Peace tiptoes back, but finger on trigger
Dhaka politics takes over diplomacy reins
Carnage, not clash
Relief for aged in cheap cash regime
Truce signal in House
Panja defies Mamata on pullout
Bush’s Indian rope trick
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PEACE TIPTOES BACK, BUT FINGER ON TRIGGER 
 
 
BY LINDA C, BIDHAYAK DAS AND BIJAY KUMAR SHARMA
 
Shillong, Pyrdiwah and Mancachar, April 19: 
Delhi and Dhaka scrambled to douse the fire on the border after Bangladeshi troops killed four more Border Security Force jawans this morning.

Shelling at Assam’s Mancachar, where 20 BSF jawans have been killed since yesterday, stopped around 3.30 pm, raising hopes of a truce. But just when it seemed that the bloodshed had ended, firing began again at 7.15 pm.

“There are reports of fresh firing... We are waiting for the details,” Dhubri superintendent of police Apurba Jivan said.

During the brief lull on the sensitive tri-junction of the Assam-Meghalaya-Bangladesh borders, a flag meeting was held at Mahendragarh in Meghalaya. Preparations were on to hand over bodies of five BSF jawans to Indian authorities.

Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Sylhet commander Asif-ul Hussain and BSF director-general V.S. Alhawat met at Tamabil and resolved to maintain status quo.

Addressing a joint press conference near the Bangladesh Customs office at Tamabil, BSF and BDR commandants said the meeting was cordial and it was decided that peace would be maintained “in our area of responsibility”.

Both Hussain and Alhawat said the problem in Pyrdiwah would be referred to their governments. Till then, they would follow the 1975 guidelines which explain how border forces should function and also provide details of how the two forces should take up position against each other.

Earlier, Hussain had called BSF inspector-general V.K. Gaur to discuss Pyrdiwah. Gaur said the crisis had been defused with Bangladesh Rifles pulling out of the area, where they were holding 20 personnel hostage at the BSF outpost, after three tense days.

Bangladeshi troops began to pull out around 7 am after the BSF “broke the cordon”, Gaur said. But the troops are yet to vacate the village. They have only withdrawn from the BSF camp and taken up position some distance away.

“I told Hussain that what they had done was completely unexpected from a friendly country, that they had looted like dacoits, even taking apart civilians’ houses and driving out cattle,” Gaur said.

The BSF officer told him to “leave the village entirely”. He also asked Hussain to call a meeting of the affected villagers and their headmen to assess the damage done to their homes.

At the press meet, Hussain denied there was a crisis on the border. “We will maintain status quo as the situation stands from April 14,” he said.

Asked if BDR was pulling out of Pyrdiwah, he said: “We don’t know.” The officer claimed there was no aggression on the part of the BDR and that not a single bullet had been fired. When it was pointed out that the BDR had intruded into the village, forcing the villagers to flee, he laughed. “BDR has always been going to the village for regular verification of the village,” Hussain said.

“Do you realise that the border pillar is right in the middle of the village?” he asked. Hussain claimed that the BSF and the BDR were staying as friends in Pyrdiwah. Ahlawat said the BDR jawans have been pushed back from their positions near the BSF camp but it would take time for the situation to return to normal. “Give us some time,” he pleaded.

   

 
 
DHAKA POLITICS TAKES OVER DIPLOMACY REINS 
 
 
OUR CORRESPONDENTS
 
Dhaka and New Delhi, April 19: 
As questions swirled about who pulled the Bangladeshi trigger, India stuck to its velvet-glove diplomacy to avert a domestic backlash in Dhaka politics.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh spoke to his Bangladeshi counterpart Abdus Samad and impressed upon him the need to pull his forces out of the Pyrdiwah outpost and hold a flag meeting.

He also managed to persuade the Bangladesh government to join India in regretting the “deaths” in the clashes and agree that restraint should be shown by all parties. Senior officials from the two capitals were also in touch with each other to ensure that more areas along the border were not drawn into the conflict.

The Prime Minister convened the Cabinet Committee on Security in the evening. After the meeting, home minister L.K. Advani refused to describe Bangladesh as an aggressor. “I will only say that we have had very good relations with Bangladesh and, therefore, this event did come as a big surprise to us.”

