Editorial 1 / The road back
Editorial 2 / Clear case
A step on a thorny road
Fifth Column / NAM your price to be part of it
Not quite a stranger in the night
Document / For the cause of development
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / THE ROAD BACK 
 
 
 
 
The successful conclusion of the United Nations-sponsored talks in Bonn on the future of Afghanistan will be welcomed. The talks have created a framework and a timetable for the restoration of a representative government in Kabul, but it will be naïve to believe that the Bonn agreement will lead to a quick return of peace and stability in Afghanistan. The talks, initiated by the UN special representative for Afghanistan, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, included four important Afghan groups that have played a critical role in Afghanistan in the past, and have a significant stake in the country’s future. They represented, between them, most of the ethnic groups in the country, including the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazaras. The agreement has three important elements. The details of an interim administration that will govern post-taliban, based on a power-sharing arrangement, have been worked out. After intense negotiations and bargaining, it was agreed that Mr Hamid Karzai, currently leading Pashtun forces against the taliban in southern Afghanistan, would be the prime minister. Quite obviously, the Northern Alliance could not have been very happy with losing the premiership, and it is believed that delegates representing Mr Burhanuddin Rabbani put up a stiff resistance. As a consolation, most of the key ministerial portfolios have been given to the leaders of the Northern Alliance.

What is particularly welcome is the inclusion of women in the cabinet: after their near total seclusion from public life during the taliban regime, this signals an important departure from the past. It was agreed at Bonn that the interim administration would hold office for about six months after which the Loya Jirga, or traditional national assembly, will be held, which will elect a transitional authority to govern for another eighteen months. This authority will draw up a constitution for the country, and pave the way for a truly representative and democratically elected government. All the groups seemed to have agreed that a multinational force would be deployed in Afghanistan to assist in guaranteeing security and maintaining order.

There is no doubt that getting an agreement on such an ambitious blueprint for the future of Afghanistan is no small achievement. However, it is also evident —based on the past experience of Afghanistan — that agreements reached on paper rarely translate into reality. The greatest challenge, therefore, is to ensure that the power-sharing arrangement survives for the next six months. It is critical that all major ethnic and political groups continue to have a stake in stability, and incentives be provided to them to ensure their support. Particularly, since the war against talibanism and taliban fighters is far from over, and remnants of the previous regime will continue to make an effort to destabilize the power-sharing arrangement. Afghanistan needs international help for its reconstruction. It is vital for the international community to remain engaged in the recovery of Afghanistan until there is virtually no chance of a revival of the forces of medievalism.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / CLEAR CASE 
 
 
 
 
It is the acme of fulfilment for a politician when the “people’s verdict” coincides with the court’s. The Madras high court has vindicated Ms J. Jayalalithaa’s unshakeable faith in her own innocence by quashing the trial court’s conviction of her in the Tansi land deal and Pleasant Stay Hotel cases. Ms Jayalalithaa’s political career establishes beyond doubt that she has more than nine lives. Even then, the high court’s verdict was not entirely expected, since the trial court had awarded the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader three years’ and two years’ rigorous imprisonment for the two Tansi land deal cases, and one year for the Pleasant Stay Hotel case. The winding ways of justice are not for the common man to comprehend. What the common man —and woman — of Tamil Nadu had done, however, was to invite Ms Jayalalithaa and her party back into government. This is the judgment that the former film star had clung to, and had even become chief minister without being qualified to run for elections. That she had to step down was an ignominy she could not have forgiven her political enemy, Mr M. Karunanidhi, who had been in power in the state when the corruption cases were instituted against her. She had even tried to show, albeit with a regrettable lack of finesse, that corruption could be alleged on both sides, by a whirlwind midnight arrest of Mr Karunanidhi.

