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COVER STORY

01-02-2002

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Briefing

'We must put diplomatic pressure'

Vishwanath Pratap Singh was Prime Minister when India went through a phase of sharpening border tensions with Pakistan in 1990. Earlier, in 1987, as Defence Minister he had been tasked with defusing the standoff that was engendered by the Indian Army's Operations Brasstacks on the western border. In this interview with Sukumar Muralidharan, V.P. Singh offers a retrospect on those events and the possible lessons they hold for the current situation. Excerpts:

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Looking at the current phase of India-Pakistan tensions and the issues that India has raised both bilaterally and in global forums, there is some evidence that Pakistan is becoming more serious about India's concerns. How does this situation today compare with the border tensions you faced as Prime Minister?

You see, as soon as I became Prime Minister, they did the same thing they have done now. After winter exercises, they just kept their forces on the border and dug trenches. They brought out grade one ammunition, which is brought out only during war, and put their radars in forward positions. We were monitoring their air sorties and there was every indication of war.

I adopted two strategies: one was the mobilisation of our strength and two was diplomacy. Rajiv Gandhi had already committed for the recalling of Indian troops from Sri Lanka. I took advantage of this and advanced it. We had never fought on two fronts and getting caught in Sri Lanka while fighting this battle would have been disastrous.

Then, I thought that if I could release forces from the Chinese border I could put them on the Pakistan front. So we immediately contacted China and the second person in command came to Delhi and met me and I told him, we are not going to war, so why are we having war strength forces on the front? We need forces for patrolling and a mechanism should be there so that any misunderstanding is sorted out. China agreed. That was a big achievement of that government, which is hardly noticed. Later on, Narasimha Rao formalised it.

So we managed to put massive forces on the northern and western borders. That was why when Benazir (Bhutto) said they would fight a thousand-year war, I said 'when you cannot fight a thousand hours, why talk of a thousand years?' There were two purposes. One, telling Pakistan that it could not catch us unawares, that we are ready and our response will be punishing.

The other is that when you generate fear in your enemy, two reactions are possible: fight or flight. I used the diplomatic language and conveyed (to them) that we do not want war. I told them, you do not move your armoured corps, since if you do we will take it as a sign of war. I got a message from Benazir that she would not.

At that time an American delegation had come under (Deputy National Security Adviser Robert) Gates. They went to Islamabad and also to Delhi. I told him, 'look here, if you think we are at loggerheads with Pakistan because we have had three wars in the past, look at China - we have had a war but that does not mean we are continually at loggerheads. Our relations have improved. What is the difference between the two? China is not interfering in our internal matters, while Pakistan is actively doing so. That is the crux of the matter. So I think that since you (the U.S.) are their friend, you would have to go and tell them not to try all this military adventurism against us.

Now, at that time terrorism was not the issue.... We were not asking Pakistan to do something inside Pakistan. But strategies have to include both diplomatic and military pressure. Diplomacy can be quite effective at this moment because the world has now been alerted to terrorism. And we should avail of this opportunity to put maximum diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to really act against terrorism.

At that time there was a civilian government there and now there is a military administration.

I don't think that makes a difference. Finally we have to deal with the person who decides.

That was a time when the U.S. and Pakistan were on relatively good terms - the Afghanistan operation against the Soviet Union had just concluded.

That was the success of our diplomacy, and during my period we had good relations with the U.S. They stated then that a referendum (in Jammu and Kashmir) is not needed - it is outdated.

The 1990 military mobilisation succeeded in the sense that the Pakistan armed forces withdrew from their belligerent posture, but the infiltration and the militancy in Kashmir continued.

Initially it was mainly the JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) - and they were separatist rather than militant.

You mean not fundamentalist? Yes. That element was not there.

You mean it was not considered as dangerous then as it is now?

Well, even if you look at those whom we released (in the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnap incident), they were separatists. They were not charged with any criminal offence except making speeches and giving pamphlets. And they were very low level (members) in the separatist movements. In fact, in the Rubaiya case they did not succeed in getting the top leadership released. They succeeded with the BJP government (in the IC 814 hijacking in December 1999). They got the topmost leaders released. And the people we released were Indian nationals. They (the BJP government) released Pakistani nationals. And after once having had the experience, we did not buckle. Though there has been criticism that in the first case we gave in because it involved the daughter of a Home Minister and later only certain officials - that is not true.

Operation Brasstacks happened under your watch in the Defence Ministry and that was also a military mobilisation with a coercive political purpose. What exactly happened there, and what was the objective?

Brasstacks was initiated much earlier. It was on when I was shifted from Finance to Defence... So, as soon as my name was announced, on January 24 (1987), I went straight to the Operations Room and took a whole briefing on Brasstacks.

A delegation (from Pakistan) came after that, with Abdul Sattar leading. We were negotiating a withdrawal, but the problem was that both sides had amassed so much power there and nobody trusted each other. There were negotiations, but nothing came out of it at the Foreign Ministers' level. Then Sattar came to see me. We worked out a plan over a few months.

What was the objective then?

I don't know. So much armour was amassed and it also caused a lot of wear and tear of our equipment. So I don't want to guess.

But there was a coercive intent. There was a determination to show Pakistan that we could cut right through their country.

It was all planned by Rajiv. There had to be a political objective in the context. But I don't know.

How do you assess the situation now - with General Musharraf having banned the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad? He is showing some signs of movement. Do you think this is enough?

No, there should be more. He has to abandon the policy itself. Though we must also understand that we should give him breathing time. Our purpose cannot be the destabilisation of Musharraf.

But in Pakistan he may face a crisis of legitimacy, since he cannot afford to be seen as buckling under Indian pressure.

That is true. He said right in the beginning of the confrontation with Afghanistan that the Taliban is very dear but Pakistan comes first.

The main purpose was to see that Pakistan's Kashmir policy was not compromised and to protect its strategic assets.

You see, the rhetoric in Pakistan is very high over Kashmir. They have gone up on the roof without a ladder and now they can't come down slowly. But they should do something to obtain some flexibility for a political dialogue. They cannot do it overnight, but over a few years, they could. Musharraf may have to act out of compulsion rather than conviction.

Have we succeeded in convincing the world that the problem in Kashmir is cross-border in origin, or is there a political dimension which still needs attention?

I suppose we had a window of opportunity in 1996. At that time the mood was that Pakistan would not take up their fight. They felt let down by Pakistan and India is too strong a state to give up. And they had the attitude that if any honourable solution was proposed, they could have accepted it. We should have utilised that situation and I told (Prime Minister) Deve Gowda that that was the time to act.

'Musharraf must discard Zia legacy'

Former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral is a man who is widely recognised to have a distinctive vision of Indian diplomacy, both in the neighbourhood and in the wider world. The "Gujral doctrine", which he crafted as Minister for External Affairs in the United Front government of 1996-97 and later carried forward as Prime Minister, is one of the most radical efforts made in recent decades to build a broader South Asian community, overcoming a legacy of sometimes bitter divisions. In an interview with Sukumar Muralidharan, he spoke of his perceptions of the current tensions in the region and the longer-term prospects for peace and stability. Excerpts:

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With all the military and diplomatic pressure being exerted from this side, there has been some evidence of movement from Pakistan vis-a-vis their stand on terrorism and Kashmir. Does this vouch for the effectiveness of the strategy?

We must make the world understand that so far as India is concerned, the issue at the moment is terrorism and not Kashmir. Once Indian institutions have been attacked, I believe it is an attack on our sovereignty. Terrorism is always bad and always objectionable. But when it extends to the Indian Parliament, then the entire scenario undergoes a qualitative change. We have no complaint against Pakistan as such. We have a complaint in this particular context against terrorism - against its exporters and those who give them asylum. In this context, we are talking in terms of a U.N. Security Council resolution that has now been endorsed by the SAARC summit. Our focus is to tell the world that whatever maybe the differences between India and Pakistan - Kashmir or whatever else - can be separately attended to. But unless India is assured that we are safe, our institutions are safe, our democracy is safe - how can we possibly talk about anything else?

But do you see any forward movement from Pakistan, in terms of clamping down on the terrorist groups?

I see some movement, but these are diversionary tactics. I think he (General Musharraf) is primarily trying to justify his own somersault regarding Afghanistan. He cannot possibly tell his people that he changed his own stand with regard to Afghanistan - undertaking the task of slaying his own child, that is the Taliban - and also say at the same time that he has not changed his outlook about fundamentalists who are sitting right there. After all, a very high percentage of those fundamentalists and terrorists who were operating in Afghanistan also have operations in Pakistan.

The Taliban phenomenon was created during the tenure of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister.

It was created by the ISI, which has always been an autonomous institution. Therefore, whether the Prime Minister was A or B, they were only there in name. They have constructive responsibility all right, but in reality it was the Army all the time. It was Zia's (former military ruler Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq) policy in Afghanistan and Kashmir, it was his anti-India policy which the present gentleman has inherited. To an extent, only Nawaz Sharif (as Prime Minister) tried to change the policy. He had four rounds of discussions with me and three rounds with Atal Behari Vajpayee - and perhaps this is one reason why he was removed.

Was that dialogue making any progress? It became something of a ritual for representatives to meet and discuss the two issues plus the six other identified issues and restate known positions.

More important than the eight identified issues was the SAARC framework. And the Male Summit, when I was there and the Colombo Summit, when Shri Vajpayee was there, were both moving in the same direction. We were talking about the operationalisation of SAPTA (South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement) and SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) and the Eminent Persons' Group gave a report trying to visualise a transition from free trade to a South Asian community. We were moving in that direction, since at the back of our minds was the vision that even the contentious issue of Kashmir and Pakistan's hang-up about it could possibly be resolved via SAARC - because once we reach the South Asian community, then these issues would fit in without disturbing national sovereignties. Now how much Nawaz Sharif knew about Kargil and how much he did not is a matter of speculation, because that gentleman has not been given a chance to explain. Even Benazir Bhutto tried to delink herself from this operation. So civilian Prime Ministers, whenever they came, never got a chance.

Is there a possibility of an infiltration of Taliban elements into Pakistan, which could destabilise the Musharraf regime?

When we talk of Pakistan, we should not talk of Punjab Pakistan alone. We must think more of the Frontier Province and of Baluchistan - these are very important segments of Pakistan and the internal stability of these two regions cannot be taken for granted. Another fact of history is that whatever happens in Afghanistan influences the subcontinent sooner rather than later. The ouster of the Taliban is not a minor incident which will remain confined only to Afghanistan. The government has been eliminated but not Talibanism. After all, the groups that attacked the Indian Parliament were also part of the same outlook.

Is it then wise to pressure Musharraf into taking strong action, knowing that this could destabilise him and his country?

The future of Musharraf will be decided by him more than anybody else. Because there is no other institution there - apart from the Army and the ISI - which can decide. I think the friends whom he listens to should make him understand that his survival depends upon giving up the path of Zia. The entire legacy has to be discarded in his own interests. It is not a question of pressure from India. Civil society in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, is very much in favour of friendship with India. This major change has come because of the processes that I initiated - visas, travel, trade, people-to-people contacts. Even a few days back there was a big demonstration at the Wagah border saying "no terrorism; no war". That is the authentic voice of civil society in Pakistan, which is as seriously threatened by terrorism as we are. So if Musharraf sees this, then he can build very strong alliances within his country for bringing peace.

But isn't he a bit constrained since the Army in Pakistan has put down this touchstone of Kashmir by which all relations with India will be governed?

I would say that we should draw the line between terrorism and these other issues. There are several ways of building good relations - like the approach that Nawaz Sharif and I (and later Shri Vajpayee) had taken. The SAARC route, ultimately, is the way we have to take. This is the longer route and there is no short-cut.

There is now a strong sense that Musharraf may hand over authority to a civilian government.

Handing over power and democracy are two different things. Democracy is not a gift from anyone. As we have seen in this country, democracy is a self-perpetuating system. And unless the people are able to choose their own representatives, whose continuity for a certain period of time can be taken for granted, Pakistan will continue to suffer.

But are there no lessons here for our handling of the Kashmir situation?

I would look at the Kashmir situation in two parts. One, as the hangover of Partition, and the other as internal. I think the present government has to do a lot more to satisfy our own people. When Prime Minister Vajpayee declared a ceasefire and for six months there was no political movement, that was unfortunate. When the elected Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir passed a resolution on autonomy, it was dismissed out of hand. I think we need to give a credible assurance to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the next elections will be free and fair. That does not mean that I am questioning the credibility of the previous elections - that would be used as propaganda and would also arouse tempers. All the same,we must take steps to ensure that we will help civil society in the State to invite impartial and credible observers from within the country - not from outside - to look into the elections and its conduct. Once we move in that direction, many things will settle down. It would then be more difficult for those who are against elections to stay away.

Secondly, we should now enter into a dialogue with various segments of the State about their concept of autonomy. Let this discussion begin before the elections.

The government recently cut off all long-distance telephone links and Internet access in Kashmir. How would that kind of a measure go down at this sensitive time?

These are knee-jerk reactions, which I do not support. I also did not support the stopping of train and bus services to Pakistan. These measures do not help. Ordinary people whose families are divided suffer. Why make the whole society suffer for the faults of a few?

Coming back to the broader picture, the Zia doctrine was crafted very much under the tutelage of the U.S. And Afghanistan and Kashmir were the two flanks on which the doctrine was applied. Does the U.S. have the credibility today to make Pakistan tear up the Zia doctrine?

The main objective of the U.S. at that time was to defeat the Soviet Union. And the Soviets unfortunately put their foot into it. I was Ambassador to Moscow in those days. Indira Gandhi was categorical in advising the Soviets that they had made a mistake and should get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The difficulty with the culture of the Cold War was that we could not take a public stand on this. At the same time, in private - I am privy to this - we were always advising them to get out of Afghanistan.

In the new context do you see the U.S. acting in the interests of peace and stability in Afghanistan or is the old calculus of the Great Game and the oil pipeline from Central Asia going to enter the picture?

Stability and the new version of the Great Game are not separable. When you have these new entrants in Afghanistan, with their armed forces present and there is a government of their choice in power, then it would be very strange to pretend that this is not a new version of the Great Game. What Pakistan did with the Taliban was also a part of the Great Game. They had this concept of "strategic depth". Sometimes in world politics the objectives remain but the words change. What is "strategic depth" - was it not the same thing that the British were trying to achieve in India? And what was the concept that Russia and later the Soviet Union was trying to achieve from the other side? It is the misfortune of the Afghan people that their country has been made the playground for everybody.

Marking time

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

India welcomes Musharraf's announcements but insists that the lessening of tensions will depend on action taken on the ground, and not declared intentions.

THE war of words that erupted between New Delhi and Islamabad has finally shown some signs of subsiding. After President Pervez Musharraf delivered his landmark speech, there are indications that the Indian government has slightly mellowed towards Islamabad. Many important world leaders have already welcomed the Pakistan President's speech.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, talking to the media in Delhi a day after Musharraf's speech, said the government "welcomed the now-declared commitment of the government of Pakistan not to support or permit any more the use of its territory for terrorism anywhere in the world, including the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir". The Minister emphasised that the "commitment" must extend to all territories under Pakistan's control today. He was referring to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Jaswant Singh also said that New Delhi took note of the Pakistan government's decision to ban the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the two terrorist organisations India accuses of being involved in the December 13 attack on Parliament. Jaswant Singh said the Indian government "understood" that the Pakistani government needs time to implement the tough measures that have been announced by Musharraf. He emphasised that the Pakistan government should start to "operationalise" the measures outlined by Musharraf. The steps should include "the stopping of infiltration from across the border" and ending the training and sheltering of terrorists. He said that the Indian government was waiting to see the steps that were being taken in this regard by Pakistan.

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He repeated Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's statement that for "every step Pakistan takes, India will take two steps" for the sake of peace. He, however, said the de-escalation process would start after concrete evidence of Pakistani action was seen on the ground. "Lessening of tensions will depend on action taken on the ground, not on declared intentions. Pakistan should move from posturing to action," he said. The Indian government was "extremely mindful", he added, of the fact that many Al Qaeda and Taliban extremist elements had sneaked into Pakistan and would try their best to create problems between Pakistan and India and destabilise the situation within Pakistan.

Jaswant Singh dismissed the Pakistani President's suggestion for third party mediation on the Kashmir dispute. He said it was neither workable nor practicable, adding that the only basis for a lasting solution was bilateral talks based on "the Simla agreement" and "the Lahore Declaration". "We reiterate our conviction that all issues between India and Pakistan can only be addressed bilaterally. There is no scope for any third party involvement," he said. The Minister also expressed his disappointment over Pakistan's refusal to hand over the 20 people accused of terrorist acts against India. The Minister said that around 15 or 16 of those wanted by New Delhi were Indian citizens.

Most of the Opposition parties have welcomed Musharraf's speech. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau, in a statement, said that the speech would have a "positive impact" and that it indicated a serious effort to deal with the problem of religious extremism. "In addressing India's concerns, a significant point is the assertion that no individual or organisation would be allowed to indulge in acts of terrorism in the name of Kashmir," the statement said. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau was of the view that Musharraf's policy statement should help in creating the atmosphere for de-escalating tensions. "The first step should be to demobilise troops on both sides of the border. The Vajpayee government must respond by exploring the basis for resumption for dialogue," the statement said.

However, the day before Musharraf's speech, the Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan, issued a tough message to Islamabad. He was addressing a press conference ahead of Army Day, routinely held at this time of the year. The message he conveyed raised temperatures. Padmanabhan stressed that the Indian Army was fully prepared for a conventional war and that the massive Indian troop mobilisation was an expression of readiness for conflict.

The Army chief, in response to a question, said that a nuclear war seemed improbable, but warned that if any country "was mad enough" to initiate a nuclear strike against India, then "the perpetrator of that particular outrage shall be punished severely". Defence Minister George Fernandes, too, had expressed similar views in December, but was careful to phrase things more diplomatically. After the Army chief's observations, Fernandes was quick to emphasise that India was committed to the doctrine of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. "I wish everyone gives up this talk of nuclear weapons being brought into play. The use of nuclear weapons is far too serious a matter to be bandied about in a cavalier manner," he said.

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"Pushing Pakistan to the wall could have dangerous consequences," a retired Pakistani military officer told this correspondent in Kathmandu. He recalled that a similar situation prevailed in 1965, with both countries massing troops on the border. He said that it was a minor Pakistani military action that led to an all-out war. The Indian demands on Pakistan were "maximalist" and hence would be difficult for any Pakistani leader to accede to, he remarked.

Meanwhile, despite the handshakes and the informal get-together in Kathmandu, New Delhi had seemingly hardened its resolve to get the maximum concessions from Islamabad before the dialogue process was renewed. After a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) Jaswant Singh said the question of dialogue did not arise "when there is no change in the attitude of Pakistan".

Jaswant Singh expressed this view at a time when British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while on a tour of the subcontinent, was advocating a resumption of the dialogue. Jaswant Singh said Pakistan still adopted double standards while dealing with terrorism. "They continue to maintain one approach when it is a matter of Western interests or Afghanistan and a different approach when it comes to the question of India or Jammu and Kashmir."

New Delhi wanted a "comprehensive" declaration against terrorism by Islamabad before the de-escalation process could start. It wanted Musharraf to take action on the list of terrorists that had been handed over to Islamabad and to cooperate with it in stopping cross-border infiltration by terrorists. The red-carpet welcome being extended to the Home Minister L.K. Advani in Washington was another strong signal from the West to Islamabad.

Many analysts are of the opinion that Washington is preparing for a long stay in the region, having identified India as a long-term ally. They feel that the U.S. interests in the region will run counter to those of Iran, Russia and China. President George W. Bush has issued a warning to Iran, saying that it is not cooperating with the West in the war against terrorism.

Some observers of Indian politics are of the view that the Bush administration is helping the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government prolong the present crisis as it is not averse to the right-wing government in New Delhi getting another five-year term in office. After December 13, the U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, had stated that he was not opposed to New Delhi taking "carefully calibrated" measures against Pakistan. The BJP hopes that the "terrorism" plank will help it get electoral dividends in the Assembly elections next month in Uttar Pradesh. There has also been talk in diplomatic circles that Washington is not averse to Advani becoming Prime Minister and the present incumbent shifting to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

According to diplomatic sources, the U.S. is also trying to involve the Kashmiri people as the third party to the India-Pakistan dispute. This, in practical terms, could mean an internationally supervised election after which the Muslim-dominated areas of Kashmir would be allowed greater autonomy. They expect a U.S. envoy to the region to arrive sooner rather than later. Pakistan, they feel, does not have much of a choice. It is now playing the role it played back in the 1950s and the 1960s - that of a loyal U.S. ally, providing permanent basing facilities. For the first time the U.S. is being welcomed in the region with open arms by both India and Pakistan.

In Kathmandu India had come prepared to pile on political and psychological pressure on Islamabad. Before the heads of state and government assembled in Kathmandu, senior Indian officials made it clear that there was no question of bilateral talks with Pakistan being held at any level on the sidelines of the SAARC summit. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told the international media that the Pakistani side had not yet realised the gravity of the "attack against Parliament, which symbolises the sovereignty of the nation". He said "a certain threshold has been crossed with the attack". He insisted that Pakistan was still continuing with its "moral and diplomatic support of terrorism". Jaswant Singh said that if Pakistan was serious about the resumption of a high-level dialogue, the government in Islamabad should take action against those involved in terrorist activities. Jaswant Singh, while conceding that the banning of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was a step in the right direction, said much more needed to be done.

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"We will give time to Pakistan to dismantle the edifices of terrorism that they have permitted to be constructed in the last two decades," Jaswant Singh said. At the start of his interaction with the media, he dramatically produced a two-page document containing the names of 20 individuals, whom India accuses of terrorist acts and are currently said to be residing in Pakistan, under the protection of the government in Islamabad. Among those named were those accused of masterminding the Mumbai serial blasts and the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar. "This (evidence) has been shared with Pakistan. If, thereafter, they continue to say the same thing, it is misleading," he told the media.

Pakistan government spokesman Lt-Gen Rashid Qureishi, on the other hand, said "no proof has been given till today to Pakistan" by the Indian government. In response to a question relating to the alleged involvement of the Pakistani state in terrorism-related activities, Qureishi said his government was ready for a joint inquiry with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the recent terrorist attacks in India and pointed out that the Pakistani President had denounced the December 13 incident as "an act of terror". He said that while the Indian External Affairs Minister was making demands on Pakistan, he had "conveniently forgotten about the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir". He reiterated that the freezing of the assets of the JeM and the LeT were done under the recent U.N. resolution on terrorism, passed in the third week of September.

In response to a question about Sino-Pakistan relations, Qureishi said Beijing was very supportive of the steps President Musharraf had taken and quoted senior Chinese officials as saying that ties between the two countries are "deeper than the sea and higher than the mountains". Qureishi asserted that China would support Pakistan in case of any eventuality arising out of the present crisis.

Musharraf told a crowded media conference in Kathmandu, prior to his departure for home, that after the conclusion of the SAARC Summit the tensions between tn the two countries, while "not easing, has not worsened either". He said the Pakistani and Indian sides were not looking in different directions during the "informal interaction" among the leaders at the summit. He expressed the hope that these informal interactions would be "formalised" in the near future. In the meantime, he said "rhetoric should be curtailed" to keep tensions down.

He emphasised the "connectivity" between terrorism and the Kashmir problem. The problem of terrorism could be resolved sooner if the "cause and effect" are both identified and dealt with. "We will address India's concerns and they should address our concerns," the General said. He went on to add that he had started the process of "control and eradication of militancy from Pakistani society". He said he had started taking action against "sectarian extremist" groupings from August 14 last year. "We are doing this in our national interests," Musharraf said.

The Pakistan President welcomed the statement by the Bush administration that it was thinking about sending a U.S. envoy to the region to defuse the tension. He made it clear that he was not against "facilitation" by the U.S. to expedite bilateral talks with India and admitted that there was pressure from Washington on his country to de-escalate the military and political tension. He was not too impressed by the initiatives taken by Prime Minister Vajpayee in recent years to improve bilateral relations. "I believe in looking at the future, not back, into history. I do not believe in cosmetic gestures like bus journeys," Musharraf said. He said that after the Indian Prime Minister's Lahore visit, New Delhi was more interested in putting the Kashmir issue on the back burner.

On the issue of taking action against the 20 "terrorists" named by India, Musharraf claimed that India had not "forwarded any proof". He emphasised that if there was proof about any Pakistani's involvement in terrorist activity, he would take prompt action. He, however, reiterated that they would not be handed over to a third country. "We will try them according to our laws."

Pakistan had virtually handed over to the U.S. the former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan after denying him refugee status. Those terrorists holding Indian passports, such as Dawood Ibrahim and the Memon brothers, charge-sheeted in the Mumbai blasts case, could meet the same fate. At the same time, Musharraf made it clear that Kashmir should be taken as a "separate issue" and should not be coupled with the issue of terrorism. He said he was for resolving all disputes in the long run.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar conceded that contacts and conversations between Pakistani and Indian officials in Kathmandu were of an "exploratory" nature. He refused to divulge more details about the nature of the preliminary dialogue.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga reportedly took a keen personal interest to ensure that some preliminary informal discussions took place between Indian and Pakistani officials in Kathmandu. Leaders of the SAARC have made it clear that they do not want the South Asian region to be converted into a theatre of war.

High-level visits

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

IN the first week of January, even as tensions between India and Pakistan kept rising, New Delhi played host to two important visitors. The first was British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He was followed by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Peres is a frequent visitor to India, so to speak. He came to the country three times in the past twelve months. Tony Blair, who has shown a penchant for playing the role of an international trouble-shooter, visited the subcontinent in September 2001, after the terrorist attacks in the United States. Blair's visit in January was the first ever state visit to India by a British Prime Minister in 12 years.

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More high-level visitors are expected in the next few weeks. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is due in New Delhi in the third week of January, and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji came on January 13 for a three-day visit.

The invitation to the British Prime Minister was extended in late 2001 and his itinerary was planned a couple of months ago. However, the escalation of military and political tensions between India and Pakistan added more significance to the visit. Before leaving for the subcontinent, Blair said that an important goal of his visit was to douse the tensions. Pakistan is a key ally of the West in its "war against terrorism". The Indian government too has given unqualified support to the U.S.-led war.

Hence, it was no surprise that Blair walked a diplomatic tightrope when he visited India and Pakistan. Before arriving in New Delhi, he had conceded the importance of the Kashmir issue in the politics of the subcontinent. He said that Pakistan had a "strong point" on Kashmir. In New Delhi, he focussed on the importance of the resumption of a "comprehensive" dialogue between India and Pakistan. He conceded that for talks to be meaningful, all terrorist activity should stop. "There are two sides to the equation. On the one hand, there has to be complete rejection of terrorism and an end to support to it in any form. And then meaningful dialogue can begin," Blair said.

The British Premier welcomed the steps taken by Islamabad in recent months to combat terrorism. At the same time, he emphasised that there should be "complete rejection of acts such as December 13". He advised the Indian government to resume the dialogue with Pakistan provided "the threat of terrorism was lifted". Replying to Blair, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee reiterated the Indian government's position on the issue. He said that India was ready to resume the dialogue with Pakistan on all issues including Kashmir. However, he added that he doubted Islambad's commitment to end "cross-border terrorism". Islamabad has so far refused to recognise New Delhi's characterisation of cross-border terrorism. The Pakistani government spokesperson had reiterated in Kathmandu on the occasion of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit, that the Line of Control (LoC) did not constitute an international border and that freedom fighters could not be characterised as "terrorists".

Vajpayee told Blair that Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf had not used the word "terrorism" even once in his speech at the SAARC conference, and pointed out that it was a "big omission". Indian officials seemed to be quite aware of the fact that after September 11, the West no longer differentiated between a freedom fighter and a terrorist. The treatment being meted out to the Palestinians by Israel with Western acquiescence is seen by many as an instance of the new tough stance adopted by the West.

In Hyderabad, Blair told mediapersons that the starting point of any dialogue between India and Pakistan had to be "the complete rejection of terrorist attacks witnessed on October 1 and December 13". The reference was to the terrorist attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly building in Srinagar and the attack on Parliament House.

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At the end of Blair's short visit to the capital, a "New Delhi Declaration" was issued. The highlight of the Declaration, which covers all aspects of bilateral relations, are the four basic principles that united the two countries in the fight against terrorism. The Declaration says that terrorism cannot be justified on any grounds and that it should be "condemned unambiguously and eradicated wherever it exists". The Declaration says that all those who support terrorism directly or indirectly must be condemned, including individuals and groups that "finance, train or provide support for terrorists".

Both India and Britain also expressed their support for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which explicitly condemns terrorism and calls for a united effort to eradicate terrorism. Both countries also agreed to conduct joint counter-terrorism exercises under the framework of the U.K.-India Joint Working Group on Terrorism. After his meeting with Vajpayee, Blair had a telephonic conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush on the India-Pakistan stand-off.

SHIMON PERES utilised his visit to publicise the close relations the two countries had established in the past three years. "Indo-Israeli relations are witnessing the highest and the best season," said the veteran Israeli politician. Indirectly equating the struggle in Palestine with the trouble in Kashmir, Peres said that India and Israel were joint victims of the "global scourge" of terrorism. He added that India could look upon Israel as a friend in the war against terrorism.

Peres expressed optimism about the proposed sale of Israeli-made Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft to India. He felt that given the good relations between New Delhi and Washington, the U.S. should not object to the purchase of the AWACS. Israeli media reports said that Washington had already given the nod to Israel for their sale to India. The Clinton administration had prevented Israel from selling them to China on the grounds that it would endanger U.S. security interests. Diplomatic sources say that the AWACS may be used by India mainly to gather intelligence about China. On the other hand, Beijing would have deployed them near Taiwan, where the U.S. has a strong military presence.

Peres even advised India to apply for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) membership. His rationale was that the only enemy NATO was fighting these days was terrorism. "The world is no longer divided between the East and the West, the North and the South. The new division is between countries that harbour terrorists and countries that fight them," he said.

Peres said that countries like Iran would have to decide on which side they were. In recent months, Israel has been proclaiming that the Islamic state of Iran is a potential threat to the West. In fact, the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, had criticised India's invitation to the Israeli Foreign Minister.

When Peres was in India, Indian security agencies arrested three Palestinians living in West Bengal on the suspicion that they belonged to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group. Even the U.S. has not banned the Hamas. Only the armed wing of Hamas figures in the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups. The Indian action came at a time when the Israeli government was imposing draconian laws on Palestinians living in the occupied territories. Unsurprisingly, the Arab media reacted adversely to the development. Some reports even said that India too had started handing over Arabs to third parties. The issue has been taken up with the government by representatives of Arab countries in New Delhi.

'A window of diplomacy must be left open'

cover-story
Interview with Natwar Singh.

K. Natwar Singh, chairman of the Congress(I)'s foreign affairs cell, although appreciative of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's stern rebuff to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, feels that a window of diplomacy must be left open between the two countries. The increased diplomatic activity around India-Pakistan relations and the heightened resolve to tackle cross-border terrorism, he says, do not speak for the efficacy of the government's strategy, but is the result of the realisation in the West that India is united on the issues of national security, cross-border terrorism, nuclear policy and other defence-related matters.

Natwar Singh says the United States and Britain cannot be expected to play the role of a mediator, as the Simla Agreement, the bedrock of Indo-Pakistan relations, rules out any third-party intervention. Excerpts from the interview he gave Purnima S. Tripathi:

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Do you think the increased military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and the heightened resolve to tackle cross-border terrorism speak of the efficacy of the strategy followed by the government?

It has nothing to do with the efficacy of the strategy followed by the government. If there has been any increased international pressure on Pakistan to contain cross-border terrorism, it is because Europe and the United States have woken up to the reality of terrorism after September 11. This increased pressure is also because of the realisation that there are no differences of opinion in India on issues of security, cross-border terrorism and nuclear policy. On these issues there has been broad national consensus. When the leaders of the Opposition parties met the Prime Minister, the Congress party along with other parties gave support to the government to deal with cross-border terrorism and India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan should realise that there is a very strong feeling against cross-border terrorism in India, especially after December 13.

Is a military offensive a realistic option? Has this option receded to the background now?

Our troops are on full alert. At one stage the government looked very serious about exercising the military option. It cannot be ruled out. We feared that it would do something adventurous before the Uttar Pradesh elections. But we just hope that the government will not play with the lives of our brave jawans for a few electoral votes in U.P. That option now looks somewhat distant, especially in view of the facts that the Chinese Prime Minister is arriving on a visit, the government is sending a delegation of MPs to foreign countries and the Republic Day celebrations are approaching.

Do you think a dialogue with Pakistan could start in the near future?

We are of the opinion that although the atmosphere at the moment is not conducive to talks, the diplomatic door should not be shut completely and indefinitely. A little window should be left open for diplomacy, because eventually the two sides have to talk.

There has been a lot of diplomatic activity in the wake of December 13, and there is more to come. What will be the outcome of these exchanges?

There has been a lot of diplomatic activity, but it is for the simple reason that India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers. The BJP must realise that after May 1998 (the Pokhran nuclear test) it gave Pakistan defence parity with India for all times. Before that we were far superior, in conventional arms. As for the outcome of these exchanges, unless General Musharraf stops these activities (terrorist activities), normalisation of relations is out of the question. Everybody is speaking of restraint with regard to Pakistan and India, but the question is when New York gets hit the Americans come 8,000 miles away, to Afghanistan. Pakistan is next door. We have given them all proof. Musharraf has only to ask the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) chief who the terrorists are since they have been training them, feeding them, giving them money and shelter. In Kathmandu, Vajpayee conveyed to Musharraf the strong Indian feeling against terrorist activities. The outcome will depend on what he (Musharraf) says and does.

How crucial do you think has been the U.S.' role in this period of coercive diplomacy?

The United States has been helpful and we welcome that. But this does not mean that it is going to mediate or be a third party because the bedrock of India-Pakistan relations is the Simla Agreement, which does not provide for any third-party intervention. It was unfortunate that Mr. (Bill) Clinton, when he visited India (in 2000), referred to the Kashmir issue as a dispute. Mr.(Tony) Blair, while in Pakistan in January, also used the word 'dispute'. We appreciate the helpful role the U.K. and the U.S. are playing, but they cannot mediate.

What could be the implications of internal political stability and order in Pakistan?

India is in favour of stability in Pakistan because instability in Pakistan will have serious repercussions in the whole of the SAARC region and beyond.

What kind of message is conveyed by the decision to cut off long-distance telephone links in Kashmir and the cancellation of buses and trains to Pakistan?

These are temporary measures. Once the relations are normalised we can hope that these services will be resumed. What we must guard against, however, is the use of phrases like "strategic partner" or "natural allies" of the U.S. as (External Affairs Minister) Jaswant Singh did recently. Strategic partners against whom? Who is the enemy? How can we be natural allies of countries that are members of a military bloc (NATO)? We must not forget that we are a non-aligned country. We certainly want good relations with the U.S. and Britain, we welcome it, but we cannot be their strategic partners or natural allies.

Dangers of U.S. intervention

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Interview with Prakash Karat.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has consistently taken the principled stand on the issue of terrorism. While condemning the recent terrorist attacks and noting that the terrorists who attacked Parliament House were Pakistani nationals, the CPI(M) has criticised the renewed efforts of the United States to extend its global hegemony on the pretext of fighting the "war against terrorism". The party has accused the Vajpayee government of using the attack on Parliament House as an excuse to push the country "into a holocaust of war".

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The party has emphasised that the BJP-led government should focus on diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. It has accused the Vajpayee government of completely surrendering to "the imperialist designs of the U.S." and hurting the dignity of the country in the process.

The CPI(M) has said that President Pervez Musharraf's January 12 speech will have "a positive impact" on bilateral relations and that it reflects a serious effort on the part of the government in Islamabad to deal with the problem of religious extremism in that country.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Prakash Karat, in an interview with John Cherian, said that President Musharraf had taken a categorical stand to ban groups indulging in terrorist violence and enforce state regulations on religious institutions. Excerpts:

The military and diplomatic pressure seems to have induced in President Musharraf a new resolve to tackle terrorism. Does this speak of the government's efficacy? Is a military offensive ever a realistic option?

After the December 13 attack on Parliament, there was a lot of talk about military retaliation against Pakistan. Sections of the BJP and the RSS called for a military offensive. At the outset, the Vajpayee government seemed to respond to such calls. This was irresponsible as it would have led to a full-scale war with Pakistan. Given the military balance of strength between the two countries, a war would result in a stalemate with serious casualties in terms of lives and economic resources. Moreover, an Indo-Pakistan conflict is fraught with the danger of a nuclear confrontation, which would have only succeeded in sidetracking the main issue of terrorist violence emanating from Pakistan.

From the beginning, the government should have followed the diplomatic course. The Left parties had suggested that the attack on Parliament and the evidence connected with it should be placed before the United Nations, taking recourse to Resolution 1373, which requires member-states to take measures against terrorist activities. However, the Vajpayee government has so far not approached the U.N., when there is a strong case in India's favour. Pakistan would have to respond to the U.N. taking up the issue.

Do you think that a dialogue with Pakistan will start in the near future? What do you think should be the terms of the dialogue?

With both the armies fully mobilised on the borders and the Vajpayee government still relying on military pressure, the danger of war is not fully over. There is no alternative to resuming the dialogue with Pakistan. Bilateral talks constitute the only way to avoid U.S. intervention. At what level to start the talks and with what to begin after the Agra Summit is for the government to decide.

There has been a great deal of diplomatic activity in recent weeks. How do you see the outcome of these exchanges?

The main emphasis in India's diplomatic effort seems to be directed at the United States and getting it to intervene. This is in line with the Vajpayee government's understanding that the U.S. has to play the role of an arbiter in Indo-Pakistan relations. The problem with such an approach is that it will inevitably lead to the U.S. playing a mediatory role on the Kashmir issue.

How crucial is the U.S. role?

The BJP-led government is now fully committed to India playing the role of a strategic ally of the U.S. This has been maturing even beforfore the December 13 attack. Taken together with the dramatically increased intervention of the U.S. in South Asia and, in particular Afganisthan after September 11, we are in for a period where both the Indian and Pakistani governments are going to become totally reliant on the U.S. The implications of this are disturbing. We should not be surprised if the CIA is asked to coordinate certain aspects of the relations between India and Pakistan, especially on security matters. The CIA has been playing such a role between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

What are the political implications for Pakistan?

The situation presents an opportunity for President Musharraf to take a firm stand against the extremist fundamentalist forces. At present they are in a weakened position after the developments in Afganisthan. Much will depend on how President Musharraf tackles this challenge.

What possible impact will President Musharraf's speech of January 12 have on the internal situation in Pakistan and India-Pakistan relations?

The speech, coming in the wake of the rising tensions between the two countries, will have a positive impact. The assertion that terrorism cannot be allowed in the name of religion and that Pakistan cannot be used for terrorist activities even on the Kashmir issue is significant.

Within Pakistan, President Musharraf has taken a categorical stand to curb religious extremism, ban groups indulging in terrorist violence and enforce state regulation of religious institutions. These steps, if implemented, will initiate major changes for the better, for eliminating the influence of the jehadi organisations.

'Our war is on terrorism, not Pakistan'

cover-story
Interview with Jana Krishnamurthi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been advocating a proactive approach in matters concerning relations with Pakistan, particularly after the terrorist strikes at the Parliament complex on December 13. Some BJP functionaries had even demanded that the Indian forces should cross the Line of Control (LoC) to strike at the training camps of militants in Pakistan. However, pressure from the United States and the rest of the world forced the ruling party to tone down its hawkish sentiments, and endorse the government's coercive diplomatic measures against Pakistan. In this interview with V. Venkatesan, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi explains the reasons for this subtle shift in the party's stance.

The government appears to be caught between the pursuit of military and diplomatic measures while evolving an effective response to Pakistan in the wake of December 13. Does the BJP now consider a military offensive against Pakistan to be a realistic option?

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The Government is fully determined to root out terrorism. India is seeking the cooperation of all other nations in this regard. After September 11, India was the first country to support the war against terrorism. Other countries then followed suit. All countries need to work together in waging a battle against terrorism. Terrorism cannot be compartmentalised. The only difference between September 11 and December 13 is that in the former they (the terrorists) could succeed, while in the latter, they could not. With all the technological advancement in surveillance and security, the U.S. could not defend itself on September 11. Fortunately, in India, the security personnel could thwart the terrorists' attempt. Otherwise, the objective, the attempt, the purpose, are one and the same between September 11 and December 13. It is, therefore, natural that our country approached all other countries to join hands in the fight against terrorism.

It is a well-established fact that terrorism in India emanated from the soil of Pakistan. Even today, there are terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan, aided, abetted and assisted by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is an official outfit of the Pakistan government. That is why our government called on the Government of Pakistan to see that all these terrorist outfits are banned and its leaders arrested. The Indian government has furnished evidence to the Pakistan government that the terrorists are all Pakistani nationals, and also members of terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan. It has called upon Pakistan to take immediate action, and gave a list of terrorists in Pakistan who should be handed over to India. Not only are they responsible for the December 13 attack, but some of them were wanted even earlier for the IC-814 hijack to Kandahar. Unfortunately, in spite of the pressure, the Pakistan government is trying to aggravate the situation by advancing the spurious argument that those who are operating from Kashmir are freedom fighters and not terrorists.

But the Government or the nation does not want to wage a battle against Pakistan and defeat Pakistan in that sense. But the whole set-up in Pakistan seems to be itching for some armed confrontation with India. And India naturally has to take steps to defend itself. When crack divisions of the Pakistan Army were brought near the border, and even guided missiles were deployed along the border, naturally the defence authorities of India have taken precautionary steps to move troops nearer to the border so as to face any contingency that may arise. But even today our Government believes in bringing pressure on Pakistan, through diplomatic channels. India would not like to declare war on Pakistan. Terrorists have already declared a war on human society by their actions of September 11 and December 13. So, India has declared a war on terrorism by responding to that.

Is a dialogue with Pakistan feasible in the near future?

Not until Pakistan takes steps to prove its bona fides, and shows that it is against terrorists. So far it has not done it.

Pakistan claims that India has not provided sufficient evidence regarding terrorists against whom it wants action taken in Pakistan.

What was the evidence that the U.S. had against Osama bin Laden? What was the evidence that the U.S. had against the Taliban forces? Did Pakistan question the U.S.? But in our case Pakistan is only trying to evade the issue.

How do you assess the outcome of the diplomatic initiative taken by other countries, notably the U.S. and the United Kingdom, to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan?

Nobody could predict the outcome of the present efforts to bring about normalcy in India-Pakistan relations. If Pakistan proves to be reasonable, the efforts undertaken so far will yield results. But Pakistan seems not to realise its responsibility. It still holds on to the same charges and stand that it has been adopting all these years. Still, we feel that international pressure is building up. Many foreign governments, including the U.S., the U.K. and Israel, are telling Pakistan in their own way that it should stop supporting terrorists. Having said this, India should not expect the U.S. to do battle for it. Ultimately, the battle is ours. Immediately after December 13, some of the statements from the U.S. government did not show that it realised the seriousness of the situation here. Thereafter, the U.S. stand changed considerably and it agreed with the Indian position. Public opinion in the U.S. is now veering around in India's favour. As a democratic country, the U.S. will continue to exert pressure on Pakistan to desist from supporting or sustaining terrorist outfits.

Will the pressure from the U.S. on Pakistan take the form of mediation in resolving the Kashmir issue?

India has never asked for any mediation from any country and we don't accept any mediation. Asking foreign governments to bring pressure on Pakistan to give up the path of terrorism, or support to terrorism, is not seeking mediation.

Not endgame yet

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The December 13 attack on Parliament could have consequences that go far beyond the event itself, but investigators have made little progress after the initial round of arrests.

HARD evidence of a Pakistani role in the December 13 attack on Parliament House is not available in New Delhi, or even Srinagar. Investigators say it is hidden away in computers in the United States and West Germany.

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Two weeks ago, India handed over to the international police organisation, Interpol, records of cellphone calls made by the five terrorists involved in the attack. Although officials are tight-lipped about the details, informed sources told Frontline that the records contain information on dozens of calls made by the terrorists to contacts in Karachi, Dubai, Germany and the U.S. The records start from mid-November 2001, when the first member of the attack cell arrived in New Delhi, and end minutes before the attack. Many of the calls were made to cellphones with international roaming facilities, which means the people who received the calls may not have been in the countries in which their phone connections were obtained.

Interpol, officials say, has now passed on requests for information on just who used the numbers to which the calls were made. While experience suggests that little cooperation can be expected from the authorities in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, the information that will most certainly come in from the U.S. and Germany may prove interesting. International roaming telephone accounts generally require some form of identification, and the bills may have been paid for with credit cards. Privacy laws in these countries make it necessary for the police authorities to obtain warrants for such computer records, which is a time-consuming process. However, when the evidence does arrive it will provide solid proof of just who ran the attack cell and where they were actually based.

Little has been thrown up in the form new information by the continuing interrogation of the four principal suspects arrested for their role in the conspiracy. Mohammad Afzal Ansari and his cousin Shaukat Ansari, the New Delhi-based businessmen alleged to have provided safehouses and transport for the terrorists, have been able to throw little light on the Pakistan linkages of the group. On the basis of their statements, officials now believe that one of the five terrorists, who used the code-name Rana, was from Liaqatabad in the Pakistan province of Punjab. Mohammad, the leader of the cell, and Raja, were also ethnic Punjabi but residents of Karachi. The Ansari cousins told investigators that Tufail and Hyder, the other members of the attack group, were relatively uncommunicative.

Another question on which the interrogations have cast some light is when the attack cell arrived in India. The Ansari cousins and the Delhi University teacher Syed Abdul Rahman Jeelani are believed to have told investigators that Mohammad claimed he had crossed the Line of Control in August 2000 and that he was engaged in at least three major encounters with the security forces, two in the forests of Ajas and Lam. The other four members came later, in August or September 2001. It is possible, given the timing of its arrival, that this second group was brought in with the specific task of attacking Parliament. There has, however, been no progress in locating the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) commander, Shahbaz Khan, better known by his alias Ghazi Baba, who issued the final orders for the attack. Nor have investigators succeeded in locating Mohammad Tariq, the go-between who handled communications between Khan and the Ansaris.

It is unlikely, of course, that the whole truth about the attack will ever become known except in the improbable eventuality of India managing to secure the extradition of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar was detained in Pakistan in late December along with three of his brothers, reportedly on charges of sedition. There is, however, no word on where he is being held. If, as some observers believe, the attack on Parliament House was intended to undermine the regime of President General Pervez Musharraf, it is hard to understand why he has been so unwilling to take more decisive action against Azhar and other key JeM leaders. Lashkar-e-Toiba(LeT) leaders have been similarly arrested on sedition charges, not for terrorism-related crimes.

Pakistan's demands for proof against the Lashkar and the Jaish are strange for more reasons than one. First, it has proved willing to bypass its judicial system to hand over terrorism suspects to the U.S. without any extradition procedure. Even if India cannot expect the grovelling reserved for the sole superpower, it does have reason to expect that suspects for whom Interpol red corner alerts exist will be detained and a case for their extradition presented before the courts. In cases like those of Dawood Ibrahim or the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814, both independently documented to be in Pakistan, that has not happened. In some cases, even that is not needed. All that is required to subject Hizbul Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah to the law is that Pakistan withdraw his visa, since he is an Indian national. The JeM's Syed Ahmad Umar Sheikh is a British national who holds a dual Pakistan passport, which that country is entitled to withdraw.

The supposed crackdown on terrorist groups in December in Pakistan needs to be read against this wider context of continued state support for terrorist groups. Consider, for example, the fact that the LeT's website and Muridke campus remain open despite the arrest of its chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. In a December 6 article, the organisation proclaimed that the "arrest of Jihadic (sic) leaders in Pakistan has failed to dampen the Jihadic spirit of the Mujahideen who have stepped up their activities". The article claimed that the organisation's Fidayeen-e-Kitab-o-Sunnah (beloved of the holy book) had attacked an Army firing range in Kangra, near the Punjab town of Pathankot. It also proclaimed responsibility for three other attacks in late December, all on Indian military targets. It is significant that a Pakistan-based organisation has claimed responsibility for acts of war against the Indian state at a time of escalating military tension.

Nor does Musharraf's much advertised crackdown on the finances of terrorist groups seem to have hurt them in any significant way. Action was ordered after the Islamabad-based newspaper The News reported on January 1 that "the frozen accounts had a balance of $190,554 and close to (Pakistan) Rs.10 million until December 20". An official decision to freeze the accounts in phases ensured that the money could be moved out. In the end, two frozen accounts of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen were found to have just Rs.4,742, of the JeM Rs.900, that of the Al Rashid Trust, which handles finances for the Taliban and the LeT, Rs.27 lakh and $30. Contrast these figures with the $33.7 million frozen in the U.S., 63 million frozen in the United Kingdom and the 2.7 million frozen in France.

Conventional wisdom has it that Musharraf simply does not have the power to act against the Islamist Far Right, and is doing the best he can under the circumstances. While the arrests of terrorist cadre have been widely reported, it has gone almost unnoticed that many of those detained have been let off following pressure. A day after the Faisalabad Police picked up over two dozen cadre activists of the Tehrik-i-Jaferia Pakistan, the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and the LeT on the orders of the Provincial Home Department, all were released unconditionally. Release orders were issued after Tehreek and Sipah leaders met the Punjab Governor, a sign of their political clout and official influence.

Others, however, believe that Musharraf's apparent post-December 13 volte-face is deceptive. Writing in the Friday Times' May 24 issue, its Editor Najam Sethi argued that the "Musharraf model seeks to covertly ally with the jehadi groups while overtly keeping the mainstream religious parties out of the power loop". "This," he suggested, "is to enhance and sustain its covert external agenda, while internally maintaining an overtly moderate anti-fundamentalist stance for the comfort of the international community whose economic support is critical to Pakistan's financial viability." As security analyst and former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official B. Raman has pointed out in a recent article, this is of a piece with Pakistan's standing tactics. After former U.S. President Bill Clinton placed it on the watch list of suspected state sponsors of terrorism, Pakistan clamped down on jehadi groups. Once off the list, it was business as usual for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

In important but little-understood ways, this strategy makes complete sense. Pakistan's support to and sponsorship of terrorist groups have given it a strategic edge over India, imposing significant military and political costs on the latter. As Musharraf pointed out in his intercepted conversations during the Kargil War, violence in the region had ensured rapid internationalisation of the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. The attack on Parliament House has led a confused Indian government to seek U.S. assistance to curb Pakistan. In time, the bill shall be presented for any assistance extended by the U.S. That may come in the form of demands for India to make significant political concessions on Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. Most important, India's well-founded policy of rejecting third-party mediation in the Kashmir issue has been undermined significantly.

December 13, then, could have consequences that go far beyond the event itself. So far India has sought to put pressure on Pakistan for the extradition of suspects by means of the threat of military action. Few people, however believe that the execution of the threat is even possible, let alone desirable. For all the public bravado, Army officials privately make clear that there is little prospect of obtaining the kinds of decisive territorial gains that would compel Pakistan to accept India's political demands. Politicians also accept that in a nuclear South Asia, the risks of such a confrontation spiralling out of control are just too high. Musharraf will, for the moment, make enough concessions to keep the U.S. happy. Should he choose, however, to call India's military bluff by refusing to extradite the December 13 suspects, the political and strategic establishment could find it has no further cards to play.

India's most wanted

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The 20 terrorists whose extradition from Pakistan India has demanded, and the charges against them.

FOR reasons bureaucrats alone understand, the list of 20 terrorists whom India has sought from Pakistan remains something of a secret. Media accounts of just who they are have been at variance from one another on several counts, minor and major. The confusion has been compounded by the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) claims that only suspects for whom Interpol red corner notices exist have been sought, for this is not the case with all those who are mentioned in the lists sources are making available to journalists. While Pakistan and the United States can be trusted with the secret, it would appear, Indians cannot. Not surprisingly, there is at least some suspicion that the details are being kept deliberately vague, in order to work out a mutually acceptable bargain. The suspicion is strengthened by the fact that while the list contains the names of some top terrorists, others on it are relatively irrelevant.

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Informed sources in New Delhi provided Frontline with their account of the list of 20, shortened, they said, from a preliminary list of 42 that was prepared by the Union Home Ministry. In addition, the list below profiles Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) Chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who by some account features on the official list.

I. Terrorists from Jammu and Kashmir

Mohammad Yusuf Shah (Hizbul Mujahideen): Better known by his somewhat vain nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, Shah has led the Hizbul Mujahideen since November 11, 1991. A resident of Soibugh, and an unsuccessful Muslim United Front candidate in the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections, Shah is a long standing member of the Jamaat-i-Islami Kashmir. Before taking over the Hizb's Muzaffarabad-based command, he acted as its Amir-i-Zila (district commander) from late 1989.

Conventional wisdom has it that when the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir started, it was almost exclusively led by the secular-nationalist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Things were not, in fact, quite that simple. The Hizb drew its first cadre from within the JKLF, with Mohammad Ashraf Dar, Maqbool Illahi and Abdullah Bangroo starting the pro-Pakistan organisation on instructions from the Jamaat leadership. Dar, however, soon fell foul of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and was hounded out of the Hizb, opening the way for Salahuddin. Now things seem to have come full circle: Shah is at war with his own Valley-based commanders, notably Abdul Majid Dar, who believe that Pakistan has imposed its agenda on their struggle.

Major cases:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the state of the Jammu & Kashmir Police at the time, there are no first information reports against Shah relating to crimes committed prior to 1991. It was only in 1997-1998 that the State police made serious efforts to build a legal case against him.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed (LeT): On paper, Saeed has never engaged in any terrorist act. He is the head of the Markaz Dawa wa'al-Irshad, an organisation committed to proselytisation, and which happens to be the patron of the LeT. The Markaz itself was an offshoot of the ultra-conservative Jamait Ahl-e-Hadis, a branch of radical Sunni thought which holds that only the sayings and doings of the Prophet Mohammad, his followers and family members form the sole basis of Islam. It rejects the mainstream idea of ijtema, the interpretation of tradition to address actually existing circumstances.

Saeed's rise was in large measure the outcome of patronage by the Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who granted the Markaz its sprawling campus at Muridke near Lahore. It helped raise cadre and funds for Haq's Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored campaign against the Soviet Union and the socialist government in Afghanistan. In 1991, the Lashkar was set up to give the ISI a direct role in terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir. Within two years, it set up a number of cells in Jammu and Kashmir and through India. From the outset, the Lashkar has made it clear that it sees the war in Jammu and Kashmir as just a stepping stone to establishing Islamic rule throughout South Asia.

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In the wake of the recent ban imposed on the LeT by the United States and Pakistan, Saeed announced that the LeT had shifted its headquarters to Kashmir, and that the Markaz itself would restrict its activities to Pakistan. The announcement is disingenuous since the Lashkar has for a long time had offices in Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir, notably at the Sawai Nall at Muzaffarabad. It has also run launching camps from Lipa, Duhnihal, Athmuqam, Jura and Chikoti.

Major cases:

None in India. Reported to be facing sedition charges in Pakistan.

Abdul Karim "Tunda" (LeT): Until his disappearance off Indian intelligence radar from Bangladesh two years ago, Abdul Karim was the top field operative of the LeT's all-India outfit, the Dasta Mohammad bin Qasim. He reported to the Lashkar's head of all-India operations, Azam Cheema, who in turn acts under the instructions of the organisation's overall commander of military operations, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi.

Nick-named Tunda for a handicap in his left arm, sustained in the course of a bomb-building accident, Abdul Karim's association with the Islamic Right predates his association with Lashkar. Residents of Bhiwani (Maharashtra) Jalees Ansari and Karim and Nizamabad-based Azam Ghauri, then residents of Mumbai, set up a Muslim self-defence committee in the wake of the Bhiwandi riots. All of them were later recruited by the ISI, and trained in Pakistan in the early 1990s. Ansari is now in jail, while Ghauri was shot dead in an encounter in 2000.

Karim's key success was in discovering young recruits to do his work. New Delhi resident Aamer Hashim, operating under the alias Kamran, was responsible for a series of bomb blasts in New Delhi and Jalandhar in 1996 and 1997. Other agents have been brought in directly from Pakistan. On July 1, 1998, Intelligence Bureau surveillance led to the arrest of top Lashkar activist Mohammad Salim Junaid, with 16 kg of RDX (research department explosive) in his possession. Junaid, a resident of Kala Gujran village in Pakistan's Jhelum district, started his career in 1991.

Major cases:

Named in dozens of FIRs relating to the Delhi bomb blasts, and the bombing of trains.

II. The Indian Airlines IC-814 hijackers

Mohammad Masood Azhar (Jaish-e-Mohammad): Masood Azhar was an unlikely candidate to make it to any 'most wanted' list: in 1989 he was forced to drop out of his first, and only, arms training course with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen because he was overweight. But by 1993, he was second only to the Harkat chief Fazlur Rehman Khalil, having established himself as a fund-raiser and ideologue. After his release in the IC-814 for hostages-for-prisoners swap in December 1999, he went on to found the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), arguably the most feared terrorist group in Jammu and Kashmir today.

Azhar was born as the third of 11 children on August 7, 1968 to Allah Baksh Sabir Alvi, a Bahawalpur schoolteacher who ran a poultry farm after his retirement. Dropping out of school after Class VII, he joined the ultra-orthodox Binori seminary in Karachi and then he went on to join the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. He edited its magazine, Sada-i-Mujahid. He travelled abroad extensively on fund-raising missions, and was later tasked to visit India to preside over the formal unification of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Having arrived in New Delhi on January 29, 1994, on a fake Portuguese passport, he travelled on to the Kashmir Valley, from where he was arrested on February 16.

Several attempts were made to secure Azhar's release by means of kidnappings, notably one by Syed Omar Sheikh, released along with him in the IC-814 deal. Sheikh, a British national and London School of Economics graduate, remains Azhar's closest aide. Azhar, however, was not charged for his role in these attempts. Both Jaish leaders have close links with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Taliban supremo Mullah Mohammad Omar and Azhar were taught at the Binori seminary by Mullah Nazimuddin Shamzai, the religious leader who acts as the patron of the Jaish. Sheikh is believed to have remitted $100,000 to the World Trade Centre suicide bomber Mohammad Atta.

Major cases:

FIR No. 1 of 1993, filed by Counter-Intelligence, Jammu and Kashmir Police, under Section 3&4 of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. No FIRs, however, have been registered for subsequent JeM attacks.

