SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI



THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Pakistan worries US
Hillary warns the world about Taliban
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is known not to mince words when she is convinced about something but her latest warning on the situation in Pakistan is clearly the strongest since the Democrats came to power. Her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday that the extremist elements in Pakistan pose a ‘mortal threat’ to the US and the world in the wake of the rapid advances by the Taliban reflects American realisation that the situation is too serious to be glossed over.

J&K shows the way
Pips UP, Bihar in poll percentage
It is a matter of satisfaction for the country that Jammu and Kashmir has recorded a poll percentage of 46 per cent, despite the all-out effort by the militants to keep the voters away from the polling booths. The performance of Udhampur-Doda, the largest parliamentary constituency of Jammu and Kashmir and the most sensitive in the Jammu division during the second phase on Thursday may not be comparable with the all-India figure of 55 per cent, but is remarkable indeed, considering that this percentage is higher than that in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have recorded only 44 per cent.






EARLIER STORIES

The electoral odyssey
April
24, 2009
Saving Tamil refugees
April
23, 2009
Eye in the sky
April
22, 2009
Threat to Kashmir voters
April
21, 2009
Aid for Pakistan
April
20, 2009
Voting for democracy
April
19, 2009
Democracy alive and well
April
18, 2009

Polls now, tie-ups later
April
17, 2009

A state within a state
April
16, 2009
Not by violence
April
15, 2009
Heed the EC
April
14, 2009


Saving the daughter
More concerted efforts are needed
Punjab may have taken immense pride in its “save the girl child” campaigns. But the recent reports prove that the state, which has the dubious distinction of having one of the worst sex ratios in the country, has hardly made any headway. The obsession for a male child leads to the abominable practice of killing the daughter before she is born. The initial findings of Lucknow based agency AMS are that the sex ratio in many districts of Punjab has dwindled further.

ARTICLE

Facing conflicts
Policy-makers short of strategic advice
by Gen V.P. Malik (retd)
T
here is an old adage that “armies tend to fight the last war”. Captain Liddle Hart had that in mind when he said, “The only thing harder than getting new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.” There are three reasons for such observations. One, the militaries — Indian armed forces not excluded — tend to be highly traditional and, therefore, conservative in their attitude and outlook.

MIDDLE

Blog on!
by Roopinder Singh
M
anpreet Badal is among a handful of politicians who knows what “cloud computing” means. He should be on cloud nine as his blog http://manpreetbadal.wordpress.com has evoked a tremendous response.

OPED

India Votes
Demeaning democracy
Elections are being fought on non-issues
by Kamlendra Kanwar
W
e pride ourselves in our democracy, citing how, all around us we have countries where basic freedoms have been trampled upon with impunity over the years while we remain steadfast as an oasis of hope. Barring the 19-month Emergency under Mrs Indira Gandhi, we have had six decades of democratic rule.

China’s influence growing
by Ariana Eunjung Cha
W
ith Jamaica’s currency in free fall, unemployment soaring and banks heavily exposed to government debt, the Caribbean island’s diplomats went into crisis mode earlier this year. They traveled to all corners of the world to seek help.

A forbidden story from Iraq
by Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed
S
ometimes, it’s the forbidden stories, the ones people are afraid to tell in full, the ones that emerge only in fragments, that reveal the truth about a place.


Top








EDITORIALS

Pakistan worries US
Hillary warns the world about Taliban

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is known not to mince words when she is convinced about something but her latest warning on the situation in Pakistan is clearly the strongest since the Democrats came to power. Her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday that the extremist elements in Pakistan pose a ‘mortal threat’ to the US and the world in the wake of the rapid advances by the Taliban reflects American realisation that the situation is too serious to be glossed over. On Friday, Ms Clinton told another Congressional committee that Pakistan’s nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan was the world’s greatest proliferator and that the damage that he has done around the world was incalculable.

Indeed, Ms Clinton made no bones about her exasperation when she told the foreign affairs panel that the Pakistan government was ‘abdicating’ power to the extremists by agreeing to Islamic law in parts of the country. By acknowledging that the advance of the Taliban to within 100 km from Islamabad had stunned the US, Mrs Clinton has endorsed the worst fears that there is a real threat to the very existence of Pakistan as a free nation.

