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Editorials | Article | Middle | Oped

EDITORIALS

Let peace prevail
Happily, leaders unite for harmony

L
eaders
of various political parties in Punjab sunk their petty differences and displayed a rare sense of responsibility when they gathered in Chandigarh on Tuesday in a bid to restore peace in the state. The state Chief Minister’s call for the all-party meeting drew a positive response from not only the Akali Dal and the BJP, but also from the main opposition, the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the CPM and the CPI with all of them showing a sense of responsibility the situation called for.

N. Korea causes scare
The latest nuclear blast upsets world

T
otally
unmindful of the world opinion, North Korea continues to pursue its nuclear programme. It conducted a second and more powerful nuclear test on Monday, which showed that Pyongyang was not bothered about the security concerns voiced by the global community. 


EARLIER STORIES

PM’s appeal
May 26, 2009
Mayawati goes berserk
May 25, 2009
Mandate for Manmohan
May 24, 2009
Manmohan Singh’s A team
May 23, 2009
Perils of “arrogance”
May 22, 2009
The failed fronts
May 21, 2009
Advani stays put
May 20, 2009
Vote for growth
May 19, 2009
North by North-West
May 18, 2009
Risat 2: A feather in the cap
May 17, 2009
The countdown begins
May 16, 2009
Regional satraps in demand
May 15, 2009
Well-done, EC
May 14, 2009


Bail for Binayak
Law must be used with care
T
HE Supreme Court, which had earlier refused to give him any relief, has allowed Dr Binayak Sen to be released on bail on a personal bond which in a way amounts to an acknowledgment of the accused’s public standing as well as a rejection of the prosecution’s stand. 
ARTICLE

The Pakistan question
India, US should work together
by K. Subrahmanyam

T
hough
there will be continuity of perceptions and policies between the first tenure of Dr Manmohan Singh and his second tenure, now beginning, there are valid grounds to start with a fresh assessment of the challenges to Indian security arising out of developments of the last few months when the country and the leadership were preoccupied with the election campaign. There have been new developments to be taken note of.

MIDDLE

Friends
by Geetanjali Gayatri

He came at a time I needed him most. Almost nine years back, when Teddy, my two-year-old white Pomeranian, died following a blood disorder, Shogun, a German Shepherd, romped into our life and home.

OPED

LTTE’s defeat holds lessons for separatist groups
by Shylashri Shankar
T
HE defeat of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) holds an important lesson for separatist movements around the world. The lesson is: switch to political negotiations with the governments you oppose.

Pakistani refugee camps may breed extremists
by Griff Witte
Bacha Zab
, a 32-year-old fruit salesman, dodged army shelling and Taliban sniper fire to escape his native Swat Valley. But when he reached the safety of a government-run refugee camp in the northwestern Pakistani city of Mardan, he was told there was no more room.

Admission blues in Delhi University
by C.D. Verma
I
T is time for admission to colleges in Delhi University. Parents and their wards are making rounds of various colleges. As many as 12 colleges of Delhi University (that is one-fourth of the total number of colleges) have decided to hold a Common Admission Test for English (CATE) for admission to the English (Hons) course, thereby abandoning the practice of admitting students on the basis of the marks scored by them in the plus two examination.




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Let peace prevail
Happily, leaders unite for harmony

Leaders of various political parties in Punjab sunk their petty differences and displayed a rare sense of responsibility when they gathered in Chandigarh on Tuesday in a bid to restore peace in the state. The state Chief Minister’s call for the all-party meeting drew a positive response from not only the Akali Dal and the BJP, but also from the main opposition, the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the CPM and the CPI with all of them showing a sense of responsibility the situation called for. The leaders observed a two-minute silence as a mark of respect to Sant Rama Nand of the Dera Sachkhand who had died in an attack in a Vienna gurdwara. That the condition of the Dera head, Sant Niranjan Dass, who was injured, is said to be stable now was helpful news for the participants at the meeting.

