The new york Times inTernaTional weekly O p i n i O n & C O m m e n ta ry

Monday, 15. october 2012

ed i t o r i a l s o f t h e t i m es

Talks with the Taliban
american military commanders long ago concluded that the afghan war could only end in a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, not a military victory. But now the generals and civilian officials say even this hope is unrealistic before 2015 — after american and coalition troops are withdrawn. They are, instead, trying to set the stage for eventual peace talks between the afghan government and the insurgency sometime after their departure. President obama’s failure to make headway in talks with the Taliban is a serious setback. of course, persuading militants to negotiate a peace deal was always a daunting challenge. But the obama administration has not been persistent enough in figuring out how to initiate talks with a brutal insurgency that continues to carry out deadly attacks against coalition forces. during the 2010 surge, when the United States added 33,000 troops to the 68,000 in afghanistan, the administration was too cautious about pressing for talks. Top generals resisted negotiations, saying the focus should be on military gains. even after the administration decided in February 2011 to pursue talks, it took officials months to agree on the approach. The talks between the United States and the Taliban began early this year but soon collapsed when the administration, faced with opposition in congress, could not complete a prisoner swap. The Taliban wanted five of their leaders released from Guantánamo Bay, cuba, in exchange for the sole american troop held by the insurgents. The risky deal was supposed to encourage more serious talks. But its collapse has made talks even harder. The Taliban are unwilling to meet Washington’s demands to sever all ties to al Qaeda, renounce violence and accept the commitments to political and human rights in afghanistan’s constitution. Pakistan has long played a destructive role, enabling Taliban groups and refusing to support negotiations. even a more basic outreach to the Taliban — the reintegration program that seeks to get fighters to lay down their arms — has enticed only 5,000 of an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 insurgents. Still, the United States should not give up on a negotiated solution or at least some movement toward reconciliation. and it can’t wait until 2014 or later. although there are no formal talks under way, there are contacts between the Taliban and afghans and others. Pakistan recently urged the insurgents to join the political process and agreed to help Washington vet potential new Taliban interlocutors. it shouldn’t take long to see if Pakistan’s army is serious. The 2014 presidential election is critical to any deal. one idea under review: an interim agreement in which the opposition, the Taliban and others might endorse minimum objectives rejecting al Qaeda and supporting an inclusive political system. The goal would be to elect a president better suited to lead than Hamid Karzai, whom the Taliban consider an american puppet. Given afghanistan’s history, it’s hard to be optimistic. But with american troops leaving afghanistan, there should be an interest in advancing a political system that insurgents might see as an alternative to armed conflict.

Fraud on the rise in scientific literature
a surprising upsurge in the number of scientific papers that have had to be retracted because they were wrong or even fraudulent has journal editors and ethicists worried. The retracted papers are a small fraction of the vast flood of research published each year, but they offer a revealing glimpse of the pressures driving many scientists to improper conduct. Last year, Nature, a leading scientific journal, calculated that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade — to more than 300 a year — even though the number of papers published rose only 44 percent. it attributed half of the retractions to embarrassing mistakes and half to “scientific misconduct” such as plagiarism, faked data and altered images. a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences, has concluded that the degree of misconduct was worse than previously thought. The authors analyzed more than 2,000 retracted papers in the biomedical and life sciences and found that misconduct was the reason for three-quarters of the retractions for which they could determine the cause. The problem is global. retracted papers were written in more than 50 countries, with most of the fraud or suspected fraud occurring in the United States, Germany, Japan and china. The problem may even be greater than the new estimates suggest, the authors say, because many journals don’t explain why an article was retracted. There are many theories for why retractions and fraud have increased. a benign view suggests that because journals are now published online, it’s easier for experts to spot erroneous or fraudulent papers. a darker view suggests that pressures in the race to be first with a finding and to place it in a prestigious journal have driven scientists to make sloppy mistakes or even falsify data. The solutions are not obvious, but clearly greater vigilance by reviewers and editors is needed.

maureen dOwd

complicity in duplicity?
a woman named rice in a top administration job making the rounds of the talk shows to aggressively promote a middle east narrative that’s good for the president but destined to crumble under scrutiny. accusations that intelligence on al Qaeda links in the middle east was cherry-picked by american officials to create a convenient reality. a national security apparatus that becomes enmeshed with the political imagemaking machine. Sound familiar? Last time it was condoleezza rice helping her war-obsessed bosses spin their deceptive web, as they recklessly tried to re-engineer the middle east. This time it was Susan rice offering a noncredible yarn as the obama team desperately tries to figure out the middle east. W.’s administration played up al Qaeda ties, exploiting 9/11 to invade iraq, which the neocons had wanted to do all along. The obama administration sidestepped he, his pal dick cheney and his ward W. sent then-Secretary of State colin Powell to the United Nations to market a story that fell apart one invasion later. There was something off-kilter about the tragic saga of christopher Stevens from the beginning. Stevens was obviously too lightly guarded in a region roiling with threats and hatred. even afterward, the place was so unprotected that a cNN staffer could walk in and pick up Stevens’s private diary, which reflected the ambassador’s fear about never-ending attacks and being on an al Qaeda hit list. Susan rice’s tumble is part of a disturbing pattern of rushing to pump up the president on national security, which seems particularly stupid because it’s so unnecessary. Last year, the White House had to backtrack from the overwrought initial contentions of John Brennan, a deputy national security adviser, who said Bin Laden died after resisting in a firefight and that he was “hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield.” Now that one of the members of the Navy SeaL team, matt Bissonette, has written a book, there are contradictory accounts, one by a democratic White House dying to sound tough, and one by an eyewitness. Bissonette wrote that the lead commando shot an unarmed Bin Laden in the head when he peered out of his bedroom door and they shot his convulsing body again inside the bedroom. in the administration’s version, the shot in the stairwell missed. in an overzealous effort to burnish a president who did not need burnishing — especially against foreign policy bumbler mitt romney and foreign policy novice Paul ryan — they have gotten tangled in contradictory accounts about Benghazi. The administration had benefited from the impression that it had diminished al Qaeda, even though the public no doubt appreciates that it was never going to be so simple. But, as romney learned when he prematurely rushed to the microphone to take advantage of the crisis and mangled his facts, there is a cost to letting the political spin cycle dictate how you discuss national security. The U.S. military is preparing to retaliate for the Libyan attack. But, even if Stevens is avenged, will the president get the credit he deserves if his acolytes have left the impression that they’re willing to rewrite the story for political advantage?

