Diplomatic Strike II on Pakistan
US passes attack proof to Pervez
Europe can wait, not euro-India
Cross-border salute greets General George
Delhi rocks Pervez balancing act
Al Qaida alert after arrest
Dogfight over real loser in the air
Wary of blow-up, govt lowers pitch
Ayodhya for culture, not votes: Advani
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
In an indication to Pakistan and the US that India is not impressed by “cosmetic measures” taken by Islamabad against terrorist outfits, the Vajpayee government today unfurled its second round of diplomatic offensive.

India announced cutting the staff strength in each other’s high commission by half, banning Pakistani aircraft from Indian air space and restricting movement of Pakistani diplomats within the municipal limits of Delhi.

Pakistan retaliated with tit-for-tat sanctions, halving India’s diplomatic staff in Islamabad and prohibiting Indian airlines from flying over its air space.

The US said the two countries had acted within their rights by imposing reciprocal sanctions.

Reduction of the staff strength in high commissions and restrictions on movement of Pakistani diplomats and their family members will be down for a 48-hour count beginning 6 am tomorrow. The refusal to allow Islamabad overflight right will be in place from January 1. Transport links between the countries will snap completely from the day when the train and bus services are also being terminated.

“It is for Pakistan to realise the enormity of the situation. If the people be sovereign, then Parliament is the distillate of that sovereignty of the people,” external affairs Jaswant Singh said after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, referring to the December 13 attack.

Asked about the possibility of war, he said: “I am not going to speculate what (possibility) remains alive and what is moribund.” He added that India had spelt out at the very beginning what was expected: ban on Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, seizure of assets and arrests of their leaders.

India had earlier recalled its high commissioner in Islamabad, kicking off the series of measures being unveiled in stages in order not to let up the pressure on Pakistan and the US, which has been working on Musharraf.

Singh has told US secretary of state Colin Powell that India is not happy with the steps taken by Pakistan against the terrorist outfits and their leaders, stressing that Delhi does not expect Washington to adopt double standards in its fight against terrorism. “There cannot be good terrorists and bad terrorists,” Singh said, claiming his American counterpart had agreed with him and assured him that the US would try and convince Musharraf to take tough steps against Lashkar and Jaish.

The CCS held its meeting this evening less than 24 hours after its session yesterday. Before the meeting, the three chiefs of the armed wings made a presentation to A.B. Vajpayee and other leaders on the situation along the Line of Control and the border following the troop build-up by the two sides. At the CCS, Vijay Nambiar, high commissioner to Islamabad, gave his assessment of the situation in Pakistan.

Singh expressed Delhi’s displeasure at a number of Indian criminals finding safe haven in Pakistan. “If you join the international coalition, then please act in accordance with what you have stated in your objective in joining the coalition against terrorism,” Singh said.

Accusing Islamabad of duping the international community with “half-measures”, “ non-measures” and “fictitious incidents”, Singh said these were “not acceptable to us”. Pakistan has frozen the assets of Jaish and arrested its leader Masood Azhar, steps Singh described as inadequate.


Washington, Dec. 27: 
Evidence gathered by India about the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in the attack on Parliament is now in the hands of General Pervez Musharraf.

India had shared the evidence with the US, which, in turn, passed it on to Pakistan’s military rulers. This prompted Musharraf, under pressure from Washington and London, to take at least cosmetic action against the two terrorist outfits.

US officials are unwilling to go on record about the sharing of such evidence with Islamabad. But senior staff at the National Security Council have told American correspondents in background briefings that India has proof of Pakistan’s role in the December 13 assault and that the evidence has reached Islamabad via Washington.

India had shared the evidence, among others, with the UK. As a result, both Whitehall and Washington delivered demarches in Islamabad just before Christmas on the terrorist threat emanating from within Pakistan.

Sources here said the demarches were specific and prompted the military junta in Pakistan to act, at least cosmetically, against Lashkar and Jaish.

Secretary of state Colin Powell has been on the phone even during the Christmas holidays. While most of America rested on Boxing Day yesterday, Powell spoke twice to Musharraf and twice to external affairs minister Jaswant Singh.

He had spoken last with Singh on Sunday, but had been on the phone to Musharraf on Monday and even on Christmas Day. That Powell is devoting most of his time to Pakistan and India when the US is at war in Afghanistan is an indication of American determination to avoid a new battlefront opening in South Asia.

Officials at the Pentagon are saying the US wants heavy deployment of Pakistan armed forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to prevent al Qaida and Taliban forces from crossing over.

They also want Pakistani forces to search for Osama bin Laden if he is in Pakistan, as alleged today by Afghanistan. All this would not be possible if Islamabad had to divert its military resources to the border with India.

Equally worrying for the Pentagon is the possibility that the military top brass in Rawalpindi may be forced to pull out its forces now guarding US bases, installations and personnel in Pakistan as part of the ongoing military build-up along the border with India.

