Atal beats Olympics in race for Clinton
After a hangover too good to last
Basu fires traitor salvo
Hope for common entrance test
Farooq hardsells pet peace formula
Calcutta weather

 
 
ATAL BEATS OLYMPICS IN RACE FOR CLINTON 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Aug. 12 
Between the glitter and pomp of the Olympics in Sydney and the simple ceremony of hosting the Prime Minister of the world’s most populous democracy at the White House, President Bill Clinton has opted for the latter.

Atal Behari Vajpayee arrives in Washington on September 14, a day before the spectacular opening of the Sydney Olympics. Clinton has decided to stay put in Washington and meet Vajpayee on September 15 instead of going to Sydney for the Olympics. He will be represented at the opening ceremonies in Sydney by his daughter, Chelsea.

For the US President, not going to Sydney for the opening was not an easy decision. White House officials told The Telegraph that American Presidents have routinely attended all the recent Olympics except the one in Moscow in 1980 following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Clinton was a larger than life figure at the last Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. so was Ronald Reagan at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

The tradition of American presidential presence at the Olympics apart, Australia is a close ally of the US and Canberra was extremely keen that Clinton, who was at the heart of the arrangements for the Atlanta Olympics, should attend the Sydney opening. That this would probably have been Clinton’s last big international function as President had added a rare emotional element to Australia’ request to Clinton to be in Sydney on September 15.

Clinton, who has privately talked of his India visit in March as the most memorable of his presidential tours, wrestled between the pressure to go to Sydney and be in Washington when Vajpayee lands here from San Francisco.

Ultimately, he decided to give Sydney the miss and send Chelsea, instead, to represent the White House.

American officials, many of whom were in favour of the President’s trip for the Olympics opening in view of extreme Australian sensitivities, wrestled considerably with the dates for Vajpayee’s visit.

But when they found that there was no other window for hosting Vajpayee in Washington, the President readily decided that Indo-US ties were a greater priority than the glitter of the Olympics. although Vajpayee is arriving in New York on September 5, he will be tied up at the Millennium Summit at the UN for four days. He could then have gone directly to Washington if it were not for another round of West Asia peace talks which are tentatively scheduled here for the second week of September.

Besides, with PLO leader Yasser Arafat setting a September 13 deadline for the declaration of a Palestinian state, the imponderables of West Asia diplomacy would have shadowed Vajpayee’s presence here immediately after the New York summit of world leaders.

At one stage, White House officials toyed with the idea that Vajpayee should be in Washington in the last week of September. But they realised that it would be unrealistic to expect the Prime Minister to stay away from New Delhi from September 5, when he departs for the millennium summit, till the last week of September.

The only window for Vajpayee’s official visit to Washington was, therefore, between September 14 and 17.

Of course, Clinton could have gone to Sydney for a day and returned here to meet Vajpayee. Last month, he travelled to the G-8 summit in Japan although Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak were in Camp David and Clinton was personally involved in the peace talks between the two leaders. The secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, stood in for the President while he was at the G-8 summit.

Clinton’s decision to give the Olympics opening the miss and stay back to receive Vajpayee is, as yet, the best indicator of how Indo-US relations have changed for the better under the present dispensation in the White House.    


 
 
AFTER A HANGOVER TOO GOOD TO LAST 
 
 
FROM SANKARSHAN THAKUR
 
Srinagar, Aug. 12 
One or the other part of the town has remained shuttered like a frightened eye these past few days. Somewhere or the other each day roads have been blocked, vehicles stoned and establishments coerced into closure. People have been stripped and inspected like they were carriers of contagion. Their homes have been invaded and their privacies ransacked. With renewed energy these past few days, they have been beaten and bombed, maimed and killed.

Kashmir is finally recovering from the short hangover of peace. And as they stagger out of the ceasefire haze, they stare into a future quite as frightening as their past.

Peacemaking lies in a shambles, at least for the moment. Peacebreaking is back with a vengeance. Militant groups have found new reason to demonstrate their might and their will to continue waging war; prospects of peace have to be killed in the cradle, the Trojan horses, in this case a section of the Hizbul Mujahideen, have to be bamboozled to fall in line.

And as they pitch the fever higher, security forces have intensified countermeasures. More of the deeply unpopular cordon and search operations, more raids into suspected hideouts and more killings, more flag marches, more strip-search barricades, more harassment.

Farcical and doomed as it was from the very start, the ceasefire had eased the air a bit on the ground. Reasonably assured they were not under fire, the security forces had relaxed the shackles during the short ceasefire. The loosening of tension was palpable.

Movement was relatively freer, search operations had stopped, the guns were there everywhere but their posture was not menacing. The Srinagar car blast changed all that in a matter of seconds. Kashmir is back on the high-tension wire pulled over a minefield.

