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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Can’t be just goodwill
Left-Congress may try to keep BJP at bay
H
ad the Left Front not drifted away from the Congress on the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Lok Sabha election this year might not have been so full of suspense. But with barely two days left now for the verdict to be revealed, the Congress and the Left Front appear to be edging closer again, reluctantly or because of the circumstances they are placed in.

Jaya Prada in distress
EC must come to her rescue
Jaya Prada has been a fairly known Bollywood actress, who is now a sitting MP from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. She has been made to shed more real tears during her campaigning than she might have shed glycerine during her illustrious film career. Her opponents — allegedly supporters of Samajwadi Party rebel Azam Khan — have distributed her morphed posters and CDs showing her in objectionable scenes.





EARLIER STORIES

Before and after
May 12, 2009
Plunder of Aravali
May 11, 2009
Caught in the crossfire
May 10, 2009
A shocking give and take
May 9, 2009
Obama to Zardari
May 8, 2009
Wanted: Partners
May 7, 2009
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

The shifting scene
AP politics may surprise script writers
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s decision to support the NDA in forming a government at the Centre is doubtlessly a blow to the so-called Grand Alliance it is part of in Andhra Pradesh along with the Telugu Desam, the CPI and the CPM as well as to the nascent Third Front which is striving for power in New Delhi. The TRS had won only five Lok Sabha seats in the 2004 elections and is expected to increase its tally marginally this time but the real significance of its tie-up lay in the fact that the scales had tilted in the alliance’s favour vis-a-vis the Congress in the Telangana region which accounts for 17 of the State’s 42 seats.

ARTICLE

Modi’s nemesis
Gujarat riots will continue to haunt him
by Amulya Ganguli
N
arendra Modi’s name may have been advanced as a future prime minister by several BJP leaders, though not by Rajnath Singh, and the Gujarat strong man can also have the satisfaction of having shared a dais at the NDA’s last major rally with Nitish Kumar, who had earlier been reluctant to do so. But he cannot be unaware of the fact that there is every likelihood of his past acts of omission and commission catching up with him.

MIDDLE

Remembering Vimla Dang
by Dinesh Kumar
L
ast Sunday, Punjab lost an outstanding social activist belonging to that rare breed of politicians who spend their lives in selfless service of the suffering. She may not have been as celebrated as Mother Teresa, but octogenarian Vimla Dang, a Kashmiri Pandit from Allahabad, was one of Punjab’s finest and most principled social workers.

OPED

Karzai’s warlords
They control jobs, money and land in Afghanistan
by Patrick Cockburn
O
ne of the most feared of the Afghan warlords, Faryadi Zardad, was notorious for robbing, raping, torturing and killing travellers and rip the flesh of his victims; other captives were murdered or imprisoned until they died of their sufferings or bribes were paid for their release.

Handlooms need to be saved
by Bharat Dogra
P
anipat has been famous as a big centre of handloom weaving, but the cancellation of export orders in the recent economic meltdown has led to a huge disruption of work.

Inside Pakistan
Swat war: looking for exit route
by Syed Nooruzzaman
A
s the war between Pakistani troops and Taliban militants rages in Swat and the rest of Malakand division in the NWFP, Islamabad has begun to concentrate on an “exit policy”. As Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Monday, the military action had to be followed by measures to strengthen the law-enforcement agencies “with enhanced capacities and better equipment, bomb-proof police stations and devices to jam illegal FM radio broadcasts used for rebel propaganda”.

  • Exodus problem

  • Army to blame


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EDITORIALS

Can’t be just goodwill
Left-Congress may try to keep BJP at bay

Had the Left Front not drifted away from the Congress on the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the Lok Sabha election this year might not have been so full of suspense. But with barely two days left now for the verdict to be revealed, the Congress and the Left Front appear to be edging closer again, reluctantly or because of the circumstances they are placed in. This is obviously because the Congress would like to keep all doors open and also because for the Left, it would be yet another “historic blunder” if their rigid opposition to the Congress allows the BJP-led NDA to stage a come-back. The Left-inspired Third Front has, of course, proved to be a non-starter of sorts. Most of the constituents of the Third Front appear to be keeping their options open. While the Telengana Rashtra Samiti has already broken ranks and pledged support to the NDA, the Left Front cannot be said to be sure of which way leaders like Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu and Jayalalithaa will eventually turn. CPM leader Prakash Karat’s desperation in holding the Third Front together has been evident for some time and his not-so-subtle overtures to Naveen Patnaik and even Sharad Pawar have not gone unnoticed. As it is, neither the Congress nor the Left Front seems to have much choice but to get together, Prakash Karat’s wishes notwithstanding.

