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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Prosecute Raju
Prompt action alone can deter such crime
T
HE Satyam computer scandal involving its promoter-chairman Ramalinga Raju is the biggest that has rocked the corporate sector in recent times. Friday’s reports that Raju is “missing”, notwithstanding a company clarification to the contrary, strengthens the impression that he must be trying to circumvent justice and avoid arrest. The ends of justice will be met only if he is arrested forthwith for the fraud he has committed.

Slap for Soren
Punished in the court of the people
T
HE life of Shibu Soren, “Guruji” from Jharkhand, has been a rollercoaster ride all along. He has been to the greatest heights and also to the lowest depths. Another low that has now been added to his chequered career is being one serving chief minister who lost an Assembly poll, that too to a candidate put up by a former colleague of his own.





EARLIER STORIES

Asatyam
January 9, 2009
Right to ask
January 8, 2009
Chief Justice acts
January 7, 2009
Fund of goodwill
January 6, 2009
Painkillers, not a cure
January 5, 2009
Fight against terrorism
January 4, 2009
Warning from Assam
January 3, 2009
LeT’s admission
January 2, 2009
Hasina returns to power
January 1, 2009
Generational change
December 31, 2008


Quality and quantity
Accreditation can provide the cutting edge
INDIA has one of the largest education systems in the world, yet the quality of higher education, barring a few institutions, has, at best, been mediocre. Thus the Centre’s initiative to accredit all institutions of higher learning by government agencies is appreciable. The mandatory grading system, expected to become applicable during the next three years, will judge the colleges and universities on the basis of 27 parameters like student-teacher ratio, infrastructure facilities and the number of students enrolled for PhD and MPhil.

ARTICLE

Turf battle in Assam
Politics of war and peace
by Wasbir Hussain
T
he country’s first terror attack after 26/11 in Mumbai, and the first in 2009, was witnessed on January 1 in Guwahati, Assam’s capital. Six persons were killed and more than 50 injured in a string of three explosions in the heart of the city. It is not quite important as to who carried out the bomb attacks, although within hours of the explosions, the police blamed it on the state’s dreaded separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

MIDDLE

Life’s options
by Raj Kadyan
W
ives are relentless. They never let you relax and enjoy. “Why don’t you fight the next Lok Sabha elections?” she said the other day without provocation.
“Lok Sabha elections?” I queried, sounding genuinely incredulous.


OPED

How to tackle slowdown
Packages alone are not enough
by Nirmal Sandhu
I
n the name of fighting the slowdown vast sums of public money are to be handed over to industries, which have landed themselves in trouble largely because of their own blunders.

Plain lies about pirates
by Johnn Hari
W
ho imagined that in 2009, the world’s governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains.

Inside Pakistan
Confusion in Islamabad
by Syed Nooruzzaman
Those who have been closely watching the political currents and cross-currents in Islamabad believe that the dismissal of Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is the most visible indicator of the confusion that prevails at the top level there.

  • Vested interests

  • Changing scenario


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EDITORIALS

Prosecute Raju
Prompt action alone can deter such crime

THE Satyam computer scandal involving its promoter-chairman Ramalinga Raju is the biggest that has rocked the corporate sector in recent times. Friday’s reports that Raju is “missing”, notwithstanding a company clarification to the contrary, strengthens the impression that he must be trying to circumvent justice and avoid arrest. The ends of justice will be met only if he is arrested forthwith for the fraud he has committed. Given the nature, scope and magnitude of the crime in India’s fourth largest information technology firm, the fraud cannot be a single man’s job. No leniency should be shown towards Raju and all those involved in it. Criminal proceedings should be initiated against them expeditiously in accordance with the due process of law. Raju, in particular, can be prosecuted under Section 23 of the Securities Contract Regulation Act 1956 (which provides for a penalty of imprisonment up to 10 years), Section 24 of the SEBI Act 1992 (jail up to one year), Section 477A of IPC (jail up to seven years), and Section 211 of the Companies Act (jail for six months). It is only when the kingpin and all other fraudsters are proceeded against that these laws will carry value and act as a deterrent.

