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EDITORIALS

Swine flu pandemic
No room for complacency in tackling it
What had been feared all along has come true. The WHO has declared swine flu, first reported in Mexico and now afflicting over 70 countries, a pandemic. The first pandemic in 41 years (the last flu pandemic H3N1 virus strain killed nearly 1 million people in 1968), the widespread disease is indicative of cause for serious concern. With people having little or no immunity against the virus and no vaccines available as yet, the risk is indeed great.

Phasing out CRPF
J&K police may help bridge divide
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s indication that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) be replaced by the Jammu and Kashmir police in a phased manner and the latter be accorded a greater role in maintaining law and order in the insurgency-afflicted state is a step in the right direction.




EARLIER STORIES

Now it’s Canada
June 12, 2009
Vision for growth
June 11, 2009
Beware! It’s not milk
June 10, 2009
MP or a murderer?
June 9, 2009
Arrest of a terrorist
June 8, 2009
Terror Down Under
June 7, 2009
Washington has erred
June 6, 2009
President speaks
June 5, 2009
Pak flexes muscles, again
June 4, 2009
Treading the beaten path
June 3, 2009

Victory in defeat
Poor poll performance has helped Brown
What a paradox it is that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is heaving a sigh of relief after his Labour Party’s worst performance in the much-discussed elections to the European Parliament. He has been under tremendous pressure from party colleagues to resign for his disastrous handling of what is known as the MPs’ expenses scandal. The Labour has been steadily losing support for some time. It was trounced by the Conservative Party in the just concluded local council polls.

ARTICLE

UPA’s ambitious programme
Time to focus on energy security
by O.P. Sabherwal
T
he address by President Pratibha Patil in Parliament has many firsts including the fact that it comes from the first woman President. For too long have Presidential address at the commencement of every Lok Sabha term served as glorified versions of the ruling party’s electoral manifesto. In contrast, President Pratibha Patil’s address to Parliament presents a studied and well-worked out national programme for the five-year term of the Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA-II government.

MIDDLE

Thodey-Thodey English…
by Sunit Dhawan
T
he college-going daughter of my house-owner couldn’t control her laughter as she told me this. What I gathered from her narration punctuated with giggles was that she had asked my six-year-old daughter a rather queer question: Tum Punjabi ho?

OPED

Policy options to contain swine flu pandemic
by J. George
F
ifteen cases of A(H1N1) virus positive cases have been reported in India as WHO has raised the alert for swine flu to the pandemic level. The detection of a human-to-human route of infection indeed is serious as it may lead to major economic losses.

Obama’s greatest test: Healthcare
by Rupert Cornwell
F
or Barack Obama, this is the big one. Not hauling the global economy out of recession, or saving his country’s banking system, or proving there is life after death for Detroit car makers or bringing peace to the Middle East. No, I refer to his pledge to remake the dysfunctional, wasteful and ever more unaffordable American healthcare system. There will never be a greater test of the new president’s way of governing.

Inside Pakistan
Message from Peshawar
by Syed Nooruzzaman
The terrorist attack on Pearl Continental in Peshawar, which has claimed many lives, was waiting to happen. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, facing army action for some time, had warned of retaliatory strikes. But what is more alarming is that the incident has highlighted the NWFP government’s inability to ensure that its writ runs at least in Peshawar.

  • Killings in Karachi

  • Embarrassing for Sharif


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EDITORIALS

Swine flu pandemic
No room for complacency in tackling it

What had been feared all along has come true. The WHO has declared swine flu, first reported in Mexico and now afflicting over 70 countries, a pandemic. The first pandemic in 41 years (the last flu pandemic H3N1 virus strain killed nearly 1 million people in 1968), the widespread disease is indicative of cause for serious concern. With people having little or no immunity against the virus and no vaccines available as yet, the risk is indeed great. The WHO has voiced fears that the virus could infect one-third of the world’s population within a year. Like the rest of the afflicted world, India, where 15 cases of swine flu have been reported so far and new suspected cases are coming to light, cannot afford to let its guard down.

