Pak opening shot at terror group
Bush squeezes, Pervez yields
A spy complete with two Ws
Bank of Bengal via Boston
Military trains roll from east
Left call for trade union unity
MTech reform blueprint to promote research
Missing MLA resurfaces
Assembly polls on schedule: EC
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PAK OPENING SHOT AT TERROR GROUP 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR AND PRANAY SHARMA
 
Karachi/New Delhi, Dec. 24: 

Lashkar dons Kashmir coat on accounts freeze

Pakistan today froze the accounts of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Umma Tameer-e-Nou (UTN) in response to international calls for action against terrorist outfits.

Last week, the US had taken the same action against the two and President George W. Bush had asked General Pervez Musharraf — under pressure since the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament — to crack down on terrorist organisations operating out of Pakistan.

India reacted with caution, saying it would wait to make sure Pakistan is serious about enforcing the step.

The freeze was announced by the State Bank of Pakistan, the central bank, but Lashkar leaders said the move would not affect its activities since the group does not have any bank accounts. Lashkar has been asking for donations to be put into accounts held by individuals. It is not clear if the freeze applies to these accounts, too.

A spokesman for Lashkar told The Telegraph they have not received any communication from any bank. He said that in any case, the group does not have any accounts or assets in Pakistan in the name of Lashkar-e-Toiba. The group recently changed its name to Pasban-i-Ahle-Hadith.

Sources said the Pakistan central bank had issued a confidential circular to all commercial banks asking them to freeze the accounts, if any, of Lashkar and UTN.

Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “We have not heard anything about it officially so far,” pointing out that the announcement gave no details. “We don’t know what’s in it. We will have to make an assessment before giving a response.”

Lashkar leaders said they had shifted all their offices to Kashmir and their leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed had handed over responsibilities to a Kashmiri religious scholar, Abdul Wahid Kashmiri.

Hafiz Saeed said at a news conference in Lahore that a 13-member general council had been formed to run Lashkar with people belonging to Kashmir. In an apparent move to release pressure on the government of Pakistan, he said the group’s existence would be restricted to Kashmir.

Hafiz Saeed yesterday formed his own organisation, Jamat-ud-dawah Pakistan. The new party would continue to extend moral support to Lashkar.

India has accused Pakistan of harbouring and encouraging terrorist outfits which have attacked Indian targets, the latest being the Parliament building. It expects Musharraf to act against Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammad. “We have given him the opportunity to act against these terrorist outfits. Let him do it now,” a senior Indian official said.

Delhi wants Islamabad to freeze the accounts of Lashkar and Jaish, close down their offices and arrest their leaders. “Gen. Musharraf does not have to do exactly as we say, but he has to take meaningful steps which will at least convince us that he is serious about stopping cross-border terrorism,” the official said.

Travelling in China, Musharraf said he would act against Lashkar and Jaish if evidence was provided of their complicity in the Parliament attack, according to a PTI report. “Yes, if we find evidence of it, we would like to move against them,” he said in Guangzhou.

   

 
 
BUSH SQUEEZES, PERVEZ YIELDS 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Dec. 24: 
India believes that its strategy of keeping up diplomatic and military pressure on Pakistan is producing results.

The resignation of Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and the Pakistan central bank’s action in freezing Lashkar’s bank accounts, New Delhi believes, are desperate attempts by Islamabad to demonstrate its continued commitment to the global war against terrorism.

Most important of all, under sustained pressure from India — which in turn has forced the US, the UK and other countries to respond — President Pervez Musharraf has been constrained, for the first time, to talk about terrorism “emanating” from Pakistan.

Talking to reporters in Guangzhou just before concluding his visit to China, Musharraf made a very significant statement that “we are taking a very comprehensive look at the entire issue of terrorism emanating from anywhere, especially in our own country”.

Musharraf qualified the statement by saying that “we are ourselves a victim of sectarian violence, extremism and terrorism and we are taking action against that”. But never before had he stressed the problem of terrorism coming out of Pakistan.

Several factors are responsible for Musharraf’s reluctant but clear effort to assuage American and other Western fears about a drift towards a war between India and Pakistan.

Quietly, the US Federal Reserve has crippled the activities of Pakistani banks in America. The Fed has banned all cash transactions by Pakistani banks and restricted their functioning to personal banking and issuing money orders or certified cheques. The banks affected are Habib Bank, National Bank of Pakistan, United Bank and Habib Bank AG Zurich, all of which have branches in New York.

Monday’s action in freezing Lashkar accounts and any follow-up measures stem from fears that further steps in New York and in other financial capitals of the world could seriously damage Pakistan’s already fragile financial structure.