Many western nations had expressed apprehensions when Islamabad signed a peace deal with the Taliban a few weeks ago giving a free rein to the extremists and their agents in the Swat valley and its neighbourhood but the US had been guarded in its response. Now, apparently, the Obama administration realises that it cannot downplay the threat. What has alarmed Washington more is the false sense of security in the intelligentsia in Pakistan and the lack of alarm among people at large over the threat of the country being virtually taken over by the Taliban. Clearly, the Pakistan government is groping. It neither has the will nor the strength to push the army hard to deal firmly with the Taliban. The army and its handmaiden the ISI are a law unto themselves. It is indeed a situation that necessitates an international response. In that respect, Ms Clinton’s candid statement is a signal that the US is increasingly getting more worried about the developing situation in Pakistan and the dangers it poses to the world.

Top

J&K shows the way
Pips UP, Bihar in poll percentage

It is a matter of satisfaction for the country that Jammu and Kashmir has recorded a poll percentage of 46 per cent, despite the all-out effort by the militants to keep the voters away from the polling booths. The performance of Udhampur-Doda, the largest parliamentary constituency of Jammu and Kashmir and the most sensitive in the Jammu division during the second phase on Thursday may not be comparable with the all-India figure of 55 per cent, but is remarkable indeed, considering that this percentage is higher than that in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have recorded only 44 per cent. This Hindi belt sends as many as 120 representatives to the Lok Sabha and has yet fallen behind Jammu and Kashmir. The reasons are not far to seek. In Jammu and Kashmir, the fear of the gun had kept the people away from the polling booths for far too long. At long last, the public has picked up the courage to defy the militants and exercised its democratic right with gusto. Even in militant-infested Doda and Kishtwar districts, the polling was as high as 50 per cent. And several former militants themselves took part in the poll process, saying that they have become disillusioned with the false propaganda of Pakistan. The current situation in Pakistan should pull out even the separatists from their fascination for Pakistan.

What is all the more credible is that the voting was quite incident-free this time. It is not as if the terrorists had taken a day off. It is the security forces which succeeded to keep them at bay. Of course, this happened because the foreign-backed killers do not enjoy as much of public backing today as they once did. In that change lies the key for a better tomorrow. Interestingly, while people living in cities shied away from casting votes, those in inaccessible areas and deprived of basic amenities thronged the polling booths.

The percentage could have been even higher the next time, but for the flip-flop by the Hurriyat Conference. It had earlier said that it would not call for a poll boycott this time, and advised people to “follow their own conscience”, but later did a U-turn to join the poll boycott chorus. Apparently, it has succumbed to hardcore separatists’ pressure. That goes on to show that it is not in sync with the mood of the public.

Top

Saving the daughter
More concerted efforts are needed

Punjab may have taken immense pride in its “save the girl child” campaigns. But the recent reports prove that the state, which has the dubious distinction of having one of the worst sex ratios in the country, has hardly made any headway. The obsession for a male child leads to the abominable practice of killing the daughter before she is born. The initial findings of Lucknow based agency AMS are that the sex ratio in many districts of Punjab has dwindled further. Actually, son-crazed couples have found more ways to beat the law. Now, even NRI couples who get sex-specific tests done abroad, abort the female foetus in this land where nearly every fifth household reportedly commits female foeticide. Out of five lakh “missing” daughters in India, one lakh are estimated to be from Punjab. While health surveys reveal a strong bias against the girl child, in Haryana more women than men have a son-fixation.

Both the people and the government have not been fighting enough against the gender imbalance otherwise rooted in centuries-old gender prejudices. The Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques Act became operational in 1996 and was amended and stronger PCPNDT Act 2002 that prevents the use of pre- conception diagnostic techniques and also bans advertisements of sex selection came into force. The positive incentive approach offering cash and other benefits to girl child too is in place. The Nawanshahar model of checking female foeticide proves that much can be achieved through stringent implementation of the law coupled with strong — even if unconventional — bureaucratic ways.

