Sierra storm ends in pullout call
Saturday meet on Bengal and petrol
Trains to N. Bengal cancelled
Govindacharya to stay away
Cyber terror alert after Pak hacker scare
Cong on CTBT

New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
India today announced its decision to pull out of peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone to protest against the demand for the replacement of Major General V.K. Jetley as UN troops commander.

Couching the announcement in diplomatese, South Block said the pullout will take place “in a phased manner” and added that it remained committed to UN activities and to its friendship with Africa.

The pullout comes as an anti-climax after the daring rescue mission mounted two months ago to free peacekeepers taken hostage by Revolutionary United Front rebels. “Operation Kukri” was seen as a victory for Indian troops in the strife-torn state.

Trouble started after Maj. Gen. Jetley levelled corruption charges against his Nigerian deputy. Though the complaint was made in private, it was leaked, spurring the Nigerians to launch a campaign for the removal of the Indian officer.

In order to avoid an ugly situation where India would be involved in a war of words with the African nation, South Block thought it better to withdraw its troops.

Over the past year, India has been trying to improve its relations with Nigeria under President Olusegun Obosanjo. He was invited as chief guest during this year’s Republic Day celebrations.

Delhi used this to send a signal to Africa about its importance and to project the former general as a democratic leader.

Though Delhi believes the charges levelled by Maj. Gen. Jetley against the Nigerians, it is embarrassed by the way he handled the situation. It was also aware that Jetley was now set to be replaced.

As a face-saver for all the parties involved, the UN is planning to increase the strength of its peacekeepers in Sierra Leone from 13,000 to nearly 20,000. Since the larger force can only be handled by an officer of the rank of Lieutenant-General, India was asked to find a replacement. But Delhi politely turned down the offer and instead decided on a pullout.

India has 3,151 soldiers in Sierra Leone, making it the second largest contingent after the Nigerians. It is not yet clear whether Nigerians or others will take the place of the Indian troops after the withdrawal.

The British initiative to get the status of peacekeepers changed to peace enforcers could also have contributed to the pullout. Indian leaders have been resisting this move for many months and had threatened withdrawal of troops over the issue.

One reason was the possibility of the confrontation between the UN troops and the rebels escalating after the status was changed to peace enforcers, thus increasing the chances of casualties.

India’s peacekeeping operation, which helps the government to earn substantial foreign exchange, has already come under criticism from parts of the country.

Had body bags started arriving from Sierra Leone, the BJP government may have had to answer why Indian soldiers were being used as mercenaries in Africa.    

New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
Bowing to pressure from Mamata Banerjee, the A.B. Vajpayee government is planning to hold a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance here on Saturday to discuss law and order in West Bengal.

Before the coalition leaders get together in the evening, the Union Cabinet will meet in the morning. Apart from Bengal, the discussions will focus on the imminent petrol price rise.

The government wants to brief its partners before increasing petrol prices because the step is bound to generate widespread protests. The allies will also use the opportunity to congratulate Vajpayee on his trip to the US.

The BJP has decided to give priority to West Bengal to humour the Trinamul Congress chief. Party president Bangaru Laxman is leaving for Calcutta tomorrow and will visit violence-hit Midnapore on Saturday.

Mamata said the “Centre has some strategy” on West Bengal, but refused to divulge it. She said she is yet to discuss the situation with Prime Minister. “Let them examine the reports (of George Fernandes and the NDA team).”

BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu, however, made it clear that “no action is possible unless there is a consensus”.

Bangaru’s will be the third visit by the NDA consitituents to the violence-hit districts of the state. First, Lok Sabha MPs of the ruling coalition visited the affected areas and submitted a report to convener George Fernandes. The report recommended that five districts be declared disturbed.

Then, just before Vajpayee left for the US, Fernandes visited the state and submitted his report to home minister L.K. Advani. Though he did not recommend imposition of Article 356, he said the situation was worse than in Bihar.

PMO sources said a tentative meeting of the ruling coalition has been fixed for Saturday to assess the situation in the wake of Mamata’s shrill cries for action. But the meeting is unlikely to propose imposition of President’s rule or even declaring the affected districts “disturbed” .

Rejecting the argument that imposition of President’s rule will benefit the Left Front government, Mamata said there will be no sympathy for this government. “Sympathy must be for those who are acceptable to the people. They benefited from a sympathy wave in 1977 for different reasons.”

The railways minister said the Basu government had “crossed all limits of decency”. Objecting to Basu’s letter to Advani where he accused her of inciting violence, Mamata said: “It is face saving, nothing else. A political person cannot say such things. I have seen so many senior politicians but I have not seen someone like Basu, using such foul language.”

