Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Who needs freedom if China can do without it?

cyber age : ND Batra
It’s a dog’s life sans freedom
From The Statesman

China has been growing at the rate of 8-9 per cent for the past two decades or so, and is expected to become an economic and military heavyweight, if not a superpower, in the coming decades. Since the authoritarian rule has not held back China from growing at a phenomenal rate, it is legitimate to ask: How could they do so much in such a short time without freedom and civil liberties? Even Vietnam has begun to follow the Chinese model.

May be Francis Fukuyama should revise his thesis which he prematurely delivered soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union: “What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Rather too soon, I am afraid, the end of Communism brought about a sense of complacency, a grand illusion as if it were the final triumph of freedom. Of course, that did not happen. It did not happen in Russia after the Soviet Union disintegrated; and it did not happen in China in spite of the 1989 Tiananman Square pro-democracy protests; and in spite of rapid economic growth and broadening prosperity under state-controlled market capitalism.

Democracy did not happen in the Muslim-Arab world where Islamic fundamentalism has been taking hold of the hearts and minds of the people since long. In fact, after the collapse of the Soviet Union worldwide authoritarianism might have increased. China has no doubt ceased to be an imminent threat since its economic growth has become increasingly tied up with: search for energy and other raw material; foreign direct investment; and exports, especially to the USA.

Today China, ironically, is the USA’s biggest foreign lender; and so, unsurprisingly, human rights including Tibet have ceased to be an issue in Sino-US relations. On a recent visit to China, US treasury secretary John Snow urged the Chinese to spend more on consumer goods; he never mentioned democracy. Do you know why? Because China, according to The Wall Street Journal, would be accumulating “a $100-billion trade surplus for the year — triple last year’s number — it must reduce reliance on trade and build up internal demand by encouraging the Chinese to spend more.” For China, consuming what they manufacture is more important than political freedom.

Between the USA and Saudi Arabia and other seemingly pro-American Muslim-Arab countries in the region, where fundamentalism has been holding sway for long, human rights and freedom were seldom an issue. After the 2001 terrorists attacks, the USA bonded with Pakistan using financial and military ties to make it an ally against the Taliban and Al-Qaida terrorism. And to maintain its hold over Pakistan, the USA soft-peddled the issue of even the black-marketing of nuclear technology by one of the world’s most notorious scientists, AQ Khan. Military rules the land. Jihadists flourish, regardless of earthquake or whatever.

The USA has not given up the realpolitik of playing games with the devil regardless of its newly found messianic fervour of spreading freedom universally. The rhetoric of freedom and liberty seems to be a posture of public diplomacy for winning the hearts and minds of the Arab-Muslim world. George W Bush believes that the USA would remain vulnerable to terrorism so long as tyranny and hate ideology prevailed abroad and for which, according to him, there’s no other solution except to expand freedom.

“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world…. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government because no one is fit to be a master and no one deserves to be a slave,” said Bush at the beginning of his second term. But an Arab/Muslim might say, look at China, where 1.3 billion people work day and night to churn out goods for the entire world without much ado about freedom.

When Bush goes to China, is he going to challenge President Hu Jintao: Democratise or else?

With Iraq in mind, Bush has no doubt been steadfast in what he had said earlier, “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfil, and would be dishonourable to abandon. Yet, because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom.” Elections in Afghanistan and the Palestinian Authority raised some hope that eventually elections and sharing of power in Iraq might bring about the beginning of law and order in Iraq, too.

Successful holding of the recent elections in Iraq for the approval of the constitution was a momentous event, a new day when millions of Iraqis exercised their freedom. But freedom to vote is not enough because it does not mean the end of violence, poverty and unemployment, which provide a fertile ground for more terrorism.

The Bush freedom rhetoric and new-found zest for public diplomacy must include economic aid including preferential trade for poor Muslim countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia as well as for other nations which have been making valiant efforts to grow economically and control Islamic jihadism at the same time.