Despite the mindless and provocative act, which has resulted in large-scale violence in the state, the Dera Sachkhand has tried to sooth the frayed tempers and appealed to all, especially its angry followers, to exercise restraint and end all disruptive activities. The restoration of peace is obviously the top priority before the state administration and the people. Peace meetings are being held at the district level and members of various political parties will hold peace marches in the state. This, hopefully, should have a further calming effect on the charged atmosphere in the state. At the same time, miscreants who have the tendency to exploit the situation should be dealt with firmly. No one should be allowed to vitiate the peace in the state.

The sudden eruption of violent protests and arson accompanied by blockades of road and rail traffic at various places in Punjab and Haryana had caught the state authorities unawares. As the trouble spread from Jalandhar to other towns like Phagwara, Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana, Patiala and Ambala, during the past two days, the police was found to be inadequate for the task. Home Minister P. Chidambaram, while pointing to the non-enforcement of the curfew in Jalandhar and elsewhere in time, has rushed additional Central forces to the state. This should strengthen the state efforts to maintain peace, which is crucial for the development of Punjab. While the situation is coming under control and peace beginning to prevail, all sections of society need to reflect on how an exclusivist approach breeds intolerance, distrust and tensions. An attitude of mutual accommodation can weld societies and religions. 

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N. Korea causes scare
The latest nuclear blast upsets world

Totally unmindful of the world opinion, North Korea continues to pursue its nuclear programme. It conducted a second and more powerful nuclear test on Monday, which showed that Pyongyang was not bothered about the security concerns voiced by the global community. North Korea’s latest nuclear explosion followed a long-range rocket launch last month that led to international condemnation for the country. It appears that mere censoring and imposition of mild UN sanctions are not going to have any impact on the communist nation’s nuclear ambitions. The UN imposed sanctions on North Korea soon after its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, but these did not deter Pyongyang from the dangerous course it had opted for.

The North Korean nuclear programme cannot be rolled back if the world community remains content with issuing statements. It definitely poses a “threat to international peace and security” as US President Barack Obama has said while reacting to the alarming development which indeed has much larger implications. North Korea’s failure to resolve it to the satisfaction of all concerned will encourage Iran to continue with its efforts to realise its nuclear ambitions. This will be a major setback for the cause of nuclear non-proliferation in which President Obama is showing greater interest than his predecessor, Mr George W. Bush. Also, North has certainly disturbed the balance in North-East Asia, with Japan feeling most concerned about the nuclear bomb next door.

There is a need for reviving the six-party dialogue process involving the US, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea that had led to good results. In October 2007 the talks resulted in the signing of a document committing Pyongyang to disabling its nuclear facilities in return for the energy and security guarantees it wanted. North Korea destroyed its heavy water cooling tower at the Yongbyong nuclear plant in October 2008. But it changed its mind after that and revived its nuclear programme. Its long-term nuclear programme apart, there is the possibility of North Korea improving its bargaining position. China, a close ally of North Korea in the region, can be again persuaded to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. But no one knows what exactly is China’s long-term view of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. This major security challenge must be met before it is too late. 

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Bail for Binayak
Law must be used with care

THE Supreme Court, which had earlier refused to give him any relief, has allowed Dr Binayak Sen to be released on bail on a personal bond which in a way amounts to an acknowledgment of the accused’s public standing as well as a rejection of the prosecution’s stand. The human rights activist and an alumnus of Christian Medical College, Vellore, Dr Sen completed two years in prison on May 14 after being accused of acting as a conduit between a Naxalite leader in prison and Naxalites outside. It does not require one to be a legal luminary to conclude that the charge was vastly exaggerated, if not totally trumped up, judging merely by the 83 odd witnesses sought to be examined by the prosecution to prove the charge that the accused had smuggled letters out of jail. Had Dr Sen been caught smuggling out letters, it would have been an open and shut case and he could have stayed behind bars for several, long years. But it was not so.

Dr Sen, who is a well-known philanthropist and vice-president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, admittedly met a Naxalite leader in prison, Narayan Sanyal. But then these meetings were held after obtaining due permission from the authorities and conducted in the presence of prison officials. To slap flimsy charges on him afterwards under the draconian provisions of the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, which allows the police to arrest and detain people on mere suspicion, was strange and misuse of authority.

