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EDITORIALS

BJP in two minds
Nagpur did not throw up a clear line

W
ith
the parliamentary polls only a few weeks away, the BJP is struggling to evolve a clear campaign strategy. At its National Executive meeting in Nagpur, senior leaders spoke with different voices on key issues. 

Curbs on hiring
US vote violates spirit of globalisation

T
HE US Senate has voted for restrictions on the hiring of H1B visa holders by bailed-out banks and firms. The Senate has, however, watered down the amendment to the stimulus Bill moved by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and independent Senator Bernie Sanders.


EARLIER STORIES

Nuke Khan is set free
February 9, 2009
To handcuff or not
February 8, 2009
Vanishing jobs
February 7, 2009
Resignation as a farce
February 6, 2009
Shorter the better
February 5, 2009
Trouble in EC
February 4, 2009
Terror networks intact
February 3, 2009
EC in crisis
February 2, 2009
Crisis in higher education
February 1, 2009
Ekla Chalo
January 31, 2009
Kashmir is bilateral
January 30, 2009
Outrage in Mangalore
January 29, 2009


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


Dangerous foods
Standards must be enforced

A
study conduced by the Centre for Science and Environment dropped a bombshell when it reported that most of the edible oils available in the market contain more trans fats than permissible. High levels of trans fats, five to 12 times higher than the internationally accepted standards, were found in seven vanaspati brands. Later it cleared many vegetable oils and declared it safe for cooking purposes. But the fact remains that, by and large, the Indian consumer remains oblivious to the health hazards of the majority of the food products he consumes.
ARTICLE

From Nehru to nuclear deal
The shaping of India’s foreign policy
by S. Nihal Singh

W
HO among Indian Prime Ministers has been the most successful in pursuing foreign policy objectives? To most Indians, the answer is obvious. After all, Jawaharlal Nehru was a one-man think tank and implementer of foreign policy rolled into one even before the country achieved its independence. And he gave the emerging world the concept of non-alignment. But, in a fascinating new study of the foreign policies of Indian Prime Ministers*, an Indian academic long based in Geneva has come up with some surprising answers.

MIDDLE

Renting a costume
by Anjali Mehta

A
S all parents who have small children would know, one important address is the local costume rental shop. There are not too many such in Delhi. Hence the ones present are rather popular and famous. A visit to them for renting a costume can be quite an experience.

OPED

Mission Pakistan
Kashmir may not be on Holbrooke’s agenda
Dateline Washington
by Ashish Kumar Sen

W
hen Richard C. Holbrooke
arrives in Pakistan this week on a fact-finding mission, he will come under pressure to include India and the contentious Kashmir issue among his duties, a prospect that India strongly opposes and Washington has since rebuffed.

One small step for Iran
by David Whitehouse

I
T can be seen clearly, if you know where to look – a faint, moving point of light in the night sky. Amateur observers, and the US military, have already spotted Iran's first home-made satellite, called Omid, meaning "hope", and they have picked up its radio signals, too. For just a few months, Omid will remain in space, along with the upper stage of the Safir-2 rocket that took the satellite into its orbit, until both burn up in the Earth's atmosphere as they ebb back towards the planet.

Delhi Durbar

  • PM keen to attend the session

  • EC, BJP  face-off

  • Networking for Aero-India

Corrections and clarifications



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BJP in two minds
Nagpur did not throw up a clear line

With the parliamentary polls only a few weeks away, the BJP is struggling to evolve a clear campaign strategy. At its National Executive meeting in Nagpur, senior leaders spoke with different voices on key issues. Apparently, there was a problem on the main issue: how much emphasis should it lay on the temple issue and how much on other issues? Wiser from experience and believing that the same issue cannot be encashed for votes every time, Mr L. K. Advani, perhaps, does not want the party to rake up the Ram temple issue the way he did in the past. Even the text of his speech had no mention of the Ram temple. He did refer to Ayodhya on the last day of the session, but only to reiterate the viewpoint, as highlighted by party chief Rajnath Singh, that a grand temple in the name of Lord Ram must be built at the disputed site. He did not explain when and how.

