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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

EDITORIAL 06.07.11

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month july 06, edition 000877, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



































































The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has ordered the setting up of a Special Investigation Team to oversee the ongoing inquiries aimed at tracking down black money that has been parked in foreign bank accounts and tax havens, identifying those hold these accounts, and prosecuting them for the multiple offences they have committed. The SIT will be have a former judge of the Supreme Court as its chairman and another former judge as its deputy chairman; the other members of the team will include the heads of CBI, R&AW, IB, CBDT, ED and other senior officials representing various agencies that deal with financial crimes. The SIT will periodically brief the Supreme Court about the progress of its work and will be responsible for solving the multi-billion-rupee riddle also known as the black money conundrum: Everybody knows that huge sums of money have been salted away; nobody knows the exact quantum of the money; the beneficiaries of these illicit funds remain unidentified. There are two aspects to the Supreme Court's verdict. First, it amounts to appropriation of the executive's responsibility since it is the Government's job to deal with the menace of black money. But it could be argued, logically so, that had the Government been more alert to its responsibility and shown greater diligence while acting on the issue, then such an order would not have been necessary. To that extent, the Supreme Court has once agains stepped into the breach created by Government apathy towards corruption and financial malpractice which has become the leitmotif of the UPA regime. The failure is as much of the Government as the Prime Minister and the Congress: They are all to blame. Second, by broad-basing the SIT, the Supreme Court has done what the Government should have initiated in the first place: A multi-agency inquiry that covers all aspects of the crime of taking illicit funds out of the country, holding it in undeclared foreign accounts, and bringing it back after the money has been duly laundered. Hence, on this score too the Government's failure is both abject and glaring. Hopefully the SIT will deliver what the Government-appointed so-called High Level Team could not for reasons that do not require elaboration.

Having said that, it would be in order to highlight the fact that on a host of issues, ranging from scams and scandals to day-to-day governance of the country, the executive's constitutionally mandated role is being circumscribed by judicial intervention. While a Government that fails to perform and fulfil its obligations is no doubt undesirable and harmful for our democracy, the solution does not lie in the judiciary taking on the role of the executive. True, judicial intervention has helped set right the executive's folly, as has been witnessed in the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery and now in the issue of black money and related matters. But this cannot, indeed must not, become the standard. If Mr Manmohan Singh has any sense of self-dignity and if he wishes to preserve what remains of his image, he should resign from office rather than preside over the demolition of executive power and authority for which he is largely to blame. It is his inaction, his indecisiveness and his inability to lead from the front that has reduced the executive to a pathetic caricature of what it is meant to be. The republic cannot suffer on account of him and the inefficient, slothful, corrupt regime he heads.







Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad may have received much flak for his description of MSM, or the phenomenon of men having sex with men, as an "unnatural disease" that has been imported from the West but there is more to the issue that is of far greater concern than the tragically uninformed opinions of the the Union Minister for Health and Family Affairs. Not only do his comments serve as a reflection of the views held by a large section of the Indian population, it also points towards some dangerous misconceptions regarding homosexuality, its causes and consequences. In this regard, the clarification put forth by a Health ministry spokesperson is worthy note. A day after Mr Azad made his remarks at an event in New Delhi, a spokesperson explained that his quotes had been, conveniently of course, taken out of context and that "when he spoke of the disease, he was talking about HIV/AIDS and not homosexuality." Apart from the absurdity of a situation wherein the Minister of Health is unable to distinguish between a disease and an individual's sexual orientation, Mr Azad's comments and the Ministry clarification that followed is proof of how little most people understand either issue. One of the most popular misconceptions in this regard is that MSM is the primary reason for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in India. This is absolutely untrue. In fact, contrary to popular perception, 87 per cent of all new cases, wherein the HIV virus that causes AIDS is transmitted, is the result of unprotected sex between heterosexuals, and not homosexuals, according to India's National AIDS Control programme. Additionally, a vast number of people are infected in the course of blood transfusions. Reusing unsterilised needles contaminated with HIV infected blood and other such instances of non compliance with universal healthcare norms lead to a greater number of infections. Also, the spread of the virus from an infected mother to her unborn child is particularly common in countries like India where many children are born outside of healthcare facilities to mothers who did not receive adequate prenatal care.

Today, there are a whopping 2.5 million people who are living with the virus in India. Yet given how little awareness there is about the disease — what causes it, what are the consequences and what steps may be taken to prevent being infected with HIV, etc — there is little chance that this number will go down any time soon. If India has to win its battle against HIV/AIDS, which has been rightly described as a global scourge, it is imperative that the Government put together a strong, comprehensive policy that must effectively implemented across the nation. To that extent, the Health Ministry will have a particularly vital role to play.









As the Americans flounder for an exit from the Afghan mess, India must be prepared for a precipitate and irresponsible US withdrawal.

The multiple suicide attack last week against Hotel Intercontinental perched on a hillock on the western edge of Kabul when Provincial Governors were meeting to chart out Afghanisation's security reflects holes in capability of the Afghan National Security Forces. Not a single battalion of the Army can operate independently.

I stayed at the Intercontinental last year for a conference and wondered how the Taliban might storm the hotel. Of the three security checks along the road two were lightly held with armed guards. The third with X-ray machines was virtually in the hotel. But the rest of the area seemed uncovered, especially the slopes to the hill top. That's where they came from and not along the road. The Taliban are both great improvisers and innovators, routinely springing new tricks and not afraid to die.

This setback will not derail the phased withdrawal beginning this month of the 33,000 US surge troops who will be out in 15 months. The remaining 70,000 troops are to deinduct by 2014. The politically choreographed drawdown is premised on preservation of gains of the surge. America's Nato partners, except the UK, have earlier exit schedules which are to be finalised at the Chicago Nato summit next year.

US President Barack Obama's 13-minute speech outlining the withdrawal marks the end of phase one of the war, a shift from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism and from combat to combat support of the ANSF. The new US counter-terrorism strategy document released last week lays emphasis on raids and drone strikes.

The illusion of success has been buoyed by the dramatic elimination of Osama bin Laden and the annihilation of the Al Qaeda leadership, whereas opposition to foreign forces is from Al Qaeda's affiliates, the Taliban. They too, have been degraded, some 2000 killed (700 middle-level commanders) and 4,000 captured, but nearly 80 per cent were civilians. Mr Obama characterised these ephemeral gains as "tide of war receding and drawdown from a position of strength".

The core of Mr Obama's assessment was embedded in two stark admissions: "We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place" and "nation-building has to be done at home facing rising debt and hard economic times". The war cost of $12 billion annually and 30 to 40 body bags (in June there were 44) with nearly twice that number wounded monthly is politically unsustainable.

So how does Mr Obama hope to reduce American footprint, withdraw responsibly and leave behind a minimally stable Afghanistan? The key to transition — two small provinces and five urban centres, including Kabul, are to be handed over starting this month — is a capable and motivated ANSF. By October 2011, the Army will be 170,000-strong, to reach 240,000 by next year, optimally equipped with Nato class of weapons. Currently 70,000, the police force will increase to 130,000 but is terribly under-resourced. Too many countries are involved in their training and confusion obtains on whether it is to be CIS or policing. Interestingly, Pakistan's hopes of a weak and sterile ANSF may turn out to be real.

A political settlement entailing power-sharing with the Taliban requires reintegration and reconciliation. Reintegration has proved more successful than reconciliation with nearly 2,000 rank and file Taliban reportedly brought overground. Response to reconciliation has been tardy despite claims of conversations with Mullah Omar's aides, including some Taliban imposters. Here, too, many countries are involved: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK and Germany which is coordinating the talks.

Mullah Omar has posted in mosques in southern Afghanistan warnings of death to anyone who talks to the Government. And why will Pakistan, which wants to be part of the solution and not the problem, be left out of reconciliation, as it has been so far? In February 2010, Quetta Shura's number two, Mullah Biradar, was arrested in Karachi by the ISI and Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha has ensured Mullah Omar's relocation after the Osama bin Laden plucking. Both former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have said the Taliban will not engage in serious and fruitful talks. The Afghans feel that for serious reconciliation the surge has to continue — otherwise even if an agreement is reached its implementation is unlikely.

Against this background the recently established Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Commission on Reconciliation and Joint Task Force on Infiltration are as good as the India-Pakistan Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism: Good only for the joint statement. Similarly, at the counter-terrorism summit in Tehran last week, the Presidents of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan resolved to collectively fight militancy and oppose foreign interference — both aspirational goals.

The third element of the US exit strategy is turning the focus of operations from Afghanistan to Pakistan, reversing AfPak to PakAf, to neutralise Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan. In 2001, Pakistan was the base for the American war in Afghanistan; now it could be the opposite.

Cajoling and coercing Pakistan to act against its strategic assets will be the trickiest bit. Already the reverse is happening. Pakistan has asked the US to withdraw its trainers, close down drone bases, recall CIA operatives and the whole works. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is very angry the Army's nose has been rubbed on the ground after the Osama bin Laden episode. He's under extreme pressure from the conclave of Corps Commanders, political opposition and the public to punish the Americans.

As Pakistan is unlikely to cooperate easily, the frequency of drone attacks from Afghanistan will increase, prompting Islamabad to take up the legality of cross-border aerial attacks with Kabul and, who knows, the UN too. With US-Pakistan relations plummeting, training and capability of the ANSF under a cloud and good governance and a political settlement out of sight, Mr Obama's exit strategy is as unworkable as Mr Henry Kissinger's latest prescription in The International Herald Tribune: A ceasefire, withdrawal, coalition Government and an enforcing mechanism.

Already voices in the US suggest accelerated transition and division of Afghanistan if necessary. While the Americans are barking up the wrong tree, India must be prepared for a precipitate and irresponsible US withdrawal. Afghans want India to punch up to its weight without being inhibited by American and Pakistani sensitivities to a more proactive role. India must engage the Taliban and offer to equip and train the ANSF. But Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said last week in Washington, DC that India will not get involved in a security role. A rethink is required as was done on reintegration and reconciliation.







The issue of land acquisition for industry and infrastructure has come to haunt State Governments across the country. There are no easy solutions to this complex problem which calls for a cross-party consensus. Only then can we look forward to a resolution of what is an increasingly fractious debate which does nobody any good

There is no neat, easy, swift and final solution to the dilemma over land use, not in West Bengal and not in the rest of India, which is what the land acquisition discourse is all about. The dilemma is not limited to the manner in which land was acquired in Singur or how the Government planned to acquire it in Nandigram. It is also not limited to the manner in which the new Government in West Bengal proposes to acquire the land back from Tata Motors in Singur.

The land use dilemma extends from Maharashtra to West Bengal, from Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka and even Tamil Nadu. It is not about being anti-industry or anti-big business; it is a complicated political puzzle where the trade-offs between the age-old agrarian economy and the new-age globalised economy are not working out.

Farmers are suspicious of the change in land use and this suspicion after years of eager and sometimes forced sell offs in vast swathes of Haryana and Punjab, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and West Bengal is a shock to the political system. It is Trinamool Congress's instinctive reaction to its political enemy the CPI(M) that pushed it into representing the aggrieved farmers of Singur and the anxious ones in Nandigram. It is now clear from the various excursions of the Congress scion Rahul Gandhi into the fields of Uttar Pradesh that representing the voices of the aggrieved peasantry over land acquisition has become a national political compulsion.

The compulsion is based on smart political calculation. Despite the eight-nine per cent growth of the Indian economy and the anticipation that it will touch double digit growth soon, the agriculture sector remains the safest and most secure employment generation sector for the majority of Indians. Services and industry account for just over 35 per cent of India's GDP, which is why the peasant vote banks are crucially important to political parties.

Recession hit migrant workers — both in India and China — were emphatic that returning to their villages was the best security they possessed. The gold and gem stone workers in Gujarat and Rajasthan returned to their villages and work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme was their safest bet. In China, recent studies have revealed that 20 million workers returned to the countryside in 2008.

The understanding is that having farmlands to go back to stopped the unemployed migrant workers from demonstrating on the streets of some of China's boomtowns. This, according the researchers, explains why peasants in China are reluctant to give up their rural status, no matter how much they covet the card that registers them as city dwellers. One study by Zhang Zheng of Peking University found that workers in factories in their 30s and 40s are anticipating going back to their villages as soon as the fast-paced work in the assembling plants becomes difficult as age catches up.

As the Singur story reveals, the peasant from Singherbheri, Gopalnagar, Khasherbheri, Beraberi and Bajemelia are anxious to get back their land as it symbolizes stability rather than the uncertainty of investment by industry. Arguments that the land cannot support every member of an increasingly fragmented family are not strong enough to counter the instinctive appeal of security that land represents. As the legal battle rages on over who owns the almost 1,000 acres of land in Singur and how that can be disposed off or returned to the original peasant owners, it is clear that the expectations of the voters are for a 'return' of the land that was acquired.

In 2007, when the Singur agitation gained traction with the support from the Trinamool Congress, it seemed that it was a lonely furrow that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was digging. In 2011 after Greater Noida and at least half-a-dozen similar movements including the Posco agitation in Odhisa, it is obvious that the suspicions of India's peasantry about land acquired for industry have intensified and spread rather than been contained.

That Singur and Nandigram have become a metaphor, used even by judges of the Supreme Court to name the problems relating to land acquisition and the role of the Government is not surprising. Where else but West Bengal would the agitation over acquisition turn so acute? The state's population density of 904 per square kilometers is one simple indicator of why an agitation can turn acute. Where else are there such concentrations of people on land that is to be acquired? Over two-thirds of that population lives in the rural areas and therefore any changes to the rural economy and society will spark off serious opposition. Given that the million and a half population of share croppers own less than two hectares of land per head and that the dispossessed of Singur are staking claims to parcels of land below one acre is proof that the problem was bound to become a crisis.

As representatives of the people, political parties are being compelled to fight against land acquisition that fails to allay the anxieties of the dispossessed. Compensation or a market price is not enough to take away from the peasant the feeling of being 'dispossessed'. Land rows in Uttar Pradesh have shown that the money paid to land sellers is never considered fair. The difference between the price at which the peasant sold land five or 10 years ago and the current price is so great that the original seller feels cheated.

With the experience built up through deaths and much bitterness the political class has to find a solution to the bottleneck that has grown over land sales via acquisition or private deals. It will not suffice for political parties to shift the onus on to investors for buying the land without regulation or intervention by the Government. The peasantry may not agree to the mode because it does know that land sharks will inevitably cheat them.

The proposed changes to the 1894 law on land acquisition, the scramble to put together land banks and create land use maps and the newest tactics of seeking the opinion of the State Government is a silly game of passing the bomb with a lighted fuse. A political class perceived as corrupt and a system of governance that is suspected of diddling the poor is a volatile combination.

The difficulties of governance have simply grown more difficult as the political class has shied away from tackling it honestly. Accustomed to exercising authority, in cahoots with the unscrupulous and dismissive of the claims of the vast underclass the leadership is in trouble and it cannot get away by blaming Singur and its agitation for the problem.







Street battles are raging in Kerala over admission to its private medical colleges which attract students from all over the country. With the managements of these colleges, often run by the Church, refusing to admit meritorious students at normal fees, education is up for sale

Leftist students and youths fought pitched battles with the police on the streets of all major cities and towns of Kerala during the past two weeks over the new Congress-led UDF Government's inability to check the unscrupulous commercialisation of the State's medical education sector by the self-financing professional college managements, especially the Christian managements.

Scores of students and youth suffered serious injuries when the police went on the offensive and beat up students in college campuses and burst bombs at will. Left leaders warned Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, who also handles the Home portfolio, not to hope to defeat the struggle by spilling young blood and thus help the Christian managements to prosper. But the Left, just like the Congress and its UDF allies, is accused of being hypocritical with regard to the issue.

There is no escaping the fact that professional education in Kerala has already been commercialised but it is ironical to see the Leftists filling the streets all of a sudden after sitting idle for five long years when they were in power. They did not (or could not) do anything to stop this commercialisation. Still, the CPI(M)'s youth wing DYFI or student outfit SFI had not shouted even a single slogan against the former LDF Government's suspicious policies in those five years. That is simple politics.

Treacherous start

The self-financing professional education sector of Kerala has not known peace ever since the idea of private medical and engineering education took roots back in 2002 when Mr AK Antony was the Chief Minister. The idea was to give quality professional education — aided with implements the Government could not provide due to funds constraints — to students of the State at commercially viable but reasonable fees.

The Church — as is the case anywhere — was one of the very first players to express interest. Mr Antony designed a plan by which every private college would allocate 50 per cent of its medical and engineering seats to students qualifying in the Government's entrance examinations. The Christian college managements, who now have four medical colleges, agreed but went back on their word later in the absence of a written agreement. The then Chief Minister himself has reportedly said several times that the Church betrayed him.

Blood on the streets

This state of affairs pushed the private professional education sector into the vortex of violent agitations with SFI taking the lead during the admission season of 2005. Protest marches to private medical colleges by SFI activists became rampages and the police faced them with all the force available to them. Mr Chandy, the present Congress Chief Minister, himself was the man ruling over the State then also.

The police-student encounters went on for weeks. They beat up the students without showing any gender bias and burst grenades leading to serious injuries to scores. The Marxists, like in most of their political campaigns in Kerala, created a feeling that Mr Chandy, aided by the repressive police force, was perhaps the worst kind of anti-poor Chief Minister the State had ever seen. All this caused a swell in the popularity of the Left contributing into its thumping victory in the 2006 Assembly polls.

Legislative blunder

On July 2, 2006 the Kerala Assembly unanimously passed the Kerala Professional Colleges Act, designed by then Education Minister MA Baby of the CPI(M), to end the defiance of the managements — mainly the Christian managements — once and for all. As per the law, an admissions and fees regulatory committee was set up.

The managements could squeeze limitless money as fees only from students admitted in the 15 per cent NRI quota. It sought to earmark 10 per cent seats for SC/ST. Again, 25 per cent seats were meant for socially and educationally backward classes, three per cent for the physically challenged, one per cent for cultural achievement, one per cent for sportspersons, and another 12 per cent for those who were not covered by the above factors.

The percentage of seats left for the rich and powerful in each college was thus reduced to a mere 18 per cent, which was enough reason for the Christian managements to go to court. The court considered complaints against overdose of reservations, arbitrary fee-fixing by the regulatory committee and the negation of minority. The Government lost the case and the Act was declared invalid. From that moment on, the Government has virtually had no say in the matter of admissions and fees in self-financing medical colleges.

Lopsided pact

Unable to face the barrage of criticism over the failure in reining in Catholic managements, the LDF regime somehow managed to strike a deal with the managements of the remaining 11 medical colleges (of the Kerala Medical Managements Association). As per this pact, the association's colleges admitted students from the general merit list in 50 per cent of their seats with the fees pegged at a maximum of `1.68 lakh.

However, the Catholic managements saw evil intentions behind this pact as the association was allowed to charge fees as high as `5.5 lakh per annum per student whereas the former was charging only `3.5 lakh. They complained that the association was making more money than themselves this way.

This agreement worked for the past five years to some extent. But After the UDF came to power in May, a Cabinet sub-committee formed for interacting with the professional college managements, allowed the Catholic managements to continue with the old practice of not admitting students from merit list, allegedly as per a plan of the Catholic Ministers in the panel.

This enraged the managements of the other 11 colleges, who declared withdrawal from the five-year-old pact saying fulfilling social justice responsibilities was not their exclusive duty. At the same time, Mr Chandy went on lying or making statements out of ignorance that there was no time for negotiations this year when in actuality the admissions to MBBS course would end only on September 30.


"This will only get worse," says Sudha Subramanian, a parent whose daughter got a post-graduate medical seat in a Catholic college but now stands to lose it due to the recent High court verdict validating the July 7 takeover by the Government of 50 per cent of PG seats in all private colleges. "It seems so many interests are at play here. The colleges want to make money. The politicians in the Congress and its allies want to get their percentage and the Left is taking a very dubious stand," she says. Even the Pariyaram Medical College in Kannur, run by a cooperative society controlled by the CPI(M), has refused to admit students from the general merit list. In fact, Congress's Health Minister Adoor Prakash had bought a PG medical seat there by paying `4 million to the Marxist management.

Hectic parleys are on even now between managements and the Government but nobody expects any positive outcome. "This is business, pure and simple. Let us face it," says Aravindakshan Nair of Alappuzha, who gave up the dream of getting a medical seat for his son two years back. "No court or Government will ask the managements to run colleges on loss. In a capitalist country, the poor can't speak of their rights. They can only hope to get charity from the masters," he says







Throughout his career, Leon Panetta has unfailingly managed to streamline costs. That kind of experience is vital to Barack Obama's forthcoming election, which is expected to focus on financial issues such as the budget deficit, the staggering national debt, minimum wage, and welfare benefits.

June 30 was the final day for US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in office. He is handing the reins over to Mr Leon Panetta, the incumbent director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In this post, Mr Panetta will be succeeded by Gen David Petraeus, who currently leads the Nato International Security Assistance Force and US forces in Afghanistan.

This reshuffling is part of a Government shake-up masterminded by President Barack Obama. His hope is that the incoming Defence Secretary, dubbed "the Surgeon", will be able to mend the Pentagon's ailing finances.

Few nominees for Cabinet positions receive universal approval in the US Senate. Mr Panetta is one of the rare exceptions. The senators voted unanimously in his favour at the June 21 confirmation hearings. The fact that he once left the Republican Party in order to join the Democrats in 1971 may have played a positive role.

Mr Gates, by contrast, who moved to the Pentagon from the CIA in 2006, has always been loyal to Republican Presidents. He resigned after Democrat Bill Clinton arrived in the White House and returned only when Mr George W Bush took over.

A career intelligence officer, Mr Gates could lead effectively under any President, given his diligence and commitment to staying the course. It will be remembered that he went along with Mr Bush's plan to deploy a US missile defence shield in Europe, but readily reconfigured his vision with the advent of Mr Obama.

The Senate's unanimous approval of Mr Panetta suggests that both Democrats and Republicans support the Obama Administration's current policies on Afghanistan.

Both parties realise only too well that US service personnel will not be able to leave Afghanistan and Iraq as scheduled under the Administration's initial exit plan. So the question now is just what kind of role the remaining American troops should assume once their military mission is over. Should they become advisors, instructors, aides?

As a CIA man, Mr Panetta has always been rather skeptical about the Pentagon's capacity to lead Afghanistan all the way to peace and democracy. According to the US media, the Obama Administration has now entered into unofficial negotiations with Taliban leaders over the possibility of brokering a peace with a view to American withdrawal. If these reports are true, the choice of Mr Panetta as the new Pentagon chief looks absolutely appropriate.

Mr Panetta will have to begin his Pentagon service by addressing the department's overstretched budget. The 73-year-old boasts vast experience in the financial sector. At one time, he was head of the House's Appropriations Committee. He also ran the White House Office of Management and Budget under Mr Bill Clinton. Hence, he should be more than familiar with the inner budgetary workings of the US Government.

Mr Obama is now desperately looking for ways to cut Pentagon spending. By the end of July, Congress is expected to have its say on a plan to raise the national debt ceiling. If the limit is not raised, the US Administration may end up broke.

As of today, the US debt ceiling is fixed at $14.3 trillion. But actual debt has already topped $14.32 trillion, forcing the Administration to propose raising the limit to $14.7 trillion.

Mr Panetta is renowned as an efficient budget cutter. Throughout his career, he has unfailingly managed to streamline costs. That kind of experience is vital to Mr Obama's forthcoming election, the focus of which is expected to turn to financial issues, including the budget deficit ($1.4 trillion), the staggering national debt ($14 trillion), minimum wage, and welfare benefits.

The Pentagon's budget is first on the chopping block. Mr Gates managed to reduce the department's spending by $400 billion for the next decade, but Mr Obama wants to at least double that figure. Mr Panetta is clearly the right man for the job at a time that calls for tough fiscal decisions. Such decisions are essential to the nation as well as to its present leader, who hopes to be re-elected in 2012.

Brown University, which is part of the Ivy League along with Yale, Princeton, and Harvard, recently released a report on the costs of the US "war on terror" starting from September 11, 2001. Research fellows at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies say that the amount of money the US has spent on its campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the last decade — $1.3 trillion overall — is just the tip of the iceberg.

According to their estimates, if the war on terror were to end somewhere between 2012 and 2014, the aggregate expenses would likely reach $3.7 — 4.4 trillion — an amount comparable to the US's overall expenditures on WWII, which the Congressional Budget Office reports at $4.1 trillion. The sum in question includes Pentagon and CIA costs, homeland security costs, victim compensation payments, allocations for medical treatment of injured service personnel, and other related expenditures.

As for human loss, Brown University has gathered all official statistics on casualties among US service personnel and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and then compared those figures to the ones cited by Afghan authorities and international organisations.

According to the University's findings, 225,000 - 258,000 people have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the launch of US military campaigns (in 2003 and 2001, respectively); 6,100 of those killed were serving under the American military. At least 14,000 civilians in Afghanistan and 125,000 in Iraq have lost their lives as a result of US-led operations.

Many NGOs question the credibility of these figures, claiming that the actual losses are twice as heavy. They add that about 8 million Afghans and Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes and become refugees as a result of the US campaigns.

That may be a fair point to make, but at least the refugee issue exceeds the scope of the new Defense Secretary's responsibilities.

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







The Telangana issue is on the boil again. The resignations of several pro-statehood MPs and MLAs across parties don't just highlight the long-standing but highly contentious demand for a separate state of Telangana. They also point to the Congress's need to deploy deft firefighters to stop the crisis from escalating in the politically key state of Andhra Pradesh, where rival forces like the YSR Congress and TDP won't hesitate to fish in troubled waters.

In many ways, the Congress has been hoist by its own petard. In the 2004 assembly and parliamentary elections, it promised a separate Telangana state without thinking through the implications, and went into alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi on this plank. That's why it's caught between a rock and a hard place now. The pro-Telangana agitation is likely to snowball if it doesn't follow through on its promises. On the other hand if it accedes to the bifurcation demand there'll be a high price to pay in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, which are likely to erupt as Telangana is erupting now.

In retrospect the Srikrishna committee's preferred approach, of keeping Andhra united while creating a Telangana Regional Council with statutory powers, is a measured one that has something for all stakeholders. Despite Telangana's resentment at perceived discrimination by coastal Andhraites seen as monopolising administration, this isn't a straightforward case where criteria like economic viability and administrative efficiency are applied to grant statehood. Talk of relative backwardness, for example, and Rayalaseema beats Telangana. With many Telangana groups claiming cultural distinctiveness, identity politics is mainly at play. So, bifurcation here would spawn copycat demands elsewhere based on similar divisive grounds. Bengal's Gorkhaland imbroglio, or the Kashmir valley in Jammu & Kashmir, are just some cases in point. Besides, Telangana's 10 districts include Hyderabad, a vibrant IT hub and investment magnet. While bifurcating Andhra, the state capital's status would be another bone of contention.

Pro-statehood groups have indicated they're going for broke. But they may do better by understanding that genuine effort can be made to address Telangana's grievances in less fractious ways. Federalism needn't be considered through a Centre-state prism alone. Establishing a Telangana council could successfully facilitate devolution of political and financial powers to the region. Greater degrees of autonomy must necessarily be a function of governance at the grassroots rather than by remote control, with participation in decision-making and access to funds flowing to local entities. Uneven development, lack of schools and jobs, the unfulfilled promise of inclusive growth - these problems afflict the country as a whole. Creating new states - and new power elites - isn't always the remedy. The answer, rather, is improved and decentralised governance.






Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, addressing heads of local bodies on HIV/AIDS, described homosexuality as "unnatural" and a "disease". If expressed by the ordinary man on the street, such views could have been passed off as expressions of unfortunate - if widespread - ignorance and prejudice. But coming from the man to whom the National AIDS Control Organisation reports, it is potentially dangerous. Health ministers of nations should be the last persons in the business of spreading irrational prejudices; if Azad does so he's not up to his job. As he himself says, identifying the at-risk gay community for AIDS prevention and intervention outreach is a problem. But then he compounds the problem with remarks that stigmatise the gay community, making it difficult for them to come forward and access AIDS services. At a time when India is achieving a measure of success in tackling the AIDS scourge, such retrograde steps are hardly what a health minister should be advocating.

Equally important is the broader issue of every individual's fundamental rights. By decriminalising homosexuality, the judiciary has underscored the importance of inclusiveness as a social value. That is what makes it so important for political figures to send the right message. Instead, we have xenophobic allusions to corrupt foreign influences - a farcical echo of Indira Gandhi's stock-in-trade 'foreign hand' rhetoric - going along with the absurd classification of homosexuality as a disease. Health is an important portfolio, and Azad has displayed no great competence at his job. Given that a cabinet reshuffle is imminent, there is a strong case for handing over his portfolio to somebody else.








Governance in a democracy is propelled by two factors: delegation and accountability. Citizens choose their representatives (MPs or MLAs), delegate constituency responsibilities to them, and hold them accountable in the next election. In turn, legislators delegate authority to ministers, who are accountable to Parliament (or the state assembly).

In practice, the system does not work perfectly. The process of accountability is not always adequate. Public impatience with the quality of governance is often high, as with the UPA administration in the past year. Nevertheless, this template of delegation and accountability is non-negotiable. The alternative would be for every policy action to be referred to the people. This is not practicable.

How does this 'delegation and accountability' equation play out in the context of recent civil society activism? There are those, such as the lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who have suggested that technology now allows us to access public opinion in real time. It is appropriate, therefore, to use this feedback while framing laws and policies.

What does this mean? Does it suggest opinion polls and use of text-message or internet-based surveys? Does it involve referendums? As a device, the referendum is much used in Switzerland. Even laws passed by Parliament can be challenged and nullified. In the Swiss system, an individual citizen can force a plebiscite if he collects 50,000 signatures. Switzerland has a population of eight million. If its standards are applied to India, one is looking at collecting signatures of 7.5 million people.

Clearly the 'go to the people' method is not feasible. How then can policy making and legislation be made more consultative? Civil society groups claim one route is to involve them in the process. They argue that they work among grassroots communities and represent popular opinion. As such, they bring to policy shaping a humane heart, while civil servants and political administrators only contribute a clinical mind. Broadly, this has been the contention of both the Anna Hazare camp as well as members of the National Advisory Council (NAC).

It is apparent a certain populism and emotiveness is built into this civil society argument. Whichever way one considers it, it ends up undermining technocratic specialisation, not to speak of elected government. To be fair, the Congress-led UPA administration has been guilty of encouraging this.

If the UPA wanted civil society activists to be part of its regime, why did it take recourse to an unaccountable body such as the NAC? Why couldn't it, for instance, nominate Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander to the Rajya Sabha - using the 12 seats set aside for eminent persons perhaps - make them ministers and have them defend or answer questions on, say, the Communal Violence Bill or the Food Security Bill in Parliament?

There are other examples. A little over a year ago, the environment minister reduced the debate on Bt (transgenic) brinjal to 'public hearings' in select cities. These meetings were dominated by anti-GM activists. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. Scientific counsel, including from state-appointed bodies, was ignored.

It is possible the minister believed the scientists were wrong and that Bt brinjal was dangerous. Fair enough. If so, doesn't this merit reviewing the mechanism by which governments in India receive science and technology advice? Has that mechanism been altered? No. So were the scientists right or wrong? Were they honest or compromised? You cannot have it both ways.

Another case is of civil society litigants, supported by members of the Planning Commission, challenging the national vaccination programme. They say recommendations of the Indian Council of Medical Research and of the government's technical advisory group on immunisation are incorrect. This may or may not be true - but are civil society groups, with the same set of lawyers jumping from the Lokpal Bill to vaccine delivery, perennial and all-purpose arbiters of the public good?

There is one other point to consider. What happens when civil society groups have opposite views? Are they both right? It is sobering to consider that at the end of the day, such groups are accountable not to an undifferentiated society but to specific stakeholders and - dare one say it - ideologies.

After the Japan earthquake, some civil society groups demanded India scrap nuclear power plants and focus instead on hydroelectricity. Yet, many projects have been stymied by other civil society groups that have made hydropower - rather than nuclear power - their object of hate. So if every thread of civil society is handed a competing veto, how is India expected to give its people electricity?

An analogy would help here. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has over 500 NGOs accredited to it. There are so many of them that they are now classified as BINGOs (business and industry NGOs), ENGOs (environmental), RINGOs (research and independent), TUNGOs (trade union), YENGOs (youth) and IPOs (indigenous people).

Is a climate change treaty that satisfies all such categories and all these NGOs ever possible? Is it easier for 500 civil society groups to agree or for 200 nation states or, better still, for the 25-odd countries critical to the carbon emissions issue? The answer goes beyond accountability and delegation. It is about governance, whether global or domestic, and who can deliver it and who cannot.

The writer is a political commentator.

Blurb: Are civil society groups, with the same set of lawyers jumping from the Lokpal Bill to vaccine delivery, perennial and all-purpose arbiters of the public good?








The Fukushima disaster has cast a cloud on the future of nuclear power. Japan, Germany, Switzerland and China have already decided to curb - or phase out - their reliance on nuclear energy. Public opinion in nuclear-dependent France too is swaying away from it. In Jaitapur there is opposition to a proposed nuclear power plant. However, Anil Markandya , an economist at the University of Bath in England and co-author of a widely talked-about study on human health impacts of nuclear power, maintains that making electricity from nuclear fuels is far less damaging to human health than making it from coal, oil or natural gas. He spoke with Harsh Kabra :

How is nuclear power safer for human health?

Over a range of studies conducted in Europe and the US, the health costs of nuclear power have come out lower than those from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels generate emissions of various pollutants that result in significant health impacts, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, days when you cannot work because of these problems, premature mortality, hospital admissions, chronic bronchitis, loss of life in mining accidents and waste disposal, and so on. Premature deaths from exposure to particulate matter, which is a key pollutant from coal combustion, are estimated to be in the range of 1,50,000 in India. With nuclear power we have none of these issues. The impacts of routine radiation are estimated to be much smaller than those of fossil fuels - by more than an order of magnitude. Of course, we do have the possibility of health costs of nuclear accidents. Nuclear fuels increase the risk of cancer from exposure to radiation, and in special cases, hereditary effects passed on through people exposed to high levels of radiation. But while these are spectacular, accidents such as those at Fukushima and Chernobyl are rare and the resulting losses are not that large compared to the amount of power generated.

What is a fairer basis of assessing the true worth of power sources - hard economics or long-term safety?

In our assessment, we try to include both. The hard economics is modified to include the so-called "external" costs of power generation, so that a fair comparison can be made based on the social costs of each type of power. It is this comparison that changes the rankings of power sources away from coal and, to some extent, in favour of renewable and nuclear power. One problem, however, is that the agencies that make decisions about the sources of power face only the direct costs and not the social costs. So we have to find ways of making them responsive to the true social costs of power.

Given the very few instances of mishaps involving nuclear power plants, isn't there too little data for us to infer on health and social costs, but a great deal of uncertainty over the full impact of such mishaps?

We have to learn from every accident to make sure that the errors that led to it are not repeated. This certainly applies to the cases of Chernobyl and Fukushima. In India, it is imperative that such plants be located, designed and operated according to the highest possible safety standards. But that is possible and the use of nuclear power would serve India well in terms of the three goals of increasing the access of its people to power, reducing their exposure to harmful particles, and reducing the country's contribution to greenhouse gases. It would be a mistake to abandon nuclear power because of Fukushima.






For the world's top tennis players Wimbledon, the Mecca of tennis, is also the most coveted Grand Slam to win. The lure of wresting the championship, the accompanying fame and glory and the prize money of 1.1 million pounds for the singles winner, must be irresistible. All these factors combined make it a fortnight of intensely competitive high-class tennis for players and spectators alike. But, while in a majority of players the event brings out the best, in some it can strangely bring out the worst. The intense pressure of winning sometimes takes its toll, resulting in rather unexpectedly odd behaviour and situations which are not easily forgotten.

"Grass is for cows," said Ivan Lendl, deciding to give Wimbledon a miss in 1982 and going holidaying instead, having never managed to win the title in his otherwise illustrious career. Others just can't handle it and break down. One of the top tennis crybabies has to be Jana Novotna. She is considered to be a bigger choker than the Boston Strangler. She threw away a 4-1 lead in the final set of the 1993 Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf. As Novotna waited for the presentation ceremony, she collapsed in a sobbing heap on the shoulders of the Duchess of Kent. Now, crying is one thing - crying in front of royals is another entirely.

Then there are the perennial grunters. Their high decibel grunts could cause a serious inferiority complex even in the king of the jungle. Why some players grunt so heavily while hitting the ball back to the opponent remains a mystery and a question of debate and research. Whether they do it just to cover up their own nervousness is difficult to say. One thing is for sure; with high-decibel grunts, they do manage to distract and upset their opponents to some extent. Monica Seles was a champion grunter during her time and has now been replaced by Maria Sharapova. The latter's grunts have been measured at 101 decibels, almost as loud as a lion's roar (110)! It was Seles though who inspired the "gruntometer", which measures grunt noise on the court.

Wimbledon has also had its own crop of super brats and street fighters. Topping the list is Nasty Ilie Nastase closely followed by John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Nastase permanently etched the template for tennis bad boys, setting the standard against which all are measured today. He is remembered most of all for his frequently bizarre and objectionable behaviour on court. He is reported to have said, "As long as i can get angry, then i play well. If i play well, i can beat anybody. I am happy because i am getting angry."

Jimmy Connors is considered one of the most foul-mouthed players in the history of professional tennis. His favourite pastime was swearing at umpires when things went against him, but the tennis legend was also not above scuffling with the crowd. Besides his linguistic achievements which centred on introducing the F-word to juvenile tennis audiences around the world, Connors also managed to alienate other players on tour, building a reputation as the least popular player of his era.

John McEnroe set the bar for bad behaviour in tennis matches during the 1970s. He boasted a complete repertoire, ranging from racquet throwing, swearing and fighting with umpires to some of the most ungracious defeats ever witnessed by tennis fans. When he was just 20, he was nicknamed "Super Brat" by the British tabloids in 1979. It is estimated that McEnroe paid back a significant portion of the $12 million he earned out of tennis in fines for bad behaviour, swearing and misconduct. He also struggled to find endorsement deals - few companies wished to have their products associated with the super brat.







The storm over the controversial Telangana issue, having abated for a while, has returned as a hurricane with at least 14 Lok Sabha MPs and 82 MLAs from the state, cutting across party lines, having submitted their resignations. The bandhs and agitations planned at the behest of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti which is spearheading the separate statehood for Telangana campaign will mean another round of chaos and hardship for people in the state. The state government is not in immediate danger but the Centre will now be forced to act to contain the crisis.

The agitation got a fillip when the Centre, after promising in 2009 to initiate a consultative process for statehood, was unable to deliver. The Srikrishna Commission which submitted its report on the issue earlier was unable to come up with a solution acceptable to the pro-Telangana agitators. Its central theme was that a unified Andhra Pradesh with possible Union Territory status for Hyderabad could have been a workable option. The Centre which has asked for more time for the consultative process to come up with a solution by consensus has very few options which will work on the ground. One is to accept a separate state which then raises the question of the status of Hyderabad. The other is to have a time-bound programme to devolve powers to an eventual state and the third would to have a special and extremely generous package for the Telangana region but stop short of a separate state. The Congress governments both at the state and Centre are caught between the devil and the deep sea. Any attempt to grant Telangana would mean unrest in Rayalaseema which opposes a division of the state. The Maoists could take advantage of a fledgling state and regroup after having been on the backfoot for quite a while. But as is the wont with such emotionally charged agitations, the pro-Telangana protestors have adopted an intractable position.

The usual ploy of endless consultations and discussions hoping that the issue will die down is not likely to work this time given the support across the political spectrum. Hundreds of people have died and many students have lost at least one college year, thanks to endless bandhs and violence over this issue. In these troubled waters, the BJP has also begun fishing for political dividends in a state which it has yet to crack. The best that the Centre can do is to agree to introduce the statehood bill as early as possible and hope that it is able to iron out contentious issues through deft bargaining. This is the only way that the Centre can keep its head above the water even as the hurricane does its worst.




The heterosexual health minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, doesn't like homosexual men. Not because he is upset that no gay man fancies him much, but because he thinks that the time is right to "reach out to the masses if we want to bring down HIV numbers, especially among high-risk category people such as those indulging in unnatural sex, like men who have sex with men". What reaching out to the masses has to do with homosexuality has been left tantalisingly unsaid. But

Mr Azad added to drive home the flabby point that "the disease of men having sex with men is unnatural and not good for Indian society". He was mum about whether it was good for, say, Venezuelan or Pakistan-Occupied Kashmiri society.

Luckily for him, he was not addressing a conference in Orissa where keener listeners would have immediately castigated him for his homophobia. Mr Azad was launching forth about the difficulties of identifying and reaching out to MSMs — not short messaging service for dyslexics but 'Men having Sex with Men' — at the National Convention of Zila Parishad chairpersons and mayors on HIV and Aids in Delhi that was attended by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, both naturally heterosexual.

Truckers, female sex workers (NGOs and the health ministry haven't yet found a good acronym for male sex workers), drug users sharing needles and heterosexuals, who were keenly following the minister's speech, were relieved that the man responsible for the nation's health policies found them natural and untainted by Mr Azad's — and Baba Ramdev's — identification of a disease. If we have one concern, it is this: that in 2011 India, where homosexuality has been decriminalised, Mr Azad has been silent about the biggest silent terror of them all — onanism, which we're sure he believes to be the root cause of India's 12 million-odd blind population and which is responsible for making so many of us, our national hockey team included, so weak.






Large numbers of teachers, students and non-teaching staff have been complaining over the past few years about over-crowded class rooms, libraries and laboratories, rapidly worsening employment and working conditions, declining student-teacher interactions and falling academic standards. Anxieties regarding inordinately high CBSE marks, inadequate state funding, and the uneven spread of quality higher education across the country and at Delhi University have been repeatedly voiced.

Calls have gone out to college and university administrations to secure and expand employment and infrastructure, including hostels, especially for women, so that problems stemming from admission procedures and 'over admissions' may start getting addressed without closing all doors to increasing numbers of admission seekers and ensuring that the ratio of reserved to general seats is maintained. Currently, 'over admissions' take place mainly in the general category, mocking the proportions between reserved and general seats. Teachers have demanded thoroughly debated course revisions and re-appraisal of the existing internal assessment scheme.

Sensitisation campaigns by students and teachers against rampant violence, sexual harassment and gender, class, caste, abilities, community and race-based discrimination on campus, have demanded intervention by the administration to create an enabling environment where everyone benefits from the educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, the silence of the administration on these concerns, their refusal to listen to and encourage debate so that academic reform could come to the university organically, have meant the steady impoverishment of intellectual life.

The crippling blow to DU's academic standing has come over the last two years, from the arbitrary decision of the administration, at the behest of the ministry of human resource development, to rapidly  impose the semester system. Out of the blue, anti-academic 'reform' blows have been inflicted upon the university. All energies are now directed at tearing apart a sound though not perfect annual system of Honours teaching. A massive structural change with major implications for the quality of university life is being rammed from above as a decision already taken, instead of being discussed by members of the academic community in a democratic and open-minded manner. Neither the questions raised internationally regarding the assumed superiority of semestered education, nor the academic, pedagogic and functional concerns articulated by teachers and students regarding the semester system at DU have even been acknowledged.

Irresponsible and thoughtless adhocism is substituting preparatory groundwork and defined structures. Nobody knows, for instance, how semester-based timetables are to be prepared or how two university-wide examinations are to be conducted in a year for 400,000 students spread over 75 colleges along with the School of Open Learning. Sound decisions questioning the semester system taken at general body meetings of teachers from across colleges and the patient brainstorming to create a meaningful syllabi are being rubbished, and teachers forced to improvise course structures,  or cobble together new ones overnight.

If the experience of the forced semester system in the 13 science courses is anything to go by, the prospect of a university-wide debasement of the substance of teaching and learning, a huge spike in alienation and anxiety among students and teachers, the exclusion of the most vulnerable students and unimaginable administrative chaos at DU stares us in the face.

The semester system has also blown a hole through democratic practices. The exclusion of the university community from the processes of 'academic reform', the contempt for debate, the intimidation of teachers, and the substantive violation of democratic procedures by the administration augur ill for the future. Shockingly, even the Delhi high court, reserving judgement on the issue, has, through partisan orders, allowed the DU administration to introduce the semester system while increasingly curbing teachers' rights to dissent and protest. With 'dons' armed with emergency powers on the rampage, courts and cops in tow, DU stands on the brink of academic catastrophe.

The only sliver of hope lies in that the current silence among teachers, reflecting largely a reluctant complicity with the unconscionable, may end and spark another 'springtime of the people'. One hopes that the dissonant opening notes to 2011-12 may yet reveal symphonic harmonies.

Mukul Mangalik is an associate professor in history at Ramjas College, Delhi.The views expressed by the author are personal.






Our irrepressible health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is rarely seen or heard when it comes to his ministry. When he is, it is usually for the wrong reason, like his latest comment on homosexuality being unnatural and a disease. But once in a while when he makes a pertinent suggestion on healthcare, we are all ears. Earlier this year, he said that we need out-of-the-box solutions for healthcare in remote areas. How very right. But, what about run-of-the-mill solutions that we need in healthcare even in premier public hospitals in metropolises? The deaths of around 20 children in two days in a top government-run hospital in Kolkata have evoked little reaction at the national and state level. Surely, this merited a comment from the health minister more than his odd remark on sexual orientation.

The curious antidote of a top politician dashing to the site of the deaths has been administered. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took a bit of time off from telling off 'exploitative' industrialists to go across to the hospital, an act which no doubt sent shivers down the administration's spine. The hospital is just one among the many, many government hospitals which seem to have no clue about paediatric and neo-natal care.

In Kerala, held up a model for its low infant mortality, government hospitals are a fright to behold. It was not long ago that we saw pictures of poor mothers lying on the floor with their newborn infants while stray dogs roamed about the wards. When confronted with mounting child deaths in government hospitals in 2007, the CPI(M)'s state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan suggested that this was a conspiracy to facilitate the entry of private players into the health sector. What Vijayan did not mention is that the private sector is very much there, with 70% of people's health needs catered to by it, often at usurious rates thanks to a failed public health system.

In the meantime, we blithely sign on to every international convention on reducing infant mortality. The figures on the ground show that we don't take these very seriously. If we did, surely we would have given the health portfolio to a proactive person who would really think out of the box and come up with innovative solutions. It is inexplicable how we take such great pride in our young population while at the same time calmly accepting these appalling levels of infant deaths.

The cavalier response to such deaths, both on the part of hospital administrations and the governments at the Centre and the state, seems to suggest that babies somehow are identity-less and therefore, their deaths matter less. Invariably, it is the poor whose children die in such numbers. It is the poor who have to rely on the mirage of a public health system for the survival of their children. In most cases, the babies die of septicemia, asphyxia, infections facilitated by prematurity, diarrhoea or respiratory infections. Many ailments among infants can be prevented by vaccines. If the child is brought to the hospital with almost all the problems listed above, she can be treated with basic medicines.

The problem with our so-called subsidised government healthcare is that like free electricity, it is there only in name. It is not uncommon to see the parents of poor children scurrying around trying to buy medicines and syringes which the supposedly free government hospital conveniently does not stock. For a child already weakened by illness with no immune system to speak of, the delay in treatment of a few minutes could be fatal.

The attitude even in premier hospitals like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi to the poor whose legitimate right it is to avail of subsidised, if not free, healthcare is appalling. While the influential glide into laughably cheap rooms and are waited upon by specialists, the poor end up on the pavements outside, begging for attention.

How delightful is our rhetoric of raising an army of barefoot doctors, who will repay the state that has provided them subsidised education. But we need to get real. No one who has lived through the post-economic reforms era is going to be filled with the milk of human kindness and waste a year of potentially high earnings in the greater good of the nation. Which of us would be willing to send our children to villages with no medical equipment or medicines to repay a debt of gratitude to the nation? We should, but we wouldn't.

And we don't really need to get very much out of the box to reform the health system. It is at birth that the greatest input can be made for the future welfare of a baby. The mother needs a safe and clean delivery and should be made aware of the importance of safe nutrition, in this case breastmilk, for her child. For this, we need to strengthen the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and induct more local workers into the system. If the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme were to dovetail with the NRHM, then half the problem could be licked.

We can only be grateful that Mamata Banerjee did not discern a dastardly CPI(M) plot in the recent spate of baby deaths in Kolkata. Such attempts to politicise problems brought about by neglect and lack of priorities have served to deflect attention from the fact that it has been a walkover for the private sector in healthcare with the public health system having all but abandoned the field. We hear that India is only interested in attracting medical tourists in order to make money. But it is not that they are coming here at the cost of our dying children. On the contrary, the money they bring in for a nip and tuck would be useful to make healthcare cheaper even in the private sector, if it were so inclined. And it might if the government, instead of casting itself in an adversarial role vis-à-vis the private sector, were to incentivise care for the underprivileged.

The parents of the children who are dying in government hospitals have no spokespersons like Anna Hazare or Kiran Bedi, they have no one to file a PIL on their behalf, they have no one willing to hold a candlelight vigil for their dead children. They unfortunately only have the State to turn to, a State which has for a long time now turned its back on them.







There's no need to be dogmatic about the Oxford comma

Wc ho gives a fuck about an Oxford omma?' asked the band Vampire Weekend. Quite a few people, it turns out, including the entire population of the United States (or the significant proportion thereof that uses Twitter).

The horrified reaction to last week's much retweeted, if inaccurate, claim that "Oxford University is abandoning the Oxford comma" was led by Americans alarmed at this new threat to the special relationship. This is unsurprising, as traditional US language guides, from the worthy but dull Strunk & White's Elements of Style to the dull but worthy Chicago Manual of Style, regard the Oxford (or serial) comma -the last in a list, immediately before the word `and' -as mandatory.

Indeed it is No 2 in Strunk & White's "elementary rules" of usage: "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last." To true believers in this maxim, a flag that you or I might regard as red, white and blue is in fact red, white, and blue. (The rule has the potential to introduce enough unnecessary pauses to your prose to make a shopping list read like something by Harold Pinter.)

The furore led many people to assume that Oxford University Press, champion of the eponymous comma, had changed sides -a typical reaction was "Are you people insane? The Oxford comma is what separates us from the animals" -but, as ends of the world go, the truth was distinctly un-apocalyptic.
It turned out that a writing guide produced some time ago by the university's public affairs directorate for press releases and internal communication had advised: "As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write `a, b and c' not `a, b, and c'."

It added, however, that such a comma might help clarify a sentence or resolve ambiguity, especially where an item in the list was already joined by `and'. This sensible advice is similar to the Guardian Style Guide approach: "Straightforward lists (he ate ham, eggs and chips) do not need a final comma, but sometimes it can help the reader (he ate cereal, kippers, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade, and tea)." The guide goes on to say -and I honestly can't remember if I made up this joke, or stole if from elsewhere -"Sometimes it is essential: compare `I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling' with `I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling'."

In a characteristically thoughtful piece on his `Sentence first' blog, Stan Carey quotes the example, "encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector", pointing out that an Oxford comma after `demigod' would only introduce another ambiguity (is Mandela a demigod, a dildo collector, a demigod and a dildo collector, or none of the above?).

In short, it's as unwise to say always use an Oxford comma as it is to say never use one. The best rule is common sense.

The Guardian The views expressed by the author are personal




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






The Congress's self-inflicted wound in Andhra Pradesh over the Telangana issue continues to make it bleed. On Monday, 42 Congress MLAs from the region resigned from the state assembly, including 11 ministers in the Congress's state government led by N. Kiran Kumar Reddy. Thirty-four MLAs of the Telugu Desam Party and 10 MPs also quit. It is not yet certain whether the Andhra Pradesh resignations will be accepted by the speaker, or what effect, if any, they will have on the government. While the immediate problem is political, and most impactful in Hyderabad, the eventual cause and solution are to be found in New Delhi. While it may rage politically, it is at heart an administrative issue — which makes it particularly troubling that the Centre has allowed it to grow to this level.

The inactivity of the Centre when it comes to dealing with the Telangana issue is inexcusable. It has been known for some time what the contours of the problem are — and yet the government seems to think that, if it looks in the other direction hard enough, the problem will go away. Increasingly clearly, that will not happen. The crisis was precipitated by an ill-thought-out statement in December 2009 that seemed to suggest statehood was imminent; the Centre then backed away, realising that political consensus in the state was hard to achieve. But in the time since then, which has seen the drafting and release of an excellent report that lays out various solutions to the problem, the Centre has not moved forward one way or the other.

After all, the overall problem is well understood. Those from Telangana resent what they see as the dominance of Andhra Pradesh by those from outside their region. The rest of Andhra Pradesh is unwilling to see a Telangana state if that means losing Hyderabad. Simply put, this problem is not going to be solved by waiting, nor has its shape changed since 2009. It needs the Centre to work on an administrative solution, which may involve allowing for a new urban centre, and for an out-of-the-box approach to Hyderabad. In the Srikrishna report, various options for Telangana's autonomy as well as Hyderabad's final status were laid out, which could provide the Centre with room to avoid in what may seem to be a zero-sum game. The Congress's own political quagmire in Andhra Pradesh should not have inhibited the Centre from addressing this complex problem.







At an HIV/AIDS conference, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad decided it was time for some straight talk on homosexuality, that Western perversion that's now creeping into India, and what to do about it. In his own words, "the disease of "men having sex with men", which was found more in the developed world, has now unfortunately come to our country and there is a substantial number of such people in India. These "unnatural" acts were not easy to detect, he said, and added that better sex education could help counter this "disease" by addressing high-risk groups like gay men and sex workers.

Whether his remarks stem from old-fashioned bigotry or cluelessness (thinking that homosexuality directly causes AIDS), Azad has just uttered the words that reveal him as unfit to run the health ministry. He is an ocean of strange notions — in the past, he has also suggested that getting more people to watch TV would be an effective form of contraception. But these latest gaffes are simply too significant to be ignored. The LGBT community and its allies won a clear, resounding victory around this time two years ago. The Delhi high court reversed a century and a half of a homosexual-hating law, when it read down Section 377, meant to stamp out "carnal intercourse against the order of nature". Ironically enough, it was the health ministry's intervention that helped decriminalise homosexuality then. However, that triumph is yet to be internalised in India. Sexual intolerance gets a free pass all too often, and being gay is viewed as a deviant condition, actively repressed or ridiculed.

Ghulam Nabi Azad might claim he didn't know better, and perhaps he was voicing the unexamined, prejudiced norm — but that's precisely why such opinions must be vigorously and visibly countered, as a demonstration that such words have no place in a reasonable public discourse. The fact that he is health minister makes this ignorance doubly damning. Apart from homophobia, Azad's words also betray his muddled grasp of the HIV challenge. His views must be emphatically and publicly rejected by the government.






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.








The latest Supreme Court order appointing two former justices to superintend the special investigation team (SIT) on black money is a serious indictment of government. It reflects a widespread sentiment about the laws of government motion: government is a body that will not move unless compelled by an external force. A shameless government is provoking a thousand saviours to step in and save the country. The Supreme Court is, rightly, trying to hold the government to account. Its indignation at the government too is widely shared. But we should be under no illusion that this order is itself a symptom of a crisis of governance. It is not a solution to it.

This is an interim order and has to be read with appropriate caveats. But it is unprecedented. It has a couple of solid technical points. It, for example, dismisses the government's plea that bilateral treaties prevent the government from revealing the names of those being investigated for holding foreign bank accounts. The court, persuasively, regards these arguments unfounded based on the text of the treaty and a common sense interpretation of the law. The court is also, not for the first time, relying on judges to goad an SIT into action. But this use of the SIT is unprecedented in several respects. Most SITs are formed around specific cases and allegations. This particular SIT is now charged with "preparing a comprehensive action plan, including the creation of necessary institutional structures that can enable and strengthen the country's battle against generation of unaccounted monies, and their stashing away in foreign banks, or in various forms domestically".

