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EDITORIALS

A dangerous trend
Stop withdrawing powers of PSCs

T
he
very purpose of setting up public service commissions as constitutional bodies was to ensure that appointments to various government posts could be made in a free, fair and impartial manner without political interference. But the political parties, especially when they are in power, have their own agendas and are keen to take all levers of control in their own hands. That is why governments of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh have been gradually withdrawing powers from their public service commissions over the past several years.


EARLIER STORIES

Don’t bank on others
January 12, 2009
Policing the people
January 11, 2009
Prosecute Raju
January 10, 2009
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


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

New team for Satyam
The culprits deserve stringent punishment

IN a welcome intervention to put Satyam Computers back on track, the government on Sunday reconstituted its board, inducting three distinguished professionals: banker Deepak Parekh, former Nasscom chief Kiran Karnik and former head of Securities Appellate Tribunal C. Achutan. More members will be taken on the board soon to make it truly representative.

Guns in Gaza
Peace not possible through military means
O
NLY a heartless person will not get moved by seeing a child crying over the dead body of his father, or the severed head of a teenager being removed by soldiers. Newspapers and TV channels continue to carry such horrifying pictures of innocent Palestinians being killed daily since Israel launched its military offensive in the Gaza Strip on December 27.

ARTICLE

Churning in Pakistan
But will military change its mindset?
by S. Nihal Singh

THE terrorist attack on Mumbai remains at the heart of the Indo-Pakistani relationship because it has snapped the element of trust that was gradually building up since the historic agreement between President Pervez Musharraf and the then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in January 2004. For India, the core of the agreement was the promise that Pakistani-controlled territory would not be used for anti-Indian activities.

MIDDLE

Unwanted insults
by Brig A. N. Suryanarayan

IN Feb 1981, the IAF was doing a firepower demonstration at Tilpat Ranges near Delhi. As Commanding Officer of the only Army unit at Gurgaon and Station Commander, as also being close to the Ranges, I received a flash signal late one night, to receive the President and the PM the next morning at the helipad of the demonstration area at a given time! I took it seriously, despite knowing that all three “chiefs” were sure to receive the VVIPs; because, regulations for the army lay down that the station commander would receive the VVIP; higher HQ right from Army HQ (Staff Duties Directorate) down to Ambala Sub Area had sent me signals not only to do so but sought acknowledgement of the same!

OPED

No military option is  also an option
by Premvir Das

F
ormer
Prime Minister Narasimha Rao is famously reported to have once said that “No decision was also a decision”. This aroused much laughter at that time in socialite drawingrooms but something of that ilk is now the subject of a raging debate in this country following 26/11.

Stop water flow to Pakistan
by Lt-Gen (retd) Ranjit Singh
T
HE response of a country to another country's demand is directly proportional to the leverage which the latter exercises. In the case of India and Pakistan, India has no leverage worth the name. The experiment of mobilising its armed forces and threatening Pakistan has proved to be a damp squib because of the possession of nuclear weapons by both the countries.

Inside Pakistan
by Syed Nooruzzaman

  • Cultural terrorists

  • Taliban in Balochistan

  • Illusive wheat

Delhi Durbar

  • Top oil officials instigated strike

  • Loans, please

  • Birth pangs

  • Cabinet meeting

Corrections and clarifications




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A dangerous trend
Stop withdrawing powers of PSCs

The very purpose of setting up public service commissions as constitutional bodies was to ensure that appointments to various government posts could be made in a free, fair and impartial manner without political interference. But the political parties, especially when they are in power, have their own agendas and are keen to take all levers of control in their own hands. That is why governments of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh have been gradually withdrawing powers from their public service commissions over the past several years. Naturally, once the powers are taken away from these bodies and exercised by the government (read the parties in power), the chances of obliging their favourites are far greater. But this is a highly objectionable move and must be reversed immediately.

The argument that the process of filling up the posts through the public service commissions takes too long is just a pretext to clip their wings. It is a clear-cut chipping away of the powers of constitutional bodies. As a Tribune story has highlighted, this erosion has been taking place for long. The withdrawal could have continued still further if information about it had not come into the public domain thanks to the Right to Information Act.

