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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Iran as the US master-key
Obama focuses on positive engagement
A
pparently, there have been back-channel contacts between Iran and the United States and these have led President Barack Obama to offer a “new beginning” towards Tehran. This marks a clear shift in Washington’s Iran policy.

Admission of guilt
Erring Armymen must not get away lightly
A
fter dragging its feet considerably over the killing of two civilians in the Bomai-Sopore area of Jammu and Kashmir for a month, the Army has at the end of the day indicted a JCO and two soldiers on several counts. This apparently followed a direction from the Ministry of Defence to submit a detailed report within two days to clarify its position.

 

EARLIER STORIES

Buy the best for armed forces
March 22, 2009
Jail for Telgi
March 21, 2009
Threat to security
March 20, 2009
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


When men are cruel
Even saviours turn rapists
N
GO-run institutions are generally seen as saviours and some of them have played a significant role in rescuing young girls from physical exploitation. But in Shimla, the principal and male teachers of an NGO-run rehabilitation centre have been arrested for allegedly raping deaf and dumb girls who were under their care. Rape of the deaf and dumb girls as well as mentally challenged inmates is so degenerate an act that no condemnation can be strong enough.

ARTICLE

Mumbai attack and after
How West plays an unhelpful role

by Anil Nauriya
I
n the midst of the on-going crisis in Pakistan, it is necessary to have a look at how things stand with regard to the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack. The political deal announced on March 16 will deprive Pakistani officialdom of the argument that since the country was going through political turmoil, it could not be expected to accord priority to the “probe” into the November attack.

MIDDLE

Sold on sales
by Gitanjali Sharma
H
ow’s it?” My friend asked, parading a long black French designer coat. “It was for Rs 17, 000 but I got it at 70 per cent off. Hey, but Candid (that’s our mince-no-words friend) says it looks weird,” she added to help me probably give a softer verdict.

OPED

India's military power suffers from serious flaws
by Dinesh Kumar
F
irst came news of Russia's decision to ground a substantial number of its MiG-29 fighters owing to structural defects. The news sparked off immediate concern for both the Indian Air Force (IAF), which flies three squadrons of this 'air superiority' aircraft that played a role during the Kargil war, and for also the Indian Navy which will begin taking delivery of the first four of a total 45 of this aircraft's naval variant, the MiG-29K, later this year.

Hard-liners to take charge in Israel
by Robert Fisk
O
nly days after they were groaning with fury at the Israeli lobby's success in hounding the outspoken Charles Freeman away from his proposed intelligence job for President Obama, the Arabs now have to contend with an Israeli Foreign Minister whose – let us speak frankly – racist comments about Palestinian loyalty tests have brought into the new Netanyahu cabinet one of the most unpleasant politicians in the Middle East.

Chatterati
Ego tussle in BJP
by Devi Cherian
“Varun Arun ki kahani ne khatam kiya Advani!”. This is the SMS doing the rounds in the capital. It’s amazing that at this crucial time of elections what a “hungama” was created by the Arun Jaitely-Sudhanshu Mittal ego tussle.

 


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EDITORIALS

Iran as the US master-key
Obama focuses on positive engagement

Apparently, there have been back-channel contacts between Iran and the United States and these have led President Barack Obama to offer a “new beginning” towards Tehran. This marks a clear shift in Washington’s Iran policy. Expressing his desire for positive engagement with Iran through dialogue and diplomacy, abandoning the old path of confrontation, Mr Obama has shown consistency in his approach. He first spoke about it during his election campaign. Perhaps, he is convinced that if dialogue can help in defusing the North Korean nuclear crisis, it can also do so in the case of the Iranian nuclear issue and other problems linked with Tehran. President Obama’s message on the Iranian new year, Nauroz, clearly indicates that Iran is no longer viewed in Washington as a part of the Axis of Evil, as seen by former President George W. Bush. Interestingly, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has expressed his country’s willingness to change its attitude if the US takes such an initiative.

The Obama administration apparently considers Iran as a major foreign policy challenge. The Persian Gulf nation is unlikely to give up its nuclear ambitions, yet pursuing a policy of dialogue with Tehran suits the US objectives in the region. Iran can serve as the master key for Washington. After all, strategically placed as it is, Iran matters for tackling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. The US administration has come to believe that Iran can play a significant role in winning the anti-Taliban war in Afghanistan. The Shia population in Afghanistan’s areas bordering Iran seeks Tehran’s involvement in the efforts for improving the situation in the war-torn country.

