Taliban on mediation seesaw
PM to skip Brisbane meet
Simi banned, Lucknow bleeds
Delhi seeks to soothe Arab nerves
Bleach knocks on SC door
Keshubhai case put on hold
Loyalists leave George out
Blackout blame on Medha
PM on Punjab rally spree
Calcutta Weather

 
 
TALIBAN ON MEDIATION SEESAW 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR AND REUTERS
 
Islamabad & Kabul, Sept. 27: 
Afghanistan’s Taliban said today they had accepted separate offers by US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and a group of Pakistani clerics to help try to defuse their confrontation with the US.

In Pakistan, police said they had swooped on suspected associates of Osama bin Laden on a day tens of thousands hit the streets in an orchestrated show of support for the government’s decision to back the US.

The Pakistani clerics’ team was due on Friday in Kandahar, the Taliban headquarters, to meet the reclusive head of the movement, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) quoted the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan as saying. This is the second Pakistani team going there after the September 11 tragedy.

But there was confusion over the possible involvement of Jackson in mediating on the US demand that the Taliban hand over bin Laden. Jackson, who was considering an invitation from Taliban representatives, said tonight he had no immediate plans to go. His reluctance came after the US government said any such trip would be “unhelpful”.

“We have not invited him (Jackson), but he has made an offer to mediate which has been accepted by our leader Mullah Mohammad Omar,” Taliban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef said.

Pakistani officials described the trip by the clerics as a “goodwill visit”. Sources said they would try to persuade Mullah Omar to hand over bin Laden. Religious scholars making up the delegation and Mullah Omar belong to the same school of thought.

The Taliban said they believed the Afghan clerics’ edict asking bin Laden to leave the country has been delivered in person. Information minister Qudrutullah Jamal said: “I have no reason to believe Osama has left Afghanistan.”

Mullah Omar warned that any Afghan helping an attack against the Taliban would suffer the same fate meted out to those who aided the Soviet invaders in the 1980s.

He was speaking exactly five years after Taliban fighters castrated former Soviet-installed President Najibullah and drag-ged him behind a truck before hanging him from a lamp-post. The 1996 date — the capture of Kabul — is seen as the anniversary of the Taliban seizing power.

“Those Afghans who want to take over power in Afghanistan with the help of the American troops are the same as those Afghans who came into Afghan-istan with the help of the Russian troops,” Mullah Omar said in a statement, referring to the Soviet invasion of 1979. “In case of intervention in Afghanistan, no difference will be made between America and Russia.”

As a visiting team of US military officials left Pakistan after secret talks, the police said they had launched a huge manhunt for militants with possible links to bin Laden. Pakistan has also frozen the assets of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and the Al Rashid Trust, blacklisted by the US.

There were reports that during the visit of the US team, Pakistan not only agreed to share intelligence but also to cooperate to hunt down bin Laden. Sources said the talks focused on the extent of Pakistan’s intelligence on Afghanistan, the military capability of the Taliban and the possible whereabouts of bin Laden. “The delegation left with a whole range of information on bin Laden, his network and his support bases in Pakistan,” a source said.

President Pervez Musharraf’s plan to cooperate with the US has split public opinion here, but in an answer to the protests by pro-Taliban groups, National Solidarity Day rallies were organised today.

In an address, foreign minister Abdus Sattar said: “Our policy is not against the interests of Afghanistan.” Justifying the government’s decision to support the US, he said the UN Security Council had unanimously adopted resolutions against terrorism and “it is incumbent upon the member countries to implement these”.

The UN special envoy for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, said he thought the Taliban could play a role in any future government in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been worried about the prospect of a hostile regime taking over in Kabul with President George W. Bush’s international coalition against terrorism pinning hopes on the Northern Alliance, which is opposed to Islamabad, to unseat the Taliban.

