THE HIMALAYAN VOICE

[Chronologically, what is of critical interest here is that although the story of milch cow was not unknown to the medieval chroniclers, Ne Muni or Ne the sender to paradise was not known to them. The compilers of Gopalarajavamshavali  were familiar with the tradition relating to Nepa the cowherd who dug out the Jyotirlinga or the Luminous Phallus of Lord Pasupati. Prior to the late 15th century, Ne Muni did not seem to exist at all. Gajapati, a mediocre Sanskrit playwright, who composed a Sanskrit play called Caturanka Mahabharata (preserved in the National Archives, Kathmandu, Catalogue Part I, No. 449), wrote in the preface that “the country protected in the past by Ne Muni is called Nepal”. This is the only known and reliable ancestry of the sage Ne Muni.]

                                                                               By Kamal Prakash Malla

Kamal P. Malla

1. Antiquity of the Word : The word Nepalais obscure in origin. The earliest reliable incidence of the word is in the Allahabadpillar inscription of Samudragupta (A.D. 335-375). The undated inscriptionmentions that among other frontier-kings, the king of Nepal“paid tribute, obeyed orders, and came to prostate themselves to satisfy theproud will of the master”. In Nepalese sources, the earliest incidence of theword is in an inscription dated equivalent to A.D. 512. Issued by KingVasantadeva, it is located in Tistung, a small valley at the foot of Candragiri,on the ancient entry route to the Nepal Valley. The form used in theinscription is swasti naipalevya|, translated by the authorities variously as“(greetings) to Nepalis”, “(greetings) to the residents of Nepal”,“(greetings) to the Nepalas”, and “(greetings) to the leaders/kings ofNepalas”.

The form naipaevyais dative plural. Naipala is from Nepala, combined with the suffix-an. The vowel e in the first syllable ne becomes diphthong ai when the suffix-an is used. Unfortunately, however,the suffix – an is used for differentshades of meaning, coming for, among other things, attributives (e.g., saiva from Siva), aggregates (e.g. bhaiksamfrom bhikksu), and patronymics (e.g. aupagavali from upagu). It may sometimes bear the sense of ‘king/leader of’ as in saibhyah, “king of Sibis”. 

Although the exact shade of meaning of the form of addressswasti naipalevyah is debatable, twofacts of its use are in clear evidence. Of the nearly 200 extant ancient Nepaleseinscriptions belonging to the 5th to 9th century A. D., the form of address is usedin only three inscriptions. Although they are chronologically nearly a centuryapart, they are all located in the Tistung valley. Two of these, issued 95years apart, are located exactly in the same find-spot. The total absence ofthe form of address in the rest of ancient inscriptions, on the one hand, andthe evident concentration of it within a limited geographic area, on the other,compels us to reject the translation of naipalevyaas “to the Nepalis in general”. It can only mean either “to the Nepalis” or “to the leaders/kings of theNepalas”. If this interpretation ofepigraphic facts is sound, the word Nepalastood, in the past, for a well-defined and specific social aggregate whoseidentity was intact till the beginning of the 7th century A.D. The use of theform of address coincides with a phase in ancient Nepalese political historywhen the Abhira clan was in evident ascendancy(A.D. 512-640). 

2. The Word Nepal in Literary Sources

Nepalis, of course, not a rare word in classical Indian literature. It occurs in analleged Vedic text, Atharvaparista.It occurs in Kautalya’s Arthashstra,in Bharata Natyashastra, in somerecensions of the Mahabharata, in theBuddhist canonical text, MulasarvastivadaVinaya, and the Jaina text, Parisistaparvan. However, the mainproblem with these literary sources is that they do not have any firm,reliable, and absolute chronology. For example, some authorities claim that Arthashastra belongs to the 4th centuryB.C. while others would not date it earlier than the 4th century A.D.! Thecritical edition of Mahabharata doesnot contain any reference to Nepal,but a southern recension does have a reference. Textual studies of theseclassics have shown that they belong to “evolving anonymous literature” andthat there are far too many interpolations and scribal “improvements” foranyone to be able to decide what constituted the “original text”. Thus,although the name Nepal appears in Indian literarysources, most of these are so difficult to date with any exactitude that thesesources are not of much use in establishing either the origin or the antiquityof the word.

3. TraditionalInterpretations of the Word

In Nepal,there are two kinds of historical writings available in the traditional genre:the medieval vamshavalis (the Gopalarajavamshavali, compiled in ca.1380s, and its cognates) and the vernacular chronicles (compiled between the1820s and 1880s). One of the most important differences between the twotraditions is that whereas the medieval chronicles are relatively free frommythological digressions and puranicmaterials, the later chronicles are infested with them. It is interesting tonote that the traditional interpretation of the word Nepalis not preserved in any of the three surviving medieval chronicles whereas thelater chronicles, both Brahmanical and Buddhist versions, contain interpretationsand rationalizations of the word Nepala.In one version, it is said that “the great Rishi,from whom Nepalderives its name, was a devotee named Ne”(Wright. 1877:89). In the same chronicle, we also come across the followingstory:

The cowherds who came in the train of Lord Krishna settleddown …and built cowsheds. One of their cows, by name Ne, was a mulch cow, but gave no milk. Every day at a certain timeshe went running to a certain place. One day the chief cowherd followed her,and saw milk issuing from her udder, and saturating the spot on which shestood. His curiosity was excited to know what was under the spot, and onremoving some earth he discovered the light, which however consumed him.

Ne Muni, fromwhom Nepalderives its name, then came, and having persuaded the people that there wouldbe no Chhetri Rajas in the Kali Yuga, he installed as king the sonof the cowherd who had been consumed by the light. (Wright, 1877: 107-108)

The Buddhist interpretation, however, is quite different.According to a recension, compiled in ca. A.D. 1825, Manjushri Bodhisattwa,the divine agent who drained the primordial Lake of Serpents, Nagahrda, that was the Nepal Valley, persuades the serpent-king Karkotaka to stay on in the drainedvalley :

In order that the city may be well populated, you willhave to cause the rains to be set in here always in due season and cherish thepeople; and the Self-Existent Buddha called Ne, (i.e. the sender to paradise)will also take care and multiply the community. The Valley will be called afterhis name Nepalor the Cherished of the Adi Buddha.(Hasrat, 1970:7)

In these traditions two elements emerge clearly intorelief. The imputed etyma (Ne the sage,Ne the cow, and Ne the sender to paradise) are primarily sectarian in nature, andthe interpretations are drawn from a given religious-cultural system so thatthe name could be, not only interpreted, but also legitimatized within thesystem. The word, thus, becomes not just a linguistic sign, but also a culturalsyndrome.

Chronologically, what is of critical interest here is thatalthough the story of milch cow was not unknown to the medieval chroniclers, Ne Muni or Ne the sender to paradise was not known to them. The compilers of Gopalarajavamshavali  were familiar with the tradition relating to Nepa the cowherd who dug out the Jyotirlinga or the Luminous Phallus ofLord Pasupati. Prior to the late 15th century, Ne Muni did not seem to exist at all. Gajapati, a mediocre Sanskrit playwright, who composed a Sanskritplay called Caturanka Mahabharata (preserved in the NationalArchives, Kathmandu, Catalogue Part I, No. 449), wrotein the preface that “the country protected in the past by Ne Muni is called Nepal”.This is the only known and reliable ancestry of the sage Ne Muni.

In the Nepal Valley,during the 15th-16th century there appears to have been an upsurge ofreligious-cultural nationalism. Nepal Mahatmya (earliest extant copy dated A.D.1654), Svayambbhu Purrana (earliestextant copy dated A.D. 1558), PashupatiPurana (earliest extant copy dated A.D. 1504), and similar puranic texts were compiled. This literatureappears to have grown, at least in part, out of the cultural need to glorifyand legitimatize the local shrines, including the rivers and their confluences,by some or other kind of divine association. Initially, the inspiration mayhave come from the recent migrant religious and cultural elites from India.There is hardly any doubt that sectarian and religious interpretation of theword Nepal wassought during this fertile period of myth-making. Ne the sender to paradise andNe the sage may have been pious afterthoughts of this phase in Nepal’scultural history.

4. First Approachesto Secular Analysis

The earliest known secular (i.e. linguistic) attempt toanalyze and interpret the word Nepalawas made by Christian Lassen (1800-1876), a Norwegian scholar who spent  most of his working life as Professor ofSanskrit at the University of Bonn, Germany. The  four volumes of his Indische Alterthumskunde (Indian Archaeology), published between 1847-1861,are regarded by the knowledgeable as “a milestone in the progress of the scienceof Indology,” and “one of the world’s greatest monuments of untiring industry andcritical scholarship”. In volume I fascicle 2, Lassen writes that Nepala, like Himala, Pancala, andsimilar other words, is formed as a compound of nipa and ala (standingfor alaya, i.e. abode). Nipa is “foot of a mountain”. Nepala thus means “abode at the foot ofa mountain” (Lassen 1861:76, footnote no 3). In the meantime, Lassen dismissed Ne Muni as “just a concoction”.

