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EDITORIALS

One step forward
Pakistan has to do more to tackle terrorism
Ultimately, the realisation has dawned on Pakistan that it can no longer remain in denial mode on the Mumbai terrorist strike. Hence its admission that elements in Pakistan were responsible for 26/11, which was planned in Pakistan and executed from there. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik has stated that six persons, including militant commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, have been arrested, and cases registered against nine for “abetting, conspiracy and facilitation” of the Mumbai terrorist attack.


EARLIER STORIES

Amarinder’s expulsion
February 13, 2009
Violence in the House
February 12, 2009
Deaths in custody
February 11, 2009
BJP in two minds
February 10, 2009
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


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS



Fares cut again
Lalu’s parting gift to voters
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad on Friday reduced train fares by 2 per cent contrary to expectations of a 10 per cent cut and, remarkably enough, restrained his irrational exuberance to please the travelling public ahead of the general election. In fact, he has ended up disappointing industry by not lowering freight rates despite a sharp decline in diesel prices in recent months.

Death for Nithari killers
CBI role raises questions
The death sentence awarded to businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar in the first of the horrendous Nithari killings is just and well deserved. They could not have expected a lesser punishment for the crime they committed. The Nithari killings, shocking in their bestiality, were an outrage that disgraced the Uttar Pradesh police.

ARTICLE

Pak tryst with Talibanisation
What India must do now
by Sushant Sareen
L
ONG years ago — 1947 to be precise — Pakistanis made a tryst with Talibanisation, and now the time comes when they shall reap what they have sown, if not wholly or in full measure, then very substantially. Interestingly, the fulfilment of Pakistan’s long-standing quest for puritanical Islamic rule to not only forge an identity for its people and to unite them against India, but also to crush ethnic nationalism within its own borders should really not cause too much concern in India.

MIDDLE

If only
by Shriniwas Joshi
I
remember that when the school examination scorecard portrayed me poorly, I used to brag by saying that if I had done this or that, I would have beaten the topper when my slightly older to me uncle would chip in and tease me with emphasis on the first word, “If grandma had mustachios, she would have been my grandpa.” That was my initial introduction to the word that had covert meanings.

OPED

Terrorism in Assam
Strategic stalemate must come to an end
by Gurmeet Kanwal
Home Minister P Chidambaram was greeted by a series of low intensity terror blasts triggered by ULFA militants on his first visit to Guwahati on the New Year’s Day. He promptly asked the state government to intensify operations against the terrorists. Earlier, on October 29, 2008, serial bomb blasts in crowded markets had rocked Guwahati and Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta districts in lower Assam, leaving over 60 dead and about 400 injured.

China cool to fast food
by Don Lee
Down an alley from a KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut here, Li Hong sat inside a dingy little storefront that serves full-course dinners for a dollar. Her tray was filled with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, a chicken leg and rice, plus soup. A Western fast-food meal would have cost three times that much, said the young woman, who works as a sales clerk. “Why should I go there?” she said.

Obama off to a good start
Barack Obama by Rupert Cornwell
He hasn’t waved a magic wand and solved the economic crisis. Since his inauguration barely three weeks ago – an interval that already feels in some ways like three years – Wall Street has tumbled further. The right accuses him of being a socialist, the left complains he’s too centrist. Elements of both say he’s ill-prepared and naïve. “Amateur Hour”, blared a headline in The Washington Post, summing up a widespread first impression of the 44th president at work.

 


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One step forward
Pakistan has to do more to tackle terrorism

Ultimately, the realisation has dawned on Pakistan that it can no longer remain in denial mode on the Mumbai terrorist strike. Hence its admission that elements in Pakistan were responsible for 26/11, which was planned in Pakistan and executed from there. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik has stated that six persons, including militant commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, have been arrested, and cases registered against nine for “abetting, conspiracy and facilitation” of the Mumbai terrorist attack.

Islamabad has also confirmed the Pakistani nationality of terrorist Ajmal Qasab, who is in Indian custody. Pakistani investigators came to these conclusions on the basis of evidence contained in the Indian dossier on 26/11 submitted to Islamabad a few days back. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee describing Pakistan’s statement as a “positive development” is a correct and mature response under the circumstances.

