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EDITORIALS

Appeasing the Taliban
Swat accord will not help Pakistan
Pakistan has once again provided proof that it is not serious about handling the threat posed by terrorists and religious extremists. A government determined to root out terrorism would not have reached an accord with militant leaders Sufi Mohammad and his son-in-law Fazlullah as Islamabad did on Monday for “implementing Shariat laws” in the Malakand-Swat region in the NWFP.

Himachal in debt
The state avoids taxes, takes loans
Though one may like to see the Himachal Pradesh budget for 2009-10, presented on Monday, as election oriented since no fresh taxes have been imposed, the fact is both the BJP and the Congress adopted a common strategy when in power: ask the Centre for bailouts or take loans to run affairs of the state.








EARLIER STORIES

Carry on, Pranab
February 17, 2009
More open to FDI
February 16, 2009
Pitfalls of democracy
February 15, 2009
One step forward
February 14, 2009
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
THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS


Push to education
Emphasis on quality is also important
Contrary to pre-budget expectations that education, especially higher education, might become a casualty of the economic slowdown, the interim budget has actually increased the outlay for education. Education and health are essential for any nation. The UPA regime has been paying due attention to education.

ARTICLE

A Tribune Debate
Cracks in Election Commission
The controversy can affect its credibility
by P.P. Rao
Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami’s suo motu recommendation to the President to remove Mr Navin Chawla from the post of Election Commissioner has raised legal and political issues. The debate is on. In the process, the recommendation has eroded the credibility of the Election Commission.

MIDDLE

A down-to-earth lady
by Ram Varma
Vidyadevi Bansi Lal was a quintessential Haryanavi lady — bubbling with good humour, affectionate and entirely unaffected. I first came to know her 40 years ago, in 1969, when I was Director of Public Relations and Tourism, Haryana, and she had come, unannounced, to witness a song and dance programme at the Pinjore Gardens. She was so down-to-earth, mirthful and witty; it was such a pleasure escorting her and being with her.

OPED

Govt in denial mode
Budget fails to tackle financial crisis
by Arun Kumar
A
budget is more about the year ahead than about the years past. The interim budget for 2009-10 lauds the performance of the UPA government in the last four years. It ignores the negatives in this period. Further, it glosses over the considerable negative news in 2008 which called for action. It looks as if the budgetary allocations are sharply up but the big increases were made last year and they are merely being maintained.

Japan’s recession deepens
by Blaine Harden
Japan’s economy, the second-largest in the world, has recorded its worst performance in more than three decades. And the government’s capacity to revive it has been weakened by the plunging popularity of Prime Minister Taro Aso. Aso’s effectiveness took another hit on Tuesday morning, when a key member of his economic team said he would resign.

Inside Pakistan
Politics of Sharia
by Syed Nooruzzaman
The Pakistan government’s decision to reach an accord with extremist leader Sufi Mohammad Khan has come in for criticism by most of the influential English language newspapers. Islamabad, perhaps, believes that agreeing to the demand of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi chief for the implementation of Sharia laws in the Malakand division of the NWFP, which includes Swat, will lead to an end to Taliban violence. But this is unlikely to happen, as the past record of the Sufi and his followers shows.

Drone attacks
Waiting for Basant

 


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Appeasing the Taliban
Swat accord will not help Pakistan

Pakistan has once again provided proof that it is not serious about handling the threat posed by terrorists and religious extremists. A government determined to root out terrorism would not have reached an accord with militant leaders Sufi Mohammad and his son-in-law Fazlullah as Islamabad did on Monday for “implementing Shariat laws” in the Malakand-Swat region in the NWFP.

These elements are part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, headed by Baitullah Mehsud. The Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), an extremist outfit headed by the Sufi, has been controlling the Malakand-Swat region for a long time. Now, in the name of buying peace, the Government of Pakistan has allowed the TNSM to run its own administration in the area. Jihadi terrorists and their supporters are bound to feel emboldened by the agreement.

It is strange that Islamabad chose to enter into a deal with militants when similar accords it signed with such elements in the past in North and South Waziristan led to disastrous consequences. Surely, Washington could not have given its nod for this dangerous decision as US Special Representative for Pakistan-Afghanistan Richard Holbrookes has described the Taliban as the common enemy of the US, India and Pakistan.