There seems little doubt that Ms Jayalalithaa will be back as chief minister in the state after she has gone through the formality of a byelection, probably from Andipatti. She always had foresight, however bleak the future looked. The choice of Mr O. Panneerselvam, devoted and politically inconsequential, as chief minister, was indication enough that she expected to be back. Mr Panneerselvam is evidently falling over himself to step down immediately. It is not surprising that Ms Jayalalithaa invoked the divine powers in thankfulness. She clearly believes in a larger pattern, which ensures that her luck never fails her when she is in power. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will now find the going rough with the Bharatiya Janata Party, since Ms Jayalalithaa has been cosying up to it already. The only thing that is certain is that Tamil Nadu is likely to witness more drama.

   

 
 
A STEP ON A THORNY ROAD 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
Whatever the new balance of power between different ethnic groups in Afghanistan, it is the United States of America which calls all the shots. But for the softening of the entrenched taliban positions by relentless US bombing, it would have been impossible for the Northern Alliance even to reoccupy Mazar-e-Sharif, not to speak of Kabul and the larger part of the country. Nor would the Pashtun and other tribal leaders loyal to Zahir Shah have had a chance to secure any say for the long exiled king in the affairs of the country he left in the wake of a coup over thirty years ago.

It was this realization of their double dependence on the US for carrying the war to the point where the country is completely rid of the taliban and al Qaida scourges and mobilizing the requisite resources for rebuilding the country most of whose cities have been reduced to rubble, which made the four Afghan groups at Bonn reach a consensus not only on the interim government of the country for six months but on the roadmap for a new constitution and democratic system.

Thus when Lakhdar Brahimi feels upbeat over having nudged and coaxed the delegates belonging to different ethnic groups into accepting more or less the proposals mooted by him, it is less as the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan than as a surrogate for Colin Powell. His persuasive skills may have helped the key Northern Alliance delegates to snub Burhanuddin Rabbani by dissociating themselves from his hardline position in opposing the composition of the interim government being settled in Bonn, a matter under discussion until Tuesday, and the stationing of an international peacekeeping force in the Afghan capital.

But what really counted in ironing out differences was the realization by most delegates that a society riven by inter-ethnic hatreds and plagued by widespread hunger and destitution had no choice but to seize the only chance they had to prevent the country from going to pieces.

No one in the war coalition is under any illusion that the Bonn accord by itself is a guarantee of durable peace or smooth transition to a more democratic and civilized order in a state ravaged by over twenty years of war and civil strife, brutalized by five years of taliban rule and turned into a major base for international terrorism even as its people sank into ever lower depths of misery and their minds were warped by a most odious form of fundamentalism. It will be a very long haul for Afghanistan as it settles down to repair the damage done to its body and soul during two decades of strife and to reweave its social fabric now reduced to tatters. The Bonn accord can be regarded only as the first step along a road full of potholes and hairpin bends and dangers of sniping and ambush lurking at every corner.

The impediments in the way of a smooth transition to a new order are indeed too many to be counted. The US is yet to get hold of Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. His very presence will be incentive enough to recruit more fanatics for terrorist outfits in the name of religion. The war itself is far from over. The very fact that the taliban are using human shields in a bid to defend their last redoubt in Kandahar makes it difficult for those fighting them to distinguish between terrorists and civilians as they mount the final assault on the city.

Even the seizure of Kandahar will not mean necessarily the end of the taliban. Some of them may have realized the evil nature of the regime they served. But many may take to the mountains from where to waylay innocent travellers, ambush police patrols and harass and plunder poorly guarded villages. Whatever the size of the international peacekeeping force, it can at best cover Kabul and a few other cities. The real problem is of maintaining law and order in the rest of the country where millions are likely to be left at the mercy of local strongmen and bullies.

This will be a major challenge to the new interim set-up, even forgetting for the time being its own difficulty, because of inter-ethnic suspicions and hatreds, in cultivating the kind of team spirit essential to effective governance in a traumatized society. It will be quixotic to think that even when the war comes to an end and a provisional government is in place, inter-ethnic hatreds and fears fostered during the last twenty years will disappear all of a sudden, the provinces dominated by local warlords will become immediately amenable to disciplinary action by the centre, or the buying and selling of loyalties of those who dominate particular areas will come to an end.

