a huge incentive for the seller to undervalue the property transacted. Of course, if the seller acquires another property from the sale proceeds within three years, the tax can be avoided, but that has not helped formalise the transactions.

The proliferation of the informal economy in the realty sector has several repercussions. First, evasion of all taxes in an informal economy is easier. Second, it forces even the law abiding citizens to break the laws. A person who wants to sell his property and pay the relevant capital gains taxes will find it difficult to find a buyer who is willing to declare the true value and pay the stamp duty. Similarly, a law abiding buyer who wants to pay the entire value through cheque will find it difficult to find a seller. Third, it is impossible to estimate the volume of business and the extent of black money generated in real property transactions. Finally, there are serious problems of governance.

The incentive for understating the purchase value for the buyer comes from the high rates of stamp duty and registration fees. Despite attempts to reduce the rates to "reasonable" levels in the standing committees for stamp duty reform by the Union ministry of finance, many states have rates in excess of 10%. The incentive to suppress the value for both the buyer and the seller creates a dynamics of its own and even the most law abiding person is forced to short shrift the law. Notably, the proposal to merge stamp duty in the proposed GST will add to the incentives to remain informal. Most countries have kept real properties out of the GST base and have a separate stamp duty. However, the rates have been less than 3%, in contrast to India where the tax varies from 6% to 12%.

How do major countries in the world treat capital gains from land and housing for tax purposes? In the US, individuals can exclude up to $250,000 in profit from the sale of a main home (or $500,000 for a married couple) as long as you have owned the home and lived in the home for a minimum of two years during the previous five years. In countries like Australia, Germany, Canada and France, the main or the principal house of the individuals is not subject to capital gains taxation. Surely, land and housing markets in these countries are very well organised.

A good tax system is one that helps formalise the economy and the attempt should be to redesign the tax system to encourage formalisation. Removal of capital gains tax on the principal residence of individuals and reducing the stamp duties to less than 3% can help in formalising the market for land and housing. Given the massive undervaluation of property transactions that goes on, abolishing the tax is not likely to cost substantial money to the exchequer. On the other hand, the gains from this to the economy could be tremendous and a more formal economy is also likely to result in larger tax payments from other sources.

The author is director, NIPFP, and member, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. Views are personal

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

NO END IN SIGHT

MEGHNAD DESAI

The Greek tragedy is not yet over. At various intervals, we see the damsel in distress about to be rescued by an intrepid saviour, but then there are roadblocks in the path of the saviour and we wait for the next episode of the tragedy.

In the meantime, back at the IMF, after all the sound and fury, the BRIC countries could not deliver a non-European alternative to Lagarde. In the penultimate stages, the US patched up a deal with the EU so that Hillary Clinton gets the World Bank job when Zoellick gives it up and Christine Lagarde got the IMF job. It may be gender friendly, but it stinks to high heaven. Though, to be fair, we have had some openness about the selection procedure. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Why should Hillary Clinton want to be the World Bank president rather than, say, be appointed a judge to the Supreme Court is beyond me. But then she may never get congressional approval for the Supreme Court but Congress does not give a damn about the World Bank and who leads it.

Christine Lagarde's appointment will make the settlement of the Eurozone crisis more difficult than not. Dominique Strauss-Kahn had already broken IMF norms to advance the loan to Greece and IMF will be stretched further if more money has to be given.

The Greek loan is unfinanceable in IMF terms. Greece will not be able to return to the international markets in 2012, which would be an implicit condition for such loans.

With a 160% debt-to-GDP ratio, even with a 5% interest rate, the burden of interest payment alone would be 8% of GDP. Then there is the principal sum to be paid back. (India has a much higher debt burden—a third of government revenue is paid as interest charges—but then India's debt is held mainly by PSU banks so the principal never needs to be paid back.)

Greece may be in austerity mode for 30 years at least, at this rate. A generation, if not two generations, faces bleak prospects. Of course, many young people will migrate rather than stay, which will make the matters worse. There is already a capital flight and much buying of gold by Greek households. So the economy will deteriorate as long as Greece stays on the orthodox finance path.

There is, of course, the Iceland alternative, as I have said before. If Greece renounces its debt, creditors would have to come and renegotiate the repayments. It may even be able to do so staying within the Eurozone. If not, it should quit, though no legal ways exist for a country to exit the Eurozone. An exit will have severe effects on output, say a 10% loss in the first year and maybe even for two years. But the new currency—new drachma—will depreciate heavily and eventually boost Greek exports. Two or three years' misery can be exchanged to escape 30 years' slow torture.

There are precedents for such a renunciation in pubic and private spheres. Argentina has done so recently and creditors had to renegotiate how much they could recover.

Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in September 2008. And, just about now, the creditors are settling for around 20 cents in the dollar.

But the Eurozone countries, especially France and Germany, who are the two biggest members, will not easily allow any reneging of the debt. They have themselves broken the discipline of the euro several times in matters of budget deficit etc. Indeed, Finland, Slovenia and Estonia are the only three euro countries who fulfil all the conditions for belonging. So the Eurozone is not a disciplined army.

But Greece is small and the bullyboys France and Germany are big. So Greece may have to suffer.

There is gross injustice to this orthodox view. The mess in Greek national accounts arises from years of tax avoidance and evasion by the rich Greeks, early retirement with generous pensions by public sector workers and a lot of falsification of accounts. Ordinary citizens will now have to pay direct and indirect taxes, suffer lower wages and salaries to satisfy orthodoxy. Why not just tell the creditors who lent the money that they should have known better and they should share in the burden?

This won't happen, of course. When the banks went bust, citizens had to rescue them, i.e., pay off their bond debt and help shore up their equity values. But when it comes to collecting their debts, the same banks will behave like Scrooge.

The G20 should initiate a debate about such asymmetries in the debt market. One of the attractions of Islamic Finance is the idea that debtors and creditors should share in good and bad times whatever the outcome is. This makes every bond an equity. The idea can be divorced from its religious moorings and used to reform the sovereign debt market. This is the time for India and China to act.

The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WHO RELEASES NEW GUIDELINES ON DRINKING WATER QUALITY

The World Health Organisation (WHO) launched an updated edition of drinking water guidelines on July 4 to push water suppliers to systematically manage the potential risk of contaminants entering water, from the catchment to the consumer. Launched at the Singapore International Water Week (http://www.who.int/en/ and http://www.siww.com.sg/), they can help governments strengthen their management of drinking water quality by adopting water safety planning.

"Countries have an opportunity to make substantial public health progress by setting and applying effective and appropriate standards for ensuring safe water," said Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Environment and Health.

The guidelines, which have been the most authoritative framework on drinking-water quality and often form the basis for national laws and regulations, require "a paradigm shift in drinking-water management for many countries," the WHO said. They contain comprehensive good practice recommendations for the first time at different levels, from household rainwater harvesting and safe storage through to policy advice on bulk water supply and the implications of climate change. The last edition was released in 2004.

The new edition is based on the latest scientific evidence and includes hundreds of risk assessments on specific waterborne hazards. It is estimated that two million people die from waterborne diseases and billions more suffer illness around the world, and most of them are children under five. Much of this is preventable, the WHO said. —Xinhua

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

CORPORATE CASH CON

Watching the evolution of economic discussion in Washington over the past couple of years has been a disheartening experience. Month by month, the discourse has gotten more primitive; with stunning speed, the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis have been forgotten, and the very ideas that got us into the crisis — regulation is always bad, what's good for the bankers is good for America, tax cuts are the universal elixir — have regained their hold.

And now trickle-down economics — specifically, the idea that anything that increases corporate profits is good for the economy — is making a comeback.

On the face of it, this seems bizarre. Over the last two years profits have soared while employment has remained disastrously high. Why should anyone believe that handing even more money to corporations, no strings attached, would lead to faster job creation?

Nonetheless, trickle-down is clearly on the ascendant — and even some Democrats are buying into it. What am I talking about? Consider first the arguments Republicans are using to defend outrageous tax loopholes. How can people simultaneously demand savage cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and defend special tax breaks favouring hedge fund managers and owners of corporate jets?

Well, here's what a spokesman for Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, told Greg Sargent ofThe Washington Post: "You can't help the wage earner by taxing the wage payer offering a job." He went on to imply, disingenuously, that the tax breaks at issue mainly help small businesses (they're actually mainly for big corporations). But the basic argument was that anything that leaves more money in the hands of corporations will mean more jobs. That is, it's pure trickle-down.

And then there's the repatriation issue.

U.S. corporations are supposed to pay taxes on the profits of their overseas subsidiaries — but only when those profits are transferred back to the parent company. Now there's a move afoot — driven, of course, by a major lobbying campaign — to offer an amnesty under which companies could move funds back while paying hardly any taxes. And even some Democrats are supporting this idea, claiming that it would create jobs.

As opponents of this plan point out, we've already seen this movie: A similar tax holiday was offered in 2004, with a similar sales pitch. And it was a total failure. Companies did indeed take advantage of the amnesty to move a lot of money back to the United States. But they used that money to pay dividends, pay down debt, buy up other companies, buy back their own stock — pretty much everything except increasing investment and creating jobs. Indeed, there's no evidence that the 2004 tax holiday did anything at all to stimulate the economy.

What the tax holiday did do, however, was give big corporations a chance to avoid paying taxes, because they would eventually have repatriated, and paid taxes on, much of the money they brought in under the amnesty. And it also gave these companies an incentive to move even more jobs overseas, since they now know that there's a good chance that they'll be able to bring overseas profits home nearly tax-free under future amnesties.

Yet as I said, there's a push for a repeat of this disastrous performance. And this time around the circumstances are even worse. Think about it: How can anyone imagine that lack of corporate cash is what's holding back recovery in America right now? After all, it's widely understood that corporations are already sitting on large amounts of cash that they aren't investing in their own businesses.

In fact, that idle cash has become a major conservative talking point, with right-wingers claiming that businesses are failing to invest because of political uncertainty. That's almost surely false: the evidence strongly says that the real reason businesses are sitting on cash is lack of consumer demand. In any case, if corporations already have plenty of cash they're not using, why would giving them a tax break that adds to this pile of cash do anything to accelerate recovery?

It wouldn't, of course; claims that a corporate tax holiday would create jobs, or that ending the tax break for corporate jets would destroy jobs, are nonsense.

So here's what you should answer to anyone defending big giveaways to corporations: Lack of corporate cash is not the problem facing America. Big business already has the money it needs to expand; what it lacks is a reason to expand with consumers still on the ropes and the government slashing spending.

What our economy needs is direct job creation by the government and mortgage-debt relief for stressed consumers. What it very much does not need is a transfer of billions of dollars to corporations that have no intention of hiring anyone except more lobbyists. — ©New York Times News Service

How can anyone imagine that lack of corporate cash is what's holding back recovery in America right now?

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

WITH SHUTTLE PROGRAMME ENDING, FEARS OF DECLINE AT NASA

WILLIAM J. BROAD

As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prepares to launch its last space shuttle — ending 30 years in which large teams of creative scientists and engineers sent winged spaceships into orbit — it is facing what may be a bigger challenge: a brain drain that threatens to undermine safety as well as the agency's plans.

Space experts say the best and brightest often head for the doors when rocket lines get marked for extinction, dampening morale and creating hidden threats. They call it the "Team B" effect.

"The good guys see the end coming and leave," said Albert D. Wheelon, a former aerospace executive and Central Intelligence Agency official. "You're left with the B students."

NASA acknowledges the effect and its attendant dangers. It has taken hundreds of steps, including retention bonuses for skilled employees, new perks like travel benefits and more safety drills. Through cuts and attrition in recent years, the shuttle work force has declined to 7,000 workers from about 17,000.

"The downsizing has been well managed and has achieved an acceptable level of risk," said Joseph W. Dyer, a retired Navy Vice-Admiral and the chairman of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. After a slow start, "NASA and its industry partners did a genuinely excellent job" in planning for the shuttle's retirement, he said. But he conceded, "There's added risk anytime you downsize."

Atlantis' flight; the future

Nobody is predicting problems for the coming flight of the Atlantis, the 135th and last launching in the shuttle programme. The event is scheduled for Friday, July 8, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, before an estimated one million spectators.

After that, there is little glory to look forward to. NASA has been forced to cancel the big missions that capture public attention and attract top talent, and frustrations have bubbled to the surface within the agency.

Not only has the shuttle programme been scrapped, but so has Constellation, which would have sent Americans back to the moon. Astronauts have been steadily leaving the agency.

At the direction of the Obama administration and Congress, NASA is instead developing a large new rocket to send deep into space. But no destination has been selected, and money is tight. NASA is also trying to nurture a commercial industry that will loft astronauts toward the stars. But the ventures, which involve partnerships with private-sector companies like SpaceX and Boeing, focus on hardware development and so far have no declared goals beyond low orbits around the planet. The shuttles did that for decades, starting in 1981.

In an interview last week, Charles F. Bolden Jr., NASA's Administrator and a former astronaut, said he had no misgivings about the last shuttle flight, and he heaped praise on the agency's work force.

"Do we have concerns about morale?" he asked. "Yes, we always do. Do we have concerns about the welfare of our workers? Yes, we always do."

But Mr. Bolden, a retired Marine Corps general, said his workers were excited not only about the Atlantis mission but also about a range of new endeavours at both the space agency and its commercial partners.

"We're trying to help our people stay in the aerospace industry, if not in NASA," he said while denying any paralysing loss of talent. "We're capturing the brainpower."

And he flatly rejected the idea that the agency had lost its way.

The setbacks

"We're not adrift," he said. "And the vision is not gone. And we have a plan. We have a very sound plan."

History has offered some bleak lessons, with tons of wreckage testifying to the danger. Experts say the Team B effect contributed to disasters in the mid-1980s and late 1990s that destroyed more than a dozen rockets, wiped out billions of dollars in satellites and threw the nation's unpiloted space programme into turmoil. The two catastrophes of the space shuttle programme — in 1986 and 2003, which killed 14 astronauts — had more to do with design flaws and management failures than with depleted ranks of experts.

NASA officials say close examinations of failures and problematic retirements have made the agency smarter. "We went out and looked at who has done this well — and who has not," said Bryan D. O'Connor, NASA's Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance.

"There could be something we missed," he added. "But I feel pretty confident about the last flight — it's going to be just as safe as any we've ever had, if not more so, with just as good people."

In January, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel reached a somewhat different conclusion in its annual report. It warned that "the lack of a defined mission can negatively affect work force morale" at NASA, and said the agency's own field centres portrayed the loss of big missions as having already "increased the potential for risk."

Future ambitions might also suffer, the panel warned, because a lack of visionary goals can undermine "the ability to attract and maintain the necessary skill sets needed for this high-technology venture."

In May, the dissatisfaction erupted at the Kennedy Space Center. Michael D. Leinbach, the launching director for the Atlantis, went off-message with colleagues after conducting a safety drill for the coming flight.

"The end of the shuttle programme is a tough thing to swallow, and we're all victims of poor policy out of Washington," he told his launching team, according to nasaspaceflight.com, a news site. "I'm embarrassed that we don't have better guidance."

Mr. Dyer, the chairman of Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, said the inquiries of his own team suggested that the shuttle work force remained dedicated to doing the best job possible.

But after years of investigating the darker moments of the shuttle programme, he admitted to personal unease about its end.

"I'll breathe more easily," Mr. Dyer said, "after the last flight." — ©New York Times News Service

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 THE HINDU

OPED

THE MAKING OFTHE NEW CHAMP

Novak Djokovic's most impressive achievement isn't his victory at Wimbledon or his ascent to top of men's tennis; it's that he managed both these accomplishments, a childhood dream and a long-term goal as he later described them, in an era that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have made their own. For a while Djokovic appeared to be no more than a warm-up act to the enthralling, storied rivalry between two of the greatest players of all time. Between them, Federer and Nadal won 24 of the 28 Grand Slam tournaments that were played in the seven years preceding 2011. Dominance in sport affects the rest of the field in two ways: most can't stand the pressure and settle for mediocrity; a few refuse to yield and are forced to heights perhaps even they mightn't have imagined. Djokovic never doubted which group he belonged to. Although the Serb's progress after his breakthrough win — at the 2008 Australian Open — wasn't as he would have wished, his drive didn't suffer. He committed to getting better, knowing the results mightn't show immediately. Winning the Davis Cup late last year was a turnaround: he later said that the fear of losing didn't grip him as severely any longer.

The liberation from fear led to Djokovic becoming the best tennis player of 2011. His only defeat in 49 matches was to an inspired Federer at the French Open. With every victory, his belief strengthened. The 24-year-old's singular year has been driven by significant advancements in technique and fitness. His forehand, which often broke down, became more solid and better balanced; his serve gained from a minor adjustment, helping him set up points better. With these enhancements, his piercing two-handed backhand, always a weapon, grew more potent. Excellent at defensive play, he could now dictate the tempo as well. Djokovic's improved physical conditioning, which was aided in part by a gluten-free diet, was just as vital. The knowledge that he could stay with Nadal in the long rally — not only could he cover court as well, he could also hit with similar intensity in the later stages of the point — protected him against the pressure to do too much too soon. In short, he could do to Nadal what the Spaniard usually did to others. As Nadal graciously admitted after the Wimbledon final, his fifth defeat to Djokovic this year, his play no longer seems to bother his rival; he has to find solutions against Djokovic. From being coerced by Federer and Nadal to raise his game to compelling the great champions to lift theirs, Djokovic has come a long way. Tennis is extraordinarily fortunate that the careers of these three men have coincided.

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THE HINDU

DON'T SQUANDERTHE MANDATE

Guided by her brother from his exile in Dubai, Yingluck Shinawatra, current head of his party, Pheu Thai, has won a massive mandate from the people of Thailand, who gave her an absolute majority in parliament and the country its first woman Prime Minister. Demonstrating level-headedness, she has opted for a coalition government with four smaller parties. Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecom-king-turned-politician, was thrown out of power in 2006 in a military coup, and convicted in a corruption case two years later. Although there are apprehensions that he has a remote control in hand, it would be unfair to pre-judge the political course Ms Yingluck is going to take. During her election campaign, she promised to put an end to the economic woes of the country and bring about reconciliation in a divided society. The question now is whether she will stick to her poll promises or, emboldened by the scale of her party's victory, overstep her mandate and try and bring back her brother from exile by offering him some kind of amnesty.

While the vote for Pheu Thai and Ms Yingluck could very well be described as a decisive endorsement of Mr. Thaksin himself, it will need a lot of tact and diplomacy from the incoming Prime Minister to deal with the meddlesome military, the opposition, the judiciary, and the monarch to stabilise the national situation. Political adventurism is the last thing Thailand needs at this moment. Its economy is in poor shape. The price of Thai rice, a major export commodity, has fallen sharply in recent months, and the currency, the Baht, remains weak. The new government needs to concentrate on these bread-and-butter issues instead of working on legislation or political diplomacy to bring Mr. Thaksin back from exile. For his part, the former Prime Minister needs to restrain his overweening ambition and content himself with playing a mentor's role for now, wishing his sister and her political career well. The military must accept the people's verdict and work with the new administration to restore credibility and law and order across the kingdom. Outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did the right thing by resigning as leader of the Democrat Party and promising to play a constructive role in opposition. An element of uncertainty has been introduced by the election commission's announcement that it would investigate complaints of electoral fraud and come up with the final tally within a month. Thailand has suffered enough for want of political stability and from the incessant military coups. It is time its government, the various political parties, the military, and other institutions of state gave democracy a real chance to do well.

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THE HINDU

MYANMAR: CHALLENGES AND WAY FORWARD

RAJIV BHATIA

As a neighbour of immense relevance to our nation, Myanmar deserves constant attention. Elections held last November, followed by the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, triggered extensive media coverage. In recent months, however, attention has dipped due to paucity of information on the emerging change in Myanmar.

In the above context came an invitation to participate in an international seminar, 'Myanmar and the International Community — The Way Forward,' the first of its kind in Yangon after the formation of the new government, in March. Hosted in end June by Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the German foundation, FES, the event proved worthwhile. Myanmar's internal politics — the launch of the new Constitution, swearing in of a new President and the Cabinet, convening of Parliament and regional Assemblies, and the assumption of office by Chief Ministers in provinces — was discussed more on the sidelines. The condemnation of elections as "neither free nor fair" by a powerful and vocal section of the international community divided analysts into two broad camps — those who believed that 'nothing has changed' and those who argued that 'much has changed.' But gradually, a more credible approach emerged favouring the view that 'something has changed.'

Strategists of the Tatmadaw (military), who conceived the seven-point roadmap to democracy in 2003, planned to introduce a guided form of democracy. The regime's spokesmen made it clear that elections would be conducted, keeping in view past mistakes. They were determined not to let 1990 be repeated when free elections resulted in a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD). Limited democracy is what has now been ushered in. By misreading the regime's intentions and actions, sections of the international media created the impression that real democracy was on its way. Expectedly enough, when this did not come about, they began denigrating Myanmar's rulers for their failure to deliver what they had never promised. Many in Myanmar believe that political change, however imperfect, is better than direct military rule.

But what about the political forces which have been excluded from the process of change: pro-democracy movement led by Ms Suu Kyi, her party NLD, its Myanmar supporters living abroad and their powerful allies in the West? This coalition has fundamental objections to the new Constitution and its manifest pro-military bias. It has demanded a broader dialogue involving ethnic minorities, and the immediate release of all political prisoners.

No one I spoke to in Yangon doubted the popularity and charisma of 'The Lady' — she is stuck with that phrase even now — but few believed that she wanted confrontation or could obtain political power through dialogue. Many regretted that Myanmar was missing another historic opportunity to secure a national reconciliation through a decisive move towards inclusive governance.

President Thein Sein's reform agenda includes national reconciliation but his plate is full of pressing challenges. He is likely to focus on the economy and re-connecting with the world. Therefore, Myanmar is likely to move on, with the two principal protagonists watching closely from the sidelines: the previous regime's 'strong man' Senior General Than Shwe is not quite out yet, and the heroine residing in people's hearts, Ms Suu Kyi, is clearly not in.

The participants broadly agreed that the top priority now was the economy. The previous SPDC government's publicity machine spent much energy convincing people that 'development' was its major achievement but participants recalled, with amazement, how a recent seminar under official patronage had focussed on poverty alleviation, conceding the critics' view that the country suffered from widespread poverty and deprivation.

'Market economy' is the new mantra in Myanmar but, as a former top official argued, there was little clarity or consensus about the scope and sequencing of reforms relating to the budget, monetary policy, exchange rate unification and financial sector. Another former official presented a hard-hitting diagnosis of what ailed the agriculture sector.

The seminar also explored the possibilities of a change in the country's external relations. Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin stressed in his inaugural statement that Myanmar had turned "a new chapter in its history." The country, he asserted, was set to move towards realising the agenda of reforms spelt out in the March 30 speech of President Thein Sein. The government planned to introduce market economy and conduct a foreign policy based on Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence.

Myanmar's foreign policy framework has been anchored on three pillars: Asia, European Union and the United States. Much of the substantive relationship has been with Asians — Asean, China and India. Surprisingly, the fourth Asian partner, Japan, was conspicuous by its absence at the seminar; nevertheless, it reflected Asian primacy.

Presenting the Asean perspective, a Singapore academic leader noted: "Change has occurred, though in the eyes of some it might seem glacial." He highlighted the importance of forming provincial assemblies designed to give representation to the ethnic minorities, but this was "a first step in a thousand miles journey." He made three other significant points.

First, Asean was committed to non-interference in the internal affairs of member-states, but this did not prevent the association from expressing "concerns, reservations or even criticism when necessary, using quiet diplomacy" on the internal situation, including in Myanmar. Second, he referred to the controversy on Myanmar's bid to chair the 2014 Asean Summit, suggesting that an Asean member-state should be allowed to assume the Chairmanship "if it feels that it has the political will and organisational capacity to undertake that responsibility." Third, he advocated "a regional initiative" to help Myanmar build capacities for change and pointed to Asean's ability to assist in re-structuring the economy, education, rural development, and in strengthening institutions.

The presentation on China-Myanmar relations was along predictable lines. The two countries enjoyed a "fraternal" relationship. It had been transformed into "a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership," following the visit to China by President Thein Sein — his first to a foreign country — in May. The two countries agreed to enhance cooperation in border management and secure greater coordination in dealing with the U.N. and Asean. Thein Sein called the equation with China "the closest and most important diplomatic relationship."

While delineating the profile of India-Myanmar relations, I briefly referred to their rich history from the ancient times through the colonial period to the post-independence era. A mention was made of India's endeavours to balance its commitment to democratic values with the need to protect its national interests. I stressed on two critical points. India's Myanmar policy has been facing criticism from the idealists' camp which blames New Delhi for abandoning the cause of democracy as well as from others who express a rising concern about Myanmar's growing dependence on China. Therefore, our relations are bound to be affected by what the new Myanmar government does in future.

In the presentation on Myanmar's relations with China and India, a senior Myanmar official emphasised that her country needed cooperative relations with both neighbours, for its security in the border regions and its national development.

Myanmar's relations with the EU and the U.S. were under severe stress in the past two decades as sanctions were imposed in the light of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement, violation of human rights and imprisonment of Ms Suu Kyi. The EU's policy could change now. This subtle signal was conveyed by European panellists, both serving officials. They suggested that the new government consider releasing political prisoners, which would have a dramatic impact. The Myanmar panellist stressed the need for lifting the sanctions and observed that it would be in mutual interest to strengthen the Myanmar-EU relations, allowing Myanmar access to European capital and technology.

As for the U.S., although the Obama administration undertook a policy review and opened a dialogue with the previous regime, it is very cautious. U.S. scholars at the seminar voiced their opposition to sanctions but explained that the President would have to spend huge political capital to ensure their withdrawal as Ms Suu Kyi enjoyed immense support in Congress. One of them said she had been 'mentioned' 1598 times in Congressional records.

In the final session, a well-known British expert called on the international community to recognise that change was on its way in Myanmar, which needed suitable response.

A young Myanmar scholar, known both for his impressive academic attainments and lineage, underlined that Myanmar faced "multiple watersheds." He expressed the hope that a pragmatic and flexible approach would be adopted by all concerned. On this would depend where Myanmar — the region's "black swan" — would be in 2050.

I returned with a clear impression that Myanmar is passing through a complex transition: the old era of the State Peace and Development Council rule has ended and the new era of 'civilian' rule, with all its imperfections, has begun.

(The author is a former ambassador to Myanmar.)

The old era of military regime has ended

and the new era of 'civilian' rule, with all its imperfections, has begun in Myanmar.

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THE HINDU

THE KILLING OF A CRIME REPORTER

PRAVEEN SWAMI

Less than four weeks after a mafia hit team shot dead investigative journalist Jyotirmoy Dey, investigators are claiming to have in their custody the eight men who brought about his death on a rain-splattered road in Mumbai.

The men, police say, were paid by Rajendra "Chhota Rajan" Nikhalje, the fugitive East Asia-based ganglord, to murder Dey. But about why those men were paid to assassinate Dey, or the circumstances that led up to the killing, there are still no answers.

Emerging evidence, though, suggests that the killing had little to do with Dey's work: he kept no notes or tapes which suggest he was working on a life-threatening exposé; asked no questions of long standing colleagues and friends in the police force; mentioned nothing to his editors.

The investigation has, instead, begun to raise an uncomfortable question: has the toxic shroud that Mumbai's organised crime cartels have cast over the city's police and politics also tainted its press?

Early on June 7, police say, Vinod Goverdhan Asrani called Dey to request a meeting. The two men sat down that that evening, along with local television reporter Sanjay Prabhakar, at the Uma Palace, a nondescript bar in Mulund.

The Mumbai Police allege Mr. Asrani is among Rajan's key confidantes, funnelling proceeds from extortion and cricket betting into construction projects. In 2005, he was arrested on organised crime charges along with Sujata Rajan, the mafia baron's wife. The prosecution, however, failed to stand judicial scrutiny.

An article

Mr. Asrani, investigators say, claims he conveyed a request from Rajan not to write articles hostile to his mafia — an account broadly corroborated by Mr. Prabhakar. Bar staff do not recall any acrimony, but there is no independent account of the meeting; Dey does not appear to have kept notes.

The article in question had appeared on June 2, painting a picture of a mafia in decay. Large numbers of Rajan's lieutenants, Dey had written, had "gone on pilgrimage," fearing attacks by his Karachi-based rival, "Chhota" Shakeel Ahmad Babu.

In the machismo world of Mumbai's gangsters, the charge of cowardice is the deepest possible insult — in this case, even betrayal, because Dey's work had historically cast Rajan as a patriot, fighting off the Inter-Services Intelligence backed Karachi mafias which had carried out the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai.

For reasons that aren't clear, Dey never discussed what others might have seen as a threat with friends or colleagues. It is entirely possible he didn't see it as one.

Police say a man named Rohit Joseph — Satish Kalia to those who didn't know him — was also sitting in the Uma Bar, waiting to see what the man he would kill with a .32 automatic looked like. The hit is alleged to have been arranged by D.K. Rao, Rajan's principal lieutenant in Mumbai.

There's little reason to believe, though, that the article in itself would have been the cause of Dey's murder. Mumbai journalists have often gone considerably further in criticising mafia figures.Asian Age Husain Zaidi's racy "Mafia Queens of Mumbai," for example, records that Shakeel had an affair with an incarcerated colleague's wife.

London visit

Part of the answer might lie in a somewhat mysterious visit Dey made to London on April 27. The holiday was booked through Raj Travels, a Mumbai tour operator which specialises in package holidays to families and couples. Dey travelled alone; others on the tour, interviewed by the Mumbai Police, have said he kept to himself.

No one knows quite why he went: even the young woman journalist he had become involved with as his marriage disintegrated, has told investigators he offered her no explanation.

Inside the Rajan gang, though, there was speculation that Dey had used the trip to speak with Iqbal Mirchi, a 1993 bombings fugitive who has successfully battled Indian extradition proceedings for years. Mr. Mirchi was granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom in 2001 — even though his name figures on a United States government list of key global narcotics traffickers.

No evidence to support these rumours has emerged: if Dey did speak to Mr. Mirchi, he didn't do so either from his cellphone.

But the unexplained visit, investigators speculate, likely set alarm bells ringing in the Rajan gang. Ever since he was almost assassinated in Bangkok back in 2001, by a Shakeel hit-team member posing as a pizza delivery boy, Rajan's paranoia has been legendary.

His life

Efforts to uncover the truth have till now been frustrated by the extraordinary opacity of Dey's life. "He was a secretive man," says a colleague who worked with him at theIndian Express. "Each time I'd call him, he'd hang up and call back from a landline. I didn't even know who he was married to or where he lived, until the day of his cremation."

Dharmesh Thakkar, among his closest colleagues, concurs. "He was my mentor," Mr. Thakkar said, "but he'd never tell me who he'd been meeting, or what he was working on. That's just not how he was."

Fresh out of a job at Hindustan Lever, Dey began working atMid-Day in 1994. He had earlier been an occasional contributor to theAfternoon Despatch and Courier, writing up accounts of his expeditions into the Himalayas.

His journalistic work, mainly on the sex industry in Mumbai's Kamatipura area, earned him a job at theIndian Express. "I taught him crime reporting," recalls Mr. Zaidi, "and he taught me how to lift weights."

Dey built his career as a crime reporter as part of a small group of journalists admitted to the inner circle of Pradeep Sharma and Daya Nayak, two of the Mumbai Police's so-called "encounter specialists."

Both men, were dismissed from service on charges related to corruption and organised crime links — but have won reinstatement after protracted legal battles, though other cases are still pending.

The two men, prosecutors allege, worked closely with Rajan, profiting in the process. In 2002, though, the relationship between Mr. Sharma and the Rajan gang fell apart after the execution of mafia money launderer Omprakash Singh — allegedly after he failed to pay back Rajan several million rupees of drug money.

There is no evidence to bear out media allegations that Dey profited from his contacts. The home he purchased in Mumbai's upscale Powai area was part-paid for with a loan which does not appear to be consistent with its full market value. However, property transactions in Mumbai are routinely undervalued for tax purposes, and Dey could well have saved enough to make the purchase legitimately.

Fairly or otherwise, though, Dey came to be identified as part of Mr. Sharma's caucus — possibly fuelling Rajan's fears that he, too, had defected to the other side.

Last week, a man claiming to be Rajan himself called up NDTV, offered something of an explanation. Dey, he said, had invited him to the Philippines, where the journalist was due to make a visit at the invitation of that country's tourism board. The man claimed to have learned through underworld sources that he was being lured into a trap, set up by his Karachi opponents.

No one, however, can independently corroborate how, or even if, Dey's relationship with Rajan deteriorated. Dey's estranged wife, Shubha Sharma, declined to be interviewed for this article She had earlier told reporters, however, that she had no knowledge of Dey's affairs.

"You're asking me to guess," says a senior officer on the murder investigation, "so here's my guess: I think once the rumour got around that Mr. Dey was double-crossing Rajan, he wouldn't have done a lot of cross-checking."

Has the toxic shroud cast by Mumbai's organised crime cartels over the city tainted the press also?

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THE ASIAN AGE

LOKPAL: LET PARTIES REFLECT, TAKE CHARGE

After about three months of engaging alone with a particular activist group on the proposed Lokpal Bill, the government was able to bring other political parties into the frame on Sunday. It must derive some satisfaction from this, as it is now evident that the Anna Hazare group has been effectively sidelined.

While the meeting of political parties called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resolved to introduce an "effective and strong" legislation, clearly a loose formulation that will permit debate and discussion within the political system, the full scope of this will no doubt be revealed during negotiations between parties in Parliament during the Monsoon Session. But one thing is certain: the legislation will be shaped in keeping with "established parliamentary procedures". Whimsical ideas from extraneous sources, such as individual civil society bodies, are clearly out. This is necessarily a good thing.
Whatever the merits of particular suggestions by the Hazare group, its recommendations on the whole appeared quirky. To give one example, it wanted one per cent of GDP — around `20,000 crores — dedicated to servicing the Lokpal institution, so sweeping was the ambit of the ombudsman as visualised by this particular civil society group. The Hazare group gave the impression of being sanctimonious as they sought to dictate ideas that appeared to be in conflict with the constitutional order. Many people, including some with long years of governmental experience, began to worry about the import of the totality of the Hazare group's suggestions. To some, these appeared directed towards installing a council of guardians outside the country's constitutional system, which then naturally begged the question — "Who will guard the guardians?" — as tellingly observed by jurist Fali Nariman in an interview to this newspaper. Others wondered if the whole idea did not amount to setting up just one more state authority — one that could challenge the Prime Minister outside of Parliament and potentially unleash political instability — when the real malaise in the system is one of insufficient enforcement and implementation of laws and rules that have indeed been created after some thought. If only these are paid due attention, corruption, especially in high places, can be fairly effectively countered.
Mr Hazare is committed to going on yet another hungerstrike if a Lokpal Bill to his taste is not introduced in Parliament by mid-August. But this time around his non-violent coercion might not find the kind of echo that his first protest sit-in did. Various political parties will no doubt mount such criticisms of the government as might suit them, but none of them like the idea of playing second fiddle to civil society groups when it comes to lawmaking, which is the exclusive preserve of the legislatures. They could quite rightly argue that the consultation process with civil society — though with just one set of activists — was exhaustive, and should now be allowed to rest.
The political parties and their representatives in Parliament must now wrestle with basic questions. Some of these are: Why a Lokpal at all if we already have enough laws to vanquish corruption? What specific gaps will such an institution plug? If the institution is to be established, should it be a statutory body or a constitutional one? Once these are answered satisfactorily, then the parties will have to contend with the issue which was the bone of contention between the Hazare group and the government representatives on the joint drafting committee: should the Prime Minister be subjected to scrutiny by the Lokpal? The country has been on a rollercoaster ever since Mr Hazare agitated the waters. It is now time for purposeful reflection.

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THE ASIAN AGE

GAMESMANSHIP

ASHOK MALIK

At his now-famous interaction with a quintet of editors this past week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a few somewhat strange remarks about the Commonwealth Games of 2010 and the serial scandals that preceded it. In essence, he had two contentious points.

First, Dr Singh alleged Mani Shankar Aiyar, as Union sports minister, had written to him "on purely ideological grounds… (and) was opposed to spending that much money on hosting" the Games. Mr Aiyar had not made any specific allegations against the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee or its chief, Suresh Kalmadi. "He (Mr Aiyar) did not bring to me anything wrong that was being done", Dr Singh said.
Second, Dr Singh suggested his hands were tied by the institutional autonomy Mr Kalmadi enjoyed. For this he blamed the National Democratic Alliance government, which was in office till 2004: "Kalmadi was there because he was the president of the Indian Olympic Association. The agreement to host the CWG was signed in the year 2003 when the previous government was in power".
All the quotes above have been taken from the transcript released by the Prime Minister's Office and placed on its website. Do they represent the truth and nothing but the truth, or do they reflect only a selective truth?
To understand that one has to go back to the organisational structure of the Commonwealth Games. Under the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), national bodies such as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) need to be free of government interference. These are civil society institutions and cannot be run by government ministers and bureaucrats by fiat.
To maintain the integrity of the IOA is, however, different from putting together a framework to deliver a successful Commonwealth Games. This is not unique to India. In London, preparation for and execution of the 2012 Olympic Games is the mandate of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG). The British Olympic Association (BOA) is a stakeholder in LOCOG. Its chairperson and chief executive are members of the LOCOG board. Even so the two, LOCOG and BOA, are institutionally distinct.
In 2003, the Government of India did make some commitments to the CGF. It agreed to provide sovereign guarantees and underwrite the Games in diplomatic and financial terms, should the Organising Committee (OC) so require. This again is not unusual. A big sports event of this nature has to have a substantial host government buy-in. For instance, only a national government can grant visas and provide security cover.
Take another example. Given New Delhi's traffic, the agreement with the CGF agreed to set aside one lane on the city's roads for travel of athletes and Games officials. Obviously the IOA or the prospective OC could not do this. They had no authority over Delhi police. As such, the government had to make that promise.
So far so good: now where did the OC come in? The OC was meant to ensure the requisite infrastructure was ready for the Games, the equipment was in place, the caterers were working in the kitchens, the signage and stopwatches had been acquired. It was then expected to conduct the Games as an event-management entity.
Of course, it would need to consult the IOA since this was a sporting event. The sports element — as opposed to, say, hiring caterers or buying computers for the media centre — was the expertise of the IOA.
Much of the money for the OC's budget was coming from the Government of India. Since this was use of public funds, a degree of public oversight of the OC's functioning was appropriate.
It was originally envisaged that the Prime Minister would be chairperson of the OC and the IOA president would be deputy chairperson. When he came to 7 Race Course Road in 2004, Dr Singh brushed aside this idea. Fair enough, the Prime Minister is a busy man and has better things to do than supervise the Commonwealth Games. Even so, quite astonishingly, Dr Singh did not nominate another minister, public servant or government representative for the job. By default, Mr Kalmadi became OC chairperson.
So consider this, the government was funding the OC but did not bother to place somebody who would monitor its interest at the top of the OC hierarchy. In 1982, the Asian Games Special Organising Committee was headed by Buta Singh, then a Union minister. He was not president of the IOA but did consult the IOA.
It is crucial to understand Mr Kalmadi had every right to autonomy as IOA president. He did not have every right to autonomy as OC chairperson. The IOA is a perennial institution dedicated to promoting the Olympic movement in India. The OC was a project management and delivery vehicle, no more. It was ad hoc and coterminous with the Games.
The OC had a general body comprising over 450 people. Besides this, it had 1,600 employees. These people were paid salaries using grants given by the Government of India. How were they being hired? What were their salaries? The government had a right to know. The Olympic Charter did not prevent the government from asking these questions. Neither did the agreement signed with the CGF in the tenure of the NDA government.
It is understood two Union sports ministers — Mr Aiyar and his successor, M.S. Gill — urged Prime Minister Singh to curtail Mr Kalmadi's powers and give oversight of the Games project to a wider, cross-cutting body that would straddle governmental, civic and sports-event responsibilities. It is also believed Mr Kalmadi's friends and co-conspirators in the CGF somehow persuaded Dr Singh that this would be unfair. They are supposed to have put forward the spurious argument that the OC's autonomy needed to be preserved because it was linked to the IOA's autonomy.
Some of Mr Aiyar's letters to the Prime Minister are now in the public domain. Perhaps he and Mr Gill should be called upon to clarify exactly what they told the Prime Minister and when. It is in Dr Singh's interest to push them in this direction.

The author can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

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THE ASIAN AGE

PM & A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTIES

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

Opinion is divided on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refurbished his image after addressing television editors on February 16 and his session with five senior editors from the print media on June 29. While there are some who argue that Dr Singh came out of the media interactions appearing more sincere and in complete

charge, others contend that he ended up raising more doubts about the current state of cleanliness of his government.
Now in his eighth year as head of the world's largest democracy, nobody questions Dr Singh's personal integrity. But that's no longer the germane issue. He may be squeaky clean but under his watch the corrupt became brazen and corruption grew to alarming proportions. For example, in the second generation (2G) spectrum scam, Dr Singh is being perceived to have turned a blind eye to what was happening around him for three long years.
His explanation that he did not deem it necessary to interfere in the policies and procedures that were followed (while allocating scarce spectrum on a first-come-first-served basis) is not convincing. The analogy that he drew to justify why spectrum had been deliberately under-priced — by drawing comparisons with subsidies on foodgrain, fertilisers and kerosene — did not go down very well with many. And his contention that former Union communications and information technology minister Andimuthu Raja's appointment for a second term was because of the compulsions of coalition politics has arguably not bolstered his image as a person in command over a fractious, multi-party coalition government.
After his June 29 meeting with editors from the print media, there were a few avoidable goofs. If indeed Dr Singh made a few statements on Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh that were supposed to be off the record, there is no reason why these statements should have appeared on his official website (even for a brief while). This kind of bureaucratic inefficiency or negligence is difficult to pardon, even if one is charitable (in this day and age of voice-recognition software) about the many hours it took for the transcript of the press conference to enter the public domain.
One aspect, did, however, come through rather loud and clear. Dr Singh is clearly unsettled by the recent findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. This was evident from what he said right upfront in his opening remarks before questions were put to him. Here's an excerpt: "We live in a world of uncertainty and ex-post, whether it is the CAG, whether it is a Parliamentary Committee then they analyse post-facto. They have a lot more facts that were not available to those who took the decision. I am not saying that it is not possible that some people may deliberately do wrong things, but in many cases it would turn out in that sort of a scenario it is very difficult to operate. So we must create in this country an environment in which governments, ministers and civil servants will not be discouraged from taking decisions in the national interest when all facts are not known; they will never be known. We take decisions in a world of uncertainty and that's the perspective I think Parliament, our CAG and our media must adopt if this nation is to move forward".
On the draft CAG report on how the government allegedly favoured Reliance Industries, among other companies, while putting together a contract to extract natural gas found in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin, Dr Singh said, "Well, I think the CAG also leaks. It is not the function of the CAG… it has never been the case that the CAG has held a press conference as the present CAG has done. But nobody is commenting on all this. It is not right for the CAG to go into issues that are not their concern; it is not the CAG's business to comment on policy issues. I think they should limit themselves to the mandate given under the Constitution. We are now a permissive society. I think if the media can get away with murder so can the CAG".
These remarks are, in the humble opinion of this correspondent, completely unwarranted. First, there is a 2005 judgment of the Madras high court upholding the right of the CAG and its functionaries to brief the media on the contents of reports presented either in Parliament or in state legislatures. Secondly, it was not the CAG himself (Vinod Rai) but his deputy (Rekha Gupta) who briefed the media on November 16 last year — the day the CAG's report on the 2G spectrum scam was tabled in Parliament and a day before Mr Raja was forced to put in his papers, kicking and screaming. In the past too, officials from the CAG's office have formally briefed journalists.
Thirdly — and this is the most substantive point — it cannot be Dr Singh's claim that the CAG should keep mum if a policy of the government results in a huge loss to the exchequer. A constitutional authority like the CAG cannot surely remain silent if a so-called government policy is deliberately twisted out of shape to favour a select group of firms.
In all honesty, one is far from convinced that the scams relating to allocation of 2G spectrum and KG gas were on account of decisions taken without adequate information — they seem to clearly be a result of deliberate dereliction of duty by rogue elements in the government.
Dr Singh is also being a tad economical with the truth when he states that the letters that had been written to him on excess expenditure being incurred on the Commonwealth Games by former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar were a consequence of the latter's "ideological opposition" to "so much money" being spent on the Games.
Yes, Indian society has indeed become permissive, but not so much on account of the media and the CAG. Believing that would be running away from reality.

The author is an educator and commentator

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THE ASIAN AGE

THE IDEOLOGY BOGEY

PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

Call someone ideological, and you have effectively done him/her in. In today's popular perception, an ideological person does not have an argument. He or she only carries baggage — mostly old, mostly junk — and therefore can be ignored. The latest to get the rap for being ideological is Mani Shankar Aiyar, the former sports minister.

Apparently, in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games (CWG), Mr Aiyar shot off a great many missives seeking to draw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attention to the extravagance and expenses associated with the event. Dr Singh did not quite see things the same way, and in his recent powwow with editors, described the former sports minister's opposition to the CWG as "purely ideological". Never mind that Mr Aiyar is an economics topper from Delhi University, did a Tripos in the subject at Cambridge and could possibly have been making an economic argument against the Games in addition to whatever ideological positions he is charged with. Perhaps we have not heard the end of the story, and one eagerly awaits a witty Aiyarism on the subject.
There is a takeaway lesson here that is relevant to one of the prickliest issues of the day — land acquisition for infrastructure and industry. India needs industry and infrastructure. Both need sizeable tracts of land. However, in a country where most people still live off farming, land continues to be a hugely sensitive issue. It is not only its emotive value. Where there is no social security, people do not easily give up their land, often the only fixed asset they have, if they feel they are not getting a fair compensation. Then, there are issues of livelihood. In tribal areas, where property titles are hazy, it gets more complicated. Anyone cataloguing these issues is often accused of being ideological. That label ends the argument and obscures the practical aspects of the issue. These aspects are now critical.
At this moment, land disputes and protests by affected communities have stalled some of the country's biggest infrastructure projects, putting a big question mark on the future of economic growth, specifically foreign investment. Land is a state subject. Different states have different land-acquisition policies. The Centre is working on a new bill on the issue that will hopefully make things better.
Meanwhile, a furious debate rages on how best to work out compensation for the project-displaced people. The emphasis, so far, has been on how much money should be paid to people whose land is being acquired and how corporates mired in land acquisition troubles are taking a hit. To get things moving, an equally lively discourse is needed on another key question: How should adverse consequences of development projects be addressed?
Till the 1980s, most policymakers and planners across the world believed that the negative aspects of development-induced displacement were far outweighed by the positive side, and that some people would have to make sacrifices for the long-term greater good. Typically, resettlement programmes meant statutory monetary compensation for land acquired for the project. In some instances, development of the resettlement site was also part of the package. But few policymakers lost sleep worrying about the future of the communities likely to be displaced by infrastructure projects.
The situation started changing in the 1990s. The trigger was the growing chorus of protests in several countries where populations had been forced to move. Policymakers were forced to recognise that insufficient attention to resettlement and rehabilitation of affected communities does not pay in the long run. Academia, public interest groups, activists of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media started debating the pros and cons of development-induced displacement. This led to a growing realisation that fair compensation to the project-affected people for the loss of their land and livelihood meant not just money but also help to rebuild homes and communities and re-establish businesses.
Within Asia, among the first to accept these shifts in the policy discourse were bankers and donor agencies who gave money to fund infrastructure — notably the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (now called the Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA).
A good example of how a developing country can tackle the twin pressures of infrastructure needs and the interests of communities affected by such projects comes from neighbouring Sri Lanka. In 2001, the island nation adopted a landmark policy, the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy (NIRP). An innovative initiative I saw on the outskirts of Colombo a few years ago — Lunawa Environment Improvement and Community Development Project (LEI&CDP) — offers some ideas on how to translate policy into practice. It was originally conceived as an engineering solution to problems caused by regular flooding in the Lunawa catchment area. But its three key backers — the Sri Lankan government, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme incorporated a strong community-development component in the project design.
LEI&CDP pioneered the use of NGOs to "sell" a package of interventions to communities who were going to be affected by the project to erase the distrust they traditionally harboured towards government agencies. NGO representatives made door-to-door visits to boost the community's confidence and goodwill towards the project, to reduce fears about displacement in the early days and help formulate the entitlement packages.
Many families who had lived in shanties previously, who had to move to make way for the project, now own their own homes in the resettlement sites. Everyone, including squatters, now have bank accounts that they acquired when the compensation amounts had to be deposited. When affected families were being resettled in new sites, it was ensured that women were joint owners of the property and had a legal claim. One remarkable mechanism used to revitalise the displaced communities was "community contracting" — community-based organisations in the area issued "community contracts" to build drains, service roads, community centres, etc. within the resettlement sites and others parts of the project area. In many cases, individuals and families have become much richer by tapping into these opportunities.
As India finalises a new land-acquisition deal, it is good to draw a lesson or two from the Lunawa project. Investing time and resources in the preparatory phase pays. When there is a trust deficit, NGO partners can mediate between affected communities, the project team and local authorities. None of this reflects an "ideological" position. It is intensely practical.