Mohammad Ibrahim Athar Alvi, Zahoor Ibrahim Mistri, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Shakir Mohammad and Azhar Yusuf: There is little available background material on the five hijackers of flight IC-814 sought by India. All are believed to be members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and now the JeM. Ibrahim Athar Alvi is Masood Azhar's brother. The JeM chief's interrogation report records his being 28 years of age in 1994. Azhar told his interrogators that his younger brother spent most of his time working at the family-run poultry farm. Alvi, along with Azhar and three other brothers, is reported to have been arrested on sedition charges in Pakistan on December 31, 2001. There has since been no independent confirmation of their whereabouts.

Major cases:

Kidnapping and the murder of IC-814 passenger Rupin Katyal.

III. The Mumbai serial bombings

Dawood Ibrahim, 'Chhota' Shakeel Ahmad Babu, Sagir Sabir Ali Sheikh, Abdul Razzaq and Ishaq Atta Hussain: Everyone knows the story. Incensed by Hindu fundamentalist attacks on Muslims during the Shiv Sena-led Mumbai pogrom of 1992-1993, dependent on the ISI for keeping his narcotics operations open after gold and silver decontrol knocked the bottom out of his traditional business, India's most famous underworld figure did what he had to do. He allowed his apparatus to be used for India's worst terrorist outrage so far - the Mumbai serial bombings of 1993.

If Dawood Ibrahim's central role in the Mumbai bombings is well documented - and his subordinates used their contacts to ship in explosives, and then set them off at key installations through the city - most people are still unfamiliar with the mass of evidence that the CBI has collected of Pakistan's direct complicity in the operation. Twenty-seven cartons of explosives recovered from him in March, 1992, bore the markings of Packsile Packages in Lahore. The markings were traced to the Wah Nobel Factory at Wah, which manufactures explosives. Since governments concerned monitor sales of large consignments of explosives, it took little to see what had gone on. The Austrian Federal Ministry for the Interior confirmed in an April 1993 letter that the HG-72 grenades used by the bombers were made on equipment sold by Ulbrichts between 1969 and 1971 to the Pakistan military supply firm of Akhtar and Hofmann.

No wonder, then, that Pakistan officials repeatedly denied India assertions that Ibrahim was in Karachi - until a series of reports in the Pakistan press in 2001 blew the lid off.

Major cases:

Dawood Ibrahim and his associates are faced with a welter of Mumbai serial blasts cases. Many of them also face additional charges. Sagir Sheikh and Ishaq Atta Hussain, for example, are charged with a September 2001 attempt to assassinate Union Home Minister L.K. Advani. He also faces charges of jumping bail, and an Arms Act case from 1997. Ibrahim's top associate, Shakeel, is also wanted for crimes including the murder and attempted murder of Shiv Sena politicians and for weapons running.

'Tiger' Ibrahim Abdul Razzaq Memon and Ayub Memon: The guests at the wedding of the oldest Memon brother at the Islam Gymkhana in south Mumbai must have thought the family had everything going for it. The wedding had a full cast of film stars, including Jackie Shroff, and cricket heroes like Mohammad Azharuddin. Reports of the event filled the glamour columns of the Mumbai afternoon papers for weeks.

Not long after, things went awfully wrong. Most people reckon that the Memon family's problem was its thuggish son 'Tiger', and his younger brother Ayub. Tiger, the CBI believes, was the moving force behind the Mumbai serial bombings. The explosives recoveries, which proved crucial to cracking the case, were made from his home. More damning evidence came from Yakub Memon, who along with his family chose to return to India after spending three months in Pakistan. Tiger, however, remains firmly committed to his cause. In 1995, he is known to have met Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front leader Hilal Baig to discuss collaboration in terrorist operations in India. The JKIF subsequently carried out a series of explosions in New Delhi, although it is unclear if Tiger Memon had anything to do with these.

Major cases: All related to the Mumbai serial bombings. IV. The Khalistan terrorists

Paramjit Singh Panjwar (Khalistan Commando Force): Panjwar is believed to be about 40 years old and belongs to the village of Panjwar, near Tarn Taran. Until 1986, when he joined the Khalistan Commando Force, he worked at the Central Cooperative Bank in Sohal. Shortly after taking charge of the KCF in the 1990s, after the elimination of its commander, one-time police constable 'General' Labh Singh, Panjwar left for Pakistan. His wife and children relocated themselves in Germany. With his close links to top Punjab smugglers like Bhola Thanthian and Pargat Singh Narli, Panjwar has worked to keep the KCF alive using revenues raised from cross-border heroin traffic.

Major cases:

Ten FIRs registered from 1989 to 1990, including seven counts of murder and two under TADA.

Wadhawa Singh (Babbar Khalsa International): A resident of Sadhu Chattha village near Kapurthala, Wadhawa Singh started his political life as a member of Punjab's naxalite movement. Like some members of the ultra-left movement, its defeat led him to lurch to the far-right. By 1978, motivated by top Khalistan movement figure Tarsem Singh Kalasanghian, Wadhawa Singh joined the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, and went on to become one of the founders of the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), operating its network from Pakistan along with his brother Mahal Singh. The BKI has shown greater resilience than other terrorist groups in Punjab, owing both to its support among non-resident Indians and its contact with the ISI.

Major cases:

The most important charge against Wadhawa Singh is that he ordered the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. The prosecution of other conspirators in that case is proceeding, but Indian law does not provide for trials of suspects without their presence. Four other cases were registered against Wadhawa Singh in 1981 on charges of murder.

Lakhbir Singh Rode: Rode's Punjab Police dossier describes him as a "hardcore terrorist". While his name did inspire fear in Punjab once upon a time, it was more the consequence of his political influence and kinship rather than direct armed action. Now aged about 50, Rode is a nephew of the feared revanchist preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who plunged Punjab into the Khalistan movement. He joined the movement in 1982, having returned to the State after spending five years in Dubai. He fled India to Dubai in 1986, and after arranging to send his family to Canada, went on to Pakistan. Rode continues to be something of a cult figure - and successful fund-raiser - among Khalistan supporters in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada.

Major cases:

None. The sole FIR lodged against Rode is of April 19, 1984, at the Moga police station. This accuses Rode of several minor crimes, including trespass and causing damage in excess of Rs.50 to property.

Gajinder Singh (Dal Khalsa): Gajinder Singh came into public notice after he hijacked an Indian Airlines flight to Lahore in 1981. The hijacking was carried out to protest against the arrest of Bhindranwale earlier that year for his alleged role in the assassination of Hind Samachar Editor Lala Jagat Narain. The hijacker was given a life sentence but served only a few years in jail before being granted asylum in Pakistan. The hijacking was one of five such acts carried out by pro-Khalistan groups. Pakistan's direct involvement in these outrages was revealed after the 1984 hijacking, when West German officials confirmed that a pistol used by the terrorists was part of an official military consignment that had been sent to that country.

Meanwhile, in India, Gajinder Singh's organisation, the Dal Khalsa, was banned in 1982, but was allowed to restart overground activity a decade later. On August 11, 2001, Gajinder Singh was elected chief of the organisation, although he remains in Pakistan.

Major cases:

Continues to be wanted for the 1981 hijacking.

Ranjit Singh Neeta (Khalistan Zindabad Force): A resident of Ward 2 in Jammu city's Sumbal Camp area, Neeta is the only Khalistan terrorist to be still active among the five whom India has demanded from Pakistan. He started his career as a small-time criminal, and developed contacts with smugglers in the R.S. Pora and Samba areas. Neeta's Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) has close links with the ISI, and is committed to joint action with Jammu and Kashmir terrorist groups, notably the Hizbul Mujahideen. Despite recent losses - Neeta's second in command, Amritpal Singh Romi, was killed in an encounter in 2000 - the KZF remains active.

Major cases:

Neeta's name figures in over half a dozen FIRs filed after bomb blasts on trains and buses running between Jammu and Pathankot between 1988 and 1999. The most recent one was filed by the Kathua police in October 2001, for the assassination of Deputy Superintendent of Police Devinder Sharma.

Debating the dangers

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

Of the revival of secular sentiment in Pakistan, impressions from a fortnight-long visit.

A TRIP to Pakistan, while troops of India and Pakistan were massed on the frontiers of the two countries, yielded insights one could scarcely have gained in rich nuances in normal times. There were, most remarkably, no cries for war or belligerent action against India. Nor were the political parties vying with one another in striking patriotic postures. There was no sign of panic. But there was concern lest the situation got out of hand; most thought that it would not. Regret was universal at what was perceived as India's recourse to threat of war. A good few were even bitter that Pakistan's nuclear armoury, though small as compared to India's, provided considerable assurance of security.

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It was on the issue of terrorism that one heard comments that find scant space in the Indian press. There is not one journalist of any significance, not one public figure of any standing - bar the 'usual suspects' in the jamaatis and jehadis - who had anything but scorn for the terror tactics used by these outfits within Pakistan itself. The 'fundos' - as the fundamentalists are derisively called - have overshot their mark. It would be premature, perhaps, to say that they are a spent force. It would be correct to say that their decline has set in sharply and public resentment at their misdeeds is now expressed more openly than ever before.

Sadly, the present crisis in India-Pakistan relations erupted just as Pakistanis had begun to ask themselves searching questions about their country's future, its recent travails, especially since the Zia era, and indeed, about its identity. As this writer has documented in detail in these columns earlier (''Secularists in Pakistan'', Frontline, April 23, 1999), Pakistan preserved, against all odds, a significant secular segment in its society which few in India cared to understand and appreciate. On the contrary, India's hardline policies and the Sangh Parivar's rhetoric harmed the cause of secularism in Pakistan. The truth is that in every neighbouring country in South Asia there is a body of opinion which admires India's democracy, its political and judicial set-up and its secular commitments, despite its failures and failings on each count. India has never quite appreciated the worth of such genuine admirers or forged hands with them. (The less said about the publicity-hunters who profess Indo-Pakistan friendship while espousing the hardline for domestic opinion, the better.)

Debate on Pakistan's identity and the danger posed by the jehadis had begun, ironically, after the military coup in Pakistan on October 12, 1999. Benazir Bhutto, whom the Indian establishment is busy promoting with utter lack of scruple, was a hardliner vis-a-vis India (goli chalao) and made an alliance with Maulana Fazalur Rehman's Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam when she was in power from 1993 to 1997. The Maulana was made chairman of the National Assembly's Committee on Foreign Affairs. Nawaz Sharif was sympathetic to the Islamists.

General Pervez Musha-rraf began with modest efforts such as reform of the blasphemy law but was forced to beat a retreat. But he had, meanwhile, nailed his colours to the mast by revealing his admiration for Kemalist Turkey. He had to eat half an apple pie for this as well. By June 5, 2001, he had, as it were, come into his own. He bearded the lions (no pun intended) in their own den when he addressed a conference of the clergy (Ulema) that day at the National Seerat Conference convened by none other than his Minister for Religious Affairs, Dr. Mahmood Ghazi, in order no doubt to provide an opportunity to the General to speak out his mind. Which he did: "I would like to talk on that (Prophet Mohammad's message) frankly, simply and in my own idiom. I do not have a written text before me... How does the world look at us? The world sees us as backward and constantly going under. Is there any doubt that we have been left behind all, although we claim Islam will carry us forward..."

Little was left unsaid. But what was said is of direct relevance to us when we appraise the kind of person our interlocutor is. Is President Pervez Musharraf one with whom we can "do business"? Pakistanis will have to decide whether he can deliver on his promise to restore democracy.

"We claim it (Islam) is the most tolerant of faiths. How does the world judge our claim? It looks upon us as terrorists. We have been killing each other. And now we want to spread that violence and terror abroad. Naturally, the world regards us as terrorists. Our claim of tolerance is phoney in its eyes...

"Where do we see justice and equity? Do you see it? In Pakistan? Where? Look at the judiciary's performance. Corruption is rampant and misdemeanour the order of (the) day. Only sifarish works. Merit has no takers. The poor are oppressed. To be poor in Pakistan is a curse. Everybody oppresses him...

"This is the justice about which we brag so much that Islam provides. But where is it in Pakistan? And for whom? For the rich, maybe. For the powerful, maybe. What about mutual tolerance? It exists nowhere. Instead, we are killing each other wearing masks...

"We know and the world knows that whenever we took up arms for Islam, we did it openly, not hiding behind the masks, not through terror, not firing a burst and then slipping away. This is not the way to promote an ideology... This is sheer cowardice. Do it openly if you want...

"One example comes to my mind. One hears the boast that we will hoist our flag on the Red Fort (in Delhi). We will do this, we will do that. Have your ever thought of the consequence of such talk on Muslims in India...

"On the contrary, this provides India with the excuse to talk about you as terrorists and to tell others to declare you as terrorists so that prospective investors shy away from your country. When you kill each other, who will consider Pakistan a safe place for investment?"

He concluded by saying "above all, religion should never be exploited for political gains. Do not sully our great faith.''

The speech came as a shot in the arm for publicists who braved the ire of the fundos and kept the flag of secularism flying even in depressing times; most notably I.A. Rehman, a veteran of many battles in the noble cause, and Khaled Ahmed, Consulting Editor, The Friday Times.

December 13, 2001, had a mixed impact on this debate. Most argued that India's military moves deprived Musharraf of the political space he needed to continue his fight against the 'fundos'. But they stressed that considerations of prestige should not deter him from what he should be doing in Pakistan's own interests, anyway.

Significantly, in the clime generated by the intra-Muslim debate, the minorities came forward and boldly ranged themselves on the side of the liberals who, in turn, strove to offer amends for the past. Two meetings held during the writer's tour merit particular mention. In Islamabad on January 3, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute organised a seminar on the Blasphemy Law, which has been abused to target not only members of minority communities - Hindus and Christians - but also Ahmadis. Aslam Khaki, an eminent jurist and consultant of the Federal Shariat Court, pleaded for reform of the law so that investigation precedes the lodging of a first information report. "Even the execution of this law is illegal because Islam does not allow such harsh punishments." The court's position on that law, he said, was legal but un-Islamic. Islam did not allow such punishments. He mentioned that fear of reprisals from extremists deterred even judges of higher courts from deciding the cases. "We, the silent majority, have let them carry out their activities which need to be dealt with an iron hand."

The Concerned Citizens Forum in Lahore has been holding interactive dialogues since 1999. On January 5, it held one on the question which Pakistanis are asking themselves today - "What kind of Pakistan do we want?". The keynote speaker was one of Pakistan's ablest diplomats, Iqbal Akhund. Others who spoke were Khaled Ahmed and Group Captain (Retd.) Cecil Chaudhry, a national hero of the 1965 war fame, who is an educationist and peace activist. He is a Christian. M.L. Shahani, another speaker, is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while S.U. Kaul is a social activist. The invitation card quoted Jinnah's famous speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, in which he said "...in course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense... but in the political sense as citizens of the state." The speakers pulled no punches. Shahani reminded the audience tartly that the Koran described god as the lord of the Universe (Rabbul Alameen) and not as one of the Muslims alone (Rabbul Muslimeen).

Two features of the debate must be noted. Not even the most ardent of liberals or secularists favour abandonment of Pakistan's stand on Kashmir. They advocate a compromise acceptable to all the sides - the two states and Kashmiris - and denounce the use of violence. More to the point, they remind us that in Pakistan, the fundos faced one debacle at the polls after another. They used muscle power to make up for want of electoral support. In India, they said, the 'fundos' are in power at the Centre.

Pakistan's time of reckoning

AIJAZ AHMAD cover-story

While warning his country of the scope of the crisis it faced in the aftermath of September 11, Musharraf had perhaps realised that the involvement in Afghanistan of Pakistan's Army and intelligence services and also the Islamicists based in Pakistan was too deep for the U.S. to treat the country simply as a long-term ally.

AS the United States began putting together its global coalition as a prelude to the war on Afghanistan, General Pervez Musharraf, the self-appointed President, issued a stern warning to his fellow Pakistanis saying that the country was faced with the worst crisis in its history since 1971. In the background of this warning was an even more stern warning he had himself received from U.S. emissaries who had presented him with a long list of non-negotiable demands with the proviso that unless the demands were accepted immediately Pakistan too would be put on the list of terrorist states and may have to face U.S. military action against itself. He is rumoured to have been told that it was only because Pakistan had nuclear capability that it was being given the opportunity to accede to the demands and join the coalition; otherwise, immediate military reprisals against it would have been more likely.

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There were of course economic rewards: lifting of sanctions, rescheduling of debt payments, release of some additional funds, and so on. Musharraf also managed to persuade the Americans not to ask for direct deployment of Pakistani troops inside Afghanistan; to use only the outlying military bases such as Pasni and Jacobabad, far from the great urban centres; and to have the U.S. Special Forces keep a low profile as they fanned out all across northwestern Pakistan. These concessions, combined with the fact that U.S. military personnel had returned after many years for direct deployment on Pakistani soil, were construed by many commentators as a sign that Pakistan was yet again becoming a key strategic ally - the "most allied ally" in Asia, as it once fondly called itself - and a front line state in America's newest war. This impression was strengthened by the fact that as several other countries were mentioned as possible next targets in the so-called "war on terrorism" - Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, even Indonesia - Pakistan never appeared on that list.

In warning his country of the scope of the crisis it was facing, Musharraf seemed to have had a more realistic sense of things. He probably understood that his own Army and intelligence services, as well as the huge Islamicist network on Pakistan's own soil, were too deeply involved in Afghanistan for the U.S. to treat Pakistan simply as a long-term, reliable ally while that involvement and that network remained intact. For, it was not only Afghanistan that was to provide "strategic depth" for Pakistan in case of a war with India; Pakistan itself was already providing strategic depth to the Taliban and its allies, including all those millenarian bigots, of whatever nationality, who thought of themselves as occupying the cutting edge of a global Islamicist offensive ranging from Chechnya to southern Philippines. A former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), perhaps the most famous of them all, once told me, with a distinct twinkle of insanity in his eyes, that the Islamic revolution in Afghanistan was only the first step in the historic reversal of the defeat of Islam that began in Spain five hundred years ago. That is not the whole of Pakistan, only a lunatic fringe, but a sizable, powerful fringe reaching up to very nearly the top, and it is sobering to recall that in case the Pakistan Army splits under the current pressure the gentleman who offered me that phantasy may well emerge as one of the contenders for absolute power.

TO the issue of Musharraf's own place in that power structure we shall return presently. The least that can be said, even giving him the benefit of the doubt, is that by the time the U.S. decided to launch its planetary war Musharraf had squandered two years in pretending that he was going to curb that whole network without ever doing so, afraid perhaps of large and coherently organised elements in the self-same Army that he purported to lead. What he seems to have perceived, at least very dimly, in the immediate aftermath of September 11 was that a time of reckoning was now fast approaching. To say, just as sanctions were being lifted and debts re-scheduled, that Pakistan was faced with the worst crisis since 1971 was a grim acknowledgement indeed, with a view to preparing the country to face a few facts. As one with intimate knowledge of military realities in Afghanistan he probably knew better than most of us how very quickly the Taliban was going to crumble. With that would disappear not only Pakistan's "strategic depth" in Afghanistan but also the whole edifice of Pakistan's military strategy and regional ambition, including the more aggressive premises of its Kashmir policy. Indeed, the allusion to 1971 seemed to imply more: a severe and possibly fatal test for the polity itself, with the possibility that, unless some very hard decisions were made, even the truncated post-1971 Pakistan could not take its own long-term survival for granted.

That was before the war over Afghanistan even began. Some 10 weeks later, after the war was over and the Taliban's Islamicist extremism had been replaced in Kabul with a new oil-and-drug mafia, there came the attack on the Indian Parliament, which does indeed promise to change South Asian equations fundamentally, thanks as much to the timing as to the target and the probable intent. Parliament is no more a mere "government facility" in India than the White House is in the U.S. That description, emanating from President Bush, was unspeakably shabby. Parliament is indeed the seat of India's democracy and the symbol of India's sovereignty. An attack on the building alone was an attack on what it seats and symbolises. Making matters worse, the attack was carried out when Parliament was expected to be in session and only a few minutes after it had been adjourned, with most of India's political leadership still inside the building; there was manifest intent to kill and plunge the country into chaos, with absolutely unpredictable consequences for not just India but the region as a whole. Superb investigative work has swiftly established the culpability of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) with the possible collusion of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Who else? And with what larger design or compulsion?

The preposterous suggestion that some agencies of the Indian government itself might have carried out the attack, which Musharraf's military spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Rashid Qureishi, has been trotting out, is crass and stupid. Crass in that it presupposes India to be a lawless state, like Pakistan itself, as if there was neither investigative independence nor a sturdy judiciary nor a free press here to expose such conspiracies and, for the most part, punish the conspirators; some hare-brained RSS operative might well think up such things, with some nostalgia for the Nazis, but democracy here is in good enough health for a government to dream up no such thing. And it is an allegation stupid from Pakistan's own viewpoint, since the implausibility of it would suggest that the Pakistan government had something to hide. It would have been wiser for Qureishi either to shut up or have the courage to place the responsibility where it belongs. But where does that responsibility belong, ultimately?

FOR now, one can assume that the JeM, and possibly the LeT, were responsible. That much one can say positively. Negatively, one could also say that the consequences of such an action, especially if it succeeded, were so dire for the whole region and even internationally that no responsible elements in the Musharraf government could have planned or condoned it.

However, that is as far as one can go. There are large numbers of serving as well as retired senior officers of the Pakistan Army and the ISI who have been opposed to the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan, and many of those same officers have close links with the Islamicist establishment within Pakistan as well as elsewhere. For example, when Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, the head of the ISI, was suddenly forced into retirement on the eve of the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan, rumours were rife among knowledgable people in Islamabad as well as in New York that the U.S. government suspected him of having directly financed Mohammed Atta whom the U.S. regards as the key figure among the hijackers of September 11. Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, the then Deputy Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), who was also sent into the twilight at that time, was widely regarded as one of the two top Generals closest to the Islamicist establishment. The other one is Lt. Gen. Aziz, a Punjabi-speaking Kashmiri from Poonch, who was at the same time promoted to become Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (JCSC) while Musharraf himself remained Chief of the Army Staff. It is not inconceivable that elements close to one of these several centres of power gave the go-ahead for actions that would be the final kiss of death for the Agra process.

The timing itself was significant because it occurred not at that point well before the war when India first offered its facilities and cooperation to the U.S., so that the attack might be seen as a piece of propaganda of the deed in opposition to that offer, but well after the war was for all practical purposes over and the Bush/Blair combine was able and willing to shift much of their attention to problems outside Afghanistan. With Afghanistan fully in hand, military bases in Uzbekistan secured and some other Central Asian states - Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan - fully aligned, the U.S. now needed Pakistan much less and was proportionately more able and willing to cut it further to size. And, it was within the logic of the doctrine of perpetual war, which Bush had announced at the very outset, that attention would shift to another country as soon as Afghanistan was occupied and a puppet regime was installed there. The attack on the Indian Parliament provided the perfect opportunity, and it is no wonder that imperial emissaries, from Tony Blair to Shimon Peres, started showing up in Delhi soon thereafter while Colin Powell, the empire's senior statesman, took it upon himself to keep the belligerents from going to war, and stepping up the pressure on Pakistan finally to confront the Islamicist establishment on its soil while continuing to patrol the Khyber Pass on behalf of the U.S.

But the timing had another aspect as well, which probably had to do with the atmosphere of extreme despondency and desperation in the whole of the Islamicist establishment. This establishment was euphoric after September 11, imagining that the Muslim masses around the world would look at the perpetrators of the World Trade Centre catastrophe as heroes. Having been at the receiving end of unspeakable brutalities at the hands of the U.S. and Israeli terrorist states, and with Osama bin Laden publicly justifying his acts in the name of Palestine and Iraq, many people around the globe, especially in the Arab world, did articulate their anger and, by extension, a certain desperate satisfaction at what was construed as an attack on the U.S. There were also some sizeable demonstrations against their governments when the latter jumped on the U.S. bandwagon as preparations for the planetary war got going. All of this was visible in Pakistan, the one country whose Islamicist establishment was the closest to the Taliban regime.

The significant fact, however, was that while the U.S. was widely criticised for using a terrorist act for its own war designs, the general populace in Pakistani cities was so deeply opposed to the Islamicist menace that few joined their demonstrations and, despite widespread Islamicist sympathies in the Army, there was no breaking of the ranks. Musharraf not only ditched the Taliban but also felt strong enough to get rid of some key Islamicist officers and continue with his peace overtures toward India.

Then came the quick unravelling of the Taliban regime. Bereft of active support from the Pakistan Army the Taliban was shown to be what it actually was: not a group of revolutionaries of the Right but a pack of half-witted desperados intoxicated on religious frenzy and utterly out of touch with the realities of the modern world. That Musharraf ditched the Taliban so quickly was a source of great resentment among its tutors, sponsors and supporters among Pakistani Islamicists. Its swift and ignominious collapse, meanwhile, spelled the end of not only its own pretensions but also of its friends who survived rather too well on Pakistani territory.

For the Pakistan-sponsored part of the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, there were now two new, disheartening questions: if Pakistan could ditch its Afghan friends so very quickly, what guarantee was there that it would not do the same to its clients in Jammu and Kashmir; and, if the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the spearhead of global Islamic revolution, could collapse so quickly, what hope was there for the little groupings operating in the Valley?

The carnage in Srinagar on October 1, 2001, and the outrage against Parliament on December 13 thus seem to have been a peculiar combination of extreme desperation and millenarian bravado. A suicidal haste to say: we may have been defeated in Afghanistan but we are still here, defying a state comprised of a fifth of humanity. A mad belief in one's own self-appointed station as Allah's soldiers, and therefore the frenzied belief that even though Allah's aid was delayed in one place it will surely arrive on time in another. That much one can speculate safely about the murderous fraternities such as the JeM but there may also have been behind them other forces, with other calculations, less religiously frenzied but no less cold blooded for all that.

NO Islamicist in Pakistan has forgotten that Musharraf started his innings as a ruler with the declaration that Ataturk was his hero, the modernising General who abolished the caliphate and put the Turkish Islamicist establishment permanently on the defensive, giving to the armed forces there a secularising mission that still lasts. I very much doubt that Musharraf really is anything resembling Ataturk, but he is undoubtedly a secular officer. He loves power too much and therefore has not been willing to take big risks, but he did make half-hearted attempts to collect the illegally held weapons in Pakistan and to make the Islamicist establishment financially accountable to the state. In India, especially, we need to recall that unlike Nawaz Sharif, the showboy of the Lahore Declaration, Musharraf offered real ceasefires and real de-escalations on the Line of Control right up to Agra where Vajpayee proved less flexible than him. Even as India prepares for a war that has the potential to send up all of us in a ball of nuclear fire, it is best to recall that Musharraf has been uniquely the one Pakistani ruler who began his visit to us with a pilgrimage to Gandhiji's samadhi. How the Islamicist establishment must have hated that!

A few things have become increasingly clear in Pakistan since September 11. One, Musharraf ditched the Taliban and was able to move against at least one group of Islamicist officers without losing his grip on power or inviting any large public protest. Second, the Pakistani troops patrolling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have remained loyal to the command, regardless of the fairly widespread pro-Islamicist sentiments among the rank and file. Third, the crackdown on the Islamicists actually began well before the attack on the Indian Parliament - soon after the Srinagar bloodshed of October 1, in fact - and the politically articulate elements among the urban middle classes have rallied behind this crackdown, minus of course the Islamicists themselves; that crackdown included the house arrest of Mullah Fazalur Rehman, the chief of Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam (JUI), the chief Deobandi organisation, which was closely allied with the Taliban. Fourth, Pakistan's economy has boomed and that has further strengthened the support of the middle classes for the regime. Fifth, within three weeks of the attack on the Indian Parliament, Musharraf did put behind bars not only Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of the JeM, but also, more significantly, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the chief of Dawa wa'al-Irshad (DwI), the parent organisation of the LeT. These three organisations - the JUI, the DwI and the JeM - comprise the heart of the Islamicist establishment in Pakistan outside the Jamat-e-Islami itself, and they command the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of people, possibly a couple of million. Freezing their assets may be a "joke" as the Indian government claims, but putting their chiefs behind bars, for the whole country to see, is by no means a minor matter.

FOUR points can now be made quite explicitly. One is that, far from being an act for which Musharraf can be held responsible, the attack on the seat of India's sovereignty was quite possibly an attack designed to undermine his position domestically as well as internationally. Whatever the frenzied phantasies of the perpetrators and the immediate leaders of their terrorist organisations may have been, whoever authorised them to carry out such an act knew that the normalisation process that Musharraf led in Agra would now be at an end and that Musharraf would come under unbearable pressure at home and abroad, blamed by India and the U.S. for not doing enough, and blamed at home for succumbing too much, betraying the cause of Islam, Kashmir, Pakistan and so on. This game of blame and counter-blame could then be used to topple him.

The second point here is that Musharraf seems to be standing tough, so far as the domestic pressures are concerned, and keeping his cool with respect to India in a remarkable fashion. India was the one which cancelled the bus service and the Samjhauta Express, the symbols of a decent resolve to let the poor of the two countries visit their loved ones regardless of the tensions between the states. Pakistan responded on the issue of overflights but it is much to Musharraf's credit that he did not withdraw his High Commissioner even when India did so and even though India forced the 50 per cent cutback in the respective High Commission staff. India began by refusing to talk to him in Kathmandu but he strode up to Vajpayee to greet him personally, forcing a conversation. The Indian electronic media, which functions merely as an echo chamber for state policy, has made it out that these are pathetic attempts to please the Americans. Well, perhaps they are, in part. But the main thing is to ask ourselves how all this plays in Pakistan, with the ultra-nationalist hawks portraying it all as capitulation to the arch-enemy, India.

Third, it is certainly India's right, indeed duty, to seek redress for acts of terror on Indian soil and for crimes committed against Indian sovereignty. India should seek this redress from Pakistan directly, by presenting evidence and demanding effective action against culprits in accordance with international law. And, as Frontline has suggested editorially (issue of January 18,2002), the government should present this evidence to the people of India in the shape of a White Paper and also take this evidence to the Security Council, which is fully empowered to hold a member-state responsible for acts of terror committed by individuals residing on its territory. All this, and whatever else law and diplomacy permit, New Delhi must do. However, the kind of war preparations India is making and the threats that are emanating from key Ministers of government, including the Prime Minister of dovish reputation, play directly into the design that seems to have been behind the attack on Parliament in the first place.

This, then, brings me to the fourth point in this chain of arguments. While addressing some European and North American audiences on events of September 11 over the past couple of months, I have argued that far from being an attack on American power as the perpetrators of that crime had persuaded themselves, that act of terror was, politically speaking, a gift from the subordinate section of the global Right to the dominant, imperialist wing of the global Right. The U.S. was surely stunned but then moved quickly to seize the opportunity to put in place machineries of perpetual, planetary war, taking advantage of the great revulsion that people around the globe had felt at that crime. It seems to me that the attack on the Indian Parliament was an event of the same kind, a gift from the Islamicist Right to the Hindu Right. Terrorists of the JeM might have used the name of Kashmir as bin Laden routinely used the name of Palestine, but all that they managed was to give the RSS fraternity the cardinal opportunity to wrap itself up in colours of patriotism and to whip up, by word and deed, the war hysteria that satisfies all those who are themselves opposed to normalisation and good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan, and who want to persuade the Indian middle classes that India can be strong only if the RSS is at the helm of affairs.

Thousands of crores of rupees are being spent on fake rhetoric of an impending war that imperialism shall simply not allow but which plays well in the Uttar Pradesh elections upon which the future of the NDA government is said to depend. The government of India has long been at its wits' end in Kashmir, in the face of the sullen alienation of a whole people caught between the terrorist and counter-terror; for now, though, even the pretence of finding a political solution need not be sustained. The coming elections in Jammu and Kashmir promise to be what elections there usually are. As for international relations, Jaswant Singh would have us believe that we are now the new yankees in the region but, in reality, L.K. Advani is in Washington to try and persuade the real yankees of this world to punish the Pakistan government adequately, for a crime that was probably committed to undermine that very government. The U.S. sees superprofits coming from India (Blair was virtually salivating when he came here) but also some geopolitical advantage in keeping Pakistan as its own pretty little poodle; so it balances, awkwardly, infinitely. And the game goes on.

The times are tough for Musharraf, but there may also be an opportunity. He has made many half-hearted attempts in the past to put some controls on the jehadis but always stepped back, too weak to go through: weak in will, weak in the extent of the power he actually commands - it hardly matters which. His main problems have been two. One is that - well - he is a dictator and has therefore been at odds with the democratic temper of those same sections of the urban middle classes that could have been his mass social base for the fight against religiosity, sectarianism, terrorism and the rest. So, passive support for his steps against Islamicists has been immense, but it never becomes an active kind of support that would face the Islamicists in the street in the name of their government because the democratic impulse of the secularists in Pakistan makes it impossible for them to come into the streets in support of a self-appointed President who is also the Chief of the Army Staff. For this problem, Musharraf has had no solution except to proclaim, rightly but merely, that he is a liberal dictator.

His other problem is that he subscribes to a strategy which relies upon an ideology that he seems to despise. After the historic defeat of 1971, when Indian military action forced the creation of Bangladesh, what remained of Pakistan has relied on a strategy of 'forward defence' in which the defence parameters of Pakistan were to be drawn well into the territories of those neighbouring states, namely Afghanistan and India, which it deemed hostile (see ''The Many Roads to Kargil'', Frontline, July 16, 1999, for extended comment on this). Insurgencies in Punjab and Kashmir on the one hand, and the U.S.-sponsored anti-communist jehad in Afghanistan on the other, were supported militarily under this doctrine. At length, and especially after the Khalistan movement fizzled out and General Zia-ul-Haq perfected his grip on power, this strategy of forward defence came to be identified with the ideology of Islamism. Both the strategy and the ideology became more grandiose after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Pakistan began to see itself as the fulcrum of a full-scale state system comprising itself, Afghanistan, the former Muslim republics of the Soviet Union, perhaps even Turkey and Iran; it was going to outflank India's own little sub-imperialism in South Asia by becoming a sub-imperial power in Central Asia and parts of even West Asia. Military action and commerce were going to be the material instruments, Islamism the ideological instrument. The whole of Pakistan's military brass has always subscribed to this inflated vision, and Musharraf has been no exception to it.

Now that whole inflation has been punctured and Musharraf has to pick up the pieces. To get rid fully of Islamism as ideology he has also to get rid of that particular lust for "forward defence" as strategy. This requires liquidation of the Islamicist establishment on the one hand, re-education and re-definition of the military establishment on the other. It is not at all clear that he would be equal to this predicament but the current difficult situation does offer him a very peculiar kind of opportunity. As for controlling the jehadi world, he can simply go to his cohorts in the Army and the rest of the ruling elite saying 'I have no choice' and citing American pressure; nothing works with the Pakistani elite as magically as the invocation of the will of the U.S.; on such grounds, he could even recruit Benazir Bhutto as his public relations agent. As for renouncing that particular version of "forward defence" and sub-imperialist ambition, reality itself requires it. But what power, other than the citing of U.S. pressure, does he have in order to force such vast ideological and strategic revisions - so vast that they would necessarily involve something resembling the birth-pangs of a new Pakistan?

THAT is where the question of democratisation in Pakistan comes up yet again. In order to work for such fundamental changes Musharraf needs a real social base, either in the military-bureaucratic elite or in the politically motivated middle classes (Pakistan having no mass politics at the moment, other than the Islamicist rabble). He is likely to make the bureaucratic rather than the political choice, being himself a man of the military bureaucracy.

However, there is still another venue open for him. As General-Presidents go, he has actually been quite liberal, quite secular; and his peace overtures toward India have been widely supported. The real divide between him and the politically articulate liberal middle classes in Pakistan has been on the issue of establishing - or re-establishing - fundamental democratic structures. Were he now to lead that process of democratic restoration he may yet succeed in making those more fundamental changes in ideology and military strategy, without getting toppled in the process. India should pin him down on concrete actions against actual and potential terrorists. But, by the same token, India must understand that no stable peace between the two nations is really possible unless both become stable secular and democratic polities. And India must therefore refrain, as much for Pakistan's sake as for its own, from creating a situation in which any move on his part toward curbing those elements and creating, instead, a secularising regime looks like capitulation.

The time to talk

cover-story

New Delhi is in danger of overplaying its hand and losing the right moment to begin a process of reconciliation with Pakistan.

A MONTH after the December 13 Parliament House attack, New Delhi stepped up its diplomatic offensive aimed at extracting major "anti-terrorist" concessions from Islamabad. It was not a mere coincidence that this preceded United States Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to South Asia and Home Minister L.K. Advani's four "demands" upon Pakistan, submitted during his own visit to Washington. India was clearly worried at the possibility that President Perverz Musharraf would score some serious public relations points during his widely anticipated, and repeatedly postponed television address, in which he was expected to announce a "new policy" against terrorism and a "new turn" in relations with India.

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Thus, a senior Ministry of External Affairs official briefed journalists on January 10 to put Pakistan on notice that India expected from Musharraf "substantial" positive measures against terrorist groups, short of which it would be "forced" to take "additional punitive measures". According to one report, these would range from sending back the Pakistani High Commissioner to abrogating the Indus Water Treaty, and include options such as closing India's Islamabad Mission and withdrawing Pakistan's most-favoured-nation trade status.

India has been particularly worried that Musharraf would limit himself to suppressing terrorism on "Pakistani soil". So India not only wants a statement of "inadmissibility of violence in pursuit of goals from Pakistan, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir" (a "disputed" territory). It demands that Musharraf commit himself categorically to the "irreversibility of the process" too.

There is reason to believe that New Delhi has miscalculated the likely gains from these moves, and that it could be overplaying its hand by threatening measures even harsher than those imposed on December 21 and 27 (discussed in the previous Column: Frontline, January 18). This deliberately stiffened, "calibrated" stand not only risks losing the gains made in Kathmandu when Jaswant Singh, Brajesh Mishra and Abdul Sattar met more than once. More important, it could box India into a corner. India could be the loser.

The time has come for India and Pakistan to re-orient radically the strategies and postures adopted since December 13. India has so far pursued a strategy of nuclear brinkmanship. Pakistan has reluctantly yielded to "anti-terrorist" demands, after first denying the gravity of the Parliament House attack. It too is manoeuvring to extract a commitment from India to "a dialogue on Kashmir" before it takes further action against jehadi groups.

India's brinkmanship consists in taking on a belligerent, war-like posture, backed up by large-scale military mobilisation. This is calculated to get the U.S. to press Pakistan to take "visible" steps against terrorist groups. Deliberate ratcheting-up of hostility and harsh diplomatic sanctions are part of this strategy. India calculates that this will deliver more results than outright war (to which there will be significant domestic opposition), and that Pakistan can be bent to its will, through American mediation.

Cynical as it is, this strategy has admittedly had some success. Islamabad started acting against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) within 48 hours of the U.S. banning them. It has since rounded up 300 suspects. The freezing of terrorists' accounts might not have had much effect (thanks to the advance notice some of them got), but that cannot be said about the arrest of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed or the detention of other key LeT and JeM leaders. And yet, the success is not so great that the Bharatiya Janata Party can declare that it has already "triumphed" against Pakistan and "put it in its place".

Brinkmanship is fraught with grave danger - in the last analysis, a nuclear conflagration. India's diplomatic effort is directed more at the U.S. than at Pakistan, and depends on variables outside the India-Pakistan relationship. Thus, it is not fully amenable to control. Military build-ups have a logic of their own. In the super-heated subcontinental context, a skirmish can snowball into a battle, which in turn can precipitate war.

India's political and diplomatic objectives are diffuse and open to subjective interpretation: how effective is "effective" action against terrorist groups? It has not stated what its criteria of effectiveness might be. India has, U.S.-style, demanded that Pakistan act, "or else". But unlike the U.S., it has not bothered to collect and share with Pakistan evidence on specific acts of violence, or back its case with U.N. resolutions, among other things.

Some Indian policy-makers and shapers see the present conjuncture as an opportunity to advance a much larger agenda than one confined to specific actions against terrorists responsible for December 13 or other recent acts. A few of them even think that the time has come to alter decisively the terms of military and political competition with Pakistan. That is why the list of 20 terrorists given to Pakistan is broad and long, going back to events and acts of a decade ago or older.

In New Delhi, there is no clarity about how far Musharraf can go in meeting India's demands. That is why all his actions are termed "cosmetic". There is severe underestimation of the opposition to him from jehadi groups, which have staged bomb explosions and killed his Home Minister's brother. It is all too easily assumed that being a military dictator, his power is unlimited and unchallenged. This too is a questionable premise.

India must revise radically its approach. Islamabad too must become firmer in its anti-terrorist actions. The wide world knows how deeply implicated its Inter-Services Intelligence has been in shadowy operations - in India, Afghanistan, and in Pakistan itself. After the Afghan war, the "plausible deniability" of its role is becoming incredible. Musharraf will make a signal contribution to Pakistan's stabilisation and normalisation if he cuts the umbilical cord between the ISI and Kashmiri militants - just as he did with the Taliban.

Musharraf is under pressure from the U.S., which in turn faces pressure not just from India but from its powerful pro-Israeli domestic lobby, which is alarmed at the possibility of a clandestine transfer of Pakistan's nuclear technology to anti-Western, anti-Jewish militants. The U.S. is deeply suspicious of the ideological, political, financial and military support Islamabad has extended over the years to extremist groups in South Asia, South-West Asia and West Asia. It has offered special funding to Musharraf to modernise and secularise madrassas. However, Musharraf cannot be pushed beyond a limit without jeopardising his very survival. For instance, his decision to arrest LeT's Hafeez was an extremely tough call, preceded by two day-long consultations and cautious calculations of a kind never before undertaken in Pakistan. A new U.S. congressional research report says that a crackdown on madrassas could well cost Musharraf his job.

This issue of Pakistan's culpability for "cross-border" terrorism has to be precisely defined. Musharraf is not wrong to ask just where Pakistan's liability for "terrorism" begins and ends. As The New York Times reported, he wants the U.S. Ambassador to say "how Washington could guarantee that India wouldn't wait for some new incident to occur, then claim that it was backed by Pakistan and use it as a pretext to go to war... What if some outraged Kashmiri takes a Kalashnikov and shoots an Indian politician or puts a bomb in a parking lot? Is Pakistan going to be held accountable every time?"

It is one thing for Musharraf to act against the gangsters and Khalistanis who have taken refuge in Pakistan. But acting against groups linked to Kashmir is another matter - because Kashmir is seen as impinging on Pakistan's core identity and Partition's "unfinished agenda". No Pakistani ruler can be seen to be indifferent to it. The Vajpayee government probably lacks an intelligent, nuanced, informed assessment of how much Musharraf can deliver. It is not paying heed to such counsel as it does have. Pushing Musharraf to breaking point would be extremely counterproductive. The critical test lies in deciding just what to settle for in the prevailing conditions - so that what is achieved conforms to certain principles, and advances both the national and regional interest. Asking that all the 20 men named by New Delhi, including Masood Azhar, should be handed over to it would be exceeding the limits of feasibility and legality.

There is no extradition treaty between India and Pakistan. Under international law, states are not obliged to hand over even known criminals without such a treaty. That too can be only done for specific offences, not some general category called "terrorist activity". Both Indian and Pakistani laws require that extradition requests be first referred to a magistrate who must confirm that a prima facie case exists.

Should it not be enough for India if Islamabad hands over to Interpol or some third party one or more persons in the suspects' list, who have proper charges and international Red Corner Notices against them? Is it realistic or right to imagine that New Delhi can substitute itself for what Washington did in Afghanistan - for instance, by getting Pakistan to arrest former Ambassador Zaeff and interrogating him? India is surely underestimating the strength of Pakistan's current equation with the U.S., which is not about to let it down after what Musharraf has done for Washington in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN should definitely take stiff action against the terrorist groups which thrive within its borders. But countering terrorism will be a prolonged process. As soon as Pakistan begins it earnestly, India should resume a full dialogue with it and negotiate confidence-building measures, including joint patrolling of the Line of Control. That could inaugurate a new era in their relations, based on cooperation and good faith. It is of paramount importance that the Vajpayee government recognises a good deal - and a good exit from confrontation - when it is offered one. Or else, a precious window of opportunity could slam shut.

However, can the BJP-NDA leadership muster the courage to open a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations? For decades, the Jan Sangh-BJP-RSS have thrived on hostility with Pakistan, which in turn is linked to their anti-Muslim prejudices. For Hindutva, Indian Muslims are Pakistan's "Fifth Column", just as Pakistan is the external expression of Islam's "internal threat" to Indian "nationhood". Compounding this ideological bias is a pressing political issue - the coming Uttar Pradesh elections. If the BJP loses them, the NDA could come tumbling down nationally. By all indications, the BJP is set to do extremely badly in Uttar Pradesh. Its score could be as low as 100 seats in the 403-member Assembly.

The BJP has tried every trick in the book to avert defeat in U.P. - from browbeating the Opposition to luring potential supporters. Its last two trump cards were, ironically, mandal and mandir. It created quotas within the other backward classes (OBC) quotas for the most backward castes (MBCs), promising them 40,000 jobs. But there is no money to back that promise. And the MBCs are not taken in by what they consider a "Brahmin-Bania" party. The March 12 temple "deadline" plank is not turning out to be a vote-catcher. The "anti-terrorism" platform seems more promising. Vajpayee has himself advised the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to play down the temple issue; he is seeking the aid of the Kanchi Shankaracharya to pressure the BJP further.

"Anti-terrorism" allows the BJP to combine jingoistic nationalism with its anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim agendas. It can claim to be talking "tough" to Islamabad - to the point of "courageously" risking war. Wars, in the BJP's view, promote "a sense of patriotism and pride" among Indians. This, as Advani said immediately after the Kargil conflict (July 26, 1999), can only help a party like itself. The BJP thus hopes to polarise the situation communally and even put the secular parties on the mat.

This may turn out to be a desperate, even futile, hope. Macho anti-Pakistan postures are not as popular as might seem. The Kargil war, despite the politicisation of coffins and of death-as-a-spectacle, did not prevent the loss of half the BJP's UP Lok Sabha tally in 1999 nor a three percentage point fall in its national vote. The BJP's opponents, especially the Samajwadi Party and Congress, are far more upbeat than they were two years ago. Eventually, there may not be much purchase in the terrorism plank, barring a vote gain of a couple of percentage points.

Will the BJP stoop so low and pursue its brinkmanship recklessly for such measly gain? Will it be so mindless as not to recognise that its best medium- and long-term bet lies in putting Pakistan firmly on the road to moderation through cooperation, not confrontation? Will it choose ephemeral, compromised power in UP over the abiding national interest in mending relations with Pakistan and simultaneously combating the scourge of militant-group terrorism?

Here is Vajpayee's litmus test. If he has real leadership qualities, he should bring about a breakthrough with Pakistan rather than claim hyperbolically that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is the "biggest roadblock" to "greater, faster and more egalitarian" development. This is also his chance to think big, and beyond petty provincial calculations. Can he rise to the occasion? Or will he plunge a billion people into war, endless confrontation and more violence?

Unity against terror

The three-day SAARC Summit in Kathmandu ends with member-states re-affirming their commitment to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

UNCERTAINTY prevailed until the eleventh hour regarding the conduct of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit, 2002. The arrest of an official working in the Pakistani embassy in Kathmandu on the charge of possessing counterfeit Indian and U.S. currency on January 3, a day before the formal opening of the summit, had threatened to derail the meet. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf told mediapersons in Kathmandu that the incident was a "crude attempt" to sabotage the summit. The Pakistani official was promptly released and, according to Musharraf, the Nepalese authorities had promised to take action against those responsible for the incident.

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Until the last week of December a question mark was hanging over India's participation in the summit. The December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament House had threatened to disrupt the summit yet again as war clouds loomed. However, the Indian government took into account the fact that Nepal had done considerable groundwork for the summit. According to Nepal government officials, the cash-strapped government had spent about $3 million to prepare for the summit. Moreover, the government had decided to go ahead with it despite threats from the Maoist insurgents. The Nepali capital was spruced up for the events, with roads widened and security further tightened.

After the decision to participate in the summit was taken, senior Indian government officials announced before hand that there would not be any meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the Pakistan President on the sidelines of the summit. In fact, the seating arrangements were made in such a way that the Indian and Pakistani leaders would have the minimum possible contact. As was the case at earlier SAARC summits, India-Pakistan relations remained centrestage. Indeed, the problems between its two largest member-countries have adversely impacted on the progress of SAARC, whose primary goal is economic integration. Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, talking to mediapersons after the summit, said that the very fact that the summit took place, notwithstanding the prevailing circumstances, was an achievement. He expressed the hope that the success of the summit would help reduce tensions in the South Asian region.

Although poverty alleviation is high on the SAARC agenda, the region is among the poorest in the world. According to a recent World Bank report, more than 500 million people in the South Asian region live below the poverty line. The South Asian region has more than 50 per cent of the total world population of child workers. Around 130 million child workers toil for two meals every day. Although SAARC has made it a priority issue, trafficking in women continues to be an issue of concern in the region. The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) has not taken off and illiteracy has yet to be tackled in earnest. Moreover, the question of human rights violations has not yet received the attention it deserves.

HOWEVER, the main focus of the Kathmandu event was on terrorism. Almost all the countries in the region have been affected by terrorism in varying degrees. In fact, each of the leaders dwelt on it in their speeches at the opening of the summit.

President Musharraf, whose delayed arrival had caused the postponement of the inauguration of the summit by a day, said in his opening speech on January 4 that his country "strongly condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations". "We regard it as a grave threat to civil society," he said. At the same time, he emphasised that the "causes" of terrorism should be investigated - including the symptoms and the malaise. He added that "peace and tranquillity between Pakistan and India are essential for progress in South Asia". He said that the "only consolation" from the Agra Summit was the revival of the SAARC process. However, given the tense atmosphere in the region, Musharraf's forthright views were not considered to be very diplomatic. He said that no single member-country of SAARC should be allowed to dominate the grouping.

CRITICISING the "unprecedented delay" in the holding of the SAARC summit, Musharraf said: "It is unfortunate that the delay was caused by factors extraneous to both the Association and its charter." He said that SAARC summits should be held every year as per Article 3 of the SAARC charter even if any head of state or government finds it inconvenient to attend. "Using internal developments in any one country as a pretext to disrupt the SAARC process should be unacceptable." He said that he was against "any attempt to dilute the principle of sovereign equality of member-states" and that no state should "consider itself more equal than others".

Musharraf's tough stance seemed to have been tempered to some extent when he extended his "hand of friendship from the exalted forum of SAARC" to the Indian Prime Minister after speaking at the opening of the summit. Musharraf's gesture was greeted with loud applause, especially by the assembled dignitaries from the smaller SAARC countries.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who spoke after the Pakistan President, also focussed on the issue of terrorism. She warned the assembled leaders that "perceived injustice would evolve into violence". Quoting Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary, she said that "despair and vengeance lead to terrorism". At the same time, the Sri Lankan President criticised the West for the double standards it practised on the issue of terrorism.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was also forthright in expressing her views. She said that SAARC had not achieved anything substantive since it was formed. It is yet to formulate, let alone implement, a single regional project, and "national self-assertion still impedes regional cooperation". She added that SAARC had not made any progress in its stated goal of alleviating poverty.

Addressing the inaugural ceremony, Prime Minister Vajpayee departed from his prepared text to react to the surprise offer of "genuine, sincere friendship" from the Pakistani President. "I am glad that President Musharraf extended a hand of friendship to me," he said. "I have shaken his hand in your presence. Now President Musharraf must follow this gesture by not permitting any activity in Pakistan or any territory it controls today which enables terrorists to perpetrate mindless violence in India. I went to Lahore with a hand of friendship. We were rewarded by aggression in Kargil and the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu. I invited President Musharraf to Agra. We were rewarded with a terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and, last month, on the Parliament of India," said Vajpayee, at the end of his speech.

Vajpayee followed up his tough stance by staying away from the "mini-retreat" of SAARC leaders which took place later in the day on January 4. (A full-day retreat of the SAARC leaders had to be cancelled owing to the late arrival of the Pakistan President to Kathmandu. Pakistani officials said that Musharraf's plane was delayed owing to foggy conditions in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Musharraf had to take a detour via China to reach Nepal as Indian air space was closed to Pakistani commercial traffic from January 1.) However, Vajpayee took the initiative at the closing session of the summit to shake hands with Musharraf and exchange greetings. Again the gesture was greeted with applause by the assembled dignitaries.

The President of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was also of the view that the issue of terrorism should not be seen in isolation. He spoke about the agony of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation. "Terrorism must be condemned wherever it occurs," said Gayoom. Significantly, the Declaration issued at the end of the summit expressed concern over the continued bloodshed in West Asia and the setbacks suffered by the peace process. The leaders reaffirmed their support for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 (passed in 1967 and 1973 respectively) and the establishment of a sovereign Palestine state under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). This point was added on the last day of the summit, reflecting the consensus on the issue among the leaders.

The Declaration also emphasised the need for international cooperation to combat terrorism. It reaffirmed that "the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations has to be comprehensive and sustained". The Declaration went on to assert that "terrorism violates the fundamental values of the U.N. and the SAARC charter and constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security in the 21st century". Both New Delhi and Islamabad said their respective stands on the issue stood endorsed by the Declaration.

A meeting of the Foreign Secretaries held ahead of the summit recommended that the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373 be implemented in toto in the region. The U.N. Security Council Resolution, unanimously passed on September 28 in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the U.S., had asked all states to end the financing of terrorism. It also called upon all countries to freeze the dealing in funds by terrorist groups without delay. The resolution emphasised that states should refrain from providing any form of support to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts and deny safe haven to those who finance, plan and support such acts. The final Declaration reflected the spirit of the U.N. resolution and pledged, among other things, to eliminate terrorism from South Asia.

The 56-point Declaration also gave due importance to topics such as poverty eradication and regional economic integration. Two important conventions were signed. The first related to trafficking in women. The second concerned the welfare of children. The summit also pledged to work for the early establishment of SAFTA. The Declaration called on member-states to expedite action to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers and structural impediments to free trade. The general feeling among the majority of SAARC nations, as reflected in the media and in private conversations among officials, was that as long as the India-Pakistan stand-off persists, there was little hope for the regional grouping to become a viable forum. In fact, demands have already been raised to expand SAARC to make it more meaningful. A leading Nepali economist said recently that China has every right to be in SAARC. China shares borders with four SAARC countries. There have also been suggestions that Myanmar be also considered for eventual membership of the grouping.

Pakistan will host the next SAARC summit. President Musharraf expressed the hope that he would be able to welcome all the South Asian leaders in Pakistan in early 2003.

Window-dressing days

Pre-Budget manoeuvres of the kind that are being attempted by the Union government will only contribute to the persistence of a paradoxical economic mismatch, while imposing still heavier burdens on the poor and middle classes.

THE annual ritual in which the Union Finance Minister meets representatives of different sections of society to elicit their views on the direction the annual Budget of the Central government should take, has begun. So have the pre- and off-Budget manoeuvres through which the government seeks to garner 'revenues', in order to window-dress the Budget. The aim of that exercise is two-fold. First, to accelerate revenue generation during the final months of the financial year, so as to ensure that the deficit on the Budget for the current financial year is not far too high relative to the target set in the Budget presented the previous February. Second, to ensure additional revenue inflows through off-Budget measures in the following year so that the Budget, which receives much attention, can be shown to be less severe.

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The need to resort to such measures is even greater this year. Figures relating to the first nine months of fiscal 2001-02 (April-December) indicate that tax revenue collections, at Rs. 126,390 crores, are 2.5 per cent below the level recorded in the corresponding period of the previous year. That is, instead of rising over time to meet growing expenditures, tax collections are falling in nominal terms, though gross domestic product (GDP) has been rising, even if at a rate that is less than expected. The fall would have been larger but for the fact that personal income tax and excise duty collections have grown relative to the previous year, because corporate tax collections have fallen by an estimated 4.2 per cent during the April-December period.

This differential in performance across different kinds of taxes has a story to tell. It is no doubt true that sluggish revenues are in substantial part owing to the recessionary trends being experienced in the industrial sector. But if recession alone were responsible for this, then the trend in excise duty collections should have also been more adverse. The fact that they have risen while corporate tax collections have fallen, points to the fact that the government's penchant for offering more concessions to the corporate sector, especially in the form of exemptions and deductions, and only partly neutralising it with enhanced excise duty imposts, has also played a role.

In the event, unless the government resorts to alternative measures, the revised revenue and fiscal deficit figures for 2001-02 would be far higher than what was budgeted for. Some of these measures, such as treating the 'profits' of the Reserve Bank of India as revenues, are now past practice, so that unless these figures are inflated to levels well above what was budgeted for, they cannot resolve the problem.

In order to deal with the special difficulties being faced in this financial year, the government has opted for three alternatives, two of which are being implemented and the third is being prepared for. First, the government has accelerated the pace of privatisation, which is being pursued in large measure as a revenue generating mechanism, though it has been couched in the rhetoric of reform. Over the last few months the process of strategic sale or divestment of control of public sector units for a small price has been sought to be pushed through, with much success in some cases such as a set of India Tourism Development Corpo- ration (ITDC) properties, and great disappointment in other cases such as in the airline industry. However, with the programme of accelerated privatisation still on the agenda, it is likely that the government would garner a significant sum through this route, even at the cost of underpricing public assets in distress sales aimed at garnering revenues.

The second initiative being adopted is to transfer to the government's budget the cash reserves being held by successful and profitable public sector companies, by paying out astronomical dividends. This strategy is being adopted wherever the process of privatisation has been delayed despite the government's effort. A few thousand crores of rupees has been transferred from Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) alone this financial year.

The government's claim is that such transfers are necessary prior to privatisation, since these reserves are a reflection of revenues forgone for the government as a shareholder of the enterprise concerned. But since many of these companies have a sizable private shareholding because of partial and piecemeal divestment in the past, the beneficiaries of the high payouts would include those private parties who acquired a share in equity in the recent past. There is no reason why these shareholders should be paid out a sizable chunk of reserves, because they were the first off the block, especially when the justification for high dividend pay-outs is that those acquiring equity through the imminent privatisation have no rightful claim on these reserves. Moreover, if these companies have accumulated these reserves over time because of their profitability, and if private buyers where willing to buy their equity despite the tendency to retain a substantial part of profits, there is no reason why they should not continue to operate under public management, with provision for higher dividend payments to the government in the future.

There is little doubt that if the companies concerned are allowed to use their reserves for modernisation and expansion, they would be able to sustain their favourable track record. It is only the desperation to garner additional revenues that seems to be driving the government along the route of "reserve-farming", which has as its consequence the wilful destruction of even the viable segment of the public sector.