Since the symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of an ordinary flu, there is an urgent need to educate the public. Blue lips and skin, dehydration, irritability, excessive sleeping among children and shortness of breath, sudden dizziness and pain in the chest or abdomen in adults could be the warning signals that may require immediate medical attention. The media must vigorously pursue public awareness drives that focus on both curative and preventive measures. While the WHO may ask its member countries to go in for social distancing measures including closure of schools and travel restrictions, India is as yet focussing on early detection and treatment which is very significant for, if detected in time, the infection can be treated. Besides, as air travel has become a quick way of transmission of the infection, there should be heightened vigilance at airports.

While authorities at airports cannot afford to be casual in their screening procedures, the public, especially those infected, should realise that quarantine would not only contain the spread but is also in their best interest. While on the one hand global cooperation between nations is imperative, the Indian government on the other must set up nodal points at local levels. More laboratories need to be activated to ensure that the flu is controlled and restricted. While there is no reason to whip up hysteria, complacency could cost India dearly. Now that a pandemic has been declared, work on production of the vaccine against the virus must be undertaken on a war footing.

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Phasing out CRPF
J&K police may help bridge divide

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s indication that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) be replaced by the Jammu and Kashmir police in a phased manner and the latter be accorded a greater role in maintaining law and order in the insurgency-afflicted state is a step in the right direction. Given the scale of the Pakistani-fuelled insurgency and terrorism in the state that took root two decades ago, the responsibility of tackling this extraordinary menace has fallen on the Army and other central security forces. As a result, normal policing has suffered and the state police have been pushed to the sidelines.

Over the years, however, the situation in the state has changed somewhat. Electoral politics, which had remained suspended during the 1990s, has since long been restored. Democratically elected governments are now governing the state. It is thus only natural that the state police return to doing what they are trained and paid for — maintaining law and order. This will boost normalcy in the state. It will help in rebuilding this vital instrument of state, which recruits locals who in turn are able to better understand the local citizenry. This measure should also help in reducing public alienation that exists between the local people and the central forces, a phenomenon that is typical in any insurgency-affected area. Significantly, in no insurgency-affected state in the country have the state police been at the forefront of fighting insurgency and terrorism. The only exception has been Punjab where, post-Operation Bluestar, the state police took on terrorists headlong despite material support from Pakistan. Yet, that too was not without support from the CRPF and to an extent the Army.

While advocating a greater role for the J&K Police, Mr Chidambaram at the same time has ruled out both troop reduction and revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. For, there is neither evidence nor credible signs to show that the Pakistani establishment has dismantled its jihad factory. Islamabad continues to practice terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Hence, the Army needs to maintain vigil along the Line of Control to prevent infiltration. Thus, propping up the state police will also allow the Army and the security forces to better engage in the difficult task of fighting insurgents who continue to slip in due to a mountainous and undulating terrain.

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Victory in defeat
Poor poll performance has helped Brown

What a paradox it is that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is heaving a sigh of relief after his Labour Party’s worst performance in the much-discussed elections to the European Parliament. He has been under tremendous pressure from party colleagues to resign for his disastrous handling of what is known as the MPs’ expenses scandal. The Labour has been steadily losing support for some time. It was trounced by the Conservative Party in the just concluded local council polls. It is being speculated that it would suffer a humiliating defeat if Britain goes to polls with Mr Brown as the head of government. The belief gets strengthened with the party having been left far behind the Conservatives in the European elections.

Yet no Labour leader says that Mr Brown should leave 10 Downing Street to allow any of the other contenders for the Prime Minister’s post to take over the reins of government. There is the fear that his resignation at this stage may precipitate a mid-term election, resulting in the Labour getting routed. Obviously, such a prospect does not suit even Mr Brown’s worst detractors in his party. Even the nine ministers who recently resigned in protest against his dismal performance are keeping quiet. He won overwhelming backing from his party colleagues at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday after the outcome of the European elections was known. Interestingly, most Labour MPs want Mr Brown to continue to run the government till at least the party’s scheduled conference in September.