Actually, the government had got emboldened when the Punjab Public Service Commission had come into bad odour due to Ravi Sidhu some years ago. What should have been done was to appoint persons of stature to the commissions. But the state governments instead started taking over their powers. This remedy was worse than the disease. The systematic short-circuiting of the system is a big scandal and needs to be probed thoroughly. The government cannot gift to itself the powers to undertake recruitment on its own—often for patronage, or other reasons. There have to be checks and balances, which only public service commissions can provide. It is another matter that various ruling parties have also corroded that mechanism by appointing dubious persons to the PSCs purely on the basis of their political allegiance. When the next government comes to power, these political appointees are unceremoniously sidelined. All that presents an ugly sight. The courts must strike down withdrawal of powers from the PSCs.

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New team for Satyam
The culprits deserve stringent punishment

IN a welcome intervention to put Satyam Computers back on track, the government on Sunday reconstituted its board, inducting three distinguished professionals: banker Deepak Parekh, former Nasscom chief Kiran Karnik and former head of Securities Appellate Tribunal C. Achutan. More members will be taken on the board soon to make it truly representative. The new board should extend all cooperation to the investigating agencies in ferreting out all murky details of the worst scandal that has hit the Indian corporate sector. The inquiry should not linger in view of the involvement of multiple agencies. Speedy investigation, foolproof prosecution and stringent punishment for the guilty have to be the top priority. The new board’s first priority is to instill confidence in employees, investors and clients as well as ensure business continuity.

The independent directors of the tainted Satyam board have not been arrested so far. They would, hopefully, not get away lightly under an insurance cover for directors and officers. They need to be hauled up for direct or indirect complicity in the crimes of B. Ramalinga Raju or at least for being blind to the shady goings-on right under their nose. Another partner in the accounting crime apparently is global firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which is supposed to have audited the accounts. Satyam had reportedly paid much higher fee to PwC for auditing its accounts than the other top three IT firms. The inquiry should also cover the possible siphoning of Satyam money and award of major infrastructure projects to the firm of Raju’s sons.

Governments should not normally come to the rescue of corrupt or inefficient corporates. The deadwood should best be left to sink. But Satyam falls in a different category. It is a widely respected company with a sustainable business model, doing outsourcing work for global clients. It has fallen victim to accounting malpractices of a handful of people at the helm. After initial hiccups, which may require financial help from the government, the company can be nursed back to health. The ground reality about Satyam will emerge only after an independent assessment of its financial condition. The company’s fate will also hang on the outcome of a string of suits filed against it and Ramalinga Raju in the US.

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Guns in Gaza
Peace not possible through military means

ONLY a heartless person will not get moved by seeing a child crying over the dead body of his father, or the severed head of a teenager being removed by soldiers. Newspapers and TV channels continue to carry such horrifying pictures of innocent Palestinians being killed daily since Israel launched its military offensive in the Gaza Strip on December 27. The Israeli military’s crackdown has been getting fiercer with each passing day with the world community unable to do anything about it. It was feared the conflict might spill over to other areas with pro-Hamas elements firing a few rockets into Israel. Lucking, this did not happen. So far, over 900 Palestinians are reported to have been killed and thousands injured. The statistics, however, cannot present the true picture of the devastation caused. There are only a few hospitals in Gaza and all of them are overflowing with the injured.

The Israeli offensive is aimed at eliminating Hamas, the extremist organisation which came to power after winning the elections held under international supervision. Hamas, however, has been attacking Israel’s border areas with rockets off and on after the six-month ceasefire between the two sides came to an end on December 19. Israel believes that peace is possible if Hamas is immobilised. That is why, instead of seeking a fresh truce agreement, Israel went ahead with its plan of eliminating Hamas. But can peace be established by killing innocent people? Israeli troops have been able to eliminate a few Hamas fighters. But once the military conflict is over, Hamas may re-emerge as a more broad-based representative body of the Palestinians.

It is surprising why the Israeli leadership cannot understand this reality. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said last Thursday, the hostilities in Gaza must come to an end soon so that a settlement based on dialogue could be arrived at. Such a possibility appears to be in sight with Israel indicating that it may stop its military operations anytime now. It has responded positively to the peace proposals presented by Egypt and France. Let us hope they succeed in preventing further bloodshed in the name of establishing peace.