All depends on how the SIT is operationalised. But this is an astonishingly wide and unspecific mandate that requires the committee to take over the governance function of every executive agency, from the Enforcement Directorate to the RBI, from the CBI to the CBDT. With all due respect to the court, this is deeply problematic. There is no doubt that black money is a serious issue. But other than a vague appeal to Article 32, such sweeping mandates should have some basis in law. The paradox of our times, exemplified by the court, is that in the name of restoring some general conception of the rule of law we now don't have to worry about any specific laws or legal doctrine.

The court's intentions are noble. But it should have also taken cautionary tales from its own history. Faced with executive abdication, it tried taking environmental governance almost entirely into its own hands. The results were not salutary. The lesson the court should have drawn is that it should put pressure on the government in specific cases, not imagine that committees can be a substitute for governance.

But there are two more things troubling about the judgment. The court seems to unwittingly legitimise the politics of innuendo against respected institutions. Take one example. The court, without serious comment, makes broad claims the petitioners made about UBS the basis of its argument. The petitioners alleged that in 2007 the RBI had some "knowledge of the dubious character" of UBS, that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) had alleged that UBS played a role in the 2004 stock market crash. UBS applied for a licence to operate in India. It was granted an in-principle approval, which was then withheld in 2008 pending investigation of the Hasan Ali case. The RBI reversed its decision in 2009. The petitioners allege that this could have been accomplished "only through high level intervention and that it is further evidence of the linkages between members of the political class and possibly even the bureaucracy and such banking operations and the illegal activities of Hasan Ali".

We should not second guess whether UBS is guilty or not. The whole saga of banking approvals is complex. But instead of legitimising this innuendo, the court could have examined this claim on its merits. By including it, without comment, the court has unwittingly cast aspersion on the integrity of the RBI. But consider this. In 2005, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Ruma Pal and A.R. Lakshmanan declined to stay a portion of the order passed by the Securities Appellate Tribunal that overturned a Sebi ban on trading activities of UBS Securities; in 2009 the Supreme Court put its imprimatur on a compromise between Sebi and UBS. Would it be fair for anyone to conclude that there is a Supreme Court-UBS nexus, just because the court allowed UBS Securities to trade? But this is exactly the same logic the petitioners seem to be applying to the RBI, without a comment from the court. The court itself has so many occasions to sort out the truth. The need of the hour is a judicious sifting of the truth, not a broad-based innuendo on the legitimacy and function of every institution.

But this order is also a sweeping ideological broadside. Some elements of this are entirely reasonable. The Supreme Court ought to remind the government of its constitutional duties. But despite a qualifier that it does not want to wade into the thicket of models of development, the court has launched a rather undiscriminating broadside against what it calls "neo-liberalism". This broadside would be amusing but for the fact that this inchoate critique is now being widely regarded as the right diagnosis of corruption. It again gives credence to the idea that everything is conspiratorial. Take this gem: "From within the neo-liberal paradigm also emerged the undergirding of the thought that revenues for the state implies a big government, and hence strong tax collecting machinery itself would be undesirable." I am never sure what the judges mean by "neo-liberal". Even the most ardent votaries of the market insist that India's tax over GDP ratios should increase dramatically. This statement is not just a gross misrepresentation of every reformer; it seamlessly moves from specific cases to global ideological conspiracies. The judges are right in pointing out that the market will not solve everything. But they fail to consider that their "predatory capitalism" exists most in sectors where the state has to make allocative decisions: mining, spectrum, land. The court's legitimation of all kinds of sweeping historical claims is as much about a jurisprudence of exasperation as it is about justice.

India's crisis of governance is producing knights in shining armour by the dozen. This is the vitality of our society. But all kinds of roles are getting confused, perhaps even between a pulpit and a court of law. The Supreme Court is, rightly, our most esteemed institution. After all, if it does not exercise fine-grained judgment, who will?

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi,







Five weeks have gone by since the term of Nepal's Constituent Assembly was extended to complete the peace process and to bring out the first comprehensive draft of a new constitution. In the first fortnight of the extended tenure, a task force headed by Maoist leader Prachanda went to great lengths to iron out differences between the three major political parties, but the efforts have been frittered away in an increasingly polarised political landscape.

The task force had suggested that Nepal adopt the French model of government, with an executive president directly elected by the people. But this has been rejected outright by the Nepali Congress, a votary of the Westminster model. Nilambar Acharya, chairman of the constitutional committee that is to prepare the draft based on agreements reached by political parties to be later adopted by the House, has warned that completing his job by the deadline of August 18 will be impossible if major issues are not settled at least by July 14.

Meanwhile, President Ram Baran Yadav, in his address to the House on government programme and policies on July 3, asked political parties to work relentlessly to deliver the constitution by the new deadline. He went on to promise that the government is committed to an ambitious development agenda and promoting the hydro-power sector. But in a country where political parties are now seen more as enemies of peace, stability and development, the president's speech is likely to be treated as ceremonius lip service rather than as a promise to be taken seriously.

Here is one reason for such disillusionment. The government has not provided security to the India-aided Upper Karnali hydro-power project that was abandoned after the project

office was destroyed two months ago. Foreign investors, especially from India, China and the US, are keen to put up the capital, provided there is a conducive atmosphere for it. But neither the government nor the political parties seem serious about this.

Popular anger and frustration are growing, especially since the House, which has been extended twice already, is unlikely to deliver the constitution on deadline. So much so that there are accusations that the big political parties are influenced by foreign funding. Almost taking cognizance of this mood in Nepal, the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), a major donor in matters of peace process, democratisation and security, hinted that it would no longer fund non-governmental organisations associated with political parties. The DFID's warning comes nearly two months after it stopped aid to the Nepali Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, which has been agitating for ethnicity-based provinces when a federal government comes to power under the new constitution.

NGOs, with some notable exceptions, are being seen as fronts for political play. There are more than 50,000 NGOs in the country — said to be averaging 12 per village — and together their funds are considered to be bigger than the proposed national budget of 381 billion Nepali rupees for the financial year beginning mid-July. The biggest beneficiaries of external funding are believed to be NGOs with links to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), which heads the coalition government. The two other major parties — the Nepali Congress and the Maoists — too have NGOs with overt or covert affiliations. With no regulatory laws or mechanisms in place, even ministers and advisers to the government have in the recent past headed NGOs dealing with democratic rights, human rights, anti-corruption campaign, security sector and empowerment. Ironically, despite the donors raising the issue of corruption in government, the lack of transparency in financial dealings has made them hugely unpopular and controversial of late.

With the discontent becoming all pervasive, the three major political parties are contemplating forming local governments, an institution that ceased to exist in 2001. Local governments, they say, can be formed on the basis of votes polled in the election to the Constituent Assembly held in April 2008. There is no need, they insist, to hold fresh elections.

Power by any means — at the national as well as at the local level — continues to be the motto of the parties. And they pursue that in the name of peace, constitution and economic prosperity.







If actions speak louder than words, then the government has just spoken loud and clear. There could be no stronger indication of the government's lack of serious intent in building an effective anti-corruption regime than the decision to remove the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) law.

Without any discussion in the public domain, the government has decided to use Section 24 of the RTI Act to exempt the CBI — a decision with far-reaching consequences that would put an end to the CBI's credibility, and also undermine the RTI Act.

Section 24 of the RTI Act provides that the law shall not apply to "intelligence and security agencies" as notified by the appropriate government. For all the sunshine that the RTI Act of 2005 has brought to our democracy, Section 24 is its darkest spot — a loosely worded blanket exemption from the RTI. As feared, the Centre has placed no less than 23 agencies under this exemption, including ones like the Enforcement Directorate. West Bengal has even classified legislative affairs under the "intelligence and security" exemption, and Uttar Pradesh has claimed it for civil aviation! The proviso to Section 24 that permits citizens to seek information related to human rights violations and corruption of exempted agencies is a very poor safeguard, as it shields the agencies from questions that would help prove corruption and human rights violations in the first place.

Now the CBI, India's premier investigation agency, tasked with investigating cases of grand corruption and high-profile crime, has been removed from public scrutiny. The citizen can no longer ask the CBI about its appointments, efficiency, processes, allocation and expenditure, its progress in cases assigned to it or anything about its investigations. For instance, is the Supreme Court-ordered inquiry into MNREGA corruption in six Orissa districts worthy of blanket secrecy? Or the Arushi Talwar murder case, or the Commonwealth Games, or the 2G scam? And most significant — will the investigating agency of the proposed Lokpal (in whatever form) also be classified as an intelligence agency, and exempted from transparency and the RTI Act?

Let us understand the full implications of this decision. The justification provided is that the CBI also plays an intelligence-gathering role. To colour the whole agency by a small part of what it does is a classic case of the government misusing its powers to shield the entire agency. People cannot be faulted for wondering if the government wants to convert the CBI into a dirty tricks department. "Intelligence gathering" in such agencies is supposed to be so secret that even the government may not know (for instance) who is bugging whom, and for what purpose. Such "secret" agencies have been questioned in countries across the world, because their acts cannot stand scrutiny or be justified under the law.

The implications also extend beyond the CBI. There were many agencies, including the defence ministry and armed forces, the president's office, and even the office of the Chief Justice of India, which sought exemption from RTI. To the government's credit, it did not succumb. However, now will the government be able to prevent others from creeping in? Tomorrow all investigating agencies like the police and the criminal investigating departments will also claim immunity. Instead of trying to pass off the CBI as the "Central Bureau of Intelligence", the government should have notified rules that would have established strict standards for including any agency under Section 24, and removed the many agencies that have no justification for being in the list.

This is not to say that all information with the government should be in the public domain. Section 8(1) of the RTI Act gives adequate protection under the following provision: "There shall be no obligation to give any citizen, a) "information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence"...(f) "information received in confidence from foreign government; (g) "information, the disclosure of which would endanger the life or physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence for law enforcement or security purposes; (h) "information which would impede the process of investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders."

These are sufficient safeguards even for intelligence and security agencies. But the CBI is not an intelligence and security agency. At the time that the RTI Act came into effect, the incumbent director of the CBI, Vijay Shankar, categorically stated that the CBI would be much healthier by functioning under the RTI. India's first chief information commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, has written to the PM warning against the decision to exempt the CBI and stated that as the information commissioner handling the CBI, he came across no case that justified exemption for the agency. In fact, having had the CBI under the RTI for five years should provide us more than enough experience to show that the RTI has not made the agency any the weaker.

It is reported that the solicitor general and the attorney general of India have given legal opinions that permit the government to bring the CBI into the black hole of Section 24. The attorney general's opinion has been accessed by some RTI activists where he cites many cases where the CBI has dealt with sensitive security matters. However, he does not apply his mind to the existing safeguards under Section 8(1), the role of the information commissions, and the courts that can prevent the disclosure of sensitive information. Most significantly, the attorney general concludes by saying, "I have dealt with the legal tenability of such an exemption. The question whether such an exemption should be granted is a policy decision." And for the government, there lies the rub.

The UPA must understand the message it is giving the country by placing the premier anti-corruption agency under wraps. It is only feeding into the allegations that the CBI has become the "Congress Bureau of Investigation". The political fallout of this decision extends beyond the CBI. The RTI Act has been one of the outstanding successes of the UPA government. There have already been numerous attempts from within to undermine it. This move threatens to push the RTI Act into a black hole and wipe out the new sunshine of transparency. In the current debate about an effective Lokpal, the government will find it impossible to convince the country that it is serious about fighting corruption. Exempting the CBI casts a shadow on the UPA's stated intent to promote a transparent and accountable system. The people must protest vociferously to get this unjustified decision reversed.

The writers are RTI activists with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. Roy is a member of the National Advisory Council







Crude excuses

The editorial in CPM journal People's Democracy focuses on the recent increase in the prices of petroleum products, claiming that the government was hoodwinking the people when it declared that the 5 per cent import duty on crude oil had been withdrawn. "As a matter of fact, the UPA 2 government imposed this tax in the Union budget of 2010 despite strong opposition, including a cut motion in the Lok Sabha by the opposition parties," it says. The editorial argues that reducing taxes was ineffective without restructuring of indirect taxes both at the Centre and the states.

It says that in 2010-2011, the contribution of the petroleum sector to the Centre was Rs 1,36,000 crore and to the states, about Rs 80,000 crore. "The subsidy provided by the government including the oil bonds issued on the public sector oil marketing companies during the same period is Rs 40,000 crore, which is 20 per cent of petroleum sector's contribution in taxes and duties. Aam admi pays Rs 100 as taxes/duties and gets Rs 20 as so-called subsidy! ...Who is subsidising whom?" it asks. Claiming that petroleum products worth Rs 1 lakh crore were being exported by private refineries, it asks "why are these 'incentives' not being withdrawn?"

Fair warning

After the draft CAG report on Krishna-Godavari basin gas contracts, an article by CITU leader Dipankar Mukherjee in People's Democracy demands that accountability be fixed. He says the government had informed the Rajya Sabha as early as 2006 that the private consortium had submitted a development plan that envisaged increase in production from 40 to 80 mmscmd and increase in expenditure from $2.47 billion to $8.84 billion. From then on, he says, CPM MPs had written several letters to the PM and petroleum minister seeking the government's intervention, claiming that the expenditure per unit of production had been inflated abnormally. The PM was urged to stop "gold-plating" and ensure that the price of gas was not arbitrarily increased.

"No action was taken other than mere acknowledgement," he says and argues that, later, the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, also expressed similar apprehension in letters to the PM. The article says that the cabinet secretary — who was asked to look into the matter — also suggested that the government in consultation with the CAG appoint an international auditor who has sufficient experience in the field of oil exploration and production. "The report was sent to the PMO. Did the prime minister/government consult CAG and appoint an international auditor? Who should be blamed for not taking any preventive step to stop the revenue loss, though cautioned repeatedly by CPM MPs, AP chief minister and even the cabinet secretary? Where should the buck stop?"

Nuclear folly

Saying that the Nuclear Suppliers Group has passed a new set of guidelines restricting transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to countries that have not signed the NPT, the editorial in CPI journal New Age says Prime Minister Singh owes an explanation to the nation.

Singh had, it says, insisted on concluding the nuclear deal under US pressure: "To achieve this goal, his dispensation not only indulged in the dirty game of 'cash for vote' but also made false promises... the PM personally assured the Lok Sabha that the NSG agreed to waive all restrictions."







Mosquito fleet

As the world waits warily for the launch of Beijing's first aircraft carrier, which is now expected to take place some time next month, China's East Asian neighbours have their hands full dealing with its maritime militias.

Last month, China announced plans for a significant expansion of its Maritime Surveillance Force, a law enforcement agency that polices its coastal waters. The MSF will get an extra 16 aircraft and 350 vessels by 2015, and boost its current 9000 personnel, mainly ex-Navy men, to 15,000 by 2020. The number of patrol vessels in its fleet will rise to 520 by 2020, most likely to be deployed in the contested waters of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

While China claims almost all the waters of the South China Sea, other states in the littoral like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have competing territorial claims. In the East China Sea, Japan and China have been quarrelling over islands, fisheries and offshore hydrocarbon reserves.

The Maritime Surveillance Force is only one of the five agencies responsible for law and enforcement in the waters that China claims. The others are the Coast Guard, which is a military force that constantly patrols the coasts. The Maritime Safety Administration handles search and rescue along the coast. The Fisheries Law Enforcement Command polices fishing grounds. The Customs Service polices smuggling.

Michael Richardson of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore reports that Beijing is also organising its massive fishing fleet to contribute to maritime security. In recent years, Chinese fishing boats have played a crucial role in harassing US naval vessels and Southeast Asian oil and gas survey ships in the South China Sea, as well as Japan Coast Guard patrol ships in the East China Sea.

China's asymmetric naval tactics make it difficult to blame the PLAN for maritime incidents while achieving many strategic objectives in its contested waters that Beijing claims as its own, Richardson notes.

Maritime Confidence

As maritime tensions between China and its East Asian neighbours as well as the United States rise, there is some concern that naval incidents in South and East China seas could be the potential triggers for a major war in Asia.

The big question is whether they can be reduced by a structure of bilateral and regional maritime confidence building measures. A recent study from the Lowy Institute in Sydney provides possibly the first comprehensive discussion on ways to lower naval tensions in the waters of Asia. The authors, Rory Medcalf and Raoul Heinrichs, say "Asia's infrastructure of maritime confidence-building measures (CBMs) — such as military dialogues, real-time communication channels and formalised 'rules of the road' — is flimsy and under-utilised."

Underlining the difficulties of developing maritime restraint regime in the waters of Asia, Medclaf and Heinrichs say part of the problem rests in the fundamental differences between China on the one hand and the US and its allies on the other on the meaning and utility of CBMs.

Washington believes that "maritime CBMs with China can and should be pursued in order to maintain stability, especially in the context of a conspicuous and mutual lack of trust." Beijing in contrast holds that "strategic 'trust' needs to be established before serious military dialogue, confidence-building and cooperation can be attempted at sea."

More basically, China would like to see a significant reduction in US naval profile in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, while Washington believes its forward presence has been the key to security and stability in Asia since the end of the Second World War. The study calls for more maritime CBMs between China on the one hand and the US and its East Asian allies on the other. The report also calls for a maritime security dialogue between Delhi and Beijing.

"India, Australia and other Indian Ocean states have a good opportunity now — while China's security presence and role west of the Strait of Malacca remains slight — to try to establish rules, understandings and habits of maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean," conclude Medcalf and Heinrichs.

Lanka adopts Yuan

Last week, the Sri Lankan Central Bank announced the inclusion of the Chinese yuan in the list of designated currencies permitted for international transactions through banks in Sri Lanka. Among the other currencies in the designated list are the euro, the Hong Kong dollar, the Japanese yen, the Singapore dollar, sterling and the US dollar.

Reports from Colombo say the Indian rupee might get onto the list if economic and political relations with Delhi continue to improve. Meanwhile Colombo's decision reinforces the growing international usage of the yuan.

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





RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — Tom Jobim is famous for having written "Girl from Ipanema," the sensuous, playful anthem of a sensuous, playful land. He's almost equally famous for having said, "Brazil is not for amateurs."

I lived a quarter-century ago in that Brazil where if you didn't have the "jeitinho," or insider's knack for circumventing rules, you were toast. It was a Brazil of hyperinflation and runaway violence that mocked the words on the national flag: "Order and Progress." I went down to the city morgue one day, researching a story about poor kids who "surfed" the tops of trains for kicks, and an official idly lifted the lid of a garbage can in which a young man's body was twisted like a corkscrew. I asked what had happened. He said he'd been murdered by fellow inmates at a prison and stuffed in there.

No, Brazil was not for amateurs.

Today, I'm not so sure. Certainly a lot of people suddenly fancy themselves as Brazil pros. They want a piece of the action in the big South American nation that posted 7.5 per cent growth last year. Oil discoveries, a commodities boom, sound economic management, political stability, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 have combined to produce a Brazil fever that feels a touch heady to me.

Take your pick of the head-turning figures. There were 12 new Brazilian billionaires on this year's Forbes list of the world's wealthiest people. Foreign direct investment has grown at a compound rate of 26 per cent over the past five years and reached close to $48.5 billion in 2010. Consumer credit is taking off. In a land where loans were long hard to get, the net stock of credit increased 21 per cent in the past year. Streets are clogged with cars, restaurants full.

A bubble in the making? It's possible. But Brazilian banks have generally proved prudent, and macroeconomic policies now have a steady track record over three presidencies, one that has contrived to ease the worst extremes of poverty while satisfying international investors eager to put capital behind Brazil's rapid emergence.

Breathless optimism replaces economic gloom. A new $22 billion high-speed train will link Rio and São Paulo. People believe their kids are going to live better than they do. Brazilians talk to the Indians and to the Chinese about investments; they feel the old powers are becoming marginal to the 21st century. China alone has invested $37.1 billion in Brazil since 2003, mainly in mining and oil.

What you think of this depends on where you sit. I'd say it's a good thing — a lot of people are going to live a lot better before too long — but also very disruptive. Brazilians and Indians and Chinese and Indonesians and South Africans do better in part because, thanks to technology, they can do what were once US or European jobs just as efficiently. Their gain is linked in some measure to American and European pain. I talked here to an executive of a major international cement company who said it had just divested interests in Portugal in order to make investments of over $1 billion in Brazil.

For now, emergent powers and the developed nations talk more past each other than to each other. Institutions lag a changed world just as the infrastructure of these emergent powers lags the speed at which millions of people are joining the market. Indeed, lack of adequate infrastructure and lack of education are two of the main brakes on countries like Brazil.

I'm bullish on Brazil, but some of the new "pros" are going to get burned. Brazil remains a country of violent inequality. A few days ago a French tourist, Charles Damien Pierson, fell off the tram in Rio at the Lapa viaduct, slipped between a badly installed fence and the bridge, and tumbled to his death. Before the police got there, his wallet was stolen by kids.

Convergence will continue — and in time separate the real pros from the amateurs in the new global economy. Roger Cohen







While ruling that a former Supreme Court judge head a Special Investigative Team (SIT) on unearthing black money, the Court makes pretty compelling arguments. Many of them, in fact, seem like a repeat of the 2G story, that despite knowing what was happening, the government did precious little about it, and whatever progress was being seen today was really the result of the Court's prodding. In the Raja case, until the Court intervened, the investigative authorities had not even seen it fit to question the minister. In this case, the Court gives details of how the government knew about Hassan Ali Khan for several years and even served an income tax notice for R40,000 crore on him (R20,580 crore on his associate) but very little had been done after this—indeed, the Court points out, even custodial interrogation had not been asked for until the Court got into the act. The Court gives several other examples of the government's sloth when it comes to unearthing black money and even rules that the arguments given by the government for not disclosing the names of Indians who had accounts in the Liechtenstein bank—that this was barred by the Indo-German treaty on double taxation—were specious. The Court rules the treaty doesn't proscribe disclosure—it goes on to add that the treaty doesn't even apply since Liechtenstein is an independent and sovereign nation-state!—though it says the right to privacy means the names of those not proved guilty cannot be disclosed. The fact that there are still such huge tax arrears—R1,17,000 crore is the latest figure—also suggests similar reluctance to act. In the celebrated VDIS tax amnesty, tax evaders were allowed to get away with tax payments of 5-10% against the prescribed 35% and no action was taken against officials who allowed this … the list goes on.

It is after this, however, that things get a bit worrying. The SIT, which is to be headed by retired Justice BP Jeevan Reddy, is to be in charge of all investigations and prosecution in not just the Hassan Ali case but for all ongoing/pending investigations in black money cases as well as for any that come up in the course of investigations. That is a huge remit and means the courts will have to get involved in virtually the day-to-day running of affairs (should the Mauritius treaty be abrogated, does the Indo-German DTAA need to be re-worked … the list is endless). The Court is right when it says the government's performance has been lacklustre in too many cases. The question is whether getting the Court into the day-to-day affairs of government is a healthy precedent?





While India's industrial activity appears as it may continue to fall—HSBC's seasonally adjusted Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) continues to fall, from 57.5 in May to a 9-month low of 55.3 in June—this seems pretty much the course in the rest of the world. While US PMI has bucked the trend and rose from 53.5 to 55.3, that for the Eurozone fell from 54.6 to 52 (an 18-month low); it fell from 51.6 in May for China to an 11-month low of 50.1 in June, South Korea remained around the same at 51.1 as did Russia at 50.6—given that a PMI above 50 signals expansion, this means there is growth in most areas but at a slower pace. What is even more worrying is what the PMI is indicating when it comes to exports, a big driver of industrial growth. New export orders have fallen sharply for China where the index is down from 49.7 in May to 46.7 in June (that means more contraction); even Korea and Taiwan—two countries that HSBC says are the bellwethers for the global trade cycle—have contracting new export orders in June. At 50.8 and 50.2, respectively, they're barely signifying expansion. When you remove the impact of inventory build-up, the picture is even more dismal.

The good news, though, is what the PMI is saying about inflation. India is an outlier where the index for input prices continues to rise from 63.4 to 64 (with input costs rising faster than output costs, this means squeezed producer margins), though this is lower than in April and May. In China, the inflation PMI is down from 60.1 in May to 51.9 in June, from 76.5 to 68 for the US and from 69.4 to 62.5 for the Eurozone. As inflation worries reduce, this means there's a little more policy space for raising government spending (more accurately, reducing earlier cutbacks) and certainly less fears of monetary tightening. Whether this means spring is in the air, however, remains to be seen.







In Washington they are arguing about a debt ceiling; in Brussels they are staring into a debt abyss. But the basic problem is the same. Both the US and the European Union have public finances that are out of control and political systems that are too dysfunctional to fix the problem. America and Europe are in the same sinking boat.

The debt debates underway in the US and the EU are so inward-looking and overwrought that surprisingly few people are making the connection. Yet the links that make this a generalised crisis of the west should be obvious.

On both sides of the Atlantic, it is now clear that much of the economic growth of the pre-crisis years was driven by an unsustainable and dangerous boom in credit. In the US it was homeowners who were at the centre of the crisis; in Europe, it was entire countries like Greece and Italy that took advantage of low interest rates to borrow unsustainably.

The financial crash of 2008 and its aftermath dealt a blow to state finances, as public debts soared. In both Europe and the US this one-off shock is compounded by demographic pressures that are increasing budgetary pressures, as the baby-boomers begin to retire.

Finally, on both sides of the Atlantic, the economic crisis is polarising politics, so making it much harder to find rational solutions to the debt problem. Populist movements are on the rise—whether it is the Tea Party in the US or the Dutch Freedom party or True Finns in Europe.

The idea that Europe and the US represent two faces of the same crisis has been slow to sink in because, for many years, elites on either side of the Atlantic have stressed the differences between US and European models. I have lost count of the number of conferences I attended in Europe, where the debate was between two camps: one that yearned to go for US-style "flexible labour markets" and another that was passionately defending a European social model that was defined against America. Europe's political debate was similar. There was a group that wanted to see Brussels emulate Washington and become the capital of a true federal union; and there were those who insisted that a United States of Europe was impossible. What both sides shared was the conviction that economically, politically and strategically, the US and Europe were different planets—"Mars and Venus", as Robert Kagan, an American academic, put it.

The US political debate still uses the otherness of "Europe" as a reference point. The accusation that Barack Obama is importing "European-style socialism" is used to paint the President as un-American. Some on the left do indeed look to Europe as a place that does things differently and better on some issues—such as the provision of universal healthcare.

Yet the similarities between the two regions' dilemmas are now more striking than the differences—mounting debt, a weak economy, an increasingly expensive and unreformable welfare state, fear for the future and political gridlock are the common points.

The US struggle to control the costs of Social Security and Medicare will seem very familiar to European leaders, who are also battling to cut spending on pensions and healthcare. Many Europeans used to believe that American politicians had a huge advantage because they were operating in a truly federal system. Some still argue that the only way to stabilise the euro in the long term, is to move towards a "fiscal federalism" modelled on the US. However, at the moment, the politics of Washington are even more dysfunctional than those of Brussels. The seeming impossibility of having a serious debate about debt and spending (let alone actually solving the problem) makes the notion that the US political system is a model for Europe look laughable.

Of course, there are still marked differences in the debates on either side of the Atlantic. The dollar has a solid history of credibility behind it. The euro has been around for little more than a decade. The political division that is most responsible for paralysing the European system is between nations. But there is no parallel in the US debate to the bitter divide between Greeks and Germans. In Europe, the idea that tax rises might be part of the solution to soaring debts is uncontroversial. In America, Republican opposition to the very notion of tax increases is at the centre of the political argument.

Fixated by their own problems and differences, Americans and Europeans have been slow to see the connections between their twin crises. But analysts in the rest of the world are much more likely to spot the common trend. Among Chinese leaders and intellectuals, it is now standard practice to suggest that westerners of all sorts should stop trying to "teach China lessons"—given the depth of their own political and economic problems.

Chinese critics of the west see the dilemmas of Europe and the US with the cruel clarity afforded by distance. However, their pride and confidence risks glossing over the extent to which the rise of China, India and the rest has depended on a prosperous and confident west. If the western illness worsens, there will be a temptation to try new and more radical cures. Those may include a drive towards protectionism and capital controls. If globalisation goes into reverse then China may experience its very own economic and political crisis.

©The Financial Times Limited 2011






In 2009, MCX Stock Exchange (MCX-SX) "informed" the Competition Commission of India (CCI) that the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) was acting anti-competitively in the nascent market for currency derivatives. Both NSE and MCX-SX provide platforms for trading instruments such as US Dollar-Indian Rupee currency futures of different maturities. MCX-SX essentially complained that NSE was using predatory pricing to drive its competitor out of the market, using its dominant overall position in providing trading platforms for financial instruments (especially equities), and resulting deep pockets.

The CCI ruled heavily in favour of the "informant" and levied a penalty of over R500 million on NSE. There was a minority dissenting opinion, as well as an even harsher assessment against NSE in the initial investigation by CCI's Office of the Director General (DG). Anyone who reads the various reports will see that the attempted use of economic analysis is at a much higher level than in the old days of the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices (MRTP) Commission. There is even considerable discussion of newer concepts such as network effects and their relation to liquidity creation. However, the end result is discouraging. The CCI ruling will likely lead to less competition and higher costs for customers. The core of the analysis relies on a knee-jerk reaction to "dominance" that is not dissimilar to the old MRTP approach. There are also critical problems with CCI's approach to defining the relevant market, and to measuring market power.

The DG's investigation provided a very confused discussion of market definition, ultimately going with one that makes no sense. It included all exchange-trading services for financial instruments, based on some notion that these could be—and are—provided by the same suppliers, and could be—and are—purchased by the same demanders. This makes no sense, and was rejected by CCI's own members. The CCI order, therefore, considered the market as being for currency derivatives—but only those traded on the domestic exchanges, and not the much bigger offshore over-the-counter (OTC) markets. Even the dissenting minority accepted this argument, based on legal restrictions on who can trade in the two arenas, as well as on the size and nature of trades. This, however, completely neglects the possibility that those who currently trade offshore or OTC could be attracted to the new domestic exchanges—if the terms were made attractive. If the larger market for currency derivatives had been considered, there would have been no basis for the ruling as it was made.

Using the narrow market definition, CCI then decided that NSE, by waiving transaction and membership fees, was forcing MCX-SX to match these zero prices, and incur losses that it could not sustain as long as the deep-pocketed NSE. CCI ruled that NSE was trying to drive MCX-SX out of the market, reducing long-run competition. But even with the (incorrect in my view) narrow market definition, the ruling completely distorted the facts, something brought out systematically in the minority dissent.

Indeed, NSE started out by waiving fees, for a market that was truly brand new for India, and when MCX-SX entered, it was forced to match. The zero fees continued as the market grew, and CCI claimed that the market was no longer nascent. Again, given the domestic growth potential and the large offshore trading volumes, this claim makes no sense. Furthermore, MCX-SX overtook NSE in market share after entering second. Even more contradictory of a claim of dominance and predation, a third entrant made a recent successful foray into this market, with a third trading platform. This entrant is United Stock Exchange, backed by a consortium of banks, themselves with deep pockets. NSE has continuously been losing market share in trading currency derivatives, and its greater market share in other segments of trading for financial instruments is of little relevance, though it was used in the CCI ruling to conclude that NSE was dominant and must be abusing that position.

There were other facets of the case, other nuances in the arguments, and some detailed economic analysis and legal precedents marshalled by both sides. Often, there were flaws and inconsistencies in the analysis on all sides. NSE certainly did not come out of the process as seeming perfect or pure in all its actions. But the simple logic of the case seems to me to be that NSE does not dominate the broad market for currency derivatives. There are three domestic competitors, each with roughly equal shares of the small domestic exchange-traded segment, and each with potential to grow and capture global market share. There was no evidence that NSE was driving out competitors—quite the opposite. This point was the basis of the minority dissent. All that the CCI ruling does is stunt domestic competition, favour one competitor, and raises prices for customers. That is not good economics or good interpretation of the law.

The author is professor of economics, University of California, Santa Cruz






When a government in drift mode adopts delay as a political tactic, the end result often is a crisis that becomes intractable. In the six months after the B.N. Srikrishna Committee submitted its report on the Telangana tangle, the United Progressive Alliance government did virtually nothing — not so much in the hope that the problem would go away as in the fear that any forward movement could trigger another round of violent agitations. This course of events was anticipated, and indeed cautioned against, by Mr. Srikrishna, whose report concluded with a quote from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: "It will be a folly to ignore realities; facts take their revenge if they are not faced squarely and well." The report provided the basis for the government to push for a consensus on the strength of some viable proposals, which included the creation of an empowered Regional Council within the State. But instead of completing this process as expeditiously as possible, the government took the soft option of waiting for things to happen rather than making them happen. Keeping Andhra Pradesh united with "constitutional/statutory measures to address the core socioeconomic concerns about the development of the Telangana region" (as suggested in the report) is workable, but it will need a consensus that can be achieved only through broad-based and amicable consultations.

Quite astonishingly, the Centre practically abdicated its role and let Congress party managers try and clinch backroom deals with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, which spearheads the separate statehood movement. Such political manipulations to counteract the effect of what clearly is a movement with huge popular support in the Telangana region were bound to fail. The Congress now faces a situation where its own Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly have submitted their resignation in an attempt to pressure the central government to concede the demand for a Telangana State. But just as there is support in Telangana for a separate State, a majority of the people in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema favour a united Andhra Pradesh. Even in Hyderabad, envisaged as the capital of Telangana, many of the elected representatives have not joined the resignation drama, an indication that statehood does not have the same resonance in the cosmopolitan capital as it does in the rest of the region. A political consensus is therefore a must, and the central government should pro-actively work towards creating such a consensus instead of letting matters drift. So far as the people of India are concerned, what is at stake is the future of Andhra Pradesh, not the survival of the UPA or the Congress regime in the State.






 "Archean to Anthropocene, the past is the key to the future" is the theme of the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America to be held in Minnesota in October 2011. Anthropocene is not part of the geological timescale; it's the name of a new epoch and is yet to be formally adopted by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The concept of Anthropocene, proposed in 2000 by Nobel Laureate Paul J. Crutzen, brings into focus the several human activities that have adversely impacted and caused irreversible damage to more than half of the earth's ice-free landmass. It also stands to represent the indelible imprint left behind by man on many natural systems. The global concentration of carbon dioxide, coinciding with the advent of the industrial revolution, marks the beginning of the new epoch. Large-scale conversion of forests into cropland and the lethal combination of industrial revolution and fossil fuel use have led to a sudden increase in carbon dioxide and other environmentally harmful gases in the atmosphere. The increase in CO{-2}has happened despite the presence of many natural buffering systems — and in an extraordinarily brief geological time frame. The increased levels of the greenhouse gas have caused a cascading effect: the global mean temperature has gone up by 1°C during the last century, and will probably keep rising. The oceans, which act as carbon sinks, have turned acidic by absorbing more carbon. But the expected rise in acidity by 0.3-0.4 pH by the end of this century may affect corals and dissolve the carbonated shells of many marine organisms. Nearly 20 per cent of the species found in large areas are invasive, and the disappearance of many species has certain markings of large-scale extinction.

The current epoch — Holocene — is just about 11,500 years old. Epochs typically extend for many million years, and the beginning is defined as changes preserved in the rocks. Since the epoch-changing events by humans have taken place at an astonishingly accelerated rate, the rocks may not have registered them. But the chemical and biological changes unleashed by humans are set to have a long-lasting effect on the environment and ecology. They are bound to leave their footprints on the rocks even if the man's destructive activities were to end tomorrow. Anthropocene, if it is formally accepted, will probably be called an 'age,' a subunit of an epoch. But the concept is powerful: it can bring about radical changes in the mindset of scientists and policymakers in understanding the effects of human-nature interactions.






The hackers, calling themselves the A-Team, assembled a trove of private information and put it online for all to see: names, aliases, addresses, phone numbers, even details about family members and girlfriends.

But their targets were not corporate executives, government officials or even clueless bank customers. They were other hackers.

And in trying to unmask the identities of the members of a group known as Lulz Security, the A-Team was aiming to take them down a peg and, indirectly, to help law enforcement officials lock them up.

The core members of Lulz Security "lack the skill to do anything more than go after the low-hanging fruit," the A-Team sneered in its posting.

In recent weeks, attacks on big companies like Sony and government sites like have raised concerns about increasingly organised and brazen hackers.

On Monday, a Fox News account on Twitter was hijacked and used to announce, falsely, that the President had been assassinated. And a day before, a group said it had stolen passwords and user names from an internal computer system at Apple.

But much of the hacking scene is a fractious free-for-all, with rival groups and lone wolves engaged in tit-for-tat attacks on each other, often on political or ideological grounds but sometimes for no better reason than to outwit or out-hack the other guy.

The members of Lulz Security, or LulzSec, have been at the centre of the sniping lately. The group won global attention through attacks on the CIA, Sony, the Arizona State police and other organisations, putting at risk the personal information of tens of thousands of people in the process. Even as they attacked, the LulzSec members craftily concealed their own identities, all the while articulating an ever-changing menu of grievances, from government corruption to consumer rights.

LulzSec's provocative attacks and flamboyant style made it a tempting target. Other hackers, equally adept at maintaining their anonymity, have been seeking to penetrate the online aliases of the group's members.

Late last month, LulzSec announced that it was disbanding, and that its members would continue their activities under other banners. But the FBI and other agencies are continuing their pursuit, aided by information unearthed by other hackers. In fact, the Lulz Security members face the very real possibility that if they are caught, it will be their fellow hackers who led the authorities to their doorsteps.

"This unfortunately represents one of few ways law enforcement gets good inroads into this community," said Bill Woodcock, research director at the Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit group in Berkeley, California, that tracks Internet traffic.

In hacker parlance, to be unmasked is to be dox'd, as in documented. And by hacker logic, to be dox'd is to be put out of business. An online alias is an essential weapon: It conceals a person's name and whereabouts, while allowing the creation of an alternate identity.

Despite the detailed profiling by the A-Team and other hacker groups including Team Poison and Web Ninjas, no self-described Lulz Security member has admitted to being dox'd, and some have merrily denied it. But the campaign seems to have had some effect.

The A-Team's supposed outing of seven of Lulz Security's members coincided with the group's announcement that it was disbanding. And a spokesman for the group, using the alias Topiary, bid a public farewell in typically impish language: "Sailing off watch your backs and follow the north wind, brazen sailors of the 'verse."

Topiary's fellows do not seem to be in a mood to venture off into the north wind forever. Since announcing its dissolution, LulzSec has melted into a broader movement called AntiSec, which potentially has thousands of hackers on its side, including those associated with Anonymous. The group has continued to torment the Arizona police because of their role in a State crackdown on illegal immigrants, leaking officers' personal email last week.

Security companies and government agencies have a long history of relying on current or former hackers in the fight against computer crimes. One new wrinkle is the way that attacks on government targets have given rise to a small but loud faction of patriotic, presumably U.S. hackers who are fighting back on their own, said Gabriella Coleman, an assistant professor at New York University who is researching a book on Anonymous. The fights have also become more public and spectacular, thanks in part to platforms like Twitter.

"Warring becomes an art form itself," Ms Coleman said. "There is that game quality to it. They're claiming they can't be found. It's a huge trophy if you can."— New York Times News Service

By hacker logic, to be unmasked is to be put out of business.









Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan's powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country's military, according to U.S. officials.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable, showed that the actions of the ISI, as it is known, were "barbaric and unacceptable," one of the officials said. They would not disclose further details about the intelligence.

But the disclosure of the information in itself could further aggravate the badly fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which worsened significantly with the U.S. commando raid two months ago that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan safehouse and deeply embarrassed the Pakistani government, military and intelligence hierarchy. Obama administration officials will deliberate in the coming days how to present the information about Shahzad to the Pakistani government, an administration official said.

The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence, and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials.

"There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this," said one.

A third senior U.S. official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Shahzad's death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed.

"Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan's journalist community and civil society," said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.

A spokesman for the Pakistani intelligence agency said in Islamabad on Monday night that, "I am not commenting on this." George Little, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, declined to comment.

In a statement the day after Shahzad's waterlogged body was retrieved from a canal 96 km from Islamabad, the ISI publicly denied accusations in the Pakistani news media that it had been responsible, calling them "totally unfounded."

The ISI said the journalist's death was "unfortunate and tragic," and should not be "used to target and malign the country's security agency."

The killing of Shahzad, a contributor to the website Asia Times Online, aroused an immediate furore in the freewheeling news media in Pakistan.

Shahzad was the 37th journalist killed in Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Pakistan's civilian government, under pressure from the media, established a commission headed by a Supreme Court justice to investigate Shahzad's death. The findings are scheduled to be released early next month.

Shahzad suffered 17 lacerated wounds delivered by a blunt instrument, a ruptured liver and two broken ribs, said Dr. Mohammed Farrukh Kamal, one of the three physicians who conducted the post-mortem.

The anger over Shahzad's death followed unprecedented questioning in the media about the professionalism of the Army and the ISI, a military-controlled spy agency, in the aftermath of the bin Laden raid.

Since that initial volley of questioning, the ISI has mounted a steady counter-campaign. Senior ISI officials have called and visited journalists, warning them to douse their criticisms and rally around the theme of a united country, according to three journalists who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.

Shahzad, who wrote articles over the last several years that illuminated the relationship between the militants and the military, was abducted from the capital three days after publication of his article that said the al-Qaeda was responsible for an audacious 16-hour commando attack on Pakistan's main naval base in Karachi on May 22.

The attack was a reprisal for the Navy's arresting up to 10 naval personnel who had belonged to a al-Qaeda cell, Shahzad said.

The article, published by Asia Times Online, detailed how the attackers were guided by maps and logistical information provided from personnel inside the base.

Particularly embarrassing for the military, Shahzad described negotiations before the raid between the Navy and an al-Qaeda representative, Abdul Samad Mansoor. The Navy refused to release the detainees, Shahzad wrote. The Pakistani military maintains that it does not negotiate with militants.

Shahzad prided himself on staying out of the mainstream press, preferring, he wrote in a preface to his recently published book,Inside al-Qaida and the Taliban, to challenge the "conventional wisdom." He had submitted articles to Asia Times Online, which claims 150,000 readers, since 2001 when he was a reporter in Karachi uncovering corruption in the public utility, the editor of the website, Tony Allison, said.

He broke into the limelight two years ago with an interview with Ilyas Kashmiri, a highly trained Pakistani militant allied to al-Qaeda. Kashmiri is believed to have been killed in a drone attack in early June.

In an email written to Ali Dayan Hasan, the head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, which Shahzad instructed Hasan to release if something happened to him, Shahzad gave details of an October 17 meeting at ISI headquarters, where two senior officials in the press section wanted to discuss an article he had written about the release of an interrogated Afghan Taliban commander, Abdul Ghani Baradar.

At the end, Shahzad said he had been given what Hasan said he understood to be a veiled death threat from the head of the press section, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir. "We have recently arrested a terrorist and recovered a lot of data, diaries and other material during the interrogation," Shahzad quoted Rear Admiral Nazir saying. "The terrorist had a list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know."

In its statement after the death of Shahzad, the ISI said the agency notifies "institutions and individuals alike of any threat warning received about them." There were no "veiled or unveiled threats" in the email, the ISI said.

The efforts by the ISI to constrain the news media have, to a degree, worked in recent days. The virulent criticism after Shahzad's death has tempered a bit.

A Pakistani reporter, Waqar Kiani, who works for the British newspaperThe Guardian, was beaten in the capital after Shahzad's death with wooden batons and a rubber whip, by men who said: "You want to be a hero. We'll make you a hero," the newspaper reported. Mr. Kiani had just published an account of his abduction two years earlier at the hands of intelligence agents.— New York Times News Service

Intelligence obtained before Saleem Shahzad's disappearance and after the discovery of his body shows that ISI officials directed the attack to silence criticism.






Success story:A billboard forBolin Karachi in this recent photo. The movie deals with the rights of women and treads no-go areas like homosexuality and the life of eunuchs, besides Shia-Sunni dynamics.— Photo: REUTERS

"Having been so blessed in life, I often think of the things that I should be grateful for. The list always seems to be never ending, but invariably it ends at one thing… that I was born a Man.

"Nothing in the world scares me more than the thought of being born a woman or a eunuch in a country like Pakistan, where obscurantism has deep roots. It is very unfortunate that we make tall claims, full of pride, about the rights of woman granted by our religion and yet when I look around in underdeveloped Muslim countries in general and Pakistan in particular, I find things totally the opposite. Tragically, our interpretation and application of religion seem to begin and end with woman. Leave the five per cent urban educated elite aside, women seem to be the playground (battleground) where we practise a medieval form of religion."

This is the only statement Shoaib Mansoor will make about his second celluloid venture,Bol, which has forced both Hollywood and Bollywood films to take the backseat at the box office since June 24; setting a new record for first-week earnings, outdoing the last biggest grosser in Pakistan, Shah Rukh Khan'sMy Name is Khan.

This when the film was released in just select towns and cities of the Punjab and Sindh provinces owing to the fear that a wider distribution to cinema halls elsewhere in the country could attract an adverse reaction to a film that seeks to expose the "wrong use of religion to keep us backward."

In fact, the entire strategy for the release of the film and the reluctance of director Mr. Mansoor — ofKhuda Ke Liye(KKL) fame — to speak about his latest cinematic offering provide a revealing insight into the limited and shrinking space left for speaking up in Pakistan. Refused interviews, some in the media find Mr. Mansoor's stance ironical; given that his film seeks to instigate people to "speak up" but the man himself prefers to articulate through his work alone.

Having churned out a second success story for the out-of-business Pakistan film industry, not too many are complaining about the conscious choices Mr. Mansoor has madevis-à-vis promoting his film. After all, it is more important that such films continue to be made, not just for offering a fresh lease of life to Lollywood — the Lahore-based film industry of Pakistan — but, more importantly, for poking people's collective conscience into thinking about and questioning some of the fundamental issues plaguing this nation and pulling it backward in time.

IfKKLtook on issues of terrorism and the taboos attached to music by a certain interpretation of Islam,Bolcarries on with a theme that Mr. Mansoor explored in his first cinematic venture — the rights of women — and treads no-go areas like homosexuality and the life of eunuchs besides Shia-Sunni dynamics in a nation dominated by Sunnis.

Shot on location in a dilapidatedhaveli near Lahore's Badshahi Mosque and Heera Mandi — the city's red-light area —Bolholds an appeal across religious and geographical frontiers. Undoubtedly, Mr. Mansoor picks on issues pertaining to Islam but some of the prejudices that he seeks to challenge hold true across the sub-continent, irrespective of faith.

And, the brickbats did not take time coming though the bouquets far outnumber them, going by the packed houses to which the film is running. Fortunately, the brickbats have only been in the form of hyper-ventilation on blogs where Mr. Mansoor's film has been billed as a production funded by USAID and "meant for our enemies India."

India will not get to see the film tillEid if Eros International — which has the global rights to the film — does release it by then. Responding to a query fromThe Hindu on when it would be released in India, a spokesperson for the company said: "We are looking at releasingBolworldwide duringEid. It's part of the company's release strategy and the festive season ofEid adds to the statement that we want to make for a film of this epic nature."

In fact,KKLalso went through similar problems in distribution and was released in India only a year later but Mr. Mansoor refused to speak about the two experiences, preferring not to dwell on them in the larger interest of better relations between the two countries.

But given the number of times the film's release has been rescheduled — in April, Eros had said the film would be released worldwide on May 20 —Bolseems to be followingKKL's trajectory on this count also. In fact, the frequent changes in date is what made Geo Films go ahead with the Pakistan release in the last week of June, rekindling hopes of a revival of Pakistani cinema that began dying in the absence of infrastructural support and was then run over by Bollywood after the Musharraf regime allowed Indian films to open on the big screen.

The industry that 20 years ago used to churn out at least 100 films a year has been so run out of business that as per one count only 25 films were made in 2010 and not many in Pakistan can remember the name of even one.

Shoaib Mansoor'sBolquestions the obscurantism that has taken deep root in the country, and also provides a much-needed boost to Lollywood.






The advent of the Arab Spring has challenged Iran's capacity to exert its influence in its turbulent neighbourhood. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have emerged as major players trying to occupy some of the regional political space over which revolutionary Iran's influence has been dominant so far. After the onset of the Arab uprisings, Turkey has visibly emerged as a major role player, especially in Egypt, where a transition towards democracy appears imminent, and in Syria, where the assertion of a political alternative to the country's Baathist dictatorship is still far from certain.

As the Arab pro-democracy revolt winged into Bahrain, Saudi Arabia became the vanguard of "counter-revolution" and protector-in-chief of the petro-monarchies of the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia's military assertion in Bahrain to crush the pro-democracy protests there has led to the commencement of an intense open-ended cold war with Tehran, which is likely to be waged in large parts of the region. While there has been no concrete evidence of any Iranian involvement in support of the Bahraini uprising, Saudi Arabia, nevertheless, has been vociferously accusing Iran of fomenting subversion in Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Apart from Saudi Arabia, the GCC includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Iran is being blamed for pursuing a region-wide sectarian agenda, with the aim of foisting Shia domination across the Muslim world. In this demagogic campaign against Iran, radiating primarily from Riyadh as well as other Arab capitals, Tehran is being held responsible for aggressively masterminding the rise of the so-called "Shia-crescent" in West Asia.

While the accusation that Iran is trying to impose its version of Shia Islam on Sunnis is unsubstantiated, the rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world between Tehran and others, including Saudi Arabia, is, nevertheless, real. In this battle for ascendancy, Iran has fortified itself by bonding with Shias outside its borders, whenever the opportunity for intra-Shia ingratiation emerged.

Iran has asserted its aspirations to emerge as the leader of the Muslim world since the dawn of its Islamic revolution in 1979. Even while revolutionary Iran was in the throes of an existential war with Iraq in the 1980s, Tehran took concrete measures to exert its influence in the Levant — a large area in south-west Asia bounded by the Taurus mountain ranges, the Arabian desert and the Mediterranean Sea. For geostrategic reasons, Iran and the Syrian regime of former President Hafez al-Assad, rival to the then Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, became firm allies. Apart from reasons of realpolitik, Iran-Syria ties acquired a binding religious dimension. Like the majority of Iranians who are Shias, the Syrian leadership has belonged to the Alawite sect, which has Shia roots. Thus, the Syria-Iran alliance acquired a reinforcing faith-based dimension, which imparted steel to a political arrangement that was meant to enforce a favourable regional balance of power.

The Syria-Iran alliance subsequently expanded to include Hizbollah, a highly motivated group, which emerged from the matrix of the Shia underclass of southern Lebanon. Backed by the former President Assad, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) trained Hizbollah in Lebanon's Balbek area, a cultural treasure trove known for its magnificent Roman ruins, in close proximity to the Syrian border.

The Iran-Syria-Hizbollah axis has been greatly reinforced by its shared visceral animosity towards Israel. Hizbollah's success in denting the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 2006, imparted to this alliance — led by Iran — an unprecedented sense of self-belief. This self-confidence was also reflected in the alliance's increasingly robust engagement with the non-Fatah factions of the Palestinian resistance, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Damascus is currently the headquarters of the Hamas leadership in exile. Iran's influence over the Islamic Jihad as well as Hamas has also been well established.

The U.S. debacle in Iraq opened the door for Iran's assertion in Iraq, mainly through the transnational and local Shia religious, and socio-political networks. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Iran, on account of its deep-rooted connections, had emerged as the most influential external player in Iraq. With oil-rich Iraq now entering its camp, Iran has established a contiguous and autonomous zone of influence stretching from the Iranian segment of the Persian Gulf coast to the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon, passing through Iraq and Syria.

Despite the steady rise of Iranian influence over the past two decades, the Arab Spring has severely jolted Iran's strategic dominance in the Levant. This challenge has originated from Turkey, which, ironically, was, ahead of the Arab pro-democracy uprisings, fast emerging as Tehran's key ally.

Turkey has challenged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's ironclad grip on power, by advocating reforms, and supporting a new power-sharing arrangement in the wake of Syrian uprising, that has been calling for a fundamental change. Tensions between Turkey and Syria have surged after Ankara opened its doors to Syrian refugees fleeing embattled border towns. The escalation of political tensions between the two is now acquiring a scary military dimension, after Syria deployed troops and heavy weapons close to the Turkish border. The friction is unlikely to end anytime soon as the Syrians have spurned the somewhat feeble political alternatives offered by Turkey to defuse the crisis.

Given the culture of vendetta and a natural disinclination to political compromise, Syria appears to have rejected the Turkish proposal of adopting in Syria the Lebanese confessional model, where power is shared among the country's majority and minority social groups. The Syrian regime is unlikely to accede to the confessional model because the ruling Alawites are in a minority. Besides, less than half-a-century ago the Alawites had been brutally marginalised before the late Hafez al-Asaad asserted himself by way of a military coup.

Turkey's attack on the Assad regime — the lynchpin for promoting Iranian influence in the Levant — has therefore bred a serious clash of interests between Ankara and Tehran.

These tensions are unlikely to ease anytime soon, as Iran and Turkey now appear to be opening up yet another battleground for confrontation, by competing for influence over the non-secular militant wing of the Palestinian leadership. After the onset of the Arab Spring, the differences between the two sides over resolution of the Palestinian conflict appear fundamental. While Iran, Syria and Hizbollah continue to advocate armed resistance, Turkey appears to open up a new paradigm for Palestinian reconciliation through dialogue.

Consistent with its activism on the Palestinian issue, Turkey appears to be seeking in post-Mubarak Egypt a new heavyweight ally as a counterweight to the Iran-led camp, which has been exercising its militant influence over the Palestinian factions. During their strategic dialogue in Ankara last month, Turkey and Egypt flagged their joint interest for shaping developments in Palestine.

Turkey and Egypt are now likely to impart further momentum to their initiative on Palestine on account of the Muslim Brotherhood factor. Since the advent of the government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2003, the Turks have, with considerable focus, been cultivating the pan-Islamic Muslim Brotherhood, including the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In engaging the Muslim Brothers, Turkey's devout businessmen, organised under an umbrella organisation, MUSIAD, have extended solid financial support. The Turkish charity IHH, with possible links to MUSIAD, has also networked extensively with Muslim Brotherhood representatives. With the Muslim Brothers likely to do well in the upcoming Egyptian parliamentary elections, the Turks have positioned themselves well to develop a special relationship with Cairo.

Among the interested parties abroad, the Israelis have already sensed the possibility of a paradigm shift taking place in the manner in which regional support is being mobilised for the Palestinians. Departing from the confrontational tone that had been used by both sides since the bloodbath last year, on the Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship "Mavi Marmara," Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon appeared to welcome Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's recent talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal. Speaking to Turkish mediapersons, Mr. Aylaon said that "if for instance today a declaration comes from Ankara, from the meeting of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and (Khalid) Mashaal 'yes they are going to go with unity'; it is also in our interests that Palestinians have unity. We know that once they sign, they sign for everybody and we don't have to worry about this."

Faced with the serious challenge to its influence from Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the Levant and its Persian Gulf backyard, Iran, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, is already mounting a herculean effort to safeguard its core interests. In this exercise, the Iranians are actively supporting President Assad's regime in Syria. The cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia can only be expected to hot up in the foreseeable future. Fuelled by the oil wealth that both countries possess, the Iran-Saudi cold war is likely to be fought along a vast area, encompassing Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf as well as the Levant.

In a campaign radiating primarily from Riyadh as well as other Arab capitals, Tehran is being held responsible for aggressively masterminding the rise of

a 'Shia-crescent' in West Asia.





Prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa is the immediate cause of the severe food crisis already affecting around 10 million people in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Rains have failed over two seasons, with a strong La Nina event having a dramatic impact across the east coast of Africa. Now this year's wet season has officially ended, there is little prospect of rain or relief before September.

How far the current conditions, classified by the U.N. as "pre-famine" — one step down from "catastrophe" — can be attributed to climate change is not clear. The last intergovernment panel on climate change report suggested that the Horn of Africa would get wetter with climate change, while more recent academic research has concluded that global warming will increase drought in the region. However, according to aid agencies, the weather has become more erratic and extreme in recent years.

