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EDITORIALS

Mamata Express
A socialist touch to railway budget

M
s
Mamata Banerjee’s budget is set to change the Railways from being a profit-driven, corporate organisation to a social welfare entity, which will be in need of state aid to help the needy. Like her predecessor, Lalu Prasad Yadav, she has presented a populist railway budget with no hike in fares or freight rates, but without Lalu Prasad’s stress on efficient fiscal management and profitability.

No cheer from Baramulla
Centre, State have to diffuse sitaution

T
he
embers of the Shopian double murder case were yet to cool down when the death of four young men at the hands of the police and the CRPF in Baramulla town has again stirred up Jammu and Kashmir. Violent protests have been taking place at various places.



EARLIER STORIES



Couples or companions?
HC verdict will excite some, not all
Thursday’s
Delhi High Court ruling that gay sex among consenting adults in private is no crime is somewhat forward looking, but is bound to remain controversial for some time. It will, certainly, give a fillip to the movement for decriminalisation of homosexuality, but will be criticised by others who have been opposed to reform of the law.

ARTICLE

Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Exams are not an evil

Abolition will not help all sections
by S. S. Johl

G
ood
administrators make a bad system work and bad ones fail even the good system. There is nothing wrong in the present system of sate level school education boards and the national level school boards. They provide multiple choices to the schools on the states and students of different capabilities. State level education boards cater to the local aspirations on language, social cohesion, local government and societal requirements and personal preferences of the students.


MIDDLE

Jab we met!
by Rajbir Deswal
We
met almost every day. On our evening stroll. I didn’t know her. Nor did she know me. Her walking laps were smaller. Just close to her house. She preferred going not too far. I saw her reverting back to her house after completing a lap or two. Then again she was there. Alone, or with someone from the neighbourhood. I could also once in a while listen to something like crooning of a song, when she passed by.


OPED

Air Force is losing its fighters
Strength getting depleted
by Dinesh Kumar
Last
month the Indian Air Force (IAF) lost a MiG-21 Bison fighter near Chabua in Assam and an AN-32 transport aircraft in Arunachal Pradesh within a span of 10 days. Between April and June this year, the IAF has already lost five aircraft including. Russia-made Sukhoi-30MKI multi-role fighter.

Iraq the US is leaving behind
by Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz
Tuesday
, the U.S. "stood down" in Iraq, finalizing the pullout of 140,000 troops from Iraqi cities and towns – the first step on the long path home. After more than six years, most Americans are war-weary, even though a smaller percentage of us have been involved in the actual fighting than in any major conflict in U.S. history.

Inside Pakistan
Cruel ways of Baitullah
by Syed Nooruzzaman
Now
when Pakistan has declared war on Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), bloodcurdling stories about his cruel style of operations are coming out. He exploited the name of religion as ruthlessly as no one did before.

 


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Mamata Express
A socialist touch to railway budget

Ms Mamata Banerjee’s budget is set to change the Railways from being a profit-driven, corporate organisation to a social welfare entity, which will be in need of state aid to help the needy. Like her predecessor, Lalu Prasad Yadav, she has presented a populist railway budget with no hike in fares or freight rates, but without Lalu Prasad’s stress on efficient fiscal management and profitability. She begins with a slight fall in the railways income, which she attributes to exaggerated projections in the last budget. Asserting that “development should not be restricted to a few people”, she reveals her guiding principle thus: “The old mindset of economic viability should be substituted by social viability”.

Accordingly, she lists her priorities as “better passenger amenities, safety and security and provision of good quality food and drinking water”. Every long-distance Rajdhani and Shatabdi will have a doctor and infotainment facilities. More railways stations will have ATMs and rest rooms for women. Students, accredited journalists and unorganized sector workers will get concessions on travel. About 5,000 post offices will sell railway tickets. SMS updates will be available for the wait-listed. The ‘tatkal” booking time has been reduced from five to two days. Chandigarh is among the 50 cities that will have world-class railway stations. Twelve non-stop, point-to-point trains will be started — Kolkata-Amritsar and Delhi-Jammu among them.