Though Raju has confessed to committing a fraud of Rs 7,136 crore, what he has revealed is only a tip of the iceberg. In fact, he has misled his employees, the investors, the corporate sector and the nation by maintaining that the company was working at a meagre margin of 3 per cent. There is no grain of truth in this statement and nobody would ever believe it. It is widely believed that if the company was really operating on a “higher margin”, Raju would not have said that it was “much lower”. This leads one to suspect that while the company was getting more money in the form of higher profit, Raju was siphoning it off cleverly.

The crime is too serious to be taken lightly. The unprecedented scandal has not only affected 53,000 employees of the beleaguered company but also countless investors. Worse, the image of the corporate sector has taken a severe beating. A thorough and foolproof investigation of the scam has become imperative. Meanwhile, all the culprits, including Raju, should be arrested, pending investigation.

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Slap for Soren
Punished in the court of the people

THE life of Shibu Soren, “Guruji” from Jharkhand, has been a rollercoaster ride all along. He has been to the greatest heights and also to the lowest depths. Another low that has now been added to his chequered career is being one serving chief minister who lost an Assembly poll, that too to a candidate put up by a former colleague of his own. Jharkhand Party’s Gopal Krishna Peter, alias Raja Peter, beat him fair and square in the Tamar byelection in spite of the fact that Soren enjoyed the support of the Congress and the RJD. So, what went wrong in this reserved constituency? The seat had fallen vacant after JD(U)’s Ramesh Singh Munda, who had defeated Raja by 6,000 votes in 2005, was shot dead by Maoist rebels. But unmindful of the public sentiment against the killing, Soren repeatedly referred to the rebels as his “bhai, behan”(brothers and sisters) during the many election rallies he addressed. That cooked his goose. So did the public revulsion against his four-month-old government.

Life has given Soren many chances and he squandered them all away. He was convicted of murder when he was a Union Cabinet minister. Later, he was acquitted of the charge paving the way for his becoming the chief minister. He also presented the rare sight of going underground when a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against him. The wealth he got, whether it was for supporting the Narasimha Rao government or the Manmohan Singh government, has been an albatross around his neck. Through all such antics, he has spoilt the glory of the high positions he has held.

But the vagaries of coalition politics being what they are, he cannot still be counted out. The five MPs and 17 MLAs he has with him can help him bounce back yet again. It is a sad fact of public life that even incontrovertible proof of corruption does not exclude anyone from contesting and winning elections. Soren’s real “crime” is that he could not even get elected this time.

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Quality and quantity
Accreditation can provide the cutting edge

INDIA has one of the largest education systems in the world, yet the quality of higher education, barring a few institutions, has, at best, been mediocre. Thus the Centre’s initiative to accredit all institutions of higher learning by government agencies is appreciable. The mandatory grading system, expected to become applicable during the next three years, will judge the colleges and universities on the basis of 27 parameters like student-teacher ratio, infrastructure facilities and the number of students enrolled for PhD and MPhil. This can infuse the much-needed adrenalin in higher education.

In post-independent India, the quantity of higher education has registered a quantum jump. The heedless mushrooming of private education institutions, politics in academics, under-equipped libraries and laboratories, brain drain and vacancies in central universities are some of the many ills afflicting higher education. By and large, world-class research, too, is missing. More recently, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) decided to widen the scope of accreditation by introducing an “outstanding category” to bring higher education at par with world standards. At present, the world-class institutes in India like the IITs and the IIMs are only a handful and enrol barely 1 per cent of the student population.

In its emergence as a power to reckon with, India has been relying heavily on its high-technology industries like information and biotechnology. In the new global order, it needs more and more highly trained professionals in varied fields. India can hope to become a part of the Washington Accord, a group of 10 countries with standardised engineering education, only if it has proper systems in place. India cannot hope to overtake countries like China, which has been spending heavily to upgrade university education. But persistent efforts and initiatives like the grading system that also intends to give one-time grant to institutions not funded by the University Grants Commission for better infrastructure can push India ahead in the knowledge race. However, to ensure that academic meritocracy prevails, the grading method will have to be above board.

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Thought for the Day

I shall tell you a great secret my friend. Do not wait for the last judgement, it takes place every day. — Albert Camuss

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ARTICLE

Turf battle in Assam
Politics of war and peace
by Wasbir Hussain

The country’s first terror attack after 26/11 in Mumbai, and the first in 2009, was witnessed on January 1 in Guwahati, Assam’s capital. Six persons were killed and more than 50 injured in a string of three explosions in the heart of the city. It is not quite important as to who carried out the bomb attacks, although within hours of the explosions, the police blamed it on the state’s dreaded separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). What is important, however, is the fact that the blasts were triggered barely two hours ahead of the arrival of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in the city.

