|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Saturday, August 29, 1998
bias of CBI
DUPLICITY and double standards are part of American diplomacy. The latest example on this score is the US stance on terrorism. While the USA has reserved the right to hit terrorists in any country, it does not want India to exercise a similar option in Kashmir on the ground that it can run the risk of setting off a wider conflict. The worldwide resentment apart, hasnt Americas own action in Afghanistan and Sudan widened its area of conflict in the Muslim world and beyond? Even otherwise, the American bombing of suspected terrorist outfits in Afghanistan and the chemical plant in Sudan was an immoral act. It violated the sovereignty concept as enshrined in the UN Charter. In the case of Sudan, there are even doubts about the American claim that the plant was producing nerve gas and other deadly chemicals which come in handy in any biological warfare. As for the terrorist bases in Afghanistan, Washington conveniently overlooks the role it has played in sponsoring and nurturing Islamic fundamentalist groups in collaboration with Pakistan. In fact, the entire training-cum-military base in Afghanistan was a joint venture of the ISI and the CIA with Osama bin Laden playing a key role. The USA has provided the militant forces money and sophisticated weapons while Pakistans main input has been manpower. All this has helped the Taliban grow to a monstrous size. However, Pakistan has exploited this opportunity to groom terrorists to fight its proxy war in Kashmir. Still, ironically enough, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering does not wish to see the harsh reality of Pakistan sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir! Does it mean that thousands of innocent people who have lost their lives at the hands of the trigger-happy mercenaries in Jammu and Kashmir are lesser human beings simply because they are not American citizens? Washington gets agitated when a handful of its citizens fall victim to the Islamic terrorists. It does not even care to shed crocodile tears for the suffering Indian citizens in Kashmir. Coming from a super power which boasts of its democratic and human values of freedom, liberty, fraternity, etc, this stance is nothing but shameful, to say the least.
Has New Delhi got any
answer to the American duplicity? As it is, the Vajpayee
government looks like a divided house. At one stage,
Union Home Minister L.K. Advani put on a brave face and
talked about hot pursuit to eliminate
terrorists from Kashmir and beyond. Defence Minister
George Fernandes has come out against the hot pursuit
concept itself. Even Mr Advani now does not favour a
US-type action against terrorism or a policy of hot
pursuit. However, he says that the government will adopt
a multi-pronged strategy to stamp out the menace of
terrorism from the country. What this multi-pronged
strategy will be is not known. Apparently, senior leaders
of the Vajpayee government lack clarity as well as a firm
commitment. It is one thing to indulge in rhetoric and
quite another to translate high-sounding words into a
concrete plan of action. Be that as it may, the country
has to firm up its resolve to fight terrorism tooth and
nail. The fear of the unknown has to be eliminated. The
people of India want the BJP leaders to show results
rather than mislead them with contradictory policy
statements and postures.
JUSTICE is catching up with the security scamsters. And the Bombay High Court has handed down the first guilty verdict and what it rightly calls a deterrent punishment in the sensational Rs 2500 crore white collar crime. A former high-flying broker who normally dealt only in crores, and a top manager of a nationalised bank are to undergo seven years of rigorous imprisonment for carelessly handling Rs 33 crore worth mutual fund shares. But then the year was 1992 and raging Big Bull Harshad Mehta was writing out cheques for, say, Rs 500 crore with ease. Banks readily gave literally, that is hundreds of crores of rupees to anyone wanting to gamble in the booming securities market. Seen against this background, Hiten Dalal and bank officer Mohan were small fries, and their case itself was a minor sub-plot in the larger scandal played out mostly in Mumbai. As the first case to be decided of the stock market scandal, there will be wide welcome to both the verdict and the quantum of punishment. It is only natural in a country where economic offences normally go unpunished and where the premier investigating agency, the CBI, has an extremely poor record of success in prosecution. The S.N.Variava order should hopefully inhibit future fraudsters and also spur the crime-busting outfit to bring criminals to book.
