Powell on peace mission
Anthrax scare spreads from fear-centre Florida
To front page from ‘hell’
Britain’s Hindus back Blair on terror war
Al Jazeera lesson for DD
Pak police pull trigger on protests
Sudden death of witness in hijack drama
Calcutta Weather

Washington & New Delhi, Oct. 9: 
The threat of hot pursuit of terrorists into Pakistan, implicit in Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s letter to President George W. Bush last week, is beginning to register in Washington.

Secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit to India and Pakistan this weekend is designed to dissuade both countries from increasing tension, which could deflect America from its hunt for Osama bin Laden. The US tonight said it has put Jaish-e-Mohammed under close watch for possible listing as a “terrorist organisation”.

On possible armtwisting by Washington, President Pervez Musharraf has set rolling a peace move, first by calling Vajpayee last night and by following it up with a request to foreign minister Jaswant Singh to visit Pakistan.

A senior official of the Pakistani foreign ministry said if Vajpayee could not come, he could at least ask Singh to make a visit “as soon as possible”.

Indications suggest Singh will not start packing his bags. “The foreign minister has already accepted an earlier offer from Pakistan to visit the country. But this is hardly the opportune moment,” an official of the ministry said.

Musharraf’s peace gestures on consecutive days follow concern in Washington that India might provoke a conflict with Pakistan. It is also in Musharraf’s interest now to concentrate on tackling the turbulence at home over his decision to support the US rather than have India open a front on the borders.

Violent demonstrations continue in Pakistan, with three persons dying today in police firing in a town bordering Afghanistan.

Washington has advised the general not to exacerbate tension with India. In deference to the angry mood in India over the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly during Singh’s visit to the US last week, the Americans did not specifically ask India to show restraint.

Now, Powell may be carrying the message for both countries. This will be his first overseas trip since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Americans had made a similar request to Israel for restraint during the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.

Despite Iraqi missile attacks on Tel Aviv, Israel had complied with the request, designed to retain Arab support for the coalition against Baghdad.

The White House is said to have been reasonably assured by public statements by India that it will not “exploit” the situation to destabilise Pakistan now.

All the same, Washington has sensed disquiet in New Delhi about what is seen as America’s pampering of Musharraf. Powell will give concrete assurances to Vajpayee that America would not turn a blind eye to terrorism in Kashmir once its attack on Afghanistan is over. During his recent visits, Jaswant Singh told the western leadership how Pakistan continued to indulge in “cross-border terrorism” despite its decision to join the global coalition against terrorism. The Indian government does not see any urgency now for Singh to hotfoot it to Islamabad.

South Block sees Musharraf’s moves as a ploy to silence criticism from New Delhi of its alleged involvement in terrorist activities in Kashmir and tell the West that Islamabad has successfully handled its problems with India.

Earlier in the day, foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao, while referring to last night’s Musharraf-Vajpayee conversation, said: “We are prepared to make initiatives to strengthen confidence and trust. It takes two to tango.”

Pakistan’s close ally China today joined the telephone diplomacy, its foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan calling Singh. The Afghanistan crisis has forced Singh to call off his scheduled visit to China. Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji’s proposed trip to Indian also stands cancelled. Singh and Tang spoke for 50 minutes. Beijing is backing the US war on terrorism but has warned against civilian casualties.


Washington, Oct. 9: 
As the US continued to pound Afghanistan with missiles for the third day, fear spread from coast to coast in America with the discovery that at least 1,000 persons could have been exposed to potentially deadly anthrax bacteria in Florida.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has taken over the inquiry after a colleague of a man who died from anthrax infection last week tested positive for the dangerous bacteria yesterday.

Anthrax infects the chest, resulting in haemorrhage and build- up of fluid in the lungs, leading to brain or lung damage and certain death. Its symptoms take two days to eight weeks to show and usually start with fever, cough and chest pain as in the case of flu. Anthrax is not contagious.