While more amenities for passengers are welcome, the Railways is venturing into areas outside its domain and core strength. The budget says the Railways will set up a 1,000 MW power plant. It plans to take over ailing wagon-making units like Burn Standards, run under the Heavy Industry Ministry, just to save 1,000 jobs in West Bengal. Her home state also gets a new coach factory. Seven nursing colleges will be set up on railway land in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and other cities. Ms Mamata Banerjee will also run multi-plexes having shopping malls, food joints and variety stalls. A committee will decide on projects that are socially desirable even if commercially unviable. The Railways is heading to become a welfare state. Hopefully, viable. 

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No cheer from Baramulla
Centre, State have to diffuse sitaution

The embers of the Shopian double murder case were yet to cool down when the death of four young men at the hands of the police and the CRPF in Baramulla town has again stirred up Jammu and Kashmir. Violent protests have been taking place at various places. While the Shopian crisis had been worsened by a statement of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that it was a simple case of drowning — the women were later found to have been raped and murdered — the administration has acted in a more sensitive manner in Baramulla. The CRPF has been withdrawn from the militancy-hit district and a case of murder registered against the security personnel who had allegedly opened fire at Khanpora-Baramulla on Monday and Tuesday killing four persons. But the protests have continued.

While there is no justification for excessive use of force, it is also true that vested interests try to exploit the situation. Separatist groups frustrated by the successful conduct of the Assembly elections make every attempt to discredit the Central forces and raise demands of withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Power Act from the State. For instance, the Baramulla trouble had arisen merely on the unsubstantiated allegations of the sister of an alleged kidnapper that policemen had misbehaved with her when she visited the police station.

The end result is that, in the words of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, the situation in Baramulla is “fragile”. Instead of bemoaning the mischief played by the separatists, the Centre and the State have to join hands to stabilise the state of affairs. They have to take a hard look into what needs to be done, besides withdrawing the CRPF to stabilise the situation. Unfortunately, creative ideas have not been forthcoming and the troubled state slips back into trouble every now and then. Instead of expressing concern, the Centre and the State have to act in tandem and come up with a working plan with the help of which the situation can be remedied, despite the ugly role played by the mischief-makers across the border. 

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Couples or companions?
HC verdict will excite some, not all

Thursday’s Delhi High Court ruling that gay sex among consenting adults in private is no crime is somewhat forward looking, but is bound to remain controversial for some time. It will, certainly, give a fillip to the movement for decriminalisation of homosexuality, but will be criticised by others who have been opposed to reform of the law. In a landmark order, the Bench consisting of Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar has ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, in sofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. Interestingly, the ruling will have no bearing on the letter of the 149-year-old Section 377. This section stays on the statute book and will continue to apply to all cases of non-consensual acts that qualify as sodomy and bestiality. The Bench has ruled that the anachronistic section should be amended by Parliament and any sex between consenting adults must be legalised.

The High Court judgement has expectedly evoked mixed reactions. It has come into force only in areas under the Delhi High Court’s jurisdiction unless the Supreme Court stays it. The apex court will give its considered opinion if it is challenged. But what is noteworthy is that there is no convergence of opinion among the political parties, social organisations and religious groups. There is no one view in the Union Cabinet either. The Union Ministers of Home, Law and Health are expected to meet shortly to examine the issue, but they are likely to take into account the aspect of amending the Constitution.