Whatever is the truth behind the development, it happened soon after President Asif Zardari told a TV channel that Taliban extremists are “trying to take over the state of Pakistan”. It cannot be that he was preparing the ground for his government reaching the agreement with these elements for implementing what has been officially described as Sharia laws in the area.

The Taliban and other associates of Al-Qaida have found an excellent opportunity to regroup themselves to cause more death and destruction in the region. What Pakistan has done is not the way to handle extremists. Its policy of appeasement of militants is bound to be condemned by the international community. Obviously, Islamabad continues to adhere to the policy of using the Taliban for promoting its geopolitical interests, whatever its claims.

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Himachal in debt
The state avoids taxes, takes loans

Though one may like to see the Himachal Pradesh budget for 2009-10, presented on Monday, as election oriented since no fresh taxes have been imposed, the fact is both the BJP and the Congress adopted a common strategy when in power: ask the Centre for bailouts or take loans to run affairs of the state.

Since raising taxes is widely seen as an anti-people measure, the successive governments have opted to take loans. No wonder, the state debt has spiralled to an alarming Rs 23,000 crore, an enormous amount for a tiny hill state with limited sources of revenue.

While the state government may be justified in lowering bus fares in view of the sharp decline in the oil prices and in reducing the VAT on power-saving CFL lamps, it has made no budgetary provision for implementing the Sixth Pay Commission report. It should have learnt a lesson or two from Haryana, which earmarked sufficient amounts in this and next fiscal budgets.

The industry has welcomed Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal’s budget, which is understandable since it has been spared any fresh tax burden. Because of a Central tax holiday, the state has witnessed an industrial boom in recent years.

The government shies away from taxing the industry adequately to raise funds, at least, for building infrastructure. The additional allocation of Rs 5 crore for the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh belt is too meagre to make a difference.

The Himachal economy depends on tourism, which has got little budgetary boost. The state of roads in smaller towns is pathetic. The entry tax is another deterrent to tourists, who hate to wait in sweltering heat more than paying the small amount.

The government has to divert tourist traffic from crowded places to new areas by providing connectivity. The Budget lacks a vision to develop the state. There is no attempt to encourage eco-friendly industry to create jobs. The government remains a major employer and no attempts are made at downsizing.

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Push to education
Emphasis on quality is also important

Contrary to pre-budget expectations that education, especially higher education, might become a casualty of the economic slowdown, the interim budget has actually increased the outlay for education. Education and health are essential for any nation. The UPA regime has been paying due attention to education.

In the last budget the allocation for education increased by 20 per cent. Recently, the Prime Minister talked of an education revolution and the acting Finance Minister, Mr Parnab Mukherjee, hailed the year 2008-2009 as “a momentous year for secondary education”. In the year 2008-2009 many schemes to universalise secondary education were launched. Now, to upgrade the quality of education the thrust is on model schools to be set up at the block level.

Since India’s Independence, the education system has expanded vastly and today it has one of the largest education systems in the world. But it is equally true that India’s literacy rate at 65.38 per cent is still far short of a 100 per cent literacy rate — the desired aim. In higher education, too, India has yet to emerge as a force to reckon with.

But for the IITs and the IIMs, thankfully whose number the UPA government has increased, the quality of higher education in India is at best mediocre. Both primary and higher education are plagued by many ills. While higher education has witnessed a mindless mushrooming of educational institutions, primary education continues to be afflicted by lack of teachers, poor infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms and much more.

The UPA government’s track record on education has been appreciable. The outlays on higher education have increased nine- fold in the 11th Five Year Plan and initiatives like Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan have got the necessary impetus. Still, mere increased outlays cannot achieve the goal of a fully literate India.

In the new global order, meritocracy has to go hand in hand with education for all. Quality cannot be sacrificed for just numbers. Nor can India, home to a third of the world’s illiterates, forsake its literacy challenge.