While political compulsions, if not dialectics, might dictate such a marriage of convenience, the Congress has already been threatened with “talaq” by the mercurial Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. Mamata Di is in no position to accept any Congress dalliance with the Left. But when it comes to the crunch, the Congress might find it convenient to dump her and embrace the Left, which is likely to be numerically way ahead of Mamata’s strength in the Lok Sabha. CPM leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s statement on Monday that for the Left, the Congress is not “untouchable” is to be understood in this context. Bhattacharjee, who is regarded as a “friend” by Dr Manmohan Singh, has, of course, sought to kill two birds with one clever statement, designed as much to drive a wedge between Mamata and the Congress before the final round of polling as to send out a signal that the Left will be “ willing” when the time comes for the head count. And if one goes by statements on record, the Congress will be happy to accommodate Prakash Karat’s wishes, but not the one for undoing the nuclear deal which really caused the estrangement. The CPM Politburo is meeting in Delhi on May 18 to decide the Left’s future course of action, or attitude towards the Congress. By that time the election results would have brought down many a party from the high pedestal.

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Jaya Prada in distress
EC must come to her rescue

Jaya Prada has been a fairly known Bollywood actress, who is now a sitting MP from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. She has been made to shed more real tears during her campaigning than she might have shed glycerine during her illustrious film career. Her opponents — allegedly supporters of Samajwadi Party rebel Azam Khan — have distributed her morphed posters and CDs showing her in objectionable scenes. The aim apparently is to discredit her in the eyes of the voters. That is an extremely mean thing to do, and in a recent TV interview, she was almost in tears and said that she felt like ending her life. The ugly attack on her was actually an assault on all women who dare to come out of the four walls of their houses to make a niche for themselves. It is sad that the male-dominated world treats them only as playthings, and uses every opportunity to launch a gender-based broadside.

That is why the representation of women in Parliament and Vidhan Sabhas is minuscule. Very few women jump into the electoral fray. Out of them also, very few get elected. And even those who do make it have to live under a glass ceiling. Elementary rules of decency and gentlemanliness are broken when it comes to women — more so in politics.

Distributing fake CDs is the worst form of intimidation against a woman. But even otherwise, they have to cope with discrimination in a million ways. This type of male chauvinism has to be resisted not only by women, but by the entire society if it has to take along the neglected half of the country. It will not do to say that those in public life should have a thick skin. That way, only the very bravest of women will venture out. To make sure that all of them occupy responsible positions, it must be ensured that they do not have to suffer any maltreatment merely because they are women. In Jaya Prada’s case, meanwhile, the Election Commission should immediately order an inquiry and take the necessary steps to ensure that her dignity and honour are not subjected to public debate or ridicule.

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The shifting scene
AP politics may surprise script writers

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s decision to support the NDA in forming a government at the Centre is doubtlessly a blow to the so-called Grand Alliance it is part of in Andhra Pradesh along with the Telugu Desam, the CPI and the CPM as well as to the nascent Third Front which is striving for power in New Delhi. The TRS had won only five Lok Sabha seats in the 2004 elections and is expected to increase its tally marginally this time but the real significance of its tie-up lay in the fact that the scales had tilted in the alliance’s favour vis-a-vis the Congress in the Telangana region which accounts for 17 of the State’s 42 seats. Now, while the TDP is tightlipped, it is quite on the cards that the alliance between them will not hold unless the TDP is successfully cajoled into supporting the NDA at least from outside.

Evidently, it was the TDP that TRS leader Chandrashekhar Rao had in mind when he indicated at the recent NDA Ludhiana rally that he would mobilize support of other like-minded parties for the NDA. Though there is no love lost any longer between the TDP and the BJP, a snapping of links between the TDP and the TRS could work to the benefit of the Congress. With 42 seats at stake in Andhra Pradesh, both the UPA and its rivals led by the TDP are vying with each other for bagging the bulk of them. If the TDP-TRS combine stays opposed to the Congress as is likely, the Congress tally may fall well below the 29 that it notched up in 2004.