The Home Minister’s visit was pre-scheduled and was aimed at taking stock of the security situation in Assam in the wake of the October 30, 2008, serial blasts that killed 89 and injured more than 500. For the record, the January 1 blasts took place a day ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s stopover visit to Guwahati, on way to Shillong to inaugurate the Indian Science Congress. The message was clear-militants can strike even when the place is supposed to be under heightened security.

Aside from the blasts, two major developments took place in Assam on the first day of the New Year, developments that have set the stage for bloody turf wars among local insurgent groups in the days ahead. One was the formal split in ULFA, fighting for a “sovereign, Socialist Assam” since its inception in 1979, and the second a widening of the rift within the other major insurgent group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB).

It was in June 2008 that the Alpha and Charlie companies of ULFA’s most potent strike unit, the “28th battalion”, entered into a ceasefire with the government, taking away much of the outlawed rebel group’s fire-power with the move. On January 1, 2009, this faction formally declared itself as the pro-peace faction and gave up its original demand of sovereignty, instead saying it would fight for maximum autonomy for Assam. This certainly has been a challenging development for the recalcitrant ULFA leadership based in Bangladesh and an appropriate response from the anti-talk faction headed by the group’s military chief Paresh Baruah was expected.

The NDFB, set up in 1986 to push for an independent Bodo homeland, suffered a split on December 15, 2008, after the Assam-based cadres, who are on a ceasefire with the government since May 25, 2005, replaced its Bangladesh-based president Ranjan Daimary alias D. R Nabla with his deputy, vice-president B. Sungthagra alias Dhiren Boro. The move followed evidence gathered by the Assam Police that NDFB cadres were directly involved in the State’s biggest ever terror attack on October 30, 2008. Nabla and his group kept watching the situation before declaring 12 days later that he was still the president of the NDFB and dubbed the faction headed by Dhiren Boro as having “capitulated” before the government.

On January 1, 2009, the pro-talk NDFB faction headed by Boro expelled Nabla from the outfit. The expulsion came within days of an arrested NDFB cadre telling police interrogators that the October 30, 2008, serial blasts was carried out under direct orders from Nabla. So, even in the Bodo insurgency front, the stage is set for a violent fratricidal war between the two factions.

There is no cause for euphoria over the fact that insurgent groups in Assam, the largest state in the Northeast, are becoming fractured. Rather, the split within insurgent groups have made the challenge of tackling militancy all the more difficult. Fundamental flaws in the approach by the government or the security establishment in the country in dealing with home-grown insurgencies have complicated matters in theatres like the Northeast. The government’s penchant for reaching ceasefire agreements with insurgent groups have led to truce deals with almost all militant groups operating in Assam today. One can describe this as part of the government’s strategy of postponing peace. I call it the strategy of postponing peace because once a ceasefire is reached with a particular insurgent group, the government adopts a go-slow approach and does not take the peace process to the next level, that of structured dialogue or peace negotiations to arrive at an acceptable solution.

Rebels on a truce mode are put up in designated camps with enough leeway in terms of their movement although the cadres are not supposed to move out of such camps without prior intimation to the authorities.

The idea seems to be that of lingering a ceasefire without actually taking the peace process forward. The objective is to tire out the rebels so that conflict fatigue sets in on them. This strategy, if anything, has badly backfired on the government. The NDFB has been on a truce since 2005 and it was only recently, three years after the clinching of a ceasefire agreement, that New Delhi started preliminary talks with the group. Meanwhile, restive cadres of the group were already indulging in subversive activities leading up to the October 30, 2008, serial bombings where several NDFB cadres were found to have been linked directly. Then came the split.

The same is the case with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland or NSCN-IM. After the 1997 ceasefire between the group and New Delhi, more than 65 rounds of peace talks were held all over the world with no solution in sight yet. The November 2007 split in the NSCN-IM and the formation of a new faction called the NSCN (Unification) is seen as a direct fallout of the inability of the two sides to reach an acceptable solution to end the insurrection.