The home minister said Pyrdiwah belongs to India and cannot be described as disputed territory. Advani said the full picture will be clear after the BSF director general, Gurbachan Jagat, visits Pyrdiwah and submits a report.

The issue figured in Parliament today. For the record, Delhi has lodged its displeasure at the “unwarranted and unilateral action” of Bangladesh Rifles.

Keeping the Bangladesh elections in mind, Delhi wants to ensure that its remarks do not embarrass Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been dubbed a “friend of India” by her opponents.

The flare-up has come at a politically sensitive time in Bangladesh which is heading for polls in June. The border clash is certain to become one of the main issues of the elections.

The Bangladesh high commissioner has described the “unfortunate” flare-up as “localised and isolated”. However, the Hasina government has so far made no statement on the issue. Questions are being raised whether the Bangladeshi forces acted on their own or with the approval of the government.

The inspector-general of the BSF, V.K. Gaur, today quoted Col. Asif-ul Hussain, Sylhet sector commander of Bangladesh Rifles, as saying that the force was following orders from Dhaka. Officials in Dhaka refused to comment whether the government would order an inquiry into the matter.

Hasina is caught in a fix. If her rivals manage to convince the electorate that the Bangladeshi force has been forced to retreat from the outpost, she will find it difficult to shrug off the “friend of India” tag.

Bangladesh Opposition leader Khaleda Zia said the clash was proof of poor governance and renewed a call for Hasina to step down.

   

 
 
CARNAGE, NOT CLASH 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Shillong, April 19: 
The Inspector-General of the Border Security Force today alleged that his men had been murdered in “cold blood” and not in a “border clash”.

V.K. Gaur said people in civilian clothes had lured the jawans to the other side of the border and handed them over to the Bangladesh army.

However, Bangladesh claimed the jawans had intruded into its territory.

Gaur said that at Assam’s Mancachar, where the BSF men were killed, the Indians did not even fire a single shot. He said some men in civilian clothes asked a patrol party of 12 jawans to stop.

“Suddenly, they were surrounded by over a thousand men who had been hiding behind bushes. They were dragged to the other side and handed over to the army,” Gaur said. The officer added that one of the jawans escaped to tell the story.

“There was no firing, no encounter. They were killed in cold blood,” Gaur said.

   

 
 
RELIEF FOR AGED IN CHEAP CASH REGIME 
 
 
BY OUR BUREAU
 
Mumbai, April 19: 
The Reserve Bank today signalled a cheap credit regime in an effort to jumpstart an industrial recovery, ordered a spring-cleaning drive at scam-scarred cooperative banks, and permitted banks to offer higher interest rates on deposits to senior citizens.

The Reserve Bank said in its slack season credit policy that it would shovel more cash to companies, continue with a stable interest rate regime, and keep a vigil on prices in a bid to spur economic growth.

The RBI permitted banks to lend below the prime lending rate — the interest floor at which banks lend to their most creditworthy customers.

Reserve Bank governor Bimal Jalan later said interest rates could soften further in a scenario where inflation was expected to rule below 5 per cent. The central bank also recommended the formation of a watchdog to monitor urban cooperative banks.

The biggest concession came in the form of a suggestion that banks should formulate specific fixed deposit schemes for senior citizens that would offer them higher rates of interest.

Industry circles felt that the RBI consent had come after gentle prodding from the finance ministry which faced considerable flak for reducing interest rates on small savings schemes, including the public provident fund. “These schemes should also incorporate simplified procedures for automatic transfer of deposits to nominees of such depositors in the event of death,” the statement said.

However, bankers were uncertain about the modus operandi of the scheme. “All eyes are on SBI,” a banker said. An SBI official said the bank currently has a dual rate for its retired employees who are offered 1 percentage point more than the normal rate.

A few cooperative banks already offer a special rate to senior citizens. If the nationalised banks formulate a specialised scheme for senior citizens, bankers expect a flight of deposits to the PSU banks because they offer greater safety.

   

 
 
TRUCE SIGNAL IN HOUSE 
 
 
BY OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, April 19: 
The first signs of a slight thaw in Parliament emerged today when the Lok Sabha’s business advisory committee managed to draw up a time-table for the passage of the rail budget and other finance-related Bills for the next five days.

