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EDITORIALS

Mr Q. again
The clean chit had to lead to controversy
T
he CBI is supposed to be an investigating agency. But when it comes to probing the deeds of those close to the government, it tends to become more of an obliging agency. First, it gave a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 riots case. Now it has requested Interpol to withdraw the Red Corner Notice against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, who allegedly received over $7 million as kickbacks in the Bofors case.

Drug menace
Political will needed to smash it
If a woman municipal councillor of Batala openly retails drugs, taking help from her husband and discarding middlemen, it cannot be without the knowledge and possible complicity of the local authorities. And this is not an isolated case. According to Tribune reports, the number of drug addicts in Punjab’s border belt, comprising Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Ferozepur districts, has swelled to an alarming 60 to 70 per cent of the population.




EARLIER STORIES

Modi remains in the dock
April
29, 2009
Guns fall silent in Lanka
April
28, 2009
Advance of the Taliban
April
27, 2009
Qualification for MPs
April
26, 2009
Pakistan worries US
April
25, 2009
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


People’s power
Village youth show the way
Protest is common in India; rather people take to roads at the slightest provocation. Sadly, most protests take the virulent form and end up in violence. However, the youth of Bumb village near Samrala in Punjab are displaying a positive power of protest. Led by the village sarpanch, they have decided not to vote for the candidates who distribute drugs and liquor.

ARTICLE

Power play in Afghanistan
Pakistan sliding down a slippery slope
by G. Parthasarathy
L
ocated at the crossroads of Central, West and South Asia, the people of Afghanistan have been victims of great power rivalry and foreign occupation ever since the state was founded by Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1747. External powers ranging from the Persians, Imperial Britain, Czarist Russia, Nazi Germany, the US and the Soviet Union have played out their great power rivalries on the hapless Afghans.

MIDDLE

From a voter’s heart!
by Vepa Rao
Respected Bhai Saab,
I feel deeply hurt because you "appealed" to people like me to vote for you — but you didn't think us worthy enough to be ordered to vote! Sir, how our family adores you! I have already asked all people in my mohalla to follow us. Or else… well, I won't spare anyone.


OPED

It’s the worst time to suffer a pandemic in the world
by Hamish McRae
T
he threat of a global pandemic quite properly instils fear. We know sadly that people in Mexico have died from the present outbreak of swine flu. We know inevitably that the flu will spread, indeed is already spreading, around the world.

Politicians are silent on malnutrition
by Sachin Kumar Jain
T
HE Aanganwadi system in Madhya Pradesh seems like a drop in the ocean to meet the needs of women and children in the rural areas. As against the actual requirement of 1.26 lakh Anganwadi centres only 67,770 are operational leaving out a staggering 58,000 children.

In Islamabad, a sense of foreboding
by Pamela Constable
E
very spring, the Margalla Hills overlooking this capital city burst into life. Evening thunderstorms send torrents of water down the slopes, scenic paths attract hikers and picnickers and bands of monkeys scramble down from the trees to watch the weekend visitors.


Top








EDITORIALS

Mr Q. again
The clean chit had to lead to controversy

The CBI is supposed to be an investigating agency. But when it comes to probing the deeds of those close to the government, it tends to become more of an obliging agency. First, it gave a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 riots case. Now it has requested Interpol to withdraw the Red Corner Notice against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, who allegedly received over $7 million as kickbacks in the Bofors case. The sudden request is baffling, but only to those who do not know that it had been trying to save Mr Q right since the UPA government came to power in 2004. It allowed the arrest warrant against him to expire in 2004 and then again in 2005. Not only that, it let him take the money, which is strongly believed to be the kickback amount, back from his London bank accounts in 2006 and then goofed up — whether deliberately or otherwise — during his extradition trial in Argentina in 2007 and thus helped him to escape to Italy. The withdrawal of the Red Corner Notice means that he can now move freely all over the world.

