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

Wanted: Partners
Political scene is fluid despite claims
A
s the country goes through the fourth phase of elections, the field is wide open as to who will form the next government in Delhi. Both the Congress and the BJP are striking confident poses, but it is quite obvious that it is only for public consumption. The fact is that both are quite jittery as they know that it is likely to be a badly fractured mandate.

Buffalo and Bangalore
Obama move may hurt US firms also
That President Barack Obama’s policies should be guided by American interest, especially at this critical time, is understandable. But in his enthusiasm to keep Americans jobs at home, he is hurting the already troubled industries and businesses, which alone can boost employment and growth, nationally and globally.



EARLIER STORIES

Get back black money
May 6, 2009
Crisis in Nepal
May 5, 2009
On a fast track
May 4, 2009
Intellectual and society
May 3, 2009
Low voter turnout in Mumbai
May 2, 2009
Combating the Taliban
May 1, 2009
Mr Q. again
April
30, 2009
Modi remains in the dock
April
29, 2009
Guns fall silent in Lanka
April
28, 2009
Advance of the Taliban
April
27, 2009

Jilted NRI wives
Law Commission comes to their rescue
Maybe the cries of the jilted NRI wives are somewhere being heard. The Law Commission of India has come out with a slew of recommendations for protecting Indian brides from avaricious NRI grooms. This menace has assumed alarming proportions and the Centre cannot afford to be complacent anymore.

ARTICLE

PM as an MP
Prime Minister can also be from Rajya Sabha
by Virendra Kumar
T
he Tribune has taken up an issue of current public interest: whether the Prime Minister of India can be a member of either of the two Houses of Parliament – the Council of States or the House of the people; or whether necessarily he has to be a member of the House of the people (Opinion page, May 2, 2009). It has presented two diagonally opposite views.

MIDDLE

Vaishnav — A man for all seasons
by Rajan Kashyap
W
e were a large group of 16 IAS trainees, in due course to be allocated to the state cadres of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, on our maiden visit to the Punjab Civil Secretariat. The Deputy Secretary, Services and Political, which was Mr P.H. Vaishnav’s appointment then, was for us the epitome of the authority of the State. Our preconceived picture of a bureaucrat was a personage with a stiff upper lip, reserved, superior and condescending.

OPED

Why Pak army is unwilling to suppress terrorists
by Narendra Singh Sarila
B
illions in US aid that are being showered on Pakistan reminds me of that scene in Slumdog Millionaire that took place at the Taj Mahal in Agra. An American tourist couple happened to ask Jamal, the hero, where they could find a guide to take them round the Taj. “I am a guide and will take you round”, came the prompt reply.

Computer networks are vulnerable
by Roopinder Singh
D
aily attacks on government and private computer systems in the US have drawn the attention of the White House. How many attacks a day? No one is giving the number, but it is said to be in thousands. The fact that many of these attacks came from computers in China and Russia has raised the level of threat perception significantly so much so that President Obama is appointing a White House official to coordinate the effort to defend the US against cyber attacks.

Strengthening security infrastructure
by Saionton Basu
T
he question of ramping up public security infrastructure must now be taken up as a matter of national urgency. As a starting point the holy dogma surrounding public security must be carefully dissected to enable a rational understanding of the areas in which private sector efficiencies can be engaged.


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EDITORIALS

Wanted: Partners
Political scene is fluid despite claims

As the country goes through the fourth phase of elections, the field is wide open as to who will form the next government in Delhi. Both the Congress and the BJP are striking confident poses, but it is quite obvious that it is only for public consumption. The fact is that both are quite jittery as they know that it is likely to be a badly fractured mandate. That is why both are looking frantically for allies. Feelers are flying in all directions. Nobody — friend or foe — is a pariah in lean times. Having lost their base in the Hindi heartland, neither can dream of gathering majority on their own. They are desperate for every little bit of support wherever it comes from. No support will be regarded as tainted or motivated.

The weakness of national parties has translated into the importance of regional partners — some of whom are not even large enough to be called regional. The allies are becoming more and more choosy. The Third Front has apparently not managed to get its act together and there are any number of suitors for persons like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Mayawati and Jayalalithaa. But the potential kingmakers are not revealing their minds. Their response to the back-channel operatives is enigmatic at best and is guaranteed to heighten the suspense. So, who will come to power is as uncertain as the issue of who will partner whom.