The third measure that is being experimented with is a sharp hike, possibly ahead of the Budget, in excise duties. To this end the government has by means of an ordinance armed itself with the right to impose excise duties in excess of 100 per cent. While justified on the basis of the likelihood of (or need for?) war, the real reason for this move appears to be the desperation to step up the government's own self-imposed but unsuccessful war on the fiscal deficit. Speculation has it (The Hindu, January 10, 2002) that the hike in excise duties would be focussed on petroleum products, with the implicit proviso that the burden of the enhanced duty would not be passed on to the consumer right now, so that the move does not meet with opposition. This would result in losses for the petroleum companies and an increase in the oil pool deficit, currently placed at Rs. 8,000 crores. But the oil companies too would not have to pay finally, since with the dismantling of the administered price mechanism in April, the government would have to issue bonds to the oil companies to finance their deficit.

THE absurdity of any such move, if it is undertaken, should be obvious. To start with, since the bonds to be issued in April would have to be counted as part of the government's borrowing requirement, the measure only amounts to transferring a part of this year's deficit into next year's Budget. Further, since the higher excise duty rates would remain in place until they are reversed, it is likely that some time later the companies would indeed make the consumer pay the duty and bear the burden of the cascading effects on prices that any increases in the prices of universal intermediates will have. This meaningless move at the expense of consumers, if resorted to, would only be explained as an effort to garner immediately the Rs.1,500 crores to Rs.2,000 crores that the measure is expected to generate.

All this has become necessary because of the peculiar kind of fiscal crisis that neoliberal economic reforms in general and financial liberalisation in particular have generated. Trade liberalisation, which has included steep reductions in customs tariffs, has resulted in a fall in customs revenues accruing to the government. Further, the success of reform being predicated on a rise in private investment, the government has been offering a range of tax concessions as incentives to spur such investment. While these concessions have not been successful, together with the loss in revenues from customs tariffs they have resulted in a decline in the ratio of central taxes to GDP to the tune of 1.5 to 2 percentage points. This implies that even when the fiscal deficit to GDP ratio is at levels close to where it was in the late 1980s - which has been true in at least a couple of years in the 1990s - the fiscal stimulus associated with that deficit has been far less. A lower tax-GDP ratio implies that the expenditure to GDP ratio associated with any given fiscal deficit would be lower.

If we combine this with the tendency for the fiscal deficit-to-GDP ratio to rule lower because of the kind of fiscal reform being adopted by the government, a basic tendency towards slower growth should be expected. For some time this tendency was being counteracted by special factors such as the post-reform boom in durable consumption attributable to the pent-up demand for such goods from a less liberal era. But once such counteracting factors lose their strength, as has happened in recent years, a recession is inevitable. The recession in turn reduces tax collections further, as has happened in the first nine months of fiscal 2001-02, aggravating the fiscal crisis.

But that is not all. Financial reform has forced the government to substitute less expensive borrowing with credit obtained at much higher interest rates. Not only do real interest rates tend to rule higher under reform to offer better returns to foreign financial investors, but the government is forced to abjure borrowing from the central bank at much lower interest rates. Thus even the less efficacious fiscal deficit is partly accounted for by outlays on burgeoning interest payments and consists of a significant deficit on the revenue account of the government. This weakens further the fiscal stimulus associated with a given deficit.

In the event, neither is the deficit low enough to satisfy the government, the international financial institutions and financial investors, nor does the stimulus provided by any deficit correspond to the apparent size of the deficit. The fiscal crisis in fact worsens, but the deficit it results in does not spur growth even when food stocks are aplenty, unutilised capacity abounds, inflation is low and foreign exchange reserves are comfortable. Pre-Budget manoeuvres of the kind described would only contribute to the persistence of this paradoxical situation, while imposing heavier burdens on the poor and middle classes.

In a cleft stick

As the elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly approach, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I) find the going equally tough.

WEEKS after the Election Commission announced the dates for elections to the 403-member Uttar Pradesh Assembly, on February 14, 18 and 21, the two main parties in the fray, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I), are still struggling with their respective lists of candidates. The Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have meanwhile taken the lead by releasing their respective lists without any hassle. The S.P. was the first to announce the names of 295 candidates, leaving the remaining 108 names to be declared after a seat-sharing agreement is finalised with its People's Front allies - the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The BSP, which is contesting all the seats on its own, has released the list for 400 constituencies. Of the remaining three, party vice-president Mayawati is expected to contest from two.

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The BJP, which is hoping to return to power, is facing problems, both with its coalition partners and within itself. A clear sign of trouble emerged after the sudden and unexplained postponement of the party's State election committee meeting which was scheduled to be held on January 7 and 8 to finalise the list of candidates. After the committee finalises the list the central election committee has to approve it. According to senior leaders, the delay stems from the conflicting demands made by the BJP's seven allies - the Samata Party, the Janata Dal (United), the Kisan Mazdoor Bahujan Party, the Lok Janshakti, the Uttar Pradesh Loktantrik Congress, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Ajit Singh and the Shakti Dal, Maneka Gandhi's newly floated party. While the BJP has already expressed its intention to contest in 325 seats, the allies' demands far exceed the number of seats that remain, and hence the tussle and the delay. According to informed sources, the RLD has staked its claims to 60 seats, mostly in western Uttar Pradesh, while the Shakti Dal has expressed its desire to contest 50 seats, mostly in the Terai region. Similarly, Sharad Yadav's Janata Dal (U) and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti have demanded 25 seats each. As if all this was not enough, the RLD announced that as it had an alliance only with the BJP and not with its other allies, it will also contest from the constituencies where the BJP had not fielded any candidate. This will complicate matters for the BJP-led alliance as it will cause a division of votes.

In order to keep Ajit Singh in good humour, the BJP has ruled out an electoral alliance with its other ally, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) led by Om Prakash Chautala, in Uttar Pradesh. The INLD has announced that it will contest 35 to 40 seats in the Jat-dominated western region to strengthen the unity of Jats in western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. This will compound the BJP's woes by causing a split in the Jat vote. Besides, the INLD, like the RLD, supports the demand for a separate Harit Pradesh to be carved out from the western Uttar Pradesh districts. The BJP is opposed to the creation of such a State.

Within the BJP, the tussle between State party president Kalraj Mishra and Chief Minister Rajnath Singh has intensified, resulting in a scramble for the ticket for their respective candidates. The Kalraj and Rajnath factions are accusing each other of promoting candidates belonging to their respective denominations - Brahmins and Thakurs. Besides, Kalraj Mishra favours the sitting members while Rajnath Singh wants the ticket to be given mostly to young leaders and those with a clean record, and only to those Members of the Legislative Assembly who have delivered on their promises. The Rajnath Singh formula would remove more than 50 per cent of the sitting BJP MLAs from the race. Such a situation could breed resentment and give rise to the possibility of rebel candidates entering the fray, party leaders say.

Ticket distribution is not the only problem confronting the BJP. It is on the horns of a dilemma with regard to the issues to be highlighted in the run-up to the polls. While there is no dispute over the issues of terrorism and the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) figuring prominently on its agenda, it remains to be seen how it will handle the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. While the BJP itself would not like to raise the issue, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been maintaining that the temple issue is a national one and that there is nothing wrong in raising it during election campaigns. During the 2000 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP contested on the basis of a manifesto that was common with its allies and did not mention the Ram temple issue. But the February Assembly elections will see the BJP's allies advocating separate manifestoes, their stand on some issues being even contradictory. So there will be no excuse for the BJP this time to ignore the temple issue. The reactions of its allies, who are openly opposed to the Hindutva brigade's stand on the temple issue, and the repercussions of their stand on the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, are bound to put the BJP in a quandary.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is already proceeding with a mobilisation programme relating to its temple construction plans, has announced a yatra by religious figures. They will reach Ayodhya on January 20 and Delhi on January 26, where a demonstration in front of Parliament House, will demand that the Centre remove all obstacles in the way of the temple construction.

Added to this, Rajnath Singh's much-hyped "quota within quota" scheme, which was being described as the magic wand to attract votes, has also backfired on the BJP. To the embarrassment of the party leadership, the Supreme Court has stayed the implementation of this scheme, acting on a petition filed by former BJP Minister Ashok Yadav who challenged its constitutional validity.

IF the BJP is caught in a cleft stick between its allies and the issues it could advocate, the Congress (I) too appears to be groping in the dark about the issues it would raise and the candidate it would project as its chief ministerial nominee. Although the party is in an upbeat mood, its optimism appears to be misplaced. According to independent observers, the Congress(I) can at best hope to repeat its performance in the last Lok Sabha elections when it won 10 seats. On that basis, the party can win over 50 seats, which, although an improvement over its performance in the 1996 Assembly elections, is way off the majority mark. Besides, there is a dearth of suitable leaders whom the party can project as its chief ministerial candidate. Veteran leaders like N.D. Tiwari and Mohsina Kidwai, who have had a fairly long innings in State politics, are in the wrong age bracket to be projected so.

State Congress(I) president S.P. Jaisawal stands out for his lack-lustre performance: the party has lost every byelection it contested under his presidentship. State Legislature Party leader Pramod Tiwari, known for playing hardball, can hardly be expected to fit the bill. Hence the party finds itself in the uneasy situation of facing the voter with a blank face. Congress bigwigs, including the Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan Chief Ministers, Digvijay Singh, Sheila Dixit, Ajit Jogi and Ashok Gehlot respectively, have been roped in to lead the campaign along with senior party leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Motilal Vora and Mohsina Kidwai, but they are hardly expected to create any waves for the party.

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There is speculation about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigning. Even if she campaigns, her sphere of influence will be limited to the area in and around Amethi, as was evident in the last Lok Sabha elections. The only leader who is expected to pull in the crowds for the Congress is its president Sonia Gandhi. She will address more than 25 public meetings during her whirlwind tour of the State. But the absence of a well-known face from the State to lead the campaign may cost the party dear.

The Congress(I) is also struggling with its list of candidates. Apparently there are not enough numbers representing all parts of the State. The party intends to contest all the 403 seats on its own, and has a mighty task ahead to finalise the list. The list was expected to be announced after the notification was issued on January 16. In the 1996 Assembly elections, the Congress contested in 126 seats, leaving the rest to the BSP, which was its ally then. In areas where the party did not contest, its support base at the grassroots level has got weakened considerably.

AS for issues, the Congress(I) is banking on its long but successful struggle against terrorism, holding forth Punjab as an example. The names of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi will be invoked to drive home the point that the party has paid a huge price to fight terrorism, a point that the BJP will find it hard to counter. Another plank for the Congress(I) would be development. The slogan would be vikaas ya vinaash (development or destruction). But the party is finding itself handicapped in the matter of the lack of clarity with regard to its relations with the S.P. While the State unit is projecting itself as being equally opposed to both communalism and casteism, as symbolised by the BJP and the S.P. respectively in their opinion, the recent proximity of Sonia Gandhi with S.P. leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh has created confusion in the minds of party workers. According to some senior leaders, at best the party would emerge as a balancing force, and hence it will not target the S.P. directly. Instead, the focus would be on terrorism, communalism and threats to national security. This, they say, would leave it with enough leeway to handle a tie-up with the S.P. in case of a hung Assembly verdict. But this ambiguity in its stand vis-a-vis the S.P. could confuse its voters, creating a situation of advantage for the BJP.

The S.P. gives the impression of leading a cohesive People's Front. Yet it has its share of worries. Its biggest worry is resentment within the party in the wake of ticket distribution. Voices of dissent are already heard with the Member of Parliament from Barabanki, Ramsagar Rawat protesting against the allotment of the ticket in Barabanki district solely on the recommendation of Beni Prasad Verma, a former Union Minister and the MP from the neighbouring Kaiserganj constituency. Although Mulayam Singh dismissed the rumblings as a "non issue", it can hamper the party's prospects. In fact, Rawat is the fourth MP to speak out against the high command. Already two MPs, Umakant Yadav and Balchandra Yadav, who rebelled against Mulayam Singh's style of functioning, have been expelled from the party and have since joined the Janata Dal (U). A third MP, Balram Singh Yadav, is sulking. He had openly campaigned for his son, who had contested the Assembly byelection in 2001 as a BJP candidate. A revolt by yet another MP could well upset Mulayam Singh's applecart.

The other problem Mulayam Singh faces is divergence within the People's Front. The CPI and the CPI(M) are upset that he announced the list without consulting them. The constituencies for which Mulayam Singh has announced his candidates include those the Left parties wish to contest. However, Mulayam Singh denied differences among the Front constituents. Sounding confident, he said that the seat-sharing formula would be arrived at amicably in "due course".

As for issues, the People's Front has no dearth of them. These include communalism, corruption, mafia raj, criminalisation of politics and threats to national security. Although its manifesto is yet to be released, the workers have already been given the talking points. The Front is promising voters free education and free medical treatment and cheaper roti, kapada aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter).

The BSP is the only party which does not seem to have had any trouble with its list. The list appears to be based on a meticulously worked-out formula of social engineering, giving an indication that the party hopes to reach out to all sections of people instead of confining itself to the Dalit-Backward-Muslim vote. This is the reason for the allotment of 91 seats to candidates belonging to the upper castes. Surprisingly, the largest chunk has gone to the backward castes, 126 in all, which includes a substantial number of people from the most backward castes too. Dalits have been given 97 seats and Muslims in 86.

One issue that is bothering all the parties alike is the mismanagement of the distribution of voter identity cards. While the Election Commission has announced that the cards would be compulsory for voters, the political parties maintain that only 40 per cent of the electorate has been given these cards. They are demanding that the cards be not made compulsory this time. The Election Commission has clarified that even if the clause is scrapped, some form of identification would be demanded of voters in order to prevent fake voting.

Bhutan's resolve

India and Bhutan begin coordinated operations to flush out insurgents from northeastern India holed up in the kingdom.

THE six-month deadline given to the members of the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) to leave Bhutan expired on December 31. But militants of these two underground organisations have shown no intention of respecting Bhutan's instruction to move their bases out of the country.

ULFA and Bodo extremists have reportedly dismantled some of their camps along Bhutan's border with Assam but are said to have pitched them elsewhere in Bhutanese territory. Intelligence sources say that ULFA and the NDFB simply shifted their camps on the eve of the deadline to interior and inaccessible areas in Nepali-dominated south Bhutan. ULFA has 11 camps and the NDFB three in Bhutan. Recently, some underground Naga militants belonging to the Isaac-Muivah group of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) also moved to Bhutan and set up training camps. The Khaplang faction of the NSCN is also reported to have hide-outs along the Indo-Bhutan border.

Bhutan's Home Minister Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho told Frontline in early December that after a few rounds of discussions with the Bhutan government, the ULFA leadership had agreed to close the camps by December 31. But since it has not kept the pledge, Bhutan is firm on taking military action against them, said Gyamtsho. Bhutan could have used force in July last year after the National Assembly endorsed the deployment of the Army for the purpose. But the moderate members had voiced concern about such a move, arguing that it would provoke attacks on Bhutanese citizens. Fourteen Bhutanese were killed by ULFA in December 2000 in Assam in what was perceived as a retaliation for the interception of a consignment destined for ULFA.

That ULFA does not have any intention to wind up its camps and leave Bhutanese territory is indicated by an article by ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa published in a recent issue of the ULFA mouthpiece Freedom. Rajkhowa wrote: "ULFA has not occupied Bhutan but has taken shelter there from Indian occupation forces. We will move out of Bhutan as soon as swadhin (sovereign) Asom is achieved."

When in December 2000 the Bhutan government initiated talks with ULFA leaders on the issue of their bases on Bhutanese territory, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had offered "safe passage" to the militants to visit their kin in Assam. Gogoi insisted that it was a "goodwill gesture for the New Year", but the offer was apparently made to prepare the ground for talks with the Centre, which a section of the ULFA leadership is said to be keen on. The State Congress(I) government is expected to facilitate an encounter-free entry into Assam for ULFA cadres purportedly quitting Bhutan, to visit their relatives without carrying arms.

The safe passage idea was floated by Assam Governor S.K. Sinha in 1999 after he called on the parents of the hardliner and self-styled ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua at their native village in Dibrugarh. The Governor had offered a week-long window of opportunity for safe passage to Barua and Rajkhowa, who favour talks. This inspired former Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta to announce a 10-day safe passage for ULFA militants from December 21, 1999. The ULFA leaders scoffed at the offer, but theMahanta government claimed that the New Year gesture received a positive response from over 250 ULFA and NDFB militants and extended the offer until January 17, 2000.

Gogoi's offer to ULFA has come at an opportune time, considering that Rajkhowa had issued a statement on November 27, 2001 from his hideout in Bhutan, saying that "ULFA is willing to sit down for talks, provided the Indian government is ready to accept our preconditions." Gogoi immediately welcomed Rajkhowa's offer, but the Centre reacted with caution. Knowing that ULFA is under tremendous pressure from the Indian security forces and the Royal Bhutan government, the Centre is reported to have decided not to go out of its way to accept immediately any offer for talks. Moreover, the Indian government is not yet sure whether Rajkhowa's offer had the approval of ULFA hardliners such as Paresh Barua.

There are already reports of ULFA's "military wing" under Paresh Barua surreptitiously trying to smuggle in weapons from South-East Asian countries and making fresh recruitments. Indian intelligence agency sources said that a large consignment of small arms meant for the northeastern insurgent groups was recently seized off the Myanmarese coast by the armed forces of Myanmar. The ship carrying the arms was headed for Cox's Bazaar in Chittagong district of Bangladesh, where the consignment was to have been off-loaded for passage to northeastern India. The medium-size ship was reportedly apprehended off the coast between Sandoway port in Rakhine province of Myanmar and the Cheduba Island. It was flying the Vietnamese flag, but registered in Cambodia. Indian intelligence agencies had been briefed by Myanmarese authorities about this seizure.

The Bhutan government has received specific reports that ULFA is relocating its camps to more inaccessible and densely forested areas around Bumthang, Mongar and Lhuntsi. The militants have also moved towards the Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary bordering China, evidently to escape from the Royal Bhutanese Army and special teams of the Royal Body Guards. With Bhutan getting a feel of the threat of terrorism, it has, after holding off for so long, given positive signals to the Government of India regarding joint action to flush out insurgent groups from India's northeastern States which have entrenched themselves in the Himalayan kingdom. India has been urging a joint operation, but Bhutan had so far resisted it, wary of letting India conduct military operations in its territory.

With ULFA and the NDFB ignoring the December 31 deadline, the Royal Bhutanese Army and the Royal Body Guards are preparing to crack down on the camps in south Bhutan. The operations are being coordinated with the Indian Army. The issue figured in the meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu.

Bhutan is likely to take the opportunity to crack down also on Nepalese immigrants who have been creating trouble for the monarchy in south Bhutan. Thimphu wants to push them back into Nepal as they have been extending support to ULFA and the NDFB. Bhutanese officials said that the kingdom is likely to promulgate its own National Security Act to crush the trouble-makers in the south.

"We are in constant touch with our counterparts in Bhutan," said an Indian Army officer based at a corps headquarters in Assam. "We have committed all help that is required to flush the militants out of that country," he added.

The Indian Army has launched coordinated operations within Indian territory to nab militants trying to sneak out of Bhutan. An Army officer said: "We have intensified patrolling along the border by deploying 10 battalions of the Border Security Force (BSF) and have stepped up intelligence gathering. Vigil along the Siliguri corridor has been intensified so that militants cannot cross over to Bangladesh and Nepal. The unified command in Assam is also alert to any diversionary tactics that may be employed by ULFA and the NDFB."

By the Army's estimates, there are about 4,000 ULFA and about 1,000 NDFB militants holed up in Bhutan. The rest of the ULFA cadres - another thousand or so - are spread over Bangladesh and Assam. According to military intelligence, the ULFA leadership is desperately trying to solicit help from the NSCN(I-M) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in order to secure safe havens for its cadres who are now on the run.

A rough ride

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Even as the political climate remains unfavourable to it, the A.K. Antony-led UDF government in Kerala takes drastic and unpopular decisions to tide over the State's financial crisis.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

KERALA is one of the largest markets in southern India for broiler chickens. Hence their occasional political importance. According to the Kerala Poultry Growers' Association, about five lakh of these birds reach dinner plates in the State every day.

Traders estimate that nearly Rs.500 crores worth of broilers are transported across the border from Tamil Nadu every year. This chokes the livelihood of Kerala's poultry farmers but allegedly helps line the pockets of some corrupt tax officials. They have cast a shadow on the A.K. Antony-led United Democratic Front government which came to power in May 2001 with a brute majority and promised to improve the State's finances and ensure probity in public life.

Following frequent complaints from poultry farmers in Kerala, the previous Left Democratic Front (LDF)-government had decided to impose an 8 per cent tax on broilers imported into Kerala. It was meant to protect poultry farmers in the State, especially in central Kerala. The LDF government also decided to waive the sales tax imposed in 1990 on broilers sold by them within the State.

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Yet, a large number of hatcheries and broiler farms continued to spring up in Tamil Nadu close to its border with Kerala, making use of the liberal assistance offered by the Tamil Nadu government for its farmers. The free flow of low-price broiler chickens into Kerala continued through illegal means, especially using fake bills from farms that exist on paper within the State's borders and with the connivance of officials. Farmers' representatives said that poultry farming became a losing proposition in Kerala.

This was an opportunity the broiler chicken farm owners in Tamil Nadu, most of them businessmen from central Kerala, had created for themselves. The loss-making farms in Kerala soon became breeding grounds for chicks sent from hatcheries in Tamil Nadu, with the requirements for feed and medicines being met by the Tamil Nadu businessmen who were willing to pay those ready to undertake the rearing of chicks for them. The local "contract farmers" were happy with the rent and the overseeing charges which fetched them more money than when they raised the chicks themselves. "Contract broiler farming" soon spread to many parts of the State. The businessmen from Tamil Nadu had realised that they could get over the hassle of paying the additional tax if they had their chickens raised in Kerala itself, on farms and hatcheries run on leased land. Once the chicks were ready for the market, they were to be sold in Kerala without the tax.

The local farmers who did not want to lease out their farms now had to fight both the businessmen from Tamil Nadu and the contract farmers in Kerala. With pressure from them mounting, the LDF government made the 8 per cent tax applicable to chicken reared through contract farming as well. Although objections were raised by inter-State businessmen, the government refused to budge. Some big-time hatchery owners approached the High Court and then the Supreme Court but to no avail, except that the court said officials could decide on individual cases based on merit.

The business interests eventually won when, after the assumption of office by the UDF, they managed to get a "clarification" from the Sales Tax Commissioner. The 8 per cent tax was waived in the case of broiler chickens produced in farms run on leased land within Kerala. On December 7, Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan raised the issue in the State Assembly through a submission. He alleged that the State was losing tax revenue to the tune of Rs.35 crores owing to the waiver and that there was corruption involving politicians and officials in the deal. Finance Minister K. Sankaranarayanan, a confidant of Antony who was a surprise choice for the post, denied that his department issued such an order.

However, the controversy refused to go away, and in early January a beleaguered Sankaranarayanan was forced to admit that tax was waived for farms run on leased land within the State. But he added that this was done without his knowledge and that officials had misled him into reading out a statement to the contrary in the State Assembly. As pressure mounted for an inquiry and the resignation of Sankaranarayanan, the Cabinet met and authorised the Finance Minister himself to conduct an inquiry and promptly withdrew the tax concessions to broiler farms run on lease with retrospective effect. "It is like asking the fox to look after the chicks," said Achuthanandan referring to the Cabinet decision.

The "broiler scam" was the latest of the unlikely preoccupations of the eight-month-old Antony government since it assumed office with the declaration that the State's coffers were empty and that the UDF was duty-bound to try and remedy the situation. To the consternation of Antony, more than the Opposition clamour for the resignation of the Finance Minister, it was his own partymen, led by his long-time rival within the party and former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, who were emphatic in their demand for a judicial inquiry and the resignation of Sankaranarayanan. (There are several aspirants within the "I" group led by Karunakaran - the most prominent being his daughter Padmaja Venugopal - waiting for a vacancy to arise in the State Cabinet.)

THE controversy could not have come at a worse time for the UDF government which was going through yet another credibility crisis with regard to its liquor policy. Moreover, the government was already being arraigned by the Opposition and Antony's rivals in the party for its slipshod handling of the State police force. Leaders of the ruling coalition, the architects of a last-minute arrack ban in Kerala introduced in early 1996 (just before the term of the UDF government was to end), were not the same 'principled' lot this time around. In October 2001, although a six-member Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee(I) sub-committee led by Antony-loyalist Aryadan Muhammed had produced draft recommendations for the new government's liquor policy, the government soon realised that the communal and political forces within the liquor lobby and their supporters would not allow the recommendations to be implemented fully.

Following a series of tragedies in the State involving the consumption of spurious liquor, the previous LDF government had entrusted the running of toddy shops to cooperatives of toddy workers in order to control the flow of adulterated liquor. The KPCC sub-committee recommended that the toddy cooperative societies should be disbanded, because most of them were being run by benamis of big-time liquor contractors.

The sub-committee made a significant recommendation that under no circumstance should the government, once it disbanded the toddy cooperatives, allow the shops to return to the hands of the liquor mafia following the auctioning of toddy shops individually. It said that auctioning of shops would only allow the organised rackets to legitimise their activities, also leading to illegal arrack and spirit flowing into Kerala. The KPCC sub-committee was also not in favour of introducing a system of individual licensing of toddy shops. The committee said it would have the same result as that of liquor barons taking direct control of the shops.

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However, after months of an unseemly controversy - during which the prominent liquor-lobby leader who is the secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, Vellappalli Natesan, disclosed that KPCC president K. Muraleedharan, UDF convener Oommen Chandy and Sankaranarayanan had given an assurance ahead of the Assembly elections that toddy shops would be taken away from the cooperatives and given to the "private sector" - the UDF had to introduce the individual licensing system. At a crucial meeting of the UDF 'high power committee' on January 8, among several other important and unpopular decisions, the ruling coalition took the decision to introduce a licensing system for toddy shops, despite clear warnings by even prominent Congress(I) leaders like the former Speaker and Member of Parliament from Alappuzha V.M. Sudheeran, that it will lead to the free flow of alcohol into Kerala. The only consequence of the furore was that, in order to appease the anti-liquor groups in the State, the UDF decided to introduce an 18-point "eligibility criteria" for those seeking to obtain the licence. It decided to draw lots in cases where there is competition for the licencee and to reduce the number of toddy shops in the State from 5,972 to 4,000. However, it was poor consolation for people who expected from the government led by a 'principled' politician like Antony substantial measures to curb the liquor menace.

But what awaited Antony after the January 8 meeting was more trouble. A month after it assumed office, the Antony government had issued with fanfare a White Paper on the State's finances. It said that the State was facing an acute financial crisis. For the first time in its history, the State government was unable to honour valid and legal instruments drawn on it. It was unable to honour cheques it had issued or make payments on items already included in the Budget. The unique achievements that Kerala had made in the social sphere were being undermined because of paucity of funds for proper maintenance of infrastructure facilities. There was profligacy and mindless waste. The State was witnessing a vicious cycle of slow economic growth and low investment in the public and private sectors. The White Paper said that there was an inexorable growth of the revenue deficit; an inordinate increase in public debt as a proportion of the State domestic product; increasing reliance on debt to finance current expenditure; and an unsustainable salary and pension bill.

However, even as it entered the eighth month of its term, the UDF government had taken no action whatsoever to remedy the situation. Moreover, the government was immobilised by political controversies and lack of firm decision-making; poor and controversial policy initiatives (especially in the education and health sectors and in the virtual dismantling of the democratic decentralisation programme); and frequent police atrocities and social tensions which seemed to flare up as communal clashes at the drop of a hat. After the recent communal clashes (in Pathanamthitta on December 6 and 10, coastal Thiruvananthapuram on December 29 and in Kozhikode district on January 4 in which five people were killed), Antony, who also holds the Home portfolio, was frequently referring to "unseen forces, not just fundamentalist and extremist elements", which were stoking these dangerous tendencies in a State known for peaceful coexistence and communal amity. Hence, for the Antony government, introducing austerity and revenue generation measures to tide over what it calls "the serious financial crisis" has so far been way down in its list of priorities.

Antony tried hard to start the new year on a positive note, latching on to perhaps the only issue on which his government could claim some credit. On January 1, at Marayur in Idukki district, Antony seemed to deliver what he had promised the State's landless tribal people a few months earlier, at the end of their 47-day-old agitation before the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. In what the government described as the most significant campaign in the State for the rehabilitation of adivasis, Antony inaugurated the distribution of 1,078 acres (about 430 hectares) of land to 383 tribal families at Kundala and Marayur. However, doubts remain about the quality of land that is to be distributed; on whether the government would be able to identify and transfer land to all the landless tribal people in the State and so on.

IN a politically significant move in the new year, the Chief Minister also visited the Sivagiri Math in Thiruvananthapuram district and the headquarters of the Nair Service Society (NSS) in Kottayam district, the seats of power, so to say, of the Ezhava and Nair communities in the State, evidently to make amends for past "mistakes". The police action at the Sivagiri Math in 1995 in the course of implementing a High Court order and the entry of the visiting Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's security personnel into the 'Mannam Samadhi', the memorial at the NSS headquarters premises of NSS founder Mannath Padmanabhan, had been used to the hilt by Antony's rivals both within the Congress(I) and in the Opposition, to bring down his government in 1996.

At Sivagiri, participating after a gap of six years in the annual pilgrimage festival, Antony expressed regret for the police action in 1995. He made similar gestures at the NSS headquarters. But hardly had he done that and the second phase of violent communal clashes erupted in north Kerala. Opposition leaders then pointed out that the UDF government was paying the price for allying itself with communal forces including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party combine, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) and seeking the financial support of the liquor lobby during the Assembly elections.

However, it will be the State Cabinet's in toto ratification of the harsh decisions of the January 8 UDF meeting to cut salary and other administrative costs, the chief victims of which will be the State government employees, that will be the main source of trouble for the Antony government in the coming days. Although the government had all along been trying to harness public opinion in favour of tough measures to tide over the difficult financial situation, the decision finally to implement them had the immediate effect of alienating the powerful section of State government employees and school and college teachers.

The important measures announced by the Cabinet included a two-week delay in payment of salary for employees in February and March; abolition of leave surrender facility for employees; a two-year voluntary off-duty scheme at reduced salary for all excess government staff; a two-year training period at a lower salary for all new government employees; and introduction of a contributory pension scheme for new recruits. In the education sector, the pertinent decisions included the discontinuation of the system of "protection" for school teachers who were in excess of the need; a scheme to redeploy excess teaching staff; a reduction in their salary if they cannot be redeployed; redeployment of excess junior college lecturers in higher secondary schools; closure of schools with less than 100 students and a 50 per cent cut in pay for teachers in such schools until they are redeployed; and provision of University Grants Commission (UGC) scale of pay only in colleges which have implemented the UGC academic norms. The Cabinet also decided not to raise the pension age from the present level of 55 years.

"We no longer have soft options. It is purely a choice between a total collapse of the State and harsh measures. Almost the entire resources of the government were being spent on employees, with no money left for the people or developmental efforts," Antony said.

Ironically, the government's action came at a time when there was a general consensus that successive governments had failed to take unpopular decisions needed to save Kerala from financial doom. Antony said the new measures would help save Rs.500 crores in the first year and Rs.800 to Rs.900 crores in the subsequent years. However, even as the Chief Minister announced the decisions on January 9, government employees, irrespective of party affiliation, had laid siege to the Secretariat and announced an immediate programme of agitation. On the other hand, given the drought of achievements in the first eight months of his rule, Antony seemed to be aiming for long-term glory - that is, if his government could stick to its guns and turn around Kerala's financial situation. Will his foes, especially within the Congress(I), allow him to wear that halo is the crucial question.

Roadblocks to an expressway

The ambitious Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project is ensnared in controversy.

THE Rs.2,000-crore Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project (BMICP) has been in the pipeline for over a dozen years now and has received strong support from three Chief Ministers of Karnataka, each belonging to a different political party. But it is yet to take off. And if some sections of the farming community, environmentalists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights groups have their way, it never will.

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In the perception of these groups, the controversial private sector project is a solution looking for a problem. They want it to be scrapped because it involves the acquisition of 20,193 acres (8,077 hectares) of land (of which 15,733 acres, or 6,293.2 ha is in private hands) and the displacement of about two lakh people and is, according to them, unnecessary and financially unviable. They claim that the State governments was in the guise of development unjustifiably pushing the project, though there are a number of cheaper and more effective alternatives.

The project involves the construction of a four-lane (expandable to six), 111-km concrete expressway that will connect Bangalore, the State capital, with Mysore, the State's cultural capital. It is expected to cut driving time between the two cities from the present four hours to 90 minutes. At the Bangalore end, a 41-km peripheral road will connect the expressway to National Highway 4 (Bangalore-Pune) and NH-7 (Bangalore-Hosur). A 9.1-km link road will connect Bangalore city centre to the expressway. A limited-access expressway, it will have a continuous barrier on either side. The development of five self-sustainable townships has also been planned as other components of the BMICP. Each township would accommodate a population of approximately 100,000 and would have one of the following themes - corporate, commercial, heritage, industrial and eco-tourism. In addition, the project includes the building of a dedicated 400-mega watt power generating station and its own telecommunication and tertiary sewage treatment facilities. The project would be provided with 2,000 million cubic feet of water from the Cauvery. While the expressway component of the project (including link roads and peripheral roads) requires 6,999 acres of land, the townships will come up on 13,194 acres of land.

Of the land that is to be acquired for the project, 4,460 acres belongs to the State government, which has been leased to a consortium that has been awarded the contract to build the project, at the rate of Rs.10 an acre for a period of 30 years. The government would acquire the rest of the land at market rates and hand it over to the consortium. The consortium would compensate the government.

Chief Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda, J.H. Patel and S.M. Krishna, the present incumbent, have taken the consistent position that the project was essential for economic growth and tourism development in Karnataka. It would, according to them, help Bangalore and provide a fillip to industrial growth. The three have also claimed that the BMICP would in no way affect the environment and promised that people who would lose land or homes will be adequately compensated by means of rehabilitation packages.

The government has also felt that there is the need for a new road because the existing roads between Bangalore and Mysore - State Highway (SH) 17 via Maddur and Mandya and SH 86 via Malavalli and Kanakapura - cannot be upgraded to expressway standards, given their twists and turns, the trees on either side of them, and ribbon development.

The organisations opposed to the project, such as the Karnataka Vimochana Ranga (KVR), the Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) and the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), question the need for such an expressway. They claim that the project would turn out to be a real estate scam that would eat up large tracts of fertile agricultural land without offering a comprehensive rehabilitation package for the affected people. These organisations have been working at the grassroots, exploring options available to protect the rights of the 200,000 peasants, most of whom, they claim, are likely to be displaced.

Land acquisition is always a touchy problem. It is made worse in the BMICP's case by the fact that a considerable length of the project cuts through fertile wet agricultural lands in Mysore and Mandya districts, the latter being the "rice bowl" of the State. Although the protests have not deterred governments under three Chief Ministers, the consortium has found it difficult to achieve financial closure and obtain necessary clearances to get the project going.

THE genesis of the project goes back to the 1980s when the State Government, under pressure to ease traffic on the busy SH 17, approached the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The bank ruled out the conversion of SH 17 into an expressway because of ribbon development along the road. A few years later the State Public Works Department (PWD) suggested building of a four-lane highway that would run parallel to SH 17. But when tenders were called for, there was just one bidder - Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises Limited (NICE). NICE demanded that there be no other approach routes to the proposed highway until it realised its costs. Although its demand was considered, the project made no headway.

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Meanwhile, a 1993 ADB report that discussed the privatisation of highways in general, and specifically the financial feasibility of the Bangalore-Mysore sector, stated that the traffic projection on the road did not warrant the construction of an expressway. According to international standards, a traffic flow of less than 28,000 passenger car units (PCUs) a day does not justify the construction of an expressway. Currently the traffic flow on the Bangalore-Mysore stretch is approximately 8,000 PCUs. The ADB report suggested that the railway line be doubled and the existing road widened.

It was during this time that the government toyed with the idea of developing satellite towns close to Bangalore, which would help decongest the fast-growing city. When this idea proved largely a failure, a corridor between Bangalore and Mysore became a natural corollary to the plan since at least five large towns are located on the 139-km stretch between the two cities. In addition, Mysore, a favourite with tourists, has a climate that can match Bangalore's and has a charm of its own.

Meanwhile, the Kalyani group, the main promoter in NICE, had carried out its own feasibility study. Its report to the government explained the need for and benefits of the expressway. The report was accepted. NICE and the Government of Karnataka signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in February 1995. In April that year a project report was compiled. This included plans for the townships and a barricaded, tolled, linked-access highway.

In October 1998, the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) awarded the project under build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) terms to NICE. The two also concluded a land acquisition agreement, under which NICE would begin acquiring the land it required for the project. Acquisition is not being done under the Karnataka Land Acquisition Act, but under the KIADB Act in order to help speed up the acquisition process and permit a change in land-use pattern after acquisition. The government amended the KIADB Act so as to allow a private company to acquire land.

The MoU envisages a construction period of 10 years and provides that thereafter NICE can operate the expressway for 30 years with the right to collect toll. Today, two years after the final agreement was inked, no land has been acquired (though the proceedings have started) and the project looks like going nowhere. The government is yet to specify the rate or rates at which land owners will be compensated.

THE main complaint against the project is that a large number of people (192,890 in 143 villages, according to the executive summary prepared by NICE) will be displaced by it. But Ashok Kheny, managing director, NICE, does not agree that many people will be displaced. Kheny explained to Frontline that the figure represented the entire population that lived within 5 km on either side of the proposed corridor and not the number of people who would have to be resettled. "As per the study conducted by Metallurgical and Engineering Consultants Limited (MECON) among the project-affected people in order to draw the final resettlement and rehabilitation plan, only 647 families will be ousted for the construction of the expressway, and a further 673 families for the construction of the townships. Of these, the latter can remain in the townships if they like, with all the improved facilities," he said.

The argument, say critics of the project, is flawed because while only 647 families may actually be uprooted, a lot many will be inconvenienced since their fields/villages/towns would be bisected by a 90-metre, limited-access concrete road. Major General Sudhir G. Vombatkere retired, a member of the MGP, explained: "A person whose land will be partly taken may have the expressway dividing and barricading his land. The concrete walls on either side of the road will prevent farmers from crossing. NICE says tunnels for crossing will be built at 500-metre intervals. But while this system works in the West where farmers can afford tractors to take them around their land, here farmers will have to walk across their land to find a tunnel to cross the road and get back to their own land. Essentially, owners lose their right of way."

Vombatkere pointed out that even the mandatory environment impact assessment (EIA) carried out by MECON was flawed. Neither was there adequate data about the people likely to be affected by the project, their families and occupations, nor was there any mention of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme. As per the report, 90 per cent of the area consists of kharab (waste) land. There is hardly any wasteland between Bangalore and Mysore. Government records are outdated, and the land which is defined as kharab is now cultivated with paddy, sugarcane, mango or coconut.

Even if the government is able to convince the farmers to give up their lands, it will solve only part of the problem since hardly around 20 per cent of those who are going to be displaced are land owners the rest are tenant farmers and farmhands. A good percentage of them have for decades been cultivating kharab government lands. Now they could find themselves being denied any rights and thrown out. This, in spite of the fact that they have over the years even begun the process of getting their rights over the land regularised. The government would naturally not acknowledge their claims; it has left it to NICE to sort out the mess. Kheny claimed that he would offer them a compensation package. If they are given inadequate rehabilitation packages, they may migrate to Bangalore to eke out a living, thereby defeating one of the primary purposes of the corridor.

Another problem is that only the head of a family will be compensated. What would happen to the rest of the family, most of whom live off the land? Critics claim that farmers would be evicted even if the project was shelved after the land was acquired as their land would have been alienated from them. Hence people in the project-affected area are being advised to "hang on" to their lands. But the question is, do they all want to? Frontline's investigation indicates that many farmers, especially those close to Bangalore, are prepared to hand over their land if the price is right. But if the price is high, the project may not be financially viable.

Said H. Nagaraj, a farmer of Heggadagere village in Ramanagaram taluk of Bangalore Rural district: "When the government acquired land (at nearby Bidadi) for the Toyota factory, it was compensated at Rs.1.5 lakhs an acre. There the land was undeveloped, here it is good land with ragi, coconut and even rice being grown. If the government offers a good rate, at least Rs.5 lakhs, we are prepared to give our land." Nagaraj asks what small farmers like him can do before the might of the government. "There will be difficulties once the project comes up; crossing cattle will be difficult and we will lose our traditional land," he said.

Said N. Devaraj, another farmer from the village: "Agriculture today is not profitable. The road will be good for us." But he is also aware that any compensation could soon end up being wasted away as has already happened to a number of farmers who received compensation in the Toyota acquisition process.

But the majority of farmers at the other end of the expressway, especially in Srirangapatnam taluk, are against giving away their land. It is understandable since the land is part of the fertile Cauvery basin and agriculture is still a profitable occupation there. Said M. Ramakrishna Gowda, a member of the BMICP Verodhi Ookute and the owner of two acres of farm land in Arekere village: "Our land is our life. We can't take up any other profession. So far we have been employing farmhands; once our land goes, we will become beggars. Let them kill us, but we won't give our land. And neither will we allow them to take the gomtala land (government land that has been traditionally used for grazing) since if that goes where will our cattle graze?"

His is not a lone voice. Puttaswamy Gowda another farmer from Arekere, said: "We are against giving up our lands. The Karnataka government has a bad record of compensating those losing land. And since farmers are giving up their land for not only the expressway but also the townships, why can't we be partners in the new townships?" Most farmers stressed that there was lack of transparency, with no revenue official bothering to provide information such as the extent of land or even the location of the land that is to be acquired from a particular village.

Both NICE and the government have not done themselves much good by stonewalling requests for documents pertaining to the project, which have been stamped confidential. Documents such as the EIA report and the rehabilitation and resettlement package have been kept away from the public; they are not presented even at the farcical public debates. At a public hearing last July in Bangalore, activists were beaten by the police. The National Human Rights Commission has decided to probe the matter and has asked the Police Commissioner of Bangalore to send a report on the incident.

Said Kheny: "We do not want BMICP documents to fall into the hands of people who might use them for unlawful gains. People could obtain power of attorney from these farmers and then gain profits from the sale of lands." Kheny added that documents required by law were made public and also kept at the Pollution Control Board office. "We provided all the documents to the Supreme Court and the High Court. But if people want us to translate 20,000 pages of documents into Kannada and distribute copies to all the affected people, it is impossible."

Not only has lack of information made opponents of the project cagey about it, but the amount of land that is being sought is under scrutiny. Explained Vombatkere: "For a 110-km long, a 90-metre-wide road, the land requirement is 2,500 acres. Even if the 60-metre-wide, 9-km link road, 75-metre-wide, 41-km peripheral road, and the total of 17 interchanges each of 50 acres are added, the land to be used will amount to only 4,326 acres. Why does NICE want 7,000 acres for the expressway? It is thus clear that the land in excess of requirement is being acquired for making real estate profits to offset the certain losses from the expressway." Added H.V. Vasu of KVR: "We are in no doubt that this project has more to do with real estate than highways."

But Kheny defended the decision. "We will execute the expressway first and then consider development of real estate in the townships. In case we do not execute the expressway, the government will hold us in default and take over the land without giving any compensation." As of now NICE will initially be undertaking the first phase of the project, which will mean the construction of the expressway up to Bidadi.

Curiously, NICE has obtained environmental clearance for only the actual expressway component of the project, and not even for the link and peripheral roads or the townships. But, according to Kheny, NICE is not required under the law to get environmental clearance for the townships.

As far as the resettlement and rehabilitation packages for displaced persons are concerned, NICE has been instructed by the government to follow World Bank guidelines. Kheny told Frontline that it would use the "Consent Award" method of compensation. The World Bank report defines this method of compensation, thus: "Consent Award is the amount the Project-Affected Persons (PAP) negotiate with the project authorities, for the loss incurred, on a willing buyer-seller basis." Kheny said that once the amount was agreed upon, a PAP could not go to court for enhancement of the amount. The amount was negotiated between the Government of Karnataka and the owner of the land/structure on a mutually agreed price without preconditions. Given that most of the people who will be affected are poor and illiterate, it will be a minor miracle if they can negotiate a just price.

DESPITE the protests, the government is keen on the project. According to Public Works Minister, Dharam Singh, the government did not want to interfere and make changes in the project. He negated the suggestion that the Karnataka State Road Development Corporation could undertake the project, as its Maharashtra counterpart implemented the Mumbai-Pune Expressway Project.

Chief Minister Krishna told Frontline that the protests were "a natural reaction from landowners and others" and that the law would take its own course. Krishna said that the "quantum of acquisition" would be more or less the same, whether the government or the private sector built the expressway.

There are already three communication corridors between Mysore and Bangalore - SH 17, which is being upgraded to International Road Congress standards with a six-lane highway up to Maddur and a two-lane one between Maddur and Mysore; SH 86 which has been upgraded to be part of NH 209 and NH 212; and the broad gauge railway line, which is being electrified from Bangalore. The most important question asked is whether an expressway is required at all in the sector. According to an independent study carried out by the National Institute of Advanced Studies at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, it will take eight to 10 years to complete the expressway while doubling and electrifying the existing railway line would take only four or five years. (Sources in the Indian Railways said the doubling of the track and electrification could be done in just two years.)

The rail project would cost Rs.500 crores, one-fourth of the cost of the expressway project. The extent of land to be acquired for the rail project is negligible. And also, the rail project will not displace anyone. According to experts, a rail project will be seven times as fuel-efficient as and earn more foreign exchange than the proposed expressway.

The rail project also has other in-built advantages such as less travel time and a high route capacity. The Railways can operate services every 15 or 20 minutes, right into the heart of the two cities, and nearly 4,000 people could travel each way in an hour. According to railway officials, electrification of the double track and upgrading of signalling and traffic control could cut travel time between Bangalore and Mysore to less than 90 minutes. Critics of the BMICP also claim that a railway system is more "socially just, as second class travel would be possible". With the Railways already sanctioning the double line between Bangalore and Ramanagaram, the Karnataka government could continue the trend and double the line up to Mysore, they say.

The heightened social and economic dimensions that the BMICP could throw up, coupled with the growing opposition, could delay the project. Any delay will affect the financial viability of the venture, and this is very much on Kheny's mind as he scouts for financial backers. The government continues to help NICE, even bending the rules (as in the case of the amendment to the KIADB Act). Neither NICE nor the government has transgressed the law. But then, as Vombatkere pointed out, the law may not always serve the cause of natural justice.

Drowning cotton's lifebuoy

The Maharashtra government stands accused of failing to put in place adequate support mechanisms for the State's cotton farmers in a bad year.

THIS harvest season, Nirmala Nehare, a cotton farmer from Dhamanagar village in Wardha, was thrown to the wolves. She was compelled to sell her meagre crop cheap to trader-moneylenders as not only did the climate fail her but the State government refused to pay the full amount immediately while procuring cotton. For peasants like Nirmala already on the brink of bankruptcy, this has meant a further loss.

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Insufficient rain and a vicious pest attack on her crop reduced Nirmala's harvest to eight quintals, a fourth of the normal harvest from her 2.8 hectares of land. Nirmala decided to sell her produce to the moneylender at Rs.1,800 a quintal, instead of selling it to the Maharashtra State Cooperative Cotton Growers' Federation at Rs.2,175. "Our hands are tied. We had to sell it to the trader. The government would pay in four instalments. Right now, they give only Rs.1,400 a quintal, while the rest will be paid next August. We cannot wait. Interest on the Rs.10,000 we borrowed keeps accumulating at Rs.1,000 every month, she says.

Although she was unable to sell her crop to the Cotton Growers' Federation, Nirmala feels that the monopoly cotton procurement scheme (MCPS) offers her some security. "Without it, we would be completely at the mercy of the middlemen; they would lower the prices further. At least now, they cannot offer much less than the State's guaranteed price," she says.

The unique scheme appears to be serving its purpose - to protect cotton farmers from being cheated by traders and to ensure them a fair price for their crop by eliminating middlemen. This despite the State's failure to pay farmers properly this year owing to financial problems. Started in 1972, the scheme has been yielding profits, and until 1995 distributed 75 per cent of the surplus to cotton farmers. Then, international cotton prices started crashing and the scheme accumulated losses of Rs.2,795 crores. Interest on this liability is Rs.1.35 crores a day. This year, for the first time, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) delayed sanctioning the full loan amount of Rs.1,700 crores required by the cotton federation to procure the harvest. So far it has sanctioned only Rs.900 crores.

The Democratic Front (D.F.) government said it would pay only 80 per cent of the Central government's support price for cotton (which is approximately Rs.1,875, but depends on quality). The balance of the price guaranteed by the State (averaging Rs.2,175) is to be paid in three instalments. The Opposition parties were quick to take advantage of the situation. They raised the issue quite forcefully during the Assembly session held in December in Nagpur, the heart of Maharashtra's cotton-growing Vidarbha region. The Bharatiya Janata Party joined the Shetkari Sanghatana, whose leader Sharad Joshi led a rail roko agitation in December, in demanding that the farmers be paid the full support price and the balance of the State guaranteed price later. The government caved in and offered to pay 90 per cent of the support price. Joshi relented and withdrew the agitation.

Ironically, at various points in time, both the free-market proponent Joshi and the predominantly trader-funded BJP have demanded the scrapping of the scheme.

Ever since the MPCS was introduced, a motley group of traders, bureaucrats, politicians and activists have been demanding the scrapping of the scheme. But 30 years later, it still survives. While many would attribute this to vote bank politics, the fact is that the scheme is a major reason why Maharashtra's 30 lakh cotton farmers have managed to stay afloat.

With globalisation worsening the agricultural crisis, farmers' profitability has been eroded severely. Production costs have multiplied in the last decade owing to cuts in input subsidies. Rural credit and infrastructure investment have shrunk. Bank loans account for only 11.7 per cent of agricultural credit, leaving cultivators at the mercy of moneylenders. Farmers have also been squeezed by the fall in market prices owing to imports and price collapses in the international commodity markets. "If the procurement scheme was scrapped, we would all sink. The traders would have a monopoly, as they do for all other crops," says Rajendra Lone from Jamta village in Wardha. "This year, many people have had to sell to traders because it has been a bad harvest and the government is not paying the full amount immediately. Also, some farmers do not want the government to deduct the bank loan amount from the payment. They need money in hand. Otherwise, how will they run their homes?" he says.

Cotton farmers, not only in Maharashtra but also in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab, have been the worst hit by the farming crisis. In 1997-98, a severe pest attack destroyed the crop in Vidarbha, leading to more than 80 suicides. Thousands of suicide cases have been reported in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab's cotton belts as well. A local newspaper reported 35 cases in Vidarbha between April and November 2001. The government, however, tries to attribute the deaths to personal or psychological problems. ''All of us, rich and poor farmers alike, are facing similar hardships. It is just that some choose to end their misery by taking poison. Even large landowners are trying to sell off their land. But there are no takers," says Punjaram More from Mahakal village in Wardha.

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Explaining his declining profitability, Rajendra Lone says production costs for his 15-acre plot were Rs.5,000 an acre. But banks provided only Rs.1,500 an acre as crop loans. The rest of the cost has to be met by borrowing from moneylenders at exorbitant rates of interest varying from 60 to 120 per cent per year. "How are we to manage? Costs keep rising, but prices have fallen by half for most crops. At least cotton prices offered by the government have been steady over the last five years," he says.

Although the MCPS is the only assurance farmers have of a fair price, there are many who think it should be scrapped. Some arguments are purely financial - to contain losses. "Maharashtra's guaranteed price is Rs.425 above the central support price. Moreover, since the international prices have fallen by half since 1995, we are now selling the procured cotton around Rs.1,500 a quintal, a 25 per cent loss," says Sunil Porwal, chairperson of the cotton federation. He feels that losses would be minimised if the monopoly element of the scheme was withdrawn and the State's guaranteed price was reduced to Central support price levels.

However, proponents of the scheme, such as secretary of the Peasants and Workers Party N.D. Patil, argue that the government cannot abandon its responsibility to farmers. "If the monopoly element was removed, the losses would increase. Traders would buy only the best quality cotton in the market, leaving the rest to the government, while the overheads of running the federation would continue. This is an indirect tactic to close down the scheme. Since no political party has the courage to do it outright, they will just make its implementation impossible," he says. The scheme is the only form of social security for Maharashtra's cotton farmers who produce 20 per cent of India's cotton, Patil asserts. "Around 97 per cent of cotton produced in the State is dryland cotton. Totally dependent on nature, cultivation is a gamble for them. This is their only protection," he says.

Sharad Joshi has been demanding that the scheme be abandoned since "it has been unable to secure for Maharashtra's farmers prices that compare favourably with those obtaining in the free markets in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat." Explaining the change in his stand during the December agitation, he says that "it was against the opportunist abandonment of the scheme in times of recession". Porwal says that since Maharashtra's guaranteed price is much higher than those obtained in other States, many traders from elsewhere sell cotton in Maharashtra.

The problem is not with the scheme but with India's trade and agriculture policy, says Kisan Sanghatana leader Vijay Jawandhia. "Indian farmers have not been adequately protected," he says. Domestic prices of cotton have fallen because of a low import tariff level of only 5 per cent on cotton as compared to 60 per cent for sugar, which is backed by a much stronger political lobby, he says. The textile industry lobby is also resisting any rise in import duty on cotton. "The textile industry imports cotton although there are sufficient domestic stocks. But why should millions of farmers be squeezed for the textile industry to run smoothly?" he asks.

Deriding the free trade argument, Jawandhia points out that no such thing exists. International commodity prices have fallen because developed countries continue to protect their agriculture by means of heavy subsidies to farmers and imposing high import tariffs. For instance, Japan has a 1,000 per cent tariff on rice imports. Each farmer in the United States got a subsidy of $29,000 in 1995, a hundred times more than what an average Filipino earns in a year. Subsidies account for 66 per cent of producer prices in Japan, 49 per cent in the European Union countries and 30 per cent in the U.S. Although India is allowed, under the World Trade Organisation agreement, to put up import duties ranging from 100 to 300 per cent on agricultural goods, it has chosen not to protect its farmers.

While farmers struggle to keep their head above water, whether Indian agriculture sinks or not finally depends on what policies the government chooses to adopt. Only by turning the tide on liberalisation can the government prevent small farmers like Nirmala from being left to brave the winds alone.

Kutch, a year after

One year after the earthquake in Gujarat, while much work has been done, reconstruction and rehabilitation remain largely incomplete and inadequate.

TRAVELLING through Kutch a year after the devastating earthquake, the initial impression is one of great activity. Roads are being widened and resurfaced, damaged bridges strengthened, buildings that had hung at dangerous angles have been demolished and the rubble has been cleared. In some rural areas, construction activity is progressing at a fast pace. Work done by the government, local non-governmental organisations and external aid agencies is visible everywhere. Of course, signs of the damage caused by the earthquake remain - mangled lamp-posts, uprooted petrol pumps, electrical transformers that were ripped apart by explosions, and so on.

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Agricultural operations have been aided by a good monsoon and the timely provision of seeds and equipment by the government. It has virtually been ensured that the region will not experience food scarcity.

Immediately after the earthquake, the Gujarat government formed the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA). This was essentially meant to be a coordinating agency. Speaking of the GSDMA's work, Sushma Iyengar of the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan, one of the key administrators of the umbrella NGO organisation Abhiyan, says: "The GSDMA played a critical role. We found it very responsive. We were nervous that it would be like a typical government organisation, but that has not happened."

One of the first things that Dr. P.K. Mishra, Chief Executive Officer of the GSDMA, says while speaking of his organisation is: "The magnitude of the task has to be appreciated." This is not a preamble to bureaucratic excuses but a realistic reminder of the enormity of the devastation. Latest government estimates put the death roll at 13,800 (about 11,000 of these deaths took place in Kutch). As many as 2.4 lakh houses were destroyed, while the loss in terms of livestock and agricultural production is yet to be assessed fully. Says Mishra: "In the first four months we had to include all sectors - housing, infrastructure (both physical and social) and livelihood. Simultaneously we started a five-step process of making cash doles, conducting a preliminary survey of the damage, making a technical assessment of it, opening bank accounts in the name of victims, and handing over cheques."

It is no wonder that most people give the GSDMA full marks for the work done in the first four or five months after the earthquake. The criticism concerns the period after this. There are two aspects to the rehabilitation work that need detailed examination. One is the issue of shelter and the other, of health.

According to Sudershan Iyengar, Director, Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR), the rehabilitation package is a failure. He says that his opinion is based on research done by his organisation, which has been engaged by the GSDMA for social research documentation and process documentation of the rehabilitation. Initial research indicates four areas of concern in the rehabilitation package.

One is the economic rehabilitation of the physically disabled. The second is their physical rehabilitation. The third concerns tenants, a category of people who initially found themselves in a situation in which they were not eligible for any recompense. (However, Sudershan Iyengar says that the government has agreed to recognise tenants and that "something is being given to them".) The fourth problem concerns the categorisation of damage. "The engineering logic in the categorisation is understandable, but the administrative logic is not," he says. "Category 5 relates to 'Demolish and Reconstruct' and Category 4 'Repairs'. Between these two categories there is scope for manipulation since the value difference between them is about Rs.40,000. Consequently, what happens is that structures that should be in Category 4 appear in 5. The solution to this was to encourage greater transparency in the assessment process by including a local representative, a panchayat member, an NGO representative and a government official on the assessment committee. The category declaration was to be made publicly. This procedure was suggested at a workshop on November 27, by which time most damage assessment had been completed," says Sudarshan Iyengar. He is critical of the approach taken for long-term rehabilitation and voices the opinion of a large number of people when he says that "rehabilitation is a difficult process. You have to be with the people, talk to them. You cannot just impose new housing, new structures, and new ways of life on them. For appropriate rehabilitation the consultation process is long and tedious. But it is necessary."

One of the areas assigned to the GIDR is Anjar taluk, which is remembered for the mass death of schoolchildren who were taking part in a Republic Day parade when the earthquake struck. Dr. Shyam Sundar of Anjar says that while the rehabilitation process has been long and tedious, none of the benefits are as yet visible. The surgeon, who owns a nursing home in Anjar town, has spearheaded a campaign for an adequate rehabilitation package. According to him, what is offered at present is not only inadequate but incomplete. It has spurred him and other citizens of Anjar to form an NGO, Group 2001, which was registered in March. Group 2001 has asked the government for a geological and seismological study of the affected areas and a package that is concomitant with the findings.