Yet, there is scope to
apprehend that the judgement may not stand the close
scrutiny of the Supreme Court where an appeal is to be
filed within two weeks. There are two reasons for this
inference. One, the apex court has a case regarding the
ownership of these shares worth Rs 33 crore. Two, there
is much force in Dalals argument that the
transaction between him and Canfina, a subsidiary of
Canara Bank, suffered from a technical flaw and involved
no criminal intention. As a broker for another bank,
Andhra Bank, he purchased from out of his funds the
Cansigo shares and kept them with himself. When the time
came for him to repay Rs 25 crore to Canara Bank, he sold
the lot of shares and received a cheque for the remaining
Rs 8 crore. The illegality was that the shares could not
be sold during the first year of purchase and they were
not in his name but in that of Andhra Bank. (This bank
admits that it did not pay for the shares.) The fraud and
siphoning off theory had its origin in some
CBI officials seizing this lot as benami shares and
refusing to release them. The High Court has gone along
by holding them as tainted shares and those who handled
them as automatically criminal-minded. Funnily, the
Variava judgement will greatly help in the settlement of
the ownership of the shares case, and if the shares are
handed over to Canfina, the siphoning off
charge will collapse. Much will depend on how the Supreme
Court looks at the variava verdict.
Dearer postal service
IT is basic human nature that one does not want to pay more today for anything for which he was paying a little less yesterday. As such, the increase in postal charges by 20 to 150 per cent is bound to annoy quite a few people. But one should take a rational look at the entire tariff structure to have a greater appreciation of how things stand. Postal service is highly subsidised and the rates are among the lowest in the world. Imagine being able to send a postcard for one rupee at a time when even a toffee costs as much. Ordinary postcards and inland letters have not been touched in the latest hike. Even otherwise, while lamenting that the price of moneyorder forms has been increased by as much as 150 per cent, one must realise that all that has happened is that the forms that earlier cost 10 paise will now cost 25 paise. It is true that increased postal tariff will lead to an additional revenue of Rs 270 crore but that will still leave a deficit of Rs 695 crore uncovered. One would not really grudge this increase provided the government utilises the money to improve the postal services. After all, these are used by the poorest of the poor, with those better off having already shifted to other means like couriers, faxes and what not.
At the same time, there is
need for sparing a thought for the rural areas which
continue to be served by postal service. Most far-flung
areas have only extra departmental agents who provide an
apology of a service. There are as many as three lakh of
them in the country operating from such odd places as
grocery shops or even private huts. But their
contribution should be appreciated. Each of these postmen
(some of them double as postmasters) covers an area as
large as 50 sq km. For a salary of only about Rs 1300 per
month they are supposed to maintain not only themselves
and their postoffice but also arrange for a
bicycle for trekking to far-off villages. Otherwise, they
have to walk to various villages to deliver mail. Mind
you, there is no provision for leave. If they have to go
out, they have to make arrangement for a temporary
replacement. This practice was started in British time
and still continues. One has every reason to get very
angry on reading reports of mail being dumped in a ditch
or a pool by irresponsible postmen but at the same time,
society owes it to them that they can also earn a decent
living. The poor dakia has done enough for us
to be worthy of sympathy and better pay. Can the
government balance the interests of the consumers and
those of the postal employees?
INERTIA, BIAS OF CBI
HOW independent is the CBI? Or how quick? Why does it take months or years for completing investigations into cases against the high and the mighty. Why does it accumulate hundreds of witnesses in every case? When will the trial of the Bombay blast case come to an end? Or the bank scam case? Or the other mega scams? What is their success rate? You need not risk your own judgment in answer to the above questions. Consider what the Supreme Court has to say about the premier investigating agency of the country.