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

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

THE ROOTS OF CULTURE

 

A galaxy of Islamic scholars from various parts of the country and the state, besides local academia and Mirwaizs of Kashmir, made a gala assembly in the auditorium of Kashmir University to emulate the achievements of celebrated spiritualists and Sufis or Kashmir fame. The centre of attraction was the Ambassador of Tajikistan, not only as an official representative at the private occasion, but more particularly one claiming to be the descendant of the house of great Central Asian mystic, Sayyid Ali Hamadani of Khatlan in Tajikistan, who, as a zealous missionary, brought Islam and Central Asian brand of Sufism to Kashmir Valley towards the last quarter of 15th century. For the people of the valley, Sayyid Ali, popularly known as Amir-e Kabir and Shah-e-Hamadan (he originally belonged to Hamadan, Ecbatana of the Greeks, in western Iran) holds a place of great respect. Although no fewer than four Sufi orders flourished in Kashmir after the visit of Amir-e Kabir, yet his order known as Hamadaniyeh order always remained in the lead. In Srinagar, he established his headquarters at the present Shah-e Hamadan Mosque in Fateh Kadal, which the local Hindus believe was originally the temple of Kali. It was from a platform built at the site that Amir-e Kabir delivered sermons and inspired the masses of people with the teachings of the new faith.
Shah-e Hamadan's Sufi teachings received big response from the local population perhaps for the reason that Kashmir Rishism or sainthood of the days of long rule of Hindu Rajas had become deeply embedded in the life style of the people. They found its reverberations in the new avatar as well. This led to a very interesting social phenomenon in which rishis and mystics with Hindu grounding dovetailed their mystic perceptions to equally humanistic and spiritualistic Sufi teachings. The synthesis catalyzed the fusion of cultures which was to become a peculiarity of Kashmirian ethos. This is how cultural synthesizing shapes and helps people live in harmony and believe in peaceful coexistence among people of different faiths and ideologies. As Sufism spread among the people, and Sufi orders gained popularity and public acceptance, many shrines and dargahs sprang all over Kashmir which preserved relics of great saints and Sufis. These perpetuated through centuries with believers paying intermittent obeisance at these shrines, seeking blessings of the saints and trusting them as their guides and protectors against evil. This phenomenon became entrenched to the extent that families and tribes and clans assigned themselves to one or the other saint. Their biographies were written and manqabat or encomiums composed. People received inspiration and sought cure to their problems in reminiscing the feats and miracles of their patron- saints. But unfortunately, with the rise of religious extremism in the shape of Wahhabi teachings in 1980s, Sufism as a way of life for the Muslims in Kashmir and their practice of shrine visiting came under sever criticism. Fanatics called it aberration and anti-Islamic practice. Thus when militancy surfaced in Kashmir two decades ago, its social agenda was to denounce shrine worship and Sufi practices. An ordinary Kashmiri was caught on the horns of dilemma, as to which practices were allowed and which were not. Since on the part of hardliners the gun was the arbiter, the practitioners of Sufi ways and shrine-goers had to lie low. Now that religious extremism has been almost rejected by the masses of people in Kashmir, it is in fitness of things that scholars, divines, thinkers and sociologists have come together to re-shape the thinking of younger generations and exhort them to be reverential towards the saints and Sufis of Kashmir. It is a historical fact that since Sufism has come to Kashmir through the instrumentality of the Central Asians (Turkistanis in olden days); there should be the opportunity of re-establishing links between the Kashmiris and Central Asian peoples. If air service between Tajikistan and Srinagar, as hoped by the Tajik Ambassador in this conclave of ulema at Srinagar becomes a reality, it will be of immense happiness to the people of the valley. They would visit the places of celebrated saints, mix with co-believers in vast Central Asia, and see for themselves the fine combination of modernity and tradition with the people in Central Asia. It would surely have healthy impact on the life style of people in Kashmir particularly the womenfolk when they will find their Central Asian counterparts hundred per cent literate and very well informed on world situation. Looked at from that angle, the convention of the ulema in Srinagar can be called a historical event that will have positive impact on the situation in the region.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

THE MESS OF YATRA

 

Despite elaborate arrangements and determined efforts to ensure the security and comfort of the pilgrims to the holy cave, a mess has ensued as the rush for darshan increased beyond expectation. Eyebrow is raised on the planners of yatra and the Shrine Board functionaries for violating the considered recommendation of Nitish Gupta in the context of making the pilgrimage hassle free. One of the important recommendations was that not more than 5,000 pilgrims should be allowed to visit the holy cave in one day. But actually in the present case the government has allowed 20,000 pilgrims to visit the cave. This has caused much confusion among the authorities as well as the pilgrims. Following the chaos at the holy cave, the authorities, in a state of helplessness ordered closure of traffic for the pilgrims and as a result thousands of pilgrims and vehicles remain stranded all along the Jammu-Srinagar-Baltal Highway. Lack of adequate accommodation and catering service has further intensified the plight of the aspirant pilgrims. Hundreds of them are seen squatting by the roadside under the shade of a tree. This is a mess of the whole affair. Essentially this chaotic condition has been caused by reducing the duration of the pilgrimage. Most of the pilgrims who did visit the lingam said that they were not allowed to be in the cave and have a look for more than ten seconds. We fail to understand why the recommendations of Nitish Gupta report have not been observed and implemented in strict sense of the term. This question shall have to be opened for a meaningful debate if the pilgrimage to the holy cave is to be made really hassle free in future.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

GURU HARGOBIND: THE 6TH NANAK

BY INDER JEET S. 'PRINCE'

 

The ever-increasing popularity of Sikhism frightened the Mughal rulers of those times. Sikhism had become a mass movement. The Mughal rulers found it difficult to tolerate the growth of Sikhism and its popularity. Even some Muslims who enjoyed privileged positions in states ruled by Muslim rulers abandoned those privileges in order to embrace Sikhism. The reaction of these developments is found in the diary of Emperor Jahangir who wrote as under, "For a long time I wanted to close this shop of falsehood (the Sikh preaching centre) because not only Hindus but also unwary Muslims were becoming disciples of Arjun Dev Ji. I, therefore ordered the killing of the Guru."
It may be mentioned here that Mian Mir, a known Muslim saint had become a disciple of Guru Arjun Dev Ji and laid the foundation stone of Harmandir Sahib.
Guru Arjun Dev Ji, was summoned to Lahore where he was tortured to death on May 30, 1606.
Guru Arjun Dev Ji, however had nominated his son, Guru Hargobind Ji as his successor before leaving for Lahore. . Guru Hargobind Ji was merely 11 years old when the mantle of Guru - dom fell on his young shoulders.
The 6th Nanak, Guru Hargobind Ji, put on two swords, one symbolizing 'Piri' or his religious guidance and the other symbolizing 'Miri' or his political guidance.
Guru Ji laid the foundation of Akal Takht, in front of Harmandir Sahib, as a seat to oversee the political welfare of the down-trodden. He invited young men to come to Amritsar with horses and arms to be trained to protect their faith in times of emergency. Painde Khan a Muslim, was one of the commanders of the Guru's defence forces.
Guru Ji's childhood was full of accidents and trials. His uncle Prithichand twice attempted to kill him, once by sending a cobra and 2nd time through a professional poisoner, but fortunately the Guru did not come to any harm. He suffered from small - pox and recovered after a serious illness.
The transformation of Sikhism from a holy and peaceful group into a military and war like community began soon after the installation of Guru Hargobind as the 6th Guru. He was a versatile leader a saint as well as a warrior. He wanted to challenge the oppression and to inculcate courage and heroism in his followers. He enlisted his followers in his military service. According to Cunningham, he had 800 horses, 300 horsemen and 60 artillery - men trained in the art of warfare.
A change had taken place in the character of Guru-dom on account of the force of circumstances. It had thus, become both religious and militant. The Sikhs had earned popularity for their courage. The martyrdom of Guru Arjun was bearing fruit, because the Sikhs now undertook the task of liberating the masses from tyranny and oppression. Sikhs had earned popularity for their courage. They had thrown a challenge to the Mughal power and opposed a cruel and corrupt administration.
Emperor Jehangir had developed friendly relations with Guru Hargobind Ji. However, at one stage, he was misguided by his henchmen. Jehangir, thus, had Guru Ji imprisoned in Gwalior fort. After the lapse of a long period Jahangir realized his foolishness and ordered that Guru Ji, be released. Guru Ji, however, refused to leave the jail till 52 other royal prisoners were released. At Guru Ji's insistence, all the prisoners were set free.The Guru was called "Bandhichhor" or the holy liberator.
Jahangir handed over Chandu Shah, the main conspirator against Sikh Guru Arjun Dev Ji, to Guru Hargobind. Chandu was dragged and paraded Ist in the streets of Delhi and then in Lahore and finally was killed by the mob in the streets of Lahore.
After Jahangir's death, Shahenshah took over the reigns of Mughal empire. It was during his rule that Guru Ji had to fight 3 main battles with Mughal army which were thrust on him and in these he was successful.
The Ist battle was due to the forcible capture of Guru's horses by the Governor of Lahore. A battle was fought at the outskirts of Amritsar in 1628. Mukhlis Khan commanding the Mughals many times the number of Sikh troops, was routed. Soon afterwards there was a skirmish with the Nizam of Jullandhar in which the latter was slain.
When Bidhi Chand retrieved the two horses of Guru Ji from the Nizam of Lahore, the latter sent an expedition. The Guru was victorious the battle of Lehra in Malwa in 1631.
The 3rd battle of the Guru Ji with the Mughal army was waged in April 1634 at Kartarpur. Painde Khan, a Commander of Guru' defence army, had quarreled with the Guru over a petty matter and had joined hands with the Mughal army. The emperor's army under the command of Painde Khan was defeated and Painde Khan was deeply wounded. Guru Ji protected him from the heat of the sun and asked him to read. 'Kalma' before breathing his last.
These victories created confidence and courage among the Sikhs. Guru Hargobind popularized the cult of the sword for purposes of defence and justice.
Guru Ji established a new centre at Kiratpur in the foothills of the Himalayas where, before dying, Guru Ji, nominated his grandson (Guru Har Rai Ji) as his successor.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

RAISING INTEREST RATES IS NO SOLUTION FOR INFLATION

BY DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN

 

Recently on June 16, 2011 the Reserve Bank once again raised Repo Rate and Reverse Repo Rate by .25 percent point. As a result Repo Rate and Reverse Repo Rate have gone up to 7.5 percent 6.5 percent respectively. As inflation continues unabated, it is feared that RBI will further raise Repo Rate and may take the same to nearly 9 percent.
RBI has increased Repo rate at least 8 times in the last financial year. In the current financial year this has been raised twice. Repo rate is the interest rate at which banks can borrow from the Reserve Bank. Reverse Repo Rate is the rate of interest applied on the funds parked by the banks with RBI. By increasing these interest rates RBI attempts to increase the cost of borrowing on the one hand and reduce availability of loanable funds. This way RBI claims that inflation can be controlled by reducing aggregate demand in the economy.
But we must understand that increase in interest rates burdens the common man by raising EMI on the loans taken earlier and also the future loans. Today common man of the middle class is already facing the burnt. In the last one decade middle class who chose to take the benefit of cheap housing loans is left in the lurch, as EMI on loans taken in yester years have gone up drastically. His condition is miserable because he has to shed a large chunk of his budget due to ever rising inflation. His savings are already nearing zero and he is forced to extend his loans further to meet this sudden increase in interest rates.
Attempts made by RBI have failed to produce any desirable results and inflation is continuing unabated. In the future also, this tight money policy is not expected to make any major dent on inflation, as the inflation is caused by some other factors which are not going to get affected by rising interest rates.
First major cause of inflation in the country is skyrocketing food prices. Prices of food grains, pulses, edible oil, fruits and vegetables are skyrocketing. This is because production of these items has not been growing in proportion to the growing population and increasing incomes. Except the past two months (due to good agricultural production), food prices have been increasing continuously in the last 3-4 years. To control food prices, interest rates hardly have any role
Second leading cause of inflation in the country is increasing prices of petroleum products. The government decontrolled the prices of petroleum products and the right to determine the prices of petroleum products, namely, petrol, diesel, etc. was given to the petroleum companies in June 2010. Prices of petroleum products have been increased by at least 9 times since then, last being hike in diesel, LPG and kerosene prices on 24th June, 2011. Just last month, petrol price was increased by rupees 5 per litre. RBI's monetary policy has no role in nullifying the effect of increase in petro prices or the cost of transportation due to this hike.
Thirdly, rising fiscal deficit is yet another reason for inflation. Inability of the government to fill this deficit by raising loans, forces it to borrow from RBI. Since April 2010, till date rupees about 1,70,000 crores worth of additional currency was printed, simply to fill this gap. There is an old theory in economics, according to which if stock of money increases, inflation is unavoidable, if the supply of goods and services does not increase proportionately. Raising interest rates can not in any case make much dent on inflation caused by this factor.
Thus we note inflation is either beyond the control of the government, or it is being inflamed by the policies of the government. On the contrary, attempts made by the RBI in terms of tight monetary policy, can cause havocs. If we look at the experience in the last about 10 years, we find an unprecedented rate of economic growth. Though agricultural sector could not perform well in all these years, but much faster rate of growth in the services more than made up the loss and economy made unprecedented stride in terms of growth rates. Main reason behind this growth was stability in price level witnessed in the initial 5-6 years of the last decade. As a result of stability in prices, rates of interest started falling and stabilised at a lower level. Though falling rates of interest did affect a section in our population adversely, who was dependent upon interest incomes, but economy at large benefitted from fall in interest rates. Investment got encouraged due to falling interest rates, as borrowing by business ventures was cheaper than before. Further falling interest rates in country encouraged borrowing for houses, cars and other consumer durables etc. As a result of all this there was a phenomenal growth in demand in the country, both investment and household demand. Lowering of interest rates led to favourable impact on government budget as well, as interest payment on loans previously taken also could be kept low. Housing, infrastructure and other important sectors of the economy could show better results and India could emerge as second fastest growing country of the world after China. Thus we can conclude that fall in rates of interest rates played an important role in the growth story of India.
In the last couple of years RBI has been trying to increase interest rates to somehow control prices. This has once again created a sense of hopelessness in the country. Increasing rates of interest would not only reduce the demand in the country, it would also adversely affect the investment in infrastructure and industry in the country.
More and more money would be deposited in banks by the people due to increase in interest rates. Today banks have huge amount of unused fund. Further rush towards deposits may affect profitability of the banks, as demand for loans is expected to be less. Low rates of interest are imperative for high rate of growth in the economy. But it is not possible in times of rising inflation. This is so because to keep real rate of interest positive, interest rates have to be increased. Thus to keep the growth rate high, we must control inflation.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

REVIEWING DEFENCE PREPAREDNESS

BY DR P. K . VASUDEVA

 

The Indian Army unveiled its new war doctrine on 28 April 2004, and named it as the 'Cold Start War Doctrine'. Thereafter, in ensuing twelve months, the new war doctrine was circulated to all the Army Commands for discussion and comments at formation levels. In tandem, the Army Training Command (ARTRAC) and the Army War College were tasked to fine-tune the operational concepts of the doctrine. India released information on a new war doctrine known as "Cold Start" and their military has conducted exercises several times since then based on this doctrine.
"Cold Start" involves joint operations between three defence services and integrated battle groups for offensive operations. A key component is the preparation of India's forces to be able to quickly mobilise and take offensive actions without crossing the enemy's nuclear-use threshold.
Ten years after the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) and a Group of Ministers attempted the first major revamp of defence management in the country, the government has now set up a high-powered task force to review the unfinished tasks and make further suggestions for implementation.
After the (KRG) submitted its report in 2000, the Government had set up four task forces to go into different aspects of national security. These task forces reviewed internal security, intelligence, border management and higher defence reforms. Based on the recommendations of the task forces, a Group of Ministers (GoM) under the chairmanship of L. K. Advani came up with a report in 2001 consisting of about 300 recommendations for reforming the national security management structures. These recommendations initiated a comprehensive reform of the national security management in India's post-independence history. Although successive governments have continued to implement these reforms, the reform process has run out of steam.
No doubt, the Government has spent a large amount of resources on police modernisation, strengthening of intelligence agencies and setting up of new institutions like the National Disaster Management Agency, National Technical Research Organisation, Defence Intelligence Agency and Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN). Some steps towards integration of the armed forces with the defence ministry have also been undertaken. The Nuclear Command Authority and Strategic Force Command and the Andaman and Nicobar tri-service joint command have also been set up. Defence acquisitions have also been streamlined.
But some crucial big-ticket items have been missed out. For instance, the setting up of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has been stalled. This has impeded the full integration of the armed forces into the defence ministry structures. Basically the bureaucratic opposition is not allowing CDS to be formulated as its importance they feel will be diluted.
The bane of Indian security reforms has not been so much the dearth of resources but the lack of strong institutions and effective coordination. In this context, the performance of the National Security Council (NSC) and its structures needs to be reviewed. The role of the NSC has been advisory. The NSC has not been able to come out with a comprehensive national security strategy for the country, which is urgently required. The coordination role of the NSC remains weak and has grown weaker. The performance of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) needs to be evaluated in the light of its de facto separation from the National Security Council Secretariat.
It was to obviate some of these weaknesses, recognised during the Kargil war, that the Arun Singh committee was formed. In carrying out its mandate, the committee deliberated over testimonies from different stakeholders but did not examine the functioning of different organisations. Hence, its analysis was more opinion based than data driven. It argued, "The Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) has not been effective in fulfilling its mandate". However it recommended the appointment a CDS based on other democratic armies. For historical and bureaucratic reasons, this measure was not approved.
The country needs fresh thinking by fresh minds to take a measure of the extent of national security challenges and devise steps to address them. The earlier GoM had in fact recommended periodic review after every five years.
The new national security institutions that were set up after Kargil are working at below par capabilities. They are neither adequately staffed nor resourced. In some cases debilitating turf wars have broken out. Some have simply been neglected to the point of atrophy.
Consequently, the 14-member task force headed by Naresh Chandra, a former bureaucrat who has held top administrative jobs in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Prime Minister's Office, and have as its members former military commanders, intelligence chiefs, diplomats and strategic analysts. The panel starts its work on July 14 and has been given six months to complete its report.
Although there have been sectional review attempts such as on procurement or defence research, this is the first comprehensive attempt at reviewing the entire gamut of defence preparedness and management in a decade.
Task force members comprise of Air Chief Marshal (Retd.) S. Krishnaswamy, Gen. (Retd.) V.R. Raghavan, the former Department of Atomic Energy chief Anil Kakodkar, Admiral (Retd.) Arun Prakash, the former R&AW head K.C. Verma, the former Union Home Secretary V.K. Duggal, G. Parthasarathy, former diplomat, and senior journalist Manoj Joshi.
The Naresh Chandra committee will try to contemporarise the KRC's recommendations in view of the fact that 10 years have passed since the report was submitted. It is also expected to examine why some of the crucial recommendations relating to border management and restructuring the apex command structure in the armed forces have not been implemented, especially in view of the fact that the KRC had stated: "The political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.''
It would now be looking at the reasons why the post of "first among equals'' among the three service chiefs in the form of a Chief of Defence Staff was never created which under the present circumstances is a must for better coordination of the three services, nuclear command and for successful culmination of any offensive against our adversaries who are threatening the country every now and then in one form or the other.
The recommendations of the task force must be implemented lest our adversaries keep threatening us and continue usurping our strategic locations all along the borders. We cannot remain a soft state in the garb of maintaining peace with our neighbours. The modernisation of our armed forces should continue to act as a strong deterrent.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BAIL, NOT JAIL

DON'T PUNISH THE 'GUILTY' BEFORE TRIAL

 

BJP leaders Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha may have been prompted by political considerations when they questioned the wisdom of the courts in denying bail to former Telecom Minister A Raja and DMK Member of Parliament Kanimozhi, both arrested in connection with the 2G spectrum allocation scam. But politics aside, the leaders did well to raise a fundamental question involving the criminal justice system. With the process of trial in the case having started following the Central Bureau of Investigation completing its inquiry, suggested Singh, there is no reason to hold them behind bars because they obviously cannot tamper with evidence already collected by the CBI. What is more, it is a settled principle of law that everyone is deemed innocent till proven guilty. Detaining undertrials in jail, therefore, will amount to punishing them even before they are found guilty.

 

In a country where trials tend to go on for ever, there is even greater need for the courts to exercise restraint. With the CBI's rate of conviction known to be poor and with most of the accused, and certainly the rich and the powerful, getting off lightly due to inadequate evidence, courts may find it tempting to deny bail to the accused. But that makes very little difference to the influential undertrial, who can pull strings from inside the prison and even secure preferential treatment there. It is the ordinary undertrials, who enjoy no such luxury and are even denied their right to defend themselves properly when the courts deny them bail.

 

If there is strong enough evidence against anyone, the correct course is to complete the trial and punish the guilty expeditiously. The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the 2G case, should, therefore, ensure a speedy trial and direct the CBI to desist from filing an unmanageably long chargesheet or produce an unmanageably long list of witnesses, which is usually designed to drag trials indefinitely. That, and not denial of bail, would serve the interests of justice better.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PLAYING WITH LIVES

BIOMEDICAL WASTE CAN KILL

 

Even ordinary waste strewn around carelessly is bad for health. When biomedical waste is thrown along with municipal solid waste, it can kill. Yet, that is exactly what many of the hospitals of Punjab have been doing. When the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) conducted surprise checks at 108 hospitals and health care facilities across the state on Sunday, 20 hospitals were found to be violating waste disposal rules. Among them were eight government hospitals and 12 private hospitals. Being conscious of the fact that biomedical waste can play havoc with the health of thousands of people, the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998, are very stringent and ordain that all hospitals and health centres segregate biomedical waste into different containers and bags according to colour code. These containers are to be transported from the premises of the Common-Bio-Medical Waste Treatment Facility located at Mohali, Ludhiana, Pathankot, Amritsar and Bathinda.

 

However, the rules are merrily ignored even by reputed hospitals. They either dump their waste – comprising solids, liquids, sharps and laboratory waste — along with municipal solid waste or throw it away in an unhygienic manner, unmindful of the fact that this is infectious and can pollute the entire locality. It is dangerous for humans as well as the environment. The PPCB has been running a sustained campaign for the past one year against this menace. If the practice still continues, it only shows that some people are incorrigible and will not mend their ways till harsh punishment is meted out to them.

 

It is necessary to keep a close watch on the various biomedical waste facilities because they too are known to be cutting corners at times. While taking action against the erring institutions, the authorities should also focus on the hygiene within the hospitals. If they can be so callous about waste disposal, they might be equally uncaring about the hygiene on the hospital premises. The cases of hospital-induced infections are not uncommon.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

TEMPORARY MARRIAGE MART 

GIRLS NEED EDUCATION AND WORK

 

In the recent arrests of qazis, brokers and the so-called grooms from the old city of Hyderabad, the police was surprised to find doddering sheikhs being replaced by young Sudanese and Somalian students as grooms. But the remaining script remained the same. The well-oiled network involving travel agents, hotel owners, brokers and clerics who marry off poor Muslim minor girls under mut'a, a kind of temporary marriage with religious sanction, involves too many stakeholders in the bride bazaar, which continues to flourish despite a few arrests and once-in-a-while reports appearing in the media.

 

Almost 20 years ago, Ameena, an 11-year-old frightened girl, huddled up in a UAE-bound flight, was spotted by an alert airhostess, who discovered that she was being taken to Sharjah by her 70-year-old husband. The heart-rending story of the helpless girl's rescue caught people's imagination and the Hyderabad bride racket was busted. A temporary crackdown slowed down the process; thereafter it was business as usual. An estimated 300 Arab men come to Hyderabad every year on the pretext of medical treatment or tourism who are actually on the lookout for young temporary brides. The police says at least 35 such marriages take place every month. Since some of the Gulf countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have made it mandatory for their citizens to get a license if they wish to marry outside the country, a new trend has emerged. The Arabs do not come in person, but operate through brokers or middlemen and the nikah ceremony is conducted on the telephone. The girls are then trafficked out of the country and after the contract period often end up in brothels.

 

If Punjab has earned notoriety for its deserter NRI husbands, Hyderabad has come to be known for its bride bazar. The sociological factors engineering both trends are lack of education, poverty, greed, unpaid loans and lust. If sheikhs and NRI husbands are cruel, the parents of the vulnerable girls are equally responsible for treating their daughters as baits. The girls need education and the community needs to change the archaic Qazi Act, which gives sanction to mut'a.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

REFURBISHING GOVT'S IMAGE

PM SHOULD FACE THE NATION MORE OFTEN

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

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

 

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

 

By reshuffling the Cabinet, people's anger is not going to go away unless they see some concrete steps to eliminate corruption. The battered government has to come up with the answer to explain why the system does not function. The government's ham-handedness can be judged by the way even the Finance Minister's office in the secure North Block was broken in to bug and leave chewing gums to mock at the entire exercise of security.

 

By changing portfolios the Prime Minister does not improve the efficiency of departments or quicken the pace of decisions. And what do you do about integrity? Practically all ministers of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are mixed up with a magnet in the corporate sector or the other. Ineptness has, in fact, become the hallmark of the government.

 

Even if you were to leave out corruption, which has been the maximum since Independence, you would find numerous examples of sloth and slovenliness strewn all over the administration. Maybe, there is a purpose behind it, probably to cover up the fallout of an unholy alliance between ministers and bureaucrats. The government seems to live under the illusion that the subsidies and pro-poor yojanas (plans) keep the aam aadmi happy. Half of the allocation does not reach him and what reaches him tends to make most among the indolent and hopelessly dependent. Punjab and Haryana are two examples where agriculture labour prefers to draw a dole than work.

 

What depresses me is the Prime Minister's belief that nothing is wrong with the government and that its image has been damaged by the media and the judiciary in that order. He should realise that both are the consequence, not the cause. The cause is the series of scams which would have remained unexposed if journalists had not brought them before the public, and judges had not pulled up the administration. Dr Manmohan Singh goes by what the bureaucrats tell him or the senior ministers suggest. They are cut off from the public and do not know about its thinking. Having been a bureaucrat for most of his life, Dr Manmohan Singh should have known how to make the administration function quickly and responsive.

 

My feeling is that time is running out. The Prime Minister does not reaslise that he has no leeway and must act now if he does not want the situation going out of hand. He should compare his last tenure with the present one. Then it looked as if he had thought over the steps he was taking. Despite the pressure of coalition partners, he had his way. True, he performed less than expectations, but did not seem out of depth as he looks today.

 

In the current tenure, he does not seem to get anything right. Understandably, he feels uncertain because he has to manage some 24 parties and does not have the chunk of 60-odd members from the Left to depend on. (They themselves have been reduced to 16). But the coalition dharma does not mean that he should connive at the corruption involving its members. The correspondence between him and ex-Telecommunications Minister A. Raja shows that he knew about the corruption among DMK members in the Cabinet and still he did not do anything about it. Dr Manmohan Singh should have at least warned DMK chief K. Karunanidhi instead of placating him. True, Congress president Sonia Gandhi dictates the terms and she was not willing to disturb the applecart in the beginning of the second term.

 

The issue of price rise is a serious one. There must be something wrong somewhere to allow it to go haywire. By saying that inflation is "causing worry," the government does not mollify the angry nation. I get the impression that the rulers have no idea of coping with the ever-increasing prices. "We have no magic wand," is the stock reply when pressed to explain why prices are inordinately high. Why did the government let the situation reach such a pass in the first instance? No economist is required to tell the government that it is a question of demand and supply. What is required is productivity. The government has no immediate plans to do so. Probably, it has referred the matter to the Planning Commission, which will tell us in good time what steps to take. By that time inflation would have risen still further.

 

Has the government ever tried to cut its expenditure? One no longer hear the word "austerity" in official circles. Almost 75 per cent of petrol and diesel is utilised by vehicles of government and the public sector undertakings at the Centre and in the states. Why doesn't the government reduce the cavalcade of cars and security personnel with a minister or a VIP? I thought BJP leader L.K. Advani would have been sensitive enough to voluntarily cut the number of cars and security men when he travels at least within New Delhi, a protected area. In fact, all opposition leaders in the country should unilaterally surrender all vehicles that follow them except the one which carries the security men. This may be one way to shame the government.

 

The Prime Minister and the Congress president are now engaged in an exercise to refurbish the image of the government. They should recall how Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri stressed on economising the government expenditure. Shastri even gave a call for "miss a meal" since food was in short supply. That spirit in leadership is lacking.

 

Concrete steps are required to convince people that the government is serious about eliminating corruption as well as avoiding wasteful expenditure. A government which appears out of steam cannot prove its dynamism by the Prime Minister's briefing to some editors. He should come out of purdah more often and face the nation.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

PASSING ON

BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI (RETD)

 

I recounted the notes, six of them in all. These were crisp, almost the size of a donkey's ear. It was my first salary, Rs six hundred! Literally earned through blood and sweat as fifteen days were accounted for, amidst intense war. Ironically, a few batchmates were not destined to earn their maiden cheque.

 

As the just-born Bangladesh was still finding its feet, there were no markets around. So the treasure remained in the tunic pocket and even survived a wash. Being the juniormost in the unit, I was detailed on stores collection duty to Chittagong. In the port city, I found electronic items and watches to be a good buy. After due deliberation, I homed on to a watch; Swiss automatic with day and date.

 

There couldn't be a better present for dad, I thought. He had purchased a Tissot to commemorate my arrival and it had been on him for 20 years. So when I came home on leave and handed over the gift, he was choked with emotions and pride.

 

Dad had opted for an early retirement to look after lands and domestic affairs. To me he was more of a friend. His day included picking/dropping me at school, help me in extra studies and in the evening hone my outdoor skills.

 

When I left for boarding school in the South, dad made it a point to receive and see me off at Delhi (instead of at home station), traversing 400 km one way.

 

I idolised him particularly for his courage. An 'Indian National Army' (INA) Veteran, he was an expert at unarmed combat. With a single blow of a hockey stick he could put a cobra to sleep. A born optimist and a motivator, my father's deep influence continued to act as a catalyst in my achievements.

 

Fit as a fiddle at 78, it came as a rude shock when his chronic sore throat ailment was diagnosed as malignant. As I was headed to take over a battalion in Siachen, dad flew to Australia for advanced treatment. I got the news of his passing away during an ongoing operation. Barely minutes before his death, he enquired about me from my wife. Dad breathed his last, with the watch strapped to his wrist.

 

Two decades on, it was time for me to hang boots. Prioritising the post-retirement commitments, it was evident that replacement of the 'Hatch Back' will have to wait. Just 10 days before the D Day, my son called up from the U.S., surprising me with a present on Father's Day. I was overpowered with excitement like a kid, with tears in my eyes!

 

My son's gift is very dear to me and I don't let anyone touch it. When I drive it, I am filled with pride and nostalgia of the bygone days. During my last meeting with dad, I shared my burden — inability to reciprocate his devotion and sacrifices. Smiling, he patted me and whispered: "You can, by passing it on".

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY IN J&K 

IT IS TIME TO DELIVER ON PROMISES TO GIVE BOTH AUTHORITY AND AUTONOMY TO PANCHAYATS, PROMISES MADE OFTEN IN THE PAST 
DINESH MANHOTRA

 

The Panchayat elections, held successfully in J & K after 33 years, are significant for various reasons. These polls, at the very least, have revived people's faith in democracy and democratic institutions and sent out a clear message to the separatists. The last Panchayat elections were held in the year 2001 but polling, at that time, was partial and not held in many parts of the Kashmir Valley due to the poor security scenario. There were only 2702 Panchayats in 2001 but this time the number of panchayats, where polling took place, went up to 4130. Besides the 4130 Sarpanches, voters also elected 29719 Panches this time.

 

The ruling coalition, headed by the young Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, can take justifiable credit for conducting the elections. The Government worked hard to ensure maximum participation of the people and ensured the peaceful conduct of the election.

 

The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was right when he said that Panchayat elections are not going to solve the problems overnight. But at the same time, these historic elections have thrown up an opportunity for the ruling elite to channelise peoples' increasing faith in democracy.    

 

Onus on govt

 

While the people have performed their duty as citizens, the ball is in the court of the government to make the panchayats work and deliver on promises. The onus is on the government now to make local self government participatory and empower the panchayats with decision-making powers at grassroot levels.

 

Arguably, Jammu and Kashmir has suffered due to centralisation of power. Due to the unique topography of the region, many parts of the state remain inaccessible, underdeveloped and backward because developmental policies are formulated with largely Jammu and Srinagar cities in mind.  

 

The centralised approach to planning seriously hampered the process of uplifting backward areas and has led to lopsided development in the state. Policies and plans are conceived without adequate appraisal of ground realities and without appreciation of the needs of the people.

 

Now that panchayats are being constituted at the village level, there is need to empower such institutions to realise development objectives of the government and to target the marginalised and the neglected lot of the society.

 

More effective law

 

But the existing Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act does not appear robust or versatile enough to fulfil the real spirit of local self government. Although the government has constituted a high power committee to finalise powers to be delegated to the panchayats, there is apprehension that the ruling elite would conspire to deny real authority to the panchayats. Such fears stem from the fact that though the state government has repeatedly claimed that it would make the existing Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act of 1989 more effective but the promises remain largely on paper.

 

There is provision of nominations in the existing state law, points out eminent commentator Balraj Puri. While in the rest of the country, the chairman of the district board is directly elected by the elected Panchayat members, J&K Panchayati Raj Act provides for the chairman to be nominated by the government.

 

Puri points out that although a provision has now been added for an elected vice chairman of the district board, all powers will continue to be exercised by the chairman nominated by the government.

 

No grants, no reservation

 

And most important of all, the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act has neither fixed the minimum amount of grant-in-aid from the state to the panchayats nor provided an autonomous machinery for objective allocation of funds. "The state Act does not ensure financial viability or even autonomy of the panchayats and leaves enough financial power in the hands of the state government, which can be used arbitrarily to influence the working of the panchayats", observes Puri.

 

Former Dean, Social Science, University of Jammu, Prof Hari Om also feels that the existing Panchayat Raj Act of the state would make Panchayats "toothless" bodies with neither financial nor decision making powers. He does not mince his words while saying that without decentralising power, the Panchayati Raj institution would remain a show piece in the state.

 

The Jammu and Kashmir Panchayati Raj Act 1989 does envisage the formation of a three-tier Panchayati Raj Institution but there is also provision of nomination in the Act, which allows the government to appoint its own men to control the panchayats.

 

Similarly there is no provision of reservation of seats for women or Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). Actually, as per the existing Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Raj Act, there is a real possibility of panchayats emerging more as quasi-governmental institutions rather than instruments of effective local self government.

 

Sections 9 and 52 of the state Act also empower the government to supersede the Panchayat and remove the chairman and members of Panchayat Adalat.

 

Development boards

 

In the state Act, not even a single member of the District Development Board is directly elected. According to section 45 (3) of the Act, the government nominates the chairperson while MPs and MLAs are ex-officio members. Others include chairpersons of Block Development Councils, Town Area Committees and Municipal Councils.

 

The power with the government to nominate chairperson of the District Development Board makes this important tier of Panchayati Raj at the district level an extension of the government machinery than a real local self-government institution. There is, therefore, a growing demand that the chairman should also be elected.

 

"The existing Panchayat Raj Act of the state by and large centralises the power; so there is urgent need to take radical steps to seriously decentralise the power at grass-root level", observes legal luminary Baldev Singh Slathia, who cautions that without adequate empowerment of the Panchayat, the entire exercise could well turn out to be futile.

 

Unlike other parts of the country, the situation is very different in Jammu and Kashmir, where separatists and other groups have always desperately sought opportunities to discredit the Indian democratic system. With over 80 per cent of the people in rural areas reposing their faith in democracy, it is high time the government honours the mandate of the masses by genuinely empowering the panchayats. One way to do it is to give powers comparable to what panchayats enjoy in the rest of the country by virtue of the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

A POTENTIAL GAME-CHANGER

MOHAMMAD SAYEED MALIK

 

There was surprise in store for almost every 'stakeholder' in the panchayat elections. For a change, the separatists, barring Geelani's hardline fringe, behaved wisely by refraining from their habitual poll boycott call that was doomed to fail. The mainstream parties, deeply unsure of their grass-root strength, easily fell for the idea of contesting on non-party basis. The normally cautious and apprehensive security-obsessed administration was surprised at the peaceful poll despite an overwhelming turnout of voters.

 

The almost half-a-year long phased polling process did not lose its high pitch and, more importantly, remained peaceful barring a couple of highly localised incidents. To sum up, the scenario turned out to be radically different from what one could have predicted before the polls in this conflict-ridden border state.

 

Like the proverbial blind men's elephant, every contender—and non-contender—has his own version of how it happened and what it means. But the preliminary estimate shows quite a disturbing trend for the state's number one political force—the National Conference. Perhaps among the major mainstream contenders, only the NC has reason to feel happy about panchayat polls having been held on (face saving) non-party basis. Its two main competitors in the field, Peoples Democratic Party and (NC's ruling coalition ally) Congress have emerged stronger at the grassroot level. NC's overall performance compares poorly even with its showing in the 2008 assembly polls in which it emerged as the single largest party with 30 seats in the 87-member House.

 

The Congress appears to have done better than expected and at many places, it has managed to push the NC to unlikely third place.

 

But it is the PDP which seems to have been the voters' favoured choice including, notably, in many of the NC's strongholds in the Kashmir Valley. These segments include Ganderbal constituency held by chief minister Omar Abdullah and Kangan, Budgam and Charar-e-Sharief represented by senior ministers of the NC. The PDP is not yet able to comprehend the dynamics of its unexpected showing because the precise final tally is not yet available. But the NC has been trying to make up for its loss in the polls by making tempting post-poll offers to win over candidates elected in the non-partisan contest. In a relatively small place like J&K, political affiliations are difficult to conceal.

 

Congress could not have remained untouched by the euphoria. The demand for 3-year rotational chief minister has become louder. Omar has to start his day with public declarations that his promised six-year tenancy is under no threat. The Congress rank and file feel that the panchayat poll outcome has revealed serious shortcomings in governance under Omar which, if not checked, could eventually hit both partners in the long run. In plain language, they want the coalition with the NC to remain but with chief ministership passing into the hands of the Congress. Their alibi: 'We can do a better job'.

 

This urge explains the madness in the method of visiting Congress veterans, Dr Karan Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar, who publicly agreed (though not supported) to the demand for change of guard. Fotedar made unflattering comparisons between relative performance record of two governments supported by the Congress—-one led by Omar Abdullah and the other by PDP's Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had to calm ruffled NC feathers.

 

The political significance of the panchayat elections had actually been under-estimated by one and all. Till the results started trickling in and formed a different political pattern, Omar used to be vociferous in assuring 'full empowerment' of elected self-governing units. The suddenly reduced pitch of his commitment, after results of every phase came out, was apparently noticed even in New Delhi. Media reports said that the Centre had exhorted the chief minister to ensure full empowerment of panchayats. Omar in turn retorted: 'When will Delhi learn to talk directly to me and not through the media ?'

 

The PDP, having tasted blood, suspects that the Rs 600 crore annual funds from the Centre meant for panchayats in the state might not be utilised properly or misused for partisan political interests. The Congress too is suspicious, though not so openly. The coalition partner wants the chief minister to go for immediate reform of the state's outdated panchayat law and incorporate federal constitutional amendments that grant full functional autonomy to local self-governance units.

 

That is how a 'lowly' election fought on non-partisan basis promises (or threatens) to turn into a potential game changer in more than one sense. And that too in a state notorious for its obsession with 'Big Game' politicking.

 

The writer is a commentator based in Srinagar

 

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

EDITORIAL

SUBSIDISING AUTO POLLUTION

AN INDIAN 'CASH-FOR-CLUNKERS' SCHEME IS AN ABSURD IDEA

Increased competition in the automobile market is contributing to squeezed profit margins, on the one hand, but better deals for the consumer, on the other, including the introduction of newer models by smaller players, threatening the auto biggies' hold on the market. Against this background, it is surprising that a proposal to subsidise the replacement of old cars with new ones, in the name of pollution control, has been put forward by the ministry of heavy industries and public enterprises. A pilot project has reportedly been set up in Chennai to work out the modalities of the scheme. A ministry engaged with the automobile industry can be expected – in fact that is its brief – to work for the good of the industry. The by now familiar justification for the idea, which has been trotted out before, is the "cash-for-clunkers" scheme which the United States and other developed countries had introduced when their economies were in the throes of recession after the global financial crisis of 2008. The Indian market is an altogether different place and this scheme is not a particularly bright idea.

What is surprising and disappointing is that the environment ministry should be supporting this absurdity. Fewer energy-inefficient old cars on the roads will certainly help control automobile pollution but there should be better ways of doing it than subsidising and promoting the private ownership of cars when that should, in fact, be discouraged if we are to seriously work for a healthier environment. (According to estimates, around half of all global emissions from transportation are accounted for by personal cars.) Even more disappointing is the reported argument of the environment secretary that scrapping old cars is good because that way we can get to reuse a lot of old components, as is done when old ships are refurbished. How many car owners of today go in for second-hand components when these need replacements? If old cars are phased out by a scheme like the one proposed then the market for reconditioned parts will shrink, not grow. Who will use a reconditioned component in a three-year- old car? On the other hand, if the goal is to recycle and reuse then the focus should be on reconditioning used cars in their entirety. What the ministry should actually ask for is subsidy to use cars longer, thus saving on resources and promoting sustainable development. But if that happens, what will become of auto companies' sales?

 

 The most obvious way to encourage energy efficiency, reduce automobile pollution and cut subsidies is to reduce the subsidy on diesel, particularly when the owners of luxury cars and SUVs are becoming unintended beneficiaries of the subsidy. The other obvious way is to subsidise – not just charge lower excise duties – the sale of buses. There can be other innovative ways of serving the same goal. Attractive prizes can be announced for the design of more energy-efficient, robust and comfortable passenger three-wheelers which are an important mode of public transport on rural roads as well as narrow city lanes. Hopefully, greater public awareness will ensure ministries do not fall prey to the agenda of some auto companies.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

BUILDING A SOLID CORE

SLOWER CORE SECTOR GROWTH DISAPPOINTS, BUT NOT A CAUSE FOR ALARM

 

Does the year-on-year slowdown in supply-side activity witnessed in recent months indicate a deeper malaise by way of an economic slowdown? Not necessarily. Year-on-year growth of the core sector in May 2011 was 5.3 per cent as opposed to 7.4 per cent in May 2010 and mirrored the slowdown in the growth of the overall economy during the period. Crude oil (9.7 per cent versus 5.3 per cent), fertilisers (7.3 per cent versus a decline of 6.7 per cent) and electricity (10.3 per cent versus 6.4 per cent) actually performed better during the most recent period, while steel (6.1 per cent versus 9 per cent) underperformed. The sharpest decline in production was in the natural gas and cement industries, in which growth declined by 9.6 per cent and 2.3 per cent, respectively. The sharp fall in natural gas production is largely owing to considerably lower output from Reliance Industries Limited's D6 field for a variety of reasons that were discussed in detail in this space. In the case of cement and steel, the lower growth is owing to an industry-wide process of consolidation, since leading players are adopting a more cautious approach to expansion in the light of uncertain demand.

The "cement conundrum" typifies the widely prevailing confusion created by a marked divergence between policy announcements by the government and decisions on the ground. Cement production in the country increased rapidly between 2004 and 2008, chiefly on expectations of a sharp increase in infrastructure spending. India, with an annual production of 220 million tonnes in 2010, is the world's second-largest producer. The delay in sanctioning infrastructure projects, especially in the road sector, has led to a huge inventory build-up, making producers reluctant to add new capacity. Thus, the actual fall in cement production in May 2010 is predominantly owing to an industry-wide consolidation as producers seek to rid themselves of unnecessary stockpiles. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

 

Clarity about downstream consumption will go a long way in reviving the fortunes of these two vital industries. While consumption of steel is largely determined by global economic conditions, cement consumption would be largely impervious to external influences as long as the government remains committed to ramping up domestic infrastructure, as in China. Recent assurances by the government to streamline and expedite the award of road construction contracts, especially those under the purview of the National Highways Authority of India, augur well for both the cement and steel industries.

Core industries can add directly to GDP, while simultaneously paving the way for growth in output to be sustained. China's growth during early stages of economic expansion was powered by public investment and procurement that allowed upstream producers to achieve scale economies. This is not always optimal because it can result in investment becoming an end in itself. There is no reason India cannot achieve the same results as China while avoiding its excesses. A vibrant core sector can and should be the bedrock of growth acceleration.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

A SMART SOLUTION TO POWER SHORTAGE

SMART GRID TECHNOLOGIES CAN REVOLUTIONISE ELECTRICITY MANAGEMENT IN INDIA

RAHUL TONGIA

A recent news report in Business Standard drawing attention to the power shortage that India faces today was a stark reminder of the state of electricity in the country. According to the report, the Central Electricity Authority has projected an energy shortfall of 10.3 per cent and a peak shortage of 12.9 per cent in the country during 2011-12 ("Power deficit for 2011-12 pegged at 10.3 per cent", June 13). Clearly, we need more supply, but let's first consider China. Although it added 100,000 Mw of net capacity in 12 months (almost 10 times that India added), it still faced a shortfall. Therefore, apart from increasing supply, we need a grid that can be adapted to meet today's needs and future challenges.