Formed with the purpose of ensuring that the people of Kutch get their due, Group 2001 is persuading people to relocate to a safer place. Anjar is one of the few towns whose people wish to relocate. "There was a major earthquake here some decades ago and much was lost then," explains Sundar. "At that time many people shifted to an area that is referred to as New Anjar - practically alongside the old town. We want to persuade people to shift out of old Anjar which lies on the fault line and into new Anjar."

CURRENTLY, Package 5 is applicable to the four affected towns of Kutch. But draft development plans have been published only for Rapar, Anjar and Bhachau (they are not acceptable to the residents), while the package for Bhuj is under review. Group 2001 wants the government to release an appropriate development plan for all the affected places.

Even under Package 5, none of the affected people has been given aid for construction (apart from the aid for building temporary shelters). Says Sundar: "Worse still is the fact that even if people want to forgo the aid and begin construction, they are not allowed to build houses with their own money because the Area Development Authority has not yet finalised the rules and norms for construction. Is it any surprise that people are going ahead with their own construction even though they know that these could be declared illegal once the development plan is announced. In such a situation, corruption is bound to take root." In Bhachau town, for instance, the roadsides are lined by shabby structures made of corrugated sheets, tattered canvas, broken tiles and other assorted materials. These structures, though they are illegal, constitute prime real estate. Measuring about three square metres, each tenement is rented out at about Rs.1,500 a month. The 'landlords' are members of the local construction mafia and the tenants are earthquake victims who eke out a living by doing some petty business.

Part of Package 5 involves the appointment of town planning consultants. It is one of the reasons why Group 2001 has rejected the package. "It is unbelievable that the government has hired a private consultancy firm to assess public opinion about relocation and town planning. All of old Anjar wants to relocate. Why does the government bother to spend Rs.80 lakhs from earthquake relief funds to pay the consultancy fees of a company whose employees cannot even speak the local language?" asks Sundar. He says that residents of old Anjar are willing to shift to a site near new Anjar but the consultancy firm is recommending a site further away. Sundar alleges that at the meetings called to discuss town planning, "only municipal councillors-cum-builders are invited. None of those who have lost their houses is called to participate."

Even the Rs.24.51 crores that has been disbursed to 22,616 families of Bhuj, Bhachau, Rapar and Anjar for the construction of temporary shelters has caused disconent. Seated in the tin shed which is her house, Shanta Gohil confirms the receipt of Rs.7,000 as part of the first instalment for her family. "We were actually supposed to receive Rs.12,000 but since they gave patra (tin sheets) to build the house, they cut off about Rs.5,000." The actual construction of the house was done with the help of the tailor community, to which she belongs.

ONE of the main points of criticism about the rehabilitation process is regarding housing for the poor. Prasad Chacko of the Behavioural Science Centre, an organisation that looks at housing, especially for socially marginalised communities, believes that the rehabilitation package has neglected the poorer communities. "Cheques have been given to the people but the amounts are ridiculously low. There is no way the poorer sections can build earthquake-resistant houses with what they have been given. We are questioning the policy behind these disbursements," he said.

Also criticised has been the use of funds. According to the Government's estimates, about Rs.8,000 crores to Rs.10,000 crores will be needed for a three-year period of rehabilitation in which housing will be completed. Protesting against this, Kirtee Shah, an architect, says: "If this huge investment just creates what was lost, then you have gained nothing. All that was lost was the creation of decades and decades - sometimes even centuries. If you merely replace it, then what have you gained in terms of technology and other expertise? Therefore the government is expected not just to reconstruct houses and villages but to give the whole region a new face. It has to address the problems of water scarcity, poverty and unemployment. A whole new policy and strategy is required."

Shah is the honorary director of the Ahmedabad Study Action Group (ASAG), which was formed 30 years ago by a group of professionals who decided to work for social causes. He is also the founder of the Home Losers Service Association of Ahmedabad, an organisation formed after the January 26, 2001 earthquake to provide professional services to affected families. According to Shah, 90 per cent of the construction work in the city is illegal - most of it being Floor Space Index (FSI) violations. The dilemma of the reconstruction process in Ahmedabad is that if the new structures are built within the ambit of the law, then a large number of people will be houseless. ASAG's solution is to let people who were affected by the earthquake build exactly the same structures they lost and employ strict construction regulations for construction in the future.

In a December 7 letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Sundar points to the growing feeling that basic issues are taking too long to be resolved. He wrote: "We look forward to the Central government for our rights. We expect you at the Centre to take the initiative and expedite things. Do something to reduce our misery. We want our normal lives back again. Don't let us down."

A balancing act

Home Minister L.K. Advani succeeds in conveying to the U.S. India's concerns about Pakistan-supported cross-border terrorism but his hosts are unwilling to displease President Pervez Musharraf.

HOME Minister L.K. Advani's visit to Washington was an event that both India and the United States had been looking forward to. From India's perspective, Advani is articulate and sharp in his assessments and, as Home Minister, is in a better position than anyone else to talk about the terrorism-related problems faced by the country. And, in the view of Washington, Advani is a senior functionary within the Bharatiya Janata Party, a known hawk and a potential prime ministerial candidate.

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Advani met the top line-up in Washington, including President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, Attorney-General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Besides interactions with the media in Washington, Advani had a luncheon meeting with scholars, think tanks and government officials who are interested in South Asian affairs. And, as some of his colleagues have done in the past, the Home Minister met American Jewish leaders over dinner.

From a bilateral point of view, Advani and his delegation, which included the Home Secretary and the head of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), had their work cut out. The focus was on fine-tuning some of the mechanisms that had been worked out in the past three years. These included treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance, a joint working group on terrorism and a joint initiative on cyber terrorism.

There were at least two other aspects that merited attention. First, Advani and his delegation are said to have given to the Justice Department copious material on 20 terrorists most wanted for acts of terrorism in India. The documents included a "list" of people who may be of "interest" to other countries such as the U.S. too. Secondly, there was concern over the fate of Indian nationals who were detained in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks in Washington and New York. Many of them are said to be visa violators. The Bush administration maintains that they can be given consular access only if they ask for it and that it follows the Vienna Convention in dealing with them.

The three-day visit had little of atmospherics and a lot of substance. At the end of the day, the U.S. and India had a better understanding of each other's position. The visitors gave the Bush administration a rather elaborate picture of the problem of terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism, in the subcontinent, and conveyed the message that there will be no forward movement on the ground unless Islamabad followed up its statements with substantive action.

The Republican administration too had a message, which was articulated by the President and the Secretary of State. It was plain and simple: Washington was prepared to apply more pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to take action against terrorists but India should also take some reciprocal steps. The argument in some circles is that after sustaining terror outfits for two decades Pakistan cannot crack the whip and expect results in a matter of days. In fact, even while appreciating the Bush administration's actions in the past few weeks, congressional sources do not want Musharraf to be pushed over the edge - a prospect that the White House is concerned about and wants countries like India to understand.

Advani's agenda was clear-cut. He was looking at issues from global, regional and bilateral angles. But much as he may have wanted to move away from a terrorism-centric agenda, it worked out just that way in the end. However, for the record it is maintained that the visit addressed the broader aspects of Indo-American relations, which have acquired new depth and width in the past two years.

At his press conferences at the White House, the State Department and the Indian Embassy and in his address to a gathering of Indian Americans, Advani focussed on the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. The bottom line of his message was that Islamabad should abandon terrorism as an instrument of state policy. He told his hosts gently but firmly that Musharraf would be judged not by what he said but by what he did.

The high point of Advani's visit was his meeting with Bush, who dropped by at the meeting between the Home Minister and Condoleeza Rice. Addressing the media at the White House, Advani said: "By and large I would say that this most important meeting of my trip brought me immense satisfaction. The President is determined to see what he has been saying since September 11 is actually implemented." But he insisted that Bush did not repeat what he has been saying all along - that India should "take note" of the steps taken by Musharraf on the terrorism front. "At least today nothing was said in this manner but by and large India has to take note of everything, whatever has been happening," he said in reply to a question. In his view, there has not been any let-up in cross-border terrorism.

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At a packed press conference at the Embassy of India on the day he met Powell and Ashcroft, Advani accused Pakistan of fomenting trouble in Jammu and Kashmir and ridiculed Musharraf's statements drawing a distinction between terrorists and freedom fighters. "To call a terrorist a freedom fighter is really something incomprehensible and unacceptable," he said.

With the presence of the armies of India and Pakistan on the border, "not even a stray dog" can cross over unless it has been facilitated by the state, Advani said. At all his engagements in Washington, he issued a blunt warning to Pakistan: "We shall not take another betrayal. Pakistan must act - sincerely, decisively, demonstrably and speedily."

The "touchstone" of Islamabad's sincerity, according to Advani, will be the way it responds to the four "legitimate" demands of India. The demands were: hand over the 20 terrorists, many of them Indian nationals, mentioned in the list submitted by India; close all facilities, including training camps, provided to terrorists and stop direct and indirect assistance to them; stop sending arms and men into Jammu and Kashmir and other areas in India; and renounce terrorism in all its manifestations, categorically and unambiguously.

If Advani and his delegation learnt something about the Republican administration during their visit, it is the way in which its political cards are played. On the day Advani criticised Pakistan and all it stood for, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "The President is appreciative of the actions taken by President Musharraf. President Musharraf has taken some positive steps... The President believes there's additional work and President Musharraf is moving forward. And the President reminds all in the region that the war there is against terrorism, and not a war between India and Pakistan."

The Bush administration's faith in Musharraf seemed to have been reinforced by his address to the people of Pakistan on January 12. This was evident from the reported statement by a senior State Department official that the speech provided "a basis for both sides to ratchet down the tension". The speech, according to the official, "marks a break with the violence of the past in Kashmir and Pakistani society as a whole".

At the same time, Washington's approach was tempered by an element of caution. A day before Musharraf's much-expected speech, Powell said: "The Indians are looking for action and substance as well as the right policy statements and so tomorrow is an important day... I think it's also important to note that you can't expect every action to be taken at the same time you're giving a speech, which is a policy statement, and so I've been saying to the Indians, let's see what President Musharraf says and let's see what actions are taken at the time of the speech and also after the speech." The Secretary of State also made it clear that the speech should not be seen as a total response on the part of Musharraf.

Not endgame yet

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The December 13 attack on Parliament could have consequences that go far beyond the event itself, but investigators have made little progress after the initial round of arrests.

HARD evidence of a Pakistani role in the December 13 attack on Parliament House is not available in New Delhi, or even Srinagar. Investigators say it is hidden away in computers in the United States and West Germany.

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Two weeks ago, India handed over to the international police organisation, Interpol, records of cellphone calls made by the five terrorists involved in the attack. Although officials are tight-lipped about the details, informed sources told Frontline that the records contain information on dozens of calls made by the terrorists to contacts in Karachi, Dubai, Germany and the U.S. The records start from mid-November 2001, when the first member of the attack cell arrived in New Delhi, and end minutes before the attack. Many of the calls were made to cellphones with international roaming facilities, which means the people who received the calls may not have been in the countries in which their phone connections were obtained.

Interpol, officials say, has now passed on requests for information on just who used the numbers to which the calls were made. While experience suggests that little cooperation can be expected from the authorities in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, the information that will most certainly come in from the U.S. and Germany may prove interesting. International roaming telephone accounts generally require some form of identification, and the bills may have been paid for with credit cards. Privacy laws in these countries make it necessary for the police authorities to obtain warrants for such computer records, which is a time-consuming process. However, when the evidence does arrive it will provide solid proof of just who ran the attack cell and where they were actually based.

Little has been thrown up in the form new information by the continuing interrogation of the four principal suspects arrested for their role in the conspiracy. Mohammad Afzal Ansari and his cousin Shaukat Ansari, the New Delhi-based businessmen alleged to have provided safehouses and transport for the terrorists, have been able to throw little light on the Pakistan linkages of the group. On the basis of their statements, officials now believe that one of the five terrorists, who used the code-name Rana, was from Liaqatabad in the Pakistan province of Punjab. Mohammad, the leader of the cell, and Raja, were also ethnic Punjabi but residents of Karachi. The Ansari cousins told investigators that Tufail and Hyder, the other members of the attack group, were relatively uncommunicative.

Another question on which the interrogations have cast some light is when the attack cell arrived in India. The Ansari cousins and the Delhi University teacher Syed Abdul Rahman Jeelani are believed to have told investigators that Mohammad claimed he had crossed the Line of Control in August 2000 and that he was engaged in at least three major encounters with the security forces, two in the forests of Ajas and Lam. The other four members came later, in August or September 2001. It is possible, given the timing of its arrival, that this second group was brought in with the specific task of attacking Parliament. There has, however, been no progress in locating the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) commander, Shahbaz Khan, better known by his alias Ghazi Baba, who issued the final orders for the attack. Nor have investigators succeeded in locating Mohammad Tariq, the go-between who handled communications between Khan and the Ansaris.

It is unlikely, of course, that the whole truth about the attack will ever become known except in the improbable eventuality of India managing to secure the extradition of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar was detained in Pakistan in late December along with three of his brothers, reportedly on charges of sedition. There is, however, no word on where he is being held. If, as some observers believe, the attack on Parliament House was intended to undermine the regime of President General Pervez Musharraf, it is hard to understand why he has been so unwilling to take more decisive action against Azhar and other key JeM leaders. Lashkar-e-Toiba(LeT) leaders have been similarly arrested on sedition charges, not for terrorism-related crimes.

Pakistan's demands for proof against the Lashkar and the Jaish are strange for more reasons than one. First, it has proved willing to bypass its judicial system to hand over terrorism suspects to the U.S. without any extradition procedure. Even if India cannot expect the grovelling reserved for the sole superpower, it does have reason to expect that suspects for whom Interpol red corner alerts exist will be detained and a case for their extradition presented before the courts. In cases like those of Dawood Ibrahim or the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814, both independently documented to be in Pakistan, that has not happened. In some cases, even that is not needed. All that is required to subject Hizbul Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah to the law is that Pakistan withdraw his visa, since he is an Indian national. The JeM's Syed Ahmad Umar Sheikh is a British national who holds a dual Pakistan passport, which that country is entitled to withdraw.

The supposed crackdown on terrorist groups in December in Pakistan needs to be read against this wider context of continued state support for terrorist groups. Consider, for example, the fact that the LeT's website and Muridke campus remain open despite the arrest of its chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. In a December 6 article, the organisation proclaimed that the "arrest of Jihadic (sic) leaders in Pakistan has failed to dampen the Jihadic spirit of the Mujahideen who have stepped up their activities". The article claimed that the organisation's Fidayeen-e-Kitab-o-Sunnah (beloved of the holy book) had attacked an Army firing range in Kangra, near the Punjab town of Pathankot. It also proclaimed responsibility for three other attacks in late December, all on Indian military targets. It is significant that a Pakistan-based organisation has claimed responsibility for acts of war against the Indian state at a time of escalating military tension.

Nor does Musharraf's much advertised crackdown on the finances of terrorist groups seem to have hurt them in any significant way. Action was ordered after the Islamabad-based newspaper The News reported on January 1 that "the frozen accounts had a balance of $190,554 and close to (Pakistan) Rs.10 million until December 20". An official decision to freeze the accounts in phases ensured that the money could be moved out. In the end, two frozen accounts of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen were found to have just Rs.4,742, of the JeM Rs.900, that of the Al Rashid Trust, which handles finances for the Taliban and the LeT, Rs.27 lakh and $30. Contrast these figures with the $33.7 million frozen in the U.S., 63 million frozen in the United Kingdom and the 2.7 million frozen in France.

Conventional wisdom has it that Musharraf simply does not have the power to act against the Islamist Far Right, and is doing the best he can under the circumstances. While the arrests of terrorist cadre have been widely reported, it has gone almost unnoticed that many of those detained have been let off following pressure. A day after the Faisalabad Police picked up over two dozen cadre activists of the Tehrik-i-Jaferia Pakistan, the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and the LeT on the orders of the Provincial Home Department, all were released unconditionally. Release orders were issued after Tehreek and Sipah leaders met the Punjab Governor, a sign of their political clout and official influence.

Others, however, believe that Musharraf's apparent post-December 13 volte-face is deceptive. Writing in the Friday Times' May 24 issue, its Editor Najam Sethi argued that the "Musharraf model seeks to covertly ally with the jehadi groups while overtly keeping the mainstream religious parties out of the power loop". "This," he suggested, "is to enhance and sustain its covert external agenda, while internally maintaining an overtly moderate anti-fundamentalist stance for the comfort of the international community whose economic support is critical to Pakistan's financial viability." As security analyst and former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) official B. Raman has pointed out in a recent article, this is of a piece with Pakistan's standing tactics. After former U.S. President Bill Clinton placed it on the watch list of suspected state sponsors of terrorism, Pakistan clamped down on jehadi groups. Once off the list, it was business as usual for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

In important but little-understood ways, this strategy makes complete sense. Pakistan's support to and sponsorship of terrorist groups have given it a strategic edge over India, imposing significant military and political costs on the latter. As Musharraf pointed out in his intercepted conversations during the Kargil War, violence in the region had ensured rapid internationalisation of the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. The attack on Parliament House has led a confused Indian government to seek U.S. assistance to curb Pakistan. In time, the bill shall be presented for any assistance extended by the U.S. That may come in the form of demands for India to make significant political concessions on Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan. Most important, India's well-founded policy of rejecting third-party mediation in the Kashmir issue has been undermined significantly.

December 13, then, could have consequences that go far beyond the event itself. So far India has sought to put pressure on Pakistan for the extradition of suspects by means of the threat of military action. Few people, however believe that the execution of the threat is even possible, let alone desirable. For all the public bravado, Army officials privately make clear that there is little prospect of obtaining the kinds of decisive territorial gains that would compel Pakistan to accept India's political demands. Politicians also accept that in a nuclear South Asia, the risks of such a confrontation spiralling out of control are just too high. Musharraf will, for the moment, make enough concessions to keep the U.S. happy. Should he choose, however, to call India's military bluff by refusing to extradite the December 13 suspects, the political and strategic establishment could find it has no further cards to play.

India's most wanted

PRAVEEN SWAMI cover-story

The 20 terrorists whose extradition from Pakistan India has demanded, and the charges against them.

FOR reasons bureaucrats alone understand, the list of 20 terrorists whom India has sought from Pakistan remains something of a secret. Media accounts of just who they are have been at variance from one another on several counts, minor and major. The confusion has been compounded by the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) claims that only suspects for whom Interpol red corner notices exist have been sought, for this is not the case with all those who are mentioned in the lists sources are making available to journalists. While Pakistan and the United States can be trusted with the secret, it would appear, Indians cannot. Not surprisingly, there is at least some suspicion that the details are being kept deliberately vague, in order to work out a mutually acceptable bargain. The suspicion is strengthened by the fact that while the list contains the names of some top terrorists, others on it are relatively irrelevant.

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Informed sources in New Delhi provided Frontline with their account of the list of 20, shortened, they said, from a preliminary list of 42 that was prepared by the Union Home Ministry. In addition, the list below profiles Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) Chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who by some account features on the official list.

I. Terrorists from Jammu and Kashmir

Mohammad Yusuf Shah (Hizbul Mujahideen): Better known by his somewhat vain nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, Shah has led the Hizbul Mujahideen since November 11, 1991. A resident of Soibugh, and an unsuccessful Muslim United Front candidate in the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections, Shah is a long standing member of the Jamaat-i-Islami Kashmir. Before taking over the Hizb's Muzaffarabad-based command, he acted as its Amir-i-Zila (district commander) from late 1989.

Conventional wisdom has it that when the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir started, it was almost exclusively led by the secular-nationalist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Things were not, in fact, quite that simple. The Hizb drew its first cadre from within the JKLF, with Mohammad Ashraf Dar, Maqbool Illahi and Abdullah Bangroo starting the pro-Pakistan organisation on instructions from the Jamaat leadership. Dar, however, soon fell foul of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and was hounded out of the Hizb, opening the way for Salahuddin. Now things seem to have come full circle: Shah is at war with his own Valley-based commanders, notably Abdul Majid Dar, who believe that Pakistan has imposed its agenda on their struggle.

Major cases:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the state of the Jammu & Kashmir Police at the time, there are no first information reports against Shah relating to crimes committed prior to 1991. It was only in 1997-1998 that the State police made serious efforts to build a legal case against him.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed (LeT): On paper, Saeed has never engaged in any terrorist act. He is the head of the Markaz Dawa wa'al-Irshad, an organisation committed to proselytisation, and which happens to be the patron of the LeT. The Markaz itself was an offshoot of the ultra-conservative Jamait Ahl-e-Hadis, a branch of radical Sunni thought which holds that only the sayings and doings of the Prophet Mohammad, his followers and family members form the sole basis of Islam. It rejects the mainstream idea of ijtema, the interpretation of tradition to address actually existing circumstances.

Saeed's rise was in large measure the outcome of patronage by the Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who granted the Markaz its sprawling campus at Muridke near Lahore. It helped raise cadre and funds for Haq's Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored campaign against the Soviet Union and the socialist government in Afghanistan. In 1991, the Lashkar was set up to give the ISI a direct role in terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir. Within two years, it set up a number of cells in Jammu and Kashmir and through India. From the outset, the Lashkar has made it clear that it sees the war in Jammu and Kashmir as just a stepping stone to establishing Islamic rule throughout South Asia.

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In the wake of the recent ban imposed on the LeT by the United States and Pakistan, Saeed announced that the LeT had shifted its headquarters to Kashmir, and that the Markaz itself would restrict its activities to Pakistan. The announcement is disingenuous since the Lashkar has for a long time had offices in Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir, notably at the Sawai Nall at Muzaffarabad. It has also run launching camps from Lipa, Duhnihal, Athmuqam, Jura and Chikoti.

Major cases:

None in India. Reported to be facing sedition charges in Pakistan.

Abdul Karim "Tunda" (LeT): Until his disappearance off Indian intelligence radar from Bangladesh two years ago, Abdul Karim was the top field operative of the LeT's all-India outfit, the Dasta Mohammad bin Qasim. He reported to the Lashkar's head of all-India operations, Azam Cheema, who in turn acts under the instructions of the organisation's overall commander of military operations, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi.

Nick-named Tunda for a handicap in his left arm, sustained in the course of a bomb-building accident, Abdul Karim's association with the Islamic Right predates his association with Lashkar. Residents of Bhiwani (Maharashtra) Jalees Ansari and Karim and Nizamabad-based Azam Ghauri, then residents of Mumbai, set up a Muslim self-defence committee in the wake of the Bhiwandi riots. All of them were later recruited by the ISI, and trained in Pakistan in the early 1990s. Ansari is now in jail, while Ghauri was shot dead in an encounter in 2000.

Karim's key success was in discovering young recruits to do his work. New Delhi resident Aamer Hashim, operating under the alias Kamran, was responsible for a series of bomb blasts in New Delhi and Jalandhar in 1996 and 1997. Other agents have been brought in directly from Pakistan. On July 1, 1998, Intelligence Bureau surveillance led to the arrest of top Lashkar activist Mohammad Salim Junaid, with 16 kg of RDX (research department explosive) in his possession. Junaid, a resident of Kala Gujran village in Pakistan's Jhelum district, started his career in 1991.

Major cases:

Named in dozens of FIRs relating to the Delhi bomb blasts, and the bombing of trains.

II. The Indian Airlines IC-814 hijackers

Mohammad Masood Azhar (Jaish-e-Mohammad): Masood Azhar was an unlikely candidate to make it to any 'most wanted' list: in 1989 he was forced to drop out of his first, and only, arms training course with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen because he was overweight. But by 1993, he was second only to the Harkat chief Fazlur Rehman Khalil, having established himself as a fund-raiser and ideologue. After his release in the IC-814 for hostages-for-prisoners swap in December 1999, he went on to found the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), arguably the most feared terrorist group in Jammu and Kashmir today.

Azhar was born as the third of 11 children on August 7, 1968 to Allah Baksh Sabir Alvi, a Bahawalpur schoolteacher who ran a poultry farm after his retirement. Dropping out of school after Class VII, he joined the ultra-orthodox Binori seminary in Karachi and then he went on to join the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. He edited its magazine, Sada-i-Mujahid. He travelled abroad extensively on fund-raising missions, and was later tasked to visit India to preside over the formal unification of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Having arrived in New Delhi on January 29, 1994, on a fake Portuguese passport, he travelled on to the Kashmir Valley, from where he was arrested on February 16.

Several attempts were made to secure Azhar's release by means of kidnappings, notably one by Syed Omar Sheikh, released along with him in the IC-814 deal. Sheikh, a British national and London School of Economics graduate, remains Azhar's closest aide. Azhar, however, was not charged for his role in these attempts. Both Jaish leaders have close links with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Taliban supremo Mullah Mohammad Omar and Azhar were taught at the Binori seminary by Mullah Nazimuddin Shamzai, the religious leader who acts as the patron of the Jaish. Sheikh is believed to have remitted $100,000 to the World Trade Centre suicide bomber Mohammad Atta.

Major cases:

FIR No. 1 of 1993, filed by Counter-Intelligence, Jammu and Kashmir Police, under Section 3&4 of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. No FIRs, however, have been registered for subsequent JeM attacks.

Mohammad Ibrahim Athar Alvi, Zahoor Ibrahim Mistri, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Shakir Mohammad and Azhar Yusuf: There is little available background material on the five hijackers of flight IC-814 sought by India. All are believed to be members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and now the JeM. Ibrahim Athar Alvi is Masood Azhar's brother. The JeM chief's interrogation report records his being 28 years of age in 1994. Azhar told his interrogators that his younger brother spent most of his time working at the family-run poultry farm. Alvi, along with Azhar and three other brothers, is reported to have been arrested on sedition charges in Pakistan on December 31, 2001. There has since been no independent confirmation of their whereabouts.

Major cases:

Kidnapping and the murder of IC-814 passenger Rupin Katyal.

III. The Mumbai serial bombings

Dawood Ibrahim, 'Chhota' Shakeel Ahmad Babu, Sagir Sabir Ali Sheikh, Abdul Razzaq and Ishaq Atta Hussain: Everyone knows the story. Incensed by Hindu fundamentalist attacks on Muslims during the Shiv Sena-led Mumbai pogrom of 1992-1993, dependent on the ISI for keeping his narcotics operations open after gold and silver decontrol knocked the bottom out of his traditional business, India's most famous underworld figure did what he had to do. He allowed his apparatus to be used for India's worst terrorist outrage so far - the Mumbai serial bombings of 1993.

If Dawood Ibrahim's central role in the Mumbai bombings is well documented - and his subordinates used their contacts to ship in explosives, and then set them off at key installations through the city - most people are still unfamiliar with the mass of evidence that the CBI has collected of Pakistan's direct complicity in the operation. Twenty-seven cartons of explosives recovered from him in March, 1992, bore the markings of Packsile Packages in Lahore. The markings were traced to the Wah Nobel Factory at Wah, which manufactures explosives. Since governments concerned monitor sales of large consignments of explosives, it took little to see what had gone on. The Austrian Federal Ministry for the Interior confirmed in an April 1993 letter that the HG-72 grenades used by the bombers were made on equipment sold by Ulbrichts between 1969 and 1971 to the Pakistan military supply firm of Akhtar and Hofmann.

No wonder, then, that Pakistan officials repeatedly denied India assertions that Ibrahim was in Karachi - until a series of reports in the Pakistan press in 2001 blew the lid off.

Major cases:

Dawood Ibrahim and his associates are faced with a welter of Mumbai serial blasts cases. Many of them also face additional charges. Sagir Sheikh and Ishaq Atta Hussain, for example, are charged with a September 2001 attempt to assassinate Union Home Minister L.K. Advani. He also faces charges of jumping bail, and an Arms Act case from 1997. Ibrahim's top associate, Shakeel, is also wanted for crimes including the murder and attempted murder of Shiv Sena politicians and for weapons running.

'Tiger' Ibrahim Abdul Razzaq Memon and Ayub Memon: The guests at the wedding of the oldest Memon brother at the Islam Gymkhana in south Mumbai must have thought the family had everything going for it. The wedding had a full cast of film stars, including Jackie Shroff, and cricket heroes like Mohammad Azharuddin. Reports of the event filled the glamour columns of the Mumbai afternoon papers for weeks.

Not long after, things went awfully wrong. Most people reckon that the Memon family's problem was its thuggish son 'Tiger', and his younger brother Ayub. Tiger, the CBI believes, was the moving force behind the Mumbai serial bombings. The explosives recoveries, which proved crucial to cracking the case, were made from his home. More damning evidence came from Yakub Memon, who along with his family chose to return to India after spending three months in Pakistan. Tiger, however, remains firmly committed to his cause. In 1995, he is known to have met Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front leader Hilal Baig to discuss collaboration in terrorist operations in India. The JKIF subsequently carried out a series of explosions in New Delhi, although it is unclear if Tiger Memon had anything to do with these.

Major cases: All related to the Mumbai serial bombings. IV. The Khalistan terrorists

Paramjit Singh Panjwar (Khalistan Commando Force): Panjwar is believed to be about 40 years old and belongs to the village of Panjwar, near Tarn Taran. Until 1986, when he joined the Khalistan Commando Force, he worked at the Central Cooperative Bank in Sohal. Shortly after taking charge of the KCF in the 1990s, after the elimination of its commander, one-time police constable 'General' Labh Singh, Panjwar left for Pakistan. His wife and children relocated themselves in Germany. With his close links to top Punjab smugglers like Bhola Thanthian and Pargat Singh Narli, Panjwar has worked to keep the KCF alive using revenues raised from cross-border heroin traffic.

Major cases:

Ten FIRs registered from 1989 to 1990, including seven counts of murder and two under TADA.

Wadhawa Singh (Babbar Khalsa International): A resident of Sadhu Chattha village near Kapurthala, Wadhawa Singh started his political life as a member of Punjab's naxalite movement. Like some members of the ultra-left movement, its defeat led him to lurch to the far-right. By 1978, motivated by top Khalistan movement figure Tarsem Singh Kalasanghian, Wadhawa Singh joined the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, and went on to become one of the founders of the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), operating its network from Pakistan along with his brother Mahal Singh. The BKI has shown greater resilience than other terrorist groups in Punjab, owing both to its support among non-resident Indians and its contact with the ISI.

Major cases:

The most important charge against Wadhawa Singh is that he ordered the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. The prosecution of other conspirators in that case is proceeding, but Indian law does not provide for trials of suspects without their presence. Four other cases were registered against Wadhawa Singh in 1981 on charges of murder.

Lakhbir Singh Rode: Rode's Punjab Police dossier describes him as a "hardcore terrorist". While his name did inspire fear in Punjab once upon a time, it was more the consequence of his political influence and kinship rather than direct armed action. Now aged about 50, Rode is a nephew of the feared revanchist preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who plunged Punjab into the Khalistan movement. He joined the movement in 1982, having returned to the State after spending five years in Dubai. He fled India to Dubai in 1986, and after arranging to send his family to Canada, went on to Pakistan. Rode continues to be something of a cult figure - and successful fund-raiser - among Khalistan supporters in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada.

Major cases:

None. The sole FIR lodged against Rode is of April 19, 1984, at the Moga police station. This accuses Rode of several minor crimes, including trespass and causing damage in excess of Rs.50 to property.

Gajinder Singh (Dal Khalsa): Gajinder Singh came into public notice after he hijacked an Indian Airlines flight to Lahore in 1981. The hijacking was carried out to protest against the arrest of Bhindranwale earlier that year for his alleged role in the assassination of Hind Samachar Editor Lala Jagat Narain. The hijacker was given a life sentence but served only a few years in jail before being granted asylum in Pakistan. The hijacking was one of five such acts carried out by pro-Khalistan groups. Pakistan's direct involvement in these outrages was revealed after the 1984 hijacking, when West German officials confirmed that a pistol used by the terrorists was part of an official military consignment that had been sent to that country.

Meanwhile, in India, Gajinder Singh's organisation, the Dal Khalsa, was banned in 1982, but was allowed to restart overground activity a decade later. On August 11, 2001, Gajinder Singh was elected chief of the organisation, although he remains in Pakistan.

Major cases:

Continues to be wanted for the 1981 hijacking.

Ranjit Singh Neeta (Khalistan Zindabad Force): A resident of Ward 2 in Jammu city's Sumbal Camp area, Neeta is the only Khalistan terrorist to be still active among the five whom India has demanded from Pakistan. He started his career as a small-time criminal, and developed contacts with smugglers in the R.S. Pora and Samba areas. Neeta's Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) has close links with the ISI, and is committed to joint action with Jammu and Kashmir terrorist groups, notably the Hizbul Mujahideen. Despite recent losses - Neeta's second in command, Amritpal Singh Romi, was killed in an encounter in 2000 - the KZF remains active.

Major cases:

Neeta's name figures in over half a dozen FIRs filed after bomb blasts on trains and buses running between Jammu and Pathankot between 1988 and 1999. The most recent one was filed by the Kathua police in October 2001, for the assassination of Deputy Superintendent of Police Devinder Sharma.

Debating the dangers

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

Of the revival of secular sentiment in Pakistan, impressions from a fortnight-long visit.

A TRIP to Pakistan, while troops of India and Pakistan were massed on the frontiers of the two countries, yielded insights one could scarcely have gained in rich nuances in normal times. There were, most remarkably, no cries for war or belligerent action against India. Nor were the political parties vying with one another in striking patriotic postures. There was no sign of panic. But there was concern lest the situation got out of hand; most thought that it would not. Regret was universal at what was perceived as India's recourse to threat of war. A good few were even bitter that Pakistan's nuclear armoury, though small as compared to India's, provided considerable assurance of security.

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It was on the issue of terrorism that one heard comments that find scant space in the Indian press. There is not one journalist of any significance, not one public figure of any standing - bar the 'usual suspects' in the jamaatis and jehadis - who had anything but scorn for the terror tactics used by these outfits within Pakistan itself. The 'fundos' - as the fundamentalists are derisively called - have overshot their mark. It would be premature, perhaps, to say that they are a spent force. It would be correct to say that their decline has set in sharply and public resentment at their misdeeds is now expressed more openly than ever before.

Sadly, the present crisis in India-Pakistan relations erupted just as Pakistanis had begun to ask themselves searching questions about their country's future, its recent travails, especially since the Zia era, and indeed, about its identity. As this writer has documented in detail in these columns earlier (''Secularists in Pakistan'', Frontline, April 23, 1999), Pakistan preserved, against all odds, a significant secular segment in its society which few in India cared to understand and appreciate. On the contrary, India's hardline policies and the Sangh Parivar's rhetoric harmed the cause of secularism in Pakistan. The truth is that in every neighbouring country in South Asia there is a body of opinion which admires India's democracy, its political and judicial set-up and its secular commitments, despite its failures and failings on each count. India has never quite appreciated the worth of such genuine admirers or forged hands with them. (The less said about the publicity-hunters who profess Indo-Pakistan friendship while espousing the hardline for domestic opinion, the better.)

Debate on Pakistan's identity and the danger posed by the jehadis had begun, ironically, after the military coup in Pakistan on October 12, 1999. Benazir Bhutto, whom the Indian establishment is busy promoting with utter lack of scruple, was a hardliner vis-a-vis India (goli chalao) and made an alliance with Maulana Fazalur Rehman's Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam when she was in power from 1993 to 1997. The Maulana was made chairman of the National Assembly's Committee on Foreign Affairs. Nawaz Sharif was sympathetic to the Islamists.

General Pervez Musha-rraf began with modest efforts such as reform of the blasphemy law but was forced to beat a retreat. But he had, meanwhile, nailed his colours to the mast by revealing his admiration for Kemalist Turkey. He had to eat half an apple pie for this as well. By June 5, 2001, he had, as it were, come into his own. He bearded the lions (no pun intended) in their own den when he addressed a conference of the clergy (Ulema) that day at the National Seerat Conference convened by none other than his Minister for Religious Affairs, Dr. Mahmood Ghazi, in order no doubt to provide an opportunity to the General to speak out his mind. Which he did: "I would like to talk on that (Prophet Mohammad's message) frankly, simply and in my own idiom. I do not have a written text before me... How does the world look at us? The world sees us as backward and constantly going under. Is there any doubt that we have been left behind all, although we claim Islam will carry us forward..."

Little was left unsaid. But what was said is of direct relevance to us when we appraise the kind of person our interlocutor is. Is President Pervez Musharraf one with whom we can "do business"? Pakistanis will have to decide whether he can deliver on his promise to restore democracy.

"We claim it (Islam) is the most tolerant of faiths. How does the world judge our claim? It looks upon us as terrorists. We have been killing each other. And now we want to spread that violence and terror abroad. Naturally, the world regards us as terrorists. Our claim of tolerance is phoney in its eyes...

"Where do we see justice and equity? Do you see it? In Pakistan? Where? Look at the judiciary's performance. Corruption is rampant and misdemeanour the order of (the) day. Only sifarish works. Merit has no takers. The poor are oppressed. To be poor in Pakistan is a curse. Everybody oppresses him...

"This is the justice about which we brag so much that Islam provides. But where is it in Pakistan? And for whom? For the rich, maybe. For the powerful, maybe. What about mutual tolerance? It exists nowhere. Instead, we are killing each other wearing masks...

"We know and the world knows that whenever we took up arms for Islam, we did it openly, not hiding behind the masks, not through terror, not firing a burst and then slipping away. This is not the way to promote an ideology... This is sheer cowardice. Do it openly if you want...

"One example comes to my mind. One hears the boast that we will hoist our flag on the Red Fort (in Delhi). We will do this, we will do that. Have your ever thought of the consequence of such talk on Muslims in India...

"On the contrary, this provides India with the excuse to talk about you as terrorists and to tell others to declare you as terrorists so that prospective investors shy away from your country. When you kill each other, who will consider Pakistan a safe place for investment?"

He concluded by saying "above all, religion should never be exploited for political gains. Do not sully our great faith.''

The speech came as a shot in the arm for publicists who braved the ire of the fundos and kept the flag of secularism flying even in depressing times; most notably I.A. Rehman, a veteran of many battles in the noble cause, and Khaled Ahmed, Consulting Editor, The Friday Times.

December 13, 2001, had a mixed impact on this debate. Most argued that India's military moves deprived Musharraf of the political space he needed to continue his fight against the 'fundos'. But they stressed that considerations of prestige should not deter him from what he should be doing in Pakistan's own interests, anyway.

Significantly, in the clime generated by the intra-Muslim debate, the minorities came forward and boldly ranged themselves on the side of the liberals who, in turn, strove to offer amends for the past. Two meetings held during the writer's tour merit particular mention. In Islamabad on January 3, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute organised a seminar on the Blasphemy Law, which has been abused to target not only members of minority communities - Hindus and Christians - but also Ahmadis. Aslam Khaki, an eminent jurist and consultant of the Federal Shariat Court, pleaded for reform of the law so that investigation precedes the lodging of a first information report. "Even the execution of this law is illegal because Islam does not allow such harsh punishments." The court's position on that law, he said, was legal but un-Islamic. Islam did not allow such punishments. He mentioned that fear of reprisals from extremists deterred even judges of higher courts from deciding the cases. "We, the silent majority, have let them carry out their activities which need to be dealt with an iron hand."

The Concerned Citizens Forum in Lahore has been holding interactive dialogues since 1999. On January 5, it held one on the question which Pakistanis are asking themselves today - "What kind of Pakistan do we want?". The keynote speaker was one of Pakistan's ablest diplomats, Iqbal Akhund. Others who spoke were Khaled Ahmed and Group Captain (Retd.) Cecil Chaudhry, a national hero of the 1965 war fame, who is an educationist and peace activist. He is a Christian. M.L. Shahani, another speaker, is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, while S.U. Kaul is a social activist. The invitation card quoted Jinnah's famous speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, in which he said "...in course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense... but in the political sense as citizens of the state." The speakers pulled no punches. Shahani reminded the audience tartly that the Koran described god as the lord of the Universe (Rabbul Alameen) and not as one of the Muslims alone (Rabbul Muslimeen).

Two features of the debate must be noted. Not even the most ardent of liberals or secularists favour abandonment of Pakistan's stand on Kashmir. They advocate a compromise acceptable to all the sides - the two states and Kashmiris - and denounce the use of violence. More to the point, they remind us that in Pakistan, the fundos faced one debacle at the polls after another. They used muscle power to make up for want of electoral support. In India, they said, the 'fundos' are in power at the Centre.

Pakistan's time of reckoning

AIJAZ AHMAD cover-story

While warning his country of the scope of the crisis it faced in the aftermath of September 11, Musharraf had perhaps realised that the involvement in Afghanistan of Pakistan's Army and intelligence services and also the Islamicists based in Pakistan was too deep for the U.S. to treat the country simply as a long-term ally.

AS the United States began putting together its global coalition as a prelude to the war on Afghanistan, General Pervez Musharraf, the self-appointed President, issued a stern warning to his fellow Pakistanis saying that the country was faced with the worst crisis in its history since 1971. In the background of this warning was an even more stern warning he had himself received from U.S. emissaries who had presented him with a long list of non-negotiable demands with the proviso that unless the demands were accepted immediately Pakistan too would be put on the list of terrorist states and may have to face U.S. military action against itself. He is rumoured to have been told that it was only because Pakistan had nuclear capability that it was being given the opportunity to accede to the demands and join the coalition; otherwise, immediate military reprisals against it would have been more likely.

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There were of course economic rewards: lifting of sanctions, rescheduling of debt payments, release of some additional funds, and so on. Musharraf also managed to persuade the Americans not to ask for direct deployment of Pakistani troops inside Afghanistan; to use only the outlying military bases such as Pasni and Jacobabad, far from the great urban centres; and to have the U.S. Special Forces keep a low profile as they fanned out all across northwestern Pakistan. These concessions, combined with the fact that U.S. military personnel had returned after many years for direct deployment on Pakistani soil, were construed by many commentators as a sign that Pakistan was yet again becoming a key strategic ally - the "most allied ally" in Asia, as it once fondly called itself - and a front line state in America's newest war. This impression was strengthened by the fact that as several other countries were mentioned as possible next targets in the so-called "war on terrorism" - Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, even Indonesia - Pakistan never appeared on that list.

In warning his country of the scope of the crisis it was facing, Musharraf seemed to have had a more realistic sense of things. He probably understood that his own Army and intelligence services, as well as the huge Islamicist network on Pakistan's own soil, were too deeply involved in Afghanistan for the U.S. to treat Pakistan simply as a long-term, reliable ally while that involvement and that network remained intact. For, it was not only Afghanistan that was to provide "strategic depth" for Pakistan in case of a war with India; Pakistan itself was already providing strategic depth to the Taliban and its allies, including all those millenarian bigots, of whatever nationality, who thought of themselves as occupying the cutting edge of a global Islamicist offensive ranging from Chechnya to southern Philippines. A former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), perhaps the most famous of them all, once told me, with a distinct twinkle of insanity in his eyes, that the Islamic revolution in Afghanistan was only the first step in the historic reversal of the defeat of Islam that began in Spain five hundred years ago. That is not the whole of Pakistan, only a lunatic fringe, but a sizable, powerful fringe reaching up to very nearly the top, and it is sobering to recall that in case the Pakistan Army splits under the current pressure the gentleman who offered me that phantasy may well emerge as one of the contenders for absolute power.

TO the issue of Musharraf's own place in that power structure we shall return presently. The least that can be said, even giving him the benefit of the doubt, is that by the time the U.S. decided to launch its planetary war Musharraf had squandered two years in pretending that he was going to curb that whole network without ever doing so, afraid perhaps of large and coherently organised elements in the self-same Army that he purported to lead. What he seems to have perceived, at least very dimly, in the immediate aftermath of September 11 was that a time of reckoning was now fast approaching. To say, just as sanctions were being lifted and debts re-scheduled, that Pakistan was faced with the worst crisis since 1971 was a grim acknowledgement indeed, with a view to preparing the country to face a few facts. As one with intimate knowledge of military realities in Afghanistan he probably knew better than most of us how very quickly the Taliban was going to crumble. With that would disappear not only Pakistan's "strategic depth" in Afghanistan but also the whole edifice of Pakistan's military strategy and regional ambition, including the more aggressive premises of its Kashmir policy. Indeed, the allusion to 1971 seemed to imply more: a severe and possibly fatal test for the polity itself, with the possibility that, unless some very hard decisions were made, even the truncated post-1971 Pakistan could not take its own long-term survival for granted.

That was before the war over Afghanistan even began. Some 10 weeks later, after the war was over and the Taliban's Islamicist extremism had been replaced in Kabul with a new oil-and-drug mafia, there came the attack on the Indian Parliament, which does indeed promise to change South Asian equations fundamentally, thanks as much to the timing as to the target and the probable intent. Parliament is no more a mere "government facility" in India than the White House is in the U.S. That description, emanating from President Bush, was unspeakably shabby. Parliament is indeed the seat of India's democracy and the symbol of India's sovereignty. An attack on the building alone was an attack on what it seats and symbolises. Making matters worse, the attack was carried out when Parliament was expected to be in session and only a few minutes after it had been adjourned, with most of India's political leadership still inside the building; there was manifest intent to kill and plunge the country into chaos, with absolutely unpredictable consequences for not just India but the region as a whole. Superb investigative work has swiftly established the culpability of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) with the possible collusion of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Who else? And with what larger design or compulsion?

The preposterous suggestion that some agencies of the Indian government itself might have carried out the attack, which Musharraf's military spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Rashid Qureishi, has been trotting out, is crass and stupid. Crass in that it presupposes India to be a lawless state, like Pakistan itself, as if there was neither investigative independence nor a sturdy judiciary nor a free press here to expose such conspiracies and, for the most part, punish the conspirators; some hare-brained RSS operative might well think up such things, with some nostalgia for the Nazis, but democracy here is in good enough health for a government to dream up no such thing. And it is an allegation stupid from Pakistan's own viewpoint, since the implausibility of it would suggest that the Pakistan government had something to hide. It would have been wiser for Qureishi either to shut up or have the courage to place the responsibility where it belongs. But where does that responsibility belong, ultimately?

FOR now, one can assume that the JeM, and possibly the LeT, were responsible. That much one can say positively. Negatively, one could also say that the consequences of such an action, especially if it succeeded, were so dire for the whole region and even internationally that no responsible elements in the Musharraf government could have planned or condoned it.

However, that is as far as one can go. There are large numbers of serving as well as retired senior officers of the Pakistan Army and the ISI who have been opposed to the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan, and many of those same officers have close links with the Islamicist establishment within Pakistan as well as elsewhere. For example, when Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, the head of the ISI, was suddenly forced into retirement on the eve of the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan, rumours were rife among knowledgable people in Islamabad as well as in New York that the U.S. government suspected him of having directly financed Mohammed Atta whom the U.S. regards as the key figure among the hijackers of September 11. Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, the then Deputy Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), who was also sent into the twilight at that time, was widely regarded as one of the two top Generals closest to the Islamicist establishment. The other one is Lt. Gen. Aziz, a Punjabi-speaking Kashmiri from Poonch, who was at the same time promoted to become Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee (JCSC) while Musharraf himself remained Chief of the Army Staff. It is not inconceivable that elements close to one of these several centres of power gave the go-ahead for actions that would be the final kiss of death for the Agra process.

The timing itself was significant because it occurred not at that point well before the war when India first offered its facilities and cooperation to the U.S., so that the attack might be seen as a piece of propaganda of the deed in opposition to that offer, but well after the war was for all practical purposes over and the Bush/Blair combine was able and willing to shift much of their attention to problems outside Afghanistan. With Afghanistan fully in hand, military bases in Uzbekistan secured and some other Central Asian states - Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan - fully aligned, the U.S. now needed Pakistan much less and was proportionately more able and willing to cut it further to size. And, it was within the logic of the doctrine of perpetual war, which Bush had announced at the very outset, that attention would shift to another country as soon as Afghanistan was occupied and a puppet regime was installed there. The attack on the Indian Parliament provided the perfect opportunity, and it is no wonder that imperial emissaries, from Tony Blair to Shimon Peres, started showing up in Delhi soon thereafter while Colin Powell, the empire's senior statesman, took it upon himself to keep the belligerents from going to war, and stepping up the pressure on Pakistan finally to confront the Islamicist establishment on its soil while continuing to patrol the Khyber Pass on behalf of the U.S.

But the timing had another aspect as well, which probably had to do with the atmosphere of extreme despondency and desperation in the whole of the Islamicist establishment. This establishment was euphoric after September 11, imagining that the Muslim masses around the world would look at the perpetrators of the World Trade Centre catastrophe as heroes. Having been at the receiving end of unspeakable brutalities at the hands of the U.S. and Israeli terrorist states, and with Osama bin Laden publicly justifying his acts in the name of Palestine and Iraq, many people around the globe, especially in the Arab world, did articulate their anger and, by extension, a certain desperate satisfaction at what was construed as an attack on the U.S. There were also some sizeable demonstrations against their governments when the latter jumped on the U.S. bandwagon as preparations for the planetary war got going. All of this was visible in Pakistan, the one country whose Islamicist establishment was the closest to the Taliban regime.

The significant fact, however, was that while the U.S. was widely criticised for using a terrorist act for its own war designs, the general populace in Pakistani cities was so deeply opposed to the Islamicist menace that few joined their demonstrations and, despite widespread Islamicist sympathies in the Army, there was no breaking of the ranks. Musharraf not only ditched the Taliban but also felt strong enough to get rid of some key Islamicist officers and continue with his peace overtures toward India.

Then came the quick unravelling of the Taliban regime. Bereft of active support from the Pakistan Army the Taliban was shown to be what it actually was: not a group of revolutionaries of the Right but a pack of half-witted desperados intoxicated on religious frenzy and utterly out of touch with the realities of the modern world. That Musharraf ditched the Taliban so quickly was a source of great resentment among its tutors, sponsors and supporters among Pakistani Islamicists. Its swift and ignominious collapse, meanwhile, spelled the end of not only its own pretensions but also of its friends who survived rather too well on Pakistani territory.

For the Pakistan-sponsored part of the militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, there were now two new, disheartening questions: if Pakistan could ditch its Afghan friends so very quickly, what guarantee was there that it would not do the same to its clients in Jammu and Kashmir; and, if the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the spearhead of global Islamic revolution, could collapse so quickly, what hope was there for the little groupings operating in the Valley?

The carnage in Srinagar on October 1, 2001, and the outrage against Parliament on December 13 thus seem to have been a peculiar combination of extreme desperation and millenarian bravado. A suicidal haste to say: we may have been defeated in Afghanistan but we are still here, defying a state comprised of a fifth of humanity. A mad belief in one's own self-appointed station as Allah's soldiers, and therefore the frenzied belief that even though Allah's aid was delayed in one place it will surely arrive on time in another. That much one can speculate safely about the murderous fraternities such as the JeM but there may also have been behind them other forces, with other calculations, less religiously frenzied but no less cold blooded for all that.

NO Islamicist in Pakistan has forgotten that Musharraf started his innings as a ruler with the declaration that Ataturk was his hero, the modernising General who abolished the caliphate and put the Turkish Islamicist establishment permanently on the defensive, giving to the armed forces there a secularising mission that still lasts. I very much doubt that Musharraf really is anything resembling Ataturk, but he is undoubtedly a secular officer. He loves power too much and therefore has not been willing to take big risks, but he did make half-hearted attempts to collect the illegally held weapons in Pakistan and to make the Islamicist establishment financially accountable to the state. In India, especially, we need to recall that unlike Nawaz Sharif, the showboy of the Lahore Declaration, Musharraf offered real ceasefires and real de-escalations on the Line of Control right up to Agra where Vajpayee proved less flexible than him. Even as India prepares for a war that has the potential to send up all of us in a ball of nuclear fire, it is best to recall that Musharraf has been uniquely the one Pakistani ruler who began his visit to us with a pilgrimage to Gandhiji's samadhi. How the Islamicist establishment must have hated that!

A few things have become increasingly clear in Pakistan since September 11. One, Musharraf ditched the Taliban and was able to move against at least one group of Islamicist officers without losing his grip on power or inviting any large public protest. Second, the Pakistani troops patrolling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have remained loyal to the command, regardless of the fairly widespread pro-Islamicist sentiments among the rank and file. Third, the crackdown on the Islamicists actually began well before the attack on the Indian Parliament - soon after the Srinagar bloodshed of October 1, in fact - and the politically articulate elements among the urban middle classes have rallied behind this crackdown, minus of course the Islamicists themselves; that crackdown included the house arrest of Mullah Fazalur Rehman, the chief of Jamiat-i-Ulema-Islam (JUI), the chief Deobandi organisation, which was closely allied with the Taliban. Fourth, Pakistan's economy has boomed and that has further strengthened the support of the middle classes for the regime. Fifth, within three weeks of the attack on the Indian Parliament, Musharraf did put behind bars not only Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of the JeM, but also, more significantly, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the chief of Dawa wa'al-Irshad (DwI), the parent organisation of the LeT. These three organisations - the JUI, the DwI and the JeM - comprise the heart of the Islamicist establishment in Pakistan outside the Jamat-e-Islami itself, and they command the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of people, possibly a couple of million. Freezing their assets may be a "joke" as the Indian government claims, but putting their chiefs behind bars, for the whole country to see, is by no means a minor matter.

FOUR points can now be made quite explicitly. One is that, far from being an act for which Musharraf can be held responsible, the attack on the seat of India's sovereignty was quite possibly an attack designed to undermine his position domestically as well as internationally. Whatever the frenzied phantasies of the perpetrators and the immediate leaders of their terrorist organisations may have been, whoever authorised them to carry out such an act knew that the normalisation process that Musharraf led in Agra would now be at an end and that Musharraf would come under unbearable pressure at home and abroad, blamed by India and the U.S. for not doing enough, and blamed at home for succumbing too much, betraying the cause of Islam, Kashmir, Pakistan and so on. This game of blame and counter-blame could then be used to topple him.

The second point here is that Musharraf seems to be standing tough, so far as the domestic pressures are concerned, and keeping his cool with respect to India in a remarkable fashion. India was the one which cancelled the bus service and the Samjhauta Express, the symbols of a decent resolve to let the poor of the two countries visit their loved ones regardless of the tensions between the states. Pakistan responded on the issue of overflights but it is much to Musharraf's credit that he did not withdraw his High Commissioner even when India did so and even though India forced the 50 per cent cutback in the respective High Commission staff. India began by refusing to talk to him in Kathmandu but he strode up to Vajpayee to greet him personally, forcing a conversation. The Indian electronic media, which functions merely as an echo chamber for state policy, has made it out that these are pathetic attempts to please the Americans. Well, perhaps they are, in part. But the main thing is to ask ourselves how all this plays in Pakistan, with the ultra-nationalist hawks portraying it all as capitulation to the arch-enemy, India.

Third, it is certainly India's right, indeed duty, to seek redress for acts of terror on Indian soil and for crimes committed against Indian sovereignty. India should seek this redress from Pakistan directly, by presenting evidence and demanding effective action against culprits in accordance with international law. And, as Frontline has suggested editorially (issue of January 18,2002), the government should present this evidence to the people of India in the shape of a White Paper and also take this evidence to the Security Council, which is fully empowered to hold a member-state responsible for acts of terror committed by individuals residing on its territory. All this, and whatever else law and diplomacy permit, New Delhi must do. However, the kind of war preparations India is making and the threats that are emanating from key Ministers of government, including the Prime Minister of dovish reputation, play directly into the design that seems to have been behind the attack on Parliament in the first place.

This, then, brings me to the fourth point in this chain of arguments. While addressing some European and North American audiences on events of September 11 over the past couple of months, I have argued that far from being an attack on American power as the perpetrators of that crime had persuaded themselves, that act of terror was, politically speaking, a gift from the subordinate section of the global Right to the dominant, imperialist wing of the global Right. The U.S. was surely stunned but then moved quickly to seize the opportunity to put in place machineries of perpetual, planetary war, taking advantage of the great revulsion that people around the globe had felt at that crime. It seems to me that the attack on the Indian Parliament was an event of the same kind, a gift from the Islamicist Right to the Hindu Right. Terrorists of the JeM might have used the name of Kashmir as bin Laden routinely used the name of Palestine, but all that they managed was to give the RSS fraternity the cardinal opportunity to wrap itself up in colours of patriotism and to whip up, by word and deed, the war hysteria that satisfies all those who are themselves opposed to normalisation and good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan, and who want to persuade the Indian middle classes that India can be strong only if the RSS is at the helm of affairs.

Thousands of crores of rupees are being spent on fake rhetoric of an impending war that imperialism shall simply not allow but which plays well in the Uttar Pradesh elections upon which the future of the NDA government is said to depend. The government of India has long been at its wits' end in Kashmir, in the face of the sullen alienation of a whole people caught between the terrorist and counter-terror; for now, though, even the pretence of finding a political solution need not be sustained. The coming elections in Jammu and Kashmir promise to be what elections there usually are. As for international relations, Jaswant Singh would have us believe that we are now the new yankees in the region but, in reality, L.K. Advani is in Washington to try and persuade the real yankees of this world to punish the Pakistan government adequately, for a crime that was probably committed to undermine that very government. The U.S. sees superprofits coming from India (Blair was virtually salivating when he came here) but also some geopolitical advantage in keeping Pakistan as its own pretty little poodle; so it balances, awkwardly, infinitely. And the game goes on.

The times are tough for Musharraf, but there may also be an opportunity. He has made many half-hearted attempts in the past to put some controls on the jehadis but always stepped back, too weak to go through: weak in will, weak in the extent of the power he actually commands - it hardly matters which. His main problems have been two. One is that - well - he is a dictator and has therefore been at odds with the democratic temper of those same sections of the urban middle classes that could have been his mass social base for the fight against religiosity, sectarianism, terrorism and the rest. So, passive support for his steps against Islamicists has been immense, but it never becomes an active kind of support that would face the Islamicists in the street in the name of their government because the democratic impulse of the secularists in Pakistan makes it impossible for them to come into the streets in support of a self-appointed President who is also the Chief of the Army Staff. For this problem, Musharraf has had no solution except to proclaim, rightly but merely, that he is a liberal dictator.

