pipelines via Pakistan
Show him the door
LAW is finally catching up with Union Coal Minister Shibu Soren. Reports suggest that a police team from Jharkhand is already on his trail. The UPA government is at the receiving end for retaining him as a minister when an arrest warrant is pending against him. Much of the embarrassment Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faces on this account could have been avoided if Mr Soren had promptly put in his papers. But the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader would have thought that by resigning from the government, he would have let down some of his ministerial colleagues who are also facing criminal charges. Whatever be the case, it is incongruous that the police are on the lookout for a Union Cabinet minister. This does not show Indian democracy in a good light.
The case involving Mr Soren is a sad commentary on the state of the judicial system in the country. The incident in which he is alleged to be involved happened three decades ago. In fact, the JMM leader, who is affectionately called 'Guruji' by his cadres, came on the Jharkhand political scene by organising the adivasis against the usurious moneylenders. In the process, he was accused of leading a mob of adivasis, who killed 10 persons, nine of whom belonged to the minority community. It is strange that for 30 long years, the police could not arrest him even though he always remained active in politics winning election after election. The circumstances in which the case was revived are far from clear, though politics could have played a role in it.
However, the arrest warrant against Mr Soren is a reminder that nobody, not even a Cabinet minister, can escape the long arm of the law. Until recently, the norm has been that anybody who is chargesheeted forfeited his right to continue as a minister. Had this norm been strictly followed, some of the ministers in the NDA government would have had to resign. Now the new norm is that ministers who are about to be arrested should quit on their own. If the norm is diluted further, there will arise a situation when ministers start functioning from jails. Since Indian democracy has not come to such a pass, the JMM leader does not have any alibi to continue in office. If he is reluctant to quit, the Prime Minister should show him the door.
Scourge of SAARC
EXTERNAL AFFAIRS Minister K. Natwar Singh has rightly stressed the need for collective efforts under the auspices of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to banish terrorism from the region. The scourge continues to come in the way of economic growth and stability in the region. It prevents the free movement of people. Though it has spread to different parts of the world, the situation in South Asia is grimmer because countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been the breeding grounds for terrorists of different kinds.
The SAARC foreign ministers, now in Islamabad, would remember that the issue of effectively tackling terrorism has been coming up in vain at various meetings of the grouping. In January this year at Islamabad itself, the SAARC heads of government adopted a joint declaration condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. They were of the view that terrorism could not be justified on any ground as it violated the fundamental values enshrined in the United Nations and SAARC charters. An Additional Protocol to the Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism was also signed, but very little happened thereafter. Otherwise, there would have been no need for Mr Natwar Singh to plead for closer cooperation among the SAARC nations to take the fight against terrorism to its logical conclusion.
Terrorism is one of the major factors responsible for SAARC remaining the "weakest" regional grouping. It can nullify all the efforts aimed at bringing about economic prosperity in the region. Why has India been reluctant to accept the Iranian proposal for participating in the gas pipeline project which can speed up growth in South Asia? The obvious answer is the terrorist threat to the pipeline that is projected to reach India through Pakistan. Officially, Pakistan has pledged to stamp out the menace from the territories under its control but it has not succeeded so far. The reason is that there are elements in that country who justify terrorist violence on various grounds. Such people must be dealt with severely in the interest of peace in this part of the world.
Churning in BJP
The replacement of Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Vinay Katiyar with former Assembly Speaker Kesri Nath Tripathi reflects the party's desire to concentrate on its traditional vote bank in the aftermath of its defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The upper castes have been unhappy with the BJP for the past few years because of its all-out efforts to woo the Dalit and backward class voters. There is the fear that if nothing is done at this stage, when the Congress is re-emerging as a favourite of the upper castes, the BJP may suffer a major loss. Mr Katiyar, a Kurmi from Faizabad, cannot fit in this scheme of things. Moreover, he had failed to grow beyond being a rabble-rouser during the two years when he led the state unit of the party.
The advantage with Mr Tripathi is that, besides being a Brahmin, he does not belong to any of the factions in the party. He is a favourite of the L. K. Advani-Kalyan Singh duo, which wants two targets to achieve immediately. Apart from doing everything possible to stop the march of the Congress in UP, they want to ensure that the stock of Dr Murli Manohar Joshi does not rise because he is considered a threat to Mr Advani's interests in the party. Dr Joshi and Mr Tripathi do not like each other, though both come from Allahabad.