......a large number of prosecutions launched as a result of monitoring by the Court in this matter (hawala case) have resulted in discharge of the accused at the threshold. It took several years for the CBI to commence investigation and that too, as a result of monitoring by this Court.... However, discharge of the accused on filing of the chargesheet, indicates.... that the trial court at least, was not satisfied that a prima facie case was made out by the investigation. These facts are sufficient to indicate that either the investigation or the prosecution, or both, were lacking. So said the then Chief Justice Verma, with a tinge of despair, in the case of Vineet Narayan Vs. UOI. Justice Verma had put his entire judicial skill and experience in the monitoring of the Hawala case, with all the determination at his command. When he began the process of monitoring in 1994, he wrote: Inertia was the common rule whenever the alleged offender was a powerful person. In another order, he recorded: ....a scheme giving the needed insulation from executive (to CBI and even from the controlling executive is imperative.
In the last order delivered by the Supreme Court in the said case, disappointment or perhaps disgust of the Court was quite apparent, when it recorded: For quite some time, the disinclination of the agencies to proceed with the investigation, was apparent .... The continuing inertia of the agencies to even commence proper investigation could not be tolerated any longer. In view of the persistence of that situation, it became necessary, as the proceedings progressed to make some orders which would activate the CBI and other agencies to at least commence a fruitful investigation. The Court evolved the procedure of monitoring investigation of criminal offences, hitherto considered to be in the exclusive domain of the police.
While the Court itself recorded its partial dissatisfaction with the outcome of the monitoring, resulting in large number of accused being discharged by the trial court, it proposed setting up of an independent Review Committee, to insulate the CBI from extraneous influence, in the future. The Court gave comprehensive directions for bringing the superintendence over the CBI, under the Central Vigilance Commission, which in turn is to be granted a statutory status. The Court also laid down detailed guidelines for the appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Director, CBI and senior officials of the Bureau. The guidelines also seek to streamline the functioning of the CBI, by laying down the time limits for filing of chargesheet and grant (or refusal) of sanction.
Whether or not the guidelines will result in a marked difference in the quality of investigation and prosecution is, to say the least, uncertain. Going by the past experience of the manner in which important directions of the Supreme Court have been implemented, one remains fairly sceptical about the CBI being able to perform its designated task of bringing the guilty to book without fear or favour with due expedition, either under the existing or the proposed dispensation. The trial in the Bombay blast case may still take another decade. Much before that all the accused would have been released. It has the potential to turn itself into the longest criminal trial in the world in terms of the number of witnesses cited and documents produced. The bank scam trial has gone on for so long that it has lost social relevance. Whatever punishment may or may not be awarded, will be the case of either too little or too late.
In the USA, a similar situation was confronted, when investigations against the President were invariably stonewalled, since the FBI, the premier investigating agency involved in the cases of Federal offences, is directly under the President. Similar conflict of interest between duty to law and responsibility to President, became perceptible. America seems to have found an effective solution. In 1978, the Congress enacted a legislation, providing for Special Prosecutor, to investigate the charges against high Federal officials. However, in the wake of the experience of hiring and firing of the Watergate prosecutors, in 1983, the Congress enacted a new law for the appointment of Independent Counsel. The Independent Counsel is appointed on the application from the Attorney General, made to the division of the Court, having prosecutorial jurisdiction over the case, in which his appointment is sought. The majority of the majority party or the minority party, on the Committee of Judiciary of either houses of Congress, can also request in writing, to the Attorney General for the appointment of the Independent Counsel. On receipt of such a request, the Attorney General, within 30 days, is required to notify the division of the Court, for the appointment. The division of the Court, entrusted with the appointment of the Independent Counsel, is constituted by the Chief Justice of the United States, out of three Circuit Court Judges or Justices. According to the statute, an Independent Counsel can be removed from office, only by way of impeachment and not otherwise.
