Delhi slaps hijack summons on Pak
Bengal gateway to air strike
Push for CPM update glasnost
Little heroes in freedom flight
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 15 
India today demanded that Pakistan hand over the five Airbus hijackers and take immediate steps to stop anti-India propaganda by released terrorist Masood Azhar and militant groups operating from its soil.

The tough stance, aimed at audiences at home and abroad, coincides with US and British representatives urging Pervez Musharraf during private conversations to curb militant groups based in Pakistan.

As a first step in this direction, the army chief has been asked to ban Harkat-ul Ansar and disband the organisation, believed to be behind the hijacking.

Foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh summoned Pakistani high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi this afternoon to South Block and made it clear that “India reserved the right to take further measures as appropriate” if Pakistan failed to act according to the international and regional conventions it had signed.

The three treaties being cited by Delhi are the Montreal Convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against safety of civil aviation, 1971; the Hague Convention for the suppression of unlawful seizure of aircraft, 1970; and the Saarc regional convention on suppression of terrorism. Pakistan is a signatory to all three.

According to the first two pacts, Islamabad can prosecute the hijackers — if and when they are arrested — or extradite them to India. But Delhi has made it clear that it wants the culprits and their accomplices to be handed over.

This is the first time since the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft that Delhi has decided to formally lodge a protest with Islamabad and remind it of its international obligations.

However, no demand has been made for extradition of the three released militants. The reason could be that Delhi is not yet sure whether the trio could be called “accomplices” of the hijackers.

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: “The Pakistani high commissioner was also told that the terrorists, whose release was secured by the hijackers by threatening the lives of the hostages and killing one of them, have since made their appearance in Pakistan.”

“As a large number of the terrorists whose release was sought are Pakistani nationals and as the first destination chosen by the hijackers was Lahore, there is strong ground to believe that the hijackers are currently in Pakistan,” the spokesman said.

Jassal added that Islamabad was also asked to co-operate with criminal proceedings against the five and give the International Civil Aviation Organisation all information in its possession regarding the hijack.

Agency reports from Islamabad indicated that a group of US senators and the British chief of defence staff, Charles Guthrie, who held separate meetings with Musharraf, told him in no uncertain terms that Pakistan should immediately crack down on militants and disband groups operating from its territory.

“I stressed the need for Pakistan to join in international efforts to eradicate international terrorism in all its forms,” Guthrie told reporters after his meeting, adds PTI. “It is now up to Gen. Musharraf to convince us that he is taking steps in the right direction.”

Musharraf was asked to sign the CTBT and improve relations with India as well if the army regime was to gain international acceptability.

Terrorism and the hijack are also going to be the main issues in foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s talks with his British counterpart Robin Cook in London.

Singh is scheduled to meet US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott between January 18 and 19. Though the thrust will be on the CTBT, the hijack and Pakistan’s complicity in it are likely to come up, too.

Today’s demand appears to have been necessitated in part by the criticism faced by the government for releasing the terrorists. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP’s own hardliners were upset over the decision, which they believed tarnished the party’s “tough” image.

The government is now trying to assure the critics that it is not sitting idle but doing its best to bring the hijackers to book.

The firm stance is also meant to prepare the world for the course of action Delhi might take in future dealings with Islamabad.

Few in South Block believe that Pakistan will hand over the hijackers even if they are found on its territory.

Islamabad has rejected India’s charge of having a role in the hijack, and said if and when the culprits were arrested they would be dealt with as per the international conventions it had signed.

If Pakistan continues harping on this line, India may either take the drastic step of recalling its high commissioner, leaving a junior diplomat to head the mission, or it may continue to garner support from other countries to put pressure on Pakistan.    

New Delhi, Jan. 15 
Four of the five hijackers had entered India via Bangladesh and reached Mumbai after passing through two districts in West Bengal on the border with the eastern neighbour.

