Front reporting takes a backseat
India, Russia to discuss new Kabul regime
Anthrax alert in TN
Absent Aamir on hit list
Advani falls back on Pokhran
Railway shield to avert collisions
Cong opposes George return

London, Oct. 13: 
Has the biggest casualty in the “war on terrorism” been the veteran war journalist? This is a question being asked by many as “Operation Enduring Freedom” continues into its fifth day without the true story of the war reaching the people.

Veteran journalist and writer, Philip Knightley, says the reason the war against the Taliban began at night was because the US and the UK were determined to keep their citizens in the dark about what really happened in Afghanistan since the first missiles were fired.

“‘The media can learn little,” he says. “Unlike the “video game” coverage of the attacks on Baghdad during the Gulf War, this time our screens showed a night sky with meaningless tiny points of light.” Knightley, who famously wrote about the cormorants blackened in oil after the Gulf War, says: “No Western war correspondents are on the ground, where the air strikes have taken place. Hundreds gather across the borders in nearby countries but many are confined to their hotels by local authorities. All they can do is point to plumes of smoke in the distance.”’

In The Daily Mail, Knightley describes how the war is being reported: “Journalists back in London interview fellow journalists in Pakistan. In London, TV cameras show crowds of journalists outside 10 Downing Street. Rumours and speculation abound. The truth is that no one outside the government knows anything.”

The reason for this sanitising, he says, is that “both Bush and Blair realise that all it would take to shatter their support would be one image — TV or photograph — of an Afghan woman cradling in her arms the body of a baby killed by an air strike.”

The author of The First Casualty, The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker says, this time the British and American governments are not too happy to allow even something as innocuous as interviews with the bomber pilots, much less invite war correspondents to fly with the bomber pilots as they did in World War II.

The sole interview with a pilot who took part in the first strike was so tightly controlled that he was given a code name — Woodstock — and revealed only that his mission had come together like a “well-oiled machine”.

Knightley says this was probably following the criticism of an interview with a young American pilot in northern Italy before he took off to bomb Kosovo. “It’s a lot of fun. I love my job. It’s like playing a video game and riding a roller coaster at the same time.”

Secrecy surrounding the ground war will be even greater because of the involvement of SAS and American special forces.

“The last thing they want is a pack of war correspondents following their every move and filing stories as troublesome as those surrounding the SAS killings of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar turned out to be.”

Knightley’s moan that “where oh where is the voice of the informed, objective war correspondent?” is echoed by Guardian columnist Catherine Bennett, who points out that all we are getting in this war is a cacophony from today’s war correspondents.

She points out to the misadventures of Yvonne Ridley, the journalist from Sunday Express, who was arrested and then released by the Taliban. Bennett says that the public heard all about Ridley’s daughter Daisy, her mother Joyce and Daisy’s puppy Glenda. The condition of her extended family seemed more important than the plights of the Afghan civilians.

The war has also given the Western journalists a taste for fancy dress. Apart from Ridley wearing a burkha, we had the BBC’s John Simpson also in a burkha going to some Taliban areas. Despite the disguise, all Simpson managed to get were a few shots of mountains and the sound of artillery fire in the distance. He then made a quick escape to safer territory, where other journalists interviewed him about his feat.

“It was like wearing a cloak of invisibility,” said Simpson. There was little information about the war and its effects.

In the absence of any reports from Kabul, Herat or Kandahar, the most-watched television channel in this war must surely be the Qatar-based Al Jazeera channel, favoured by Osama Bin Laden himself.


New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
The India-Russia Working Group on Afghanistan will meet here next week to take stock of the situation following the US-led air strikes and coordinate their position on a new regime in Kabul that can bring peace to the war-ravaged country.

Vyachaslav Trubnikov, Russian first deputy foreign minister, and Chokila Iyer, Indian foreign secretary, will head their sides during the meeting on October 18.

Both New Delhi and Moscow have been victims of the Taliban regime for many years, and are keen to see in Kabul a government that will not be as hostile to these two countries as the student-militia has been.

The two countries are also partners in propping up the Northern Alliance, which has so far been the only armed opposition to the Taliban.

The working group was formed last year during the visit of the Russian President to India.

At that time, cooperation between the two sides remained limited to finding ways and means of strengthening their alliance.

