Delhi’s Christmas clock ticks on Pak
Backtrack Bush pushes Pervez
Chairs come full circle in Kabul
Pak minister’s brother shot dead in Karachi
War in the air, not round the corner
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi / Kabul, Dec. 22: 
Pakistan has time till Christmas Day to comply with India’s request to hand over Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Azhar Masood and crack down on his outfit as well as the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

If President Pervez Musharraf refuses to take action, India feels that it has no choice but to “take matters into its own hands to protect its national interest”.

However, South Block continued its tightrope walk in public. “We are neither ruling in nor ruling out any option,” foreign minister Jaswant Singh said this evening on his return from Kabul.

At the Afghan capital, where he was seated in the same row as his Pakistani counterpart Abdus Sattar, it was Singh who took the first step towards civility. “Sattar saab, dushmano ko kahan kahan milna parta hai.

A surprised Sattar mumbled “Welcomeji, Welcomeji”, and the two leaders shook hands before a host of foreign dignitaries.

But the mood in the Indian establishment signalled that the government is prepared for war, if Pakistan remains adamant. It, however, is hoping that timely action by Musharraf will defuse the crisis triggered by the December 13 attack on Parliament.

At the same time, New Delhi will continue to keep up the rhetoric and raise the sceptre of war to get its message through not just to Pakistan but to the world. India, which feels that the US has the maximum leverage over Musharraf, is banking on Washington to force his hand.

In the next few days, New Delhi is likely to ask Pakistan to stop flights over Indian air space, downsize India’s mission in Islamabad, strip Pakistan’s most favoured nation status and revoke the Indus water treaty of 1960. The treaty had survived the wars of 1965 and 1971.

Home minister L.K. Advani hinted as much, saying yesterday’s recall of the Indian envoy was only the first of a “step-by-step” policy. Advani added that he had information that the US and the UK might have issued a demarche to Pakistan on the need for taking action against terrorist outfits.

Vajpayee, too, kept the flame simmering, saying India “is well-versed in the art of war”. The Prime Minister said at a music awards function in Gwalior that “the world knows we are well-versed in the art of war but we pray for peace”. He said peace is India’s ideal goal and policy but “if a crisis knocks at our door, the country will not retract from its duty”.

Referring to the function, Vajpayee said: “Even when there is tension on the border, we know how to enjoy music.”

The Vajpayee government has told Washington that its patience with Musharraf is running out and that it is under tremendous domestic pressure to act. The US administration was politely reminded how American citizens clamoured for tough retaliatory action after the September 11 strikes.

The foreign ministry was privately furious over President George W. Bush’s remarks yesterday. New Delhi’s irritation was conveyed to the President, who late last night issued an amended statement and asked Pakistan to crack down on the outfits.

India’s foreign ministry welcomed the new statement and said: “This is precisely what we have called upon Pakistan to do. The international community will judge the response by what concrete action Pakistan takes.”

Reports about Islamabad’s move to freeze the assets of Lashkar has not elicited any response from Indian authorities. “We will believe all that we hear when we see concrete evidence,” said an official.


Washington, Dec 22: 
In a significant climbdown to meet Indian sensitivities half-way, the White House yesterday amended its description of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) as “an extremist group based in Kashmir” and responsible for “acts of terrorism inside both India and Pakistan”.

In a suo motu statement issued before the White House virtually closed down official business for the Christmas holiday, president George W. Bush personally redefined LeT as having “conducted operations against Indian troops and civilian targets”.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Bush had equated both India and Pakistan as victims of LeT’s terror. He had also glorified President Pervez Musharraf by saying that Lashkar, which enjoys the patronage of the Pakistani junta, was trying to destabilise Musharraf.

The clumsy attempt by Bush to strike an expedient balance between the victims of terror and its perpetrators had left Indian leaders seething with anger beneath their smiling faces expressing satisfaction that the US had acted against Lashkar.

Bush yesterday stuck to his certificate of good conduct to Musharraf by continuing to insist that Lashkar was a “stateless sponsor of terrorism”.

But he called upon Pakistan’s President “to take decisive action against LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other terrorist organisations, their leaders, finances, and activities”.

It was the strongest statement yet to come out of the US administration. It will not be lost on other leading nations in the anti-terrorist coalition – and certainly not on Pakistan — that the call has come from the American President himself.

Bush added a new dimension to LeT activities when he said of the attack on Parliament and the earlier assault of the legislature in Srinagar.

“These attacks were meant to strike at India’s democracy and kill its leaders, but were also intended to undermine Pakistan, harm the rapidly improving US-Pakistan relationship, and to destabilise the global coalition against terrorism”.

