Under big brother’s eyes, Pakistan plot unravels on prime time
Delhi answers US on television
Photo-op, no talks for Atal & Pervez
Tank diplomacy on the border
Bharti ties up with VSNL for overseas calls
Cong wants new law to fight terror
Muivah faction joins Naga peace march
Sena shuts down Pak art show
Kumble spins 300 magic
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
After-shower fresh and just in time for prime time, Mohammad Afzal exploded on television screens today with “evidence” of Pakistan’s involvement in the Parliament attack.

Looking studious in steel-framed spectacles and swallowing often the nervousness of a first-timer before the camera, Afzal told his interviewers how Pakistan’s army and intelligence agency ISI had helped the suicide squad. “The Pakistani army provides them (with) weapons ... the ISI provides the rest. They give them logistical support and weapons.”

TV news channels were approached by the special squad of Delhi police to interview Afzal. Delhi police are under the home ministry, headed by L.K. Advani. The interviews were held by the channels separately with police personnel hovering in the special squad cell. The contents of the interviews were similar.

Afzal said the suicide squad was in constant contact with the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad as it scouted Delhi for potential targets. “I am the person who brought them here. I provided all kinds of facilities to them,” he said, adding that they also spoke to their families on the eve of the attack. “They did not tell them where they are... but that they had to do some big work and if they were successful, then they would return home,” he said.

“One’s mother was crying on the phone and he was telling her, ‘don’t cry, don’t cry’.”

Afzal said the attackers had instructions to mow down “whoever comes their way” in Parliament. Citing gang leader Mohammad as his source, the link between Jaish’s India commander Ghazi Baba and the attackers said when he had brought the five to Delhi one-and-a-half months ago, they had no specific target. They did a recce of the Delhi Assembly and the diplomatic enclave. “But their ultimate target was Parliament. When I returned to Srinagar, Ghazi Baba told me to convey to Mohammad that he should focus on his target. I asked Mohammad what the target was and he told me it was the Indian Parliament.”

Afzal said the five were Pakistani nationals (as claimed by the police) and were speaking Punjabi, “which I could follow broadly”. Mohammad and two others — Raja and Rana — used to call or chat on the Net with people in Pakistan and the UAE. Just before the attack, Raja and Rana exchanged Id greetings with their parents.

Afzal said Mohammad told him he was one of the hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814. Mohammad had called him minutes before leading the attack to find out from television about the presence of VIPs and ministers in the House.

“But I told him that there was a power failure and I could be of no help to them,” Afzal recalled.

Tere se itna chhota sa kaam bhi nahin ho sakta hai (You can’t even do such a small thing). Now we are going ahead,” he quoted Mohammad as saying.

What was in it for him? Some “motivation” and some “money”, Afzal replied.


Washington and New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
India’s decision to telecast an interview with Mohammad Afzal, the key link in the attack on Parliament, has put the Americans in a quandary.

It comes a few days after the American government tom-tommed a home video of Osama bin Laden as conclusive evidence of his involvement in the September 11 attacks. Having done this themselves, the Americans will find it difficult to reject the Afzal tape.

India put Afzal on TV a day after the US strategy became clear. It expects Pervez Musharraf to go after terrorists once Delhi provides evidence of terrorism spilling over from Pakistan.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher said: “President Musharraf has already clearly condemned this attack. He has said, or at least the government of Pakistan has said, that they intend to go after anybody who might be responsible for it. And, therefore, any information or evidence that the Indians would provide or make public would provide a better basis to do that.”

Boucher was asked if the onus would then be on Pakistan to crack down on anti-India terrorists. He replied that “there is already an onus… an obligation for everyone to act against terrorism”.

After reading the writing on the wall, Pakistan is trying to stave off Washington’s displeasure by offering more sops. Musharraf has given sanction for US forces to freely operate in Pakistani territory ostensibly in pursuit of al Qaida forces.

The common ground between India and the US became clear when Boucher said about the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. “We think those two groups have engaged in terrorist activities, but the specific case here needs to be investigated… Any evidence that India can provide to us or to others to establish that case would provide a better basis for going after the terrorists, and provide an even better basis for the government of Pakistan to go after these terrorists.”