The efficacy of the Independent Counsel is perhaps much greater, as both the powers of investigation and prosecution are vested in him. Compare the investigation by the CBI, spanning over 10 years, into the Hawala cases (out of which for about three years, the investigation had the backing of the Supreme Court) with the role of Ken Starr. The letter relying on proper investigation techniques, turned the allegation against the President of spotting a fresh face in a ripe dress, at a White House Party, and eventually inviting her into a private study, for oral sex, and remarking that if she never told, no one would know, into the biggest scandal of the 90s. There were no diaries with Ken Starr, containing vital leads of funding of top leaders through foreign currency, revealing a grave situation, posing even a threat to the unity and integrity of the nation. The leads, in the form of initials of the high and the mighty, had remained buried, till they were ordered to be dug out by the Supreme Court.
Linda Tripp met Starr on Sunday, January 12, 1998, and was stunned by the speed of Starrs response. The next day, Tripp was outfitted with a body wire, so that they could tape her meeting with Lewinsky at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. The recording of this meeting between Tripp and Lewinsky confirmed the genuineness of the tapes that she had turned over to Starr, the previous day. On the third day, Lewinsky drove Tripp home from the Pentagon and offered her a mysterious set of talking points about how to handle her deposition. She even showed her a document which recommended that Tripp change her story about Willey, and suggested that she depose that she could have smeared her own make-up and messed up her clothes. The document also recommended to Tripp that she could dismiss Lewinsky as a liar and a stalker of the President.
Within three days of learning about the youthful indiscretion or adult lapses of the President of the United States, which could also be a story of a flirtatious, love-starved girl, given to bragging about her conquests, and spinning fantasies about her love affairs, the Independent Counsel, Ken Starr, had collected enough evidence that could support charges of prejury and obstruction of justice.
Starr told the FBI that he was going to need additional resources to do all the legwork. He immediately started issuing subpoenas that would send agents throughout the city and the country. Within a day, the FBI agents descended on the Watergate to search Lewinskys apartment, looking for her black and blue dresses, some T-Shirts that Clinton allegedly gave her, a gold pin and trinkets from the Black Dog gift shop on Marthas Vineyards, where the Clintons vacationed and her computer. Simultaneously, Starr subpoenaed the Pentagon and the White House for phone records, computer records, as well as personal records of both Tripp and Lewinsky. Within one week, the Independent Counsel, Starr, converted all the different charges against Clinton, that separately appeared to be manageable to the White House, into one indivisible scandal. Armed with all the material, he went to the Justice department, to demand a key to the skeleton that would give him access to the whole ugly story of sexual misconduct of Bill Clinton. Overnight, he became the worst nightmare for the most powerful man on earth. The authority that the Congress has vested in an Independent Counsel will never allow anyone to make him go away from the darkest corners of his marriage. With Starr having focused on Presidents love life, tracking every woman the President even worked with, leered at, was alone in a room with, to try to prove a pattern of sexual harassment, it is understood that the list of women in his sights is a mile long.
Our follies in J&K
THOSE in the bureaucratic hierarchy who say that the Chamba killings came as a surprise to them are either out of touch with the ground reality or are deceiving themselves more than they can deceive others. For, it is known for several years now that militants have been pumping money into this area and that their sympathisers have been purchasing large tracts of land in the border belt of Himachal Pradesh. The toll in three killing at Chamba (at the time of writing) has already gone up to 42. The involvement of certain locals in the killing of 35 people at Kalaban and Satrandi has also been proved.
Anyone with a vision cannot deny that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan has spread its tentacles to include Himachal Pradesh in its proxy war. What is strange is that while we do not get tired of blaming Pakistan for fomenting trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, we have not bothered to reflect even once on our follies which give a free hand to the ISI to call the shots. Our dilemmas stem from three main factors, that is, intelligence failure, indecisiveness and reluctance to learn any lessons from our mistakes.
That our intelligence agencies have let us down both in war as well as in the counterinsurgency operations is evident from a few examples. In May, 1965, when Pakistan let loose its Gibralter Force of trained guerrillas into the valley, we had no inkling about it until some locals told us after a few days that they were seen at Ramban bridge south of Banihal. Mercifully, at that time the alienation of the locals was not as much as it is today.
