Strike on ‘intruder’ Pak plane
Putatunda pullout punch to CPM
Talks signal to militants, iron fist at Islamabad
Mayavati ends Sonia isolation
Deer hunters back with holes in net
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Defence forces fired on two Pakistani reconnaissance aircraft for “intruding” into Indian airspace this afternoon in the Chamb sector along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. One of the planes was hit.

The “violation” by the two Pakistani planes, which defence sources said were on a military reconnaissance mission, comes two days before the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting on extending the ceasefire in Kashmir. The meeting, which was to be held yesterday, has now been convened on Wednesday.

This is the first reported instance of violation of Indian airspace by Pakistani planes along the LoC since the truce took effect on November 22. Army headquarters said a “protest was being lodged” by Indian authorities with the Pakistan high commission here.

Pakistan tonight described as “baseless” Delhi’s contention that the planes had strayed into Indian airspace. Foreign office spokesman Riaz M Khan said in Islamabad that the two Mushaq trainee aircraft were on routine training mission “well within Pakistani territory in Listaharabad area”.

Pakistani officials in Delhi said “if it (the aircraft) has been shot at, it is extremely unfortunate”. They pointed out that such “inadvertent violations” are not “unusual” and “even Indian aircraft intrude into Pakistani airspace”, but they are allowed to return with a warning.

The Indian foreign ministry refused to comment, saying it did not have details of the incident.

According to official defence sources, the Pakistani military reconnaissance aircraft violated Indian airspace and the LoC in the Chamb sector in Jammu around 2.10 pm. Ground troops reacted swiftly by opening up anti-aircraft guns and “engaged” the intruding aircraft, forcing them to return.

Top defence sources confirmed to The Telegraph that one of the aircraft was hit, though it “fell” across the LoC in Pakistani territory. Efforts are on to locate if any part of the plane landed inside India.

Army sources said the fixed-wing Mushaq aircraft is generally used for training purposes, but has reconnaissance capability. It is a twin-seater, low-flying air reconnaissance plane often used by the Pakistani army to direct artillery fire. The sources said the air intrusion and the subsequent army reaction will be discussed by the director-general of military operations when he speaks to his Pakistani counterpart over the hotline tomorrow.

The Indian reaction to fire at the aircraft is reminiscent of the shooting down of the Atlantique plane over the Rann of Kutch in August 1999, after the end of the Kargil war. Parts of the plane fell on Indian territory in Sir Creek.

The defence establishment described today’s incident as “sensitive”, but the government appears to have played it down at a time when just about a week remains for the expiry of the ceasefire. Defence minister George Fernandes, who is in Delhi, chose not to comment. Home minister L.K. Advani was away in Agra.

But government sources believe that the air intrusion, coupled with the killing of four securitymen in separate incidents in the Valley and the continuing public unrest over the killing of six civilians last week, may force the Vajpayee administration to give serious thought on extending the ceasefire, due to expire on February 26, for a third time.

The Cabinet Committee on Security meeting will weigh the pros and cons of today’s incident, which government sources said, is bound to influence the decision. Both the home and defence ministries are expected to pitch for resuming the “pro-active” approach in Jammu and Kashmir which, sources said, was yielding results.


Calcutta, Feb.19: 
Barely a week after the CPM leadership claimed it had put the lid on rebellion, Samir Putatunda, the party’s South 24-Parganas district secretary, walked out, pushing the throttle wide open on dissidence.

Putatunda became the only party leader to leave the organisation while holding the post of a district secretary as well as that of member of the state committee, stoking speculation about more departures from the CPM before the Assembly elections.

Subhas Chakraborty, dissident leader to whom Putatunda is close, described as “fools and half-wits” those who were saying the resignation would not damage the CPM. Chakraborty, however, said he would not leave the party unless “beaten with a stick and driven out”.

Putatunda told a packed press conference that he would join expelled CPM leader Saifuddin Chowdhury’s political outfit, scheduled to be launched on Wednesday. “Today, I am left with no option but to leave the party with which I have been associated for long 36 years,” Putatunda said.

A week ago, accompanied by party state secretary Anil Biswas, Putatunda had told another crowded news conference that he belonged to the CPM for which he would work “untiringly” in the coming elections.