India refused to share evidence with Pakistan. Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “We are going to share this evidence with our friends and partners who are united in their determination to fight terrorism.” She added that India is sharing the evidence with the US, the UK, Germany and France. The Centre is confident it has enough proof to pin down Jaish and Lashkar and by extension prove Pakistan’s involvement.

“If the US and the international community want us to produce written instructions from General Pervez Musharraf ordering the Pakistan-based militant outfits operating here to attack the Indian Parliament, then I am sorry we don’t have this,” a senior government official said.

Despite the apparent confidence of police and intelligence agencies, some officials believe there is no proof to work back the evidence to Pakistan. “The finger points at Jaish and Lashkar, who appear to have worked together on this. The trail breaks off here,” an official said.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf will not meet for talks on the sidelines of the Saarc summit in Kathmandu.

“As of now, there is no question of the two leaders meeting,” an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Anticipating the possible turn of events at the summit beginning from January 4, Pakistan said it would not ask for a meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf in the Nepal capital.

However, a close Vajpayee aide said the two leaders would exchange pleasantries when they meet in a group, and that the Prime Minister might not have reservations on posing with Musharraf and other leaders during photo sessions.

“It’s not that Vajpayee and Musharraf will not be civil to each other and respond if a question is posed by the other,” a foreign ministry official said.

But given the Indian leadership’s mood following the terrorist attack on Parliament, dialogue with Pakistan seems remote at this juncture.

Vajpayee is expected to have bilateral meetings with leaders of the other Saarc countries. If the Prime Minister meets other heads of state and not Musharraf, it will be an unparalleled departure.

“Given the present situation, it is necessary that the Prime Minister gives out such a strong signal to Pakistan and the other countries in the region,” a close aide of the Prime Minister said.

The two leaders have not met since the Agra summit in July. Though Vajpayee and Musharraf were supposed to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the September 11 attacks forced a postponement of the session. When the General Assembly finally met in October, the Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting failed to materialise.

South Block is watching Musharraf’s current visit to China to assess the signals coming out of Beijing on the current Indo-Pak face-off. Chinese officials have advised India to exercise restraint..

In Islamabad, Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar said his country was willing to resume the dialogue, but “we will not request the Indian Prime Minister for a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf”.

Sattar said despite the tension over the attack on Parliament, Pakistan would attend the Saarc summit.

He said the New York meeting between Musharraf and Vajpayee fell through as “India showed no interest in it”.

Lashkar freeze

President George W. Bush has blocked the finances of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which he said was using terrorism to undermine India-Pakistan ties.

Bush said the strike on Parliament was “only the most recent terrorist attack on the institutions of Indian democracy”.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
The army has begun moving armoured units from northern and central India closer to the international boundary with Pakistan.

The air force has also asked its station commanders to maintain operational preparedness, “keeping in view the present security environment”.

The movement of armoured units now is unusual but it is not known whether they are from the strike corps or not. At the very least, such a move is an indicator of brinkmanship, part and parcel of diplomacy. At the most, it is a sign that the army is matching Pakistan’s military muscle-flexing with its own display of might.

In the context of the strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, the proximity of the two armies is designed to focus greater international attention on the region.

The armoured units being deployed in the northern and western sectors would be mostly inside the border in Punjab and Rajasthan. In Jammu and Kashmir, the force-level is already near-optimum.

A defence ministry source said the movement was a “precautionary measure” taken to match the deployment of Pakistani forces that have not retreated since end-October. The Pakistani formations had been mobilised for annual winter exercises, named “Operation Khabardar”.

“The movement of our troops is in consonance with the general state of alert on the borders,” the source said. He said Pakistan had not withdrawn troops from positions close to the border and the Line of Control by December 9, the date that had been agreed to by the respective Directors Generals of Military Operations.

“Minor adjustments have been made in the schedule of our troop movements that were taking place anyway in preparation for exercises,” the official said.

One defence expert said: “It cannot be said that the army is moving with aggressive intent. Options are being kept open. “Psy-ops” (psychological operations) are very much a part of modern warfare.”

It is possible that the army has rescheduled its exercises due to be held by a strike corps in in Rajasthan. A strike corps is an integrated group of infantry, armour, artillery, signals, engineers, transport and supply units. Armour — essentially tanks — is the most aggressive component of a strike force.

The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, today “exhorted” station commanders “to be prepared to meet all challenges…, present as also future”. Air Marshal V.K. Bhatia, Air Officer Commanding the Western Air Command, highlighted measures taken to maintain “optimum operational preparedness”.