While the judiciary has the right to adjudicate on issues that tend to encroach upon the citizens’ fundamental rights as guaranteed under the Constitution, questions are bound to be raised on its legitimacy to deal with matters which are purely moralistic in nature and in the societal domain. Even otherwise, one does not see any urgency for the judiciary to resolve an issue that concerns a very small segment of population. The Delhi High Court may have been guided by the 172nd report of the Law Commission in suggesting the repeal of Section 377. However, the Centre has not bothered about so many other important reports of the commission to redo the outdated laws. Given the ground realities, the argument that the High Court ruling will help modernise the country seems a hyperbolic response of those excited by the High Court’s verdict on the question which falls more in the realm of societal changes and attitudes. 
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Thought for the Day

In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope. — Charles Revson

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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Exams are not an evil
Abolition will not help all sections
by S. S. Johl

Good administrators make a bad system work and bad ones fail even the good system. There is nothing wrong in the present system of sate level school education boards and the national level school boards. They provide multiple choices to the schools on the states and students of different capabilities. State level education boards cater to the local aspirations on language, social cohesion, local government and societal requirements and personal preferences of the students.

Schools and courses under these boards, cater to the preferences of the parents and students in respect of their aspirations consistent with the capabilities of the students. For instance there are very few Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) affiliated schools in villages. All government schools, which are overwhelmingly large in number in the villages and in areas inhabited by poor population, do not have teachers and facilities to teach quality English and science subjects. Many of the higher secondary schools in these areas do not have science subjects.

Although local school boards do not rate themselves with the central boards such as CBSE, yet they cater to the segments of the population that cannot afford to bear the costs of so called public schools, which cater exclusively to the educated and richer class of mostly the city population. For villages and poor segments of the population, state school education boards do offer something that is within the reach of this population.

Private public schools have become a flurshing business under the aegis of central level school boards. Left with no alternative in the absence of state level school boards, a homogeneous school curriculum will put students of state level government schools at a disadvantage because of lack of both infrastructure and an adequate number of competent and dedicated teaching staff.

In view of the financial crunch that state governments are passing through, there is little likelihood of government schools coming up to standard to either compete with private public schools patronised by the richer class or to cope with the uniform high standards laid down by the national education board. One cannot imagine the central education board or the so called private public schools lowering standards of education. It would be naïve to think that government run schools in the sates would be able to measure up to the standards of public schools to compete with them in respect of facilities, infrastructure and quality of education, especially in subjects such as English, Mathematic and applied sciences.

It will be a race between unequals wherein government schools in villages and poor colonies will stand nowhere and their pass percentage and level of grades earned by the students will fall drastically. These students from government schools will not be able to compete for higher studies, especially for professional courses. It is likely that a large majority may not even qualify to appear for competitive examinations.

The new system, which may be intended to provide better education and job opportunity, may push these students to absolute failure. The system will not leave for them even the opportunity to land into local level middle and lower rung jobs in their respective states. This equalisation will leave this large majority of the students high and dry. Unless school infrastructure, faculties and the teaching staff are of equal standard and made equally accountable, this national level homogenisation will lead to a disaster for the rural and poor populations of the country.

Such a homogenisation is possible only when there is only a single language in a country and there does not exist a vast economic, social, cultural and language diversity as is prevalent in India. Therefore, such a step of abolishing state level school boards and putting the entire school education system of the country under one education/administrative board is an unduly hurried step, especially when it is intended to be completed within the first 100 days of the present UPA government.

Such a plan requires to be considered and deliberated upon extensively within academic circles. All state governments have to be consulted with a calm mind. We have already fiddled with our education system too many times and have landed into a mess that discriminates against the large majority of rural and poor segments of the society. The new scheme aimed at showing quick results must not act against the interest of these segments of society and must not be in conflict with the economic, social, cultural and language diversity of which the country is proud.

The other move to abolish or make the class 10 examinations optional for the students is no less a populist move totally devoid of an understanding of the concept of examinations in the education system. Unfortunately we have made the examination system hang lose from the education of the students. Examinations should be used as tools of learning. We have the demonstrative example of interaction between teachers and students in subjects like music, dance, paintings where the student is examined daily by the teacher who uses it as tool to teach. In our school, college and university education, there are tight jacket detailed syllabi, which is prepared, taught and examined by different set of experts. The teacher’s hands are tied and she or he is unable to impart updated knowledge leaving the student to bear the brunt. Since there is no transparency and the student never comes to know of his mistakes, this leads to malpractices, cramming and use of unfair means. The net result is that the purpose of education is lost. Unfortunately, transparency continues to elude students even after he applies for re-evaluation at a high cost.