While this conspiracy of inaction is highly damaging to the reputation of the CBI, the government too has opened itself to criticism by taking this step at the end of its tenure. Nobody is convinced by the claims that the CBI is an independent investigating agency and it has nothing to do with what it does. Ironically, all this has happened despite former CBI Director Joginder Singh’s firm claim that the agency had enough proof that Quattrocchi had received $ 7.32 million as kickbacks in the Bofors case.

The CBI says it went by the “advice from the highest legal quarters”. The reference is to Attorney-General Milon Banerji who on October 24 last year had given this opinion ostensibly because the CBI had not filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court when the High Court in 2004 quashed all charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act in the Bofors case. What Mr Banerji did not mention was that he had himself overruled CBI investigators two months after the Congress-led Manmohan Singh government came to power and directed the agency not to file the SLP. Now that this bungling has been challenged, all eyes are focussed on the apex court. But what matters is that the bird has already flown.

Top

Drug menace
Political will needed to smash it

If a woman municipal councillor of Batala openly retails drugs, taking help from her husband and discarding middlemen, it cannot be without the knowledge and possible complicity of the local authorities. And this is not an isolated case. According to Tribune reports, the number of drug addicts in Punjab’s border belt, comprising Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Ferozepur districts, has swelled to an alarming 60 to 70 per cent of the population. Consumption of intoxicants usually shoots up during elections. The de-addiction centres in Punjab have reported a 10 to 20 per cent spurt in the number of addicts coming for treatment since the announcement of elections.

Narcotic business cannot flourish without police connivance and political patronage. No longer confined to outlaws or musclemen, drug trade seems to have become safe even for women. Recently, an elderly NRI couple was arrested at Amritsar airport for carrying 3.7 kg of heroin. Only once a while some politician is caught like this BJP youth wing leader from Phagwara from whom 3 kg cocain and 11 kg heroin worth Rs 100 crore were seized or this Akali youth leader trying to smuggle 26 kg of heroin to Canada. Many workers of many other parties may not be innocent either. Chemists’ shops have mushroomed all over Punjab to sell banned drugs over the counter.

The inquiry ordered into the Batala case is welcome, but it is inadequate. The councillor is only a retail seller. What about the suppliers and other retailers operating throughout the state? Opium comes from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and charas from Himachal Pradesh. Heroin, smack and cocain originate in Afghanistan and pass through Pakistan to reach destinations inside and outside India. The network is known and, occasionally, drug hauls are made. If the drug menace is to end, the politico-police nexus must be smashed. A joint task force of the police, the BSF and the Health Department must take up the challenge with active support from drug firms, social organisations and educational institutions.

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People’s power
Village youth show the way

Protest is common in India; rather people take to roads at the slightest provocation. Sadly, most protests take the virulent form and end up in violence. However, the youth of Bumb village near Samrala in Punjab are displaying a positive power of protest. Led by the village sarpanch, they have decided not to vote for the candidates who distribute drugs and liquor. While these torchbearers deserve all praise for standing up against politicians’ overtures, what is more heartening is that they are not the only ones who are doing so. In drug-afflicted Maqboolpura colony, Amritsar, affected widows and orphans have spearheaded a campaign against drugs. The Youth Club, Sadhuwala, and students of Barnala College have reiterated a similar resolve. Besides several panchayats, many a women group has taken the lead in this regard. In Karnal, a “ Run for 100 per cent corruption and liquor-free voting” elicited an enthusiastic response.

It is a well-known fact that despite the model code of conduct, several politicians, cutting across party lines, try to woo voters through unfair means. Titled “Alarming trend of purchasing voters”, the report of a Delhi-based NGO, the Centre for Media Studies, found that Karnataka topped the country among the states where voters are being bribed to cast their vote in favour of a particular political party. However, it also stated that the menace is not limited to any single electoral belt but is prevalent in all parts of the country, including the “literate” states. Free flow of drugs and alcohol during poll time is not confined to Lok Sabha or Assembly elections. Political parties bribe their way through during municipal elections also. Besides drugs, alcohol and cash, candidates try to lure voters through other “gifts” as well.

The Election Commission has taken a strong note of such malpractices and even served notices to the defaulting politicians. However, laws alone are insufficient to control power-hungry politicians who make the right noises but act contrarily. Expecting them to reform the system of which they are the biggest beneficiaries is perhaps asking for too much. The remedy lies with the people themselves. They must protest and bolt the door against them.

