Monday, August 30, 2010

Pakistan handing over control of PoK to China?

While the world focuses on the flood-ravaged Indus River valley, a quiet geopolitical crisis is unfolding in the Himalayan borderlands of northern Pakistan, where Islamabad is handing over de facto control of the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of disputed Kashmir to China.

The entire Pakistan-occupied western portion of Kashmir stretching from Gilgit in the north to the Indian side in the south is closed to the world, in contrast to the media access that India permits in the eastern part, where it is combating a Pakistan-backed insurgency. But reports from a variety of foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani journalists and Pakistani human rights workers reveal two important new developments in Gilgit-Baltistan: A simmering rebellion against Pakistani rule and the influx of an estimated 7,000 to 11,000 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

China wants a grip on the region to assure unfettered road and rail access to the Gulf through Pakistan. It takes 16 to 25 days for Chinese oil tankers to reach the Gulf. When high-speed rail and road links through Gilgit and Baltistan are completed, China will be able to transport cargo from Eastern China to the new Chinese-built Pakistani naval bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara, just east of the Gulf, within 48 hours.

Many of the PLA soldiers entering Gilgit-Baltistan are expected to work on the railroad. Some are extending the Karakoram Highway, built to link China's Sinkiang Province with Pakistan. Others are working on dams, expressways and other projects.

Mystery surrounds the construction of 22 tunnels in secret locations where Pakistanis are barred. Tunnels would be necessary for a projected gas pipeline from Iran to China that would cross the Himalayas through Gilgit. But they could also be used for missile storage sites.

Until recently, the PLA construction crews lived in temporary encampments and went home after completing their assignments. Now they are building big residential enclaves clearly designed for a long-term presence.

What is happening in the region matters to Washington for two reasons. Coupled with its support for the Taliban, Islamabad's collusion in facilitating China's access to the Gulf makes clear that Pakistan is not a US "ally". Equally important, the nascent revolt in the Gilgit-Baltistan region is a reminder that Kashmiri demands for autonomy on both sides of the cease-fire line would have to be addressed in a settlement.

Media attention has exposed the repression of the insurgency in the Indian-ruled Kashmir Valley. But if reporters could get into the Gilgit-Baltistan region and Azad Kashmir, they would find widespread, brutally-suppressed local movements for democratic rights and regional autonomy.

When the British partitioned South Asia in 1947, the maharajah who ruled Kashmir, including Gilgit and Baltistan, acceded to India. This set off intermittent conflict that ended with Indian control of the Kashmir valley, the establishment of Pakistan-sponsored Kashmir in its western part, and Pakistan's occupation of Gilgit and Baltistan, where Sunni jihadi groups allied with the Pakistan Army have systematically terrorized the local Shiite Muslims.

Gilgit and Baltistan are in effect under military rule. Democratic activists there want a legislature and other institutions without restrictions, where the elected legislature controls only 4 out of 56 subjects covered in the state Constitution. The rest are under the jurisdiction of a "Kashmir Council" appointed by the president of Pakistan.

India gives more power to the state government in Srinagar; elections there are widely regarded as fair, and open discussion of demands for autonomy is permitted. But the Pakistan-abetted insurgency in the Kashmir valley has added to tensions between the forces and an assertive population seeking greater of local autonomy.

The United States is uniquely situated to play a moderating role in Kashmir, given its growing economic and military ties with India and Pakistan's aid dependence on Washington. Such a role should be limited to quiet diplomacy. Washington should press New Delhi to resume autonomy negotiations with Kashmiri separatists. Success would put pressure on Islamabad for comparable concessions in Gilgit-Baltistan. In Pakistan, Washington should focus on getting Islamabad to stop aiding the insurgency in the Kashmir Valley and to give New Delhi a formal commitment that it will not annex Gilgit and Baltistan.

Precisely because the Gilgit-Baltistan region is so important to China, the United States, India and Pakistan should work together to make sure that it is not overwhelmed, like Tibet, by the Chinese behemoth.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A conference on caste-based enumeration comes up with valid arguments in support of the exercise.

THE inclusion of caste in Census 2011 has been a vexed question for the polity. The uncertainty over the issue has now come to an end with the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Caste Census giving its consent for the exercise. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who led the GoM, announced in the Lok Sabha on August 12 that only the modalities remained to be sorted out.

In the past few months, caste-based enumeration has been the subject of opinion columns of newspapers, talk shows on television and discussions on the Internet. A conference on “Caste Census: Towards an Inclusive India”, held on July 23 at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, provided another forum to discuss the issue at length. The participants consisted of a multidisciplinary academic group involved in research on caste and public policy.

Justice M.N. Rao, Chairperson of the National Commission for Backward Classes; Dr M. Vijayanunni, former Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India; Prof. Sukhdeo Thorat, Chairperson of the University Grants Commission; and Prof. S. Japhet, Director, CSSEIP, NLSIU, were among the distinguished personalities who participated in the conference. The group generally was of the opinion that caste-based enumeration was unavoidable in the Indian context.

However, in a letter to the GoM (published in the Opinion Column of The Hindu dated August 14), the participants of the conference objected to its recommendation to conduct caste enumeration at the biometric data capture stage. Saying that outside agencies are likely to be involved at this stage, they argued strongly that The Census of India (or the Office of the Registrar General of India) “is the only competent agency in the country with the necessary expertise and experience to undertake this gigantic task”.

History of caste census

The last time an Indian census included caste data was in 1931. According to Vijayanunni, caste data were collected in 1941 as well, but their tabulation was dropped as a money-saving measure during the Second World War. Several historians have argued that the inclusion of caste in the Indian census by the British was an anthropological exercise to learn about the colonised. In his well-known book Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Benedict Anderson has said that the ‘census', the ‘map' and the ‘museum' were ways in which the colonialists learnt about the colonised. Some historians say that the manner in which caste and religious data were collected rigidified the otherwise nebulous caste and religious identities in South Asia.

The 1871 census (the first census exercise in British India) shows how the colonial census operations categorised certain castes as superior, intermediate, trading, pastoral, and so on (Memorandum on the Census of British India 1871-72, page 21, available on the website of La Trobe University). This clearly legitimised certain caste notions of superiority and inferiority by the state itself.

Census 1901 reveals an interesting feature: a fall in the number of ‘lower castes' compared with past censuses. This was because of a severe famine in the 1890s. The census report states: “The diminution in the lower groups is doubtless due to the excessive mortality of 1897 when the administration had to face, and admittedly failed to solve, the difficult problem of forcing relief upon people who were reluctant to accept it until they had been reduced to a state of debility which could end only in death.” This is an example of how caste enumeration can be useful; the 1901 census helped identify which castes were affected most severely by the famine.

Idea of a casteless society

When India became a republic and adopted its Constitution in 1950, it was recognised that the nation needed to move towards a casteless society. But the very fact of ‘untouchability' being accepted as a reality in the Constitution implied that caste was pervasive in society. The issue came up for a vociferous debate in the Constituent Assembly. Several members argued that untouchability could be abolished only if the caste system was done away with.

Promatha Ranjan Thakur, a member of the Constituent Assembly from Bengal, said on April 29, 1947: “I do not understand how you can abolish untouchability without abolishing the very caste system. Untouchability is nothing but the symptom of the disease, namely, the caste system. It exists as a matter of caste system. I do not understand how this, in its present form, can be allowed to stand in the list of fundamental rights. I think the House should consider this point seriously. Unless we can do away with the caste system altogether there is no use tinkering with the problem of untouchability superficially. I have nothing more to say. I hope the House will consider my suggestion seriously” (Constituent Assembly debates at

Caste continues to be a pervasive marker of identity in Indian society today, and there have been mixed opinions in the recent debate on conducting a caste-based census. For instance, in a scathing piece in India Today, the sociologist Dipankar Gupta wrote thus about the demand for conducting a caste-based census: “Our democracy is determined to show the world that whatever others can do, we can do worse. If in this process, individual initiatives are killed, standards lowered, and professional ethics compromised, there is no cause for worry. We can still sink a lot lower.”
Caste and polity

There is a visible link between caste identity and political affiliations in almost all parts of the country. The discipline of psephology in India is dominated by the analysis of the ‘caste' factor, and its open usage in the media and public forums defeats the noble idea enshrined in the Constitution. It may be argued that direct elections and the growth of political parties have helped the growth of caste consciousness. Over several decades it has also led to what Christophe Jaffrelot calls, in his work India's Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India, “a genuine democratisation of India”. He says “the social and economic effects of this ‘silent revolution' are bound to multiply in the years to come”.

The participants of the conference made this point while arguing that counting caste will help the nation move towards caste equality and a caste-free society. They questioned the so-called ‘nobility' of not ascertaining castes leading to the utopian idea of a casteless society. Said Satish Deshpande, a sociologist at Delhi University: “Not counting caste has defeated the desire to transcend caste, and the noble idea of ‘caste blindness' should be rejected in favour of a fresh beginning [of counting caste].” The participants also argued that “enumerating all castes will allow us to examine whether – and how – caste continues to affect the distribution of privilege and disprivilege in our society. It is as important to track how caste benefits some groups as it is to monitor how it disadvantages other groups.”

The strongest point in favour of conducting caste-based census was that it would help devise an evidence-based social policy. As such, there is a wide disparity in caste figures, particularly in the number of Other Backward Classes (it varies from 40 to 52 per cent). The implementation of several social policies benefiting particular castes depends on knowing their exact numbers.

It is also true that policy discussions on caste-related issues are handicapped by a lack of data. Caste-based census, its proponents say, will generate a reliable and comprehensive database on “issues such as interrelations between caste and socio-economic condition”. This will also help the judiciary on adjudicating on important measures such as reservation of government and public sector jobs in States where reservation has crossed the constitutionally mandated 50 per cent (as in Tamil Nadu where reservation is 69 per cent). Caste-based census will also give details on the differences in the socio-economic conditions of various castes.
Procedural difficulties

Responding to the procedural difficulties that might entail the incorporation of caste in the census, Vijayanunni said the Census Commission of India was equipped to handle all the procedural and methodological requirements. He said the issue of including new castes in the Scheduled Castes list had come up for consideration in the 1990s, but the census establishment did not want to take up the responsibility because of several factors, including the fact that the Social Justice Ministry is the nodal ministry to deal with the subject of caste.