His other problem is that he subscribes to a strategy which relies upon an ideology that he seems to despise. After the historic defeat of 1971, when Indian military action forced the creation of Bangladesh, what remained of Pakistan has relied on a strategy of 'forward defence' in which the defence parameters of Pakistan were to be drawn well into the territories of those neighbouring states, namely Afghanistan and India, which it deemed hostile (see ''The Many Roads to Kargil'', Frontline, July 16, 1999, for extended comment on this). Insurgencies in Punjab and Kashmir on the one hand, and the U.S.-sponsored anti-communist jehad in Afghanistan on the other, were supported militarily under this doctrine. At length, and especially after the Khalistan movement fizzled out and General Zia-ul-Haq perfected his grip on power, this strategy of forward defence came to be identified with the ideology of Islamism. Both the strategy and the ideology became more grandiose after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Pakistan began to see itself as the fulcrum of a full-scale state system comprising itself, Afghanistan, the former Muslim republics of the Soviet Union, perhaps even Turkey and Iran; it was going to outflank India's own little sub-imperialism in South Asia by becoming a sub-imperial power in Central Asia and parts of even West Asia. Military action and commerce were going to be the material instruments, Islamism the ideological instrument. The whole of Pakistan's military brass has always subscribed to this inflated vision, and Musharraf has been no exception to it.

Now that whole inflation has been punctured and Musharraf has to pick up the pieces. To get rid fully of Islamism as ideology he has also to get rid of that particular lust for "forward defence" as strategy. This requires liquidation of the Islamicist establishment on the one hand, re-education and re-definition of the military establishment on the other. It is not at all clear that he would be equal to this predicament but the current difficult situation does offer him a very peculiar kind of opportunity. As for controlling the jehadi world, he can simply go to his cohorts in the Army and the rest of the ruling elite saying 'I have no choice' and citing American pressure; nothing works with the Pakistani elite as magically as the invocation of the will of the U.S.; on such grounds, he could even recruit Benazir Bhutto as his public relations agent. As for renouncing that particular version of "forward defence" and sub-imperialist ambition, reality itself requires it. But what power, other than the citing of U.S. pressure, does he have in order to force such vast ideological and strategic revisions - so vast that they would necessarily involve something resembling the birth-pangs of a new Pakistan?

THAT is where the question of democratisation in Pakistan comes up yet again. In order to work for such fundamental changes Musharraf needs a real social base, either in the military-bureaucratic elite or in the politically motivated middle classes (Pakistan having no mass politics at the moment, other than the Islamicist rabble). He is likely to make the bureaucratic rather than the political choice, being himself a man of the military bureaucracy.

However, there is still another venue open for him. As General-Presidents go, he has actually been quite liberal, quite secular; and his peace overtures toward India have been widely supported. The real divide between him and the politically articulate liberal middle classes in Pakistan has been on the issue of establishing - or re-establishing - fundamental democratic structures. Were he now to lead that process of democratic restoration he may yet succeed in making those more fundamental changes in ideology and military strategy, without getting toppled in the process. India should pin him down on concrete actions against actual and potential terrorists. But, by the same token, India must understand that no stable peace between the two nations is really possible unless both become stable secular and democratic polities. And India must therefore refrain, as much for Pakistan's sake as for its own, from creating a situation in which any move on his part toward curbing those elements and creating, instead, a secularising regime looks like capitulation.

The time to talk

cover-story

New Delhi is in danger of overplaying its hand and losing the right moment to begin a process of reconciliation with Pakistan.

A MONTH after the December 13 Parliament House attack, New Delhi stepped up its diplomatic offensive aimed at extracting major "anti-terrorist" concessions from Islamabad. It was not a mere coincidence that this preceded United States Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to South Asia and Home Minister L.K. Advani's four "demands" upon Pakistan, submitted during his own visit to Washington. India was clearly worried at the possibility that President Perverz Musharraf would score some serious public relations points during his widely anticipated, and repeatedly postponed television address, in which he was expected to announce a "new policy" against terrorism and a "new turn" in relations with India.

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Thus, a senior Ministry of External Affairs official briefed journalists on January 10 to put Pakistan on notice that India expected from Musharraf "substantial" positive measures against terrorist groups, short of which it would be "forced" to take "additional punitive measures". According to one report, these would range from sending back the Pakistani High Commissioner to abrogating the Indus Water Treaty, and include options such as closing India's Islamabad Mission and withdrawing Pakistan's most-favoured-nation trade status.

India has been particularly worried that Musharraf would limit himself to suppressing terrorism on "Pakistani soil". So India not only wants a statement of "inadmissibility of violence in pursuit of goals from Pakistan, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir" (a "disputed" territory). It demands that Musharraf commit himself categorically to the "irreversibility of the process" too.

There is reason to believe that New Delhi has miscalculated the likely gains from these moves, and that it could be overplaying its hand by threatening measures even harsher than those imposed on December 21 and 27 (discussed in the previous Column: Frontline, January 18). This deliberately stiffened, "calibrated" stand not only risks losing the gains made in Kathmandu when Jaswant Singh, Brajesh Mishra and Abdul Sattar met more than once. More important, it could box India into a corner. India could be the loser.

The time has come for India and Pakistan to re-orient radically the strategies and postures adopted since December 13. India has so far pursued a strategy of nuclear brinkmanship. Pakistan has reluctantly yielded to "anti-terrorist" demands, after first denying the gravity of the Parliament House attack. It too is manoeuvring to extract a commitment from India to "a dialogue on Kashmir" before it takes further action against jehadi groups.

India's brinkmanship consists in taking on a belligerent, war-like posture, backed up by large-scale military mobilisation. This is calculated to get the U.S. to press Pakistan to take "visible" steps against terrorist groups. Deliberate ratcheting-up of hostility and harsh diplomatic sanctions are part of this strategy. India calculates that this will deliver more results than outright war (to which there will be significant domestic opposition), and that Pakistan can be bent to its will, through American mediation.

Cynical as it is, this strategy has admittedly had some success. Islamabad started acting against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) within 48 hours of the U.S. banning them. It has since rounded up 300 suspects. The freezing of terrorists' accounts might not have had much effect (thanks to the advance notice some of them got), but that cannot be said about the arrest of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed or the detention of other key LeT and JeM leaders. And yet, the success is not so great that the Bharatiya Janata Party can declare that it has already "triumphed" against Pakistan and "put it in its place".

Brinkmanship is fraught with grave danger - in the last analysis, a nuclear conflagration. India's diplomatic effort is directed more at the U.S. than at Pakistan, and depends on variables outside the India-Pakistan relationship. Thus, it is not fully amenable to control. Military build-ups have a logic of their own. In the super-heated subcontinental context, a skirmish can snowball into a battle, which in turn can precipitate war.

India's political and diplomatic objectives are diffuse and open to subjective interpretation: how effective is "effective" action against terrorist groups? It has not stated what its criteria of effectiveness might be. India has, U.S.-style, demanded that Pakistan act, "or else". But unlike the U.S., it has not bothered to collect and share with Pakistan evidence on specific acts of violence, or back its case with U.N. resolutions, among other things.

Some Indian policy-makers and shapers see the present conjuncture as an opportunity to advance a much larger agenda than one confined to specific actions against terrorists responsible for December 13 or other recent acts. A few of them even think that the time has come to alter decisively the terms of military and political competition with Pakistan. That is why the list of 20 terrorists given to Pakistan is broad and long, going back to events and acts of a decade ago or older.

In New Delhi, there is no clarity about how far Musharraf can go in meeting India's demands. That is why all his actions are termed "cosmetic". There is severe underestimation of the opposition to him from jehadi groups, which have staged bomb explosions and killed his Home Minister's brother. It is all too easily assumed that being a military dictator, his power is unlimited and unchallenged. This too is a questionable premise.

India must revise radically its approach. Islamabad too must become firmer in its anti-terrorist actions. The wide world knows how deeply implicated its Inter-Services Intelligence has been in shadowy operations - in India, Afghanistan, and in Pakistan itself. After the Afghan war, the "plausible deniability" of its role is becoming incredible. Musharraf will make a signal contribution to Pakistan's stabilisation and normalisation if he cuts the umbilical cord between the ISI and Kashmiri militants - just as he did with the Taliban.

Musharraf is under pressure from the U.S., which in turn faces pressure not just from India but from its powerful pro-Israeli domestic lobby, which is alarmed at the possibility of a clandestine transfer of Pakistan's nuclear technology to anti-Western, anti-Jewish militants. The U.S. is deeply suspicious of the ideological, political, financial and military support Islamabad has extended over the years to extremist groups in South Asia, South-West Asia and West Asia. It has offered special funding to Musharraf to modernise and secularise madrassas. However, Musharraf cannot be pushed beyond a limit without jeopardising his very survival. For instance, his decision to arrest LeT's Hafeez was an extremely tough call, preceded by two day-long consultations and cautious calculations of a kind never before undertaken in Pakistan. A new U.S. congressional research report says that a crackdown on madrassas could well cost Musharraf his job.

This issue of Pakistan's culpability for "cross-border" terrorism has to be precisely defined. Musharraf is not wrong to ask just where Pakistan's liability for "terrorism" begins and ends. As The New York Times reported, he wants the U.S. Ambassador to say "how Washington could guarantee that India wouldn't wait for some new incident to occur, then claim that it was backed by Pakistan and use it as a pretext to go to war... What if some outraged Kashmiri takes a Kalashnikov and shoots an Indian politician or puts a bomb in a parking lot? Is Pakistan going to be held accountable every time?"

It is one thing for Musharraf to act against the gangsters and Khalistanis who have taken refuge in Pakistan. But acting against groups linked to Kashmir is another matter - because Kashmir is seen as impinging on Pakistan's core identity and Partition's "unfinished agenda". No Pakistani ruler can be seen to be indifferent to it. The Vajpayee government probably lacks an intelligent, nuanced, informed assessment of how much Musharraf can deliver. It is not paying heed to such counsel as it does have. Pushing Musharraf to breaking point would be extremely counterproductive. The critical test lies in deciding just what to settle for in the prevailing conditions - so that what is achieved conforms to certain principles, and advances both the national and regional interest. Asking that all the 20 men named by New Delhi, including Masood Azhar, should be handed over to it would be exceeding the limits of feasibility and legality.

There is no extradition treaty between India and Pakistan. Under international law, states are not obliged to hand over even known criminals without such a treaty. That too can be only done for specific offences, not some general category called "terrorist activity". Both Indian and Pakistani laws require that extradition requests be first referred to a magistrate who must confirm that a prima facie case exists.

Should it not be enough for India if Islamabad hands over to Interpol or some third party one or more persons in the suspects' list, who have proper charges and international Red Corner Notices against them? Is it realistic or right to imagine that New Delhi can substitute itself for what Washington did in Afghanistan - for instance, by getting Pakistan to arrest former Ambassador Zaeff and interrogating him? India is surely underestimating the strength of Pakistan's current equation with the U.S., which is not about to let it down after what Musharraf has done for Washington in Afghanistan.

PAKISTAN should definitely take stiff action against the terrorist groups which thrive within its borders. But countering terrorism will be a prolonged process. As soon as Pakistan begins it earnestly, India should resume a full dialogue with it and negotiate confidence-building measures, including joint patrolling of the Line of Control. That could inaugurate a new era in their relations, based on cooperation and good faith. It is of paramount importance that the Vajpayee government recognises a good deal - and a good exit from confrontation - when it is offered one. Or else, a precious window of opportunity could slam shut.

However, can the BJP-NDA leadership muster the courage to open a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations? For decades, the Jan Sangh-BJP-RSS have thrived on hostility with Pakistan, which in turn is linked to their anti-Muslim prejudices. For Hindutva, Indian Muslims are Pakistan's "Fifth Column", just as Pakistan is the external expression of Islam's "internal threat" to Indian "nationhood". Compounding this ideological bias is a pressing political issue - the coming Uttar Pradesh elections. If the BJP loses them, the NDA could come tumbling down nationally. By all indications, the BJP is set to do extremely badly in Uttar Pradesh. Its score could be as low as 100 seats in the 403-member Assembly.

The BJP has tried every trick in the book to avert defeat in U.P. - from browbeating the Opposition to luring potential supporters. Its last two trump cards were, ironically, mandal and mandir. It created quotas within the other backward classes (OBC) quotas for the most backward castes (MBCs), promising them 40,000 jobs. But there is no money to back that promise. And the MBCs are not taken in by what they consider a "Brahmin-Bania" party. The March 12 temple "deadline" plank is not turning out to be a vote-catcher. The "anti-terrorism" platform seems more promising. Vajpayee has himself advised the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to play down the temple issue; he is seeking the aid of the Kanchi Shankaracharya to pressure the BJP further.

"Anti-terrorism" allows the BJP to combine jingoistic nationalism with its anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim agendas. It can claim to be talking "tough" to Islamabad - to the point of "courageously" risking war. Wars, in the BJP's view, promote "a sense of patriotism and pride" among Indians. This, as Advani said immediately after the Kargil conflict (July 26, 1999), can only help a party like itself. The BJP thus hopes to polarise the situation communally and even put the secular parties on the mat.

This may turn out to be a desperate, even futile, hope. Macho anti-Pakistan postures are not as popular as might seem. The Kargil war, despite the politicisation of coffins and of death-as-a-spectacle, did not prevent the loss of half the BJP's UP Lok Sabha tally in 1999 nor a three percentage point fall in its national vote. The BJP's opponents, especially the Samajwadi Party and Congress, are far more upbeat than they were two years ago. Eventually, there may not be much purchase in the terrorism plank, barring a vote gain of a couple of percentage points.

Will the BJP stoop so low and pursue its brinkmanship recklessly for such measly gain? Will it be so mindless as not to recognise that its best medium- and long-term bet lies in putting Pakistan firmly on the road to moderation through cooperation, not confrontation? Will it choose ephemeral, compromised power in UP over the abiding national interest in mending relations with Pakistan and simultaneously combating the scourge of militant-group terrorism?

Here is Vajpayee's litmus test. If he has real leadership qualities, he should bring about a breakthrough with Pakistan rather than claim hyperbolically that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is the "biggest roadblock" to "greater, faster and more egalitarian" development. This is also his chance to think big, and beyond petty provincial calculations. Can he rise to the occasion? Or will he plunge a billion people into war, endless confrontation and more violence?

GENERAL'S MANOEUVRE

Under pressure to take positive measures in order to ease the tension in India-Pakistan relations, President Pervez Musharraf announces major decisions. But a cautious India seems to have moved little from its often-stated positions.

GENERAL PERVEZ MUSHARRAF lacks the democratic forums that elected leaders normally use to announce major decisions and articulate their underlying rationale. He has, partly under the force of circumstances, developed a particular expertise at bonding through the airwaves. Through the expanding coverage of television, Musharraf has managed to extend his own direct appeal across his own troubled nation and the world, seeking to communicate directly with key constituencies at moments of crisis.

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Shortly after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the Pakistan President was called upon to make a major address rationalising a policy reversal - from being the Afghan Taliban's principal mentor and benefactor, Pakistan was about to offer itself as a springboard for a military offensive against Afghanistan. But as the war ran its inexorable course and the wider repercussions began to play themselves out, pressures began to accumulate on Pakistan's frontiers with India. Musharraf's September speech was in this sense an unfinished work of art. The final touches needed to be applied, as they were on January 12 in an address that made the overdue and much required closure to the process of shift and change that he began in September.

Musharraf's preparations for the latest in his series of addresses to the nation occurred against an ominous backdrop. On January 11, India's Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan, officially certified the mobilisation on the border as being complete and adequate to undertake the entire onus of coercive action that may be required in the circumstances. Concurrently, Home Minister L.K. Advani was by most accounts winning a sympathetic audience among top U.S. administration officials for the proposition that Pakistan still had a long way to go to establish its peaceable credentials and its commitment to the battle against terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, anxious to damp down tensions between two countries he viewed as allies, was reportedly in daily telephonic contact with Musharraf, while counselling the Indian side not to expect any instant results.

As the going got tough, it was clearly time for the tough-talking General to get going. The day he was scheduled to address the nation, the Pakistan police rounded up a few hundred Islamic militants across the country, focussing especially on Karachi and its environs. The police were also given advance intimation that the offices of certain extremist religious organisations were to be raided and sealed immediately after the President's speech. And with the stage thus set both locally and internationally, Musharraf took centre stage possibly to speak to his largest audience ever.

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Delivered in Urdu with a generous leavening of English, his hour-long address on January 12 was part preachy excursus into the glorious past of Islam. That set the stage for a description of how the spirit of the religion had been vitiated by political operatives. And with that preface behind him, seemingly with the specific purpose of establishing his credentials as a warrior for Islam's future, Musharraf got down to the business end. The lawlessness that had spread under the garb of righteous religiosity, he said, had to end, and the writ of the state had to be respected.

There were three issues of specific concern to Pakistan, in which this insistence on the authority of the state would be enforced: the Kashmir "struggle", all other international conflicts which involved Muslim populations, and finally, the internal sectarian strife which pitted Muslim against Muslim.

For obvious reasons, in India, what Musharraf had to say on Kashmir was the part of his speech that was the most looked forward to. It was also, for equally obvious reasons, the most predictable part. Kashmir, he said, "runs in the blood" of every Pakistani. There was no way Pakistan could "budge an inch from its principled stand on Kashmir". Yet, terrorism had no place in the Kashmir struggle.

With these general principles stated, Musharraf sought out two specific constituencies to address his overtures to. First, he made a direct appeal to the Indian Prime Minister to respond to his initiative and engage with Pakistan in an effort to resolve the Kashmir problem. Second, he urged the international community, and particularly the U.S., to put pressure on India to "bring an end to state terrorism and human rights violations". Unmindful of the resentments that the proposal could stir up in India, he demanded that impartial international organisations, such as Amnesty International, be allowed access into Kashmir to monitor the "activities of the Indian occupation forces".

Musharraf's only concession to India was to reaffirm the ban imposed recently on the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the two extremist organisations believed to be responsible for the December 13 attack on India's Parliament complex. India's demarche that a list of "most wanted" terrorists be handed over, was formally rebuffed. There was no question of handing over any Pakistani national, said the General. And if there was any foreign national on the Indian list, then he would be dealt with appropriately when found.

There was never any likelihood that Pakistan would readily fulfil India's demands, although it has in the past bypassed judicial procedure to hand over terrorist suspects to the U.S. But Musharraf's disavowal of any knowledge about the presence on his territory of Indian nationals wanted for terrorist crimes in this country is disingenuous, if anything. The underworld don Dawood Ibrahim is a high-profile presence in Karachi, together with his associates from the Memon family. The militant leader Syed Salahuddin, or Mohammad Yusuf Shah, a one-time candidate for election to the Jammu and Kashmir legislature, continues to operate from safe havens in Rawalpindi and other centres in Pakistan, directing the operations of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Musharraf's pretence is evidently difficult to sustain, though there is a likelihood that under U.S. pressure the Indian government may connive in the dissimulation.

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MUSHARRAF'S main challenge, of course, was to deal with the threat of internal disorder that the burgeoning strength of Islamic militancy posed. And, to an extent, India was concerned about this aspect of his endeavour since much of the violence in Kashmir is a spillover of competitive sectarianism in Pakistan. Musharraf had to announce credible measures to rein in the religious hotheads who had flourished and been elevated to positions of conspicuous influence under the preceding military regime of Zia-ul-Haq. He had to do this at a time when the vanquishing of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan seriously constricted the space for manoeuvre available to him. And he had to avoid any impression that he was capitulating to India's demands. That would have been unacceptable within the Army's command hierarchy and to the religious seminaries.

All this he sought to achieve in a manner strongly reminiscent of his speech to the nation in September, when he formalised the annulment of the Pakistan military's unholy alliance with the Taliban. "Trust me" and "Pakistan first", was the message he delivered then. This was the theme that resonated again through his January 12 address. No individual or organisation would be at liberty to determine how Pakistan should intervene in an extra-territorial dispute involving Muslims, he announced. That authority would be reserved for the government of the day, whose writ must be obeyed. The implications for Pakistan's policy in Afghanistan and Kashmir are evident.

This affirmation was not confined to the level of principle. Musharraf has also brought into existence ordinances that empower the government to regulate the activities of all religious endowments, trusts and institutions. This extends to the minute details of the specific purposes for which loudspeakers will be allowed in mosques, the syllabi of instruction in religious seminaries, and the registration of such institutions with government authorities.

Expectedly, much of the speculation that followed the President's speech focussed on the institutional resources he had available to enforce his decisions. The Pakistan military is believed to be strongly behind him, though the occasional enclave of Islamism within the armed forces could pose a threat. Equally important, the Army is today stretched out in border duties, and the police force, which is less amenable to centralised authority, would have to perform the larger part of the enforcement function. The record of Musharraf's earlier attempts to curb the spread of unauthorised weapons and reining in sectarian groups does not, in this respect, inspire great confidence.

Perhaps because of the new sense of resolve that is now apparent in the Pakistan administration, Musharraf's speech was welcomed with little reserve across world capitals. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell commended the General for his "bold and principled stand", which, he said, created the basis for a resolution of current tensions through peaceful and diplomatic means. President George Bush's spokesperson put out a statement welcoming the "firm decision" to prohibit extra-territorial militant action by any individual or organisation based in Pakistan. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair looked forward to "the resolution of differences on Kashmir through peaceful means and dialogue". Warm words of endorsement were also issued by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Political opinion within Pakistan, irrelevant until recently but now of crucial importance in sustaining the embattled General in his new enterprise, was mixed in its reaction. A spokesman for Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party criticised Musharraf for not having acknowledged the fact that the misguided policies of previous unelected governments like his - a pointed reference to Zia's military dictatorship - was responsible for tarnishing the nation's image and bringing it to the verge of anarchy. Benazir Bhutto herself, from the comfort of her exile in Dubai, held the military responsible for the current conundrum. The refusal to "crack down against private militias despite the pressure of democratic opinion" had brought Pakistan to a perilous pass, leading to "a final capitulation" under the pressure of an Indian military mobilisation on the border, she said.

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The two rival factions of the Pakistan Muslim League took opposing views. The Nawaz Sharif group, by far the larger one, criticised the "rules of conduct' that were being imposed upon religious institutions, which it alleged had not been attempted even under British colonialism. In contrast, the Qaid-e-Azam group led by Gohar Ayub Khan, son of the former military dictator, welcomed the "positive" tenor of the speech and described the resolve to end militant activities on Pakistani soil as a highly overdue one.

The Indian reaction was, for obvious reasons, less than effusive. From distant New York Home Minister Advani welcomed Musharraf's disavowal of terrorism as a means to address the Kashmir issue and said that this should logically translate into a commitment "not to facilitate anyone to cross the Line of Control or international border to commit acts of terror'' within Indian territory. He also added, though, that "cynicism and scepticism" were so deeply entrenched in India that Pakistan would be judged not by its words but by its actions.

Across the political spectrum in India, there was a suggestion of a positive reaction, though the dominant mood remained one of caution. The rejection of the culture of jehad was almost universally appreciated, though there remained an element of doubt about the conversion of this resolve into practice.

Shortly after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security on January 13, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh made India's formal response public. "We want to know the difference between words and actions," he said, while affirming that any positive response to Musharraf's overtures would have to await the translation of his "intention" to combat terrorism into "reality". With elaborate care for the fine print, Jaswant Singh also sought to remind Pakistan that the commitment to clamp down on terrorist activities that could hurt India must extend to all the territory under its control - making it clear that the transfer of all militant bases to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir would be a far-from-satisfactory undertaking. Recognising that the main part of Musharraf's speech dealt with the restoration of civic order within his own country, Jaswant Singh said that he "wished the people of Pakistan well in this endeavour".

Jaswant Singh characterised Pakistan's refusal to hand over terrorist suspects wanted by India as ''disappointing'', while claiming that adequate proof to warrant action had been handed over. India, however, rejected the Pakistani stand on Kashmir. And even though India would "respond fully" and "resume the composite dialogue process" if Pakistan were to "move purposefuly towards eradicating cross-border terrorism", such a dialogue would be conducted within the bilateral framework envisaged in the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

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The military regime's attitude towards Simla and Lahore is no secret. Nor is its belief that the ''composite dialogue'' is an unnecessary diversion from the ''core issue'' of Kashmir. As for Musharraf's overtures to the international community to intervene in the Kashmir dispute, this has been firmly ruled out of court yet again by Jaswant Singh.

A day after Musharraf made his epochal speech, India seemed to have moved little from its often-stated positions. Whether the atmosphere has been created for a de-escalation of military tensions on the border, however, remains unclear. India has a basis for seeking to cool down tensions by pulling back fractionally from the brink, but the mechanisms of consultation between the military operations directorates, which have fallen into disuse over the last few months, remain to be revived. The first test of the concrete impact of Musharraf's speech will lie in the facility with which the hotline between the military establishments is revived. Beyond that, there is a long sequence of actions required, which could - potentially - falter at any point. Experiences with India's Operation Brasstacks exercise in 1986 and Pakistan's Zarb-e-Momin mobilisation in 1989 have shown that stepping back is often a more complicated process than moving forward into battle ready postures.

Beyond that, the dialogue process poses another potential minefield. Musharraf's speech harps yet again on the necessity to implement U.N. resolutions that are over half a century old. As insiders at the Agra summit discussions last year have suggested, his attitude towards Kashmir is focussed and single-dimensional. He shows little awareness of the various complications that arose when a concrete attempt was made to implement the U.N. resolutions through dialogue between India and Pakistan in the first decade of their independence. Neither did he seem aware that a marathon sequence of talks had been held at the foreign ministerial level between the two countries between December 1962 and May 1963 towards the same purpose.

The singular lesson that this experience conveys is that alteration of the sovereign status of any territory - which evidently is the Pakistan military's basic purpose - is not an objective that will win the endorsement of the Indian side. India would like, rather, to focus not on the status of Kashmir but on the situation in the troubled State. It would be open to a cooperative effort to restore peace and order in the State and as it showed in the prelude to the Agra summit, to facilitate easier cross-border movements for Kashmiri citizens. The Pakistan military, which derives much of its political authority from the resonance that the quixotic mission of claiming Kashmir evokes, is unlikely to settle for this second best solution. It would clearly need an external goad to accept the bitter realities of contemporary geopolitics in the region. And that goad, as recent experience has shown, can only come from the U.S.

Musharraf's speech comes as a watershed in a major phase of diplomatic activity in the region, whose relative balances of advantage are yet to stabilise. Close on the heels of Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes will arrive in Washington for his own separate confabulations with top U.S. officials. Secretary of State Powell will meanwhile set off in the reverse direction, stopping at both Islamabad and New Delhi en route to a donors' conference in Tokyo on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. There is also the likelihood that Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy of the U.S. President for Afghanistan, will visit New Delhi in the near future.

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An Afghan-born American citizen, Khalilzad is a colourful figure with a formidable track record of justifying the unjustifiable. He held relatively junior positions in the National Security Council in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush. In the mid-1990s he was a powerful lobbyist for the U.S. oil company Unocal, arguing the merits of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan with passion and conviction. The stakes were high for his principals, who had committed much energy and large sums of money to tapping the Central Asian gas reserves through a pipeline laid across Afghanistan.

Khalilzad only retreated from his ardent embrace of the Taliban in 1998 when the Clinton administration launched a series of missile strikes against Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. But today, with the ouster of the Taliban having brought a new respectability to Afghanistan, he is undoubtedly at liberty to resume his pursuit of the energy bonanza in Central Asia.

The crucial question for India, then, would be whether U.S. foreign policy principles will prove as infinitely malleable as in the past - in short, whether another phase of American romance with the Islamic Right may be in prospect. This question assumes vital importance since the U.S. is engaged now in India's neighbourhood as never before. It is no secret any longer that Pakistan's autonomy to negotiate its own course in the world has been severely constricted. The story of India's contracting sphere of autonomy in foreign affairs - as part of the bargain of participating in the U.S.-led "war on terror" - still remains to be told.

Talking tough

What President Pervez Musharraf, who is fighting on many fronts, has delivered is a stern message to the religious extremists in Pakistan, and to India.

"THE day of reckoning has come. Do we want Pakistan to become a theocratic state? Do we believe that religious education alone is enough for governance or do we want Pakistan to emerge as a progressive and dynamic Islamic welfare state?" Raising these rhetorical questions in the course of his much-awaited address to the people of the nation on the night of January 12, President Pervez Musharraf said that the overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan had given their 'verdict' in favour of Pakistan as a progressive and dynamic Islamic welfare state, as was envisaged by its founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Musharraf went on to unveil a drastic plan to deal with the jehadi culture that has become the dominant feature of Pakistani society in the past two and a half decades.

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The President's hour-long address on state-run television and radio could in no sense be termed as ordinary. Although one will have wait to see how exactly the government will move in the next few days to implement the wide-ranging decisions announced by Musharraf, the President deserves praise, given the circumstances under which he made the speech.

Indian and Pakistani forces were massed on the border and various leaders of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ruling India had struck belligerent postures. Adding to the surcharged atmosphere were the observations made by Gen. S. Padmanabhan, the Chief of the Army Staff, at a press conference a day before Musharraf's address.

Musharraf was under pressure from the international community, led by the U.S., as well. World leaders had made repeated appeals to him to announce radical measures to take on the religious extremist elements and ward off the threat of a conflict. A delegation of U.S. Senators, which was on a tour in the region, added to Musharraf's burdens by issuing a statement on the potential of his address to transform India-Pakistan relations and help defuse the situation. The stern tone adopted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a joint press conference with Musharraf did not go down well in Pakistan. All these developments led to apprehensions within Pakistan about the danger of Musharraf giving in to Indian demands and compromising on the Kashmir issue.

There was little doubt that Musharraf was fighting on many fronts as he prepared for the speech. He had to do a delicate balancing act, and he seems to have succeeded at least in coming out with a clear policy pronouncement. He announced a ban on five jehadi groups, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which were named by India as the main accused in the December 13 attack on Parliament House.

The President talked tough - to the extremist elements in Pakistan and to India. He ordered monitoring of the by-and-large autonomous madrassas, which also served as training grounds for jehadis, and issued strict guidelines for running them and also mosques. He warned India against any "misadventure" and stuck to his stand on Kashmir. As for India's demand for the extradition of 20 persons mentioned in a list it had submitted, Musharraf ruled out handing over Pakistani citizens among them. He promised to act against the Pakistanis in the list under domestic laws if New Delhi produced proof of their crimes. Musharraf said he could consider the case of Indians in the list.

THE move against the jehadi groups marks a definite reversal of a decades-old policy of the Pakistan establishment. Even as the President was announcing the ban on the Sipah-i-Sahaba, the Tehreek-i-Jafria, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), the police were rounding up about 200 leaders and activists of these organisations in order to prevent a violent backlash. These outfits have threatened to launch a nationwide agitation and it would be a while before the government comes to grips with the ramifications of the 'wholesome plan' unfolded by Musharraf.

In a world that has a strong imprint of the events of September 11, Pakistan perhaps had no option but to reverse its strategy of harbouring and helping terrorists in the name of religion. Its own social fabric and economic progress are as much at stake as its security and international image. The education system is almost taken over by deeni madrassas and madaris (religious schools and seminaries). The mandate of young zealots trained in these institutions is to spread their narrow sectarian beliefs or kill the non-believer. These are beyond the control of the government, and some rich Islamic countries are actively involved in aiding and abetting them. The jehadi groups mostly operated as part of the private armies of sect leaders. They are responsible for most of the killings and other crimes in Pakistan today.

Musharraf targeted these groups from the start but was unable to do much in the face of their clout. His action against sectarian and militant outfits had three phases: the phases before and after the September 11 terror strikes in the U.S. and the one after the attack on India's Parliament House.

In his first speech to the nation, on October 17, 1999, he promised to ensure law and order and pleaded with the clergy to present Islam in a true light. It was followed by a programme to deweaponise society by collecting about 1.2 million unlicensed weapons. In June 2000, Musharraf banned the forcible collection of funds in the name of jehad and the public display of weapons. He passed an ordinance seeking to establish model religious schools with a syllabus that blends Islamic and modern subjects. The government proposed to make the registration of seminaries compulsory and launch a survey to document their sources of funding and the presence of foreigners on the rolls. But none of these measures worked on the ground, partly because the government did not go beyond making pronouncements. In his Independence Day speech on August 14, 2001, Musharraf banned two sectarian outfits and put another on the watch-list. These were considered to be cosmetic changes meant for international consumption.

The September 11 incidents forced the pace of events in Pakistan. Musharraf extended support to the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, replaced the Inter-Services Intelligence chief, who was known for his pro-Taliban leanings, and announced the supersession of three senior Generals involved in shaping the policy on Kashmir. He ordered the arrest of the leaders of three major religious groups, including the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamaat-Uelama-Islami, on the charge of inciting people to protest against the government's support to the U.S. action against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. (They are still in jail.)

Following the example of the U.S., the government froze the assets and bank accounts of Pakistan-based organisations that were operating in Afghanistan. Two nuclear scientists were arrested and interrogated for allegedly helping bin Laden.

After December 13, the leaders and hundreds of followers of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad were arrested, their offices in different parts of Pakistan shut down, and their assets frozen. The ISI was ordered to withdraw its support to Pakistan-based militant outfits operating in Kashmir. The government formed a national committee on Kashmir under the chairmanship of Sardar Qayyum Khan, a moderate and former Prime Minister and President of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK).

To be watched now is the reaction of the banned organisations, which are armed to the teeth. The Tehreek-i-Jafria has decided to challenge the ban in court. In a message posted on the Lashkar-e-Toiba's web site, its detained chief, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, said: "I cannot change my course in the wake of trials and tribulations. I shall continue my struggle until the Muslim Ummah is liberated and Allah's word is established in the world."

According to reports, most of the groups targeted by the authorities have started transforming themselves into underground outfits. In fact, they have been trying to make themselves less conspicuous since the U.S. launched the war in Afghanistan. Roadside banners asking the youth to join the jehad and boxes kept on shop counters to collect donations for jehad have slowly disappeared. The Lashkar-e-Toiba moved its base from Muridke, near Lahore, to Muzaffarabad in POK.

Even though Pakistan still supports the 'Kashmir cause', it can ill-afford to be seen as harbouring religious extremists in the post-Taliban days. Musharraf seemed to have launched a war against terror in his own country. But then came December 13. If the assailants' aim was to divert the Pakistani establishment's attention by provoking a war with India, they may succeed even now. The attack was perhaps a backlash of the extremist, terrorist organisations that were feeling neglected, if not threatened, after September 11.

India and Pakistan have been seen to be on the brink of war and their nuclear capabilities make the situation worse. Keeping an eye on the situation is the U.S., whose troops are in neighbouring Afghanistan. Ever since the September 11 attacks and the consequent war on terror, India has been eager to play a role in the 'new world game'. Just as the war on terror was ebbing, New Delhi witnessed the attack on Parliament House. India reacted strongly this time. A diplomatic offensive started within days.

Musharraf's address to the nation is an answer to all these developments. While reiterating his resolve to fight for his country, he has succeeded in giving the impression that he has not cowered in the face of India's diplomatic and military offensive. That leaves the ball in India's court.

A home-grown menace

FOR the first time since Pakistan's independence, the establishment is faced with the prospect of confronting the religious (jehadi) forces in the country. Religious parties and groups have enjoyed a cosy relationship with successive governments since 1947. The governments banked on them to stem any crisis. In fact, most of them aided and abetted these groups in pursuit of their narrow agendas. As a consequence, religious forces have emerged as a 'state within the state', as President Pervez Musharraf put it.

Pakistan was born as a Muslim nation but its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisaged a "modern, progressive and liberal" Islamic country. Religious zealots, with liberal help from successive regimes, succeeded to a large extent in imposing their agenda on the nation.

Religious extremism and intolerance surfaced in the mid-1970s under the stewardship of Pakistan's first elected Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His decision to give in to the demand of the religious parties to declare the Ahmadi sect a minority was the starting point.

President Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator, took the process further through his programme of Islamisation. Post-Zia governments did not dare to reverse the process, and they continued to pander to the whims of religious extremists for partisan ends. The situation deteriorated so much that in 2001 the country faced the serious danger of 'Talibanisation'. Women and the minorities were the worst affected.

The clout of religious parties in Pakistani institutions is disproportionate to the popular support. Barring the 1970 elections, which were conducted under extraordinary circumstances, all the religious parties together have never polled even 5 per cent of the vote.

External forces have played no small role in the rise of religious militancy. Jehad (holy war) as a concept is a gift of the proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. The Afghan war of that period provided an opportunity to Zia to legitimise his rule. With the support of the U.S. and its allies, he encouraged religious parties to recruit youth for jehad.

Billions of dollars and sophisticated weapons flowed into Pakistan during the proxy war, and these transformed its social fabric. Kalashnikov rifles and drugs became commonplace. Sectarian and ethnic terrorism made their appearance in the 1990s, killing thousands of people.

Musharraf was aware of the havoc caused by sectarian and ethnic extremists when he took over as the Chief Executive of the country after the bloodless coup that saw the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He announced an ambitious seven-point agenda against them immediately after assuming office. But his grand plans remained on paper. He developed cold feet in the face of the threatening postures of religious parties and groups.

Musharraf's failure can be attributed partly to his policy of not touching those engaged in Kashmir lest he would be accused of harming the "Kashmir cause". A case in point is the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which faced serious charges of sectarian violence in Pakistan. The Pakistan government's special relations with the Taliban militia prior to September 11 complicated matters further. Afghanistan was an ideal breeding ground for the kind of jehadis needed in Kashmir, and the government had no alternative but to look the other way even when religious extremists committed crimes. Before September 11, over 60 notorious groups of Pakistani origin were sheltered in Afghanistan.

There was a realisation in the establishment that there was no room for jehad in the post-September 11 world. At the same time it was also felt that immediate disengagement from Kashmir could pose serious problems within the country. After all, safeguarding the "Kashmir cause" was one of the reasons cited by Musharraf in support of his decision to back the Americans in Afghanistan. Mounting international pressure after December 13 forced Musharraf to rethink his strategy on Kashmir.

The enormity of the problem Musharraf faces can be gauged from the fact that there are an estimated 12 lakh unlicensed Kalashnikov rifles in Pakistan. No one has an idea of the number of religious seminaries. The estimates range between 15,000 and 40,000. Some of them fall in the category of 'jehad factories'.

An exercise in doublespeak

G. PARTHASARATHY cover-story

AMERICA's "war against terrorism" is now running into serious and unanticipated diplomatic and military problems and dilemmas. Foremost among these is the issue of seeking the cooperation of the Pakistani military establishment in what President George Bush called his "crusade" in Afghanistan. Even as forces of the Northern Alliance were preparing to overrun the Taliban and its allies in Kunduz, a desperate Pervez Musharraf sought American help to evacuate over a thousand Pakistani "volunteers" - all linked to or serving officers and men of his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), from the besieged city. These Pakistan Army personnel had continued to fight alongside the Taliban even after Musharraf loudly proclaimed his loyalty and commitment to the war against terrorism. A reluctant White House was compelled to call a nightly pause in its relentless air attacks and allow the Pakistan Air Force to evacuate its "volunteers" from Kunduz. President Bush is going to regret this decision.

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When the Afghan allies of the United States drove the Taliban out of Kandahar, it was widely expected that Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and others in the leadership of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda would be captured or killed in a matter of days. What has happened instead is that virtually the entire leadership of the Taliban has crossed the border into Pakistan and is now safely ensconced in the tribal areas of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. There is little doubt that they have been joined and assisted by their ISI allies who fought with them in Kunduz and were let free by an over-generous Bush Administration. President Bush is slowly realising that Secretary of State General Colin Powell's good friend General Musharraf either cannot or will not help decisively in tracking down America's most wanted terrorists. The U.S. is now preparing for a long stay in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan as it struggles to conclude the very first part of its anti-terrorism campaign. There are even now voices in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon expressing anxiety over Pakistan's "double-dealing".

What has caused Washington equal concern is the fact that it can no longer ignore the nexus between ISI-sponsored Jehadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, on the one hand and the Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the other. The Bush Administration has been forced to act against these groups after the outrageous attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13 - an outrage that has led to New Delhi clamping diplomatic sanctions and applying military pressure against Pakistan, with a massive troop and Army, Navy and Air Force build-up on its borders. Any conflict between India and Pakistan would only further weaken the already none-too-successful American war effort, which depends on base facilities provided by Pakistan in four of its air bases on which several thousand American military and CIA personnel as well as aircraft and helicopters operate. For a change New Delhi has stood firm and made it clear that it will not relent unless General Musharraf finally and irrevocably ends support for cross-border terrorism.

GENERAL MUSHARRAF'S televised address of January 12 should be seen in the context of these developments. He is under immense international and Indian pressure to close down organisations and institutions in Pakistan that preach and spread religious and sectarian hatred within Pakistan and across its borders. But old habits die hard. The author of the Kargil intrusion is still loath to give up categorically terrorism as an instrument of state policy when it comes to relations with India. What he has cleverly sought to do in his speech is to please the international community, while simultaneously remaining ambivalent on India's demands that he should end cross-border terrorism and extradite or deport 20 persons accused of serious acts of terrorism not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but across India. While averring that he will not extradite a single Pakistani national to India, he has hedged on the entire issue of extraditing or deporting others such as Dawood Ibrahim and "Tiger" Memon who were responsible for the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993, or Wassan Singh Babbar accused of involvement in the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. In all probability, Musharraf will claim that these individuals are untraceable, even though he knows that Dawood has lived in Karachi for years at a residence that is within a stone's throw of his own residence there.

In these circumstances, New Delhi has little option but to maintain relentless military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan till such time when Musharraf is persuaded that half measures and deceptions will not work. Colin Powell will spare no effort to plead Musharraf's good intentions. But the U.S. knows that Musharraf has taken steps to disengage from his past policies, out of compulsion and not conviction. The Bush Administration also cannot overlook the hard fact that the leadership of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban could not have escaped into Pakistan without the connivance and support of elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. While Musharraf may pledge his commitment to the eradication of religious extremism, sectarianism and terrorism from the body politic of his country, the Army establishment he heads is not going to give up its old habits and linkages with extremists and terrorists easily. But despite this, New Delhi would do well to say that while it appreciates and welcomes Musharraf's references to act against those sponsoring terrorism within or outside Pakistan, it will judge him by what he does and not by what he says.

General Musharraf knows that he is walking through a minefield in which it is very difficult to manoeuvre. He has no easy options, especially as New Delhi is not going to relent until it is persuaded by means of his actions against the terrorist groups that he has irrevocably renounced terrorism as an instrument of state policy. In case he finds it difficult to hand over the wanted terrorists to India he could hand over at least 14 of them to Interpol as Interpol has issued warning circulars about their activities. The Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan, has given a pretty clear idea of the functioning of terrorist training camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and in Pakistan. New Delhi will be looking for clear signs that these camps are being closed and their occupants disarmed and disbanded. While Musharraf could claim that he will find it difficult politically to call for these groups to be disarmed, he could get this demand to be raised by the head of his newly appointed Kashmir Committee, Sardar Qayyum Khan, and remedial action taken thereafter.

There is no dearth of apologists for General Musharraf in India - people of goodwill who will extol the professed virtues of the General and call for an immediate dialogue with him. They would do well to remember the words of Atal Behari Vajpayee at the SSARC summit in Kathmandu: "I am glad that President Musharraf extended hand of friendship to me. I have shaken his hand in your presence. Now President Musharraf must follow this gesture by not permitting any activity in Pakistan or any territory it controls which enables terrorists to perpetrate mindless violence in India. I say this because of our past experiences. I went to Lahore with a hand of friendship. We were rewarded by aggression in Kargil and the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu. I invited President Musharraf to Agra. We were rewarded with a terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and, last month, on the Parliament of India."

G. Parthasarathy, India's former High Commissioner in Pakistan and Visiting Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, is a noted commentator on international affairs.

'A window of diplomacy must be left open'

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Interview with Natwar Singh.

K. Natwar Singh, chairman of the Congress(I)'s foreign affairs cell, although appreciative of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's stern rebuff to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, feels that a window of diplomacy must be left open between the two countries. The increased diplomatic activity around India-Pakistan relations and the heightened resolve to tackle cross-border terrorism, he says, do not speak for the efficacy of the government's strategy, but is the result of the realisation in the West that India is united on the issues of national security, cross-border terrorism, nuclear policy and other defence-related matters.

Natwar Singh says the United States and Britain cannot be expected to play the role of a mediator, as the Simla Agreement, the bedrock of Indo-Pakistan relations, rules out any third-party intervention. Excerpts from the interview he gave Purnima S. Tripathi:

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Do you think the increased military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and the heightened resolve to tackle cross-border terrorism speak of the efficacy of the strategy followed by the government?

It has nothing to do with the efficacy of the strategy followed by the government. If there has been any increased international pressure on Pakistan to contain cross-border terrorism, it is because Europe and the United States have woken up to the reality of terrorism after September 11. This increased pressure is also because of the realisation that there are no differences of opinion in India on issues of security, cross-border terrorism and nuclear policy. On these issues there has been broad national consensus. When the leaders of the Opposition parties met the Prime Minister, the Congress party along with other parties gave support to the government to deal with cross-border terrorism and India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan should realise that there is a very strong feeling against cross-border terrorism in India, especially after December 13.

Is a military offensive a realistic option? Has this option receded to the background now?

Our troops are on full alert. At one stage the government looked very serious about exercising the military option. It cannot be ruled out. We feared that it would do something adventurous before the Uttar Pradesh elections. But we just hope that the government will not play with the lives of our brave jawans for a few electoral votes in U.P. That option now looks somewhat distant, especially in view of the facts that the Chinese Prime Minister is arriving on a visit, the government is sending a delegation of MPs to foreign countries and the Republic Day celebrations are approaching.

Do you think a dialogue with Pakistan could start in the near future?

We are of the opinion that although the atmosphere at the moment is not conducive to talks, the diplomatic door should not be shut completely and indefinitely. A little window should be left open for diplomacy, because eventually the two sides have to talk.

There has been a lot of diplomatic activity in the wake of December 13, and there is more to come. What will be the outcome of these exchanges?

There has been a lot of diplomatic activity, but it is for the simple reason that India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers. The BJP must realise that after May 1998 (the Pokhran nuclear test) it gave Pakistan defence parity with India for all times. Before that we were far superior, in conventional arms. As for the outcome of these exchanges, unless General Musharraf stops these activities (terrorist activities), normalisation of relations is out of the question. Everybody is speaking of restraint with regard to Pakistan and India, but the question is when New York gets hit the Americans come 8,000 miles away, to Afghanistan. Pakistan is next door. We have given them all proof. Musharraf has only to ask the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) chief who the terrorists are since they have been training them, feeding them, giving them money and shelter. In Kathmandu, Vajpayee conveyed to Musharraf the strong Indian feeling against terrorist activities. The outcome will depend on what he (Musharraf) says and does.

How crucial do you think has been the U.S.' role in this period of coercive diplomacy?

The United States has been helpful and we welcome that. But this does not mean that it is going to mediate or be a third party because the bedrock of India-Pakistan relations is the Simla Agreement, which does not provide for any third-party intervention. It was unfortunate that Mr. (Bill) Clinton, when he visited India (in 2000), referred to the Kashmir issue as a dispute. Mr.(Tony) Blair, while in Pakistan in January, also used the word 'dispute'. We appreciate the helpful role the U.K. and the U.S. are playing, but they cannot mediate.

What could be the implications of internal political stability and order in Pakistan?

India is in favour of stability in Pakistan because instability in Pakistan will have serious repercussions in the whole of the SAARC region and beyond.

What kind of message is conveyed by the decision to cut off long-distance telephone links in Kashmir and the cancellation of buses and trains to Pakistan?

These are temporary measures. Once the relations are normalised we can hope that these services will be resumed. What we must guard against, however, is the use of phrases like "strategic partner" or "natural allies" of the U.S. as (External Affairs Minister) Jaswant Singh did recently. Strategic partners against whom? Who is the enemy? How can we be natural allies of countries that are members of a military bloc (NATO)? We must not forget that we are a non-aligned country. We certainly want good relations with the U.S. and Britain, we welcome it, but we cannot be their strategic partners or natural allies.

Dangers of U.S. intervention

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Interview with Prakash Karat.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has consistently taken the principled stand on the issue of terrorism. While condemning the recent terrorist attacks and noting that the terrorists who attacked Parliament House were Pakistani nationals, the CPI(M) has criticised the renewed efforts of the United States to extend its global hegemony on the pretext of fighting the "war against terrorism". The party has accused the Vajpayee government of using the attack on Parliament House as an excuse to push the country "into a holocaust of war".

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The party has emphasised that the BJP-led government should focus on diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. It has accused the Vajpayee government of completely surrendering to "the imperialist designs of the U.S." and hurting the dignity of the country in the process.

The CPI(M) has said that President Pervez Musharraf's January 12 speech will have "a positive impact" on bilateral relations and that it reflects a serious effort on the part of the government in Islamabad to deal with the problem of religious extremism in that country.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Prakash Karat, in an interview with John Cherian, said that President Musharraf had taken a categorical stand to ban groups indulging in terrorist violence and enforce state regulations on religious institutions. Excerpts:

The military and diplomatic pressure seems to have induced in President Musharraf a new resolve to tackle terrorism. Does this speak of the government's efficacy? Is a military offensive ever a realistic option?

After the December 13 attack on Parliament, there was a lot of talk about military retaliation against Pakistan. Sections of the BJP and the RSS called for a military offensive. At the outset, the Vajpayee government seemed to respond to such calls. This was irresponsible as it would have led to a full-scale war with Pakistan. Given the military balance of strength between the two countries, a war would result in a stalemate with serious casualties in terms of lives and economic resources. Moreover, an Indo-Pakistan conflict is fraught with the danger of a nuclear confrontation, which would have only succeeded in sidetracking the main issue of terrorist violence emanating from Pakistan.

From the beginning, the government should have followed the diplomatic course. The Left parties had suggested that the attack on Parliament and the evidence connected with it should be placed before the United Nations, taking recourse to Resolution 1373, which requires member-states to take measures against terrorist activities. However, the Vajpayee government has so far not approached the U.N., when there is a strong case in India's favour. Pakistan would have to respond to the U.N. taking up the issue.

Do you think that a dialogue with Pakistan will start in the near future? What do you think should be the terms of the dialogue?

With both the armies fully mobilised on the borders and the Vajpayee government still relying on military pressure, the danger of war is not fully over. There is no alternative to resuming the dialogue with Pakistan. Bilateral talks constitute the only way to avoid U.S. intervention. At what level to start the talks and with what to begin after the Agra Summit is for the government to decide.

There has been a great deal of diplomatic activity in recent weeks. How do you see the outcome of these exchanges?

The main emphasis in India's diplomatic effort seems to be directed at the United States and getting it to intervene. This is in line with the Vajpayee government's understanding that the U.S. has to play the role of an arbiter in Indo-Pakistan relations. The problem with such an approach is that it will inevitably lead to the U.S. playing a mediatory role on the Kashmir issue.

How crucial is the U.S. role?

The BJP-led government is now fully committed to India playing the role of a strategic ally of the U.S. This has been maturing even beforfore the December 13 attack. Taken together with the dramatically increased intervention of the U.S. in South Asia and, in particular Afganisthan after September 11, we are in for a period where both the Indian and Pakistani governments are going to become totally reliant on the U.S. The implications of this are disturbing. We should not be surprised if the CIA is asked to coordinate certain aspects of the relations between India and Pakistan, especially on security matters. The CIA has been playing such a role between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

What are the political implications for Pakistan?

The situation presents an opportunity for President Musharraf to take a firm stand against the extremist fundamentalist forces. At present they are in a weakened position after the developments in Afganisthan. Much will depend on how President Musharraf tackles this challenge.

What possible impact will President Musharraf's speech of January 12 have on the internal situation in Pakistan and India-Pakistan relations?

The speech, coming in the wake of the rising tensions between the two countries, will have a positive impact. The assertion that terrorism cannot be allowed in the name of religion and that Pakistan cannot be used for terrorist activities even on the Kashmir issue is significant.

Within Pakistan, President Musharraf has taken a categorical stand to curb religious extremism, ban groups indulging in terrorist violence and enforce state regulation of religious institutions. These steps, if implemented, will initiate major changes for the better, for eliminating the influence of the jehadi organisations.

'Our war is on terrorism, not Pakistan'

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Interview with Jana Krishnamurthi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been advocating a proactive approach in matters concerning relations with Pakistan, particularly after the terrorist strikes at the Parliament complex on December 13. Some BJP functionaries had even demanded that the Indian forces should cross the Line of Control (LoC) to strike at the training camps of militants in Pakistan. However, pressure from the United States and the rest of the world forced the ruling party to tone down its hawkish sentiments, and endorse the government's coercive diplomatic measures against Pakistan. In this interview with V. Venkatesan, BJP president Jana Krishnamurthi explains the reasons for this subtle shift in the party's stance.

The government appears to be caught between the pursuit of military and diplomatic measures while evolving an effective response to Pakistan in the wake of December 13. Does the BJP now consider a military offensive against Pakistan to be a realistic option?

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The Government is fully determined to root out terrorism. India is seeking the cooperation of all other nations in this regard. After September 11, India was the first country to support the war against terrorism. Other countries then followed suit. All countries need to work together in waging a battle against terrorism. Terrorism cannot be compartmentalised. The only difference between September 11 and December 13 is that in the former they (the terrorists) could succeed, while in the latter, they could not. With all the technological advancement in surveillance and security, the U.S. could not defend itself on September 11. Fortunately, in India, the security personnel could thwart the terrorists' attempt. Otherwise, the objective, the attempt, the purpose, are one and the same between September 11 and December 13. It is, therefore, natural that our country approached all other countries to join hands in the fight against terrorism.

It is a well-established fact that terrorism in India emanated from the soil of Pakistan. Even today, there are terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan, aided, abetted and assisted by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is an official outfit of the Pakistan government. That is why our government called on the Government of Pakistan to see that all these terrorist outfits are banned and its leaders arrested. The Indian government has furnished evidence to the Pakistan government that the terrorists are all Pakistani nationals, and also members of terrorist outfits operating from Pakistan. It has called upon Pakistan to take immediate action, and gave a list of terrorists in Pakistan who should be handed over to India. Not only are they responsible for the December 13 attack, but some of them were wanted even earlier for the IC-814 hijack to Kandahar. Unfortunately, in spite of the pressure, the Pakistan government is trying to aggravate the situation by advancing the spurious argument that those who are operating from Kashmir are freedom fighters and not terrorists.

But the Government or the nation does not want to wage a battle against Pakistan and defeat Pakistan in that sense. But the whole set-up in Pakistan seems to be itching for some armed confrontation with India. And India naturally has to take steps to defend itself. When crack divisions of the Pakistan Army were brought near the border, and even guided missiles were deployed along the border, naturally the defence authorities of India have taken precautionary steps to move troops nearer to the border so as to face any contingency that may arise. But even today our Government believes in bringing pressure on Pakistan, through diplomatic channels. India would not like to declare war on Pakistan. Terrorists have already declared a war on human society by their actions of September 11 and December 13. So, India has declared a war on terrorism by responding to that.

Is a dialogue with Pakistan feasible in the near future?

Not until Pakistan takes steps to prove its bona fides, and shows that it is against terrorists. So far it has not done it.

Pakistan claims that India has not provided sufficient evidence regarding terrorists against whom it wants action taken in Pakistan.

What was the evidence that the U.S. had against Osama bin Laden? What was the evidence that the U.S. had against the Taliban forces? Did Pakistan question the U.S.? But in our case Pakistan is only trying to evade the issue.

How do you assess the outcome of the diplomatic initiative taken by other countries, notably the U.S. and the United Kingdom, to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan?

Nobody could predict the outcome of the present efforts to bring about normalcy in India-Pakistan relations. If Pakistan proves to be reasonable, the efforts undertaken so far will yield results. But Pakistan seems not to realise its responsibility. It still holds on to the same charges and stand that it has been adopting all these years. Still, we feel that international pressure is building up. Many foreign governments, including the U.S., the U.K. and Israel, are telling Pakistan in their own way that it should stop supporting terrorists. Having said this, India should not expect the U.S. to do battle for it. Ultimately, the battle is ours. Immediately after December 13, some of the statements from the U.S. government did not show that it realised the seriousness of the situation here. Thereafter, the U.S. stand changed considerably and it agreed with the Indian position. Public opinion in the U.S. is now veering around in India's favour. As a democratic country, the U.S. will continue to exert pressure on Pakistan to desist from supporting or sustaining terrorist outfits.

Will the pressure from the U.S. on Pakistan take the form of mediation in resolving the Kashmir issue?

India has never asked for any mediation from any country and we don't accept any mediation. Asking foreign governments to bring pressure on Pakistan to give up the path of terrorism, or support to terrorism, is not seeking mediation.

Euro's first victim

VAIJU NARAVANE world-affairs

ITALY'S Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero, the respected former head of the World Trade Organisation, quit the eight-month-old centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi in the first week of January, causing consternation in Italy and the European Union. His departure dealt a severe blow to the already tainted international image of Italy's media-magnate-turned Prime Minister.

The euro thus claimed its first victim, since the quarrel between Berlusconi and his foreign policy chief was essentially over European policy. Ruggiero, widely perceived as being pro-European integration, maintains close personal ties with a number of international leaders and has served as European Union spokesperson and Commissioner. His induction into the Berlusconi government had reassured European nations that were worried about extreme right-wing views dominating the coalition government. It now appears that their worst fears have come true.

Ruggiero resigned on January 5 following a public clash with Berlusconi, who is under increasing criticism for his authoritarian and often anti-European attitudes.

The business daily Il sole 24 Ore in a signed editorial said: "Ruggiero's international contacts would have constituted a precious asset for any government, particularly Silvio Berlusconi's, which in Europe and elsewhere remains an object of mystery."

Berlusconi's ruling coalition, known as the House of Freedoms, is composed of the reformed former fascist party, his own right-wing Forza Italia (Go, Italy) and the anti-foreigner Northern League. Eurosceptics dominate his government, and Umberto Bossi, Minister and leader of the Northern League, shocked Europeans by saying "I don't care a hoot for the euro" the day after the new currency was issued. Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, who was one of those tipped to take the foreign portfolio, is a confirmed eurosceptic.

In fact, Italy will put the euro to the litmus test. There has been some chaos in the country with huge queues at auto routes and in front of automatic cash machines. Shopkeepers often refused to give change in euros and banks were sharply criticised for showing callousness towards their clients.

Berlusconi publicly sidelined Ruggiero from any decision-making on the question of Italian support for the development of the Airbus military transport plane, an eight-nation, multi-billion-dollar venture. Berlusconi has also wished to move Italy closer to the United States and made remarks denigrating Islam. Opponents are now calling for Berlusconi to enunciate clearly his European policy.

On January 6, Berlusconi took over as interim Foreign Minister, and said he would keep the portfolio for a few months "because I intend to modernise our foreign policy machinery in order to promote the commercial interests of Italian small and medium businesses in Europe and the world". But critics largely viewed this as further proof of capitulation to the parochial Northern League.

