Pakistan off India’s Saarc map
Six passengers & gear on US plane
Simi-ISI link worries Centre
Rajnath rules out Sangh outfit ban
Sangma swivels spotlight back on Sonia
CPM deals go-it alone blow to Jaya front
Kashmir hotel fire claims 13

 
 
PAKISTAN OFF INDIA’S SAARC MAP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
India has not invited Pakistan to a briefing of South Asian diplomats about Delhi’s plan of action in the aftermath of the September 11 terror strikes.

Barring Pakistan, high commissioners and ambassadors of all other member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) have been invited for junior foreign minister Omar Abdullah’s briefing, which is scheduled for Monday.

Abdullah, sources said, will talk about India’s assessment of the current situation and the role it wants to play in the ongoing effort to build the broadest possible coalition of democracies against global terror.

The minister of state for external affairs had briefed Arab ambassadors on Thursday. On Monday, he will sit in three different batches with diplomats from the Saarc countries, the Americas and African nations.

Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi Ashraf Jehangir Qazi reacted to the exclusion, saying: “In the more than four years that I have been here, I have not received a single invitation from South Block for any of its special briefings.”

While the others confirmed they had received the invitation from Abdullah’s office for the briefing, Qazi confirmed that once again he had been left out.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga today called on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Sources said the two discussed the impact of the Tuesday attacks in the region and — as both countries have been battling terror for years — agreed to keep in touch over the fast unfolding situation. Kumaratunga is the current chairperson of the Saarc.

Though there was nothing about the forthcoming Saarc summit in their conversation, indications suggest it will be held in Kathmandu, either at the end of the year or in the first week of January, 2002.

The summit will be important as the Prime Minister and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf are likely to meet each other on its sidelines.

Officially, India has not said anything about keeping Pakistan out of Monday’s briefing. But, sources said, the obvious reason stems from Delhi’s argument that the current fight against Osama bin Laden should include the Islamabad-sponsored cross-border terror in Jammu and Kashmir.

Abdullah, sources said, may have to explain what kind of support India plans to give the US, if and when the military offensive against the Taliban begins.

Delhi has offered “all cooperation” to the US but is yet to qualify what it means.

But signals from South Block suggest it may not be extended that far and India’s cooperation, besides intelligence sharing with the US, may be limited to allowing American fighter planes re-fuelling and landing rights.

Pak claim

Pakistan today said that neither any American nor any other foreign troops were present on its soil. “There are neither any military troops nor any commandos from the United States or any other foreign country present in Pakistan,” foreign office spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said.

   

 
 
SIX PASSENGERS & GEAR ON US PLANE 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
The Hercules C-130 aircraft that landed and refuelled in the technical area of the Indian Air Force in Delhi airport was carrying six passengers for the US embassy in Delhi and possibly equipment to beef up its security and communications.

Indian Air Force sources said the aircraft came from Paylebar in Singapore and returned. It did not head for Afghanistan, Pakistan or Central Asia on a military mission. The sources said the ministry of external affairs had informed the IAF a few days back that the aircraft would be coming.

“It was nothing unusual or abnormal. It is a facility that we extend to military aircraft of friendly countries on request. It is also not true that no US Air Force plane has landed in India since the 1991 Gulf war. When Clinton visited, he was travelling on Air Force One and there were other USAF aircraft accompanying him,” said an air force spokesman.

It is not known, however, why US embassy staff have to take a military plane from Singapore to New Delhi when there are multiple flights on civilian airlines plying the route every day.

It is possible the aircraft was delivering personnel and equipment that the US is deploying at its installations in several parts of the world to improve security, fearing that terrorists could make them a target.

The Hercules is a military aircraft that has been used to transport men and material to war theatres.

Political flip-flop

The arrival of the US aircraft created a flutter in Delhi’s political circles till Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee clarified that the refuelling incident had nothing to do with America’s Afghan operations.

The Congress and the Left were quick to raise an eyebrow accusing the government over its “failure” to inform the Opposition about allowing the refuelling.

The Congress, however, retracted its statement after K. Natwar Singh spoke to Vajpayee. The Prime Minister said the American transport aircraft was carrying six US embassy staff and had nothing to do with proposed action in Afghanistan.

Before speaking to Vajpayee, Natwar had warned the government against allowing Indian soil to be used by foreign troops to attack a third country.

The AICC’s chairman of foreign affairs said he spoke to Vajpayee who informed him that the aircraft had returned to Singapore after leaving the embassy staff.

   

 
 
SIMI-ISI LINK WORRIES CENTRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
The government may have used the Osama card to push through the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, but the real reason appears to be the organisation’s covert connections with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

Intelligence sources said the government was afraid that the ISI might have use certain elements within Simi to foment trouble in the country.

While they admit that the ban can send wrong signals in the country and abroad, it was better to play safe at this juncture.