On the stand taken by some people to involve other organisations in identifying castes, he said the Census Commission of India was “the only competent agency that can be expected to undertake the all-India data collection and tabulation exercise required for caste data. The Social Justice and the Tribal Affairs Ministries, though dealing with the subject of castes and tribes, do not have the infrastructure, experience or organisational base to undertake this task, and that is why collection, tabulation and dissemination of Schedule Caste-Schedule Tribe [S.C./S.T.] data has been undertaken by the census all these years.”

He also said that the proper time for the collection of caste data was the population enumeration phase of the census, from February 9 to 28, 2011, and not during the biometric data capture for the National Population Register. Dismissing doubts about the methodological hurdles in collecting caste information one by one, Vijayanunni said the census could be used to collect data for all castes without confining the data collection exercise to OBCs alone.

Competent authority

The competence of the enumerator to decide whether a person belongs to the S.C., the S.T., the OBC, or any other category was a contentious point in the debate.

In fact, a few castes are categorised differently in different States. The delegates concurred that the enumerator was not the competent authority to make this distinction and that he or she should enter the given caste name in the designated column on caste without raising any objections or argument. The process of verification/classification was to be done later by census officials, they said.

The participants also agreed that a National Task Force or advisory group can assist with the identification and consolidation of caste data (as was done with religion and caste returns for S.C./S.T. groups in past censuses).

Sceptics say that in a caste-based census, there is the possibility of upper castes misreporting their caste and claiming to belong to backward castes or of backward castes inflating their numbers for political and material benefits. However, the delegates said that caste being a public identity, it would be difficult for a person to make spurious claims about one's caste. What they chose to ignore, however, is that while caste may be a public identity, the process of collecting census data is a private activity and not one conducted in public.

Minorities and caste identities

The question of minorities and their caste identities also came up for discussion. The sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed, whose pioneering work demonstrated the pervasive consciousness of caste among Muslims, feared that religious minorities would not be enumerated as having a caste, thus immediately denying them entry into any category on the basis of caste. His fears may be valid, but in several States communities of Muslims (some even in their entirety) are included in the lists of OBCs or S.Cs.

The conference did not address how caste enumeration will lead to a casteless society when the proposed caste-based census is already being pejoratively referred to as Mandal-II. The political upheaval that such a clear delineation of caste figures would lead to was also not addressed.

The participants dismissed the criticism that caste-based census would lead to an increase in caste consciousness or that it will further caste divisions. Except for a tiny minority, they said, everyone was aware of his or her caste identity.

The proceedings of the conference were released as a book in New Delhi on August 5 by Digvijay Singh, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, and M. Veerappa Moily, Union Minister for Law and Justice. The book serves as a useful primer on the issue of incorporating caste as a category in the census.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A whole lifetime washed away in floods

A few days ago, I stood atop a 30-foot-high levee in Pakistan’s south Punjab, looking out as the waters from the greatest Indus river flood in memory flowed past, through orchards, swirling around a village on higher ground half-a-mile out. Twenty miles wide, the flood was almost dreamlike, the speeding water, as it streamed through the upper branches of trees, carrying along bits of brightly-coloured plastic and clumps of grass.

Many of the displaced people had left the area in the past few days, driving whatever was left of their herds, carrying whatever they were able to rescue. In Pakistan, your primary loyalty is to your biraderi, an untranslatable word, something like clan, but more visceral and entailing greater responsibility and connection. You marry among your biraderi, you must travel and be present when a member of your biraderi is married or buried and, in times of trouble, you stand by your biraderi.

The hundreds of people camped on the levee were those who had no biraderi outside the flooded area, or who couldn’t afford to make the journey to them. Each family had claimed a little spot, made it home, rigged up some sort of shelter like a blanket on a frame of branches. Many had rescued a bag or two of grain, and they sat combing this out in the dirt, trying to dry it. As I walked past, I could smell that much of the grain had spoiled, a bitter loamy odour. These families’ poverty and loss shone in the little piles of their belongings: two or three cheap tin plates, a kettle. In one family’s encampment, discordantly, sat a dresser with a mirrored door.

I found most pitiful a family gathered around a prostrate brown-and-white brindled cow. The father told me that the cow had been lost in the water for four days, and the previous night it had clambered up on another section of the levee, a mile away. The people of this area recognise their cattle as easily as you or I recognise a cousin or neighbour. Someone passing by told the family that their cow had been found, and the father went and got it and led it to their little encampment.

In the early morning the cow had collapsed, and I could see it would soon be dead. Its eyes were beginning to dull, as the owner squatted next to it, sprinkling water into its mouth. The rest of the family sat nearby on a string bed, resigned, waiting for the end.

Driving back to my farm, which has (so far) been spared from the flood, an image of the cow’s ordeal kept coming to me: splashing through the flood for hours and hours, at dusk or in the blank overcast night, with nothing around it but a vast expanse of water stretching away, an image of perfect loneliness. It must have found high ground, waited there as the water rose, then set off again, driven by hunger. In the immensity of the unfolding tragedy, this littler one, this moment of its death, seemed comprehensible to me, significant.

It is difficult to convey the scope of what was lost by those who had laboured with axe and shovel to bring this land under cultivation. Fifty years ago, the area was all savanna, waving fields of reeds and elephant grass running for a thousand miles on both sides of the river. As a boy, I hunted there for partridge, walking among a line of beaters, the tall grasses so dense that I was invisible to the next man only 10 feet away. This was wild country.

But in the years since, these people tamed the land, levelling it by hand, expanding their plots acre by acre, until they had conquered it all. Last year, from where I stood on the levee, one would have seen orderly fields proceeding all the way to the river on the horizon. These lands had not been flooded in living memory, and so people built solid houses and granaries, planted trees, raised mosques. This was their life’s work.

Now all that has been swept away. In this area, the best-paying crop by far is sugarcane, which was to be cut in November but now stands submerged, except for the tips of the fronds, dead and rusty gray on the surface. When the water recedes, the people will, if they are lucky enough to have any, sell their cattle and their wives’ ornaments, to rebuild the watercourses and to level the fields. Some will plant winter wheat, but it will be sown late and will not pay, not enough to cover the costs of reclaiming the land.

Others may plant another crop of cane, which will be sown in February and harvested the following October, 14 months away. Before that, they will have no income whatsoever. The generosity of these people’s relatives, their biraderi, cannot possibly carry them through. They are ruined, and there are millions of them.

This disaster is not like an earthquake or a tsunami. In the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan, 80,000 people died more or less at one blow; whereas the immediate death toll from this flood is likely to be in the low thousands. The loss of property, however, is catastrophic. It is as if a neutron bomb exploded overhead, but instead of killing the people and leaving their houses intact, it piled trees upon the houses and swept away the villages and crops and animals, leaving the people alive.

For months and even years, the people of the Indus Valley will not have sufficient income for food or clothing. They will rebuild, if they can afford it, by inches. The corrupt and impoverished Pakistani government cannot possibly make these people’s lives whole again. It’s not hard to imagine the potential for radicalisation in a country already rapidly turning to extremist political views, to envision the anarchy that may be unleashed if wealthier nations do not find a way to provide sufficient relief. This is not a problem that will go away, and it is the entire world’s problem. It is said, the most violent revolutions are the revolutions of the stomach.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Signalling a transition

China is now the world's second largest economy, having overtaken Japan in terms of the size of its GDP. It is true that this is partly due to Japan's poor performance. The change in rankings coincided with news that Japan's GDP grew at just 0.4 per cent in the three months to the end of June, well below an expected 2 per cent plus. It is also true that in per capita terms China's GDP is less than a tenth of that in Japan. Yet the fact that the change in China's ranking is the result of a scorching pace of growth sustained over a period of three decades, which shows no signs of relenting, suggests that this is by no means the end of a journey. Hence, despite the many statistical issues relating to estimation procedures used in different countries and the exchange rates at which local currency figures are converted to a common currency, the new GDP numbers are seen as signalling a transition to a new era in terms of the global balance of power.

China has responded with much maturity and not displayed any triumphalism after the release of these numbers. This is partly because, measured in purchasing power parity exchange rates, its GDP has been ahead of Japan's for quite some time now. It has also had a more important role and greater influence in the global system. But Chinese caution may also be because of concern regarding the quality of its growth process. For example, there is a call within China for measures to dampen growth and redress the problem of “overheating,” the most important sign of which is a speculative boom in the property market. But of greater concern for the country is the dependence of its growth on global markets in general and that of the United States in particular. This makes growth vulnerable, as governments respond either with protectionist measures or with demands for adjustments on China's part that could be expensive. It also increases international hostility towards the rapidly rising power. An influential view outside China is that its growth contributes to global imbalance and economic fragility. That argument is buttressed with data on the size of its trade surplus. Often these arguments are a cover for the ideological and political hostility generated by fear of a country which till recently was substantially centrally planned and even now has an economic and political system with unique characteristics. China must respond well; and it has clearly done so in recent times. It is making an effort at reorienting growth to the domestic market. It is making careful and calibrated adjustments of the value of the renminbi. It is seeking to rebalance growth in ways that make it more equitable and more environmentally friendly. It must now also take on a global role indicative of its status that favours justice and equality and helps make the current period of transition orderly and peaceful.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Obama and Indian industry: navigating tough waters

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …,” wrote Charles Dickens. Today those could well be the words of the captains of Indian industry and the government that represents them. For even as the drum rolls have begun early this summer in anticipation of Barack Obama's visit to India in November, the record of the United States' 44th President on deepening economic ties with India does not inspire confidence.

Look at the facts. The economic dimension of the bilateral relationship has grown significantly in size and complexity since the pre-1991 era. Even more so since India decisively emerged from the fog of post-Pokhran nuclear isolation and sanctions were lifted by former President George W. Bush in 2001. Indeed it was the very same man who then went on to give the burgeoning relationship its biggest breakthrough in the form of the civilian nuclear deal.

Yet some in India's private sector, and perhaps in the Industry and External Affairs Ministries as well, would argue that that was where it ended. To be sure, the current U.S. administration has not spoiled the party entirely; if anything it has been at pains to sustain the image of not rocking the boat. Thus there have been veritable cascades of bonhomie during such encounters as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's much-touted “first state visit” of the Obama Presidency last November, and the India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue of May 2010.

The concerns

While these events and the behind-the-scenes Track I and Track II dialogues have certainly kept the boat from rocking, there is little doubt that the two countries are charting a course through troubled waters and that storm clouds loom on the horizon. To those following the comments of visiting Indian leaders in Washington, one thing is clear: sections of Indian industry, from the high-tech and space sectors to IT giants, are deeply unhappy with the U.S. intransigence on a range of issues at the very heart of their operations.