Still, female foetuses are done away with, without compassion or guilt in connivance with medical fraternity and mobile clinics that continue to flourish. Perhaps, what is needed besides ironclad implementation of the existing laws is a mass movement focusing on the positive image of girls. Till daughters are cherished, celebrated and prized as much as sons, examples like Bijlipur village with a sunshine sex ratio of 1800 to 1000 in favour of females will remain an exception and not a norm.

Top

 

Thought for the Day

Friends are born, not made. — Henry Adams

Top

ARTICLE

Facing conflicts
Policy-makers short of strategic advice
by Gen V.P. Malik (retd)

There is an old adage that “armies tend to fight the last war”. Captain Liddle Hart had that in mind when he said, “The only thing harder than getting new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.” There are three reasons for such observations. One, the militaries — Indian armed forces not excluded — tend to be highly traditional and, therefore, conservative in their attitude and outlook. They do not visualise and accept changes easily. Two, large, conservative organisations develop strong vested interest groups within. Three, during peace time, the military does not get clear and firm geopolitical and strategic advice on potential threats and challenges, which is so essential for defence planning.

The Americans will not be able to blame Defence Secretary Robert Gates for the third reason. In his $534 billion defence budget proposals this year, Mr Gates has proposed a radical shift from the Cold War-based military strategies, doctrines and expenditure. Instead, he has focused on wars that the Americans are actually fighting, and are more likely to be engaged in, to make sure that public money is not squandered and the military is equipped with capabilities to wage such wars successfully.

The US will now allocate more money to improve its cyber defence, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capabilities with equipment like armed drones (Predators and Reapers), special forces and light armoured vehicles to fight terrorists and insurgencies, and warships for coastal operations instead of high-end, big ticket fighter bombers, aircraft carriers, and other systems for high intensity conventional wars.

Why has Mr Gates done that? Is there any lesson for India?

Post-Cold War, there has been a paradigm shift in the geopolitical, strategic and security environment. Globalisation, multilateralism and regionalism are gradually replacing bilateral international relations and a straitjacketed concept of sovereignty. There is a comparatively more liberal approach to security (comprehensive and cooperative security) and abhorrence for high casualties and collateral destruction. Emphasis in defence technology is on the ability to eliminate or make an adversary’s nerve-centres dysfunctional, with precision surgical attacks or through electronic warfare and cyber attacks.

There is much closer monitoring of conflicts and conflict situations by the media. It ensures greater public accountability of the governments. International opinion is strongly against re-drawing of national boundaries through violent means. Besides, destruction of an adversary’s military potential and occupation of foreign territories are not easily attainable politico-military objectives as we have seen in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

Due to these reasons, armed conflicts have gradually moved down the scale of intensity as well as inclusivity. Potential nuclear war has given way to restrained nuclear deterrence. Total war, even a conventional war, has yielded to “limited conventional war”, “restricted war”, “proxy war” and several other types of low-intensity conflicts. “Terrorism” is the latest form in this list. At the 11th Asian Security Conference, India’s Defence Minister A.K. Antony called it “a Frankenstein which has now become a threat to democracy, stability and peace”.

India’s security requirements are regional, unlike that of the US which are global. We have to take into account the nuclear thresholds with two of our more likely security challengers along with conventional, unconventional and asymmetric threats. While we prepare for the entire spectrum of conflict, the budgetary focus has to be on the more likely nature of conflicts, catering for deterrence as well as dissuasion strategies.

Due to nuclear symmetry with Pakistan and China, it may be border or limited conventional war, cyber war, cross-border terrorism (which will increase with the Talibanisation of Pakistan), and any other kind of low-intensity conflict. From other smaller neighbours, there is little conventional threat; more in the form of cross-border terrorism and induced insurgencies. We also require capabilities for the security of air space, coastline, threats to islands and sea-lanes (mostly limited or unconventional), out of area contingencies, and domestic Naxal-type insurgencies.

