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EDITORIALS

Threat to security
Sharper vigil needed during elections

A
n
occasion like a general election can provide a demonstrative opportunity to terrorist outfits to cause death and destruction, as is their wont. But the fact that security services have received intercepts of “chatter” among Pakistan-based terrorist groups against top leaders of political parties, the situation becomes alarming. 

President’s rule in Meghalaya
The loss is that of the citizen

T
he
Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in Meghalaya, often an avoidable step in a democracy, adversely reflects on the machinations of our politicians who believe in securing power by any means. It also raises questions about the role played by the Speaker, belonging to the ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-led Meghalaya Progressive Front (MPF), and the Governor, who is an appointee of the Congress-led UPA coalition at the Centre.



EARLIER STORIES

Punish Varun
March 19, 2009
Marxist manifesto
March 18, 2009
Restoration of Chief Justice
March 17, 2009
Deepening crisis in Pakistan
March 16, 2009
Manifesto of an unborn party
March 15, 2009
Third Front
March 14, 2009
Pakistan on the brink
March 13, 2009
Army’s warning
March 11, 2009
Et tu, Naveen?
March 10, 2009
Limits of protest
March 9, 2009
Underachievers at school
March 8, 2009
Mahajot in Bengal
March 7, 2009
Pawar at play
March 6, 2009


FIIs take the front door
The believers in growth arrive

T
he
downturn apart, it is encouraging to note that some 100 new foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have got themselves registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) since September last year. Besides, FDI (foreign direct investment) inflows jumped 55 per cent in January. Foreigners appear upbeat about India’s growth. Some of the FIIs could be earlier operating through the back door, that is, buying shares through participatory notes.

ARTICLE

Wannabe Prime Ministers
Too many, too soon
by Inder Malhotra
T
HERE are more wannabe Prime Ministers around today than all the heads of government India has had since Independence. No harm in that. For, it is the essence of democracy that every Indian should have a right to aspire for the top job, just as every American can and does hope to be the incumbent of the White House. But there is a crucial difference between the two situations.


MIDDLE

Going beyond the obvious
by Nonika Singh

M
y
first interaction with him came a cropper. A fledgling journalist then, I had no clue that I was face to face with a UK-based internationally acclaimed sculptor and visual artist, Avtarjeet Dhanjal, about whom noted art critic Richard Cork had said “An invaluable contribution to understanding the achievement of an artist who, nourished by the tension between the cultures of East and West, occupies a singular place in contemporary sculpture.” And he point-blank refused to enlighten me. The interview was simply not granted.


OPED

How Punjab and Haryana got a common High Court
by Rajindar Sachar
B
EHIND-the-scenes activities for retaining a common High Court for Punjab and Haryana is a story by itself and needs to be now told for the benefit of the present and next generation.

Getting it right in Afghanistan
by Thomas A. Schweich

D
emocrats
and Republicans have spent the past two years sparring with each other on key aspects of the effort to rebuild Afghanistan. We have disagreed on such issues as whether to spray the poppy crop with chemicals and whether President Hamid Karzai and his friends are too corrupt.

Spare us, Bastar kids to Naxals
by Asha Shukla

B
astar
, a region which cradled a society and indeed an ecosystem based on the tribal way of life, has in recent times become a zone of bitter conflict. The protracted battle between the Naxals and security forces in the forested regions of Bastar has taken a heavy toll on the communities there. Their way of life disrupted, they live in fear, insecurity and constant tension.

 


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Threat to security
Sharper vigil needed during elections

An occasion like a general election can provide a demonstrative opportunity to terrorist outfits to cause death and destruction, as is their wont. But the fact that security services have received intercepts of “chatter” among Pakistan-based terrorist groups against top leaders of political parties, the situation becomes alarming. Even if there is no specific information about the terrorists’ targets in the run-up to the elections, the intelligence inputs available with the government should not be taken lightly. The government has provided additional security to all the leaders under the “Z+” category, yet this cannot be considered enough. That is why Home Minister P. Chidambaram has advised politicians to show prudence during the election campaigns. His suggestion should be seen against the backdrop of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a suicide bomber when he was addressing an election meeting in Tamil Nadu in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections.

