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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped | Reflections

EDITORIALS

Reassuring the minorities
Bring them into the mainstream
P
rime Minister Manmohan Singh’s candid admission that minorities don’t have a fair share of jobs in the government as well as the private sector is an honest assessment and a confirmation of the seriousness of the problem.

Make HIV tests free
AIDS has to be fought on all fronts
C
utting the HIV/AIDS test price to half from Rs 500 is a tiny but welcome step towards combating the growing menace. Ideally, the National AIDS Control Organisation should make the treatment free for all patients. Currently, only HIV-infected children and HIV positive parents living below the poverty line are exempted from paying for the tests.



EARLIER STORIES
Courting death
November 3, 2006
RBI to farmers’ rescue
November 2, 2006
Sealing the law
November 1, 2006
Uncertainty in B’desh
October 31, 2006
Diversity, a binding thread
October 30, 2006
No transfer of existing units to SEZs, says Kamal Nath
October 29, 2006
Karunanidhi’s move
October 28, 2006
Ruling on rights
October 27, 2006
Right choice
October 26, 2006
Enemy within
October 25, 2006


Destination moon
Encourage a manned space mission
T
he first tentative steps towards India eventually putting a man on the moon are getting firmer with ISRO’s presentation to the Prime Minister recently, during a routine review of India’s space and nuclear programmes.

ARTICLE

The Rajya Sabha
Is it the Council of States, or of the people?
by Kuldip Nayar
A
DETERMINED Supreme Court of India has thrown out the petition filed to seek the review of its two-part judgment. One, a Rajya Sabha member need not be normally a resident of the state which returns him or her through its Assembly. Two, secret ballot system is not germane to free and fair election.

MIDDLE

Masterly apprentice 
by Vikramdeep Johal
M
asterji died last month,” the boy said casually, while his scissors went snip-snip through my hair. The wiry, middle-aged Masterji, whose health had deteriorated rapidly due to cancer in recent months, had been my barber for the past seven years. The news no doubt came as a shock, but the matter-of-fact way in which his teenaged apprentice broke it was no less unsettling.

OPED

Dateline Washington
Staying the course on nuke deal
Crucial period ahead in “lame-duck” session of US Congress
by Ashish Kumar Sen
A
s legislation intended to enable U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation negotiates partisan wrangling in the United States Congress, two South Asia analysts warn that if the deal falters it could cause a “significant setback” to U.S.-India relations.

Compassion can win over people
by Humra Quraishi
M
ohammad Afzal could be called by any other name and he could just as well be hailing from any other region - but the fact remains that we have to hear his side of the story in totality and in complete detail before hailing the hangman.

Inside Pakistan
Mukhataran Mai’s memoir
by Syed Nooruzzaman
T
he publishers of General Pervez Musharraf's In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, Simon and Schuster of the US, have created an embarrassing situation for the President of Pakistan. They have brought out another such publication by another Pakistani soon after launching the General’s book. 

  • Failure to rein in price rise

  • Karakoram oil pipeline

 
 REFLECTIONS

 

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Reassuring the minorities
Bring them into the mainstream

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s candid admission that minorities don’t have a fair share of jobs in the government as well as the private sector is an honest assessment and a confirmation of the seriousness of the problem.

His government is apparently seized of the matter but this concern has not translated into any appreciable improvement in the situation. We may be having a Muslim President; those from various other minorities may also be occupying senior positions in numerous walks of life, but overall, their representation is way below their numerical strength. What must be underlined is that while the Prime Minister has spoken forcefully about rectifying the situation, he has not sought to do this through the quota route, which can be counter-productive. Instead, what he has advocated is concerted affirmative action, which can give them their due place in the mainstream. The Muslims and other minorities have to be suitably equipped to shoulder greater responsibilities so that their socio-economic backwardness can be removed.

As the Sachar Committee has also mentioned, the key to ameliorating the lot of the Muslims is their education. The community itself has to come forward to improve the education level of the young generation, especially girls. After that, it is the government’s responsibility to widen their access to professional training, especially medical and educational courses.