An Iranian role is unavoidable in almost every issue confronting West Asia. The US exit from the Iraqi quagmire can be speeded up if Iran stops playing the Shia-Sunni card. Tehran had earlier indicated its intention of playing a positive role, but the previous US administration could not find merit in it. An improvement in the US-Iranian relations will be a welcome development for India also. It may help New Delhi to ensure that the new high in the India-US ties after the nuclear deal does not come in the way of improving its relations with Tehran. India can take a positive view of President Obama’s offer.
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Admission of guilt
Erring Armymen must not get away lightly

After dragging its feet considerably over the killing of two civilians in the Bomai-Sopore area of Jammu and Kashmir for a month, the Army has at the end of the day indicted a JCO and two soldiers on several counts. This apparently followed a direction from the Ministry of Defence to submit a detailed report within two days to clarify its position. The incident had led to massive public protests in the area and had united various political parties. Even Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah raised the issue of the Army’s inaction with Defence Minister A K Antony. The Army has finally said that its court of inquiry headed by a Brigadier had held a JCO and two soldiers, who were involved in the Bomai incident, “accountable for various lapses”. The charges, besides the failure to exercise the desired command and control by the JCO, also encompass failure by two soldiers to exercise restraint in the handling of their weapons during the incident.

A magisterial inquiry ordered by the state government has squarely blamed the Army for the killings. This report has even refuted the Army’s claim that there was a crossfire by saying that there was no evidence of militants being present on the spot. The Army’s admission of guilt may help defuse the confrontation that has engulfed the area. In a similar proof of zero tolerance towards human rights violations, the CRPF has also immediately suspended its erring men and officers for the killing of a civilian in Pulwama.

The security forces perform an extremely tedious role in Kashmir. They have to neutralise the terrorists while protecting innocent civilians at the same time. It will be futile to deny that serious mistakes do take place in this massive and tricky operation. But any attempt to cover up the blunders cannot be approved of and generally it boomerangs, because it makes it appear as if the Army is callous in dealing with the people most of whom are innocent. By meting out adequate punishment to those found guilty, it would not only neutralise the Pakistani propaganda in this regard, but would also deter other security men from taking the law into their own hands.

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When men are cruel
Even saviours turn rapists

NGO-run institutions are generally seen as saviours and some of them have played a significant role in rescuing young girls from physical exploitation. But in Shimla, the principal and male teachers of an NGO-run rehabilitation centre have been arrested for allegedly raping deaf and dumb girls who were under their care. Rape of the deaf and dumb girls as well as mentally challenged inmates is so degenerate an act that no condemnation can be strong enough. That the victims were under the protection of the perpetrators of the heinous crime makes it even more serious and invites severest punishment. A few years ago, a so-called swami in Ghaziabad too was charged with rape of female inmates of his ashram, many of whom were orphans, some even mentally-challenged. In several other cases, teachers, including a headmaster, were found guilty of rape.

Rape is a widespread crime against women in India. Yet, neither its viciousness nor the extent of its prevalence shocks an indifferent society. According to official figures, two women are raped in India every hour. The more shocking revelation is that one in every five victims is a hapless child who can neither understand the magnitude of the trauma she has been subjected to, nor can she offer resistance. Sadly, such children have to live with the humiliation for the rest of their lives. The problem of rape in India is further compounded by patriarchal attitude that pronounces the victim guilty, even before the accused is punished. Rape must be the only crime that finds sanction in a perverse logic and shifts the onus of the proof on the victim. Not surprisingly, a large number of victims do not report what they have gone through.

Many a landmark judgements have upheld the dignity and the rights of rape victims. In the Shimla case, since the children involved are from economically weaker sections of society and are physically or mentally challenged, the authorities must ensure that the case is not hushed up or allowed to fail by default. While the inquiry must be above board, punishment ought to be as unforgiving as the cruelty of the crime. The traumatised children must be given proper counselling and help so that they can lead a normal life and with honour. The government and the state-sponsored Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme, which gave grants to the institute concerned, must have suitable mechanisms in place to ensure that “welfare” does not become a ruse for sexual exploitation.
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Thought for the Day

The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of a gun. — P. G. Wodehouse

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ARTICLE

Mumbai attack and after
How West plays an unhelpful role

by Anil Nauriya

In the midst of the on-going crisis in Pakistan, it is necessary to have a look at how things stand with regard to the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack. The political deal announced on March 16 will deprive Pakistani officialdom of the argument that since the country was going through political turmoil, it could not be expected to accord priority to the “probe” into the November attack. Even so, the outlook is not hopeful. The essential reason why the Mumbai probe cannot be expected to make much headway is to be found in the Western alliance’s South Asia strategies and the traditional mode of thinking bequeathed to it by Britain, the former colonial power in the region.

