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EDITORIALS

Publish history of wars
RTI ruling on Brooks report flawed
I
f India has to learn from the wars it has fought, it has to publish the history of these wars so that policy makers, military commanders and diplomats alike can guard against committing previous mistakes again. Till date, India has only declassified the 1947-48 Kashmir war history and the Kargil Review Committee Report.

Capt Kanwaljit Singh
A gentleman, even in politics
C
redit it to his stint in the Army or to his personal values, but Capt Kanwaljit Singh, the Punjab Cooperation Minister who died in a road accident on Sunday, always stood out as a gentleman among the politicians of Punjab. Given the level of mud-slinging and name-calling prevalent among Punjab’s leaders of today, that is saying a lot.



EARLIER STORIES



Poor healthcare in villages
Compulsory rural posting for doctors is welcome
I
ndia has made tremendous advancement in the area of healthcare for the past few years. However, it is equally true that the benefits of medical advancement have not reached rural India. Thus, the Health Ministry’s move making rural posting compulsory for the doctors seeking admission to postgraduate courses is appreciable.

ARTICLE

The Obama strategy
Pakistan Army put on notice
by K. Subrahmanyam
I
n India President Barark Obama’s speech has been received with mixed reaction. Most people look at it as an incremental tightening up of the Bush policy and, therefore, unlikely to yield significant results.That is a misreading.

MIDDLE

A vintage memory
by Mukund B. Kunte
C
ome early Spring and lovers of vintage cars look forward to the Capital’s rallies of vintage and classic cars. It is a hardy annual, the Statesman Car Rally, for example, — a pilgrimage for the loving owners of old cars to look at the beauties which are carefully preserved for the big day.

OPED

India Votes
Politics of vendetta
Personal animosity runs deep in the states
by Kamlendra Kanwar
I
t is a bane of our brand of politics that in recent years vindictiveness and spirit of vendetta have crept into it in a big way and witch hunting is the order of the day in many states. The campaigning for the impending general election has barely begun and by all indications there will be verbal missiles galore, but there is no dearth of examples from the past of politicians hitting their rivals below the belt.

Pakistanis seek stability
by Mark Magnier
T
he Obama administration’s new strategy for Pakistan includes a pledge to triple the money spent on economic development for the shaky country. But some Pakistanis question the effectiveness of pouring more money into a leaky economy without fundamental reform.

Delhi Durbar
The safest animal
The courtroom of the Chief Justice of India burst into laughter on Friday when senior counsel Ashok Desai, appearing for the Election Commission, remarked in exasperation that no animal other than the elephant was safe, if allotted as a symbol to candidates.

  • Psephologist in BJP

  • Congress manifesto


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EDITORIALS

Publish history of wars
RTI ruling on Brooks report flawed

If India has to learn from the wars it has fought, it has to publish the history of these wars so that policy makers, military commanders and diplomats alike can guard against committing previous mistakes again. Till date, India has only declassified the 1947-48 Kashmir war history and the Kargil Review Committee Report. The history of the 1962 war with China and the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan is being kept in the closet along with the Henderson-Brooks report on the conduct of the India-China war. Only recently, the Central Chief Information Commissioner sided with the government to prevent the release of the Henderson-Brooks report under the Right to Information Act.

Much of the published literature on India’s wars is sketchy and evokes controversies and claims, some of which are difficult to evaluate. In the process, the government has unwittingly given a free hand to the Chinese and the Pakistanis (and also Western authors) to propagate their versions. The world’s largest democracy with the third largest military force which seeks to become a global player continues to keep its war history, including the almost half-century old Henderson-Brooks inquiry report on the 1962 Sino-Indian war, under wraps, denying itself the benefit of learning from history. This is notwithstanding a categorical recommendation for declassifying the history of all wars by a specially constituted committee headed by Mr N.N. Vohra. The committee was specially tasked by the government to examine the diaries of all wars India has had to fight after Independence.

Objections can always be raised to making war history public, but there are tremendous advantages of letting the people know where things went wrong and where India did well in the battlefield to make them feel proud of their armed forces. It is imperative that India learns from past omissions and commissions. Else, India would be making another mistake.

