Editorial 1 / Out of tune
Editorial 2 / Beyond rhetoric
Generals and foragers
Fifth Column / Here is his quota of trouble
Caught on the blind side
Document / Caring for them and their children
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / OUT OF TUNE 
 
 
 
 
It was a common assumption that utopian ideas had made an exit from the Congress after Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi withdrew from the party’s affairs. Obviously, such an assumption is misplaced. This is suggested by Ms Sonia Gandhi’s recommendation to the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that India should not rely too much on outside support for the country’s battle against terrorism. She reminded the prime minister that it was primarily India’s responsibility to fight terrorism. This statement, if it serves any purpose at all, only underlines Ms Gandhi’s and therefore the Congress’s distance from the prevailing reality. The phenomenon of terrorism, as events have so graphically and so horribly shown, is no longer a localized one. The violence that is rooted in Islamic fundamentalism has acquired global dimensions. To believe that India, on its own, can fight and win a war against this kind of terrorism is to harbour the delusion that utopia is reality. For the first time, a global coalition has been formed to fight terrorism across the globe. India has joined this battle because it sees in this united endeavour the best possible opportunity for eradicating Pakistan-sponsored violence in Jammu and Kashmir. To conclude from this that the Indian government has abdicated its responsibility for tackling terrorism in India’s most violence-prone state is to take a most exaggerated view of things. The Indian government has merely tried to maximize the possible, which is another way of saying that it is being realistic.

One obvious explanation for Ms Gandhi’s statement is that she, like any other opposition leader, tried to score a point off the government in a public meeting. But the problem is perhaps a little deeper than that. Ever since the events of September 11, the Congress has appeared a bit wobbly in its foreign policy formulations. It is not that its condemnation of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have been muted. Rather, its support to the initiatives of the United States of America has not been full-throated. Anti-Americanism has very old roots in Congress politics, harking back as it does to Indira Gandhi. Belonging to this tradition, Ms Gandhi finds it difficult to accept the present government’s foreign policy orientation even though the orientation is only a continuation of the revolution in Indian foreign policy authored by Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao. There is another angle to Ms Gandhi’s statement. The Congress has been trying to regain the support of the Muslims which it has lost. The Congress is thus not too comfortable with a complete endorsement of the US’s bombing of Afghanistan. Whatever the compulsions, Ms Gandhi should appreciate that terrorism cannot be countered in isolation and that India cannot afford to be out of tune with global currents.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BEYOND RHETORIC 
 
 
 
 
Electoral politics is not necessarily a dependable guide to a government’s diplomatic priorities. Contrary to hasty conclusions in some circles, Ms Khaleda Zia’s new regime in Bangladesh may not do anything to revive old suspicions about the country’s attitude to militants in India’s northeastern states. Those who recall that Ms Zia had earlier called the militants “freedom fighters” miss the changed contexts. Opposition politics, not only in Bangladesh, often indulges in rhetoric which becomes untenable for a ruling party. It has been insinuated that Pakistan may put pressure on the new government in Dhaka to allow the northeastern insurgents to reopen their training camps or resume operations of bank accounts inside Bangladesh which were closed by the previous government of Ms Hasina Wajed. Pakistan may have its own interests in trying to destabilize sensitive border areas of India. But it is difficult to see what Bangladesh would gain by sheltering or otherwise aiding insurgents from Assam, Tripura or Meghalaya. Besides, supporting any form of cross-border militancy will certainly be frowned upon by the international community in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Over the past decade, Bangladesh’s relations with India have been shaped more by economic realities than by jingoistic politics. The volume of trade between the two countries increased sharply during Ms Zia’s first term in office from 1991 to 1996. Much of this trade expansion had happened between Bangladesh and the northeastern states of India. The decades-old dispute over Bangladesh’s right of passage through the Tin Bigha corridor in north Bengal was settled in 1993, despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s opposition to it. Even the first draft of the agreement on the sharing of Ganga water at the Farakka barrage was readied during Ms Zia’s first tenure as prime minister, though the pact was eventually signed in December, 1996, when Ms Wajed had taken over.