This Union home ministry has repeatedly warned the West Bengal police and intelligence on increasing ISI activity in the state and asked them to plug security loopholes along the 2,200-km border with Bangladesh.

Top sources in one of the security agencies said investigators have traced the route followed by the sky terrorists after ‘‘intense’’ interrogation of the four ISI agents arrested in Mumbai on the night of December 29 — while negotiations were on at Kandahar.

The ISI operatives, who provided logistical and ground support to the hijackers, have been identified as Mohammad Rehan, Mohammad Iqbal (both Pakistani nationals), Yusuf Nepali, a Nepalese, and Abdul Latif who held a Pakistani as well as an Indian passport.

The sources said four hijackers entered Bengal in two batches around mid-October. While one group, comprising Shahid Akhtar Sayed and Sunny Ahmad Qazi, sneaked into Malda from Rajshahi, the other party of Mistri Zahur Ibrahim and Shaqir crossed over from Dinajpur in Bangladesh and travelled to Siliguri.

Both groups entered India on separate dates. Bangladeshi guides helped them cross over.

The two parties boarded separate trains — which followed common routes — from Malda and Siliguri. The trains passed through Patna and Varanasi before reaching Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus.

In Mumbai, the four hijackers holed up in Flat 707 of Golden Soil Colony, a multi-storeyed housing society in Jogeshwari West. The apartment was taken on rent by the hijackers’ associates who had also obtained fake Indian passports for them. The Pakistani passports on the hijackers were destroyed.

That the hijackers crossed over from Bangladesh and made their way to Malda and Siliguri, both believed to be hotbeds of ISI activity, is the missing link in the series of evidence made public by home minister L.K. Advani earlier this month.

During interrogation, the ISI agents revealed that the gang leader, Ibrahim Athar, flew into Kathmandu from Karachi at least a month before the Christmas-eve hijack. Athar, the younger brother of released militant Masood Azhar, was referred to as ‘‘Chief’’.

Advani had said that Latif, the ‘‘principal accomplice’’, had flown with Athar to Calcutta on November 1 from where they took a train to New Jalpaiguri and then a bus to Kathmandu. However, the ISI operatives revealed that it was not Athar but Sayed and Qazi who accompanied Latif on November 1.

The operative returned to Mumbai. On December 1, Latif, along with the two other terrorists, took a train to Gorakhpur, close to the Uttar Pradesh-Nepal border, from where they boarded a bus for Kathmandu. The weapons which the hijackers brandished in Kandahar were procured in Nepal.    

Calcutta, Jan. 15 
The CPM politburo today finalised the draft report on modernising the party programme after taking into account a host of amendments during a marathon debate.

Senior politburo member and chief minister Jyoti Basu said the draft report, along with all the amendments, would be sent to the central committee for its approval.

“Our job to initiate the process of updating the programme has been done. Now a fuller debate on it will take place,” Basu told The Telegraph tonight.

The chief minister, recuperating from a severe cold, was present throughout the meeting which lasted for hours. “It took a longer time to incorporate the amendments suggested by key members,” he said.

Basu added that the central committee would review the amendments and send them to different party fora, including all district-level units across the country, for a fuller debate.

“The updated programme will be drawn up only after going through queries from the local units. Ours is a democratic party and each of its member has a right to give the verdict on the programme,” Basu said.

The CPM’s participation in a Central government, which triggered a debate in the party in 1996, also figured at the meeting.

Basu, who had described the party decision to stay out as a “historic blunder”, was vindicated today as the apex body accepted the position that the CPM should be prepared to lead or participate in a government in Delhi if the opportunity arose again.

“We made a historic blunder by not joining the government in 1996. Marxism is a science to be applied according to experiences,” Basu asserted.

The moderates in the party, planning a larger assault on Stalinist orthodoxy, are firming up a campaign to ensure people’s participation in the update.

Dissident leader Subhas Chakraborty is scheduled to meet general secretary H.K.S Surjeet tomorrow — the concluding day of the politburo — to demand a “people’s dictatorship”. Chakraborty is expected to urge Surjeet to make the update draft public and seek the people’s opinion.