The structural causes of the crisis go deeper. The Horn of Africa has long been one of the most conflict-riven areas of the world and a focus of geopolitical struggles from the days of the British empire, through the Cold War, to the "war on terror".

Its strategic position at the opening to the Red Sea and its oil and mineral interests have attracted foreign powers for over 150 years, as Alex de Waal, programme director at the Social Science Research Council, points out.

Northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia have been home to ethnic Somalis for generations, but the populations are marginalised by central governments.

The protracted war in Somalia has driven more than 20,000 more Somalis into Kenya in the past two weeks, says the UNHCR. Thousands have also fled drought and fighting in southern Somalia into the water-starved border areas of Ethiopia. The Kenyan government has periodically tried to close its border, although it is now open with 1,200-1,550 refugees a day crossing, according to some reports.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

Aid agencies say that weather in the region has become more erratic.






Time and again the courts have taken upon themselves to prod the government to take decisive action on issues and by appointing a 13-member Special Investigative Team which will monitor efforts to unearth black money, the judiciary has once again sent out a strong message to the executive.

The Supreme Court's decision is a measure of the frustration and anger at the government's seeming inability — or unwillingness — to bring back black money parked in foreign countries. Leave aside getting its hands on the money, the government's agencies have not yet been able to even identify those who have stashed money abroad. And when some names do become available, as in the case of those whose secret account details with LGT Bank of Liechtenstein were supplied by the German authorities, the Indian government has yet to make them public. Is this just tardiness or deliberate delay?
Clearly the Supreme Court thinks it is the latter because it has effectively taken over the investigation. The strong language used by Justice Sudarshan Reddy, who wrote the order, is indicative of the court's annoyance and lack of faith in the government's intentions: "The amount of unaccounted monies held abroad is massive... Yet, for unknown and probably unknowable though easily surmisable reasons the investigations into the matter proceeded at a laggardly pace. Even the named individuals had not yet been questioned with any degree of seriousness." This is a glaring indictment of the government's lack of commitment in tackling this critical matter. The court drew special attention to the lackadaisical manner in which investigations against alleged money launderer Hasan Ali have proceeded.
While retaining some existing officials, including those from the intelligence agencies, the RBI and the Central Board of Direct Taxes, the Supreme Court put the SIT under the control of two of its former judges, Justices B.P. Reddy and M.B. Shah, and brought in the director of the Research and Analysis Wing. The message is clear: this is a matter of national importance which needs close attention and the government clearly is not up to it. The appointment of the RAW chief is significant, and the court has rightly linked the question of black money with national security.
It will not be surprising if the government thinks this is yet another example of judicial activism or overreach. In the past the executive has chafed at the judiciary's interest in matters that ought to be strictly the executive's purview. In ideal circumstances this division of powers should be respected. But when the executive is found, repeatedly, to be faltering in its duties and obligations, it has to be reminded of them.
One of the Supreme Court's directives is that the names given by the German government be revealed. Media reports have appeared giving some names, but there has been no official confirmation. The government would do well to move on this swiftly. At the very least that will show it is sincere in pursuing those with unauthorised international bank accounts.
The SIT must also now get down to serious work and show results. The court's decision may have come as a shock to the government, but it will undoubtedly please India's citizens. It is hoped that this move by the judiciary is taken to its logical end, and the task of identifying wrongdoers and, more important, getting back the country's wealth begins in real earnest.





Baba Ramdev is not willing to end his war against black money. He has now asked the government to unearth all black money — cash stashed away within the country as well as all the money parked in secret accounts in banks abroad.
Following Baba Ramdev's exhortations, his disciples participated in hungerstrikes and agitations against black money.

Likewise, Anna Hazare (who, incidentally, is a devotee of a Yadav baba whose temple is located in his own model village, Ralegaon Siddi) and his team are also opposed to black money and corruption and the Gandhian has threatened to go on hungerstrike again. Team Anna wants the Lokpal Bill dictated by them accepted as is and be made the law of the land.
None of them, however, have so far said a word on the recent revelations of huge amounts of money and jewellery hidden in the vaults of temples and bedrooms of babas.
The treasure discovered at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is worth `1 lakh crore. And on June 17, `11.5 crores in cash, 98 kg of gold and 307 kg of silver were found by Trust members when they opened Sathya Sai Baba's chambers at the Puttaparthi ashram after his death.
It may be recalled that Baba Ramdev rushed to Puttaparthi to see the body of Sathya Sai after he passed away. When Sathya Sai was in the hospital, several "sacred" men and ministers from the Centre and states bemoaned that if he dies, ethics in India will also die.
One woman minister of Andhra Pradesh, in fact, camped beside his hospital bed for months. Several civil servants, judges and academics rushed to Puttaparthi. Now we have some idea why all this happened.
It will be interesting to see what Baba Ramdev and Team Anna have to say about the officially declared wealth of the ashram, apart from the bundles shipped out of Sathya Sai's Yajur Mandir. Is this wealth black or white?
Will Baba Ramdev make a statement about the currency that was lying in Sathya Sai's bedroom, which was locked up when he was shifted to hospital?
How do they define black money? Was the cash, gold and silver found in Yajur Mandir all white?
Just as Lord Vishnu used to sleep on a snake bed, Sathya Sai was sleeping on a bed of currency notes. If Mr Hazare, Baba Ramdev and their team members treat such money as black money, why are they silent on the course of action against it? Will the Lokpal Bill, which they are fighting for, also cover spiritual shrines of babas, temples, masjids, churches and gurdwaras? Does Mr Hazare's draft have a clause that covers the kind of black money that was unearthed in Yajur Mandir?
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders A. Raja and K. Kanimozhi and Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi are in jail because they were said to be corrupt. If Sathya Sai was alive, and if all the cash, gold and silver were dug up during that time, would he have gone to jail or not?
What would Kiran Bedi, who claims to be an honest and efficient police officer, have done in this case? Would she have arrested Sathya Sai if he was in her jurisdiction?
By his own admission, Baba Ramdev has acquired assets worth `1,100 crores in a span of just 10 years. We do not know the worth of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Mata Anandamayi, whose spiritual kingdoms are thriving and expanding like wildfire. Shouldn't Mr Hazare's Lokpal Bill have a provision for investigating these financial empires?
I am sure no Prime Minister's or Chief Justice of India's bedroom (from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh) could possess as much wealth as Sathya Sai's bedroom held. At least the Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament and the people, and the Chief Justice has to sit on benches and there is an open office system with a registrar around him.
Who are the babas accountable to? In the name of god, spiritual exercises and cultural campaigns, far too much immorality, corruption and accumulation of black money has been taking place in the country. We know how godmen, politicians, bureaucrats, judges and academics make even gods corrupt in India. Early and exclusive darshan of the deity at big temples is available for a price. Part of this money goes into temple hoondis, the rest into the bedrooms of babas.
What does our highly moral civil society have to say about the corrupt culture of spiritual institutions, the latest evidence being the Yajur Mandir? We have seen what happened in Osho's ashram. American civil society could not tolerate that ashram even for a few months.
Sexual immorality and accumulation of black money has been part of so-called spiritual/religious institutions. If we are against moral and financial corruption, we must focus on the haloed halls too.

The author is director for the study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad





The dramatic result of Sunday's general election in Thailand, with the Pheu Thai Party of the self-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra, now led by his youngest sister Yingluck Shinawatra, winning decisively takes the country to a new fork that could lead to the beginning of a reconciliation or bigger divisions.

The truth is that Mr Thaksin changed the contours of Thai politics with his victories in 2001 and 2005 before being ousted in a coup in 2006.
Despite his billionaire status, Mr Thaksin empowered the rural poor and gave them real economic benefits in a political space traditionally defined by the elite consisting of those around the King's court, the generals, high-flying professionals and businessmen. An ailing monarch, King Bhumibol, the invariable mediator in disputes, largely remained offstage. The elite responded with a coup, but the arrangement led by the Democrat Party's Abhisit Vejjajiva was very much of a holding operation while Mr Thaksin, convicted of a corruption charge he calls politically motivated, chose to live abroad to avoid a prison term.
In the hour of his triumph, Mr Thaksin was both cautious and wise in his reaction from Dubai, his exile home, saying he was "in no hurry" to return home. Indeed, the question of his return has turned into a hot potato: "clemency" has become a charged word and the Opposition and the Army will view it as a red rag to a bull. The victorious Pheu Thai is therefore underplaying the theme for the moment.
The 44-year-old Yingluck Shinawatra, a successful businesswoman with no political experience, proved to be a brilliant campaigner, hitting the right notes, showing respect to the elderly and being civil to her opponents while imbibing the message of her experienced advisers. She will become the first woman Prime Minister of Thailand.
The challenge Ms Yingluck faces is herculean. Pheu Thai and the Opposition parties have been promising the same things: populist schemes to improve the lot of the poor and farmers, better health plans and more subsidies.
The question now is how well the new government implements proposed schemes and how the novice Prime Minister delivers on her promise of bringing about national reconciliation.
At the very least, it promises to be a long-term project because the faultlines in Thai society, reflected in its politics, run deep. Thailand's tryst with democracy has been at best problematic, with the generals, even while receding to the background, retaining their power base.
It was barely a year ago that the Red Shirts, Thaksin loyalists, rioted in the streets of Bangkok, ultimately leading to the security forces clearing the streets after bloody battles resulted in the loss of 90 lives. The elite, of course, were represented by the Yellow Shirts, which had paralysed the main international airport for a time. The general who ousted Mr Thaksin in the 2006 coup has won two seats for his newly-formed party this time around.
Ms Yingluck is planning to form her government with smaller parties, and, given the nature of her dramatic victory and the magical aura the family name has acquired, she will probably have a grace period to show results. But she needs to act swiftly before the Opposition has an opportunity to strike, once the spectacular nature of her victory fades. There are enough reasons for her opponents to feel disgruntled, especially the threat of losing their traditional privileges. The wheel has turned full circle five years after the last coup.
Against the background of the power the elite have traditionally enjoyed, with or without direct Army rule, under the wings of a highly respected King Bhumibol, the process of democratising Thai society begun by Mr Thaksin in 2001 is likely to prove a long one. Indeed, Mr Thaksin invited trouble by seeking changes in the Army command.
The advantages the privileged have built through the royal court, the Army and big businesses have frustrated popular efforts to democratise society in the past. Because of the King's failing health for a considerable time, he has been unable to play the balancing role of a reconciler.
Ms Yingluck will need all the advice from her self-exiled brother and his experienced aides still in the country to steer a difficult path to gain political recognition. This is both a promising and a risky phase in Thai politics: the democratisation process must succeed for the future of the country, but there are too many vested interests upholding the old order to make the journey a simple or happy one.
The Army-civilian divide is only part of Thailand's problem. The bigger issue is the deep divide in the society, with the underprivileged unwilling to accept their lowly status and an elite enjoying their traditional privileges embroidered around a respected monarchy. Mr Thaksin's pioneering contribution to the rise of the underprivileged has been to give them the kind of advantages they never had before. For the first time in recent Thai history, they feel empowered.
The problem for Ms Yingluck is how to give the awoken rural constituency new hope without provoking the long-entrenched vested interests into organising another coup. Her theme song of reconciliation is good but it will take her only so far. The first months of her prime ministership will determine how she will meet the tremendous challenges before her. Her brother's advice from Dubai is a sound one — "all sides should respect the decision of the people" — to ensure peace.
The rub is in getting the Opposition parties, smarting under defeat, to follow this advice. If Pheu Thai pushes its luck by seeking the early return of Mr Thaksin, a polarising figure, it would give the Democrat Party the excuse to take to the streets again.
Ms Yingluck wears a crown of thorns.





While travelling on a jet plane from London to Chicago, I was rewarded with a very unexpected sight. I saw the sun rise in the west. No, this was not a daydream but a real experience. The time was close to twilight hour when our jet was crossing Greenland, above the 60 degree latitude. The sun had just gone below the western horizon and most passengers were getting ready for a pre-dinner shut-eye… when it happened.

I saw the sun reemerge into the sky from the west, where it had previously gone down. It continued rising for a short while and then sank again for a second sunset. Had the sun been momentarily confused as to which way to go?
The explanation was, in fact, simple. Normally, we see the sun rise in the east, move westwards and set in the west because we are observing it from the moving platform that is the earth. The earth spins from west to east. At high enough latitude a jet plane flying westwards surpasses the speed of the rotation of the earth, as it happened when my plane was flying over Greenland. While this happened, the sun appeared to move eastwards and was seen to rise above the western horizon. In fact, a supersonic jet like the erstwhile Concorde produced even more spectacular results: one could leave London at lunchtime and arrive in New York for breakfast, for the apparent motion of the sun was reversed! The aircraft could travel faster than the west-east motion of the earth's surface covering the path from London to New York.
This example cautions us that once we leave the terra firma we may be in for some strange sights. Take, for example, an astronaut circling the space in a satellite. He will see the sky above and around him as pitch black, despite the fact that the sun is shining with its full power! A photograph shows that the sun is seen as a glowing whitish disc, yet the space is dark as if the sun was unable to light it. Why? From down below, we see the sun shining through layers of dust and air molecules. The sunlight gets scattered by these particles and spreads across the sky, dominated by the violet-blue colours which are scattered the most. So we are accustomed to seeing a spread of blue sky. Up in space there are no such scatterers and the sky is lightless, i.e. black except, for the part where the solar disc shines.
The moon has no atmosphere, and it has no scattering agents like gas or dust. So, the sky here is black except where the sun is shining. The same holds for eclipses seen from the moon. The solar eclipse will happen when the earth comes between the moon and the sun. Since the earth is much larger than the moon, the solar eclipses on the moon are not as rare as they are on the earth. However, they are not so spectacular. For the sky, the moon is black even under normal circumstances, except where the solar disc shines. At the time of the eclipse only that shining disc will be covered.
And, finally, when we are on the moon, where will we see the earth in the sky? Like the moon from the earth, earth from the moon will be seen as a crescent. But that crescent will not move across the sky; it will stay put in one place! Sounds strange? But you will see the reason if you use the fact that as the moon orbits the earth it spins around its axis in such a way that it always presents the same face to the earth. You will also find that the earth gradually goes through phases like the moon while staying in the same place.
These are instances to warn us not to have a preconceived impression of the cosmos. By and large most of us expect the rest of the universe to be similar to what we know from our rather limited experience of viewing our neighbourhood. Over the years professional astronomers have learnt not to trust the maxim "seeing is believing". The image of an astronomical object may not necessarily correspond to reality. In short, there are enough optical illusions lying around to mislead the observer.
The hint of this possibility first came when Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity. The theory clearly predicted that the path of a light ray skirting a massive body will "bend" because of the gravitational pull of that body. The bending of light from a star by the sun in this fashion was verified at the time of the total solar eclipse of 1919. At the time of eclipse the sun is fully covered and in the temporarily darkened sky one can see stars. The images of some of the stars whose light rays passed close to the sun were found to be slightly shifted.
Based on this finding, maverick astronomer Fritz Zwicky predicted in 1937 that there should be even more startling examples of bending of light by gravity. He expected these "gravitational lenses" to be found in the vast universe spread beyond our Milky Way Galaxy. Nobody took notice of his prediction, but in 1979 astronomers were to be reminded of it when they saw two identical-looking quasars in close proximity. Quasars look like stars but are in reality much more powerful sources of radiation. A typical quasar may radiate as much light as a galaxy of 100 billion stars. What were these two quasars?
As these quasars were very similar in appearance, the astronomers labelled them twin quasars. However, it became clear eventually that they were seeing "double", like a partygoer who has overindulged himself. The light rays from a single quasar were bent by an intervening galaxy in such a way that the rays got divided along two tracks, skirting the galaxy clockwise and anticlockwise, thereby producing two images of the same single source. In short, the intervening galaxy was acting like a gravitational lens. This was a sobering experience and was followed by several such examples of multiple imaging produced by gravitational lensing.
Isaac Newton, the originator of the law of gravitation, had conjectured that gravity affects light tracks. Einstein replied in the affirmative and nature has obliged with several supporting examples.

The author, a renowned astrophysicist, is professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus





Jagjivan Ram was a great leader and administrator. It is a great resilience and spirit that enabled him to overcome bias and rise to the levels he did.
I had the privilege of interacting with him since my childhood. There were early signs of the grit that would make him a household name in India. A relative of mine, G.S. Prasad, and Jagjivan Ram had studied in the same class at a school in Arrah.

Jagjivan Ram was the only Scheduled Caste student in the school and faced much prejudice. No one was willing to share a desk with him. Prasad volunteered and they became good friends. Similarly, the school had two drinking water pitchers, one for Hindus, the other for Muslims. Both groups of students objected to him drinking from their pitcher. The headmaster had a third pitcher brought but he broke that pitcher and insisted on drinking from the pitcher for Hindus. Prasad supported him and they got their way. Both did well at school and passed the matriculation examination in first division. Jagjivan Ram got a scholarship and joined Benares Hindu University. Later, he took to politics and joined the freedom movement while his school friend ended up as chief engineer of Bihar.
After provincial autonomy was introduced in the late Thirties, the Congress came to power in Bihar. Jagjivan Ram was appointed parliamentary secretary, equivalent to a deputy minister. He earned a good reputation among senior officials, mostly British, for his notings on files. My grandfather, who was chief of police of Bihar, the only Indian in the country to hold that appointment before 1947, spoke highly of him. One day Jagjivan Ram came to our house with rasgullas. I do not remember what the occasion was. He distributed them to everyone — most took the rasgullas in their handkerchiefs and put them in their pockets. I readily took one, ate it and asked for another. When my grandmother heard of this, she scolded me. I am not sure whether it was for eating the rasgulla or for demanding another.
In 1946, the Interim Government came to power in Delhi and Jagjivan Ram became labour minister. I was then at Army headquarters in Delhi. We heard that Jagjivan Ram's plane had to make a forced landing in the desert near Cairo. My father later took me with him to his house to congratulate him on his lucky escape, where he also told him that I had returned from war in Burma. He enquired if I was the same boy who had taken two rasgullas from him. I was amazed at his memory.
Many years later my brother-in-law K.N. Sahaya was visiting me in Delhi and took me to Jagjivan Ram's house for a Holi Milan. There was a large gathering that included many officials. Jagjivan Ram was very hospitable. What struck me most was that several "upper caste" people were touching his feet. India had changed a lot from the late Thirties when I saw people hesitating to eat the rasgullas he had offered them. It was rumoured that after the Allahabad high court judgment it was suggested that Indira Gandhi step down and let Jagjivan Ram become Prime Minister. She appealed against the judgment and sought re-election to Parliament. Had she done so, her image, and that of Indian democracy, would have shot up. She chose instead to recommend imposition of Emergency without informing the Council of Ministers. Jagjivan Ram continued as defence minister during the Emergency. On the eve of elections in 1977, he resigned from the Cabinet and left the Congress to join Jayaprakash Narayan's movement. This had tremendous impact. Indira Gandhi was routed at the hustings. Jagjivan Ram returned as defence minister in the Janata government.
Jagjivan Ram's abilities were apparent in the fact that he took pains to study a file and would often write long notes in his own hand instead of the common practice of ministers signing typed notes prepared for them. These notes showed his clarity of thought and breadth of vision. No wonder he was a success in every ministry he headed — labour, food, railways and defence. I remember one instance, when the British military attaché came to me and said Lord Mountbatten was very upset because Jagjivan Ram had not replied to his letter for three months. Mountbatten had been planning his own funeral and had written to enquire whether the Indian defence forces would be represented. Normally such a letter should have come to me as adjutant-general of the Army. I did not remember having seen it. We searched for the letter, even got the defence minister's secretariat to look for it, and finally I asked Jagjivan Ram about it. He told me he had seen the letter. When the letter was ultimately found it turned out that his private secretary had misplaced it. He then wrote to Mountbatten that he had not had the heart to pen a reply — discussing the funeral of a living person is considered a bad omen in India. However, since he wanted an answer, he assured Mountbatten that the Indian armed forces would participate in the most appropriate manner for their supreme commander in war and their most popular viceroy.
Jagjivan Ram also stood by those who had served under him. When I was surprisingly passed over for appointment as Army Chief, he was not in government. But he raised the issue strongly in Parliament along with a few former ministers.
Jagjivan Ram missed being Prime Minister twice. The first was when Indira Gandhi did not adopt the appropriate course after the Allahabad high court verdict. The second was when Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan, for political reasons, decided to make Morarji Desai Prime Minister. This was something like Mahatma Gandhi not making Sardar Patel Prime Minister. India would have had a Dalit Prime Minister long before the US had a black President. Given his political acumen, the Punjab tragedy in the wake of the Bhindranwale episode would not have taken place, there would have been no Mandalisation of politics in India and the security forces may have been better prepared to meet the challenges we face today. However, destiny follows its chosen course, whether in the history of a nation or in the lives of individuals.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir










For over two years in the past the country has been in the throes of deep embarrassment and disrepute because of horrendous corruption disclosures made by independent media or non-government organizations. The situation is made worse by government's policy of complacence in regard to some of the corruption cases, its unwillingness to speed up investigation and covert attempt of suppressing facts in violation of the law of right to information. This entire phenomenon became catalyst to deep rumblings in civil society and created an atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty at a time when country's economy was limping back to normalcy after the market crisis worldwide. Three major scams happening in near past and still hanging fire have revealed that all is not fine with our system of governance. A visible chasm between the Government and civil society on the basis of integrity and rectitude expected to be maintained by an elected Government could become serious and threatening if damage controlling process was not initiated. The upheavals called Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev movements are the early symptoms of civil society being ill at ease with current ruling dispensation. Most of the embarrassment for the Government surfaces from a misguided concept of the executive that under the rubric of majority syndrome it can hoodwink the law as well as the rule of law. But as long as the organ of judiciary enjoys the freedom and independence under constitution, the heavy hand of law does strike when it strikes.
The verdict of the Apex Court on a PIL on money secreted away in foreign banks and appointment of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate and monitor steps taken to bring the unaccounted money back home contains virtual strictures against the Union Government on its handling of a crucial issue of national importance. The verdict reflects in no ambiguous words government's intention of going slow about the enquiry and action in the case. The Honourable Court has come to this sordid conclusion though it does not delve into the reasons of such intent. However, one can glean from the history of the case that some very important and influential people are involved in stashing away black money in foreign banks and thus robbing the nation of its huge assets. This vindicates the stand of some social organizations and personalities who had mobilized public in support of their demand for pressurizing the Government to get the stashed money back home and invest it in mega developmental projects. Though the Supreme Court verdict does not favour disclosing the names of involved persons, nevertheless it has recommended that the Government disclose the names of those against whom it has initiated the process of enquiry and show cause notices have been issued. But the way, in which the matter is proceeding, one finds that the government will have to disclose the names including those indicated by the German Government about stashed money in Liechtenstein banks. In its scathing criticism, the court says," The named individuals were very much present in the country. Yet, for unknown, and possibly unknowable, though easily surmisable, reasons the investigations into the matter proceeded at a laggardly pace," while referring to Hassan Ali Khan case in which progress was made only at its intervention.
This landmark verdict of the Supreme Court will have far reaching impact on the entire thinking, and functioning of the Government especially the party that leads the coalition government. Some of the observations made by the Bench are indeed no less than a shocking commentary on the credibility of the Government. For example the Bench points out, "Unaccounted money, especially large sums held by nationals and entities with a legal presence in the nation, in banks abroad, especially in tax havens or in jurisdictions with a known history of silence about sources of monies, clearly indicate a compromise of the ability of the State to manage its affairs in consonance with what is required from a Constitutional perspective. The failure of the Government to control the phenomenon of black money stashed in foreign banks is an indication of weakness and softness of the State in managing its affairs." This verdict and these observations in a crucial case of great social and political significance to the country are bound to influence the future course of our democracy and political parameters. In what the Supreme Court has brought to light, the very concept of good governance needs to be re-visited along new approaches and new actions.







A number of complaints have been lodged by the pilgrims to the holy cave with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board authorities disclosing that they were overcharged for helicopter tickets despite their protests. Sensing that the matter would snowball, the Chief Executive Officer of the Shrine Board called a meeting of Travel Agents through whom helicopter tickets are sold and, warned them of dire consequences if any malpractice in the sale of helicopter tickets was brought to their notice. This is the natural course of action which authorities adopt in such complaints. But the entire matter asks for further investigation. Are only the Travel Agents involved in the racket of overcharged air tickets, or, are there many more towards whom the finger of suspicion can be raised. Grapevine has it that huge money has passed hands in releasing the quota of helicopter travel ignoring the antecedents of applicants. The number of pilgrims interested in doing the pilgrimage to the holy cave has been steadily increasing and the helicopter providers are making good profit. But the Government and the Shrine Board have placed certain conditions that helicopter providing agencies have to observe. The fare of a round trip is fixed and the Travel agents have accepted these. But black marketing of tickets has become a source of additional income to the people at the helm of affairs. There are other aberrations and lacunae in the transport system catering to the needs of pilgrims to the holy cave. The shrine Board should address all these big and small issues and adopt a clear policy of how to deal with the situations arising thereof.








While responding to restive American public opinion against continued military involvement in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has so calibrated withdrawal of US troops over the next three years as not to jeopardize the country's security. He has vowed to bring more than 33,000 soldiers back home just in time for the US Presidential election in November 2012, leaving behind 70,000 to be pulled out, if possible, by 2014 though it is probable that some may be left behind by agreement with the Afghan Government. The details of such an agreement are under discussion between the US and Afghanistan and it is probable that some arrangement will be worked out, akin to the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq.
The US President has initiated the process of winding down troop presence, not its end. Perhaps, the US may move into counter-terrorism mode by withdrawing its force form counter-insurgency duties and focusing on counter-terrorism, where they will leave holding the ground to the Afghan forces and use their own troops for strike against insurgent sanctuaries and bases. It is in this context that his strong warning to Pakistan to keep its commitment to fight terrorism assumes great significance. He uttered some very strong words, that there should be no doubt that as long as he is President, the United Stated would "never tolerate a safe haven for those whose aim is to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve".
Pakistan's double dealing in the matter of fighting terrorism was exposed long ago, but the Abbotabad episode in which Osama Bin Laden was killed by US soldiers removed all doubts about it. While the drawdown of US troops would begin from a position of strength, Obama said US efforts must also address "terrorist safe havens in Pakistan". Washington would continue to pressure Islamabad to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for the war-torn region. Considering Pakistan's duplicity, it is probable that US will be relying on help from Afghanistan to deal with threats emerging from Pakistan, which has been playing a continuous role in keeping Afghanistan destabilized.
President Obama's focus is on much larger, and more dangerous presence of insurgents remaining in Pakistan. Washington is bound to accelerate what is working no -- matter how loudly the Pakistan Army protests about drone strikes and violations of their sovereignty. After the Abbotabad episode, Washington is fully convinced that Pakistan Army has been indulging in double dealing and is unworthy of trust. The US is determined to take out all the dangerous Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who are a threat to it. However, US Commander Gen Petraeus fears that a draw down of troops, which is too quick and too intense would allow Taliban to fill the vacuum left by departing US troops, pushing Afghanistan, once again, over the brink into extremism that allowed Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to flourish. Mr. Obama was by no means calling for the US to take the isolationist stance on the world stage. But, economic realities are too glaring to be ignored at a time when the US economy has yet to recover from the downturn and achieve sustained growth momentum.
As it is, the US has spent over one trillion dollars on the war against terror since 9/11. This includes $ 440 billion poured into fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. This year the US Congress has approved over 120 billion for the Afghan war, that is about $ 20 billion every week. Most Americans feel -- and the Republicans drive the point home more stridently -- that this money should better be spent at home in creating more jobs. It is thus politically important for him to show that he is doing something right at last and conserve resources to revive the economy. At the same time, it should not look as if America is leaving the job of making Afghanistan free from Taliban terrorists and fundamentalists and safe for democracy unfinished. There is time between now and November 2012, when 70,000 US troops will still be in Afghanistan, to decide the future strategy. All strategic and intelligence reviews of the US and NATO indicate that the Taliban are holding out, if not actually resurgent. So, withdrawal of US forces -- presumably also NATO forces -- will mean freer run for them.
One must admit, at the same time, that Al Qaeda and Taliban have both been weakened considerably, despite the support the latter get from Pakistan. Intelligence had identified 30 top Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Of these 15 have been killed so far and the group's third-ranking operative Sheikh Saeed al-Masri was killed in a drone attack last year. Five more of the leaders were killed this year, including Ilyas Kashmiri. While, typically, new operatives take the place of those eliminated, the rapid pace of attacks has dealt an unusually heavy blow to Al Qaeda. The drone strikes the CIA has carried out in Pakistan since mid-January have killed about 150 militants. The US has vowed to take out Osama Bin Laden's successor Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who also is in Pakistan, and other top leaders considered a threat to its security. In a way, the counter-terrorism campaign has outperformed the more troop intensive counter-insurgency campaign pushed by Robert Gates and Gen David Petraeus.
In order that some US troops may remain in Afghanistan even after 2014, Washington wants President Karzai to agree to a Status of Force agreement, like the one US has signd with the Iraqi Government. Kabul rejected the first draft of the Strategic partnership Agreement prepared by Washington and, instead, sent its own proposals Mr. karzai is not averse to token US presence and a broader strategic relationship with it. As Afghanistan's National Security Adviser Rangin Spanta put it, his country faces a common threat in international terrorist networks. "We want a partnership that brings regional countries together not divide them. He favours some role for regional countries, including India to contribute to Afghanistan's security and development and ensure that it remains free, independent, secular and democratic. Kabul does not swallow Islamabad's theory that India should have no role in future in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai has made it clear repeatedly that Afghanistan will maintain friendly relations with India, which had done the maximum to aid Afghan reconstruction. The friendship was enduring and not subject any ups or downs.
The US has not accepted kabul's demand for modern jet aircraft to strengthen its Air Force, apparently fearing adverse Pakistani reaction. Another issue is regarding US troops launching operations outside Afghanistan from bases in the country. Should the situation arise, the US has made it clear that if Pakistan objects, it will continue to mount drone strikes on its territory from bases in Afghanistan in order to take out terrorists on its list. Reconciliation with the Taliban is another contentious issue, though no progress has been made so far. [NPA]









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







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.









THE Supreme Court's decision to take over the charge of investigations into the black money issue is a virtual vote of no-confidence in the government's capacity and willingness to track unaccounted wealth. Not only that, the apex court has taken the unusual step of appointing a special investigation team under a retired Supreme Court judge, which will report exclusively to the Supreme Court. Ironically, the first time the court had taken such an extreme decision was also in a case of mega-corruption, the notorious 2G scam. The step amounts to the judiciary arrogating the responsibility of the executive but the credibility of the government is at such a low that it may not even be able to oppose the step forcefully.


In good measure, the Supreme Court has also pulled up the Union Government in no uncertain terms for not "showing seriousness" in bringing back black money stashed away abroad. It has condemned the "inertia" of the "soft state" due to which the unholy nexus between law makers, law keepers and law breakers is not being broken. These are extremely harsh words and will come in handy to the critics of the government in slamming it.


Naming the chairman and vice-chairman of the special investigation team should have been the prerogative of the government, but it has been appropriated by the court, which has handed over these responsibilities to retired Supreme Court judges B. P. Jeevan Reddy and M.B. Shah. That not only shows the government in a poor light but should be also highly embarrassing for the 10-member high-powered committee set up by it investigate the black money cases, which has now been converted into a SIT with the addition of the two judges and the RAW chief. While any action to speed up investigations into black money is welcome, care should be taken not to impair the delicate balance between the judiciary and the executive and the respective roles they play in a democracy.









ANDHRA Pradesh is tending to go on the boil again over the Telangana issue. The fact that 10 Congress members of Parliament and 78 legislators belonging to that region drawn from various parties have submitted their resignations to press for statehood for Telangana is an index of nervousness among representatives from the region that the electorate would take them to task for not doing enough to espouse the demand. Yet, there is an element of optimism in the Centre as reflected by Union Home Minister Chidambaram's statement that some solution would be worked out so that the political crisis is resolved for now.


It is indeed typical of our politicians to drag their feet over such demands till the clamour reaches a crescendo. It was Chidambaram who had given a new lease of life to the long-festering demand when he indicated back in 2009-end that the Centre was inclined towards accepting the demand for statehood. That led to sharp divisions and the politics of procrastination again. This time around, as the situation escalates again, it would be interesting to see how the day of reckoning is pushed further.


The Centre knows only too well that the grant of statehood to Telangana would give new impetus to demands for Gorkhaland, Vidarbha, Harit Pradesh or Bundelkhand, carved out of other states.The Telangana demand cannot therefore be seen in isolation. The formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956 (by merging Andhra and Hyderabad state) had been followed by reorganisation of states across the country. Is the government then prepared for a second reorganisation of states? To stave this off, a proposal mooted is that of creation of a regional autonomous council for Telangana as also such councils for Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra within the State of Andhra Pradesh. Instead of postponing a solution and thereby keeping the pot boiling, it would indeed be prudent to work out a solution around this at the earliest to meet the pulls and counter-pulls half-way.











Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa is a very compassionate man. But his compassion, unfortunately, is limited to his family members and relatives only. On Monday the BJP leader candidly admitted that he had allotted residential sites from his discretionary quota in Mysore to his needy relatives. The admission came after the Janata Dal (Secular) alleged the wrongdoing a day before. This must be a rare moment of weakness for Yeddyurappa. Otherwise, whenever driven to a corner by a belligerent Opposition with allegations of nepotism and land grabbing, Yeddyruppa strikes back with a blitzkrieg of counter-allegations to bury the whole issue.


Since assuming office on May 30, 2008, the Yeddurappa government has faced a series of charges: nepotism, land de-notification, preferential allotment of land and plots, cheating, forgery and a criminal breach of trust. His family members, including son B.Y. Ragavendra, MP, were forced to surrender prime plots grabbed in Bangalore. Then there are two Reddy brothers, who are ministers and mining magnates but notorious for illegal mining and were disowned recently by top BJP leader Sushma Swaraj. Governor H.R. Bhardwaj has pursued some of the cases, including illegal mining, but without result. Lokayukta N. Santosh Hegde, who is probing the mining scam, has observed: "Low-level politics is on in Karnataka…. Allegations are countered with 'have you not done the same' and not clarifications".


Watching quietly this sordid state of affairs is the national opposition party, the BJP, whose double standards are self-evident. At the national level BJP leaders do not miss a chance to hold forth on the 2-G spectrum, CWG or Adarsh Society scandals, but turn a blind eye to the dirty spot in their southern backyard. If Ashok Chavan of the Congress had to quit as Chief Minister of Maharashtra just because three of his relatives were members of the Adarsh housing society, should Yeddyurappa not resign after his admission of favouritism to his relatives, leave aside the allegations of other scandals?









THE Prime Minister has spoken belatedly and, rather than address a televised Press conference, done so through a select group of print editors. This admittedly was not the ideal choice but it was a genuine effort at communication by an essentially reserved and soft-spoken leader. The outcome has been greeted with dismay by critics. But, despite the reservations expressed, it would be fatuous to dismiss Dr Manmohan Singh's remarks.

He warned against creating a climate of cynicism and despair, amplified by a media often prone to playing God's magistrate. He cautioned against ex-post facto judgements on decisions taken much earlier in a world of uncertainty and a tendency to equate what might turn out in hindsight to have been erroneous judgment with wilful corruption. While the corrupt must be brought to justice, India should not become a police state or return to permit-licence raj. Nor should it be seen as investor-unfriendly when 10-12 million new jobs must be created annually and high growth sustained to eliminate stark poverty.

The government, he said, was sincere about legislating an effective Lokpal Bill. Here, if some political parties disdain prior consultation on the draft Bill, so be it. And if both Anna Hazare and Ramdev insist on continuing on what increasingly seems an ego trip, let them do so and not expect to be bailed out from much tom-tommed fasts. They sound like the White Knight who, responding to Alice's query about the nature of a fine pudding he had lost, sadly replied: "I don't know if the pudding ever was cooked. I don't know if the pudding will ever be cooked. But it was a very clever pudding to invent".

The BJP Parivar is, in the meantime, preparing to take power from what it believes is a tottering Congress. The battleground of choice is to be Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls early next year. Uniquely, the Parivar-BJP seems to believe that retreat is the best form of advance. Hence, back to Hindutva en route post haste to Nirvana.

Hindutva has little to do with Hinduism, being a doctrine of narrow, exclusive "cultural nationalism", far removed from faith, which it distorts. It is a political doctrine, imitative of fascism, espoused by Savarkar and Golwalkar in "We, or our Nation Defined". That such a negative and discredited doctrine has been resurrected is disquieting in this day and age. But this is the plain meaning of Uma Bharati's reinduction into the BJP to carry the flag in UP and her proclamation nailing "Hindutva and Ram (Mandir)" to her mast.

The Ayodhya issue is under appeal from a High Court order that seemed to open the door to a fresh, forward-looking solution to a well-worn legal wrangle. Rather than move forward, it would be a pity to move back to square one. This can only stir acrimony and divide communities who need and mostly wish to live and work together for the common good.

The charge sheet filed by the National Investigation Agency against Swami Aseemanand and his co-conspirators in the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon, Ajmer, Hyderabad and other terror bombings, allegedly in revenge for attacks on Hindus and Hindu shrines, is something the Parivar should ponder. Nothing is as yet conclusively proven but the net is closing in on a group of people and a philosophy that are both distasteful and dangerous.

Meanwhile, even as the BJP is busy scoring brownie points against the government, sometimes stooping low to conquer, the Modi administration has again put its credibility and bona fides on the line by claiming — yet disclaiming – that it has shredded many of the vital documents and dossiers connected with the Sabarmati Express-Gujarat pogrom of 2002 even while the Nanavati Commission and the Supreme Court are seized of the matter. If true, this would be an unpardonable offence and a deliberate effort to thwart independent investigation and justice. As it is, the record of the Modi administration in prevaricating and obstructing the 2002 inquiry is disgraceful.

As worrying is a recent report, only one among many that disfigure news reports from time to time, that three young girls in Orissa were barred from entering a village temple as they were Dalits. This is clearly an offence under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and flies in the face of constitutional guarantees. Yet, as all too often, fatuous inquiries are made and no action follows against the offenders. An FIR had not been filed for days. Some Dalit leaders believe that the episode shows that the Dalits have stood up and will no longer brook gratuitous insults to their citizenship. This is welcome and true up to a point. But millions of Dalits face daily indignities and are blatantly denied their rights of access, livelihood and enjoyment of statutory guarantees such as minimum wages. Some of these are feudal manifestations but caste status — or the lack of it — is equally evident.

The Parivar and other self-appointed custodians of Hindu rights and culture like sundry Sants and Swamis, the Sadhu samaj and other bodies seem disinterested, helpless and complicit through silence on such cruel conduct that is a dark blot on India. The Church too has not covered itself with glory by insisting on Dalit Christian reservation — surely a contradiction in terms!

Social reform takes time. But it has been late and little. There is a limit to what the state can do. Much depends on society and social reformers, of whom, alas, there are all too few these days. A much-needed uniform civil code (UCC) has been very long pending on totally false grounds. A UCC could do more for women's rights than the will-o'-the-wisp women's reservation Bill, a good cause but sought to be clumsily legislated and subject to an OBC reservation veto.

Returning to the BJP, regression on its part shows its lack of policy and programme and reflects the on-going inner-party struggle for supremacy between the modernists and locked-in-the-past conservatives. A split is likely sooner or later, and Gopinath Munde's tantrums show that self-aggrandisement is the driving force behind many so-called leaders. That the Congress should be wooing him is shameful and unprincipled.









I am thankful to friends who continue to show confidence in my (lack of) patriotic assertion. They still take the trouble of forwarding text messages on my cell, despite never receiving a response, on appeals to join a national- awakening fast on August 16. In fact, these texts are exhortations to provoke and evoke what they perceive as my dormant national pride.


In my opinion, patriotism too is a package deal. I love my country but I can't go hungry to prove this love. Secondly, I am not sure what kind of fragile patriotism is it which can lose its sanctity by eating meals on time? I refuse to enlist for this new brand of patriotism. The enemy is not at our borders, no natural calamity is afflicting us, and, above all, there is no food shortage!


So, why fast?


My grandmother never ate on Mondays. She developed the habit in response to a call given by Lal Bahadur Shastri , who had asked the nation to forego one meal a week, after the 1962 Chinese aggression. Like millions, she too followed suit. But, that was in response to a national calamity.


For centuries my foremothers were made to believe that by fasting they could ensure long life of their husbands, repeat the same husband for seven lives ( how horrifying!) and could be sure of their sons outliving them. They were cheated in their faith for the power of fasting, but they never saw it. Despite their mass fasting on Karwa Chauths and Ahoi Ashtamis, the laws of nature did not alter. The numbers of widows swell despite Karwa Chauth day, and sons die despite any number of Ahoi Ashtami fasting. People are lured by this funny mix of denial (fasting) and hope carried on from the past traditions which uses fasting as a kind of blackmailing for a gainful pact with the supernatural (God).


I wonder, by what logic corruption could come to an end in this massive, complex democracy of ours by mere fasting? Is this not cheating of the cashless kind? So, I refuse to join this new patriotic brigade.


My grandmother used to talk of stree hath (obstinacy of a woman). Women, because of their weak social standing used fasting as a tool to assert obstinacy, in order to gain sympathy from the family members who had the power to take decisions. And, then, there was baal hath (obstinacy of a child), which refuses to see any logic. I find some shades of the two, here, in this new brand of patriotism.


To the frugality of experience that our Third World existence offers us, why add depravity? I know for sure, I am not Gandhi. If I fast, I will think of nothing but food, which otherwise remains towards the end on my priority list.








POST 1949, China's external and domestic policies were based on the ideology of "socialism with Chinese characteristics". This kept it out of crucial multi-lateral platforms of global politics. It was the second revolution orchestrated under Deng Xiaoping that brought about a paradigm change, with public policy coming in the ambit of mainstream Chinese politics.


Today, the People's Republic of China (PRC) perceives itself as an ascendant power while America is seen on the decline. The main objective of China's policy is to shape a unipolar Asia by preventing the emergence of rival powers. Its policies are driven by long-term strategic concerns and actions guided by national goals. China has always considered Asia-Pacific as its area of influence. It has redefined its earlier "Periphery" policy by encompassing the concept of an "extended neighbourhood". There is marked increase in Chinese presence in the region. The PRC has made concerted efforts to marginalise India in south and southeast Asia.


PRC's Grand Vision


Traditionally, the Chinese have countervailed adversaries through alliances to avoid direct confrontations. Mao's era, due to domestic compulsions, saw China allied with the Soviets. Post 1978, Deng pursued an "open-door foreign policy". Continuing this policy, Jiang Zemin ensured external interface through an "independent foreign policy for peace". His successor, Hu Jintao, has adopted a "balanced development" approach instead of a "GDP-centric growth model", to create a harmonious society. Hence, ensuring peaceful rise by maintaining a conducive periphery is the cornerstone of China's current foreign policy.


In the prevailing environment, China's external interest are threefold -- Ensure a secure periphery, sustain regional stability along with economic vibrancy and maintain territorial integrity. With the exception of Taiwan and Sparatly islands, China has by and large realised its primary objectives during the last decade. This is in consonance with its strategic vision of a "peaceful rise".


Throughout history, China was the pre-eminent political and military power in east Asia. Therefore, the PRC leadership is keen to change the international status quo by replacing the US as the hegemonic power in the Asia-Pacific region. Over the past decade Chinese leaders have adopted an increasingly moderate and flexible approach vis-a-vis its strategic neighbourhood, resulting in remarkable expansion of Chinese influence. The salient facets of Beijing's strategy are proactive initiatives at the political, economic and diplomatic levels to develop a common ground by putting aside differences and fostering closer bilateral/multilateral arrangements


Chinese Inroads Into Asia


China has traditionally wielded significant influence in southeast Asia, which constitutes a fluid turf due to the power game dynamics and often referred to by Chinese scholars as a soft underbelly. PRC has pursued its designs through skilled diplomacy, binding the region to China politically, economically and militarily. China's broad objectives in the region are:


         Work towards peaceful and prosperous South East Asia to sustain modernisation.


         Ensure diminution of U S influence in the region.


         Seek passive and strategically neutral Japan.


         Endeavour for sovereign authority over South China Sea.


China's policy towards south east Asia is marked by soft paddling outstanding regional disputes and willingness to engage in multilateral dialogue while projecting an attitude of good neighbourliness. Chinese inroads into south Asia region have been primary economics centric.


Conscious that its rise manifests concern among its neighbours, PRC has tried to dispel fears of a "China threat" and demonstrated its desire to behave as a responsible power. However, China is wary of Japan, which has refused to exclude Taiwan Strait from its security agreement with the US. Beijing also knows it has limited influence in the Korean Peninsula. China's activism in southeast Asia, therefore, is an important element of its response against potential containment.


Southeast Asian nations have responded rather favourably to Chinese regional activism. Due to historical and geopolitical realities, these nations have reconciled to the inevitability of living in China's shadow. Countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are able to leverage their positions optimally by exploiting the resources of both China and the US. Even Myanmar, due to its political isolation, has been a major beneficiary of China's assistance as reciprocation for its favourable policies towards China.


Despite growing Chinese influence, the US continues to retain a dominating position in southeast Asia. The US–ASEAN Enhanced Partnership Agreement of 2005 seeking closer cooperation in trade, investment and security is a step towards ensuring greater involvement in the region. ASEAN too seeks enhanced US cooperation to obviate overdependence on China The choices before Washington are either to maintain status quo by following the current policy through bilateral alliances, or assign Beijing participatory role in the region. The way Obama administration is courting Beijing indicates that US' Asia policy is no more driven by an overarching geopolitical framework.


PRC's Growing Influence in South Asia


South Asia, due to its strategic importance, is considered by China as part of its extended periphery. PRC perceives India as a rival and views the latter's strategic posturing directed towards seeking hegemony in the region, exercising control in the Indian Ocean and containing China, while striving to emerge as a military power. China's strategic interests in south Asia are largely economic. In consonance with the expansion of its strategic space, China has deepened its influence in India's neighbourhood. China's march into south Asia gained momentum when it went for market economy in the 1980s, opening new vistas beyond Pakistan. Salient facets that merit attention are:


         Beijing has an enduring strategic partnership with Islamabad. Change in the political leadership or shift in policies in either country has had no impact on continuing mutual trust and cooperation. Pakistan's strategic significance is priceless for China, especially in the zero sum game orchestrated by Beijing in the Indian subcontinent. While denying access to southwest and central Asia, Pakistan has provided a direct link to China with Eurasia through the Karakoram highway. Presence of PLA soldiers in the Gilgit area for infrastructure projects has added new dimension to the military cooperation between the two countries. The Gwadar Port, where PRC has made huge investments, provides Beijing direct linkage to the Indian Ocean. Pakistan's strategy in Kashmir to tie down a large number of Indian troops dilutes India's capabilities against China.


         Bangladesh is a doorway for China to India's northeast and both share a common ground on many issues. China values Bangladesh for its immense natural gas reserves, accessibility and geographic proximity to Myanmar. PRC has extended lucrative economic packages for infrastructure development and socio-economic needs of Bangladesh. China is a also a major supplier of arms and equipment to Bangladesh.


         Nepal's strategic location is of immense importance to PRC, which has cultivated Kathmandu as part of its larger security agenda. With construction of the "Friendship Highway" from Lhasa to Kathmandu, China has gained strategic access into south Asia. The proposed extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa railway line to Kathmandu will further enhance the connectivity. There is also active defense cooperation between the two countries. PRC has always sought to use Nepal as a counter-weight to India and ensure Kathmandu's neutrality in a Sino-Indian standoff.


         China cherishes bilateral relations with Colombo given Sri Lanka's strategic location in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka is also crucial to China for implementing its "String of Pearls" strategy. Close relations between the two serves China's interest in obviating Indian predominance. Colombo is a major beneficiary of Beijing's economic and military assistance.


         As for Sino-Indian interface, there is definite concern regarding the concurrent rise of the two big powers. The relations between the two giants are complex and marked by contradictions. Despite the agreement on confidence building measures with regards to the boundary dispute, there is underlying antagonism, suspicion and trust deficit. In India the perception is that China has persistently endeavoured to deny it the deserved stakes in the international arena. The boundary issue and Dalai Lama's presence in India are two major irritants in bilateral relations. Chinese officials attach considerable importance to India's military capability and its impact on the periphery, particularly in the Indian Ocean Region.




In orchestration of its "peaceful rise", the Chinese leadership is convinced that sustained economic development has to be accorded the highest priority. In the Chinese concept of Comprehensive National Power (CNP), both soft and hard power are equally relevant. For enhancing CNP and emerging as a global player, China requires strategic space and enlarged area of influence. Its continuing march into south and southeast Asia is part of a well-calibrated Asia policy in consonance with the overall grand design. China has used its strategic advantage to leverage and consolidate its standing in the region.


PRC has specially developed close relations and partnerships with India's neighbours. Today, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka affirm to "One China" policy and unequivocally support China on the sensitive Tibet issue. They speak one voice with regards to China's entry into SAARC, disregarding Delhi's discomfort. Whereas PRC professes a policy of peace and friendliness, its strategic aim remains marginalising India through overt engagement and covert containment. However, PRC does make efforts to keep India from making strategic alliances with the US.


It is imperative that India crafts a deliberate and effective strategy to ensure its rightful status as a regional power. This implies seriously contending the growing Chinese influence around its periphery and simultaneously striving to enlarge its footprint particularly in southeast and central Asia. The approach has to be multi- pronged, a combination of soft and hard power. India's relations with southeast Asia should have three fold objectives: Strengthen bilateral relations, institutionalise political and economic mechanism and mutually address regional security concerns. India has to play a more proactive role in the region. Even President Obama, while addressing the Parliament during his visit here, stated that India should upgrade its relations from "looking East" to "engaging East".


India's emergence is seen as positive development by Asia-Pacific nations. They now see India as a power that could play a balancing role in the region. ASEAN accounts for 9.42 per cent of the global trade and is India's fourth largest trading partner with bilateral trade of over $50 billion. As India is not a direct competitor for ASEAN export-led economies, the opportunities for mutual gains are considerable. In defence cooperation, there is vast scope in areas like combating terrorism, maritime security, sharing intelligence, capacity building and training.

To ensure a favourable neighbourhood, India needs to take fresh initiatives that combine good economics and astute diplomacy. A shortsighted approach vacillating between appeasement and coercion has not yielded the desired results. In the prevailing environment, smaller neighbours are not averse to India playing a lead role as long as their interests are well served. Politically, India must treat China on equal footing and not give in to its coercive diplomacy. Underplaying the Dragon's growing capability would be a serious strategic blunder. India ought to improve its potential in the application of combat power on its northern borders and enhance force projection capability in the region.

China's inroads into the strategic neighbourhood are in sync with its grand design, as it prepares to take its rightful place in the new world order. In a systematic manner, Beijing has made long term investments in the region to gain a strategic foothold, while dispelling concerns about a "China Threat'. Favourable response from majority of the nations in the region implies a major diplomatic triumph for Beijing. Expanding influence of China in the Asia-Pacific region is a reality. To cope with the live challenge, India needs to formulate a pragmatic national security policy after undertaking a holistic strategic review in the long term global perspective. Keeping in view the magnitude and complexities of the security spectrum, bold reforms would be required to be put in place to institute a dynamic mechanism to ensure seamless coordination and synergy that are the inescapable prerequisites for effective implementation.

The writer is a former Assistant Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, served as the Defence Attaché in China



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If I had a world of my own, said Alice, "everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" In Alice's wonderland the judiciary would do the executive's work, civil society would do Parliament's, Parliament would do the judiciary's, and the government would run business. Such an upside-down world could become a reality if recent trends in governance in India are allowed to go unchecked. Even before the country has recovered from the charade of a self-appointed civil society group drafting a Bill for Parliament's consideration, two learned judges of the Supreme Court of India have taken charge of an open-ended investigation into black money hoarded abroad, directing the head of India's premier intelligence agencies to report to it directly through a special investigation team. Tomorrow, another learned judge may well ask the head of the Intelligence Bureau or the Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat to share national secrets with the public in the interests of transparency. This is not acceptable. India cannot be governed this way.

The learned judges may have good reasons to be frustrated at the pace of government investigations into black money. But millions of citizens may be equally frustrated with the slow pace of judicial proceedings. Thousands languish in jails as undertrials and hundreds of important cases wait to be heard because the judiciary is not doing its job efficiently and quickly. Would it be acceptable if the government or any other institution were to step in and say that it would perform the judiciary's work and speed up the disposal of cases? Will the judiciary tolerate another constitutional body displacing it and taking over its work? Surely not.


If India's judges are not able to function more efficiently, they should show some understanding of the slowness of functioning of government agencies, however frustrating it may be. By all means, admonish the government for not doing its job properly, even if the judiciary resents a similar ticking off and would regard that as contempt of court. However, to go beyond admonishing, and seeking to take over the executive's work while directing the heads of investigating agencies to report to it, is a dangerous usurpation of the work of one arm of the government by another. This will not serve the national interest well.

Hopefully, the learned retired judge, Justice B P Jeevan Reddy, will recuse himself and advise the Supreme Court against walking this path. Hopefully, the Chief Justice of India will convince his brothers on the bench to rethink their order. The order may be well intentioned and many may welcome it, given that people are frustrated with the manner in which the investigation into high-profile black money cases has progressed. Even so, the Supreme Court has made a mistake and must retrace its steps.







After much deliberation by many wise heads, including a group headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the mines ministry appears to have secured a consensus in favour of giving landowners displaced by mining 26 per cent of the profits from mining operations. While the necessary amendment to the relevant legislation has not yet been approved by the Cabinet, that can happen soon. This is unfortunate since mining interests across the board had opposed the provision vigorously during the deliberations. No business interest will willingly give up a share of profits, so the business opposition to the idea is understandable. But the flaws in the concept go deeper and militate against the fundamental objective of ensuring the landowner, usually a tribal, a better return on what has been not just his livelihood but also a way of life and making him part of the development process. It is the failure of the latter that lies at the root of the sense of alienation among tribals in central India, which has found expression in the rise of extremists.

The decision of the central and state governments concerned to stick to the idea is understandable. They have an insurgency problem on their hands and want to be seen to be doing something to set right past wrongs. The problem is that the measure is shortsighted and unlikely to help the displaced tribals in the long run for various reasons. What good is a share of profits if they are volatile (global commodity prices are notoriously so) and sometimes even non-existent, if there is a loss-making year for a business? Besides, profits can be manipulated. Thus, the way to ensure a steadier stream of returns for tribals will be to apportion a share of revenue in the manner of a mining royalty, as we have earlier argued, which is payable as mining operations are carried out. Tata Steel, which has a good record of community service around its mining and steel-making operations, has suggested the social cost of resettlement be made a part of operational costs, not profits, during the life of the mine. It has also suggested that the levy be utilised in consultation with the community through a trust or local development body with participation by all stakeholders. Even so, there is no certainty since businesses can sit for years on mining leases without working, but there is no question as to what makes for a steadier flow of annuity.


Even this is not the complete answer. What a tribal needs is not cash, which is soon gone, but the skill to earn a living through a new occupation. There is an even deeper need, to help tribals retain at least part of the way of living and tradition which define them. For this it is vital to get the right to rehabilitation — in areas geographically similar to the one that is lost and in communities that are able to partially recreate the life that existed earlier. And this is something money can't buy. Dedicated voluntary action has to be part of the rehabilitation process which must, of course, have the necessary resources to get things done. Since the die has not yet been cast in the matter, it is to be hoped that better sense can still prevail.









A journalist friend called me recently to ask whether India was headed for a "soft patch" or a "hard landing". I must confess that although I use these phrases rather freely, I hadn't given much thought to precisely what hard landing means in terms of growth rates. To remedy this I turned to our resident number cruncher Jyotinder and got her to plot a fine trend line through the growth data for the last 20 years. If I were to use this trend as the potential growth rate for the economy, it works out to be about 8.5 per cent. I then claim that a one percentage point reduction from this trend growth would constitute a threshold for hard landing. Thus, if the Indian economy were to grow at anything less than 7.5 per cent, it would have "hard landed".


