Thursday, October 4, 2001,
Chandigarh, India





E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


EDITORIALS

After Taliban what?
N
OW it is almost certain that the infamous Taliban regime of Afghanistan has to pave the way, of course not voluntarily, for a new dispensation in the war-torn country. The intense diplomatic activity and the threat of use of force have failed to bring the Taliban to reason- to hand over to the US-led international coalition prime suspect Osama bin Laden in connection with the September 11 terrorist carnage at New York and Washington.

Fundamentalist turn
I
N a country where pre-poll violence claims many lives, a citizen heaves a sigh of relief on the completion of the election process. No such luck for Bangladesh. Its troubles may only escalate in the coming days following the landslide victory of the four-party alliance led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia. What is worrisome is that this dramatic turn of events is a victory for the forces that want Bangladesh to be converted into a state establishing "Islami hukumat".



EARLIER ARTICLES

Killing spree unabated
October 3
, 2001
Madhavrao Scindia
October 2
, 2001
UN bans terrorism
October 1
, 2001
Kairon: Punjabi dynamism, American accent, lasting legacy
September 30
, 2001
India on the sidelines
September 29
, 2001
Dominant thinking in USA
September 28
, 2001
Shedding staff flab
September 27
, 2001
Proof muddle
September 26
, 2001
Have pity on civilians
September 25
, 2001
Terrorism in Kashmir
September 24
, 2001
First war of 21st century to combat terrorism
September 23
, 2001
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
Disinvestment dilemma
D
ISINVESTMENT plans of the BJP-led alliance government are jinxed if one is superstitious. All its ambitious plans are felled by one factor or another. It has so far privatised only two public sector units and both had provoked criticism of underpricing. The latest dilemma is posed by two enterprices belonging to a bygone age and technology. CMC (Computer Maintenance Corporation) is for sale and there is only one suitor, making it a buyers market.

OPINION

US action against Osama and Taliban
Several reasons for hastening slowly

Inder Malhotra
T
HREE weeks after the infamous September 11 slaughter the future scenario is less clear than it seemed to be in the immediate aftermath of the ghastly terrorist outrage against the USA. Then the dominant, almost unanimous, mood in America was that the USA should “bomb the hell out of them, and never mind the collateral damage”. This approach was reflected also in President George W. Bush’s September 20 speech to the US Congress. Now, however, even as most sophisticated US warplanes are roaring towards Afghanistan and special operations forces are reportedly inside that country, there is some circumspection in American declarations of intent and plan of action.

IN THE NEWS

Rule by proxy in Tamil Nadu
M
R O. Paneerselvam’s assumption of office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on September 21 following the Supreme Court judgement quashing the appointment of Ms Jayalalitha by the then Governor, Mrs Fathima Beevi, is being interpreted as business as usual in Chennai’s Fort St.George, the State’s seat of power. There is a general impression that it is mainly Ms Jayalalitha who continues to run the show through remote control. What else would explain the choice of Mr Paneerselvam, a political lightweight, for the top post at a time when the party has no dearth of senior, experienced and well-qualified leaders to succeed Ms Jayalalitha?

ANALYSIS

The algebra of infinite justice
Arundhati Roy
I
N the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, an American newscaster said: Good and evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did last Tuesday. People who we don’t know massacred people who we do. And they did so with contemptuous glee. Then he broke down and wept.

OF LIFE SUBLIME

Avian code of conduct
Ram Verma
W
HEN I go out for a walk in the morning, I see birds; in the trees, on wires, warbling, twittering or chasing each other in love play. I see mynas, bulbuls, drongos or black birds, jungle babblers, green bee-eaters, sunbirds, koels, parrots, doves, pigeons, house sparrows and crows.

SPIRITUAL NUGGETS



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After Taliban what?