The government has landed itself with the unenviable task of having to accommodate the socio-political aspirations of several rebel factions within a small playing arena. In the Bodo heartland of Assam, for instance, three major rebel forces are currently at play: (a) the former Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT) militants who have since transformed into a political party called the Bodo People’s Front (BPF) and is in power at the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC); (b) the Dhiren Boro faction of the NDFB that is the group on a ceasefire which has made its intention of joining electoral politics clear, and (c) the hardline NDFB faction headed by Nabla that is obviously outside the purview of the truce. This means, three major forces, aside from the mainstream political forces, are fighting for the same political space, all promising to work for the interest of their community, the Bodos.

In Nagaland, all the NSCN factions claim to be the “true representative of the Nagas.” A deal with the NSCN-IM is obviously not going to end the decades-long insurgency in Nagaland.

It is time the government reviews its step-by-step approach at peace-making in the country, particularly in the Northeast. As things stands today, ceasefires with insurgent groups are clearly nothing but a time-buying mechanism adopted by the authorities to restore a semblance of order in the insurgency theatres across the region.

Often the authorities are clueless as to how they are going to take the peace process to the next level after reaching a truce with a rebel group.

On their part, rebel groups agree to truce offers or offer truce on their own as a tactical ploy to get the pursuing security force off its back and regroup.

The government needs to think if it should henceforth make it mandatory for the top leaders of any insurgent group to agree to come out from hiding and stay in designated camps before a ceasefire agreement is signed. That is a tough calling, but time has come to stop lending legitimacy to insurgent groups by signing truce deals at the drop of a hat without any will to adhere to the accepted ceasefire ground rules.

Until then, however, the hardliners within groups like ULFA and the NDFB are expected to carry on with their violent raids in Assam just to demonstrate their strength and prove their relevance.n

The writer is Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Guwahati

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MIDDLE

Life’s options
by Raj Kadyan

Wives are relentless. They never let you relax and enjoy. “Why don’t you fight the next Lok Sabha elections?” she said the other day without provocation.

“Lok Sabha elections?” I queried, sounding genuinely incredulous.

“Yes, that is precisely what I mean”, she was unambiguous. After over three decades of married life any husband would recognise the determination in the spouse’s eyes.

“But what agenda do I fight on?” I said, while thinking up dissuasive strategy.

“No problem, I have a copy of the last manifesto of a mainstream political party. You can pick up some catchy promises and repeat these”. She seemed to have worked it all out analytically. A change of thrust seemed appropriate.

“You know it costs a lot of money to contest elections?” I was going to draw her attention to my monthly pension that would barely suffice to hire three vehicles for two days, but she raised a restraining hand.

“That can be worked out. When, I accompanied you to your village during the last visit, I spoke to some housewives and they assured me that they would have you weighed against coins.” Before I could respond, she chastised me on keeping my weight down to a measely 60 kg, a clear political handicap in her visualisation.

“But surely, they would want a quid pro quo” I countered.

“Not much, you only have to promise power supply for two hours in the morning so that they can churn the milk”, she said showing gender sympathy. I was mulling over on how this could be ensured, when she came up with a solution. “You can pay a monthly from your development fund to the electricity department functionaries to get this done.”

I was not getting anywhere to counter her pursuasive logic. “And what happens if I lose?” I asked, hoping that the prospects of defeat would dampen her new found enthusiasm.

“That is no problem”, she sounded reassuring, “If you keep well up with the hierarchy, you could always be made the Home Minister.” She had obviously kept herself abreast of the happenings. I had to think of some point weightier.

“Home Minister?” Who would want that volatile portfolio with the axe perpetually hanging over your head?” This time she did not disagree.

“Yes, the sacking might come sooner than later” she said sounding sympathetic, “But when that happens, they are sure to send you as a Governor.” On seeing me silent, she added the clincher.

“Imagine everything on the house and no work.”

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OPED

How to tackle slowdown
Packages alone are not enough
by Nirmal Sandhu

In the name of fighting the slowdown vast sums of public money are to be handed over to industries, which have landed themselves in trouble largely because of their own blunders.

Construction companies had undertaken huge housing and commercial projects at such costs that these have gone beyond the reach of customers. Investors and speculators no longer find them attractive.

To lure buyers, the RBI and banks are trying to lower interest rates. There is a fear that if not given a helping hand developers might fail to pay back loans and banks may get flooded with bad loans, which they call non-performing assets.