Second, the murder of Ehteshamuddin Haider, brother of Pakistan’s interior minister Moinuddin Haider, in Karachi on Friday is seen as a signal to Musharraf. Pakistani authorities stopped short of accusing India of the murder, calling it an act of terrorism. In Islamabad, there are two interpretations of the killing of Haider, who was head of a leading charitable organisation.

One version is that Indian intelligence agencies were sending a warning shot to Pakistan of what lies ahead. The second interpretation is that Lashkar and other terrorist outfits have declared war on Musharraf, who will now have no option but to meet them on their own terms.

Either way, it suits India.

Third, information reaching here suggests that Musharraf was considerably alarmed during his visit to China by the impact of the attack on India’s Parliament.

   

 
 
A SPY COMPLETE WITH TWO WS 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 24: 
In regulation Delhi winter wear, Ajay Kumar hardly looks the part, but the capital’s spy-catchers are bent on making him a James Bond.

Tales swirled out of India’s faceless intelligence establishment today of how the clerk in the Parliament secretariat had a penchant for wine, women and that little bit of extra cash to help him along.

Kumar, arrested on Saturday for allegedly passing on “sensitive” documents to a Pakistan high commission official. The 40-something Kumar works in the House secretariat’s question cell. Officials say the wing is a “treasure trove” of information, but whatever comes out of the cell is placed on record in the House and open to scrutiny.

Investigators probing the case claim Kumar was a “small-time spy”. He was “in the trade” just for two years before he was trapped by Delhi police for passing on documents to his Pakistani “friend”, Mohammed Sharief Khan. Kumar handed over the “classified” documents for a paltry Rs 2,000.

Khan, who Pakistan has claimed had been assaulted during interrogation, has been asked to leave India within seven days. India this morning called in Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner Jalil Abbas Jillani to hand over the expulsion message.

Kumar earned around Rs 10,000 as senior executive assistant in Parliament. Indian sleuths had been keeping a watch on him for sometime.

Intelligence agencies say Kumar has been approached by Pakistani agents about two years ago and received a retainership of Rs 10,000 a month. He was also paid every time he was able to deliver classified information to his contact. The payment for each item would vary according to its importance.

Kumar is from Dehra Dun and often went out on weekends. He went to Agra, Meerut, Jodhpur, Gwalior and other towns which had either cantonments or airforce stations.

Recently, as tension between India and Pakistan mounted, he went to Meerut and Agra and was asked to report any movement of army units from there, according to the investigators. He is said to have supplied maps of the Meerut and Agra cantonments to his Pakistani contact.

During a search of his apartment, the police found a number of Red Label Johnny Walker whiskey bottles. His phone book was crammed with the mobile numbers of suspected call girls.

The investigators still have not concluded how much “sensitive material” he could get hold of from the Parliament secretariat. The intelligence agencies are worried about information he could have passed on about sensitive alloys used for defence production.

Home minister L.K. Advani today described the Kumar incident as a “serious” matter. “Consequences will follow because it is a serious matter,” Advani said.

   

 
 
BANK OF BENGAL VIA BOSTON 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Dec. 24: 
When a group of Bengalis come together abroad, what do they do? They think of staging a play. When non-resident Bengalis come home, what do they do? They feel the need to do something for Bengal.

Winter is homecoming time. And if it was the Boston Pledge last time, the urge this salubrious season is to set up a bank — a Bank of Bengal, no less.

Non-resident Indians who have banded together under a body called the Boston Pledge announced at the Udyog Shibir (entrepreneurs’ camp) that they would establish the Bank of Bengal to act as a brand ambassador for the state. The Boston Pledge has been formed by non-resident Bengalis of North America to help Bengal develop. Announcing the plan, Partha S. Ghosh, an NRI consultant, said: “All the states in India have their own banks. But West Bengal does not have one of its own. We want to add this feather in its cap.”

Bengal did actually have a bank. What is now the State Bank of India had first seen the light of day in 1806 with the formation of the first of the three Presidency Banks of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. They were amalgamated into the Imperial Bank of India in 1921, which in 1955 became the State Bank of India.

“The idea cropped up from there only and we will move the Reserve Bank of India shortly for a licence to run this bank. It will function as a regular bank and will impart services comparable to foreign banks,” said Ghosh.

Rahul Roy, another NRB, added: “It will not be a problem to bring in the equity of Rs 100 crore required to set up the bank. The bank will have a separate section which will deal with venture capital.”

