Powell parrots Pakistan line on Kashmir
Tada clone arrives in bogey of insecurity
Bangla minorities harassed
George vows to stick neck out
Clerics cry boycott to US goods
Calcutta Weather

Oct. 16: 
Colin Powell said in Islamabad what Pervez Musharraf wanted to hear, endorsing the President’s stand that Kashmir is the key to improving relations between India and Pakistan.

“We, too, believe the Kashmir issue is central to the relationship,” the US secretary of state said. The comment, underlining a new high in ties between Washington and Islamabad, came at a joint press conference by Powell and Musharraf.

But by the time Powell landed in Delhi a few hours later and spent 50 minutes with foreign minister Jaswant Singh, India officially decided to ignore the comment and unofficially insisted that it heard Powell as saying “essential”, not “central”.

India is hoping that Powell will clear the air during a joint press conference tomorrow. If he doesn’t, the onus will be on Singh to state India’s position.

Delhi, which hoped to raise its bargaining power through the overnight, high-decibel shelling across the Line of Control, also brought down the pitch during the day. Defence minister George Fernandes chose not to comment on President George W. Bush’s “stand-down” advice to the nuclear neighbours.

In a veiled reference to the shelling, Powell underscored in Islamabad the need for avoiding “provocation”. Pakistan said its army would exercise “maximum restraint” but would retaliate if attacked.

Musharraf told reporters he had informed Powell that Islamabad desired better relations with Delhi but “Kashmir remained at the heart of India-Pakistan tensions”.

Delhi spared Powell but it was quick to issue a rejoinder to Musharraf’s statement. “The issue of Jammu and Kashmir being at the heart of India-Pakistan tension... we certainly do not agree with that premise,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said.

Powell said the “beginning of a dialogue (between India and Pakistan) is the most important thing now. That is the message I will be taking to India…”.

The Musharraf administration had recently renewed its invitation to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Singh to visit Pakistan. But Delhi has ruled out the visits till “cross-border terror” ends.

Powell said the Kashmir issue should be resolved through “peaceful, political and diplomatic means and not through violence and reliance on force but with a determined respect for human rights”.

He thanked Musharraf for condemning the October 1 car bomb attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly even as he said terrorism has no place in the world. Powell said his visit was meant to demonstrate the US’ “enduring commitment to its relationship with Pakistan”. “This is not just a temporary spike but we believe that as a result of actions taken by Pakistan over the last five weeks, we are surely at the beginning of a strengthened relationship,” he said.

Military aid boost

Turning Powell’s words into action, the House of Representatives tonight rushed through a Bill already passed by the Senate to clear the way for military and economic aid to Pakistan for the next two years.    

New Delhi, Oct. 16: 
The Vajpayee government today brought in a tough new anti-terrorist Ordinance to deal with the security challenge faced by the country. The Ordinance invests police with wide powers, which can be misused in dealing with terrorist suspects.

“It sounds suspiciously like Tada through the backdoor,” says well-known criminal lawyer Susheel Bajaj.

Home minister L.K. Advani and his officers had long advocated such an Ordinance to replace Tada, but were unable to get it through. Taking advantage of the current mood of insecurity, the government decided the timing was just right. The Cabinet cleared the Ordinance, which is likely to be hurried through the winter session.

Opposition parties will find it difficult not to play along for fear of being thrown on the wrong side of the divide between those that want to fight terrorism and those that don’t.

The Ordinance gives the police the power to search any vehicle, vessel or aircraft, house, office or building suspected to be used by terrorists.

It defines a terrorist act as action against the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India. Those using weapons and explosives, chemicals and biological substances to cause death or injury or loss and damage to property or disruption of essential supplies with intent to threaten the stability of the country or to strike terror in any section of the people will be regarded as committing terrorist acts.

A member of any banned organisation is also considered a terrorist. It becomes obligatory on citizens to cooperate with investigating officers and provide all information on terrorists. Failure to do so will be an offence.

Death sentence or life imprisonment will be the punishment for those convicted of terrorist acts that have led to loss of lives. In any other case, meaning when there is no loss of lives, imprisonment shall be not less than five years and can be extended to imprisonment for life. Those harbouring terrorists can be similarly punished by jail terms up to three years, which can again be extended to imprisonment for life and a hefty fine.

Confessions made by an accused before a police officer — not lower in rank than a deputy superintendent of police — will be admissible in court as evidence. Under normal law, they are not. There is ample ground for this to be misused.

Terrorists will be tried by special courts presided over by a judge appointed by the Central or state government with the concurrence of the chief justice of the high court concerned.

The government claims it has safeguards against misuse. The director-general of police must confirm the arrest of a terrorist within 10 days and the review committee must be told within 30 days. The review committee will consist of the home and law secretaries and secretaries of other ministries and their equivalent in the states.

An officer not below the rank of DSP will investigate an offence under the ordinance. Information of a terrorist’s arrest must be provided to a family member immediately. A lawyer can be present during interrogation by the police but it is not clear if a lawyer is required when a confession is being taken.