For sometime past, I have been advocating light, lethal and wired armed forces with improved intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to deal with future conflicts. I believe that some of our combat organisations can be reduced in size; made speedier, more versatile, flexible and better net-worked. It is high time we started thinking about greater combat effectiveness of special forces, combat groups, command and battle groups, and other equivalent formations for asymmetric and limited conventional border wars. The oft-repeated conventional argument is that we have long borders with Pakistan and China and, therefore, need corps level forces. But this has to be co-related to the likely duration of a war in the current geopolitical and strategic environment. The war may be over even before we are able to induct a strike corps across the border!

Having several large, unwieldy and expensive strike corps for conventional deterrence that tend to sit out of a war when it actually happens, is not a cost-effective military strategy or planning. Also, we need greater integration of surveillance and operational resources — satellite imagery, air reconnaissance, radars, armed helicopters and so on — to reduce mobilisation and force generation time. The sooner an intervening force arrives to influence the course of a military event, the lesser is the chance of the conflict devolving into firepower intensive, wasteful slugging match. Rapid mobilisation out-paces the enemy and has the same asset as surprise. “Anticipation” of a war, or in the battlefield, can also be substantially improved when we deploy ISR capabilities more effectively.

But why is this not happening? Primarily, because there is no clear and firm geopolitical and strategic advice at the political level on the potential security threats and challenges. A draft “national security strategy” paper prepared by the military staff has been gathering dust in the National Security Adviser’s office since January 2007.

How can we dovetail the required military capabilities with our geopolitical objectives in our defence planning? I suggest three immediate measures. One, appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to bring about the much-needed synergy in the armed forces. Two, prepare a quadrennial defence review (as in the US) or Defence White Papers (as in the UK). Three, India’s defence planning requires greater political (and public) scrutiny and oversight. It cannot be left at the mercy of political leaders or bureaucrats. We should have defence expertise at the political level; a minister or minister of state in the Ministry of Defence and in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence.

The writer, a former Chief of Army Staff, is President, ORF Institute of Security Studies, New Delhi.

Top

MIDDLE

Blog on!
by Roopinder Singh

Manpreet Badal is among a handful of politicians who knows what “cloud computing” means. He should be on cloud nine as his blog http://manpreetbadal.wordpress.com has evoked a tremendous response.

A recent article published in this paper has brought the blog into limelight, as Manpreet himself acknowledges. This foray into cyber space by Punjab’s well-educated Finance Minister gives us a chance to see various facets of this otherwise reclusive person since the blog has pictures and some personal comments.

Looks like Manpreet is not averse to criticism, some adverse remarks and digs at him are allowed through the “moderation” that every comment has to go through before being approved for posting.

Manpreet is being prudent since the lack of moderation in comments drove away a fellow political leader and blogger, Omar Abdullah. When I clicked on the link to see the youngest CM’s blog, I read: “This domain name expired,” Internet-speak to say that the time-period of the site’s booking has finished.

Well, Omar has “administrative rights” to another “domain” now, a real one called Kashmir and he will no doubt like to block off his blogging experience since he faced such nastiness from spammers and hatemongers that he signed off the blog with a mail that said: “We truly are a bunch of intolerant people. We want to be heard but do not have the strength to hear; we want to have an opinion but do not believe anyone else is entitled to one.” True enough.

Now, I know some people associate intolerance with the Prime Ministerial aspirant L K Advani, but his website and blog is a fine example of shining India in cyberspace. “I was looking for a recipe for a salad, and I found a link for Advani’s site,” said Jaspreet, my significant other, amused and exasperated in equal measure. She is a focused person and resisted the temptation of clicking on the advertisement pointing to the Iron Man’s website and the result was a sumptuous dinner for the family.

Call it professional inquisitiveness, but I could not do the same. I visited blog.lkadvani.in and found that Advani’s crew has been working overtime... a massive advertisement blitz to draw in visitors and a neat job of packaging the PM-in-waiting, along with seemingly personal touches expected in a blog.

