Perspective | Oped


Pakistan’s problems
Elections no panacea
by Sushant Sareen
here can be no two opinions that the general election, scheduled for February 18, is the most critical in Pakistan’s history. If stolen, the 2008 elections could easily lead to a civil war like situation. But even if they are largely free and fair and the results are accepted by all stake holders, there is no certainty that these elections will help Pakistan tide over the existential crisis that it confronts.

A new challenge for Soz
by Harihar Swarup
ight years ago Saifuddin Soz made history in the Lok Sabha. No government was ever defeated by one vote in the annals of Parliament and he alone was responsible for the ouster of the BJP-led government in 1999.


Pappu Yadav MP — a lifer
February 16, 2008
The Mumbai farce
February 15, 2008
Sena raj
February 14, 2008
Attack terrorism
February 13, 2008
Competitive parochialism
February 12, 2008
Balloony of another kind
February 11, 2008
Revive democracy
February 10, 2008
Dr Kidney in the net
February 9, 2008
Bonded in childhood
February 8, 2008
Super whimper
February 7, 2008


Food vs fuel
Time for crop diversification in Punjab
by Bikram Singh Virk
raditionally the farmer has been producing food, feed, fodder and fibre for human and animal consumption. Adding a fifth “f” to his product line, now he has started producing fuel too, courtesy the soaring crude oil prices in the world.

EU unlikely to support Kosovo state
by Tracy Wilkinson
ith the province of Kosovo expected to declare independence from Serbia this weekend, it is increasingly unlikely that Europe will offer a united pledge of support, officials and diplomats across the region say.

On Record
Finance Minister may drop cash withdrawal tax
by Bhagyashree Pande
ith the Budget session round the corner, there are issues that Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram will have to deal with, especially inflation.




Pakistan’s problems
Elections no panacea
by Sushant Sareen

There can be no two opinions that the general election, scheduled for February 18, is the most critical in Pakistan’s history. If stolen, the 2008 elections could easily lead to a civil war like situation. But even if they are largely free and fair and the results are accepted by all stake holders, there is no certainty that these elections will help Pakistan tide over the existential crisis that it confronts.

By respecting the popular mandate these elections will, at best, prevent widespread political unrest in Pakistan’s heartland – Punjab and Sindh. With NWFP and Balochistan already in the throes of a full-blown insurgency, the 2008 elections are more than anything else about saving Punjab and Sindh from descending into chaos and anarchy.

In itself, this will be no mean achievement. Not only will it release some of the pressure that has built up inside the political system, it will also create a little breathing space for the Pakistani state to try and address the grave problems that the country faces.

But the crux of the issue is whether or not the next government, – even if it is a ‘national government – will be able to rise up to the enormous task of rescuing Pakistan from the damage done by the Pervez Musharraf League (PML) and restoring the badly shattered faith, confidence and trust of the people in the state.

An inescapable imperative before the next government will be forging a national political consensus on tackling the threats to the very survival of Pakistan. But political consensus will not be possible without political reconciliation.

To the extent that the two biggest and most popular parties – PPP and PML(N) – have got over their mutual animosity and hostility, one can expect that they will not repeat the follies of the ‘decade of democracy’ when Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif victimised each other.

But while relations between the two biggest parties have improved, their relations with the political allies of Pervez Musharraf are exceedingly bitter and hostile. It should surprise no one if a coalition of the PPP and the PML(N) carry out a witch-hunt of their political rivals – the Chaudhry cousins and other lackeys of Musharraf – in the name of accountability.

Apart from wanting to settle scores with their political rivals and enemies, the next government will have to cohabit with a president like Pervez Musharraf. A conflict between Musharraf and a political government comprising elements opposed to him is unavoidable.

During his eight-year tenure Musharraf has been used to rubber-stamp governments. The next government will resist Musharraf’s diktats. If anything, the politicians will want to put Musharraf in his place by exercising all executive authority of the government and will be tempted to make changes in the policy framework adopted by the previous government.