In retrospect, the British Foreign Secretary’s visit earlier this year had provided straws in the wind. The dignitary made three statements of particular interest which showed both an anxiety to keep the Pakistan Army in the clear so far as the November attacks were concerned and a continued tendency to look at South Asia, including Kashmir, through old community-based nationality stereotypes, regardless of its social cost. He had suggested, first, that the trial of those implicated in the November 26 incidents ought to take place in Pakistan. This indicated that to Britain neither the country where the crime was committed nor a third country (as in the case of the Lockerbie trial where Western interests were affected) was a suitable venue in a case where most of those killed were “mere” Indian civilians.

Second, the Pakistani Army was not involved in the incidents. Third, India ought to “resolve” the Kashmir issue so as not to provide a basis for continuing terrorism against itself. When on January 18 an Indian TV channel interviewer asked him about the so-called “Indian dossier”, the British Foreign Secretary asserted: “We have our own evidence”. Curiously, he was not asked by his interviewer whether he would share that evidence with India. He was asked whether he would share it with the Pakistan government.

The first two issues are inter-related. If the trial of those implicated (other than the individuals already in Indian custody) is to take place in Pakistan, it followed that the British clean-chit given to the Pakistani Army and those connected with it was not to be subject even to the possibility of disproof. Although many non-Indians also died in the terrorist attack, Britain had evidently decided that its stakes in Pakistan’s Army needed to be protected at any cost. With two operatives of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa ( Kashif Niaz and Yasin Baloch), who had also been implicated in the November 26 events and placed under house arrest in Pakistan, having now been directed to be released and the Pakistani establishment straining at the leash to release LeT operative Lakhvi, a glimpse may be obtained of how high the cost is likely to be. That those “detained” may qualify for a “livelihood allowance” of Rs 25,000 is the least of the features of this unprecedented legal farce being enacted in a country which was not even the scene of the crime.

Connected with this is the Western role in the sharing of evidence. As India cannot be expected to give up its legal right to conduct a wide-ranging trial in this country, it can legitimately demand that the evidence available with Western governments must be shared equally with New Delhi. As the Indian charge-sheet filed on February 25 indicates, some of these governments have done so. A question that arises then is why a Europe-based individual, implicated in the November 26 incidents, was sent to Pakistan rather than being handed over to India. Did not India have evidence of his involvement early enough and did it not take it up with the country where he was based? Or did a Western government, which had information on the subject, share that information with Pakistan but not with India until after it had become public knowledge and the man had already reached Pakistan?

The third issue was about Kashmir. A more reasonable formulation than both the Indian and British positions on the subject would be that the November 26 massacre had multiple causes and Kashmir was admittedly one of them, though the linkages and intended consequences are somewhat different from those that the British seemed to suggest. The incidents occurred at a time when there was a mood of optimism with respect to Kashmir, where elections were being held with a decent enough popular participation.

Terrorism in India started in a major way with the opportunity that the Pakistan state saw in Punjab in the eighties, a decade after the coming into being of Bangladesh. Contemporaneously, fanaticism grew internationally and was encouraged by Anglo-American tactics in Afghanistan in the 1980s and after. Between Maliana in 1987 and Babri Masjid in 1992, Kashmir erupted on account of both internal and external causes.

Apparently, there is a connection between the November 26 terrorist attack and Kashmir, but it is not necessarily of the type that the British state and media have suggested. A vital factor underlying both the external and internal aspects of the chain of events since the eighties involves a denial of a composite culture in South Asia and insensitivity towards its social fabric. Throughout the period of the insurgency in Kashmir the focus of attention was on two categories of victims. The Hindutva parties in India focused on the fate of the Kashmiri Pandits; and the democratic rights groups, for their part, took up the excesses by the security forces. A third group of victims was generally ignored by both sections of opinion. These victims were the traditional political leaders of Kashmir, belonging mainly to the National Conference and the PDP, apart from the others being systematically targeted by terrorists.

