SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
“Slumdog” and “Pinki” bring smile to India
History was made at Hollywood on Sunday as India
opened its Oscar account with a bang. A.R. Rehman
became the first Indian composer to collect two
Oscars — one for original song “Jai Ho” and another
for original score —as “Slumdog Millionaire” bagged
six more, including the best picture and the best
director for Danny Boyle. Resul Pookutty was another
Indian to grab an Oscar for the best sound mixing, a
much neglected area in Indian cinema. Even a short India-
inspired documentary, “Pinky Smiles”, made by American
filmmaker Megan Mylan won the honours at Hollywood’s
glitziest ceremony. Only seven other films have won
eight or more awards in Oscar’s 80-year existence.


EARLIER STORIES

Modi’s claim nailed
February 23, 2009
A question of EC’s credibility
February 22, 2009
Habitual offenders
February 21, 2009
Punjab budget
February 20, 2009
Offensive against Naxalites
February 19, 2009
Appeasing the Taliban
February 18, 2009
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


Sukh Ram, the convict
The man who kept money in mattresses
Although it has taken 13 years, the conviction of former Union Communications Minister Sukh Ram under the Prevention of Corruption Act will be welcomed by every citizen championing the cause of value-based politics. Though New Delhi’s Special CBI Judge V.K. Maheshwari is expected to announce the quantum of punishment for Mr Sukh Ram on February 24, the section under which he has been convicted carries a maximum sentence of seven years and deals with criminal misconduct of a public servant. Mr Sukh Ram is found guilty of amassing proven wealth to the tune of Rs 4.25 crore during 1991-96. His illegal assets included Rs 2.45 crore recovered from his ministerial bungalow in New Delhi, when he was a Union Minister, and Rs 1.16 crore from his house in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh.

Rhetoric and reality
Obama corrects his first “mistake”
US President Barack Obama can either be faulted for choosing Cabinet members who did not measure up to his avowed ethical standards; or, he can be lauded for jettisoning his preferred nominees in deference to public criticism. However, to do either would mean taking a simplistic view of a complex issue that bedevils a head of government not only in the United States but also in other countries, including India, and the lessons it holds for all politicians. President Obama has accepted publicly that he “screwed up” in picking Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer for key positions in his administration, despite their failure to fulfil their tax obligations on time.

ARTICLE

The Turkish way
Marrying Islam to modernity
by S. Nihal Singh
I
S Turkey under its Prime Minister, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, faltering in its ambition of being the mediator between Israel and the Arab world and the Muslim ummah and the West? Has his and his country’s outrage over the three-week Israeli devastation of Palestinians in Gaza he has harshly described as “savagery” undermined his ability to be an impartial go-between? In other words, has Mr Erdogan fallen victim to the “collateral damage” caused by Israel bombing Palestinians back to the Stone Age in Gaza? He returned home from the Davos meeting as a hero after walking out on Israeli President Shimon Peres following an exchange of hot words on Gaza.

MIDDLE

Mirror of media
by A.J. Philip
W
E met, first and last, over 35 years ago. The occasion was a Press conference addressed by Gina Lollobrigida, one of the most beautiful actors whose name was given to a peak in the Alps. She had come as the chief guest at India’s first International Film Festival in New Delhi.

OPED

Swat deal may not last long
News analysis by Afzal Khan, our correspondent in Islamabad
T
HE ANP government in NWFP last week cut a deal with religious leader Sufi Mohammad promising to enforce ‘Nizame Adl’ (Islamic justice system) in Malakand division that includes the troubled but scenic Swat Valley often likened to Switzerland. It initially managed a ten-day truce from the Taliban, who control 70 per cent of the area. On Saturday Sufi persuaded them to extend it for an indefinite period, hailed by the government as a “permanent” ceasefire.

