Bush wants him dead or alive
Debate to project real face
Foul play stink in market debris
US Pak tilt bothers sheepish BJP
War cry slows down tourist rush
Cong rethink on blanket support
Tighter security for aircraft
Diplomats scramble for Indian visas
Calcutta weather

Islamabad, Sept. 17: 

Osama’s hostis not listening

Osama bin Laden’s fate now seems to be in the hands of Islamic scholars converging on Kabul for a meeting tomorrow.

A Pakistani team, headed by the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, met Taliban leaders at their base in Kandahar to persuade them to hand over bin Laden, named by the US as the prime suspect in last Tuesday’s attacks. But the Taliban stood firm.

Although the Pakistani delegation extended their stay by a day for further talks and to wait for the decision of the ulemas (clerics), Afghanistan watchers said the chances of the meeting deciding to hand over bin Laden were remote. A similar meeting in the past had dismissed the charge that he was involved in terrorism.

“Tomorrow, a gathering of ulemas from each province will be held in Kabul and they will make a decision on the recent events,” state-run Radio Shariat said. The Taliban’s spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar informed the Pakistani team of the meeting during three hours of talks today that were described by the Afghan side as “positive”. After arriving in the morning the Pakistanis immediately went into talks with foreign minister Mullah Maulawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil.

“The decision and edict of the clerics… is important and compulsory and the government will implement it fully,” Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutamaen said. “We are 60 per cent hopeful that conditions will be returned to normal,” he added.

But on bin Laden, whom the Taliban considers a “guest” and President George W. Bush wants “dead or alive”, Mutamaen reported no progress: “There was no clear discussion on this particular topic.”

The Pakistani team, which, sources said, was carrying a special message from President Pervez Musharraf for Mullah Omar, left for Kabul later.

Sources said the purpose of the visit of the Pakistani team is more than trying to persuade the Taliban to hand over bin Laden to avert a war on Afghanistan. Musharraf appears to believe that larger changes are about to get under way in Afghanistan, possibly even a recasting of the power structure, and Pakistan has to play a role in it.

A Pakistani official held out the stunning possibility that the Taliban may not be aware of the intensity of world opinion against them. “Try to picture the environment in which the government takes decisions,” foreign minister Abdul Sattar said. Taliban leader Mullah Omar, a reclusive, one-eyed cleric, has never been photographed and has met only two non-Muslims in his entire life.

“Their sources of external information are possibly television and probably radio… My fear is perhaps the government and leadership are not fully aware of the storm that broke loose on September 11,” Sattar said.

Back in Islamabad, Musharraf faced a storm of protests against his decision to support the US from 30 religious parties which will launch nationwide strikes from Friday.


New Delhi, Sept. 17: 
The enormity of the conflict between the fundamentalist Taliban and the US has ignited an intense debate in the Muslim world, underlining the need to present a “correct picture” of Islam and look at the social side of the fundamentalist agenda.

The overt purpose is to save the followers of the world’s third largest religion from facing discrimination in developed nations.

Muslim leaders in India want religious seminaries across the globe to renounce extremism and the cult of violence masquerading as religion. Khalid Rasheed, head of the Islamic Centre of India, and the Naib Imam of Idgah Lucknow, said: “There is a need for ummah (the community) to come out and clear many misgivings. Let everyone know that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism or killing of innocents.”

The social side of the fundamentalist agenda exhibited through overt religiosity in the form of compulsory veils and beards is increasingly being enforced from Kashmir to Afghanistan to Algeria. What is causing concern among liberal Muslims is the clergy’s tacit approval of such coercive measures. For instance, the militants’ drive to enforce burqas on women in Kashmir has gone almost unnoticed by the Indian Islamic clergy.

Some of them tried to explain these in terms of philosophical interpretations, saying these forcible practices were “a product of the need to look for comforting certainties in uncertain times”. More specifically, they said, faced with an extremely hostile environment, Muslims in Kashmir and Afghanistan were seeking reassurance in what they view as “pure Islam”.