The fledgling Praja Rajyam party of actor Chiranjeevi may cut into the votes of both the Congress and the TDP but is not expected to amount to much in the Lok Sabha elections. However, with the Assembly elections expected to throw up a hung assembly, Chiranjeevi could well be in a position to play the ‘king-maker.’ Belonging as he does to the Kapu caste which has an adversarial relationship with the Kammas that TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu represents, Chiranjeevi may well opt to go with the Congress rather than supporting another regional outfit that could pose a threat to his party’s existence. The Andhra political scene is shifting fast and can, like a Telgu film, cause many a surprise not visualised in the original script.

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Thought for the Day

The best number for a dinner party is two — myself and a damn good head waiter. — Nubar Gulbenkian

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ARTICLE

Modi’s nemesis
Gujarat riots will continue to haunt him
by Amulya Ganguli

Narendra Modi’s name may have been advanced as a future prime minister by several BJP leaders, though not by Rajnath Singh, and the Gujarat strong man can also have the satisfaction of having shared a dais at the NDA’s last major rally with Nitish Kumar, who had earlier been reluctant to do so. But he cannot be unaware of the fact that there is every likelihood of his past acts of omission and commission catching up with him. Such latent fears must have been enhanced by the Supreme Court’s recent decision to order a probe into his role during the Gujarat riots of 2002.

This is an unprecedented step for never before has a chief minister’s alleged complicity in a communal outbreak been directly investigated by the apex court. In a way, however, it was an ignominy waiting to happen for Modi. The reason is that right from the evening of February 27 of 2002, when he issued what a senior intelligence officer of the state, R.B.Sreekumar, described as “unconstitutional directives” to the police, the chief minister’s role has been the subject of intense speculation.

According to the report of an unofficial tribunal which investigated the riots, its members heard from “a highly placed source” that Modi had ordered the police to do nothing to contain the Hindu “anger” over the arson attack on the Sabarmati Express which led to the deaths of 58 kar sevaks who were returning from Ayodhya. The source, who revealed the “state secret”, had asked the tribunal not to disclose his identity lest he should come to any harm. He was subsequently identified as Haren Pandya, a minister in Modi’s Cabinet. As is known, his fears came true. But not before he had written to the BJP chief in Gujarat to seek protection from the “whims and fancies” of an individual.

These whims and fancies were also evident from Modi’s choice of a retired high court judge, K.G. Shah, to head the judicial probe into the outbreak. Nothing unusual about the step except that Shah was indicted by none other than the Supreme Court for sentencing five Muslims to death not so much on the basis of “evidence” as of his own “imagination”. Once this dubious background of Shah came to light, Modi had no option but to accept the appointment of G.T.Nanavati as the senior judge in the commission. However, the episode suggested that the chief minister was not greatly interested in an impartial assessment of the tragedy.

The Modi government’s indifferent approach to the riots was further confirmed by the haste with which virtually all the cases relating to them were closed by the police, either because of lack of evidence or the inability to find the culprits or because some of the witnesses had turned hostile, evidently under pressure from the police acting in collusion with the suspects. As Amnesty International noted, “the same police force that was accused of colluding with the attackers was put in charge of the investigations into the massacres, undermining the process of delivery of justice to the victims”. The Human Rights Watch had also accused the police of virtually leading the rioters and “aiming and firing at every Muslim who got in the way”, adding that sometimes the police “led the victims directly into the hands of their killers”.

It was this collaboration between the breakers and preservers of law and order which may have fatally weakened the position of the Modi government. Had its complicity been less stark, the Supreme Court might not have intervened to reopen nearly all the closed cases and try some of them outside Gujarat, but also to constitute the Special Investigation Team. Had Modi abided by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s advice to follow raj dharma, which does not distinguish between citizens on the basis of caste or creed, he might have saved himself from the legal hassles which are now in store for him.

