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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Just three years?
Sukh Ram deserved stiffer punishment
N
ew Delhi’s Special CBI Judge V.K. Maheshwari has grievously erred in giving former Union Communications Minister Sukh Ram a mild sentence of three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2 lakh in the disproportionate assets case.

The last gift
UPA injects another booster dose
J
udging from the needs of the state of the economy, he could have done it earlier. After presenting an unexciting interim budget and dashing hopes for a fiscal stimulus, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, stand-in Finance Minister, set constitutional propriety aside on Tuesday and cut excise duty and service tax by 2 per cent in a bid to boost industry’s confidence and spur consumer demand.



EARLIER STORIES

Terrorism is un-Islamic
February 25, 2009
‘Jai Ho’, ‘Jai Ho’
February 24, 2009
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


Row over Games
Projects must be finished before time
W
hile the much-awaited Commonwealth Games are hardly 19 months away, doubts are being expressed about the completion of the projects associated with it in time. The latest is the disclosure by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Tuesday that the preparations for the mega event are far behind the schedule. Many projects are yet to be initiated.

ARTICLE

Grim situation in Pakistan
US to try new ideas
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)
S
ince Mr Barack Obama took over as the US President the buzz word is “fix”. Whether it is the financial meltdown, the Middle-East crisis or Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak), the new Great Game is about stimulus packages.

MIDDLE

Match-making, khaki style
by S. Zahur H. Zaidi
W
ith you for you always” is one of the many catchy cop slogans. The men in khaki are ever eager to help. But a wise old saying goes thus: Seek a cop’s help only when one is in really dire straits.

OPED

Victim of recession
Bangladesh struggles to beat economic woes

by Gobind Thukral, who was recently in Dhaka
S
heikh Hasina Wajed could not have become the prime minister of the fledgling democracy of Bangladesh at a more appropriate time than in January 2009. Any delay would have had disastrous consequences not only for the economy and welfare of the poor, who constitute an overwhelming majority, but also for the polity itself.

Bobby Jindal: the boy who stood up to Obama
by Leonard Doyle
A
merica was introduced to the latest boy wonder of the Republican Party on Tuesday night. It was a coming out party of sorts for Bobby Jindal, 37, the Governor of Louisiana who was due to make a primetime televised rebuttal to President Obama's address to both houses of Congress.

Inside Pakistan
Scared of March 9
The much-awaited Long March by lawyers and the sit-in agitation programme in Islamabad, scheduled to begin on March 9, may prove to be a watershed in Pakistan politics. The PPP-led government, showing signs of uneasiness after PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif announced last Saturday that he was ready to participate in the agitation, come what may, has got the Supreme Court verdict against him as it wanted.

 


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EDITORIALS

Just three years?
Sukh Ram deserved stiffer punishment

New Delhi’s Special CBI Judge V.K. Maheshwari has grievously erred in giving former Union Communications Minister Sukh Ram a mild sentence of three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2 lakh in the disproportionate assets case. To meet the ends of justice, he should have been given the maximum punishment of seven years of rigorous imprisonment for offences committed under Sections 13 (1) (e) and (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Indeed, the CBI had pleaded for this before the court on February 24 for the simple reason that Mr Sukh Ram amassed proven assets to the tune of a whopping Rs 4.25 crore during his tenure as a Union Minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government in 1991-96. Significantly, in a raid at Mr Sukh Ram’s New Delhi bungalow 13 years back, the CBI team seized huge currency bundles of higher denomination even out of his bedroom mattresses, pillow covers and almirahs. If corrupt ministers like him get away with minor punishment after 13 years of trial, the anti-corruption law just cannot prove a deterrent.

In this context, Mr Sukh Ram’s counsel’s plea for a lesser punishment in view of the convict’s “illustrious career in politics spanning over 50 years and dedicated service to the nation by virtue of his achievements” was totally misplaced. In fact, such a strange request negates the principle of equality in the eyes of law and dilutes the gravity of the offence for which Mr Sukh Ram has been convicted — corruption and criminal misconduct by a public servant. It is an undisputed proposition of law that those charged with such serious offences deserve no leniency irrespective of their status, clout, age or health. Sukh Ram, a convict now, deserves to be in jail for a longer term particularly because he was holding a position of high responsibility.