K.M. Khan, a member of the Rajya Sabha, is more concerned about the damage the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killings have caused to Muslims.

“Let us not fall into a Muslim equivalent of Zionist hatred,” he said. Khan, who belongs to the Congress, said non-political Muslim organisations should introspect why Islam was getting clubbed with extremism.

Khan, however, added that the superpowers, particularly America, should review its policies towards Palestine and other conflict zones. “If the idea is to accept legal recourses to outstanding disputes, it should be universally applicable. Is there any justification why 67 UN resolutions against Israel have gone unheeded while Iraq is still being punished for violating one?” he asked.

Apart from the need for a dialogue within religious outfits, scholars feel education and democracy would check extremism. Hisham Zoubie of Sheffield University said absence of democracy in many Islamic countries is a factor leading to extremism. “Religion has become the only channel of dissent,” he said.

Barring Iran, most countries in West Asia have monarchies or despotic rulers. In countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, where “shouras” (advisory councils) have come up, they are often packed with members of the ruling clan with virtually little or no scope for ordinary citizens to get into decision-making bodies.

Backing the premise, K.M. Khan said democratic set-ups offer a platform for giving vent to feelings of various sections of society.

Leaders also blame the media for perpetuating stereotypes. Anis Durrani, chairman of Delhi Haj committee, said TV networks were peddling the theory of the clash of civilisations between Islam and Christianity.


New Delhi, Sept. 17: 
New Yorkers trooped back to work after the longest Wall Street shutdown since World War I but the cheers at the opening bell on the stock exchange soon lay buried under an avalanche of selling.

Near the close of the day, the New York Stock Exchange had suffered its largest-ever fall in history, the market index — the Dow Jones Industrial Averages — losing 684 points. Monday’s mayhem at New York was preceded by an Asian meltdown, the Bombay Stock Exchange slithering to an eight-year low of 2680.98.

Europe bucked the trend.

A New Yorker returning to work in the financial district had commented this morning: “It smells different.”

The market’s behaviour appeared to be smelling different to European and Asian financial watchdogs. They were probing if anyone with the inside information that there would be terror attacks (which would clobber world markets) had speculated in the stock markets to make profits.

Watchdogs in Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Japan indicated that they were studying trading patterns for any sign that an insider had taken a grisly bet that America — and the stock market — were about to be shaken to their core. “We are taking a routine look at the share prices of various stocks,” a spokeswoman for German regulator BaWe said. “This will involve the examination of all types of shares.”

“I am convinced that... the person who organised that attack has a lucid mind and knows very well that money gives power,” Italian defence minister Antonio Martino was quoted as saying in Italian daily La Stampa.

“I don’t think it would be exaggerated to think that the terrorist organisations were among those who speculated on international markets,” Martino told the paper.

Regulators believe insiders sold stocks short in European and Asian markets and made a killing.

One way of doing that would be to sell before the market crash, when prices are firm, and buying cheap, after the carnage.

Another way would be by playing the futures market. A person can enter into an agreement to sell a share to someone at an agreed price at a future date – in this case, after the crash. As the trader knows prices will tumble, he buys cheap after the terror attacks, and sells at the price he agreed on with the buyer before the crash, thus making a big profit.

In both the cases, the knowledge that markets will crash makes it certain that the trader will make huge profits from the transactions.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission was not immediately available for comment.

London’s Financial Services Authority said it was routine for it to look at trading patterns before and after a major market-moving event for signs of foul play. It said it was also in close and constant contact with its European counterparts. The authority, however, cautioned that markets were already falling before the attacks. “There was some short-selling anyway,” the spokesman said.


New Delhi, Sept. 17: 
After raising a banner virtually proclaiming “We are all Americans now” for the first two days after the suicide strikes, the BJP is sounding disenchanted with the US ostensibly because it is inching closer to Pakistan to trap Osama bin Laden.