Musharraf, on the other hand, will want to continue calling the shots. With the power that he has to dismiss an elected government, Musharraf will obviously think he can prevent the next government from riding rough-shod over him. Of course his being able to exercise this power will depend critically on whether or not he continues to enjoy the support of the army chief.

Since the politicians know that Musharraf will interfere in the functioning of their government, they will be inclined to gang up against him and either have him thrown out or have his powers curtailed. They also know that they will have to do this within weeks of taking office, because once a few months pass, their ability to take on Musharraf will reduce drastically.

While it is unlikely that they will have the two-thirds majority needed to achieve either of the above two objectives, merely a move to impeach him might prove enough to get rid of Musharraf. It will send out a strong message that he is not acceptable to the government and will make his position totally untenable.

Paradoxically, once Musharraf goes, the politicians will lose the glue that binds them together and will start squabbling amongst themselves. Each political party will want to maximise its own political space and this can only be done at the expense of its coalition partners.

These coalition partners are natural allies only to the extent that they have a common enemy in Musharraf and they want to see civilian supremacy in Pakistan. Ideologically, parties like the PPP and the PML(N) are poles apart, the former with pretensions of being the standard bearer of liberal and secular values, and the latter being a proponent of conservative values and believing in political Islam.

Smaller parties adhering to ethnic nationalism will have their own agenda to push. As and when political squabbles start, the focus will be on political survival and not on the problems that threaten the state. What is more, the politicians will look for support towards the military-bureaucratic establishment thereby giving it the opportunity to play politicians against one another.

The army’s influence on the politics of the country is in any case not likely to end soon. With the army involved in anti-insurgency operations in both Balochistan and NWFP, there is no way it will allow a free hand to the politicians. The politicians too have no illusion about their ability to completely end the army’s political role.

Pakistani politicians are not aiming to bring about a revolution; rather their aim is to steadily chip away at the power and influence of the army to make it accountable and answerable to constitutional authority and limit its role to purely professional matters.

Resolving the conflicts, complications and complexities of politics will, however, be the easy part. The really tough part will be addressing the critical issues that will decide not just the future of the country but also its survivability.

Will the politicians be able to develop national consensus on the character of the state and its ideological framework? How do they propose to tackle and reverse the talibanisation of large swathes of the country? And, do they have any plan to do this without antagonising the Americans, or surrendering before the Islamists, or exacerbating ethnic animosities?

The politicians will also have to grapple with questions of federalism and addressing the aspirations of smaller nationalities like the Sindis, Baloch and Pashtuns.

Economic and social issues related to agrarian reforms, education reforms and improving the delivery mechanism of public goods by the state will all need to be tackled effectively so that the people develop a stake in the system. The law and order machinery will have to be completely overhauled to restore the authority and majesty of the state.

The politicians will also have to rethink Pakistan’s relations with India. This means tackling the vexed issue of Kashmir in a way that tensions between the two countries are reduced and they both enter into a cooperative relationship.

The domestic political tussle will almost certainly impinge upon the ability of the next government to break new ground with India on the issue of Kashmir. If the government gets boxed in because of its policies in other areas, it will be tempted to once again make irredentist claims over Jammu and Kashmir.

Therefore, unless the February elections throw up a leadership that combines the pugnacity of Churchill, the humanism of Gandhi, the socio-economic vision of Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson and the unifying ability of a Patel, there is every chance of the country descending into chaos and imploding, with disastrous consequences for its neighbors and the world.



A new challenge for Soz
by Harihar Swarup

Eight years ago Saifuddin Soz made history in the Lok Sabha. No government was ever defeated by one vote in the annals of Parliament and he alone was responsible for the ouster of the BJP-led government in 1999.

Professor Soz, or Soz Sahib as he is popularly known, had to face the consequence: he was expelled from the National Conference, ending his life-long association with the party founded by the late Sheikh Abdullah.

He remained in political wilderness for quite some time before joining the Congress and, subsequently, made the Minister for Water Resources.

Soz is now faced with another challenge of his eventful career as he has been appointed President of the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the Congress.

