Vajpayee tastes Clinton agenda
Punjab in sneak Bangla pushback
Divide-and-defend ploy in Kashmir counter-strike
Reform showdown in power struggle
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Jan. 18 
US treasury secretary Lawrence Summers today held a series of meetings with Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, as part of Washington’s efforts to work out a comprehensive package to be signed during President Bill Clinton’s proposed visit in March.

Summers handed over a letter from Clinton to Vajpayee. ‘‘I carry a letter from the President making clear how much he is looking forward to visiting India and also making clear that the set of issues around economic potential was important to him,’’ he told reporters. The treasury secretary also met his Indian counterpart Yashwant Sinha.

Summers’ visit coincides with foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s meeting with US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott in London on nuclear non-proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Though Washington says Clinton’s trip is not linked to Delhi’s signature on the test ban pact, US officials believe it can make the difference between ‘‘a good visit and a great one’’.

Asked whether it was unusual for the US President to visit a country on which it has imposed sanctions, Summers said: ‘‘Washington has friendly relations with India and desires to have close relationship in the years ahead. If the President visits India, he will be looking forward rather than backwards.’’

The treasury secretary’s meeting with Vajpayee focused on three issues — outcome of the Seattle trade talks, areas of economic and business cooperation between the two countries and Clinton’s proposed visit.

Apart from trying to enlist India’s support in resolving disputes between the rich and poor nations, Summers sought details of the second wave of reforms, particularly in banking and insurance.

On the World Trade Organisation, India and the US have agreed on all major issues, barring one. Delhi stuck to its stand that trade cannot be linked to labour standards and the environment. But the two countries agreed on what the millennium round agenda should be on issues like agriculture, e-commerce and industrial tariffs.

Summers, who will leave for Japan to attend the Group of Eight finance ministers’ meeting, is also trying to look for areas in India where American companies can invest. But for this, Washington needs an assurance that Delhi will go ahead with reforms in the banking sector and take steps to bring down the ballooning fiscal deficit.

Summers’ trip is part of a series of visits to the country by senior US officials and Senators in the past few weeks, indicating that Washington is keen to pave the way for Clinton’s tour which will trigger ‘‘qualitatively different and meaningful’’ relations between the two nations.

In London, Singh began his two-day talks with Talbott to finalise the discussions they have been having for over a year on non-proliferation and the test ban treaty. The BJP government believes that by initialling the pact, India will gain considerably — it will not only cement relations with the US, but also win the confidence of other global powers.

The Centre has kicked off its campaign to build a consensus on signing the treaty. The government has held discussions with the Congress and has lined up meetings with other Opposition parties to enlist their support.

A section of the government feels India should sign the pact now without ratifying it. Last year, in a blow to Clinton, the US Senate voted against ratifying the treaty.    

Calcutta, Jan. 18 
Keeping the West Bengal government in the dark, a team of Punjab police officers arrived in the city early today with four alleged Bangladeshis and took a train to the Petropol border to deport them.

This is the second time that officials from other states have done so without informing Bengal authorities. Last year, Mumbai policemen were assaulted by Uluberia residents while they were on way to Howrah with “Bangladeshis”.

Wielding AK-47s, five Punjab police officers held on to the iron chains tied around the hands of the Bangladeshi men at Sealdah station. The officers said they had no intention to inform their Bengal counterparts of their mission.

‘‘We have been asked by our superiors not to take the help of the West Bengal police. We are aware of the route and our orders are to push them back to Bangladesh,’’ said P. Singh, one of the officers.

The state government’s response was muted in the absence of deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who is out of the country. Bhattacharya had led the chorus of opposition against the Maharashtra government move last year.

Director-general of police Deepak Sanyal said he was not aware of the arrival of the Punjab team. But deputy inspector-general (railways) S.R. Das was miffed with his officers for failing to act despite seeing the chained Bangladeshis being taken away. ‘‘I have asked the superintendent of railway police to inquire into the incident,’’ Das said.

Officials from the intelligence bureau and the special branch visited Sealdah station tonight and questioned government railway police employees.

The team from Punjab reached Howrah by the Amritsar Mail this morning. ‘‘We kept the Bangladeshis chained throughout the journey to ensure they did not escape,’’ Singh said. The Bangladeshis were picked up from a Amritsar village a fortnight ago and lodged in Amritsar central jail.

From Howrah, the policemen, along with the chained captives, took a bus for Sealdah and got down in front of Jagat cinema from where they walked to the station. They waited in front of the guards’ restroom on Platform 1 and after an hour, boarded the Kalyani Seemanta local from Platform 2.

S. Chatterjee, DIG (crime) of Punjab police, said militants recruit Bangladeshis for carrying weapons and ferrying information. ‘‘They are either employed as rickshawpullers or land labourers. But investigations have revealed that this is a cover for they are actually on the payroll of terrorists,’’ Chatterjee said over telephone from Chandigarh.

