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Goodbye POTA
Alas, more draconian laws thrive in states
N
O tears will be shed over the demise of the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act, which witnessed extensive misuse during its infamous tenure. That is just a polite way of saying that its exit would be celebrated.

Toxic history
Leave education to educationists
T
HE education ministers of the five BJP-ruled states did not cover themselves with glory by boycotting the first meeting of the newly constituted Central Advisory Board of Education on Tuesday. Whatever the reason, the boycott should have been avoided.


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Price for paddy
Make crop diversification a reality
T
HE minimum support price announced on Tuesday for paddy, oilseeds and pulses indicates that the government wants to encourage price-led crop diversification. Attempts to wean farmers from the wheat-paddy cycle to oilseeds and pulses have yet to show results. When the country faced foodgrain shortage, the MSP for wheat and paddy was raised year after year. 

ARTICLE

Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ idea
India can’t ignore developments in Afghanistan
by G. Parthasarathy
J
UST a few days before he died in a mysterious air-crash on August 17, 1988, General Zia-ul-Haq shared some of his thoughts with a German correspondent. General Zia was ecstatic that following the Geneva Accords, Mikhail Gorbachev was all set to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan. 

MIDDLE

Monsoon ahoy
by Lt-Gen Vijay Oberoi
M
onday was a day of ecstasy, but come Tuesday and everyone was down in the dumps, not early in the morning, but as the day progressed. The monsoons deigned to turn up, after an agonising wait for a month, in which everyone suffered — humans, animals, and crops — in equal measure.

OPED

Governor sets social agenda
Says corruption a hurdle in development
by Swati Vashishtha
T
he recent political showdown between the Congress and the BJP over the sacking of four Governors has sparked a national debate. While carefully choosing to keep himself from commenting on the issue, Governor of Uttranchal Sudershan Agarwal has a thing or two to contribute to the subject in terms of his way of working.

From Pakistan
Health panel formed

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on Tuesday announced the formation of a National Commission on Health and a number of measures for improving the health sector, including a Rs 300 million fund for disabled people , upgradation of nurses’ pay scales and an increase in the stipend for post-graduate medical students.

  • Laws for cable operators

  • Drive against extremists

  • Minorities’ rights


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Goodbye POTA
Alas, more draconian laws thrive in states

NO tears will be shed over the demise of the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which witnessed extensive misuse during its infamous tenure. That is just a polite way of saying that its exit would be celebrated. It was an affront to the Constitution which provides cast-iron civil liberties to every citizen and had become a handy tool for the politicians to get even with their opponents. POTA was in for repeal any way and the Congress-led government has given the final push just a few days before its natural death to get the credit for its removal. And why not? That was a part of the manifesto of the ruling party.

While one utters requiescant in pace (RIP) over its sullied body, one cannot forget that even more draconian laws continue to be alive and kicking in many states. That is true not only of terrorism-affected states like Jammu and Kashmir. The Act to curb organised crime in Maharashtra is the twin brother of POTA in a docile girl's garb. But the worst of them all is the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act which has been misused to the hilt. It makes a tyrant and dictator out of even an ordinary jawan. He can shoot anyone and even destroy his house and coolly walk away saying that he has done so on the suspicion that the person concerned is a terrorist. The Act has been in force for a quarter century and has still not done much to curb violence there. On the contrary, it has made all sections of society rise in revolt against the Assam Rifles in Manipur. It is ironical that what is goose for the Congress at the Centre turns gander in the states.

Unfortunately, such laws are not assessed on the basis of their merit and demerit but on their political origin. While the UPA government has decided to scrap the anti-terrorism law, there is no guarantee that its replacement will not have equally obnoxious provisions. Then it will be the turn of the BJP or some other party to launch a tirade and this political one-upmanship may continue. There is also the question of misuse of even benign laws. As they say, the devil lies in details. 
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Toxic history
Leave education to educationists

THE education ministers of the five BJP-ruled states did not cover themselves with glory by boycotting the first meeting of the newly constituted Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) on Tuesday. Whatever the reason, the boycott should have been avoided. Even if they felt that Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh was trying to implement his agenda through the CABE, they should have participated in the discussions and opposed what they thought was wrong. Instead, they held a separate meeting and decided not to withdraw the history and social sciences textbooks from their schools as recommended by a committee of experts appointed by the HRD Ministry. This is unfortunate, to say the least.

The ministers have a right to prevent the teaching of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks in the schools run by their respective state governments. But how can they do so in the schools under the Central Board of Secondary Education? Of course, there is no ban on acquiring knowledge, but those at the impressionable stage of their life must also be protected from extremist ideologies, which cause more harm than good.

