US echoes India, Pak echoes US
Water man goes home
Missiles of military diplomacy
Pakistan wants time, not war
One battle too many for BJP
Poll-bound Jaya arrives for coal case verdict
BJP banks on Kargil replay
Safe-seat Rajkot set aside for Modi
Doctors’ panel
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Dec. 26: 
The US has accepted India’s contention that terrorist organisations based in Pakistan were responsible for the attack on Parliament on December 13.

Designating the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad as foreign terrorist organisations (FTOs) under US law, secretary of state Colin Powell said: “As the recent horrific attacks against the Indian Parliament and the Srinagar state legislative Assembly so clearly show, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and their ilk seek to assault democracy, undermine peace and stability in South Asia and destroy relations between India and Pakistan.”

Hitherto, official references here to the two outfits in the context of the December 13 attack were qualified with “ifs” and “buts”, notwithstanding American acknowledgement that Lashkar and Jaish were engaged in terrorist activity.

The announcement was made after India expressed dissatisfaction with the steps taken by Pakistan such as freezing the accounts of Lashkar, which then promptly declared it had no money in banks and was shifting its base and activities to Kashmir.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh said: “It is a kind of trickery. Simply changing names (both Lashkar and Jaish have done it), shifting headquarters from one part of Pakistan to another or to indulge in cosmetic seizure of assets makes a mockery of the gravity and enormity of issues.”

The Cabinet Committee on Security met today but did not take any decision except to gather again tomorrow.

More significant than the designation by Washington of the two outfits as terrorist organisations is the suggestion in Powell’s statement that Pakistan’s current strategy of moving Lashkar to Kashmir is not acceptable. “The US looks forward to working with the governments of both India and Pakistan to shut these groups down,” Powell said in his statement.

The announcement came on Boxing Day, when most of official Washington is still on Christmas recess, with President George W. Bush away at his ranch in Texas. This shows the urgency the US is attaching to the military build-up along the Indo-Pakistan border.

Powell’s statement also made it clear that Pakistan’s description of Lashkar and Jaish as organisations fighting for liberty in Kashmir was wearing thin with the Bush administration.

“These groups, which claim to be supporting the people of Kashmir, have conducted numerous terrorist attacks in India and Pakistan,” Powell said.

In continuing to act against anti-Indian terrorist outfits based in Pakistan, Washington is using arguments which neither Pakistan nor its apologists in the US can fault.

First, Powell said “the vicious attacks that took place on September 11 (in America) made it clear that the US must use every tool at its disposal to combat terrorism”.

Second, he said Lashkar and Jaish were trying to destroy relations between India and Pakistan, both allies of the US in the global war on terror.

Third, he said the two organisations were working against Pakistan as much as they were going against the objectives of the worldwide campaign against terrorism.

Significantly, the decision to designate Lashkar and Jaish as FTOs was published in the Federal Register today, the very day the decision was taken.

Usually, there is a gap between the decision and the publication: the absence of such a gap today suggests that more steps against outfits such as Lashkar and Jaish may be in the offing.

With the two Pakistani outfits on the Federal Register as FTOs, it is illegal for persons in the US or subject to US jurisdiction to provide material support to these terrorist groups.

It requires US financial institutions to block assets held by them and enables America to deny visas to representatives of these groups, decisions which have already been implemented under various emergency, post-September 11 provisions of US law.

Powell said: “I made this decision in consultation with the attorney-general and the secretary of the treasury after an exhaustive review of these groups’ violent activities.”

This is being interpreted here to mean that the full weight of the US administration is behind actions against Pakistan-based terrorist groups and that today’s decisions are not state department-inspired cosmetic steps to please New Delhi.


New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
Brainstorming over the option of stopping the flow of Indus water to Pakistan will have to wait. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) could not discuss the issue today simply because the man who could have given it inputs on how to go about the task was not present in the capital.

Minister for water resources Arjun Charan Sethi, who looks after dams and water treaties, had chosen the wrong moment to go off to his home state Orissa.

Although the water treaty was not on the agenda for the meeting, official sources said the CCS had considered the possibility of discussing it.

The option, proposed by defence analysts, calls for abrogating the 1960 water treaty between the two nations and stopping the flow of three rivers — Indus, Chenab and Jhelum — which run into Pakistan from India.

India has dams on all the rivers feeding the Indus on its side of the border and can easily stop or reduce the flow, creating havoc for Pakistani farmers and cities which depend on this water. The treaty has survived two wars.

Another proposal — to end the most favoured nation treatment in trade given to Pakistan — will only have symbolic effect, officials told the CCS because of the insignificant business India does with its neighbour.


New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
Defence minister George Fernandes’ military diplomacy took centrestage today, practically guiding the agenda for the brains trust of the Cabinet as it charts a course for the “war on terrorism”.

