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EDITORIALS

Creamy Bill
Centre buckles under pressure

T
HE Union Cabinet’s clearance to the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Bill, 2006, in its original form, providing reservation even to the creamy layer among the socially and educationally backward classes is unfortunate.

Win some, lose some
Congress has done better than other parties
T
HE results of byelections are not quite so clear-cut as to think in terms of which party is the most satisfied lot. Rather, one has to talk about which may be the least dissatisfied of them all. The place of honour goes to the Congress which has done better than its rivals.



EARLIER STORIES

One-issue party
December 8, 2006
Jolt for Akalis
December 7, 2006
From minister to lifer
December 6, 2006
A step forward
December 5, 2006
Invite Hurriyat to talks
December 4, 2006
We will tackle women’s problems jointly: Kamal
December 3, 2006
Setback for BJP
December 2, 2006
Protest within limits
December 1, 2006
Politics of oil
November 30, 2006
Rajnath again
November 29, 2006
Maya in the soup
November 28, 2006

Operation clean-up
Commendable voluntary effort on Budda Nullah
I
T is gratifying that the villagers have joined hands to clean up Budda Nullah. One will have to wait to see how effective the end result is but the effort itself is commendable. The stinking nullah that passes by Ludhiana has been polluted for far too long by the discharge of industrial waste, untreated domestic sewage and toxic rainwater from the fields.
ARTICLE

Public diplomacy
An Indian option in changed circumstances
by G.S. Bhargava
T
HE security scenario in our neighbourhood is fluid, if not messy. Hardly had the India-Pakistan relationship, traditionally fraught with hiccoughs, somewhat stabilised with the Havana agreement between the Pakistan President and the Prime Minister institutionalising an arrangement for joint handling of terrorism, than the Chinese authorities uncharacteristically unveiled a claim on the Indian north-eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh, formerly called Northern Eastern Frontier Agency or NEFA at the time of the 1962 India-China border hostilities.

MIDDLE

Snow White House
by S. Raghunath
A
telephone subscriber in the United States who dialled his laundry got connected instead to the top-secret telephone of President George Bush.

OPED

Water wars loom large
Poor access to water hampers development
by Anita Inder Singh
W
hisky is for drinking, water is for fighting. Quoting Mark Twain, this excellent report reminds us that water is essential for human survival. The prospect of international water wars may loom large in a world believed to be facing water scarcity, but the good news is that the existence of more than 200 water treaties has prevented such wars.

93 MPs face criminal charges
A
s many as 10 ministers in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ministry and 93 Lok Sabha MPs face criminal charges ranging from murder to rape, besides extortion and even attempt to commit suicide.

Inside Pakistan
Military’s thinking
by Syed Nooruzzaman
I
f President Gen Pervez Musharraf has received flak from different sections of his country’s leadership and the media representing the conservative school of thought for his latest formula on Kashmir, some newspapers, particularly those in English, have described it as a “realistic” solution of the festering problem between India and Pakistan.

World Bank poverty plans ineffective
by Peter Goodman

Despite an intensified campaign against poverty, World Bank programs have failed to lift incomes in many poor countries over the past decade, leaving tens of millions of people with stagnating and even declining living standards, according to a report released Thursday by the bank's autonomous assessment arm.

 

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EDITORIALS

Creamy Bill
Centre buckles under pressure

THE Union Cabinet’s clearance to the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Bill, 2006, in its original form, providing reservation even to the creamy layer among the socially and educationally backward classes is unfortunate. In doing so, it has rejected the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s recommendation to exclude the creamy layer from the ambit of quota. This shows the Cabinet buckled under pressure from some constituents of the United Progressive Alliance. For quite some time, there has been pressure on the Prime Minister to include the creamy layer by allies like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Lok Janshakti Party. Even in the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP, there are sections which are opposed to exclusion of the creamy layer. Obviously, the government could not ignore their resistance to exclude the creamy layer even though the Left parties have been in favour of exclusion.