There is also the danger of a large part of the funds put at the disposal of the central government or local governors for reconstruction work finding its way into private pockets. The best course will be to entrust the job to internationally known non-governmental organizations, with stringent accounting for every dollar spent and continuous monitoring of progress in relief and other activities by a UN body.

The priorities are clear enough. The first need is rushing ample food supplies to drought-stricken areas where many are dying of hunger, and provision of adequate clothing and shelter to those rendered homeless. As things are today, tens of thousands of families have to bear the rigours of a severe winter in shoddy tents more suited to a temperate climate than to subzero temperatures and winds that freeze both body and spirit.

Even the work of completing the unfinished job in Afghanistan, which has been the main theatre of the war on international terrorism so far, is circumscribed by too many ifs and buts. As for the task of extending it to other areas of cross-border terrorism, it has not yet received even cursory attention from the US-led war coalition. This is not surprising for many reasons. The first is the enormity of the task. According to US official statements the activities of al Qaida itself cover as many as sixty countries. What is more, the fragile and, in some ways deceptive, character of the alliance itself becomes clearer every day, with hundreds of troops and volunteers of some allied states fighting on the side of the taliban.

The answer to the question of whether the US prefers to call this doublecrossing or by some less pejorative phrase may depend on the need for discretion in a dicey situation. But in the larger context of the war on international terrorism, such betrayals cannot but gravely compromise the integrity of the whole enterprise. The same applies to the conduct of allies who have been surreptitiously funding al Qaida and other equally murderous outfits. It is immaterial whether they do so to protect their own territories against the contagion of terrorism or as a token of their secret sympathy for the jihadi cause. The result in either case is equally disastrous.

The wrapping up of an accord at Bonn can be legitimately hailed as a good augury for bringing, in the long run, both peace and stability to a society in an advanced state of dissolution. But for the war on international terrorism to achieve both greater credibility and effectiveness, the contradictions which riddle the present coalition have got to be removed. Otherwise they will burst into the open with a new violence as has already happened in west Asia where the pretence that the peace process can make steady progress in the midst of daily acts of terrorism has exploded in the US administration’s face, forcing George Bush to concede Israel’s right to take what measures of self-defence its government thinks necessary.

One of the bitter ironies of the globalization process is that, even as it disrupts and hybridizes national cultures, it also promotes virulent forms of separatist subnationalisms with a religious, sectarian, regional or ethnic face, which seek to legitimize use of terror in the name of self-determination. The war against international terrorism cannot be fought successfully unless the US and other Western powers come to grips with this problem which threatens the integrity of most multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies.

They cannot reserve the right of taking whatever action they think necessary for their own security while denying it to others. Nor can they go on nudging hostile neighbours into holding peace talks in a climate vitiated by raging terrorism and in the absence of any common ground between them. Just as terrorism does not shed its evil character merely because those who resort to it do so in the name of a holy war, the blood on its hands is not washed away by hailing those who indulge in killing innocent people as freedom fighters. In cases where freedom fighters enjoy the patronage of military dictators and are happily reconciled to the subversion of all democratic institutions, the story becomes all the more weird.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / NAM YOUR PRICE TO BE PART OF IT 
 
 
BY A.N. DAR
 
 
The non-aligned movement almost died recently. The newly elected government of Bangladesh, which was to host the next NAM summit in Dhaka, refused to do so. It reiterated that NAM’s importance had diminished and therefore there was hardly any point in holding a summit. India, which was one of the three countries that had been instrumental in the formation of NAM, offered to host the summit next year in the face of overwhelming reluctance of other member countries to do so. However, Jordan volunteered in the end and the offer was gratefully accepted by the foreign ministers of the non-aligned countries who met recently in New York.

