Rethinking failed policies of America

The statement that should scare all Americans (and the world) is the assurance by Secretary Rice that the president needs no additional authority from Congress to attack Syria.

Rep. Ron Paul

We have been warned. Prepare for a broader war in the Middle East, as plans are being laid for the next U.S.-led regime change – in Syria. A UN report on the death of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri elicited this comment from a senior U.S. policymaker: “Out of tragedy comes an extraordinary strategic opportunity.” This statement reflects the continued neoconservative, Machiavellian influence on our foreign policy. The “opportunity” refers to the long-held neoconservative pl

an for regime change in Syria, similar to what was carried out in Iraq.
This plan for remaking the Middle East has been around for a long time. Just as 9/11 served the interests of those who longed for changes in Iraq, the sensationalism surrounding Hariri’s death is being used to advance plans to remove Assad.
Congress already has assisted these plans by authorizing the sanctions placed on Syria last year. Harmful sanctions, as applied to Iraq in the 1990s, inevitably represent a major step toward war since they bring havoc to so many innocent people. Syria already has been charged with developing weapons of mass destruction based on no more evidence than was available when Iraq was similarly charged. Syria has been condemned for not securing its borders, by the same U.S. leaders who cannot secure our own borders. Syria was castigated for placing its troops in Lebanon, a neighboring country, although such action was invited by an elected government and encouraged by the United States. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon elicited no suicide terrorist attacks, as was suffered by Western occupiers.

Condemning Syria for having troops in Lebanon seems strange, considering most of the world sees our 150,000 troops in Iraq as an unwarranted foreign occupation. Syrian troops were far more welcome in Lebanon.

Secretary Rice likewise sees the problems in Syria – that we helped to create – as an opportunity to advance our Middle Eastern agenda. In recent testimony, she stated that it was always the administration’s intent to redesign the greater Middle East, and Iraq was only one part of that plan. And once again we have been told that all options are still on the table for dealing with Syria – including war.

The statement that should scare all Americans (and the world) is the assurance by Secretary Rice that the president needs no additional authority from Congress to attack Syria. She argues that authority already has been granted by the resolutions on 9/11 and Iraq. This is not true, but if Congress remains passive to the powers assumed by the executive branch it won’t matter. As the war spreads, the only role for Congress will be to provide funding lest they be criticized for not supporting the troops. In the meantime, the Constitution and our liberties here at home will be further eroded as more Americans die.

This escalation of conflict with Syria comes as a result of the UN report concerning the Hariri death. When we need an excuse for our actions, it’s always nice to rely on the organization that our administration routinely condemns, one that brought us the multi-billion dollar oil-for-food scandal and sexual crimes by UN representatives.

It’s easy to ignore the fact that the report did not implicate Assad, who is targeted for the next regime change. The UN once limited itself to disputes between nations; yet now it’s assumed the UN, like the United States, has a legal and moral right to inject itself into the internal policies of sovereign nations. Yet what is the source of this presumed wisdom? Where is the moral imperative that allows us to become the judge and jury of a domestic murder in a country 6,000 miles from our shores?

Moral, constitutional, and legal arguments for a less aggressive foreign policy receive little attention in Washington. But the law of unintended consequences serves as a thorough teacher for the slow learners and the morally impaired.
Is Iraq not yet enough of a headache for the braggarts of the shock and awe policy?
Are 2,000 lives lost not enough to get their attention?

How many hundreds of billions of dollars must be drained from our economy before it’s noticed?

Is it still plausible that deficits don’t matter?

Is the apparent victory for Iran in the Shi’ite theocracy we’ve created in Iraq not yet seen as a disturbing consequence of the ill-fated Iraq regime-change effort? When we have our way with the next election in Lebanon and Hezbollah wins, what do we do?

If our effort to destabilize Syria is no more successful than our efforts in Iraq, then what?

If destabilizing Syria leads to the same in Iran, what are our options? If we can’t leave now, we’ll surely not leave then – we’ll be told we must stay to honor the fallen to prove the cause was just. We should remember Ronald Reagan’s admonition regarding this area of the world. Ronald Reagan reflected on Lebanon in his memoirs, describing the Middle East as a jungle and Middle East politics as irrational. It forced him to rethink his policy in the region. It’s time we do some rethinking as well.