In Punjab we have tasted the result of zero examinations up to class 5. Many teachers are misusing this as a no teaching period and so the entire system of teaching has suffered irreparably in the state. Instead of abolishing examinations at the matriculation level, the frequency of examinations should be increased and transparently made a part of the learning process. This requires innovative thinking to motivate the teachers, make them accountable and to revamp the system that becomes responsive to the fast changing socio-economic and cultural scenario at the national and international level. It is a flexible system made fully equipped and accountable that will meet the challenges of demand driven education. Hurried populist steps as envisaged by the Ministry of Human Resource development will further vitiate the education system. This must be put on hold till the issues are deliberated upon extensively in the nation. Hundred days of governance are not that sacrosanct that the whole system may be turned upside down with unwarranted haste.n

The writer is a former Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana

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Jab we met!
by Rajbir Deswal

We met almost every day. On our evening stroll. I didn’t know her. Nor did she know me. Her walking laps were smaller. Just close to her house. She preferred going not too far.

I saw her reverting back to her house after completing a lap or two. Then again she was there. Alone, or with someone from the neighbourhood. I could also once in a while listen to something like crooning of a song, when she passed by.

Her children used to catch up with her sometimes. She seemed to be someone who was a favourite in the neighbouring houses. But we had no interaction amongst ourselves. Not even formally greeting each other.

Then one day I found there were many vehicles parked near her house. There were no signs of any kind of a celebration or revelling. The atmosphere looked to be very gloomy.

I passed by her house. Tried to figure out if something had gone wrong. I couldn’t know. The following day when I again went on the same stroll route with my wife, she told me that the owner of the house had died.

“O’ God that is why I don’t see her out of the house anymore!” I murmured to myself.

After some days I could spot her standing near the gate of her house and talking to another woman of the neighbourhood. Suddenly, I got worried as to how would I gather courage to pass by her, without saying a few words of condolence.

And what would I say. As I said, we never talked to each other. My steps dithered and failed their direction. I couldn’t lift my eyes to catch hers. How would I do that? What if our eyes met? What would be my reaction? I was still walking towards her.

And she bowed her head and wished me with folded hands. Things suddenly became very easy for me. I told her I was sorry to have heard the sad news. “But what happened all of a sudden?” I asked her.

“He was straight-bodied like you. His heart failed.” She was able to barely speak. Her voice died in a choke. Tears rolled down her eyes and she went inside her house. I also went my way. With a heavy heart.

Now we meet oftener. Now we greet each other with folded hands. We have no hesitation at all. She seems to have come to terms with her tragedy. Time is a great healer. Also that we unite in grief and stand by each other, than in happier times! Life goes on. But walk we must.

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Air Force is losing its fighters
Strength getting depleted
by Dinesh Kumar

Last month the Indian Air Force (IAF) lost a MiG-21 Bison fighter near Chabua in Assam and an AN-32 transport aircraft in Arunachal Pradesh within a span of 10 days. Between April and June this year, the IAF has already lost five aircraft including. Russia-made Sukhoi-30MKI multi-role fighter.

The MiG-21 Bison that crashed on June 19 is the second such aircraft that the IAF has lost in the last three months. The short-range MiG-21 Bison, with its limited multi-role capability, is an upgraded version of the 1970s vintage MiG-21 Bis, 125 of which were upgraded at a considerable cost (and delay) with Russia’s help a decade ago.

Tragic as these are, air accidents are common to air forces the world over. Statistically speaking, the IAF’s accident record has marginally improved during the current decade. The recent induction of the British-made Hawk Mk.132 advance jet trainers is expected to further reduce pilot error (a major cause of air accidents) in the new generation of fighter pilots.

