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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

LeT’s admission
Can Pakistan still deny its involvement?

T
he
fact that the well-trained and heavily armed terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26 were Pakistani nationals has been proved once again. What the arrested terrorist Ajmal Qasab has revealed has been accepted as the truth by a top operative of the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT), the outfit that planned and executed the killings of nearly 200 innocent people.

New Year gift
Haryana rewards its employees

E
lections
speed up government decisions. Haryana has now raised the government staff salaries by 20 to 25 per cent from January 2006. Following the Central example, states vie with one another in rewarding employees ahead of a general election. Laggard states like Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar have shown remarkable haste in hiking staff pay at a great cost to their exchequer. 



EARLIER STORIES

Hasina returns to power
January 01, 2009
Generational change
December 31, 2008
Sonrise
December 30, 2008
Voters’ victory
December 29, 2008
Transformation of polity
December 28, 2008
Abandoned by Pakistan
December 27, 2008
Triumph of democracy
December 26, 2008
Guillotine at work
December 25, 2008
Antics of Antulay
December 24, 2008
PF eaters
December 23, 2008
Sharif nails Zardari lie
December 22, 2008


Silence, please
India can exist without honking

T
hat
New Delhi decided to enter the New Year in an unusual manner by observing “No Honking Day” is welcome if it sends a message to the rest of the country. In a collaborative effort by an NGO and the Delhi Traffic Police, the idea was to ensure some silence on the Capital’s congested roads, which usually resounds with blaring horns. Actually, Delhi, whose noise levels exceed the permissible limit, is not the first city that decided to rest its “ overworked” horns.

ARTICLE

There’s a way to tame Pakistan
Rushing to the UN will not do
by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh ( retd )

I
t
is more than two decades since Pakistan started the policy of “thousand cuts and bleeding India through a low-cost option”. In Jammu and Kashmir, it has been a combination of insurgency and terrorism while elsewhere in India, simply terrorism. What was seen in Punjab during the eighties and the early nineties could not be termed as insurgency as there was no local support or sympathy, except what emerged consequent to police excesses. 


MIDDLE

Ramzan in Teheran
by Lt-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)

I
t
is fascinating to retrospect how in the 1970s, Teheran had become the trendsetter for the rest of the Arab world. The modern segment of the city has wide, tree-lined boulevards, spacious parks and supermarkets to meet shoppers’ wish-list as satisfactorily as super-malls of today.


OPED

Saving the economy
The government must take bold initiatives
by S.L. Rao

N
o
one is any more talking of India’s strong economic fundamentals; 9 per cent annual growth may now fall below 6 per cent; our demographic dividend is of little use unless our education system reaches more people with better quality; low export dependence and a vast and growing domestic market have not insulated us from world economic currents; volatile foreign exchange reserves have fallen sharply; the rupee value has fallen sharply. The “India story” was almost as hollow as “India Shining”.

Iran takes hard line in conflict
by Borzou Daragahi

S
tudents
storm the British Embassy residence compound in Tehran, Iran, ripping down the Union Jack and hoisting the Palestinian flag, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposes to try Israeli leaders in absentia. An Iranian religious organisation signs up volunteers for suicide operations in the Gaza Strip, and an Iranian general suggests an Islamic military response to the five-day Israeli offensive against Hamas.

Delhi Durbar
A year of extremes

The year 2008 can best be described as a year of extremes. If Indian scientists could touch the moon, the stock market went down to sniff the nadir. The crude prices hit 150 dollars a barrel only to plummet to 35 dollars.

  • Rahul backed Omar

  • Lobbying for post

 


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LeT’s admission
Can Pakistan still deny its involvement?

The fact that the well-trained and heavily armed terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26 were Pakistani nationals has been proved once again. What the arrested terrorist Ajmal Qasab has revealed has been accepted as the truth by a top operative of the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT), the outfit that planned and executed the killings of nearly 200 innocent people. The LeT man concerned, Zarar Shah, has admitted his crime to Pakistani investigators themselves, as reported by America’s Wall Street Journal. Dawn, a respected Pakistani daily, has described LeT’s Zia-ur-Rehman Lakhvi as a key operator involved in the terrorist strike, exposing Pakistan’s insincerity in the fight against terrorism. The US, which got intercepts between Lakhvi and the Pakistani killers in Mumbai, has reportedly handed these over to Pakistan.

