Kashmir wake-up
Powell mission bombs
Ayodhya temple troops march in
Powell pleases PM & Pak
Atal scores a point with Bush invite
Delhi firm on keeping Taliban out
Pakistan crying wolf, says govt
Dhamaka leaves Rajnath lonely
Calcutta Weather

 
 
KASHMIR WAKE-UP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today acknowledged that relations between India and Pakistan would not improve unless the Kashmir dispute was resolved, mirroring a significant shift that began unfolding during the visit of US secretary of state Colin Powell to the nuclear neighbours.

The pragmatic approach – the statement was the first-ever by the Prime Minister conceding the gravity of the dispute – came a few hours after Powell repeated in Delhi that Kashmir was “central” in Indo-Pak relations, albeit with an amendment.

“We want a solution to this issue (Kashmir) without which our relations with Pakistan may not improve... We are ready for talks on the issue, but it cannot be a condition,” Vajpayee told reporters after an RSS function.

“Powell was categorically told that we do not agree that Kashmir is a central issue.... He has also made some amendment in his views,” Vajpayee, who met the secretary of state earlier in the day, added.

Powell, who left for Shanghai after concluding a two-day tour of South Asia, extended an invitation to Vajpayee on behalf of President George W. Bush to Washington on November 9 for a “a working visit”. Indian officials interpreted the invitation, which was promptly accepted, as a US signal that it wants to keep the Indian leadership in the loop of its current fight against global terrorism.

However, after his meetings with the Indian leadership this afternoon, Powell said at a press conference: “Kashmir is central to India-Pakistan relations” – almost an echo of what he said in Islamabad yesterday.

He told a questioner that he did not put the “definite article” before “central” while referring to Kashmir. “I said central in the sense that I believe it is an important issue, and to suggest that it isn’t wouldn’t be accurate.”

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who was beside Powell as main host, made it clear that he did not agree with his American guest’s perception. But Singh took care to cushion the public expression of difference of opinion. “We don’t need necessarily to be disagreeable about the disagreement,” Singh said, indicating that India would not nurse a grudge against Washington.

India’s new approach stems mainly from two factors. One, the realisation that Pakistan has become an important ally for the US in its current fight against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Delhi knows that irrespective of its views, Islamabad will continue to play this role, at least for a while.

Two, the description of Kashmir as “central issue” by Powell does not vary so much in substance from what Vajpayee is willing to admit in public now — its significance in improving bilateral ties with Pakistan. South Block is now trying to emphasise on areas where India and the US has “commonalities” and which enable them to deepen ties.

Powell also made some statements which the Vajpayee government can sell to the domestic audience as signs of US support. Bush’s invitation to Vajpayee is the most significant of the gestures.

Powell said Washington’s fight against global terrorism will not stop with the campaign in Afghanistan and it will also combat terrorism faced by India. “We deplore terrorism wherever it exists, whether it’s the September 11 attacks or the October 1 strike on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.”

Powell also signed a treaty with home minister L.K. Advani on mutual legal assistance. The document is likely to strengthen efforts to combat criminal and terrorist activities and supplement the existing extradition treaty.

Though in his public articulations the secretary of state stressed the need to resume dialogue with Pakistan, he gave a patient hearing to the Indian leadership’s concerns over Pakistan’s role in the anti-terror coalition and the revival of military aid.

The inflow of heavyweight emissaries will not stop with Powell. German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is scheduled to visit India and Pakistan on the 28th of this month to strengthen the US terror fight.

   

 
 
POWELL MISSION BOMBS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Oct. 17: 
US secretary of state Colin Powell ended his two-day visit to South Asia today and left for Shanghai, his vision of a post-Taliban Afghanistan in tatters, the region more tense and critical than when he arrived in Islamabad on Monday.

Washington’s painstaking efforts to build a coalition in Afghanistan to take over from the Taliban received a severe setback yesterday when the Northern Alliance announced that it was withdrawing from an agreement reached with former king Zahir Shah to speedily convene the loya jirga or Grand Council to give shape to a new government for the war-ravaged country.