Significantly, the Parliamentary Standing Committee endorsed the Oversight Committee Chairman Veerappa Moily’s suggestion that exclusion of the creamy layer would help the really deserving ones among the OBCs. Equally significant is its observation that any decision to the contrary would “defeat the underlying purpose of making higher education inclusive and equity-based.” In its report, the committee also said that the creamy layer could be considered only if vacancies remain in any course after admitting the extremely backward among the OBC candidates.

This was a reasonable suggestion and, in all fairness, the Centre should have given it a try. However, with Assembly elections to states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab round the corner, the Cabinet, perhaps, did not want to give a slogan to the Opposition. For instance, the ruling Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh would have attacked the UPA government for denying the benefit of quota to the creamy layer. Disturbingly, quota has become an instrument in the hands of all political parties to protect their vote banks. Those belonging to the creamy layer among the OBCs are the most vocal and they wield considerable influence on all political parties. Small wonder that no political party is prepared to antagonise them.
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Win some, lose some
Congress has done better than other parties

THE results of byelections are not quite so clear-cut as to think in terms of which party is the most satisfied lot. Rather, one has to talk about which may be the least dissatisfied of them all. The place of honour goes to the Congress which has done better than its rivals. That is saying a lot with some unexpected wins. That these have been offset by equally unexpected losses is another matter. The major Congress triumph lies in wresting the Bobbili Lok Sabha seat from the Telugu Desam — albeit with a paper-thin margin — which it made sweeter by also claiming five of the 11 Assembly seats which went to the polls. At the same time, it was roundly defeated by TRS president K. Chandra Sekhar Rao by over two lakh votes in the Karimnagar Lok Sabha constituency. It is not only the defeat which must be rankling. The result also shows that the demand for a separate Telangana state will now gain momentum. Mr Rao had resigned from the Manmohan Singh Cabinet in protest against the lack of concrete steps towards creating a separate Telangana.

Similar warning has also gone out to the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in Maharashtra. Two more Shiv Sena legislators, who followed Narayan Rane into the Congress, have retained their Chimur and Dariyapur assembly seats. That shows how far the earth has slipped from under the feet of the combine.

With the Congress and Mamata Banerjee going separate ways, West Bengal has continued to oblige the CPM. But in Kerala, the latter’s margin has been shrinking alarmingly. Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his Chief Minister son H. D. Kumaraswamy have suffered a humiliating defeat in Karnataka’s prestigious Chamundeshwari byelection. If Deve Gowda could not avert the defeat of joint JD(S)-BJP candidate despite camping there for several weeks, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s vigorous campaign came a cropper in Dungarpur. The UPA as a whole has reasons to be smug, considering that it has won a total of eight seats, with the NDA getting just two while one went to an Independent. That means that the dreaded anti-incumbency factor has not been too prominent this time.
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Operation clean-up
Commendable voluntary effort on Budda Nullah

IT is gratifying that the villagers have joined hands to clean up Budda Nullah. One will have to wait to see how effective the end result is but the effort itself is commendable. The stinking nullah that passes by Ludhiana has been polluted for far too long by the discharge of industrial waste, untreated domestic sewage and toxic rainwater from the fields. The task the volunteers have taken up on a call from Sant Jaspal Singh is formidable. Their enthusiasm, coupled with government efforts, would, hopefully, clear up this menace to public health. The obvious source of inspiration is Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal of Kali Bein fame.

Taking a cue from him, villagers in Ludhiana’s Sidhwan bet area are trying to construct on their own a makeshift bridge across a rivulet after the government failed to come to their rescue The damage the wealthy residents of Ludhiana have caused to the nullah is sought to be undone by the villagers, who have pooled their machines and manpower to carry out the gargantuan task. The world over the rule is that the polluter must pay for the pollution. However, thanks to the sleepy administration, industries on the banks of Budda Nulla have not installed water treatment plants. In some cases, water treatment plants have been set up but they are seldom operational. It is another matter that nature has made the residents to pay for the damage to the environment in its own way. They have been suffering from diseases like typhoid, jaundice, gasteroenteritis and cancer. The Punjab Government will have to wake up to the serious problem of water pollution.