Pakistan’s admission, as conveyed to India, is a major achievement for New Delhi’s sustained diplomatic efforts. But what Pakistan has done so far is not enough. It has to do more. It has to ensure that all those involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack are brought to justice to the satisfaction of India and the international community.

All the terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan, including those responsible for 26/11 — the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa — must be made to wind up their activities. Pakistan also has to dismantle the terrorists’ infrastructure and their communication networks. This is necessary to prevent the recurrence of a terrorist attack. Pakistan has to honour the commitment it has made that no territory under its control will be allowed to be used for terrorsim.

Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is a serious threat to peace and progress not only in South Asia but also the rest of the world. India being the biggest sufferer of Pakistan emerging as the epicentre of terrorism, it cannot keep quiet until the problem is banished from the region.

The time has come when Pakistan will have to cooperate earnestly in the efforts to eliminate the scourge. This is how Islamabad can prove that it is really interested in establishing peace in the region. It has been pointed out time and again that terrorism and peace cannot go together.

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Fares cut again
Lalu’s parting gift to voters

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad on Friday reduced train fares by 2 per cent contrary to expectations of a 10 per cent cut and, remarkably enough, restrained his irrational exuberance to please the travelling public ahead of the general election. In fact, he has ended up disappointing industry by not lowering freight rates despite a sharp decline in diesel prices in recent months.

A freight reduction could have helped the battered India Inc, especially since the government, unlike the cash-rich Railways, is hard-pressed for resources to bail out industry. Perhaps, he has left the issue to be resolved by the next government at the Centre.

Presenting his sixth and the last budget of the UPA government before it faces the electorate, Mr Lalu Prasad has set a record of sorts. Despite reducing fares in his successive budgets since 2004, he has managed to not only turn around the Railways, which was heading for a sure economic crash, but also generated higher revenues year after year.

Although the economic upsurge in the country also contributed to the fast-track growth of the Railways, the minister cannot be denied the credit for better management of a once-messy organisation, which was headed for bankruptcy when he assumed office. The latest figure of cash surplus is at a staggering Rs 90,000 crore.

However, to keep announcing new trains and have a fat cash book is of little sustainable value if train accidents cannot be avoided and if people keep dying at unmanned railway crossings. Railway stations and train coaches present, by and large, an unhygienic look. Projects invariably face inordinate delays. Such shortcomings are inexcusable if the Railways is to achieve global standards.

The organsiation runs 11,000 trains and carries 14 million passengers everyday, and the network is the second largest in the world. To be fair, under Mr Lalu Prasad, the Railways has cut costs, increased passenger occupancy and replaced outdated diesel engines with new, fuel-efficient locomotives. He has proved to the management schools that populism and profitability are not incompatible.

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Death for Nithari killers
CBI role raises questions

The death sentence awarded to businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar in the first of the horrendous Nithari killings is just and well deserved. They could not have expected a lesser punishment for the crime they committed. The Nithari killings, shocking in their bestiality, were an outrage that disgraced the Uttar Pradesh police.

This has been modern India’s first case of serial killings involving paedophilia and cannibalism. Rimpa was raped and murdered in 2006 by Koli at Pandher’s bungalow in Noida’s Sector 31. Koli, who suffered from necrophilia and necrophagia, allegedly strangled her and then cut her to pieces with two kitchen knives and an axe.

The skeletal remains of about 19 people, mainly of girls and women, were first discovered from a sewer behind Pandher’s house. The police recovered human skulls stuffed in 57 gunny bags containing about 700 bone pieces.

The cases were registered in a Noida police station in December 2006 and later transferred to the CBI. Significantly, Pandher was convicted on the same charges as that of Koli, including criminal conspiracy. However, the CBI’s role in the case has come under close scrutiny. Though it had given a clean chit to Pandher, maintaining that he was away in Australia when Rimpa went missing, the special court did not buy the theory and framed charges against him independently.