In addition to the MiG-21 Bison variant, the IAF flies a limited number of Type 77 (air defence) and Type 96 (ground attack) versions of this Soviet-origin vintage aircraft, the development of which dates back to the late 1950s. However, the IAF has decided to completely phase out these outdated variants in the next couple of years. Currently, these are mostly used for training rookie pilots.

The IAF is afflicted by a depleting strength of fighter squadrons. Its fighter strength is down to 32 operational fighter squadrons from the sanctioned strength of 39.5. This figure is in danger of slipping further in the next two years if acquisitions do not keep pace with the phasing out of outdated fighters.

Last March the IAF phased out the MiG-23BN strike aircraft, which, in 2007, was preceded with the phasing out of MiG-23MF air defence fighters. Earlier this decade, the IAF retired the MiG-25 strategic reconnaissance aircraft. The truth, however, is that the actual figure of fighter squadrons that can be truly considered effective to combat or deter threats is even less than 32 keeping in view the antiquity of the MiG-21, which continues to form the mainstay of the IAF.

Nostalgia apart, the MiG-21 is no longer fit for an air force that seeks to play an important role in projecting power and deterrence. Among the 20-odd countries with which the IAF continues to share the dubious honour of flying this cigar-shaped fighter aircraft, first developed half-a-century ago, are Sudan, Libya, Ethopia, Uganda, Zambia, Guinea, Cambodia, Vietnam and a few former Warsaw Pact countries in East Europe.

This is hardly the company that the world’s fourth largest Air Force should keep, especially when it belongs to a country that is not only a regional power but also seeks to be a global player. In addition to the eight MiG-21 Bison and two MiG-21 Bis squadrons, the IAF also flies six to seven squadrons of the MiG-27M, a tactical air strike aircraft that was developed in the mid-1970s and inducted into the IAF in the early 1980s. But this bomber too needs upgrading.

However, as is the case with the upgraded version of the MiG-21, both the engine and the airframe of the upgraded MiG-27M too will remain unchanged. This means that there will continue to exist limitations in both the performance and air frame life of the MiG-27s.

But why single out these two Soviet-origin MiG variants? The fact is that barring the limited number of the relatively recently inducted Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft, the entire IAF fighter fleet is either antiquated or needs upgrading. This includes the three squadrons of the Soviet-origin MiG-29B air defence fighter, two of the three squadrons of the French-made Mirage-2000H multi-role fighter, and the 4.5 squadrons of the British-made Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft. Excepting the Sukhois contracted for purchase in 1997, the IAF’s entire fighter aircraft fleet was bought between 1979 and 1989.

The same holds true for the IAF’s transport fleet. The IL-76 and AN-32 transport aircraft, the Mi-8, Mi-17 and Mi-25 transport helicopters and the Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters – all of which are of Soviet origin – were bought in the 1980s.

The vintage French-origin Lama (Chetak) and the Alouette-II (Cheetah) light helicopters were inducted in the 1970s and 1980s respectively.

It is not just the IAF’s fighter fleet that needs to be upgraded or phased out. The same is true for the entire IAF’s transport fleet listed above. The only exception is the Mi-17 IV transport helicopters recently purchased from Russia.

While the IL-76 and AN-32 transport aircraft and the Mi-17 helicopters need to be upgraded, the rest of the IAF’s helicopter fleet requires replacement.

In May this year the IAF inducted the first of its three Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and has plans to acquire three more of these ‘eyes in the sky’. Earlier this decade, the IAF had inducted six IL-78 fuel refueling aircraft and is now considering the purchase of six A330 aircraft to increase the fleet of refueling aircraft to 12.

While these two sets of force multipliers have significantly enhanced the IAF’s power projection and deterrence capability, these will remain of little use if the Air Force does not have fighter aircraft to take advantage of this.

The Ministry of Defence has already issued a request for proposals to induct 126 multi-role combat aircraft and has contracted to acquire about 200 Sukhoi-30MKIs, which will make up for depleting numbers and capability. However, these inductions are still several years away.