Some of the most serious concerns are the following.

First, export control restrictions, particularly on dual-use, high-tech items, have been brought up time and again by senior officials such as Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma. In March, as Ms. Rao co-chaired a meeting of the India-U.S. High Technology Cooperation Group, she described the restrictions and related constraints as “anachronistic.”

Second, the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security has inexplicably retained government organisations such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on the Entities List, thereby banning U.S. corporations from trading with them. Although Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs and other U.S. officials promised several months ago that the list was being revised, ISRO has not officially been taken off it yet.

Third, the “totalisation” conundrum has led to Indian professionals paying “huge amounts” as social security contributions in the U.S. and yet they are unable to draw any benefits on the basis of such contributions. Senior Indian Ministers such as Labour and Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge and Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot spelled out the nature of the problem to their U.S. counterparts in Washington in March and April. Yet in an interview with The Hindu, Mr. Blake said that the U.S. social security administration had “really grappled with this but thus far not found a way to be responsive.”

Visa fee hike

The most recent salvo came last week when Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Clair McCaskill sponsored — and got passed — a border security bill entailing an H1-B- and L-visa application fee hike of $2,000 for firms with a higher proportion of non-American employees.

No prizes for guessing which firms would be most adversely hit by this bill. The National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) sharply criticised the bill, and its president Som Mittal warned it was an “indirect form of protectionism and runs contrary to the Obama administration's oft-repeated goal of opening markets and doubling U.S. exports.”

To some, these worrisome barriers to an open economic relationship are symptomatic of the old stereotype of Democratic administrations — that they are less concerned about economic proximity to India than Republican administrations are.

Others worry specifically about the Obama government's penchant for protectionist policies, a trend that is certainly validated by the emerging rhetoric in Washington.

So far as Mr. Obama himself is concerned, it began long before he became President. As a Democratic Senator and rising star on the domestic political scene, he gained notoriety in India for backing several “killer amendments” to the India-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement. Although pro-deal lobbies dodged that bullet and the Feingold Amendments were defeated in the Senate, Mr. Obama has done little in his Presidential avatar to shake off the reputation that his actions created.

And the future looks even bleaker. The President and his Democratic colleagues are increasingly adopting a tunnel-vision approach, focussing on the one challenge that could make or break the next few years for them — the November Congressional elections. Thus India should expect that this administration will, for the next few months at least, be driven only by the adage: “It's the economy stupid!”

With the unemployment rate stabilising at 9.5 per cent and over 130,000 jobs being shed each month, even a juggernaut of a political issue such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may trail behind job creation.

So might immigration reform. So might even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are in any case set to slowly wind down. Imagine, then, how low on the priority list the woes of Indian industry must be. Nay, consider in fact the possibility that the battle of cry of “Stop jobs getting Bangalored!” may actually serve as a handy rallying point in the barren wasteland that is the American job market.

Given the compelling power of protectionist politics on the eve of a major round of elections, there will be little point in arguing that Indian industry is actually helping to create jobs for American citizens — though in fact it is.

Over time the only hope for those within Indian industry seeking to do business with the U.S. may be the U.S. private sector itself. History would corroborate this theory. It was in many ways the bonds between the Indian government, on the one hand, and the Indian-American community and the U.S. nuclear lobbies, on the other, that helped shepherd the civilian nuclear deal through Congress.

Indian companies with global ambitions may find that this is the only way to stop the spring of hope from giving way to the winter of despair.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kashmir's missing government

“Hurling a shoe,” remarked Omar Abdullah wryly, “is better than hurling stones.” In his August 15 address to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Abdullah finally found the words many have been waiting months to hear. But it remains unclear how he intends to deliver on his calls for dialogue and peace. Ever since the anti-India protests, which have dogged Mr. Abdullah's time in office, started to escalate this June, his administration has displayed few signs of having a coherent vision for action. The arrests of secessionist leaders followed by efforts to buy peace with them; the arrests of stone-throwing youth and simultaneous promises of jobs for them; appeals for dialogue matched by murderous police action: all these have been deployed in bewildering, aimless succession. The reality is that the Islamist extremists spearheading the anti-India protests that have led to the loss of almost 60 lives this summer have no interest in peace. The protests have allowed a new generation of radical Islamist leaders, like Massrat Alam Bhat and Asiya Andrabi, to seize leadership of the anti-India movement in Kashmir. But the protests aren't, as some polemicists have claimed, a Kashmir-wide mass uprising. The violence remains concentrated, as it has been since the summer of 2009, in urban parts of the districts of Srinagar, Baramulla, Pulwama, and Anantnag — the historic heartlands of the anti-India movement in J&K. The current protests are nowhere near as large as those that tore the State apart in 2008: and that makes the failure to address them inexplicable.

Fine words and promises cannot stem the rising tide of blood on Kashmir streets. It will need governance — a task the ruling National Conference-Congress alliance in the State has shown little interest in. Ever since he took power in 2009, the Chief Minister has relied on administrators of breathtaking incompetence. The rot has been most marked in the State police. Much of the killing on Kashmir's streets came about not because the protests threatened to overwhelm authorities, but because lethal force was indiscriminately used by panicked, wretchedly led police. J&K's civil bureaucracy has done just as badly. High officials have proved unable to secure a semblance of governance in the face of secessionist fiat — or to build bridges with communities devastated by the violence. As though this were not enough, politicians from the National Conference and the Congress have been missing in inaction. Only a few have been visible on the streets of their constituencies, reaching out to those who need them. Mr. Abdullah needs all the help he can get from the central government but he must first act to demonstrate on the ground that Jammu & Kashmir has a government.

India to become world's fastest growing economy by 2013-15: Morgan Stanley

The two hands to produce count for more than that one mouth to feed, after all. Driven by a sterling demographic dividend, continuing structural reform and globalisation, India is poised to accelerate its growth rate to 9-9.5% over 2013-15, even as China will cool down to a more sedate 9% by 2012 and to 8% by 2015. So finds a new report by Morgan Stanley, authored by Chetan Ahya (managing director for Asia and India economist, who writes a monthly column for ET) and Tanvee Gupta.

India has one of the lowest median ages among the major economies. When an economy prospers, first its death rate and then, its birth rate falls. As this trend proceeds, there is a big bulge in the working age population while the non-working population (the young and the old) shrink as a share of the population. The lowering of the dependent (non-working) population to working age population ratio has twin effects.

One, it allows people to save a large proportion of their income, raising the country’s rate of savings; two, it boosts the number of people who work and contribute to growth. Thanks to structural reform, the additional hands available for work find work. Even with stagnant per capita output, the sheer increase in the number of workers would raise GDP growth. With reform pushing up productivity per worker, GDP would rise even faster.

Globalisation gives additional job opportunities, additional capital to augment rising domestic savings and additional know-how. With this happy combination, the report expects India to become the world’s fastest-growing economy. The government’s chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu has been forecasting such a development as well.

“Real GDP growth in China has averaged 10% annually over the past 30 years, compared with 6.2% in India. During this period, China’s GDP grew 16 times to $5 trillion whereas India’s rose seven times to $1.2 trillion. China’s exports (including services) surged 65 times over this period to $1,330 billion while India’s exports increased 22 times to $250 billion” says the report.

China has overtaken Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. China’s demographic transition pushed up its savings rate above 30% in 1985, while India’s savings rate crossed that level only in 2005. India’s consumption level will now come down, even as China’s will rise.

Underlying the Morgan Stanley forecast is the assumption that India will significantly jack up its expenditure on infrastructure and in plant and machinery. Infrastructure expenditure has gone up from 5.4% of GDP in 2005 to 7.5% in 2009 and is poised to go up to 8% of GDP in 2010. Over 2012-17, the forecast is that India’s infrastructure spend would be $1 trillion as compared with $530 million over the previous five-year period.

Another assumption is on the quantity and quality of the young people coming into the workforce. While India will be the largest contributor to the world’s workforce — all of 136 million people — over the next 10 years (fully a quarter of the entire world’s additional workforce), China will add just 23 million.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nod for National Innovation Council

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday gave the green signal for the setting up of a National Innovation Council headed by Sam Pitroda, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, to give shape to the Government's decision to observe the current decade (2010-2020) as the Decade of Innovation.

The Council will have a mandate to evolve an Indian model of innovation that focuses on inclusive growth and creating an appropriate eco-system conducive to fostering inclusive innovation.

The 17-member panel would include Planning Commission members K. Kasturirangan and Arun Maira, former Director General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) R.A. Mashelkar, former President of the National Association of Software and Services Companies Kiran Karnik, Executive Director of Tata Sons R. Gopalakrishnan, and Biocon Chairman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.

The present CSIR Director General Samir Brahmachari, Director General of the Confederation of Indian Industry Chandrajit Banerjee, Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Amit Mitra, IIT Kanpur Director Sanjay Dhande, would also be members.

Further, the Council would have Devi Prasad Shetty of Narayana Hrudalaya, film director Shekhar Kapur, Chairman of C.A. Technologies Saurabh Srivastava, Anil K. Gupta of IIM Ahmedabad, and Sujatha Ramadorai of The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, as members. R. Gopalakrishnan, Additional Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, would be the Member Secretary.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A draft prepared by AIDWA for the proposed Bill to deal with honour crimes includes a comprehensive definition of honour killing.

SHILPA and Ravinder, Manoj and Babli, Ved Pal Maun and Sonia. These are not random names, but young couples who were hounded, and some of them even done to death, by the self-styled guardians of honour for daring to break community norms of love and marriage. A seminar on “Killings and crimes in the name of honour”, held in New Delhi on July 20, heard some of those who were lucky enough to have escaped the clutches of death speak out. Most of the participants, who included lawyers and academics as well, said the existing legal provisions did not offer protection to the victims of such crimes. Organised by the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), the seminar demanded that a new and comprehensive law be enacted to deal with all aspects of honour crimes. Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had raised this demand in Parliament last year.

Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission and former Chief Justice of India, condemned honour crimes but did not advocate a separate law. This was in contrast to the overall sentiment at the seminar and the views espoused by National Commission for Women (NCW) Chairperson Girija Vyas.

Kirti Singh, former member of the Law Commission of India and Supreme Court lawyer, presented a draft of the proposed legislation at the seminar. It was later submitted to Union Minister of Law M. Veerappa Moily.