At the beginning of the present century, Sylvain Levi(1863-1935)- a French savant of great repute and vast erudition in Sanskrit,Chinese, and Tibetan languages, published a monumental three-volume study onthe history and culture of Nepal : Le Nepal: Etude Historique d’Un Royaume Hindou (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905-1908).He begins his survey of the history of Nepalwith a lucid and critical examination of the earliest references to Nepal,both epigraphic and literary, including the legendary interpretations of theword. In this context, Levi also scrutinizes Lassen’s etymological explanation:

Even supposing that the change from nipa to nepa werelegitimate, the sense attributed here to this word (i.e., foot of a mountain -KPM) would have no other foundation than the gloss of a scholiast (i.e., a 16thcentury commentator called Mahidhara, in his commentary on Vajaseni Samhita – KPM). Moreover, it applies rather badly to acountry already situated in the mountains themselves. Nepalstrictly speaking is only the large interior valley. The word nipa signifies above all a kind of asoka (the nauclea cadamba of the botanist) which is far from beingcharacteristic of the Nepalese region.

In addition, one could still bring in the Nipas, a princely race of the cycle ofthe Pandavs, who reigned in Kampilya in Panchala. (Levi, 1905 : II : 66)

Not only that Levi found Lassen’s Sanskrit etymology ofthe word Nepala untenable, he went onto confess : 

The name Nepal, Nepala, despite its Sanskritappearance, does not lend itself to a satisfactory etymological explanation.(Levi, 1905 : II : 66)

Despite his vast Sanskrit learning Levi himself had nodefinite contribution to make, except a suggestive hint where he said : Either newara derives its origin from the word Nepal,or that Nepalowes, on the contrary, her name to a Sanskrit adaptation of local ethnic.(Levi, 1905: I: 222- 223)

Sir Ralph L. Turner, in his famous A Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of the Nepali Language (London:Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1931) reinstates Levi’s suggestion in his entry inthe dictionary under the head-word Nepala,where he writes : Late Sanskrit, Nepalasingular, the country; plural, its people; – this may be a sanskritization of newar, or the latter may be a later(Eastern Hindi or Bihari) form of Nepala. (Turner, 1931 : 353)

5. TibetanEtymology : The Miscarried Attempt

Austin L. Waddell (1893: 292-294), a British civil servantturned Tibetologist proposed an etymology of the word Nepalbased on what he thought were Tibetan data. According to him, the firstsyllable ne (corresponding to thewritten Tibetan form gnas) signifies home, spot, sacred place, or place of pilgrimage. The syllable pal would be the equivalent of bal, signifying “wool”. Nepala would then signify “the sacredplace of the bal or wool”. Waddell’s monstrous etymological explanation has nobasis in facts of the Tibetan language or Tibeto-Burman linguistics. For onething, the usual word-order is Bal-po,Bal-yul. So instead of gnas-bal , it would ordinarily be bal-gnas. Secondly, the Tibetan name forNewars (Bal-po) and Nepal(Bal-yul), as Tucci has conclusivelyshown, is due to “curious duplications of place names”. In the A.D. 821 TreatyInscription at Lhasa, Nepal,is clearly referred to as gcen lho Balpho (Tucci, 1958:344-347; 397).

6. Indo-AryanEtymologies : The Topographic Interpretations

Topographic features of Nepalin general and the Nepal Valleyin particular have remained the bases of Indo-Aryan interpretations of the wordso far. These interpretations have several problems—the problems of imputedmeaning as well as the problems of rules of word-formation. Robert Shafer, anAmerican linguist who was basically a Sino-Tibetanist rather than anIndologist, says :

The first part of Nepalais phonetically quite regular as a derivative of nipa (foot of a mountain). Sanskrit ai, as a rule, became Prakrite.

Then Shafer goes on to add:

But I do not believe we can consider Nepala in isolation when discussing the last part of the word. Atleast some of these final-la’s (in Panchala, Nepala, Kosala, Bangala – KPM) found in place names mayhave been Tibeto-Burmic in origin. (Shafer, 1954 : 137)

Whereas Shafer was bothered by the last part of the word Nepala, offering to explain the word asIndo-Aryan in root and Tibeto-Burman in suffix, a different problem inIndo-Aryan explanation bothered Button-Page, a British expert on South Asianarchaeology. He interprets the word as a derivative of nipa (damp, low-lying), affixed with ala, the old Indo-Aryan suffix meaning ‘pertaining to, possessing’.This would result in naipala. So hesays:

The real difficulty from the Sanskrit viewpoint is thegu`a-vowel; the v{ddhi ai would be expected in the Sanskrit derivative of naipala.

To get over this difficulty Burton-Page (1954:596)proposes to interpret the word Nepalin a somewhat tortuous way : Nepalais a “re-sanskritisation of Prakrit nevala which is derived from Sanskrit naipala which in turn is a derivative ofthe root n}pa suffixed with ala”.According to him, the meaning of this compound will be “damp, low-lying home”. Tocall Nepal ingeneral or the Nepal Valleyin particular “damp, low-lying home” may be an unsatisfactory metaphor, but nota very apt toponym. We are, therefore, relieved at the fact that Burton-Pageconcedes that “this is not offered as a conclusive solution”. Because, whilethe interpretation may be sound phonetically, its semantics is questionable.

Recently, Nepali historian D.R. Regmi has come up so latein the day with yet another Indo-Aryan etymology based on topographicsemantics.

According to Regmi :

Nepala mighthave derived its name from nipa (notethat the vowel i short in Regmi,whereas it has always been long earlier-KPM), meaning as it goes to cause, toimbibe as a verb or a water jar or a lake as a noun. By vrddhi it becomes Naipa. Nipa obviously means a tank or a lake inthe present context …… (The settlers) gave it the name according to itspotential supporting capacity to be associated with palayati and lastly the name Nepalcame to birth. (Regmi, 1983:1)

A careful perusal of Sanskrit dictionary or dictionarieswould immediately expose how disastrous this etymology is. In his dictionaryRegmi just looked at the head-word at the top of the column, ignoring the otherelements of the compounds. n}pa is, of course, a water jar. But it does notmean a lake. The word which stands for “a well, pool, tank, any place or troughfor watering cattle”, is not nipa,but nipana. Similarly, nipasaras is “a pool or lake forwatering cattle”. How the most unlikely compounding of naipa+palayati will resultin Nepala by any rule of Sanskritmorphophonemics, unfortunately, the Nepali historian does not care to explain.

7. Sanskritisation

Scholarly Sanskrit dictionaries-the native Indiandictionaries, the great St. Petersburg Dictionary of Bohtlingk and Roth, andMayerhofer’s recent etymological dictionary-all appear to have maintained astudied but intriguing silence about the origins of the word Nepala. Two of the greatestIndo-Aryanists of the twentieth century, the late Sir Ralph L. Turner of Britainand the late Suniti Kumar Chatterjee of India,have both indicated that the word may have been a sanskritisation of Newara. As we have shown earlier, Levitoo hinted at the possibility of the word being a Sanskrit adaptation of de l’ethinique local. Despite hisIndo-Aryan leanings, Burton-Page concedes that Nepala is a sanskrit form of Nevala(Prakrit). Baburam Acharya, the late Historian-Laureate of Nepala, at first proposed to interpret Nepalas a sanskritisation of a tribal name which he hypothesized as Nepara. Later on he, too, came round toaccept that Nepala is asanskritisation of Newara (Acharya,1953 and 1972).

Recently, the sanskritisation hypothesis has gained someadditional evidence. A great many place-names traced in ancient Nepaleseinscriptions-the names of rivers, hillocks, fields, canals, etc., arenon-Sanskritic in origins. Recent analyses (Malla, 1981 and 1983) have shown thatmany of these toponyms and hydronyms are, in fact, Tibeto-Burman in stock. Ananalysis of ancient river-names and their recent transformations has nearlyconclusively established that several names are sanskritisation ofTibeto-Burman words and roots.

Levi, Turner, Chatterjee, Burton-Page, and Acarya are all unanimous on the point thatNepala is a sanskritisation of Newara. However, it will be closer tothe known linguistic/phonetic facts of the two words (Nepal>Nebala>Newala>Newara) if weconsider them as two phonetically variant forms of the same word : Nepala is the learned Sanskrit formwhereas Newara is the colloquial Prakrit form. The earliest verifiableincidence of Prakrit form of the word(naivala) is attested in the Gilgitmanuscript of the Buddhist canonical text Mulasarvastivada-vinayavastuby Jinamitra compiled “after the 3rd century A.D” (Levi. 1907:115).It was translated into Chinese by I-tsing in A.D. 700.