M.M. Ghatate, a member of the law commission who went through the ordinance, denies that this is old wine in a new bottle. “We have talked to a cross-section of people, including human rights activists, before drafting this and have come up with the right mixture. A tough but humane law.”

He argues that there will always be fears of misuse. “Every law can be misused. Does that mean we will not have laws?’’ he asks.

Passport rule

The Cabinet also approved a legislation which will empower the Centre to suspend passport or travel documents for a period not exceeding four weeks if it is satisfied that they are likely to be impounded or revoked.

At present there is no statutory provision to prevent a criminal or anti-national element from leaving the country during the period when action to revoke the passport is initiated and the passport is actually revoked or impounded.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said after a Cabinet meeting that the Bill seeks to give the Centre the power to extend the four-week period till such time that the proceedings under Section 10 of the Act are concluded.


Dhaka, Oct. 16: 
Durga Puja celebrations will be muted this year in Bangladesh.

The Hindus have decided to cut down on festivities to protest against violence aimed at minorities in this predominantly Muslim nation.

The decision of the Hindu-Buddha-Christian Oikya Parishad comes in the wake of increasing attacks on minorities since the October 1 elections. Several thousand Hindu families have fled their homes in Agailjhara in southern Barisal district and taken refuge in neighbouring Gopalganj, the home district of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Hasina lost to rival Begum Khaleda Zia, whose four-party alliance, including Islamic fundamentalist outfits Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote, swept to power winning more than two-thirds of the seats in the 300-seat Jatiya Sangsad.

The Hindu-Buddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, representing 12 per cent of the country’s 130 million people, has blamed the attacks on “terrorists” from Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat.

According to reports in leading dailies such as Ittefaq, Sangbad and Prothom Alo, the attacks started before the elections. The violence — extortion, threats, forceful eviction or occupation of land and rape — was aimed at keeping the minority voters away from the polling stations. In the post-poll violence, the minorities have been targeted for supporting Hasina’s Awami League. The country’s minorities have traditionally backed the League for its secular policies.

Home minister Air Vice-Marshal (retd) Altaf Hossain Chowdhury has dismissed the reports about attacks on religious minorities as “baseless, exaggerated and politically motivated”.

He told reporters that only a small part of the incidents are said to be true, but most of these have been blown out of proportion. Chowdhury, however, warned that violence against the minorities will not be tolerated.


New Delhi, Oct. 16: 
It has taken George Fernandes all of 24 hours in South Block to live down — and stomp on — the Tehelka. The ministry of defence will be making large scale defence purchases in the rest of the year despite the stigma of corruption in arms deals.

“I will stick my neck out,” said Fernandes, “to ensure the safety and security of the country”.

This morning, the three service chiefs complained to him that defence requirements were mounting. Since Tehelka’s defencegate expose earlier this year, officers have loathed to take decisions on purchases.

“Even when the Kargil operations began, our forces were not adequately equipped. During the Kargil operations, we had to make purchases particularly from Russia, and they gave us weapons that they had withdrawn from their own armed forces.

“Today, again, the three service chiefs brought up the issue of essential purchases. Only 25 per cent of the capital expenditure earmarked in the defence budget for this year has been utilised in the first five months. We are now left with utilising the balance 75 per cent in seven months. I cannot be having this. I will repeat what I have said — I will stick my neck out so that the nation’s security is not endangered,” Fernandes proclaimed.

Last month — on September 11 — the ministry issued an order lifting the ban on the entry of agents who would negotiate defence purchases. The news was lost on a day America was attacked. Earlier this year, the Centre decided to allow private sector entry into defence production.

Fernandes set the tone for purchases during a meeting with visiting Russian deputy prime minister Klebnanov.


Lucknow, Oct. 16: 
If the Swadeshi Jagran Manch was looking for support for its “be Indian, buy Indian” campaign, it is coming from unexpected quarters.

Radical Muslim leaders in Lucknow have given a call to boycott all American products to protest against the ongoing air-strikes in Afghanistan. Firebrand Shia leader Maulana Kalbe Jawaad said Muslims were forced to protest as poor and innocent citizens of Afghanistan were being made to pay the price of a war in which they had no role to play.

However, the campaign has so far failed to make much impact, with sections of the Muslim clergy opposing the call. The well-known seminary in Lucknow, Darul-Ulum-Nadva, continues to serve Pepsi and Coke at its canteen. Coke spokesman Nantoo Banerjee said there was no impact on Coke’s sale in Lucknow or elsewhere. Pepsi’s Deepak Jolly declined to comment.

Jawaad and Sunni leader Maulana Sajjad Nomani defended the boycott, claiming that they were “channelising” Muslim anger in a “peaceful and democratic” manner. “The decision to opt for a particular soft drink is an individual’s choice and does not threaten public order in any way,” Jawaad said.




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