Mr Tripathi's weaknesses are that he does not have an organisational experience and may find it difficult to undertake hectic tours because of his age. That is why there is a plan to give former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh a senior organisational position at the Centre with the responsibility of looking after UP affairs. But will all this work on the desired lines? The upper caste voters are too disappointed with the BJP to get influenced by its latest moves. And Mr Kalyan Singh may not be as successful to take care of the BJP's backward class vote bank now as he was when he left the party to work against it in 1999.
Gas pipelines via Pakistan
NOT a man to let grass grow under his feet, the Union Minister for Petroleum, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, is evidently devoting the necessary attention to the vital problem of the country’s energy security. There can be no other explanation for his letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, seeking his assent to the initiation of serious negotiations on a potentially beneficial project that has hitherto been dismissed practically out of hand.
The project in question is, of course, that for the import of natural gas from Iran and Central Asia by two separate pipelines that would inevitably pass through Pakistan which is why successive governments so far have steered clear of it. They have made no bones about their apprehension that jehadi groups in Pakistan might blow up the pipelines or the Pakistani authorities themselves might shut them off when they consider it expedient to do so in order to hold India to ransom.
This reasoning, still heard often enough within the policy-making establishment, needs to be reconsidered and reversed not merely because of the project’s undoubted and ample merits but also in the wider perspective of the nation’s energy needs in the context of the growing global uncertainty about the future of oil. One might add that a positive approach to the pipeline project could also be a substantial contribution to the ongoing peace process in the subcontinent.
In any case, Mr Aiyar (in his days in the Opposition he used to be a participant in the Track II diplomacy with Pakistan) has not sought the Prime Minister’s permission for an outright and immediate acceptance of the project. All he wants is the acceptance of the Iranian Petroleum Minister’s proposal that he and his Indian and Pakistani counterparts should start “conversations without commitment” on the subject without delay. This surely is the best way to sort out all the doubts and misgivings and thus thrash out a viable agreement that all three parties find acceptable. International lawyers have done immense work on this subject and produced several drafts they think should suffice.
Other people’s experience can also be of help. At the peak of the Cold War, for instance, a Russian gas pipeline to Germany and other parts of Western Europe had worked smoothly. It had been built despite strong American objections. Evidently, the European allies had disregarded the US sentiment.
During previous talks — regrettably sporadic, if not perfunctory — with Iran, Turkmenistan and others, Iran is reported to have agreed to deliver the gas at the Indian border to get paid only “on delivery”. Surely, Pakistan is privy to this and its implications. Moreover, those who would finance the project will also have a major stake in ensuring that the whole venture does not become vulnerable to South Asian antagonism or to the prevalence of bitterly anti-Indian jehadi culture in Pakistan. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that enough safeguards and sanctions would be in place to deter and punish any party from disrupting the agreed arrangements.
Some in the foreign policy establishment and the intelligence community argue, however, that there is no guarantee that in the event of Pakistan disrupting the flow of gas, any sanctions would actually be applied to it. The answer to this is that this is precisely the kind of issue that has to be taken up with Iran, Pakistan and others concerned with the utmost frankness. Similarly, the idea that the construction of gas pipelines across Pakistan should be accompanied by a broader reopening of trade and transit between India and Pakistan should also be taken up during the trilateral talks Mr Aiyar is advocating, not used to obstruct them. According to his letter to Dr Singh, the Foreign Minister, Mr K. Natwar Singh, is already in agreement with him.
While the issues specific to Pakistan and its likely propensities are important, the bigger question is different. At present India has to import more than 70 per cent of its requirements of crude oil (in addition to some petroleum products). In another six years the dependence on the import of crude would rise to 91 per cent. More alarmingly, the crude oil price — now ranging from $ 40 to $ 60 a barrel as against $ 12 to $ 14 after the first Gulf War — is highly volatile. This, combined with other reasons, has led most experts to believe that the “oil age” is gradually coming to an end.
No wonder then that most countries are opting for natural gas as the preferred fuel. Its supply is abundant and it is, unlike oil and coal, a clean fuel. The United States calls natural gas a “bridge fuel” because it expects to develop even cleaner sources of energy such as hydrogen. However, the work on alternative sources of energy here is very slow and we would remain dependent on imports for our requirements of gas. The ONGC, Reliance and the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) have found new gas fields but their output would make only a limited difference to the situation.
The key question, therefore, centres on the cost and security of the mode of transport of natural gas. Barring the questions about Pakistan’s behaviour, there is consensus among those competent to speak on the subject that overland pipelines are the most economic and safest. The under-sea pipelines that at times seemed exciting are horrendously expensive as well as extremely vulnerable. Any disruption of a land pipeline can be rectified quickly enough. If some jehadi chooses to damage the under-sea pipeline, we wouldn’t be able even to send a protest note to Islamabad.
