Why Does Life In The Middle East Remain Rooted In The Middle Ages?

Robert Fisk, a journalists I admire greatly, has covered West Asia for more than three decades. This excellent piece he argues the Arabs – or, outside the Arab world, the Iranians or the Afghans – will not produce the eco-loving, gender-equal, happy-clappy democracies that we would like to see. But freed from “our” tutelage, they might develop their societies to the advantage of the people who live in them. Maybe the Arabs would even come to believe that they owned their own countries

Why is the Arab world – let us speak with terrible sharpness – so backward? Why so many dictators, so few human rights, so much state security and torture, so terrible a literacy rate?

Why does this wretched place, so rich in oil, have to produce, even in the age of the computer, a population so poorly educated, so undernourished, so corrupt? Yes, I know the history of Western colonialism, the dark conspiracies of the West, the Arab argument that you cannot upset the sheikhs and the kings and the autocrats, the imams and the emirs when the “enemy is at the gates”. There is some truth to that. But, not enough truth.

Once more the United Nations Development Program has popped up with yet one more, its fifth, report that catalogues – via Arab analysts and academics mark you – the retarded state of much of the Middle East. It talks of “the fragility of the region’s political, social, economic and environmental structures… its vulnerability to outside intervention”. But does this account for desertification, for illiteracy – especially among women – and the Arab state which, as the report admits, is often turned “into a threat to human security, instead of its chief support”?

As Arab journalist Rami Khouri stated bleakly last week: “How we tackle the underlying causes of our mediocrity and bring about real change anchored in solid citizenship, productive economies and stable statehood, remains the riddle that has defied three generations of Arabs.”

Real GDP per capita in the region – one of the statistics which truly shocked Khouri – grew by only 6.4 per cent between 1980 and 2004. That’s just 0.5 per cent annually, a rate which 198 of 217 countries analysed by the CIA World Factbook bettered in 2008. Yet the Arab population – which stood at 150 million in 1980 – will reach 400 million in 2015.

I notice much of this myself. When I first came to the Middle East in 1976, it was crowded enough. Cairo’s steaming, fetid streets were already jam-packed, night and day, with up to a million homeless living in the great Ottoman cemeteries. Arab homes are spotlessly clean but their streets are often repulsive, dirt and ordure spilling on to the pavements.

Even in beautiful Lebanon, where a kind of democracy does exist and whose people are among the most educated and cultured in the Middle East, you find a similar phenomenon. In the rough hill villages of the south, the same cleanliness exists in every home. But why are the streets and the hills so dirty?

I suspect that a real problem exists in the mind of Arabs; they do not feel that they own their countries. Constantly coaxed into effusions of enthusiasm for Arab or national “unity”, I think they do not feel that sense of belonging which Westerners feel. Unable, for the most part, to elect real representatives – even in Lebanon, outside the tribal or sectarian context – they feel “ruled over”.

The street, the country as a physical entity, belongs to someone else. And of course, the moment a movement comes along and – even worse – becomes popular, emergency laws are introduced to make these movements illegal or “terrorist”. Thus it is always someone else’s responsibility to look after the gardens and the hills and the streets.

And those who work within the state system – who work directly for the state and its corrupt autarchies – also feel that their existence depends on the same corruption upon which the state itself thrives. The people become part of the corruption. I shall always remember an Arab landlord, many years ago, bemoaning an anti-corruption drive by his government. “In the old days, I paid bribes and we got the phone mended and the water pipes mended and the electricity restored,” he complained. “But what can I do now, Mr, Robert? I can’t bribe anyone – so nothing gets done!”

Even the first UNDP report, back in 2002, was deeply depressing. It identified three cardinal obstacles to human development in the Arab world: the widening “deficit” in freedom, women’s rights and knowledge. George W Bush – he of enduring freedom, democracy, etc etc. amid the slaughter of Iraq – drew attention to this.

Understandably miffed at being lectured to by the man who gave “terror” a new name, even Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (he of the constantly more than 90 per cent electoral success rate), told Tony Blair in 2004 that modernization had to stem from, “the traditions and culture of the region”.

Will a solution to the Arab-Israeli war resolve all this? Some of it, perhaps. Without the constant challenge of crisis, it would be much more difficult to constantly renew emergency laws, to avoid constitutionality, to distract populations who might otherwise demand overwhelming political change. Yet I sometimes fear that the problems have sunk too deep, that like a persistently leaking sewer, the ground beneath Arab feet has become too saturated to build on.

I was delighted some months ago, while speaking at Cairo University – yes, the same academy which Barack Obama used to play softball with the Muslim world – to find how bright its students were, how many female students crowded the classes and how, compared to previous visits, well-educated they were. Yet far too many wanted to move to the West. The Koran may be an invaluable document – but so is a Green Card. And who can blame them when Cairo is awash with PhD engineering graduates who have to drive taxis?

And on balance, yes, a serious peace between Palestinians and Israelis would help redress the appalling imbalances that plague Arab society. If you can no longer bellyache about the outrageous injustice that this war represents, then perhaps there are other injustices to be addressed. One of them is domestic violence, which – despite the evident love of family which all Arabs demonstrate – is far more prevalent in the Arab world than Westerners might realize (or Arabs want to admit).

But I also think that, militarily, we have got to abandon the Middle East. By all means, send the Arabs our teachers, our economists, our agronomists. But bring our soldiers home. They do not defend us. They spread the same chaos that breeds the injustice upon which the al-Qa’idas of this world feed.

No, the Arabs – or, outside the Arab world, the Iranians or the Afghans – will not produce the eco-loving, gender-equal, happy-clappy democracies that we would like to see. But freed from “our” tutelage, they might develop their societies to the advantage of the people who live in them. Maybe the Arabs would even come to believe that they owned their own countries.(The Independent)

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Sleeping With The Enemy: Getting Screwed And Loving It!