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Thought for the Day

Oh, the self-importance of fading stars. Never mind, they will be black holes
one day. — Jeffrey Bernard

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A Tribune Debate
Cracks in Election Commission
The controversy can affect its credibility
by P.P. Rao

Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami’s suo motu recommendation to the President to remove Mr Navin Chawla from the post of Election Commissioner has raised legal and political issues. The debate is on. In the process, the recommendation has eroded the credibility of the Election Commission.

The hard work put in by successive CECs, in particular by T.N. Seshan, notwithstanding his challenge to the appointment of two Election Commissioners, has made the commission the second most credible institution in the country, next only to the judiciary. Individuals make or mar the reputation of institutions. It is, therefore, necessary to arrest further erosion of the credibility of the commission.

The power to make any appointment includes the power to suspend or dismiss any person appointed, according to the General Clauses Act, which applies for the interpretation of the Constitution. Article 324(2) confers power to appoint the CEC and ECs on the President, who acts on the advice of the Council of Ministers, which is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha.

In order to ensure independence of the Election Commission, Article 324(5) provides that the CEC shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court and that an Election Commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC.

The requirement of recommendation of the CEC is a constitutional limitation on the power of removal vested in the executive; it does not involve any transfer of even a fraction of the power of removal from the President to the CEC.

It is an additional condition to be complied with by the President as and when the occasion arises for removal of an Election Commissioner, apart from other requirements of administrative law, which need to be complied with.

Four decades ago, the Supreme Court had declared that it is one of the fundamental rules of our constitutional set-up that every citizen is protected against exercise of arbitrary authority by the State or its officers. Duty to act judicially is implicit in the exercise of such power. That is the basic concept of rule of law.

In Dr. Bool Chand vs the Chancellor, Kurukshetra University, the court held that the power to appoint carries with it the power to determine the employment, but the said power is coupled with duty. It may not be exercised arbitrarily, but exercised only for good cause, that too when it is found after due enquiry held in the manner consistent with the rules of natural justice that the holder of the office is unfit to continue therein.

As the power of removal is vested in the President of India, no part of the power can be wrested by the CEC for exercise by him. Initiation of disciplinary action for misbehaviour can be done only by the appointing authority, which is also the disciplinary authority or its delegate. It has not been delegated to the CEC so far.

The CEC and the ECs together constitute the Election Commission and they collectively exercise the power of superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and state legislatures and of elections to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.

The Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Act, 1991, as amended, provides inter alia that if the CEC and his colleagues differ in opinion on any matter, such matter shall be decided by the opinion of the majority. In T.N. Seshan vs the Union of India, the Supreme Court rejected Seshan’s contention that the CEC alone has decisive powers.

The question arises, whether in the scheme of the Constitution when the CEC is not removable from his office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court, i.e. only after a judicial enquiry into allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity followed by impeachment by Parliament, is it conceivable that an Election Commissioner who enjoys equal power as a member of the Election Commission can be summarily shown the door on the suo motu recommendation of a CEC? The answer is an emphatic No.

The CEC comes into the picture only when the President of India has taken a decision with the aid and advice of the Cabinet to remove an Election Commissioner following the findings arrived at in a quasi-judicial enquiry into charges of misconduct and before passing the order of removal. This is the meaning of the words “that any Election Commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner” in Article 324(5).

This additional safeguard was calculated to ensure independence of the Election Commissioners from the executive and political parties. It cannot be construed so as to make the Chief Election Commissioner in substance the disciplinary authority for the Election Commissioners.

The next question to be considered is whether the Chief Election Commissioner is expected to remain a silent spectator when he is of the opinion that an Election Commissioner is guilty of misbehaviour or suffers from bias for or against a political party? Certainly not. In such an event, it becomes the duty of the CEC to place all the material in his possession before the President who is the competent authority for taking necessary action.

It then becomes the responsibility of the Council of Ministers to scrutinise the material forwarded by the CEC, and if a prima facie case is made out, to appoint an enquiry officer of high status like a retired judge of the Supreme Court to conduct an enquiry into the allegations of misconduct, giving effective opportunity to the Election Commissioner concerned to present his case and return a finding, on the basis of which alone appropriate decision could be taken by the appointing authority.