This means the House cannot be adjourned sine die till April 25 by which time the government hopes to pass the rail and general budgets.

The Congress appeared to stick to its earlier stand of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Tehelka exposé as a condition for allowing discussions in the House. The BJP, too, presented an unrelenting front. But there were indications of a climbdown by the government.

The BJP urged the Congress to put its agitation on hold. “It’s a reasonable suggestion to ask them to please postpone their agitation by four days,” parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said.

But Congress deputy leader in Lok Sabha Madhavrao Scindia made it clear his party’s acceptance of the schedule was subject to the House agreeing to a JPC probe. “We are merely asking for what they (the government) had proposed — a JPC,” Scindia said.

Congress sources, however, said the party was willing to consider the government’s plea if the Speaker gave a “reasonable” assurance of a JPC. They added that both the Congress and the government were giving each other time till 12 noon tomorrow to review and restate their positions.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the initiative today to break the deadlock when both Houses were adjourned for the fourth consecutive day after recess. He spoke to Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi who then called Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. She reiterated her party’s demand. Balayogi then summoned Mahajan, who repeated the government’s stand. The Speaker called the business advisory committee after that.

Sources said the government is keen to end the impasse as it wants a smooth passage of the finance Bills. With the ruling coalition being in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress can create problems. The only way to circumvent this is to ensure the House is not adjourned abruptly.

   

 
 
PANJA DEFIES MAMATA ON PULLOUT 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, April 19: 
Trinamul MP Ajit Panja today fired the second cannonball in his mutiny against Mamata Banerjee, saying he would continue to support the Vajpayee government from outside.

Panja’s announcement is a defiant invitation to Mamata to expel him since it goes against the party’s decision to pull out of the NDA.

Forty-eight hours after his dramatic display of rebellion, Panja said he would also abstain from any discussion on the Tehelka issue in the Lok Sabha. “It was a unanimous decision of Trinamul’s parliamentary party at meetings held in MP Akbar Ali Khondakar’s Delhi residence on March 14 and 15 to resign from the ministry and abstain from any discussion on the Tehelka issue in the House. The decision to pull out of the NDA was taken by Mamata unilaterally. It was a knee-jerk reaction. So, I will stick only to the parliamentary party’s unanimous decision,” Panja said.

Panja, the former junior foreign minister, had broken down in tears on Tuesday while describing how he was “humiliated” in the party over the past one-and-a-half years. Panja said today he came to know of Mamata’s decision to snap links with the NDA through newspapers.

Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay scoffed at Panja’s claim. “Ajit Panja himself drafted the letter in which we said we are withdrawing from the NDA. If he so wishes, I’m ready to send him the draft of that letter,” Bandopadhyay said.

Panja said the Trinamul parliamentary party had not informed the Speaker yet about the decision of either the resignation of the two ministers, Mamata and himself, or the President about withdrawing from the NDA. “This means if we are to attend the Lok Sabha today, we will have to sit on the treasury benches. (This is what Trinamul MPs have been doing.) Won’t that be ridiculous? I called the office of the Lok Sabha today and learnt that no letter had reached from Trinamul keeping them posted of the changes which have taken place,” he added.

Bandopadhyay said the party would send the letter as soon as possible.

After Panja’s earlier outburst, the Trinamul leadership had dismissed it as an internal matter of the party which would be resolved amicably. It did not wish to precipitate a crisis by taking disciplinary action against him. But with today’s announcement Panja is trying to again provoke the mercurial Mamata into throwing him out of the party.

His emotional explosion also appeared to have left him without fellow-travellers in the party. The MPs whose names were being heard along with his own in connection with secret negotiations with the BJP did not stand up to be counted with him.

Many of the candidates who were eager to have him campaign for them chickened out. Panja, however, claimed they were only biding time.

“I have received phone calls from a number of Trinamul candidates who I will not name. They said they are scared about their names being leaked. I have told them to wait patiently till the last dates of scrutiny and withdrawal are over. After that we will see what we can do. I have already said I will campaign for only those candidates who will request me,” Panja said.

