6 November 2013


Tuesday, 05 November 2013 | IANS | Sriharikota (Andhra Pradesh)

India's first Mars orbiter was successfully placed in orbit by an Indian rocket Tuesday in a copy-book style, becoming the first Asian country and the fourth in the world going for a mission to the red planet, a staggering 400 million km away.

Exactly at 2.38 p.m., the rocket - Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C25 (PSLV-C22) standing around 44 metres tall and weighing around 320 tonnes - rose from its launching pad slowly, and then gathered speed as it climbed into the skies on a tail of orange flames.

The expendable rocket, costing around Rs.110 crore, had a single but important luggage, the 1,340-kg Mars orbiter costing around Rs.150 crore. Around Rs.90 crore has been spent on augmenting the ground support/tracking systems.

India began its space journey in 1975 with the launch of Aryabhatta, using a Russian rocket and till date, it has accomplished over 100 space missions.

In 2008, India expanded its space explorations with its maiden Moon mission - Chandrayaan-1. The mission led to the discovery of water on the Moon. The country is planning another Moon mission in two years' time.

According to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) officials, the Mars orbiter will orbit the Earth till Nov 30 and then its motors will be fired to push it towards the red planet.

For nearly 300 days the motor will be off while the spacecraft floats through the inky void towards Mars. When the spacecraft nears Mars, the motors will be restarted and fired again to carry out maneuvers to put it in Martian orbit around September 2014.

Following that, the on-board instruments would carry out their jobs.

The Mars mission blasted off from the first launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here, around 80 km from Chennai, and went up amidst the cheers from ISRO scientists and the media team assembled at the rocket port.

Space scientists at ISRO mission control room were glued to their computer screens watching the rocket escaping the Earth's gravitational pull.

At around 44 minutes into the flight, PSLV-C25 spat out the Mars orbiter.

Immediately on the successfully ejection, scientists at the mission control centre were visibly relieved and started clapping happily while the tracking systems began their work.

Minutes after its launch, Prime Minister in a tweet congratulated ISRO scientists for "successful initiation of Mars Mission and wishes for its successful future".

President Pranab Mukherjee described it as "a landmark in our space programme".

"I am extremely happy to announce PSLV-C25 placed Mars orbiter spacecraft very precisely in elliptical orbit around Earth...Now it will be complex mission to take the Mars orbiter from the Earth's orbit to Mars orbit," K. Radhakrishnan, ISRO chairman, said post launch.

In the next 10 days, "we will be raising the apogee of orbiter to around 200,000 km", and on Dec 1, "the great long difficult voyage for the orbiter would start", he said.

According to him, in September 2014 the orbiter will be around Mars and it will then be placed in Mars orbit.

India starts historic mission to Mars

Published: November 5, 2013
T.S. Subramanian

The HinduWORKHORSE DOES IT AGAIN: Soaring majestically into the sky on Tuesday from Sriharikota is PSLVC25 with the Mars orbiter. Photo: K. Pichumani
The PSLV- C25 with India's Mars Orbiter on board lifting off majestically at 2.38 p.m on Tuesday from the First Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Photo courtesy: ISRO
The HinduThe PSLV- C25 with India's Mars Orbiter on board lifting off majestically at 2.38 p.m on Tuesday from the First Launch Pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Photo: K. Pichumani
Photo Credit: ISROMars Orbiter Spacecraft mounted on top of PSLV-C25 Fourth stage.

PSLV puts Mars orbiter precisely into earth-orbit; trip to the Red Planet will take more than 300 days

The nation’s prestigious interplanetary mission to Mars, 40 crore km away, got off to a flying start on Tuesday when the Indian Space Research Organisation’s trusty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25) roared off the first launch pad of the spaceport at Sriharikota at 2.38 p.m. and put the Mars orbiter precisely into its earth-orbit about 44 minutes later.

India Swears Its Redundant, Mega-Priced Mars Probe Is Totally Worth It

November 4, 2013

India's space scientists must be tired, by now, of defending their cosmic ambitions. Though the nation has made a valiant effort to recast itself as a pioneer of space exploration in recent years, it can't seem to get around criticisms of how it spends its money.

The concerns, which India's space agency has often addressed but to no one's satisfaction, is newly relevant in the lead-up to its first Mars mission. As the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) prepares to launch a spacecraft bound for the red planet on Tuesday, many are wondering: How does a country with one of the lowest development levels in the world justify spending on a space program? Most assume that India's space program is fueled by competition with China's, and that India's dream of becoming the first Asian nation to the reach the red planet has more to do with establishing regional dominance than with scientific inquiry.

There may be something to that argument, given that the goal of this Mars-bound spacecraft is to orbit the planet in search of methane -- the presence of which would indicate potential for life. It would be a worthwhile scientific endeavor, if NASA's Curiosity rover hadn't already accomplished it.

Given the perceived redundancy of the mission, many have wondered whether the government should divert funding from its space programs to human development efforts.

The international maritime order will continue to gradually but fundamentally change as new powers acquire greater economic and naval heft

Maritime challenges are being fundamentally transformed by new technological and geopolitical realities, shifting trade and energy patterns, and the rise of unconventional threats. The fact that about 50 per cent of the maritime boundaries in the world are still not demarcated accentuates the challenges.