It is only to be expected that there would be some differences in perception between Ms Zia’s Bangladesh National Party and Ms Wajed’s Awami League on India-Bangladesh relations. The BNP favours regional or multilateral arrangements more than bilateral ones with all member-countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. But that did not deter Ms Zia’s previous government from entering into trade and other negotiations with India. It is possible that the new Bangladesh government would like India to enter into deals in gas exploration and other projects in that country. The Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, struck the right note in promptly congratulating Ms Zia on her “emphatic” electoral success and offering to continue friendly relations. She would like the gesture to be matched by actions such as opening up the market in India’s Northeast for Bangladeshi goods, easing tariff barriers on Indian imports and generally reducing the trade gap with India.

   

 
 
GENERALS AND FORAGERS 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 

“When that the general is not like the hive, To whom the foragers shall all repair, What honey is expected?”

— Ulysses, in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

The world watches, almost as if it were mesmerized, as the taliban is punished for the carnage of September 11. That is what it is, no more and no less. All the windy rhetoric about the global fight against terrorism is just that, windy rhetoric, nothing else. There has been terrorism in the world for many years now; there has been terrorist violence in Britain, in Spain, in France and in Germany; terrorists have slaughtered thousands in Algeria, and in Sri Lanka, and we have had the blood of hundreds of innocent people draining into the soil of Kashmir and the Northeast. But it was something discussed by urbane diplomats in urbane meetings, as they tried out various definitions of terrorism, and then went about their business. It had to be brought to the United States of America, the arbiter of events and issues, for it to become, quite suddenly, a world problem demanding immediate action.

And there have, of course, been violent reactions, precursors of further terrorist attacks on innocent people; rage and hatred have spilled out in the blaze of riots across Pakistan, Palestine and other places, and there is no doubt this will grow. George W. Bush or Tony Blair may say what they like about the attacks being directed against the terrorist taliban regime; the Islamic world will see this as an attack on Afghanistan, on Islam, and fanatics and fundamentalists will then inevitably devise their agenda on the anger and hatred that have been successfully stoked not only by the American-led attacks, but by the singular inability of the US and Britain to convince the Islamic world that it was Osama bin Laden who was behind the events of September 11.

An exasperated BBC correspondent based in Oman recently said that all the talking that the US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, did during his visit to the Gulf (and, by extension all that other interlocutors did) fell on deaf ears. Such proof as was given of bin Laden’s complicity was too little and too late. As he said, Osama bin Laden is a popular figure in the Gulf countries, and a number of people he spoke to in Saudi Arabia were overcome with emotion at the US-led attacks on Afghanistan. Much could have been done, was what he was saying, and it was not. It was clear from what he said that much sharper reactions could now be expected.

In the final analysis, then, what is branded into the consciousness of an inflamed Islamic world is that an Islamic country, impoverished, with hardly any defence, was being punished for a crime they had not committed; someone hiding in Afghanistan may have, but they had no evidence of that. Meanwhile, Afghans were paying for it, in terrible terms.

While the failure of communication has to be deplored, a failure not made any better by the manner in which bags of food were literally flung at the Afghans near the border, there is one basic fact that appears to this writer as vital. This is that the action by the US and their friends was inevitable. Not only because Bush needed to appease American sentiment, but because order has to be maintained in the world, as in a classroom, as in a fractious, turbulent country. The maintenance of order means that the superpower must not be attacked, and if it is, punishment must be meted out.

The world is ordered in a particular way; that has to be kept inviolate. Order is important, and if it goes, then chaos is bound to set in. This, in essence, is what the shrewd Ulysses says in Troilus and Cressida; the lines at the beginning of this essay are part of his successful attempt to persuade Agamemnon to stand up and play the role of a leader. It may appear repugnant, and the idea may provoke outrage. Unfortunately, the most outraged are the ones who manage lucrative fellowships to various institutions in the US; and if they do not, they make sure their children do. Not to accept this fact is to delude ourselves, to take shelter behind hypocrisy, which is, of course, an art in which we have become quite skilled.

