Will it be give Khan and take Kashmir?
Delhi replies, Kashmir for Kashmir
Congress to take sip of hot tea
Welcome worthy of an emperor
UK hints at Blair boost for Bleach
People summit lays Kashmir peace agenda
America pat for Calcutta NGOs
BJP slams Pervez ‘jihadi’ mindset
Killer-student gets death
Kerala passes the hat via e-mail

 
 
WILL IT BE GIVE KHAN AND TAKE KASHMIR? 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
Shah Rukh Khan will be among the glitterati who will break bread with Pervez Musharraf on Saturday in the red-carpet welcome that India has planned for the Pakistan President despite the bad blood over Hurriyat.

Delhi boy Shah Rukh has been invited by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to attend the grand lunch at Taj Palace Hotel where food wizard Jiggs Kalra and a hand-picked team is working overtime to dish out the best food-fest for the General.

Musharraf may not be very choosy about what he eats. But, according to some of his distant relatives here, he is fond of Indian movies like millions of his countrymen. So popular are Bollywood stars in Pakistan that during an Indo-Pak cricket match in Sharjah, a group of Pakistani supporters were heard singing “Madhuri de do, Kashmir le lo (Give us Madhuri, take Kashmir)” to the tune of the Dhak Dhak girl’s Hum Apke Hain Kaun song.

Grandson of Shah Nawaz Khan, a general in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s INA, Shah Rukh has a role to play in what is known in diplomatese as normalising relations between the neighbours.

The PMO has drawn up a list of artists, journalists, diplomats and other VIPs for the two meals to be held in Delhi and Agra this weekend. However, some distant relations of the Pakistan President have not received any invitation.

Musharraf’s father has visited India thrice for family marriages, but for the general, this will be his first visit to the country since he left Kucha Saadullah as a four-year-old. Shah Rukh, too, hails from the same lanes and bylanes of what is known as “Purani Dilli”.

Dead man invited

A prominent Indian historian who died a few months ago was invited to the weekend banquet, adds Reuters.

Rediff.com said the gaffe of inviting Ravindra Kumar was discovered by President K.R. Narayanan after a list of guests was sent to him by foreign ministry officials.

   

 
 
DELHI REPLIES, KASHMIR FOR KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR AND PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
Less than 48 hours before Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s arrival, foreign minister Jaswant Singh today laid out what could well be the Indian bargaining position for the talks at Agra by making it clear that Jammu and Kashmir was the first article of the Constitution and it cannot be negotiated.

Singh expressed optimism that Sunday’s summit between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf would have a positive outcome but, at the same time, asserted that Kashmir cannot be the only issue for discussion.

“Jammu and Kashmir is not the core issue, it is at the core of Indian nationhood. It is also the first article of the Indian Constitution. How can I negotiate the Indian Constitution?” Singh asked at a news conference here.

The timing of the foreign minister’s interaction with the national and international media, which included many journalists from Pakistan, was cleverly crafted by South Block to ensure that India’s position on some key issues was well understood.

While making clear Delhi’s position on Kashmir, Singh stressed that the issue of cross-border terrorism would be raised by the Indian side at Agra. “We hope Pakistan will address the issue squarely. But even if it doesn’t, we will continue to raise it with the Pakistani leadership,” he said.

The minister pointed out that Delhi cannot enter into any discussion with Islamabad on the proposed no-war pact as it does not take care either of terror export or the low-intensity conflict in Jammu and Kashmir.

Singh tried not to add to the controversy over the Hurriyat leaders’ proposed meeting with Musharraf. “We are disappointed by this development but we don’t think it would take the focus away from the talks,” he said.

Singh’s remarks were an attempt on Delhi’s part to match Islamabad’s rhetoric on the most contentious issue that has so far stood in the way of normalising bilateral ties. By referring to the article in the Constitution on Kashmir, the minister is trying to tell Pakistan that if Musharraf has to take care of his domestic audience, so does Vajpayee. Since the position of the two countries on Kashmir was so well-entrenched, the focus should be on concentrating on other issues to move relations forward.