NOW it is almost certain that the infamous Taliban regime of Afghanistan has to pave the way, of course not voluntarily, for a new dispensation in the war-torn country. The intense diplomatic activity and the threat of use of force have failed to bring the Taliban to reason- to hand over to the US-led international coalition prime suspect Osama bin Laden in connection with the September 11 terrorist carnage at New York and Washington. The Pakistan idea of discovering an anti-Laden faction within the ruling militia to stage a coup against the Mullah Omar regime also seems to have not worked as is clear from the recent statements of President Musharraf. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's ultimatum issued on Tuesday that the Taliban rulers have to choose between Osama and power further shows that there is no chance for the militia rule to continue in Afghanistan since it has refused to respect the wishes of the world community. The imminent war will, however, create a power vacuum which will have to be filled quickly to avoid the disappearance of a governing mechanism because this may lead to horrible consequences for the civilian population.

The Taliban militia that captured nearly 90 per cent of Afghanistan in 1996 with the help of Pakistan's ISI, making the Burhanuddin Rabbani government, still recognised by the UN, exist only on paper, has never had the support of the masses. The Pushtun tribes constituting the majority in Afghanistan accepted the Taliban not because most of the ruling militia's top leaders belonged to this section of the population. The people, in fact, had no choice. They came to be governed by an autocratic clergy which did not believe in allowing the public to choose its rulers. Thus, logic says that the US-led anti-terrorism coalition need not search too much for an alternative group of rulers. It has only to ensure that the usurpers of power leave the scene to allow the pre-1996 government to begin its work unhindered. This means that the Northern Alliance, the military wing of the Rabbani group, deserves all help from the world community, and that there is no point in trying to reinstal deposed King Zahir Shah as the head of government in Kabul. Pakistan's reservations against the Alliance are obvious because the two have never been on the same wavelength, and that is where the USA has to prove its commitment as the leader of the world community out to destroy terrorism root and branch. The Northern Alliance is the only force in Afghanistan truly committed to destroying terrorist bases in the landlocked country. It may also have the backing of the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar faction, which has expressed its opposition to the efforts to bring back the former king, too aged to be effective to bring order in a society knee-deep in chaos for over two decades. If world pressure can turn Pakistan against the Taliban, its own creation, Islamabad can also be made to accept a not-so-friendly regime in its neighbourhood.
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Fundamentalist turn

IN a country where pre-poll violence claims many lives, a citizen heaves a sigh of relief on the completion of the election process. No such luck for Bangladesh. Its troubles may only escalate in the coming days following the landslide victory of the four-party alliance led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia. What is worrisome is that this dramatic turn of events is a victory for the forces that want Bangladesh to be converted into a state establishing "Islami hukumat". They managed to give a drubbing to the Awami League, the party that won freedom for the country and today represents the ideals of nationalism, secularism and democracy. The poll outcome needs to be viewed in the backdrop of the gathering war clouds in Afghanistan. It is bound to have a far-reaching effect on the political stability and economic development in the entire region. Begum Zia's alliance aroused the religious sentiments of the overwhelming 7.3 crore Muslim voters of Bangladesh. Their students' fronts swore by the Taliban and raised slogans of turning Bangladesh into another Afghanistan. Poor Sheikh Hasina was targeted as a "Hindu" since she allowed herself to be anointed with the customary chandan tilak during a recent function. Rabidly fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami was courted by Begum Khaleda without any qualms and its razakars spread all sorts of canards for which the daughter of Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman had no antidote. She was branded an infidel for allowing the Venezuelan President to kiss her hand at an international conference and her Awami League was portrayed as an enemy of Islam.