The three-member committee that sought the withdrawal of the NCERT history textbooks from the next academic session did not have any ideologically oriented experts as its members. That is why even the BJP leaders did not say a word against their credentials. Who will not agree with the experts' view that history books for schoolchildren should reflect the collective wisdom of a group of experts? Of course, the HRD Minister has been speaking too much on the subject of "de-toxification" of school textbooks and the institutions under his control. This was bound to evoke the kind of reaction it has caused. Politicians should avoid making remarks which may lead to unnecessary controversies, particularly in an area like education. 
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Price for paddy
Make crop diversification a reality

THE minimum support price (MSP) announced on Tuesday for paddy, oilseeds and pulses indicates that the government wants to encourage price-led crop diversification. Attempts to wean farmers from the wheat-paddy cycle to oilseeds and pulses have yet to show results. When the country faced foodgrain shortage, the MSP for wheat and paddy was raised year after year. Now with a massive buildup of foodgrain stocks, farmers should no longer expect any significant rise in the MSP. The increase of Rs 10 for paddy may disappoint many, but they need to understand the logic behind it. The MSP for oilseeds and pulses, for which the country depends on imports, has witnessed a substantial hike, the maximum being for groundnut.

The message on crop diversification is yet to reach the farmer. The MSP announcement comes after farmers have sown kharif crops. Because of delayed and deficient rain in Punjab and Haryana, the paddy crop has been lost in several areas. Both states had to resort to drastic cuts in the supply of power to domestic and industrial consumers and purchase additional power to save paddy. The massive loss to industry, the domestic consumer and the electricity boards is not reflected in the MSP for paddy. Both states are financially ruining themselves by spending heavily on paddy. They subsidise the foodgrain, which is either exported or consumed by other states. The government loses Rs 5,000 on every tonne of foodgrain exported.

The loss of underground water resources is another unfortunate outcome of growing paddy. This cost also is not taken into consideration while fixing the MSP. Farmers keep growing paddy because the returns are more and assured. The country imports oilseeds and pulses worth about Rs 12,000 crore annually. The hike in the MSP for oilseeds and pulses alone is not enough. Farmers must be provided with improved seed and other inputs for growing high-yielding varieties so that productivity reaches global levels. 
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Thought for the day

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.

— Charlie Chaplin
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Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ idea
India can’t ignore developments in Afghanistan
by G. Parthasarathy

JUST a few days before he died in a mysterious air-crash on August 17, 1988, General Zia-ul-Haq shared some of his thoughts with a German correspondent. General Zia was ecstatic that following the Geneva Accords, Mikhail Gorbachev was all set to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan. When asked about what Pakistan would do next in Afghanistan his eyes glittered. Displaying a map of Pakistan’s neighbourhood to his visitor, General Zia placed the palm of his hand over Afghanistan with his fingers extending into neighbouring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Pointing to his palm and fingers, he breathlessly proclaimed: “You know all this (Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) will soon be ours”. This then was the grand strategy of the Pakistan military seeking “strategic depth” against India, by the virtual takeover of Afghanistan and its northern neighbours. This is an objective that has not yet been abandoned by the military establishment on the other side of the border.

Pakistan and its apologists have often sought to pander to these fanciful geo-strategic ideas by saying that Pakistan’s real aim is to seek a rear base to position its forces in the event of a deep armoured thrust into Pakistan by Indian forces. But will any sane government in India ever seek such a deep thrust that will almost certainly risk nuclear escalation? And if the Pakistan military’s aim is only to position its Air Force out of range of the IAF, then it should surely know that it would be as easy for the IAF to attack Kabul or Kandahar, as it would be to attack Peshawar or Quetta. Thus, the entire concept of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan has no military rationale. What Pakistan appears to be really seeking is the establishment of a Sunni-dominated “Islamic Emirate” covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and, of course Jammu and Kashmir. Being predominantly Shia, Iran can have no place in such a scheme. But a single Sunni Islamic entity on these lines would serve as a useful counter to an India weakened by a prolonged low- intensity conflict. Hence General Musharraf’s assertion on April 12, 1999, that the low intensity conflict with India would continue even if the Kashmir problem is resolved.