The case of Budda Nullah should not be seen in isolation. The two major rivers — Satluj and Beas — and the various canals which flow through the state are heavily polluted by the discharge of domestic and human waste. Lack of awareness as well as administrative negligence has contributed to the poisoning of waters in Punjab. Reports of mass death of fish in the rivers have ceased to surprise people. Even the ground water has become unfit for human consumption at many places in Punjab. This calls for serious introspection and action at the state level.
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Thought for the day

If one advances confidently in the direction of their dreams, and endeavours to lead a life which they have imagined, they will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. — Henry David Thoreau
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ARTICLE

Public diplomacy
An Indian option in changed circumstances
by G.S. Bhargava

THE security scenario in our neighbourhood is fluid, if not messy. Hardly had the India-Pakistan relationship, traditionally fraught with hiccoughs, somewhat stabilised with the Havana agreement between the Pakistan President and the Prime Minister institutionalising an arrangement for joint handling of terrorism, than the Chinese authorities uncharacteristically unveiled a claim on the Indian north-eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh, formerly called Northern Eastern Frontier Agency or NEFA at the time of the 1962 India-China border hostilities.

China has always rejected the McMahon line alignment of India-Tibet border in the east as a legacy of the Imperialist past, insisting on re-negotiation and realignment of the boundary. Officials of the two countries had gone through the arduous exercise lasting several months, if not years, of re- examining the boundary alignment but in vain.

By then China had incorporated into its Tibetan territory the Aksaichin plateau. Following the incorporation into China of Tibet and the flight to India of the Dalai Lama with tens of hundreds of his followers the bilateral relations had become bitter. That was the background to the 1962 border hostilities. But there was perceptible change for the better in the situation when P.V. Narasimha Rao and Deng Xio-Ping had agreed on a sector-by-sector negotiation of the border alignment. Officials of the two governments began talks for the purpose and several rounds were held every six months, alternatively in New Delhi and Beijing.

The thread was picked up about 10 years later during the visit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Beijing in August, 2003. By then eight rounds of border talks had taken place at the rate of twice a year with India and China alternatively hosting the negotiations.

Then came Mr Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing with a large entourage, including foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, and National Security Adviser Brijesh Mishra in June, 2003.

About 25 months later in August, 2005, during the return visit to New Delhi of Wen Jiabao, it was agreed to raise the level of the negotiations with a view to hastening the effort. Inclusion of Brijesh Mishra as head of the Indian officials team for the border talks with corresponding upgradation of the Chinese team was the political component to the exercise.

The joint statement of the two prime ministers spelled out “political parameters” and “guiding principles” for border agreement, which was envisaged as a “package settlement.” A target of 10 billion dollars was set for mutual trade to be achieved by April, 2005. The idea was to add economic/ commercial linkage to the proposed border settlement.

More significantly, Defence Minister George Fernandes visited China in the wake of the Prime Minister’s trip and had “useful talks” with ex-President of China Jiang Zemin against the background of a campaign of disinformation that Fernandes was an inveterate opponent of China and had called it India’s “enemy number one”.

More importantly, the agreement contained Chinese decision to give up its claim to Sikkim but as a quid pro quo for India’s reiteration — in the most unequivocal terms — of its 1954 recognition that the Tibetan Region of China was its integral part. Likewise, there was indication that Beijing expected similar Indian acceptance, formally, of Aksai Chin being a part of Tibet in return for Chinese acknowledgement of Arunachal Pradesh as part of India.

As it happened, the NDA did not win the 2005 general election and the successor regime seemed engrossed in its domestic agenda of consolidating itself. In the process Sino-Indian relations remained on the back burner. Against this background, it is depressing that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee sparred with his BJP critics on the Chinese claim to Arunachal Pradesh instead of realistically responding to it by accepting the fait accompli of the status of the Aksai Chin plateau!

This flies in the face of the establishment of a new division of Public Diplomacy in the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on May 5 last. According to Joseph Nye, the Harvard professor who is regarded as the soft power guru, public diplomacy is basically recourse to soft power in place of “hard” power. Nye has defined soft power as “the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals.” It is distinct from recourse to the traditional carrot-and-stick method of reward and punishment in dealing with other States as in the 19th century.