But now, with the Taliban facing the possibility of being replaced, it is imperative for New Delhi and Mosow to closely monitor the developments in Kabul.

The working group meeting will be preceded by an interaction between Russian deputy prime minister Ilya Klebanov, who is arriving here on Sunday, and the Indian leadership regarding the fast-paced developments in the region in the wake of the US strikes.

The ostensible reason for Klebanov’s visit is to attend the Indo-Russian Inter Governmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation of which he is the co-chairman.

The Indian side will be headed by finance minister Yashwant Sinha.

The Russian deputy prime minister will hold political level discussions with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.


Chennai, Oct. 13: 
Tamil Nadu today ordered “total veterinary care” for all wild animals in the Mudumalai sanctuary in the Nilgiris after an elephant, afflicted by anthrax, recently died in the nearby Bandipur reserve forest in Karnataka.

The move comes in the wake of “anthrax fears” in the area as humans could also contract the disease from animal sources.

However, no instance of any animal testing positive to the disease, which is generally confined to sheep, cattle, horses, goats and pigs, has been reported in the state recently.

Animal husbandry and fisheries secretary P. Rajendhran today said an order for 7,000 vials of the vaccine to combat anthrax had been placed with the Institute of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at Ranipet, Vellore, while 1,000 vials have been “already rushed” from Coimbatore to the Mudumalai sanctuary area.

Rajendhran told reporters that the district collector and the director of veterinary services have been asked to “go to the area and assess the situation”.

He said while all the captive animals would be vaccinated immediately, inoculating wild animals, possibly with ‘dart guns’, would also be considered.


Mumbai, Oct. 13: 
Police today killed four gangsters in a shootout in the financial capital, claiming they had come to kill at least three Bollywood personalities, including Aamir Khan who is away in the US.

Deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the four men were linked to the Abu Salem gang operating from Dubai. Salem had hatched a “conspiracy” to murder Aamir, Laagan director Ashutosh Gowarikar, a film financier and a builder.

Aamir has been touring the US for the past few weeks with Gowarikar and the cast of Lagaan. He is expected to return at the end of this month.

It is unclear why the notorious Salem gang, known for extorting from Bollywood stars, would choose to strike at a time when Aamir was away.

Bhujbal, who called a press conference to announce the encounter, usually done by the police chief, said the police had received a tip last night that the gangsters would gather at Khar at 2 am.

“When the police team spotted the gangsters near St Teresa’s School in Khar, they asked them to surrender. The gangsters refused and opened fire instead, forcing the police to retaliate,” the deputy chief minister said.

The police recovered two foreign-made pistols, one revolver and two cellphones from the gangsters. Their motorcycles were also seized.

Three of the four killed men were identified as Tanvir Sheikh, 22, Sanjay Kumar, 22, and Abdul Javed, 24.

The police did not say if Aamir had received any extortion threats. A senior official added that the actor’s security would be beefed up.

The encounter occurred at a time when two senior police officials are due to leave for the United Arab Emirates next week to try and extradite the gangsters operating out of Dubai.

Bhujbal said the state government was making all efforts to extradite the Mumbai gangsters operating from abroad.


Shastripuram (Agra), Oct. 13: 
It was meant to kick off the BJP’s campaign for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls and pep up youth activists. But as home minister L.K. Advani took the microphone to address the special two-day convention of the party’s Yuva Morcha, it was clear that the BJP had little to talk about.

Frequently harking back to the past, all Advani could boast as “achievements” were the Pokhran nuclear blasts of 1998 and how the BJP emerged from the fringes with just two MPs in 1984 to being the biggest party at the Centre and some states.

The recent ban on the Students’ Islamic Movement of India was dwelt upon as a “significant” step in the government’s resolve to fight terrorism after the September 11 strikes in the US and the assault on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1. As was the NDA government’s rejection of the draft agreement formulated during the Indo-Pak summit in Agra three months ago.

Advani, however, failed to mention any of the Uttar Pradesh government’s policy decisions, including sops for the most backward castes, traders and primary school teachers.

Chief minister Rajnath Singh, who was seated next to Advani, could barely conceal his disappointment at his mentor’s failure to commend his government before the 60,000-strong gathering of youth activists.