In the event of an adverse finding being given by the enquiry officer against the delinquent Election Commissioner, then and only then would the necessity for the recommendation of the CEC for the removal of the EC arise. If the CEC does not agree with the finding, the EC cannot be removed. He can be removed only on the recommendation of the CEC.

The ongoing debate underlines the need for clarity in this area. There is no need to amend the Constitution for this purpose. An amendment to the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Act, 1991, will do. Parliament may insert a provision in that Act laying down the procedure for the removal of an Election Commissioner consistent with the rule of law in order to safeguard the independence of the Election Commissioners, not only from interference by the executive and political bosses, but also by the CEC.

I suggest inserting a provision like Article 317 which provides for removal of a Chairman or any other member of a Public Service Commission on the ground of misbehaviour by requiring the President to make a reference to the Supreme Court for inquiry and act on its finding. It would be against public interest to relegate Election Commissioners to the position of subordinates to the CEC.

The CEC cannot be allowed to become an instrument of oppression as that would destroy the independence of the ECs as observed by the Supreme Court. Election Commissioners do not hold their office during the pleasure of the CEC like ministers who can be dropped at any time by the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister as the case may be. Needless to mention, all constitutional functionaries, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion and should not give any room for questioning their integrity.

The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India.

The previous articles on the subject were by B.G. Verghese (Feb 9), Ramaswamy R. Iyer (Feb 11), N.H. Hingorani (Feb 12) and K.N. Bhat (Feb 17).

(To be concluded)

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A down-to-earth lady
by Ram Varma

Vidyadevi Bansi Lal was a quintessential Haryanavi lady — bubbling with good humour, affectionate and entirely unaffected. I first came to know her 40 years ago, in 1969, when I was Director of Public Relations and Tourism, Haryana, and she had come, unannounced, to witness a song and dance programme at the Pinjore Gardens. She was so down-to-earth, mirthful and witty; it was such a pleasure escorting her and being with her.

I enjoyed her lively and pithy comments in her inimitable Haryanavi idiom on the performances. When I requested her to give away prizes to the artistes, she readily agreed and performed her task with an endearing grace.

Some years later, I went to Bhiwani as Deputy Commissioner, and had the pleasure and privilege of meeting her more frequently. I particularly remember an incident on the occasion of Bansi Lal’s second son Surendra Singh’s marriage. Bansi Lal was an Arya Samajist of austere temperament, and had sent only five baratis to bring the bride home — his younger brother Raghbir Singh, his elder son Mahendra, K.L. Poswal, the bridegroom and one or two more persons. I received an invitation to the reception of the newly-weds at his house, with the stipulation that no presents were to be brought. My wife, Savitri, and I had gone to attend the reception.

Savitri was a simple person and was wearing a Kanjeevaram silk sari and her usual gold ear-rings, nothing more – no necklace or a pendant on the head. Mrs Bansi Lal was receiving the guests. She was shocked, seeing the DC’s wife without any jewelry, and exclaimed: “Arre chhori, naagi, boochi agayi!” (My dear girl, you have come without wearing any ornaments!) Savitri was mortified at her comment. Even her mother-in-law had never spoken to her like that. But she did not say anything, just smiled.

Mrs Bansi Lal took Savitri inside her room and forced her to wear a small gold chain with a pendent. Savitri came out and sat near me. She was sullen. I explained to her that she did not mean any disrespect. This was her way of speaking. Even if one of her own daughters had come like that, she would have said the same thing to her. She treats you like her daughter. After the function was over, we wanted to return the trinket to her, but she would have none of it. So, instead of giving a present, we got away with receiving one!

After about one year of Surendra Singh’s marriage, there was some social occasion and Savitri and I were sitting at their house on the terrace. Mrs Bansi Lal was there along with her two pretty daughters-in-law, Ritu and Kiran, and there were some other ladies like the SP’s wife and others. I asked Mrs Bansi Lal how she felt now that both her sons were married and she had such lovely daughters-in-law.

With a twinkle in her eyes, she replied: “Birma Sa’ab (that’s how she used to
address me), how do I tell you? In that age when we were daughters-in-law, it
was the raj of the mothers-in-law. Their word was law. They would order us
about the whole day.