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Thought for the Day

The world is disgracefully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain. 
— Ronald Firbank

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Churning in Pakistan
But will military change its mindset?
by S. Nihal Singh

THE terrorist attack on Mumbai remains at the heart of the Indo-Pakistani relationship because it has snapped the element of trust that was gradually building up since the historic agreement between President Pervez Musharraf and the then Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee in January 2004. For India, the core of the agreement was the promise that Pakistani-controlled territory would not be used for anti-Indian activities.

The successor Manmohan Singh government followed up with new initiatives in trade across the Line of Control in Kashmir and elsewhere and the process of people-to-people interactions bloomed. When Pakistan’s civil society helped topple the Musharraf era, India applauded although there remained lingering doubts over how a fragile civilian dispensation could help the budding peace process.

The Mumbai attacks came like a bolt from the blue because they implied many things, as investigations were to reveal later. Pakistan had never removed the terror infrastructure from occupied Kashmir or its soil. Elements of official agencies, the ISI spy agency in particular, had helped stage the horrendous Mumbai plot. And jihadis were freely spreading poison against India and collecting money for their nefarious activities. A warning light came on with the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul with the complicity of the ISI.

The repercussions of Mumbai’s 26/11 have still to run their course. India is relying on international diplomacy and countries such as the United States with influence in Pakistan, rather than threatening a ruinous war, to underscore national concern over a tragedy that has cut the country deep. The question being asked is: How can one do business with a neighbour who plots to murder Indians and foreign guests in the heart of the country’s financial capital?

Even assuming that the civilian Government of President Asif Ali Zardari was not in the loop on 26/11, its members were responsible for letting terrorist workshops flourish and turned a blind eye to jihadis’ fund raising and plotting for their jihad against India. Besides, if the Army and its spy agency are bent on subverting and harming India in any way they can and remain the power centres in Pakistan, what prospect can there be of achieving peace and reconciliation between the two countries?

There are voices in Pakistan suggesting that India should help civil society in its neighbouring country to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the Army establishment. Indeed, Pakistan’s civil society deserves credit for battering General Musharraf, compelling him to leave office. But the opposition forces that succeeded him were riddled with factionalism and soon split up. And even the Pakistan People’s Party is showing cracks, pitting the Prime Minister against the President.

Let us give the benefit of the doubt to President Zardari and his party and treat the dissembling and obfuscation they have indulged in on 26/11 as par for course. There has been a measure of posturing on the Indian side as well. But the civilian dispensation seems to be losing ground to the Army and India cannot rescue it. Even the retired General Musharraf has emerged from the woodwork to voice war rhetoric. New Delhi has to deal with the reality of the Army’s continuing central role in the power centres that govern Pakistan.

For a time then India is at a dead end in its relations with Pakistan even as Pakistan officially chooses to acknowledge in driblets the provenance of 26/11. Islamabad will in all probability continue to deny any official role in the Mumbai horror. The more important point for New Delhi is whether the Army will review its own, or the ISI’s, role in trying to subvert India. The jihadi outfits represent a threat to Pakistan’s ruling establishment as well.

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee says that the peace process between the two countries, such as it was, is on hold. He is stating the obvious, but calls for more drastic measures in expressing India’s displeasure are likely to prove counter-productive. India has to deal with Pakistan because it will remain a neighbour and retaining diplomatic outposts and the trade channels that exist is sensible.

The onus is on Pakistan to demonstrate that it is willing to do something about India’s legitimate concerns to assuage the shock of 26/11. Merely detaining leaders of banned outfits and closing their offices do not impress New Delhi. Rather, the Army must take substantive steps against those who are encouraging and engaging in subverting India; to do less would only destabilise Pakistan in the long run.

Pakistan is churning and how far the Army could and would change its mindset about the role the country should play in the regional and wider framework is an open question. The days of General Zia-ul-Haq saw the Islamisation of the Army to an extent and the indoctrination was helped by the institution’s theory of employing Afghanistan to give “strategic depth” to Pakistan against India. The Army and the ISI, therefore, nurtured and helped the Taliban in taking over its neighbour.