   

 
 
PM TO SKIP BRISBANE MEET 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
The possibility of a US-led military action in Afghanistan has forced Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to decide against going to Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meet (Chogm), scheduled to begin early next month. A formal announcement is likely in a day or two.

The Australia trip would also have taken Vajpayee to Bali and Singapore, away from the region’s fast-unfolding situation for nearly 10 days.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has already made known his decision not to attend the meet. His deputy John Prescott will lead the delegation instead.

With both Vajpayee and Blair deciding to stay away, sources said, other heads of governments might be influenced to skip the meet, which could finally force the Australians to postpone it. But if Australia still goes ahead with the meet, India has decided that finance minister Yashwant Sinha would lead the delegation.

The Prime Minister was scheduled to leave on October 2 for Bali on his way to Australia. He would have reached Canberra, the capital city, on the evening of October 3 and begun bilateral meetings with the Australian government the next day. On October 5, Vajpayee was to have left for Sydney to meet Australian business captains and reached Brisbane the next day for the Commonwealth meet. On his way back, he was to have stopped at Singapore on October 10 to deliver the Singapore Lecture.

Last night, Vajpayee’s close aides decided it would not be wise for him to travel all the way to Australia because of the growing feeling that the US-led force might soon begin its military offensive against the Taliban.

Vajpayee is likely to write to his Australian counterpart, John Howard, apologising for his inability to attend the summit.

   

 
 
SIMI BANNED, LUCKNOW BLEEDS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Sept. 27: 
A crackdown on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (Simi) coinciding with a ban on the outfit today triggered violence in Old Lucknow, leaving five dead in police firing.

Eyewitnesses put the number of dead at seven. Curfew has been clamped in four thana areas and the city is tense. The curfew will not be lifted for Friday prayers tomorrow.

Trouble started when the police early this morning arrested three Simi activists, including city unit president Imam Ali. As word of the arrests spread, a large number of people gathered at the Chowk police station to demand their release. The crowd grew restless when the policemen, refusing to relent, called for help.

By 12.30 pm, the mob had started attacking nearby police stations, looting and sacking them. Many were heard shouting what the police described as “communally provocative” slogans.

The Centre imposed a two-year ban on Simi under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Prime Minister also told chief minister Rajnath Singh to order a probe into the incident.

Eighty-seven of the outfit’s leaders were arrested in a statewide swoop. The leaders were held for fomenting tension.

With today’s clampdown, the Uttar Pradesh government has taken the long-promised battle to the Simi camp. Several political parties, particularly the BJP and its allies, have been crying themselves hoarse demanding action against Simi.

Since the September 11 terror attacks in the US, the police had arrested around 16 Simi activists on charges of fomenting communal tension after outfit president Mohammad Fallahi Badr spoke in support of Osama bin Laden and called for jihad against “anti-Islam forces’’.

Badr, against whom a warrant has been issued, is reported to have gone underground.

Today’s developments could be a pointer to more troubled times ahead for the outfit which considers bin Laden to be an “outstanding example of a true jihadi’’. It is believed to have strong links with terrorist groups operating from Pakistan, Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya, Algeria and Kosovo.

Many Simi activists were arrested on charges of masterminding the Independence Day bombings last year and the communal violence in Kanpur last March.

Some Opposition parties have, however, criticised the crackdown, blaming the BJP for “harassing and implicating Simi activists”. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Yadav has called the arrests “hasty and unjustified”.

Senior Samajwadi leaders have been accused of inciting today’s violence. Director-general of Uttar Pradesh police R.K. Pandit said Imtiaz Hussain, a Samajwadi corporator, was leading the mob.

Pandit said Imtiaz was spotted spreading rumours in Old Lucknow that police were indiscriminately arresting Tabliqui Jamaat (congregation of preachers) members. The police officer said this fuelled the rage, bringing close to 35,000 people on the streets.

Samajwadi leaders Shivpal Yadav — Mulayam’s brother — Ravi Das Mehrotra and Arun Shankar Shukla were part of the mob and could face arrest.

