Rabbani envoy questions Taliban role
Nepal risks Pak row with rupee racket bust
Cong blasts Jaswant for trip
Lucknow joins millennium baby bawl

New Delhi, Jan. 3 
Afghan ambassador in Delhi Masood Khalili has suggested that the five hijackers and three Kashmiri militants released by India may still be in Kandahar, or somewhere in Afghanistan, and not in the Pakistan town of Quetta.

“One should also doubt the claim of the Taliban that the hijackers were given 10 hours to leave Kandahar and had indeed left the country,” he said.

Khalili, who represents Burhanuddin Rabbani’s government which is recognised by India, said the Taliban was part of the conspiracy hatched by the ISI to hijack the Indian Airlines aircraft from day one. “The hijacking was masterminded by the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban was a willing partner in it,” Khalili said. Anyone who thinks the Taliban unwittingly got involved “must be naive”, he added.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Khalili said Kandahar was chosen by the hijackers because it is a safe place. “Hijacking is a crime which no country would have condoned and Kandahar was the only choice for the hijackers who were prompted by the ISI,” Khalili said.

He said since the aircraft first landed at Amritsar and later at Lahore, crucial hours were lost by the hijackers. They could not land in Afghanistan as neither Kabul nor Kandahar has night-landing facilities and were forced to go to Dubai.

Khalili asked if the Taliban, as they claimed, were not supporting the hijackers why did they not force the release of the hostages. “If the Taliban can force them to give up the demand for payment of $ 200 million and digging up the body of Sajjad Afghani, as both were un-Islamic, couldn’t they have forced them to give up the hostages? Is hijacking Islamic?”

The ambassador denied that the Taliban was fed up with toeing the Pakistani line and was desperate for an independent foreign policy. “It would be suicidal for the Taliban to delink from Pakistan at this juncture,” he said.

Khalili said the Taliban, under severe sanctions, was dependent on Pakistan for its fuel, essential items, fighting gears like boots and jackets and also for the safekeep of its money. “Who is lobbying to give recognition to the Taliban at various international fora but Pakistan? How can one ignore the deep-rooted connections that Taliban has with the Pakistani establishment?”

He felt the Taliban could not have expected much from India. He argued that even if Delhi was to recognise the militia and established diplomatic relations with it, it could not have forced other countries to do likewise. “Not even Nam members would have followed India’s example.”

Khalili feels that the Taliban was asked by Pakistan to exploit the situation created by the hijacking. He said perhaps the militia wanted to show the world that they are civilised people and not barbarians by giving public assurances that they will not allow the hostages to be harmed on their soil.

“But then why did their Shura put pressure on India to resolve the issue by December 31? Why did they surround the aircraft with heavy artillery and armed soldiers if not to prevent an armed action by the Indians to free the hostages?” he demanded.

The ambassador, however, is not apprehensive of a change in India’s Afghan policy because of the hijacking. “I think the decision taken by India — once the aircraft reached Kandahar — was not only the right choice but also a courageous one.”

Khalili, though, felt that the plane could have been stopped at Amritsar and not allowed to leave the Indian soil as this would have given Delhi a stronger bargaining position. “Once it left India, the initiative had gone out of its hands.”

Khalili is of the view that when the hijacked aircraft had landed at Dubai, the Indian leaders should have made all attempts to pursue the UAE and detain the plane.

The ambassador feels that India should now get into a regional agreement with the central Asian countries, Iran, Russia and also the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, to fight terrorism. A concerted effort by these countries, which has to be later backed by other countries like the US, alone can minimise the chances of hijacking or hostage-taking in future and pressure terrorists and their backers.    

Kathmandu, Jan. 3 
In what could sour relations between Nepal and Pakistan, the Nepalese police say they have busted a fake Indian currency racket run by a Pakistan embassy staff here.

Stung by the accusation, the Pakistan embassy today alleged that Nepalese policemen “handcuffed” and “tried to arrest” one of its staff, A. Saboor, even though they failed to recover anything inciminating when they raided his residence.

According to police officials, the action against Saboor was taken after they found a fake 500-rupee note on one of the two persons caught with 15 kg of hashish two weeks ago.

The narcotic was seized near the herbs processing centre on the Kathmandu Highway leading to Tibet.

Police said the smugglers’ trail led to the arrest of ten persons whose interrogation revealed that Saboor was the kingpin of the currency racket.

The crime department then assigned a lady .officer to trap Saboor.

As per the plan worked out, she contacted Saboor and offered to buy Rs 50,000 in fake 500-rupee notes in exchange for Rs 50,000 in Nepalese currency.

Rs 50,000 in Indian currency amounts to approximately Rs 80,000 in Nepalese money.

Police said Saboor asked her to meet him at Panchayat Park at Maharajgunj yesterday morning.

When she expressed her desire to buy more fake notes, Saboor told her that he had counterfeit notes worth Rs 20 million and invited her to his house which is close to foreign minister Ram Sharan Mahat’s residence.

Once they reached his house at Losal Pipalbot at Maharajgunj sector, followed by other agents, she flashed her identity card.

To avoid arrest, Saboor, according to the police, disclosed his diplomatic status and locked up his apartment.