Anyhow, in the prevailing circumstances, India, or for that matter any country, including the lone super power, the US, is not in a position to use force or threaten its use for achieving its objectives. It is more so in the context of the upsurge of Al-Qaeda like terrorists with access to weapons of mass destruction.

As Professor Nye put it, terrorism is “democratisation of technology ” over the past decades. Traditional State centric punitive measures would not do in overcoming such non-State practitioners of terrorism.

The American military success in Afghanistan is a graphic instance in point. While toppling the oppressive Taliban regime, the “precision bombing” of Afghanistan countryside destroyed only a small fraction of the Al Qaeda network. Proximate countries like India have been reaping the whirlwind in the shape of outrages like the 11 July Mumbai train blasts which claimed over 200 innocent lives in a matter of minutes.

At the practical level, overcoming terrorism will require patient, unspectacular civilian cooperation among countries in intelligence sharing, police work, tracing financial flows and border controls. The recent preemption in London of an Al-Qaeda-like plot to blow up civilian jetliners in the mid-air during trans-Atlantic flights by use of liquid explosives was an instance in point. Alerted by Washington, the British and Pakistan intelligence cooperated in nabbing Pakistani origin terrorists both in the UK and Pakistan. It was the upshot of patient, joint effort among intelligence countries and the States, which is soft power in action.

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MIDDLE

Snow White House
by S. Raghunath

A telephone subscriber in the United States who dialled his laundry got connected instead to the top-secret telephone of President George Bush.

— A news report

Hello, Snow White Laundromat? Look, this is utterly outrageous and I’m certainly not going to take it lying down. Yesterday, I sent you three trousers and four shirts to be dry-cleaned and pressed and I’ve got them back minus all the buttons and fly zippers. What kind of a laundry service are you running anyway?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but you’ve got the wrong number. This is the emergency hotline scrambler telephone line to the President and used to alert him to a Russian nuclear missile attack and the imminent annihilation of the United States and the free world. I ask you to please hang up immediately and try dialling the correct number of the Snow White Laundromat.”

“Okay, this is the emergency hotline scrambler telephone line to the President and I’m a man from Mars. Last week, I sent you my Wrangler Levi’s to be stonewashed and darned and I’ve got them back minus the ‘I Love America’ patch on the bum. I tell you, I’ve never seen a lousier laundry service in my life.”

“I repeat most urgently, sir this is the emergency hotline scrambler telephone line to the President and blocking it causes a grave national security alert and US military forces worldwide being placed on the highest state of readiness to launch an all-out thermo-nuclear attack. I request you most urgently to hang up immediately.”

“Look you can’t brazenly rip off my buttons and fly zippers and bum patches and then try to fob me off with this emergency hotline scrambler malarky. A month ago, I sent you my white dressing gown to be dyed saffron and pressed. I was thinking of giving up the senior vice-presidency of the Microsoft Corporation and hitting the road with the Hare Krishna guys. You still haven’t delivered my saffron dressing gown and my ardour for exotic eastern religions and nirvana has cooled off. I tell you, I’ve got a good mind to take my custom elsewhere.”

“I repeat most urgently, sir this is the emergency hotline scrambler line to the Oval Office. Why, even now deadly Russian SS. 22 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles might be on their way and with you blocking the hotline, they might well zap us!”

“No, they won’t, not a country with a laundry that can’t wash its customers’ clothes well. Listen, I’ve got another complaint. You advertise—we wash your things in high-speed, computer-controlled automatic machines. Well, last week as I was driving along Lake Chicago, I swear I saw your workmen beating clothes on a rock and washing and rinsing them in a stagnant cesspool by the lake. I ask you, is your advertising fair. Another thing. Your starching.....”

“I repeat most urgently, sir this is the emergency hotline scrambler telephone line to the White House and to convince you — though this might cost me my job — I’ll put the President himself on the line.”

“Hello, this is the President. Don’t tell me that the Russians have got a drop on us.”

“Mmm... you do sound like ol’ man Georgie Bush. For heaven’s sake, what are you doing working in the lousy Snow White Laundromat?”
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OPED

Water wars loom large
Poor access to water hampers development
by Anita Inder Singh

Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting. Quoting Mark Twain, this excellent report reminds us that water is essential for human survival. The prospect of international water wars may loom large in a world believed to be facing water scarcity, but the good news is that the existence of more than 200 water treaties has prevented such wars. Even during armed conflicts water agreements between India and Pakistan have remained in force.