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Capt Kanwaljit Singh
A gentleman, even in politics

Credit it to his stint in the Army or to his personal values, but Capt Kanwaljit Singh, the Punjab Cooperation Minister who died in a road accident on Sunday, always stood out as a gentleman among the politicians of Punjab. Given the level of mud-slinging and name-calling prevalent among Punjab’s leaders of today, that is saying a lot. It was thanks to his sobriety and statesmanlike qualities that even his rivals had only good things to say about him, even when he was alive. Now that he is gone, his sterling qualities would presumably be appreciated and remembered more. Despite being a gentleman, he had the courage of conviction and always spoke his mind, though in polite undertones. Perhaps it was this restraint that helped him get elected to the Assembly four times, including in 2002 when his own party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, was routed in elections. His strength was that despite his modern outlook and education, he could connect with the people at the grassroots level effortlessly.

The death of this moderate leader would be a loss for the state as well as the Akali Dal. His experience as two times Finance Minister and as head of various empowered committees on social and economic issues has been snatched away in one severe blow.

Although there is no evidence to suggest any foul play in the accident, there can always be suspicion — often unwarranted — in some minds whenever such unexpected events take place involving a VIP. The state government has on its own asked the Commissioner, Patiala division, to hold an inquiry into the accident. Still, the fact remains that as eminent persons as former President Giani Zail Singh, Capt Kanwaljit Singh and many more have lost their lives on the road. That shows how chaotic our traffic is. It is necessary to apply correctives so that the loss of lives on the road can be checked.

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Poor healthcare in villages
Compulsory rural posting for doctors is welcome

India has made tremendous advancement in the area of healthcare for the past few years. However, it is equally true that the benefits of medical advancement have not reached rural India. Thus, the Health Ministry’s move making rural posting compulsory for the doctors seeking admission to postgraduate courses is appreciable. In fact, this is the need of the hour. The health sector in rural India is languishing. One of the reasons why the government’s ambitious National Rural Health Mission has not been successful is the unavailability of an adequate number of doctors.

The number of Primary Health Centres and Community Health Centres, the corner-stone of the rural health delivery mechanism, has gone up from 725 in 1951 to 1,68,986 in 2004. But the growth in the number of doctors and the increasing doctor-patient ratio has largely remained city-centric. In fact, the primary as well as community rural healthcare centres not only face the shortage of doctors but also technicians, laboratory assistants and other kinds of medical staff. People in the rural areas mostly depend on medical practitioners with dubious qualifications. According to the Chronic Care Foundation, merely 34 per cent of the rural population has access to diagnostic centres for chronic ailments. Therefore, it is not surprising if most of the health parameters in rural India are below the desired level.

The government, which set up the National Rural Health Mission in 2005, appears to be earnest in its endeavour to improve the healthcare facilities in rural India. In the interim budget, a lion’s share has been given for the purpose. While the mandatory postings may reduce the doctor-patient gap, the government must realise that doctors can perform only if the necessary infrastructure is in place. An overhaul of the medical services in the rural areas is essential. Inadequate infrastructure, shortage of medicines and increasing absenteeism among the medical staff are the ills that need to be addressed immediately. As India is fast emerging as an international player in medicine, its citizens, especially those in the rural areas, have every right to get quality healthcare.

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Thought for the Day

As a white candle/In a holy place,/So is the beauty/Of an old face. — Joseph Campbell

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Corrections and clarifications

n The front page report “ Allies leave Congress in the lurch” on March 27 ended abruptly and the last part of the report got dropped inadvertently. The error is regretted.

n Some readers have pointed out that the headline of the front page report on March 28, “ US offers Pak cheque on terror” was misleading because the report spoke of Obama not giving a blank cheque to Pakistan and the US aid had been made conditional. The headline, however, was in reference to the whopping US aid worth 7,500 crore Indian rupees every year that Obama pledged to Pakistan over the next five years.

n On March 28, in a photo caption on page 9 of Chandigarh Tribune , the word “ artistes” has been mis-spelt .

n In the report “ PMK quits UPA” ( March 27, back page) it should be meted out, not meted by the DMK.