Unfortunately, corruption in high places has been increasing in the country because the wheels of the criminal justice system move at snail’s pace. A person may justifiably be deemed innocent until proved guilty under the law, but the slow pace of justice fails to bring the corrupt to book promptly. The 82-year-old Sukh Ram can go on appeal to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court, but he certainly deserves little mercy. Unless politicians and officers fear the law, the canker of corruption cannot be rooted out of the system.
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The last gift
UPA injects another booster dose

Judging from the needs of the state of the economy, he could have done it earlier. After presenting an unexciting interim budget and dashing hopes for a fiscal stimulus, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, stand-in Finance Minister, set constitutional propriety aside on Tuesday and cut excise duty and service tax by 2 per cent in a bid to boost industry’s confidence and spur consumer demand. The service tax cut will benefit the users of telephone, credit card, airline, hotel, tourism and other services, while the reduction in indirect taxes, if passed on to consumers, would mean cheaper houses, TV sets, washing machines, detergents, colas, hybrid cars, commercial vehicles and a large number of other products of daily use.

The tax cuts will set the exchequer back by another Rs 30,000 crore this fiscal. Taking into account the previous two packages announced in December and January last, the UPA government has handed over giveaways amounting to as much as Rs 70,000 crore to industry and consumers. This has naturally widened the fiscal deficit (the gap between government spending and revenue) to 6 per cent of the GDP — much higher than the budgeted 2.5 per cent. The deteriorating finances have led Standard & Poor’s to revise India’s long-term credit rating to negative, which could hit the inflow of foreign capital, unless the economy picks up to prove the rating agency wrong.

The government had no easy choice: either adopt policy of non-intervention and invite criticism for inaction or go on a tax cut-cum-spending spree and let the finances go haywire. These are extraordinary times, which require extraordinary measures, Mr Mukherjee had observed while presenting the interim budget. It is clear he has chosen to err on the positive side since there is a possibility that these measures could revive consumer spending in the urban areas and arrest the economic downtrend. Anyway, this was the last dose the government could give before it faces the electorate in another eight weeks. Sadly, the states, barring a few like Haryana, have failed to chip in with their versions of the stimulus package. At least, the RBI should now step in with rate cuts to keep up the positive sentiment, which has been badly hammered by the relentless flow of unwelcome information, mostly from outside the country.
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Row over Games
Projects must be finished before time

While the much-awaited Commonwealth Games are hardly 19 months away, doubts are being expressed about the completion of the projects associated with it in time. The latest is the disclosure by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Tuesday that the preparations for the mega event are far behind the schedule. Many projects are yet to be initiated. The major cause for concern, according to the committee, is the availability of inadequate infrastructure in terms of roads, airport facilities, accommodation, surface transport, security stadia, supply of power, etc. Delhi will need about 30,000 hotel rooms, but no one can say with certainty that all the additional hotels scheduled to come up before October 2010, when the Games will begin, will be ready to receive the guests. The DDA had auctioned 39 additional hotel ssites in 2006 but, surprisingly, work is on only at 19 sites.

One fails to understand how the Games will be held on time, as the Chairman of the 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, Mr Suresh Kalmadi, claims. Last week he asserted, “Let there be no doubt, the Commonwealth Games are happening on time.” Vice-Chairman Randdhir Singh has assured the nation that all the venues will be ready by the end of this year. Only the Velodrome and the Games Village will be completed in 2010. He has claimed that all the 22 committees constituted for organising the Games are functioning in a coordinated manner. In his opinion, if the alarming reports regarding the lack of coordination were true, they could not have held 500 meetings so far.

There are also attempts to influence major decisions to award contracts for the remaining projects. A turf war is on for getting contracts for organising the opening and closing ceremonies because of huge business involved. This is, however, understandable. The nation in interested in seeing that nothing should come in the way of holding the Games in time and with no inadequacy of the infrastructure needed. It is a question of the country’s prestige, which must not be allowed to be affected under all circumstances.
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Thought for the Day

Every generation revolts against its fathers and makes friends with its grandfathers. — Lewis Mumford
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ARTICLE

Grim situation in Pakistan
US to try new ideas

by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)

Since Mr Barack Obama took over as the US President the buzz word is “fix”. Whether it is the financial meltdown, the Middle-East crisis or Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak), the new Great Game is about stimulus packages.