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Thought for the Day

Nothing in progression can rest on its original plan. We may as well think of rocking a grown man in the cradle of an infant. — Edmund Burke

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ARTICLE

Power play in Afghanistan
Pakistan sliding down a slippery slope
by G. Parthasarathy

Located at the crossroads of Central, West and South Asia, the people of Afghanistan have been victims of great power rivalry and foreign occupation ever since the state was founded by Ahmed Shah Durrani in 1747. External powers ranging from the Persians, Imperial Britain, Czarist Russia, Nazi Germany, the US and the Soviet Union have played out their great power rivalries on the hapless Afghans.

When the Soviet Union collapsed following its Afghan misadventure, Pakistan sought to assume the role of a neighbouring hegemon, by waging a proxy war for the control of Kabul. Pakistan’s ambitions using militant Islam now face a barrier, with an American and NATO presence in Afghanistan fighting Pakistan’s proxy, the Taliban, at the cost of Afghan lives. The “unilateralism” of the Bush Administration led to suspicions in important regional players like Russia, China and Iran that the American presence was also motivated by larger geopolitical considerations and a desire to control the access to Central Asian oil and gas.

With its own territory now the epicentre of Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorism, Pakistan itself is seen as a fragile state, unwilling to forego its ties with the Taliban and the Taliban’s Punjabi allies like the Jaish-e-Mohammed. American policies in the region are changing, as the Obama Administration seeks to deal with an escalating insurgency in Afghanistan.

The most notable change that has emerged is the American recognition that it shares a common interest in working with regional powers like Iran, Russia, China and India and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours in meeting the Taliban challenge in Afghanistan. I was surprised to be told by an Iranian diplomat at an international conference last week that the Americans should retain a presence in Afghanistan for 10 to 15 years and not talk of an “exit strategy” now.

Russia also appears to be ready to raise its profile as a global player in Afghanistan. Russia has agreed to arm the Afghan National Army and is seeking involvement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the emerging developments. More importantly, Taliban attacks on supply routes through Pakistan and Pakistan’s propensity to use its role to bargain for ever-increasing assistance and accommodation of the Taliban are forcing the US and its NATO allies to look for new supply routes to Afghanistan, with Russian collaboration.

Arrangements been finalised to source petroleum and oil supplies from Kazakhstan, bypassing Pakistan. Moreover, new supply routes for non-military supplies through Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been negotiated. Uzbekistan has agreed to provide land, air and rail facilities for the US and NATO. The Russians have now agreed to permit the use of their territory even for military supplies to Afghanistan. It should not be surprising if some NATO countries approach Iran to use the road built by India linking Afghanistan with the Iranian port of Chah Bahar. With alternate supply routes in place, Pakistan’s present strategic salience will be eroded. Its capacity to blackmail the international community will no longer be credible.

Important changes are also envisaged on how the international community deals with Afghanistan. There is realisation that operations in populated areas by foreign forces invoke public resentment in Afghanistan, only strengthening the Taliban. There are now moves to increase the strength of the Afghan National Army from 80,000 to 134, 000 and thereafter to over 200,000 men. With Russia expressing readiness to equip the Afghan National Army, the aim now appears to allow internal security against Taliban depredations to be transferred increasingly to Afghan hands. Moreover, there is recognition that American and other Western aid programmes have been woefully inadequate, inefficient and wasteful.

Shortly after the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the donor countries pledged $40 billion for assistance to Afghanistan. This amount came down soon to $25 billion and, ultimately, barely $15 billion was disbursed for reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. Worse still, over 40 per cent of this assistance went back to the donor countries as payments for their contractors and consultants. President Obama has indicated that measures will be taken to make assistance programmes more people-oriented and cost-efficient.

India has a vital stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan, especially given the pernicious role of the Taliban in hosting terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, colluding with the hijackers of IC 814, killing Indian workers engaged in aid projects in Afghanistan and conducting a terrorist attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. But both the NDA and UPA governments deserve credit for having fashioned a most imaginative aid programme in Afghanistan, which has resulted in India being seen as a benevolent nation all across Afghanistan.