We silently suffered their constant domination, just as they had suffered when they were daughters-in-law. That’s how it had been going on from the time the shristi had started. But now when we have become mothers-in-law, zamana badal gaya (the world has changed). Now it is the raj of the daughters-in-law.”

She had said it in a mocking, good-humoured manner, without any rancour; and everyone, including my wife and the two daughters-in-law, had a hearty laugh. But I could discern a tinge of sadness in her eyes.

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Govt in denial mode
Budget fails to tackle financial crisis
by Arun Kumar

A budget is more about the year ahead than about the years past. The interim budget for 2009-10 lauds the performance of the UPA government in the last four years. It ignores the negatives in this period. Further, it glosses over the considerable negative news in 2008 which called for action. It looks as if the budgetary allocations are sharply up but the big increases were made last year and they are merely being maintained.

The positives are the high rate of economic growth, a low rate of inflation, a high growth in exports, a rapid flow of foreign capital, a strong buildup of foreign exchange reserves, a good growth in agriculture, implementation of the NREGS and many social sector schemes.

Given the high growth rate, revenues increased sharply so that there was scope of spending more on critical schemes. However, critics have argued that not enough was done, given the potential and the crisis in the lives of the poor. Be that as it may, the list is impressive.

What are the omitted negatives? Given the nature of growth, dependent on the services sector, privatisation, displacement of the unorganised sector production by the organised sector, rapidly growing pollution and high amounts of displacement, over estimated by the official statistics.

For similar reasons, inflation was underestimated. No wonder, while the government claimed low rates of inflation, the citizen complained of high inflation - perceptions differed sharply.

However, disconcertingly, growth led to a growing disparity in the economy. While the corporate sector backed by massive concessions did phenomenally well with profits more than tripling, the status of the aam admi, the supposed focus of the Congress, stagnated or declined.

Disparities of every description increased — between the rural and urban areas, the backward and forward states, agriculture and non-agriculture, capital and labour and the organised and unorganised sections.

This is what fuelled the rapid increase in the savings rate in the economy by an unprecedented 15 per cent. The rising profits also fuelled a rapid increase in the investment rate by a similar amount. However, it also made the growth path unstable because it became dependent on a narrow segment of society.

It is this feature that has led to a sharp decline in India’s growth rate in the last six months. As soon as the incomes of the elite sections and the profits of the corporate sector were hit by the global crisis, both consumption demand and investment rate declined, triggering the downturn.

Currently, exports are declining rapidly because of global recession, industrial growth has turned negative and large segments of the services sector are declining or slowing down. The result is that the current rate of growth of the economy (not the average) is close to zero, if not negative.

The budget supports this contention when it projects a 2 per cent nominal growth in customs and excise duties (at unchanged rates). Adjusted for a 4 per cent rate of inflation, this would suggest a 2 per cent contraction for this segment. A 6 per cent nominal growth is expected in service tax so the real growth would be 2 per cent.

Finally, the growth in income tax and corporation tax is projected at 10 per cent. Like last year’s figures, which were based on optimistic projections and have now fallen substantially short, this year’s figures are also likely to be overstated. If even the optimistic projections are as low as they are, then India’s growth is likely to be negative.

Amongst the other negatives, one may count the rapid increase in the revenue and the fiscal deficits for the current year (2008-09) from the budgeted figures of 1 per cent and 2.5 per cent to 4 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively.

These unprecedented increases were anticipated by experts because of the over-estimation of revenues and under-estimation of the expenditures on pay revision, farmers’ loans, petro-goods subsidies and so on.

Thus, the FRBM Act has been given a quiet burial. It is not surprising that at the first hint of a crisis for the elite, this apparently stringent act has been relegated to the dustbin while till last year when funds were needed for the aam admi, this act was cited as an impediment.

The Congress has also suddenly discovered farmers as heroes. In the last many years when they were committing suicide at record rates, they were hardly the focus of attention.

Now that demand has to be raised quickly to counter the downturn, they are seen as the saviours. Because of their poverty, they will spend much more and create a market. Clearly, they do not matter in their own rights but as an adjunct to the non-agriculture sector – the real concerns of the rulers of the country.