If one needs any proof of this one has only to look at what happened across the world when the American economy shuddered after the bombings on September 11. Markets all over became shaky, stocks plummeted, and even today many sectors of the world economy have yet to recover from the aftershocks. The US airlines, brought to their knees a few weeks ago, seem to have recovered, and half of the major airlines have declined government assistance. The European airlines which also went into a tailspin as a result, are still in bad shape. This can be taken as a metaphor for what has happened to the global economy. No country can comfort itself that it is immune from what happens to Big Brother.

What the attacks will finally do will be to restate the benchmarks in the world; not redefine, but restate. The benchmarks are there, and have to be seen to be there. Everything else follows from that. Hence it will cause no surprise that there is little interest in whether the violent reactions to the attacks may result in the weakening of some governments, and may even bring one or two down. What matters is that punishment is meted out, and that the world realize punishment will always follow an act of violence committed, be it clearly understood, against the one country that matters, the United States of America.

This is not something to take to the streets about, as one has explained. It is in the nature of things. The US is the hive, and a hive has to have honey for all the “foragers” to flourish, as Ulysses smoothly put it to Agamemnon. Take away the honey and you take away the foragers, take away the foragers and you have a dead hive. So the hive must have honey; it is the way of the world. This is something which the crusaders against the US and against war would do well to keep in mind. The expression of moral indignation is all very well, so long as the structure of the world as it is, as it has to be, inevitably, for honey to flow, for all the green cards to come into hot little hands, remains roughly what it is.

Self-interest is, finally, all. The US is acting because of that, so is Britain, and so are we. So is the wretched, fearful Pervez Musharraf, caught between a rock and a very hard place. One is not asking for acquiescence; in fact, one is not asking for anything. All one is doing is pointing out what some of the ground realities are, realities which mean we all need our honey, in the end, and have to know how to get it. The prime minister realized this fairly early on, and has been realistic enough to act on that realization, as virtually everyone else has. Honey’s the name of the game.

The author is former secretary,ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / HERE IS HIS QUOTA OF TROUBLE 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
 
Reservation still remains a thorn in Babulal Marandi’s brittle bed of roses. Though the Jharkhand chief minister is busy arming the judicial machinery to snare Laloo Prasad Yadav in the fodder scandal trials, the quota row is unlikely to die a silent death.

The heat over the controversial criteria for procuring domicile certificates and the whopping 73 per cent reservation in government jobs simmers beneath the surface. The Adivasi Janadhikar Manch led by a Bharatiya Janata Party member of parliament from Mayurbhanj is lining up a mega “rage-show” to protest the quota system.

What rankles is the percentage demarked for reservation. It goes against the Supreme Court cap of 50 per cent and risks a court injunction. Marandi has appealed to the Centre to include it in the ninth schedule of the Constitution to escape an apex court stay.

According to the break-up, scheduled tribes are entitled to 34 per cent reservation, scheduled castes 12 per cent and other backward classes 27 per cent. Strangely, tribals constitute only 29 per cent of the state’s population whereas non-tribals and the backward castes make up for the rest.

Marandi has played the ethnic card to appease his tribal brethren but they are far from satisfied. A large number of ethnic groups are clamouring for 60 per cent reservation. Riots erupted in Ranchi after the announcement of the policies. Tribal activists under the banner of the Janadhikar Manch and the Adivasi Chhatra Sangh took to the streets in protest. The groups were apparently backed by the church, which still has considerable say in the affairs of tribal converts.

Divide and rue

So, where does this leave the vast multitude of the backward castes who outnumber the tribals in at least seven districts? Members of the backward Momeen community, weavers by tradition, courted arrest in a show of defiance. They were demanding 20 per cent reservation for the Muslim minorities.

The demographic composition of Jharkhand is complex. Though it is essentially tribal in nature, Jharkhand is home to at least 24 backward and scheduled castes, besides a large number of Muslim sub-groups. The backward castes include weavers, potters and the Mahji (fishermen) communities, mostly settlers from Bengal. Several marginalized groups like the extremely backward castes, who were listed for reservation under the erstwhile Rashtriya Janata Dal government in undivided Bihar, now face an uncertain future. They have been left out of the quota fold.

