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Sri Lankan journalist given 20 years in prison October 5, 2009

Posted by reader111 in Sri Lanka.
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By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI, Associated Press Writer Bharatha Mallawarachi, Associated Press Writer Mon Aug 31, 1:53 pm ET

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – A Sri Lankan reporter singled out by President Barack Obama as an example of persecuted journalists around the globe was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison on charges of violating the country’s strict anti-terror law.

J.S. Tissainayagam’s articles in the now-defunct Northeastern Monthly magazine in 2006 and 2007 criticized the conduct of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels and accused authorities of withholding food and other essential items from Tamil-majority areas as a tool of war.

Tissainayagam’s conviction, 17 months after the ethnic Tamil reporter was arrested, was the first time a journalist was found guilty of violating the country’s Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Rights groups have accused the government of waging a broad crackdown on media freedom that has continued since it routed the rebels and ended the nation’s quarter-century civil war in May.

Tissainayagam, who has been labeled a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, was arrested in March 2008 and indicted five months later under the anti-terror law.

During his World Press Freedom Day address in May, Obama highlighted Tissainayagam’s case as an example of journalists being jailed or harassed for doing their jobs.

On Monday, High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara said Tissainayagam’s articles violated the law because they were aimed at creating communal disharmony. She also found him guilty of raising money for a publication whose articles violated the anti-terror law and sentenced him to 20 years.

“The constitution guarantees media freedom, but no one has a right to deliberately publish false reports that would lead to communal violence,” prosecutor Sudarshana de Silva said in his court filing.

Defense lawyer Anil Silva said Tissainayagam had always fought for human rights.

“He was never a racist and he at no time tried to arouse hatred,” he said in his defense filing. “Now he has been punished for what he wrote as a journalist. This will be a lesson to other journalists too.”

Silva said his client would appeal.

“We are shocked at this judgment,” said Chulawansa Sirilal, convener of the Free Media Movement, a local media rights group.

He said this has posed a serious threat to the country’s media freedom and journalists.

“There is no press freedom in this country today, even after the war is over,” said Sirithunga Jayasuriya, another local media rights activist. Tissainayagam’s conviction would set a bad precedent for media across the country, he said.

“The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge,” said Reporters Without Borders, adding that it is “appalled” by the sentence.

International media rights groups say the government has used emergency laws to silence public criticism of its conduct and has failed to investigate violent attacks — and killings — of journalists.

The government has denied the allegations.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 11 Sri Lankan reporters were forced to flee the country in the past year, and Amnesty International said at least 14 Sri Lankan journalists and media workers had been killed since the beginning of 2006.

In June, the government said it would re-establish a powerful press council with the authority to jail journalists it finds guilty of defamation or inaccurate reporting.



China’s Vision 2012 October 5, 2009

Posted by reader111 in China.
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As it turns 60, longevity will be the one wish China’s Communist Party will fervently hold for itself. The “perennial ruling party”, as it likes to be known as, is preparing itself for a critical transition of power. Its outcome will decide the next line-up of leaders who will govern the country in 2012. This could be a high-risk political mahjong that, not unlike the ancient gambling game, calls for skill, strategy and a good measure of luck. As the political leadership calculates its moves, the question is, will the gamble pay off?

The one constant that could underpin the process is unpredictability. Between now and 2012, China could see some of the most bitterly fought leadership battles. Last month, all attention was on the fourth plenary session of the Party’s Central Committee for indicators as to who Hu Jintao’s likely successor will be. Contrary to expectations, Vice President Xi Jinping failed to be named as vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC). The fact that he is the son of a veteran communist revolutionary hero and former vice-premier was expected to ease his way. Princelings or politicians who hail from the families of high-ranking officials have flourished in China’s power matrix. The 25-member Politburo of the Party, for instance, has seven princelings while the larger Central Committee has 19. Xi’s promotion would have been a strong signal that he is en route to becoming China’s next president. But the stumble just goes to show that China’s war of succession is by no means wrapped up or guaranteed to be smooth.

