America moves close to Arab heart
Taliban accept possibility of Osama role in attack
Dream hunt with neither papers nor jobs
Blair applies Islam salve in article
Probe focus on British links
Between the lines, Pak puts across its terms
Moscow gives go-slow advice to Delhi
For Imphal’s Jupiter, sky was the limit
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Sept. 18: 
In its most spectacular success yet towards building a global coalition against terrorism, the Bush administration today forced intransigent Palestinians and Israelis who have been engaged in a conflict of attrition for over a year to order a ceasefire.

The ceasefire was a clear indication that, as America’s “new war” entered its second week, the focus of coalition-building was shitfting to West Asia.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat this morning ordered a unilateral ceasefire. Israeli defence minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer immediately responded by halting all military operations against the Palestinians. Israel also ordered troops pullout from areas under full Palestinian rule.

That the US was behind the ceasefire was obvious: only two days ago, Ariel Sharon, Israel’s hardline Prime Minister, told the Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahoronoth that “it is inconceivable to grant (Arafat) legitimacy because someone thinks that might facilitate the inclusion of Arab countries in this coalition. We will not pay the price for the establishment of this coalition”.

Unlike India, Arab leaders, some of whom are America’s close friends, have been doing some plain-speaking with President George W. Bush. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said last night he had told Bush the root cause of the Osama bin Laden-sponsored terrorism against the US was the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel, he alleged, was using the excuse of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to further oppress the Palestinians.

Almost echoing what Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should have told Bush on Sunday, Mubarak said he has been telling the whole world for 10 years that Egypt was a victim of Islamic terrorism emanating from Afghanistan. He regretted that the US had dismissed his warnings as an excuse to curb human rights in Egypt.

Yesterday, US secretary of state Colin Powell had a long telephone discussion with Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen is one of the biggest of bin Laden’s bases and was the scene of an unprecedented attack on US navy ship Cole last year.

Syria’s President Bashar Assad is flying to Yemen today to coordinate a joint approach towards the emerging anti-terrorist coalition. Syria has repeatedly been accused by the US of sponsoring terrorism during the rule of Bashar’s father, Hafez Assad.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal will arrive here tomorrow in what may turn out to be the most crucial of the Bush administration’s ongoing engagement with Arab leaders. Saudi Arabia is one of three states that have formal diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Besides, bin Laden is a Saudi and has a big, if clandestine, network in the kingdom.

According to Arab diplomats here, a crop of new Arab leaders who have taken charge of their countries in the last two years will prove crucial to US efforts at coalition building in the region.

These include, in addition to Bashar Assad of Syria, Jordan’s King, Abdullah, and the Moroccan monarch, Mohammed bin Hassan.

Some of the new Arab rulers — and their wives — have been brought up in America to the point where they even speak Arabic with an American accent. More important, they share American values.


Islamabad, Sept. 18: 
Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban today conceded for the first time that Osama bin Laden, whom President George W. Bush wants “dead or alive”, may have been involved in the devastating attacks against the US that killed nearly 6,000 people.

“Anyone who is responsible for this act, Osama or not, we will not side with him,” information minister Qudrutullah Jamal told Reuters by telephone from Kabul. The hardline Islamic movement had insisted earlier that bin Laden could not possibly have been involved.

But Jamal added that proof of bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks was needed before the Saudi-born exile could be handed over, and then only for trial in a third country.

Jamal was speaking just hours after high-ranking Pakistani officials flew home after two days of talks aimed at persuading the Taliban that if they do not hand over the Saudi-born militant they will face the full wrath of the US military. “We told them (the Pakistani delegation) to give us proof that he did it, because without that how can we give him up?” Jamal asked.

Asked if the Taliban had any other conditions for handing over bin Laden, Jamal said they wanted guarantees that, if charged, he would face trial in a third country.

“We want proof first and we have been saying this for two years,” he said, referring to demands for bin Laden’s handover after the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. “If they had listened to us then, things would not have come to such a pass,” he said.