The Terai region in Uttar Pradesh is regarded by these agencies as a hotbed for ISI activities. With Assembly elections scheduled in the state, the atmosphere is already volatile. The entire state could erupt in flames if communal passions are fanned.

North Block officials said while it was not fair to club all members of Simi together, there was a small section which the ISI could influence.

There was much debate within the government about the timing of the ban. But finally it was felt that the Centre must go ahead with this. Even now, some within the government believe the ban should not have been imposed.

This section feels the government could have cracked down on the potentially dangerous section instead of banning the whole outfit.

But it was finally decided that an overall ban would be better than going after the few culprits. The organisation could then use its resources to make the point that India was harassing its minority students.

Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral wants the Centre not to wait for the prescribed 30 days before presenting its arguments to the tribunal. The government claims to have enough hard evidence against Simi. “Let them present it fast,” he said.

“I would suggest to the government that it keep in mind that interested parties can fan already inflamed feelings. All evidence collected should be placed before the tribunal so that a decision is taken quickly. If there is enough evidence to ban Simi, no one can raise questions. In case there is not enough proof, the ban can be lifted,’’ Gujral said.

150 activists arrested

The nationwide crackdown on the outlawed Simi continued for the second day with over 150 activists being arrested today, taking the total number to 450, reports PTI from New Delhi.

However, secretary-general Safdar Nagori and some state-level leaders remained elusive as bank accounts of some its units were frozen.

Offices of the radical outfit, banned on Thursday, were sealed across the country amid reports that some of its leaders had gone underground to evade arrest. No incidents of violence were reported today.

   

 
 
RAJNATH RULES OUT SANGH OUTFIT BAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh today ruled out banning Hindu organisations such as the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena.

Giving a clean chit to these outfits, Rajnath said they were “not anti-national” but added that if anybody violated the law, the transgressor will be punished.

Rajnath, who came here to discuss with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee the economic situation in Uttar Pradesh, dismissed reports which said the timing of the ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement Of India (Simi) was dictated by the need to consolidate Hindu votes for the coming Assembly elections.

He blamed the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party for trying to make political capital out of the ban.

Rajnath, along with his ministerial colleagues Lalji Tandon and Harishchandra Srivastava, briefed the Prime Minister on the situation prevailing in the state in the wake of the imposition of the ban.

After the meeting, the chief minister told reporters that he had sought additional companies of the Rapid Action Force to maintain law and order in the volatile heartland. He also briefed home minister Lal Krishna Advani on the situation in the state.

Rajnath said the situation was under control barring a few incidents in Lucknow and alleged that Thursday’s violence was provoked by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s brother Shivpal Yadav and local party leaders such as Raj Kishore and Ravidas Mehrotra.

He claimed they spread the rumour that certain Muslim religious leaders had been arrested, triggering the unrest. But despite attempts by certain people, the ban, he said, had not acquired a communal colour.

To a question, the chief minister said he did not view all madrasas with suspicion and asserted that his government will not be partial to any particular community.

Reiterating that there was no motive behind the timing of the ban, he said the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were trying to create fear in the minds of the minorities with an eye on the elections.

Rajnath said the polls, according to the Election Commission, could be held on April 20 next year.

The chief minister sought the release of Rs 1,800 crore Central assistance to meet the cost of ongoing projects in the state in view of the financial burden imposed on it following the implementation of the pay commission’s recommendations. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha and food minister Shanta Kumar were present when Rajnath met Vajpayee.

The chief minister also sought an assurance that the Food Corporation of India would lift foodgrain from the godowns of Uttar Pradesh as they were overflowing.

The food minister, Singh said, had assured him that the foodgrain would be lifted soon to create space for fresh crop. Kumar is scheduled to visit Lucknow on October 4 to review the situation.

   

 
 
SANGMA SWIVELS SPOTLIGHT BACK ON SONIA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, Sept. 29: 
Nationalist Congress Party leader P.A. Sangma had his way in putting the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s origins back on the Constitution review panel’s agenda.

Sources said the panel headed by Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, which is meeting on October 1, will again take up the issue of a person of foreign origins holding high public offices. Earlier, Venkatachaliah had said the issue would not be taken up by the panel, forcing Sangma to take up the matter with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Sources close to Sangma said the former Lok Sabha Speaker called on Vajpayee and made it clear that he would not continue in the panel if the issue of Sonia’s foreign origins was not taken up by the panel. Sangma, who had left the Congress over Sonia’s foreign origins, was reportedly assured that he would be permitted to express his views.

The Constitution review panel has been sharply divided on the issue of Sonia’s foreign origins even after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition challenging her election as a member of Parliament on grounds of her foreign origins. Apart from Sangma, Sumitra Kulkarni, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and a member of the panel, wants the foreign origins’ issue to be debated.