The attitude of Bangladesh is in sharp contrast to that of most countries some years back when each were eager to become part of NAM. Becoming a member afforded a country the opportunity to represent the movement for three years. Holding a NAM summit was not only considered to be highly prestigious but it also indicated expert security management as some of the world’s most controversial and high profile leaders like Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat attended these summits. Holding the summit will be a unique experience for Jordan which has never played host to a NAM summit. The summit will also be a major landmark in the reign of the new monarch of Jordan who would have to receive many heads of state.

Stand together

The importance of NAM had begun to decrease after the end of the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. The world has now been reduced to the machinations of one superpower. When the idea of the movement was first floated in 1956 by the three founders — India, Egypt and Yugoslavia — the idea was to help the less powerful nations withstand the influence of the two superpowers who were fighting each other. These countries did not want to be part of either bloc. They preferred to judge an issue independently and give their opinion. However, standing together did not necessarily mean that they had to formulate a common policy.

The yardstick for membership was that a non-aligned country should not be part of any alliance, much less a military one. This clause disqualified Pakistan as it was a member of the Baghdad Pact. Similarly, France and Germany, who were members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, stood disqualified for NAM.

The number of member countries steadily increased and it crossed the 100 mark in the last 1998 summit in South Africa. As more and more African countries gained independence, most claimed to be non-aligned. Eventually, even countries like Saudi Arabia which were close to the Western bloc joined it.

Flying movement

The movement also refused to call itself an alliance or a bloc and therefore did not have its headquarters in any country. No undue importance was given to any particular member. NAM did not even have a permanent secretariat, although the issue came up at every summit.

The critics of the movement branded it as a “debating society”, something that has also been said about the United Nations. They maintained that the movement did not have the power to implement the resolutions that were passed by it. Further, most of the countries had the same level of economic development. As a result, they remained dependent on the developed world for economic aid.

After the end of the Cold War, many countries called for the end of the movement on grounds that it had ceased to be relevant. Thus in the next summit meeting in Jordan, it is pertinent that member countries ask themselves what they can do to make the movement more relevant. They could think of changing the name of the movement and help developing countries campaign for a better economic order. The movement can also become a platform for disarmament and spread the message against terrorism and religious fundamentalism. One is sure that in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the developed world would appreciate its future contribution towards world peace.

   

 
 
NOT QUITE A STRANGER IN THE NIGHT 
 
 
BY RAJYASREE SEN
 
 
An upper-middle-class Punjabi family has gathered in a farmhouse in Delhi to celebrate a wedding. There is great excitement at the appearance of a man, the patriarch of the family. While the entire family rushes to greet him, only one woman shies back. She does not want to catch his eye if possible. Why? Because years ago, the man, her uncle, spent seven afternoons sexually abusing her. And since then she has kept the secret to herself. This is a scene from Mira Nair’s latest film, Monsoon Wedding. It is also a scene that is being replayed for many years, and in many forms, all over India.

Date rape or acquaintance rape — which is the rape or sexual assault of a victim by an acquaintance or someone known to the victim — has long been kept in the closet in India. The subject has also been shunned by Indian mainstream films, although the incidence of rape, especially among adolescents and children, has risen sharply in India in the last few years.

Children, especially young girls, are easier targets of sexual assault. And a larger percentage of those sexually abused in childhood and adolescence are victims of incest or acquaintance rape. Studies have also shown that physical force is not used in two thirds of incestuous abuse, thus proving the importance of psychological coercion in the abuse of these children.

The low reporting of cases of rape in India, especially of date rape cases — only a third is reported — has led to a lack of statistics, knowledge and acceptance of the crime. Many women do not even realize that they are victims of date rape. This is mainly because of Indian society’s lack of recognition of rape by a “nonstranger”. A nonstranger, as defined by the report, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 1994 , is an “offender who is either related to, well known to, or casually acquainted with the victim”. According to a report by the National Women’s Study in the United States of America, only 22 per cent of rape victims are assaulted by someone they had never seen before; 16 per cent by relatives and 29 per cent by non-relatives.

