Pervez springs talks on Atal
Kargil SOS to President
Clash over Dunlop reopen delay
UP pack-up advice to Deepa
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Feb. 7 
Scaling down his aggressive postures, Pakistan’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf today offered to meet and hold direct talks with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to thrash out all disputes, including Kashmir.

‘‘We should meet.... I would certainly like to meet him (Vajpayee),’’ Musharraf said in an interview to Doordarshan at the Army House in Rawalpindi. But he kept his country’s nuclear options open to safeguard ‘‘national integrity’’.

Kargil-bitten India appeared sceptical about the general’s overtures and decided to analyse the tenor of his speech before offering a reaction. Indications are that Delhi will insist on Islamabad creating the ‘‘right atmosphere’’ by stopping terror export to Kashmir before it agrees to sit across the negotiations table.

Offering to resume the dialogue stalled since the Kargil intrusions, Musharraf said: ‘‘We ought to break the logjam, reduce tension which can be done only through a discussion, cut hysterics against each other and address issues of major concern.’’

He told Doordarshan that both sides should ‘‘take steps together’’ to de-escalate tension in the subcontinent, which US President Bill Clinton has described as the ‘‘most dangerous place in the world’’ because of the Kashmir standoff.

Asked why then was Pakistan not agreeing to accept India’s offer of a no-first-use of nuclear weapons pact, Musharraf added: ‘‘I have said very clearly that nuclear power should not be used.’’ At the same time, he clarified, Islamabad will keep its nuclear options open. ‘‘When our national integrity is threatened, then we will take a decision at that time.’’

Desperate for international recognition since it captured power after overthrowing the civilian government, the military regime is in a hurry to earn diplomatic points, especially to convince Clinton to put Islamabad on his itinerary when he visits South Asia next month.

But by keeping alive the sceptre of a nuclear flashpoint, Musharraf is trying to send a signal to the global powers that they should prod India into reviving the talks.

Musharraf’s climbdown comes two days after he said Kashmir was the ‘‘only dispute’’ and urged the international community to distinguish between ‘‘terrorism and freedom struggle’’.

Vajpayee had returned the fire yesterday, saying India reserved the right to use nuclear weapons if provoked.

Amid the verbal volleys, the government’s decision to telecast the interview on its national channel has triggered speculation on the reasons behind the move. One section feels that it is Delhi’s way of saying it is no less reasonable than the Pakistan ruler.

Another group believes that by airing the interview, the government was trying to prepare the domestic audience for resuming talks with Pakistan.

Musharraf admitted that Pakistanis were crossing into Jammu and Kashmir but denied his administration’s hand. ‘‘There are people who are joining the freedom struggle there, going through the LoC which is very porous but the government is not involved,’’ he said.

During the interview, Musharraf tries to come across as a reasonable person. He shifted the blame on Delhi for the face-off between the nuclear twins. The military ruler said while there were ‘‘no chances’’ of a war, ‘‘there can be chances’’ if India continued to escalate tension along the LoC.    

New Delhi, Feb. 7 
Brigadier Surinder Singh, who was in charge of the Kargil sector when the intrusions occurred, has taken his case to the President and accused army chief Gen. Ved Prakash Malik of trying to buy his silence.

Brig. Singh levelled the allegation in a letter to President K. R. Narayanan, also the supreme commander of the armed forces, while seeking an appointment with him. The “prayer for interview”, however, was not granted.

In the letter, Brig. Singh, who was commander of the 121 (Independent) Infantry when the Pakistanis captured the heights, said: “... I did not succumb to various offers made to me by chief of army staff in regard to assurance of safety of my career but wanted me to keep quiet (on the Kargil intrusion).”

An earlier letter from Brig. Singh to Gen. Malik had brought to focus how, long before the war broke out, he had repeatedly warned the army chief as well as the service headquarters of a possible intrusion by Pakistani soldiers and had sought sophisticated equipment to monitor the activities across and on the Indian side of the Line of Control.

The army has proceeded with a court of inquiry against Brig. Singh to probe charges of dereliction of duty and leaking classified documents to the press.

In the letter to the President, Brig. Singh has charged the army top brass with trying to frame him to protect senior officers who did little to gather intelligence on the intrusion, detected last May, and failed to warn the government.

A copy of the letter, which Brig. Singh wrote to the President on November 1, 1999, on his official letter-head from the headquarters of the 23 Infantry Division, is with The Telegraph. Brig. Singh is now deputy general-officer-commanding, 23 Infantry Division.

Admitting that his decision to write to “His Excellency” was an “extraordinary approach”, Brig. Singh said the “prayer is on account of highly illegal onslaught by army authorities against me through the media by spreading untrue facts and disinformation. I am adopting the present approach as I cannot see any in-house, independent mode left with me”.

He has pointed out to Narayanan that his “appreciation of enhanced threat perception was not agreed to by the army chief” and he was “termed an alarmist”.

The letter says he “fears for his life and liberty”. “I am being threatened and abused by the officers conducting the inquiries (one by a Brigadier in Leh and the other the court of inquiry) to keep me quiet and to save the senior officers from their failures.”

Brig. Singh has described the course of events starting from Gen. Malik calling him over to Delhi even when the Kargil war was on. “He (Gen. Malik) called me to Delhi but did not see me for six days. On his asking, I gave in writing to the army chief the reasons for seeking interview and attached all the correspondence showing my appreciation of the situation.”

