Political cloud over gang war
Customs haul lands priceless antique
Flood spectre on Dinajpur
Delhi hears three rings in Pervez call
Pak shoots down Kashmir missile
BJP backs govt anti-terror move
Delhi to cast net for Masood
Junoon’ jolts Afghans in Delhi
India confined to viewers’ gallery
Beckham pips Blair to British hearts

 
 
POLITICAL CLOUD OVER GANG WAR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Ketugram (Burdwan), Oct. 8: 
Four persons, including an eight-year-old girl, were killed and three others seriously injured in a clash between rival groups allegedly backed by local Congress and CPM leaders at Kachra village near here this morning.

Ten people, including a 10-year-old boy, Rezaul, were admitted to the Katwa sub-divisional hospital where the condition of four were stated to be critical.

The deceased include Milton Sheikh and Arab Sheikh of the Congress and a CPM supporter. The girl was identified as Asina Khatoon. All four died of bomb injuries.

Two houses were gutted and several others damaged in the arson that followed the clashes. Police have arrested Manu Shekh, a local CPM supporter, in connection with the incident.

Additional superintendent of police Anirban Roy said the clashes were the result of a long feud between rival gangs and had nothing to do with politics. A police picket has been posted at the village, but tension was running high.

Trouble started early this morning when some CPM supporters caught two persons stealing pump sets. The two were believed to be Congress supporters. They were handed over to the police.

Angered by the incident, local Congress leader Arab Seikh gathered some of his supporters in the village and made an attempt to attack the CPM supporters.

Getting the information, the rival group led by Manowar Seikh, believed to be a CPM supporter, attacked Arab and killed him.

Soon after the incident, the two groups took on each other. The entire village turned into a battlefield. Both groups hurled bombs, ransacked houses and set them on fire.

Hearing the explosions, Asina tried to flee, but a bomb hit her, killing her on the spot.

Local CPM leader Faroque Mirza said it was not a political clash but a war between two gangs of hoodlums.

However, the Congress, described the incident as a political clash and alleged that the CPM had masterminded the attack. Ketugram block Congress president Rafiqul Islam said the CPM was trying to drive out their supporters from the village.

Villagers said a number of local residents were involved in theft, dacoity and other criminal activities. But all were provided shelter by one political party or the other and the villagers have to bear with their highhandedness.

Jharkhand leader killed

Shuklal Tudu, a 30-year-old Jharkhand Party leader and member of the Jamboni Panchayat Samiti, was shot dead this afternoon at Chilkigarh on the Bengal-Jharkhand border by an alleged CPM supporter.

Police said a masked man on a motorcycle stopped Tudu near his residence and shot him from point-blank range on the forehead, killing him on the spot.

Following the incident, his supporters went on the rampage and ransacked houses of local CPM workers.

They also attacked a police contingent. Later, a bigger posse of policemen reached the spot and managed to bring the situation under control. But no arrests have been made so far.

Chunibala Hansda, the Jharkhand Party leader who had unsuccessfully contested the last Assembly polls from Jamboni, claimed the murder was the fallout of the CPM’s systematic attempts to encroach on “our stronghold”. She claimed the Marxists were trying to break the Panchayat Samiti controlled by her party.

Midnapore superintendent of police K.C. Meena and CPM district committee member Jahar Sen, however, described the murder as the result of “a factional feud of the Jharkhand Party”. Meena said the police were trying to arrest those responsible for Tudu’s murder.

   

 
 
CUSTOMS HAUL LANDS PRICELESS ANTIQUE 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Panitanki (Indo-Nepal border), Oct. 8: 
Customs officials seized a priceless 11th century bronze idol of Buddha in Panitanki-Kakarvitta on the Indo-Nepal border last week, throwing new light on the rampant smuggling of antiques in the region. This was the second such seizure in the past few months.

Customs officer Ajit Kumar Kispotta said they intercepted a Bhutanese national, Tshering (36), who was trying to smuggle the statuette into India concealed in a shoulder bag. “The seizure was made during a routine check at the Panitanki border checkpost,” he said. “The idol was made of bronze octoalloy. Tshering claimed to be from Dhota village in Paro district of eastern Bhutan,” Kispotta said.

The officer said Tshering, who has been remanded in judicial custody, claimed the 17-cm-high bronze statuette was part of his family heirloom and had brought it to Kakarvitta, in eastern Nepal, for repairs. “But we suspect the rare idol was possibly being smuggled out of Bhutan by an organised gang of transborder antique smugglers. We have reasons to believe that Tshering is part of this organised chain of international smugglers who operate between the Bhutan-Sikkim-Darjeeling hills and Nepal,” he said.