Rather than accepting the Supreme Court’s order, it is odd that the state government has chosen to make it a prestige issue. There is a danger that Dr Binayak Sen’s freedom could well be short-lived. While there has been no let-up in Naxalite violence in the state during this period, it will not come as a surprise if the state government tries to pin the responsibility on Dr Sen as and when the next act of violence takes place. While his plight has drawn international attention, there are dozens of persons, mostly tribals, who are languishing in prisons on the mere suspicion of being Naxalites or their sympathisers. Caught in the crossfire between the state and the rebels, villagers in large numbers are paying the price , sometimes with their lives, of being suspected to be either police-informers or for sheltering the rebels. There is an urgent need to review all such cases in Naxalite-affected states and release the innocent.

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Thought for the Day

I think people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it. — Dwight D. Eisenhower

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The Pakistan question
India, US should work together
by K. Subrahmanyam

Though there will be continuity of perceptions and policies between the first tenure of Dr Manmohan Singh and his second tenure, now beginning, there are valid grounds to start with a fresh assessment of the challenges to Indian security arising out of developments of the last few months when the country and the leadership were preoccupied with the election campaign. There have been new developments to be taken note of.

The sharp deterioration in the security situation in our neighbourhood, Pakistan and Nepal, the stepping of the involvement of the US in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, the Pakistani Army’s campaign against the Taliban, the increasing mutual accommodation between the US and China in terms of economic imperatives arising out of recession are major factors that need to be taken into account.Except for the G-20 summit and visits of Ambassador Holbrooke to India, there has not been an opportunity for India to interact with the new Obama administration at the political level.

While we have been able to conduct our gigantic elections in peace thanks mostly to our security services, the country continues to face the challenge of terrorism. There are mixed signals from Pakistan. It is not clear whether the military campaign by the Pakistani Army against the Taliban also involves a beginning of a change in the Pakistani Army’s relationships with and policies towards other jihadi organisations which have been active in India.

This country’s security is challenged by the following factors.Terrorist attacks by groups based in Pakistan penetrating our land and sea frontiers or sleeper cells already introduced in this country by those jihadi outfits or by elements in this country motivated and often financed by them.Such activities are further facilitated by narcotics trade passing from the Af-Pak region through India to the rest of the world, besides smuggling and hawala transactions.

As is now recognised by President Obama and his NATO allies, Pakistan is, in a misguided manner, obsessed with India and launched aggressions against this country on four occasions in the last 62 years since its birth — 1947,1965,1971 and 1999. The Pakistani Army considers itself as the guardian of the two-nation theory, the ideology in which Pakistan, instead of defining its nationhood in positive terms, has done it in negative terms as an anti-Indian state with Islam as the sole binding factor. Many scholars, not only Indians but also Westerners, consider this as the basic vulnerability of that country and reason to worry about its ability to hold together under pressure from Pashtuns across the Durand Line uniting together as the Punjabi-dominated Army fights the Pashtun Taliban.

Such potential instability logically raises fears about the future safety of Pakistani nuclear weapons, though there are assurances of their safety. Pakistan nuclear weapons and missiles are largely the result of Chinese proliferation to that country.That proliferation in terms of plutonium production capability continues.The US was permissive of this proliferation in the eighties and has been paying a high price for its permissiveness. Pakistan could not have become the epicentre of Al-Qaeda and other jihadi terrorism without its being shielded from international punitive action by its nuclear capability. To that extent China has assisted Pakistan to become the most dangerous nation posing a threat not only to India but also to the West as well.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown pointed out that 75 per cent of terrorist cases in the UK lead back to Pakistan

Therefore, the threat from Pakistan has to be dealt by India in cooperation with all other countries which have now an interest in eliminating the jihadi ideology from Pakistan.To achieve this objective effectively, Pakistan has to be helped to go through a de-jihadification process on the lines Germany got deNazified. In Daily News of Pakistan of May 11, 2009, Nazir Abbas Mirza has detailed how hundreds of thousands of young children from age seven are being robotised in madarsas by mullahs to be suicide bombers and cannon fodder for jihadis. This threat is to the entire international community and has to be dealt with as such. In doing so, one cannot but differentiate the role of China in enhancing the threat to the international community and India in particular in its continuing support to Pakistani proliferation. This factor, more than anything else, justifies India’s efforts for closer strategic cooperation with the US, the West and Russia.

