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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Not by violence
States must step up security for polls
EVEN though all is set for the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections beginning tomorrow, reports of violence and group clashes from some states are disturbing. The death of Bahadur Sonkar, the Indian Justice Party candidate for the Jaunpur Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh, is mysterious. His body was found hanging from a tree at Jaunpur.

Battle for Bihar
Lalu on a weak wicket on home turf
IS there a hint of desperation in the brave front put up by Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav ? The Fourth Front, he bragged, would decide who the next Prime Minister of the country would be. But he seems to be in deep trouble in his own backyard. His old friend-turned-political foe Mr Nitish Kumar appears to have stolen a march on him by ensuring that politicians do not meddle in administration and by speeding up trials and dispensation of justice.


EARLIER STORIES

Heed the EC
April
14, 2009
Criminal cases on the rise
April
13, 2009
Filmstars and elections
April
12, 2009
Belated, but right
April
11, 2009
Fighting Taliban
April
10, 2009
Abuse of language
April
9, 2009
ULFA at it again
April
8, 2009
Only votes matter
April
7, 2009
Back to Hindutva, softly
April
6, 2009
State has to protect its police
April
5, 2009
A trillion is not enough
April
4, 2009
Cash for votes
April
3, 2009


Satyam Mark II
New promoters have challenges to meet
AFTER all, the doomsday forecasts about the fate of Satyam Computers in the aftermath of the detection of huge fraud by the Rajus, the smooth acquisition of the company by Tech Mahindra through a bidding process should come as a major relief to its shareholders and its 48,000 employees. 
ARTICLE

Poll patterns
Advani’s gimmicks show desperation
by O.P. Sabherwal
THERE is many a slip between the cup and the lip – this adage very much applies to the multiple alliances in the making and breaking during the ongoing parliamentary electoral build-up. With the following result: The pattern that Election-2009 is spinning is distinct from the traditional two-front or even three-front pattern. What emerges may be a mixture of both.

MIDDLE

The mysterious bonds
by B. K. Karkra
THE officers of the armed forces are in a very unworldly sort of relationship with their men. The exact contours of this bond are impossible to explain. Often it appears that there is a distance of a few light years between them. Then, suddenly you find that they are the closest kin.

OPED

Impact of recession
It is boon for some, bane for others
by V.K. Mahajan
THE year 2008 opened with the looming fear of a recession in the US economy and by the end of the year it had full blast recession. Other developed countries, including Japan, Euro countries, China and Russia, are also under conditions of a severe recession.

US eases sanctions against Cuba
by Michael D. Shear and Cecilia Kang
President Obama Monday announced a series of steps aimed at easing the U.S. relationship with Cuba, breaking from policies first imposed by the Kennedy administration and stepping into an emotional debate over the best way to bring democratic change to one of the last remaining communist regimes.

Inside Pakistan
Ceding territory to Taliban
by Syed Nooruzzaman
The Nizam-e-Adl Regulation has been signed by President Asif Zardari “for furthering the objective of peace in the Swat valley”, as Business Recorder has commented. This has come about after the Pakistan National Assembly passed a resolution supporting the deal with Sufi Mohammad of Swat for implementing Shariah in Malakand division.


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Not by violence
States must step up security for polls

Even though all is set for the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections beginning tomorrow, reports of violence and group clashes from some states are disturbing. The death of Bahadur Sonkar, the Indian Justice Party candidate for the Jaunpur Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh, is mysterious. His body was found hanging from a tree at Jaunpur.

At Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, unidentified assailants shot dead Congress MLA Makhan Lal Jatav at close range. Reports of violence have also come from Godda in Jharkhand and Bhadoli near Allahabad. Political parties have also started indulging in the blame game. Equally upsetting is the recrudescence of violence by the Naxalites. Taking advantage of the state police’s deployment on election duty, they are indulging in mayhem. 

In Orissa’s Damanjodi in Koraput district, 11 CISF jawans were killed in the Nalco mine attack on Sunday. In the neighbouring Malkangiri, they killed Samruddha Odisha candidate Somnath Madkami. In the wee hours of Tuesday, they blew up a school polling centre and set ablaze the JD (U) candidate’s campaign vehicle in Gaya, Bihar.