But is it prudent to set up a private sector bank in the current scenario? “New generation private sector banks have not been doing well. Moreover, the Reserve Bank’s attitude towards private sector banks is not healthy. It is better to acquire an already established private sector bank and run it. ICICI had taken over Bank of Madura and it is now running it smoothly,” said K. M. Bhattacharya, managing director of Bank of Rajasthan, a private sector bank.

A senior Reserve Bank official said: “RBI’s experience with private sector banks is not a very happy one. We are very cautious before issuing any licence.”

Bank of Bengal is not the only symbol of glory from the past NRBs want to recreate. They are midwifing Renaissance Corp, the vehicle GenX NRBs in the age group of 18-25 will use to spend a month in a Bengal village.

“The NRBs settled in North America feel there should be a renaissance in Bengal,” Ghosh said. So be it.

   

 
 
MILITARY TRAINS ROLL FROM EAST 
 
 
FROM PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
New Jalpaiguri, Dec. 24: 
Trains carrying heavy artillery, armoured vehicles and tanks rumbled out of north Bengal’s New Jalpaiguri station today after the army began mobilising forces following Pakistani troop build-up along the north-western border.

Highly-placed sources in the Northeast Frontier railways here said army authorities have requisitioned over 15 rakes, consisting of over 30 wagons, to transport men and material to the north and western sectors on the border. “The first five trains with heavy artillery, vehicles, tanks and Bofors guns rolled out of New Jalpaiguri railway station under heavy security cover,” a senior NF railways official said.

“The army has requisitioned some 15 trains for the initial troop movement headed for Jammu, Punjab and Rajasthan.”

The official said the trains have been “accorded top priority of movement, higher than that of the Rajdhani and Satabdi Expresses”. Another 10 rakes are being loaded to move out “in the next couple of days”, he added.

Worried about the possibility of sabotage or attacks by subversive elements, the authorities are leaving nothing to chance. Security has been stepped up at New Jalpaiguri, Rangia, New Cooch Behar, Rangapani and Bagdogra railway stations.

   

 
 
LEFT CALL FOR TRADE UNION UNITY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Hyderabad, Dec. 24: 
The All-India Trade Union Congress has appealed to all trade unions to be united and fight the anti-labour policies of the NDA government.

Briefing newsmen on the proceedings of the 37th national conference of the Left-wing Aituc, Gurudas Dasgupta, the newly-elected union secretary, said: “We urge even the Intuc to sink their political differences in the interests of the labour force of the country.”

The NDA government has committed an unprecedented aggression on the people of the country in collusion with trans-national companies like the WTO and the World Bank, Dasgupta alleged.

The conference also condemned the acts of terrorism committed by organisations operating from Pakistani soil. “A nation having a strong economy with people having a decent living can alone fight terrorism more effectively,” it said.

   

 
 
MTECH REFORM BLUEPRINT TO PROMOTE RESEARCH 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 24: 
Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi has changed the guidelines for post-graduate education and research in engineering and technology and unlike his controversial reforms drive in school education, the new set looks “benign” — aimed at increasing the number of committed researchers.

According to the new guidelines, to become operational by April next year, MTech programmes will span two years, adding six months to the present 18-month course.

All “outdated” courses will be phased out. “At present, more than 60 per cent of the curriculum is geared to three areas — mechanical, civil and electrical. But more and more emerging areas are coming into focus” says V.S. Pandey, joint secretary in the ministry.

The fresh guidelines enlist biochemical, communications and product engineering, micro-electronics, information systems and technology, biotechnology and energy management as the emerging fields of study. “If the average turn out for three years continues to be less than 40 per cent in a particular course, the programme will be discontinued or thoroughly restructured,” states one of the guidelines.

The focus of the reforms is to make post-graduate courses and research attractive in order to increase their output.

At present, there are 19,000 sanctioned MTech courses with an output of between 7,000 to 8,000.

The government has decided to raise the monthly scholarship amount from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 for MTech students. The amount will be reviewed every five years. Contingency grants to public funded institutions have also been hiked from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 for MTech students.

A whole set of incentives has been laid out for PhD students as well. There will be 50 national fellowships with an annual scholarship of Rs 12,000 in addition to an annual contingency grant of Rs 25,000.

“The scholars should be given the best possible facilities and attached to leaders in research and development in their respective fields,” states the new policy.

The host institution, which will give out the fellowships, will receive an annual grant of Rs 20,000. All PhD scholars will be expected to do a minimum of 8-10 hours teaching.

The institutions will introduce a policy of early faculty induction when students in their fourth years can start teaching. They will, however, have to give at least three years to teaching. The “reward” will be Rs 10,000 every month.

