Five photos, six fingers point at Pakistan
Clinton team flies into proof test
Govt wastes terror trump card
Red tinge to Mamata rainbow
Calcutta weather

 
 
FIVE PHOTOS, SIX FINGERS POINT AT PAKISTAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
India today produced ‘‘evidence’’ of Islamabad’s involvement in the Indian Airlines hijack, releasing names and pictures of the five sky pirates identified as Pakistani nationals and stating in absolute terms that the Inter-Services Intelligence masterminded the operation.

Security agencies obtained the hijackers’ names and pictures from four Harkat-ul Ansar operatives — two of them Pakistanis, one Indian and the other a Nepalese — who were arrested in Mumbai while negotiations were on to break the standoff at Kandahar.

The Centre has handed over part of the case to the CBI. The agency will investigate the Mumbai connection, the involvement of an Indian national in the conspiracy and the alleged security failure to block Amritsar’s Raja Sansi airport, where the Airbus stood for nearly 45 minutes before taking off for Lahore, and the murder Rupin Katyal.

Home minister L.K. Advani told reporters the breakthrough came with the arrest of four ISI operatives by the Mumbai police between December 29 and 31, following tip-offs from the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing. ‘‘Pakistan is neck-deep in the dirty game of hijacking,’’ Advani said, listing six points to prove Islamabad’s hand.

The four agents are Harkat members who provided logistical support to the hijackers and extended all assistance at least two months before the operation was carried out from Kathmandu. The agents have been identified as Mohammad Rehan, Mohammad Iqbal, both Pakistani nationals, Yusuf Nepali, a Nepalese, and Abdul Latif, a Mumbai-based Indian. Rehan stays in Karachi and Iqbal is from Multan.

The hijackers have been identified as Ibrahim Athar alias Ibrahim Akhtar alias Javed Ahmed Siddiqui from Kaiser Colony in Bahawalpur, Shahid Akhtar Sayed from Gulshan Iqbal, Karachi, Sunny Ahmed Qazi from Defence Area, Karachi, Mistri Zahur Ibrahim from Akhtar Colony, Karachi and Shaqir from Sukkur City, Sindh. Shaqir boarded the plane as Rajesh Gopal Verma.

Athar is the younger brother of Harkat general secretary Masood Azhar, who was one of three terrorists released. The passengers and crew of IC 814 have identified the hijackers from the photographs.

Security agencies got their first break on the fifth day — December 29 — after Latif received a call on his cellphone from an associate in Pakistan. Latif is believed to have disclosed to the investigators that he was asked to tell a TV correspondent in London to put out a news that the hijackers would blow up the plane if their demands were not met. The conversation was intercepted and the four ISI agents were arrested.

Home ministry sources do not rule out the possibility of Latif being a member of the Dawood Ibrahim gang. Though he is from Mumbai, Latif lived for some years in a Gulf country — possibly the United Arab Emirates — from where he was recruited by the ISI. He underwent training at two camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to Advani, Latif was the ‘‘principal accomplice in so far as arranging logistical support’’ for the hijackers was concerned. Investigators have been able to piece together Latif’s travel details which show that on November 1, 1999, he accompanied Athar — the gang leader — by air from Mumbai to Calcutta. The next leg of the journey was covered by train from Calcutta to New Jalpaiguri from where the two took a bus to Kathmandu. Latif then returned to Mumbai.

On December 1, Latif took another hijacker, Shaqir, to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh from where they went to Kathmandu by bus. On December 17, Latif boarded an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi and returned to Mumbai by train.

But there are several loose ends in the unfolding investigation. For instance, the government is yet to establish the hijackers’ contacts in Nepal who may have helped them avoid security checks at Kathmandu airport and allowed a suitcase, containing a huge cache of weapons and explosives, to be loaded as checked-in baggage.

A home ministry source disclosed that the baggage, which was booked under Verma’s name, contained two AK-56 rifles, seven pistols, 11 grenades and 25 kg of explosives. These weapons were displayed by the hijackers at Kandahar. The pirates were carrying Rs 2.5 lakh in cash.    


 
 
CLINTON TEAM FLIES INTO PROOF TEST 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
The tabling of the ‘‘proof’’ of Pakistan’s hand in the hijack coincides with the arrival of a US delegation led by Senator Tom Daschle, considered a close associate of President Bill Clinton.

The other members of the team are Senators Christopher Dodd, Harry Reid, Daniel Akaka and House representative Sam Gejdenson. The commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Dennis Blair, is also here.

The officials will hold discussions with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his colleagues, Jaswant Singh and George Fernandes.

The visit of the US team gains significance as Delhi is pressing Washington to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. Though the team of Senators is here apparently to lay the ground for Clinton’s proposed visit in March, the talks are expected to focus on the hijack.

Daschle is seen as a close associate of the President. His stock in the Democratic Party soared after he succeeded in blocking the Republican move to get Clinton impeached on the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Delhi, which wants to turn the global heat on Islamabad, will try to convince the Senators about Pakistan’s role in the hijack and in terror export to Kashmir. The US is unwilling to join India’s campaign to isolate Pakistan just yet. It, along with other western powers, has asked Delhi to table hard evidence to establish Islamabad’s complicity in the hijack.

Foreign office mandarins appear to have changed strategy. Realising that the proof which India has so far tabled can hardly be described as clinching, the plan now is to shift the onus on Islamabad. ‘‘We are not trying to prove anything. We are just trying to tell the world what we know. Let Pakistan disprove it,’’ an official said.