Old and respected Kashmiri Muslim leaders from the grassroots and upwards were gunned down or hacked to death for not toeing the terrorist line. The international Press and sections of the Indian media often ignored this plight of the non-separatist Kashmiri leadership. The recent elections in the state were the first after a long time in which political assassinations were not, or could not be, utilised by terrorist organisations as a basis for manufacturing consent. This fact formed part of the backdrop to the Mumbai attacks.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Britain has had a certain policy towards separatism in India. Once it has set itself on encouraging a particular separatist tendency, it has tended to deny intermediate positions and shades of opinion. This British proclivity, instead of weakening after Indian Independence, acquired the added objective of influencing Western policies as a whole. The world has seen considerable geopolitical change since 1947. India needs to discuss with Britain whether it is not time to look afresh at the myth of undifferentiated monolithic religious communities and nationalities which has infected British understanding of South Asia; and with the West on how long it proposes to be chaperoned by Britain in the subcontinent. This discussion can go beyond pleading.

It is not only India’s domestic governance but also its external policies that must seek to build disincentives against attempts to harm the composite culture of South Asia. By their very nature such disincentives in the realm of external policy need to be economic. These should not be difficult to devise and enforce.
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MIDDLE

Sold on sales
by Gitanjali Sharma

How’s it?” My friend asked, parading a long black French designer coat. “It was for Rs 17, 000 but I got it at 70 per cent off. Hey, but Candid (that’s our mince-no-words friend) says it looks weird,” she added to help me probably give a softer verdict.

One look at the A-line designer stuff complete with satin bows and trimmings, and I was tempted to agree wholeheartedly with Candid. But, I chose to arrest Saleoholic’s (yea, my friend survives and thrives on sales) post-purchase doubts and cheerfully remarked: “Hey, it’s fine. You will be able to carry it off well”.

Preening before the mirror, she continued to raise her misgivings aloud: “It is a bit loose too. I’ll have to get it altered. Medium was too tight, and Large is not fitting fine, but it’s still a steal at 70 per cent off, isn’t it?” A steal for sure but quite a price for a partly weird, partly outlandish, partly ill-fitting piece, I inwardly squirmed.

Frankly, I should be the last one to judge others’ sale bargains. Now, who had bought a fluorescent magenta pullover only because it came dirt cheap? Who went in for four T-shirts of the same design only because two trooped in free with two? And what about those designer jeans at a throwaway price which on reaching home looked hideous?

Not to forget the shocking pink Kanjeevaram at 20 per cent off that eventually in all probability would be palmed off to my daughter-in-law as a family heirloom.

There is something about sales that makes you lose your sense of proportion, balance and to some extent even propriety. You are ready to break all other engagements to keep date with the sale at hand. Why, you even agree to reach the venue at an undignified 9 am. And, sure this is one date you are never likely to be late for.

You head for it with a single-minded devotion, heart thudding with anticipation. And once you reach the spot, you rapturously go for the kill.

The propriety comes into the picture when two saleaholics pounce on the same item. Who let’s go, who continues to cling to the seemingly prized trophy would all depend on the level of addiction the two suffer from.

It is inexplicable how sanity chooses to return on reaching home. Strange, but the warts, moles and the scars begin to surface one by one. The purchases suddenly don’t appear attractive any more. The strappy sandals start to pinch on the second and third try in front of the bedroom mirror. The four T-shirt clones seem such a waste, and the pink Kanjeevaram appears too glittery for comfort.

Now, what happens next? Nothing unduly exciting. All the to-die-for purchases get shoved into the wardrobe and you are ready to share your doubts, shortlived joys and sorrows not with Candid, but with another shopper sold out on sales!
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OPED

India's military power suffers from serious flaws
by Dinesh Kumar

First came news of Russia's decision to ground a substantial number of its MiG-29 fighters owing to structural defects. The news sparked off immediate concern for both the Indian Air Force (IAF), which flies three squadrons of this 'air superiority' aircraft that played a role during the Kargil war, and for also the Indian Navy which will begin taking delivery of the first four of a total 45 of this aircraft's naval variant, the MiG-29K, later this year.