Many of these pitched political contests are also a reminder that China’s policy-making process is hardly the monolithic world of straight-line decision-making that it is often romanticised to be. Internal political competition is set to get intense as Party elders seek to find a place for themselves or their protégés in the influential Politburo Standing Committee of 2012. Hu’s own embattled political position was evident from his decision to leave the G-8 summit this July and rush back to do fire-fighting. He is trying to fend off charges of being ineffectual in his handling of the security situation in Xinjiang and Tibet. He is also under increasing pressure to remove his protégé, the regional secretary of the Party in Xinjiang, Wang Lequan.

These uncertainties could be an indication that there need not be a complete transfer of power in 2012. It remains to be seen if there will be a repeat of the grudging transfer of power, as was the case from Jiang Zemin to Hu. Of his three posts, Jiang relinquished only the position of the general secretary of the Party to Hu in November 2002 and continued as president till March the next year before passing on the mantle to his successor. Most importantly, Jiang continued as chairman of the CMC till late 2004. The outcomes of many of these battles will also turn on how the rivalry between the Shanghai faction under Jiang and the Communist Youth League faction under Hu shapes up.

These mounting tensions also have the potential to make the political leadership jumpy, abrasive and in no mood to take any chances. This would then also impact state-society relations. The recent crackdown against civil society initiatives could be a signal that greater control in the name of caution might be the formulaic political response to dissent. Societal tolerance levels too appear to be fraying thin with people not in much of a mood to forgive any backsliding on social space. The primary challenge facing the Chinese leadership will be to prevent this conversation from breaking down. This will call for a delicate balancing act between the Party’s anxiety about an erosion of its political supremacy and the compelling need for a robust domain of public autonomy. Much will depend on how China’s leaders make this call.

Some of these leadership battles could also feed into a messy brew of national chauvinism, insecurity and uncertainty. Political signalling aimed at winning friends and influencing hardliners could be very much part of this power play. Where posturing ends and reality begins may, for a while, be hard to determine.

The writer is associate professor, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi


The same people? Surely not March 8, 2009

Posted by reader111 in India, Pakistan.
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Vir Sanghvi


Few things annoy me as much as the claim often advanced by well-meaning but woolly- headed (and usually Punjabi) liberals to the effect that when it comes to India and Pakistan, “We’re all the same people, yaar.”


This may have been true once upon a time. Before 1947, Pakistan was part of undivided India and you could claim that Punjabis from West Punjab (what is now Pakistan) were as Indian as, say, Tamils from Madras.


But time has a way of moving on. And while the gap between our Punjabis (from east Punjab which is now the only Punjab left in India) and our Tamils may actually have narrowed, thanks to improved communications, shared popular culture and greater physical mobility, the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense.


This was brought home to me most clearly by two major events over the last few weeks.


The first of these was the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on the streets of Lahore. In their defence, Pakistanis said that they were powerless to act against the terrorists because religious fanaticism was growing. Each day more misguided youngsters joined jihadi outfits and the law and order situation worsened.


Further, they added, things had got so bad that in the tribal areas the government of Pakistan had agreed to suspend the rule of law under pressure from the Taliban and had conceded that sharia law would reign instead. Interestingly, while most civilised liberals should have been appalled by this surrender to the forces of extremism, many Pakistanis defended this concession.


Imran Khan (Keble College, Oxford, 1973-76) even declared that sharia law would be better because justice would be dispensed more swiftly! (I know this is politically incorrect but the Loin of the Punjab’s defence of sharia law reminded me of the famous Private Eye cover when his marriage to Jemima Goldsmith was announced. The Eye carried a picture of Khan speaking to Jemima’s father. “Can I have your daughter’s hand?” Imran was supposedly asking James Goldsmith. “Why? Has she been caught shoplifting?” Goldsmith replied. So much for sharia law.)


The second contrasting event was one that took place in Los Angeles but which was perhaps celebrated more in India than in any other country in the world. Three Indians won Oscars: A.R. Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar.


Their victory set off a frenzy of rejoicing. We were proud of our countrymen. We were pleased that India’s entertainment industry and its veterans had been recognised at an international platform. And all three men became even bigger heroes than they already were.


But here’s the thing: Not one of them is a Hindu.


