Hizbul call to arms ends peace bid
Delhi sees Pak pressure behind truce breakdown
Basu picks up oust-consul baton
22 days after the crash, probe order
Calcutta Weather

Srinagar, Aug. 8 
Kashmir braced itself for resumption of hostilities between security forces and armed militant groups as New Delhi’s latest peace initiative collapsed under the burden of mistrust and differences over ground rules between the government and the Hizbul Mujahideen.

As Hizbul’s Pakistan-based boss, Syed Salahuddin, invoked his deadline and scrapped the ceasefire a little past 5 this evening, top government, army and paramilitary officials went into a huddle at the Srinagar Raj Bhavan to review security preparedness. “We were expecting this for a while and our forces have been moving into position over the last couple of days, but the militants still have the advantage of surprise,” a senior state government official said, adding, “We anticipate a few dramatic militant strikes because they will now want to prove a point.”

Security forces have been on special alert since the serial massacres of August 1 in which over 100 people were killed but the ceasefire had dictated that security personnel retreat from pursuit positions and ease the guard. That is now being rapidly reversed.

Army and paramilitary forces were fanning out to vantage positions and possible flashpoints tonight as the government geared up to take on the militants afresh. It is likely that the security forces will mount a series of pre-emptive searches on suspected militant strongholds beginning tonight.

The Hizbul blamed New Delhi for the breakdown of talks and the resumption of hostilities saying the government had not conceded their basic demand for unconditional tripartite talks involving Pakistan. Salahuddin charged the Centre with reducing the negotiations to a “mockery” and warned of renewed armed strikes against security personnel and installations in the days to come. “Our guns are ready and we are determined to carry on our war for the liberation of Kashmir from Indian hands,” Salahuddin was quoted as saying.

Signs that the initiative would break down were evident from the very start of negotiations as basic differences erupted between the government and the Hizbul on the modalities for a solution. While the government has not been prepared to concede a solution beyond the Constitution, the Hizbul, prodded by other militant pro-Pakistan organisations, was demanding unconditional talks. Another major point of dispute was the Pakistani role in talks. New Delhi was obdurately against it, the Hizbul was insisting that Islamabad be brought on board, if only at a later stage.

Government circles here are not ruling out the possibility of some Hizbul commanders defying Salahuddin’s diktat and continuing negotiations with the government but such an exercise will suffer from a debilitating credibility crisis. One top official admitted: “Even if some Hizbul commanders do continue talks, they will be isolated from the mainstream and talks with them will be meaningless. They will be like showpieces in government safe houses.”

It is unlikely that rebel Hizbul commanders, if there are to be any, will carry the rank and file with them.

There have been reports of Hizbul cadre being uncomfortable with the prospect of surrendering and prepared to shift loyalties if their leaders agreed to come overground.

Abdul Majid Dar, the commander-in-chief of Hizbul forces in the Valley and the man being tipped by the government to split away, had himself in a statement yesterday authorised Syed Salahuddin to take a final decision on the ceasefire. Dar’s initial ceasefire call had been endorsed by Salahuddin from Pakistan but he later fixed August 8 as the deadline for the government to agree to unconditional tripartite talks involving Pakistan. “If Dar now goes against his bosses, he will lose face and credibility. But even if he goes with the government, his cadre are more likely to follow the directions of Salahuddin,” sources close to the Hizbul said.

There has been no word on the whereabouts of the four Hizbul commanders who came for the first and only round of talks with the government on August 3. These commanders have perhaps all retreated to their underground bases. Another indication that the ceasefire was becoming increasingly unpopular among the Hizbul ranks was that Khalid Saifullah, named as leader for talks on the logistics of ceasefire, declined to show up.

and be part of the negotiating team.    

New Delhi, Aug. 8 
Far from conceding it had failed to salvage the peace process, the Vajpayee government today tried to segregate Hizbul Mujahideen supreme commander Syed Salahuddin from the rest of his group and suggested that he was yielding to pressure from Islamabad while ignoring the ground realities in Jammu and Kashmir.

Both the Prime Minister’s Office and the home ministry told The Telegraph they did not view the Hizbul’s ceasefire withdrawal as a setback. “The Kashmir peace process is a continuous one. It would be foolish on our part to expect a dramatic change overnight,” a senior official said.

Besides, sources pointed out, there had been no statement from the Hizbul leadership within the country. “How do we know that Salahuddin is not acting under immense pressure from the authorities in the Pakistani capital?” the sources asked.

The home ministry sent out unconfirmed indications that the India-based Hizb leader, Abdul Majid Dar, was trying to get in touch with the outfit’s top brass in Islamabad to try and convince them about the need to relax the ceasefire deadline.

Government sources in Delhi said it was still not clear whether the Hizb cadre in Kashmir would take orders from Salahuddin. In effect, the Centre is still trying to split the Hizb leadership and pursue with its policy of making the cadre surrender their weapons.

Despite its claims, the Hizbul, unlike the National Conference and the Hurriyat leadership, is still uncharted territory for the Centre. The government is simply not in a position to predict what path the Hizbul’s 1,200-odd cadre, consisting largely of Indian Kashmiris and not Afghan mercenaries, would follow after today’s development.

The Centre dropped broad hints that it has been able to wean away a section of the Hizb and neutralise one of the numerous powerful groups operating out of Kashmir. There is a growing belief in Delhi that Dar commands a lot of respect and support from district commanders of the tanzeem in the Valley and even in Poonch and Doda.