While this affords some respite, Mr Brown’s continuance as Prime Minister may further erode the support base of Labour. Today the Conservatives have an advantage of 38 per cent over Labour’s 22 per cent in opinion poll ratings. There is also the danger of the parties with racist ideologies like the British National Party (BNP) gaining acceptability among the working classes, in reaction to the disillusionment of people with Labour’s depressing functioning under Mr Brown. It is these voters who have helped the BNP send two members to the European Parliament. The emerging scenario in Britain is disconcerting indeed.

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Thought for the Day

Laws are silent in time of war. — Cicero

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ARTICLE

UPA’s ambitious programme
Time to focus on energy security
by O.P. Sabherwal

The address by President Pratibha Patil in Parliament has many firsts including the fact that it comes from the first woman President. For too long have Presidential address at the commencement of every Lok Sabha term served as glorified versions of the ruling party’s electoral manifesto. In contrast, President Pratibha Patil’s address to Parliament presents a studied and well-worked out national programme for the five-year term of the Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA-II government.

No doubt, it is an ambitious programme and difficult to realise – from massive succour of 25 kg rice at Rs 3 per kg to the weaker sections of the populace, to universal secondary education, a big jack up of the economy, new job-creation in millions, infrastructure development, financial reforms and a big addendum in energy capacity of 13,000 MW each year. It is this last item, the energy sector, that has to be the core of the UPA government’s upward leap. If India is able to add as much as 12,000 to 13,000 MW energy capacity each year, it will boost industry and agriculture, which in turn will provide the financial sinews for reaching out to other goals such as education, infrastructure and health.

The focus must therefore be on an all-out bid to crack the energy security target — an addition each year of 12,000 to 13,000 MW new electricity generation capacity by a mix of nuclear, hydro, coal, gas and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. It is now time to bring the new civil nuclear energy deal negotiated with the United States and the international community into full play. As a consequence, nuclear power is going to play a key role in achieving the nation’s energy security.

The nuclear scenario is in fact already beginning to unfold. The general view is that the international civil nuclear accord is good but too many expectations should not be placed on the benefits that are going to accrue on the ground. But actually, the bonanza that the Vienna Nuclear Suppliers Group and the 123 Agreement with the US is going to deliver is even bigger than originally expected. Contrary to apprehensions, the nuclear world seeks to embrace India and all facets of nuclear technology instruments are now within reach of the Indian nuclear establishment.

The most vital requisite from India’s point of view, uranium, is being offered in abundance by over half-a-dozen countries, and fresh supplies, including a 500 tonne consignment from France, is in the pipeline. India has signed an agreement with Russia for the supply of 2,000 tonnes of uranium. Kazakhastan, Canada, South Africa and some other African countries with ample uranium reserves have offered India nuclear fuel, the lack of supply of which has been a major bottleneck in India’s indigenous nuclear power capacity build-up. Global recession has come as a windfall with a fall in the once skyrocketing price of uranium.

This means that India’s indigenous nuclear power capacity can be given a big push, as big a push as financial and scientific manpower resources can sustain. After the two 540 MW Tarapur 3 and 4 reactors attain their optimum power yield, the next round of Indian nuclear reactors are to be increased to a 700 MW capacity. Additional indigenous pressurised heavy water design natural uranium fueled reactors of 4,200 MW capacity are being mapped out. Further, once the 500 MW prototype FBR under construction at Kalpakkam near completion, a second round of FBRs mapping and construction can be launched. With ample uranium supplies assured, the Indian nuclear horizon for the next several decades can be given shape.

An important feature of the new style of nuclear interaction between India and advanced nuclear capability nations, visible in the round of accords with France, Russia, US and Canada, is that these are not just commercial accords. These nuclear cooperation agreements will be spread out to technology interaction and exchange of experience on advanced nuclear developments of these countries.

Global economic recession is also having a healthy impact for India in regard to imported advanced light water technology reactors from France, Russia, America and joint US-Japan sources. These are being offered on competitive terms. While the indigenous reactor construction programme must naturally receive preference, the time span of construction requires a one-time stop gap import of 30,000 MW to 40,000 MW capacity advanced light water reactors to be in place during the decade ahead. The financial resources that would be needed are not beyond India’s means since the impact will be spread out over the next decade and global recession will enable India to extract the most favourable terms.

