Wait for signal from Washington
Capitol war against ‘President Vajpayee’
Head of steam for terror law
Delhi gives Buddha a winner’s ticket
Cong plans offensive against Centre
Behind show of unity, security potshots
Jaya moves closer with support
Cellphone clues to sleuths on terror trail
Calcutta Weather

 
 
WAIT FOR SIGNAL FROM WASHINGTON 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 14: 
In step with the rhetoric of liquidating terrorists, India is building a case against Pakistan, holding it indirectly responsible for yesterday’s attack on Parliament and hoping that the US would exert enough pressure on Islamabad to give up its policy of cross-border terrorism.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh claimed “technical evidence” of Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba’s role in the attack on Parliament.

“There is credible technical evidence that yesterday’s terrorist attack on the seat of democracy and sovereignty of Indian people was the handiwork of Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba,” Singh said.

Lashkar denied it. “This is a lie and baseless,” its spokesman Yahya Mujahid told Reuters in Islamabad.

Delhi demanded that Islamabad immediately act against the leadership of Lashkar and another Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Pakistan promised to examine the “technical evidence”. “If India provides us with evidence, we will examine it,” the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan as saying.

Although the nature of this “technical evidence” is not being divulged, it could be intercepts of messages between the terrorists and their leadership in Pakistan and other clues that establish their link with Islamabad.

Home minister L.K. Advani said: “We have received some clues... which show that a neighbouring country, and some terrorist organisations active there are behind it.”

Pakistan, however, said it would not allow its soil to be used for terrorist activities.

The “evidence” Delhi claims to have is likely to be shared with the Americans. In the evening, Singh met the US ambassador, Robert Blackwill, who has offered Washington’s help in the fight against terrorism. Visiting Parliament in the morning, Blackwill said the US and India were together in this battle.

“The tragic event that occurred yesterday and perpetrated by terrorists was no different in its objective from the terror attacks in the US on September 11,” he said.

India lodged a strong protest with Pakistan in the form of a verbal demarche by foreign secretary Chokila Iyer to high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi this afternoon.

In the message, India asked Pakistan to do three things. One, to stop the activities of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed based on its soil. Two, take the leadership of these outfits into custody and three, freeze their financial assets.

“Pakistan, which has joined the international fight against global terrorism, should now take appropriate action,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. “We want Pakistan to walk the talk.”

Anticipating that Pakistan may attempt to bring the focus back on Jammu and Kashmir by asking its armed forces along the Line of Control to be on “high alert”, the Indian leadership is trying to ensure the issue is not blown out of proportion. Asked to comment, Singh said: “We have no such information with us.”

The dilemma before the Indian leadership is how to deal with the terrorist attack. Having gathered the “evidence”, which Singh may have passed on to Blackwill, Delhi wants Washington to exert pressure on Islamabad to act against the terrorist outfits.

If it does not see any results, India may have to take the difficult decision of dealing with Pakistan on its own, for which pressure is building up within the ruling BJP.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said today: “Give some time to the government.”

Asked if India would mount an offensive against terrorist organisations, which could mean crossing the Line of Control, he said: “I cannot answer this question.”

Pakistan today warned India against any “misadventure”.

   

 
 
CAPITOL WAR AGAINST ‘PRESIDENT VAJPAYEE’ 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Dec. 14: 
Within hours of yesterday’s terrorist attack on the Parliament complex, the Bush administration moved Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Rashtrapati Bhavan!

The instant reaction of the White House in describing Vajpayee as India’s President while announcing the phone call made by President George W. Bush yesterday reflects how very, very low a priority the US is attaching to what is to the Indian government a cataclysmic development.

South Block and the PMO may not realise how far removed India is from America’s radar screen. But the Indian embassy in Washington certainly does. Indian officials here have been working overtime on Capitol Hill to create sentiment supportive of Delhi in the eventuality of any retaliation by India acquiring crisis proportions.

Their efforts produced far more significant results than anything that transpired yesterday vis-a-vis India in the White House or in Foggy Bottom, the seat of the state department.