Nevertheless, the government has prepared itself for any eventuality. Over the past few days, there has been a major troop build-up in Kashmir. Earlier this morning, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held a special meeting with the Research and Analysis Wing chief to discuss the possibilities of a fresh wave of mercenaries sweeping the valley. Army chief Gen. V.P. Malik was also summoned for a review of security preparedness on the LoC.

Addressing a BJP parliamentary party meeting this morning, Vajpayee said talks with the Hizbul were at a “sensitive stage” and reiterated there were no conditions.    

Calcutta, Aug. 8 
The West Bengal government today stamped its seal of approval on the CPM’s campaign against the US consulate with chief minister Jyoti Basu saying he would shortly write a letter to the Prime Minister seeking action against the consul-general for prying into the internal affairs of the state.

“The US consulate here has transgressed the bounds of diplomatic propriety as it has been meddling in our internal affairs. It must be advised not to interfere in Indian politics. I hope the Centre will initiate action in this regard,” Basu said tonight.

Basu said he had no reservation about diplomats and foreign government officials touring areas torn by natural calamity but he made it clear that their undeclared visits to political flash points would be opposed. “Such visits are unethical,” he added.

Basu joined forces with other leaders of the CPM, saying he supported their demand that Christopher Sandrolini, the US consul-general in Calcutta, be removed for sending analysts to Nanoor where 11 people were massacred.

“I am in full agreement with the position taken by my party leaders”, the chief minister said, pointing out that the US was known to have meddled in the past in the affairs of communist-ruled Bengal.

“It is nothing new for them (US)... Daniel Patrick Moynihan (former US ambassador to India) had confessed that they had twice taken an active role in dislodging the communists from power in Kerala and Bengal,” Basu said.

Basu’s hard-hitting statement is being perceived as an extension of CPM state secretary Anil Biswas’ tirade against Sandrolini for sending the analysts to Nanoor for a situation report.

Biswas had charged Sandrolini with snooping around in the state and had asked party MP Biplab Dasgupta to bring it to the notice of the Prime Minister and the external affairs minister.

Biswas kept up his offensive today as well. “Last Sunday, Daniel Harsh, an administrative officer, had visited Nanoor. What was the purpose of this visit?” Biswas asked.

“The issue is serious and we politicians know how to tackle this,” he added, dropping hints that the party would launch an agitation if no action was taken.

CPM insiders, however, indicated that another opinion exists in the party that the controversy may adversely affect the flow of foreign investment into Bengal if it was allowed to snowball.

After the CPM boycotted Bill Clinton’s visit to India, there were reports that US investors were distancing themselves from Bengal — a fallout that matched a forecast made by party leader Somnath Chatterjee.

The state also condemned the visit of US consul officials to Nanoor.

“We must condemn the massacre in Nanoor but we are against any sort of interference by the American lobby,” said state BJP president Asim Ghosh.    

Aug. 8 
It took the death of one more passenger of the Alliance Air flight that crashed in Patna on July 17 to jar the government out of slumber and appoint an inquiry headed by a serving air marshal.

With the death of P.M. Bopanna today at Delhi’s All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, the toll in the Boeing 737-200 crash rose to 58. Bopanna, 48, had suffered 60 per cent burns and was flown to Delhi from Patna for treatment.

An engineer with the National Thermal Power Corporation, a government-owned company like Alliance Air, is survived by his wife and two minor daughters.

A day after the crash, civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav had announced a court of inquiry to be headed by a Patna high court judge. Government officials leading a preliminary probe into the crash immediately “sealed” the two black boxes on the plane — a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder.

But for nearly a week no requests were sent. For weeks letters kept shuttling between Delhi and Patna without any court being appointed. Apparently, the already short-staffed chief justice of Patna High Court had his own share of reservations about getting his judges embroiled in a technical probe.

Ultimately, the government opted for a time-tested method — getting an air force officer to do the job. P. Rajkumar, who will head the inquiry, is a test flight expert from the defence ministry’s light combat aircraft project and has earlier conducted a probe into an Indian Airlines Dornier crash at Cochin two years ago. An Air India pilot, Capt. N.S.Mehta and an assessor, S.A. Deshmukh, have been appointed to help Rajkumar.

But pilots are already grumbling. “This probe will not be a true judicial probe. It will merely be an executive probe — nothing will come of it,” said Capt. S.S Panesar, former director, flight safety, with the Indian Airlines. Courts comprising government servants are considered more susceptible to bureaucratic and political interference than judges.

The Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association has already expressed doubts about the fairness of any delayed probes especially “in the light of statements by the civil aviation secretary hinting at pilot error even before any probe was launched”.

Capt. Ajit Singh, president of the association said: “This inquiry too may turn into an eyewash designed to justify earlier statements.”

Contrast this with the Air France Concorde crash at Paris. The black boxes were opened almost immediately after being found in the debris. Within five days of the crash the probe details were public. “That’s what transparency is all about,” said Panesar, who has been associated as technical advisor in quite a few air crashes.

Families of the passengers who died in the crash are regretting the absence of “transparency” in the way the government is handling the probe.

“After 22 days, we don’t know for whose fault our relatives died,” said Arindam Dutta, neighbour of the Dutta family which lost two of their relatives.    

Temperature: Maximum: 32.8°C +1) Minimum: 27.2°C (+2) RAINFALL: 2.4 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 66% Today: A few spells of light rain with one or two showers or thundershowers in the city and its suburbs Sunset: 6.11 pm Sunrise: 5.13 am    

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