Moreover, there already are 9,000 kilometres of gas pipelines within India. The GAIL and other agencies are building a network of another 9,000 km. Some of these pass through areas infested with the People’s War group and other troublemakers. Wouldn’t the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the ISI find it more tempting to target the pipelines within India rather than disrupt a mutilateral pipeline that would cause for Pakistan multiple problems with countries such as Iran and with the international community in general?
The alternative to overland pipelines, now being resorted to some extent, is the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by tankers. But this requires a massive infrastructure in terms of tankers, ports, etc, which would mean humungous investments. The joke is that the vast sums of money would have been spent anyhow if the pipelines issue is kept hanging for years and
The last Shangri La
Nestled between the snow-capped high-altitude mountains of the Great Himalayan Range and the Shamshabari Range in north Kashmir is the pristine Gurez Valley — probably the last remaining Shangri La since the Zanskar Valley in Ladakh was discovered a few decades ago.
Spouting near Kaobal Gali, a pass that links the Gurez and Mashkoh Valleys, the Kishanganga River meanders purposefully through the narrow, 80-km long Gurez Valley and flows into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir at Kanzalwan. Full of rainbow trout and other exotic fish, the Kishanganga is an angler's delight. Foaming over the massive boulders in its path, gurgling under the ice floes on its frozen surface and snarling with a vengeance through the avalanches that dare to block its path, the Kishanganga adorns the valley like a beautiful string of pearls at the foot of the majestic mountains. Lapping gently here and roaring purposefully there, it dances gracefully through the terraced fields and glides softly by the quaint villages dotting its gentle banks towards its confluence with the Jhelum near Muzzaffarabad — like a blushing young maiden hurrying for a tryst with her lover.
High up and away from the evil gaze of man, the elusive snow leopard and the nimble-footed ibex share their habitat in the virgin snows and the pine-scented forests with bears, musk deer, foxes, wolves and other Himalayan wildlife. The hardy Gurezis, one of the tribes of the erstwhile Dardistan, mostly live off the land. Their major source of employment is the Indian army deployed on the Line of Control on the high mountains north of the Kishanganga. They work as porters for the army and provide their ponies for ferrying loads to the army posts along treacherous trails in some of the toughest terrain in the world.
Razdhan Pass, on the road from Kashmir, remains closed for six months during the winter. It snows heavily on the mountaintops and some of the army posts accumulate 15 to 20 feet of standing snow. Even in the Gurez-Tilel Valley, the total snowfall ranges between 30 and 40 feet during the winter. So, like the army, the Gurezis too have to stock up for the winter months. As their needs are simple and the funds available to them limited, they make do with frugal supplies. The inclement weather forces people to remain mainly indoors. Once in a while the sun breaks through the menacing clouds and the warmth of the sunshine lights up the soul.
In marked contrast with the bleak winters, the summer season presents an exhilarating experience. A mellow breeze whistles endearingly through the tall pines and a myriad flowers sprout magically to cover every bare patch with joyous colours and a heady fragrance. Soon after the snow melts, lush green grass emerges to cover the sprawling meadows and the Bakarwals trudge back up the mountains from Rajauri, Punch and the foothills of Jammu to set up their Deras on the upper reaches. Through the day they shepherd their flocks from one green patch to another — cajoling, chasing, goading their sheep. The docile flocks huddle together — bleating loudly, bells tinkling. At night their campfires burn bright and their songs fill the sickly sweet summer air with haunting melodies. Indeed, a paradise here on earth — if ever there was
For the rudderless BJP weighed down by the electoral defeat, the issue of quota on the basis of religion has come as a potential political weapon for launching a long-drawn conflict with the UPA government.
The decision of the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh to provide 5 per cent reservation to Muslims in educational institutions and employment threatens to snowball into a major controversy at the national level with the BJP and the Sangh Parivar all set to oppose the step tooth and nail.
A day after the state government issued the GO announcing a quota to Muslims under the Backward Classes, Vishwa Hindu Parishad General Secretary Pravin Togadia spit fire against the Congress government in the state, declaring that the reservations to Muslims would make Andhra Pradesh “another Pak.” The Bajrang Dal dubbed the move “blind appeasement” and its national convener Prakash Sharma said that such steps would increase “jehadi terrorism.”
Taking the cue from the VHP, BJP President M. Venkaiah Naidu termed the move as “retrograde and anti-national” and warned that the religion-based reservation would sow the seeds of national disintegration.
