After the talks, terror strikes daily
Brake on quick return journey
A week later, blame Pakistan
Mamata return track blocked
Calcutta Weather

 
 
AFTER THE TALKS, TERROR STRIKES DAILY 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, July 22: 
Barely 24 hours after the Amarnath massacre, blood flowed again today in the tormented state with militants killing 15 villagers in Doda district.

No group has claimed responsibility for today’s attack but the successive strikes have shattered the calm that marked the run-up to the Agra Summit. The Hurriyat linked yesterday’s raid on the Amarnath yatris with the “unresolved Kashmir issue”.

“The need of the hour is to accept political realities and iron out realities and find out an ever-lasting and fair solution to the Kashmir issue as per political aspirations of the Kashmiris,” said a Hurriyat spokesman.

Early this morning, heavily armed militants swooped down on remote Chirjee village, 350 km from Jammu, and pulled out residents from their homes before opening fire from automatics, killing 15 villagers on the spot.

The police could be informed and the five injured reached to hospital in Kishtwar only in the afternoon because of the difficult terrain. One of the injured, a boy, could not specify the number of militants but remembered the men unleashing a hail of bullets.

“Senior police officers along with reinforcements were rushed to Chirjee after we got the report in the afternoon. Troops are also being sent for combing operations,” police chief Ashok Suri said. “It is a difficult area and it will take the force several hours to reach the site of the massacre on foot,” he added.

In another strike close to the carnage site late last night, armed militants abducted five village defence committee members of Chatroo village, about 30 km from the last motorable road. Members of these committees guard their villages from militant attacks in the Jammu region.

Suri said the vigilantes were picked up from the Paddar area near Kishtwar in Doda. “Nothing is known of their fate. Police and security forces have mounted a hunt to trace them,” he added.

The spurt in violence notwithstanding, the suspended Amarnath Yatra resumed after a day under tight security. Thirteen persons, including six pilgrims and two police officers, were killed in an assault on the yatra at Seshnag yesterday, halting the pilgrims in their steps. After combing the areas around the Pahalgam-Amarnath trek, the authorities this morning allowed stranded pilgrims to proceed towards the holy cave. A fresh batch of 3,000 pilgrims, too, left Jammu for Pahalgam in heavily escorted vehicles.

A Reuters report today said a Pakistan-based militant group Al-Umar Muhjahideen claimed responsibility for the attack. Several mercenary outfits, particularly the Lashkar-e-Toiba, had threatened to step up violence in the Valley after the Agra Summit remained inconclusive.

Delhi rushed minister of state for home I.D. Swamy and special secretary (home) A.A. Bhandari to Seshnag to reassure the shaken pilgrims and assess security arrangements.

Swamy called on Governor G.C. Saxena, who briefed him. Last evening, Saxena had chaired a high-level meeting to review the post-summit situation in the state. Chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who was present at the meeting, today expressed shock at the back-to-back carnage. “Militants enjoying Pak support have gone berserk in pursuit of their evil designs by terrorising peace-loving people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, adding that these incidents have shaken the conscience of the citizens of the state.

The All-India Shia-Sunni United Front today condemned the attack by “pro-Pakistan terrorists”, saying it was an act by those who wanted to cause a setback to the peace process.

Swamy also visited the injured pilgrims and policemen. Fourteen injured persons, including eight pilgrims, are undergoing treatment at the base hospital at Badami Bagh. The condition of five is stated to be critical.

The government has flown the bodies of four pilgrims, including two from West Bengal, to their respective states.

   

 
 
BRAKE ON QUICK RETURN JOURNEY 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, July 22: 
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is expected to formally invite Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Pakistan in the next few days, but it may be some months before the Prime Minister visits Islamabad.

Senior officials in South Block have not ruled out the possibility of Vajpayee meeting Musharraf on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. But they are against a state visit by either Vajpayee or an official visit by foreign minister Jaswant Singh to Islamabad in the next few months.

Even Vajpayee told reporters today that there was no time frame within which he would accept Pakistan’s invitation to continue talks. “They have extended an invitation to me. I have accepted it. There is no time limit. A decision on it will be taken according to convenience and after taking into account all aspects of the situation,” he said.

The RSS has already declared publicly that Vajpayee should not visit Pakistan until Musharraf stops harping on the centrality of the Kashmir issue.

During the Agra Summit, Musharraf had invited Vajpayee to Islamabad. After returning to Islamabad, he told a news conference on Friday that he would formally invite Vajpayee, while his foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, would extend an invitation to his Indian counterpart to visit Pakistan.

But the sombre mood in Delhi suggests that neither Vajpayee nor Singh will be in a hurry to visit Pakistan. The initial optimism, that was spoiled at the end of the summit, took a further beating after Musharraf’s Friday news conference where he again harped on Kashmir.