Amidst personal threats to their safety and security, around 4000 Indian nationals are running hospitals, building roads, hydro-electric projects and transmission and telephone lines in Afghanistan. Indian involvement extends from solar energy projects and bus services to food preservation facilities and high protein biscuits for Afghan schoolchildren. Moreover, hundreds of Afghan personnel are receiving training in diverse fields in India. It is no exaggeration to say that India today runs the most cost-efficient aid programme in Afghanistan — an effort that has won the country widespread international acclaim.

While a firm posture by India has persuaded the US that its “AfPak” strategy should not seek to venture into bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, India cannot remain unconcerned about the Chinese efforts to persuade the international community to dabble in India-Pakistan relations. Moreover, while the Americans have made no secret of their determination to limit arms supplies to Pakistan to items for counterinsurgency against the Taliban, China has proceeded with its policy of unrestricted transfer of fighter aircraft, naval frigates and unsafeguarded plutonium production for Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

These unrestricted Chinese supplies, together with the substantial balance of payments support, have undermined international efforts to persuade Pakistan to end its support for the Taliban and other terrorist groups. It is in this background that Richard Holbrooke visited Beijing for high-level diplomatic contacts, perhaps with the hope that given the current Sino-US honeymoon, China would back and not undermine American diplomacy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

President Obama’s “AfPak” diplomacy has also been undermined by heavy handedness in dealing with political developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Public criticism of President Karzai has led to increasing his public popularity in Afghanistan and prompting Russian support for the beleaguered Afghan President. Similarly, public criticism of Nawaz Sharif has now been replaced by assertions that he may be America’s “best bet”. There is little realisation of the reality that a public American embrace is the proverbial “kiss of death” for any embattled politician in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

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MIDDLE

From a voter’s heart!
by Vepa Rao

Respected Bhai Saab,

I feel deeply hurt because you "appealed" to people like me to vote for you — but you didn't think us worthy enough to be ordered to vote! Sir, how our family adores you! I have already asked all people in my mohalla to follow us. Or else… well, I won't spare anyone.

A chemist selling fake medicines here has made the first donation for the campaign, followed by a college that helps even idiots to pass the exams "somehow". A hotel offering "extra-curricular pleasures" has kept a few rooms exclusively for your campaign managers. Some policemen with well- developed pockets are on duty in this area. We know you hate corruption, but sir, we have to protect democracy by hook or by crook — it will be safe only in the hands of leaders like you.

Bhai saab, this time also you should get a big position. How else will my two sons get good jobs? I have somehow managed to get their degree certificates. We are anxious to get them off heavy drinking and wasting money on luxuries. As you know, positions of public responsibility will remedy the situation — my sons will either drop bad habits, or pick up enough money to meet the needs.

Bhai Saab, there is so much fire in your speeches which alone keep our democracy going. Remember, you promised last time to tap water sources on the moon and lay pipes direct to our constituency? You also vowed to lay down your life if you failed to inaugurate the first "moon- water tap" within the next 80 years. It clicked instantly with our brainy masses who promptly voted you to a thumping victory!

And those gaalis (abuses) for the opponents! Bhai Saab, we know you spend half the time coining new ones and refuting charges against you, bhabhiji, and bachche. How do you manage time for development works? I will compile your best gaalis into a volume and dedicate it to Gandhiji.

Thank god, we are all born philosophers — results don't matter to us, unless of course they are personal. Murders, rapes, epidemics, hardships — after all, they are just part of life! Why complain? We should thank god for what we have. Only stupid voters talk about vague things like results, performance… Any way, our wise voters and party workers fix their loyalties first, and then marshal the facts appropriately. A leader dies, we promptly elect his wife on a sympathy wave — even if the good lady thinks Kashmir is the capital of Switzerland, and that the good old crow is our national bird. What do brains have to do with policies, governance etc. Ha ha! We vote from the heart, sir.