The traditional grid was about engineering — making enough power flow safely through the system. Today, however, we need highly improved management and control mechanisms. In essence, we need a "smart grid". A smart grid has no single definition and isn't one single technology; it involves the use of digital communications and control to transform the grid to be more resilient, nimble, renewable-friendly and efficient.

 

 Improvements in information and communication technologies allow us to make grid measurements and control almost real-time. For many, this starts with a smart meter. It has advanced bi-directional communication and control (connect/disconnect) facilities, which enable us to know in almost real-time where the power is going. This can help cut down theft and other losses. But there is more this technology can do.

What smart grids can deliver is driven by need. The US and Europe, for instance, care more about labour costs, renewables and electric vehicles. In India, there is evidence that load management, especially the peak, will be a major driver. Considering that electricity cannot easily be stored in large scale, one has to either increase supply or reduce demand.

Increasing supply is what the West does today, through the use of "peaker" units, which operate on fast-starting fuels like diesel or open-cycle gas turbine (or hydro turbine). Such a plant only operates during the peak, for a fraction of the time, so its electricity is inherently expensive. Consumers in the West typically don't see such peak costs since the final tariff is a blended one, with the exception of larger bulk consumers or selected newer systems with variable tariffs. We estimate that if India were to add peakers (which may come to around Rs 7-8/kWh), and blend this, the average supply cost might increase by over 35 per cent.

The alternative is to reduce demand, not merely through demand-side management, which includes efforts like solar water heaters and compact fluorescent lamps, but by a dynamic system that reduces demand when and where required. This can be achieved through a "demand response". Under this arrangement, large consumers are paid to reduce their load in lieu of the utility buying expensive peaking power. An even simpler option is "time of use" pricing, whereby we can incentivise off-peak over peak usage (recall the queues at STD booths before the 10 p m quarter-rate tariffs).

Today, India manages load reduction at a feeder level, which is involuntary. In a smart grid, we can end feeder-level load shedding, as was demonstrated in a small smart grid pilot in Mangalore in which we assisted (under the pioneering efforts of MESCOM). Under shortage conditions, instead of zero supply, consumers could be provided a 300 or 500-watt power supply (or some threshold), which is sufficient to meet their basic needs. This is superior to their inverters or diesel, and gives the utility enough load relief to avoid a blackout. Today, the system in MESCOM would trip the individual consumer connection if power consumption goes beyond the limit, but in the future, with regulatory approval, the consumer could pay a premium for additional power. This would be higher than the normal tariff, but lower than today's stand-alone backup options, hence a win-win situation. We can even provide higher uninterrupted loads for important users such as schools and hospitals. Without a smart system, we can't apply such control, leaving everyone to suffer a blackout.

India has just started working on smart grid pilot projects, and the transformation will not be easy, nor will it happen overnight. However, smart grids may be inevitable in our portfolio of options for energy sustainability, since a business-as-usual approach is simply not an option. People now demand more electricity, whether in terms of environmental impact (including carbon), energy security or reliability.

We should, therefore, no longer think of a kilowatt-hour of electricity being the same as every other kilowatt-hour. To extend an analogy by Peter Fox-Penner in his book Smart Power, people today think of electricity as buying fruit. They buy it at, say, Rs 4 per unit. But in reality, that basket of goods is a mix of different fuels and different costs. Though the "fruit" is made of bananas, apples, mangoes and so on, including some expensive and some seasonal items, the blend remains hidden. In fact, not only are we blending costs, by hiding from consumers the true marginal costs of electricity, we are selling the same basket to different consumers at different prices. This isn't just about subsidies to agricultural users versus higher rates to commercial users — even within residential users we charge differently, based on the total monthly consumption. But from a system perspective, whether one uses 50 or 100 units of total power is less important than when that power is consumed. This needs to change and a smart grid can enable this change.

The long-term possibilities and impacts of a smart grid are vast, including increased renewables, greater load management and higher quality of services. The first step will be articulating the needs and options, before deciding on solutions. Although it is not clear whether anyone knows the "right" answers, but, like with all transformations, we have to innovate, experiment and attempt. Only then can India realise its 21st century power dream.

The author is principal research scientist at the Centre for Study of Science, Technology, and Policy, a Bangalore-based not-for-profit research institution. He is currently technical advisor to the India Smart Grid Task Force established by the Government of India

tongia@cstep.in 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

DELHI, WARTS AND ALL

NILANJANA S ROY

The shelf of fiction about Delhi resembles an airport lounge; the city has more often been there in the background, a starting point for arrivals and departures, than a character in its own right. Bombay seems to draw great fiction out of its writers; Delhi is more elusive.

For the right kind of writer, that makes Delhi – especially today's metropolis, so much more menacing and contradictory than the city William Dalrymple chronicled in City of Djinns – fresh, unclaimed territory, despite its long fictional past. The Old Delhi that Ahmed Ali and Krishna Sobti captured at the turn of the century and in the aftermath of Independence has shifted into the past.

 

In the first few pages of Aman Sethi's non-fiction narrative work, A Free Man, he draws a distinct dividing line between historical Delhi – the city of monuments and tombs – and the city as it is today, pulsing with what he diagnoses as an imperceptible hysteria. "For as long as I can remember, Delhi looked like a giant construction site inhabited by bulldozers, cranes, and massive columns of prefabricated concrete; but the rubble has masked the incredible changes and dislocations of factories, homes and livelihoods that occurred as Delhi changed from a sleepy north Indian city into a glistening metropolis of a rising Asian superpower."

This has now become the acceptable, guidebook definition of Delhi — the city permanently under construction, a city of constant reinvention where your family's three generations of history can be destroyed in a weekend of slum clearance, but also a city of possibility. What makes A Free Man such a compelling and powerful read is that it creates an intimate, personal biography of the city through the biography of an itinerant labourer, Mohammed Ashraf.

Mr Sethi is a journalist; he meets Ashraf in the course of following a story on construction workers. He returns, wanting to understand the "mazdoor ki zindagi", and over the next five years, he and Ashraf develop an unusual relationship, defined but not contained by the boundaries of journalist and subject. Ashraf explains succinctly what Delhi has to offer: "A sense of azaadi, freedom from your past. … For every person who makes a bit of money in Delhi, an entire village arrives in search of work." But the migrant story, familiar as it is, has an unspoken caveat that Ashraf will discover: you cannot leave your village a mazdoor and return a mazdoor. There has to be more.

Perhaps it's Mr Sethi's humility and professionalism that makes A Free Man such a brilliant book; an honest biography, but also a merciless portrait of the city. Perhaps it's the many interviews, the conversations with Ashraf, J P Singh Pagal, doctors on TB wards, senior officers at the Beggars Court, other construction workers, that give this book its depth. Mr Sethi's understanding of the city is hard-won, and sharply different from what his predecessors in Indian English fiction have been able to make of the city.

The Delhi of journalists and hijras that Khushwant Singh caricatured in a crude, lumbering novel was an insider's city, and perhaps that is part of the problem of writing about the Capital. Some writers got it right. Nayantara Sahgal's early political novels set in Delhi captured the impatience, idealism and inexorable corruption that seeped into the corridors of power perfectly. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children may be a Bombay novel, but Mr Rushdie's swift and deadly description of Delhi in the Emergency years is unmatched. Other writers stumbled over Delhi's notorious insider-ness. There is a sub-genre that might be called the Lodi Garden novel, easily recognisable from the characters (drawn from South Delhi's 400 drawing rooms) and the plot (drawn from the Hindustan Times headlines and the India International Centre's daily programme schedule).

For years, a writer friend spoke wistfully of the Great Barsati Novel: a mythical beast that would do for Delhi, presumably, what Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's or Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City had both done for New York. But the road to the Great Barsati Novel has been paved with failed attempts, and perhaps Delhi will find its chroniclers in non-fiction rather than in fiction.

A Free Man is moving in its portrait of Ashraf, and the ending, ambiguous and discomforting, may make you weep. Mr Sethi's insights into the world of masculine friendships and work and financial uncertainty that Ashraf inhabits are sharp, and hard-won. He is not romantic about Delhi, no more than another writer, Rana Dasgupta, working on his own Delhi biography, is likely to be.

As Mr Sethi writes, analysing a spate of hysteria and self-inflicted injuries in the wake of reports that a Monkeyman was stalking Delhi's citizens, this is a troubled city. "….A city of the exhausted, the distressed, and the restless, struggling with the uncertainties of eviction and unemployment; a city of twenty million histrionic personas resiliently absorbing the day's glancing blows, only to return home and tenderly claw themselves to sleep." A Free Man is much more than just a Delhi biography; but while it meets its larger ambitions, it will also be remembered for being one of the great city biographies.

nilanjanasroy@gmail.com  

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

MONSOON CHECK

As deficient rainfall in many areas may hit foodgrain production, the government must release a part of the huge stocks to augment supply and contain prices.

Four weeks after the south-west monsoon hit the southern coast, the all-India area-weighted rainfall is estimated at 11 per cent above normal; but the disaggregated figures are far from encouraging. According to India Meteorological Department, at least 10 out of the 36 Met sub-divisions have had deficient to scanty rainfall (covering all of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) while 26 sub-divisions have had excess to normal rainfall. Of the latter, rainfall in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra and West Rajasthan is currently tending towards deficit, although technically it is still normal. Planting of cash crops such as cotton and oilseeds is lagging, especially in Gujarat. Andhra Pradesh is faring no better. The silver lining is the satisfactory precipitation so far in the agriculturally critical States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Planting of kharif crops (mainly rice, coarse cereals, oilseeds and pulses) normally continues till mid-July; and so, there's still a window of opportunity available (say, up to 10 days from now) for sowing on a wider acreage. But many regions are in dire need of rain, and the situation deserves close monitoring.

In order to avoid panic reaction or to contain speculative activity, the sowing status must be updated frequently. At the same time, it is a matter of concern that the Weather Watch Group has cautioned of below normal rainfall in July which may accentuate the deficit in certain States. In the event, farmers may have to opt for alternative crops. It is necessary, therefore, to chalk out a contingency plan to provide seeds of such alternative crops. Given the uncertainties associated with rainfall and, consequently, agricultural output, it is imperative that the policymakers stay focussed on the unfolding scenario; and get ready to implement a contingency plan, if needed. Currently, it is unclear what the fallback position is.

It is not just the Centre, but the State governments too that have to be alert and work in tandem with New Delhi to face weather aberrations and mitigate their adverse effects. If the supply side is uncertain, the demand side is not. August, September and October are festival months, when demand for food commodities expands manifold. Aberrant rainfall usually unleashes speculative fervour in the marketplace. So, food prices are most unlikely to decline in the coming months. Globally too, the market for agricultural and energy commodities is sending out bullish signals which will have a rub-off effect on domestic prices. As an intervention measure, the Government should be ready to release additional stocks from its humungous store of rice and wheat (estimated at 65 million tonnes, at last count) to augment availability and contain the expected price rise.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

RECIPE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT

SHEKAR SWAMY

FDI in multi-brand retail

July 5, 2011:  

In the articles on foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail dated June 16 and June 17, I had highlighted two incontrovertible facts. First, that big retail in the West is expensive as it marks up the products by at least twice as much as Indian retail, and often many times more. Second, that big retail in the West is concentrated and oligopolistic, offers less choice and, hence, charges high prices. In this piece, I will offer evidence to highlight two points:

Big foreign retail will eliminate jobs in the tens of thousands in manufacturing in the country, and

Big foreign retail will reduce employment in hundreds of thousands over time in the retail sector.

These two body blows will damage the livelihood of millions, with dramatic long-term implications. In time, the combined impact of this puts at major risk the social balance in the country. The issue of FDI in multi-brand retail is not about globalisation, competition and free markets. It cuts to the heart of the fragile economic and social ecosystem in India. Sounds too dramatic to believe? Please read on.

Learning from the US

People can rightly ask how we can predict the future of big foreign retail in India. The answer is simple. We are not predicting the future. We have to only look at what has happened elsewhere to understand what will happen here.

A senior American academic thought-leader wrote this to me about big retail there: "The one thing big retail always seeks is the "lowest cost supplier" wherever they may be, and, often that is offshore. A count of offshore products in Walmart, Target or any other retailer would reveal that few, if any, of them are locally manufactured. In the US, we have traded offshoring of almost everything we make for lower cost products in big retail. We're now reaching the point that Walmart can continue to find lower cost suppliers but we can't find jobs for people to earn enough to buy anything. Big retail has grown, and that seems to have resulted in the destruction of our manufacturing base."

How serious is the erosion in manufacturing employment in the US? (See graphs).

US manufacturing employment peaked in 1979 at 19.5 million. It has dropped ever since to 17.3 million in 2000, 14.3 million in 2004, 12.7 million in 2009, and to an all-time low of 11.8 million in 2011. This is a loss of 7.7 million jobs in manufacturing in 32 years — about 240,000 jobs a year or 20,000 jobs lost per month. It is important to look at this over decades because impact of short-term developments such as recessionary cycles is evened out.

While productivity gains in manufacturing (the ability to produce more with less people due to improvements in technology) is one reason for this decline, the other cause is the growth of big retail that buys merchandise offshore and causes manufacturing to shut down. The May 2011 unemployment level in the US is at 9.1 per cent or 13.9 million people unemployed. Despite an aggressive stimulus package of over $1.6 trillion thrown into the US economy since 2009 by the Obama administration, unemployment figures have stubbornly refused to come down. It cannot come down easily, because the very employment structure has been altered by big retail.

The lesson is clear. FDI in multi-brand retail will lead to an explosion of offshoring of production from India. This will result in job losses in manufacturing at a galloping pace and scale that can't be imagined. In the news reports appearing on FDI in retail, there is hardly a mention of any policy on how the sourcing of goods will be handled.

Retail occupation in India

The Indian economy is not a good generator of jobs. The recently released Survey of Employment and Unemployment by National Sample Survey Office, 2009-10 has once again confirmed that over half (51 per cent) of the country's workforce is self-employed, 16 per cent are in regular wage employment and 33.5 per cent are engaged as casual labour.

In the past ten years, the category of regular wage employment, which is an indicator of the economy's ability to generate jobs, has increased an average of only 1.74 million jobs a year. With our population growth of over 15 million a year, this level of job growth is inadequate to cope with the growth in the number of people who need employment.

The retail sector in India, as an employer, is therefore enormously important to maintain social stability. Employment estimates in retail vary. There are some 13 million retail establishments in the country. According to IRS 2011 (one of the largest baseline studies), there are 25.5 million chief wage earners (including local vendors without a shop) who are engaged in the retail service. Employment in retail, which is self-motivated and at the ground level, is the second largest in the country, at 11 per cent of all employment, after agriculture.

Unrecognised safety valve

People who are on the economic knife edge make a simple living in this sector. FDI in multi-brand retail is squarely aimed at taking these people out. It will, over time, make this avenue of employment difficult for them. The economy cannot provide other alternatives as the data clearly shows. Without the safety valve of employment in retail, it is anybody's guess as to what shape future social unrest could take.

Interestingly, the government is aware of all of this. The Parliamentary Standing Committee 90th Report on FDI in Retail, laid in the Rajya Sabha on June 8, 2009, has recommended a "blanket ban should be imposed … on foreign retailers from entering into retail trade in grocery, fruits and vegetables". This Committee report is obviously being ignored.

The government says it wants to promote 'inclusive growth'. The proposed FDI in multi-brand retail is a blunt weapon that will hammer employment in manufacturing and in retail. There cannot be a more anti-'inclusive' step than this.

(The author is Group CEO, R K SWAMY HANSA and Visiting Faculty, Northwestern University, US. The views are personal.)

(To be concluded.)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

SO MUCH FOR FERTILISER DECONTROL

UTTAM GUPTA

Delivery systems for disbursing 'direct subsidy' to farmers are not in place. Hence, the existing mechanism of controlling prices will continue.

July 5, 2011:  

In a recent circular, dated May 5, 2011, the Department of Fertilisers (DOF) has asked firms to limit the increase in maximum retail price of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) to Rs 600 per tonne for the kharif season. In the case of complex fertilisers too – containing varying proportions of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potash (K) and sulphur (S) – only "proportionate increase in MRP (corresponding to that in DAP) would be admissible".

This amounts to a 'U-turn' from the position an year ago when, with effect from April 1, 2010, the Government 'decontrolled' prices of all fertilisers barring urea, as part of a move to a nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime. Under NBS, a fixed per-kg concession is granted on N, P, K and S with the subsidy on individual fertilisers linked to their nutrient content.

The manufacturers then increased MRP of DAP from the prevailing Rs 9,350 per tonne to Rs 9,950 a tonne during kharif 2010 and further to Rs 10,750 per tonne in the rabi season. This, together with subsidy entitlement under NBS, gave firms adequate realisation to cover their cost of production and distribution. Generally, they reported good financial performance during 2010-11. However, this time, DOF diktat could play spoilsport. The cap of Rs 600 per tonne hike would mean that firms can only charge an MRP of Rs 11,350 per tonne during kharif 2011. This is against the much higher MRP of Rs 11,700-Rs 12,000 a tonne needed to remain viable, taking into account their subsidy entitlement and cost of supply.

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

At the outset, we need to sort out a basic question. Having decontrolled, why should the government control MRP? The answer is already there. It is just that we need to refresh our memory.

Until the mid 70s, Government neither controlled MRP of DAP and complex fertilisers nor gave any subsidy. However, in March 1976, it announced under a 'flat subsidy scheme', or a subsidy of Rs 1250 per tonne P (Rs 575 per tonne DAP) to all manufacturers, but did not control MRP.

The above dispensation had a short life of only three years. Based on the recommendations of Marathe Committee (part II of the Report), the Government, in February 1979, introduced formal control on MRP and brought these fertilisers under what was then dubbed as retention price scheme (RPS).

Under RPS, which covered urea too, GOI controlled MRP even as the excess of production and distribution cost over this was reimbursed to 'each' manufacturer as unit-specific subsidy. This arrangement continued up to August 24, 1992.

Based on the recommendation of JPC, from August 25, 1992, the Government removed pricing and distribution control on all P & K fertilisers and dismantled the RPS regime. From October 1, 1992, in just about five weeks, however, the subsidy was revived as an ad hoc concession. Unlike unit-specific subsidy under RPS, the ad hoc concession was 'uniform' for all producers.

In lieu of the concession, Government controlled MRP of these fertilisers, albeit 'indirectly'. Until the end 1996-97, these controls were exercised by state governments. Since 1997-98, the central Government fixed MRPs.

Through an order dated August 28, 1998, manufacturers were granted the freedom to fix MRPs. However, in less than a month, this was annulled as per another order dated September 23, 1998. The Government realised too soon that it could not afford to remove control on MRP. Thereafter, the Central Government has consistently controlled MRP — right up to 2009-10 — in lieu of subsidy/concession that it gave the manufacturers/importers.

PRICE CONTROL CONTINUES

In 2010-11, did the government really change tack and thus stop controlling the MRP? While it may not have notified MRPs or issued any circular restricting price hike as for the current year, it cannot be denied that for that year too, it had an informal understanding with manufacturers to the keep the price hike within 'acceptable' limits.

On taking a view of the nearly two decades after the 'decontrol' of P and K fertilisers on August 25, 1992, it turns out that all through the Government has controlled MRP of these fertilisers despite their de jure decontrol.

While this may sound anomalous, to be fair to Government, it needs to be understood that P and K fertilisers were never decontrolled in the true sense of the term. That would have been the case, had it stopped giving subsidy/concession to manufacturers. The fact of the matter is that, except for five weeks, from August 25, 1992 to September 30, 1992, it had been giving subsidy. When the Government gives subsidy, the prime motive being to make fertiliser 'affordable' to farmers, how could it afford not to control MRP?

The rationale for control is even stronger in the current scenario, when subsidy itself accounts for a huge share of realisation from sale. In the case of DAP for instance, this is nearly two-third; the remaining one-third being from MRP.

Given the crucial role of fertilisers in sustaining India's food security, one cannot imagine the subsidy being dismantled. The Government may, however, consider giving 'direct' subsidy to farmers. However, in view of imponderables — identifying target farmers and working our effective mechanism for transfer — even this appears to be quite a distance away.

Till then, we have to live with the existing dispensation of routing subsidy/concession through producers who will necessarily have to accept control on MRP.

The Government on its part, will have to ensure that MRP and subsidy/concession are fixed in a manner such that the viability of producers is not jeopardised.

(The author is Executive Director, CropLife India, New Delhi. The views are personal.)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

QUALITY WATER, A PIPE DREAM

K.GOPALAN

Few other instances are likely to startle and amuse people as that of a whole lake in Oregon, US, being emptied when it was found that someone had urinated in it. Millions of gallons of water had to be drained out to cleanse the lake of injurious infections. This, inspite of health experts testifying that the incident would not harm people drawing water for drinking from that reservoir.

But the administrators would not want to confront local citizens, shouting "Do you want to drink pee?" In stark contrast, what to say of the conditions in India? Lack of access to clean drinking water, coupled with most unhygienic toilet provisions, takes a heavy toll on human life. World Bank studies reveal that poor hygiene costs the economy about Rs 24,000 crore annually, which is calculated to be roughly 6.4 per cent of the country's GDP. As to the maintenance of reservoirs and upkeep of rivers, the picture that emerges is tragic. Routine filth and effluence apart, even arsenic contamination is reported in some cases. In many areas, when one sees a river stretch, one wonders whether it is a flowing river or a stagnant open sewage! Many river beds are nauseating open toilets. Sadly, this is the fate of even rivers believed to be holy. A combination of factors causes extensive pollution even in the Ganga and Yamuna. Would people believe that Yamuna water, in some places, is not fit even for bathing?

The water in the river around Delhi is full of excreta. Tests show that it is 100 times above safe bathing level! Of course, this is due to 'the number of drains that join it, throwing in untreated sewage and industrial effluent.' The spoilage so caused is so unwieldy that we need technological assistance for purifying operations from advanced countries such as France, in addition to local 'Action Plans.' The latest is a billion-dollar credit and loan of the World Bank to support our efforts to clean up the Ganga.

Development goals

What is disturbing about the whole matter is near ignorance in our country that quality water is vitally linked to meeting some of the 'Millennium Development Goals' set by the UN, namely reduction in maternal and infant mortality, access to clean drinking water, for all, and checking spread of HIV. The sad state of affairs in India is, more than 1.5 million children die every year from water-related diseases — about 5 lakh from diarrhoea. Safe drinking water remains a pipeline dream for millions of people.

Statistics would show that UNDP's low ranking of India in its annual reports is largely due to water-related diseases afflicting pregnant women and newborns. If quality water is made available to the masses, India's status with regard to the UNDP and UNICEF will go up dramatically.

(The author is a Bangalore-based freelance writer.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT THE RIGHT MOVE

ONLY POLITICAL EXPEDIENCE STANDS IN THE WAY OF AN EFFECTIVE NEW PENSION SYSTEM


Apanel led by former Sebi chairman G N Bajpai is right in recommending better financial incentives for distributors of the New Pension System (NPS). However, it takes for granted the political expedience that prevents the government from jacking up the scale and volume of the NPS at one stroke, and calls for marginal improvements. The political expedience is not allowing workers to migrate from the archaic, mismanaged Employees Provident Fund Organisation to the NPS on a voluntary basis. The NPS suffers from three main weaknesses at present. One, there is no incentive for anyone to distribute the scheme. Two, its transaction costs are high for a small contributor. And, three, the fund management charges are wafer-thin, depriving the fund managers of short-term incentives to perform. The second and third problems arise from the small number of savers in the NPS, which can work well when its subscriber base is large. The first weakness reinforces the second two, by thwarting fresh subscribers. The logical things to do is to increase the NPS subscriber base by migrating willing workers from the EPF scheme to the NPS and, while this process is on, for the government to underwrite transaction and a portion of asset management costs and to give generous incentives for distributing the new pension product. Instead, what we have is a government subsidy of . 1,000 going to every voluntary NPS account. The sensible thing to do is to withdraw this subsidy and spend the money on distribution and transaction and asset management costs.


The subscriber base to the NPS, now open to every Indian citizen, is around 2 million. Of this, only 50,000 are individual volunteer members. But the NPS has the institutional framework to manage retirement savings and generate superior returns. The average return was around 11% last fiscal year. This is in stark contrast to the Employees Provident Fund Organisation that has to discover hidden treasure in some twisted knot of its warped accounting every now and then to pay a return that will avert rebellion among its subscribers. Let not political expedience stand in the way of an effective NPS.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DO IT IN PARLIAMENT

LET PARTIES BE UPFRONT ON THE LOKPAL, FOR PARLIAMENT TO CREATE A STRONG OMBUDSMAN


The all-party meeting called by the Prime Minister on the Lokpal brought out three things: political parties' commitment to creating a strong ombudsman, their opposition to civil society transgressing into lawmaking territory and the BJP's continuing brinksmanship on where it stands on the debate. Parliament is, indeed, supreme, when it comes to making laws. That said, it does not mean civil society groups do not have the right or duty to prod and pressurise the government into drafting a more robust role for the Lokpal. But, equally, civil society groups also cannot hold the government hostage, and insist on the Lokpal being a sort of supra-Constitutional authority. The apparent consensus at the meeting for a strong Lokpal should now be the guiding principle for the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is right when he said that the need is for a 'strong, effective and quick institutional arrangement' that will 'add to and not detract from' the role of other democratic and Constitutional structures. It was clear that the government's first version of the Bill was open to criticism for seeking a weak, ineffective ombudsman. And it should now amend its version to take on board a wider swathe of opinion as articulated by civil society groups and political parties, and place it before Parliament for discussion. There, political parties must play their role, not indulge in attempts to score brownie points or in petty politicking, so that a robust debate ensues and, along with it, a suitable version of the Bill. The BJP line that it will reveal its stand only in Parliament at best confuses the form of representative democracy with its content and, at worst, is a duplicitous game of extracting anti-government mileage out of civil society campaigns without actually supporting them.


The Lokpal could be a game-changer. But completely ending systemic corruption in India calls for reforming the way political parties are funded. The current practice is mired in sleaze, resulting ultimately in state patronage and the corruption of governance and justice. In addition, the justice system must become functional.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GOOD LORD

KERALA'S PADMANABHASWAMY TEMPLE, INDIA'S RICHEST, SHOULD USE ITS WEALTH WISELY


For years, the Padmanabhaswamy temple, a Vaishnavite shrine in Kerala, has maintained a relatively low profile, before emerging suddenly as the richest temple in a country of many rich shrines. Investigators are still opening underground vaults, but it's reckoned that the amount of gold, precious stones and valuable knick-knacks they've already dug up could be worth around . 1,00,000 crore, more than India's annual education budget. Over the decades, the gods, and their well-heeled followers, have been extremely charitable to the temple. Should the temple now repay this charity by encashing some of the precious stuff to do something good for society? Or should it hold on to what it has because it's all too ancient and holy to be measured, valued and sold?


Consider the second option first: the gold, diamonds and so on that have been discovered will eventually have some number pasted on them, only to be thrown back into the dungeons and locked up for a couple of centuries more. In that case, would there be any meaning to the value that is attached to these things? What is . 1,00,000 crore worth, if it's sitting in a dungeon? Zero. The other option would be to use this treasure trove to generate liquid cash, for which there are several ways even eschewing outright sale. The cash thus generated will certainly prove to be more useful than trinkets in a vault. Who will the money go to? There could be a million legal quibbles about that question. But consider what the 13th century philosopher Thomas Aquinas wrote, "Man should not consider his material possession his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need." In this case, divinity would surely approve.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

SMALL MATTER? SMALL DOES MATTER

IT IS THE LACK OF SMALL, MEANINGFUL GESTURES THAT AGONISES EVERYONE AND BREAKS THE RHYTHM OF OUR DAILY LIVES


L" ittle drops of water, little grains of sand, make


the mighty ocean, and the beauteous land." As in Julia Carney's hymn, it is the 'small' elements of one's dayto-day existence that determine the larger whole. It is these that, for much of the time and most people, make life easier, better and more enjoyable — or cause pain and unhappiness. Some of these are influenced by the individual or by friends and family; many others, though, depend on what organisations or governments do (or not do). There are actions that governments could take, which would improve the quality of life for citizens. Each person would have her own list of such items; here are but a few random examples.
Many cities now have toll roads, especially to access nearby suburban areas. Used by tens of thousands of commuters everyday, these roads are designed to be high-speed corridors. Yet, bottlenecks at the toll gates often cancel the advantages of a speedy and smooth drive. Some of this is caused by lack of enforcement: for example, of the 'tag' lane. Apparently, this cannot be enforced because of buckpassing about authority and responsibility between the parties concerned.


To make matters worse, the odd amounts of toll-fee add to the delays. It would require a considerably thick head to not anticipate a problem if the toll is not a round figure (the present toll on the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway is, believe it or not, . 21).


Doubtless, those in charge will have many rational explanations as to why the toll is not a simple, easily payable amount. But one would have hoped that someone with an outlook beyond that of an accountant would have stepped in. A small matter; yet, a cause for much agony for many people everyday.
Resentful of the hundreds of cars in Delhi with red flashers atop — signifying a VIP — accompanied inevitably by an armed security escort that threateningly pushes aside all other traffic, many welcome the bold step of Delhi Police in announcing that they would stop unauthorised usage of such flashers. Particularly pleasing was the widelypublicised advertisement listing those eligible to use such red flashers and lights on their cars. It does, though, raise two questions: first, why was no action taken earlier on this many-years-old illegality; second, what action is being taken against those who flagrantly violated the law, including many ineligible bureaucrats? One also wonders whether the Cabinet secretary has formally written to all ministries to immediately comply with the law by removing the red lights from the cars of all those who are not eligible. Just a small issue again, but a matter of unease that the government itself is amongst the lawbreakers, and causes disruption to the harried commuter. If driving on the country's roads is a hazard, being a pedestrian is even more so, with a lack of proper footpaths, encroachments on pedestrian space — for parking, and by shops and hawkers — and few — if any — regulated roadcrossing points. This is made worse by footpaths and road edges that are constantly — and serially — dug up by multiple agencies, never to be properly repaved again. Every now and again one reads about plans to ensure coordination amongst agencies that need to dig up roads. Yet, this seems a goal that is always in the future. Certainly, enforcing such coordination should not be that difficult? Nor should ensuring the full restoration — if not improvement — after digging, be an impossible challenge. These small actions can contribute to the comfort and safety of millions of pedestrians.


    How good it would be to display at each publicwork site, the budget, expenditure, time schedule, executing organisation, and names and phone numbers of those responsible. This can be accessed through the right to information — at least till the government decides that this, like CBI investigations, is sensitive and, therefore, secret! — but why not a simple board at every project site? Would this not be more indicative of transparency and accountability than mere good words? Also, it may convey the implicit message — as articulated at such works in the US — of 'your taxes at work'. A standard procedure during road repairs is to close one side of the road length, resulting in two-way traffic on one side of the central median. While there is often a 'diversion' sign at one end, there is no indication at all at the other end, catching drivers unawares as they unexpectedly face a vehicle heading straight at them on the wrong side of the road. Is it not obvious that there needs to be a warning sign at both ends of such a diversion?


One experiences hundreds of such 'small' issues everyday, on which no authority seems to act. Yet, they irk the aam aadmi and affect not only the quality of life, but sometimes its very survival. Good governance is not only about big issues and major policies; it is equally — if not more — about the mundane details of daily life. Who, at what level of governance, will take care of these?


The structure of governance today is such that responsibility is diffuse and buck-passing is, therefore, inevitable and easy. There have often been pleas to change the structure so as to establish clear authority and responsibility. Such reform is now overdue, at all three levels of constitutional governance. Given the inadequacy of existing mechanisms, is it time for a ministry or mission for small issues?

 

KIRAN KARNIK
INDEPENDENT POLICY & STRATEGY ANALYST

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

HOTLINE KOLKATA

If finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's wide experience and expertise are sought whenever the UPA regime faces tricky administrative and political issues, he is now facing another task closer home. It is becoming clear the Mamata Banerjee's cabinet severely lacks any administrative experience, required to do justice to massive post-Left expectations. The 'Singur ordinance fiasco', some say, is only the first public demo of how amateurish Team Mamata can be in handling delicate administrative and constitutional issues. The fact that barring Didi and Congress' Subrata Mukherjee, every other minister is a first-timer shows the level of inexperience of the new cabinet in matters of state craft. Now, a fly on the wall says Mamata and her cabinet colleagues have increasingly started seeking Pranab Mukherjee's guidance quite frequently. If the Congress all-rounder has already been hailed by some as 'the best PM India never had', he may soon also be called the 'best CM West Bengal never had'! Quite a task for Mr Mukherjee, whose 'ministerial profile', incidentally, is the prime focus of the upcoming union cabinet rejig.


Political Tourism

As the Kashmir valley shows signs of normalcy this year, tourists are not the only ones flocking back to the picturesque state. Suddenly, members of various Standing Committees of Parliament have started pitching for touring the valley for holding their meetings. A little bird says that so far, around four standing committees have chosen various tourism spots of Jammu & Kashmir for their 'official outings'. The standing committee on finance has just returned after a tour of Srinagar and Leh. But these 'VIP tours' are creating a piquant problem. Now, many in the state establishment feel the arrival of these 'touring MPs' in the middle of the tourist season is creating an avoidable workload on the state government as it is required to divert its focus and manpower to ensure 'VIP treatment' to these 'political guests'. Perhaps the political tourism should wait for a while.


Mercy Plea

Will She revive him? That is the most repeated question in Congress circles as people got wind of Shivraj Patil's attempts to return to the Union Cabinet. This trusted 10, Janpath, loyalist has been parked in the relatively calm surroundings of the Punjab Raj Bhavan ever since the Mumbai terror strike put an end to his pathetic stint as the Union home minister. Some Congress leaders say Patil is flaunting his 'cleanness' and 'loyalty quotient' required to man a 'politicallysensitive and financially-resourceful, but scam-prone, mega ministry'. The fact that the 4, Janpath, bungalow, where Mr Patil lived for many years before he vacated it after his appointment as Governor, has not been allotted to anyone for the past two years has only added to speculation about what is cooking on the Patil front. Even as many Congress leaders are hoping Madam will be 'merciful' given the kind of burden Patil-as-home minister had turned out to be for the party and the government, they are also, dreadfully, aware of the limitless opportunities the 'loyalty card' can bag.


Role Models

The CPI-M has come out full blast in backing the demand to place the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) under the Lokpal, a clause the Congress openly opposes and the BJP ducks comically, despite getting very 'emotional' about the need for a strong anti-corruption watchdog. As for the Marxists, perhaps given the fact that the CPI-M never believed in being part of a government at the Centre, and since they continue to draw ideological inspiration from their 'historic blunder' of sabotaging even their own Jyoti Basu's prime ministerial chances, one can understand how easy it is for the party to decide on such sensitive matters relating to the PMO.


Back to Basics

The leadership at the Bharatiya Janta Party has realised the limits of drawing-room leaders in trying to revive the party in all-important Uttar Pradesh. So, Rajnath Singh, who has some mass appeal and a presentable electoral track record, has been made the overall assembly poll in-charge of the state unit by eclipsing leadership aspirant Kalraj Mishra, who has never fought an election. The other person who has been deployed to boost the party's poll plans is Uma Bharti, who too has personally fought many elections. Rajnath and Uma have been asked to show some semblance of revival for the party in Uttar Pradesh after the nadir when it won a mere 10 seats in the last Lok Sabha under the supervision of Arun Jaitley.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NOW&THEN

EXPORT PRICE FOR DOMESTIC ORE

JAIDEEP MISHRA


Two decades after economic reforms and the junking of industrial licensing circa 1991, a remote corner of India, Lanjigarh, off Niyamgiri hills in southern Orissa, produces about as much alumina now as was the total national output then of the high-value commodity. The one-million tonnes-per-annum (TPA) alumina refinery of Vedanta Aluminium has been functional for some years now. And that is solid progress.
Yet, the idea of industrialisation in the area seems riddled with controversy, for reasons not merely locational. Also, there remain a panoply of rigidities and distortions in the metals and minerals economy generally, which call for pressing reforms without further delay.


The environment ministry did disallow forest-clearance okay for bauxite mining at Niyamgiri last year. It is a related matter that the Dongria Kondh tribe of people resident in the region consider Niyamgiri sacred, which is unexceptionable. Yet, it needs to be asked whether the whole of Niyamgiri, a massif of hills spread over 250 sq km, is to be seen as scared space. Note also that the imagery of divinity atop Niyamgiri, a word clearly derived from Sanskrit and far from denoting pristine tradition, ironically suggests progress or what can be termed as sanskritisation in sociological terms. Besides, the apprehension that bauxite mining in the area would be ecologically perverse does not seem to be empirically valid. For only a short distance away from Niyamgiri, at Panchpatmali hills in Koraput district, public sector major Nalco does much of its mining. The expert take is that removal of bauxite ore from the crust actually makes the soil more permeable, making way for dense, tall vegetation to grow. It also needs to be noted that the ST community at Panchpatmali and Damanjodi — where Nalco has its alumina plant — seem to identify better with society, have regular jobs and also work as contractors, etc, than say those at Niyamgiri. We need to shore up social and physical infrastructure in the entire region. The Lanjigarh refinery has plans to augment alumina output to five million TPA, which should make it the biggest such plant nationally, although the environmental green signal for the expansion was withheld last year. Perhaps a more phased increase in capacity addition is warranted, as per the precautionary principle. (One tonne of aluminium requires two tonnes of alumina; one tonne of alumina requires 2-3 tonnes of bauxite.) In parallel, what is essential is to rev up the development delivery mechanism in all mining areas generally, and especially in east-central India. A few tentative ideas like 26% sharing of mining profits with the local population, a vague concept, have been doing the rounds. But genuine ad valorem rates on royalty, cess and other mining levies can set aside as much as 20% of turnover of mining corporates for development purposes, and which would be far more transparent than working out variable profit ratios. Yet, the fact remains that our policy on minerals has traditionally, for decades, simply repressed domestic ore prices, the supposed objective being to somehow incentivise metal making downstream in the value chain. But the consequence of rock-low ore prices mandated via such instruments as captive mining and plain price controls was that mineral royalty and other levies accruing to the mineralrich states remained artificially low and unrevised for years, never mind high poverty ratios. As late as 2009, the mineral concession rate for iron ore pegged by the Centre was as low as . 11 per tonne, when the going cross-border traded price of the ore was well above $100 per tonne.
The end result was that in the days of pre-reform, the surfeit of sectoral distortions, complete with high tariff barriers — up to an absurd 200% for steel, for instance — umpteen price controls and other restrictions, all combined to stultify output and productivity in metals, despite the availability of highgrade ores domestically. So, the policy objective of buoyant metals production was thoroughly compromised.


Since the early 1990s, the plethora of onerous price and other controls, say, in steel, the most used ferrous metal, and aluminium, the main non-ferrous metal, have all been done away and domestic metal prices linked to global prices. Yet, similar reform has eschewed mining and ore pricing, until now.


Since 2009, the royalty on ferrous ore is supposed to be ad valorem, linked to market prices, but the actual rates tend to vary widely and appear to quote at a steep discount to the export price, which would substantially undercut royalty payouts.


Which is why the reported move last week by a steel ministry panel to mandate that NMDC, the public sector miner, sell ferrous ore locally at the current export price makes eminent sense. Domestic output can but be a fraction of global ore production, and we do need clear-cut norms for export prices to determine scarcity value of ore.

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE BATTLE AFTER THE WAR

FOR YEARS RAFAEL NADAL CUSTOMISED HIS GAME TO TAME ONE DEMON, ONLY TO BE CHALLENGED BY ANOTHER


 It was a shot for the highlight reels. A throwback to Boris Becker's lunging, falling volleys in 1985, Pete Sampras's post-puke ace in 1996, Roger Federer's between-the-legs crosscourt winner in 2009, and Rafael Nadal running around a lob to unleash a top-spinning winner in 2010.

 

On Sunday evening, Novak Djokovic charged towards a drop shot, and without breaking stride, flicked it for a quarter-courter that landed behind his great Spanish opponent. As centre court erupted, Djokovic let out an involuntary scream, jumping in the air as if he'd already won Wimbledon. On the other side of the court, Nadal exchanged a quick glance with Uncle Toni. Life, he was telling him , is not fair.

 

The significance behind those unspoken words lay in Nadal's background, in two lives spent to ensure he becomes tennis's ultimate champion, and in five years taken to first catch and then overtake a shadow called Roger Federer. I've only just conquered one demon, Nadal seemed to be asking his mentor, do I really have to fight another?

 

For Rafael Nadal, the fight had started when he was eight years old. One day, Uncle Toni, who had anyway been grounding his nephew to the dust in training sessions, told him to start hitting with his left hand. The logic was that a left-hander's top-spin is harder to pick for a right-hander, and by making the shift, Rafa would have an advantage over a greater percentage of his opponents. "He plays with his left hand and catches the ball with his right," Toni likes to joke, "but he throws with either hand, badly with both."

 

Nadal is an athlete created to overcome challenges; a commando trained for a mission, constantly reinventing himself to tackle new problems. In 2009, when a back injury threatened to end his career, he changed his basic forehand swing – abandoning the flourishing behind-the-head followthrough for a forward-moving stroke that was less punishing on his body.

 

But the greatest fight of his life was against Federer. After being beaten soundly in their first few meetings, he and Uncle Toni started deconstructing Federer's game, making adjustments to counter his pace, his inside-out forehand, and his whiplash backhand drive. Though they'd started beating him on clay, defeating Federer on other surfaces became such an obsession that each encounter was part of a larger plan, each loss a lesson on what not to do in the future, and each training session had Federer's spirit hovering over it.

 

When he won Wimbledon in 2008, beating Federer in the match of the century, Toni had made Rafael the supreme, custom-made Federer-buster. The one who brought balance to the force.

 

But in this Star Wars analogy, Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker didn't realise that once Death Star had fallen, their ultimate challenge would come from Han Solo.

 

Until last year, Novak Djokovic was every bit the tennis world's fun loving, gun-toting, one-liner-making sidekick. He won the Australian Open in 2008, but remained largely insignificant to a storyline that revolved around the Federer-Nadal duopoly.

 When he won his first few matches this year, it was said he hadn't run into the big-two yet. When he won at Melbourne, it was considered premature to regard him as the third tower. When he started his inexorable march towards a 42-0 record to start the year, beating both Federer and Nadal along the way, it was described as a purple patch that would come to an abrupt end.

 

But more than what he's achieved -– winning two of first three Grand Slams, and defeating Nadal five times in a row – it's how Djokovic has gone about his tennis that calls for a paradigm shift in the way rivalries are perceived.

 

In the late '80s, tennis was an intriguing simultaneous equation: If Lendl beat Edberg, and Edberg beat Becker, Becker would beat Lendl. This time, considering Djokovic's 50-1 record and Federer's evident decline, the triopoly may not be so open-ended.

 

The year 2011 was supposed to be Nadal's. Free from injury, back at his best, beating Federer as a matter of course, he thought he'd enjoy the fruits of his labour with nothing and no one to worry about. But the man who systematically prepared for every eventuality has for once been caught unawares. Does he have it in him to reinvent again?