The US’ reticence on whether it will concede Pakistan’s demands, especially intervention in Kashmir, have unsettled the BJP which initially felt the World Trade Center and Pentagon strikes were a godsend for Delhi to cement counter-terrorism ties with Washington.

Privately, the BJP talked of forging a broader US-India-Israel axes against “Islamic terrorism”.

Reflecting the changed mood in the BJP’s 11 Ashoka Road headquarters, party general secretary Narendra Modi said: “The phenomenon of terrorism is a challenge to the civilised world and it has to be understood in all its forms and manifestations. But unfortunately, the statements issued by the US show its attitude has narrowed down to just getting Osama bin Laden. If this happens, the international community will conclude that the US does not understand the full import of terrorism. An all-out war against terrorism in which the US will take the lead will have to take the support of all countries which are committed to humanitarian ideals.”

If the BJP is looking sheepish after giving the impression that India and the US were on the verge of being the strongest allies on terrorism, allies Samata Party and Janata Dal(U) came out heavily against the Centre for failing to formulate a strategy to deal with the terrorist strikes’ fallout.

A senior Samata leader criticised the government for not speaking out loud against Pakistan, which was trying to extract mileage from the situation instead of unilaterally offering operational and logistical support to the US.

“The government should have clearly told the US that it should tackle Islamabad. Pakistan and Afghanistan are twin brothers as far as fomenting terrorism is concerned,” he said.

He said it was a “pity” that even after India offered the US help, President George Bush spoke to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee only after the PMO persistently followed up with the Oval office. US secretary of state Colin Powell mentioned foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s name four days after the strikes.

The Samata leader said the US was again formulating an “American-centric” strategy without forging a proper global coalition. “Pakistan and Afghanistan are the mother of Taliban. Some Taliban terrorists have been pushed into PoK and Kashmir since September 11,” he claimed.

He warned that taking Pakistan’s help to track down bin Laden may prove counterproductive for the US.

“We have to be cautious in the context of what Pervez Musharraf said. He is trying for a trade-off by inviting American intervention in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.


New Delhi, Sept. 17: 
The hotel industry is in a wait-and-watch mode following the war hysteria that is growing every moment.

Priya Paul of The Park group says: “The industry was already experiencing a slowdown because of global recession. Now one can just watch the situation unfold after the terrorist attacks in the US.”

This note of caution also came from a spokesperson of The Oberoi group. She admitted that a few cancellations were trickling in, but not in alarming numbers.

Industry insiders say the leisure travel segment is likely to be badly hit while long distance travel will be the last thing on anyone’s mind with the war clouds looming. Some leaders in the hotel industry have said that though it is too early to formulate an alternative strategy, review of all financial commitments in terms of capital investment and so on has already started.

Subhash Goyal, of Stic group of companies, says: “The cancellations from travel groups in the leisure segment has been snowballing.” Sixty to 70 per cent cancellations from travel groups during the month of October have come in the last few days.

Anil Bhandari of International Travel House says: “Cancellations are coming in this situation of uncertainty.” But Bhandari prefers not to quantify the cancellations.

Industry observers say hotels catering to travel groups like The Imperial or Taj Palace are bound to feel some impact.

As alternative strategies, both Bhandari and Goyal suggest a greater focus on domestic and regional travel. Goyal says marketing efforts should be turned towards Southeast Asia.

Some members of the travel trade feel that despite industry associations, no crisis management cell has been set up by any of them. It seems to them to be a serious lacuna.

Christie’s auction

Terror Tuesday has claimed yet another victim. Christie’s auction house has announced the postponement of its September 19 auction of Indian and Southeast Asian art, including 20th century Indian paintings, in New York. This is the latest in the string of postponements of various events following the strikes in the US.

The new date for the auction has been set for October 17 to be held at Christie’s Rockefeller Plaza premises. Whether the art market will be buoyant by then is a moot point that Christie’s representatives are not ready to answer.