This is being described here as a resounding failure for Powell’s mission, the most important he has undertaken in his career. The failure is expected to be reflected in his ability to influence the course of events in America’s new war.

Adding to Powell’s woes was the murder of Israel’s tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, which may re-ignite the cycle of violence in West Asia. Powell has been instrumental in persuading Israel and the Palestinians to start peace talks so that there are no fissures in the US-led anti-terror coalition. Israel banned Palestinian President Yasser Arafat from using Gaza international airport in a first step in a series of retaliatory measures for the assassination.

The announcement of a break with Zahir Shah was made by the government of president Burhanuddin Rabbani through its embassy in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

It said the Northern Alliance still wanted the Grand Council to meet, but not for a few years until the situation on the ground stabilised and the Taliban was roundly defeated.

The about-turn by the Alliance appears to have been prompted by suspicions that Zahir Shah’s envoys, now in Islamabad, may have struck a deal with Pakistan and the US during Powell’s visit, although the US insists that there was no meeting between the secretary of state and the king’s representatives.

The Alliance is also suspicious of remarks by Powell and General Pervez Musharraf at their press conference yesterday, in which references were made to moderate elements in the Taliban.

The Alliance does not want any Taliban role — moderate or otherwise — in a future government in Kabul.

India has also come out against giving the Taliban any role in a future set-up in Kabul.

In an assertion which the US cannot dispute because of its democratic overtones, Rabbani officials in Dushanbe said the Grand Council should be made up of people chosen by Afghans in a general election.

Raising the stakes as Russian tanks, helicopters and armoured vehicles began arriving in Tajikistan for the Alliance, it said Afghanistan should be governed in the interim by “our government, which is broad-based”.

In another setback for the American road map for a new government in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary general’s new envoy for Afghanistan, urged the Security Council yesterday not to rush into Afghanistan with any peacekeeping force.

“We should not rush to establish a peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan,” Brahimi told the council in a closed-door meeting.

The US has been lobbying in the UN for a proposal under which Turkey, its Nato ally and a Muslim country, would provide all the troops for a UN peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. The proposal would have been acceptable to Pakistan, Ankara’s friend of long standing.

But that has also run into trouble since the Turks are perceived as being too close to General Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord allied to the Northern Alliance.

All hopes of a new plan for Afghanistan are now pinned on a meeting tomorrow between the state department’s newly appointed special envoy on Afghanistan, Richard Haass, and Brahimi in New York. Brahimi will then travel to Washington and onward to South and Central Asia.

While all this is taking its course, the US has given new reason for Musharraf to smile. The House of Representatives yesterday passed by voice vote a Bill to lift democracy related sanctions on Pakistan, clearing the way for both military and economic aid to Islamabad. The Bill has already been passed by the Senate.

Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said the Bill was “an appropriate response to the emergency situation confronting our nation and to the difficulties facing Pakistan as it assists us to stabilise the region”.

Although Powell has been able to retain Pakistan totally on the American side, he will have some tough questions to answer when he meets president George W. Bush in Shanghai at the Asia Pacific Economic summit.

His visit to South Asia is generally being seen here as having failed to douse the fires of potential conflict between India and Pakistan. On the contrary, tensions between the two countries rose during his visit.

   

 
 
AYODHYA TEMPLE TROOPS MARCH IN 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Oct. 17: 
Around 30 supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) today stormed into the disputed site at Ayodhya and performed a hurried puja, sending ripples of tension across the area and bringing the chief minister running.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has ordered an inquiry into the incident that indicates that the Sangh parivar is set to revive the Ayodhya issue for the coming Assembly elections.

Egged on by senior leaders Pravin Togadia, Purushottam Singh and Sreshchand Dixit, VHP workers brushed aside securitymen at the gate and barged into what they describe as the “sanctum sanctorum of the Ram Mandir”.