We are seeing the contours of a new road map on strategic and security issues, quietly being implemented by the government, surreptitiously, stealthily, without public debate, and finally to confront the nation with a fait accompli

In the past week or so, three or four changes in Government of India’s stand in various international forums have briefly been reported. They appear seemingly unrelated; however there is a clear possibility that there may be a strong inter-connection.

At L’Aquila in Italy, where the G8 summit took place last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was one of the few non-member invitees who participated in this annual meeting of the heads of eight developed countries. In the joint declaration of G8, apparently India has agreed on a formulation on ‘climate change’, essentially agreeing to a two-degree rise cap on global temperatures from the pre-industrial era. G8 leaders also issued a statement, while Singh was still at the venue, linking the supply of nuclear fuel to power plants to the issue of joining the NPT/CTBT regime.

About the same time, the commerce ministry announced that the final preparatory meeting for the Doha Round of trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be held in India, with a significant statement that India will ensure that finally an agreement will be reached at this conference.

A few days later, at the NAM Summit in Cairo, India and Pakistan, at the highest executive levels, apparently formally delinked terrorism from an all-encompassing bilateral dialogue. All of above appear quite independent of each other but can one see the elements of a grand plan, a change in India’s basic strategic position?

It almost appears as though the new government has decided to restate its policy position on national and international issues, without notice or debate, even as Parliament is in session in India. Take the Doha Round of WTO negotiations. India, along with leading developing countries, like Brazil and China have strongly articulated positions on a number of issues, especially Trade in Agriculture.

Considering the critical importance of the agricultural rural economy to India, there has been extreme caution in the past about supporting initiatives to liberalise trade in agriculture. Our classic position over two decades now has been, rightly, that US and Europe should first significantly roll down the massive subsidies that they provide to their domestic farmers before the question of trade in agriculture can be seriously discussed.

The US and EU have staunchly refused to consider this, while trying to bind developing countries to a new discipline. Making India host of the next round of discussions is a clever tactical move by the developed countries to mute the Indian opposition; besides India has also agreed to ‘find a solution’!

Have we changed our policies overnight, even without a discussion? Is there a connection between the departure of Kamal Nath as commerce minister to a relatively less prestigious assignment and his replacement by Anand Sharma, to ensure that India will play ball?

Very similar is the Indian acquiescence to the cap in global warming without any consideration to the differential contribution to climate change by USA and the developed countries on the one hand and the developing countries on the other. Our consistent posture in the past has been that India can look to join any regime provided USA and the rest, who have been the major polluting culprits till now, take major steps in controlling their emissions.

Indeed, USA has not even subscribed to the Kyoto declaration on climate change. Yet the recent joint communication from Italy which makes no distinction between developed and developing countries comes as a total surprise. One has not seen any debate or recent discussions preceding this massive change in posture, in the Parliament or elsewhere.

Equally puzzling is the recent Cairo communiqué, tacitly dropping any prior condition relating to addressing the terror issue, before an all-encompassing bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. Is there a connection between this and the week-long visit of the US secretary of state to India?

For the first time, a high US dignitary has visited India and bypassed Pakistan. Is this the quid pro quo? What has India received, in giving up so much negotiating room? We need some clarity on these bizarre developments of last week.

A mention also needs to be made of the new conditions imposed by the West on supply of nuclear fuel, linking it with international treaties on the subject. Clearly there is an apparent conflict between these new conditions and the interpretation of the Indo-US nuclear deal as rendered to Parliament by the Indian leadership. Hillary Clinton’s clear agenda is to open up the Indian market for US exports, particularly on technology areas; witness the proposal for two nuclear power plants during this visit. All of these do not appear to add up.

Are we seeing the contours of a new road map on strategic and security issues, quietly being implemented by the government, surreptitiously, stealthily, without public debate, and finally to confront the nation with a fait accompli?

By TSR Subramanian. The writer is a former Cabinet Secretary, Government of India. Having been privy to State secrets at the highest level of decision making, he knows what he’s talking about.

Manmohan Singh’s Perfidy Exposed Yet Again!

Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, never tires exposing Manmohan Singh’s perfidy in foreign policy. One of the first scholars to come out against the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, Chellaney has resolutely opposed Manmohan Singh’s pro-US tilt that has bound India hand and foot to US interests in the region. Here’s his take on the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) that has the both the defence and political establishment up in arms:

The US had been pressing India to sign three agreements related to defence cooperation:

1. End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA).
2. Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CIS MoA).
3. Mutual Logistic Support Agreement (MLSA).

All these agreements contain a series of restrictive clauses.

On the eve of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s July 2009 New Delhi visit, the newly appointed US assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Philip J Crowley, had linked EUMA to the nuclear deal. He told the media in Washington on July 17 that EUMA was “part of the fulfilment of an important initiative that India and the US have signed in the area of nuclear cooperation.”

“We are working with India on an end-use agreement,” said Crowley, the State Department spokesperson. “But clearly, this is part of the fulfilment of an important initiative that India and the United States have signed in the area of nuclear cooperation.” Crowley went on to say that he was “sure” there will be “substantial discussion” during Clinton’s visit on “fulfilling the initiative and its various components.”

Contrast this with what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Lok Sabha on July 22, 2008: “Some people are spreading the rumours that there are some secret or hidden agreements over and above the documents made public. I wish to state categorically that there are no secret or hidden documents other than the 123 Agreement, the Separation Plan and the draft of the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.”

Earlier, on August 4, 2005, he told the Rajya Sabha: “Sir, what are the commitments that I have taken? I am very clear in my mind and I can assure the House that there is no secret appendage or secret agreement. Everything that I discussed with the President (Bush) is faithfully stated. There is nothing more to our agreement than what is stated in this Joint Statement.”

EUMA Clauses
All these three agreements were designed by the US Congress for ensuring American oversight, right-of-access and on-site inspection in client States – States that are under the US security and nuclear umbrella. For example, there are 32 countries under the US nuclear and security umbrella today.