Officials here are not yet conclusively attributing the detection of anthrax bacteria in a newspaper office in Boca Raton, Florida, to criminal or terrorist activity.

John Ashcroft, US attorney-general, told reporters that “we do not have enough information to know whether this could be related to terrorism or not. Very frankly, we are unable to make a conclusive statement about the nature of this as either an attack or an occurrence.”

Ashcroft’s statement was clearly intended to prevent fear in America from turning into panic, but there was clear evidence that the administration was taking no chances. It sealed the offices of the company, American Media Inc, which brings out several sleazy, but popular tabloids such as the Globe, The National Enquirer and the Sun, which have been publishing, as usual, wild, unsubstantiated and defamatory stories on Osama bin Laden in recent weeks.

As if in a bio-terrorist attack, the building was swarming with investigators in protective gear, gas masks and moon suits of the kind worn by astronauts.

Parked in the vicinity of the building were buses with blacked out windows, red and blue lights with antennae sticking out from their roofs and high-tech equipment inside.

Public health officials in Florida are rounding up anyone who worked in the building or visited the office after August 1 for tests with nasal swabs and precautionary antibiotics treatment. David Pecker, chief executive of American Media, said the number of such people could be over 1,000.

Investigations so far have detected the presence of anthrax on the computer keyboard of Robert Stevens, 63, photo editor of the Sun, who died last week.

Two of his colleagues have so far been found with the bacteria, although they have not been infected. This is in addition to the one who has tested positive.

Fears of a bio-terrorist attack have been fuelled because some of the men involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks lived within miles of the American Media’s office. They had also taken flight lessons and tried to purchase a crop-dusting plane in the vicinity. The company’s employee who has been tested positive, Ernesto Blanco, a 73-year- old mail supervisor, has been hospitalised with flu symptoms. His location is being kept secret.

Suspicions have also been fuelled by a student intern in the company, said to be of Arab descent, who sent a letter to the staff at the end of his internship saying he had left something for people to remember him.

The authorities were also checking the building’s ventilation system for any presence of the bacteria. All those who have been tested have been supplied with Ciprofloxacin antibiotics for 15 days to be continued, if needed, for another 45 days.

In Virginia, near here, one man who had visited the Florida office was also being tested for anthrax after he complained of flu symptoms. US health and human services secretary Tommy Thompson said there was no evidence of biological attack using anthrax, adds Reuters.

But President George Bush’s brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush said: “This is the new reality. We’ve talked about these biological and chemical agents being part of some terrorist arsenal and whether it is in this case or not, we have to be prepared for it. It needs to be a much higher priority than it has been in the past.”

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer “it remains a situation of concern” but cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

“The federal government will continue to vigorously pursue any possible leads to make certain that all health considerations are fully addressed to the satisfaction of anybody who has concerns. It’s important that that would be the posture. At the same time I want to note that it’s not unusual at a time like this for false alarms to go off,” Fleischer said.


London, Oct. 9: 
Yvonne Ridley, the 43-year-old British journalist who was released yesterday by the Taliban after 10 harrowing days in captivity — at one stage she was going to be tried as a spy — today got what she wanted: a front page “world exclusive”.

She has had to sort out one problem, though, in writing her piece for the Express. Obviously, she has to be nasty about the Taliban — anything else would run counter to the general drift of western coverage — but at the same time, her Afghan captors were jolly decent.

“They treated me with respect,” was her first comment on arriving in Pakistan last night.

They even sent her away with a gift, Afghan hospitality being what it is.

Ridley’s mother, Joyce Ridley, who had campaigned for her daughter’s release, had earlier expressed anger with the British government for not delaying the bombing of Afghanistan until Yvonne had safely reached Pakistan.

The British foreign office had to pull out all the stops to get her released. Little though is known about the two Afghans who crossed as her guides and are still in Taliban hands.

Ridley had been picked up after crossing into Afghanistan wearing a burqa but had no travel papers with her. In her piece today, Ridley, a divorced mother, says the person she had most missed was her nine-year-old daughter, Daisy.