many low-caste indians are being displaced from their traditional occupations. An incense seller in mumbai.

ruth fremson/the new York times

intelligenCe/shiVam ViJ

a Journey to a casteless Society
New Delhi reshma devi is doing the rounds of a court in delhi, trying to get custody of her 15-year-old daughter who is confined to a juvenile care home. in January, the police raided a hotel in mumbai and found her daughter engaged in prostitution. When a child welfare committee decided to send the girl to the juvenile care home in delhi, devi argued she knew her daughter was engaged in sex work — and had no problem with it. This was not a case of human trafficking. it was a matter of caste. devi argued that she was from the Bedia caste and prostitution was their caste occupation. The child welfare committee said this was all the more reason why she could not be given custody; her daughter needed to be saved from prostitution. devi finds it embarrassing to articulate her case. She lives in a society where “prostitute” is a bad word, yet it is the same society that employs the services of the Bedias. This is what the Bedias have always known; this is what they do; this is who they are. With the abolition of feudal landlordism, they lost feudal village patrons, so the Bedia girls now work in the sex trade in big cities. The dilemma of the Bedias is a clash of the traditional institution of caste with modernity. Who is this modern nation state to tell them what is good for them? Girls from the community can have their virginity auctioned in a ceremony after gaining puberty at home in agra, three kilometers from the Taj mahal. The area is notorious for the presence of thousands of members of this community, which has been reported to indulge in male feticide because it only wants daughters. The word caste comes from the Spanish casta, meaning race. Seen all too often through the prism of racism, the central problem of caste is said to be discrimination. yet it is the occupation that one is born into that is far more defining. you don’t become a Bedia, you are born one. caste does not leave you even if you leave the Hindu religion. a government study in 2006 found that indian muslims were poorer and less educated than the national average because most of them belonged to the artisan castes struggling to adapt to the modern economy. The privileged upper castes are born to be priests, scholars, traders and warriors. The lower castes are born to be peasants and artisans, and are to be weavers and oil extractors have been made redundant by mechanization and imports. members of the Nat caste, who perform acrobatics and jugglery, complain they are seen as beggars. Those displaced from traditional occupations rarely find a new one and are reduced to being landless, daily-wage laborers, tilling the fields of the upper castes and constructing the buildings of the “new” india. The greatest inequality they face is the poor quality of the public school system, which often does not teach english, the language of educated indians. This deprives their children of an equal opportunity to compete in a modern india. a recently enacted right to education law could alleviate this, but only somewhat. apart from education and affirmative action, caste communities need government assistance to shift from traditional occupations. india’s urban elite classes pretend that caste does not exist. Some claim they don’t even know their caste. yet they like to marry within their group, retaining social, cultural, political and economic capital within their fold. Having been the first to take advantage of colonial modernity, the upper castes are not bound by caste occupations. Their children choose to be pilots or painters, writers or entrepreneurs. But devi’s daughter did not have such choice. at the welfare home run by a nonprofit in delhi, the girl is being given an education and is gaining skills in tailoring so that she has another way to earn a living. if the state can force devi’s daughter to become a tailor, she will have a better life. But the world around her will still see her as a dalit. india’s journey to a casteless society is going to be a long and arduous one.

Just who is prevaricating on national security this time around?
al Qaeda ties in the case of the Libyan attack to perpetuate the narrative that the president had decimated al Qaeda when osama bin Laden was killed, and to preclude allegations that they were asleep at the switch on the anniversary of 9/11. Better to blame it all on a protest to an antiislam video on youTube. it’s remarkable that President obama, who came to power abhorring the manipulative and duplicitous tactics of the Bush crowd, should now be vulnerable to similar charges. you know you’re in trouble when donald rumsfeld is the voice of reason. “The idea of sending a United Nations ambassador for the United States out to market and peddle and spin a story that has, within a matter of hours, demonstrated to be not accurate, i think is inexcusable,” the former defense secretary told Fox News recently. “i can’t imagine.” His imagination fails him even though

As India’s economy transforms, caste clashes with modernity.
denied formal education. Lastly, there are the outcastes who are “impure” and “polluted” and meant for “unclean” professions like cleaning toilets and streets, repairing shoes and skinning animals. The outcastes face untouchability and have given themselves the name dalit, meaning “broken people.” The Bedias belong to this last category. it is still difficult for caste communities to be able to leave their profession for a more respectable one. There are many whose caste professions are threatened by modernity. Tourists in india complain they don’t get to see snake charmers; the practice is banned by a law preventing cruelty to animals. castes of hand loom

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