In fact, till minutes before the verdict on Thursday, the CBI had stuck to its stand that there was no evidence against Pandher. Even on Friday, when Special Judge Rama Jain was hearing the arguments on the quantum of punishment for the accused, the CBI counsel sought death sentence for Koli, but refused to ask for the same for Pandher.

The CBI needs to explain the rationale for what appears to be its questionable role in the case. Though one chapter of the horror story has ended on a positive note, the victims’ families have a long way to go. No doubt, Friday’s judgement is expected to set the precedent for other serial killings, but the ends of justice will be met only when the trial of five other cases pending against Pandher and the 15 against Koli are expeditiously concluded.

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Thought for the Day

Love is not having to say that you are sorry. — Erich Segal

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Pak tryst with Talibanisation
What India must do now
by Sushant Sareen

LONG years ago — 1947 to be precise — Pakistanis made a tryst with Talibanisation, and now the time comes when they shall reap what they have sown, if not wholly or in full measure, then very substantially. Interestingly, the fulfilment of Pakistan’s long-standing quest for puritanical Islamic rule to not only forge an identity for its people and to unite them against India, but also to crush ethnic nationalism within its own borders should really not cause too much concern in India.

Quite aside the fact that on its own India cannot, even if it wanted to, halt Pakistan from becoming a medieval Islamic state, there is no reason why India should attempt to prevent this from happening. If anything, India should not only call Pakistan’s bluff (or, if you prefer, blackmail) of the mullahs taking over in Islamabad, but also encourage and, if possible, assist the spread of Talibanisation in Pakistan.

Paradoxically, Talibanisation, and not democracy, will be India’s revenge for the murder and mayhem that Pakistan has been exporting to India since Independence. And, in a somewhat perverse way, only after Pakistan is Talibanised will India find it easier to achieve strategic security and stability in the region.

Just as Al-Qaeda is no longer only an organisation but has transmogrified into a political philosophy, Talibanisation too is a mindset rather than merely a bunch of AK47-wielding, madarsa-educated crazies who think they are imposing Allah’s law on the people. The sad fact is that India has been dealing with a Talibanised Pakistan for very long now, only the Indians never realised it.

The Pakistani soldiers who mutilated the bodies of Indian soldiers in Kargil, and their superior officers who acquiesced in these acts were not “enlightened moderates” but Taliban. Pakistani officialdom (serving or retired, civilian or military) and politicians who threaten a nuclear holocaust on India are Taliban.

Pakistani news anchors who spit abuse and venom on India and Hindus and who say that the Mumbai terror attacks were carried out by the “Al-Faida” group (basically either arguing that the Indians staged these attacks in order to sully Pakistan’s “image” or that India is using these attacks as an excuse to put pressure on Pakistan) are Taliban, as are those Pakistani journalists who say that suicide bombers should spare them and instead target India and Hindus. The Pakistanis who continue to support and protect jihadi organisations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba and the Harkatul Mujahieen or political parties like the Jamaat-e- Islami are Taliban.

If truth be told, in terms of mental attitudes towards India, there is very little to choose between an Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a Hamid Gul or an Imran Khan, and those whom these people call “patriotic Pakistanis”, — Baitullah Mehsud of Waziristan, Mullah Fazlullah of Swat, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad of Bajaur and others of their ilk. As far as India is concerned, the extremists have always called the shots inside Pakistan.

And now if the clean-shaven, Western suit-attired, public-school educated, English-speaking, whisky-swilling, mujra-watching Taliban are replaced by the hirsute, shalwar-wearing, Urdu-speaking, madarsa educated Taliban, all that will happen is that the double-speaking, double-dealing, duplicitous behaviour will end, as will the hypocritical expressions of seeking friendship with India.

The first benefit of a “real” Taliban dispensation inside Pakistan (as opposed to the “moderate” Taliban currently ruling the roost) will be the end of the confusion inside India of who and what it is dealing with in Pakistan. In the past, India had a certain comfort level in dealing with military dictators in Pakistan, simply because India knew exactly where it stood with these characters.