The lack of acceptance and awareness of this crime has further increased because of its complete shutting out by the media, especially cinema. Films in India wield inordinate influence on society. It is a more available medium of entertainment than books or even newspapers. In a country where the majority is illiterate, films are also easier to comprehend. And, it is this pervasive medium that has over the years introduced, and reinforced, the concept that rape can only be perpetrated by a stranger.

Although Indian commercial cinema has in the last few decades stayed away from even mentioning date rape, the rape and molestation of women has played an important role in most Bollywood masala flicks. The depiction of rape always follows a set formula. The rapist is the villain, and the woman who is raped is a model of virtue. Since virginity is the only measure of a woman’s virtue, she must, more often than not, commit suicide. Often the victim even marries the rapist. These storylines and depictions of the victims of rape tend to colour popular perception. Although up to 75 per cent of rape cases are committed by a nonstranger, especially a relative or a family friend, Indian cinema has rarely shown a rapist who is related or known to the victim.

Of course, there have been numerous films where brothers-in-law and fathers-in-law have attempted rape on their on-screen female relatives. But these offenders have no redeeming features, and are personifications of evil. This depiction of date rape offenders could not be more incorrect. Most offenders in date rape attacks do not exude evil or lasciviousness, and this is why it is impossible to identify an offender. This is also the reason why there is no definite psychological profile of a date rape offender, unlike those that are available for serial killers, child molesters and so on.

Understandably, date rape is not the most palatable of topics to depict in a film, and film-makers have to think of the box-office. But the release of only two to three films since the Eighties, mentioning rape by nonstrangers, which were not in the commercial film bracket, is deplorable.

Dev Benegal’s Split Wide Open which looked at “subversive sexuality” in modern India, lightly touched on the subject. The film revolves around a television programme which encourages people to talk about their darkest secrets in complete anonymity. The characters who appear on the show discuss their experiences of rape, incest and infidelity. But the film is made in such a manner that it does not distinguish the wrong from the right, and lends an almost voyeuristic feel to the depiction of each incident related. Shyam Benegal’s film, Zubeidaa, also glimpses at the concept when Zubeidaa’s brother-in-law attempts to molest her but is stopped by her husband. But neither of these films goes into the trauma of the victim or dwells on the topic at any length.

The other film which deals with the topic, and does so masterfully, is Monsoon Wedding. The character of the patriarch is sketched out in shades of grey. He is an upper-middle class man in his fifties who fulfils his duties as a provider and a husband, and is respected and loved by his family. His victim is an educated, independent girl who also happens to be his niece. She is not a vamp either, nor is she a model of virtue, like most victims of rape in Indian films. Both characters are ordinary people.

Mira Nair does not gloss over the fact that when the girl confronts her offender the going is rough. The effects of her childhood abuse on her are also brought out subtly. On various occasions, it is mentioned that she is shy around men, single and not interested in marriage. These are common consequences of acquaintance rape. Depending on the amount of emotional support available, victims experience varying degrees of emotional harm. The emotional harm is translated into overt behaviour: some become withdrawn and uncommunicative, while others might become sexually promiscuous. There is also an intensification of trauma because victims tend to blame themselves for the crime, and therefore do not report it or confide in anyone.

Nair also shows us how the family, when confronted with this horrific truth, does not believe the girl or condemn the offender immediately. It takes time, there is a lot of hurt, and the family will never be the same. But, however pithy it may sound, the truth must prevail. And the truth is that these crimes do happen, in ordinary families. That Nair shows us this truth without compromising her success at the box office is impressive. She delivers a commercial film which also discusses social issues like date rape and infidelity.