Officially, New Delhi is likely to maintain that the Prime Minister is pre-occupied with his domestic engagements and will have to travel abroad at least thrice this year, once to New York for the UN meet. There’s also the monsoon session of Parliament to keep him busy.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to make a statement in Parliament on Tuesday on the Agra Summit. There are indications that he will make it clear that while India wants to establish friendly and cooperative relations with Pakistan — with Agra being another step in that direction — it will not be done by compromising national interest.

Like Singh, who had asserted soon after Musharraf’s news conference that Kashmir was an integral part of India, the Prime Minister would take that line to assure the country that India did not do any backroom bargaining which might have led to a fundamental shift from this position.

Despite the understanding reached on certain areas, what has made the Indian leadership a little circumspect and perhaps also forced it to adopt a tough position was the manner in which Musharraf had been harping on the fact that unless the Kashmir dispute was resolved the possibility of any improvement in India- Pakistan relations was remote.

Though New Delhi remains committed to the peace initiative undertaken by Vajpayee when he invited Musharraf for talks, future negotiations with Islamabad will depend to a large extent on how the military regime in Pakistan conducts itself, particularly in continuing to show restraint along the Line of Control.

   

 
 
A WEEK LATER, BLAME PAKISTAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 22: 
Nearly a week after President Pervez Musharraf’s breakfast blast, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave a hungry public something to chew on, blaming Pakistan for the failure of the Agra talks.

Much of what he said in his first public statement on the talks has been said already, such as Pakistan’s insistence on the “centrality” of the Kashmir issue and its refusal to include in the declaration any reference to cross-border terrorism.

“The talks broke down because of Pakistan’s adamant attitude against making any reference to cross-border terrorism in the draft document which they repeatedly termed a freedom struggle,” Vajpayee said at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The Prime Minister, under pressure to reply to Musharraf’s media double whammy — first at the Agra breakfast meeting with editors and then on Friday in Islamabad — will make a statement in Parliament on Tuesday, which will be telecast live.

Vajpayee said one other factor that caused the declaration deadlock was Pakistan’s insistence that “till the Kashmir issue is resolved, there cannot be normalisation of relations”.

Musharraf has said he and Vajpayee had twice come close to signing an agreement. The Prime Minister denied this. “No draft came before us. It was discussed only at the delegation level.”

He conceded that there was agreement on “some points” but it was “wrong” to suggest accord on signing the document.

Vajpayee reacted strongly to views expressed in private by some in the BJP, blaming Jaswant Singh for the Agra fiasco. “This is wrong and I want to deny it. All decisions were taken unanimously. As external affairs minister, Singh had a special responsibility but everything was done on the basis of collective responsibility.”

“If there was any shortcoming, as leader of the council of ministers it was my shortcoming,” he said.

A more generous helping of what happened at Agra will be available in Vajpayee’s statement in both Houses of Parliament at noon on Tuesday. Vajpayee’s spin doctors are eager to see that he conveys a firm, confident, if not aggressive, counter to Musharraf. The effort is to minimise Vajpayee’s trademark “long pauses”.

The statement is likely to be telecast live on all channels. “If the Prime Minister allows, we will give the feed of his statement to all channels,” parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said.

Taking a dig at Musharraf’s breakfast meeting with Indian editors, which was telecast by STAR News in India, Mahajan quipped: “Instead of a deferred breakfast, we can have a live lunch.”

He wouldn’t, of course, say that the “live lunch” will come as a deferred response.

Mahajan said the Centre was ready for a discussion, as demanded by the Opposition, on Agra. The Opposition has a clutch of other issues — UTI, Air-India divestment and the Naga ceasefire — to put the government on the mat.

   

 
 
MAMATA RETURN TRACK BLOCKED 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, July 22: 
The Uttar Pradesh elections have muddled calculations in Bengal.

Ajit Singh, whose perceived Jat votebank in the heartland is being eyed by the BJP, was today named the Cabinet minister for agriculture. The portfolio allocation leaves Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar, who was handling agriculture, with only one ministry — railway.

Railway was the berth Nitish had publicly offered Mamata when he invited her back to the NDA after the Trinamul Congress’ poll debacle in Bengal.

However, Trinamul will now find it difficult to persuade Nitish to give up his lone portfolio to facilitate the party’s return, which seemed to have been put on the backburner by Mamata yesterday. But a section of Trinamul MPs today sought to keep the prospects of a re-entry alive by claiming that Mamata has made it clear that she had not closed the NDA option.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, too, indicated as much in Delhi. Asked whether Trinamul will rejoin the NDA, Vajpayee said: “Talks are on. But there is no proposal of inducting them into the ministry.”

In a minor shuffle, the minister of state for commerce and industry, Omar Abdullah, has been shifted to external affairs and the minister of state for external affairs has been sent to the defence ministry. Minister of state for railway Digvijay Singh, who was Pervez Musharraf’s minister-in-waiting, has replaced Abdullah, Murasoli Maran’s deputy.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 32.4°C (0)
Minimum: 27°C (+1)

Rainfall

0.1 mm

Relative Humidity

Max: 97%
Min: 74%

Today

One or two spells of light rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.05 am
Sunset: 6.21 pm
   
 

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