All that is bad news for India. Relations with Bangladesh have been uneasy even when a friendly Sheikh Hasina was in the saddle. These might worsen with Begum Zia in command. The latter had lent her full support to "wars of independence that gallant freedom fighters of India's subjugated North-East are waging to free themselves from India's yoke". Delhi would like to hope that this poll rhetoric would not translate into renewed support for Indian insurgents, but since that is what she had done during the BNP's 1991-96 rule, the nightmare might become a reality again. The BNP has also termed the 1997 Ganga agreement a sell-out. That may become another flashpoint. The ISI has been actively engaged in orchestrating anti-India activities and supporting some of the candidates who allegedly worked against the country's freedom movement and even today want to be under the tutelage of Pakistan. The victory of many of them bodes ill for the entire South Asian region. Sheikh Hasina has called her defeat the "outcome of a conspiracy and the implementation of a pre-designed blueprint by the caretaker government, the BNP and the Jamaat-led alliance". That means that her supporters will take to the street, as is the custom in Bangladesh. Odds are stacked against them. More bloodshed is feared. 
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Disinvestment dilemma

DISINVESTMENT plans of the BJP-led alliance government are jinxed if one is superstitious. All its ambitious plans are felled by one factor or another. It has so far privatised only two public sector units and both had provoked criticism of underpricing. The latest dilemma is posed by two enterprices belonging to a bygone age and technology. CMC (Computer Maintenance Corporation) is for sale and there is only one suitor, making it a buyers market. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is interested in taking over CMC to strength its information technology wing. CMC was set up in 1977, the year of the Janata Party success and the then Industry Minister George Fernandes’s marching orders to IBM, then the global computer mughal. It was to service mainframe computers already installed by IBM but the phenomenal advance in information technology has made the first generation computers the modern-day dinosaurs. That there are still clients attests to the Indian trait of clinging on to old machines even when new and sophisticated ones are available.

A month or so back when the entry of TCS in the auction came to be known something very strange happened. The price of CMC shares, a profit making company, jumped 100 per cent from around Rs 150 to more than Rs 310. This was price rigging, plain and simple. And this is related to a SEBI (Securities and Exchange Board of India) stipulation that in all cases of takeover of companies the new owners will have to buy at least 20 per cent of the shares with the public or other entities. This is called an open offer and is mostly aligned to stock market prices. Actually only 17 per cent of the CMC shares are with the public and the ramping up of prices is designed to extract more money from TCS. Here is the big trouble. TCS has valued the shares at Rs 196 and its valuation is both rational and reasonable. In fact, on the eve of the Cabinet meeting to clinch the issue the price slumped to about Rs 243. If the government hands over the once high-tech unit at a price lower than the market price, it will attract flak from all sides. If it rejects the TCS bid and reopens the whole process, it will again attract flak for dithering on the disinvestment issue. Frankly speaking, it is not very important since the government will earn only Rs 250 crore or slightly more. And its target for this year is Rs 12,000 crore. 
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US action against Osama and Taliban
Several reasons for hastening slowly
Inder Malhotra

THREE weeks after the infamous September 11 slaughter the future scenario is less clear than it seemed to be in the immediate aftermath of the ghastly terrorist outrage against the USA. Then the dominant, almost unanimous, mood in America was that the USA should “bomb the hell out of them, and never mind the collateral damage”. This approach was reflected also in President George W. Bush’s September 20 speech to the US Congress. Now, however, even as most sophisticated US warplanes are roaring towards Afghanistan and special operations forces are reportedly inside that country, there is some circumspection in American declarations of intent and plan of action.

None of this suggests that the Americans have any intention to abandon their goal of meeting out exemplary punishment to the perpetrators of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Osama bin Laden, together with his al-Qaeda headquarters, remains their principal target, with the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan who shelter and support him as the close second.

In fact, over the weekend the Taliban had almost invited US military strikes by claiming that it now had Osama under its “protective custody” and tantalisingly suggesting “negotiations”. But the USA has summarily rejected both the claim and the suggestion. It wants that the Taliban must surrender the “mastermind of terrorism” unconditionally and immediately.

With all that, however, the USA is being manifestly cautious. It is weighing all options, in the context of the developing world reaction, before embarking on its multi-faceted war on terrorism that would be of an entirely new kind. It will not be a repetition of either the massive ground action in the Gulf War, prosecuted by the present US President’s father a decade ago, or the fully televised air war in Kosovo.