Films like Monsoon Wedding will help audiences realize that it is not a sin to be raped, and it is still rape if you are sexually abused by someone who knows you and loves you, and might even be your relative. The average person needs to realize this. But sadly it isn’t a Mira Nair who can do this, but a Karan Johar or a Sooraj Barjatya who speaks the language of the people. And till such mainstream film-makers realize that they can sell a dream and a reality, and still rake in the money at the box office, the blinkers will remain in place — for both film-makers and their audience.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / FOR THE CAUSE OF DEVELOPMENT 
 
 
 
 
We take note of the work which has been done in the general council and other relevant bodies since the ministerial declaration of May 20, 1998 and agree to continue the work programme on electronic commerce. The work to date demonstrates that electronic commerce creates new challenges and opportunities for trade for members at all stages of development, and we recognize the importance of creating and maintaining an environment which is favourable to the future development of electronic commerce. We instruct the general council to consider the most appropriate institutional arrangements for handling the work programme, and to report on further progress to the fifth session of the ministerial conference. We declare that members will maintain their current practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions until the fifth session.

We agree to a work programme under the auspices of the general council, to examine issues relating to the trade of small economies. The objective of this work is to frame responses to trade-related issues identified for the fuller integration of small, vulnerable economies into the multilateral trading system, and not to create a sub-category of World Trade Organization members. The general council shall review the work programme and make recommendations for action to the fifth session of the ministerial conference.

We agree to an examination, in a working group under the auspices of the general council, of the relationship between trade, debt and finance, and of any possible recommendations on steps that might be taken within the mandate and competence of the WTO to enhance the capacity of the multilateral trading system to contribute to a durable solution to the problem of external indebtedness of developing and least-developed countries, and to strengthen the coherence of international trade and financial policies, with a view to safeguarding the multilateral trading system from the effects of financial and monetary instability. The general council shall report to the fifth session of the ministerial conference on progress in the examination.

We agree to an examination, in a working group under the auspices of the general council, of the relationship between trade and transfer of technology, and of any possible recommendations on steps that might be taken within the mandate of the WTO to increase flows of technology to developing countries. The general council shall report to the fifth session of the ministerial conference on progress in the examination.

We confirm that technical cooperation and capacity building are core elements of the development dimension of the multilateral trading system, and we welcome and endorse the new strategy for WTO technical cooperation for capacity-building, growth and integration. We instruct the secretariat, in coordination with other relevant agencies, to support domestic efforts for mainstreaming trade into national plans for economic development and strategies for poverty reduction. The delivery of WTO technical assistance shall be designed to assist developing and least-developed countries and low-income countries in transition to adjust to WTO rules and disciplines, implement obligations and exercise the rights of membership, including drawing on the benefits of an open, rules-based multilateral trading system. Priority shall also be accorded to small, vulnerable, and transition economies, as well as to members and observers without representation in Geneva. We reaffirm our support for the valuable work of the International Trade Centre, which should be enhanced.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

The sword and a skirt

Sir — I would like to echo the sentiments of a Japanese student who, in a Guardian interview, welcomed the news of Crown Princess Masako’s successful delivery of a daughter. “As a woman, I’m pleased the baby was a girl. But I feel sorry for Masako that it was not a boy. If there’s no change in the law, she will face pressure to produce an heir again.” How similar is this to some of the pressures facing women in India, as highlighted by Monobina Gupta “Look back with a lot of anger” (Dec 2)? A retired Japanese journalist — male— even suggested that the media was trying not to appear disappointed. Thankfully, the lack of a male heir in the Japanese royal family for 36 years has brought that bastion of chauvinism close to recognizing the equal value of its women. Let us hope that the ceremonial presentation of a sword and skirt to the child also becomes an apt symbol of the fight in other Asian countries to give daughters the chance to change the laws.