Tom Lantos, the ranking Democratic member of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, tried to jog America’s consciousness by comparing the latest terrorist attack in Delhi to the outrage on September 11.

Lantos said on the House floor that “three months and two days ago, terrorists used box cutters, knives and fuel-laden passenger jets to launch suicide missions against the US”.

He reminded Americans that “one of those airplanes may have been intended to hit this very Capitol building — the symbol of our democracy. The attack against India, as with the attacks against the US, were... cowardly attempts by criminal terrorist organisations to attack free and democratic societies, to intimidate their people and their government”.

Lantos continued: “Today, I want to assure the people and government of India that you are not alone... We must act together in rooting out the terrorist networks wherever they exist.”

Lobbying in recent years has taught the Indian embassy here that the most effective route to securing action by any US administration is through Capitol Hill. When Pakistanis occupied the Kargil heights in 1999, the state department equivocated for 10 days, Bill Clinton notwithstanding. It was not until the House International Relations Committee criticised Islamabad that Foggy Bottom stirred against Pakistan.

It is not for nothing that successive Israeli leaders visiting Washington first go to Capitol Hill before they interact with anyone in the administration. Belatedly, India is learning from Tel Aviv how the US system operates.

Of course, Bush himself spoke to Vajpayee. What is lost on New Delhi is that the White House did not even find it necessary to mention the President’s conversation with Vajpayee. Bush offered Vajpayee the sop of assistance by the FBI and the state department’s counter-terrorism teams, all highly discredited after September 11.

   

 
 
HEAD OF STEAM FOR TERROR LAW 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 14: 
The government appears determined to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in the winter session itself, drawing strength from the security concerns raised by yesterday’s strike on Parliament.

Though there are only four days left — as Monday is a holiday — the government’s floor managers have devised a strategy to facilitate the passage of the Bill. Its author, home minister L.K. Advani, today put in a notice with Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi to make a statement on Terror Thursday when the House reassembles on Tuesday. The government’s calculation is that the Opposition — which had stalled proceedings for most of last week over the coffin scam — will find it “politically untenable” to prevent him from speaking.

Once this business is over, government sources claimed, the Bill would be introduced, and even if the Opposition walked out, it would be discussed and passed the same day. According to the tentative calendar for the legislation, the Bill will go through the motions in the Rajya Sabha on December 19. If it is defeated — and the government seems certain it will — a joint session is on the cards either on December 21, when the winter session officially ends, or December 22.

The sources said re-promulgating the Ordinance would be the last option, which would be exercised only if the Opposition did not allow the House to function. “But our first priority would be a joint session,” BJP parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said. “Poto (as the Ordinance is known) is a prestige issue for us.” It is due to expire on December 24.

The decision to push through the Bill was made after a lot of pressure from the BJP. This morning, party MPs met Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and urged him to take “strong action” against terrorists, cross the Line of Control, if necessary, and smash the terrorist training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Malhotra said the Prime Minister did not react. Some ministers also met Vajpayee.

Even as it slammed the Opposition for “politicising” the suicide strikes, the BJP was as much a player in the game to score brownie points as any other. Today, it mustered its arguments to contest the Opposition’s primary allegations that despite the Ordinance being in operation, Parliament was attacked and, therefore, a law based on it was futile.

Second, the Opposition pointed out the government’s failure to pre-empt the strike despite Advani’s admission of a warning. The party projected the valour of the security personnel who died while preventing the strike as a victory for the government. Malhotra said: “Their bravery should be commended and the security lapses should not be condemned.”

He cited the solidarity displayed by the US Congress with George W. Bush after September 11 as an example for the Opposition to emulate.

Malhotra, however, conceded that while the Ordinance was designed to tackle supporters and financiers of terrorist organisations, it was not equipped to deal with suicide attacks.