We continue to announce that we will have 7.1 per cent growth this year and that next year 9 per cent is achievable while everyone else is expecting a worse year.

Given our current trends, the government is in a state of denial and that is why it is content to announce packages of Rs.40,000 crore and Rs.20,000 crore. The RBI’s release of liquidity just about compensates for the decline due to fall in foreign exchange reserves. Where is the urgency?

The government claims that it is a vote-on-account and no new policy measures could be announced with a new government due to take over soon.

But the government has been announcing measures outside the budget all the time and, given the unprecedented crisis, the like of which we have not seen in our lifetime, expenditures in critical areas could have been boosted and governance tightened up.

In 1991, when the Narsimha Rao government took over in the midst of a crisis, it acted undemocratically and in haste, with little time to reflect and the poor had to suffer. A repeat of this is likely.

The non-action and denial mode maybe explained by the party’s desire to win the coming elections by projecting a positive image of its performance.

Admitting that the situation is grim and acting strongly to prevent it from deteriorating may have been seen as a self-goal by the ruling party. Clearly, between the party’s interest and the national interest, the former has won hands down.

There is another twist in the tale. If the New Economic Policy strategy is admitted to fail, the blame for that would also go to its initiator, the party and the present Prime Minister. This may trigger demands for accountability. So brazening it out for a few more months is a safer strategy.

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Japan’s recession deepens
by Blaine Harden

Japan’s economy, the second-largest in the world, has recorded its worst performance in more than three decades. And the government’s capacity to revive it has been weakened by the plunging popularity of Prime Minister Taro Aso. Aso’s effectiveness took another hit on Tuesday morning, when a key member of his economic team said he would resign.

Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa had come under withering criticism here after appearing to be drunk after a weekend meeting in Rome of finance ministers from the world’s richest countries. The economy shrank at an annual pace of 12.7 percent in the last three months of 2008, the government said Monday.

Exports during the quarter dropped a record 13.9 percent, as global demand evaporated for Japanese cars and electronics. Major companies such as Toyota and Sony have posted record losses, halted production in many factories and ordered widespread layoffs.

“There’s no doubt that the economy is in its worst state in the postwar period,” said Kaoru Yosano, minister of economic and fiscal policy. The economy is falling faster here than in the United States or most other industrialized countries because of Japan’s extraordinary dependence on exports for growth.

Yosano said sales of autos, electronics and capital goods have been “severely hit” by the global downturn. The yen’s 18 percent gain against the dollar in the past year raised the worldwide price of Japanese exports just as demand for them fell off a cliff.

The pace of decline here has exceeded even the gloomy predictions of market experts polled by the Kyodo news service. They had forecast an annual fall of 11.6 percent. The 12.7 percent figure announced Monday marks the steepest slide since the 1973-1974 oil crisis.

The grim numbers are likely to increase popular pressure on the government to do more to stimulate economic recovery. But there may be little that the current government can do.The public appears to have lost faith in the leadership of Aso, who has been in power less than six months. His approval rating fell below 10 percent in the most recent national opinion poll.

Further damaging the prime minister was the appearance last weekend of Aso’s close ally Nagakawa in Rome, where finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial countries met last weekend.

Nagakawa’s slurred answers to reporters’ questions after the meeting have been repeatedly broadcast by Japanese television, and he was facing enormous public and political pressure to step down. Nagakawa denied being drunk, blaming “a larger-than-usual portion of cold medicine” for his demeanor, and Aso on Monday asked him to stay in his post.

But a day later, Nagakawa told reporters at a news conference that he intends to resign “as soon the budget and related legislation are passed by the lower house” for the fiscal year that starts April 1. That makes the time frame for his departure unclear, since each house is currently debating budget-related measures.

Aso has championed a stimulus plan built around a cash handout of $130 to $220 per person. But the public does not want the money and does not believe the handout will do much to revive the economy, polls show.

The plan has also been questioned by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who stepped down in 2006 but remains perhaps the most influential voice in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has controlled the government, with only one brief interruption, since World War II. Koizumi’s unusually harsh words — he has called some of Aso’s comments “laughable” and has questioned his competence to contest an election — suggest that the prime minister may be forced to resign.