Take the new coinage of Af-Pak, the central front and epicentre of terrorism. In order to “fix” instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan has to be fixed first. But because the US is so dependent on Pakistan for its success in Afghanistan and cannot cajole Pakistan to do its bidding, the focus shifts to Kabul, goes one argument.

Kabul and Afghanistan remain at each others’ throat over cross-border terrorism, each accusing the other of fomenting insurgency and pushing it across the porous Durand Line. The US complains that Pakistan is not doing enough for dismantling Al-Qaeda sanctuaries in FATA and providing security to the US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) supply lines to Afghanistan. Similarly, Washington accuses Kabul of poor governance and corruption. Both Islamabad and Kabul criticise US aerial attacks in their countries which cause civilian casualties and make the Afghans and Pakistanis hate America. India alleges that their collective instability is spilling over to its side, not to mention the CBT sourced in Pakistan. The conundrum is unending.

Afghanistan faces complex problems of security, governance and socio-economic reconstruction. Pakistan is more complicated, ripe for Talibanisation as President Zardari indicated to CBS News. It is an insecure state — unstable borders with India, uncertainty over Kashmir and a troubled Durand Line in the West. The Mumbai attack was belived to be an attempt to divert attention from the Durand Line.

President Obama has promised a comprehensive policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least a dozen studies, papers and committees have given their recommendations. All are agreed that no strategy on Afghanistan can succeed without Pakistan. Old South Asia hands are back on deck. War veterans like former Commanders of the US Forces in Afghanistan, Gen Dan McNeill and Gen David Barno, are on the military advisory teams guiding the overall Commander, Gen David Petraeus who will bring to the region his successful political and military surge in Iraq.

Nicknamed Bosnia’s Bulldozer, the trusted Clinton-era diplomat, Mr Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative for Af-Pak, recently toured the region. He was greeted in both countries with suicide attacks, the one in Kabul a minor version of Mumbai. Afghanistan’s intelligence chief, Amerullah Salah, has blamed Pakistan-based militants for the attack. There is the CIA veteran, Mr Bruce Riedel of Kargil fame who, as White House Interagency Coordinator, will interact with Mr Richard Holbrooke. There are many others providing inputs for the Af-Pak policy review.

New ideas include a Pentagon report that suggests de-emphasising democracy-building, instead of focusing more on dismantling the Taliban and Al-Qaeda sanctuaries inside Pakistan using the Pakistan Army. The heightened emphasis on military surge in Afghanistan calls for greater territorial control, reduction in violence and domination of the Af-Pak border. Elimination of sanctuaries in FATA is seen as the key, though Rand’s Christine Fair suggests that 80 per cent of Afghan Taliban activists are locals.

US military intelligence officials have recommended that unless top Taliban leaders holed up in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, violence in South Afghanistan will continue to be stirred up by the terrorist infrastructure there. The US has steered clear of ground and drone operations in the Quetta region so far.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates has scaled down US objectives in Afghanistan to “modest and realistic” linked to an exit strategy. Clearly, a comprehensive strategy coordinated and integrated, is on the anvil. It is to be a mix of defence, development and diplomacy, “smart power” in the words of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Engaging regional powers like Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Central Asia and India will be integral to the new strategy.

A US troop surge will precede the August presidential election in Afghanistan. Focus will be on stabilisation operations in South and Eastern Afghanistan, especially blocking the routes to Quetta and FATA. US drones carried out 22 transborder attacks in Pakistan last year and three this year. US Special Forces executed two ground attacks.

The Taliban has switched tactics from suicides to roadside bomb attacks. These had doubled in 2008 from approximately 1000 in 2007. Suicide attacks, 140 in 1007, dropped to 80 in 2008. The Afghan human bomber has proven the most inept among his tribe of Islamic martyrs. One out of two suicide bombers killed no one else except himself or herself. Roadside bombs or IEDs, a technique imported from Iraq, is proving deadly against coalition forces. As in other insurgencies, the Taliban kill more civilians than security forces. Afghans or Pakistanis have no love lost for the Americans whom they hate, their detestation increasing after each aerial attack.