Undoubtedly, these incidents are a grim reminder of the increasing criminalisation of politics. Over the years, the nexus between politicians, criminals and mafia dons has increased considerably and little has been done to break it. 

Surely, when the criminals themselves are contesting the elections or supporting their candidates with money and muscle power, it is bound to vitiate the system. Unfortunately, all political parties have given tickets to criminals this time although their numbers vary. In the outgoing Lok Sabha, at least 40 members have a criminal record.

The growing clout of criminals in Parliament and state legislatures is bound to have a pernicious influence in the elections and the political system as a whole. The next government at the Centre should implement the Election Commission’s proposals on checking the criminals’ entry into Parliament. In the meanwhile, the state governments should take firm and effective steps to check violence. 

The Election Commission is conducting a five-phase poll from April 16 to help the Centre provide adequate paramilitary personnel in all the states. The states have no reason to complain. They must do everything possible to ensure peaceful and orderly elections.

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Battle for Bihar
Lalu on a weak wicket on home turf

Is there a hint of desperation in the brave front put up by Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav ? The Fourth Front, he bragged, would decide who the next Prime Minister of the country would be. But he seems to be in deep trouble in his own backyard. His old friend-turned-political foe Mr Nitish Kumar appears to have stolen a march on him by ensuring that politicians do not meddle in administration and by speeding up trials and dispensation of justice.

Bihar may still have a long way to go before it catches up with the rest of the country. But by providing a non-partisan administration, Nitish Kumar has raised hopes where there was none before. What is more, the Chief Minister has deliberately kept the Bharatiya Janata Party at a distance.

By making it clear that Mr Narendra Modi is not welcome to campaign in Bihar and by categorically speaking out against the communal speeches of Mr Varun Gandhi, Mr Nitish Kumar has sought to establish his secular credentials. He is also credited with his own brand of ‘social engineering’ and with the creation of a new coalition of Extremely Backward Castes, poorer of the Dalits and minorities among others. It appears Mr Lalu Yadav is fighting with his back to the wall.

This is the first election in twenty years when either Lalu or his party is not in power in the state. Having led the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress-Lok Janshakti Party alliance to win 29 of the 40 seats in 2004, he is finding it difficult to retain at least the 22 seats that the RJD had won last time. 

This is turn will diminish his bargaining power after the election, let alone allow him to play the king-maker. There are several indications that the going is getting tough for him. The frontal attack on Lalu’s record of governance by Mrs Sonia Gandhi , of all people, might be deemed by him as the unkindest cut. But the time and energy that he is being forced to put in to defend his home turf of Chapra is also an indication of which way the wind is blowing.

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Satyam Mark II
New promoters have challenges to meet

After all, the doomsday forecasts about the fate of Satyam Computers in the aftermath of the detection of huge fraud by the Rajus, the smooth acquisition of the company by Tech Mahindra through a bidding process should come as a major relief to its shareholders and its 48,000 employees.

This is one case where the Union Government deserves some credit for having swiftly appointed a new board composed of noted and highly respected professionals, with a clear mandate to find a new buyer for the beleaguered IT company. 

That the Manmohan Singh government resisted the temptation to nationalise the fraud-hit company and chose to put its faith in the private sector for extricating it from the mess into which the company’s founder, Ramalinga Raju, had thrown it, is a sign of the inherent strength of the country to deal with a complex corporate scandal.

For the House of Mahindras, known for its focus on automobiles and telecommunications, this is a huge challenge because at one stroke Tech Mahindra has risen to the position of number four in the country’s information technology sector in terms of revenues and headcount. Tech Mahindra Chairman Anand Mahindra indeed has his task cut out. 

He will have to ensure a well-thought-out integration of Tech Mahindra and Satyam, lift sagging employee morale, win back investor confidence, attract top talent and handle the financial implications of the buyout in a market that is caught in an economic slowdown. While at present most of Tech Mahindra’s revenues come from Europe, Satyam mostly gets billed in dollars. This will in itself entail fresh confidence-building in markets to which Tech Mahindra has had no exposure or expertise.