It will be wrong to lay the blame for their sorry plight only on their minority status. A large percentage of even those belonging to the majority community are also among the poorest of the poor. But wherever there is even the slightest bias or prejudice against the minorities, it has to be clinically removed. The Prime Minister has in his forthright and commendable way admitted that the benefits of various schemes to target specific problems in the fields of education, health, employment and shelter have not flowed “equitably to the eligible sections amongst the minorities”. Since the shortcomings stand fully identified, there is need to hand down a “deliver-or-step aside” ultimatum to the functionaries concerned who have been found wanting. 

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Make HIV tests free
AIDS has to be fought on all fronts

Cutting the HIV/AIDS test price to half from Rs 500 is a tiny but welcome step towards combating the growing menace. Ideally, the National AIDS Control Organisation should make the treatment free for all patients. Currently, only HIV-infected children and HIV positive parents living below the poverty line are exempted from paying for the tests. Free HIV tests and treatment will encourage more people to come forward for treatment. This requires large funds. Health is low on priority in many states. Only a fraction of the state health budgets is earmarked for combating AIDS.

While ignorance, lack of access to hospitals and high cost may keep poor victims from seeking treatment, it is the social stigma that forces patients from the middle and upper classes from going in for medical and psychological help. Hospitals themselves, particularly dispensaries in the rural areas, are ill-equipped to handle HIV cases. Besides, insensitivity of the health staff discourages victims from approaching hospitals. That may explain the small number of HIV/AIDS cases reported in Himachal Pradesh (252), Punjab (292) and Haryana (486) compared to 1,260 cases in Chandigarh. This region attracts a large number of migrants and many of them come to Chandigarh for treatment as the UT has excellent medicare facilities.

Despite efforts to spread awareness about AIDS through theatre, films and the media, misconceptions about the disease persist. A recent survey conducted by the commandant of a military hospital in Punjab and a Pune-based professor has indicated glaring lack of understanding even among officers about the threat of disease in the armed forces. Small wonder, the menace is spreading fast and even the armed forces are not prepared to deal with it. According to the latest WHO report, 1,11608 more Indians got infected by the HIV in 2005 with Tamil Nadu reporting the maximum number (52,036) followed by Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. 

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Destination moon
Encourage a manned space mission

The first tentative steps towards India eventually putting a man on the moon are getting firmer with ISRO’s presentation to the Prime Minister recently, during a routine review of India’s space and nuclear programmes. No decisions were taken, but it is clear that ISRO can, and would, like to undertake the mission. Its scientists have been cautious about expressing their enthusiasm but Chairman G Madhavan Nair recently came out strongly in favour of it, while delivering an address at the 54th International Congress of Aviation and Space Medicine in Bangalore a few weeks ago. ISRO, he said, was debating about “how to achieve this big dream”.

The cost, he agreed, was a barrier — estimates start at Rs 10,000 crore, which can go up to Rs 20,000 crore. There are technological challenges in re-entry and life-support systems as well. But considering that ISRO has achieved its tremendous successes so far in both launch vehicles and satellites, on modest budgets, the Centre should seriously consider rewarding them with a project to fly out a man to space. Not all benefits would be tangible or immediately realisable. Some cast the debate, unfortunately, in terms of “why do we need to send out a human being when machines can get the job done?” and “why spend so much on such a mission when millions are still struggling below the poverty line?”

Instruments and robots can get many things done, but a man in space, and perhaps on the moon, would cap our achievements so far. It would do more than that. Space, after all, is the next frontier, and human kind’s destiny may well lie in its infinite possibilities. The human spirit of discovery and adventure — the quest to go beyond the known and push at the limits of what is possible — is too precious a thing to stifle. And if India is to become an equal partner in the space-faring ventures of Europe and America, it is better to start earlier than later. Giant steps cannot be taken by narrow minds.

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Thought for the day

He who is taught to live upon little owes more to his father’s wisdom than he who has a great deal left him does to his father’s care.