Being the BJP’s candidate for the post of Prime Minister, Mr Advani obviously was also trying to ensure that the issues which cannot help keep the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) intact should not be on top of the party’s agenda. That is why he expressed his inability to stress on the BJP’s three core issues --- building a Ram mandir at Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code - during a meeting of party leaders at his residence a few days ago. What Mr Advani could not say so clearly in Nagpur was made public by party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad when the latter stated, “Ram mandir cannot be an election issue in every election”. The retreat from the Ayodhya issue could be real or for tactical reasons.

While terrorism and issues of governance were being preferred by Mr Advani and his supporters, BJP president Rajnath Singh wanted nothing to be done to put the mandir issue on the back burner. There were many others at the Nagpur meeting who endorsed the Rajnath Singh line, believing that this emotive issue could prove to be a major factor in helping the party to return to power. The people are also aware of the Advani line of “zero tolerance” towards terrorism and corruption, and taking up issues relating to development and governance. But what exactly will be the party’s main electoral plank remains to be unfolded. It will be in the BJP’s own interest to make it clear where it really stands on Ayodhya and more vital concerns like political, economic and social issues as soon as possible so that the voter knows whether the party is still clinging to the past or is ready to move forward.

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Curbs on hiring
US vote violates spirit of globalisation

THE US Senate has voted for restrictions on the hiring of H1B visa holders by bailed-out banks and firms. The Senate has, however, watered down the amendment to the stimulus Bill moved by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and independent Senator Bernie Sanders. They had sought a total ban on the hiring of H1B professionals by American firms. It is feared that the firms surviving on US taxpayers’ money may replace laid-off staff with foreign guest workers and outsource work to low-cost countries like India and China. The amendment has not yet become policy as it has to go through a legislative process known as “reconciliation” and get approval of Congress as well as the President.

“There won’t be any immediate impact but if the issue persists and becomes policy, then the concern could become grave”, says Mr Ganesh Natarajan, Chairman, Nasscom. Mr Som Mittal, president of Nasscom, says the amendment will be confined to banks or firms which have H1B visa holders constituting 15 per cent or more of their workforce. There are about 300 banks and firms getting bailout money under the Troubled Assets Relief Programme. These are under pressure to offer new jobs only to Americans.

The Senate’s move comes in the backdrop of reports that America lost six lakh jobs in January alone. Its current unemployment rate is worringly high at 7.6 per cent. The populist amendment is more for political effect as ordinary Americans losing jobs cannot replace the highly trained and talented people required and recruited under the H1B quota. The US reduced the number of H1B visas from 1.95 lakh to 65,000 two years ago. If the trend towards economic nationalism picks up, it could hurt the fortunes of Indian IT firms, especially those dependent on US outsourcing work in the banking, financial and insurance fields. This will also harm US firms due to the flight of talent and the spiral of costs.

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Dangerous foods
Standards must be enforced

A study conduced by the Centre for Science and Environment dropped a bombshell when it reported that most of the edible oils available in the market contain more trans fats than permissible. High levels of trans fats, five to 12 times higher than the internationally accepted standards, were found in seven vanaspati brands. Later it cleared many vegetable oils and declared it safe for cooking purposes. But the fact remains that, by and large, the Indian consumer remains oblivious to the health hazards of the majority of the food products he consumes.

That India, which is threatening to become the diabetic capital of the world, is not eating right is an undisputed fact. As many as 50 per cent of the women are malnourished and 51 per cent of the children are stunted because they are not eating the right food. While the poor don’t have enough to eat, the rich are spending less on healthy food. The average Indian’s consumption of vegetables and fruits is far below the required norm. Now, the trans fats of hydrogenated oils are posing a major threat to health. According to the Centre for Chronic Diseases Control, New Delhi, trans fats not only raise bad cholesterol and cause heart ailments, but also can lead to many diseases like cancer and diabetes. Sadly, though the Health Ministry’s Oils and Fats Sub-Committee forwarded the recommendation to the Central Committee for Food for standards, no clear guidelines on trans fats have been laid out.