It now devolves on the judicial process to bring the erstwhile promoters to justice speedily and effectively. The pace at which the case is proceeding is hardly reassuring. The trial of Ramalinga Raju and others involved in the fraud must be put on the fast track so that the guilty are given exemplary punishment. Also, the scam-tainted company’s balance sheet has to be cleaned up and investor confidence fully restored.

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Thought for the Day

There are only two families in the world, as a grandmother of mine used to say: the haves and the have-nots. — Cervantes

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Poll patterns
Advani’s gimmicks show desperation
by O.P. Sabherwal

There is many a slip between the cup and the lip – this adage very much applies to the multiple alliances in the making and breaking during the ongoing parliamentary electoral build-up. With the following result: The pattern that Election-2009 is spinning is distinct from the traditional two-front or even three-front pattern. What emerges may be a mixture of both.

The Indian electorate has an uncanny wisdom, throwing up surprises in every parliamentary general election. The last elections in 2004 certainly resulted in one of the biggest upset wins for the Congress – a victory when it was down and out, and a mandate to rule. What kind of a surprise will Election-2009 throw up?

The answer calls for a close look at the basics of the Indian political scene. Over the five odd decades of shaping of India’s polity, a tussle of a sort —now hidden, now open — has been on for power sharing between what is termed as all-India or national parties and those known as regional or state-level parties. 

This, in a way, is a reflection of the fundamental issue of the character of Indian federalism. That is the extent and pattern of power-sharing between the Centre and the Indian states, akin as well as divergent on ethnic, linguistic and religious grounds. Political parties are increasingly being reshaped by the pull of this basic requisite of the Indian state.

From the towering Congress hold in the fifties of the last century there has been a progressive build-up of parallel national and regional parties. It is now generally accepted that the era of one-party rule at the Centre has given the way to a coalition age. 

The Congress remains one of the pillars of the coalition times, though it still fondly remembers its golden age of power monopoly at the Centre. Increasingly, the BJP has become the second national political party challenging the Congress power block, although the Left parties have pushed their claim to national power status, though inconsistently. The anti-secular label attached to the BJP has increasingly pushed to the fore proponents of a third front as a rival power block.

The pull and push of the build-up for the parliamentary elections initially began with bids by the Congress and the BJP to build their rival power blocks, the UPA and the NDA, into the main power centres. But the contradictions of power sharing between the regional and all-India parties have resulted in a near disintegration of the NDA and, to an extent, the UPA as well. 

The Left parties’ agility has pushed the idea of a third front into the enlarging political space, and the vacuum is being filled by an increasing number of regional parties willing to join the Left parties to try their luck in the power bid through a new front, with the Left parties acting as the fulcrum.

Between the two “national” or all-India parties, it is the BJP that has received the bigger blows and, consequently, the power block that it heads – the NDA – has virtually disintegrated, with its main constituents, the big Orissa, Andhra and West Bengal parties, deserting the saffron party for greener pastures. 

Pessimism and a sort of malaise have taken hold of the party’s top echelons, reflected in such happenings as the confrontation between party stalwart Arun Jaitley and BJP President Rajnath Singh. Another top BJP leader, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, has openly given vent to this state of affairs by accepting that the NDA is unlikely to win a majority in the parliamentary poll. Frustration of a sort is indicated by such doings as Mr Jaswant Singh’s doling out of cash in his son’s election campaign, risking the Election Commission’s ire.

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Mr L.K. Advani, has perhaps been the first to be gripped by this feeling of desperation, thereby resorting to gimmicks which might help retrieve the lost political space. Soon after desertion by the Patnaik Janata Dal of the NDA, Mr Advani came forward with the first gimmick — the “challenge” to Dr Manmohan Singh for a television debate such as is staged between the presidential candidates of the Republicans and Democrats in the US.

Thereby he hoped to regain the focus of being one of the two pre-eminent prime ministerial candidates, the possibly lucky choice between himself and the existing Prime Minister.

Mr Advani banked on his ability for quick responses in a public debate, and also Dr Manmohan Singh being too studious and unattractive for oratory. Mr Advani also felt that by this gimmick he would be able to advertise his main rival’s disability on health grounds.