Sudip Bandopadhyay said the leadership had sent messages to candidates asking them who would like to have Panja as their campaigner. “Once we get responses from them, we will draw up a tour programme and send it across (to Panja). But so far there has not been any response.”

Panja’s daughter, Mohua Mondal, the Trinamul candidate from Vidyasagar, submitted her nomination yesterday but had not received her election symbol till tonight, said Uday Gupta, her office secretary.

Sources close to Panja and her daughter said Mamata and other party leaders close to her had promised that the symbol would be sent to her as soon as she filed her nomination.

Bandopadhyay said each candidate has to fetch his or her symbol from the office the party has opened on Sarat Bose Road. “There is no question of sending the symbol to the candidate.”

   

 
 
BUSH’S INDIAN ROPE TRICK 
 
 
FROM K.P.NAYAR
 
Washington, April 19: 
Nearly a fortnight after an unscheduled meeting with external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, US president George W. Bush has performed the diplomatic equivalent of the famed “Indian rope trick” — and with remarkable success.

With one stroke of his presidential pen, Bush has pleased both India and Pakistan, a feat which few of his predecessors have attempted, let alone carried out with any measure of success.

In one of those rare coincidences in the history of South Asia’s turbulent relations with America, both Indians and Pakistanis are equally pleased with the nomination of Christina Rocca as the new assistant secretary of state for South Asia.

Once confirmed by the Senate, Rocca will be the point person for all dealings between the US state department and South Block for the rest of Bush’s four-year term in the White House.

With Rocca’s nomination, the real possibility has emerged — for the first time since India exploded nuclear weapons in May 1998 — that the sanctions imposed by the US for the Pokhran tests may be altogether repealed.

During the last two years, as foreign policy advisor to Senator Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee dealing with South Asia, Rocca has been the main force behind efforts on Capitol Hill to ease and repeal the sanctions against India and Pakistan.

It is widely acknowledged that Rocca’s efforts culminated in what has come to be known as the Brownback amendments, which ultimately enabled former President Bill Clinton to withdraw some, but not all of the sanctions.

A valuable insight into Rocca’s agenda for India as the incoming assistant secretary of state is provided in a speech by Brownback here less than a month after Bush was sworn in as President.

The speech, which is said to have been written by Rocca, emphasised: “The US first must remove all the remaining sanctions on India, focus seriously on trade issues — including a thorough review and narrowing of the so-called Entities List — continue to work on non-proliferation differences and start evaluating the conditions under which to waive military sanctions, set up our defence and security cooperation and increase our already growing technical cooperation”.

The speech asserted: “I believe we are at a historical crossroads in our relationship with India — a time when we can develop across-the-board close relations between our two nations”.

Rocca is also said to have been instrumental in getting Brownback to move resolutions in the Senate on aiding victims of the recent earthquake in Gujarat and in extending a welcome to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Washington last year.

If Indians have reasons to be pleased about all this, so has Pakistan. Rocca was the architect of what is known here as “Brownback Amendment-3” which, in a sweeping move supportive of Pakistan, enabled the President to repeal the Pressler amendment in June 1999.

The Pressler Amendment, which is an albatross around Islamabad’s neck in dealing with Washington, would have been repealed as a result of Rocca’s work had not General Pervez Musharraf overthrown the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Musharraf’s coup tied Clinton’s hands and Brownback himself lost all enthusiasm for helping Pakistan. Just as the Indians are thankful to Rocca for all her pro-India work on Capitol Hill, the Pakistanis will be eternally grateful to her for having facilitated the withdrawal of the Pressler legislation.

Rocca’s unique appeal to Indians and Pakistanis alike probably explains the delay in naming the assistant secretary of state for South Asia.

Several other names, which were under consideration for the job since January were either considered pro-Pakistani or pro-Indian. In Rocca, Bush found a diplomat who is nothing but pro-American.

Before joining Brownback’s staff in 1997, Rocca was staff operations officer in the CIA’s directorate of operations for 15 years.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.7°C (0)
Minimum: 24.1°C (-1)

Rainfall:

3.1 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 46%

Today

Partly cloudy sky, with possibility of light rain in some areas towards the evening.
Sunrise: 5.15 am
Sunset: 5.56 pm
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company