Holes in hijack case against Pak
Kandahar deal miffs Advani
Cong steps up test ban heat on Atal
PM sets 5-year date for polio-free India
Samata stay-away spanner in Janata family reunion
Breather for BJP in split parivar

 
 
HOLES IN HIJACK CASE AGAINST PAK 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
Home minister L.K. Advani’s could not present an airtight case against Pakistan at his press conference this evening.

With the hijackers’ names and pictures under his belt, Advani had more evidence than both Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra. But it would not have been enough to convince the world community.

Moreover, with the neighbours waging a “protracted war”, Western arbiters would not go by India’s version alone. The minister, therefore, resorted to rhetoric and Pakistan-bashing to shore up his case.

According to Advani, six “tell-tale” pointers establish the Centre’s claim that the “diabolic act” was planned by the ISI in complicity with Islamabad. They are:

A little before IC 814 took off, a Pakistan embassy car (42 CD 14) arrived at the airport. Three officials got off, and one, identified as first secretary Mohammad Arshad Cheema, walked into the departure lounge with a bag. Cheema is believed to have supplied a consignment of RDX to Khalistani terrorists, led by Lakhbir Singh, a few years ago.

This is the Indian government’s word against Pakistan. Islamabad will obviously insist that nothing of the sort happened. After all, no one had photographed the arrival of the three persons. These pointers may justify the government’s building up a case against Pakistan, but will not stand in any court of law.

After the air pirates took over the plane and announced it had been hijacked, their first directive to the pilot was to head for Lahore.

This is no secret, and Western countries have followed developments closely. But this does not by default suggest Pakistan’s complicity in the hijack. What it does indicate is that the hijackers were certain they would get more sympathy from Pakistan.

On its way to Lahore from Amritsar, chief hijacker Ibrahim Athar spoke directly to Lahore air traffic control, urging immediate refuelling of the aircraft. It was then that the Lahore ATC allowed the plane to land.

That Lahore turned down the pilot’s request to land and gave the go-ahead to the hijacker’s plea is hardly an accusation against Pakistan. If Pakistan were part of the hijack, the Lahore ATC would have given the green signal straightaway and not allowed the plane to fly back to “enemy” territory in India.

Pakistan, in fact, appears to have scored by allowing the plane to land only after a formal request from India. Advani does not mention that an Indian high commission official from Islamabad was flown in to Lahore to monitor the hijack from close quarters.

Of the 36 terrorists whose release was demanded, 33 were Pakistanis. One was from the UK but of Pakistani origin, one an Afghan and the other a Kashmiri.

This shows Pakistan’s involvement in the larger issue of export of cross-border terror. But the hijackers’ demand does not point to Pakistan’s hand in the hijack.

Pakistan has also disputed the nationality of the 33 militants who have not been freed, and said that they are Indians. Besides, Delhi has to admit that of the three men freed, at least one is an Indian.

Pakistan acknowledged in June 1996 that Masood Azhar was a citizen. Then Pakistan interior minister Maj. Gen. (retd) Nasrullah Khan Babar wrote to the Indian high commissioner seeking Azhar’s release on “humanitarian grounds”. In December 1997, the Pakistani mission in Delhi sent a formal “note verbale” to the external affairs ministry claiming that Azhar was a Pakistani and should be allowed consular access.

Pakistan has never contested Azhar’s citizenship. There can only be insinuations about Pakistan’s involvement because Azhar’s name cropped up on top of the demand list. Again, the world community needs more definite proof, which is absent in Advani’s argument.

What Advani did not touch on is how and when the “Pakistani nationals” entered India without the knowledge of intelligence agencies.

He detailed their travels through India and Nepal, but did not mention whether they flew in to India or crossed over by land with other infiltrators or whether they got visas in Pakistan. They could also have taken the Lahore-Delhi bus.