This was a gimmick, born of desperation that the last prospect of being the Indian Prime Minister was slipping from Mr Advani’s hands. The Advani gimmick was recognised soon enough by one and all – by the fact that a big debate between the incumbent Prime Minister and Mr Advani was already on. And Dr Manmohan Singh had struck the first powerful blow by an aggressive onslaught at his Press conference jointly with Mrs Sonia Gandhi.

Dr Singh had focused on Mr Advani’s poor political record and performance while being in the government. “What has Mr Advani accomplished except presiding over the Gujarat riots, the terrorists attack on Parliament, releasing terrorists at Kandahar, and pushing the Babri Masjid’s demolition,” Dr Singh mocked. The Left parties and other non-NDA parties, too, quickly jumped at Mr Advani – there were other alternative prime ministerial candidates, one too many.

The gimmick did not work, throwing Mr Advani’s politics off balance, as is reflected by his stand on Mr Varun Gandhi’s speeches. He was quick to disassociate himself from Varun’s horrendous utterances, but he quickly returned to pick up the gains of communal polarisation. In the fast shrinking political space for the BJP, Mr Advani felt that moderation might not be the best tactic and, therefore, Mr Varun Gandhi’s extremes might pay off – just as Mr Narendra Modi’s Gujarat gambit paid handsome political dividends. So, Mr Advani has been vacillating. His latest is to compare Mr Varun Gandhi with JP or Vajpayee! What a fall?

The consequential decline of the BJP-led NDA has not meant a corresponding gain for the Congress. This is mainly because of the absence of a clear perspective – and appropriate tactics. The petulant dream of the Congress regaining its standing as a towering national party has dimmed its alliances with regional parties – with Mr Mulayam Singh’s SP in the first place and then with Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mr Ram Vilas Paswan. 

The Congress leadership hoped to stage a partial comeback in the Hindi heartland – in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But, instead, it has reaped a veritable clash with its UPA allies in these states, from which the Congress opponents may gain.

The electoral panorama is, indeed, in the melting pot. What kinds of surprises are ahead? Arithmetic will not be of much help. Only the uncanny wisdom of the Indian electorate might help this country save itself from instability, and push it towards a new, bright power equation.
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The mysterious bonds
by B. K. Karkra

The officers of the armed forces are in a very unworldly sort of relationship with their men. The exact contours of this bond are impossible to explain. Often it appears that there is a distance of a few light years between them. Then, suddenly you find that they are the closest kin.

With their bombs and vehicles, the artillery units of the army are rather bulky outfits. Our 33 Heavy Mortars Regiment, thus, maintained a big rear headquarters in the plains of Assam whereas its tactical headquarters was up in the Himalayas deployed against the Chinese. I was placed in command at the Rear Headquarters as a young Acting Captain. My logistical sub-unit was a sort of gateway to the regiment with the personnel, stores, equipment and vehicles moving up and down all the time.

Frankly speaking, nobody really relishes his seniors breathing down his neck. They are welcome only in a crisis situation where their guidance is critically needed. I, thus, enjoyed my little independent command so early in my career. This was, however, too good to last for ever. As the condition of roads in our area of operational deployment improved, it was decided to wind up our rear headquarters and merge it with the main body of the unit.

Our move involved crossing the mighty Brahmaputra from Dibrugarh to Sonarighat in a common ferry that catered to the civilian movement also. We had to do nearly 50 rounds in this ferry at the height of the monsoons. A return trip at the time involved nearly nine hours.

I once had to do two trips in a day to supervise the move of our elements. While on the second trip in the evening I felt quite weary and tired. How I wished that I could get to my camp quickly and retire to bed after a few drinks in comfort! However, we had miles to go as we were right in the middle of the river which felt like a sea.

I do not know how my men read my need. They produced a bottle of rum from nowhere, poured around three ounces in a mug and held it rather affectionately before me. When I asked them to get some water they said they had none. They even had the audacity to enquire if they could get me some from the river.

I threw a look at the thick yellow liquid flowing noisily by our sides and quietly gulped the liquor neat like a dose of bitter medicine. When they saw me grimacing, they readily produced a bottle full of water, with their tongues tucked in cheeks. So, the rogues had played a prank on me — the one whom they apparently took in so much awe.