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Uttam Sengupta, Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is uttamsengupta@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua
Editor-in-Chief

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ARTICLE

The Obama strategy
Pakistan Army put on notice
by K. Subrahmanyam

In India President Barark Obama’s speech has been received with mixed reaction. Most people look at it as an incremental tightening up of the Bush policy and, therefore, unlikely to yield significant results.That is a misreading.

Ever since 9/11 there has been a lot of confusion about the war on “terrorism”. It has been pointed out by many that terrorism is a strategy and not an entity or ideology against whom war could be waged. A section of extremist Islamic cultists misinterpreted it to project the campaign of the US and its allies as war against Islam.

Now President Obama in his speech of March 27, introducing his new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has brought clarity to the issue and declared that the war is against Al-Qaeda and its allies.They are, according to him, an international security challenge of the highest order. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European or African city it is likely to have ties to the Al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan.

The safety of the people around the world is at stake.Al-Qaeda and its allies have killed thousands of people in many countries. Most of the blood on their hands is the blood of Muslims whom Al-Qaeda has killed and maimed in a far greater number than any other people.That is the future that Al-Qaeda is offering to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan — a future without opportunity or hope, a future without justice or peace.

Having identified the enemy in concrete terms, President Obama wants the American people to understand that they have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and prevent their return to either country in the future.This declaration has to be understood in all its implications. He is not referring to Pakistan as a front-line state and an ally in the war against terrorism.Those were myths generated by General Musharraf and swallowed lock, stock and barrel by Mr Colin Powell, Mr Richard Armitage,Mr Don Rumsfeld and others of the Bush Administration.

President Obama refers to Pakistan as under partial occupation of Al-Qaeda and in danger of being overrun by it and its allies. He totally rejects General Musharraf’s myths of the last seven years and says, “The situation is increasingly perilous. It has been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power,yet war rages on and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Attacks against our troops,our NATO allies and the Afghan government have risen steadily. Most painfully 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces.”

Totally dismissing General Musharraf’s bluff that Osama bin Laden was not in Pakistan, Presdent Obama says, “Let me be clear: Al-Qaeda and its allies who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. For the American people this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.” Again indicating that he does not approve of General Musharraf, he says, “(The Pakistani people) have struggled against long odds to sustain their democracy”. He adds that security for Pakistan can only come with the rule of law.

Perhaps as a warning for the future, he has pointed out that “To avoid the mistakes of the past, we must make it clear that our relationship with Pakistan is grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people.” No more unconditional support to the Pakistani Army and its chief.

Again drawing lessons from the past mistakes he has asserted, “That is why we must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists. And after years of mixed results we will not provide a blank cheque. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al-Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.” This issue has been more categorically asserted in the White Paper of’ the Inter-Agency Policy Group’s report on the US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, issued along with the President’s speech.

It asserts, “Increased assistance to Pakistan will be limited without greater willingness to cooperate with us to eliminate the sanctuary enjoyed by Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, as well as a greater commitment to economic reforms that will raise the living standards of ordinary Pakistanis, including in the border regions of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan.”

There is an implied warning to Pakistan on the kind of military aid it will get as well as its quantum. President Obama had made no secret of the fact that past military aid received by Pakistan had been misused by it to equip itself largely to fight war against India.

If the Pakistani Army would collaborate with the US and NATO plan to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its allies on Pakistani soil sincerely, then the US will help Pakistan to whether the economic crisis, will work with the IMF, the world Bank and other international partners like the Friends of Pakistan.

Besides these, the Kerry - Lugar legislation will provide the Pakistani people $ 1.5 billion every year for the next five years, resources that will build schools, roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistani democracy. In addition, there will be aid to create opportunity zones in the border region to develop the economy and bring hope to the places plagued by violence. President Obama has given a clear warning to Pakistan. If Pakistan does not collaborate then, he says, “Make no mistake: Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within.”