The Indian nuclear establishment is already mapping out the new scenario and a broad configuration has been made of nuclear power projects, indigenous as well as imported advanced reactors, needed for the country’s energy security. The UPA government has now to take charge, finalise the plans, and push the ‘go’ button. This has to be both in respect to indigenous capability as well as for finalising advanced reactor imports.

In the aftermath of a round of international discussions, as much as 40,000 MW advanced light water reactors have been offered by France, Russia, US and Japan. It might be desirable to clinch 20,000 MW capacity reactors in the first round and leave additional imports for future assessments. Since nuclear reactor technology is time consuming and so early decision making and timely implementation are essential for their success and immediate impact.

Along with nuclear power, it is necessary to give a big push to solar power generation. High costs of solar power instrumentation, which is the main impediment of a large solar power programme, should be reduced by over-arching technology research and development from all sources. The nuclear establishment is working in this direction, Dr Anil Kakodkar, chairman AEC recently disclosed.

In a recent interview, Dr Kakodkar said: “Our capability for high temperature heat removal using natural circulation and also capabilities in control and instrumentation have been used for the design of a solar thermal power generation set-up.” The costs of solar power generation will thereby be reduced making larger solar power generation commercially feasible especially in remote areas where no other electricity generation source is realisable as of now. A big push is also necessary to wind power generation by inducting technology from all sources.

These three sources, nuclear, solar and wind power, which incidentally are the cleanest energy sources with zero CO2 emission, can together meet a big chunk of the additional annual 13,000 MW electricity capacity that the Manmohan Singh government wishes to build. Rough estimates are that more than half, say 8,000 MW, fresh electricity capacity can be contributed by clean nuclear, solar and wind power. A major effort will no doubt be necessary for achieving this goal. But then this is absolutely necessary, more so because we will simultaneously realise another major national goal — fighting environmental pollution. The remaining additional power generation capacity can come with relative ease from other sources — hydel, coal and gas based thermal projects.

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MIDDLE

Thodey-Thodey English…
by Sunit Dhawan

The college-going daughter of my house-owner couldn’t control her laughter as she told me this. What I gathered from her narration punctuated with giggles was that she had asked my six-year-old daughter a rather queer question: Tum Punjabi ho?

Now, it was an outlandish query for the Class-I kid, who had come over to stay with me along with her mother during their summer vacation.

“What does that mean?” she asked her friendly didi in a rare instance of admitting her ignorance.

The didi explained that one would be a Punjabi if this language was spoken at one’s home, apart from Hindi.

After contemplating for a brief while, my daughter came up with a chic reply: “Haan, phir to hum Punjabi hain; par thodey-thodey English bhi hain”, making the collegiate burst into peals of laughter.

Having had a hearty laugh over the matter, my better half and myself pondered over the state of affairs which led to the aforesaid utterance.

The episode candidly indicated that we are — subtly, but surely — passing on the colonial mindset to our next generation. Sadly, it also underlined the decimation of the concept of according due respect to Hindi, our national language.

Any doubts in this regard were completely removed when we visited a spending (spendthrifts call it shopping) mall in the millennium city (Gurgaon) the very next day.

While the distinct preference for anything western — from attire to verbal communication to food — was too evident to be missed, the “event” which took the cake took place at a popular Chinese eating joint where we decided to settle down.

We were in the process of examining the environs after having placed the order for food when this happened: A seemingly rude and arrogant high school boy sitting alone at a nearby table was greeted by another boy accompanied by his girlfriend.

The boy with the girlfriend apparently had a stammering problem, which surfaced as he spoke to the other guy. The other guy either mistook it for lack of confidence or lapped it up as a chance to belittle the cheerful greeter.

“(You can) Speak in Hindi, yaar! Our recent school topper was a Hindi student,” he sneered. The tone and tenor of the comment was demeaning and reproachful. 

The boy towards whom the comment was hurled twisted and turned in his chair.

True, in this era of globalisation, English has become the international language, but wouldn’t it be better if we keep it confined to this very purpose and accord due regard and importance to Hindi, our own language?