It is quite likely some secret understandings may have been sewn up already. But these will be meaningful only after the results are out. It is post-election alliances which will matter and those will be based on the arithmetic of how many seats which party has won. The understanding that various parties or leaders evolve with each other before the results may become invalid, with loyalties and inclinations of politicians being fickle and always subject to which way the wind blows. But what is agitating everyone’s mind is whether these loose alliances will be able to give the country a stable government. At a time when the economy is struggling to come out of the economic slow-down, India just cannot afford the luxury of another early election. Political instability can wipe away all the gains which the country has managed to accumulate in the recent times and throw up a lot of uncertainty.

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Buffalo and Bangalore
Obama move may hurt US firms also

That President Barack Obama’s policies should be guided by American interest, especially at this critical time, is understandable. But in his enthusiasm to keep Americans jobs at home, he is hurting the already troubled industries and businesses, which alone can boost employment and growth, nationally and globally. On the one hand, he is announcing packages to rescue collapsing banks and firms and, on the other, he is raising taxes on companies that move their operations outside the US to cut costs, save on taxes and stay in business. In the process, he is eroding the widely held faith in globalisation, which requires a free movement of goods, services and jobs. And he is not the only leader engaged in rolling back globalisation.

Stopping tax breaks to companies operating abroad is not the first step that projects President Obama as an overenthusiastic protectionist. Earlier, the US Congress had slapped curbs on the hiring of H1B professionals by American firms. Government aid has been made available on the condition that firms will employ Americans only and use inputs made in America. In yet another questionable move, the Obama administration has barred firms, including some in India, from engaging with Iran in any way if they want to do business with the US. This may become an avoidable irritant in the Indo-US relations.

It is not hard to understand that the US is in deep trouble; many Americans have lost homes and jobs and President Obama is doing everything possible to cut short recession. But such extreme steps can prove counter-productive. If US firms hire Indian professionals, it is because equally qualified, talented people are unavailable in America at same salaries. Outsourcing work to India, China and other low-cost destinations benefits US firms as much as it does the countries where new jobs are created. FICCI has called the latest US move as “a retrograde step”. But to think that the relations between the two countries can be divorced from the logic that was bringing them closer would be unrealistic.

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Jilted NRI wives
Law Commission comes to their rescue

Maybe the cries of the jilted NRI wives are somewhere being heard. The Law Commission of India has come out with a slew of recommendations for protecting Indian brides from avaricious NRI grooms. This menace has assumed alarming proportions and the Centre cannot afford to be complacent anymore. In the larger interest of Indian women married to NRIs, the government should study the 219th report seriously and implement the recommendations fast. The commission has recommended compulsory registration of marriages, particularly when one of the spouses is an NRI. This is welcome because it will ensure compliance of conditions of a valid marriage, provide proof of marriage and act as a deterrent for bigamy. Simultaneously, the NRI spouses will have to furnish marriage registration documents to their embassy or high commission in India.

The commission headed by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan has suggested changes in the existing laws on marriage, divorce, maintenance and alimony, adoption, child custody and matrimonial property. Its proposals for setting up of family courts to tackle problems relating to family law issues as also fast track courts for time-bound disposal of cases relating to succession, transfer of property, execution of wills and repatriation of NRI funds are salutary and need to be implemented in right earnest. In this context, it has asked the government to simplify and streamline the existing procedures. The Punjab government has made amendments in the East Punjab Rent Restrictions Act and the Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act for the summary trial of disputes regarding agricultural, commercial and residential property. Surprisingly, however, there are no fast track courts in Punjab and other states to settle these matters expeditiously. The commission’s proposal for fast track courts is expected to fill this important gap.

Unfortunately, over 30,000 Indian women have been cheated by NRIs so far, half of which hail from Punjab. NRI boys land in Punjab, marry local girls, pocket the dowry and leave for abroad. When they accompany their husbands abroad, these brides are shocked to often see them settled in Britain, the US or Canada with families and children. It’s time to call this bluff and save women at home. While the Law Commission’s recommendations, if implemented, will help tackle the problem, prospective brides, before tying the knot, should make thorough inquiries about the spouses’ marital status and bona fides with overseas Indian associations, cultural bodies, sports and women’s clubs as a precaution. NRI husbands, not all though, can hoodwink the laws abroad, leaving the wives helpless on the street.