President Obama has totally repudiated the Bush- Musharraf strategy and has focused attention on Pakistan as a likely victim of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and has put the Pakistan Army on notice that it should now sincerely fight against extremists or face economic ruin.

Given its last seven years of success in taking the US for a ride, one should expect the Pakistan Army to try various tricks to evade fighting the extremists. But this time, as the US and NATO initiate their campaign in the spring in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army will find it difficult to indulge in its evasion.Even attempting to raise tension with India to avoid fighting against the extremists has been tried out in November during the Mumbai terrorist attack, and the Americans are now wiser.

By creating a contact group involving the US, NATO, Russia, China, India, Iran, Central Asian republics and the Gulf states to focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the US and the NATO are attempting to quarantine Pakistan and Afghanistan as terrorism-infected countries needing urgent international treatment. President Obama has unvield a new strategy of isolating Pakistan and it is not a continuation of the Bush strategy.

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MIDDLE

A vintage memory
by Mukund B. Kunte

Come early Spring and lovers of vintage cars look forward to the Capital’s rallies of vintage and classic cars. It is a hardy annual, the Statesman Car Rally, for example, — a pilgrimage for the loving owners of old cars to look at the beauties which are carefully preserved for the big day.

In the 1980s, I had taken part in a friend’s Adler Cabriolet of 1935 vintage. At the cocktail party in Mr C.R. Irani’s Tughlak Road bungalow everyone agreed that German cars were a rarity for the event. Our Adler went on to win the prize for coming from the farthest point of travel: Nagpur.

My friend and owner of that German car, a bachelor “Dada” Adhikari, was overwhelmed because the front page of The Statesman carried a photograph of him with his dear possession. He went on to become an instant celebrity in the Orange City!

I too once had a vintage sports car in Delhi in 1961 — a 1947 MG TC. I did not enter it for any rally because there were none then but I have a vintage story to tell.

I was at the time Flag Lieutenant (Aide-de-Camp) to the Naval Chief. One mid-morning, the Defence Minister rang up on the RAX because he wanted to see the Admiral at short notice.

The CNS’s official car was not immediately at hand. So I drove Admiral Katari in my open car as we went bowling along the sunken road of Rashtrapati Bhavan, Dalhousie Road passing I.N.S. India, then South Avenue, and finally past Teen Murti House where Pandit Nehru was in residence and into the gate of No 19 Teen Murti Road.

Those were not the days of security concerns and Mr Krishna Menon was patiently waiting in the verandah of his bungalow. Famous for his sang-froid, VKKM did not show the least bit of surprise on seeing one of his Service Chiefs emerging from the “old jalopy”.

I now own a convertible 1961 Standard Herald. Thanks to Steve Preston, a former colleague from my Royal Naval College days in Dartmouth, I acquired an old frame of a Triumph Herald from the UK. The rest was easy with Qadir’s Garage in Malviya Nagar fixing it all up, making our possession the only one of its kind “East of Suez”.

But let me get back to my very own MG. I had bought it in 1958 from the Raja of Daspalla in Vizag for Rs 4500 and had to sadly part with it in 1963 for Rs 5200 when we were expecting our first child and because in that condition my wife could not easily negotiate the long reach of the clutch and brake pedals.

In order to dispose of my dear car, when I put in an ad in a national newspaper saying, “owner of an MG, after years of delightful driving, offers it reluctantly for sale because of a ‘nagging wife’,” the Editor returned my ad for deletion of the last two offending words!

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OPED

India Votes
Politics of vendetta
Personal animosity runs deep in the states
by Kamlendra Kanwar

It is a bane of our brand of politics that in recent years vindictiveness and spirit of vendetta have crept into it in a big way and witch hunting is the order of the day in many states. The campaigning for the impending general election has barely begun and by all indications there will be verbal missiles galore, but there is no dearth of examples from the past of politicians hitting their rivals below the belt.