Of course, it is not easy to avoid contact with the public in an election time. There is always the likelihood of politicians getting carried away by the exuberance of their supporters. In such situations they may feel tempted to mix with the crowd. But they must remember that times have changed. They must respond to their warmth, keeping some distance from the public. This way they will also be helping the security agencies to concentrate on safeguarding the lives and limbs of those participating in election rallies. No aspect of security should be taken lightly, as terrorists are known for infiltrating a gathering and springing a surprise.

The state governments are faced with a more challenging situation. They have already got “advisories” from the Centre to provide increased security for election rallies. They must do all they can to bust the local modules of Pakistan-based terrorist groups. No outside terrorist network can easily succeed in implementing its designs without the help of local contacts. The border-states in particular have to maintain greater vigil on disruptive elements. As is well known, Pakistan’s ISI has been engineering trouble in India with the help of extremist outfits based in Bangladesh also. It must not be forgotten that the ISI-sponsored terrorist outfits are capable of striking from any country in India’s neighbourhood. Governments at the Centre and in the states, as also the people, must remain vigilant. 

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President’s rule in Meghalaya
The loss is that of the citizen

The Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in Meghalaya, often an avoidable step in a democracy, adversely reflects on the machinations of our politicians who believe in securing power by any means. It also raises questions about the role played by the Speaker, belonging to the ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-led Meghalaya Progressive Front (MPF), and the Governor, who is an appointee of the Congress-led UPA coalition at the Centre. Indeed, it is a victory of political manoeuvring by a few at the cost of citizens of this politically unstable north-eastern state where elected governments have survived, on an average, for less than two years in its 36-year history.

The crisis began earlier this month when the Congress won a byelection taking the opposition Congress-led MUA’s tally to 26 in the 60-member House. Subsequently, two Independent MLAs, one of whom had switched allegiance from the MUA to the ruling MPF only on March 5, rejoined the Opposition. Then, three more legislators left to join the Opposition thereby reducing the ruling coalition’s tally to 29. The Speaker invoked the anti-defection law and suspended these five legislators sparking off protests by the opposition. The Governor, who opposed the suspension of the legislators, was similarly accused of partisanship by the ruling alliance. The Governor issued a directive to videograph the vote of confidence, an order unprecedented by a Governor although the Supreme Court had in 2005 issued such a directive for Jharkhand. Following a tie in the House on Tuesday, the Speaker chose to exercise his vote and favour the ruling the alliance which scrapped through by a solitary vote.

The Governor’s recommendation to the Centre to impose President’s rule and to keep the assembly in suspended animation, saying that there has been a constitutional breakdown, was immediately accepted by the Congress-led UPA at the Centre, leading to cries of allegations of partisanship by several Opposition parties. Only last year, the previous Governor had invited the Congress-led MUA to form the government knowing fully that it did not enjoy majority. The state is again caught in political instability which is expected to continue for some time. As always, it is the citizens who are the losers. 

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FIIs take the front door
The believers in growth arrive

The downturn apart, it is encouraging to note that some 100 new foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have got themselves registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) since September last year. Besides, FDI (foreign direct investment) inflows jumped 55 per cent in January. Foreigners appear upbeat about India’s growth. Some of the FIIs could be earlier operating through the back door, that is, buying shares through participatory notes. SEBI later shut the door as there were reports of terrorist organisations’ money flowing into the Indian stock markets. But as meltdown worries spread and FIIs took the exit door, the market regulator relented and restored the P-note route to prop up the falling stocks.

To avoid such hiccups in future, genuine foreign investors have knocked the SEBI door for registration. In the present gloomy scenario, it is also a vote of confidence in India’s growth prospects. China and India are widely seen as the future growth engines of a global economic recovery. The latest optimistic view of India comes from the World Bank Chief Economist, Dr Justin Yifu Lin, who was in Mumbai last week. He feels that once the global economic crisis blows over, India will be among the few countries that will recover first and then be able to maintain 9-10 per cent annual GDP growth for a decade or so.