Venkatachaliah has been saying that the objective before the panel was far from focussing on an individual (read Sonia Gandhi) or “saffronisation” of the Constitution. The former Supreme Court judge was at pains to explain that the objective behind the exercise was to focus on issues such as enlargement of fundamental rights and codification of fundamental rights to sharpen the existing provisions in the Constitution.

Sangma, who is a lone political entity in the review panel, has prepared a report on the need for a law to ban people of foreign origins from holding key public posts. The Congress had reacted sharply accusing the government of unleashing a politically motivated campaign — a charge that was stoutly denied by Venkatchaliah. The party had even directed its MPs and MLAs not to appear before the commission.

Venkatachaliah and Sangma have crossed swords in the panel meetings when the suggestion to ban persons of foreign origin had come up for discussion.

This time around, both sides are planning to clinch the issue in their favour. The Congress is keeping a close watch on what is going on in the panel though officially it has decided to boycott it.

   

 
 
CPM DEALS GO-IT ALONE BLOW TO JAYA FRONT 
 
 
FROM M.R.VENKATESH
 
Chennai, Sept. 29: 
A day after the DMK-led front suffered a setback with three former allies pitching in their lot with the Congress, the ADMK alliance was jolted with one of its Left allies – the CPM – all set to go its separate way in the state.

Though the CPM and the CPI had fought the May 10 Assembly elections as part of Jayalalithaa’s front, CPM has decided to field its own candidates for the panchayat elections in October.

The CPI accepted the 4 per cent quota the ADMK offered, but the CPM was upset when “even its minimum demand was not met”.

Efforts are on for a last-minute rapprochement, but the CPM has begun announcing the names of its nominees, including that of its candidate for mayor of Madurai.

“Our allies want the unity in the secular front to continue for the local body polls, but the ball is in the ADMK’s court,” said G. Ramakrishnan, a senior functionary of the CPM state secretariat.

The CPI, though it has accepted its quota, is also disappointed with Amma for not sharing even one of the six corporation mayorships, for which direct elections will be held.

On its ally’s move to go it alone, CPI state secretary R. Nallakannu said: “The CPM did not consult us when it unilaterally announced its list of nominees.” But he hoped the CPM would come round.

The CPM’s state committee is meeting here on October 2 to take a final view of the situation. However, party candidates have begun filing nominations at various levels.

CPM state secretary N. Sankariah condemned the “auctioning” of posts of panchayat presidents in some villages, including Aiyyanarkulam in Madurai.

“It (auctioning) is a dangerous trend,” said State Election Commissioner P.S. Pandiyan. “The rural scenario in Tamil Nadu is not the same now as it was some years ago. People, particularly the youngsters, are more aware of their rights and are much bolder today. They will not accept a directive of this nature,” he said without mentioning the auctioning of Aiyyanarkulam panchayat president’s post.

Even without such auctioning, 10 to 20 per cent of the posts in local bodies “go unopposed”, he said.

In most cases, Pandiyan said, it was the charisma, acceptability and the perceived ability of the local consensus candidate that mattered.

   

 
 
KASHMIR HOTEL FIRE CLAIMS 13 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Sept. 29: 
A blaze at a hotel in Sopore town in Baramulla district late last night killed 13 persons and injured over a dozen. Among the dead were nine fruit traders from outside the state, four of whom are reported to be Bengalis.

Senior superintendent of police, Baramulla, A.Q. Manhas said a fire broke out in Hotel New Light around midnight on Friday. The inferno started from the kitchen, where 18 gas cylinders burst fanning the flames.

The injured managed to escape by jumping from hotel windows as the hotel exit was locked. Three members of the hotel staff also died. The nine fruit traders were from Calcutta, Indore and Patna.

A survivor, Riyaz Alam from Calcutta, told The Telegraph that more lives could have been saved if the rescue efforts had started immediately after the fire broke out.

“I rushed downstairs, but found the exit locked. I had no choice but to jump out of the hotel window to save my life. Had the rescue efforts begun early, I feel everyone trapped could have survived,” he said.

Alam, who is in hospital, added: “Four fruit merchants from Calcutta are among the dead.”

Police sources identified them as Javed Alam, Aftab Alam, Hakeem-ud-Din and Abdul Rahman. Jameel Ahmed and Mohammad Hussain from Patna also died.

The injured, who were rushed to Srinagar, have been admitted in the Soura Medical Institute and Bone and Joint hospitals. Four of them are said to be in a critical condition.

Manhas said the administration swung into action as soon as the information was received. Twenty-eight shops were gutted.

The loss in the devastating fire was estimated to be Rs 2 crore. Police have registered a case and were investigating into the cause of the fire.

The Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly Abdul Ahad Vakil informed the House about the tragedy and asked the government to take immediate steps to rehabilitate those affected in the fire. The House observed a two-minute silence in memory of those killed.

   
 

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