Outrage over Hillary Clinton’s remarks
by Glenn Kessler
S
ecretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s blunt and unadorned style of diplomacy has been evident throughout her maiden voyage the past week in Asia. She questioned the efficacy of sanctions against the repressive junta in Myanmar, spoke openly about a possible succession crisis in North Korea and admitted that she expected to make little progress on human rights in China.

Delhi Durbar
New envoy to Pakistan
Though not officially announced, Sharat Sabharwal, Special Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, has finally been chosen as the new Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan. He will replace Satyabrata Pal.

When Pranab stumbled
Minister pats his own back

 


Top








 

‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
“Slumdog” and “Pinki” bring smile to India

History was made at Hollywood on Sunday as India opened its Oscar account with a bang. A.R. Rehman became the first Indian composer to collect two Oscars — one for original song “Jai Ho” and another for original score —as “Slumdog Millionaire” bagged six more, including the best picture and the best director for Danny Boyle. Resul Pookutty was another Indian to grab an Oscar for the best sound mixing, a much neglected area in Indian cinema. Even a short India-inspired documentary, “Pinky Smiles”, made by American filmmaker Megan Mylan won the honours at Hollywood’s glitziest ceremony. Only seven other films have won eight or more awards in Oscar’s 80-year existence.

“Jai Ho” may not be Rehman’s best composition but it has stirred Western hearts. His musical versatility is unquestionable, having contributed many foot-tapping numbers to Bollywood. “Slumdog Millionaire” earned the top honour, beating the challenge from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “The Reader”, “Milk” and “Frost/Nixon”. However, the film got no award for its actors, all newcomers, pitted against heavyweights like Sean Penn (best actor) and Kate Winslet (best actress). Part of the Slumdog family were Azharuddin Mohammad (10) and Rubina Ali (9), who play the film’s lead characters as children. They were flown from the squalor of their ramshackle huts in Mumbai’s Gharib Nagar for the ceremony in Los Angeles at the last moment amidst absurd and condescending concerns about a possible cultural shock on their impressionable minds.

“Slumdog”, which was dropped by Warner Bros and later picked up by Fox Searchlight Pictures for financing, is seen as a rags-to-riches romance and “a feel-good movie”. Some Indians, however, may feel uncomfortable about the way the seamy side of this country — children being blinded for beggary, electric shocks to a hanging youngster in police custody, girls driven to the flesh market — find a resonance in Western sensibilities. Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker-winning novel “The White Tiger” and “Pinki Smiles” also present the miserable condition of India’s underdog. No wonder, one sensitive critic, Alice Miles, was so shocked by “Slumdog” that he dubbed it a “poverty porn”. The film can also be seen as a message of hope and courage for those living in the depths next to shining India.

Top

 

Sukh Ram, the convict
The man who kept money in mattresses

Although it has taken 13 years, the conviction of former Union Communications Minister Sukh Ram under the Prevention of Corruption Act will be welcomed by every citizen championing the cause of value-based politics. Though New Delhi’s Special CBI Judge V.K. Maheshwari is expected to announce the quantum of punishment for Mr Sukh Ram on February 24, the section under which he has been convicted carries a maximum sentence of seven years and deals with criminal misconduct of a public servant. Mr Sukh Ram is found guilty of amassing proven wealth to the tune of Rs 4.25 crore during 1991-96. His illegal assets included Rs 2.45 crore recovered from his ministerial bungalow in New Delhi, when he was a Union Minister, and Rs 1.16 crore from his house in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh.

Mr Sukh Ram’s conviction in a corruption case sends out an important signal to all corrupt public servants that the law in India can and does catch up with the corrupt, no matter how rich and influential one may be. It will also reinforce the people’s confidence in the system. Essentially, it underlines the need for all public servants, including ministers, to remain honest while discharging their official responsibilities and not to succumb to greed that always compromises integrity. As a Union Minister, Mr Sukh Ram was expected to act in the public interest and protect the financial interests of the state, but he chose to do exactly the opposite. He began making money on the sly, storing it in the bedroom mattresses. Consequently, he deserves no leniency.