Dark clouds, however, still hover over the horizon. Foreign capital is not getting into infrastructure development. The stock markets have got a breather after touching a new recent low. FIIs have been on a selling spree, partly to meet the redemption pressure back home. Corporate earnings do not inspire hope. There is a general election ahead. No one is sure which political grouping will form a government at the Centre and how much stable and growth-oriented it will be. 

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Thought for the Day

The biggest obstacle to professional writing is the necessity for changing a typewriter ribbon. — Robert Benchley

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Wannabe Prime Ministers
Too many, too soon
by Inder Malhotra

THERE are more wannabe Prime Ministers around today than all the heads of government India has had since Independence. No harm in that. For, it is the essence of democracy that every Indian should have a right to aspire for the top job, just as every American can and does hope to be the incumbent of the White House. But there is a crucial difference between the two situations.

Under the presidential system of the United States, a relatively obscure senator, Barack Obama, could become one of the most popular presidents ever because of the primaries, which are virtual baptism by fire. During these he defeated so formidable a rival as Hillary Clinton, now his Secretary of State. Nothing of the kind can happen here and not merely because we have chosen the Westminster-type parliamentary democracy. It is the decay of the Indian political party system that is the problem. The acute fragmentation of the polity and the conversion of many, if not most, parties into family concerns, making any kind of inner-party democracy practically impossible, have inevitably followed.

Recent history underscores the point. During the 30 years of Congress dominance at the Centre (irrespective of whatever might have happened in the states) there was no problem. After Jawaharlal Nehru’s glorious innings of 17 years, the Congress chose Lal Bahadur Shastri as his successor by consensus with which the rival candidate, Morarji Desai, went along reluctantly. After Shastri’s sudden death, Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister by defeating Desai in the first, and so far only, contest for the leadership of the Congress parliamentary party. By 1971 she had established her supremacy in both the party and the country but was deservedly defeated in the post-Emergency general election in 1977.

The Congress monopoly of power in New Delhi was thus broken, and the first non-Congress government was formed by the Janata that claimed to be a single party but was really a coalition of four different constituents. It cannot be said that the choice of Desai as the Janata Prime Minister was made democratically. Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram were challenging him. Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) and Acharaya Kriplani, the two guardian angels of the Janata, virtually nominated Morarjibhai. This did not help much. Clashing ambitions and egos of the three old men brought down the Janata government, elected amidst enormous goodwill. and with a comfortable majority. Charan Singh, who became Prime Minister under a Faustian bargain with the Indira Congress exclaimed that he had “achieved his life’s ambition”. He had the dubious distinction of quitting without facing Parliament for a single day.

In 1980, Indira Gandhi swept back to power. For nearly a decade thereafter she and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, ruled. In 1989 the second coalition era dawned when V. P. Singh became Prime Minister with the support “from outside” of the two opposites poles of the political spectrum, the BJP and the Left Front. Singh’s election as leader of his own 154-member Janata Dal was a sordid affair. Since Chandra Shekhar was determined to contest against him, Singh’s minders staged a charade. They secured Chandra Shekhar’s consent to the unanimous election of Devi Lal. The “Tau” from Haryana thanked everyone, declined the honour, and proposed V. P. Singh’s name.

Chandra Shekhar’s turn came when the V.P. Singh government fell in November 1990. The former Young Turk was pitch-forked into power by Rajiv Gandhi. At President R. Venkataraman’s insistence he gave an assurance that the new government would be “allowed to last at least a year”. But that was not to be.

During the 1991 elections, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. The Congress party elected P. V. Narasimha Rao, who had announced his retirement before the poll, its leader The Congress won 220 seats and Rao skilfully stabilised his minority government for full five years. Sadly, the methods he used were unethical. Of the brief interlude of H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral the less said the better. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister from 1998 to 2004, was undoubtedly the elected leader of his party as well as of the National Democratic Alliance he headed. He also enjoyed respect outside the NDA ranks.

In 2004 when the Congress returned to power, as the core of the United Progressive Alliance, the office of Prime Minister should have gone to Sonia Gandhi. She wisely decided not to accept it, and named Dr Manmohan Singh instead.