For this state of affairs, there are several reasons of which three stand out. First, there are second thoughts and reservations about strategy to be adopted not only among America’s European allies but also within the USA itself. Second, under pressure of Pakistan, once again the “frontline state” in America’s struggle for Afghanistan, Washington has been forced to alter its earlier policy of seeking to replace the Taliban regime in Kabul by another. Islamabad, happy over returning to America’s high favour, has been insisting, rather vehemently, that nothing must be done to install in Afghanistan a government not acceptable to Pakistan. The situation is, however, complex. The Northern Alliance - hated by Pakistan - and kept at bay by the Taliban so far, is fighting the Taliban valiantly despite the assassination of their legendary commander Ahmed Shah Masood just two days before the strikes against the USA.

In fact, the Northern Alliance has renamed itself as the United Front. It has also backed the proposal for an alternative government in all of Afghanistan under King Zahir Shah, now in exile in Rome, an idea the Taliban has denounced vehemently. The presence in the Italian capital of two delegations - one of the Afghan United Front and the other of the US Congress - to meet the Afghan king speaks for itself.

The third factor behind the seemingly tentative quality of American pronouncements is also the most important. Evidently, US efforts to muster vigorous support of Muslims, especially Arab countries, hasn’t met with the success America had expected despite Mr Bush’s unfortunate reference to a “crusade” against terrorism. Particularly disappointing to Washington is the attitude of Saudi Arabia.

Here is a country where the royal regime, though flush with wealth, is dependent for its survival on American protection. In the forefront of the drive to overthrow the Saudi ruling dynasty is none other than Osama, a dissident Saudi prince himself. And yet, after cutting off all relations with the Taliban and making other noises welcome to America, Saudi Arabia has announced that the airbase south of Riyadh would not be allowed to be used to launch any military attack on a “Muslim or Arab country”. The only sop the Saudis have offered America is the use of their air space.

No wonder then that other Arab governments usually friendly to the USA are playing safe. They argue that they must see convincing evidence of Osama’s involvement in the horrific attacks before they can speak up in favour of military action against him. As it happens, the USA has withdrawn its commitment to making public this evidence, described by the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, as “absolutely powerful and incontrovertible”. Behind the Muslim and Arab anger against the USA also lie strong feelings that the sole superpower, instead of being an honest broker in West Asia, has failed to check Israeli “aggression” on the Palestinians. In the words of The Economist, America “fiddled while Gaza burnt”.

Against this backdrop is it any surprise that Pakistan is also drawing the maximum possible advantage from the sudden, indeed overnight, change in its status from a virtually pariah state to a “frontline state” in alliance with the USA ? General Musharraf has ruled out the possibility of any Pakistani troops “marching into Afghanistan” though, in his interview with the CNN, he has kept open the question of US ground troops being stationed temporarily on Pakistani soil. Shrewdly, he took the opportunity to repudiate once again the suggestion that terrorist groups based in Pakistan are operating in Kashmir.

Strangely, he denied the existence of any terrorist group in Pakistan (stating that there was some sectarian terrorism only). A day before the interview he had himself shut down the offices of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, having frozen its bank accounts even earlier. And yet, on the CNN camera he blandly denied the existence of HuM in Pakistan, and has apparently got away with it.

And this brings one to the depressing ineptitude with which the government in this country has handled the entire course of events since September 11. Only its fixation on the India-Pakistan equation, amounting to a tunnel vision, can explain its instant and inexplicable offer of unconditional use by America of all military facilities -an offer that has been repeated and denied several times. If the USA has so far made absolutely no request for these facilities, the reasons ought to be obvious.

A cursory glance at a school atlas would show that if the USA wants to mount military action, combined with covert special operations, in Afghanistan, it would need Pakistan, not India. It would have liked to have the military and logistic support of both. But it knows that this would not be acceptable to Pakistan.