Says a Srinagar elder: “It is not that we did not want to believe in the ceasefire but the reality is that we couldn’t. It was too good to be true and too good to last. And now we are back to the old ways again, getting squeezed between the militants and the security forces.”

Most now fear a return to extended violence. “The Srinagar blast was just the beginning,” says a senior state police officer.

Rather than cut a course to peace, the bungled and aborted initiative for talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen has opened new fronts in the Valley and created new walls of mistrust.

This phase of violence, many believe, portends to be the more menacing for the war on the ground is confounding; nobody is sure of the other’s intentions, nobody is sure what they themselves are doing.

The government is unsure of the intentions of the Hizbul commanders in the Valley who came for one round of talks and vanished underground. The political bosses still want to go soft on them but the security forces want to resume offensives.

The Hizbul commanders, even if some of them want to plod on with talks, are unsure how to make their way back to the negotiating table: will the other militant groups let them? Will the government now trust them?

The other militant groups are hellbent on preventing the Hizbul from splitting and a faction jumping into the government’s lap. Part of the violence that is happening in the Valley now is intended as much as a warning to pro-talkers in the Hizbul as to the government itself.

It may, in fact, be true that Hizbul was forced to claim responsibility of the explosion even though it may not have effected the operation, in order to send a public message that it had junked the negotiating table. Lashkar-e-Toiba had first claimed responsibility for the blast but then, strangely, took back the claim from Pakistan and the Hizbul owned up.

So even if part of the Hizbul, perhaps the Abdul Majid Dar faction, comes overground now, the Hizbul will continue to live underground, as Hizbul or under a new hat. The war in Kashmir will continue.    


 
 
BASU FIRES TRAITOR SALVO 
 
 
FROM UTPAL BANERJEE
 
Burdwan, Aug. 12 
A day after the CPM declared the consul row a closed chapter, chief minister Jyoti Basu sowed the seeds of a fresh controversy by describing Trinamul Congress leaders as “traitors” for trying to justify the visit of two US consulate officials to Nanoor.

Basu said he would write to the Prime Minister again and ask him to “restrain” Trinamul leaders Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja. “Their role in the controversy amounts to treachery with the country,” the chief minister said while addressing the 22nd conference of the Paschim Banga Ganatrantrik Mahila Samity.

Basu, who sat throughout the meeting as he was “unwell”, said the two Central ministers had “no business” supporting the action of the US consulate.

Though Mamata chose not to comment, her lieutenants hit back, questioning Basu’s patriotism. “The man who never participated in the freedom struggle is calling us traitors. Let people give a fitting reply to this,” Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said.

Mamata’s aides said she would react at tomorrow’s rally in Calcutta. The Trinamul leader will lead a mahamichil (grand procession) to mark the beginning of her party’s campaign against the CPM “reign of terror”.

After demanding the removal of US consul-general Christopher Sandrolini and his wife, the CPM withdrew its plea yesterday following a meeting with Atal Behari Vajpayee. Basu, too, had thanked the Prime Minister — whom he had written to on Thursday on the issue — “for promptly taking up the matter with the US embassy”.

Today, however, Basu repeated his earlier assertion that the foreign consulate’s decision to send the officials to Nanoor, where 11 people were killed, amounted to a direct interference in the internal affairs of a country.

The chief minister claimed that the Trinamul was a party without any ideology and its political programme was limited to creating lawlessness and pressing for Central rule in the state.    


 
 
HOPE FOR COMMON ENTRANCE TEST 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Aug. 12 
If the Centre has its way, students may be spared the harassment of appearing for more than one admission test for entry to professional colleges.

Union human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi today revived the debate on scrapping the system of separate admission tests for professional courses and advocated a common entrance test for all professional institutes.

At present, there is a joint entrance test for admission to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and separate tests for admission to the regional engineering and industrial colleges. Professional colleges in states have their own entrance examinations.

The single-window entrance examination system will be kept optional. State level institutes can also opt for this, but it will “not be foisted from above”, an official added.

The test will be conducted under the National Education System of Testing (NEST). Education Consultants India Limited, a public sector organisation under the human resources ministry, is working out the modalities.

The new system will have a single-tier questionnaire with objective questions to avoid duplication and ensure maximum resource utilisation.

“We have been consulting the IIT directors on the issue. I have been apprised of some difficulties and I hope the IITs would find a way of circumventing them,” Joshi said, while addressing the 31st annual convocation of the Delhi IIT.

He also asked the IIT boards to provide the leadership in evolving a common entrance test. The IITs, he said, should guide other technical institutions through effective networking, exchange of faculties and distance-learning programmes.