Elections in the trouble-torn state are due in October this year and it is Prof Soz who will steer the party through the poll and not Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Reports say that elections in Kashmir may be advanced though a final decision is yet to be taken. Unlike election in other states, the poll in Kashmir draws worldwide attention. Will Soz Sahib make history again?

On his part, he says the Congress-PDP coalition will complete its full term. To a question if the Congress and Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s party will go to the polls again as allies, he remains non-committal.

Indications are that the alliance may be reviewed, keeping the Congress interest in mind. “We will see at that time how the interest of the Congress is best served”, he says.

In a long-distance telephonic interview to me, Soz says he sees his new assignment as “an opportunity as well as a challenge”. His effort will be to reach the people to the remotest part of the state and also to party workers.

There was time when Soz was a confidant of Farooq Abdullah and a senior the National Conference leader. He moved away from Farooq when the National Conference decided to support the BJP-led government and sharply attacked the NC supremo for aligning with what he called “a communal party”.

The wedge continued to widen and culminated in Soz’s defiance of the NC’s directive to vote in favour of the Vajpayee government.

The late Sheikh Abdullah was, in fact, Soz’s mentor. He inspired him to join the National Conference. Soz came into the limelight only after Farooq became the Chief Minister in 1982.

Farooq himself handpicked Soz as the NC candidate in the by-election from Baramula Lok Sabha constituency in June, 1983. He won hands down, made a mark in Parliament and came to the notice of the late Indira Gandhi. This was a turning point in his political career.

Soz represented the people of Baramula till 1991, retaining the seat in the 1984 and 1989 elections. By that time militancy had touched a new high in Kashmir and the elections could not be held in the state along with the rest of the country in 1991.

Soz was forced to remain in wilderness for seven years evidently for no fault of his. Those years in wilderness, he says, were most educative in his life.

When he ceased to be an M.P, he made untiring efforts to keep the National Conference alive in the valley. He kept in touch with the party cadres at a time when the militants’ writ ran in Srinagar and the adjoining areas.

In fact, he was the lone spokesman of the National Conference then not losing touch with the people. Farooq had at that time virtually abandoned the people and stayed mostly in London.

Soz had to pay the price to keep the NC alive during those bleak days. His daughter, working as Assistant Professor with the Institute of Management and Public Administration in Srinagar, was kidnapped by militants.

His houses in Baramula and Srinagar were burnt by militants and the only house he possessed was the M.P’s flat at Delhi’s Shahjehan Road. He was allowed to retain the accommodation on the plea that elections could not be held in Kashmir.

Soz made an entry in Parliament again having been elected to the Rajya Sabha from J & K and was inducted into the Deve Gowda government as minister for environment and forest in 1996.

He subsequently joined the Congress and was sworn in as a Cabinet minister in the Mahmohan Singh government in January, 2006, and was allocated the portfolio of Water Resources.



Wit of the week

Khushwant SinghThe whole business (of publishing) resembles a whore-house. Publishers can be compared to brothel keepers, literary agents to bharooahs (pimps) who find eligible girls and fix rates of payment; writers can be likened to women in the profession. Newcomers are virgins (naya maal) who draw the biggest fees for being deflowered.

— Khushwant Singh

“The arrest depends on investigations in the case. Arrest is not mandatory according to the law… I can assure you that the cases will be taken to the logical conclusion in days…not months or years.”

— Maharashtra Director General of Police P S Pasricha

Manpreet Singh BadalWhat I feel is that plan size is not that important. At the end
of the day what will count is an effective delivery system and
good governance.

— Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal

Shah Rukh KhanI invested in cricket because there was an opportunity available. I think investment in sports should come through a sensible business plan. I think a lot needs to be done for propagating sports among youth.

— Actor Shah Rukh Khan

I find that in most mythological and spiritual film stories, women seem to be lacking in any true wisdom or a sense of humour.

— Actress Mallika Sherawat

My life is about yearning for the impossible. It’s time to unlock our imagination and create intellectual property in India. We’re constantly creating for the West. Microsoft has held the copyrights for all the intellectual property in Seattle.