This was not possible when politicians came to power in Islamabad because it was never clear how much power they actually wielded and how much they could deliver on their assurances and commitments. Secondly, a Taliban regime in Islamabad will be just desserts, if not divine retribution, for the cynical exploitation of radical Islam for political objectives by Pakistan’s civilian and military rulers, its intelligentsia, media, industrialists, traders, academia and what have you.

It is terrible travesty to blame only General Zia-ul-Haq for the radicalisation that is being witnessed in Pakistan today. General Zia only formalised and institutionalised the process of Islamisation, which had, in fact, started with the demand for Pakistan and gathered pace after Pakistan came into existence.

The spread of Talibanisation inside Pakistan today, with Islamabad for all practical purposes losing control over the trans-Indus territory, is part of a continuum, and as such unstoppable. This is partly because no one in Pakistan can dare to stop Talibanisation for ideological and religious reasons. And partly because influential sections of the Pakistani state and society don’t perceive the Taliban as an existential threat.

In fact, the Pakistani establishment is actively promoting the Taliban in Balochistan to counter the Baloch nationalists, who they see as a bigger threat to Pakistan’s security than the Taliban. It is, of course, another matter that the Islamists will use the Pakistani state’s largesse to eventually snatch the power from it, as indeed they have done in the Pashtun belt further north. The resulting destabilisation and weakening of the Pakistani state is not something on which India needs to shed any tears.

The third benefit of Talibanisation is that it will eventually make the Pakistan problem so much more manageable for India by putting unbearable strain on Pakistani state structure, isolating the country internationally, devastating the economic and social infrastructure and, most importantly, by forcing international intervention. If the current Pakistani dispensation doesn’t exert to stop the Taliban onslaught in the NWFP and FATA, then at the very minimum Pakistan will split vertically down the Indus. But any serious attempt by the security forces to reclaim lost ground from the Taliban will embroil Pakistan in a long and bloody civil war.

A victory in this war is not possible unless Pakistan gets off its Islamic hobby horse and the state is secularised and reconstituted along liberal lines, something that suits India. On the other hand, if the Taliban win power in Islamabad, it will end the sort of indulgence and kid-gloves approach with which the West and the rest of the international community have treated Pakistan until now.

More than India, it is the West that needs to be worried at the prospect of a Talibanised Pakistan. The takeover of Pakistan by the bearded brigade will compel the international community (including countries like China and Saudi Arabia) to intervene directly and forcefully. This intervention could take the form of placing Pakistan under international trusteeship for a few years to clean the mess inside that country. The icing on the cake of any direct or indirect intervention will be that Pakistan will be de-nuclearised, thereby ending the second point of blackmail — the first being Talibanisation — that Pakistan has used to export terror to India.

Since India at present simply doesn’t have the military superiority, the economic clout or the diplomatic influence that is required to force compliance on Pakistan, it needs to ride piggy-back on the international community for tackling its Pakistan problem in the short-to-medium term.

India must, therefore, exert the necessary military, economic and diplomatic pressure — including forcing Pakistan to abandon the western border to the Taliban — to ensure that the situation reaches a point where the Taliban get into a position to take over the Pakistani state, thereby compelling the international community to intervene in Pakistan.

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If only
by Shriniwas Joshi

I remember that when the school examination scorecard portrayed me poorly, I used to brag by saying that if I had done this or that, I would have beaten the topper when my slightly older to me uncle would chip in and tease me with emphasis on the first word, “If grandma had mustachios, she would have been my grandpa.” That was my initial introduction to the word that had covert meanings.

My father had once to go to patwarkhana; I dreamt of the days attending such “feasts” when I changed to pants from knickerbockers. Later when my grey matter got activated, I understood that if you thought patwarkhana was a short of feast and subdivision was a mathematical problem, you were a wobbly-head. Here if taught me differently.

The word if has such powers that it can halt the winning armies. In 346 BC, Philip II of Macedon having conquered much of the rest of the Greece sent a message to the Spartans, “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” They sent a single-word reply: “If”. The boldness paid off; Philip left them alone.

Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” has the most quoted line starting with If — “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” has such inspirational impact that it has become the most parodied poem in English; even Lord Wavell quoted the first two lines of the parody in “Other Men’s Flowers” in 1944.