8. Tibeto-BurmanRoots ? : An Ethnolinguistic Hypothesis

Classical place-names in South Asia have almost alwaysbeen the names of the tribes, clans, and peoples who had been inhabiting theplace, e.g., Bharata (from theBharatas), Panchala, Magadha, Videha, Andhra, Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Matsya, Kuru, Pundra, etc. Atleast, in one classical Indian text, Bharata’s Natyashastra (XIII:32), usually dated back to second century A.D.,the people of Nepal (naip@lika) is mentioned along with other well-knowntribes-Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Vatsa, Odra, Magadha, Pundra, etc. The epigraphic evidence in Nepalalso indicates that the country probably got its name from the people whoinhabited it, rather than from any of its isolated topographical feature — realor imagined.

To say that Nepalais a sanskritisation of Newara doesnot explain much in etymological terms. The crux of the problem is to identifyand define, if possible, the semantic primitives, i.e., the basic roots ofwhich the original word is made. Local traditions and interpretationsconsistently retain a kind of unconscious echo of certain roots: ne, the cow, Nepa, the cowherd Ne-muni, the sage, and Ne, the sender to paradise. Of these theearliest tradition is of Nepa thecowherd-the eponymic ancestor of the clan of Ahbiras who migrated to Nepal.This tradition is recorded in the Gopalarajvamshavali.Although the chronicle was compiled in ca. A.D. 1380s, the compilers had drawnupon sources which went back at least to the A.D. 1050s. Manikya Vardhana, acourt-poet of Sthitirajamalla’s time (A.D. 1382-1395) also mentions Nepa the cowherd as the founder of theNepalese scion of the Abhiras.

Local traditions are nearly unanimous on the point thatprior to the arrival of the Hindu dynasty of the Licchavis in early centuriesA.D./B.C., the early settlers of the Nepal Valley were the herdsmen, thecowherds (gopala-s) and buffalo-herds(mahisapala-s). Ne is cattle, cow, buffalo is some Tibeto-Burman languages of Nepaland pa is a suffix for man, very widespread in Tibeto-Burman area. On the basisof these scanty linguistic and ethno-historical evidence, some tentativehypotheses may be hazarded :

a. nepa is aTibeto-Burman stem consisting of the roots ne (cow, buffalo, cattle)
and p@ (man, keeper);

b. nepa wassanskritised as Nepala/nevala, possibly on the analogy of gopala (cowherd). Tibeto-Burman pa canelegantly be transformed into Indo-Aryan pala/vala (keeper).

The later Hindu-Buddhist puranas and chronicles may have found the idea of a cowherd as theeponymic ancestor of the country somewhat unpalatable to their religious and culturedtaste. Nepa the cowherd wasconveniently metamorphosed into Nethe sage or Adi Buddha – the senderto paradise ! The original meaning was lost and forgotten in the process ofsanskritisation and linguistic acculturation.

In conclusion, one can only quote what the late SunitiKumar Chatterjee, the National Professor in the Humanities and perhapstwentieth-century India’smost leading Indo-Aryan scholar, had to say on the word Nepala :

Various derivations of the name Nepal(Nepala) were proposed by the Panditsof Nepal in medieval times, both Buddhist and Brahman. It would appear,however, that the name came from that of a Tibeto-Burman speaking tribe, theancestors of the present-day Newar people, and consists of two elements–aprefix Ne–, of uncertain meaning (itmay be the name of some hero-king or priest among the tribe) and the propertirbal name pala or bal– the meaning of which in Newari is lost. (Chatterjee, 1974:64)

References

Acarya, Baburam. 1953. “Nepal,Newar, and the Newari Language.” NepalSamskritik
Parisad-Partrika I:1. 1-16. In Nepali.

Baburam Acarya andHis Work. Kirtipur: Institute of Nepaland Asian Studies, Tribhuvan Vniversity. In Nepali. – 1972

Bohtlingk, Otto and Rudolf Roth.1855-75.Sanskrit-Worterbuh. St. Petersburg.7 Volumes.

Burton-Page, J. 1954. “The Name Nepal.”Bulletin of the School of Orientaland African Studies. XVI:592-597.

Chatterjee, S.K. 1974. Kirata-Jana-Krti: TheIndo-Mongoloids: Their Contribution to the History and Culture of India.Calcutta : The Asiatic Society.Second Edition.

Gop@lar@java^$@val}. A Palm-leaf manuscript in 47 folioswritten in Ancient Newari Script in Sanskrit-Newari, preserved in the NationalArchives, Kathmandu. Catalogue Part I No. 1583.

Hasrat, Bikram Jit. 1970. History of Nepal: As Told by its Own and Contemporary  Chroniclers.Hoshiarpur.

Lassen, Christian. 1947-61. Indische Alterthumskunde. Leipzig.4 Volumes.

Levi, Sylvain. 1905-8. Le Nepal: Etude Historique d’Un Royaume Hindou. Paris: Ernest Leroux. 3 Volumes.

1907. “Elements de Formation du Divy@vad@na.” T’oung pao105-115.

Malla, Kamal P. 1981.“Linguistic Archaeology of the Nepal Valley : A Preliminary
Report.” Kailash. VIII: 1-2. 5-23.

1983. “River-names of the Nepal Valley : A Sutdy in CulturalAnnexation.” Contributions to Nepalese Studies IX : 1-2. 57-68

Mayrhofer, Manfred. 1956-76.Kurzgefasstes etymologischesWorterbuch des altindischen. Heidelberg: Carl Winter/Universitatsverlag. 3 Volumes. In 26
fascicles.

Regmi, D.R. 1983.Inscriptions of Ancient Nepal.New Delhi : Abhinav. 3 Volumes.

Shafer, Robert. 1954. Ethnography of Ancient India.Wiesbaden : Harrosswitz. Tucci,Giuseppe. 1958. Minor Buddhist Texts. Kyoto: University Press.

Turner, R.L. 1931.A Comparative and EtymologicalDictionary of the Nepali Language. London:Routledge and Kegan Paul.

1966. A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-AryanLanguages. London : Oxford University Press. Indexes compiledby Dorothy L. Turner (1969).

Vajracarya, Dhanavajra. 1973.The Inscriptions of theLicchavi Period. Kirtipur : Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies,Tribhuvan University.Sanskrit Text with Nepali Translation and Commentary bythe Editor.

Waddell, Austin L. 1893.“Frog-Worship Amongst the Newars,with a Note on the Etymology of the Word Nepal.”Indian Antiquary. XXII : 292-294.

Wright, Daniel. 1877. History of Nepal. Translated from Parbatiya by Munshi Shew Shankar Singh and Pandit Gunananda. Cambridge:The University Press.

(This paper was originally published in The NepalHeritage Society Souvenir for PATA Conference, Kathmandu, 1983, pp. 33-39).



 * The author is Professor Emeritus of English and Linguistics at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal .


@ Heritage Preservation: Tourism for Tomorrow
In commemoration of the 3rd PATA International Tourism & Heritage Conservation Conference, Kathmandu (November 1 – 4, 1983)

[The 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Tex., by a Muslim Army psychiatrist who had been radicalized in part on the Internet drew new attention to the threat posed by Americans who embrace the ideology of Al Qaeda. Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda propagandist now hiding in Yemen, who had exchanged e-mails with the Fort Hood gunman, has repeatedly and explicitly called on Muslim Americans to mount attacks.]

By Scott Shane
Robert Spencer, who operates
the Web site Jihad Watch.

WASHINGTON — Rolling out a new strategy for combating radicalization, White House officials on Wednesday warned that casting broad suspicion on Muslim Americans is counterproductive and could backfire by alienating a religious minority and fueling extremism.