Water covers more than seven-tenths of the planet’s surface, and almost half the global population lives within 200 km of a coastline. It may thus surprise few that 90 per cent of the world’s trade uses maritime routes. With countless freighters, fishing boats, passenger ferries, leisure yachts, and cruise ships plying the waters, a pressing concern is maritime security — a mission tasked to national navies, coast guards, and harbour police forces.

Altering equations

The maritime order has entered a phase of evolutionary change in response to global power shifts. Maritime power equations are beginning to alter. The shifts actually symbolize the birth-pangs of a new world order.

Emerging changes in trade and energy patterns promise to further alter maritime power equations. For example, energy-related equations are being transformed by a new development: the centre of gravity in the hydrocarbon world is beginning to quietly shift from the Persian Gulf to the Americas, thanks to the shale boom, hydrocarbon extraction in the South Atlantic and Canada’s Alberta Province, and other developments.

The United States, for the foreseeable future, will remain the dominant sea power, while Europe will stay a significant maritime player. Yet, the international maritime order will continue to gradually but fundamentally change as new powers acquire greater economic and naval heft.


Wednesday, 06 November 2013 | Staff Reporter/ PTI

India has to remain vigilant. We have to be ready to face situations when China causes large water-level fluctuations downstream by its reservoir operations, or diverts lean season flows. It can disrupt this country’s hydro-projects

The Chinese state media has recently reported about the opening of a 117km new highway to Medok in the Nyingchi Prefecture, close to its eastern border with India, providing all-weather access to this region from every county in Tibet. While the benefits of the highway facilitating better access to healthcare and in making the commodities cheaper, have been highlighted, the strategic importance has been down-played intentionally by the news agencies. Earlier, an airport had also been constructed in this Prefecture at an altitude of 2949m .

Medok is situated near the Great Namcha Barwa Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo (the Brahmaputra in India) where the proposed 40,000MW hydro-project planned by China would be sited to generate power and divert the Brahmaputra waters to its arid north. The road and airstrip will facilitate movement of material and machinery for the speedy execution of the planned project.

The mega-project and others planned and under construction in the Yarlung Tsangpo have raised many concerns for the downstream riparians like India. However, Beijing has been repeatedly assuring India that its projects, being run-of-the-river schemes having no storage provisions, will not reduce the downstream flows as they have taken a ‘responsible attitude’ to cross border-river development.

Even in the recently concluded summit level talks between the Prime Ministers of both countries, India raised its concerns on China’s plans on common rivers like the Brahmaputra. But the joint statement released after the summit makes no mention on the issues related to water-sharing, even though the subject of trans-boundary rivers has been referred to as ‘assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries’.

China always insists that it has no plans to divert the Brahmaputra waters. But the experts of the Chinese Society for Hydropower engineering have acknowledged that research was carried out on the possibility of generating power at the Great Bend. Also, the People’s Daily reported that an expert team had been to the site to prepare a feasibility report for the project.

In 2003, the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported on the proposal of Tsangpo Water Diversion Scheme, which will have a power plant of 40,000MW to utilise the potential of the river falling through 3,000m and would have provisions to divert water to the north-west Provinces of Xinjiang and Gansu. The map of Grid Corporation of China for 2020 also indicates the Great Bend area connected to the rest of the Chinese power supply. Hence, it is certain that China is keeping a discreet silence on this project till it is ready to implement it.

As per recent reports, the present leadership is aiming to boost China’s total power capacity to 1,500GW by 2020, as against the present 1,060GW. According to China’s Centre of Energy Economics, hydropower is the only choice. Hence, China believes it has every right to build dams within its territory and is not answerable to India, as there are no treaties between the two on using trans-boundary rivers. There’s just an understanding on sharing data on river flows. Considering the likely impact on projects downstream due to the proposed water diversions, India must prevail upon Beijing to sign a treaty on sharing the trans-boundary rivers.

While diplomatic efforts to get China sign the agreement should be vigorously pursued, India must also take action to protect its interests, since Beijing always plans its infrastructure projects for dual use — to meet the requirements of peace-time and war situations.

The looming debate over drones

Published: November 6, 2013
Praveen Swami

The HinduGETTING MACHINES ON THE JOB: It is important we understand what the technology can achieve and what the costs will be. Photo: Manob Chowdhury

New Delhi has long resisted using armed UAVs in counter-insurgency roles, but the discussion cannot be deferred forever.

The small, portly man was laid out in bed that autumn morning in 2009, wrapped in a shawl, the intravenous line in his arm carrying ever-waning hope that he might yet beat back acute diabetes and a crippling renal disorder. He had come home to his father-in-law’s home in the small village of Makeen just days earlier, family sources would later tell reporters, along the troubled South Waziristan Agency’s border with Afghanistan. He had just one last wish: to have a son.

It was not to be, because from a seat in a quiet room halfway across the world, someone was watching.

Baitullah Mehsud, alleged assassin of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, architect of the 2008 Islamabad Marriot Hotel bombing, commander of strikes that the Pakistan government said claimed over 1,000 lives, possibly never even heard the AGM114 Hellfire anti-tank missile that ended his life.

The November 1 killing of Baitullah Mehsud’s successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, has opened an agonised political debate across Pakistan. Inside the offices of national security force commanders and intelligence chiefs in New Delhi, though, it has set off a very different conversation: are technologies like drones — properly, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) — a way to resolve India’s counter-insurgency conundrum?