Though Ayodhya police denied that there was any case against the VHP, the outfit’s leaders bragged that they had managed to “do what they had promised”.

Purushottam said he and dozens of his colleagues entered the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site to perform puja around 10 am. “Main bhi andar gaya tha aur yeh to shuruat hai (I, too, went inside. This is just the beginning),’’ he said. Purushottam, however, denied that VHP chief Ashok Singhal had accompanied the activists and said he was “too ill”.

Word of a “VHP takeover’’ of the site spread like wildfire, triggering tension in Ayodhya. Chief minister Rajnath Singh, who was in Faizabad for a meeting, rushed to the site. The drama lasted for three hours till senior officials, including the district magistrate and the commissioner, arrived and pulled out the VHP activists.

Faizabad DIG R.P. Singh said he was waiting for a report from the CRPF personnel posted at the site and action would be taken only after he has studied it. Singh, however, confirmed that some VHP activists had tried to barge in and create trouble. No arrests have been made so far.

According to Dixit, a former IPS officer, the VHP supporters only wanted a “darshan of Ram Lalla and no controversy”. Sources said when Dixit was stopped at the gates, he demanded to see the papers on “the ban on entry of people into the site”. When the police failed to show him the documents, he forced his way in.

The plan for the barge-in was hatched at a meeting in Ayodhya yesterday addressed by Singhal. He demanded that the administration scale down the security at the site. “Suraksha bahut zyada hai,’’ Singhal said. “Itna zaroorat nahin hai.’’ The VHP chief asked the administration to leave the security to karsevaks, adding that the presence of so many central forces was “an insult to Hindus”.

Signalling that the VHP will try to make the mandir controversy an election issue, Singhal also called for a ban on the Samajwadi Party. The VHP has announced that beginning February 17, there will be a 100-day “poornavati yagna” at Karsevakpuram. Over 20,000 karsevaks are expected to attend every day.

   

 
 
POWELL PLEASES PM & PAK 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
US secretary of state Colin Powell achieved a rare feat during his visit to the subcontinent — he pleased both India and Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf was humoured on Kashmir and the Indian leadership was reassured that New Delhi is a valued member of the global coalition against terror.

To emphasise that Washington understands the terrorist threat faced by India, Powell handed a sop in the form of a bilateral treaty on legal assistance in criminal matters. The treaty, signed by Powell and home minister L.K. Advani, is another step to enhance cooperation on counter-terrorism.

India and the US are sharing intelligence on terrorist groups operating in the region. This information exchange is expected to increase in the coming months. The two countries also have in place a joint working group on counter-terrorism and an extradition treaty.

Advani took the opportunity of Powell’s half-an-hour call at his North Block office this morning to give a detailed account of India’s fight against terrorism. He mentioned the October 1 attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly that killed nearly 40 people. The home minister had visited Srinagar after the attack. Advani argued that if Pakistan did not back terrorist groups in Kashmir, there would be no militancy in the state.

The object of the exercise was to convey to Powell that India could not trust Pervez Musharraf’s words. The home minister, like foreign minister Jaswant Singh, tried to get across the message that though Pakistan is now in the forefront of the fight against terror, it had not stopped helping militants in Kashmir.

Jaswant nor Advani minced words while talking about Pakistan’s double standards.

“We gently tried to make the point that Pakistan is a master in the game of subterfuge and deception,’’ a senior official said.

India believes that Powell left New Delhi with a wider perspective of the situation in the region and perhaps a better idea of Pakistan’s role in Kashmir. “We hope to have turned Powell away from America’s sudden discovery of Musharraf’s virtues,’’ an official said.

Though New Delhi realises that Pakistan, as a frontline state, is important to Washington, it has tried to provide the US leadership with a more realistic view.

   

 
 
ATAL SCORES A POINT WITH BUSH INVITE 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
President George W. Bush has invited Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for a “working visit” to Washington on November 9. There is no indication that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has received a similar invitation.