Towards judicial integration

BISWAJIT CHOUDHURY world-affairs

The countries of the European Union reach an agreement on a pan-European arrest warrant after Italy falls in line.

EVEN as the European Union (E.U.) proceeded with its count-down to the euro circulating as common currency among most of its member-states from January 2002, problems crept up in other spheres of European integration. The issue of Europe-wide justice highlighted the hurdles to integration at a time when economic union was being almost fully realised through the euro.

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European Justice and Interior Ministers met in early December to propose arrest warrants that would allow courts in any E.U. country to secure the arrest and extradition of suspects of serious crimes. Under this pact, any E.U. country would be obliged to hand over suspects in cases involving a wide range of 32 defined crimes, to any other member-state without having to resort to lengthy and complex extradition processes. The list of crimes included terrorism, criminal organisation, paedophilia, arms traffic, xenophobia, fraud and money laundering.

Strangely, while economic union becomes a reality, the economic crimes in the list became the stumbling block to an agreement on a European arrest warrant. Italy revealed at the ministerial meeting that it would veto the proposal unless it was limited to six offences, such as terrorism and organised crime, and crimes like fraud and corruption were excluded. The Italians insisted on cutting down the list to include less than a fifth of the 32 crimes mentioned. With the Italian intransigence leaving the talks in Brussels deadlocked on December 7, other E.U. countries considered going ahead with the proposal without Italy. German Interior Minister Otto Schilly declared, "The Italian position is unacceptable. It is impossible not to include corruption, fraud and counterfeiting."

If Italy was thus to be excluded it faced the prospect of becoming a safe haven for criminals, or a kind of "judicial paradise" for accused facing a European arrest warrant. At that point, the only hope of an agreement, slated for the E.U. summit in Laeken on December 12, rested on Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's visit to Rome for a last minute meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The meeting produced a dramatic reversal, and on the eve of the Laeken summit, Italy accepted the proposal for an arrest warrant for the full list of 32 crimes. "Italy accepts the European arrest warrant as defined at a meeting of the Justice and Interior Ministers on December 6," Berlusconi stated after his talks with Verhofstadt.

The accord is to be implemented from 2004. The E.U. countries have until then to enact enabling national laws to give effect to the provision for a European arrest warrant. In Italy's case this would require changes to its Constitution, which are otherwise being proposed by the ruling coalition composed of Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the right-wing National Alliance and the Northern League, to effect internal reform of the judicial system. Announcing Italy's acceptance, Berlusconi added that the Italian judicial system would have to be adapted to ensure compatibility with the European arrest warrant. "If we can't change the Constitution, then we will remain outside this agreement," he clarified, citing as example the cases of "Britain and other countries that have remained outside the euro."

BUT enough damage had been done already to the image of a united Europe and more so to the image of Italy within Europe. British historian Paul Ginsborg, a scholar on contemporary Italy, wrote in the daily La Repubblica, "The reputation of Italy in Europe is now entering into a third phase, marked by uncertainties and by the reappearance of ancient doubts. The message that the new government of the centre-right is sending out to European public opinion concerning, above all, justice (the controversial question of the rogatories and the veto on the arrest warrant for fraud and corruption, money laundering and crimes against the environment) is hardly reassuring. They contribute to create the impression of Italy as a possible refuge of criminals, of an European nation in which private interests prevail over public good."

Eugenio Scalfari, founder and former Editor of La Repubblica, described the arrest warrant episode as "a terrible stink", and acknowledged that he had never come across events "so miserable and shameful" in the more than 50 years of his career as a journalist. According to him, these were nothing but attempts to protect a small and privileged group centred on Berlusconi.

The impression that somehow private interests, and that too of a Prime Minister and some of his business associates, were behind Italy's isolated opposition to the arrest warrant proposed was buttressed by the fact that a Spanish Judge, Balthazar Garzon, has been investigating Berlusconi's business activities in Spain, specifically some dealings of his media company. Garzon has been reportedly exploring the possibility of pressing charges involving financial irregularities against Berlusconi, and a European arrest warrant provision would increase the risk for Berlusconi of facing prosecution charges in a foreign court.

Berlusconi's private interests add up to make him Italy's richest man, with holdings in various industries through his holding company, Fininvest. His vast business empire includes the control of important private television stations which, combined with the fact of his party being in power, gives the ruling coalition a virtual monopoly over Italian television. Berlusconi's role as Prime Minister has thus generated much concern, within the country and elsewhere in Europe, about the conflict of interests involved. Berlusconi and Fininvest have been investigated through much of the last decade in Italy, for offences such as false accounting, and bribing tax officers and judges. They have also faced charges of bribery and tax evasion.

Ever since the centre-right coalition led by Berlusconi came to office after elections in May 2001, a series of legislative measures have provoked increasing criticism that the government is compromising on its crime control abilities just in order to protect Berlusconi and his friends from charges of criminal wrongdoing. The first of these laws on letters rogatory, concerning judicial cooperation with Switzerland, had clear implications for the case relating to Berlusconi's alleged bribing of judges. The new law has a direct bearing on cases that depend largely on evidence obtained by Italian prosecutors from Swiss banks. Much of this evidence, however, has been made inadmissible in Italian courts on procedural grounds by the law on letters rogatory, effecting significant changes in Italian criminal law. Naturally, this affects other investigations and trials involving criminal acts such as money laundering, which led Bernard Bertossa, Chief Magistrate of Geneva, to remark: "The Italian government is not committed to fight crimes like money laundering."

A second piece of legislation concerns false accounting, under which Italian magistrates had proceeded against several businessmen, including Berlusconi. The new Bill decriminalises many cases of false accounting in private companies.

These recent bills have been accompanied by a campaign against the judiciary mounted by Berlusconi and members from both the government and the ruling coalition. Berlusconi publicly criticised the judiciary for having handed down sentences on the basis of "false evidence" presented by magistrates. According to him, sections of the judiciary have been "waging a civil war" against politicians with the aim of working "a political revolution using judicial means". The ruling coalition also presented a resolution in Parliament criticising sections of the judiciary on the grounds of misusing their constitutional privileges for political ends, and of interfering in the political arena.

The Opposition describes all this as being part of concerted move to "de-legitimise" the actions of magistrates, going back to the string of investigations and trials launched since 1992, which discredited and carried away virtually the entire post-War political class in Italy. As part of the "clean hands" operations of the 1990s, magistrates proceeded against many businessmen.

A key element of the judicial reforms proposed by the ruling coalition concerns the position of the magistrate, which corresponds to that of the prosecutor elsewhere. In Italy the judiciary, protected constitutionally as an independent organ, functions as one service that includes the magistrate-prosecutor as well as the Judges. The reforms propose a "separation of careers" to install something on the lines of a separate prosecutors' service in countries such as Britain and France that allows a degree of political control. Magistrates and the Public Prosecutor in Italy have the power to initiate criminal action and they also coordinate police investigation.

From another perspective, the Italian system allows a level of independent control over the actions of executive authority. On this difficult question of justice, the consensus required for constitutional change will not be easy to obtain. The compromise agreed upon in Laeken was that Italy would accept the European arrest warrant provision, subject to its own judicial reforms, that require the Constitution to be amended. Berlusconi did mention the possibility of the period up to 2004 not being enough, for what could be a long-drawn process.

Parallel communities

MICHAEL HINDLEY world-affairs

The investigation reports on racial clashes in Britain last year reflect a disturbing picture.

THE respective investigation reports on last summer's violent trilateral clashes involving Asian and white youths and the police in the North English towns of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley make grim reading, not least for this author who grew up near Burnley and represented the town in the European Parliament for a decade.

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Although the reports blame criminal elements for instigating the disturbances - the ones in Burnley were apparently ignited by turf battles among rival drug dealers - the fact that race relations were so poor as to be so readily ignited is quite an indictment of the state of race relations in towns suffering widespread urban decay.

Central to the problem is the unwillingness of the British authorities to tackle the issue of race; instead they prefer to couch the issue in euphemistic language and to assume that by the very passage of time, differences will be smoothed over and racial harmony will automatically emerge. Official government documents talk of the "Black and Asian" communities - assuming that being "black" is sufficient to signify commonality among Africans and West Indians, whereas being "Asian" signifies commonality across a vast and diverse continent. What "Blacks and Asians" do have in common is that all are subjected to degrees of racial intolerance endemic in Britain. However, the generic catch-all description disguises the fact that there are huge differences within and between. For example, the highest achiever group in all races at British schools are Indian girls and the lowest achievers are Muslim boys - both "Asians".

Moreover, it is no longer fashionable - especially in the politically correct parlance of New Labour - to use a more accurate measuring guide to achievement, which is "class".

The overwhelming evidence of underachievement and lack of prospects which have provided the kindling for resentment and alienation, points to poverty and not race being the main problem. Burnley is somewhat euphemistically referred to as a town "in slow transition". The town had a dynamic history of textiles, coal mining and engineering, all of which have suffered drastic collapses in employment levels. For the last two decades, the ability of local authorities to stimulate growth, or at least offset decline, has been severely curtailed by government restrictions in finance, and a sorry circle of lower personal real incomes has been coupled with the township's lack of resources. What resources have been coming in have been concentrated on the poorer areas, where the original immigrants live, giving rise to the widely held misperception that "the Asians get all the help", a frequently quoted complaint from neighbouring poor whites. The bitter resentment expressed by alienated white youths has found an echo in the fascist British National Party (BNP) which targeted Oldham and Burnley during the 2001 general elections. In a recent council byelection in Burnley, the BNP polled an alarmingly high 20 per cent in a low turnout.

However, perhaps the most depressing and revealing aspect of the report with regard to Burnley is the assertion that the communities are living "parallel" lives with little or no interaction. The social services are criticised for employing Asians to look after Asian youths and whites to look after white youths. In many Lancashire towns now there are "Asian" cricket teams, even "Asian leagues" to cater for the youth long exasperated at being unwelcome at local, indigenous teams.

In actuality the "Asians" of Burnley are Muslims of Pakistani origin and it is the present generation, those born in Britain, who have most problems of identity. Many Asians I have spoken to over the last decade have the same sorry experience. The endemic racism in British society makes them at best feel uncomfortable and at worst unwanted. Yet as any generation does, they move away from the traditional household customs and habits. If they return to Pakistan they feel little affinity with that society; the word most commonly used to me to describe their view of the ancestral homeland is "feudal". Some have even defiantly taken to the pejorative term "Paki" as a badge of honour and for many the siren voice of militant Islam does offer a sense of solidarity and identity. Indeed this militancy, often no more than rhetorical or declamatory, has risen in direct proportion to the rise in anti-Muslim feelings engendered in the Gulf Wars and latterly after September 11.

Who actually speaks for these communities has at least, and at last, been questioned by the reports. The Burnley report points to the fact that local "Asian leaders" are frequently self-appointed and often unrepresentative. The unstated but implicit criticism is levelled against local politicians who have been unwilling, often for their own selfish vote-garnering purposes, to challenge the authority of such "leaders".

British Home Secretary David Blunkett's reaction to the reports has been criticised for laying emphasis on the need for change in the immigrant community, which should, in his words, "adopt British cultural norms" in order to fit in better. His tirade against "forced marriages" overlooks the fact that it was his own Labour predecessor and now Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who scrapped the so-called "primary purpose" rule which said that immigrants had to prove that their arranged marriage was not one that was entered into in order to facilitate entry into the country. "Runaway brides" and violence to women inside marriage are some of the great taboos in the race relations dialogue, but are clearly signs of stress when British-raised Muslim women find themselves in marriages brokered in a manner that is at odds with their own aspirations.

Actually a more radical improvement in race relations is likely to occur because of a recently enacted legislation, rather than because of any exhortations arising from the reports on the disturbances of last summer.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act of 2000, passed in the light of the finding of the inquiry into the death of the black teenager Steven Lawrence, has changed the emphasis of race relations from prevention to cure, hopefully. The old piece of race relations legislation prohibited discrimination, while the new one places a responsibility on all authorities not only to stop discrimination but also to "promote" good race relations. To succeed will necessitate drawing communities together to consult them on how to end Britain's "parallel" lives. The alternative seems to be the summer race riot becoming as much a part of British life as cricket.

Michael Hindley was a Labour Party member of the European Parliament from 1984 to 1999.

Satan calling

NURUDDIN FARAH world-affairs

Will Somalia be the next to suffer a visitation? God forbid.

AS a child growing up in the Muslim-dominated Somali Peninsula, I was brought up to believe that for a good while before and after the holy month of Ramzan, Satan is locked away in a place from where he could spread no sedition amongst good folks.

I have lately been wondering if it is time that I revisit this myth with a view to assess or revise it, given the recent horrors with which the world has been made familiar - a terror that has caused the death of so many innocent persons. But do kindly take note that when I use the concept 'Satan', I am employing it in the pre-Islamic meaning of the Arabic root-word "shatana", from which I derive a secular notion of the term. In my translation of it, I render it as "the one who spreads sedition" or "the one who opposes the will of the community". Defined thus, you can work out for yourself the Satan that will fit the bill in the present context.

The spreaders of sedition have evidently been busy, proof enough that Satan was not in chains a fortnight before the blessed month as I was taught to expect. But then again, it seems that he will not be under lock and key a fortnight or a month after the Islamic or Christian festivities. Meanwhile, he has been very much on the loose, visiting havoc on the world's innocent, and choosing to reveal his wicked intentions in different guises, all of them unpalatable. No wonder everyone wants to know where Satan is headed next.

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The pundits predict that he will call at a Muslim country. However, no one knows for certain where his first port of call will be. Is it to be Somalia, a land of grief with no effective national authority; Sudan, where one of the spreaders of attrition has once been based; Iraq, often described as an Arab nation and an untouchable at that; or Yemen, where he is said to command a strong following?

Apart from speculation, no one has the slightest idea what the spreaders of sedition and those in hot pursuit of them will do "once Afghanistan has rid herself of Osama bin Laden and his associates". The supposition that the spreaders of sedition will "relocate" to Somalia is based on the assumption that the country is faction-ridden and that there is no central authority on which the international community can rely on to flush them out, hunt them down, or bring them before the law courts. The United States and its allies, having remained impervious to and neglectful of Somalia's destruction, must think hard about the consequences of their actions before firing a missile. Because, any such ill-advised overkill will doubtlessly cause more grief in a land that has not enjoyed peace for over a decade.

Is Somalia to be invaded, because the U.S. is intent on the "eradication of terror" as claimed by the primary sponsors of it? Even according to America's own intelligence, the Al Qaeda cells found in Somalia are far less active or cohesive than those in Italy, Belgium and Britain. A U.S. intrusion into Somalia would destabilise the fragile peace that has been achieved in the country, where a transitional authority with the mandate to establish a permanent, all-inclusive government for the whole nation has been finally created after years of strife. Unless, as some Somalis believe, the U.S. kite-flying strategy is a weak, primordial lust to take vengeance on the Farah Aideed-led faction that drove them out of Mogadishu in October 1993. I hope not.

Anyone with sufficient knowledge about Somalia would agree with me when I state that it would not be possible for bin Laden and his associates to find refuge among Somalis. We have enough problems of our own making, and do not think it wise to court the problems of other folks from elsewhere. As it happens, we are dealing with the fragmented nature of our society, with its many warring factions, each with its own acronym, each letter representing its leader's self-delusion. What is more, the men at the head of these murderous factions are untrustworthy, what with their shifting alliances and the fact that each will point a censorious finger at every rival, whom they describe as associates of Al Qaeda. Do not be fooled by the misinformation the self-declared faction leaders dole out; there is no truth in much of what the warlords say. In a significant way Somalia is like Afghanistan in that no single political or religious movement has been able to unite its quarrelling warlords for any length of time.

A quarrelsome lot, Somalis take delight in informing on or engaging one another with venomous concern. War-making being addictive, we live in times of pestilence and suffer from the contagion of self-hate. As a result of this, we consider it our primary business to discover who our enemies' friends are, what they are up to, with whom they are plotting, against whom and why. I cannot for the life of me imagine a bin Laden or one of his associates finding a hiding place for even a single weekend in a land where everything is an open secret. Nobody who carries a prize-head worth so many million dollars on his shoulders would be foolish enough to seek refuge in a land where treachery among the political elite has been unequalled anywhere else in the world. He had better find his peace elsewhere, in a land where loyalties are more permanent and where he would be less likely to be sold for a tuppence.

Moreover, I doubt very much if there are more than a handful of my countrymen who are prepared to lay down their lives for Islam, well aware that the Almighty has supplied the faith with many other volunteers from other parts of the world eager to do a martyr's bidding. I doubt too that Al Qaeda would raise enough recruits among Somalia's unemployed lumpen to fight under his banner. Many a Somali might not hesitate to die for his clan family or for financial gains, but not for an abstraction, which is what, in the final analysis, religion is to the barely literate. Nor is there sufficient evidence to support the claim made by an Ethiopian diplomat based in Washington that "there is a connection between Al Ithihaad and Al Qaeda." But the question we need to ask ourselves is why, according to a U.S. official, are "the Ethiopians a little too enthusiastic" for Somalia to be bombed, when the U.S. "intelligence review has concluded that the Al Qaeda presence in Somalia is at a very low level"?

On my way back from Europe a little over a week ago, I picked up an Arabic newspaper, Al Hayat of December 11, in which an equally far-fetched link is drawn between the militia of the Islamic courts and bin Laden's network. This is what I call rabid sensationalism. Where is the proof? Anyone familiar with the Islamic courts, created to bring about some semblance of order among the unruly militiamen in Mogadishu, knows the claim to be false. In that edition, Al Hayat devotes half a page to a hand-drawn map, marked as if to guide the U.S. missiles to where the al-Barakat banks and the Islamic courts training camps are. Al Hayat is sadly wrong and the information given is highly dangerous and misleading.

It is my thinking that "the little, low level presence" of Al Qaeda, as U.S. intelligence sources put it, could quite painlessly be rooted out without destabilising the fragile peace prevailing in the land. A large-scale invasion by the U.S. and its allies, or bringing on board the "attritionists" baked by the clan-based armed militia, will only make Somalia more unstable, a fertile ground where the spreaders of strife will increase in number and grow in strength. I hold this apocalyptic view, as in Afghanistan too the armed militias enjoyed the backing of various clandestine external forces while the rest of the world remained indifferent to its implosion. I suggest that the international community support Somalia in its effort to regain sovereignty over its entire territory, and that everything must be done to make sure that peace reigns supreme. The warlords will lead us nowhere but to a dead-end, where anarchy rules. And I am sure that this will not be to the benefit of our good neighbour, Ethiopia.

With peace reigning supreme, we can regain our strength and flush the spreaders of sedition out of our country. And when at long last Satan-in-the-guise-of-war calls, we will be able to reply, "Wrong number!" and then hang up on him.

Nuruddin Farah is the winner of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1998. His novels include From a Crooked Rib, A Naked Needle, and the trilogy Sweet and Sour Milk, Sardines, and Close Sesame, known collectively as Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship.

Bhutan's resolve

India and Bhutan begin coordinated operations to flush out insurgents from northeastern India holed up in the kingdom.

THE six-month deadline given to the members of the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) to leave Bhutan expired on December 31. But militants of these two underground organisations have shown no intention of respecting Bhutan's instruction to move their bases out of the country.

ULFA and Bodo extremists have reportedly dismantled some of their camps along Bhutan's border with Assam but are said to have pitched them elsewhere in Bhutanese territory. Intelligence sources say that ULFA and the NDFB simply shifted their camps on the eve of the deadline to interior and inaccessible areas in Nepali-dominated south Bhutan. ULFA has 11 camps and the NDFB three in Bhutan. Recently, some underground Naga militants belonging to the Isaac-Muivah group of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) also moved to Bhutan and set up training camps. The Khaplang faction of the NSCN is also reported to have hide-outs along the Indo-Bhutan border.

Bhutan's Home Minister Lyonpo Thinley Gyamtsho told Frontline in early December that after a few rounds of discussions with the Bhutan government, the ULFA leadership had agreed to close the camps by December 31. But since it has not kept the pledge, Bhutan is firm on taking military action against them, said Gyamtsho. Bhutan could have used force in July last year after the National Assembly endorsed the deployment of the Army for the purpose. But the moderate members had voiced concern about such a move, arguing that it would provoke attacks on Bhutanese citizens. Fourteen Bhutanese were killed by ULFA in December 2000 in Assam in what was perceived as a retaliation for the interception of a consignment destined for ULFA.

That ULFA does not have any intention to wind up its camps and leave Bhutanese territory is indicated by an article by ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa published in a recent issue of the ULFA mouthpiece Freedom. Rajkhowa wrote: "ULFA has not occupied Bhutan but has taken shelter there from Indian occupation forces. We will move out of Bhutan as soon as swadhin (sovereign) Asom is achieved."

When in December 2000 the Bhutan government initiated talks with ULFA leaders on the issue of their bases on Bhutanese territory, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had offered "safe passage" to the militants to visit their kin in Assam. Gogoi insisted that it was a "goodwill gesture for the New Year", but the offer was apparently made to prepare the ground for talks with the Centre, which a section of the ULFA leadership is said to be keen on. The State Congress(I) government is expected to facilitate an encounter-free entry into Assam for ULFA cadres purportedly quitting Bhutan, to visit their relatives without carrying arms.

The safe passage idea was floated by Assam Governor S.K. Sinha in 1999 after he called on the parents of the hardliner and self-styled ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua at their native village in Dibrugarh. The Governor had offered a week-long window of opportunity for safe passage to Barua and Rajkhowa, who favour talks. This inspired former Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta to announce a 10-day safe passage for ULFA militants from December 21, 1999. The ULFA leaders scoffed at the offer, but theMahanta government claimed that the New Year gesture received a positive response from over 250 ULFA and NDFB militants and extended the offer until January 17, 2000.

Gogoi's offer to ULFA has come at an opportune time, considering that Rajkhowa had issued a statement on November 27, 2001 from his hideout in Bhutan, saying that "ULFA is willing to sit down for talks, provided the Indian government is ready to accept our preconditions." Gogoi immediately welcomed Rajkhowa's offer, but the Centre reacted with caution. Knowing that ULFA is under tremendous pressure from the Indian security forces and the Royal Bhutan government, the Centre is reported to have decided not to go out of its way to accept immediately any offer for talks. Moreover, the Indian government is not yet sure whether Rajkhowa's offer had the approval of ULFA hardliners such as Paresh Barua.

There are already reports of ULFA's "military wing" under Paresh Barua surreptitiously trying to smuggle in weapons from South-East Asian countries and making fresh recruitments. Indian intelligence agency sources said that a large consignment of small arms meant for the northeastern insurgent groups was recently seized off the Myanmarese coast by the armed forces of Myanmar. The ship carrying the arms was headed for Cox's Bazaar in Chittagong district of Bangladesh, where the consignment was to have been off-loaded for passage to northeastern India. The medium-size ship was reportedly apprehended off the coast between Sandoway port in Rakhine province of Myanmar and the Cheduba Island. It was flying the Vietnamese flag, but registered in Cambodia. Indian intelligence agencies had been briefed by Myanmarese authorities about this seizure.

The Bhutan government has received specific reports that ULFA is relocating its camps to more inaccessible and densely forested areas around Bumthang, Mongar and Lhuntsi. The militants have also moved towards the Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary bordering China, evidently to escape from the Royal Bhutanese Army and special teams of the Royal Body Guards. With Bhutan getting a feel of the threat of terrorism, it has, after holding off for so long, given positive signals to the Government of India regarding joint action to flush out insurgent groups from India's northeastern States which have entrenched themselves in the Himalayan kingdom. India has been urging a joint operation, but Bhutan had so far resisted it, wary of letting India conduct military operations in its territory.

With ULFA and the NDFB ignoring the December 31 deadline, the Royal Bhutanese Army and the Royal Body Guards are preparing to crack down on the camps in south Bhutan. The operations are being coordinated with the Indian Army. The issue figured in the meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu.

Bhutan is likely to take the opportunity to crack down also on Nepalese immigrants who have been creating trouble for the monarchy in south Bhutan. Thimphu wants to push them back into Nepal as they have been extending support to ULFA and the NDFB. Bhutanese officials said that the kingdom is likely to promulgate its own National Security Act to crush the trouble-makers in the south.

"We are in constant touch with our counterparts in Bhutan," said an Indian Army officer based at a corps headquarters in Assam. "We have committed all help that is required to flush the militants out of that country," he added.

The Indian Army has launched coordinated operations within Indian territory to nab militants trying to sneak out of Bhutan. An Army officer said: "We have intensified patrolling along the border by deploying 10 battalions of the Border Security Force (BSF) and have stepped up intelligence gathering. Vigil along the Siliguri corridor has been intensified so that militants cannot cross over to Bangladesh and Nepal. The unified command in Assam is also alert to any diversionary tactics that may be employed by ULFA and the NDFB."

By the Army's estimates, there are about 4,000 ULFA and about 1,000 NDFB militants holed up in Bhutan. The rest of the ULFA cadres - another thousand or so - are spread over Bangladesh and Assam. According to military intelligence, the ULFA leadership is desperately trying to solicit help from the NSCN(I-M) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in order to secure safe havens for its cadres who are now on the run.

A rough ride

other

Even as the political climate remains unfavourable to it, the A.K. Antony-led UDF government in Kerala takes drastic and unpopular decisions to tide over the State's financial crisis.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

KERALA is one of the largest markets in southern India for broiler chickens. Hence their occasional political importance. According to the Kerala Poultry Growers' Association, about five lakh of these birds reach dinner plates in the State every day.

Traders estimate that nearly Rs.500 crores worth of broilers are transported across the border from Tamil Nadu every year. This chokes the livelihood of Kerala's poultry farmers but allegedly helps line the pockets of some corrupt tax officials. They have cast a shadow on the A.K. Antony-led United Democratic Front government which came to power in May 2001 with a brute majority and promised to improve the State's finances and ensure probity in public life.

Following frequent complaints from poultry farmers in Kerala, the previous Left Democratic Front (LDF)-government had decided to impose an 8 per cent tax on broilers imported into Kerala. It was meant to protect poultry farmers in the State, especially in central Kerala. The LDF government also decided to waive the sales tax imposed in 1990 on broilers sold by them within the State.

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Yet, a large number of hatcheries and broiler farms continued to spring up in Tamil Nadu close to its border with Kerala, making use of the liberal assistance offered by the Tamil Nadu government for its farmers. The free flow of low-price broiler chickens into Kerala continued through illegal means, especially using fake bills from farms that exist on paper within the State's borders and with the connivance of officials. Farmers' representatives said that poultry farming became a losing proposition in Kerala.

This was an opportunity the broiler chicken farm owners in Tamil Nadu, most of them businessmen from central Kerala, had created for themselves. The loss-making farms in Kerala soon became breeding grounds for chicks sent from hatcheries in Tamil Nadu, with the requirements for feed and medicines being met by the Tamil Nadu businessmen who were willing to pay those ready to undertake the rearing of chicks for them. The local "contract farmers" were happy with the rent and the overseeing charges which fetched them more money than when they raised the chicks themselves. "Contract broiler farming" soon spread to many parts of the State. The businessmen from Tamil Nadu had realised that they could get over the hassle of paying the additional tax if they had their chickens raised in Kerala itself, on farms and hatcheries run on leased land. Once the chicks were ready for the market, they were to be sold in Kerala without the tax.

The local farmers who did not want to lease out their farms now had to fight both the businessmen from Tamil Nadu and the contract farmers in Kerala. With pressure from them mounting, the LDF government made the 8 per cent tax applicable to chicken reared through contract farming as well. Although objections were raised by inter-State businessmen, the government refused to budge. Some big-time hatchery owners approached the High Court and then the Supreme Court but to no avail, except that the court said officials could decide on individual cases based on merit.

The business interests eventually won when, after the assumption of office by the UDF, they managed to get a "clarification" from the Sales Tax Commissioner. The 8 per cent tax was waived in the case of broiler chickens produced in farms run on leased land within Kerala. On December 7, Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan raised the issue in the State Assembly through a submission. He alleged that the State was losing tax revenue to the tune of Rs.35 crores owing to the waiver and that there was corruption involving politicians and officials in the deal. Finance Minister K. Sankaranarayanan, a confidant of Antony who was a surprise choice for the post, denied that his department issued such an order.

However, the controversy refused to go away, and in early January a beleaguered Sankaranarayanan was forced to admit that tax was waived for farms run on leased land within the State. But he added that this was done without his knowledge and that officials had misled him into reading out a statement to the contrary in the State Assembly. As pressure mounted for an inquiry and the resignation of Sankaranarayanan, the Cabinet met and authorised the Finance Minister himself to conduct an inquiry and promptly withdrew the tax concessions to broiler farms run on lease with retrospective effect. "It is like asking the fox to look after the chicks," said Achuthanandan referring to the Cabinet decision.

The "broiler scam" was the latest of the unlikely preoccupations of the eight-month-old Antony government since it assumed office with the declaration that the State's coffers were empty and that the UDF was duty-bound to try and remedy the situation. To the consternation of Antony, more than the Opposition clamour for the resignation of the Finance Minister, it was his own partymen, led by his long-time rival within the party and former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, who were emphatic in their demand for a judicial inquiry and the resignation of Sankaranarayanan. (There are several aspirants within the "I" group led by Karunakaran - the most prominent being his daughter Padmaja Venugopal - waiting for a vacancy to arise in the State Cabinet.)

THE controversy could not have come at a worse time for the UDF government which was going through yet another credibility crisis with regard to its liquor policy. Moreover, the government was already being arraigned by the Opposition and Antony's rivals in the party for its slipshod handling of the State police force. Leaders of the ruling coalition, the architects of a last-minute arrack ban in Kerala introduced in early 1996 (just before the term of the UDF government was to end), were not the same 'principled' lot this time around. In October 2001, although a six-member Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee(I) sub-committee led by Antony-loyalist Aryadan Muhammed had produced draft recommendations for the new government's liquor policy, the government soon realised that the communal and political forces within the liquor lobby and their supporters would not allow the recommendations to be implemented fully.

Following a series of tragedies in the State involving the consumption of spurious liquor, the previous LDF government had entrusted the running of toddy shops to cooperatives of toddy workers in order to control the flow of adulterated liquor. The KPCC sub-committee recommended that the toddy cooperative societies should be disbanded, because most of them were being run by benamis of big-time liquor contractors.

The sub-committee made a significant recommendation that under no circumstance should the government, once it disbanded the toddy cooperatives, allow the shops to return to the hands of the liquor mafia following the auctioning of toddy shops individually. It said that auctioning of shops would only allow the organised rackets to legitimise their activities, also leading to illegal arrack and spirit flowing into Kerala. The KPCC sub-committee was also not in favour of introducing a system of individual licensing of toddy shops. The committee said it would have the same result as that of liquor barons taking direct control of the shops.

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However, after months of an unseemly controversy - during which the prominent liquor-lobby leader who is the secretary of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, Vellappalli Natesan, disclosed that KPCC president K. Muraleedharan, UDF convener Oommen Chandy and Sankaranarayanan had given an assurance ahead of the Assembly elections that toddy shops would be taken away from the cooperatives and given to the "private sector" - the UDF had to introduce the individual licensing system. At a crucial meeting of the UDF 'high power committee' on January 8, among several other important and unpopular decisions, the ruling coalition took the decision to introduce a licensing system for toddy shops, despite clear warnings by even prominent Congress(I) leaders like the former Speaker and Member of Parliament from Alappuzha V.M. Sudheeran, that it will lead to the free flow of alcohol into Kerala. The only consequence of the furore was that, in order to appease the anti-liquor groups in the State, the UDF decided to introduce an 18-point "eligibility criteria" for those seeking to obtain the licence. It decided to draw lots in cases where there is competition for the licencee and to reduce the number of toddy shops in the State from 5,972 to 4,000. However, it was poor consolation for people who expected from the government led by a 'principled' politician like Antony substantial measures to curb the liquor menace.

But what awaited Antony after the January 8 meeting was more trouble. A month after it assumed office, the Antony government had issued with fanfare a White Paper on the State's finances. It said that the State was facing an acute financial crisis. For the first time in its history, the State government was unable to honour valid and legal instruments drawn on it. It was unable to honour cheques it had issued or make payments on items already included in the Budget. The unique achievements that Kerala had made in the social sphere were being undermined because of paucity of funds for proper maintenance of infrastructure facilities. There was profligacy and mindless waste. The State was witnessing a vicious cycle of slow economic growth and low investment in the public and private sectors. The White Paper said that there was an inexorable growth of the revenue deficit; an inordinate increase in public debt as a proportion of the State domestic product; increasing reliance on debt to finance current expenditure; and an unsustainable salary and pension bill.

However, even as it entered the eighth month of its term, the UDF government had taken no action whatsoever to remedy the situation. Moreover, the government was immobilised by political controversies and lack of firm decision-making; poor and controversial policy initiatives (especially in the education and health sectors and in the virtual dismantling of the democratic decentralisation programme); and frequent police atrocities and social tensions which seemed to flare up as communal clashes at the drop of a hat. After the recent communal clashes (in Pathanamthitta on December 6 and 10, coastal Thiruvananthapuram on December 29 and in Kozhikode district on January 4 in which five people were killed), Antony, who also holds the Home portfolio, was frequently referring to "unseen forces, not just fundamentalist and extremist elements", which were stoking these dangerous tendencies in a State known for peaceful coexistence and communal amity. Hence, for the Antony government, introducing austerity and revenue generation measures to tide over what it calls "the serious financial crisis" has so far been way down in its list of priorities.

Antony tried hard to start the new year on a positive note, latching on to perhaps the only issue on which his government could claim some credit. On January 1, at Marayur in Idukki district, Antony seemed to deliver what he had promised the State's landless tribal people a few months earlier, at the end of their 47-day-old agitation before the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. In what the government described as the most significant campaign in the State for the rehabilitation of adivasis, Antony inaugurated the distribution of 1,078 acres (about 430 hectares) of land to 383 tribal families at Kundala and Marayur. However, doubts remain about the quality of land that is to be distributed; on whether the government would be able to identify and transfer land to all the landless tribal people in the State and so on.

IN a politically significant move in the new year, the Chief Minister also visited the Sivagiri Math in Thiruvananthapuram district and the headquarters of the Nair Service Society (NSS) in Kottayam district, the seats of power, so to say, of the Ezhava and Nair communities in the State, evidently to make amends for past "mistakes". The police action at the Sivagiri Math in 1995 in the course of implementing a High Court order and the entry of the visiting Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's security personnel into the 'Mannam Samadhi', the memorial at the NSS headquarters premises of NSS founder Mannath Padmanabhan, had been used to the hilt by Antony's rivals both within the Congress(I) and in the Opposition, to bring down his government in 1996.

At Sivagiri, participating after a gap of six years in the annual pilgrimage festival, Antony expressed regret for the police action in 1995. He made similar gestures at the NSS headquarters. But hardly had he done that and the second phase of violent communal clashes erupted in north Kerala. Opposition leaders then pointed out that the UDF government was paying the price for allying itself with communal forces including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party combine, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) and seeking the financial support of the liquor lobby during the Assembly elections.

However, it will be the State Cabinet's in toto ratification of the harsh decisions of the January 8 UDF meeting to cut salary and other administrative costs, the chief victims of which will be the State government employees, that will be the main source of trouble for the Antony government in the coming days. Although the government had all along been trying to harness public opinion in favour of tough measures to tide over the difficult financial situation, the decision finally to implement them had the immediate effect of alienating the powerful section of State government employees and school and college teachers.

The important measures announced by the Cabinet included a two-week delay in payment of salary for employees in February and March; abolition of leave surrender facility for employees; a two-year voluntary off-duty scheme at reduced salary for all excess government staff; a two-year training period at a lower salary for all new government employees; and introduction of a contributory pension scheme for new recruits. In the education sector, the pertinent decisions included the discontinuation of the system of "protection" for school teachers who were in excess of the need; a scheme to redeploy excess teaching staff; a reduction in their salary if they cannot be redeployed; redeployment of excess junior college lecturers in higher secondary schools; closure of schools with less than 100 students and a 50 per cent cut in pay for teachers in such schools until they are redeployed; and provision of University Grants Commission (UGC) scale of pay only in colleges which have implemented the UGC academic norms. The Cabinet also decided not to raise the pension age from the present level of 55 years.

"We no longer have soft options. It is purely a choice between a total collapse of the State and harsh measures. Almost the entire resources of the government were being spent on employees, with no money left for the people or developmental efforts," Antony said.

Ironically, the government's action came at a time when there was a general consensus that successive governments had failed to take unpopular decisions needed to save Kerala from financial doom. Antony said the new measures would help save Rs.500 crores in the first year and Rs.800 to Rs.900 crores in the subsequent years. However, even as the Chief Minister announced the decisions on January 9, government employees, irrespective of party affiliation, had laid siege to the Secretariat and announced an immediate programme of agitation. On the other hand, given the drought of achievements in the first eight months of his rule, Antony seemed to be aiming for long-term glory - that is, if his government could stick to its guns and turn around Kerala's financial situation. Will his foes, especially within the Congress(I), allow him to wear that halo is the crucial question.

Roadblocks to an expressway

The ambitious Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project is ensnared in controversy.

THE Rs.2,000-crore Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor Project (BMICP) has been in the pipeline for over a dozen years now and has received strong support from three Chief Ministers of Karnataka, each belonging to a different political party. But it is yet to take off. And if some sections of the farming community, environmentalists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights groups have their way, it never will.

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In the perception of these groups, the controversial private sector project is a solution looking for a problem. They want it to be scrapped because it involves the acquisition of 20,193 acres (8,077 hectares) of land (of which 15,733 acres, or 6,293.2 ha is in private hands) and the displacement of about two lakh people and is, according to them, unnecessary and financially unviable. They claim that the State governments was in the guise of development unjustifiably pushing the project, though there are a number of cheaper and more effective alternatives.

The project involves the construction of a four-lane (expandable to six), 111-km concrete expressway that will connect Bangalore, the State capital, with Mysore, the State's cultural capital. It is expected to cut driving time between the two cities from the present four hours to 90 minutes. At the Bangalore end, a 41-km peripheral road will connect the expressway to National Highway 4 (Bangalore-Pune) and NH-7 (Bangalore-Hosur). A 9.1-km link road will connect Bangalore city centre to the expressway. A limited-access expressway, it will have a continuous barrier on either side. The development of five self-sustainable townships has also been planned as other components of the BMICP. Each township would accommodate a population of approximately 100,000 and would have one of the following themes - corporate, commercial, heritage, industrial and eco-tourism. In addition, the project includes the building of a dedicated 400-mega watt power generating station and its own telecommunication and tertiary sewage treatment facilities. The project would be provided with 2,000 million cubic feet of water from the Cauvery. While the expressway component of the project (including link roads and peripheral roads) requires 6,999 acres of land, the townships will come up on 13,194 acres of land.

Of the land that is to be acquired for the project, 4,460 acres belongs to the State government, which has been leased to a consortium that has been awarded the contract to build the project, at the rate of Rs.10 an acre for a period of 30 years. The government would acquire the rest of the land at market rates and hand it over to the consortium. The consortium would compensate the government.

Chief Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda, J.H. Patel and S.M. Krishna, the present incumbent, have taken the consistent position that the project was essential for economic growth and tourism development in Karnataka. It would, according to them, help Bangalore and provide a fillip to industrial growth. The three have also claimed that the BMICP would in no way affect the environment and promised that people who would lose land or homes will be adequately compensated by means of rehabilitation packages.

The government has also felt that there is the need for a new road because the existing roads between Bangalore and Mysore - State Highway (SH) 17 via Maddur and Mandya and SH 86 via Malavalli and Kanakapura - cannot be upgraded to expressway standards, given their twists and turns, the trees on either side of them, and ribbon development.

The organisations opposed to the project, such as the Karnataka Vimochana Ranga (KVR), the Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) and the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), question the need for such an expressway. They claim that the project would turn out to be a real estate scam that would eat up large tracts of fertile agricultural land without offering a comprehensive rehabilitation package for the affected people. These organisations have been working at the grassroots, exploring options available to protect the rights of the 200,000 peasants, most of whom, they claim, are likely to be displaced.

Land acquisition is always a touchy problem. It is made worse in the BMICP's case by the fact that a considerable length of the project cuts through fertile wet agricultural lands in Mysore and Mandya districts, the latter being the "rice bowl" of the State. Although the protests have not deterred governments under three Chief Ministers, the consortium has found it difficult to achieve financial closure and obtain necessary clearances to get the project going.

THE genesis of the project goes back to the 1980s when the State Government, under pressure to ease traffic on the busy SH 17, approached the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The bank ruled out the conversion of SH 17 into an expressway because of ribbon development along the road. A few years later the State Public Works Department (PWD) suggested building of a four-lane highway that would run parallel to SH 17. But when tenders were called for, there was just one bidder - Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises Limited (NICE). NICE demanded that there be no other approach routes to the proposed highway until it realised its costs. Although its demand was considered, the project made no headway.

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Meanwhile, a 1993 ADB report that discussed the privatisation of highways in general, and specifically the financial feasibility of the Bangalore-Mysore sector, stated that the traffic projection on the road did not warrant the construction of an expressway. According to international standards, a traffic flow of less than 28,000 passenger car units (PCUs) a day does not justify the construction of an expressway. Currently the traffic flow on the Bangalore-Mysore stretch is approximately 8,000 PCUs. The ADB report suggested that the railway line be doubled and the existing road widened.

It was during this time that the government toyed with the idea of developing satellite towns close to Bangalore, which would help decongest the fast-growing city. When this idea proved largely a failure, a corridor between Bangalore and Mysore became a natural corollary to the plan since at least five large towns are located on the 139-km stretch between the two cities. In addition, Mysore, a favourite with tourists, has a climate that can match Bangalore's and has a charm of its own.

Meanwhile, the Kalyani group, the main promoter in NICE, had carried out its own feasibility study. Its report to the government explained the need for and benefits of the expressway. The report was accepted. NICE and the Government of Karnataka signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in February 1995. In April that year a project report was compiled. This included plans for the townships and a barricaded, tolled, linked-access highway.

In October 1998, the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) awarded the project under build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) terms to NICE. The two also concluded a land acquisition agreement, under which NICE would begin acquiring the land it required for the project. Acquisition is not being done under the Karnataka Land Acquisition Act, but under the KIADB Act in order to help speed up the acquisition process and permit a change in land-use pattern after acquisition. The government amended the KIADB Act so as to allow a private company to acquire land.

The MoU envisages a construction period of 10 years and provides that thereafter NICE can operate the expressway for 30 years with the right to collect toll. Today, two years after the final agreement was inked, no land has been acquired (though the proceedings have started) and the project looks like going nowhere. The government is yet to specify the rate or rates at which land owners will be compensated.

THE main complaint against the project is that a large number of people (192,890 in 143 villages, according to the executive summary prepared by NICE) will be displaced by it. But Ashok Kheny, managing director, NICE, does not agree that many people will be displaced. Kheny explained to Frontline that the figure represented the entire population that lived within 5 km on either side of the proposed corridor and not the number of people who would have to be resettled. "As per the study conducted by Metallurgical and Engineering Consultants Limited (MECON) among the project-affected people in order to draw the final resettlement and rehabilitation plan, only 647 families will be ousted for the construction of the expressway, and a further 673 families for the construction of the townships. Of these, the latter can remain in the townships if they like, with all the improved facilities," he said.

The argument, say critics of the project, is flawed because while only 647 families may actually be uprooted, a lot many will be inconvenienced since their fields/villages/towns would be bisected by a 90-metre, limited-access concrete road. Major General Sudhir G. Vombatkere retired, a member of the MGP, explained: "A person whose land will be partly taken may have the expressway dividing and barricading his land. The concrete walls on either side of the road will prevent farmers from crossing. NICE says tunnels for crossing will be built at 500-metre intervals. But while this system works in the West where farmers can afford tractors to take them around their land, here farmers will have to walk across their land to find a tunnel to cross the road and get back to their own land. Essentially, owners lose their right of way."

Vombatkere pointed out that even the mandatory environment impact assessment (EIA) carried out by MECON was flawed. Neither was there adequate data about the people likely to be affected by the project, their families and occupations, nor was there any mention of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme. As per the report, 90 per cent of the area consists of kharab (waste) land. There is hardly any wasteland between Bangalore and Mysore. Government records are outdated, and the land which is defined as kharab is now cultivated with paddy, sugarcane, mango or coconut.

Even if the government is able to convince the farmers to give up their lands, it will solve only part of the problem since hardly around 20 per cent of those who are going to be displaced are land owners the rest are tenant farmers and farmhands. A good percentage of them have for decades been cultivating kharab government lands. Now they could find themselves being denied any rights and thrown out. This, in spite of the fact that they have over the years even begun the process of getting their rights over the land regularised. The government would naturally not acknowledge their claims; it has left it to NICE to sort out the mess. Kheny claimed that he would offer them a compensation package. If they are given inadequate rehabilitation packages, they may migrate to Bangalore to eke out a living, thereby defeating one of the primary purposes of the corridor.

Another problem is that only the head of a family will be compensated. What would happen to the rest of the family, most of whom live off the land? Critics claim that farmers would be evicted even if the project was shelved after the land was acquired as their land would have been alienated from them. Hence people in the project-affected area are being advised to "hang on" to their lands. But the question is, do they all want to? Frontline's investigation indicates that many farmers, especially those close to Bangalore, are prepared to hand over their land if the price is right. But if the price is high, the project may not be financially viable.

Said H. Nagaraj, a farmer of Heggadagere village in Ramanagaram taluk of Bangalore Rural district: "When the government acquired land (at nearby Bidadi) for the Toyota factory, it was compensated at Rs.1.5 lakhs an acre. There the land was undeveloped, here it is good land with ragi, coconut and even rice being grown. If the government offers a good rate, at least Rs.5 lakhs, we are prepared to give our land." Nagaraj asks what small farmers like him can do before the might of the government. "There will be difficulties once the project comes up; crossing cattle will be difficult and we will lose our traditional land," he said.

Said N. Devaraj, another farmer from the village: "Agriculture today is not profitable. The road will be good for us." But he is also aware that any compensation could soon end up being wasted away as has already happened to a number of farmers who received compensation in the Toyota acquisition process.

But the majority of farmers at the other end of the expressway, especially in Srirangapatnam taluk, are against giving away their land. It is understandable since the land is part of the fertile Cauvery basin and agriculture is still a profitable occupation there. Said M. Ramakrishna Gowda, a member of the BMICP Verodhi Ookute and the owner of two acres of farm land in Arekere village: "Our land is our life. We can't take up any other profession. So far we have been employing farmhands; once our land goes, we will become beggars. Let them kill us, but we won't give our land. And neither will we allow them to take the gomtala land (government land that has been traditionally used for grazing) since if that goes where will our cattle graze?"

His is not a lone voice. Puttaswamy Gowda another farmer from Arekere, said: "We are against giving up our lands. The Karnataka government has a bad record of compensating those losing land. And since farmers are giving up their land for not only the expressway but also the townships, why can't we be partners in the new townships?" Most farmers stressed that there was lack of transparency, with no revenue official bothering to provide information such as the extent of land or even the location of the land that is to be acquired from a particular village.

Both NICE and the government have not done themselves much good by stonewalling requests for documents pertaining to the project, which have been stamped confidential. Documents such as the EIA report and the rehabilitation and resettlement package have been kept away from the public; they are not presented even at the farcical public debates. At a public hearing last July in Bangalore, activists were beaten by the police. The National Human Rights Commission has decided to probe the matter and has asked the Police Commissioner of Bangalore to send a report on the incident.

Said Kheny: "We do not want BMICP documents to fall into the hands of people who might use them for unlawful gains. People could obtain power of attorney from these farmers and then gain profits from the sale of lands." Kheny added that documents required by law were made public and also kept at the Pollution Control Board office. "We provided all the documents to the Supreme Court and the High Court. But if people want us to translate 20,000 pages of documents into Kannada and distribute copies to all the affected people, it is impossible."

Not only has lack of information made opponents of the project cagey about it, but the amount of land that is being sought is under scrutiny. Explained Vombatkere: "For a 110-km long, a 90-metre-wide road, the land requirement is 2,500 acres. Even if the 60-metre-wide, 9-km link road, 75-metre-wide, 41-km peripheral road, and the total of 17 interchanges each of 50 acres are added, the land to be used will amount to only 4,326 acres. Why does NICE want 7,000 acres for the expressway? It is thus clear that the land in excess of requirement is being acquired for making real estate profits to offset the certain losses from the expressway." Added H.V. Vasu of KVR: "We are in no doubt that this project has more to do with real estate than highways."

But Kheny defended the decision. "We will execute the expressway first and then consider development of real estate in the townships. In case we do not execute the expressway, the government will hold us in default and take over the land without giving any compensation." As of now NICE will initially be undertaking the first phase of the project, which will mean the construction of the expressway up to Bidadi.

Curiously, NICE has obtained environmental clearance for only the actual expressway component of the project, and not even for the link and peripheral roads or the townships. But, according to Kheny, NICE is not required under the law to get environmental clearance for the townships.

As far as the resettlement and rehabilitation packages for displaced persons are concerned, NICE has been instructed by the government to follow World Bank guidelines. Kheny told Frontline that it would use the "Consent Award" method of compensation. The World Bank report defines this method of compensation, thus: "Consent Award is the amount the Project-Affected Persons (PAP) negotiate with the project authorities, for the loss incurred, on a willing buyer-seller basis." Kheny said that once the amount was agreed upon, a PAP could not go to court for enhancement of the amount. The amount was negotiated between the Government of Karnataka and the owner of the land/structure on a mutually agreed price without preconditions. Given that most of the people who will be affected are poor and illiterate, it will be a minor miracle if they can negotiate a just price.

DESPITE the protests, the government is keen on the project. According to Public Works Minister, Dharam Singh, the government did not want to interfere and make changes in the project. He negated the suggestion that the Karnataka State Road Development Corporation could undertake the project, as its Maharashtra counterpart implemented the Mumbai-Pune Expressway Project.

Chief Minister Krishna told Frontline that the protests were "a natural reaction from landowners and others" and that the law would take its own course. Krishna said that the "quantum of acquisition" would be more or less the same, whether the government or the private sector built the expressway.

There are already three communication corridors between Mysore and Bangalore - SH 17, which is being upgraded to International Road Congress standards with a six-lane highway up to Maddur and a two-lane one between Maddur and Mysore; SH 86 which has been upgraded to be part of NH 209 and NH 212; and the broad gauge railway line, which is being electrified from Bangalore. The most important question asked is whether an expressway is required at all in the sector. According to an independent study carried out by the National Institute of Advanced Studies at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, it will take eight to 10 years to complete the expressway while doubling and electrifying the existing railway line would take only four or five years. (Sources in the Indian Railways said the doubling of the track and electrification could be done in just two years.)

The rail project would cost Rs.500 crores, one-fourth of the cost of the expressway project. The extent of land to be acquired for the rail project is negligible. And also, the rail project will not displace anyone. According to experts, a rail project will be seven times as fuel-efficient as and earn more foreign exchange than the proposed expressway.

The rail project also has other in-built advantages such as less travel time and a high route capacity. The Railways can operate services every 15 or 20 minutes, right into the heart of the two cities, and nearly 4,000 people could travel each way in an hour. According to railway officials, electrification of the double track and upgrading of signalling and traffic control could cut travel time between Bangalore and Mysore to less than 90 minutes. Critics of the BMICP also claim that a railway system is more "socially just, as second class travel would be possible". With the Railways already sanctioning the double line between Bangalore and Ramanagaram, the Karnataka government could continue the trend and double the line up to Mysore, they say.

The heightened social and economic dimensions that the BMICP could throw up, coupled with the growing opposition, could delay the project. Any delay will affect the financial viability of the venture, and this is very much on Kheny's mind as he scouts for financial backers. The government continues to help NICE, even bending the rules (as in the case of the amendment to the KIADB Act). Neither NICE nor the government has transgressed the law. But then, as Vombatkere pointed out, the law may not always serve the cause of natural justice.

Drowning cotton's lifebuoy

The Maharashtra government stands accused of failing to put in place adequate support mechanisms for the State's cotton farmers in a bad year.

THIS harvest season, Nirmala Nehare, a cotton farmer from Dhamanagar village in Wardha, was thrown to the wolves. She was compelled to sell her meagre crop cheap to trader-moneylenders as not only did the climate fail her but the State government refused to pay the full amount immediately while procuring cotton. For peasants like Nirmala already on the brink of bankruptcy, this has meant a further loss.

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Insufficient rain and a vicious pest attack on her crop reduced Nirmala's harvest to eight quintals, a fourth of the normal harvest from her 2.8 hectares of land. Nirmala decided to sell her produce to the moneylender at Rs.1,800 a quintal, instead of selling it to the Maharashtra State Cooperative Cotton Growers' Federation at Rs.2,175. "Our hands are tied. We had to sell it to the trader. The government would pay in four instalments. Right now, they give only Rs.1,400 a quintal, while the rest will be paid next August. We cannot wait. Interest on the Rs.10,000 we borrowed keeps accumulating at Rs.1,000 every month, she says.

Although she was unable to sell her crop to the Cotton Growers' Federation, Nirmala feels that the monopoly cotton procurement scheme (MCPS) offers her some security. "Without it, we would be completely at the mercy of the middlemen; they would lower the prices further. At least now, they cannot offer much less than the State's guaranteed price," she says.

The unique scheme appears to be serving its purpose - to protect cotton farmers from being cheated by traders and to ensure them a fair price for their crop by eliminating middlemen. This despite the State's failure to pay farmers properly this year owing to financial problems. Started in 1972, the scheme has been yielding profits, and until 1995 distributed 75 per cent of the surplus to cotton farmers. Then, international cotton prices started crashing and the scheme accumulated losses of Rs.2,795 crores. Interest on this liability is Rs.1.35 crores a day. This year, for the first time, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) delayed sanctioning the full loan amount of Rs.1,700 crores required by the cotton federation to procure the harvest. So far it has sanctioned only Rs.900 crores.

The Democratic Front (D.F.) government said it would pay only 80 per cent of the Central government's support price for cotton (which is approximately Rs.1,875, but depends on quality). The balance of the price guaranteed by the State (averaging Rs.2,175) is to be paid in three instalments. The Opposition parties were quick to take advantage of the situation. They raised the issue quite forcefully during the Assembly session held in December in Nagpur, the heart of Maharashtra's cotton-growing Vidarbha region. The Bharatiya Janata Party joined the Shetkari Sanghatana, whose leader Sharad Joshi led a rail roko agitation in December, in demanding that the farmers be paid the full support price and the balance of the State guaranteed price later. The government caved in and offered to pay 90 per cent of the support price. Joshi relented and withdrew the agitation.

Ironically, at various points in time, both the free-market proponent Joshi and the predominantly trader-funded BJP have demanded the scrapping of the scheme.

Ever since the MPCS was introduced, a motley group of traders, bureaucrats, politicians and activists have been demanding the scrapping of the scheme. But 30 years later, it still survives. While many would attribute this to vote bank politics, the fact is that the scheme is a major reason why Maharashtra's 30 lakh cotton farmers have managed to stay afloat.

With globalisation worsening the agricultural crisis, farmers' profitability has been eroded severely. Production costs have multiplied in the last decade owing to cuts in input subsidies. Rural credit and infrastructure investment have shrunk. Bank loans account for only 11.7 per cent of agricultural credit, leaving cultivators at the mercy of moneylenders. Farmers have also been squeezed by the fall in market prices owing to imports and price collapses in the international commodity markets. "If the procurement scheme was scrapped, we would all sink. The traders would have a monopoly, as they do for all other crops," says Rajendra Lone from Jamta village in Wardha. "This year, many people have had to sell to traders because it has been a bad harvest and the government is not paying the full amount immediately. Also, some farmers do not want the government to deduct the bank loan amount from the payment. They need money in hand. Otherwise, how will they run their homes?" he says.

Cotton farmers, not only in Maharashtra but also in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab, have been the worst hit by the farming crisis. In 1997-98, a severe pest attack destroyed the crop in Vidarbha, leading to more than 80 suicides. Thousands of suicide cases have been reported in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab's cotton belts as well. A local newspaper reported 35 cases in Vidarbha between April and November 2001. The government, however, tries to attribute the deaths to personal or psychological problems. ''All of us, rich and poor farmers alike, are facing similar hardships. It is just that some choose to end their misery by taking poison. Even large landowners are trying to sell off their land. But there are no takers," says Punjaram More from Mahakal village in Wardha.

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Explaining his declining profitability, Rajendra Lone says production costs for his 15-acre plot were Rs.5,000 an acre. But banks provided only Rs.1,500 an acre as crop loans. The rest of the cost has to be met by borrowing from moneylenders at exorbitant rates of interest varying from 60 to 120 per cent per year. "How are we to manage? Costs keep rising, but prices have fallen by half for most crops. At least cotton prices offered by the government have been steady over the last five years," he says.

Although the MCPS is the only assurance farmers have of a fair price, there are many who think it should be scrapped. Some arguments are purely financial - to contain losses. "Maharashtra's guaranteed price is Rs.425 above the central support price. Moreover, since the international prices have fallen by half since 1995, we are now selling the procured cotton around Rs.1,500 a quintal, a 25 per cent loss," says Sunil Porwal, chairperson of the cotton federation. He feels that losses would be minimised if the monopoly element of the scheme was withdrawn and the State's guaranteed price was reduced to Central support price levels.

However, proponents of the scheme, such as secretary of the Peasants and Workers Party N.D. Patil, argue that the government cannot abandon its responsibility to farmers. "If the monopoly element was removed, the losses would increase. Traders would buy only the best quality cotton in the market, leaving the rest to the government, while the overheads of running the federation would continue. This is an indirect tactic to close down the scheme. Since no political party has the courage to do it outright, they will just make its implementation impossible," he says. The scheme is the only form of social security for Maharashtra's cotton farmers who produce 20 per cent of India's cotton, Patil asserts. "Around 97 per cent of cotton produced in the State is dryland cotton. Totally dependent on nature, cultivation is a gamble for them. This is their only protection," he says.

Sharad Joshi has been demanding that the scheme be abandoned since "it has been unable to secure for Maharashtra's farmers prices that compare favourably with those obtaining in the free markets in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat." Explaining the change in his stand during the December agitation, he says that "it was against the opportunist abandonment of the scheme in times of recession". Porwal says that since Maharashtra's guaranteed price is much higher than those obtained in other States, many traders from elsewhere sell cotton in Maharashtra.