Force strength and results

This, we know: the counter-insurgency status quo is not working. In 2003, a Group of Ministers which reviewed internal security after the Kargil war, assigned the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) front line responsibility for counter-insurgency operations — backing up police forces across the country. The force, at the time of the war, had 167,367 personnel. It is now up to 222 battalions — over 222,000 armed personnel, and 300,000 including administrators and support staff.

Yet, the results haven’t been luminous. Even as the CRPF’s numbers have ballooned, the government’s own data show that the number of Maoist insurgents eliminated has declined year-on-year since 2009, from 317 to 114. The number of insurgents and unarmed supporters has stayed steady, at 25,000- plus.

Ever since 2010, some counter-insurgency commanders have advocated abandoning a more boots-on-the-ground strategy. India already has an Israeli-made Heron UAV fleet, the estimated cost of which is $220 million, operating over the Maoist corridor. It takes little to sling an anti-tank missile under a large UAV — and many counter-insurgency practitioners argue it is both inefficient and callous to make troops risk their lives in dangerous terrain when machines can do the job instead.

India’s voyage to Mars

Published: November 6, 2013

India’s first interplanetary probe, the Mars Orbiter Mission, has left home on the first leg of a voyage of scientific discovery. Once again, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation performed its task with impeccable ease. A long and difficult trek now lies ahead of the spacecraft. It will circle Earth for the rest of this month, repeatedly firing an onboard liquid-propellant engine to gain velocity. Shortly after midnight on November 30, the engine will fire again to put it on course for the Red Planet, a journey of 680 million kilometres that will take almost 300 days to complete. Such deep space missions have inherent risks, especially for a country attempting one for the very first time, and failures litter the history of Mars exploration. Only the Soviet Union, the U.S. and Europe have succeeded in getting spacecraft to the fourth planet from the Sun. Japan, a nation whose space programme began well before India’s and which has rich experience in a variety of space missions, ran into problems that ultimately crippled its maiden Martian venture launched in 1998. The Nozomi spacecraft’s propulsion system malfunctioned and then powerful solar flares seriously damaged key components. The probe ended up shooting past Mars, instead of going into orbit around it. China tried to hitch a ride for its Yinghuo-1 spacecraft on Russia’s Phobos-Grunt. But the latter was unable to leave Earth orbit and burnt up as it fell to the ground early last year.

If India does triumph with its Mars mission, it will have stolen a march on its Asian rivals. But it will not mean that this country has pulled ahead of Japan or China, which have far more advanced capabilities in many areas of space technology. However, with efforts like the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe launched five years back, the present Mars mission, and Chandrayaan-2, which will attempt to put a lander and rover on the Moon in a few years’ time, ISRO is unmistakably signalling its intention of being a significant player in space exploration. Should money be spent on such ventures? Questions about the worthwhileness of the space programme are nothing new. Studies have, however, shown that the country has more than recouped the money it invested in space. But those returns were not immediate and took many years, even decades, to materialise. It is difficult to predict all the benefits that might accrue from something like the Mars mission, some of which may be intangible but nevertheless vital for the country in the long run. The most important of such benefits could well be to fire the imagination of young minds in this country, getting them to dream about possibilities for tomorrow.

Printable version | Nov 6, 2013 11:01:06 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/indias-voyage-to-mars/article5317915.ece

© The Hindu


Tuesday, 05 November 2013 | PTI | Washington

US President Barack Obama secretly offered Pakistan in 2009 that he would nudge India towards negotiations on Kashmir in lieu of it ending support to terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Taliban, but much to his disappointment Islamabad rejected the offer.

"Since the 1950s Pakistan had wanted an American role in South Asia. Now it was being offered one. In the end Pakistan would have to negotiate the Kashmir issue directly with India. But at least now the American president was saying that he would nudge the Indians toward those negotiations," Pakistan's former Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani writes in his book 'Magnificent Delusions', which hit the stores today.

This is Haqqani's interpretation of the secret letter written by President Obama to the then President Asif Ali Zardari, which was personally hand delivered by his then National Security Advisor Gen (rtd) James Jones.

The letter's content is for the first time being disclosed by Haqqani, the then Pakistan's envoy to the US.

In his book, spread over 300 pages, Haqqani writes that in November 2009, Jones travelled to Islamabad to hand deliver a letter written by Obama to Zardari.

Dated November 11, 2009, through the letter Obama offered Pakistan to become America's "long-term strategic" partner. The letter "even hinted at addressing Pakistan's oft-stated desire for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute," he writes.

"Obama wrote that the United States would tell countries of the region that 'the old ways of doing business are no longer acceptable'. He acknowledged that some countries — a reference to India — had used 'unresolved disputes to leave open bilateral wounds for years or decades. They must find ways to come together'," Haqqani writes.

"But in an allusion to Pakistan, he (Obama) said, 'Some countries have turned to proxy groups to do their fighting instead of choosing a path of peace and security. The tolerance or support of such proxies cannot continue'," the former diplomat writes quoting from the letter.

"I am committed to working with your government to ensure the security of the Pakistani state and to address threats to your security in a constructive way," the book says, citing Obama's letter to Zardari.