It is against this backdrop that the current scramble for the top job must be viewed. Of the numerous aspirants chasing the coveted office, the most focused is, of course, UP Chief Minister Mayawati, and supreme leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party. She made it clear to the proponents of the Third Front that it was of no use to her unless it first proclaimed her as its prime ministerial candidate. The motley crowd’s meek answer to her: the Prime Minister would be chosen only after the elections.

This hasn’t deterred her or any other aspirant. Indeed, Ramvilas Paswan has gone to great lengths to argue that he would be a better Dalit Prime Minister than Mayawati. The Maratha strongman, Sharad Pawar, has left no one in doubt that it is his turn as a “Marathi Manoos” to be the next Prime Minister. In saying much the same thing, Lalu Prasad Yadav, J. Jayalalithaa and several others are being more diplomatic.

However, until the last election result is declared on or about May 16, it would be impossible to say which of the horses or mares would win the race. On May 16, 2004, could anyone have foreseen that the new PM would be Dr Manmohan Singh? What if either of the two mainstream parties wins enough seats to be able to lead a coalition? For the present, therefore, the ambitions of all concerned are no more than mere dreams to which they are welcome.

One final point. In his book Succession in India, Michael Brecher, quoted an unnamed Indian politician (it was Biju Patnaik really) to the effect that “anyone who could spend Rs 5 crore” could become Prime Minister. This was in 1966. Considering the gargantuan inflation since then, the present figure would be astronomical. Even so, it is a small mercy that the tycoons of the corporate sector, with their unlimited wealth, cannot appoint the PM. Or else, they would have already installed Narendra Modi in 7 Race Course Road, election or no election.

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Going beyond the obvious
by Nonika Singh

My first interaction with him came a cropper. A fledgling journalist then, I had no clue that I was face to face with a UK-based internationally acclaimed sculptor and visual artist, Avtarjeet Dhanjal, about whom noted art critic Richard Cork had said “An invaluable contribution to understanding the achievement of an artist who, nourished by the tension between the cultures of East and West, occupies a singular place in contemporary sculpture.” And he point-blank refused to enlighten me. The interview was simply not granted.

I left with bitter memories, finding some comfort in the words of well-known lensman Diwan Manna who had organised the meeting “ He lives far away. How were you to know his background?” Those were not the days of computers when information was just a click away and the world a global village.

But as destiny ordained, I was to meet him again and again. Only this time (God bless the Internet revolution) I was more than prepared to take on the mercurial, albeit immensely gifted, man. Since then, many interviews later, we have developed an easy rapport. I have grown into an avid admirer of the simple man from the village of Punjab who has put his vision on the world map what with his site-specific works dotting the US, the UK and Brazil. He, too, has lost the condescension he once showered on me and replaced it with a grudging approval, if not outright admiration.

But Dhanjal has since not given up his contempt for journalists who do not do their homework. In several Press conferences, he has made his derision over simple basic mundane questions apparent. He wants and expects journalists, to go beyond the obvious to understand the fact “where a scientists logic stops, an artists’ intuition begins.”

No wonder, the lecture he delivered one recent evening organised by the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akadmey was titled “Beyond the object”. An artist, Dhanjal, firmly believes, is not an object maker but a harbinger of new ideas, new thoughts and new vision.

But all through the slideshow, while the art connoisseurs were spellbound by his ability to sense and translate the intangible, to use natural elements and imagination to transform the space, many were clearly bored. Perhaps, Dhanjal is not a man of masses who can hold the audiences captive with glib talk. Thus, he gave no sound bytes one could gush over. Those who prefer quotable quotes had to contend with sublime remarks with still deeper implications, which either went over their head or they were simply not interested in.

So, every five minutes or so a bunch of them not only had the nerve to walk away but even bang the doors as they departed unceremoniously. All this while as Dhanjal was telling them to pay heed to their inner voice, to the silence within to guide their creativity, they were busy shattering the harmony his works alluded to.

“An artist,’ he remarked ‘imagines beyond what can be imagined.” But the lesser mortals clearly are happier with the object. They would rather delve into the solidness of what can be seen. Yes, in their lexicon, even the delicious pakoras that were served after the lecture are preferable to the timelessness of the ethereal. Man, someone in the audience pointed out, is a nomad. But certainly is not mad enough to forsake the object. That must remain an artist’s privilege and prerogative, as well as his idiosyncrasy with which he hopes to win the world.