In Chamba the militants had gunned down two cops as early as in September, 1993, and this was followed by the kidnapping of herb collectors by them. The militants had killed four herb collectors in June last. Yet we were caught napping in August. How come the ISI has been successful in promoting some reliable informers even in Himachal Pradesh where our excuse like the one in J and K that the population is hostile to us does not hold good? Now think of our intelligence which ostensibly has not been able to cultivate some dependable agents who could give us advanced information about the impending strikes by the militants in August in Chamba.
Coming to war, the blame for our losing Chhamb sector in the 1965 war was put on the intelligence agencies, for they did not know about the intentions and the strength of the enemy opposing us in this sector. We again lost Chhamb in the 1971 war primarily due to our intelligence failure. According to our intelligence sources only one Pakistani brigade was earmarked for this sector. But what we discovered during the war was that more than five brigades under the Pak 23 Infantry Division operated in this sector. Not only that, the higher intelligence, including RAW had assessed that Pakistans main offensive would be launched towards Poonch and not against this sector.
This is not to say that our higher military commanders were not blameworthy in this sector. They could not make up their minds in choosing between the offensive or defensive operations. So much so that the task of our division was changed four times in two months preceding the outbreaks of hostilities on December 3, 1971.
Most of our problems have got proliferated over the years because of the indecisiveness of our political pandits who seem to believe in their self-coined dictum: what can be put off till tomorrow, dont do it today. They think that every problem if left to itself will find its own solution. If this was not so, we would not have been cutting a sorry figure in J and K (now add Himachal Pradesh to it) and in the North-east today. Many a time when we have all the information with us we still do not act fast because it has become a habit with us not to act first but to react to what Pakistan does. Time is not far when Himachal Pradesh, especially Kangra and Kulu districts, will also become a safe heaven for the militants because they have already been spotted near Manali.
Ironically enough, we
refuse to learn any lessons from our blunders. We have
taken no action to revamp our intelligence agencies
despite their failure over and over again starting from
the 1962 debacle. It cannot be denied that success of any
operation largely depends on the accurate and timely feed
in by the intelligence agencies. Another important lesson
that we should have learnt by now is that military action
alone cannot quell insurgency and it is the political
input that can bring the insurgents back to our fold.
A priceless treasure
DESPITE having been born in a Princely State, it appeared that the royalty was rare. It was totally inaccessible. Like the deity in the temple, the royal were seen and worshipped from a distance. They never mingled with the people. One of the occasions when I could have a look at a Prince was in the early fifties. We had been taken on a school tour. We were being shown a palace from a distance. The handsome Prince was going in a chariot driven by seven horses. We could just have a glimpse. Before we could even react, the chariot had turned and was soon hidden behind the high walls of the palace.
What does a king look like? What is inside a palace? How do the members of the royalty live? There was the childs curiosity in me. It seemed like a mystery. May be to many others too.
As the years passed, the distance between the erstwhile Rulers and the ruled began to get shorter. One came nearer the nobility. One even saw the Princes and the palaces. Undoubtedly, the blood of nobility is the first recommendation. Yet, one asked Can the accident of birth be taken as the sole standard for judging merit? Sometimes, one imagined that the King is also a man. In absolute nakedness, without his clothes and the crown, he would be just like any other human being. Why not? Today, we live in a free society. Gone are the days of kings and kingdoms. Now every man, even a King, should be judged by his deeds and virtues.
And recently the truth seemed to dawn when I saw what was once the official palace of the Patiala family. While the main palace houses the National Institute of Sports, the other part, the Sheesh Mahal is a rare treasure house. It is a national asset.
First, the Sheesh-Mahal itself. It is designed on the pattern of Shalimar garden of Lahore with terraces, fountains, channels and flower beds. Artists from different places have worked on the walls and depicted vision in the poetry of Keshav Das, Surdas and Behari Lal in line and colour. The great Indian mythology, legends, Raga-Ragini, Nayak-Nayika and Bara-masa themes can be seen on the walls. There is a lavish and skilful use of the coloured mirrors.