It is strange that Pakistan still maintains that Qasab’s confessions are all “cooked up”. It cannot fool the world by not accepting the identity of the terrorists who came all the way from Karachi to Mumbai to do what they did on that Black Wednesday. In view of Qasab’s statement, Pakistan cannot refuse to admit that he belongs to Faridkot village near Okara. The time has come for Islamabad to act against terrorist outfits operating from its territory.

What the US should do now is to ensure that Lakhvi, Shah and the others behind the Mumbai carnage are thoroughly interrogated by its FBI, as the US law wants it when American citizens are among the victims. This should not be delayed when FBI personnel are already reported to be there in Pakistan. Any further delay will only help Pakistan destroy every bit of evidence to prevent the unravelling of the truth. Justice demands that India must also be allowed to question the culprits who dared to commit the most heinous crime. Pakistan should not be allowed to hide its guilt on any pretext. 

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New Year gift
Haryana rewards its employees

Elections speed up government decisions. Haryana has now raised the government staff salaries by 20 to 25 per cent from January 2006. Following the Central example, states vie with one another in rewarding employees ahead of a general election. Laggard states like Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar have shown remarkable haste in hiking staff pay at a great cost to their exchequer. Ruling politicians hope to encash such gestures of goodwill to the salaried class at the time of elections. The last salary increase had driven many states to the edge of bankruptcy. The latest pay hike comes at a time when the economy is shrinking and tax revenue declining.

However, financial constraints do not matter when votes are involved. Punjab is in a financial mess and ill-prepared to shoulder the new financial burden. So is Himachal Pradesh with its bloated administration. However, Haryana stands out for its prudent fiscal management and efficient tax collections. It has earned praise even from the Central Finance Commission headed by Mr Vijay Kekar. During the current financial crisis when other states are asking for Central help, Haryana has accelerated spending on infrastructure, rural development and social sector schemes.

Displaying rare foresight, the state government had prepared itself well in advance for the financial challenge to be posed by the sixth pay commission by earmarking Rs 1,550 crore in the current budget. The burden on the treasury —Rs 6,431 crore this and next fiscal — is well manageable. The pay commission focus on the education and health staff is laudable. The employees, no doubt, deserve a pay rise. They should, however, remember that the taxpayer too expects courteous behaviour and efficient service from them. The Central and state governments should not forget their responsibility towards people working in the unorganised sector having no social security and no inflation-linked salary hikes. The rising cost of living affects the poor the most.

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Silence, please
India can exist without honking

That New Delhi decided to enter the New Year in an unusual manner by observing “No Honking Day” is welcome if it sends a message to the rest of the country. In a collaborative effort by an NGO and the Delhi Traffic Police, the idea was to ensure some silence on the Capital’s congested roads, which usually resounds with blaring horns. Actually, Delhi, whose noise levels exceed the permissible limit, is not the first city that decided to rest its “ overworked” horns. Earlier, Mumbai and Bangalore, too, had “no honking” days. Chandigarh is even more ambitious and aspires to give its honks a permanent sabbatical by becoming India’s first honking-free city. If only Kolkata could follow suit.

Simply stated, noise is an unwanted sound, often jarring and impacts on the eardrums. But the detrimental effect of this intrusion is manifold and harms not only humans but also animals and vegetation; in extreme circumstances it can even shake up buildings. Noise beyond permissible decibel levels affects a person’s concentration and sleep pattern, and can cause stress and hypertension. According to WHO, noise is also linked to heart disease. The Delhi High Court in its wisdom has even warned that noise is a slow agent of death. Yet the growing tribe of honk maniacs don’t mind killing you slowly with noise. Indiscriminate honking serves little purpose as a large majority of the people have almost become deaf to its urgency. But then excessive honking makes the driver of the car in front immune to what the drivers at the rear is blaring out.