She writes: “I hadn’t said I had a daughter and I just thought that might cause some problems at the time. I had said I was single, which I am, but the concept of divorce doesn’t wear easily with the Taliban. Single motherhood is taboo.”

The Taliban had put out a statement that Ridley was eating so well that she was requesting food four times a day. But she says: “I had been on hunger strike from the moment of capture because I requested access to a telephone and they refused.”

She goes on: “I admitted going in without a visa but they thought I was spying. I was probably their most difficult prisoner. It wasn’t a silly stunt. I was trying to find out what Afghans thought about the situation.”

She kept notes. “I kept a secret diary using the inside of a box for a toothpaste tube and the inside of a soap wrapper. I was segregated from other prisoners because I was so difficult.

“When the night-time wave of attacks on Kabul started I was lying in bed and it was like fireworks being set off. In my room, there were weapons stored and so men came charging in to take them away. There was a rocket-propelled grenade under my bed.”

She recalls: “There was one funny moment when I was being questioned and they kept asking, ‘Why did you come to Afghanistan?’ I tried to explain from a journalistic point of view. After the 10th time of being asked I threw my arms into the air and said ‘because I wanted to join the Taliban!’

“They actually all started laughing and it broke the tension. The worst moment was when I left the intelligence headquarters in Jalalabad and they said ‘you’re going to Kabul, you’re going on a plane and you’re going home’. When I left there were about 40 to 50 men forming a human corridor as I walked through as a mark of respect.”

But this turned out to be a Taliban trick. “I got into this car and was driven down to Kabul. But when I drove into this prison, which obviously didn’t resemble Kabul airport, they put me into this cell with six other women. They were Christian aid workers and they’d been there for two months and these women just had a tremendous inner strength. The Taliban had cleaned the cell and made it hygienic.”

She describes her own feelings: “On the first night I felt horribly, horribly betrayed because I had trusted those people when they said ‘you are going home on a plane’. I was so angry, I wouldn’t trust anymore. So I shut my door and bolted it and when a car arrived I told them to go away because I did not believe them.”

In the end, all ended well. “They finally persuaded me there was a car. They presented me with a very ornate Afghan traditional outfit. Then one of the officials said ‘Ridley you’re a man’. I knew he meant it as a compliment.”

She makes one thing clear: “I was never physically hurt in any way. They tried to break me mentally by asking me the same question time and time again.”

She puts in a plug for President Musharraf. “Mullah Omar signed the release and it was faxed over from Kandahar. But I understand that was only because of tough negotiations between Musharraf and the Taliban. I thought I was going to disappear. I was very, very scared.”

Tomorrow’s installment in the Express will be called “Freed from Taliban Hell”.

The daily does not want any brownie points to be given to the Taliban simply because its reporter has been freed. In an editorial comment, the paper says: “This act of humanity does not warrant any concessions in the war against terrorism. The Taliban have had plenty of opportunity to hand over Osama bin Laden but have made it plain all along that they have no intention of doing so.”


London, Oct. 9: 
Hindus in Britain, who have so far been ignored by the British government, were consulted for the first time yesterday by Tony Blair and immediately gave him unqualified support for the military action in Afghanistan.

Two Hindus representing the largely peaceful and law abiding million-strong community were invited to 10 Downing Street by the Prime Minister who is anxious to convince the world that the fighting is not a “crusade” — President Bush’s words — and is certainly not aimed at Islam.

They were Surendra Nath Bharadwaj, president of the Arya Samaj, London, the oldest organisation of its kind in Europe, and Om Prakash Sharma, president of the National Council of Hindu Temples.

Bharadwaj struck a militant note which will warm the hearts of the BJP hardliners in India. The 83-year-old retired teacher, who hails from Punjab, has lived in Britain for 39 years. He taught history, mathematics and Hindi at Featherstone High School, Southall, and is a founder member of the Hindu Centre in north London.