“If you can keep your girl when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you/ If you can meet a new girl every minute/ And not be faithful to a single one/ Yours is the world and every woman in it/ And what is more, you will be a cad, my son.”

I have imbibed the word if in my daily life to the extent that I walk on foot most of the time because I feel if God wanted me to travel in crowded buses, he would have made me shorter and narrower. I do not smoke because I think that if God intended me to smoke; He would have made a chimney in my head.

I seldom go to the temples because I am sure that if God wanted me to go to the temples and listen to the Amrit Vachan of Swamis, He would have given me broader behind to sit on and smaller head to think with. I sleep at 8 O’clock because I strongly believe that if God had not meant me to be in bed by eight. He would have not produced Ekta Kapoor who further produced K-serials that were shown at prime-time TV.

I wish that all and sundry follow many an “iffy” that I stick to but then my own children defy me and sing a-la-la! “If ifs and ans/ Were pots and pans/ Where would be the tinker?”

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Terrorism in Assam
Strategic stalemate must come to an end
by Gurmeet Kanwal

Home Minister P Chidambaram was greeted by a series of low intensity terror blasts triggered by ULFA militants on his first visit to Guwahati on the New Year’s Day. He promptly asked the state government to intensify operations against the terrorists. Earlier, on October 29, 2008, serial bomb blasts in crowded markets had rocked Guwahati and Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta districts in lower Assam, leaving over 60 dead and about 400 injured.

These were suspected to have been triggered by HujI militants based in Bangladesh, with help from ULFA cadres. Several of India’s north-eastern states have been in turmoil for many decades due to an unstable internal security environment complicated by political and economic neglect.

While the militant movements in the north-eastern states are mostly home grown, some of these have developed links with Pakistan’s ISI and LeT and international terrorist organisations such as the LTTE. Due to porous borders, the militants find it profitable to seek shelter in India’s neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar and operate from bases in these countries.

In Nagaland, peace has prevailed due to the cease-fire that has now held for about a decade. However, it is still only a tenuous peace and political negotiations with the Naga leaders for a final settlement are proceeding extremely slowly. Meanwhile, various Naga and Manipuri factions are engaged in a fierce internecine struggle for power in both these states. In Tripura, violent incidents tend to break out at regular intervals and generate frequent demands for the deployment of the Army and other security forces.

In Mizoram, which has seen many years of relative calm, subterranean tensions have been simmering for some time and may again rise to the surface if these are not addressed satisfactorily. In Assam, the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign against the separatist ULFA cadres and Bodo extremists is making little headway even though the extremist organisations appear to have reached a discernible level of strategic fatigue.

They may also opt for negotiations with the government so that they can buy time for resuscitation. Illegal migrations from Bangladesh into lower Assam have altered the demographic profile of the affected districts and added a sectarian dimension to the internal security challenge. The Muslim population of this area has grown from about 16 to 18 per cent in the 1950s and 1960s to over 40 per cent now.

Divisive vote-bank politics has kept the pot boiling by encouraging these migrants to enrol as voters and abetting such enrolment. The government claims that it has instituted various measures like border fencing, reduction of distance between one outpost and another, increase in the strength of the riverine police and the provision of floodlights to detect and prevent infiltration. However, the measures have been quite ineffective.

The vibrant culture of the beautiful Brahmaputra basin, which gave birth to an ancient civilisation and was once a flourishing centre of trade, has been torn asunder by militancy and terrorism that are now several decades old. Sporadic acts of violence, a gun culture, extortion and kidnappings now mark daily life, even though the security forces have succeeded in maintaining a semblance of normalcy.

Unless a political solution is found to solve the underlying socio-economic problems and to ameliorate the “hearts and minds” challenge of alienation from the national mainstream, full blown -militancy could again bounce back without warning in Assam.

The funds earmarked by the Central Government for development must trickle down to the people in a transparent and accountable manner; thousands of crores must not disappear without a trace as has happened in the past. The Indian Army has given an excellent account of itself in counter-insurgency operations in Assam, as also elsewhere in the north-eastern states, despite adverse terrain and weather conditions, logistics difficulties and political flip-flops.