In India, the menace of noise pollution is being realised rather slowly and half-heartedly. In West Bengal, 2000 persons were arrested for bursting sound crackers. Maharashtra is contemplating hiking the fine on honking. Still, India continues to be noisier than many countries. While 45 decibels are considered as the safe noise level for a city, most of metropolitan India registers more than 90 decibels. Pressure horns in buses and trucks merrily add to the cacophony. Loudspeakers, especially at social and religious functions, holler and howl. It remains to be seen whether “No Honking Day” observed in a nation where honking is a national habit can go beyond mere tokenism and be a serious first step towards a much- needed quieter India. Clearly, both penalties and campaigns can play horn-poopers.

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Thought for the Day

Good painters imitate nature, bad ones spew it up. — Cervantes

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There’s a way to tame Pakistan
Rushing to the UN will not do
by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh ( retd )

It is more than two decades since Pakistan started the policy of “thousand cuts and bleeding India through a low-cost option”. In Jammu and Kashmir, it has been a combination of insurgency and terrorism while elsewhere in India, simply terrorism. What was seen in Punjab during the eighties and the early nineties could not be termed as insurgency as there was no local support or sympathy, except what emerged consequent to police excesses. The vicious scale of insurgency in J and K can best be judged from the fact that in the last decade nearly 25000 civilians and around 8200 military personnel, including more than 500 officers, have died combating it and this figure excludes Kargil casualties.

This year alone there have been 16 terrorist attacks in India, outside of J and K. Though from time to time India has been lodging diplomatic protests, these have been of no avail. Considering India’s size and resources vis-a-vis Pakistan, it would appear implausible for the latter to attempt such a policy and hope to get away from its consequences. In such cases it is essentially deterrence that should work. Deterrence works when the opponent is convinced that retribution will follow with the same certainty as day follows night and that it will be immediate and violent.

Unfortunately, India has miserably failed to convince Pakistan that cross-border terrorism and support to insurgency could invite an immediate and strong military reaction.

India’s pusillanimity was first demonstrated at Kargil where in spite of large-scale aggression by Pakistan, we did not even attempt to cross the Line of Control and tackle the enemy’s ingress along tactically appropriate and viable approaches and instead opted for suicidal frontal attacks, up impossible slopes. Later, a senior officer from the Pakistan Army, in an article explained, how India lost a God-given opportunity to retaliate to the Kargil aggression and take Skardu, unhinging Pakistani positions at Kargil and Siachen, and also threaten the Northern Areas-Karakoram Highway. Admittedly, there would be any number of excuses, the more obvious being that India did not want to escalate the war. Therefore, the question that can be raised is: how far has Pakistan to go for an Indian retaliation?

Then there was the famous mobilisation of the Indian military in 2002, consequent on the attack on Parliament. This was followed by an ignominious climb-down. Why posture when the issue has not been thought through? Or when we simply lack the will and the resolve to take the bull by the horns. The Indian reaction to Pakistan’s policy of “a thousand cuts” is stymied by the self-induced fear that the latter will use nuclear weapons the moment we cross the border. It is this conclusion which has acted as a deterrent to Indian response and encouraged Pakistan to continue with its dangerous policy. Thus, India has on its own reckoning frightened itself out of its wits and brought about mental paralysis.

Even in the face of the Mumbai attack, the Defence Minister has ruled out the military option, but there are Press reports that while the terrorist attack was in progress at Mumbai, the IAF had been alerted to strike at terrorist camps in Pakistan. Perhaps, like in other areas consequent on the Mumbai carnage, this too was a knee-jerk reaction, which once more conveyed to Pakistan that we lack the gumption to retaliate.

The BJP leadership is now baying for retaliation, asking for not an eye for an eye but both eyes for an eye. But they have a short memory, as it was the BJP government that chickened out at Kargil and later during the famous mobilisation of the Indian military

As a response to the Mumbai attack, some defence analysts are advocating a limited military action against known terrorist camps both in Pakistan and in PoK. One of these is “surgical air strikes” against the targets. This form of retaliation is easier than a ground action. In this case, too, two factors come into play. One is the complete secrecy of the operation and the other is accurate location of the target and the timings so as to catch the maximum number of terrorists in the strike. This calls for very detailed and precise intelligence related to the camps, which may not be forthcoming and the strikes may end in large civilian casualties, which will result in adverse worldwide publicity. The possibility of the operation ending in a failure cannot be ruled out and, therefore, the nation should be prepared for such an eventuality and also against retaliation by Pakistan.