Not only this, it houses a museum. There are the marvellous paintings based on the themes of Geet Govinda in Kangra style; the paintings showing the Krishna- Lila; pieces showing ivory work; the chandeliers and the cutglass throne. There is a single grain of rice on which 233 letters are inscribed. There are valuable manuscripts including the Gulistan Bostan by Sheikh Sadi of Shiraz, which was acquired by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his personal library.
Above all, there is the Medal Gallery an exquisite collection of Orders, Decorations and Medals. It has, amongst others, the St. Benedict of Aviz (12th Century Portugal); Order of the Garter (1348 England), Order of the Golden Fleece (1430 Austrlia), Order of the Holy Ghost (1579 France); Order of the Thistle (1687 England); Order of St. Andrew (1688 Russia); five Victoria Crosses including the one with a bullet that had injured the recipient Mr J. Dunley at the Siege of Lucknow during 1857. And many more. There are a total of about three thousand. Each one a piece of art. And from almost every nook and corner of the world. All collected by one and the only one Maharaja Bhupinder Singh whose writ once ran through the entire State.
What a rare collection! Only a man with a keen eye and a generous heart could have picked up these rare pieces of art and put them in one place. And it is not only the features but even the virtues that he transmitted through the invisible channel of genes. The progeny inherited his qualities in abundance. This is more than amply proved by the fact that his son, Maharaja Yadvinder Singh (1938-74) made a gift of this priceless treasure to the Government.
Life is like the chess board. Sometimes our own wealth and children block our way. Our possessions are only as good as the use we make of them. Otherwise, multiple possessions only multiply the problems. Generosity is the accompaniment of high birth. The ability to unhesitatingly part with possessions, to willingly share your wealth and joys with others is not only an evidence of generosity but even of true virtue. The really good derive a greater pleasure in giving than in taking.
BOMBAY: Aug 28 On the total sum of rupees six and a half lakhs which was sanctioned as awards to 222 persons who were injured in the riots, rupees one lakh has already been collected by the Bombay Municipal Commissioner, the amount having been raised as punitive tax imposed on residents of the locality where the riots occurred.
This amount of rupees one lakh is now in the hands of the Chief Presidency Magistrate who has issued a notice to the effect that 15.5 per cent of the awards will be paid to the sufferers as the first instalment on and from the 15th of this month on satisfactory identification of claimants by the Chief Presidency Magistrate.
It will be remembered that
the riots referred to above took place on the days
subsequent to the arrival in Bombay of HRH the Prince of
Wales. The extraordinary delay in the first instance of
assessing and then collecting the punitive tax was
unavoidable owing to difficulties before the Assessment
Department of the Bombay Municipality in collecting the
When terrorists are terrorists
THE story appeared on the BBC last Monday in an evening news bulletin but when I looked for further details in the next bulletin it had disappeared altogether. It was as if it had not happened. Nobody in the Indian Press or Ministry of External Affairs picked it up the next day either so, slightly confused, I checked with a couple of fellow hacks and found that one of them had seen it too so I had not imagined it. From an Indian point of view, it was the most important story to come out of Americas missile attack on Afghanistan, last week, because it linked what is going on in that benighted country directly to what is going on in our own. The story, filed from Pakistan, said that at the camp that was bombed near Khost it was not Osama bin Ladens men who were killed but Kashmiri mujahideen. The BBC, I think, even used the word in Urdu before proceeding to show some shots of injured Kashmiris (who looked more like Pakistanis) in some hospital in Peshawer. Of course, the BBC, which has referred to Kashmir as Indian-occupied Kashmir only since the violence began, asked no questions about how Ladens trainees become terrorists when they attack American targets but proud Islamic warriors when they attack innocent people in Kashmir.