If I look at market forecasts, I see the majority of them (particularly those from the heavyweight investment banks) are in the ballpark of 7.5 per cent. Thus, the consensus appears to be that the economy is due to hard land or at least come close to hard landing. There is a minority view that believes that 2011-12 will be a "soft patch" for the economy. That is, while growth will certainly "moderate", it is unlikely to go much below 8 per cent. This is incidentally a view that the government shares.

Colleagues accuse me of being pathologically bearish in my forecasts. Some of them who know me closely claim that this is a natural extension of personality. I concede that I am a bit of a worrier. If I sit under a tree I fret about the likelihood of getting concussed by a falling branch. However, I am in the optimist's camp on this one. (Click here for graph)

My sense is that the "hard landing" camp is perhaps a little too bearish on the prospects for investment demand. Though there is no doubt that there has been moderation in capex and infrastructure projects for a variety of reasons, investments haven't quite collapsed. In fact, in the last quarter of 2010-11, which many believe was the low point in the investment cycle, sequential (quarter-on-quarter) investments actually increased, while a strong and adverse "base effect" pulled the year-on-year growth down, giving the impression of a collapse. How are investments likely to behave going forward? I get the impression that though some of the bigger companies have delayed their projects, there is a lot happening with small- and mid-scale companies. I would use the external commercial borrowing numbers to make my case. A raft of small- and mid-size companies has been steadily raising external debt and unless most of it is used to refinance old debt (which is unlikely) this money must be going somewhere, most likely towards capacity creation.

There are a couple of other reasons investments could actually pick up further going forward. First, while the average capacity utilisation for manufacturing as a whole remains low compared to the earlier 2006-07 peak, a number of sectors (steel, fertilisers, oil and gas, chemicals, auto and auto components) are operating at significantly higher levels .Thus, firms need to expand capacity. Second, physical investments in India might take a lot of time to get off the ground but have historically been somewhat insensitive to interest rates. This does not seem to have changed. Respondents to a recent nation-wide survey conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry said the cost of funds was not an important constraint in their investment decisions yet. Third, I have reason to believe that the government is extremely concerned about the state of investments and it is likely that it will step up efforts to remove some of the regulatory issues that have been playing spoilsport.

There are two other things I would like to mention. One, friends in government tell me there is a raft of foreign direct investment proposals stuck at the Foreign Investment Promotion Board that the government is trying to clear. Were that to happen, the bunched-up increase in foreign investment could add traction to investments. Also, there is a stirring of activity in the long somnolent infrastructure behemoth. For example, after 10 months of complete stasis, the National Highways Authority of India started awarding road contracts in May.

The second "big picture" theme that I want to address is the role of the rural economy in contributing to growth. I have a feeling that few people understand the enormity of the changes that have taken place in the rural economy, which has traditionally been a reservoir of cheap labour. We have seen a slew of wage data recently that seems to suggest that both agricultural wages and those in public works programmes have shot through the roof, outstripping the rate of food inflation, so in real terms wages have gone up. This has, in turn, impacted on wage rates in sectors like construction. The obvious beneficiaries of this wage escalation are sectors like fast-moving consumer goods and low-end white goods.

But that's not the end of the story. Consumption patterns of the rural rich are also showing significant changes. A recent survey sponsored by Morgan Stanley showed that for categories like "vacations and recreation" or "luxury items", the percentage of rural households that reported non-price related increases outstripped those of urban households. Banks are beginning to realise that not only are they a rich source of deposits, they are now also willing to borrow to spend. Leveraged consumption in rural areas has been increasing dramatically.

So, what's my verdict on growth prospects for the next year? Soft patch? Yes, and this could last awhile. Hard landing? Nah!

The author is chief economist, HDFC Bank







Ground realities being what they are, it makes sense for banks to collaborate with NBFCs and see their role as complementary, rather than competitive.

The Reserve Bank of India's move to allow banks to buy loans from NBFCs — and treat the process as priority sector lending — represents a slight relaxation in the tight framework of regulations that now govern the non-banking financial sector. This will not only make the funding window for NBFCs a little more secure, it will also help prevent interest costs from spiralling higher for those who borrow from such NBFCs. When the RBI announced two months ago that bank lending to NBFCs would no longer qualify as priority sector lending, that was a blow to the industry. The RBI's reservations were about the end use of funds or their misuse. Funds classified as priority sector lending were going elsewhere and the money was misused by some NBFCs. More recently, one of the causes for concern has been the rapid growth of the gold loan business of a couple of NBFCs.

NBFCs have also come under the scanner because of opportunities for regulatory arbitrage. While banks have traditionally functioned under tight regulatory control and supervision, the former enjoyed a shade more freedom and flexibility. This has often led to banks and industrial groups lending money through an NBFC to avoid closer scrutiny. No one can quarrel with the RBI's intention to get banks to lend directly to the priority sector. However, ground realities being what they are, it makes sense for banks to collaborate with NBFCs and see their role as complementary, rather than competitive. To some extent, this was happening, as banks did chase NBFCs in an effort to buy up their portfolios and thus fulfil their priority sector targets. (NBFCs largely served the single-truck owner market and this qualified as priority sector lending). This situation changed to some extent when the priority sector tag was removed. NBFCs engaged in pure asset financing found their access to funds getting costlier and their clients bearing a higher burden. Given the current environment of a looming slowdown in the economy, higher financing costs can only further decelerate growth in the commercial vehicles industry. The point these NBFCs are making is that their funding of trucks and tractors has been a significant contribution to the goal of financial inclusion — long before the term became fashionable. Now, they think they are being penalised for the sins of a few. Arguably, the banks, especially private and foreign banks, would have struggled to meet their priority lending targets if the earlier rule had stayed. Given their limited network and reach in rural areas, these banks can now invest in securitised paper of NBFCs or buy their loans to fulfil statutory obligations. So, this relaxation will also do these banks some good.






Future financial services providers will be akin to general physicians, who bear great responsibility for the health of their patients. Such a prescriptive approach would minimise instances of unsuitable advice.

In the series 'Finance Matters', we have examined the various elements that enable the provision of high-quality financial services, particularly for the under-served segments of the population. In this column (the last in this series), we summarise this thinking and paint a vision for the future of financial service access for households.

The current financial system takes a product-menu driven approach, where different providers meet different household requirements such as savings, insurance, credit, pension and payments on a piecemeal basis. The customer takes responsibility for the ultimate outcome, which could be achieving a target annuity during retirement, building the required corpus for a child's education, or being protected for the full value of human capital.

Today, the disaggregated delivery of financial services has put the onus of taking technically complex financial decisions on the consumer. Even for the highly educated individual, this task has become difficult, if not impossible, given the rapid innovation in the financial marketplace, coupled with limited ability to assess alternatives. Even with easy availability of information, the principal-agent problem remains, with the agent or advisor having limited liability for what she sells.

We have argued in this series that a household needs providers who can offer integrated solutions in a continuous and convenient manner. There is adequate research to show that the financial needs of households are multi-dimensional and one must look to solutions that can necessarily deliver on comprehensiveness. The starting point is a customised financial plan, based on a clear assessment of a household's financial goals, current and expected cash-flows, appetite for risk, and so on. Specific products are a means to achieve household goals, and not ends in themselves.

Customised plan

This additional responsibility of computation and advice means that the provider will have to take on a more holistic approach, cutting across traditional barriers of institutions and products. Future financial services providers will be akin to general physicians, who bear great responsibility for the health of their patients.

Such a prescriptive approach would also minimise instances of unsuitable advice, such as selling illiquid assets to clients with immediate liquidity requirements, or selling loans that require repayments that do not match the household's cash-flows.

In such a regime, incentives need to move away from standalone product sale to following a set of protocols that will subsequently enhance the financial well-being of the households served. Such well-being is the state in which a household can optimally choose patterns of consumption over time and in uncertain states of the world.

To choose these patterns of consumption, households should have the ability to grow, manage liquidity and overcome financial shocks, across different periods of time. The integrated approach will equip households with the means to achieve this.

Structural models will have to evolve to incorporate market imperfections such as irrational behaviour, which will necessitate a greater investment in the development of intelligent systems and training resources to deliver high-quality solutions.

Provider's liability

While developing provider expertise will aid better choice, this approach also calls for extending a provider's liability to following protocols that are consistent with financial well-being, and for this to be enforceable as a statutory obligation, rather than just a fiduciary one.

This is particularly important because, unlike physical products, financial products lack visibility and, unlike many services, they reveal their real outcomes at a point in time beyond the time of purchase. Clients thus have limited ability to assess upfront, the quality of a product.

This is clearly problematic and highlights the need for ex-post liability regimes in the context of financial service providers. One way this could be addressed is by setting 'negligence standards', similar to those in place for consumer products. Customer protection regulation that is currently at a very nascent stage in India will have to evolve to meet these challenges.

The evolution of this fundamentally different approach to product design and delivery stresses the need for functional regulation — that is not product- or institution-based but based on functions served by them. Regulators and policy-makers have a key role to play in aligning the incentives of agencies in the financial market place.

Business model innovation must be encouraged to discover new and integrated approaches to financial services delivery. As discussed earlier, the optimal role of Government is in creating infrastructure — connectivity, unique identity and payment backbone — that will enable all service providers to reduce their cost of operations. Moving ahead, we see no trade-off between ubiquity and quality of services in financial services delivery. Both are achievable.

In summary, a well-functioning financial system should aid transfer of resources across time and different states of the world, helping individuals and organisations manage risk, disseminate price information and align incentives. This is best achieved through the provision of integrated solutions by well-trained providers and requires reliable financial institutions that work towards maximising the financial well-being of clients. Institutional structures and product innovations will need to move together to ensure that the true transformative power of finance is realised.






Big retail will not give farmers better prices, or reduce wastage. They will eliminate competition because their business depends on it.

Discussing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in these columns, I have made the following points: 1) Big Retail in the West is expensive; they have much higher mark-ups compared with Indian retail. 2) Western Retail is concentrated, offers less consumer choice, and charges higher prices. 3) Big Retail is not good for employment in both manufacturing (due to offshoring of production) and in retail (as they take out the small retailers).

Not surprisingly, there has been a flurry of responses questioning the views expressed. Recent news reports cite officials speaking of benefits of FDI in retail. Let us examine these so-called benefits.


It is argued that there is a significant difference between what the farmer gets for his produce and what the consumer pays in the end. The difference is pocketed by "middlemen".

Since foreign retailers setting up shop in India will buy direct from farmers and sell to consumers, thus eliminating "middlemen", they will pay better prices to farmers.

The first obvious point to note is that Big Retailers are "middlemen" as well, operating with the same profit motive as any trader.

Their business model is simple – Buy Lowest, Sell Highest.

Walmart calls their sourcing EDLC – Every Day Low Cost. The argument is that when Big Retail, who are known to beat down their sourcing price, enters the market to purchase from the farmers, somehow they will ignore the prevailing prices, and out of the goodness of their heart, pay the farmers a higher price, because they are going to sell direct to consumers. This will clearly not happen.

On the other hand, Big Retail will go into the farmers' markets and will eliminate competition on the purchasing side over time to gain dominant status. Farmers will be at the mercy of Big Retail to sell their produce. Farmers' prices will get hammered down, because that is what EDLC means. This does not mean that the consumer will get a lower price; it only means that the Big "middlemen" Retail will be able to charge the high mark-ups on which their business is modelled.

The only way to preserve the farmer's interest over the long term is to ensure that there are multiple bidders for his produce at all times in the markets, to keep prices up at reasonable levels. This balance is guaranteed to be upset by Big Retail.

For farmers to get good prices, three things have to be in place: 1) Good transportation infrastructure, mainly roads. 2) Ability to store perishables, including refrigeration. 3) Timely and correct market information. India's cellphone service providers have substantially bridged the gap on point three. The other two have nothing to do with FDI in retail, as explained below.


It is believed that Foreign Retail will improve supply-chain infrastructure and reduce wastage of farm produce. But Big Retail will invest in the infrastructure required to support their business, no more and no less.

This will not solve the issue of wastage of farm produce, because the structural problems lie elsewhere. The twin infrastructure problems in India are roads and power. The government has taken steps to improve the quality of national highways. However, the problem is that of the over three million kilometres of Indian roads, the national highways constitute around 2 per cent, State highways 4 per cent while 94 per cent are district roads and village roads. The district and village roads are State subjects, and this is where the supply chain infrastructure falls apart.

As for the power sector, with an installed capacity of 174,000 MW, the Central Electricity Authority has forecast a shortage of at least 10 per cent in FY 12 and beyond in most of the country, with peak shortages at higher levels. This leads to power cuts routinely in rural areas, making the operation of cold chains very difficult and expensive.

Big Retail cannot address the issues of roads and power. Their ability to address the fundamentals of the supply chain, and reduce wastage of farm produce, will be limited.

The biggest wastage of foodgrains is in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India, which is doing a manful job of a massive task. Yet the FCI has admitted to wastage of 1.3 million tonnes of foodgrains over the past decade, in response to a query under the RTI act. The authorities should fix this problem, instead of thinking about FDI in retail, which is fraught with negative consequences.


It is argued that Indian business houses are already into Retail and Big Foreign Retail cannot do further damage. Nothing can be more misleading than this argument. It comes from people who simply do not understand the forces that get unleashed with Big Foreign Retail.

Indian business houses' experience in the grocery retail trade is a decade old with Big Bazaar opening its first store in 2001. Their experience has not been an easy ride.

Groups like Reliance, Aditya Birla and Spencer's have declared losses of hundreds of crores, closed a number of stores in recent times, and are looking for an appropriate business model. Even with collective investments in thousands of crores, given the fragmented nature of the business, their market impact has been modest at best.

When the Walmarts, Tescos and Carrefours enter, they come in to eliminate local competition completely because their business depends on it. Their resources are limitless. The investments will be at a disruptive level. Their sourcing will be global. Nothing that Indian business has done so far will compare with this.

Neighbourhood stores will shut down in the hundreds and thousands across the country over time. The balance in the market place will be upset completely, and families and communities will be wiped out. This is not an imaginary scenario. It has happened everywhere they have gone. This is the reason why even the city of New York is fighting to keep Walmart out (see 2011/02/04/133483848/).

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







In Business and Polity: Dynamics of a Changing Relationship,D.N. Ghosh explores business-politics ties across centuries and continents, beginning with the Greek economy. The transformation of Greece from a household to a money economy was due to the "polity's positive but non-interfering role". Similarly, the rise and fall of Western Roman Empire is coterminous with the shifts in the relationship between the polity and resource providers. The polity failed to keep an equitable balance between the different sections of resource providers within the community, which resulted in disintegration of the state authority. Coming to the Asian story, commerce flourished under various political dynasties in India. The underlying factor in India was that "trade expanded through a culture of tolerance but never by means of warfare". The Middle Ages saw the domination of the world by Arabs. But the polity failed to maintain a proper balance between the two, else "the geopolitics of the region would possibly have taken a different complexion".

The beginning of the second millennium saw the emergence of European economic expansion. Monetisation, organised marketing and transaction efficiency supported the rise of the merchant class. Business and polity, in the fifteenth century, became almost inseparable. The sixteenth century was a period of incessant warfare in Europe. The author describes the relationship between the ruler and the merchant during this period as a 'beneficial strategic partnership' as the ruler could carry forward territorial acquisition and the merchant got opportunities to expand business. An interesting trend that the author brings out is states' adoption of new ways to augment revenue, through the sale of offices, of honours and trade privileges.

Maritime trade

A series of expeditions saw European powers competing to dominate maritime trade. The Portuguese ventured first into sea-borne trade on the Indian ocean. Spain followed Portugal in the game of Atlantic expansion. However, the two could not build on their initial success. This enabled the Dutch and the British to consolidate their power in the international arena. By late seventeenth century, Britain became the dominant power with the Dutch relegated to the background. The mercantile companies were endowed with powers of sovereignty and authorised to exercise it in pursuit of economic gain, which enabled Britain to acquire a comparative advantage over her European rivals. An interesting reference in the book is to Britain's opium sales in China. As there was no demand for European goods in China, Britain had to pay for imports with American silver. When the silver resource started declining, it became difficult to pay for the tea imports from China. This forced Britain to push for opium trade. The twentieth century was the American century. America's growth was self-driven, coming largely from its internal market unlike Britain, which depended on imports. The new world order that emerged post World War II was US-centric and the opportunities were successfully exploited by polity and business, working in harmony.

Ghosh concludes by stating that US hegemony in the world has suffered a setback. It is "no longer in a position to service the global community as stable and responsible distributor of global liquidity". He advocates a fundamental reorientation in business-polity relationship in the changing geo-political environment such that it meets the needs of different stakeholders of society.

The book clearly brings out the symbiotic relationship between business and polity. The way these two forces have interacted has shaped the fortunes of empires/states. The author impresses with the sheer coverage through centuries. The book is enriching in terms of the insight it gives into economic history.

(The author is with the Ministry of Finance.)








 The government has no choice but to comply with the Supreme Court's order to notify a Special Investigation Team charged with solving the problem of corruption and bringing back within a month's time billions worth of black money stashed away abroad. This, of course, is not the first time the Court has ventured into and occupied a corner of the executive's turf. But never so expansive has been the willingness at the highest level of the judiciary to relieve the executive of the many burdens under which it staggers. The government can respond in two ways. It can protest at such judicial overreach, while complying with the court order as propriety demands. Or, more sensibly, it can build on the generosity of spirit shown by the activist Court and persuade the learned judges to take on ever more vexed problems that have been daunting the administration and the political system. How do we ensure that farmers part with land peaceably for new towns, roads and mines to come up? How can about 500 million young Indians get the kind of education they yearn for and deserve? Can we have a writ of mandamus to stop a growing tribe of rapists in their tracks? Why not a Court-appointed commission to raise the precipitously falling water table in most parts of India? Would a public interest litigation persuade the Court to solve the problem of an ever-declining sex ratio? Should not another committee of former justices fix the broken public distribution system and, while they are at it, also build an extra 20 million tonnes of grain storage capacity? Why not actually entrust to the Supreme Court the challenge of eradicating poverty and ending malnutrition? The Prime Minister keeps saying that he does not have a magic wand to solve vexed problems such as these. He clearly has not taken into account the power of the judicial gavel.

Ultimately, it is the executive's fault for having created the power vacuum into which the judiciary has moved. When one organ of the state errs, it forces other organs of the state to err as well. But we, the people, deserve better than an equal and opposite judicial error for every error of the executive.






The Indo-US relationship may be more important, but the Pak-US relationship is more urgent, and that matters more right now. This is the best way of understanding Pakistan's clearance from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for the supply of two additional Chinese nuclear power reactors. During his recent visit, President Barack Obama assured India that the US would oppose the Sino-Pak nuclear deal. This should have been decisive, since NSG clearance requires a unanimous vote. But the US apparently remained silent at the June 23-24 NSG meeting, when China got clearance on the dubious and hotly contested ground that the deal preceded Beijing's entry into the NSG in 2004, and so was 'grandfathered'. India had to go through several hoops to get its nuclear reactors: it had to amend its laws, separate its civilian reactors and put them under IAEA safeguards, sign the 123 agreement with the US, supplementary agreement with the IAEA and so on. But Pakistan will get its two new reactors without any such commitments.

Clearly, euphoria in India over the Indo-US relationship has been excessive. The Bush-Manmohan Singh agreement viewed the nuclear deal as just part of a larger strategic relationship. But India said this did not mean it would not seek strategic ties with others too. The US has taken the same line. It holds a strategic dialogue every year not only with India but with China and Pakistan too. The Afghan imbroglio means that Pakistan is far more central than India to US politics. The Pak-US relationship is a very troubled one: Obama knows Pakistan backs some Islamist groups even while combating others, and this is a dangerous double game. Yet, Pakistan provides essential logistics for moving supplies into Afghanistan, so the US cannot do without Pakistani cooperation, no matter how double-edged. US silence at the NSG looks like part of a bigger game of placating Pakistan over drone attacks and violating Pakistani sovereignty in killing Osama bin Laden. In the medium run, the US relationship with India will prove more important. But for now, the relationship with Pakistan is more urgent. That's why Pakistan triumphed at the NSG meeting.









The headlines have been about Ghulam Nabi Azad calling homosexuality unnatural as well as a disease. But it's what the health minister said after producing that standard prejudiced rhetoric that bears closer attention. Azad pointed out that while female sex workers usually live in clusters and, therefore, can be 'identified', MSMs (men having sex with men, that's the minister's contribution to science, social science and language) are not always found together. And that, the minister said, is a problem. Presumably, if gay citizens lived, as the minister wants them to, in clusters, then health officials could easily identify them and then… then what? That's the question — what did the minister have in mind when he lamented what he felt was the singular lack of sensitivity on the part of gay citizens in not living in identifiable ghettos? Identifying gays is a challenge, the minister said. If it were not, what would Azad have proposed? In a way, we should be glad the minister didn't elaborate. In the past, certain leaders refrained from showing such restraint, with disastrous consequences for the world at large. Our minister cannot be accused of lack of discretion, can he?

But what would Azad do were the Supreme Court to agree with the Delhi High Court and decriminalise homosexuality? Well, Azad would need to become an MSMP — Minister Seeking Mental Peace — and there's no better place for such MSMPs than Baba Ramdev's ashram. The Baba's views on gays are closely aligned to the minister's. And there's an opportunity for Dr Singh, too — make Azad the Congress's permanent representative to the Baba's HQ. A senior Congress leader always near the Baba; the latter will feel much mollified. But wait, won't that create a vacancy in the Union health ministry? Ah…






The services sector is largely responsible for the Indian growth miracle. Few had anticipated this when economic reforms were rolled out two decades ago. It is one of many aspects in which the Indian growth story has not conformed to the text. Can growth in services continue at the same pace? And can a services-dominated economy generate enough jobs? These are among the important policy questions today. There is reason for optimism on both counts.

Industry was the focus of the reforms unleashed in 1991. And yet, in the last two decades, the services sector has grown faster than industry. There is a mystery within a mystery: a big chunk of services growth has come from traditional services not targeted by reforms. These account for about 60% of the services sector.
Some modern services, such as IT, communications and insurance, benefited greatly from reforms. Reforms in banking have happened in a very guarded way. Education and healthcare have both grown more in response to demand than as a result of sector-specific reforms. Ditto for trade, hotels and railways.
How do we explain the services sector becoming an engine of growth in India, unlike in China where growth is manufacturing-led? Barry Eichengreen and Poonam Gupta attempt an explanation in a recent paper (The service sector as India's road to economic growth, NBER working paper 16757).

They contend that much of services growth since 1990 represents a catching up with international norms for the share of services in GDP after a long period of repression. In the period 1950-90, the share of India's services sector in GDP was lower than the international norm, going by per-capita income.

This was because, in the country's then-controlled economy, a large portion of resources in the earlier part of the period had been pre-empted by heavy industry.

Economic reforms liberated the services sector to claim its due share. Much of the rapid growth since 1990 is from a low base. But the story does not end there. There is at least one striking departure from international experience.

Services can be disaggregated into three groups. Group I is traditional services — retail and wholesale trade, transport and storage, public administration and defence — which tend to be slow-growing. Group II is a hybrid of traditional and modern services — education, health and social work, hotels and restaurants, and other community, social and personal services — whose share in GDP in economies has risen in step with per-capita income.

Group III is made up of modern services — financial intermediation, computer services, business services, communications, and legal and technical services.

The interesting departure is that, in India, this group has taken off at a lower percapita level than seen in OECD economies.

We cannot brush aside this group on the ground that it constitutes a small portion of GDP. The growth rates of communications, business services and financial services have been so high that they have together contributed more towards growth of GDP than manufacturing.

Some have argued that a large portion of services growth merely represents outsourcing of jobs earlier done in industry. The paper finds that this is not true. Only about a quarter of services growth is due to outsourcing by industry. Most of the growth is on account of an increase in private final demand and exports. Tradability of many services has risen sharply in recent years thanks to developments in communications and IT. India has done a good job of riding the new wave of service exports.

    The outlook for both modern and traditional services remains bright. Outsourcing by foreign companies is bound to continue because it is a business imperative.

The market for IT as well as financial services within India remains under-penetrated. Education and healthcare both need to expand considerably in order to meet domestic demand. Transport, hotels and retail trade all have untapped potential.

The more critical question is whether services can absorb enough of India's burgeoning labour force.
Many have argued that while services may provide growth, low-cost manufacturing alone can provide adequate employment.

The vast majority of workers would not have the skills necessary for employment in services. The authors try to refute this proposition by showing that the skill content in manufacturing and services is converging.
This is not a terribly convincing argument. The convergence may have happened because manufacturing in India has become more skill-intensive. It does not prove that services are capable of absorbing large numbers of workers with relatively low skills. But we do have anecdotal evidence of this happening. Several firms have set up call centres and data entry centres in the rural areas. Financial services and communications too have shown they can generate large numbers of relatively low-skilled jobs.

It may be difficult to train large numbers of workers for highly-skilled jobs in services but it should be possible to train them for lower-skilled jobs in services. Services by themselves cannot be the answer to India's employment needs. But the high growth rate of India's services does imply that we do not have to imitate the east Asian or Chinese growth model.









RAJIV KUMAR SECRETARY GENERAL, FICCI Yes, if Resentment is Widespread
It is important to share the benefits of growth and industrialisation equitably across all segments of our society. It is, perhaps, even more important that all stakeholders perceive that the government is acting in an even-handed manner and not discriminating against a group. These issues become critical for land that is a scarce resource in our country.
Moreover, there is strong emotive content to land. It is, therefore, understandable that there is a strong resistance by farmers against any move to divest land, and especially if it is done at perceptibly below market prices. There is also a strong case for farmers to share in the capital gains that accrue to the landowners once it has been put to industrial or real estate use.
Due to these reasons, Ficci has taken a stand that it is optimum if the state has a minimal role in land acquisition. Experience has shown that disputes and dissatisfaction are minimised when prospective buyers work directly with farmers to acquire land. It needs to be clarified that in case a minority, acting on irrational and narrow selfish reasons, is preventing the necessary land acquisition, the state would need to facilitate its take over. In circumstances where such an approach has not been followed and there is widespread resentment against land acquisition, it is advisable that the state reverses such an action and hands back the land to its earlier owners.
However, it is advisable that instances of such reversals are minimised, if not eliminated. This requires that each provincial government reviews the existing land acquisition laws and practices that are, in most cases, inherited from the colonial era and are not in keeping with the current aspirations of a democratic society. India needs to expand its manufacturing capacity, and land will inevitably be required for this. It is, therefore, important that further politicisation of the issue is avoided. This can be achieved if state governments, led by a model law from the central government, announce a modern land acquisition policy.
In this effort, care must be taken to ensure that the terms of land of acquisition are not made so onerous that large-scale manufacturing activity is ruled out in our economy.


The Tatas claim that farmland acquired for industrial purpose should not be returned to farmers. Whether this claim is legally tenable is for the courts to decide, but the law often has little to do with what's right and what's wrong, and what's fair and what's not. Ratan Tata will be no poorer if this land were to be redistributed. The farmers, on the other hand, will be if the land is not returned to them. Much of the land handed over to Tata Motors is still cultivable.

With the monsoon arriving on schedule, farmers who get back their land now will be able to reap a successful harvest. Before the Tatas arrived in Singur, farmers here were not just making do but were downright prosperous. Singur was a net exporter of vegetables and agricultural produce. The economic dependence of farmers and sharecroppers on this fertile land is what prompted the opposition. They were not convinced that industrialisation would be a suitable replacement.

That sentiment hasn't changed even now. In Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, betel vine farmers are fighting against the Posco steel plant. In Thervoy, Tamil Nadu, a Dalit village of peasants and grazers are fighting the French tyre giant Michelin from taking over their grazing commons.


Writing for the International Herald Tribune on the Singur controversy, a journalist commented, "It is easier to produce a car for the cost of a Lexus surround-sound stereo system than it is to separate Indians from their land and from the idea of land."

It is to tear apart Indians from their land that the British enacted the draconian Land Acquisition Act, which permits the state to forcibly acquire land for public purpose.

At that time, public purpose was defined by our white masters. Today, public purpose is defined by our corporate masters.

If the courts decide that repatriation of alienated land to their rightful owners is against the law, it is time to change the laws.

If farmland can be forcibly acquired from farmers to be handed over to industrialists, what is wrong in forcibly acquiring industrial land for handing over to farmers.







" The Prime Minister speaks, shows he is in control," thus went the helpful pontification by some pundits after Dr Manmohan Singh met a group of editors last week. Since it has been argued that the reason for the UPA-II government's present impasse is Dr Singh's reluctance to communicate with the media, he seems to have finally agreed to swallow the magic pill. But can the prescribed 'speech therapy' make someone a truly inspiring leader?

If being an eloquent communicator were the ultimate test, then A B Vajpayee would not have had to vacate the PM's office for Dr Singh. If schmoozing the media is what makes a successful or effective PM, then Rajiv Gandhi's humongous electoral mandate would not have evaporated so fast. If unpopularity with the media were a recipe for political disaster, Indira Gandhi would not have become the most powerful PM and the biggest mass leader since Jawaharlal Nehru. Dr Singh should be the last one to forget how the man who initiated him into politics, the redoubtable P V Narasimha Rao, demonstrated his Chanakya-like brilliance in statecraft by playing mauni baba, or silent saint.

This is not to suggest that a prime minister should make media his last priority but only to point out that his political fate and performance are not solely or primarily dependent on his media skills. In Delhi, it is easy to spot any number of paper tigers who are 24x7 obsessed with 'media management' but still have zero connectivity with the people. A leader, certainly a PM, connects or communicates with the nation primarily through the credibility and effectiveness of his leadership and actions, relayed through multiple channels. Handsome is as handsome does, for the media as well. So, what was the crux of the PM's message to the nation through the media? Dr Singh appearing 'relaxed and confident' was no big deal. That he is confident of Sonia Gandhi's backing and that he will make way for 'a younger leader' whenever the party wants him to are common sense. And the Opposition indulging 'in clever propaganda' to paint him 'as a lame-duck PM' and his government as 'the most corrupt' is widelyknown. That he is confident of containing inflation one day and will take steps to ignite growth and reforms have become mandatory niceties. Usually, when a prime minister speaks, she speaks with an agenda designed to set or change the political discourse of the nation. What was Dr Singh's 'newsbreak'? Not a single political or policy announcement with an idea or theme that captured national attention! There lies the real problem: Dr Singh's cultivated pursuit of the persona of an apolitical leader that ends up leaving Raisina Hill without an effective political antenna.

Dr Singh is no greenhorn to miss the political USP in his character — his image as a clean and well-meaning, intelligent man — already acknowledged by his party by making him the PM first and then going to polls projecting him as the prime ministerial candidate against L K Advani. When the nation gave UPA-II a resounding mandate, even the BJP admitted its costly mistake in personally targeting Dr Singh and the disapproval it evoked in its cultivated urban middle class vote bank. It is also a fact that the Congress' tactical utility in using Dr Singh's clean personal image as its most credible and secure shield against the BJP has gone up in the raging politics over scams. But Dr Singh seems to have got carried away by the favourite talking point of his critics; that he is a PM without political authority, which, instead, lies with Sonia Gandhi.
But how severe is this perceived structural defect? For all its refusal to give him full political authority, the fact remains that whenever Dr Singh chose to go fully political, pushing the nuclear deal by taking on the Left, stretching his optimism on the Pakistan front beyond domestic political comfort or taking on LK Advani & Co frontally, the Congress high command has backed him to the hilt.

In fact, 10, Janpath, has been shielding the PM from wily Congress leaders, who could have queered his pitch in no time. It publicly reined in and virtually sent into political exile the Machiavellian Gandhi family loyalist (late) Arjun Singh, whose political services to 10, Janpath, during its uncertain years of 1991-97 were of a crucial nature, when he tried to needle Dr Singh by playing the Rahul card. Ms Gandhi's biggest use of 'political authority' was in picking up Dr Singh, over a dozen more experienced leaders, to be the PM. Given how Gandhi-centric the Congress set-up is, these amounted to political licence for Dr Singh to ride high.
The point is, did he make use of this leeway or stay 'apolitical' enough to let even Baba Ramdev almost get away with his trickery? The upcoming Cabinet reshuffle will have no great meaning unless the PM decides to reinvent the political content of his regime and fixes its alltoo-fuzzy political antenna.









The youngest in the gang were fifteen,the eldest about nineteen. I, at seventeen, straddled the median. It was a balmy 1998 night, and we'd gathered together in a living room to watch two films released that year, films that were critically raved about and commercially successful, films that took our cinema forward, birthed a generation of young filmmakers, and films that were as different from one another as chalk and cheese.


Except for one crucial similarity: they both swore.


Ram Gopal Varma's Satya was a visceral cinematic triumph, a gutsy freewheeling masterpiece that brutally riddled bullet-holes into established convention and ended up a film proudly soaked in blood. Nagesh Kukunoor's Hyderabad Blues was a shoestring-budget triumph, an indie to beat all indies, a fantastically honest and identifiable comedy about boys returning to their roots, family, friends, and, like Satya, abusing.

It was the profanity that thrilled us all, no matter how polarised we were by both revolutionary films. Every single one of our peculiar neighborhood gang (a gang that called itself a cult) related to the swearwords, from girls who'd blush on hearing them to girls who'd smile knowingly to boys who'd tie them around their vocabularies proudly, like verbal knuckledusters intended to shut people up. Intended to draw blood.

It wasn't as if Hindi cinema hadn't abused before. (Arthouse cinema of the seventies, for example, rather revelled in using the Hindi word for whore.) But this wasn't arthouse. These people swore either like we did or like we'd seen on the streets; it was relatable and it felt real, immediately striking a familiar chord so emphatically as to automatically draw us closer to those characters.


It's been over a dozen years, and neither Bollywood's New Wave or the fledgling indies have managed to live up to the generation-bridging connect those two films stumbled upon. Our mainstream adult films became more violent but eschewed the cusswords, with no Khan or Bachchan or Kapoor using an expletive, no matter how badly the situation demanded one. (Imagine John McClane saying 'Oh, darn.')


A lot of our indies swore, but – with the exception of the late Pankaj Advani's Urf Professor which somehow snuck onto late night TV, and which you really must watch, if only for how joyfully Sharman Joshi describes Raveena Tandon – nobody showed the bollocks to embrace curses full-throatedly. Just this year, Sudhir Mishra's Arated comedy Yeh Saali Zindagi used some curses while bleeping out others.


It is in this context that Delhi Belly is important, for in Imran Khan it gives us a masala leading man who isn't afraid of saying the F-word aloud, unlike a Shah Rukh or a Salman or an Ajay. Kudos. It is, however, a shameful sign of the infancy of our mainstream cinema that, unlike those '98 films which had incredible merits all their own, the unabashed cursing on display this time is in itself being hailed as a watershed event.

I wager the next 'revolution' will come when an adult film actually grows up enough to show us a tit. We're waiting, Aamir.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Baba Ramdev is not willing to end his war against black money. He has now asked the government to unearth all black money — cash stashed away within the country as well as all the money parked in secret accounts in banks abroad. Following Baba Ramdev's exhortations, his disciples participated in hungerstrikes and agitations against black money. Likewise, Anna Hazare (who, incidentally, is a devotee of a Yadav baba whose temple is located in his own model village, Ralegaon Siddi) and his team are also opposed to black money and corruption and the Gandhian has threatened to go on hungerstrike again. Team Anna wants the Lokpal Bill dictated by them accepted as is and be made the law of the land. None of them, however, has so far said a word on the recent revelations of huge amounts of money and jewellery hidden in the vaults of temples and bedrooms of babas. The treasure discovered at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple is worth Rs 1 lakh crore. And on June 17, Rs 11.5 crore in cash, 98 kg of gold and 307 kg of silver were found by Trust members when they opened Satya Sai Baba's chambers at the Puttaparthi ashram after his death. It may be recalled that Baba Ramdev rushed to Puttaparthi to see the body of Satya Sai after he passed away. When Satya Sai was in the hospital, several "sacred" men and ministers from the Centre and states bemoaned that if he dies, ethics in India will also die. One woman minister of Andhra Pradesh, in fact, camped beside his hospital bed for months. Several civil servants, judges and academics rushed to Puttaparthi. Now we have some idea why all this happened. It will be interesting to see what Baba Ramdev and Team Anna have to say about the officially declared wealth of the ashram, apart from the bundles shipped out of Satya Sai's Yajur Mandir. Is this wealth black or white? Will Baba Ramdev make a statement about the currency that was lying in Satya Sai's bedroom, which was locked up when he was shifted to hospital? How do they define black money? Was the cash, gold and silver found in Yajur Mandir all white? If Mr Hazare, Baba Ramdev and their team members treat such money as black money, why are they silent on the course of action against it? Will the Lokpal Bill, which they are fighting for, also cover spiritual shrines of babas, temples, masjids, churches and gurdwaras? Does Mr Hazare's draft have a clause that covers the kind of black money that was unearthed in Yajur Mandir? Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders A. Raja and K. Kanimozhi and Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi are in jail because they were said to be corrupt. If Satya Sai was alive, and if all the cash, gold and silver were dug up during that time, would he have had to be accountable? What would Kiran Bedi, who claims to be an honest and efficient police officer, have done in this case? Would she have arrested Satya Sai if he was in her jurisdiction? By his own admission, Baba Ramdev has acquired assets worth Rs 1,100 crore in a span of just 10 years. We do not know the worth of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Mata Anandamayi, whose spiritual kingdoms are thriving and expanding like wildfire. Shouldn't Mr Hazare's Lokpal Bill have a provision for investigating these financial empires? I am sure no Prime Minister's or Chief Justice of India's bedroom (from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh) could possess as much wealth as Satya Sai's bedroom held. At least the Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament and the people, and the Chief Justice has to sit on benches and there is an open office system with a registrar around him. Who are the babas accountable to? In the name of god, spiritual exercises and cultural campaigns, far too much immorality, corruption and accumulation of black money has been taking place in the country. We know how godmen, politicians, bureaucrats, judges and academics make even gods corrupt in India. Early and exclusive darshan of the deity at big temples is available for a price. Part of this money goes into temple hoondis, the rest into the bedrooms of babas. What does our highly moral civil society have to say about the corrupt culture of spiritual institutions, the latest evidence being the Yajur Mandir? We have seen what happened in Osho's ashram. American civil society could not tolerate that ashram even for a few months. Sexual immorality and accumulation of black money has been part of so-called spiritual/religious institutions. If we are against moral and financial corruption, we must focus on the haloed halls too. The author is director for the study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad







Time and again the courts have taken upon themselves to prod the government to take decisive action on issues and by appointing a 13-member Special Investigative Team which will monitor efforts to unearth black money, the judiciary has once again sent out a strong message to the executive. The Supreme Court's decision is a measure of the frustration and anger at the government's seeming inability — or unwillingness — to bring back black money parked in foreign countries. Leave aside getting its hands on the money, the government's agencies have not yet been able to even identify those who have stashed money abroad. And when some names do become available, as in the case of those whose secret account details with LGT Bank of Liechtenstein were supplied by the German authorities, the Indian government has yet to make them public. Is this just tardiness or deliberate delay? Clearly the Supreme Court thinks it is the latter because it has effectively taken over the investigation. The strong language used by Justice Sudarshan Reddy, who wrote the order, is indicative of the court's annoyance and lack of faith in the government's intentions: "The amount of unaccounted monies held abroad is massive... Yet, for unknown and probably unknowable though easily surmisable reasons the investigations into the matter proceeded at a laggardly pace. Even the named individuals had not yet been questioned with any degree of seriousness." The court drew special attention to the lackadaisical manner in which investigations against alleged money launderer Hasan Ali have proceeded. While retaining some existing officials, including those from the intelligence agencies, the RBI and the Central Board of Direct Taxes, the Supreme Court put the SIT under the control of two of its former judges, Justices B.P. Reddy and M.B. Shah, and brought in the director of the Research and Analysis Wing. The message is clear: this is a matter of national importance which needs close attention and the government clearly is not up to it. The appointment of the RAW chief is significant, and the court has rightly linked the question of black money with national security. It will not be surprising if the government thinks this is yet another example of judicial activism or overreach. In the past the executive has chafed at the judiciary's interest in matters that ought to be strictly the executive's purview. In ideal circumstances this division of powers should be respected. But when the executive is found, repeatedly, to be faltering in its duties and obligations, it has to be reminded of them. One of the Supreme Court's directives is that the names given by the German government be revealed. Media reports have appeared giving some names, but there has been no official confirmation. The SIT must also now get down to serious work and show results. The court's decision may have come as a shock to the government, but it will undoubtedly please India's citizens. It is hoped that this move by the judiciary is taken to its logical end, and the task of identifying wrongdoers and, more important, getting back the country's wealth begins in real earnest.







The dramatic result of Sunday's general election in Thailand, with the Pheu Thai Party of the self-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra, now led by his youngest sister Yingluck Shinawatra, winning decisively takes the country to a new fork that could lead to the beginning of a reconciliation or bigger divisions. The truth is that Mr Thaksin changed the contours of Thai politics with his victories in 2001 and 2005 before being ousted in a coup in 2006. Despite his billionaire status, Mr Thaksin empowered the rural poor and gave them real economic benefits in a political space traditionally defined by the elite consisting of those around the King's court, the generals, high-flying professionals and businessmen. An ailing monarch, King Bhumibol, the invariable mediator in disputes, largely remained offstage. The elite responded with a coup, but the arrangement led by the Democrat Party's Abhisit Vejjajiva was very much of a holding operation while Mr Thaksin, convicted of a corruption charge he calls politically motivated, chose to live abroad to avoid a prison term. In the hour of his triumph, Mr Thaksin was both cautious and wise in his reaction from Dubai, his exile home, saying he was "in no hurry" to return home. Indeed, the question of his return has turned into a hot potato: "clemency" has become a charged word and the Opposition and the Army will view it as a red rag to a bull. The victorious Pheu Thai is therefore underplaying the theme for the moment. The 44-year-old Yingluck Shinawatra, a successful businesswoman with no political experience, proved to be a brilliant campaigner, hitting the right notes, showing respect to the elderly and being civil to her opponents while imbibing the message of her experienced advisers. She will become the first woman Prime Minister of Thailand. The challenge Ms Yingluck faces is herculean. Pheu Thai and the Opposition parties have been promising the same things: populist schemes to improve the lot of the poor and farmers, better health plans and more subsidies. The question now is how well the new government implements proposed schemes and how the novice Prime Minister delivers on her promise of bringing about national reconciliation. At the very least, it promises to be a long-term project because the faultlines in Thai society, reflected in its politics, run deep. Thailand's tryst with democracy has been at best problematic, with the generals, even while receding to the background, retaining their power base. It was barely a year ago that the Red Shirts, Thaksin loyalists, rioted in the streets of Bangkok, ultimately leading to the security forces clearing the streets after bloody battles resulted in the loss of 90 lives. The elite, of course, were represented by the Yellow Shirts, which had paralysed the main international airport for a time. The general who ousted Mr Thaksin in the 2006 coup has won two seats for his newly-formed party this time around. Ms Yingluck is planning to form her government with smaller parties, and, given the nature of her dramatic victory and the magical aura the family name has acquired, she will probably have a grace period to show results. But she needs to act swiftly before the Opposition has an opportunity to strike, once the spectacular nature of her victory fades. There are enough reasons for her opponents to feel disgruntled, especially the threat of losing their traditional privileges. The wheel has turned full circle five years after the last coup. Against the background of the power the elite have traditionally enjoyed, with or without direct Army rule, under the wings of a highly respected King Bhumibol, the process of democratising Thai society begun by Mr Thaksin in 2001 is likely to prove a long one. Indeed, Mr Thaksin invited trouble by seeking changes in the Army command. The advantages the privileged have built through the royal court, the Army and big businesses have frustrated popular efforts to democratise society in the past. Because of the King's failing health for a considerable time, he has been unable to play the balancing role of a reconciler. Ms Yingluck will need all the advice from her self-exiled brother and his experienced aides still in the country to steer a difficult path to gain political recognition. This is both a promising and a risky phase in Thai politics: the democratisation process must succeed for the future of the country, but there are too many vested interests upholding the old order to make the journey a simple or happy one. The Army-civilian divide is only part of Thailand's problem. The bigger issue is the deep divide in the society, with the underprivileged unwilling to accept their lowly status and an elite enjoying their traditional privileges embroidered around a respected monarchy. Mr Thaksin's pioneering contribution to the rise of the underprivileged has been to give them the kind of advantages they never had before. For the first time in recent Thai history, they feel empowered. The problem for Ms Yingluck is how to give the awoken rural constituency new hope without provoking the long-entrenched vested interests into organising another coup. Her theme song of reconciliation is good but it will take her only so far. The first months of her prime ministership will determine how she will meet the tremendous challenges before her. Her brother's advice from Dubai is a sound one — "all sides should respect the decision of the people" — to ensure peace. The rub is in getting the Opposition parties, smarting under defeat, to follow this advice. If Pheu Thai pushes its luck by seeking the early return of Mr Thaksin, a polarising figure, it would give the Democrat Party the excuse to take to the streets again. Ms Yingluck wears a crown of thorns.







While travelling on a jet plane from London to Chicago, I was rewarded with a very unexpected sight. I saw the sun rise in the west. No, this was not a daydream but a real experience. The time was close to twilight hour when our jet was crossing Greenland, above the 60 degree latitude. The sun had just gone below the western horizon and most passengers were getting ready for a pre-dinner shut-eye… when it happened. I saw the sun reemerge into the sky from the west, where it had previously gone down. It continued rising for a short while and then sank again for a second sunset. Had the sun been momentarily confused as to which way to go? The explanation was, in fact, simple. Normally, we see the sun rise in the east, move westwards and set in the west because we are observing it from the moving platform that is the earth. The earth spins from west to east. At high enough latitude a jet plane flying westwards surpasses the speed of the rotation of the earth, as it happened when my plane was flying over Greenland. While this happened, the sun appeared to move eastwards and was seen to rise above the western horizon. In fact, a supersonic jet like the erstwhile Concorde produced even more spectacular results: one could leave London at lunchtime and arrive in New York for breakfast, for the apparent motion of the sun was reversed! The aircraft could travel faster than the west-east motion of the earth's surface covering the path from London to New York. This example cautions us that once we leave the terra firma we may be in for some strange sights. Take, for example, an astronaut circling the space in a satellite. He will see the sky above and around him as pitch black, despite the fact that the sun is shining with its full power! A photograph shows that the sun is seen as a glowing whitish disc, yet the space is dark as if the sun was unable to light it. Why? From down below, we see the sun shining through layers of dust and air molecules. The sunlight gets scattered by these particles and spreads across the sky, dominated by the violet-blue colours which are scattered the most. So we are accustomed to seeing a spread of blue sky. Up in space there are no such scatterers and the sky is lightless, i.e. black except, for the part where the solar disc shines. The moon has no atmosphere, and it has no scattering agents like gas or dust. So, the sky here is black except where the sun is shining. The same holds for eclipses seen from the moon. The solar eclipse will happen when the earth comes between the moon and the sun. Since the earth is much larger than the moon, the solar eclipses on the moon are not as rare as they are on the earth. However, they are not so spectacular. For the sky, the moon is black even under normal circumstances, except where the solar disc shines. At the time of the eclipse only that shining disc will be covered. And, finally, when we are on the moon, where will we see the earth in the sky? Like the moon from the earth, earth from the moon will be seen as a crescent. But that crescent will not move across the sky; it will stay put in one place! Sounds strange? But you will see the reason if you use the fact that as the moon orbits the earth it spins around its axis in such a way that it always presents the same face to the earth. You will also find that the earth gradually goes through phases like the moon while staying in the same place. These are instances to warn us not to have a preconceived impression of the cosmos. By and large most of us expect the rest of the universe to be similar to what we know from our rather limited experience of viewing our neighbourhood. Over the years professional astronomers have learnt not to trust the maxim "seeing is believing". The image of an astronomical object may not necessarily correspond to reality. In short, there are enough optical illusions lying around to mislead the observer. The hint of this possibility first came when Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity. The theory clearly predicted that the path of a light ray skirting a massive body will "bend" because of the gravitational pull of that body. The bending of light from a star by the sun in this fashion was verified at the time of the total solar eclipse of 1919. At the time of eclipse the sun is fully covered and in the temporarily darkened sky one can see stars. The images of some of the stars whose light rays passed close to the sun were found to be slightly shifted. Based on this finding, maverick astronomer Fritz Zwicky predicted in 1937 that there should be even more startling examples of bending of light by gravity. He expected these "gravitational lenses" to be found in the vast universe spread beyond our Milky Way Galaxy. Nobody took notice of his prediction, but in 1979 astronomers were to be reminded of it when they saw two identical-looking quasars in close proximity. Quasars look like stars but are in reality much more powerful sources of radiation. A typical quasar may radiate as much light as a galaxy of 100 billion stars. What were these two quasars? As these quasars were very similar in appearance, the astronomers labelled them twin quasars. However, it became clear eventually that they were seeing "double", like a partygoer who has overindulged himself. The light rays from a single quasar were bent by an intervening galaxy in such a way that the rays got divided along two tracks, skirting the galaxy clockwise and anticlockwise, thereby producing two images of the same single source. In short, the intervening galaxy was acting like a gravitational lens. This was a sobering experience and was followed by several such examples of multiple imaging produced by gravitational lensing. Isaac Newton, the originator of the law of gravitation, had conjectured that gravity affects light tracks. Einstein replied in the affirmative and nature has obliged with several supporting examples. * The author, a renowned astrophysicist, is professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus







In recent times, Sufi poetry has gained immense popularity all over the world. Eight hundred years after his death, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi reigns as the most popular Sufi poet in the West. However, most published translations of Mevlana's poetry are devoid of his religious discourse — the love that he writes about is often misunderstood as worldly love, and he is presented as a mystic without Mohammad, without Islam. In expunging the Islamic element from popular Muslim mystic poets, the West loses out on the opportunity to engage in dialogue with Islam. Rumi's verses express his deep love for Prophet Mohammad while explaining the mysteries of Divine love. Jami (1414 – 92 AD), the Persian mystic poet, called Mevlana Rumi's Mathnawi "the Quran in Persian". Rumi's monumental works weave numerous prophetic traditions in poetic verse. The Mevlavi Sufi Order crystallised in Turkey around Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi who died in 1273 AD. Universally recognised as one of the greatest spiritual figures of all times, the Mevlana was born in the Afghan province of Balkh where his father, Bahauddin Walad, was a renowned Islamic scholar. The Mongol oppression of Central Asia led the family to migrate to Konya, which was then governed by the Seljuks of Rum. The mystic poet learnt Islamic theology from his father, who headed a seminary in Konya. After his father's death, the Mevlana took over as the head of the religious seminary. At the age of 37, Rumi met his spiritual master, Shams Tabrez, who transported the scholar from the sober legalistic understanding of religion to discovering the Sufi path. Tabrez did not negate the disciple's knowledge of Islamic theology but inspired him to travel beyond the laws to discover new spiritual horizons. Rumi's Mathnawi, which contains around 26,000 verses, is an acknowledged masterpiece on Sufi philosophy. Rumi dwells on the theme of love, explaining that realisation of the self is a reflection of the Lord. Reputed for their devotion to music and whirling movements during meditation, followers of the order are called "the whirling dervishes". Kabir Helminski, a reputed contemporary scholar and shaykh of the Mevlevi Order, describes the state of the one who whirls: "There are many dimensions to this experience. Firstly, one has to be able to turn, and to do that one has to become empty inside. Empty, free from all internal dialogues, but fully aware. A state of balance is required to turn on an axis, so centred in one's own being". Whirling is not a trance, but an exercise in mindful presence where the dervish is conscious of several things at once. The whirling dervish's thought is uncluttered and he is in harmony with the other participating dervishes. He establishes a connection with the shaykh who leads the ceremony and takes the conscious step of opening his heart to the Divine. While whirling, the right foot is lifted up to the knee while the left foot becomes the axis on which the whole body revolves, anti-clockwise. With each revolution "Allah" is pronounced inwardly. The arms are extended, the right palm turned upwards to receive Divine Grace and the left palm turned downwards, bestowing on the earth the Divine energy that passes through the heart. The dance is divided into four sessions of whirling, each around 10 minutes long, called salaams. The last salaam represents union with the Divine, which is when the shaykh steps forward and recites a prayer, silently. Sufi whirling presents an example of a spiritual tradition where music and movement are the basis of a deeply contemplative practice. It is designed to maximise Divine remembrance which in Islam is the highest of all human activities. The dervishes who meditate in the tradition of their Sufi master Rumi begin their dance with a naat, poetry in honour of Allah's Messenger: Ya habib Allah Rasul Allah ki akta tui! (O God's beloved, O Messenger of God — unique are you! You chosen by the Lord of Majesty — so pure are you!) — The author is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at






Jagjivan Ram was a great leader and administrator. It is a great resilience and spirit that enabled him to overcome bias and rise to the levels he did. I had the privilege of interacting with him since my childhood. There were early signs of the grit that would make him a household name in India. A relative of mine, G.S. Prasad, and Jagjivan Ram had studied in the same class at a school in Arrah. Jagjivan Ram was the only Scheduled Caste student in the school and faced much prejudice. No one was willing to share a desk with him. Prasad volunteered and they became good friends. Similarly, the school had two drinking water pitchers, one for Hindus, the other for Muslims. Both groups of students objected to him drinking from their pitcher. The headmaster had a third pitcher brought but he broke that pitcher and insisted on drinking from the pitcher for Hindus. Prasad supported him and they got their way. Both did well at school and passed the matriculation examination in first division. Jagjivan Ram got a scholarship and joined Benares Hindu University. Later, he took to politics and joined the freedom movement while his school friend ended up as chief engineer of Bihar. After provincial autonomy was introduced in the late Thirties, the Congress came to power in Bihar. Jagjivan Ram was appointed parliamentary secretary, equivalent to a deputy minister. He earned a good reputation among senior officials, mostly British, for his notings on files. My grandfather, who was chief of police of Bihar, the only Indian in the country to hold that appointment before 1947, spoke highly of him. One day Jagjivan Ram came to our house with rasgullas. I do not remember what the occasion was. He distributed them to everyone — most took the rasgullas in their handkerchiefs and put them in their pockets. I readily took one, ate it and asked for another. When my grandmother heard of this, she scolded me. I am not sure whether it was for eating the rasgulla or for demanding another. In 1946, the Interim Government came to power in Delhi and Jagjivan Ram became labour minister. I was then at Army headquarters in Delhi. We heard that Jagjivan Ram's plane had to make a forced landing in the desert near Cairo. My father later took me with him to his house to congratulate him on his lucky escape where he also told him that I had returned from war in Burma. He enquired if I was the same boy who had taken two rasgullas from him. I was amazed at his memory. Many years later my brother-in-law K.N. Sahaya was visiting me in Delhi and took me to Jagjivan Ram's house for a Holi Milan. There was a large gathering that included many officials. Jagjivan Ram was very hospitable. What struck me most was that several "upper caste" people were touching his feet. India had changed a lot from the late Thirties when I saw people hesitating to eat the rasgullas he had offered them. It was rumoured that after the Allahabad high court judgment it was suggested that Indira Gandhi step down and let Jagjivan Ram become Prime Minister. She appealed against the judgment and sought re-election to Parliament. Had she done so, her image, and that of Indian democracy, would have shot up. She chose instead to recommend imposition of Emergency without informing the Council of Ministers. Jagjivan Ram continued as defence minister during the Emergency. On the eve of elections in 1977, he resigned from the Cabinet and left the Congress to join Jayaprakash Narayan's movement. This had tremendous impact. Indira Gandhi was routed at the hustings. Jagjivan Ram returned as defence minister in the Janata government. Jagjivan Ram's abilities were apparent in the fact that he took pains to study a file and would often write long notes in his own hand instead of the common practice of ministers signing typed notes prepared for them. These notes showed his clarity of thought and breadth of vision. No wonder he was a success in every ministry he headed — labour, food, railways and defence. I remember one instance, when the British military attaché came to me and said Lord Mountbatten was very upset because Jagjivan Ram had not replied to his letter for three months. Mountbatten had been planning his own funeral and had written to enquire whether the Indian defence forces would be represented. Normally, such a letter should have come to me as adjutant-general of the Army. I did not remember having seen it. We searched for the letter, even got the defence minister's secretariat to look for it, and finally I asked Jagjivan Ram about it. He told me he had seen the letter. When the letter was ultimately found it turned out that his private secretary had misplaced it. He then wrote to Mountbatten that he had not had the heart to pen a reply — discussing the funeral of a living person is considered a bad omen in India. However, since he wanted an answer, he assured Mountbatten that the Indian armed forces would participate in the most appropriate manner for their supreme commander in war and their most popular viceroy. Jagjivan Ram also stood by those who had served under him. When I was surprisingly passed over for appointment as Army Chief, he was not in government. But he raised the issue strongly in Parliament along with a few former ministers. Jagjivan Ram missed being Prime Minister twice. The first was when Indira Gandhi did not adopt the appropriate course after the Allahabad high court verdict. The second was when Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan, for political reasons, decided to make Morarji Desai Prime Minister. This was something like Mahatma Gandhi not making Sardar Patel Prime Minister. India would have had a Dalit Prime Minister long before the US had a black President. Given his political acumen, the Punjab tragedy in the wake of the Bhindranwale episode would not have taken place, there would have been no Mandalisation of politics in India and the security forces may have been better prepared to meet the challenges we face today. However, destiny follows its chosen course, whether in the history of a nation or in the lives of individuals. * The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir











SPEEDILY establishing the truth in the killing of a teenager in an Army residential area in Chennai is of critical necessity. For, the incident has the potential to deny the military one of its greatest sources of strength ~ the support and faith of the people, who also happen to foot its bill. Some aspects of the incident have lent themselves to conflicting reports: but it is clear the kid was shot within the Army compound, from close range. And in broad daylight, so no suspicions ought to have been generated. It was no accident, the intention was to scare away urchins ~ maybe not to injure them ~ from plucking fruit in the compound. It was an inexcusably rash act. And if an officer was responsible ~ as friends of the victim suggest, which fits in with the official stand that security personnel at the compound were not armed ~ it reflects very poorly on the Army's standards of discipline. Sadly, Army authorities in both the Capital and Chennai have created an impression that the sensitivity and gravity of the youth's death has not "registered"; their responses have been routine, cold. The chief minister may have been inaccurate in saying the lad was shot by a "jawan", but the sympathy she has extended to the victim's family and her insistence on a thorough police probe are to be commended, even if some political dividends accrue. Had the Army reacted in a manner that did not suggest it was "protecting" someone the public/political protests might have been averted.