There is then the suggestion to engage these camps with long-range artillery and rockets. In this case, besides the issue of accurate intelligence, there is the requirement to have observation of the target to correct-fire. Using artillery without the ability to correct-fire through observation is akin to dumping artillery shells in a black hole as it happened at Kargil while engaging targets in depth where we had no observation. In both cases retaliation from Pakistan must be accepted.

In the case of artillery duels, Pakistan is better placed due to the advantage it enjoys in observation and correction of fire through modules it can position in our territory.

It is nobody’s case to start a war with Pakistan and launch any kind of strikes against that country when this has all the portents of escalating into a larger conflagration. Yet India cannot baulk away from this possibility and let itself be bled indefinitely. In the event of a larger conflagration, India must be in a position to inflict crippling damage on Pakistan in the shortest possible timeframe, before world powers and the UN intervene to bring an end to the hostilities. Given the prevalent state of the IAF and the morale of the military, this may not be possible.

India’s options are extremely limited. The US and Britain cannot put pressure on Pakistan beyond a point to end terrorism. Rushing to the UN Security Council just to seek a declaration on the Jamaat-ud Dawa as a terrorist outfit is an exercise in futility. The Lashkar-e-Taiyaba (LeT), too, is an outlawed terrorist outfit in Pakistan, but it is still operating. Given the long record of terrorist acts against India by groups aided and abetted by Pakistan (the ISI, the army and the government included), we should have at least demanded that Pakistan must be declared a terrorist state. Though the world knows that Pakistan is the fount of worldwide terrorism, it was not likely to be declared a terrorist state due to other compulsions. But India would have made a strong point and opened an avenue for another action.

That action is to put Pakistan on notice for the annulment of treaties, and the first of these will be the Indus Water Treaty. The World Bank could have been informed in this regard.

India should give Pakistan six months to stop terrorist attacks and dismantle the terrorism-related infrastructure in that country, failing which we will annul the Indus Water Treaty. Simultaneously, start a survey of the projects to divert the waters of the Chenab. This simple move can make Pakistan realise that some of its canals will go dry. A threat to convert dams on the rivers Chenab and Jehlum from the “run of the river” to a “storage reservoirs” should be conveyed to Pakistan. This should be done in a manner to appear that India means business.

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Ramzan in Teheran
by Lt-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)

It is fascinating to retrospect how in the 1970s, Teheran had become the trendsetter for the rest of the Arab world. The modern segment of the city has wide, tree-lined boulevards, spacious parks and supermarkets to meet shoppers’ wish-list as satisfactorily as super-malls of today.

The music shops had stacks of Persian classical and pop as also the whole range from western classical to Rock-jazz. The book shops were laden with the latest in bestseller fiction and English translations of limited works of the famed Persian sufis Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz, Attar, etc.

Iranian women provided the better part of the workforce in offices, shops, eateries, banks and even in factories. They had discarded the time-honoured “Chador” (Burqa) for the latest in designer garments, perfumes, cosmetics, footwear, etc, mostly from the leading houses of couture from France and Italy!

The women looked petite and among the best dressed anywhere. Though somewhat anachronistic but they imparted an other-worldly charm as they strode by the traditional hawkers tending to their mounds of shelled pistachio nuts, almonds, walnuts, dried apricots, figs, raisins and dates heaped over the whole length of tiled footpaths.

The Iranian Army, Navy and Air Force were organised, trained and administered on the US model. The elite Imperial Iranian Command and General Staff College was also a clone of the US Army’s establishment at Fort Levenworth. So much so, that each day began with calisthenics performed to piped American music! This was followed by a 2-km jog also to similar music.

Come the month of Ramzan, several students would complain of nausea or giddiness during the calisthenics. The medical officer would promptly exempt them from outdoors duty and prescribe high protein and fibre-rich diet spread over three meals daily for a month. This medical intervention was a great balm to the conscience of the Ramzaan-Rozah keepers.

Many more would have breathlessness and muscle cramps on the jogging track. They too would be placed on a special diet for a month, taken in small measures spread over the whole day.