To revive the campaign for the law and explain its version of yesterday’s incident before the Opposition gains an upper hand in the propaganda war, the government has directed senior ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Murli Manohar Joshi, Arun Jaitley and Arun Shourie and minister of state Ravi Shankar Prasad to visit major state capitals over this weekend and hold public meetings. By building up people’s sentiments, the BJP hopes to puncture the Opposition’s tirade against the law.

   

 
 
DELHI GIVES BUDDHA A WINNER’S TICKET 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Calcutta, Dec. 14: 
There is no irony, much less surprise, in the way Union home minister L.K. Advani and West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made common cause against terrorism almost in identical language hours after Thursday’s attack on Parliament House.

If they needed any further proof to convince sceptics that stronger laws are required to fight terrorism and organised crime, here it was in the bloodied forecourts of the seat of Indian democracy.

Their points proven, albeit in a tragic turn, both may push harder and possibly have their way against adamant opponents as well as carping colleagues.

In fact, Bhattacharjee stands an even better chance than Advani to push through his terror law. The compulsions of the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections may still prompt the Opposition to try and put hurdles in Advani’s way over the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. But Bhattacharjee looks a clear winner against sceptics in his party Politburo and the Left Front, who tied his hands, at least temporarily, against issuing an Ordinance or enacting the law in the current session of the Assembly.

Even when the Politburo held him back, it did not find anything wrong with his proposed law per se; it argued that Bhattachacharjee’s timing was wrong, as his law could create confusion in the public mind and take the steam out of the Left’s opposition to the terror Ordinance in Parliament.

As he announced the Politburo decision to the media in New Delhi, Jyoti Basu was at pains to explain that the Bengal law was fundamentally different from the central Ordinance.

Yesterday, asked if the party would change its stand on terror Ordinance in view of the attack on Parliament, state CPM secretary Anil Biswas did the same.

The Politburo putsch infuriated the chief minister more than the objections raised by Front constituents like the Forward Bloc and the CPI because the party bosses scuttled his move despite being convinced of his arguments, which Biswas too shared.

Bhattacharjee later met Forward Bloc leader Ashok Ghosh, agreed to some minor amendments he suggested and won him over to his side.

The Parliament attack came within days of another milestone in Bhattacharjee’s march toward chief ministerial supremacy.

At the last Left Front meeting, he had promptly agreed to a proposal by the same Ashok Ghosh of the Forward Bloc to set up a core committee of the Cabinet, comprising some senior members of his Cabinet. This would be the first time that the Left Front government will have a committee of this kind within the Cabinet, the members of which will be chosen by the chief minister.

For those who wrongly argue that this indicates a curtailment of Bhattacharjee’s powers and authority, here are two facts. Left Front chairman Biman Bose objected to the proposal for the Cabinet committee and was summarily overruled by Bhattacharjee. Second, Ghosh, who mooted the idea, candidly admits that, contrary to some perceptions, this would actually strengthen the chief minister’s hands.

Party bosses might think they set the agenda, but actually the government goes about its business pretty much on its own. Like other leaders of the Front constituents, Ghosh knows it is better to deal with Writers’ Buildings than with Alimuddin Street, where the voices of the smaller partners are muffled anyway. A core committee of the Cabinet could thus make the weakened Left Front committee even more redundant.

That Bhattacharjee is going this way was proved by two decisions. When state CPI secretary Manju Majumdar called up Biman Bose to complain about the Cabinet passing the Prevention of Organised Crime Ordinance, he was thrown back a counter-complaint: “Ask the chief minister. I knew nothing about it.” Much the same thing happened with the decision to increase hospital charges.

This should not necessarily mean a rift between Bhattacharjee and the party. So far, Bhattacharjee has had the most important party colleague - Anil Biswas - on his side in his new style of functioning. It is possible Biswas realises that, like Jyoti Basu before him, Bhattacharjee is the elected as well as public face of the party and it serves his - and the party’s - interest to fall in line with the leader, rather than fall behind.

   

 
 
CONG PLANS OFFENSIVE AGAINST CENTRE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 14: 
The Congress has decided to take the bull by both its horns. Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Working Committee (CWC) have consciously opted for an “offensive posture” instead of going with the government in the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament.