American and British Apache pilots follow different rules of engagement against the Taliban. While British pilots before firing must ensure the Taliban are armed, American pilots follow no such restrictions. Winning hearts and minds do not constrain American operations which have moved from search and destroy to a clear, hold and build strategy.

The security situation across the Durand Line in Pakistan is worse. Multiple insurgencies have taken root in the western reaches of the border region in North-West Frontier Province where neither state’s nor the central government’s writ runs effectively. Besides Al-Qaeda, different shades of the Taliban and sectarian groups operate freely — Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, Maulana Faqir in Bajaur, Maulana Fazlullah in Swat and Mullah Omar from Quetta. Jalauddin Haqqani and his sons are currently queering the pitch in Kandahar. Swat having been Talibanised, the scourge has entered Punjab, pressing the warning button for India.

Pakistan’s admission that Mumbai was partially planned in Pakistan and naming the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba as the chief culprit is good augury for the war on terror. For this last chance of rolling back the Taliban, the Pakistan Army and the ISI have to be on the same page as the civilian government and under its visible control. There is no quick-fix, but only the Americans can turn the screw.

India can play a key role in enabling the Pakistan Army to embark on sustained and resolute operations in the West provided Delhi receives iron-clad guarantees on reining in Punjabi and Kashmiri jihadis and 
dismantling their infrastructure.

India could reciprocate with a credible no-first-use-of-force which would permit Islamabad to relocate its security assets for internal security operations. Sri Lanka, a good friend of Pakistan, has shown the way for focused application of the force against terrorism. This will free the Americans and ISAF to concentrate on Afghanistan. But military means, which is the priority now, alone will not do. They will create conditions for political reconciliation with the Taliban. For making Pakistan feel less insecure, India could resume the peace process and address Kashmir, picking up the threads of the Tariq Aziz-Satinder Lambah four-point Kashmir formula.

Regional coordinator Richard Holbrooke took away some of these ideas from his visit to Delhi. These will fix some of the parameters of the new Af-Pak policy to be unveiled by President Obama at the NATO summit in April. Washington has to lean on Pakistan, its army and the ISI to begin fixing the region.
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MIDDLE

Match-making, khaki style
by S. Zahur H. Zaidi

With you for you always” is one of the many catchy cop slogans. The men in khaki are ever eager to help. But a wise old saying goes thus: Seek a cop’s help only when one is in really dire straits.

On an ordinary day in office a friend contacted me. He wanted to see me immediately. It sounded serious and urgent. We met over a cup of tea. He told me about his niece who wanted to get married to a boy against the wishes of her parents. He sought my help. I demanded to know more.

An hour later he reappeared with his niece — a fine girl, educated, gainfully employed and in love with her colleague. But her parents for some reason wouldn’t approve of the match.

I listened to her story and was convinced that she needed help. After all, every girl has the right to choose her partner in life.

But there were two problems. One, I had never played Cupid as a cop or before that. Two and a more serious one — what could the police do in the matter?

But my friend was a firm believer in the omnipotence of the Indian Police. He was surprised when I brought up this issue.

To maintain this myth, I quickly summoned the SHO and explained the situation in the presence of my friend, as clearly and as patiently as possible. I double-checked to prevent any miscommunication. The SHO on his part kept scribbling the instructions like a conscientious school boy. My last instructions were that both the girl and the boy were consenting adults had hence they deserved what they desired.

The SHO seemed to agree. He saluted and left after assuring that my “hukum” would be carried out.

Four days later my friend reappeared. He exclaimed, “I’ll be damned if I seek a cop’s help again!”

I asked, “Did the marriage happen? Is everything alright?”

He said, “Yes. My niece did end up getting married. But look how?”

I waited for the details with bated breath. He said, “Your SHO showed up that evening and took the girl to the police station. Then he summoned the girl’s parents, her brothers and her uncles, including me, and also the boy, his parents and members of their family, all to the police station. We stood there watching the girl sip tea.”