Never mind, the lengthening shadows of the evening, the fast-flowing current and a few ounces of rum taken neat over near empty stomach soon wove their magic and I got lost in a whirlwind of ideas. It did not take me much time to realise that what appeared to be quite some distance between me and my men was, in fact, a thin exigency of command. Otherwise, we were so close in reality.

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Impact of recession
It is boon for some, bane for others
by V.K. Mahajan

The year 2008 opened with the looming fear of a recession in the US economy and by the end of the year it had full blast recession. Other developed countries, including Japan, Euro countries, China and Russia, are also under conditions of a severe recession.

As per IMF reports, the data for the fourth quarter and the early of 2009 show an even sharper contraction in output and trade than anticipated earlier. The IMF estimates have put the contraction in global GDP by extra 5 per cent at an annualised rate in the 4th quarter of 2008.

The countries under recession had injected more than $ 3 trillion by the end of 2008 in order to push their respective economies. The G-20 summit held in London on April 2 announced a package of $ 1.1 trillion for the revival of recession-hit economies.

In the present era of globalisation, no country can insulate itself from the adverse effects of economic disorders afflicting the world economy. The emerging and developing countries are slowing abruptly and many of these are also likely to register a fall in economic activities in 2009. India is no exception. India is feeling the heat of the worldwide recession, though to a limited degree.

India is not yet in the grip of a full-blown recession but recessionary trends have been set in some selected sectors of the economy such as IT, banking, stock markets, real estate, steel and cement.

In its efforts to check the meltdown impact, the government has announced three economic stimulus packages and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked for an additional assistance of $ 5.2 billion from the World Bank during the G-20 summit for the recapitalisation of public sector commercial banks and infrastructure projects.

The headlines in print and electronic media such as ‘Inflation dips to .27 per cent’; ‘20 to 40 per cent fall in real estate prices’; ‘Further cut in the CRR and repo rates by RBI’; ‘Economic stimulus announced by Union Govt. to push up the economy’ and other such news items send waves of hope and pleasure in a large segment of Indian society comprising working population, both rural and urban, falling in the middle and low income groups.

This class includes the people working in the organised as well as unorganised sectors, pensioners, manufacturers and traders and farmers. They expect an improvement in their standards of living as they feel doubly blessed. On the one hand, their incomes rise and on the other, goods and services are available at cheaper rates.

Such people look at the recession as bliss and welcome it wholeheartedly as they are the direct beneficiaries of recessionary pressures and anti-recessionary economic stops.

The various provisions of three consecutive economic packages announced on December 12, 2008; January 3, 2009 and February 24, 2009 have passed monetary benefits worth thousand crores of rupees to the people through a 4 per cent cut in cenvat, boost to labour-intensive sector, a 2 per cent cut in service tax and floating of tax-free infrastructure bonds worth Rs 40,000 crore. 

The repeated cuts in the repo rate bringing it from 9 per cent in October, 2008 to 5 per cent in March, 2009 and similar cuts in the CRR by the RBI have resulted in a spectacular fall in interest rates on bank loans, particularly on housing loans; the Sixth Pay Commission enhancing salaries and pensions significantly; the farm loan waiver; implementation of the NREG scheme; Bharat Nirman and many other such schemes have benefited the people to a great extent.

A study of the impact of anti-recessionary steps and the general election suggests that the above mentioned class of people has benefited on more than one count.

Under the impact of global recession the world’s industrial growth rate has been projected to be negative in 2009. The industrially advanced countries are going to be hit hard. As preventive measures, such countries are exploring possibilities of reverting to partial protectionism by imposing restrictions on imports.

Also the demand for Indian exports in such economies has already gone down. Such exportable items that could not find a market in foreign countries have been added to the domestic supplies. Advanced countries under a severe recession are also resorting to dumping practices and are selling their industrial products at a less-than-their-cost of production in developing economies, including India.

Though this would cast a serious blow to the already slowed down industrial development, consumers in general would benefit as they get products at significantly cheaper rates.

The prices of steel, cement, petrol, diesel, LPG, air-conditioners, refrigerators, mobile sets and services, real estate, banking loans and other services have come down. As recession has registered a telling effect on the sale of real estate, state governments have allowed the floor-wise sale and registration of dwelling units. The latest such announcement was made by the Haryana government for Panchkula on April 4, 2009.