Instead of blindly aping the West, won’t it be better if we become only — to quote the little one — thodey-thodey English?

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OPED

Policy options to contain swine flu pandemic
by J. George

Fifteen cases of A(H1N1) virus positive cases have been reported in India as WHO has raised the alert for swine flu to the pandemic level. The detection of a human-to-human route of infection indeed is serious as it may lead to major economic losses.

The public health pivoted mitigation strategy will not suffice as the root cause of the flu virus A (H1N1) lies in the process and production methods (PPMs) that is the sole operating procedure in the factory farms in all piggeries across the developed world.

The PPMs of primary commodities certainly need to be brought into the centre of pandemic discussion without much delay. This is the sole pivot allowing easy host, hibernation and transmission facilitation to the virus. The efficient food value chain management protocols demand it.

Public policy options and public health interventions must indeed rise above epidemiological niceties to save the human kind unforeseen ‘social distancing’ as well as being objects for profiteering.

As of June 8 WHO has reported virus infestation in 74 countries reporting 27,737 cases of A(H1N1) virus infection that resulted in 141 deaths. The human-to-human transmission route could prove devastating.

This rate of community level transmission of the virus has made WHO to move the pandemic to Phase 6. It may be pointed out that it took only two days to move from Phase 4 to 5 in April (27-29) 2009.

Compared to the bird flu (H5N1) virus that killed 60 per cent of the infected people in early 2000, this triple reassortant swine flu virus will appear harmless and benign only when the number of deaths is considered.

The economic losses, however, are in the same order of magnitude. The loss of young ones in the age group 20-40 years, as is the case in A(H1N1) virus, is certainly irreparable.

Investigations by experts have revealed that six of the eight flu viruses arose from the North American swine flu strains circulating since 1930. 1998 was the time when the first strain of triple reassortant swine viruses of H1N1 virus type was identified on a factory farm in North Carolina.

Here it was clearly identified that close confinement made pigs extremely vulnerable. By locating swine producing factory farms in close proximity to poultry farm factories the probability for testing positive for swine flu increased by a factor of 16.7.

The immediate and short-term mitigating plans and strategies respectively must move beyond perfunctory public health warnings and non-pharmaceuticals (NPI) as well as pharmaceutical interventions.

The profiteering motive inherent in the pharmaceutical interventions (PI) must galvanise the local bodies and licensing authorities into concrete action plans. This is essential so that speculative motives do not get the upper hand over the pandemic.

The limitation of PI is that it will concentrate only on the infected or quarantined cases. It is a mere 15 in India as of June 11, 2009. The NPI, on the other hand, has a wide angle coverage plan and must be put into motion immediately to preempt the profiteering plans that will be based on the fear and greed factors.

It is a public interest action and society must not suffer due to lack of information. Who will dispense correct information, what will be the communication strategy, etc are the issues that have been sorted out by now.

Though it is not known as yet how the new variant of virus mutates and travels across geographies, the available information and signals do point towards extreme vulnerabilities of the young in the age group 20-40 years, the youth.

The saner advice of Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General must spur us towards precautionary strategies: “we have clues, many clues, but very few firm conclusions”.

There are no vaccines available for this flu and it will be a while before antibodies get developed in the body’s immune system, NPI will necessarily do three things in the community.

The NPI strategy will delay exponential rise in the likely cases of swine flu thereby giving the valuable time to work out some concrete antidote; severely reduce the epidemic peak and thirdly reduce morbidity and mortality in the community. These actions are post-event oriented and will only delay the inevitable economic losses.

The origin of this particular variant of swine flu in Mexico and its parentage to the North Carolina flu epidemic clearly points to the process and production methods of swine followed in food factories or farm factories.

This is aptly summed up by WHO as the bottomline is that humans have to think about how they treat their animals, how they farm them and how they market them- basically the whole relationship between the animal kingdom and the human kingdom is coming under stress”. So pandemics are not borne but made in factory farms.

The production landscape in India is dominated by smallholder producers. These producers are under tremendous stress of various kinds. It is manifested under the rubric ‘agrarian crises’.