All would be great, except for the fact that it is soon apparent that Advani’s blog is not by him, it is for him. Blogs are fundamentally fora of personal expressions, personally expressed...but then that’s too much to expect from political figures, isn’t it? Blog on, blokes, we have eternal hope that our politicians will be more honest and transparent, at least in cyberspace.

Top

OPED

India Votes
Demeaning democracy
Elections are being fought on non-issues
by Kamlendra Kanwar

We pride ourselves in our democracy, citing how, all around us we have countries where basic freedoms have been trampled upon with impunity over the years while we remain steadfast as an oasis of hope. Barring the 19-month Emergency under Mrs Indira Gandhi, we have had six decades of democratic rule.

Yet, it would be foolhardy to disregard the infirmities in our brand of democracy. With money and muscle power ruling the roost, it is hardly surprising that so many criminals make their way into Parliament.

A recent data compilation done by the National Social Watch Coalition, a conglomerate of civil society groups, revealed that as much as 22 per cent of the time of the 14th Lok Sabha (the outgoing House) was lost due to pandemonium. Each minute of a Parliament disruption cost the exchequer Rs 26,035.

Only 173 MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha actually spoke on legislative issues while the House passed nearly 40 per cent of the bills with less than one hour of debate.

The report also found increasing absenteeism among MPs. On examining the attendance records of the 11th and 12th sessions of the 14th Lok Sabha, it was seen that more than 75 per cent of the MPs were below the median point of 16 or more days of attendance.

Once we elect our representatives, we tend to abdicate our responsibility to keep a check on them. The watchdog NGOs are too few and inadequately equipped to keep any meaningful tab on a continual basis. The much-talked-about right to recall has not been legislated upon.

It is difficult to find another country where accountability is so loose as it is in India. Mrs Gandhi once said that what we have in this country is not democracy but licence. In the name of democracy, we play havoc with the system, with those in authority twisting and bending rules to suit themselves.

What appalls one more than anything else is that political parties in India are even shedding the semblance of morality. Everyone knows that pre-poll alliances have never been as fragile as they are this time around and that the post-poll picture may well be radically different from the pre-poll one. Whatever political leaders may profess publicly, there is no doubt that ideology has been sacrificed at the altar of expediency and opportunism.

When one compares with elections in the US and in the UK, it is pathetic how trivial non-issues take centrestage in our election campaigns while vital issues are ignored completely. A fallout of this is that no one, neither the parties nor the voters, takes party manifestos seriously. These are no longer manifestos with plans and shared vision but instead documents which lay out a feast of freebies in the form of promises which are seldom honoured.

In a country so large and diverse as India, there should be no dearth of issues—- we have an economic slowdown that has added to deprivation and to the ranks of the unemployed, one third of our population subsists below the poverty line, national security is lax with terrorists striking at regular intervals, deforestation has disturbed the ecological balance grievously.

But let us face the hard reality that elections are won or lost around non-issues in our country. The ghost of the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 still haunts politics of today, especially in the Hindi heartland

Take the impending Lok Sabha elections for instance. We have wasted several hours of prime time news and reams of newsprint on what Varun Gandhi said in his venomous speech about Muslims, and on Sanjay Dutt’s take on politics, besides numerous other trivialities.

People in this country are still looking for the basics: water, food and primary health besides education. But what the politicians are talking about are issues which have no relation to the basics.

Instead of rabble rousing on trivialities the politicians would serve the large population of youth much better if issues of employment and productivity were to be addressed seriously but that is not so.

It is not as though voters in India and the UK have different priorities—-in both countries as also elsewhere, people want better roads, cheaper and more hospitals, better education and less red tape for their business.

Farmers want more government support, better infrastructure and widely accessible public services. But not much of this is reflected in what the politicians dwell on during the elections.

In the UK, BBC1’s “Question Time”features politicians being regularly questioned by members of the public. The US has the face-offs between the two principal Presidential candidates in highly informed debates for which the two contending participants are extensively briefed by experts and aides. In India, we have neither.

While it is good that Indians in general have shed their defeatist outlook and are today far more positive, we need to realistically recognise the direction in which democracy is headed and to take steps to stem the rot. If governments of the day are unwilling to break out of the mould due to inertia or vested interests, it is time civil society assumes a more active role.