The reservation policy has also driven a wedge between the Sarnas (animist) and the tribal converts. While the dominant Sarnas (specially the Mundas and the Mahatos) have bagged the lion’s share of the quota, the converts feel left out. Christian converts, who have been officially stripped of their tribal status under the new reservation policy, now fall under the category of “religious minorities” and hence are entitled to a paltry share of the reservation pie.

Those on the sideline

The move aims at alienating the powerful Christian lobby. The National Democratic Front or rather the BJP in Jharkhand has been trying to woo the floating Sarna population since it consolidated its base after the 1995 assembly polls. The Sarnas, with their affinity to Hinduism, were roped in by the BJP through a number of populist gimmicks. The Mahatos pledged support to the BJP en masse and were rewarded with 27 per cent reservation in the process. However, the erudite Mahatos are now seeking re-inclusion in the ST list from which they were unceremoniously dropped after the 1931 census.

The church wields considerable influence on the Oraon, Santhal and the Ho tribals owing to largescale conversion. These groups allege that “they have not been taken into confidence by the NDA government prior to fixing the quota.” Also, the SC and the Muslim communities, the traditional left and the secular vote banks, have been sidelined.

For the thousands of Bengali, Oriya and Hindi-speaking settlers, the quota policy is a death blow. Chances of outsiders procuring government jobs in their adopted state appear remote. One of the criteria for domicile policy which states that applicants must have their names in the land survey record (last conducted in the Thirties) can rightfully be interpreted as a marching order of sorts for the scores of settlers who have made Jharkhand their home for decades.

   

 
 
CAUGHT ON THE BLIND SIDE 
 
 
BY SUMANTRA BANERJEE
 
 
Pakistan just can’t believe its luck. If it isn’t a multi-million dollar gift cheque, then it’s the rescheduling of even larger amounts of debt. Sanctions are being lifted post-haste. And it is not only the United States of America, but the entire “anti- terrorism” coalition of nations, including countries like Japan, that are falling over each other to distribute this largesse.

There is enough evidence that Pakistan is a terrorist incubation centre for many years now. It is bewildering, and perhaps a little enviable, that Pakistan should acquire the status of today’s new champion of anti-terrorism, crowned thus by no less a person than the American president himself. General Pervez Musharraf is now anointed the Captain Kirk of anti-terrorism, and his starship, Pakistan, lauded by the US government as a Muslim nation that has boldly dared to go where no other has ventured before. Which makes one wonder, is America blind? Many ask, why couldn’t America form the same partnership with India with whom the US has common cause against terrorism? The anxiety is that Pakistan will become stronger after receiving arms and financial assistance and this will result in escalation of terrorist attacks on India.

Much is said about the US’s machine intelligence and its state- of-the-art aerial imaging (spy satellites and spy planes taking aerial photographs of exceptional clarity). Besides, the Central Intelligence Agency may have been downsized over the years, but it isn’t defunct. Its intelligence sources would have also briefed the authorities on terrorist training camps in Pakistan.

Reinforce that with the data fed to the US by India on terrorist promotion activities in Pakistan. Add to it the briefings given to the US by Northern Alliance. Masood’s brother was recently on BBC where he condemned Pakistan most eloquently. Under these circumstances, it is hard to believe that the US is unaware of the realities as they exist on the ground. Which brings us back to the question, if America is not blind, then why this act of teaming up with Pakistan? Politics makes strange bedfellows, certainly, but this is almost absurd. In its war against terrorism, why would the US join hands with a country that has been championing terrorism so far?

To unravel this mystery, the starting point has to be an examination of the key issues as they exist for the US at the present time.

The exercise must not be perceived by the world as yet one more act of aggression by the Americans. It therefore has to be a multi-nation exercise. Much progress has been made in this area in the last three weeks, thanks to the firm yet reasoned approach of the secretary of state. Whatever happens, the US has to ensure that the attack on terrorism does not snowball into a Muslim versus non-Muslim war. Words like “crusade” and “infinite justice” used initially almost derailed the coalition process.

The partnership established by the US with another country in the region for the Afghanistan exercise must meet the tactical requirements of war. The choice of partner must address any contingent strategic risks that exist for the US.