By about the 10th day of Ramzaan, the calisthenics parade was reduced to the instructors only. And then just the Chief Instructor and myself! He would smile and say: “After all Janaab Sirhung (Persian for Colonel), you and I are graduates from the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (India), right?”

A decade later, Saddam Hussain had militarily humbled the Iranians. When all else failed, Ayatullah Khomeini catapulted that Chief Instructor, over the shoulders of scores, to assume command of the Iranian Army. He stemmed the rot swiftly, recaptured much of lost territory and before long Saddam Hussain sued for truce.

Within days came the tragic news of his death in an air crash. I am sure he is in safe keeping of his Creator as he neither compromised on the Ramzaan nor his worldly duties.

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Saving the economy
The government must take bold initiatives
by S.L. Rao

No one is any more talking of India’s strong economic fundamentals; 9 per cent annual growth may now fall below 6 per cent; our demographic dividend is of little use unless our education system reaches more people with better quality; low export dependence and a vast and growing domestic market have not insulated us from world economic currents; volatile foreign exchange reserves have fallen sharply; the rupee value has fallen sharply. The “India story” was almost as hollow as “India Shining”.

The Finance Minister is fortunate in moving to Home where he has problems, but not of his creation. Our economy was hyped up in his tenure; so have the media and politicians hyped up their demands for our response to terror in Mumbai. He can be trusted to say little and do more; whether his actions will be enough, time will tell.

Only a few months ago, highest levels in the government still expected growth this year of 9 per cent. We lost many months in tackling the crisis as we expected monetary policies to increase liquidity and lower interest rates, to foster an economic revival.

We did not anticipate that bonds issued to cash- starved oil companies and others would suck the liquidity. Then the RBI had to sell dollars to bolster the rupee, sucking more liquidity. Interest rate reductions need lenders willing to lend. Not cutting deposit rates was a mistake since that could release some savings for other investments (like mutual funds) or for consumption.

There has been no attempt to curb volatile fund outflows by FIIs and Indian illegal holdings overseas. These volatile funds were what had destabilised our stock markets and liquidity through exemption from short-term capital gains tax if from Mauritius. FIIs and foreign banks moved money out as easily as they brought it in, as they sent money home to shore up liquidity in their headquarters. This helped to push the rupee down.

The Prime Minister’s revival package is the second step after the failure of easier monetary policies in reviving the economy. Excise duty cuts of 4 per cent and hence lower prices of many products might stimulate demand a little. But people are nervous of spending as companies lay off employees or cut salaries.

Low borrowing rates for house loans might sell a few flats but it will not revive the real estate market because banks are not lending, and most people do not want 
to borrow.

Infrastructure spending is a good idea; but the government has been unable to remove bureaucratic bottlenecks in implementing earlier projects, or corruption that has prevented schemes like the national rural employment guarantee scheme from putting money into the hands of the poor who would have spent it and so stimulated the economy.

The crucial missing steps are to make banks to resume lending to their old customers and new ones; and to kick the administrative apparatus to move quickly in honestly implementing massive spending programmes for physical and social infrastructure.

We must stimulate consumption and public investment since private investment has little money to spend. The failure of new primary issues and the lack of external borrowing have sapped their financial reserves.

Banks have reduced lending to businesses and individuals because of the fear of default. This is so the world over just now. As the economy slows and people get laid off or have their salaries cut, and even the anticipation of worse things to come, the banks become increasingly unwilling to lend.

Borrowings for housing, durable consumer goods, cars, etc, have sharply fallen. Many existing borrowers are finding it difficult to service their borrowings. Their numbers will increase. Banks expect this and so will not risk lending. Property developers are so short of cash that they are trying to sell properties at discounted prices without success, and paying high interest rates but still not getting funds.

Production and sales of cars and durable goods have slowed. These production cuts will accelerate the decline in consumer spending as employment drops and so also disposable incomes. Even big clients are finding it difficult to raise money.

Corporate results in March will be bad for companies depending on exports (which are drying up), and who have borrowed overseas when the rupee was at Rs 40 or so to the dollar. They have to mark these loans “to market” under the accounting standards.