Asked to respond to Pakistan’s stand that Kashmir should be given primacy over other issues, Singh said that was Islamabad’s perception which India does not agree with. “Pakistan has its own priorities and so do we,” he remarked.

The minister pointed out that documents such as the Simla Agreement or the Lahore Declaration were not signed by two individuals but by two governments. “If governments renege on their past obligations, then there will be no stability in political relationships between countries,” he said.

Singh, however, made it clear that India was not shying away from discussing Kashmir: “We have been doing it since 1948 and we are ready to talk on it again.”

Prisoners of war

The minister said the issue of PoWs was an area of concern for India and it has raised it with Pakistan in the past and will do so at Agra. But he pointed out that the provisions of the Geneva Convention cannot be brought into play as Pakistan has so far refused to accept the existence of Indian PoWs in its jails.

   

 
 
CONGRESS TO TAKE SIP OF HOT TEA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
The cup of tea between India and Pakistan may be getting too hot but the Congress has decided to sip it.

In a day marked with flip-flops, the main Opposition party refused to play second-fiddle to the National Democratic Alliance and decided to attend Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi’s tea party. But the representation will be at a relatively “junior level”.

Qazi has invited nine Congress leaders, including party chief Sonia Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Madhavrao Scindia and K. Natwar Singh, but none of them is likely to be present at the tea party. They will, however, meet President Pervez Musharraf when Sonia calls on him as leader of the Opposition.

A Congress delegation led by Sonia was today briefed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the presence of foreign minister Jaswant Singh, home minister L.K. Advani and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra. Vajpayee gave a detailed account of issues likely to be discussed, including the status of minorities in Pakistan.

Sonia said the Congress would continue to support the government’s efforts to normalise ties with Pakistan and added that there were several other important issues to be discussed apart from Kashmir. The delegation agreed with the foreign minister’s remark that the tea party should not be allowed to affect the atmosphere surrounding the Agra summit. By their own assessment, the controversy over the tea party was a “side show”.

The delegation made it clear that it was opposed to the idea of Hurriyat leaders having a one-on-one interaction with Musharraf at the tea party. Though he acknowledged that Hurriyat leaders were bona fide Indian citizens, Mukherjee said they had no role to play in bilateral talks between the two executive heads. He reiterated that the government should hold negotiations with the Hurriyat.

Asked if the Congress would send a “token representation”, Mukherjee said: “What does it mean? Whether all the invitees from the party would be going or not will be known by tomorrow.” The Congress, he said, will also go by protocol.

There has been hectic activity in the Congress since last night when the NDA decided to boycott Qazi’s party. AICC foreign affairs chairman Natwar Singh was overruled when he made a case for a review of the party’s participation.

   

 
 
WELCOME WORTHY OF AN EMPEROR 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ajmer , July 12: 
It took 400 years for someone to pip emperor Akbar at the post. General Pervez Musharraf has finally done that, and more. Unknowingly, he has also reserved for himself an uncontested place in the contemporary history of the dargah at Ajmer Shareif.

Hoary maulvis, who have painstakingly recorded the details of VIP visits and referred to historical anecdotes of past generations to compare notes, will tell you with awed conviction that Musharraf is getting a welcome whose magnitude and pomp can only be compared with the one Akbar got four centuries ago.

Abdul Kudoos will place a special pair of shoes on Musharraf’s feet as he enters the Nizam Gate for his ziyarat (ritual prayers) at the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti at 4.25 pm on July 16. Kudoos and his family have been fulfilling this tradition for celebrated visitors for the last three generations. The 56-year-old Kudoos had done it for Zia-ul- Haq, Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi and more recently Khaleda Zia. “But I have never seen such frenzy, such preparations for anyone,” he said. “I wonder if all this is worth it. It does seem a bit maddening.”

