The Hindu: December 11, 2015
Stay the course on Pakistan talks
The agreement by India and Pakistan to resume structured talks, seven years after the composite dialogue was stopped following the Mumbai terrorist attacks, marks a dramatic improvement in bilateral relations. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Paris on the sidelines of the Climate Conference on November 30, both sides have moved fast to tackle the key challenges that are holding back talks. The breakthrough was achieved at the National Security Adviser-level discussions held in Bangkok on December 6. On the face of it, both sides have signalled that they are ready for a give-and-take approach. Mr. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, both in Opposition and so far in government at the Centre, had opposed any resumption of dialogue without "concrete action" by the Sharif administration on the Mumbai attacks of 2008. For the Pakistanis, mention of Kashmir is a key issue. Mr. Sharif came under sharp criticism at home over the Ufa statement of July which had omitted any reference to Jammu and Kashmir. However, in the joint statement issued in Islamabad on Wednesday, Pakistan has given assurances on an "early completion of the Mumbai attacks trial", and "resolved to cooperate to eliminate" terrorism. India, on the other side, has agreed to include Kashmir on the dialogue agenda.
Despite the agreement to resume talks, guarded optimism must be the dominant mood in New Delhi. It's the Modi government's Pakistan moment. Eighteen months after it came to power, a period that saw an increase in border skirmishes and high-decibel rhetoric, the government finally appears to have realised that there is no alternative to bilateral talks in engaging with Islamabad. While the constructive steps the government has taken in the last 10 days, something which it failed to do in the past 18 months, are really commendable, it has to be realistic about the challenges ahead. Mr. Modi is venturing into a path his predecessors had tested and retreated from. The Manmohan Singh government had tried to kick-start stalled discussions through the "resumed dialogue" process, which met with the same fate of the composite dialogue following the killing of Indian soldiers almost three years ago. In the past, every time there was forward momentum in India-Pakistan ties, there were attempts by non-state and extra-state actors on the Pakistan side to derail the process. Though it's too early to predict the outcome of the comprehensive dialogue, it can be certainly seen that the proposal, which will have all the "pillars" of the India-Pakistan relationship, including economic ties, people-to-people contacts and high-level interaction, is a promising beginning. Both sides have time to build a strong foundation of renewed engagement before Mr. Modi goes to Islamabad next September. The agenda is wider this time. What is needed, and crucial, is the political will to stay the course irrespective of the challenges, and avoiding playing to the gallery. New Delhi particularly has to internalise the logic of growing the constituency for peace within Pakistan, in India's own national interest, and therefore desist from unnecessary attempts at points-scoring.
The equipment required for a task or sport.
A sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development
A positive declaration intended to give confidence; a promise.
An episode of irregular or unpremeditated fighting, especially between small or outlying parts of armies or fleets.
The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.
A person who held a job or office before the current holder.
(of an army) withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat.
Cause (a train or trolley car) to leave its tracks accidentally.
The Hindu: December 11, 2015 02:00 IST
The law and the celebrity
When celebrity status is in conflict with the law, public sentiment will revolve around two narratives. The narrative of power and wealth would suggest high status is a burden, a disadvantage before the judiciary because judges will be chary of being seen as favouring them. The more popular narrative, however, is that the slow criminal justice system is always skewed in favour of celebrities. It will include folk wisdom that even the otherwise fair and strict judiciary will cave in to power and pelf. When an occasional verdict brings down a famous personality, it will be seen as a victory for the citizen and a blow for justice. May 6, 2015 saw such a moment when Mumbai sessions judge D.W. Deshpande handed down a five-year prison sentence to Bollywood star Salman Khan in a hit-and-run case. But cynicism took over before the day was out when he was given bail. Now, before the year is out, a clean acquittal has been recorded in the Bombay High Court, and faith in the justice system has been rocked again — or reaffirmed, depending on which of the two narratives one subscribes to. For the rarefied world of Mumbai stars and socialites, a superstar can do no wrong, and even if he does, the gravity of his offence should be balanced with whatever charitable or humanitarian work he may have done, and the most lenient course adopted. The judge, in this milieu, is a lonely man who has to apply the law and pass a verdict without being swayed by either the status of the individual involved or public opinion.