Despite Joshi’s initiative, officials in his ministry are not sure when the new system of examination will come into effect. “It is still not certain whether the first test can be held in 2001,” said an official, adding that “it could also be delayed to 2002”.

The ministry has so far got a favourable response from Delhi IIT, which has passed a resolution supporting a joint entrance test. There are six IITs in the country — in Delhi, Mumbai, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Chennai and Guwahati.

Apart from the IITs, 17 regional engineering colleges have also come up across the country in each of the major states to meet the increasing requirement for trained manpower.    


 
 
FAROOQ HARDSELLS PET PEACE FORMULA 
 
 
FROM SANKARSHAN THAKUR
 
Srinagar 
Amid the piling debris of peace negotiations, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah today revived his call for converting the Line of Control (LoC) into the international border between India and Pakistan as a means of settling the Kashmir problem.

“Let’s face it, India is never going to get Pakistan-held Kashmir and India is never going to give up this part of Kashmir. Why can’t we settle for peace by talking about the reality on the ground? There is going to be no independence from India, there is going to be no joining Pakistan. What the people in this part of Kashmir want has to be negotiated with New Delhi,” Abdullah told The Telegraph today.

Despite the brutal snuffing of peace negotiations with the Hizbul Mujahideen, the chief minister said he was sure another initiative was in the offing. “The people of Kashmir are tired of this violence, the Hizbul Mujahideen cadre themselves are tired and running out of energy, they have suffered heavy losses. I am certain the peace process is not over yet, there will be another effort.”

The best solution, he suggested, would be for Pakistan to address the problems of people in its part of Kashmir and for New Delhi to do the same in India. “If the reality is that India is never going to allow Kashmir to go away, autonomy for the people is the best solution,” Abdullah said, adding: “Autonomy is not dead, we are still talking about it.”

Though he did not name the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, he did say that those who opposed a solution within the Indian Constitution were talking in the air and probably had a vested interest in hurting peace. “People whose dinners are cooked with money they get from Pakistan and all sorts of agencies everywhere are not interested in peace here,” he said.

Abdullah would not say where or from who the new initiative would come. He also reserved comment on whether the government was still in touch with the commander of Hizbul forces in the Valley, Abdul Majid Dar. But he did keep a door open for him despite yesterday’s explosions in Srinagar and elsewhere, saying that he would welcome Dar were he to return to the mainstream. “Prodigal sons do return. If Majid Dar wants to give up the gun, we will welcome him with open arms and kill the sheep for him.”

In the immediate scenario, though, the chief minister appeared resigned to escalation of violence in the Valley. “These Pakistani groups will stop at nothing, and now frustration may provoke them to more violence. We are in a state of war,” he said. But he refuted suggestions that the short ceasefire had given militants a window to regroup and entrench themselves. He also denied any differences between the political establishment and the security forces on the go-slow against Hizbul militants during the last few weeks.

Some senior security officials have been complaining that holding fire against the Hizbul had run contrary to security interests. Sources have suggested that while the political bosses wanted the Hizbul cadre spared even after the scrapping of ceasefire, the security forces were for immediate resumption of offensives against the outfit. One senior police officer in the state admitted today that the soft attitude towards Hizbul militants in the past week had helped the armed underground.

But Abdullah appeared disinclined to believe that Hizbul remained a cohesive force and said there were elements that wanted to come overground. Asked about the Hizbul’s claims to have triggered yesterday’s blasts, he said: “I think there is a lot of pressure on them from the Pakistanis to make such claims in order to stymie the peace process. The first claim was made by Lashkar-e-Toiba and then Hizbul claimed it. Pakistan forced Hizbul to claim responsibility just as it forced Hizbul to sabotage the talks. Hizbul was credited for the blasts to discredit the peace process.”

The now aborted talks with Hizbul commanders, he argued, had marked a “new beginning which was deliberately destroyed by Pakistan”. Maintaining that Hizbul leaders in Pakistan were under tremendous pressure, Abdullah said: “Suddenly after the ceasefire, they brought the condition to involve Pakistan and this eight-day deadline to solve an issue that hasn’t been solved for 50 years! What else was it but Pakistani sabotage?”

But he did agree that crossed signals from New Delhi too had played a role in hurting the peace initiative. “I think too many people spoke too many things. We should have just said let’s talk and find out what these people want. We got into issues of within and outside Constitution. We should have just talked. There were too many cooks in this business...”    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Max: 28.3°C (-4), Min: 26.3°C (normal) Relative humidity: Maximum: 98% Minimum: 92% Rainfall: 29.9 mm Today: A few spells of light rain in some parts of the city and its suburbs Sunset: 6.08 pm Sunrise: 5.15 am    
 

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