Kudoos has a point. Each minute of Musharraf’s stay in Ajmer will cost the Indian government more than Rs 1 lakh and some of the things being done for his welcome are bizarre. But then, a guest is a guest and such a guest, too.

Basic architectural principles have been turned on their heads at the Circuit House for the “benefit” of the President. Three huge and separate rooms have been converted into one room so that it is “big enough for the general”. Walls have come down and been replaced by glass. The flooring has been uprooted and new tiles with flashy smoothness are being plastered all across the building.

So that Musharraf can have a clear view of the Anna Sagar lake, PWD engineers have come with a rather ingenious solution. They have hammered out from the walls three doors that connect the three rooms. “See, Musharraf can view the lake from any of these three doors,” says the chief engineer with pride. Of course, the PWD has taken for granted that the only thing Musharraf will be doing in the course of his 20-minute stay at the Circuit House is sit — keeping in mind the line of vision to the lake — at any of the three doors, and stare at the rather shallow waters.

The renovations — and innovations — would cost the government around Rs 30 lakh. Though Musharraf would hardly have 10 minutes to himself at the Circuit House, the kitchen staff of the Palace on Wheels would be trying their best to lay out before the President as much food as possible. “We have already decided on an excellent array of sheekh kebabs and chicken cutlets,” beams Rajiv Mathur, who is overseeing preparations at the Circuit House.

At the dargah, a 40-kg silver door gifted to the shrine by one Mohammad Ishaq of Jaipur is being fitted at the entrance to the Jannate Darwaza to time with the general’s visit. There are renovations everywhere with the government taking care to arrange for a huge tarpaulin sheet so that Musharraf doesn’t get wet in case it rains. Umbrellas are not allowed inside the dargah.

Ajmer has been cleaned and sanitised. Autorickshaws have been banned for some time and fakirs crowding the dargah banished to adjoining towns. Some of them were bodily pushed inside trains. Privately, many of the maulvis and khadims whisper that some of the preparations are highly exaggerated and unnecessary.

And though there is a lot of irritation at the hyperbolic welcome for Musharraf, there have been no loud protests. Perhaps it is because, as Kudoos says, “everything” will be worth it if Musharraf asks for lasting peace between India and Pakistan at the dargah. “Aman ke liye thodi se pagalpan aur bewakoofi seh lenge. (For peace we will tolerate a little madness and some stupidity.)”

   

 
 
UK HINTS AT BLAIR BOOST FOR BLEACH 
 
 
BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, July 12: 
“It is very unusual for a British Prime Minister to get involved in consular matters, but with the Government of India not responding to the matter of Mr Bleach’s continued imprisonment, there is a growing possibility of Mr Blair’s intervention... We, however, hope that will not be required.”

The British are beginning to run out of patience over the “discrimination” shown towards one of its nationals by the Indian government. That was the message in the missive, delivered with studied deliberation today by deputy high commissioner John Mitchiner outside Presidency Jail where Peter James Bleach has been languishing for five years, six months and 12 nights now. “We feel very strongly about the discriminatory treatment of Bleach, who was served an identical sentence as the Latvians, but remains in prison a year after they left for home.”

It was in July 2000 that the six Latvian crew members, co-accused in the Purulia armsdrop case of December 1995, walked free with a presidential remission of life sentence. Despite formal petitions and references to the “unconstitutional and unjust incarceration of Bleach” from the British foreign and home offices, the Indian government has maintained an inexplicable silence on the issue.

“This was a routine consular visit during which I informed Bleach about the constant British efforts to secure his release,” said Mitchiner. “There have been repeated requests from our side for the past two months, as we have raised the issue with the Indian government at every given opportunity, the most recent one being the visit of deputy Prime Minister Prescott. But unfortunately, there has been no positive response from the other side.”

Referring to murmurs that Bleach could be set free this weekend, Mitchiner replied, tongue firmly in bearded cheek: “We have heard this quite a few times in the past one year... All I can say is we live in hope.”

