An excess of ministers

By Sultan Ahmed

The staggeringly large federal cabinet and the overall size of the council of ministers has taken the country by surprise. It is the largest ever council and more ministers and advisers are yet to be added. It sets a precedent for future prime ministers to have similarly large cabinets or even exceed that size by adding more ministers.

It is all the more surprising for the reason that the council of ministers is headed by the usually economy-minded Shaukat Aziz as prime minister. And yet he is to add a few more advisers to raise the total to five, as permitted by the constitution.

Of course, the cabinet and the overall council of ministers which total 66 is not the handiwork of Shaukat Aziz. He is a part of the triumvirate headed by President Musharraf with Chaudhri Shujaat Hussain as its third member. So, he has to abide by their decisions.

But it is he who has to take the blame. The council of ministers has 33 cabinet ministers, 26 ministers of state, three advisers with full ministerial status and two men accorded full ministerial rank are Danyal Aziz and Hamid Nasir Chattha, chairman of the Kashmir committee, which, too, is too swollen and has double the membership of the last committee headed by the late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan.

Two more advisers may be added and they are Dr Ataur Rahman, chairman of the Higher Education Commission and Mushahid Hussain, secretary general of the PML. The constitution limits the number of advisers the prime minister can have, irrespective of whether they are elected or not, to five.

Many wish the constitution had set a limit on the size of the cabinet as well; but it was left to common sense and political restraint of the PM. But restraint has been eroding fast, cabinet after cabinet.

Instead, the political exigencies of the moment prevail and the pressure for larger cabinets is more likely, when the country is ruled by triumvirate than by a prime minister in his own right and a coalition of parties to back him.

It will be a great challenge for the prime minister to put the ministers to work and get the best possible results from them. This time the secretaries to the ministries or divisions have been made part of the team of ministers.

And their collective performance will come for a review at the end of each quarter. So, he has introduced a banker's approach to managing the government affairs as well.

Initially he wants the ministers of state to come up with "proposals identifying the priorities of achievable targets for the government and their respective ministries under the supervision and guidance of the cabinet ministers."

He has told them that "while political issues will be solved politically, for the resolution of the socio-economic problems the ministers and civil servants should work like an active team."

He wants the ministers of state to prepare a brief and focused agenda for achievements of targets for 100 days, which would be discussed in the cabinet meetings. He has also spoken of "a paradigm shift in the working of the government."

The prime minister has retained the finance and economic affairs portfolios with him and has a minister of state for finance in Omar Ayub Khar plus an adviser. It would be interesting to see what kind of agenda they have for him for the next 100 days.

Defence issues are looked after by Gen. Musharraf and the top commanders with little of civilian interference. How much of work Rao Sikander Iqbal will have as defence minister and how much Maj. Habibullah Warraich would have as minister for defence production or what would Shahid Hamid do as minister of state for defence division?

What would a full time cabinet minister for tourism do in these days when terrorism in Pakistan is the major concern of country and the world. And yet Ms Sumeira Malik as minister of state for tourism is expected to help the cabinet minister Dr. Ghazi Gulab Jamal Syiad; but then President Musharraf wants the soft-side of Pakistan to be projected to the world and tourist dollars earned.

The cabinet will be too costly for the poor country, while the benefits accruing from that will be debatable. Long before the cabinet expansion the salaries and perquisites of the ministers, ministers of state, and advisers were more than doubled.

And the minister's spending on perquisites, like transportation, telephones etc, far exceed the limits and they don't pay back the excess traditionally. This mammoth expansion has taken place at a time when there is a serious debate in the country on whether poverty is increasing, as the experts say, or decreasing as the government claims.

Anyway, the poor are coming to suffer more as the unemployment situation is not really getting better and inflation is getting far worse. Instead of the official projection of 4 to 5 per cent inflation the sensitive price index, primarily of food items, show an increase of 12.74 per cent within a year, according to the official figures, which is very upsetting for the poor and the middle class in a country with large families to feed.

So will the rich among the new ministers forego a part their salaries and perquisites, in the manner Shaukat Aziz took only one rupee salary as finance minister for the last five years?