It wasn’t only Vajpayee who was critical of him. The Gujarat Governor of the time, S.S.Bhandari, also blamed both the state and the Centre for a delayed reaction to the disturbances, which was a “black stain on the BJP”. Bhandari’s comments are noteworthy because of his prominent RSS background. Just as Vajpayee was presumed to have considered sacking Modi, Bhandari said that removing the chief minister “was one way out, but there were other ways to deal with the situation. The riots were taken so lightly”, he continued, “ that they have left a deep wound … The propaganda related to the (Mahatma) Gandhi assassination went on for 50 years. In the same way, people will continue to talk of Godhra”.

The chances of the Gujarat riots becoming something of a watershed in India’s communal history are now a distinct possibility because of the wide-ranging nature of the SIT’s inquiries. It isn’t only the Chief Minister who is under the scanner, but as many as 15 ministers and MLAs along with senior police officers. In addition, almost all the collectors and superintendents of police of the riot-affected districts are liable to be hauled up for questioning. The storm-troopers of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal may also have to undergo the same ordeal.

It goes without saying that rarely before has a probe of a communal outbreak been on so large and intensive a scale. Nor can it be stalled by a change of government because the investigations are being conducted under the Supreme Court’s guidance. So, the manner in which the Srikrishna Commission probing the Mumbai disturbances of 1992-93 was wound up by the Shiv Sena-BJP government and then neglected by its Congress and NCP successors might not be repeated.

The sordid details of the government’s alleged collusion with the rioters which are bound to come to light during the court hearings cannot but be embarrassing for Modi even if he tries to brazen it out by appealing to the Gujarati asmita (pride) by saying, as he has done, that even if he is hanged, he wants to be reborn in Gujarat to serve the state. The BJP’s efforts to smell a Congress-inspired conspiracy behind the SIT’s investigation are unlikely to cut any ice since it is the Supreme Court, and not the CBI, which is conducting the probe.

A feature of the outbreak was the support it received from Gujarat’s Hindu middle classes. As sociologist Ashis Nandy noted, “most of the state’s urban middle class have remained mired in its inane version of communalism and parochialism” although he expressed the hope that a time would come when there would be “a modicum of remorse and a search for atonement”. For the present, however, the BJP may not suffer much in political terms, at least in Gujarat. However, irrespective of what happens to the political class, it is the civil servants who will realise that they may have to pay a price for blind obedience to the rulers of the day. This salutary lesson cannot but have a wholesome impact on the performance of the bureaucracy all over the country.

Along with the Babri Masjid demolition, the Gujarat riots have come to be inextricably associated with the Sangh Parivar’s anti-minority brand of politics. The probes into the demolition have made little advance either in the courts or in the offices of the Liberhan Commission. As a result, the saffron brigade has never had to pay a price for its sins. The SIT’s probes in Gujarat may have a different ending to the immense benefit of Indian democracy and secularism by establishing the primacy of the rule of law.

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MIDDLE

Remembering Vimla Dang
by Dinesh Kumar

Last Sunday, Punjab lost an outstanding social activist belonging to that rare breed of politicians who spend their lives in selfless service of the suffering. She may not have been as celebrated as Mother Teresa, but octogenarian Vimla Dang, a Kashmiri Pandit from Allahabad, was one of Punjab’s finest and most principled social workers.

I first met this amazing lady through her husband Satyapal Dang when posted in Amritsar as a correspondent. The year was 1987 and terrorism was on its ascendancy post Operation Bluestar. During those morbid days in the Punjab countryside we saw dead bodies for breakfast with a monotonous regularity that had turned many members of our fraternity into cynics. Frightened politicians had abdicated their responsibility and reduced themselves to paper tigers issuing statements that were high on rhetoric and devoid of purpose.

The Dang couple and its small team of dedicated workers were among the few exceptions. Her slight build and diminutive stature hid a steely resolve that drove Vimla Dang to fight relentlessly for the empowerment and uplift of women and the downtrodden for almost the entire period since India attained Independence. In those days, much of her attention was focused on victims of terrorism.

Mrs Dang (and her husband) would valiantly venture into terrorism-afflicted parts of the state braving the wrath of AK-47 wielding terrorists to quietly provide relief to the victims of terrorism, most of whom were widows and orphans. Both she and her husband opposed police atrocities with equal intensity putting to shame many human rights organisations that suffered from a selective vision of human rights abuses.