— William Penn 

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The Rajya Sabha
Is it the Council of States, or of the people?
by Kuldip Nayar

A DETERMINED Supreme Court of India has thrown out the petition filed to seek the review of its two-part judgment. One, a Rajya Sabha member need not be normally a resident of the state which returns him or her through its Assembly. Two, secret ballot system is not germane to free and fair election.

The judgment was criticised by both the Press and the public. Three of India’s ex-Chief Justices to whom I talked regretted the verdict. And so did former President of India R. Venkataraman.

The review petition, in fact, provided the court with an opportunity to re-examine its arguments for rejection. However, the five judges who delivered the judgment dismissed the petition from the chamber itself. They were not obliged to consult either lawyers or petitioners, but it would have been better if they had done so in view of wide criticism. A high court is obliged to consult lawyers but not the mighty Supreme Court. Strange, both are courts of appeal and yet both have different rules to dispose of review petitions.

When I filed the petition — I did it on the 30th day to make the limitation period — I imagined that the five judges would let it lie for the criticism to sink in and some type of debate to build up. But they took up the petition in less than a month, although the arrears of cases in the Supreme Court go back to several years.

In a way, the five judges have put a lid over domicile qualification controversy. But I have already heard murmurs in the states which are not ruled by either the Congress, or the BJP or the CPM. Who knows when the demand for the full Bench to reconsider the judgment will crop up?

The reason why I am perturbed over the judgment is because the five judges have given a new complexion to the Rajya Sabha, something which the Constitution framers did not have in mind.

The latter wanted Parliament to have two Houses, one representing the states and the other representing people. The Houses were named accordingly: the Council of States and the House of People. The name, Council of States, leaves no room for confusion. The law framed to ensure this made the domicile qualification compulsory so that the person going to the Council of States is ordinarily a resident of the state concerned. How can a member who does not know its language, its culture, or its ethos represent the state in the sense the Constitution framers had envisaged?

The judges make three points: one, the Rajya Sabha is somewhat secondary to that of the Lok Sabha; two, the House acts as a revising chamber; the Rajya Sabha helps in improving the Bill passed by the Lok Sabha, and, three, in practice, the Rajya Sabha does not act as a champion of local interests.

With due respect, I may point out that all the three points are contrary to the facts. The Supreme Court can interpret the Constitution in any manner it likes but it cannot elucidate the provisions in a way which negates the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

Parliament has two Houses. Both are independent. Nowhere has it been laid down that one House is “secondary” to the other. The two have separate rules of business, separate secretariats and separate ways of conducting their affairs. Any Bill, apart from the one relating to money, can be introduced in the Rajya Sabha and sent to the Lok Sabha for endorsement or vice-versa.

In fact, the legislation relating to the all-India services and the states has to originate in the Rajya Sabha since the House represents the states. When a Bill can be initiated in either of the two Houses, anyone of the two can “improve” it. The Rajya Sabha is not the repository of all knowledge. For the judges to say that the Rajya Sabha “helps improve the Bill” is a reflection on the Lok Sabha.

The Rajya Sabha does not act as “a revising chamber”. The discussion in both the Houses is open and free. The outcome depends on the level of the debate or the content provided.

Sometimes, the Bill is revised drastically. It is not the Rajya Sabha alone which does it. The Lok Sabha can also revise it. In fact, the revision is done mostly by the Lok Sabha because it is the directly elected House. However, in nine out of 10 cases, the Bill going from one House to another does not undergo any change, not even a comma. I should know this because I have been a member of the Rajya Sabha for six years, from 1997 to 2003.

Contrary to the obiter dicta by the five judges, the Rajya Sabha members champion the causes of the state to which they belong. Most questions asked by members and the supplementary put are of local nature. Members raise them to highlight a particular grievance or the happening which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

For this purpose, members use many devices: short notice question, half-an-hour debate or special mention. How did the judges conclude that the Rajya Sabha did not champion local causes? Even the verbatim record of debates in the House would prove them wrong.