Asked how Article 356 could be imposed in the absence of majority in Parliament, Mamata evaded a direct reply. “The point is a state government cannot go for state-sponsored terrorism,” she said.

BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu also came down heavily on Basu for using “intemperate” language. He said the language of the chief minister’s letter to Advani was an admission that his government was unable to control the situation and all is not well in West Bengal.    

Calcutta, Sept. 21: 
The snapped railway link between Calcutta and North Bengal will not be restored this week.

Eastern Railway authorities cancelled all its North Bengal and Assam-bound trains on Thursday till further announcement.

The schedule for running 5959 Up Kamrup Express from Howrah and 3453 Up Gour Express from Sealdah via a diverted route on Thursday was cancelled.

A spokesman in the Eastern Railway said the prospect of restoring the rail link was bleak following a flash flood between Monidanga and Tildanga, 307 kms off Calcutta, which washed away the railway tracks.

Suburban train services in Howrah-Bardhaman section, both main and chord, were affected on Thursday as flood-hit people occupied 10 EMU railway coaches for shelter in Bardhaman, Shaktigarh, Katwa and Belmuri. This led to cancellation of 40 pairs of EMU trains in Howrah division of the Eastern Railway.

In Sealdah division, train services in Bongaon section were disrupted because of rail blockade put up by INTUC supporters at Birati station as part of their bandh call in the locality.

The restoration of Calcutta-North Bengal link, via Bandel-Katwa-Azimganj loop, could not take place on Thursday as villagers dug the railway track between Samudragarh and Dhatrigram to get rid of flood water.

Railway authorities sought the help of chief secretary Manish Gupta, while the villagers were digging the railway track, but later home secretary Sourin Roy expressed the state administration’s inability to do anything as otherwise Katwa would be inundated. The Darjeeling Mail, which left Sealdah on Wednesday evening through a diverted route, failed to proceed beyond Jamalpur as the railway track between Monidanga and Tildanga was washed away by a flash flood.

Additional IA flight

The Indian Airlines will operate an additional flight in Calcutta-Bagdogra-Calcutta sector on Saturday in view of the snapped road and railway link with North Bengal. Flight C-1721 will leave Calcutta at 9.15 hours, while the return flight will leave Bagdogra at 10.40 hours.

It was diverted further to New Jalpaiguri via Kiul and Barauni. Hence, to traverse a 450-km distance, the train will have to run 700 kms more to reach its destination.    

New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
Deposed BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya has decided to skip the party’s national executive which will meet here on October 1. Govindacharya continues to be the national executive member.

He stressed “nothing much” should be read in his decision because it was necessitated by a prior engagement with the RSS. Govindacharya will attend the Sangh’s Vijaya Dashmi function in Pune on that day. Although according to the Hindu calendar, Vijaya Dashmi will be celebrated on October 7, the Pune function was brought forward keeping in mind the schedule of special invitees, including Govindacharya.

But BJP sources perceived Govindacharya’s decision to stay away from the national executive as the “beginning of the process to distance himself from the party”. Sources said the fact he gave priority to the Sangh over the BJP indicated his desire to return to his alma mater.

“He knows that he was retained in the national executive against the wishes of the high command and he will no longer play a crucial role in decision-making. But he is far too shrewd and mature to make a song-and-dance of it and protest openly. He will keep away from BJP meetings and gradually dissociate himself from the party,” said sources.

Since former BJP president Kushbhau Thakre is being persuaded by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to take charge of Uttar Pradesh, sources close to Govindacharya said he conveyed in a letter to Thakre his “sense of hurt and anguish” on being given a raw deal when he was the central leader in charge of Uttar Pradesh during Thakre’s tenure.

On being asked, Thakre refused to confirm the receipt of the letter though it was sent in March. It is common knowledge in the BJP and elsewhere that the letter expressed the former general secretary’s desire to relinquish his official post and go on a two-year sabbatical. But the Uttar Pradesh portion was kept under wraps.

Explaining Thakre’s silence on the missive, sources said he was “probably embarrassed” by the references to Uttar Pradesh and the suggestion that as the BJP president, Thakre never officially ratified Govindacharya’s appointment as the Uttar Pradesh-in charge which made the latter’s position “untenable”. Though Sunderlal Patwa was officially entrusted with Uttar Pradesh, when things got messy in the state, home minister L.K. Advani had asked Govindacharya to take over matters.

“It was a delicate situation. But against all odds, he managed to achieve certain things like cajoling the anti-Kalyan lobby to stop speaking to the press and getting Kusum Rai to resign,” said party sources.

Sources added that Govindacharya felt “very hurt” when a large section of the BJP held him responsible for Sunil Shastri’s defeat in the recent legislative council elections in Lucknow.

