Editorial / The region and the world
Delusions of grandeur
This above all / An unconventional meeting
People / Mike Bloomberg
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / THE REGION AND THE WORLD 
 
 
 
 
For many decades, regional integration was viewed as a panacea. In the Seventies and Eighties, regionalism was regarded as a recipe for generating economic prosperity and mitigating longstanding political conflicts. The example of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation suggests, however, that not only has regional economic integration failed to produce any significant benefits, but it may also be increasingly imprudent to pin any hopes of economic or political benefits on this virtually ineffective organization.

There is no doubt that regional economic integration has been a roaring success in many parts of the world. The European Union is perhaps the most striking example. On the one hand, through a gradual process of convergence in virtually all economic spheres, and the lifting of barriers on the movement of goods and services, the countries of Europe have been able to, over time, generate greater economic success than would have been possible had each nation crafted its own economic policy in isolation. On the other hand, by providing elites within each country a stake in stability, the process of integration contributed to the process of marginalization of conflicts that had endured over centuries. In sum, the process of integration helped create peace and prosperity. Less effectively, but as significantly, regional economic organizations in southeast Asia, Latin America and North America have been effective in promoting intra-regional trade and external competitiveness. However, SAARC has been a dismal failure. It has little to show by way of success, especially on the economic front. Intra-SAARC trade is pathetic, at less than 5 percent, and prospects for the future remain bleak. In 1997, an eminent persons group set up by SAARC heads of government recommended an ambitious plan to put economic integration on a fast track, and put forward a time line to achieve a free trade area in the region. The leaders of SAARC countries have not even considered the report seriously, although there is some prospect of it being discussed at Kathmandu. Clearly, there are two reasons for this lack of progress. The India-Pakistan conflict has acted as the biggest hurdle. India’s unwillingness to have any truck with Pakistan’s military regime has meant that the current summit is being held two years behind schedule. SAARC’s charter works on the basis of consensus and excludes all bilateral contentious issues. While differences between India and Pakistan cannot be discussed at SAARC, these bilateral problems have prevented the organization from taking off. India’s size is another significant factor. It dominates SAARC in every sense. Therefore, smaller countries of the region are unwilling to allow a process of integration that would inevitably further Indian domination.

SAARC may have succeeded in introducing a common framework on certain social and political issues, including terrorism. But even here little progress has been made in translating normative ideals into stable institutions or common practices. The time may, therefore, have come for New Delhi to review its relationship with SAARC. In a world increasingly governed by rules of the World Trade Organization, regional economic associations may become anachronisms.

   

 
 
DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
A regional conference in Kathmandu is an appropriate time to reflect that stability and prosperity will elude southern Asia until its physical map is allowed to shape its politics that are still determined by the West’s Cold War aims.

It makes little difference whether Atal Bihari Vajpayee speaks to Pervez Musharraf at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit. Nor do a few arrests or freezing some bank accounts go anywhere near removing the cause of turbulence. Instead of rushing Tony Blair to the subcontinent, the United States of America should consider that instability flows from the Cold War strategy of building up an inconsequential local player in order to deny the logic of size, population and resources. If America truly seeks a new relationship with India, it must abandon the illusion that India and Pakistan are equals and allow the emergence of an equilibrium based on natural factors while also enshrining mutual respect for each other’s integrity.

An India that must constantly watch out for terrorist attacks cannot attend to the basic needs of its people. If it cannot fulfil that first task, it cannot cater to US businessmen or guard the sealanes that are essential to America’s survival. Even less can it provide the democratic ballast that the Republicans seek as part of their strategy of both co-opting and containing China.

During the Cold War, the US armed and strengthened China to obstruct the Soviet Union. In turn, China armed and strengthened Pakistan to pin India down in the subcontinent. This second phase was never explicit US strategy. But it is impossible to believe that it was unwelcome to George Bush or Bill Clinton, given the extraordinary lengths to which both went to conceal the evidence of China’s military collusion with Pakistan that their own intelligence services turned up. Great powers need room for manoeuvre: even without deliberately promoting Chinese stratagems, the US benefited from them in its diplomatic dealings with India.