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How Punjab and Haryana got a common High Court
by Rajindar Sachar

BEHIND-the-scenes activities for retaining a common High Court for Punjab and Haryana is a story by itself and needs to be now told for the benefit of the present and next generation.

As is known, when Punjab was divided in 1966 to constitute Haryana state, the question of Chandigarh was a source of great concern. After the commission’s verdict, the Government of India, while accepting broadly the present areas of Haryana, could not make up its mind about Chandigarh.

So it was decided that Chandigarh would remain a joint capital. It has so continued. Earlier, many voices were raised to declare it as the capital of Punjab or Haryana but without the consent of both the states (which was not given), it automatically had to continue as the joint capital. All neutral observers will now agree that it has been the best solution.

Both states have benefited by an excellent city as the capital and have also sensibly developed immediate areas around it like Mohalli and Panchkula. Only a politician who wants to harm the interests of both states would make this an issue and also – and I believe — he would find no takers.

But regarding the High Court in 1966 there was a vociferous demand, mostly by Haryana lawyers and politicians, that there should be a separate High Court of Haryana. As a matter of fact, to give an overall view on the conflicting interests of the legal community, it is necessary to go back somewhat further.

As is known, the Punjab High Court in 1948 had a jurisdiction over Delhi also. It was only in 1953 that a circuit bench was started in Delhi. Naturally, Delhi started asking for a separate High Court. But to start with, workload was not much. So the Gurgaon Bar started urging that the Circuit Court at Delhi should have a jurisdiction over Gurgaon. Naturally, we, the lawyers, (who are quite clannish when it comes to our self-interest) opposed it.

But the real test came during the formation of Haryana. In 1966-67 I was then the President of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association. I was pained at the idea of division of the High Court, which was a worthy successor to the Lahore High Court, which had produced stalwarts like Sir Shadi Lal, Bakshi Tek Chand and Mehar Chand Mahajan. There were, of course, equally strong stalwarts like Din Mohd and Munir, but then they were in Pakistan.

I, therefore, led a deputation of the office-bearers of the Bar to Mr. Morarji Desai, who was the Deputy Prime Minister in the Central Cabinet. Morarji was a mercurial person, brutally frank and self-assertive to a fault. I remember when our delegation met him in Delhi, his first reaction, addressed to me as the leader of the deputation, was: “Why did you not think at the time you opposed Partap Singh Kairon? If he had remained the Chief Minister, Punjab would have remained one and the present situation would not have arisen”.

He obviously did not approve of my having appeared as counsel on behalf of the Memorialists against Kairon before Justice S.R. Das Commission. So we came back rather disappointed. Our delegation then met Mr. G.L. Nanda, the then Home Minister in the Central government. He told us plainly that he was willing to continue a common High Court for Punjab and Haryana having its seat at Chandigarh.

But if a separate High Court were asked for by Punjab or Haryana, then the jurisdiction over Chandigarh will be vested with the Delhi High Court. This inevitably would have serious consequences for the Bar. All the writ work and original jurisdiction in the High Court would go to Delhi.

Thus all orders passed by both governments would have to be challenged before the Delhi High Court, causing a loss to the Bar, inconvenience to clients, embarrassment to both governments being answerable to an outside High Court. Nanda had said that he would not take any initiative on his own, the matter being contentious, but if both chief ministers agreed, he would have a common High Court having jurisdiction over both the states and Chandigarh.

Gurnam Singh, an ex-judge of the Pepsu and Punjab High Court, was the Chief Minister of Punjab at that time. It did not take any time to get his consent – he understood the delicacy and uncomfortable situation of having Punjab government orders supervised by the Delhi High Court. But Rao Birendra Singh, the Chief Minister of Haryana, was a hard nut to crack. He had apparently been briefed by some of his coterie that it was in the interest of Haryana to demand a separate High Court.

Some common friends tried to convince him otherwise, but he continued to give a negative reply. We were worried that his indecision would result in Chandigarh (which meant all writ jurisdiction, service matters of both governments) going under the jurisdiction of the Delhi high Court.