There has also been a lot of heartburn over the lifting of post-1998 USA sanctions on Pakistan, along with those on India. Did any serious-minded Indian expect that these sanctions would be lifted only in India’s case even if there were no destruction of WTC? No one need be surprised either about other concessions that are being made to Pakistan by not just America but also countries like Japan. Nor are all these concessions purely financial in nature. There is a serious move in the USA to end also the democracy-related sanctions that were imposed on Pakistan after the Musharraf takeover in October 1999. Thoughtful Pakistanis are alarmed at the prospect of a long delay in the return of democracy.

Despite persistent Indian pleas and ambiguous American assurances, there has been no resolution of the vexed question whether or not the fight against terrorism would be extended to Kashmir. The bitter reality is that the USA has never used the word terrorism, leave alone the more apt expression cross-border terrorism, in relation to Kashmir. Nor is there any guarantee yet that would happen in future even after the “first phase” of the fight against Osama and the Taliban is over. In any case the responsibility to combat and defeat terrorism in any part of this country is ours; it cannot be passed to anyone else.

Given the importance of Indo-U.S. relations there ought to be a consensus among mainstream parties at least on extending support to America if and when it requires logistic support from this country. But no such consensus exists. This was obvious at the Prime Minister’s meeting with the leaders of opposition parties. The problem was underscored by the uproar over the routine refuelling of a US military transport C-130 aircraft because the government had been foolish enough to hide the facts.

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Rule by proxy in Tamil Nadu

MR O. Paneerselvam’s assumption of office as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on September 21 following the Supreme Court judgement quashing the appointment of Ms Jayalalitha by the then Governor, Mrs Fathima Beevi, is being interpreted as business as usual in Chennai’s Fort St.George, the State’s seat of power. There is a general impression that it is mainly Ms Jayalalitha who continues to run the show through remote control. What else would explain the choice of Mr Paneerselvam, a political lightweight, for the top post at a time when the party has no dearth of senior, experienced and well-qualified leaders to succeed Ms Jayalalitha?

In fact, Chennai had witnessed hectic political activity in the AIADMK for well over six weeks over the likely successor to Ms Jayalalitha in the event of her losing the battle in the Supreme Court. Names that made the rounds included Mr Ponnaiyan, Finance Minister and No.2 in the outgoing Jayalalitha Ministry, Education Minister M.Thambi Durai, Electricity Minister D. Jayakumar, Tourism Minister Uppiliyapuram R. Saroja and Mrs Visalakshi Nedunchezhiyan, a non-legislator and wife of the late Finance Minister V.R.Nedunchezhiyan. Obviously, Mr Paneerselvam’s selection surprised everyone, including he himself. He was No.10 in the Jayalalitha Ministry and was the Revenue Minister.

The reason why Ms Jayalalitha selected Mr Paneerselvam for the top post is believed to be his reputation for being a “harmless man’’. It is said that he has no political ambition like Mr Ponnaiyan or Mr Thambi Durai. He also has no political base of his own. Ms Jayalalitha’s cup of woes is already full with the Supreme Court having dashed her hopes of continuing in office by obtaining a stay on her conviction and getting elected to the State Assembly by November 14. Equally important is the fact that she has to fight several other corruption cases in the courts in the weeks to come. Consequently, she wanted a person who will not only pledge total loyalty to her leadership but also not nurse any ambition to emerge as an independent power centre at this critical juncture. She perhaps felt it would be difficult for her to exercise her hold on the party and the government if any other substitute challenged her supremacy at some point of time.

But, then, one perceptible development in the wake of Mr Paneerselvam’s ascention is the emergence of the family of Mrs Sasikala Natarajan, Ms Jayalalitha’s close aide, as the most powerful and dominant group in Tamil Nadu. It is said that Mr Paneerselvam is a nominee of the Sasikala family. The 51-year-old first-time legislator and new Chief Minister is said to be a protege of Mr T.T.V.Dinakaran, Lok Sabha MP from Periakulam. More important, both Mr Paneerselvam and the Sasikala family belong to the Mukkulathor (also called Thevar) community which has sizeable pockets of influence in the southern districts of the State. Incidentally, Mr Paneerselvam was an AIADMK secretary in Theni district and the chairman of the Periakulam municipality.