For the moment, Bleach — an arms expert who has kept himself busy poring over the Indian Constitution and law books for the past five years and is now engaged in a historical study of the Second World War — is pinning his hopes on a Supreme Court verdict on July 16. That’s when the apex court will take up “final hearing of a special leave petition” filed by legal activist Deepak Kumar Prahladka, demanding the “immediate release” of Bleach.

In July 2000, following the Latvians’ release, Prahladka had pleaded Bleach’s case with President K.R. Narayanan. The President’s office had forwarded the petition to the home ministry.

On April 30, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Union home ministry to show cause “within six weeks” why the remission petition filed by Prahladka had not been disposed of.

“The home ministry has failed to file a reply... Now, the Centre has two options — reject the remission petition by July 16, thus continuing with the blatant denial of equal treatment under Article 14 of the Constitution, or release Bleach,” said Prahladka, before leaving for Delhi on Thursday.

   

 
 
PEOPLE SUMMIT LAYS KASHMIR PEACE AGENDA 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
Though Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee are yet to decide on the Kashmir issue, the Pakistan-India People’s Solidarity Conference held in the capital today urged the two countries to cease hostilities in Kashmir and initiate disengagement of armed forces by terminating state and non-state support to armed forces.

The conference also called upon the two governments to involve people on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in finding a democratic and non-sectarian solution to the Kashmir problem. The Kashmir issue is not only a territorial dispute between the two states, but also involves the people of Jammu and Kashmir, including Jammu, Kashmir, Gilgit, Baltistan, Muzaffarabad, Mirpur and Ladakh, pointed out the declaration of the conference, which will be submitted to both the heads of state.

The conference was attended by Pakistani and Indian activists, academics and artists. Forty of the delegates were from Pakistan and two from PoK. The emphasis throughout the conference was on the involvement of people in decision-making. “The Kashmir solution should be based on what the people of Kashmir want. The people of Kashmir should decide how they want to be involved, and this can only happen by giving them political space,” said Pakistan-India People’s Forum president I.A. Rehman.

The delegates decided that both countries must commit themselves to a nuclear freeze, which would entail no further testing, no development and deployment of nuclear weapons and no further effort towards setting-up of command and control systems, according to Admiral L. Ramdas. Both countries were urged to withdraw laws violating human rights and withdraw the order for prior government permission to hold international seminars.

The delegates also placed emphasis on normalisation of cultural and trade relations between the two countries. “Cultural ties between the people of India and Pakistan is necessary, since the people share the same cultural past,” remarked Sheema Kermani, actress and dancer from Pakistan, who has strong family ties with India. Sheema received her training in Bharatnatyam and Odissi in India and teaches dance in Pakistan.

Criticising the stand of the two countries, the delegates pointed that the biggest problem in India and Pakistan is that the government never speaks to its people. “Only when voices are allowed to be free, people can be more vocal about their demands. History is on our side. One cannot live in hostility,” lawyer and activist Asma Jehangir said. “Could anyone have imagined that a military dictator from Pakistan would talk about peace and would come to Delhi?” she asked.

Pervez security

Security in Delhi has been beefed up, following apprehensions of threats to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf from fundamentalists during his visit to India.

The areas that will be visited by Musharraf will be sanitised by the Delhi police. “Crack commandos, police control room vans, mounted police and women police officers would also be deployed,” said special commissioner (security) R.S. Gupta. In the beginning of July, a Pakistani team comprising chief of protocol Khalid Habib and chief security officer Ilias were taken to the places to be visited by the Pakistan President.

   

 
 
AMERICA PAT FOR CALCUTTA NGOS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, July 12: 
Non-government organisations in Calcutta have been singled out for praise in a report by the US state department for their cooperative efforts with authorities in West Bengal to protect and care for victims of trafficking in human beings.

These agencies have improved the quality and security at remand homes for women by providing counsellors, the annual report mandated under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, 2000 released today said.

The report, submitted to Congress by the secretary of state, Colin Powell, said the Indian government does not yet fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons.

