Afghan minister on thank-you visit
Netaji ashes shadow on Vajpayee itinerary in Japan
17-year vigil on remains of a tragedy
Kashmir trio on US terror list
Calcutta Weather

 
 
AFGHAN MINISTER ON THANK-YOU VISIT 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
It is being described as a private visit to spend a few days with family members after the week-long parleys in Bonn, but the newly-named interior minister of Afghanistan, Yunis Qanuni, is turning it into a thanksgiving trip to India.

Delhi stood by the Northern Alliance in its darkest days when it was marginalised in the Panjsher Valley and the Taliban took control of Kabul and most of the country.

“I am happy to be here among friends. People in Afghanistan will never forget the assistance extended by India when my country was facing a bad time,” Qanuni said.

Although it is not being described as an official visit by a key member of the new regime in Kabul, Qanuni’s presence here has made the Indian leadership happy.

It is a clear indication that India will at least have some friends in Kabul and may be able to revive its traditional links with Afghanistan after five years of complete sterility during Taliban’s rule.

Qanuni also took this opportunity to condemn Pakistan -- till a few months ago Taliban’s main backer — and made it clear that neither Mullah Omar nor any member of the top leadership of the student militia will be granted amnesty.

“Pakistan’s strategy of turning Afghanistan into a pocket-borough and a breeding ground for training terrorists and exporting them to Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the world has failed,” Qanuni said. He added: “It was time for the leadership in Islamabad to re-think its strategy on Afghanistan.”

He pointed out that some foreign fighters, mostly Pakistani nationals, were still among the Taliban, but claimed that very soon the new regime in Kabul will get rid of them.

After a meeting with foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Indian counterpart L.K.Advani, Qanuni said Afghanistan will no longer be allowed to be used by any country for its narrow political gains and it will not encourage terrorism.

“We want to establish a democratic system in our country.” He lauded India’s democracy, saying Kabul will try to create a similar system, where human rights are safeguarded and women are given their due position in society.

Qanuni’s parents are in Delhi. So is his brother who works in the Afghan embassy here. A few years ago, his wife was also here, but recently she migrated to Germany.

The 46-year-old Afghan minister and a key figure in the Northern Alliance will spend a few more days here, but with friends and family. His official duty was over after his meetings this afternoon with Singh and Advani.

   

 
 
NETAJI ASHES SHADOW ON VAJPAYEE ITINERARY IN JAPAN 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 7: 
The Prime Minister’s advisers are undecided whether Atal Bihari Vajpayee should visit the Renkoji temple in Tokyo where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s ashes are kept.

Officially, India has yet to accept that Netaji is dead and that the ashes, which the Japanese claim are his, actually belong to the founder leader of the Indian National Army.

A senior South Block official was tightlipped when asked what Vajpayee will do. “We are yet to take a final decision,” he said.

Starting from Jawaharlal Nehru, all Indian Prime Ministers who have visited Japan have also visited the temple. If Vajpayee does not, it will be a departure from tradition. If he does, temple authorities will get a chance to renew their demand that the ashes be taken back to India. This will, in turn, shovel fuel into the ashes controversy.

Besides, Vajpayee would also have to write in the visitors’ book. Advisers are worried about what he will write. They are also bothered that he may have to tackle sticky queries on India’s stand on the ashes during his interactions with the Japanese people.

The main thrust of Vajpayee’s visit to Japan is strengthening bilateral relations and convincing business houses that India is an attractive investment destination. During his visits to Osaka and Tokyo, he will interact with the political leadership, captains of Japanese industry and leading intellectuals.

A wrong move on the Netaji ashes, which is a sensitive issue in India and particularly in West Bengal, might mar what could turn out to be a successful visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister to Japan in nine years.

In November 1999, foreign minister Jaswant Singh had made a faux pas when he assured an elderly Japanese gentleman — who claimed to have fought with Netaji in the INA — that he would take necessary steps to fly back Netaji’s ashes to India. Singh’s remarks were a departure from the stand India had been maintaining. Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao had managed to sidestep the issue, but Singh could not duck. Officially, India denies that Netaji was killed in the 1945 air crash and has set up a commission to crosscheck the facts leading to his disappearance. But even after several years, it has yet to come up with a conclusive answer.

   

 
 
17-YEAR VIGIL ON REMAINS OF A TRAGEDY 
 
 
FROM SUCHANDANA GUPTA
 
Bhopal, Dec. 7: 
Round the clock for 17 years, at least two employees of the medico-legal centre (forensic department) in the Hamidia Hospital and Gandhi Medical College here are guarding a gigantic freezer.

The freezer, with medical equipment worth more than Rs 20 lakh, contain the organs and tissues extracted from the bodies of victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy which had its 17th anniversary earlier this week.

Investigation and research is long over. The Defence Research Institute (Gwalior), Pathology Institute (New Delhi), ICMR, Indian Toxicology Institute (Lucknow), Forensic Laboratory (Gujarat) and the CBI have taken out 402 organ samples from the Bhopal centre for research and forensic detection. Nobody has asked for a sample organ after 1989. Yet the 24-hour vigil continues.