Yours faithfully,
Rashmi Shah, Ranchi

Old identities made new

Sir — According to Eden Naby, an associate at Harvard University’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Afghan-istan should be broken down into pieces, presumably for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan to subsume the right ethnic segments (“Should Afghanistan even exist?” Dec 2). But is this any kind of solution to the present problem? It certainly won’t resolve the talks in Bonn any more quickly, if for no other reason than that the Northern Alliance already senses the power to be gained from an Afghanistan which includes the mineral-rich north with the more populous and better connected south. Africa is also filled with improbable countries which should not exist given their ethnic mix. It is economic potential which holds these countries together.

But Naby seems to be following the logic of the Balkans, where racialist ideas of identity were superimposed on “modern” national identities. Advanced forms of government and sophisticated social structures then tore up Yugoslavia. But as in Africa, Afghanistan has a tribal, rather than an ethnic mix. This is reflected by Alam Payind in the article when he suggests that Afghanistan should be ruled by a series of elected, highly decentralized local governors. But localized “tribal” cleansing — so often attempted in Rwanda and Burundi — is just one of the problems facing this model. A system of governors kept at a respectful distance from one another might well arrest Afganistan’s development. A distant Westernized elite will control larger foreign affairs and government tenders, whilst the governors will continue to maintain the equality of poverty. In many ways it will return to the state that existed under the earlier monarchy.

This is perhaps what both the United Nations — given its advocacy of the exiled king — and the Northern Alliance would like. But ultimately one must agree with Payind that the concept of a nation state, however little it may apply to ground realities, will allow Afghanistan to return to the international fold, and protect various ethnic groups from the machinations of neighbouring countries.

Yours faithfully
Manosh Sharma, Calcutta

Sir — One can only hope that the compromise of electing a 20-member government for Afghanistan, without a 150 strong parliament to supervise it, will provide the country. with a sound structure (“Afghans race to beat fatigue and fissures”, Dec 2). For the talks at Bonn have also been filled with the whispers of billions of dollars of reconstruction money. No wonder the Afghan delegations are fighting so tenaciously over who will be “in charge” of such resources

Yours faithfully,
Romesh Gupta, Calcutta

Memory loss

Sir — In this centenary year of Jayprakash Narayan’s birth, India seems to have forgotten its dauntless defender of democracy. Now we adore only power-hungry, self-seeking leaders, whose tenets are flattery and hypocrisy. When the septuagenarian Narayan returned to politics, it was certainly not for power or fame. It was from an inner conviction of the need to uphold freedom for an individual or society. He understood the word in its wider sense — freedom of thought, and freedom from hunger and social oppressions. Some historians have portrayed him as fascist for giving the call for civil disobedience against Indira Gandhi’s government. These historians believe in the emergency, but not in the upholding of democratic integrity. We have been able to defeat the values he cherished most. Our inability to remember Narayan when we might need him speaks of a faithless age.

Yours faithfully,
Sovon Sanyal, New Delhi

Sir — I was happy to read the news report by K.P. Nayar, “Bengal’s millennium full bloom” (Nov 28). Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul will be finding pride of place in the United Nations’ Mille Fleur, a volume of poetry which Kofi Annan has released as a commemoration of the passing millenium. Kamalesh Sharma, India’s ambassador to the UN, who has worked with Annan on the selection, should be congratulated, especially over the inclusion of Nazrul’s “Samyabadi”.

Sadly, in his own country Nazrul’s name is almost forgotten. In the period between Tagore’s death and Nazrul’s loss of memory, and India’s independence, student groups in Bengal began denouncing Tagore and Nazrul as “bourgeois”. Only Sukanta Bhattacharya and Jibanananda Das were suitable reading for the proletariat. They failed to realize that they were benefiting from the liberal climate created by these poets, and that their own Marxist ethos was based on poems like “Samyabadi”. The unions were less vocal about Nazrul, perhaps because he was a close friend of “Barakaka” Muzaffar Ahmed, the founder of the Communist Party of India in West Bengal. Bangladesh has set up a Nazrul Institute in Dhaka to commemorate the time he spent in that country. But is there one in Calcutta?

Yours faithfully
Arabinda Bose, Calcutta

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