Similarly, private airlines recklessly purchased aircraft and started new routes without realising there can be a slowdown or recession in the near future. Taking big risks is considered macho and some airline owners like to flaunt a larger-than-life image.

When troubles started, they begged for a government rescue. Employees were first sacked and then taken back under a threat. What kind of managements run airlines?

Much of the private sector in India is not really private. Government financial institutions and banks own large stakes in many big companies. B. Ramalinga Raju was running Satyam Computers with only 8 per cent ownership in the company, which further slipped to 3 per cent shortly before the fraud surfaced.

For years Raju was manipulating accounts to show inflated profits and fictitious assets and none of the institutional nominees on the board or banks handling company accounts, it seems, cared to verify profit claims.

Before any government aid or loan is extended to a company, its accounts must be got independently audited to ensure that profits and assets are not exaggerated. Fraudulent firms must be swiftly banished from the corporate scene.

The rule of the capitalist game is: if you make a mistake, you must pay for it. But if corporates or institutions make blunders, they get state help as their collapse could shake the financial system and job losers bring a bad name to a government.

The US learnt it at a great cost after the federal government allowed Lehman Brothers to fall. The ramifications of a failed institution are too complicated to handle. Besides, the public sentiment gets a hit.

There are exporters crying for a financial package. Should they not have saved something for the rainy season when the going was good? Profits go intp private pockets and losses are passed on to the government.

When ordinary workers lose jobs, everyone’s heart bleeds. Nobody, therefore, minds when the government hands over tax concessions and easy money to the same incompetent managements without ensuring they do not make the same mistakes in future.

This is being done in the name of boosting growth. If firms fail, banks suffer. People lose jobs and governments do not want to be accused of being silent spectators to traumatic developments.

Airlines and real estate companies that had adopted financially unviable business models will get government support to continue with them. The cost of their inefficiency will be borne by customers, who will be asked to pay more for their products or services.

What is the guarantee that profit-making companies will not pass on their surplus money to family-owned firms as the Satyam Computers management was caught doing?

The best way to rescue citizens losing jobs or facing financial hardships of not their own making is to put in place a comprehensive social safety network.

It has a social obligation towards the aged, the weak, the infirm, the unskilled and the unemployed who cannot make a living in a competitive environment.

The government has adopted the ruthless system of market economy without taking social safety measures prevalent in capitalist countries.

Governments the world over are trying to help, each according to its capacity, workers getting pink slips and troubled companies and banks from the after-shocks of the US sub-prime crisis.

One difference between the US bailout and India’s rescue plans is that the government there does not allow law-breakers to escape easily without punishment. They are denied golden parachutes or parting financial benefits. Here the same set of managements continues with the help of government financial institutions owning majority share-holdings in 
their companies.

The actual benefits to companies will be much less than what the government bailouts promise them and the economy will take its own time to recover.

A lot of money will go into public sector infrastructure projects. Given the level of corruption and incompetence in implementing such projects it will be quite a while when more jobs are actually created and demand for steel, cement and consumer products picks up.

The government has given industries tax incentives and cheaper credit amounting to Rs 2,45,000 crore. It has widened the gap between the government revenue and expenditure by Rs 2,66,000 crore (fiscal deficit), which amounts to 5 per cent of the GDP.

This will require the government to borrow more from various lenders. This huge debt will be passed on to the future generations of Indians.

The government has unwittingly done something that will come quite handy in its battle against slowdown. The stiff hike in the salaries of the Central staff and some state government employees will help boost demand for industrial and consumer products. Many will be able to buy houses and cars which earlier they could ill afford.

Since the monsoon has been normal and rabi crops are promising, there will be no food shortages and no need for wheat imports. Bharat Nirman and the rural job guarantee scheme, despite some shortcomings and loopholes, have put more cash into rural hands. So rural India will not be, as usual, left behind in stimulating demand and growth.

Growth will not pick up without good governance. The regulatory mechanism needs to be stringent. The legal system must deliver justice without delay. Administrative red tape and corruption hinder progress and raise project costs. Held-up economic reforms can further accelerate growth. The present crisis should propel the government to take drastic steps to clean up its delivery system.

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Plain lies about pirates
by Johnn Hari

Who imagined that in 2009, the world’s governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains.