The judgment of Justice A.R. Joshi acquitting Khan may be sound in law. Yet, it is likely to revive cynicism about the administration of criminal justice in the country. It raises a host of questions, not least of which is about who killed Nurullah Sharif in the September 2002 incident. The judge has termed a key eyewitness, Ravindra Patil, a police bodyguard who is now no more, unreliable. Has it now been accepted that it was Ashok Singh, the actor's driver who claimed responsibility in the latter stages of the trial, who was driving the car that night? If so, is he going to be proceeded against? However, the questions are not limited to the judgment. The police have been exposed for their shoddy investigation. An honest investigation is unlikely to have resulted in doubts being cast on as basic an aspect as the identity of the person at the wheel. Crucial lapses in the handling of the blood samples have been recorded. The judge has ruled that it was not proved either that Khan was driving the car or that he was drunk. Why then does the verdict raise uncomfortable questions? It may be because after three recorded convictions, Salman Khan is yet to be punished
Cautiously or suspiciously reluctant to do something.
Suddenly change direction or position
A large underground chamber, typically of natural origin, in a hillside or cliff.
Money, especially when gained in a dishonest or dishonorable way.
An inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism.
A judgment that a person is not guilty of the crime with which the person has been charged.
(of air, especially that at high altitudes) of lower pressure than usual; thin.
A person's social environment.
Move or cause to move slowly or rhythmically backward and forward or from side to side.
Badly made or done.
A decision on a disputed issue in a civil or criminal case or an inquest.
New spectrum caps may lead to 4G monopoly
In a recent consultation paper on spectrum valuation and reserve price, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or Trai, has proposed a change that has the potential of distorting the playing field. Under the current rules, a telecom service provider cannot own more than 50 per cent of spectrum in any given frequency in a circle and 25 per cent of the total spectrum. This rule applies for spectrum in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, 2,300 MHz and 2,500 MHz frequencies. Trai has now proposed the auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency too. Since this frequency is being sold for the first time, spectrum cap rules for it need to be put in place before the auctions that are likely to take place by March. The regulator proposes that all the frequencies below 1 Gigahertz (700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz) should be pooled together and an ownership cap of 50 per cent on a single telecom service provider should be imposed. It has not proposed any band-specific cap. For frequencies above 1 Gigahertz, too, it has talked of doing away with the band-specific cap of 50 per cent.
This would make it possible for a telecom service provider to own the entire spectrum in a band - most notably in 700 MHz, which will be auctioned for the first time. This frequency, as Trai has noted in the consultation paper, offers very good possibilities for 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) services. Since it is a lower frequency, it offers better signal propagation strength. If a telecom service provider gets the entire band in a circle, it will have a distinct advantage over others, which operate on higher frequencies. Thus far, the core band for 4G LTE services has been 1,800 MHz. But several countries across the globe have started hosting the service on 700 MHz as well. It is fast emerging as a prime band for 4G LTE services. As a result, equipment for this band, as well as handsets, are now easily available - the prices have come down steeply. Since the battleground in India is shifting to data, and 4G LTE offers faster internet connectivity, there is a lot at stake on this frequency. It is the telecom regulator's job to make sure that the rules are not misused by one telecom service provider to monopolise the airwaves in this coveted frequency.
In fact, if the Trai proposal is accepted, it would be technically possible for a telecom service provider to own the entire spectrum in the 800 MHz or 900 MHz bands in a circle, too. In the past, spectrum in these two bands has been auctioned under the old spectrum caps (50 per cent on one band and 25 per cent overall). Telecom service providers had accordingly made their bids under those assumptions. To change the rules midway would be unfair to those companies. Naturally, the Cellular Operators' Association of India has voiced concern. Trai, it is hoped, will take these valid concerns on board.
The exclusive possession or control of the supply or trade in a commodity or service.
The action or process of formally consulting or discussing.
Force (something unwelcome or unfamiliar) to be accepted or put in place.
The spreading of something (a belief or practice) into new regions
In a steep manner; "the street rose steeply up to the castle"
Yearn to possess or have (something).
In the 90-plus years since Time magazine has been naming a "Person of the Year" on its cover, only four women have been featured: Wallis Simpson, Queen Elizabeth II, Corazon Aquino — and now, Angela Merkel. But even without the title conferred by the newsmagazine confirming it, and although Donald Trump wasted no time in taking to Twitter to express his disgruntlement, there can be little doubt that Merkel is indeed a person who "most influenced the news this year for better or worse". The German chancellor was instrumental in the resolution, temporary though it may yet prove to be, of two grand crises — featuring Greece and refugees — that threatened the very idea of Europe.