Instead Dr. Sher Afgan, minister for parliamentary affairs, says the ministers before him had a lot of fun and now they are going to have some fun. Instead he should be making the very rich ministers forgo some of their perquisites as they can afford that.

India and other democratic countries have ministers of state with independent charge, who are not members of the cabinet. We don't have such an institution. Anyone and everyone with some ministerial rank is allowed into the cabinet room and so the cabinet meeting looks more like a mini-public or party meeting.

While the country is shocked by the mega size of the cabinet some of the coalition parties are not satisfied with the quality and quantity of their representation in the cabinet.

For example, the MQM has complaints on both score. It did not want the communications ministry to be split into two and given to two of its ministers instead of one of them.

A foreigner visiting Pakistan briefly asked me whether we had a unitary form of government. I said we had a federal form of government but with only four provinces, after having lost the fifth and the largest in 1971. "Then you don't need such an outsized cabinet," he said.

The US has 50 states, but it has a federal cabinet of 14 to 16 ministers who are called secretaries to the government. The rest are heads of various agencies. In Britain the number of cabinet ministers used to be limited to jut around 20, while others were secretaries of state who did not attend cabinet meetings.

In India with about 28 states and sub-states the cabinet ministers used to be around 25 before the mega ruling coalition of 23 and 18 parties came up. India has ministers of state with independent charge.

We have mega provincial governments as in Punjab and Sindh, and to add to that the very large federal council of ministers which is more of an open house to accommodate all to silence political murmurs or threats.

The large federal government is a legacy of the British rule, though not the very large council of ministers. The system was further strengthened when foreign aid began coming through the centre and the centre began distributing that among the provinces at a profit.

Excessive federalism has also been perpetuated by the centre as the principal revenue collector and it gave a share to the provinces. Ultimately the sales tax which is the largest single source of revenue, too, became a central tax, while it is a state tax in the US. Then it gave a share to the provinces.

The provincial share of the taxes has been increasing, and currently that is 37 per cent of the total collection, after the provinces rejected the federal offer of 47 per cent share. The provinces insist on a 50 per cent share of the total collection, which the centre is not ready to accept now.

As a result, what we have is not a real federal system but a hybrid of the federal and unitary forms of government. Now does the prime minister have the time to meet 66 ministers, ministers of state and advisers for any kind of meaningful talk? And will the cabinet meeting seriously consider their proposals or reports? Or will several cabinet sub-committees be set up?

There could be need for a great deal of adjustment between the politician ministers and the technocrat minister of state. Who will arbitrate in such disputes?

Many modern countries do not have a ministry of industries. The US has none, nor has Britain any and in Japan the ministries of trade and industry were merged into the most formidable MITI, which was earlier supposed to have built up the Japanese economy.

The US has its commerce secretary and Britain its board of trade for promoting exports. But we have a commerce minister and an industries minister. While Humayun Akhtar Khan retains his commerce portfolio, Jehangir Khan Tareen had become minister for industries and production and special initiatives and Mushtaq Ali Cheema as minister for textiles.

We have a genius for spelling out names of ministries in great detail to impress people. We have now Hamid Yar Hiraj as minister of state for commerce division and Ali Nawaz Khan Maher as minister of state for industries, production and special initiatives.

The people are intrigued by the appointment of former ISI Chief Lt. Gen. (retd) Javed Ashraf as minister for education. Is he supposed to discipline the madressahs?

There is indeed a great deal of duplication or overlapping. Untangling it all and then putting pieces together can be pretty tough task without offending the sensibilities of the new ministers, particularly the more educated young against the less educated elder ministers.

And not content with two young ministers to assist him as finance minister Shaukat Aziz has Dr. Salman Shah, an eminent academic, to help him with his ministry. It would take a magician to get great results out of this motley crowd of ministers and advisers while acting under the advice of the other two members of the troika.

There has to be a great deal of give and take. If such accommodation is not forthcoming, he should be able to drop some of the ministers instead of merely changing their portfolios, as has been done with the former ministers who have rejoined the new setup. The country is too poor to carry such a huge ministerial cargo for too long.