The invitation, extended by US secretary of state Colin Powell on behalf of Bush during his meeting with Vajpayee this morning, was gleefully accepted by the Prime Minister. The visit will give the Bush administration the opportunity to tell India that it is an important country with which Washington wants to be in touch on important issues, particularly in its current fight against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network. For Vajpayee, it is an ideal opportunity to show his detractors that he is not grovelling before the US, rather it is the American President who is seeking him out.

Vajpayee is also scheduled to visit New York on November 7 and 8 to address the UN General Assembly, which was postponed after the September 11 attacks in the US.

But first, Vajpayee is Moscow-bound to participate in the Indo-Russian annual summit with President Vladimir Putin from November 4 to 7. Indications are that the Prime Minister will head for the US from Moscow.

Vajpayee and Bush have spoken on the phone twice since Terror Tuesday. The Prime Minister’s proposed visit to Washington will give the two leaders further opportunity to strike up a rapport, no matter how brief their interaction, and discuss some of their major concerns relating to global terrorism.

Vajpayee was invited for a state visit to the US last year by then US President Bill Clinton. But, by terming it a “working visit”, Bush has made it clear that he wants to meet Vajpayee to discuss one or two important issues without the frills of a ceremonial welcome and a state banquet. His visit is likely to be more in the style of the Western allies of the Americans who come to Washington at short notice to exchange views on important international developments.

Importantly, Vajpayee’s visit is likely to take place soon after his talks with the Russian leadership in Moscow. In their summit, Vajpayee and Putin, who has offered whole-hearted cooperation to the Americans in their war against terror, will be able to exchange views on the fast-paced developments in Afghanistan and its impact in the region. Moreover, since his proposed visit is at least three weeks away, it might so happen that by then the US operations in Afghanistan are over and efforts are in full swing to put in place a new regime to replace the Taliban. After consultations with Delhi’s “time-tested ally”, Vajpayee would be in a better position to articulate India’s views and concerns on the issue.

The successive visits to Russia and the US will boost Vajpayee’s position domestically, portraying the importance the two powers are giving to India in the new scenario to continue the fight against global terrorism.

   

 
 
DELHI FIRM ON KEEPING TALIBAN OUT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
India has made it clear to the United States that it will not support plans to include certain elements of the Taliban in the new regime in Kabul after the possible defeat and overthrow of the student militia. Instead, it has proposed that the American leadership take the opinion of all the countries in the neighbourhood before deciding on the new power structure in Afghanistan.

New Delhi has suggested that the political process to find a new dispensation to fill a possible vacuum in Kabul should be initiated, and the United Nations should be involved in the process.

While the majority Pashtun tribe, comprising 42 per cent of Afghanistan’s population, has to be part of any new political set-up, India argues that the other ethnic groups, like as the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazaras, and the Shias should be involved in the selection of a new leadership.

India has also made clear that while former king Zahir Shah can play an important role in restoring peace in Afghanistan, his role can only be temporary till a new regime that accommodates the aspirations of all Afghan people is installed.

Although Pakistan publicly desires a similar “broadbased, multi-ethnic” model for the changeover in Afghanistan, Islamabad has been backing the inclusion of “moderates” in the Taliban in any new regime in Kabul.

South Block sees this as Islamabad’s attempt to maintain its hegemony in Afghanistan. The Pakistani establishment views Afghanistan as a country that provides it with the much needed strategic depth.

It has also been the main breeding ground for terrorists and mercenaries that are pushed in to fight the Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

“A moderate Taliban is an oxymoron,” foreign minister Jaswant Singh told US secretary of state Colin Powell during their 50-minute conversation on Tuesday while making it clear that New Delhi was opposed to the Taliban’s presence in any form in a future regime in Afghanistan.

“We should look towards our neighbours and that does not necessarily mean the next-door neighbour alone,” Singh reportedly told Powell, clarifying that Pakistan was not the only player whose views on the issue were important.