For better or worse, Merkel played a pivotal role in the biggest stories of the past year, whether it was sabre-rattling with Russia over Ukraine, the game of economic brinkmanship with Greece, the refugee crisis unfolding on Europe's shores or anti-Islamic State airstrikes in the aftermath of Paris. In debt-relief negotiations with Greece, she held the line until the latter's radical-left government capitulated to German terms and conditions, establishing Germany as Europe's pre-eminent economic policymaker. Then, in an act of political courage, she took the lead in opening German borders to the thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, making Germany a moral leader on an issue that brought out the parochial instincts of top European leadership — see, for instance, the toxic views promoted by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Merkel has paid a political price for this policy, but has managed to contain the backlash. Her recent decision to commit German military forces to the anti-IS coalition is an important departure for a nation that has shied away from military conflict after World War II.
In each case, Merkel has stepped up and taken the risk, despite challenges to her stewardship. In doing so, she has cemented Germany's position as the European Union's indispensable nation. Most importantly, she has proven to be a capable custodian of the idea of Europe.
A feeling of sulky discontent
Of crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else.
The art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping, typically in politics.
Cease to resist an opponent or an unwelcome demand; surrender.
(of a person) famous and respected within a particular sphere or profession.
The position of steward
view on Jacob Zuma's economics: not prudent, and a danger for the future
outh Africa is a big country and in some ways a rich country. But, whether in colonial times, in the apartheid era, or during the years of rule by the African National Congress, the combination of volatile prices for the minerals that are its main asset, a constant need for investment from outside, and pressure for better wages and conditions has meant its economy is especially difficult to steer. When poor management at home combines with damaging changes in the world economy, trouble soon follows in South Africa. Unhappily that is very much the case today. President Jacob Zuma's sacking of his respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene this week represents another turn in the country's downward economic spiral.
After the news of Mr Nene's departure, and his replacement by a virtually unknown MP from the ruling party who has little financial or economic experience, the currency tumbled. There was a chorus of complaint from banks and investment houses, and a collective sigh went up from the ANC's well-wishers everywhere. This comes only a week after one major credit agency joined another in downgrading South Africa's credit rating. Junk status, which would have disastrous consequences, is only a step or two away.
There seems little reason to doubt that Mr Nene has been removed because he opposed spending proposals, like those for a new nuclear power station, for supporting a new aircraft leasing deal for South African Airways, and for pay increases for workers, which Mr Zuma wanted to push through. The minister's view was that South Africa, already deep in debt, simply could not afford them, leaving aside other strong arguments against the proposals.
The more fundamental problem is that Mr Zuma understands patronage very well, but seems to have no economic strategy at all. He has packed government departments, other state institutions, and the wholly or partly state-owned companies that have proliferated in South Africa, with people who owe him loyalty in return for the well-paid positions that have come their way. These people, his critics say, will protect him in the future, after he stands down as president in 2019, from the criminal charges that still hang over him, and enable him to remain a power in the land even after he loses formal office. Collectively this network of Mr Zuma's people is a drag on the economy because their pay and benefits eat up a large share of revenue for the little most of them do, and because they are naturally inclined to place no obstacles in the way of the president's fiscal imprudence.
This is not the way to secure the economic growth that South Africa must achieve if it is to even begin to satisfy the needs, let alone the aspirations, of its people. Real unemployment stands at a dismal 35%, youth unemployment is even worse at 50%, and the squatter townships, which were supposed by now to have disappeared or been transformed, are still there. Ordinary South Africans feel they have been shortchanged. Many of the promises of 1994, especially of material progress, have been unfulfilled. They are in rebellious mood, with popular protests and strikes at unprecedented levels. When the government concedes, as it has done over student fees and the pay of some workers, it buys off protest for a while, but also adds to the strain on the indebted economy. The unfortunate truth is that the strong growth that should have come after the crash did not happen. The reasons are various, and not all of them are the government's fault. But under a leader who seems to believe that there is an infinite amount of money in the government coffers, South Africa's difficulties have been hugely compounded.
As long ago as 2011, the National Planning Commission, established by Mr Zuma, concluded in its report that there was a danger that the progress made since the ANC took over could be reversed. Unfortunately that danger seems even closer today.
(in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.
(of a person) guide or control the movement of (a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft), for example by turning a wheel or operating a rudder
The support given by a patron
Increase rapidly in numbers; multiply.
A lack of caution in practical affairs
A person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited building or unused land
Never done or known before.