The minimum standards require the government to prohibit trafficking and punish offenders, prescribe punishment commensurate with the gravity of crimes like forcible sexual assault and make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate trafficking.

“However, the government is making significant efforts to combat trafficking in persons. The Central government recognises the trafficking problem, but is severely under-funded and typically unable to implement plans and initiatives with which it agrees,” the report noted.

A South Asian Regional Strategy to Combat Trafficking of Women and Children, developed by the state department last year, is being implemented by UN International Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) with financial assistance from the US government.

US embassies and consulates in South Asia are providing grants “to take advantage of targets of opportunity to build greater awareness of the dangers of trafficking in persons”, the state department said yesterday.

As a result, the Calcutta-based NGO, Sanlaap, is in the process of conducting a series of interactive workshops to train the police, judicial officers and the border patrol in more effective methods against trafficking.

The objective of these workshops is to ensure successful prosecution of cases against traffickers, improve coordination in intercepting traffic in human beings and strengthening coordination between NGOs and the police in Calcutta.

Officers from the state department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), who have experience in such work, will be part of these workshops.

As part of this INL programme, an alliance of 15 NGOs in West Bengal called the Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC) is being encouraged to be more active along the Indo-Bangladesh border, where such crimes are common.

Another West Bengal NGO, the Bhoruka Public Welfare Trust, has been recruited for training police officers along West Bengal’s border with Eastern Nepal under the UNIFEM’s programme.

   

 
 
BJP SLAMS PERVEZ ‘JIHADI’ MINDSET 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, July 12: 
Worried about getting sandwiched between a hawkish President Pervez Musharraf, who is playing to the gallery, and a moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP today struck a hardline posture.

The party came down heavily on the Pakistan President for his “unaccommodating and offensive attitude” ahead of the summit and said Musharraf should come out of his “jihadi mindset” if talks were to be fruitful.

On Musharraf’s insistence that the focus of the talks should be Kashmir, senior BJP leader J. P. Mathur said: “Our purpose was to go on the high road of reconciliation and friendship but that has almost been spoilt by the arrogant and jihadi attitude of the Pakistan President.”

The BJP, which yesterday forced the NDA to boycott the Pakistan-sponsored tea party where Hurriyat leaders would be present, said it would be difficult for New Delhi and Islamabad to have a no-war pact, as proposed by Musharraf, unless Pakistan stopped aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism and ISI activities.

Asked if Musharraf was referring to only Kashmir due to domestic compulsions, Mathur said: “It is not our concern what pressures are on him within Pakistan as it is for him to deal with them. Our concern should be what is in our national interest.”

The BJP said its concern was articulated by none other than a moderate like former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who said yesterday that Musharraf was “holding a gun to our head”.

Though the party has “fully” backed Vajpayee’s goodwill gestures, it is worried over the growing public perception that Pakistan has not responded in adequate manner to New Delhi’s conciliatory efforts.

BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, however, felt that New Delhi’s gestures had unnerved Musharraf and, therefore, he was bent on focusing only on Kashmir. “What the Indian government is doing is in comparison to its size and stature and not based on Pakistan’s dwarfed response,” he said.

Musharraf itinerary

Musharraf will have at least one more hour to spend at the reception hosted by his high commissioner where Hurriyat leaders are likely to have a meeting with him.

Musharraf’s itinerary, which was officially released tonight, says he will be at Pakistan House from 4.15 to 6.30 pm instead of 5.30 to 6.30 on Saturday evening.

His visit to the Nizamuddin Dargah, originally slated around 4 pm, does not figure in the revised programme.

   

 
 
KILLER-STUDENT GETS DEATH 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
Patna, July 12: 
A teenaged student, who shot dead his friend, has been sentenced to death and two of his accomplices, also students, sent to jail for life.

The “eye-for-an-eye judgment” delivered yesterday by a Patna sessions court has sparked protest from human rights activists and legal luminaries, who were upset that the students, believed to be juveniles, were not tried under the Juvenile Justice Act.