The case for a stringent law found support in the monsoon session of the Rajya Sabha as well, for the second time in the past one year. The response of the government so far has been that the primary responsibility for prevention, detection, registration, investigation and prosecution of crimes was with the State governments. Predictably, the reply of Ajay Maken, Minister of State for Home, on the floor of the House to questions raised by Brinda Karat, Shobhana Bhartia and others was at best evasive.

Among other things, they asked him what specific steps the government was taking to rein in caste councils. At least a couple of honour crimes were committed at the behest of such councils, called khap panchayats. He replied that apart from issuing a detailed advisory to all States and Union Territories to take a comprehensive view of the effectiveness of the government machinery in tackling violence against women and to take appropriate measures to curb the violation of women's rights by means of “honour killings” and prevent forced marriages in some States, the government was thinking of amending the existing law or otherwise enacting a separate law to tackle honour killings.

Another poser was about the number of people arrested in connection with honour killings. The Minister replied that as honour killings were not classified as a separate crime, and as they were treated as murders, data were not collected separately by the National Crime Records Bureau and, therefore, no separate figures of arrests were available. Significantly, there was also no time frame given for the enactment of a separate law or the amendment of the existing law.

AIDWA's draft law

AIDWA's draft of the proposed law has some remarkable features. Apart from containing a comprehensive definition of what constitutes honour killing, it describes the right to choose one's own partner as a fundamental right. “The idea of defining it as a fundamental right is that the act of anyone opposing it would be construed as an offence,” said Kirti Singh.

The draft law defines various kinds of acts that either precede or follow honour killing. These include all kinds of harassment: public endorsement of violence, threats, and social and economic sanctions against families of the victims by either individuals or collective bodies such as panchayats. It has provisions specifying certain duties of the district administration as well. It says, for instance, that prohibitory orders need to be issued as soon as the district administration gets information about meetings that have to do with the violation of the fundamental right defined by the law.

“It cannot be dealt with by invoking Section 302 [in the Indian Penal Code, punishment for murder] alone. We have, for the first time, classified different types of harassment and broadened the ambit of intimidation that can include physical, psychological, verbal [harassment],” said Kirti Singh.

The range of punishment, too, extends from one to 10 years depending on the nature of the offence. For instance, the draft law provides for imprisonment up to two years for anyone glorifying or supporting the crime publicly. The burden of proof has been placed on the accused and credence given to the oral statements of the couple, especially if they have consented to marry or stay with each other.

“The police should not register a case of kidnapping in such a situation,” she said.

Describing the situation in Haryana, one of the States most affected by honour crimes, Jagmati Sangwan, president of the AIDWA State unit, said it was ironical that there was no public shame in “purchasing women” from outside for marriage, on the one hand, and in harassing, or even killing, young people when they asserted their constitutional rights, on the other.

“It is not about honour at all; it is the hegemony of some groups,” she said. Same- gotra marriages, which the caste councils want banned, were being used as an issue for political and caste consolidation, she said.

The most disappointing response, she said, came from mainstream political parties. In particular, she referred to Congress Member of Parliament Naveen Jindal's support to the demand by caste councils to amend the Hindu Marriage Act and to ban same- gotra marriages. Jagmati Sangwan, who heads the Women's Studies Centre in Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, said that from her interactions with schoolteachers she had learnt that it was common to see a high degree of absenteeism among girl students. Some of them never returned and their whereabouts were unknown.

“Conspiracy of silence”

“Girls are eliminated for even talking to their male colleagues. Our girl students just go missing and there is a conspiracy of silence. Such is the repression of young people in Haryana society. It is extremely painful for us to come to terms with such incidents,” she said. The common expression for the mysterious death of young girls, said Inderjit Singh, State secretary of the CPI(M), was “Mar gi ji”, meaning “she died”. “The standard response would be that the girl had stomach pain which resulted in her death,” he said. Cremations would be hurriedly conducted, mostly at the homes of the victims' maternal uncles. There was also no question of a post-mortem. He said the hitherto unaddressed problem of missing adolescent girls, probably killed in the name of honour, was as important a matter of concern as that of the murder of eloping couples.

“There should be a system of reporting deaths, all deaths from villages, just as births are registered. In the case of an unnatural death, a post-mortem before cremation should be made legally mandatory,” said Inderjit Singh, who has rescued many girls from such dangerous situations.

The draft of the Bill proposed by the Ministry of Law and Justice (Indian Penal Code and Certain Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010) envisages changes in the IPC (Section 300, which specifies various conditions that constitute the crime of murder); the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; and the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The draft, which is being looked into by a Group of Ministers (GoM), has incorporated a new definition of honour killing, though it does not say it in so many words: a murder done by any person or persons acting in concert with, or, at the behest of, a member of the family or a member of a body or group of the caste or clan or community or caste panchayat (by whatever name called) in the belief that the victim has brought dishonour or perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family or caste or clan or community or caste panchayat. Here the definition of dishonour is also very limited, and the definition does not cover all perceptible forms of violence, including cases in which young people, not necessarily in a sexual relationship, are humiliated and even killed for talking to a member of the opposite sex.

The draft law purports to make entire communities culpable by virtue of mere association with a caste panchayat or body or group of the caste or clan or community. It is commonly known that in all such cases involving harassment or murder, there were self-styled leaders who enjoyed political, social and economic clout and whose decisions compelled others to toe their line. In such a situation, booking entire communities by virtue of mere association, without making a distinction between the perpetrators, abettors and vocal supporters, has been seen as a ploy to frustrate the exercise of a good law to deal with such crimes. One of the positive aspects of the draft Bill, however, involves placing the burden of proof on those accused of such murder. Another is doing away with the 30-day waiting period in the Special Marriage Act, 1954.

The draft, predictably, has invoked the wrath of the sections concerned. The government seems to have rendered its own draft ineffective by making culpable entire communities rather than pinpointing the main agents provocateurs after investigation and making them accountable.

Lal Bahadur Gopal, the lawyer who took up the murder case of Manoj and Babli, said that any law in connection with honour crimes should also provide for quick disposal of the cases. He recalled how the moral support of AIDWA had helped him overcome his reluctance to take up the case. “There was a lot of pressure on us and many material witnesses had turned hostile. We were even afraid of going to the hearings as we received lots of threats,” he said.

Gopal narrated how at the end of a hearing, despite heavy security, Babli's brother, Suresh, one of those convicted for her murder, slapped Seema, Manoj's sister, in full public view. “This was their way of intimidating us,” he said, adding that it was very important to give police protection to the witnesses.

According to him, the state needed to give a minimum compensation to the victims and entrust special cells with trained officers, not the standard station house officers, with the investigation of such cases.

But the question is whether a law in itself is enough to ensure that justice will be done. The couples present at the seminar explained how they still felt threatened, especially with honour crimes continuing unabated. Present at the seminar were two couples, from Kapurthala in Punjab and Hansi in Haryana, who had eloped fearing violent reprisals from their families. Interestingly, in both cases, the girls were from upper-caste and upper-class backgrounds.

Shilpa Kadyan and her husband, Ravinder, who were banished from their Dharana village in Jhajjar district, said they lived in constant fear. “It is a big struggle for those who are forced to leave their village and made to sever ties with family members,” said Shilpa, referring to the lack of social support in cities. To this day, the couple have not been able to enter their village and meet Ravinder's parents without police protection.

Joginder Maun spoke of his brother Ved Pal, who was killed in the presence of a warrant officer on April 22, 2009, when he went to bring his wife from her village in Jind district. “They target the poor. In our case, even the gotras were different, the couple belonged to two different villages located in two different districts,” he said.

Seven-point charter

On August 1, at a meeting held at the Meham Chaubisi Chabootra (famous for public and panchayat meetings in Meham town), a seven-point charter was released demanding the amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act banning same- gotra marriages, gay marriages and surrogate motherhood, giving lok adalat status to khaps, and according legal status to customs and traditional practices. Though there was a large congregation, with some women too present, observers felt that not all khaps had supported the move. The main organiser of the event was a businessman from Gurgaon who lost the Meham Assembly seat last time and was hoping to rejuvenate his political fortunes with such measures.

It is becoming increasingly clear that dealing with honour crimes has to be comprehensive so that every aspect relating to them is covered under the law. And it is all the more necessary as the demands of caste councils are becoming more strident. Accused of being patriarchal and undemocratic in their constitution, they are now trying to remove the tag by taking in women and a few members from other caste groups.

The African Union summit sets aside other issues and focusses on the challenges posed by the conflict in Somalia.

THE conflict in Somalia dominated the 15th African Union (A.U.) summit held in Kampala in late July, only weeks after suicide bomb attacks had shocked the Ugandan capital. The attacks were the handiwork of Al Shabab militants who are battling a peace-keeping force of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the bulk of which consists of soldiers from Uganda and Burundi. The attacks were among the most serious terror incidents in Africa since the bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. The Somali insurgents had been threatening revenge attacks against countries that are propping up the “transitional national government” (TNG), set up two years ago.

The A.U. summit was originally supposed to discuss mainly the pressing issues of maternal and infant mortality in Africa. Instead, most of the leaders in their speeches focussed on the terror threat emanating from Somalia. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged African states “to sweep the terrorist leaders out of Africa. Let them go back to Asia and the Middle East [West Asia],” he said.

Museveni wants to be America's point man in the region once again. The job was given to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, by the George W. Bush administration. Ugandans say that they are paying with blood to protect American geostrategic interests in the region.

Museveni's stance was bolstered by the United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, who was in Kampala to attend the summit as an observer. Holder urged the A.U. leaders to remain united in their stand against terrorism in the Horn of Africa. The Barack Obama administration has pledged more aid and logistical support to A.U. peace-keeping forces in Somalia. All the leaders agreed that the challenges posed by Somalia to the continent were extremely serious and had to be tackled urgently. The consensus was that the peace-keeping mission should be converted into a “peace-enforcing mission”. The mandate of AMISOM is only to protect the interim government.

Currently, there are around 6,000 A.U. troops, most of them from Uganda. The U.S., after its military debacle in Somalia in the mid-1990s, is loath to commit its own troops. Instead, it prefers to fight its enemies through proxies in the Horn of Africa region. The desire of A.U. member-countries like Uganda to take the fight directly to the insurgents has, however, not got the green signal from the United Nations.

Jean Ping, the Chairman of the A.U. Commission, has accused the U.N. Security Council of not giving the crisis in Somalia the attention it deserves. “The question of Somalia has been forgotten by the Security Council. We have been requesting the Security Council, but all they recommend is peace-keeping troops, which are attacked by the insurgents but are not allowed to hit back,” he complained.