The Pakistan Army’s plan to rule Afghanistan through a proxy force was shattered by terrorist attacks on America in September 2001 and the resulting American “war on terror”. Islamabad had no real choice but to fall in line with Washington’s wishes and the US military offensive against Afghanistan had a consolation prize for Pakistan. It became the primary cog in America’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan receiving much valuable military assistance in the process.

Given the difficulties American and NATO forces are facing in Afghanistan in subduing a resurgent Taliban, a section of the Pakistan Army is making new plans in the hope that Western forces will tire of their arduous task and leave the area. The assumption is that the field will again be clear for Islamabad to hold sway over Afghanistan. The Army’s attitude towards India will depend in part on the evolving Afghan situation although it seems unlikely that Washington would want to sacrifice Afghanistan in its regional scheme of things.

Pakistan’s approach to India will be determined as much by its fortunes in Afghanistan and the attitude the new Obama administration takes to Islamabad’s complex political equations as to its Army’s realisation of the benefits of good relations with New Delhi.

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Unwanted insults
by Brig A. N. Suryanarayan

IN Feb 1981, the IAF was doing a firepower demonstration at Tilpat Ranges near Delhi. As Commanding Officer of the only Army unit at Gurgaon and Station Commander, as also being close to the Ranges, I received a flash signal late one night, to receive the President and the PM the next morning at the helipad of the demonstration area at a given time! I took it seriously, despite knowing that all three “chiefs” were sure to receive the VVIPs; because, regulations for the army lay down that the station commander would receive the VVIP; higher HQ right from Army HQ (Staff Duties Directorate) down to Ambala Sub Area had sent me signals not only to do so but sought acknowledgement of the same!

I had a shining jonga with alternate boards for Station Commander/Commanding Officer embossed in burnished brass. I had received no passes for the event but being on duty, I went in my winter ceremonial dress well ahead of time, 35 km from my home in Delhi cantonment. (That is another story as to how being “locally” under Delhi Area, I was Station Commander under Ambala Area!)

The IAF police stopped me at every major junction and asked for a car pass and spectator pass! Ceremoniously, I would take out the Army HQ signal and show; then they would allow me to proceed, but till the next check point!

Finally, just 15 minutes before the arrival of VVIPs, I went to the control tower and met an Air Vice-Marshal. He demanded to know how I had entered a highly restricted area! I showed him the Army HQ signal! So he hurried down to the base of the tower and looked at the vehicle and the little girl inside (I had taken along my elder daughter eight years old) and said: “If you are interested in witnessing without a pass, I will allow you; but you will go nowhere near the helipad!”

I protested and wished to ring up higherups. The IAF wouldn’t allow me to use their lines, obviously because VVIP were due any moment. No mobile phones then either! I could do nothing; so I told him that I would be lodging a written complaint with the Army, against him for not allowing me to perform my lawful duty! I told the driver to reverse, saying we would go back. Just then the choppers started arriving and movement of vehicles was also stopped. Then the AVM realised I was in ceremonial dress and had the signal also; so he said: “Don’t worry. All Chiefs are arriving and will be receiving the VVIPs; so you can sit in the second row of VIPs; watch and go!”

I sat down and waited. Yes; all three Chiefs did come and received the VVIPs! Meantime, my daughter saw Ms Minu (then Talwar), the DD Newsreader (remember, it was Doordarshan monopoly!) and wanted to meet her; I let her go! She brought back an autograph too!

On return, I wrote out a detailed account of the whole episode and sent it to Ambala Sub Area; it went up to Army HQ; I lost track of it after that! But insult to the dutiful me still rankles me! I still do not know: who had insulted me: the Army by sending me on a wrong protocol trip or the IAF who insulted not only me but the whole Army (according to my then state of mind)

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No military option is also an option
by Premvir Das

Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao is famously reported to have once said that “No decision was also a decision”. This aroused much laughter at that time in socialite drawingrooms but something of that ilk is now the subject of a raging debate in this country following 26/11.

Is there a military option, is the question being asked. A couple of hundred years ago, Clausewitz had, once again famously, postulated that war was the continuation of policy by other means. His formulations, treated ever since as sacrosanct by those involved in the practice of statecraft, are now seen to be out of date by some even as others continue to swear by them.