Most striking thing about Mrs Dang was her simplicity and the passion with which she worked. She hardly held news conferences or spoke about herself. But whenever journalists met her, she would speak about the cause of the victims of terrorist violence and police abuses with passion and energy that made even those in their twenties like me feel old.

Indeed, this twice-elected former Punjab MLA had nothing but the welfare of the distressed at heart and lived a life shorn of the pomp and show that otherwise characterises most politicians, only to fade away as quietly. She had been working for the cause of the aam admi for over half-a-century with single-minded devotion.

From all accounts, Vimla Dang epitomised what a politician and a social worker ought to be. She was among that fast dwindling breed of politicians who believed that politics is a means to serve the people and the country for which one had to be ready to make sacrifices when required rather than treating it as the lucrative profession that it has increasingly become. Her life and work ought to serve as an example and inspiration for all current and future politicians and social workers alike, considering how she played the twin roles of the social activist and people’s representative with compassion, zeal and integrity.

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OPED

Karzai’s warlords
They control jobs, money and land in Afghanistan
by Patrick Cockburn

One of the most feared of the Afghan warlords, Faryadi Zardad, was notorious for robbing, raping, torturing and killing travellers and rip the flesh of his victims; other captives were murdered or imprisoned until they died of their sufferings or bribes were paid for their release.

Uniquely among the warlords of Afghanistan, many guilty of actions similar to his own, Zardad is in prison for his crimes. In 1998, as the Taliban overran Afghanistan, he fled to Britain on a fake passport. He was running a pizza restaurant in south London in 2000 when he was unmasked by the BBC, and in 2005 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Britain.

Zardad must consider himself exceptionally unlucky. Other warlords, who were once his comrades in arms, are now part of the political elite in Kabul, prominent members of the government or multimillionaire owners of palatial houses in the capital.

At the time Zardad was torturing and killing at his much-feared checkpoint at Sarobi on the Kabul-Kandahar road in 1992-96, he was a valued military commander in the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmetyar, the leader of the fundamentalist Hizb-e-Islami party.

Rockets and shells fired into Kabul by Hekmetyar’s soldiers devastated the city and killed thousands of people before it was captured by the Taliban.

More recently, Hekmetyar’s forces, who are particularly strong in Logar province just south of the capital, have been fighting as allies of the Taliban.

But in the latest twist in Afghan politics, in which leaders switch sides and betray each other as swiftly as any English duke in the Wars of the Roses, Hekmetyar is reportedly about to start negotiations to join the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai.

Under a power-sharing deal, his party would supposedly fill several ministerial posts and governorships in return for abandoning the Taliban. He himself would go into exile in Saudi Arabia for three years at the end of which the US would remove him from its list of “most wanted” terrorists.

A deal between Hekmetyar and President Karzai’s government is not impossible, although a government spokesman has denied it. The Taliban have made plain in the past that they neither like nor trust him. It was in opposition to warlords such as him that the Taliban first arose in 1994.

If Hekmetyar’s party does enter the government, its members will find themselves surrounded by many familiar faces. Just before Mr Karzai went to Washington to see President Barack Obama last week, he neatly divided the opposition, and almost certainly ensured his re-election as President, by selecting as his vice-presidential running-mate Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a powerful Tajik former warlord.

Human Rights Watch protested that General Fahim had the blood of many Afghans on his hands, but President Karzai stressed his courageous role in the war against the Soviet occupation.

Though Mr Karzai is increasingly unpopular because of failing security across Afghanistan and the extreme corruption of his government, he is likely to win re-election easily because he has co-opted the warlords who are Afghanistan’s main power-brokers. Frequently denounced for being weak and indecisive, Mr Karzai, never a warlord himself, is again showing his skill in dancing between the rain-drops of Afghan politics.

US criticism of his rule, which reached high volume a few months ago, has died away because Washington sees nobody who can replace him. Unfortunately for Afghans, the political landscape of their country gelled at the time of the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and has not really changed since.

One reason the Taliban had been able to conquer most of Afghanistan in the 1990s, aside from the support of Pakistan, was by taking advantage of a popular reaction against warlords. Zardad ruled only a small area, but far more powerful rulers were just as cruel and corrupt as he was.