The auction house had planned to bring on the block 291 art objects. Among the high-value Indian genres represented are the Gandhara and other sculptures, Mughal miniatures and Jain cosmological paintings. The section on 20th century Indian paintings has 81 items, including contemporary sculptures being sold for the first time in an international auction.


New Delhi, Sept. 17: 
Sonia Gandhi has begun consultations with Congress Working Committee members over the issue of Indian territory being used by a foreign country to attack a third country.

The Congress, which initially offered “total support” to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime following the terrorist strikes on New York and Washington, is now beginning to have second thoughts.

Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy said “in principle” the Congress was averse to the idea of allowing a third country to use Indian soil and ruled out “blanket” support to the government on the issue.

The working committee is likely to meet here tomorrow to take stock of the situation.

“We have never favoured Indian bases being used against another foreign country... Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have informal consultations with senior party leaders on the issue,” Reddy said, articulating his party’s stand.

While most CWC members favour a stringent line against terrorism, some want to address related issues like geo-political implications, consequences of an attack on a country like Afghanistan, future of Indo-Pak relations and the need for universal application of measures against terrorism.

Asked to what extent the party was ready to back the government on its US strategy, Reddy said the question was hypothetical as the Centre had already clarified that the US has not sought India’s assistance.


New Delhi, Sept. 17: 
Airlines in India have begun to take stock of security inside the planes following terrorist attacks in the US.

Officials said security inside international aircraft adheres to the regulation of the country the air carrier belongs to, while the airport’s security rests with the host country.

Several security measures are being considered, including making the cockpit accessible only to the pilot.

But a captain of the Indian Airlines said: “Even if the cockpit is locked and people are barred from entering it, anyone can break in during a terrorist attack.”

“Only if ground airport security personnel keep vigil and scrutinise people like caterers and cleaning people, who have access to the aircraft, can such incidents be stopped. It is very difficult to control hijackers when flying.”

According to Veeranna Aivalli, commissioner security of the Bureau of Civil Aviation, security inside the aircraft was stepped up after the hijack of an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu in 1999.

Sky marshals were appointed to keep vigil inside the aircraft. Two sky marshals with fire arms — that shoot at a lower than normal velocity to prevent a puncture in the cabin — are posted in the aircraft. “The air marshals are trained in guerrilla warfare,” said Aivalli

“These commandos are mostly present in flights that go to sensitive areas like Jammu and Kashmir and Kathmandu. The identity of the sky marshals on board is disclosed only to the captain,” said a captain of the Indian Airlines.


Islamabad, Sept. 17: 
Diplomats here are seeking Indian visas in anticipation of US attack on Afghanistan and an emergency situation in the country, sources said.

The diplomatic staff of Swedish, Belgian and Norwegian embassies have already acquired Indian visas. It is learnt that the diplomats requested the Pakistan government to allow them to take their vehicles to India. The response of the government is awaited.

India had asked the diplomats in Pakistan to seek Indian visas to leave Islamabad in case of an emergency in the wake of an expected US attack on Afghanistan.

Diplomats feared reprisals from Pakistan supporters of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, sources in the British high commission.

The Pakistan government has already tightened the security of diplomats in the capital and has counselled them not to appear in public for a few days.

The UK government has advised its nationals to leave North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and the northern areas. It has reportedly directed the British nationals not to travel to Pakistan till further notice unless there are compelling reasons.

The British high commission has suggested to UK nationals in Pakistan to follow the security situation carefully, adopt a low profile, and keep in touch with the high commission.

“Residents and long-term visitors are strongly advised to get themselves registered with the British diplomatic mission in Islamabad (for northern Pakistan) or Karachi (for southern Pakistan), if they have not already done so,” a press release said.




Maximum: 28.1°C (-4)
Minimum: 25.9°C (0)


22.6 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 87%


A few spells of rain with one or two heavy showers under influence of low-pressure trough.
Sunrise: 5.27 am
Sunset: 5.36 pm

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