Since the beginning of the year, shelling on civilian targets by AMISOM peace-keepers has resulted in thousands of casualties. The shelling has been in retaliation for Al Shabab attacks on their positions. Al Shabab has said that the attack on civilian targets in Kampala was an act of revenge. The attacks at two different places killed 76 civilians watching World Cup football.

Anyway, only a few leaders at the A.U. summit volunteered to send troops to bolster AMISOM. Leading A.U. members such as South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt are reluctant to commit their troops. Only smaller countries such as Guinea, Djibouti and Senegal have pledged to send troops to Somalia. Their ability to commit large number of troops is limited. Uganda, which seems bent upon substituting the key role played earlier by Ethiopia, has pledged to deploy an additional 20,000 soldiers. But the offer does not have too many takers in the A.U. The A.U. does not have the resources to fund such a large peace-keeping force. Besides, Article 53 of the U.N. Charter prohibits regional organisations from acting unilaterally.

The A.U. summit for that matter has not come out with a new blueprint to solve Somalia's problems. The Djibouti peace process, which started in 2008 with the backing of Washington, resulted in the formation of a new transitional government led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. It was hoped that Ahmed, a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), would motivate the Islamist insurgent groups to opt for peace.

Unfortunately, the situation in the country has only deteriorated since his appointment. Ahmed and his Ministers are today holed up in a small enclave in Mogadishu, which houses the Presidential Palace and a few government Ministries. Only the AMISOM troops are preventing the takeover of the capital by the insurgent Islamist groups led by Al Shabab.

For the last year and a half, the Obama administration had funded the training and arming of 10,000 Somalis to support the transitional government that it had propped up. But the majority of them have deserted with their arms and joined groups such as Al Shabab. Some estimates say that most of the arms worth $40 million provided to Somalia by the U.S. have ended up in the hands of these groups.

Furthermore, the inability of the Ethiopian army to quell the insurgency despite occupying the country for more than two years is a reminder to the African leaders that outside intervention could only further complicate the precarious security situation in the volatile Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, according to reports in the African media, has given an assurance to the A.U. that it will not invade neighbouring Somalia again.


An Al Shabab fighter and a burnt-out tank of the African Union peace-keeping force, in Mogadishu on July 2.

The entry into Somalia by Ethiopian forces in December 2006 had the backing of the Bush administration. That intervention shattered the tenuous peace, which the country had enjoyed for a brief six months under the ICU. For the first time since the civil war in the early 1990s, the warlords were forced to retreat. Law and order, albeit of the Sharia variety, had briefly prevailed over most of Somalia. But the Bush administration, obsessed by the “war on terror”, was in no mood to tolerate even a mildly Islamist state in the strategic Horn.

The overthrow of the ICU government by the Ethiopians resulted in a political and military vacuum. This was soon filled by Al Shabab, which until a few years ago was only one of the many insurgent groups fighting the warlords and the Ethiopian occupation forces.

Al Shabab (“the Youth” in Arabic) had refused to participate in the U.S.-brokered peace process started early last year. Instead, it intensified its fight against the new government, headed by Sharif Ahmed, a former leader of the ICU. Adan Hashi Ayro, the group's original leader, was assassinated in a U.S. missile attack in April 2008. The current head of the group is Muktar Ali Robow, who once served under Ahmed as Deputy Defence Secretary. Al Shabab started out as a vigilante group acting against extortionists and criminal gangs in Mogadishu. This brought it into conflict with the warlords, who patronised many of the criminal groups.

The U.S. government alleges that many of the Shabab fighters have trained in Afghanistan when the Taliban was in power there. The group is high up on the official U.S. terror list. The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has alleged that Al Shabab wants Somalia to be “a future haven for global terrorism” and that it wants to use Somalia as a base to influence and also infiltrate surrounding countries. Al Shabab has indeed emulated the Taliban in religious matters. Like the Taliban, it is for a strict interpretation of the Koran and the implementation of the Sharia.

According to Afyari Abdi Elmi, an academic who specialises on Somalia, Al Shabab is basically an international jehadi movement. “This group believes that historically Muslims have been humiliated by their enemies whenever they have abandoned jehad and, therefore, that if Muslims have to be respected, jehad must be ongoing,” Elmi wrote in a recent article.

With the group gaining in strength and confidence, senior functionaries of Al Shabab such as Muktar Ali Robow, have said that they have the same objectives as Al Qaeda. Both sides have acknowledged helping each other. Elmi, however, states that Al Shabab is not a monolithic movement.

The majority, he opines, only has a domestic agenda, “but a small minority in the upper echelons of the group, and a significant number of foreign fighters, advocate global jehad as a guiding principle”.

With the U.S. and most of its immediate neighbours like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda dead set against an Islamist-dominated government in Somalia, the country seems condemned to be in a state of perpetual chaos and anarchy. As many as 20,000 Somalis lost their lives battling the Ethiopian occupation. Thousands more have been killed after AMISOM entered the scene.

Before that inter-clan fighting and the civil war had resulted in the displacement of more than two million Somalis.

The number of civilians killed as a result of internecine strife and foreign intervention since the early 1990s could be more than a million.

In the past, Somalis used to blame their local warlords for the spilling of innocent blood. Now most Somalis blame outside powers, especially the U.S., for the continuing bloodshed.

'Brazil, India & China fared well during the financial crisis'

At least three countries Brazil, India and China fared well during the current economic crisis that has engulfed the world in the past two years, mainly because of inherent strengthen of their economies, a Congressional oversight panel has said.

"Because the financial crisis originated in domestic housing bubbles, and was transmitted by highly leveraged multinational financial firms, countries that were shielded from those forces fared comparatively well," said the panel in its report for the month of August.

"Brazil, India, China, Australia and Canada, for example, generally avoided the banking crises that plagued US and much of Europe; nonetheless their economies felt many of the after effects of the global financial crisis," it said.

Brazil, the 162-page report said is one of the countries that has fared best during the global financial crisis.

"India also fared comparatively well," it said.

"Its highly regulated banking sector had limited operations outside India, and therefore very little exposure to subprime lending in the US," the report said, adding that although India did feel the follow-on effects of the crisis, though.

Its export-driven economy suffered when global demand dropped; its financial sector suffered from the global liquidity squeeze, which led to a fall in lending; and its stock market lost roughly 50 per cent of its value between June and December 2008.

"Although the Indian government did not provide capital to Indian banks, it did respond to the crisis with fiscal stimulus equal to about 2 per cent of GDP, and it shifted from a tightening monetary policy to an expansionary one," the report said.

The Congressional Oversight Panel said China's financial system also fared relatively well during the crisis, though it should be noted that China's state-owned banks have benefited from repeated government rescues in the recent past.

China maintains capital controls that limit foreign investment by individuals and businesses; these controls had beneficial effects during the crisis, since Chinese investors had little exposure to troubled parts of the US and European financial systems, it said.

Banks in China had invested heavily in US securities, but those investments were generally not in subprime securities, but rather in safer Treasury bonds and securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the US government stepped in to backstop during the crisis, it said.

"Therefore, China's financial system, like Brazil's and India's, did not sustain major damage from the crisis.

China's export-driven economy did suffer, though, from the sharp downturn in global demand and the slowdown in foreign investment," the report said.

China's explosive growth slowed during the crisis, but the government countered the effects of the slowdown by increasing bank lending, lowering interest rates, and introducing fiscal stimulus spending that was among the largest in the world as a percentage of GDP.

"Australia also suffered relatively little from the crisis. Its only decline in GDP occurred in the fourth quarter of 2009, meaning that Australia did not enter into a recession," the report said.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

India, U.S. review defence cooperation

Ahead of Defence Minister A.K. Antony's visit to the United States next month, New Delhi and Washington exchanged notes on fostering defence cooperation through more equipment sales, greater joint exercises, frequent high-level exchanges and the possibility of inking three military agreements.

Led by Under Secretary of Defence on Policy Michèle Flournoy, a team from the Pentagon interacted with its Indian counterparts to prepare for a meeting of the Defence Policy Group, the joint committee headed by top civilian bureaucrats in the two Defence Ministries, that charts bilateral defence cooperation.

“We also want to get some progress ahead of [U.S. President] Barack Obama's visit [in November],” Ms. Flournoy told journalists here after meeting Mr. Antony, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar.

“Natural partner”

Maintaining that the U.S. viewed India as a “natural partner,” the Pentagon official indicated Washington's wish list. It includes purchasing more American-origin defence equipment, “realistic” joint exercises and stepped up visits by Indian armed forces officers.

Ms. Flournoy described the three military agreements, which the U.S. has been pursuing with India, as “foundational” in nature. This is the same terminology she used while interacting with journalists in the U.S. last month. But during this interaction, she provided more details of why the U.S. wants India to ink the agreements despite its having been cold-shouldered on this count for nearly two years.

The three “foundational agreements” being offered have been inked with many close partners, and this has enabled the Pentagon to offer cutting-edge defence technology. They also allow the U.S. to “share” the next higher level of technology. “It is not a requirement [for closer cooperation]. It is a choice of the government of India,” she clarified.

“Of course, economics is involved,” Ms. Flournoy said, while pointing out that the agreements and weapon purchases from the U.S. would fulfil its strategic aim of ensuring inter-operability in future and investing in a long term relationship.

The U.S. feels there has been “tremendous progress” in the number of joint exercises, but the need is to make them “meaningful” so that they are “reflective of the real world situation.” Asked to explain what that meant, Ms. Flournoy said the exercises must prepare both sides to jointly undertake counter-piracy operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

“We also have to respond to maritime security and freedom of navigation and against those contesting the accepted rules of the world. We will have to work to prevent that. We have to be prepared in terms of capability.”

In the area of visits, the Pentagon says although “several hundred” Indian military officers have visited the U.S. for courses or interaction, it would like to “broaden the range.”

Asked whether the U.S. was monitoring weapon sales to Pakistan in order not to upset the military balance with India, Ms. Flournoy pointed out that since terrorism came home to Pakistan, there had been a shift in political will, which was reflected in the military operations in South Waziristan. U.S. weapon sales to Pakistan, she said, were focussed on equipment efficiency to support the current counter-insurgency operations.

China denies “exporting” convict labour for overseas projects

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Tuesday denied reports that Chinese firms were employing prison labour on overseas projects, describing the reports as “nonsense with no facts or evidence.”

The government was responding to recent articles by New Delhi-based scholar Brahma Chellaney, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research, which described the use of forced convict labour on infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka and in building 4,000 houses in the Maldives.