The Congress government, a little mysteriously, issued the purported GO on 12th of this month in the midst of the monsoon session of the Assembly. A press note sent quietly to the media said that “The government, after careful consideration of the recommendations made by the Commissioner of Minorities Welfare, hereby accept the same and order that Muslims in the state be provided with 5 per cent reservations in educational institutions and employment in the state, over and above the reservations presently provided to the Backward Classes and be treated as BC under category E, in addition to the existing A, B, C and D categories.”
The study by the Commissioner said that socio-economic conditions of the Muslim community in the state were very poor due to poverty, illiteracy and inadequate representation in various fields of society. According to the 1991 census, the population of minorities in Andhra Pradesh was 72 lakh, constituting 11 per cent of the total population, out of which 64 lakh were Muslims, constituting 8.5 per cent of the population. The survey by the Commissioner revealed that around 65 per cent of the Muslims were living below the poverty line (annual income Rs 11,000 or below) and 16 per cent were living under the double poverty limit (annual income Rs 44,500 or below).
The literacy rate among Muslims is only 18 per cent against 44 per cent among other communities in the state, and that among Muslim women, it is only 4 per cent. The study also said that most of the Muslims were engaged in petty business activity or earning their livelihood as rural artisans.
With the latest addition, the quota for various categories has touched 52 per cent in the state, crossing the 50 per cent limit set by the Supreme Court guidelines. The Congress government’s step is being widely seen as an attempt at consolidating the minority vote-bank in the state, which helped the party storm back to power in the recent poll.
Various Muslim political parties such as Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen in the state and several Muslim religious organisations and scholars across the country have welcomed the step. “It is a belated but welcome step for the community,” said Maulana Muazzim Ahmed, the Naib Imam of Fatehpuri mosque in New Delhi. M Q R Illyas of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said there was a political consensus in favour of reservation for Muslims.
The VHP, however, strongly opposed the decision and demanded its immediate withdrawal. “The Andhra Pradesh government has not only violated the Constitution but also the direction of the Supreme Court while giving 5 per cent reservation to Muslims,” Togadia said and added that reservation on religious basis was rejected immediately after Independence.
“The decision of the British for a religion-based electorate had given birth to Pakistan and this 5 per cent reservation to Muslims would also help some people to materialise their dream of making Andhra another Pakistan,” he claimed.
The BJP, ending its pre-poll honeymoon with the minority community, came out openly against the quota and declared that it would launch a nationwide agitation to get the decision reversed. Reservation on religious grounds “will sow the poisonous seed for the growth of a new communal movement inspired by the two-nation theory that led to the tragic partition of our motherland in 1947,” Venkaiah Naidu said.
Asserting that the saffron party would oppose the “divisive move” both inside and outside Parliament, the BJP leader announced the launch of a mass movement in the country against the decision, adding the plan of action would be chalked out after the ongoing Parliament session.
True to the BJP’s apprehensions that the Andhra government’s decision was likely to be emulated by other “parties locked in competitive secularism,” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav said in Lucknow his party was in favour of reservation in jobs for Muslims.
“It could also cause a cascading effect in the form of louder articulation of demands for reservation for Muslims in the police and security forces, the administration and the judiciary, and sub-reservation for Muslims within the proposed 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures,” the BJP chief said.
Interestingly, even some Muslim organisations opposed the reservation saying this would come as a blow to the weaker sections of society. Concerned over the possibility of well-off community members soaking up the cream, the United Muslim Morcha in New Delhi advocated that the reservation ought to be targeted at Dalit Muslims or communities that are exact equivalents of the SCs.
Bowing to the dissenting voices over the creamy layer, the state government assured that the legislation would be drafted in such a way that the benefits were not cornered by the elite. “We’ll ensure that only socially and economically backward community members reap the benefits of this law,” state Information Minister Shabbir Ali said.
ISLAMABAD: The provinces on Tuesday agreed to implement the Water Apportionment Accord (WAA), 1991, in true letter and spirit changing the present water distribution mechanism as they remained unflinching over Kalabagh Dam though expressed their willingness on building of mega reservoirs. Chief Ministers of the four provinces here at the forum of Parliamentary Committee on Water Resources reiterated their provinces’ respective stands over Kalabagh Dam, the most suitable but highly politicised proposed water reservoir. NWFP representatives led by Chief Minister Akram Durrani demanded that the frontier province be provided Rs 65 billion compensation as other federating units utilised its water share since 1991 accord was signed.
— The Nation
Chief Ministers of the four provinces here at the forum of Parliamentary Committee on Water Resources reiterated their provinces’ respective stands over Kalabagh Dam, the most suitable but highly politicised proposed water reservoir.