The Health Ministry’s move to make nutritional labelling compulsory for all processed food by March 19 is welcome. However, it should also have included restaurant food that is loaded with trans fats as also saturated fats. Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s belief that nutritional information will enable people to make better choices is well-placed. But, awareness is only one part of healthy eating. Health awareness campaigns must complement healthy food choices. Harmful food products need to be taken off the shelf. Food standards and permissible limits must be clearly defined, disseminated to the public and implemented rigorously. 
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Thought for the Day

Consciousness... is the phenomenon whereby the universe’s very existence is made known. — Roger Penrose
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From Nehru to nuclear deal
The shaping of India’s foreign policy
by S. Nihal Singh

WHO among Indian Prime Ministers has been the most successful in pursuing foreign policy objectives? To most Indians, the answer is obvious. After all, Jawaharlal Nehru was a one-man think tank and implementer of foreign policy rolled into one even before the country achieved its independence. And he gave the emerging world the concept of non-alignment. But, in a fascinating new study of the foreign policies of Indian Prime Ministers*, an Indian academic long based in Geneva has come up with some surprising answers.

Professor Harish Kapur believes that for all the great strides Nehru took in placing India centre-stage in the world and successfully nurturing its democracy, he could not order relations with the country’s neighbours – in fact, he had little time for them. And the Indian debacle in the border war with China ended on a tragic note for him and the country.

Inevitably, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who succeeded Nehru, had little knowledge or understanding of the wider world. He not only emphasised the country’s relations with neighbours, but also institutionalised foreign policy-making. The concept of the Prime Minister’s Office, pulling together the various threads in foreign policy-making, was to become an institution, waxing or waning with the person in office.

It also became an alibi for a succession of short-term Prime Ministers who had little interest in or knowledge of foreign affairs. The traditional Indian politician, it is acknowledged, tends to be parochial and India-centric. In that event, foreign policy-making either reverts to the External Affairs Ministry or a Foreign Minister of the ilk of Mr I.K. Gujral runs away with it, his Prime Minister, Mr V.P. Singh, content to tend to his formidable domestic problems.

Apart from Nehru, whose vision of India’s place in the world and knowledge of international developments were exceptional, only his daughter Indira Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Mr A.B. Vajpayee and Mr Gujral were adequately equipped to deal with foreign affairs in depth. Indira did so instinctively and because of her privileged proximity to power, Rao’s erudition and command over languages were well known, Mr Vajpayee relied on his shrewd perception of men and nations while Mr Gujral’s interest in the world stemmed from his flirtation with Communism in his student days. In fact, he and the author were friends in pre-Partition Lahore, a friendship perhaps responsible for the hyperbolic praise Professor Kapur heaps on the second Foreign Minister to become Prime Minister, for however short a stint.

But Indian foreign policy-making, despite its institutionalisation by Shastri, has taken some weird turns. Morarji Desai’s rigidity, for instance, led him bluntly to berate Russian leaders to their face for funding the Communist Party of India while he adopted a policy of benign neutrality towards Pakistan to an extreme degree, a delighted Pakistan later giving him its highest civilian honour. His efforts to initiate a new phase of friendly relations with the United States did not prove particularly fruitful although he took the important decision to send Foreign Minister Vajpayee to China.