The biggest omission in the judgment is the lack of realisation that India’s is a federal structure and that the states constitute the Union. Some judgments of the Supreme Court have upheld this principle already.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar who piloted the Constitution made it clear in the speeches he made at the Constituent Assembly. He even clarified the residential qualification. When R Venkataraman asked why a candidate should be the resident of the state concerned, Shyam Anand, a member, answered that it was so “because it is the Council of States.” Ambedkar endorsed this by saying, “Yes, that is the reason and the other is the House of People.” (I have Venkataraman’s letter to confirm this.)

What more could have been said to underline the difference between the two Houses? The Council of States has to have members who are not freelancers but are ordinarily resident of the state. Still the judges ignored this and tried to rewrite the Constitution. The question is no longer whether the court has the power to interpret and lay down the supreme law, but how it uses its authority. The answer to this has become all the more important after the Supreme Court’s rejection of review petition.

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Masterly apprentice 
by Vikramdeep Johal

Masterji died last month,” the boy said casually, while his scissors went snip-snip through my hair. The wiry, middle-aged Masterji, whose health had deteriorated rapidly due to cancer in recent months, had been my barber for the past seven years. The news no doubt came as a shock, but the matter-of-fact way in which his teenaged apprentice broke it was no less unsettling.

I wanted to ask him why he didn’t seem to feel any grief, but instead I said: “Was he related to you?”

“He was my uncle,” the boy replied with the same disturbing nonchalance.

“Who all are there in his family?” I enquired further. It struck me that I had never asked these questions to Masterji. He wasn’t one of those chatterbox barbers who discuss their personal affairs with their customers or encourage the latter to talk about theirs. Our conversations centred mostly on cricket, the weather and remedies for my dandruff. Even after all these years, we knew next to nothing about each other. Now, it was his death that was spurring me to fill in the blanks.

“There is my aunt (father’s sister),” the boy informed me. “Masterji married off his two elder daughters. There are still three left, all younger than me.”

My new-found curiosity about the matter wasn’t satiated yet. “Where do the married daughters live,” I asked.

“Both stay here in Chandigarh, but the kind of husbands they have, we can’t expect much help from them. Moreover, my father can’t shift from Saharanpur, where we have our ancestral house and a shop. That means I have become the bread-winner of Masterji’s family,” he said with a smile, as if he felt honoured to receive this status.

I wondered whether he realised how enormous a responsibility had been thrust upon his fragile shoulders. The boy seemed to have read my thoughts, for he hastened to add: “I know things are going to be very difficult, but I’ll try to do as much as I can for my aunt and cousins. Masterji is gone — it’s now his family I have to look after. Want a massage done?”

I simply couldn’t say no to this gritty boy, who suddenly appeared to have turned into a responsible young man. I was wrong to have mistaken his fortitude for indifference. From now on, every haircut, every massage was important for him.

As he ran his fingers soothingly through my oil-soaked hair, I saw in the mirror his barely adolescent apprentice who was sitting behind me, watching with rapt attention his young “Masterji” at work.

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Dateline Washington
Staying the course on nuke deal
Crucial period ahead in “lame-duck” session of US Congress
by Ashish Kumar Sen

As legislation intended to enable U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation negotiates partisan wrangling in the United States Congress, two South Asia analysts warn that if the deal falters it could cause a “significant setback” to U.S.-India relations.

In an article in Current History, Sumit Ganguly and Dinshaw Mistry say that “the substantial improvement that has taken place in U.S.-India relations over the past decade” will suffer as “key individuals and groups within the Indian political arena who are virulently opposed to the improvement of U.S.-India ties would exploit the failure to realise the nuclear deal as evidence of American perfidy and the ruling Indian government’s ineptitude and naïveté.”

They add that the strategic significance of the nuclear agreement for advancing U.S.-India bilateral relations cannot be overstated.

Mr. Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University in Bloomington, and Mr. Mistry, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, admit that even with a nuclear pact “cooperative trend in U.S.-India strategic ties could be hobbled.”

“If, after future elections, a coalition of left-wing political parties were to govern India, they could distance India from America and seek to scale back the dimensions of military cooperation,” they say, but add that the likelihood of this is generally small.

Congressional sources are optimistic that the Senate will take up the bill when it meets in a lame-duck session on November 13 and, like the House of Representatives before it, vote in favour of civilian nuclear cooperation with India. If the Senate passes the bill it must then be reconciled with the House version in a process known as a conference. It is this step that analysts worry could prove contentious and time consuming and drag the debate into 2007.

If the Senate does not vote on the bill before the end of the year both Senate and House versions of the bill will lapse and the process of debating new legislation will have to start from scratch in the 110th Congress in 2007.

Under the deal, India would be exempted from a 30-year-old policy that forbids the transfer of civilian nuclear technology to any country that has not acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and accepted full-scope international safeguards.

Mr. Ganguly and Mr. Mistry admit President George W. Bush is seeking “path breaking exemptions” in U.S. law and international nuclear regime guidelines to allow for nuclear energy transfers to India. In return, India has agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and put the civilian component under international safeguards.

Both big supporters of the nuclear agreement, Mr. Ganguly and Mr. Mistry concede the deal has the potential to undermine an important nonproliferation norm on nuclear energy transfers but this negative impact can be reduced by appropriately framing the exemption for India.

“The exemption for India thus could set a worrisome precedent, one that might affect the decisions of key countries to remain in the [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]… The effect of such a precedent may well depend on how the exemption for India is framed,” they say.

“If it emphasises that countries may only win exemption from the full-scope safeguards rule after being subject to this rule for some 20 to 30 years (as is the case with India), and only if they adhere to major nonproliferation rules, the damage to the nonproliferation regime may be limited. In this case, the carrot-and-stick NPT approach would still be affirmed, because India incurred important costs (being denied civilian nuclear imports for three decades) before receiving an exemption from this approach.

Further, New Delhi only received an exemption because of its good export control record, and it would retain its exempt status only as long as it complies with nonproliferation norms such as those against nuclear testing.”

The deal could also bring proliferation benefits. “Stronger U.S.-India strategic ties resulting from the pact would lessen India’s need to greatly expand its nuclear arsenal and would bind Indian governments more firmly to norms against nuclear testing,” they say. “Ultimately, in the absence of a nuclear agreement, the strategic gains would be forfeited and, while the proliferation concerns would not arise, the proliferation benefits would also not materialize. Thus, the overall benefits of the agreement outweigh those that would flow from not implementing it.”

In his counter argument, also published in Current History, Gary Milhollin says the bills being considered in the U.S. Congress would change U.S. export control laws that were adopted in response to India’s nuclear test in 1974. “The most important question… is strategic.

And the answer is that the legislation will not make the United States or the world safer. Instead, it will put everyone at greater risk,” says Mr. Milhollin, who directs the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control and is a former consultant on nuclear arms proliferation to the Department of Defence.

“It is impossible to weaken export controls for India without weakening them for everyone else. The ‘everyone else’ includes Iran, Pakistan, and even terrorists-working through a national government or not-who might want to buy the means to make weapons of mass destruction,” Mr. Milhollin says.

“Indeed, if Washington does weaken export controls for everyone, which is bound to happen if it weakens them for India, it may hasten the day when a nuclear explosion destroys a US city,” he says. “The great flaw in the administration’s proposal is that it considers India an isolated case. This is simply impossible. It contradicts the fundamental principles on which export controls are based.”

Washington now sees New Delhi as a potential strategic partner. “By removing barriers to technology cooperation with India in the nuclear area, the nuclear agreement is intended to lay the foundations for greater strategic cooperation,” Mr. Ganguly and Mr. Mistry say. They believe a stronger partnership with New Delhi would help Washington balance a rising China.

Overall, under a stronger strategic relationship, the scale of U.S.-India military cooperation, security and foreign policy coordination, intelligence sharing, and arms sales could all increase, they contend.

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Compassion can win over people
by Humra Quraishi

Mohammad Afzal could be called by any other name and he could just as well be hailing from any other region - but the fact remains that we have to hear his side of the story in totality and in complete detail before hailing the hangman.

Even if there is one per cent of doubt of him having being framed by the police he ought to be heard and re-heard. After all, Afzal’s lawyers are emphasising that he has not been given a fair trail and that there are loopholes and evidence of him having been falsely implicated.

You can’t hang him and then go through the whole process of dissection. What if one little doubt crops up or a loophole stares in the face after the ‘jallad’ (hangman) has done his job? The other day, in a debate of sorts on the small screen, it was a refreshing change to hear Kiran Bedi’s views on whether to hang Priyadarshini Mattoo convict Santosh Singh.

After all, the fact stands out that he had committed a horrifying heinous crime for which he has been finally sentenced after a full decade. Kiran Bedi stressed that hanging is not the solution - rather, the accused should be imprisoned for the remaining years of his life and made to feel remorseful and repentant.

He should also be given a chance to reform. It is needless for me to add that Kiran Bedi had earlier headed Tihar Jail and with that backdrop, her views, comments and suggestions ought to be taken with much seriousness by the state machinery.

There ought to be a serious introspective session on this. Convicts and criminally-minded people murder and more. But, then, should the state machinery of a so-called developed nation counter-kill? Or should it restrain and try to reform? It would be a very hard task to do so, and one would require a full-fledged band of earnest, committed and humane civil servants, who would use Gandhigiri than the typical babugiri. But it is the duty of the state to not just nab the culprit but to show him the right direction.

In fact, the very word ‘jallad’ (hangman) doesn’t seem to belong to these so-called developed times we claim to be living in! No, the very word ‘jallad’ reeks of barbarism of a nauseatingly disgusting kind.

And if he or she is an undertrial - that means not proven to be an offender so technically innocent - then why should he or she be made to languish for years in hell holes? Mind you, languish amidst such pathetic conditions that his form and psyche disintegrates even when he is so-called alive. Call it a slow death of a definite kind, though officially it is called imprisonment. Unofficially, it can be called dumped by the state mechanism, to die a sure but slow death. And yet we call ourselves developed! Yes, the so-called developed state has its own subtle ways to kill and more.

In a country like ours the accused and the convicted can be made to work in fields or in rehabilitation programmes of the state - say construct homes for the earthquake or tsunami stricken or help the farmers till their fields in the drought-stricken belts or weave cloth. There could be a hundred other means to put these erring human structures to shame or remorse and more, than to go around killing them or making them sit like human heaps. Let them feel repentant and remorseful.

And one shudders to think how many of the undertrials must be getting ‘fixed’ and implicated by the state machinery without even being able tell their side of the story. Many could turn out to be totally innocent.

And then there is the latest news that relatives of 7/11 accused and suspects are alleging torture and brutality by the Mumbai police, after they (the relatives) filed sworn affidavits with the Prime Minister’s Office and Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s office. They have given grim details of the alleged torture by the Mumbai police. What would one have to say to this?

I am well aware that in today’s harsh times the very word ‘compassion’ doesn’t hold sway, amidst ‘off-with-the-head’ orders, but it is compassion alone that has always done what thousands of boots and killings couldn’t achieve. It is easy to kill and counter kill, affecting generations to come. But it is compassion alone that can win over people.

What if Mahatma Gandhi were alive now? How would he have treated the erring human being or the accused? I’m certain he would have adopted a compassionate approach. Even if the accused had been charged with the most violent of crimes, he would have been dealt with in a non-violent way, which would have a definite affect not only on the accused but on the rest too. For compassion alone leaves a very definite mark and can change the whole course of events and dent the very mood of aggression and anger.

I am also well aware of the fact that today philosophers and their philosophies remain confined to the corridors of seminar halls but it is wise not to bypass them. Here are Khalil Gibran’s words: “…even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you/So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also/And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree/So the wrongdoer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all”

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Inside Pakistan
Mukhataran Mai’s memoir
by Syed Nooruzzaman

The publishers of General Pervez Musharraf's In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, Simon and Schuster of the US, have created an embarrassing situation for the President of Pakistan. They have brought out another such publication by another Pakistani soon after launching the General’s book. The second one, declared a best seller, has been translated into at least 20 languages, including Hindi. This book is in greater demand than the one by General Musharraf. Its writer is the Pakistani gang-rape victim, Mukhtaran Mai, who has emerged as a champion of women's rights.

The News of Karachi carried an interesting write-up on November 1 on Mukhtaran Mai's In the Name of Honor: A Memoir by Shaheen Sehbai, one of the paper's former Editors, settled in Washington. Mai’s book, writes Sehbai, has “172 pages and recalls the gruesome tale of events that led to Mai’s gang-rape and whatever happened thereafter, including the court cases and the ever-changing attitude of the Pakistan government, as Mai's case became an international embarrassment.”

According to Sehbai, the Foreword to the book has been written by a well-known New York Times journalist, Nicholas Kristof. “Mukhtaran Mai has taken a sordid tale of gang rape and turned it into something heart warming and hopeful. And that is one more reason why, when I'm around Mukhtaran, I sense that this shy peasant woman is truly a great and historic figure — and why she is one of my heroes.”

Interestingly, like General Musharraf's In the Line of Fire Mukhtaran Mai's account, too, is believed to have been ghost-written, but by someone who knows Urdu. She speaks Urdu, but it is doubtful whether she can write in this language.

The language problem is coming in the way of launching a book-tour of Mukhtaran Mai. But, as Sehbai says, “friends of Mai are planning a private launch in mid-November when Glamour Magazine, which named Mai as the Woman of the Year in 2005, will host a grand gala with top world women celebrities in attendance in New York.”

Failure to rein in price rise

“Whatever those in power keep saying, the undeniable reality is that the government seems to have miserably failed to control the price rise. Prices of almost everything — from sugar, vegetables and meat to dals — are beyond the control of the government. Just imagine, in a predominantly agrarian country, onion sells at Rs 40 a kg and an ordinary vegetable like potato commands a price of Rs 30 a kg whereas their prices never went beyond Rs 10 or Rs 12 in the past.”

This terse commentary was editorially made by the largest selling Urdu daily Jang on November 1. The sky-rocketing prices of vegetables and other essentials have made the life of the common man miserable.

The paper says that “earlier the prices which went up during Ramzan came down to their normal levels after the Eid celebrations. But this time the prices continue to maintain the upward trend. This justifies the people's impression that either the government has no interest in checking the price rise or its functionaries are incapable of taking steps against those indulging in profiteering. Whatever is the reason, if the prices continue to increase in this manner the situation may lead to the elimination of the poor.”

Obviously, the Pervez Musharraf regime faces a big challenge, particularly in view of the coming elections.

Karakoram oil pipeline

The Karakoram highway is changing its character with increased Chinese interest in having a land-based arrangement for its energy supplies from Central Asia and West Asia. According to an article in The News of October 31 by M. Ismail Khan, a writer based in the Northern Areas, “China and Pakistan have agreed in principle to build a trans-Karakoram oil pipeline along the Karakoram Highway to connect the Middle-East with north-western China through Gwadar (Balochistan).

“The pipeline, once in place, can set the stage for another rewarding oil-bridge from landlocked Central Asia to the world market. On the pattern of the trans-Alaska pipeline, it would be possible to build an oil grid starting from Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan and travelling through Tajikistan and the uninhabited Wakhan corridor and the peaceful Ashkoman valley of the Northern Areas to converge with the trans-Karakoram pipeline around Gilgit for forward transportation to Gwadar.”

There is also “an option to pull the line straight from Gilgit up to Karachi through Punjab instead of Gwadar”, the writer informs. China is quietly working with the help of its old ally, Pakistan, to ensure that it gets adequate energy supplies through pipelines from Central Asia. Ismail Khna quotes the US Department of Energy to highlight the fact that “Azarbaijan and Kazakhstan alone sit on more than 130 billion barrels of oil, three times more than the US reserves.”

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Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless and corrupt.
—Mahatma Gandhi

They who have forgotten God’s Name and have lost themselves in the mundane course of life, Fall victim to duality and are caught in the fire of desire.
— Guru Nanak


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