Bush blitz on terror cashpile
Jaswant in line of fire, Pant on standby
Opening for package politics
Mamata brings Afghan agony home
India calculates Afghan equations
Atal help offer on Blair hotline
Calcutta Weather

Washington and Islamabad, Sept. 24: 

Harkat among targets, Pak gets second reward

President George W. Bush today cast a financial, political and military net over Osama bin Laden, ordering a freeze on suspected terrorist assets, sending a team to Pakistan and positioning troops on land and at sea.

Bush said he had signed an executive order freezing the assets in the US of 27 entities, including “terrorist organisations”, specific leaders, a corporation “that serves as a front for terrorism” and several non-profit outfits. Only one militant group known to be active in India, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, is on the list.

The US state department has described it as “an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan which operates primarily in Kashmir”.

It is known to have huge assets in Pakistani banks. In the latest report on the patterns of global terrorism, it said the Harkat is “based in Muzaffarabad in PoK, Rawalpindi and several other towns in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but (its) members conduct insurgent and terrorist activities primarily in Kashmir”.

Islamabad has been asked to open its books to US investigators, exposing potentially embarrassing details of its alliance with the Taliban. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the US had discussed with Pakistan the question of freezing Harkat’s assets and Islamabad had agreed to cooperate. He refused to answer a question whether Pakistan would now stop funding the Harkat.

Bin Laden’s al Qaida network and the fugitive Saudi himself are on the blacklist of 27. Bush acknowledged that bin Laden’s assets in the US were small, making banks in other countries the prime targets of his efforts to choke the funds lifeline of suspected terrorist organisations.

“If you do business with terrorists, if you support or sponsor them, you will not do business with the United States of America,” Bush said.

He warned foreign banks that the treasury department has the authority to freeze their US financial assets if they refuse to cooperate. Bush said the US would work with foreign governments and “we’re putting banks and financial institutions on notice”.

The order bars transactions with groups or persons suspected of committing terrorism. “We will starve the terrorists of funding, turn them against each other, root them out of their safe hiding places and bring them to justice,” the President said.

His administration followed up yesterday’s withdrawal of sanctions on Pakistan by rescheduling debts of $379 million, to be payable now over 20 years with a 10-year grace period. The US ambassador to Islamabad, Wendy Chamberlain, said Washington was considering lifting sanctions imposed after the 1999 coup led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Washington, however, denied that such a move was under way.

“The US will be looking at other ways in which it might support Pakistan’s economic development and reform programme,” Chamberlain said.

Musharraf has promised full support to the US. “It is not an issue of Muslims and non-Muslims. It is a fight between right and wrong,” the President said today. He said that to safeguard the interests of the Afghan people, Pakistan has to be part of the international consultation process. “By this way only we can positively influence the thinking of the international community.”

Pakistan has withdrawn its entire embassy staff from Kabul for security reasons, foreign ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said.

A team of US defence officials has arrived in Pakistan to firm up Islamabad’s offer of cooperation. Confirming the delegation’s arrival, Chamberlain said it would “discuss mutual cooperation and our efforts to combat terrorism”.

Although the US and Pakistan are tightlipped about the composition of the team, sources said it is led by air force Brig-Gen. Kevin Chilton, Pentagon’s director of strategic planning for the Near East and South Asia.


New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
Jaswant Singh’s reiterations that India is ready to offer “total and unconditional” support to the US in its Afghan offensive have not gone down well with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP leadership and the RSS.

BJP sources said Jaswant might have to pay a price for “jumping the gun” by giving up one of the two portfolios he is holding — defence and external affairs. He is likely to lose the defence portfolio, they added.

Jaswant himself indicated in an informal chat with foreign ministry officials that he might relinquish the defence portfolio.

But sources in the external affairs ministry insisted that the remarks were made in a “light-hearted” manner and had been “torn out of context”.

BJP sources said while Jaswant had ruffled the parivar’s feathers, their leaders and the Prime Minister also felt that it was not “practical” for one person to handle two portfolios that require full-time attention.

The Congress has already said the defence ministry could not be treated as a “part-time” job. BJP sources said K.C. Pant, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and the adviser on Kashmir, could replace Jaswant. Pant has served as defence minister earlier.

Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi’s backers are working overtime to get him the job.

But Pant is ahead, not merely because of experience. The other factor going in his favour was the view that if George Fernandes has to be reinstated in the Cabinet once he is cleared in the Tehelka case, Pant could be dispensed with more easily than a political heavyweight like Joshi.