The administration also promised to identify accurate educational materials about Islam for law enforcement officers, providing an alternative to biased and ill-informed literature in use in recent years, including by the F.B.I. Denis R. McDonough, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters that Al Qaeda and those it inspired remained the biggest terrorist threat inside the United States. But he said the bombing and shootings in Norway last month, carried out by a right-wing, anti-Muslim extremist, were a reminder that the government could not focus exclusively on any single brand of radicalism.
Mr. McDonough said that Al Qaeda had a “bankrupt ideology,” but that accusing the entire Muslim community of complicity in terrorism could “feed the sense of disenchantment and disenfranchisement that may spur violent extremist radicalization.” Instead, he said, Muslim Americans should be treated as a crucial ally of the government in combating extremism.
In an introduction to the eight-page strategy document, Mr. Obama wrote that “communities — especially Muslim-American communities whose children, families and neighbors are being targeted for recruitment by Al Qaeda — are often best positioned to take the lead” in countering radicalization.
The strategy calls for federal agencies to support state and local officials by sharing information on potential threats and cooperating closely with the police.
The 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Tex., by a Muslim Army psychiatrist who had been radicalized in part on the Internet drew new attention to the threat posed by Americans who embrace the ideology of Al Qaeda. Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda propagandist now hiding in Yemen, who had exchanged e-mails with the Fort Hood gunman, has repeatedly and explicitly called on Muslim Americans to mount attacks.
Since the Fort Hood attacks, there have been a number of foiled plots by radicalized Muslims in the United States, as well as by extreme right-wing and white supremacist ideologues.
Conservative critics of the Obama administration, including Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, have accused it of political correctness in avoiding applying the “Islamic” label to plots and attacks by Muslims. Mr. King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has held a series of hearings focusing exclusively on the threat from Muslim extremists, drawing fire from Muslim groups. In March, on the eve of Mr. King’s first hearing, Mr. McDonough spoke at a Virginia Islamic center to reassure Muslim Americans that the government would fight extremism without practicing “guilt by association.”
On Wednesday, Mr. King welcomed the administration’s identification of Al Qaeda as the “pre-eminent” terrorist threat but said he was concerned about language in the strategy document, titled “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” that “suggests some equivalency of threats between Al Qaeda and domestic extremists.” Mr. King also said that while he supported meeting with community leaders, he did not want such meetings to be “politically correct, feel-good encounters, which ignore the threats posed by dangerous individuals in the community.”
A National Security Council expert on extremism who helped devise the new strategy, Quintan Wiktorowicz, said the administration was aware of “inaccurate training” on Islam for law enforcement officers. He said the administration would compile “gold standard” materials to be posted on the Web for officials to draw upon.
A January study by a liberal research group found a pattern of misleading and inflammatory training about Islam across the country, and a 2009 F.B.I. training document obtained recently by the American Civil Liberties Union gave a provocative account of Islam. That F.B.I. PowerPoint presentation was used for classes for law enforcement personnel at the bureau’s academy in Virginia, but it is no longer in use, according to the bureau.
The F.B.I. document recommended two books by Robert Spencer, an anti-Muslim blogger and author whose work was repeatedly cited in the online manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian accused of killing at least 76 people last month. Mr. Spencer, who operates the Web site Jihad Watch, has said he opposes violence and condemns Mr. Breivik’s actions.
@ The New York Times 

TALIBAN HINT AT INTEREST IN NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT

[The Taliban shift comes even as Afghan public opinion has grown increasingly skeptical about the viability of peace talks in recent weeks, Western officials said. Under the best of circumstances, it will likely take years for a deal to be reached, but many Afghans and Westerners believe that the parties need to start talks before the United States begins to draw down substantial numbers of troops.]


By Alissa J. Rubin

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have begun to send signals that they are interested in a negotiated settlement, potentially offering an opening for the West and the Afghan government, several Western officials said.

While there have been some meetings between the Afghan government, NATO officials and some Taliban figures — and even with someone who turned out to be a Taliban imposter — the Taliban have always insisted that NATO troops would have to leave Afghanistan before any meaningful negotiations could take place. Now two recent statements suggest instead that they would be willing to engage in talks even with foreigners in the country. The Taliban are also speaking in less inflammatory terms.

The Taliban shift comes even as Afghan public opinion has grown increasingly skeptical about the viability of peace talks in recent weeks, Western officials said. Under the best of circumstances, it will likely take years for a deal to be reached, but many Afghans and Westerners believe that the parties need to start talks before the United States begins to draw down substantial numbers of troops.
“The Taliban’s public position has undergone an evolution,” said Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special representative to Afghanistan, citing a United Nations analysis of Taliban statements since January, including one on July 28 posted on the Taliban’s Alemarah Web site. “They are becoming politically engaged.” The analysis was shared Wednesday with senior diplomats in Kabul.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, confirmed that the article had been posted, and while he said it did not represent the official position, he reiterated several of the article’s points. Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban higher education minister who is now a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, said he believed that the posting by the Taliban was part of an effort to show an interest in talks.
“I am pretty certain that the Taliban are showing a little bit of flexibility recently, and as far as I have information there is a keenness and willingness from Taliban and among the Taliban ranks for peace,” he said.
He added, “But we have to prepare the ground first.”
The Taliban statement, which describes how to bring an end to the war and how the Taliban will behave, includes this sentence: “The Americans and all foreign invading forces should seek a face-saving exit from Afghanistan in understanding with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
The United Nations analysis notes that “this envisages talks specifically about foreign troop withdrawal.”
Another statement promises that the Taliban “will abide by its commitments to the stability of the region following the withdrawal of foreign forces.”
None of this suggests that a peace negotiation is imminent. At this early stage even the most cursory dialogue between the warring parties has the character of Kabuki theater in which shadows of menace and promise loom larger than reality. Still, the Taliban statements appear to be efforts to throw out a line. What comes of them will depend on how they are received.
For now, Afghans remain wary. The Taliban have continued to wage a brutal war that has taken an ever higher toll on civilians — 360 were killed in June, according to the United Nations. And the position of Pakistan, which has at the least considerable influence and perhaps complete control of some Taliban factions, has not moved. Pakistan wants to retain power over how postwar Afghanistan is shaped, and it fears talks with the Taliban might undermine its own influence.
Pakistani officials have made many conciliatory statements but have not, for instance, offered to allow the Taliban leadership to leave the country in order to meet on neutral ground with Afghan officials and Western interlocutors, according to Afghan and Western officials. There have been initial talks between Tayeb Agha, a former assistant to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, and the Americans, the Germans and the Afghans. Information about those talks was leaked in May, and the publicity was believed to have slowed down discussions, several diplomats said.
Some Afghan government officials look on Taliban statements skeptically, saying they are doubtful that even if the Taliban were interested in talks that Pakistan would allow them to reach out. It has arrested those Taliban, like Mullah Baradar and others, who tried to start peace negotiations.
So far, despite numerous meetings between Pakistani and Afghan officials, sometimes with Americans present, there have been no concrete offers, one senior Afghan official said. “The problem is that until today, the offers and efforts have been from our side, and the mistake is for us to put our expectations and desires in place of realpolitik. And right now there’s nothing,” the official said.
The United Nations analysis includes several caveats. For one, the Taliban document leaves out any mention of negotiations with the Afghan government. Rather, it asks for talks with the United States and regional countries. That suggests the Taliban still see themselves as the legitimate government and not the current Afghan government.
Another worry is that the Taliban continue to intimidate civilians, attack them and kill them in order to compel compliance. And there is no guarantee that the Web site statement represents the Taliban’s collective view.
“The Taliban have their weapons, and they are fighting and killing every day,” said Naiem Lalai Hamidzai, a member of Parliament from Kandahar, Afghanistan, who is a Pashtun, as are the vast majority of the Taliban. “You cannot make peace with the enemy of peace.”
The education minister, Farouk Wardak, who is close to the negotiations, described dealing with the Taliban by drawing a diagram of 10 vertical lines, each representing a different faction. “There is no hierarchy; there are parallel groups that take support from difference sources and who follow different guides,” he said.
Many in southern Afghanistan, who would likely have to live most closely with the Taliban, worry not only about potential abuses but also about sharing power and spoils. Sway over local tribes would have to be divided with them along with the local income producers — the poppy crop, the customs duties and the rich agricultural land.
“This government consists of warlordism so they are all power hungry,” said Mohammed Omar Satai, 62, a elder from Kandahar who is working to form the local peace commission. “They fear that if the Taliban come they would want shares of power.”
Nonetheless as diplomats search for a way forward, they see a shift that should not be ignored, they say. “The tone of this statement differs from previous statements,” said Mr. de Mistura.
“This is their response to Hillary,” he said, referring to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech in February at the Asia Society in which she made clear that a laying down of arms on the part of the Taliban was no longer a precondition for talks, but a “necessary outcome.”
Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.
@ The New York Times

