The Hindu 1, 14-Apr-2009, Page : 012 Humanitarian pause President Mahinda Rajapaksa's directive to the Sri Lankan armed forces to observe a 48-hour pause in their victorious offensive operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam may be "less than the full humanitarian pause of several days" pressed for by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon but it will be greeted with relief worldwide. Coinciding with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, this concession from a position of total military dominance is aimed at securing safe passage for an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 civilians. The plain truth is that they are held hostage by the LTTE in a 17 square kilometre sliver of coastal land in the North that has been demarcated by the government as a No Fire Zone (NFZ). The Tigers have lost no less than 15,000 square km of territory that was in their military control when the current war began in August 2006. As Velupillai Prabakaran's dream of winning 'Tamil Eelam' through armed struggle turned into a nightmare for Tamils trapped or displaced from their homes in the conflict zone, he and the remnants of his battle-hardened cadre have had nowhere to turn. Facing annihilation, they have had no moral compunction in moving into the NFZ with heavy weapons, and using the hard-pressed civilians as a last-ditch shield. Refusing to acknowledge the very idea of a humanitarian NFZ, they have made it clear that the lives and welfare of Tamils, whose sole representative the LTTE claims to be, just do not count in this horrible travesty of a liberation struggle. There can be no other explanation for this refusal to heed international humanitarian appeals. The 65,000 Tamils who have escaped to government-controlled areas since November 2008 give the lie to the LTTE's claim that the Tamil people are staying with it voluntarily. Mr. Ban Ki-moon has struck the right note at the right time by calling on "key members of the international community" to support this pause and do all they can "to avert further death and suffering in Sri Lanka." It should not be too difficult to persuade the Sri Lankan government to extend the pause to the "several days" Mr. Ban wanted if it means stepping up the international pressure on the LTTE and giving it no choice but to allow civilians "wishing to leave the conflict zone... to do so without hindrance." That is the real solution to the humanitarian crisis. It will inevitably mean the final defeat of, or surrender by, the LTTE leaders. Sri Lanka's Tamils certainly have longstanding grievances. The Tamil question can be resolved only through their winning equal rights and genuine devolution of power along federal lines in their areas of historical habitation. But what the world needs to be clear about is that the LTTE, far from being an effective instrument of a just political struggle, has been the biggest obstacle in the way of Tamils winning their demands within a united Sri Lanka. The Hindu 1, 14-Apr-2009, Page : 012 Significant boost A significant outcome of the recent G-20 London summit is the decision to increase the IMF's access to resources so that it can play a larger role in tackling the global economic crisis. The leaders pledged to triple the resources available to the IMF to $750 billion, back the allocation of new Special Drawing Rights of $250 billion, and let it sell gold and provide concessional finance to the poorer countries. Besides, they committed themselves to supporting at least $100 billion in lending by multilateral banks. There is however a lack of clarity about how soon the pledge to triple the IMF's resources will materialise since it is based on past commitments rather than actual outlays. The size of the monetary pledges suggests that the developing and the industrial countries alike are keen on bolstering the IMF which was seen losing its relevance after the Asian currency crisis of the late 1990s. Specifically, the crisis-hit Asian countries resorted to a massive programme to build up their foreign reserves as a form of self-insurance against wayward short-term capital flows rather than submit to the tough IMF conditionalities. The reserves invested in the U.S were partly responsible for the asset bubble. More importantly, the IMF needs to reform its structure and approach if it is to perform its assigned role effectively. For a start, developing countries such as India and China ought to be given a greater clout in its working The G20 has referred to the need to increase their "quotas" or shares in the fund in keeping with their new weights in the world economy. The capacity of some countries, notably the U.S, to exercise what amounts to a veto should be curtailed. It is good to remember that the SDR is not a currency but rather the IMF's unit of account, which simply represents a potential claim on four freely traded currencies - the dollar, the pound, the euro, and the yen. The advantage of issuing fresh SDR, as sponsored by the G20 meet, is that it immediately augments member-countries' foreign reserves. India and other developing countries will see their reserves rise sizably, by around $80 billion. But the drawback is that the SDRs are allocated in proportion to the members' quotas, an arrangement that overwhelmingly favours the developed countries. It is the hope of the G20 and the IMF that some rich countries will lend their share of SDR allocation to those in greater need. The Hindu 1, 14-Apr-2009, Page : 012 2009: local interpretation of the national The most difficult task for a political strategist is to figure out the optimal mix of local, regional and national elements