Mr. Chellaney told on Tuesday that he had learnt of the use of prison labour last year, but only wrote the articles after receiving “unimpeachable confirmation from two different countries where China has brought in convict labourers to work on projects.” Tuesday's statement from the government “had not denied the specific cases” in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, he said.

Several diplomats spoke to on Tuesday from countries where Chinese firms were working on big projects dismissed the likelihood that prison labour was being widely used, citing security concerns as well as an already sensitive situation involving Chinese firms overseas.

“Chinese workers overseas is already a sensitive issue, just by their being there and working on projects in large numbers,” said a diplomat from an African country. “Why on earth will China make matters worse by shipping out criminals? It is very hard to believe.”

However, the possible use of convict labour by Chinese firms in Sri Lanka has already stirred debate. Opposition politicians claimed in June that 25,000 Chinese convict labourers were working on the island. The debate even spread to Tamil Nadu, where AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa called on New Delhi to look into the matter, suggesting there was a possible security threat to India.

Mr. Chellaney said Opposition parties in several countries in Africa and in Papua New Guinea had voiced concerns at the presence of Chinese workers with criminal records.

The Ministry of Commerce dismissed the suggestion in Tuesday's statement, saying that under its codes on overseas contracted projects, “enterprises could only send staff [members] who were eligible and had no criminal records.”

China does, however, have a system of forced prison labour within its borders, with convicts sent to “reform through labour” camps. According to Mr. Chellaney, the forced prison labour system had in the past year “started following Chinese investments overseas” to select projects.

The Ministry of Commerce said in the statement that convicted criminals and people sent to re-education through labour camps “are prohibited from travelling abroad under the Chinese law.” Convicted criminals in China are also generally denied passports.

In India, visa restrictions do not allow the employment of large numbers of Chinese workers, limiting the number to one per cent of the total number of locals employed on power projects.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hugo Chavez rejects US ambassador-designate to venezuela

President Hugo Chavez on Sunday rejected Larry Palmer as the US ambassador-designate to Venezuela, and urged US President Barack Obama to "look for another candidate."

"How can you think I'd accept this gentleman coming here? You'd best withdraw him, Obama. Don't insist, I'm asking you," said Chavez in his weekly "Alo Presidente" radio and television show.

Palmer recently voiced concern about Cuba's growing influence in the Venezuelan military, which, he said was "considerably low" in morale and professionalism.

In written answers to a US lawmaker's questions -- his nomination as ambassador must be confirmed by the Senate -- Palmer also said there were "clear ties" between leftist Colombian guerrillas and Chavez's government.

Venezuela's foreign ministry on Thursday protested Palmer's statements as "interference and interventionism" and asked the United States for an explanation before he was confirmed in his post.

Palmer "can't come here as ambassador," said Chavez. "He disqualified himself by breaking all the rules of diplomacy. He messed with all of us. He can't come here."

"The best thing the United States government can do is to look for another candidate," for ambassador to Venezuela, he added.

The US government has said it shares Palmer's concerns about Venezuela, but denied it was interfering in Venezuela's internal affairs.

In its annual report on terrorism, the US State Department on Thursday said anti-terrorist cooperation with Venezuela had dropped to a minimum and that Venezuela's alleged support to Colombia's leftist FARC guerrillas was still uncertain.

Palmer, in his written response, offered the most detailed explanation yet of Washington's view of the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela, an issue that Bogota and Caracas have been quarreling over.

He said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) "maintain camps in Venezuela, and members of the FARC high command have occasionally appeared in public in Caracas."

"The Venezuelan government has been unwilling to prevent Colombian guerrillas from entering and establishing camps in Venezuelan territory," Palmer added.

Chavez on July 22 broke off diplomatic relations with Colombia and reinforced its military presence at the border.

Since the inauguration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday, however, both countries have made overtures and said they are prepared to talk to resume normal relations.

“Transit facility to India will benefit Bangladesh”

India will get access to its landlocked seven north-eastern States through Bangladesh, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni has said.

“Unfettered movement of people and goods will be taking place,” she said at a press conference here on Sunday, a day after the visit of Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Dhaka was thinking about transforming Bangladesh into a regional hub. “When the entire region will be brought under connectivity, India will surely have access to its north-eastern States.”

Rejecting the Opposition's criticism, Ms. Moni said the transit facility given to India would bring economic benefits to Bangladesh too. “We cannot remain isolated for long.”

Asked whether the projects lined up for implementation with the $1-billion credit from India would only serve Indian interests, she said: “We need to come out of the anti-India mindset.” “If connectivity is in place, all will get the benefit. It will be a win-win situation.”

She also urged the Opposition to shed the “negative thinking” that road and port development would only benefit India. Improved rail links would benefit both Bangladesh and India's eastern region.

Ms. Moni said that not only trucks from Nepal would have access to the Banglabandha land port in Bangladesh; Bangladeshi trucks would also have access to Nepal through India. This would be done through an exchange of letters, instead of any protocol.

Cross-boundary tracks

Dhaka had given its consent for laying the cross-boundary rail tracks. “Yes, people from West Bengal will be able to reach the northeast. We will also be able to go to the northeast directly,” she said in answer to a question whether the proposed railway projects would enable the Indian nationals to reach the north-east through Bangladesh.

“We are working to ensure free flow of people and products in the whole region, including Bhutan and Nepal.”

Medvedev pledges all-round assistance to Abkhazia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reasserted Moscow's strong hold on Georgia's breakaway territories, visiting Abkhazia on the second anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war and pledging all-round assistance to strengthen the region's independence from Georgia.

“We will develop good-neighbourly relations with Abkhazia in the political, economic and security spheres,” Mr. Medvedev said on Sunday during his first visit to Abkhazia since Russia recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after foiling Georgia's August 8, 2008 armed attempt to win back control of the separatist regions. Mr. Medvedev said Russia's decision to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was “painful” but proved to be the “right decision over time” that averted “a protracted bloody conflict”.

The Russian leader's trip to Abkhazia was a high-profile demonstration of Moscow's defiance of Western demands for undoing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. During her visit to Georgia last month U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of “invasion” and “occupation” of Georgian territories two years ago and demanded Russian withdrawal from the region.

Mr. Medvedev made it clear that Russia had come to stay. Visiting a newly built Russian military base in Abkhazia he said that Russian military presence helped “prevent certain extremist forces… from sowing enmity and hatred and committing bloodshed”.

In a statement on the anniversary of the 2008 war, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who two years ago ordered his army to attack South Ossetia, vowed to continue the fight against “Russian aggression”.

“We will carry on our struggle to the end and will free Georgia,” said Mr. Saakashvili.

$1 billion loan from India suicidal: Khaleda Zia

Bangladesh's opposition leader Khaleda Zia has termed as "suicidal" the $1 billion deal the government signed with India's Exim Bank last Saturday.

The Sheikh Hasina government has rejected the charge.

"There was no need to borrow the amount from India now. People will have to shoulder the burden," Zia was quoted as saying by New Age newspaper on Monday.

Zia, who is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's chairperson, called the deal suicidal.

BNP has alleged that the interest on the loan Bangladesh would have to pay would be "seven times higher than the international rates".

The interest rate is 1.75% for a 20 year loan that carries a five-year grace period for repayment.

Rejecting the charge, foreign minister Dipu Moni said: "When they (BNP) are in power they follow a policy of pleasing India, and when they are in opposition they are vocal against India."

"The opposition is not finding any issue for politicking now, so they are launching pointless campaigns."

In an editorial on Monday, The Daily Star said that "the interest rate in the commercial category is considered to be rather moderate".

Responding to the BNP's demand that multilateral financing agencies could be approached, the editorial said that soft-term loans with only a service charge are usually difficult to obtain, particularly in the present global financial climate.

"It is not the amount of loan that is so important as the definitive stimulus being provided to a massive undertaking that both sides are obliged to fulfil so that the dividend that Bangladesh is looking for in terms of infrastructure development, removal of trade gaps, service charge revenues and wider regional connectivity are attained by it," the newspaper said.

The loan put "Indo-Bangladesh relations on a new, but potentially stronger footing".

China hits out at U.S. “double standards”

Chinese strategic analysts have hit out at the United States' move to discuss a nuclear deal with Vietnam, which would reportedly involve sharing of nuclear fuel and technology and backing Vietnam's right to enrich its own fuel.

A leading Chinese strategic expert on nuclear policy and disarmament told The Hindu on Sunday that any move to allow Vietnam, which neighbours China, to enrich its own uranium would be “double standards” on the part of the U.S. and undermine U.S. efforts to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.

“If the U.S.-Vietnam nuclear deal is a copy of the U.S. deal with the United Arab Emirates, there is no fuss. But if it [involves] enrichment of spent fuel, that is the matter we worry about,” Zhai Dequan, the deputy secretary general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told The Hindu in an interview.

“In theory, there is no abnormality for an NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] member-country to make peaceful use of nuclear energy; what matters is the enrichment of the spent fuel,” he said. “Yet, if another ASEAN country, Myanmar, does the same, there would be accusations and pressure. This is called double standards.”

The U.S. is reportedly in “advanced discussions” with Vietnam on a deal that would facilitate the sharing of nuclear fuel and technologies, as well as preserve Hanoi's right to enrich its own fuel, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The report has triggered concerns in China, coming against the backdrop of heightened tensions in relations between China and its Southeast Asian neighbours, including Vietnam, over long-pending territorial disputes over the South China Sea. At the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered Beijing by calling for a resolution of the dispute “without coercion”, and saying it was in the “national interest” of the U.S.

U.S.' regional ambition

The Foreign Ministry here described her remarks as “an attack on China.”

Mr. Zhai said the deal would likely be seen in China in the context of Ms. Clinton's remarks, which suggested a move by the U.S. to “internationalise” the South China Sea issue as well as expand its footprint in the region.

Like the U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal, this deal, too, has been perceived in China as part of a greater American “containment” strategy. “[The deal] means the U.S. is strengthening cooperation with Vietnam to contain China,” said Fan Jishe, a researcher of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in an interview with the official China Daily. “To Washington, the geo-strategic consideration has surpassed nuclear non-proliferation.”

The deal follows renewed debate over nuclear non-proliferation in recent months following China's announcement that it would set up two additional nuclear reactors in Chashma in Pakistan. The deal, analysts said, went against the mandated, but non-enforceable, guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which bans the transfer of nuclear technology to non-NPT countries. Chinese analysts have, however, defended the deal, and denied that it would weaken the non-proliferation regime, arguing that the reactors would be placed under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Sri Lankan panel to start work

The Commission on “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation” constituted by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is scheduled to hold its first public sitting on August 11 here.