Minutes after Putatunda quit the party, his wife, Anuradha, sent in her resignation to the Alimuddin Street headquarters. A former MLA from Magrahat (West), Anuradha joined the party in 1976 and became district secretary of the Ganatantrik Mahila Samity, the CPM’s women wing.

“Now the time is ripe to come out publicly with grievances against the leadership,” said Anuradha, who has also lined up a press conference.

Biswas admitted this afternoon that Putatunda’s resignation would adversely affect the organisation for the time being. “But we will be able to overcome this.”

Putatunda’s resignation has surprised many CPM leaders, including politburo member Biman Bose. “We came to know about Samir’s resignation only through newspapers. His sudden decision to quit the party was unexpected as Putatunda had promised to continue a couple of days ago,” Bose said.

Putatunda accused the state unit of “trying to push into a corner party leaders whose opinions are different from those of the leadership”.


New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Lashing out at Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, President K.R. Narayanan today warned of relentless action against militants in Jammu and Kashmir and made it clear that India would resume talks with its neighbour only if it created the right atmosphere.

“Its protestations about its eagerness to resume talks with India will not carry conviction so long as it allows the terrorists’ guns and bombs to do the talking,” Narayanan said addressing a joint sitting of both Houses to kick off the budget session.

The President, however, declared that the Centre was willing to talk with any group that “abjures violence”.

“There has been no let up in... cross-border terrorism and vicious anti-India propaganda originating from Pakistani soil. Many innocent lives continue to be lost every day to acts of barbarism by those who cloak them in the garb of jihad. Pakistan bears the responsibility for these acts against humanity, which are a travesty of religion,” he said.

Narayanan lauded the “supreme determination and sacrifice” of the armed forces under such “trying circumstances”. He praised the Kashmiris for participating “enthusiastically in the recent panchayat elections” and said this was mainly because militancy had been increasingly confined to foreign mercenary groups.

He emphasised that the ceasefire was “warmly welcomed” by Kashmiris, who longed for an end to militancy and violence. The world, too, he said, had given the ceasefire “overwhelming support” as it saw in the gesture “another demonstration of India’s sincere commitment to a peaceful and permanent solution” to the dispute.

The President’s stiff warning to Pakistan has been interpreted as a reflection of the Centre’s stand on the ceasefire extension. Observers believe that the Cabinet Committee on Security — which was to have met yesterday to decide on extending the ceasefire which expires on February 26 — deferred its sitting so that the Centre’s message could get across to Pakistan.

But stung by his comments, Pakistan reacted swiftly. A spokesman for its Inter Services Public Relations said the remarks came at a time when “many positive developments” were taking place between the neighbours.

Maj.Gen. Rashid Qureshi said it was not fair to criticise Pakistan “when it has taken so many steps on the borders, including maximum restraint and partial withdrawal of troops” from the LoC. He said Narayanan’s criticism gives the impression that India is trying to “avoid peace talks”.

Morning budget

The budget will be presented at 11 am on February 28, the time generally reserved for Question Hour. The railway budget will be presented on February 26.    

New Delhi, Feb. 19: 
Mulayam Yadav and Sharad Pawar won’t break bread with Sonia Gandhi, but Mayavati will not mind sipping tea with her.

At 4.45 pm, the leader of the Opposition walked into Parliament’s room number 44. For the next 25 minutes, Sonia was taut with tension until Mayavati, Somnath Chatterjee, Ajit Singh, P.H. Pandian, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Ajai Chakraborty and others trooped in.

The occasion: Sonia’s maiden interaction with Opposition leaders to chalk out floor co-ordination in Parliament.

For Sonia, however, the stakes were much higher than just formulating a common strategy on Gujarat, Ayodhya, Kashmir and disinvestment. The presence of Mayavati and others was the Italy-born Sonia’s personal triumph, a recognition as the country’s leader of the Opposition.

The absence of detractors Sharad Pawar, Mulayam Yadav and representatives from the RSP and the Forward Bloc did not trouble her. She was comforted by Jaipal Reddy’s assurance that the absence did not mean non-cooperation or disunity of purpose in the Opposition ranks.

“There will be more occasions when they will come around,” said Reddy, who is working hard to ensure a rapprochement with Mulayam.