‘‘They don’t have travel documents and sneak into Punjab either through the Pakistan border or travel from West Bengal,’’ Chatterjee added.    

New Delhi, Jan. 18 
The division of Jammu and Kashmir into 49 sectors for launching counter-insurgency operations will be the key to the Centre’s “pro-active” approach to Pakistan-backed terrorism, home ministry officials said.

A day after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held a meeting to review the security situation in the state, home ministry officials said the corner-stone of the fresh “offensive strategy” is the sector-wise division of the state under the control of the various security forces, including the army, paramilitary forces and the state police. The meeting was attended by home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes and chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

“A great deal of thinking has gone into chalking out the new strategy and result-bearing tactics have been adopted,” said a senior official.

The plan is that since 800 to 900 groups of terrorists, numbering around 3,000, are believed to be operating in the state, the security forces, too, would break up into groups to take on the militants.

Home ministry officials explained that this strategy would allow the security forces make more headway in areas with a concentration of terrorists.

“Such tactics will be adopted with the objective of taking the fight to the militants. Instead of the mercenaries striking first, it will be the security forces who will hit the militants in surprise attacks,” a source said.

The other advantage of “spreading out” and, at the same time, concentrating troops along the LoC, the international border and “depth areas” would be to dominate areas under the control of militants.

Once an offensive is launched, it will continue for weeks on end. There may be excesses, which “people have to bear with” if quick results are what political leaders want, an official said.

Each sector will be under the command of an officer of the level of brigadier or deputy inspector-general who will be responsible for any blunder.

The officers will have to be alert and the Unified Headquarters in Srinagar — as well the proposed one for areas north of Zoji La — be ready for any surprise terrorist attack on camps and other security establishments.

The commanding officers of the army, paramilitary forces and state police will have to interact among each other “more intensely” for accurate iontelligence. Heads of security forces and intelligence agencies have been told that sharing of information will be at every level and not on a case-to-case basis.

To make the task easier for the intelligence agencies and sector commanders, the government has promised state-of-the-art communications systems and faster modes of transport soon.

The sector headquarters, depending on which organisation — army, BSF, CRPF or police — has its presence in the area, will be linked through modern equipment like ultra-high frequency communication sets.

Home ministry officials expect the strategy to yield “positive” results within a month after it is set in motion.    

Jan 18 
In what is fast turning out to be the biggest face-off between the government and labour over the process of reforms, the Uttar Pradesh government has dismissed 65 engineers, arrested over 3,500 employees and called in army engineers to run vital power generating stations in an attempt to clamp down on the protests against the trifurcation of the state electricity board.

The controversy over the power sector reforms, however, snowballed with the employees of seven electricity boards — Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir — tonight resorting to a work-to-rule till January 21 in solidarity with their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh. If the issue is not resolved in the next three days, they have threatened to go on an indefinite strike.

Sticking to its hardline stance, the Uttar Pradesh government has set a deadline for 10 am tomorrow by when the striking employees must rejoin work. The government has threatened more dismissals and plans fresh recruitments if the striking employees do not back down.

State power minister Naresh Agarwal said: “Those who do not report for work by tomorrow morning will be subsequently dismissed from service. We have also started the process of new recruitments and this will be completed over the next few days”.

The crisis deepened with striking UPSEB employees refusing to attend work by 10 am tomorrow. Chairman of UPSEB “sangharsh samiti”, spearheading the agitation, Shailendra Dubey said “there was no question of having any further negitiations with the government”.

UPSEB employees today refused to meet Union power minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam. Dubey said: “We were not invited for talks. In any case there is no point as the government is continously issuing threats and sacking engineers. We are not afraid of any such threats”

Kumaramangalam told reporters in Lucknow that the state’s decision to restructure the heavily loss-making electricity board was in accordance with the decision arrived at a conference of state chief ministers in 1996. He said the Centre would give all possible support to the state to improve the efficiency of its power sector.

Army engineers from Bareilly, Meerut, Jhansi and Allahabad along with other personnel were rushed to power installations in the state at the request of the Uttar Pradesh government. The state government spokesman said one of the two units of Anpara power project had already been made functional and Hardurganj and Obra projects operations were also likely to be restored shortly.

The action committee of striking employes said 10,000 of them had courted arrest and power supply to 50 of the 55 districts in the state had been badly hit.    

Temperature: Maximum: 23.9°C (-3) Minimum: 12.2°C (-2) RAINFALL: Nil Relative humidity: Maximum: 83%, Minimum: 32% Today: Clear night. Sunny day. Minimum temperature expected to be 11° C Sunset: 5.09 pm Sunrise: 6.25 am    

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