[The 466-page report, by a former Indian Supreme Court justice who is now a public ombudsman, contends public officials and companies cheated the government of Karnataka state out of billions of dollars in royalty, tax and other payments from a lucrative domestic and foreign trade in iron ore. The ore is an important raw material for steel that has been in great demand in fast growing China and India.]
By Vikas Bajaj
A miner collecting shards of iron ore outside of Bellary 
in southern India.
MUMBAI, India — India’s wave of corruption scandals has hit yet another industry, iron ore mining, implicating companies that include the flagship of one of this nation’s richest men.
As a result of a government investigative report issued late last week, several stocks have lost value — including shares of Adani Enterprises, the biggest piece of a mining, port and power plant empire built by the billionaire Gautam S. Adani, India’s sixth-wealthiest person.
Adani Enterprises has denied wrongdoing. But it and several other big Indian companies are facing tough questions from investors and policy makers.
The 466-page report, by a former Indian Supreme Court justice who is now a public ombudsman, contends public officials and companies cheated the government of Karnataka state out of billions of dollars in royalty, tax and other payments from a lucrative domestic and foreign trade in iron ore. The ore is an important raw material for steel that has been in great demand in fast growing China and India.
“Huge bribes were paid,” said the report, written by Santosh Hegde, the former justice. “Mafia type operations were the routine practices of the day.”
Analysts say Mr. Hegde’s findings provide evidence of corruption in important parts of the Indian economy, including land and natural resources, that are still tightly controlled by politicians and corporate executives — even as other sectors, including consumer goods, banking and information technology, have become more competitive and open.
Procedurally, it is unclear what will happen next. Mr. Hegde does not have the power to prosecute the companies and individuals he accuses in his report. That is up to Karnataka’s government, which has previously played down concerns about mining, or to the judicial system.
India’s Supreme Court on Friday temporarily suspended all iron ore mining in Bellary, the region that was the main focus of the inquiry. The court in recent years has often led the charge to prosecute officials accused of corruption, and anticorruption advocates hope that it will do so in this case.
The scandal forced the chief minister of Karnataka state to resign on Sunday, although he has denied wrongdoing.
Shares of Adani Enterprises were down nearly 23 percent on Thursday and Friday, but they regained almost 9 percent on Monday.
The stock of another company implicated in the report, JSW Steel, fell more than 10 percent late last week. JSW’s shares dropped by an additional 10.3 percent on Monday, after Citigroup downgraded the stock and put a sell rating on it.
A big break in the investigation occurred early last year. Anticorruption agents raided the offices of Adani Enterprises, which operated an iron ore terminal at the Indian port of Belekeri, on the Arabian Sea, and discovered a document that appeared to be an illicit payroll.
A computer file from 2008 listed payoffs that Adani Enterprises was suspected of making to government officials. The port director, for instance, was paid 50,000 rupees ($1,100) per ship that set sail from the port, the file said. A customs official got 100,000 rupees every three months and 0.50 rupee per ton of iron ore shipped, it said. Police inspectors received 14,000 rupees every month, and local politicians were paid “once in a while,” the file said. The report was issued as Indians increasingly questioned the growing wealth and power amassed by a small elite group. In a separate corruption scandal, government auditors estimated that officials may have cost the federal government $40 billion by giving telecommunications licenses to favored companies rather than auctioning them.
The mining scandal in Karnataka state, which is also home to the technology hub Bangalore, has been brewing for several years. In 2008, Mr. Hegde, who is the state’s lokayukta or ombudsman, produced a report on problems of illegal mining in the state’s Bellary region.
In his latest report Mr. Hegde said the situation had only worsened since then, as the companies had sought to avoid paying royalties to the state and export duties to the federal government, and as companies had mined in forests that were supposed to be protected under conservation laws.
But the government in Karnataka state, which is controlled by the Bhartiya Janata Party, did little to control the mining, much of which was in the hands of three businessmen brothers, the Reddys, who are powerful members of the party.
In 2009 the chief minister, B. S. Yeddyurappa, backed down on his proposal to impose a $21 fee on each truckload of iron ore, after the Reddys threatened to withdraw their support of his government.
Even now, while national Bhartiya Janata Party leaders have forced Mr. Yeddyurappa to step down, the party has not pushed out Janardhana Reddy, a mining magnate and the state’s minister of tourism, and his two brothers, Somashekhar and Karunakar. Mr. Hegde’s report accuses them of many violations, including using front companies to evade taxes and royalties and threatening his investigators.
The Reddys say they have done nothing wrong.
In the case of Adani Enterprises, Mr. Hegde’s report says the company helped mining concerns export illicitly obtained iron ore to China and other countries from the port, while engaging in a systematic bribery campaign that covered virtually every level of government. He recommended that the company be “barred from participating in any future contract, grant or lease, etc. by the government.”
In a written statement, Adani Enterprises Ltd. strongly rebutted the accusations and said it had been involved only in handling iron ore shipments and had never mined or owned the commodity itself.
“Any alleged illegal gratification or payoffs cannot be attributed to AEL given that AEL has been a mere port operator and the cargo interest always was with either miners or other parties,” the statement said, referring to the company by its initials. “Such gratifications if at all having been made, cannot be attributed to AEL.”
JSW Steel, one of India’s largest producers of iron ore, is accused of making a 100 million rupee ($2.3 million) donation to an educational trust run by Mr. Yeddyurappa’s sons. The company and its affiliate, according to the report, also spent 200 million rupees to buy an acre of industrial land outside Bangalore from the Yeddyurappa family. Mr. Hegde charges that similar land sold in the area at the time for as little as 12.4 million rupees an acre.
In a statement, JSW Steel said “all the transactions have been done in a legally compliant manner.”


PAKISTAN USES PATROLS TO CALM KARACHI


[More than 300 people were killed in political and ethnic violence in July, making the month among the worst on record, local news media reported. The government sent a paramilitary force to quell the violence in the Orangi neighborhood, but the attacks have spilled into other parts of the city.]

By Salman Masood

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — After at least 26 people were killed in shootings and other attacks in the southern port city of Karachi over the past two days, the Pakistani government on Tuesday authorized paramilitary forces to conduct raids in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods to try to restore order.
The government of President Asif Ali Zardari offered rewards for people willing to provide photographs and videos that show those involved in the killings.
Karachi, the nation’s commercial and financial hub, has a population of 17 million to 20 million. A city of immigrants, it has become a caldron of ethnic, political and religious strife.
A brutal war over turf and patronage has developed in recent years involving the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party that has represented immigrants from India, had long dominated Karachi’s politics, but it has been challenged by the Awami National Party, which is generally supported by Pashtuns.
Activists from both parties have conducted drive-by shootings, government officials and political analysts say. The violence, which has generally been confined to poor neighborhoods, has also assumed an ethnic dimension, with tensions increasing between Pashtuns and Urdu-speaking immigrants.
More than 300 people were killed in political and ethnic violence in July, making the month among the worst on record, local news media reported. The government sent a paramilitary force to quell the violence in the Orangi neighborhood, but the attacks have spilled into other parts of the city.
Armed groups carried out several attacks in another neighborhood, Surjani, a stronghold of criminal gangs.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in Karachi that the government was preparing a stern response to the shootings, arson and property damage. “I want to warn that you have tested the patience of the government enough,” Mr. Malik said of the perpetrators. “I won’t say anything else. You will see the action yourself.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent rights group, on Monday urged a political solution.
“While gangs of land-grabbers and mafias have tried to exploit the breakdown of law and order,” the organization said in a statement, “they do not appear to be the main directors of the horrible game of death and destruction; that distinction belongs to more powerful political groups, and it is they who hold the key to peace.”
[The protests followed the death of at least 17 people in interclan political fighting in the region’s remote central highlands over the weekend, as well as a predawn raid on Monday in which unidentified assailants blocked traffic outside the Papua provincial capital, Jayapura, shooting and stabbing four people, including one soldier, to death.]

 

By Aubrey Belford
A man, with arrows stuck in his body, lies dead as a housebelonging to a candidate
 burns after supporters of two rival groups clashed atIlaga in Puncak, 
West Papua, on July 31. An AP image

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Thousands rallied for independence from Indonesia in the country’s Papua region on Tuesday, in tense demonstrations that followed days of political violence that killed at least 21 people.