Top

China’s influence growing
by Ariana Eunjung Cha

With Jamaica’s currency in free fall, unemployment soaring and banks heavily exposed to government debt, the Caribbean island’s diplomats went into crisis mode earlier this year. They traveled to all corners of the world to seek help.

Jamaica’s traditional allies, the United States and Britain, were preoccupied with their own financial problems, but a new friend jumped at the opportunity to come to the rescue: China.

When contracts for loan packages totaling $138 million were signed between the two countries in March, China became Jamaica’s biggest financial partner. Headlines in Jamaica’s leading newspapers, which only a year ago were filled with concern about China’s growing influence in the region, gushed about its generosity.

“The loan couldn’t have come more in time and on more preferred terms,” Courtenay Rattray, Jamaica’s ambassador to China, said in an interview. While the island nation continues to value its close relationships with Western powers, he added, in some respects Jamaica has more in common with China. “Those are developed countries. They don’t have such an in-depth understanding of the development aspirations of Jamaica as does China,” he said.

Overseas aid and loans are just one way China is asserting itself in its new role as a world financial leader.

While polishing China’s own image, Premier Wen Jiabao and other top leaders have blamed the West for the global economic crisis. Chinese officials increasingly are challenging the primacy of the dollar, warning other countries about the danger of keeping reserves in just one or two currencies, such as dollars and euros.

And as the global economic crisis has eroded faith in U.S.-style capitalism, there’s growing talk that a new “Beijing Consensus” will replace the long-dominant Washington Consensus on how developing countries should manage their economies.

Coined by economist John Williamson 20 years ago, the term “Washington Consensus” refers to a standard set of policies — including privatization of state enterprises, free trade, deregulation and restraint in public spending — that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the U.S. Treasury Department have long urged on debt-ridden nations, particularly in Latin America.

A fierce debate has broken out among academics and financial policymakers about how to define the Beijing Consensus, or even whether such a thing exists; many say that it is a loose package of political points rather than an economic model, and that there is no formal effort by the Chinese government to promote it. But some experts are already calling it a challenge to the existing order.

“It is very possible that the Beijing Consensus can replace the Washington Consensus,” said Cui Zhiyuan, a professor of public policy at Tsinghua University who edited a recent book on the subject. “Since the crisis, the world doesn’t have as much confidence in the U.S. economic model as before.”

In a recent report titled “The Beijing Consensus,” South Korea’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance sounded an alarm over China’s aid and loans. Developing countries that accept Chinese assistance, it warned, may lower their guard and gravitate toward a Chinese-style economic model.

Jamaica’s Rattray dismissed those fears as overblown. China’s financial assistance to his country came with “no requirement to adopt specific macroeconomic policy approaches,” he said, and there is “no debate about the government of Jamaica’s commitment to a free-market economic model.”

Cheng Enfu, an economics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government-affiliated think tank, said he defines the Beijing Consensus as promotion of economies in which public ownership remains dominant; gradual reform is preferred to “shock therapy”; the country is open to foreign trade but remains largely self-reliant; and large-scale market reform takes place first, followed later by political and cultural change.

The global economic crisis, Cheng said, “displays the advantages of the Chinese model” and has already expanded China’s influence. “Some mainstream economists are saying that India should learn from China; Latin American countries are trying to learn from China. When foreign countries send delegations to China, they show interest in the Chinese way of developing,” Cheng said.

Barry Sautman, a political scientist at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said in a recent research paper that Western academics often deride the Chinese model as “economic growth without the constraints of democratic institutions.”

But, he argued, the emerging Beijing Consensus “takes seriously some aspirations of developing states often ignored or opposed by the West,” such as “a more equitable international distribution of wealth and power.”

As Beijing grows more assertive in international finance, it is working inside as well as outside existing organizations. In January, it joined the Inter-American Development Bank — which is active in Latin America and the Caribbean — as a donor country.

It is in talks with the IMF to increase its contribution to the fund in exchange for more of a say in IMF policies. And in Asia, it is leading the push by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for a regional fund that will compete with the Inter-American Development Bank.