 

KUNAL PRADHAN LOOKS AT THE FLIP SIDE OF WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE WORLD OF SPORT

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LOKPAL: LET PARTIES REFLECT, TAKE CHARGE

 

After about three months of engaging alone with a particular activist group on the proposed Lokpal Bill, the government was able to bring other political parties into the frame on Sunday. It must derive some satisfaction from this, as it is now evident that the Anna Hazare group has been effectively sidelined. While the meeting of political parties called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resolved to introduce an "effective and strong" legislation, clearly a loose formulation that will permit debate and discussion within the political system, the full scope of this will no doubt be revealed during negotiations between parties in Parliament during the Monsoon Session. But one thing is certain: the legislation will be shaped in keeping with "established parliamentary procedures". Whimsical ideas from extraneous sources, such as individual civil society bodies, are clearly out. This is necessarily a good thing. Whatever the merits of particular suggestions by the Hazare group, its recommendations on the whole appeared quirky. To give one example, it wanted one per cent of GDP — around `20,000 crore — dedicated to servicing the Lokpal institution, so sweeping was the ambit of the ombudsman as visualised by this particular civil society group. The Hazare group gave the impression of being sanctimonious as they sought to dictate ideas that appeared to be in conflict with the constitutional order. Many people, including some with long years of governmental experience, began to worry about the import of the totality of the Hazare group's suggestions. To some, these appeared directed towards installing a council of guardians outside the country's constitutional system, which then naturally begged the question — "Who will guard the guardians?" — as tellingly observed by jurist Fali Nariman in an interview to this newspaper. Others wondered if the whole idea did not amount to setting up just one more state authority — one that could challenge the Prime Minister outside of Parliament and potentially unleash political instability — when the real malaise in the system is one of insufficient enforcement and implementation of laws and rules that have indeed been created after some thought. If only these are paid due attention, corruption, especially in high places, can be fairly effectively countered. Mr Hazare is committed to going on yet another hungerstrike if a Lokpal Bill to his taste is not introduced in Parliament by mid-August. But this time around his non-violent coercion might not find the kind of echo that his first protest sit-in did. Various political parties will no doubt mount such criticism of the government as might suit them, but none of them like the idea of playing second fiddle to civil society groups when it comes to lawmaking, which is the exclusive preserve of the legislatures. They could quite rightly argue that the consultation process with civil society — though with just one set of activists — was exhaustive, and should now be allowed to rest. The political parties and their representatives in Parliament must now wrestle with basic questions. Some of these are: Why a Lokpal at all if we already have enough laws to vanquish corruption? What specific gaps will such an institution plug? If the institution is to be established, should it be a statutory body or a constitutional one? The country has been on a rollercoaster ever since Mr Hazare agitated the waters. It is now time for purposeful reflection.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GAMESMANSHIP

 

At his now-famous interaction with a quintet of editors this past week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a few somewhat strange remarks about the Commonwealth Games of 2010 and the serial scandals that preceded it. In essence, he had two contentious points. First, Dr Singh alleged Mani Shankar Aiyar, as Union sports minister, had written to him "on purely ideological grounds… (and) was opposed to spending that much money on hosting" the Games. Mr Aiyar had not made any specific allegations against the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee or its chief, Suresh Kalmadi. "He (Mr Aiyar) did not bring to me anything wrong that was being done", Dr Singh said. Second, Dr Singh suggested his hands were tied by the institutional autonomy Mr Kalmadi enjoyed. For this he blamed the National Democratic Alliance government, which was in office till 2004: "Kalmadi was there because he was the president of the Indian Olympic Association. The agreement to host the CWG was signed in the year 2003 when the previous government was in power". All the quotes above have been taken from the transcript released by the Prime Minister's Office and placed on its website. Do they represent the truth and nothing but the truth, or do they reflect only a selective truth? To understand that, one has to go back to the organisational structure of the Commonwealth Games. Under the rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), national bodies such as the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) need to be free of government interference. These are civil society institutions and cannot be run by government ministers and bureaucrats by fiat. To maintain the integrity of the IOA is, however, different from putting together a framework to deliver a successful Commonwealth Games. This is not unique to India. In London, preparation for and execution of the 2012 Olympic Games is the mandate of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG). The British Olympic Association (BOA) is a stakeholder in LOCOG. Its chairperson and chief executive are members of the LOCOG board. Even so the two, LOCOG and BOA, are institutionally distinct. In 2003, the Government of India did make some commitments to the CGF. It agreed to provide sovereign guarantees and underwrite the Games in diplomatic and financial terms, should the Organising Committee (OC) so require. This again is not unusual. A big sports event of this nature has to have a substantial host government buy-in. For instance, only a national government can grant visas and provide security cover. Take another example. Given New Delhi's traffic, the agreement with the CGF agreed to set aside one lane on the city's roads for travel of athletes and Games officials. Obviously the IOA or the prospective OC could not do this. They had no authority over Delhi police. As such, the government had to make that promise. So far so good: now where did the OC come in? The OC was meant to ensure the requisite infrastructure was ready for the Games, the equipment was in place, the caterers were working in the kitchens, the signage and stopwatches had been acquired. It was then expected to conduct the Games as an event-management entity. Of course, it would need to consult the IOA since this was a sporting event. The sports element — as opposed to, say, hiring caterers or buying computers for the media centre — was the expertise of the IOA. Much of the money for the OC's budget was coming from the Government of India. Since this was use of public funds, a degree of public oversight of the OC's functioning was appropriate. It was originally envisaged that the Prime Minister would be chairperson of the OC and the IOA president would be deputy chairperson. When he came to 7 Race Course Road in 2004, Dr Singh brushed aside this idea. Fair enough, the Prime Minister is a busy man and has better things to do than supervise the Commonwealth Games. Even so, quite astonishingly, Dr Singh did not nominate another minister, public servant or government representative for the job. By default, Mr Kalmadi became OC chairperson. So consider this, the government was funding the OC but did not bother to place somebody who would monitor its interest at the top of the OC hierarchy. In 1982, the Asian Games Special Organising Committee was headed by Buta Singh, then a Union minister. He was not president of the IOA but did consult the IOA. It is crucial to understand Mr Kalmadi had every right to autonomy as IOA president. He did not have every right to autonomy as OC chairperson. The IOA is a perennial institution dedicated to promoting the Olympic movement in India. The OC was a project management and delivery vehicle, no more. It was ad hoc and coterminous with the Games. The OC had a general body comprising over 450 people. Besides this, it had 1,600 employees. These people were paid salaries using grants given by the Government of India. How were they being hired? What were their salaries? The government had a right to know. The Olympic Charter did not prevent the government from asking these questions. Neither did the agreement signed with the CGF in the tenure of the NDA government. It is understood two Union sports ministers — Mr Aiyar and his successor, M.S. Gill — urged Prime Minister Singh to curtail Mr Kalmadi's powers and give oversight of the Games project to a wider, cross-cutting body that would straddle governmental, civic and sports-event responsibilities. It is also believed Mr Kalmadi's friends and co-conspirators in the CGF somehow persuaded Dr Singh that this would be unfair. They are supposed to have put forward the spurious argument that the OC's autonomy needed to be preserved because it was linked to the IOA's autonomy. Some of Mr Aiyar's letters to the Prime Minister are now in the public domain. Perhaps he and Mr Gill should be called upon to clarify exactly what they told the Prime Minister and when. It is in Dr Singh's interest to push them in this direction. * The author can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

FATTENING CORPORATES WON'T BRING JOBS

 

Watching the evolution of economic discussion in Washington over the past couple of years has been a disheartening experience. Month by month, the discourse has gotten more primitive; with stunning speed, the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis have been forgotten, and the very ideas that got us into the crisis — regulation is always bad, what's good for the bankers is good for America, tax cuts are the universal elixir — have regained their hold. And now trickle-down economics — specifically, the idea that anything that increases corporate profits is good for the economy — is making a comeback. On the face of it, this seems bizarre. Over the last two years profits have soared while unemployment has remained disastrously high. Why should anyone believe that handing even more money to corporations, no strings attached, would lead to faster job creation? Nonetheless, trickle-down is clearly on the ascendant — and even some Democrats are buying into it. What am I talking about? Consider first the arguments Republicans are using to defend outrageous tax loopholes. How can people simultaneously demand savage cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and defend special tax breaks favoring hedge fund managers and owners of corporate jets? Well, here's what a spokesman for Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post: "You can't help the wage earner by taxing the wage payer offering a job". He went on to imply, disingenuously, that the tax breaks at issue mainly help small businesses (they're actually mainly for big corporations). But the basic argument was that anything that leaves more money in the hands of corporations will mean more jobs. That is, it's pure trickle-down. And then there's the repatriation issue. US corporations are supposed to pay taxes on the profits of their overseas subsidiaries — but only when those profits are transferred back to the parent company. Now there's a move afoot — driven, of course, by a major lobbying campaign — to offer an amnesty under which companies could move funds back while paying hardly any taxes. And even some Democrats are supporting this idea, claiming that it would create jobs. As opponents of this plan point out, we've already seen this movie: A similar tax holiday was offered in 2004, with a similar sales pitch. And it was a total failure. Companies did indeed take advantage of the amnesty to move a lot of money back to the United States. But they used that money to pay dividends, pay down debt, buy up other companies, buy back their own stock — pretty much everything except increasing investment and creating jobs. Indeed, there's no evidence that the 2004 tax holiday did anything at all to stimulate the economy. What the tax holiday did do, however, was give big corporations a chance to avoid paying taxes, because they would eventually have repatriated, and paid taxes on, much of the money they brought in under the amnesty. And it also gave these companies an incentive to move even more jobs overseas, since they now know that there's a good chance that they'll be able to bring overseas profits home nearly tax-free under future amnesties. Yet as I said, there's a push for a repeat of this disastrous performance. And this time around the circumstances are even worse. Think about it: How can anyone imagine that lack of corporate cash is what's holding back recovery in America right now? After all, it's widely understood that corporations are already sitting on large amounts of cash that they aren't investing in their own businesses. In fact, that idle cash has become a major conservative talking point, with Right-wingers claiming that businesses are failing to invest because of political uncertainty. That's almost surely false: the evidence strongly says that the real reason businesses are sitting on cash is lack of consumer demand. In any case, if corporations already have plenty of cash they're not using, why would giving them a tax break that adds to this pile of cash do anything to accelerate recovery? It wouldn't, of course; claims that a corporate tax holiday would create jobs, or that ending the tax break for corporate jets would destroy jobs, are nonsense. So here's what you should answer to anyone defending big giveaways to corporations: Lack of corporate cash is not the problem facing America. Big business already has the money it needs to expand; what it lacks is a reason to expand with consumers still on the ropes and the government slashing spending. What American economy needs is direct job creation by the government and mortgage-debt relief for stressed consumers. What it very much does not need is a transfer of billions of dollars to corporations that have no intention of hiring anyone except more lobbyists.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

PM & A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTIES

 

Opinion is divided on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refurbished his image after addressing television editors on February 16 and his session with five senior editors from the print media on June 29. While there are some who argue that Dr Singh came out of the media interactions appearing more sincere and in complete charge, others contend that he ended up raising more doubts about the current state of cleanliness of his government. Now in his eighth year as head of the world's largest democracy, nobody questions Dr Singh's personal integrity. But that's no longer the germane issue. He may be squeaky clean but under his watch the corrupt became brazen and corruption grew to alarming proportions. For example, in the second generation (2G) spectrum scam, Dr Singh is being perceived to have turned a blind eye to what was happening around him for three long years. His explanation that he did not deem it necessary to interfere in the policies and procedures that were followed (while allocating scarce spectrum on a first-come-first-served basis) is not convincing. The analogy that he drew to justify why spectrum had been deliberately under-priced — by drawing comparisons with subsidies on foodgrain, fertilisers and kerosene — did not go down very well with many. And his contention that former Union communications and information technology minister Andimuthu Raja's appointment for a second term was because of the compulsions of coalition politics has arguably not bolstered his image as a person in command over a fractious, multi-party coalition government. After his June 29 meeting with editors from the print media, there were a few avoidable goofs. If indeed Dr Singh made a few statements on Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh that were supposed to be off the record, there is no reason why these statements should have appeared on his official website (even for a brief while). This kind of bureaucratic inefficiency or negligence is difficult to pardon, even if one is charitable (in this day and age of voice-recognition software) about the many hours it took for the transcript of the press conference to enter the public domain. One aspect, did, however, come through rather loud and clear. Dr Singh is clearly unsettled by the recent findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. This was evident from what he said right upfront in his opening remarks before questions were put to him. Here's an excerpt: "We live in a world of uncertainty and ex-post, whether it is the CAG, whether it is a Parliamentary Committee then they analyse post-facto. They have a lot more facts that were not available to those who took the decision. I am not saying that it is not possible that some people may deliberately do wrong things, but in many cases it would turn out in that sort of a scenario it is very difficult to operate. So we must create in this country an environment in which governments, ministers and civil servants will not be discouraged from taking decisions in the national interest when all facts are not known; they will never be known. We take decisions in a world of uncertainty and that's the perspective I think Parliament, our CAG and our media must adopt if this nation is to move forward". On the draft CAG report on how the government allegedly favoured Reliance Industries, among other companies, while putting together a contract to extract natural gas found in the Krishna-Godavari (KG) basin, Dr Singh said, "Well, I think the CAG also leaks. It is not the function of the CAG… it has never been the case that the CAG has held a press conference as the present CAG has done. But nobody is commenting on all this. It is not right for the CAG to go into issues that are not their concern; it is not the CAG's business to comment on policy issues. I think they should limit themselves to the mandate given under the Constitution. We are now a permissive society. I think if the media can get away with murder so can the CAG". These remarks are, in the humble opinion of this correspondent, completely unwarranted. First, there is a 2005 judgment of the Madras high court upholding the right of the CAG and its functionaries to brief the media on the contents of reports presented either in Parliament or in state legislatures. Secondly, it was not the CAG himself (Vinod Rai) but his deputy (Rekha Gupta) who briefed the media on November 16 last year — the day the CAG's report on the 2G spectrum scam was tabled in Parliament and a day before Mr Raja was forced to put in his papers, kicking and screaming. In the past too, officials from the CAG's office have formally briefed journalists. Thirdly — and this is the most substantive point — it cannot be Dr Singh's claim that the CAG should keep mum if a policy of the government results in a huge loss to the exchequer. A constitutional authority like the CAG cannot surely remain silent if a so-called government policy is deliberately twisted out of shape to favour a select group of firms. In all honesty, one is far from convinced that the scams relating to allocation of 2G spectrum and KG gas were on account of decisions taken without adequate information — they seem to clearly be a result of deliberate dereliction of duty by rogue elements in the government. Dr Singh is also being a tad economical with the truth when he states that the letters that had been written to him on excess expenditure being incurred on the Commonwealth Games by former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar were a consequence of the latter's "ideological opposition" to "so much money" being spent on the Games. Yes, Indian society has indeed become permissive, but not so much on account of the media and the CAG. Believing that would be running away from reality. * The author is an educator and commentator

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE IDEOLOGY BOGEY

 

Call someone ideological, and you have effectively done him/her in. In today's popular perception, an ideological person does not have an argument. He or she only carries baggage — mostly old, mostly junk — and therefore can be ignored. The latest to get the rap for being ideological is Mani Shankar Aiyar, the former sports minister. Apparently, in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games (CWG), Mr Aiyar shot off a great many missives seeking to draw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's attention to the extravagance and expenses associated with the event. Dr Singh did not quite see things the same way, and in his recent powwow with editors, described the former sports minister's opposition to the CWG as "purely ideological". Never mind that Mr Aiyar is an economics topper from Delhi University, did a Tripos in the subject at Cambridge and could possibly have been making an economic argument against the Games in addition to whatever ideological positions he is charged with. Perhaps we have not heard the end of the story, and one eagerly awaits a witty Aiyarism on the subject. There is a takeaway lesson here that is relevant to one of the prickliest issues of the day — land acquisition for infrastructure and industry. India needs industry and infrastructure. Both need sizeable tracts of land. However, in a country where most people still live off farming, land continues to be a hugely sensitive issue. It is not only its emotive value. Where there is no social security, people do not easily give up their land, often the only fixed asset they have, if they feel they are not getting a fair compensation. Then, there are issues of livelihood. In tribal areas, where property titles are hazy, it gets more complicated. Anyone cataloguing these issues is often accused of being ideological. That label ends the argument and obscures the practical aspects of the issue. These aspects are now critical. At this moment, land disputes and protests by affected communities have stalled some of the country's biggest infrastructure projects, putting a big question mark on the future of economic growth, specifically foreign investment. Land is a state subject. Different states have different land-acquisition policies. The Centre is working on a new bill on the issue that will hopefully make things better. Meanwhile, a furious debate rages on how best to work out compensation for the project-displaced people. The emphasis, so far, has been on how much money should be paid to people whose land is being acquired and how corporates mired in land acquisition troubles are taking a hit. To get things moving, an equally lively discourse is needed on another key question: How should adverse consequences of development projects be addressed? Till the 1980s, most policymakers and planners across the world believed that the negative aspects of development-induced displacement were far outweighed by the positive side, and that some people would have to make sacrifices for the long-term greater good. Typically, resettlement programmes meant statutory monetary compensation for land acquired for the project. In some instances, development of the resettlement site was also part of the package. But few policymakers lost sleep worrying about the future of the communities likely to be displaced by infrastructure projects. The situation started changing in the 1990s. The trigger was the growing chorus of protests in several countries where populations had been forced to move. Policymakers were forced to recognise that insufficient attention to resettlement and rehabilitation of affected communities does not pay in the long run. Academia, public interest groups, activists of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media started debating the pros and cons of development-induced displacement. This led to a growing realisation that fair compensation to the project-affected people for the loss of their land and livelihood meant not just money but also help to rebuild homes and communities and re-establish businesses. Within Asia, among the first to accept these shifts in the policy discourse were bankers and donor agencies who gave money to fund infrastructure — notably the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (now called the Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA). A good example of how a developing country can tackle the twin pressures of infrastructure needs and the interests of communities affected by such projects comes from neighbouring Sri Lanka. In 2001, the island nation adopted a landmark policy, the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy (NIRP). An innovative initiative I saw on the outskirts of Colombo a few years ago — Lunawa Environment Improvement and Community Development Project (LEI&CDP) — offers some ideas on how to translate policy into practice. It was originally conceived as an engineering solution to problems caused by regular flooding in the Lunawa catchment area. But its three key backers — the Sri Lankan government, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme incorporated a strong community-development component in the project design. LEI&CDP pioneered the use of NGOs to "sell" a package of interventions to communities who were going to be affected by the project to erase the distrust they traditionally harboured towards government agencies. NGO representatives made door-to-door visits to boost the community's confidence and goodwill towards the project, to reduce fears about displacement in the early days and help formulate the entitlement packages. Many families who had lived in shanties previously, who had to move to make way for the project, now own their own homes in the resettlement sites. Everyone, including squatters, now have bank accounts that they acquired when the compensation amounts had to be deposited. When affected families were being resettled in new sites, it was ensured that women were joint owners of the property and had a legal claim. One remarkable mechanism used to revitalise the displaced communities was "community contracting" — community-based organisations in the area issued "community contracts" to build drains, service roads, community centres, etc. within the resettlement sites and others parts of the project area. In many cases, individuals and families have become much richer by tapping into these opportunities. As India finalises a new land-acquisition deal, it is good to draw a lesson or two from the Lunawa project. Investing time and resources in the preparatory phase pays. When there is a trust deficit, NGO partners can mediate between affected communities, the project team and local authorities. None of this reflects an "ideological" position. It is intensely practical. * The author writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

KNOWLEDGE FINDS DIVINITY

 

In my previous columns, I have written about the meaning of education and knowledge, the difference between the two and how education is the means to the end (knowledge) and not the end itself. Some misconceptions were dealt with and removed. Now, let us consider the highest knowledge — the Vision of Oneness. We know that education can only be imparted, whereas knowledge has to be discovered or found. Education prepares one for only some aspects of life. It may get one a job, provide one with material comforts, but only knowledge prepares one to face life squarely and bring about the transformation that makes him/her a new person. "Knowledge" in Sanskrit is called jnana. The Bhagavad Gita classifies knowledge into three different categories — sattvika, rajasika and tamasika. Tamasika Jnana: Here, a part is mistaken for the whole and one gets attached to that part alone. All thoughts and actions reflect this baser vision. The feeling that "my path alone is right and yours is wrong" is one example. People with such a vision can become intolerant and fanatic. For one who thinks in a narrow and petty way, there are always conflicts. This is tamasika jnana. Rajasika Jnana: Perceived differences when considered real, form the base of rajasika vision. We then understand each thing separately, as being distinct and different from every other object. To see the world as "mine", as opposed to "not mine" is rajasika. Though the Lord has created only one earth and space, the whole world has become divided into nations, with even different national air and water spaces. This is the divisive vision, the rajasika jnana. Sattvika Jnana: When we look out through our sense organs, mind and intellect, we see that no two things are the same. Everything is different. We perceive this world with the duality of the seer and the seen. To see differences is the function of our gross and subtle equipment. While we perceive this variety, the understanding by which we are able to see the one reality that pervades all differences — the recognition of oneness in many — is called the highest knowledge. To see unity in diversity is called the noble vision, sattvika jnana. Our body is a good example to illustrate sattvika jnana. The hands, the head and the legs are all different, but in my understanding I know that all these form part of "me". The "I" vision pervades all different parts of my body. If somebody touches my back, I immediately react by asking, "Why are you touching me?" The best vision then is to be able to see the one reality that pervades all. We can learn a lot regarding the noble vision from our attitude towards our own body. Suppose my finger accidentally pokes my eye, I will not cut off the finger because it has hurt my eye. I will use the same finger to rub my eye and console it. Also, if by mistake we bite the tongue, do we remove the teeth and punish them? No, because the teeth are also part of myself and are just as dear to me as every other part of my body. When there is a sense of oneness, there is love. When there is love, there is a desire to serve. In the present era, we are not able to serve because we lack the ability to love and a sense of oneness is missing. Our formal education must give us this noble vision, which will bring about a transformation in ourselves and the world. If one person changes, s/he can change the world. That one person can have a ripple effect. Saints and sages have had a great influence on the masses for centuries because of their noble vision. The wise hate none and are friends to all. When this vision of oneness comes, it changes our life totally. We should not wait for others to change, rather we must begin with ourselves. We must be the change. — Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmayamission.com. © Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

COURTING CONSENSUS

'COSMETICS' WILL NOT DELIVER


WISHFUL thinking it was for the UPA to expect a lifeline from the Opposition after getting itself into a quagmire with Team Anna (it is time to puncture the "civil society" balloon) over the Lokpal affair. That despite considerable public support for any perceived crusade against corruption the Opposition did not endorse the line taken by the Hazare group, and actually flayed its being granted so much importance, articulates the width of the national political divide: as well as the government's credibility deficit. A deficit exacerbated by arrogance that renders ineffective most "shows" of seeking consensus, creating confidence and the like. A handful of sinisterly selected editors may have been lured into losing perspective having been flattered at being the chosen few: the Opposition, mercifully, has proved it is made of sterner stuff. Rightly has it asked the government to present its draft of the Lokpal legislation before the appropriate forum, and then adhere to established parliamentary norms. If the UPA finds itself cornered once more by the nature of protest Hazare & Co, adopt, and the public backing that protest generates, it can blame no one but itself. The contention that the Opposition is not cooperating will not wash: did it consult, even informally, with leaders of UPA groups when the controversy was snowballing? Did the UPA really believe that an "audience" with Madame would prove a magic wand (Dr Manmohan Singh laments he lacks one) and result in the Opposition supplicating itself as is the practice with Congress chief ministers and other party leaders? Did it really believe a single all-party meet would suffice to bridge gaps over the specifics and undo the damage caused by the Congress party's, and subsequently ministerial, spokespersons' tirade against those from whom it now seeks assistance?
Cosmetics, however, did not come into play only in respect of Sunday's less-than-holy meeting. After getting jittery over Anna Hazare's fast at  Jantar Mantar ~ or rather the TV presentation of it ~ the government opted to be "clever". It made light of parliamentary practices and traditions and conceded an unprecedented joint drafting committee: then it tried to discredit a member of Team Anna, and when that did not click backtracked at the committee's interaction. The same cosmetic conduct was evident in the red carpet-and-lathi approach to Baba Ramdev, given exalted status by the UPA's mischief mongers who thought they could hoodwink them. The script has soured. The real victim is Dr Manmohan Singh. While of late his reputation for efficiency and running a clean government has been corroded (by coalition compulsions?), the UPA's devious handling of all aspects of the Lokpal storm has also called into question his sincerity.


PM ON BANGLADESH

NOT REALLY OFF THE MARK

THE Prime Minister's remark on Bangladesh ~ in course of an otherwise farcical interaction with some editors ~ has caused a flutter in the roost in Dhaka as much as in Delhi. The general perception, if bereft of data, may not have been wholly off the mark; Dr Manmohan Singh would have been on firmer ground though had he substantiated his observation with facts and figures instead of being seemingly superficial. The PMO appears to have been driven by a desperate anxiety to mend fences with an apparently friendly and democratic regime, now constitutionally certified as an Islamic state. The Prime Minister has claimed that at least 25 per cent of Bangladeshis are "anti-India, affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami and in the clutches of the ISI". Indeed, this was the reality during the dispensation of the pro-Islamist Begum Khaleda when there was a spurt in the trans-border migration of fundamentalist militants, let alone the formation of extremist hubs across the border. Not that there has been a dramatic change under the Awami League. It may be a more democratic dispensation, but Begum Hasina has stopped short of a ban on militant outfits. There is little doubt that the Bangladesh military, with a sizeable segment of repatriates from Pakistan, remains anti-liberation and ergo, anti-India. This phenomenon is not recent; it has been manifest in the post-Mujib era and has become still more complex over time. Those "stranded Pakistanis" ~ whom Pakistan didn't accept post 1971 ~ have crossed over the porous border to India. Successive governments at the Centre and in the border states have treated them as state guests; now they even flaunt citizens' identity cards that have been issued both to the fake and the genuine in the border states. They cannot be deemed to be particularly pro-India; as often as not the eastern states have been used by the fundamentalists as a corridor to Kashmir and thence to Pakistan. The Prime Minister has made the statement acutely conscious of the almost intractable nature of the problem. And successive governments, including his own, must share the responsibility. Yet he has grossly miscalculated the timing of his remarks, specifically when his government imagines that it is engaged in negotiations with a "friendly neighbour". Yet the agreements that have been signed have skirted the core issue of Islamist militancy. The damage-control exercise by the PMO to the effect that the remarks "were by no means intended to be judgmental" is neither here nor there. This is in accord with the wooly-headedness that has marked dealings with Bangladesh. The reality can't be discounted; nor for that matter can the PMO afford to be diplomatic.


VERDICT IN THAILAND

MILITARY MUST RESPECT VOX POPULI

A new chapter opens in Thailand, which has witnessed a tumultuous phase of late, with the landslide victory of Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of the ousted Prime Minister, Thaksin, now in exile in Dubai. At 44, she joins the league of Indira Gandhi, Begum Hasina, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Benazir Bhutto and Corazon Aquino. The triumph of the Puea Thai (PT) party signals a moment in history ~ the country is set to have its first woman Prime Minister. And it would be idle to speculate just yet whether her dispensation will be a proxy for Thaksin's. Her effectiveness will, however, depend on the role of the military which had backed the outgoing regime of Abhishit Vejjajiva, who had forestalled elections for as long as he could and despite the strident and frequently violent demand from the Red Shirt brigade. Yingluck is acutely conscious of the brittle nature of Thailand's body politic and the shadow of the soldier's gun. She has been remarkably pragmatic, and not euphoric, in her immediate response: "There are many things to accomplish to make reconciliation possible, paving the way for a solid foundation for a flourishing nation."
The result is doubtless a tremendous morale booster, indeed a turnaround of fortune, for the family of Thaksin, who was ousted as Prime Minister by the military in 2006 and then convicted in absentia. And yet despite the margin of victory, stability remains an imponderable not least in a country that has known little or no stability over the past decade. Misgivings expressed by Yingluck's supporters that the victory could be challenged are not wholly unfounded. The PT's victory is the fourth in six years for Mr Thaksin's group; but the results have been overturned on three previous occasions.  With an estimated 90 deaths in political violence over the past one year, Thailand cries out for peace as much as stability. The military must now hold its fire; Sunday's result has reaffirmed the democratic engagement. Any attempt to stifle the voice of the people will ignite the ferment as in the faraway Arab world.

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

POLITICIANS VS CIVIL SOCIETY

WHEN GOVERNMENT IS OF THE THIEVES, BY THE THIEVES AND FOR THE THIEVES

MG DEVASAHAYAM


A DEBATE is on over the role of civil society and popular movements in influencing government policies and laws. Politicians of the beleaguered UPA government are increasingly trying to discredit mass movements against corruption by declaring that civil society cannot usurp the right to legislate ~ a right which, according to them, is the exclusive preserve of  'elected representatives'. Congress veterans seem to be in competition over offering their gems of wisdom.


Home minister P Chidambaram, facing fraud charges over 'getting himself elected', set the ball rolling when he said, "Elected members cannot yield to civil society since this might undermine parliamentary democracy." As a wag promptly retorted, "Yes, Chidambaram is right. Elected members should yield only to Niira Radia and corporate plunderers and not to those who elected them." Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has charged civil society with weakening the democratic institutions.


The Congress spokesperson, Manish Tewari, almost went berserk: "If this country and democracy has any threat, it is from the unelected tyrants. If democracy faces its greatest peril, it is from the tyranny of the unelected and unelectable." True, for those steeped in corruption, people who raise their voice are indeed 'tyrants'! But, the fact is that it is not democracy or its institutions that are in danger, but the 'kleptocracts' who run the government of the thieves, by the thieves and for the thieves who are facing the heat!
Politicians and their cronies had become so paranoid that one of them even went to the Supreme Court with an absurd plea that 'it was impermissible under the Constitution to involve civil society in the drafting of a Bill, which was the sole prerogative of the legislative department of the government.'
And Man Friday Kabil Sibal put his imprimatur on that: 'Civil society won't be involved in future for drafting the law'. That is it. If only these worthies had an elementary understanding of society and democracy!
It would be useful to quote Wikipedia's definition of civil society: "It is composed of the totality of voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state and the commercial institutions of the market. Together, state, market and civil society constitute the entirety of a society, and the relations between these three components determine the character of a society and its structure."
Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. This includes participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. People's sovereignty is the founding principle of such a system. A parliamentary system is nothing more than representative democracy in which citizens do have a right to tell their elected representatives what kind of laws they want enacted and what laws they want changed or scrapped. Mass movements for doing so strengthen democracy; they don't weaken it as apprehended by our 'intellectually arrogant' Home minister.
The Special Economic Zones Act is a case in point. This law was drafted without the citizens' consent and enacted by Parliament without a word of dissent. But when implemented, those most affected by this law ~ farmers ~ did not accept it. This has led to massive resistance all over the country. Indeed, there is virtual civil war in the tribal heartland of Dandakaranya.
A series of laws have been opposed because they were enacted without the involvement of citizens when India was under colonial administration. Notably, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The first provides that fertile farm land can be acquired for a song to build super-luxury malls and bungalows by invoking the urgency clause of Section 17 of the Act. It deprives the aggrieved persons the right to object. Even the Supreme Court has come down heavily against this Act.  The Indian Penal Code still has the sedition clause under which British rulers arrested patriots and freedom fighters. This section is now being used against citizens fighting against corruption and injustice. Our 'elected representatives' have not bothered to amend  these draconian laws even six decades after Independence.
The BJP enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, without any consultation, consensus or consent. It goes against the concept of  freedom. The same party's government issued 'The Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Ordinance, 2002', conferring draconian powers to bank managers to take possession and sell the properties mortgaged with them by genuine borrowers. Parliament confirmed the Ordinance without debate, thereby depriving small and medium entrepreneurs their basic right and livelihood in the most arbitrary and autocratic manner.
Because the views and inputs of civil society are not taken into consideration, there are several impractical Central and state laws that are sources of corruption and black money.
In the reckoning of politicians, civil society undermines parliamentary democracy. On the contrary, it is the politicians who are undermining parliamentary democracy through feudal and dynastic political outfits. Indeed, they are indulging in large-scale electoral corruption and thuggery. Certain parties are calling the shots. They are dominating over governments without any constitutional sanction. Our Constitution, which has provision for all institutions/instruments of governance, has nothing for 'politicians' or 'political parties'. The charge that civil society activists are seeking to replace Parliament does not hold water. In the context of the Jan Lokpal Bill, civil society activists are seeking to shape the draft, mobilise opinion on the content, and hold elected representatives accountable to such opinion. The common people are better informed and closely involved than ever before. But the actual task of enacting the law still rests with MPs. The debates within Parliament are likely to be closely scrutinised  by citizens. This is a process that is essential for the growth of democracy. Politicians and the government only expose their authoritarian streak by trying to discredit such participatory processes.
The writer is a former IAS officer

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THE STATESMAN

GIVE AND TAKE

 AMIT KUSHARI 

The three neighbours ~ India, Pakistan and Bangladesh ~  who were parts of the whole till 1947 ~ have many things in common. The three countries share many languages, cultural interests and values. It was the great Pakistani poet, Iqbal, who penned the patriotic song Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Thakur's compositions Jana gana mana and Aamar shonar Bangla, aami tomai bhalobashi are the national anthems of India and Bangladesh, respectively. But despite such shared heritage, the three neighbours do not share good relations. There is a huge trust deficit which the three countries seem to be doing very little about.
When poor Bangladeshis cross over to India in search of a livelihood, they are summarily deported ~ an action prompted by the fear that such influx could alter predominantly-Hindu India's demography. On the western border, there are high, electrified fences to prevent the entry of armed Pakistani infiltrators. The relation between India and Pakistan is particularly unsavoury. Many a time I have stood gazing beyond the gate at the Indo-Pak border at Suchetgarh in Jammu that divides the two nations. I have also admired with awe the huge tree which is located right on the border ~ dividing its shade equally between India and Pakistan. It's munificence never failed to remind me of the famous mehman nawazi(hospitality) of the residents of Sialkot or Lahore and regretted that it wouldn't be possible to simply drive over to enjoy it.
At the Indo-Bangladesh border, Kushtia district on the other side was more accessible to me. Since India and Bangladesh are more civil to each other, it was possible for me to drive across and discuss border thefts and crimes with the hospitable sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Meherpur in Kushtia at his bungalow. I was the district magistrate of Nadia in West Bengal at that time and will never forget the cordial exchanges in Bangla that had softened our bureaucratic business a great deal. My father was posted as the Meherpur SDM during 1942-43 and everyone seemed to remember him with great affection and many enquired after his health and wellbeing. An elderly peon came forward to tell me: "I was Mr Kushari's bungalow peon. When you go back to Kolkata please tell sahab and memsahab (my parents) that Fazlur Rehman is as poor today as he was in 1943. The birth of Pakistan has not helped me in any way." Similar sentiments were shared by Sialkot resident Khurshid Ahmed when he grasped my hands at the border checkpost in Suchetgarh (Jammu). He said that he had brought his children along so that they could have a glimpse of India beyond the barbed wires. India had to be trifurcated ostensibly owing to the customary mistrust between Muslims and Hindus. Over the ages, Hindus always considered Muslims as outsiders and treated them as much. On the other hand, Muslims thought Hindus needed to be converted to Islam before any meaningful relationship could be established and didn't hesitate to use the sword. There was also a great deal of togetherness fostered by shared history and heritage but it was brushed aside by political expediency and ultimately, the subcontinent splintered. As separate nations, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh must respect each other's sovereign-ty but that doesn't mean that they can't be friends. Why can't we travel freely between the three countries unfettered by a strict visa regime?
The Kashmir problem has always cast its shadows over Indo-Pak relations. Since Kashmir has no bearing on the country's eastern border, Indo-Bangla relations are much more amicable. Pakistan has never forgiven India for not parting with the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Since India is a powerful nation, much more militarily advanced, Pakistan cannot defeat it in a direct war. That's why it has bred terrorists to be unleashed at will on India. Look at Kashmir, look at the 26/11 Mumbai carnage ~ they epitomise Pakistan's efforts to wage a guerilla war. They also epitomise the elected Pakistani government's  helplessness in dealing internally with the Frankenstein that the country has so assiduously created. But it is also important to understand Pakistan's point of view if India wishes to improve it relations with its neighbour. Peaceful negotiation is the only way forward but the government must remember to include representatives of Kashmiri Muslims in the talks. If New Delhi agrees to grant autonomous status to the Muslim-majority areas of J&K and allows visa-free access to Pakistanis only to the autonomous territory of J&K, that would encourage Pakistan to grant Indians visa-free access to Pakistan-administered parts of Kashmir. But New Delhi must ensure that the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist residents of J&K have nothing to do with the autonomous territory.
The conflict between India and Pakistan must be resolved in a spirit of give and take. Pakistan cannot be allowed to build roads clandestinely in its northern region, thereby giving China an access to the Arabian Sea. Islamabad is well aware of India's problems with China especially with regard to Beijing's claim over parts of Arunachal Pradesh whose residents see themselves as nothing else but Indians. China is also reportedly building a dam over the Brahmaputra ~ a project that could endanger Assam's irrigation prospects. New Delhi deeply disapproves of Sino-Pak proximity and Pakistan must calibrate its relationship with Beijing with that in mind if it wants to improve its chances with India. On its part, the Indian government should ensure that its foreign policy doesn't overtly offend Pakistan.

The writer is former Financial Commissioner of J&K

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THE STATESMAN

NOW & AGAIN

SURAJIT KUMAR DAS


As an ex-bureaucrat, it pleases me to see that our new chief minister is an advocate of one ritual that the much-derided bureaucrat swears by, namely, surprise visit. Her initiative is regarded with awe and reported faithfully by members of the media. Without the benefit of limelight, myself, throughout my 36-year career of a bureaucrat, made many surprise visits with some benefits, hopefully, accruing to those visited. Not that I complain or am envious ~ I leave that to demoralised CPI-M leaders ~ but my superiors had dinned into me as a probationary postal officer the virtues of paying surprise visits incognito to Post/Railway Mail Service offices to get a hang of the real, as they say, state of affairs.
How does one decide how many surprise visits will be too many? The whole point is in the surprise part of it. If that is lost, all is lost. Expect then to see tipped-off staff on their best behaviour and ingeniously exhibiting for the visitor's benefit an overt show of efficiency. Surprise is very important. It helps gauge the depth of public derision and disgust and also aids in quantifying the number of times subordinate staff blame everything on the distant superior when faced with customer wrath.
Surprise visits sometimes make for surprise discoveries. When an official heard rumours about RMS staff in the Delhi-Jodhpur sorting section ~ very much his domain ~ going about their business to the beats of moves practised by a dancing girl retained for their express entertainment, he decided to make a surprise visit. A midnight recce of the said RMS carriage revealed nothing else but serious-faced staff sorting mail assiduously ~ he saw no sign of a girl, dancing or otherwise! Explanation: his staff had taken time to open the locked carriage door despite his persistent knocking in order to bundle their entertainer into a mailbag and kept her hidden among several gunny bags in the depths of the carriage. In 1974, while checking on RMS staff working in the Allahabad-Gaya sorting section, I sat down unsuspectingly on mailbags under which were hidden bagsful of rice. The staff were ferrying the rice from Allahabad to Gaya ~ where the commodity was costlier ~ to make a killing. I had seen many things on the innumerable surprise visits I had sprung on my staff but had never expected them to be profiteering from rice!
Another time, I detected fraud at a post office I had visited at random. Next day, the postmaster had gone missing, abandoning his family at the attached residential quarters. More than the fraud, his decampment surprised, nay, shocked me. He remained untraced for a year till he surrendered in a court. There, he confessed to having gambled away public money and since he couldn't recoup the losses, had fled to Nepal to commit suicide but as he lacked the courage and with thoughts of his hapless family overwhelming him, he returned to own up his sins.  
Surprise official visits do have their uses. What Nikolai Gogol had exposed about Czarist Russia in The Government Inspector is still relevant for contemporary India. No Hazare or Ramdev, no matter how much fasting, can cure the country of the curse that even Kautilya couldn't help but document in Arthasastra.

 

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THE STATESMAN

100 YEARS AGO TODAY

OCCASIONAL NOTES


The British Medical Journal has for some time been carrying on a vigorous campaign against secret remedies and proprietary medicines. It relies chiefly upon the method, to which no one can reasonably object, of carefully analysing the patent drugs which are purchased in open market, and publishing the results. The results are in some cases very interesting. It has recently analysed one nostrum that is said to have a remarkable therapeutic effect, for it has the magical property, when it is swallowed, of seeking out any organ or portion of the body which is in an unhealthy condition and proceeding to cure it. It is said to be composed of the active principles of rare herbs growing upon the Himalayan mountains, but the names of these herbs are unknown to Western science. Analysis reveals the cold fact that this powder is simply potato flour. One ounce of this certainly harmless substance, divided into twenty powders, is sold for 2s 9d. It has to be admitted that the medicines are in many cases of a kind that can do no possible harm; in other cases the constituents are genuine drugs of a useful kind which are skillfully disguised. Any fault that is to be found is with the advertisements which attribute to them a much wider sphere of efficacy than they really possess, and with the price which may be perhaps ten times as much as that for which the only useful elements in the concoctions could be purchased.

It is announced that the net profit of the Alliance Bank of Simla for the year ended 30th June last, including the balance brought forward, amounts to Rs 458,398. The Directors propose to dispose of this profit as follows:- To pay a dividend of 12 per cent and a bonus of 2 per cent  to shareholders, transfer Rs 50,000 to reserve fund, transfer Rs 25,000 to contingency fund, pay a bonus of one month's pay to the staff, and carry forward this balance to next account.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

IN PLAIN SIGHT

Does the Gujarat government still have the records relevant to the inquiry into the 2002 post-Godhra riots or not? An answer to this question is obscured by the fog of lies, double-speak, strategic pussyfooting and political chicanery that has dogged depositions before the G.T. Nanavati-Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission from the beginning. The Gujarat government counsel, S.B. Vakil, said last week that phone records and logbooks on the movement of vehicles of intelligence bureau officers, being considered crucial evidence, were destroyed with other material in 2007. Although records are routinely destroyed after five years, the law as well as police regulations instruct the preservation of all material relevant to an ongoing case. If these records no longer exist, Narendra Modi's government should have one more thing to answer for.

Reportedly, the state home department claimed a couple of days later that it had all the records and was supplying them to the commission whenever so requested. Only irrelevant papers had been destroyed. So if all is well, why did the state counsel make such a sensational statement? It has had the effect, desired or otherwise, of another outburst, with the Congress accusing the Gujarat government of shielding the chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party coming back with the Congress's suppression of records during the anti-Sikh riots. Lawyers are "surprised and shocked", and non-government organizations are up in arms. At the centre of all this is Sanjiv Bhatt, the policeman who says he heard Mr Modi encourage the Hindu killers. Mr Bhatt requested the records to refresh his memory. One side says he is lying because he knows the records have been destroyed and no one can disprove him, and the other side says the records have vanished because they would prove Mr Modi's role. There is an inescapable sense of déjà vu about all this. Such confusing dins seem to have engulfed the inquiry too many times. Is one of their desired effects, perhaps the chief one, to push back the victims of 2002 from public consciousness? If so, all sides are complicit in it. People were killed, tortured, maimed, and looted in an organized manner in 2002. That is the one incontrovertible fact. No falsehood or shadow-boxing will make that fact go away. And there is only one — simple — question that follows it. Will the victims get justice?

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SISTER ACT

There are many ways of looking at the recently-concluded elections in Thailand. One could easily call it historic — it has given Thailand its first woman prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. It has been participative and decisive, giving the Puea Thai Party a landslide victory that puts an end to the Democrat Party regime of Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose claim to power rested on a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 rather than on a popular mandate. But one would think twice before announcing that this democratic exercise necessarily indicates a triumph of democracy in Thailand. There can be little doubt that through the victory of Ms Shinawatra, the sister of the exiled former Thai premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, the latter has finally managed to establish a rule by proxy. The Puea Thai Party, and Ms Shinawatra herself, had made no bones about this while weaving the entire poll campaign around the "Thaksin thinks, we act" slogan. The elections, therefore, were not so much a comment on Ms Shinawatra's abilities to lead the nation vis-à-vis those of the incumbent prime minister, Mr Vejjajiva. They were a continuation of a larger battle between two opposing power blocks — that of Mr Shinawatra and the older Thai establishment — both of which have tried to strengthen their hold on power in the name of democracy. That Ms Shinawatra's party has come up trumps indicates that despite the combined efforts of Thailand's elite groups, Mr Shinawatra's influence has not waned. In fact, the political tussle has intensified Mr Shinawatra's hold on the public imagination as the best possible alternative to a political hierarchy that has prioritized the concerns of the moneyed over those of the poor.

Ms Shinawatra has come to power riding on this hope for change. Her party has stoked these hopes by its promise of freebies, a continuation of Mr Shinawatra's pro-poor policies, and by its thoughts on 'reconciliation' with political adversaries that would bring down violence on the streets. But much of Ms Shinawatra's efficiency would depend on her management of the army, which has brought previous elections to nought every time it has perceived a threat to the old power structure of which it is a part. Ms Shinawatra could make it jittery once again if she insists on her brother's return.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

SISTER ACT

There are many ways of looking at the recently-concluded elections in Thailand. One could easily call it historic — it has given Thailand its first woman prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. It has been participative and decisive, giving the Puea Thai Party a landslide victory that puts an end to the Democrat Party regime of Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose claim to power rested on a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 rather than on a popular mandate. But one would think twice before announcing that this democratic exercise necessarily indicates a triumph of democracy in Thailand. There can be little doubt that through the victory of Ms Shinawatra, the sister of the exiled former Thai premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, the latter has finally managed to establish a rule by proxy. The Puea Thai Party, and Ms Shinawatra herself, had made no bones about this while weaving the entire poll campaign around the "Thaksin thinks, we act" slogan. The elections, therefore, were not so much a comment on Ms Shinawatra's abilities to lead the nation vis-à-vis those of the incumbent prime minister, Mr Vejjajiva. They were a continuation of a larger battle between two opposing power blocks — that of Mr Shinawatra and the older Thai establishment — both of which have tried to strengthen their hold on power in the name of democracy. That Ms Shinawatra's party has come up trumps indicates that despite the combined efforts of Thailand's elite groups, Mr Shinawatra's influence has not waned. In fact, the political tussle has intensified Mr Shinawatra's hold on the public imagination as the best possible alternative to a political hierarchy that has prioritized the concerns of the moneyed over those of the poor.

Ms Shinawatra has come to power riding on this hope for change. Her party has stoked these hopes by its promise of freebies, a continuation of Mr Shinawatra's pro-poor policies, and by its thoughts on 'reconciliation' with political adversaries that would bring down violence on the streets. But much of Ms Shinawatra's efficiency would depend on her management of the army, which has brought previous elections to nought every time it has perceived a threat to the old power structure of which it is a part. Ms Shinawatra could make it jittery once again if she insists on her brother's return.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

IDEAS MISSING IN ACTION

MALVIKA SINGH

The much-hyped meet that the prime minister had with five editors from the print media, watched over by three key men in the PMO, was a bit of a damp squib because it was carelessly constructed, clumsy, and ever-so-predictable, with nothing to whet the appetite or even tingle the senses. First fault: to attack the messenger — however crude the delivery of the message — is suicidal and cannot bode well for a party gearing up to get in shape for the polls three years from now. The forthright attack on the press could have been reserved instead for the men and women in government service who have misused their powers, spreading corruption and damaging good governance.

Even if television networks hype up the drama that accompanies stories of corruption in high places, the essence of the story is true, and the accused needs to engage in a debate or a dialogue and win over the viewers, not make them suspicious about a possible skirting of the issue or a predictable cover-up. Surely, someone should have briefed the PM about how such encounters need to be handled for the best possible mileage. A rare, closed-door conversation such as the one on June 29 could have been used to present alternative, stronger views on the many issues that have invaded the imagination of India.

On the lok pal issue, one would have liked to hear an emphatic, carefully thought through statement on the importance of existing institutions in this democracy and the urgent need to reform those that have been destroyed or diluted over the years. India needed to hear the view of the prime minister on the fundamental issue of what a lok pal could lead to — unless meticulously calibrated to fit the democratic framework. The concern of many in civil society is that the demands of Team Anna are unacceptable because they are pushing for a kind of parallel government that would unleash anarchy and yet another layer of faulty governance.

Daily realities

On the question of the cabinet reshuffle, the PM should have said whether he is, or is not, doing it rather than call it "a work in progress", thereby giving the impression that he is unable to complete the job at hand, and raising speculation about what is delaying the change. Is there a disagreement between the party and the PM on the players who will participate in the game of musical chairs? Is it an inability to get rid of those with tarred reputations? Is it a concern that the 'younger', 40-year-olds do not have 'experience'? Most feel that inexperienced persons who have won real elections on the ground would be in a better position to address the many issues that concern the lives of the citizens.

What did the prime minister mean when he said "sections of the media have not been responsible while covering recent events"? Whose definition of "responsible"? Prime ministers do not say this kind of thing in a democracy. They are meant to hear and listen, then discard what they find extraneous and absorb what they feel is correct. The choice is that of the leader — one that makes a particular individual stand out among others.

Finally, the comment, "Let us concentrate on corruption in high places…", is missing the point because the ordinary Indian has been plagued by corrupt administrative operations everyday — while paying bills, asking for legitimate dues, and more. Indian voters are angry. They feel betrayed. Their demand is to have the ordinary issues fixed. We are all at the receiving end of huge administrative malfunctioning and need no court decree to tell us so. We need urgent reform and that is what the PM could have spelt out — his determined plans for the immediate future. Will there be another meet with the TV chaps?

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DELICATE AND DIFFICULT BORDERLINE

GIVEN THE POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE NOW BETWEEN INDIA AND BANGLADESH, THE PRIME MINISTER'S RECENT REMARKS ARE UNFORTUNATE, WRITES DEB MUKHARJI

In his interaction with editors on June 29, the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, made, inter alia, the following observations with regard to Bangladesh: Bangladesh has gone out of its way to help India by apprehending anti-Indian insurgent groups which were operating from Bangladesh for a long time and, hence, India has been generous in dealing with Bangladesh and has offered a credit of one billion dollars; we must reckon that at least 25 per cent of the population of Bangladesh swears by the Jamiat-ul-Islami (sic) and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of the Inter-Services Intelligence; so, a (sic) political landscape in Bangladesh can change at any time. We do not know what these terrorist elements, who have a hold on the Jamiat-e-Islami (sic) elements in Bangladesh, can be up to. These remarks bear scrutiny.