Earlier, in June this year, customs officials had seized a million-dollar 15th century “Bodhisatta Vajrapani” idol. The rare artefact was found in “an unclaimed” bag at the Panitanki checkpost. A Bhutanese national had staked claim to the idol, but the Bhutanese authorities later said the idol was stolen. Kispotta said the gang steals antiques and rare religious artefacts from the numerous Buddhist monasteries and households, which have antique collections of religious artefacts.

“The gang then uses carriers to smuggle the antiques to Nepal and vice-versa. They would then be shipped out of Kathmandu to the West, where there is a ready market for stolen idols and artefacts. The idol would possibly fetch over a million US dollars from collectors,” he said.

“We promptly seized the idol, prepared a seizure list, and contacted the history department of the North Bengal University to authenticate the idol’s antique value. The arrested person did not have any valid documents necessary for cross-border transportation of antiques like the one seized,” B.R. Biswas, superintendent of customs, Panitanki border check-post, said.

Experts at the history and museum department of the North Bengal University have verified that the four-handed statuette was a “Dhyani Buddha” in a meditating posture.

“It appears to be from the late Pala Age. It is tentatively a meditating Dhyani Buddha. But the statuette needs further verification from the Archaeological Survey of India to authenticate the idol’s antique value,” an expert said.

   

 
 
FLOOD SPECTRE ON DINAJPUR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Siliguri, Oct. 8: 
Back-flow from Bangladeshi rivers in spate over the past two days have flooded large areas of the Balurghat in Dakshin Dinajpur district, washing away a three-year-old and marooning thousands of residents.

District authorities said since Sunday evening, water from the Tangan, Attarai and Punarbhaha rivers in neighbouring Bangladesh have flooded large areas of Balurghat town. Areas such Balurghat Town Club, Khiddrepur, Attarai colony, Ghatpara colony and A.K. Gopalan colony are under chest-deep water.

“A three-year-old identified as Bhajan Sarkar of Attarai colony was washed away last night. The water level is still rising in the town areas,” an official said.

The situation is grim in the rural areas, too, with many villages under water and acres of paddy fields submerged.

   

 
 
DELHI HEARS THREE RINGS IN PERVEZ CALL 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 8: 
Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf tonight sought an assurance from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that India will not do anything to heighten tension in the region.

Responding warmly, the Prime Minister offered humanitarian assistance — food and medicines — for Afghan refugees coming into Pakistan. Musharraf accepted the offer, saying that the details could be sorted out at the level of officials.

The surprise call late tonight, which lasted about 15 minutes, also gave Vajpayee the opportunity to tell Musharraf that while India continues to show restraint and remains committed to peace, terrorist outfits based in Pakistan are perpetrating violence in Kashmir.

Reports from Islamabad said Musharraf told Vajpayee that the two countries should fight terrorism together, according to a source quoted by Reuters. Musharraf also reminded Vajpayee about the invitation to visit Pakistan. Vajpayee said he would look into it.

This is the first contact between the two leaders since the twin terrorist attacks in the US.

South Block sees three broad implications from Musharraf’s call. One, it may have stemmed from US prodding to try and normalise relations with India to the extent possible as Washington will not accept any diversion from its immediate goal of destroying terrorist camps in Afghanistan and getting Osama bin Laden.

Two, it can be an attempt to soothe an angry Delhi, fuming over the suicide attack on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in which nearly 40 people died. The incident prompted South Block had to launch an international campaign against Pakistan.

“Perpetrators of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir are based in Pakistan and your government has done nothing to arrest them,” Vajpayee was quoted as telling the President.

Third, it is seen as a pragmatic move by Musharraf – struggling to cope with opposition at home to his stand to support the US – to ensure that India does not open another front to weaken his position.

The phone call followed Musharraf’s news conference in the morning where the general looked confident and in control of the situation, but not cocky. Neither did he go out of the way to bait India, unlike the last time when he told New Delhi to “lay off”, causing a fresh round of tension that had to be defused by another phone call, from foreign minister Abdus Sattar to his counterpart Jaswant Singh.

Musharraf even showed restraint while responding to a question whether India will now take advantage of the situation to launch an attack on Pakistan. Without unleashing a burst of rhetoric, Musharraf said Pakistan is capable of defending itself.

Vajpayee told the general while India stands committed to peaceful relations and is willing to continue talking, Pakistan has to shed its Kashmir obsession.

This morning, too, Musharraf said: “Kashmir can’t be identified with terrorism because there is a freedom struggle going on.”

“If Kashmir is the single issue, I am afraid we will not be able to make much progress in our relations,” Vajpayee told him, stressing the need to focus on other areas.