When American Cruise missiles hit the town of Khost near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 1998, as it was suspected to be a hideout for Osama bin Laden, they destroyed an ISI-Taliban camp for training jihadis of the Harkat-ul -Mujahideen for terrorism in Kashmir. It was also clear during the hijacking of IC 814 to Kandahar in December 1999, that Taliban a administered Afghanistan was merely an extension of Pakistan, with even the air traffic control being run by Pakistanis. It is known that following the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, around 10,000 Taliban fighters along with around 35,000 armed Pakistanis fled into the areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Pakistani officers up to the rank of Brigadier were then commanding joint Taliban-Pakistan formations in Afghanistan.

American Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and President Hamid Karzai have frequently alleged that Taliban fighters have been provided assistance and shelter in Quetta and elsewhere in Pakistan. While over 350 Al-Qaeda activists have been arrested by Pakistani agencies, not a single Taliban leader has yet been taken in custody in Pakistan. After three years of military operations, the Americans have succeeded in eliminating only two senior Taliban leaders within Afghanistan — Mullah Sakhi Dad Mujahid and Mullah Omar’s brother- in-law, Mullah Amanullah. According to a renowned Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid, the diaries seized during the arrest of Mujahid a few weeks ago revealed that Mullah Omar was resident in or near Quetta in Baluchistan! There is no doubt now that despite Mr Richard Boucher of the US State Department showering praises on General Musharraf, the ISI still assists the Taliban.

Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Afghanistan on October 9. President Karzai is seeking election with the brother of the legendary Ahmed Shah Masood and Shia Hazara leader Karim Khalili as Vice-Presidential nominees. Ranged against him are leaders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance like Vice-President Gen Mohammed Fahim, former Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni, Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum and influential Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqiq — those who were for years backed by Russia, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Iran and shunned by the Americans. Mr Karzai has also sought to marginalise other powerful anti-Taliban military commanders like Mr Ismail Khan, Hazrat Ali and Khan Mohammed. This has evidently been done with American encouragement.

There is a growing fear among those who opposed and fought the Taliban that the Bush Administration is attempting to appease General Musharraf, by marginalising those who fought the Taliban, labelling them as “war-lords”, while at the same time seeking to accommodate the so-called “moderate Taliban” leaders. The Pakistani effort seems to be to re-establish Taliban control over southern and eastern Afghanistan by getting the Americans to marginalise those who opposed the Taliban. Pakistan also favours the disbandment of the forces in the Northern Alliance who fought the Taliban, while continuing to assist and arm the Taliban. Quite obviously, the Pakistanis are seeking to lay the groundwork to re-establish “strategic depth” throughout Afghanistan, in the conviction that the Americans are bound to leave that country in course of time.

While New Delhi has been quite happy to assist the Karzai government in its efforts to promote stability and development, it can obviously not acquiesce in the Americans pandering to Pakistani ambitions of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. President Karzai himself has been friendly towards India and is an Afghan nationalist. But India should make it clear that any deal being made with the so-called “moderate Taliban” would be quite unacceptable, as we would be back to the situation that prevailed during and before the Kandahar hijack episode.

These developments are obviously going to be assessed in Moscow, Tashkent, Dushanbe and Tehran. The Russians are now in the process of boosting security cooperation with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Russia recently signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Uzbekistan and an agreement with Tajikistan on June 4 that reinforced its existing troop presence there with provisions that would reportedly give it access to military facilities outside the capital, Dushanbe. Iran would likewise be averse to the marginalisation of anti-Taliban leaders like Ismail Khan and Haqiqi.

While India should not interfere with the forthcoming elections in Afghanistan, we cannot ignore our friends there, or hesitate in joining countries with whom we share a common interest in preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a Pakistani backyard and a haven for terrorism directed against us.
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Monsoon ahoy
by Lt-Gen Vijay Oberoi

Monday was a day of ecstasy, but come Tuesday and everyone was down in the dumps, not early in the morning, but as the day progressed. The monsoons deigned to turn up, after an agonising wait for a month, in which everyone suffered — humans, animals, and crops — in equal measure. On Monday the birds sang and everyone was happy, including our two dogs, who don’t like summer one bit! It was perhaps the most welcome monsoon I can remember, after a long, enervating and hot summer.

Then it was Tuesday, and the heavens poured all the water they seemed to have accumulated over the past rain-starved month, or more. The omens were not the best when I woke up with the alarm at 4:30. A blackout greeted me, although the inverter coming on almost immediately was most comforting. I had to catch the early morning train to Delhi, to be well in time for my afternoon flight to Bangalore, but fate had other ideas.