“Afghans have seen the same sort of suffering for a long time. They can sympathise with the Americans,” Jamal said, referring to the past two decades of war. “We appeal to the US not to take any hasty decisions.”

Pakistan foreign office spokesman Riaz Muhammad Khan said the delegation was sent not to issue an ultimatum but impress upon the Afghan leadership the gravity of the situation.

“We are not making any efforts for negotiations. We are making efforts as a friend and well-wisher which has stood with the Afghan nation in difficult times, to convey our assessment of the situation and what needs to be done,” Khan said.

Asked whether the Pakistani team carried any evidence about the alleged involvement of bin Laden in the terror attacks, Khan said: “General Mahmud Ahmed (the ISI chief who led the team) took a letter of the President (Pervez Musharraf) to the Afghan leadership.”

The Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman said the team had no plans to go back. He indicated the possibility of a US team visiting Pakistan. A Chinese emissary is already in Islamabad.

The Pakistani delegation met Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban’s reclusive spiritual leader. The team then flew to Kabul and held talks with Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhond, deputy head of the Taliban council of ministers, and foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil.

“Our response to them was that we should not hesitate in using sensitivity in the matter,” the foreign minister said in Kabul. “Innocent people should not be killed.”

Some 1,000 of Afghanistan’s highest-ranking Islamic clerics were converging on Kabul in response to a call from Omar and were due to hold a council, or shura, on Wednesday.

The council, postponed for at least a day, would not only discuss what to do with bin Laden and whether to set conditions for his surrender, but also consider a call by Omar for a holy war in case of a US attack. The Taliban have also called for volunteers for the proposed jihad.

Bin Laden has been reported as denying any role. He has now moved from a base near Kabul and travelled on horseback with his bodyguards to take refuge in Afghanistan’s rugged mountains, the Dawn newspaper said. No confirmation was available.


Hyderabad, Sept. 18: 
The house at Doodbowli in the old city has been freshly painted. The tiles look new. Inside, the gadgets speak of a wealth newly acquired. All this has been paid for with the dollars Mohammed Jaweed Azmath earned in the US.

Azmath is being questioned in New York after police detained him and his first cousin, Ayub Ali Khan, when they were travelling by train to Chicago from New Jersey. Their papers were not in order. And they were carrying box-cutters — the same the terrorists had used to hijack the four flights in the US.

But his parents are convinced that their son could have nothing to do with the attacks. “My son is innocent,” says Mohammed Jehangir, Azmath’s 73-year-old father. “He is not a terrorist.”

Nine years ago, he says, Azmath — now 47 — went to the US to chase the Great American Dream. He was an unskilled labourer who migrated with his cousin, Ayub. They worked in gas stations, hotels and departmental stores.

Last year, Azmath married Taslim. Her family is originally from Hyderabad, but they moved to Karachi after the Partition. Taslim, who’s pregnant, recently applied for documents to go to the US.

Everything was coasting along fine. But 10 days ago, Azmath called home to say that he and his cousin had lost their jobs at a departmental store in New Jersey. They blamed it on the “recession”, and said they were moving to Chicago to set up a fruit shop. They had plans to fly, but had to take an Amtrak train when all flights were cancelled after the terror strikes.

But their papers were not in order, according to the FBI. Besides the box-cutters, which the hijackers had used on the ill-fated flights, they had with them large amounts of cash as well as hair dye.

Jehangir has a ready explanation for the box-cutter, though he can’t explain what might possibly have been wrong with their papers. “My son was an unskilled labourer in the transport and packaging trade. He had told me that he did odd jobs for which he needed these equipment.”

“We are sure they would not indulge in any terrorist activity. We hope they will be able to prove their innocence and come out unharmed,” said a relative on condition of anonymity.

Hyderabad police have begun investigations. They have questioned the families of Azmath and Ayub, and also probed the Karachi connection of Taslim. “But we found nothing incriminating,” said a police official. They have passed on their findings to the FBI.