   

 
 
DELHI SEEKS TO SOOTHE ARAB NERVES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
India today set out to calm fears in the Arab world about its role in the international coalition against terrorism in the context of the support it readily offered to the US and its stand on alleged Pakistani abetment to militancy in Kashmir.

The minister of state for external affairs, Omar Abdullah, met ambassadors of Arab countries in South Block this afternoon and exchanged views on the fast-paced developments since the September 11 terrorist strikes. Ambassadors and high commissioners from West Asia, North Africa, the Gulf and Central Asian countries attended the meeting.

Abdullah explained that while Delhi would support any move to combat terrorism, so far it has not received a request from the US to use its bases for carrying out military strikes against the Taliban. Clarifying India’s stand on offering support to the US-led effort, he said: “In normal circumstances, New Delhi does extend refuelling and landing facilities to foreign aircraft.” He denied reports that Delhi had cancelled flights to Arab nations following the terrorist attacks.

For India, the Arab world is important, not only because the region is a traditional ally, with whom it works closely in the Non-Aligned Movement and other fora, but also because it hosts a large number of Indian expatriates. India also buys most of its petroleum products from these countries.

Although India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, its growing closeness with Israel has been bothering Arab nations. However, India has so far managed to maintain warm relations with both Israel and Palestine and at every opportunity stressed the need for restoring peace in West Asia.

The terrorist strikes on the US have brought the focus back on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many Arab leaders feel that the West, particularly the US, has been partial towards Tel Aviv and has not shown as much concern as it should have over the violence unleashed by the Israelis on the Palestinians. Describing such acts as “state terrorism”, key members in the Arab world have been pressing the US and the world community to come down heavily on Israel.

Another concern expressed by the Arab nations relates to the possibility of American strikes against Afghanistan. They have been saying that Washington should not punish the Afghan people for what happened on September 11.

The junior foreign minister told representatives of the Arab world that India has been a victim of terrorism in the form of the low-intensity war launched from Pakistan for decades. It is determined to combat the menace by joining the international coalition which has vowed to act against countries sponsoring terrorist activities.

Abdullah reassured the ambassadors that India’s secular fabric remained intact and that Delhi would not be party to any process which identifies terrorism with any religion.

   

 
 
BLEACH KNOCKS ON SC DOOR 
 
 
FROM R. VENKATARAMAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
British National Peter Bleach who was convicted in the Purulia arms drop case has moved the Supreme Court with a prayer that his appeal against the conviction should be heard by Delhi High Court and not Calcutta High Court, especially the present bench of Justices N.A. Chowdhury and N.C. Sil.

Bleach is serving his term in Presidency Jail, Calcutta and the petition has been moved through the British deputy-high commissioner there.

Bleach seeks in the petition, “prepared and typed by myself” while in jail, a direction that the Calcutta High Court division bench should be restrained from proceeding with the criminal cases against him. Bleach is the only foreign national convicted in the case. Five Latvians, who were co-accused in the case, were given remission by President K.R. Narayanan on July 22, 2000.

The remission petition for Bleach, filed by Deepak Prahladka a Calcutta-based legal activist, is still pending before Narayanan.

The President forwarded the petition to the Union home ministry for “reconsideration” on September 11.

On December 17, 1995 a huge cache of arms and ammunition was dropped from a small cargo aircraft AN-26b on villages in Purulia district of Bengal. The authorities were unable to fathom the facts relating to the surprise armsdrop.

However, Bleach along with the five Latvians were arrested in Mumbai airport on December 22 that year. Kim Davy, the owner of the AN-26b craft was found “missing” by the police.

The city sessions court of Calcutta convicted Bleach and the Latvians and sentenced them to life terms for criminal conspiracy to wage war against the state of West Bengal.