The problem is not with the scheme but with India's trade and agriculture policy, says Kisan Sanghatana leader Vijay Jawandhia. "Indian farmers have not been adequately protected," he says. Domestic prices of cotton have fallen because of a low import tariff level of only 5 per cent on cotton as compared to 60 per cent for sugar, which is backed by a much stronger political lobby, he says. The textile industry lobby is also resisting any rise in import duty on cotton. "The textile industry imports cotton although there are sufficient domestic stocks. But why should millions of farmers be squeezed for the textile industry to run smoothly?" he asks.

Deriding the free trade argument, Jawandhia points out that no such thing exists. International commodity prices have fallen because developed countries continue to protect their agriculture by means of heavy subsidies to farmers and imposing high import tariffs. For instance, Japan has a 1,000 per cent tariff on rice imports. Each farmer in the United States got a subsidy of $29,000 in 1995, a hundred times more than what an average Filipino earns in a year. Subsidies account for 66 per cent of producer prices in Japan, 49 per cent in the European Union countries and 30 per cent in the U.S. Although India is allowed, under the World Trade Organisation agreement, to put up import duties ranging from 100 to 300 per cent on agricultural goods, it has chosen not to protect its farmers.

While farmers struggle to keep their head above water, whether Indian agriculture sinks or not finally depends on what policies the government chooses to adopt. Only by turning the tide on liberalisation can the government prevent small farmers like Nirmala from being left to brave the winds alone.

Kutch, a year after

One year after the earthquake in Gujarat, while much work has been done, reconstruction and rehabilitation remain largely incomplete and inadequate.

TRAVELLING through Kutch a year after the devastating earthquake, the initial impression is one of great activity. Roads are being widened and resurfaced, damaged bridges strengthened, buildings that had hung at dangerous angles have been demolished and the rubble has been cleared. In some rural areas, construction activity is progressing at a fast pace. Work done by the government, local non-governmental organisations and external aid agencies is visible everywhere. Of course, signs of the damage caused by the earthquake remain - mangled lamp-posts, uprooted petrol pumps, electrical transformers that were ripped apart by explosions, and so on.

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Agricultural operations have been aided by a good monsoon and the timely provision of seeds and equipment by the government. It has virtually been ensured that the region will not experience food scarcity.

Immediately after the earthquake, the Gujarat government formed the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA). This was essentially meant to be a coordinating agency. Speaking of the GSDMA's work, Sushma Iyengar of the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan, one of the key administrators of the umbrella NGO organisation Abhiyan, says: "The GSDMA played a critical role. We found it very responsive. We were nervous that it would be like a typical government organisation, but that has not happened."

One of the first things that Dr. P.K. Mishra, Chief Executive Officer of the GSDMA, says while speaking of his organisation is: "The magnitude of the task has to be appreciated." This is not a preamble to bureaucratic excuses but a realistic reminder of the enormity of the devastation. Latest government estimates put the death roll at 13,800 (about 11,000 of these deaths took place in Kutch). As many as 2.4 lakh houses were destroyed, while the loss in terms of livestock and agricultural production is yet to be assessed fully. Says Mishra: "In the first four months we had to include all sectors - housing, infrastructure (both physical and social) and livelihood. Simultaneously we started a five-step process of making cash doles, conducting a preliminary survey of the damage, making a technical assessment of it, opening bank accounts in the name of victims, and handing over cheques."

It is no wonder that most people give the GSDMA full marks for the work done in the first four or five months after the earthquake. The criticism concerns the period after this. There are two aspects to the rehabilitation work that need detailed examination. One is the issue of shelter and the other, of health.

According to Sudershan Iyengar, Director, Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR), the rehabilitation package is a failure. He says that his opinion is based on research done by his organisation, which has been engaged by the GSDMA for social research documentation and process documentation of the rehabilitation. Initial research indicates four areas of concern in the rehabilitation package.

One is the economic rehabilitation of the physically disabled. The second is their physical rehabilitation. The third concerns tenants, a category of people who initially found themselves in a situation in which they were not eligible for any recompense. (However, Sudershan Iyengar says that the government has agreed to recognise tenants and that "something is being given to them".) The fourth problem concerns the categorisation of damage. "The engineering logic in the categorisation is understandable, but the administrative logic is not," he says. "Category 5 relates to 'Demolish and Reconstruct' and Category 4 'Repairs'. Between these two categories there is scope for manipulation since the value difference between them is about Rs.40,000. Consequently, what happens is that structures that should be in Category 4 appear in 5. The solution to this was to encourage greater transparency in the assessment process by including a local representative, a panchayat member, an NGO representative and a government official on the assessment committee. The category declaration was to be made publicly. This procedure was suggested at a workshop on November 27, by which time most damage assessment had been completed," says Sudarshan Iyengar. He is critical of the approach taken for long-term rehabilitation and voices the opinion of a large number of people when he says that "rehabilitation is a difficult process. You have to be with the people, talk to them. You cannot just impose new housing, new structures, and new ways of life on them. For appropriate rehabilitation the consultation process is long and tedious. But it is necessary."

One of the areas assigned to the GIDR is Anjar taluk, which is remembered for the mass death of schoolchildren who were taking part in a Republic Day parade when the earthquake struck. Dr. Shyam Sundar of Anjar says that while the rehabilitation process has been long and tedious, none of the benefits are as yet visible. The surgeon, who owns a nursing home in Anjar town, has spearheaded a campaign for an adequate rehabilitation package. According to him, what is offered at present is not only inadequate but incomplete. It has spurred him and other citizens of Anjar to form an NGO, Group 2001, which was registered in March. Group 2001 has asked the government for a geological and seismological study of the affected areas and a package that is concomitant with the findings.

Formed with the purpose of ensuring that the people of Kutch get their due, Group 2001 is persuading people to relocate to a safer place. Anjar is one of the few towns whose people wish to relocate. "There was a major earthquake here some decades ago and much was lost then," explains Sundar. "At that time many people shifted to an area that is referred to as New Anjar - practically alongside the old town. We want to persuade people to shift out of old Anjar which lies on the fault line and into new Anjar."

CURRENTLY, Package 5 is applicable to the four affected towns of Kutch. But draft development plans have been published only for Rapar, Anjar and Bhachau (they are not acceptable to the residents), while the package for Bhuj is under review. Group 2001 wants the government to release an appropriate development plan for all the affected places.

Even under Package 5, none of the affected people has been given aid for construction (apart from the aid for building temporary shelters). Says Sundar: "Worse still is the fact that even if people want to forgo the aid and begin construction, they are not allowed to build houses with their own money because the Area Development Authority has not yet finalised the rules and norms for construction. Is it any surprise that people are going ahead with their own construction even though they know that these could be declared illegal once the development plan is announced. In such a situation, corruption is bound to take root." In Bhachau town, for instance, the roadsides are lined by shabby structures made of corrugated sheets, tattered canvas, broken tiles and other assorted materials. These structures, though they are illegal, constitute prime real estate. Measuring about three square metres, each tenement is rented out at about Rs.1,500 a month. The 'landlords' are members of the local construction mafia and the tenants are earthquake victims who eke out a living by doing some petty business.

Part of Package 5 involves the appointment of town planning consultants. It is one of the reasons why Group 2001 has rejected the package. "It is unbelievable that the government has hired a private consultancy firm to assess public opinion about relocation and town planning. All of old Anjar wants to relocate. Why does the government bother to spend Rs.80 lakhs from earthquake relief funds to pay the consultancy fees of a company whose employees cannot even speak the local language?" asks Sundar. He says that residents of old Anjar are willing to shift to a site near new Anjar but the consultancy firm is recommending a site further away. Sundar alleges that at the meetings called to discuss town planning, "only municipal councillors-cum-builders are invited. None of those who have lost their houses is called to participate."

Even the Rs.24.51 crores that has been disbursed to 22,616 families of Bhuj, Bhachau, Rapar and Anjar for the construction of temporary shelters has caused disconent. Seated in the tin shed which is her house, Shanta Gohil confirms the receipt of Rs.7,000 as part of the first instalment for her family. "We were actually supposed to receive Rs.12,000 but since they gave patra (tin sheets) to build the house, they cut off about Rs.5,000." The actual construction of the house was done with the help of the tailor community, to which she belongs.

ONE of the main points of criticism about the rehabilitation process is regarding housing for the poor. Prasad Chacko of the Behavioural Science Centre, an organisation that looks at housing, especially for socially marginalised communities, believes that the rehabilitation package has neglected the poorer communities. "Cheques have been given to the people but the amounts are ridiculously low. There is no way the poorer sections can build earthquake-resistant houses with what they have been given. We are questioning the policy behind these disbursements," he said.

Also criticised has been the use of funds. According to the Government's estimates, about Rs.8,000 crores to Rs.10,000 crores will be needed for a three-year period of rehabilitation in which housing will be completed. Protesting against this, Kirtee Shah, an architect, says: "If this huge investment just creates what was lost, then you have gained nothing. All that was lost was the creation of decades and decades - sometimes even centuries. If you merely replace it, then what have you gained in terms of technology and other expertise? Therefore the government is expected not just to reconstruct houses and villages but to give the whole region a new face. It has to address the problems of water scarcity, poverty and unemployment. A whole new policy and strategy is required."

Shah is the honorary director of the Ahmedabad Study Action Group (ASAG), which was formed 30 years ago by a group of professionals who decided to work for social causes. He is also the founder of the Home Losers Service Association of Ahmedabad, an organisation formed after the January 26, 2001 earthquake to provide professional services to affected families. According to Shah, 90 per cent of the construction work in the city is illegal - most of it being Floor Space Index (FSI) violations. The dilemma of the reconstruction process in Ahmedabad is that if the new structures are built within the ambit of the law, then a large number of people will be houseless. ASAG's solution is to let people who were affected by the earthquake build exactly the same structures they lost and employ strict construction regulations for construction in the future.

In a December 7 letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Sundar points to the growing feeling that basic issues are taking too long to be resolved. He wrote: "We look forward to the Central government for our rights. We expect you at the Centre to take the initiative and expedite things. Do something to reduce our misery. We want our normal lives back again. Don't let us down."

Beneath the surface

THE war in Afghanistan has created a variety of problems. Reports on Afghanistan occupy much space in the media. These look at the problems from the archaeological, historical, social, military and economic points of view. A country that has by and large remained far away from international attention except during the Soviet intervention in 1979, Afghanistan has finally come into the limelight.

Afghanistan, the Hindukush range in particular, is among the most active seismic regions of the world. Three to five earthquakes of magnitudes of around 6.0 on the Richter scale occur in this region every year. Earthquakes have constituted big obstacles for military operations. Present-day Afghanistan, once known as Gandhar, has suffered badly from earthquakes in the past. There is a mention of such an earthquake in the Mahabharata. A reference to an earthquake is found also in the accounts of Alexander the Great. During his journey through Iran (then Persia) and Afghanistan an earthquake occurred between Quetta and Karat. The time of this event is given as November 326 B.C. Alexander began his journey from Attock along the path of the river Indus and wanted to return to Greece by sea. However, the earthquake, of a magnitude of around 8.0 on the Richter scale, shattered his plans. The drastic change the earthquake caused to the geography of the area forced the king to take a land route.

According to historical records, invaders such as Genghis Khan, the Huns and the Mughals have suffered as a result of earthquakes. The fissures they create on the ground, often one to two metres deep, are too wide for the horses, camels and elephants to cross, thus forcing the marching army to take a detour.

However, present-day war is an entirely different affair. In ancient days, the power of an army was measured by the number of soldiers, elephants, horses and camels. Today, a missile can be fired from hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away from the target. It is guided with the help of GPS (Global Positioning System) and can hit the target with an accuracy of up to one metre. The GPS and high-tech inputs, such as infrared or visible pictures of the target and its geographical co-ordinates, guide the course of the missile. Before the missile hits its target, some illuminating chemicals, which look like fireballs, are used to attain clarity in the picture of the target.

Meteorological phenomena such as winds, hail storms, snow, rain, lightning and cyclones affect the path of a missile. So do sub-surface conditions. The basic parameters are the geo-magnetic field (usually known as the magnetic field) and the gravity field. The values of both these for the entire globe are so accurately recorded by the meteorological satellites that if there are any deviations in the path of the missile owing to any of the atmospheric parameters the path gets corrected automatically. However, if there are changes in the sub-surface parameters, it is difficult to correct the path immediately.

Prior to the occurrence of any medium to large earthquake (magnitude 6.0 to 6.5 or more), the sub-surface temperature usually shows a remarkable increase. The rise in temperature causes a reduction in the value of the geo-magnetic field in the vicinity of an active seismic area. The rise in temperature also changes to some extent the density of sub-surface rocks. Consequently, the gravity value changes at a micro level. Both these changes affect the path of the missile.

In the mid-1960s, a commercial aircraft flying from Singapore to Jakarta happened to fly over a potential volcanic area. The aircraft suddenly lost height by about 1,200 metres and the instruments in its cockpit began malfunctioning. The pilot finally made an emergency landing. The reason was that a few kilometres below the surface of the earth, the entire rock was in a molten state. As molten rock has no magnetic field, this affected the plane flying above it.

Similarly seismic movements affect objects above them, fired missiles for example. A missile could be travelling over a potential or vulnerable seismic area and it is possible that its path could be affected. The effect is in evidence during both pre-seismic and post-seismic periods. After an earthquake the geology, including fountains and hillocks and the paths of rivers, undergoes macroscopic change.

Humankind may make tremendous progress in science and technology but cannot overcome nature and its omnipotent forces, which are manifested in various natural phenomena.

Arun Bapat is a research seismologist based in Pune.

Rebuilding concerns

ONE of the more encouraging aspects of the post-earthquake scene is the steady progress of rehabilitation in the affected districts of Rao, Surendranagar, Jamnagar and Patan and in Ahmedabad city. Rural Kutch has also benefited to some degree (areas that have lost out so far are the Kutch towns of Bhachau, Bhuj, Anjar and Rapar).

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Perhaps the most heartening factor is the realisation that only a small number of villages and towns need to be relocated. Dr. P.K. Mishra, Chief Executive Officer of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA), recreates the post-earthquake situation: "The scale of devastation was so overwhelming that many people thought that relocation was the best alternative for most of the villages. At that time, people also wanted to move away from the scene of destruction. But, as the months went by, we realised that things were not that bad. Once rubble clearance began on full scale, a different perspective began to emerge." About 52.52 lakh tonnes of debris was removed from the affected areas. The GSDMA initially estimated that the relocation of 230 villages would be necessary. "Now we realise that only 10 to 12 villages need to be relocated," Mishra said. There is no doubt that housing was given top priority in the rehabilitation process. Reconstruction of homes and public buildings and the reinstatement of public utilities and facilities are under way in the other affected districts of Rajkot, Surendranagar, Jamnagar and Patan and in the city of Ahmedabad.

According to the government's progress report (for the period until the first week of December 2001), of a total number of 45,000 houses that needed to be rebuilt in Rajkot district, about 24,000 are at various stages of completion. In Surendranagar district, from a total of 26,151 houses that needed to be rebuilt, 9,137 are nearing completion. In Jamnagar district, where 16,886 houses were destroyed, 12,295 have already been built. And in Patan, 1,777 of 3,185 houses have been constructed.

The approach to housing is community-driven, with the government playing the role of a facilitator. Cash is paid to the affected families and cement and tin sheets are provided at subsidised rates. According to Mishra, the first instalment of cash compensation has been given to every family. As far as infrastructure is concerned, repair work has begun on a length of 185 km of roads and bridges. "The tendering and bidding process is still on," said Mishra. For works relating to water supply, the government has spent Rs.13.88 crores so far.

The principal sources of livelihood in the affected districts are industry and agriculture. The Gujarat State Finance Corporation has given about Rs.13 crores as loans to medium-sized units and about Rs.48 crores as subsidy assistance to small industrial units. About 13,100 small shop-owners have received altogether Rs.1.08 crores as cash assistance. Morvi town in Rajkot district is well known for two industries - porcelain sanitaryware and time pieces. Dhanubhai Shah, a small-scale industrialist who owns a sanitaryware company, estimates having sustained a loss of Rs.12 lakhs in his business. "Most of the loss is structure-related, he said. "My warehouse was not affected but a part of my factory wall and chimney are in a dangerous condition." Shah said he had received some compensation, though he declined to mention the amount.

Farmers have received assistance in the form of cash, tool kits and irrigation assets.

"Restarting schools was one of our top priorities," said Mishra, adding, "we have received a great deal of help from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for this." Mishra says that by June 15, 2001 all schools had restarted regardless of the condition of their structures. "UNICEF provided 7,000 tents and we built 2,400 temporary classrooms."

One of the reasons for the rapid progress has been the high level of cooperation between NGOs and the GSDMA, so much so that the need for NGO intervention has dropped drastically. As M. Sahu, Additional CEO of the GSDMA, said, "Immediately after the quake, there were 141 NGOs working in 441 villages. The numbers have now dropped to 75 NGOs and 271 villages."

In Ahmedabad city, the NGOs' role was played by the Home Losers Service Association of Ahmedabad (HOLSAA) and its sister organisation the Ahmedabad Study Action Group (ASAG). Both played a purely advisory role and largely tried to band affected people together so that they had a stronger voice. Deepak Patel is one of the home owners who benefited from being a member of HOLSAA. Patel's family and 15 other families which lived in Vishram Apartments in Ahmedabad decided to rebuild their homes with the compensation money. "We have to put in large amounts ourselves since we have decided to make this building earthquake safe. So if we need to use two bags of cement in place of the normal quota of one bag, we will do it. The subsidy is a big help. Cement is sold to us at Rs.100 a bag instead of the market rate of Rs.145." Pointing to the steel rods emerging from the foundation, Patel said that the builder had initially used 6 rods a column. "We are using 12 rods a column," he said.

According to Kirtee Shah, architect and one of the founders of HOLSAA, Vishram Apartments is largely representative of the reconstruction in Ahmedabad.

Assessing India's economic reforms

India needs to launch a second generation of reforms after undertaking an in-depth analysis of what has gone wrong until now during the course of the ongoing round of reforms.

THE two decades since 1980-81 have been easily the best in India's economic performance in the last century.

After averaging about 3.6 per cent a year in GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate during the 30 years between 1950-51 and 1980-81 and less than 1 per cent a year in the half century before that, GDP growth accelerated to 5.6 per cent in the 1980s (5.3 if 1991-92 is included) and averaged even higher at 6 per cent in the final decade up to 2000-01. Indeed, if the crisis-affected year of 1991-92 is omitted, GDP growth in the past nine years (1992-93 to 2000-01) averaged an unprecedented 6.3 per cent (Table 1). And between 1992-93 and 1995-96, the growth rate averaged even higher at over 7 per cent a year.

This vindicates the stand of this author since 1971 that economic liberalisation, de-regulation, and market principles were essential for raising the growth rate in the economy that required eschewing the then current command economy ideology copied from the USSR, and which failed there too. In his 1971 book Indian Economic Planning, an Alternative Approach (Vikas, New Delhi), this author had predicted that such a transformation in policy toward market economy would raise the growth rate to 10 per cent a year, but alas had then found little acceptance because of Indian economists: that India was bound by the "Hindu rate of growth" of 3.5 per cent a year.

The past trend in decadal growth rates looks increasingly better, partly because of the declining population growth rate over the years. When we look at per capita GDP growth, we find that it has accelerated from 0.8 per cent in the 1970s to 4.6 per cent in the last nine years. Furthermore, while the growth performance in the 1980s was bedevilled by unsustainable fiscal deficits and increasing drain in external reserves, which led to the balance of payments crisis of 1990-1991, in the last nine years, the external sector has been manageable despite the fiscal imbalances deteriorating.

What is significant is that in an international perspective India's growth performance of the last two decades ranked amongst the top six in the world growth league, along with China, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Moreover, since the 1997 East Asia meltdown, India's rank is now second only to China in growth rates. In PPP (purchasing power parity) terms, the 1990s growth has also put India among the top four in the world. In fact, on corrected data, the growth rates of China and India in the 1990s have been about equal [see the author's Economic Growth in China and India (1980-99) presented at the Fairbank Centre's New England China Seminar, Harvard University, October 15, 2001], and unless the present dispensation in power makes an even bigger mess than it managed to do since 1998, the Indian growth rate can exceed China's during the first two decades of the 21st century.

Much of this growth has been due to macroeconomic policy changes since 1991, but also due in part to fortuitous international circumstances and to the global environment. While P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister deserves credit for implementing the first generation reforms, he obviously could not have done so soon after taking office (within 10 days) unless the blueprints were ready. These had been, in fact, prepared under my supervision as Minister by the previous government headed by Chandra Shekhar. I had also held a Cabinet rank position in Narasimha Rao's government as Chairman of a Commission on issues relating to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Sadly, it is now quite clear, however, that reforms in India have run out of steam (Table 2).

What is more alarming is that since the departure of Narasimha Rao, and since 1996-97, even the relatively high growth rates are not sourced to agricultural and industrial growth but to the services sector.

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If we subdivide the nine years following the 1991 crisis into an initial period of five years (corresponding to the Eighth Plan) and the subsequent four years up to 2000-01, the following points are worth nothing: First, the acceleration of GDP growth to -6.7 per cent from the pre-crisis decadal (1980-89) average of 5.6 per cent is remarkable and attributable to reforms. Second, it is noteworthy that in the post-crisis quinquennium, all the major sectors (agriculture, industry, services) grew at a noticeably faster pace than in the pre-crisis decade.

Third, the average growth performance in the four most recent years is, in sharp contrast, disappointing (Table 3). Overall GDP growth drops to 5.8 per cent. Of much more concern is the collapse of agricultural growth to 1.4 per cent and the significant fall in industrial growth to 4.9 per cent. In 2000-01, the rate only dropped to 2.1 per cent. Indeed, the drop in GDP growth in these four years would have been much steeper but for the extraordinary buoyancy of services, which averaged a growth of 8.8 per cent. This growth in services was much faster than in the case of industry, a pattern which raises questions of sustainability. No economy can continue to grow this way for long.

The importance of services in India's economic growth is brought out in Table 4. For the full nine years (1991-92 to 2000-01), the growth-contributing role of services was nearly 60 per cent. This proportion rose to 70 per cent in the last four years.

A part of the services sector growth in the last four years was, furthermore, bogus in the sense that it simply reflected the revaluation of the value-added in the subsector "Public Administration and Defence" because of higher pay scales resulting from decisions based on the Fifth Pay Commission Report. This may be called the "Chidambaram hoax". National income accounting practice requires that value added in non-marketed services be estimated on the basis of "cost" and in current prices. These Pay Commission effects, including in States, were spread mainly over three financial years 1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-2000, when growth of "Public Administration and Defence" soared to 14.5 per cent, 10.3 per cent and 13.2 per cent, respectively, compared with an average growth in the previous five years of less than 4 per cent.

Thus, the nation needs to launch on a second generation of reforms after an in-depth analysis as to where we have gone wrong.

THERE are four major areas of the Indian economy summarised below, which require urgent attention.

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There has not been too much progress in cutting the fiscal deficit. Whatever little the Central government has managed up to 1999 has been cancelled out by the deteriorating fiscal position of the State governments. Since 1999, even the Centre has failed to curb fiscal deficit. The combined fiscal deficit is now near 10 per cent of GDP. High fiscal deficit crowds out private investment and banks' capacity to lend, since the government corners the lion's share of the bank's funds. Fiscal measures to encourage domestic saving and foreign direct investment (FDI) are essential now.

Poverty

There is no consensus yet on the key question: have the reforms helped the poor? The data put out by the National Sample Survey Organisation suggests that poverty rates have remained static, but National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) data show that poverty rates have fallen. But since the rent-losers from economic reforms are entrenched and organised, and the gainers are not, the legitimacy of reforms is being eroded every day. This needs to be set right.

Growth distribution

Growth has been unevenly distributed, especially in terms of regions. Some dynamic States like Maharashtra are sprinting ahead, while the likes of Bihar have stagnated. This could put pressure on the federal system, since the bulk of the poor and rapidly growing population lives in the already populous northern States. The North-South divide (as it is seen globally) is reversed in India, and could upset the polity in the future.

Growth impulses

The economy's growth impulses are getting weaker, while domestic industry, with exceptions like TVS, is caving in to foreign companies in hostile take-overs. While the government still talks about pushing GDP growth rate to 8 per cent, the harsh reality is that India seems stuck in the 5-6 per cent range during the last four years. Talk cannot be a substitute for action.

While growth is the ultimate target of macroeconomic policy, low fiscal deficit, high savings, and investment are intermediate targets. Controlled inflation, increasing employment, and decreasing poverty are immediate targets of macroeconomic policy. Macroeconomic policy needs to be designed keeping all three types of targets in mind.

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If growth is the key measure of macroeconomic performance, inflation (or rather its absence) is the generally preferred indicator of macroeconomic stability. In the 1980s, India's average inflation rate of 7.2 per cent was close to the average rate for Asian developing countries as a group (7.1 per cent), a little above the average rate for the developed countries (5.6 per cent) and much lower than the average for all developing countries (39 per cent), which was driven high by Latin American inflation (145.4 per cent). In the 1990s the conspicuous difference was that inflation in developed countries dropped to a low 2.6 per cent, or one-third the average rate for India. And in the last three years, inflation in the Latin American countries came down to single-digit figures.

Thus inflation was contained worldwide, and India was a beneficiary. It is therefore not merely because of India's macroeconomic policy that inflation was contained, but because of the global environment of price stability.

In the next wave of reforms, what is going to be crucial is the launching of what India's representative at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Vijay Kelkar, calls meso-economic reforms, otherwise known as second generation reforms: that is, major infrastructure sector reforms in energy, irrigation works, transportation, telecommunications, universities and other higher institutions of learning and housing construction. In a growing economy, these sectors will require enormous amounts of new investment. That is easier said than done in India, because no country in the world has achieved a sustained growth rate or high rate of investment with such high interest rates as in India (of 6-8 per cent in real terms). Bringing the real interest rates in the neighbourhood of 3-4 per cent is therefore essential. It can trigger a spectacular investment boom throughout the economy.

Such a reduction in the long-term interest rates will also be essential to maintain an exchange rate regime that is supportive of trade liberalisation, that is, avoid the over-valuation of the rupee. Thus, the reduced interest rate and competitive exchange rate can become the "Archimedean" lever to propel the economy on the high growth path.

Currently, by and large all infrastructural sectors are in the public sector and in some cases they are monopolies. If in these sectors we introduce both privatisation of public sector enterprises and the entry of the private sector, the gains to the economy are likely to be quite spectacular. In the Indian economy the benefits of these meso-economic reforms could add 3-4 per cent of GDP per annum, which can accrue with little capital, and provide the springboard for further gains, particularly by inspiring new private investment and productivity growth. In this list of meso-economic reforms, emphasis needs to be laid on reforms in higher education, that is colleges and universities, to dismantle, for example, the severe entry barriers to start a private university in India, to permit collaboration or alliance of Indian educational institutions to be outsourced for academic research and even teachers by cost-strapped academic institutions of the U.S. and other developed countries.

A major implication thus of these meso-economic reforms is a need to create a new institutional and financial architecture for the management of the Indian economy to sustain a full-fledged modern market economy, where stability, predictability and transparency of policies are seen to be of fundamental importance by foreign investors.

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The new institutional architecture will also imply the strengthening of independent regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC), and to their independence being treated on a par with the independent judiciary. Such a new institutional architecture will have an independent monetary authority. This will be achieved by giving greater independence to the Reserve Bank of India on the lines of the autonomy enjoyed by the Federal Reserve in the U.S. and the Bank of England. This will inspire confidence amongst both investors and consumers and promote competition in these sectors since it would end the crony capitalism that plagues India and inundates the economy with mega scandals involving insider trading and plain fraud.

In the reforms initiated in 1991, the emphasis was on reforms of product markets by abolishing industrial licensing and import barriers. These reforms, however, left the factor markets such as labour markets, land markets and capital markets, the natural resources market such as water, and institutions mostly untouched.

However, now, among the necessary factor market reforms, two are crucial: reforms, first, of the labour markets, and second, of the financial sector. India's present laws of bankruptcy (exit policy) and corporate control require reforms so that the market for corporate control becomes competitive. The financial sector reforms would involve reforms of the banking sector, equity markets, debt markets and foreign exchange markets. In this, privatisation of state-owned banks is perhaps the most essential, but preceded by strengthening of the regulation and supervision of financial institutions and of capital markets, which are really non-existent at present. The recent developments in the Indian stock market vividly show how the actions of one private bank, one cooperative bank, one major stock exchange management, and a giant mutual fund of 20 million subscribers can have a deleterious impact on national equity markets and particularly on small shareholders, because of a lack of strong supervision.

But the most deleterious effects are from rogue empires, which no government wants to regulate, and whose suffocating tintacks are everywhere choking off competition. Thus the downside risks of globalisation get amplified if the financial sector is weak and more so as the economy liberalises and integrates with the world economy. This is the main lesson of the 1997 Asian crisis and the recent crisis in Turkey, and the 2001 meltdown in Argentina.

THE question that remains is: where can the funds to finance these reforms come from? Three sources seem feasible in the Indian context: a rise in domestic savings prodded by attractive tax policies; a sharp increase in FDI by means of appealing reforms in regulations and labour laws; tapping the liquidity in the banking sector.

The first phase of reforms, which started in 1991, essentially concentrated on reforms at the Central government level. Now these have to be taken to the level of the States and district local bodies. Almost 40 per cent of our revenue and fiscal deficit are because of poor State finances. A number of reforms are required to improve the delivery system, too, since all social services such as education, health, and so on are delivered at the State level. The State-level reforms are of particular importance to promote regional equity, which is a matter of fundamental significance for a federal polity like India.

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These reforms should be designed also to have India playing its rightful role in the world so as to provide growth and stability to the global economy, an aspiration China is meticulously working to fulfil. In the age of globalisation, this means not just achieving a high growth rate of the gross national product, but more on what India can contribute to the global pool of knowledge and technological progress. While India's potential in this area stands demonstrated, the nation with the world's third largest scientific manpower has a long way to go to become a world player in information technology (IT).

For instance, if patents are taken as one of the quantitative indicators of innovation or growth of knowledge, in the year 1999, the most recent year for which data are available, the number of patents India obtained in U.S. was only 114 compared with Taiwan or South Korea, which got as many as 4,000. For the developed countries such as the U.S., Germany or Japan, the numbers are much higher. Even in the case of domestic patents, there were 1,660 in India, 12,000 or so in China and 3,00,000 in Japan.

As we have seen in earlier sections here, in the growth of "total factor productivity", an index of technological progress, India's performance has been lower than in countries such as China, Japan, Korea or the U.S. Even the research and development (R&D) expenditure that India devotes as a percentage of GDP is far lower than that of Japan, Korea and other developed countries. When it comes to education, whether in terms of literacy or the amount of support to the universities, India's performance, vis-a-vis other high-performing developing countries such as China and Korea, is woefully inadequate. In other words, this "knowledge or innovation deficit" is a big problem, which India will have to overcome in order to compete successfully in the emerging knowledge-based world economy and become a source of technological progress for the world. Once again, media-projected bald prognostications of a Prime Minister or Finance Minister cannot be a substitute for urgent action on a well-designed strategy.

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As India faces the new century, the Indian economy stands at a crossroads. Either it can take the "business as usual" road, which also means continued poverty and a low growth trap, or take the high road to achieve prosperity, global prominence and a more egalitarian society through accelerated reforms and by energising the national innovation system. This means that government's national orientation has to shift from religious fundamentalism, re-writing history and terrorising minorities to achieving economic goals, and concomitantly the voter has to rise, or be encouraged by the intellingentsia to rise, above caste, religion and inducements to vote for performance. The task is achievable, but not by wishful thinking and armchair pontification of intellectuals.

Experience and economic theory tell us that the impact of such micro-meso-macro economic reforms can be multiplicative, exploiting their synergy. Hence, I am quite confident that with these reforms the Indian economy can grow at the rate of 10 per cent per annum over the next two decades or so. This would make India's economy by the year 2020 the world's third largest, after the U.S. and China, perhaps even bracketed second, overtaking all the major European economies such as Germany, France and the U.K.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a former Union Minister for Commerce, is currently a member of the faculty in the Department of Economics, Harvard University (2000-02).

India as a knowledge economy: Aspirations versus reality

other

The Indian vision of a knowledge-based economy will be realised only when it is based on the foundation of a robust industrial economy. To be truly beneficial, the rain of IT must fall at the right place, in the right quantity, at the right time and for the right purpose.

PRABHUDEV KONANA SRIDHAR BALASUBRAMANIAN

THE Indian software industry has compiled an impressive track record over the past decade. Entrepreneurs, bureaucrats and politicians are now advancing views about how India can transform itself into a knowledge-based economy by riding the information technology (IT) bandwagon. Isolated instances of villagers using e-mail are cited as examples of such transformation. Likewise, e-governance is being projected as the way of the future.

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There is no dearth of fascinating stories about IT-enabled changes. But, there is little discussion about whether such changes are sustainable and effective when other areas of the economy continue to lag. For example, 79 per cent of India's population lives in villages with limited basic infrastructure. Over 60 per cent of the population is considered literate, but with literacy being defined as the ability to read and write simple words in any language, acquired with or without formal schooling. This criterion is so basic, that it is almost irrelevant in the context of a knowledge economy. Yet, Central and State governments have projected IT as a vehicle for social and economic transformation. Are we putting the cart before the horse here? Even if the focus on IT is justifiable, how must IT policy be designed so that the nation is benefited in a balanced way?

In this commentary, we discuss the implications of India's intensive focus on the IT sector. We argue that India should aggressively pursue manufacturing- and agriculture-based industries to build a robust industrial economy that can be made more efficient with IT. IT projects can certainly be pursued within the private sector. However, government policy should not be heavily skewed in favour of the IT industry when its benefits to society are unclear and when its role within the broader framework of national development has not been adequately articulated. Further, policy-makers should moderate their obsession with IT as a panacea for India's socio-economic problems.

We aim to encourage a debate on the role of IT, rather than to arrive at a consensus. With the recent collapse of the IT bubble, it is particularly important that this debate be held. Booms and busts have long existed in various markets. For example, during the tulip bubble in 1637, the irrational exuberance of buyers drove up the value of each tulip to several thousand dollars. A single Semper Augustus tulip was then three times as valuable as the most expensive estate in Amsterdam. However, apart from such frivolous booms and busts, even serious researchers (including Stephen Roach, the Chief Economist at Morgan Stanley) have struggled to demonstrate convincingly the benefits of IT. This reflects the widely recognised IT "productivity paradox".

Equally important, proponents of the "new growth theory", including noted Stanford University economist Paul Romer, have convincingly argued that human capital, which is a function of education levels and workforce skills, is a crucial input for economic growth. Human capital generates the ideas and knowledge that, in turn, decide how efficiently and effectively the traditional inputs of capital (such as plant and equipment) and labour are translated into output. The message is that an enormous pool of labour, in itself, is of limited value. Real progress into a knowledge economy will not come without a substantial development of India's human potential. Against this backdrop, Indian policy planners and politicians must ponder the following issues.

India as a knowledge economy

THE value of IT depends greatly on the existing level of economic development. IT can make existing assets and processes more effective and efficient, but cannot compensate for the lack of a basic infrastructure. What is appropriate for a developed economy is not necessarily appropriate for India, where basic elements of infrastructure including quality education, healthcare, electricity and drinking water remain in short supply.

The impact of IT is best understood when the differences between industrial and knowledge-intensive ventures are recognised. Industrial growth derives from investments in large-scale infrastructure (such as railways, roadways, power grids and dams). Such infrastructure supports the growth of physical-asset intensive industries (such as the steel and transportation industries) that create and move physical entities (such as goods, water and people). These ventures employ numerous workers with limited education and skills, and can uplift large sections of society.

In contrast, ventures in the knowledge economy usually involve the production of knowledge-intensive goods (like software), and the large-scale capture, movement and utilisation of information using sophisticated network infrastructure (such as computers, cable, fibre and routers). Beyond the physical labour required for initial construction, building and maintaining such infrastructure requires specialised knowledge.

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Despite the hype of the "new economy", the fact is that economic development is cumulative. The industrial economy made agriculture more productive. The productivity of agricultural labour skyrocketed with the use of industrial and biological innovations including tractors, irrigation systems, fertilizers, pesticides and genetically engineered seeds. Historically, industrial innovation in developed economies has created great wealth and improved living standards across societal divides. This progress has set them up in an ideal position to create and exploit knowledge as they transform into knowledge-based economies. Crucially, the greatest source of productivity and growth attributed to the knowledge economy derives not from the knowledge economy itself, but from its effects on the industrial economy. For example, IT can enable supply chains and factories to work more efficiently.

The "leapfrogging" argument, whereby India skips heavy infrastructure building and transforms directly into a knowledge economy, is therefore suspect. Proponents of leapfrogging describe how isolated villages without conventional telephones have directly adopted cellular phones. The example provides excellent symbolism. However, the underlying principle is not scalable to the level of the national economy where many complex sub-systems work together. Consider the transportation sub-system. The laws of physics do not allow IT to substitute the physical movement of goods by a "virtual" movement. A lightning-fast information network will not in itself help achieve faster and cheaper transport. Better roadways and railways will.

IT, job growth and government policy

INDIAN IT firms have focussed on developing and delivering IT services to advanced economies. Even if India became the world's software factory and the most optimistic projections of IT-related jobs (including jobs in call centres and design centres) were upheld, this industry will employ at most a few million people. In a nation with over a billion people, this constitutes but a dent in the employment statistics.

Further, a social planner should be concerned not just with the creation of wealth, but also with its distribution across social divides. The IT industry holds limited potential for wealth to trickle down to the poorer sections of society. Unlike a steel plant, IT engenders few opportunities for the uneducated. Any transfer of wealth from the IT sector (for example, by taxing the IT sector to fund social spending) would be achieved through the heavy hand of government. This represents, at best, a dubious economic proposition. In fact, the rapid growth of IT will likely lead to a digital divide in the short term, where the rich and educated are empowered and enriched by IT and the poor are oblivious to its impact.

Before embracing IT, Indian policy planners must carefully evaluate whether investments in other areas would yield higher, and more equitable, returns. For example, consider the jute industry. This industry sustains over five million Indian households. In the late 1980s, while working for an industrial development bank, one of us was puzzled by the government's blanket ban on the use of plastic (for example, high density poly ethylene) to package cement, fertilizers, foodgrains and other commodities - only jute was to be used. Considering that jute bags were more prone to spillage and rat-induced destruction, this regulation appeared to have no rational economic basis. (Jute packaging has improved much since then.) However, this policy had some important redeeming features when viewed from a social perspective.

But, can India employ technology in the jute industry to achieve both economic and social objectives? Imagine using the power of technology (including IT) to derive new and innovative uses for jute; to expand the domestic and export market base for jute products; to position jute as a natural, inexpensive and biodegradable substitute for plastics; and to improve the efficiency of local jute markets so that jute growers can get better prices. Now imagine how these initiatives could benefit millions of Indian households.

This does not call for every jute cultivator to access the Internet. A public or private agency with the right incentives and with access to domestic and international marketplaces can orchestrate these initiatives. Governmental incentives for research and development (R&D) related to improving jute products and finding new uses for jute would deliver more benefits to jute farmers, than would e-mail access.

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As illustrated in the case of the jute industry, Indian policy planners frequently overlook two important points. First, the creative application of IT in a range of manufacturing and agricultural industries can yield much greater returns at a societal level, compared with software production and export. Second, not all technology is information technology - traditional R&D related to design and manufacturing remains extremely important. Such R&D can be enhanced by IT (for example, via virtual collaboration and computer aided design), but not substituted by it.

The country needs to be particularly careful not to give short shrift to the manufacturing sector. China is not known for its strengths in IT, although it now has some presence in the area. But, what China has accomplished in terms of its core industrial base is striking. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in China was of the order of $40 billion in 2000 despite all the noise about alleged labour and human rights abuses. Chinese exports exceeded $200 billion in 2000, with the United States alone accounting for $100 billion of these exports. In fact, the value of "footwear" exported annually by China to the U.S. (worth about $9.2 billion) itself compares with or even exceeds the total value of India's annual IT exports.

Why are these numbers relevant? Exporting footwear creates millions of jobs for citizens who lack sophisticated skills. According to some reports, a total of 34 million export-related jobs have been created in China, with exports to the U.S. alone accounting for over 20 million jobs in the last decade. These jobs have improved living standards for a substantial fraction of Chinese society. There is much we need to learn from China about how the manufacturing sector can deliver robust and equitable economic growth. Taiwan, Malaysia and South Korea have also flourished using similar approaches.

In contrast with manufacturing, the direct benefits to IT (such as employment in IT jobs) are likely to flow to the few who already have the benefits of education. The trickle-down effects of IT (such as cleaning and maintenance staff for IT firms) are likely to be modest or non-existent outside the large cities. The benefits of IT implementation across other industrial sectors (such as employing IT to make transportation and supply chains more efficient) will likely be substantial, but Indian industrial policy does not point in this direction at the moment.

It is also time to discard the notion that the manufacturing sector is inherently less appealing because it may involve some physical labour. In the more advanced economies, a skilled factory floor worker is frequently paid more than a call-centre employee. Empowered with technology, the factory worker can add value at a remarkable rate. In India, the reverse often holds. Mundane call-centre jobs, often outsourced from more developed economies, absorb well-educated, English-speaking workers whose abilities could be employed much more productively elsewhere.

The emphasis on IT would be less objectionable if it did not contrast sharply with the treatment meted out to other industrial sectors. Consider the Vijayanagar steel plant. The plant had the potential to transform the poverty-stricken Bellary district in Karnataka. The feasibility study for the plant was completed in 1967 and its foundation was laid in 1972. Finally, in 1995, more than a quarter century later, the government divested its interests in the (yet incomplete) project. A scaled-down, modified version of the project is now up and running under the auspices of the private sector. Meanwhile, the market for steel has evolved to an extent that the assumptions that anchored the initial feasibility study are worthless.

The actions of governments in India tend to be biased in favour of the IT sector. For instance, software taxes levied in Karnataka were removed within a week in response to pressure from IT companies. Many workplace inspection procedures have been suspended for IT companies, while other sectors are subjected to myriad regulations, many of which have not been re-evaluated for relevance and effectiveness for decades. The government needs a more balanced policy, one that ensures that the core industrial sector is not ignored in the rush toward IT.

IT and education

IT is fashionable to say that India's population constitutes its greatest asset. This viewpoint is misleading. People are assets only when they participate meaningfully in the cycle of value creation and consumption by exercising buying power, or creating products and services of value, or by creating and harnessing knowledge. A large fraction of India's population does not meet, or even come close to, this asset standard. To transform such a situation, a renewed focus is required on the two pillars that have supported the growth of every successful economy - a strong infrastructure core and widespread access to education. Now to discuss the IT-education interface.

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Distance learning and e-learning are already being flaunted in some quarters as solutions to India's education challenges. The argument proffered is that IT can enable the cheap and widespread delivery of education. This reasoning ignores the key challenge - how can the children of the poor and the uneducated be provided with the incentives to come to school, stay in school, and progress to higher institutions of learning? The answer lies in understanding physiology, psychology and economics, rather than in implementing technology. For all its drawbacks and implementation problems, the mid-day meal programme launched by the late Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu addressed this challenge head on. The programme recognised a simple, but fundamental, fact - the brain cannot feed when the stomach itself is unfed. It provided parents with the incentive to send their children to schools, rather than to the fields. For the children to whom the benefits of education seemed like a distant, hazy mirage, it provided an immediate, tangible reason to stay in school.

There is little reason to believe that IT-based learning will advance meaningfully the cause of Indian education. Problems that are enmeshed in the social and economic fabric of Indian society need to be addressed primarily with solutions that are of a social and economic nature. Throwing technology at these problems will not make them go away.

In addition, creating the infrastructure and content to support effective e-learning is very expensive. Many universities in the U.S. are still struggling to achieve effectively learning objectives in the virtual setting. This problem will be compounded in the Indian environment owing to the diversity of languages and the lack of infrastructure. A rush into e-learning at this stage will only lead to squandered resources.

Presenting technology as the solution to India's educational challenges is troublesome in two ways. First, it diverts attention from issues that should really be on the front-burner. Once this happens, building back momentum in the correct direction is difficult. Second, by building castles in the air that will soon be blown away by the winds of reality, it does a serious disservice to the more limited, but yet substantial and real benefits of technology.

IT and culture

A KNOWLEDGE economy is characterised by a culture of innovation. For such a culture to take root, innovation must be rewarded and intellectual property must be protected.

A culture that truly enhances innovation supports the view that to try hard and fail is perfectly fine. Yet, the Indian psyche has historically been averse to blessing the risky venture. In fact, education has been viewed as a way to avoid risky options, rather than as an enabler of intelligent risk-taking and entrepreneurship. Such a cultural mindset hinders innovation because meaningful innovation is almost never without significant risk.

This attitude transcends into the corporate arena. Consider how static the Indian automobile industry was for three decades before the refreshing winds of competition brought about rapid change. Competition breeds innovation. Not surprisingly, even as markets have become increasingly competitive, R&D spending by U.S. firms has increased sharply, at an annual rate of over 6 per cent during the period 1995-2000.

While one side of the cultural coin pertains to the incentives for innovation, the flip side pertains to its protection. Ideas, unlike property, cannot be protected by building a fence around them. Intellectual property protection is not a purely economic issue; it also has important cultural dimensions. The economic angle can be addressed with stronger patent laws and punitive procedures. However, the cultural angle will decide whether such protection can be enforced meaningfully. Addressing the cultural angle is a challenge. It requires that even without the threat of punishment, one should learn to draw a clear, disciplined boundary in everyday life between what is one's to take and keep, and what is not.

Making such a cultural shift requires that India stop treating intellectual property rights in a casual manner. For example, a frequent argument heard in support of piracy goes along these lines - "If we could afford it, we would pay for it. We pirate because we cannot pay for it." But then, how does an inability to pay for something ever translate into a justification to obtain it for free? One would be highly challenged to apply this logic to hotel stays, vacations, or even a television set. Piracy exists in every economy, but rampant piracy dilutes the incentive to innovate. In the context of intellectual property, economic measures and cultural shifts should proceed hand-in-hand before the spirit of Indian entrepreneurship can take full flight.

The road to technology

A SOCIETY that is deeply divided by social and economic fissures must think carefully about how it achieves economic and technological advance. The path, in some ways, is more important than the outcome itself. The economic travails of modern-day Russia provide a striking example of the results of chaotic advance.

In the Indian context, particular attention needs to be paid to when, where, and in what form IT and other technological advances are encouraged. There are, indeed, many low-hanging fruits to be harvested. For example, a recent article in The New York Times described how a fisherman working off the coasts of Kerala used a cellphone on the seas to obtain information about spot market prices for fish at Kochi and Kollam. The fisherman netted the equivalent of an additional $1,000 in annual income merely by deciding to deliver his catch to the more remunerative market each time his boat came in. This striking example of how simple information flows can enhance market efficiency can be replicated in many ways, and in many markets. However, the stakes are quite different when it comes to the formulation of a national IT policy. Any national policy requires some trade-offs between the benefits to industrial sectors, regions and classes of people. In formulating a national IT policy, the quest for superior technology must be moderated by an understanding of its implications at the social level - what might be good for a private company or an entrepreneur may not always be good for society and vice-versa. For example, a municipal corporation that purchases automated road-laying equipment may find that it either does not use the equipment at all, or that it uses the equipment and allows numerous labourers on its payroll to idle. In this case, technology policy and labour policy are inextricably linked within the overall social context. It is shortsighted to advance doggedly on one front while turning a blind eye to the other.

Successful technology adoption will move in measured steps, at a pace and in a direction that are in harmony with changes in the socio-economic fabric. The role of the government in ensuring such harmony should not be underestimated. This is especially true in India where the government remains responsible for a significant fraction of the economic output, and where it is actively reshaping rules and regulations as the country integrates into the global economy. From the triumph of the capitalist systems across the globe, there is now ample empirical support for the view that governments must ultimately govern with a light touch. At the same time, several economies that have attempted rapid, unstructured transitions into the capitalist mode have declined. There is a strong argument to be made that the Indian government must not simply get out of the way in the spirit of laissez faire, but must instead play a key role in pacing and shaping this transition.

INFORMATION technology can change the way a society communicates, collaborates, lives, works and plays. The growth of the IT sector in India symbolises the potential of Indian industry to perform at world-class standards. This success demonstrates much of what can go right when the spirit of human enterprise is given free rein.

However, the success of IT at the corporate level in India cannot solve its myriad economic and social challenges. Just as copious rainfall can lead to dramatic floods, an obsession with IT and the knowledge economy is not useful. To be truly beneficial, the rain of IT must fall at the right place in the right quantity, at the right time and for the right purpose. Economic policies of a developing country cannot be based on "herd" behaviour and on what is hot in the international market for that year or decade. Neither does the aggressive pursuit of IT represent the sole, or even an obvious, pathway to a first class economy despite the glowing success of high-profile IT companies. Noted economist Paul Krugman, in arguing that someone who has made a personal fortune would not necessarily know how to make an entire nation more prosperous, phrased it best. "A country," he wrote in an article in the Harvard Business Review, "is not a company!"

Dr. Prabhudev Konana (pkonana@mail.utexas.edu) is Associate Professor of Management Science and Information Systems at the McCombs School of Business, The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Sridhar Balasubramanian (balasubs@bschool.unc.edu) is Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also associated with The University of Texas at Austin. Both authors have significant research and professional interests related to technology-intensive markets and strategy.

Science for all

A group of biomedical scientists calls for the establishment of an online public library of science with the objective of making scientific and medical literature freely accessible to scientists and the public around the world.

THE Internet and the concept of the World Wide Web are challenging the traditional paradigms of publishing. This is only to be expected, given that the Web interface allows the transfer of data files, images, graphics, pages, text and even movies to personal computers around the world. But it has impacted on the area of scholarly communication, journals of primary scientific research in particular, rather uniquely in the wake of the spiralling subscription rates of many important journals. Large privately owned publishing houses have been particularly guilty of this, with their price hikes inexplicably outpacing inflation. This has precipitated what the scientific community calls a "serials crisis", in which libraries are caught in a vicious loop of increasing journal costs, declining subscription base and the consequent price hike.

Libraries in developing countries have been particularly hit. They are forced not only to cancel subscriptions to many non-essential publications but also to forgo purchase of books in order to maintain their subscriptions to indispensable journals. Even in developed countries, many institutions with limited resources face this squeeze. In an attempt to beat this crisis Thomas J. Walker, a United States-based entomologist, innovatively uses e-versions of manuscripts within his own small community of researchers. He says, "In a world brimming with the new knowledge and new ways to find it, there have been pockets of information poverty and local hardship."

In this situation, one would imagine that the rapid technological development of the Internet would revolutionise "online" publishing of primary research literature and thus ensure its equitable and low-cost access to scientists around the world. Ironically, contrary to the promises of "open and free digital knowledge" held out by prophets of the Internet revolution, new forms of barriers to access have arisen. Walker calls this the "toll-gate approach". It is an extension of the current economic structure of scientific publishing, which has been exploited by large publishing houses to maximise profits.

Publishers now charge variously for online access to journal articles in the form of subscriptions to the print version (so that the huge profits from the print version are maintained), site licences and "pay-per-view" or "pay-per-download" schemes. These economic interests, Walker points out, are not shared by the scientists - the real generators of the content that is marketed - and professional societies to which they belong. There is growing opposition among scientists to making the results of research carried out with public money a commodity to be resold at high prices. "(Disciplinary) societies," says Walker, "have important alternative options for the journals during the transition to our collective digital future - options that can serve the research community, provide institutions some relief from the serials crisis, finance online publishing and make knowledge available to all".

One such concept proposed by a group of biomedical scientists in the U.S. is called the Public Library of Science (PLoS). PLoS, according to the website (https://www.publiclibraryofscience.org) is a non-profit organisation of scientists "committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature freely accessible to scientists and to the public around the world for the benefit of scientific progress, education and the public good." An open letter circulated by PLoS about a year ago has triggered an interesting debate, and later a controversy, on the issue of free e-access to research literature in the fast-growing field of biological sciences.

The idea of PLoS actually grew out of a proposal made in May 1999 by Harold E. Varmus, the then Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) who is now with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, along with Patrick Brown of Stanford University and David Lipman of the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). The idea was to establish a freely accessible central repository of all life sciences research literature called PubMed Central (PMC). Originally called E-BioMed, the PMC is to be managed by the NCBI as part of the U.S.' National Library of Medicine (NLM), which has experience in running online databases such as PubMed (or MEDLINE) for biomedical abstracts and GenBank for the sequences of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

The basic philosophy of PLoS is that "the permanent, archival record of scientific research and ideas should neither be owned nor controlled by publishers, but should belong to the public, and should be made freely available". PLoS aims "to establish international online public libraries of science that will archive and distribute the complete contents of published scientific articles, and foster the development of new ways to search, interlink and integrate the information that is currently partitioned into millions of separate reports and segregated into thousands of different journals, each with its own restriction on access." The signatories to the open letter resolved that beginning September 2001 they will boycott journals that do not grant unrestricted free distribution rights to "any and all research articles that they have published through PMC and similar on-line public resources, within six months of their initial publication date".

PLoS argued that its proposal balanced the interests of commercial and non-profit publishers, scientists and the public. In exchange for their role in editing, peer review and publishing, publishers get a six-month lease on, rather than ownership of, the original research reports they publish. At the end of the lease they became public domain. Six months, according to PLoS, is sufficient for publishers to maintain their revenue through subscription fees for print editions and e-access to articles.

A letter written in March to Science (a journal brought out by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS) by some of the proponents of PLoS likened their concept of a central comprehensive archive for published literature to GenBank. The letter argued that the steps initiated by some journals to make their online contents freely available after some delay through their own websites was not good enough.

"Material that is freely accessible, on a controlled basis, one paper at a time, at a journal's website," they said, "differs from material that is freely accessible in a single comprehensive collection. The latter can be efficiently indexed, searched, and linked to, whereas the former cannot... Only by creating repositories with uniform, explicitly defined, and structured formats can a dynamic digital archive of life science research literature become possible. Unimpeded access to these archives and open distribution of their contents will enable researchers to take on the challenge of integrating and interconnecting the fantastically rich, but extremely fragmented and chaotic scientific literature."

The PMC, according to them, was the first of the many public archives they envisioned. Arguing that the costs of participating in open archives would be minimal and "would be more than offset by the benefits their participation would bring to the scientific community", the letter to Science urged editors and publishers of biology and biomedical journals to deposit the electronic versions of their published papers (after a brief delay) with the PMC for free access and distribution. "If these efforts are successful," the letter said, "in 10 years, everyone's ability to do science will have been greatly enriched, and we will all wonder how it was possible to work without such archives."

Les Grivel, director of E-BioSci, the European digital biological information resource network, wanted the proposal to go a bit further. He pointed out that limited access to databases was a much more serious problem, particularly after the European Union Database Directive, but it was being ignored. He also cited the recent instance of Celera Genomics imposing conditions to Science for access to its genome data.

Indeed, apart from enabling scientists to work with integrated and interlinked research information, a central repository helps them in data mining for extracting patterns, which could be useful in discoveries. These would otherwise remain hidden in the vast volume of data scattered worldwide. Besides, many studies have shown that open access increases dramatically the impact factor and citation of a given article.

The editors of Science however, argued against the PLoS concept. Rejecting the idea of PMC as the archive site, Science argued in favour of the multi-national repository at the Stanford-based non-profit organisation HighWire Press (HWP), which archives 240 journals, including biological, physical and inter-disciplinary papers. Searching across these multi-journal sites was already possible at the HWP's site.

Science rejected the PLoS proposition on three grounds: it denies journals like Science an important source of revenue from online traffic on their sites; unlimited redistribution of content could lead to misuse and loss of fidelity; and it will entail risks associated with monopoly suppliers, especially with a state-run unit like the PMC. Science also argued that specialised journals run by professional societies would become unviable as the economic "floor" on which they stood was provided by academic library subscriptions, which would be lost if papers were to become freely accessible at the PMC.

The PLoS' authors promptly countered Science's arguments saying that the journals' "timid response" arose from institutional inertia and misconceptions about the proposal. Denying that they advocated any kind of monopolistic hold over primary literature, the authors said that the current system of publishing implied that each publisher was a monopoly. They also wondered why Science preferred a private monopoly like the HWP over the PMC, which, in any case, was only proposed as the first of many such repositories around the world.

The authors also countered the Science editors' argument that free and unrestricted access to Science papers would imply a loss of income. According to the PLoS proponents, the experience of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and Molecular Biology of the Cell proved otherwise. These journals have been making their contents available free of cost within two months of their publication but subscriptions had not dropped, they said. (Some publications have, however, found a small decline in subscriptions.)

The PLoS authors said that Science's contention that loss of online traffic meant loss of an important source of income was unconvincing. As members of the AAAS they demanded that Science make public its full financial records, including all its sources of income, its operating expenditures and the AAAS' activities that benefit from Science's profits. As for Science's apprehension about misuse of content, they said that it would be easier to detect misuse when full-text archives are freely accessible than when their access is restricted.

The journal Nature also ran a debate on free e-access, which elicited diverse opinions. Nature argued against total dismantling of the existing system and associated business models. It said that the challenge was to preserve the best of the current journal system. Predictably, private publishing houses such as Elsevier Science rejected the PLoS/ PMC idea and society-run publications would not go as far as allowing total freedom to redistributed contents. There were also conservative voices which warned against "throwing the baby out with the bathwater". Some even described PLoS' posture as "arrogant".

ARGUING that publishing a high-quality online journal was an expensive business, Martin Richardson of the Oxford University Press, called for new financing mechanisms that could free literature for open e-access, instead of subscription-based revenue models. Martin Blume, the editor-in-chief of the American Physical Society (APS), proposed a financing scheme in which institutions or societies can become sponsors of journals and make annual contributions, instead of paying subscription or page charges.

As of January 7, 2002, 29, 091 scientists from 174 countries have signed the open letter, according to the PLoS website. Not unexpectedly the scientists' response has been more enthusiastic than that of publishing establishments. According to a letter posted on the PLoS website on August 31, 2001, while the PLoS initiative had prompted "significant and welcome steps by many scientific publishers towards freer access to published research", in general, these steps had fallen short of the "reasonable policies" that PLoS had proposed.

What does the pledge of boycott imply operationally? PLoS' August 31 letter to all its supporters reiterates its commitment to honour the pledge: "By directing our manuscripts and our voluntary assistance (reviewing and editing) to these journals (that have adopted the policy proposed in the open letter), we will reaffirm our belief that no single entity, whether a publisher or government, should have control over any portion of scientific literature."