But a sagacious conclusion Professor Kapur arrives at is that no Prime Minister has succeeded in dealing with neighbours, barring Bhutan. India’s debacle in 1962 saw Sri Lanka, Burma and Indonesia distancing themselves from New Delhi. Indira Gandhi’s was a famous victory in the Bangladesh war, but it did not take Bangladesh long to spar with India, and relations with Pakistan have been fraught when the two countries have not been at war, with short periods of hopeful trends. For all the influence India has exercised over Nepal, Kathmandu took the first opportunity of playing off China against India. Myanmar is playing its own balancing act. The so-called Gujral Doctrine was a tactic, rather than a doctrine, based on the justifiable hypothesis that as the largest and best-endowed country, it should give neighbours more than it asks for from them.

India cannot, of course, get away from the fact that given its attributes of size, population and economic and military muscle, it arouses the suspicion of neighbours. Indeed, smaller neighbours seem to be happiest when India is weak and its government structure fragmented. In the author’s view, India has neither succeeded in imposing its authority on neighbours nor in building a collegial friendly relationship with them.

Most Prime Ministers did make their contributions to foreign policy-making, even if by default. After his concept of a nuclear umbrella was shot down, Shastri gave the scientist Homi Bhabha the authorisation to go ahead with a peaceful nuclear explosion, Indira Gandhi taking it to the logical conclusion by authorising the first explosion in 1974. But Indira had given a personality-oriented twist to foreign policy-making, even during her second stint when she expanded her ken to take in the wider world to win plaudits.

Surprisingly, the record of Rajiv Gandhi, the reluctant Prime Minister, in foreign policy is weighty. He presented an Action Plan for a nuclear-free world to the United Nations, still a benchmark in discussions on the subject, maintained relations with a changing Moscow while breaking down barriers in dealings with the United States and undertook a ground-breaking visit to China, the first Prime Minister to do so after his grandfather in 1954.

The perils of the traditional Indian politician’s aversion to acquainting himself with the affairs of the wider world became apparent during V.P. Singh’s Prime Ministership. Professor Kapur relates how Mr Gujral as Foreign Minister decided on his own to go to go to Baghdad, Moscow and Washington to try to defuse the crisis building up over Iraq and took most decisions. And once the decision was taken on sending food and medicine to stranded Indians in Kuwait, after the war had started, he decided at the last minute to go to occupied Kuwait presenting the world with the embarrassing spectacle of India’s Foreign Minister embracing Saddam Hussein. In the brief reign of Chandra Shekhar, Rajiv Gandhi acted as something of a parallel prime minister during the Gulf war travelling to Moscow, meeting heads of state and proposing solutions.

Narasimha Rao was an enigma and an innovator. He opened up India to the world giving his then Finance Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the political backing to pursue his innovative economic reform policies. His overtures to the US did not evoke a positive response, but relations with China improved with the visit of its Prime Minister, Li Peng, in December 1991 followed by his own visit there in 1993. An important agreement to maintain peace and tranquillity on the line of control was signed. He also formally established diplomatic relations with Israel. India’s advent as a professed nuclear weapon power would have come about in his time, but for the US having found out about Indian preparations, with the result that he had to call it off.

Professor Kapur rather underestimates the landmark nature of the Indo-US nuclear deal steered by Dr Manmohan Singh in its impact on relations between the two countries. He similarly undervalues Mr Vajpayee’s innovative bus ride to Lahore and his 2004 agreement with President Pervez Musharraf. It was Mr Vajpayee who made India a nuclear weapon power. It can be argued that after Nehru’s policy of non-alignment, Dr Singh’s has been the most innovative initiative in a world that had dramatically changed since the days of the Cold War.

*Foreign Policies of India’s Prime Ministers by Harish Kapur; pp 444; Lancer; price Rs 895.

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Renting a costume
by Anjali Mehta

AS all parents who have small children would know, one important address is the local costume rental shop. There are not too many such in Delhi. Hence the ones present are rather popular and famous. A visit to them for renting a costume can be quite an experience.

One day, a school circular informed me that my daughter had to become “any animal” on the coming Friday. I went to the rental shop mentally thanking the school authorities for the liberal “carte blanche” which made things easier.