"He (Obama) asked for cooperation in defeating Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban and the assorted other militant groups that threaten security. Obama then wrote of his 'vision for South Asia', which involved 'new patterns of cooperation between and among India, Afghanistan and Pakistan to counter those who seek to create permanent tension and conflict on the subcontinent'," Haqqani wrote.

Hepatitis C, the silent killer, meets its match

Published: November 6, 2013
Andrew Pollack

Medicine may be closer to an enormous public health achievement — a likely conquest of a viral epidemic without using a vaccine.

Determined to get rid of the hepatitis C infection that was slowly destroying his liver, Arthur Rubens tried one experimental treatment after another. None worked, and most brought side effects, like fever, insomnia, depression, anaemia and a rash that “felt like your skin was on fire.”

But this year, Dr. Rubens, a professor of management at Florida Gulf Coast University, entered a clinical trial testing a new pill against hepatitis C. Taking it was “a piece of cake.” And after three months of treatment, the virus was cleared from his body at last.

“I had a birthday in September,” Dr. Rubens, 63, said. “I told my wife I don’t want anything. It would take away from the magnitude of this gift.”

Once-a-day pill

Medicine may be on the brink of an enormous public health achievement: turning the tide against hepatitis C, a silent plague that kills millions and is the leading cause of liver transplants. If the effort succeeds, it will be an unusual conquest of a viral epidemic without using a vaccine.

“There is no doubt we are on the verge of wiping out hepatitis C,” said Dr. Mitchell L. Shiffman, director of the Bon Secours Liver Institute of Virginia and consultant to many drug companies.

Over the next three years, starting within the next few weeks, new drugs are expected to come to the market that will cure most patients with the virus, in some cases with a once-a-day pill taken for as little as eight weeks, and with only minimal side effects.

That would be a vast improvement over current therapies, which cure about 70 per cent of newly treated patients but require six to 12 months of injections that can bring horrible side-effects.

The latest data on the experimental drugs were being presented at The Liver Meeting in Washington, that ended on Tuesday.

But the new drugs are expected to cost from $60,000 to more than $100,000 for a course of treatment. Access could be a problem, particularly for the uninsured and in developing countries. Even if discounts or generic drugs are offered to developing countries, there are no international agencies or charities that buy hepatitis C medications, as there are for HIV and malaria drugs.

And some critics worry that the bill will be run up when huge numbers of people who would have done fine without them turn to the drugs. That is because many people infected with hepatitis C never suffer serious liver problems.

“The vast majority of patients who are infected with this virus never have any trouble,” said Dr. Ronald Koretz, emeritus professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

It is impossible to tell in advance whether an infected individual will go on to suffer serious consequences. For patients who can afford them, the temptation to take the new drugs before trouble arises will be powerful.

Heavy toll

An estimated 150 million people worldwide — three to four million of them are Americans — are infected with hepatitis C, many times the number who have HIV. Most people who are infected do not know it, because it can take decades for the virus to damage the liver sufficiently to cause symptoms.

In the United States, the number of new infections has fallen to about 17,000 a year, from more than 200,000 a year in the 1980s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There has been a recent rise in cases among young people who inject pain medicines or heroin.

About 16,600 Americans had hepatitis C listed as a cause of death on death certificates in 2010, though that might vastly understate the mortality linked to the disease, according to the CDC. Although there are fewer new infections, the number of deaths is expected to keep rising as the infections incurred years ago increasingly take their toll. Hepatitis C is spread mainly by the sharing of needles, though it can also be acquired during sex. The virus was transmitted through blood transfusions before testing of donated blood began in 1992. Dr. Rubens, the recently cured patient, believes he was infected when he worked as a paramedic long ago.

The main treatment has been interferon alfa, given in weekly injections for 24 or 48 weeks, combined with daily tablets of ribavirin. Neither drug was developed specifically to treat hepatitis C. The combination cures about half the patients, but the side effects — flu-like symptoms, anaemia and depression — can be brutal.

How the drugs work

The new drugs, by contrast, are specifically designed to inhibit the enzymes the hepatitis C virus uses to replicate, the same approach used to control HIV. As with HIV, two or more hepatitis C drugs will be used together to prevent the virus from developing resistance.

One big difference is that HIV forms a latent reservoir in the body, so HIV drugs must be taken for life to prevent the virus from springing back. Hepatitis C does not form such a reservoir, so it can be eliminated permanently.

If no virus is detectable in the blood 12 weeks after treatment ends — a measure known as a sustained virologic response — there is almost no chance the virus will come back and the patient is considered essentially cured. The damaged liver can then heal itself somewhat, doctors say.

Yet even if the virus is cleared, people who were once infected may still have an increased risk of liver cancer, especially if cirrhosis, a scarring of the liver, has set in.

The new drugs now moving to the market can achieve sustained viral responses in 80 to 100 per cent of patients with treatment durations of 12 to 24 weeks, possibly shorter.

For Tom Espinosa, a building inspector in Oakland, California, the new treatments cannot arrive fast enough. Mr. Espinosa, 59, has advanced cirrhosis and some spots on his liver that might be cancer. He is so fatigued that he spends all weekend in bed. He has tried all available treatments and nothing worked, making him envious of other patients who were cured. “I became resentful for a little while, but I got over it,” he said. With time possibly running out, he plans to try the first new drug to hit the market.


To be sure, many of the new drug combinations have not been extensively tested yet. Side effects might still show up. And the drugs are not expected to work as well for patients with severe cirrhosis or those co-infected with HIV.