Underlying this argument is the growing belief within the administration that a major crisis between India and Pakistan can be prevented only by decisive action against anti-Indian terror groups operating from Pakistan.

Indeed, Bush seemed to anticipate such action when he pointed out that Musharraf “has said that he would move against those involved in the attacks. As President Musharraf does so, he will have our full support”.

To that extent, India’s decision to recall high commissioner Vijay Nambiar has already produced results.

Combined with the highly symbolic decision to suspend the bus service to Lahore, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it has made the Americans and others realise that New Delhi now means business in dealing with Islamabad.

It is also clear that the Bush administration has been severely embarrassed by the decision of the military regime in Pakistan to leak details of the last conversation between secretary of state Colin Powell and Pakistani leaders.

According to leaks in the Pakistani media, Powell assured Musharraf and foreign minister Abdus Sattar on telephone that India will not attack Pakistan.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher also spoke yesterday of LeT and other similar terrorist groups as Pakistan-based, not Kashmir-based as described by Bush a day earlier.

“We have not seen anything that would indicate the Pakistani government was somehow behind these attacks,” in New Delhi and Srinagar, Boucher told reporters yesterday. “We know these groups have bases in Pakistan. We know how they operate”.

Also the state department did not fall prey to Pakistan’s efforts to make capital out of India’s decision to recall Nambiar and suspend cross-border transport links.

“We see these as internal matters for the Indian government. They are responsible for deciding what is in the best interest of the Indian people.”

Boucher went so far as to say: “The specific decisions on what the government of India has to do...(it) has to investigate and has to decide what to do in terms of appropriate action. And we will leave those decisions to India.”


Kabul, Dec. 22: 
As Hamid Karzai took the last step to the seat of power in Afghanistan, the arc lights swivelled to three chairs.

At the centre of the line-up of leaders was an empty chair with a name-tag — Ahmad Shah Masood, the slain Lion of Panjsher.

The other two were occupied by Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Abdus Sattar. Two chairs separated the subcontinent twins, now on the brink of a flashpoint.

At the ceremony where an interim government headed by Karzai was sworn in, Sattar was seated in a corner. It might have been pure coincidence, but the undeclared message was unmistakable: Pakistan has been sidelined in Karzai’s Kabul.

The symbolic signals were beeping loud when Singh landed at the Bagram airbase. Before the Indian foreign minister boarded a Russian-made chopper to Kabul, he was received by Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

A few yards away, Sattar was also being welcomed — but by officials of the United Nations.

The Northern Alliance, which plays a decisive role in the new regime, was making a silent statement that while it may have been accommodating in allowing Sattar to come for the function, it has no love lost for Pakistan, the erstwhile friend of the Taliban.

But when the swearing-in ceremony started under an imposing portrait of Masood, geo-political games gave way to a touching tribute. The totemic presence of Masood, the military genius who was murdered by human bombs two days before 9/11, engulfed the hall.

As soon as the sound system in the interior ministry hall, where about 2,000 Afghan tribal leaders and international representatives had gathered, began playing Masood’s favourite marching song, all were on their feet. Tears brimming, they stood still till the song ended.

On the streets of Kabul, huge posters of the Tajik hero adorned every vehicle, shop window and building.

Outside the hall, Singh felt another dominant presence — goodwill for India. “The palpable goodwill for India can be seen everywhere. The word India is now a passport in Afghanistan,” he said.

He was not exaggerating. Indians are much sought after in Kabul and people here do not make bones about it. Appreciate an Afghan cap and the proud owner immediately gifts the headgear. Another offers a live bullet to take back home as souvenir.

Singh formally opened the Indian embassy, which resumed operations after a gap of six years. Unfurling the tricolour at the embassy, Singh said: “It’s an honour and privilege to reopen the chancery building which was abandoned for the past six years.”

The overriding theme of speeches at the oath-taking ceremony was the need to end corruption and bring peace.


Karachi, Dec. 22: 
Ehteshamuddin Haider, the elder brother of Pakistan’s interior minister (retired) Lt Gen. Moinuddin Haider, was gunned down in Karachi late yesterday by unknown gunmen.

Lt Gen. Hiader today said it was an act of terrorism, but did not point out who is involved in the killing. Ehteshamuddin Haider was sixty-years-old and had been the administrator of a philanthropic organisation.

This is the first time in the past few months that an important person had been attacked.

Police officials said the unidentified assailants attacked Ehteshamuddin Haider when he was coming out of the office of Fatimid Foundation, a blood transfusion service, late yesterday evening. The attackers ambushed his car and fired at the windscreen. Haider was hit by three bullets, and doctors at the hospital said, two of them proved fatal. Ehteshamuddin Haider had been looking after the Fatimid Foundation for quite some time. Interior minister Moinuddin Haider is the chairman of the organisation. Ehtesham Haider was not involved in any political activity and the police officials say they were investigating the matter but so far have not found any motive for the attack. It is also not yet clear whether the assailants were on a bike or in a car. Moinuddin Haider had been issuing harsh statements against extremist and militant organisations in the country.