Much of northern Afghanistan was ruled by the Uzbek general, Rashid Dostum, who had been part of the Communist regime and commanded a powerful army. The Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid once arrived to interview him in a fort overlooking his capital of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Noticing bloodstains and scraps of flesh in the muddy courtyard he asked the guards if they had slaughtered a goat. They explained that an hour earlier General Dostum had punished a soldier for theft.

“The man had been tied to the tracks of a Russian-made tank,” records Mr Rashid, “which then drove around the courtyard crushing his body into mincemeat, while the garrison and Dostum watched.”

At the time of the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, warlords including General Dostum and General Fahim were fighting for their lives or were in exile. But within hours of 9/11, the US was looking for local allies to provide the ground troops which, backed by US airpower, advisers and money, would overthrow the Taliban in Kabul.

In a couple of months warlords, many from the main opposition grouping, the Northern Alliance, were the new rulers of Afghanistan. Few of them now wear uniform, but they have held power ever since.

General Dostum has gone into luxurious exile in Istanbul after a murderous assault on a Turkoman leader, but he remains influential among his followers and owns a fine pink palace in the famously wealthy Kabul neighbourhood of Sherpur.

Aside from Hekmetyar, most of the other warlords no longer exercise power through their private armies, but through a mafia-like control of jobs, security services, money, contracts and land.

Mr Karzai has experience in keeping them divided by giving each a big enough cut of the cake to make sure that no credible replacement for himself as President ever emerges. Had Zardad played his cards a little differently, and chosen his place of exile more carefully, he might now be looking forward to profitable government employment in Kabul.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Handlooms need to be saved
by Bharat Dogra

Panipat has been famous as a big centre of handloom weaving, but the cancellation of export orders in the recent economic meltdown has led to a huge disruption of work.

In several other famous centres of handloom weaving, for example in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, a severe crisis gripped the handloom sector much before the advent of the recent recession.

While the recession will end sooner or later, the causes of the decline of the handloom weavers in normal times will have to be tackled effectively if the great skills and livelihoods associated with handlooms are to be saved.

The Handloom Commissioner of the Government of India said in 2007 on the basis of the latest available data that 6.5 millions people are employed in handlooms. He further said that next to agriculture, this is the biggest source of employment in our country.

It is most likely that in the two years since then employment in handlooms has declined significantly, but we need to look not just at the actual employment but also the potential employment in handlooms.

Keeping in view the fact that the onslaught on handloom-related livelihoods has continued for several years, it is likely that the potential employment in handlooms is even higher compared to the impressive figures of actual employment provided by the Handlooms Commissioner in 2007.

Some people mistakenly believe that the decline of handlooms is inevitable with the advent of mechanisation in the form of powerlooms and modern mills. This view ignores the well-established fact that a wide range of designs and types of clothes can be best woven only on handlooms.

Lately, there have been several unethical practices to flood the market with cheap imitation products, but the real thing can never be equalled by imitation products. Should we surrender to unethical practices, or should we protect the genuine skills? Clearly, the answer is in favour of protecting handlooms.

Every year tens of crores of rupees are spent on providing vocational skills in an institutional set-up. But in the form of handlooms and numerous other traditional handicrafts, an informal structure already exists in which invaluable skills (some of which exist in no other part of the world) are passed on from one generation to another generation without the government having to spend one paisa.

It is extremely important that such an invaluable tradition of passing on skills should continue. But when livelihoods are being lost at a fast pace, then parents may no longer be enthusiastic about passing on skills and the new generation may not be interested in learning these skills. So the task of saving their livelihoods should get urgent attention if the entire cycle of invaluable skills being passed on is to continue.

In the post-independence period, perhaps due to the impact of Gandhian thinking, the government set in place several measures, supported by legislation and rules, to protect handlooms and related skills like hand-printing.

For example, a certain amount of yarn produced by spinning mills was to be converted into hank yarn and made available to handlooms at a fair price. Certain types of clothes were reserved for handlooms. However, with the passage of time as the impact of the Gandhian legacy faded, these laws were diluted and even what was still left on paper was widely flouted in actual practice.