Iran, Russia and the Central Asian republics were all important countries in the region, Singh argued, adding that these countries should have a say in the new regime because they, like India, have had to face the brunt of the fundamentalist Taliban’s policies.

   

 
 
PAKISTAN CRYING WOLF, SAYS GOVT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Oct. 17: 
Pakistan was raising the bogey of an Indian troops build-up to reassure itself of the US support after Colin Powell’s visit, a defence ministry official said this evening, reacting to Islamabad’s allegation that India was building up forces near its border.

At its regular briefing this afternoon, Pakistan’s spokesman Rashid Quereshi claimed Islamabad had definite knowledge that India was moving troops and also air force assets.

“There is no question of building up forces. Whatever movement has taken place in Kashmir has been the routine turnover of units. The nature of deployment in Kashmir is dynamic. In preparation for the winter, there have been some movements of units. But no additional troops have been pressed in from outside the command sector,” the army spokesman Colonel Shrutikant said.

An official speaking for the Indian Air Force said there had not even been any routine movement of assets. The defence ministry official said Islamabad’s security establishment always feels more comfortable if the US pushes for a dialogue with New Delhi. The view was largely echoed by the defence experts.

“Crying wolf is a tactic that has been used for long,” said former Air Chief Marshal S.K. Kaul. “Pakistan is now doing it in the hope that the US will once again ask India to calm down. Pakistan wants to be doubly sure that India will not create problems for it on its eastern frontier. With the American military operations on in Afghanistan, it does not want to be caught in a situation of conflict on two fronts.”

   

 
 
DHAMAKA LEAVES RAJNATH LONELY 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Oct. 17: 
No flinging of microphones and tearing of dhotis this time round. The Uttar Pradesh Assembly is in the news again for another absurd situation it finds itself in: all the Opposition parties have walked out, leaving the government embarrassed and confused.

Some time ago, Bahujan Samajwadi Party leader Mayavati had announced that on October 17 she would create a “dhamaka”. Though her “dhamaka” was pre-empted by the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and the Left parties, Mayavati, nonetheless, took her 46 MLAs — four were suspended for anti-party activities — to the Speaker today to tender their resignations from the House.

While the Samajwadi and the Left parties resigned from the Assembly on September 11, the Congress “left” the House on October 16. Demanding President’s rule in the state, the dissolution of the Assembly and the announcement of fresh polls, Mayavati said her party was quitting the House because her MLAs had “completed their five-year term”.

Taking a dig at the BJP, she said: “It seems only the BJP MLAS have been elected for more than five years. Our MLAs completed their term today and are resigning on moral and ethical grounds.”

The Opposition has been united in its demand to dissolve the House and announce elections as soon as possible. It holds that the present government was formed on October 17, 1996, and, therefore, completed its term today. The ruling BJP and the Election Commission insist that since the first sitting of the House was on March 26, 1997, the government has more than five months to complete its tenure. The issue regarding the tenure of the House is pending before Allahabad High Court.

Calling the BJP’s decision to prolong its tenure as “undemocratic, autocratic and unfortunate”, Mayavati challenged chief minister Rajnath Singh to quit “if he has any ethics left”.

The BSP vice-president maintained that the BJP’s insistence to remain in power was a sign of weakness and “acceptance” that it would not return to power. She also scoffed at Rajnath’s directive to his MLAs to stop claiming their salaries and perks from today.

“The very fact that Rajnath has asked his MLAs to deposit the money in the chief minister’s fund means that the BJP legislators will be claiming their salaries. So why this farce?’’ she asked. Mayavati said there was no possibility of an understanding with either the Samajwadi or the Congress. While calling the Congress resignations “as good as nothing”, she lambasted Mulayam Singh for “supporting the BJP secretly”.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 31.8°C (0)
Minimum: 25.3°C (+1)

Rainfall

33.9 mm

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 97%,
Minimum: 79%

Today

Light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder, in some areas
Sunrise: 5.38 am
Sunset: 5.06 pm
   
 

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