Advani’s presentation was peppered with Pakistan-bashing. He said the “enemies chose a convenient place” (Kathmandu) to initiate the hijack, and also parked it at a “favourable place” (Kandahar).

“It is clearly perceived as part of the continuing proxy war against us. It has been perceptibly intensified after the Kargil setback,” he said.

The Prime Minister had already dubbed Pakistan a “rogue” state, he said, adding that this should not be seen only in the context of cross-border terror. Other issues like drug trafficking and pumping fake currency into India should also be considered.    


 
 
KANDAHAR DEAL MIFFS ADVANI 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
Union home minister L.K. Advani is “far from happy” over the way the government has handled the hijack crisis.

Top BJP sources confirmed that despite the veneer of “unanimity” and assertions by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Advani that they did not differ on the hijack deal, the minister was peeved that he had not been “adequately consulted” in the run-up to the militants’ release.

Advani is also cut up at the manner in which Vajpayee and key aides Jaswant Singh and Brajesh Mishra took all the decisions.

“There was a clear division in the decision-making process. It was the Vajpayee-Jaswant-Mishra line-up that was apparently taking all the decisions. The home ministry seems to have come into the picture later,” a source said.

In keeping with his “hard state” image modelled after Sardar Patel, Advani was against any kind of negotiation with the hijackers, he added.

Though Vajpayee had taken a similar tough stand in the initial days of the crisis, he went on the backfoot after the terrorists raised their demands and the government was forced to reckon with them.

“The government lost the battle the day the hijackers came up with their set of impossible demands and the relatives of the hostages took their battle to the streets,” the sources said.

When the Centre began behind-the-scenes negotiations with the hijackers, Advani and a section of the RSS enlisted the support of loyalists to make a case in favour of a tough-talking state which would brook no “nonsense”, they added.

A Delhi-based industrialist, close to the RSS and BJP, even asserted on television that the government must not buckle before the hijackers and compromise national security.

Whether by design or coincidence, Advani and his family had camped at his Jhinjholi resort on Delhi’s outskirts on New Year’s eve. This resort has been the venue for BJP training camps in the past.

In his valedictory address at the Chennai national executive, Advani quoted the Kargil widows as pushing his hardline stance. He said that for them, national honour came before their husbands’ lives.

Advani’s views were echoed by RSS chief Rajendra Singh in an interview in the Sangh mouthpiece, Panchajanya. He said the release of the terrorists would “demoralise” the security forces fighting Islamic fundamentalism as they had netted the trio after a marathon effort.

In the BJP, however, the dominant view is that the government had no choice but to give in partially to the demands.

“The concept of a hard nation state cannot be realised within the framework of a democratic polity. This truth sank into us the day the hostages’ relatives went public with their grievances against the government. If the aircraft was blown up and the passengers were killed, what face would the government have had? Our allies would have withdrawn support,” said a senior BJP office-bearer.    


 
 
CONG STEPS UP TEST BAN HEAT ON ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
A majority of the Congress Working Committee members are opposed to India signing the comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The CWC met today for two hours and also passed a resolution expressing its concern at what it described as “inept handling” of the hijacking crisis.

On CTBT, the CWC asked the government to state its position on the nuclear issue. CWC members Pranab Mukherjee, Natwar Singh, Madhavrao Scindia and Arjun Singh wondered at the logic of signing the treaty pointing at the US Senate’s rejection of the CTBT. “We have to see what is the future of the treaty if the US is not part of it. It has 48 per cent nuclear weapons and of 2,047 N-tests conducted so far, the US has tested 1,037 times,” Mukherjee pointed out.

The members also wondered why the Vajpayee government was hastening the process of signing the treaty.

The CWC deliberated over CTBT in response to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. On December 17, Vajpayee had invited Sonia, Mukherjee, Scindia, Natwar and Manmohan Singh as part of the government’s efforts to arrive at a consensus on the issue.