People in middle and low income groups have welcomed this step wholeheartedly as they find the floor-wise prices within their limits. The food items have remained expensive and have not followed the fast-falling trend in headline inflation, the inflation rate of food items has registered a marginal fall.

Inflation has come down significantly but consumers have not benefited to that extent. The prices of industrial metals and intermediary goods have fallen but manufacturers, distributors and retailers are not passing the benefits to the ultimate consumers. But this phase is expected to be short-lived and ultimately benefits of a fall in the cost of production will go to consumers.

According to unofficial estimates, around Rs 10,000 crore will change hands during the general election in India scheduled from April 16 to May13. Various political parties are making tall promises in their election manifestoes regarding income-tax rebate, availability of food items at cheaper rates, creation of large employment opportunities, getting back Indian wealth stashed in Switzerland and other safe havens, which would make the Indian economy cash rich and as such there would be no need for taking stringent fiscal measures to increase public revenue and the present liquidity crisis would be tackled effectively without any resistance from the general public.

It is yet to be seen who forms the government and to what extent the new government fulfils its promises, but the fact remains that whatever steps it takes, these will benefit our marked group.

Also, it is expected that the RBI would further slash the repo, PLR and CRR rates. All these developments paint a rosy picture for people in the middle and low-income groups.

For the time being this class has stored its enhanced purchasing power for the future with expectations that the recessionary pressures would further tilt conditions in their favour.

This act of a significant segment of the consumers to defer their purchasing plans has added to the recessionary pressures in the economy which would lead to a further fall in prices and the people in the selected income groups will enjoy more benefits.

The writer is a Professor of Economics, Panjab University.

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US eases sanctions against Cuba
by Michael D. Shear and Cecilia Kang

President Obama Monday announced a series of steps aimed at easing the U.S. relationship with Cuba, breaking from policies first imposed by the Kennedy administration and stepping into an emotional debate over the best way to bring democratic change to one of the last remaining communist regimes.

White House officials said the decision to lift travel and spending restrictions on Americans with family on the island will provide new support for the opponents of Raul and Fidel Castro’s government. And they said lifting the ban on U.S. telecommunications companies reaching out to the island will flood Cuba with information while providing new opportunities for businesses.

Obama left in place the broad trade embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962. But just days before leaving to attend a summit with the leaders of South and Central America, he reversed restrictions that barred U.S. citizens from visiting their Cuban relatives more than once every three years and lifted limits on the amount of money and goods Cuban Americans can send back to their families.

He also cleared away virtually all U.S. regulations that had stopped American companies from attempting to bring their high-tech services and information to the island.

“All who embrace core democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday in announcing the new Cuba policy. “President Obama believes the measure he has taken today will help make that goal a reality.”

Under the new rules, officials say, there is likely to be an explosion of new charter flights to the island, and direct commercial flights could follow. Gifts and money will flow freely from U.S. relatives for the first time. And the announcement could open the door for the American information revolution to enter the island nation — in the form of Howard Stern on Sirius radio, iPhones and Wikipedia.

The moves were hailed by many advocates of greater openness toward the regime, including the business community, which sees new opportunities for commerce. But it was immediately criticized by those on the right and the left who said it either went too far or not far enough.

Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart brothers and Florida Republicans who are from Cuba, issued a joint statement calling the move a “serious mistake” that represents a concession to a repressive regime. They said the money flowing into Cuba would reach communist leaders, not the people.

“President Obama has violated his pledge of January 20 by unilaterally granting a concession to the dictatorship which will provide it with hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” their statement said. “Unilateral concessions to the dictatorship embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro-democracy activists.”

On the other side of the issue, Carlos Pascual, director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, praised the policy shift as a good first step that recognizes what he called 50 years of failed policy toward Cuba.

But Pascual, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States at age 3, said democratic change in the country will not come until the U.S. trade embargo is lifted. Most nations now have diplomatic relations with Cuba, leaving the United States virtually alone in its attempts to enforce the embargo.

“It isn’t enough,” said Pascual, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico. “In and of itself, it’s not going to produce a radical change in Cuba. But it’s a recognition that a change is necessary.”