There is considerable anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and US forces would be vulnerable to attacks without protection from the Pakistani army.


Calcutta, Dec. 27: 
If you’ve stashed away a wad of Deutsche marks, French francs, Italian lira and the nine other European Union currencies that will be replaced by the all-embracing euro from January 1 in the hope of using them on another trip to the Continent, maybe it’s time to get rid of them.

The 12 countries that are dumping their national currencies in favour of the euro are Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Nethe rlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland. Britain, Denmark and Sweden have decided to opt out of the currency unification pact.

The Reserve Bank of India has said it will not accept these dozen currencies after January 31.

On January 1, 2002, the euro comes into play and the so-called legacy currencies will be withdrawn by their respective central banks as legal tender in a phased manner starting with the DM, which bows out on December 31.

The RBI is taking no chances: so even if the other EU currencies remain legal tender for some more time in their own countries, it says it will not accept them in India after January 31.

However, travellers planning to make that oh-so-longed-for trip to Europe even five years from now will be able to change their legacy currencies into euros at designated banks in Europe, though they may not use them for regular transactions. The big question is: would you much rather wait till then?

Rupak Paul, manager, foreign exchange, at money-changer Thomas Cook’s Calcutta branch, says: “The RBI has issued a directive saying that resident Indians can exchange their legacy currencies till January 31, 2002. After that, we will not sell or buy the old currencies.”

“Moreover, tourists from the 12 countries are not expected to bring in legacy currencies as these would also be phased out in their own countries.”

Under the present foreign exchange rules, resident Indians travelling abroad are allowed to carry foreign exchange worth $5,000 in a calendar year.

“The process of exchanging foreign currency remains the same,” says Paul.

Indian residents can convert the EU’s legacy currencies into rupees by January 31. The going conversion rate is Rs 42.28 for a euro.

All airports and tourist centres in the country will display the new exchange rates in keeping with the directive issued by RBI.

Thomas Cook and the State Bank of India have jointly made arrangements to make the euro available to those travelling to Europe.

The first tranche of euro money — bank notes and coins — is arriving in the country tomorrow. Traveller’s cheques in euro can be bought with immediate effect.

The euro will be available in seven denomination — 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. The seven denominations of bank notes are printed in different colours to make identification easier.

The size of the notes increases with denomination. Coins will be available in eight denominations — 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 and one euro and two euros.


New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
It is a photograph that has been taken, even shown but not exhibited: defence minister George Fernandes at the Ferozepur border with Pakistan where the Pakistani Rangers are giving him a guard of honour and a salute.

The event took place yesterday during Fernandes’ tour of the western sector, when the defence minister was delayed on his return to New Delhi. For Pakistan, it can be a major embarrassment — a guard of honour and a salute given by a contingent of its forces, smartly attired in battle regalia, to the Indian defence minister, even as the Indian armed forces continue with what is their largest mobilisation since 1971.

In July, when Musharraf came for the Agra summit, the Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, refused to salute the enemy, the man India has held responsible for the Kargil war — he shook hands instead.

Shortly after watching the closing ceremony at the Ferozepur border gate — that mirrors the daily beating retreat at the Wagah border — Fernandes said the deployments would be complete by the weekend. That was also the briefing given by the services chiefs to India’s war Cabinet in the operations room of the defence ministry just before the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) met this evening and decided on stage II of its diplomatic offensive.

The briefing, given by the director-general of military operations and the services chiefs, focussed on the current situation on the border, the level of troops deployment, operational requirements, movement of militant camps, the level of conflict on the Line of Control and on the international boundary.

External affairs minister Jaswant Singh said after the CCS meeting that “institutionalised mechanisms” in relations with Pakistan continue. Asked specifically on the weekly talks held by the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMO), Singh said “they are still open”.

So far though, the DGMO-level talks — normally held every Tuesday — have not served to scale down the tension building up on the border. The DGMO-level talks were instituted as a measure to manage conflict situations. It is now almost certain that the level of mobilisation that is “near complete” is more than what had taken place either during Operation Brasstacks in 1987 or during the Kargil war in 1999.

The country’s 11-lakh-plus strong army has summoned units of nearly all its formations, including some from the reserves, from peace stations. Indian Air Force has moved some assets to forward bases in the northern and western sectors on the APM (Adopt Precautionary Measures) level, jargon that is used to instruct units to prepare in anticipation of an outbreak of hostilities.

The military briefing is understood to have also given an assessment of the movement of militant camps in Pakistan. Till about two months ago, an estimated 170 camps were said to have been there.

The number has gone down now, but some still exist and others have retreated deeper into Pakistani territory.

Intelligence has also suggested that there has been a movement of militants into PoK from other places in Pakistan.