Lessons from Beslan

By Dr Iffat Idris

What words do you use to express the horror of what happened in a Beslan school? How can any words capture the total awfulness, the total senselessness, the total tragedy of what happened there?

How do you describe the scenes of bloodied, naked children fleeing in terror; row after row of bodies; grieving parents and mass funerals? How do you even begin to understand the feelings of Beslan's residents? There are no words.

Who does one blame for such an atrocity? The terrorists, of course, who carried it out. 'Hostage takers' - the term used in most media reports - is far too benign for such people.

Accounts of the 50-plus hour ordeal coming out reveal a group for whom killing was like coughing - it took that little thought and was that easily forgotten. The values (if any) of the terrorists who seized control of the Middle School-1 were so completely alien to what we call 'civilization' and 'humanity' that many have (justifiably) called them animals.

Who were the terrorists? The media and most analysts pointed the finger at Chechen militants close to Shamil Basayev, notorious Chechen rebel fighter. But Russian government spokesmen blamed foreign Islamic terrorists.

They claimed that ten of those killed (from among the terrorists) were Arab. Such claims come as no surprise: far more convenient to blame international Islamic terrorism and Al Qaeda - and thereby join Bush's war on terror and win global sympathy - than to acknowledge that the problem is a domestic one between the Russian government and a recalcitrant republic.

Weigh up the evidence for both arguments - international Al Qaeda versus Chechen nationalists - and that for the latter is overwhelming. The similarities between Beslan and the Moscow theatre hostage-taking two years ago, the geographical location (in the north Caucasus), hostage accounts that terrorists spoke with Chechen accents - and, most of all, the history of Chechen violence against Russia.

In the past few days alone there have been two attacks (not counting Beslan): a bomb in Moscow that killed ten people, and suicide bombings that downed two civilian planes within minutes of each other. Recall also some of the other statements made by Moscow - that there were only 350 hostages in the school, seven terrorists... and its credibility has to be questioned.

But even if the Russian government is telling the truth and some foreigners were involved, this was still a Chechen operation: executed by Chechens and stemming from Chechen anger against Moscow.

Any internationalization of the Chechen conflict, through the induction of foreign fighters, is a consequence of what is happening in Chechnya: it is not the cause.

Why did Chechen terrorists seize Beslan's Middle School-1 and cause the deaths of over 300 people, half of them children? The simple answer is because they are animals, sub-humans, killers. Of course they are - were (most of them are dead).

But is that sufficient explanation? What made them animals? What motivated them to drive so far from their homes, to spend weeks planning their assault and, finally, to execute it in such a bloody and ruthless manner? Does the answer really lie just in their flawed and twisted nature?

If nature alone could produce such monsters, there would be many more Beslans. No, for the full answer you have to look at nurture too: the environment in which people grow up.

In the case of young Chechens, for over a decade now that environment has been one of war, conflict and terrible suffering. This is the other face of Chechnya - the one obscured by terrorists like those who seized the school and the Moscow theatre. It is a face as grief-stricken, as traumatized and as sad as those you see in Beslan today.

Chechen suffering dates back many decades: no need to go through all that history - just start from 1994 when Boris Yeltsin's post-USSR Russia invaded the republic. Killing and destruction followed.

Fast-forward to 1997 and the democratically elected government of Aslan Maskhadov struggles to establish order in a state radicalized and divided by conflict. Move on to 1999 and this time it is Vladimir Putin's Russia that is going to war in Chechnya. More killing, more destruction, more division, more radicalization.

Vladimir Putin does not encourage human rights groups to count the dead in Chechnya: if he did, the figures would quickly outstrip the Beslan dead - many thousand-fold. Russia's war in Chechnya has been a dirty one, fought with little respect for civilian life and property or the rules of war. Many innocents have perished.

The Beslan terrorists' demands stemmed directly from their homeland's bloody history: the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, the release of Chechen militants, and Chechen independence. Can anyone still believe that this was terrorism motivated by Al Qaeda's hatred of the West?

