PM pushes for Pak terror tag
Power shift in scarred valley
Basu speaks rebel mind
Taliban 80, Delhi 10
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 3 
Kicking off the campaign to isolate Islamabad internationally for its alleged role in the hijack, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today urged key world players to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

‘‘Pakistan’s active and sustained role in fomenting terrorism in India is now too obvious to be overlooked by the international community. India, therefore, strongly urges major nations of the world to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Our government will work systematically towards this objective,’’ PTI quoted Vajpayee as saying in Pune.

This is the first time that the Prime Minister has publicly stated that Pakistan should be tagged a terrorist nation. The statement indicates that Delhi, smarting under the humiliation of having to yield to the air pirates and release three hardcore militants, is bent on turning up the heat on Pakistan for what it perceives as its complicity in the hijack.

The five hijackers and the three released militants reportedly crossed over into Quetta, the Pakistani town six km by road from Kandahar.

Coinciding with the Prime Minister’s global appeal, senior US Democrat Congressman Gary Ackerman said the hijack formed part of Pakistan’s ‘‘proxy war’’ with India and a ‘‘hegemonistic’’ campaign of certain sections in Islamabad to ‘‘dismember’’ Delhi.

‘‘It is time the US sent a clear message that the administration will not tolerate terrorism of any variety or hue in any part of the world,’’ he said.

Washington, in the past, has kept Pakistan on its terror watchlist — which includes countries suspected of encouraging or supporting terrorism directly or otherwise. But so far it has not declared Pakistan a terrorist state.

India has claimed it will shortly table direct and circumstantial evidence to establish that the hijack trail leads to Pakistan. National security adviser Brajesh Mishra has said that Delhi will make public some of the messages intercepted during conversations between the hijackers and Pakistani officials.

During the standoff, foreign minister Jaswant Singh had pointed the needle of suspicion at Islamabad, saying all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals as were the militants whose release they had demanded.

Officials are also trying to trace the role played by a Pakistani first secretary in its embassy in Kathmandu. The diplomat, who heads the consular section in the mission, was reportedly seen entering Tribhuvan airport when passengers of Flight IC 814 were called to check in. The officer was reported to have entered the check-in zone with a suitcase.

The diplomat’s name had surfaced in November 1998 when a Khalistani terrorist, Lakhbir Singh, was arrested from a hotel in Kathmandu with a large amount of explosives. The diplomat was believed to have contacted Singh just hours before the police crackdown.    

Srinagar and New Delhi, Jan. 3 
Kashmir exploded back to the Centre’s distress list today with a massive blast killing 15 people in Srinagar and the government deciding to restore counter-insurgency operations to the state police.

Two paramilitary soldiers were among those killed when militants blew up a hand-cart packed with explosives at a vegetable market near the Toto Ground army camp. Thirty-eight people were wounded, six of them critically.

The blast occurred around 10 am when the terrorists detonated the improvised explosive device fitted inside the cart which stood in the middle of the bustling market at Nand Singh-Arampora.

Ten people, two of them personnel from the Special Services Bureau paramilitary outfit and most of the others shopkeepers, were killed on the spot. Five of the wounded died on way to hospital.

The explosion follows a series of attacks on army camps. Militants had stormed the headquarters of the special operations group and held 50 jawans hostage. They were rescued following a counter-attack the next day.

In an effort to take the battle against militants to the grassroots, the Centre said in a letter to Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary Ashok Jaitly that all counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations should be placed under the ‘‘control and command’’ of police director-general Gurbachan Jagat.

A copy of the letter has been sent to Jagat, the army and heads of all paramilitary forces, including the Border Security Force and Central Reserve Police Force.

Top sources said that though the move was not linked to the release of the three militants, it was intended to give the police a larger role in counter-terrorism operations, which were being spearheaded by the Army.

The Centre has, however, asked the state government to plan and execute all operations against the pro-Pakistan outfits after consulting the Unified Headquarters comprising representatives from the army, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies.