So I fixed an appointment with Rao Sahib and went to the Chief Minister’s house to see him at the appointed time. Rao Sahib was having a shave and a massage and I was asked to wait. Had it been my personal work I would have walked out at this discourtesy as I had gone after fixing an appointment. But then this was the Bar work and a larger public issue and I toned myself down.

Of course, I did not have to wait long – possibly 15-20 minutes. I knew that talking to Rao on principles of the administration of justice and suffering or inconvenience to the public would not carry the matter any further. So I adopted a politician’s approach.

I told him whether he realised that if there were separate High Courts, and even if they were situated in Chandigarh, the jurisdiction over orders passed by his government would be exercised by the Delhi High Court because Chandigarh would remain under the Central administration.

I conjured to him the embarrassment of being judged by an outside High Court rather than by judges familiar with the working of Punjab and Haryana states and also with a tongue-in-cheek hinted that local judges would have a more sympathetic understanding of the complexity and nuances under which the Chief Ministers have to take various administrative decisions, which may not be the case with judges of the Delhi High Court. I also told him that he must realize that in the appointment of the Delhi High Court judges, who alone would be hearing cases against his government’s orders, he would not have any role, not even of consultation as in case of Punjab and Haryana.

I believe this hit his vanity that a Chief Minister of Haryana should be a stranger to the appointment of judges of the Delhi High Court, which will sit over his government’s action – a blow to a politician’s vanity. It is not that he could in any way influence local judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, but it was his own mistaken bloated sense of importance which he thought would suffer in public that a Chief Minister of State had no say in the appointments to these high offices that really clinched the issue.

Thereupon, he wrote to Nanda, agreeing to a common High Court. I am free to confess after four decades that my suggestions to Rao Birendra Singh were certainly loaded, but in all humility I submit my only motive was the welfare of the states of Punjab and Haryana and the interests of the High Court and the Bar. Sometimes politicians need to be talked in their own language.

Happily, we have continued with a common High Court for Punjab and Haryana. I hope people and lawyers realise the worth of a bigger common high Court. Though I occasionally hear some misguided persons again wanting to revive the slogan of separate High Courts, I believe it would be a judicial disaster if it were to happen with such dislocation and loss of prestige, apart from the impossibility of so happening so long as both states have a common capital.

—————

The writer is a retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court

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Getting it right in Afghanistan
by Thomas A. Schweich

Democrats and Republicans have spent the past two years sparring with each other on key aspects of the effort to rebuild Afghanistan. We have disagreed on such issues as whether to spray the poppy crop with chemicals and whether President Hamid Karzai and his friends are too corrupt.

But as Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly during this time, we have also come to realize that we share some core beliefs. As the administration completes its strategic review of Afghanistan policy, I urge Democrats and Republicans, our allies abroad, and the Karzai government to come together on key points before it is too late:

—More troops, but with the right mission. President Obama has ordered 17,000 additional troops sent to Afghanistan. While more troops are needed to train the Afghan national army (and more civilian trainers — not troops — are needed to train the civilian police forces), additional troops risk invigorating the insurgency by increasing the number of civilian casualties.

Civilian casualties are the single greatest reason we are losing support among the Afghan people and their government. U.S. commanders need to make clear that our primary mission in Afghanistan is to provide security to the people — and that mission trumps pursuing terrorists in cases where the latter effort interferes with the former. A secure people will help us root out terrorists.

—Restructured development assistance. Karzai complained late last year that NATO's provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) constitute a "parallel government." The PRTs are a lottery; how much aid a province gets depends on the budget of the country commanding the PRT — which could be the United States or Lithuania.

Meanwhile, donors complain that they cannot go through the government in Kabul because its ministries are corrupt and slow-moving. Overall, the PRT structure distorts Afghan national priorities and conflicts with the government's structure.

Working through community development councils to implement national programs under the general oversight of the Kabul government would allow the international community to fund what communities need rather than what allied nations can spare. This approach would affirm the political leadership of the central government while allowing communities to take ownership of reconstruction efforts and reduce costs.

—More effective engagement with Pakistan. Pakistanis believe that the United States propped up a military dictatorship to pursue its war against terrorism at the expense of their national interests. The democratically elected civilian government is trying to persuade its military and people that terrorist extremism and poverty are greater threats than India or the United States.