In addition, there are States like Pakistan that are officially classified by Washington as Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) – a conferred status that gives the US virtually the same rights over them as it has vis-a-vis States formally under the American military umbrella.
The special rights the US has with client States are understandable because America is responsible for their security and it thus seeks to underpin its own obligations and those of its allies through such agreements.

But India is not a client State, but a strategic partner of the United States. Unlike an ally who has to follow the alliance leader, a strategic partnership is built on the principle of equality. Thus, a strategic partner is an equal, at least in theory.

Yet, the US has succeeded in imposing the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) on India.

The Pentagon is in charge of implementation of EUMA, known in U.S. parlance as the “Golden Sentry” program, with the mission to “monitor the use of defence articles and services provided to foreign customers or international organizations through government-to-government programs.” The Pentagon says the Golden Sentry’s main objective is to “minimize security risks through compliance with arms-transfer provisions supporting US national security and foreign-policy objectives.”

The legal basis of EUMA — or Golden Sentry — is a 1996 amendment to the US Arms Export Control Act (AEC). Section 40A of the AECA on end-use monitoring of defence articles and defence services calls for “reasonable assurance” of compliance of US laws and regulations by recipient states. This is just one example of how the United States seeks to give extra-territorial jurisdiction to its laws and regulations.

The Pentagon’s Golden Sentry rules apply to government-to-government defence contracts and impose “cradle-to-grave” obligations, starting from shipment of a defence article to its use and final disposition. By contrast, the State Department-run “Blue Lantern” program focuses on Direct Commercial Sales (DCS)/Export Licensing (USML articles).

“Blue Lectern” end-use checks cover direct military sales and are conducted by US mission personnel abroad or personnel from the State Department’s Directorate of Defence Trade Controls (DDTC) to verify the destination and specific end-use and end-users of U.S. commercial defence exports. The “Golden Sentry,” in contrast, requires a comprehensive end-use monitoring program for arms transfers authorized by the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended.

Negotiated with New Delhi over a three-year period, the Indo-US EUMA is controversial.

Some of its clauses may not be a subject of concern, such as prohibitions on second-hand sales without approval of the United States. Its contentious clauses impose restrictions on what India may do with the equipment it buys from the USA.

EUMA will allow the US to periodically carry out an inspection and inventory of all articles transferred to India. In the negotiations, India strenuously objected to physical inspection and instead sought an inspection of the records and other measures in place.

In the end, the Americans had their way, but it was agreed that the physical inspection would be done at a time and place granted by India. Supplying-State officials, in any case, would need visas and other assistance from the recipient State, including about the location of the equipment, to carry out an inspection.

The US will have the right to check that India is using any purchased weapon for the purpose for which it was intended.

EUMA restricts what the purchasing country, India, can do with the US-origin defence equipment, even within its own borders.

Under the terms of EUMA, India cannot modify the purchased defence article or system in any form.

Also, to prevent the buyer country from freeing itself from dependency on the United States for maintenance, EUMA restricts India from getting US-origin defence equipment serviced by any another country without prior American permission. Even spare parts need to be sourced only from the United States.

These “cradle-to-grave” restrictions arm Washington with continuing leverage over the recipient country. After all, any equipment or system needs maintenance. Such leverage, in turn, can help ensure that the recipient country cooperates with Washington on larger political matters.

The Agreed Text
A key element of Clinton’s India trip was the announcement that the two sides had reached an accord on the EUMA. The Joint Statement issued at the end of her visit recorded: “External Affairs Minister Krishna announced that both sides had reached agreement on End-Use Monitoring for US defence articles.”

The agreed text of the EUMA was exchanged by External Affairs Minister Krishna and Clinton on July 20, 2009. It, however, was not formally signed because it takes the form of agreed language to be included in contracts for all future US defence sales to India.

Although the agreed language deviates in some aspects from the standard EUMA text applicable to client States, the United States managed to get India to accept the core conditions.

The United States already has been including end-use monitoring rights for itself in the sale of all defence equipment to India. Such end-use monitoring rights have been incorporated in the Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) relating to every defence contract with India in recent years, including the contracts for:

1. The USS Trenton — a 1971-vintage amphibious transport ship, bought by India in 2007 for $50 million and renamed INS Jalashwa.
2. The $2.2 billion deal with Boeing for eight P-8I maritime patrol aircraft.
3. Six C130-J Hercules military transport aircraft worth more than $1 billion.
4. Three VVIP jets.

The US right to end-use monitoring is also incorporated in the export contracts of US high-term items to India, starting with the Cray X-MP-14 supercomputer in the late 1980s. But EUMA relates to defence-equipment transfers and contains detailed and elaborate restrictions.

Now the EUMA language agreed to between India and the US will become the standard in all future Indo-US defence contracts. “We have agreed on the end-use monitoring arrangements that will henceforth be referred to in letters of acceptance for Indian procurement of US defence technology and equipment,” External Affairs Minister Krishna told Parliament on July 21, 2009. “This systematises ad hoc arrangements for individual defence procurements from the USA entered into by previous governments.”

EUMA comes as a major boost to American arms companies like Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp eyeing mega deals in India, one of the world’s largest importers of conventional weapons.

Indeed, EUMA opens the path for the US and India to agree to the terms of the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CIS MoA), which is still under negotiation. As its name suggests, that agreement seeks to promote interoperable tactical communications (“comms”) systems, including Spread Spectrum comms systems, and to institute secure comms interoperability between the two sides through the U.S. supply of Communications Security (COMSEC) equipment and services.

Official Concern In India
The Indian government has embraced EUMA despite concerns expressed within the official establishment over its restrictive and invasive clauses.

For example, (former) Navy chief Admiral Suresh Mehta had publicly described EUMA as “intrusive.” Speaking at an April 2008 conference organised by the London-based International Strategic Studies Institute in New Delhi, Admiral Mehta said: “There are certain things we can’t agree to. As a sovereign nation, we can’t accept intrusiveness into our system, so there is some fundamental difficulty.”