The most potent examples of this are the Karunanidhi-Jayalalithaa acrimony and hate in Tamil Nadu, the ever-escalating spat between Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav in U.P. and the Badal-Amarinder battle-royal in Punjab. In all these cases, political rivalry has graduated to personal animosity.

The bad blood between Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi and his predecessor and now Opposition leader  Jayalalithaa runs so deep that the two have not been known to share a public platform for years.

When Karunanidhi was in power during his earlier term, he had Jayalalithaa jailed in a case. The mercurial Jayalalithaa paid him back in the same coin when she came to power. A couple of years ago, the aging Karunanidhi broke down in the State Assembly lamenting what politics had come to and how full of malice Jayalalithaa had been. Typically, however, he failed to acknowledge that he had been equally responsible for the state of affairs.

Jayalalithaa’s pathological dislike of Karunanidhi goes back to MGR’s last years when she was MGR’s protégé. It got exacerbated when there was an ugly incident in the State Assembly in the early 1990s when some DMK members surrounded her and as she claimed to media, tried to ‘disrobe her’. A livid Jayalalithaa then swore publicly that she would enter the assembly only when she became chief minister.

During Jayalalithaa’s latest term as chief minister, Karunanidhi entered the assembly only to sign the register to escape disqualification once every six months and did not participate in assembly proceedings.

There is a tale that does the rounds in Chennai that during the times of M.G. Ramachandran in the 1980s, when a big moneybag went to offer something under the table to the wily Dravidian leader, he used to first instruct him to go to the Leader of the Opposition to give him a share and silence him. This was before relations between the two soured never to be the same again.

Likewise, Mohanlal Sukhadia, who rode like a colossus on the Rajasthan political stage, ruling the state for term after term, was known to keep his Opposition leader in constant good humour through var ous means.

In fact, it was usual for chief ministers to meet and fraternise with their rivals at social functions. They fought bitter battles in the assembly but at least kept up a show of camaraderie in public. The situation today is hugely transformed.

In 2007, when U.P. went to the polls, the irrepressible BSP chief Mayawati went around saying at election rallies that she would jail Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav if she came to power.

Countering Mayawati’s persistent use of ‘Kans’ metaphor for Mulayam Singh while campaigning (a reference to Lord Krishna’s maternal uncle whose ruthlessness and perfidy are legendary) SP general secretary and Mulayam’s hatchetman Amar Singh termed the former as ‘Rajniti ki Pootna’ (Pootna was a demonic woman who Krishna killed).

Addressing an election meeting he observed that the BSP chief was ‘’rajniti ki Pootna,’’ since she was repeatedly talking about sending Mulayam to jail. ‘’Same way as Lord Krishna, who was born in a jail, killed Pootna, Mr Yadav also a ‘Yaduvanshi’, will execute this ‘Rajniti ki Pootna’,’’ he asserted.

In the mid 1990s Mulayam and Mayawati shared power for a brief while and all seemed well between them on the surface. But the daggers were drawn after the infamous State guest house incident where SP workers kept her locked in the room for hours as they laid siege to the guest house to express their anger against her.

Not one to be browbeaten or bullied, Mayawati never forgave Mulayam for the incident and to this day sees it as an attempt by him to finish her physically.

When she came to power in 2003 in her third brief stint as chief minister, Mayawati slapped 140 cases on the SP and on Mulayam in 40 districts for the alleged misuse of the CM’s Discretionary Fund at the time he headed the government in 1995-96.

Mulayam had his revenge when Mayawati was forced to quit in four months in the wake of the Taj heritage corridor controversy. Behind the scenes, Mulayam had been working overtime to bring about Mayawati’s downfall in league with the BJP which was then in coalition with her.

Today, the two U.P. heavyweights continue to be at each other’s throat as they go into battle for the Lok Sabha. Another classic case of political vendetta is the Parkash Singh Badal-Amarinder Singh battle in Punjab.

When the Badal government returned to power two years ago, one of the first measures that it took was to slap cases on former chief minister Amrinder Singh of the Congress. Five years earlier, when the then vanquished Akalis had been forced to pass on power to the Congress, they had to pay through the nose, with a plethora of cases being filed against Akali leader Prakash Singh Badal and his son. All through the Amarinder era, Badal was harassed and hounded. Now, it is his turn to turn the tables on his predecessor.