Hence it is most appropriate that the NPI strategy like, social distancing, respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene and household ventilation in the current swine flu pandemic are immediately supplemented with good hygienic production strategies in the agriculture and allied activities.n

The writer, an economist, has authored books on food standards and safety regulations.

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Obama’s greatest test: Healthcare
by Rupert Cornwell

For Barack Obama, this is the big one. Not hauling the global economy out of recession, or saving his country’s banking system, or proving there is life after death for Detroit car makers or bringing peace to the Middle East. No, I refer to his pledge to remake the dysfunctional, wasteful and ever more unaffordable American healthcare system. There will never be a greater test of the new president’s way of governing.

Obama has been in charge for less than five months, but his style is already clear. Clinton was all brainstorming and touchy-feely empathy, while George W. Bush went by his gut, never listening to anyone who disagreed with him. Obama, however, does things differently.

He has the intellectual confidence to revel in the clash of opinions. His approach is cool, cerebral and pragmatic. He is a man of the Enlightenment, not a Romantic. He believes in reason, and the middle ground, where the best should not be the enemy of the good. If a problem is set out honestly and clearly, he is convinced that rational men can set aside ideological differences to tease out a solution. Healthcare reform will put this modus operandi to unprecedented test.

Everyone knows what the problem is. This year the US will spend 17 per cent – or more than one sixth – of its gross domestic product on healthcare, and that share will only increase in the years ahead as the baby boom generation enters retirement. No other advanced economy spends more than 12 per cent.

Yet for this colossal outlay (roughly $2.5 trillion in 2009) Americans get quite appalling value for money. A sixth of the population, 45 million people, have no health insurance at all; millions more who do have it through their employers live in terror of losing their jobs. Healthcare bills are the biggest single cause of bankruptcy and personal financial ruin.

But in the basic measures of public health – infant mortality, life expectancy and preventable death – the US lags behind other industrial countries that spend far less. A vicious circle has set in. Because insurance is so expensive, healthy people increasingly take a chance and go without it. This means that those who seek insurance are those most likely to need treatment, which only makes the cost of insurance higher.

But all this is well known. So too, is the basic goal of reform, to simultaneously cut costs and guarantee coverage for all. Elaborate schemes are bandied about; a veritable theology of mandates has developed. Should companies, through whom most Americans still receive their coverage, be “mandated” to provide insurance for their workers? Or should individuals be “mandated” to buy insurance – with tax incentives or straight government aid for those who can’t afford it? The interesting question then arises, what happens if they refuse? For a Martian (or any foreign observer for that matter), the answer is blindingly obvious: some form of state run, single payer system.

Some in high places recognise this. Senator Ted Kennedy, stricken with cancer yet still the country’s most forceful advocate of healthcare reform, advocates “Medicare for All”, by expanding the Government scheme covering the old to every American. Obama, as usual recognising the facts, has declared that if he could start from scratch, he would go for a single payer model.

Alas this pristine world does not exist. He must cope with America as it is: a battlefield of competing interest groups that have enormous stakes in the dysfunctional but hugely lucrative health system as it stands. Among them are private insurance companies whose first loyalty is not to their customers but to their shareholders, spectacularly expensive hospitals that employ as many people in their accounts departments as in front line care, and drug companies with vast profits on the line.

For all of them, a genuine single payer system would mean the end of the gravy train. The last attempt to overhaul American healthcare, by the Clintons in 1993, was scuppered above all by a clever TV campaign by the insurance companies, depicting the plan as big government run amok, trampling on individual freedoms.

The fiercest debate right now is over whether a government insurance scheme should be set up as a competitor for the private insurance companies. The latter cry foul: the public sector alternative would be under no obligation to make a profit, they protest, and would use the government’s clout to drive down drug prices and fees for services. That of course is the entire object of the exercise. But we now have the absurd spectacle of backers of the government-backed alternative offering to hobble it, to appease opponents for whom it is the thin end of the socialist wedge.