In India, stated to be lacking in strategic vision, this wizard of strategy has little relevance as we are more comfortable looking at things in the present and reacting to them which needs neither formulation nor understanding of broad concepts.

It is not surprising, therefore, that we are articulating a series of views, which are, at best, confounding ourselves, and, in the worst case, simplistic in the extreme.

That the military option should be the last in the menu of choices requires no great intellect to comprehend. So, if inflicting ‘cost’ on that country is seen as the last course of action, this would be an absolutely legitimate and wise decision.

However, to take the view that there is no military option is something that defies common sense. Nation states maintain armed forces commensurate with their felt needs — to impose their will on others, as a deterrent to threats from present or potential adversaries, and as a symbol of their sovereignty.

Military power is only one element in the totality of a nation’s strength in which ‘soft power’ as represented by culture, economy et al is also an important element. To argue that any one of them is unusable is meaningless inanity.

India spends the enormous sum of Rs 100,000 crore on maintaining its armed forces, a figure four times its outlay on health and education; this huge expense is, obviously, wasteful if the military option is not exercisable.

Similarly, to suggest that such a choice does not exist in regard to Pakistan because it has nuclear weapons makes little sense because then we do not have it in regard to China too.

On the same logic, these countries also do not have a military option against us. What this boils down to is that our armed forces are being sustained to be used, if required, against countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

It cannot be anyone’s case that we can happily go to war, even with a country over which we have overwhelming superiority, but, concurrently, the argument that war is ruled out as a possibility is also devoid of any rationale.

That option must always be there to sustain the nation’s interest, if and when required. Calculation of the ‘pros and cons’ of using that option, as of any other, is a different matter but that does not mean that we can, simplistically, discard it off hand.

Another disturbing element of the debate has been the appearance on national TV of retired people, both military and civilian, who have held high positions while in service.

At least two former Service Chiefs and a Foreign Secretary have not thought it unwise to air their views on whether there are any military options and, if so, what these might be.

One of the former uniformed men argued that the military leadership should not succumb to political pressure. There was also an assertion that the use of force would invite disaster as our preparedness was weak.

On the other side, it was suggested that the composite dialogue should be immediately suspended. To visualise contingencies and to prepare for them is the most important responsibility of people in high positions and all those mentioned above have done this on a continuing basis during their tenures.

When they come out in the open and air their views, they unconsciously reveal the trend of possible choices, unhappily, to the adversary’s advantage.

Since the menu is finite, such public articulation circumscribes the government’s flexibility. It is much like the unrestrained and uninhibited 24/7 portrayal of 26/11 events by the television media when every piece of our response was revealed, in real time, to the handlers in Pakistan.

One can be sure that both in the headquarters of the armed forces and in Foreign Ministry, options and choices are being evaluated continually and this is well known to those who are no longer in positions of responsibility or accountability. Reticence from them would serve the nation’s cause better than needless volubility.

So we must do what is necessary in the national interest and leave it to those responsible for safeguarding it. The military option will surely be the last one to use, if at all; by the same token, it cannot be taken off the table.

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Stop water flow to Pakistan
by Lt-Gen (retd) Ranjit Singh

THE response of a country to another country's demand is directly proportional to the leverage which the latter exercises. In the case of India and Pakistan, India has no leverage worth the name. The experiment of mobilising its armed forces and threatening Pakistan has proved to be a damp squib because of the possession of nuclear weapons by both the countries.

Pakistan will react in the way which we want only if our actions, which though non-violent in nature, have the potential of inflicting costs which are beyond its capacity to bear. The Prime Minister had referred to it when he had said “We will take up strongly with our neighbours that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them”.

There are three areas which if India acts on aggressively, can have a very adverse effect on Pakistan’s economy and society. No Pakistani government will like to be confronted with problems which could lead to the break-up of the country. They would have to weigh the cost benefit ratio of the policy being followed now against India vis-a-vis the possibility of break-up of Pakistan.

The first one is the threat of revocation of the Indus Water Treaty of 1960. The second is the threat of providing, as Pakistan does to the Kashmiri separatists, "morale and political” support to the various groups fighting for liberation from Pakistan. The last one being restarting of covert operations in Pakistan against the masterminds of LeT and other such organisations which are involved in planning and executing terrorist attacks in the country.