Then pointing at the boy, the SHO said, “Humko nirdesh hua hai ki aap inse love karenge aur hum aapko proteksion denge!”

The following day the girl got married to the love of her life. There were no protests. Both families attended the simple ceremony. The SHO was also invited. She is still happily married.

And I am sure when she took her vows, she must have also vowed: A person in need should go to a cop very carefully indeed!
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OPED

Victim of recession
Bangladesh struggles to beat economic woes

by Gobind Thukral, who was recently in Dhaka

Sheikh Hasina Wajed could not have become the prime minister of the fledgling democracy of Bangladesh at a more appropriate time than in January 2009. Any delay would have had disastrous consequences not only for the economy and welfare of the poor, who constitute an overwhelming majority, but also for the polity itself.

The military junta, backed by some vested business interests and bureaucrats in power for nearly two years, was turning the administration upside down. Many businessmen had shifted to Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai.

Earlier, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party under Khalida Zia had added to the disaster through corruption and mismanagement. Sheikh Hasina brings some sense to the politics and governance and is widely seen as a secular democrat leader.

The present economic and political challenges needed a team she has constructed. Her good relationship with India, a large powerful neighbour, is to the advantage of Bangladesh.

Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee signed two important trade pacts in Dhaka last week. Much more than this is the Awami Party’s commitment to a secular and democratic Bangladesh and has people’s welfare at its heart.

A serious economic slide is visible with its most earning sectors — service sector, garment exports, tourism and manufacturing — that add up to billions of dollars and employ millions of people.

According to Bangladesh’s Export Promotion Bureau, in the first quarter of the 2008-09 fiscal, garments fetched over $3.36 billion, 44 per cent higher than that of the corresponding period of the previous fiscal.

But it was not rosy in January this year. The country that also fetched nearly $ 3 billion from exports of primary and manufactured goods till December last is not getting that much in its export order books.

Bangladesh began to feel the pinch of the ongoing global economic downturn as the country’s export sector and overseas employment are important contributors to the economy.

Bangladesh’s Finance Minister AMA Muhith admitted that there has been a negative impact of global recession on the country’s sectors of jute, jute goods, knitwear and woven clothing and frozen food.

“The impact of recession is becoming visible gradually...It’s slowly affecting all the sectors,” the Finance Minister said.

Bangladesh’s exports of raw jute and jute products declined by 6.84 per cent and 12.47 per cent, respectively, during the past five months of the 2008- 2009 fiscal year.

Equally worrying is the sharp fall of 45 per cent in manpower export in January due to a declining demand in some Middle East countries, which downsized their development activities amid the financial meltdown.

The country’s inflow of remittances, which play a significant role in the economy, is mostly contributed by the country’s millions of overseas workers.

They add up around $12 billion annually through formal or informal remittances. This keeps the country going. Now 1.5 million of them are returning home as they have lost jobs.

The economy has been growing at 5-6 per cent over the past few years despite inefficient state-owned enterprises, delays in exploiting natural gas resources and deficient power supplies Bangladesh remains a poor, over-populated, and inefficiently governed nation.

Although more than half of the GDP is generated through the service sector, nearly two-thirds of Bangladeshis work in the agriculture sector, with rice as the single most important product.

The economy also could not perform very well due to the damage and dislocations caused by two floods and a cyclone.

Now the economy is in slow motion. The saving grace could be agriculture where over two-third of its working population is employed. Though backward, it has been growing at an average pace of 4 to 5 per cent annually during the last one decade.

One of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, Bangladesh devotes its land mainly to rice and jute cultivation. Although wheat production has increased in recent years a good thing is that the country is largely self-sufficient in rice production. Yet 15 per cent of the population is at serious nutritional risk. The agricultural economy depends heavily on an erratic monsoon cycle, with periodic flooding and drought.

Infrastructure to support transportation, communications, and power supply is poorly developed. Bangladesh has limited reserves of coal and oil, and its industrial base is weak. The country’s main gifts include its human resource base, rich agricultural land, relatively abundant water and substantial reserves of natural gas.

Under-employment remains a serious problem, and a growing concern for Bangladesh’s agricultural sector will be its ability to absorb additional manpower.