New Delhi/Islamabad, Dec. 27: 
As India announced a second round of steps to winch up the pressure on General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani diplomats in Delhi warned that such a policy could prove counter-productive.

They said Musharraf’s actions, which India finds inadequate, against terrorist groups have the broad support of the majority of the people, but only so long as he is not seen to be doing so under Indian pressure. India’s measures today will make it doubly tough for Musharraf to act, they added.

“The President will move against terrorists at his own pace, he cannot be seen to be doing so under Indian pressure,” a Pakistani diplomat said.

In the circumstances, it is unrealistic for India to expect the general to announce a fresh set of measurers against the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad or any other terrorist organisation.

“Quiet diplomacy” on the part of India after the December 13 attack on Parliament would have made it easier for the President to act, the diplomat said.

An indication of the balancing act Musharraf has to perform was available today when he met delegations of Islamic clerics. He said Pakistan would continue its moral, diplomatic and political support to Kashmiris for their “right to self-determination”.

At the same time, he emphasised that “because of our irresponsible attitudes and actions, we have not done any service to Islam” and accused sectarian outfits of using mosques to spread divisive hatred.

This is the second time in three days he has referred to the dangers Pakistan itself faces from groups operating from its soil, the first being on December 25 when he spoke on the 125th birth anniversary of Jinnah.

He told the clerics that “there is need to make Pakistan strong in economic and defence fields. We can better serve Islam if we have strong defence. Pakistan has the required defence capability but to sustain that it needed to strengthen its economy”.

The economy is in deep crisis, which has been worsened by the current tension with India with stock prices dropping steadily, and Musharraf’s statement could be a reminder that Pakistan cannot do without the support he has bought for it from the West by siding with the US in the war against terror. As part of that coalition, he is now having to take steps under US pressure that might be seen as a betrayal of what some in Pakistan consider the “Kashmir cause”.

There is a feeling in Pakistan that India has been chafing over Washington cosying up to Islamabad because of its Afghan compulsions. India’s diplomatic moves following Musharraf joining the US-led coalition were aimed at projecting Pakistan as part of the problem and not the solution.

The attack on Parliament gave Delhi the opportunity to step up that campaign.

Foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said today Pakistan would consider if any further action against Lashkar and Jaish were needed.

In sharp contrast to the customary aggressive rhetoric at times of tension with India, Pakistan has been noticeably restrained, consistently discounting possibilities of war.

“Pakistan has been exercising maximum restraint and utilising diplomatic channels not to allow the situation to escalate,” Khan said.

Military spokesman Major-General Rashid Qureshi said the use of nuclear weapons by either side should not even be considered in a confrontation.

Asked about India’s buildup, Qureshi said: “What needs to be conveyed very firmly is that all defensive safeguards that Pakistan needed to take have been taken. We hope that better sense prevails.”

Khan said Pakistan wanted to keep channels of communication open between the two countries. “Our ambassador is still there. We want these channels to remain open so that the situation remains calm.”


Srinagar, Dec. 27: 
About two dozen al Qaida activists have sneaked into Kashmir Valley, police today said quoting unconfirmed reports.

“We have unconfirmed reports that between 20 to 25 activists of al Qaida have sneaked inside the valley from Kupwara sector,” inspector general of police K. Rajendra said. “We got the information from some sources, but it is not confirmed. We are trying to verify these reports.”

Jammu police had on Monday claimed they had arrested an al Qaida activist, identified as Qamar Ayub, a resident of PoK. A huge quantity of arms and ammunition was recovered from him, the police had said.

“The group of al Qaida activists is reportedly led by Mullah Abrar, who is said to be a close associate of Osama Bin Laden. It is all unconfirmed. However, we have taken measures to tackle the situation,” Rajendra said.

The police was in search of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Ghazi Baba, the alleged mastermind of the attack on Parliament. “He was earlier with (the) Harkat-ul Mujahideen, and later joined (the) Jaish-e-Mohammad,” the inspector-general said.

Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, an employee with the Kashmir awareness bureau in Delhi was also arrested today. “Bhat is a Jamaat-e-Islami worker and was the main link between the militants and the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi,” Rajendra said.

Seven militants belonging to four pro-Pakistan outfits today surrendered and vowed to work for peace in the Valley, says a PTI report.

The militants, including a self-styled divisional commander of the Al-Fateh force, laid down arms before Rajendra at a function here.

Kumar said three militants belonged to Al-Fateh, two to the Hizb-ul Mujahideen and one each to Al-Badr and Islamic Front.


New Delhi/Karachi, Dec. 27: 
As is their wont, India and Pakistan jumped into a contest of who will be hurt more by the termination of overflying rights after Delhi announced a set of measures to pressure Islamabad to act against terrorist outfits.