The Congress feedback was that the government was keen on signing the treaty to improve its ties with the Clinton administration. The Congress, senior party leaders said, did not want to be a party to it. It wanted the CTBT issue to be linked with nuclear disarmament. CWC members felt that the party should back the Vajpayee government if it was ready to include Rajiv Gandhi Action plan on Disarmament 1988, as part of its disarmament campaign.

Mukherjee said the CWC discussed all aspects of the treaty including its effectiveness. Vajpayee had emphasised on two aspects in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 24, 1998 and Lok Sabha on December 15, 1998, he said. He had said the Indian response would depend upon the negotiations with key interlocutors and signing of the treaty by all without conditions,” Mukherjee said.

“After the US Senate’s rejections, the implications are clear. If the Senate does not ratify, the US cannot be a party to it,” he added.

The Congress resolution on the hijacking squarely blamed the Vajpayee government.    


 
 
PM SETS 5-YEAR DATE FOR POLIO-FREE INDIA 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
Former Norwegian Prime Minister and present director-general of the World Health Organisation, Gro Harlem Brundtland, today extracted a promise from Atal Behari Vajpayee that all will be done to stamp out polio by 2005, the WHO deadline.

Money is not a problem. The WHO, along with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, has already been able to generate around $ 700 million for polio eradication projects over the next five years.

They need another $ 300 million, which they are certain of getting from donors like Rotary International.

The major impediment is political will and the fear that the virus will return to countries certified polio-free.

For example, while Bangladesh successfully fought the war against polio, the virus resurfaced in neighbouring Myanmar from where it had disappeared long ago.

India was praised for the major success achieved during its highly-publicised pulse polio campaign, but WHO specialists pointed out that a lot more needed to be done.

Nearly 70 per cent of cases in the world are still reported from India alone. Together, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh account for a large chunk of polio cases.

Brundtland today launched the “Final Push for Polio” at Teen Murti auditorium today. Strangely, Union health minister N.T. Shanmugam stayed away from the launch and, even stranger, despatched not the health secretary but the family welfare secretary to stand in for him on the dais.

No wonder the WHO specialists are worried about the “final push” in India. Since the polio virus has resurfaced in Myanmar and Iran, it is believed that unless it is wiped out from the face of the earth, strains of the virus would keep resurfacing here and there.

It is now believed that polio has been completely eradicated in the Americas, Europe, countries of the Western Pacific and much of West Asia.

WHO said that in violence-ridden Africa, the organisation achieved the impossible when groups waging a civil war called a ceasefire to enable the administration of polio vaccine to children.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan had flown in to Africa to convince the faction leaders that they should not deprive their children of a healthy life. The breather allowed health personnel to move in.

In India, 4,320 cases were registered in 1998. Till December 4, 1999, the recorded number of cases are stated to be only 2,017.

Though the overall figure is on the decline, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar continue to report a large number of polio cases.

Other high-risk states are Gujrat, West Bengal, Orissa, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. In fact, no other place in the world but northern India has all three types of the polio virus.    


 
 
SAMATA STAY-AWAY SPANNER IN JANATA FAMILY REUNION 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
The much-trumpeted reunification of the Janata Dal (United), Lok Shakti and the Samata Party failed to take off today as Samata Party boycotted the merger conference.

The dominant Samata stayed away as JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav refused to let George Fernandes take over as president of the unified party. Samata leader Nitish Kumar, who was earlier in Yadav’s camp, endorsed the party’s decision against the merger.

However, a partial unification was effected when Ramakrishna Hegde’s Lok Shakti adopted a resolution ratifying unification with the JD(U) and supported Yadav’s continuation as chief.

Hegde, who was itching to settle scores with Fernandes for manipulating his exclusion from the Union Cabinet, said: “Today, all of a sudden our Samata friends took a decision to merge only if Fernandes was made president of the new party. Where are their socialist ideals now? Just for a post they do such a thing.”