Finding alternative sources of employment will continue to be a daunting task. The young unemployed are fodder for the jihadis and other extremist outfits that threaten the political fabric. There is one language, Bengali, and one culture. Most festivals like Basant that falls on first day of Falgun month are celebrated by majority Muslims and minority Hindus with gusto.

This pessimistic outlook, however, has a sliver lining. The people delivered a clear political message by giving the Bangladesh Awami League 230 seats out of 300. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, even with a vote share of 33 per cent, is represented by 30-odd members, down by 163 seats.

Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s agenda is clear. She has to take care of frequent cyclones and floods, inefficient state-owned enterprises, mismanaged port facilities, a growth in the labour force that has outpaced jobs, inefficient use of energy resources, insufficient power supplies, political infighting and corruption.

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Bobby Jindal: the boy who stood up to Obama
by Leonard Doyle

America was introduced to the latest boy wonder of the Republican Party on Tuesday night. It was a coming out party of sorts for Bobby Jindal, 37, the Governor of Louisiana who was due to make a primetime televised rebuttal to President Obama's address to both houses of Congress.

The President's State of the Union-style address was perhaps the toughest challenge of Mr Obama's five-week-old administration, as he attempted to convince increasingly frightened Americans that his tax-and-spend economic stimulus plan is the best way to economic recovery.

Mr Jindal was due to speak from his office in Baton Rouge, emblazoning his name as the new voice of Republicanism while leapfrogging over such big-name personalities as Governor Sarah Palin and California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. With his fiercely sharp intellect and staunchly conservative fiscal views, Mr Jindal has been described as the Republican Party's "Cajun fried" solution to successive bouts of electoral humiliation.

After the thrashings the party received at the polls in 2006 and 2008, and with Mr Obama riding high in the polls, Republicans want to appeal to America's multicultural, yet conservative, younger voters while losing whatever remains of the "good ole boy" legacy. That Republican Party grandees asked the nationally unknown Mr Jindal – the son of Indian immigrants and the first non-white Governor of Louisiana since the Civil War era – to respond to Mr Obama reflects the rapidly shifting tectonic plates of United States politics. Not long ago, the party was openly embraced a race-baiting "Southern strategy" in Louisiana and elsewhere in the South to get out the white vote.

"The speech is very important ... His speech will put a face on the name and put a fresh face on the Republican Party," said Pearson Cross, a political scientist and close observer of Mr Jindal's ascent to national prominence.

Now Mr Jindal has eyes on being the first Indian-American president of the US and his televised address was seen as a warm up for a bid, as early as 2012.

Mr Obama has already taken note of the precocious Republican who expressed "fundamental disagreement" with the President's plans to jump-start the US economy with a vast tax and spend stimulus programme, while sanctimoniously expressing the wish that the plans for recovery succeed.

Governor Jindal has made headlines by sharply criticising Mr Obama's huge stimulus package; he has even threatened to refuse $100m in funds allocated to his state and bitterly complained about $50m to be spent on the arts.

It's "not apparent to me why [it] had to be in the stimulus package", he said, but added that his fellow Republican governors wanted to give Mr Obama "every opportunity" to succeed in restarting the economy.

At a White House dinner for governors, which Mr Jindal attended, the President retorted: "We'll have ample time for campaigns down the road."

Meanwhile, the veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins told CNN: "It's time for another generation to come into play. A lot of Republicans came of age under Reagan, which was 25 years ago... and we just haven't built on that with young people." He described Mr Jindal as a "young dynamic governor" with "appeal to younger voters".

Mr Jindal has been making the most of an opportunity handed to him on a plate. "Look, I think every American is incredibly proud by the President's personal story," he said before the Congressional address, "and I have been selected and honoured to give... the Republican response."

Before the address Mr Jindal said: "Here in Louisiana, we have first-hand experience with reforming government and cutting taxes to stimulate our economy... This is a terrific opportunity to talk about our great state to the nation."

A brief biography

* Born Piyush Jindal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he calls himself Bobby after the sitcom character Bobby Brady in The Brady Bunch, a favourite programme when he was a child.

* Precociously bright, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

* Narrowly lost his first run for Governor in 2003 but was quickly elected to Congress at age 33 – "the ultimate embodiment of the American dream".