So we need to strengthen these laws again and ensure their proper implementation. The new scheme of handloom mark should be implemented widely and properly. Other new initiatives like providing geographical indication for famous handloom (and related) products of some regions can also be helpful.

Initiatives of weavers and their organisations for tackling their problems and mobilising weavers for united action should be encouraged. One initiative in Varanasi was recently started for protecting the famous Banarasi sari by the Banaras Bunkar Samiti.

Supported by an NGO ‘Find Your Feet’, this spread to other parts of Uttar Pradesh and weavers as well as craftspersons from 17 districts got together recently in Lucknow to submit their charter of demands to the government.

Such mobilisation of weavers and other artisans will also be useful to government initiatives aimed at proper implementation of protective laws. At a time when energy conservation is highly valued and hand-made products are cherished in many developed countries, the move to revive handlooms should get wider international support as well.

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Inside Pakistan
Swat war: looking for exit route
by Syed Nooruzzaman

As the war between Pakistani troops and Taliban militants rages in Swat and the rest of Malakand division in the NWFP, Islamabad has begun to concentrate on an “exit policy”. As Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Monday, the military action had to be followed by measures to strengthen the law-enforcement agencies “with enhanced capacities and better equipment, bomb-proof police stations and devices to jam illegal FM radio broadcasts used for rebel propaganda”. This is what he described as the “exit policy”, according to Dawn.

Mr Gilani has agreed to call for an all-party meeting, as demanded by some opposition leaders. There will also be in-camera briefing for parliamentary group leaders following the allegation that the government is not sharing full information with the opposition parties.

As The News says, “Every TV channel in the country (Pakistan) has it (the war) as the lead story. Every newspaper has it as the headline. It is discussed ad-nauseum on the TV, the radio and in countless blogs on the Internet.” Yet there is tightly managed access to information relating to what is going on in the Swat region. The government has its own reasons. In the name of “Press freedom”, it does not want the militants to know anything about troop movements because they are experts in using any information that comes their way to their advantage.

Exodus problem

The government has been assuring the people that all efforts are being made to see that the collateral damage in the military operation against the Taliban remains the minimum. But the reality is different. Few people are interested in knowing the number of those killed mainly because of the massive exodus of people from the areas where the gun battle is on. According to the UN, over 360,000 people have fled Swat, Buner and Lower Dir since May 2.

The Nation says, “The exodus from Dir, Swat, Malakand and Buner constitutes the largest internal displacement of population since 1947. Earlier, military operations conducted since August last had displaced nearly six lakh people. With fresh migrations from the present area of conflict, the total tally is likely to exceed 15 lakh.”

The paper adds, “Thousands of people caught in cross-fire suffer from injuries. There is a large number of women, children and old men among them.”

As Business Recorder points out, “If there are any discrepancies between the various concerned agencies and officials over counting the numbers (of internally displaced persons or IDPs) it is so mainly because given the time-honoured tradition of Pushtun hospitality, an average IDP family would prefer to live with a relation or a friend than taking shelter in a refugee camp.”

Whatever is the truth, the challenge of taking care of the lakhs of displaced persons is as daunting a task for the government as it is to defeat the Taliban.

Army to blame

It is not easy to get rid of the scourge of militancy at this stage. Some of the Taliban militants may be killed in the military operation, but many may escape. How Pakistan handles the situation remains to be seen. As the crisis is deepening and taking a new form, the government appears to be successful in making the people realise that it Pakistan’s war that is being fought against the militants. It is not America’s war, as the militants want the people to believe.

However, the Pakistan Army is being blamed for bringing the situation to this pass. Had it acted earlier in a decisive manner, the reality would have been different today.

According to an article in The Frontier Post by Ghani Khan (May 12), “The army is responsible for the bad situation in which Pakistanis find themselves today. America is becoming impatient towards the Taliban. It wants to have them eliminated as soon as possible, preferably in a week or two at the most, but it is apparent that during the last seven or eight years of fighting against the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, their (militants’) number has increased as well as their will to fight has become stronger …. Pakistani forces were forced out of Waziristan. In Swat, too, their performance was widely criticised by the local population. Now in Buner the army is facing stiff resistance and it seems that the elimination of Taliban is not an easy task.”

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