Those found guilty of corruption should be given exemplary punishment to act as a deterrent. If corruption in high places is on the rise today, it is because of the lack of fear of the law among the public servants, especially ministers and bureaucrats. One does not know when will the big fish involved in the fodder scam, the Taj corridor scandal, the Telgi scam and allegations about excessive wealth against Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav will be taken to their logical conclusion. Unfortunately, our criminal prosecution system is slow and it often comes under the influence of the politicians. The best way to tackle corruption in high places is by expediting all the pending cases, preferably on fast track.

Top

 

Rhetoric and reality
Obama corrects his first “mistake”

US President Barack Obama can either be faulted for choosing Cabinet members who did not measure up to his avowed ethical standards; or, he can be lauded for jettisoning his preferred nominees in deference to public criticism. However, to do either would mean taking a simplistic view of a complex issue that bedevils a head of government not only in the United States but also in other countries, including India, and the lessons it holds for all politicians. President Obama has accepted publicly that he “screwed up” in picking Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer for key positions in his administration, despite their failure to fulfil their tax obligations on time.

In politics, a mistake can often be worse than a crime, and Mr Obama’s mistake was in letting himself be persuaded that his nominees would sail through the Senate to get the appointments as people were more concerned about the economic meltdown than the credentials of individuals. What it exposed was that after all the rhetoric of appointing only those with a squeaky-clean record, the Obama administration failed to either vet the Cabinet nominees or assumed that their tax defaults would go unnoticed. In the event, the mistake has served to alert Mr Obama to be more thorough in his job even as he rushes ahead to put in place a fully functioning team.

Of wider relevance is the fact that the political system and citizens’ vigilance in the US could achieve what would be unthinkable in India as in many other countries. In India, there are instances where men with a criminal record have found their way into Parliament, state assemblies and Cabinets at the Centre and in the states. Neither corruption nor criminal record, more often than not, has stopped political heavyweights from being appointed to office and exercising power. The fact that Mr Obama’s Cabinet nominees were his trusted and steadfast allies and that their lapses in tax payment do not overshadow their competence for the positions were of little value, given the tide of opposition. Closer home, the development is a reminder of how this is unimaginable in India of today.

Top

 

Thought for the Day

Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,/Stains the white radiance of Eternity,/Until Death tramples it to fragments. — P.B. Shelley

Top

 

The Turkish way
Marrying Islam to modernity
by S. Nihal Singh

IS Turkey under its Prime Minister, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan, faltering in its ambition of being the mediator between Israel and the Arab world and the Muslim ummah and the West? Has his and his country’s outrage over the three-week Israeli devastation of Palestinians in Gaza he has harshly described as “savagery” undermined his ability to be an impartial go-between? In other words, has Mr Erdogan fallen victim to the “collateral damage” caused by Israel bombing Palestinians back to the Stone Age in Gaza? He returned home from the Davos meeting as a hero after walking out on Israeli President Shimon Peres following an exchange of hot words on Gaza.

These are pertinent questions because the leader of the AK (Justice and Development) Party has sedulously cultivated the image of the peacemaker. He had emerged out of a party with Islamic roots and has credence with the Muslim world. His country has had flourishing relations with Israel, a rarity in the region. And he can tell the West that as an overwhelming Muslim modern state, he is particularly suited to interpret Islam to the West at a difficult time.

Turks lost the Ottoman Empire and created an aggressively assertive secular state to take the people towards modernity and Europe. The two concepts were co-terminus for the founder of the modern Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk. And for decades, through coups or otherwise, the armed forces became the real powers of the land by appointing themselves as guardians of Ataturk’s secularism.