Now that the rupee is at 50 to the dollar, this will increase their liabilities by 25 per cent . This is a notional increase but will reduce their credit rating and ability to raise funds. The government could ask the Institute of Chartered Accountants to suspend this rule of marking to market for a year or so.

The consumer is still hurting from inflation. The wholesale price index is falling because of decline in prices of industrial manufactured products, raw materials, intermediates, and services (steel, cement in the North, sulphur, freight rates, etc). But the consumer is still paying high prices for food, etc.

Lower petrol and diesel prices will help. There might be some respite as winter sets in and the excellent crop forecasts, but the consumer and especially the poor remain badly off. Every one is getting hurt by high prices, job losses, salary cuts etc. What can save us in both situations is bold action, and not from any text book.

Poor economic management by a “dream team” has led to a deficit that is today probably as large as it was when “reforms” began in 1991. But we must postpone our concern about the deficit till we revive the economy. The government must cut bureaucracy and red tape to speed up expenditure on infrastructure and social support programmes. This can stimulate the economy.

The most able ministers and administrators must be immediately shifted to areas where they can implement programmes that create assets, incomes and jobs that could stimulate the economy. Instances are NHAI, rural roads, NREG, SSA, and the other schemes supposed to be in place but so far very inefficiently and dishonestly implemented.

Housing, car and consumer loans must also be covered by government guarantees, so that fresh lending for their purchases resumes. Perhaps state governments must be advised to sharply reduce registration costs for new properties for a limited period.

The safety net for those laid off must be widened. The government must guarantee a portion of their last drawn salaries for those laid off till they find other jobs. The laid off blue collar workers (over 5,00,000 in the textiles and garments alone), must be brought under a subsidised food safety net, given free public medical care and have school and college fees waived on production of the last wage statement.

So far our crisis is in the cities and in industries and commerce. Before it spreads rapidly farther, we need action. The steps described here are unprecedented but must be taken without delay. Merely expanding liquidity, lowering interest rates, announcing massive spending programmes are not enough.

The government, facing a general election, must muster the will, capacity and determination to act quickly to save the economy.

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Iran takes hard line in conflict
by Borzou Daragahi

Students storm the British Embassy residence compound in Tehran, Iran, ripping down the Union Jack and hoisting the Palestinian flag, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposes to try Israeli leaders in absentia.

An Iranian religious organisation signs up volunteers for suicide operations in the Gaza Strip, and an Iranian general suggests an Islamic military response to the five-day Israeli offensive against Hamas.

With bellicose rhetoric, the Islamic Republic has taken the lead in opposing the ongoing Israeli military operation in Gaza. The vociferous public displays, analysts say, are aimed primarily at hard-core government supporters in Iran whom officials are seeking to energize before June presidential elections.

But the high-profile maneuvers are a double-edged sword, since they also reinforce perceptions in Israel, the U.S. and large parts of the Arab world about links between Iran and Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that took control of Gaza in mid-2007.

Israeli leaders and their U.S. allies have framed the fight against Hamas as one against an Iranian proxy firing Iranian-supplied rockets landing ever deeper inside the Jewish state. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday described Hamas as Iran’s “terrorist base” next to Israel in an interview with CBS.

“Iran is one of Hamas’ main funders and it’s been a supplier of arms and training over the years,” John Bolton, the neoconservative former Bush administration envoy to the United Nations, told Fox News on Monday. “This is a demonstration of the reach, the scope, the power that Iran has in the Arab world.”

Thus far, Iran’s responses to the Gaza offensive have been theatrical rather than threatening, analysts say, meant mainly to bolster Tehran hard-liners’ domestic strength rather than precede any kind of military confrontation with Israel. Already, Iran’s main ally in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Shiite militia Hezbollah based in Beirut, has all but ruled out military intervention on behalf of Hamas, while Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has carefully condoned “defending” Gazans without calling for killing Israelis.

Even the hair-raising idea of a military response was delivered not by a ranking officer in charge of Iran’s land, sea or air forces, but by the general technically in charge of annual ceremonies commemorating those who fought and died in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

In taking a vehement tack, Iran can also appeal to hard-line Islamists in rival Arab nations.