Further military operations against the terrorists who are still active in Assam must continue unfettered. The mistakes made in the early 1990s must not be repeated. When the situation had deteriorated, Operation Bajrang was launched but was soon called off as it became inconvenient for the newly elected government to have the Army deployed in the state; six months later Operation Rhino was launched and was again inexplicably terminated when limited success had been achieved.

The proclivity of successive state governments to send the Army back to the barracks for political reasons as soon as the situation improves visibly is difficult to understand from the operational point of view. The security forces need time to become effective and establish a counter-insurgency grid, including humint networks to gain actionable intelligence. On-off deployment policies hamper operations and reduce the security forces’ ability to deliver effective results.

Simultaneously, the ULFA leadership, that is now ensconced in Bangladesh, has to be eliminated in conjunction with the government of Bangladesh. It is to be hoped that the newly elected government of Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh security forces will cooperate with the Government of India to launch joint operations to apprehend the terrorists active against India from its soil.

Bangladesh must dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorists, including the commercial organisations like hotels that terrorist outfits like ULFA are running quite openly, and stop the regular flow of arms and ammunition to them. In case such cooperation is not forthcoming, India will have to go it alone and explore such measures as it deems fit, including covert operations, to address the remaining roots of terrorism that now lie mostly in Bangladesh.

Finally, policymakers and those who are responsible for governance must seek to understand why the Indian state has repeatedly failed to successfully counter the long-festering militancy in Assam and other north-eastern states and address the root causes, which are mainly socio-political and socio-economic in nature.

The nation cannot sustain a high growth rate over a long period if a major region is not part of the success story and, in fact, acts as a drag on it due to the high opportunity costs imposed on the national economy due to unrealised revenues and taxes and the cost of maintaining internal security. India’s quest to enhance its trade with ASEAN countries through the land route will also remain a non-starter unless durable peace returns to the north-eastern region.

The writer is the Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

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China cool to fast food
by Don Lee

Down an alley from a KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut here, Li Hong sat inside a dingy little storefront that serves full-course dinners for a dollar. Her tray was filled with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, a chicken leg and rice, plus soup. A Western fast-food meal would have cost three times that much, said the young woman, who works as a sales clerk. “Why should I go there?” she said.

In the U.S., fast-food chains often thrive in tough times. But not so in China, where Western quick-service food isn’t the cheapest stuff in town and, in target markets like Shanghai, there’s too much competition. Plus, a growing number of consumers see it as unhealthful. In a recent survey, the marketing research company found that 78 percent of Chinese consumers were feeling some effect from the global financial crisis. About half said they were likely to cut down on eating at Western fast-food restaurants.

That might help explain why Yum Brands Inc., China’s largest restaurant chain with nearly 2,500 KFCs and 416 Pizza Huts, said same-store sales in the country were up just 1 percent in the fourth quarter compared with year-earlier growth of 17 percent. In the U.S., Yum’s same-store sales, an industry measure of branches open at least a year, rose 2 percent in the latest quarter, ended Dec. 27.

McDonald’s Corp. doesn’t report such figures for China, where it has about 1,050 stores. But Jeff Schwartz, head of China operations, said, “We had some softening at the latter part of 2008.” Like many retailers in China, including Wal-Mart, McDonald’s cut prices recently, saying it wanted to do its part to keep China’s economy growing. Its new “value meals” cost $2.42, a saving of up to one-third for combos such as a double cheeseburger, medium-size French fries (or cup of corn) and a drink.

Yum is also planning for another year of high growth in China, which has been increasingly driving the corporation’s profits. And other food and beverage retailers, including Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks and Cold Stone Creamery, are bulking up in China as well. With rising affluence and changes in lifestyle, the pace of China’s spending on eating out has been growing by double digits year after year. The China Cuisine Association estimates that sales surged 24 percent last year to $225 billion at the nation’s 4 million eating and drinking establishments.

If Western fast-food diners are slipping a bit, it could be that they’ve “lost some of their freshness,” said Xu Yunfei, the association’s industry development director. KFC, which opened its first store in China in 1987 and since has penetrated deep into the nation’s heartland, still has a lot of cachet in rural areas, where its restaurants are often packed.