A religious-leaning party, the Rafah (Welfare), came to power in 1996 led by Mr Necmettin Erbakan, but he did not last long because, angry at the pronounced Islamic orientation he was giving the country’s policies, the Army dethroned him in 1997 through a soft coup. Leaders such as Mr Erdogan came from this background, but they grasped the central point that it would be suicidal to go against the secular philosophy by giving the Army the excuse to deal them 
out of power again.

For its part, the AK Party has faced trials and tribulations and, challenged by the Army, went in for fresh elections it won handily. In a rearguard action, those opposed to Mr Erdogan nearly succeeded in unseating him and his party through a judicial process. The judiciary, of course, is part of the old elite. Provocatively, the wives of the Prime Minister and President wear Muslim headscarves, and it was the AKP’s eagerness to permit women to wear headscarves in state universities that precipitated the last crisis. The headscarf, inoffensive as it might seem, is a potent symbol in the secularists’ fight against the new breed of proponents of secularism with Islamic roots.

Mr Erdogan is eager to exploit Turkey’s uniqueness in its region — a Muslim-peopled secular state and a longstanding NATO member — to expand its diplomatic reach. It was, until recently, mediating between Israel and Syria in indirect talks over the continuing Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, talks broken off after the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. In fact, Turkey acted as a mediator between the Hamas faction’s leader living in exile in Syria, Mr Khaled Meshaal, and the Egyptians putting together a ceasefire deal. Mr Meshaal was invited to Ankara after his faction’s victory in parliamentary elections in the Gaza Strip in 2006.

In the event, Israel chose to go its own way by declaring a unilateral ceasefire (it does not officially recognise Hamas) with an eye on the approaching Obama presidency. Even more typically, the Israeli establishment showed contempt for the UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and for the travelling UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, calling for fighting in Gaza to stop immediately.

In a larger sense, Mr Erdogan provides some reassurance to a West confused by the militancy of elements in the Muslim world as European nations in particular try to deal with the problem of Muslim minorities. For here is the leader of a largely Muslim state talking the modern language without disavowing his Muslim roots and heritage. Indeed, the Western attraction for Turkey seems to have grown with Mr Erdogan’s ability to surmount the hurdles of the rigidly secular state to marry Islam to modernity.

Mr Erdogan’s present stature follows something of a revolution in Turkey because his party came to power on the strength of a newly enfranchised and prosperous merchant class from Anatolia more observant in following Islamic mores than the traditional ruling class composed of the Army and westernised elites in industry, the bureaucracy and the professions. This conflict is still playing itself out even as the AKP has shown that it can win elections, despite the hurdles placed in its way.

After the AKP’s initial victory in 2002, the party presented itself as an eager supporter of Turkey’s membership of the European Union and the long courting of Europe bore some fruit in talks being started in some areas even as the unresolved Cyprus problem stalled them in other spheres. While Europe is ambivalent, if not downright hostile, in offering a large Muslim state membership in a largely Christian organisation, the AKP’s strategy has been to whittle down the Army’s sway over the country’s affairs by following the EU rulebook for membership.

Thus, the Army no longer chairs the key National Security Council and there are attempts at giving the large and often alienated Kurdish minority some cultural rights in the areas of language and television programmes. The government’s record in the area of human rights is patchy, and efforts to amend the notorious “Turkishness” law, used against the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and others, have essentially led nowhere. Even the amended version of the law is broad enough to prosecute writers and activists for insulting the concept of Turkishness.

But Mr Erdogan has succeeded in keeping the powerful Army at bay thus far by defeating pro-establishment parties in elections and using the desire for EU membership to his advantage. Significantly, Israel has largely bottled up its anger over the harshness of Mr Erdogan’s reactions and the widespread public outrage in Turkey expressed through demonstrations and hurling insults at Israelis through posters and sending shoes. Tel Aviv simply does not have too many friends in the region and is hoping that this difficult phase will not last too long.