The new Chief Minister’s total loyalty to Ms Jayalalitha can be gauged by the fact that soon after assuming office, he declared that it will continue to be Ms Jayalalitha’s government and that he was only a temporary and stop-gap Chief Minister. If reports were to bear scrutiny, he calls on the AIADMK supremo’s residence at Poes Garden now and then “for instructions’’. These include his daily visits to Poes Garden both before and after attending Fort St.George. What is more, he plans to shift to a house very close to Poes Garden next week, apparently to bridge even the very little communication gap that could exist between Fort St.George and Poes Garden. Till recently, the dilapidated house was being used as a camp for Ms Jayalalitha’s securitymen and car park for her visitors. Against this background, it should not be difficult for anyone to surmise who calls the shots in Tamil Nadu today.

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The algebra of infinite justice
Arundhati Roy

IN the aftermath of the unconscionable September 11 suicide attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, an American newscaster said: Good and evil rarely manifest themselves as clearly as they did last Tuesday. People who we don’t know massacred people who we do. And they did so with contemptuous glee. Then he broke down and wept.

Here’s the rub: America is at war against people it doesn’t know, because they don’t appear much on TV. Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the US government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an international coalition against terror, mobilised its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle.

The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one. If it doesn’t find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one. Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its own, and we’ll lose sight of why it’s being fought in the first place. What we’re witnessing here is the spectacle of the world’s most powerful country reaching reflexively, angrily, for an old instinct to fight a new kind of war. Suddenly, when it comes to defending itself, America’s streamlined warships, cruise missiles and F-16 jets look like obsolete, lumbering things. As deterrence, its arsenal of nuclear bombs is no longer worth its weight in scrap, box-cutters, penknives, and cold anger are the weapons with which the wars of the new century will be waged. Anger is the lock pick. It slips through customs unnoticed. Doesn’t show up in baggage checks.

Who is America fighting? On September 20, the FBI said that it had doubts about the identities of some of the hijackers. On the same day President George Bush said, We know exactly who these people are and which governments are supporting them. It sounds as though the President knows something that the FBI and the American public don’t.

In his September 20 address to the US Congress, President Bush called the enemies of America enemies of freedom. Americans are asking, Why do they hate us? he said. They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. People are being asked to make two leaps of faith here. First, to assume that The Enemy is who the US government says it is, even though it has no substantial evidence to support that claim. And second, to assume that The Enemy’s motives are what the US government says they are, and there’s nothing to support that either.

For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US government to persuade its public that their commitment to freedom and democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it’s an easy notion to peddle. However, if that were true, it’s reasonable to wonder why the symbols of America’s economic and military dominance the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government’s record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)? It must be hard for ordinary Americans, so recently bereaved, to look up at the world with their eyes full of tears and encounter what might appear to them to be indifference. It isn’t indifference. It’s just augury. An absence of surprise. The tired wisdom of knowing that what goes around eventually comes around. American people ought to know that it is not them but their government’s policies that are so hated. They can’t possibly doubt that they themselves, their extraordinary musicians, their writers, their actors their spectacular sportsmen and their cinema, are universally welcomed. All of us have been moved by the courage and grace shown by firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary office staff in the days since the attacks.

America’s grief at what happened has been immense and immensely public. It would be grotesque to expect it to calibrate or modulate its anguish. However, it will be a pity if, instead of using this as an opportunity to try to understand why September 11 happened, Americans use it as an opportunity to usurp the whole world’s sorrow to mourn and avenge only their own. Because then it falls to the rest of us to ask the hard questions and say the harsh things. And for our pains, for our bad timing, we will be disliked, ignored and perhaps eventually silenced.