But such a change of the mindset covering hundreds of madarsas in Pakistan cannot come about unless the present armed campaign against the Taliban is accompanied by a country-wide reform programme of madarsas and an acceptance of nationhood of Pakistan on the basis of its territoriality, history, its heritage comprising of diversity of cultures, diversity of sectarian faiths and linguistic identities. This in turn calls for India and the world engaging Pakistan and persuading its institutions and civil society to choose democracy and reject the cults that proclaim that Islam is incompatible with democracy.

President Zardari has drawn attention to the fact that democracies do not fight each other. If Pakistan were to espouse democracy genuinely, it has to fight the cults which preach that democracy is incompatible with Islam and also redefine its nationhood in positive terms. The Pakistani Army cannot define for itself a role of its own independent of the State. If Pakistan redefines itself as a democracy on the basis of its territoriality and heritage, the various divisive issues between India and Pakistan will find solutions outside the framework of two-nation theory.

The earlier peace process was with a military-dominated dictatorial regime which was not willing to fight the Taliban and jihadis. Now Pakistan is a democracy and is fighting the Taliban and jihadis. The peace process, while taking into account the earlier understandings reached, must have a new framework that should be defined by the democratic leaderships of the two countries. It will be logical to have a summit meeting for the purpose. But such a summit meeting is not possible unless Pakistan acts decisively in the 26/11 case.

Simultaneously, with the new government formation, India will have to develop a comprehensive understanding with the US and the West. The envisaged visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should provide that opportunity.n

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Friends
by Geetanjali Gayatri

He came at a time I needed him most. Almost nine years back, when Teddy, my two-year-old white Pomeranian, died following a blood disorder, Shogun, a German Shepherd, romped into our life and home.

He came as a gift from a friend who could not see me in tears on the condition that I would not cry remembering Teddy. As I took Shogun in, I thought he would never be my Teddy.

But dogs certainly have a way of endearing themselves and charming their way into our lives. Shogun was no exception. Soon our whole life began to revolve around buying bones and balls to keep the “baby” of the house entertained.

As weeks turned into months and months into years, he grew up into a big dog whose bark was worse than his bite. When I got married, Shogun welcomed my husband into his life with a wag of the tail, a sniff of his shoes and a lick on his hand.

I moved in with my parents again when my daughter was born. Shogan spent the entire day sitting by her cradle, wondering who lay wrapped in the blanket as he watched over her. With a slight tilt of his head and a queer expression, he watched my daughter’s tiny frame move, crawl and stand up in a matter of a year.

Gradually, their friendship grew to the extent that my daughter decided that Shogun was her bhaiya. She was head over heels in love with him and he reciprocated the emotion.

The mere mention of my daughter’s name worked like magic and he skipped and jumped all over the place in search of her. They played hide and seek, watched television and spent their time doing everything together when we went over to my father’s place.

A week back Shogun died at around midnight of an infection. We buried him while my daughter was away to school. On her return, I broke the news to her. Stunned, she mourned in her own quiet way, sobbing alone in another room lest she upset me more than I already was.

He was her first dog, the only brother she ever knew. As a tribute to him, she spent that evening making a card for him. “I love Shogun” it said. Next morning, she went to the place he was buried and left it there.

On our way back, she smiled and said: “Mummy, Shogun will see the card from heaven and know that I miss him, won’t he?” I didn’t have an answer.

Night came and we prayed like we always have since she learnt to speak. Over the years, our prayer has “evolved” from being more than just the recitation of the Gayatri mantra to remembering our family, friends and all those who wish us well to God. Shogun was right there in her prayers as always. She could not say her last goodbye to him nor manage a last hug but Shogun continues to live on in her prayers.