But the Samata Party is upset as it believes that appointing a new defence minister now might eliminate the chances of Fernandes’ early return to the government.


New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
Osama bin Laden would hate himself for this. But the September 11 terrorist strikes have given India a sliver of hope: the space to manoeuvre, the opportunity to outsmart militants and put in place a bold package to satisfy Kashmir’s disgruntled people.

It is still too early and things can go wrong, though.

“The international focus on terrorism has come as an unexpected bonus. This is our chance to get our act together in Kashmir,” a senior official said. “We must act soon or we will lose the momentum,” he added.

The Centre wants to make the best use of the prevailing international mood against terrorism. But New Delhi realises that it is not enough to flush out the terrorists. It has to be supplemented by wooing the moderate elements in Kashmir and by winning the battle for hearts and minds.

Several proposals are being considered. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has long been planning an economic package for Kashmir. A Srinagar visit was also in the works, but it is now off for security reasons.

A development package is on the cards, but few details are available yet. Officials, however, clarified that this would not touch on the sensitive issue of autonomy.

The government is considering a proposal to hold Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir by February next year. The state is scheduled to go to polls by September 2002. Free and fair elections in the state with some of the moderate Hurriyat leaders contesting would, perhaps, satisfy the large number of Kashmiris who are tired of the continuing cycle of violence.

India is also aware that despite the current global focus on terrorism, it cannot afford to rely on others to fight its battles. The US now has a single-point agenda — to get at those who struck them. It is good for India to cooperate with the US and the rest of the world, but finally Kashmir is India’s problem. “We cannot expect to ride piggyback on the international community. We have to take care of our own problem,” another official said.

Although it is too soon for reliable official statistics, the scale of violence in the valley has come down since Tuesday’s attacks.

Intelligence agencies believe that at least 12 terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have been rolled back. Intercepts ordering Afghan militants to get back to their bases in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan have pleased the authorities.

“Most terrorists now operating in Kashmir are not locals. The more daring raids are carried out by fundamentalist groups from outside our borders. Local groups don’t generally target women and children,” an official said.

Indian officials feel that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, having being coopted into the alliance against terrorism, is unlikely to encourage armed militants to slip into Kashmir, at least for a few months.

However, the officials are aware that if there are large-scale civilian casualties in possible US retaliatory attacks in Afghanistan, and this is interpreted as a war against Islam, the situation can take a grim turn.


Calcutta, Sept. 24: 
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mamata Banerjee today stood eyeball to eyeball in a confrontation the Trinamul leader associated with the Afghan conflict.

On his arrival from Japan, the chief minister asserted that the eviction drive along Tolly’s Nullah would continue, resistance or no resistance.

The Trinamul Congress chief, who has been opposing the move, raised the war pitch, comparing the evicted settlers to Afghan refugees and threatening an “unannounced and surprise agitation”. Mamata said her party workers would “snatch” land occupied by CPM cadre and hand it over to the evicted settlers.

Bhattacharjee asserted that he could not allow the majority to suffer only to protect the interests of “a few families”. He found an unexpected ally in railway minister Nitish Kumar, who wrote a letter to the chief minister urging him to speed up the eviction.

Mamata contested the chief minister’s claim that 80 per cent of the settlers had left on their own before the eviction drive. “The settlers had no choice as they were facing armed policemen. They are like Afghan refugees who have been fleeing their homes and hearths fearing attacks,” she added.

Unfazed, Bhattacharjee said the drive would be over by month-end. His meeting with Trinamul Congress leaders flopped because neither side would give an inch.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee, leader of the Opposition Pankaj Banerjee and legislator Partha Chatterjee, who briefly met the chief minister at Writers’ Buildings, accused him of “being impolite and arrogant and acting like a hardcore CPM cadre”.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas denied the allegation and described Bhattacharjee as a “wise and well-mannered chief minister”.

Bhattacharjee said none of the evicted settlers was a titleholder, as claimed by Mamata. He argued that the government would not be able to carry out similar “cleansing drives” at Beliaghata and other canals if it failed to evict the illegal settlers along Tolly’s Nullah.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation would also not be able to spend Rs 40 crore under the Ganga Action Plan if the eviction was stalled.

Rejecting the mayor’s plea to postpone the drive pending the Supreme Court’s order on a related petition on October 1, the chief minister said: “The apex court has not issued any directive to stop the eviction. We have undertaken the drive following a high court order.”