The IAF also has plans to acquire 125 light helicopters to replace the Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, 22 attack helicopters to replace the Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, 15 heavy lift helicopters to replace the four Mi-25s and six C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ transport aircraft for the special forces to partially replace and modernise its ageing transport fleet.

However, the MiG-21 Bison is expected to remain the mainstay of the IAF for some years to come. This is because the indigenously built Tejas light combat aircraft is still some years from induction mainly because it does not have an engine to power it. India’s indigenous efforts to build the Kaveri engine have not fructified and attempts to co-develop an engine with another country have still not borne fruition.

This raises the all-important issue of serious deficiencies in India’s self-reliance in cutting-edge military technologies. Until then, the Indian defence forces, including the IAF, will remain over-dependent on imports, on time-consuming procurement procedures, endangered by scuttled contracts due to kickbacks and, of course, cyclical depletion of force levels and antiquity. This is hardly a comforting situation for a country surrounded by a rising China that is strategically encircling India and an adversarial Pakistan.

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Iraq the US is leaving behind
by Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz

Tuesday, the U.S. "stood down" in Iraq, finalizing the pullout of 140,000 troops from Iraqi cities and towns – the first step on the long path home. After more than six years, most Americans are war-weary, even though a smaller percentage of us have been involved in the actual fighting than in any major conflict in U.S. history.

We have relegated the car and suicide bombings to the inside pages of newspapers, accepting at face value that the "surge" has calmed things down enough so we can finally leave the whole sorry Iraq adventure behind us.

But not so fast. The conflict that began in 2003 is far from over for us, and the next chapter – confronting a Taliban that reasserted itself in Afghanistan while the U.S. was sidetracked in Iraq – will be expensive and bloody. The death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 5,000 in June. An additional 80,000 Americans have been wounded or injured since the war in Iraq began.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, even though most of the population has long told pollsters they can't wait for U.S. forces to leave, U.S. officials have said we are likely to station 50,000 troops at military bases in the country for the foreseeable future. This is because the situation in Iraq is highly precarious. The country ranks high on lists of the most dangerous places on Earth, with a continual stream of suicide bombings and murders targeting political and religious leaders as well as civilians.

According to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, 2 million people – largely from the middle class by most accounts – fled Iraq during the war, but only a handful have returned. (The vast majority of Iraq's doctors, lawyers and other professionals are now living abroad, and many are seeking asylum.) An additional 2.7 million "internal" refugees – 10 percent of the population – abandoned their homes, and most are too frightened to go back. The struggle for power among Kurds, Shias and Sunnis is still in flux, with battles looming over oil and land.

Moreover, the U.S. barely has begun to face the enormous financial bill for the war. By our accounting, the U.S. has already spent $1 trillion on operations and related defense spending, with more to come – and it will cost perhaps $2 trillion more to repay the war debt, replenish military equipment and provide care and treatment for U.S. veterans back home.

Many of the wounded will require indefinite care for brain and spinal injuries. Disability payments are ramping up and will grow higher for decades. The stress of extended, multiple tours to Iraq means that a whole generation of U.S. military men and women may now be suffering from long-term mental health issues. The suicide rate in the Army is at its highest level since record-keeping began.

This wartime spending undoubtedly has been a major contributor to our present economic collapse. The U.S. has waged an expensive war as if it required little or no economic sacrifice, funding the conflict by massive borrowing. As we've observed in the past, you can't spend $3 trillion on a reckless foreign war and not feel the pain at home.

Burned by the difficulties in Iraq, our political leaders have no illusions about the length and difficulty of the challenge facing us in Afghanistan. But in other respects we seem set to repeat the same mistakes that we made in Iraq. The president has just signed yet another "emergency" supplemental appropriations measure ($80 billion) to fund continuing operations in Iraq and expansion into Afghanistan. This means that for the 30th time since 2001, war spending has been rushed through the budget process without serious scrutiny.