New Delhi, Dec. 22: 
Two army officers — one Indian, the other Pakistani — attending a special course in a US war college a couple of years ago had this téte-a-téte over drinks after a particularly gruelling day.

“Give us one more chance, just half a chance, and we will teach you a lesson. Every Pakistani soldier can take on 10 Indians,” the Pakistani said.

“True,” retorted the Indian. “But what will you do when the 11th comes along?”

The arithmetic of armies in the subcontinent is being worked out again now, with Indian and Pakistani forces in such close proximity over such a wide front for the second time since Operation Brasstacks, the wargames under General Sundarji in 1987-88 that took the countries to the brink and back. The first was during the Kargil war when both deployed forces in strength, though the conflict was restricted to the northern stretch of the Line of Control.

Indian army commanders meeting here today for an operational briefing and review drafted contingency plans and brainstormed on scenarios. Despite the strengthening of forces, the call for a “general mobilisation” has not gone out. The army, officially, is also unwilling to describe its placement of units as “deployment”, preferring to call the moves “tactical movements” and “precautionary measures.” Even if a military force anywhere in the world does draft an operational plan for an armed conflict, it cannot be expected to advertise it.

Yet, it is a fact that armoured units — always watched by each side with some consternation — have been moved and leave for officers has been restricted. The moves take place against the backdrop of a debate within the security establishment on the logic of waging war in the nuclear era.

One view has it that nuclear weapons are a deterrence, will never be used and, therefore, space exists for “limited, conventional war”, like in Kargil. The other view is that, Pakistan can make first use of nuclear weapons to offset India’s numerical superiority.

The closest the army has come to elucidating its view on the debate was in a recent speech by the chief of the northern command, Lt. Gen. R. K. Nanavatty.

Since the attack on Parliament on December 13, that view has been further reinforced.

“Not so long ago, the blatant aggression that we are witness to today would have been cause enough to go to war,” Nanavatty said.

“Indeed, in August 1965, the situation was not entirely dissimilar and we were compelled to undertake limited conventional operations in the Hajipur Bulge. The nuclearisation of the subcontinent may have altered the situation. However, space still exists for limited conventional war,” he added.

“While every effort must be made — politically, diplomatically and economically — to deter Pakistan, we must remain prepared to exercise the military option. Our military response will be deliberate and carefully calibrated,” the general elaborated.

“Our policies cannot be driven solely by the logic of asymmetrical situations existing between the Israelis and the Palestinians or the more recent US-led coalition against the Taliban in Afghanistan. We will have to wait and watch to see how the US-led ‘global war on terror’ unfolds. Whatever the outcome, we will have to continue to fight our own battles,” Nanavaty said.

Under the circumstances, the question being posed — is India hurtling towards war? — can have only one answer at the moment: it is an option, it is an option that India has been closest to since Kargil in 1999.

War is certainly not imminent. Airborne assault units are not reported to be moving and defence minister George Fernandes is just finalising an intensive travelling programme for the Christmas-New Year season.

The defence minister goes to to Suratgarh and the Khemkaran sector near the border in Punjab-Rajasthan where elements of the strike corps are in place not only for winter exercises but also to counter possible Pakistani mechanised intrusion.

Over the week, Fernandes is scheduled to visit Patna, spend Christmas at Siachen where he will distribute to the soldiers cakes from his favourite confectioner in Bangalore, and New Year at Tawang, near the border with China in Arunachal Pradesh.

A country going to war does not send its defence minister to the baker’s and back. At the same time, cancelling his itinerary will not take the defence minister more than a telephone call.

At the moment, the situation along the International Boundary and the Line of Control is “normal”. Which means there is little firing on the border and there are skirmishes everyday on the LoC.

There is just one stretch — of about 15 kilometres near Chicken’ Neck in Jammu — which Islamabad calls a “working boundary” where the Indian and Pakistani armies are eyeball-to-eyeball.

Unconfirmed reports suggest the army has been advising villagers in the districts along the LoC in Naushera, Rajouri and Poonch to evacuate.

The last noticeable flare-up in shelling on the LoC was three days ago in Naushera. Kargil and Siachen witnessed moderate shelling last evening.




Maximum: 23.9°C (-3)
Minimum: 13.8°C (+0)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 85%,
Minimum: 54%

Sunrise: 6.20 am

Sunset: 4.51 pm


Partly cloudy sky.

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