in the voter's decision in a Lok Sabha election. Harish Khare This is the conman's hour. All the political parties and their leaders want to bamboozle the voter into voting for them. Every sleight of hand known to the Indian political crowd is being put to good use. In this con game, the political parties have inputs from the professional spin-doctors (advertisement agencies, the pollsters and other public relations consultants); the parties rely on the bravado and sincerity of politicians as also on the smart-alec proclivities of their media departments. The con game is to manufacture a perpetual confusion, tricking the voter into parting with his or her vote. In this enterprise, the parties rely to a very large extent on the vastly influential media, new and old; it is, of course, a different matter that the impresarios preen themselves as "independent" and "objective" arbiters of public mood. But, somehow, the cynical political leaders end up having the last laugh, cleverly exploiting the media's self-image as a powerful player who can hijack the voter and his thought process. This is an old game but the basic elements in this equation get redefined in every general election. Expectedly, the prediction season is on; everyone from the satta bazaar punters to the highly respected psephologists is trying to figure out - or pretending to know - how the 2009 Lok Sabha election will pan out. If you have a preference, we have a prediction. The truth is no one knows for sure how much we have changed these last five years as a nation, as a multicultural society and as individuals, who happen to be citizens and consumers. The voter does not form his opinion overnight; there is an element of continuity in his thought process - the context and experience of life in his village or city; the memories, happy or unhappy, of dealing with the State government; and periodic emotional engagement with the rulers at the Centre. The most difficult part for any political strategist is to figure out the optimal mix of local, regional and national elements in the voter's decision in a Lok Sabha election. The task is even more difficult in 2009. It appears that the strategies of both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party are predicated on the assumption of the ascendancy of national calculations over other factors. The sales pitch the two parties have revealed so far assumes a coherent national mood, and inherent in this is an assumption that the electorate, fragmented though it is in various identities, will think "nationally." Indeed, in 2004 the BJP strategy was predicated on a "national" appeal, because it felt strongly that as the governing party at the Centre its acceptability had seeped in and that additionally it had a national icon in Atal Bihari Vajpayee, around whom this mood could be congealed into a positive feeling and vote for the party. This strategy was based on the efficacy of the pan-India reach of the "national" media, especially the electronic component. After the defeat in that election, the BJP strategists concluded that they lost because the party was trying to sell the wrong message (India Shining). It failed - and perhaps continues to fail - to understand the limits of the presumably "national" instruments to tap the nation's diversified sentiments. In contrast, the Congress managed to break down the 2004 campaign into a collection of 23 or so odd elections, allowing its sales pitch in each State to jell with regional dynamics. It had one overriding "national" message (aam admi) but it understood and worked within the limits of its national leadership's ability to excite the audience. More than that, it also understood unsentimentally that the New Delhi-centric discourse found very little resonance in the towns and kasbas. In 2009, both the Congress and the BJP have gone "national," whereas the third and fourth front calculations are based on the assumption that there are sufficiently powerful regional aspirations, appeals and anxieties to be tapped by the locally rooted parties and leaders. Indeed, there are region-centric emotional issues which the national parties are not able to tame; some States have become almost an autonomous sub-system. For example, the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has acquired a definitive salience for the Tamil Nadu voter, and the Telangana issue in Andhra Pradesh crowds out "national" appeals of the two national parties. Similarly, there is very little that the BJP can say or do that will enable it to make the voter in West Bengal or Kerala abandon the State-centric configurations of loyalties and affiliations; in other words, the vote in these two States will, to a large extent, be a local argument, to be contested by the locally familiar faces, acceptable voices. Yet, sure enough, there is a national discourse, carried in the print and electronic media, that aims at sustaining and reinforcing a uniform, pan-Indian narrative; this discourse administers daily a massive overdose of rival claims, contentions, images and arguments. But while this "national" discourse may appear authentic (and the only story to be told) to its purveyors, it has to invariably be navigated through the regional and sub-regional values, forces, idioms, issues and personalities. Still, the "national" argument has to be made. After all, it is incumbent upon a political party to aspire to be recognised as a natural party of governance for a majority of the electorate. A national party relies on familiar, trustworthy faces; it invokes past images and selective history to retain the affection of the majority of the voters. These claims are processed by the voter against his own existential experience; there is the reality of the village life, the local residents have a fairly good idea of the source of their trouble as also some idea of who has the potential of firewalling them against that sense of insecurity. A party or leader succeeds brilliantly when there is a synergy between the (authentic) message, the (credible) messenger and the moment (and its anxieties and aspirations). This synergy was witnessed in 1971, 1977, 1980, 1984, and 1989; the result was a clear-cut mandate. In 2009, the synergy is yet to take place. Far too many imponderables are curdling up the sales pitch. For example, we do not know how extensive the middle class constituency has become. Does this critical mass exhibit the same preferences as voters as it does as a consumer of commercial products, able to discern and evaluate a sales pitch? We do not know if the middle class preference for decency, reasonableness and fairplay has seeped further down. We do not know the contours of the post-Mumbai mood. We do not know the impact of the bad news from Pakistan. Do images of near-anarchy in Pakistan make us itch for a reasonable governing arrangement at home or do we silently buy into the argument of our own Taliban-type orthodoxy? Nor do we know how the nation is reacting to the new preference for (American style) political tactics of deliberate provocation (in the manner of a Varun Gandhi). Is the nation comfortable with the promise of an aggressive leadership idiom, being offered by the Advani-Narendra Modi duo? Has the country come to appreciate Dr. Manmohan Singh's decency and dignity? Nor do we know if there is a "Nitish effect" in the country at large. There is a near- unanimous consensus that Bihar has come to appreciate Nitish Kumar's development- centric administration, and this appreciation is making the voters break out of the stranglehold of the old caste considerations and equations. A similar claim is made on behalf of Mr. Modi in Gujarat. The question, then, becomes: will similar appreciation be accorded to Dr. Singh's Congress? Will there be an NREGA dividend? As a society and as an economy we have become much more connected but because our democratic pretenses and practices have penetrated the length and breadth of this country, it is inevitable that the political bargains and electoral choices are made at the local level. The outcome of the 2009 vote will depend on how effectively the "national" message gets interpreted at the local level. The Hindu 1, 14-Apr-2009, Page : 013 Vigilantes, the state and that flogging thing The first casualty of war may be truth but the first casualty of any 'religious militancy' is women's rights. Beena Sarwar In the now famous 'flogging video' - undated footage shot with a cell phone in Swat (judging by the language and clothes) - a man whips a woman in red lying face down on the ground, pinned down by two men, encircled by a crowd of other men. It is painful to watch the leather strap thwack down on her buttocks as she cries out in pain. There is much obscene in this image, not least the man holding down her arms, squatting so that her burqa-covered head is practically forced between his thighs. The video, circulated on the Internet before local television channels broadcast it, caused a furore in Pakistan and internationally. What caused the outrage? The public punishment meted out to a woman - or the fact that it was broadcast? Those who helped make the incident public, including the man who told television channel Dawn News that he made the video, and an anthropologist- filmmaker with NGO links are under threat for their part in what many term a 'drama' staged to give 'a bad name' to Pakistan and to Islam. Political forces and local residents join this chorus, terming the broadcast a bid to sabotage the peace deal. The Taliban claim that the woman who was really flogged was accused of fornicating with her father in law, and that small boys meted out the punishment (that is, to humiliate rather than hurt). The woman in the video, whose face is never visible, was accused of 'adultery'- after allegedly being in the company of a na-mehram (unrelated) man - who was also flogged. Her subsequent denial of the flogging before a magistrate may reflect the intimidation she faces. The point is, someone was flogged, and it wasn't the first time that the Taliban meted out such a public punishment. All this diverts from the real issues. For one thing, such punishments have been and legally can be meted out to women in Pakistan, thanks to Gen. Zia-ul Haq's controversial Hudood laws. Political dissidents and journalists have felt the lash on their backs. So have some women - a few in prison and at least one publicly in Bahawalpur. Since Zia's time, the state has not administered this punishment - but two decades after his departure, vigilantes trying to establish their writ are following that path. And last but not least, the flogging was only part of the all-pervasive issue of violence against women that already exists in the region. Women across South Asia are verbally and physically abused every minute of the day, every day of the year. If there are 'honour killings' in Pakistan, there are 'dowry deaths' and female foeticide in India. According to the 2008 annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), at least 1,210 women were killed during 2008, including at least 612 in so-called "honour killings" and at least 185 over domestic issues. Such violence is made all the more pervasive by the widely accepted tradition that family members can punish (although this is not always mandatory) - although not usually in public - females who transgress their code of honour. The Taliban's public violence goes against this code. It also overshadows 'private' gender violence, like swara (giving away women in order to end a conflict), stove burnings and beatings. The first casualty of war may be truth but the first casualty of any 'religious militancy' (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or whatever) is women's rights. During the Zia years, American and Pakistani intelligence agencies boosted this tendency when they re- invented the Afghan war of liberation against Soviet occupation as a religious war. The Mujahideen's launching pads against the Soviets in Pakistan's tribal areas are sanctuaries for their successors, the Taliban. The drug trade used to finance the war contributed to growing lawlessness, worsened by the influx of weapons. Sectarian violence escalated when the 'jihad' boomeranged after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. The suicide bombing in Chakwal recently is just the latest such attack on Shi'a places of worship. The Taliban's treatment of women, including their ban on female education while in power in Afghanistan (please note, before American drone attacks) takes further Zia's obsession with controlling women's morality and public behaviour. They have destroyed hundreds of girls' schools, besides targeting teachers and non- government organisations (NGOs) attempting to provide health and education facilities in the area. Such NGOs have been under attack since before 9/11. Remember the summer of 2001, when Taliban attacked NGO offices in the tribal areas. The tragic murder in Mansehra of three women and their driver working for an NGO focusing on education on April 6 comes barely a year after an armed attack, also in Mansehra, in February 2008, when a dozen gunmen burst into the office of an organisation focusing on children and rehabilitation work since the 2005 earthquake. Their indiscriminate fire left four employees dead. Those terming the video 'fake' argue that no one who was really flogged would be able to sit at all, the girl sat up then walk on her own feet as the girl in the video did as she was led away. However, psychiatrists say that in "no one who was actually flogged would be able to do that." Many beg to differ. "If I was whipped in front of a crowd of men, I would be so eager to get away from them that I would have run," says Faiza, a lawyer friend in Karachi. Psychiatrists agree, noting that in emotionally highly charged situations, the body functions at a higher metabolic level to overcome physical pain. "The need to escape from her tormentors and the crowd around her would momentarily take precedence over the pain," explains eminent psychiatrist Dr. Haroon Ahmed. Nasir Zaidi, one of the four journalists who were whipped during the early days of the Zia regime says, "it is entirely possible. We were whipped with a proper 'hunter' - not a leather strap, and walked away. So did a young boy who was flogged before us. We did not want them to see our weakness." Hadd punishments (amputation, flogging, stoning to death) imposed on Pakistan by Gen. Zia in the name of religion have witness requirements so strict that they can practically never be met. These laws made adultery (sex between consenting adults) a criminal offence and rape a private one, punishable by flogging or stoning to death. Earlier, under the Pakistan Penal Code, adultery was a private offence, compoundable and bailable, punishable by five years or a fine, or both. The state could not be a party to prosecuting adultery. In 1981, the Federal Shariat Court pronounced that stoning to death was not even an Islamic punishment (PLD 1981 FSC 145 Hazoor Baksh). Gen. Zia had the bench changed. The new bench upheld the punishment. Islamic scholars like Dr. Mohammad Farooq Khan of Mardan term the Hudood laws "the biggest insult to Islam." The Council of Islamic Ideology has found them to be flawed and inconsistent with the teachings of Islam (CII Report, 2006). Gen. Zia's use of Islam for political purposes was meant partly to drum up support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, and partly to create terror and render the populace incapable of protest against oppression. This is what the Taliban are also doing. They have in the past deliberately videotaped such punishments and circulated the footage. In March 2007 Taliban in Khyber Agency publicly stoned and then shot dead a woman and two men on charges of adultery. They videotaped the shooting and circulated it - footage even the most sensationalist channel would think twice about broadcasting. The 'Swat flogging video' is an aberration only in that the local media broadcast it. One reason for the broadcast (conspiracy theories aside) was that the footage, while horrific, involved no blood or limbs being lopped off. There have been other incidents of public executions of men and women in the region. In September 2007, the beheaded bodies of two women kidnapped in Bannu were found with a note in Pashto warning that all women "involved in immoral activities" would meet the same fate - like Shabana, the dancer in Mingora who was shot dead. One reason for the Pakistani state's apparent paralysis is that the armed forces and large sections of the population think of this as America's war, compared to the previous Afghan war with its religious trappings. In fact, that was less 'our war' than the current one, which threatens the very existence of the Pakistani state. (The writer is an independent journalist and a documentary filmmaker based in Karachi.) The Hindu 1, 14-Apr-2009, Page : 013 A terror "plot" that wasn't? Thanks to