Perhaps, Mr Erdogan feels that the West does not have much choice in seeking an example of a democratic Muslim state living by the tenets of the 21st century while retaining its Islamic roots, now that the AKP has wrested some religious space in a self-consciously austere secular environment. Mr Erdogan will bide his time, knowing full well that no other country in the region has quite the credentials of Turkey.

Top

 

Mirror of media
by A.J. Philip

WE met, first and last, over 35 years ago. The occasion was a Press conference addressed by Gina Lollobrigida, one of the most beautiful actors whose name was given to a peak in the Alps. She had come as the chief guest at India’s first International Film Festival in New Delhi.

The Press Information Bureau hall in Shastri Bhavan was overflowing with journalists, many of whom, including this writer, had turned up more to gaze at the Italian star than to ask questions. An exception was Amita Malik, who was, perhaps, the only woman journalist attending the conference.

While most men asked such inane and outright silly questions as, “Do you have aesthetics in your country?”, Amita Malik asked the most intelligent questions. It was not surprising as she had already established herself as India’s pre-eminent media critic and columnist.

At a time when electronic media meant All India Radio and Doordarshan, her column in The Statesman was widely read for her incisive comments. She also proved her mettle as an interviewer interviewing legendary film personalities like Alfred Hitchcock, Satyajit Ray and Marlon Brando.

She had the innate ability to put her interviewee at ease and bring out the best in him or her. She was never intimidating and her questioning never resembled police-style interrogation.

It was a pleasure watching her interview political leaders, media moghuls and film stars. I always saw her as a star in her own right.

It was, therefore, a great surprise when one day she called me to appreciate an article I wrote in the Indian Express. It was not the greatness of the article that attracted her attention. Rather, it was a reference to Shillong that enthused her to call me up.

She wanted to reminisce to me about Guwahati and Shillong where she grew up and the many visits she made to the Watson lake in the Meghalaya capital, also known as the Scotland of the East.

Years later, in January last, I had an occasion to contact her on the phone. She had written a letter complaining about some errors The Tribune had “introduced” in her column in the Saturday Extra pullout published the previous week. I checked and found to my surprise that the so-called errors were, in fact, the writer’s own creation.

When I called her to remove her misgivings, she was almost apologetic. I told her that I could send a copy of her manuscript to remove her doubts, if any, but she told me that my word was sufficient for her. At that time I had no clue that she was dying of leukaemia.

She might have been friendly with some of the most powerful people in the country, but during her last days, she did not have many to look after her. That task fell on a journalist couple friend who virtually nursed her for a whole fortnight while her cousins and nephews kept a convenient distance.

She was a loner and hers was a dysfunctional family. She could never reconcile herself to the loss of her government accommodation. Even after shifting to the IFS officers’ apartment in Mayur Vihar in East Delhi, she believed that the government would allot a house for her in Lutyen’s Delhi. She was so certain about the shift that she did not even open many of the luggage cartons piled up in her flat.

As providence would have it, it was not a government house that she was destined to shift to but a hospital from where she never returned home. In Amita Malik’s death, the country has lost the “first lady of Indian journalism”.

Top

 

Swat deal may not last long
News analysis by Afzal Khan, our correspondent in Islamabad

THE ANP government in NWFP last week cut a deal with religious leader Sufi Mohammad promising to enforce ‘Nizame Adl’ (Islamic justice system) in Malakand division that includes the troubled but scenic Swat Valley often likened to Switzerland. It initially managed a ten-day truce from the Taliban, who control 70 per cent of the area. On Saturday Sufi persuaded them to extend it for an indefinite period, hailed by the government as a “permanent” ceasefire.

The weary populace of Swat rejoiced at the prospect of peace and return to normal life, no matter at what cost, after months ofblood-letting and utter anarchy. But the deal caused world-wide concern and baffled both critics and supporters about its scope and implications.

Even the United States appeared confused in reaction that ranged from outrage expressed by the envoy for the region, Richard Holbrooke, who termed it as a “surrender” and a contrasting comment by defence secretary Gates, who said it could be emulated for a similar arrangement with Taliban in Afghanistan.