There is no water scarcity in the world. But a combination of poverty and poor governance blocks at least one billion people from gaining access to clean drinking water, and enough water to sustain a livelihood.

People are forced to compete for access to water. This competition has led to the collapse of water-based ecological systems, groundwater depletion and declining river flows. India’s groundwater tables are declining by more than a metre annually. South Asia will almost have to double its sanitation provision within the next decade to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Where water points exist in rural areas they may not be functioning - in Burkina Faso, Malawi and Mali at least a third may be out of order at any given time.

Poor access to water, or unclean water, consumed by so many, hampers human development, which is about allowing people to lead a life they value and to realise their potential as human beings.

Almost two million children die each year because they lack clean water and decent sanitation. Water-borne and parasitic diseases cost lives and cause economic losses in the world’s poorest countries.

Water shortage makes women and children among the biggest losers of opportunities for human development because they tend to be the ones queuing to collect scarce water. They thus lose the time and chances to acquire education and to earn money which could help them to improve the quality of their life.

The barriers to progress include the low priority given to water delivery by international and national leaders. Water delivery is the responsibility of governments. But in many countries fragmented governance structures, lacking mechanisms of accountability and incoherent policies create man-made water shortages.

At another level, leakages, for example, cause valuable water to be wasted; they also result in contaminated water. No less than 16 Chinese cities with a population of more than half a million lack wastewater treatment so that people are forced to boil water before drinking it (a familiar story in Delhi?).

Vested interests in society and government can block reform that would improve water delivery.

The real cost is not about financing efficient water governance but about the lost chances for economic and human development caused by the scarcity of water and decent sanitation. The report makes a strong case for the upgrading of water delivery in national strategies and in global planning and action.

It also calls for access to water to be made a human right and the implementation of policies to ensure that everyone gets at least 20 litres a day.

Investment in infrastructure in rural and urban areas and investment in standpipes could help all to get water. Schools, in particular, should have the facilities to provide clean water to their pupils.

Prerequisites for progress include better political leadership, with the vision to raise the priority given to clean water delivery.

The creation of channels or mechanisms through which the public can participate in water governance could also yield benefits. For example, Citizen Report Cards, initiated in Bangalore, tried in several states in India, and in some other countries, have brought the voice of users into government structures to make water governance more accountable and transparent.

The poorest households, and more generally, those without access, should be helped through subsidies to have decent sanitation at home.

A global action plan on water and sanitation is needed to raise finance to improve water supply, develop the use of local capital markets and raise public awareness.

Investment should be made in demand-led approaches through which service providers respond to the needs of communities. Privatisation can balance supply and demand but it is not synonymous with equity; can people living on less than $2 (160 rupees) a day really be asked to pay user charges?

Thanks to the concerted efforts of NGOs and local authorities, Bangladesh is on target to achieve nationwide sanitation coverage by 2010. It is worth noting that their campaign appealed to three drivers of change: disgust, self-interest and a sense of individual responsibility.

This approach is now being tried in China, India, Zambia and Cambodia; and it will be interesting to see the results in those countries.

Comment on Human Development Report 2006: Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis (UNDP: New York, 2006)
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93 MPs face criminal charges

As many as 10 ministers in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ministry and 93 Lok Sabha MPs face criminal charges ranging from murder to rape, besides extortion and even attempt to commit suicide.

Criminality in politics is not a new theme, but it has come into focus once again after former coal minister and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Shibu Soren was sentenced to life imprisonment on Tuesday for murder.

A day later, cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu got a suspended sentence of three years for causing the death of a man in a road rage. Soren is still a Lok Sabha member while Sidhu has resigned from the House.

The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), which has chronicled the affidavits filed by MPs before they contested the polls, says the increasing induction of criminals in politics is having a negative impact on democracy in India.

Among the central ministers, Mohammed Ali Ashraf, a minister of state in the Human Resources Development Ministry, faces serious charges ranging from extortion and links with the underworld and kidnapping gangs.