Almost simultaneously came news of the Obama Administration's directive to General Electric to stop all work on the US-supplied gas turbine engines powering the Shivalik-class frigates just when the Navy was all set to launch sea trials of the first of these three stealth warships.

This freeze will stay until the US government finishes reviewing its military ties with different countries. India is now reportedly turning to an Italian company to help operationalise the engines of the 4,900 tonne warships so that sea trials begin within the next two months.

Ironically, this decision coincides with Washington clearing the sale of eight P-8I Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft priced at $2.1 billion making it the largest arms transfer to India so far in the history of bilateral relations.

But then all purchases from the US come with the rider that India sign the End-Use Verification Agreement (EUVA) that entails 'on-site inspection' and 'physical verification' which New Delhi has been resisting.

And now comes news that the IAF is looking for advance jet trainers (AJT) other than the British-supplied Hawk aircraft to train its pilots. This is because the IAF is facing considerable problems relating to product-support for the 66 Hawks bought only a few years ago. The AJT plays a vital role in training rookie pilots to transition from subsonic trainer aircraft to 'high-performance' supersonic fighters.

These three events in quick succession are only a few of the many such incidents that have been occurring with monotonous regularity. It is repeatedly exposing the Indian armed forces' vulnerability to the whims and vagaries of foreign suppliers that range from sudden foreign policy shifts, price hikes to glitches in technology. This adversely affects every aspect of India's war-fighting capabilities, as was witnessed during the Kargil war when the Army chief commented on India's lack of preparedness famously saying that "if a war was thrust on us, we will fight with whatever we have".

The Ministry of Defence is still grappling with the Russians who have almost tripled the original cost of refitting the 44,500 tonne aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (since renamed INS Vikramaditya). The arrival of this aircraft carrier, which is vital to India's strategic interests in the Indian Ocean because of its role in sea control, has been delayed further by four years to end-2012.

In 2008, the Russian company Rosoboroexport had suddenly hiked the price of 80 Mi-17-IV transport helicopters from $650 million to $ 1 billion after the deal had been finalised. In 2007, the Indian Navy refused to take delivery of an upgraded Kilo-class submarine from the Russians after they noticed deficiencies in the accuracy of the freshly fitted cruise missiles.

That same year, India also expressed reservations over the upgraded Russian-made IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft after the Navy complained that its Sea Dragon multi-mission electronic warfare suites were not working to parameters.

Then in the mid-1990s, many of the British-supplied Sea Eagle anti-ship missiles turned out to be duds. The French refused an Indian request for the 'proven' Exocet anti-ship missiles that had been successfully used by Argentina against the British naval fleet during the Falklands war.

After continued refusals, the US only recently agreed to sell to India the 'war proven' Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which, incidentally, it supplied to Pakistan two decades ago.

India may boast of the world's third largest Army, fourth largest Air Force and seventh largest Navy, but even 61 years after Independence the Indian military continues to be almost entirely dependent on foreign countries for its weapon systems.

From rifles and machine guns for its Infantry to tanks, artillery guns, fighter aircraft and submarines, the list of imports reads endless and runs into billions of dollars.

The Indian armed forces are currently in the midst of their most expensive modernisation and upgrading programme. But India's military is almost entirely foreign dependent. India is slated to spend a whopping $50 billion on defence purchases in the next five years. This does not include the $32 billion worth agreements signed between 2000-2007.

But the time lines, cost escalation, rapid advances in military technology and continued depletions in force-levels continue to take their toll on the armed forces which can only hope to attain their complete modernisation by 2025, which is still a decade-and-a-half away.

The order for big-ticket items — all of them replacements for an ageing fleet — is indeed daunting. It includes 126 multi-role combat aircraft valued at $10.4 billion; six more submarines; six more maritime reconnaissance aircraft to replace the ageing Soviet-origin IL-38s; six C-130J 'Super Hercules' transport aircraft from the US for the Special Forces valued at $962.45 million; a range of artillery ranging from 1,500 pieces of 155 mm towed artillery guns, 180 wheeled Self Propelled Guns and 140 ultra light howitzers; 347 more T-90 tanks from Russia; a range of helicopters ranging from Mi-17-IVs, 384 light helicopters including 259 for the Army and 125 for the IAF priced at a total of about $1.6 billion to replace the vintage French-origin Chetaks and Cheetahs, and 22 attack helicopters to replace the ageing Soviet-origin Mi-25/35s; 16 anti-submarine warfare helicopters for the Navy to replace the British-made Sea King fleet, and 15 heavy-lift utility helicopters to replace the four Soviet-origin Mi-25 helicopters.