“Iran is trying to be the leader of the Islamic world,” said Meir Javedanfar, a Jerusalem-based Iran expert. “Khamenei believes that the majority of the Islamic world is angry, and he is right in his opinion. He sees the Muslim governments’ silence as being against the wishes of locals. By saying what he believes Muslims feel worldwide, he is trying to be their representative.”

Though Iran sees itself as a leader of the Islamic world, it has lagged in past public opinion efforts involving various pan-Islamic causes. For example, officially sanctioned public outrage over Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad erupted in Iran in early 2006 only after it had swept across the Middle East and South Asia, often led by Sunni extremist movements that compete with Iran’s brand of Shiite Islamic fundamentalism.

This time Iran is taking no chances. But some called Iran’s hot-tempered antics counterproductive and risky. Hard-line groups in Tehran on Tuesday ransacked a branch of Benetton, the Italian clothing retailer that is among the few international chains operating in Iran.

Iranian officials’ shrill cries against Egypt, which neighbors Gaza but refuses to open its border, appear to have hardened the Cairo government’s resolve against Hamas, hurting the Palestinian cause while further alienating it from an important Arab nation.

The Iranian strategy “is not good for Iran’s diplomatic relations and it can sometimes spin out of control and something unforeseen may happen,” said Ali Kadkhodazadeh, editor of the Middle East desk at the daily Hamashahri newspaper, which is close to Ahmadinejad rival and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

During the Gaza offensive, Iran has intensified repression against its own moderate and reformist opponents. Authorities on Wednesday shut down the daily newspaper Kargozaran, which is often critical of Ahmadinejad and close to rival Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The stated reason was the newspaper’s decision to publish a letter by a student group critical of Iran’s handling of the Gaza conflict. Two days earlier, authorities raided the office of Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi and seized her files.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Delhi Durbar
A year of extremes

The year 2008 can best be described as a year of extremes. If Indian scientists could touch the moon, the stock market went down to sniff the nadir. The crude prices hit 150 dollars a barrel only to plummet to 35 dollars.

While trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir could boast of throwing up a peaceful and credible assembly poll, other parts of the country came under sharp international focus after a string of terror attacks.

On the one hand, India came close to war with Pakistan, on the other it could forge closer ties with the rest of the world.

One area that dodged the extremes’ syndrome was sports, with Team India humbling the mighty Aussies and England, Vishwanathan Anand reminding the world it was India which invented the mind game and Abhinav Bindra shooting down the Gold in Beijing Olympics.

Rahul backed Omar

The alliance between the National Conference and the Congress, and the proposal to make Omar Abdullah the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir has caused heartburns all around.

Former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed made no secret of his disappointment over his former ally, the Congress, dumping him for the young Abdullah.

But no small is the feeling of slight in the Palace, variously called the Congress headquarters. There was a major tussle within the Congress between Azad, lobbying against aligning with the Mufti, and Ahmed Patel opposing an NC-Congress tie-up.

Eventually Azad won and Patel was so upset that he did not even bother to face the cameras when the time came for making the public announcement.

It is another thing that the grapevine has it that Azad was actually plugging for Farooq as chief minister, which would have given him an opportunity to be in the government there.

But now with a much younger Omar heading the proposed government, Azad as a former chief minister can neither hope nor lobby for a berth in the J&K cabinet and all this, they say, is thanks to Rahul Gandhi’s intervention. He preferred Omar to Farooq.

Lobbying for post

The New Year is set to ring in changes in economic ministries. The Power Ministry and the RBI have slots vacant as also the Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals.

VS Sampat, a 1973-batch IAS officer, has been cleared by the DoPT, for the post of Power Secretary.

The new Secretary will take over from Anil Razdan on January 2 and will have a one-year term only. Sampath, who is at present the Secretary of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, is from the Andhra Pradesh cadre.

Sources in the power corporation say that he will have a relatively easy tenure, considering that he has survived Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, his minister at present. Hectic lobbying is going on in the Reserve Bank of India for the post of Deputy Governor (Banking ) following the retirement of V. Leeladhar on December 5.

Contributed by R. Sedhuraman, Faraz Ahmad and Bhagyashree Pande

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