The decision stems from a home ministry assessment that militancy can be effectively tackled and curbed only if the police are given the opportunity to participate in the war against terror.

‘‘After all, the state police intelligence machinery, if properly toned up, can be an effective instrument in gathering information about terrorist presence and activities in far flung areas,’’ an official said.

Agreeing that the police had to get their act together in combating terror, the official said huge funds were being pumped into the state to modernise its force.

The decision, which, sources said, was taken after discussions with the defence ministry and the army establishment, comes four months after the commanders of the 15 and 16 Corps were appointed as security advisers to the state government.

After the end of the Kargil war, terrorist outfits stepped up their onslaught against the army with the Rashtriya Rifles facing the brunt of the raids carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s fidayin (suicide) squads.

The Farooq Abdullah regime had no choice but to accept the two corps commanders as security advisers and the army was given charge of all counter-terrorism operations. Prior to this, the chief secretary doubled as security adviser.

Paramilitary forces and the state police were cut up as they felt the army was trying to ‘‘usurp’’ their authority.

After the Kargil war, the army refused to return to counter-insurgency operations, saying it should concentrate on guarding the frontiers. The military changed its mind after much persuasion and agreed to take part in operations in the valley only if it was given complete authority.

But local commanders of the paramilitary outfits and state police forces argued that they were best placed to lead counter-terrorism operations at the district level. Although the Centre and the state government officially tried to put up a united front against militancy, the clash of interests between the various security forces affected the operations, especially in Srinagar where militants started targeting security personnel.

Today’s blast was also believed to have been targeted at securitymen as the market is frequented by jawans from the Special Services Bureau and the BSF which have camps nearby.

Abdul Rashid, a vegetable vendor, said there were around 2,000 people in the market when the explosive went off. ‘‘More than half were security personnel who stay nearby. They buy fruits and vegetables here,’’ he said. The explosion was so powerful that it created a huge crater and flattened most shops.

A shopkeeper said that immediately after the explosion, securitymen began firing in self-defence, triggering panic in the already chaotic market. The people who were trying to rescue the wounded persons fled the area. The police, however, denied they had opened fire.

Anxious relatives thronged Srinagar’s main SMHS hospital. Angry that six of the injured bled to death while being taken to hospital, some relatives assaulted the doctors while a few others barged into operation theatres.

The police have sealed the area around the market and launched a hunt for the militants. No outfit has claimed responsibility yet.    

Calcutta, Jan. 3 
Chief minister Jyoti Basu today put the CPM rebels’ reform campaign in high gear, openly calling for modernising the outdated party programme.

Stepping out of party-imposed limits nearly a month after the campaign was launched by the triad of Subhash Chakraborty, Saifuddin Chowdhury and Samir Putatunda, Basu took up the rebels’ cause at a meeting of CPM functionaries and supporters.

“It (party programme) was valid when we drew it up years ago. But no longer. We have to change it because India is changing,” he said on the 34th anniversary of the founding of party mouthpiece Ganashakti.

He nearly committed the party to change, saying that the CPM, having understood the shortcomings of its political programme, had begun to modernise it. “We are now working on it and hope to bring about the necessary changes in a year or so,” Basu said to enthusiastic applause.

At one point, Basu turned to state unit secretary Anil Biswas — also a politburo member — and said: “We will shortly go to Delhi together to discuss how best and fast the changes can be worked into the programme.”

Basu and Biswas are on the committee overseeing the updating of the programme. But Basu’s attack on the no-changers by way of criticism of the programme could embarrass Biswas who has strongly opposed the rebels.

Basu said the party would have to re-invent its approach to issues like leading or participating in a government in Delhi. “A change in outlook is imperative because we are participating in the system of parliamentary democracy where these issues are real,” Basu said.

Chakraborty, Chowdhury and Putatunda joined hands last month to launch the campaign for transparency, modernity and inner-party democracy. Despite Basu’s advocacy of a soft line, one of the three was showcaused and two were reprimanded by the state leadership.

At one level, the CPM dissenters might detect support for them in Basu’s criticism of the party programme. At another, they would feel discouraged that Basu discounted their claim of a lack of transparency and democracy.

“How many times would I have to say that ours is the most democratic party in the country. From a local-level committee to the politburo, every organisational body is elected. What more democracy can anyone expect?” he asked.    

New Delhi, Jan 3 
Anup Sharma cracks up while recalling the fearful seven days and nights he spent on the hijacked flight IC 814.

The 43-year-old sales manager of a Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company has been to Kathmandu several times in 1999. But his last trip to the Nepal capital has left him stunned.

More than anything else, Sharma is shocked at his own government, outraged by what he calls its “inept” and “callous” handling of the crisis.

It is the Taliban, he feels, who saved the day for the Indian hostages. If he were to give credit points for his release, he would award the Taliban 80 out of 100 and New Delhi less than 10.

Not a single member of the Indian negotiating team, Sharma says, came inside the plane to see how the passengers were faring, even though the hijackers had given them permission to do so.

In a scalding indictment, he says: “The whole episode has left me completely insecure in my country because it is being led by spineless, incompetent people running an inefficient government.”

Still in torment, Sharma is unable to walk properly and has started seeing a psychiatrist for emotional recovery.

Here is his account of what he went through.

“I have been to Kathmandu several times but this is the first time there was no security check before entering the departure lounge. I was not frisked and the security personnel did not check me or my belongings. There was no checking by metal detectors.

“I was to learn only later from one of the hijackers (after the hostages were freed) that they has paid Rs 25 lakh to people at the Kathmandu airport to be lax with security for the flight.

“The captain of IC 814 told me that when our flight landed at Amritsar and was on the tarmac for about 40 minutes, not even a dog was in sight, leave alone commandos or army personnel. A town so near the border was not put on alert and there were no security arrangements for an emergency.

“Even 72 hours after the hijacking, no Indian government official was in sight. But officials of all other countries whose citizens were on board had by then reached the Kandahar airport.

“When the deadline set by the hijackers expired, they blindfolded us again and tied our hands to shoot us. Captain Sharan pleaded for more time and with the UN’s help appealed to the international community through the CNN and the BBC. Our government had left us at the mercy of the hijackers — practically disowning us. This was a shock to a loyal, tax-paying citizen like me.

“During the entire period, vegetarians like me were surviving on one orange and one small glass of water each day. There were at least a hundred vegetarians on the flight and we had to share 25-30 food packets among ourselves. Three people were sharing one packet of rice.

“Even the non-vegetarians suffered. They were horrified looking at the food. Most did not eat beef and so they, too, began to take vegetarian food packets.

“On the fourth day of the hijack, we came to know that an Indian delegation had arrived to negotiate. We saw a ray of hope.

“After the first round of talks (on Tuesday evening) the hijackers informed us that they had slashed their demands and soon there will be a solution to the crisis. But at 1 am (Wednesday), one of the hijackers switched on a button of the communication system by mistake, and we could hear him talking to the Indian delegation. He sounded very angry because the delegation had backed out of its commitment.

“Next day (Thursday) we were told by the hijackers that the Indian government had gone back on its word and they would start killing us one by one every half an hour. They told us the Indian officials were more interested in finding out the rates of dry fruits in Kandahar than working on a solution to the crisis.

“At that time, I realised for the first time the extent to which our politicians can go to save their governments — even if it meant sacrificing so many innocent lives. After a little while, the hijackers, at the request of the amir of the Taliban government, agreed to resume negotiations with the Indian team. Within two hours, we were told 80 per cent of the problems were over. Within the next half hour, we were told a settlement has been reached.    

Temperature: Maximum: 25°C (-2) Minimum: 13.1°C (0) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 93%, Minimum: 44% Today: Mainly clear sky. Mist in the morning. Not much change in night temperature. Sunset: 4.59 pm Sunrise: 6.23 am    

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