“I just don’t think we know the answer until we get more widespread clinical experience,” said Charles M. Rice, a hepatitis C expert at Rockefeller University. “We may be in for some surprises still.”

New direction

Researchers and patients have been disappointed before, when the first two direct-acting antiviral pills, telaprevir and boceprevir, reached the market in 2011. The drugs, which inhibited the virus’s protease enzyme, still required interferon and ribavirin, but they raised the cure rate to about 70 per cent.

There was a huge rush to treatment. But doctors now say that side effects were worse than expected, in part because the sickest patients had been excluded from the clinical trials of the drugs.

“A lot of that didn’t come to light until after the drugs were approved,” said Dr. Brian R. Edlin, an associate professor of public health and medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Then it turns out they were just horrible.”

December approval

Among the new drugs, the one garnering the most excitement is sofosbuvir, from Gilead Sciences, which is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration by December 8. It inhibits the virus’s polymerase enzyme, which builds new genomes out of RNA so the virus can replicate.

Sofosbuvir is an evil decoy of sorts. It looks like a building block of RNA. But once it is mistakenly incorporated into the RNA chain, the chain cannot grow and the virus cannot reproduce.

The effectiveness of the new drugs can vary depending on which strain of hepatitis C, known as genotypes, the patient has.

People infected with hepatitis C genotypes 2 and 3 — which account for 20 to 25 per cent of cases in the United States — will take sofosbuvir with ribavirin but without interferon, making this the first all-oral treatment for hepatitis C. Treatment for genotype 2 will be 12 weeks, but for genotype 3 it will probably be 24 weeks.

Genotype 1, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of patients in the U.S., will still require interferon and ribavirin along with sofosbuvir, but only for 12 weeks. In a clinical trial, about 90 per cent of previously untreated patients taking this combination achieved a sustained virologic response. The combination is expected to be somewhat less effective in those for whom previous treatments did not work.

Gilead hopes to have an all-oral treatment for genotype 1 approved by the end of 2014. It would be a once-a-day pill containing both sofosbuvir and another experimental Gilead drug, ledipasvir. This combination, used along with ribavirin, is what cured Dr. Rubens.

Other companies, including AbbVie, Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, are in a heated race to also bring all-oral combinations to market in the next two years or so.

Liver specialists will be able to put together an all-oral regimen for genotype 1 very soon, however, by prescribing both sofosbuvir and simeprevir, a Johnson & Johnson protease inhibitor that is expected to win approval soon. One study has shown this combination to be extremely effective, though insurers may balk at paying for two expensive drugs.

Awaiting better options

These new drugs are likely to alter the calculus about who gets treated and when.

Many doctors are now “warehousing” their hepatitis C patients — urging them to forgo treatment until the new drugs are approved.

“There’s no way I’m going to put them on an interferon regimen when we’re a year away from having interferon-free regimens,” said Dr. Scott Friedman, the chief of liver diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It’s rare you have to pull the trigger and get them on treatment in that period of time.”

Gilead estimates that only 58,000 Americans with hepatitis C are now undergoing treatment, a small fraction even of those who know they are infected. Wanting to avoid interferon’s side effects, some patients without symptoms try to monitor their liver and start treatment only if it shows signs of deterioration.

But with the new more tolerable treatments, some experts say, it makes sense to treat early-stage disease to prevent cirrhosis and the accompanying risk of liver cancer.

And it is likely that more pre-symptomatic patients will be found through wider screening. Both the United States Preventive Services Task Force and the CDC have recently begun to recommend that all baby boomers — people born from 1946 to 1964 — be tested for infection with hepatitis C, since they represent about three quarters of all cases.

“It will be test and treat,” said Dr. Eugene Schiff, the director of the liver diseases center at the University of Miami, who is a consultant to drug companies.

Pharmaceutical companies, of course, have a financial interest in seeing that more people get screened and treated, and they have been providing support for hepatitis C awareness campaigns and sponsoring studies on the benefits of screening and treatment.

The all-oral regimens also may make it more feasible to treat the people who are most likely to spread the virus — intravenous drug users, the homeless and prison inmates, many of whom also have mental health problems. “I can’t treat an unstable patient safely with interferon,” said Dr. Diana Sylvestre, who runs a clinic in Oakland, California, that treats illicit drug users and former users. “But I can sure as hell give them a few pills.”

— New York Times News Service

Printable version | Nov 6, 2013 11:05:18 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/hepatitis-c-the-silent-killer-meets-its-match/article5318103.ece

© The Hindu


Wednesday, 06 November 2013 | Amiya Kumar Kushwaha

We are aware of the brave jawans who guard our borders but we know little about the invisible force that serves under the radar and fights an equally challenging battle in protecting forests, saving wildlife and securing life-sustaining ecosystems

October 18, 2013: Rakesh Sharma, while patrolling Sau Footie, the ‘100-foot-fire-line’ atop a remote steep ridge (a likely spot where khatkas or gin traps are set by poachers) in Corbett Tiger Reserve, was attacked by a tiger. Dev Singh, another daily wager accompanying him, reacted with courage — he hit the animal on the head with his bamboo shaft, and surprised the tiger into dropping his victim and fleeing. Sharma, though still alive, was bleeding profusely and it took over 12 hours to take him to the hospital in Haldwani, where he later succumbed to his injuries. He was a daily wager, getting an abysmally low wage, with no insurance, pension or any such fund that can now aid his family.