Finally, your good manners. Bhai saab, during your visit last month, you walked bending fully, almost on all fours, touching every pair of feet that came your way. Oh, how you looted our hearts! And when you picked up a child in soiled clothes and asked her name, hugged an old man and addressed him "uncle ji", oh, we knew victory was assured. This time also we will keep a carton of dettol bottles for your bath afterwards. Wah, Bhai Saab!

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OPED

It’s the worst time to suffer a pandemic in the world
by Hamish McRae

The threat of a global pandemic quite properly instils fear. We know sadly that people in Mexico have died from the present outbreak of swine flu. We know inevitably that the flu will spread, indeed is already spreading, around the world.

And we have that folk memory of past pandemics, from the Spanish flu after the First World War back through time to the plagues, the Black Death and beyond. Why do we still say "bless you" when someone sneezes? Because a sneeze was a first sign that someone had caught the plague.

That fear continues despite the fact that with modern health systems it should be possible to tackle swine flu effectively. That is perhaps because the boundaries of the possible outcomes cited by health experts are so wide. We are told that as far as Britain is concerned there could be a few isolated cases or one-third of the population could go down with flu.

That is quite a wide range. Indeed that sort of information is almost as helpful as the comment on Tuesday from Joaquin Almunia, the EU Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, who told reporters that: "These things at such a delicate moment for the world economy are not helpful, but the economic consequences shouldn't be exaggerated".

Actually that is a bit unfair because what the commissioner is saying is right as far as it goes. From an economic perspective this does indeed come at a bad time, for it is a blow that strikes just at the moment when the world economy is at its weakest point of an already serious cycle.

But we do know quite a lot about the impact on the economy of health emergencies because we have the recent experience of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that struck East Asia in 2003.

It is of course possible that swine flu will prove to be more serious than Sars but if it does indeed turn out to be comparable then there are some things that can sensibly be said about it.

The first is that the blow is unevenly felt. It is uneven geographically of course. Mexico is cruelly hit because it has already been suffering from the collapse of demand from the US. It is an inherently robust economy, ever more closely integrated with that of the States following the launch of Nafta. But it was under particular stress and that will worsen in the weeks ahead.

Naturally it loses its tourist business and for some parts of the country, such as the Yucatan peninsular, this is dreadful. Cancun, the place to which most British holidaymakers go, is an artificial city, created on a sandbar as a tourist resort. But the impact goes much further than tourism, right into the heart of the economy.

If the impact spreads to other regions they will be similarly affected. We don't yet have figures for the impact on visits to the US but we do know that tourism is a particularly sensitive industry to health or personal safety blows. People go elsewhere – or maybe don't travel at all.

The second point is that the blow is felt unevenly felt by different industrial sectors. The airlines are in the front line, the hotels just behind them. Travel and tourism, defined widely, accounts for around 11 per of the world economy, which makes itthe largest industry in the world.

It has a further characteristic in that it cannot store its output. Car factories can build cars and stick them in car parks for a month or two until they are sold. But if an airline seat or a hotel bed is empty that is revenue lost for ever. So the biggest industry gets the biggest hit, with inevitable knock-on effects on the rest.

If that all sounds dispiriting, the third point is more encouraging. It is that output lost by industries than can store their production recovers quickly.

The first half of this year is probably the worst moment in the cycle, for even if things go on down through the second half, they are likely to do so at a slower rate. So the potential for a swift bounce back is limited.

Here I am afraid we do head into the unknown. We can see that Mexico is hard hit. We can see travel and tourism is hard hit. But what we don't know is how widespread the damage will be, nor at what speed the broad raft of global industries will recover. That depends on what happens in the next few days and weeks.

If the main outbreaks are contained to the Americas and if the flu proves relatively easily treatable it is possible to be fairly confident about the impact on the world economy. On that basis the balance of probability is that this will account for the loss at the very worst of 0.25 per cent of North American output this year, with most of the damage in Mexico rather than the US. That is not what you would want at all but in the context of an economy that will decline by at least 3 per cent it is not so massive.