Instead of looking to China as a model, they should look to the USA. That is the biggest challenge for the US public diplomacy today.

The Random and the Absurd

Volume 1

Can you build a bridge over a black hole with a donut?

Think of evolution as a function of intelligent design.

How does evolution explain sexual pleasure; or the anguished cry: Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have You deserted Me?

Great lovers are born, not made. Think of Lord Byron.

If Vice President Dick Cheney is uncovered as the source of the leak about Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent and the wife of diplomat Joseph C. Wilson, I hope President George W. Bush would pardon Mr. Cheney, the ultimate man of war and peace responsible for spreading freedom and democracy around the world.

Why can’t we apply the Game Theory to Jihad?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Choosing between friendship and patriotism

E. M. Forster
Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)

"One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of one's life, and it is therefore essential that they should not let one down. They often do. Personal relations are despised today. They are regarded as bourgeois luxuries, as products of a time of fair weather which is now past, and we are urged to get rid of them, and to dedicate ourselves to some movement or cause instead. I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalise the modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the telephone and ring up the police. It would not have shocked Dante, though. Dante placed Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

America: a country of second chance

Beyond the game theory
ND Batra
From The Statesman

Life is more than a game theory. Sometimes it is an act of faith. In the USA, a person can have another chance to get out of his sordid past and start a new life. It is indeed a country of second chance.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger, now California Governor, was fighting for the gubernatorial race in a recall election in 2003, the Opposition dug up dirt and uncovered his father’s Nazi association in Austria, his native country. Yet the California electorate decided to put his European past behind and elected him Governor of the most dynamic state in the USA. Game theory couldn’t have explained the electorate behaviour.

Once upon a beautiful day at Morehead State University, a school nestling in the rolling hills of eastern Kentucky and Daniel Boone Forest, I was teaching an undergraduate class when I heard a gentle knock at the door. As I opened the door, I saw two cops standing ramrod and one of them, after politely apologising for the intrusion, said they would like to speak to one of my students, Gary (name changed). Is he there, he asked authoritatively? It’s a drug inquiry, the other said. I was shocked and puzzled. Should I turn in one of my students to the cops, or make a plausible excuse for his absence? The classroom, unlike a temple or church, is not a sanctuary; but nor is it a public forum. It is a place of awakening and certainly my students were awakened that beyond the world of textbooks there is another world.

I returned to the class and closed the door behind me. The students, most of whom were girls, devoured me with their inquisitive and anxious looks and after a moment of “Pinteresque pause” I asked Gary to leave the classroom. He looked at the window but understanding his drift I said, no, go from the front door.

After two weeks of absence Gary returned, presumably on bail, and asked me if he could do the makeup work and continue in the course. As per university rules, it was for me to decide whether to allow him to return to the class after such a long unexcused period of absence. By this time, the campus learned the truth about Gary, and I felt that it wasn’t exactly like allowing a confessed killer to sit in my class; nonetheless, it was somewhat of an ethical dilemma.

Most people think that ethics is about what’s right and wrong within a given moral system into which they are born, but it is more than that. Ethics sometimes is about making a choice between two equally competing values or between two wrongs, and choosing the lesser one in compelling circumstances. Consider for a moment the ethical dilemma of a doctor who has two equally desperate patients and both likely to die, but he has only one kidney available for transplant. What should be the basis of his decision when the Hippocratic oath enjoins him, “First do no harm”? His decision however sound logically would let one of them die.

I begin my Fall semester law and ethics class at Norwich University with the ethical dilemma posed by Immanuel Kant, the renowned and influential 18th century philosopher. If a man with a handgun knocks at your door, asking about another man who is hiding in your basement and with whom he wants to settle an old score, what would you do? Will you let him in and drag the man out to be shot, or tell a lie to save his life? Both killing and lying are morally wrong according to Christian morality, the framework in which my students have been growing up.

Whatever post-modernists might say, I think moral relativism is a worst form of immorality. But what was my moral framework under which I made the ethical choice to let Gary sit in my class, in spite of his dubious past? Although I was brought up in a Hindu family where karma, compassion and truth were regarded as the highest virtues, the superstructure on this foundation has been that of Western secular humanism. And when Gary confronted me with the ethical dilemma, I recalled Oscar Wilde’s notorious words: “The difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Gary would have a future if he completed his education, but if he were dismissed from the university he might become a drug dealer and harm society and self-destruct. I wasn’t bargaining like a game theorist.

Norwich University, a few years ago, faced an ethical dilemma about the presence of Indonesian military-sponsored students in its military college. The American people used to watch on television the atrocities committed by the Indonesian military against innocent people of East Timor (before their independence) and some in the media accused the university of unintentional complicity. Should the university have let the students continue in the programme hoping that they would return to Indonesia as good citizen-soldiers in service of their country rather than killers of the innocent? A private university depends upon the public goodwill and must be accountable for its actions, including its investment decisions and foreign collaborations. The university gave the Indonesian students a chance and let them continue hoping that they would do good to their country when they returned.

So when I look at the face of a student sitting in my class, I do not think that one day he might become a Unabomber like Ted Kaczynski; or an Islamist terrorist. I hope my students would become proud and successful professionals, parents and responsible citizens as most of them do. Teaching like marriage is an act of trust, which must be built and rebuilt daily with the hope that tomorrow would be better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Nuclear Iran?

cyber age: ND Batra
The Statesman
Q&A: Iran-India diplomacy

Would it be in India’s national interest for Iran to develop nuclear weapons?

Although India is not a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty, in spirit, however, it is committed to the international treaty. The 18 July agreement with the USA, which was a virtual recognition of India as a nuclear power, further confirmed its commitment to NPT. Iran is a one-party Islamic fundamentalist state with strong ties with Hizbollah (founded in 1982 with Iran’s support), which has been responsible for terrorist attacks in West Asia. India has an international responsibility to see that nuclear weapons do not fall into wrong hands. One nuclear power, one AQ Khan, in the neighbourhood is too many.

Would India’s IAEA vote affect India’s substantial Shia minority?

India’s diplomacy has to serve the larger interests of the nation and must not be allowed to be held hostage to any narrow sectarian interest. Indian Muslims are, and should be, more interested in their own welfare rather than getting involved with Iran over its nuclear future. Iran’s attitude toward India has always been ambiguous, especially, when it had to take a stand on Kashmir in the Organization of Islamic Countries. Although Iran has been claiming friendship with both India and Pakistan, at crucial moments it has always sided with Pakistan.AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan, could not have transferred nuclear technology designs to Iran without the approval of the dreaded ISI and other military brass.

What’s India’s diplomatic responsibility now?

By claiming that India’s vote for the EU-3 proposal would give the international community time to find an acceptable solution puts the onus on India to work out a way that ensures that Iran does not engage in clandestine nuclear weapon programmes and at the same time gets access to nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, of course, under full international safeguards. India should become an active participant with EU-3 countries, Germany, France and the UK, to see that negotiations do not turn into confrontation that might give the USA or any other power, apprehensive about Iran’s nuclear bomb, an excuse to intervene militarily. Iran should not allow itself to be perceived as another country with weapons of mass destruction and a haven for Islamic terrorists with access to nuclear weapons.

Would the IAEA vote have an adverse effect upon India’s access to Iran’s energy resources?

If India were hopelessly dependent upon Iran’s oil, Iran could use oil as a weapon against India, which however is not the case. This makes it all the more important that for its energy security, India cannot unduly depend upon any one country alone. Even if Iran were to assure India that its trade relations would remain unaffected by its stance on the nuclear issue, India has to diversify not only its oil and gas resources but also energy resources in general. Now that nuclear sanctions have been lifted, India must invest heavily in civilian nuclear energy development.

Is nuclear energy a viable option for India?

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to France, President Jacques Chirac offered his country’s full cooperation for the development of civilian nuclear technology. For the harnessing of nuclear energy for civilian purposes, France is by far the most advanced country in the world. Jean-Francois Cope, France’s budget minister and government spokesman, wrote an interesting piece in The Wall Street Journal, “Energy a la Francaise,” in which he said that the oil crisis of the 1970s left no choice for France except “to accelerate the construction of facilities to produce safe and economically profitable nuclear energy.” Today, France is 50 per cent energy independent and is relentlessly pursuing its independence goal further. With genuine pride, Mr Cope wrote, “In partnership with the French nuclear builder Areva SA and the European energy leader Electricite de France (EDF), we are building a revolutionary, safe and competitive nuclear reactor - the FPR - that will go online in around 2015…. a fresh step forward in risk prevention as well as environmental protection, since it will create less waste…. Along with fission energy, fusion energy represents the hope for clean, abundant source of energy for the future.” There lies India’s energy future. The good news is that like France, Canada too has reversed its policy of nuclear boycott against India that it had imposed in the wake of the 1998 tests. Manmohan Singh should establish a special task force for making India 50 per cent energy independent by 2025.

What about the attitude of India’s Left?

The Left parties’ contention that India has given up on non-alignment is misplaced. Non-alignment does not mean that India should endorse every illegal action by one of its members. In any case, the Left parties are the wrong people to chant the mantra of non-alignment, an empty international posture that became meaningless once the Soviet Union dissipated and Communist China courageously embraced American style marketplace capitalism. If the Left opens up the economy to foreign investment as China has done, West Bengal, too, would rise and shine. While Chinese Communist leaders fearlessly come to the USA and globetrot to enhance trade and commerce, Indian Left leaders are afraid to show and tell the world, Hey, West Bengal is the place to invest.

What about the media elite?

The middle class in India, which is growing richer by the day and feels more confident about India’s future today than any time since Independence, has little sympathy with Iran or another Islamic fundamentalist country. Dr Singh’s government understands the rising sentiment of the Indian people that ties with Canada, Europe, Japan and the USA are important. In the digital age, India can choose its neighbours and friends. The Indian elite is out of step with the emerging reality, as is the BJP leadership.

If the Indian media elite, Leftists or Shia Muslims have to send their children abroad for higher education, where would they send them, Europe/USA or Iran?

Iran of course, won’t they?

Monday, October 10, 2005


This week in corporate parody

Feature-rich but compromise is an option
If no breakdown, no obsolescence, hey,
What are we going to do, chapter 11?

Do you hear the dragon coming?
The yellow invasion
Day 11
Are you losing your mind?
One billion operating systems, command and control,
If you don’t kiss the dragon timeout for breakdown, in the snakeroom,
Hot properties make me insomniac, insania, i-searies, insecurity, inhumanity of the Indian infrastructure

Is that your final answer because i-know therefore i-bem complexity
Take back control from the rising sun neighborhood,
Upgrade i-cereal sans cholesterol, prepare for takeoff starting at 41.999
The world fastest reaching i-bem suspension system
That lifts off inter-continental for the next generation

If you press the i-button
Without losing one second of accuracy for which we apologize if
Our precarious martini was not cool enough for your dream date then i-recommend
Red goose with rib-eye of the dragon on sushi i-bem-extraordinaire
But you say lemon i-suggest olives
Unless you settle for average Joke, don’t raise the bar and let others figure out
How to invest in Russia oil&gas reserves
What is i-next that is for Bangalore to elevate investment commitment action and blood pressure bp.com.

I-bem ein Berliner

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Factor India globally

cyber age: ND Batra: From The Statesman

Advantage India
High quality guaranteed

India’s $700 billion economy, growing at a leisurely pace of seven per cent, is a small potato for a billion people, even if you add to it another $ 350 billion of the shadow economy. India needs a sustained growth of eight per cent or more to be able to absorb a projected 75 to 100 million-strong labour force during the next 10 years, apart from lifting the 25 per cent people still below the officially defined poverty line.

The world has come to know India’s cognoscenti, the knowledge class, its comparatively transparent legal system, and the substantial number of graduates and post-graduates coming out of its science, technology and management schools.

Even Asian telecom giants like Flextronics and Kyocera, are beginning to look at India with refreshing eyes, following the footsteps of European and US multinationals such as Motorola, Daimler-Benz, Pfizer, and GE. It seems the macroeconomic environment for doing business in India is improving. Girja Pande, Asia-Pacific director of Tata Consultancy Services was quoted in Reuters as saying, “People come to India for cost (savings) and stay for quality.”

I don’t know how widespread is this sentiment abroad about the quality of India’s BPO, but if this could be turned into a mission statement for corporate India, certainly the country has a great economic future.

The expectation is that India would be another China, not a replacement, mind you, but one more driving engine for the world economy. China has been providing a well-trained and disciplined work force to attract technology transfer and FDI from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, helping it to grow at a nine per cent annual rate during the last two decades. China has the good fortune of being surrounded by industrialised and wealthy countries, which have been providing it with many growth opportunities. In contrast, India is surrby some of the most conflict ridden and failing states.

But India must overcome and find another route to rapid economic growth. Probably a most amazing piece of news came from Europe that German publisher Springer Science + Business Media plans to publish works in German in India, apart from expanding its existing English language publishing.

India has been known for its excellent editorial skills in English but to expand its grasp to other European languages is a great leap. Reuters too has moved some of its editorial functions to India. If the trend continues, India might emerge as a global publishing hub. Because India is a multi-lingual nation, with a deep and widespread respect for learning and the learned, Indians pick up foreign languages much more quickly than other people.

The world has yet to be aware of India’s linguistic advantage. Besides English, there are millions of Indians with a superb command of French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and Farsi. For Springer Science, India has come to play an important strategic role. The success of the company’s English language publishing in India has led to its increased confidence that German language publishing too could be done in India, which shows how big is the potential for the outsourcing of publishing in India from the USA, Germany, England and may be France.

Echoing Pande’s observation — attracting the foreign customer with cost saving, but keeping him with high quality — Haank said: “It is undeniable that the financial attractiveness played a role in coming to India, but this is not unique to India. For the type of work we do, India offers not only a highly educated, but also industrious work force.”

According to a recent IMF, twice-yearly World Economic Outlook report, “If India continues to embrace globalisation and reform, Indian imports could increasingly operate as a driver of global growth as it is one of a handful of economies forecast to have a growing working-age population over the next 10 years.” It is expected that in the next five years, Indian exports would double and imports would triple, which would impact global economic growth for the simple reason that no single country can grow without triggering growth elsewhere. Economic growth is not a zero-sum game.

So what can India do to make itself attractive for boosting regional and global trade links? Meet the energy challenge because rapid growth, “rising incomes and accompanying urbanisation and industrialisation” will put tremendous pressure on “a tight global energy market,” as the IMF report said. The situation could become more dangerous when oil producing countries like Iran try to tie up business deals not with supply-and-demand but on a quid pro quo basis in international politics.

India must break its economic insularity. At present it accounts for just 2.5 per cent global trade compared to 10 per cent in case of China. Barriers are many — high tariffs, limits on inward investment, restrictive labour laws, strangling red tape and poor infrastructure — but not insurmountable.

More than anything else, India needs fiscal discipline, including the control of its runway deficit (eight per cent of GDP); and more importantly streamlining state finances.

India needs to engage in a new kind of public diplomacy that should present a vision that knowledge-based industries such as auto design, pharmaceutical research, healthcare, information technology, financial and accounting services, publishing and back office legal research are not only cost effective but they are of the highest quality.

Corporate India should guarantee quality in no uncertain terms: Money back if not satisfied.