Going by the current thinking, the Congress will oppose the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance Bill and raise the “coffin scam” next in the House if it is not adjourned sine die. The party today claimed that it had received feelers from the government on the possibility of adjourning the Lok Sabha sine die.

Opinion is divided in the Congress on whether it should accept the impasse or score some brownie points on the coffin scam and the intelligence failure in yesterday’s attack.

About the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s resolve to wage a decisive battle against terrorists, Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said the party was one with the Centre on the issue. Jaipal, however, demanded that the government should brief the Opposition about its plans.

The Congress is non-committal about a proposal to destroy terrorist camps across the border. Officially, Jaipal said it was up to the government to consider it. “We are for liquidation of terrorists wherever they are. But the government should express its determination to liquidate terrorists and consult us in this regard,” he said.

Privately, many senior leaders wondered whether the Vajpayee regime would be able to cross the line of control as both India and Pakistan are nuclear nations. These leaders pointed out that a full-scale military conflict between two nuclear states was unprecedented.

Congress leaders said the party did not want to “repeat the mistakes of the Kargil conflict” when it went along with the Centre for one week and then changed track. “Our strategy had not paid off then. We want to expose the intelligence failures and fix accountability. How is it possible that the home minister was aware of the conspiracy to blow Parliament but refused to act?” asked a senior leader.

Reddy said the nation must consider itself lucky that terrorists failed to enter Parliament. After all, the security personnel at Gate 11 were entrusted with the task of protecting Vice-President Krishan Kant and not Parliament House per se.

The Congress is not prepared to settle for beefing up of security arrangements in and around Parliament, pointing out that crucial questions needed to be answered. How was a car without a Parliament sticker allowed to come in, the party asked. Party leaders said the government was trying to shift the focus on issues such as arming the watch and ward staff, whereas the failure took place elsewhere.

Parliament has four layers of security. Guards manning the three outer rings are all armed. It is the last layer inside Parliament that is without arms, the Congress leaders argued. They said posting armed guards inside Parliament would pose a different set of security hazards. Similarly, a proposal to keep arms in some secured place inside Parliament would also not be tamper proof.

Though the party has not demanded home minister L.K. Advani’s resignation, the Congress holds him responsible for the lapses.

   

 
 
BEHIND SHOW OF UNITY, SECURITY POTSHOTS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 14: 
L.K. Advani and his team may claim to have successfully warded off the attackers yesterday since they could not enter the Parliament building, a powerful section in government believes the home ministry was directly responsible for the security breach.

In public, the ruling alliance members are keeping up a show of unity, staunchly defending Advani and saying that the plot to attack Parliament House was foiled, thanks to the security arrangements that were in place.

But those within the government critical of the home ministry’s performance point to the fact that but for the “goof-up” by the militants, who got sidetracked by Vice-President Krishan Kant’s pilot car, the story could have been much grimmer.

“The car, laden with 30 kgs of RDX, could have rammed into the building, triggering off a massive explosion which could have destroyed Parliament and most of the ministers and MPs inside. Excluding the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, all senior leaders were in that building,” an official said.

If the government was aware of plans to attack Parliament and other such sensitive buildings and a possible timeframe was also provided by the intelligence agencies between December 10 and 12, the security around Parliament House should have been strengthened, sources in government say. With the experience of what happened in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1 fresh in their minds, alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear. “But, besides talking of a heightened security threat, nothing was done,” the official said.

Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan, while talking to reporters informally after yesterday’s news conference, admitted: “We were a little lucky and the terrorists a bit unlucky.” That sums up the situation. But for the fumbling by the militants, whose white Ambassador knocked a car in the Vice-President’s convoy, raising alarm, the tragedy could have been worse.

“It was oodles of luck and the courage of a few men which saved the day for this country,” the official added.

Yesterday’s was the most serious in a series of security lapses by the home ministry, which handles internal security.