India has been urging the US to include Kashmiri militants in its list of terrorist groups. It has been dismayed to see Washington turn to nuclear rival Pakistan to help root out Afghanistan-based Osama bin Laden.

“We have articulated our concerns about the epicentre of terrorism whether they operate in Afghanistan or Pakistan. We are assured by the international community that they will be sensitive to our concerns,” an Indian foreign ministry spokesperson said earlier in New Delhi.

   

 
 
PAK SHOOTS DOWN KASHMIR MISSILE 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR AND AGENCIES
 
Islamabad, Oct. 8: 
Taking exception to India’s reported statement that an attack on Pakistan’s terror training camps could not be ruled out, President Pervez Musharraf today said Delhi should not have any illusions about his country’s capacity to defend its borders. He also warned that the Northern Alliance should be kept in check during the strikeback to prevent any return to anarchy in Afghanistan.

Accusing India of trying to exploit the situation, Musharraf predicted a short, sharp campaign targeting terrorist camps in Afghanistan. He also made clear his focus had moved beyond the ruling Taliban to a new post-war government.

Dressed in his general’s uniform, the President declared at a news conference: “Let there be no illusion. Pakistan knows how to defend its borders.”

He rejected Delhi’s stand that what was happening in Kashmir was terrorism. “It (Kashmir) cannot be identified as terrorism. There is a freedom struggle going on in Kashmir,” he said.

He refused to see any link between events in Afghanistan and Kashmir, saying Kashmir “is a major dispute and we need to address the root cause of terrorism”. He added that he supported the US hitback at the Taliban, but did not want the Northern Alliance to come to power once the ruling regime fell.

Musharraf said the impression that Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif were being bombed was not true. There could be terrorist camps in the vicinity of the cities, which were being targeted, he pointed out.

“The action is against terrorists, terrorism and their sanctuaries,” he asserted, insisting the operation should not be seen as against Afghanistan or the Afghan people.

The President said Pakistan would “guard” against “any damage” being caused to the “freedom struggle” in Kashmir. At the same time, he rued the suicide strike on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. Pakistan, he said, “condemned such terrorist acts in which civilians are killed. This is not part of the freedom struggle”.

Asked if he had received assurances from George W. Bush and Tony Blair on implementation of UN resolutions in Kashmir, Musharraf said it would have been “unbecoming” for him to have sought any such thing when the global community was entirely focused on Afghanistan.

The general kept repeating that the root cause of disputes in Palestine and Kashmir, which was leading to militancy, had to be resolved. “To that extent, Kashmir was emphasised (before the international community). But certainly the emphasis was on Afghanistan,” he said.

On terrorism in Pakistan, he said there were “external influences” behind them. “I know about them,” he said, maintaining he could not believe that Muslims going to mosques could kill fellow Muslims. He said he was going into the “root of the problem” and taking steps to improve the functioning of law enforcement agencies.

Outlining four parameters needed to bring unity, stability and peace in Afghanistan, he said a broad-based multi-ethnic dispensation taking the demographic composition in view should be supported.

   

 
 
BJP BACKS GOVT ANTI-TERROR MOVE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 8: 
BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi has declared that the party will “solidly” stand behind the NDA government in its efforts to combat terrorism even as he tacitly admitted that the US may not be a dependable ally in this endeavour.

Addressing a news conference today, Krishnamurthi referred to the suicide strikes in Srinagar and said: “The PM has rightly stated in his reaction that our patience is running out. Perhaps you may remember that when I last met you people two weeks ago, I had also stated that India would have to face terrorism on its own and I had expressed confidence we will come out successfully. Even today I hold this view.”

He explained why the US seemed lukewarm to India’s repeated urgings to take cognisance of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The US has condemned J&K terrorism but having suffered terrorist activities on its soil for the first time, it is natural that the US is only concentrating on the Taliban. Perhaps, at a later stage, when the US has achieved its objective of teaching the Taliban a lesson, it may plan for action against terrorism in other parts of the world, including Kashmir,” the BJP chief said.

But while calling on the government not to “lower its guard” in Jammu and Kashmir, Krishnamurthi rejected chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s call for a war after the Srinagar attack.

He refuted a suggestion that India’s current foreign policy gave the impression that it was waiting for the US’ intervention in the Kashmir dispute. “Our government made it clear from day one when it conducted the Pokhran tests that it was guided solely by the country’s interests. We successfully resisted economic pressures. We are not obliged to any country, much less the US,” he said.