The three accused were sent to Beur jail instead of reformatory this morning, provoking an outcry from the rights activists. “The tragedy of a student’s killing by another turned into melodrama when the judgment betrayed a retributive spirit of justice. The judicial system is (there) to reform the delinquents, not kill,” said Kishori Das, general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

Patna sessions judge Sadanand Mukherjee yesterday ordered that Arnit Das, a student of Class X, be hanged till death for pulling the trigger on Abhisekh Singh, an 18-year-old student, in Rajendranagar area of Patna in September 1998. Siddharth Singh and Rohan Sinha, also students, were sentenced for life for their alleged involvement in the murder.

The three plotted the murder out of jealousy over Abhisekh’s alleged involvement with a girl. Initially, Siddharth was going around with her. But once Abhisekh returned after schooling in Dehradun, the girl turned all her attention on him. This led to cracks in the friendship among the four teenagers and Abhisekh increasingly became alienated.

The three boys clandestinely procured a weapon and shot Abhisekh one September evening as he was returning from his teacher’s house. The prosecution said Arnit had pulled the trigger.

But Arnit’s counsel A.N. Sinha picked several loopholes in the judgment. He pointed out that the prosecution had failed to produce the weapon or an eyewitness. He added that the court refused to accept the birth certificate issued by a Calcutta nursing home and Arnit’s school certificate as proof of his age while rejecting the plea that he was a minor. The only evidence against Arnit was his statement before the magistrate, which was retracted subsequently and was not corroborated by others. Sinha said the judgement was unnecessarily harsh and “we would move high court against the order”.

Tarakant Jha, a legal expert, said the new Juvenile Justice Act, which came into force in April this year, clearly says pending cases should get the benefit of the Act. It defines a juvenile as one who has not crossed 18 years of age. The medical board set up by the court to determine the age of the accused said they were between 16 and 18.

Arnit’s mother, Sushmita, felt the age factor should have been of prime consideration, particularly because of the nature of the offence.

“The case is clearly one of teenage vulnerability in matters relating to girls which took a vio-lent turn. The social delinquency in Patna — where weapons are abundantly available and there are few role models — is responsible for the teenagers’ rapid drift to problem behaviour. But capital punishment is no solution,” said Santosh Maheswari, a social-psychologist and former professor of Patna University.

Even Abhisekh’s father, Ajit Singh, said: “I know my son will not come back. The judgment of the court is a poor solace.” He observed that a behavioural disorder caused by jealousy might have led to the killing.

Upalkant Singh, Siddharth’s father, felt the boys were all first-time offenders and their cases needed a more sensitive treatment.

   

 
 
KERALA PASSES THE HAT VIA E-MAIL 
 
 
FROM VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
 
Thiruvananthapuram, July 12: 
On the eve of its first budget, Kerala’s cash-strapped United Democratic Front (UDF) government has come up with a unique strategy to raise funds — through e-mail.

The government has started sending mail to its expatriate population, asking them to invest in the state. A new official website giving details of the state’s economic condition has been launched for non-resident Keralites (NRK). It requests them to convince each other to invest in the state.

Once hailed as the role model for development in Third World countries, this is only one of the initiatives the state has struck upon to overcome the economic crisis, chief minister A.K. Antony said.

The UDF leadership said the crisis was created by the previous CPM-led Left Democratic Front’s wayward financial management and misplaced development priorities. The LDF, however, claim that the UDF was running a slander campaign.

Whatever the reason, Kerala is in a major debt trap. The new initiative has come from the realisation that Kerala’s economy does not generate enough options to tackle this situation.

The state government is offering a quid pro quo to the NRK community. M.M. Hassan, minister for the new department of NRK affairs, said “one of his priorities is to address the long-standing demands of NRKs”. These include a re-employment scheme for retrenched NRK employees, improving air travel facilities and general welfare schemes.

   
 

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