The Bangladesh government has displayed political courage and a positive approach to India in trying to dismantle the insurgency network which has operated in the country for long, often with State patronage, as the Chittagong arms haul of April 2004 most amply demonstrates. To link it with Indian 'generosity' in offering credit is, to say the least, most odd. Countries are not known to speak of 'generosity' towards others. Besides, the fact is that India has (should have) a strong vested interest in the economic development of Bangladesh. Neither will Indian industry be non-beneficiaries in the process. The offer of credit is, indeed, welcome. If the prime minister had other 'generous' responses in mind, these must still be matters of intent, not delivery. The cyclone shelters offered after Cyclone Sidr several years ago are yet to be established. Neither has the offer of 500,000 tonnes of rice at a time of scarcity in Bangladesh yet materialized.

The prime minister has been misinformed about the strength of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh. The share of votes for the Jamaat since they entered active politics in Bangladesh has been — 1986: 4.60 per cent, 1991: 1.22 per cent, 1996: 8.61 per cent, 2001: 4.28 per cent, and 2008: 4.6 per cent. A passing comment that Jamaat enjoys the support of 25 per cent of the people of Bangladesh must be music to its ears and giving it sustenance. At a time its top leadership is in prison awaiting trial for crimes committed in 1971 against its fellow countrymen, it would be immensely heartened by the importance India accords it both in terms of following and of the anxiety it provokes. It is at the same time an affront to the people of Bangladesh as a whole who have resoundingly rejected both the Islamist as well as the anti-Indian plank in the last elections, and who have shown grit and determination in fighting the spectre of fundamentalism that was beginning to cast its shadow a few short years ago. The philosophy of the Jamaat, till recently looked upon benignly by the United States of America, poses an existential challenge to Bangladesh. The anti-Indian plank is incidental and it would have been more worthy of the prime minister to have expressed support for those who are striving for a liberal society rather than speak of anti-Indian sentiments. One recalls our sympathy for Pakistan as being equally the victim of terrorism. Here, surely, was a case for congratulating the people of Bangladesh for what they have achieved in the past few years. The obverse has taken place and must be unacceptable.There have been links between the ISI and elements in Bangladesh, but these elements are not confined to the Jamaat. But the sweeping figure of a quarter of the population of Bangladesh having anti-Indian sentiments has no verifiable basis and is not expected from the Indian head of government. Certainly, among all our smaller neighbours, there are concerns about the big neighbour. But these concerns can best be allayed by empathy and understanding, not exacerbated by insensitive remarks.

The comment on the political landscape in Bangladesh suddenly changing is no less unfortunate. Certainly, this has happened in the past. And in recent years we have seen the extremely violent Bangladesh Rifles mutiny. But apprehension about terrorists bringing about unforeseeable political changes at the behest of the ISI, which is the sum total of the prime minister's remarks in this regard, simply does not belong to the realm of public pronouncements. If this apprehension has any basis, it should be quietly shared with the government concerned and acted upon. Some sections of the Western media are already speculating that the articulation of such concerns by the Indian prime minister must be based on Indian intelligence inputs. This creates an avoidable miasma of uncertainty.

Overall, Indo-Bangladesh relations have been on an even keel now for over four years since the induction of the caretaker government in January, 2007 and, particularly, since the election of the Awami League-led government two years later. There appears to be a genuine effort by both governments to sweep away some of the persistent cobwebs of the past. The joint statement issued after the visit of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in January, 2010 is a landmark document covering most aspects of our bilateral relationship, which, if implemented in both letter and spirit, could help transform the relationship to one of partnership. There are no visceral issues between the neighbours, real or perceived. Such as there are are capable of early resolution with a modicum of goodwill and give-and-take. The question of the sharing of waters shall remain until such time as all the co-riparians of the region decide on a regional approach which, in turn, must also include management. This would appear a long way off. Meanwhile, India has to credibly assure that while meeting the needs of its own citizens, it would not permit the interests of Bangladesh to be harmed. Sharing of information is a necessary step in this direction. In the area of commerce, India clearly has to demonstrate greater flexibility, keeping not least in mind its substantial trade surplus.

The prime minister is due to visit Bangladesh in the coming months. It is to be earnestly hoped that by the time the visit takes place, the promise of a different level of relationship held out in the joint statement of January, 2010 would be fulfilled by ensuring that the actions proposed in it have been taken. With determination and some skill this could prove to be a landmark visit.

The offending paragraph with the prime minister's comments on Bangladesh is now reported to have been deleted from the records and the Indian high commission in Dhaka has issued a warm and conciliatory statement. While this may assist in putting the matter behind us, there is little doubt that it would not be quite forgotten. Hopefully, the incident would leave behind a message about the importance of being alert to the sensitivities of neighbours and the need to base judgment more on facts than opinions.

(The author is former ambassador to Nepal and Bangladesh)

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE REAL TRANSPORTATION REFORM

RIGHT OF WAY TO BUSES AT TRAFFIC LIGHTS, DEDICATED BUS LANES, ELECTRONIC SIGNS ANNOUNCING THE ARRIVAL OF BUSES, MACHINES THAT FREE DRIVER FROM JOB OF CASHIER - ALL ABSENT FROM REFORM.

The first test of the transportation reform in greater Tel Aviv ended with bitter disappointment on all sides, especially for people who use the buses. All the hopes that were pinned on a reorganization of this type, which was graced with the title "transportation revolution" and cost millions in advertising, came to naught.

Right of way to buses at traffic lights, dedicated bus lanes, electronic signs announcing the arrival of buses, and machines that free the driver from the job of cashier - all were absent. Instead, passengers found a network of bus lines that had diminished and become more complicated, some 2,500 ushers to explain the change, magnetic bus passes that hardly last for 90 minutes, and a vague promise that "real improvement will be felt in three more years."

Tel Aviv is a shameful place in terms of public transportation compared to cities abroad of similar size and centrality. In all of those cities, travelers pay one subsidized fare for two or three modes of transportation for at least 24 hours, and can do without a car.

Transportation experts who did the precise and expensive feasibility tests in Tel Aviv decided that only a sophisticated mass transit system integrating a subway to a bus system running along dedicated lanes in the city, with efficient connections to a suburban train and beyond, can resolve the transportation problems of metropolitan Tel Aviv.

Although it was mainly the city's residents who suffered this week, it is the economy and all of society that pay the heavy price of incompetent public transport. Since 1994, when the Yitzhak Rabin government pledged to build a subway in Tel Aviv, and a ribbon was even cut, all successive governments have let implementation of this important project slip away, citing budgetary and other excuses.

The sorry "revolution" of the new lines has proved once again that false economizing is scandalously wasteful, and that there is no choice but to make a major national investment in mass transit in the greater Tel Aviv area.

The government still has a chance to correct distortions, make good on previous decisions and pop the cork on the bottleneck in the center of the country.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

FACING THE GRIM PICTURE

ISRAEL HAS BEEN RELEGATED TO THE STATUS OF THE MISTRESS WHO ISN'T INVITED TO APPEAR IN POLITE (AND HYPOCRITICAL ) COMPANY.

BY AMIR OREN

Letitia Long, a civilian with the status of a three-star general, is the most senior woman in the American intelligence community. Long is director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency which is responsible for visual intelligence - aerial and satellite photographs, mapping, imaging and producing accurate models for mission training. Her role in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden received wide professional praise.

Not long before that operation, and without any connection to it, Long visited Israel and met with the director of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and other senior officials. When she returned home, she instructed the agency to devote the July-August edition of its bimonthly journal, Pathfinder, to the topic of "partnerships around the world."

The journal was published this week. Its cover is decorated with the flags of dozens of nations whose intelligence apparatuses have some type of partnership with the NGA: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and numerous others.

Israel is not mentioned anywhere in the magazine. This wasn't an absent minded omission, but an expression of embarrassment. They are embarrassed to have Israel as a partner. They aren't embarrassed to get intelligence from Israel, just not publicly.

Israel - whose leaders complained decades ago that the country was being treated like a mistress, and had since enjoyed a period of being put on proud and public display - has been relegated once again to the status of the mistress who isn't invited to appear in polite (and hypocritical ) company.

The intelligence agencies are not to blame for this. It's the diplomatic echelons above them, which have made Israel ostracized and loathsome.

Because of the bin Laden assassination and the fact that CIA director Leon Panetta has become U.S. defense secretary, the decision makers in Washington are relating to the U.S. intelligence agencies with more respect. The data these agencies submit will inform the working premises of these officials - no matter what Israeli experts, real or imagined, will say.

A summary of the data is offered in the CIA's open annual report. In this report, which is updated frequently, it emerges that there is near-equality in the dem Sea, with some 6 million Jews, as opposed to 5.7 million Arabs. While one would expect that demographers from the Israeli right will dispute these figures and the trends they portend, this data will be the foundation for determining policy in Washington.

In Israel there are some 7.5 million citizens and residents, of whom 1.5 million are Arabs and fewer than 6 million are Jews (when you deduct the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers ). The Palestinians in the territories number 4.2 million, of whom 2.57 million are in the West Bank and 1.66 million live in Gaza.

If this near-equality weren't enough, the population growth rate is 3.2 percent annually in Gaza, 2.1 percent in the West Bank and 1.6 percent in Israel - an average that includes both Jews and Arabs. This means that some 100,000 Palestinians are added to the territories each year. A similar number of Jews are added to Israel, but the tie is broken by the 25,000 Arabs added to the Israeli population annually. Unless there is a major wave of Jewish immigration to Israel, or mass emigration of Arabs from Israel and the territories, the curves will meet in a few years.

The CIA, meanwhile, counts some 300,000 Jews in the West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem. Half a million people, nearly the size of some veteran U.S. cities. It would be much too difficult to relocate five-sixths of the population of Boston or Baltimore, thus, with no realistic alternative, there will be an exchange of territorial strips, without increasing the size of the State of Israel.

This reality, which U.S. intelligence is presenting to the senior echelons, will not change, even if Barack Obama is creamed in the 2012 elections and replaced by a Republican who eats Arabs for breakfast. No American president is going to allow any Israeli prime minister to avoid making the tough decisions. Maps with tentative borders, along the Green Line and in the Golan Heights, are ready and waiting in the safes of the CIA and the NGA.

These American intelligence agencies serve the president, the US Armed Forces, and Congress. Are Kochavi and his colleagues at Israeli intelligence informing their superiors and the public of the reality in all its severity? Or have they learned from the onslaught against their predecessors - Gabi Ashkenazi, Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin -- that it's preferable to be silent, even if it means being a silent partner to the impending disaster?

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HAARETZ

OPINION

WE'RE OVERJOYED - WE WON AGAIN!

ISRAEL IS MERELY ONE SUBJECT OUT OF SEVERAL THAT THE POLITICAL - OR THE APOLITICAL - COMPLAINING IS BUSY WITH.

BY YITZHAK LAOR

 

Israel is indeed connected to the centers of power in the world. The predictions of a tsunami at present seem to be exaggerated, but nevertheless, before the victory ball, it is worth remembering - the Israeli occupation is the longest military occupation of modern times. The subjects of the occupation in its two forms - the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - live under a brutal regime that few other occupations allowed themselves, without any law - the blockade and the morbidity rate among children, the roadblocks and the arbitrariness of the soldiers, breaking in to people's homes (imagine your children being awakened at night by the shouting of armed men, breaking down doors and blinding them with flashlights; imagine living without any protection ), the prolonged occupation, a disaster for us and for the Palestinians - because Israel enjoys the support of the West.

The settlements have turned the occupation into something insolvable, at least in the next few decades, so that the occupation will not merely raise another generation of Israeli troopers, egged on by the rabbis of the rabble, but also a third and fourth generation of Palestinians without another kind of life.

The fact that the Gaza Strip has become an international symbol of cruelty is yet further proof of the stupidity of our leaders. Operation Cast Lead and the blockade of Gaza - both of them with broad national consensus - have turned Gaza into a symbol that no longer needs coordination on the part of the Palestinians. Israeli democracy appears as it actually is: In the name of the majority (six million Jews ) it is permitted to do to the minority (five million, in Israel and the territories ) almost anything.

The national minority in Israel has the right to vote but it does not have television of its own ; it has health insurance but also heavy unemployment and infant mortality rates that are much higher than among the Jews (8.3 compared with 3.7 for every 1000 births ). Tel Aviv, which sells itself to the world as a liberal city, is the only metropolis in the West that does not have a Muslim population. Its "coolness" is racist - the 20 percent minority does not appear at all in the life of the city. And it is advisable for propagandists not to point to Jaffa as proof of diversity - Jaffa with its yuppie immigration is a perfect example of apartheid carried out by "secular" and "liberal" Tel Aviv.

Official propaganda, too, will not help. The more pressure Israel brings to bear on centers in the West - countries and media giants - the more the wave against it grows, because the hatred of the occupation and of Israeli racism springs from the knowledge that what Israel does is funded by the West, gets assistance from the West, and from connections with the focuses of power - as a living memorial to colonialism. There is nothing better than the way in which the Greeks thwarted the Gaza aid flotilla's departure to reinforce this. It was not just Greece that thwarted it.

The coalitions that are being organized against Israel in the West include members of the left. There are also many others and not all of them are humanistic. They are not always Jew-lovers. These coalitions will continue to grow as long as the western political community presents itself as "helpless" in the face of Israeli obduracy. Of course it is not helpless, and when it has actual interests, it is capable of behaving in typically western barbaric fashion, as it is doing now in Libya and in Iraq.

The loathing of Israel fits in with the growing anti-establishment wrath, within the context of politics where there is no difference between the parties. The protests in Greece are an example of lack of faith of this kind, which does not spring from the Israeli occupation but from the powerlessness of the masses to influence what is taking place in their countries - economics and war.

Israel is merely one subject out of several that the political - or the apolitical - complaining is busy with. Very few people join flotillas, but many more participate in sending them and even more internalize their oppression. The complaining and mumbling is part of a burgeoning anti-establishment consensus. The record of what is always known as "the hypocritical politicians" has been joined by the hypocritical attitude toward Israeli cruelty.

It is not surprising therefore that the blockade of Gaza is getting tighter in the form of a moral blockade of Israel. Slowly but surely, in a world filled with injustice and war crimes and racism toward minorities and migrants, Israel has learned, during decades of stupidity, how to become the symbol of injustice and these crimes. We are no longer the embodiment of progress, as we were trumpeted as being for a long time, but the exact opposite. And this is truly just the beginning.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THERE'S A COW BEHIND THE COTTAGE

TO PRODUCE MILK CONTINUOUSLY, COWS ARE KEPT IN PERPETUAL STATE OF PREGNANCY THROUGH ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION, THEIR ENORMOUS OUTPUT OF MILK ACHIEVED BY GENETIC ENHANCEMENT.

BY YOAV KENNY

 

Shai Hermesh, a Kadima MK, received impressive coverage for his attempt to bring a cow into the Knesset building. In this way, he claimed, he was able to raise awareness for the danger involved in importing milk as a solution to the storm over the price of cottage cheese. The tumult the MK caused at the entrance to the Knesset also amused the Knesset security guard, who explained to Hermesh that the cow, whose name is Zehava, "does not have parliamentary immunity" ( as Zvi Zrahiya reported in TheMarker on 27.6 ).

True, Zehava, the cow, does not have immunity, but MK Hermesh does. And he may very well be pleased about that, as by bringing a cow to the Knesset, fastening a rope around its neck and exploiting it for political and entertainment purposes, he has, on the face of it, violated the law against the abuse of animals.

However, the sad truth is that even someone who does not have the immunity of an MK does not have to worry about violating that law - not only because it is just one more area in which the distance between the letter of the law and its implementation is so desperately huge, but rather, and mainly, because the legislator himself restricts the law and states that it does not apply to animals that are used in the food industry.

This restriction reflects the hypocrisy and repression that are characteristic of our attitude toward animals. We are shocked when we hear about cruelty to dogs and we forbid circuses to use animals in their acts, but when it comes to animals that produce - or serve as - what goes onto our plate or into our glass, this sensitivity disappears. When the cows are "beef" and the hens are "poultry," it is easy to forget that they are animals. When milk is marketed to us in the form of a healthy and natural delicacy, it is easy to forget that its original destination was calves and not human beings, and that the cow does not give us its milk but that we take it.

This forgetfulness is uppermost in the minds of the public, starting with children's books, which describe the cows and calves happily grazing in the pasture, and end with the cows smiling and laughing on the wrappings of milk products and with the names they have been given. Even on the container of the cottage cheese, the root of the current storm, there is a picture not only of a cottage but also of a cow chewing the grass alongside it.

Nevertheless, anyone who has visited an industrialized cowshed can tell you that the reality is far different from this popular fantasy. In order to produce milk continuously, the cows are kept in a perpetual state of pregnancy through artificial insemination, and their enormous output of milk (seven times greater than the normal production ) is achieved by genetic enhancement, injecting them with hormones and antibiotics, and intensive milking that stimulates them to produce more milk.

The cow's body is not supposed to withstand this kind of a load and it leads to pain, sickness and to even more severe distortions because of the poor sanitary conditions in the cowsheds, all of which cause tremendous physical suffering. No less important is the psychological suffering involved in separating the calves from their mothers immediately after birth on their way to becoming a steak, or a milk-producing cow, depending on their gender.

On second thought, this being the case, even though MK Hermesh tied the cow and dragged it along and exploited it for his media needs, he actually did it a favor by taking it away from the nightmare of its life, even if merely for one day. Moreover, this media stunt in itself may cause the public to remember that at the end of the chain of cottage cheese-supermarket-dairy, there are real cows who are suffering real pain.

It is clear that there is a real and urgent need to deal with the greed of the food corporations and the retailers in Israel, but the real reason to support the present boycott of milk products is not the economic reason but rather the cruelty, the exploitation and the violence that Zehava and her fellow creatures undergo every day.

The writer is a research fellow at the Minerva Center for Humanities at Tel Aviv University.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NETANYAHU WILL MAKE THE DESERT BLOOM

NETANYAHU INSISTS ON SEEING NATURE AND LANDSCAPE AS NO MORE THAN AN OBSTACLE TO THE REALIZATION OF HIS SETTLEMENT VISION.

BY ZAFRIR RINAT

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week cleared his calendar, crowded with security-related and political crises, and devoted almost an entire day to the Dead Sea. He toured the area and discussed issues pertaining to conservation of the Dead Sea and tourist development at its southern end.

For a moment, it appeared that Netanyahu was at one with environmental groups and activists, devoting ceaseless efforts to save what is left of the majestic landscapes of the shrinking salty lake. The prime minister even voted with his ministers for the Dead Sea as one of the natural wonders of the world.

But Netanyahu came to his senses very quickly, and turned out to be as solid as a rock not only with regard to the right of the Jewish people to settle their land, but also in his insistance on seeing nature and landscape as no more than an obstacle to the realization of his settlement vision.

Netanyahu briefly shared his doctrine, explaining that undeveloped land was dead land, calling on the theories of Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, who, Netanyahu said, understood what settling the land was all about.

In the Dead Sea region, the premier plans to revive the land by building new cities in the Arava; exactly where, when and what size remains unclear.

What land exactly in the Dead Sea region is dead? The nature reserves, some of the most beautiful in Israel, or the entire area around the lake, which Netanyahu himself sees as one of the seven wonders of the world? Or perhaps he means all areas in Israel where nature has been preserved, to his regret, leaving him looking at a map covered with patches of land dying from so much flora, fauna and unspoiled landscapes instead of sketches full of the vitality of tarred roads, shopping centers and new communities.

Or perhaps the prime minister ran into a time machine and was sucked into the pre-state period, and then returned to the present all caught up in the old Mapainik vision of settlement and building. Certain aspects of that vision were fine in their day, but have become problematic in a country in which seven million people live.

Netanyahu, who is supposedly abreast of today's latest economic, social and technological developments, has been left completely unimpressed with environmental action of recent years. It seems that he is not aware that the best planning minds in Israel have formulated a national master plan that has been approved by the government. The plan states where construction may take place and where open areas must remain, and calls for streamlining land use and not to establish new communities.

But Netanyahu drops one word and invents new cities; how appropriate that they be named Sodom and Gomorrah, as scholar Dr. Ruth Calderon has suggested.

One can only guess how frustrated Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan must be when faced with Netanyahu's worldview, as he wages rearguard battles with the Israel Lands Administration to save the beaches and promotes national programs to preserve biodiversity, the latter being dependent on, heaven forbid, undeveloped land.

Or we could simply compare Netanyahu to another politician, a former Likudnik, MK Meir Sheetrit. Two weeks ago, Sheetrit took part in an environmental event at the Knesset. He hit the nail on the head in his contemporary description of the whole truth about the importance of preserving undeveloped lands: "There is a logic and a task for every living thing in nature that we do not always understand. We can live without cottage cheese, but there is no life without biodiversity."

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

UN TAKES FIRST STEP ON GLOBAL PEACE MEDIATION

 

MURAT YETKİN - murat.yetkin@hurriyet.com.tr

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News

U.N.'s first resolution on peace mediation gives a role to not only member states but actors like regional organizations, civil society and particularly to women.

 

Permanent representatives for members of the United Nations Security Council met in Istanbul over the weekend for an unofficial conference on the U.N.'s first resolution on peace mediation. The resolution gives a role to not only member states but actors like regional organizations, civil society and particularly to women.

Along with Turkey's leadership in implementing coordinated disaster relief programs, hosting the conference and supporting the resolution are clear examples of Ankara's diplomatic objective to become an active player in the global arena.

Before flying to Egypt and Libya and addressing the Libyans on the streets of Banghazi in Arabic, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu addressed on July 2 a group of ranking diplomats from all over the world on problems of maintaining peace.

The members of the group were the permanent representatives of the United Nations Security Council members who met in Istanbul over the weekend. Hosted by Turkey's permanent representative Ertuğrul Apakan, they enjoyed the Bosphorus breeze and sunshine of course, but that was not the only reason of their meeting.

It was an unofficial conference on the modalities of a UN Security Council Resolution on "strengthening the role of mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes and conflict prevention and resolution" under the title of "prevention of armed conflict", passed unanimously at the first session.

This is the first resolution on peace mediation adopted by the UN. Also the first UN move to set principles on how to carry out mediation activities in order to prevent armed conflicts in a world where conflict becomes a part of daily life in many regions.

Special role to women

The initiative for the resolution was presented in September 2010, when the foreign ministers of Turkey and Finland hosted a ministerial meeting on peace mediation in New York during the opening week of the UN General Assembly sessions. Turkish President Abdullah Gül's speech addressing the General Assembly then, had particularly mentioned the issues of maintaining, making, keeping and building peace.

With this resolution, the UN is beginning to compile peace mediation guidelines defining effective peace mediation and the UN Secretary General will give a report on peace mediation to the General Assembly every year. The resolution gives a role to not only member states but actors like regional organizations, civil society and particularly to women.

The resolution encourages strengthening the position of women in peace mediation efforts. Women should be appointed to peace mediation tasks much more often than at present, and they should be included in peace processes.

Fighting disasters

As a result of separate initiatives by Turkey, Qatar and the Dominican Republic, the UN had adopted principles of improving its effectiveness and coordination of military and civil defense assets for natural disaster response.

That was also a move speeded up after the 2010 General Assembly, where the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had appointed a Turkish diplomat, Engin Soysal in coordination of the international relief effort following the flood disaster in Pakistan earlier last year.

Both start setting principles for the peace mediation efforts and setting new and clear coordination principles for more effective relief work against natural disasters are two modest, but nevertheless, important steps taken by the UN. The Turkish diplomatic role in both of them is parallel to Ankara's objective of being an active player of international players.

To be able to address the crowds in the streets of Benghazi in their own Arabic language and to take initiative in framing efforts of peace mediation and disaster relief operations are two faces of the new Turkish diplomacy, setting new standards to itself.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

 

PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS LA MEME CHOSE?

Exactly what the turnaround in the fortunes of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn proves is hard to say. But the moral of the still-evolving story has to be some variant on a theme of assumptions. Beware of them.

Let's back up a little bit. Most pundits as recently as 2007 were writing obituaries for the IMF. Russia, Argentina, Brazil and Turkey and were repaying old loans and none needed to renew. The world economy rocked; only a handful of doomsayers predicted the economic devastation around the corner.

It was in September of that year that Strauss-Kahn, or DSK, took on the job that many predicted would be to shut out the IMF lights and send the workers home. French political wags saw the hand of Machiavelli in French President Nicholas Sarkozy's backing of DSK for the job.

But under DSK, the IMF came back to life, with a bit of help from a global recession.

Let's look back to before his arrest last May on rape charges and subsequent resignation. The assumption was that he would be the last European to head the IMF, that the age of the "gentleman's deal" putting an American atop the World Bank and a European in the sister institution, was passing. The next IMF boss would be an Indian, an African or a Latin American.

But events were to revive the sense of tradition. With an implicit bow to the sensitivities of feminists around the world, it was France's Christine Lagarde who won the test of succession. Thus the first woman to head the IMF secured the continuity of the Old Boys' Club.

Then let's look back to days immediately following the May 11 arrest on charges of rape, his sudden plunge from a $3,000-a-night suite to a cell at New York's Rikers Island. The case was cut and dried; the allegedly assaulted immigrant's story was compelling, there was DNA and a video. DSK's rush from the hotel seemed all but sure to mean prison --- perhaps for the rest of his life. No chance he would ever be running for provincial mayor in France, let alone the presidency he so coveted.

And then last Friday the revelations that the housekeeper's story was thinner than assumed, embellished at a minimum. House arrest and bail terms were revoked as red-faced prosecutors conceded their case was in trouble. Sure, there may be some embarrassing trace of DNA, but convincing 12 jurors of "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?" This is the American justice system, after all.

And now let's go back to this past weekend's newspapers in France and elsewhere. Lobbying is already underway to suspend the electoral registration process's July 13 deadline to allow DSK the chance to join the fray. If not president, Strauss-Kahn could surely be in the cabinet of the next socialist government of France, said ally Jack Lang, a former minister of culture.

Dominique Moisi, France's preeminent America watcher said: "If DSK returns triumphantly as a victim of American justice – that may change everything."

Indeed. The only recently enfeebled IMF is doing a brisker business than ever in its history. A European, newly appointed, heads the institution and no Indians, Africans or Latinos need apply for the foreseeable future. And DSK could be homebound within days, his political fortunes reborn.

What to assume next?

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

EU MINISTRY AND THE NEW DEPUTY MINISTERS

When the list of the new cabinet is expected to be announced on Wednesday, the curiosity of the civil servants will not end by learning who their new boss will be. This time what they will be waiting to see anxiously is who will be the deputy minister, since, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP has created this new position, in haste just a couple of days ahead of the elections.

The deputy ministers will be appointed by the prime minister, yet their responsibilities have not been described in detail in the law. That's why the Turkish bureaucracy has been wondering for some time, how this new system is going to work.

The idea is received with great reservation in the Foreign Ministry, which happens to be one of the oldest institutions with deeply rooted bureaucratic traditions. "The minister is so busy and he has been travelling so frequently that there has been times when we felt the need to have a deputy to represent Turkey: for instance in an important meeting or engage in a high level dialogue with a third party in urgent situations," a diplomat told me. Despite this confession, it is nearly impossible to find one that is convinced of the merit of having a deputy minister. "We don't have a problem when it comes to decision making. Things have not slowed down due to the minister's busy schedule. On the contrary, the creation of a new position could complicate the workings and slow us down," said another one.

 As it is the case with the rest of the ministries, the main problem in the foreign ministry will be that of division of power and responsibilities between the deputy minister and the undersecretary. When you look at the wording describing their duties, there isn't much difference.

If the deputy minister will act more or less as an advisor, helping design strategies and acting as an envoy with the third parties in the absence of the foreign minister, that would be a formula the ministry could work with. But things will get complicated if the new person starts issuing instructions that could lead to a serious clash with the undersecretary.

Deputy Ministers will come and go with the government. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is said to have announced that deputy ministers will be acting like a liaison officer between the party and the ministry. In this respect, all eyes seemed to have turned to Ali Sarıkaya, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's former student and long time adviser. In fact Ali Sarıkaya is organizing Davutoğlu's "political contacts," those that remain outside the sphere of "state" responsibility.

Davutoğlu has been silent on this issue, and no one has seen him rejoice with the perspective of having a deputy. At the end of the day, he might as well opt to convince Erdoğan not to make an appointment.

 Meanwhile, the establishment of a ministry responsible for EU affairs is obviously less of an issue of controversy. Let alone controversy, it has not even led to enthusiasm even among the most pro-EU circles.

Obviously, the fact that the EU Secretariat General has now become a ministry is an automatic upgrade. But will it change much when it comes to the stagnated Turkish – EU relations? Not really – at least not in the short term. But it is still a positive development, since an institutionalized framework to manage EU relations will make it harder to dismiss EU issues out of the agenda.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

 

REFORMING ARAB POLICE

JOSEPH BAUDE

In much of the Arab world, police are commonly regarded as agents of repression. Hopes for democracy in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere require that police take on a new role as guardians of the rule of law. That means upholding the principle that everyone, even the head of state, should be equally accountable under just laws overseen by the people.

This crucial shift won't be easy, but valuable lessons can be drawn from one Arab country that has already begun to implement change.

In 2008, I spent four months with the Moroccan police in Casablanca as a journalist. The government allowed me to shadow a unit of plainclothes detectives in their daily work, so that I could witness the street-level encounter between citizens and their regime through the eyes of a cop.

Like other Arab states in recent months, Morocco has seen demonstrations by young people demanding political reform – yet in contrast to neighboring countries, calls for the toppling of the king are relatively rare. One reason for the difference may be that the regime's security services tend to be more benign than those of neighboring Arab states. Brutality and corruption are still pervasive, but by the time I had arrived human rights groups were starting to note modest improvements. The Moroccan police were undergoing a home-grown experiment of reform, consisting of three key elements.

The first was an effort by the highest levels of government to redress past wrongs. In 2004, King Mohammed VI established the Equity and Reconciliation Commission to acknowledge and compensate victims of brutality meted out by the regime of his father, Hassan II. Apparently as a result, some cops manifested a keen awareness that they were newly vulnerable to citizens' grievances. "If I use violence to interrogate my suspects," one detective told me, "they have recourse and I will be punished." I did see the police beat a suspect in a shantytown one night – a display of brutality that they did not bother to hide – but the lawful behavior I observed among others did not appear to be a charade designed for my consumption.

The second factor I observed was the beginning of an attempt to make Moroccan law enforcement more inclusive. The precinct was dominated by Arab detectives, but several of the cadets identified as Berber, an indigenous North African ethnic group. Their induction was part of a broader effort to introduce more Berber individuals into the officer corps; on the theory that a mixed ethnic force could establish better relations with, and more effectively police, a mixed ethnic urban community.

This initiative bears adopting in fractured societies elsewhere in the region. Consider the skewed composition of Jordanian police: most have roots on the east bank of the Jordan River, while the majority of the people they patrol are of West Bank Palestinian origin. This is to say nothing of Bahrain, where mainly Sunni (and sometimes foreign national) police patrol a majority Shiite population; or Syria, where mainly minority Alawites play a predominant role in the various police forces.

A third factor in Morocco is a government attempt to teach police the meaning and relevance of human rights. Not long after the present king assumed the throne in 1999, human rights education became part of police training. Younger officers whom I met occasionally spoke of these ideals in explaining their approach to law enforcement. The inculcation of human rights standards, coupled with the threat of accountability, seemed to have had some effect on police behavior.

In this pivotal moment of hoped-for transition toward democracy and the rule of law in the Arab world, reforming Arab police forces is vital. Whether governments in the region do so will be a clear indication of the genuineness of reform, as well as its prospects for success.

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* Joseph Braude is the author of The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World . This article originally appeared on Common Ground News Service, or CGNews.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TURKEY REACHES OUT TO THE NEW MIDDLE EAST

Turkey is realigning its Middle East policy and trying to build bridges with the newly emerging leaders of the "Arab Spring." It is also coordinating its movements much more closely with the West than was the case a few months ago.

Clearly the period of "idealism" in Ankara's foreign policy, represented by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's overambitious vision for the region, ended with the events in Libya and Syria. Now is the time of realism and pragmatism.

This is also what is behind the much reported talks said to be underway between Turkey and Israel aimed at overcoming the "bad blood" resulting from the Mavi Marmara incident. The two countries obviously feel they have to improve ties at a time of great volatility in the region.

Davutoğlu traveled to Egypt and Libya over the weekend and met with members of the transitional administrations in both countries, in line with a new diplomatic drive by Turkey. Turkey in the meantime recalled its ambassador to Tripoli, thus finally severing ties with the Gadhafi regime. Ankara is now cooperating fully with the leadership in Benghazi and, among other things, extending millions of dollars of aid money to it.

More significantly, however, Turkey is reestablishing strong ties with Egypt. This is important since Turkey and an Egypt that can stabilize its domestic political situation, are the two most likely countries to play an important moderating role in the region as a whole.

The meeting between Davutoğlu and his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Al-Orabi in Cairo was also designed to lay the groundwork for the visit to that country by Prime Minister Erdoğan later this month. That high profile visit will also see the establishment of "Supreme Strategic Council" to coordinate ties between the two countries.

While Ankara is shying away from any patronizing approach towards Cairo, it is clear that there is also an interest on the Egyptian side in the "Turkish example" in terms of the drafting a new constitution as well as laws for political parties and elections, not to mention the liberalization of the economy. The West is also looking to Turkey to play a moderating role over the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is seen as a likely winner in any free elections in that country.

Meanwhile Syria continues to remain the big unknown for Ankara and it is reported that Davutoğlu may travel to Damascus in the coming days. If true, it remains to be seen what he can achieve in a country where bloody events continue to unfold. President Basher al-Assad has half-promised to enact reforms and has said he is prepared to meet with opposition members to try and work out a new deal for the country.

But given the ethnic and religious divisions that have been deepened further as a result of the brutality of the Syrian security forces it is difficult to see how he can walk away from this crisis unscathed, even if he enacted the "shock reforms" Ankara is calling for.

Meanwhile Iran is reemerging as a "problematic neighbor" for Ankara, firstly because the Mullah regime is badmouthing Turkey for speaking out against Assad, and secondly because Iran's threats to hit United States/NATO bases in the region, backed up by ballistic missile tests, come at a time when the international community is convinced Tehran is after a nuclear bomb.

Those efforts by Tehran have resulted in warnings from Saudi Arabia that if Iran gets the bomb, it will have to also, a fact that causes discomfort in Turkey given that it is not immune to the adverse effects of the growing Sunni – Shiite divisions in the region, with Iran on one side, and Saudi Arabia the other.

It seems Foreign Minister Davutoğlu is faced with much larger challenges than he might have accepted under his "zero problems" policy prior to the "Arab Spring." But it is also a fact that those looking to Turkey to play a positive role in the region are increasing and this will no doubt help him in his quest.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

GREAT PARTY, WHERE IS COMMUNISM?

MINXIN PEI

There is little question that the Chinese Communist Party has come a long way since it was founded 90 years ago by 12 delegates representing roughly 50 members.

Yet however insignificant it may have seemed back then, there was no question about its ideology, identity and mission. Inspired by utopian Marxism, the party represented China's idealist leftists, nationalists and the downtrodden. Its mission was to end social injustice and Western colonialism.

Today the party is a political behemoth, with 80 million members and control of the world's second-largest economy. At home its grip on power faces no organized challenge; abroad its leaders are accorded a respect Mao and Zhou Enlai could not have dreamed of. Indeed, we should give the party its due for having abandoned the Maoist madness of its first three decades in power – the mass terror, famine, brutal political campaigns and vicious power struggles – and for radically improving the material lives of China's 1.3 billion people.

Yet if asked, "What does the Communist Party stand for?" few Chinese leaders today could give a coherent or honest answer.

This much we know: It no longer stands for a utopian ideology. If there is one

ideology that the party represents, it is the ideology of power. The sole justification for the party's rule is the imperative to stay in power.

Nor does the party stand for China's masses. Despite efforts to broaden its social base and make it more connected with China's dynamic and diverse society, the party today has evolved into a self-serving, bureaucratized political patronage machine. It is undeniably an elitist party, with more than 70 per cent of its members recruited from government officials, the military, college graduates, businessmen and professionals.

So for all its apparent power, the party is in fact facing an existential crisis and an uncertain future. Apart from staying in power, it has no public purpose. The crisis is not only ideological, but also political; it explains much of the cynicism, corruption and insecurity of the party and its elites.

As the party has firmly rejected democratization, its only strategy for survival is to maintain the course it has embarked on since the Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989; drawing political legitimacy from economic growth but relying on repression to crush challenges to its monopoly of power. Although this strategy has worked well since Tiananmen, its effectiveness and sustainability are increasingly in doubt.

On the economic front, growth is about to slow down. Demographic aging, resource constraints, stalled economic reforms and environmental degradation are almost certain to depress China's growth potential. An optimistic World Bank forecast predicts a growth rate from 2016-2020 of about seven per cent annually – a respectable number, but a 30 per cent drop from today's rate.

China's economic revolution is also unleashing powerful social forces that will make maintaining a one-party state more tenuous. The party's governing philosophy and organizational structure make it difficult to incorporate China's growing middle-class politically. The convergence of an economic slowdown and rising political activism will challenge the party's rule from several directions. Now that the Chinese Communist Party has been in power for 62 years, its leaders might also want to note that the record for one-party rule is 74 years, held by the Soviet party, followed by the 71-year rein of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party.

So when Chinese leaders toast their party's 90th birthday, they should harbor no illusions that the party can beat history's odds forever.

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*Minxin Pei is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California. This article originally appeared on Khaleej Times.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

IRAQ: A TEST FOR AL-QAEDA'S NEW LEADER

JOHN DRAKE & GEOFF BAIER

Ayman az-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's former number two, has officially taken control of the organization and needs to show he can sustain the fight. While he may be regarded as less charismatic than his predecessor, at least one major jihadi organization in Iraq has already endorsed him.

Dawlat al-Iraq al-Islamiyyah, the Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, has killed hundreds of Iraqis over the past seven years, with dozens in 2011 alone: this al-Qaeda affiliate declared support for Zawahiri a few days after US commandos killed founder and leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Strategically, this transition of leadership might lead to a decline in jihadi recruits worldwide. Would-be fighters may not be as widely attracted to Zawahiri's message as they were to bin Laden's and he is nowhere near the cult of personality – although bin Laden's symbolic appeal remains intact, dead or alive, like Che Guevara's. However, at the tactical level, new leadership will have a negligible impact, particularly in the case of the diffuse and independent Islamic State of Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has always been more of an association than an organization, with regional sub-units or franchises worldwide. In addition to the ISI there are two other notable groups in the Middle East and North Africa: al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

The ISI's goals are very similar to those of other al-Qaeda affiliates' but theirs are notably domestic. The group can best be described as fighting for Sunni dominance in an Iraq free from foreign influence, although it has also fought rival Shiite organisations. Indeed Iraq has many militant groups to contend with, on both sides of the sectarian divide, such as Jaysh al-Mahdi, under radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The ISI's methods include terrorist attacks on security forces, foreign interests and the government. These bloody incidents continue to remind the population of the fragility of Iraq's security. At one point, notably after 2006, security deteriorated to the extent that al-Qaeda was able to control large swathes of the country, enforcing religious edicts.

The Islamic State of Iraq still seeks this type of influence, if only in predominantly Sunni central parts of the country. Conditions may currently be far better than the days prior to the US-led military "surge" of 2007, when 33,000 troops were deployed to create stability. Nonetheless, there has been a gradual rise in attacks over the last six months, with three police and government facilities attacked by suicide bombers in recent days alone.

This increase in co-ordinated and devastating attacks shows extensive planning and finance. It is not clear to what extent al-Qaeda's regional affiliates rely financially on the central leadership, but it is clear that the ISI is not completely self-sufficient: Iraqi security forces have caught couriers carrying large sums of cash believed to be for the ISI. The group also generates its own funds locally with violent robberies against banks, jewellers and company wage deliveries over recent months.

These, however, are not likely to yield enough revenue for large-scale attacks. The ISI may have declared support for al-Zawahiri in the hope of ensuring revenue from its backers. If so, Iraq may hope to clamp down on the illegal financing of the group with stricter border controls. Counter-insurgency operations also continue to net fundraisers–-as well as commanders.

Many of the most recent raids by the Iraqi authorities, however, have been in conjunction with US forces. The question is whether this success will continue after Washington has withdrawn most of its troops by the end of this year.

The Iraqi security forces still lack sufficient resources and training so militant groups, including the ISI, may simply be biding their time. A subsequent increase in terrorism could damage reconstruction, undermine fragile community relations and disrupt growth in the crucial oil sector--now close to pre-war output.

Al-Qaeda without Osama bin Laden needs to show it can keep up the battle worldwide, especially where it has been influential, but faces powerful rivals, as in Iraq: success or failure here will rebound across the network, encouraging or discouraging recruits to jihad.

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*John Drake is a senior risk consultant and Geoff Baier a researcher with AKE Group, a British security and risk analysis firm working in Iraq since 2003 and throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

MODEL DEMOCRACY FOR SALE

The prime minister announced that 'It is no problem if the opposition parties choose not to come to the Parliament'. In fact, even before him, a professor of Constitutional Law stated that, "the Republican People Party, or CHP, and the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, knew that there would be a problem from the beginning, they led Turkey into crises. The Parliament may work without them. They will not have right to complain if Justice and Development, or AKP, and Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, alone make the new Constitution" (Daily Zaman, June 29). Do not be mistaken – she is not an old fashioned lecturer who has no taste for more freedoms. On the contrary, she is one of the leading advocates of the 'advanced democracy' in Turkey. She was also one of the five academics who held a commission to write e democratic Constitution for AKP. With such 'friends of democracy', you do not need 'enemies of democracy'; one thinks!

 By the way, she is not alone. According to many 'democrat' intellectuals, writers and journalists, the opposition parties CHP and BDP, which protested the Parliament, are to blame for the political crises. Since, 'they knew the laws, they knew the rules, they knew the risks concerning the decision of the judges', the responsibility was theirs! Besides, 'opposition parties are no democrats themselves', 'CHP indirectly supported anti-democratic decisions when it was directed against the current governing party' and 'in fact CHP has never proved to be a true democrat since the aftermath of the First World War'. As for BDP, they are even more suspect because of their connection with the 'terrorist organization PKK'. Besides, 'they are not true representatives of the Kurdish people who are voting for BDP either because they are badly delusioned or pressurised'. Like it or not, this is the basic idea!

 I have long been critical of the ambition of Turkey to portray itself as 'model of democracy' for the Middle East. Finally, I started to feel convinced that Turkey can be a perfect 'model of democracy' in the region. Now I see that other countries have a lot to learn from Turkey in their 'search for democracy'. In fact, democracy is a very costly and complicated project. Yet, if the countries take the Turkish model, they will not need to bother about creating political space for different political ideas and interests. Besides, they will not feel obliged to cope with the difficulties of power sharing. All they need is to find a charismatic leader who promises to bring more or 'advanced' democracy and support his party to be all powerful. In other words, all they need is to believe that, a strong party with a majority can bring democracy if it is not challenged by any sort of dissent.

 As for the vital role of dissent in democracies, there is a quick answer that 'dissidents are no dissidents in fact' unless they are blessed by the democrats of the country, as 'true dissidents'. It does not matter that it seems that only the party in power benefits from this game, since this discourse permanently discredits the dissent. It does not matter that, it seems that one is being regarded as 'true dissident' only if his/her criticism targets the ghosts of the ancient regime rather that the odds of the current affairs. At the end of the day, Turkish model offers an appearance of democracy and of true democrats without paying high costs of 'other models' of democracy.

 I do not know if the people seeking more freedom in the Middle East can be seduced by such prospect of democracy, but this is what we can offer at the moment. And it is truly economical.

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

EDITORIAL

MORE FOLLY IN THE DEBT LIMIT TALKS

Congressional Republicans have opened a new front in the deficit wars. In addition to demanding trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation's debt limit, they are now vowing not to act without first holding votes in each chamber on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

The ploy is more posturing on an issue that has already seen too much grandstanding. But it is posturing with a dangerous purpose: to further distort the terms of the budget fight, and in the process, to entrench the Republicans' no-new-taxes-ever stance.

It won't be enough for Democrats to merely defeat the amendment when it comes up for a vote. If there is to be any sensible deal to raise the debt limit, they also need to rebut the amendment's false and dangerous premises — not an easy task given the idea's populist appeal.

What could be more prudent than balancing the books every year? In fact, forcibly balancing the federal budget each year would be like telling families they cannot take out a mortgage or a car loan, or do any other borrowing, no matter how sensible the purchase or how creditworthy they may be.

Worse, the balanced budget amendment that Republicans put on the table is far more extreme than just requiring the government to spend no more than it takes in each year in taxes.

The government would be forbidden from borrowing to finance any spending, unless a supermajority agreed to the borrowing. In addition to mandating a yearly balance, both the House and Senate versions would cap the level of federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product.

That would amount to a permanent limit on the size of government — at a level last seen in the 1960s, before Medicare and Medicaid, before major environmental legislation like the Clean Water Act, and long before the baby-boom generation was facing retirement. The spending cuts implied by such a cap are so draconian that even the budget recently passed by House Republicans — and condemned by the public for its gutting of Medicare — would not be tough enough.

Under the proposed amendments, the spending cap would apply even if the government collected enough in taxes to spend above the limit, unless two-thirds of lawmakers voted to raise the cap. More likely, antitax lawmakers would vote to disburse the money via tax cuts. Once enacted, tax cuts would be virtually irreversible, since a two-thirds vote in both houses would be required to raise any new tax revenue. It isn't easy to change the Constitution. First, two-thirds of both the Senate and House must approve an amendment, and then at least 38 states must ratify the change.

But expect to hear a lot about the idea in the days ahead and in the 2012 political campaign, with Republicans eagerly attacking Democrats who sensibly voted no.

Democrats, undeniably, have a tougher argument to make. A fair and sustainable budget deal will require politically unpopular choices on programs to cut and taxes to raise. Americans deserve to hear the truth: There is no shortcut, no matter what the Republicans claim. Nor is their urgency to impose deep spending cuts now, while the economy is weak, as Republicans are insisting.

What is needed is enactment of a thoughtful deficit-reduction package, to be implemented as the economy recovers. If politicians respect the voters enough to tell them the truth, the voters may reward them at the polls.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

POWER-HUNGRY DEVICES

The Energy Department chimed in at just the right time when it announced that it might issue energy conservation requirements for cable boxes, digital recorders and the like. A voluntary conservation program run by the Environmental Protection Agency may not be enough to generate a commitment to energy efficiency among the companies that provide these power-hungry boxes.

A study by the National Resources Defense Council found that in 2010, the 160 million set-top boxes around the country consumed about 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, roughly the annual output of nine coal-fired power plants, costing consumers $3 billion. Some boxes can consume more power than a good-size refrigerator.

The E.P.A. runs a voluntary program that gives an "Energy Star" certificate to products that meet targets that will be ratcheted up over time. But the program has yet to sign up the big cable companies. Until they commit to energy efficiency, manufacturers are unlikely to throw themselves headlong into the quest for better technology.

The boxes eat up so much power because they typically run almost around the clock; as much as two-thirds of their consumption comes during times when they are idle. When asked why, one manufacturing company said nobody ever asked them to use less power.

In Europe, where power costs more, manufacturers include a deep-sleep function that allows the box to save power when idle. American companies are hesitant to embrace the sleep-function technology because these machines could take several minutes to reboot.