Defence sources confirmed that the services have been curtailing leave for its officers.

The build-up of forces takes place on either side of the Line of Control and on the international boundary in Jammu, Punjab and Rajasthan in the area between the Chenab and the Jhelum rivers.

The maximum concentration of forces is likely to be in Chhamb, from Akhnoor to Poonch. The terrain is mostly flat with the Pir Panjal range in India running almost parallel to the border.

In past wars — in 1965 and 1971 — Pakistani forces had launched offensives in the area -- known as ‘chicken’s neck’ -- with the objective of cutting off the road link that runs from Jammu to Srinagar.

Seen from the Indian side, the Pakistani line-up includes the Pakistani Rangers at the first rung, defensive formations of the army in the second and armoured units in the rear. In some places, sources said, Pakistani army infantry units were alongside the Pakistani Rangers.

India’s deployment, too, would roughly correspond to the Pakistani deployment with the Border Security Force manning the first line along the international border. On the Line of Control, the Indian and Pakistani armies are, as usual, eyeball-to-eyeball.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Bharti Telesonic today signed an interconnect arrangement with Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) to route international calls between the cellular operators and VSNL.

Earlier, the calls used to be routed through Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.

Now, BSNL is being replaced by Bharti Telesonic’s IndiaOne network which is setting up a national long distance network.

The arrangement will allow the international carriers like British Telecom, MCI and AT&T to route their international calls to cellular subscribers in India directly through VSNL.

IndiaOne, which announced its national long distance service on Monday, will now be able to provide international long distance connectivity through the VSNL network to all cellular operators that opt for the first private NLD network.

Bharti officials refused to say what the revenue sharing arrangement with VSNL was. At present, the settlement rate between VSNL and the international carrier is 34 cents (Rs 15-16). This means that if a call goes out from India, VSNL has to give 34 cents to the international carrier. If the call come from US through the carrier to VSNL, it gets the same amount.

Under the arrangement with BSNL, VSNL keeps Rs 10 per minute and gives Rs 5-6 to BSNL. Sources in VSNL said Bharti has offered VSNL a revenue share of Rs 12 per minute.

“At present, VSNL has the monopoly on handling international calls. Any call from a mobile cellular operator, which is an international call, will be delivered to IndiaOne that will carry it to VSNL. This will become operative from January 26,” VSNL sources said.

Sources said VSNL’s monopoly on international calls ends on March 31 next year. Bharti has plans to set up a gateway to handle international voice traffic. “Once Bharti gets the licence for ILD, it can do away with VSNL depending on the commercial arrangement,” sources added

Currently, when a subscriber makes a call to US, it goes through a BSNL/MTNL or any private network, which then takes it to VSNL gateway. VSNL hands over the call to international carriers who will then take it to the destination in the US.

“The interconnect arrangement with VSNL heralds a new era of co-operation between state-owned companies and the cellular operators to bring in the latest technology, choice to the operators with the objective of eventual affordable rates for international telephony. This is a win-win situation for Bharti, VSNL and the cellular operators,” said chairman and group managing director, Bharti Enterprises, Sunil Bharti Mittal.

“Bharti will be able to further load its optic fibre backbone. VSNL will be able to get access to over 5 million and growing customers in the cellular sector; the cellular operators will stand to gain from a choice of carrier and a better revenue sharing arrangement,” he added.

Bharti Telesonic is a Bharti Tele-Ventures, a company promoted by the Bharti Telecom. Bharti Tele-Ventures intends to expand the range of telecommunications services to provide national long distance services and broadband solutions.


New Delhi, Dec. 20: 
Continuing its role of a “constructive Opposition”, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi today urged the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to rethink the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance and come up with a new legal instrument to curb terrorism. In exchange, she promised to review the party’s stand on the Tada-clone.

Addressing the Congress parliamentary party general body, Sonia said the main Opposition party was prepared for a full-fledged discussion on the anti-terror Ordinance but no such meeting was convened.

Sonia said the Ordinance was unilaterally conceived and had failed to prevent the terrorist strike on Parliament. “But we stand by our offer of a de novo examination of legal instruments required to fight terrorism,” she said.