But most foreign retailers in China have yet to enter such smaller markets inland, tending to focus on young consumers and the middle class in China’s urban centers. Yet once-booming coastal cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen are now reeling from a falloff in exports and industrial production. Even in Shanghai, with its large service economy, it isn’t hard to find people who are battening down the hatches.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Obama off to a good start
by Rupert Cornwell

He hasn’t waved a magic wand and solved the economic crisis. Since his inauguration barely three weeks ago – an interval that already feels in some ways like three years – Wall Street has tumbled further. The right accuses him of being a socialist, the left complains he’s too centrist. Elements of both say he’s ill-prepared and naïve. “Amateur Hour”, blared a headline in The Washington Post, summing up a widespread first impression of the 44th president at work.

The truth is rather different. Mercifully, the giddy euphoria of victory is no more. Inevitably, in febrile hyperventilating Washington, DC, the pendulum has now swung towards disappointment. In truth however Barack Obama has got off to a good start. Events may yet derail him, but the promise of his presidency is no less now than it was on that 4 November night in Chicago’s Grant Park, when all things seemed possible.

Inside his first fortnight, he signed two important pieces of legislation, one establishing equality of pay for men and women, the other expanding health care to 4 million uninsured children. And now the amateur president has secured Congressional approval for an $800bn economic stimulus bill, the largest such measure in American history.

The process wasn’t pretty. But such things rarely are – least of all when the Republican opposition is out to test him. But Obama got more or less what he wanted, as even the most diehard Republicans realised that the party could only ignore 4 November’s message at its peril.

Thus far, Obama in government has almost exactly resembled the Obama on display during the general election campaign. His decisions have been those of a pragmatist who rejects the extremes, convinced of the power of reason and common sense to prevail. Thus, to the anger of the left, he has rejected any witchhunt into the transgressions of the Bush administration, believing it is more important to confront the future than to rake over the past.

On occasion, again just as in the campaign, that cerebral approach has seemed to slip into passivity. In that sense, the stimulus bill was a very rude awakening – proving that your opponents will fill any political vacuum, and denting the notion that an economic crisis as grave as this one would automatically compel rivals to work together.

So much for bipartisanship, the conventional wisdom has quickly decreed, after the stimulus passed in the House of Representatives without a single Republican vote, and with the support of just three in the Senate. Of course Obama has made mistakes. The vetting failure that cost him Tom Daschle, his nominee as health secretary, not only damaged the Obama aura of competence.

It also delivered a heavy blow to hopes of comprehensive healthcare reform. By presenting only a vague bank recovery plan on Monday, he and Tim Geithner, his Treasury Secretary, badly misjudged the moment. Far better to have waited until they had something specific to announce.

But what new president doesn’t make mistakes? Nothing can prepare you for the job. Never has the learning curve been steeper and more brutal than now, and never has a presidency been at greater risk of simply being overwhelmed by events, whatever the qualities of the man in charge.

And worse undoubtedly is to come. As Obama deliberately warns, the recession will deepen, stimulus or no stimulus. On the financial front, he may have to bite the poisoned ideological bullet of bank nationalisation. And all this without the threat of trade wars and climate change, and before some inevitable crisis over Iran, the Middle East or wherever.

But the potential of Obama is undiminished. As none of his recent predecessors, he projects a sense of purpose, a focus on the long term. In the Daschle mess, for instance, he quickly admitted error and moved on. That focus also explains his dire language about the economic calamity that awaits if nothing is done. Why not a little happy talk, critics ask, that would make everyone feel better? But Obama knows full well it was such happy talk – a short-termist refusal to face underlying facts – that dug the hole in which US now finds itself.

For once an American politician is treating his electorate as grown-ups. That is why he will continue to press bipartisanship. And who knows, if you treat your voters and your fellow politicians like grown-ups, maybe they’ll act that way. All in all, it’s been a pretty good start. Just as on that magical night in Grant Park, Barack Obama still looks the right man for the job.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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