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Thought for the Day

When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen. — Samuel Lover

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ARTICLE

PM as an MP
Prime Minister can also be from Rajya Sabha
by Virendra Kumar

The Tribune has taken up an issue of current public interest: whether the Prime Minister of India can be a member of either of the two Houses of Parliament – the Council of States or the House of the people; or whether necessarily he has to be a member of the House of the people (Opinion page, May 2, 2009). It has presented two diagonally opposite views. The broader inclusive view is that of Mr K.N. Bhat, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, whereas the restrictive exclusive view is that of Mr M. Rama Jois, a former Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and currently a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha. For maintaining its claim to the tradition of independence and impartiality, both contrasting views have been published simultaneously and that, too, in parallel columns, almost exactly with the same measure in words as well as in space!

When on a constitutional issue there are two directly opposite views by two personages, who are distinguished legal luminaries in their own right, it is tempting to take the middle course and say that both are right. But that would be, as reminded by Vice-President Hamid Ansari only the other day (“Intellectual and society,” The Tribune, May 3, 2009), getting into the habit of “avoidance,” “that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take.” This has prompted me to examine the contentious proposition afresh on first principles by adhering to the hitherto recognised juristic principles.

For democratic functioning of our polity, we have envisaged in our Constitution the creation of the Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President (Article 74). The President shall appoint the Prime Minister, and other Ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minster [Article 75(1)]. “The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People” [Article 75(3)]. “A Minister who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of either House of Parliament shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a Minister” [Article 75(5)].

The answer to the debatable issue is contained in Article 75 of the Constitution. According to Mr Jois, the wording of the relevant clauses of this article “gives the clearest indication” of the “correct answer,” and that answer is “that only a person who enjoys the confidence of the majority of the Lok Sabha can be appointed as Prime Minister.” “On this question,” in his considered opinion, “there is no controversy having due regard to the established democratic convention.” He derives this conclusion by emphasising that since “the wording” of Clause (3) “says that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible for the House of the people,” the word “minister” in Clause (5) of necessity must be construed narrowly so as not to include “Prime Minister” within its ambit (emphasis added).

A few responses would be in order here. One, there seems to be a slight mix-up of “to” and “for” while construing the concept of collective responsibility. If we say that a person is “responsible for the House of the People,” it seems to signify that that person is one of the members of that House. However, it bears different connotation when a person is said to be “responsible to the House of the People”, conveying that that person may not be a member of that House.

Two, the word “minister” in Clause (5) of Article 75 and in an analogous provision in Clause (4) of Article 164 relating to States has been interpreted in catena of cases without a single dissent that connotatively it includes “Prime Minister.” In this respect, Mr Bhat has rightly referred to the unanimous decisions of the five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice S.M. Sikri (the other justices included A.N. Grover, A.N. Ray, C.A. Vaiadialingam and J.M. Shelat) in Har Sharan Verma vs. Tribhuvan Narain Singh (1971) and the two-judge Bench consisting of Chief Justice A.M. Ahmadi and Justice (Mrs.) Sujata V. Manohar in S.P. Anand vs. H.D. Deve Gowda and Others (1996). The same stand has been recently reiterated by the two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice P.P. Naolekar in Ashok Pandey vs K. Mayawati and Others (2007).

Three, the only judicially decided case to which specific reference has been made by Mr Jois in support of his stand is that of Ms. Jayalalithaa, whose appointment as Chief Minister is stated to be struck down by the apex court for not being a member of the Legislative Assembly. However, our perusal of this case, which is cited as B.R. Kapoor vs State of Tamil Nadu (2001), reveals an entirely different perspective. In this case, the five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court set aside Ms Jayalalithaa’s appointment as Chief Minister, because she was convicted of a criminal offence and her conviction had not been suspended pending appeal and thereby incurred disqualification under Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Four, Mr Jois’ reference to the “pending consideration before the Supreme Court in which the constitutionality of the appointment of Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda as the Chief Minister of Haryana, when he was not a member of the state legislature, is challenged,” is not likely to add any new dimension because the issue has already been judicially settled and well-settled by construing the constitutional provisions in the light of the detailed deliberations in the Constituent Assembly. If the observations made by the Supreme Court in the H.D. Deve Gowda case bear any significance, they unmistakably convey that the court would not tolerate a litigant who “behaves like a knight-errant roaming at will in pursuit of issues providing publicity,” and “rush to court without undertaking a research, even if he is qualified or competent to raise the issue.” The pending petition, therefore, I strongly suspect, is most likely to be dismissed and also visited “with an order of cost”!