Home ministry officials shrugged off responsibility for the terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, saying the state government was responsible for security there. But they cannot deny the fact that the Centre closely monitors the situation in the state. The failure here was again lack of intelligence.

Earlier in the year, in the heart of the capital’s high-security zone and a few furlongs from Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the PMO and North and South Block, Samajwadi Party MP Phoolan Devi was shot dead while alighting from her car in front of her home in Asoka Road. That incident took place in the middle of the afternoon. It was perhaps an indication of things to come.

This year itself, there were blasts near the heavily-guarded Sena Bhavan, located behind South Block. There was a similar explosion in the car park of North Block, where the home and finance ministries are located. There were no casualties in either case.

On December 22 last year, there was a security breach inside Red Fort. Lashkar-e-Toiba militants, the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Delhi believes is behind yesterday’s Parliament attack, had entered the army barracks located within the fort and began firing indiscriminately. Two armymen and one civilian were killed in that incident.

   

 
 
JAYA MOVES CLOSER WITH SUPPORT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Dec. 14: 
ADMK chief Jayalalithaa today intensified her support to the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance Bill in the wake of yesterday’s “despicable and dastardly” attack on Parliament.

In a statement from Hyderabad, Jayalalithaa said the terrorist strike was not only aimed at Parliament but at the very roots of India’s democracy.

Expressing shock at the brazen attack, she said: “The perpetrators of terrorism should be made to realise that their aim will not succeed, and that, as in the past, our country will stand united and face the challenge with determination and courage.”

Jayalalithaa also took the opportunity to signal that she was moving closer to the BJP.

The former chief minister said it was time the “entire nation solidly supports the efforts of the Government of India in adequately equipping itself and the state governments with the necessary legislation to eradicate terrorism”.

Echoing Amma’s sentiments, chief minister O. Panneerselvam said the assault had underlined the need for a “strong and stringent legislation like Poto” and that everyone, irrespective of party affiliations, should support it. State BJP president Kirubhanidhi, who met the chief minister, said he saw a marked change in the ADMK’s attitude towards the BJP.

   

 
 
CELLPHONE CLUES TO SLEUTHS ON TERROR TRAIL 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA AND AGENCIES
 
New Delhi, Dec. 14: 
As India formally blamed the Lashkar-e-Toiba for yesterday’s terror attack on Parliament, Delhi Police seemed all set to crack the case after sleuths today picked up at least six persons for questioning.

Their task was made easier by the terrorists themselves. All five were carrying mobile phones, which gave investigators vital leads.

“Going by their physical attributes and skin colour, we think they are either from Indian or Pakistan-controlled Kashmir or Afghanistan,” a police official, who took part in Thursday’s gunbattle, said.

A senior home ministry official said wireless intercepts from militant bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to their cadre in India had confirmed the government’s initial suspicion about Pakistan’s involvement.

A Delhi-based academic, said to be a relative of a separatist leader living in London, was picked up and questioned. The police are said to have got hold of intercepts of communications between the academic and militants and between the militants and the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed ahead of yesterday’s attack.

Last night, two non-resident Indians were picked up from Indira Gandhi international airport as they were about to board a flight. Sources said two women, suspected to have helped the terrorists, have also been picked up. Unconfirmed reports said one person owing allegiance to the Lashkar had been brought to Delhi from Meerut.

Delhi Police are sending a team to Sopore in Kashmir to check the antecedents of the owner of the car used in the attack whose photograph matched with that of one of the terrorists. The car, which had a provocative message written on the home ministry sticker on its front windscreen, was purchased two days before from a dealer in Karol Bagh in Delhi.

“This is the property of ministry of home affairs and nobody can stop this car,” the message in small-sized letters read. “Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani are Indians and we are going to kill them. They are friends of George Bush and our next target is George Bush.”

Two Kashmiri youths were arrested in Sopore and were being flown to Delhi for interrogation, police sources said.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:25.3°C (-2)
Minimum: 15.6°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 98%,
Minimum: 62%

Sunrise: 6.14 am

Sunset: 4.49 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of fog in the morning. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C
   
 

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