Critics of the military, there is no dearth of them, will cite this shooting as yet another example of the high-handed manner in which defence personnel treat their civilian counterparts, their mistaken sense of being "exclusive" if not above the law. Some will recall how a former air chief took pot shots with an air-pistol at the "locals" using an open lot near his house (in Pune) as a toilet. Defence personnel do a tremendous job, in difficult conditions. The people are aware of that ~ hence extend to them benefits and privileges denied to other "government servants". That does mean that the faujis should deem themselves a superior breed, treat others with contempt. Contemporary realities confirm that the military is no longer as upright as it once was. If someone can open fire on children "pinching" fruit, just imagine the attitude of soldiers when operating under AFSPA cover?




Kolkata Municipal Corporation's drive against billboards is welcome, a response that must be tempered with the thought that it was horribly overdue. At least over the past decade, the municipal authorities ~ from Trinamul to CPI-M to Trinamul ~ have suffered those unsightly distractions; the six-day deadline, set at Monday's meeting with a cross-section of officials, seems concordant with the Chief Minister's one-word slogan, "hurry", a variant of her predecessor's "do-it-now". But to imagine that this is the first step towards transforming Kolkata into London verges on infantile lullaby. The underpinning is the "visual pollution" that one has to suffer, specifically the obstructions that block one's view of certain heritage buildings. Yet the scope of the cleansing operation would appear to be limited in the extreme. It will be confined to the Esplanade-Dalhousie Square "heritage stretch"; admittedly, extending it to other parts of the city is easier said than done not least because of the commercial interests at stake. Even governmental entities are involved as many of these billboards focus on public utilities. The vested interests include the political class no less; giant visuals of Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee have come up near the GPO, diagonally opposite the state secretariat. Even within the limited radius, the cleansing will have to be sweeping and without discrimination in favour of the political worthies.

Truth to tell, there is little or nothing left of 'heritage' in the Dalhousie Square area ~ once the nerve-centre of British India's thriving economy based predominantly on tea and jute. Indeed, the gradual closure of the managing agencies ranks as one of the darkest chapters of Bengal's post-independence economic history. Dismantling the billboards will doubtless make the area slightly pleasing to the eye. The essay towards beautification of the heart of the city ~ the grot may be intact elsewhere ~ must also lead to the regular cleaning of the literally murky waters of the tank at Dalhousie Square. If the express purpose is to curb "visual pollution", the exercise must be in parallel with an effort to curb noise pollution at political meetings. The task assumes urgency in view of the martyrs' day rally of the Trinamul Congress on 21 July... in the government's designated area of Esplanade. Unlike London, let the rest of the city be damned.




THE crisis deepens in Libya with rebels rejecting the patchwork quilt stitched by the South African President, Jacob Zuma. They have iterated their resolve to step up the offensive against Muammar Gaddafi. The world never really expected the South African mediation to be effective. Decidedly more critical in terms of international relations must be the Russian accusation against NATO that it has overstepped the UN resolution on intervention. The rift has widened with Moscow alleging during Monday's crucial meeting in Sochi that the alliance had lent its spin on the nature of military intervention that the UN had sanctioned in March chiefly to enforce a no-fly zone to protect civilians from retaliatory attacks by the regime. Has international policing crossed its legal limits?  The differences between Russia and NATO have been exposed at a critical juncture on two counts: the Western powers are set to ramp up the onslaught on the Libyan leader in order to achieve a military breakthrough. Second, Gaddafi has signalled his determination not to relinquish power after 41 years. He may be enjoying a quiet chuckle over the dilemma of the West. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov's remark that "so far, there is no common understanding over how the resolution is being implemented" just about sums up the confusion that has marked operations since April. The differences over NATO's strategy have assumed the character of an academic discourse if the trend of Monday's meeting ~ attended by President Dmitry Medvedev ~ is any indication. This is clear from the NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen's counter-blast: "Everything NATO does is in full compliance with the UN mandate."
What matters most of all is that there is no indication of a let-up in the air offensive, ostensibly aimed at protecting civilians from Gaddafi's forces. Libya's tragedy has deepened with the killing of civilians, including members of Gaddafi's immediate family, in the NATO blitz. The Western powers must now take a call on the nature of the offensive; in Afghanistan it has led to no dramatic change on the ground, compelling President Obama to announce a major withdrawal of troops. A closer reflection is as critical as Gaddafi giving up his rusted throne.









Justice Louis Brandeis of the USA had once remarked: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches people by example. If the government becomes the law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law and invites every man to become a law unto himself."
India, plagued by a series of corruption cases, meekly caved in to Anna Hazare's demand for a joint drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill. The proposed legislation envisages that the Lokpal is at once judge and prosecutor. It seeks an amalgam of the CAG, CVC and CBI, public policy evaluators and ombudsmen empowered by a mish-mash of Central Civil Service Rules and the Special Police Establishment (SPEA) and Prevention of Corruption Acts (PCA).
In democratic India, an omnipresent Lokpal cannot be the arbiter of the nation's destiny, indeed its conscience-keeper. Institutional integrity must not be given the short shrift; nor for that matter can the democratic convention of separation of powers be jettisoned. Nietzsche's warning that "whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster" is pertinent in the context.
The Lokpal should be renamed the National Accountability Commission. It should be  a five-member entity comprising three jurists, a civil servant and a prominent citizen from outside the government. The commission should be empowered with the authority of a High Court with appeals lying only to the Supreme Court. All CBI courts under the PCA will stand transferred to the commission and function as its Benches. The commission will hear appeals in corruption cases. This will ease the pressure on High Courts, burdened as they are with a backlog of cases and dearth of judges.
Unless the commission is granted administrative and financial independence from the executive, its efforts to enforce accountability will be severely constrained, much like the CAG and CVC. The commission must also set a deadline within which all pending cases are to be settled.  It will be the duty of the Government of India to provide the judges and the staff to the commission. Changes will have to be effected to the Acts and rules that preclude unsanctioned action against officers of the rank of joint secretary and above. What happens to the CAG, CVC and CBI then?
These constitutional entities have highlighted corruption and national waste; yet their efforts have not always yielded results owing to structural and legal constraints. According to the Constitution, the CAG is an advisory body with a constitutional status. The CVC is a statutory, but advisory body. Both are headed by retired civil servants whose political affiliations rather than merit determine their appointment. The CAG reports to Parliament's public accounts and public undertakings committees. The CAG, CVC and CBI are also dependent on uncertain government grants and conformity with civil service rules for their human resources. The CVC covers the vast financial services sector and the CBI the entire national government.
It is imperative, therefore, that the CAG, CVC and CBI create their own establishments independent of the other civil services and with respective budgets. They should engage experts and absorb deserving officers from the Indian Audit and Accounts Service or the CBI's service, instead of creating a parallel authority in the Lokpal. The recruitment rules for the posts of CAG and CVC are weighted in favour of bureaucrats on the verge of retirement. Essential qualifications should be prescribed for the posts of CAG and CVC and the age-bar  relaxed to 70 years or six years of service, whichever is earlier.
Like the CVC, the CAG should also be a three-member panel on the lines of the Audit Commission in France. The VK Shunglu committee has recently proposed a multi-member CAG, though this was not suggested while Mr Shunglu himself was the CAG. The archaic and toothless Act on the CAG (1971) needs to be repealed and the draft Public Audit Bill, submitted by the CAG, needs urgently to be passed.
In its anxiety to check corruption, the Jan Lokpal Bill ignores the fundamental shortcomings of the CAG, CVC and CBI.
The CBI is severely understaffed and often has to seek expert opinion particularly in matters relating to white-collar corruption. The tendency to view all investigations and intelligence gathering, domestic or foreign, as political activity is often counter-productive. Instead of seeking  police officers whom the states may be unwilling to send on deputation, the CBI should draft officers from the specialised Central Services. It can even consider hiring young graduates as interns and then train them up as professional investigators. Like the CAG and the CVC, the CBI needs to be freed from the clutches of civil service regulations. The CBI's independence from the CVC needs urgently to be restored; it should form part of the Prime Minister's Office.
Quite often, there are no replies to audit objections from the CAG's office. Similarly, the CVC does not have the powers of search and seizure, mandated examination of civil servants, contractors and suppliers, recovery of lost revenue,  or the powers of a civil court. Dilatory tactics by the accused public servants make a mockery of the CBI's cases. Evidently, those engaged in the task of drafting the Jan Lokpal Bill believe that it is better to chop off the head to cure the headache. Instead of attempting to de-politicise, frame capacity and add teeth to established structures, the Bill proposes a fundamental change in the Constitution's separation of powers. There is the mistaken belief that public servants have no fundamental rights even if they are caught red-handed. Therefore, the Lokpal cannot be a parallel khap panchayat. Anna Hazare's victory is a hard-earned one. It will be a national tragedy if the groundswell of public support does not ensure accountability. As Cicero had once observed: "A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within ... the traitor is the plague."
Institutions like the CAG and CVC have performed commendably for the first fifty years  after independence. These entities should be empowered to tackle white collar crime, and induct men and women of integrity and knowledge. As Samuel Johnson had remarked: "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful."

The writer is India's former Ambassador to Cuba, Chile and Bolivia





After ruling the highest medical regulatory body in West Bengal unhindered for years, four top members of the West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC) including its president, Dr Ashok Chowdhury, have decided to step down from their posts. This will undoubtedly come as a surprise not only to the members of the medical community but also to the people of the state who have reasons to have little faith in the statutory medical body for more reasons than one.

As the sole authority with the legal power to cancel the medical registration of errant doctors, the WBMC has all the power it needs to regulate the practice of medicine in West Bengal. And, given the abysmal state of health care in this state, there can be no doubt that the WBMC is largely responsible for it. While the concept of a "medical council" originated primarily to protect defenseless patients against medical malpractice, it is common knowledge that the WBMC has mostly acted to shield delinquent doctors. It is likely that the change of guard in West Bengal following the electoral rout of the Left Front government has played a pivotal role in the sudden and voluntary relinquishment of post of some top WBMC leaders. Ordinary citizens would want to know, though, why a health care regulatory body such as the WBMC, composed exclusively of doctors, should be swayed by electoral transition. The answer to this complex question also underscores the inherent flaw in the medical regulatory system in West Bengal and many other states in India.

As the founding president of People for Better Treatment (PBT), a charitable organisation dedicated to fighting medical negligence and promoting better health care in India, the author has, over the years, filed numerous public interest litigations (PILs) against the WBMC in Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court of India. Recently, PBT demanded of the new Bengal chief minister, Miss Mamata Banerjee, who is also the state's health minister, to dissolve the WBMC. There are reasons for such a demand. What distinguishes the WBMC is that it is still governed by the century-old Bengal Medical Act, 1914 while most medical councils in India follow the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956. Section 4 of the Bengal Medical Act, 1914 lists the ground rules for deciding the composition of the medical council. According to these rules, while some council members are "elected" by different groups of registered medical doctors in West Bengal, other members are "nominated" by the state government and yet others are selected ex-officio by virtue of their official rank. For example, the director of medical education in West Bengal will automatically become a member of the WBMC (Section 4-1d). In fact, even the president of the WBMC is nominated by the state government as stipulated under Section 11-A(1) of the Bengal Medical Act, 1914. Although the Act clearly states that the term of each council member cannot exceed five years, in reality, WBMC elections are routinely postponed for months and years. More importantly, the Bengal Medical Act, 1914 also allows for re-election and/or re-nomination of members, paving the way for most doctor-members to cling to their posts for decades. In fact, Dr Chowdhury had been holding the WBMC president's office even prior to 1998 when I first lodged a complaint with the council over the wrongful death of my wife, Anuradha Saha. A quick review of the rules and regulations that govern the WBMC shows how they enable the state government to have a firm say on its composition.

Medical councils in most developed countries, including the USA and the UK, are composed of not only doctors but also a significant number of non-doctor members. But doctors in India are opposed to the inclusion of non-doctor members in the medical council ~ they claim that since medicine is a complex science calling for years of intensive study, people who are not medically-trained would be of no use while adjudicating any claim of medical negligence.

True, medicine is a complex science. It is also true that medicine has a lot of grey areas where it becomes difficult to definitely identify a course of treatment as right or wrong, making many claims of alleged medical malpractice difficult to adjudicate. Non-doctor members of medical councils in developed countries are not required to act as medical experts. But surely even a common man, without any formal medical training, will be able to evaluate the evidence produced in support of even the most reckless and egregious case of medical negligence by using his wisdom and common knowledge? If that wasn't the case, a judge in a court of law wouldn't have been able to adjudicate cases of medical negligence. The non-doctor members of medical councils in developed countries also act as effective watchdogs and ensure that doctors probing their colleagues for alleged medical negligence do that without bias. There are no checks and balances for doctors in West Bengal. Despite reports of horrific deaths and injuries to patients in hospitals and nursing home appearing in the media almost every day, the WBMC rarely, if ever, finds any doctor guilty. In fact, complaints against doctors are kept pending for years and decades by the council.

The recent surge in doctor bashing and hospital vandalism can probably be attributed to the people's utter lack of faith in regulatory measures. A fair and impartial medical council that is trusted by ordinary people can go a long way in not only raising the standard of health care but also stemming violence against doctors and hospitals.

Interestingly, with the change in the political tide in West Bengal and apparent exodus of the Left Front backed, way-long entrenched members from the WBMC, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) ~ the largest and most influential platform for medical practitioners in India ~ has demanded the disbandment of the current WBMC. Such alacrity may well have been brought about by the eagerness of some doctors ~ sidelined so far at the WBMC by their Left-oriented peers ~ to move in for a kill. But it is ironic that the current president of IMA's West Bengal branch has also been an automatic ex-officio member of the WBMC as per the provisions of Section 4-1(e) of the Bengal Medical Act, 1914. Why had the IMA leaders been silent so far? Until the medical leaders of various doctors' fora in the state take some meaningful pro-patient measures or act against some of their delinquent colleagues, their efforts to "reform" the WBMC will not be seen as credible by the people of West Bengal. It is only a matter of time before the current WBMC (that is already well over five years old) is dissolved and a new council constituted. Undoubtedly, a non-partisan WBMC can play a key role in bringing about a real "change" in the pitiful health care scenario in West Bengal. But for that to happen, it is necessary to amend the Bengal Medical Act, 1914 first. If doctors loyal to the Trinamul Congress choose to perpetuate the ills of the previous Left-backed regime, there is no hope. The new members of the WBMC must be chosen through a transparent and fair election with full participation of all registered doctors in West Bengal. Above all, the government must make appropriate changes in the legal provision to pave the way for the inclusion of non-doctor members in the council. Apart from the Delhi Medical Council, no other medical council in India has non-doctor members. While any such proposal would be fought tooth and nail by the rich and influential medical lobbies, the new government must push through the reforms in order to make health care more responsible, accessible and transparent in Bengal and so that no life is lost to medical negligence.

The writer, a medical doctor, is Professor at HIV/AIDS Research Center at Columbus, Ohio





Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh certainly has to make a lot of effort to ride out the storm caused by his supposedly off-the-record remarks about Bangladesh. To start with, some heads in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) need to roll as the whole exercise of interacting with five editors had been handled shoddily right from the beginning.

First, Dr Singh's advisors should have organised a Press conference, or at least a meeting with a larger group of editors. Second, the transcript of the PM's interaction with the media was made available only late in the evening, after 9 p.m. This, in fact, is an indication of how poorly the PMO is equipped to handle such events now. And third, once the transcript was put out, it contained this glaring gaffe that has almost destroyed India's relations with Bangladesh on the eve of the foreign minister's visit to that country.

Officials in charge should be held accountable by the Prime Minister for the long delay in publishing the transcript, and for the inefficient scrutiny that had allowed his rather poor opinion of Bangladesh to get included in official records. By the time his Bangladesh remarks were withdrawn by citing them as "off-the-record", they made headlines in Bangladesh. How did the PM's critical remarks, accusing 25 per cent of Bangaldeshis of being Jamaat-influenced and hence anti-India, creep into the transcript? Who cleared such a transcript? And, is the person being held accountable for such a lapse?

Now, the PMO is urgently trying to control damage and has announced his Bangladesh visit dates (6-7 September) rather prematurely. Worried that his remarks would elicit strong reactions in Bangladesh, Dr Singh hastily telephoned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and quickly announced the dates.

But it's the third aspect of the faux pas that is perhaps most disconcerting. And, that comprises the ignorance reflected in the Prime Minister's remarks on Bangladesh, no matter off the record or on it. And while a government spokesperson later insisted that what the PM had said wasn't "intended to be judgmental", the remarks were precisely that. It is not clear how the Prime Minister reached the 25 per cent figure as he chose not to disclose his source. Usually support for any organisation is judged through polls and Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami, as former foreign secretary Mr Muchkund Dubey pointed out to this columnist, has, at the best of times, never polled more than ten per cent of the total votes cast in Bangladesh. This kept the Jamaat's tally well below the 10-seat mark till it allied with other parties but even then, the tally stayed between 10 and 12. This in itself is a clear indication of Jamaat's negligible influence in Bangladesh and that it has been effectively contained by Bangladeshis who have never reposed any faith in this party. Dr Singh's remarks that "they were in the clutches, many times, of the ISI" is again based on conjecture. These observations, as Mr Dubey pointed out, were not becoming of the Prime Minister of India, as besides being outdated, they tried to draw generalised conclusions from the odd instance.

Bangladesh's former minister Mr Morshed Khan suggested as much when he pointed out: "Jamaat could be happy with the comment that 25 per cent Bangladeshis are its supporters but from where did the Indian Premier get the information and how does he know that all such supporters harbour hatred for India?" The fact that the PM chose to influence editors with wrong facts in an off-the-record briefing is regrettable as are his remarks about a neighbouring country, which, coming from the head of the government, smack of prejudice.
The Bangladesh government decided not to make a statement in Dhaka and left it to agriculture minister Mr Matia Chowdhury to dismiss the remarks as "irrelevant" and "out of context". The Awami League has kept its counsel but Sheikh Hasina, already facing flak for her proximity to India, has come under additional pressure at home. The Prime Minister's Dhaka visit is crucial, as both sides aim to sign what are already being described as "landmark" treaties on energy, trade and transit. Relations between the two countries have been good since the Awami League came to power and New Delhi has been particularly receptive to improving relations. But clearly, judging from his remarks, Dr Singh does not expect this to last. He said that a change could take place any time now. India can play a key role to ensure that it does not and see to it that the current pro-India government is made stronger. To do that, perhaps the Prime Minister of India could start with insisting on factual briefings free from paranoia and prejudice from his mandarins.

The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman





"Five problems, one solution!" is the punch line delivered by Aishwarya Rai in a TV ad promoting a face cream or a shampoo, I forget which. Can a single solution be found to deal with the multifarious problems confronting India's political class? I believe it can. India is beset by crime, communalism, casteism, terrorism, insurgency, separatism and a host of crippling problems. But the problem currently engaging the nation most is that of corruption. How can that be addressed? The much debated Lokpal Bill is unlikely to deliver a meaningful result. It may only compound the confusion. In the recent Supreme Court ruling on the black money case Mr Justice BS Reddy and Mr Justice SS Nijjar bemoaned that the unholy nexus between lawmakers, lawbreakers and law enforcers had made India a soft state where no moral authority to govern existed. In a newspaper article, Mr Sitaram Yechury identified poverty and disparate economy as the underlying causes of corruption. However deplorable economic disparity might be, its removal is unlikely to help fight corruption. Corruption is being practiced by the rich, not by the poor. But both the Supreme Court and Mr Yechury do seem to recognise that the problem transcends institutional or legal inadequacy. Corruption is a problem that has infected the culture of an entire society.

Culture is reflected in human conduct. Human conduct is influenced by social environment. Our environment is permissive. All rules and norms can be broken. A friend employed by a multinational and recently back from London made an appointment with me. He was 30 minutes late. He brushed aside his lapse with some casual excuse. I asked: "When in London were you ever late for any appointment?" He thought for a while, and then grudgingly confessed: "No." That is what environment does to conduct. Every crippling problem facing India's politicians is created by a single cause. The problem is created because some law is broken. Therefore to contain all these problems the one single paramount requirement would be to ensure that all laws are observed. That is the single solution: observe all laws.

Let Parliament decide what laws should be made. Let the Supreme Court decide if the laws made conform to the provisions of the Constitution. Let the Cabinet decide how those laws, rules and policies are to be implemented. What must be ensured by a third body is that all the provisions of the statute book and the rule books are scrupulously observed. That third body surely cannot be a Lokpal that has no electoral mandate. It can only be the President of India who has the widest electoral mandate of any individual in the country. By a minor amendment that does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution, the President's mandate can be converted from an indirect vote to a direct vote by the electorate.

If the President thus elected could perform the single task of monitoring and ensuring the implementation of laws and official rules, it would be a Herculean achievement. It should be noted that the surest way to minimise violation of laws and rules is to scrupulously observe all procedure. A casual approach to procedure invites violation of law and creation of problems. That is what a permissive culture delivers. That is why the British, with a handful of officials, succeeded in colonising and ruling this vast subcontinent for centuries. They scrupulously observed procedure. We have imbibed many bad qualities from the British. We should imbibe this one good quality which made them arguably the most formidable and unique ruling class to have successfully governed this large nation.    

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist








The website of the Prime Minister's Office is not exactly a social networking platform. What it carries is supposed to be the official communication of the PMO's business. The controversy over the prime minister's reported remarks on Bangladesh during his meeting with a group of editors shows why an important office such as the PMO should not fall victim to the temptations of social networking. It is extraordinary to post what the prime minister says 'off the record' on the PMO's official site. It is even more bizarre that Manmohan Singh's purported remarks on Bangladesh had to be deleted soon afterwards from the site so that they did not offend public sentiments in that country. However, the real issue is not so much what the prime minister said about Bangladesh as how his office, especially the section dealing with the media, mishandled what was supposedly a "private" conversation. It is obvious that there is some confusion here about the prime minister's official interaction with the media and his "private" conversations. What the prime minister says in private to some representatives of the media or to others cannot be taken and projected as his official comments.

Apart from the controversy over the remarks on Bangladesh, the idea behind the prime minister's interaction with a few chosen editors raises uncomfortable questions. It is still unclear how and why the group was selected. It is perfectly reasonable of the PMO to organize such interactions between the prime minister and diverse groups of people. Given the questions the government faces on corruption, inflation and other issues, Mr Singh's anxiety to explain his positions to the country is also understandable. But the best way the prime minister can do this is by holding press conferences. Nobody expects the prime minister to hold such conferences in a routine manner. Press conferences by the prime minister are expected to throw light on important matters of State. Mr Singh had other interactions with the media over the past two years. But his has been the image of a reticent prime minister who would prefer to stay silent and avoid controversies whenever possible. This image may not be a fair one but it has been grist to his political opponents' mill. It would be good for the country if the prime minister speaks up on important issues. But it is important that his voice is heard on the right platform.







For those with long memories, it was as if V.K. Krishna Menon had been resurrected and returned to the United Nations two months ago. The speech by Menon, then a minister without a portfolio, delivered in the UN security council on January 23, 1957, is the longest on record in the world body, the transcript of the marathon eight-hour address running into 160 pages in 21st-century high-tech format.

What took place on May 21, 2011, was reminiscent of Menon's record. A meeting between members of the UN security council visiting Addis Ababa and the African Union's peace and security council at the AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital lasted a rare six-and-a-half hours. The Addis Ababa meeting was part of a process started in 2007, the AU headquarters and the UN in New York annually alternating as the venue.

For five years, these meetings provided opportunities for junkets. Security council members did not at any time demur at a chance to enjoy a few days in one of Africa's most welcoming capitals. The African Union, in turn, never missed an occasion, every second year, to take in the pleasures of the Big Apple. The UN does not even make a pretence that these meetings were junkets. An official UN document frankly acknowledges that "in previous years, process issues dominated the meetings, with relatively little time devoted to substance".

Not any more. This year, the longest meeting in the history of this UN process of engaging Africa was not only packed with substance but also emotion. Several African governments accused Western powers of attempting to "re-colonize" Africa, using the UN as a smokescreen. They said two security council resolutions, which paved the way for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's war against Muammar Gaddafi, had been bent and misinterpreted to an extent that "the law of the jungle had replaced international law".

In the end, the permanent representatives of India, Brazil and Russia, all of whom had abstained from a resolution authorizing "all necessary measures", including a "no-fly zone" over Libya, had to step in to protect the UN 'establishment' from Africa's wrath. It is an irony that as Ban Ki-moon enters his second five-year term as UN secretary-general, his biggest success is also threatening to become an albatross around his neck.

About a fortnight ago, the Indian diplomat, Vinay Kumar, spoke in the security council, pointing out that "as much as two-third of the active items on the Council's agenda concern Africa. About three-fourth of the Council's time is spent on African issues". The secretary-general told this columnist in an exclusive interview last week that "never in the past has more and more been demanded of the UN, like we have experienced in the last four and a half years. We have seen new signs of positive trends towards democratization and transition", especially in North Africa. Ban views this as a "historical evolution", because of which "we are living in a crucial period of challenges, which are very much more complex".

The secretary-general is excited that by the time this year is over, some 20 countries in Africa would have completed the exercise of free and fair elections. Never before since the heady days of decolonization — which quickly went awry in many African countries — have so many people on this continent had the choice of exercising free will over their destiny.

Three days from now, a new country will be born in Africa: South Sudan. The hundreds of thousands of people sailing up the Nile in the last few weeks from scattered refugee camps, full of hope for their new homeland, is an inspirational spectacle for anyone associated with the UN, notwithstanding the challenges that will have to be confronted in Juba, South Sudan's capital.

Modest and self-effacing by nature, Ban is reluctant to talk about his successes in the four-and-a-half years he has been in office. But when it comes to priorities and a vision for his second term, the secretary-general is vocal and passionate.

For a UN chief operating officer whom every permanent member of the security council sees as not being supportive enough regarding their geopolitical standpoints, Ban's priorities are completely at odds with what the big powers want to make of the UN. His first priority for his second term has very little to do with global power play. He says "advancing action on inclusive and sustainable development" is what he intends to spend most of his personal capital on. That includes implementation of a worldwide strategy for better women and child health and keeping up the campaign against HIV/AIDS, malaria and similar diseases.

His second priority will be climate change, followed by empowerment of women. Under Ban's watch, the number of women employed in senior positions at the UN has jumped by as much as 40 per cent in the last four-and-a-half years. "I pledge to continue to increase the number of women in senior leadership posts. We need to continue our efforts and expand them at the mid-levels as well," he said.

At a time of great resource crunch and cost-cutting, it is a marvel that a new global agency exclusively dealing with the empowerment of women was born within the UN family during Ban's first term. Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, who became executive director of UN Women on January 1 this year, believes, "This is a time of great promise. We have a historic opportunity to accelerate the achievement of what champions of gender equality have worked towards for years."

The last four or more years have seen a steep increase in and severity of humanitarian crises. The earthquakes in Haiti and Japan remind us that both rich and poor people are vulnerable to natural disasters. "The magnitude of these crises has brought home some important lessons," Ban told the General Assembly recently. "Looking ahead, we will implement lessons learned to strengthen leadership, improve accountability, and build capacity to rapidly scale up operations on the ground."

Some of the priorities outlined by the secretary-general are bound to put India on a collision course with Ban if he does persist in his zeal to implement them in the next five-and-a-half years. He told this columnist that he will push for wider ratification of the comprehensive test ban treaty so that it can enter into force sooner rather than later. The CTBT cannot enter into force unless India signs and ratifies the treaty, which is controversial at home. Ditto for Pakistan. He also wants full implementation of the commitments agreed to at the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference held last year even as he campaigns for making the NPT universal.

Ban listed among his other priorities the advancement of human rights and accountability, promoting a safer and more secure world, and last but not least, strengthening the UN from within. The secretary-general says he assumed his office "with a determination to build a more modern, flexible UN, better able to meet the challenges of the 21st century. All of us will benefit from a United Nations that is ever more transparent — more accountable — more efficient, effective, and mobile".

In all this, his mantra will be the '4 P's', namely prevention, preparedness, proactiveness, and persistence. Ban may well be taking on more than he can handle in the next five years. And it may turn out that political issues which now seem intractable may be easier to solve than other problems which affect the future of mankind, many of which can be tackled by common sense which, unfortunately, is not all that common in our time.







"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth." Yea verily, the wind doth indeed, and so does the English language. But we do know where it came from and can guess where it is going. And the sentence I've cited here from the 1611 translation of the Bible is answer enough to the reader who asked why, as I urged two weeks ago, one should not take that great work as any guide to today's English.

It is centuries since any but very high-flown (or church) language used words like cometh or goeth; indeed, even in the early 1600s, the -eth ending wasn't the only form in use. Francis Bacon's essays, written then, most often use it, but also today's -s ending. Equally, thou and endings as in hearest and canst are utterly out of date, except in church or among the Quakers, an odd and admirable Christian sect.

As for the verb list, meaning to wish or choose, it was an archaism 400 years ago. Today's list has quite different origins, and meanings. And even the humble thereof is rare now.

Yet until recently, most well-educated users of English knew the wind bloweth where it listeth; you can meet echoes of it in 20th-century writing. And in that sense, and not merely for its majestic language, the 1611 Bible has been and still is a goldmine. So too the Church of England's 1662 prayer book. It was used in every church every Sunday for some three centuries; its version of the Jewish psalms was and is better known than those of the 1611 Bible itself.

Between them, these two books have given English hundreds of phrases, their origins often unknown to those who use them. Here, some shortened or simplified, are a few:

Let there be light. Be fruitful and multiply. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The sweat of thy face. Am I my brother's keeper? The Lord set a mark upon Cain. A pillar of salt. This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. A coat of many colours. Seven fat years and seven lean years (a much-distorted compression of the original). The fat of the land. A land flowing with milk and honey. Let my people go.

A pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. A stiffnecked people. What hath God wrought! Your sin will find you out. The apple of his eye. The stars in their courses. Say 'Shibboleth'. He smote them hip and thigh. How are the mighty fallen. Whips and scorpions. A soft answer turneth away wrath. A still, small voice.

The prayer book's psalms gave us: Out of the mouths of very babes and sucklings. A rod of iron. The pains of hell. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The valley of the shadow of death. I will life up mine eyes unto the hills. The ends of the world. The book's own text includes many familiar phrases such as For better, for worse, for richer for poorer... till death us do part and ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But I will omit scores more; brought up in the Church of England, I can't tell which I know for that reason and which are truly integral to English.

Likewise, I've selected all the biblical texts above from the originally Jewish books of the Bible. The strictly Christian books include countless phrases still more familiar to any Anglican or ex-Anglican of my generation or earlier, which means most English writers up to, say, 1930. But whether we owe that familiarity to the church or the language, who can say? I'll make one exception, from Jesus himself: Blessed are the peacemakers.

Were I a Christian minister, I'd hate to have to teach the faith through the often obscure language of 1611 — which is why few today still use that translation, as indeed Catholics never have. But what a debt all English-speakers owe to it, whatever their religion.









The dozens of Israeli couples who married about two weeks ago in a mass ceremony in the city square of Larnaca, Cyprus, didn't do so in order to break the Guinness record for mass weddings. They were forced to take part in this expensive procedure, far from home and family, because in Israel, there was no way they could have a civil wedding.

The United Nations has issued a report on implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Gili Cohen (Haaretz, July 5 ) noted was handed to the government authorities here in February of this year. The UN is not interested in the coalition arrangements of successive Israeli governments. Like an earlier report that examined trafficking in human beings, this report deals particularly with the blatant undermining of women and their status.

Although Israel likes to boast that it is "the only democracy in the Middle East," and signed the convention requiring it to ensure equal rights for women in marriage and family relationships, it is ranked, according to Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, who heads Bar-Ilan University's Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status, "in a bad place in the middle," and Israel, in effect, stands "among the countries of the developing world and the Muslim world."

The continuing abandonment of the areas of marital relationships and family to the control of the Orthodox establishment is not the legacy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alone, but during his tenure there has been a worrisome worsening of the situation: The Haredization and radicalization of the rabbinical establishment have led to a situation where the status of women - on issues of marriage, property rights, child custody and, above all, divorce - is swiftly deteriorating. The thundering silence of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman in light of the reactionary norms that have taken over in the rabbinical courts and the ease with which the government has been expanding the powers of the rabbis have only exacerbated the situation.

Although the government has made several attempts to promote limited legislation for civil marriage for those "ineligible for marriage," this initiative is the product of a political effort to conciliate a small group among immigrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States, and has nothing to do with the principle of equality. The right to marry and to start a family is a basic civil right, as is a woman's right to equality in all areas of life. If Israel is still interested in being considered an open society and a progressive country, it must implement the recommendations of the UN commission, and enable all of its citizens to marry, divorce and live equally.







Those of us who believe that the internal debate in the Jewish community in Israel is still focused on defense needs or the number of settlements that should be evacuated, were proven wrong by the followers of Kiryat Arba's Rabbi Dov Lior. The real controversy focuses on the image of Israeli society and the nature of the country's governance. The conflict with the Palestinians is only a platform for shaping positions on this issue.

Whose power is greater? The rule of law set by institutions with democratically elected officials, or the rule of rabbis who make decisions in accordance with the Torah? Former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, blessed be his memory, expressed the position of those who follow Jewish law thus: "There is no national law that can alter our position and our rights as they are laid out by the Torah."

Should Israel be a democracy in which a minority enjoys equal rights, or an ethnocracy for Jews who believe that their right to the Land of Israel is greater than any other human right? Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook said: "This land is ours, there are no Arab lands here ... within its entire biblical borders it belongs to Israeli rule ... this is the decision of divine politics, which no earthly politics can overcome."

During deliberations on a petition to the High Court of Justice against the establishment of Elon Moreh in 1979, Menachem Felix, one of the leaders of Gush Emunim, argued that the significance of the settlement enterprise is "And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein." At the time people's eyes had not been opened to realize that this expression hid inside it a different worldview from the secular Zionism of Chaim Weizmann and Ze'ev Jabotinsky. From the worldview expressed by Felix it emerged, inter alia, that the law for Jews in the Land of Israel is different from the law for the Arabs.

That year, Yitzhak Rabin said: "In Gush Emunim I saw a most terrible phenomenon, a cancer in the body of Israeli democracy." His words fell on deaf ears.

On the eve of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Hillel Weiss reiterated the messianic outlook of Gush Emunim: "The source of authority in the Jewish State ... is not the Knesset, or the rule of law and not the government of Israel, but eternal Israel [God]. So long as the Knesset and its institutions represent the entity of eternal Israel [God], they are legitimate. If they do not represent it, they are illegitimate."

Not all settlers supported Weiss and his views. Ze'ev Hever, the bulldozer of national-religious settlement, said that "you reach the conclusion that under very difficult circumstances you must withdraw ... but without any questioning of the right [to the land]." Hever, with the Yesha Council, contributed to the implementation of the disengagement without serious domestic strife, but paid a personal price and was kicked out of the fold.

A few years after the disengagement, in 2008, one of the heads of the faction, Hanan Porat, said that Zionism is nothing but "the establishment of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, restoring the divine spirit to Zion, having a kingdom of the house of David, and building the Temple." But the Jewish community in Israel opted to watch reality shows, like "Big Brother." The public saved its strength for fights on Facebook and protests over the price of cottage cheese.

It is worthwhile to remind ourselves of the philosophy of Theodor Herzl, who had something to say also on this. In his book Der Judenstaat, Herzl wrote: "Will we have a theocracy? No!... We will not allow the theocratic tendencies of our religious leadership to raise their head. We will know how to keep them in the synagogues ... they will be very well-respected ... but they should not interfere in matters of state ... lest they bring upon themselves difficulties from within and from without."

If we do not appreciate and implement what Herzl said, the rioters in Jerusalem will not stop at the Supreme Court. They will prefer to bring us all to Masada once more.







Greece has halted the Gaza-bound flotilla protest, after Turkey had already stopped its boats from taking part. The diplomatic context is clear: Israel's position is strengthening amid the revolts in the Arab world, and it's gaining friends who are abandoning the Palestinians and the pro-Iran camp. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu correctly calculated his diplomatic steps and threats of force, and the flotilla did not embark.

But stopping the flotilla has a broader significance, one that exceeds the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean. Governments have taken charge and made clear that they, not passengers or a vessel's crew, determine whether ships can sail. The protest organizers grumbled, but they were helpless against the Greek coast guard.

We've been told that governments are losing their authority and that sovereign power is entering the hands of civilians at nonprofit organizations and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Protest movements and digital networks cross borders and continents; at first glance, they are not accountable to politicians, or to immigration and custom inspectors. An idea that wins popularity on Facebook, be it Israel's cottage cheese protest or the demonstrations on Cairo's Tahrir Square, can bring Tnuva's CEO to his knees or topple Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt. But it turns out that in the real world, the one inhabited by real people, as well as planes and ships, governments remain powerful and have the strength to overcome organized civil movements.

The first to translate social networks into political and military power was Osama bin Laden, who set up Al-Qaida as a decentralized organization not rooted in a specific territory and struck ferociously at superpower America. The September 11, 2001 attacks marked the start of a struggle between, on one side, governments and the old regime, based on strict international borders, and on the other, the open, anarchistic world of the 21st century in which a personal computer, cellphone or blurry recording is all one needs to stir a revolution. The United States needed almost a decade to track down bin Laden and kill him.

The revolts in the Arab world appeared to be the ultimate victory of social networks over governments. Defying state security forces and their interrogation rooms, young protesters used Twitter to send the masses to public squares, toppling dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. This was the digital version of Marx's 19th century call, "Workers of the world, unite!" It was a show of class unity by the Internet generation, which has rebelled against parental authority and changed the world.

Yet, as happened during the revolutions of the 1960s that toppled presidents Lyndon Johnson and Charles de Gaulle, only to bring to power even more conservative leaders, governments today have mobilized to forestall the danger of lost sovereignty. In Arabs states, this has been expressed by the violent suppression of demonstrations following the confusion stirred by Mubarak's removal. In Turkey and Greece, the trend has been reflected by these countries' opposition to the pro-Gaza flotilla.

U.S. President Barack Obama is, as usual, torn between his instinctive sympathy for the protesters in public squares and his country's foreign policy interest in preserving the world order. That explains his response to the uprising in Syria. Bashar Assad has persuaded world leaders that if he's removed from office, Syria will be torn apart by tribal strife, a la Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya - states that crumbled after Western interventions. Obama doesn't want to become embroiled in another bloody misadventure, so he's trying to keep Assad in power while issuing tepid calls for a "reform" of the Syrian regime.

Israel, which since its establishment has dealt with "private" mobilizations of Palestinians who demanded a return to their pre-1948 lands, or who carried out terror attacks, habitually claimed that responsibility rested with governments in the region. Only when there were no governments around, Israel grudgingly transferred lands, and responsibility for them, to hostile organizations (the PLO, Hezbollah, Hamas ). Israel hoped that these groups would consolidate as institutional entities capable of enforcing cease-fires and maintaining the calm on the border. It's clear why, in response to the errors of the effort to stop last year's flotilla - when the Israel Defense Forces fought against a civilian protest group and became mired in controversy - Netanyahu opted for the familiar routine of saying that authority rested with governments.

This tactic has succeeded, at least for now, and reinforced the old order. The state has triumphed over Facebook and the nonprofit organizations, at least until the next round.







The sight of thousands of demonstrators in front of the Supreme Court, sporting beards, sidecurls and ritual fringes, gives rise to the gloomy thought that the chapter of religious Zionism in Israel has come to an end.

Perhaps those moderate people who see themselves first and foremost as law-abiding citizens who play an active role in the economy and society have disappeared. Perhaps those people who see observance of the religious commandments as a personal lifestyle that does not contradict the public space are gone. Perhaps only the "rabbis" remain.

Of course not. After all, there are more sane skullcap-wearing citizens in Israel than belligerent extremists. In that case, why is their voice not heard? Why, with the exception of weak and polite protests that are usually heard in very closed circles, does this huge community let one group - destructive, dangerous and violent - lead it by the nose?

Not that there is no internal debate, but it looks like a lost cause. A clear sign of that is the black humor of the "lite" religious, which is what the Hardalim, the members of the ultra-Orthodox national religious community, call anyone who doesn't obey their strict laws. One young woman asks her friend, who is covered from head to toe, "What, have you disguised yourself as an ultra-Orthodox woman? You're a bit confused. It's summer now. Not Purim." "No," replies the friend, "I've registered my son for the ultra-religious kindergarten in the settlement, and I'm afraid they'll throw him out because we're not modest enough."

It's not funny. The Hardal-style terror that originated in the settlements has taken over all areas of life, and it's particularly evident in the school system. The most prestigious institutions, from pre-kindergarten to yeshiva high school and hesder yeshivas that combine Torah studies with military service, have long been in the hands of the extremists and the most stringent. (With a few exceptions such as the Petah Tikva yeshiva and the yeshiva on Kibbutz Ma'aleh Gilboa ). And they are advocating an ideology that is sometimes reminiscent of the Christian evangelists or the ayatollahs: no touching between the sexes, total separation between men and women, exaggerated rules of "modesty" in dress and ultra-Haredi adherence to the most stringent halakhic (religious law ) decisions on every issue.

The rabbis advocating this policy are in a covert religious-fanaticism competition with the Haredim, and all signs show that they are winning. Take Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of the settlement of Elon Moreh, who forbade women from taking part in elections for the settlement council and explained his ruling by saying it is forbidden to give women authority. He was supported by Rabbi Dov Lior, who said the violence among young people stems from neglect by career-oriented women. Levanon was also supported by Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, head of the Ramat Gan Yeshiva, who said the greatest danger of the "neo-reformers" (the derogatory term for liberal and educated rabbis ) is that they are undermining the sanctity of the family. And these are only a few examples.

What's the connection between this benighted reactionary behavior, which deals with education, marital relations, family and children, and the demonstrations in front of the Supreme Court? The rabbis. Because those same new leaders, the heads of yeshivas in the settlements and others whose goal is to "convert" bourgeois city centers (Ramat Gan ) or mixed cities (Acre, Jaffa, Ramle ) are also the people leading the halakhic policy that is destroying the foundations of democracy and the state.

Meanwhile, Shapira said about the settlement of Immanuel, "Issues on which the soul depends should not be discussed before the Supreme Court," but rather, "perhaps traffic matters." And Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu's battle against the Arabs is succeeding beyond expectations. And then there are the rabbis from the Komemiyut movement (for a Jewish Israel ), the Regavim association (for the protection of national land ), Yad Leahim and Lehava (to prevent assimilation in the Holy Land ), which gives out certificates saying "Arab-free business." They are all reactionaries, all shouting against the "kidnapping" of Lior and favoring the supremacy of the Torah. They are all praying for a halakhic state for the Jewish race only.

One's heart goes out to the religious community that is writhing in silence in light of this unbridled behavior. But isn't it their silence, which is backed by reverence for what this community calls "values" (unlike vacuous secular people ), that gave Lior, Levanon and their friends the crucial seal of approval to lead us all toward the abyss?







The first electric cars in the Better Place system are due to arrive on Israel's roads in the next few days. The cars themselves are an electric version of the Renault Fluence: Instead of a gasoline engine, the car will be powered by a large battery. When the battery is used up, it will either be charged at a charging station or quickly replaced with a full battery at a special battery-swapping station.

Better Place's electric car network was supposed to bring us glad tidings of an innovative high technology that would preserve the atmosphere and the environment, redeem us from our dependence on oil and, above all, save us money.

But it is very doubtful that the electric car will indeed reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in Israel. And now that the full costs and the technical specifications have been revealed, there are equally serious questions about how much consumers will save.

First, there's the price of the car. The electric car will cost NIS 123,000, slightly more than a regular Renault Fluence. That's the price that was set, even though purchase tax on the electric car will be only 10 percent instead of 70 percent. In other words, the main beneficiary of the huge tax break Better Place obtained from the state, which amounts to some NIS 70,000 per car, will be Better Place itself.

Second is the price of the energy. The minimum package that Better Place is offering its customers covers charging or replacing batteries for up to 20,000 kilometers worth of travel a year, at a cost of NIS 13,000. On its website, Better Place compares this to the cost of the gasoline an ordinary family car would use in traveling the same distance (about NIS 14,700 ) and gives itself a big pat on the back.

The problem is that Better Place's calculations display a troubling resemblance to the pricing tricks employed by the cell phone companies. It turns out the the average private car in Israel travels 16,700 kilometers a year. But the minimum package that Better Place customers will have to buy - for once they have bought the electric car, they will have no choice - is for "up to 20,000." And just like the cell phone companies, which never return a single cent for unused portions of a package, Better Place, too, will presumably not refund the change from unused kilometers.

If you compare the cost of going 16,700 kilometers in a regular family car, you will discover that this car's owner spends NIS 1,000 less on gas than the cost of the Better Place package. And comparisons with hybrid cars are even more problematic: The gas the average hybrid car uses to travel 16,700 kilometers costs from NIS 5,000 to NIS 8,000 less than Better Place's minimum package.

And here's another outrageous fact: According to Better Place's own data, the amount of electricity it will buy from the Israel Electric Corporation in order to power one car for 20,000 kilometers is 2,600 kilowatt-hours. At current electricity prices, this quantity of power costs NIS 1,300. So why is Better Place demanding 10 times that sum from its customers? Granted, it invested time and money in developing and setting up the charging system, but 10 times the actual cost? What is this, cottage cheese?

The contempt Better Place is demonstrating for the Israeli consumer will presumably greatly reduce the number of electric cars sold here, but it's not clear the company cares. Indeed, it's not inconceivable that the electric car is just a gimmick. The big money for Better Place lies in the monopoly it received from the state on building and operating charging stations.

This monopoly - which turns any car manufacturer that might ever bring an electric car to Israel, as well as its customers, into a captive audience - is worth pure gold.






Sometimes it needs to hit bottom before it can bounce back in Turkish politics. In physics, you need to have a hard surface for that; a muddy bottom might keep the ball there. But in the ongoing political crisis, there is a hard surface it seems and that surface is the possibility of a by-election threat by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AK Parti, against the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan had raised the bar to limit the maneuver space of the CHP by saying that the CHP would "eat their words" if they continue to protest by not taking the parliamentary oath unless eight elected deputies (two of them from the CHP) who are under arrest are not released to take their oath. Well, the expression used by Erdoğan in Turkish sounds much worse than its equivalent in English; a direct translation would be something like, "Swallowing what you just spat out," which makes the situation even harder for CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

An AK Parti spokesman, Mustafa Elitaş, further escalated the pressure on the CHP yesterday by

saying that July 15 would be the last day for them to take their oaths, otherwise the AK Parti might

implement the parliamentary absence rules. According to those rules, if a deputy doesn't attend five consecutive sessions without any excuse, the deputy's status might be terminated upon the

proposal of the Parliamentary Speakership Council and by votes in the General Assembly.

July 15 is the day that Erdoğan plans to have the vote of confidence for the program of his new Cabinet and immediately call for summer recess until Oct. 1. Up until that day, elected deputies will not be able to take the oath and become a member of Parliament eligible to participate in parliamentary work, including voting. And the law enables the AK Parti majority to annul the parliamentary capabilities of the CHP (as well as the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP) deputies and call for by-elections for those "emptied" seats according to the Constitution.

It is complicated and to expel opposition deputies from their elected posts will cast a shadow of political ethics over the procedure, no matter how much it fits the book. But it is a threat and it is a hard bottom. A by-election would be for the emptied CHP (and BDP seats) and some of them, perhaps half, might go to the AK Parti, which would secure a constitutional majority.

Kılıçdaroğlu immediately convened his party after this statement and refuted the AK Parti move. "History is full of examples of those who paid a price for freedom and democracy," he said. "We are ready to pay whatever the price will be and we will not bow to blackmail."

Yet, the CHP is looking for an honorable exit and keeping an eye on new Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek for this. Çiçek is a seasoned politician and had found solutions to similar problems a number of times before in his 30-year political career. Perhaps that is the reason why the CHP is relying on him to save them from the corner they seemed to be trapped in.








Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a notable speech at the first gathering of his "party group" in Parliament. Speaking to more than three hundred deputies who were just elected in a very victorious election, he warned them against arrogance. "We received trust from our nation," he said, referring to political power. "We will carry it modestly and will give it back when the time comes." His Justice and Development Party, the AKP, in other words, was in power only for a limited time, and had to use it humbly.

To further emphasize his emphasis on modesty, Erdoğan then gave an example from Al-Andalus, the medieval Muslim kingdom of the Iberian Peninsula. "In order to prevent the arrogance and magnanimity of the sultans, there was a writing on the walls of the Alhambra Palace," he reminded: "Wa la ghaliba-illallah, which means, there is no victor but God."

I am sure that Turkey's secularists, and the West's Islamoskeptics, will see this as yet another worrying sign of creeping religion into the Turkish public square. I, for my part, not only dismiss those fears; I also think that Erdoğan is onto something good with such inferences from traditional Islamic culture, which might help build a modern democratic Muslim culture.

To explain what I mean, first a rule of thumb: the most fundamental need for protecting freedom is to constrain political power. For political power is an intoxicating thing, and if those who exercise it are not constrained by a liberal law, they can abuse it in horrible ways. That's why the modern world invented constitutionalism, whose basic goal is to make sure that rulers behave decently.

But constitutions and laws are not the only matter here. What also matters is political culture. The West, to its credit, was able to develop a liberal culture over the centuries, but this was partly due to the fact that it was able to try the worst of its alternatives: The reason why Europe is a haven of liberal democracy today has something to do with the fact that the same Europe was the home of fascism in the first half of the past century.

As for the Muslim world, in fact, aversion to arbitrary rule has been a strong tendency in classical Islamic thought. Today, many people fall into the mistake of considering medieval Muslim states as theocracies in which rulers had "divine rights," but in fact the Islamic political norm was to constrain rulers with divine laws.

In a panel at Princeton University that I participated in a few months ago, this crucial fact was emphasized by none other than Michael Novak, one of America's prominent Catholic theologians. Novak also argued that "the greatness of Allah" is a key idea to foster liberalism in the Muslim world, and added: "Allah is so great, so beyond measure, so beyond compare, that his greatness is a warning to any mere mortal spokesman about his own shortsightedness and inadequacy... The greatness of Allah relativizes all human pretensions."

Greatness of Allah

Now, this belief in "the greatness of Allah" would create authoritarian rule, of course, if anybody claims to speak authoritatively in the name of Allah. That would lead to tyranny in the name of God. But if it is accepted that no one can speak in the name of God, as it should be the case in Islam for anybody other than Prophet Muhammad, then belief in "the greatness of Allah" becomes a basis for the humility of all. And it discredits all dictatorships.

Of course, theological beliefs are not the only determinants of political culture, let alone political systems. In other words, the Muslim Middle East will not become a haven of liberal democracy overnight, once belief in "the greatness of Allah" prevails. That is not what I am talking about.

What I am talking about is whether Muslims can find justifications for democracy within their own culture and his history. And, as Erdoğan's "no victor but God" speech implies, those justifications might be more abundant than what some think.








Turkish Cypriot President Dr. Derviş Eroğlu was in Ankara Monday evening and Tuesday morning. He had a meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Monday, hosted Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at a working breakfast Tuesday and after a meeting with President Abdullah Gül, left for Istanbul. Today he will continue on to Geneva to attend the trilateral summit with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias chaired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. According to sources, the Turkish Cypriot leader and Turkish officials agreed on all headings discussed at the Ankara talks. While Ankara reiterated its preparedness to contribute in any way possible to a Cyprus settlement accepted by the Turkish Cypriot leadership and people with their own free will; it underlined as well its full understanding of the Turkish Cypriot demands for a timetable and increased U.N. role, including arbitration.

Agreeing that there was indeed a natural deadline for the Cyprus talks process, Eroğlu and his Turkish hosts were reported to be in full consensus that since Turkish Cypriots possessed a strong will for a compromise settlement, if there was political will also on the Greek Cypriot side, the next 6-8 months would be more than enough to iron out remaining outstanding issues; convene an international conference on security and other relevant aspects of the problem; pen down a comprehensive settlement plan and submit it to separate referenda of the two peoples of the island, the latest by May 2012.

Otherwise, sources said, Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot leadership were in full agreement that Turkish Cypriots should no longer be left in limbo, without a perception of future and under international isolation, while the Greek Cypriot side continued to enjoy benefits of being the sole legitimate and internationally recognized government of the island. If by the July 1, 2012 start of the Greek Cypriot term presidency of the European Union, there is still no resolution of the Cyprus problem and a new partnership state based on political equality of the two peoples of the island is established, then the two peoples and their two states should be allowed to go their separate ways.

Despite the apparent "optimistic tone" however, there appeared to be a firm understanding between Ankara and northern Cyprus that prospects of utilization of this latest window of opportunity for a Cyprus resolution depended largely on how resolute the international community will be in regards to telling the Greek Cypriot side that the status quo cannot be sustained further.

Naturally it will be up to Secretary-General whether to place on the negotiations table the five-point road map devised by the staff of the U.N. secretariat with help of the secretary-general's Cyprus special envoy Alexander Downer. Thus, the success of the July 7 summit will largely depend on the attitude of secretary-general; will he take the risk and announce the road map, or will he let himself be ridiculed once again by the bossy Christofias.