The world will probably never know what motivated those particular hijackers who flew planes into those particular American buildings. They were not glory boys. They left no suicide notes, no political messages; no organisation has claimed credit for the attacks. All we know is that their belief in what they were doing outstripped the natural human instinct for survival, or any desire to be remembered. It’s almost as though they could not scale down the enormity of their rage to anything smaller than their deeds. And what they did has blown a hole in the world as we knew it. In the absence of information, politicians, political commentators and writers (like myself) will invest the act with their own politics, with their own interpretations. This speculation, this analysis of the political climate in which the attacks took place, can only be a good thing.

But war is looming large. Whatever remains to be said must be said quickly. Before America places itself at the helm of the international coalition against terror, before it invites (and coerces) countries to actively participate in its almost godlike mission called Operation Infinite Justice until it was pointed out that this could be seen as an insult to Muslims, who believe that only Allah can mete out infinite justice, and was renamed Operation Enduring Freedom it would help if some small clarifications are made. For example, Infinite Justice/Enduring Freedom for whom? Is this America’s war against terror in America or against terror in general? What exactly is being avenged here? Is it the tragic loss of almost 7,000 lives, the gutting of five million square feet of office space in Manhattan, the destruction of a section of the Pentagon, the loss of several hundreds of thousands of jobs, the bankruptcy of some airline companies and the dip in the New York Stock Exchange? Or is it more than that? In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the US secretary of state, was asked on national television what she felt about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that it was a very hard choice, but that, all things considered, we think the price is worth it. Albright never lost her job for saying this. She continued to travel the world representing the views and aspirations of the US government. More pertinently, the sanctions against Iraq remain in place. Children continue to die.

So here we have it. The equivocating distinction between civilisation and savagery, between the massacre of innocent people or, if you like, a clash of civilisations and collateral damage. The sophistry and fastidious algebra of infinite justice. How many dead Iraqis will it take to make the world a better place? How many dead Afghans for every dead American? How many dead women and children for every dead man? How many dead mojaheedin for each dead investment banker? As we watch mesmerised, Operation Enduring Freedom unfolds on TV monitors across the world. A coalition of the world’s superpowers is closing in on Afghanistan, one of the poorest, most ravaged, war-torn countries in the world, whose ruling Taliban government is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the man being held responsible for the September 11 attacks.

The only thing in Afghanistan that could possibly count as collateral value is its citizenry. (Among them, half a million maimed orphans. There are accounts of hobbling stampedes that occur when artificial limbs are air-dropped into remote, inaccessible villages). Afghanistan’s economy is in a shambles. In fact, the problem for an invading army is that Afghanistan has no conventional coordinates or signposts to plot on a military map no big cities, no highways, no industrial complexes, no water treatment plants. Farms have been turned into mass graves. The countryside is littered with land mines 10 million is the most recent estimate. The American army would first have to clear the mines and build roads in order to take its soldiers in.

Fearing an attack from America, one million citizens have fled from their homes and arrived at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The UN estimates that there are eight million Afghan citizens who need emergency aid. As supplies run out food and aid agencies have been asked to leave the BBC reports that one of the worst humanitarian disasters of recent times has begun to unfold. Witness the infinite justice of the new century. Civilians starving to death while they’re waiting to be killed. (By arrangement with The Guardian, London)

To be concluded
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Avian code of conduct
Ram Verma

WHEN I go out for a walk in the morning, I see birds; in the trees, on wires, warbling, twittering or chasing each other in love play. I see mynas, bulbuls, drongos or black birds, jungle babblers, green bee-eaters, sunbirds, koels, parrots, doves, pigeons, house sparrows and crows.

The most commonly seen mynas are blackish-brown with yellow beak and feet. In Rajasthan, we called them ‘ghursali’. They look somewhat forbidding. But also plentiful in these parts are the ones with a white breast and reddish beak called Brahmani mynas.