This piece, though, is not about the BBCs double standards but about the need for India to start paying more attention to Afghanistan. There has been almost nothing in our Press beyond the standard reportage of the American bombings of Ladens camps. Even this was so cursory that those of us with an interest in the subject had to get the details from American newspapers on the web.
My personal interest in the terrorist training camp that is now Afghanistan arises from my conviction that terrorism in Kashmir would be over if we could somehow deal with the foreign mercenaries problem. Since January this year security forces in Kashmir have killed 130 foreign terrorists, last year the figure was 197, and most of those killed are Afghan, Sudanese or Pakistani. Clearly, Ladens multi-million dollar terrorism empire is not targeted only at America.
Our Kashmir problem would have ended at least five years ago if the militancy had not become a foreign enterprise. The so-called freedom movement may have been begun by the JKLF (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front) with the kidnapping of Mufti Mohammed Syeds daughter in December, 1989, but it was very quickly taken over by foreigners. The JKLF was too soft and much too secular for what Pakistan planned for the valley so within months we saw the emergence of the much more Islamic Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.
It was this band of Islamic warriors who introduced a vicious brand of fundamentalism into Kashmirs much gentler Islam. So, where women had prayed in mosques they were now forcibly veiled. Acid attacks on unveiled women ensured this. Even women reporters going up to cover the problems in the valley would be ordered by someone or the other to cover your head. Personally, there is only one other country where this has happened to me: Pakistan. It was Pakistani tactics all the way and Pakistani monitoring, money and guidance which led to cinemas, beauty parlours and video libraries being closed, liquor shops being burned and to anti-Indian propaganda on such a scale that became impossible, even for those of us covering Kashmir, to differentiate between truth and lies.
The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen was replaced by the even nastier Harkat-ul-Ansar and, according to the BBC story, it was Harkat trainees who were injured in the Khost attack. Harkat has always denied its involvement in the kidnapping in the summer of 1995 of the Western tourists in Kashmir but it has never been conclusively proven that Al Faran, the group allegedly responsible, was not simply a front name for Harkat.
In any case, most of the violence in Jammu and Kashmir, and now even in Himachal, is directly related to foreign mercenaries. The Kashmiri militant leaders of yore Yasin Malik, Shabir Shah, Javed Mir are mostly living in semi-retirement in nice houses in Srinagar. Visiting hacks, like your columnist, routinely visit them on trips to Kashmir to get an account of human rights violations and the possibilities of peace. They may still talk in angry tones about what Indian security forces are up to but, by and large, they are not involved any more in actual violence. The militancy has, in fact, been hijacked by foreign mercenaries behind whom the hand of Pakistan has been distinctly visible for some time.
It is also Pakistan which has been directly responsible for training the band of Islamic thugs, the Taliban, who now control Afghanistan. And, as the Afghan Ambassador to London pointed out on the BBC, America can be blamed as much for the rise of Taliban as Pakistan can. American foreign policy is, unlike our own ideological nonsense, usually guided by economic interests and it is entirely due to the vast gas reserves in Kazakhstan that the Americans are so interested at the moment in Afghanistan. Gas will be to the 21st century what oil has been to the twentieth and American oil companies are more aware of this than anyone else so they have been negotiating with Taliban leaders to build a pipeline through Afghanistan which would bring the gas down to Karachi.
According to my sources in Pakistan the deal was nearly signed earlier this year but the Taliban got greedy and asked for too much money. In any case, they are still trying to take control of the whole country and make it sufficiently peaceful for the pipeline to become possible.
So, perhaps it is not in
Americas interests to listen to India when we point
out that Pakistan is as much an exporter of terrorism as
Laden is but with Bill Clinton in aggressive
anti-terrorism mode we have a window of opportunity. He
said, in his statement after the missile attacks:
Countries that persistently host terrorists have no
right to be safe havens. Well, Mr Clinton, what do
you think Pakistan has been doing for years? America, in
its role as global policeman, will have no credibility
whatsoever if terrorists become terrorists when they kill
Americans and freedom fighters when they kill innocent
villagers in Jammu and Chamba.