Washington must rethink all this if it wants a peaceful southern Asia to be a force for stability. It must end the farce of genuflecting at the altar of democracy while contriving to cut the world’s biggest democracy down to size. The promise no longer to “hyphenate” relations could be even more ominous. The hyphen was never mentioned in US utterances. It was always implied in gestures symbolic and substantial like lavishing hospitality on Liaquat Ali Khan immediately after Jawaharlal Nehru visited the US or building up Pakistan’s air power. A de-hyphenated policy would entitle the Americans to shower money, sophisticated arms and technology on Pakistan without a thought for the consequences.

Pakistan’s gross domestic product is one-eighth India’s; it has one-seventh the population and one-fifth the area. The idee fixe of Kashmir is probably the strongest national glue today in a country that has fewer Muslims than its non-Muslim neighbour. The flow of American aid and arms (direct and through China) was designed to compensate for these disparities and contradictions, and enable Pakistan to pretend that it was more than Afghanistan or Uzbekistan in spite of its bankrupt exchequer, disintegrating political institutions and demographic discord.

Thanks to such tactics, the world thinks of India and Pakistan as unreconciled Siamese twins. The parity gamble was extended to feed the illusion that if India’s neighbours were not its equal in every way (despite their combined area and population being a fraction of India’s), size invested India with a special responsibility to shrink to their level in all regional transactions. China’s foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, repeated this message when he advised Jaswant Singh the other day that “as a big country” India should “play a more positive role” in the subcontinent: Tang should have been asked what concession China made to Vietnam in the Paracel islands or to the Philippines in the Spratlys.

When the SAARC was launched in 1985, Sri Lanka’s J.R. Jayewardene cannily placed the onus for success on India by saying that being “the largest in every way, larger than all the rest...combined,” India alone could “by deeds and words create the confidence...so necessary to make a beginning.” P.N. Haksar correctly interpreted him to mean that “India, as a big brother, must be at all times accommodating and tolerant towards the propensity for mischief-making of the younger brothers”.

That was the crux of the Gujral doctrine. Inder Kumar Gujral put into words what every Indian prime minister has tried to practise. It is an admirable philosophy in theory, but unsuited to the cynicism of international discourse where each country is out to grab what it can, and weakness is an instrument of leverage.

The spectre of nuclear war is now also invoked to deny India rights that are inherent in geopolitics. If the bomb were the ultimate currency of power, Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union — “Upper Volta with missiles”, as someone sneered — would not have collapsed so easily. Nor would Vladimir Putin have appeared cap in hand at the court of George W. Bush. The oil boom, not the bomb, maintained the illusion of Soviet might; when the boom vanished, so did the myth of a second superpower.

Similar realism has not descended on southern Asia because Pakistan has successfully substituted one service for another to retain its illusory eminence. It helped to “contain” the Soviet Union, kept watch in the Islamic crescent of danger and collaborated in destroying the taliban monster that it had created. A second factor is America’s conviction — reflected in a number of state department, Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency position papers going back to 1948 — that the moment it withdraws its patronage, India would gobble up its smaller neighbour.

Richard Haass, who stands high in Bush’s favour, attributes all the tension in the subcontinent to Pakistan’s refusal to accept India’s primacy and India’s refusal to accept anything else. Primacy is the cornerstone of stability in any concert of nations. Which is why America’s fifth president proclaimed the Monroe doctrine in 1823 to ban European intervention in the Americas, and John F. Kennedy risked nuclear war to put a quick end to Soviet attempts to create a beachhead in Cuba.

India’s objections to US-led military pacts, rejection of the Brezhnev doctrine and attempts to have the Indian Ocean declared a zone of peace were rooted in a similar understanding of independence. Rajiv Gandhi articulated it most vigorously. His initiatives were doomed to failure because of India’s economic dependence and the strong interest that the US and China had developed in subcontinental affairs.

Washington seems keen now to engage a strong, secure and confident India that also promises to develop the world’s biggest market, and could thus provide Americans with both strategic and commercial support. Though India responded by being one of the few countries to welcome Bush’s nuclear missile defence proposal and, later, offered undisclosed but probably unlimited facilities for the Afghan war, talk of partnership is still just that — only talk. It will remain so for as long as the US prevents the replication in southern Asia of the equation between itself and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean and Latin American republics that would have preserved continental integrity even if America had not emerged as the Lone Superpower.

True, the US owes a debt to Pakistan for years of dutiful service. Bush’s best way of discharging that obligation would be to withdraw the artificial props that dangerously inflate Pakistan’s importance, encourage Musharraf to come to terms with geography, and advise him that Pakistan’s security lies in cooperation, not confrontation, with India in a southern Asian economic union that allows the region to tap its huge potential. Pakistan resists reduction to its natural level only because the US found it expedient during the Cold War to create and sustain a delusion of grandeur. Blair’s mission will serve a purpose only if he explodes that myth.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL / AN UNCONVENTIONAL MEETING 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
I have attended many writers conferences in different parts of the world: Phillipines, England, Scotland, the United States of America and India. I got very little out of meeting eminent authors, most of them full of self-esteem. But invariably I succeeded in befriending one or two and continued corresponding with them. Fifty years ago in Manila I got to know Sional Jose. Last month he sent me his latest novel through his son who was visiting India. In Leeds I met kavi Jasimuddin of Bangladesh. I visited him in his home Palasbari in Dhaka; his daughter Hasna and her husband Maudud visit me whenever they are in Delhi. In Hawaii I spent seven days with R. K. Narayan and he often dropped in on me in Delhi. That’s about it. I wasn’t very eager to attend the SAARC Writers Conference in Delhi organized by Ajit Cour of the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature. Anyone who knows Ajit knows she never takes “no” for an answer. She managed to get the president of India, R. K. Narayanan, the vice president, Krishna Kant, cabinet ministers Jaswant Singh, Jagmohan, three ex prime ministers and a host of Indian Littérateurs besides writers and poets from all the countries, including the ravishing debutante Manjushree Thapa from Nepal and my friend Minoo Bhandara (brother of the novelist Bapsi Sidhwa) from Pakistan. All were happy and said Ajit Cour’s bandobast was very pucca. I made a brief appearance on the first day. President Narayanan had to leave without making his speech because of the shoot-out at Parliament House. The deliberations of the SAARC writers meet were blotted out of newspapers and TV channels because of the attack.

I received an unexpected bonus in the form of a new friend. I was sitting in the hall awaiting the President’s arrival, when a young lady came up to me and introduced herself; “I am Prathibha Nandakumar from Bangalore. My editor Belegere wants me to interview you.” As is my habit I count up names of ladies I know. I know six Neelams, two Vandanas, dozens of Sheelas, Shakuntalas, Ushas, Umas, Ninas, Miras and Minakshis. She was the third Prathibha. The first was Prathibha Pachisia, a lovely lass from Rajasthan, now a Mrs Desai living in New York. The second is Pratibha Prehlad, the dancer. “Pratibha what?” I asked.

“Nandakumar”

“Are you a drinking girl?”

She nodded. “Then come at 7 p.m. sharp when I open my bar. Depart at 8 p.m. when I close it.” I gave her my address and telephone number. “Be punctual. I am very fussy about time.” Prathibha Nandakumar turned up at 6.20 with a bouquet of flowers for my wife. I gave her mild ticking-off for coming before time. The conference ended at six. “I had nowhere else to go,” she pleaded. At the end of the evening I invited her out for the next evening, and the following evenings. She interviewed me. I interviewed her.

Prathibha Nandakumar is the youngest of ten children of her Brahmin parents. A bright student: topper in all subjects at school and college. Innumerable academic prizes including a coveted gold medal and later the Sahitya Akademi Award for contribution to Kannada literature. A rebel: she married her college sweetheart, a Gowda of peasant stock. She was into poetry both in Kannada and English. In the earlier years of marriage some of it was sensuous and revelatory:

How?
Did I unwind all of my
Binding six yards
Carefully chosen by him
Like a snake uncoiling?
Did I reveal in a
Careless or calculated ca-
sualness
The unmentionable?
Then how come you know
Of all the bruises and
black marks
On all my most intimate
parts
Hidden well under the six
yards?
I don’t know, but why did
you
Didn’t you, by the end of the second cup, tremble
Remembering a woman in
rage?

Some years later into what became a love-less marriage, Prathibha met with an accident in her kitchen. Her sari caught fire and charred most of her left side, left thigh and arm. Six months in hospital, but she survived. And now she writes from the early hours of the morning to 10 p.m. when she returns to her home and family in Jayanagar. She is in her early forties and outgoing and warm without a trace of bitterness. I made a long-distance friend. We write to each other. And ring up when long-distance calls are half-rate.

To return to the futility of writers conferences, I can’t help quoting the batchy verse an English woman poet wrote about them:

Men of letters ere we part
Tell me why you never fart?
Never fart, dear Miss Bright?
We do not fart because we write.
Date with history When Alexander the Great invaded northern India in 327 B.C., he had contingents of Arab soldiers in his army. Many of them carried bundles of dates (khajoor) because it is one fruit which can last for months without rotting. After eating dates they spat out the seeds onto the battle-field or outside their tents. Some took root, and in a few years date palms rose to their full heights and bore fruit. So we can date the origin of khajoor in our country to the Greek incursions. It also explains why our dates are not as good as those that come from Arab countries. Dates grown from seeds are poor quality; those grown from cuttings and carefully cross-pollinated by humans with tender care are much tastier. Actually date-palms were know to ancient Egyptians thousands of years before Macedonian led armies invaded India. Pictures of palm-trees being harvested appear in many ancient Egyptian monuments.

I gathered this information from Taizoon Khorakiwala, who is a business consultant with offices in Bombay and Oman. He brings me packets of Omani dates whenever he is in Delhi. Oman produces over 200 varieties of dates of which one variety named khalas (finished) are rated the best: not over-sweet and of delicate flavour. Also, the most expensive and a good earner of foreign exchange. They are the favourite of the Saudi royal family.

For Arabs, the date palm is the tree of life as well as the Omm al Faqir, mother of the poor. Date juice is dihs — palm honey. Dates are also cooked and dried to make masilily or madlooki. I have little doubt that there must also be date wine or brandy which though relished is not written about. In due course of time dates acquired cultural, social and religious importance for Muslims. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims broke the day’s fast by eating dried dates or tamar. Prophet Mohammad is quoted in the Hadith as saying “….. if the hour of resurrection came to you while you were planting a date palm, you should continue to work If you could.”

Why don’t we Indians explore possibilities of cultivating good quality dates in our country? Has our Council of Agricultural Research ever thought of planting them in our desert regions?

   

 
 
PEOPLE / MIKE BLOOMBERG 
 
 
 
 

If only money could talk

Imagine an R.P. Goenka or even a Harsh Neotia vying for Subrata Mukherjee’s job. Impossible? Agreed. Even you and I might turn up our noses at the prospect of becoming mayor. Subrata Mukherjee himself settled for it with some reluctance. And Michael Rubens (he prefers just Mike) Bloomberg, the new mayor of New York, wasn’t really in desperate need of a job.

A self-made billionaire, Bloomberg ranks 61st on Forbes magazine’s list of America’s richest 400. That would place him among the 500 of the richest people in the world. His home in one of Manhattan’s most fashionable parts, the Upper East Side, is valued at $6 million. He has several others within easy reach by his private plane and helicopter in London, Bermuda and Colorado.

The man they call King of Capital is a brand with Bloomberg television, Bloomberg radio and, most importantly, the Bloomberg box. It is the latter — a terminal which pumps up-to-the-minute stock and currency quotes, executes trades and sends an average of seven million instant mails daily to the desks of brokers and anyone with an interest in the world of finance — that has given him his billions. The Vatican, New York City (of which he is now the master) and the US Federal Reserve Bank all have Bloomberg terminals.

At 59, Bloomberg, who is vertically challenged, physically slight and speaks in a high whisper, is a regular on the A-list; his fixed smile has shone at a galaxy of events featuring New York’s rich and powerful and famous. Divorced with two grown-up daughters, he is also one of the city’s most eligible bachelors, much in demand to escort pretty young things to the many do’s that make the Big Apple such a happening place.

A man who has everything you would think. He wanted more. In recent years, he had made it known that he was looking for a change. Friends and associates have been quoted as saying he talked mostly about four jobs that would tempt him away from Bloomberg: US President; UN Secretary General; World Bank president; and mayor of New York.

That’s New York for you. To most Americans, the mayor of New York is the second most important job in their country, which means, as far as they are concerned, the world. Bloomberg is not even a New Yorker by birth. Born and educated in Boston, he had, like most others in New York, come to the city, he has told “with a debt and a dream”. The debt had been paid off long ago. He hasn’t quite spelled out the dream.

The events of September 11 had little to do with his latest project which may or may not be the realisation of his dream. The mayor who took oath on the 1st of January signed up to contest way back in April 2001, long before team Atta had bought their tickets to ride American Airlines flight 11. In those days, “before the world changed”, as we are told repeatedly, even diehard New Yorkers would have balked at the thought of making their mayor the Time Person of the Year.

And most agree that Bloomberg would have spent the vast amounts he did — $69 million, $92.60 a vote, five times more than his defeated rival, more than any mayoral candidate ever and second only to what presidential candidates have spent on an election — even if the Towers were still standing.

The turn of events did however convince those who mattered that Mayor Mike would be the right man for the right job at the right time, no matter that he had never run for any elected office before. Rising to the challenge, he brought a businessman’s cost-cutting zeal to his new job on day one itself.

The great and good of the New York establishment, gathered for his formal inauguration on the steps of City Hall within smelling distance of Ground Zero, groaned when the just-anointed mayor announced a reduction of a fifth in his own staff. There was a gasp and scattered boos when he went on to challenge elected officials in other branches of the local government to cut their staff by 20 per cent too.

“We will not be able to afford all that we want,” he said. “We will not even be able to afford all that we have.” As if to underline his point, the reception he hosted afterwards was strictly no-frills. The novice politician is still learning.

How fast he does so is the question. The world will be watching his education. The sooner New York starts flourishing and regains its confidence, the sooner the world in general and immigrants in particular can begin to relax.

Running a business is not quite the same as running a government. However imperative the budget pruning may be, surely hiring and firing will be easier said than done in a city which has lost over 75,000 jobs in the four months or so since the terror strikes. New York, after all, is not quite a corporation.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

View from the killing fields

Sir — Hamid Karzai, chairman of Afghanistan’s interim government, can tell the Americans one other thing when he raises the issue of the civilian killings with them soon (“Karzai concerned by civilian casualties”, Jan 3). That is, the United States of America is once again creating the right temperature in Afghanistan for the hatching of another Osama bin Laden while they happily go on with their bombings. Why does Karzai want the “bombings to continue”? Doesn’t he think that Afghans have had enough for three months? And shouldn’t the Americans, with their stealth bombers and marines, have hounded out all recalcitrant Afghans by now?
Yours faithfully,
M. Sundaram, Calcutta

Wake up call

Sir — The massive reduction in telephone charges by the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is delightful news (“STD rates cut by over 60 per cent”, Dec 29). With the communications minister, Pramod Mahajan, signalling a shift in the communications policy through the cheaper tariff for long distance telephony, India surely has emerged as a frontrunner in the global communications revolution.

People in the east and the Northeast will especially welcome the new off-peak hours. The icing on the cake is the new tariff structure. It will now cost only Rs 9 per minute for a call from Coimbatore to Kohima at two in the afternoon instead of Rs 24 per minute.

The most important lesson that we need to draw from the largesse is that competition benefits the consumer, expands the market and spurs economic growth. The United States of America took 10 years to usher in deep cuts in distance telephony after AT&T’s monopoly was broken in 1984. In India, we have seen BSNL drop its inhibitions in less than a month. Fortunately for this country, despite the hiccups, the telecommunications sector has been driven by people with vision. This sector has been, by and large, an unqualified success. The telecom revolution begun by Rajiv Gandhi and envisioned by Sam Pitroda in the mid-Eighties, is India’s great promise for the future.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — The Bharti Group’s first private sector national long distance telephony service is most welcome, with the proviso that the service must be extended beyond the major cities. This will also happily coincide with the government’s regulation that makes the filing of income tax returns obligatory for anyone who owns a telephone. It is only fitting that the ability of an increasing network of people to communicate should be linked to the duty of contributing to society. One would hope that the spread of phones provide an index to the development of the nation as phone services spread into the countryside and tax revenue becomes available for further investment.

Yours faithfully,
Malavika Goswami, Patna

Parting shot

Sir — I am appalled by the news of the trials suffered by non-human animals at the hands of human animals (“Bulb charade kills whale shark”, Jan 2). I am referring to the shocking torture of a whale shark by residents of Digha, and also the torture inflicted by mindless tourists on an Olive Ridley turtle. As an animal-lover, I shelter stray animals and provide medical attention wherever possible. But I am also a person of small means and cannot do anything on a larger scale towards stopping such atrocities against nature.

Funds need to be allocated by the government to educate people about the wider benefits of protecting wildlife. I also wonder what the non-governmental organizations, which get government grants, actually do towards saving precious animal species. Where are these funds and how are they spent in raising awareness of what it means to be a civilized, responsible human being?

Yours faithfully,
Sharmila Mitra,Calcutta

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