Vladimir Putin's war made him President, but that was all. It did not achieve any of the objectives trumpeted by the Kremlin: it did not win peace in Chechnya, it did not crush nationalist aspirations in the republic, and it did not make Russians secure.

Quite the opposite: it turned Chechnya into a raging fire, it fuelled nationalist aspirations and - as demonstrated all too visibly in Beslan - it brought terror to ordinary Russians. One could have said: 'Seldom can a policy have proven to be so disastrous' - were it not for George W. Bush's even more calamitous 'war on terror'.

As Russia buries its dead, it is all too easy to plot revenge, to strike out, to hit back with force. But that will only exacerbate the problem. It should be obvious now - not just from what is happening in Chechnya and Russia, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine - that the answer to terrorism does not lie in force.

Security, yes, but not force: hitting back at civilian populations who had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks. Such policies only serve as recruiting campaigns for the terrorists, swelling the ranks of suicide bombers.

If you want to end terrorism you have to look beyond the blood, the mangled bodies, the horror and anger. You have to go to the root causes and address those.

What drives ordinary people to become terrorists? Why are they angry? What are the aggravating factors? Most important, what can bring them back into the mainstream? It is these questions that have to be answered if terrorism is ever to be brought under control. [Eradicating it is perhaps too much to hope for in these bloody times.]

Has Putin learnt from his mistakes? Will the 350-odd funerals taking place in Beslan cause him to rethink his policy and try a different approach? Listen to his speech after the Beslan hostage crisis ended so tragically, and it is clear he has not.

Change comes from pressure: domestic and/or international. It is too early to gauge whether Beslan will cause Russians to end their love affair with Putin. Certainly there is anger at the lies told by government officials, and at the lack of preparedness of the authorities.

Anger too that it is taking days just to find out how many people are missing - let alone what happened to them. But will this immediate public outrage become focused on the Russian President? Given that most Russians get their news from state-controlled television, and given the general suppression of free speech under Putin, there is every chance that the Russian President will survive.

International pressure is one factor that has been conspicuously absent from the Chechen issue. The war on terror launched by George Bush after 9/11 provided the perfect cover for Vladimir Putin to continue his own war against Chechen nationalists.

When the 'leader of the free world' is happily bombing civilians and occupying countries without any legal mandate, who will question what Russia does in backstage Chechnya? When 'terrorism' is used to justify targeted assassinations, illegal detention and torture, how can anyone accuse Putin of violating human rights?

Will the situation change after Beslan? Will the international community realize that condemning terrorism and reacting with knee-jerk force is not the answer? Will it look for the root causes of the Beslan tragedy? Will it acknowledge that Russian - and in particular Putin's - policies have much to do with what happened in Beslan? Will it finally start demanding that Russia halt its strong-arm tactics in Chechnya and look for political solutions? Listening to the rhetoric coming out of the Republican (Kerry-bashing) Convention in New York, this seems wishful thinking.

Until change comes, Russia and the world should be ready for another Beslan - or worse.


Beyond Abu Ghraib

By Steve Andreasen

This year, when details were disclosed on the Bush administration's legal review of how the Geneva Conventions might apply to enemy combatants, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales dismissed as "irrelevant" one of the most troubling documents to come to light.

It was an August 2002 memo prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that sought to explain what constituted illegal torture with regard to such prisoners under the Convention Against Torture.

The memo asserted that only acts of "an extreme nature" (i.e., "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death") would constitute criminal violations under domestic and international law, and that acts that were merely cruel, inhuman or degrading might escape prosecution.

Late last month the Independent Panel to Review Department of Defence Detention Operations, chaired by former defence secretary James Schlesinger, released its report on allegations of prisoner abuse.

The report states that an internal Defence Department working group set up in January 2003 "relied heavily on the OLC" in developing a list of 24 interrogation techniques that were subsequently approved by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on April 16, 2003, for use against Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to the Schlesinger report, these interrogation techniques later "migrated" to Iraq. So, contrary to the assertions of the White House counsel, it would appear that the Justice Department's memo, as well as the president's February 2002 memo declaring that fighters detained in Afghanistan were not entitled as a matter of law to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, were quite relevant to both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (where Iraqi detainees were covered by Geneva Conventions).