NWFP representatives led by Chief Minister Akram Durrani demanded that the frontier province be provided Rs 65 billion compensation as other federating units utilised its water share since 1991 accord was signed. — The Nation
DNA databank plan hits snags LAHORE: The Punjab government’s ambitious plan regarding the preparation of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) databank of 17,000 convicted prisoners languishing in various provincial jails has hit snags due to redtapism and indifferent attitude of the authorities concerned. The officials at the National Centre of Excellence and Molecular Biology (CEMB), Punjab University, after the establishment of the first ultra-modern DNA laboratory with US assistance in the metropolis, had suggested to the Punjab government to prepare a databank of the convicted prisoners as it would go a long way in fighting crime and nabbing real culprits, instead of hauling up and subjecting the innocent masses to torture. The process started last year after the establishment of the first DNA laboratory of its kind in the country but, an official at the CEMB laments the project may not be materialised due to non-seriousness on the part of the federal and provincial governments.
— The News
LAHORE: The Punjab government’s ambitious plan regarding the preparation of Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) databank of 17,000 convicted prisoners languishing in various provincial jails has hit snags due to redtapism and indifferent attitude of the authorities concerned.
The officials at the National Centre of Excellence and Molecular Biology (CEMB), Punjab University, after the establishment of the first ultra-modern DNA laboratory with US assistance in the metropolis, had suggested to the Punjab government to prepare a databank of the convicted prisoners as it would go a long way in fighting crime and nabbing real culprits, instead of hauling up and subjecting the innocent masses to torture.
The process started last year after the establishment of the first DNA laboratory of its kind in the country but, an official at the CEMB laments the project may not be materialised due to non-seriousness on the part of the federal and provincial governments. — The News
Computer education QUETTA: Federal Education Minister Zobaida Jalal has announced that the government would facilitate computer education at all the 10,500 public schools in the country. She was speaking at the foundation stone laying ceremony of Government Haji Sher Dil Khan Girls Inter College at Mach the other day. The minister said five-year agreements had been signed with various companies for the maintenance of computers and provision of teaching staff. She expressed the hope that computer classes would start in March from next month. The minister urged girl students to excel in their studies so that they could play a role in the development of the province and the country. Education Secretary Munir Ahmed Badini, Director (College) Riaz Ahmed Baloch and tribal elders were also prevent on the occasion.
— The Dawn
QUETTA: Federal Education Minister Zobaida Jalal has announced that the government would facilitate computer education at all the 10,500 public schools in the country.
She was speaking at the foundation stone laying ceremony of Government Haji Sher Dil Khan Girls Inter College at Mach the other day. The minister said five-year agreements had been signed with various companies for the maintenance of computers and provision of teaching staff.
She expressed the hope that computer classes would start in March from next month. The minister urged girl students to excel in their studies so that they could play a role in the development of the province and the country. Education Secretary Munir Ahmed Badini, Director (College) Riaz Ahmed Baloch and tribal elders were also prevent on the occasion. — The Dawn
Women Crisis Centre closed ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Women Development has closed the Crisis Centre for Women in Distress to start another new project of the same nature under its Family Protection Programme (FPP), which is also in doldrums. After completion of five years, the only centre in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi stopped working last month as the ministry has new projects to launch. The centre, which was set up in 1998 to protect women, eliminate all kind of violence, discrimination against women and to provide services to traumatised victims through legal aid, solved many cases of distressed women.
— The Nation
ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Women Development has closed the Crisis Centre for Women in Distress to start another new project of the same nature under its Family Protection Programme (FPP), which is also in doldrums.
After completion of five years, the only centre in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi stopped working last month as the ministry has new projects to launch.
The centre, which was set up in 1998 to protect women, eliminate all kind of violence, discrimination against women and to provide services to traumatised victims through legal aid, solved many cases of distressed women.
— The Nation
Many are the names of God and infinite are the forms through which He may be approached. In whatever name and form you worship Him, through them you will realise
Him. — Sri Ramakrishna Nothing can be obtained without good deeds, though one may run about a great
deal. — Guru Nanak I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the
popular. — Mahatma Gandhi Learning is a good thing; but it availeth not. True wisdom can be acquired by practice
only. — The Buddha Wearing coarse, hard cloth, and eating coarse food is not abstinence from this world; abstinence from this world is only lack of
desire. — Prophet Muhammad
— Sri Ramakrishna
Nothing can be obtained without good deeds, though one may run about a great deal.
— Guru Nanak
I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular.
— Mahatma Gandhi
Learning is a good thing; but it availeth not. True wisdom can be acquired by practice only.
— The Buddha
Wearing coarse, hard cloth, and eating coarse food is not abstinence from this world; abstinence from this world is only lack of desire.
— Prophet Muhammad