In spite of the magnitude of the slaughter on September 11, most Muslim countries would have parked themselves on the fence if it wasn’t for Colin Powell calling in firmly on the IOU’s from the past and making veiled threats for the future These countries, even the moderate ones, are nervous about openly supporting the US, wary about the backlash that might be there from the fundamentalist segment in their country.

The governments of most of these countries are desperately attempting to wriggle out with a posture that appeases both the Americans and the radicals. Some, therefore, verbally extend support to the US, but put in a qualifier that any attack must be backed by the United Nations. Others extend support but ask for proof of Osama bin Laden’s complicity before any war is waged. The US needs explicit support from a Muslim country to demonstrate without any ambiguity that this is not a Muslim versus Rest of the World shooting match. What better way to do so than walk into war arm in arm with Pakistan. This addresses both the multi-nation objective as well as the Muslim- non-Muslim issue.

The next point relates to tactical advantage in case of war. Afghanistan is land-locked. Pakistan has a long common border with Afghanistan and this facilitates ready access into the country. There would be no need to fly over another country with its attendant problems. Hardware such as aircraft, rocket launchers, and other such weapons of war can be based in Pakistan if required. Compared to India, Pakistan offers considerable tactical advantage by virtue of its proximity, common border and thorough knowledge of Afghanistan and the taliban.

After September 11, ideas such as terrorist-triggered nuclear attacks or germ warfare are no longer considered signs of paranoia. Pakistan is unstable politi-cally, yet it has a nuclear arsenal. The US finds it an unacceptable strategic risk that such weapons might find their way into the wrong hands if the present government in Pakistan should topple. The US desperately needs the Musharraf government to continue, in order to mitigate this risk. And therein lies the General’s strength.

Now that Pakistan is the regional partner for the US, many ask, will Pakistan be riding high? That is doubtful. The General has been branded a traitor by the fundamentalists. Bin Laden couldn’t be very pleased with him either. The taliban must be a bit peeved too. The General is sitting on a ticking time bomb in the form of a possible civil war if events go out of control. He also has millions of Afghan refugees knocking on his door. And having waxed eloquent on international television against terrorism, his activities against India need to be even more clandestine.

September 11 taught the world one lesson. Terrorism in this part of the world, including Kashmir, may be a local product, but it lends itself extremely well to export. No longer can it be ignored on the grounds that it does not affect Americans. The product may be locally manufactured but it is high technology, extremely effective and lethal. And it can, and has been, exported with devastating results.

Therefore, terrorism in third world countries cannot be put on a different footing any longer. It will come knocking on first world doors again if incubation centres around the world, where it is being nurtured to its virulent form, are not destroyed completely. The US and the free world owe this to the thousands of innocent victims who have perished in Kashmir, the Pentagon, the World Trade Center. The world must believe an innocent life lost in Kashmir is no less significant than a life lost in Manhattan.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / CARING FOR THEM AND THEIR CHILDREN 
 
 
 
 
Operational strategies to converge service delivery at village levels include the following: 1. utilize village self help groups to organize and provide basic services for reproductive and child health care, combined with the ongoing integrated Child Development Scheme. Village self help groups are in existence through centrally sponsored schemes of: department of women and child development, ministry of rural development, and ministry of environment and forests. Organize neighbourhood acceptor groups, provide them with a revolving fund that may be accessed for income generation activities. The groups may establish rules of eligibility, interest rates, accountability for which capital may be advanced...Two trained birth attendants and the aanganwadi worker should be members...

2. Implement at village levels a one-stop integrated and coordinated service delivery package for basic healthcare, family planning and maternal and child health related services.... Train and motivate the village self-help acceptor groups to become the primary contact at household levels. Once every fortnight, these acceptor groups will meet, and provide at one place 6 different services for registration of births, deaths, marriage and pregnancy, weighing of children under 5 years..., counseling and advocacy for contraception, plus free supply of contraceptives; preventive care, with availability of basic medicines for common ailments..., nutrition supplements; and advocacy and encouragement for the continued enrolment of children in school upto age 14. One health staff, appointed by the panchayat, will be suitably trained to provide guidance...

3. Wherever these village self-help groups have not developed for any reason, community midwives, practitioners of Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy, retired school teachers and ex-defence personnel may be organized into neighbourhood groups to perform similar functions.