At a minimum, they provided a legal backdrop for a series of contradictory and confusing policy memos signed by Rumsfeld and the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq that contributed to some of the abuse of detainees.

The Schlesinger report concludes that responsibility for that abuse goes beyond a handful of individual soldiers on the "late shift" at Abu Ghraib, or the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline.

"There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels," it says. But the report stops short of asserting that the White House, Justice Department or CIA (which interrogated detainees in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq) shared this responsibility with the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership.

Perhaps the Senate Armed Services Committee can further resolve the issue of responsibility when it holds its hearing this week to receive testimony on the Schlesinger report, as well as on a report released in August by the Army investigating detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib. Specifically:

* Did either the Schlesinger or Army investigations interview officials in the White House or at the Justice Department regarding the February or August 2002 memos relating to the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture?

* What role did White House or Justice Department officials play in development of the memos on interrogation techniques signed by Rumsfeld in December 2002, January 2003 and April 2003?

* Were other agencies - specifically the State Department, which usually takes the lead in interpreting treaties such as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, or the National Security Council - included in the process of developing approved interrogation techniques, and if not, why not?

* Did guidance from the White House and the Justice Department with respect to the Geneva Conventions and the definition of torture in 2002 contribute to the chain of events in the Department of Defence and military command in Iraq leading to the abuses at Abu Ghraib?

Beyond the issue of responsibility for Abu Ghraib, the Senate should explore with the Schlesinger panel whether the administration's policy - that the war on terrorism excuses the United States from some of the limitations stipulated by the Geneva Conventions - creates a dangerous double standard.

Many believe the administration's position undercuts a number of international accords (beyond Geneva) reached under presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush making clear that certain acts - torture, hostage-taking, attacks on domestic airlines - are so reprehensible that they are unjustified for any reason.

Senators have an opportunity to begin laying the foundation for a new policy, one that reaffirms America's commitment to international agreements that remain relevant in a dangerous world. -Dawn/Washington Post Service

The writer was director of defence policy and arms control on the US National Security Council from 1993 to 2001.

On the pretext of terrorism

By Qazi Hussain Ahmed

Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) has decided to observe the September 11, 2004 as a day to condemn all kinds of terrorism, particularly state terrorism that caused to happen the 9/11.

As a matter of fact, the US and its allies have been observing this day for the last three years to target Muslims exclusively by bracketing them with terrorism under the cover of the self-proclaimed war on terror.

The entire western media and propaganda machinery, right from the first hour of the 9/11 incidents, have been working to malign Muslims as terrorists. They have kicked up so much dust that most of the world has been forced to blindly follow them and it has become all the more necessary to expose their bias and show the real picture to the world.

This will also help common Muslims, who have been cornered and forced to feel guilty in the wake of media onslaught, to pick up courage to defend themselves and their religion.

Looking back at the 9/11 incident, it appeared to be part of a pre-meditated vicious trap for victimizing Muslims and their resistance movements, specially in Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya, since the entire western media began a full-blast campaign right from the start, accusing Taliban and other Muslims connecting them with an unknown organization (Al Qaeda) which was held to be the mastermind behind the attacks on Twin Towers. They did not even wait for any proof or any formal announcement by the US intelligence agencies in this regard.

The world had never heard the name of Al Qaeda before the morning of 9/11 when US media trumpeted it along with another name Osama bin Laden, who had lashed out at the US for stationing their troops in Saudi Arabia for an indefinite period in the name of so-called threat from Saddam Hussein.

So far none of the investigations have categorically pinpointed any culprits of the 9/11 attacks and there were a vast variety of theories and hypotheses. Many theories ruled out that Muslims were involved in the attacks, thus negating the basis of the vicious anti-Muslim propaganda line.

But others are still sticking to the theories like "Clash of Civilizations" presented by Huntington in which he said that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Muslim civilization would be the main rival of the US civilization.

People, like Huntington, fear Islam only because of its adherence to the principles of justice, equality and morality that are fundamentally opposed to the western capitalist system and its immoral civilization featuring sexual promiscuity, homosexuality and unbridled freedom.

This theory of civilization's clash is, in fact, a roadmap of the West to subjugate Muslims politically, culturally and economically. The post-9/11 scenario is a proof of that.

As a result of the US media's a vicious anti-Muslim campaign, fear gripped entire world and Muslims became an object of hatred overnight. The propaganda tended to create an environment in which every Muslim is being seen as a "potential terrorist". Since then, Muslims all over the world have been subjected to the worst kind of hatred, torture and victimization just on the pretext of 9/11.

All norms of international law, decency and morality were ignored while western agencies and governments victimized innocent Muslim men, women and children. They have been subjected to raids, searches, arrests without warrants or proofs, long detentions without trial, torture and custodial killings.

Tens of thousands of Muslim families were ruined as they lost their loved ones, businesses and jobs and many of them were forced to leave their homes. These hate crimes and attitude overshadowed the cruel treatment and genocide meted out to the Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc, and now their freedom struggles have been termed terrorism.

The state terrorism and custodial killings in Palestine, Kashmir, etc., are now ignored by the world media, causing an unusual upsurge in the killing, maiming, torture and arrests of Muslims at the hands of state forces in the places where they are engaged in a legitimate freedom struggle.

Ironically, those troops who assassinated Palestinian leader Sheikh Ahmad Yasin and Dr Abdul Aziz Rantissi were given handsome rewards by Israeli and US officials.

Afghanistan and Iraq were attacked and devastated on the flimsy pretexts and without sufficient proofs of the allegations levelled against the regimes. Even the UN mandate calling for deployment of UN forces to flush out "criminals" and trace weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was bypassed.

Thousands of innocent Muslim men, women, and children were killed, and wounded by using sophisticated and deadly weapons just for the sake of catching a handful of suspected criminals and finding some weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

In fact, Taliban and Saddam Hussein had become an eye sore for the US because of their independent spirit and the US policy-makers feared such a spirit would spread across the Muslim world if allowed to continue.

This was the reason the US resorted to brute force against those countries without giving the world any solid proof of their offence. Muslim prisoners were subjected to the worst kinds of maltreatment and torture in the prisons of Guantanamo, Abu-Ghraib and Israel.

The West, which raises a hue and cry over cruelty to animals, kept a mysterious silence over it all but that attitude of indifference spoke volumes about their bias against Muslims.

The anti-Islam conspiracies of the Zionist lobby have been there for a very long time. But in the present scenario, the trio of Israel-India-US has been pursuing their objectives more openly.

Unfortunately, the Muslim rulers have been helping them against their own people. It is with their support to the troika of conspirators that the name of Islam is being bracketed with terrorism and the voices of protest raised in its defence are suppressed systematically.

The Zionist lobby had used media and propaganda machinery in the past to grossly exaggerate the sufferings during the holocaust and impose a sense of guilt on the western world. The Zionists projected the crimes against them as crimes against humanity and by cashing in on their suffering, they began to victimize Palestinians.

The Quran commands: "Whosoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he saved the life of all mankind." (Al-Ma'idah:32) The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: "A believer remains within the scope of his religion as long as he doesn't kill another person illegally."

Islam never allows a Muslim to kill the innocent and the helpless. Killing innocents along with the wrongdoers is totally forbidden in Islam. No one, as far as Islam is concerned, is held responsible for the actions of others.

On seeing a woman killed in the battlefield, the Prophet (PBUH) denounced the act and said: "That woman shouldn't have been killed anyway." Even in times of war Muslim armies are not allowed to kill anybody save the one who indulges in face-to-face confrontation with them."

As this form of global terror keeps driving the world into a chaotic state, it is important to knock at the hearts of people of wisdom to recall the divine messages that teach us all that in such a critical situation, flexing of muscles can never solve any problem.

We need to get to the bottom of all the problems facing humanity; we need to find their causes with the aim of tackling them once and for all. We need to listen to the voice of religion, the voice of truth, to see what message it has to offer as a solution.

The writer is head of the Jamaat-i-Islami and of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.



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