As per the Indus Water treaty, Pakistan has full rights on the use of the three western rivers (the Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab). India has, on the other hand only very limited consumptive use rights on these rivers, but full rights for non-consumptive uses.

If one looks at the map of Pakistan what strikes one is that all the major rivers originate or pass through India and the headworks are located in India. Pakistan, being arid or semi-arid, depends to a major extent upon the Indus river basin waters for its agricultural and other needs.

Fortunately for Pakistan, India has always abided by the Indus Water Treaty even during the wars fought so far and allowed the flow of water. This is one weapon which needs to be exercised. Pakistan cannot expect us to abide by treaties when it does everything to break up India by using militant groups as an extension of its foreign policy towards India.

The seriousness of stopping the water flow to Pakistan can be gauged from the statement of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari recently in which he said “Pakistan expects India to abide by international agreements on the sharing of water in the Indus river system. Pakistan would be paying a very high price for India's move to block Pakistan's water supply from the Chenab river,”

The second arrow in our armoury should be the insurgencies in Pakistan. We should extend all morale and political support to the various groups fighting for liberation from Pakistan. This also would pose a serious threat to Pakistan's stability and it will have to choose between break-up of Pakistan verses attempts at destabilising India by supporting terrorist groups.

The third arrow should be the starting of covert operations in Pakistan. The perpetrators of terrorism in India must not be allowed to feel safe in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world. These men must feel the heat of retribution.

In world politics, like in real life, “nice guys” don’t come out winners. In a world which is not perfect, to be able to achieve one’s potential, one has to be “street smart” and that is what India has to be. We have, after each war with Pakistan, lost out at the negotiating table by being the nice guy.

We stopped operations in 1948 and went to the UNO when we were winning the fight in J & K, returned Haji Pir Pass after 1965, and did not get Bhutto to agree to a permanent settlement of the Kashmir issue. We have now to become “street smart” if we want to protect our country.

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Inside Pakistan
by Syed Nooruzzaman
Cultural terrorists

Extremists attacked Lahore with five bomb blasts at two theatres last Friday. There were no casualties, but they succeeded in creating terror among the people. The terrorists’ target obviously was entertainment business and those patronising it. The elements behind these incidents appear to be against Lahore’s changing cultural values.

The cultural terrorists struck Lahore with bomb blasts last year in January, March, November and December. The maximum number of people died on January 25 when a suicide bomber targeted the GPO Square close to the Lahore High Court.

According to The Nation, “The intention appears to be to create fear and not inflict casualties. Besides, … the urge to enforce, if needed with force, their version of puritanical Islam seems to be uppermost in their minds. These conclusions find confirmation in last Friday's incidents (one on the premises of Alfalah Theatre on The Mall and the other at Tamaseel Theatre on Ferozepore Road near Mozang Chungi), November 22's near Alhamra complex at Qadhafi Stadium where the 25th World Performing Art Festival was in progress, and October 8's near fruit juice shops at Garhi Shahu considered by some for dating rendezvous.”

In view of Dawn, “the official response leaves much to be desired. It is as if the officials are out trying to take credit for the ‘mildness’ of the terrorists’ effort.”

Taliban in Balochistan

The Taliban groups, feeling relaxed with their vast bases remaining intact in the NWFP, are concentrating on spreading their tentacles in Balochistan. The reports to this effect appearing in various newspapers are disturbing in view of the fact that this largest province of Pakistan has rich deposits of natural resources. Its location is also strategically important. There is strong resentment among the Baloch against Islamabad. No serious attempt has been made to redress their grievances despite President Asif Zardari having made encouraging statements after the February elections last year.

The News International says “We now hear from Sanaullah Baloch of the Balochistan National Party (BNP) that supporters (an interesting word to use in this context) of the Taliban had gained control of lands worth two billion rupees to the east and west of Quetta, and that the Taliban are consolidating their grip.

“A glance at the map tells us that the long border with Afghanistan and the proximity to the unsettled areas of NWFP makes this something that may be accomplished with relative ease – especially if you have a helping hand from the top. It is claimed that Taliban supporters enjoy the support of the government and the sensitive agencies as they see the Taliban as a potent counterweight to the Baloch nationalists.