On entering the big store, I found myself surrounded by rows upon rows of shelves laden with costumes in varying hues and textures. Many were made of some woolly fur. Seeing that it was summer and my daughter would feel incredibly hot in one of these, I decided to choose an animal which had the “thinnest” looking skin around. I settled on a “goat” skin. It was thankfully available in my daughter’s size.

I was about to ask for the accompanying face mask when my daughter pointed out that there was a long tail attached to the costume. “Isn’t that nice!” I said rather absently. “Mama!” she said sternly “goats have very short tails!” I complimented her on her accuracy and asked for a more “authentic” goats costume. I was told they all had long tails - it came from the “back” like that ( it took me a while to comprehend that in his case the “back” referred to the production house/factory and not the animals derriere ).

Hours (certainly seemed like it !) later, I was able to come home with a bear costume for my daughter. I made up my mind that in case my son had a similar jungle requirement, I would simply send him as “Mowgli” !

On a more recent occasion, I went to a different costume shop. My mother had accompanied me. My naughty little daughter had elected to be the angelic Sita and my son, Hanuman. Accordingly, the shopkeeper produced the dress elements that went into the making of Hanuman. First came the puffed out cheeks (mask) to be worn over the mid face. My mother made the shopkeeper wear it to demonstrate . Satisfied, she next proceeded to lift the cloth mace and then asked him to do the same. He was not sure where all this was leading, but he obliged. She then triumphantly pointed out that he had also required some effort to lift it! The crux seemed to be that he had unthinkingly given too heavy a mace for her little grandson . A lighter mace was duly found.

Next she held the tail behind her back and asked him to do the same. A fearful look crossed his face : he probably had this scary vision that he was going to be asked to now leap about his shop to demonstrate this asset. He got off lucky , she merely pointed out that such a heavy tail may well disturb the equilibrium of her grandson’s walk and cause him to topple in the direction of the tail’s curve.

A lighter, less bounteous asset was produced.

When it came to my daughters turn, a simple white sari for Sita, I thought I detected a gleam of slight disappointment in the shopkeeper’s eyes !

All in all, these little shops are life saving devices. The alternative : sitting up late at night and trying to make chart papers depict fruits /animals et al by using paint and scissors is rather daunting if you are not from the cadre of Gujral, Menon et al.n
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Mission Pakistan
Kashmir may not be on Holbrooke’s agenda
Dateline Washington
by Ashish Kumar Sen

When Richard C. Holbrooke arrives in Pakistan this week on a fact-finding mission, he will come under pressure to include India and the contentious Kashmir issue among his duties, a prospect that India strongly opposes and Washington has since rebuffed.

Mr Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations and State Department veteran, is travelling to the region in his capacity as President Barack Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He will also be making a stop in India. State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said the purpose of this visit was “to hear from the Indian government in terms of how we can all better contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

Initial reports that Mr Holbrooke’s duties would include “related matters” created unease in India, which interpreted this to mean Kashmir. Indian officials promptly relayed their concerns to members of Mr Obama’s team.

A more forceful denunciation of such a proposal came from India’s top security official last week. Rejecting any attempt to link Kashmir with terrorism in Pakistan’s tribal areas, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan told a TV channel Mr Obama would be “barking up the wrong tree” if he subscribes to such views.

“References made by President Obama did seem to suggest that there is some kind of a link between the settlement on Pakistan’s western border and the Kashmir issue. Certainly that had caused concern,” Mr Narayanan said.

But Pakistan is equally determined to put India on Mr Holbrooke’s plate.

In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari equated the situation in Kashmir to the Palestinian issue, saying it “must be addressed in some meaningful way to bring stability to this region.”

He hoped Mr Holbrooke would work with both India and Pakistan to resolve the dispute, which has led the two nuclear-armed neighbours to go to war in the past. The Obama administration is resisting such pressure for now.