Unfortunately, India's quest for self-reliance and indigenisation of defence hardware that began in the late 1950s is far from fruitition. Of particular dismay is the performance of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which has failed to develop a single major weapon system.

Even 37 years after its development, the Arjun tank continues to suffer from performance deficiencies, forcing India to buy T-90s from Russia, which has since been creating hurdles in technology transfer.

Indigenous efforts to make the Kaveri engine for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, developed with the help of the US and still a few years from induction into the IAF, have failed, forcing India to look for a foreign collaborator.

The Akash and Trishul surface-air-missiles have remained a non-starter even after 26 years forcing India to buy Barak and Spyder missiles from Israel. Both the Agni and Prithvi surface-to-surface missiles have only achieved limited success.

In contrast to military powers of reckoning, India's defence exports were a dismal $105 million in 2006-2007 allowing it little leverage in contrast to our long-term competitor and adversary, China, which signed export agreements worth $3.8 billion in 2007 alone.

Even the most expensive Indian defence exports comprise second-hand defence equipment of foreign origin. This over-dependence on foreign vendors coupled with a failure to become self-dependent in defence hardware does not auger well for a country that is seeking to be a global player in a world that is dictated by realpolitik and where military power is still key in a multi-polar world along with the other two major forms of power – ‘Economic’ and ‘Soft’.
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Hard-liners to take charge in Israel
by Robert Fisk

Only days after they were groaning with fury at the Israeli lobby's success in hounding the outspoken Charles Freeman away from his proposed intelligence job for President Obama, the Arabs now have to contend with an Israeli Foreign Minister whose – let us speak frankly – racist comments about Palestinian loyalty tests have brought into the new Netanyahu cabinet one of the most unpleasant politicians in the Middle East.

The Iraqis produced the hateful Saddam, the Iranians created the crackpot Ahmadinejad – for reasons of sanity, I leave out the weird ruler of Libya – and now the Israelis have exalted a man, Avigdor Lieberman, who out-Sharons even Ariel Sharon.

A few Palestinians expressed their cruel delight that at last the West will see the "true face" of Israel. I've heard that one before – when Sharon became prime minister – and the usual nonsense will be trotted out that only a "hard-line extremist" can make the compromises necessary for a deal with the Palestinians.

This kind of self-delusion is a Middle East disease. The fact is that the Israeli Prime Minister-to-be has made it perfectly clear there will be no two-state solution; and he has planted a tree on Golan to show the Syrians they will not get it back. And now he's brought into the cabinet a man who sees even the Arabs of Israel as second-class citizens.

Lieberman's first visit to Washington will be a gem. AIPAC – posing as an Israeli lobby when in fact it works for the Likudists – will fight for him and Lady Hillary will have to greet him warmly at the State Department.

Who knows, he might even suggest to her that she imposes a loyalty test for American minorities as well – which would mean demanding an oath of faithfulness from Barack himself. The horizon goes on forever.

In Egypt, Avigdor Lieberman will have a tough time. Hosni Mubarak can be a soft touch for the Americans but it was Lieberman who, complaining that the Egyptian President should visit Israel or "go to hell", deeply offended a man who has taken great risks in maintaining his country's peace with the Israeli state.

Egyptians have been outraged to read in their newspapers that Lieberman has talked of drowning Palestinians in the Dead Sea or executing Israeli Palestinians who talked to Hamas.

On Tuesday night, a supporter of Lieberman appeared on Al Jazeera television to describe Hamas as "an anti-Semitic, barbarous organisation" – even though Israeli army officers spoke openly with this supposedly "barbarous" group both before and after the Oslo agreement.

But the growth of such an extremist administration in Israel and the hopeless response of the Obama administration to the so-called supporters of Israel who destroyed Freeman's career, can only be dangerous news for the Middle East.

The Jeddah-based Arab News called the Freeman disaster "a grave defeat for US foreign policy". But while uttering all the usual platitudes, the Arab press has been playing up the pusillanimous remarks of US press secretary Robert Gibbs when asked why Obama was "standing mute" in the Freeman affair.

"I've watched with great interest how people perceive different things about our policy and during the campaign about whether we were too close to one group or too close to the other. So I don't give a lot of thought to those." Asked for "straight answers", Gibbs said: "I gave you as straight a one as I can get."