He added: “The US may have this kind of (end user) agreements with everyone. I don’t believe in that. We pay for something and we get some technology. What I do with it, is my thing.”

In fact, India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in a March 2008 report criticized the end-use monitoring clauses in the contract for the USS Trenton/INS Jalashwa. (No sooner the US had transferred that transport ship to India than a gas leak killed an Indian officer and five sailors on board.)

The CAG report stated: “Restrictive clauses raise doubts about the real advantages from this deal… For example, (there are) restrictions on the offensive deployment of the ship and permission to the (US) government to conduct an inspection and inventory of all articles transferred under the end-use monitoring clause of the LOA (Letter of Offer and Acceptance issued by the US government).”

Note that the contract contains even “restrictions on the offensive deployment of the ship.”

Against this background, the Indian government ought to have taken Parliament into confidence on the EUMA rather than place on record just the two sentences on the agreement found in Krishna’s statement on Clinton’s visit.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government fights shy to reveal the terms of the agreement to Parliament and to answer specific concerns, State Department has called the EUMA with India “a landmark event,” with spokesman Robert Wood going on to say: “We’re very proud, and we believe that this agreement between the US and India is important in our overall global nonproliferation efforts, and we believe that this agreement has brought India into the nuclear nonproliferation mainstream.”

India Well On The Way Of Becoming A Client State Of The US

Just two months in office and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh just cannot wait to make India a client state of the United States. And even though it won just 206 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, he thinks he has the license mortgage India’s sovereignty to the United States.

The latest in a series of sell-outs is the End-Use Monitoring Agreement under which US inspectors would be given the right to enter Indian military bases to inspect American military systems in service with the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force.

India does not have such an agreement with any other country.

The EUMA agreement is a part of a pattern — the virtual shelving of the India-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline, indications of India supporting the US rather than the developing countries in the Doha Round, the climbdown on climate change at the G8+G5 summit in Italy, and the abdication of India’s position on Pak-sponsored terrorism on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Egypt – of Manmohan Singh compromising India’s economic and political sovereignty.

India’s best defence correspondent Josy Joseph reports spin doctors from within the establishment are trying to project the agreement as a huge victory for them, saying there is no direct reference to “physical onsite inspection” but military sources who have studied the American agreement – better known as Golden Sentry programme – say that “physical verification” is integral to it.

The Golden Sentry programme is a cradle-to-grave inspection mechanism governed by the US department of defence (DOD) to monitor all military equipment sold to foreign countries. The aim of the mission, according to Pentagon, is to “minimise security risks” and to satisfy its “foreign policy objectives.”

The Golden Sentry inspections are done by “Tigers”, specialised teams of the Pentagon, at random on defence articles and services provided to foreign customers through government-to-government sales called FMS (foreign military sales). All sensitive military systems are sold by the US through FMS.

The agreement also means the US inspectors have to regularly “evaluate” and “plan” India’s military capabilities. According to Pentagon officials, while normally the end use monitoring agreement “presupposes a trusted partner” if the circumstances prove different they could take actions ranging from demarche to sanctions.

“These (EUMA) are designed to ensure America has leverage over the recipient country. These are designed for client states not for India which is a strategic partner,’’ says strategic affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney, adding, “the US wants a big slice of India’s arms market. India does not have such clauses with any other supplier.”

“The whole idea is essentially meant for formal allies. It is strange for India to sign it because we have a whole bunch of hardware from other countries,’’ wonders Bharat Karnad, a security expert at the Centre for Policy Research. Indeed, it is no secret that the Indian military and also the defence establishment has for long been opposed to the EUMA

Not surprisingly, the Indo-US joint statement issued after Hillary Clinton’s visit bluntly seeks to deepen the strategic alliance between the two countries. Despite the high sounding phrases about transforming the relationship to “enhance global prosperity and stability in the 21st century,” the contents and the agreements arrived at demonstrate that India is now virtually a client state of the US.

This growing military collaboration with India is the key US interest. Washington wants India to buy billions of dollars of military equipment. Recall that on the eve of Hillary Clinton’s visit to India, US Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley had gloated that the EUMA “is part of the fulfilment of an important initiative that India and the US have signed in the area of nuclear co-operation.”

Those opposed to the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, including this writer, have repeatedly pointed out that the deal was a quid pro quo for India becoming a military ally of the US. But even on the nuclear deal, the US is again seeking to shift the goalposts. Washington is moving quickly to deny India access to enrichment and reprocessing technology. This is what the recent G-8 decision amounts to. Uncle Sam now wants to bring the Indo-US nuclear deal within the global non-proliferation architecture.

It is clear that the EUMA is just a trailer. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of Clinton’s “hugely successful” visit (from the US viewpoint) underlines that US business interests will have priority in Indian policy making. This is going to be formalised with the bilateral investment treaty and the pursuit of the Indo-US Joint CEO Forum. Manmohan Singh will be pushing for more FDI in insurance, banking, higher education and other sectors in line with these lobbying forums.

Moreover, by reiterating the earlier Bush-Manmohan Singh commitment to promote “democracy” on a global scale, the Congress-led government has shown itself willing to go along with this ideological enterprise of the US. That is why India has adopted a hostile stand towards Iran and shelved the IPI gas pipeline deal besides voting against Tehran in the IAEA, diluted its stand on agriculture and investment related matters in the Doha round of talks on WTO, and given in to the US demand on climate change talks which requires India to cut carbon emissions without serious steps being taken by the developed countries to do so.

And now that India is well on its way to become a client state of the US,voices are already being heard that American English is the way to go.

Get the drift?

Maharashtra’s Striking College Teachers Forced To Travel To Nashik To Be Heard After Education Minister Does Vanishing Act

As far as the Maharashtra State Government is concerned, the striking college teachers can take a hike, forget the “pay” part they are agitating for. As a result, the strike enters its seventh day today (July 21), with no end in sight. The government couldn’t care less if work, particularly revaluation of papers and such like that directly impacts the future of thousands of students, is affected.

Given the hidebound response of the state government, the teachers have planned a massive morcha tomorrow (July 22) at Nashik, where the state cabinet will meet. But whether their entreaties will move even the “education barons” in the cabinet is a moot point.

The teachers have stopped work’ in response to the state-wide agitation call by MFUCTO demanding implementation of the 6th Pay Commission recommendations. The Federation has submitted a 32-point charter of demands that have already been accepted by the UGC, the apex body that will eventually foot the bill of enhanced salaries and allowances but for some strange reason the state government refuses to accept.

The UGC in its guidelines has informed the state government that it would reduce the quantum of financial support yet minister for higher education Rajesh Tope and his factotum education secretary JS Saharia insist the teachers take a cut in the quantum of allowances awarded by the UGC.

“We have been agitating for the implementation of the recommendations of the pay Commission for quite some time, but the government has failed to take notice,” PUTA president Atul Bagul told the media in Pune, adding, “What is the logic behind excluding only the senior college teachers out of the 6th pay panel benefits whereas the same were extended to their junior college counterparts.”

So far, three rounds of talks have been held between the MFUCTO leaders and Rajesh Tope and JS Saharia, on July 15, 16 and 18, but none could lead to a solution

Nothing explains the non-serious approach of Maharashtra minister of higher education Rajesh Tope who is dealing with representatives of the Maharashtra Federation of University and College Teachers Organisation (MFUCTO) representing all the college and university teachers in the state.

After inviting the Federation’s representative for a meeting on June 18, Tope did the disappearing act and kept the teachers waiting for the whole day in his Mantralaya office. And true to bureaucratic form state education secretary JS Saharia just shrugged his shoulders and informed the senior professors that their demands were “under consideration”.

This cavalier attitude vis-a-vis teachers has become the hallmark of the Ashok Chavan government when it comes to sections of society that do not constitute a vote bank. That’s why on the eve of assembly elections giant statues in the Arabian Sea off Marine Drive costing Rs 200 crore (more than what would be spent on teachers if their demands are met) are more important than poorly paid teachers who earn less than HSC pass call centre employees.

Indeed, the entire political class, including the BJP and Shiv Sena, are curiously silent even though they celebrated “Guru Purnima” with much gusto and photo-ops just a fortnight ago on July 7. This displays not just the hypocrisy of our politicians but their cynical and manipulative ways as well.

To demonstrate their resolve, the state’s university and colleges teachers under the leadership of MFUCTO have organised a massive morcha tomorrow (July 22) in Nashik where the state Cabinet is supposed to meet to press their case. Now we have to wait to see if the Ashok Chavan government is at all serious about settling the teachers’ grievances.

College Teachers’ Strike: Democratic Deficit In Governance

Maharashtra’s university and college teachers have been on strike for one week now demanding implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission and other issues concerning the future of higher education not only in the state but in the rest of the country as well. However, the government remains unmoved. It is evident that even as the Prime Minister and the Congress party tom-tom the goal of making India a “Knowledge Superpower”, it cares two hoots for the welfare of teachers and students.

Indeed, Manmohan Singh’s government makes no secret of its commitment to the neo-liberal agenda and to its distrust of the democratic process of decision making. The announcement by the HRD minister of the 100 day action plan, which includes such sweeping changes as the discontinuance of examinations at the 10th standard is indicative of the democratic deficit in governance that has become the hallmark of the new dispensation at the Centre.

Soon after taking oath as HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal announced, “I am going to restructure the complete education system in the country. We need to restructure the system so that we do not need to go through the punitive routes…There has to be “corrective steps with human face.”

In fact, he is in a tearing hurry to take these steps that without taking the opinion of various state governments (education is a state subject) he will try to initiate the process of implementing the recommendations of the Yashpal Committee within 100 days. Since a month has passed since he made the grandiose announcement, we have just two months to go.

Professor Yashpal’s report deals with Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education. “The recommendations of the Yashpal Committee and the NKC (National Knowledge Commission) are pivotal to reforming the higher education sector,” Sibal said.

This, of course, is a fig leaf for the move for the government to privatise education because “there is no money” to meet the Eleventh Plan targets. The Eleventh Plan envisages that by 2012 at least 15 per cent of those passing out from schools should enter college compared to only 11 per cent now. That would mean setting up around 1,500 universities across the country to meet the demand in the next five years—almost five times the existing number.

Neo-liberal policy, of which Sibal is an ardent proponent, dictates that sort of huge infusion of funds can come only from the private sector. Indeed, thoseadvocating privatisation of higher education argue that “it is not possible for any government, let alone the government of a developing nation, to run even the existing 300 universities with equal generosity. Such an agendum is bound to cause either a fiscal breakdown or doom the university system to mediocrity.” What the Government can do is lay down norms and standards and ensure that private institutions follow them, it is stressed.

They argue in the same breath that the era of producing “vanilla” graduates has to be quickly brought to an end. The buzzword is “industry-linked education” or “job-oriented” courses. The term vocational education is increasingly finding disfavour among “decision makers” because of the stigma attached to it that it is a “loser’s choice”. So “repackaging” and “rebranding” has become the name of the game. (See my June 10 post ‘Education as Product, Student as Consumer’.)

According to “management expert” CK Pralhad, the key is to make degree courses more linked to industry and its needs. Skill development is now considered key to good education – the equivalent of having “Intel Inside” (sic). There is also a growing demand to free the crippling government control over school education and introduce massive privatisation including making it a for-profit sector.

But Yashpal is contemptuous of the for-profit argument. His committee forthrightly reports, “In many private educational institutions, the appointment of teachers is made at the lowest possible cost. They are treated with scant dignity, thereby turning away competent persons from opting for the teaching profession. A limited number of senior positions are filled at attractive salaries, especially from other reputed institutions, mainly for prestige.

“Otherwise, there are many terrible instances of faculty being asked to work in more than one institution belonging to the management; their salary being paid only for nine months; actual payments being much less than the amount signed for; impounding of their certificates and passports; compelling them to award pass marks in the internal examination to the “favourites” and fail marks for students who protest illegal collections and so on.”

Sibal, of course, is too smart to throw out the baby with the bathwater. After all, the Yashpal Committee Report does gives his “reform” agenda a fig leaf of respectability. But it does not take care of his Congress cronies who are highway robbers disguised as “education barons”. And their needs have to be met. So Sibal wants to club the Yashpal and NKC Reports, even though they are contradictory, in his march towards privatising education, including FDI in the sector (an issue I will deal with separately in another article).

Despite Kapil Sibal’s camaraderie with Yashpal and Sam Pitroda, the two veterans share little common ground in education. Yashpal’s vision is the very opposite of Sam Pitroda. Indeed, the Yashpal Committee holistic recommendations are in variance with those of the NKC and its narrow commercial orientation. But Sibal glibly explains that recommendations of the Yashpal Committee would find easy acceptance as the panel has “done extensive dialogue with all stakeholders”.

To be sure, the vision of NKC is fragmented and divisive in as much as it has sought to divide disciplines, institutions and academics into different categories. It prioritises new generation disciplines with commercial prospects over traditional disciplines and national level institutions of excellence from state level universities. It wants to divide the teaching community into different categories on the basis of the “market value” of their disciplines.

Obviously, the Yashpal Committee Report cannot be implemented along with the NKC Report. The recommendations of the NKC have already been acted upon by the government in part by incorporating its proposals in the action plan for 11th Five Year Plan. The setting up of numerous IITs, IIITs and IIMs as institutions specialising in their respective disciplines reflect priorities different from that envisaged by the Yashpal Committee.

All India Federation of Colleges and Universities’ Teachers Organisations Thomas Joseph argues it is not accidental that Kapil Sibal has clubbed the Yashpal and NKC Reports together.

In the polemical article (excerpted below) he says though there are basic differences between the brazenly neo-liberal approach of the NKC and the humane and the academic orientation of the Yashpal Committee recommendations, the major administrative recommendation of both the NKC and Yashpal appear to be the same.

“Though Yashpal protests that his brainchild – the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) – is different from Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE), the obvious resemblances in the constitution and powers of the institutions cannot be overlooked.

Both IRAHE and NCHER are conceived as apex regulatory bodies with overarching powers and responsibilities. Both are required to be set up by an act of Parliament. Both will have advisory, administrative, funding and regulating functions. The status and mode of appointment of the chief functionary of the NCHER will be similar to that of the chief election commissioner.

There would be six other members representing diverse fields of knowledge and experience, all enjoying the status of members of the Election Commission. The existing 13 regulatory bodies like UGC and AICTE will be subsumed within the new body.

If at all these bodies are permitted to continue, their roles will be limited to the conduct of qualifying tests for professionals in their respective fields. They would be divested of their academic functions.

However, the comparison between the Yashpal Committee Report and NKC Report begins and ends here. The holistic vision of Higher Education presented by the Yashpal Committee is refreshingly different from the narrow commercial orientation of the NKC Report.

The Report warns against cubicalisation of knowledge by creating exclusive centres of learning for different disciplines. The Report tries to recover the idea of a university as a meeting place of all knowledge available through all disciplines. It promotes the concept of inter-disciplinarity by perceiving that new knowledge is likely to be created at the intersections of disciplines.

Accordingly, it recommends that existing IITs and IIMs and such other institutions should be transformed into universities by providing access to all disciplines. The Report makes a strong plea for integrating teaching with research and research with teaching. It rightly lays stress on the development of undergraduate education which is the foundation of Higher Education.

While the NKC had sought the separation of undergraduate education from post-graduate education, except in a few institutions of excellence, the Yashpal Committee recommends the integration of undergraduate with post-graduate learning in all institutions.

The Committee regards both theoretical learning and applied learning as equally important and recognises the use of local data and resources to make knowledge covered in the syllabus come alive as experience.

It recommends that curriculum reform would include compulsory exposure and engagement with different kinds of works, including manual work. It stresses the need for learning across disciplines by giving students the opportunity to learn subjects outside their field of specialisation.

The need for developing close interaction among neighbouring institutions by forming clusters for enhancing both access and quality is given considerable attention in the Report.

The Yashpal Committee Report regards autonomy as an essential component of excellence. It wants the universities to become self-regulating agencies. It says that the teacher should have complete autonomy in academic matters. He should have the freedom to frame his course and to choose the manner of assessing his students.

The freedom of the student consists in choosing his courses and the pace of his studies. At the same time the Report also underlines the need for accountability of Higher Education institutions. One of the concrete issues raised by the Committee in this connection is in regard to the deemed universities, especially the denovo variety.

The Committee criticises the cancerous growth of denovo deemed universities in recent times and demands that the provision be scrapped. The Report also raises issues of equity in Higher Education. It points out that the capitation fees for engineering courses vary from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, for MBBS from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 lakh, for dental courses from Rs 5 to Rs 12 lakh and courses in arts and science from Rs 30,000 to 50,000. It calls for measures to ensure that all meritorious students are given access to Higher Education, irrespective of their financial status.

An implicit assumption that runs through the Report is that the grand vision of education as outlined by Yashpal would be imbibed by the seven wise men who constitute the NCHER. Such complacence would be misplaced even if the philosophy of the Yashpal Report is incorporated into the text of the statute that would bring NCHER into being.

The most telling example is the failure of the Indian State to govern the country in accordance with the democratic, secular and socialist tenets enshrined in the preamble to the Constitution. The chances of such failure are greater today.

The equation drawn by Kapil Sibal between such dissimilar reports as the Yashpal Committee Report and the NKC Report is a pointer to the shape of things to come. It is quite likely that Yashpal Committee Report will be subsumed within the NKC Report.

One of the important drawbacks in the structure of NCHER as recommended by Yashpal is that it has ignored the importance of consultative process in the evolution of educational policies. The NCHER, as it is presently conceived, is a body of seven wise men. It is assumed that they will be able to rise above narrow prejudices and personal biases in policy formulation and implementation.

There is no guarantee that a body selected by a search committee comprising the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India and insulated against day-to-day political interference and endowed with adequate finances would always act wisely and in public interest.

Policy formulations made by such an authority, even if it has to be vetted by Parliament, would carry an aura of authority. The check against arbitrariness in policy formulation and implementation is a mechanism for larger consultation and monitoring. Therefore, an arrangement for compulsory consultation with all stakeholders in education, including the states and the universities, should be built into the structure of the proposed NCHER.

Similarly, a provision for ensuring accountability not only to Parliament but to the larger academic community should also be provided. Given the impatience with which Kapil Sibal is itching for “reforms”, such a process, which would slow down decision making, is unlikely to find favour with the mandarins at the HRD ministry.

The NCHER is likely to collapse under the weight of its responsibilities, if ever it makes an attempt to grapple with them. A more likely and less welcome prospect would be that NCHER will continue to survive by sacrificing its most important agenda – academic innovation and regulation. The UGC has had a similar fate.

Conceived as an academic, regulatory and funding agency, the UGC largely ignored its academic responsibilities and messed up its funding functions. While no tears would be shed over the demise of UGC/AICTE and other similar regulatory agencies, which have become corrupt and dysfunctional over the years, there is no reason why these agencies should be dispensed with lock-stock-and-barrel. These could be pruned appropriately and asked to continue with the function of funding, of course with a greater sense of accountability than they are used to.

The proposed NCHER could take over the academic responsibilities from these agencies and remain contented with it. A separation of academic and funding responsibilities and an arrangement for sharing such responsibilities by different agencies are likely to ensure better results in respect of both than combining them under one roof.

The implementation of the recommendations of the Yashpal Committee would thus necessitate a rethinking on the priorities and programmes of the 11th Plan. Such a step is very unlikely to materialise. But the Report could be compromised and co-opted. Unfortunately, the seeds for such co-option have inadvertently been sown by Yashpal himself through his half-baked notions of NCHER.”

Global Warming: G8 Puts Cart Before The Horse

The G8 Summit at L’Aquila in Italy on July 8, 2009 was also the first annual G8 Summit since Barack Obama became US president after a campaign in which all presidential candidates promised to reverse the Bush-era US isolation on climate change and refusal to adopt a national policy of meaningful cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

This was followed by a meeting on July 9 with the G5 major emerging economies China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa and then a meeting with African leaders the next day focusing on Africa.

This so-called Heiligendamm Process, named after the venue of the G8 Summit in Germany in 2007, will apparently henceforth be called the Heiligendamm-L’Aquila Process. Why it misses the Japanese venue of Toyako where the G8 Summit was held in 2008 along similar lines, or whether names of every subsequent summit venue will keep being added on will remain one of those mysteries of international summitry.

In any case, the global economic meltdown and climate change dominated the first two days, the G8 discussing these issues first among themselves and on the second day with the G5, underlining the prevailing international hierarchy.

This shift in the national mood and in the balance of power within the US Congress, was also reflected in the recent passing of a US Climate Bill by a wafer thin margin by the House of Representatives putting forward, for the first time, national goals for GHG emissions reductions by the US which however fell far short of what would be required to stave off the looming climate crisis. There is also doubt whether the Bill will pass in the Senate and what form any joint Bill will take.

Against this background, and with the 15th Conference of Parties (COP 15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December 2009 just around the corner, when a new post-2012 global agreement on climate is to be finalised, this Summit was expected to make substantial progress.

From the complete stalemate of a few months ago at meetings at Poznan and Bonn, some forward movement can be said to have been made at L’Aquila due partly to the new US position bolstered by passage of the Climate Bill.

However, again surely due to the US position on these issues, the L’Aquila Declaration targets for advanced countries still remain far below the requirement and fundamental issues of equity, funding and technology transfer are still to be properly addressed let alone resolved.

To top it all, the main points of the Declaration were pious and rather vague intentions regarding outcomes, not the robust mechanisms and milestones by which to achieve them.

Notional Goal

Much comment has been attracted by the statement in the Declaration of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, (i.e. G8 plus G5 countries) representing over 75 per cent of global GDP and GHG emissions, that these countries “recognise the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees C.”

True, this is the first time that advanced industrialised nations have collectively recognised that a temperature rise of 2 degrees C constitutes an important and dangerous threshold. But there are two major problems with enunciating this as the goal.

First, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has long been warning that, given present levels of accumulated GHGs in the atmosphere due to failures in meeting Kyoto Protocol targets and given current and potential trajectories of GHG emissions by major economies, 2 degrees C rise in temperatures with grave consequences are almost inevitable in the medium term, i.e. in two to three decades, unless drastic measures are taken in the short to medium terms.

Second, while setting a goal of a maximum 2 degrees C rise may be laudable, this is merely an aspirational target, and will remain just a statement of good intentions unless it is spelled out how this objective is proposed to be achieved in terms of short and medium-term emission reduction measures. Minus the latter, this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse without which the destination cannot be reached. As the old saying goes, the road to damnation is paved with good intentions!

On emission reduction targets, the MEF Declaration is curiously silent, even though the G8 industrialised countries meeting the day before set themselves some targets. But the G8 plus G5 together only state that they will “work between now and Copenhagen… to identify a global goal for substantially reducing global emissions by 2050.”

The fact that this Declaration contains no emissions reduction targets is a pointer to the gulf that still separates the developed and the developing nations. The latter were clearly not too impressed with the goals set by the G8 the previous day, and the G8 in turn were pushing the G5 to make their own emission reductions commitments. And yet, some new formulations in both the G8 and MEF Declarations should be noted for their positive as well as negative connotations.

G8 Still Holding Back

The G8 Declaration at L’Aquila called for reducing global emissions by 50 per cent by 2050 and, towards this end, also announced a “goal of developed countries reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in aggregate by 80 per cent or more by 2050 compared to 1990 or more recent years” (emphasis added).

IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report released in 2007 had called for stabilising atmospheric GHG concentrations at around 450 ppmv (parts per million by volume) and had stated that this would require global GHG emissions to start declining by 2015 and be less than 50 per cent of today’s levels by 2050, which would in turn require developed country emissions to reduce by 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 95 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

While the G8 target for global emissions in 2050 broadly corresponds to IPCC recommendations (qualifying clauses being discussed later), all other targets are far lower, with considerable significance for outcomes. The G8 targets, both global and for developed countries, are long-term ones, that is for 2050, with no medium-term targets for 2020 or 2030.

It is well known that if medium-term targets such as IPCC’s above are not achieved, GHG concentrations and temperature rise would have gone beyond the reach of the longer-term goals for 2050. In other words, the long-term goals mean little unless the medium term targets are achieved. The EU has been pushing hard for stringent emissions cuts by 2020, but again bowed before US pressure at the G8.

Why the US should have resisted shorter-term targets per se is unclear since the recently passed US Climate Bill too commits the US to interim targets. One possible explanation is that the US is still not ready to commit itself to a global Treaty and for its performance to be judged in an international forum.

The G8 obfuscation on the baseline year for these proposed emissions reductions has now become standard practice of the US and of all groupings in which the US is involved such as the G8, regardless of the stand of the EU or individual European countries like UK, Germany or France which favour strong interim targets against a 1990 baseline.

All IPCC recommendations too are for reductions below 1990 levels, which is the baseline set under the Kyoto Protocol. How much difference this can make can be understood from the fact that the US Climate Bill’s targets of 17 per cent reduction by 2020, 42 per cent by 2030 and 83 per cent by 2050, all relative to 2005, are equivalent to only 3 per cent, 33 per cent and 75 per cent reduction by 2020, 2030 and 2050 respectively below 1990 levels. (Incidentally, all these targets as passed by the House are for more reductions than proposed by president Obama at 15, 40 and 80 per cent respectively!) All this makes the desired outcome of restricting temperature rise to 2 degrees C that much less possible.

How toothless the G8 targets are was made abundantly clear by Canada immediately after the Summit. Canada, with one of the worst emissions records among developed countries, which has an already low target of reducing emissions 60-70 per cent below 2006 levels by 2050, pooh-poohed the G8 targets as merely “aspirational” and said that Canada saw no need to change its policy accordingly.

Developing Countries

The MEF Declaration issued jointly by the G8 and G5 countries allows the G8 obfuscation on medium-term targets and baseline years, notwithstanding the several additional clauses that are supposed to indicate the different thinking of the G5 and, by inference, other developing nations.

Thus, while endorsing the aspirational goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees C and the mismatched long-term goal of the developed countries to reduce emissions by 2050, the MEF Declaration makes no mention of the important medium-term targets but only vaguely speaks of developed countries undertaking “robust aggregate and individual reductions in the midterm.”

The statement that the MEF countries would “work together before Copenhagen to achieve a strong result in this regard” inspires little confidence given the enormous leeway already conceded to the developed countries and the unwillingness to push them hard on the major issues.

Notably missing in the Declaration are any references to the responsibility of developed countries for historical emissions and therefore the necessity of these countries, following the “polluter pays” principle, making compensatory financial contributions enabling developing countries to adapt to climate changes and to adopt actions for mitigating GHG emissions.

Rather, the Declaration speaks in delightfully vague terms about such financial assistance and simply endorses a proposal by Mexico to set up a “Green Fund” without making clear the source of these funds. In fact, the Declaration merely says that “financing to address climate change will derive from multiple sources, including both public and private funds and carbon markets”, again avoiding the issue of the primary responsibility of developed countries in this regard.

Two formulations in the MEF Declaration are worthy of note. For the first time, the G5 has accepted that they “will promptly undertake actions whose projected effects on emissions represent a meaningful deviation from business as usual in the midterm” and that “the peaking of global and national emissions should take place as soon as possible,” implying that a capping of emissions from leading developing countries is now on the cards.

Regular readers will recall that these columns have been among the very few progressive and developing country voices, especially in India, that have advocated this position. However, we have argued that such a G5 position should be put forward conditional upon the developed countries committing themselves to deep emissions cuts along the lines recommended by the IPCC as well as to financial assistance and technology transfer to developing countries.

Given the absence of these latter in the L’Aquila G8 and MEF Declarations, the agreement of the G5 to slowing down rate of increase, then peaking and finally reduction of emissions may be seen as somewhat of a give-away.

A potentially significant new direction contained in the MEF Declaration, if sincerely meant, implemented and followed up, is that the G8 and G5 countries would “dramatically increase and coordinate public sectorinvestments in research, development, and demonstration of these (transformational low-carbon, climate-friendly technologies technologies) with a view to doubling such investments by 2015.”

Emphasis till now, especially from the G8, has been on private sector R&D as well as on measures to protect the intellectual property rights (IPR) in this regard, which have been widely seen as working against the development and equitable spread of technologies leading to a low-carbon developmental trajectory.

In fact, even the L’Aquila G8 Declaration speaks of the “critical role of an efficient system of intellectual property rights (IPR) to foster innovation” and the development and diffusion of new technologies “particularly through the engagement and leveraging of critical private sector investment.” Who is bluffing, one wonders?

With all this waffling, the usual posturing by the developed countries and the yielding of ground by the EU on the one hand and by the G5 on the other, it is perhaps difficult to see where the global climate parleys will lead before, at and after Copenhagen. But reading the tea-leaves, some movement however small seems discernible from the total standstill of a year or two ago. Can serious negotiations begin now?

Raghu