President Iran controversial remark on Jews

This time, I disagree with President Ahmadinejad of Iran who calls for the wipe-out of the state of Israel. Israeli state is the reality, regardless. the important things now is not how to wipe a country off the map, but how to add a new country i.e. Palestine on the map.

the iranian president outburst is indeed not helping to palestinian cause, rather to some extent it’s a liability.

so far, iran has made a tremendous self-restraint and gain many respect from many countries for it. his controversial remarks, therefore, should be regarded as a something very unfortunate in real politik of the world.

Thousands of Iranians stage anti-Israel demonstrations
Iran moves to ease reaction to anti-Israel remarks

Friday, October 28, 2005; Posted: 9:23 a.m. EDT (13:23 GMT)

(CNN) — Thousands of Iranians staged anti-Israel protests across the country Friday and repeated calls by their ultraconservative president demanding the Jewish state’s destruction.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — marching with the protesters — signaled he stood by his remarks, even as Iranian officials tried to defuse the issue.

“My word is the same as that of (the) Iranian nation,” he told the official IRNA news agency.

“They are free to say but their words lack any credit,” he said, when asked about global reaction to his comments.

During a meeting with protesting students at Iran’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad quoted a remark from Ayatollah Khomeini — founder of Iran’s Islamic revolution — that Israel “must be wiped out from the map of the world.”

But on Friday, Iran’s Moscow embassy — often used by Tehran to issue statements on foreign policy –said Ahmadinejad did not mean to “speak up in such sharp terms.”

The embassy said Ahmadinejad “did not have any intention to speak up in such sharp terms and enter into a conflict.”

“It’s absolutely clear that, in his remarks, Mr. Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, underlined the key position of Iran, based on the necessity to hold free elections on the occupied territories,” Reuters quoted the embassy statement as saying.

Ahmadinejad’s comments drew swift and harsh reaction from governments in Europe and North America, as well as from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in remarks issued Thursday by the Israeli government press office, said he believed any country that calls for the destruction of another cannot be a member of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, a day after the global condemnation, thousands of Iranians rallied in Tehran and other cities as part of al-Quds — Jerusalem — Day protests,Demonstrators held banners with anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian slogans.

One banner read “Death to Israel, death to America,” The Associated Press reported.

The state-organized rallies were first held in 1979 after Shiite Muslim clerics took power in Iran.

One of the strongest reactions to Ahmadinejad’s remarks came from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said they were “completely and totally unacceptable.”

“I felt a real sense of revulsion at those remarks,” said Blair, who spoke Thursday at a press briefing after a European Union summit near London.

“There has been a long time in which I’ve been answering questions on Iran with everyone saying to me ‘tell us you’re not going to do anything about Iran,'” he said.

“If they carry on like this, the question people are going to be asking us is, ‘When are you going to do something about this,’ because you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having a nuclear weapon.”

Also Thursday, Annan expressed “dismay” over the Iranian president’s comments urging the destruction of Israel.

In a statement, Annan reminded “all member states that Israel is a long-standing member of the United Nations with the same rights and obligations as every other member.”

“Under the United Nations Charter, all members have undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” the statement said.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Ahmadinejad’s views “underscores our concern and the international community’s concerns about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Ottawa also issued a strong rebuke, with Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew saying: “We cannot tolerate comments of such hatred, such anti-Semitism, such intolerance. These comments are all the more troubling given that we know of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”


USA: Iraq War Scandal

This scandal offers an opportunity to discredit the entire ideology used to justify the war in Iraq.

NOW, AMERICA has its own David Kelly affair. There is no corpse — unless you count the U.S. troops killed in Iraq, whose number is now 2,000 — but all the other elements are in place. A complex saga, turning on the unwanted outing of a government servant; a media organisation rocked by accusations of sloppy editorial processes; and a judicial investigation zeroing in on the charge that the Government cooked up the case on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It will reach its climax any moment now.