This week, China’s allies Kazakhstan and Pakistan — both of which recently got new loans from China — threw their support behind calls from China’s central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, to create a new world or Asian reserve currency to replace the dollar. Venezuelan President Hugo Ch vez, who also signed a credit line with China recently, has backed the proposal.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

Top

A forbidden story from Iraq
by Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed

Sometimes, it’s the forbidden stories, the ones people are afraid to tell in full, the ones that emerge only in fragments, that reveal the truth about a place.

This is such a story.

It’s being told now not because the complete truth is known, but because the story nags at those familiar with its outlines, and because it says as much about Iraq’s progress as it does about Iraq’s resistance to change.

This much is known:

A young woman imprisoned in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, sent a letter to her brother last summer, appealing for help. The woman, named Dalal, wrote that she had become pregnant after being raped by prison guards. The brother asked to visit her. Guards obliged. The brother walked into her cell, drew a gun and shot his visibly pregnant sister dead.

His goal: to spare his family the taint of a pregnancy out of wedlock, a disgrace in Iraq often averted through so-called honor killings of women by their relatives.

For prison guards, the killing was also a relief.

“They believed that her death would end the case,” said a lab worker at Baghdad’s central morgue, where the victim’s body — still carrying the 5-month-old fetus — was sent.

The case may have ended there were it not for the morgue employee, who was determined to see those responsible held to account. At the employee’s insistence, lab workers using freshly acquired DNA-testing equipment drew a sample from the fetus. The prison guards were ordered to submit DNA samples and did so, apparently unaware of the sophistication of the morgue equipment and the people trained to use it.

“They thought we were incapable of figuring it out,” said the morgue employee. The DNA results showed that the father of the fetus was a police lieutenant colonel who reportedly supervised guards at the prison.

In another society, the scientific evidence would have led to arrests and prosecution. But this being Iraq, the power wielded by men in uniform and the belief that a raped woman is better off dead combined to cloud the truth.

Months passed after word leaked of the killing on a sweltering summer’s day. Just as it nagged at the morgue worker, it nagged at us. But how to tell a story that nobody wants told? Everyone had different, usually conflicting, versions of what had happened. Only the morgue worker’s story remained the same, repeated in phone calls and e-mails as summer turned to fall and then winter.

Then, it was time for one of us to leave Iraq. A colleague asked what the reporter’s final story would be. There must be one after so long in the country, he insisted. “Isn’t there a story that got away?” he asked.

It became clear that this was it, even if we still didn’t know the truth.

About the only things anyone agrees on are that a young woman was slain and that her last days were spent pregnant and worrying about what would happen if she were released into a society that would condemn her for it.

According to a judge in the Tikrit court, the lieutenant colonel implicated by DNA and a police captain also accused in the case were arrested on rape charges but then released for lack of evidence. The judge said a third defendant, a police lieutenant, remained in custody. (It is not uncommon in Iraq for police officers to serve as prison guards and supervisors.)

Yet other accounts say the matter was settled through tribal justice. The clan of the accused lieutenant colonel paid the woman’s family to drop charges, according to some locals who are familiar with the case but fearful of discussing it openly.

The morgue worker said those involved in the lab testing understood that all three of the police officers were freed. “I heard the dispute was solved by a tribal ransom,” the employee said. “The issue bothers me a lot. I’m doing my job, and the bad guys are getting back on the street.”

There are conflicting reports on the brother’s status. Some say he was jailed for killing his sister. Others say he was freed as part of the tribal deal.

As for the slain woman, several accounts say she was in prison in the first place not because she was a convicted or accused criminal but because police wanted to question her brother about something. They thought he would turn himself in to free Dalal. Nobody has been able to explain why police wanted to talk to the brother.

The prison where she was held houses mainly men. There is a small section for female inmates, who usually number no more than a few. A female guard is supposed to watch over them. No one could explain how the lieutenant colonel was able to do what he did.

Nor could anyone say how Dalal’s brother entered her cell with a loaded gun.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

Top

 





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |