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SACW | Dec 27, 2009 - Jan 2, 2010 / Bangladesh: Promise of Change / Pakistan-India: People's Initiatives For Peace / No religion

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire | December 27 2009 - January 2, 2010 | Dispatch No. 2680 - Year 12 running From: www.sacw.net [ SACW Dispatches for 2009-2010 are
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2010
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      South Asia Citizens Wire | December 27 2009 - January 2, 2010 |
      Dispatch No. 2680 - Year 12 running
      From: www.sacw.net

      [ SACW Dispatches for 2009-2010 are dedicated to the memory of Dr.
      Sudarshan Punhani (1933-2009), husband of Professor Tamara Zakon and
      a comrade and friend of Daya Varma ]

      ____

      [1] Sri Lanka: Election on a precipice (Tisaranee Gunasekara)
      - War-crime allegations piling up in Sri Lanka (Feizal Samath)
      [2] Bangladesh: Promise of Change (Kamal Hossain)
      - ASK strongly protests and condemns the Home Minister’s
      comment on crossfire
      - Govt 'unwilling to stop' extra judicial killings
      [3] Pakistan: A city mourns (Editorial, The News)
      - Q&A: Law and Order May Not Improve in 2010 - interview with
      Rukhshanda Naz (Ashfaq Yusufzai)
      - Dragon’s teeth (Irfan Husain)
      [4] Pakistan India Conference – A Road map towards Peace (New Delhi,
      10th - 12th January, 2010)
      + Bridging Partition: People's Initiatives For Peace Between
      India And Pakistan edited by Smitu Kothari and Zia Mian
      with Kamla Bhasin, A H Nayyar and Mohammad Tahseen
      [5] India: Reduction of troops - J&K continues to be heavily
      militarised state (Editorial, Kashmir Times)
      - South Asian agenda for Jammu & Kashmir (Madanjeet Singh)
      - Safe haven for women beaten and abused in Kashmir
      [6] India: Amending the Right to Information Act would be a
      retrograde step (Aruna Roy)
      - Heart of darkness (Dilip Simeon)
      - Goa - Rape, blame and the tourism game (Eric Randolph)
      [7] India: Resources For Secular Activists
      (i) No religion please, we're liberals (Mohammed Wajihuddin)
      (ii) India: Communal Riots 2009 (Asghar Ali Engineer)
      (iii) The Hindutva ride (K.N. Panikkar)
      (iv) National Consultation on Communal Violence Bill (New
      Delhi, 12-13 February 2010)
      _____


      [1] Sri Lanka:

      Himal, SouthAsian January 2010

      ELECTION ON A PRECIPICE
      by Tisaranee Gunasekara

      Sarath Fonseka’s candidature in the upcoming presidential elections
      might be a setback for the Rajapakse dynastic project. But the
      general’s Sinhala supremacy agenda cannot calm the minorities.

      Sri Lanka’s election season commenced with a thunderbolt, a
      development unthinkable in those heady days six months ago, when the
      demise of the Tamil Tigers was celebrated with milk-rice and
      crackers. Most Sinhalese regard President Mahinda Rajapakse, Defence
      Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and Commander of the Army Sarath
      Fonseka as the ‘heroic trinity’ responsible for their historic
      triumph over the LTTE. Today, that war-time triumvirate has collapsed
      and the Sinhala South is compelled to witness the unseemly sight of
      its saviours battling each other for power.

      Until his fallout with the Rajapakse brothers, Fonseka shared most of
      their ideological and political predilections. A Sinhala supremacist
      intolerant of dissent, he was a key player in the Rajapakse project
      of turning Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-dominated national security
      state. But the Rajapakses also have dynastic ambitions; their brazen
      attempts at monopolising the credit for defeating the LTTE irked
      Fonseka, just as his brash effort to claim a lion’s share of the
      credit alarmed the Rajapakses. In this highly charged environment,
      minor irritants became blistering sores, snowballs heralding the
      ultimate avalanche.

      Dynamic candidacy
      Fonseka’s entrance into the race has deeply affected the political
      dynamics of the upcoming election. To begin with, it has united and
      rejuvenated the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi
      Peramuna (JVP), the two major opposition parties. A balance between
      the government and the opposition is necessary for the political
      health of any democracy. When the opposition is more powerful than
      the government, instability becomes endemic; when the opposition is
      ineffective, it gives the government a sense of power that is not
      conducive to moderate thinking and conduct. The Rajapakses’ plan was
      to trounce the twice-defeated Ranil Wickremesinghe of the UNP during
      the presidential election, and use that victory as a springboard to
      obtain a two-thirds majority at the parliamentary poll, which must
      take place before 22 April 2010. This would have been sufficient to
      enable them to craft a constitution suited to their dynastic needs.
      The Fonseka factor wreaked havoc on this carefully calibrated plan
      and energised the opposition, thereby partially restoring the
      essential balance between the government and the opposition.

      Beyond a reenergised opposition, the impartiality of Dayananda
      Dissanayake, the election commissioner, has also emerged as another
      unexpected obstacle to the Rajapakse behemoth. Through his conduct
      during the now-concluded nomination process, Dissanayake has already
      demonstrated that he is determined to ensure a free and fair
      election. To this end, he plans to set up a competent official body
      to monitor both state and private media to try and ensure impartial
      coverage. Dissanayake also stated that proxy candidates, most of the
      22 contenders, will not be permitted to use the opportunities granted
      to them under the constitution to canvass for their paymasters, as
      has happened in the past. In addition, international election
      observers have also been invited. Perhaps most significantly, he
      warned that if polling is marred by violence, the exercise will be
      declared invalid in the affected constituency and the final national
      result delayed until re-polling is completed.

      Without doubt, the upcoming campaign will be acrimonious, perhaps
      even bloody, and the result is likely to be a close affair.
      Rajapakse, with the power and the resources of the state at his
      command, is likely to win. But it will not be the cakewalk he and his
      strategists had expected when they opted for the premature
      presidential poll. If Fonseka can deprive Rajapakse of an outright
      victory by pushing the election into a second round, the fallout may
      limit the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to only a
      marginal victory at the parliamentary election, thus preventing any
      legislative intervention in the constitution. The Fonseka factor has
      now rendered uncertain not only the outcome of the presidential
      election but also that of the parliamentary polls and thus the very
      future of the Rajapakse project.

      The Rajapakse-Fonseka fallout created much consternation within the
      ‘patriotic’ camp. But the Sinhala supremacists, with the exception of
      the JVP which was in the opposition in any case, closed ranks around
      Rajapakse once Fonseka’s candidacy was confirmed. In this sense,
      Fonseka entering the fray is unlikely to cause a big enough swing in
      the Sinhala vote to defeat Rajapakse. On the other hand, the general
      has electrified the opposition, propelling it into vigorous action.
      As the recent provincial council elections confirmed, the UNP vote
      base has remained largely intact. Indeed, the UPFA’s huge victories
      were the result of high levels of abstentions among disorganised and
      demoralised UNP loyalists. For instance, the UPFA won the Southern
      Provincial Council with a huge margin because there was a 42.6
      percent decrease in the UNP vote from 2005, not because of any post-
      war swing towards the UPFA. Meanwhile, support for the UPFA decreased
      by 3.2 percent from 2005. If there was no groundswell of support for
      the Rajapakses in the South, their home base, there cannot be a pro-
      Rajapakse wave nationally. Since the Fonseka factor will galvanise
      most UNP loyalists into voting, barring a last minute hitch, the
      electoral race is likely to be close, even in the Sinhala South.

      Fonseka’s impact on the electoral field also demonstrates how the
      minorities could have become the ‘third force’ in Lankan politics had
      they formed a united front on a common minimum platform. As things
      stand, the minority parties are divided. Douglas Devananda’s Eelam
      People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), Arumugam Thondaman’s Ceylon Workers
      Congress (CWC) and Ferial Ashraff’s National Unity Alliance (NUA) are
      backing Rajapakse while Rauf Hakeem’s Sri Lanka Muslim Congress
      (SLMC) and Mano Ganesan’s Western Peoples Front (WPF) are supporting
      Fonseka. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is undecided while M K
      Shivajilingam, a TNA parliamentarian, is contesting the presidency as
      an independent.

      In Colombo, which has a high concentration of Tamils and Muslims,
      most minority voters are UNP supporters. In 2005, a majority of
      Colombo Tamils obeyed the LTTE and abstained from voting, indirectly
      helping Rajapakse win. Haunted by this memory, most Colombo Tamils
      are likely to vote for Fonseka this time around, just to deny
      Rajapakse a second term. So will a majority of Colombo Muslims, since
      Fonseka is backed by both the UNP and the SLMC. Though the CWC is
      backing Rajapakse, the UNP has a significant presence in the
      plantations and Fonseka may be able to win a sizeable chunk of the
      upcountry Tamil votes as a consequence.

      Meanwhile, many Eastern Muslims, fearing the Buddhist revanchists of
      the rightwing Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) backing Rajapakse, are
      likely to vote for Fonseka. The squabble between the TMVP’s
      Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (‘Pillayan’), chief minister of the
      Eastern Province, and his former leader Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan
      (‘Karuna’) – currently a government minister – may enable the Eastern
      Tamils to vote with relative freedom. At the August local government
      elections, the UPFA managed to win in Jaffna but was trounced in
      Vavuniya. This indicates that in a free and fair election, a majority
      of the northern Tamils will vote against Rajapakse. This does not,
      however, necessarily mean that they will vote for the war-time army
      commander.

      The Tamils have nothing positive to expect from Rajapakse who has
      denied the very existence of the ethnic problem, also implying that
      any Tamil with a close relative in the LTTE is a traitor. But will
      the Tamils of the North and the East be allowed to vote freely? Will
      the power of the state be used to engineer a massive ‘victory’ for
      Rajapakse? Will an independent election commissioner, international
      election observers and Fonseka supporters in the army suffice to
      impede attempts at holding a peaceful but un-free election in the
      North? These are unanswerable questions this side of 26 January.
      Meanwhile, media reports about abysmally low levels of voter
      registration among the internally displaced (7000 out of 200,000)
      indicate that many Tamils may stay away from voting – or will be
      induced to do so by the powers that be, in the hope of replicating
      the 2005 outcome.

      Future imperfect
      In a display of cognitive dissonance, the Rajapakse camp is warning
      that a Fonseka victory will result in a military dictatorship. It was
      the Rajapakses who allowed, and are allowing, the army to meddle in
      politics, thereby blurring the clear line of demarcation which
      existed in Sri Lanka between the military and the polity even in the
      worst years of the conflict. The Rajapakses also have a history of
      limiting democratic freedoms citing them as incompatible with
      national security needs. In any case, Fonseka is retired. He is
      contesting the election as a civilian and his victory cannot become a
      military coup.

      All the same, a Fonseka presidency can imperil democracy in other
      ways. The general has promised to abolish the executive presidency,
      implement the 17th Amendment which seeks to reduce executive powers
      via five independent commissions, provide a political solution which
      goes beyond the 13th Amendment on devolving power to the provinces
      and ensure media freedoms. Lofty promises indeed, but will he honour
      them? What if a victorious Fonseka decides to retain the executive
      presidency, until he has ‘set the country right’? Already there is
      talk of a moderate versus hardliner split in the Fonseka camp with
      the candidate succumbing to the JVP hardliners. Lankan democracy can
      become imperilled irrespective of who wins the election.

      Landmines litter Sri Lanka’s path to a post-war future. A huge army
      with war psychosis is incompatible with a country sans a war. Neither
      Rajapakse nor Fonseka has a programme to change, in terms of size and
      psychological makeup, this war-time army to one suited to a peaceful
      democracy. The country has lost the European Union’s Generalised
      System of Preferences (GSP+) as a direct outcome of the Rajapakses’
      refusal to abide by international humanitarian laws and standards.
      The subsequent adverse impact on trade will aggravate the economic
      woes of the masses. The war crime charges will continue to resonate
      internationally. More pertinently, there cannot be a genuine
      reconciliation with the Tamils so long as Sinhalese of all political
      persuasions cling to the myth of a humanitarian offensive and deny
      that the state Lankan forces too engaged in human-rights violations
      during the endgame with LTTE. How can the Tamils forget the past and
      look ahead, if the only future possible is one in which their
      legitimate grievances and demands are denied and their suffering and
      loss belittled?

      An election is supposed to provide the possibility of a dramatic
      break away from the crisis mentality, but it is clear that the
      presidential election this January will not provide a solution to any
      of the burning problems. Nor can Rajapakse or Fonseka be trusted to
      act democratically, constitutionally or even moderately after the
      election. But if the Fonseka factor can push the election into a
      second round, it may impede the Rajapakse project of establishing
      dynastic rule behind a democratic façade in a Sinhala dominated Sri
      Lanka. It may also remind Sinhala politicians of all hues that Tamil
      and Muslim voters do matter, even in a post-LTTE Sri Lanka.

      Tisarenee Gunasekara is a writer based in Colombo.

      o o o

      WAR-CRIME ALLEGATIONS PILING UP IN SRI LANKA
      by Feizal Samath
      http://tinyurl.com/yauzvt3

      _____


      [2] Bangladesh:

      PROMISE OF CHANGE

      by Kamal Hossain (Mainstream Weekly, 26 December 2009)

      Citizens of Bangladesh have persevered in their effort to establish a
      working democracy. The movement to restore democracy had resulted in
      1990 in an agreed commitment amongst all political forces to restore
      parliamentary democracy and to strengthen democratic institutions—the
      rule of law, an independent judiciary, and a media committed
      fearlessly to truth and to give voice to the people. These
      aspirations for a transparent, responsive and accountable mode of
      governance were powerfully re-affirmed in the concerted efforts for
      political and economic reforms between 2004 to 2008.

      People had sought to rescue themselves from a political
      process which had degenerated and become captive in the hands of
      black money and armed musclemen. A universally shared goal was to
      regenerate healthy politics to rescue the overwhelming majority who
      had suffered as virtual hostages and felt powerless under a system of
      governance which had become authoritarian. A highly centralised
      structure of the government had excluded citizens from participation.
      A confrontational political culture had excluded not only the
      Opposition but the people in general from participation in
      governance. People expected transparency, accountability and the rule
      of law to be an integral part of the democratic political system
      which had been the aim of the electoral and political reforms
      demanded by the people. The election held in December 2008 promised
      to bring about change.

      It is nine months since a government elected by an
      overwhelming majority has been in power. People have been awaiting
      the adoption of polices and strategies and the strengthening of
      institutions needed to deliver good governance, and the changes
      promised by the election manifesto.

      As people continued to await the promised change, they
      expected to see a change in the mindsets of those in power and the
      strengthening of democratic institutions so that these could begin to
      function effectively. They looked forward to a vibrant Parliament
      that played a dynamic role in regenerating democracy. Lively debates
      were expected on policies—on the national economy, on industry,
      agriculture and education, health, economy, environment and other
      vital national sectors. Committees were expected to ensure that the
      executive branch and the administration remained responsive to public
      needs and national priorities. The Opposition has yet to present
      itself in Parliament as people expected it to play a positive role.
      It would be a giant step forward if the Opposition, in addition to
      pointing out deficiencies in official policies or actions of the
      government, would itself put forward well-thought-out alternatives.

      Voters had wished to put behind them the past when, under a
      hierarchical governance system, public servants were reduced to being
      party functionaries. This tendency persists. There is a legitimate
      expectation that appointments and promotion in the public service
      would be on the basis of merit and competence, through a transparent
      process, and not arbitrarily on the basis of party loyalty. The
      administration, manned by public servants, is expected to discharge
      its functions strictly in accordance with law and in the public
      interest and not be made to suffer from harassment and persecution on
      partisan considerations.

      Citizens would not be kept in the dark on the plea of official
      secrecy, and human rights guarantees would be effectively enforced.
      The enactment of the Right to Information Act was welcomed as it
      would prevent a veil of secrecy being placed over official decisions.
      The newly established Human Rights Commission needs to be made fully
      operational with the resources and capacity to fulfill its mandate.
      Resources must be committed to strengthen the independence of the
      judiciary and to fully implement its separation as mandated by the
      Constitution in order for it to play its role as the guardian of
      citizens’ rights and of the Constitution.

      The government should welcome the citizens’ participation by
      consultation through Parliamentary Committees, and through advisory
      groups involving stakeholders and others who can contribute to
      improving the quality of governance. Periodic progress reports need
      to be published on actions taken towards fulfilling the pledges made
      to the people.

      The most critical sphere in which such progress reports must
      be made transparent is in relation to the awarding of major projects,
      in sectors such as power, telecommunication, oil and gas, and major
      infrastructure. Procurement guidelines must not exist only on paper
      but must be respected and effectively implemented by all those who
      are to apply them. Absence of transparency in taking recent decisions
      regarding petroleum exploration contracts has led to public
      controversy, which could have been avoided.

      The educational sector has rightly been accorded the highest
      priority as a national goal to ensure meaningful change and overall
      progress. The educational system must be rescued from being an arena
      of unhealthy power politics. It is a legitimate expectation of the
      people that educational institutions must be terror-free and the
      armed cadres which had operated there must be demobilised and
      campuses made free from their predatory activities. This is still
      awaited. This particular malaise has undermined the integrity and
      effectiveness of the major public universities and important
      educational institutions. Universities must regain their reputation
      of excellence in academic standards. Not only must the time targets
      for making education available to all be met but the quality of
      education must be raised across the system.

      A fundamental pillar of democracy is the rule of law and
      access to justice. The key element which demands urgent attention at
      every level of governance is the constitutional mandate of equality
      before the law and equal protection of the law. No one can be above
      the law. No one can claim or enjoy impunity if s/he transgresses the
      law. There must not be any party political interference in the
      impartial and effective implementation of the law. The nightmares of
      the past must be buried when powerful “godfathers” could interfere
      with the police in major investigations giving impunity to those
      charged with war crimes, murder, and rape, major corruption and
      extortion at every level. It is time that people are rescued from
      continued persecution of extortion by organised groups. Restoration
      of the rule of law is imperative.

      A systemic change must be brought about in relation to the
      police. The draft of a new Police Act has been put on the shelf. The
      nineteenth century Police Act and the mindset on which it was based
      require to be replaced by a system where the police is seen as the
      protector of the rights of citizens and the community where they are
      posted. The feudal order, where the powerful could terrorise and
      practice extortion on a scale that reduced ordinary citizens to a
      kind of serfdom, must become history. It cannot be allowed to
      continue in the twentyfirst century.

      ¨

      Given the terrible eruption of brutal violence in the BDR
      headquarters last February, urgent action is needed against those
      responsible, through effective investigation and expeditious trial.
      Not only is this required by the dictates of justice, but is
      imperative in the interest of national security. It must, therefore,
      be given the highest priority. It is part of the basic structure of
      our Constitution that coercive use of armed force, vested in the
      defence services, is regulated by law. There is thus no room for any
      private militias and/or armed cadres. The internal security forces
      and the police are required effectively to be regulated by law. It is
      imperative that the professionalism and neutrality of the defence
      services, entrusted with national security, are not interfered with
      for any party political considerations. Appointment, promotion and
      advancement should be strictly on the basis of merit, keeping in view
      that the highest professional standards are to be aimed for. The best
      international practice should be incorporated in their Manuals, if
      this has not already been done, since our defence services are now
      internationally respected for their significant role in the United
      Nations Peace Keeping Forces.

      There is an urgent need for the state-owned electronic media—
      radio and television—to become an autonomous institution for
      dissemination of information. People do not want to see the state-
      owned media become a government public relations agency, a relic of
      the past. The voices of people must be heard over BTV and state-owned
      radio. An Independent Broadcasting Trust, led by trustees who enjoy
      public confidence and respect, could significantly contribute to the
      process of change. The muted voices of the silent majority could then
      be heard throughout the country so that these can reach their public
      representatives and expect them respond to their needs and priorities.

      The pledges made in the Constitution, need to be strongly
      reaffirmed in the goals set by the government, because it has been
      given a generous mandate. A great deal of time has been lost. The
      time-worn alibi for delay and inaction, namely, “you can’t have
      change overnight”, therefore, cannot be invoked. If the strategic
      goals set for 2021 are to succeed, meaningful change has to be made—
      in our institutions and our political behaviour. The magnitude of the
      challenge that lies ahead has been focused in a recent DFID study, thus:

      It is predicted that the population (of Bangladesh) by 2030 will be
      nearly 200 million with 40 per cent under the age of 15. An
      additional 6-8 per cent of Bangladesh will be permanently under
      water; flood-prone areas will increase (from 25 per cent to 40 per
      cent of the country by 2050). Three-quarters of the Himalayan
      glaciers may have vanished with disastrous consequences for areas
      dependent on the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Environmental
      refugees from rural areas will be flocking to the cities where flood
      defences will be concentrated and over 80 million people will live in
      urban slums; Dhaka will be one of the world’s largest cities with 30
      million people. In rural areas, this urban migration could mean that
      the countryside is abandoned to the elderly, women-headed households
      and the very poorest of the poor. Arsenic could remain a massive
      health threat, reducing crop productivity and contributing to food
      shortages.

      Time-targeted goals are called for. There are indeed goals
      which will require five, 10, or 15 years. The announced 2021 plan
      itself recognises that it will be implemented in successive stages,
      but the process must commence NOW. The past has to be put behind us:
      the insensitivity, the inertia, the failure to take timely decisions,
      the lack of coordination as powerful groups fought over the spoils,
      while people suffered and the nation’s progress was impeded. The need
      to work together applies to all without exception. Barriers to change
      have been identified which need to be overcome. These are the
      dysfunctional institutions, a run-down educational system and a
      social environment afflicted by violence and terrorism, and major
      deficiencies in infrastructure.

      Dr Kamal Hossain, a prominent public figure in Bangladesh, is a
      former Foreign Minister of that country.

      o o o

      ASK STRONGLY PROTESTS AND CONDEMNS THE HOME MINISTER’S COMMENT ON
      CROSSFIRE IN THE ORIENTATION PROGRAM OF MILESTONE COLLEGE.

      We learned from the newspaper reports that the Home Minister has said
      in her response to queries by the press- “There is no such thing
      called crossfire. When the terrorists attack the police, they use
      counter fire to protect themselves.” We heard many times her and
      other ministers of giving such type of statements. But by analyzing
      the documents and evidences and using the common sense, people find
      it difficult to believe in the same statement that when the well
      equipped elite force goes for arms recovery with a captive who is
      handcuffed, his gang mates attack the elite force, the captive makes
      an endeavor to escape and gets killed consequently by the fire of the
      elite force but none of his companion is arrested or receives bullet.
      This type of statement has lost all kinds of credibility in the eyes
      of people.

      When the public personalities like the Home Minister and others try
      to establish this doubtful statement as the truth, then this sets up
      a disgraceful example and encourages the law enforcement agencies of
      engaging in such wrong doing. So far we were told that in such
      incidents it is only the so-called terrorists who fire, but at least
      now the Home Minister confessed that shots are fined by the law
      enforcement agencies.

      We said it repeatedly that the practice of extra judicial killings is
      not supportive of establishing rule of law or unacceptable in
      democratic culture. In addition to this we would like to say that the
      practice of establishing this type of false statements by the elected
      representatives may result in worsening of the law and order
      situation. The Home Minister said that the government always takes
      initiatives to investigate such incidents. We demand to make the
      details of such investigation public so that people can believe that
      their elected representatives are telling them the truth.

      December 27, 2009
      Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK)

      o o o

      GOVT 'UNWILLING TO STOP' EXTRA JUDICIAL KILLINGS
      http://bdnews24.com/details.php?id=150013&cid=2


      _____


      [3] Pakistan:

      A CITY MOURNS

      Editorial, The News, December 31, 2009

      Life in Karachi has slowly been moving back to something resembling
      normal following the Ashura Day suicide attack. The toll from that
      incident is now up to 43. The toll taken on business, and on other
      aspects of life, is still unfolding. For months Karachi had been able
      to stay safe from the deadly terrorist incidents ravaging the rest of
      the country. It has now found itself pulled into the very centre of
      that whirlpool of violence. The losses in terms of human life are
      known. In terms of business the costs are still being calculated. It
      is estimated that the fires which ravaged markets have claimed at
      least 10,000 jobs and caused losses worth Rs30 billion. The
      shopkeepers devastated by the incident hope to gain some
      compensation. The KCCI is assisting them. But the fact is that not
      all the jobs lost will be restored and others, such as transporters
      and labourers who made a living by working at the wholesale market,
      will suffer too. The interior minister has said an inquiry has been
      initiated into why the fire began and how it took hold so rapidly.
      The suspicion being strong that the fire was premeditated.

      The spectre of terrorism in Karachi is an especially menacing one. As
      the hub of business and commerce in the country, unrest here has an
      impact on virtually every other town and city. Disrupted transport
      heading out from Karachi affected the entire southern Punjab on
      Tuesday. There is also the issue of confidence in Pakistan. If
      businessmen and foreign investors fear instability in Karachi, this
      inevitably means a loss in faith and a consequent economic downslide.
      We can simply not afford this at the present time given that re-
      building a sound economy remains a primary priority. Efforts to keep
      Karachi safe from terrorism must be stepped up. The prospect of
      further attacks in the country's largest city is horrendous. We must
      do everything possible to avoid it and thus prevent a further descent
      into mayhem.

      o o o

      Inter Press Service, 26 December 2009

      Q&A: LAW AND ORDER MAY NOT IMPROVE IN 2010
      Ashfaq Yusufzai interviews Rukhshanda Naz, women's activist*

      Peshawar, Dec 26 (IPS) - For women in Pakistan’s North Western
      Frontier Province (NWFP), 2009 has been particularly hard.

      In an effort to woo the Taliban in the Swat Valley, the provincial
      government imposed the Shariah or Islamic Law – a move that far from
      restoring peace, sparked a full-scale military operation and led to
      the displacement of thousands of civilians.

      Civil society groups struggled to cope with the massive influx of
      internally displaced people’s (IDPs).

      IPS interviewed Rukhshanda Naz of Aurat Foundation, an NGO which has
      experience of women’s vulnerabilities in war and conflict areas. A
      lawyer by training she has worked for the betterment of women in the
      NWFP since 1993.

      Excerpts from the interview:

      Q: The government says it has wrested control of many of the areas
      that were earlier under the Taliban factions?

      A: They can claim for few areas but the culture developed due to
      Talibanisation and government policies (remain) … People need time to
      recover and trust them (government).

      Q: The year started with the imposition of the Shariah in the former
      Malakand division. What is the situation now for women?

      A: I don't think there is much difference except less fear of the
      Taliban. Trauma (is widespread); feeling of humiliation during
      displacement has been very high.

      Q: Was it men or women who suffered more in the violence unleashed by
      Taliban militants and the military operations that uprooted nearly 2
      million people?

      A: I just want to respond through oral (testimonies) which I
      collected with my team.

      "About two years ago at 8'o clock in the night the people in our
      house were busy talking with each other after dinner, when suddenly
      15 to 20 Shiite men entered our house.

      "At first they grabbed my brother-in-law and slaughtered him in front
      of our eyes. After that they forced my 15 year-old-son Muhammad out
      of the house and into the fields and slaughtered him there. I can
      still here his shouting in my ears.

      "Due to fear my body stopped working but I kept my will and together
      with my three daughters, two grandsons and one daughter-in-law I ran
      away.

      A woman from Parachinar Kurram agency (part of FATA) testified that
      the Shiite Taliban kidnap women and then rape them. They do this
      because they believe that by having sexual intercourse with Sunni
      women they will go to heaven. They didn't even spare the older women …

      A third testimony: "I am happy with the birth of my seven daughters.
      But I am worried because of poverty. One of my daughters has lost her
      shoes. Due to my poor financial condition I can't get her a new one.
      And since then she has been roaming around without them.

      A woman from Bajaur: "One day in our village there was a woman who
      was carrying a chicken in her arms. While she was walking on the
      road, suddenly a Taliban car stopped next to her and made her sit in
      the car and asked her to give them the chicken in return for some
      meat which she can cook for herself.

      "Because of fear the woman handed over the chicken to them and took
      the meat. When she back to her house and saw the meat it turned out
      to be some woman’s breasts!"

      Q: What did displacement do to women?

      A: The women of these areas due to cultural norms lived in the
      privacy of their homes. But the sudden push into the public space and
      their forced interaction with other people (has) contributed to high
      levels of mental insecurity.

      Q: Peace is essential for the authorities and civil society to
      achieve development goals like gender equality and women's
      empowerment. What has civil society's response to the crisis been?

      A: There are number of initiative by civil society. The government
      handled the flood of IDPs due to support from civil society. They not
      only responded quickly to the immediate need of rehabilitation, but
      also raised a number of issues through advocacy programmes.

      Q: Like the targeting of schools, and schoolteachers, was there a
      targeting of NGO volunteers or workers by either side?

      A: There are cases where NGO workers were killed, kidnapped. In some
      cases families took advantage of terrorism and religious militancy to
      settle family disputes and honour killing cases.

      Q: It must require courage to stand up for democratic rights and issues.

      A: It's not difficult; (you) just need commitment and belief. If you
      are answerable to yourself it's easier. I never get disheartened
      which always gives me strength and hope.

      Q: Do you see the law and order situation improving in 2010?

      A: I don't think so but I have one hope – (there will be growing)
      people's resistance and struggle for rights and peace.

      Q: Do you think government programmes and NGO activities will resume
      and benefit people?

      A: Yes to some extent but both need (to show) more commitment, will
      and (the flexibility to) change strategy.

      *with assistance from IPS's Gender Editor Ann Ninan (END/2009)

      o o o

      Dawn
      2 Jan, 2010

      DRAGON’S TEETH
      by Irfan Husain

      IN the ancient Greek myth, when Jason and the Argonauts are on their
      quest to find the golden fleece, one of the more terrifying dangers
      they face comes from the ‘dragon’s teeth’.

      These objects, when planted in the ground, cause fierce warriors
      called spertoi to spring forth.

      I was reminded of this bit of Greek mythology as I was reading Imtiaz
      Gul’s extremely well-researched book The Al Qaeda Connection. The
      author meticulously lists all the various extremist outfits that kill
      under the banner of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), as well as
      other equally lethal groups who slaughter the innocent in the name of
      Islam. He also gives us thumbnail sketches of various warlords who
      run these gangs.

      Ploughing through these details, I wondered how this hydra-headed
      monster — to bring in another Greek legend — could ever be laid to
      rest. The reality is that as soon as one of these killers is
      eliminated, more spring forward to replace them. After Baitullah
      Mehsud, the vicious leader of the TTP, was finally killed in a drone
      attack, many Pakistanis breathed a sigh of relief. But almost
      immediately, Hakeemullah Mehsud took over, and has been directing a
      ferocious and unending series of suicide attacks across the country.

      The latest atrocity on Ashura in Karachi that killed a number of Shia
      mourners shows that it is impossible to stop such attacks aimed at
      soft targets. A procession of tens of thousands, passing through
      miles of densely populated city blocks, simply cannot be safeguarded
      against determined suicide bombers.

      The TTP was quick to claim responsibility for the Karachi attack, as
      it has done for a number of others. The question of who is funding
      these killers remains a mystery, although Imtiaz Gul has tried to
      unravel it in his book. While Saudi funding of extremist groups like
      the virulently anti-Shia SSP was an open secret, apparently direct
      government financing from Riyadh ceased after 9/11. However, Gul
      cites anecdotal evidence to suggest that this money has not
      completely dried up.

      In one example, he follows the indoctrination of a young would-be
      suicide bomber called Mansoor Khan Dawar of Hurmaz, a small village
      in North Waziristan. Gul quotes Dawar talking of his training under
      Abu Nasir al-Qahtani:

      “When I met al-Qahtani, he soon impressed me by his thoughts on Islam
      and America and I decided to become a suicide bomber.… I completed my
      training in the mountains in 20 days. Most of the time we were either
      training or praying, and the speeches by al-Qahtani were very
      emotional and motivating. Our instructors would show videos of
      atrocities on Muslims, and also teach us verses of the Holy Quran and
      hadiths against the infidels.…”

      Allowed to visit his parents before his final mission, Dawar was
      engaged by his father, mercifully an educated man, on the jihad being
      waged by the extremists. He asked his son why these militants didn’t
      target Arabs, and whether suicide bombing was in line with the
      Islamic Sharia. Finally, Dawar’s father said he would not block his
      son’s suicidal path if he received satisfactory replies to these
      questions from his mentors.

      Dawar posed these questions to a local teacher who passed them on to
      al-Qahtani over the phone. As cited by Gul, the Arab replied: “We
      receive funds from Arab countries, therefore we cannot carry out any
      attack there, and if we commit any wrong there, they will stop supply
      of funds to us. But jihad in Pakistan and Afghanistan is lawful and
      even the Saudis believe so.”

      Disturbed by these self-serving replies, Dawar managed to escape the
      clutches of these extremists through an agreement brokered by the
      local teacher. But he is an exception: the vast majority believe that
      they will achieve instant entry into heaven populated by beautiful
      virgins. According to one gullible bomber who failed in his mission
      and was captured alive, his mentor had told him that pulling the
      trigger on his suicide vest was like punching the button that would
      ignite the rocket that would carry him straight to paradise.

      When Pakistani troops captured a TTP stronghold in South Waziristan
      recently, they came across a wall with paintings of scenes from
      heaven; one panel bore images of nude women. It seems these images
      were used in the brainwashing of impressionable, madressah-educated
      young men.

      In an interesting section about the sources of funding this war, Gul
      cites a number of Pakistan government initiatives aimed at developing
      Fata. Apparently, warlords have received millions of rupees by way of
      diverted public funds. In addition, the late Baitullah Mehsud was
      given Rs50m to release 280 soldiers captured by him in August 2007.
      It seems that much of the money provided by taxpayers to develop the
      tribal areas is being used to slaughter the same Pakistani citizens.

      The ISI connection to these killers has long attracted speculation
      and universal criticism. But Gul quotes both Gen Kayani who headed
      the ISI for some time during Musharraf’s rule, and Gen Pasha, the
      present head of the agency, as stoutly denying any ISI involvement.
      He cites Gen Pasha as declaring: “We would obviously like to fix
      these rogues. They are killing our own people, and are certainly not
      friends of this country.”

      For many years, the Pakistani establishment has drawn a line between
      the ‘good Taliban’ and the bad guys. The former are the ones who are
      battling western forces in Afghanistan, while the latter are the
      terrorists who have killed and maimed thousands of Pakistanis. But to
      the rest of the world, this distinction is meaningless: they are all
      seen as murderous extremists who are waging jihad to impose their
      Stone-Age values and rules on the rest of us.

      For all the talk of negotiations and deals, the fact is that these
      hardened killers want nothing short of a total victory. They have
      always used talks as a means of gaining respite, and used the time to
      rearm and regroup.

      But this article is not a message of despair. These extremists can be
      defeated, provided we are willing to take the tough political
      decisions needed. These include a thorough reform of the madressahs
      that churn out the foot soldiers and the suicide bombers. Thus far,
      both Musharraf and Asif Zardari have failed to take the bull by the
      horns. Until this is done, the dragon’s teeth sown by Gen Zia will
      keep on multiplying.

      _____


      [4] INDIA PAKISTAN CONFERENCE – A ROAD MAP TOWARDS PEACE (New Delhi,
      10 - 12 January, 2010)

      Dear Friends,

      A number of organizations in India have got together with eminent
      people to organize an India-Pakistan Conference: A Road Map towards
      Peace at India International Center (IIC) on 10-12 January 2010. We
      would like to invite you to participate in the conference.
      Both India and Pakistan have, for the last 62 years, seen many ups
      and downs in bilateral relations and talks. But the current phase of
      composite dialogue was significant. Four rounds had been completed,
      and the 5th round was in progress. The November attacks on Mumbai
      completely hijacked this scenario and brought the relationship
      between the two countries to breakdown point. This was further
      intensified by the war hysteria whipped up by the religious right
      wing in both the countries.
      Ever since the Indian Government announced a pause on the dialogue
      following the 26/11 attacks, people in both countries who are
      desirous of peace, have been trying to convince their respective
      governments to make serious attempts to restart the dialogue. The
      dialogue is important because it helps us sort out our problems
      peacefully.
      This conference is being organized to mobilize the peace activists
      and peace groups from India and Pakistan and influence both the
      governments to resume peace process. We hope that you will make it
      convenient to attend. Activists coming from outside Delhi should get
      in touch with Sonila on sonila(at)focusweb.org Accomodation
      arrangements can be done on first come first base. There are no
      registration charges.

      India Pakistan Conference – A Road map towards Peace

      India International Centre, New Delhi

      10th - 12th January, 2010

      10th January 09.00 – 10.00 Registration

      10:00 – 10.30 Welcome & Inaugural
      I. K. Gujral (Former Prime Minister of India) & Kuldip Nayar
      (Chairperson, Organizing Committee & Veteran Journalist) 10.30 – 1145
      A Road map towards Peace

      11.45 – 12.30 Mani Shankar Aiyar (Former Union Minister)
      Sherry Rehman (Former minister for Information & Broadcasting, Member
      of National Assembly, Pakistan; Pakistan Peoples’ Party)
      Admiral L Ramdas (Former Navy Chief, India)
      Mehbooba Mufti (President – People’s Democratic Party)
      Chair: Seema Mustafa (Senior Journalist)
      Questions, Comments, Discussions

      12.30 –13.30 Lunch
      13.30 – 15.00 Peace and Security in South Asia
      15.00 – 16.00 Kamal Chenoy (Prof. of International Relations, JNU)

      Salman Haider (Former Foreign Secretary, India)
      Iqbal Haider (Former law minister, Pakistan)
      Chair: A H Nayar (Physicist & peace activist, Islamabad)
      Questions, Comments, Discussions
      16.00 – 16.30

      18.00 – 20.00
      Tea

      Book release “Bridging Partition: People’s initiatives for peace
      between India and Pakistan”
      Edited by Smitu Kothari, Zia Mian, Kamla Bhasin, A.H. Nayar and
      Mohd.Tahseen at India Islamic Cultural Center

      11th January 09.30 – 11.45 Issue of Autonomy: Kashmir and Balochistan
      11.45- 12.30 Asma Jehangir (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, UN
      special rapporteur on freedom of religion & belief)
      Siraj Malik Akbar (Senior Journalist, Quetta, Pakistan)
      Yasin Malik (Leader JKLF)
      Sajjad Lone (President, Peoples Conference, Srinagar)
      Bizenjo Hasil Khan, (Senator, Balochistan)
      Chair: Rajendra Sacchar (Chief Justice (R) of Delhi High Court & PUCL)
      Questions, Comments, Discussions

      12.30 –13.30 Lunch

      13.30 – 14.30 Climate Change and its impact on Indo-Pak Relations
      14.30-15.00
      Abid Suleri (SDPI)
      Vandana Shiva (Navdanya)
      Farooq Tariq (Spokesperson, Pakistan Labour Party)
      Chair : Lalita Ramdas (Peace activist and Green Peace)
      Questions, Comments, Discussions

      15.00 – 16.15 Trade as an instrument of peace

      16.15-17.00
      Muchkund Dubey (Former Foreign Secretary, India)
      Akbar Zaidi (Leading Pakistani Economist)
      Punjab Chamber of Commerce
      Chair: Dr. Biswajit Dhar (RIS)
      Questions, Comments, Discussions
      17.00Tea 12th January 09.30 – 11.30 Militancy, joint mechanism and
      role of the US
      11.30-12.30 Aijaz Ahmad (Left intellectual, India)
      Ayesha Siddiqua (Defense expert, Pakistan)
      Chair : I.A. Rehman (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan)

      Questions, Comments, Discussions
      12.30-13.30 Lunch 13.30 – 15.30 Media & Culture in War and Peace
      14.45-15.30 B Murlidhar Reddy (Journalist with The Hindu was in
      Pakistan for 3 years & now in Sri Lanka)
      Liaqat Ali Toor (Journalist with Associated Press of Pakistan & now
      in Delhi)
      Kuldip Nayar (Veteran Journalist)
      Mahesh Bhatt (Film Maker)
      Madeeha Gauhar (Theatre Director and Women Rights’ Activist)
      Chair: Ved Bhasin (editor, Daily Kashmir Times)

      15.30 – 17.00 Declaration & plan of action Chair : Kamla Bhasin
      (Peace, Human & Women Rights activist)

      Organisations :
      ANHAD, Centre for Policy Analysis, COVA, Focus on the Global South,
      India;
      HBF, Hind-Pak Dosti Manch, Peace Mumbai, PIPFPD, SAHR, SANGAT, SAPA
      and various other organizations.


      o o o

      BRIDGING PARTITION
      People's Initiatives For Peace Between India And Pakistan

      edited by Smitu Kothari and Zia Mian

      with Kamla Bhasin, A H Nayyar and Mohammad Tahseen

      and essays by Shehryar Ahmad, Karamat Ali, Sumanta Banerjee, Kamla
      Bhasin, Nirupama Dutt, Madeeha Gauhar, Mubashir Hasan, Pervez
      Hoodboy, Asma Jehangir, Sheema Kirmani, Sanat Mohanty, Kuldip Nayar,
      Sandeep Pandey, Narendra Panjwani, Anand Patwardhan, Balraj Puri,
      Laxminarayan Ramdas, Lalita Ramdas, I A Rehman, Beena Sarwar, Jamila
      Verghese, Achin Vanaik

      Over the past three decades, in the shadow of hostile nationalisms
      fuelled by radical Islamic and Hindu politics, military crises, a
      runaway arms race, nuclear weapons and war, an amazing set of civil
      society initiatives has been taking root in India and Pakistan. A
      citizens diplomacy movement embracing thousands of activists,
      scholars, business people and retired government officials has
      emerged in an unprecedented effort to build national and cross-border
      networks for peace and cooperation between the two countries.

      In these essays, leading scholars, activists and writers from India
      and Pakistan reflect on the political and personal impact of crossing
      the border, and explore the possibilities and limits of this new
      movement in its quest to chart a path to peace between the two
      countries.

      cover design Bindia Thapar
      cover art 60 Years of India Pakistan by K. B. Abro

      Published by Orient BlackSwan India
      www.orientblackswan.com

      _____

      [5] Kashmir:

      Kashmir Times, 24 December 2009

      EDITORIAL: REDUCTION OF TROOPS: J&K CONTINUES TO BE HEAVILY
      MILITARISED STATE

      Even though the union defence minister A K Antony has announced the
      withdrawal of 30,000 troops and the issue has become a matter of
      politicking for various parties from New Delhi to the troubled Jammu
      and Kashmir, there is still no clarity about whether there indeed is
      even a marginal withdrawal of forces from the state. The army
      officers in the Northern Command have outrightly rejected these
      claims and maintained that any movement is only a part of routine
      relocation from one place to another. Reports have suggested that
      this relocation has happened over a period of months. It is, however,
      not known whether the troops relocated from specific areas have been
      replaced by fresh troops of the army or other security forces.
      Whatever be the case, the position on the ground does not reveal any
      change or relaxation. If indeed 30,000 troops have moved out from the
      heavily militarised state, the fact that despite shifting out such
      huge number of army personnel every part of the state continues to be
      as militarised as before only goes to prove how disproportionately
      large the presence of troops in Jammu and Kashmir is, impacting the
      social, economic and political fabric of the state. The fresh
      controversy about whether the troops have been moved out or not stems
      from a lack of transparency about the exact number of troops
      operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

      Whether or not there has been a constant rise in the number of para-
      military forces in the state in the last couple of years, the grim
      reality of increasing cantonments, bunkers and camps of the security
      forces, many of them virtually extending into villages and even
      people's homes, betrays a persistent policy to militarise areas and
      not de-congest them. Without bringing authentic facts on the table,
      the government has always been in absolute denial of the acute
      militarisation of the state. Yet, the signs are all too evident.
      Jammu and Kashmir, which is not the only border state in the country,
      is heavily burdened by the presence of defence forces, BSF, CRPF and
      other para-military forces and multiplying the local police
      battalions, besides arming the SPOs and VDCs. Additionally all the
      central forces enjoy unlimited powers and unlimited impunity due to
      prevalence of draconian laws and the police force too enjoys extra-
      constitutional powers, all in the name of security. This is a paradox
      in the face of the fact that even as per government own admission, as
      well as the statements of various security agencies, there is a
      substantial decline in militancy related violence in Jammu and
      Kashmir. All these are signs of militarisation that is so badly
      impacting the life of the civilians, denying a healthy democratic
      space and the much needed civil liberties which stand threatened with
      so many men in uniform virtually breathing down the necks of the
      people, especially in the rural areas.
      A natural follow up of the decline in militants and militancy related
      violence should have been a reduction in the presence of troops and
      curbing the unlimited powers given to the men in uniform. Even a
      proposed peace process and engagement with the separatists should
      have been preceded by a move to demilitarise the state. This could
      have been one of the major confidence building measures besides
      addressing the human rights issue and imperative for greater
      inclusion of people. Instead, the powers of the security forces and
      the police have been strengthened to the extent that the forces have
      become the unquestioned holy cows with no accountability for their
      acts of omission and commission. Jammu and Kashmir today is one of
      the most militarised zones in the world and this cannot either be
      denied or solely attributed to the fact that this is a border state.
      This state alone does not share its troublesome borders with
      Pakistan. There are several other states that do. Besides, the forces
      do not simply man the borders, they are present in every nook and
      corner of the state, the ratio working out to one armed man in
      uniform for every twenty five persons. Such a scenario can be a major
      stumbling block in the peace process. If security scenario has
      improved, there is no reason why a phased withdrawal of forces should
      not begin. And if security is still quoted to be the pretext, there
      are several areas in the country which intelligence reports warn are
      under severe threat of terror attacks. Then going by this plea, many
      parts of rest of the country including the metropolitan cities too
      should have been militarised. If the security agencies can manage to
      thwart security threats with minimal security apparatus in these
      cities, then why should Jammu and Kashmir be treated any differently?

      o o o

      SOUTH ASIAN AGENDA FOR JAMMU & KASHMIR

      by Madanjeet Singh

      The communal fanatics will not give up unless they are reduced to
      nonentities in a secular configuration of South Asia’s unity in
      diversity, as in the European Union.

      The separatists’ bullet that killed the moderate Hurriyat leader,
      Fazl Haque Qureshi, also wounded Home Minister Chidambaram’s “quiet
      diplomacy” for settling the Kashmir problem by making the Line of
      Control between India and Pakistan “just lines on a map,” as Prime
      Minister Manmohan Singh said in Srinagar on March 24, 2006. The
      doubts about the government’s credibility aired by the Qureshi
      assassins was disproved by the withdrawal of two Army divisions
      (about 30,000 troops) from Jammu and Kashmir over the last year and
      there are plans to pull back more troops if the law and order
      situation continues to improve, according to a statement made by
      Defence Minister A.K. Antony on December 18, 2009 (The Hindu,
      December 19, 2009).

      A.G. Noorani’s article, “Agenda for Kashmir” (Frontline, December 18,
      2009), lays out the four main points on which an India-Pakistan
      consensus seems to exist. They are self-governance or self-rule for
      both the Indian and Pakistani parts of the State — “real empowerment
      of the people,” as the Prime Minister stated on February 25, 2006;
      making the LoC an open border for trade and commerce; a joint
      management mechanism for both parts; and demilitarisation. Mr.
      Noorani has proposed a draft for a new Article 370 of the
      Constitution that is in step with the fifth Working Group’s
      recommendations to let the people of Jammu & Kashmir decide on
      Article 370.

      The “Agenda for Kashmir” is on the same wave length as my article
      published in The Times of India (March 6, 1999) — about which I was
      unaware until journalist N. Ram, whom I met for the first time in
      Khajuraho, informed me as we were going to attend the millennium
      celebration of the ancient Hindu temples, inaugurated by President K.
      R. Narayanan. Evidently the current Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu was
      in accord with what I had written, for he had heavily underlined most
      of the text, as I discovered from a copy of the newspaper slipped
      under the door of my hotel room. “Should common sense prevail,” I
      wrote in that piece, “the first step is obviously to solve the
      problem of Kashmir, which is difficult but not impossible if leaders
      on both sides realise the enormous human and material resources they
      would be saving for the economic benefit of their people by formally
      stabilising the present ‘line of control’ in Kashmir agreed upon in
      1972.” I further pointed out that now that both India and Pakistan
      had openly become nuclear weapon powers, neither country could
      further its own interests in Kashmir by force of arms.

      [. . .]
      http://www.hindu.com/2009/12/29/stories/2009122955860800.htm


      o o o

      SAFE HAVEN FOR WOMEN BEATEN AND ABUSED IN KASHMIR

      For the past two decades, domestic violence has been a low priority
      in one of India's most troubled regions. But a bold initiative is now
      addressing the issue – bringing Hindus and Muslims together, reports
      Andy Buncombe
      http://tinyurl.com/yddfdw3

      _____


      [6] India:

      A DANGEROUS MOVE: AMENDING THE RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT WOULD BE A
      RETROGRADE STEP

      by Aruna Roy

      BEFORE ANY debate starts, we must remind ourselves that India has a
      tendency of corruption. India, though a democracy, has a history of
      reported corruption cases. While the Chief Justice of India, KG
      Balakrishnan, has demanded that PM Manmohan Singh amend the RTI Act
      to ‘protect’ the judiciary from ‘intrusive’ queries, what needs to be
      kept in mind is that the proposed amendments will totally defeat the
      purpose of an RTI Act.