Textiles Minister Shankersinh Vaghela faces two corruption cases.

The other ministers still battling out their cases in courts include Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, Minister of State for Agriculture Taslimuddin, Minister of State for Women and Child Development Renuka Choudhry (obstructing a public servant), Minister of State in Food and Public Distribution Suryakanta Patil, Minister of State for Urban Development Ajay Maken, Minister of State for Water Resources Jai Prakash Yadav (cheating and criminal conspiracy), Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (Religion Institution Act) and Minister for Company Affairs Prem Chand Gupta (foreign exchange violations).

"Even if there is one parliamentarian with a criminal case, it is one too many. We will continue to expose politicians with criminal antecedents," said ADR convener Bibhu Mohapatra.

"How can we allow tainted politicians like Arun Gawli, Pappu Yadav and Sadhu Yadav, who have a history of winning ballots with bullets, now rule the people?" Mohapatra asked.

Another study by the Bangalore-based Public Affairs Centre (PAC) says many MPs from almost all political parties are involved in crime.

According to it, one out of 12 MPs have cases that could attract penalties amounting to imprisonment for one year or less while one out of two (over 50 percent) have cases that can lead to imprisonment of five or more years.

There is a regional concentration in terms of criminal cases.

Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh comprise 28 percent of all MPs but account for over 50 percent of MPs with high penalty criminal cases.

"A larger proportion of the less educated MPs have criminal cases against them (compared to) colleagues with higher education. Whether there is any causal connection between education, assets and criminality is not clear.

Criminal cases are also found to be more among MPs in the age group 36-45," the study says.

In addition, it found that there are no criminal cases registered against 83 percent of Congress and 80 percent of BJP MPs.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leads in the proportion of criminal cases (43.5 percent).

In respect of criminal cases with severe penalties (five or more years' imprisonment), RJD tops the list with 34.8 percent of MPs, BSP with 27.8 percent and Samajwadi Party with 19.4 percent.

The Congress MPs in this category account for 7.6 percent of their total number in parliament. For BJP it is 10.9 percent.

— Indo-Asian News Service
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Inside Pakistan
Military’s thinking
by Syed Nooruzzaman

If President Gen Pervez Musharraf has received flak from different sections of his country’s leadership and the media representing the conservative school of thought for his latest formula on Kashmir, some newspapers, particularly those in English, have described it as a “realistic” solution of the festering problem between India and Pakistan. In a December 7 editorial, “Shifting the goalposts”, The News of the Jang group says: “President Musharraf’s four-stage peace plan for resolving the Kashmir conflict should be welcomed because of its practicality and because it seems to be a recognition of the fact that there may be no military solution” to the Kashmir question.

The daily sees in the General’s proposals “a sea-change in the military establishment’s thinking as well, which probably realises that in today’s world economic power is perhaps the biggest guarantor of a country’s long-term security and, in fact, feeds its military strength (a case in point: America).”

The News hopes that “the hawks will be outweighed by the moderate and forward-looking forces, who understand that permanent peace between the two nations is in the interest of their citizens.”

A more liberal English daily, Dawn, points out that General Musharraf’s proposals “marked a clear departure from Pakistan’s known position on Kashmir, namely, that a solution of the dispute be sought on the basis of the UN resolutions that called for a plebiscite in Kashmir.  India, on the other hand, has so far made no clear proposal that would indicate a departure from its inflexible position.

Criticising India for having “never had the vision or the inclination to come up with any new proposals”, the Dawn editorial, “New ideas on Kashmir”, sees in General Musharraf’s formula “another opportunity” for India “to show flexibility and realism — as Pakistan has done, despite being the aggrieved party — and consider these suggestions as a basis for sincere negotiations.”

No doubt, as the paper says, “only a solution to this issue can ensure a lasting peace in South Asia”.

Army’s business activities

The Pakistan government’s liberal attitude in taking care of the interests of both the serving and retired armed forces personnel is well known. But very few people outside Pakistan would be aware of the fact that the military has been busy expanding its business and commercial activities. The News on December 4 carried an interesting piece on the subject by Farhatullah Babar.