“It was unfair since he had warned the high command that although there were six vacancies in the BJP’s quota, the party would win only five because of cross-voting. But the leadership ignored him and put up six candidates. His assessment proved correct when the sixth candidate, Shastri, lost because 22 legislators had cross-voted,” claimed sources.

In his letter to Thakre, Govindacharya also cautioned him of an impending disaster in the country as a result of the Centre’s economic policies. “I want time to reflect on all this. Events are overtaking us and we should not find ourselves in a scenario when we wake up one fine day to see that everything is lost,” he is believed to have penned in the letter.    

New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
Fearing that Pakistani hackers may have stolen sensitive information from important government sites and left behind programme-damaging viruses, the National Security Council (NSC) has advised the Centre to appoint a committee of experts for strengthening cyber security in both civilian and military set-ups.

Reacting to information obtained from an info-tech site on how Pakistani hackers, known as ‘’gforcePakistan’’ and ‘’m0s’’, have of late intensified attacks against Indian corporate, educational, scientific and officials sites, the NSC has expressed strong apprehensions that there was a possibility information on the servers of sensitive government sites like the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the department of energy and the Indian Army, may have been stolen.

The NSC has warned several wings of the government, including the Army and the Intelligence agencies that the attackers may also have left behind “trojan horses” and “logic bombs” — viruses with the capability to cripple computer systems and websites. Evidently, the government has woken up to the danger of cyber terrorism, especially to its national security infrastructure and commercial interests.

In fact, the NSC thinks that Indian websites were “exposed” and “vulnerable” to hacker attacks and believes that an assault on sites related to Indian stock markets and airline services “could prove disastrous” or the country.

The NSC has, therefore, asked the Centre to appoint a committee of experts to identify “critical minimal information infrastructure” (CMII) in military and civilian sectors, which includes the defence services, atomic energy, space, the Reserve Bank of India, the National Stock Exchange, railways, airline services and banks. It has advised that these sites be provided appropriate levels of security. The focus, as of now, will be on ensuring cyber security in the field of e-commerce.

Some of the other immediate measures recommended by the NSC include:

Inclusion of provisions in the Information and Technology Bill relating to a legal requirement of auditing websites of corporates and government organisations. The objective is to empower cyber security auditors to check whether sites have the necessary security protection. It will be “compulsory” for big corporates and government agencies to undergo cyber security auditing.

Introduction of some legal basis in the Information Technology Bill for monitoring network traffic and cyber security issues related to networked organisations critical to national security. In this context, the NSC has advised the Centre to study cyber laws operational in countries like the US and the United Kingdom.

Setting up of computer emergency response teams (CERTs) which, in the event of any instance of hacking, should have the capability to restore the sites and identify cyber security lapses.

The National Informatics Centre (NIC) could be asked to recommend a “standard operating procedure” (SOPs) for security of all highly sensitive government sites. Not only will government departments and organisations have to adopt the SOPs for compliance, even state governments will have to be persuaded to undertake a similar exercise. Besides, NIC could be given the task to examine all government sites and ensure cyber safety compliance in each of its departments.

The SOPs prepared by the NIC must include identification and the method of procurement of security software and hardware, cryptographic software, general security procedures and detailed information on the likely areas from where hacking could be expected and the modus operandi for intrusion.

These measures apart, the NSC has suggested inclusion of cyber security in IT curricula in schools and colleges. The aim is to encourage development of algoriths and support higher standards of mathematical research.

While the NSC has proposed an incentive scheme to boost the production of cyber security products, it has also recommended further research and development in cyber security, site intrusion detection systems, network security systems and access control systems.    

New Delhi, Sept. 21: 
The Congress today claimed that the Vajpayee regime refrained from signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty due to pressure from the main opposition party.

Congress’ deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Madhavrao Scindia regretted that Vajpayee’s visit failed to achieve much. In his opinion, Vajpayee should have visited Washington in March-April after the US presidential elections. “Had it not been pressure from US, the government would have signed the CTBT,” Scindia said claiming that Vajpayee’s visit was organised four months with a view of signing the treaty.

Scindia said in economic terms, the visit failed to achieve much. “In today’s world, economics is the buzzword but the US did not lift post-Pokhran sanctions.”

He advised caution over the hype in Indo-US relations. “It has to be seen in the context of India’s strategic position in the post Cold War era. For the US, India and Pakistan are no longer equal in terms of balance of power,” he said.

Perhaps American strategists are eyeing India to check China,” he said.

The Congress leader wondered why the BJP was applauding Vajpayee’s visit as a great success when little was achieved. “Just because there were more people in the Presidential banquet, it can not be termed as a success,” Scindia said.    


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