Disaster week on television
NOTHING worse could befall a programme than two of its stars, both of the same age, both vibrant women getting the most out of life, dying within a few hours of each other. That Protima Bedi appeared on the screen with Khushwant Singh on the same day that she was presumed dead, added to the poignancy of the situation. And Persis Khambata had preceded her in the programme with equal wit, courage and frankness. In the circumstances, I can only offer my profound sympathies to the bereaved families, and to the producer and anchor of the programme, which had started off with such zest.
And so to coverage of the tragedy at Malba. In spite of its freedom from government control (or so goes the official myth) DD still seems to get top priority in Air Force planes and the rest. DDs photography was spectacular but mostly marred by poor sound. The interviewer on the spot did not seem to offer the mike to others, whose speech was mostly muffled, but the sound improved somewhat in the news bulletins. Ashok Dubey of DD News did a sterling job as well.
But even with all the official advantages which came to DD, little Radhika Bordia of Star News managed to hop into a helicopter as well and did some vivid reporting of the scene below as well as from the ground. Her colleague, Vivek Rai, who covered the flooded river, also got in some graphic footage, with sound and commentary to match. In such a situation, it is very easy to become melodramatic or maudlin. But all the reporters on the scene kept within the bounds of good taste and decency, as it should be.
Just as well that there were some welcome diversions from this grim tragedy. It was a rare delight to listen to Prof. Amartya Sens conversation with Prem Shankar Jha on Doordarshan, which one stumbled on to at an ungodly hour by sheer accident, so poor is DDs PR. Sen is a man of vast erudition and prodigious intellect, who yet has the power of communication, with his easy, relaxed manner and simple language, even when elaborating on the most difficult theses. He described the evolution of Indias multi-cultural, multi-religious society with unchallengable arguments, exposing many current claims as motivated myths. I would like to suggest that Dr Sen is invited for one of AIR or DDs annual lectures, so that we can hear him at length, something along the lines of the BBCs Reith Memorial lectures. We cannot have too much of him.
I also watched Karan Thapars interview with Minister Sikandar Bakht, the second last in his series In Focus, which has gone on for something like two years. Watching him this time, I felt that Karan has mellowed down the years. In any case, Mr Bakht speaks elegantly with a good deal of old-fashioned courtesy of the sort which existed in Delhi when I came to the capital around Partition. Karan was not able to interrupt him, because even when he refused to be interrupted, Mr Bakht did it with such grace. With courtesy so much at a discount on the screen particularly among politicians, it was a refreshing change.
I have been studying the new format of Good Morning Today with some interest because Kishwar Ahluwalia had a style and following of her own. First of all, with one or two exceptions, the entire Aaj Tak crew seems to believe in looking dishevelled and wear dull, sometimes crushed clothes. While glamour is not a must, at least there should be some pleasant-looking, tastefully dressed and well-groomed anchors on the screen. Aparna, the new anchor, talks far too fast and her dress is totally non-descript.
The new team of Vijay Trivedi and Aparna is all too closely modelled on that of Sharad and Shireen on Good Morning India. The difference lies in the fact that GMI has much more variety in items, much more depth in its news and interviewing and beneath its easy chatty style lies a good deal of poise as well as research. GMT, on the other hand, reduces itself to mostly pointless chatter, with the result that the programme has not acquired any sort of an identity or authority.
I wonder how many people noticed that whether it was the
Lewinsky case or the bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan,
President Bill Clinton made his most important policy
statements on radio. In this country, we still tend to
treat AIR as a poor relation and even we columnists, I
admit to my shame, give it second place. It was sobering
to know that Prof Amartya Sen did two lectures on AIR,
whereas, to my knowledge, he did only one interview on
DD. A friend whose intellectual judgement I trust, said
the radio lectures were fascinating. Perhaps we TV
addicts have a lesson to learn here. Because, surely, the
spoken word, like classical music, comes across better
without the frills of TV.
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