“With regard to Kashmir, I think our policy is well known,” Mr Wood said. “I think India has some very clear views as to what it wants to do vis-a-vis dealing with the Kashmir issue as well as the Pakistanis. But with regard to Ambassador Holbrooke’s mission, as I said, it’s to deal strictly with the Pakistan-Afghanistan situation.”

Ayesha Siddiqa, an Islamabad-based defence analyst, told The Tribune that there is “discomfort in Pakistan over why it has been bracketed with Afghanistan and not India.” Mr Holbrooke will come under pressure to include India on his watch, she said, but added, “Many want to link the two issues but as far as real politics go, how doable is that? There is no guarantee that Kashmir will be resolved anytime soon.”

Marvin Weinbaum, a former Pakistan and Afghanistan analyst at the State Department who is currently with the Middle East Institute in Washington, predicted that Mr Holbrooke will not get involved with Kashmir other than in a crisis-management role.

Noting that India-Pakistan relations have suffered a setback in the aftermath of the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Mr Weinbaum said there is no basis for a serious dialogue on Kashmir.

Despite Mr Zardari’s pleas, Mr Weinbaum said Pakistan is not as anxious as it once was to get US or international involvement in Kashmir. “They realise the international community isn’t necessarily going to decide in their favour,” he said.

The apparent continuity in US policy of carrying out air strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban suspects in Pakistan is another contentious issue the government in Islamabad will raise with Mr Holbrooke.

Providing a sampling of things to come, Mr Zardari wrote: “Ambassador Holbrooke will soon discover that Pakistan is far more than a rhetorical partner in the fight against extremism With all due respect, we need no lectures on our commitment. This is our war. It is our children and wives who are dying.”

The President’s wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a terrorist attack in Rawalpindi in 2007.

Mr Weinbaum said there was an understanding between the United States and Pakistan that drone attacks can be carried out on a limited basis and against high-profile targets. “But whenever one happens, there is always a backlash against the US,” he said.

The government in Islamabad is fast losing control over large parts of the country to a resurgent Taliban, which has spread its reign of terror from the ungovernable tribal regions of Bajaur on the border with Afghanistan to the picturesque Swat Valley.

“Everyone in Pakistan, including Zardari, wants an end to the drone attacks, but what is not being said is how do you then show that the billions of dollars from the US to fight the war on terror are being well spent,” said Ms Siddiqa. “There is a political commitment to fight terrorism but this is not shared by the Pakistani military.”

Ms. Siddiqa said the US has very few options in Pakistan. “It could increase economic aid rather than military aid to its ally or resurrect George W. Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ rhetoric and put greater pressure on Pakistan to deliver,” she said.

Mr Holbrooke is likely to hear another complaint from the Pakistanis. Reports that Vali Nasr, a Shia Muslim, has been appointed to advise Mr Holbrooke have caused unease in some quarters in Pakistan.

“This raises the whole Shia-Sunni problem,” explained Ms Siddiqa. Pakistan is a Sunni majority country.

Mr Nasr, an Iranian American and adjunct senior fellow on Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, did not reply to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is also opposed to an active Indian role in Afghanistan, one Washington has encouraged. Mr Obama’s plan to send more US troops to Afghanistan has led some in Pakistan to see this as an opportunity to put the onus on the Americans to plug the porous Afghan-Pakistan border.

Mr Weinbaum warned against such expectations. “You’d have to saturate the region to plug that border. Thirtythousand extra troops are not a real scene changer,” he said.

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One small step for Iran
by David Whitehouse

IT can be seen clearly, if you know where to look – a faint, moving point of light in the night sky. Amateur observers, and the US military, have already spotted Iran's first home-made satellite, called Omid, meaning "hope", and they have picked up its radio signals, too. For just a few months, Omid will remain in space, along with the upper stage of the Safir-2 rocket that took the satellite into its orbit, until both burn up in the Earth's atmosphere as they ebb back towards the planet.