This was almost as funny as The New York Times when it attempted last week to explain why Lady Hillary was frightened of offending the Israelis during the formation of the Netanyahu government when she described the destruction of 1,000 Palestinian homes as "unhelpful".

Her caution in the Middle East, it explained, was "a reflection of the treacherous landscape in the Middle East, where a misplaced phrase can ruffle feathers among constituencies back home". You bet it can – and when Mr Lieberman comes to town, we'll see who those feathers belong to.

Their owners would do well, however, to dwell on the incendiary language of Avigdor Lieberman. He speaks like a Russian nationalist rather than the secular Israeli he claims to be.

I covered the bloodbath of Bosnia in the early Nineties and I can identify Lieberman's language – of executions, of drownings, of hell and loyalty oaths – with the language of Messrs Mladic and Karadzic and Milosevic.

Lady Hillary and her boss should pull out a few books on the war in ex-Yugoslavia if they want to understand who they are now dealing with. "Unhelpful" will not be the appropriate response.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Chatterati
Ego tussle in BJP
by Devi Cherian

Varun Arun ki kahani ne khatam kiya Advani!”. This is the SMS doing the rounds in the capital. It’s amazing that at this crucial time of elections what a “hungama” was created by the Arun Jaitely-Sudhanshu Mittal ego tussle.

The Rajnath camp versus the Jaitely camp has left the BJP embarrassed, whereas the Congress is looking so smug. The only problem here is that if the BJP does not make it to at least 100 seats, it would be difficult for the Congress-led UPA to form a government.

Sudhanshu Mittal is also being encouraged by Sushma Swaraj. From Pramod Mahajan to Vasundra Raje and now to Sushma and Rajnath, Sudhanshu has come a long way. This tentwala is supposedly carrying a lot of moneybags of BJP top shots. And so, Sudhanshu’s financial powers are also a crucial factor for the BJP right now.

Recession effect

Menus at Delhi’s upper-class society have now become leaner and meaner because of recession. Well, everyone is on some diet. Clear soup has replaced cream soup. Aerated drinks are out and fresh juices are in. Fruits are flown in from Bangkok along with the chefs who cater not to puris or kachoris, but brown bread and baked dishes. Shahi paneer and butter chicken have got replaced by tandoori stuff.

But it is really boring. Can you imagine no jalebis or rabri at a wedding? Instead, there is a sugar-free Truffle cake. No way! If this carries on they will be serving us cornflakes and high-protein drinks soon. Even though the diet menu costs three times the price of a top-class good traditional Indian wedding menu. No Pindi chana no dum aaloo. It’s Bisleri water kanji with roasted golgappas and such boring stuff.

It’s not like attending a wedding at all. I also wish that Indians would again send us our shakarparas as wedding methai instead of badly made chocolates. They should stick to what they know the best. But there is no recession, going by the size of the figures of our well-built women or their jewellery and clothes.

Gandhi’s items

What a spectacle was made by the Government of India over a pair of Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacles! Alarming. Who had to come to their rescue? The industrialist liquor baron who had just the other day complained that he had no money. Well, this is the liquor baron, who once bought Tipu Sultan’s sword home and had to pay a whopping Customs duty.

Well, the sword is in his own personal collection. Will these Gandhiji’s items also go to his own collection when and if they come to India? He has to pay once he gets the delivery. So, when he gets them, he will make a decision.

As the government has no policy of getting a part of the Indian heritage back, it is usually left to rich industrialists. It was Sir Gulam Noor and Lord Bagri, who once got Gandhi’s set of documents and also Nat Puri, who has a Gandhi letter written to Abdul Bari, the Jamial Ulema-e-Hind founder. Gandhiji used to always say that it was his spectacles that had given him the vision to free India.

Well, thanks to the liquor baron, we got the spectacles back to India but Gandhiji’s vision has been lost, it seems somewhere in the buying and selling. Interestingly, Gandhiji’s watch that Mallya bought home is worth nearly 5 lakh now. It cost Rs 40 when Indira Gandhi presented it to Bapu. It was a make called Zenith, now owned by the up-market accessory brand Louis Vuilton. Well, a watch that the Mahatma wore is priceless as well as timeless. This same watch was stolen once and found after his appeal in “The Harijan” newspaper.
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