The road map has two exits: An early crash-landing around the end of December or separate simultaneous referenda by the two peoples of the island by the end of May 2012 at the latest. The first step will be one last round of intensified negotiations. This step will be completed by the end of September. The second step will be reconvening of a trilateral summit in October, during which a detailed analysis of the entire process will be done. At the end of that last summit the secretary-general will make a decision: He will either call for an international Cyprus conference or declare the failure of the process. If the process does not end the fourth step will be the international conference and simultaneous referenda the latest by May 2012 will be the final fifth step of the road map.







The election of Cemil Çiçek as the Parliament Speaker on Monday is a remarkable development for the Turkish politics that is passing through an unprecedented crisis.

Çicek has become the first Parliament Speaker elected by only half of the Parliament.

Despite the fact that 135 deputy-strong Republican People's Party, or CHP, group did not vote for him in the elections, it's a fact it was preferring Çiçek's nomination for the post.

Furthermore, Çicek's attempt to visit the CHP and other boycotting group, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, alongside the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, to ask for support for his bid was seen as a positive move, though he failed to visit the BDP because of its boycott decision.

That rationalizes the CHP's decision to be in constant dialogue with him in its efforts to find a solution for the deputies in prison. The same can be said for the MHP. Both oppositional parties will surely be in cooperation with Çiçek at strained times when they can no longer talk with the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

As a veteran politician who handled some very important jobs in various governments since the late 1980s, Çiçek has obviously and fairly gained a reputation in his career. Having started his career in the late President Turgut Özal's team and matured during mid 1990s, Çiçek has deep knowledge on how the state functions, how problems and crisis can be solved and how dialogue would be beneficial in conducting things properly. His good relations with the establishment were always an asset for the AKP, though some of the ruling party members were critical against this position of him.

In every sense, his election to the country's "number 2 position" is positive. His open-minded and open-to-dialogue manner will surely be in his advantage, of course, not only for his personal career, but also for the country's aspirations to renew the junta-made constitution. It's no doubt that a politician like Çiçek, who has been an advocate for the new charter for so long, will undertake this mission during his two years term as he already signaled in his initial remarks after being elected Monday that the issue would be his priority. In an interview right after the June 12 elections, it was him who likewise said the new works for the new charter should be completed within a year, before all parties lose interest in it.

However, this ambition of him has happened to be a challenge for him. Hopes flourished after the elections, which provided nearly 95 representations of votes, has been perished following court rulings that rejected releasing deputies behind bars. Both the CHP and the BDP will likely continue to resist taking their parliamentary oaths, something necessary for them to join the legislative works.

Besides, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's unhelpful statements on this issue make the picture more complicated. Erdoğan's threatening to make the constitution with the support of the MHP is just one of these, while also warning that the CHP and the BDP would "eat their words" that they wouldn't take oath if the jailed deputies failed to do so.

What awaits Çiçek is an equation with multiple variables. How to find a way for the Parliament to function and how to convince the CHP and BDP to take their oaths will require a state-of-art tactic of Çiçek. Equally crucial will be Çiçek's method of handling issues with his former boss. Will he able to silence the General Assembly on his own or will need Erdoğan's instructions as his predecessor did?






On July 2, 1993, a group of artists, writers and musicians, most of them Alevis, gathered to celebrate the 16th-century poet Pir Sultan Abdal. Famous humor writer Aziz Nesin, who had translated and published extracts from Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," was among the intellectuals assembled at a hotel in Sivas, a Central Anatolian city run by a mayor from the Welfare Party, or RP. On July 2, 1993, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was RP's chairman for Istanbul. On the same day, thousands of devout Sunni Muslims gathered outside the hotel after their Friday prayers. The RP's mayor, Temel Karamollaoğulları, had wished "his Muslim brothers a merry holy war." The group surrounded the hotel, shouting "Death to the infidel!" and threatening the assembled artists with a lynching.

They set alight the hotel, and the fire claimed 35 lives, including those of musicians, poets, tourists and hotel staff, while the police merely gazed at the scene with empty looks. Mr. Nesin was able to escape only because the attackers initially failed to recognize him. According to reports, when rescuers eventually realized his identity, he was beaten by firemen while a city councilman, Cafer Özçakmak, also RP, shouted, "This is the devil we really should have killed." These were the events known as the Sivas Massacre.

After the events, Sivas's police chief, Doğukan Önder, proudly announced that he had "kissed the beards of the heroes [arsonists] dozens of times." As always, there was the lighter side of the tragedy. Tansu Çiller, prime minister at the time, said that she was happy "because the crowd outside the hotel [the arsonists] was unharmed." And Süleyman Demirel, then president, was relieved because "those inside and outside the hotel did not clash." The president forgot that people burning to death usually don't possess any power to clash.

At the weekend, scores of protestors flocked to Sivas to commemorate the dead in front of the infamous Madımak Hotel despite an edict from the governor's office banning a march. Gov. Ali Kolat said that legal proceedings would be initiated against people who protest in front of the hotel. In other words, it would constitute an offence if some people peacefully protested the Sivas Massacre in front of the hotel where it took place. The state was simply telling the protestors to protest somewhere else, ideally in front of the Republican People's Party headquarters, or the Israeli Embassy in Ankara…

Apparently, Gov. Kolat was afraid of "provocation." This thinking requires some honest deliberation. Eighteen years after the massacre who, really, would have been "provoked" if the commemorators of the massacre peacefully marched to the hotel and left flowers there, made speeches or took out placards to protest? The ugly truth is that the governor was right when he suspected that locals in Sivas could have been "provoked." Because the massacre had not been committed by a dozen radical Islamists. On July 2, 1993, there were thousands of "Muslims" in front of Madimak too keen to burn the infidels alive, including the city's democratically elected mayor. And after 18 years, there are probably more arson enthusiasts if some "corrupted Muslims" or "infidels" dared to visit the site where a bunch of corrupted Muslims and infidels had been killed.

It is a first-class lie that the pious Turks in 2011 are more mature and liberal in the face of provocative manifestation than they were in 1993. Doing what Mr. Nesin did in 1993 – publishing "The Satanic Verses" – is a practical impossibility in the year 2011. Turkey would have been a much less safe place for Mr. Nesin if he were alive today. The truth is, there are no longer Madımak incidents not because the pious Muslim Turk has adopted a less violent mindset, but because there are no longer gatherings like Madımak.

If this is not convincing enough, get a few copies of "The Satanic Verses" and exhibit them in Sivas or any other Anatolian city. But remember to buy an expensive life insurance policy before you do so.







Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a notable speech at the first gathering of his "party group" in Parliament. Speaking to more than three hundred deputies who were just elected in a very victorious election, he warned them against arrogance. "We received trust from our nation," he said, referring to political power. "We will carry it modestly and will give it back when the time comes." His Justice and Development Party, the AKP, in other words, was in power only for a limited time, and had to use it humbly.

To further emphasize his emphasis on modesty, Erdoğan then gave an example from Al-Andalus, the medieval Muslim kingdom of the Iberian Peninsula. "In order to prevent the arrogance and magnanimity of the sultans, there was a writing on the walls of the Alhambra Palace," he reminded: "Wa la ghaliba-illallah, which means, there is no victor but God."

I am sure that Turkey's secularists, and the West's Islamoskeptics, will see this as yet another worrying sign of creeping religion into the Turkish public square. I, for my part, not only dismiss those fears; I also think that Erdoğan is onto something good with such inferences from traditional Islamic culture, which might help build a modern democratic Muslim culture.

To explain what I mean, first a rule of thumb: the most fundamental need for protecting freedom is to constrain political power. For political power is an intoxicating thing, and if those who exercise it are not constrained by a liberal law, they can abuse it in horrible ways. That's why the modern world invented constitutionalism, whose basic goal is to make sure that rulers behave decently.

But constitutions and laws are not the only matter here. What also matters is political culture. The West, to its credit, was able to develop a liberal culture over the centuries, but this was partly due to the fact that it was able to try the worst of its alternatives: The reason why Europe is a haven of liberal democracy today has something to do with the fact that the same Europe was the home of fascism in the first half of the past century.

As for the Muslim world, in fact, aversion to arbitrary rule has been a strong tendency in classical Islamic thought. Today, many people fall into the mistake of considering medieval Muslim states as theocracies in which rulers had "divine rights," but in fact the Islamic political norm was to constrain rulers with divine laws.

In a panel at Princeton University that I participated in a few months ago, this crucial fact was emphasized by none other than Michael Novak, one of America's prominent Catholic theologians. Novak also argued that "the greatness of Allah" is a key idea to foster liberalism in the Muslim world, and added: "Allah is so great, so beyond measure, so beyond compare, that his greatness is a warning to any mere mortal spokesman about his own shortsightedness and inadequacy... The greatness of Allah relativizes all human pretensions."

Greatness of Allah

Now, this belief in "the greatness of Allah" would create authoritarian rule, of course, if anybody claims to speak authoritatively in the name of Allah. That would lead to tyranny in the name of God. But if it is accepted that no one can speak in the name of God, as it should be the case in Islam for anybody other than Prophet Muhammad, then belief in "the greatness of Allah" becomes a basis for the humility of all. And it discredits all dictatorships.

Of course, theological beliefs are not the only determinants of political culture, let alone political systems. In other words, the Muslim Middle East will not become a haven of liberal democracy overnight, once belief in "the greatness of Allah" prevails. That is not what I am talking about.

What I am talking about is whether Muslims can find justifications for democracy within their own culture and his history. And, as Erdoğan's "no victor but God" speech implies, those justifications might be more abundant than what some think.






There is only one doctorate thesis. And that belongs to Pınar Memiş, a faculty member at Galatasaray University's Criminal Law Department.

The thesis titled, "Criminal Liability from Sports Activities" studies illegal events such as match fixing, incentives, irregular ticket sales and insults from the view point of criminal law. Memiş knows very well the law dated April 2011 aimed at preventing violence in sports. While that law was debated, she submitted a report to Parliament together with criminal law professor Köksal Bayraktar.

The recent match-fixing and incentive claims that have shaken Turkey and have had echoes in Europe and caused many executives and football players to be detained have been implemented as part of the recent law.

According to Memiş, if the crime is proven, the most recent law: a) Does not extend criminal liability to clubs; it exerts administrative liability. And that can be relegation.

b) It brings heavy sentences and fines to people. c) Compared to Europe, our law is very strict. But, Turkey is such a society. There are all kinds of ways here.

Within this framework, if the crime is proven as the result of the investigation, all clubs, all supporters and all individuals should be ready for punishment. Comments such as "I know him; he is a nice guy. He would never do such a thing," will no longer stand.

Turkey has been stirred up by these claims for years. For the first time, a step is being taken toward a clean sports chapter. I am a Beşiktaş fan. It could be Beşiktaş, or Fener, or whichever club.

How will the TFF manage the crisis?

The Super League and the Bank Asya League will start on Aug. 7. The fixture lists for both leagues will be drawn in 10 to 15 days. Is it possible for the match-fixing investigation to be completed by the day the fixture list is drawn? Not likely. In this case, if the judiciary and the federation decide on relegation at the end of the investigation, and if Fenerbahçe, Sivas and Eskişehir are affected by this decision… Similarly, if three or four teams are relegated from the Bank Asya League…

The continuation of this question is about the Champions League. The draws will be made for that in 10 days. What will the decision be, and according to that decision, will the same teams from Turkey participate in Europe, or will they change? Juventus was relegated in Italy and that operation was finalized in three months. When we consider that courts work slowly in Turkey, what kind of a league and what kind of participation in Europe will there be? Total chaos… Particularly, if things do not work on time in Turkey, UEFA may not include our teams in European cups. Similar cases do exist. How will the Turkish Football Federation, or TFF, manage this crisis, millions of people are waiting for this.

Match fixing, incentive bonuses, irregular ticket sales, and illegal betting in sports, especially in football, are among those events that occur frequently in the world.

Illegal betting is so widespread that according to a FIFA survey, the market totals 340 million euros. This money not only goes to club executives, football players and coaches, but the mafiosi that mediate these situations also take their share.






Last Saturday was the 18th anniversary of the Madımak Massacre where 35 people were burned alive on July 2, 1993, and we came across a situation that we never saw before in the commemoration ceremonies of previous years.

Since the first commemoration organized on the first anniversary in 1994, Alevi groups have always been allowed to approach the front of the hotel but that was not allowed this year. Also, the police reacted quite violently with pepper gas and batons against those demonstrators who attempted to climb over the barricades set up at the entrance of the street leading to the hotel.

What are Alevis reacting against?

Alevi institutions are reacting against the new arrangement at the building in which the massacre was committed. It is, without any doubt, a positive development that the building has been nationalized and transformed into a science center for kids with one floor set aside to commemorate the memories of those who lost their lives in the incident; until recently, the building was home to a kebab restaurant and a hotel.

However, a large number of Alevi institutions demand that the building be converted into a monument of shame or a museum.

Besides, one detail in the commemoration hall has seriously annoyed the Alevis. This detail is that the names of two demonstrators who were among the group who set fire to the building and who died when security forces opened fire while trying to disperse the crowd were placed beside the names of the 35 who became the "victims" of the Madımak fire.

Zeynep Altıok, the daughter of poet Metin Altıok, one of those who died in the fire, has reacted against this arrangement and has demanded that, in this case, the plaque bearing her father's name be removed from the hall. Eren Aysan, the daughter of another poet who also died in the incident, Behçet Aysan, is also reacting. Both of them will start a set of initiatives, including possible legal action, to remove their names from the hall.

Only one deputy

The fact that all those events coincide with a period that, in Alevi eyes, immediately followed a painful election campaign has increased anxiety.

The 2011 election campaign will be remembered for the images in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mentioned the Alevi identity of main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leading the crowds at town squares to raise their voices and boo each time.

It is doubtful that a large portion of the Alevi community will ever answer positively to the call of Erdoğan from the balcony after the elections to settle accounts peacefully and let bygones be bygones. The reason for this is that the Alevis were offended at election rallies at town squares.

In the election strategy of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, other steps were also taken that could be interpreted as an indication that they are distancing themselves from the Alevis. For example, AKP deputy candidates of Alevi origin were largely passed over while the electoral lists were being prepared. As far as it is known, there is only one Alevi in the 327-person AKP parliamentary group: Istanbul deputy İbrahim Yiğit. This deputy also served in Parliament during the past term.

Meanwhile, the fact that the perspective of a second term was not given to Reha Çamuroğlu, who closely monitored the file on the rights of the Alevis during the 23rd parliamentary term, has burned a significant bridge between Alevis and the AKP.

Can prejudices be overcome?

These negative pieces of news that have appeared one after another bring up the question of what will happen to the outcome of the report issued after the Alevi workshops organized under the coordination of State Minister Faruk Çelik in the past term.

Despite the fact that it drew fire from Alevi institutions on the grounds that it was highly inadequate, the report is a significant "first" from the viewpoint of accepting the existence of the problem. That it acknowledges that there is "a societal perception of Alevis composed of strategies of prejudice and exclusion" and that it stressed the need that "this perception has to be transformed," is one of the most noteworthy findings of this report.

Will the Alevi report stay on the shelf or will there be steps taken toward the transformation of the aforementioned prejudices?

Just as the answers to these questions hang in the air, it is unclear how the fracture the Alevis experienced in their emotions will be repaired as they observed that the prejudices against them increased during the election period and they became much more alienated.

It could be said that the government, following the Kurdish initiative, is becoming similarly unclear on the Alevi initiative as well.

The outcome of the Alevi initiative is unknown




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



The poor and disabled people who rely on Medicaid to pay their medical bills could be in grave jeopardy in this sour I've-got-mine political climate.

Older Americans, a potent voting bloc, have made clear that they won't stand for serious changes in Medicare. Medicaid, however, provides health insurance for the most vulnerable, who have far less political clout.

There is no doubt that Medicaid — a joint federal-state program — has to be cut substantially in future decades to help curb federal deficits. For cash-strapped states, program cuts may be necessary right now. But in reducing spending, government needs to ensure any changes will not cause undue harm to millions.

As Medicaid currently works, the federal government sets minimum requirements for eligibility and for services that must be covered; states can expand on services and include more people. The federal government is required to pay from half to three-quarters of the cost, depending on the wealth of a state's population. In tough economic times, Medicaid enrollments typically soar as government revenues shrink, adding budget woes.

House Republicans led by Paul Ryan want to turn Medicaid into a federal block grant program that would grow slowly and shift more costs to states and patients. Their plan would save $771 billion over a decade. Mr. Ryan also wants to repeal a big expansion of Medicaid required by the health care reforms. All told, he would cut $1.4 trillion over 10 years — roughly a third of the more than $4 trillion in projected federal spending in that period.  

President Obama, who would retain the Medicaid expansion, has proposed a cut of $100 billion, less than 2.5 percent of projected federal spending, which would be much more manageable, though a lot will depend on how it is carried out. The great danger in proposing $100 billion in cuts at the start is that Republicans will take that as an opening bid that can be negotiated upward, toward the unreasonable Ryan-level cuts the House has already approved.

The best route to savings — already embodied in the reform law — is to make the health care system more efficient over all so that costs are reduced for Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers as well. Various pilot programs to reduce costs might be speeded up, and a greater effort could be made to rein in malpractice costs.

Congressional Democrats and advocates for the poor are most worried that the administration will use a new "blended rate" for federal matching funds — which would replace a patchwork of matching formulas for poor people and children with a single rate for each state — as a way to lower the federal contribution. This could lead some states to reduce the benefits they offer, seek waivers to cut people from the rolls, or reduce their already low payments to hospitals and other providers.

The deficit-reduction push could also threaten the health care reform law's aim to have states cover more people under Medicaid starting in 2014 with the help of greatly enhanced federal matching funds. President Obama might be tempted to reduce higher federal contribution rates as part of his $100 billion savings. He must be careful not to trade away his goal of near-universal coverage to burnish his credentials as a deficit-cutter.






How far will Republican lawmakers go to protect millionaires? Those who think a default on the federal government's credit seems implausible should take a sobering look at the "closed" signs dotting Minnesota. The Republican Party there readily shut down the state's government on Friday by refusing to raise taxes on the 7,700 Minnesotans who make more than $1 million a year.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, campaigned for office last year promising to raise taxes on high earners, so it was no surprise when he proposed a tax increase on families making more than $150,000 a year to help close a $5 billion budget gap. In negotiations with the Republican majority in the Legislature, he compromised and reduced the increase to those making $1 million or more, but Republicans are refusing to consider any income tax increase.

Like Republicans in Washington, they have the delusion that they can balance the budget entirely from cuts.

The governor proposed more than $2 billion in cuts but refused to slash billions more from education, health care and public safety programs. The Legislature also wanted new abortion restrictions and a voter ID law that Mr. Dayton had already vetoed. When he said no, lawmakers allowed the fiscal year to end without a budget, and state government officially shut on July 1.

More than 40 state agencies have closed, including the state parks over the July Fourth holiday. Courts and public safety agencies are operating, but essential services for the poor, like food pantries and child care subsidies, have evaporated. Many parents say they may have to quit their jobs if state-subsidized child care does not resume quickly. The shutdown will cost the state money, since many of the 22,000 laid-off workers will receive unemployment benefits and health insurance, while the treasury is unable to collect on tax audits, lottery tickets and park fees.

As painful as the closure may become, the governor is right not to yield to the extremist ideology the Republicans are pursuing in St. Paul, Washington and across the country. President Obama has done so twice and faces an emboldened opposition willing to create chaos in the credit markets rather than agree to modest revenue increases from the richest people. On Tuesday, he urged everyone to leave ultimatums at the door in this week's talks, but the Republican Party has shown no willingness to do so.

Their antitax radicalism, maintained at any cost, is doing enormous damage at all levels. It is preventing Wilmington, N.C., from buying a new fire truck, preventing the most vulnerable in dozens of states from receiving subsistence benefits, and may soon engulf the economy if the standoff in Washington does not end. In Minnesota, there is now a chance to draw a line and say, no further.





In California, once a national model of farmworker organizing and progressive labor laws, things have fallen far since the heyday of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Of the more than 400,000 workers on 40,000 California farms, the union represents only a tiny share. It listed just 5,219 members in a report to the federal Department of Labor last year. Conditions in the fields and camps are as bad as ever, but the union is adrift and torn by a squalid battle over the movement's future.

In that bleak context, farmworkers need a stronger voice and new opportunities to defend their rights. It was disappointing last week to see the death of a bill that would have made it easier for farmworkers to unionize. It allowed organizers simply to collect signed petition cards from workers rather than hold secret-ballot elections. Unions prefer this method, also known as card-check, because they say elections are vulnerable to coercion by employers, who often punish workers involved in organizing.

The bill was a Sacramento perennial, repeatedly passed by the Legislature and vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. This time it was killed Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, who said he was unconvinced that the "drastic change" to labor laws was worth it. The bill's foes warned that the United Farm Workers would intimidate workers into signing union cards.

Mr. Brown has a personal perspective on the issue as Chavez's ally in the 1970s. During his previous stint as governor, he signed the bill giving farmworkers the secret ballot, a prelude to a string of organizing triumphs.

There is no denying the need for justice on the farms where some of America's most exploited workers toil. After Mr. Brown's rebuff, the union needs to renew and reform itself using the tools at hand. If it wants to be more than a logo and known for more than memories of the grape boycott, then it needs to organize and put new energy into a difficult job it has sorely neglected.





Outrage is a word badly weakened by overuse. This is unfortunate because it would be good to have now, at full strength, for the despicable things the British tabloid News of the World is accused of doing to a murdered 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, and to her family and friends.

Milly's disappearance in 2002 was a sensation in Britain. News of the World, a sex-and-celebrity pillar of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, dove in — though it shoved its snout far deeper into the muck than anyone knew.

A lawyer for Milly's family, Mark Lewis, said that after she vanished but before her body was found, News of the World hacked into her cellphone, recording anguished voice messages from relatives and friends desperate to hear from her. When the phone's memory was full, the paper's operatives deleted some messages to make room for new ones. This baffled the police and made Milly's family think she was alive, deleting the messages herself.

News of the World faced prosecutions and lawsuits for hacking phones of movie stars and British royals. That was slimy. The news that it violated the privacy of a family during a criminal inquiry sends it off a moral precipice.

Rebekah Brooks, News of the World's editor then and now a top executive in the News Corporation, its owner, played dumb. "I hope that you all realize it is inconceivable that I knew," she said. Glenn Mulcaire, the investigator accused of the hacking, apologized vaguely: "A lot of information I obtained was simply tittle-tattle, of no great importance to anyone, but sometimes what I did was for what I thought was the greater good, to carry out investigative journalism."

He asked the news media "to leave my family and my children, who are all blameless, alone." Blameless children. The greater good. Mr. Mulcaire found the right words, almost a decade late.







I knew I should have been out eating charred meat or watching a bad Michael Bay movie.

But I couldn't help myself. Every July Fourth weekend, I get sucked into the spooky little dimension of "The Twilight Zone." As the annual Syfy marathon proves, Rod Serling's hypnotic show is as relevant as ever.

If Anthony Weiner had watched it, he might have been more aware of how swiftly, and chillingly, our technology can turn on us. Prosecutors and reporters, dumbfounded by dramatic reversals in the cases of tabloid villains D.S.K. and Casey Anthony, might do well to keep in mind Serling's postmodern mantra: Nothing is what it seems.

Agnes Moorehead may seem to be a lonely farmwoman under attack by scary little robots, but after she kills them and takes an ax to their spaceship, it turns out that she's the scary Amazon alien and the little men were U.S. astronauts from Earth.

Ensorcelled once more by that inimitable, smoke-filled Serling voice, which is reassuring and unnerving at once, I wondered how the ingenious TV writer would have used social media and search engines in his plots. Given the way Serling treated time travel, space odysseys, robots and aliens, the 21st-century technology giants would probably have been ominous in one narrative and benign in another. (Just like in life.)

No doubt some characters would have been saved and others destroyed by Twitter, Facebook and Google.

"When you look at 'Twilight Zone' episodes, everything is ambivalent," said Serling's friend Doug Brode, who, along with Serling's widow, Carol, wrote "Rod Serling and 'The Twilight Zone:' The 50th Anniversary Tribute," published in 2009. "Rod had an open mind to the good, the bad and the in-between of technology. He was a guarded optimist until the Kennedy assassination. After that, his work reflected his sense of hopelessness."

He said that Serling's father, a middle-class grocer, lost his business in the Depression, so Rod had an early lesson in reversals. Serling also had a devastating experience while serving in World War II. During a lull at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific, he was standing with his arm around a good friend and they were having their picture taken. At that moment, an Air Force plane dropped a box of extra ammunition that landed on Serling's friend and flattened him so fatally that he couldn't even be seen under the box.

"Many 'Zone' episodes are about that split-second of fate where somebody arbitrarily gets spared or, absurdly, does not," Brode said.

Serling himself lived a reversal, going from a trailer park after the war and 40 rejection slips in a row to having a big Hollywood house and a pool. But he grew disdainful of Babylon's corrupting materialism and moved back to a cottage on Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. Serling fought furiously against censorship and ads, asking how you could write meaningful drama when it was interrupted every 15 minutes by "12 dancing rabbits with toilet paper?"

In one "Twilight Zone," an inept screenwriter conjures up Shakespeare to help him. The Bard produces a dazzling screenplay but then storms out when the sponsor demands a lot of revisions.

Did Serling, who had a searing sense of social and racial justice, believe in God?

"Not Charlton Heston sitting on a cloud with the Ten Commandments, but absolutely, as a force in the universe, he did," Brode said. "Nearly 35 years ago, George Lucas told me that the whole concept of the Force comes from Rod Serling."

It's impossible not to watch a stretch of the endlessly inventive Serling and not notice how many of his plots have been ripped off for movies, and how ahead of his time he was. In a popular new Samsung ad, a young woman jumps up from the lunch table and begins screaming because the tarantula screensaver on her colleague's 4G phone is so lifelike; another guy at the table takes off his shoe and smashes it.

There's a "Twilight Zone" episode where a Western gunfighter time travels forward and goes into a bar, where he sees a TV with a cowboy coming toward him. Thinking it's real, he pulls out his pistol and shoots the screen.

Looking at this summer's lame crop of movies and previews you can appreciate Serling's upbraiding of the entertainment industry for "our mediocrity, our imitativeness, our commercialism and, all too frequently, our deadening and deadly lack of creativity and courage."

"The Twilight Zone" was never gangbusters in the ratings, and Serling — who smoked on screen — died at 50 from the ravages of six packs a day. He felt like a sellout and failure. He had sold syndication rights for his show to CBS for a few million, thinking he had not written anything of lasting value.

Sadly, he gave himself a trick ending. He died never realizing how influential he would be.

"Everything today is Rod Serling," said Brode. "Everything."






Mark Bittman on food and all things related.


concentrated animal feeding operations, farming, food safety, Pigs

Iowa's ag-gag law failed to pass before summer recess last week: a good thing. The ridiculous proposition, which died along with similar ones in Minnesota, Florida and New York, would have made it illegal to videotape or photograph in the agricultural facilities that house almost all of our chickens and pigs.

Sadly, a lack of idiocy is not the same thing as a presence of wisdom, and the demise of ag-gag won't give us a clearer view of food production. We need more visibility, not less. But when I visited Iowa in May, I appealed to producers of eggs, chickens, pork and even cooking oil to let me visit their facilities. In general, I was ignored, politely refused or told something like "it's a bad week." (I made standing offers to return at any time; no one has taken me up on that.)

When a journalist can't see how the food we eat is produced, you don't need ag-gag laws. The system's already gagged.

The videographers that have made it into closed barns have revealed that eggs are laid and chickens are born and raised in closed barns containing (literally) hundreds of thousands of birds; an outsider wouldn't even know what those barns were. Pigs are housed cheek-to-jowl, by the many thousands, in what are called concentrated animal feeding operations, where feeding, watering and monitoring are largely mechanized. Pregnant sows are confined in small concrete cells. Iowa is industrial agriculture's ground zero. But when it comes to producing animals, zero is pretty much what you're going to see.

One medium-size pig-raising operation did offer me a tour, and we drove to a site where they ran four barns, each of which normally housed around 1,200 pigs. But the one we explored held only 200 pigs and reeked of deodorant. The animals had plenty of room, and they were calm and clean, as were the floors.

Not at all what I expected. Except I'd been expected, and a cleanup must have preceded me by, I'd guess, no more than two hours. (Either that or these were magic, non-defecating pigs.)

"Where are the other thousand pigs?" I asked.

"We've shipped a whole bunch recently."

"How about the other three barns? Are they full?"

"Nope. We don't have many pigs here right now."

Some tour. But I'd seen other pig barns during the course of the week because whenever I saw one that appeared unattended (it's easy enough to tell; there's no car), I checked it out as best I could. On some roads, there are almost as many pig barns as farmhouses, which may not be a coincidence: If you were an older farmer and your neighbor put 1,200 pigs in a barn, you'd probably move to Florida, too. The smell can be overwhelming.

Most have a small enclosure by the road, usually with a Dumpster. That's where dead pigs are tossed until the next garbage collection. (Yes, I saw this, several times.) Many of the barns are open on the sides so you can see how crowded the pigs are. (Videos of gestation barns — virtually impossible for an outsider to see — show that the sows can't even turn around.) The pigs were visibly upset when I approached the outside of the barn.

That was the best I could do, and it wasn't much. I could've been arrested for trespassing; extreme versions of ag-gag would make it illegal for me to write about it, or at least publish pictures.

Which would bring us a step closer to China, whose Health Ministry is trying to clamp down on news media outlets that "mislead" the public about food safety issues. (It's worth noting, on the other hand, that the Chinese Supreme Court has called for the death penalty in cases of fatal food poisoning.) "Mislead" apparently means reporting about pork tainted with the banned drug clenbuterol, which sent a couple hundred wedding guests to the hospital; watermelons exploding from the overuse of chemicals; pork disguised as beef, or glowing blue; and — my favorite — cooking oil dredged from sewers. (Check my blog for the details.)

Our watermelons don't explode and, for now, I can write about it. Yet when a heroic videographer breaks a horror story about animal cruelty, as happens every month or so, the industry writes off the offense as an isolated incident, and the perpetrators — usually the workers, who are "just following orders" — are fired or given wrist slaps. Business continues as usual, and it will until the public better understands industrial animal-rearing techniques.

"When I grew up here," said an Iowan I spent some time with, "people were proud of their animals. They'd have signs with their breeds, or their names, and they'd offer to show you around." That's no longer the case with most animal operations in Iowa. Next week I'll write about some of those that give us reason to hope.

Please visit my blog, On Food, or follow me on Twitter.

A version of this column appeared in print on July 6, 2011.






New Haven

REVELATIONS about the hotel housekeeper who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault suggest that she embellished claims of abuse to receive asylum, fudged her tax returns, had ties to people with criminal backgrounds, had unexplained deposits in her bank account and changed the account of the encounter she gave investigators. Yet those who would rush to judge her should consider the context.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn's accuser is from Guinea, also the home country of Amadou Diallo, the street peddler who was shot to death in the doorway of his Bronx apartment building by four New York City police officers in 1999. Guineans leave their country in large numbers, partly because of grinding poverty; 70 percent live on less than $1.25 a day , despite the fact that Guinea has almost half of the world's bauxite (from which aluminum is made), as well as iron, gold, uranium, diamonds and offshore oil.

The same leaders whose theft and mismanagement have kept so many Guineans poor in the decades since independence from France, in 1958, have also been ferociously violent, massacring as many as 186 unarmed demonstrators calling for democratic reforms in 2007, and at least 157 demanding the same in 2009. After the latter massacre, members of the state security forces gang-raped dozens of women to punish them for protesting and to terrorize men and women into silence.

While the American government condemned the massacres, the bauxite kept shipping, supplying Americans with aluminum cookware and automobile parts. That's no surprise; the biggest mining companies doing business in Guinea are based in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia.

People fleeing state-sponsored violence and extreme poverty will do anything to leave. I receive requests every few weeks to write expert-witness affidavits for West African asylum claimants. As a personal matter of conscience, I will not write in support of an applicant whose testimony I believe contains inconsistencies.

Yet asylum claimants are often asked to perform an impossible task. They must prove they have been subject to the most crushing forms of oppression and violence — for this, bodies bearing the scars of past torture are a boon — while demonstrating their potential to become hard-working and well-adjusted citizens.

This is where the lies and embellishments creep into some asylum seekers' narratives. Immigrants share tips and hunches about ways to outwit the system, even as immigration judges try to discover the claimants' latest ruses. But I can say from experience that for every undeserving claimant who receives asylum, several deserving ones are turned down. So few Africans gain access to green cards through legal channels that the United States government grants about 25,000 spots annually to Africans selected at random through the diversity visa lottery.

Just as Mr. Diallo's death resonated because it made the tribulations of many West African immigrants public, the case of Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his accuser has the aura of a parable. Many Africans feel the International Monetary Fund, which Mr. Strauss-Kahn led, and the World Bank have been more committed to the free flow of money and commodities like bauxite than to the free flow of people and the fulfillment of their aspirations.

Guinean press accounts, and recent conversations I've had with Guineans, suggest that they disapprove of the deceptions by Mr. Strauss-Kahn's accuser. But given the poverty and systemic violence in their country, they understand the circumstances in which such deception could occur — and we should, too.

As the case against Mr. Strauss-Kahn seemingly disintegrates, he is enjoying a political renaissance at home, yet I keep asking myself: does a sexual encounter between a powerful and wealthy French politician and a West African hotel cleaning woman from a dollar-a-day background not in itself suggest a gross abuse of power?

Mike McGovern, an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale and the author of "Making War in Côte d'Ivoire," is writing a book on Guinea.






THE Western campaign for hearts and minds in Afghanistan is based heavily on providing roads, dams, buildings and, especially, electricity. The United States Agency for International Development, or U.S.A.I.D., expects to spend $2.1 billion this year in Afghanistan. It has been working there for half a century, since the Soviets and Americans were competing to be the country's development partners.

So you'd think that a new five-year, $1.2 billion program that U.S.A.I.D. has proposed to create a modern electrical grid there would be a model. You'd be quite wrong.

When it comes to electricity, the agency has a dismal record, one that needs to be reviewed now, before the grid plan moves ahead. Afghanistan is in the bottom 10 percent of the world in electricity consumption per capita; if recent patterns hold, it will stay there as U.S.A.I.D. and the State Department try to appease the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and also give American officials a veneer of victory over Afghanistan's problems as American troops start to withdraw. President Obama's desire to speed the withdrawal makes the issue more urgent.

As in Iraq, the main American electrical reconstruction effort in Afghanistan is divided between U.S.A.I.D. and the Army Corps of Engineers. Of the two, the Corps has proved far more efficient.

The biggest project until now has been a 105-megawatt diesel power plant at Tarakhil, outside Kabul. It took the aid agency nearly three years to get it built. And as documented by the reporters Pratap Chatterjee of the CorpWatch news service and Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers, the Kabul plant became emblematic of the agency's struggles.

Its contractors were the Louis Berger Group and Black & Veatch. Last year, U.S.A.I.D.'s inspector general said delays and contracting problems at the project had cost nearly $40 million, out of a total outlay of more than $300 million.

The agency itself had criticized Black & Veatch in letters to the company and in performance reports. So analysts who followed the contracting — including academics, lawyers, legislators and journalists — were stunned last October when U.S.A.I.D. offered Black & Veatch a $266 million contract, without competitive bidding, for other electrical projects in Afghanistan. The agency has cited the special challenges of war-zone work.

And in the end, the Kabul plant most often has sat idle, as it supplements power from abroad. Current prices for diesel fuel trucked into a war zone have driven its operating costs to around 40 cents per kilowatt-hour, seven times the 6 cents that a kilowatt-hour imported over transmission lines from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan costs.

Another U.S.A.I.D. failure was at the Shorandam Industrial Park, near the city of Kandahar, which I visited with American military engineers in April. In 2005, U.S.A.I.D. set out to install 10 diesel generators able to produce 6.6 megawatts together. But it had a dispute with its initial contractor about costs and later said the generators had been damaged by an improvised explosive device.

After the generators sat in storage for five years, the agency contracted with Black & Veatch to finally install them; now the agency hopes to get the facility running this month. Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers contracted for a 10-megawatt facility on the same site last July; it went into full operation on Dec. 2.

Why have two American agencies planned two different diesel-generating facilities in the same location, but with different transformers, switches, contractors and manufacturers? That's a good question — one of many I couldn't get a sensible answer to in the three weeks I spent in Afghanistan reporting for my magazine on the projects.

Now U.S.A.I.D. is about to start its five-year initiative to rebuild, improve, expand and tie together Afghanistan's decrepit electrical networks into a single modern grid. It's an excellent idea, but the agency and the Afghan national utility are not up to the challenge.

In an annex to a U.S.A.I.D. report, dated March 5 and given to me in Afghanistan, the agency outlines a nine-part mechanism for contracting and financing the many projects. It indicates its intention to put the national utility in overall charge, with the agency as a sort of supervisor and intermediary with the Afghan Finance Ministry. Just last week at a briefing in Washington, the utility's chief executive officer, Abdul Razique Samadi, enthusiastically looked forward to getting to work on the project.

According to the March 5 outline of the project, the utility would control $906 million to be issued over five years — most of the budget. But that makes no sense. The utility has no experience with large-scale international contracting work, and most of its existing grids are ancient. No technical specialist outside of U.S.A.I.D. with whom I spoke in Afghanistan thinks the utility can direct and monitor the work of perhaps dozens of Western contractors and subcontractors. "It's almost like we're setting them up for failure," one development official told me.

Why is U.S.A.I.D. pushing this scheme? It is under intense pressure from two sides: from its State Department overseers, who want to show progress before the troop pullouts are well under way, and from President Karzai, who wants more control over development funds and activities. Giving the utility and the Afghan Finance Ministry control of this project could satisfy both parties, at least on paper.

At its core, the problem isn't the utility's inadequacy; it is U.S.A.I.D.'s. The agency has shown an inability to manage large electrical projects. Its programs change with the policy goals of the American administrations it serves, and it seems to lack officials in Afghanistan who arrived with prior experience in electrical projects and contracting.

What to do? Turn the projects over to the Army Corps of Engineers. It has performed better than U.S.A.I.D. on electrical projects in Afghanistan; it is less hobbled by politics; it has experienced engineers. It's critical that this happen soon, because the Corps can expect to be withdrawn with the rest of the Army, even if the timetable isn't set.

Yes, a transfer of responsibility would upset the delicate war-zone power balance between the State and Defense Departments. And the military isn't supposed to do long-term development overseas. But weigh those objections against the record: U.S.A.I.D.'s performance in Afghanistan's electrical sector has been so poor for so long that we can expect many millions of dollars to be wasted unless the administration acts now to give a vast new project a better chance of succeeding before only the aid agency is left in Afghanistan to struggle with the job.

Glenn Zorpette is the executive editor of I.E.E.E. Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.








The process of undermining the Supreme Court that has been undertaken by the government has reached extraordinary new heights. In the most open display of contempt seen so far, fresh action has been taken against Additional Director General of the FIA Zafar Qureshi who has now been suspended for "misconduct". Only recently he was reinstated to his post in the FIA following SC orders against his transfer from that organisation. The SC had ordered Qureshi's restoration to the National Insurance Company Limited case that involves Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, son of Federal Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The court had remarked that it was hard to understand why an honest officer had been removed given that he was handling the investigation efficiently. Clearly the government does not wish for honesty to prevail. It appears determined to ensure this does not happen. Prior to his suspension, on flimsy charges of talking to the media, Qureshi was reportedly summoned by the interior minister and was given several options; he could take a long leave, leave the country, tell the SC he was not able to conduct the investigation on private grounds, or he could find Moonis Elahi 'not guilty'. Qureshi quite evidently refused to comply. The response from the government has been drastic. It follows, according to media reports, a meeting between the PML-Q and PPP leaders to discuss the issue with Pervaiz Elahi and his team, stressing the need to ensure that Moonis emerged unscathed from the whole affair. The government has gone along with its desire to save an individual rather than abide by the orders of the apex court and the basic demands of justice.

It is quite obvious for everyone to see that Qureshi has been victimised in the worst possible manner. For now, no one is willing to accept responsibility for the move against him. The Interior Ministry has suggested that the prime minister is responsible for such measures and the establishment division has also been named. Shafqat Naghmi has been appointed to conduct an inquiry against Qureshi whose services could be terminated as a result of these developments. Such open contempt of court by a government is not usual. It is also quite obvious that the action against Qureshi is based on mala fide intentions. There are many other cases of misconduct that have not been taken up in any way. The SC will obviously need to take up the matter. It is likely to do so swiftly. The manner in which the Qureshi affair has been handled mocks the authority of the judiciary and threatens to throw the system into chaos making it impossible for institutions to work properly.







The anarchy we are seeing across the country seems to be reaching some kind of climax. In the town of Mianwali two people were killed and 32 injured when the police opened fire on a crowd of around 2,000 citizens protesting loadshedding in the area. The suspension of electricity supplies has been extending to 18 or 20 hours a day, leaving the people distraught. The police panicked when the crowd began to march towards the Chashma Barrage which produces 800 MWs of power and on the way resorted to acts of violence of various kinds and briefly held the DPO Waqas Nazir hostage. Unable to stop the march forward, the police began firing tear gas shells and bullets that ended up killing two people including a PTI activist. Similar failures to control crowds have been observed in other places.

It is also a fact that the scale of loadshedding these days is certain to rouse anger amongst people who continue to be confronted with huge electricity bills but no power to run fans, lights, or machinery. It is this problem which must be addressed by the government if other tragedies of the kind seen in Mianwali are to be prevented. Police officers who gave orders for firing at unarmed citizens must also be taken to task. There have also been angry protests in Kasur, Sargodha and in other parts of the country. More protests could break out given that power outages are commonplace everywhere and have affected the lives of hundreds of thousands across the country. The situation threatens to spiral out of control. It needs to be treated as an emergency and steps need to be taken to prevent further suffering.







There is much to celebrate in the achievements of those who have recently returned home from the Special Olympics in Athens. They arrived back to little fanfare and they have had scant coverage, yet their haul of medals does us proud as a nation. There were 85 young men and women suffering from a range of disabilities, some of them quite profoundly so, and they came home with 57 medals – 17 gold, 27 silver and 13 bronze. Our most successful special athlete was Adeel Ameer who won three gold medals and was declared the fastest special athlete in the world. Special athletes from 180 countries participated in the games which were, as they usually are whenever they are held, judged to have been a resounding success.

Athletes with special needs rarely hit the headlines. Unlike their more able-bodied fellow athletes these young people have few resources, find the money to train and the equipment they need often from their own or family efforts, and receive none of the adulation or respect enjoyed by people like our cricketers or hockey players. Yet their achievements are no less in terms of the mountains they have to climb to get to the point at which they can compete internationally. None of them are professionals but all are driven by a common love of sport. Yet every one of them is a hero. Men or women who have struggled to make the best of the raw deal that life has dealt them, and then to go and proudly represent their country, compete against others, win, and come home the victors. They deserve the admiration and respect of all of us, because they are sportsmen and women we can truly be proud of.








This is in response to Mr Umer Gillani's article 'Lower courts and superheroes' (June 30) which he wrote in response to my column 'My superheroes at close range' (June 26).

First of all, I would like to thank Mr Gillani for considering my depiction of the lower courts as 'telling' enough for him to make the effort of responding to it. If a writer's writing evokes a response from such learned readers as Mr Gillani, then for the writer, it is a job well done.

I must recall here, for my readers, that the context of my article was the plight of litigants in the lower courts in general, and in the family courts in particular. I must also clarify that I am neither a lawyer nor a seasoned journalist. I am also not familiar with the agendas of some sinister media group that is busy going after the vacations of the honourable judges. I am an opinion writer specialising in reflective narratives. I like telling stories, and in the present context, my story is about how the lower courts do not live up to the hype surrounding the justice that has recently been restored.

I agree with Mr Gillani on a score of counts, especially when he says that there is a need for academic research on our legal system. However, I do feel that certain points that he has made, need further debate.

Mr Gillani feels that 'my narrative', has placed the fault with the judges, blaming them for living a life of luxury and for vacationing endlessly. He speaks of how for every 100,000 people, there is only one judge available in the country, and how trying to squeeze out more working hours from already overburdened judges can prove to be counterproductive.

I am not going to try and clarify what I said or didn't say about judges. Readers can refer to my article to verify, if they have the time. I would rather use this space to first concede that this is shocking information and is definitely worthy of further analysis, and then I would ask Mr Gillani if he can try and present this as an excuse to the hundreds of litigants who are just about ready to employ extrajudicial measures to speed up their cases, only because they have no faith left in the justice system. Should we tell them to go ahead with their plans because, hey, we don't have enough judges in the country?

Remember that we are talking about cases where the contention is not material gain, but the emotional state of both minors and their parents. The law advises the benefit of the child be kept in mind while dealing with such cases. How does delaying for months a simple matter of a parent meeting a child, be considered beneficial for the child? How does not having enough judges in the country excuse the fact that a child will not see enough of his or her parent in a lifetime?

Moreover, I want to know if not having more judges in the country justifies the fact that an honourable judge comes late and leaves early? How does not having enough judges justify the fact that cases in the lower courts don't go beyond preliminary hearings in years. Shouldn't more cases mean a more accelerated effort to get rid of the cases as soon as possible?

My questions might not appear as learned and wise as an expert's opinion loaded with facts and figures might be. But this is the bottom line as experienced by a layman. If I am a father and I haven't met my child in months just because the mother is angry with me, my natural choice is to go to court. When I pay a hefty fee to a lawyer, and dedicate all my energies to the cause of having a normal relationship with my child who is growing up without me, my only hope is God and then the honourable judge of the family court. Every time I walk away from court with an ache in my heart, without having met my child, do you think I would care about the fact that there are not enough judges in the country?

If I get up from my workplace every fortnight, and consequently have my employer deduct half a day's salary, I am bound to wonder why the same cannot happen to others who take half a day off nearly every time I happen to visit. I have the right to at least feel resentment, don't I?

Mr Gillani also talks about the abysmal salary structure of the judges of the lower courts and how a lower court judge's salary is equal to that of a clerk. While I don't know much about the salary structure, I want to tell the learned lawyer that there is a logical fallacy in this argument. And I am pretty sure that the learned lawyer knows more about logical fallacies than I ever can. I mean, how many of us actually believe that we are being paid enough for our efforts? And does that personal opinion give us the license to not do our jobs properly?

Taking on a job as a judge means that the person fully understands what he or she is going to be paid, doesn't it? Or is it that the salary is kept a guarded secret until the time is right for a person to know what he is going to be paid? Or does a person sign a contract that says, Ok I am willing to be a judge, but I won't complete my working hours because the money is not enough you see?

How would a person feel if he is admitted to a hospital and a nurse refuses to give him an injection because she is not paid enough to do her job? I can make similar analogies with a soldier in the army, a teacher in a government school, and an honest policeman doing his job. But I think my point has been made here.

I fully agree with Mr Gillani when he says that there is nothing lowly about the work of the lower courts. I believe that these courts actually have the power of putting people out of their miseries, and in my list of noble professions, the legal profession ranks among the top three.

And the blame doesn't rest on the judges alone. I never said that it does, remember?

In the case that I myself am a part of, it is indeed sad to see a lawyer employ delaying tactics, and to take advantage of the loopholes in the justice system, just to prolong a case and to cause agony to a litigant who is fighting to meet his child every 15 days within the boundaries of his own home.

I say sad, not only because a simple case has not moved beyond the preliminary hearing in a year, but because this lawyer who is employing delaying tactics represents the firm of one of my heroes in the legal system.

It is very sad indeed because such experiences take away from you the hope that there could ever be any saviours for this country. I understand that a prolonged case means more money for the lawyer, but then, is the business of justice, at the end of the day, just that...a business? Do human rights violations only count when somebody else is committing them. Is a lawyer who stands for morality only responsible for upholding morals when somebody else is being immoral? These are questions that shake your faith even in the best of them.

I cannot share with you all the emails that I have been receiving after my last column but I would like to share that there is a Facebook group called 'victims of the guardian and ward act'. I was made aware of it after I wrote my last column. I would invite my readers and respectable Mr Gillani to take a look at it and interact with the victims. I am sure it will be an eye-opener.

The writer is an academic. Email:









By now, even the neighbour's cat knows all that is wrong with our country. Visionless leadership; criminal incompetence; a stagnant economy; law and order (rather the lack thereof); corroding corruption; compromised rulers; stymied military; rudderless policymaking (if it can be called so) and the list reads on. So what next, is the question. Do we just sit and allow this man-made black hole to consume the country and the people, or start taking corrective measures to chart our way to safety?

On the international front we have the Afghanistan issue with the United States treating it as an "American domestic issue". Then there is the very real India factor and of course the usual stuff with other 'serious' countries. It's a daunting menu of problems but we need to start somewhere. Steps must be taken, no matter how small or how few. For starters, we could begin with merely five.

1. We need to formulate a national security policy, which shall in turn father the country's economic, foreign, and military policies. Let's learn from Turkey. As a state we must adopt a proactive approach rather then merely reacting to events and dealing with eventual fallouts. And this will happen only when a duly thought out policy framework replaces the whimsical and nonsensical individualistic reactions of our political and khaki power lords.

2. The terrorism issue is going nowhere till our tribal population gets somewhere first. We need to expose the tribal population to an alternative and parallel socio-political and religious narrative. The Political Parties Act must immediately be extended to the entire Fata belt. Today, a political worker's property can be confiscated under the draconian FCR law and he/she can be sentenced to life imprisonment for the 'crime' of establishing a political party office in Fata. On the other hand, anyone can open a madressah, funded by unknown sources, and preach venomous ideologies without any reprisal whatsoever. Fata remains fertile ground for terrorist recruiters, thanks to a combination of crushing poverty and blinding ignorance. Peace will not come without awareness and that shall not take root unless we unlock the tribal borders and unleash the tribal mind. The tribal region has been kept out of Pakistan for the past 64 years but now Pakistan must go to it. Certain legitimate concerns of law enforcement agencies can easily be accommodated without allowing such apprehensions to block the direly needed socio-economic glasnost.

3. We have no choice but to sort out our institutional unholy mess and redefine the meaning of strategic depth and tactical offense. We can no longer afford sleeping with the LeT, Jaish, and the 'good' Taliban etc and trying to wake up with the rest of the world pretending that nobody is hiding in the bedroom closet. It may have worked in the past vis-à-vis India but the burning issue here is not of securing independence for Kashmir but of safeguarding our own. Nobody is talking about abandoning the cause of Kashmir but only of giving up certain ill-advised habits. The concept of using illegal combatants of war for even legitimate conflicts must be abandoned (and the same goes for the US and its contractors). True to its nature, the beast has now turned its head and is biting the feeding hand. We either kill the beast or prepare to be devoured by it. And here is some unsolicited advice for our American friends who are breathing unnecessarily hard down our necks: the acme of statecraft is to convert your enemy into your friend and not the other way round.

4. Our economy is in a serious mess, to put it mildly. According to the latest State Bank statistics, there is hardly any credit demand for new investment activities; economic growth was a nonexistent 2.4 percent and inflation is clearly running wild and out of government control, rather, being fuelled by its own ridiculous 'time pass' policies. The US dictates terms, and rightly so, because we perpetually beg the US for funds. We need to stop doing that and start fixing our own economy. Out of the box thinking is required by our boxed-in leadership. We need to take measures like a flat 10 to 15 percent across-the-board income tax without any exemptions, making tax evasion more of a hassle than incentive. People work harder and create greater wealth when they can keep a larger share of it. This approach will indeed cause an initial revenue dip but shall yield tremendous dividends down the road. Fixing a prudent dollar exchange rate in the seventies range and ensuring State Bank intervention to keep it that way will stop speculation and stabilise currency and export contracts. Freeze runaway government borrowing as interest repayments alone take up 25 percent of our budget. Reign in banks that are earning criminally high profit margins in Pakistan. There is a near eight percent difference in their receiving and lending spread whereas all over the world it stays in the 1 to 1.5 percent range. Offer irresistible incentives to thermal power plants to convert to coal. We have a coal reservoir with 175 billion tonnes of coal which effectively developed and exploited would change our future. Meanwhile, even importing coal remains a cheaper option than furnace oil. Privatise the bleeding state entities and restructure the extremely corrupt federal board of revenue. Build on the strength of our agrarian economy, which is also human capital intensive. Invest in education, and population control.

Enforcing industry standards alone can save billions in energy losses. With electricity appliances working at 40 percent efficiency and gas appliances at just 26 percent, we lose over 2000 MWs of electricity daily just to lousy fans and similar appliances while millions of cubic feet of gas are lost daily to inefficiently designed gas cooking ranges and water heaters.

5. The civilian and military leadership must share a common and voluntarily agreed upon strategic vision of the War on Terrorism, and the definition of Pakistan's strategic interests. A conflict here would be more disastrous than the damage caused by any outside force.

The list of measures required is endless and warrants a dedicated column but even these few measures, given they are implemented, could transform our fiscal situation and the country.

The writer is editor The News, Islamabad.







What the nation suffered over the last three years was punishment enough, but it seems that worse lies ahead. Lawlessness which has made lives unliveable, corruption which has brought shame to Pakistan from around the globe and hunger and depravation which compels the people to sell their children, or cut their children's throats to save them from hunger and starvation—these are the highlights of the dismal failure of this government on all counts. Of course, the commitments of catching Shaheed Benazir Bhutto's killers and roti, kapra aur makan for the people is long buried in the debris of false promises, incompetence and unfitness to rule that this government has manifested right from the start. It is now stripped even of the Bhutto name. So much so that it is holding on to straws by reopening the Bhutto case, but to no avail, and has started looking in different directions for crutches. Rock bottom has been reached and it now has to knock at the door of the PML-Q, which it had dubbed "Qatil League" for that party's having been a suspect in the murder of not only Benazir Bhutto but also her father. On the other hand, the Chaudhrys hold the PPP responsible for the murder of their elder, the late Chaudhry Zahoor Illahi. The government is now compelled to offer the explanation that the PML-Q was "Qatil" only when it was Musharraf's party.

All the above is indictment enough of the rulers. But this is not all, and what follows is still more distressing. We have often heard those in this unfortunate country who have the gall to call themselves politicians and thus disparage the profession, taking the plea that "nothing is final in politics." This, of course, means that politics is based on lies and broken promises made to the people. That it is perfectly normal to turn around and change course even if it amounts to going in the opposite direction. That the essence of politics is personal aggrandisement and profit while ideologies, principals, commitments and honesty mean nothing. It is a matter of shame that our politics is overwhelmingly dominated by such a mindset and lotaism is the order of the day. Moreover, there is the matter of elections based on voters' lists in which half the entries are bogus, and elected members with hundreds of fake degrees who have made false declaration of assets, all of which makes the whole political setup utterly discredited. But when Zardari, and now the prime minister of Pakistan on the floor of the National Assembly, are seen and heard saying that "nothing is final in politics," the only thought that comes to mind is that we are in the clutches of followers of Machiavelli.

If "nothing is final in politics," why do parties have manifestoes? Why do they call themselves leftist or rightist, Conservative or Labour, communist or capitalist, Republican or Democrat? Why do parties make commitments to the people? How would the British, Dutch, French and Spanish colonies have become independent even though much blood was shed in the process? How would Pakistan have come into being if Mr Jinnah had said "nothing is final in politics" and given in to Congress and British pressure against the creation of the new country? How would Bangladesh have come into being if Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had abandoned the Six Points rather than face imprisonment and war? On what basis do our rulers and their fellow travellers not only profess to be politicians but also claim ad nauseam to be Bhutto loyalists and to be following in his footsteps (although most are nothing but leftovers from the Zia and Musharraf eras)—a man who chose death over expediency when he went to the gallows but did not compromise on the finality of his stand?