We all have a stake in outcome of Plamegate

by Jonathan Freedland

This scandal offers an opportunity to discredit the entire ideology used to justify the war in Iraq.

NOW, AMERICA has its own David Kelly affair. There is no corpse — unless you count the U.S. troops killed in Iraq, whose number is now 2,000 — but all the other elements are in place. A complex saga, turning on the unwanted outing of a government servant; a media organisation rocked by accusations of sloppy editorial processes; and a judicial investigation zeroing in on the charge that the Government cooked up the case on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It will reach its climax any moment now.

It has become known, inevitably, as Plamegate — with CIA agent Valerie Plame the nominally central player. Nominal because, though she is very much alive, she, like David Kelly, is a silent star.

In February 2002, the CIA dispatched Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador, to Niger to check claims that Saddam Hussein had been shopping in the country for nuclear material. He concluded that Mr. Hussein had not. Nevertheless, nearly a year after his mission, Mr. Wilson was alarmed to hear George W. Bush and others repeat the Niger claims as if they were true. The ex-diplomat finally wrote a trenchant piece in the New York Times headlined “What I didn’t find in Africa.” He wrote that if his verdict had been “ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretences.”

A furious White House promptly briefed against Mr. Wilson. A column appeared mentioning that Mr. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent — implying that she had engineered his mission to Africa, and that his appointment owed more to nepotism than expertise. That set people wondering. To knowingly expose an undercover CIA agent is to break the law. The columnist said he had two sources in the Bush administration. If so, they were potentially guilty of a serious crime. The White House firmly denied any of its people were involved.

So began an investigation which is now due to bear fruit. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could bring indictments against one or both of Karl Rove, the political supremo known as Mr. Bush’s Brain, and “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney. Chances are, they won’t be charged under the agent-naming rule — but perhaps with perjury, obstruction of justice, or conspiracy to obstruct justice. As so often with scandals, it will not be the initial crime but the subsequent cover-up that does the damage.

To lose high-ranking officials like Mr. Rove or Mr. Libby would be trouble enough, but the Republican fear is that it won’t end there. Tuesday’s New York Times reported that Mr. Libby was told about Ms. Plame by none other than the Vice-President in June 2003. That’s tricky, since Mr. Libby has testified under oath that it was journalists who first tipped him off about the CIA agent. The revelation makes a liar of Mr. Libby and perhaps of Mr. Cheney too: he went on TV in September 2003 saying he didn’t know Mr. Wilson or who had sent him to Niger. At the very least, there is now proof that the effort to take on Mr. Wilson went all the way to the Vice-President — if not further.

So this is the story — along with a sideshow about the conduct of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who may have got just too close to her White House sources — which has Washington gripped in the scandal fever that has become a perennial feature of every Presidential second term. It was Watergate for Richard Nixon, Iran-contra for Ronald Reagan, Monica for Bill Clinton, and now Valerie Plame for Mr. Bush.

How damaging will it be? If it was just a matter of hardball tactics by his aides, Mr. Bush would be able to ride it out. But there is the question of motive.

As the former presidential candidate and current Democratic party chairman, Howard Dean, said: “This is not so much about Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. This is about the fact that the President didn’t tell us the truth when we went to Iraq, and all these guys are involved in it.”

It is this which makes Plamegate America’s Kelly affair.

The Niger story, and the determination to keep it alive, was part of a wider effort by Mr. Cheney’s office, with allies in Donald Rumsfeld’s Defence Department, to cherry-pick the intelligence that would support the case for military action against Iraq. All through the 2002 summer, Mr. Cheney pressured CIA analysts to come up with anything which might cast Saddam Hussein as a maniac bent on nuking the U.S. He presented Baghdad as an imminent, lethal danger to America. He persisted in claiming a link between Mr. Hussein and Al-Qaeda, even when the evidence was nonexistent. He recycled the wholly discredited claim that Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, had met an Iraqi agent in Prague. He and his White House Iraq Group (Whig), which included Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby, were engaged in a campaign not merely to sex up the case for war — but to make it up altogether.

Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby had differing motives for this effort. Mr. Rove was convinced that branding Mr. Bush a “war President” would ensure re-election in 2004 — but that required a war; Afghanistan was wrapped up, so Iraq would be the necessary sequel. Mr. Libby was part of the ideological neocon set that had long dreamed of an Iraq invasion as the first step to remaking the Middle East and which seized on 9/11 as the opportunity. Plamegate comes as Mr. Bush is especially vulnerable. Hurricane Katrina exposed his administration as careless, cronyish, and, above all, incompetent. In a blistering speech last week, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Laurence Wilkerson, warned that if the U.S. was struck by another terror attack or a major pandemic “you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence.”

The President is assailed from all sides; from Democrats over his plans to privatise the pensions system, and from conservatives who wanted a right-wing titan nominated to the Supreme Court — and who feel insulted by the choice of Harriet Miers, a personal lawyer to Mr. Bush who has never been a judge and whose best credential is that she once oversaw the Texas lottery.

It adds up to a moment of exceptional weakness, a “perfect storm” for Democrats plotting a comeback in next year’s Congressional elections. But it is more important than that. Now there is a chance to discredit not just Mr. Bush’s presidency but the ideology which led to the disastrous adventure in Iraq. Plamegate itself may seem arcane, but that outcome is one in which we all have a stake. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004


Is the U.S. rethinking approach to Russia?

by Peter Lavelle

HAS THE United States changed its stance regarding its policy towards Russia? Has the lecturing come to an end and has the application of “double-standards” run its course? Reading what Thomas Graham, member of the National Security Council, Special Assistant to the U.S. President and Senior Director for Russian Affairs, said recently, one might think so.

Mr. Graham’s remarks to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a place where “neo-cons” feel very much at home, sound very much out of place with his audience’s political tastes and ideological convictions. Working for an administration renowned for neoconservative rhetoric, Mr. Graham comes across as refreshingly realistic — specifically when it comes to Russia.

Talking to the AEI, Mr. Graham said: “The [U.S.-Russia] relationship has had its ups and downs, but, contrary to the prevailing view in Russian and American commentary, I would argue that the trend line has been positive.” He followed up with the observation: “As a consequence, the publics in both countries are now focussed more on the problems in U.S.-Russian relations than on the opportunities.” This is a remarkable comment given the avalanche of negative commentary fed to Western audiences by such newspapers as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal — and further disseminated by other dailies.

How to remedy this situation? Mr. Graham says: “We need to remember that building such a partnership is a long-term commitment. Our vision and our policies are aimed not only at this but also at future generations of Russian leaders and citizens.

“To move toward and generate public support for that vision, we need to demonstrate to sceptical publics in both countries that there is genuine substance to U.S.-Russian relations that brings tangible benefits now.”

The U.S. supports democratic change in the world, though Mr. Graham states: “We also need to be clear that our efforts are not intended to harm Russia’s relations with these states. Russia needs to have good relations with them, and all these states will be better off if they have good relations with Russia. Indeed, it is hard to imagine durable security and economic structures along Russia’s borders without Russia’s active involvement … to this end, as we build relations with these countries in their own right, we are prepared to sit down with our Russian colleagues — and with colleagues from these regions — to think through how we might do this, and the Russians have indicated they welcome such a discussion.”

The U.S. now appears to be interested in finding and stressing commonalities with at least some of its partners in the world. Mr. Graham’s comment appears to demonstrate this change in thinking, “The U.S. also appreciates that, while the principles of democracy are universal, the forms in which they manifest themselves vary greatly from country to country based on history, culture, tradition, and other factors. But, in the end, all of us have to strive to meet the same fundamental international standards.”

In what surely is a major change of opinion and an affront to the neo-cons that have driven the policy decisions of the administration of President George W. Bush, Mr. Graham claims: “If we are to regain credibility with the Russian public, we need to demonstrate that we appreciate the complexity of the challenges Russia faces.”