And so begins a new space age. Iran was jubilant when the rocket launched successfully last week. The Iranian Space Agency said that it was the nation's "first practical step towards acquiring space technology".

President Ahmadinejad announced that the "official presence of the Islamic republic was registered in space". Iran has joined the 10 other nations that have used their own technologies to launch their own satellites – the space powers.

However, it's clear that Iran's achievement is not entirely home-made. It has received considerable technical help from North Korea, and Safir-2 is in fact an improved North Korean Taep'o-dong rocket. Also, a section of the rocket's upper-stage equipment, the part that releases the satellite, is based on Chinese technology. It gives a glimpse of the lines of international contact and co-operation taking place behind the scenes.

The launch raised concerns that Iran could soon send nuclear warheads halfway round the world to mainland America. It is true that space technology is dual purpose in that it can be used for peaceful and military ends. The reality is, however, that Safir-2's tech specs are pretty rudimentary.

Omid is very small, almost just a metal box and a transmitter, and the accomplishment is chiefly symbolic. While Safir-2 may be the start of the development of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology by Iran, very little progress has been made down that road.

Launching a heavy nuclear warhead over intercontinental distances would require a far more powerful rocket, and far more sophisticated technology. Iran won't have that for years – if, indeed, it ever does. But Safir-2 is a message rather than a missile, and the message is that Iran has joined the major league of space power.

Well, not quite. This was once an exclusive club, but it's not what it was. There was a time when you needed the technological might and the finances of a great nation to join, but that was decades ago. The USSR was the club's founder member with its Sputnik 1, launched in October 1957. The US Explorer 1 followed swiftly, in January 1958. The next country to join the club was France, in 1965, followed by Japan (1970), China (1970), the UK (1971), India (1980), Israel (1988), Ukraine (1995) and now Iran.

Along the way, there have been some false starts. South Africa tested a home-grown rocket in the 1980s but cancelled the project in 1994. Brazil has tried, and has suffered three launch failures.

North Korea said in 1998 it had launched a satellite but analysts did not believe it; later this year, though, North Korea is expected to join the club when it launches a satellite of its own, using the Taep'o-dong.

What was once the epitome of hi-tech and secrecy is now more readily available, as one would expect – more than half a century has passed since Sputnik went into orbit. Nowadays, almost anyone, with the right backing, could muster the technology to build a rocket if they wanted to.

Iran's membership of the space power club is the start of a spurt of membership. Over the next few years, we will see indigenous satellites launched from South Korea (planned for this year), Brazil (2011), Indonesia (2014) and possibly Australia, Romania, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey. And it's not just nations; five, possibly six, private companies, all in the US, are developing rockets capable of placing satellites into orbit.

But why do it? Why build your own rocket when you can purchase a launch of a far more capable US or Russian rocket to launch a satellite on your behalf? The chief reason the new contenders want to join the club is national prestige. The Omid satellite that Iran has built is, frankly, not a great deal of use.

It's debatable if their future home-made satellites, still tiny, will be any more use in monitoring their own country – and others – than the satellites they can already access on the internet.

The Iranians already have short-range missiles, able to reach Israel; perhaps the main effect of getting Omid into orbit will be to reduce the importance of their nuclear effort to national pride because perhaps Iran doesn't now need nuclear power to show it has joined the big league. But, for now, the main thing is that Omid is up there, passing over Iran, and the US as well. That is Omid's start and its end.

But elsewhere, the world's space effort is moving at last. New players, new directions and new allegiances will be seen in the future, as well as the first mumblings of what would be an astonishing project, unthinkable just a few years ago.

In the US, people are waiting to see what Barack Obama will do about space. His choice of a new administrator for Nasa will be an important indicator, given that the outgoing administrator, Mike Griffin, has been closely associated with Ares and Orion. Some want to abandon the project and look mainly back towards the Earth in these troubled environmental times.