Five, the codified principle of “collective responsibility” of the Council of Ministers to the Lok Sabha is not distracted in any way if the appointed Prime Minister happens to be a member of the Rajya Sabha. This is principally for three reasons: (i) We speak of “Council of Ministers” that includes the Prime Minister, who has been succinctly described by Lord Morley as “primus inter pares” (first amongst equals) and not “Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister.” (ii) The Prime Minister as a Rajya Sabha MP has a right to speak and to take part in the proceedings of the Lok Sabha though he has no right to vote in that House (Article 88). (iii) As a member of the Council of Ministers, he is equally responsible for the success or failure of the policies adopted in the Cabinet meeting, and this ensures that governance is in line with popular opinion.

Six, the British convention of preferring a member of the House of Commons over the House of Lords as Prime Minister is of little value to us in India where we have consciously codified in our own Constitution a wider spectrum of choice from either House of Parliament. Otherwise also, why should the membership of the “Upper House”, where a person is elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assembly, be at a discount in relation to the membership of the “Lower House”, where a member is elected directly. In fact, the former involves, so-to-speak, the “double-distillation” process as distinguished from the “single-distillation” in the case of the latter!

The writer is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Laws, and UGC Emeritus Fellow, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

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MIDDLE

Vaishnav — A man for all seasons
by Rajan Kashyap

We were a large group of 16 IAS trainees, in due course to be allocated to the state cadres of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, on our maiden visit to the Punjab Civil Secretariat. The Deputy Secretary, Services and Political, which was Mr P.H. Vaishnav’s appointment then, was for us the epitome of the authority of the State. Our preconceived picture of a bureaucrat was a personage with a stiff upper lip, reserved, superior and condescending.

The meeting with Mr Vaishnav saw a dramatic reversal of our expectations. For here was a jovial young man not too much older than ourselves, who put us awe-stricken new entrants immediately at ease, walking to each probationer, exchanging pleasantries and wonder of wonders, offering us cigarettes from his stock (Four Squares the brand was, but he was soon to quit smoking altogether).

After enquiring from each of us our preferred station of appointment for the period of district training, Mr Vaishnav personally escorted us to the office rooms of the senior- most officers of the government. What amazed me was the nonchalance with which he confronted these doyens of the civil service. Not excessively deferential, and certainly never obsequious even to such strong personalities as Mr Gyan Singh Kahlon, the Chief Secretary, or Financial Commissioners AL Fletcher, BS Grewal and Sarup Krishan, Vaishnav presented us as VIPs whom the seniors were privileged to meet.

Vaishnav ensured that the moment he brought us into the precincts all other visitors would magically vanish from each office room, along with the tape-bound official files from the tables.

In a way, Vaishnav was a bridge between the members of the old ICS and the freshly incubated IAS. Always informal and jocular, he regaled us with anecdotes of the eccentricities of the elder bureaucrats, and even of the political leaders, with both of whom he maintained terms of easy familiarity.

Born a Gujarati, Vaishnav conversed in the chaste idiom of rural Punjab. A gifted public speaker and mimic, he would have the company in splits with jokes about Haryanvis and Gujaratis alike in the typical local dialect. In Vaishnav’s presence the meetings of the Indian Civil and Administrative Association were a theatre for repartee. Here Vaishnav was ranged against several wits and scholars, mostly senior to him. The debates involved banter, and sometimes not too gentle satire. When Vaishnav usually stole the show in such cut and thrust, it endeared him to the younger colleagues, even as it left some bosses red-faced.