The FBI has not charged the two detained men. They were being held by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service on suspicion of being in the country illegally.

But that is hardly any consolation for Gul Begum, the mother of 51-year-old Ayub. “He is our breadwinner. He is supporting the studies of his brother Akbar.”

Ayub came to Hyderabad early this year and got his house repaired. Before moving to the US, he had worked with the Sahara group as well some local companies.


London, Sept.18: 
Tony Blair, who has taken the task of building an international coalition on behalf of the George Bush, wrote today for a Pakistani newspaper in London assuring British Muslims that the campaign against terrorism was not aimed at Islam.

But while the British Prime Minister leaves on Thursday for New York and Washington to demonstrate his standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the US, his government is waking up to the realisation that many hardline Islamic groups are operating from Britain.

One of them, al-Muhajiroun, today passed a fatwa against President Pervez Musharraf for siding with the Americans.

Demonstrators, angered by Pakistan’s cooperation with the US-led global coalition against terrorism today protested outside the countries high commission offices in London.

In his article in the daily Jang, which is published in English and Urdu, Blair wrote that the terror attacks in America “are, I know, wholly contrary to the Islamic faith as Muslim leaders and clerics here in Britain have made clear”.

Blair continued: “I want to assure daily Jang readers that the vast majority of decent people in Britain realise that neither you nor Islam is in any way responsible for what happened in the United States last week.”

He added: “Blaming Islam is as ludicrous as blaming Christianity for loyalist attacks on Catholics or nationalist attacks on Protestants in Northern Ireland.”

Several mosques have been defaced and an Afghan taxi driver paralysed after being beaten up.


London, Sept. 18: 
At least five of the suicide hijackers of the US airlines lived and prepared for the attack in Britain, it was revealed today.

The Daily Mail said today that the FBI passed the names and the details to Scotland Yard after discovering the British connections during investigations into last week’s carnage in New York and Washington.

The presence of the hijackers in Britain was established from documents and financial records, including credit cards, found at addresses in Florida and California, where the terrorists stayed.

Phone records going back two years are being examined for links to Britain as are bank accounts, travel records and e-mails.

FBI agents are also questioning Mufti Mohammed Khan, who was held in Heathrow after arriving from New York within hours of the attack. He is thought to be the second in-command of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a terrorist group that has links with Osama bin Laden.

Besides the five hijackers, Britain was also home for months to Zakarisis Moussaoui (33), an Algerian. He is being held in New York and is viewed as the most significant of the 49 people in custody.

His girlfriend is believed to be on the run after fleeing her flat in Brixton in south London, before police raided it this weekend.

It was while Moussaoui was living in London, in September last year, that he joined one of the US flying schools attended by the hijackers.

There he surprised the instructors by concentrating on level flight, and showing no interest in take-offs or landings.

A dual French and Algerian national, he was arrested in Minnesota on August 17 for a passport violation. He had flight manuals and technical information on Boeing aircraft in his possession but their significance was not appreciated until after last week’s attack.

The French police say he has links with bin Laden and had visited one of bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan.

Last night, the British police were trying to piece together the full picture of the gang’s activities.

The FBI says Britain has been a base for some years for the coordination of operations linked to bin Laden. Previous suicide bombings have been linked through London and vital equipment like satellite phones have been bought here. Anti-terrorist experts say addresses in the capital have received phone calls and faxes from sites linked to bin Laden and money has been transferred through city banks.

There is concern that there may be more “sleeper” cells planning attacks on UK targets.

Addresses across Britain are likely to be raided as special branch and anti-terrorist officers try to trace the movements of the five hijackers and people they contacted.

The FBI believes 40 people supported the 19 actual hijackers. It has sent a list of over 100 names to police around the world.

A poll conducted yesterday showed that 66 per cent Britons back military strikes. Fourteen per cent were opposed to strikes. A majority wants action against countries that harbour or assist terrorists. But only 49 per cent wanted the military option if it meant a prolonged war.