4. At village levels, the aanganwadi centre may become the pivot of basic healthcare activities, contraceptive counseling and supply, nutrition education and supplementation, as well as pre-school activities. The aanganwadi centres can also function as depots for oral rehydration salts/basic medicines and contraceptives.

5. A maternity hut should be established in each village to be used as the village delivery room... It should be adequately equipped with kits for midwifery, ante-natal care, and delivery; basic medication for obstetric emergency aid; contraceptives, drugs and medicines for common ailments; and indigenous medicines/ supplies for maternal and new-born care. The panchayat may appoint a competent and mature mid-wife, to look after this village maternity hut....

6. Trained birth attendants as well as the vast pool of traditional dais should be made familiar with emergency and referral procedures. This will greatly assist the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife at the subcentres to monitor and respond to maternal morbidity/emergencies at village levels.

7. Each village may maintain a list of community mid-wives, village health guides, panchayat sewa sahayaks, trained birth attendants, practitioners of indigenous systems of medicine, primary school teachers and other relevant persons, as well as the nearest institutional health care facilities... These persons may also be helpful in involving civil society in monitoring availability, quality and accessibility of reproductive and child health services; in disseminating education and communication....,with emphasis on education of the girl child and female participation in the work force.

8. Provide a wider basket of choices in contraception, through innovative social marketing schemes to reach household levels.

Meaningful decentralization will result only if the convergence of the national family welfare programme with the ICDS programme is strengthened. The focus of the ICDS programme of nutrition improvement at village levels and on pre-school activities must be widened to include maternal and child healthcare services. Convergence of several related activities at service delivery levels with, in particular, the ICDS programme, is critical for extending outreach and increasing access to services. Intersectoral coordination with appropriate training and sensitization among field functionaries will facilitate dissemination of integrated reproductive and child health services to village and household levels. People will willingly cooperate in the registration of births, deaths, marriages and pregnancies if they perceive some benefit. At the village level, this community meeting every fortnight, may become their most convenient access to basic health care, both for maternal and child health, as well as for common ailments. Households may participate to receive integrated service delivery, along with information about ongoing micro-credit and thrift schemes. Government and non-government functionaries will be expected to function in harmony... The panchayat will promote this coordination and exercise effective supervision.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Rude kick

Sir — It is shocking to see the treatment meted out to the Brazilian team, Palmeiras, at the final of the Indian Football Association shield match (“Mayhem kicks off abandonment”, Oct 8). Soccer violence and tough play have been accepted as a part of the game and to tackle this menace, proper measures should be adopted by the match organizers. But intervention by law enforcers and lathi wielding against the visiting team is nothing but a heinous crime. It is true that the attitude of the warring players was a shame and the abandonment of the prestigious final has indeed tarnished the image of Indian soccer. The Brazilians had to return to their country with a trophy bought at their own expense and this was as a result of the failure on the part of the tournament committee to come to a decision. The complaint lodged by the Brazilians to FIFA may prove ominous for the future of Indian soccer. One can hope that the chief of FIFA, Joseph Blatter, just reprimands the Indian officials and does not resort to a stricter course of action.

Yours faithfully,
Shouvik Basu, via email

Beat ‘em and feed ‘em

Sir — The readiness of the Indian goverment to cooperate with the US in its war against the taliban regime in Afganistan will hurt the sentiments of the minority community in India. This will have serious repercussions affecting the secular character of the state. Democratic, secular and progressive forces must strongly protest against this surrender of Indians’ vital interests to a superpower. The recent airstrike by the US should be condemned in the name of humanity. The US should learn to fight its own battle instead of forcing other countries to support it. Moreover, the attempt by the US to portray the image of a “good nation” by providing food and medicines to the people of the war torn country will not hold for too long. The protest by some of the Islamic countries and organizations is justified.