Fernandes, often referred to as “General George” in army mess rooms, has set the agenda literally from the front. He could not return to the capital for the scheduled meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) this evening after touring Siachen for the 21st time and army and air force formations at Suratgarh and Halwara in the western sector.

But the forces under his command took military diplomacy a step ahead, cancelling the Army Day parade on January 15 for the first time since the ceremony was instituted in 1949. The army’s role in the Republic Day parade has also been scaled down.

The CCS will reconvene tomorrow. Besides Fernandes, defence secretary Yogendra Narain and senior officers of the services are expected to attend.

Fernandes told journalists accompanying him that India was putting its missiles at the ready. This was in response to reports that Pakistan had deployed its Hatf I and Hatf II medium-range missiles close to the border.

The veracity of reports on Pakistan’s missile deployment is doubtful, with contradictory reports being attributed to the army’s northern command headquarters in Jammu. India, too, does not need to “deploy” missiles, because they can be fired from mobile launchers that can take position, shoot and move away.

It is likely that these launchers and missiles have been moved from deep country to take positions from where they can move in to bring targets within a firing range of a maximum of 200 kilometres. The army’s “333 Missile Group” has moved from its usual station near Secunderabad.

The reports on possible “deployment” of missiles — with or without nuclear warheads — will inevitably send the chill down the collective spine of the international community. Some 18 nations have been actively working to defuse tension between India and Pakistan.

The cancellation of the Army Day parade, too, is meant to be a signal to Pakistan from the armed forces that they mean business. The level of mobilisation by the forces can be gauged from this decision. The Indian army is 11-lakh-plus strong. Yet, tension on the border is perceived to be of such an order that it feels it is absolutely necessary to disengage 5,000 of its troops from ceremonial duties.

The army spokesman said Army Day celebrations have not been cancelled. Only the parade has been put off.

The army still has not put out a call for a “general mobilisation”. If and when this happens, all service personnel will be asked over radio and television to report for duty immediately.


Karachi, Dec. 26: 
Pakistan does not want war with India and will not take any action creating tension in the region, foreign office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan told the BBC today.

That sums up the official mood in Pakistan where possibilities of a war are being discounted by the military administration. Its spokesmen are not even willing to hold detailed briefings on border skirmishes which they describe as routine. India yesterday said 25 Pakistani troops were killed in exchange of fire over two days.

“From our side we have taken only precautionary measures,” Aziz said when asked about troop movement.

The statement stands in sharp contrast to what Indian defence minister George Fernandes said today about deploying missiles on the border.

Pakistan has a reason for speaking with restraint: first, for the ears of the Americans who have been pressing it to act against terrorist outfits and second, for the domestic audience. President Pervez Musharraf cannot afford to appear to the people, and more important to hardliners unhappy with his stand on Afghanistan, to be taking steps against terrorist outfits under Indian threats.

His speech yesterday at the 125th birth anniversary of Mohammad Ali Jinnah was revealing in more ways than one. He said the Pakistani armed forces were ready to meet any challenge and the challenge, he stressed, was both “internal and external”. If anything, he was more than muted on the external threat, which would be India.

In contrast, he spoke several sentences on how jihadi organisations were a threat to Pakistan. He accused militant groups of staining Islam’s image by fuelling extremism and hatred and undermining the status of women.

“Leave aside tolerating other religions. We refuse to accommodate views of various sects in our own religion,” he said.

The President appealed to Pakistanis not to be silent spectators to the activities of these groups which have “undermined Islam to a level that people of the world associate with illiteracy, backwardness, obscurantism and militancy”.

Musharraf’s speech came on a day Islamabad disclosed that Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Maulana Masood Azhar had been detained. Jaish and Lashkar-e-Toiba are the two groups India accuses of engineering the attack on Parliament and the US has been pressing Pakistan to act against.

Officials confirmed that Masood had been arrested by Punjab police, and not detained in his house, as earlier believed. He has been charged with making provocative speeches and instigating trouble. It’s not known where he is being held and for how long he will be in custody.

“He has been arrested, but it is not known where he has been taken,” a group spokesman, Hasan Burki, said. “He is not at his home.”

As armed police surrounded their home in Bahawalpur, Masood’s brother Mohammad Kashif said: “The government and its agencies will be responsible for the consequences if Maulana is not brought into the public eye within 24 hours,” he said.

This is the kind of danger Musharraf’s administration faces if it cracks down on jihadi outfits, a fact that Pakistani officials highlight while suggesting that any steps he takes will have to be cautious and gradual.

“The task is complicated by the fact that Musharraf has alienated many hardliners by his support for the US-led war against the Taliban, which had deep roots in Pakistan,” the Washington Post quoted Pakistani officials as saying. “If he moves too aggressively against groups fighting the Indian security forces in Kashmir — a cause supported by the majority of Pakistanis — Musharraf risks further undermining his standing among the public,” they said.