One quality representative of the man was his joie de vivre. Vaishnav never really retired. After leaving the government he was the prime mover of the IAS Retired Officers Association, and headed numerous other bodies for noble social causes. He often joked that IAS officers became more active as members of the retirees club than they ever were in service. It remains a mystery as to how he found time to head and efficiently manage numerous non-government organisations.

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OPED

Why Pak army is unwilling to suppress terrorists
by Narendra Singh Sarila

Billions in US aid that are being showered on Pakistan reminds me of that scene in Slumdog Millionaire that took place at the Taj Mahal in Agra. An American tourist couple happened to ask Jamal, the hero, where they could find a guide to take them round the Taj. “I am a guide and will take you round”, came the prompt reply.

The Americans were so overwhelmed at finding a willing hand so readily that the man immediately flashed out a hundred dollar note and gave it to the boy. Jamal then coolly spun out tales about the Taj – a bit in the slick style of our Zardari Sahib – with no connection to actual facts, for which he was showered with many more dollars.

All this would be very funny but for the despairing fact that this American largess to Pakistan is giving a boost to terrorism in the region and afar.

The Americans are not unaware of Pakistan’s role in bolstering terrorism. President Obama himself proclaimed before the American legislatures on March 27 that: Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe havens in Pakistan. (There is no mention of these being planned from Afghanistan.)

He added: Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al Qaeda in Pakistan, as were attacks in Islamabad and Kabul. He further warned: That if there is a major attack on an Asian or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. The safety of the people around the world is at stake.

Simultaneously, Admiral Mullen , the Chief of Staff of the US Armed Forces, told the CNN: That the US intelligence has proof that the Pakistan military has been helping the Taliban and al Qaeda with war material and military advice and even warning the terrorists in advance to disperse from those of their bases the US was going to bomb.

Yet, this year alone $ 3 billion in direct military aid and $ 7.5 billion over five years have been promised. Plus 5.2 billion by the US friends - Japan, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and others at the US-sponsored Tokyo conference.

President Obama has said that there will be no blank cheques to Pakistan, but we are not told what conditions will be laid down for writing the cheques. Judging by newspaper reports, the Tokyo donors did not propose any conditions to their aid.

Since the US aid was announced, the Pakistan government has handed over Swat and large parts of the Malakand division of the Frontier Province to the Taliban.

The Taliban, on their part, have declared that to surrender arms in Swat, as per the agreement with the government would be an un-Islamic act and have vowed to enforce Islamic law throughout Pakistan, that is to say, take over the whole country. They have further declared that democracy is un-Islamic and unfit for Pakistan.

Hillary Clinton said that “if the Pakistan government is too weak we wont get changes (results.)” – an argument to shower more aid “to strengthen the government”

If you donate vast funds without instituting any checks to monitor them and if you repeatedly praise Pakistan for its “brave fight” against terrorism, when you know they are, in fact, double-crossing you, as the US has been doing, are you not encouraging Pakistan’s double-dealing and the Taliban’s terrorism?

Apparently, despite Obama’s and Mullen’s revelations, US policy has, so far, not escaped from the old mould of pussyfooting with the Pakistan government. The Taliban are now able to bomb targets all over Punjab and are advancing nearer and nearer to Kahuta, where Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are concentrated.

Because of its nuclear arsenal, the terrorist threat in Pakistan is a far more serious and urgent problem for the world than the situation in Afghanistan, on which the Americans are mostly concentrating.

Besides continuing US aid to this terrorist state, there is another reason why the Pak army will not suppress the Taliban and why they have been playing a double game. Pakistani terrorism was initially given birth to by the Pakistani military, as part of its forward policy against India-and not by the Mullahs.

If they could not dismember India by war, they could perhaps do so through a policy of ‘a thousand cuts’-terrorism.

The Pakistan military, especially since the presidency of General Zia-ul-Huq, has been influenced by the tenets preached by Abdul al Mawdudi, the leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, who advocated a government based on the Shariat, a clash of civilizations and jehad against non-believers.

Their goals are no different from the goals of the terrorist organisations they have created – of course, the Taliban, but also Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-e- Jhangvi. Lashkar-e-Taiba made its goal clear as follows: “Whoever takes part in jehad against India, Allah will set free from the pyres of hell”.