To be precise: it is massive for the sectors and localities that bear the brunt of the outbreak and it is of course dreadful for the people who suffer directly. But seen in the context of a whole economy it is quite manageable. To give another parallel, in economic terms it would be broadly similar to the impact of the BSE outbreak in the UK.

There is however a possibility that the outbreak will spread much further and maybe even develop into something more serious as it does so. If that were to happen, we go beyond the realm of economics. We simply cannot start to calculate the economic consequences until we know the medical and human costs.

All we can say is that in the past the world economy has eventually proved quite resilient when faced with medical emergencies – and ironically more so than faced with man-made financial ones.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Politicians are silent on malnutrition
by Sachin Kumar Jain

THE Aanganwadi system in Madhya Pradesh seems like a drop in the ocean to meet the needs of women and children in the rural areas. As against the actual requirement of 1.26 lakh Anganwadi centres only 67,770 are operational leaving out a staggering 58,000 children.

In its original intent, the Aanganwadi system literally should work like a safety net for those thousands of children, a cover from the dreaded spectre of malnutrition stalking the rural region.

The scheme provides the benefit of nutritious food and other services for 300 days in a year without any limiting criteria for childern, pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls.

This ambitious programme in MP, however, has fallen short of its potential to snatch these vulnerable groups from the jaws of hunger.

The budget provided for by the government covers only for 130 days, which is further cut short by corruption at various levels. Anomalies in the service delivery leave funds for about 70 days for the beneficiaries.

After nine children died in a week in three villages of Satna district in August last year, civil society organisations broke the silent tragedy of malnutrition deaths.

Following this, the Health Department issued a report stating that the deaths were due to malnutrition. The issue was not confined to Satna.

It came to light that nutritious food had not been delivered to 24,000 Aanganwadi centres in the state, thus making the region vulnerable to malnutrition deaths.

However, the Women and Child Development Department moved in quickly and immediately denied the report, saying that the children had succumbed to various diseases. The report said that they were above six years of age and thus outside the purview of its responsibility.

Sadly, the investigations were conducted in a cursory manner, focussing only on the 15 villages from where the deaths were reported. It stopped short of addressing the root cause or take measures to stem the tide of malnutrition deaths.

Three months later, another death series among children was reported by civil society organisations from nearby Burhanpur district.

The question looms large as to why in a state, where 16 per cent of the population is below the age of six years and stands at 1.10 crore, there is only one scheme covering them?

Take the issue out of the state to a wider context in the country and one finds that even the basic structure of the Aanganwadi scheme in the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-12) has not yet been decided.

Recently, there was a move to hand over the supply of nutritious food to private agencies who, instead of hot-cooked and culturally acceptable nutritious food, would provide biscuits.

The apathy runs through the system like a common thread. Children are not looked upon as living beings in an integrated form but in a piecemeal manner according to age, department and problems. Malnutrition amongst children is a serious violation of their rights but the issue gets relegated to the backburner.

The reason is not difficult to gauge. After the Satna deaths, there was a big debate on the issue of malnutrition during the last assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh but it stayed confined to a debate sustained by the media.

Children continue to die, but the issue did not have enough edge to provide a basis for debate in political circles and parties did not co-opt it into their poll agenda.

The right to basic food security remains a distant dream simply because the issue of malnutrition deaths remains outside the political priorities’ list.

The policy-level interventions remain confined to the present system with all its inadequacies without addressing the larger issues of livelihood, food security and social exclusion.

The Supreme Court of India, in a decision on December 13, 2006, had ordered the universalisation of the scheme. Till then only four crore children in the country were covered under this and out of 14 lakh habitations, localities and villages, eight lakh did not have Aanganwadi centres. The order of the apex court laid down the deadline for universalisation as December, 2008. This has not happened.

While the gap between ground-level requirements and policy-level redressal continues to be wide, there are lobby groups which see the entire diversion of resources for social uplift as flawed.

Subsidies on issues like child protection are anathema to those who consider the Sensex and gross domestic product as the most important indicator of development.

They believe that the basis for such schemes is flawed and argue that such schemes are a waste of resources and encourage an unhealthy dependence of the community on the government. The focus, according to them, should be on policies to boost employment, which they believe, will ultimately address issues like malnutrition.