When President George W. Bush pressed Musharraf to act against terrorist outfits based in Pakistan, he said groups like the Lashkar were a threat to both India and Pakistan.

The statement had raised hackles in Delhi, but Musharraf appears to have grasped that argument as he responds to international pressure to crack down on these groups. His speech yesterday that “bigots” were an internal threat suggests that the general – who sections of the western media paint as a religious liberal – is seeking to build a case for action against terrorist groups as a domestic necessity and not foisted from outside.

That is possibly the only way he can sell any such crackdown to the people of Pakistan.

Militant groups also seemed to be falling for this line. A Lashkar spokesman said: “He (Masood) has been arrested for speaking against the government. As a Pakistani citizen he has a right to criticise government policies. Therefore, his arrest is wrong.”


New Delhi, Dec. 26: 
Political battle plans muscled their way back into Garrison Delhi with the announcement of elections in four states, including Uttar Pradesh, in February.

The schedule for the Assembly elections was announced today along with that of bypolls to six Lok Sabha seats.

Both the BJP and the Congress have equal stakes in almost all the states. Victory in Uttar Pradesh is imperative for the BJP, if it is to continue ruling Delhi with a measure of confidence and stability.

BJP sources conceded that the polls will be as much a verdict on its governments in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab — where it is a junior partner of the Akali Dal — as a referendum on the NDA government. “It will not be off the mark to treat the exercise as a mini general election,” a leader said.

The elections are also expected to indicate the extent to which the Congress has been able to capitalise on the “anti-incumbency” factor.

The BJP, which is polishing the national security plank, feels that it could have done with a little more time because the poll announcement has come when the central leadership and the government were preoccupied with the Pakistan issue.

“Of course, we were expecting the Election Commission to announce the schedule any moment. But now that the announcement has been made we feel that it is a bit too early. End-February may have suited us better,” said a leader.

The BJP’s immediate worry is that its most influential leaders, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani, may have to concentrate simultaneously on two fronts — the anti-terrorism offensive and the election campaign.

Asked if the elections would be rescheduled if there was a confrontation with Pakistan, chief election commissioner J.S. Lyngdoh said: “As an Indian citizen who reads newspapers, I think there is going to be no war. But when the time comes, we will see.”

But he added: “Obviously, we cannot be insensitive to what is happening around us. Elections are not more important than the interests of the country.”

The BJP, anticipating the anti-incumbency factor in Uttar Pradesh, feels a possible split in the Opposition votes could tilt the scales in its favour. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are vying for the backward caste and minorities votes.

The Congress has been sidelined in Uttar Pradesh, but it is in the race in the other three states.

Guna and Mirzapur, which fell vacant after the death of Madhavrao Scindia and Phoolan Devi, respectively, are on the byelection list. Tamil Nadu’s Andipatti Assembly seat, from where Jayalalithaa is expected to contest, is also going to polls.

The model code of conduct, which prevents policy announcements and transfers in the poll-bound states and districts, came into effect from today.


Chennai, Dec. 26: 
ADMK chief Jayalalithaa returned from Hyderabad tonight amid heightened expectations over the special court’s verdict in the coal import scam case tomorrow, following the Election Commission’s announcement of the three byelections from Tamil Nadu on February 21.

In recent years, Amma’s political career has been dogged with corruption cases though she has gone on record several times to say she would “emerge unscathed”.

According to the former chief minister, the cases were an off-shoot of the “political vendetta” of the previous DMK regime.

Earlier this month, when Madras High Court acquitted Jayalalithaa, her confidante Sashikala Natarajan and all the other accused in the two Tansi land-deal cases and in the Kodaikanal Pleasant Stay hotel case, amma seemed closer to reclaiming her chief ministership.

The acquittal removed a major legal obstacle to her contesting for the Assembly through a bypoll. Her earlier conviction in the Tansi cases had resulted in the rejection of her nomination papers for the May elections.

However, Governor Fathima Beevi had sworn her in as chief minister on May 14, despite the electoral disqualification. The ADMK’s game plan then was to ensure that Jayalalithaa got elected to the Assembly within six months.

But on September 21, she suffered a major blow after the Supreme Court quashed her appointment, which led to O. Panneerselvam’s ascension as a stop-gap chief minister.

The Supreme Court’s judgment implied that unless her conviction was overturned, it would not be possible for Jayalalithaa to fight an election in the near future.

It was against this backdrop that the December 4 verdict by Madras High Court, setting aside both the conviction and the sentences handed down to her earlier, that sent her hopes soaring.