As for me, I, too, have realised that there are no substitutes in life. Shogun never replaced Teddy. He carved his own place. Life is about additions we make to the “ours only” list of family, friends and memories as we move ahead on the road called life. Then, how can life ever be about finding replacements?n

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LTTE’s defeat holds lessons for separatist groups
by Shylashri Shankar

THE defeat of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) holds an important lesson for separatist movements around the world. The lesson is: switch to political negotiations with the governments you oppose.

In an atmosphere where force by non-state actors is branded as terrorism and penalised by the international community, you will win only through peace agreements, not through force.

On May 18, 2009, the 26-year armed struggle between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils officially drew to a close with the military defeat of the organisation and the death of its supreme leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

The deadly guerrilla force had pioneered the tactical use of suicide terrorism, captured vast swathes of territory in the east and north of Sri Lanka, and even set up a de facto state in the north of the country that collected taxes, dispensed justice through law courts and secured its territories with an army, navy and air force.

The LTTE’s defeat shows that today it is harder for separatist movements to fight for their cause by using force. Internationally, the global proscription of organisations that used terror tactics hit the LTTE’s capacity to fund and maintain control over the northeast of Sri Lanka.

Prior to the 9/11 in 2001 and the subsequent launch of a ‘war on terror’ by the Bush administration, the LTTE (like other separatist groups elsewhere) was seen by many governments as a separatist group fighting for the rights of a beleaguered minority.

The LTTE made full use of the freedom to channel funds from the diaspora Tamils while using peace talks and ceasefire agreements to buy time to build its arsenal.

The Sri Lankan military did the same, with the result that neither could defeat the other militarily. But in the past decade, the LTTE’s ability to arm itself suffered from the changed international scenario.

A second international factor for the defeat of the LTTE was that the US use of force in Iraq and Afghanistan and the consequent deaths of thousands of civilians had inured western governments to the notion of ‘collateral damage’.

The Sri Lankan government used its arsenal to bomb the LTTE-controlled areas in the north, and set up camps to hold Tamil civilians fleeing the war zone.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry cultivated China’s help to keep the issue off the Security Council’s agenda despite calls from the US and the EU to avoid civilian casualties. The government’s own policy of limiting media and international NGOs and aid agencies’ access to the war zone made it impossible to verify reports of civilian deaths since January (7,000 or more according to the UN), and the numbers held in the camps (UN figure is 2,65,000).

The international factors coincided with two domestic developments. First, the split within the LTTE in 2004 and the exit of a key commander of the eastern forces, Karuna, compromised the military and intelligence prowess of the guerrilla force; Karuna assisted the battle-hardened Sri Lankan military by revealing the modus operandi of the LTTE.

Second, the election of Mahinda Rajapakse as President in 2005, who promised to rid the country of the LTTE and was supported by the Sinhala nationalist parties, coincided with the weakening of the LTTE’s military prowess. The previous presidents had interfered with battle plans because they were torn between negotiating peace with the LTTE, and winning a military victory.

The new government was deeply suspicious of Prabhakaran’s ultimate goal, and held that all peace talks with him were useless because he would never agree to a Tamil Eelam (homeland) within the territorial boundaries of Sri Lanka.

When the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement collapsed in 2006, President Rajapakse decided to launch an all-out military assault on the separatists.

This time, the political leaders allowed the military commanders a free hand, using the intelligence gathered from the breakaway LTTE faction, arms from China and Pakistan, intelligence shared by India, and their battle-hardened forces to wage guerrilla and conventional warfare with the LTTE.

Rajapakse won a six-year term as President in 2005, promising to rid the island of the LTTE. He has accomplished his promise. On May 19, 2009, he promised a political settlement for the minorities, and equal rights for all citizens. Will he accomplish it?

Several factors will undermine attempts at nation-building. First, how can the government rebuild bridges between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils and Muslims while scrutinising LTTE connections of the displaced minorities in detention camps?

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman, told The Guardian last month that he expected the LTTE to resort to guerrilla tactics once the military campaign was concluded.