They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth.

But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labelling as “one of the great menaces of our times” have an extraordinary story to tell – and some justice on their side.

The words of one pirate from that lost age, a young British man called William Scott, should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live.”

In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken.

At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.”

Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply.

When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, 
and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers.

The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the “pirates” have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a “tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence”.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies.

But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas.” William Scott would understand.

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome?

We won’t act on those crimes – the only sane solution to this problem – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world’s oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.”

The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail – but who is the robber?

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Inside Pakistan
Confusion in Islamabad
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Those who have been closely watching the political currents and cross-currents in Islamabad believe that the dismissal of Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is the most visible indicator of the confusion that prevails at the top level there. Mr Durrani had to be inducted in the Cabinet with a senior-level assignment despite the fact that he had never interacted with Mr Gilani in the past, according to a report in Dawn.

Mr Durrani was among the most trusted men of Gen Pervez Musharaf when the latter was in power in Islamabad. It was this factor that made the General appoint Mr Durrani as Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington.

After the General’s departure from the corridors of power Mr Durrani came to be known for his closeness to President Asif Ali Zardari. The sacked NSA of Pakistan also had good rapport with Army Chief Gen Ashfaque Pervez Kiyani. But the most important reality is that he enjoyed considerable clout in the George Bush administration.

Dawn quoted sources in the Pakistan establishment to say that “Mr Durrani was apparently sacked (after his admission of arrested terrorist Ajmal Kasab’s Pakistani nationality) because the leak (on terrorist Kasab’s Pakistani nationality) had not only caught the Prime Minister off guard, but perhaps also deprived him of the credit for breaking the news.”

But this is not surprising. Mr Gilani has taken such steps earlier too.

Dawn adds: “Recently, he removed his Principal Secretary Siraj Shamsuddin in a similar manner and made changes at the top level in the establishment and Cabinet divisions, apparently without taking the President into confidence and, in fact, against his will and desire.”

As the paper says, this is “not only indicative of a certain miscommunication or disconnect between various sections of the government, but also confirms the growing rift between various pillars of the government and the state.”

Vested interests

Perhaps, there are some people in Pakistan, of course in a minuscule minority, who think that Islamabad should not have reacted the way it did when it was confronted with the ugly reality of Pakistani terrorists launching an attack on Mumbai. When the media, including Pakistani news channels and newspapers, revealed the truth that arrested terrorist Kasab was a Pakistani national, Islamabad should not have gone into denial mode. This impression can be gathered by reading what The News International said in an editorial on January 8:

“The revelation about Kasab’s nationality should never have been allowed to become such a contentious issue…. It should be noted here that a section of the Pakistani media had visited Faridkot in southern Punjab, the purported place of origin of Ajmal Kasab, soon after the Mumbai attacks and found that a person by the name of Ajmal Amir had indeed been a resident of the village and that his parents still lived there.

“The presence of men appearing to be intelligence sleuths was also reported, after which Geo TV particularly came in for some heavy criticism for ‘acting against the national interest.’ by investigating this affair. In fact, a case was even filed against it on this account. The role of a responsible media, and in fact of responsible civil society, should be to act in a manner that furthers the interests of the people and the country, ‘the national interest’ being an amorphous and vague term often used by governments and vested interests to consolidate their own hold on power.”

Changing scenario

If Prime Minister Gilani finds himself in a tight spot today, the position of President Zardari is no better. His handling of every crisis Pakistan has faced after the formation of the PPP government last year has only exposed his weaknesses as an administrator. He does not have the capacity to ensure harmonious relations among all the wings of the establishment, particularly under trying circumstances.

The first major mistake he made, according to many political analysts, was when he created a situation in which former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) had to leave the government. As The Nation commented, “After Musharraf’s resignation, Mr Asif Zardari pushed the PML (N) into opposition by refusing finally to restore judges. The presidential poll was the apotheosis of the post-Benazir PPP. The downhill plunge began immediately.”

 Who will gain if Mr Zardari loses remains to be seen. The army seems to be reluctant to displace him, as it can be guessed from the views expressed by ISI chief Pasha during his interview with a German magazine. Will Mr Nawaz Sharif be persuaded to run the show after the army’s mediation? Anything can happen in Islamabad in the days to come.

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