But others in the US administration, the NATO and the Western media were worried that Taliban have been  given a breathing space to regroup and refocus attention to help Taliban inside Afghanistan, make Swat haven for foreign terrorists and further consolidate hold on the local population.

India feared religious militancy in Pakistan would increase with possible a Hindu backlash against India’s Muslim minority, or even the latter’s radicalization. It further weakens a Pakistani civilian government not fully in control of its own territory and increases the risk that Pakistan will serve as a staging ground for terrorist attacks such as occurred in Mumbai in late November.

At home liberal lobbies dubbed it as “abject capitulation” to extremists that would embolden them to move beyond Swat and impose their brand of Islamic justice to other parts of the country. But most political parties hailed the peace accord as a reprieve, albeit tenuous, from the daily violence in Swat and total collapse of state institutions.

The deal was ostensibly struck with a tacit backing from the army and marked its implicit admission of defeat in the 18-month old operation. Most of its 12,000 troops deployed in Swat to quell insurgency were largely unwilling to fight and kill their own people. It relied more on gunship and artillery shelling than engaging the rebels in a real battle.

The collateral damage caused deaths of nearly 1,000 innocent civilians that, in turn, fuelled anti-government sentiments and swelled the Taliban ranks with more suicide bombers. Under the militants’ control that covers entire countryside of Swat, girls’ schools were closed, women banned from shopping, music shops burned and public floggings and executions were carried out.

The government responded with conflicting explanations. The Elements of the religious judicial system, called Nizam-e-Adl, have been in place in the region since 1994. It will now be implemented vigorously replacing the creaky colonial-era legal system under which cases drag on for years, sometimes decades, a major source of anger for ordinary people.

The agreement only codifies the harsh reality on the ground in Swat, where Taliban rebel Maulana Fazlullah’s jackboots murder dancers, musicians, CD shop owners and others who disgrac his warped view of Islam.

The ANP leadership that rules the province contended that they were left with no other option because the Swat Taliban under the command of Maulana Fazlullah (33) had fought the army to a standstill. In fact, the Taliban, far from being defeated, were in the ascendant, their grip on Swat tighter than before the army operation began in the autumn of 2007.

The alternative was more chaos and a perpetual paralysis of state institutions in the area. Under the new regulations, criminal cases would be disposed of within four months and civil cases in six months. The appeal stage would quickly culminate within the region instead of the high court in Peshawar and the Supreme Court in Islamabad. Religious experts, known as qazi, will sit in the court, alongside a regular judge, to ensure that the rulings are in compliance with Islam.

In Islamabad, the Foreign Office termed the Western reaction as speculative. “Understanding regarding Nizam-e-Adl (Justice System) is sequentially linked to the restoration of peace and tranquility,” the FO spokesman said. Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani said that this was part of the government’s three-pronged strategy, namely dialogue, deterrence and development and fully conformed to the dictates of the Constitution that forbids continuation of laws repugnant to Quran.

But President Asif Zardari, whose approval is needed before the new law become effective, was rather ambivalent. ANP chief Asfandyar Wali claimed the President was on board and would giving his assent failing which his party would quit the government.

But Holbrooke, who talked to the President on the telephone, said Mr. Zardari has assured him it was an interim deal aimed at stabilising the troubled Swat region. “He does not disagree that people who are running Swat now are murderers, thugs and militants and they pose a danger not only to Pakistan but to the US as well,” Mr Holbrooke said.

The timing of the agreement was emblematic of the mess engulfing Pakistan in every facet of national life — politics, economy, internal and external security. Its army is stuck in combating insurgency in tribal areas, Swat and Balochistan. It came barely a day after Holbrooke concluded intense consultations in Islamabad ahead of a strategic review of the war on terror in the region called by President Obama.