We must financially support the new civilian government. Then we can work with it to finally end the Pakistani military and intelligence services' longtime partnership with armed militants and terrorists, and to integrate the tribal areas where these groups are based into the mainstream administration of the Pakistani state.

—Agreement on common terms on peace negotiations with insurgents. Most of those fighting allied troops in Afghanistan pose no strategic threat to the United States. The Taliban regime, while vicious, brutal and repressive, did not plan and execute Sept. 11 — al-Qaida did. The Taliban continues to signal ambiguously the extent of its willingness to separate from al-Qaida, compromise and seek a political role in Afghanistan.

Until we see more credible signs of a willingness to make concessions, it is too early for real negotiations but not for exploratory talks to determine who would represent the various parties in real negotiations, and what sort of general terms Afghans and the international community could agree to. After that, how to deal with various Afghan factions is not a U.S. decision as long as those factions reliably disavow terrorism — Afghanistan is a sovereign country.

—Corruption. Massive corruption has eroded faith in the Afghan government and the international presence. The principal responsibility for corruption lies squarely with the Afghan government. The international presence can inadvertently feed corruption as military bases pay warlord militias to guard their perimeters and award contracts to warlords' relatives, some of whom are involved in drug trafficking and other crimes.

The international community's use of contractors, some with no local knowledge or operational capacity, leads to opaque hierarchies of sub-contracting, in which some money is siphoned off in overhead by contractors and then funneled to locals who control security and construction companies. The United States and its allies must adopt a more refined assistance policy that attacks all causes of corruption.

These objectives depend on unity between the United States and its allies, and a recommitment by the Karzai government to integrity and decisiveness. Pulling this off will also require all of President Obama's diplomatic skills and patience.

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Spare us, Bastar kids to Naxals
by Asha Shukla

Bastar, a region which cradled a society and indeed an ecosystem based on the tribal way of life, has in recent times become a zone of bitter conflict.

The protracted battle between the Naxals and security forces in the forested regions of Bastar has taken a heavy toll on the communities there. Their way of life disrupted, they live in fear, insecurity and constant tension.

Salwa Judum or literally ‘peace mission’, begun in 2005, was projected as a spontaneous movement by local tribals against the Naxals. Today, the battle has taken on fierce proportions with members of the Salwa Judum being armed by the state.

This has polarised tribal society. It has left the local tribals vulnerable and rootless with thousands being huddled into Salwa Judum camps cut off from their forests and villages.

The Supreme Court in a ruling in a case on March 31, 2008, has expressed disapproval on the creation of Salwa Judum saying that that the state giving “arms to some persons would mean it is “abetting in crime if these private persons kill others.”

Amidst this scenario, in the heart of the conflict, the Kodekurse area of Durgkondal block in Kanker district, a police party claimed that they had recovered some handbills from a local student named Ekta.

Speculation is rife that these have been produced by children studying in ‘ashrams’ in the area. While the authorship of the handbills is being debated, it is clear enough that they were addressed to the Naxals.

It reads like a petition and calls to attention the suffering of students on account of the ongoing violence in the region and the disruption in their lives. It addresses the reader in a direct first person manner.

“Why are our school buildings are being demolished? Why do the police come and camp in these buildings which are the very foundations of our future?”, it says.

“We are the children of the rural poor and our parents cannot afford, like Naxal leader Gudsa Usendi, to send their children to public schools. By demolishing the buildings of residential schools (ashrams) of Kodapakha, Kodekurse and Mayapur Sangam, you have tried to darken our future.”

The list reads “Why is our ration, even our mats are being snatched? Why are you using our school bags? Why are you humiliating our teachers? Why are you involving them in seditious activities? Why are you forcibly making small school-going children members of Bal Sangham?” (formed by Naxal outfits involving village children below 12 years old for aiding their activities).

While no one or organisation has taken responsibility for the appearance of these handbills, it does form a set of disturbing questions, a bitter list of what is wrong, seen from the eyes of a child .

Children growing up in Bastar have to deal with a number of issues which their counterparts in areas of peace are naturally protected from.

Charkha Features

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