In the current political context, the system is totally silent on the issue of death of children due to malnutrition. The issue needs to go beyond academics or social research to become a movement.

Children are facing malnutrition and even death to see their right to nutrition on the pages of an election manifesto. During elections political parties need to pick up this crucial agenda and give it the priority it needs so urgently.

— Charkha Features

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In Islamabad, a sense of foreboding
by Pamela Constable

Every spring, the Margalla Hills overlooking this capital city burst into life. Evening thunderstorms send torrents of water down the slopes, scenic paths attract hikers and picnickers and bands of monkeys scramble down from the trees to watch the weekend visitors.

But this season, the forested ridges have taken on a new, ominous significance for jittery residents. Suddenly, the hills are being depicted as the last barrier to hordes of Islamist insurgents sweeping south from the Afghan border, and as perfect places for suicide bombers to lurk.

"If the Taliban continue to move at this pace, they will soon be knocking at the doors of Islamabad. The Margalla Hills seem to be the only hurdle in their march toward the federal capital," Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a religious party leader, warned last week in a speech to Parliament. He was exaggerating for effect, but the image struck home.

Islamabad, a placid, park-filled city of 1.5 million people, was built in the 1960s as a symbol of Pakistan's modern and democratic aspirations. Its boulevards are lined with grandiose federal buildings and its shady side streets are home to an elite class of politicians and professionals. Until several years ago, the orderly capital seemed immune to the religious violence that bedeviled the country's wilder rural fringes.

But now, a psychosis of fear has gripped the Pakistani capital, driven partly by recent televised images of turbaned Taliban fighters occupying town after town in the northwest districts of Swat, Shangla and Buner — as close as 60 miles from Islamabad — and partly by a rash of bombings and threats in the quiet, heavily-policed federal district.

Private schools that cater to international and wealthy families have installed security cameras and gun turrets; many are losing foreign students as embassies and other agencies send families home. The local World Bank office just moved into the heavily guarded Serena Hotel.

Police barricades, detours and checkpoints are sprouting so fast that drivers barely have time to learn the new traffic patterns. Without a foreign passport or a VIP license plate, it is almost impossible to enter the federal district that includes the Supreme Court, the Parliament and the diplomatic enclave.

"We're not going to let anyone come and capture Islamabad, but we have too few resources to secure the city," said Nasir Aftab, the superintendent of police, his eyes red after a night of little sleep. "We need more weapons and men. We need explosive detectors and vehicle scanners on the highway entrances. If a mullah tells a boy of 15 to blow himself up, how do you stop him? This is the capital, and we don't even have a sniffer dog."

It is the insidiousness of suicide bombers, more than the bravado of gun-toting Taliban troops, that keeps officials such as Aftab up at night. The biggest bombing yet here came in September, when a truck full of explosives rammed into the luxury Marriott Hotel, killing 52 people.

The hotel has since reopened, and the lobby has been restored to its former elegance. But the inviting scene is hidden behind blast walls, and the doormen who once swept open wide glass portals guard a narrow opening with a huge metal detector.

"Sometimes I think we've overdone it. The hotel looks like a fortress, but security has to be our top priority," said Zulfikar Ahmed, the Marriott's general manager. He said hotel occupancy had plunged to 40 percent of what it once was. "We maintain a calm atmosphere, but if something happens tomorrow, it will drop again," he said.

A less spectacular but equally worrisome attack occurred last month, when a young man approached an open camp for off-duty paramilitary guards, located in a small park in an upper-class residential area. The man blew himself up, killing himself and five guards.

The blast sent shoppers fleeing in panic from the exclusive Jinnah Market a few blocks away. Now, the market is half-empty, waiters stand idle and merchants sit behind sale racks on the sidewalk.

"The future looks very bleak. Fear chases us everywhere, from the moment we leave home to the moment we return at night," said Mohammed Ismael, 46, who sells fabric for party dresses. "These blasts and attacks don't hurt the ruling class, but they destroy our business ... The tension is everywhere."

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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