For once, Sonia accepted the excuse offered by Pawar and Mulayam, communicated through Madhavrao Scindia. Pawar was busy with the Nationalist Congress Party national executive meeting. Mulayam could not turn up because of the Barthana byelections where he is facing a near- rebellion from associate Balram Singh whose son is the BJP candidate.

The invites to Sonia’s tea party were sent to parties, not individuals, but the Congress did not bother to enquire why the Samajwadi Party and the NCP did not send representatives.

During the 45-minute meeting, Sonia was at ease listening to Mayavati and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and contributed at regular intervals.

It was a shift from May 1999, when she avoided meeting leaders of like-minded parties in groups during her unsuccessful bid to replace Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. It was at a tea party hosted by Jayalalitha in April 1999 that the first moves were made to topple the Vajpayee government.

Today’s meeting was an exercise to select issues that would be raised during the budget session. The parties agreed to distribute the issues among themselves.

For instance, the Congress would like to take a lead in raising the Gujarat quake and Kashmir, leaving disinvestment to the Left. The party has already given 33 notices for the quake under Rule 193 that does not entail voting.

Sonia served tea and coffee with burfi and cookies from Ashoka hotel. The electronic media, that was shooed away at the beginning of the meeting, was called back to film the concluding part.


Siliguri, Feb. 19: 
After spending almost three days in Nepal trying to trace Subash Ghising’s attackers, the state police’s special investigation team returned without a clue about the culprits’ whereabouts.

Authorities here were hoping to net at least a few of the “big guns” after the cross-border drive, hyped as a “logistically precise operation”. But a disappointed police officer conceded this evening: “Unfortunately, there is nothing much to show for our efforts. Of course, the entire visit was unofficial. So everything about it is off the record.”

However, the police’s repeated assertions that they had come close to cracking the case, and their just as frequent backtracking on each of the claims, has left in its trail a list of unanswered questions.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that the police are groping in the dark about Ghising’s assailants,” said I.N. Pradhan, Kurseong branch committee president of the GNLF. “It does not seem that they are anywhere near closing in on them.”

Some of the points that are being raised are:

Within hours of the attempt on Ghising’s life, the police had said that it was the handiwork of former ally Chattray Subba, who had allegedly tied up with militants of the Northeast to carry out the operation.

On the eve of ‘Operation Deer’, the codename for the abortive trip to Nepal, the focus seemed to be shifting to the Maoist Communist Centre activists holed up in Chandaguri in Jhapa district.

The Maoist guerrillas of Nepal had apparently trained their guns on the GNLF chief for a “hefty monetary consideration”, the police now say.

A day after the ambush, the police had arrested a Nepali woman, Dimple Dewan, and a carjacker and drug dealer, Om Raj Kothwal, both based in Siliguri, who were apparently coordinating the movement of the militants at the ground level. Dimple’s house in Pradhan Nagar, the police claimed, was being used as the control room for “Operation Pankhabari”.

However, a scrutiny of Dimple Dewan’s telephone bill (number: 518589, registered in her own name) does not reveal an unusual number of calls. In fact, for the period between December 1, 2000, and January 31, 2001, the bill amount is Rs 800. The bill for the previous billing cycle is even less.

This is hardly the amount that a telephone in the “busy operational hub of Operation Pankhabari” is meant to reflect.

After dubbing her a “prime suspect” in the assassination attempt, the police, after a week’s interrogation, now claim that Dimple was a liaison woman.

But what about her links with militants from the Northeast with whom she was supposed to be in “constant touch”? The police are mum on this.

Even a week after the arrest of Kothwal on charges of supplying arms to the militants, the police have not gone any further than the charges they had pressed against him on the day he was picked up. Though the police say that Kothwal is a carjacker and drug dealer, they have not been able to pin him down on these charges even though the cases had been registered against him a few years ago.

“Unless the militants involved in the attack are identified and arrested, it is difficult to ascertain who actually has been supplying them with the arms,” admitted a police official.

So are the police deliberately placing red herrings to trap the assailants or are they bumbling along a totally unfamiliar trail? “The mystery is certainly deepening and at this moment we do not know where investigations will lead to,” said a district official.

A Nepal home department spokesman said in Kathmandu today: “We have no knowledge of any militant outfit using our territory to carry out any attack on Ghising. However, we will take action if anything like this comes to our notice.”




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