These are not just words. Mr. Graham shows what he is talking about. “We need to be clear that our support for the rule of law and the sanctity of private property — issues raised by the Yukos affair — does not mean we support the socio-economic injustices that grew out of the flawed and often corrupt privatisation processes of the 1990s or condone the often corrupting role of vast accumulations of wealth in the Russian political system.”

Mr. Graham also is blunt in understanding the nature of Russia’s mass media: “Freedom of the press concerns editorial independence and pluralism of opinion, not support for one set of oligarchs over others. In regard to Chechnya, we must be clear that our legitimate concerns about serious human rights abuses by federal and pro-Moscow Chechen forces do not in any way diminish our commitment to work with Russia against terrorism and the appalling abuses that terrorists have inflicted on the Russian people, including yesterday [October 13] in Nalchik.” There is no doubt that Mr. Graham has an informed opinion on this account.

Mr. Graham concluded his comments thus: “Russia will need to deal with all aspects of the problems it faces if it is to consolidate a genuinely democratic society.

“That is an enormous undertaking, and we will not necessarily agree with the policy choices that are made, nor can we impose our views on Russia.”

Doesn’t this sound like what President Vladimir Putin has been telling the U.S. for the past few years? By no stretch of the imagination did Mr. Graham concede to the Kremlin a complete “free ticket” to what it desires.

But he did say the U.S. should be a patient partner as Russia deals with issues it faces. — RIA Novosti

Iraq Constitution is a disaster

It is extremely unfortunate that so many people were led to believe that the Iraqi Constitution would be a panacea. This document is nothing more or less than a time bomb.

Why have so many Sunnis so adamantly opposed it? The answer is easy: it would likely divide Iraq into as many as 18 small feuding states. In case after case, provincial regulations would overrule federal laws when there is a dispute. The Iraqi Army would not even have the right to enter a state without the approval of that state’s Parliament.

Anyone who thinks that such a Constitution would calm the insurgency has probably been spending more time than he should have reading about Alice in Wonderland.

Iraq Constitution is a disaster
– By Hatem Mukhlis

Baghdad: The usually bustling streets of this city looked sad and empty on October 15, other than the occasional herd of people on their way to the voting stations. The children — I never knew there were so many youngsters in Baghdad — oblivious to the event of the day, took to the streets, affirming their newly found democracy by playing soccer.

I knew for sure, alas, that this Constitution would not unify the country. My mother once told me — I was 10 at the time — that her father, one of the founders of modern Iraq, had lamented how important, yet impossible, it was to even dream about unifying the national attire, let alone our country’s hearts.

It is extremely unfortunate that so many people were led to believe that the Iraqi Constitution would be a panacea. This document is nothing more or less than a time bomb.

Why have so many Sunnis so adamantly opposed it? The answer is easy: it would likely divide Iraq into as many as 18 small feuding states. In case after case, provincial regulations would overrule federal laws when there is a dispute. The Iraqi Army would not even have the right to enter a state without the approval of that state’s Parliament.

Anyone who thinks that such a Constitution would calm the insurgency has probably been spending more time than he should have reading about Alice in Wonderland.

The next few weeks will see an escalation of the unnecessary violence that has ripped my country apart. Unnecessary, because the ordinary citizen has no political agenda, and has found himself amid a war he neither understands nor cares about — a war waged by foreigners who could not care less about Iraq or Iraqis.

The Constitution was written with the interest of only one group in mind: the Kurds. The Shias seem to think they can shape the country to their wishes if they can appease the Kurds and gain their cooperation.

But the Kurds have their own plan: their ultimate goal is to form an independent state of Kurdistan, with or without Iraq’s help. Even now a “greater Kurdistan,” which would absorb Kurdish areas of neighbouring countries, is in the cooking. The so-called concessions over future amendments to the document, given to assuage Sunni concerns, were really part of a well-calculated strategic plan with no risks to the Kurds whatsoever.

The idea is that the Constitution will take effect immediately, while an impotent committee argues for four months about how to make amendments to a poison that has already started dividing the country. A few futile changes would be made to appease the Sunni public, and we will have another referendum on them.

Then the final knockout will come, with two-thirds of the voters in the three provinces that comprise Kurdistan voting the amendments down, and blaming the Sunnis for breaking apart the country.