October 18, 2013: Over 500 irate villagers from Sasanpeta, went on a rampage and torched the Gahirmatha (Odisha) forest range office, its vehicles and boats after a 62-year-old man was killed by a wild boar. The mob also attacked the forest officials, including the ranger, holding them responsible for the human-wildlife conflict.

September 14, 2013: A group of tribals who had allegedly encroached on forest land hacked a ranger to death at KK Tanda, a village, in Andhra Pradesh’s Nizamabad district, apart from maiming seven forest personnel. Police said the villagers in the tribal area attacked the staff when they went to arrest those who had illegally occupied forestland. Tragically, the forest staff’s vehicle got stuck outside the village. The villagers surrounded their vehicle and threw chilli powder into their eyes before attacking them with boulders and axes.

July 15, 2013: Forest Guard Jitender Kumar Dhiani who was posted at the remote, secluded, water-bound outpost of Gaujera Chowki in Corbett Tiger Reserve, drowned on duty. All that a colleague of his saw from a distance was Dhiani’s raised hands in a mute appeal for help, before he disappeared into the backwaters of the Kalagarh lake. His body was discovered the next day.

As can be seen from these instances (only a representative, and not an exhaustive list), the frontline forest staff face many perils. Their lives are on the line not just from wild animals, who can sometimes be unpredictable and strike when surprised, but mostly from poachers, timber smugglers, mining mafias — and the fury of encroachers and mobs in several situations, particularly those related to human-wildlife conflict.

We are well-aware of the brave jawans who guard our borders, we celebrate them, and honour their courage. Rightly so. Most, however, are ignorant of another, almost invisible army serving mostly under the radar — India’s ‘Green Army’. It fights an equally challenging battle, protecting forests, saving wildlife, securing life-sustaining ecosystems.

The Green Army’s work is no less arduous; and its courage and dedication no less inspiring. Yet, the sacrifices the jawans of this Army makes are rarely recognised. Their work is risky but they have no life insurance, pension, gratuity and medical benefits. They are poorly paid, under-equipped, un-trained and over-worked. They serve in the remotest of forests, and more often than not they are lone sentries guarding ‘their’ patch of forest without even the most basic of facilities such as decent housing, drinking water, toilets, electricity(solar), communication systems, protective clothing and medical aid. They have no fixed working hours or holidays and are on duty 24x7. The forest sector, even in crucial wildlife areas, is so short-staffed that there is no back-up if some worker goes on leave.

Pakistan’s Energy Crisis and the New Great Game


The recent incident of suicide bombing in a Church in Peshawar reflects Pakistan’s half hearted approach in dealing with terrorism. Islamabad’s policies will continue to affect the fragile ethnic situation in Pakistan. These policies stems from the fact that the military establishment in Pakistan continues to rely on some of these groups to promote their foreign policy agenda in India and Afghanistan. Withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan post 2014 may lead to a series of dramatic events in the country. The security vacuum resulting from this withdrawal may lead to the resumption of a New Great Game in the region, as predicted by several analysts. Before Pakistan resumes playing the game, it must re-consider the consequences of its possible actions on the domestic energy situation. As of now, the country is at the peak of an energy crisis as its domestic energy reserves are depleting at alarming levels. Currently, it is dependent on energy imports to sustain its developmental and industrial needs. The answer to Pakistan’s energy crisis lies in its neighbourhood.

Pakistan’s unique geographical location provides it with an opportunity to tap into the enormous hydrocarbon potential of its immediate neighbours. Currently there are proposals underway to build cross border energy pipelines emanating from Central Asia, West Asia (Iran) and from India. These Oil and Natural Gas Pipelines would ensure for Pakistan transit fees and access to energy resources at affordable prices. Proposals also exist for Pakistan to seek hydro power from neighbouring countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Northern Afghanistan. Such projects can ensure access to electricity for Western and North Western areas of Pakistan. On its eastern front, Pakistan can access electricity and petroleum products from India, thereby ensuring energy sufficiency for its eastern regions like Sindh and Punjab.

But given Pakistan’s involvement in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and its troubled bilateral relations with India, prospects for cross border energy cooperation seems very difficult to achieve. Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment have been involved in encouraging groups like Taliban to continue fighting the ruling government in Afghanistan. Such abetment of Taliban and its associated groups is consistent with its long standing endeavour to pave way for an energy trade corridor cutting through Afghanistan into Central Asia[1] and also creating a strategic depth vis-à-vis India. But seldom does Pakistan realise that installation of Taliban government in the past did not result in the development of any energy trade corridor which it had long desired as Afghanistan plunged into inter ethnic fighting. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the late 1980s, Pakistan’s military establishment became more pre-occupied in creating a strategic depth vis-à-vis India and carry out anti-Indian activities than focus on developing the energy trade corridor. Training of jihadi groups with varying ideological agendas became the sole preoccupation of Pakistani military establishment. Such activities only led to a systematic deterioration in security of the region thereby paving way for extra regional powers intervention in Afghanistan.

Meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan following American troops withdrawal post 2014 may harm the long term energy prospects of Pakistan. Unlike the earlier times, the warlords and the ethnic groups in northern and central Afghanistan are much stronger and would fiercely resist any renewed onslaught by Pakistan sponsored groups after the withdrawal of American troops. These ethnic groups may also make the passage of any energy pipelines destined for Pakistan difficult. The resulting conflict would negate the materialisation of any energy trading between Pakistan and its Central Asian neighbours. Countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan may even refuse to sell the much needed electricity to Pakistan due to lack of stability and security guarantees in the region.

Future conflict: battle after Afghanistan

November 2, 2013

David Kilcullen chief counter-terrorism strategist for the US State Department writer of The Accidental Guerilla fighting small wars in the midst of a big one. Photo: Supplied

By David Kilcullen. Scribe. 352pp. $32.95.

In April this year the Times Literary Supplement carried an extraordinary review of a book written by Emile Simpson, a young British officer recently returned from Afghanistan. Historian Michael Howard compared his book, War from the Ground Up to the seminal military bible On War by Carl von Clausewitz. As Howard had translated that classic, this created an enormous buzz.

Perhaps there is only room for one such sensation each year because David Kilcullen's book should have caused a similar stir. This is the mature work of someone who's thought long and hard about conflict. Out on the Mountains deserves to be read (and argued about) by anyone who is interested in the war or the shape of the modern world.

Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen. Photo: Supplied

After training at Duntroon, Kilcullen went on to become a lieutenant colonel in the Australian army. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early '90s, it had become difficult to envisage exactly how military force would be used. Kilcullen was propelled to begin investigating the key question in military conflict: the relationship between political power and the use of force.

Academic research in Indonesia was later buttressed with practical experience in Iraq and Afghanistan as an adviser to the US commander, General David Petraeus. Two earlier books (which, interestingly, Simpson credits with illuminating his thinking) allowed Kilcullen to begin elaborating his theory about how war has changed since the days of the grand conflicts between nation states. This book develops his thinking further, offering real challenges to the very way we conceive of battle.

It's sometimes difficult to get a grip on the implications of how the world's changing. Perhaps one way is to think of the last really big amphibious landing; like the ones in World War II, with marines charging up the beaches across an opposed shore. We still train to do this today. Kilcullen points out that the last really huge such assault was more than 50 years ago, in Korea.

General Douglas Macarthur had attacked with a left hook, reaching deep behind the Communist forces. The Chinese withdrew to face the new threat to their rear; US forces tossed them back over the border and, eventually, a truce was declared.

At first glance, it looks as if conventional warfare achieved the desired result, because the North was thrown back. But note, the conflict still hasn't been resolved. The peninsula remains frozen in time. Paralysis isn't resolution. Increasingly, Kilcullen argues, the old verities can no longer be taken as given.

The old tactics - double envelopment; the indirect approach; penetration of the centre - have become irrelevant. The centre of gravity has changed.

Kilcullen argues that we must bring a broader understanding of the origins of war to bear on our analysis. He insists that only after we isolate and resolve these causes can we really hope to win. This is where his personal understanding of the technical dimensions of war comes into its own.

The Missing Option for Afghanistan: A Response to Steve Biddle

Posted By Paul Miller 
November 5, 2013

Steven Biddle is one of the more knowledgeable commentators on Afghanistan, having written one of the first, and still most insightful, analyses of the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom. He isn't prone to invoking the historically inaccurate and intellectually lazy notion that Afghanistan is a place where mighty militaries invariably fail, an idea that has informed far too much deterministic "analysis" over the last dozen years. He once rightly noted, "Many Americans see Afghanistan as hopeless and ungovernable -- a chronically violent 'graveyard of empires.' It is not. For most of the twentieth century, Afghanistan was internally stable and at peace with its neighbors."

So his recent essay in Foreign Affairs on "Ending the War in Afghanistan" is notable for its relative pessimism. He argues that there are really only two options: cut a deal with the Taliban, or acknowledge that the war is lost and withdraw completely, with no residual force and no continued donor support. Neither option is good, but both are better than the worst-case scenario. "Losing per se is not the worst-case scenario; losing expensively is." In his view, the United States and the Afghan government have no prospect of victory. Thus, without a negotiated settlement, we can only choose to acknowledge defeat swiftly and efficiently, or endure defeat slowly and expensively. He argues we are currently on track for the "lose expensively" option.

Biddle's analysis is curious because he acknowledges that the 2010-12 surge of international troops made progress, but he doesn't seem to believe that such progress could be sustained. The idea was that "a troop surge would clear the Taliban from strategically critical terrain and weaken the insurgency so much that the war would be close to a finish by the time the Afghans took over. That never happened," Biddle argues. "The surge made important progress, but the tight deadlines for a U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban's resilience have left insurgents in control of enough territory to remain militarily viable well after 2014," he adds. Biddle is right that the withdrawal deadline undermined the surge -- something critics of the deadline predicted well in advance -- but resists the obvious conclusion: to sustain recent progress, the United States should not withdraw from Afghanistan.

Biddle's blindness to the obvious conclusion is a result of the presuppositions on which his argument depends. He simply assumes that the withdrawal of international forces is a fait accompli that cannot be changed. He assumes the current counterinsurgency strategy, such as it is, also cannot be improved. Both are true so long as a prior assumption also holds: that the United States' political will to continue the war has long since been exhausted.