The U.S. has 240,000 contractors working in the two war theaters -- but the Pentagon's oversight of independent contractors remains lax. The Army Criminal Investigation Command – which just a few weeks ago brought fraud charges against a contractor responsible for supplying our troops with bulletproof vests – is woefully understaffed, with fewer than 100 people to investigate billions of dollars in alleged war profiteering.

Obstacles continue to beset returning veterans too. Despite an increase in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget, the backlog of disability claims has reached its highest level, and the budget for helping returning veterans reintegrate into civilian life is less than we spend in a single day of combat operations.

Early this year, President Barack Obama committed 20,000 troops to a "surge" in Afghanistan. That, combined with a large, ongoing presence in Iraq and continued reliance on private contractors for virtually every aspect of military support, remains a recipe for staggering out-of-control expenditures. Surely we can draw some lessons from the Iraq debacle and set aside money to care for our veterans, crack down on fraud and profiteering, and account for the true costs of the war in the budget so the American taxpayer can see what we are paying for.n

Bilmes of Harvard University and Stiglitz, a winner of the Nobel Prize, are the co-authors of "The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict."

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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Inside Pakistan
Cruel ways of Baitullah
by Syed Nooruzzaman

Now when Pakistan has declared war on Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), bloodcurdling stories about his cruel style of operations are coming out. He exploited the name of religion as ruthlessly as no one did before.

 He had perfected the art of mesmerising people, who believed whatever he said. Stories about his depredations were rejected if these had the stamp of any government agency. Baitullah emerged as the most successful tribal warlord because of his uncanny knack of making people believe that Pakistan was fighting America’s war.

 People are showing courage to say that “Baitullah Mehsud ordered 18 of his wounded men slaughtered before retreating in the face of the army operation going on against him. The men lost their lives because they were no longer fit to keep up with the rest as they made good their escape. Seeing the operation unfolding effectively against the TTP, the parents of the boys he had shanghaied into his suicide-bomber training camps begged him to release their offspring. He refused.” according to Daily Times.

The Nation quoted a US newspaaper report to say that Baitullah is “buying children as young as 7 to serve as suicide bombers… A Pakistani official, who spoke on condition that he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said that the going price for child bombers was $7,000 to $14,000.”

Taliban leader changes colour

The Pakistan government has been ditched by a Taliban commander considered “sympathetic” to Islamabad. Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who had signed a “peace” deal with Islamabad in September 2006, leading to the clinching of another such accord between the government and tribal elders of North Waziristan in February 2008, has declared that he has no love lost for the government. Though the deal he had entered into existed only in name, he officially declared it as no longer binding on him this week. He is upset because of the unending American drone attacks and the heavy presence of troops in his area of operation.    

 According to Dawn, “there is a suspicion that the (military) operation in Frontier Region  Bannu and the one impending in South Waziristan are the real reasons for scrapping the deal”. Gul Bahadur has obviously sided with his Taliban brethren like Baitullah Mehsud.

Troubled tribes

Going by what Ayaz Wazir says in an article in The News, it is difficult to believe that the government will succeed in its drive against the militants in the two Waziristan (North and South) agencies. The government is hardly trusted by the tribal people because of its pro-warlord policies in the past. The authorities looked the other way when militants slaughtered people like animals.

 “The government needs to establish its credibility by providing protection to the people against the militants. It has to prove its claim of being serious in eliminating militants, only then will its image and credibility be restored. Short of that, nothing will convince the locals, who are at the receiving end of violence.

 “The government had not properly addressed the grievances of the tribesmen in the past, nor taken them into confidence in policy-making decisions concerning their area…, Ayaz points out.”

The Mehsud tribe-dominated area, where the army operation is currently on, is a difficult mountainous terrain. It is a small chunk of territory, but it falls in the centre of the two Waziristans. “It would be difficult, if not impossible”, for Pakistani troops “to deny the possibility of exit to Baitullah Mehsud. There is every possibility for him to quietly slip out of the operational zone”, Ayaz adds.

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