The Hindu community in the UK was happy that action had been taken to stop terrorism, he declared. “It was a good meeting — businesslike,” Bharadwaj said. “The plan is to follow this up with other regular meetings.”

He added: “Our (India’s) concern is greater. For over 20 years we have faced terrorism in our country and lost so many lives. We have been victims much earlier than September 11.”

He reprimanded the Indian government for being too “timid” in its dealing with terrorists and contrasted this with the tough line taken by Bush and Blair. “After the violence in New York the Western world stood up united. Our people are getting killed and we do not like to go over the Line of Control. We do not chase them. We have ourselves been instrumental in giving rise to terrorism.”

However, he applauded the new policy adopted by the Indian government of developing friendly relationship with Western countries.

The two Hindus were among 25 religious leaders consulted by Blair. There were four Muslims, one Sikh — Inderjit Singh, a scholar — and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, Jewish and Bahai communities.

Blair, who has been studying the Quran, was keen to ensure that relations between Britain’s multi-religious communities did not deteriorate into communalism as a result of the action against Afghanistan.

“The Prime Minister was trying to get our cooperation in seeing there was no trouble in the country,” Bhardwaj said. “He told us to go back and ‘give education to your congregation’ because religion teaches love, fellow feeling, mutual respect and cooperation.”


New Delhi, Oct. 9: 
Al Jazeera, the Qatari television channel whose exclusive footage from Kabul and Kandahar — mostly fuzzy images of streaking lights probably photographed by unmanned cameras and a scoop on Osama bin Laden’s reaction to the airstrikes — are being beamed by international networks, is a lesson for state-owned networks like Doordarshan.

But while competition has given al Jazeera a cutting edge, it has also flirted with controversial subjects that have often threatened to inflame passions in the Arab world.

Qatar, a monarchy, has its own state-run television station but al Jazeera, which was founded by the Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al Thani, by a 1996 decree after he ousted his father, runs like a private company. Al Jazeera’s government subsidies run out in November.

In preparation for the time when it will have to survive without state support, the channel has staffed its middle rung with trained personnel from BBC and Voice of America. Almost its entire coverage is being carried out by these skilled journalists.

The pictures of the bombing of Kabul and Kandahar and the footage of bin Laden is the latest of the channel’s scoops.

Al Jazeera has run into trouble often with most Arab governments barring Lebanon, Libya and Syria over interviews of leaders of banned organisations. Surprisingly, when CNN or BBC telecast such interviews in English they have proved to be less controversial.

A report in the Mid East Times newspaper says the Qatari government has received complaints from every Arab government. “Our audiences are unused to having these kinds of things said in Arabic,” the paper quoted Video Cairo managing director Muhammad Gohar as saying. “They’ll listen to it on CNN, but when you put it in Arabic, that’s something else.”

The frequent complaints against al Jazeera — even this afternoon the BBC reported from Oman that its telecast was provocative for many locals — is one of the reasons why many international networks have chosen to use its pictures but not its voice-overs.


Karachi, Oct. 9: 
Police today shot down three people in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province bordering Afghanistan, as protests against the US strikes on the Taliban continued in major Pakistani cities for the second day.

Authorities have put three prominent religious leaders under house arrest to check the surge in protest rallies across the country amid fresh calls of jihad against the air strikes.

Witnesses said protesters clashed with the police when they attempted to enter the city from the Quetta-Chaman road. The police blocked the marchers and opened fire in “self-defence”, Baluchistan police chief Shoaib Suddle said. He blamed Afghan refugees for the violence.

The crowd allegedly turned violent at the sight of US and British jets flying to pound the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, some 180 km northwest of Quetta.

The demonstrators torched a police station, a police official said. A mob had set on fire a number of official buildings, including the Unicef office, at Quetta yesterday. An effigy of exiled Afghan king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, was also burnt in the protests which had one from the mob killed.

At least four people have been confirmed dead and 28 injured in the past two days. The police feared the toll could be much higher. Police and paramilitary forces continued flag marches, especially in the Afghan-dominated areas.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leaders Moulana Fazlur Rehman and Moulana Samiul Haq and the chief of Sunni extremist group Azam Tariq were put under house-arrest.