The paradox is that despite the de-Baathification efforts under way, we are doing exactly what the Baath Party always did: we have simply changed “execute and then argue” to “do what you are told and discuss it later.”

It is obvious that the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni coalition, was given great assurances by Shia leaders and American officials before it advocated a “yes” vote. The party officials apparently believed they could fool the masses with their rhetoric. They have actually shot themselves in the foot (and time will prove to the Americans that a weak ally is a burden rather than a help).

The Constitution will eventually be thrown into an open fire.

Rather than unifying Iraqis, this Constitution would only increase the rift between our ethnic and religious groups. It could also lead to the Balkanisation of the nation, as the 18 states coalesce into three superstates, with the Sunnis trapped between Shias to the south and Kurds to the north.

Hatred toward those Iraqis who returned to Iraq on the backs of the American tanks will be nurtured. Inevitably this would lead to more hatred towards the United States, since even though it is the American troops that are preserving Iraq’s unity, it was the invasion that has lead to this chaos.

I, and millions of other Iraqis, Sunnis and Shias, sincerely hoped that this Constitution would be voted down. The next National Assembly is going to be of a much more democratic composition, and would be well suited for writing a more effective Constitution, one that would better reflect the patriotic desires of all Iraqis. This would also give the Sunnis who now have taken the political path a sign that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

But with this Constitution, many more Iraqis are going to feel that no matter what they do in the political sphere, it would not make a difference, and that the only way out of this is to take up armed struggle.

In any case a Constitution is only a piece of paper. Even if the country does not fly apart because of it, or we get a better one down the road, there are many steps that need to be taken if we are going to achieve any sort of political stability.

First, we need a new government whose officials are in power based on qualifications rather than loyalty to a certain sect, political party or ethnic group. This government needs to give the ordinary Iraqi a tangible positive change: better electricity; more jobs; more security.

We must also reassemble the Iraqi Army and disband all ethnic and religious militias; and this military must end the current wave of reprisals against those who fought on the Iraqi side in the Iran-Iraq war.

In addition, we have to re-establish the judicial system that Iraq had before it was corrupted by the Baathists. Last, we need to control the graft that pervades every level of government, and gain better control of the economy, including fashioning a system that shares the nation’s oil wealth with all citizens.

As Winston Churchill is supposed to have said, “The Americans will always do the right thing — after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” Let’s hope that this will prove to be true about Iraq; it is the only way to avoid converting the liberation of Iraq into an Iraqnam.

Hatem Mukhlis, a doctor, is the chief executive of the Iraq National Movement, a Sunni political party


HIV/AIDS: An NGO by the infected for the infected

“WE ARE not the problem but part of the solution,” said K.K. Abraham emphatically. Mr. Abraham, who is the President of the Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+), Chennai, was explaining the role of non-governmental organisations (NGO) such as his, which are comprised of members who are infected with HIV.

Mr. Abraham has a reason to say so. INP+ is one of the many NGOs that are fighting for the cause of those infected with the virus, including stigma and discrimination. The National AIDS Control Organisation has indeed, though belatedly, realised the pivotal role that such organisations play in containing the disease, educating and counselling, and fighting the twin issues — stigma and discrimination — that haunt those infected.

HIV: An NGO by the infected for the infected

Discrimination in the healthcare system still exists though some changes are happening for the good

ESSENTIAL PARTNERS: Networks such as ours need to be consulted on any issue — prevention, education, counselling — if any programme has to be successful, says K.K. Abraham, President of INP+, Chennai.

“WE ARE not the problem but part of the solution,” said K.K. Abraham emphatically. Mr. Abraham, who is the President of the Indian Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (INP+), Chennai, was explaining the role of non-governmental organisations (NGO) such as his, which are comprised of members who are infected with HIV.

Mr. Abraham has a reason to say so. INP+ is one of the many NGOs that are fighting for the cause of those infected with the virus, including stigma and discrimination. The National AIDS Control Organisation has indeed, though belatedly, realised the pivotal role that such organisations play in containing the disease, educating and counselling, and fighting the twin issues — stigma and discrimination — that haunt those infected.