They look stunningly beautiful. Bulbuls are easily recognisable with their bright crimson bottom. They look cute in their black, pointed hairdo. They scatter their melodious notes with abandon. The grey babblers move in groups and are called ‘seven sisters’. They are forever chattering.

The blackbirds with a forked, fish-like tail called drongos are sleek, slim and graceful, sitting together and singing or taking a flight to catch a moth. I have seen a couple singing a duet, the male giving a lead with a simple note and his mate following it with a longer one, repeating the cycle, as if rehearsing for concert. You can see the tiny sunbirds in deep shimmering purple with a long curved beak.

They suck nectar from flowers of yellow kaner or golden shower. The female is light rust colour. Then there are the green bee-eaters, some with a pintail. They go like a dart after flying moths and then sit back to swallow them at leisure.

In April when the mango flowers, the koel starts singing its haunting song. The song begins on a low pitch, gaining in intensity and ending in a crescendo, starting again after a pause for applause, as it were. The koel’s call of longing resounds in the stillness of the morning.

Nowadays they are seen chasing each other, the female issuing forth from the foliage of a tree with a sharp kik-kik-kik and the male going after it like an arrow. Unlike the male who is black, the female is brownish-grey and has white spots. The dove is a contented bird. It puffs its neck and sings gru-gru-goo, gru-gru-goo, and a palpable peace seems to descend from the skies. The parrots and pigeons fly in droves while crows look sullenly as house sparrows busy themselves in pecking.

The birds are mostly seen in pairs, as this seems to be their mating season. One clear difference I perceive in their love life and ours, apart from being uninhibited, is that birds do not expect anything in return for love, while we strike a deal and extract a price.

There are no fights among lovers, no recriminations, no ruses, no complaints. It’s pure, simple, unadulterated love for its own sake. There is nofavour involved, no obligation incurred on either side. They love on a plain of equality and independence. Unlike humans, where the girl expects to receive a gift or treat, if not a life-long maintenance, or the guy expects her to be subservient and servile, in birds, the female does not sit pretty after lovemaking, expecting the male to bring her juicy morsels of a moth’s flesh.

It’s not as if they are unaware of the luxury of feeding the other. In fact they gladly do this for their fledgling chicks, when they cannot yet fly and fend for themselves.

But they desire no such thing from their lover, they do not extract any price for their love. Nor for that matter they expect any return from their progeny, whom they nurture with infinite care and dedication. Forgetting all else, they bend all their energies in rearing and protecting their brood.

It’s their life’s mission, their dharma, and they discharge it with their heart and soul. But having done it, they forget it altogether. Unlike humans, they do not expect to be looked after in old age. When the chicks are old enough to take care of themselves, they fly away from their parents’ nests, on a voyage of discovery, free from all bondage.
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Why O mind, do you never call on Him

Who takes away all fear of danger?

Tricked by delusion you forget yourself,

Enamoured of the world’s bleak wilderness.

Alas, what mockery is here!

***

Comrades and wealth you cannot always keep;

Take care lest you forget Him quite.

Give up the false, O mind! Adore the Real;

And all the grief will vanish from your life.

Keep my good counsel in your heart.

***

With sounding voice proclaim Lord Hari’s name

And cast away your false desires,

If you would cross the ocean of this life;

Surrender to Him body, mind and soul,

And worship Him with trusting love.

***

Be drunk O mind,

Be drunk with the Wine

of heavenly bliss!

Roll on the ground and weep,

chanting Hari’s sweet name....

***

Meditate O my mind on the Lord Hari,

The stainless One, Pure, Spirit through and through.

How peerless is the light that in Him shines!

How soul-bewitching is His wondrous form!

How dear is He to all His devotees.

— Bhajans Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) sang in the holy presence of Sri Ramakrishna.

***

A man of truth, plugs all loopholes; or rather for him it may be said there is neither a wall nor any holes. He can walk even blindfold on the right path and never does he fall into a pit.

—The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. eighty
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