Responding to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s condemnation of the Srinagar suicide attack in his Islamabad news conference today, the BJP chief said: “If he really condemns the attack, why should he stop with condemnation and not come forward to stop this? The present stand of Pakistan against terrorism has been forced by a development of circumstances. Left to itself, I don’t know if it would have gone against the Taliban. The real test for Pakistan and Musharraf is whether they oppose terrorism as a whole or they would like to compartmentalise terrorism.”

   

 
 
DELHI TO CAST NET FOR MASOOD 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 8: 
With the focus clearly on Osama bin Laden, India is thinking of demanding its pound of flesh: Masood Azhar.

The Vajpayee government is considering asking Pakistan to return the militant leader whom New Delhi was forced to release in exchange for the lives of 155 hijacked passengers of the Indian Airlines airbus in December 1999.

South Block is also making a strong case with the US for declaring individuals as terrorists while outlawing their outfits. This is aimed at reducing their manoeuvreability.

Azhar, chief of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, believed to be responsible for the bloody attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1, is one of those New Delhi would like to be named in the US terror list.

The Cabinet Committee on Security tonight discussed these issues while taking stock of the situation in the country following last night’s airstrikes in Afghanistan.

At the meeting it was felt that although infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir had gone down of late, it has once again picked in the past few days. New Delhi has asked all the states to beef up security and be on high alert.

Officials believe that placing an outfit on a terrorist list does not necessarily mean defanging the group. Quite often key leaders of these organisations continue operating under a new identity.

Jaish may soon be outlawed, but Masood could well float a new outfit to carry on his work. So the logical next step in India’s campaign will be to work on a list of terrorist leaders. This will ensure that these people can be identified whatever guise or name they function under.

When Masood Azhar was arrested in India in 1994, he was general secretary of the Harkat-ul Ansar. He floated the Jaish-e-Mohammed in February 2000.

Despite assurances by President George W. Bush to ban Jaish-e-Mohammed, home minister L.K. Advani took up the refrain today during a meeting with US ambassador Robert Blackwill. Advani spoke at length on the situation in Kashmir and the need to ban Pakistan-based militant groups. These foreign elements were responsible for much of the violence in the valley, he added.

Local Kashmiris would not attack civilian targets, the home minister told Blackwill who, in turn, briefed the home minister on the US military action in Afghanistan.

India asserted that its security forces were “totally vigilant” on the Indo-Pak border to check infiltration by foreign mercenaries and made it clear there was no dilution in New Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism.

“We are totally vigilant,” Maj. Gen. Richard Khare of the army military intelligence wing said. The number of active militants in Jammu and Kashmir, both native and foreign, had risen by 25 per cent over the last year, he said.

   

 
 
JUNOON’ JOLTS AFGHANS IN DELHI 
 
 
FROM AMBEREEN ALI SHAH
 
New Delhi, Oct. 8: 
Delhi has been put on high alert in the wake of the US attacks on Afghanistan. Security around sensitive zones, such as the Prime Minister’s residence, Parliament House and defence and home ministries, has been beefed up.

Vigilance has also been stepped up around economic hubs, high-rise buildings, Qutb Minar, the Red Fort, the airport, VSNL and MTNL offices, Delhi Vidyut Board and Delhi Jal Board.

Special commissioner security and operations (Delhi) R.S. Gupta said: “We have stepped up vigil in the capital. Officials have been sensitised about security of the VIPs. All vital installations have been provided with security.”

Security officials in a high level meeting today also reviewed security arrangements of the US embassy, the British High Commission and the Israel embassy.

Intelligence reports suggest possible retaliatory attacks on US, British and Israeli installations.

A fidayeen (suicide) strike has not been ruled out. The deputy commissioners of police have been provided with a list of important sites falling under their zone.

Although there was no sign of panic, an uneasy calm sat heavy on the city.

But a small, but significant, community in the capital was a worried lot. Shyama, an Afghan woman, had not heard from her parents, who stay in Kabul, for over two weeks.

Farooque, another Afghan living in the capital, was a bitter man. “The airstrikes is not an attack against terrorism and Osama bin Laden. We are under attack and the independence of our country is under threat. The victims of this war are the civilians.”

He described President George W. Bush’s efforts at combating terrorism as a “junoon (frenzy)”.

   

 
 
INDIA CONFINED TO VIEWERS’ GALLERY 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 8: 
It’s a party India has not been invited to.

Watching developments in Afghanistan from a safe distance, New Delhi now draws solace from the fact that President George W. Bush called up Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee well before last night’s strikes began and “informed him of essential details”.

Apart from “waiting and watching”, India can only hope the first phase of America’s war against global terrorism will be a quick affair, and when it moves on to the second phase, Kashmir will be the main focus.