But power management in set-top boxes certainly poses no greater challenge than in cellphones. Like cable boxes, phones are always connected to a network, yet they sleep when idle, wake up instantaneously when called upon and serve as portals for all kinds of data.

The service providers who buy and distribute set-top boxes have largely ignored the power problem because the costs are borne by customers. To focus the industry on efficiency, the federal government might have to regulate the boxes the same way it does household appliances like refrigerators, which use only a fraction of the power they consumed before regulation. Then this conservation problem surely would be solved.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

INVESTIGATING GOOGLE

The Federal Trade Commission's decision to open an investigation into potential anticompetitive or deceptive practices at Google is a welcome move. While the Internet company has been a leader in innovation, giving consumers exciting new choices online, the public's interest lies in ensuring fair competition in this fast-changing arena.

There is no conclusive evidence that Google abuses its dominance in search by putting its own services, like YouTube, at the top of search results while shoving down competitors. Nonetheless, its aggressive expansion into new businesses, coupled with its ability to determine the all-important order of search results, warrants an increased level of scrutiny by regulators. Each new venture gives Google a new reason to use its tools to shut out rivals.

Take the company's push into the smartphone market with its Android operating system. Skyhook Wireless, which provides location services to pinpoint the position of cellphone users, filed a suit late last year accusing Google of getting manufacturers like Motorola to break contracts with Skyhook and use Google location services on Android phones instead. It alleged Google made bogus claims that Skyhook's system did not comply with Android specifications and that Google had threatened Motorola with denying it timely access to new versions of Android and other Google applications. Google declined to discuss the case but has called it "a baseless complaint" in court filings.

The F.T.C.'s investigation should look into Google's behavior across all its businesses. Google's argument that it must maintain the integrity of Android is plausible. So is its claim that it tweaks its search algorithm to improve the quality of its results — bumping down low-quality Web sites like link farms with no original content. Even favoring its own services, say delivering a Google map as a response to an address query, could serve consumers. The investigation will not necessarily lead to charges of misconduct. Google, however, is too important to most people's Internet experience for regulators not to examine its behavior.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

NEW YORK'S ESPECIALLY UNDEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday called for special elections on Sept. 13 to fill Anthony Weiner's Congressional office and six vacant State Assembly seats. Party leaders will now get to choose the candidates to run. That is not the way a democracy is supposed to work. Unfortunately, it's the way things are done in New York.

Federal law requires the governor to hold a special election quickly for a vacant House seat. New York State law says that "party nominations for an office to be filled at a special election shall be made in the manner prescribed by the rules of the party."

That means Representative Joseph Crowley, the Democratic Party chief in Queens, will probably crown the next congressman in Mr. Weiner's heavily Democratic district. The Republican bosses do it the same way. If an outsider wants to get on the ballot, he or she will have to collect 3,500 signatures by July 13. Fat chance.

This scam is even worse in state races in New York. Citizens Union reported recently that a third of the Legislature was first anointed as candidates in these back-room, special-election deals. Mr. Cuomo didn't have to hand those six open seats to the bosses. State law says that the governor can call a special election to fill open seats in the Legislature or wait until the next election.

There is a regularly scheduled primary on Sept. 13, which is now the same date as the special elections. The general election is Nov. 8. The rules for these elections aren't that great either, but the voters have more of a voice than they do in the special elections.

Mr. Cuomo should have allowed the state races to go through the normal process. He can now start making amends to New Yorkers by pushing to change the state's special election laws, so the voters, not party bigwigs, get to choose who represents them.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE D.A. DID THE RIGHT THING

BY JOE NOCERA

A young immigrant woman, lacking privilege and money, alleges that she was raped while on the job. She reports the incident soon after it takes place. There is semen on her clothes and bruises on her body. She tells her story with such conviction that, according to The Times, seasoned investigators cry when they hear it.

The man she says raped her — wealthy, famous and powerful — is on an airplane about to depart for his native land. This is the same country that, for decades, helped shield Roman Polanski from being prosecuted for statutory rape in the United States. The man in the current case appears to have left the hotel where the rape allegedly occurred in some haste. He even forgets to take one of his cellphones.

With no time to spare, detectives lure him off the plane and arrest him. When he is questioned, he refuses to talk about the incident, having already "lawyered up." He is forced to do the "perp walk," and spends the next five days in jail, at which point he is indicted. (Under New York law, if prosecutors don't indict him within five days, they have to release him on his own recognizance.) Once out on bail, he is placed under house arrest, in a $200,000-a-month TriBeCa townhouse. The New York tabloids mock him mercilessly.

Now that the man can't flee, prosecutors turn their attention to the alleged victim. They begin investigating her background, knowing that the case hinges on her credibility. In just six weeks — an extraordinarily short time, as these things go — they put together a devastating profile of her past, filled with troubling inconsistencies, outright lies and the possibility that she hopes to profit from her alleged ordeal.

The prosecutors waste no time divulging these exculpatory facts to the man's lawyers. Then, in open court, they tell the judge what they've found. He releases the man from house arrest. Though the case is not yet abandoned, it almost surely will be.

You know what I've just described, of course: l'affaire D.S.K. In the days since Dominique Strauss-Kahn's stunning reversal of fortune, many Frenchmen have howled at the injustice of it all: "This vision of Dominique Strauss-Kahn humiliated in chains, dragged lower than the gutter," as the French writer (and D.S.K. friend) Bernard-Henri Lévy put it — all because Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, chose to believe "a hotel chambermaid" over an esteemed member of the French political establishment.

In America, meanwhile, the case's collapse has brought sniping from former prosecutors and white-collar defense attorneys, who have criticized Vance for indicting Strauss-Kahn before he knew more about the victim's background.

For the life of me, though, I can't see what Vance did wrong. Quite the contrary. The woman alleged rape, for crying out loud, which was backed up by physical (and other) evidence. She had no criminal record. Her employer vouched for her. The quick decision to indict made a lot of sense, both for legal and practical reasons. Then, as the victim's credibility crumbled, Vance didn't try to pretend that he still had a slam dunk, something far too many prosecutors do. He acknowledged the problems.

Lévy, himself a member of the French elite, seems particularly incensed that Vance wouldn't automatically give Strauss-Kahn a pass, given his extraordinary social status. Especially since his accuser had no status at all.

But that is exactly why Vance should be applauded: a woman with no power made a credible accusation against a man with enormous power. He acted without fear or favor. To have done otherwise would have been to violate everything we believe in this country about no one being above the law.

As for Strauss-Kahn's humiliation, clearly something very bad happened in that hotel room. Quite possibly a crime was committed. Strauss-Kahn's sordid sexual history makes it likely that he was the instigator. If the worst he suffers is a perp walk, a few days in Rikers Island and some nasty headlines, one's heart ought not bleed. Ah, yes, and he had to resign as the chief of an institution where sexual harassment was allegedly rampant, thanks, in part, to a culture he helped perpetuate. Gee, isn't that awful?

The point is this: We live in a country that professes to treat everyone equally under the law. So often we fall short. The poor may go unheard; the rich walk. Yet here is a case that actually lives up to our ideal of who we like to think we are. Even the way the case appears to be ending speaks to our more noble impulses. Vance didn't dissemble or delay or hide the truth about the victim's past. He did the right thing, painful though it surely must have been.

To judge by his recent writings, Bernard-Henri Lévy prefers to live in a country where the elites are rarely held to account, where crimes against women are routinely excused with a wink and a nod and where people without money or status are treated like the nonentities that the French moneyed class believe they are.

I'd rather live here.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE MOTHER OF ALL NO-BRAINERS

BY DAVID BROOKS

The Republicans have changed American politics since they took control of the House of Representatives. They have put spending restraint and debt reduction at the top of the national agenda. They have sparked a discussion on entitlement reform. They have turned a bill to raise the debt limit into an opportunity to put the U.S. on a stable fiscal course.

Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them. The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession.

Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way. There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That's because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation's honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.

Over the past week, Democrats have stopped making concessions. They are coming to the conclusion that if the Republicans are fanatics then they better be fanatics, too.

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don't take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THINK INSIDE THE BOX

BY STEVEN WOLOSHIN AND LISA M. SCHWARTZ

Lebanon, N.H.

AFTER 33 years of deliberation, last month the Food and Drug Administration announced rules requiring manufacturers to clarify how well sunscreens protect against UVB and UVA radiation — in other words, how well they actually work. Next, the agency could help consumers understand something far more important: how well a prescription drug actually works.

Bombarded with pharmaceutical ads listing what seems like every conceivable side effect, American consumers might think they are already getting too much information. But they — and their doctors — are not getting what arguably matters most: independent, plain-English facts about the medication.

Fortunately, there is a simple model for getting such information across. The government should follow through on proposals to require fact boxes, similar to those that appear on food packaging, in every ad drug makers produce and along with every package of medication they sell.

Federal regulations already require disclosure of important side effects. But there is no rule about how this data should be presented, and no requirement at all to provide data on how well drugs work compared with placebos or other drugs.

Unlike the case with other products, consumers can't learn how well many medications work just by trying them. You cannot feel how a cholesterol drug reduces the future chance of a heart attack. The only way to truly know a drug's benefit is by seeing data from randomized clinical trials of people, data that may be very hard to find.

Even doctors may have not have all the facts. The professional label — information for prescribers written by the drug maker and approved by the Food and Drug Administration — often fails to provide critical data about the benefit of drugs.

For some drugs, the answer may not even appear in the medical literature, because the research on which the government bases its approval is not always published. And even when it is, journal articles sometimes selectively report results, particularly when the drug maker had a substantial role in the studies themselves. In any case, much of what is published appears in specialty journals that few doctors have the time or interest to read.

A drug fact box, on the other hand, would provide all this information in a standardized, easy-to-read format.

To understand how such a box would work, consider Abilify, an antipsychotic drug with domestic sales of $4.5 billion in 2010, which is approved for a variety of disorders, including depression that is only partly responsive to another drug. According to an Abilify advertisement, "approximately two out of three people being treated for depression still have depression symptoms"; the ad then suggests that people ask their doctor about adding Abilify to their drug regimen.

But, as is generally the case, the ad doesn't tell them how well the drug works. And the professional label for doctors says only that the drug was "superior to placebo," not by how much. These advertising and labeling practices are neither unusual nor unique to Abilify, and are in compliance with federal regulations.

The box, on the other hand, would quantify the benefits and side effects of Abilify used in combination with other antidepressants, drawing on the larger of the two six-week trials that formed the basis of its approval by the F.D.A. First, it would show how the drug scored versus a placebo (in Abilify's case, not much: only three points lower on a 60-point scale, and it resolved depression for only 10 percent of patients — that is, 25 percent with Abilify versus 15 percent with just the placebo).

The box would also highlight Abilify's most important side effects: it caused 21 percent of patients in the trials to develop akathisia, or severe restlessness, and 4 percent to gain a substantial amount of weight. And, as with all anti-depressants, there is a small increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior among many young adults.

Are the benefits worth the side effects? That's a decision for individuals to make with their doctors. But the only way they can come to an informed decision is by seeing the data. Otherwise, they can only guess — and studies show that they usually guess wrong, assuming that drugs work really well for everyone. Indeed, a section of last year's health care reform law required the Department of Health and Human Services to review the evidence on drug fact boxes and file a report to Congress to recommend requiring them or not. But in its one-year report, filed in March, the department declared that it needed at least three more years to come to a decision.

That's a strange position, given the body of published, peer-reviewed research showing that drug boxes improve consumer decision making. Moreover, the F.D.A.'s Risk Communication Advisory Committee has already recommended that the agency adopt a drug-box requirement.

Thanks to the new rules, doctors and patients will be able to make informed choices about sunscreen. Given how central pharmaceuticals have become to the everyday health of millions of Americans, the Food and Drug Administration must enable them to do the same for prescription drugs.

Steven Woloshin and Lisa M. Schwartz are professors of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and the authors of "Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

LET'S NOT LINGER IN AFGHANISTAN

BY JEFF MERKLEY, RAND PAUL AND TOM UDALL

LAST month President Obama announced plans for withdrawing by next summer the approximately 30,000 American troops sent to Afghanistan as part of the 2009 surge.

We commend the president for sticking to the July date he had outlined for beginning the withdrawal. However, his plan would not remove all regular combat troops until 2014. We believe the United States is capable of achieving this goal by the end of 2012. America would be more secure and stronger economically if we recognized that we have largely achieved our objectives in Afghanistan and moved aggressively to bring our troops and tax dollars home.

After Al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, we rightly sought to bring to justice those who attacked us, to eliminate Al Qaeda's safe havens and training camps in Afghanistan, and to remove the terrorist-allied Taliban government. With hard work and sacrifice, our troops, intelligence personnel and diplomatic corps have skillfully achieved these objectives, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden.

But over the past 10 years, our mission expanded to include a fourth goal: nation-building. That is what we are bogged down in now: a prolonged effort to create a strong central government, a national police force and an army, and civic institutions in a nation that never had any to begin with. Let's not forget that Afghanistan has been a tribal society for millenniums.

Nineteen months ago the president announced the surge strategy in hopes of stabilizing Afghanistan and strengthening its military and police forces. Today, despite vast investment in training and equipping Afghan forces, the country's deep-seated instability, rampant corruption and, in some cases, compromised loyalties endure. Extending our commitment of combat troops will not remedy that situation.

Sometimes our national security warrants extreme sacrifices, and our troops are prepared to make them when asked. In this case, however, there is little reason to believe that the continuing commitment of tens of thousands of troops on a sprawling nation-building mission in Afghanistan will make America safer.

National security experts, including the former C.I.A. director Leon E. Panetta, have noted that Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan has been greatly diminished. Today there are probably fewer than 100 low-level Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has a much larger presence in a number of other nations.

Our focus shouldn't be establishing new institutions in Afghanistan, but concentrating on terrorist organizations with global reach. And our military and intelligence organizations have proved repeatedly that they can take the fight to the terrorists without a huge military footprint.

We have urgent needs at home: high unemployment and a flood of foreclosures, a record deficit and a debt that is over $14 trillion and growing. We are spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan. We need to change course.

A week before the president's speech, 24 of our Senate colleagues joined us by signing onto a bipartisan letter urging the president to announce a sustained and sizable drawdown from Afghanistan with the goal of removing regular combat troops. This group includes progressives, moderates and conservatives united behind one conclusion: we've accomplished what we set out to accomplish in Afghanistan, and we can no longer afford the lives and money it is taking to pursue an ambitious open-ended nation-building mission.

It is not too late to change course in what has become the longest American war in history. In light of our considerable national needs, both security and domestic, we urge the president to bring our troops home at last.

Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, and Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, are United States senators.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ALLIANCE POLITICS

 

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is currently holding centre stage in the effort to set up a grand opposition alliance to challenge the ruling PPP and possibly press for mid-term polls in the country. Speaking on his arrival in London, Shahbaz has said that the situation is right for such an alliance. While he did not clearly mention any direct talks with the MQM, it is believed by many analysts that these are uppermost in the priorities of the PML-N leaders who have adopted a very soft tone towards the party to which they were bitterly opposed not too long ago. Shahbaz, who has said he is in London essentially to build ties in various areas with the UK, is quite obviously open to a deal with the MQM. Additionally, PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif has already indicated that he is ready to embrace the MQM, while Shahbaz has stressed that such an agreement will focus on opposing corruption and other malpractices in government.

It will be interesting to watch developments closely over the coming days. While Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that he is not in the least bit concerned about the attempts of key opposition parties to set up a major front against his government, it is clear that there is at least a degree of concern in circles of power. Indications from Islamabad point towards a great deal of nervousness in the air. Other groups such as the JUI-F also seem more active than before as does the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, although it seems the party led by Imran Khan may be planning to launch a solo struggle rather than link up with other groups. The PML-N clearly feels that at present it needs allies to create momentum against the ruling party and to make its voice more forceful once again. It will also be concerned about the potential role of its arch-rival the PML-Q in Punjab over the coming months. It is clear that if an agreement is reached between the PML-N and the MQM, it may create an extremely powerful opposition block with a sturdy base across the country. There are many who will find this beneficial for ordinary citizens who continue to seek political forces willing to speak out against ceaseless inflation and the absence of effective governments. If they wanted to, Politician could play this role efficiently, if they wanted to. What is most important is that such developments, if and when they happen, must be a means of creating an environment in which the problems facing the people can be solved. These pressing issues have remained un-tackled for far too long.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CNG CRISIS

 

The long queues seen at CNG stations across Lahore, Gujranwala, Multan, and other cities in Punjab where CNG stations were closed for three days beginning Monday under the latest gas loadshedding initiative of the government, are indicative of the crisis that now faces consumers of the fuel. Under the plan, the CNG supply will be suspended weekly on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in several cities including Islamabad and Murree. The idea behind this scheme is to save on gas, of which the government says there is a severe shortage. Consumers can be glad that the proposal detailing that the price of the utility be raised for both domestic and commercial users has been shelved for the moment. But the CNG suspension, which is to continue for an indefinite period is no joke either.

This is obvious when we see the degree of anxiety on the faces of those who depend on it for their living. These include transporters, particularly rickshaw drivers who had converted to the fuel under a government campaign launched before 2008. Now they find themselves in a quandary. Not only is there a cut-off in the availability of the gas which keeps their vehicles running but there has also been, over the past few years, a steady rise in its price. In the long run, the cost of this is passed on to those who use public transport. But it appears that the government remains indifferent to the worries of these people and to the desperate sights seen at CNG stations through Sunday as people prepared for yet another hardship that has been inflicted upon them.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

OFF TRACK

 

With some reluctance from the Finance Ministry, the government has agreed to hand out Rs11.5 billion to the Pakistan Railways to enable it to refurbish locomotives and repair tracks that lie in tatters. This adds to the Rs25 billion subsidy already handed out to the struggling state entity in the recently approved budget, and will add to the strains on the budget. The federal finance minister, in this context, is quite right in expressing a desire to examine the Railways plans, given that it is currently able to meet one-fifth of what it spends. There is certainly no evidence of any significant measures to improve what is a genuinely dismal situation. The efforts made at one point to improve matters have floundered; brief improvements made in services some five years ago have collapsed; new carriages purchased at the time have fallen into gradual disrepair, and as losses mount, services have been cut.

Against this dark background, we need to consider what could have been. Even now, it is possible – with good management and efficient implementation – to turn things around. The Pakistan Railways has enormous potential. Lines laid down during the colonial era and since are not all being used to their fullest potential. A well-run train service should be bringing money pouring into the state coffers. It should also benefit millions of commuters at a time when airfares continue to rise. That this has not happened is an indication of the level of incompetence at play. As things stand, resurrecting the railway services will be no simple task. For years, the decay has continued unchecked and things have subsequently gone from bad to worse. There is no evidence of there being a plan in place to limit the damage and prevent the haemorrhaging that is threatening to kill one of our institutions with sheer neglect.

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

UNEXPECTED TTP ATTACK IN SHANGLA

 RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI


 For the first time since the 2009 military operation in Swat and the rest of Malakand division, militants emerged from nowhere in the relatively secure Shangla district on the night of July 2-3 to attack a police post on the Chakesar-Karora road. Three cops, including an assistant sub-inspector of police, were killed and a fourth policeman was wounded. The dozen or so attackers managed to escape and remain unknown and untraceable.

It is an alarming development because the Pakistani Taliban, even at the height of their power, never had a strong presence in Shangla, a mountainous district carved out of Swat several years ago. There surely were militants in Shangla, but their numbers weren't high. During the heyday of the Taliban, most of the militants who overran the poorly defended Alpuri town, headquarters of Shangla district, came from Swat and other neighbouring districts. The district administration collapsed and the outgunned police ran away as Shangla fell into the hands of the Maulana Fazlullah-led Swat chapter of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The military had to launch a strong action, using helicopter- gunships and artillery, to evict the militants and regain control of Shangla.

The militants' attack in Shangla would prompt many to argue that the Taliban are back. However, it doesn't mean that they are back in force with the strength to control a specific area as they did during the peak of their power. Though striking in a place like Shangla where the militants have been weak compared to Swat and Lower Dir should be a cause of concern for the government, it ought to be seen as an isolated incident. The TTP will continue to strike at vulnerable and inadequately defended spots and launch attacks in places where they are least expected to strike. Similar surprise attacks were carried out by the militants in Matta, Kabal and Kalam areas of Swat in 2010-2011 and some politicians from the ruling Awami National Party were target-killed. Lower Dir also experienced terrorist attacks because some of the militant commanders from the district are still at large and able to organise strikes targeting the security forces and the police.

It was a coincidence that funeral prayers for the three slain policemen and five Pakistani army soldiers who lost their lives in fighting the militants in Mohmand Agency took place on the same day—i.e., July 3. The funeral prayers for the cops were first held at the Sher Ali Khan Shaheed Police Lines in Alpuri and subsequently in their respective villages in Abbottabad and Shangla districts. And the prayers for the five soldiers were performed in Peshawar before their bodies were dispatched to their villages for burial. The soldiers were from the elite Special Services Group and had died fighting the Taliban militants in Mohmand Agency's Shonkerai area near the border with Afghanistan. The death of eight cops and soldiers in one day in just two theatres of the conflict in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) explained the deadly nature of the fighting and the huge challenges facing the state in dealing with homegrown militants.

Some figures recently provided by the Corps Commander of Peshawar, Lt Gen Asif Yasin Malik, regarding the battle for control of Mohmand Agency, one of the seven tribal regions of Fata, are instructive. He reportedly said 58 soldiers lost their lives and 300 were wounded during the last three months while fighting the militants in Mohmand Agency. He also claimed that 200 militants were killed during this period as the military took them on in their strongholds in the Safi and Baizai tehsils close to the Afghan border. The military is claiming to have cleared seven tehsils, or sub-divisions, of the militants and obtained full control while fighting was continuing for the possession of the Safi tehsil.

The battle for control of Mohmand Agency, however, is by no means over. A significant number of families from the conflict area are still displaced, living in makeshift camps in Mohmand Agency and in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and elsewhere, longing to return to their homes. The tribesmen are complaining that the civil and military authorities have been forcing them to raise lashkars, or voluntary armed groups, to fight the militants and defend their own villages. There is no real peace and stability and the economy, always fragile in case of Mohmand Agency, has been seriously damaged. The militants, led by Abdul Wali, commonly known as Omar Khalid, still occupy certain places close to the Pakistani-Afghan border and are able to easily cross into Afghanistan whenever under pressure from the Pakistani security forces. They are also capable of striking back as they did by carrying out deadly suicide bombings twice in Mohmand Agency at Ekkaghund and Ghallanai and once at the Frontier Constabulary Training Centre at Shabqadar in neighbouring Charsadda district. More than 200 FC soldiers, government officials and anti-militants tribesmen were killed in these attacks and several hundred were injured. In fact, the Mohmand Agency militants have been able to track down pro-government tribesmen in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and even Karachi to attack and kill them.

The enormousness of the task of tackling the militancy can be judged from the three major cross-border attacks launched since April 2011 by the Pakistani Taliban, based in Afghanistan, in the Lower Dir and Upper Dir districts and Bajaur Agency with support from some Afghan militants. The lack of government control in the border areas across the Durand Line in both Afghanistan and Pakistan has enabled the militants to set up bases and operate with impunity. The Pakistani security forces had to retaliate against the retreating militants as they inflicted significant human losses in the attacks on border posts in Dir manned in most cases by ill-equipped and poorly-trained Levies and police personnel and some of the artillery shells and rockers fired by them landed in border villages in Afghanistan's Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, killing and injuring civilians and causing material damage.

The cross-border raids in Pakistani territory and the retaliatory strikes by Pakistan's security forces have caused tension on the border and inflamed passions, particularly in Afghanistan, where members of parliament, government officials and sections of the media have tried to exploit the situation to whip up anti-Pakistan sentiment. A protest rally staged in Kabul against Pakistan was peaceful, but it reminded one of the violent attacks on the Pakistani embassy in the past. Protest notes were handed over to Pakistan's diplomatic missions in Kabul and Jalalabad and an Afghan general, Aminullah Amarkhel, commanding the border troops in eastern Afghanistan, resigned while protesting the inaction of the Afghan government and the Nato forces in the face of cross-border shelling and rocketing by the Pakistani military. And in a tit-for-tat response, mortar shells fired by Afghan forces are now landing in Pakistani territory and causing harm to civilians. There was no emotional reaction by Pakistani politicians, the government and the media to the cross-border raids by the Afghanistan-based militants and the shelling and rocketing by the Afghan military. In fact, these provocative actions have gone almost unnoticed in Pakistan as if nothing had happened. There seemed to be greater interest in the musical chairs game that is about to start in Pakistan again as political parties with diverse agendas gang up in efforts to capture power or stay in power.

The unfinished job of defeating militants was undertaken in a new battlefield as Pakistani security forces launched action in Kurram Agency on July 3. Homework was certainly done before undertaking the military operation and the desertion of Fazal Saeed Haqqani, the TTP commander for Kurram Agency, and his revolt against Hakimullah Mahsud seems to be part of preparations to create a split in the militants' ranks. However, large-scale military actions also cause civilian deaths, displacement and economic losses. Around 4,000 families have already been uprooted in Kurram Agency, adding to the number of internally displaced persons from South Waziristan, Mohmand, Bajaur and other places waiting to be compensated and rehabilitated. The long conflict facing Pakistan has created problems that will take years to resolve.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimyusufzai@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE AMERICA OF TODAY

 HUZAIMA BUKHARI AND DR IKRAMUL HAQ


 In 1776 a movement against colonial rule started in the land now known as the United States of America, and its founding fathers and leaders of the historic struggle which led to its creation showed subjugated nations a new path of hope. But the America of today is completely different from what its founder fathers had conceived it.

In the era following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US became a greater hegemonic state than it ever was, and sharply intensified its wars for oil, weapons and drugs. According to James Petras, professor of sociology at Binghamton University, New York, there is a consensus among US congressional investigators and international banking experts that US and European banks laundered between $4 to $6 trillion of dirty money during the era of George W Bush and Dick Cheney. Half of the money was laundered by US banks alone. Thus, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the new war in Libya, are business ventures, and are meant to capture oil and gas resources and secure new military bases.

The reality behind the "war against terrorism" is well-known. The authors of this agenda have common Unocal connections, including Bush and Cheney themselves, Condoleezza Rice, Zalmay Khalilzad, Hamid Karzai and many others.

It is a matter of record that it is much before 9/11 that the US and its Nato allies decided to invade Afghanistan. The decision was taken in Berlin during a top-level meeting held in November 2000 during the Clinton administration. Contrary to claims by the US and its coalition partners that the Sept 11 attacks were the sole reason for the invasion of Afghanistan, the actual cause was apprehensions regarding the Turkmenistan Gas Pipeline Project. Powerful corporate entities which rule the US and other Western countries had financial interests in the project. It was not the existence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan that forced the US and its allies to invade Afghanistan but the financial interests of the US and its Nato allies.

Bush appointed Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, former aide to Unocal, as special envoy to Afghanistan only nine days after the US-backed interim government of Hamid Karzai took office in Kabul. This appointment underscored the real economic and financial interests at stake in the US military intervention in Central Asia. Khalilzad was intimately involved in the long-running US efforts to obtain direct access to the oil and gas resources of the region, largely unexploited but believed to be the second-largest in the world after those of the Persian Gulf region. As an advisor for Unocal, Khalilzad drew up a risk analysis of a proposed gas pipeline from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. He participated in talks between the oil company and Taliban officials in 1997, which were aimed at implementing a 1995 agreement to build the pipeline across western Afghanistan. Unocal was the lead company in the formation of the Centgas consortium, whose purpose was to bring to market natural gas from the Dauletabad field in southeastern Turkmenistan.

The $2 billion project involved a 48-inch-diameter pipeline from the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan border, passing near the Afghan cities of Herat and Kandahar and crossing into Pakistan near Quetta and then linking up with the existing pipelines at Multan. An additional $600-million extension to India was also under consideration.

Khalilzad lobbied publicly for a more sympathetic US government policy towards the Taliban. In an op-ed article in The Washington Post, he defended the Taliban regime against accusations that it was a sponsor of terrorism. "The Taliban does not practice the anti-US style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran. We should...be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance and to promote international economic reconstruction," he declared. "It is time for the United States to re-engage" the Afghan regime. This "re-engagement" would, of course, have been enormously profitable to Unocal, which was otherwise unable to bring gas and oil to market from landlocked Turkmenistan.

Khalilzad shifted his position on the Taliban only after the Clinton administration fired cruise missiles at targets in Afghanistan in August 1998, claiming that terrorists under the direction of Afghan-based Osama bin Laden were responsible for bombing US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. One day after the attack, Unocal put Centgas on hold. Two months later it abandoned all plans for a trans-Afghan pipeline. The oil interests began to look towards a post-Taliban Afghanistan, and so did their representatives in the US national security establishment.

After Bush was installed as president by a 5-4 vote of the US Supreme Court, following the controversial presidential elections of November 2000, Khalilzad was nominated for the National Security Council (NSC), where no confirmation vote was needed. At the NSC Khalilzad was to report to Condoleezza Rice, who also served as an oil company consultant on Central Asia. After serving in the first Bush administration from 1989 to 1992, Rice was placed on the board of directors of Chevron Corporation and served as its principal expert on Kazakhstan, where Chevron holds the largest concession of any of the international oil companies. The oil industry connections of Bush and Cheney played the prominent role in the United States' Afghan policy.

The San Francisco Chronicle published an article on Sept 26, 2001, by staff writer Frank Viviano, which first commented on the link with oil of the imminent US invasion of Afghanistan. "The hidden stakes in the war against terrorism can be summed up in a single word: OIL. The map of terrorist sanctuaries and targets in the Middle East and Central Asia is also, to an extraordinary degree, a map of the world's principal energy sources in the 21st century," he noted. "It is inevitable that the war against terrorism will be seen by many as a war on behalf of America's Chevron, Exxon, and Arco; France's TotalFinaElf; British Petroleum; Royal Dutch Shell and other multinational giants, which have hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the region."

What Viviano wrote in September 2001 was to prove true not too long afterwards. Writing in the May 19, 2003, issue of Time magazine, Donald L Barlett and James B Steele exposed the dark side of American oil policy quoting from classified government documents and oil industry memos. Now, in 2011, US-Nato forces have intensified all efforts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere which can best be summed up as a quest for new oil resources.

This is the America of today: from great democracy to a hegemonic state fighting a "war against terrorism," which is nothing but eyewash. In reality the sole superpower is subservient to Big Business, and companies running oil, arms and drug cartels, which know how to move money from one part of the world to another, buy government functionaries, control politicians, law enforcement officials and get the profits they want.

The writers are adjunct professors at LUMS. Emails: ikram@huzaimaikram.com and Huzaima@huzaimaikram.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE HOMECOMING

MIR ADNAN AZIZ

 

We are seldom witness to good tidings. Our jubilation, in recent years, has been confined to the odd win on the cricket field. It was therefore with both joy and relief that we saw PNS Zulfiqar come in to berth at the dockyard in Karachi. To receive those sailing in was 11-year-old, smiling, Laila. She was the symbol whose courage and emotional pleas evoked a response that culminated in the safe arrival of the 22 hostages.

As they disembarked, they bowed in submission to Allah. The emotions were unguarded, the words and actions unscripted, yet nothing could have been more overwhelming, more joyous, than this home-coming. We have taken our freedom for granted. Captain Wasi and his crew truly understand what a blessing it is to be in one's own homeland. Every single person who worked tirelessly towards securing their freedom has the nation's gratitude.

About five years ago, the Somali pirates of today were village fishermen. Their livelihoods were severely damaged by illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste in and near the Somali waters. These fishermen became a volunteer coast guard, a service the Somali state could not deliver. They chased away fishing and waste-dumping vessels. From fishing to piracy was a leap precipitated by poverty and the absence of state control.

Piracy, today, is a $12 billion burgeoning industry. According to a report titled "Economics of Piracy", a pirate can earn up to $79,000 a year. Contrast this with an average $500 income in Somalia. The International Maritime Piracy Reporting Centre has Somali pirates currently holding 25 vessels and 800 crewmembers of various nationalities hostage. Like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, Somalia too epitomises the fallout of years of United States interventionist policies. Somalis detested US support and patronage of the two decades long rule of an unpopular Siyad Barre. Lack of understanding about local politics, clans, culture and history combined with US meddling greatly increased anarchy and instability in Somalia.

On July 12, 1993, the US launched an attack on a house in Mogadishu. UN officials had said the agenda of the meeting, as advertised in local newspapers, was to discuss ways to peacefully resolve the conflict between Aidid and the UN task force. It was also supposed to work out how Aidid could be ousted as a clan leader. The US, in its wisdom, thought that members of Aidid's Habar Gedir clan were meeting there to plan violence against US forces. The ensuing US attack saw Cobra helicopters fire 16 TOW missiles and thousands of 20 mm rounds at the house. When the ferocious onslaught drew to a close, more than 50 of the most respected clan elders lay dead. This was a turning point in unifying Somalis against the US and UN efforts.

On October 3, 1993, American Task Force Rangers, without UN clearance, attacked a house near the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu to capture Farah Aideed. A 17-hour battle ensued that saw 18 US soldiers killed. The toll would have been higher had 75 stranded US Rangers not been rescued by Pakistani and Malaysian troops. With the downing of Black Hawk helicopters it is known as the Battle of Mogadishu. It led to president Clinton announcing a US pullout from Somalia. Images of dead American soldiers being dragged through Mogadishu's dusty streets obsessed American political and military thinkers. This obsession was labelled the Somalia Syndrome.

The Bush administration, in a bid for assistance in the US counterterrorism efforts, started to aid Somali warlords again. Resentment towards these warlords and the US policy enabled the Islamic Courts Union to assume power. The Union promised security, justice, and peace for all its citizens. The Islamic leanings became a sore point for the US.

Ethiopia, on American instigation, invaded Somalia bringing about the death of one-tenth of the population and igniting civil war yet again. Now 1.5 million Somalis are homeless with 650,000 refugees and 2.4 million in urgent need of humanitarian assistance due to drought and war. With no previous links to international extremist groups, Somalia now has a flourishing overtly pro Al-Qaeda group known as al-Shahab. In recent days, US drone strikes have been carried out against leaders of this group.

Over the years, the US policies have destabilised countries and regions bringing about death and destruction. Somalia's Operation Restore Hope did to Somalia what Operation Enduring Freedom has done to Afghanistan and Iraq. It is no coincidence that Somalia had been the site of oil exploration by Amoco, Chevron, and Conoco. It was six weeks into Operation Restore Hope that Mark Fineman of the LA Times, reported that there exists a "close relationship between Conoco and the US intervention force."

It was therefore no surprise that Conoco's Mogadishu headquarters were used as a "de facto US embassy." Similarly, the nexus between the Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) and Afghanistan is well-documented. Hamid Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad were one time Unocal consultants.

Subsequent US administrations missed the Somali lesson where it aided and abetted some war lords while demonising others. With more than 1500 patrolling pirates, the Somali piracy zones now approach a staggering 1.5 million square miles of sea. They threaten the safe passage of 40 percent of the world's oil and trade. The American image, shorn of all credibility, has gone from bad to worse.

Meanwhile, the near and dear ones of 9,000 Pakistanis languishing in foreign prisons pray for the homecoming of their loved ones. Like Laila, they have not given up hope. And like Laila, may their dreams come true.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:
miradnanaziz@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

FOG OF COVERT WAR

 DR MALEEHA LODHI


The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

Unveiled on June 29, President Barack Obama's counterterrorism strategy is as significant for what it says as for what it obliquely refers to or is silent on.

The principal focus of the strategy is on what poses the "most direct and significant threat to the US – Al-Qaeda, its affiliates and its adherents".

Presenting the 19-page strategy document, Obama's top anti-terrorism adviser, John Brennan declared that America's "best offense won't always be deploying large armies abroad but delivering targeted, surgical pressure" against groups that threaten" the US. This affirms the shift in US policy underway in the past two and a half years from large-scale military interventions to clandestine campaigns.

Little was explicitly stated in the document about how this strategy will continue to be pursued: by a form of secretive war involving armed drones and Special Operation forces. The closest Brennan came to acknowledging the use of unmanned aerial vehicles was a reference to deploying "unique assets" against the terrorist threat.

Washington has already extended the covert drone campaign to six countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Somalia. Its escalation has involved the violation of national sovereignty of many of these states including Pakistan. The document's emphasis on building regional security partnerships therefore sounds hollow in the face of this reality.

What the strategy fails to acknowledge are the risks, limits and consequences of waging covert offensives in countries with which the US is not at war. There is no recognition that pursuit of this course could undercut America's security objectives by engendering deep hostility in the very countries whose cooperation the US needs to eliminate Al-Qaeda.

The ramifications of relying on missile-firing drones have become more complex since the Obama administration adopted this as its weapon of choice and the originally modest programme targeting only a small number of high-value terrorists underwent a dramatic escalation.

Obama's counterterrorism plan to replace the Bush-era 2006 strategy comes soon after Osama bin Laden's death in a secret raid. The strategy paper describes this as the "most important strategic milestone" in the effort to defeat Al-Qaeda. While the organisation is on "the path to defeat", it is still seen as a significant threat. This requires the use of "targeted force" to complete the job according to the strategy paper. "Defeating Al-Qaeda", Brennan explained, does not require a global war but a focus on specific regions. Currently, says the official document, the US "is focused on eliminating the Al-Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan".

This indicates that more unilateral actions involving an intensification of drone strikes can be expected in the country's border areas in pursuing an approach that has already pushed America's relations with Pakistan to the brink.

The increasing even exclusive US reliance on this approach is predicated on the low cost, so-called 'precision' capabilities of drone warfare that involve no risk of US lives. Cast aside are legal questions raised by this war-by-assassination approach. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, highlighted these last year in a report. This criticised the secrecy of the CIA-run drone campaign and its lack of accountability under international law.

As the American programme is an undeclared one it has operated beyond the purview of international law even though Washington insists it has the legal right to target individuals who are planning attacks against the US. The acquiescence by America's European allies and silence of western human rights organisations has helped to maintain its secrecy. There has also been no public debate in the US except for the occasional newspaper article questioning the approach. Absent is any public oversight of the campaign.

It is worth recalling that the tactic of targeted assassinations was pioneered by Israel and used for over three decades in the occupied territories and Lebanon. It failed to overpower the Palestinian resistance and ended up radicalising the movement and the region.

Three aspects of the US covert campaign merit discussion: its limits, unintended practical consequences and the fallout on relations with Pakistan. This strategy with its one-dimensional kinetic approach has measured success by how many militants have been eliminated rather than on how the flow of recruits into terrorist organisations is retarded.

This overly militarised approach has distracted attention from the need to address the ideological and political dimensions of the challenge: the appeal of militants and the conditions that breed them. There is a telling lack of 'non-kinetic' dimension to US counterterrorism strategy despite the acknowledgement in the document of its importance. Unless a strategy is able to thwart recruitment and break the cycle of radicalisation it falls dangerously short of being effective.

The limits of an approach that relies on targeted executions turns counterterrorism into a numbers game and overlooks the fact that terrorist organisations including Al-Qaeda's newer incarnation have morphed into loose and decentralised networks that survive by forging alliances with local partners and are therefore hard to eliminate by this top down tactic.

According to one CIA assessment there are around 200 to 300 Al-Qaeda fighters in Pakistan's tribal region. In that case over 257 strikes by Hellfire missiles since 2004 should have eliminated most of its leaders and members. But why hasn't this happened?

The limits of a decapitation strategy are evident from the fact that rather than stop the flow of recruits into terrorist organisations it often ends up swelling its ranks. Its perverse effect has been to drive otherwise disparate groups into combining their efforts, expanding their goals and enlarging their area of operation. The Faisal Shahzad incident involving the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a case in point.

Ramped up drone attacks have provided an incentive to militant networks to make common cause and ally with Al-Qaeda. Aerial strikes and the indeterminate civilian casualties they have caused have enabled Al-Qaeda to leverage local allies and affiliates. Therefore the goal to isolate the organisation has risked being lost in the fog of this covert war.

Unilateral drone-launched missile strikes into Pakistan's borderlands have had a number of other consequences, which show that the strategic costs of this campaign far outweigh the claimed 'tactical' gains. The rising public hostility these actions have evoked is reflected in successive opinion polls. The most recent by the Pew organisation found that 62 per cent of Pakistanis now oppose US antiterrorism efforts, with 89 per cent respondents believing that drones kill innocent people.

Other than fracturing ties with Islamabad the anti-Americanism fuelled by these go-it-alone actions raise questions about how Washington's anti-terrorism efforts can succeed in this environment and the quality of cooperation it can hope to elicit as a result from Islamabad. The key to the success of antiterrorism efforts is good, solid intelligence. If this is unavailable no effort can endure even if there are notable one-off successes.

Among the consequences of more aggressive American actions has been the erosion of the post-2009 political consensus in the country so painstakingly forged in support of the anti militancy campaign. Opinion poll findings and anecdotal evidence point to a correlation between falling public support for military campaigns and unilateral American strikes into Pakistan's sovereign territory – testimony to the counter productiveness of US strategy.

Buoyed by its success in eliminating "more key Al-Qaeda leaders" in the past two and a half years than at any time since 9/11, the Obama administration appears to see little reason to modify a course of action that is so destabilising for Pakistan and which has fanned the flames of radicalism in the tribal areas and beyond.

Belief in the soundness of its approach has blindsided Washington to the long-term consequences of this strategy as well as to the danger of a break in relations with Pakistan. Disregarding these costs at the strategic level the Obama administration seems set on a course at stark variance with its own words in the strategy document: "We will defeat Al-Qaeda only through a sustained partnership with Pakistan." The only viable way to secure this goal is to work with Pakistan and not seek to bypass it.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO!

 ADNAN GILL

 

Breaking News: During the darkest hours of the night, a super-stealthy Russian built Cuban mini-submarine infiltrated American waters near southern Florida Mangrove Preserves to deploy a couple of dozen Cuban commandos on the American soil.

Hours after the deadly mission began; Cuban President Raul Castro announced that in a highly secret military operation the Cuban commandos killed Luis Posada. Posada was openly living in Leisure City, FL; hardly a block away from Homestead Military Base.

Further investigation revealed that five American citizens, including an American army officer, were spying on Posada for the Cubans.

However, in a most baffling move, instead of honouring the five Americans with medals and ticker parades for their invaluable role in eliminating one of the most deadly terrorists, the Americans are investigating the men in the infamous Guantanamo Bay Prison.

The Cuban government is up in arms over the investigation of heroes who played a key role in eliminating one of the deadliest terrorists.

Obviously, all of the above is fiction, with the exception of Luis Posada. As an American, through the storytelling, I want to highlight our self-centred view of the world and want to proclaim bankruptcy of our collective conscious.

Starting from comedians like Steven Colbert to witch-hunting Republican Congressman Peter King, everyone seems to be up in arms over Pakistanis investigating a military officer for allegedly spying for the CIA in hunting Bin Laden.

In a practical world, there is no such thing as a good or righteous spy. Would an American military officer be rewarded or investigated if he was suspected of corroborating with a foreign nation in the killing of a terrorist?

If the answer is no, then by what legal or moral authority do we expect the Pakistanis to reward spies amongst their ranks?

We have divided the world into those who are terrorists, and those who fight the terrorists. We never get tired of accusing others of supporting terrorists, yet we harbour and nurture terrorists under misnomers like revolutionaries and freedom fighters.

It is unconscionable that our politicians like Rep King never fail to chastise Pakistan for failing to catch the 9/11 mastermind, while our own highly sophisticated law enforcement agencies missed every single 9/11 bomber, and for 16 years failed to catch the mafia boss James Bulger.

It turned out, Bulger who was number two (right behind Osama bin Laden) on the FBI Most Wanted list openly lived in Los Angeles for 16 years.

Our hypocrisy looks even worse; considering, we allowed another notorious terrorist to live openly amongst ourselves; Luis Posada.

Those who don't know, Posada is a terrorist of Cuban descent who masterminded Havana hotel bombings and a Cuban airplane bombing in 1976 that killed 73 people.

Despite infinite cooperation from the Pakistanis, we ritually demand "do more" from them. Incidentally, Pakistan has lost well over 3,000 military personnel in a direct support of our troops in Afghanistan.

However, during our 50 plus years of alliance with the Pakistanis, we have yet to fire a single shot in their support.

We mercilessly hunt the terrorists all over the globe, but it never bothers us when our drone attacks shred thousands upon thousands of innocent women and children to bits in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

LET GOVT COMPLETE ITS TENURE

 

THOUGH there are still no clear demands from the main opposition party about snap polls but its declared intention of forming a grand alliance of the opposition parties has led to speculations about possibility of such an eventuality. It was, perhaps, in this backdrop that Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has discounted any such development and pointed out that it was time for local government elections, not mid-term. He added that the government has presented four budgets and the PML (N) should prepare for the next elections to be held after completion of the tenure of the present Government.


Rhetoric notwithstanding, the fact remains that none of the political parties including PML (N) is so far ready for general elections and stray demands for fresh elections carry no weight but only add to the political confusion and uncertainty, which the country can ill-afford in the given treacherous internal and external factors. The opposition was within its right to make efforts to bring all rivals of the Government on one platform so as to play their role more effectively and that is definitely a good thing for the people. In this perspective the MQM deserves appreciation for making it absolutely clear that it was ready to joint PML (N) in the opposition but would not become part of any effort to dislodge the Government. This is a saner approach and must be shared by others in their own interest and in the interest of the country and the system. We believe that instead of indulging in hollow sloganeering, it is duty of the opposition parties to come out with an alternative programme for resolution of the problems of the people and tackling different challenges confronting the country. We are sorry to point out that the opposition parties are criticiSing the Government and rightly so for its inability to address issues like price-hike, unemployment, corruption, bad governance, insecurity, law and order situation, rising crime rate and lack of attention on economy but so far none of them has presented an alternative solution. It is time for the opposition parties to sit together and form joint committees to draw up plans for each and every sector and issues and present them before the masses. There is absolutely no justification to press for snap polls when the Government was almost at the fag end of its tenure and is going to contest elections on the basis of its performance. The culture of violent agitations, underhand deals and toppling of governments midway needs to be buried deep into ground and every government — be it incumbent or future ones — should be allowed to complete their constitutionally mandate term.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

RAO GIVES CERTIFICATE TO PAKISTAN

 

THE outgoing Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, is leaving the coveted slot on a good note that may help set healthy traditions. In an interview, she declared that there was a change in Pakistan's attitude towards tackling terrorism and it is a concrete development that New Delhi should take note of. Ms Rao also acknowledged that the Indian policy of disengagement with Pakistan following Mumbai attacks was a mistake.