In his petition before the Supreme Court, Bleach has given 11 grounds to transfer his case to Delhi. Both the judges hearing the appeal in Calcutta High Court were “barred in law from hearing” his appeal under section 479 of the CrPC, it says. Under this provision, a judge or a magistrate cannot hear a case in which “he is personally interested”.

Justice Chowdhury had on December 17, 1997 ordered prosecution of Bleach and the Latvians, which, Bleach argues, operates as a legal bar on him.

   

 
 
KESHUBHAI CASE PUT ON HOLD 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
The decision to replace Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel has been kept on hold for the moment as the BJP leadership believes it is not enough to sack the chief minister alone.

The top brass is considering a “complete facelift” of the Gujarat government — once flaunted as the jewel in the BJP’s crown. It plans to revamp the Cabinet as and when a new chief minister is put in place. BJP sources said Patel, who has been camping in the capital since yesterday, was assured by the leadership that his job was “safe” for a while.

The chief minister, who was to leave for Gandhinagar this morning, postponed his departure till evening to return armed with such an assurance. Gujarat BJP sources said Patel’s authority was “undermined” by the speculation about his exit, reducing him to a “dummy” chief minister.

BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi, who had told mediapersons yesterday that a decision on Patel’s future would be taken after the Gujarat unit submitted its report on the bypoll debacle, sang a different tune today.

“The question of replacing the chief minister does not arise. All the names of successors doing the rounds are speculative. There is absolutely no idea of changing the chief minister,” he stressed. But asked if Patel would complete his term as chief minister, Krishnamurthi said: “In politics, you cannot predict what will happen the next week.”

BJP sources said the two statements should be read together. “It means Patel is there for another week. If a war does not break out in the subcontinent, the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues are likely to take a decision soon,” a source said.

Krishnamurthi might meet the Prime Minister tomorrow even as Atal Bihari Vajpayee is sizing up the Gujarat developments.

Sources also confirmed that home minister L.K. Advani was keen on Patel’s early exit if only to salvage his own prospects.

Krishnamurthi voiced Advani’s anxiety when he said, “I am deeply concerned about the loss of an Assembly seat (Sabarmati) in Advaniji’s constituency”.

   

 
 
LOYALISTS LEAVE GEORGE OUT 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 27: 
Samata Party leader George Fernandes, who was marginalised in the National Democratic Alliance after being forced to quit as defence minister in the wake of Tehelka exposé, is now getting isolated by his own followers in the Janata parivar.

A series of functions have been lined up on October 10 to commemorate Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narain’s birth centenary minus Fernandes, the veteran socialist who backed Narain to the hilt in his campaign for “total revolution”.

Samata Party leader and railway minister Nitish Kumar, Janata Dal (United) president and labour minister Sharad Yadav, leaders from the Janata fraternity and some Sarvodaya leaders have been invited to the functions. Equations have altered in Fernandes’ own party with a majority of the 13 MPs rallying behind Kumar protesting against his hand in coaxing the Prime Minister to bring Digvijay Singh back into the railway ministry last month.

The move to hijack Narain’s legacy is apparently a brainchild of the trio of Yadav, Kumar and Mohan Prakash, the Dal(U) general secretary. Though Prakash swore by their “real” and “genuine” interest in spreading Narain’s message among the youth, subtle efforts are on to use the occasion to derive political mileage and to collect the disparate Janata parivar on a single platform. Prakash is known to be close to both Kumar and Yadav. The convener of the organising committee, Prakash said a programme will be organised at the Mavlankar Hall here as part of the year-long birth centenary celebrations.

   

 
 
BLACKOUT BLAME ON MEDHA 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Sept. 27: 
One man’s saviour is another man’s troublemaker.

Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar is the messiah for 245 villages situated on the banks of the Narmada. But she is also the main cause for anger among more than 51,000 villagers in Madhya Pradesh.

Farmers are cursing as they watch the kharif crops dry. Kharif yields soyabeans, the most important cash crop in the state.