Others say that would be a colossal mistake. One can perhaps understand the UK's myopic attitude to manned spaceflight, with our limited resources, but short-sightedness on the part of the world's space leader is another matter.

Russia is soon to have some first-class space missions, such as the launch of Phobos-Grunt, which means "Phobos-soil", designed to return samples of the Martian moon Phobos. It will be the first Russian interplanetary mission since the failed Mars-96.

Russia is in the midst of a project to upgrade its manned Soyuz spacecraft, which it does periodically. Currently, each Soyuz crew consists of two professional astronauts and one space rookie. The revamped Soyuz, due to lift off in 2011, will carry two professionals and two passengers. Most importantly, as well as being able to dock with the International Space Station, it will also be able to fly around the Moon and return to Earth.

One company is already talking of the ultimate space tourism mission. For a little over $100m you could make a circumlunar trip. Interest is said to be strong. There are many in Russia who know the sad history of its manned lunar efforts and how its own mismanagement lost it the race to the Moon, or at least a trip around it. They would like to see such a mission take place.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Delhi Durbar
PM keen to attend the session

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recovering from the heart bypass surgery, is keen to meet people from different walks of life. But his doctors and aides would not allow him to do so.

Singh, who has been convalescing at his 7 Race Course Road residence, is being allowed to meet only members of his family and close aides.

According to one of his close confidants, the PM wanted to walk inside his house when he returned home from the AIIMS after the surgery. But the doctors dissuaded him from doing so. Nowadays, he thoroughly reads newspapers and news clippings delivered to him.

The doctors are hopeful that the PM would be fit to go to office after February 22. One thing, Singh really wishes to do is to attend the last day of the coming Parliament session as that would also be the last day of the current Lok Sabha.

EC, BJP face-off

Uncharacteristic of its past, the BJP maintained a low profile at the Election Commission’s all-party meeting last week. Even the representation lacked any of the big guns and was restricted to only Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who made only cursory remarks.

The two well known faces of the party —Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad — were conspicuous by their absence that day at the Nirvachan Bhavan. Jaitley, in fact, came to the BJP media room later but made no mention of the EC’s meeting.

It seems the BJP is not feeling too comfortable with the way Jaitley has gone after Election Commissioner Navin Chawla. Perhaps, that is why Jaitley perhaps avoided attending the all-party meeting and coming face to face with Chawla.

Networking for Aero-India

Journalists on the defence beat in Delhi are a busy lot these days.

With the Aero-India show starting later this week in Bangalore, various defence equipment manufacturers from across the world are busy inviting them to their stalls.

The back-room networking to announce the intent of their companies and provide information is being done in five-star hotels in the capital. Public relations companies are also busy working for their clients and conducting briefings.

Big companies, especially those vying for bigger deals like fighter aircraft and guns, already have their India advisers.

Aero-India has grown in size and this year will be even more important as India has opened up its defence sector to allow foreign participation — up to 26 per cent — in the defence equipment manufacturing sector.

Contributed by Ashok Tuteja, Faraz Ahmad and Ajay Banerjee

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Corrections and clarifications

n The headline “Taliban kills abducted Polish worker” (Feb 8) should have read as “Taliban kill abducted Polish worker”. Taliban is a plural of Talib, which means a student.

n The word “erring” or “lax” should have replaced “errant” in the heading “Haryana pulls up errant departments”. “Errant” means wandering or roving.

n It is Ram Sene and not Ram Sena as it appeared in the headline “Now, Ram Sena targets MLA’s daughter, friend”. There was, however, no mention of the Ram Sene or Ram Sena in the news item.

n In the page 1 news-item, “Babri: 17 yrs later, Kalyan has moral pangs” (February 5), the third paragraph should have read: “Accusing some vested interests of attempting to divide the Hindus and Muslims, the former BJP vice-president in the statement issued late this evening has claimed that his friendship with Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav was aimed at consolidating social forces”.

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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