* At age 36 he was elected governor of Louisiana in 2007, becoming the youngest US governor, the first Indian American elected to state-wide office in US history and the first non-European to be elected in the south since a black man, Pinckney Pinchback, served for 35 days in the 1870s in Louisiana.

* Born a Hindu, he is now a pro-life Catholic who favours pro-chemical castration for sex offenders. His religious makeover presents none of the problems faced by Obama, who was accused of being a secret Muslim.

— By arrangement with The Independent
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Inside Pakistan
Scared of March 9

The much-awaited Long March by lawyers and the sit-in agitation programme in Islamabad, scheduled to begin on March 9, may prove to be a watershed in Pakistan politics. The PPP-led government, showing signs of uneasiness after PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif announced last Saturday that he was ready to participate in the agitation, come what may, has got the Supreme Court verdict against him as it wanted. Both Mr Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab, have been disqualified to contest elections.

According to The News (Feb 24) Mr Shahbaz Sharif had defended his party’s decision even after his meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for removing the fears about the Zardari regime’s plan to destabilise the PML (N)-led Punjab government. The Chief Minister said the restoration of the deposed judges was “the people’s demand” and his party “will not compromise on it”.

The Sharif brothers had been putting as much pressure on the federal government as they could primarily to ensure that the PML (N) government in Punjab remained untouched by the PPP government in Islamabad and the case in the Supreme Court for both brothers’ disqualification to take part in politics was settled with no harm coming to them. Wednesday’s court judgement has given a new turn to the situation.

As Daily Times pointed out on February 23, Mr Sharif “knows that President Zardari could help him out of this trouble by pardoning him. Legal opinion may be divided over it, but some say the President could declare the hijack case brought against Mr Sharif as null and void in his pardon.”

However, “Mr Sharif insists that the only course open to him is to get the Supreme Court changed through the reinstatement of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry,” the paper added.

Mr Nawaz Sharif occupies the moral high ground on the judicial issue. Mr Zardari is accused of not honouring the accord he and Mr Sharif had signed in 2008 for reinstating Chief Justice Chaudhry through a parliamentary resolution.

Cracks in the PPP

The threat of destabilisation looming large over the PPP-led government in Islamabad is reported to have led to the emergence of two groups in the party. While President Zardari has been strongly favouring getting the Sharif brothers disqualified from electoral politics, Prime Minister Gilani and his camp followers want a patch-up with the PML (N) leadership to prevent a political crisis that appears imminent now.

The News (Feb 24) says, “There is talk about the possibility of a strategy against the President being devised, in which a confrontation in Islamabad would lead to heads rolling. Everyone in Lahore is talking of behind-the-scenes discussions, with PPP members, too, trying to decide which side to take.”

Mr Zardari is not liked by many within his own party because of his support to Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who has been adding fuel to the fire through his anti-PML (N) statements. Mr Gilani is the favourite of those in the PPP who are working for a patch-up with the PML (N). The Prime Minister is no longer as weak as he was when he got the position he holds. He is believed to have the support of some key Establishment figures.

The cracks in the PPP may become more serious if Mr Gilani continues to play the role of a peacemaker without having the backing of Mr Zardari. The coming few days are crucial for Pakistan.

Federation of militants

While doubts are being expressed about the success of the deal between Islamabad and militant outfits for peace in the Malakand-Swat region, The Frontier Post (Feb 24) says that three major militant groups have formed a federation in FATA to further their “cause”. What actually has prompted them to come together is not known.

The outfits, which have formed the Shura Ittihad al-Mujahideen, are those led by Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan and Maulvi Nazir of Wana. “It is unclear if this new league will be a separate entity or part of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella organisation comprising the militant outfits of Fazlullah of Swat, Maulvi Faquir Mohammadd of Bajaur, Mufti Ijaz of the Khyber Agency and Maulvi Hakimullah of the Orakzai Agency,” The Frontier Post points out.

It is believed the federation may be the brainchild of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir, who have been most vocal in criticising Islamabad for its casual attitude towards the US drone attacks in the tribal areas. Whatever is the truth, it is an “ominous development”, as the Post describes it.
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