Besides six sittings here, it would have two sittings in Vavuniya district in the north this month.

The Commission has been appointed under Section 2 of the Commission of Inquiry Act to probe the incidents leading to the war between the LTTE and the security forces.

The Commission has been given the mandate to attend to the concerns and recommend measures to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such a situation in the interest of national unity and reconciliation among all communities.

According to an official statement issued here the eight-member Commission has had a few meetings earlier to discuss modalities of work and it was decided to hold sittings in the affected areas in the North and East to enable the public to have easy access to the Commission and enhance awareness of its work.

The Commission will inquire and report on facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the cease-fire agreement operationalised in February, 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to the May, 2009 and whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bear responsibility in this regard.

It has been asked to report on the institutional, administrative and legislative measures which need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence of such concerns in the future, and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities in the island nation.

Nepal parliament to look into Indian Embassy 'threat'

Nepal's Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations and Human Rights will look into the complaint by a Maoist MP that he was threatened by the Indian ambassador to Nepal and a senior consular official Tuesday when it has summoned Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala to discuss the issue.

The move came after Maoist lawmaker Ram Kumar Sharma lodged an official complaint at the parliament secretariat, urging the government to provide him with security. In his complaint, Shah has also urged action against a senior official of the Indian Embassy, Subrata Das, saying Das threatened him, which was tantamount to an attack on Nepal's sovereignty.

Sharma says he was pressured by the official as well as the Indian ambassador, Rakesh Sood, for supporting Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda during the prime ministerial elections. In 2008, Sharma had won the election from the Terai Madhes Loktantrik party, and claimed to have had good relations with the embassy. However, he told TNN the ties soured after he joined the Maoists about 13 months ago.

"Das warned me my daughter would be made to leave Kendriya Vidyalaya and that I would be abducted," Sharma told TNN.

"He also abused me after accusing me of helping the Maoists buy MPs during last Friday's election. When the ambassador called me, I had the feeling that he knew about the threats made about expelling my daughter."

While the Indian ambassador is currently in Myanmar, the embassy has declined to comment on Sharma's accusations, calling them "baseless".

"The response smacks of arrogance," Sharma said. "If the embassy had said it regretted the furore and would investigate the allegations and take action accordingly, it would have been more diplomatic and acceptable. Things like this are bound to affect Nepal-India relations."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

கல்லெறிதலுக்கு முற்றுப்புள்ளி எப்போது?

காஸ்யப முனிவரின் பெயரால் காஷ்மீர் என பெயர் பெற்று, ஆதிசங்கரர் விஜயம் செய்த சாரதா பீடத்தின் அதிதேவதையாக உள்ள சரஸ்வதி தேவியின் இருப்பிடமாகத் திகழும் ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீர் இன்று இந்தியாவுக்கு பெருத்த சவாலாக எழுந்துள்ளது.

1947-ல் இந்தியா சுதந்திரம் பெற்றபோதே, காஷ்மீரை தன்னுடன் இணைத்துக் கொண்டுவிட வேண்டும் என நினைத்த பாகிஸ்தான், பழங்குடியினரைத் தூண்டிவிட்டு உள்ளே நுழையவைத்தது.

ஆனால், அந்த முயற்சியை இந்தியா முறியடித்தபோதும், அதன் பின்னர் 1965-லும், 1999-லும் மீண்டும் இந்தியாவுடன் போர் தொடுத்தது.

நமது வரைபடத்தில் நாம் பார்க்கும் காஷ்மீரில் 1,01,338 சதுர கி.மீ. பரப்பளவு மட்டுமே நம் வசம் உள்ளது. 85,846 சதுர கி.மீ. பாகிஸ்தான் ஆக்கிரமிப்பு காஷ்மீராகவும், 37,555 சதுர கி.மீ. பரப்பளவு சீனா வசமும் உள்ளது.

இப்போது நம் வசம் உள்ள காஷ்மீரிலும் கடும் சவால் எழுந்துள்ளது.

"சிரித்துக் கொண்டே பாகிஸ்தானைப் பெற்றோம்; போராடி ஹிந்துஸ்தானத்தைக் கைப்பற்றுவோம்' என தேசத்தைப் பிரித்தபோது பாகிஸ்தான் தலைவர்கள் கூறினார்கள். அந்தத் தலைவர்களின் கனவை மெய்ப்பிக்கும் வகையில் அவர்களது வழித்தோன்றல்கள் இந்தியாவில் கலவரத்தைத் தூண்டி வருகின்றனர்.

நேரடிப் போரில் வெல்ல முடியாது என்பதைப் புரிந்து கொண்ட பாகிஸ்தான், தனது உளவு அமைப்பான ஐ.எஸ்.ஐ.யின் மூலம் கடந்த பல ஆண்டுகளாக காஷ்மீரில் பிரிவினைவாத சக்திகளுக்குத் தேவையான உதவிகளைச் செய்துவருகிறது.

தொடர்ந்து மாநிலத்தில் நிலவி வரும் பிரச்னை காரணமாக லட்சக்கணக்கான பண்டிட்டுகள் மாநிலத்தில் இருந்து அகதிகளாக நாட்டின் பல்வேறு பகுதிகளுக்குச் சென்றுவிட்டனர்.

இப்போது, புதிய உத்தியாக மக்களைத் தூண்டிவிட்டு பாதுகாப்புப் படையினர் மீது கல்லெறிய வைக்கின்றனர். முதலில் இளைஞர்கள் மட்டும்தான் கல்லெறிதலில் ஈடுபட்டனர். அடுத்து பெண்களும், முதியவர்களும் கூட இந்த கல்லெறிதலில் ஈடுபடத் தொடங்கியுள்ளனர்.

மக்களுக்கு இடையே பயங்கரவாதிகள் சிலர் புகுந்து கொண்டு பாதுகாப்புப் படையினரை நோக்கிச் சுடுகின்றனர். தற்காப்புக்காக பாதுகாப்புப் படையினர் சுடுவதில் சிலர் உயிரிழக்கும்போது நிலைமை இன்னும் உணர்ச்சிகரமானதாக ஆகிவிடுகிறது.

இதுபோதாதென்று பாதுகாப்புப் படையினரின் முகாம்களைத் தாக்கி தீவைத்துக் கொளுத்துவதிலும் இவர்கள் ஈடுபடுகின்றனர்.

நிலைமை எந்த அளவுக்கு விபரீதமாகி இருக்கிறது என்றால் சையத் அலி ஷா ஜீலானி தலைமையிலான ஹுரியத் அமைப்பு, ஞாயிற்றுக்கிழமையை வேலைநாளாகவும், வெள்ளிக்கிழமையை விடுமுறை நாளாகவும் அறிவித்துள்ளது.

அத்துடன், இந்திய அரசாங்கத்துக்கு ஒத்துழைக்காதவண்ணம் ஜூலை 28 முதல் பொதுமக்கள் யாரும் மின் கட்டணம், விற்பனை வரி, தண்ணீர் வரி ஆகியவற்றை கட்ட மறுக்க வேண்டும் என ஹுரியத் அமைப்பு கேட்டுக் கொண்டுள்ளது.

காஷ்மீர் பல்கலைக்கழகமும், பாரத ஸ்டேட் வங்கியும் ஜூன் 25-ம் தேதி செயல்பட்டுள்ளன என்பதைப் பார்க்கும்போது அங்கு அரசாங்கம் என்று ஒன்று உள்ளதா என்பதே கேள்விக்குறியாகி உள்ளது.

ஏன் இந்த நிலை? எந்தவொரு போராட்டமுமே திடீரென ஒரே நாளில் உருவாவதில்லை. அதுவும் காஷ்மீர் பிரச்னை கடந்த 60 ஆண்டுகளுக்கும் மேலாக நீடித்து வருகிறது.

ஆனால், மக்கள் இந்த அளவுக்கு இந்திய எதிர்ப்புணர்வை வெளிப்படுத்துவார்கள் என்பதைக் கணிக்க உளவு அமைப்பு தவறிவிட்டது என்றே சொல்ல வேண்டும்.

ஏழ்மையின் காரணமாகவும், வேலையில்லாத் திண்டாட்டத்தின் காரணமாகவும்தான் மக்கள் இதுபோன்ற வன்முறையில் இறங்கியுள்ளனர் என்றும் அதனால் அதற்குரிய சில திட்டங்களை அறிவிக்க வேண்டும் என்றும் மத்திய அரசு முடிவு செய்துள்ளதாக பத்திரிகைச் செய்திகள் கூறுகின்றன.

இப் பிரச்னைக்கு வேலையில்லாத் திண்டாட்டம் என்ற காரணத்தில் முழு உண்மையில்லை. அதுதான் உண்மையென்றால் நமது நாட்டில் வறுமைக் கோட்டுக்குக் கீழ் வாழும் சுமார் 50 கோடி பேர் தினசரி கல்லெறிதலிலோ, துப்பாக்கியைத் தூக்குவதிலோ ஈடுபட்டிருக்க வேண்டும்.

அது காஷ்மீராக இருந்தாலும் சரி, மாவோயிஸ்டுகளாக இருந்தாலும் சரி, மக்களை சிலர் தூண்டி விடுகிறார்கள். எல்லாப் பகுதிகளிலும் சீரான வளர்ச்சிப் பணிக்கு திட்டமிடும் அதே நேரத்தில் தூண்டிவிடுபவர்களை அடையாளம் கண்டு தனிமைப்படுத்துவது அவசியம்.

பிரிவினையின்போது பாகிஸ்தான் சென்றவர்கள் படும் துன்பங்களையும், இந்தியாவுடன் இருப்பதே நன்மை பயக்கும் என்பதையும், இந்தியப் பற்று உள்ள உள்ளூர் தலைவர்கள் மூலம் மக்களுக்குப் புரியவைக்கும் வகையில் மத்திய அரசின் நடவடிக்கைகள் அமைய வேண்டும்.

எந்த விலை கொடுத்தும் காஷ்மீரை நாம் தக்கவைத்துக் கொள்வோம் என்பதை பிரிவினைவாதத் தலைவர்களுக்கு அரசு உணர்த்த வேண்டும்.