One of the imponderables in this area is quality of teaching and ways to improve it. At present, 100 teachers with potential are picked up from various institutions and sent to the IITs for a set of courses.

The new policy has hiked this number to 1000 per year. “The new policy guidelines will benefit both industry and the academia,” said Pandey.

   

 
 
MISSING MLA RESURFACES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Dec. 24: 
In an intriguing twist to the alleged abduction of PMK legislator Sivakami Vincent, the missing woman suddenly turned up at the MLAs’ hostel here last night but left the scene after declaring “I was not abducted”.

Vincent’s disappearance from her constituency, Dharapuram, six days ago had created a sensation in the Tamil Nadu capital. PMK founder-leader S. Ramadoss had charged that she was “abducted” at the behest of former ADMK minister K.A. Sengottaiyan, after he (Ramadoss) had called for fielding a common candidate against ADMK chief Jayalalithaa in the coming byelection from Andipatti.

A group of MLAs and MPs of the Vanniyar-based PMK had demonstrated in front of Sengottaiyan’s residence on Friday night. They followed it up the next day by marching to the Raj Bhavan and submitting a memorandum to Governor C. Rangarajan, seeking his intervention to trace the “abducted” MLA.

So Vincent’s reappearance last night defused the tension to an extent. The MLA categorically denied she had been “abducted” by Sengottaiyan. “I was away only in Kerala for medical treatment,” claimed Vincent, who had suffered a serious leg injury in the run-up to the Assembly polls last May. At that time she had to be brought in on a wheel chair to Speaker K. Kalimuthu’s chamber to take oath as member of the House.

But Vincent’s words set alarm bells ringing in the PMK after she criticised the party’s functioning. Before being whisked away in a waiting car amid tight security, the MLA said she had decided to “function independently” as she was not being able to express her grievances to party leader Ramadoss.

Stung by the criticism, PMK president G.K. Mani today rushed to Ramadoss’ farmhouse in Thailapuram near his hometown of Tindivanam, the heart of the Vanniyar-belt, to discuss the party’s future course of action. The PMK has a sizeable presence in the Assembly with 20 members.

   

 
 
ASSEMBLY POLLS ON SCHEDULE: EC 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Chennai, Dec. 24: 
The Election Commission “as of now” does not think it necessary to factor in the possibility of a Indo-Pak military conflict while deciding on the schedule for Assembly polls in four states and the byelections in Tamil Nadu.

“As of now, it (possibility of a war in the wake of the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament) is not going to affect the poll dates, but should the situation warrant, we will reconsider (the dates),” election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy said today after a meeting with top officials of Tamil Nadu.

Assembly elections are due in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab and Manipur, besides three constituencies in Tamil Nadu.

Byelections in Tamil Nadu are due in Andipatti, from where ADMK chief Jayalalithaa is hoping to contest, Saidapet, and Vaniyambadi, where a vacancy arose last week following the death of the veteran Muslim League leader, Abdul Latheef.

Addressing a news conference at the Raj Bhavan after reviewing security and other arrangements, such as revision of electoral rolls, for the three byelections in Tamil Nadu, Krishnamurthy said, “things are going fairly on expected lines”.

Asked if the bypolls in Tamil Nadu would be held along with the Assembly elections in other states by end February 2002, Krishnamurthy said, “I cannot give any specific commitment, but it will be very soon.”

He also indicated that the poll schedule for all these elections would be announced “very shortly”.

Denying reports of large-scale irregularities in the revision of electoral rolls in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the election commissioner said he had received specific complaints in two or three constituencies from each of these states, and after “on the spot verification, we have taken action against some officials including a district magistrate.”

Krishnamurthy said some form of voter-identification, depending on the prevailing situation, would be insisted upon for all these forthcoming elections, and electronic voting machines would be used in all states, except in Manipur.

On steps to “prevent criminals from entering the electoral arena”, Krishnamurthy said the poll panel had sent specific suggestions to the Centre, but implementation would require political consensus and a Constitutional amendment.

The Election Commission had asked to “debar” two types of candidates from contesting the polls: persons who had been convicted in an offence for a minimum of six months and persons against whom a chargesheet had been filed in the court for offences that could be punishable with a prison term of five years or more.

Krishnamurthy defended a move to incorporate the concept of negative vote, wherein voters were free to reject all the candidates in the fray if they so felt.

This could improve “voter participation”, as voter secrecy would be preserved under the proposed modification. In the existing system, voters have to sign in a register if they chose not to vote for any candidate in a poll.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 26°C (-1)
Minimum: 13.9°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 47%
Sunrise: 6.21 am
Sunset: 4.54 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 14°C
   
 

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