The politics of today, if you must call it that, is overwhelmingly dominated by the "nothing is final" brigade. This brings back unpleasant memories of the dark colonial days when the will of the people did not matter and governments were made and unmade in drawing rooms by members of assemblies and ministers changing sides. In Sindh alone, 14 governments were set up and dismissed in this manner, starting from the separation of Sindh from Bombay in 1936 to the imposition of One Unit in 1956. Similarly, seven governments came and went in the first ten years of Pakistan, paving the way for ten years of Ayub Khan's military rule.

Zardari's rule has taken the country back to those sorry days and the suffering people have been left out of the equation of politics, which is a science that regulates the relationship between people and the politicians. After the all-too-brief interlude of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in which the government was bound to the will of the people, we are back to drawing-room deals between power holders and power seekers for the sole purpose of hanging on to power without the consent of the people. To add insult to injury, such moves are being trumpeted as acts of great political wizardry though they are deals based merely on the grant of seats for "reconciliation" with bribes of ministerial positions and other lucrative posts.


This is very dangerous and is leading to an explosion which will make the Arab revolts look like child's play. Things here are far worse than in Arab countries and the people angrier. The mandate of the government was to catch the killers of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and provide roti, kapra aur makan to the vanquished masses. Within a few months of its rule, the government conclusively lost its mandate by manifesting neither the ability nor the desire to fulfil it. The people have been out in the streets ever since and the mood is getting more violent by the day. What is lacking so far is unity among the masses who are protesting separately over their own grievances. The day they forge unity under one leadership and combine their demands under a single all-embracing manifesto, that will be the day of doom for this "nothing is final in politics" lot.

The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front







'Writing books about the ongoing militancy in our region has acquired the form of a cottage industry,' an eminent columnist recently opined. One felt the pun could have been stretched further by pointing out that sadly no entrepreneur from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), the area worst hit by militancy, had ventured into the business. This changed with a book titled "Fundamentalism, Musharraf and The Great Double Game", authored by A Rauf Khan Khattak, a retired senior civil servant.

The book has been printed in the US. It has, therefore, not yet hit local bookstalls, but can be considered a useful addition to the mass of books on the subject of militancy as the author writes from a position of unique experience and knowledge. Rauf Khattak has served as the political agent in the now volatile North Waziristan Agency in the early 80s and later as the commissioner of the Kohat Division that includes the formidable tribal agencies of Orakzai and Kurram and the restive Darra Adamkhel area.

Writing of the peaceful old days, the author reminisces about how he, along with his family, would drive up the steep and desolate hilly Darra Road in the dead of the night without any security, save that of being accompanied by a driver. The winds of civilisation have since spared the travellers of the travails of the treacherous hilly road in the shape of a state of the art 1.8 km long tunnel. But destiny had something much worse in store for the wretched masses than the physical sufferings of the arduous journey of the past; the tunnel and the road leading to it are under incessant attacks from present day militants.

Most of what Rauf Khan has narrated might not be new for the readers. However, since the narrator is a native and is well-versed in the history, culture, traditions and geography of KPK and the adjoining tribal areas, the saga is that much more credible and poignant. The events unfolding in the seven tribal agencies and the six semi-tribal regions over a period of five years have been described most exhaustively.

The writer's personal interaction with the tribal chieftains and the common lot also appears to have helped him bring to the fore the good and the bad in the tribal way of life. It is lack of this knowledge on the part of those presently dealing with the restlessness in the tribal areas that the author blames for the worsening state of affairs.

The chapter on Swat could be termed the most revealing part of the book. Swat had befuddled everyone; no one was prepared to believe that the docile and affable Swatis could behave so irrationally. But after reading Rauf Khan's account of events, Swat appears less of an enigma as one discovers how the valley was lost to a cable trolley operator turned mullah.

Swat was known to have enjoyed exemplary peace and prosperity as a princely state under the Wali of Swat and his scions. The author has few kind words for the then military ruler General Yahya Khan for disturbing things in Swat and fewer still for General Musharraf whom he holds responsible for all that has gone awry post-9/11.

Writing on militancy, particularly the kind that we are witnessing in KPK and Pakistan's tribal areas, can be a dicey job. It could lead one to compromise one's neutrality and objectivity quite unwittingly. The job gets even harder to accomplish when, as in the case of Rauf Khattak, one's avowed objective is to write and preserve history for the posterity.

Writers worldwide have by and large been critical of the United State's disproportionate response to fighting religious zealotry and bigotry. Even some of the famous writers in the West have been extremely critical of the War on Terror. But such criticism proves contradictory when one is introduced to the fanatics' way of extending the war to their own helpless countrymen and coreligionists. Rauf Khan is also found grappling with a similar dilemma when he learns, from numerous sources, of the gory incidents of cold-blooded murders and slaughters of hapless victims and gross desecration of the dead bodies, which find abundant mention in his book.

The historian in the author seems to have asked more questions than he has answered. The entire narrative is interspersed with questions. He should have known that history cannot be preserved in the interrogative form.

The author must nevertheless be excused for being so sketchy with regard to defining the Taliban and tracing their historical antecedents. There is precious little in the past to cull from to present the Taliban as a redoubtable movement. The Taliban were until recently known merely as 'chanreys' in the Pakhtun milieu and their domain did not extend beyond the threshold of the mosque. Who must then atone for helping those submissive pupils metamorphose into such dangerous creatures?

The story of Oedipus is well-known: abandoned as an orphan and raised by King Polybus, he unknowingly killed his own father when their paths crossed by chance and knowingly married his own mother to ascend to the throne of Thebes as king. In the meantime, fate visited plague and pestilence upon Thebes. When Oedipus realised his sin, he put out his eyes. Perhaps, this is Rauf Khan's purpose in asking so many questions — for what has been done to our motherland?









They say justice delayed is justice denied. In Narendra Modi's Gujarat, justice is not just delayed and denied, it's eliminated. Nearly a decade after the worst state-sanctioned massacre of Muslims since Independence in full view of the world, the mockery of justice continues unabated..

God alone knows how many government commissions have probed the 2002 pogrom and have come up with conclusions that did not really surprise anyone. From knocking on the doors of courts in Gujarat and Maharashtra to approaching the highest court in the land, the victims have dashed their heads against every wailing wall in their quest for justice. They have however refused to give up faith in the country's courts and justice delivery mechanism, hoping against hope that justice will be done -eventually, some day.

This is what I heard in undertones, wherever I went, during my visit to Gujarat in the summer of 2009. One of the most dynamic and enterprising communities anywhere, Gujarati Muslims have retreated into their shells since the 2002 carnage. Isolated and shunned like pariahs in their own land, they have maintained a low profile and still look over their shoulder before reluctantly revisiting the horror of a decade ago.

Fear still stalks the terrorised community. Indeed, most of those cases against top Gujarat officials have been filed by human rights groups and selfless activists such as Teesta Setalvad of Communalism Combat and Mukul Sinha of Jan Sangharsh Morcha, whom I have had the honour of interviewing during my visit, rather than the families of victims themselves.

Some of the most damning testimonies against Modi and his band of killers detailing how they ordered and executed the carefully choreographed pogrom against Muslims came not from the victims but from top cops like R B Sreekumar, Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt, who had had a ringside view of those terrifying months in 2002. This may be why the victims have nurtured a faint, flickering hope of an eventual day of reckoning for those months of rape, murder, and every possible savagery that they suffered. They have waited and waited, silently and patiently, for justice.

Now those hopes for justice have been dashed. The evidence on which all those testimonies were based has been destroyed by an efficient government. Or so we are told. Gujarat government lawyer S B Vakil told the Justice Nanavati Commission this week that the 2002 records, including telephone call logs, police vehicle logbook and officers' movement diaries, were destroyed in 2007 as per the "standard procedure" as most "irrelevant documents" are routinely destroyed after five years!

Incidentally, those "irrelevant documents" held the key to delivering justice and perhaps to the future of Modi and his men. So what if those "irrelevant documents" formed the crucial evidence of the 2002 pogrom and were at the heart of proceedings of Justice Nanavati Commission and Akshya Mehta Judicial Commission and numerous cases in courts against top figures in the government?

This is how Modi has functioned all these years, throwing mud at, and even eliminating those who have had the audacity to confront him and his crimes. And no one has been able to do a damn thing about it.

By summarily destroying the record of his crimes, Modi has not just mocked and taunted those who have tried to bring justice to his victims, he has ridiculed India's claim to being a secular democracy that believes in justice and equality of all before law.

Modi is not merely guilty of mocking and trampling on the rule of law, he has heaped shame and abuse on the nation's secular and democratic institutions and their ability to administer justice to all sections of society.

India's Muslims have watched in silence and utter helplessness as one state institution after another has failed spectacularly to offer them justice and confront the thugs who have been caught on tape boasting about how they killed, raped, and burnt Muslims alive.

I can't even imagine how this latest blow to the quest for justice will be seen and interpreted by an already exhausted community. And I shudder to think of the consequences if the world's largest religious minority living in a single country loses its faith completely in that country and its place in it.

They have already lost all confidence in India's politicians and political parties. Their troubled relationship with Modi's party, the BJP, hardly needs elaboration. But they have received little support from Sonia Gandhi's Congress, perhaps for the fear of upsetting its Hindu vote bank and being branded as "anti-Hindu" by the Hindutva brotherhood.

Under the circumstances, what do the Muslims do? Where do they go for justice? What hope and alternatives are they left with? These are the questions that demand answers from India's vibrant civil society. It's its silent and peace-loving multitudes that make India what it is — a living, thriving and extraordinary democracy. They are the hope and future of this melting pot of a nation.

It may be time for those silent multitudes to speak up and speak out against the rape of justice and rule of law that is going on in Narendra Modi's Gujarat. If anyone can teach a lesson to the perpetrators of Gujarat 2002, it's them. They have to send out the message to the world that it's not Modi's terrorist regime but Gandhi's Gujarat that really represents and speaks for India.

That said, if the mass murderers of Gujarat's Muslims think they can get away with murder, they are grievously mistaken. Justice will catch up with them — eventually. Sooner or later. Their just reward awaits them — if not in this life, then in the next. You can run as long as you want. But your fate will find you — eventually. As the poet would warn, jo chup rahegi zabaan-e-khanjar, lahu pukarega aasteen ka. If the dagger that killed remains silent, the stains of blood on your sleeve will cry out!

The writer is based in the Gulf and has written extensively on the Muslim World. Email:








During the last decade or so, most things in Pakistan have either been stagnant or in steep decline. The notable exception has been the expansion beyond recognition of modes of communication, electronic media and the world of fashion. It is now widely recognised that they are already important components of the changing social reality. Of late, there has been discernable preoccupation amongst professional journalists in the print and the electronic media with what media analysts call the burden of "the anxiety of influence". Driven by market forces, they have in many instances allowed themselves into initiating trends that they are unable to control and which they recognise as harmful to the national ethos in the long run. By far, the most prominent trend in this context is the degeneration of the televised political talk shows into protracted slanging matches. The redoubtable Kamran Khan was certainly reflecting unease about the media's responsibility when he did a well-illustrated commentary on this dangerous trivialisation of our political discourse in a society where rampant illiteracy makes the masses particularly dependent on TV's visual coverage of events.

As to who bears the primary responsibility for the damage done to verifiable information, authentic opinion, structure of thought and language – factors that shape individual and collective consciousness – is a question that cannot be easily answered. But it is possible to identify the downward slope that our political TV has followed. Anxious to make talk shows more "interesting" and accommodate demands from corporatist owners of media, many of the anchors started the vogue for an acrimonious exchange of views amongst politicians. What took this legitimate dialectical method virtually out of their hands was the response of the political parties: they decided to hold back their leaders capable of conversations in an orderly and civilised manner and instead, launched special media commandos ready to outshout all participants and by now the anchors themselves.

The result is a format that one has not seen anywhere else in the world. A cacophony of voices – fragmented, disjointed and incomprehensible sounds – explodes on the screen with the viewer just about figuring out mutual insults being traded. Those who come to defend the government have become particularly adept at wrecking the discussions. "We are most likely to get angry and excited in our opposition to some idea." wrote Thomas Mann way back in 1903, "When we ourselves are not quite certain of our own position, and are, inwardly tempted to take the other side." It seems that in 2011, Pakistan's political parties, especially the ruling PPP, are so haunted by the poverty of their performance that they have to just destroy the tradition of discussions conducted with equanimity and courtesy.

This penchant for the slanging match may also be responsible for a decline in the other time tested norms of broadcasting. In line with global trends, Radio Pakistan in its early years became a protector and preserver of the accuracy of the Urdu language as, indeed, of a certain catholicity of style and presentation.

The advent of TV saw the continued presence of committed individuals who would be distressed if the new medium was sliding into poor pronunciation and diction. Radio and TV demonstrated that wit, satire and sophistication could go hand in hand. Inevitably, rapid expansion would dilute standards but it was a challenge worth accepting particularly when the social media were inventing an abbreviated language of its own. Instead of being role models, more and more participants in the political talk shows are accelerating the erosion of our linguistic and cultural values.

The writer is a former ambassador and foreign secretary of Pakistan








THERE are indications that despite tall claims being made day in and day out by almost all stake-holders about attaching importance and respecting independence of the judiciary, the Supreme Court rightly doesn't feel comfortable with the way the Government is responding to various directives of the apex court. It was, perhaps, in this backdrop that the worthy Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, had to convey the impression that the judiciary is being disgraced.

There are scores of instances where the authorities concerned have defied orders of the Supreme Court and resisted their implementation on one pretext or the other. But Monday's episode is the most glaring example of this intransigence on the part of the Government as it took refuge behind charges of misconduct to render Zafar Qureshi, the officer who was probing corruption case of NICL on the orders of the apex court, irrelevant by issuing his suspension orders. Earlier, his four junior officers who had been assisting him in the case, were transferred in indecent haste in the darkness of night in a bid to turn the investigations into a zero-sum game. The way the Supreme Court is being dodged has compelled analysts and commentators to point out that the Government has deliberately opted the course of confrontation with the highest court of the land. This is indeed mockery of the principle of rule of law and good governance and sends highly negative signals not only to the people of Pakistan but also to the outside world. It is unfortunate that some elements in the Government are entangling the top leadership in questions of inflated egos despite the fact that the country was passing through a very critical phase of its existence and there is need to promote unity, strengthen institutions and concentrate on the challenges at internal and external fronts. As Chief Executive of the country, it is responsibility of the Prime Minister to lay down principles to sort out such things so that unnecessary trivial bickering are avoided in the greater national interest.







AT the national day reception of the US Embassy in Islamabad on Monday, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, who was the chief guest on the occasion, talked about different aspects of Pakisan-US relations and expressed the confidence that despite ups and downs these would continue to grow and prosper. He discounted differences between the two countries as part of the diplomatic process.

To begin with we would point out to the inconvenience bordering humiliation that some of the invitees had to face, forcing them to return back without attending the reception. Security related steps are, of course, understandable and perhaps justifiable but we are sure that better way can be found to avoid embarrassment to both guests and hosts in future. Any how, coming back to the PM's remarks, we agree that relations have seen many ups and downs but would point out that Mr Gilani conveniently ignored the causes of such frictions, may be out of courtesy as he was there not only as guest but chief guest. What the United States must understand is that due to proliferation and independence of media, negative signals emanating from Washington travel across Pakistan within no time creating a lot of resentment as most often these are loaded with bias against the country. Anti-Pakistan statements by Western leaders and deliberate leaks to media aimed at maligning Pakistan on this or that account especially with regard to its intention to fight terror and safety of its nuclear programme rightly cause annoyance in the length and breadth of Pakistan and widen the gulf of misunderstanding. We also agree that there can't be totally friction-free relationship between any two countries of the world but at the same time we should appreciate that a concerted campaign to pressurise and browbeat Pakistan is bound to injure sensitivities of the people here. Our history shows that people of Pakistan would never swallow humiliation and they would also never entertain any mischief vis-à-vis the country's strategic assets.







THE State Bank in its third quarterly review has emphasized the need for policy responses to several key domestic challenges in order to overcome the economic crisis confronting the country. The Bank has made a comprehensive analysis of the ground situation and while endorsing it, we would recommend that the Government must give due consideration to it for implementation.

The main suggestions given by the SBP include overcoming the energy shortages which are restricting growth, reducing the high fiscal deficit whose financing has become difficult partly owing to the backlog arising from the non recognition of power sector subsidies of earlier years as reflected in the circular debt, checking the build up of domestic debt which is raising concerns for macro stability and inflationary pressures which are not receding readily. Though over the past few months, the government has been able to bring down the non-development expenditure but it is essential that it must ensure fiscal discipline and limit borrowings from the Central Bank to contain inflation and leave the resources for private sector investment. In the current situation, the first priority should be given to raising productivity in farms and factories so as to be able to utilize the existing national physical assets in a far more efficient way. The large scale fiscal deficits and heavy indebtedness that is leading to high inflation could be checked with widening of the tax base and by netting the tax evaders to generate additional domestic revenue. There is dire need for a long-term economic vision and a number of elements can possibly be included in it. Former State Bank Governor Dr Ishrat Hussain has suggested mass education of the bulging youth, minimising inequalities and disparities through better governance and making Pakistan competitive in the world markets. They would surely take a long time to fruition but the ball will have to start rolling now. Given the right policies, historical records show that the best way to attain macroeconomic stability is through growth. Once we put the economy on the path of growth, most of our problems like price hike, unemployment, poverty and shortage of resources would be easy to overcome. Therefore, we think the very pertinent and futuristic approach suggested by the State Bank be followed in letter and in spirit as that would help us get out of economic crisis.








The Prime Minister of India, the good Doctor Manmohan Singh, is reported to in the Indian media as having expressed the hope that Pakistan "will leave Kashmir alone". He then went on to express his view that "They (Pakistan) have not done enough on terror. I still feel they need to do more". The Prime Minister dwelt on several other matters relating in particular to India's role in the region and outlook vis-à-vis China. But of direct concern to this country is his assertion relating to Kashmir.

Coming at about the same time is the news item datelined New Delhi that relates to remarks made by the Foreign Secretary of India at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. In her speech on the foreign policy of India the Foreign Secretary harked back to the bogey of "cross-border terrorism". One had always thought that after the (infamous) U-turn of the Commando/President the genie of "cross-border terrorism" had been put back into the bottle. But, apparently it was still held in reserve by the Indian establishment to utilize at an appropriate time. And here it is!

One would not be strictly accurate in averring that the cat is out of the bag. This is because the cat in question has been out and prowling around the alleys for quite a few years now. It is just that some people have either been dense or too myopic to register it. Now at long last India is shining through in its true colours. All the hype about the resumption of the peace talks now appears to have faded away in the haze of the erstwhile "terrorism and extremism first" strategy. It is a bit of disappointment to see a lack of response from Pakistan to an apparent about turn by India on the peace front. If one is to make any advance conditional on whether Pakistan 'has done enough on terror', judged by the Indian yardstick, then that leaves precious little to be optimistic about. One waits to see if our gurus can give a positive spin to that one as has been their wont in yesteryears.

Now to the hope expressed by the good Dr. Manmohan Singh that Pakistan should leave Kashmir alone, the matter is not as simple as it sounds. India has been trying for a long time to create the impression among the International community that but for 'cross-border terrorism' sponsored by Pakistan all would be hunky dory in Indian held Kashmir. This is an attempt to malign and downgrade the valiant struggle of the Kashmiri people for 'azadi' that is now well into the third generation. The international community would do well to recognize the Kashmiri resistance for what it is: a struggle of a people for safeguarding their inalienable fundamental rights. The international community, through the United Nations, had long ago recognized the right of the Kashmiri people to decide their own future and no one party has the right to unilaterally alter this commitment.

It need hardly be emphasized that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is not a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan; nor is Kashmir a cake that can be cut and conveniently apportioned to either side. The issue instead is one of honoring the pledge of respecting the right of self determination of the over ten million people of the state. The dispute cannot be frozen as has been sometimes argued. A disputed tract of territory can be frozen, not so the inalienable rights of some ten million people who have, and are, agitating for them for the past several decades. It is time that India and Pakistan – as well as the international community - redeemed the pledge that they gave to the Kashmiri people.

The statements emanating out of Indian official circles are pointers to a campaign against Pakistan that is by no means new. The Indian establishment has been at it for some two decades now. It is intensified every time they can get hold of – or invent – a pretext. The target audience is not in Pakistan but in the United States and the Western World. The general objective is to paint a dismal picture of Pakistan in a misguided effort to gain time. What India needs must realize that time is of the essence. The world is moving at a dizzying pace and any action that delays a positive denouement in international affairs can, and will, boomerang in a big way. The people of South Asia have been patient for a long time; it will not be fair to deprive them of the fruits of their endeavors just because an overly ambitious group of people think otherwise. This is hardly the time or the occasion to go into detail. Suffice it to mention that India has long been relishing the role of the regional policeman and bully in South Asia. More than Pakistan, it has been the small countries of the region that have been the victims of some heavy-handed treatment. Sikkim one would not talk of because it has already gone under. Among others, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives have been at the receiving end. In fact, before India gave currency to the term "cross-border terrorism" with regard to Pakistan's interest in the Kashmir dispute, Sri Lanka had had bitter taste of it with the foreign-sponsored sponsored Tamil insurgency.

Sometime, circa early 1990s, the Indian establishment had decided on a U-turn of sorts. Instead of plans to engage and weaken Pakistan on the battlefield, it was decided to launch a worldwide campaign to malign Pakistan in the outside world with the aim of ultimately declared as a "terrorist state". Thanks to the horrible blunders committed by our own leadership, they succeeded beyond their expectations. With the benefit of hindsight, one can now conveniently trace the course of this sinister campaign. In the recent past, peaceniks on both sides of the border had expressed the hope that the worst was over and that the leaderships of the two countries would now work for the establishment of peace, normalization and good neighbourliness. This hope appears to have been raised on a foundation of sand. India is making it clear that peace will come not on the basis of give and take, but only on subservience to India's strategic roadmap for the region. The choice is ours to make.






Proxy war fought by Pakistan at the behest of USA in 1980s in return for $3.5 billion assistance proved too costly for Pakistan. It had to live with menaces of Kalashnikovs, sectarianism, extremism and now terrorism. Drug culture came for the first time. Three million Afghan refugees based in Pakistan since 1979 have caused immense social, economic and security problems. Foreign agencies have been cultivating agents from within this lot to fuel terrorism in Pakistan.

Pakistan is suffering the most in ongoing war on terror which is raging for over a decade and may go on for many more years. It is up against local militants of various hues funded, equipped trained and guided by foreign agencies based in Afghanistan. Bomb attacks and suicide attacks have become a routine. 30,000 civilians and 5000 security personnel have died in terror attacks. 9,000 security forces have received serious injuries while combating militancy. Afghan and NATO troops indulging in border violations and NATO jets frequently violate airspace and at times bomb security border posts. US Marines had undertaken a heli-borne raid in Angoor Adda in September 2009. Drone strike rate has accelerated from 2009 onwards and has reached a crescendo and hundreds of innocent people have died.

Afghan regime is also fully involved in destabilization scheme. Former head of RAAM Amrullah Saleh is on record admitting that RAAM organized cross border raids from Kunar province. He stated that Afghan troops in civil clothes took part in Bajaur operations in 2008-09. Karzai has been singing Indo-US mantras of 'cross border terrorism' and 'do more'. He had turned down repeated requests of Pakistan to mine or fence Pak-Afghan border since he is allowing usage of Afghan soil by RAW to mount covert war against Pakistan.

Karzai has been playing tunes of friendship since last year. He backs peace process and advocates good neighborly relations based on complete trust, but in practice his words do not match his actions. This is evident from several raids taking place in Bajaur, Upper Dir and Mateen in June. He was in the knowledge of Abbottabad attack and he and his companions sitting in Kabul heard the successful accomplishment of the mission with joy.

The US is engaged in making contacts with Taliban leaders to arrive at a political settlement. This process has assumed urgency in the aftermath of OBL's death. The US feels that after the death of his close friend OBL, Mullah Omar and His Shura would no more be under any obligation to maintain ties with al-Qaeda and would agree to get detached. The US also assumes that loss of al-Qaeda as an ally will weaken the strength of Taliban who have been sufficiently mauled, since they will be fighting the foreign forces singly. Separation of joint list of names of members of Qaeda and Taliban by UNSC is a move to woo Taliban. The US also perceived that killing of OBL will put fear in the hearts of runaway Taliban senior leaders, fearing that they may not suffer a similar fate. It expected that defections would accelerate but so far it has not happened. There is no evidence to support US claim that it has put the resistance forces on the back foot and beaten them.

Irrespective of their optimistic assumptions, Obama was mindful of ever growing home pressure and prohibitive costs. Expenditure of $2 billion per weak is not a small amount. Irrespective of unfounded reservations of Pentagon, he announced the drawdown program which lays down that 10,000 US troops would depart by end 2001 starting July and 23000 troops by September 2012. 67000 troops would hopefully quit by end 2013 or early 2014. NATO has also chalked out withdrawal plan of 50,000 troops. Obama's speech lacked clarity with regard to policy goals and political benchmarks for the future. He did spell out the need for peaceful settlement, but he didn't elaborate whether settlement will be achieved through unilateral efforts or through collective efforts of regional countries, particularly Pakistan which has much greater stake. Withdrawal plan must have buoyed up the Taliban since it will be easier for them to operate against withdrawing enemy keen to return home safe and sound and that too without achieving any of the stated political and military objectives.

Notwithstanding its efforts to patch up with Taliban and to leave behind pro-America regime in Kabul, the US has been convincing Karzai for the last several months to agree upon its proposal of strategic partnership allowing US-UK troops to stay back in five military bases in Afghanistan permanently after the cutout date so as to prevent the Taliban from returning to power. The US would accept Taliban to share power in a broad based government as junior partner only. The proposal suits Karzai for he knows that once the US-NATO forces depart, his days in power would get numbered. He has quietly given his consent for Kandahar and Baghram bases but outwardly he is giving tough statements telling US military that collateral damage to civilians as a result of air strikes is unacceptable.

The hope of US military that ANA will be able to fill the vacuum or that unpopular Karzai regime will be able to manage the affairs without US crutches will be naïve. In the wake of demonstrated poor performance of ANA and corruption ridden performance of inept ruling regime, there is likelihood of Afghanistan and Pak-Afghan border region becoming more explosive once the drawdown starts. The desire of Pentagon, CIA and British military to stay on in Afghanistan is the major reason why insurgency is continuing and US-Taliban parleys are continuously failing. Pakistan , China , Iran , Russia , Tajikistan , Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are directly affected by the instability in Afghanistan which is the outcome of America 's presence. These countries are rightly upset over the US plans to prolong its departure and see it as yet another unfulfilled promise of Obama who had categorically announced that the last soldier would clear out by end 2014.

Presence of US troops is bound to keep insurgency simmering which in turn will keep the region unstable. Pakistan is the most affected country since it will be up against several hostile forces. It will also have to contend with huge CIA network harboring ill designs against Pakistan. With large Indian presence of India in Afghanistan and continued patronage of US military, RAW will continue with its covert war against Pakistan. Karzai must understand that Pakistan and not USA will act as the proverbial straw to save him from drowning. Clock has started to click and with each passing day the US authority as well as its interest in this region will erode. Conversely, Pakistan 's importance will get pronounced. This hard reality is known to USA and hence cannot afford to ditch Pakistan at this crucial juncture when its safe and honorable withdrawal hangs in the balance. I disagree with Robert Gates contention that the US can succeed without Pakistan 's support, which is nothing more than psychological war.

Pakistan can play a constructive role provided it is trusted and treated with respect. Browbeating and humiliating it will complicate matters, especially when anti-Americanism in Pakistan has peaked and US handpicked government has become fragile. Shortsighted actions by hawkish elements in Washington DC will be counter productive for both. Obama must see through the game of India , Israel and Karzai regime most affected by his drawdown scheme. The trio is painting gloomy scenarios in the aftermath of US departure from Afghanistan and is lobbying for extended stay. Recent Kabul attack on a hotel could have been sponsored by anti-withdrawal elements, but these gimmicks will not affect the drawdown plan.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.







The chain of events since the beginning of this year, starting with the cold blooded murder of two Pakistani citizens by an American CIA agent in broad daylight and also crushing a third one under the wheels of another CIA rescue car on the busy Mozang Road, and then May the 2nd raid in violation of Pakistani airspace and territorial sovereignty by a US special flying squad has been topped by the American refusal not to vacate Shamsi airbase, which had been given to them by General Musharraf and not sold, which they are mistakenly considering as their own territory and from where they are launching drone attacks against Pakistani citizens in the tribal belt, the notice for which has been given by our Defence Minister. This is apart from repeated violations of our airspace and attacks on our border posts by US and NATO airplanes for which 'excuse' was asked repeatedly, just to do it again next time. The war on terror of the US in which Pakistan has been an unwilling partner has brought Pakistan to the brink of collapse economically and politically and the only way out available for Pakistan is to revoke this phobia of terror war altogether. One basic.

reason for this is the fact that the vast majority of the people of Pakistan and even parts of the establishment have never accepted this war as theirs. On the contrary, they have been viewing and are viewing until today, the West and the US who are using and abusing our country to get their work done and in the wake of this involvement draw Pakistan even stronger into the orbit of their capitalist system which they are dominating so far with a weak dollar now facing even a threat from China, who is viewing Euro as a better option to invest. US continues to with hold § 500 million from the coalition support fund while the expenses incurred by Pakistan on this account is more then § 100 billions, and burden of which is threatening to destroy local Pakistani and Islamic values and lifestyles, an example of which was seen when US embassy Islamabad reportedly held a "Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Pride Celebration" ceremony on June 26th 2011 to show Washington's support and solidarity towards the GLBTs of Pakistan as a part of Kerry-Lugar-Breman package plan.

This is nothing new. The political interests of Pakistan and the West do not or only marginally coincide; a fact which the common people do understand while the political and military elite for their own private reasons prefer not to realize allowing the national social fabric to be torn into pieces. While Zardari-Gillani lot is busy in a money making spree under the umberalla of the US, our military high command thinks that with the conditions loaded help of American money for cultural and educational reforms and American weapons they finally can defeat India, which is another US blue eyed boy after Israel. Our civil and military leaders refuse to understand that as in the case of Taliban and also in the case of India the solution lays not in military defeat but in serious negotiations by not giving any concessions of transit trade, bilateral trade or cultural exchanges before the solution of Kashmir dispute. Of course, such a realization would also mean that perks and privileges of the civil and military may be reduced and public money saved would be spent on the public finally instead of gifting of unearned agricultural lands and plots and very high salary packages to favourtes in civil administration and defence foundations.

While the US is trying to secure their foothold in Afghanistan and Pakistan as an alley way to the energy resources of the region and as a strong point to maintain their political and military grip over this part of the world which is far away from their own country, this soil is the home of Pakistani people who have no other place to go to and who finally want to be left alone to be able to live according to their own rules. We can't change our neighbours and will have to live with them, the same way as we have to live with our citizens and have to sort out relations with them. This is done best by dialogue and cooperation, not by shooting and bombing at some ones behest. Americans seem not to understand this that is where the trouble comes from.

In the light of this situation created by our foreign friends, which is despite negotiations and talks not likely to improve our national solidarity and unity. Pakistan finally should press the lockdown emergency button and end its cooperation and relation with US, West, IMF and World Bank and adhere to the policy of isolation for the survival of the nation and the country. Shamsi airbase has to be liberated even if the people have to storm into it in their thousands to throw the Americans out. According to Wikipedia Lockdown is an emergency protocol to prevent people or information escaping, which usually can only be ordered by someone in command. It is also used to protect people inside a facility from a dangerous external event. After this we have to concentrate on ourselves, to address and solve our problems which are economic in the first place. Many Taliban will just retire to civilian life when they have a job to live on, a road to travel on and a good school for their children and a doctor and medical facility in case of need. This is not an easy way to go and it is not very difficult to achieve, but this is the only way to get out from this suffocating relationship. And it is not without precedence.

George Washington who is known to have been an isolationist was quoted as saying "The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations to have as little political connection as possible...Why, by inter-weaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalships, interest, humor, or caprice? It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world." Just ponder on this if the founder President of America could be an isloationist then what is wrong, why Pakistan can not close its doors for out siders and embark on nation building programme to stand on our own two legs to come out of built in fears of not adhearing to subsidy and isolation for our nation building programmes. God bless Pakistan.







Two immediate solutions come to mind, one orthodox and reasonably priced while the second would be cheap but risky as it has not really been tried before in any country on a large scale. The first option relates to the import of LNG. The LNG market is a seller's market as demand outpaces supply. LNG is natural gas which has been converted temporarily into liquid form (after liquefaction), put in a cryogenic sea vessel for transport and subsequently regasified at an LNG terminal at the point of destination and pumped through the gas pipeline system to the place of its use.

LNG trade is completed by the signing a sale and purchase agreement (SPA) between a supplier and receiving terminal and by the signing of a gas sale agreement (GSA) between a receiving terminal and end-users. The contract period used to be between 20 to 25 years but is increasingly shorter. The SPA and GSA are indexed, in Europe and the USA, to the international price of oil. All that Pakistan needs to do is establish a regasification facility which can be done within 2 years. The template for establishing gas fired IPPs is already present while the sponsors & lenders can be found once gas is made available. The downside? LNG price is linked to international oil and there are limited assurances of guaranteed long term supplies. Even a weekly disruption could have a profound effect on Pakistan's electricity generation as back-up natural gas is limited. The present electricity gap is about 6000 MW and rising and this could be a short term option for at least meeting partial electricity demand.

The second option relates to second hand old technology coal fired power plants in China. China is running out of coal. It has according to "BP Statistical review of world energy June 2007" about 48 years of coal supply at current rates of consumption. After being dependent till recently on older technology coal plants China has recently developed "ultra supercritical" technology coal plants which have according to the International Energy Agency made "China ……the major world market for advanced coal-fired power plants with high-specification emission control systems," in a report on April 20. By adopting "ultra supercritical" technology, which uses extremely hot steam to achieve the highest efficiency and by building many identical power plants at the same time, China has cut costs dramatically through economies of scale. It now can cost a third less to build an ultra-supercritical power plant in China than to build a less efficient coal-fired plant in the United States.

Future Chinese electricity generation plans call for closing older technology coal plants supplying 13 GW in 2009 an additional 10GW in 2010 and a further 8GW in 2011. These older coal power plants will be replaced with the newer ultra-supercritical coal plants having a combined capacity of 50 GW. China's coal plants use on average 370 grams of coal per kilowatt-hour but by using this newer technology this will be reduced to 349 grams per kilowatt-hour in 2008, with some plants using 283 grams of coal.What should Pakistan do? Buy the older technology coal plants at just above their junk value.

There are dozens of these waiting to be scrapped. I wouldn't have thought that this would cost more than US$100 million a plant maybe double this at the most. A new US supplied coal plant supplying 600 MW would cost about US$ 2 billion. Extra plants may be bought just for the spare parts. A large number of these plants if successfully operated could mean Pakistan will not have to use its expensive oil fired plants with consequential huge FX savings. What about the coal you may ask? Pakistan has discovered huge coal reserves and rather than importing coal at the present price of US$130 a ton (depending upon the type of coal and distance) it should build a coal mine. A large coal mine would cost in the region of US$ 300 to US$500 million and take between 1 to 2 years to develop ( very few people know whether surface or underground coal mining would be required in Thar, the site of the coal reserves). Pakistan should ask USAID to tender & finance this and the equipment can be imported from an American supplier. This is just the type of high public impact, limited administrative oversight, no corruption deal the US might buy. A desalinization plant (one is being built apparently) costing about US$200 million would also be needed. Again request the US from the US$1.5 billion annual civil aid. In both worst case should the US refuse the amount is self financeable by the Pakistani Government.

This second option would with say 10 power plants of about 500 MW capacity (5,000 MW) cost US$1 billion, coal mine a further US$ 500 million and desalinization plant US$ 200 million making a total of US$1.70 billion. About US$500 million (perhaps more) might be required for other items like roads, telecommunications, transmission lines, small airport etc. Dismantling, transportation and assembly of the coal plants would require Chinese technical and financial assistance. A total of US$2.0 to US $3.0 billion in two years could give Pakistan's electricity woes a quick fix for a significant number of years giving Pakistan the time it needs to marshal its limited resources for the costlier new plants and associated infrastructure to be brought on line.

—The writer is a former Legal Chief of Private Power & Infrastructure Board, Ministry of Water & Power.








As they fire up their grills and light their kids' sparklers this Fourth of July, Americans are feeling less and less like their country is the world's sole remaining superpower. And with their sense of threat from overseas waning, they want their leaders to focus more on challenges at home, including the economy – and less on entangling the United States in the world's affairs. Those are among the findings of a new poll released on the eve of this Independence Day weekend by Time magazine and the Aspen Institute's Aspen Ideas Festival. The poll – which finds that more than two-thirds of Americans consider the last 10 years to have been a decade of decline for America – is in sync with other surveys of American opinion in recent months. According to the poll, three-fourths of Americans say economic weakness poses a bigger danger to the US than do national security threats.

In May, a Pew Research Centre poll found that majorities in every partisan group of the population – including, for the first time in the decade of 9/11, conservative Republicans – agreed with the statement that the US "should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home." Other recent Pew polls have found Americans' "mind-our-own-business" thinking at its highest level since the end of the Cold War. Significantly, one Pew poll recently found that not just average Americans, but "opinion makers" as well, increasingly favour a less assertive global role for the US – a finding that led Pew Research Centre Director Andrew Kohut to dub the dawning era as one of significant transition from the nation's post-9/11 mindset. In some ways, Americans' inward turn seems to reflect their leaders' recent rhetoric. Last month President Obama declared, in announcing his plans for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan, "America, it is time to focus on national-building here at home." The President's decision to play a supportive role to other NATO powers in the Libya conflict — what some have called "leading from behind" — would have never occurred under President Bush, some foreign-policy analysts insist. But it is also a stance that seems to reflect public sentiment that America need not be in the lead in all conflicts – as suggested by polls showing Americans favour Obama's concept of a supportive role for the US in Libya. But some foreign-policy experts who are also critics of the president say that, while the biggest player in the country's isolationist turn is no doubt the economy, it doesn't help to have a president who they say is himself retreating from the world.

"America's fiscal situation and the over-all economy are driving a lot of Americans to look more inwardly, no question," says Zarate, a policy adviser at the Foreign Policy Institute in Washington and a former House Republican legislative assistant. "But it doesn't help when we have a president who seems to want to back out of our engagement" in the world, he adds. Mr Zarate points to Obama's recent Afghanistan address, which he says "turned out to be more of a domestic policy speech."Obama is focused on addressing the national security threats emanating from places like Yemen and Somalia, Zarate adds. Others insist that while it may be the economic downturn that is feeding America's turn inward, it will also be a better understanding of today's global economy that will convince Americans of the necessity of remaining engaged in the world. That may be, but it is still true that Congress, in another isolationist turn, has started to take a knife to the next fiscal year's proposed international affairs budget. In response, the USGLC last week sent a letter to Congress – signed by more than 50 of the country's most prominent corporate leaders – encouraging members to consider the link between America's strong engagement in the world and a robust economy. Ambassador Green notes that the total international affairs budget – primarily the State Department and US Agency for International Development budgets – is only 1 percent of the total budget. But "that 1 percent is very efficient spending when you consider the role it plays in building our presence in the world," he says.

But are Americans, who seem to be looking inward and worried most about domestic issues, making the connection between a better economy at home and the wider world? Green says yes, and cites his former constituents back in Wisconsin, in what is an agricultural district. "People knew that to grow markets and sell more of what they produced, it was going to take opening up global markets," he says. "And that leads people to realise that it's crucial to our future to build our presence in the world." — Courtesy: The Christian Science Monitor







IT is easy to understand why Rod Eddington and his Infrastructure Australia colleagues opted for a dummy spit, albeit polite, in their latest report.

After three years doing what they were asked to do, they are finding no one is paying much attention. While IA has been analysing projects and setting priorities to fix transport, water and energy gaps, the states, which are getting more transport infrastructure cash than ever from Canberra, have dragged the chain. Meanwhile, the Council of Australian Governments has resorted to byzantine review processes as a substitute for action.

By the third paragraph of the 100-plus page report, Sir Rod and his advisory group are fuming: "Whilst governments have invested a significant amount on infrastructure, they have made little progress in responding to a number of issues raised in previous reports, e.g. the need for improved planning, and the need for reforms in the areas of pricing, demand management and funding." It's not just slow construction but the ossified thinking in the debate. "There is a powerful need for change," the report says. "especially in the way we fund our infrastructure . . . We particularly need to bridge the gap between expectations and reality, i.e.between the unrealistic notion that governments should fund more infrastructure, while at the same time cutting taxes, reducing debt, avoiding asset sales and opposing the application of user charges."

In other words, it's time for some new ideas beyond the obvious one of private-public funding deals. Big, iconic projects are fine but let's not be blinded by the view from the new bridge, so to speak. We need to focus on the transport and other networks we already have. IA suggests two approaches: maintenance work to keep existing infrastructure going; and making better use of what we've got. The idea of using price signals to manage demand and slow the need for more infrastructure is radical, although it has been mentioned in earlier reports. But IA has turned up the volume, suggesting governments look at a range of measures, such as "charging for use of our infrastructure networks, changes in work hours and concerted use of the National Broadband Network."

There is obviously some potential for easing congestion by making it cheaper to travel in off-peak periods, for example, but rationing existing infrastructure is not the answer. At best, it is a short-term solution for Australian consumers and businesses for whom efficient infrastructure networks should be a sine qua non. Ours is a vast country with an economy increasingly based on huge resource projects and bulk exports. We cannot avoid major capital investment in new, large-scale infrastructure. That reality is underlined by the call from private interests behind the Oakajee port and rail network in Western Australia for more public money to ensure it goes ahead. Managing demand is fair enough, but re-engineering behaviour is no substitute for the real engineering projects so vital to the nation's future.

The states and COAG must lift their games, but real leadership must come from federal Labor, which has wasted money and political capital on schemes such as the NBN. Labor has touted broadband as a major infrastructure project but the network isn't much use to people struggling to get to work every day or businesses stymied by congested ports. The IA has an alternative list of projects. The Gillard government should take note.





WHYALLA is a rust-coloured town in the arid Iron Triangle of South Australia that owes its very existence to the industry of turning iron ore into steel.

Established early last century by BHP, the town began as a port before expanding into ship-building and steel-making. This steel town survives on iron ore, electricity from a coal-fired power station at Port Augusta, and water piped 380km from the River Murray. The slipways are now dormant but the steelworks, operated by OneSteel, are directly responsible for employing about one in every five of the town's 22,000 residents. So when serious concerns are raised about the high dollar and proposed carbon tax forcing a steelworks closure, thousands of people are right to be deeply worried.

However, Greens senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young has demonstrated how her party is out of touch with working families, and perhaps with reality, by dismissing such concerns. The senator says, never mind, Whyalla is windy and can develop a new industry in wind energy. That this is silly and callous is obvious. Senator Hanson-Young, who recently toured Europe looking at renewable energy, should take her next study tour to Whyalla. When she shares her ideas for a wind energy future, she might also want to mention where she'll source the steel to make the wind turbines.






THE departure of the Independent Education Union of Australia from the ACTU after 30 years exposes the peak union body's remoteness from the values of mainstream working Australians and its increasing capture by activists on the political fringe.

As IEUA federal secretary Chris Watt explained, the move was made because ACTU policy had become so biased against non-government schools that it fallen into line with the extremist agenda of the Greens.

The decision, revealed by The Australian yesterday, was sweetly timed. It has underlined the importance of the Gillard government's review of school funding headed by businessman David Gonski, just as the Greens have taken the balance of power in the Senate. The Greens' platform advocates taking away public funding for the wealthiest private schools, and funding cuts and tighter government control of others.

Many parents and non-government school authorities will welcome the IEUA's decision, although as Mr Watt made clear, the union asserted its independence in the interests of its 68,000 members, for whom the Gonski review represents "pretty high stakes". Not surprisingly, the union's federal executive was offended by ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence's spurious claim that 48 per cent of non-government schools were "overfunded". It would have been senseless for the IEUA to continue paying the ACTU $225,000 a year in levies while opposing what the union regarded as the council's "unapologetic decision" to support the interests of state school teachers "ahead of ours". The disaffiliation will render the ACTU even less relevant in the private sector, where union membership has slumped to 14 per cent compared with 41 per cent coverage in the public sector. The move is also a sharp reminder that mainstream Australia, including many union members, have no time for third-grade class-war politics. Any return to the divisive sectarianism that discriminated against religious and other non-government schools before the introduction of state aid in the 1960s would be intolerable. The Gillard government was right to appoint Mr Gonski to review how federal money for schools is allocated because of anomalies in the current, complex formula. But whatever the outcome, Julia Gillard and Education Minister Peter Garrett will be smart enough to avoid class-warfare "hit lists" of schools to have their funds cut or frozen in a sector where the rapid growth is among low-fee schools in outer suburban and regional areas.

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By educating 33 per cent of Australian children - including tens of thousands whose parents are union members - non-government schools are a vast saving for taxpayers. As well as directly paying for their own children's schooling, private school parents fund state schools from their taxes more than state school parents subsidise private schools. State school students receive an average $11,874 in state and federal funding compared with an average $5810 for independent school students. While funding is just one determinant of education performance, all students deserve well-resourced schools. In standing up for its members, the IEUA has also defended the proud traditions and rights of the schools in which they teach.






PRESUMABLY the federal government is still imposing the carbon tax to induce consumers and industry to make choices that will lead to less carbon pollution. We say presumably, because after the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced at the weekend that private cars and those of small businesses would be exempt from the tax, the issue is no longer clear.

Petrol should not be exempt at all. It is a major contributor to carbon pollution. Car users are subsidised in many ways already. They are now to be advantaged again. The carbon tax should have been left to operate clearly and uniformly to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, its purpose has been undermined and the government's (entirely correct) message about the need to cut carbon emissions has been implicitly contradicted by its own action.

We must await Sunday's revelations for answers to the unanswered questions from this ill-managed process. How small does a business have to be to qualify? Large trucks will still apparently pay the tax. Presumably buses will, too. What about firms which run a fleet of small vans or utilities? Will a small local courier firm be exempt, but a nation-wide operator have to pay? If so, how is that fair?

How will the tax be selectively imposed? Will service station attendants decide who pays and who does not? Or will eligible motorists have to send petrol receipts in to the Tax Office to be reimbursed? Will exempt motorists be given some kind of tax-free identification to show when they pay? Or will all petrol be exempt? Whatever the answer, confusion is likely.

The signs of such confusion are many. Gillard said petrol would remain forever exempt from the carbon tax, but was quickly contradicted by the Greens and even the independent Tony Windsor, who had pushed for the exemptions in the first place. Questioned closely in Parliament on the tax's operation, ministers had few answers.

The government probably had no choice - it no doubt fears a backlash from motorists - but it it will regret this compromise. The concession to a powerful lobby encourages other groups to demand further concessions. Truck drivers are already working themselves into a lather of indignation. Farmers, miners, retailers and airlines will not be far behind.

Australia needs a carbon tax to allow the economy to adjust gradually and organically to the changes needed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But this necessary measure is being jeopardised by poor and partial implementation.


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CARNITA MATTHEWS could hardly have imagined where her involvement in a minor traffic infringement a year ago would lead.

Dressed in a traditional burqa, someone ventured to the Campbelltown police station with a statement declaring the traffic policeman had tried to forcefully remove Matthews's burqa so he could see her face. Police said it was her; an appeal court said identity could not be proved. But this someone set in train events with unavoidable consequences.

The allegation of police wrongdoing was proved false and Matthews was sentenced to six months' jail for making the claim. This month the appeal judge said the burqa meant it could not be proved that Matthews lodged the accusation.

In freeing Matthews, the judge exposed the very dilemma that had outraged police and the public. If the face of a suspect cannot be seen, it is law enforcement that is blind, not justice.

The allegation spearheaded a campaign to portray the police as racist, insensitive and anti-Muslim. It backfired spectacularly, sinking with it any prospect of tightening the legal rights of Muslim women to conceal their faces.

Instead, the O'Farrell government intends to give police powers to demand removal of any garment or fixture that conceals the face of someone reasonably suspected of breaking the law or threatening security.

In terms of persuading public or political opinion, the brouhaha precipitated by that ''someone'' was an own goal of ground-breaking proportion. Indeed, its one achievement was to expose of a flaw in the powers of investigating police. Thankfully, that is to be repaired. How can police be expected to prove Citizen A guilty of a crime when they cannot establish their identity?

If everyone is equal before the law, how can religious and cultural tradition be exploited so as to allow one person to withhold their incriminating identity? This is not an issue of cultural sensitivity. This is about establishing uniform ground rules so that Australians - Christians, Muslims, Jews, agnostics et al - can be satisfied police focus on one category alone: lawbreakers.

A perpetrator wearing an enclosed motorcycle helmet, balaclava, clown mask, burqa or niqab during an offence is one thing. Denying police a lawful opportunity of establishing identity after the event is quite another. In the administration of justice, it is plain reckless.

And it is socially divisive to boot.





As the death toll rises, Australians must talk about war.

THE death of Sergeant Todd Langley, a commando on his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, makes imperative an informed national discussion about the nature and wisdom of Australia's continued involvement in this war. It is, however, a debate in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard appears unwilling to participate, let alone lead. In the wake of news of our seventh casualty this year (the 28th since the invasion in 2001), she again mouthed conventional words about tragedy, courage and the nation's ''clear mission''.

Ms Gillard told the nation: ''We've seen these tough days before and there will be tough days to come, but we are making progress … Our mission is clear, our timeline is clear and we are making progress.'' But she has again failed to explain what constitutes ''progress''. The justification of the ''war on terror'', initiated after the 2001 attacks on the US, can no longer be sustained.

With al-Qaeda's move from Afghanistan into Pakistan and the death of Osama bin Laden, any remaining terrorist threat associated with this theatre of war is likely to be related to internal politics. The claim by Defence Minister Stephen Smith yesterday that a resurgent Taliban could lead to further terrorist attacks against Australians is nonsense. As Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told his troops, Afghanistan ''does not represent a geostrategic risk to the world. It is no longer a source of global terrorism.'' The US, Britain, France and Germany, major partners in the coalition, have also conceded it is time to start bringing their troops home.

As our soldiers die more frequently than at any other time in this conflict, Australians deserve much more than carefully rehearsed, essentially uninformative responses from the Prime Minister to questions about her government's refusal to countenance leaving Afghanistan. Yesterday's public statement follows a pattern. When President Barack Obama announced last month that the US would withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by mid-2012, Ms Gillard insisted ''we are working to build up the capacity of the Afghanistan nation to provide for its own security''. She said the aim was to do this by 2014. Yet the possibility of victory, even in a minimal form, diminishes every day and it is irresponsible to risk Australian lives for no likely gain.

Mr Obama's decision has changed the debate. Whatever Australia's political leaders may say, the future of Afghanistan will be determined in the negotiations between the Taliban and the coalition. The US decision is an acknowledgment of not only the reality of what can be honourably achieved in Afghanistan but of the shift in public opinion. Fifty-nine per cent of Americans oppose a continuation of the commitment to Afghanistan, and the conflict, which is costing US taxpayers more than $10 billion a month, has become a drain on American resources and an obstacle to economic recovery.

Australians too are tired of the decade-long war. According to a Lowy Institute poll released last week, two-thirds of respondents believed the war would never end. Most did not think the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had been worth the cost and - as in the US - 59 per cent now oppose Australia's continued military involvement. Ms Gillard can no longer simply fend off questions that arise every time another soldier dies.

This newspaper reiterates its call for Ms Gillard to tell Australians when our 1550 troops will be coming home. Given that our commitment is relatively small in numbers - although larger than that of any other non-NATO country - her reticence suggests there might be more to our involvement than the public is aware of. If this is so, she has a duty to tell us. Australians deserve no less than an articulate explanation of the ''mission'' of which she speaks so regularly and so vaguely.





GOVERNMENTS are judged unfairly if they are measured only by the major projects they initiate. A legacy of reform is about more than bricks and mortar. That said, a government that after more than six months in office cannot indicate what it would like to do seems awkwardly hesitant.

The Ted Baillieu-led Coalition may have been surprised to find itself governing Victoria after last November's state election. The government has also insisted that the fiscal position it inherited was not as strong as it ought to have been, though the budget that Treasurer Kim Wells brought down in May hardly amounted to a swag of swingeing austerity measures. But none of this explains why the government has yet to submit any proposals to Infrastructure Australia, which makes recommendations to the federal government on the funding of major projects. The 59 proposals Infrastructure Australia has received this year come from every other state and territory. Nine are from NSW, where the two-month-old O'Farrell government is supporting submissions by the former Keneally government and is, by comparison with the Baillieu government, immersed in frenetic activity. What is holding Victoria back?

Only the federal government's empty pockets, according to a media release the Premier's office issued yesterday. According to a spokesman for Mr Baillieu, Infrastructure Australia advised the government in April that the Commonwealth did not have funds for additional projects. That does not, however, seem to have perturbed the other states and territories, which are evidently proceeding to make their case to Canberra. The release also disputed an Age report yesterday that referred to their submissions, noting that NSW had not submitted new proposals, either. The Age stands by its report, which derives from information provided by Infrastructure Australia.

A Victorian government spokesman said yesterday that the government was developing a ''pipeline of projects'', including planning for a rail link to Avalon Airport, and feasibility studies for a rail link to Melbourne Airport and new rail lines to Rowville and Doncaster. Feasibility studies are not infrastructure projects, but at least they are a step in the right direction.

Boosting Australia's infrastructure should not be a state versus federal blame game. For its part, the Victorian government needs to be clear-headed and ambitious in its infrastructure planning and its lobbying. This is necessary to put more pressure on the federal government to deliver on its nation-building vision.









The BSkyB merger simply doesn't pass the commonsense 'bad smell' test. Mr Hunt should put the decision on ice

The revelation that a private investigator working for the News of the World hacked into – and even deleted – the voicemail messages of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler has caused widespread revulsion. The prime minister – who employed the former NoW editor Andy Coulson as his press spokesman – said he was shocked. The chief executive of News International – who was editing the paper at the time – said she was sickened. The chair of the Press Complaints Commission, which has wrung its hands for two years, said she was angry. The Labour party leader called on Rebekah Brooks to resign. The Lib Dems' president asked whether Rupert Murdoch was a "fit and proper person" to own any more of the media market. The Tory peer Lord Fowler called for a public inquiry. Meanwhile advertisers began to boycott the newspaper and thousands of people flocked to sign an online petition to stop the imminent Murdoch takeover of BSkyB.

This is obviously a crisis for one particular company. It is a crisis of press regulation. And it is a crisis which touches on many other areas of public life, including policing, the privileges of parliament and media plurality. There are four separate but connected strands to the developing saga. The first concerns the governance of News International at a time when the company is asking the secretary of state to allow it to become quite easily the most dominant media company this country has ever seen. Rebekah Brooks refused to resign on Tuesday, announcing that she was determined to stay on to investigate herself. This would be comic if it were not so serious.

The second concerns the future of the Press Complaints Commission. We warned in November 2009 that the PCC's cursory and complacent response to the Guardian's phone-hacking allegations would be damaging to the cause of self-regulation, and so it has proved. The credibility of the organisation is currently hanging by a thread. The third strand relates to the growing pressure for a public inquiry which will get to the bottom of all the issues, including why the police closed down the inquiry in 2006, never informing the thousands of potential victims – who included politicians, intelligence officers and the police themselves – that they might have been targeted.

But, most urgently, there is the decision which the culture secretary must take in relation to the BSkyB takeover. Jeremy Hunt ignored the obvious initial route – which would have been to pass the matter straight to the Competition Commission, as he was advised to do by the media regulator Ofcom. Instead, he chose to enter into tortuous negotiations with News International over the governance and independence of Sky News, which was never the main issue. He protests that his hands are tied by the legal advice he has received on plurality matters. Until this week it looked inevitable that he would wave the merger through.