Growing strong

INP+, that was started in 1997 in Chennai with just 12 members, is now a 15,000 strong organisation with presence in 18 States and 70 districts. It was his personal experience and the way people living with HIV were portrayed that motivated him and others to come together. “We had to come out into the open to fight our cause,” he noted.

One of the biggest changes that the network has been able to bring about is the way society sees people infected with HIV. “People look at us and see for themselves how productive we are and this has brought about a change (in the way we are treated),” Mr. Abraham said. “Initially we faced some problems with people in the neighbourhood. But our landlady was very supportive. She still supports us.”

In the same breath, he also points out the society’s fear and ignorance about the infection and those living with it. “Many think people who are infected will not be healthy and those who are healthy are not infected,” he said.

Wrong notion

This ignorance has proved to be one of the banes affecting the society. People visiting sex workers unwittingly deduce infection status based on the sex worker’s health and many a time refuse to use a condom if the sex worker appears healthy.

The most important message he spreads around is the compelling need for early diagnosis. “If you are diagnosed early, you can lead a healthy and long life even without medication. Antiretroviral (ART) is the last resort,” he stressed. It has been known that good food and exercise delay the progression of the infection to AIDS state.

“I came out and got tested early. Hence I am healthy,” he reiterated to bring out the importance of early diagnosis.

But with stigma and discrimination being rampant, what are chances of people going in for early diagnosis? “By knowing one’s status early, one can lead a healthy life and avoid discrimination,” he pointed out. He was diagnosed in 1993.

Discrimination could start in one’s immediate family and society, at workplace and in the healthcare system. According to Abraham, there is a positive change happening in families and healthcare systems, especially in the metros.

“There is discrimination (in the healthcare system),” echoed Asha Ramaiah, National Advocacy Officer of INP+ based in Bangalore. “But there are some changes happening (for good). When surgery or even injection is involved then government hospitals create problems.” Private hospitals do treat HIV infected people but at double or even treble the cost.

Mrs. Ramaiah recalled one of the many instances when INP+ had fought for the cause of students who were discriminated and denied admission to schools. “They (school authorities) were ignorant of the disease. But once made aware, children were admitted,” she said. This is possible only in government run schools.

Discrimination at work place is real. “Only a few (private) companies take people who are HIV positive at the time of employment,” said Mrs. Ramaiah. “Most of the private companies do mandatory testing for HIV. Those found to be infected are denied jobs.” The reasons cited are different though.

Not much is known of such discrimination as those people (who are denied jobs) are unwilling to seek legal remedy fearing wide publicity of their positive status. But the recent judgment passed by the Karnataka Administrative Tribunal is a shot in the arm for those willing to seek legal help. The Tribunal has directed the Karnataka State Government to provide R. Ramesh Rao of Shimoga, who was denied a police constable’s job owing to his HIV positive status in 1999, that he be given the job with retrospective effect. And it went further to correct the course by directing the State Government to ensure that HIV infected people are not denied government jobs due to their positive status.

Morality linked

Stigma stems from the way society links the person’s positive status with his morality. “In South (India), HIV is linked to the person’s sexual behaviour. Stigma is maximum if infection is through sexual route,” she said. “It is least if it is through drug abuse. So people say they got infected through drug abuse.”

INP+ provides education, emotional support, counselling and a platform to provide peer support for those infected with HIV. It is for these reasons that many come forward and disclose their status. According to Mrs. Ramaiah, about 40,000 people (who are not members of INP+) come to INP+ for these reasons.

This allows INP+ to be in touch with reality. “We need to be consulted on any issue — prevention, education, counselling — if any programme has to be successful,” Mr. Abraham underlined. Mrs. Ramaiah concurred, saying “We can have icons and the President of India talking about AIDS. Only people affected with HIV can convey the message best.” Is there a Magic Johnson in India?

INP+ in Chennai can be contacted at the following telephone numbers: (044) 2432 9580, 2432 9581 and 2432 2461.

R. PRASAD in Chennai

113023738888880079

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