the police, we have another "alienated" young Muslim out there. Which is exactly what the extremists need. Hasan Suroor Last week's dramatic anti-terror raids in north-west England in which nearly a dozen Pakistani nationals, living in Britain on student visas, were arrested for allegedly plotting what Prime Minister Gordon Brown breathlessly described as a "very big" attack was - it now increasingly appears - prompted by half-baked intelligence based on "fragments" of chatter and some intercepts. Other so-called "leads" included sightings of some of the alleged suspects taking photographs of a fashionable shopping centre and a popular nightclub in Manchester. They were also apparently overheard discussing certain dates that led the MI5 sleuths to jump to the conclusion that not only an attack was being planned but that it was "imminent"- and indeed even dates had been settled. The media quoted anonymous "sources" as saying that a "devastating" attack might have been planned for the Easter weekend. One newspaper dubbed it an "Easter spectacular." Yet, no hard evidence has surfaced so far despite extensive searches and there is a growing sense that it could all end up in a wild-goose chase. The much-talked about "bomb factory" where, it was claimed, the Pakistanis were assembling explosives remains elusive; and the computers seized from their homes have failed to yield anything incriminating until now. Police sources are quoted as saying that "nothing of huge significance" has been found. "There is lots of material that when put together may take us somewhere. It will be a long and drawn out investigation," one source told a Sunday newspaper. The Times claimed that there was already talk of deporting the detainees back to Pakistan as chances of charging them appeared to recede. It also reported "terrible infighting" among the different security forces as to who was to blame for the botched operation. So, what went wrong? One theory being touted is that the investigations are still in an early stage and something could yet turn up. But the problem is that the police cannot hold the alleged suspects indefinitely in the hope that they might stumble on something at some stage. The maximum period for which a person can be held without charge is 28 days after which they must either be charged or released. And the time is running out. Another explanation for the failure to find any evidence is that the raids were conducted prematurely. The raids had to be brought forward after a senior police officer Bob Quick, who has since resigned, was photographed openly carrying a confidential document containing details of the operation. As the exposure of those details threatened to compromise the operation the police decided to move in immediately. But, frankly, that's being disingenuous. The fact is that the operation was advanced only by a few hours. Originally, the raids were to have taken place on Thursday morning but were brought forward to Wednesday afternoon after Mr. Quick's blunder. At the time, the BBC reported security sources as saying that the plot was in its "final stages." Indeed, as mentioned earlier, the buzz was that the bombs were all primed to go off at the Easter weekend. But, then, we have been here before and, as The Observer's security analyst Jason Burke recalled, there were the "ricin 'plot' raids which found no ricin; or the 'airline plot' raid, which a jury decided last year, did not feature any airlines; or the 'cyanide on the tube' plots, which involved neither cyanide nor the tube..." So, there is a history of terror "plots" turning out to be, in Mr. Jason's words, "bunkum." Conspiracy theorists see a "pattern" in hyped-up terror raids on Muslim homes every few months and the alacrity with which the identities of the alleged suspects are leaked to the media although the law forbids disclosure of names and nationality until a person is formally charged with a crime. Questions have also been raised about Mr. Brown's intervention, blaming Pakistan in rather strong words, even as the investigations had just begun. His remarks that Pakistan was not doing enough to tackle terrorism sparked a diplomatic row as Pakistan's High Commissioner to the U.K. Wajid Shamsul Hasan pointed out that all applicants for student visas were vetted by the British High Commission and the Pakistan government had nothing to do with it. Mr. Hasan said Britain needed to improve its own vetting system instead of blaming Pakistan. "It's at your end, you have to do something more ....If [the U.K. government] allow us to make inquiries first, if they ask us to scrutinise those people who are seeking visas, we can help them. But the thing is they have their own regime," he said. Meanwhile, two of those detained have already been released. Among them is Muhammad Adil, a 27-year-old Pakistani student of John Moores University in Liverpool, who has given a harrowing account of how he was arrested while he was chatting to a friend outside the university building. Adil said officers with machine guns told him to put his hands up, grabbed his wrists and tied his hands behind his back while pointing guns at him. They told him he was being arrested as a terror suspect. He was taken to police station where he was kept for several hours before being released. Adil, who came to Britain two years ago, said his experience had changed his view of Britain. "They are clearly identifying Muslim students. It's a big insultThe first thing I will do is leave this country as soon as possible," he told The Guardian. So, thanks to the police, we have another "alienated" young Muslim out there. Which is exactly what the extremists need.