The fact that after the US Defence Secretary, Bill Gates threatened a rupture in US-Pak relations-meaning no more aid-if Pakistan continues to surrender to the Taliban, the Pak army, within 24 hours, persuaded the Taliban to retreat from parts of Buner district, that lies south of Swat, indicates that contacts, to put it mildly, exist between the two. No doubt, Pakistan has arranged this tactical retreat to impress the American public and take the wind out of Gates’ remarks.

Saeed Minhas, editor of Pakistani daily Aaj Kal, explained to a recent Idea Exchange organised by the Indian Express newspaper : “The problem is that our army has always been indoctrinated to fight the jehadi forces which have morphed into the Taliban. (For them) to make a U-turn now is bit of a problem.”

Only the other day Pak Premier Gillani called the Taliban tribesmen “patriots.” All this puts Pakistanis, who realise the dangers of supping with the devil, on the defensive.

As an Indian I am even more concerned with this menace than any American could ever be-because whereas America is at a distance from Pakistan and powerful, we are next door and have a Muslim population of 150 million, of whom even if 5 per cent get influenced by this perverted form of Islam that is being preached from, and is growing, in Pakistan, we would be in dire straits.

If the Talibanisation of Pakistan is not stopped, they and their terrorist outfits will claim areas in India where the Muslims reside.

Pakistan, in fact, is cultivating the jehadi philosophy and forces in Pakistan with the long-term aim to do exactly that by influencing Indian Muslims. And to dismember India. Even though their alliance with the Taliban is now endangering Pakistan’s future, the military’s hate for India is stronger than its love for, and well-being of, its own country.

The writer is a former Ambassador to France and other countries

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Computer networks are vulnerable
by Roopinder Singh

Daily attacks on government and private computer systems in the US have drawn the attention of the White House. How many attacks a day? No one is giving the number, but it is said to be in thousands. The fact that many of these attacks came from computers in China and Russia has raised the level of threat perception significantly so much so that President Obama is appointing a White House official to coordinate the effort to defend the US against cyber attacks.

Dharamshala became the focus of international attention when a foreign security agency announced on March 28 that it had detected a cyber spy network that had tapped into classified documents from government and private organisations in 103 countries, including the computers of Tibetans in exile. In its report, titled Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network, the agency said the servers used for the espionage were based largely in China. The government of China, however, denied the claim.

The report came after a 10-month investigation by the Information Warfare Monitor (IWM), a Canadian organisation. A request of the Dalai Lama’s office initiated the inquiry. Researchers from SecDev Group and the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies found that foreign ministries of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Barbados and Bhutan were targeted. Among the embassies whose computer systems were hacked into were those of India, South Korea, Indonesia, the Germany and Pakistan.

Cyber crime, espionage and attacks take place regularly and the annual McAfee Virtual Criminology Report 2008 maintains that international cyber spying is the single biggest security threat. It also flags other major trends that threaten online services like banking and the emergence of a new, sophisticated, market for malware.

The McAfee report has inputs from NATO, the FBI and academics. Besides cyber spying and attacks, it also raises the prospect of critical national infrastructure network systems such as electricity, air traffic control, financial markets, etc., being targeted.

On April 8, it was shown that the US electric power transmission is susceptible to cyber-warfare. Hackers reportedly infiltrated the US electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system. The finger of suspicion pointed at China or Russia-either governments or individuals based in these countries.

Increasingly, cyber assaults have become sophisticated and are now designed to thwart cyber defences. While a cyber assault would not be as physically lethal as an atomic attack, it could have an equivalent impact. A former director of US national intelligence, Mike McConnell, said a successful cyber attack has “the ability to threaten the US money supply ... (it) is the equivalent of today’s nuclear weapon.”

His one-time deputy, Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security Councils, was asked by President Obama to conduct a 60-day cyberspace policy review. While the report has yet to be made public, she spoke at the RSA Conference, a major cyber security meet, in San Francisco, recently.

Hathaway said there have been “countless intrusions” which have allowed criminals to steal millions and spies to pilfer intellectual property and other secrets. She cited the November 2008 incident when 130 ATMs around the world were secretly emptied in a single 30-minute period by criminals who cleaned out $9 million.

ATM networks are well defended but vulnerable, and some experts feel that building higher firewalls and better virus detectors is not the answer to cyber attacks, neither is restricting access to computers. An approach that is now being advocated is the cyber variation of “attack is the best form of defence” truism that calls for having a robust capability to wage cyber war.