As for Obama, he’s been behaving true to form. He has, naturally, presented the case for healthcare reform brilliantly. He has displayed his faith in reason by inviting all parties to a debate to the White House, where they pledged to work together to massively reduce costs – alas, without any detail of how that might be achieved. Obama says he supports a government-run insurance scheme, but has made clear a single payer scheme is simply not feasible.

He may be right. Some myths are almost impossible to eradicate, among them the ingrained American assumption that the private sector generally knows best, and the less the state meddles in the system, the better – even if that approach flies in the face of the universally acknowledged deficiencies of the US healthcare system.

A mountainous task awaits Obama. But he, and probably no future president for that matter, will never have a better opportunity than now. The economic crisis has made plain that the private sector does not invariably know best. His popularity is high, and the opposition is in disarray. For once, the American public is prepared to give government a chance.n

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Inside Pakistan
Message from Peshawar
by Syed Nooruzzaman

The terrorist attack on Pearl Continental in Peshawar, which has claimed many lives, was waiting to happen. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, facing army action for some time, had warned of retaliatory strikes. But what is more alarming is that the incident has highlighted the NWFP government’s inability to ensure that its writ runs at least in Peshawar.

As Daily Times points out, “The administration is quite weak after years of significant advance of warlords and criminals into the various sections of the city…. There are sections in the city where people calling themselves Taliban rule without being challenged.”

But are the other important cities in Pakistan safe? Not at all. See what The News says in an editorial, “There is no part of the land, no agency or institution, which is not in some way vulnerable to the murderous intent of those who now seek to bomb their way into power. There are groups of extremists in every town, in every province, of Pakistan. They are well-armed and well-trained and mentally ready for the fight. They are the product of successive governments attempting to appease, rather than confront, those they are now fighting…. That the government and the security agencies are in a position of relative weakness is because the extremists have been allowed to become inappropriately powerful.”

Killings in Karachi

The two rival groups of muhajirs (Urdu-speaking migrants from India) in Karachi have started baying for each other’s blood again. Clashes between those belonging to the MQM led by London-based Altaf Husain and the breakaway MQM (Haqiqi) during the past few days have claimed a number of lives, mostly of the latter group.

 According to Dawn (June 9), “Explaining the goings-on in Karachi’s murky world of politics is always difficult, but there are some indications of what may have sparked the current round of what appear to be tit-for-tat killings. Late last month, Afaq Ahmed and Aamir Khan, leaders of their respective factions of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement and considered to be bitter enemies of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (the party which is part of the coalition government in Sindh and at the centre), were acquitted on charges of possessing illicit arms and explosives.

 “With now only a few cases remaining against the two, they may soon be released from jail — raising the hackles of the MQM and fuelling its age-old suspicion that the PPP may have a soft corner for the Haqiqi group. Old wounds and new developments then may be what lie behind the latest round of violence. However, according to the MQM, the violence is part of a conspiracy aimed at the ‘Talibanisation’ of Karachi.”

Embarrassing for Sharif

PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif is faced with an embarrassing situation these days. The reason is the presentation in the Supreme Court of the papers regarding the pardon granted to him by the then Pakistan ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, after Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to imprisonment in the case relating to the hijacking of the plane in which the General was returning home from Sri Lanka as Chief of Army Staff.

Daily Times, quoting a TV channel, reported that “Sindh Advocate-General Yousaf Leghari, during the hearing of the plane hijacking conspiracy case on Tuesday, presented the document before the Supreme Court and requested the court to make it a part of the record. The alleged undertaking has been made public for the first time after the Sharif brothers’ return from exile.”

The Nation says, “The PML(N) has disowned the papers, terming their presentation as character assassination. According to PML(N) Information Secretary Ahsan Iqbal, ‘Mian Nawaz and Mian Shahbaz neither addressed any application to Pervez Musharraf nor they signed any pardon’.”

The truth, however, is that “In a four-page application Mian Nawaz requested the President to waive the sentences of imprisonment by the anti-terror court to enable him to travel abroad for medical treatment”, as pointed out by The Nation. The application was technically addressed to the then President, Rafiq Tarar, but it landed on General Musharraf’s table because he was the CEO of Pakistan at that time.

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