Others present on the dais were Union ministers Sushma Swaraj, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, and Satya Narayan Jatiya, newly-anointed Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Kalraj Mishra.

While emphasising that the September 11 terror attacks had vindicated India’s stand on terrorism and made its task easier, the home minister said India will fight the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir on its own.

“People are asking, what has India achieved, especially after the growing closeness between the US and Pakistan?” Advani said. “My answer is do not worry. The Jammu and Kashmir terrorism is our problem and we have enough strength to fight it on our own. The thought that we need another country’s help to fight terrorism on our soil should not cross anybody’s mind, least of all of those who have assembled here today.”

He told the Yuva Morcha activists they had a “special” role to play in the anti-terror campaign and assured them he would “guarantee the security of every citizen, not just in Jammu and Kashmir but all over the country”.

The home minister said the decision to ban Simi was not taken in haste. “A very senior Congressman and Governor, who has been an adviser to Prime Ministers in the past, met me and told me not to take the Simi threat lightly,” Advani said.

“Now it is clear that the organisation is involved in dangerous activities. Recently, when some ISI activists were arrested, they confessed to having the support of Simi and said many of its activists were behind blasts,” he added.

However, Advani made it clear that the government had taken the “path of democracy” in proscribing Simi. “A judicial tribunal has been constituted and we have directed all state governments to adduce evidence against Simi.

“Recently I was asked by a journalist what I would count as this government’s achievements. I replied one would be the job I am doing and I was determined we should win the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.


Mumbai, Oct. 13: 
Tragedies like Gaisal may become a thing of the past with this device in place, says the Konkan Railway Corporation.

The railway company claims to have formulated an anti-collision device (ACD) that can prevent train accidents.

The device, called a Raksha Kavach, is a self-acting computer that stops collisions by pressing the brakes after detecting a potential disaster, B. Rajaram managing director, Konkan Railway said.

Railway minister Nitish Kumar will “dedicate” the device to the nation in Mumbai on Monday. “It’s the first such device in the world,” Rajaram said. Konkan Railway has applied for patents in 124 nations, he added.

The ACD, to be installed in locomotives, guard vans, stations and level-crossing gates, sends out a message every half-second. When one ACD comes near another, the microprocessors communicate with each other. If something is amiss, brakes are applied automatically.

While approaching a station, an ACD installed in a train gives a “station approach signal” to the driver about 2 km before the first stop signal of the station. When travelling in midsections, loco ACDs will remain on the lookout for trains in the radius of 3 km for potentially dangerous collision-like situations.

“The Raksha Kavach provides door-drishti to the driver. It is his real saathi,” said Rajaram.

The device has been certified by the Research and Standards Organisation of the ministry of railways and has been tested on a 10-km stretch at Majorda, near Goa.

The ACDs are the need of the hour after the September 11 strikes, as the idea can also be applied to prevent air collisions, Konkan Railway feels.

If ACDs, modified for the purpose, are placed in planes and high-rises, it will be easier to detect hijacking and prevent air crashes, Rajaram said.

“In case of a plane nearing a building or about to hit some such target, the micro-processor will take over the manual control from the pilot, fix a safe longitude and latitude and divert the plane. The control will later come back to the pilot, but every time the plane is about to hit a target, the ACD will divert its path again,” Rajaram added.

The airs ACDs, however, have not been tested. But Konkan Railway has written a letter to US President George W. Bush on placing them in planes and skyscrapers. An ACD for a train will cost Rs 5 lakh and the one for a plane will cost Rs 10 lakh.


New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
The Congress today sought to pre-empt George Fernandes’ return to the Union Cabinet, asking Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee not to violate norms of public conduct, reports our special correspondent.

The party said the government should instead file an FIR against the former defence minister as bribes were allegedly paid at his official residence. Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the party would oppose Fernandes’ induction. Modifying the Shakespearean phrase, Reddy said: “Shamelessness, thy name is NDA.”

He claimed he had specific knowledge from “impeccable sources” that Fernandes was being drafted into the Cabinet.

Reddy said it would be most unfortunate as yesterday the Venkataswami Commission had observed that the Tehelka tapes were not doctored.

The Left parties also said they were opposed to Fernandes’ re- induction.


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