My brush with fate started about five minutes after we left our house in Panchkula. As we neared the main crossroad after Manimajra, we were confronted with virtually a sea of brown water ahead, flowing diagonally across the road. It was undoubtedly menacing, and a number of motorists had stopped their cars in awe, as they looked at this formidable obstacle. But such timidity was not for us. After all we had a big car, an Ambassador, and I did have to catch a train. We ignored all misgivings and plunged in, only to be rudely halted, perhaps after travelling just 10 yards!

No amount of turning the ignition would bring the engine back to life. We were marooned good and proper, something a landlubber like me was not too comfortable with. So, continuing with the dare-devil approach we had adopted when we had plunged into this veritable sea, I ordered the driver and my assistant to take off their shoes, roll up their trousers and start pushing, while I moved up from the rear seat and squeezed myself behind the wheel, without getting wet.

The boys did an excellent job and we were soon out of the water. The engine miraculously sprang to life, and we were off, at a furious pace, as not much time was left for the train. After negotiating a number of other inundated areas, we reached our destination in the nick of time. This relief, however, soon turned into chagrin and then despair as we waited and waited, listening to intermittent announcements about an indefinite delay as the train refused to move from the last station, on account of the flooded tracks. Ultimately, after nearly three hours of fruitless waiting, the train was formally cancelled and we were asked to get refunds for our tickets.

The return journey was even worse; it took us two hours to cover the short distance. We had to negotiate even more waterlogged stretches, much worse than the early morning one, as there had been no letup in the rain. However, innovation, imagination, a lot of luck, and sheer brute power helped us! Leaving behind a trail of stranded vehicles, we managed to reach home. Kudos to my driver and assistant, who were wet and bedraggled, but cheerful for their adventure. It was another case of manpower transcending mechanical power.
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Governor sets social agenda
Says corruption a hurdle in development
by Swati Vashishtha

 Governor of Uttranchal Sudershan Agarwal
Governor of Uttranchal Sudershan Agarwal

The recent political showdown between the Congress and the BJP over the sacking of four Governors has sparked a national debate. While carefully choosing to keep himself from commenting on the issue, Governor of Uttranchal Sudershan Agarwal has a thing or two to contribute to the subject in terms of his way of working.

A politician is what a politician does. But a Governor is a Governor anyway. The gubernatorial office neither encourages nor allows for an out-of-the -box way of working. Or that, at least, is the popular belief. Mr Agarwal, however, would rather be an exception to the rule.

Into the Raj Bhavan for over a year now, the long- time Rotarian is trying to redefine the role of Governor in the civil society. If he can go beyond just dividing his time between hosting high teas and cutting ribbons, he would feel he has been able to justify the opportunity, he says. The idea of finding a new role for a Governor in promoting social causes makes sense to him, he adds.

Whether it is about being the first one to pick up the broom at a cleanliness drive, making direct phone calls or sorting pebbles at the Raj Bhavan lawns, he is known to have no hang-ups about anything. While the Governor keeps busy pooling in funds for carefully chosen social causes close to his heart, the people of Uttranchal are getting used to an unassuming sort of a governor.

It’s a journey which began when Mr Agarwal was on the train to Dehradun for his swearing-in ceremony with family and friends, he says. At Hardwar station, the Governor-to-be decided to help the underprivileged children of the hill state who are forced to leave the state for higher studies. With his personal contribution and that of his companions, the Him Jyoti Trust for scholarships to bright children for professional education had a sum of Rs 11 lakh.

The Trust, which supports 25 children with professional scholarships of Rs 30,000 per student per year, has a corpus of over Rs 2.5 crore. Two of the girls enrolled for the scholarships are studying medicine.

On his personal initiative, Mr Agarwal got a corporate bigwig NRI Raj Loomba to adopt 110 children of poor widows with a commitment of Rs 500 per child per month for five years. The governor has arranged sponsorships for some 40 tribal children of the state studying at the Information Technology Institute for Tribes of India, Dehradun. The idea is to channel their potential in the right direction so that these children do not take to the gun, says Mr Agarwal.

With an eye for local issues of concern, the Governor is trying to make a difference in the common man’s life. Children born with cleft lips and similar congenital deformities are common in the hill state. On the Raj Bhavan’s initiative in association with a voluntary organisation, these children are sent for surgical treatment. Over 120 children have benefited from the project till now.

Considering the shockingfigures of casualties due to the loss of blood in road accidents in the hill state, a world-class blood bank on the lines of the Rotary blood bank in Delhi is in the pipeline in Dehradun. The project is underway in association with the Indian Medical Association and ONGC.