Pakistan’s foreign minister and army chief left for Washington on Sunday for this purpose where they would also be joined by an Afghan team in the wake of US President’s orders to dispatch an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The review would include military, economic, political, diplomatic and informational approaches. The deal has achieved some instant results within the first week that inspire hope it may endure. The curfew-stricken Swat has been transformed to active life in the area.

Militants have accepted a cease-fire while military bombing raids have been suspended; the curfew in cities has been lifted, an interminable string of violent events have halted and fears of suicide attacks receded substantially; bazaars have reopened, traffic on roads has been restored, labour is getting jobs and displaced families have begun returning to their homes.

Notwithstanding scepticism that it may well be temporary relief, it is a huge break from the nightmarish life that the populace has spent over past nearly two years. Amid an upbeat mood, ministers and MPs who had fled from the area have also returned while more optimists are even talking of Swat being able to again receive tourists this summer.

Top

 

Outrage over Hillary Clinton’s remarks
by Glenn Kessler

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s blunt and unadorned style of diplomacy has been evident throughout her maiden voyage the past week in Asia. She questioned the efficacy of sanctions against the repressive junta in Myanmar, spoke openly about a possible succession crisis in North Korea and admitted that she expected to make little progress on human rights in China.

To a certain extent, these comments crossed taboo lines in international diplomacy. U.S. officials generally do not say their sanctions have failed, or speculate about the future government of another country, or suggest that a carefully watched human rights dialogue is largely a farce.

Clinton’s willingness to speak frankly — combined with an extensive effort to get beyond ministerial meetings in order to hold town hall meetings and conduct local TV interviews in the countries she visits — suggests she will put a distinctive personal stamp on the Obama administration’s foreign policy. What is emerging is something less rigid, less cautious and more open.

Before her meetings in Beijing, for instance, Clinton said she would raise human rights issues with Chinese officials. “But we pretty much know what they’re going to say,” she said.

Clinton’s comments have stirred outrage in the human rights community, where she was once viewed as a hero for having confronted the Chinese government, in 1995, over its record. Activists say that without public, sustained international pressure on human rights issues, nothing will change in China.

Clinton says she does not understand the fuss. In her view, speaking clearly — and not obfuscating through diplomatic artifice — helps enhance the policy, rather than undermine it.

“I think that to worry about something which is so self-evident is an impediment to clear thinking,” Clinton told reporters traveling with her. “And I don’t think it should be viewed as particularly extraordinary that someone in my position would say what’s obvious.”

Before leaving China on Sunday, Clinton wrapped up her week-long trip by visiting a state-sanctioned church and then meeting 23 women involved in legal, poverty and health-care organizations aimed at helping women and promoting gender equality.

Many of the women had previously met Clinton when she was first lady and a senator. The one-hour session underscored Clinton’s contention that working with such nongovernmental civic organizations can do as much to promote women’s rights and human rights as does jawboning the Chinese government.

Gao Yaojie, an 82-year-old AIDS activist, told Clinton of being monitored and hassled by government agencies, declaring, “I am not afraid.” But several others told the secretary of state that grass-roots organizations have grown fast and have had an increasing impact on Chinese society since they first met with her more than a decade ago.

Within foreign policy circles, Clinton’s remarks on human rights have stirred consternation that she is giving up possible leverage with China before any dialogue has begun. Others say that she is inviting criticism from Capitol Hill and human rights groups that undermine her ability as a diplomat.

But some experts have defended her, saying she should be commended for speaking frankly. The Bush administration was frequently criticized for having a hypocritical approach to human rights, claiming to promote freedom but treating differently friends and foes with similarly poor human-rights records.

Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who was known for his bluntness, said he thinks “our diplomacy should be more candid, with less doublespeak, so if she really meant to say what she said, I don’t mind at all. When the Democrats endorse candor in diplomacy, I’ll be a happy man.”