— Bollywood Director Shekhar Kapur

A fit employee force means higher productivity, alertness, improved job attitude and, of course, better health – a better bottomline.

— P. Vivekanand, Managing Director, Fitnessone

Niranjan ShahLike the word ‘bastard’ is not considered offensive to Aussies, but it is to us Indians. Or the phrase ‘maa ki’ is not that big a deal in India as it’s commonly used but someone else might find it offensive.

— Niranjan Shah, Secretary, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

— Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd



Food vs fuel
Time for crop diversification in Punjab
by Bikram Singh Virk

Traditionally the farmer has been producing food, feed, fodder and fibre for human and animal consumption. Adding a fifth “f” to his product line, now he has started producing fuel too, courtesy the soaring crude oil prices in the world.

Currently the 800 million motorists around the world are vying to buy have crops to convert them in ethanol, a bio-fuel. The skyrocketing prices of crude have linked the food prices to that of fuel. More and more of foodgrains, especially corn/maize, are being diverted for the production of bio-fuels.

At present around one-fourth vehicles in Brazil alone run on bio-fuels and the EU expects to meet 20 per cent of its fuel needs from bio-fuels by 2020. The worldwide bio-fuel production has increased from 4.6 billion barrels to 12.2 billion barrels between 2000 and 2005.

At the same time, the corn use for bio-fuel has doubled in the US alone and by 2008, 139 million tonnes of corn, around half of its total domestic production, will be needed there for making ethanol in its 116 existing and another 79 under construction plants, which will produce around 15 billion gallons of bio-fuel, meeting 6 to 7 per cent US domestic needs.

The two major crops, which are being diverted to the production of bio-fuels, are sugarcane and maize, especially the yellow one. Brazil is producing ethanol from sugar beets at a cost of 60 cents a gallon with per acre yield of 662 gallons (around 2979 liters).

In France the yield is higher at 714 gallons from an acre. Thus the cost of producing ethanol is less than a fifth of fossil fuel burned in vehicles. The US, where more of corn is used for producing the stuff, yields 354 gallons per acre.

Given the present situation of oil prices at the global level and the environmental threat from carbon emissions by using fossil fuels, the use of bio-fuels for energy is feasible, both environmentally and economically.

The diversion of foodgrains towards fuel has increased the foodgrain prices in the world and governments have been made to think of paying better to the farmer to stop him from diversifying to produce fuel crops.

Simultaneously, it has emerged as an opportunity for farmers in the developing countries like India, where they have been paid very low prices and pushed into a debt trap for producing food crops. Now farmers have a reason to cheer as they have two buyers in the market and the new entrant has deeper pockets to pay for his produce.

For Punjab, this state of affairs promises a lot as its first crying need is to find alternative crop to the water-guzzling paddy, which has created a ground water crisis in the state. The cultivation of maize is the perfect substitute of paddy as a kharif crop and the farmer of Punjab knows very well to grow it as he has been doing so in the past for producing the stuff as a coarse grain.

In Punjab, the area under maize in 1960-01 was 3.27 lakh hectares and rose to 5.5 lakh hectares in 1980-81. Since then it has been falling and currently stands around 1.54 lakh hectares.

On the other hand, the area under paddy, which was 2.27 lakh hectares in 1960-61, rose 5 times to 11.83 lakh hectares in 1980-81 and currently stands at 26.47 lakh hectares.

The Punjab farmer abandoned maize in favour of paddy for the former being un-remunerative as compared to the latter. But now the things have changed and available hybrid seeds of maize can fetch the yield between 3 and 3.5 tonnes an acre, with a ready market.

The prices of the crop are also soaring and stand around Rs 9,000 per tonne in India and still higher in the international markets. In 2007-08, India exported 0.75 million tonnes of maize at the rate of $300 per tonne and there is much more potential for exports as the giants like the US and China are looking for maize in the world markets for the production of bio-fuels.

In order to solve the water crisis of the state and economically enrich the farmer, the Punjab government should encourage him to diversify to maize production from this year itself.

It will be a big push to the economically ruined state.