While personally it was a vindication of her honour, the ADMK’s landslide win in the May Assembly elections assumed greater political significance — and fulfilment — only after the high court verdict. The Andipatti seat, from where Jayalalithaa could contest, has also been vacated by party MLA Thangam Tamizhselvam.

But tomorrow’s judgment in the coal import case would have an equal bearing on her political future.

However, more pin-pricks await her as the DMK’s lawyer, R.S. Bharathi, has preferred an appeal in the Supreme Court on Monday against the high court verdict in the Tansi land deal cases.

Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy, who took over as the “original complainant” in the Tansi case from Bharathi, is also expected to file his appeal in the apex court in the first week of January.

The Tamil Maanila Congress, by far the most trusted ally of the ADMK so far, is also weighing its options on whether to seek the latter’s support for party president G.K. Vasan for the lone Rajya Sabha seat, which has fallen vacant after the death of G.K. Moopanar.

Vasan today said the TMC would decide on this issue once the notification for the Rajya Sabha poll is formally issued by the end of the month. He also said his party would decide on whether to ask for one of the three by-poll seats from the ADMK.

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said the NDA would put up its candidate at Andipatti, from where Jayalalithaa is expected to contest.

The possibility of a joint opposition candidate against amma has thus been virtually ruled out.


Lucknow, Dec. 26: 
It seems that war always comes to the rescue of the BJP.

If Kargil helped to propel a mandate in favour of the BJP in the general elections, the Vajpayee government’s tough posture against Pakistan and its green signal to a troop build-up at the Indo-Pak border have cheered the party on the eve of Uttar Pradesh polls.

With the poll dates fixed for February 14, 18 and 21, chief minister Rajnath Singh has been relying more on promises — made at two per day — than progress to bail him out.

Unlike the central leadership, the state BJP is happy with the dates. If it is worried about the party’s fate after polls, it is not showing it. “There is no question of being upset with the dates announced by the Election Commission. There couldn’t have been a better time for us to go for elections,” said party spokesman H.N. Dixit.

Though Dixit declined to say if the NDA government’s sabre rattling with Pakistan would help the party’s cause in Uttar Pradesh, insiders did not hide their glee.

As a senior Cabinet minister put it: “There are parties who want to go to Pakistan with bouquets even when we are faced with bullets. The BJP is the only party that is ready to take punitive action against Pakistan and teach it a lesson. The people see that and we will make sure of it.”

The minister added that the BJP would “obviously” make Vajpayee’s “success in defeating Pakistan diplomatically and otherwise”, a poll issue.

Amid criticism from the opposition parties which said Singh was trying to influence the Election Commission, the BJP had stuck to its guns of holding polls in February, saying they wanted the state government to be in place by March as the party “respected the Constitution”.

Taking a dig at the Opposition that wanted early polls, the BJP maintained that it was abiding by the “constitutional obligation” to administer the state for five years.

The first sitting of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly was on March 24, 1997 and according to Section 172 of the Constitution, the new government should be formed five years after that date.

Nevertheless, the party is happy that the drama at the border could not have come at a more opportune time.


Ahmedabad, Dec. 26: 
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi will contest from Rajkot city to become an elected member of the Assembly.

Former revenue minister Vajubhai Vala, who represented Rajkot–2 Assembly seat for five consecutive terms, resigned today to allow Modi to contest from the constituency which the BJP leadership considers relatively “safe”.

Vala was considered close to Modi’s predecessor Keshubhai Patel. He was also the only prominent minister of the Patel Cabinet who was not given berth in the new government because of corruption charges.

Though the then chief minister ordered an inquiry against Vala which absolved him, there was still widespread dissatisfaction.

Vala’s omission from Modi’s Cabinet angered the Patel camp, already unhappy with the way the former chief minister was ousted.

To ensure his success from Rajkot, Modi will require the blessings of Patel, who holds considerable sway over Saurashtra.

“It is precisely because of that that Modi has decided to contest from Rajkot city,’’ said state BJP media committee chairman Bharat Pandya.

“It will put Keshubhai Patel in quandary. Though he is against Modi, he cannot go against him publicly. The former chief minister will have to work for Modi much against his will. He has no choice.’’

According to political observers, if Modi is defeated, Patel will be held responsible. As for Modi, he will ensure that mid-term elections are held.

Sources think that Patel’s involvement in Modi’s poll campaign will suggest to the voters that Saurashtrians continue to dominate state politics.

The BJP leadership also hopes to cash in on the anti-establishment factor since the Congress holds the reins at Rajkot Municipal Corporation.


Guwahati, Dec. 26: 
The Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) today set December 31 as the deadline for constituting a panel of doctors by the directorate of health services to examine arrested or detained persons.

AHRC chairperson Rajkumar Manisana Singh told The Telegraph that the director of health services has failed to submit the list of doctors for examining the arrested and detained persons to prevent custodial violence.




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