But he added, “the issue with whatever she says, candid or not, is whether it has an objective in mind, or whether she is just running at the mouth. This is the difference between an executive-branch official and a senator, academic, think-tanker, reporter, whatever. Executive branch officials, by definition, are not just bloviating, but executing policies.”

Others believe Clinton is making needless trouble for herself. James Mann, a Johns Hopkins scholar who wrote a history of U.S.-China relations, viewed Clinton’s remarks as part of a further downgrading of the importance of human rights in American policy toward China over the past two decades.

But he wondered if this honesty was now a general principle in the administration’s approach to the world. He asked: “Is Hillary Clinton going to not mention women’s rights to the Saudis because they already know what we think?”

Mann, in particular, was struck by the contrast with Clinton’s husband, who a decade ago gave strong speeches on behalf of political freedom in China.

“Bill Clinton told the leader of China he was on `the wrong side of history,’ “Mann noted. “Now, Hillary seems to be giving them the reverse message: that China is on the right side of history.”

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

Top

 

Delhi Durbar
New envoy to Pakistan

Though not officially announced, Sharat Sabharwal, Special Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, has finally been chosen as the new Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan. He will replace Satyabrata Pal.

The grapevine has it that Sudhir Vyas, Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, was earlier tipped to be the new Indian envoy in Islamabad. However, there was a hitch; Vyas was declared a persona non grata by Pakistan in 2002 when he was posted there as the Deputy High Commissioner.

So Sabharwal was preferred to Vyas, who may now go to Germany since Meera Shankar, the current Indian Ambassador in Berlin, is all set to move to Washington as the Indian envoy to the US.

Earlier, the thinking in government circles was that the decisions on these key diplomatic assignments be left to the new government which will assume office after the Lok Sabha elections. However, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee put his foot down and made it clear that decisions on critical national importance could not be postponed.

When Pranab stumbled

The other day, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, accidently tripped over the camera wire of a television news channel as he tried to get into his car outside the South Block.

The “Bengali dada” was for once trying to avoid the media when the over-enthusiastic TV reporters ran after him to get a sound-byte

Mukherjee, who was not in a mood to speak, tried hastily to get into the car when his feet got entangled in the wires of the camera and he fell down after losing balance.

Thank God, he was not injured or there would have been another crisis since Manmohan Singh is yet to resume normal functioning, a senior journalist remarked.

TV reporters have been camping outside Mukherjee’s office for the past several weeks to get a byte on India-Pakistan developments. The minister also usually does not disappoint them.

Minister pats his own back

Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss is literally a health freak. “I believe in improving the food habits of the people,” he said the other day while opening a “healthy food festival” at Bonsai in the Capital.

On his special efforts to ban smoking in public places and carrying of plastic bags, the young minister did not forget to pat his own back, saying: “People will remember my noble mission to make India a healthier country.”

Ramadoss tasted all the dishes made by using health-friendly methods of cooking like steaming, grilling and baking with a minimum nutrient and flavour loss.

Contributed by Ashok Tuteja, Girja Kaura.

Top

 

Corrections and clarifications

The headline of the news item “‘Case against Capt to stop him contesting from Bathinda’” (February 17) is incorrect. It is Capt Amarinder Singh’s son, Raninder Singh, who faces a case and intends to contest the Bathinda Lok Sabha seat. The headline, therefore, should be: “Case to stop Capt’s son from contesting Bathinda seat”.

The report with the headline “SAD candidate from Ludhiana undecided” (February 18) says that the Shiromani Akali Dal is undecided on its candidate from Ludhiana. The heading should be: “SAD undecided on candidate from Ludhiana”.

In the headline “Dy CM lays stone of AC bus terminus” (February 19) the right word is “terminal”. “Terminus” is the last station or the last stop.

The name of Kuldip Nayar is wrongly spelt in a photo caption on page 5 (February 23). He does not write either Kuldeep or Nayyar.

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


Top

 





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |