Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Motherhood on demand

Motherhood any which way

From The Statesman


Last December, 28-year-old Louise Brown, who created a global hullabaloo by being the world’s first test-tube baby, became the mother of her own first child.She did it the old-fashioned way. But the door, which her test-tube birth opened, has created many possibilities for women and made age less relevant.

Consider, for example, a situation when the womb is willing but the ovary says no. What should a woman do? The human reproductive technology has enabled women to have test-tube babies of any sex.It has now advanced to a stage when a woman’s eggs can be cryogenically preserved to enable her to have a child at any age, even after menopause.

This does not make menopause irrelevant or arrest the biological clock because women would still suffer from mood swings, hot flushes and osteoporosis.But there is on the horizon a new threshold for women, freedom from the reproductive constraints menopause imposes on them. The social costs cannot be counted at present.

A few years ago, a team of researchers at Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta, Georgia, successfully froze and thawed the eggs of a 29-year-old woman without damaging the gene-carrying chromosomes. Then they fertilised the eggs with the sperms of the man whose wife became the recipient of the embryos and gave birth to a healthy twin. The 39-year- old recipient woman had become prematurely menopausal but had a healthy womb and wanted to have children. If the egg-freezing technology were available earlier, the woman might have frozen her own eggs and banked them for a later use when menopause disabled her from egg production. A young woman, busy with her education and career might postpone marriage and childbearing by banking her frozen eggs for future use when her eggs won’t be so healthy. She may even donate her young and healthy frozen eggs to other women who are infertile.

The quality of eggs deteriorates as a woman ages. Moreover, chances of babies with physical defects and mental retardation, according to experts, increase when a woman in her 40s or in later years gives birth to a child. Now an older woman with younger eggs could beat the odds and become the mother of healthy babies. When a man ages, his sperm count declines but not necessarily the quality of the sperm. Frozen sperm banks have been in existence since long and freezing embryos has given no problem to doctors. But freezing and thawing ova damaged them until the Atlanta researchers injected sperm directly into the thawed eggs through a method called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

There may be less ethical objection to the freezing of ova than embryos, which are fertilised eggs ready to develop into foetus and blossom into full life in the womb. In the brave new world of the 21st century, a single woman in her 50s is able to walk to a reproductive bank in a fertility clinic and choose cryogenically preserved eggs of an 18-year old high school girl and have them fertilised with the sperms of a musician, mathematician or an athlete and let her womb do the rest. She still has to undergo the pleasure and pain of pregnancy ~ the essential part of motherhood~but her menopause or infertility would not be a deterrence to having children.

Freedom from the chains of menopause and reproductive equality with men, who can have children even after 60, are the two hypothetical gains of the new biotechnological development. Would the next advancement be to find ways of doing away with the womb? Nor has the question whether the womb of a 50-year-old woman is as good as that of an 18-year old. Probably researchers would succeed in their efforts to develop an artificial womb, making us re-think the meaning of motherhood. But aren’t we losing something in the bargain? One social consequence of an older man marrying a younger woman and having a child has been that it invariably falls on the woman to raise the child. If the older man does not die but becomes incapacitated with old age, the woman has to carry on child-rearing alone.

But if women begin to depend on the promise of the later-day pregnancy offered by the frozen-egg technology, they may not be able to raise their children as well as would a young mother: soccer mom who goes to every Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings and raises hell if school cafeteria does not serve good lunch or the library keeps objectionable reading material. OB Harding, Jr. asks in his book Disappearing Through the Skylight, “Is the idea of what is to be human disappearing, along with so many other ideas, through the modern skylight?” Every time a new technology appears in someone’s garage or laboratory, it gives us a sense of liberation and power over our destinies.

We feel that our free will has been enhanced and we could take informed decisions and better choices. But along with free will, we need wisdom to ponder over the unintended consequences of the new freedom.

Professor Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The United States, China and the Power Shift

Global power shift in digital age

From The Statesman

The recent stock market gyration triggered by the meltdown in Chinese stock market on 27 February showed how little control any one has over global phenomena. Chinese have begun to invest in the stock market with the hope of getting high returns but investing in China is more like gambling without rules. Investors panicked and global markets swayed. Welcome to globalisation. Share the pain.

US oil services giant Halliburton Co. has announced that it is moving its headquarters and chief executive to Dubai, a booming Middle East commercial center that would one day make Hong Kong and Singapore look like backwaters. Tatas and Mittals are expanding globally, hyping national egos without creating jobs at home.

The Untied States, like other countries, which is shaped politically like a pyramid with some power nodes superior to others, is now losing that well-defined shape and control. The present political tension between President Mr George W. Bush and Democratic controlled Congress is in one sense a manifestation of the slow change that has been occurring since the beginning of the digital age, pushing the United States toward more government but less power, regardless of what the conservatives and liberals profess.

The marketplace capitalism wedded to globalisation and fuelled by instant-networked communication makes too much government not only unnecessary but rather a severe handicap. The power shift, with due respect to Alvin Toffler, is inevitable. The traditional hierarchical political structure with well-defined power centers is becoming more or less heterarchical, in the sense that power is becoming increasingly distributed. No single power center seems to be capable of asserting greater authority than the other. Heterarchy, a favourite term of computer scientists, assures an uninterrupted flow of information without going through predetermined nodes.

The emerging shape of the political system has begun to mimic the Internet heterarchy. Life has begun to imitate technology. In the age of networked globalisation, the hierarchical structure, whether it is presidential, parliamentary or corporate, is very inefficient because information, a prerequisite of power, instead of flowing through the best available route must pass through only one critical path. This endangers the flow of information. That’s why the Chinese stock market is so dangerous because it is so opaque. It lacks transparency, which an anathema to the working of the digital age.

The heterarchical structure on the other hand is more robust because power centers are decentralised and can be mirrored and replicated without one being superior to the other. Heterarchy operates on the principle of equifinality, that’s, the same goals can be reached via different routes. It requires creative imagination to apply these constructs to the current global situation.

Why is Texas-based Halliburton moving to Dubai? It is where the oil is. Senator Patrick Leahy called it an insult to the American taxpayers and soldiers. The American people need to understand that political and economic power is being routed through many dispersed nodes. Less government is a distributed government, not a dereliction of power and responsibility but its more efficient exercise through dispersal of power. In a political heterarchy, as the United States is becoming now, there are multiple ways of getting from one node of power to another to get the work done. There is low correlation, for example, between who sits in the White House and the stock market gyrations.

China communist rulers too would soon understand that by becoming part of the world economy, they have lost political control. The digital age is metamorphosing American society into a new political culture in which the leader of the nation need not be a heroic figure or a great intellectual. Mr George W. Bush would do, in spite of his malapropisms and inadequate grasp of the issues.

China is ruled by inarticulate technocrats, albeit in well-cut Western suits.

Power is shifting to the knowledgeable. The Internet was designed as a heterarchical system of networked communication that would be virtually indestructible even if some of the nodes were nuked. Information could get from point A to B in more than one ways through dynamic routing so that no single node becomes indispensable for the entire network. Something like that is happening to the United States political system, though with a caveat that the hierarchical pyramidal structure will never be completely flattened. The world would never be totally flat.

But more importantly, the presidency has been diminished in power by globalisation; consequently further strengthening the emerging heterarchical political structure of dispersed power centers. Congress and other political institutions too are losing their power because the Internet economy finds the political system cumbersome.

The icons of the pyramidal power, the President, Congress and the Judiciary, will still be there, though with reduced powers, not due so much to the fifty-fifty gridlock but because the Feds, the stock market, the global capital flow, shareholders’ power and opinion polls are becoming the new power centers in the evolving heterarchical political structure.

Regardless of terrorism, another aspect of globalisation, these are extraordinary times to witness these awesome changes taking place in the United States and rest of the world.

(N.D. Batra, professor of communications at Norwich University, is the author of Digital Freedom, forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Simple living and the pursuit of happiness

Quest for Humane Living

By Pathik Basu

The reason for human distress in modern technology dominated world can be traced to specialization, where only people with the required orientation can survive. People outside this sphere are redundant. Off and on, workers are thrown out of their jobs, peasants are uprooted from the land they had been tilling for generations. A faceless market economy is fast eliminating the human factor. The affluence of the few in the midst of the rudderless poverty-stricken majority, should be a matter of concern.
Hence, we started with the resolve that the above situation needs to be changed calling for a change in our attitude and practice to begin with. A compassionate creativeness should imprint our life style. Our daily schedule would naturally encompass our fellow men. So, certain factors should be kept in mind, such as -
a) the strength of our individual conviction and practice;
b) the strength of our collective wisdom and collective action;
c) the importance of connecting influential people with the marginal people and involving all classes of society in our action;
d) finally, an understanding of the role of Nature in our experiment. We should try to appreciate and understand Nature’s strength - her beauty, glory, as also the science that operates behind her.
Our understanding of the above four premises is to be accompanied by practice. Otherwise, our dream will remain elusive. If, gradually, we can tune our life-style to the harmony of Nature, we will surely be able to create a humane world notwithstanding that a heartless market economy has gained footing among us with all its potential for human misery. Yet, that does not necessarily mean that human misery will stay which we can eliminate if we can try to understand the science behind the working of Nature, the strength that is hidden within us, and the networking of compassion between the higher and lower strata of society. Those who pioneered these thoughts and taught us to think logically in this light, as also to work and experiment in their style were, to name a few, Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, Tolstoy, Gandhi and Rabindranath who basically preached pious and good living which we shall try to understand under the following heads:

We all want to live comfortably by fulfillment of the material needs of food, shelter and clothing along with peace of mind which may be gained by perpetually being close to one’s real self based on one’s inner simplicity, good deeds, calmness, love of beauty, truth and plain living which will also be benign for all around. Fulfillment of material needs, while varying from person to person, one must cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth through simple life schedule for economy of money, time and labour which alone is the road to pious and peaceful life, for one’s own self and the society and the Nature at large, and must be aimed, however challenging. At the same time, one should realize one’s debt to the society and nature and try to repay it. Our prescriptions for the above goals follow.
Eating simple and nutritious meals wearing simple clothes and simplifying household activities, sympathizing the downtrodden along with selfless service to them and to Mother Nature as well are the hallmark of good and pious living. We have framed a schedule for this living - friends here and abroad have worked accordingly (making change in accordance with their own requirements) - we are continuously taking notes from their findings, their success and failure, everything. And we have come up with a brief commentary on this life style. We present this to our readers and they have liberty to modify it according to their situations and needs.

The Daily Schedule
At time in night when one retires
We prescribe showering of one’s mind with pious thinking while retiring to bed just as we shower to cleanse our body after the day’s hectic ordeals. It deepens one’s sleep and energizes one to look ahead to a better tomorrow.
Time in morning before one leaves bed
We prescribe a few Yogasanas for practice around 10 minutes or so for relaxation of various organs of the body, ejection of accumulated gas in the belly overnight helping easier bowels movement, to conclude with a Yogic exercise for abstinence of thoughts to free the mind. The extra circulation of oxygen in the process energizes the entire biological system.
Good morning
Our prescriptions include drinking plenty of water on leaving bed early in the morning which flushes the entire biological system to expel waste matters of the bowels and the rest of the body. Next we suggest cleansing of the room to be followed by a song, prayer or mantras and practicing breathing exercises (pranayam) and vacating the mind of all thoughts for sometime, all these preferably in empty stomach. The breathing exercises may be resorted to any time during the day at the moments of excitement which, within a few seconds, may douse the excitement.

Musings on God
There are myriad concepts of God but, possibly, the preaching of the Vedas/Upanishads that God is the fearless truth that resides in me, will be universally accepted. We mainly preach this concept of God, that is, He is myself and I must believe in my own integrity to believe in God which is beyond the laboratory analysis of the scientists.
The moments of our life do come in various forms, sometimes diffused with simplicity, beauty, peace and euphoria and yet, there will be moments of challenge and compulsion where we have to retain our positive outlook in spite of those moments to our disliking. Rabindranath, whose life was replete with varieties of woes, anchored on the Upanishada’s solemn advice –“happiness or suffering, whether desired or not, whatever one receives, has to be welcomed and accepted with an invincible mind”. We try to pass down this sort of eschatology to the masses whose quality of lives we are trying to improve.

Daily Essentials
First, we would like to suggest some easy ways of preparing nutritious food. These recipes are meant for Indian people. People in Indian climate can easily procure these ingredients. Similar low-cost, easily grown nutritious vegetables are obviously available in other countries as well. Local people would know better about their utility and usage.
In brief, we may outline 3 items of food, as follows –
(a) a beverage made of sprouting grams such as pigeon pea or lentil or chickpeas, dried in the sun and powdered and stored. This is an incomparable health drink, yet very cheap.
(b) Again, food may be prepared by soaking pigeon-pea, lentil or chickpea which will sprout overnight which indicates presence of life force streamed in the gram and that Nature has endowed it with precious micronutrients. Boiled, sliced potatoes, lemon juice and salt may be added to this for a complete and tasty food.
(c) The traditional Indian Khichudi, hotchpotch or mishmash cost very little and are also nutritious, hygienic and easily digestible. The recipe may comprise rice or any kind of millet, mixed with grams (dal) mixed 1: 1/3 proportion and added to that all kinds of seasonal vegetable (preferably organically cultivated) of double the weight of rice and gram where may be added grated coconut, spinach or kalmia or amaranth with requisite addition of salt, pepper, boiled and sauté with ‘Jira’ etc. in very little oil to make excellent tasty dish.
Our studied economics of the above simplified food, as opposed to the costly packaged synthetic food widely marketed now-a-days to which a vast populace, including those not so affluent, is that a family comprising 5 members may save nearly Rs. 600/- per month by changing their food habit to our above prescription at least for one meal a day. This saving may be diverted for philanthropic programmes for those below poverty line, which is nearly 50% of our population for all practical purpose. However, this simplistic idea for wide implementation will need sincerity and courage. But, we may claim that we have made an encouraging start and, our conviction is, if this scheme is pursued vigorously, it will be a big step forward for poverty and hunger eradication.
Beside food, we are producing daily essentials also on cottage industry basis. The major items covered till now are tooth cleaner, washing soap and bath soap. We can dispense with the costly tubes of chemical toothpaste and take to ‘neem-stick’ and/or guava-stick instead. Use of bazaar soaps can be drastically reduced to achieve great cost cut on this item. Softened myrobalan (haritaki), baleric myrobalan (amla) and emblic myrobalam (boyera) by soaking in water and then pasted serves as an economic low cost as well as medicinal bath soap to purify our skin. In addition, the liquid extract taken in moderate doze in the morning brings balance in our inner system. An alternative to the above procedure is the following - place 10 to 12 neem leaves in a cup of water and continue to boil it till the volume is reduced to half. Add proportionate amount of ground turmeric. Rub the mixture well over the body, and then take a bath, which will be equally effective as above.
When on road
While on road one should insulate one’s mind by practicing Pratyahar-Yoga. Extraneous thoughts should be banished. Only thoughts exclusively one’s own, thoughts that need one’s attention for performance of duty at hand should be entertained. For this purpose one can continue to observe one’s breathing pattern. Engaging oneself with one’s own task alone gradually enhances self-confidence. We impart special lessons toward this goal.
Pursuit of Profession
We should pursue our profession not only to serve our personal need but also for welfare of others. If we work with on this mantra our work will never be a boredom and we can more easily overcome the obstacles on our way which will help us enjoy our work.
Family Life
A sense of responsibility and at the same time a calm detachment is to be cultivated. With respect to the family, a quiet, disciplined and inspired life may be achieved by imbibing the preaching of Ma-Sarada, a rough rendering of which is as follows -
a. for your own peace of mind refrain from finding fault of others,
b. subject yourself to self-criticism,
c. make this world your own,
d. consider no one as an alien in this world, and the world is yours.
Upon these guidelines one should be genuinely concerned about one’s family members, their likes and dislikes and should act accordingly without giving indulgence to prodigality of any member.
Our experience is, the adolescent generation, girls and boys in their teens, usually take tremendous interest in social service more than in their home task which they consider a drudgery. We, as guardians, can involve these youngsters right from their boyhood in social services, and in future there will be no dearth of socially committed persons.
In a family life there should be a place for virtuous discussion or worship. We prescribe 10 – 15 minutes of daily discussion among the family members to purify mind by reading suitable books e.g. the stories of Tolstoy, The Ramayana, The Mahabharata. The Dhammapada, the preachings of Muhammad etc.
Additionally, the elders in the family could be involved in the social activities we undertake. Given responsibility, these senior citizens will have a feeling of belonging. They will not feel neglected by society at large.
Serving Nature
Food grains scattered daily in small quantities on your verandah will bring birds crowding there. An earthen nest built for the birds in a corner of the verandah will provide them shelter for night and encourage the birds to proliferate. If gardenia and mulberry trees are planted the birds, bees, beetles, butterflies etc. will flock around those to taste their fruits and flowers. Thus, a nature festival can be organized almost at no cost.
The city dwellers also can plant trees or shrubs in their verandah, and those on the countryside may also plant banyan and neem trees in the open space around their house or in the fields beyond, and thus prevent denuding of the Nature and assist afforestation program.
In addition, we suggest rain-water harvesting, devising various means of trapping solar power at least by planting fast growing trees to harvest fast fuel, usage of organic manure, sericulture, and maximum use of air and space.
Social Service
Charity begins at home and so does social service which one may render right from one’s home without visiting remote slums, villages etc. Just at our doors people below poverty line, malnourished and without privilege of educational facilities abound. They are our domestic helpers, rickshaw pullers, vendors, bus drivers etc. with whom we interact commercially but not socially. We should cultivate sociability with them by sharing their joys and sorrows. We may share with them our aforesaid low-cost meal at least once a day. Further, eschatological sessions may be arranged for them where epics, scriptures etc. may be read to them and discussed to enrich their benign ideas to make them socially conscious and committed. We can also motivate them to secure their future financially by taking to insurance facilities, savings in banks, floating their independent cottage industries and/or building their own low-cost houses out of their savings or taking loan on low interest rate which facilities may be launched by the village Panchayats etc. Each affluent person may meet the liabilities of at least one of this poor group in this respect in part or full, as loan or charity, at least on temporary basis, preferably as a group scheme of the neighbors.

Other Activities
Vegetable gardens can be grown anywhere, even in urban spaces, in any corner of the house, even in slums, provided enough sunlight is there. Latin America, especially Cuba, has shown remarkable innovativeness in this respect where vegetable gardens now abound, both in the rural and in the urban areas which are seen in the terrace, balconies, corridors of houses. Amazingly, the entire economy was revived and strengthened as a result.
Indigenous medicinal herbs like Tulsi, Vasaka, Kalomegh, Sheuli, Thankuni, Gandhal and Punarnaba are daily essentials to cure chronic as well as seasonal diseases. These herbs should be grown in our vegetable gardens in plenty. Friends abroad should help research what other medicinal plants found in their respective countries can be transplanted in the climatic variations in India. Research is also required in recycling of domestic garbage to produce vermin-compost.

Any escape for the doomed humanity?
“The precious, irreplaceable riches of the world, including its waters and its forests, have all been transformed into raw materials. These are to feed an economic growth without end, because humanity, no longer limited by what it needs, has been set in an infinite chase after its runaway greed, euphemistically described as wealth creation.” –(Jeremy Seabrook). With this dismal vision, this great humanist among us to-day may peer a ray of hope in ‘Shrayan’ and its ilk. We welcome communications from persons interested in sharing our philosophy and experiments.
The author is a leading member of SHRAYAN (= refuge), an association of some like minded persons primarily engaged in academic study in subjects like advent of globalization through science & technology; grass root banking; modernity & tradition; inequality; child education; present situation and seeking solution from Tagore’s widely written letters & diaries, inter alia, and publication of books on these subjects. They have started implementing the ideas on social & environmental reformations, as outlined in the following essay, at grass root levels in the border areas of Midnapur & Bankura districts of the West Bengal state in India. They are also consultants to 8 to 10 NGOs in India working in similar lines.

e-mail: parthapathik@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Faust, Pelosi and Hillary:Women on the rise

Would Hillary break the glass ceiling?

From The Statesman

Behold! Women are on the rise in the United States of America.
A few months ago, Harvard University selected Dr Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian of American civilization, as the first woman president in its 371-year history. She would replace Larry Summers who got into trouble with the Ivy League faculty two years ago by wondering loudly in a politically incorrect manner as to why in spite of all the equal opportunities, women did not do as well as men in sciences. Dr Faust’s appointment would not turn women into Nobel laureates but she has been given a chance to end sex in equities. As she said in response to a question, “There is a lot of work still to be done, especially in the sciences.”

In the beginning of the year, the USA marked another milestone by electing Ms Nancy Pelosi as the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the most powerful political offices in the country from where she can exercise tremendous influence and shape political events especially bringing about a closure to the war in Iraq, so that the USA could concentrate on Afghanistan. As a grandmother of six, Speaker Pelosi is an exemplar of what a determined woman can do in the USA, for example, competing with big boys and beating them at their own games.

But the woman to watch today is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. In one of the meetings she said: “I may be the most famous person you really don’t know.” And so, “Let’s chat.” Of course once upon a time she was the First Lady and a woman who was wronged by her husband, whom eventually she forgave, and transcending her personal grief and humiliation, she rose to be a Senator. She is tough as steel and that’s why she voted for the 2002 Iraqi War Resolution, which was however based upon wrong intelligence.

Now as a Democratic aspirant for the White House, Senator Clinton, along with Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats, has been thinking how to undo the wrong in Iraq without jeopardizing the war against terrorism. Whatever Senator Clinton’s critics might say about her, it is impossible not to be touched by her passion for the plight of women and children and her desire to turn compassion into political action. Her nurturing feminine side as tender as ever.

On her visit to India in 1995 as the First Lady, she met in New Delhi the Lady Sri Ram College principal Meenakshi Gopinath, who gave her a poem, Silence, written by a student Anasuya Sengupta, which summed up for Hillary the patient suffering of women the world over.

Too many women
In two many countries
Speak the same language.
Of silence…
I seek only to forget
The sorrow of my grandmother’s

Senator Clinton said that silence had become the metaphor through which she explored the sufferings of women in the USA and the rest of the world. But by coming out fearlessly and explaining courageously her pain and suffering and humiliation in her memoir, Living History, she gave a new meaning to the poem: “We seek only to give words/ to those who cannot speak.”

On her visit to Ahmedabad she had met another wonderful woman, Ela Bhatt, who has been breaking the silence of the poorest of the poor women by opening for them economic opportunities through the Self-Employed Women’s Association (Sewa), whose loan program to women have been enlarging their economic and personal freedoms and has given them self-respect and dignity, the way micro-loan programs have been doing in Bangladesh.

Senator Clinton wrote at that time: “I was overwhelmed and uplifted to be in the midst of women who were working to overcome their own hardships as well centuries of oppression. For me, they were a living affirmation of the importance of human rights.” During the visit, Senator Clinton had found the same intense desire for economic independence and personal freedom also among Bangladeshi women, who have been trying to achieve their salvation through Grameen Bank run by Dr Muhammad Yunus ~ now a Nobel Laureate ~ who told her that access to credit is “a fundamental human right.” What a noble and compassionate thought!

A Muslim woman told her in a public meeting: “We are sick of the mullahs. They are always trying to keep women down.”

This is the real clash of civilizations: Between religious fundamentalists and women who refuse to remain silent. The USA might withdraw from Iraq, but war against terrorism is forever. According to Senator Clinton’s own account, she has been working on women and children’s issues for decades but the Indian girl’s poem "Silence" crystallised her thinking, which she turned into a passion. She carried that passion even to China at the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 2000.

Now Senator Hillary Clinton is seeking the highest political office in the USA and her victory in 2008 would change the face of the increasingly interconnected world as nothing else has done before.

(ND Batra is the author of a forthcoming book, Digital Freedom, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield in August)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


From The Statesman

Why is Bush failing in Pakistan?

On a desperate unannounced diplomatic mission to Pakistan, a week ago on Monday, Vice-President Dick Chaney told President Pervez Musharraf that he was not doing enough to prevent Al Qaida and Taliban from rebuilding and strengthening the infrastructure of terrorism in the safety of tribal areas from where they have been operating to carry out terrorist attacks against Afghan and Nato troops.

While on a visit to the USA last year, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan publicly accused Pakistan of not controlling across-the-border terrorists attacks carried out by the resurgent Taliban and Al Qaida. Mutual hostility and contempt between Mr Karzai and Gen. Musharraf is well known. The suicide bomber attack at the main gate of the US Air Base in Bagram in Afghanistan during Cheney’s visit last Tuesday that killed 23 people provided enough evidence that the Taliban and Al Qaida are back in business.

Spring is around the corner and more attacks should be expected. How a proud military man like Gen. Musharraf would have listened patiently to Mr Cheney is difficult to say; but the word got out that Mr Cheney had issued a blunt warning that aid to Pakistan might be curtailed if Gen. Musharraf did not do much more to be effective, which of course brought about an expected response from the country’s foreign minister that Pakistan would not take dictation from anyone (unless, of course, the price is right).

Mr Cheney is not known for his diplomatic finesse but since he is the closest to President George W. Bush, the Pakistani ruler should have got the message. Besides, the deliberately-leaked conversation had a very important audience back home ~ members of the US Congress ~ some of whom are contemplating linking aid to Pakistan with measurable success in the elimination of terrorist camps from Pakistani soil. One might say that Mr Cheney’s blunt warning had an impact because only a few hours after the unannounced visit, the news media reported the arrest of Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, former defence minister of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and a member of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s inner circle. Which is quite misleading because the pursuit and arrest of a top Taliban leader must have taken long planning and complicated maneouvers. Moreover, there is no gainsaying the fact that Pakistan has arrested hundreds of Taliban and Al Qaida members, including Khalid Sheikh Mohamed and Ramzi bin al Shibh, the plotters of 11 September attacks. It belittles Gen. Musharraf to give the impression that he is yielding to American pressure taking into account that Pakistanis do not think much about the USA. Anti-American sentiment is widespread.

Pakistanis have never been enamoured of how Gen. Musharraf was forced into an alliance with the USA after the September 11 terrorist attacks. But in order to cooperate with the USA in its struggle against terrorism, Pakistan has turned itself into a country warring against the very elements, Islamic extremism and militancy, that its super intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), nurtured as tools of foreign policy.

Gen. Musharraf has not been able, or may be he is not willing, to make a total break from the forces that have supported him in his hold on power and hence the minimalist approach towards helping the USA. Consequently, in spite of all the efforts by the Musharraf government, Al Qaida leadership has re-established its network of training camps in Pakistan’s tribal region of North Waziristan and other areas bordering Afghanistan. Once again, especially after Gen. Musharraf cut a deal last year with tribal leaders virtually relinquishing sovereign authority over the tribal territory, Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al Qaida and the Taliban. From these camps, Talibans have been launching attacks against Nato and Afghan troops in Afghanistan. But there is more to these attacks.

Mr John D. Negroponte, former director of national intelligence and now deputy US secretary of state told Congress last month that Al Qaida was “cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.” Neither President Karzai of Afghanistan nor President Musharraf of Pakistan is in full control of the forces operating in their fractured countries.

Since failure is not an option, what can the USA do about it?

First of all, the USA and Nato forces should not hesitate to cross into the tribal territories in pursuit of the Taliban, since Pakistan has virtually given up control over them. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, chief operations officer for the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that “we have all the authorities we need to pursue, either with (artillery) fire or on the ground, across the border.” Since the USA and Pakistan are officially partners in the war against terrorism, Pakistan should not mind US troops crossing into the territory over which it has no control.

The USA should think of establishing direct relations with tribal leaders in order to wean them away from the Taliban and Al Qaida.

Again, the USA must persuade Gen. Musharraf to break the nexus between ISI and the militants including the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other sectarian extremist groups. In many ways ISI works much like an independent entity within Pakistan and it may become necessary for the US intelligence to establish direct relations with it since nothing happens in Pakistan without its acquiescence.

And, finally, the USA needs to do much more aggressive public and business diplomacy in Pakistan to reach out to the middle classes, who have the same global aspirations as other countries with growing economies. The prospects of rapid economic growth and rising prosperity would present Pakistanis with an alternative future where the USA would look a friendly nation.

Instead of depending upon the questionable political strength and commitment of President Musharraf for war against terrorism, the USA should reach out to a wide variety of constituencies in Pakistan including universities, businesses, non-profit organizations, tribal leaders and intelligence communities.

(ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University and is the author of the forthcoming book Digital Freedom to be published by Rowman & Littlefield)