Poor sanitation in villages long after Independence is an issue of deep concern, says Mr Agarwal. Under a sanitation project to provide home toilets to people in remote villages of Uttranchal, the Governor plans to provide 1,000 such toilets against a modest contribution from the user family. Parallel to the project, the Raj Bhavan plans to get toilets built in all schools across the state, besides providing modern toilet blocks in Hardwar for the use of pilgrims and others.

In an effort to bring about a sense of equality in the education sector and to allow the underprivileged talent in the state the right to good education, the Governor has plans to start a public school for poor village girls.

Concerned about corruption creeping into public life in Uttranchal Mr Agarwal says we shall not allow the Dev Bhoomi to turn into a Rakshas bhoomi. But he firmly believes that the widespread corruption in public life is the greatest hurdle in the development of the state.

In months to come, the Governor plans to hold a seminar on devising mechanism to check corruption in public life. And he would like to ensure it is not all about free stationery and networking over power lunches, but a serious exercise towards specific results. Introducing a citizens charter at every public office to tell people what to do if they are not heard, is one of the things on his mind.

In the Governor, Uttranchal has a potential resource person to get things done at the federal level irrespective of the party in power. Some 25 years in the Rajya Sabha and all the cups of coffee he offered to various politicians as General Secretary of the Rajya Sabha has paid off in sound connections with all of them. And he loses no occasion to use them for the benefit of the state, Mr Agarwal says.

Realising the slow pace of development in Uttranchal, the Governor is worried about cynicism setting in. Even as tourism and horticulture are sectors of tremendous potential in Uttranchal, a lot needs to be done before the state takes off for the big leap, he agrees.
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From Pakistan
Health panel formed

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain on Tuesday announced the formation of a National Commission on Health and a number of measures for improving the health sector, including a Rs 300 million fund for disabled people , upgradation of nurses’ pay scales and an increase in the stipend for post-graduate medical students.

These decisions were announced by the Prime Minister in a speech at the inaugural session of the National Health Conference at the Convention Centre here . He said the proposed National Commission for Career Structure of Health Personnel would review the service structure of doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses and the paramedical staff.

The commission would specifically address the issue of better pay and allowances admissible to them and submit its recommendations within three months.
The Dawn

Laws for cable operators

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting has directed PEMRA to strictly observe morality laws for cable operators and to counter the onslaught of foreign channels.

The committee, which met at the Parliamentary House under the chairmanship of Senator Nisar Ahmed Memon, asked the Pakistan Electronics Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to give a briefing on its performance in the next meeting.

The committee deferred the issue of re-launching cigarette advertisement on PTV due to the pre-occupation of the Ministry of Health in the International Health Conference being held in Islamabad. However, it asked the Ministry not to proceed with re-launching of cigarette advertisement on PTV till the committee discussed the issue at its next meeting.

The committee directed PTV to present separate briefings focusing on its finance, funding, problems, Direct to Home (DTH) and PTV’s strategy to compete with the private channels. — The Nation

Drive against extremists

RAWALPINDI: The government has started verification of low-ranking police personnel throughout Punjab with a view to purging the department of extremist elements, an official source said.

The decision was taken at a meeting on law and order in Islamabad, which was attended by Interior Minister, Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, IGPs of the four provinces and Islamabad, besides other officials.

The source said it had also been planned to evolve a system for the verification of recruits to avoid the entry of extremist elements in the force. He added that the verification of policemen had been started through agencies. In this regard, the National Police Bureau will design a form for the verification of the personnel.
— The Dawn

Minorities’ rights

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz on Tuesday said the government would protect the rights of minorities and make efforts for their welfare according to the Constitution of Pakistan.

Talking to a delegation of nine Nazims of minorities from Mithi NA 229, led by Minister of State (In-Charge) for Minorities, Culture, Sports, Tourism and Youth Affairs Rais Munir Ahmad, Mr Shaukat Aziz said that the government would provide all civic amenities and full protection, freedom and liberty to the minorities. He urged them to support him and cast their votes in his favour on August 18 for socio-economic prosperity of the country. — The News
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If I found it necessary for the salvation of India that the English should retire, that they should be driven out, I would not hesitate to declare that they would have to go, and I hope I would be prepared to die in defence of that belief.

— Mahatma Gandhi

The Guru is the ladder by which the self is reached (i.e. realised).

— Guru Nanak

Knowledge without right conduct, asceticism without right faith, and austerities without self-control are all futile.

— Lord Mahavir

No man of bad habits shall enter Paradise.

— Prophet Muhammad

Pardon is the virtue of victory.

— Mazzini
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