The state, reeling under a severe power crisis after the creation of Chhattisgarh, is unable to provide farmers with six hours of electricity as promised. Some areas are getting power for as little as three hours.

Had Medha Patkar and her agitation not stalled the Sardar Sarovar Project for over six years, Madhya Pradesh today would have been a power-surplus state.

The total demand for power during the kharif season in the state is around 5,000 mw. The maximum production potential of the state is 3,600 mw.

Completion of the Narmada projects, on the other hand, would have ensured an extra 2,800 mw to Madhya Pradesh, leaving the state with a surplus 1,400 mw.

Failure of the September rains has made matters worse. With rains during the kharif season, the state usually generates 800 mw of hydel power. This year, it has dropped to 200 mw.

If the state has to buy electricity from the National Thermal Power Corporation to overcome the shortage, it has to pay Rs 210 crore per month. But chief minister Digvijay Singh said this was a huge sum and would mean curtailing other expenditure.

For the state, if Medha Patkar is one reason for worry, the other is Ajit Jogi.

Jogi became the first chief minister of Chhattisgarh on November 1 last year, the day the state was born. Chhattisgarh inherited 32 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s power generation capacity but its demand was only 23 per cent.

Jogi, a month after taking over, announced the bifurcation of the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board and the formation of the Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board.

But by doing this, Jogi flouted a provision of the State Reorganisation Act 2000 which gives states two years to sort out disputes arising out of bifurcation. But Jogi refused to pay heed to the provisions. Overnight, Madhya Pradesh’s power generation capacity dropped from 4260 mw to 2900 mw and Chhattisgarh became a power-surplus state.

Chhattisgarh electricity board now says it is willing to “sell” power to Madhya Pradesh at the rate of Rs 2.40 per unit. But Madhya Pradesh said the rate was too high. NTPC is willing to sell at Rs 1.60 per unit.

   

 
 
PM ON PUNJAB RALLY SPREE 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Sept. 27: 
Impressed by the massive turnout at Tuesday’s rally in Killianwali, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has decided to address a meeting in Amritsar on November 13 as part of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s coronation bi-centenary celebrations.

Vajpayee readily agreed to Parkash Singh Badal’s request to address the rally, giving rise to speculation that the Prime Minister could be looking towards Punjab to contest polls.

“The Prime Minister has been coming to Punjab regularly. He has been holding rallies here even at times when it was not needed. At Killianwali, he went to the extent of saying that the Centre had been helping Punjab financially for the last three years and will continue to help it tide over any difficulty. No Prime Minister has ever singled out a state for Central largesse. We have some feelers that apart from Lucknow, Vajpayee is seriously considering contesting from Punjab,” a senior minister said, adding that general elections are likely to be held before schedule.

The Killianwali rally — said to be the largest in the state since Independence with attendance pegged between seven to 10 lakh — has boosted the sagging morale of the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine. The rally’s success is being looked upon as a positive factor before the polls slated for early next year and comes at a time when the ruling coalition is reeling under the Congress’ “no-performance government” onslaught.

The Punjab chief minister said the three-day celebrations of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s coronation would begin at Amritsar on November 11 with a procession after prayers at the Golden Temple and Akal Takht. A commemorative coin will also be released.

On November 12, a cultural programme evoking the era of the Sikh ruler will be organised on the Wagah border. Vajpayee’s rally will bring the celebrations to a close. Apart from the chief ministers of neighbouring states, 22 Central ministers have accepted Badal’s invitation to participate in the celebrations.

The state government has also decided to constitute a committee to shortlist people for the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Award. The award, carrying a cash reward of Rs 25 lakh, a citation and a medal, will be given to individuals for excellence in any field and for contribution to Punjab.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.3°C (+3)
Minimum: 26.9°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 94%
Minimum: 57%

Today

Cloudy sky. Light rain in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.30 am
Sunset: 5.25 pm
   
 

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