Jeopardising unity among the anti-Laloo forces in Bihar, the Samata has decided to contest the Assembly polls on its own symbol — a flaming torch. Squarely blaming the JD(U) leadership for aborting the reunification, Samata general secretary Jaya Jaitely said her party was not for confrontation and that both parties could work together for seat adjustments. “We are prepared to cooperate in Bihar, but it is up to them,” she said.

Downplaying the fallout of the failure to unify, Fernandes said his party wanted to maintain its separate identity and fight the elections.

He said the merger experiment had failed in Karnataka as the JD(U) could not get more than three Lok Sabha seats. Yadav criticised the Samata for its “somersault”, saying he did not think it fit to comment on the party’s resolution. Ram Vilas Paswan, known to be soft on Fernandes, however, appealed to the “Samata friends” to reconsider their decision as only a united party could effectively fight “Laloo jungle raj”.

Mutual suspicion, control over ticket distribution for the Assembly elections and a say in the selection of chief minister in case the JD(U)-Samata combine secured majority appear to be the factors that have forced the Samata to maintain its separate identity. Till yesterday, though, the party had said it was in favour of reunification.

JD(U) leaders like Paswan are, however, still hopeful of roping in the Samata.

The JD(U) was hurriedly cobbled together with these parties before the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Though they did not merge officially, all three parties contested under the banner of JD(U) and the symbol “arrow” temporarily allotted to it. The move did not go down well in Karnataka where the new party came a cropper, while in Bihar it achieved limited success. The JD(U) bagged 20 seats in Bihar (Samata 12, Janata Dal 8). In Karnataka the combine won only three.    


 
 
BREATHER FOR BJP IN SPLIT PARIVAR 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6 
The BJP viewed the failure of the Janata Dal (United) to merge with the Samata Party and Lok Shakti as a “mixed bag” and claimed it would not affect the party’s prospects in the Bihar Assembly polls.

But today’s development was also a “blessing in disguise”, said a BJP leader dealing with Bihar. It would defer the issue of projecting a chief minister of the combine and increase the BJP’s bargaining capacity, he added.

“It is not a worrisome development. There are several claimants for the chief minister’s post, so the issue will be deferred until after the polls. Secondly, no one constituent wants to leave ticket distribution and seat adjustment to its rival group, so it makes our job easier,” the leader added.

BJP sources said it was “easier” for it to have an upper hand while tackling smaller parties, instead of a large block which could have emerged had the JD(U) and Samata coalesced.

The BJP added, with a sense of satisfaction, that its two allies are divided along caste and personality lines within themselves. “There is palpable acrimony between Ram Vilas Paswan of the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar of the Samata. But within the JD(U), too, Paswan has his own following and Sharad Yadav his. In Samata, Nitish will not take orders from George Fernandes. So, in effect, we will have to deal with four separate identities,” sources said.

In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the JD(U)-Samata combine had got 23.4 per cent votes, while the BJP had 22 per cent. But the JD(U)-Samata combine had hoped to use the 1.4 per cent difference to extract more seats from the BJP, although the latter had already positioned itself as the “senior” partner. With the JD(U) and Samata likely to fight the polls as two parties, the BJP is optimistic it would be able to reassert its supremacy.

On the flipside, BJP sources said the non-merger may help revive Laloo Prasad Yadav’s fortunes. “The message sent out will be that our allies keep squabbling all the time, and our plans to have a grand anti-Laloo front have not taken off. Although we hope to have a near-perfect seat adjustment, this negative perception will stick in the minds of voters,” sources admitted.

Despite the failure of the Bihar People’s Party led by former MP Anand Mohan Singh to open its account in the last Lok Sabha polls, the BJP would like to rope him in as an ally in the Assembly polls. “Anand Mohan has a standing among Thakurs all over the state who outnumber the Bhumihars,” sources said.

The BJP will hold its first meeting with Bihar leaders on January 8 in Delhi.    

 

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