The government has decided to repromulgate the anti-terror decree but the Congress wants the Centre to come up with a new law, convene an all party meet and thrash out a consensus. “Such a law can be introduced as an Ordinance and converted into law during the budget session of Parliament,” said a Congress working committee member, pointing that the nation was with Vajpayee in the fight against terrorism. The Ordinance is too flawed to be amended, he added.

“We must keep vigil over the administrative, political and diplomatic steps which the government takes to meet the needs of the extraordinary situation. Precious little substance was revealed by the government in Parliament about what specifically it intends to do,” Sonia told the MPs.

Sonia reiterated the Congress’ resolve to support the steps taken to combat terrorism and asked the government to tone up the intelligence network. “It was the failure of the intelligence which led to the tragedy of Kargil. It is again the failure to act upon available intelligence which lies at the root of the attack on Parliament,” she said.

Sonia said it was “unfortunate” that the winter session had to be declared sine die two days before its scheduled end.

The leader of Opposition slammed the government over its handling of the WTO’s Doha round of talks. “Tall claims were made by the NDA government. But these claims got exposed at Doha,” she said.


Kohima, Dec. 20: 
Inspired by the unexpected presence of two leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) at the launch of the Naga Hoho’s “national reconciliation” campaign, representatives of over 30 of the 50-odd Naga tribes today pledged to speak in one voice and strive for peace.

While the NSCN (I-M)’s presence at the rally was a pleasant surprise, the Khaplang group disappointed by steering clear of the event. The outfit had declared a 30-day ceasefire with its rival groups on Tuesday, raising hopes of its participation in the unity rally.

However, leaders of the Naga Hoho, which is spearheading the “national reconciliation” campaign, were more than happy with the turnout of Nagas from as far as Myanmar. Representatives of the Naga community in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Myanmar and Manipur, too, participated in the rally.

For many Nagas who have lost family members to bullets fired by insurgents, speaking about their personal grief in front of a large gathering was a cathartic experience. Imlinukshi, the youngest son of Imkongliba, the first president of the Naga People’s Convention, said he had forgiven those who assassinated his father at Mokokchung in 1961.

Naga Hoho president M. Vero said the Nagas had sacrificed a lot in the past five decades. He hoped that the NSCN (K) would take the cue from the Isak-Muivah faction and join the movement for peace soon.

In a message read out by industries minister I. Imkong, chief minister S.C. Jamir urged the Naga community to accept the fact that the Centre’s role in restoring peace in Nagaland is limited. He said the onus of ending insurgency in the state was on the people, not on any individual or organisation. Former chief minister Hokeshe Sema and former Naga National Council leaders Terhuja and Shikato Sumi echoed Jamir’s views.

The rally began with a bonfire being lit in the traditional way. Leaders of the Naga Hoho, the Tribe Hoho and church organisations held hands around the fire and prayed for the success of the peace initiative.

NSCN (I-M) leader Phungthing Shimrang said his organisation appreciated the Naga Hoho’s efforts to unite the people. But he sounded a note of caution, saying that the “historic move” should not result in another “historic blunder”.

Shimrang said the NSCN (I-M) wanted all issues to be resolved on the basis of “national principles”. However, he did not elaborate on the statement either at the rally or while interacting with media people.

On the Osaka talks between the NSCN (I-M) leadership and the Prime Minister, Shimrang said Atal Bihari Vajpayee assured to remove all hurdles in the way of peace.


Mumbai, Dec. 20: 
An exhibition of paintings by Pakistani artists was taken off from an art gallery on Sunday following protests by the Shiv Sena.

The show titled Manoeuvring Miniatures opened at Sakshi Gallery on December 8, three days before the attack on Parliament. The exhibition was of paintings — ironic depictions of current themes — by contemporary artists from Pakistan using miniature techniques.

The few visitors who managed to see the paintings spoke of their charm, originality and boldness, but the Sena was not impressed.

Sena leaders claimed that there was a painting in the show that depicted Krishna wearing jeans and holding a gun, which led to the protests. This, the Sena felt, could hurt religious sentiments in a tense political climate.

“We found out about the painting after Saamna carried a report on the painting. After the attack on Parliament, when the atmosphere between the two countries is already tense, it’s wrong to put up such a painting,” said Sena’s Sunil Shinde.

“Last Sunday, we went to the gallery to stage our protests. But the paintings were already taken off by then because of the Saamna article,” Shinde said.