The letter of the railway minister, an NDA member, came as a boost to Bhattacharjee. The letter, dated September 18, urged him to “immediately remove all encroachments” to ensure extension of Metro railway from Tollygunge to Garia.

It said the coming working season after the monsoon would be lost if these encroachments were not immediately removed.

“You would kindly appreciate that in a project of this magnitude, every day of delay in execution would result in cost overrun. The state government, which is to share one-third of the project cost, would also have to share this additional financial burden,” the railway minister observed. He urged Bhattacharjee to take “personal interest in the matter.”


New Delhi, Sept. 24: 
India is bracing for a possible change in Afghanistan’s leadership even as talks of getting back the deposed King Zahir Shah to head an alternative regime in Kabul are on.

Delhi has had excellent relations with successive governments in Afghanistan till the Pakistan-backed militia, one of the most anti-Indian regimes in Kabul in recent times, wrested control of the war-ravaged country.

Officially, only three countries have so far recognised the Taliban regime. Pakistan — its main creator — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which recently snapped diplomatic ties with the Taliban. The last two have over the past few years tried to scale down their interaction with the student militia and had left their charge d’affaires in their missions in Kabul to take care of business instead of a full-fledged ambassador. The rest of the world continues to recognise the Burhunuddin Rabbani government, though it controls less than 10 per cent of the country.

The Pakistani leadership, which will be the worst affected if the Taliban is defeated by the US-led force, has pointed an accusing finger at India. President Pervez Musharraf in his recent address to the nation had charged Delhi with trying to cobble up support for installing an “anti-Pakistan” regime in Afghanistan.

India has reacted with outrage at such charges. But, in private, officials admit the leadership is seriously thinking of a post-Taliban situation. “Our attempt is to ensure that a regime is there in Afghanistan which is not anti-Indian,” a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said. He, however, made it clear that Delhi may not be in a position to dictate terms in ensuring that the government is pro-Indian or anti-Pakistan. “All that we are trying to do is to get someone who is not against us as the Taliban had been,” the official said.

On the other side of the fence, foreign minister Abdus Sattar today echoed his president, saying Islamabad’s decision to join the US effort against global terrorism should not be interpreted as Pakistan agreeing to replace the Taliban government in Kabul. The nervousness across the border is understandable. In the current circumstances, the United Nations is also talking about putting in place a temporary arrangement in Afghanistan headed by Zahir Shah.

South Block, which has always supported a regime representative of various ethnic groups in Afghanistan, says it is not against the UN-mooted plan. However, Delhi has made it clear that such an arrangement should be strictly “temporary”.

Talks about bringing in the deposed king are not new. Zahir Shah’s return to Afghanistan has been talked about every time the war-ravaged country has gone through a political crisis – and, in the last few decades, there have been several of them.


London, Sept. 24: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee assured Tony Blair today of India’s determination to help the US fight terrorism in the first telephone conversation the Indian and British Prime Minister held since the terrorist outrages in America.

Blair contacted Vajpayee as part of his continuing telephone diplomacy to gather the widest possible international support for the military action to be launched by the US and Britain, its principal ally.

The foreign ministers of the two countries, Jack Straw, who is currently touring West Asia, and Jaswant Singh, talked to each other on September 20.

Vajpayee is said to have told Blair that India was prepared to offer whatever assistance was required but it is now accepted in London that there will be no need to involve India in military operations. Vajpayee has been briefed by his officials to make a number of points to Blair. One is that steps should taken to protect people of Indian origin in Britain, especially Sikhs, from the kind of random reprisal attacks that have occurred so far.

More importantly, India wants Pakistan to get rid of terrorist bases on its territory. Vajpayee is said to have explained that India understood why Pakistan was being “rewarded” even though the country had helped create the Taliban and nourished a number of terrorist groups. But India now wanted the US and Britain to put pressure on Pakistan to “dismantle” its terrorist camps.

Vajpayee is believed to have emphasised that the terrorist groups that attacks India were the same organisations that targetted the US. In particular, Indian officials have been trying to demonstrate the links between the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Kandahar in December 1999, and the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11.

In the last couple of days, even British newspapers have started to publish reports about these links. Today’s Times, for example, said that Imadi Mughniyeh, described as “one of the world’s most wanted terrorist” and supposed to be hiding in Iran, may have planned the hijacking of IC flight 814, from Kathmandu.

The reports said the aircraft was “hijacked by a gang wielding knives and scissors”.

It said that the same tactic was used on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania.




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