After being posted in quick succession at Secunderabad and Ranchi, Brig. Singh said he was “told to terminate leave and report for inquiry at Leh. Reaching Leh, I found that GOC, 3 Infantry Division (Major General V.S. Budhwar, Brig Singh’s immediate superior at Kargil), against whom I had grievances, had ordered (an) inquiry headed by a brigadier serving under him as his deputy. This is in regard to the leakage of information to the press”.

Brig. Singh referred to the case of Maj. Gen. Budhwar who gave an interview to a magazine in September 1999. “Though I am being questioned for leakage of information, which I have not, Maj. Gen. Budhwar” has done so.

He has sought the President’s “indulgence either to stop them (senior army officers) from going to the press or permit me to rebut what all falsehood is being spread against me. If Maj. Gen. Budhwar and other authorities have been permitted by the Central government, then the same indulgence need be shown to me.”

Daring the Centre to institute an “independent judicial inquiry by a serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court”, he wrote: “Suffice it to say that no fair inquiry or appraisal is possible at the army or government levels.”    

Sahagunj, Feb. 7 
Tension ran high as Citu and Intuc workers clashed outside Dunlop’s Sahagunj factory this morning, a day after the management decided not to reopen the unit.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu said Citu would not stand in the way of reopening of the unit. The management had announced yesterday that it would keep the shutters down till the Citu-run union pledged cooperation in writing.

Unaware of the last-minute change in plans, workers poured in from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh expecting to start work today. About a hundred workers, who had returned home after the unit closed two years ago, arrived only to be disappointed.

Intuc members today blocked traffic on G.T. Road and the Howrah-Bandel and Howrah-Burdwan sections.

The situation was tense from early morning when workers from both unions gathered in front of the factory gate. As soon as Citu members began to march to the district magistrate’s office to complain that the management was resorting to “provocative measures” and “seeking to make us a scapegoat”, Intuc members shouted at them and threw stones.    

Varanasi and Lucknow, Feb. 7 
As Water protesters stepped up their leave-or-we-die campaign, forcing the Varanasi administration to ban its shoot till February 22, Uttar Pradesh chief minister R.P. Gupta advised Deepa Mehta’s unit to ‘‘pack their bags’’ and clear out of the city.

‘‘It will be a blunder to give permission to shoot the film. Resentment against the film is widespread and we cannot afford to take a risk,’’ Gupta said at a news conference in Lucknow.

A legal twist has been added to the standoff with a Varanasi resident, Prabhat Kumar Singh, filing a petition in a local court accusing Mehta of “denigrating Hinduism’’. The court has asked the filmmaker to appear on Friday.

District magistrate Alok Kumar clamped the 14-day ban after a group of Shiv Sainiks threatened to immolate themselves if the film’s crew and cast did not leave immediately. Kumar added that the decision would be reviewed in the next fortnight ‘‘taking into account the law and order situation’’.

Gupta, however, sent out the signal that the government would like the film team to leave as soon as possible. ‘‘Let her go anywhere in the country and shoot. But she cannot shoot in Varanasi,’’ he said. Pointed out that the Centre had cleared the script, he added: ‘‘We are not saying it is offensive. We are only concerned about the protests.’’

The chief minister said the district magistrate should have imposed the ban earlier as it would have prevented Sainik Arun Pathak from attempting suicide by jumping into the Ganga yesterday.

Kumar was forced to clamp the order today after a group of 11 Sainiks made a dash for the Clarkes Tower hotel, where the film team has put up, and threatened to set themselves on fire.

Some of the protesters had even taken off their shirts when a shaken police force succeeded in bundling them into a waiting van.

The Sainiks warned the administration that it would be its responsibility to maintain law and order which, they said, would ‘‘definitely deteriorate’’ if the film was allowed to progress.

‘‘We will not allow Mehta to make money by selling culture,’’ said a protester.

Unwilling to take a chance on the eve of the Varanasi bandh called by the hardliners, the police intensified its crackdown. At least 200 demonstrators were taken into custody for damaging government vehicles and trying to storm the residence of K.K. Pandey where Mehta has set up an indoor set.

Stung by the ban order, the restive cast walked in a silent procession to the district magistrate’s office, waving leaflets on the Death of Truth authored by Mehta and actresses Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das.

Shabana, the first to talk to Kumar, said: ‘‘One step has pushed back Varanasi’s culture by a hundred paces.’’ Alleging that the administration had surrendered to a ‘‘handful of goondas’’, she demanded that Kumar give in writing his reasons for imposing the order.

The district magistrate justified his decision, saying: ‘‘There is a lot of resentment against the film. We are only acting on the police report which says the law and order situation will deteriorate drastically if the film is allowed to proceed. The crew were warned about the mood three days ago but they were bent on going ahead. One person has already attempted suicide. Some others tried to immolate themselves. Our first priority is Varanasi’s peace.’’

Five sadhus belonging to the Hardwar and Benares akharas have thrown their weight behind the protesters and warned that the ‘‘city will burn if the film is allowed’’.    

Temperature: Maximum: 23.3°C (-6) Minimum: 19.6°C (+4) RAINFALL: 0.5 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 92%, Minimum: 76% Today: Partly cloudy sky with mist in the morning. Slight fall in night temperature. Sunset: 6.18 am Sunrise: 5.23 pm    

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