The fact of the matter is that whether it is Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa, Mayawati or Mulayam, Amarinder or Badal, politicians in high positions are seldom above board. Invariably, they have skeletons in their cupboards which show up when their rival is in power. Once they return to power, all the misdemeanors are buried under the carpet, the police under the new dispensation is forced to soft-pedal the cases against them and either the old files against their predecessor are re-opened or fresh ones are created.

It is indeed time that some sanity be restored to Indian politics. By all means predecessor regimes must be held accountable for their corrupt deals and other wrongdoing, but action against them must be dictated by propriety and not by a spirit of vindictiveness and malice. Besides, it is equally important that the incumbent government must prove itself to be above board and not indulge in the same wrongs for which it is putting functionaries of the earlier regimes in the dock.

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Pakistanis seek stability
by Mark Magnier

The Obama administration’s new strategy for Pakistan includes a pledge to triple the money spent on economic development for the shaky country. But some Pakistanis question the effectiveness of pouring more money into a leaky economy without fundamental reform.

“Pakistan got a lot of loans from the World Bank and (the International Monetary Fund) already, but it’s all been wasted (by corrupt or inept officials),” fabric store owner Akhlaq Abbas said, scratching his grizzly chin. “Donors should be careful giving money to Pakistan. Proper use is not happening.”

The aid, however, keeps flowing. The World Bank announcing last week it would pour an additional $500 million into Pakistan. The Obama administration plan, if approved, would provide $1.5 billion in nonmilitary aid over five years to the country.

Abbas, 61, said Pakistan has seen many billions of dollars flow in from foreign aid organizations over the past decade, yet there’s little to show for it, he said, other than “huge debts, constant power cuts and, every few months, more price increases.”

Abbas said his life is getting tougher every day. “I’ve now resorted to living off the savings I’ve accumulated over the past six decades,” he said. Customers who used to come in droves to buy luxurious fabrics for curtains and slipcovers now only buy the inexpensive cloth they absolutely need.

Added an economist with the Quaid-i-Azam University who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the foreign media: “Rather than taking more loans, we should cut nonessential costs, like ministers’ salaries.”

In recent months, inflation has exceeded 20 percent, while onion prices have risen 253 percent since July 2008 and sugar has risen 66 percent. Even worse for some is the uneven nature of the rise.

Umair Qureshi, an Islamabad butcher, guarded his cash box from atop a 4-foot platform as an assistant nearby waved away flies trying to land on two dozen goat heads.

Even as his costs have doubled to $57 per goat from $38 a few months back, he said, the law forbids him from raising prices as policymakers try to stem social unrest. The result: His profit margins have been sliced and his sales halved, leaving his family with barely enough to survive. “Things really aren’t going well,” he said with a sigh.

People offer different explanations for why things are so bad. Some blame policies that result in goods being exported rather than distributed among struggling Pakistanis.

Others point the finger at the rich and the corrupt who they say send their money and families overseas when times are tough while poor people are left trying to make an honest rupee.

Attacks and suicide bombings by militants put a further chill on economic activity, discouraging civilians from appearing in public. On Friday, at least 48 people were killed near the Afghan border after a suicide bomber attacked a mosque.

Mian Azhar Saeed, a real estate salesman in Lahore, whose office was shot up during an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team early this month, said he used to go out on Saturday nights to cafes to chat with friends, enjoy a walk and shop with his wife. Now he scurries between work and home, hunkered down, afraid to spend. Extend that across Pakistan, he said, and you can see why people are hurting.

Arif Raj Saraj, 41, who manages a restaurant in the city of Lahore with an American cowboy theme, said he’s worried about the dearth of customers and its potential to become a target. “I’ve got 40 people working for me, all of whom need to earn a living,” he said. “I’m trying to pray for Pakistan and my people.”

The constant churn in recent months has left some people longing for the return of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the authoritarian strongman who remained in power for eight years after staging a bloodless coup in 1999.