Biddle follows the trend among commentators generally in treating political will as an exogenous factor, fixed for all intents and purposes, something policymakers simply have to accept. But the percentage of Americans who believed the war in Afghanistan was a mistake showed a small but significant downtick, followed by a leveling off, from late 2010 through early 2011, according toGallup. That's noticeable because support for the war is on a long-term decline (following the pattern of support for most wars). The short interruption and reversal of the long-term trend corresponded with the surge of troops and with the U.S. making progress against the Taliban. In other words, the American people haven't lost support for fighting the war in Afghanistan. They've lost support for losing the war in Afghanistan. If they believed the war was winnable or that we were winning, they would likely rediscover their political will.

Afghanistan’s Future is Brighter Than You Think

By Jamil Danish
November 6, 2013

In less than six months Afghanistan will face one of the most crucial crossroads in its history: the chance for a peaceful transfer of power from one elected leader to another. A successful presidential election that is free and transparent is crucial for continued progress in the country beyond 2014, with the risk of failure potentially dealing a difficult blow to a populace exhausted by setbacks. 

A positive outcome will not be easy, and will need support from two key groups: Afghanistan's younger generation who will live with the consequences of the election, and an international community that has invested so much into Afghanistan in the past decade.

At an Asia Society gathering of young Afghanistan leaders in Kabul last month, I could sense the frustration from my peers about the lack of faith that Afghanistan can truly stand on its own in coming years. The international press has done a good job of presenting the worst case scenarios for Afghanistan if the elections fail just as foreign troops are withdrawing. In this scenario, the Taliban and other insurgent groups will take over, the government will collapse, and the country will be ruled by factions engaged in continual civil war and skirmishes. This attitude not only turns away international groups, but discourages people in Afghanistan who see or hear the same message.

There is another scenario that must be presented, and one my peers and I, living and working in Afghanistan, feel is just as likely. In this other future for our country, fair and transparent elections will bring in a legitimate government that can work to keep insurgents at bay. There will be no return to the dark ages prior to 2000 that so many Afghans fear, with fewer innocent civilians being murdered and disruptions to civil society minimized.

A key element of finding that success is for Afghanistan’s younger population to buy into the new government. This sector of the population makes up two-thirds of the country and are more connected to the world than their predecessors growing up during the era of the Taliban. Many of them hold positions as public administrators in the Afghan government, and some have returned from quality educations overseas to become role models of change in Afghanistan’s economic, social, and political life. There is no reason why Afghanistan can’t produce world-class leaders that bring decisive, committed, and responsible decision-making to lead the country at this critical time.

That said, the country must work to bring in those young people on the fringes of the new wave. Many live in rural areas and are either unemployed or reliant on farming, creating a situation in which joining insurgents is a tempting option. If these groups of young people are excluded from the process it will not bode well for the new government.

What Will a New Army Chief Mean for Pakistan and the Neighborhood?

Evan Vucci/Pool, via ReutersJohn Kerry, center, U.S. secretary of state, with Hamid Karzai, left, president of Afghanistan, and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistani army chief, after a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Apr. 24.

Since it was announced last month that Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, would be retiring, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has kept the country dangling on his choice, creating a new parlor game for the chattering classes in the process. General Kayani has been characteristically mum, except for an unusual press release that said he was leaving the office on Nov. 29, without closing out other options, even as he accepted the concurrent role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Sharif could begin consolidating his power by making an early and firm choice to replace General Kayani. Explaining the reason behind the choice would end speculation about the process. Currently, the only certainty appears to be the fact that there will be a new army chief come the end of November 2013 and whoever gets the prime minister’s nod will be a changed person after that, for the office in many ways makes the man.

The top five in order of seniority all are highly trained professionals, each with certain proven qualities and different backgrounds. All except one are Punjabis, an unusual coincidence in a military that has a substantial Pakhtun presence and at a time when the army is fighting a war inside its borders in the Pakhtun territories.

The prime minister should be looking for a leader who will inspire the army’s rank and file, bruised by a seemingly never-ending conflict against their own countrymen. Someone who has war-fighting experience or has been part of the transformation of the Pakistani Army from a conventional army to one trained also for asymmetrical warfare. Someone who will not necessarily agree with the prime minister on everything but will be discreet in offering frank advice and let the prime minister make the policy decisions after that. Someone who will keep the army away from politics and not be a counterweight to civil power. Someone who will remain in the background and allow the transition to civilian supremacy occur over time.

General Kayani, who took over from Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was a soldier at heart. He immediately headed to the forward lines of the war inside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and made many such trips to see and to be seen with his soldiers and officers who were fighting and dying in alarming numbers. Why didn’t General Musharraf make such trips? Why didn’t the civilian leadership also do the same? That mystery remains.

General Kayani also designated his first year as the Year of the Soldier and the second year of his first term to be the Year of Training. The latter was an uphill battle since an army at war has little time for training. He kept foreign relationships alive but played his cards close to his chest and surprised his American interlocutors by acting in what he perceived to be Pakistani interests, especially on the Afghan conflict. He also encouraged opening discussions with India on a broad range of issues, though his innate caution led him to tug back the government when it seemed to be moving too quickly on some fronts.

His decision in 2010 to accept the three-year extension that President Asif Ali Zardari offered left a question mark on his tenure since it created a sense of indispensability and broke the career trajectory of a number of deserving generals, one of whom would have succeeded him. One day, we hope he will share his thoughts on that process and the reason it happened.