The problem is that a significant majority of people in this country are opposed to the merger: it simply doesn't pass the commonsense "bad smell" test. So Mr Hunt should simply put the decision on ice. He should say that it is inconceivable that he should currently approve the creation of a giant media entity in this country while there are so many unanswered questions about the criminal behaviour of its employees and about the governance of the company. The people at the head of News International are the same people who paid hush money to conceal evidence of criminality within their own company and who led a news organisation which – according to the PCC chair, Peta Buscombe – lied to the regulator. Mr Hunt should announce a pause while we see who, if anyone, is charged with what offences. By doing so, he would, of course, open himself to the possibility of judicial review by News International. After the Milly Dowler affair it would take some nerve on the part of the company to dare to do so.





This is not one of those areas in which ministers can offer up a pleasing policy fudge

A common criticism of governments of all stripes is that departments contradict each other – that the left hand does not know what the right is doing. But that does not apply to the coalition's decision on which company wins the contract to build 1,200 Thameslink train carriages – there the truth is surely that the left hand knows perfectly well what the right is up to but could not give a stuff.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both talked long, hard and well about their desire to "rebalance the economy". George Osborne kicked off his last budget with a speech about the "march of the makers". Yet when it comes to the crunch – when the government is actually in a position to put its taxpayers' money where its collective mouth is – it does no such thing. Rather than award the £1.4bn Thameslink contract to Bombardier, a firm that would do more of the value-added work at its plant in Derby, Philip Hammond and Vince Cable chose to anoint Siemens, which will build the trains in Germany, as their preferred bidder. The result, says Bombardier, is that 1,400 jobs will be lost in Derby – which amounts to nearly half the workforce. Over 400 of them will be permanent posts. True, Siemens says it will bring 2,000 jobs to the UK – but only 300 of those will be the most valuable directly employed manufacturing jobs. In other words, whatever the government may say it wants to do to encourage job creation amid this slump and to tilt the economy away from finance towards manufacturing and other sectors, it does not intend to do much, bar the usual fluff about creating the right economic environment for business.

Either the coalition wants a manufacturing revival or it does not. Either it wants to play strictly by the rules of the free market or it does not. This is not one of those areas in which ministers can offer up a pleasing policy fudge. It simply does not wash for Mr Hammond to complain that he was simply following the terms of a tender drawn up by Gordon Brown's government – if they were not congenial to the transport secretary he could have changed them. It will not do for Mr Cable to openly admit that France and Germany apply the EU rules on procurement to their advantage, and then to go ahead and play by the rulebook anyway.

This is much bigger than one contract: the Thameslink trains are merely the precursor for the £16bn Crossrail route. This is also much bigger than one factory – at stake here is the economic livelihood of an entire city. Labour is as guilty of free-market fundamentalism as any other party, but John Denham and Maria Eagle are right to oppose this decision. There is a lot more riding on this issue than a bunch of commuters going from Bedford to Brighton.





His election to the European court of human rights presidency is welcome, timely and important

It would be naive to think that the choice of a British judge as president of the European court of human rights will signal any slackening of rightwing paranoia about the role of the Strasbourg court in British life. It would also be a seriously mistaken view of Sir Nicolas Bratza's new role – since, as the Daily Mail regretfully acknowledged yesterday, he is "duty bound to act impartially". Yet the election is welcome, timely and important. It is welcome because Sir Nicolas, who has served with distinction on the court since 1998, deserves the honour; Strasbourg watchers say that there is no finer judge there. But it is timely too, since it marks an opportunity to promote a more thoughtful debate about the court and human rights law – as well as a chance to assist useful reforms. Sir Nicolas will not be president for long enough – he only serves until late 2012 – to revolutionise the court, even if he wanted to. But all defenders of human rights should want Sir Nicolas and the justice secretary Kenneth Clarke (who becomes chair of the Council of Europe's council of ministers in November) to use this window of opportunity to help shape the court, and the debate about it, more constructively. No one person will ever be able to reverse the reactionary xenophobia which infuses so much of the debate about human rights in this country. But Sir Nicolas and Mr Clarke have a rare joint opportunity to give the convention and court greater trust and credibility. It is vital that they make the most of this important chance.






Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai party have won Thailand's parliamentary elections, claiming a commanding majority in the legislature. The results are a vindication of sorts for Ms. Shinawatra's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed in 2006 by a military coup.

We say "of sorts" because Mr. Thaksin has been vindicated before: Since the coup, Thai politics have been marked by the continual reassertion of the former prime minister's popularity, only to have the military and the country's ruling elites crush that popular aspiration. The key question for Thailand today is whether that sad history will be repeated yet again.

Mr. Thaksin, a successful business executive and one of the world's richest men, was first elected prime minister in 2001 and re-elected in 2005.

He was an unapologetic populist, riding to power atop the grievances of the masses of marginalized rural poor. He was deposed in 2006, ostensibly charged with corruption and tarred with whispered reports of lese-majeste, but his real offense was challenging the power structure in Bangkok.

Gone but not forgotten — a frequent speaker to rallies of his "red shirt" supporters via video conference from Dubai where he resides in exile — Mr. Thaksin's supporters kept the faith. Versions of his former party — outlawed by electoral regulations and court rulings — continued to win elections whenever an election was called. And just as regularly, they were forced from office, either by legal or extra-parliamentary means.

Prime Minister Abhisit Yejjajiva, an Oxford-educated economist who has been in office since 2008, sensed that his Democrat Party had regained the initiative.

Confident that he and his allies could win a ballot after crushing opposition protests last spring, he dissolved Parliament and called a vote. That was a fatal miscalculation.

Mr. Thaksin's sister took the reins of the Pheu Thai party and ran a flawless campaign. A businesswoman with no political experience, Ms. Yingluck proved to be a brilliant campaigner, echoing her brother's populist message — promising a sharp increase in the national minimum wage (40 percent) and free tablet PCs for nearly 1 million school children — and sticking relentlessly to her message. In case there was any doubt, the party adopted the slogan "Thaksin thinks and Pheu Thai does."

The Democrats were equally happy to make the former prime minister the centerpiece of the election, warning that a Pheu Thai win would create chaos and instability again and denouncing Mr. Thaksin's corruption.

They were not helped, however, by claims that the military was not responsible for any deaths in last year's clashes; 91 people were killed in two months of clashes in the spring of 2010 and there was ample video footage of government snipers firing away.

The elections results were unmistakable. Pheu Thai won 265 seats, a comfortable majority in the 500-seat Parliament. Mr. Abhisit quickly conceded defeat. Ms. Yingluck announced Monday that she agreed with four other parties to form a coalition government. The agreement will boost the bloc's strength to 299 seats.

Ms. Yingluck needed as broad and big a coalition as possible. Thailand remains bitterly divided between the old order and the overwhelming majority of the nation, rural and urban poor who demand that democracy be real.

Their refusal to accept a fait accompli by the military and the wealthy is a testimony to the strength of their aspirations, the political acumen of Mr. Thaksin and the arrogance and political tin ears possessed by the elites.

But those hopes have been repeatedly crushed throughout Thailand's history. The country has held 26 elections since it became a democracy in 1932; during that time there have been 18 coups or coup attempts and six prime ministers in the past six years. Thus the necessity of the biggest possible ruling coalition: It would crush the hopes of the defeated that they can overturn the election results by force of arms.

The coalition announced by Ms. Yingluck must force the elites to accept that they must live with the new Thailand.

In one promising sign, the general who led the 2006 coup and has since formed his own party has said that he would work with Pheu Thai.

A first key question is the fate of Mr. Thaksin. At first, some members of Pheu Thai said they would back a political amnesty, a popular step that is also about as inflammatory a gesture as is possible. The party has backed away from that position.

A compromise is needed. Solving that problem will permit a broader process of political reconciliation to begin.

The divide between haves and have-nots must be bridged. There needs to be a new division of power within Thailand that takes into account the evolution and maturation of its society. That will become more possible in a stable political environment, which will in turn create a more favorable business environment.

Business executives routinely identify political uncertainty as one of the most important obstacles for them.

Political peace in Thailand is the first step in the creation of a virtuous circle that will reward all Thais.






Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — Christine Lagarde has leaped into a hot job, an inferno, as the first woman to head the International Monetary Fund less than a week after after having been chosen.

She has already made several comments, one sensible, another nonsense, and a third that smacks of political naivete, all illustrating a multitude of problems facing her. The sensible one was that "The IMF does not belong to anybody. It belongs to the 187 members of the fund, and the management of the fund does not belong to any particular nation or region." She pledged: "I will make it my overriding goal that our institution continues to serve its entire membership with the same focus and the same spirit."

Too bad that Lagarde did not appreciate this in campaigning for the job, and giving a loud and clear "Vive l'Europe" as one of her opening slogans. Her overwhelming victory by consensus after Europe was joined by the United States, China, Japan and India only masks still widely felt resentment that the Europeans, and particularly the French, have again stolen the top IMF job.

A leading question is what promises did Lagarde make on her seduction campaign? Reports said that she had promised, if elected, to give China a "greater say" — whatever that means — in running the IMF. After being chosen, Lagarde claimed that, "We can't effectively represent the world economic balance of power if certain economies are under-represented."

Largarde's reported promise to China was interpreted to mean either increased representation and/or one of the top plum jobs at the IMF.

The first refers to the shareholding in the IMF. China is on the brink of becoming the third largest shareholder, marginally behind Japan with slightly more than 6 percent each of the votes. It is matter of dispute whether China should be a bigger shareholder than Japan, but the hard political reality is that it took years of haggling and it will be some time before China actually takes the third slot with the ratification of new quota increases.

The U.S., China, Japan, India the UK and Italy will all have fewer votes in the new IMF than their share of global GDP, according to the IMF's formula using a blend of market and purchasing power parity exchange rates. The 27 European Union countries will still have more votes than their share of global GDP, 29.4 percent against 27.8 percent of global GDP, but would Lagarde lead the fight to cut Europe to size?

Her easier way would be to appoint a Chinese deputy managing director, but this would risk further politicizing the IMF management. A better way would be to depoliticize all the top jobs, which would mean refusing to allow the U.S. to appoint the senior deputy managing director, refusing to allow Japan to appoint a deputy managing director and refusing to have a deputy managing director alternating between Africa and Latin America. (Currently the last post is held by Nemat Shafik, who has Egyptian, U.K. and U.S. nationality and who, unusually, is not a politician but a former senior World Bank official who then became the top official at the U.K. development ministry.)

These are all jobs that should be done by professional IMF bureaucrats. There should be no objection to recruitment from outside, but all jobs should be open to competition and not handed as a gift to any government. Governments have their chance through their executive directors to throw their political weight around without the need for constant spies on the management floor. But does Lagarde have the guts to stand up against the U.S. and Japan and China?

Then she would be on stronger ground to insist that her successor should be chosen through open competition, an answer to the chattering heads on the BBC, CNN, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal who say that it should be Asia's or China's or India's "turn" to head the IMF. It should be no one's "turn," always the best person for the job.

Lagarde in a French television interview also appealed to "the Greek political opposition to support the party that is in power in a spirit of national unity," proof of President Nicolas Sarkozy's reported view that Lagarde is a political lightweight.

World stock markets rose on relief that Greece had passed the austerity program, but many economists doubt that Greece can live up to its severe terms and it may be better to consider orderly restructuring of the country's debts rather than throw new money to impose impossible hardships on the Greek people. How do you solve a problem like recalcitrant Greece, feasting on borrowed money for too long, a mere 3 percent of the EU economy, but with the potential to bring down the whole edifice?

Lagarde and her supporters claimed that her European origins would be her main asset in dealing with the debt crisis. That may also be mistaken if the IMF does its simple sums and calculates how much lending is going to sickly euro-zone countries without solutions in sight. The IMF has lent Greece, Ireland and Portugal about $111 billion, or twice the amount that the 19 other non-euro-zone countries receiving IMF loans are getting. Lagarde, representing all 187 members, will have to start raising awkward questions.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn had restored the fund to a central place in global finance with considerable firepower of $750 billion. But he also left lots of tricky questions, among them: the debt crisis and repercussions for global growth; the role of the dollar and global reserve currency; how to deal with potential tsunamis of capital movements; how the IMF and World Bank fit with the G-20 as the steering group for the world economy.

The most intriguing question may be how Lagarde copes with the male suits who dominate global finance. As French finance minister she wore her own power suits, with skirts, not trousers, and had a rather pointed mantra that testosterone-challenged men or men showing off their hairy chests — she used both expressions — were responsible for the global financial crisis. A "Lehman Sisters" would not have set the world in flames.

It is a challenging starting point, but even feminists might be nervous as seeing it as a substitute for a policy of how to deal with the IMF and all the burning issues.

Kevin Rafferty was editor of independent daily newspapers during the IMF annual meetings from 1988 to 1996.







KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan — A rhetorical conflict has roiled the waves of the South China Sea, the strategic resource-rich region bordered, and in part claimed in various parts, by six Southeast Asian states.

But while Beijing is shoving its political agenda into the disputed waters, the United States correctly fears being caught in the diplomatic crossfire as claims and counterclaims by regional states particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, threaten to spill over into scattered maritime incidents. Seen from a front row seat in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's great commercial port city on the northern edge of the South China Sea, the region resembles a great maritime basin through which thread the major sea lanes of communication to Taiwan, the Koreas, Japan and Russia.

Yet the sea equally boasts mineral and possibly petroleum resources. The widely scattered Spratly and Paracel Islands, moreover, some of which are garrisoned, are variously claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, as well as Taiwan. Sovereignty claims by an assertive China have rattled nerves and have caused Vietnam to stage live fire naval drills to ward off the Chinese encroachments.

The South China Sea disputes increase the risk for a serious maritime incident. Vietnam has played an obvious game of sabre-rattling toward China; much of this has to do with the Indochinese nation's historic rifts with Beijing as much as with Hanoi's own domestic political scene. Vietnam has been prospecting for petroleum in offshore waters. As Taipei's authoritative China Post editorialized, "The Vietnamese wish to draw the United States into any possible fray with Beijing."

The Philippines are most exposed to Beijing's maritime muscle flexing. As Manila's outdated navy and military is no match for China, Manila looks to the United States as its ultimate protector. Significantly the U.S. is treaty bound to protect the Philippines under a 1951 accord. Thus Washington has wisely tried to turn down the heat as to avoid any miscalculation or flash point that could inadvertently involve already stretched American military forces. Taiwan controls the Pratas Islands and garrisons Taiping Isle in the Spratlys.

In a fit of bluster Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tangkai warned that American support of regional partners in the region "can only make things worse," and warned Washington "I believe some countries are playing with fire and I hope that the U.S. won't be burned by this fire."

So why has the South China Sea issue suddenly re-emerged? Over the past few years, international law to the contrary, Beijing's rulers have asserted that the entire 1,678,312 square kilometer South China Sea falls under "Chinese sovereignty." Without taking sides on specific sovereignty claims, the U.S. asserts these vital sea lanes pass through international waters.

U.S. State Department official Kurt Campbell recently affirmed "We want tensions to subside. We have a strong interest in the maintenance of peace and stability."

Yet the Beijing leadership is facing some significant milestones. The 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China on July 1 and the countdown to the Autumn 2012 Party Congress in Beijing have provided platforms for ramped up nationalist sentiments.

Pressing patriotic themes such as China's rightful role in the world offers a clear political payoff for factions political jockeying among the assertive security establishment as well as the CCP's vocal left wing. Beijing's heated rhetoric combined with China's surge in naval power allows for geopolitical hubris in viewing the South China Sea as a "Chinese lake." Conversely Washington stresses freedom of navigation.

Singapore has chastised China by saying that as a major trading nation, "Singapore has a critical interest in anything affecting freedom of navigation in all international sea lanes including those in the South China Sea."

The ASEAN group offers the best collective defense for regional states as to defuse this percolating political problem; the 10 member organization is on record as favoring regional solutions. ASEAN's political clout offers smaller states a multilateral diplomatic response to China and can equally call upon powers such as the U.S.

Given that the Obama administration is perceived to be politically unsteady in East Asia, China is probing for weak resolve among regional states. Should Beijing sense a power vacuum, be assured it will attempt to fill it.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of "Transatlantic Divide: The USA/Euroland Rift?" (University Press, 2010).






Special to The Japan Times

SINGAPORE — China's aggressive claims to parts of the South China Sea contested by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei is damaging regional cooperation against piracy, allowing more attacks — 41 so far this year after 30 last year. Naval exercises with the United States this week do include anti-piracy drills but the main aim has become establishing sovereignty.

The lack of hiding and mooring space for large vessels still makes piracy in the region a tough business, but the recent move in Southeast Asia from robbing crews to hijacking vessels is a worrying development.

Although this may simply indicate that pirates have rebuilt their bases after the 2004 tsunami, they are coordinating attacks and moving up from opportunistic robbery.

Piracy in Southeast Asia nearly doubled in May, with 15 incidents — and June looks similar. Currently, attacks in Southeast Asia are lower than those off Somalia but there have recently been a few cases of hijacking and ransom.

In May, eight captured fishing crew in the southern Philippines were released for ransom paid to a local pirate. As Somalia shows, once pirates know their demands can be made without reprisals, the level of hijacking, kidnap and ransom will only increase.

Although the 49 hijacks out of 218 attacks in 2010 from lawless Somalia may not be replicated in Southeast Asia, with better law enforcement, incidents like the Philippines hijack are likely to increase.

Currently, most piracy in the region appears opportunistic, often theft from ships anchored in ports such as Jakarta in Java and Samarinda in Borneo.

The Strait of Singapore and the Strait of Malacca used to be the most heavily attacked area — being among the most important and congested shipping lanes in the world. More than 80,000 ships passed through last year between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Over 30 percent of all oil carried by sea passes through the straits, heading for China, Japan and South Korea. The potential economic damage is huge.

Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia have coordinated piracy patrols since 2004, with 38 attacks that year after a peak of 75 in 2000. They cut this to 10 in 2005 and only a handful since, International Maritime Bureau figures show. But attacks have increased in the South China Sea, with 13 known in 2009, 30 in 2010 and 41 so far this year, they show.

The 11 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) follow the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). Established in 2004 and ratified by 17 countries, the agreement encourages information exchange to fight smuggling, piracy and terrorism at sea.

But ReCAAP is nonbinding. Many, including China and ASEAN members, want a more forceful response. Singapore has supported international assistance against piracy — but Indonesia and Malaysia oppose foreign involvement.

A united ASEAN would be best suited to fight piracy but it faces other problems. The continuing Thai-Cambodia border dispute has damaged relationships because Thailand rejected mediation attempts by Indonesia and the Philippines. Recent fighting in Burma between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has highlighted Burma's human rights abuses. Burma's alleged nuclear ambitions are also likely to damage relations with ASEAN. Piracy looks set to remain on the back burner.

Further complicating attempts to tackle piracy are the disputed claims in the South China Sea, including the Spratly and Paracel island groups. Recent spats between China, Vietnam and the Philippines greatly limit the chances of formerly effective cooperation in the disputed waters until this is resolved or eased.

Up until now, the United States has called for greater coordination against piracy but had offered little tangible assistance. Joint naval exercises this month, however, do include training for regional threats such as piracy — but mainly as a show of solidarity against Chinese claims.

The potential for massive reserves of natural gas and oil in the South China Sea fuels the disputes. The littoral states bracketing the 1.3 million square mile body of water will seek alliances both with each other and the U.S. as a counterweight to the rising naval strength of China.

These changing geopolitics threaten broad cooperation, giving room to the pirates who hijack and kidnap.

Brittany Damora is a risk consultant based in Singapore and London. Evan Jendruck is a researcher for international risk analysis and security firm AKE Group.







Revocation of mandatory administrative verification for political parties ahead of a general election on Monday is a victory for not only plaintiffs that had demanded an end to the bureaucratic routine, but also people's rights and common sense.

In its verdict, the Constitutional Court deemed Article 51 of the 2008 Political Parties Law on verification of parties as a groundless mechanism to screen legitimate political parties, hence deprive citizens of their right to assemble and fight for their political causes enshrined by the Constitution.

Every five years, political parties were made to suffer for a time consuming, recurring procedure during which the Law and Human Rights Ministry examined their administrative eligibility as election contenders. Whoever proposed the article might intend to show off the ministry's power that could endanger the life of legitimate political parties – contrary to the nature of elections, which many dubbed a democratic fiesta.

The article, according to the court, set a bad precedent for adherence to the rule of law as a political party that had earned a legally binding status as a corporate body had to start from square one. Such legal uncertainty prompted 14 small parties to challenge the controversial article in court, with the impact felt by all registered political parties.

Those who passed the law had mixed up the procedure to found a party and requirements it had to meet to contest an election. Thanks to the court's ruling, the confusion will no longer occur and political parties, once registered, will not have to clear redundant administrative hurdles to contest elections.

With the court ruling, the authority to verify political parties wishing to contest elections is given back to the General Elections Commission, which is mandated by the law to administer the polls and set up the rule of the game.

The Constitution recognizes the strategic role of political parties to sustain democracy through political aggregation and education, and therefore guarantees their existence and development. As in the case of the 14 minor parties that failed to win any seats at the House in the 2009 election, their election defeat does not mean their loss of the constitutional right to live.

Through its verdict, the court will help prevent the seasonal formation of parties ahead of an election and therefore allow existing parties to consolidate.

Before the Constitutional Court delivered its verdict, eight old political parties and 10 new parties had undergone the verification process.

Following the court's verdict, only new parties will be subject to the administrative screening, which means old parties automatically qualify for the election and will spare more time to prepare for the election in 2014.

With 38 parties qualified for the 2009 legislative election, there is a possibility the upcoming election will feature more participants as verification of new parties remains under way.

For sure, the Constitutional Court has opened more opportunities for political parties to join the race for legislative seats and more choices of political affiliation for people.

But the spirit of more parties, the merrier the elections will be put to the test as major parties are considering a stricter threshold for political parties to contest future elections. The next challenge for the nation is to compromise attempts to simplify the multi-party system for the sake of consolidation of democracy and respect for representation of this diverse nation at the House of Representatives.





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.






The credibility of the Indonesian diplomatic corps has come into question after the execution of Indonesian worker Ruyati in Saudi Arabia. Criticisms have highlighted the failure of the Indonesian diplomatic representation in Saudi Arabia to protect its citizen.

This has led to a wider disappointment on the performance of the diplomatic corps in protecting citizens abroad.

In fact, the issue is not a new one. There have been many episodes where Indonesian workers have faced a tragic path without sufficient diplomatic protection — Ruyati, Sumiyati and Darsem to name a few. Ironically, such incidents have been responded to incidentally as well, getting loads of attention at first, but then it fades away the way the wind blows. But there are also common complaints about the ignorance of diplomatic personnel when migrant workers ask for help.

To be brief, the Ruyati case has led to some simple but very fundamental questions about the function of diplomatic representation: "For whom does the diplomat actually work?" and "who owns their loyalty?"

Diplomats are understood to work in a profession that requires specific skills and capacities that not everybody has. Thus, their profession is widely accepted as an exclusive job with loads of privileges to assist its main duty to pursue national interests abroad.

In a good sense, a diplomat is defined as "an official whose job is to represent their government in a foreign country." In a cynical sense, a diplomat is often described as "an honest man sent abroad to lie on behalf of his country."

No matter what how a state views the function of diplomats, both definitions clearly show the need of an agenda as a raison d'etat for a diplomat to take action.

Looking at the key words in both definitions: "To represent" and "on behalf of", it is clear the diplomat does not own the right to set the agenda.

According to the "principal-agent" theory of diplomacy, a diplomat is the agent who is assigned with certain tasks delegated by the principal. The principal refers to the state or those who rule the state and thus own the right to set the national agenda.

Thus, there may be more than one principal, since the decision making process might involve various parties.

In the Ruyati case, the Indonesian Embassy in Saudi Arabia and the Foreign Ministry acted based on the national framework on migrant workers set by the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry and the Indonesian Agency for the Placement and Protection of Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI).

In a wider context, such policy is part of the current administration's policy that was previously been approved by the parliament. Thus, more than a diplomatic issue, the Ruyati case revealed the handicap in Indonesia's national agenda on migrant workers.

Ideally, a national agenda should be backed up on any risk of failure. If Australia is ready to lose its cattle market in its decision to stop exporting to Indonesia (in protest over animal cruelty at several Indonesian slaughterhouses), is Indonesia ready to take such a risk?

If so, Indonesia should be ready to withdraw its workers any time a violation occurs. If Indonesia is not ready, maybe the just treatment of its workers is not part of the main consideration in sending the workers abroad.

We cannot deny that the economic aspect is dominant in this issue. The lack of job opportunities in Indonesia has made sending workers abroad one of the economic solutions to reduce the joblessness and increase the average income.

Indeed, this shows that the Ruyati case was just the tip of an iceberg of Indonesia's deeper problem in development.

Nevertheless, these micro-level issues cannot be used as an excuse for the misconduct of the diplomatic corps. The Indonesian diplomatic corps has attained so many achievements. Indonesia has hosted numerous international events, including on the environment and democracy. Indonesia has also been actively involved in various multilateral forums, such as G20 and ASEAN.

Ironically, at the same time as these accomplishments we have seen a widening gap between foreign achievements and the domestic situation. This has alienated the Indonesian diplomats from citizens, and the Ruyati case serves to highlight this alienation further.

There are various problematic situations for the diplomatic corps. Institutionally, they are at the shallowest level of policy, but their performance has always been the most visible part.

Individually, diplomats should act based on the principles of mandate while they are the ones who are directly facing other parties within uncertain situations.

However, what is interesting from a profession as a diplomat is that, under the limitation of the rigid diplomatic code of conduct, their personal weight, however, is the most valuable merit.

The diplomat's personal values might influence their judgment over the mandate. When the mandate might be seen as conflicting with the true goals, the diplomat might disagree with the principle. In such situation, the diplomat might either adopt an "imperative mandate" or "free mandate" approaches.

Those who think that a diplomat has an "imperative mandate" will see the diplomat as merely an agent who interprets literally the explicit instructions of the principal.

The diplomat only needs to stay close to the telephone to wait for instructions. In this situation, success would go to the principal while the failure would be the agent's.

Meanwhile, a diplomat with a "free mandate" is seen as a free agent who is believed to be an expert in their field. The diplomat is authorized to act or take any action considered necessary. Interestingly, while the principle hands over some of its rights, it also takes responsibility for the final result whether it is a success or failure.

However, the two extreme polars are very rare situations. Diplomats tend to like the situation between restrictions and flexibility.

The first provides them constraints and they need to limit the options in negotiations, while the latter provides them space regarding the situation during negotiations.

Indeed, surrounded with diplomatic rules, diplomats still have the space to show their true loyalty.

History shows some prominent diplomats who have acted beyond the mandate. This might violate the principle-agent rule, but this might talk for bigger values such as justice, human rights and peace.

In 2003, some top US diplomats resigned in protest of president Bush's preparation for the Iraq War. Several months ago, Djoko Susilo, the Indonesian Ambassador to Switzerland, triggered criticism from Indonesian parliamentary members regarding his statement that most Indonesian parliamentary members' visits to Europe were redundant.

The parliament is one of Djoko's principles, but Djoko might put loyalty for good policy above serving misconduct of parliamentary members.

In brief, wisdom is what makes a great diplomat. Indonesian diplomats should not lose credibility even when the Indonesian government's policies on migrant workers are not acceptable. The workers are diplomats' real principle.

The writer is a lecturer at the International Relations Department, Brawijaya University, Malang.






The Indonesian government has set an ambitious growth target, aiming for 8 percent real GDP growth, up from the current 6 percent.

Growth, even the currently attractive 6 percent, requires capital, particularly equity capital. However, current regulations in Indonesia are highly and unnecessarily restrictive.

A standard recommendation from bankers (surely unbiased with no consideration of fees!) is for Indonesian companies to maximize their initial public offering size because once listed, it is almost impossible to conduct follow-on offerings to raise equity capital.

Market capitalization to GDP provides a simple macro snapshot of the vibrancy of capital markets. Indonesia's ratio is around 50 percent. Countries such as Singapore and the UK with significant international listings have ratios well above 100 percent. Other fast-growing economies have significantly higher ratios in the region of 80 percent plus.

The broader equity market in Indonesia has already re-rated and there may be less room for re-rating as the primary means to catch up on this metric. There will be, of course, new listings. But existing listed companies need to grow and they need significantly greater flexibility to tap the public equity markets.

Following are changes that I am confident will find broad-based support amongst corporations as well as the financial intermediaries.

Non-preemptive issue: This is the placement of primary shares to raise fresh equity for listed companies.

Size: The current limit of a maximum 10 percent of share capital every two years must be changed to at least 10 percent every year or preferably 20 percent every year. Countries such as the US and UK have no limitations while Singapore has a 20 percent limit every year.

Pricing: Indonesia's current pricing rules are complicated and completely impractical. The placement price should be no lower than the average price of 90 days leading up to and until about 30 days prior to a shareholder meeting, when notice for the shareholder meeting is sent.

Locking in a price well in advance just does not work. In most countries, companies can obtain shareholder approval that is valid for the following one year to do the placement at a price to be determined in the future around the date of placement.

In the US and UK there are no restrictions on pricing while Singapore has a limit of no more than 10 percent discount to the price immediately prior to placement.

India, too, had restrictive rules that were changed in 2006 and amended again in 2008. Qualified Institutional Placements ("QIPs") have surged since then, cutting dramatically Indian companies' dependence on Global Depositary Receipts (GDRs) and American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) for growth capital.

Lock up: Currently investors participating in a non-preemptive placement will have to agree to lock up such shares for a period of one year. This is a non-starter for most institutional investors. No other country imposes such restrictions.

More broadly speaking, there needs to be recognition that share placements or convertible bond offerings are capital market transactions that are done with accelerated book-building and overnight placement to institutional investors. It is likely that concerns on insider trading and share manipulation gave rise originally or is the reason for the continuation of these highly restrictive rules.

Regulators can impose other rules such as having minimum distribution requirements, making major shareholders or insiders ineligible for participation in such placements or maybe only up to their pro-rata shares and having a recognized broker to certify compliance.

This is the path chosen by Singapore and India to have rules governing distribution and participation by promoters/principals and related parties, as these countries also have many family-controlled listed companies. The UK and US with mostly professional companies have no restrictions and are subject to only market discipline.

Pre-emptive issues: Rights offerings were once a uniformly cumbersome process, worldwide. All this changed in 2008 when there was an urgency to recapitalize the financial sector. The HBOS rights issue in June 2008 became a poster child for what could go wrong.

Underwriters (or stand-by purchasers in Indonesian parlance) who are not natural long-term holders of shares are loath to commit balance sheet for extended periods of time and expose themselves to inevitable market volatility.

As a result, London, Singapore and Tokyo all revised rules quickly after a consultation with market participants to reduce rights offerings periods. Indonesian regulators should also take a look at their rules.

I realize some of the corporate law matters while other issues can be dealt with simply by the Capital Market and Financial Institution Supervisory Agency (Bapepam-LK) or Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX). But coordinated changes are required nevertheless.

The decade leading up to the 1998 collapse saw 8 percent growth and excess (foreign currency) leverage behind it. To prevent the systemic increase in leverage while accelerating growth of the economy, it is imperative we make it easier to raise equity.

The writer is the chief investment officer at PT Bakrie & Brothers Tbk, Jakarta. The opinions expressed are his own.






As the chair of ASEAN, expectations are abound for Indonesia to play a major role in mobilizing support to cope with conundrums ranging from the heightening tensions in the volatile South China Sea to denuclearization issues.

The 18th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), to be held from July 16 to 23 in Bali, is believed to serve as an effective platform for more tangible, albeit not always expeditious, solutions to pressing political and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Amid criticism, labeling the forum as a an annual talking shop, the upcoming meeting will deliberate the current and critical political and security issues in the region, and as the chair, Indonesia stands a good chance to prove these critics wrong.

The forum will be effective for at least two reasons. First, it is the only forum within the framework of ASEAN that is primarily designed to promote dialogue on common political and security matters and to find ways to deal with them. Second, it provides ample opportunity to ASEAN to raise security concerns in the region while seeking to secure support for tangible solutions to these issues.

This makes sense as the forum comprises 27 countries: the 10 ASEAN member states, the 10 ASEAN dialogue partners (the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, the European Union, China, South Korea, Japan, India and New Zealand), one ASEAN observer (Papua New Guinea) as well as North Korea, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mongolia and Timor Leste.

As far as the upcoming ASEAN meeting is concerned, there are at least three critical security issues that are worthy of close consideration.

First, the contentious South China Sea dispute has recently escalated into aggression. To deal with this perennial issue, the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed in 2002 has invariably been referred to as a non-legally binding instrument to pacify claimants once a dispute erupted.

Leaders and senior officials of the ASEAN member states and partners in various meetings of ASEAN have always reaffirmed their commitment to full and effectivel implementation of this declaration since its adoption. Such a pledge was reiterated in the 8th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta recently, but it fell short of avoiding tensions between China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines from disputes over the South China Sea.

The declaration itself, alas, is an ineffectual insrument to maintain peace and stability in the region in the long run. In the face of the growing strategic importance of the sea for an increasingly powerful China, a more specific and binding conduct is urgent, and now is the right time for ASEAN to take one step forward by adopting a Code of Conduct that is specifically designed for the avoidance of armed conflict and the assurance of durable peace and stability in the disputed areas.

Second, the unresolved Thai-Cambodian territorial dispute over the embattled Preah Vihear temple has prompted the need to enhance ASEAN's role in resolving conflicts between its members with more tangible results than ever. ASEAN requires a much stronger conflict-resolution mechanism than just relying on its traditional principles of non-intervention in the internal affairs of its member states and promoting dialogue and consensus to settle disputes.

While such principles, to a large extent, succeeded in preventing ASEAN member states from plunging themselves into armed conflicts, it cannot stand the fact that global and regional security challenges are becoming increasingly tougher, requiring a much more effective conflict-resolution mechanism. Sweeping these disputes under the carpet, as ASEAN has done in the past, is no longer wise.

Unless this particular mechanism is adopted, a smooth transition to the ASEAN Political-Security Community in 2015, let alone the ASEAN Economic Community, will not materialize on the grounds that the realization of the ASEAN Community will require the adoption of a crystal-clear, powerful and binding set of rules.

Third, the revival of deliberation of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ) in the upcoming forum deserves close heed. This treaty, which was signed by 10 ASEAN member states in Bangkok on Dec. 15, 1995, serves as a meaningful instrument for ASEAN's contribution to the progress toward complete disarmament of nuclear weapons and the promotion of international peace and security. Nonetheless, none of the nuclear weapon states has yet to sign the protocols, which is due to the US and France's objection to the nature of security assurances and the definitions of territory, including the exclusive economic zones.

The deliberation on the SEANWFZ is worth reviving in the upcoming forum for three reasons.

First, as a matter of fact, a recent report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute suggests that the progress toward nuclear disarmament in the future is bleak, needing urgent collective efforts to enhance global commitment to disavow nuclear weapons. The report said that more than 5,000 nuclear weapons are deployed and ready for use, including nearly 2,000 that are kept in a high state of alert.

Second, in a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York last year the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a green signal to restart the SEANWFZ talks with ASEAN, implying a good possibility that the Uncle Sam would sign the SEANWFZ protocols.

Third, at the same momentous event as Clinton, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa announced that Indonesia would ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). In fact, the CTBT ratification process is high on the agenda of the Commission I at the House of Representatives. Such a commitment will surely boost Indonesia's leverage to effectively promote the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Now it is up to Indonesia to play a decisive role in pushing forward those priority issues in the upcoming forum, otherwise it will merely be a talking shop.

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of International Relations at the University of Budi Luhur in Jakarta.








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 Hindu
 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.





After privatisation, the 'managed float of rufiyaa against the dollar, and other aspects of governance under President Mohammed Nasheed, the Opposition has begun identifying the ills of 'western ways of governance' to individual sectors, and thus drive home their arguments against the Government, even more. A divided Opposition is however unable to achieve much, given the continuing popularity of President Nasheed, though his detractors are reopening the question of finding a common candidate against him when he seeks re-election in 2013.

In the aftermath of four dengue deaths, 'corporatisation of the health services' is the latest one to draw flak. People's Alliance founder and presidential aspirant Abdulla Yameen has charged the Government with naiveté, negligence and irresponsibility as the causes for the epidemic. Half-brother of former President Maumoon Gayoom and one-time Finance Minister under him, Yameen also derisively referred to the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) organising football matches to celebrate its anniversary when the common man was facing the dengue-threat.

As Yameen claimed, Maldives has had a robust education and healthcare schemes under the Government. He pointed out how the country had been acknowledged as 'MDG-Plus' having met most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), set by the UN. The spread-out nature of the islands/islets forming the Maldivian archipelago made reaching out public utilities and services more difficult and uneconomical for the nation. Yet the Government was able to ensure a even spread of school-level education and basic health-care, in a graded way, going by the size and population of individual islands and groups.

More than what Yameen and the rest of the Opposition may have to say, the small size of the population, and the consequent size of the population requiring high-cost, super-speciality medical care would have made corporatisation in the sector unattractive to private entrepreneurs in the field. At the low-end too, privatisation does not pay. Most doctors, nurses, para-medics and qualified technicians are immigrants, many of them from India, and the salaries and import bills for medicines, equipment, including X-ray machines, are a costly affair.

Corporatisation of public utilities like power-supply and drinking water too has taken the flak, all owing to the high cost of production in relatively isolated islands with low population figures ? and the consequent low margins. While the initial reactions are mixed, it remains to be seen how workable corporatisation, as different from privatisation, has been. If nothing else, it has helped in reducing the number of 'Government employees' and ease the pressure on the national budget under the heads of Salary and Establishment expenses. In a way, it has also helped the Government to ease the pressure from the independent and constitutionally-mandated Civil Services Commission (CSC), seen at times as putting a spoke in the wheel of efficient governance.

What however has come to be criticised in a big way is the more recent attempt of the Government for a 'managed float' of the local currency, under IMF conditions for extending credit to the nation. The rufiyaa used to trade at a fixed 12.85 to the US dollar, the international currency, when the float, otherwise acknowledged as devaluation, hiked the price to 15.20 rufiyaa. The thriving black market in dollar accordingly hiked the dollar rate from less than 14 rufiyaa to 17, as at present.

Coupled with this is the non-availability of dollar in the market, as the Government has simultaneously introduced the much-needed reform, for full rufiyaa usage for local transactions, and more importantly, the mandatory use of the nation's banking system for all foreign exchange transactions. A flawed policy, the earlier one allowed foreign investors (mostly in the resorts business) to bring in dollars, earn in dollars, and repatriate it all in dollars. Justified at a time when the erstwhile Gayoom dispensation needed to attract foreign investors to the only sector that had hopes of providing employment to the locals, the industry rules have remained unaltered, since.

Coupled with the simultaneous decision introduce income-tax for the first time in the country above a monthly earning of 30,000 rufiyaa and increasing the per-bed-tax for resorts, among others, the slew of economic reforms introduced by the Nashed Government has pushed up prices for a nation dependent heavily on imports to meet its basic needs in every-day living and those of every sector of the economy. The decision to allow the GMR Group of India to increase the entry tax at Male International Airport to $ 25, even for Maldivians returning from overseas travel, from 2012 has the potential for trouble. Among Maldivian travelling overseas, there is a high number of students and those requiring medical treatment.

It is in this background of 'minimum government' as understood in the West that the Nasheed leadership's initiatives such as old-age pension, inter-island ferry service are all reportedly beginning to lose some of its sheen. While old-age pension is substantial and a boon to beneficiary families, the numbers covered are fewer than believed, and so the impact also is low. So is the case with the ferry services, whose benefit cannot be quantified, yet whose limited use as a vote-getter, cannot be over-looked either. These are all 'feel-good factors' after a point, and would suffer no 'negative initiatives' of the Government, like price-rise and salary-cuts, as perceived by the population.

Feeble attempts at bringing together the two factions have not helped, and individual partners in the Opposition combine have their own agendas, even as they wait for the DRP to sort out its internal mess. Gayoom's continued hold over a section of the traditional DRP voters, and the candidacy of half-brother Yameen for the presidential polls of 2013 would be among the issues that not only the DRP but also the entire Opposition would have to address if they hope to give a strong contest to the incumbent.

If nothing else, the unending internal feud in the DRP has demoralised the Opposition enough, for inclined members hinting at it as the cause for crossing over to the MDP camp, both inside and outside Parliament, in the past months. The MDP, which faced what it had once described as the 'scotched earth' policy of the Opposition is Parliament, is relatively comfortable with these defections, but the larger population, particularly the moralistic sections sympathising with the Nasheed leadership, is yet to vote on the party's approach in the matter.

In a way, it is the confusion in the Opposition that has given greater strength to the ruling MDP than otherwise. This is independent of the substantial improvement in the party's vote-share in the March local council polls, this year. That was before th devaluation and the consequent rise in prices. The Government is hopeful of mopping up enough dollars in six months, when it hopes the situation would stabilise. How such stabilisation, if achieved, could impact on the prices is the question ? and on that will depend the continued popularity of President Nasheed, who at the moment does not have much to lose his sleep about.

Observer Research






Living in a harsh and competitive world, the virtues of gentleness and humility may seem obsolete if not nonsensical to us. But what we need to discover, is the power that lies buried within these virtues. To some it's revealed in lesser degrees, to others in greater. All we need to do is to make that decision to look at it impartially. Not being averse to it would open a pathway to self fulfillment and freedom.

Though gentleness and humility are great virtues very few want to nurture them. Living in this self-centered world, we may not even want to be educated in these virtues. We may not like them or agree with them, especially when we talk of the dignity of the human person who suffers humiliation. Yet, only people who have suffered humiliation, value and appreciate dignity more. For, dignity is born out of humility. This is the power or energy we seek, that lies buried within; for the dignity of all peoples. Such become the strong and courageous, who could afford to be gentle and humble. The morally weak, often resort to pride and aggressiveness.

Mahatma Gandhi became a great leader for India and an icon, for non-violent social action for the world, through humility and sometimes humiliation. He was thrown out of a train in South Africa, during the apartheid era. That and other humiliating experiences prepared him to lead India against the British colonialists and through the power of non violence, he toppled the most powerful empire the world has ever known.

South Africa's legendary Nelson Mandela received empowerment through his humiliating experiences, having been in prison for more than 20 years. He eschewed violence and opted for peaceful methods to bring about the emancipation of his oppressed people.

Corrie-Ten-Boon was humiliated by having to walk naked pass German soldiers during the Nazi era. She was transformed through experiences in the concentration camp, to begin a reconciliation movement, between the Jews and Germans after the world war. Worldly values are just the opposite they propagate pride and aggressiveness.

Pride prevents us from social involvement. Even if we do get involved, it could be for the wrong reasons. It could be done to boost our own egos, thus negating the good. Then again, pride hides behind our non- involvement or silence in the face of injustice, lest we be ridiculed or humiliated.

All of us are a far cry from humility. Pride is destroying us without our knowledge. Look at our pride for wanting only the most popular schools for our children and not the least bothered about our neighbours or of desiring to upgrade lesser known ones.

Then again, look at our pride of wanting the most competitive and vulgar display of extravagant wedding celebrations. Those who resort to such extravagance will  not survive long. Happiness deserts them and despair becomes their reward.  For does not pride go before a fall?

History shows every empire or kingdom was built by strong men, upon strong ones, who reflected aggressiveness, but none has lasted. Is it not leaders who reflected gentleness, like the Lord Buddha or the Lord Jesus, who have their teachings and adherents lasting for a all time?

Our nation, to be vibrant and strong, should propagate or glorify not the aggressiveness of armed might, but gentleness.       









I NDIA, like other democratic countries, should never forget certain days. In its case, June 26 is significant.

Thirty-six years ago the country's democratic will was thwarted by Indira Gandhi to save her from disqualification of parliamentary membership.

The Allahabad High Court had found her guilty of using government machinery to get herself elected.

Instead of respecting the judgment, Gandhi suspended fundamental rights, imposed Press censorship and became a law unto herself.

She set many precedents, such as making the civil service servile and police obedient to rulers' whims.

Until today, many chief ministers - not necessarily those of the Congress - use civil servants and police to punish their critics, just as she did.

Those were the days when the judiciary became pliable.

Four out of five Supreme Court judges, including liberal P N Bhagwati, justified the imposition of the Emergency.

The only one who did not toe the line, Justice H R Khanna, was superseded when she selected the next Chief Justice.

If today the judiciary looks battered, it is because it has not yet recovered from the blows it received in those dark days.

The tragedy is that current Home Minister P Chidambaram seems to be copying her methods.

He is restricting the democratic space, albeit in the name of curbing terrorism.

The Unlawful Activities Act can detain people without trial in an open court of law.

Such cases have only to be examined by an advisory committee and that too within the precincts of the jail.

Famous doctor-activist Dr Vinayak Sen was first detained under this act.

Subsequently, the BJP-ruled Jharkhand government charged him with sedition for having "contact" with the Maoists.

I wonder why we haven't learnt a lesson from the Emergency and the rulers of different political parties pursue more or less the same path Gandhi had taken to switch off democracy.

I believe the reason is that nobody who was found guilty of committing excesses by Justice J C Shah Commission has ever been punished.

It is comical that some of those found guilty are today senior officials.

There has to be accountability, without which none in power will be afraid of using authority he or she likes.

The Lokpal Bill is necessary to find out who are guilty and punish them.

The government's attitude is uncompromising because if the Lokpal cannot look into the charges against the prime minister, the judiciary, or the MPs indulging in corruption even on the floor of the House, what is the use of having such an institution?

It looks as if we are in for anxious days.

Thank God, a new Emergency cannot be imposed because it requires a two-thirds majority in parliament and a similar strength in the state assemblies.









"Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel." U.S. Department of State, 22 June 2011.

In elegant and lofty language, the authors of the Declaration of Independence of the United States captured the hopes, imaginations and aspirations of people around the world by declaring that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Despite these inspiring words suggesting a universal applicability to all humankind, the United States has a long record of racism and oppression against Native Indians, Blacks, Latinos and other minorities within its own borders as well as numerous belligerent and despotic acts elsewhere in the world. In collaboration with its Zionist ally, the U.S. has made every effort to deny the application of the principles contained within this lofty statement to Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.

Gaza has been under a continuous siege ever since democratic elections on January 25, 2006 produced a result unacceptable to the U.S., Israel and their allied colonial powers. Branded by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization whose activists "have conducted many attacks -- including large-scale suicide bombings -- against Israeli civilian and military targets," Hamas won 74 out of 119 seats. The main reasons for Hamas' electoral success were rampant corruption within the Palestinian authority and its utter failure to bring the peace process to a satisfactory conclusion.

Keep in mind that Hamas only resorted to suicide bombings as a last-ditch defensive measure after concluding that they were the only means available to Palestinians to deter further attacks like the one Baruch Goldstein perpetrated on worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque in occupied al-Khalil (Hebron). Remember too, that the Palestinian Resistance cannot afford to buy sophisticated weaponry, as do the oppressors of the Tel Aviv regime who receive $3 billion in U.S. military aid annually.

Later on, the Declaration of Independence exposes the true attitudes of the much-heralded founding fathers of the United States towards Native People's resistance movements. Accusing King George of England of inciting an insurrection by the indigenous population, the document states that he "has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." Of course, those "merciless Indian Savages," like today's Palestinian Resistance Fighters, were merely defending the shrinking remnants of their rightful native lands, against the barbarous onslaught of the "merciless Anglo-American Savages."

Based on their actions, Zionists hold the same feelings of revulsion towards the indigenous Palestinian People's resistance movements such as Hamas. I can just imagine the Euro-Zionist colonizers mindlessly shrieking that the resistance fighters of Hamas are "merciless Palestinian Savages," while justifying the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians and the imprisonment of tens of thousands under cruel and inhuman conditions, all in the name of Israel's right to defend itself.

Last year, a previous attempt by a humanitarian flotilla of ships sponsored by the Turkish charity IHH (Insan Hak ve Hurriyeleri Yardim Vakfi) resulted in the massacre of at least 9 peace activists on board the Mavi Marmara when Israeli commandos attacked the ship in international waters, 144 km off the coast of Gaza. The assault began at 4:25 a.m. with percussion grenades fired from Israeli attack boats, then special forces in full combat camouflage gear and Kevlar helmets, armed with rifles, sidearms and knives boarded the Mavi Marmara and opened fire while a helicopter hovered menacingly overhead.

The first victim, shot through the center of his forehead taking out the back of his skull, was a Turkish man whose only "weapon" was his camera. Concerning the brutality of the attack, eyewitness Lubna Masara said, "I realized that we must not be human in the eyes of the Israeli soldiers when I saw them joking with each other--one of them was petting his dog -- after they had just killed innocent people in cold blood." Only "merciless Israeli Savages" could have committed such an atrocity.

So now, another Freedom Flotilla has set sail in a valiant attempt to break the Israeli stranglehold on Gaza, resulting in blatant threats of attack from Israel, as typified in remarks by Israeli Admiral Eliezer Marom. "The Navy has prevented and will continue to prevent the arrival of the 'hate flotilla' whose only goals are to clash with IDF soldiers, create media provocation and to delegitimize the State of Israel," he warns. Meanwhile, the Israeli Prison Administration shuffles prisoners around to make room for "the possibility of extensive arrests amongst the activists aboard the ships"

American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her country's support for the Zionist regime. Giving a green light to another Israeli attack, she declared, "We do not believe that the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza, and we think that it's not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israeli's have the right to defend themselves."

As the "merciless Savages" in the Washington-Tel Aviv axis of evil continue to collaborate in their collective punishment of the Palestinian people, Gazans suffer shortages of adequate food, medical supplies, construction materials and other basic goods required for human dignity. No Ms. Secretary, the flotilla is absolutely necessary.

Yuram Abdullah Weiler is a former engineer turned freelance writer from Denver, Colorado USA. A Shia Muslim, he has made a pilgrimage to Syria and Iraq. He frequently contributes to Tehran Times and welcomes comments at







It is nearly five months since the beginning of the protests in Libya, which started a month after the downfall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and three days after Hosni Mubarak was deposed in Egypt.

The protests in Libya began at about the same time as the popular uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain. Therefore, from the beginning, many hoped to see the domino effect in other countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

However, despite such aspirations, the popular uprising in Libya did not achieve the desired result, and a high price had to be paid in terms of human suffering and financial losses. And the situation became more complicated due to some unexpected developments. For example, some military and political figures, such as the interior and justice ministers and a number of army commanders, joined the opposition and formed a political and military organization (the National Transitional Council) to fight against Gaddafi. Most importantly, the NATO military intervention had a great effect on developments in Libya, creating an exceptional situation compared to the other uprisings in the Arab world.

The slowdown in the pace of developments is not limited to Libya, and this phenomenon can also be seen in Bahrain and Yemen. Many political analysts have concluded that this slowdown is the direct result of the overt and covert intervention of the West, which is trying to manage and control the process of change. Other political analysts say the slowdown has occurred due to the military and political capabilities of the governments of those countries.

However, there is no doubt that developments in Libya are gradually taking new dimensions that will have more influence on other countries of the region. Some point to the fact that for the time being, the prolongation of the war in Libya has had an influence on the uprisings in other countries, and it will have more negative effects, particularly if the military intervention prepares the way for new Western-backed figures to come to power. Of course, the continuation of the resistance in Libya can also have a positive effect on other popular movements in the region.

The special situation of Libya in terms of population and wealth, compared to other countries of the region, and Muammar Gaddafi's use of an iron-fist policy to suppress street protests created many concerns from the very beginning regarding the prospects for the resistance in the country.

Gaddafi did not hesitate to use heavy weapons against the protesters in the very early stages of the uprising. This created a gloomy outlook for the uprising in Libya. Accordingly, street protesters in Libya, unlike the demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia, were forced to resort to weapons to fight against the dictator.

Libya's vast oil and gas reserves, the geostrategic location of the country in the Mediterranean region, its position among countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and finally UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which resulted in the West's military intervention, are the most important factors which have made the nature of the Libyan uprising different.

Meanwhile, the unsuccessful record of over three months of NATO intervention and the pessimistic view of Muslims about Western meddling in Islamic countries have created a challenge for the Western powers.

This situation could lead to an endless battle between Islamic countries and the arrogant Western powers that will have some decisive effects in favor of the Islamic world.

In addition, the U.S. Congress has seriously reprimanded President Barack Obama for the intervention, which is another blow to the arrogance and egotism of the West in this issue.

Jafar Qannadbashi is a university professor and an expert in African politics based in Tehran.







At a time when the American people have been asked to tighten their belts, teachers are receiving pink slips, the vital statistics of the American people reveal a health care crisis in the making, and the U.S. government is in serious threat of default, our President and Congress have decided that a new war, this time against the people of Libya, is appropriate.

This comes at a time when the U.S., by one estimate, spends approximately $3 billion per week for war against Iraq and Afghanistan. The President and Congress continue to fund the war against Libya despite the fact that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that the U.S. had no strategic interest in Libya; and despite the fact that the Senate Chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence admits that the U.S. really does not know who the "rebels" are; while the rebels themselves, according to a Telegraph report of March 25, 2011, admit that Al-Qaeda elements are among their ranks. So while the apparatus of our government has been used for over ten years to inform the American people and the global community that Al-Qaeda is an enemy of freedom-loving people all over the world, our President chooses to ally our military with none other than Al-Qaeda elements in Libya and other people whom U.S. intelligence say they do not know.

Additionally, U.S. Admiral Locklear admitted to a Member of Congress that one of NATO's missions was to assassinate Muammar Qaddafi. And, indeed, NATO bombs have killed Qaddafi's son and three grandchildren, just as U.S. bombs in 1986 killed his daughter. NATO bombs just recently killed the grandchildren of one of Qaddafi's associates in a targeted assassination attempt. Targeted assassination is not within the scope of the United Nations Security Council Resolution and targeted assassination is against U.S. law, international law, international humanitarian law, and international human rights law. Targeted assassination is also a crime. We certainly cannot encourage others to abide by the law when we so openly break it.

While in Libya, I witnessed NATO's targeting of civilians: NATO bombs and missiles landed in residential neighborhoods, hit schools, exploded near hospitals, destroyed parts of the public broadcasting infrastructure, and narrowly missed killing students at Al Fateh University. When civilians are targeted in war, or "low kinetic" activities, (1) crimes are committed.

NATO practices in Libya are exactly like Israel's practices in Gaza: fishermen are killed as they go about their fishing business, a naval blockade allows arms to flow to NATO's Libyan allies, but stops food, fuel, and medicine from entering non-NATO ally-held areas. The entire population suffers as a result. Collective punishment is illegal when Israel practices it against the people of Gaza and collective punishment is illegal when NATO practices it.

NATO and hyperbolic press accounts have introduced a kind of race hatred that the Libyan people have been trying hard to erase. Approximately 50 percent of Libya looks like me. Innocent darker skinned Libyans have been targeted, tortured, harassed, and killed.

The people of Libya have the right to self-determination. They have a right to "resource nationalism." They have a right to live in peace. They have a right to determine their future and they need not exercise their rights underneath the shock and awe of NATO bombs and missiles.

Notes 1. I guess this is what President Obama would call low kinetic military activity:

The U.S. Corporate Media, and the U.S. government, continue to methodically hide, from the public, the fact that the Libyan rebels they are supporting have been, and continue to, rape, mutilate and brutally murder Black Africans within Libya. The rebels are not who they say they are -- they are brutal racist killers who are completely being supported by the U.S. government and its corporate media minions.

Cynthia McKinney is a former U.S. Congresswoman and a member of the Green Party since 2007. As a member of the Democratic Party, she served six terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives. In 2008, the Green Party nominated McKinney for President of the United States. She is the first African-American woman to have represented Georgia in the House.


Photo: A Libyan rebel fighter arrives to take position at Misrata's western front line, some 25 kilometers from the city center on May 26, 2011. (Reuters photo)


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