Can you imagine such a thing happening in Pakistan? Can you even conceive of a situation where the whole country would celebrate the victory of three members of two religious minorities? For that matter, can you even imagine a situation where people from religious minorities would have got to the top of their fields and were, therefore, in the running for international awards?


On the one hand, you have Pakistan imposing sharia law, doing deals with the Taliban, teaching hatred in madrasas, declaring jihad on the world and trying to kill innocent Sri Lankan cricketers. On the other, you have the triumph of Indian secularism.


The same people?


Surely not.


We are defined by our nationality. They choose to define themselves by their religion.


But it gets even more complicated. As you probably know, Rahman was born Dilip Kumar. He converted to Islam when he was 21. His religious preferences made no difference to his prospects. Even now, his music cuts across all religious boundaries. He’s as much at home with Sufi music as he is with bhajans. Nor does he have any problem with saying ‘Vande Mataram’.


Now, think of a similar situation in Pakistan. Can you conceive of a Pakistani composer who converted to Hinduism at the age of 21 and still went on to become a national hero? Under sharia law, they’d probably have to execute him.


Resul Pookutty’s is an even more interesting case. Until you realise that Malayalis tend to put an ‘e’ where the rest of us would put an ‘a,’ (Ravi becomes Revi and sometimes the Gulf becomes the Gelf), you cannot work out that his name derives from Rasool, a fairly obviously Islamic name.


But here’s the point: even when you point out to people that Pookutty is in fact a Muslim, they don’t really care. It makes no difference to them. He’s an authentic Indian hero, his religion is irrelevant.


Can you imagine Pakistan being indifferent to a man’s religion? Can you believe that Pakistanis would not know that one of their Oscar winners came from a religious minority? And would any Pakistani have dared bridge the religious divide in the manner Resul did by referring to the primeval power of Om in his acceptance speech?


The same people?


Surely not.


Most interesting of all is the case of Gulzar who many Indians believe is a Muslim. He is not. He is a Sikh. And his real name is Sampooran Singh Kalra.


So why does he have a Muslim name?


It’s a good story and he told it on my TV show some years ago. He was born in West Pakistan and came over the border during the bloody days of Partition. He had seen so much hatred and religious violence on both sides, he said, that he was determined never to lose himself to that kind of blind religious prejudice and fanaticism.


Rather than blame Muslims for the violence inflicted on his community — after all, Hindus and Sikhs behaved with equal ferocity — he adopted a Muslim pen name to remind himself that his identity was beyond religion. He still writes in Urdu and considers it irrelevant whether a person is a Sikh, a Muslim or a Hindu.


Let’s forget about political correctness and come clean: can you see such a thing happening in Pakistan? Can you actually conceive of a famous Pakistani Muslim who adopts a Hindu or Sikh name out of choice to demonstrate the irrelevance of religion?


My point, exactly.


What all those misguided liberals who keep blathering on about us being the same people forget is that in the 60-odd years since Independence, our two nations have traversed very different paths.


Pakistan was founded on the basis of Islam. It still defines itself in terms of Islam. And over the next decade as it destroys itself, it will be because of Islamic extremism.


India was founded on the basis that religion had no role in determining citizenship or nationhood. An Indian can belong to any religion in the world and face no discrimination in his rights as a citizen.


It is nobody’s case that India is a perfect society or that Muslims face no discrimination. But only a fool would deny that in the last six decades, we have travelled a long way towards religious equality. In the early days of independent India, a Yusuf Khan had to call himself Dilip Kumar for fear of attracting religious prejudice.


In today’s India, a Dilip Kumar can change his name to A.R. Rahman and nobody really gives a damn either way.


So think back to the events of the last few weeks. To the murderous attack on innocent Sri Lankan cricketers by jihadi fanatics in a society that is being buried by Islamic extremism. And to the triumphs of Indian secularism.


Same people?


Don’t make me laugh.

Ref: http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?sectionName=HomePage&id=4e661b6b-ca91-43f6-8153-e927ad151c76&Headline=The+same+people%3f+Surely+not

Pakistan an ordinary nation March 8, 2009

Posted by reader111 in Pakistan.
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Salil Tripathi


So many myths came crashing down in Lahore. That Pakistan is an ordinary country with extraordinary problems. That Pakistan’s security forces are hand-in-glove with terrorists. That extremists would never attack cricketers.