The state needs to mobilise its Agriculture Department to guide farmers and arrange for proper seeds and latest sowing and harvesting machines.

To look after the marketing side, Markfed can be of great help by working as a buying agency, which in turn may enrich the agency too. In the long run, the government should look for capital investments in the private sector for setting up ethanol plants in the state and Oil majors like Reliance and Essar oil will be more than willing to invest in this sunrise sector.

Reliance and HPCL have already purchased 12 sick sugar mills in Bihar obviously for making ethanol, as the government has allowed the blend of 10 per cent of ethanol in the petrol and diesel. The seven sick mills of Punjab can also be revived in a similar fashion, which in turn will bring prosperity to the state farmer.

To allay the fears of those crying for national food security, it may be understood that this diversification will in no way be a threat to national food security as paddy is no longer a viable crop of Punjab in the face of the deepening water table. Secondly, Punjab should be banked upon for producing wheat rather than any other food crop and the proposed diversification will not result in a decline in the area under wheat.



EU unlikely to support Kosovo state
by Tracy Wilkinson

With the province of Kosovo expected to declare independence from Serbia this weekend, it is increasingly unlikely that Europe will offer a united pledge of support, officials and diplomats across the region say.

There is persistent unease in several countries over the precedent that Kosovo's secession would set and over the ability of the corruption-plagued government in the ethnic-Albanian province to rule.

Washington, the most fervent promoter of Kosovan independence, has counted on backing from the European Union as a way to present a picture of broad support for the move. But several countries, especially those with their own restive ethnic minorities, have raised objections and indicated they would not recognize a new Kosovo state, at least not immediately.

"Spain does not favor any unilateral declaration of independence," Spanish Vice Premier Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Friday. "For the government of Spain, the fundamental priority is a solution that respects international law and that guarantees regional stability."

Spain is confronted with numerous separatist movements, some violent, inside its borders. Basque nationalists who want their own country carved from part of northern Spain and southern France praised Kosovo, saying its anticipated declaration of independence showed "we are not talking about utopias."

And an official from a pro-independence group in Catalonia, the region that includes Barcelona, said of Kosovo on Friday: "We are celebrating."

With similar worries regarding minority groups, Greece, Romania, Cyprus, Belgium, Bulgaria and Slovakia, from within the 27-member European Union, join Spain in expressing reservations over Kosovo's secession.

"Raise your hand if you don't have a separatist in your house," Italy's leading daily Corriere della Sera wrote. "The domino effect is terrifying many central governments."

Despite the divergence of opinion, EU officials, meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, were nearing agreement on the formation and dispatching of an 1,800-member police and judicial team for Kosovo. The team would replace the United Nations mission that has administered the province since NATO bombings drove out Serbian forces in 1999.

The EU effort would mark the formal end of the UN's role. Russia, which, with Serbia, adamantly opposes the departure of Kosovo, has said it would regard the EU presence as illegal.

Dimitrij Rupel, the foreign minister of Slovenia, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he was confident an agreement would be reached and the EU would be in Kosovo.

"Of course, there have been doubts or negative feelings in some countries," Rupel told a Polish newspaper. "But there are not that many after all. ... When the moment comes, I think the EU will speak with one voice."

On Friday, in the Kosovo capital of Pristina, the prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, went before a packed news conference and refused to confirm that his administration would declare independence Sunday, as is widely expected. Instead, he attempted to address concerns of the international community and promised that non-Albanian minorities who live in Kosovo, including about 100,000 Serbs, would be safe and their rights respected.

In Belgrade, where President Boris Tadic was being inaugurated after winning re-election Feb. 3, officials were beating drums of nationalist rhetoric about Serbia's refusal to let Kosovo go and the reprisals that might be faced by capitals that recognize the new state.

"Throughout the centuries, many bullies have tried to forcibly wrench Kosovo from us," Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said, "but for the first time in our history, they demand we accept the grabbing of Kosovo, like slaves."