பாகிஸ்தானைப் பிரித்துக் கொடுத்ததால் பிரச்னை தீரும் என நினைத்தே தேசம் பிரிக்கப்பட்டது. அதனால், கடந்த 63 ஆண்டுகளாக காஷ்மீரில் கலவரம், மும்பைத் தாக்குதல், நாட்டின் பல இடங்களில் வெடிகுண்டு தாக்குதல் என தொடர் பிரச்னைகளை சந்தித்து வருகிறோம்.

காஷ்மீர் நம் கையை விட்டுப் போனால், அடுத்து மேற்கு வங்கத்துக்கும், அசாமுக்கும் குறிவைக்கப்படும். அதற்கான பணிகளை ஏற்கெனவே பாகிஸ்தானும், வங்கதேசமும் தொடங்கிவிட்டன.

மேற்கு வங்கத்திலும், அசாமிலும் லட்சக்கணக்கானோர் இரு தேசங்களிலும் இருந்து ஊடுருவியுள்ளனர். அவர்களை வெளியேற்ற வேண்டும் என உச்ச நீதிமன்றம் அறிவுறுத்தியும் கூட அவர்களை வெளியேற்ற முடியவில்லை. காரணம் இரு மாநிலங்களிலும் ஊடுருவியவர்களை ஓட்டு வங்கியாகக் கருதி, அவர்களுக்கு ரேஷன் அட்டை உள்பட சகல வசதிகளையும் இரு மாநில அரசுகளும் செய்து கொடுத்துவிட்டன. 1947-ல் ஆந்திர மாநிலம், ஹைதராபாதில் ரசாக்கர்கள் எனப்படுவோர் பாகிஸ்தானுடன் சேரப் போவதாக முரண்டு பிடித்தபோது, ராணுவத்தை அனுப்பி தனது உறுதியான நடவடிக்கை மூலம் அவர்களை அப்போதைய உள்துறை அமைச்சர் சர்தார் வல்லபபாய் படேல் பணியவைத்தார்.

அதுபோன்ற துணிவான, சாதுர்யமான நடவடிக்கையால் காஷ்மீரைக் காப்பாற்றுவதன் மூலம்தான் பாகிஸ்தானுக்கு உரிய பதிலை நாம் தர முடியும். செய்யுமா மத்திய அரசு?

இலங்கையில் மனித உரிமை மீறல்: சர்வதேச மூத்த குடிமக்கள் குழு கவலை

இலங்கையில் உள்நாட்டுப் போர் என்ற போர்வையில் தமிழர்களை சிறுபான்மை சமுதாயமாக சுருக்கிவிட்டது இலங்கை அரசு என்று சர்வதேச மூத்த குடிமக்கள் குற்றம் சாட்டியுள்ளனர். ஆனால் இந்த பிரச்னை இதுவரை கண்டு கொள்ளப்படவேயில்லை என்று அவர்கள் குறிப்பிட்டனர்.

சர்வதேச மூத்த குடிமக்கள் குழுவில் தென்னாப்பிரிக்க முன்னாள் அதிபர் நெல்சன் மண்டேலா, அமெரிக்க முன்னாள் அதிபர் ஜிம்மி கார்ட்டர், ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் சபையின் முன்னாள் பொதுச் செயலர் கோபி அன்னான், நோபல் பரிசு பெற்ற தென்னாப்பிரிக்க பாதிரியார் டெஸ்மான்ட் டுட்டூ ஆகியோர் இடம்பெற்றுள்ளனர். இக்குழு 2007-ம் ஆண்டில் உருவாக்கப்பட்டது.

இலங்கையில் நடந்துள்ள இனப் படுகொலையை சர்வதேச சமூகம் குறிப்பாக சீனா, இந்தியா ஆகிய நாடுகள் கண்டுகொள்ளாமல் விட்டுவிட்டன என்றும் அவர்கள் குறிப்பிட்டனர்.

இலங்கையின் இந்த செயல்பாடு குறித்து சர்வதேச சமூகம் எவ்வித கருத்தும் தெரிவிக்காமல் உள்ளது. இதற்காகவே இலங்கை அரசு தனக்கு சாதகமான நாடுகள் மூலம் கருத்து தெரிவிக்காமல் தடுத்துவிட்டது என்றும் அவர்கள் சுட்டிக் காட்டியுள்ளனர்.

மனித உரிமை மீறல் விஷயத்தில் சர்வதேச சமூகம் தனது அணுகுமுறையில் பாரபட்சமாக இருக்கக் கூடாது. இலங்கை அரசின் செயல்பாடு சர்வதேச அளவில் அமைதி மற்றும் பாதுகாப்புக்கு மிகப்பெரும் அச்சுறுத்தலாகும்.

கடந்த ஆண்டு இலங்கை அரசு, தனி நாடு கோரி போராடி வந்த விடுதலைப் புலிகள் அமைப்பை முற்றிலுமாக அழித்தது. அப்போது போர் காலத்தில் கடைப்பிடிக்கப்படும் நெருக்கடி நிலை விதிகளை ஓராண்டுக்குப் பிறகும் இலங்கை அரசு பின்பற்றுகிறது. 30 ஆண்டுகளாக நடைபெற்று வந்த உள்நாட்டுப் போருக்கு முற்றுப்புள்ளி வைக்கும் விதமாக தமிழர்களை சிறுபான்மை சமூகமாக ஒடுக்கும் முயற்சியில் இலங்கை ஈடுபட்டுள்ளது என்றும் குற்றம் சாட்டியுள்ளனர்.

போரினால் பாதிக்கப்பட்டவர்களுக்கு உரிய நிவாரணம் அளிக்க வேண்டும் என்பதில் இலங்கை அரசு முனைப்புடன் செயல்பட வேண்டும். இப்போதும் அங்கு மனித உரிமை மீறல், பத்திரிகையாளர்களுக்கு தடை உள்ளிட்ட நடவடிக்கைகள் மிகவும் அபாயகரமானவை என்று டுட்டூ குறிப்பிட்டுள்ளார்.

இதற்கு முன்னர் இலங்கையில் நடைபெற்ற மனித உரிமை மீறல் குறித்து சர்வதேச குழு ஓரளவு தகவல்களை வெளியிட்டிருந்தது. ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் சபை பொதுச் செயலர் அமைத்துள்ள குழுவுக்கு இலங்கை அரசு ஒத்துழைப்பு அளிக்க வேண்டும் என்று மூத்த குடிமக்கள் குழு வலியுறுத்தியுள்ளது. அதேபோல உள்ளூர் மற்றும் சர்வதேச தன்னார்வ தொண்டு நிறுவனங்களுக்கு அனுமதி அளிக்க வேண்டும். இதற்காக எவ்வித கட்டுப்பாடும் விதிக்கக் கூடாது என்று கேட்டுக் கொண்டுள்ளனர்.

காலனி ஆதிக்கத்துக்கு எதிராக போராடிய மூன்றாம் உலக நாடுகளில் இலங்கையும் ஒன்று. இங்கு மனித உரிமை மீறல் நடைபெறுவதை ஏற்க இயலாது.

இதை இலங்கையின் நட்பு நாடுகள் உணர்ந்து அங்கு அமைதி நிலவ முயற்சி எடுப்பதோடு மீண்டும் ஒரு உள்நாட்டு போர் ஏற்பட வழிவகுத்துவிடாமல் தடுக்க வேண்டும் என்று அல்ஜீரியாவின் முன்னாள் வெளியுறவு அமைச்சர் லக்தார் பிராமி கூறினார்.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Inflation a major worry for policy makers

In its recent review of monetary policy, the Reserve Bank of India has listed high inflation as its foremost concern. Even as food price inflation and, more generally, consumer price inflation are showing some moderation, they are still in double digits. Non-food inflation is on the rise and demand side pressures are clearly evident.

Economic growth, however, is getting consolidated fast in India and is becoming broad-based. In fact there are increasing concerns over capacity constraints emerging in a wide range of sectors. The RBI puts it succinctly: “With growth taking firm hold, the balance of policy stance has to shift decisively to containing inflation and anchoring inflationary expectations.'' Amplifying that policy stance, the RBI makes the following points.

WPI inflation has been in double digits since February. Headline inflation was 10.6 per cent in June 2010. This was higher than the 10.2 per cent recorded in May. Inflation figures for March and April were revised upwards. There is a strong possibility that the revised data for May and June will reveal higher inflation than earlier estimates showed.

Second, price rise in primary food articles continues to be in double digits. Non-food manufactured products inflation (which has a substantial 52.2 per cent weight) has risen from (-) 0.4 per cent to 7.3 per cent. Non-food items inflation (WPI excluding food products and food articles), which was near zero in November 2009, rose sharply to 10.6 per cent in June. Significantly non-food items contributed over 70 per cent to WPI inflation. This suggests that inflation has become much more generalised.

Baseline projection

Three, despite some moderation, consumer price inflation remains in double digits. The central bank's baseline projection for WPI inflation for March 2011 has been raised to 6 per cent from the 5.5 per cent indicated in the April policy statement. A number of developments since April have influenced the RBI. There has been an increase in prices of many administered/regulated items. Petroleum products, for long subject to administered prices, have been partially deregulated. The immediate impact will be about one percentage point rise in WPI inflation, assuming global oil prices remain stable.

The near term outlook for inflation will be conditioned by a number of factors. The spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall in the remaining period of the south-west monsoon is one critical factor. A good kharif harvest will dampen inflation over the short-term. Other important factors that have a bearing on inflation are the levels of oil and other commodity prices globally. Idle global capacity in a number of sectors can facilitate imports at competitive prices. However, strong growth in India has pushed up demand side pressures.

Growth revised to 8.5 %

The RBI has revised its growth projection for the current year to 8.5 per cent, up from the 8 per cent with an upward bias indicated in the April policy statement. This is in line with all recent official forecasts. The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council had just a few days earlier forecast an identical growth rate. According to the RBI, the main risks to growth will emanate from abroad. With weak recovery in the industrialised countries, the performance of countries such as India will be affected. A more significant risk is from a potential slowdown in capital inflows. India's current account deficit has widened. Robust domestic growth drivers have pushed up imports widening the trade deficit.

Capital inflows have played a crucial role in the balance of payments. If due to increased risk aversion capital inflows decline the comfortable buffer between inflows and current account deficit will be narrowed. Lower inflows may also constrain domestic investment, which is critical to achieving and sustaining high growth rates.

On the other hand, given that central banks in the advanced economies are likely to continue with accommodative monetary policies, flows to emerging markets in search of higher return may increase. Large capital inflows beyond the absorptive capacity of the domestic economy will however pose a challenge for monetary and exchange rate management.