Given that the number of journals that have fully embraced the PLoS philosophy is not very large, PLoS has made its stance somewhat flexible. Whenever an appropriate journal that meets PLoS' standards is not available for the nature of work that needs to be published, PLoS expects its supporters to publish an option that comes closest to meeting its goals of unrestricted free distribution within six months. Also, significantly, the PMC too has diluted its earlier proposal of centralised access to decentralised access; that is, allowing viewing of full-texts only at the journal's website if the participating journal so desires.

"I cannot really say what will be the impact of this boycott," says P. Balaram of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and editor of the Indian journal Current Science. "In biology, unlike in physical sciences, there are many privately owned journals that carry a lot of prestige and impact value. So this boycott may not have any immediate impact though the idea of a central comprehensive searchable archive is good and will be extremely useful," he says.

"Unfortunately not many journals have come onto the PMC platform, says K. VijayRaghavan, director of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, and one of the 381 Indian signatories of PLoS' open letter. "While seniors can afford to stay away from these high priced, high profile publications, young researchers cannot afford to do so as their careers depend on where they publish their work." The only solution, he feels, is to have quality e-version journals alone, with online peer-reviews, which would bring down costs drastically. It is not an infeasible proposition. It only requires some enterprise with courage and conviction to do away with the print journals completely, he says.

In January 2000, Walker pioneered the concept of selling Immediate Free Web Access (IFWA) for articles from four entomology journals published by the Entomological Society of America (ESA). IFWA is sold to authors at a certain fair price without requiring them to subscribe to the print version in order to gain access to the e-version. The authors pay (much like page charges for the print version) for open free access to their articles. Owing to the realisation among scientists that IFWA ensures wider impact, its purchase rate has risen steadily and it has proved to be a profit-making service. The number of ESA authors buying IFWA has gone up from 13 per cent to about 50 per cent. This, Walker feels, could even eventually lead to the complete demise of the paper version.

One cannot be sure if the ESA model can work for all kinds of journals, but what is clear is that new paradigms of journal publication are emerging. PLoS itself has now realised that if publication of scientific research must conform fully to it principles, it must do the publishing itself. "It is now time for us to work together to create the journals we have called for," says the August 31 letter. PLoS believes that it is both necessary and financially feasible for scientists to create a mechanism for publishing their work with responsible, efficient peer-review and high editorial standards and at the same time, allow free and unrestricted online distribution from the moment of publication. PLoS now intends to establish a non-profit science publisher under its banner. It will be operated by scientists, for the benefit of science and the public.

IN May 2000, an electronic publishing house, BioMed Central (BMC), with active support from the scientific community in favour of free e-access to primary literature and like-mined entrepreneurs in the publishing field, launched an e-journal BioMed Central with the basic philosophy that is being advocated by PLoS. The journal has an online refereeing and peer-review system. It publishes 57 online journals on biology and medicine in its website, www. BioMedCentral.com, with free access.

One may wonder why this demand to overthrow traditional publishing paradigms is emerging only in the field of biomedical sciences. The main reason, perhaps, is the boom in biological sciences in the past three decades. Private publishers were quick to see the opportunity to make profits by publishing biology.

It is also perhaps largely a cultural problem. In physics and mathematics there has been a tradition of circulating information widely in pre-print form - a tradition that is totally absent in biology and biomedical sciences - which, in the present computerised age, has assumed an e-version. Thus, researchers have open electronic access to much of the recent literature prior to its publication. While creating "self-archiving initiatives" - which involve archives of e-prints at their own constitutions and harvesting of these inter-operable archives into one global archive that can be freely searched and accessed online - is an idea that has been mooted for biosciences, these have already evolved in physical sciences.

Mathematicians and physicists these days routinely submit their manuscripts as e-prints to an Internet server and to journals for publication. If the manuscript is rewritten, the new version is submitted but the old one stays in the online archive and is useful in settling questions of priority when such issues arise. The famous e-print server at xxx.lanl.gov at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) currently handles 25,000 submissions in physical sciences annually at a cost of $15 per paper, including overheads. The founder of the IANL e-print archive and its current overseer is the physicist Paul Ginsparg who started it himself because it seemed a good use of the emerging Web technology. The popularity of this is great, and it is known that e-print versions are widely consulted.

However, even in physical sciences there are still barriers to accessing the final version online, though they are not as severe as in biological sciences where online access charges have been hiked to unreasonable levels. Ironically, Nature, which ran the debate on free e-access, is also guilty of this. But the ongoing battle in biosciences may indeed throw up new ideas and solutions that could be later adopted by other fields.

Web technology too is evolving specifically to cater to archiving and manipulation of the vast mass of scientific literature and data online. The 'semantic web' being developed by the creator of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee, which will allow more web content to the machine understandable, and the 'adaptive decentralised web' being developed at LANL are cases in point. These, together with new search tools and engines being developed for archives such as the PMC or HWP, will in the near future define the new paradigms of scientific publishing and alter the modes of scholarly discourse and communication in science.

The politics of war

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington; Penguin, New Delhi, 1997; pages 367, Rs.295.

OF the many books on the nature of the post-Cold War world, the best known are The End of History by Francis Fukuyama, and this book. At present, the latter is discussed more than the former.

Professor Samuel P. Huntington has remarkable academic credentials and some experience in government. Currently a Professor at Harvard, he is also director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. Under U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Huntington was director for security planning. He has also been president of the American Political Science Association.

The author's theses could be summed up as follows, in his own words:

* Human history is the history of civilisations. Culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilisational identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world.

* The major contemporary civilisations are Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, and Western. Huntington is not sure whether to classify Latin America as a separate civilisation or only a sub-civilisation within the Western one. The West includes Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

* For the first time in history, global politics is both multipolar and multicivilisational. Modernisation is distinct from Westernisation and is producing neither a universal civilisation in any meaningful sense nor the Westernisation of non-Western societies.

* The balance of power among civilisations is shifting; Western civilisation is declining in terms of relative influence while the non-Western civilisations are reaffirming their own cultures.

* A civilisation-based world order is emerging. Societies sharing cultural affinities cooperate with one another; countries group themselves around the lead or core states of their civilisation. For example, the United States of America is the lead state for Western civilisation. India is the core state for Hindu civilisation, but its ability to provide order in the region is limited because Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka will not accept its leadership. The Islamic civilisation lacks a core state.

* The West's universalist pretensions are increasingly bringing it into conflict with other civilisations, most seriously with the Islamic and Chinese civilisations. At the local level, "fault-line wars", largely between Muslims and non-Muslims, generate "kin country rallying". This raises the threat of a broader escalation of hostilities, and hence efforts have to be made by the core states to halt these wars.

* The survival of the West depends upon the U.S. reaffirming its Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilisation as unique, but not universal, and uniting to renew and preserve it against challenges from non-Western societies.

* Avoidance of a global war of civilisations depends upon world leaders accepting the multicivilisational character of global politics and cooperating to maintain it.

In elaboration of his final point, the author conducts a thought-experiment: In 2020, American troops are out of Korea and China has come to an understanding with Taiwan. A war breaks out between China and Vietnam over oil deposits in the South China Sea. Vietnam asks the U.S. for military assistance as U.S. companies have been drilling for oil in the area that was once controlled by Vietnam, but is now claimed by China. Japan, intimidated by China, prohibits the use of U.S. bases in Japan. Chinese forces enter Hanoi and the U.S. is reluctant to use nuclear weapons against China for fear of reprisal. India, wanting to profit from China's entanglement with the U.S., takes on Pakistan, which in turn appeals successfully to Iran for assistance based on the terms of a trilateral pact between Iran, Pakistan and China. Both India and Pakistan seek support from the Arabs, but given China's initial success against the U.S., the Arab regimes friendly to the U.S. get overthrown one by one. The Arabs take on Israel, which the U.S. is unable to defend. As China appears to stand up to the U.S., Japan joins China. Russia, worried about China's increasing strength, attacks it. In order to prevent Western Europe from aligning with the U.S., China and Iran deploy missiles in Algeria and Bosnia and send a warning to the West Europeans, but the Europeans stick with the U.S. Serbia occupies Bosnia and takes control of its missiles. A missile with a nuclear warhead, launched from Algeria, lands in Marseilles and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) retaliates massively against North Africa. Russia and the West become allies.

WHETHER this global civilisational war leads to mutual devastation, a negotiated halt stemming from exhaustion or an eventual march of Russian forces to Tiananmen Square, Huntington concludes, the broader long-term result would almost inevitably be a drastic decline in the demographic, economic and military power of all the major participants, though India might, comparatively speaking, emerge stronger and attempt to reshape the world along Hindu lines.

Huntington goes on to argue that the root cause of the global war was the ill-judged intervention by the core state of one civilisation (the U.S.) in a dispute between the core state of another civilisation (China) and a member-state of that civilisation (Vietnam). In his book (first published in 1996) he concedes that the U.S. would find it difficult to accept his prescription. "The abstention rule that core states abstain from intervention in conflicts in other civilisations is the first requirement of peace in a multicivilisational, multipolar world. The second requirement is the joint mediation rule that core states negotiate with each other to contain or to halt fault-line wars between states or groups from their civilisations." Incidentally, nowhere does he say that, according to his own rule, the U.S. should not have intervened when Iraq occupied Kuwait.

The thought-experiment is based on the author's thesis that the Sinic and the Islamic civilisations are potential adversaries to the Western civilisation. "Inter-civilisational conflict takes two forms: At the local or micro level, fault-line conflicts occur between neighbouring states from different civilisations, between groups of different civilisations within a state, and between groups which, as in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, are attempting to create new states out of the wreckage of the old. Fault-line conflicts are particularly prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims."

Huntington claims to have provided a new paradigm to help us understand the world, and he frankly admits that his aim is to formulate a plan of action to protect his own civilisation.

LET us look at the theses one by one. "Human history is the history of civilisations. It is impossible to think of development of humanity in any other terms. The story stretches through generations of civilisations from ancient Sumerian and Egyptian to Classical and Mesoamerican to Christian and Islamic civilisations and through successive manifestations of Sinic and Hindu civilisations." It was Arnold Toynbee who pointed out that civilisations provided the intelligent units of study for the historian. If you study the history of England, for example, you will have to refer to its interaction with France sooner or later; hence England is not an independent unit of historical study, whereas Western Europe, which includes both England and France, is.

Going beyond Toynbee, Huntington asserts that "culture and cultural identities are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world". Is he right, and if so to what extent? Huntington has argued that the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989 and the Gulf War following Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait are civilisation wars. In the first case because "Muslims everywhere saw it as such and rallied against the Soviet Union". Is it enough if Muslims everywhere saw it as such? While the statement is a valid description of the course of events, does it explain the genesis, course and end of the war? A sizable section of the Afghan population wanted to get rid of the Soviet-supported regime. Influenced by the Cold War, the U.S. decided to support these Afghans. For a variety of reasons, including religion, Saudi Arabia decided to support the anti-Soviet Afghans and religion was used to mobilise support within and outside Afghanistan. It was perhaps the first major war in recent times during which a deliberate effort was made by one side to use religion as a rallying point against 'godless communism'. For the Soviets it was not a war against Islam or the Islamic civilisation. And since the Soviet Union did not represent any civilisation, it was not a war between civilisations either. In brief, Huntington's account provides neither an adequate description nor a cogent explanation.

In the case of the Gulf War too, the description is wrong. Huntington calls it "the first post-Cold War resource war between civilisations". True, it was partly a war for resources, but was it between two civilisations? While the U.S. did get support from the rest of the Western civilisation, and as such represented that civilisation's interest, it actually got more support than Iraq did from the Islamic world. Did Iraq represent the interest of the Islamic civilisation? Did it get support from the rest of the Islamic civilisation, or the Islamic umma? Huntington has referred to the division within the Islamic world and also to the support given to Iraq by sections of the population even in countries whose governments had joined the U.S.-led coalition. But the fact is that, by and large, the enormous resources of the Islamic world were with the U.S.

HUNTINGTON identifies the major existing civilisations as Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic and Western. Is there an Islamic civilisation in the sense in which there is a Western civilisation, to be treated as a single geopolitical factor? Huntington admits that as opposed to Western civilisation Islamic civilisation lacks a core state. The feeble reaction from the Organisation of Islamic Conference, claiming to represent the 1.2-billion strong Islamic umma to Israel's military attacks on the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the well-known divisions within the umma make it clear that Islamic civilisation is not a single, united geopolitical actor.

Huntington argues that states belonging to a civilisation group around the core state. But the only example he gives is that of the U.S. as the core state of the Western civilisation. For the Japanese civilisation, there is only one state. The Hindu civilisation has "a core state" in India but its core status, as pointed out by Huntington himself, is not accepted by other states in the Hindu civilisation. To what extent is China's core status accepted by other states in the same civilisation? In the case of the U.S., it is not only the states within the same civilisation that have accepted its leadership role. Therefore, what is the explanatory value of the concept of the core state?

Huntington identifies the Sinic and Islamic civilisations as potential adversaries of the West and states that "by the early 1990s a 'Confucian-Islamic connection' was in place between China and North Korea on the one hand, and in varying degrees among Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Algeria on the other, to confront the West" on issues such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The "connection" identified by Huntington has, however disappeared into thin air.

China may turn out to be the U.S.' adversary in the years to come. But what is the explanatory value of Huntington's thesis of a civilisational conflict in understanding the reasons for it? In what way is his explanation more satisfying than the standard explanation of China's ambition and potential, and the U.S.' perceived need for a major adversary after the disappearance of the Soviet Union? Is he implying that Washington and Beijing are going to clash because they belong to two different civilisations? If so, then what prevents a clash between Tokyo and Washington? Obviously, there are non-civilisational factors at play.

Huntington has obtained data from three different sources on intra-civilisational and inter-civilisational conflicts and has concluded that "in the early 1990s Muslims were engaged in more inter-group violence than non-Muslims, and that two-thirds to three-quarters of inter-civilisational wars were between Muslims and non-Muslims. Islam's borders are bloody, and so are its innards." He has been rather harshly criticised by many scholars, including Muslims, for his conclusion.

There are problems with the data as presented. There were a total of 20 inter-civilisational conflicts. In 15 of these, Muslims and non-Muslims were in conflict and in the other five some non-Muslims were in conflict with other non-Muslims. In short, "Others" were in conflict with Muslims on 15 occasions and among themselves five times. Obviously, "Others" were involved in conflict on 20 occasions and not five. The same error is seen in the other tables too in his theses.

The value of any theory lies in its ability to give us an adequate description of, and a cogent explanation for, the facts. Huntington fails on both accounts. Then, how does one account for the popularity of the book among the non-specialists and the unprecedented attention it has received from the specialists?

Huntington's thesis is a simple, uncomplicated one and that accounts for its popularity. Further, we are living in an age of "globalisation" where interest in and knowledge of other people's history and culture is undervalued. The president of the United States in a recent speech meant to mobilise support for the war against the Taliban, asked the rest of the world to join him in a "crusade" - forgetting the roots of the term, and the fact that he wanted support from Muslims too.

As far as the specialists are concerned, Huntington has provided an answer, a deceptively simple one at that, to the substantive question facing the U.S. in the post-Cold War world: What is to be done with the U.S.' overwhelming power, military, economic, technological and cultural?

Had the Soviet Union existed as a superpower, it would not have permitted the disintegration of Yugoslavia and would have contained the inter-ethnic tensions by force or otherwise. In post-Soviet Europe, Austria and Germany and the Holy See were able to lend support to one side, the other and promote the disintegration of what Tito had built up in the aftermath of the Second World War. The full explanation of the disintegration of Yugoslavia would have to include not only the ethnic and civilisational factors mentioned by Huntington but also the actions of the spheres-of-influence seeking outside powers such as Austria and Germany. Huntington's explanation that Austria and Germany came to the support of Croatia only because of the pull of the Catholic religion is not adequate.

Anyone who is interested in following the academic debate on the reasons for the growing disorder in our times, even as some pundits confidently speak of the "order" imposed by the only superpower, should read Huntington in a critical spirit. He is a guru for many in the U.S. foreign policy establishment. As I completed Huntington I recalled the words of Thucydides to the effect that it was Sparta's fear of the growing power and ambition of Athens that caused the Peloponnesian War. Generations of historians have criticised Thucydides for not going into the social and economic causes. Yet, Thucydides made a significant statement of explanatory value.

A telling diary

Journal 1935-1944: The Fascist Years by Mihail Sebastian; Ivan R. Dee Inc, 2000; pages 641, $36.

MIHAIL SEBASTIAN was a Romanian novelist, playwright and critic. He was an avid reader and a great lover of music. He was Jewish, and in the anti-Semitic culture prevalent in Romania, he suffered for his religion. Although he was not a practising Jew, he was constantly reminded of his religion by his friends, many of whom were intellectuals and artists. Sebastian kept a diary, which was safely removed to Tel Aviv by his brother after his death in an accident. The diary was translated into the French and published. An English translation appeared recently.

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Sebastian spent all his adult life in the Romanian capital city of Bucharest, once known as little Paris. It was cosmopolitan with boulevards, theatres and so on. Industries were situated in the suburbs. In the inter-War period, democracy in Romania was fragile. The country was a monarchy which held elections in such a way that the King would get his favourite politician elected Prime Minister.

Sebastian's diary spans a period that saw three successive anti-Semitic dictatorships. King Karol ruled from February 1938 to September 1940. He was overthrown by Ion Antonescu, who ruled with the help of the Iron Guard party. However, later he suppressed the Iron Guards and ruled himself. Sebastian notes all these changes with a great deal of anxiety for his country and the Jewish people. He was experiencing increasing anti-Semitism.

The anti-Semitism in Romania was not imported from Germany; it was indigenous. Romania had more than 700,000 Jewish people, whose sufferings increased as the days and years passed. With the advent of Hitler and his Nazi Party, the Romanian anti-Semitic elements became bold and started harassing the Jewish population. It became difficult for them to conduct their business as their shops and other establishments were looted. Sebastian writes about this and supports the shutting down of shops by Jewish people for their protection and as a mark of protest. He even joined them in a prayer in a synagogue in order to express his solidarity with them.

Sebastian had his friends in the political, journalistic and academic circles, many of them holding anti-Semitic views. They used to advise him seriously to convert to Catholicism. They told him that only the Pope would be able to save him. Sebastian refused to follow their advice.

Nae Ionescu was an influential intellectual who discovered Sebastian's talents and published his first book. In the 1920s Ionescu had not yet become a Fascist ideologue, but he had no sympathies for the Jewish people. Hence, when Sebastian requested him to write a preface for his first book, Ionescu wrote an anti-Semitic piece. He said that whatever Sebastian or his fellow Jews did, they would not be treated by Romanians as their equals. They would never be assimilated. Sebastian then wrote a rejoinder to Ionescu's preface. Later, Ionescu was rewarded handsomely for his opportunism and anti-Semitism.

Mircea Eliade was another friend of Sebastian whose criticism of the Jewish people became more strident with the passage of time. He blamed the Jewish people for everything that went wrong in Romania and held them responsible for the country's economic and political ills. It became impossible for Sebastian to continue with this friendship. Eliade ended up getting diplomatic assignments.

Marietta Sadova, an actress, was actively involved in Fascist politics. She was one of the financial supporters of the Iron Guards. Sebastian knew her well, but was wary of her anti-Semitic attitude which was becoming more pronounced. Once she told Sebastian that the 'yids' were taking away the bread from the Romanians and were exploiting and smothering them. She said that they should be driven out of the country as they were the real enemies.

Sebastian's close friend Camil Petrescu was a novelist for whose intellect Sebastian had high regard. But Petrescu did not hide his hatred of the Jewish people. Later during the War, under his influence the government started blaming the Jewish people for the reverses. Petrescu used to say that it was because of the Jewish people that the War was being prolonged. He held the American Jewish lobby responsible for the stalemate.

It was no wonder that the Romanian government toed the line of Hitler's Germany. It dutifully circulated Nazi propaganda material in the country and Hitler's speeches were immediately published in the newspapers. Hitler's diatribe against the Jewish people was hailed. When the Polish people resisted German aggression, many Romanian intellectuals were furious. They thought that it was a Jewish plot and that since the ordinary Polish people did not have anything to do with the resistance, it was bound to fail.

However, it must be noted that all the Romanian friends of Sebastian who were intellectuals were not Fascists. There was E.M. Cioran who was a brilliant writer and a philosopher. After the War he was in partisan exile and regretted his "pact with the devil". Cioran had much to regret: when Fascism was gaining strength, he wrote that there were few people in Germany who had such admiration for it as he had.

In 1945, the playwright Eugene Ionescu wrote of the Iron Guard generation in Romania: "We were morally rotten and miserable. In terms of me, I cannot reproach myself for being a Fascist. But the others can be reproached for this. Mihail Sebastian kept a lucid mind and an authentic humanity." He blamed Nae Ionescu for creating a stupid, horrendous and reactionary Romania.

Romania had its own version of the Holocaust. The Jewish people in Bucharest were, comparatively speaking, treated in a better manner. But their co-religionists from Bessarabia and Bukovina had the same horrible experience as those in Germany and Poland. They were sent to Trannistria where they perished. Sebastian knew from his friends who had connections with the people in power that thousands of Jewish people died in the streets and their corpses were lying unattended. In June 1941, more than 100,000 Jewish people were murdered.

Romanian government forces joined the Nazis when the latter marched into Ukraine. Along with the Nazis they took part in the massacre of the Jewish people. But when Ion Antonescu realised that the tide of the War was turning against Hitler's army, which was suffering reverses, he slowed down the campaign against the Jewish people. Sebastian along with other Jewish people in the capital was not sent to the concentration camps. But with them his quota of ration was reduced to the minimum. He also had to do some manual work. In the winter he worked for 12 hours removing ice from the streets. (He did this for ten days in a month.)

Sebastian depended on his pen for survival. Hence, when his plays were not performed, he found it difficult to sustain himself. He starved, and once by Christmas time he was so broke that he feared his ouster from his lodging house because he had failed to pay the rent. But he was saved by one of his wealthy friends.

Sebastian had no love lost for the Communist Party or communism. However, he was all the while hoping that the Germans would be defeated by the Soviet Union. Hence, he was following the course of the War closely. The entries in his diary show how sensitive he was about the fate of the Allies' armies and especially of the Red Army. However, when the Soviet forces entered Romania, Sebastian was not pleased. In fact, he criticised the atrocities committed by the Red Army soldiers. But he also condoned them as he compared their acts to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

On August 23, 1944, Antonescu's regime was overthrown by King Michael and an alliance of several political parties. Sebastian felt relieved as he thought that his life would not be in danger. But he was in two minds about the Communist takeover and refused to join the Communist newspaper. Sebastian did not survive for long. He was knocked down by a truck and killed.

Radu Ioanid, who has written an introduction to Sebastian's Journal, criticises the post-War Romanian intellectuals. He says that they do not regret the fact that they endorsed anti-Semitism. He also says that there is no inclination to probe the past. In fact, Sebastian wrote a few months before his death that Romania would regain its senses when the problem of responsibility was disposed of in earnest. Otherwise, it would all be too cheap. Yet, there is no inclination for retrospection.

The Nehruvian approach

"He (Jawaharlal Nehru) rejected the Soviet offer to propose India as the sixth permanent member of the Security Council and insisted that priority be given to China's admission to the United Nations"

S. Gopal: Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume II; page 248.

PICKING on these lines in a book published in 1979, the Sangh Parivar recently screamed in orchestrated chorus denouncing India's first Prime Minister for letting the country down. Predictably, its foreign policy expert, Jaswant Singh, Minister for External Affairs, led the pack. The offer came from both sides; the Americans first and next, the Soviets.

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Nehru showed sound judgment in rejecting it and in refusing to walk into the trap. It would have earned India the lasting hostility of China, contempt of the nations of the Third World and of the United States too, conceited, albeit, with perfect discretion; and eventually, a resounding snub from the Soviet Union. India would not, indeed could not, have got the seat; only the odium for immaturity and opportunism. Thanks to Nehru the country was spared that. It rose in everyone's esteem. One shudders to think what the outcome would have been were Jaswant Singh ensconced then in Nehru's seat.

A moment's reflection would have exposed the fatuity of the "offer". It would have entailed revision of the U.N. Charter which is subject to veto by any of the five powers - the Soviet Union included. The Americans offered the seat to India in order to keep the People's Republic of China (PRC) out, leaving the KMT regime of Taiwan to occupy China's seat. India was invited to enter into this Faustian bargain. But would the Soviet Union have agreed to be party to it when its alliance with the PRC was in full swing?

Why, then, did Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin make this offer to Nehru in Moscow on June 22, 1955? The riddle is easily explained on a bare reading of the minutes of the talks. They comprise the piece de resistance in this latest volume in the series which covers the period June 1 to August 31, 1955. On the death of Prof. Ravinder Kumar, A. K. Damodaran, one of the finest products of the Indian Foreign service joins H. Y. Sharada Prasad as Editor.

First, the background. The Soviet Union, miffed that "the Far East... has not been included in the Four Power Agenda", proposed "a six power conference to discuss the Far East which should include USA, UK, France, USSR, India and China". Nehru responded that "at this stage the idea of a six power conference might be premature, but at a later stage a larger conference might be useful".

As the talks in Moscow proceeded, Bulganin made his "offer". Let the record speak for itself. Bulganin said:

"Regarding your suggestion about the four power conference we would take appropriate action. While we are discussing the general international situation and reducing tension, we propose suggesting at a later stage India's inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council.

JN: Perhaps Bulganin knows that some people in USA have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council. This is to create trouble between us and China. We are, of course, wholly opposed to it. Further, we are opposed to pushing ourselves forward to occupy certain positions because that may itself create difficulties and India might itself become a subject to controversy. If India is to be admitted to the Security Council, it raises the question of the revision of the Charter of the U.N. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China's admission and possibly of others is first solved. I feel that we should first concentrate on getting China admitted. What is Bulganin's opinion about the revision of the Charter? In our opinion this does not seem to be an appropriate time for it.

Bulganin: We proposed the question of India's membership of the Security Council to get your views, but agree that this is not the time for it and it will have to wait for the right moment later on. We also agree that things should be taken one by one (page 231; emphasis added, throughout).

Bulganin did not make an "offer". He threw a feeler to test India. He himself recognised that "this is not the time for it". Had Nehru jumped at the bait, he would have courted certain disappointment before long.

Later, in a Note on his tour of the USSR and other countries, dated August 1, 1955, Nehru wrote: "Informally, suggestions have been made by the United States that China should be taken into the United Nations but not in the Security Council and that India should take her place in the Security Council. We cannot of course accept this as it means falling out with China and it would be very unfair for a great country like China not to be in the Security Council. We have, therefore, made it clear to those who suggested this that we cannot agree to this suggestion. We have even gone a little further and said that India is not anxious to enter the Security Council at this stage, even though as a great country she ought to be there. The first step to be taken is for China to take her rightful place and then the question of India might be considered separately" (page 303).

This reflected sound judgment. For all his flaws, failures and even foibles, Nehru was a great man; a far bigger man than the ones who denigrate him malevolently. He has suffered no little at the hands of uncritical admirers as well; ones who labour under the delusion that a great man is diminished if his faults and misjudgments are acknowledged. Nehru was much more of a politician than his idolators admit. He swung from a pro-American to a pro-Soviet stance for a variety of reasons. The U.S. had rebuffed his overtures in 1949 and gave military aid to Pakistan in 1954. He pursued the national interest, as he perceived it, in the conduct of foreign affairs. But, never for a moment did he overlook the use of foreign policy to mobilise domestic political support. He chuckled to himself as he found his pro-Soviet policy embarrassing the Communist Party of India (CPI). There were times when the chuckle was loud for all to hear.

His address to the heads of Indian Missions in Europe, when they met in Salzburg on June 28-30, 1955, is most instructive. "Speaking about communism in India, the Prime Minister observed that the communists were not making much headway because of the success of the foreign policy of India and the success of the various schemes for betterment under the Five Year Plan. Our foreign policy has helped us internally as well in that it has completely confused the Communist Party of India. In view of the appreciation shown by the Soviet leaders of our foreign policy, Indian communists find it difficult to criticise the government. The stature India has gained abroad has given the common man a certain pride in India. CPI, therefore, finds it difficult to undermine the reliance the common man places in government" (page 250). He made the same point even in a talk with the Chancellor of Austria, Julius Raab, in Vienna on June 27, 1955 (page 238).

Nehru told the Indian Ambassadors: "Our intelligence services have to watch communist activity, though from outside there has been very little. In fact the Indian communists have been told privately not to embarrass our government. The publicly expressed appreciation of the Indian government is another way of making it difficult for the Communist Party of India to embarrass the government. The United States are carrying on their espionage and secret service activities. They have also been buying up newspapers and spreading a network of publicity organisations in regard to which we have had to take restrictive action."

NEHRU also counselled India's envoys in Europe "that there was danger in any ambassador remaining in one country for too long a period of time because he was then likely to be influenced by the way of thinking of that country. The broad concept of rivalry between USSR and USA, and the new relationship between USSR and China must be kept in view. One must get out of the narrow concept of looking at things from the point of view of the country to which one is accredited. Things must be seen and judged in their larger context. The world must be seen as a whole, bearing, of course, in mind the Indian point of view."

Apologists are wrong in trying to explain away the now famous Irfan Habib letter. The Home Ministry has raised objections to his getting a government scholarship for studies abroad because of his connections with the CPI. On the intervention of the Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Dr. Zakir Husain, Nehru met Irfan Habib. Note, he was not applying for a job in the government but for a scholarship for studies abroad. That Nehru conceded the request is, surely, less relevant than the fact that he felt himself impelled to write thus on such an occasion in his letter of August 12, 1955. (Dr. Zakir Husain, incidentally, was a friend of Prof. M. Habib, the scholar's father and himself a leftist and a brilliant historian.)

What Nehru wrote deserves quotation in extenso:

"The purpose of giving government scholarship is to train a person who might be of service to the State in some capacity or other in the future. If a person could not be relied upon to serve the State with discretion and integrity, then obviously this main purpose would not be served. No State could be expected to go out of its way to give scholarship to a person on whom it could not rely or who was likely to indulge in activities which were harmful to the State. I use the word 'State' in a broader sense and not as applicable to a particular government. Also, I realise that it is rather difficult to draw a hard and fast line. Anyhow, it is not a question of differing views, political or other, but rather of a basic faith in a person's integrity. My own experience of communists has been that it is exceedingly difficult to rely upon their word or on their basic integrity in this sense. Their loyalty to their party overrides all other loyalties and, therefore, they are prepared often to function in a way which cannot be reconciled with my standards of personal behaviour. Again, I repeat this is not a question of difference in idea.

"Personally, I have had no animosity against the communists at all but I have come to feel increasingly how quite out of date communist parties in non-communist countries are. As I told Irfan, they are like the Jesuits belonging to the strict order and not over-scrupulous in their dealings with others, provided they carry out the dictates of that order to whom they owe their basic loyalty. I see no reason why Government should go out of its way to offer a scholarship to a person who is so tied up with an order of this kind, whether it is the communist party or some other.

"I recognise, of course, that one must not judge young people too strictly and youthful enthusiasm must not be ignored... Anyhow, in the balance, I feel that we should decide in favour of Irfan Habib as a special case. My main reason for so thinking is that he is a young man of intelligence and, I believe, integrity and both these qualities will no doubt influence his future growth" (pages 121-22). Where then was the need for the outburst in a long missive? A colossal waste of time, but yet, the result is a revealing document.

Nehru was livid at Nirad C. Chaudhuri for writing his book The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian (1951) when he was a government employee in All India Radio (AIR). He expressed this in a Note of July 23, 1952, meant for the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. "I do not suggest that he should be given notice to depart. But I do not think that we require some kind of an explanation from him." The result was three notices on him in August by the Director-General of AIR demanding figures of his income and surrender of one-third of it to the government (SWJN, Vol. 19; pages 471-72). Nirad C. Chaudhuri went to the Ministry of External Affairs and began working on the Canal Waters issue. The Commonwealth Secretary, B.F.H.B. Tyabji's defence of the writer infuriated Nehru who found fault with Nirad C. Chaudhuri's loyalties (Note of July 8, 1953, SWJN, Vol. 23; pages 177-78).

Nehru was committed to democratic values and was against censorship of cables sent by foreign correspondents. But he frowned at the Civil Liberties Union when it protested against detentions in Kashmir. Apart from the fact that the Civil Liberties Union is a small organisation which is opposed to both our Government and the Congress, it seems to me a little absurd for such an organisation to sit in judgment over the policies of both the Jammu and Kashmir Government and the Central Government of India." A footnote informs us: "Mridula Sarabhai had written to Nehru on November 29, 1954 seeking permission for working for the Civil Liberties Union. Nehru replied on 30 November (not printed) stating: 'Instructions were issued to Congressmen by the AICC to keep away from the Civil Liberties Union because that Union had ceased to function independently and had become merely an organ of attack of present Government policy.' He asked her not to send any papers regarding Kashmir and reprimanded her for her activities in strong terms." Civil liberties are fine, but none had a right "to sit in judgment over"

Nehru's policies. Nehru himself had founded an Indian Civil Liberties Union in 1936 (vide pages 410-13; Selected Works, first series, Vol. 7).

KASHMIR never failed to arouse Nehru's emotions. An explicit indication of second thoughts on the plebiscite was given publicly by the Union Home Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, in a speech at Srinagar on July 7, 1955. He said: "Kashmir's accession was a reality which could not be changed because the people, through their representatives in the Constituent Assembly, had decided to remain with India." The Times of India's correspondent, reporting his speech two days later, commented: "The Union Home Minister, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, today virtually ruled out the possibility of a plebiscite in Kashmir because he did not see any prospect of Pakistan agreeing to honourable conditions on the issue." Pant told a press conference that all that was now left was for the people in Azad Kashmir to express their opinion. Asked how he reconciled his remarks with Nehru's declaration, Pant said that the circumstances had changed and the time factor was the most important. "While I am not oblivious of the initial declaration of India, I cannot ignore the important series of facts (to) which I have referred."

This assertion created great resentment in Pakistan. Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on July 16, 1955, after his triumphant tour of Russia and other European countries, Nehru referred to Pakistani criticism and mentioned that the Prime Minister of Pakistan had written to him protesting against Pant's remarks "My reply to Mr. Ali is that we stand and shall continue to stand by our commitments. We are prepared to explore all possible avenues for a possible settlement of this and other issues with Pakistan." Replying to M. L. Agarwal in the Lok Sabha on August 5, 1955, Nehru stated that the Home Minister had never said that India wanted "to by-pass or end old commitments... We cannot ignore the changing world. We stand by our commitments and we must also take into consideration all that happens." Thus he reconciled Pant's statement with his own stand. Replying to H. M. Mathur in the Rajya Sabha on August 22, 1955, Nehru mentioned that he had been in correspondence with the Pakistan government, and added, "Broadly speaking the Prime Minister of Pakistan objected to an inference that could be drawn from the Home Minister's speech that a plebiscite was no longer feasible or necessary. That inference was not, according to us, wholly justified."

This volume contains the text of Nehru's reply to Prime Minister Mohammed Ali dated July 21, 1955 in which he pressed the square peg of his pledge on plebiscite into the round hole of its subsequent rejection by him: "I do not think you will find in the Home Minister's statements any repudiation of the assurances given or commitments made on behalf of the Government of India in regard to Kashmir. What he has said is that those assurances and commitments could not be given effect to because of the attitude of the Pakistan Government during these past years. Further that during the past seven or eight years many developments have taken place and conditions have also changed considerably. Because of these developments and changed conditions, he has stated that 'the tide cannot be turned'. This is his estimate of the situation. He has further referred to the present constitutional relationship between India and the State of Jammu and Kashmir. There is thus no question of any repudiation of an undertaking made on behalf of India, whether it was unilateral or international."

He reminded the Prime Minister of Pakistan of their talks in Delhi earlier that year. "But if we want a peaceful settlement of this problem, a settlement which is in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir, and a settlement which does not create upsets, then we have to take a realistic view of what has happened during these years and what the position is today."

Even so, Nehru cited with enthusiastic approval this proviso to Article 253 of the Constitution of India which reads thus: "Provided that after the commencement of the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 1954, no decision affecting the disposition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir shall be made by the Government of India without the consent of the Government of that State. He added: "We are naturally bound by this provision of our own Constitution." So, we are, indeed. The proviso, unique in its application to that State, recognises the obvious - that the future "disposition" of Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be decided. When a "decision" is made by the Centre in an international agreement with Pakistan, "the consent of the government of that State" will be an essential pre-requisite. Else, the agreement will be invalid. No such consent was obtained prior to or after the Shimla Accord. No such "consent" will be valid, either, unless given by a government voted to power in free and fair elections in Kashmir. More to the point, the Constitution of India itself recognises that the future of Kashmir is yet to be decided. This does not imply its secession from the Union; but that the Constitution is no impediment to a political settlement with Pakistan as well as with the people of the State.

Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Second Series, Volume 29; General Editor: S. Gopal; Edited by H. Y. Sharada Prasad and A. K. Damodaran; A Project of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund; distributed by Oxford University Press; pages 495, Rs. 500.

A coarsening debate

The 62nd session of the Indian History Congress held in Bhopal marked a milestone in the consolidation of the resistance to the ongoing offensive against the discipline of history.

LIKE many such winter-time gatherings, the Indian History Congress (IHC) is an occasion above all for professional bonding. And in the midst of the annual rituals of the guild, there is also, as the historian Sanjay Subrahmanyan recently observed rather superciliously, the occasional concession to scholarly activity.

In its inclusiveness, the IHC often runs the dual risk of losing focus and diluting standards of scholarship. It provides a platform for a wide spectrum of practitioners of the discipline, irrespective of ideological motivation and scholarly orientation. But it is to the credit of the institution that in spite of its inclusiveness, it has functioned as an effective watchdog against the intrusion of chauvinism and mythology into the profession. Its function of playing conscience keeper for the discipline was much in evidence at the 62nd session of the IHC, which concluded in Bhopal on December 30. In this respect, this session was an important event in the consolidation of the resistance to the ongoing offensive against the discipline of history.

One of the resolutions passed by the conclave took note of the October 23 directive from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) requiring that certain textbooks published under the imprint of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) be purged of contents deemed offensive (Frontline, October 26, 2001). It observed that the Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD) had, with a fervour suggesting his personal involvement, been defending the decision against the generalised sense of outrage it provoked. The resolution also drew attention to the Minister's characterisation of historians he did not agree with as "intellectual terrorists" who represented a greater danger than "trans-border terrorism". "It cannot be overlooked," it continued, "that the Ministry of HRD is encouraging a narrative of history which is at best speculative and often invokes mere belief and mythology rather than valid historical evidence."

This resolution, one among four adopted, followed three days of deliberations during which the plenary session of the IHC was addressed by eminent historians such as R.S. Sharma, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, K.N. Panikkar and R. Champakalakshmi. Predictably, a concern that all of them articulated related to the growing intrusion of partisan politics into the writing and teaching of history. A message from President K.R. Narayanan arrived on the second day of the Congress, representing an unexpected intervention in the proceedings.

In a brief message packed with scholarly citations, the President commended the Congress for its "rich traditions" in "deepening our understanding of history". He reminded the gathering of Jawaharlal Nehru's observation that "history is a living process". And he cited the eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm, who has ominously warned of the possibility of history books turning into "bomb factories" - a prospect that imposes upon the practitioner of the discipline an unavoidable "responsibility to historical facts" and the commitment to prevent the "politico-ideological abuse of history".

The President also said that the politician who looks at history as a quarry from which to dig up grievances for contemporary redress needs to be reminded of the German statesman Otto von Bismarck's remark: "The politician has not to avenge what has happened but to ensure that it does not happen again." To round off his case for a rational and scientific approach to history, the President quoted a "remarkable judgment" by the Bombay High Court from as far back as 1967: "It is the right and privilege of every thinker to express his judgment on historical events in a fearless manner. Otherwise, we will not get a true and faithful history of our country. History is not to serve as a hand-maid of a particular school of thought. History must be impartial and objective. To rewrite history according to the views which are popular or which are necessary for bolstering nationalistic egoism or jingoism is a perversion of history."

The President's intervention in the history conclave is an undisguised rebuke to the Bharatiya Janata Party and its many coalition partners at the Centre. Despite their own misgivings, the parties that find themselves in alliance with the BJP have been mute spectators to the programme unleashed by HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, to the loud applause of the Hindutva family, to subvert the institutional foundations of historical research and instruction.

Harkishan Singh Surjeet, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), took up this issue in a letter that he addressed to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in late December, castigating him for condoning Joshi's "provocative actions and vituperative outbursts".

Apart from his menacing characterisation of some of India's best scholars, Joshi had also urged the youth wing of the BJP to counter "intellectual terrorism" effectively. This was an undisguised overture to the rule of the mob, an indication of "fascist intolerance", as Surjeet put it.

It is unlikely that Joshi and his fraternity will be deflected off course by the growing tide of public opinion, or by the IHC intervention. Some of the ire that the Hindutva school of history writing harbours towards the IHC was apparent in a letter written by one of its leading lights, the late B.R. Grover, in March 1999, while he was a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). With little regard for the autonomy of the scholarly body, Grover made a case for cutting off all governmental and quasi-governmental assistance to the IHC on the grounds of its alleged partiality towards a certain political perspective.

The coarsening of the discourse on history, of course, derives its ultimate inspiration from the political leadership. The resistance to the new communal revisionism in history is perhaps a key intellectual development of the day and the IHC resolution on the issue, a document of considerable importance.

To rebuild trust

The Net Asset Value of the US-64 fund and the new norms for repurchase of units announced by the UTI bring little cheer to small investors, but its plans to reposition the fund give them some hope.

WHEN the Unit Trust of India (UTI) announced the Net Asset Value (NAV) of its flagship fund US-64 on December 28, it brought to an end an era of opaque pricing, when investors had no idea of the value of their holdings. Unfortunately, however, the NAV-based price, which opened at Rs.5.81 a unit, is far lower than what the market expected.

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The government-appointed Tarapore Committee, which studied the UTI's investment decisions over a 10-year period, has made it clear that mismanagement and a certain rot within the UTI are responsible for the low NAV. The Committee, headed by S.S. Tarapore, former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, presented its report to the Central government last month. Among the principal reasons identified for the fund's poor performance was the presumably unauthorised investment of Rs.3,000 crores in shares and debt instruments of as many as 24 companies between 1997 and 2001; serious deficiencies in the sanctioning process; and sanctioning of investments beyond the Chairman's delegated powers. "The sanction and disbursement process does indicate that the sanctity of the sanctioning powers and the laid-down processes have on many occasions not been observed," the report said.

The Committee has recorded several such irregularities. For instance, as on June 30, 2001, the value of shares of Visual Soft Limited in the UTI's portfolio was just Rs.8.37 crores against their face value of Rs.106 crores. The UTI had built up this position over a two-and-a-half-year period despite adverse reports prepared by its equity research cell. The Committee, adverting to transactions in Visual Soft shares, observed that long-term investments were not supported by internal process notes.

The UTI's investment in Ispat Industries Limited in February 1994 illustrated the serious deficiencies in its approval system. The investment decision, which apparently "baffled" the Committee, was made without key aspects of the transaction being brought to the notice of the Executive Committee. Furthermore, despite realising that the company had diverted funds, the UTI did not take any action to protect its funds deployed in the company.

The UTI's investment in Oswal Chemical and Fertilisers Limited is seen as another instance of corruption in the system. The Committee described this investment as "prima facie imprudent, and [one that] has turned out to be wrong". According to the report, in spite of the earlier bad experience with the company and other companies of the group, the UTI's Executive Committee approved further investments. Such acts gave the impression that the UTI was attempting to rescue a company that was in serious financial difficulty. To make matters worse, the chairman apparently relaxed the conditions placed by the Executive Committee for disbursement of money to the company.

In another instance, the UTI gave the Essar Group Rs.1,049 crores between 1990 and 1999. The investment was made in spite of Essar failing to repay earlier loans or redeem its non-convertible debentures within the due dates. And this was after the UTI was cautioned repeatedly against increasing its exposure to Essar. Moreover, Essar fell into the Non-Performing Assets (NPA) category. The UTI's policies prohibit the fund from investing in such companies.

According to the report, the modus operandi of the companies was simple: they applied and got one set of terms passed by the UTI's Executive Committee. Later, they sought changes in the terms and got them passed by the UTI Chairman. On several occasions the Executive Committee was apparently bypassed, while in other cases it acted as a rubber stamp. The Tarapore Committee also notes that most of the investments were made by former UTI Chairman P.S. Subramanyam.

Besides bad investments, the committee has exposed the UTI's strong nexus with tainted brokers such as Ketan Parekh. Its investment in Himachal Futuristic Communications Limited, a Ketan Parekh favourite, perhaps represents the most dramatic slide in value in a single investment in the Indian context. As on June 30, 2001, the UTI had invested Rs.1,050.7 crores in HFCL's equity, the market value of which had depreciated by 92 per cent. The UTI was not far behind Parekh when it came to pumping up shares. The report reveals that the UTI "went on building up its portfolio in the Global Telesystems [Private Limited] scrip to facilitate the upward trend in its prices", It also said that "decisions not to offload the stock to book profits when the prices were favourable or cut their losses in adverse circumstances raises doubts". Incidentally, Global Telesystems was another favoured scrip of Parekh. "India's largest mutual fund appears to have taken recourse in brokers for certain transactions, which seem to be in the nature of inter-scheme transfers, and thus has violated its own guidelines," says the report.

Although there were warning signs as early as July 2000 that the US-64 fund was in trouble, a direct hit came when the Ketan Parekh scam erupted and the market began its downward spiral. The fund was left holding vast amounts of devalued stock and Subramanyam decided to freeze the fund.

US-64 was conceived as a savings instrument for pensioners and salaried persons, and its credibility lay in the fact that it offered a regular and safe income. The highest-ever dividend yield was around 18 per cent, in 1993-94. When the corruption within the fund was uncovered and Subramanyam was arrested, US-64's dividend yield touched an all-time low of 7.5 per cent.

Sale of US-64 units was suspended in July 2001. But before panic set in, the government offered a bail-out package; repurchase was allowed up to 3,000 units an investor. With its December 28 announcement, the UTI recommenced sale of units at the NAV and enhanced repurchases up to 5,000 units. For those holding more than 5,000 units, it gave two redemption options: at the NAV or at Rs.10 a unit, whichever was higher, if the redemption was done on May 31, 2003, and at the NAV-based repurchase price if the units were redeemed between January 1, 2002 and May 30, 2003. For investors holding up to 5,000 units, there was an assured repurchase price of Rs.12 a unit if the units were redeemed on May 31, 2003.

MARKET analysts and brokers are divided in their opinion on the impact of the NAV-based price. "The NAV at Rs.5.81 will obviously make investors unhappy and there could be some panic among them in the short term," said A.P. Kurian, Chairman of the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI). "Yet, small investors with units up to 5,000 are not likely to be affected as they have an option to redeem them at the administered prices up to May 31, 2003." In fact, Kurian felt that this was the right time to invest in US-64 as the entire portfolio had been restructured by making provision for all NPAs.

However, one market analyst was bitter that the UTI "juggled with the small investors' hard-earned money". He said, "The recent announcement does very little to assure them as the NAV is dependent on how the market performs." Bharat Kotecha, vice-president of the Investors' Grievances Forum, said: "With this announcement, investor confidence in the UTI has fallen further, and in future investors will not have much faith in the country's largest mutual fund." For the UTI to regain its credibility, he said, the fund managers should be made accountable for their investment decisions.

Sharing the UTI's burden, the Government of India has committed itself to bridging any shortfall between the NAV and the assured repurchase prices announced by the Trust. Going by current figures, the government may be faced with a bail-out cost of approximately Rs.5,120 crores. The present NAV at Rs.5.81 a unit is 42 per cent lower than the assured repurchase price of Rs.10 a unit for those holding more than 5,000 units. It is 62 per cent lower than the assured repurchase price of Rs.12 for investors with fewer than 5,000 units. Unless the market condition improves, there is very little hope of the government's bail-out cost coming down.

The UTI has indicated that it is going to reposition the US-64 fund. It plans to invest up to 75 per cent of the funds in debt instruments. In equities the minimum investment would be 25 per cent, going up to a maximum of 55 per cent. The fund will also have income and growth options. Under the income option, investors will get an income distribution or have the option of reinvesting. With the growth option, the income will be accumulated. Additionally, the UTI said that it would comply fully with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) regulations for the US-64 scheme by December 2002. It also plans to constitute an asset management company on the lines suggested by the Tarapore Committee, and revamp its board under a package approved by the Union government.

Skimming the cream

The ongoing developments in the telecommunications sector in India are not oriented to the growth of rural telephony and teledensity, which were the objectives set down in policy statements in the past.

THE telecom sector is once again in a state of flux, with international long distance (ILD) and national long distance (NLD) services being opened for competition. Simultaneously, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) is slated for privatisation; as a prelude to this, Rs.4,000 crores of its cash reserves has been diverted. Competition has seen an immediate 50 per cent lowering by Bharti Telesonic, a part of the Bharti group, of rates for subscriber trunk dialling (STD) services, leading to even bigger cuts by the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL). This trend is likely to continue with the opening of ILD. But even as all these developments take place, hardly anyone is talking about rural telephony and teledensity - the supposed objectives of telecom reforms. The issue, however, is a crucial one: with competition, the surplus funds of BSNL, garnered from its long distance revenue and which were used earlier to expand the telecom network, will now be drastically reduced.

The telecom reforms, including the introduction of the element of competition, have little to do with increasing telecom penetration, a crying need today. Instead, the effort is to let the telecom surplus be re-distributed amongst the new private sector entrants and the better-off consumers. The private sector entrants in basic services have consistently refused to honour rural commitments in their licence agreements. In the few States where they are operating today, they are targeting only the top 10 per cent of the consumers. The rest will have to contend with higher local call rates, an increasingly impoverished BSNL, privatised or otherwise, and poorer quality of services. While some sections of subscribers will benefit from lowered long distance costs, the majority will face a bleak situation.

Both the National Telecom Policy 1994 and the New Telecom Policy 1999 identified the need for increased telecom penetration including in the rural areas as the most important driving force of the reform process. The private sector was supposed to bring in the additional capital required to increase the installed base of subscribers, and to take telephones to the rural areas. But it is the erstwhile government monopoly, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), and its successor, the public sector BSNL, that has fulfilled both these functions. The private sector secured six basic service licences and provided scarcely four lakh telephones in three circles, and the other three are still to take off. In the same period, the much-reviled DoT (its successor BSNL along with MTNL, or Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd.), has provided almost 11 million telephone connections - 4.98 million and 5.93 million in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 respectively. This process, which constitutes an annual growth of more than 22 per cent, has brought their installed base to 32.44 million telephones. The private operators for basic services, the competitors to BSNL, have not provided rural telephones, have refused to pay the committed licence fees, and defaulted on their roll-out targets. They are now asking DoT to pressure BSNL to fulfil all their rural and other commitments, a course a business-friendly government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party is only too willing to take. The private cellular operators have an installed base of about four million telephones and have done relatively better than the basic service operators.

Why did the basic service operators perform so poorly in terms of penetration? In order to understand this, it is necessary to understand the economics of the local network. The licence of the basic service operator is for a circle, roughly co-terminus with a State, and consists of the local and the intra-circle long distance calling network within it. In any such local network today, about 10 to 20 per cent of the subscribers generate the surplus for the operator, about 50 per cent produce a net deficit in revenue and the rest probably break even. If the 10 to 20 per cent segment can be weaned away from the incumbent operators, BSNL and MTNL, the "competitor" will take away all the cream and leave the rest of the network running at a loss. This is why the private operators are targeting only well-off subscribers, leaving the loss-making portion to BSNL and MTNL - a classic case of skimming the cream.

The opening of NLD and ILD was in the offing for some time. The earlier Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) led by Justice S.S. Sodhi, had recommended unlimited competition; any party that met the entry criteria and wanted a licence was to be given one. It had also included intra-circle long distance as a part of the national long distance licence. The present TRAI has suggested an upper limit of four NLD operators. The NLD operators are to obtain their licences on paying Rs.100 crores as entry fee and producing bank guarantees for Rs.400 crores. Bharti has already started its NLD operations and has tied up with the cellular operators to carry long distance calls from their networks. The others in the fray for NLD licences are VSNL, MTNL and the Reliance Group. VSNL was promised free entry into NLD operations as compensation for its loss of monopoly in ILD operations.

The recommendation of the earlier TRAI was that the NLD licence also cover intra-circle long distance calls. Fortunately, the current TRAI has recognised the fact that it is the basic service operator who provides the local telecom access on which the rest of the system - STD, ISD, Internet and other services - rides. The intra-circle long distance revenues account for about Rs.8,000 crores out of the Rs.15,000 crores of total revenue from domestic long distance traffic. If intra-circle long distance is opened to competition, this will either make the local services unviable or lead to a steep hike in local call charges and rentals.

The licence conditions for ILD are even more relaxed than those for NLD operators. There is no cap on the number of operators and any prospective player can secure a licence after paying a fee of Rs.25 crores. ILD operators will have to pay a licence fee of 15 per cent of their revenue. The TRAI has also permitted voice over the internet protocol (VOIP) as a lower quality and cost service that subscribers may avail as an option. VOIP services do not mean Internet telephony for the subscriber; it only means that an ILD operator may deploy Internet based routing and transmission of traffic while connections at both ends are through normal telephones. In Internet telephony, a subscriber has the option of using a computer at his or her end to connect to another subscriber using an ordinary telephone. The two services will be distinct, and presumably there will be a large price differential between the two to compensate for the loss of quality that VOIP will involve. The roll-out commitments are also not significant; an ILD player will have to invest about Rs.275 crores for four gateway switches over the next three years. As an observer has commented, this will allow even fly-by-night operators to enter the sensitive ILD market.

The net result of freeing the ILD market will be a free-for-all in the estimated Rs.8,000-crores-worth ILD market, and a huge drop in VSNL's share value. Of course, the surplus from this segment of the market, that now supports the local network expansion, will also dwindle as it is now supposed to be a part of the licence fee of 15 per cent. Interestingly enough, while there is no bar on any private player offering ILD services, the government is thinking of barring MTNL and BSNL from entering this sector for two years.

Apparently, competition is good only if it comes from private players; or is this an implicit admission that if there is an even playing field, private players cannot compete with public sector undertakings?

THE major policy focus in the telecom sector should be the improvement of telecom penetration. Currently, it is only 3.16 telephones per hundred (March 2001), well below the world average figure of 10 per hundred. Even though the teledensity is poor, India is today the eighth largest telecom network in the world.

There is no doubt that increased competition will significantly lower long distance charges. But the question that needs to be asked is: as the current network expansion of more than 22 per cent a year takes place from this surplus, how long can the local network be expanded at this pace? Will local call charges and rentals have to be raised in order to augment the revenues of the local network operator so that the pace of increase in teledensity continues?

The intimate connection between local call rates, rentals and long distance charges became clear from the first re-balancing that the TRAI carried out in 1999. The principle adopted for telecom expansion in all countries in the initial phase is to make access charges low and cross-subsidise local charges from long distance revenues. However, the TRAI felt that it should switch to "cost-based" tariffs and remove such cross subsidies. This resulted in access charges and local charges doubling under the revised tariffs, while long distance charges were lowered. This also reduced the surplus available with BSNL for expansion. In the first year after re-balancing, the surplus (of BSNL and MTNL) dropped to Rs.8,500 crores from Rs.10,000 crores the previous year. There is no question that with the sharp drop in long distance rates, there will be a further erosion of BSNL's revenue. Some have argued that the universal service obligation (USO) levy, raised through a share of the operator's revenue, can meet this shortfall. A back-of-the-envelope calculation will show that the decline of long distance rates cannot be offset by the USO levy.

WHY bother about increased penetration at all? Why not provide telephones only to those who can pay its "true" costs? The problem with this approach is that telecom is not just another commodity; it is not a brand of soap or detergent. Infrastructure facilities, such as power and communications, are prerequisites for economic development. If these do not exist, the economically backward areas will not be able to develop, leading to intolerable strains on the nation. Can anyone doubt the fact that the lack of economic opportunities in the northeastern region have provided a fertile ground for militancy? Or that in Srinagar, popular alienation is exacerbated by the fact that often only two hours a day of electricity supply is available during winter?

Cheap telecom access acts as a motor for development. If telecom activity is viewed as a purely commercial one, there can be no economic justification for providing telephones to either rural or remote areas; or for keeping the cost of connecting to the network - rentals and installation charges - low. Only the larger social and economic picture explains the need to expand the sector.

All countries that have reached a high level of telecom penetration have done so by initially cross-subsiding local access charges from long distance calls. This is true even of countries where telecom has been solely in private hands. AT&T in the U.S. subsidised its local network from its long distance revenue. It is only after virtually every home had been connected that the U.S. introduced competition in long distance and re-balanced tariffs.

For increased teledensity, the cost that a subscriber has to pay for connecting to the network - the basic access charge - must be kept low. If the access charge is high, demand for telephone connections will fall and teledensity cannot increase. High long distance rates have helped keep the access charges low while generating funds for the expansion of the network. The need for higher long distance tariffs has little to do with its actual cost. The direct cost of the long distance portion is only about 15 per cent of the total cost of connecting the subscriber to the network. If we take the cost of Rs.27,000 for installing a phone today, the major part of it - about Rs. 23,000 - goes towards connecting the subscriber to the local exchange.

The pace of penetration has improved markedly in recent years, and considerable surplus was available from the long distance revenue. At current rates, BSNL and MTNL are slated to double the number of telephone connections in the country every five years. If the current surplus were maintained, the teledensity would have increased to 7.5 in the next five years and 15 in the next 10 years. With the fall in costs per line and cellular operators supplementing this effort, a teledensity of 7.5 to 10 by 2005-06 is a realistic target. The current assault on the long distance surplus endangers this target.

The key to increased penetration is the local network operator, or, to use the Indian term, the basic service operator. It is the viability of the basic service operator that determines the scale of telecom penetration. Fortunately, opening NLD to competition still allows basic service operators to retain intra-circle long distance revenues, unlike the recommendations of the earlier TRAI. However, as the surplus from inter-circle long distance drops, some rate change in local call rates is bound to follow. The TRAI will have to work on any tariff re-balancing carefully, so that high end-consumers pay higher call charges and low-end consumers are allowed to connect to the network at low costs. This means that in any re-balancing of tariffs, rentals and installation costs should not be increased. Instead, innovative methods such as increased peak hour call rates can be pursued to increase the revenue of the local operators. Otherwise, there would be an immediate slow-down in telecom penetration.

Prabir Purkayastha is Secretary, Delhi Science Forum.

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