Police said they later saw smoke coming out of the house which made them suspect that he was trying to destroy evidence.

Later, senior officials from the Pakistan embassy, including the ambassador, Ms Fawzia Nasreen, rushed to the spot to intervene claiming that Saboor could not be arrested without going through the necessary diplomatic protocol.

A section of police officials, however, said Saboor is a UDC employee and is not eligible for diplomatic immunity.

Later, the foreign minister and home minister Purna Bahadur Kharga held a meeting with Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai to discuss the matter.

However, with the intervention of the Pakistan embassy,it was not clear till the evening whether the police would formally take Saboor into custody.    

New Delhi, Jan. 3 
The Congress today criticised foreign minister Jaswant Singh for escorting the three terrorists to Kandahar, especially since India does not recognise the Taliban regime.

Terming the action as “deplorable, regrettable and baffling”, it said there was no need for the foreign minister to accompany the militants when an agreement had been reached between the government and the hijackers.

Demanding that the Centre come out with all non-classified details on the incident, senior leader Pranab Mukherjee wanted to know why Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in the country at the time, was informed about the hijacking 40 minutes later. “What kind of an administration is it?” he asked.

“Jaswant Singh had no role to play at Kandahar, except from a tourist’s point of view to see how the hijackers released the hostages,” Mukherjee told reporters. Any officer could have escorted the terrorists, he said. “We should not profusely praise the Taliban”.

When a reporter quoted Jaswant as saying that he had to do “certain things” at Kandahar, Mukherjee wanted to know if the foreign minister had taken any on-the-spot decision there. “What was his contribution at Kandahar after reaching the agreement?” he asked. “What additional job did he have to do?”

The “mishandling” of the hijacking crisis had rendered the nation “weak, hesitant and faltering”, he said. “There is no explanation till date why the plane was not handled at Amritsar.”

Referring to the pilot Capt. Devi Sharan’s attempt to justify the government’s inaction at Amritsar, Mukherjee said: “How can a pilot decide whether commando operation is possible or not?” In 1984, during Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, commandos had stormed a hijacked Indian Airlines plane at Lahore to rescue the passengers, he said.

Earlier, party spokesman Ajit Jogi said the government’s action not only gave respectability to terrorists but also encouraged terrorism. Charging the Centre with “bending backwards to appease the hijackers”, Jogi said its action exposed the administration’s weakness and immaturity.

Condemning today’s blast in a Srinagar market which killed 16 people, Jogi said this was the fallout of encouraging terrorism and demoralisation of security forces.

On why at the all-party meeting the Congress did not advocate stern action, Jogi said since the situation was rapidly changing, Opposition parties had told the government that only it could take a decision keeping in mind the safety of the hostages and the overall interest of the nation.    

Lucknow, Jan. 3 
A Lucknow hospital has joined the race for delivering the country’s first millennium baby.

Doctors at the Avanti Bai Women’s hospital said Sunny, the baby boy, was born five minutes after midnight in the government hospital. They claimed he was delivered 15 minutes ahead of a baby in a private hospital in Silchar, Assam.

A second baby, named Baby Puja, was born at the Queen Mary hospital here, 35 minutes after Sunny, while a third baby boy, yet to be named, was born 68 minutes later at the Veerangana Jhalkari Bai hospital.

Dr Saroj Srivastava, president of the Private Nursing Homes Association, said 37 babies were born between millennium midnight and late evening of January 1.

“Lucknow’s claim is definitely the strongest since the delivery time was just five minutes after midnight. Moreover, after Silchar, no other claim has been made by any other hospital in the country,” Dr Srivastava added.

The state government has joined in to celebrate the birth of Sunny. “We’ll celebrate by starting the next phase of the pulse polio programme on January 23 by giving the first drops to Sunny,” chief medical officer of Lucknow Dr H.P. Kumar said.

He added that there should be no dispute over Lucknow’s claim since Sunny was born well ahead of the Silchar baby.

Sunny’s parents Meena and Pyarelal, residents of the cantonment area, are overwhelmed by the attention they are getting.

Pyarelal works for a catering company in the city. The couple had lost their first child a year ago.

Absolute strangers, and even VIPs, are visiting the new mother. Doctors attending to her had to shift her to a private ward to control the stream of visitors.

Lucknow mayor Dr S.C. Rai, himself a well-known doctor, paid Meena and Sunny a visit.

A proud Pyarelal said: “We had not planned a millennium baby. And unlike others who planned caesarean operations, Sunny was delivered normally. This makes it even more special.”

The Avanti Bai Hospital was decked up for the occasion. Head nurse Kamla said Meena’s ward has been decorated with streamers and balloons.

“There was great joy when Sunny was born. While we all cheered, crackers burst outside as people celebrated the new millennium,” she said.

The hospital also plans a grand send-off for the mother and baby, both of whom are reported to be healthy.

However, Ruby, the mother of the baby boy born at the Veerangana Jhalkari Bai Hospital, is not happy with mere celebrations. She has demanded a cash incentive for the parents of the first three babies. “It is a proud achievement,” she said.

Aware of the cash award given to the Silchar baby by the town millennium committee, she said: “If Silchar could do it, why not Lucknow?”    


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