”Doubtless, Sanaullah Baloch is referring to the JUI-F when he speaks of Taliban supporters. The JUI-F has poached the Pashtun vote from the secular Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party just as it did when it pushed aside the secular ANP in NWFP. “

This is not all. The Taliban ideology is getting increasingly popular among a large section of the people in Punjab too.

Illusive wheat

The souring wheat prices will continue to be a major worry for the people despite the wheat yield expected to be only a little less than what was targeted. The reason is an increase of 52 per cent in the support price of wheat, much before the sowing season began. Farmers concentrated on harvesting a bumper crop, but their efforts will not lead to the cheaper availability of wheat.

As Business Recorder says, “The landed cost of wheat is now around Rs 650 per 40 kg as against over Rs 1000 when the support price was fixed, and the country is expected to harvest about 23.5 million tonnes of wheat as against the target of 25 million tonnes and the actual production of 21.5 million tonnes last year. The decision to import 1.3 million tonnes of wheat by end- February 2009 to ward off the possibility of shortage in the domestic market in the coming months could also have certain repercussions.

“The sustenance of support price of Rs 950, without subsidy, would mean that the issue price to flour mills will stand at about Rs 1100 and atta will be sold at around Rs 35 per kg at the retail level.”

This will mean the ordinary people “will be forced to pay 50 per cent more than the international price and spend a large part of their income on their basic need. Persistence with this policy could have severe political and social implications”, the paper adds. 

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Delhi Durbar
Top oil officials instigated strike

Senior officials of the oil PSUs had their vested interests in the oil officers’ strike that held up petrol and diesel supplies in the country for three days.

Oil ministry officials claim that the strike was largely instigated by some senior PSU officials who wanted a substantial pay hike.

Even the Intelligence Bureau dossier, which is a confidential document, states that top oil PSU officers were behind the strike.

Home Minister P Chidambaram,however, said it will take him nearly 30 days to look into the PSU officials’ demand for a salary hike. Most ministers are asking whether the demand for a salary hike is justified. Do they deserve the bailout at all.

Loans, please

These days representatives of real estate companies are queuing up outside Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s office. Banks are not advancing loans to these companies since they have no collateral left to offer and also their share prices have sunk to rock bottom, making them unattractive for being pledged with banks.

Hence these company heads are asking Ahluwalia to ask public sector banks to release them loans.

Rumour in banking circles is that a bank bailout plan could be the next thing on the government’s mind if this trend continues.

Birth pangs

Former BJP veteran Bhairon Singh Shekhawat literally had the BJP national president Rajnath Singh scurrying for cover when he returned the latter’s remarks in the same tone the other day. But Singh was certainly not among the ones to take things lying down.

Just two days after Shekhawat said Singh was not born when he had joined the BJP, Singh retorted literally, saying: “I was very much around. He (Shekhawatji) does not perhaps know my date of birth.”

The BJP president obviously took the veteran’s remarks literally, again upsetting an already agitated Shekhawat.

Cabinet meeting

Was it part of the austerity drive? The traditional snacks plates were not on the menu of the Union Cabinet meeting last week.

Senior ministers, who had come straight from their offices expecting hot vadas and samosas at the Cabinet meeting, were disappointed.

On top of it, they found that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not even smiling, unhappy over the strike in the oil and transport sectors, which had held the country to ransom for nearly three days.

Contributed by Bhagyashree Pande, Aditi Tandon and Ashok Tuteja

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Corrections and clarifications

n In the news-item “Antony’s good manners” (January 6, page 9), Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh was repeatedly referred to as “Marshall”. The error is regretted.

n In the article “Intelligence slip-up” by Premvir Das on page 10 of The Tribune on December 27, one line in the last column should have read: “This mechanism was totally lacking”.

n The fourth paragraph of the news-item “Rs 16 crore looted in Arunachal Pradesh” on page 2 of December 3 should have mentioned that “there were only 14 policemen in the district headquarters and the police superintendent was away”.n The headline of the item “Sareen for transparency in PPCC” (December 27) should have been “Sareen for transparency in PPSC”. Mr. Anil Sareen has been nominated to Punjab Public Service Commission.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Amar Chandel, Deputy Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is amarchandel@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua,
Editor-in-Chief

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