      The proposed amendments include introducing an exemption for so-
      called ‘vexatious and frivolous’ applications, and excluding from the
      purview of the RTI Act access to ‘file notings’ and decision-making
      processes, this time by excluding ‘discussions or consultations that
      take place before arriving at a decision’. Two contemporary nation-
      wide studies, one done under the aegis of the Government of India and
      the other by people’s organisations (RTI Assessment and
      Accountability Group and the National Campaign for People’s Right to
      Information), have both concluded that the main constraints faced by
      the government in providing information are inadequate
      implementation, the lack of training for staff and poor record
      management. They have also identified the lack of awareness and
      harassment of the applicants as two major constraints that prevent
      citizens from exercising their right to information. Despite
      interviewing thousands of Public Information Officers, neither study
      concluded that frivolous or vexatious applications were frequent
      enough to pose a threat to governance or to the RTI regime in general.

      It is strongly believed that it is impossible to come up with
      definitions of ‘vexatious’ and ‘frivolous’ that are not completely
      subjective and, consequently, prone to rampant misuse by officials.
      Would it be fair to judge a decision (or the decision maker) without
      knowing why such a decision was taken and what facts and arguments
      were advanced in its favour and what against? Can one hold a
      government (or an official) accountable, on the basis of what they
      did or did not do without knowing the reasons for their action or
      inaction? Moreover, it’s too early to propose changes to an Act which
      hasn’t even been fully implemented. Section 4, which states that all
      public authorities are supposed to duly catalogue, index and publish
      their records, is yet to be implemented.
      The government must initiate public debate to strengthen the Act,
      rather than amending it

      We, the people of India, already directly or indirectly know the
      decisions of the government, for we are the ones who bear the
      consequences. What the RTI Act facilitated was a right to know who
      took those decisions and the reasons why the decisions were taken.
      Our right to information is part of the bedrock of democracy. It
      cannot be separated or diluted without denying us our fundamental
      rights.

      It is significant that even among Information Commissioners from
      across India, whom the government recently “consulted”, the
      overwhelming consensus was against any amendment to the RTI Act at
      this stage.

      The government, therefore, should abandon this ill-advised push to
      amend the Act. Instead, it should initiate a public debate on the
      problems that it might be facing in implementing the Act. It is only
      through such a public debate that a lasting and credible way can be
      found to strengthen the RTI regime.

      At a time when there is a popular consensus to strengthen it through
      rules and better implementation, an amendment in the Act would be an
      obviously retrograde step. The fear is that political pressures
      influence our PM. A decision on this issue should be taken after
      careful consideration. If the wrong decision is taken, severe
      criticism is bound to follow. We strongly urge that an unequivocal
      decision be taken to refrain from amending the RTI Act.

      Roy is a social activist based in Rajasthan
      From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 50, Dated December 19, 2009

      o o o

      HEART OF DARKNESS
      by Dilip Simeon

      sacw.net 2 January 2010
      http://www.sacw.net/article1314.html

      In 2006 I attended a discussion on Naxalism that included a retired
      police officer and a Maoist spokesman. The policeman called for soul-
      searching from the political class, whom he blamed for the rise of
      left-extremism. He defended the Salwa Judum, a force funded by
      corporates and supported by both Congress and BJP, whose atrocities
      are documented and whose existence was questioned by India’s chief
      justice.

      The Maoist spokesman denounced the despotism of the Indian state —
      ironic, considering that he was freely espousing violent revolution
      from a public platform. I welcomed the call for introspection and
      asked whether officialdom too did not need to look within? Wasn’t
      Maoist violence symptomatic of something more far-reaching?

      I asked whether only Naxalites indulge in lawless behaviour. Isn’t
      there evidence of politicians and policemen enabling massacres in
      1984 and 2002? Thousands were killed by hooligans patronised by
      mainstream parties, but none of the instigators has been punished.
      Doesn’t our establishment regularly protect criminals? Jihadi
      violence is rightly denounced as terrorism, but why are communalists
      of another colour hailed as patriots?

      During the Babri Masjid demolition campaign, a retired DGP of Uttar
      Pradesh joined the VHP and called for India’s Muslims to be stripped
      of voting rights. Charged with hatred, this campaign cost the lives
      of some 1500 citizens in 1990 and 3000 in 1992. Some years ago a
      retired director of the CBI exhorted the Bajrang Dal’s ’patriotic’
      activities at its annual function. Senior retired functionaries of
      RAW openly sympathise with the RSS.

      Officers in UP and Maharashtra have been promoted despite strictures
      against them by commissions of inquiry. People are entitled to hold
      extreme views, however much we may dislike them. The question is that
      of using one’s formal power to promote lawlessness. It is here that
      every mainstream party carries a burden of guilt.

      Conversely, many serving officers paid a price for upholding the
      Constitution. A senior police officer of Gujarat testified about the
      government’s incitement of criminal activities in 2002. He was
      transferred and denied his promotion. Several officers in Gujarat
      were transferred for curbing communal rioters. If Maoism is a
      challenge to Indian security; how may we describe the elite’s own
      brand of extremism?

      In a recently televised discussion, P Chidambaram was asked about
      land acquisition. (A report by the rural development ministry has
      referred to corporate activities in mineral-rich regions as "the
      biggest grab of tribal lands since Columbus.") Dodging the question,
      Chidambaram discussed the benefits of modernity. He did not address
      Schedule 5, that protects tribal land from appropriation; nor its
      systematic violation. The devastation of scheduled areas shows that
      the question is not of ’development’, but development of what kind
      and at whose cost.

      On November 20, two Adivasis were killed by the Orissa police in
      Koraput district. They had joined a demonstration by the Chasi Mulia
      Adivasi Sangha against atrocities committed during combing
      operations. Tribals speak of beatings, abuse and confiscation of
      agricultural implements. Meanwhile a satyagraha march protesting the
      reign of terror in Chhattisgarh has been prevented from reaching
      Dantewada. Gandhian activists are assaulted by the police for
      refusing to co-operate with the Salwa Judum. Does the law of the land
      not apply to Chhattisgarh? If the Union can assist the states fight
      insurgency, must it not also safeguard constitutional freedoms?

      For their part, Maoists speak of the ongoing war against India’s
      people. But war is the central motif of their politics. Having
      launched "peoples’ war" 42 years ago, they now want the support of
      democratic opinion. Can assassination be a democratic right? The
      Maoist programme works in tandem with the communalists and corporates
      to further erode human rights. It is not capitalists but the poor who
      pay the price. After the Maoists assassinated a VHP Swami in
      Kandhamal in August 2008, the Sangh Parivar assaulted Christian
      villagers, resulting in massive displacements and deaths. The
      comrades left the people to their fate. Collateral damage yet again.

      In November 1947 the AICC warned that "the activities of the Muslim
      National Guards, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Akali
      Volunteers and such other organisations… represent an endeavour to
      bring into being private armies, (and) must be regarded as a menace
      to the hard-won freedom of the country." The proliferation of private
      armies in India over the decades proves the foresight of this
      warning. "Once crime was as solitary as a cry of protest"; said
      Albert Camus; "now it is as universal as science. Yesterday it was
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