“It is not going to end soon,” he said. “It will take some time to completely eradicate terrorism from the country, we think about two years.”

If so, are the Tamil civilians going to remain in camps until they are cleared of links with the LTTE? What legal rights will they have to defend themselves against allegations?

Second, who will monitor the government’s performance on these promises? Under the Rajapakse presidency, independent media within the country was silenced through the use of arrests, detentions, abductions and other measures.

The reporters without borders index ranked Sri Lanka at 165th among 172 countries on press freedom.

Will these curbs be lifted and will the journalists be allowed to monitor the government’s policies towards the minorities?

Or will the government retain the curbs in the name of securing the country against terrorism from sleeper units of the LTTE?

The Sri Lankan government has already warned the international community not to interfere in its internal affairs and rejected the call for an independent inquiry into human rights violations by both sides made by the ‘appalled’ foreign ministers of the EU.

If Rajapakse’s ‘home-grown’ political settlement provides a just outcome for the Tamil and Muslim minorities, Sri Lanka would join the ranks of booming economies. Otherwise, we would see another Prabhakaran and another LTTE.

The writer is a Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

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Pakistani refugee camps may breed extremists
by Griff Witte

Bacha Zab, a 32-year-old fruit salesman, dodged army shelling and Taliban sniper fire to escape his native Swat Valley. But when he reached the safety of a government-run refugee camp in the northwestern Pakistani city of Mardan, he was told there was no more room.

Instead, for the past 16 days, Zab, his wife and their four children have been in the care of a private Islamic charity with close ties to a banned militant organization. “We are asking for help from the government, but they won’t give it,” Zab said. “In the government camps, there are only problems.”

The government has been overwhelmed by the human tide that has washed over the northwest as about 2 million people have fled fierce clashes in Swat.

With Pakistan experiencing its largest exodus since the nation’s partition from India in 1947, only a fraction of the displaced civilians are receiving assistance in government-run camps. The rest are fending for themselves or getting help from private charities, including some that are allied with the very forces the Pakistani army is fighting in Swat.

Refugee camps in Pakistan have been prime recruiting grounds for militant groups ever since the Soviet invasion forced millions of Afghans to cross into Pakistan in the 1980s. Now, concern is growing that this latest wave of displacement will create a fresh crop of Pakistanis with grievances against the government and loyalty to groups that seek to undermine the state through violent insurgency.

The government says it is aware of the peril, but it appears incapable of mustering the resources it needs to provide shelter, food, water and medicine to so many people.

“If people are not looked after well, they tend to become extremists. It hasn’t happened yet, but we’re very conscious of it,” said Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari. “It’s a big task.”

Critics say the government has badly mismanaged the crisis, having failed to prepare for a scenario that officials must have known would result from the military offensive.

“They should have foreseen this, but they didn’t plan for it,” said Aftab Khan Sherpao, an opposition lawmaker and former interior minister who comes from the northwest. “The people are not happy with the militants, but they’re not happy with the army and the government, either. Now that anger will build up.”

The true dimensions of the refugee problem are apparent in Mardan, one of the primary destinations for civilians fleeing the battles in Swat and in neighboring Buner and Dir.

The city is studded with refugee camps consisting of endless rows of tan canvas tents that bake under 110-degree skies. Schools are packed to capacity with families sleeping on concrete classroom floors, with each classroom housing 40 or more people.

Local residents say that virtually every spare bedroom in the city is being used to host displaced civilians, who may have to wait months or longer to return home.

Save the Children, an international aid organization that is providing assistance to the displaced families, estimated late last week that more than 80 percent of the people who had fled were living outside the camps, which number about 25. More than half the refugees are children, the group says.

The Pakistani government, already battling economic troubles before it launched its offensive in Swat, is heavily dependent on international aid for its support programs.

The United Nations said last Friday that it was seeking $543 million in additional donations to help those displaced by the fighting. The United States has announced $110 million in aid, which includes tents, radios and generators.

In the camps, there is seething resentment toward a government that residents say has let them down many times before.