This is indeed a breeze of fresh air from across the eastern border from where we have been witnessing storms and floods polluting the overall environment and damaging the prospects for improvement in relations. The remarks of Ms. Nirupama Rao have special significance as they come from a personality who remained intensely engaged with Pakistan and are based on her assessment of the ground situation. Her remarks are also important in the sense this is a departure from the typical Indian mindset of levelling baseless allegations against Pakistan all the time as part of the calculated propaganda campaign to portray Pakistan in bad light. If made part of the official thinking in New Delhi, the assessment of Nirupama Rao has the potential to change the nature of bilateral relationship and open new vistas for cooperation and possibilities for resolution of the conflict that bedevil their relations. There is definitely change of mindset in Pakistan with majority of people advocating strongly for improvement of relations with India as there is realization that only co-existence can ensure peace and prosperity in the region and beyond. This change must be visible in India as well as it takes two to tango but regrettably there are still dominant voices that disrupt every move aimed at normalization of relations even if it is a cricket match or exchange of cultural delegations.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

POLITICAL CONTOURS OF WTO

 

THE Chairman Coordination of the FPCCI Raza Khan was perfectly right when he stated that refusal by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to approve trade concessions offered by the European Union to Pakistan has made it more political and controversial. The WTO was established with pious intentions for ensuring fair trade practices in a world where major powers were utilizing bilateral and multilateral trade to their advantage.

By going through various decisions of the WTO one can find that this institution too has political contours and was serving the interests of major powers and least care for the poor economies who need immediate help to overcome the financial difficulties which were not of their own making. If one takes the example of Pakistan, it suffered massive economic and human losses in the international war on terror. According to rough estimates the economic loss alone was around $ 70 billion and after a great deal of persuasion by the Pakistani leadership, the European Union agreed to give it trade concessions to compensate for some of the losses. Some of the Asian countries including India, which claims to be emerging as a major economy after China, raised objections on the ground that the concessions would affect its exports. Even after agreeing to Pakistani demand, the EU stated that the additional earnings made by it through exports would be considered as aid from the group to Pakistan. The EU concessions have to be approved and the WTO has come out with different objections. This was not the first time that the organisation raised objections at this deal but in the past as well it towed the lines of major powers by identifying certain hidden dimensions to justify its position. The fact is that not only the WTO but other similar organisations, even the IMF and World Bank, extend loans apparently to help the developing countries but if one goes deep, he finds that there are many hidden conditionalities to be fulfilled by the recipient country. This is what today's world is where even commitments are not honoured by using the so-called international organisations, like WTO, which have been formed only to serve the interests of the major powers.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

THAR COAL & REKO DIQ

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

Member Planning Commission of Pakistan, Dr Samarmand Mubarak expressed his disappointment rather frustration while working on Thar Coal project. Addressing Rawalpindi Chamber of Commerce, he said that industry's biggest problem is energy crisis, adding that if the required compressor is provided he can start gasification of Thar Coal within months. Pakistan is endowed with enormous natural resources and minerals, if explored and utilized properly, Pakistan can become a self-reliant country and get rid of dependency syndrome. Weak economy, technical resource constraints coupled with flawed decisions of the inept governments have brought the country to the present pass. Instead of relying on our own talent, they provided opportunities to the foreign investors to drain out our resources. According to independent experts, in Balochistan two Mega Projects ie Saindak and Reko Dig have more potentials than combined energy resources of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Reko Diq Copper/Gold Project has an estimated 12.3 million tons of world class copper and 20.9 million ounces of gold worth around $ 125 billion US dollars.

The other day, National Assembly Standing Committee on Science and Technology has asked the federal and provincial governments to provide the allocated funds to Thar Coal gasification project to speed up work on the power generation project. Chairman of the committee Dr Abdul Kadir Khanzada, while speaking at the presentations of Thar Coal and gasification projects said that any delay in Thar Coal and gasification trial and pilot projects will further delay the addition of much needed electricity to country's economy and industrial sector. Representatives of Sindh Coal Authority, project coordinator Engro, Oracle Coalfield UK, PCSIR and coal gasification project gave presentations to the committee on the progress of their projects. It is rather strange that Dr Samar Mubarakmand the pioneer of the project perhaps did not attend the meeting. Has he been kept out because others want to take the credit or they have axe to grind. Dr Khanzada said that both federal government and Sindh government should provide the committed share of the allocated funds for these projects. If you want to run the projects you need to fulfil your obligations and provide the necessary support to the on-going projects in Thar Coal field.

Now about Reko Diq project, which has been making headlines for the last one year. This project is being developed by Tethyan Copper Company Limited (joint venture between two mining giants ie Antofagasta of Chili and Barrick Gold of Canada), to produce 0.45 million tons of copper/gold concentrates every year. Terms agreed upon indicated that Pakistan Government has been deceived by these companies. It appears that Balochistan government and federal government are maintaining confidentiality with regard to these projects, which means that there is something fishy about the whole matter. The project has probably been contracted for an estimated value of US $ 25 billion, while actual value of the material, which will be extracted, is about US $ 125 billion. The above mentioned companies plan to take all the ore abroad without processing it locally, as it contains rich contents of copper and gold. For this purpose, these companies intend to develop an exclusive small Seaport for shipping the extracted ore (commercial jetty near Gwadar Port about 30 miles towards Karachi).

Dr Samar Mubarakmand has been appearing on TV channels frequently to remind those at the helm that everything should be transparent, and Pakistan should not be robbed of its national wealth by the foreigners with the collusion of the corrupt government functionaries. Last December Website 'The Pakistani Spectator' had written: "Quietly, and below the media radar, some 20 top corporate bosses and lobbyists of two of the world's largest gold mining groups have been meeting President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, Governor State Bank and others in Islamabad, pressing them to quickly hand over one of the world's biggest gold and copper treasures found in Balochistan at Reko Diq, worth over $260 billion, to their companies, and for peanuts. Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Pakistan can pick up the issue and put a hold on whatever is going on before any binding contracts and deals are signed, which may cause losses of billions of dollars, yes billions of dollars to Pakistan". It has to be mentioned that it was the apex court that stalled the shady deal of selling Pakistan Steel Mills at throwaway prices by Shaukat Aziz government.

On the basis of his interviews in TV channels and print media, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court and Dr. Samar Mubarakmand was called by the court on the next hearing in January 2010 to assist the court regarding natural resources in Balochistan area of Reko Diq. The company's counsel had told the court that an amount of $435 million was spent in exploration of natural resources with nothing earned in this regard. The CJ remarked that the Processing License could not be further sold; first the license-holder should give due share to the province. Dr Samar Mubarakmand however is of the opinion that Pakistan has the talent to exploit these mineral resources. Even in case of Thar Coal, he is hopeful that with the local expertise, Pakistan can convert coal into gas, and that diesel can also be produced from this source. He said a pilot project has already done experimentation in this regard. Pakistan has Mineral Research organizations; therefore Pakistan should not spend foreign exchange on hiring services of foreign consultants and contracting companies.

Dr Mubarakmand had said that coal reserves are also available in powder form under water, and Pakistan could produce 50,000 megawatt electricity and 100 million barrel diesel just through the gasification of these reserves. The government should arrange a compressor and other required material to Dr. Mubarakmand and see what he says is feasible. In the last hearing, Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry heading a three-member bench hearing the case of copper and gold in Reko Diq, said: "We are Pakistanis and should keep the national interests in view." Balochistan's Attorney General Salah-ud-Din Mengal had said the processing license has been given to BHP (now known as BHP Billiton after a 2001 merger), the company earned millions of dollars by floating shares in market; however, Balochistan was not given even a penny. During proceedings in the apex court, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said that the matter being of commercial and technical nature should be sorted out by the Balochistan provincial government and experts and the licensees. He however advised that the government to benefit from the experience and knowledge of Dr. Samar Mubarakmand.

According to media there was some mystery about Reko Diq mines. Three licenses are said to have been issued ie EL-5, EL-6, EL-7 and EL-8. Local English daily in its report had said: "What has been found in RL-7 is also a mystery and the foreign company has not revealed anything to anyone about its findings in these areas". Dr Samar Mubarakmand had explained all these points and said that the Balochistan government had not issued any mining licence to any company as yet, and there was no guarantee that the same company which carried out the exploration would get the mining licence as well. The apex court in its last hearing had remarked that being the matter being of technical and commercial nature should be sorted by the Balochistan government. Having that said, the resources in Balochistan can change the destiny of the nation, and people of Balochistan would be the first beneficiaries. Of course, Pakistan will be able to pay back IMF loans, relieve the burden from the common man and safeguard its sovereignty.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

GREECE: DEFAULT OR ROLLOVER

RIZWAN GHANI

 

The Greek Parliament has passed the two key austerity bills to fulfil the precondition for €110 bn foreign loans. The passage of the second bill will bring €12 bn in immediate aid out of €28 bn package. The passage of the second bill of austerity measures, will allow the release of second bailout package of €110 bn to help save the country's economy. The challenge for the government will be to implement the austerity package because the demonstrations in front of the Greek Parliament show a deep divide between the public and lawmakers. There are genuine fears that Greece is heading for a prolonged stalemate or a collapse of the government amidst fears of martial law. Europe is also divided on whether Greece should be allowed to default on its €340 bn debt or be given a 30-year rollover. The Greek standoff has brought the future of the European Union and the Euro under spotlight, and raised questions about globalization of the world economy, international banking systems and privatization.

The Greek public, opposition and independent experts have rejected the austerity plan. It is opined that raising of taxes to 23 percent from 13 percent and cutting public spending through the proposed layoff of 150,000 public sector employees, 33 percent salary cut, increase in retirement age to 65 and making 40 years of work mandatory for full pension will not revive the economy. There is already 40 percent unemployment in Greek youth (Gaza 45 percent). The layoffs will further slow down the local economy with adverse effects on ordinary people. A female Greek worker asked the PM to show he can feed a family on a €300 monthly wage. No reply has come from the PM or the ruling elite. For the last eighteen months, Greece is already implementing similar austerity measures, but they have failed to revive the economy.

Experts have rejected the Greek government's plans to generate € 50 bn in the next four years by selling state assets. The plan includes privatization of the energy sector, airports (38), roads, railway, goldmines (3) and defense companies (2). It is fiction and it will not bring more than €15bn, said one expert. The Greek public thinks that privatization of state assets is going to colonize the country and it is an assault on its sovereignty. The history of privatization shows that it cannot jumpstart the economy and pulls people out of poverty. The privatization of state assets of Russia during Yeltsin era increased unemployment to 56 percent and spread poverty (privatization in Russia, Wikipedia). Privatization has failed in the UK, Argentina and many states of Europe and Latin America while, state-held firms are faring better in China (China Daily June 22).

The narrow victory of the Greek government (155 to 136 votes in a 300-member house) will not take it far. It is widely believed that the government will not be able to implement its austerity plan. It is opined that protests will increase and there is little hope that political government in Athens will be able to impose the controversial plan. Reportedly, the government has been asked to abandon the controversial plans because 78 percent Greeks oppose it. In wake of lawmakers refusal to tax country's elite, the public is asking the judiciary to improve the tax code for increasing tax collection. They demand use of tolls and service fees to generate funds to pay debts. Public wants improvement in state enterprises, end of corruption, transparency and standardizing of salary structure. There is a need to upgrade infrastructure to improve the economy, generate jobs and reduce foreign debt. Beijing is expanding the country's railway network as part of China's economic strategy to offset energy price increase despite reports of $300 bn debt on the State Railway (The Wall Street Journal, Feb 18). In Europe, keeping in view the political and economic situations in Greece, Sarkozy has called for a 30-year rollover plan (purchase of bonds by French banks) to save Greece.

Germany is benefiting from the Greek turmoil because devaluation of the Euro is boosting its exports. The Euro has already devalued by 18 percent and it suits Germany to see it come down to 25 percent. However, anything beyond that will endanger the very future of the Euro. Therefore, Germany will save Greece's default and Euro to protect its trade interests. The Greek masses have been been abandoned by their government to protect national interest. However, if Greeks succeed in blocking austerity plans it will free the country from foreign meddling and allow it to develop on lines of Brazil and other Latin American States which stood up to western colonialism.

Merkel and Sarkozy are using the Greek situation to bolster their images back home. But in reality, both Paris and Berlin are trying to save insolvent German and French banks, which financed Greece's economy. Merkel is playing a double game in which she is publicly criticizing funding of Greek debt to appease the German taxpayers while in private she is defending the powerful banking sector to protect her political interests and financial support. For now, Merkel is going to resist the right wing's calls to ditch the EU for back to nation. Both the UK and the US want to see stable Greece to avoid a global contagion to save their insolvent banks linked to the 2008 global financial meltdown. However, it is believed the real test of Greece's economy will be in 2013 and the current bailout is an interim "rollover" to allow Europe to "manage breakdown of EU in a responsible and restrained way". The Greek situation offers lessons for rest of the world. It shows how elected governments sacrifice national interests and democratic will of public to appease their global partners. Athen's standing with EU to save Euro as an alternate for reserve diversification (Wen's Europe Tour and China's Reserve Diversification, China Daily June 28). A stronger Euro will protect future of the EU, which in turn will save NATO. Washington is temporarily supporting Euro for its own national and economic interests. Ordinary Greeks have no interest in global politics because they are struggling to survive in a global economy where profits are privatized and losses are socialized, and speculation is forcing them to pay commodity prices of 2015 in 2011. The governments of EU and America gave $1.2 trillion of taxpayers' money to save the banks. But now they are forcing the taxpayers to take loans from their own tax money and in return pawn their freedom for generations to come. So much for the globalization and international financial system serving the masses!

Finally, Greece's situation cannot be helped by an austerity package. The government needs to respect the democratic voice of the public and abandon its controversial economic policies. It needs to review its austerity measures and privatization plans because they cannot jumpstart the national economy. The west and international donors should give aid to Greece without any pre-conditions. Instead, the government should take necessary steps to end corruption, improve transparency and accountability, and pass tax laws bring everyone into the tax net. The EU should let the solvent banks go bankrupt so that banks play their role in reviving and sustaining the economy, employment and public welfare. If the world fails to help Greece then it will also be responsible for the country's military takeover and failure of democracy. After Greece, the austerity protests in Britain once again show that the political leaders are not ready to spend tax money for the taxpayers' welfare. Nothing could be more unfortunate.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

THE POWER OF STIGMA

SAEED QURESHI

 

A stigmatized life is the most traumatized life. A stigmatized person carries with him shame, calumny, slur, disrespect, aversion and hatred from others. Such a person is treated by the community to be a social pariah while in return he or she turns mostly apologetic or aggressive. It depends upon the level of the sensibilities of a person, how much miserable or wretched he or she feels or how they take the stigma attached to them. However, not all stigmas are factual. Some are fabricated for maligning others or for vendetta. Some are genuine and some germinate from misunderstanding. These misunderstandings are caused by a word, phrase, joke or a comment that can be interpreted both negatively and positively leading to the appreciation or aspersion on one's character.

The stigma right or wrong can seldom be erased and becomes permanent part of the name and image of the target. It follows him throughout his life like a shadow. A maliciously or wrongly stigmatized person cannot go to everyone to explain the truth and therefore, remains a victim despite being guiltless. Once born, the bad name or stigma gets wings and reaches maximum numbers that continue rising. The humans have a propensity to exaggerate the spicy information particularly digging at some one's character and personality. It is utterly impossible to clarify the misunderstanding to everyone. Invariably, politicians, bureaucrats, VIPs, big business tycoons, army generals, aristocrats, clerics, poets, philosophers, journalists, writers, actors, artists and members of other groups carry some kind of stigma or infamy tagged with their names.

On the lower levels in schools, colleges, hospitals, public and private institutions and working places, there are individuals who are marked or known by some error, some habit, some felony, some mistake, some flaw or wrong doing or a statement or utterance that earned them the lifelong millstone of stigma. The kings, queens, rulers and famous personages in the past carry stigmas with their names.The higher one is in status, the more he is talked about his questionable actions or for the particular flaws in his character. People have a propensity to talk of shortcomings more than mentioning someone by good traits.

Stigma can be broadly divided into three categories: the personal, the local, and the historical or universal. The kind of stigma that falls under the personal category carries such insinuations as gluttony, jealousy, drunkenness, bad temper, miserliness, loose talking, cynicism, superstition, backbiting, emotional flare-up, foul mouthing. But more serious stigmas delve on such base attributes as incest, lewdness, financial or moral corruption, un-patriotism, treason, fornication, prostitution, secular or atheistic outlook towards religion and so on. Some of the personal stigmas also overlap with the local stigma. Yet there are peculiar features of the local stigma that target a culture, a country, a specific cultural or ethnic group, a segment of population or a region. In Indian and Pakistani context, there are several poltical leaders defamed and rebuked for certain gross misdeeds that will go along with their names as inerasable stigmas and disgrace. Pakistan's first military dictator Field Marshall Ayub Khan in his waning phase of power was labeled with a nickname that cannot be mentioned for reasons of modesty. Former, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is demonized as selling Pakistanis for bounty money, if not for killing Baluchi leader Akbar Khan Bugti or storming an Islamic school in Islamabad.

Ziaul Haq another military dictator has gone in history for plotting and engineering legal murder of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and ushering Pakistan into a culture of drugs and Kalashnikovs. As prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif is accused of abetting the storming of the Supreme Court building and manhandling the then chief justice of Pakistan. In India, Rajiv Gandhi would bear the stigma of bribe in the purchase scandal of Bofors Guns.

For instance Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's famous comment during the 1971 crisis, "uthar tum, and ithar hum" has been interpreted by his opponents to divide Pakistan. Another remark "eliminate him" written by him in one of the files relating to Ahmed Raza Kauri, constituted the evidence for initiating murder case against him that resulted in his death on gallows. Now "eliminate him" can be interpreted in many ways. Currently, we are not aware or certain if Mr. Asif Zardari in effect is 10 percent or not. But it's a stigma that goes along with his name both in Pakistan and globally even now when he is the president of Pakistan.

A powerful and prestigious position as the head of the state, instead of erasing or diminishing the onus of stigma, on the contrary, enhances it. "The higher one goes the steeper one falls" is the adage. That is why the political and prominent figures get a heavy share of rebuke and diatribe than commoners for their follies because they are exposed and their moves and actions lay bare before the people. President Zardari's nickname of 10 percent outshines his good parts of personality. For instance he believes and practices the culture of friendship like an article of faith. He is famed for never ditching his friends barring poltical allies or coalition partners. He is fond of glamorous, hilarious and joyful companies.

He laughs heartily, has a knack for fascinating conversations and interjects his conversation with humor and pleasant anecdotes. In a way he is spendthrift too and prodigality is ingrained in his character. But his corruption suppresses the endearing traits of his personality. Stigma weakens the confidence of a person and renders him docile and an escapist avoiding public places and social congregations. So the lesson is that one must always remain on guard because one slip of tongue or one carelessly or casually done act can ruin his life and turn him or her into a social pariah. The stigma once created never recedes and instead keeps swelling. That is why sages have cautioned that "think before you speak and watch before you leap."

—The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

BEGINNING OF AN END?

HUSSAIN MOHI-UD-DIN QADRI

 

President Obama in his June 22 speech and subsequent interview with the Voice of America repeated the usual stuff. He said that the surge he ordered in 2009 was a great success and that the Taliban momentum was broken and the required results achieved. However, it is not the number or size of pullout, which is important. What would make this pullout a meaningful exercise is whether it is accompanied by a comprehensive strategy aimed at bringing about durable peace in the war-torn country. While the need for political settlement has been acknowledged, no broad contours of the peace process have been spelled out. Three factors have forced the Obama administration to resort to phased-out from Afghanistan:

One, the US invaded Afghanistan ten years ago on the plea of hunting down Al-Qaeda and its chief Osama Bin Laden. With Osma killed in the Abbottabad raid on May 2, the principal reason of the American presence in Afghanistan has gone. The war remains hugely unpopular among the American people. They are no longer ready to support a war, which has eaten into the vitals of American economy. Second, the entire world including US is reeling under the economic pressure of global recession whose effects would continue to reverberate for many years to come. The US is incurring an expenditure of over $100 billion on the Afghan war annually. The administration ill-affords to bear such a heavy cost for a military enterprise whose outcome seems inconclusive and uncertain despite heavy investment in the war effort during the last ten years. Third, by killing Osama bin Laden, President Obama has reached the height of popularity and appeared tough on issues of national security. He now has greater space and maneuverability to spearhead the withdrawal effort contrary to what his military commanders say. Since he faces his second presidential elections in November 2012, the end to Afghan war would certainly swell his electoral prospects.

The admission by outgoing Defence Secretary Robert Gates that the US is in talks with the Taliban is indication of the administration's willingness to seek a negotiated settlement to the Afghan imbroglio. However, in wanting to pull out of the Afghan quagmire, the administration still stays put in the use of hard power to dictate the terms of engagement with the Taliban. This policy, flawed at its core, is instrumental in shrinking the space for result-oriented dialogue. The success of outreach policy hinges largely on the cessation of hostilities.

The Obama administration has taken a number of confidence-building steps that tend to engage the Taliban in a meaningful effort to negotiate endgame from Afghanistan. There are reports in the international media that the UN has now started de-hyphenating between Taliban and Al-Qaeda at the behest of the US. Hillary Clinton's statement of renunciation of violence, acceptance of the Afghan Constitution and end of relations with Al-Qaeda as outcome of the process has created space for a productive engagement with the Taliban. However, contrary to what the strategists of the Obama administration might plan in the Situation Room of the White House, it is how the script plays itself out on the ground would determine the outcome of the US drawdown plan by the end of July 2014.

The shifting of focus from Afghanistan to Pakistan signals grave implications for the latter. In his prime-time interview with the Voice of America, the US President made no bones about the determination of his administration to go after what he termed as "save havens" in Pakistan. His urging of Pakistan to do its part of job in a tough language only betrays the nature of greatly endangered and strained relations with Islamabad following the Abottabad incident on May 2.

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton's statement before a Senate Committee that Pakistan should not expect the same level of military aid as it was getting unless it delivers on its commitments is a part of the administration's efforts to pressurize Pakistan into opening a new theater of war in North Waziristan. Coupled with this is the claim by Secretary Robert Gates that war effort in Afghanistan could be successful without Pakistan's help. The increase in the number of drone strikes by the Obama administration shows how 'seriously' Pakistan figures on the American radar screen.

In such grave circumstances, the political leadership across divide needs to put its act together and spearhead a national effort aimed at crafting fresh political consensus on the challenges confronting the country's security and sovereignty. The second option available with the Pakistani government is to reach out to friends such as China and Muslim states in the Gulf region to seek their support in this regard. Unless we forge unity in our internal ranks, Pakistan is likely to come increased pressure to do more leading to more violence and strife in its midst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

COURAGE FAR FROM HOME

DAVID IGNATIUS

 

America's wars over the past decade have been hard and often frustrating. But this Fourth of July is a good time to salute the US military's remarkable ability to adapt and persevere against these adversities. I had a chance to spend the past week with American soldiers in Afghanistan, and it reminded me of the resiliency of US forces, especially the Army, which has borne the heaviest load. The cost has been enormous, especially in lost and damaged lives. Despite that, few institutions in American life are in better shape today than the Army. Our politicians and business leaders should be so adept.

You meet officers and enlisted men who are on their third, fourth, even sixth deployments. They've been in the harshest surroundings imaginable, fighting on pitiless terrain and in an often hostile culture. But the soldiers who have made it through have learned and adjusted — and actually thrived on the challenges. Let me share some images that stick in my mind from Afghanistan. This is not to wave the flag or make a political argument about the war, but simply to celebrate the troops who have done what their country's leaders asked of them. First, imagine the baking-hot ground of the Baghlan River Valley in the north. Sitting on an Oriental rug in a wooden shed is a member of a Special Forces team that has been dropped into this corrugated landscape to raise an Afghan Local Police force from the nearby tribes. Lean and tanned, with a wispy beard, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio — which must spook any Afghans who get to the movies. (The military asked that I not use his name or rank to protect his security.)

As hard as this assignment is, watching this commando sit with his Afghan police partner, you sense that he feels lucky to be living this extreme version of the soldier's life. The Special Operations Forces are America's most potent warriors. They're all over the country doing the toughest jobs. Some are embedded with tribes. Others are in the "capture-or-kill" task forces that descend each night on Taliban fighters. Seeing the value of these SOF troops, and the shortage of them, the Army has been turning regular infantry units into the equivalent of Green Berets. That's another sign of a once-rigid Army's evolution over the past decade into an organization that learns and changes. Now, imagine that you are in Khost, in far east Afghanistan, deep in the stronghold of the Haqqani network, the deadly Taliban faction that was responsible for last week's bombing of the Kabul International Hotel.

The US soldiers there, as across the country, are spread among small forward operating bases and outposts to mentor the Afghans. Try to picture these little Fort Apaches on this day: It is ferociously hot; the food is bad; the sanitation is often little more than a hole in the ground. For a feel of the battle "outside the wire," listen to Master Sgt. Stephen Light of the 870th Military Police Company. He's describing how he and two other American soldiers fought alongside Afghan police to take out four Taliban suicide bombers on May 22. It's a heroic tale, but told in the flat, unemotional voice of soldiers everywhere. What's intense is the look of mutual respect when Light's eyes meet those of the Afghan cops who fought alongside him.

We think on the Fourth of July not just of soldiers but also their families. On this trip, I met several military women who had left young children back home during their year-long deployments. Many moms have trouble leaving their little ones for 24 hours. Try 12 months. One woman said she had stopped making Skype calls to her 4- and 5-year-olds. It was just too hard.

A final image is of Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who will be leaving in a few days as deputy commander after two tours and 40 months in Afghanistan, more than three years of this brutal war. "General Rod," as the troops call him, is as loose and self-effacing a commander as you'll find, and he's beloved by his soldiers. He seems to know every district and valley in this country as if it were his back yard. He doesn't know whether the US mission will succeed in Afghanistan — nor does anyone — but he's proud of what he has accomplished here.

— Courtesy: The Washington Post

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

PETROL FUELS GROWING HEAT IN CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE

GIVEN the incendiary nature of petrol pricing in the national political debate, it is not surprising an embattled Prime Minister has sought to inoculate her carbon tax from a fuel firefight.

But her announcement on Sunday that "ordinary" motorists would be exempt from any carbon tax impost on petrol is another example of the government holding itself hostage to the news cycle. Julia Gillard's pronouncement was an attempt to buy 24 hours of positive media coverage when a more considered, long-term approach might have been wiser.

Certainly, this newspaper, along with the voting public, has been crying out for more detail on the carbon tax plan, but the trouble is this half-cocked announcement raises more questions than it answers. Excluding petrol flies in the face of the recommendation from the government's former climate change adviser Ross Garnaut, who suggested a one-off cut in petrol excise to neutralise the initial impact, before the carbon tax subsequently flows on to petrol prices. This is an approach that would appeal to the economic and environmental purists by providing some relief, to smooth the introduction before allowing an uncomplicated implementation of the tax. That way, the price pressure would help reduce transport emissions, which make up almost 20 per cent of all emissions.

The petrol exclusion, of course, is driven by politics and the need to blunt Tony Abbott's cost-of-living attack. To be fair, Ms Gillard is not the first leader to adopt questionable economic policy when meddling with the hip-pocket sensitivity of petrol prices. The Howard government fiddled with petrol taxes and axed excise indexation when it found itself feeling the voters' ire after the introduction of the GST. That decision has cost the budget ever since, and provided little discernible benefit to motorists. This newspaper was critical of John Howard for favouring populist politics over sound economics then, and we have similar misgivings about Ms Gillard today.

The petrol decision does proffer one encouraging sign: it suggests the Greens are prepared to compromise, although it must be said we don't know what they have extracted for this concession. Still, this appears to be a softening from when they rejected Kevin Rudd's CPRS, and therefore it provides hope that Bob Brown will be similarly pragmatic when it comes to the more important decisions, such as the level of assistance, or exemptions, for the major electricity generators and the emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries.

For now, questions remain about just how the petrol used by motorists will be excluded while the carbon tax is imposed on other fuel users -- presumably the transport companies and other businesses, who will pass on the costs to consumers. The exclusion system could be unnecessarily complex, creating burdensome compliance costs for either the effected businesses, the bureaucracy or both. In taxation, governments should always aim for, among other things, simplicity.

Against this backdrop it was perhaps understandable that the Prime Minister yesterday tried to shift the debate to the science, with a shrill plea for urgent action to prevent worst-case climate scenarios. This just serves to underscore how, for Ms Gillard, it is the political climate that is most dangerous.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

THAILAND'S CHANCE FOR STABILITY

IT has always been difficult to see Yingluck Shinawatra, leader of the Pheu Thai party that has won a landslide victory in the Thai election, as anything but a stalking horse for her brother, the deeply divisive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin fired perceptions of Ms Yingluck as a puppet manipulated by him from exile in Dubai, describing her as his clone. The party's campaign slogan, "Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts", also fostered such perceptions. The issue of what to do about her brother is central to her prospects in a country notorious for military coups (a dozen in the 80 years since it became a constitutional monarchy) and which remains deeply divided following the putsch against Thaksin in 2006.

Ms Yingluck needs to move with the utmost caution, for though her success resulted from the massive endorsement of Pheu Thai by the long-marginalised rural and urban poor, the Red Shirts to whom Thaksin is a hero, the powerful military establishment remains implacably hostile to him. It is a cause for optimism that the military has pledged it will not get involved in the post-election process. Ms Yingluck should lose no time reaching a working accommodation with the generals that ensures they stand by that pledge. A return to the protracted street violence of recent years would be a disaster.

They key to stability is Thaksin and whether Ms Yingluck can both corral him and assert herself as the country's democratically elected leader, rather than as his puppet. Promisingly, he has said that while he wants to return home, he wants to be part of a solution, not create new problems. His sister should hold him to that. Ms Yingluck would be wise to leave it to the courts to deal with her brother's appeals against his conviction for corruption and abuse of power rather than provoke the military by ordering an amnesty.

During the election, Ms Yingluck showed she was a brilliant campaigner and worked hard to persuade voters that they were supporting her and not her brother. She should take office on that basis and get to work on the critical imperatives of stability, national reconciliation and economic stagnation that confront her.

Ms Yingluck has won a stellar victory. While it goes a long way towards vindicating her brother, Thaksin must accept that it is his sister and not him who will be prime minister, and leave her to get on with the job.

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    THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

CATTLE IMPASSE WILL TEST RUDD

AFTER initially being out of the loop about the Gillard government's decision to suspend live cattle exports to Indonesia last month, Kevin Rudd will need all of his considerable diplomatic skills when he sits down in Jakarta on Friday to help resolve what is now a major crisis.

 At stake is a $320 million industry, thousands of jobs and the fate of tens of thousands of cattle that stricken farmers will begin shooting within weeks if the impasse is not resolved. Belated as it is, the "team Australia" approach involving Julia Gillard, the Foreign Minister, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig is warranted, and should have been in place from day one.

Given the appalling mistreatment of Australian cattle in substandard Indonesian abattoirs, the government was right to ban live exports until decent practices were put in place. But the issue has shown that Senator Ludwig is out of his depth. He and the Prime Minister should have brought in Mr Rudd and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to consult with the Indonesians from the outset rather than handing Mr Rudd a fait accompli to tell Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, of the ban when both were in Budapest. Nor were some industry officials or the states consulted adequately about the impact of a ban.

The frustrations of the Western Australian government and cattle producers over Senator Ludwig's failure to act on the regulatory proposal presented by the industry working group as well as the Meat and Livestock Australia plan is understandable. The $9 million scheme would hasten the progressive resumption of the live export trade through the appointment of up to 20 animal welfare inspectors working closely with Indonesian counterparts, installation of additional stunning equipment and the redesign of abattoir infrastructure in consultation with Indonesia and a traceability system to ensure that Australian cattle were processed only at accredited abattoirs. Indonesia has delayed issuing cattle import permits for the next three months but it is encouraging that Agriculture Minister Suswono is committed to improving treatment of cattle in abattoirs. After the government's mismanagement, the industry needs Mr Rudd to make substantial progress on Friday.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

STANDING UP FOR AUSTRALIAN VALUES

THE power imbalance between Australia and its great ally the United States is obvious. Put coarsely, Australia earns the protection of the US by doing the latter's bidding and volunteering its combat capacity and its strategic location when circumstances arise. We are willing to commit to the costs of keeping such a powerful friend at our shoulder, even when the symbiosis causes us to cringe because our desire to please the US can seem self-abasing.

Our acquiescence on differences of opinion with Washington on the classification and treatment of prisoners captured predominantly by Australian troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, reveals a new depth to this willing humiliation. It raises issues, too, in relation to a question that should never be lost by participants in war: what is it we are fighting for? If a purpose of sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq was to uphold the right of citizens to equality before the law - the rule of law - our submission to the American way was a betrayal of that goal.

Why? Australia wanted Afghan and Iraqi prisoners protected by provisions of the Geneva Conventions; that is, to be treated as legitimate prisoners of war. That was altogether too messy for the administration of President George Bush and its insistence these captured ''unlawful combatants'' be denied the protection of the Geneva protocols. So the US came up with a legal invention: America would be responsible for prisoners even if just one American and 100 Australians made the capture. Little wonder Australian authorities have tried to keep this arrangement secret and resisted for six years a freedom-of-information campaign that finally shed light on the practice.

We do not suggest Australia make some grand but empty gesture by trying to shout down the Americans. The alliance is of incalculable value to Australia's security and, from a position of such dominance, it is understandable that the US expects to get its way most of the time. That is not to say, however, that our respect for the US requires abject submission. Like the Americans we, too, have national values. Our beliefs help define what sort of country we wish to be. We need to firmly but politely make clear that Australia will not retreat on issues fundamental to its principles. And some of us might be surprised just how respectfully accommodating the US would be of our stances. After all, our treaty is a two-way street. The US needs our proximity to Asia and the emerging challenges to American power, just as we need America.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THAILAND CHANGES COLOUR

WITH 264 seats in Thailand's 500-member parliament, the party of Yingluck Shinawatra, with its army of red-clad supporters, has won a convincing victory at national elections. The big question, though, is: is it convincing enough for the outgoing Democrat Party government and its army of yellow-clad supporters, proxies for the Thai military and their shadowy business backers?

For now, it probably is. The government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, which was handed power by a court after the military ousted Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in 2006, never gained a popular mandate and never lost its image as a puppet of shadowy forces in the military, the monarchy and established business. Try though he might, nor could Abhisit himself - British-born, Eton- and Oxford-educated - ever connect with Thais outside the drawing rooms of Bangkok. His government had trailed in the polls for months, so the result was expected. Despite allegations of minor irregularities, nothing serious has emerged to undermine Yingluck Shinawatra's legitimacy.

The major contenders represent an enduring division in modern Thai politics between the political establishment surrounding the royal family and challengers who have realised there is another route to power - through cultivating the support of poor Thais outside the Bangkok elite. With the advent of Yingluck Shinawatra, the populist side becomes something of a dynasty, too. Since 2001 parties associated with Thaksin, a rural policeman who went into business and became a billionaire before entering politics, have won four elections - though not an absolute majority. Each time they have been ousted from power either in a coup or in court, by an elite which viewed Thaksin as an upstart. That will be much harder now. In Yingluck the dynasty has found a natural campaigner who, although almost unknown four months ago, has managed to win government in her own right. Like her brother, she was successful in business before entering politics. Her platform - like his - included popular but economically dubious measures, including controls on food prices and a rise in the minimum wage. She may find some promises will have to be broken.

Thaksin has been watching on from exile in Dubai, where he has avoided a jail sentence imposed on him in his absence for corruption. He has promised to return home by November. Now his sister is Prime Minister, perhaps he will - but a court ruling will have to be overturned first, and that would be a severe challenge to Thailand's elites. It appears Yingluck's success in power will hinge on her ability to finesse the promises she has made to obtain it.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THAI POLL PUTS THE COUNTRY'S ELITES ON NOTICE

What happens will depend on the army showing restraint.

ON SUNDAY Thailand acquired its sixth prime minister in five years. Yingluck Shinawatra, younger sister of deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is the first woman to lead the country. What will be of more concern to Thais in the coming weeks, however, is not what Ms Yingluck has changed in their country's politics but what remains the same. Her party, Puea Thai, is the latest embodiment of the populism that made her brother a hero to the rural poor and urban working class and a hate figure to the royalist establishment, including the military and elites with inherited wealth. Puea Thai's emphatic electoral victory, with 262 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives, has the potential either to aggravate Thailand's divisions or, just possibly, to mark the beginning of national reconciliation.

Ms Yingluck, a businesswoman with no previous experience in politics, proved to be a charismatic and clever campaigner. But, although she insists she will set her own agenda, few believe her. Whether they are supporters of her party or of the defeated Democrats, led by outgoing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, most Thais assume that Puea Thai is directed by Thaksin Shinawatra from exile in Dubai, and they are probably correct. One of the party's campaign slogans was ''Thaksin thinks and Puea Thai does'', and Mr Shinawatra refers to his sister as his ''clone''.

The most hopeful sign for Thai democracy is that the army, which removed Mr Shinawatra from power in a coup in 2006, has indicated that it will accept the people's verdict and refrain from interference in politics. But Thailand's generals have made similar pledges before without fulfilling them. The test of their credibility this time will come when the new government moves, as is expected, to offer Mr Shinawatra an amnesty on the corruption charges that prevent him returning to Thailand. He has said he wants to return home ''but everything has to comply with proper conditions. I don't want to be a problem.''

It is a laudable and seemingly law-abiding sentiment, but Mr Shinawatra knows that to supporters of the defeated government he is the problem, just as they know that the election result is a massive vindication of his political legacy - a legacy they had already begun to appropriate without acknowledgment. The campaign was not marked by sharp ideological or policy divisions, with both major parties promising a continuation of initiatives associated with his prime ministership: cheap healthcare and better provision of education for the poor, debt moratoriums for farmers and microcredit schemes to allow the poor to set up small businesses.

This populist program is a product of Thailand's economic modernisation, which has generated new wealth, though not in equal measures for all. What, several decades ago, was a nation of mostly poor peasants dominated by traditional elites is now a society in which many people can aspire to operate a business, and in which everyone wants to possess the paraphernalia of affluence - televisions, computers, mobile phones - and wants cheap loans to pay for them. Providing the latter has been a trademark Thaksin way of doing things, and it has brought its own pitfalls: many have become over-indebted, hence the demand for moratoriums on the debt that the cheap loans encouraged people to take on.

Practices such as these are part of the reason that Thailand's established elites regard the Shinawatras with suspicion. If they are realists, however, they will accept that a majority of their countrymen and women do not share their view of the fugitive ex-prime minister and his sister. They should also understand that overthrowing elected governments does not permanently solve political problems. If anything, it fuels resentment among supporters of the deposed rulers, who may come roaring back. And on Sunday, they did just that.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

REGULATOR RIGHT TO PULL TIGER'S CLAWS

AFTER a century of aviation, Australians have come to think of flying as a routine affair. Until, that is, something goes wrong. When a Tiger Airways A320 Airbus flew too low in approaching the runway at Avalon last Thursday, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) took the unprecedented decision to ground the airline's entire domestic operation. CASA grounded Tiger because it lost confidence that the airline had the systems and personnel in place to ensure safe operations.

The airline was already under the regulator's scrutiny, having been asked at Easter to ''show cause'' why it should not be grounded, after a safety audit found alarmingly lax procedures. Despite Tiger's response, which included advertising for a raft of quality assurance, risk management and operational managers, its pilot's low pass into Avalon was the last straw. CASA has concerns over Tiger's pilot proficiency, fatigue management, airworthiness processes and maintenance control, among other factors.

Tiger's entry to the market revolutionised domestic air travel, though CASA's decision has placed the durability of the revolution in doubt. The carrier offered fares that were often less than the cost of a taxi trip to the airport, relying on a business model that includes outsourcing almost everything, including maintenance, catering, counter staff and ground handling. Tiger sought to make its money by eliminating fleet complexity and generating extra revenue through charging for things once considered part of the fare: baggage, meals, drinks, seat selection, bookings by credit cards, even joining a mailing list for advanced sale fares.

All this prompted fierce fare competition among Australia's three budget carriers, which increasingly resembled a race to the bottom. Aviation unions warned that this was not sustainable and would inevitably lead to corners being cut. A Senate inquiry into these concerns has recommended that airlines should not use pilots without sufficient experience.

Low-cost carriers cannot be subject to a different set of safety standards from those that apply to full-service airlines. Passengers will understandably be upset at ruined holiday plans, but the alternative - allowing aircraft to fly without complying with the standards - cannot be permitted, even if the ultimate consequence is the demise of the airline. Whether or not Tiger survives, its grounding may bring bargain-basement fares to an end - but the rising cost of aviation fuel is probably doing that anyway.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

DILNOT CARE COMMISSION: IN PLACE OF FEAR

It was dismaying to hear No 10 meet this powerful report by murmuring that care was 'complex and difficult'

Fear of death is, perhaps, part of the human condition. But it is a bitter irony that our collective success in postponing the inevitable stirs avoidable anxieties. Foremost among them, in England at least, is being ruined by stratospheric care costs. The Dilnot report reaffirmed the terrible nature of the financial risk which the elderly run, and produced a practical plan for banishing the worst of the fears.

Rich in evidence and pithy in prose, it was dismaying to hear No 10 meet this powerful report by murmuring that care was "complex and difficult". Yes, the byzantine current system defies comprehension and common sense, but that is why ministers appointed economist Andrew Dilnot to head the commission which has now reported. The insight he has applied is in fact arrestingly simple: that the core problem here is the reality that we are all uninsured.

Where a quarter of us will need no old age care at all, and half will incur bills that ought to be manageable above the breadline, one in five retirees will go on to clock up total costs of more than £100,000 – sometimes several times that. It is no use hectoring people to save prudently. No one of ordinary means can afford to put aside enough to foot the biggest bills, which is why a minority see out their days by losing everything they ever had. Mr Dilnot points out that life is littered with potential financial catastrophes, from costly-to-treat illnesses to house fires, but that in all other cases the risks are pooled, whether through the state or the insurance market. With care, however, the market balks at the virtually limitless liabilities involved. The state, meanwhile, tries and fails to muddle through, under the auspices of 1940s legislation which was concerned with humanising the Victorian workhouse.

The consequences are dire – and legion. Frail people are effectively forced to sell their houses, even as councils restrict entitlement so savagely that judges rule the retrenchment unlawful. Nobody knows what they will be entitled to should they need help, so all must live in dread. Everyone agrees that it cannot go on, but then everyone has for years – and yet nothing has happened. Money, of course, has always been the problem, and in appointing Mr Dilnot, a former director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the coalition no doubt wanted to make sure it would receive recommendations that were properly mindful of the austere public expenditure outlook. And so it has. But if, as some grumbles emanating from the Treasury now suggest, Whitehall had been banking on Mr Dilnot regarding the deficit as a reason to do nothing at all, then it was sorely mistaken.

The proposition is not that taxpayers should foot everything. There is no delusion about some sacred right to bequeath property. The big idea is rather the community insuring individuals from catastrophic costs in return for individuals paying a very sizeable excess of up to £35,000. Often the state will take that excess by claiming a share in the home. That will be controversial, but so be it. The vast profits made from bricks and mortar must play their part in meeting this pressing need. The point is no one should lose everything. Besides the universal £35,000 cap, that same principle leads Mr Dilnot to propose smoothing the cliff-edge of a means test which poorer pensioners are currently shunted over.

This is in many ways a modest agenda. Questions about the fit with the NHS, excess charges for board and lodgings, and the lunacy of running care homes as property investment vehicles are for another day. But a narrow focus on staving off the ruin of an unlucky minority keeps the price down to 0.25% of state spending. That is affordable, particularly if pensioners' blanket exemption from national insurance is qualified. David Cameron is desperate to prove he can be a social reformer as well as a deficit cutter. Mr Dilnot has provided him with an opportunity that will not be bettered.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

THAILAND ELECTIONS: MILITARY CRACKDOWN REJECTED

Opposition parties vow to respect the voters' decision to elect Thaksin Shinawatra's sister, Yingluck, as prime minister

It is a strange election where the party that wins an overwhelming majority in parliament seeks the next day to bolster that advantage by forming a coalition with four others. Puea Thai, the party loyal to the exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, won 31 more seats in Thailand's general election on Sunday than its disbanded predecessor, the People's Power party, won in 2007, and this in a race whose rules had been changed to favour the losing side.

The result was a major rejection of the military crackdown last year and all the establishment had done since the military coup in 2006. The incumbent prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned on Monday as head of the Democrat party and army generals all dutifully said they would not interfere. So on the face of it, there was no reason for Puea Thai to have increased its majority from 264 to 299 seats, forming a coalition to secure two thirds of the parliament. But this is Thailand, and anyone who thinks the losing side of generals, royalists, and the senior elders of Thai society are going to play a constructive role in opposition has another thing coming. They will bide their time. Barely had the preliminary results been announced than the election commission said it was investigating claims of fraud, which could disqualify candidates and reduce the size of the Puea Thai victory.

Clearly a truce of sorts has been reached between the two camps, which only a year ago reduced the commercial centre of Bangkok to a battle zone and brought the country to the verge of civil war. The military will respect the results of the election which will allow Mr Thaksin's youngest sister, Yingluck, to form the next government, just as long as the man himself, who lives in exile in Dubai, is not allowed to slip back into the country. Members of Puea Thai initially talked of a political amnesty, which could allow Mr Thaksin, who has been found guilty of corruption by a Thai court, to return. But they have backed away from it since, and Mr Thaksin said he had no immediate plans to return.

For those who have grave doubts about Mr Thaksin (both in terms of corruption and the brutal war on drugs he launched when prime minister) but who also abhor what the old elite have done since the coup, the Puea Thai victory represents an opportunity. It is time to recognise the demands of the rural and urban poor. The Democrat party started to do this earlier this year in a nine-point plan that included expanding social security and low-interest loans to taxi and motorcycle drivers. But it was too late for them. Yingluck's solutions may be populist but a reconciliation will only happen if her voters are part of it.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… FULNECK

There's more to this small Czech town than a Wimbledon champion

The Czech town of Fulnek (population 6,000) has produced a dazzling tennis star in Petra Kvitova, winner of the women's singles at Wimbledon, and that is praiseworthy enough. But there is more. If President Obama pauses to survey the White House, and indeed the Capitol just along the street, Fulnek can claim modest credit there too. The link is the Moravian Brethren, Protestant missionaries who emerged from a century's underground work in the Habsburg empire in the early 18th century as the "hidden seed" of the Hussite movement, brutally persecuted all those years before. Moravians from Fulnek and elsewhere were renowned for seeking out those at the bottom of the heap and standing by them; they also created outposts which thrive today. Two such are Fulneck settlement, birthplace of Len Hutton, and Fulneck school between Leeds and Bradford, which numbers HH Asquith and Diana Rigg as former pupils, and which also holds the Washington link. Schooled in Moravian virtues of hard work, scholarship and enterprise, Benjamin Latrobe, a Fulneck headmaster's son, made a modest reputation as an architect in Britain before emigrating to the United States in 1795 and becoming a great one. He was a key member of the team which built both main symbols of the US government and is credited with the humbler but practical installation of the country's first domestic bathroom. Tennis was not played in his day; but he would undoubtedly have admired both Ms Kvitova and that roof.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

POWER CONSERVATION IN SUMMER

On July 1, the government started imposing a 15 percent power consumption cut on large-lot users serviced by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. Small-lot users, including households, are also called on to reduce power consumption by 15 percent. Other power companies are also calling on companies and people to save power. The accidents at Tepco's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have made the electricity saving efforts necessary.

In summer, electricity demand peaks at around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. because people use air conditioners in full during that time. The most important thing is to avoid power demand surpassing the power supply. This will cause a large-scale blackout, paralyzing society and even causing death to some people, especially the sick who are dependent on electricity-driven apparatuses. Companies and people should heed predictions by the government and power companies of the power supply and demand.