“I hope he comes back,” said Mujeeb Zahur, general manager of Touchstone, a call center in Islamabad. “No matter who or what he did in other areas, he seemed to do things for us that made sense.” Unlike the current leadership, some people said, Musharraf appreciated business, allocated jobs on merit and presided over a less tumultuous period.

Not everyone is suffering. Because the Pakistani economy is relatively closed, its banks heavily regulated and key industries closely controlled, it has been less vulnerable than other countries to the sub-prime meltdown and other problems.

“Since it never did that well to begin with, there was less room to fall,” Zahur said. “And there are still a lot of families with money. Many industries like sugar and flour mills with government guarantees are still in a good position.”

Faisal Subhani, 45, the owner of an electronics shop in Islamabad, said lower electronics prices have bolstered his sales, with TVs, microwaves and DVD players all selling well.

“People still need things,” he said.

As he spoke, a 30-year-old homemaker who gave only her first name, Nasim, walked out of his shop with a new flat-screen TV. “The overall economy isn’t great,” she said, “but we’re buying because we still have to live on this planet.”

But that seemed to be a minority view. “Our politicians only think of their own interests,” Saeed said. “We really need some economic and political stability.”

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Delhi Durbar
The safest animal

The courtroom of the Chief Justice of India burst into laughter on Friday when senior counsel Ashok Desai, appearing for the Election Commission, remarked in exasperation that no animal other than the elephant was safe, if allotted as a symbol to candidates.

Precisely for this reason, the EC was unable to enlarge the list of 54 free symbols, meant for independents and candidates of registered, but unrecognised political parties.

If a parrot or any other small bird was allotted to a particular candidate, his opponents in the fray tortured and killed the hapless creature in order to prove their point — the candidate would also bite the dust at the hustings the same way.

The problem did not pertain only to the prevention of cruelty to animals. There were over 1,000 unrecognised parties whose nominees had to be allotted symbols. Further, the number of candidates in some constituencies was well over 54. This placed the EC in a difficult situation, he reasoned.

But one failed to understand why he exempted only the elephant, the huge but harmless animal. Why not the lion or the tiger? Perhaps, he felt that these animals could fall prey only to poachers, not to vote-mongers!

Psephologist in BJP

There was a general look of amazement among BJP old-timers when one-time psephologist G V L Narasimha Rao was welcomed into the party by its prime ministerial candidate, L K Advani, as a member of his think tank. This was because though Rao has been in the business of poll predictions for long, he has rarely ever proved to be correct in the end.

Recently ‘Lead India’ campaign manager R K Misra too joined the party in the presence of Arun Jaitley. It is no secret that Jaitley has been going around addressing ‘Friends of BJP’ all over the country, in the hope of garnering votes for his leader. Soon after joining the BJP, Narasimha Rao made a sweeping prediction that the next government at the Centre will be led by Advani, pleasing the BJP Iron Man’s camp no end.

But the old-timer wonder how such predictions and surveys would help the party garner votes. As for the ‘Lead India’ and ‘Friends of BJP’ campaigns, the upwardly mobile urban population is any way inclined towards the BJP.

Congress manifesto

The release of the Congress manifesto by party president Sonia Gandhi last week was quite an interesting affair. First, the main gate of the AICC headquarter was closed as soon as Sonia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived for the function.

Armed with orders, the guards were not bothered about repeated pleas by senior journalists to let them in. Little would they care about the argument that the journalists had to park their vehicles about half a km away from the party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road, because of traffic curbs.

Finally, an AICC functionary intervened and the journos were allowed in. At the manifesto release function, an AICC general secretary obliged the media personnel only from major newspapers or television news channels to ask questions while those from the vernacular press were not that lucky.

And no sooner did the function conclude than the journalists ran towards the ‘shamiana’ erected for lunch and jostled with one another to grab a plate. ‘’Doesn’t it look like a relief camp for flood-affected people?’’ one waiter was overheard whispering in his colleague’s ears.

Contributed by R Sedhuraman, Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja

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