“When we were being forced out of our homes, our president was enjoying himself in the U.S.,” said camp resident Syed Karim Shah, referring to a visit by Zardari to Washington just as the battle in Swat got underway. “He’s cashing in on this situation, bringing in money from the West.”

Shah said the money has yet to filter down to the camps, where residents complain of a lack of bathroom facilities, electricity and fans. The temperatures in Mardan far exceed those in Swat, which is cooled by its relatively high elevation and a glacier-fed river that runs through the middle of the valley.

Swat, which was once a major tourist hub and is considered among the most beautiful regions of Pakistan, has long been known for its moderate-minded population. But the Taliban in recent years has capitalized on weak and corrupt governance in the valley, offering locals an alternative form of justice that is swift and severe.

The militants have controlled Swat off and on since late 2007. The government’s offensive, which was launched nearly a month ago after the collapse of a peace deal and amid intense pressure from the United States, is aimed at retaking the valley once and for all.

But there were fresh signs this weekend that that may not happen soon and that the problem of displacement will worsen. The army launched an operation Saturday aimed at reclaiming the largest city in Swat, Mingora, and warned that the fight will be long and bloody.

Despite the army’s gains, much of Mingora remains in Taliban hands, and up to 20,000 civilians are trapped in the city, caught between the military and the militants.

The army has warned that some Taliban fighters joined the fleeing residents and may have infiltrated the refugee camps. Residents of the government camps say that there is little security and that they do not feel safe there.

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Admission blues in Delhi University
by C.D. Verma

IT is time for admission to colleges in Delhi University. Parents and their wards are making rounds of various colleges. As many as 12 colleges of Delhi University (that is one-fourth of the total number of colleges) have decided to hold a Common Admission Test for English (CATE) for admission to the English (Hons) course, thereby abandoning the practice of admitting students on the basis of the marks scored by them in the plus two examination.

The argument being advanced in favour of the CATE is that the English (Hons) course is one of the most sought-after programmes as the English (Hons) graduates have ample opportunities for an exciting career in media, advertising and publishing, academics, civil services, etc.

It is, therefore, essential to test their aptitude for literature with a focus on Indian writings in English, international literature, post-colonial, African and Canadian literature, translations and so on.

Most of the parents complain that this practice is inequitable. For the colleges affiliated to DU are supposed to follow a uniform admission policy sans any discrimination. The colleges should either follow the policy of CATE, or should observe uniformity in allowing admission on the basis of the cut-off percentage in the CBSE.

The admission-seekers passing out from public schools in Delhi, Chandigarh or from other urban centres, hailing from the affluent and moneyed families, will certainly have an advantage in the CATE over students coming from a humble background and smaller towns like Saharanpur, Bhagalpur, Kanpur, Bhilwara, etc.

What is disconcerting is that the CATE will willy-nilly be widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots, between public school and government school products.

A few years ago when I taught English in a college, it was decided to give an entrance test for admission to the English (Hons) course. What happened is a sad tale. In the merit list prepared by the department those with 65 or 70 per cent marks got admission, while those with 80 or 85 per cent marks could not make the grade. There was a brouhaha in the college. The meritorious examinees and their parents levelled charges of corruption, nepotism and favouritism.

The Staff Council of the College, a statutory body, took up the matter, as it suspected some bungling. After a vociferous and acrimonious discussion, the Staff Council, in its wisdom, decided that in future there would be no entrance test for admission to any course. Marks obtained in plus two would be the sole criterion for admission. And this practice continues (and with great success) till date in that college.

Entrance tests can certainly not be a true test of one’s intelligence. Can one form an opinion about the aptitude of a student merely on the basis of the entrance test that he knows the nuances of the English language, literature and grammar and the basics of the subject?

It would be erroneous to assume so. Teachers are human beings with all the infirmities. They can err. And those who are unscrupulous, and have itching palms, can err wilfully to the detriment of young students.

Besides, the entrance tests make a mockery of the examinations conducted by the CBSE. If the marks obtained in plus two are not sacrosanct, then better scrap the examination system.

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