The ruling party must call a national election by September, and polls suggest that it could be defeated by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The size of any stimulus package in Japan is limited by its obligation to service the world’s most onerous public debt burden — totaling more than 155 percent of gross domestic product — while meeting the mushrooming pension and medical needs of the world’s oldest population.

The Bank of Japan, meanwhile, has virtually no room for cutting interest rates. It has already cut a key rate to 0.1 percent, while pumping money into the financial system and buying corporate debt. The head of research at the central bank, Kazuo Momma, said last week that surging bankruptcy numbers and sharply falling orders for machinery show that the Japanese economy is far from reaching bottom.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Inside Pakistan
Politics of Sharia
by Syed Nooruzzaman

The Pakistan government’s decision to reach an accord with extremist leader Sufi Mohammad Khan has come in for criticism by most of the influential English language newspapers. Islamabad, perhaps, believes that agreeing to the demand of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi chief for the implementation of Sharia laws in the Malakand division of the NWFP, which includes Swat, will lead to an end to Taliban violence. But this is unlikely to happen, as the past record of the Sufi and his followers shows.

As the The News (Feb 17) says, “We are told the people of Swat wanted Sharia; that rallies demanding this had been staged. It is hard to believe, given the environment prevailing in Swat, that there was no element of coercion behind these rallies.” The paper further points out that “… the frenzied men who have laid siege to Swat can, under no circumstances, be described as being motivated by religion. Their numerous acts of violence, their attempts to stifle learning and the way in which they have targeted the most vulnerable citizens shows that they indeed care nothing for Islam – a religion that advocates kindness for the oppressed, emphasises the significance of learning and lays down rules of respect for women, for minorities and even for enemies. It seems obvious the ignorant forces of Fazlullah seek only power and are willing to use any means to obtain this.”

Maulana Fazlullah is the son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad. Both subscribe to extremist ideas and have been having uneasy relationship in the past. Daily Times (Feb 16) says, “Under the agreement, Sufi Mohammad, through his public congregations in Matta, will be expected to ‘build consensus among his people’; his son-in-law Fazlullah will have to soon announce ceasefire in Swat; all the girls’ schools in the area would have to be reopened…”

But this is not as simple as it appears. As Daily Times says, “a chilling feeling is that the Sufi and his warlord son-in-law will preside over the establishment of the Sharia law and will also interfere in the day-to-day implementation of it. The power of the Sufi will be derived from the gun of the Taliban, and he will not for long allow a Sharia which is different from the one enforced by the Taliban elsewhere.” All this may lead to more trouble in the area, as politics of Sharia is bound to come into play. After all, the extremist leaders want nothing else but power.

Drone attacks

The drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal areas are being intensely debated following the disclosure by US Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the strikes at suspected hideouts of militants are being carried out by the CIA’s unmanned Predator aircraft using a Pakistani airbase.

Shireen Mazari, a well-known defence analyst, says in an article carried in The News (Feb 15), “Clearly, the permission was given under the Musharraf government, and without the agreement of the Pakistan military the drones could not have carried out their strikes. After all, we know that GHQ was informed of these missions – but now it appears that the military allowed the use of its bases for these attacks. Were these the bases given out to the US post-9/11 or was another air base allocated for this purpose? After the departure of Musharraf, clearly the new government has also given its assent to the drone attacks – and again these have been happening with the full knowledge of the Pakistan military since a military air base is being used….”

Waiting for Basant

Will kite-flying be allowed in Lahore on the occasion of Basant this year? What Punjab Governor Salman Taseer said at a function recently indicated that Basant, not far away, might be celebrated in the traditional manner in the cultural capital of Pakistan. Basant celebrations reflected Punjab’s interesting culture and he would certainly celebrate himself. The question has been debated in the provincial assembly too.

According to The News (Feb 17), “Kite-flying has been a part of Lahore’s cultural tradition for centuries; the pastime is one of the few shared by the rich and the poor alike; it offered joy and a source of entertainment, opening up a window of light in an often claustrophobic environment and it presented to the world, quite literally, a brighter side of Pakistan as kites in all hues flickered across skies, swooping and diving gracefully.”

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