Serbs regard Kosovo as their medieval cultural heartland and its loss as an amputation of 15 percent of national territory in violation of international law. The U.S. and those European countries who support its independence, including Britain and France, point to the murder and deportation campaigns waged in Kosovo by the late dictator Slobodan Milosevic to say that Serbia forfeited any chance of having Kosovo under its domain.

Serbia is counting on Russia's support. President Vladimir Putin, meeting with journalists this week, accused Europe of being "two-faced" because many countries were willing to allow Kosovo to secede but many opposed such a move by the Basques in Spain. An irate Madrid government Friday summoned the Russian ambassador to Spain to explain the comments.

Several European countries rely on access to Russia's vast gas and oil supplies and do not want to offend Moscow over the Kosovo issue.

"This is a no-win situation for Europe," said Vedran Dzihic, of the Vienna, Austria-based Center for European Integration Strategies. "The EU will essentially become the new protector, replacing the U.N., and confronted with all the problems, the bleak economic situation, the frustration, the lack of perspectives."

Moreover, Dzihic said, Europe's failure to forge a unified position on Kosovo weakens its aspirations to act as a world player in the region's security and defense issues.n

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post



On Record
Finance Minister may drop cash withdrawal tax
by Bhagyashree Pande

With the Budget session round the corner, there are issues that Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram will have to deal with, especially inflation.

ICRIER’s Director and Chief Executive Rajiv Kumar believes these are trying times for the Finance Minister and he might do away with the cash withdrawal tax.


Q: What will be likely announcements for the common man in the Budget?

A: The Finance Minister is likely to splurge on appeasing the middle class by raising the first slab of income tax which is 10 per cent. In addition, he will splurge on the Sixth Pay Commission report, which is likely to come up in April.

Besides this there could be additional allocations on education, poverty alleviation and rural infrastructure.

There certainly will not be an increase in the taxes rates despite the fact that the new Pay Commission will weigh heavily on the finances of the government. The Finance Minister may do away with the cash withdrawal tax.

Q: How will the increase in oil prices affect inflation considering that the oil and food prices have been so volatile in the international market?

A: Ideally the FM should rationalise taxes on petroleum products that are somewhere between 35 and 55 per cent. This will also give the oil marketing companies some leeway to handle the losses that they are suffering.

There was no rationale to increase the oil prices and giving out oil bonds is certainly not a good idea. Cutting the excise duty by around 14-16 per cent is the only way forward to deal with this situation. This has to be done in concert with the states and then there will also be room for the removal of sales tax.

Q: Where is the rupee headed?

A: We should sink with the dollar which will help us keep foreign investments in the country. We cannot afford to keep the interest rates high as against the US Fed rate as the differential will be high and there will be a greater arbitrage opportunity.

Besides, we cannot afford to hit exports by keeping the rupee strong. The only prescription is to bring the rupee down by using fiscal and monetary tools more actively.

Q: At what levels will inflation be in the coming months given the strong oil and food prices ?

A: The inflation level will be somewhere around 4-4.5 per cent. We have to learn to live with the supply side inflation caused by high oil prices and food prices. Much of the mess is caused by the administered price mechanism of oil prices. We are running a cheap oil economy that helps no one. There should have been a revision of the oil prices in tandem with the international trend though a further rise in prices is certainly not called for.

We have to learn to create a more efficient supply mechanism as regards food and agro products for effectively controlling inflationary situations. Much of inflation is caused by supply bottlenecks and not just by actual production problems.

Q: What will be the industrial growth and the growth of the economy as a whole in the year 2008-09?

A: If we do not take adequate measures like the interest rate cuts at the appropriate time then there is every possibility that the industrial cycle will be hit hard, triggering a slowdown. There are already signs of choking industrial growth due to the high interest rates that can be seen in the IIP figures.

There is a clear case for a one per cent interest rate cut this year which will help in reviving industrial growth. The rate cut will not lead to an increase in inflation because most of the inflationary pressure is because of supply bottlenecks.

We definitely need to spend more on public infrastructure creation so that these bottlenecks are removed. There will be valuable export loss due to the high interest rates coupled with a loss in the investment momentum in the coming year.


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