Rehman was the main advocate of jihad since the US air strikes and Haq has close links with the Taliban.

“I was told I can’t leave my house for three months. The police and paramilitary (forces) are outside now,” he said from his house in northwestern Pakistan.

However, he was determined to continue the “holy war”.

Haq runs a prominent seminary and heads the Council for Defence of Afghanistan, an alliance of religious parties set up to oppose the UN sanctions against the Taliban.

Interior ministry officials said the leaders were detained for “inciting people to break the law and attempting to disrupt the peaceful functioning of the society”.

Pakistan’s largest Islamic party condemned the US strikes and threatened to put millions of protesters on the streets if military action was not stopped.

Jamaat-e-Islami leader Qazi Hussein Ahmed said President Pervez Musharraf had lost public support by backing Washington.

“If they want us to bring millions of people, just wait a few days if these attacks continue,” Ahmed said in Peshawar, not far from the border.

“These attacks are without any legal or moral justification,” he said while dismissing the US “evidence” against Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect in the September 11 terror attacks on the country.

“We still do not agree with him. President Musharraf is not a judge,” he said. “There is no difference between an attack on Jalalabad and an attack on Peshawar.”

A cleric who had led a last-ditch Pakistani peace-making mission to the Taliban said all Muslims had a duty to rise in jihad against the strikes. In a thinly-veiled warning to Musharraf, Mufti Nazimuddin Shamzai said Muslim governments supporting the US had lost their legitimacy.

“Jihad is now compulsory for all Muslims after the US attacks on Afghanistan because Muslims in and around Afghanistan cannot defend the Islamic emirates (of Afghanistan),” he said.

“The safety of the Taliban is now a religious duty of every Muslim,” he said.

Shamzai had headed the 10-member delegation of senior clerics that met Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in Kandahar on September 28. Shamzai, like others in his team, belong to the Deobandi school of Islam, from where the Taliban draw their interpretation of Quran. The school of thought originated in India 150 years ago from a seminary in Deoband village.

The clerics exerted no influence on Mullah Omar — if indeed they attempted to — and the mission returned empty-handed. The Taliban has said it will not hand over the fugitive bin Laden.

Shamzai said Muslims could not remain true believers if they supported what he called the “US-led crusade against Islamic Afghanistan”.

“If governments in Islamic countries side with and support the US, then under Islamic law and teaching, Muslims should disobey their government orders,” he said.

“By all means, the Muslim population of those countries should remove their government... (even if) it’s the government in Pakistan,” he said.

Shamzai had issued a similar call for jihad after the US cruise missile attacks on militant training camps in Afghanistan in 1998 to retaliate the bombings of two US embassies in Africa, for which bin Laden was also blamed.


New Delhi, Oct. 9: 
A little after CD 7444 took off from Mumbai on the night of Wednesday, October 3, a phone call came to Alliance Air’s office in Delhi saying the plane would be hijacked.

That call was received by Shahnawaz Wani, the supervisor on duty.

Six days later, Wani — only 24 years of age — died today of “heart attack”. Possibly the most crucial witness in the probe now under way into the hijack drama that unfolded itself over five hours that night, Wani had set the security operation in motion by passing on the warning to his superior. He was the only one who could have identified the voice of the caller.

Police said Wani died a natural death at 3 am in his Vasant Kunj residence in south-west Delhi where he lived with his parents. His father, M.S. Wani, informed the deputy commissioner of police of the area, Taj Hassan, and produced a copy of the death certificate from the municipal corporation.

After obtaining a no-objection certificate from the police, Wani’s body was taken to Srinagar, his hometown, for the burial today.

Asked if the police suspected foul play, Hassan replied: “We cannot say anything because we have to go by what the family members say and they have not said anything to this effect.” An Alliance Air official said they were informed at 5.30 am of his death and told that the cause was a heart attack.




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