The centre claims to have written dozens of letters to the Madhya Pradesh government, the Union government, the Indian Council of Medical Research and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences to help it dispose of the remains. But no one is willing to issue an order for fear of hurting the sentiments of Bhopal.

“For more than a decade-and-a-half, my department has been guarding the tissue preserves,” said Dr D.K. Satpathy, the director of the centre and professor at the medical college.

“So much of our equipment, funds, electricity, manpower is wasted guarding something which has no utility for us now. Why should we preserve the human organs from an industrial disaster for 15 years? All experiments and research are done. We have used up as much tissues as we could in our laboratories. We don’t need them any more.”

But the organs cannot be discarded. This week as the city relived the horror of December 2-3 1984, taking out violent demonstrations and screaming anti-Union Carbide slogans, 294 human organs glared out of glass bottles, swimming in formaline chemicals at the forensic department at Hamidia General Hospital.

These are separate from the hundreds more kept in the freezer where organs have been stored without preservatives.

“I cannot dispose them of. I need an appropriate order,” Dr Satpathy said. “I have threatened to dispose them of many times but no one is willing to take the responsibility.”

As the bodies started pouring into the hospital after the gas tragedy, the institute preserved every sample of organs attacked by the methyl isocyanate that leaked out of Union Carbide’s plant.

“More than 3,000 were dead. Being forensic experts, it was our moral duty to preserve viscera, muscles, skin, blood, vital organs and other evidence which was due to be helpful in investigation and to establish the cause of death,” the director explained.

Between December 3 and December 31, 1984, the department collected 393 organ samples. Deaths from the effects of the gas leak continued till 1998 and the department preserved organs which, during autopsies, they found to be damaged by methyl isocyanate.

The state government decided to stop autopsies of alleged gas deaths after 1988. Since then, such cases are being treated as natural deaths.

From 1989, the medico-legal centre started feeling the burden of preserving so many organs. Only 68 samples have been discarded because they had reportedly decomposed.

From 1990, it started writing letters to various ministries of the state government and, failing to get a response, approached the ICMR, the country’s premier medical research organisation.

On June 14, 1995, Dr Satpathy wrote to the ICMR director. “We have been keeping the remaining samples in our deep freezer which is a great responsibility on us. These tissues are not of much use to this institute. I suggest you transfer these tissues from this institute to a place where these are really required… I shall wait for your reply for two months and afterwards I shall destroy the tissues.” No reply came. The letters continued for the years that followed to all ministries concerned of the state and Union governments and ICMR. Still no reply.

“We kept them to help research, scientific study and investigation. All that was done by other institutions. They came and chose what they wanted for their research and walked off. My institute does not need the organs and we are stuck with them,” Dr Satpathy said.

“My department cannot dispose them of because if I do so without proper authorisation from the government, I will be blamed for having been bribed by Union Carbide for the destruction of medical evidence. Neither the Centre nor the state wants to get rid of the organs for fear of being accused of being bribed by Union Carbide. Hence, my institution might have to go on preserving the organs for decades, spending lakhs year after year,” he added.

   

 
 
KASHMIR TRIO ON US TERROR LIST 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Dec. 7: 
The American noose around the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad is tightening even as the Bush administration yesterday took action against another notorious Pakistan-based terrorist group, the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

All the three groups, active in Jammu and Kashmir, are among 39 entities which figure in a new “terrorist exclusion list” announced by the US state department yesterday.

The list includes organisations, charities and companies which are suspected to have financial, military or political connections with global terrorist activities.

Yesterday’s announcement enables the administration to deny visas to members of these entities or to deport them from the US.

The “terrorist exclusion list” is the result of US attorney general John Ashcroft’s request to the state department to exclude members of 46 groups from being in America.

The state department picked 33 of those chosen by Ashcroft and included an additional six from its discretion. While the Americans have taken action in the past against the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and more recently against Jaish-e-Mohammad, this is the first effective step against Lashkar-e-Toiba.

For more than two years, the state department has been contemplating action against Lashkar and has shared its intentions with New Delhi every time India urged such action.

But the Indians had been repeatedly disappointed that the Americans had so far let the organisation off the hook, mainly to placate Pakistan, which had pleaded innocence on behalf of this terrorist outfit.

With the “terrorist exclusion list”, there are now four different lists within the US administration of outfits which promote terrorism. The state department has its compilation of “Foreign Terrorist Organisations” or FTOs and a second list of “other terrorist groups”.

The latter are not subject to any legal measures.

The treasury department has a third list of 153 entities, which are subject to financial controls, including the freezing of assets.

Analysts say there is confusion here about the four different lists and what they entail and it may be a while before their effectiveness can be assessed.

Yesterday’s list was prepared under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which was amended and renamed the USA Patriot Act by President George W. Bush on October 26 in the light of the September 11 attacks.

“By designating these groups, the secretary (of state Colin Powell) has strengthened the US ability to exclude supporters of terrorism from the country or to deport them if they are found within our borders”, state department spokesman Philip Reeker said while releasing the list.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:30.3°C (+3)
Minimum:16.1°C (+1)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 37%

Sunrise: 6.09 am

Sunset: 4.48 pm

Today

Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C
   
 

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