White House officials cast the policy shift as the beginning of a change in direction that Obama signaled when he was a candidate. During the campaign, Obama promised to ease travel restrictions and said he was open to dialogue with the Castro regime without “preconditions.”

Gibbs said the ball is now in Cuba’s court.

There are some indications the Cuban leaders are ready to do that. Last week, a delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus visited Cuba and met face to face with Fidel Castro, spending 1 1/2 hours with him at his home.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Inside Pakistan
Ceding territory to Taliban
by Syed Nooruzzaman

The Nizam-e-Adl Regulation has been signed by President Asif Zardari “for furthering the objective of peace in the Swat valley”, as Business Recorder has commented. This has come about after the Pakistan National Assembly passed a resolution supporting the deal with Sufi Mohammad of Swat for implementing Shariah in Malakand division.

The Sufi, who heads the Tehrik-e-Nizam-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), represents the Taliban, but his image is better than the others associated with the extremist movement. Mr Zardari is reported to have finally succumbed to pressure from the ANP-led NWFP government, which had clinched the deal with the Sufi.

According to Dawn (April 14), “But what the ANP and TNSM agreed to implement in Malakand division is no ordinary change — it effectively cedes judicial control of a part of Pakistan to a band of militants who have been waging a savage war against the state.” That may be one reason why Mr Zardari delayed the implementation of the regulation. He has also been clever in involving parliament in what his government has done.

Opinion was divided in the National Assembly when the issue came up for discussion. Some members reportedly expressed the view that it was dangerous to go in for an agreement with the elements behind the flogging of the 17-year-old girl, as highlighted by the media recently.

Mr Zardari is believe to have signed the regulation primarily to save his government. The ANP had threatened to withdraw from the federal ministry if the President backed out of the commitment he had given. He, therefore, committed another blunder to justify the earlier one.

No questions on Taliban

Respected Dawn columnist Irfan Husain says, “So far, with the exception of the PPP and the MQM, most political parties have avoided taking a clear position. While they may occasionally condemn the individual atrocities (of the Taliban), they fall short of openly identifying the enemy.”

Irfan Husain adds, “One senior journalist in Islamabad told me that when reporters seek an interview with Nawaz Sharif, they must first agree not to ask direct questions about the Taliban.”

Even the military “avoids serious confrontation with the extremists. Many (Army) officers still do not see the Taliban as their enemy…. A Pakistani two-star general candidly explained the mindset of his fellow military commanders … noting that although the army is fighting the Taliban at the instructions of politicians, it also supports the militants….”, the Dawn columnist quoted Der Spiegel daily of Germany to explain how grim the situation is.

That is why many interesting slogans have been coined to depict the unfortunate development. One slogan that can be heard these days is: “Pakistan kay do shaitan, fauj and aur uskay Taliban.” 

Closer to Islamabad

With the military remaining almost a silent spectator, the Taliban of Pakistan continue to add new areas to the territory under their control. After the Swat valley, Taliban fighters last week captured Buner, a town having over five lakh population. By now they must have taken control of more areas. An editorial comment in The News (April 12) had it that “… the Taliban are (only) a step closer to Islamabad”.

This is how the paper highlighted the grim scenario: “Maps are instructive. To the south-east of Buner is Haripur, to the east Mansehra and to the west Mardan. Haripur is the next obvious move for the Taliban once they have consolidated in Buner, perhaps via a ‘peace agreement’ that effectively cedes the territory to their control. 

Haripur may be a harder nut to crack, but this has not deterred them in the past and will not in the future. Mansehra and Mardan will be ‘easy’ but Abbottabad less so. They will then control the Karakoram Highway as far north as Chilas, one of our key strategic routes and the only route to China, one of our principal allies and trading partners. 

None of this is going to happen tomorrow and the process may take several months, but the Taliban have the upper hand and know it.”

Yet the attitude of “official and non-official circles towards terrorism is generally ambiguous; they lack the much-needed unity of mind on the threat of terrorism. 

Most condemn terrorism and view it as a threat to Pakistan; however, many of them would not name a militant group for an incident or would not favour the application of tough measures against the perpetrators of terror,” as Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi says in an article in Daily Times (April 12).


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