After a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting late tonight, the government decided to send humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. Foreign and defence minister Jaswant Singh claimed that though India is not directly involved in the war, it was still very much part of it.

Bush assured Vajpayee that the Jaish-e-Mohammed will soon be on the US’ terror list. He also told him secretary of state Colin Powell would visit India later this month to discuss the fallout of the military strikes against the Taliban and terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

However, Powell will not be visiting India only. He would also go to Pakistan, and China before that, to shore up support for America’s military action against the militia regime in Kabul.

To keep New Delhi in the loop, after Bush it was the turn of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to call Vajpayee. During their 20-minute conversation this evening, the two leaders discussed the situation in the region, particularly the fallout of the strikes in Pakistan.

Further consolation for India came in the form of two more phone calls — from London and Moscow. British foreign secretary Jack Straw called external affairs minister Jaswant Singh to inform him about developments since the airstrikes.

Hours later, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov also rang up. Along with the assurance that the targeting had been “selective, minimising the impact of the operation on the civil population”, the calls helped Delhi make an assessment of the damage caused by the aerial attack.

But as South Block officials silently watched Pervez Musharraf perform like a matured and somewhat democratic dictator for the Western media this morning, one point was driven home more firmly: the Pakistan President was an important cog in the American wheel and will continue to be so for a while.

“Musharraf’s remarks on Kashmir should be seen as an act of public defiance,” a senior foreign ministry official said about the military ruler’s address where he had made it clear that what was happening in Afghanistan should not be linked with that in Kashmir. “In Kashmir, there is a freedom struggle that is going on,” Musharraf had said.

   

 
 
BECKHAM PIPS BLAIR TO BRITISH HEARTS 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Oct. 8: 
Who is the most popular man in England today? Anyone who answers Tony Blair, or “President Blair” as the Prime Minister of Britain is increasingly called, will have to stand in the corner of the class with a dunce cap on.

The answer is David Beckham, the England football captain whose 93rd minute equaliser yesterday against Greece in Manchester earned a 2-2 draw and sent his side into the finals of the World Cup in Japan and Korea next summer.

The goal confirms the status of Beckham (“Becks”) and his wife, Victoria “Posh” Spice — her autobiography (yes, seriously, the Spice Girl has seen fit to write one) is the No.1 bestseller in the hardback lists — as Britain’s first couple.

The looming war, the economic recession, the collapsing Northern Ireland talks and Rail Track going bust have all been forgotten in favour of something really important — football.

England’s 5-1 thrashing of old enemy Germany at Munich had already transformed the mood of the nation.

The England side, coached by the Swede Sven Goran Eriksson, is now on a roll and the hero is Beckham. The man can do no wrong.

This represents a 180-degree transformation from the time he was sent off in the crucial England-Argentina match during the last World Cup in France.

Everything he does — from the underwear to the sarong he wears — is news. The nation’s top TV chat show host Michael Parkinson has interviewed him.

As England football captain, Beckham has flowered and flourished and his picture beams from just about every front page today.

The front of the Mail on Sunday has a picture of Beckham and the lead: “England saved by Beckham.” “King of the World,” declares the paper, with another picture of Beckham on its backpage.

Even the serious papers have frontpaged Beckham with an accompanying picture of the triumphant goal — this was a characteristic “Beckham bender”, curling devastatingly like a heat-seeking missile into the corner of the Greek net.

It has been suggested that the kick might bring in an extra £50 million in sponsorships and advertising money for the England side.

“We’re there — with just seconds to spare” (The Sunday Times), “Last gasp Beckham strike clinches it for England” (The Sunday Telegraph), “Close shave: Beckham strikes in nick of time” (The Independent on Sunday) and so on tell the tale.

No one will be happier at Beckham’s success than the British Indian film director Gurinder Chadha (of Bhaji On The Beach fame).

She has just finished shooting her latest movie, Bend it like Beckham, about a football crazy Indian girl in London who wants to curl the ball through the air just like the England captain — and similarly the rigid rules of Asian society in her personal life.

As for Blair, he does not need to bathe in Beckham’s reflected glory. His stock is also high and some in the American media have wistfully suggested that he would have made a better President than George Bush.

According to weekend reports, he has told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his senior colleagues that now is not the time to put pressure on Pakistan over Kashmir. But Blair is a man who listens.

Stung by criticism during the general election campaign that he had a predominantly male top team, he promoted several women into the Cabinet and junior ministerial rank.

He is also looking at ways of easing the financial burden for university students after being accused of making it hard for poor students to take up higher education.

If the Indians keep putting forward reasoned arguments and evidence implicating Pakistan in terrorism, Blair’s record suggests he will act — but when this present war is over.

   
 

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