Manufacturers and other companies have taken such measures as operating on Saturdays and Sundays, stopping operations during the weekdays and changing the day's operation hours.

Citizens at home can also contribute to the power saving efforts. In the daytime in summer, the average household uses 1,200 W of electricity, half of it due to the use of air conditioners. To reduce power consumption by 15 percent, one has to save 180 W. If an electric fan is used in place of an air conditioner, 600 W will be saved. If an air conditioner's temperature setting is set at 28 C, this can save 130 W. One can save 25 W by changing the temperature setting of a refrigerator from high to middle and by reducing the amount of food stored inside it. One should also eliminate standby power consumption by unplugging appliances, such as TVs.

But one must be careful not to suffer from heat stroke or dehydration through excessive efforts to save electricity. Last year, more than 1,700 people died of heat stroke. Last month, ambulances transported 406 Tokyoites who suffered from heat stroke to hospitals — more than three times the corresponding figure of 133 in June 2010. Elderly people should not hesitate to use air conditioners when the inside temperature gets too hot.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SAFETY OF GENKAI NUCLEAR PLANT

The Nos. 2 and 3 reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s nuclear power plant in the town of Genkai, Saga Prefecture, may be restarted this summer. After meeting with trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda, who visited the prefecture last week, Mayor Hideo Kishimoto of Genkai approved the restart plan and Gov. Yasushi Furukawa said that the reactors' safety was confirmed. Gov. Furukawa, who had been careful about restarting the reactors, changed his position in less than 30 minutes after he met with Mr. Kaieda. In explaining the change of his stance, he said that he gave importance to Mr. Kaieda's statement that the government will take responsibility for the safety of nuclear power plants. (The governor is expected to make a final decision in mid-July).

But how can the government take such responsibility? Mr. Kaieda's statement means almost nothing. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, supposedly a regulator of nuclear power industry, is under the wing of his ministry, which has been pushing nuclear power generation. Following the accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, power companies have taken measures to deal with tsunami and severe accidents at NISA's instruction.

But the measures are all short-term makeshift measures, like deployment of power generation vehicles and fire engines, securing of power supplies to the central control room during an emergency and steps to prevent hydrogen explosions. The government has yet to announce what it will do with Japan's 19 reactors that are more than 30 years old. Ten reactors — three of them at Fukushima No. 1, and including the Genkai No. 1 reactor — are more than 35 years old.

Clearly the Genkai mayor approved the restart because his town structurally has no alternative but to continue to rely on money from power industry and the government. Nuclear power-related subsidies and property tax payment from the power plant account for some 60 percent of the town's fiscal 2011, ¥5.7 billion budget.

Nuclear power generation may be necessary to overcome this summer's power shortage. But the government must present a long-term, concrete plan to phase out nuclear power generation. At the least, it should strictly examine what kinds of weak points each reactor has and announce the results to help them take necessary measures.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

ARE THE MEEK SET TO INHERIT RUSSIA?

BY NINA L. KHRUSHCHEVA

MOSCOW — In a recent interview, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proclaimed that he wants a second term in office following the 2012 election, but that he would not run against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who put him in power in the first place.

Such a rivalry, Medvedev implied, would damage the country's well-being.

Medvedev's statement should end speculation about whether he is running, yet it keeps the suspense alive regarding Putin, whose influence is far greater than that of Russia's meek president. Many, particularly in the West, would like to see Putin and his prickly, anti-Western authoritarianism pass from the scene.

Indeed, over the past 10 years, Russian foreign policy has been animated by defensiveness and suspicion. Russia even has uneasy relations with the congenitally nonthreatening European Union. It is touchy about the independence of the near-abroad countries, especially those politically or geographically close to the West — Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. More than a decade after the fact, the Kremlin still decries NATO's eastward enlargement as a security threat.

NATO is as much an offensive threat to Russia as Switzerland is. Is not NATO's military power that Putin's Kremlin finds alarming; the real threat is NATO's potential to "swallow" Moldova or Ukraine at some point. The democratization of post-Soviet space is a nightmare scenario for Putin and his cronies.

As in Soviet times, the main task of today's ruling elite — Putin and his former KGB associates — is to preserve their tight-knit political and economic regime, built for their personal control and material benefit. Russian foreign policy is, as it was under the Soviets, an extension of official domestic priorities.

The current regime is clearly autocratic. Yet it aspires to democratic legitimacy in the eyes of Russian citizens and the international community. It is to this end that Medvedev performs his civilizing mission — participating in world forums, posting Twitter updates, berating rampant corruption, and supporting "modernization" and the "rule of law."

The result of this duality — authoritarian establishment and Potemkin Village democratic façade — is that Russia occupies a unique geopolitical no man's land. A democratic Russia would want to catch up with the West and integrate into Western institutions. Yet this is not in the group interests of Putin's backers, the people who run, and own, Russia: its security, military, and industrial complex.

Of course, these people have been personally integrated into Europe for two decades now — their money is in European banks; their holiday villas are in the south of France, Tuscany and the Greek isles; their children are educated in the poshest boarding schools.

So, despite the current regime's tough, often anti-Western rhetoric, they are not at all interested in closing Russia off from the West. What they want is to prevent is Russia' integration with the West, for that would mean the end of their regime.

To sustain the charade of a strong and prosperous Russia, standing against the predations and hypocrisy of the West, the regime cannot be as authoritarian as Putin himself might wish. If it were, Swiss banks and international organizations would close their doors. So the regime's backers have a strong interest in maintaining its "democratic" side.

The West, despite its years of experience in dealing with the Soviets, is still a sucker for such Janus-like behavior, especially now, when Medvedev presents such an endearing democratic face.

In June, speaking at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Medvedev mesmerized his audience by simultaneously sounding avant-garde and hackneyed: He attacked corruption, vowed that Russia is not "building state capitalism," and promised legal and federal reforms. Decisions, he said, should be left to business or made locally, not in the Kremlin.

The St. Petersburg Economic Forum is mostly for international consumption. If Western bankers and investors want to buy snake oil, that is their business. But no one should leave such events thinking that anything Medvedev says means that Russia is changing.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, usually a sharp critic of Russia, arrived in Moscow in March, supposedly to convince Putin to surrender his presidential ambitions for 2012. A month later, talking to Putin by phone, Biden invited him to visit Washington, although according to Russia's constitution, the prime minister has no foreign-policy role.

Does the United States support Putin in the elections or, do the Americans mean to convince him to leave power?

No one knows. Until Russia's internal political situation changes, relations with the West will remain unchanged and ambiguous. Putin, however, would be well advised to listen to Biden, who is rumored to have offered him important international positions, such as chairing the International Olympic Committee, or perhaps even leading the United Nations. After all, Putin knows well the old Soviet playbook: The fate of previous KGB functionaries may await him.

Dreaded secret-police chief Lavrenti Beria, who operated the machinery of repression under Joseph Stalin, was executed by the system he perfected, after being sentenced to death in 1953 for "spying against the state."

In his decade in power, Putin has consolidated the security forces, intimidated and jailed opponents, and muzzled the media and courts. If he doesn't step aside so that Russia can move forward, the system he has created may turn his own methods against him.

Nina Khrushcheva, author of "Imagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics," teaches international affairs at The New School and is senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. © 2011 Project Syndicate

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

A LANDSLIDE, YET INCONCLUSIVE

How will Yingluck Shinawatra rule Thailand after she led her Pheu Thai party to a landslide election victory on Sunday? How much of the decisions she makes as the new prime minister will be dictated by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the real power behind the party, who is currently living in exile? How long will the Bangkok political elite tolerate this government-by-proxy, and how long will it be before the Thai military, with the nod of the king, decides to step in again and seize power?

In any other democracy, a landslide victory means a decisive mandate from the people for the winners to govern. But this is not the case in Thailand, unfortunately. Instead, the election outcome has created greater uncertainty about the nation's future.

Thaksin is a controversial if not divisive figure. A successful businessman, he exploited loopholes in the constitution and used his wealth to ride into power until he was deposed by the military in 2006. Living in exile, he continues to pull strings. In 2010, he mobilized supporters to occupy and paralyze much of Bangkok. More than 91 people died when the military moved in to break them up. Ahead of Sunday's election, Thaksin promoted his youngest sister to lead his party with the slogan "Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts", but Thailand's new prime minister has no experience in government or politics.

The only decisive outcome from the election is the message sent to the political elite in Bangkok about the growing wealth gap that has split the nation between the urban rich and rural poor. This has translated in recent years to the "yellow shirts" and "red shirts" in street protests and counter-protests. Unless the political elite (meaning political parties), the monarchy and the military address this disparity, Thailand will be effectively made up of two nations largely defined by their income levels. This will make its democracy vulnerable to exploitation by politicians with lots of money.

To their credit, Yingluck and outgoing prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party have both promised to work to bury the division. It is certainly a tall order, given the bloodbath that has developed between pro-Thaksin forces and the political elite in Bangkok, but reconciliation is the only way for the nation to move forward. The military should also give democracy another chance. And Thailand will, sooner or later, have to do something about Thaksin.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

THE HARD-WON BATTLE

The country's law-enforcement authorities have taken necessary legal measures to bring home ousted Democratic Party treasurer and graft suspect Muhammad Nazaruddin after he and his wife Neneng Sri Wahyuni fled Jakarta to Singapore over a month ago.

Still the businessman-turned-politician remains untouchable and is reportedly still in the neighboring country.

High expectation is now mounting on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to do all he can – within his constitutional authority – to bring Nazaruddin home and subsequently hold him accountable before the law.

The Directorate General of Immigration revoked Nazaruddin's passport on the same day the overseas travel ban was issued against him on May 24, 2011, or one day after he left the country. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) named him last week suspect in a bribery case related to a tender worth nearly Rp 200 billion (US$2.3 million) to construct an athletes' dormitory for the upcoming SEA Games in Palembang, South Sumatra.

Previously, the anticorruption commission named suspects Wafid Muharram, the secretary to theYouth and Sports Minister; Muhammad El Idris, director of PT Duta Graha Indah (DGI), which had won the tender for the athletes' dormitory construction; and Mindo Rosa Manullang, the marketing director of broker company PT Anak Negeri that was founded by Nazaruddin, in the case.

Now that the case has become high-profile, with Nazaruddin implicating a number of Democratic Party officials including Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng and a number of high-ranking police officers such as National Police chief of Detectives Comr. Gen. Ito Sumardi in the case, it will reasonably be more difficult to bring Nazaruddin home. All, including Mallarangeng and Ito, have denied their involvement.

It is thus equally reasonable if the general public expects Yudhoyono, as the country's top executive and paramount chief patron of the embattling Democratic Party, to take more concrete steps in the effort to have Nazaruddin bear the responsibility of the crimes implicating him and at the same time have a decisive, but impartial, role in helping uncover the truth of the case.

It is true that Indonesia has yet to ratify the highly important extradition treaty with Singapore – the commonly available legal and diplomatic channel to bring a fleeing alleged criminal back home – that we cannot go through the universally practiced bilateral country-to-country mechanism to bring Nazaruddin back, and testify before KPK investigators.

But, we still have another legal channel through the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) agreement that we have had with Singapore, as part of efforts. Also, more importantly, we have yet to see Yudhoyono exercise his authority and influence within the ASEAN brotherhood, particularly his personal and good relations with Singapore's leaders that would be strategically fruitful in our attempt to bring Nazaruddin home.

Legal and diplomatic problems between nations are always difficult to deal with. But often, they became easy with good personal relations between leaders.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

FILLON'S VISIT AND QUALITY FRANCE-RI RELATIONS

RETNO L.P. MARSUDI

The 41-hour visit of France's Prime Minister François Fillon and his entourage just ended, raising the question of what was the main result of the visit and how bilateral relations between Indonesia and France will fare in the future.

The visit of Fillon is the first visit by a French head of government to Indonesia in 25 years and the first visit of a French prime minister in 60 years.

As communicated by France, the visit was not intended to substitute for a planned visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy to Indonesia.

Sarkozy expressed his intention to visit Indonesia when he met President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Paris in December 2009 and again in Davos in January 2011.

However, due to the political agenda that has been driven by legislative and presidential elections in France next year, it is not realistic to expect a visit from the French President anytime.

A declaration by the two countries to establish a strategic partnership was the iconic result of the visit. For sure the idea of a strategic partnership will not be a first for Indonesia.

However, in the context of Indonesia's bilateral relationships with European countries, a strategic partnership with France will be among the few.

So far Indonesia already has a comprehensive partnership with the European Union (EU) that now is in the process of ratification.

France's intention to engage more with countries outside its circle is something interesting to observe. In the past, as also happened with most EU members, France focused its main attention on EU members.

In his statement, Fillon acknowledged a lack of attention paid to Asia. Outside of France's comfort zone, France is now conveying a message that it intends to expand bilateral relationships with, among other nations, China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.

France finds many commonalities with Indonesia in the context of the G20. The collaboration of Indonesia and France in a anticorruption working group epitomizes the important collaboration within the framework of the G20. France also has supported Indonesia on the inclusion of development issues for the G20.

To facilitate an expeditious implementation of a Indonesia-France strategic partnership, Indonesia has proposed five priorities for cooperation: trade and investment, defense, education, culture and tourism and climate change.

Economic interests are becoming more important in international relations. Bread-and-butter issues guide bilateral relations in any country, which is also the case in Indonesia and France.

With bilateral trade currently amounting to US$2.5 billion and taking into account its positive trend in the last five years, Yudhoyono proposed to double bilateral trade within five years.

There is a similar expectation in investment. France remains the 13th largest investor in Indonesia. One thing that should be always remembered when we discuss economic cooperation is that it should go beyond purchasing.

It must cover a comprehensive economic partnership that also includes partnerships in a wider context and benefits both.

It should be a partnership that also covers development issues, capacity building and more strategic cooperation.

Within this context, it will be very interesting to observe the result of the work of Vision Group on the Establishment of Comprehensive Economic Partnership between Indonesia-EU. The group's follow- up on this vision group study will certainly affect the future direction of Indonesia and France as they improve their trade and investment relationship.

In the context of economic cooperation, Indonesia presented its Master Plan of Economic Expansion and Acceleration 2011-2025 and invited France to participate in it.

Energy and infrastructure would be two important sectors in future cooperation. Energy will not only cover oil and gas but also renewable energy.

Geothermal would be one of the potential energy sources. On infrastructure, cooperation on railways, air safety navigation and the development of aircraft would be some fields ripe for cooperation.

During the visit, Fillon and Yuhoyono witnessed the signing of cooperation documents on higher education, energy, tourism, museums, development of a Bandung-Cicalengka railway system and air safety navigation in eastern Indonesia.

If we look at them more closely, most of those documents are related to economic-oriented cooperation.

On education, France showed interest in strengthening cooperation with universities in Indonesia. A public lecture by Fillon at the University of Indonesia well reflected this intention.

Visas are always raised when discussing people-to-people contact. For the Schengen countries (including France), Indonesia remains one of the countries in annex 1 that requires a waiting period of 14 working days to obtain a visa.

The fact that Indonesia is the first country in Southeast Asia to have a comprehensive partnership with the EU as well as enjoys the appreciation of EU countries regarding Indonesia's development does not seem to have any effect on this visa policy.

Therefore, Indonesia has initiated a discussion with the EU as well as member countries regarding the particular issue.

It is difficult to understand why countries that recognize all the good development in Indonesia and its important role in the international setting maintain certain "restrictions" on Indonesian nationals. Observing Indonesia with new glasses will help the Schengen countries to adopt a more appropriate visa policy toward Indonesia.

Indonesia is ready to continue discussing this issue in the future. The completion of negotiation of a draft agreement on visa exemptions for diplomatic and service passport holders will be a good start.

An important step has been made by France and Indonesia to boost bilateral relations. The immediate action that should be taken by both and under the strategic partnership is to establish a joint commission at the ministerial level to implement the Strategic Partnership.

This strategic partnership will enhance the quality of Indonesia – France bilateral relations. Otherwise, questions will be raised in both countries regarding the value and benefit of striking a strategic partnership.

As far as Indonesia is concerned, it is ready to implement follow-up actions, thereby proving that it is indeed a dependable partner.

The writer is currently the director general for American and European Affairs at the Foreign Ministry and was previously Indonesia's ambassador to Norway.

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

INT'L RELATIONS: TIME TO RIDE THE INDONESIAN WAVE

KHOIRUL AMIN

Indonesia has recently been discussed by many scholars that debate its future contributions to the dynamics of international relations. Stable economic growth in recent years and a leading position in regional organizations are factors counted.

The country has also been mentioned in the latest World Bank Global Development Horizons Report to be one of the major contributors to global growth, along with Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Korea.

In the 159-page report, emerging markets, including Indonesia, will grow by an average of 4.7 percent during the 2011-2025 period, compared with the developed world's growth of only 2.3 percent over the same term.

Despite the positive projections for this country, the power of Indonesia in international politics is still questionable.

Questions remain over how Indonesia might make use of its potential to assume a more prominent role in global affairs.

Even though Indonesia's economic growth is viewed as impressive, the gap between the rich and the poor is becoming larger. The military has not enjoyed significant improvement from the results of rapid economic growth.

What then can Indonesia possibly do to capitalize on its good reputation?

When speaking about power, economic and military forces are of primary importance, but we should not disregard what it is regularly referred to as soft power.

In his book, The Future of Power, published by International House of Japan, Joseph S. Nye Jr. wrote that emerging international politics will be completely different from previous eras.

As the use of military force or economic coercion, or both, to benefit one country's interests is becoming increasingly unpopular, soft power will play a more prominent role in 21st century international politics.

The unique aspects of soft power demonstrate that any country could be capable of increasing its own global influence.

A very obvious example of successful use of soft power, as most already acknowledge, is Japan. This country has successfully used of its beautiful and rich culture to gain more influence across the world.

Many people might not yet know that some of the success of Japan in using its culture as soft power actually came from the light content of cartoons and animation pioneered by its people.

Internationally minded animators and manga-ka such as Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki are only two of many Japanese artists willing to bring their culture global.

In Japanamerica: How Japanese pop culture has invaded the US by Roland Kelts, we can find that Japan is not only rich in culture, but also in philosophy and initiative.

One of the Japanese marketing philosophies mentioned in the book is monozukuri. There is no precise translation for this word, as it is full of Japanese values that may be difficult to interpret into other languages.

However, it can be more or less explained as work focused on details, aesthetics and perfection. In fact, manga and anime are examples of monozukuri, which are globally accepted.

Japan also appeals to its American counterparts because it is said that Japan always tries to do things faster with fewer resources.

This can especially be traced back to the 1960s when Japan was in its post-war economic recovery period. People of Japan, at that time, were striving to reach the zenith of their national spirit to move forward by giving as much as they could for their country.

With the great manga and anime wave in Europe, the US, Asia and Australia, many more people became interested in studying and learning about Japan.

Many people who have special interests in Japan have become influential in fostering bilateral relations between their countries and Japan.

Indonesia is also rich in culture and tradition. Indonesia is where the oldest Hindu and Buddhist temples are located. Indonesia is also known for its beautiful handmade batik and handicrafts.

Even renowned British textile designer Laura Miles has a special interest in tenun ikat, which brought her into collaboration with top Indonesian fashion designer Oscar Lawalata.

In the region, Indonesian music, serial dramas and movies are on the top of the list amongst other entertainment productions in Southeast Asia.

Many Indonesian serial dramas are played in neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore.

Indonesian singers such as Agnes Monica, Nidji and Ungu are also gaining popularity across Southeast Asia. The Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Warriors) movie has also received several awards, including the Golden Butterfly Award in Iran.

So what are we waiting for? It is now our time to ride the Indonesian wave!

The writer is assistant program officer at the Japan Foundation, Jakarta. The opinions expressed are his own

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THE JAKARTA POST

OPINION

LAW REVISION AS PILLAR FOR CONTRACT RENEGOTIATION

SATYA WIDYA YUDHA

The government's enthusiasm to review contracts in the national mining, oil and gas sectors could not be reckless or against the law. It has to heed to the sanctity of contract to maintain a conducive climate for investors.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's speech on June 1 explicitly noted the government's intention to renegotiate contracts in the oil, gas and mining sector as an effort to regain the nation's sovereignty.

The government further established a plan to renegotiate the contracts in the Master Plan of Indonesian Economic Development Acceleration and Expansion (MP3EI).

Contract renegotiaton is one options to create fair revenue sharing between the government, in this case the central and well as local governments and foreign contractors in the future.

The President's concern of alarming foreign domination in the oil, gas and mining sectors is understandable. As a nation blessed with abundant natural resources, Indonesia cannot yet act as a master of its own soil.

Though the head of state's stance on such a sensitive issue was a little bit late, we have to appreciate his wish to regain national dignity.

Indeed, the President's positive sign was followed by the establishment of a special team on renegotiation under the Coordinating Economic Minister, involving techinal ministries such as the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry and Finance Ministry.

The most important point is not inter-departmental coordination, but a concrete result as a win-win solution.

The benchmark, therefore, is how far the abundant natural resources could bring prosperity to the Indonesian people.

Article 33 of the Constitution clearly states: "Natural resources are controlled by the state and used mostly for the people's prosperity".

According to the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), there are 113 mining contracts that will be reviewed, comprising 37 working contracts (KK) in the metals and mineral mining sectors and 76 PKP2B (working agreements on coal mining) in coal production.

Only 11 KK signers have agreed to amend their contracts, with five refusing. For PKP2B, 13 foreign companies have rejected the renegotiation.

In the oil and gas sector, more than 150 oil and gas blocks in Indonesia are operated under production sharing contracts (PSC) with different sharing ratios. Some 80 percent are controlled by foreign contractors.

It is important to note that under the cost recovery system applied by the government, the investment is paid later after the field is producing. However, the government could not generalize that all investment contracts could be renegotiated.

There are requirements that need to be completed before reviewing a contract.

The government must have a strong legal umbrella to avoid a blunder. Not all running contracts, both in the general mining sector as well as oil and gas, could be amended.

In case of revision of the contract, it is not a matter of period, but it has to look at a certain point that could be revised fairly.

For instance, revision of the gas sales-purchase between Tangguh LNG operators and the Chinese government. This could be done with a business to business approach.

Therefore, the government needs to be more selective in reviewing contracts with private foreign companies. The government, for instance, could not cut a running contract, but could renegotiate expired contracts.

During the renegotiation, the government could add a clause to stop contract renewal, as well as a clause that requires the use of better technology, which will potentially increase production.

Certainly, such a condition could spark anxiety among contractors. Uncertainty could disturb their business and the impact could be harmful for the government, not to mention the current unfavorable investment climate in the nation's mining, oil and gas industries.

Now, Indonesia ranks only slightly above Timor Leste in the Asia Pasific for investment in the oil and gas sector according to a research of the Fraser Institute of Canada.

Contract renegotiation is different from nationalization of all foreign investment in the oil and gas sector, but it is a matter of giving a fair portion to state companies to make it more competitive and profitable.

To state the matter precisly, PT Pertamina is a state-owned company in the oil and gas sector that will hold the first right of refusal to be an operator. This right would show Pertamina's competence as a full operator.

This is an actualization of the government's alignment to state companies as one pillar of sustainable economic growth.

Another crucial issue is the mechanism of contract renewal for blocks whose contracts have expired. This must be mentioned clearly in the new regulation by stating that extension of a contract could be made in 5-7 years before the expiration of the contract for the sake of certainty.

The House of Representatives, especially Commission VII on energy and mineral resources, should encourage the government to prudently review investment contracts in the mining sector.

The principle of contract renegotiation is very important to regain the country's sovereignty from foreign domination. But renegotiation could do more harm than good if it is conducted without respecting the running contract.

As a positive response to the government's commitment, the House has arranged an intensive discussion on revision of Law No 22/2001 on oil and gas and review of articles on the Law No. 4/2009 on mineral and coal. By involving all stake holders in mining and oil and gas, the House intends to make prudent revisions of those laws.

It is the House's responsibility to make regulations that protect all parties under the principles of fairness, equality and transparency that could bring prosperity to all Indonesians.

The House is optimistic that revisision of the law on oil and gas and amendment of the law on minerals and coal could offer a win-win solution to the nation. In brief, revision of the two laws would become pillars for contract renegotiaton.

It is time for us to emerge as a sovereign nation in natural resources.

The writer is member of Commission VII on energy and industry affairs at the House of Representatives, representing the Golkar Party.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

SCRUBBING OUT CRITICISM

The Google Transparency Report for July to December 2010 makes this unflattering revelation: the number of requests from Indian authorities for disclosure of data about Internet users and for removal of content from websites has risen sharply. As a measure of intolerance and attempts at censorship, the Transparency Report now provides more data for analysis than in the past. The role played by governments in the deletion of content is among the additional features. On the face of it, India's requests may appear to be unexceptional. After all, several democracies, not to speak of countries with less tolerant regimes, have made similar demands on Google. What does set India apart from genuinely liberal countries is the nature of the content sought to be scrubbed out and the agencies involved. Most of the removal requests pertain to allegedly defamatory postings on websites such as YouTube and Blogger, and specific web search results. That they have been made by executive agencies and the police without recourse to due process is bad enough. What makes them ridiculous is that the authorities targeted online content critical of Chief Ministers and senior officials of different States. Google has done well to mostly reject these blatant attempts at censorship, complying with only 22 per cent of the cases. It is noteworthy that this is a low acceptance rate compared with other robust democracies.

The resort to non-judicial processes to curb Internet freedom in the majority of cases pertaining to India is part of a disturbing trend. It is of a piece with the new rules framed under the Information Technology Act 2000, diluting fundamental freedoms and ushering in a culture of suffocating surveillance. On content removal, it needs to be pointed out that in the United States, Google acted on court orders to remove material deemed defamatory. In Britain, fraudulent advertising linked to scams was removed. Naturally, the compliance rate for both countries is high, unlike the Indian experience. These pointers must convince India that its heavy-handed approach to scrub inconvenient speech off the Internet is earning it worldwide notoriety. It is also time the central government changed its Orwellian course on the question of privacy. Too much emphasis is placed on creating comprehensive, inter-linked databases citing security, without giving sufficient thought to data protection. Moreover, the new rules under the IT Act require intermediaries such as cyber-cafes and Internet Service Providers to retain personal data for long periods, increasing the likelihood of misuse. Correcting these aberrations, which do not sit well with tenets of democracy, is the right thing to do.

The Hindu

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

A NOTE ON SMART-ASS DEVOLUTIONISTS

When they called it 'separatism' is sounded like a cuss-word.  Separatists took time to get smart.  Perhaps it would be more correct to say it took them a long time to recover smartness.  S.J.V. Chelvanayakam hit the correct idea when he said it was possible to extract anything from the Sinhalese as long as it is done slowly, an idea he captured in the pithy 'A little now, more later.'

Leaving aside the notion that whoever did the 'taking' would be taking from all Sri Lankans and not just the Sinhalese, the slogan only pushed separatism to embrace terrorism while it rubbed the Sinhalese majority quite the wrong way.  Had Chelva thought but not said, separatism may have benefited, but chauvinists and land-thieves often trip over themselves. G.G. Ponnambalam's 'Fifty-fifty' for a little lover 10 percent of the population may have been the product of greed gone crazy but it also framed the dimensions of aspirations for more than half a century.  By 1976, Chelva himself lost his way, the Vadukoddai Resolution being nothing less than a go-for-broke adventure that wanted it all; not power-sharing but land and coast grabbing.  Blood-letting was the unscripted inevitable.  Close to a hundred thousand lives were lost.

When the LTTE was in fully cry Tamil moderates (so-called) either out of fear or awe or outright salutation went gear-down on devolution.  The statements of the 'moderates', both individuals and parties (in coalition and isolation) make for a symptomatic reading on this aspect.  The TNA's election manifestoes of 2001, 2004 and 2010 would do in fact.  Post-LTTE, devolution has been resurrected out of consolation-need more than anything else, one might argue, if not for Chelva's Action Plan of incremental construction of Eelam. The 13th Amendment's most important contribution to the Eelam cause has been its utility as reference point. India fostered terrorism in Sri Lanka. India gave refuge, armed, trained and funded terrorism.  India took some sparks poured gallons and gallons of fuel, whipped up a roaring fire and then brought fire-size down (for a while) and now insists that where the fire is now is foundation-point for resolution. No mention now of what it is that is sought to be resolved.  No talk either of the fact that foundation-point is still a fire that anyone including India, Tamil Nadu, Tamil and Sinhala chauvinism included can add fuel to.

Today's Prescriber is undoubtedly India.  Today's prescription-approvers are the Chelva-Tamils and wooly-headed Marxist-Leninists who are in a permanent state of denial about all that being passé.  Other approvers include anti-Buddhist heirs of the Colonial encounter who are smarter than their 16th-20th Century ideological and political forefathers.  Their logic seems to be based on the notion that if you rob from the Sinhalese it is the Buddhists who lose the most due to the sheer numbers.  They are smart, because they are not running around burning temples in the way the Portuguese did or extracting conversion through the carrot of privilege and the skewing of institution and process against Buddhists.  If you have any doubts about this, just check who the most vociferous approvers are, their ethnic identities, their ideological preferences and their faiths.

The smartest of course are those who say without saying.  There are, for example, those who take ethnic identity and religious faith out of the equation and talk 'development'.  They know that the Indian Thesis crumbles in the fact of history, geography and demography.  The history that is relevant to the discourse has always been that associated with the claims pertaining to traditional-homelands.  Those who are devolution-smart talk therefore about a history of relative self-sufficiency and administrative decentralization which they conveniently argue indicate that power-devolution was always with us and indeed made us.

Anyone who has studied the extensive and intricate hydraulic system of this land as well as laws about resource exploitation and allocation would understand that while there were times of division, invasion and even anarchy, for the most part there was centralized control and decision-making.  Had it been otherwise, there wouldn't have been an anicut built in Minipe.  We wouldn't have the Yoda Ela or the Jaya Ganga.  Kings would not have employed large quantities of resources to build large irrigation structures, temples or places of learning in places far away from the capital.  Rivers would not have been diverted through a series of anicuts. Such schemes were not built subsequent isolated communities conferring with neighbours about how best to use the water flowing down a river.

True, there is a vast mismatch of resource-allocation today. Certain things don't get done.  The devolution-smart say triumphantly that in a devolved polity things would get done.  A decentralized administrative structure would suffice in most instances, but they don't want to admit this.  Neither do they acknowledge the fact that devolution would not have given resource-poor areas the kind of access to education that centralized decision-making has.  There is also remarkable silence about the bridges, reservoirs, hospitals and other infrastructural facilities and services that would have remained distant dreams had it not been for centralized decision-making if not for anything the sheer lack of resources and other necessary capacities.  Nothing is said either of the fact that populations are not static, that they move, that we've moved a fair distance from (relatively) self-sufficient village-units, or that aspirations have spilled out of the idyllic 'village' and perhaps will never be containable in those territorial dimensions again.

What is needed is an overhauling of the entire governance structure and a streamlining of institutional mechanisms and processes to encourage enlightened decision-making.  That this is an uphill task is used as logic for devolution.  That's being lazy and indeed irresponsible for there are no short cuts to peace and wholesome citizenship.  In this case, any kind of devolution that takes current provincial boundaries as given (never mind their artificiality and pernicious association with homeland-claim – a convenient exaggeration of existing demographic patterns) will etch in such hard lines the Eelamist positions on the Sri Lankan political landscape that it would in effect transform into irreversible fact. We can do better.  We must.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

ARSENIC IN WATER' RICE AND PESTICIDES

For several weeks a public controversy has raged regarding claims made by a group of researchers at the Universities of Rajarata and Kelaniya that high levels of arsenic in imported pesticides, having contaminated both water and soil of farming areas, has found its way into the food supply, and was responsible for the high incidence of chronic kidney disease in the North-Central Province.The SLAAS cannot comment on the truth of these claims, which have been investigated by other institutions better equipped to do so. Their results contradict the claims made by this group.

Scientists obtaining new research results are expected to submit these results to other scientists for verification in a process called "peer review." This includes publishing, or presenting their results to fellow scientists, before releasing them to the general public. If the results are likely to have an impact on public policy or public well-being, it is particularly important that other scientists have an opportunity to verify or reproduce these results.

If important policy decisions are to be taken based on those results, it is especially critical that they be reproduced, using standard, accepted methods, by an accredited analytical laboratory which meets international standards (most university laboratories are not accredited in this way). Scientific findings  affecting public policy, especially policy with an international dimension such as import/export, must be scientifically valid, legally defensible, and obtained using internationally accepted protocols. If a new, untested method was used to obtain any of the results, this method must be carefully validated beforehand, by comparison with accepted methods and using standard samples.In this case, there has been no peer review of the results. It has been claimed that a new method was used to obtain certain results, but no evidence of validation of this method has been presented. Instead, there appears to have been an attempt to get quick publicity.  Under the circumstances, the authorities, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the Registrar of Pesticides, have acted very responsibly in submitting samples to a duly accredited laboratory, the Industrial Technology Institute, for verification.

Even if arsenic is found in water and soil in the North Central Province, that per se does not constitute sufficient evidence to attribute causation of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) to arsenic.  We urge that the detailed methods used, including the sampling of water sources, collection of samples, the analytical method used, its validation and detailed results, as well as the body of evidence on which the researchers have attributed arsenic to the causation of CKD, be published or presented for peer review as early as possible. 

There is another serious issue which casts grave doubts on the credibility of the claims made by the Kelaniya group. The Press has publicly identified as the leader of this group an individual, who despite holding a responsible position, professes a disdain for "Western" science. He has publicly claimed supernatural revelations ("samyak drushtika devivaru") as the source of his group's information and even methods. While recognizing that many scientists are deeply religious, the SLAAS wishes to state categorically that superstition and the supernatural have no place in science, and that scientific results inspired by such sources are highly suspect because of a probable bias on the part of the investigator. We also note that the other researchers in the group have yet to distance themselves from the eccentric statements of their leader, and they need to do this if they wish to be taken seriously as scientists.  Finally, the SLAAS considers it extremely unfortunate that the Dean of a Science Faculty should make it his publicly stated aim to run down science and bring it into disrepute.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS DOES MATTER

Most of us are quite surprised at the unbelievable cleanliness and orderliness that prevails in the most parts of the city of Colombo. In fact the UDA should be complimented for the revamping that has taken place. Today it certainly is a pleasure to drive along Galle road from Bambalapitiya to Fort and it certainly is a great help for all ethnic groups to see the road name-boards printed in all three languages. But as usual (as happens in Sri Lanka there is always a  but !), almost all the by-ways leading to these main roads are yet in a state of disrepair. Manholes have been constructed well above the level of the roads and almost every vehicle bumps along.

Elvitigala Road is a marvelous road to drive on but turn towards Thimbirigasyaya Road, Kirimandala Mawatha or Dabare Mawatha and its turn off to a beautifully named Evergreen Road which leads to both Asiri Surgical and the Oasis hospitals. One  wonders how on earth the UDA is unaware of  the awful state of these by- roads are such that they are certainly rather detrimental to anyones' health or mental condition. No wonder road rage exists!

In fact it is a sad reflection on both the UDA and the Hospital authorities that the roads
leading to the two main hospitals are in such a state  of disrepair. This same situation exists in the road leading to the Sri Jayewardene hospital.  And since often most private ambulances are usually Toyota vans converted into ambulances patients usually end up being more  sick  and in greater pain. As far as  Kirimanadala road is concerned it appears that the road is frequently cut across to give  water lines and it seems as if the municipal council which is in charge of refilling these ditches and metalling them forget their task or do not have the materials to do so and so the ditches get deeper and deeper and motorists  slow down to avoid damaging their  vehicles meanwhile heavy vehicles from the Reclamation Department go along  quite happily further damaging the road. So perhaps it is time that UDA authorities directed their attention to not merely seeing that name-boards are displayed in all three languages but major by- roads too are maintained in the same pristine manner of the Galle road stretch.

 Thinking of the matter of having the name boards in buses and roads in all three languages as a gesture towards creating a climate of ethnic equality one wonders whether the powers that be intend having an annual victory parade to celebrate the end of the war against terrorism. It sure is a tribute to the services but if it is to be an annual event why not change its name to a Remembrance parade as a mark of respect to all those who died in the war. Not all surely were terrorists there were Sinhala Muslim and Tamil innocents  killed in the war so why not have this parade as a tribute to all those who died, after all they were all citizens of this one nation and it will go along way is creating reconciliation among the communities.

In fact if the authorities are seriously anxious to start a genuine reconciliation process they should realize that while it is certainly right to have political discussions and solutions worked out at Parliamentary level it is also necessary to make the people themselves consider that they are all citizens of one nation . One community has not been victorious over another, rather the war in the final analysis has been against the terrorists and it is necessary that the other ethnic groups are made aware of it. The services were not attempting to display their military power but rather protect the sovereignty of the nation and all its citizens regardless of their ethnicity.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

IN THE LAND OF LOTUS-EATERS

When Odysseus landed on the isle of lotus-eaters, who were known to be the personifications of apathy, it didn't take long for the famous seafarer to realize the dangers of their obliviousness. Today, mythology has a modern-day version – a land that is both paradise and has many parasites, where people would let anything and everything happen as long as these incidents do not occur within their personal territories or hinder their schedules.

Sri Lanka was believed to be the land of lotus-eaters for many reasons – the most obvious perhaps are her geographical beauty and strategic location. But today, if we are given the not so flattering epithet, it is because our behaviour does not differ from the natives who tried to trap Odysseus; only instead of trapping travellers, we keep ourselves trapped.

Things have taken a downward trend in this emerald isle and pressing issues of the people are continuously ignored by the responsible bodies. Those who are supposed to be sensitive to the needs and cries of the people only use these problems to show the public the scale of their wittiness. Thus is the reward people get for electing them as their representatives.

The week started with Rizana Nafeek's story resurfacing and apart from a protest, a few newspaper articles, and editorials, little had been done to rescue her or plead with the parents of the infant to accept blood money. Had it been another international intervention, the Colombo roads would see people flooding in many directions to sign a hundred and one petitions to say – Take your hands off Sri Lanka! In comparison the voice that rose for Rizana's rescue was a mere whisper. This again makes one wonder whether the bus-loads of people who came to the capital city from far away villages whenever there is a protest, came exclusively to exercise their democratic right or for some other reasons.

Much had been said on the issue on public platforms but not enough attempts have been made to approach the parents on humane grounds or to make them realize that an entire nation awaits Rizana's arrival home. It would be no major sacrifice on the part of the government nor would the people mind if a pinch of their money is spent to arrange a meeting between Rizana's parents and the infant's. Even if it does not work out, the sight of her parents will lift Rizana's spirits at least for a few moments which would be the best we can do as a nation.

At the end of the day, Rizana's was another silent cry among the cries against the unbearable cost of living, social injustice and heedlessness of decision-makers. Now, nothing has been left but to enjoy the privilege of the lotus fruit when people have to watch their rulers bathe themselves in public money. Little can they do to stop the shortsighted rulers from throwing the country's hard-earned wealth off to make their eternal carnival a reality. Not even in their wildest dreams do people want Hambantota to host a Commonwealth games. After the leaking press box at one of the World Cup venues, we have very little reputation to defend as a hosting nation. But most importantly, the question as to how the construction cost of stadiums, gymnasiums and sports villages will be paid without burning severe holes in the already burnt public pockets is worth pursuing. When the defence budgets carried the bulk of country's expenses,  people walked the route to silence thinking a price reduction would be a luxury not worth asking for, when the country was at a war. Now, when the defence budgets do not eat the earnings of the country, the ostentatious mindsets of the rulers have taken the task upon themselves. As a nation, we can only wait and watch the tamasha and regret the fact that the constitution does not have a sentence that makes getting through an IQ test a prerequisite for an MP-to be.

Clearly, we should stop eating lotus before it's too late!

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

FREE MEDIA: HEADLINES AND DEADLINES

According to the highest and most hallowed principles of the free media, their main role is to be a powerful and prophetic voice of the voiceless, marginalized or oppressed people and the instruments through which the common people especially exercise their fundamental right to the freedom of information and expression.

The media also need to play the dual role of reflecting public opinion and moulding public opinion, giving the people a balanced share of what they want and what they need to be given.

A balanced and critical overview of what is presented to the public in the media would show that some people especially VIPs, events connected to them or beneficial to them and subjects involving them are given headlines and prominence.  Another disturbing negative feature is the prominence given to the largely unethical if not untruthful promotion of products by big business powers.

While the media in Sri Lanka are largely state-controlled or under self-censorship because of the threat of reprisals, criminal thuggery or intimidation, we see quite a different story in neighbouring India.

Especially after the implementation of the freedom of information act in India some years ago the Indian media have played their role powerfully and shaken the establishment mainly by exposing corruption, bribery, deception and double standards in the high places of politics and business.

Now the Indian media are leading the people's campaign for the setting up of high powered ombudsmen in every state to speedily probe and take action against those found to be involved in corruption, bribery and other vices – be it even the executive prime minister or the ceremonial president, central cabinet ministers or chief ministers of the different states.  They are also giving prominence to a campaign for radical reforms in the police service and the judicial service so that those two key institutions could play their vital role in maintaining the checks and balances of democracy along with the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance.

The Indian media have played a key role in exposing high level corruption in areas ranging from party politics and big business to sports. 

Today in the jails of New Delhi are languishing the daughter of Tamil Nadu's ousted Chief Minister Muthuvelu Karunanidhi and, a former minister who was involved in a multi million rupee telecom scam and those who illegally amassed wealth from the recent commonwealth games held in India, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament and other events.

Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, we see to a large extent the silence of the media and remember the lament of Martin Luther King Jr. – which may be the lament of our people today – that what hurts more is not the sword of the enemy but the silence of the friend.

If the fear psychosis in Sri Lanka forces the established free media to remain largely silent, we may see the emergence of the alternative new media or social media with its citizen journalists and all the dangers of unfair, inaccurate and unbalanced reporting through

FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, websites and internet. 

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

AFGHANISTAN - THE FAILED ADVENTURE  

BY GWYNNE DYER

 

It's beyond satire. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, telling the New York Times what he learnt during his long tenure under Presidents Bush and Obama, explained: "I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity. I am just much more cautious on wars of choice." Gosh, Bob, does that mean you wouldn't invade Iraq next time?

Afghanistan, by contrast, was a "war of necessity" in his terms - official Washington believed further bad things like 9/11 might happen if US troops didn't go to Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda terrorists (mostly Arabs) who had been given bases there by the country's Taliban leadership.

It wasn't a very subtle strategy, but was driven by perceived US national interest.

That was the point made by President Hamid Karzai, the man the US put in power after the 2001 invasion, when he said: "(The Americans) are here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they're using our soil for that."

The only other possible explanation for their presence would be that Washington had sent half a million young Americans to Afghanistan over the past 10 years in some quixotic quest to raise the Afghan standard of living and the status of women. That's ridiculous, obviously.

So how to explain US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry's emotional response? Speaking at Herat University, he raged: "When Americans... hear themselves described as occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest... they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here."

So why have US troops been in Afghanistan for almost 10 years? To keep the Taliban from power, they say, but it's unlikely that the Taliban leadership ever knew about Al Qaeda's plans for 9/11. Why would they support an action that was bound to provoke a US invasion and drive them from power? Why would Bin Laden risk letting them know about the attack in advance? The US has probably been barking up the wrong tree for a long time.

Now the Taliban are back in force and the war is all but lost. The US may think it is about "terrorism" and Al Qaeda, but for Afghans it is a continuation of the civil war that had been raging for almost a decade before the US invasion.

The Taliban, almost entirely drawn from the Pashtun ethnic group, captured Kabul in 1996, but never managed to conquer the other, smaller ethnic groups in the north.

The US stumbled into this civil war under the delusion that it was fighting Islamist terrorists, but in fact it has ended up on the side of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. That's who mans the "Afghan National Army" that the Western powers have been trying to build up with so little success: only three per cent of its soldiers are Pashtuns, although Pashtuns account for 42pc of the population.

So long as the US forces remain, the Taliban can plausibly claim it is fighting a jihad against the infidels, but once Americans leave, the war will probably return to its basic ethnic character.

That means the Pashtuns are as unlikely to conquer the north after the US departure as they were before the invasion.

In the end, some deal that shares out the spoils among ethnic groups will be done: that is the Afghan political style. The Taliban will get a big share, but won't sweep the board.

But in the meantime, President Barack Obama has promised to start withdrawing US troops this month, and that will be very tricky. Few Americans know much about Afghan realities, and they have been fed a steady diet of patriotic misinformation about the place for a decade.

If the US ambassador to Kabul can get so emotional about a plain statement of fact, imagine how the folks at home will respond when US troops leave Afghanistan without a "victory".

Obama will be lucky to pull this off without a serious backlash.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

THE REBELS WITHOUT A CLUE...  

 BY DR AMIN AL ARABY

AS Bahrain moves forward with the National Dialogue, we must look back at how we arrived here. Bahrain had finished parliamentary elections last October with all international bodies lauding their transparency and fairness.

Even the "opposition", which later led the so-called protests, declared their support for the appointment of ministers that followed.

Unemployment was at 3.4 per cent - a tiny number for any country. People sounded their grievances openly in newspapers without even having to produce proof.

Parliament, including 18 "opposition" members, was as always left to decide on public spending.

An independent body, the National Audit Court, reported openly to parliament on the performance and spending of the government, naming names and citing corruption openly in newspapers.

Citizens and expats alike lived in peace with very low crime rates and tax-free earnings.

Was there poverty? Of course, there was, just as there always is in any society. But unlike in most of the world, no-one was homeless or left to rummage through garbage for food.

And then someone decided; let's kill a nation. While protesters around the world marched against austerity measures, unemployment, religious persecution and other injustices, we watched in shock as people - who only a few days before declared all was well and right - took to the streets.

These rebels without a cause seemed to demonstrate for the sake of it.

The nightmare that followed was compounded by a systematic campaign of political and media bullying from countries that we traditionally considered to be allies.

The co-ordination was uncanny, the collaboration so blatant no-one could miss it. Many of us were left wondering why. More were lamenting that with friends like these, who needs enemies? The shock soon wore off and what was left in its place was rage and a desire for revenge.

Restoring peace with minimal social and economic cost was not short of miraculous. We again looked in surprise and then admiration as the leadership embraced its enemies and continued the route to dialogue, at a time when other regimes would have struck while they held all power.

But the pressures continue and the bullying mounts as we head towards the dialogue.

The same powers that tried to kill our nation are now trying to bend the National Dialogue to write our future, according to their plans.

What they don't know is this: your plans may be unchanged, but we are not.

We cannot be shocked, pressured or bullied into compliance. We have seen the light and we are not going back.

We will continue to be what we have always been; an open and friendly people with a leadership that was chosen long ago by us. A leadership that truly represents our roots, moderates our differences and shares our vision for the future.

We will not be collateral damage for the Western-supported "Arab Spring" that is turning every day into a dark, cold winter.

And we will not be Iran's hostage in order to entice it to give up its nuclear programme.

So, for all those powers that are trying to yield us to their will, we say we have risen and will not be pulled down again.

The only options are help us build or let us be.

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