Several thousand people, many in traditional tribal dress, marched amid heavily armed police officers and soldiers in cities and towns in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, the police and witnesses said.
Protesters demanded a referendum on independence for the region and the repudiation of a 1969 United Nations-backed vote that formalized Indonesian control over the former Dutch colony.
“For 40 years, the Indonesian government has never fairly applied the law or upheld human rights,” Viktor Kogoya, chairman of the self-styled Jakarta consulate of the West Papua National Committee, which organized the protests, said in Jakarta. “The Papuan people have never had justice.”
The protests were largely peaceful, although activists and church workers accused the authorities of fomenting a climate of fear to deter demonstrations. Anonymous text messages had circulated for days warning of a looming “massacre.” And witnesses in several towns said groups of unidentified men in civilian clothes could be seen lingering in the streets from early in the day. Witnesses suspected that the men were part of the security forces.
The protests followed the death of at least 17 people in interclan political fighting in the region’s remote central highlands over the weekend, as well as a predawn raid on Monday in which unidentified assailants blocked traffic outside the Papua provincial capital, Jayapura, shooting and stabbing four people, including one soldier, to death.
The West Papua National Committee has accused elements of the security forces of provoking or staging the violence in order to foil the protests. The rebel Free Papua Movement has denied involvement in the Jayapura attack, according to news reports.
A spokesman for the Papua police, Col. Wachyono, also stopped short of blaming the rebels for the Jayapura attack, despite the discovery of a separatist flag at the scene. “We can’t conclude yet if it’s any organization,” he said. “After we do our investigation, we’ll report who it is. If it’s been staged or if it’s purely criminal, we’ll uncover it.”
Tuesday’s protests were scheduled to coincide with a conference in Britain advocating Papuan independence through legal challenges to Indonesian rule. Many Papuans, who are ethnically distinct from most other Indonesians, chafe at what they see as heavy-handed and exploitative rule from Jakarta.
Measures intended to promote greater autonomy, including a major injection of government funds into the resource-rich region, have failed to end calls for independence or a sporadic, poorly armed insurgency.
Related link: Deadly Political Violence in Indonesian Province
[A few minutes after the vote, President Obama excoriated his Republican opposition for what he called a manufactured crisis that could have been avoided. “Voters may have chosen divided government,” he said, “but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional government.”]
WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Tuesday to raise the government’s debt ceiling and cut trillions of dollars from its spending, finally ending a fractious partisan battle just hours before the government’s borrowing authority was set to run out.
The bill, which passed 74 to 26 after a short debate devoid of the oratorical passion that had echoed through both chambers of Congress for weeks, was signed by President Obama later on Tuesday.
A few minutes after the vote, President Obama excoriated his Republican opposition for what he called a manufactured crisis that could have been avoided. “Voters may have chosen divided government,” he said, “but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional government.”
The compromise, which the House passed on Monday, has been decried by Democrats as being tilted too heavily toward the priorities of Republicans, mainly because it does not raise any new taxes as it reduces budget deficits by at least $2.1 trillion in the next 10 years. But it attracted many of their votes, if only because the many months of standoff had brought the country perilously close to default. And rather than soothing already nervous markets, the final passage sent stocks lower.
The wrangling also laid bare divisions within both parties, in the House where scores of the most conservative Republicans and most liberal Democrats refused to vote for the bill, and again in the Senate where senators such as Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mike Lee of Utah, both Republican freshmen blessed by the Tea Party, also voted against it. The last to vote was Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who conferred for several minutes with Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, her face twisted in a grimace, then voted yes, as he had done. Ms. Snowe, a moderate Republican who faces re-election next year, is already a target of Tea Party activists in her state.
In a chamber where a Democratic majority was essentially bending to the will of a Republican minority, and where 60 votes were needed under the rules, 28 Republicans voted against the bill but only 6 Democrats voted against it. (One independent went each way.) In contrast, in the House, mostly the Republicans voted yes and about half the Democrats voted no.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, who played a central role in the ultimate compromise, said his party’s goal was “to get as much spending cuts as we could from a government we didn’t control.”
“It may have been messy,” he said. “It may have appeared to some that their government wasn’t working, but in fact the opposite was true.” Legislating, he added, “was never meant to be pretty.”
He and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, had a gentle toe-to-toe as the debate ended, praising each other’s performance while denouncing each other on the substance.
“It’s never, ever personal,” Mr. McConnell said.
Mr. Reid presaged the next battle, when an appointed Congressional committee is to seek new ways to cut the deficit, by rejecting the assertions of his Republican colleagues that the next phase would again exclude revenue increases, which the Democrats failed to include in the first round. “That’s not going to happen,” Mr. Reid said.
Mr. Obama, too, called for the ultimate solution to include new revenues, including raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and closing corporate loopholes, saying that he would fight for that approach as the Congressional commission considers what to recommend to Congress for an up-or-down vote before the end of the year, as the new law requires.
Enactment of the legislation signals a pronounced shift in fiscal policy, from the heavy spending on economic stimulus and warfare of the past few years to a regime of steep spending cuts aimed at reducing the deficits — so far, without new revenues sought by the White House.
“Make no mistake, this is a change in behavior from spend, spend, spend to cut, cut, cut,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, as the debate began on the Senate floor.
But the fight, which is only half over until a second round of deficit reduction is completed over the next five or six months, also exposed deep ideological schisms between and within the political parties, and tarnished the images of Congress and the president alike.
And the fight left many lawmakers on both sides deeply uneasy — including Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the assistant majority leader, who said he had consulted with the Senate chaplain over his vote, because “from where I stand it is not the clearest moral choice.” Liberal critics say the plan will hurt an already limping economy.
Despite the tension and uncertainty that has surrounded efforts to raise the debt ceiling, the House vote of 269 to 161 was relatively strong in support of the plan. Scores of Democrats initially held back from voting, to force Republicans to register their positions first. Then, as the time for voting wound down, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, returned to the floor for the first time since being shot in January and voted for the bill to jubilant applause and embraces from her colleagues. It provided an unexpected, unifying ending to a fierce standoff in the House.
Although the actual spending cuts in the next year or two would be relatively modest in the context of a $3.7 trillion federal budget, they would represent the beginning of a new era of restraint at a time when unemployment remains above 9 percent, growth is slowing and there are few good policy options for giving the economy a stimulative kick.
Republicans and Democrats alike made clear they were not happy with the agreement, which was struck late Sunday between the leadership of Congress and Mr. Obama.
Despite such misgivings, members of both parties welcomed the end of the debt-limit clash after months of intrigue, partisan rancor and stop-and-go negotiations that ultimately left Congress voting just hours before a deadline to avoid default.
“On to the next fight,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

[The tense, last-minute negotiations were taking place against a backdrop of uncertainty, with a looming threat of a costly downgrade of the nation’s credit rating and with investors worried about the global economic impact of a possible default. The political stakes were unusually high as well, with leaders in both parties staking out positions that may well be central to their re-election chances in 2012.]

By Carl Hulse And Helene Cooper
President Obama spoke about a debt deal on Sunday.
WASHINGTON — President Obama and Congressional leaders of both parties said late Sunday that they had agreed to a framework for a budget deal that would cut trillions of dollars in federal spending over the next decade and clear the way for an increase in the government’s borrowing limit.
With the health of the fragile economy hanging in the balance and financial markets watching closely, the leaders said they would present the compromise to their caucuses on Monday morning in hopes of averting a default before a Tuesday deadline.
President Obama spoke from the White House on Sunday night, telling reporters that “the leaders of both parties in both chambers have reached an agreement that will reduce the deficit and avoid a default.”
Just before Mr. Obama spoke on television, the two Senate leaders, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, took the floor to endorse the pact as well.
“I am relieved to say that leaders from both parties have come together for the sake of our economy to reach a historic, bipartisan compromise that ends this dangerous standoff,” said Mr. Reid, the majority leader.
The agreement came after a day of wrangling over Pentagon cuts, and it still must be sold to the Senate and the House, with the House providing a particular challenge.
As conversations flowed between the White House and Capitol Hill, Mr. Reid publicly embraced the compromise that would tie deep spending cuts to a debt increase, though his plan to bring it to a vote as early as Sunday were put off, as was a tentative meeting of Senate Democrats to review it.
According to Congressional and administration officials, the delay was attributable to efforts by Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, to limit immediate reductions in the Pentagon budget and better protect it from future cuts in order to cement votes from defense hawks. He needs those votes to win approval of the plan in the House.
While architects of the compromise stopped short of declaring they had a final agreement, a framework had emerged calling for at least $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, a new Congressional committee to recommend a deficit-reduction proposal by Thanksgiving, and a two-step increase in the debt ceiling.
The tense, last-minute negotiations were taking place against a backdrop of uncertainty, with a looming threat of a costly downgrade of the nation’s credit rating and with investors worried about the global economic impact of a possible default. The political stakes were unusually high as well, with leaders in both parties staking out positions that may well be central to their re-election chances in 2012.
If the compromise were to be nailed down, attention would immediately turn to selling it to the rank-and-file. The leadership was anticipating objections from Republicans that the plan did not go far enough while Democrats were wary that Medicare spending would take a hit.
Despite the remaining political and procedural hurdles, the predominant mood on Capitol Hill was one of cautious relief that the gears were turning to produce legislation that would eliminate the threat of a potential government default after Tuesday.
Referring to the tortuous negotiations, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said: “Sausage making is not pretty. But the sausage we have, I think, is a very different sausage from when we started.”
She noted that the proposed caps on federal spending, combined with creation of a new evenly divided panel to cut the deficit further, could fundamentally change federal finances.
But not everyone was pleased. “It may be the best we can do,” said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee. “But I do not think it’s enough.”
With the talks appearing to make progress, the Senate blocked a Democratic proposal for a debt limit increase on a vote 50-49, falling 10 votes short of the 60 required to limit debate. But all attention was on the negotiations.
White House aides were in a flurry of meetings as they prepared for the prospect of announcing a deal. After weeks of political theatrics and Congressional votes that appeared to go nowhere, the mood at the White House on Sunday afternoon was one of cautious optimism.
But Obama administration officials are also aware of the precarious risk the president was running if he strikes a deal that Congressional Democrats find hard to swallow. Mr. Obama’s top political aides, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden and the senior White House adviser David Plouffe, were on the phone Sunday afternoon with Democratic leaders, who gathered in the Capitol Sunday afternoon to explore the outlook for the measure.
A major question mark remained the House of Representatives, where a vote on the agreement could occur Monday and where Mr. Boehner has found it difficult to corral the most conservative wing of the rank-and-file. While the bipartisan deal would be expected to attract significant Democratic support, Mr. Boehner must still persuade many of his members to get behind it and would be pushing for at least half of the House Republicans to back it.
In an e-mail to Republican House members, Mr. Boehner noted that “discussions are underway on legislation that will cut government spending more than it increases the debt limit, and advance the cause of the balanced budget amendment, without job-killing tax hikes.”
“Those talks are moving in the right direction, but serious issues remain,” the speaker wrote.
Under the plan as described by officials briefed on its outline, the debt limit would be increased by $900 billion in the first installment, subject to a Congressional vote of disapproval that President Obama would be able to veto. To prevent a default, $400 billion would be added immediately.
A second increase of $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion would be available subject to a second vote of disapproval by Congress. At the same time, a new joint Congressional committee would be created to find a like amount of cuts.
If the evenly divided committee failed to agree on a plan, Congress would either have to approve a balanced budget agreement or accept an across-the-board cut in spending in line with the committee’s goal, with 50 percent of the savings coming from the Pentagon beginning in 2013. Medicare would also sustain cuts, though the reductions would be capped.
The rationale for picking such favored programs as the Pentagon for Republicans and Medicare for Democrats was to provide a strong incentive for the new committee to avoid a deadlock and deliver a deficit reduction plan that could clear Congress.
According to Democratic officials close to the talks, among the final sticking points that were worked out were efforts to exempt the Medicaid program from reductions under the automatic spending reductions and make certain that the Medicare cuts hit health care providers, not beneficiaries.
Negotiators did agree that any deal would not include language that could lead to a new formula for the annual cost-of-living adjustments forSocial Security beneficiaries that could save more than $100 billion in the first 10 years. While many economists have long said the existing formula overstates inflation, many Democrats oppose any change that would reduce benefits from current law.
Dropping the proposal from the White House-Congressional talks reflected in part the influence of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, whose negotiating hand has been strengthened since she will have to deliver a significant number of Democratic votes for House passage of any solution given the likelihood that Mr. Boehner will face significant loss of Republican votes.   
Senators said they expected that the plan as it was being portrayed would attract a bipartisan vote even though both Democrats and Republicans would have reservations.
Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska, said that from the terms of the deal described to him, “I think I will be satisfied and supportive.” After years of work, he noted, Congress has become “serious about cuts in spending.”
Robert Pear and Jackie Calmes contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 31, 2011
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the automatic cuts would occur if Congress does not approve a second round in a few months. They would occur at the end of the year 2012, not 2011.
[Senator Harry Reid,the majority leader, had convened the Senate at noon, then moved to aprocedural vote on his own proposal for raising the debtceiling. Senate Republicans had been filibustering that plan, whichHouse Republicans rejected on Saturday, and the vote on breaking the filibusterfell 10 votes short of the 60 votes needed under Senate rules.Even so, Mr. Reidsaid before the cloture vote that he was “cautiously optimistic” that anagreement could be reached today that would make it possible for the Senate toamend his bill and gain bipartisan approval in both chambers.]