“The military may be the largest taxpayer as is claimed (by General Musharraf), but what we know from the proceedings in parliament is that its 
business and commercial activities have received the largest preferential treatment. On December 30 last year the Senate was informed that out of a 
total of 94 contracts awarded to the FWO or the Foaji Welfare Organisation (a military outfit in the business of roads and infrastructure building) 57 projects costing over Rs 25 billion had been awarded without bids”, points out Babar.

He says, “To give plots to military officers for building their own houses is a genuine welfare activity and no one would grudge it. But is the building of multi-billion integrated luxury homes with golf courses in a posh locality in Lahore or the multi-billion dollar development of Karachi beach in association with foreign partnership also a legitimate welfare activity that should be undertaken by the military?”

Babar quotes November 26 editorial of The News which questioned Lahore’s luxury housing project “being undertaken by the Defence Housing Authority in cooperation with an overseas partner.”

Waiting for elections

When will the much-awaited elections be held in Pakistan? Or will the polls be conducted at all? According to a Jang report, which quotes senior minister Sher Afgan, the Presidential election will be held between September 15 and October 15 next year.

Since the members of the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies cast their votes to elect Pakistan’s President, the polls for constituting these Houses will obviously be held early next year. But the general election, as the report says, will conclude in 2008.

There has also been speculation that the elections may be postponed if the Muttahida Majlise Amal (MMA), the alliance of religious parties, asked its members to resign from the Pakistan National Assembly as it had threatened over the issue of the Women Protection Bill. Besides this, the MMA had announced a country-wide agitation to paralyse life all over Pakistan. The religious conglomerate has, perhaps, changed its tactics in view of the advice from various quarters, including the mass media, that this kind of agitational politics will only help perpetuate military rule.

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World Bank poverty plans ineffective
by Peter Goodman

Despite an intensified campaign against poverty, World Bank programs have failed to lift incomes in many poor countries over the past decade, leaving tens of millions of people with stagnating and even declining living standards, according to a report released Thursday by the bank's autonomous assessment arm.

Among 25 poor countries probed in detail by the bank's Independent Evaluation Group, only 11 saw reductions in poverty between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, while the other 14 suffered the same or worse rates over that term. The group said the sample was representative of the global picture.

``Achievement of sustained increases in per capita income, essential for poverty reduction, continues to elude a considerable number of countries,'' the report declared, singling out as particularly ineffective programs aimed at the rural poor. Roughly half of such efforts from 2001 to 2005 ``did not lead to satisfactory results.'' During that period, new World Bank loans and credits aimed directly at rural development totaled $9.6 billion, or about one-tenth of total bank lending, according to the group.

In a statement distributed with the report, World Bank management rejected its assessment as "overly bleak,'' arguing that the overall trend is improving in every region of the Earth except Africa. Bank administrators noted that reducing poverty requires economic growth, something they said the world has been enjoying: Over the last two years, developing countries collectively grew by about 5 percent to 6 percent per year, excluding swiftly developing China and India. Even sub-Saharan Africa has grown by more than 4 percent annually over the last five years.

But the evaluation group study found that growth has rarely been sustained, exposing the most vulnerable people--the rural poor--to volatile shifts in their economic fortunes. Only two in five of the countries that borrowed from the World Bank saw per capita incomes rise continuously from 2000 to 2005, the study reported, and only one in five saw increases for the full decade from 1995 to 2005.

The study emphasized that economic growth is, by itself, no fix: How the gains are distributed is just as important. In China, Romania, Sri Lanka and many Latin American countries, swiftly expanding economies have improved incomes for many, but the benefits have been limited by a simultaneous increase in economic inequality, putting the spoils into the hands of the rich and not enough into poor households, the study concludes.

In Georgia, the Bank has helped foster growth by lending in support of the oil industry, but this has created few jobs, so the impact on poverty has been negligible, the study found. Brazil, on the other hand, has seen little growth but significant advances against poverty because wealth has been distributed more evenly.

"For a sustained reduction in poverty over a period of time, it really pays to worry about both growth and distribution,'' said Vinod Thomas, director-general of the Independent Evaluation Group. "It has been a mistaken notion that you can grow first and worry about the distribution later.''

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
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