Washington, Sept. 18: 
A good diplomat, it used to be said, is one who tells his interlocutor to go to hell in such a way that the person believes he is being sent to heaven.

US ambassador Robert Blackwill’s meeting yesterday with home minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Jaswant Singh is reminiscent of that saying.

Blackwill was stating the absolute truth when he told Advani and Singh that Pakistan had not made its support to the US conditional on keeping India and Israel out of the proposed anti-terror coalition.

Singh, too, was telling the truth when he told reporters a day earlier that the US had not asked India for military facilities for any attack planned on Afghanistan.

An unusual, and often uncomfortable, aspect of the current crisis triggered by Osama bin Laden is that everyone who is responding to last week’s attacks in New York and Washington is telling the truth – at least so far.

In Washington, there is little effort on the part of the media now to go beyond what it is told. Perhaps understandable, given the present security environment.

In any case, it would be futile to ask: the reply to even the most innocuous questions at press conferences here is that the answer cannot be told.

But in Blackwill’s case, he told Advani and Singh the truth about Pakistan because Pervez Musharraf has been as smart as he was in Agra in not putting any conditions for supporting America.

That is, no conditions in black and white. But there is much between the lines in what he and his aides tell American officials and the US public in their efforts to shape opinion here.

Take for instance, what Maleeha Lodhi, the popular Pakistani ambassador here told CNN.

Asked if Pakistan had demanded that India and Israel should be kept out the anti-terror coalition, she said: “I’m not aware of anybody asking us in the first place about who will be part of this coalition. So, quite honestly, it’s a hard question for me to answer because it is extremely hypothetical.”

Absolutely true, since the coalition is still in the making. This is precisely what Blackwill told the Indian ministers as well.

But, then comes the catch as Lodhi proceeds with her answer: “What we have emphasised is the need for Islamic countries to be together on this. And Islamic countries are together on this. I think it is important for this international coalition to have a strong and visible component from Islamic countries for obvious reasons. That is the point that we have made.”

Anyone who knows the bare outlines of international diplomacy realises that the Islamic bloc and Israel cannot be part of the same coalition. In the UN, the Arab countries have so far kept Israel out of its legitimate geographical grouping for Asia.

Israel, believe it or not, is part of what is known in the UN as WEOG — the West European and Others Group.

Realpolitik demands that from there it is only one step to keeping India out of the coalition, once Pakistan puts pressure on the Islamic countries.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer did not, however, let Lodhi go and persisted with his question on India and Israel. This is what the ambassador said: “I think we are going into specifics here. I’m not aware of, you know, anything of the sort that you are mentioning. But I think, you know, our sensitivities on these issues should be kept in view.”

In an interview to Washington Post today, Lodhi expanded on her theme. “We need the visibility of Islamic nations in this coalition.”

And she proceeded to lobby for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). As everyone knows, the OIC is no friend of India and it is clear how Pakistan is planning to take on India in this crisis, notwithstanding Blackwill’s assurances.

Lodhi also said what is true of the current state and plans for the coalition, such as use of air spaces of various countries. “We would be engaged in discussions about this kind of cooperation, because these are sensitive issues in open-ended plans that have yet to evolve.”

While officially Pakistan is not even mentioning India in public — and perhaps not in private either — Pakistanis formally outside the government are laying the ground for a virulent anti-India campaign.

Writing in The New York Times today, Hussain Haqqani, a former adviser to Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, demanded US intervention to resolve the Kashmir dispute. He also portrayed Pakistan as a victim of terrorism.


New Delhi, Sept. 18: 
Russia has cautioned India against offering bases to the US armed forces if Washington chooses to go to war.

Moscow has also made it clear that while it is ready to join hands with the US in its fight against global terrorism, it does not favour hasty, military action.

“Attempts should be made to find a political solution. To attack the entire country for the terrorist attacks in the US is not a good idea,” a senior Russian diplomat said.

He added that global terrorism threatened world security, but a war against it “should be fought in full co-operation of the international community”.