 

By  And 
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona and Senate Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walked to the Senate floor on Sunday.
WASHINGTON — Last-ditch budget talks between top CongressionalRepublicans and President Obama continued on Sunday, as the top SenateRepublican and Democrat both expressed optimism that a $3 trillion deal couldbe reached to avert the economic and political calamity of a potential federaldefault.
Butwithout a compromise in hand, the divided Senate could not break a filibuster andwent wearily into recess while the leaders resumed their search for somethingthat could pass.
Senator Harry Reid,the majority leader, had convened the Senate at noon, then moved to a procedural vote on his own proposal forraising the debtceiling. Senate Republicans had been filibustering that plan, whichHouse Republicans rejected on Saturday, and the vote on breaking the filibusterfell 10 votes short of the 60 votes needed under Senate rules.Even so, Mr. Reidsaid before the cloture vote that he was “cautiously optimistic” that anagreement could be reached today that would make it possible for the Senate toamend his bill and gain bipartisan approval in both chambers.
But Mr.Reid said that “there are a number of issues that must be resolved.”
“Ouroptimism in days past has been really stomped on,” he said.
Senator MitchMcConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Sunday that he was “veryclose” to recommending to his members that they sign on to a debt deal withPresident Obama and the Democrats.
Speakingon the CNN program “State of the Union,” Mr. McConnell said the emerging deal included as much as$3 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years, with much of that to be decidedlater this year by the joint Congressional committee. Senator Charles E.Schumer of New York, a top Democratic leader, also sounded optimistic in anappearance on the same news program, but he had some reservations.
“I feel alot better today about the ability to avoid default than I did even yesterdaymorning,” he said. “And default would have such disastrous consequences for ournation for decades to come,” he continued. “The fact that our leaders aretalking, though hardly anyone agrees with everything that’s come up, is a goodthing.”
The firstindication that the hard lines were softening came Saturday afternoon, when thetwo leading Congressional Republicans announced that they had reopened fiscaltalks with the White House and expected their last-ditch drive to produce acompromise. Following the House’s sharp rejection of Mr. Reid’s proposal, Mr.McConnell said he and Speaker John A. Boehner were “now fully engaged” inefforts with the White House to find a resolution that would tie an increase inthe debt limit to spending cuts and other conditions.
“I’mconfident and optimistic that we’re going to get an agreement in the very nearfuture and resolve this crisis in the best interests of the American people,”said Mr. McConnell, who noted that he was personally talking to both Mr. Obamaand Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a favorite partner in pastnegotiations.
Mr. Boehner,who would have to steer a compromise through the House, said he based hisconfidence on the sense that “we’re dealing with reasonable, responsible peoplewho want this crisis to end as quickly as possible.”
ADemocratic official with knowledge of the talks said that Mr. McConnell calledMr. Biden early Saturday afternoon, the first conversation between the two mensince Wednesday. The official said they talked at least four more times onSaturday as they tried to work out an agreement.
The dealthey were discussing, this person said, resembled the bill that Mr. Boehnerpushed through the House the House on Friday more than it did the one that Mr.Reid had proposed.
It wouldimmediately raise the debt ceiling by about $1 trillion, accompanied by a similarrange of spending cuts, and set up a bipartisan committee that would work tofind deeper reductions in the deficit in exchange for a second debt limitincrease that would extend through the 2012 elections.
In thisversion, which was still being negotiated overnight, the new committee’sfailure to win enactment of its proposal could set off automatic spending cutsacross the board, including to entitlement programs. But how that “trigger”would work was a sticking point, and other ideas were swirling around theCapitol as lawmakers searched for a way to avoid default. One of Mr. Reid’s toplieutenants said he saw at least a glimmer of hope.
Butanxiety was building in many corners, including among Wall Street investorsworried about the effects on the markets, and active-duty soldiers concernedabout their paychecks.
After Mr.McConnell sounded a hopeful note on Saturday, Mr. Reid called the senators tothe floor to hear him dispute assertions by his Republican counterpart andaccuse Republicans of failing to enter into serious negotiations even as theTreasury risked running out of money to pay all its bills after Tuesday.
“Thespeaker and Republican leader should know that merely saying you have anagreement in front of television cameras doesn’t make it so,” Mr. Reid saidafter returning from a visit to the White House with Representative NancyPelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House.
Trying tobuild momentum for his own proposal, Mr. Reid and fellow Democrats were workingto win over Republican senators to support his plan to raise the debt ceilingthrough 2012 and circumvent Mr. McConnell.
“Americansare watching us and demanding a result that is balanced,” Mr. Reid said.
The SenateDemocrats’ efforts were set back Saturday when 43 of the 47 Republican senatorssigned a letter to Mr. Reid saying they would not back his proposal, whichwould allow a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling in two stages whileestablishing a new Congressional committee to explore deeper spending cuts. Thenumbers signaled that without changes in the plan, Mr. Reid would not be ableto overcome a Republican filibuster, which requires 60 votes.
HouseRepublicans signaled their disapproval of the Reid plan by holding a symbolicvote on Saturday, rejecting it by a 246 to 173 vote, in a move intended to showit had no chance of passing in that chamber. About a dozen Democrats joinedRepublicans in rejecting the Reid plan.
Thepre-emptive vote could strengthen Mr. McConnell’s hand as he seeks to shape anyfinal compromise.
At theWhite House and in talks in Congressional offices and corridors, most of theattention was focused on finding a way to define the precise conditions underwhich the president could get a second increase in the debt limit that would beneeded early in 2012 under both Republican and Democratic proposals. Officialsin both parties said another idea that had surfaced was to require a change in SocialSecuritypolicy if the new committee deadlocked, providing anincentive for the new committee to act on its own.
Under theproposal that the Congressional Budget Office said could save more than $100billion over 10 years, a different measure of inflation would be used tocalculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits.Supporters say the alternative measure of inflation is more accurate because itreflects what happens when prices rise; advocates for the elderly say theproposal is a backdoor way of cutting benefits.
Members ofboth parties took the floor to push for compromise, noting that the two sideswere not far apart on major elements of their deficit-reduction plans.
“Failureshould not be an option for us in this case, and it’s time we started findingcommon ground,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia.
Theunusual Saturday session followed a week of brinkmanship on Capitol Hill. OnFriday, Mr. Boehner managed to pass his own House bill, along party lines, justa day after suspending the vote as the Republican leadership tried franticallyto line up enough support for passage. But the Senate swiftly rejected thatplan late Friday.
While someof the back and forth between the House and Senate and the party leaders wastypical of the late stages of a negotiation, the combative and unyielding tonein both chambers created pessimism among the rank and file about the prospectsthat a final agreement could be struck and cleared before Tuesday.
Even if ameasure is able to win significant bipartisan endorsement in the Senate, thereception in the House could be different. But how to push a plan by Houseconservatives remained a major question mark.
At theTreasury Department, Secretary Timothy F. Geithner met with top advisers onSaturday to discuss contingency plans for managing the financial consequencesof Congressional inaction. “No one will be pleased,” said one adviser, whospoke on the condition of anonymity.
TheTreasury Department calculates that the government will exhaust its ability toborrow money at the end of Tuesday and will be forced to pay its bills from adwindling pile of cash. Independent analysts estimate the government has enoughmoney on hand to cover all of its bills for another week, more or less, beforeit starts missing payments.
Mr. Obamahas repeatedly called on Congress to raise the borrowing limit, known as thedebt ceiling, by Tuesday to avoid any uncertainty about the government’sability to meet its obligations. Financial markets are particularly concernedabout the payment of interest on the federal debt. A default on thoseobligations could precipitate a global financial crisis.
Thepainful negotiations to resolve the crisis have caught the attention of troopsin Afghanistan, where Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs ofStaff, was quizzed repeatedly on Saturday by soldiers and Marines who wanted toknow if they would be paid.
In Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, Admiral Mullen said it remained uncertain where moneywould be found if the government defaulted. Regardless of budget talks in Washington, the mission for American troops in Afghanistan would not halt, he said.
“We’regoing to continue to come to work,” he said.
[Following the House’s sharp rejection of a proposal by Mr. Reid to raise the debt limit and cut spending, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a linchpin in efforts to reach a deal, said he and Speaker John A. Boehner were “now fully engaged” in efforts with the White House to find a resolution that would tie an increase in the debt limit to spending cuts and other conditions.]

By Carl Hulse

Senator Harry Reid, center, the majority leader, walked off the
Senate floor with Senator Mark Pryor after making his
statement on debt-ceiling legislation Saturday night.

WASHINGTON — New budget talks between top Congressional Republicans and President Obama made progress late Saturday, suddenly stirring optimism that a last-minute deal could be reached to avert a potential federal default that threatened significant economic and political consequences.

After a tense day of Congressional floor fights and angry exchanges, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, called off a planned showdown vote set for after midnight, but said he would convene the Senate at noon on Sunday for a vote an hour later. He said he wanted to give the new negotiations a chance to produce a plan to raise the federal debt limit in exchange for spending cuts and the creation of a new Congressional committee that would try to assemble a long-range deficit-cutting proposal.
“There are many elements to be finalized and there is still a distance to go before an arrangement can be completed,” said Mr. Reid, who just a few hours earlier had played down talk of any agreement. “But I believe we should give everyone as much room as possible to do their work.”
Mr. Reid’s announcement set off an almost audible sigh of relief on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers and their aides had been bracing for an overnight clash over the debt following a day that had seen a heated House vote and lawmakers trudging from office to office in search of an answer to the impasse.
The first indication off a softening of the hard lines that have marked weeks of partisan wrangling over the debt limit came in the afternoon when the two leading Congressional Republicans announced that they had reopened fiscal talks with the White House and expected their last-ditch drive to produce a compromise.
Following the House’s sharp rejection of a proposal by Mr. Reid to raise the debt limit and cut spending, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a linchpin in efforts to reach a deal, said he and Speaker John A. Boehner were “now fully engaged” in efforts with the White House to find a resolution that would tie an increase in the debt limit to spending cuts and other conditions.
“I’m confident and optimistic that we’re going to get an agreement in the very near future and resolve this crisis in the best interests of the American people,” said Mr. McConnell, who noted he was personally talking to both Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a favorite partner in past negotiations.
Mr. Boehner, who would have to steer a compromise through the House, said he based his confidence on the prospect of an agreement on the sense that “we’re dealing with reasonable, responsible people who want this crisis to end as quickly as possible.”
A Democratic official with knowledge of the talks said that Mr. McConnell called Mr. Biden early Saturday afternoon, the first conversation between the two men since Wednesday. The official said they talked at least four more times on Saturday as they tried to work out an agreement.
The deal they were discussing, this person said, resembled the bill that Mr. Boehner won approval for in the House on Friday more than it did the one that Mr. Reid had proposed.
It would immediately raise the debt ceiling by about $1 trillion, accompanied by a similar range of spending cuts, and set up a new bipartisan committee that would work to find deeper cuts in exchange for a second debt limit increase that would extend through the 2012 election.
A failure of the new committee to win enactment of its proposal could then set off automatic spending cuts across the board, including to entitlement programs. Other ideas were swirling around the Capitol as lawmakers searched for a way to avoid default. One of Mr. Reid’s top lieutenants said he saw at least a glimmer of hope.
“We are a long way from any sort of negotiated agreement,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, “but there is certainly a more positive feeling about reaching an agreement than I’ve felt in a long time.”
The flurry of activity came as anxiety built up in many corners, including among Wall Street investors worried about the effects on the markets and active-duty soldiers worried about their paychecks.
After Mr. McConnell sounded a hopeful note, Mr. Reid called members of the Senate to the floor to hear him dispute the claims by his Republican counterpart and accuse Republicans of failing to enter into serious negotiations even as the Treasury risked running out of money to pay all its bills after Tuesday.
“The speaker and Republican leader should know that merely saying you have an agreement in front of television cameras doesn’t make it so,” Mr. Reid said after returning from a visit to the White House with Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House.
Trying to build momentum for his own proposal, Mr. Reid and fellow Democrats were working to win over Republican senators to support his plan to raise the debt ceiling through 2012 and circumvent Mr. McConnell.
“Americans are watching us and demanding a result that is balanced,” Mr. Reid said.
The Senate Democrats’ efforts were set back Saturday when 43 of the 47 Republican senators signed a letter to Mr. Reid saying they would not back his proposal, which would allow a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling in two stages while establishing a new Congressional committee to explore deeper spending cuts. The numbers signaled that without changes in the plan, Mr. Reid would not be able to overcome a Republican filibuster, which requires 60 votes.
House Republicans signaled their disapproval of the Reid plan by holding a symbolic vote on Saturday, rejecting it by a 246 to 173 vote, in a move intended to show it had no chance of passing in that chamber. About a dozen Democrats joined Republicans in rejecting the Reid plan.
The pre-emptive vote could strengthen Mr. McConnell’s hand as he seeks to shape any final compromise.
At the White House and in talks in Congressional offices and corridors, most of the attention was focused on finding a way to define the precise conditions under which the president could get a second increase in the debt limit that would be needed early in 2012 under both Republican and Democratic proposals. Officials in both parties said another idea that had surfaced was to require a change in Social Securitypolicy if the new committee deadlocked, providing an incentive for the new committee to act on its own.
Under the proposal that the Congressional Budget Office said could save more than $100 billion over 10 years, a different measure of inflation would be used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits. Supporters say the alternative measure of inflation is more accurate because it reflects what happens when prices rise; advocates for the elderly say the proposal is a backdoor way of cutting benefits.
Members of both parties took the floor to push for compromise, noting that the two sides were not far apart on major elements of their deficit-reduction plans.
“Failure should not be an option for us in this case, and it’s time we started finding common ground,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia.
The unusual Saturday session came after a week of brinkmanship on Capitol Hill. On Friday, Mr. Boehner managed to pass his own House bill, along party lines, just a day after suspending the vote as the Republican leadership tried frantically to line up enough votes for passage. But the Senate swiftly rejected that plan late Friday.
While some of the back-and-forth between the House and Senate and the party leaders was typical of the late stages of a negotiation, the combative and unyielding tone in both chambers of Congress was creating more pessimism in the rank and file about the prospects that a final agreement could be struck and cleared before Tuesday.
Even if a measure is able to win significant bipartisan endorsement in the Senate, the reception in the House could be different with the Treasury Department’s Tuesday deadline for increasing the debt limit at hand. But how to push a plan by House conservatives remained a major question mark.
At the Treasury Department, Secretary Timothy F. Geithner met with top advisers on Saturday on contingency plans for managing the financial consequences of Congressional inaction. “No one will be pleased,” said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Treasury Department calculates that the government will exhaust its ability to borrow money at the end of Tuesday, forcing the government to pay its bills from a dwindling pile of cash. Independent analysts estimate the government has enough money on hand to pay all of its bills for another week, more or less, before it starts missing payments.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to raise the borrowing limit, known as the debt ceiling, by Tuesday to avoid any uncertainty about the government’s ability to meet its obligations. Financial markets are particularly concerned about the payment of interest on the federal debt. A default on those obligations could precipitate a global financial crisis.
The painful negotiations to resolve the crisis have caught the attention of troops in Afghanistan, where Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quizzed repeatedly on Saturday by soldiers and Marines worried about their paychecks.
In Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, Admiral Mullen said it remained uncertain where money would be found if the government defaulted. Regardless of budget talks in Washington, the mission for American troops in Afghanistan would not halt, he said.
“We’re going to continue to come to work,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Jackie Calmes, Helene Cooper, Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Pear from Washington, and Thom Shanker from Kandahar, Afghanistan.


@ The New York