In line with this strategy, India has directed its missions abroad to convince the governments concerned on Pakistan’s role. As part of their effort, the envoys are likely to argue that no country other than Pakistan could have been behind the hijack as successive regimes in Islamabad have supported insurgency in Kashmir.

Foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh is also likely to brief ambassadors of key nations on the evidence that the government claims it has. South Block has so far not called the envoys to discuss the hijack, though it is a common practice to brief them on important developments as was done during the Kargil war.    


 
 
GOVT WASTES TERROR TRUMP CARD 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
One week after the end of the Kandahar hijack drama, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s foreign policy is in tatters.

A curious paralysis has gripped the foreign ministry, which has been a beehive of activity for a year and a half, first with the Pokhran tests and then Kargil.

The reason for the paralysis, if the near-consensus among India’s professional foreign service is to be believed, is that with the A.B. Vajpayee government caving in to terrorist demands, the bottom has suddenly dropped out of South Block’s foreign policy, carefully crafted over Vajpayee’s two successive terms as Prime Minister.

The simmering crisis in South Block in the aftermath of the deal struck with hijackers spilled over to the rest of the government and out in the open yesterday night with Union law minister Ram Jethmalani accusing the South Block bureaucracy of being weak-kneed in its response to terrorism.

In an interview, Jethmalani said Indian diplomats did not vote in favour of creating an international criminal court at a recent international meet “out of old habit”. They should have voted for setting up such a court to try crimes such as hijacking, he said.

The crisis over South Block’s role in the hijack deal may worsen in the coming weeks because the BJP-led government had made anti-terrorism the sheet anchor of its foreign policy. For a year and a half the government backed its anti-terrorist proclamations with a will to act.

When an MP in Nepal who faciltated anti-Indian subversion there on behalf of Pakistani intelligence was gunned down and when the dead body of a Mumbai criminal, associated with the Dawood Ibrahim gang, was mysteriously discovered in a Bangkok hotel, the world accepted these as hot pursuit of terrorists by the Vajpayee government even though Delhi never claimed any responsibility for these acts.

The conclusion of an extradition treaty with the UAE, where Mumbai’s dreaded criminals had found safe haven, was followed up with foreign minister Jaswant Singh reaching out across the globe from Dushanbe to Moscow to Washington in creating a global united front against terror.

At the UN and other fora, India moved or negotiated resolutions against terrorism, persuading many reluctant nations to join its initiative. Some countries offered to share intelligence with India.

But in the aftermath of the release of jailed militants in exchange for hostages, Indian ambassadors abroad are telling South Block that they can no longer pursue the NDA government’s anti-terrorist agenda.

Of course, few ambassadors are putting their case bluntly. But there are tell-tale coded telegrams landing in South Block every day, which, read between the lines, make it crystal clear that India has lost its credibility in the campaign against global terrorism.

For Pakistan, this demoralisation in the ranks of Indian diplomats could not have come at a better time. The Vajpayee government’s campaign against terrorism was beginning to hurt at the UN and elsewhere, but the loss of Indian credibility will give Islamabad a much-needed breather.    


 
 
RED TINGE TO MAMATA RAINBOW 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Jan. 6 
Bolstered by the decision of a Forward Bloc MLA and two Congress legislators to join the Trinamul Congress, Mamata Banerjee today revived her plans to lead a “Mahajot” (broad-based political front) against the communists in the next Assembly polls.

Mamata’s decision came after the two Congress legislators from Midnapore, Biplab Roychowdhury and Debi Shankar Panda, and Forward Bloc MLA from Cooch Behar, Soumen Das, joined her party.

This is the first time that a sitting Left Front MLA has switched over to the Trinamul Congress. Das was earlier suspended for “anti-party activities” along with Dipak Sengupta, another former Forward Bloc MLA who also switched over.

Ruling out any electoral tie-up with her parent party, an upbeat Mamata made it clear that the state Congress would have to merge with Trinamul if it wants to fight the Left Front.

She also ruled out any seat adjustment with the Congress in the coming civic elections. “We will only have talks with the BJP which happens to be our electoral ally here,” she told reporters.

Claiming that the Trinamul Congress will be the only alternative to the ruling Left Front, Mamata said, “More and more people from different parties will join us as the Assembly election draws near.”

She added that the Trinamul Congress also expects an influx of leaders from the CPM. “We are keeping our door open for all those who want an end to the Left Front rule in West Bengal,” Mamata said when asked if she expected some CPM legislators to follow suit.

Pankaj Banerjee, chairman of Trinamul’s policy-making body, said a few more Forward Bloc MLAs and some prominent leaders in Murshidabad, Howrah and Burdwan were eager to join and talks were in progress. “Some RSP legislators are also sending feelers to us and may join our party shortly,” he said.

When asked why they had opted to join the Trinamul Congress, the Forward Bloc leaders said corruption and lack of inner-party democracy were the main reasons behind their decision. “We feel Mamata Banerjee is the only leader who can be trusted,” they said.

“We have taken the decision knowing fully well Trinamul’s equation with the BJP. We will abide by whatever Mamata Banerjee decides,” said Sengupta.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 24°C (-3) Minimum: 11.4°C (-2) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 31% Today: Mainly clear sky. Not much change in night temperature. Sunrise: 6.23 am Sunset: 5.02 pm    
 

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