Basu wants party hardliners like Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat to talk to the rebels. He is believed to have expressed frustration that neither the hardliners nor the moderates in the state are willing to modify their stands.

But CPM sources hinted that Karat and Yechury are unwilling to meet the rebels on the ground that it will encourage others to stray from the party line and speak out.

The politburo did not discuss dissidence today but focused on international affairs.    

McLeodgunj, Jan. 15 
Lobsiang Dhondup can never forget those 36 nights. On a cold January night in 1993, Lobsiang, then 11, was woken up by his mother, given some bread and tsampa (roasted barley) and told that he was going to India.

‘‘That was the last time I met my parents,’’ says Lobsiang, who was part of a group of children who slept during the day and trekked at night across the Himalayas on their month-long odyssey to freedom.

Lobsiang is one of 2,500 little heroes at the Tibetan Children’s Village, which takes care of kids who have fled their homeland to avoid cultural and educational indoctrination by the Chinese.

As reports of the 14-year-old Karmapa’s “awesome” flight to India hog the headlines, the centre continues to receive children — some of whom are less than 10 — who have walked across rugged, icy terrain for over a month. Almost all of them are malnourished and covered with frost-bites.

The village comprises four schools and 41 homes. Each of these has surrogate parents who look after 40-50 children. Lobsiang stayed with Phutsong Namgyal and his wife at the Tibetan Children’s Home.

Even after seven years, Lobsiang shudders as he retraces his flight. After leaving his Lhasa home — not far from Tsurphu monastery from where the Karmapa escaped — with a ‘‘distant uncle’’, he was taken to a house in a small village 50 km away.

‘‘The next morning, I found there were 26 of us, including six girls,’’ says Lobsiang. The children slept during the day and walked at night through the snow-capped mountains. ‘‘Many of us fell and had several bruises and cuts. But we went on.’’

The group reached the Nepal border after 26 days. The children stayed at the Tibetan refugee centre for four days after which the were packed into a bus for Delhi.

By the time he reached McLeodgunj, Lobsiang was suffering from severe frost-bites and barely managed to limp to the children’s village. Another boy, Lipsang Tsering, had a broken leg.

Rhema Lobsong arrived at the village last October, breathless, racked with frost-bites and crying for her mother. She is only nine.

Rhesang Namgyal travelled to India in 1998, but in his mother’s womb. Afraid that the Chinese wouldn’t allow the child to leave Tibet, his mother, in an advanced stage of pregnancy, trekked for 40 days. Rhesang was born a week after she reached the children’s village. Two months later, she left her baby in McLeodgunj and returned to Tibet, lest the Chinese got suspicious.

Says Nawang Dorjee, education director of the children’s village and considered a father-figure: ‘‘Many children came here with the exodus of 1959. The village was set up by the Dalai Lama’s sister, Tsering Dolma Thakla. After 1984, the exodus increased as the Chinese banned all Tibetans above 18 from going out of the country.’’

The centre has 17 branches, mainly in Himachal Pradesh and a few in south India. Last year alone, 631 children arrived at the village.

Most of these kids never go home. They are in touch with their parents through letters but are careful not to criticise the Chinese or write anything about the political condition.

‘‘We cannot even praise the Dalai Lama because if the Chinese get the letter, our parents will be tortured,’’ says Lobsiang.

Once they leave the village after writing their exams — the village is affiliated to the CBSE, Delhi — the children join the mainstream. After getting their professional degrees, most come back to join the staff at the village where they grew up.    

Today’s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Slight fall in night temperature.
Max. temperature: 28.3°C (1° above normal)<./DT> Min. temperature: 17.8°C (4° above normal)<./DT> Maximum humidity: 93%<./DT> Minimum humidity: 45%<./DT> Rainfall: Nil<./DT> Sunset: 5.07 pm<./DT> Sunrise: 6.25 am<./DT>    

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