This argument, however, suffers from a major flaw-when to attack? Should a pre-emptive attack be launched on computers that have malicious software, or should it be after the attack. The first would be an act of war on servers situated in a foreign country, which would be expected to retaliate.

In any case, nations with cyber warfare capabilities, like the US, China and Russia, are far more dependent on computers than less developed countries that could be used to launch such attacks. Also, it is often very difficult to ascertain where the attack came from, especially if the attackers disguise their electronic footprint, which they certainly will.

Who to blame? It is the anarchic world of the lightly policed Internet; thus, it is difficult to lay the blame on governments. While a series of coordinated attacks on American computer systems since 2003, called Titan Rain, are said to be Chinese in origin, precise information on them is unavailable.

Pakistani and Indian hackers regularly spar on the Internet, but as of now no one is blaming the governments. The National Informatics Centre (NIC) is Indian government’s nodal agency for computer networking and its servers have faced the brunt of the attacks which have increased exponentially in the past months. De-linking and decentralising such networks would physically make the job of the hackers much more difficult.

India is the fourth largest IT power in the world, but it is unfortunate that the number of individuals and organisations engaged in ensuring cyber security is far too less. More focus is needed both on educating computer users about security issues as well as training engineers who can serve to improve cyber security.

The government cannot afford to be complacent or inert. It needs to take a page from President Obama’s dynamic book and urgently assess the cyber security situation in the country, and provide means to secure the nation’s cyber future from external attacks.

There is no doubt that cyberspace can’t be protected in a jiffy, and it will need much effort and planning to secure the nation’s cyber borders, but we need to recognise that we are ill-prepared for a war that could disable our economy and security significantly. Our defensive measures need to move swiftly and surely, proactively cutting though government inertia and procrastination. New challenges abound and we must be prepared to defend ourselves.

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Strengthening security infrastructure
by Saionton Basu

The question of ramping up public security infrastructure must now be taken up as a matter of national urgency. As a starting point the holy dogma surrounding public security must be carefully dissected to enable a rational understanding of the areas in which private sector efficiencies can be engaged.

While the intelligence, enforcement and policing functions will necessarily remain within the sovereign domain, development and maintenance of public security infrastructure by private sector participation needs consideration.

The aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks saw the government swing into action in putting into place amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and passing the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008.

While the former seeks to make detention provisions more stringent by providing for up to 180 days against 90 days at present, the latter provides for investigation of terror-related offences.

Both these legislative actions seek to fortify the state response once an act of terror has occurred but does precious little for investing in securing the public commons.

Ramping up public security infrastructure must necessarily include a nationwide closed circuit television (CCTV) network, setting up control rooms that receive and store the feed from CCTVs, upgrading the police and investigation agency equipment, providing the latest surveillance technology on a real time basis - the idea being that the law enforcement agencies should get these before terrorists do.

A greater emphasis must be on air and marine surveillance and policing and to this extent, the necessary wherewithal must be made available.

While all of this is well known in the internal security hierarchy, video clippings of the fateful minutes before Hemant Karkare was gunned down show that very little by way of procurement of high-tech equipment has been done for even the top anti-terror official in the country.

This is where the government must wake up to devise a mechanism whereby private sector participation is encouraged through tax concessions and viability gap funding options through the grant of “infrastructure” status, so that there is an immediate visible installation of key public security infrastructure, which is kept in a constant state of upkeep.

Rickety dysfunctional cameras hanging from tree tops in public places and children watching out for suspicious elements on the Prime Minister’s travel route bring shame to a country which has so much to be proud of.

A transparent independent body, perhaps a hybrid between the Central Vigilance Commission and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India, ought to be set up to monitor procurements in this sector.

Given the susceptibility of equipment being bought on considerations other than pure war-time merit, it is imperative that a regulatory body exercises its duties in the same manner as a bloodhound!

As with any other form of PPP, safeguards in the selection of private sector participants will have to be maintained. While the PPP model in sectors such as highways, airports, ports, railways, telecom and power have met with considerable success, unless public security infrastructure is taken up as a priority area all of that progress could well be undone.

The writer is an advocate, Supreme Court

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