Those associated with putting up the exhibition were tight-lipped. “The show was taken off because we felt it was necessary,” a senior employee of the gallery said. “The organisers took it off because of certain unavoidable reasons.” She confirmed the Sena protests.

”There was a painting of Krishna. But it would not be right to comment on the matter,” another person associated with the show said.

The Manoeuvring Miniatures show came to Mumbai after being put up at Delhi. Artists are shocked at the withdrawal of the paintings. “The paintings were charming, with lots of humour. There was even a painting poking fun at Musharraf. The paintings were very skilfully done, weaving in Western art with Mughal miniature techniques. For example, there was a miniaturised Manet set in a traditional Mughal miniature background,” said painter Jehangir Sabavala. “There was Krishna painting. I don’t remember the details.”

Many artists in the city were disappointed that they could not visit the show. “It is unfortunate that it was pulled off,” said painter Atul Dodiya.


Bangalore, Dec. 20: 
The moustache is a wee bit thicker and contact lenses have replaced the rather dull spectacles. In over 11 years of international cricket, that about is the only change in Anil Kumble’s appearance.

What hasn’t changed at all, over the many seasons, is the 31-year-old’s intensity and commitment. No wonder, his CV is now one to be envied.

Specifically, Kumble is today exactly 300 wickets richer since his Test debut at Old Trafford in 1990. That in 120-plus years of officially-recognised cricket only 17 others have made the 300-club, should alone give a special flavour to the achievement.

For Kumble (only one of two to bag 10 wickets in a Test innings) and India, the wait for that membership-gaining wicket ended 21 minutes after lunch on Day-II of the final Test against England. By Kumble’s own admission, it took a “long time” coming.

Yet, as he pointed out, the nearly 30-over wait was “worth it”.

Incidentally, as nine wickets were already down, Kumble couldn’t have afforded another wicket-less over. A blank and he would have had to wait for innings No. 2.

More pressure, more agony... Kumble’s relief at having avoided all that and more was all too evident.

[To talk of the match, India are in trouble at 99 for three. The England first innings ended at 336.]

From Allan Lamb to Matthew Hoggard, it’s been quite a journey: More ups than downs, surgery on the bowling shoulder, a different label every now and then... Even the India vice-captaincy came and went. Typically, Kumble insisted “it’s just a landmark,” but it’s actually much more.

Usually not given to showing emotion, Kumble did get sentimental when he spoke of claiming the 300th-wicket on home turf. “In a team sport, milestones do come along. However, it’s great I reached the landmark on home ground... Indeed, over the years, I’ve spent more time at the Chinnaswamy Stadium than at home.”

Significantly, among those present to applaud him was Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, India’s most enigmatic leg-spinner and someone whose suggestions Kumble himself values immensely.

Chandra left for home only after Kumble had presented himself for a richly-deserved pat.

Having gone wicketless on Day-I, Kumble acknowledged he felt a “little low,” more so as the disappointed millions included his family (excluding mentor-brother Dinesh, who is overseas), which had waited patiently. "No, I didn’t have a sleepless night, but...” India’s most successful spinner remarked.

Not many, perhaps, may recall that Kumble began as a quick in school (National High), but switched to leg-spin at Dinesh’s behest. The two, then, are more than brothers.

Appropriately, Kumble didn’t forget to thank those who constantly stood by him: “My parents (Krishnaswamy and Saroja), wife (Chetna), brother... Chandra and the seniors when I made the grade, teammates over the years... And, more recently, our physio Andrew Leipus...”

Of course, Kumble didn’t talk of a “specific goal” but, as 300-club member Ian Botham warmly declared, “lots more wickets” will follow. Kumble himself observed: “I take things as they come, one by one... I’ll be happy as long as I can play a meaningful role in India’s efforts.”

For good measure, Kumble added in his matter-of-fact manner: “People can call me what they like — it’s fine as long as I can continue to get wickets.”

Asked by The Telegraph to list his advice for the Kumbles in-the-making, the man of the moment smiled and responded: “Work hard and have a focus. It’s tough, yes, but dedication has its rewards.”

If anybody has a doubt, do ask Anil Kumble.




Maximum: 24.3°C (-3)
Minimum: 14.9°C (+1)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 96%,
Minimum: 61%

Sunrise: 6.19 am

Sunset: 4.51 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 15°C

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