In the end, the horror near the Gaddafi Stadium showed how the bizarre becomes the ordinary: Witness the number of people who said: “I told you so,” as cricket boards congratulated themselves for having avoided touring Pakistan. Recall, too, that all the dead are Pakistanis —all but one of them brave security guards who laid down their lives to protect the cricketers, nailing the myth that all Pakistanis are complicit with terrorism. And then the third myth—when Imran Khan said, the week before the Mumbai attacks, that cricket is safe from terror. How could one be so sure in a country where so many rules of war have been broken?


But Khan believed it just as Pakistan wanted to believe in another idea, which had better not be a myth—that it is a normal country—for the alternative—a nuclear-armed failed state—is too horrible to contemplate. Many, if not most, Pakistanis want to live normal lives. Their families want to go to Clifton in Karachi and admire the sunset. Their teenagers want to go hiking in the Karakoram, and their rich like to ski on the slopes of the Swat valley. They want their kids to go to schools that teach math and computers, and not only scriptures and hate-filled history. They take delight in the peccadilloes of Bollywood stars and hum along with the songs of the rock group, Junoon. They post videos critical of generals on YouTube and write blogs challenging their politicians who succumb to the mullahs and the military. Their lawyers protest the removal of the Supreme Court’s chief justice, and their novelists ridicule the pious nonsense of their imams and generals with an aplomb that’s lacking in the more didactic “socially relevant” fiction of new Indian authors. And they want to go to a stadium, to admire some nice stroke-play, inspired bowling and exceptional fielding.


And it is that normalcy which the terrorists attack, because the terrorists want what’s regular to be the unexpected, and the unexpected to make you afraid, and not wonder. That means audaciously razing Islamabad’s premier hotel; ruthlessly assassinating a politician who thought this time, the third time, she’d get it right; brazenly attacking presidential convoys; boldly humiliating the government by demanding, and getting, a large chunk of territory where only their peculiar tribal interpretation of religious laws would apply, not national laws or international norms. In this topsy-turvy universe, a conniving, petty trader of nuclear secrets, who saw a new world order in a mushroom cloud, is released from house arrest, and a foreign correspondent meeting a contact outside the hotel gets beheaded.


Finally, it is that peculiar country where its President has in the past claimed to be suffering from mental illness to avoid a corruption trial while in exile, and upon assuming presidency used all methods to get a rival politician outlawed, even though working with him to ward off the twin threats the cantonment and the mosque represent is in the interest of the nation’s fragile democracy.


That’s the universe many Pakistanis inhabit—caught between intransigent generals, incompetent politicians and intolerant mullahs. They don’t need reminding what terrorism is; they live with it. They have lost thousands of civilians and soldiers in the past decade. They live with the consequences of cynical, cold, political choices and compromises their leaders have made on their behalf.


And yet, many in India don’t see that reality, and see all Pakistanis as extremists, as if all of them accept at face value the rants of Zahid Hamid on Pakistani television—who believes everything that’s evil is because of “Hindu Zionist” conspiracy.


We must then learn to separate that sinister fringe from the Pakistani men and women who don’t believe in juvenile jihadis. We must not succumb to the idea—as Simi Garewal momentarily did (though she was hardly alone) —that if only we bomb Pakistan, all problems will be solved. Starting a war is a not a choice as easy as sending a “Yes” SMS to a televise on channel desperate to improve ratings, and which wants politicians to announce foreign policy manoeuvres on live television. It also means we must prevent our own saffron Taliban, which wants to empty our bookshops of Pakistani writers, and prevent Pakistani artists from performing in our theatres.


At its simplest, it means not gloating at what Ahmed Rashid calls Pakistan’s descent into chaos, but to appreciate Pakistanis’ struggle to reclaim their country from the triumvirate Tariq Ali describes as “greedy generals, corrupt politicians and bearded lunatics”.


That’s not easy. Building a civil society never is. It needs nerves of steel. We must wish strength to the millions in Pakistan who have that resolve.


Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Your comments are welcome at salil@livemint.com



The other Lhasa January 29, 2009

Posted by reader111 in World.
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(Vijay Jung Thapa, Hindustan Times)


In 1976 the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, tripping on a strong dose of yajé, wrote about the ‘Tibet of his imagination’ — a psychedelic account of a secret, shadowy, white paradise up in the Himalayas. Like Ginsberg, the Tibet of my own imagination, spurred by writers from Hedin to Harrer to Hopkirk, had always conjured up a powerful image of Eastern mysticism set against the great brooding mass of the Potala — a place of pure spirit, unsullied by greed or personal ambition.


Five minutes into Lhasa, that illusion lay shattered.


As our van rolled onto a smooth-as-silk eight-lane-wide boulevard, my Chinese interpreter excitedly gushed: “This is our Lhasa.” Outside, glistening glass-and-chrome buildings, plush hotels and supermarkets with bright neon signage floated by. Bulky Prados purred down the uniform grid of roads that go off in all directions and chic women and strutting businessmen dotted the sidewalks and street corners. It was a new landscape where Lhasa meets Las Vegas — minus the buzz and with an unmistakable touch of Chinese kitsch.


I almost missed the city’s defining landmark — the Potala Palace — until someone pointed it out to me. It’s still a heart-stopping sight. A majestic white-and-red palace that seems to sprout out of living rock, its huge bulk appearing, by some architectural sleight of hand, to float above the city, like a defiant symbol of Old Tibet. Yet, its imposing authority that once dominated the city now seems to have shrunk — despoiled by the symbols and tastes of a New Tibet.


New symbols abound. Like the pair of giant, kitschy golden yaks to the side of the Potala — ‘given’ to the Tibetans by the Chinese government to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 17-Point Agreement. To the back of the Potala, a sacred lake is now filled with electric boats in the summer and the gardens around have become a popular picnic spot with amusement rides, fast-food stalls and employees dressed up as little pandas.


Historic landmarks, I realised, have altogether disappeared. The Sixth Dalai Lama, a notorious libertine who grew his hair long and wrote erotic verse, was known to have wooed lovers in the smoky taverns of Shol, a village that lay at the feet of the Potala. Today, the 300-year-old village, once a stellar example of Tibetan architecture, no longer exists. In its place lies the vast, shiny Potala Square — a Tibetan Tiananmen that reduces the great home of the Dalai Lama to a photo-opportunity backdrop.


Still, my shattered vision of Shangri-La notwithstanding, I didn’t really need the persistent insistence of my Chinese hosts to realise that the rapid development had done some good. On the way from Gonggar airport to Lhasa, I could see bright new houses being built to replace the smoky hovels many Tibetans used to occupy. China estimates to have re-housed more than 15 per cent of Tibet’s population in the last two years. One could argue that this is China’s way to settle nomadic Tibetans who put up a strong resistance to the Han invasion in 1950.  But it would be churlish to deny China’s attempt to bring economic development to a disadvantaged region.


In terms of investment, the Land of Snows has never had it so good. Under the ‘Go West’ policy of President Hu Jintao — who once was general secretary of the Communist Party in the Tibet Autonomous Region — the government is pouring in money to try to close the gap between the prosperous coastal regions and the economically backward inland areas.


Last year alone, more than 10 billion yuan (Rs 72 billion) of public funds flowed into Tibet — equivalent, say officials, to a subsidy of 4,177 yuan (Rs 30,000) to each of its 2.7 million people. Indeed, spurred by these subsidies and a million tourists every year, Tibet’s economy has surpassed China’s average growth.  Tibet’s GDP is today 39.2 billion yuan (Rs 282 billion), up from 700 million yuan (Rs 5040 Million) in 1978. Tibetans have certainly benefited from China’s ‘leap-frog’ growth drive. Life spans have increased, public health has improved and opportunities to explore the outside world have grown. As Tashi Tshering, a shopkeeper, told me: “I don’t like how they’ve changed Lhasa. But the Chinese have brought good things to Tibet.”