Yours faithfully,
Ashis Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — With already few days into the attack on Afghanistan and no sign of the surrender of Osama bin Laden till date, there seems to be no definite future to this attack (“Strike back”, Oct 8). The unfortunate victims of the war are the ones who do not have any association with the taliban. What the US wants to prove remains to be seen in due course. At one end the US and the British forces are pounding Afghanistan with the idea of “removing” terrorism and at the same time they are distributing food packets. This does not give a clear picture of the direction they are going in. The words spoken by the US president regarding the dropping of food packets smack of hypocrisy.

Yours faithfully,
S. Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The mention of Kashmir as one of the safe-havens for Osama-bin-Laden is a matter of great concern. However, bin Laden seems to suffer from bouts of amnesia. Recently, he said, “All those who support America (in any manner) in its war against the taliban or Afghanistan are enemies of Islam.” So his statement that “Pakistan is the land of the Pure and the fort of Islam” does not carry any weight. Also Pakistan is plagued by Shia-Sunni clashes and breeds terrorism. Indian Muslims who migrated to Pakistan during the Partition are looked down upon as Mohajirs.

Pakistan has ceased to be the land of the pure because it has violated the basic tenets of Islam which is a tolerant religion that shuns violence, preaches brotherhood and does not discriminate between the rich and the poor. Bin Laden says that Islam prohibits the killing of innocent persons whereas specific instructions in Arabic, to kill the “infidels” in the name of Islam were recovered from the luggage of Mohammad Atta, the linchpin of the 19-member hijacking gang. Bin Laden’s claim that he is innocent and India may be one of the countries behind the September 11 attack on the US is laughable.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Calcutta

Terror at home

Sir — The report, “Mission heartland Simi card in hand” (Oct 4), reveals the desperation among the Bharatiya Janata Party to woo back its voters in the Hindutva constituencies of Uttar Pradesh. They are not playing up the Ram mandir issue now but are determined to use the new card of the Students Islamic Movement in India.

Calculating as it is, the BJP would be cashing in on the anti-terrorist sentiment and justify the two year ban on the Simi. The government has been hasty and biased toward the Simi and has taken undue advantage of the chaos prevailing as a result of the US crisis. The Samajwadi Party leaders such as Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shivpal Yadav have vehemently opposed the ban, demanding an explanation from the Centre. This is laudable. The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, should keep in mind that the voters will be cautious and will refuse to be misled and duped during the approaching UP polls.

Yours faithfully,
A. Chakraborty, via email

Sir — The report, “Cong seeks ‘even-handed’ Bajrang ban” (Sept 29) makes sense because the BJP has turned a blind eye to the activities of organizations like the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena. The Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has also demanded a probe into the Simi ban. It is true that reactionary steps should be condemned but at least a semblance of consistency in decision-making should be maintained.

Yours faithfully,
U. Mukherjee, via email

Sir — The ban on the Simi has come at the right time because today the whole world is fighting against the evils of terrorism. There is no doubt that the Simi has been engaged in preparing a base for anti-India feelings and is furthering the disintegration of the country in the name of religion. India is the only country where synthesis of various religions and beliefs exists. There is an urgent need to maintain communal harmony and the government’s decision is a step in this direction.

Yours faithfully,
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore

Sir — Banning the Simi just shows how low the BJP is stooping to garner support for the forthcoming UP elections. That the Simi was rejoicing at the twin tower attack does not mean it has links to terrorist outfits such as the al-Quaida. In this chaotic situation, especially after the airstrikes by the US, it is possible that issues relating to the Simi will get lost. The opposition parties should not let this happen for the interests of our country.

Yours faithfully
Asif Ahmed, Calcutta.

Tardy action

Sir — Recently, I find that the local post offices do not accept telegrams and advise people to go to the General Post Office. This is inconvenient. The service charges are increasing day by day but facilities provided are dismal. The postal authorities and the West Bengal government should take note of the present situation and try to correct it.

Yours faithfully,
Kamalpat Raj Bhansali, Calcutta

Sir — The hardship of the common man is increasing as a result of the sheer callousness of the postal department. Instances of letters lost in transit and parcels reaching late are common. It is true that the department of post and telegraph is suffering because of subsidies in spite of annual tariff rises. But this is no excuse for the working system. Postal subsidy may be reduced by having the postal tariff increased.

Yours faithfully,
Subhash Chandra Agrawal, New Delhi

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