The Bush administration has so far not made specific demands on Russia or spelt out its strategy against the Taliban. But Moscow has declared it is against offering bases in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia to US troops.

“The US may launch its attack against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and after a while go away. But it is the countries which offer their bases to the American armed forces that will continue to remain where they are, and [probably] face the brunt of the after-effects of such attacks,” a senior Russian official said.

National security adviser Brajesh Mishra, who is in Moscow, held detailed talks with Russian counterpart Vladimir Rushailo on US developments. He also spoke with foreign minister Igor Ivanov and defence minister Sergei Ivanov. Mishra is scheduled to leave for the US tomorrow.

Ivanov is also flying to Washington tomorrow for talks with US secretary of state Colin Powell and senior officials. He is likely to meet President George Bush.

Ivanov’s visit is part of the consultation process begun by the Bush regime to ascertain views of key world players on steps to tackle global terrorism. French President Jacques Chirac is already in Washington.

Ivanov is likely to stress on the need to build the widest possible consensus on the fight against global terrorism. For over two years, Russian President Vladimir Putin —- facing terrorist threats in Chechnya and elsewhere —- has been pushing this, but the US has been lukewarm.

“We share the pains and sufferings of the American people since we, too, have gone through the same route,” a senior Russian diplomat said.


Guwahati, Sept. 18: 
Jupiter Yambem’s mortal remains were consigned to flames in his adopted country, but Jupi’s “journey” will end at his birthplace on Sunday when his ashes are immersed in the Loktak lake near Imphal.

Relatives and friends remembered Manipur’s man on “top of the world” as a hero, complete with a halo (like his name-sake in the heavens).

Jupiter only made friends. Whether in New York or Imphal, Jupi — as he was fondly called — was the benevolent soul who was always smiling. A quality which attracted Nancy McCartle, a young American psychiatrist. They married in the fall of 1991 in New York, where Jupiter was the banquet manager at Windows on World, a the restaurant on the 108th floor of the 110-story World Trade Center.

Jupiter was the first Indian confirmed dead in the attack.

Jupiter and Nancy had travelled to the northeastern state in November 1991 for a traditional wedding ceremony. Nancy was dressed in Manipuri bridal finery. This has remained an enduring image for Jupiter’s family. “He was very happy to have found his partner...she looked beautiful in Manipuri dress,” Jupiter’s eldest brother Sanamani Yambem said.

Only a few of Jupiter’s friends, besides his widow and four-year-old son, were present at the cremation at Newburgh, a locality in New York, at 11.30 am local time.

One of Jupiter’s four brothers, Major (retired) Angamba Yambem, was scheduled to reach New York late on Tuesday. Another brother Laba said Angamba would bring home Jupiter’s ashes which will be immersed in Loktak lake on Sunday. Jupiter, the youngest of five sons of 84-year-old Y. Tombi Singh, was the first engineering graduate of Manipur.

According to family-members, Jupiter’s shraddha ceremony will be held on September 30.

“Jupiter represented the new generation Manipuris who dared to dream, move out to the world and succeed,” said Laba, as the family shared a quiet moment of grief.

“His was the most easily recognised address in the world, which also turned out to be his grave,” Laba said. But then, “Jupiter always wanted to fly high and he died in the skies,” he added.

Sanjib Baruah, an Assamese professor at Bard College in New York and a close friend of Jupiter’s, informed the family that a memorial service will be held on September 30 in New York “to celebrate Jupiter’s life”.

“I was at Jupi’s wedding 10 years ago, the celebration of the birth of their child, including a very elegant “rice ceremony” he organised, inspired by the idea of annaprasan,” remembered Baruah.

He, however, regretted not having consented to one of Jupiter’s suggestions. “He was so excited about the publication of my book India Against Itself in 1999 that he wanted to organise a party at Windows on World. I liked the idea, but felt that it may be too much to have a party to celebrate an academic book in that swankiest of New York restaurants. Today, I wish I had let him do it. For the restaurant, Jupi and the World Trade Center — all are gone,” Baruah lamented.




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