Two worlds apart


Yet, Tibet isn’t, by any standard, a tranquil Shangri-La. There is deep resentment that often spills onto the streets — a case in point being the March 14th riots just before the Beijing Olympics. To understand why the Tibetans still don’t share China’s vision of a brave new consumer world, I walked down to Barkhor — a part of Lhasa that still resembles Lhasa. The heart of this old Tibetan quarter is the great Jokhang temple, a magnificent whirlwind of prostrating pilgrims, chanting toddlers, old nomads tottering on canes, and Chinese CID personnel making clandestine cell-phone checks. Inside the shrine, a loose and happy mob circled the interior, beneath a worn fresco depicting Tibetan folklore. In it, I could see a king leading out his army to smash hordes of barbarians; scything through the ranks of the deluded materialists.


Later, in a smoky anteroom of a restaurant that served strange fusion dishes like yak lasagna and curry pizza, I sat with a gangly Tibetan who gave his name as Lobsang. The rapid development, he said, hadn’t helped Tibetans much. Rather than enriching the locals, most of whom are farmers and herders, much of the money ends up in the hands of the Han migrants who dominate the urban centres. While the average disposable income in towns is the highest in China, Tibet’s farmers are among the poorest. In the villages, where the government is offering tax concessions, peasants are returning to the practice of sharing a bride among brothers. But in Lhasa, bars, brothels and cafés are springing up to cater to a growing army of non-Tibetan workers who are paid more than double their usual salaries to work in Tibet. “All Tibetans,” he added, “feel a strong resentment against the inequality they face in their day-to-day lives.”


That night, in a glittering banquet, I asked my host Nima Ciren, vice chairman of the People’s Congress in Tibet, why such rapid development hadn’t dampened the separatist demands of the locals. Between many toasts of Maotai wine, Ciren gave me the most honest reply I ever got from a government official on the trip. “Tibetans as a whole need to introspect whether they want to be separatists or remain with China…. until we do that, this kind of trouble will stay with us.” The evening whirled on through several courses of exotic pheasants and meats and more and more Maotai. But through that fun exterior, I thought I noted a sadness in Ciren. He belongs to a generation (now in their 60s) who had been, in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, elevated by Mao because they came from good ‘serf’ backgrounds. Exiles would be quick to call them collaborators, but I felt the situation was more complex. Some of them, at least,  were working within the system as a way of defending Tibet.


Younger Tibetans in Lhasa seemed to have their own mindsets. Pub hopping, one evening, on the roof of the world, I met 22-year-old Phinjo Phuntsog, who works as a mid-level executive in a construction firm. Phuntsog and his friends work hard and party hard in a town where they claim the nightlife is as good as Singapore or Hong Kong. These were a different set of Tibetans — poles apart from the angst-ridden idealistic youth I’d encountered in  Dharamsala. They were dressed sharply in casual chic, with exaggerated hairstyles and armed with the latest mobile technology.  We were sitting in a lively bar, round a table full of beer bottles, next to a stage where local pop bands and crooners belted out old-time rock favourites with an Oriental twang. Whenever the band hit a foot-tapping number, Phuntsog and his friends would dance so hard you would never believe oxygen is in short supply at this altitude. I ask him whether he feels he is a part of the great Chinese nation. The answer is lightening-quick: “Not at all. I am Tibetan and that will always be my identity.”


Nursing a hangover the next morning, waiting for a flight back home at the Gonggar airport, I thought Phuntsog had got it right. In the end, it’s all about identity. Fact is that Tibetans feel Tibetan. And no amount of rapid development will change that.

Tibet will always be a country that’s ethnically and culturally different from China. It doesn’t matter if the Old Lhasa is gone, it would have changed anyway. Modernity has undermined Tibet’s oppressively religious hierarchy, already being reformed by the Dalai Lama, just as it’s changing China’s own vision of communism. What can bring ever-lasting peace is genuine autonomy and equality for Tibetans — with or without talks with the Dalai Lama, within or without the Chinese system.


Till that happens, the romantic image of Tibet as a free, unsullied, spiritual Shangri-La will only live on in our imaginations.


Ref: http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?sectionName=NLetter&id=9a7bfc5b-d315-41c3-a3fe-5f4bcedda26e&&Headline=The+other+Lhasa