Sources in Delhi said the government’s decision to stop overflying rights for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) from January 1 will hurt Islamabad more than a tit-for-tat ban on Indian carriers.

They said all flights from Pakistan to East Asia or to the US east coast or even to Bangladesh will now have to go over Sri Lanka and to Nepal over Tibet. The services PIA has to Delhi and Mumbai will also stop.

All Pakistanis visiting India will now have to fly back either via Kathmandu or Colombo. President Pervez Musharraf’s Saarc trip to Kathmandu may also be affected.

PIA said 23 of its weekly flights would be affected. “If we reciprocate (the government said it would), it would create a major problem for the Indian aviation industry... India uses Pakistani airspace for more than 112 flights a week,” PIA’s chief operating officer Khursheed Anwar said. All of India’s flights to Europe and West Asia would be affected, he said.

India, however, claimed it would not face any difficulties since it has not been flying to Pakistani destinations for some time. Besides, most airlines, including India’s national carriers Air India and Indian Airlines, have been avoiding using Pakistani airspace ever since the US campaign in Afghanistan began. Pakistan is considered part of the war zone.

Flights out of India to West Europe “take a southerly route over the Arabian Gulf and across Iran and Turkey”, the sources said. That 45 minutes to an hour of extra flying, depending on the destination.

Flights to Russia or Scandinavian countries had changed their flight path slightly to the northeast to fly over China and Russia two decades ago when trouble first started in Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion.

But the sources conceded that plans to resume services to Kabul would suffer a setback. Ariana, the Afghan national airline, is supposed to start flying to Delhi early next year and India has promised to reciprocate by restarting flights to Kabul. Now any flights to Kabul will have to use Chinese and Russian airspace, which will imply an increase in flying time by as much as two-and-a-half to three hours. A Kabul flight should not take more than an hour.

Khursheed Anwar of PIA said the airline could use air corridors over China and Sri Lanka to continue its operations to East Asian countries. He said the airline would suspend 11 weekly flights to India from January 1.

“Twelve weekly flights for other destinations in East Asian countries that use Indian airspace will not be cost-effective after New Delhi’s decision, but we will not face big monetary losses,” Anwar said.

Anwar said profitability would be little affected because most of PIA’s money-making routes were to West Asia and Britain. “Our strength is not the Far Eastern operation, for which the Indian air corridor is used, and if we feel some particular route has become uneconomical, we can stop flying there.”

The decision will be on a flight-to-flight basis,” he said.


Mumbai, Dec. 27: 
India does not want to rush into a full-scale war with Pakistan as the nuclear neighbour is “not as weak and defenceless as Afghanistan”, Union parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan said.

“We would rather wait for opportune moments (to strike), but this is a decision taken by the military generals and not by ministers,” Mahajan, a confidant of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said.

India, for the moment, would try and keep Pakistan under mounting diplomatic pressure, Mahajan said, speaking to reporters at a BJP-organised anti-terrorism rally in the Shivaji Park.

Mahajan said the US-led war on Afghanistan would not be comparable with an India-Pakistan war. The US attacked Afghanistan but faced little resistance.

“Surely, Pakistan is not as weak and defenceless as Afghanistan. We have to take this fact into account (before we launch a war),” Mahajan said. The Union minister said though India’s military capability was far superior to Pakistan’s, it was still not comparable with the US. “We are not the US militarily.”

Mahajan said India never wanted a full-scale war, but “limited strikes” on terrorist camps across the border. “But there is no guarantee that this would not escalate into a full-scale war.”

Mahajan said India, in the event of a war, would have to prepare itself for “any eventuality” since Pakistan was certain to strike back.

“There will be a retaliation and I don’t want to be quoted as saying that we are prepared for a nuclear war,” Mahajan said.

The Union minister said India would prefer a surgical strike on the terrorist camps and would wait for opportune moments. “It could take weeks.”

Mahajan, earlier, told the rally that India did not want war, but was being foisted on it. “We are not a warmongering nation. We want peace but Pakistan is foisting a war on us.”

Describing the terrorist attack on Parliament as “an attack on india”, the minister said the country was determined to “give a fitting reply”. “We are not going to rest till then.”

Mahajan said India would keep up the intense diplomatic pressure on Pakistan for blatantly backing Kashmiri seperatists.

“Pakistan is harbouring these terrorists and calling them freedom-fighters. Pakistan is now the main base of the terrorists killing innocent people in india. The world has now woken up to this fact,” he said.


New Delhi, Dec. 27: 
It was L.K. Advani the statesman before the Liberhan commission today. The home minister told the one-man panel inquiring into the Babri Masjid demolition that his party’s aim in joining the “Ayodhya movement” was to kindle “awakening and awareness of Indian cultural nationalism among all communities”.

Advani said his rathyatra to construct the Ram temple was not for “vote bank politics”, but for the “future generation”, to spread the message of “cultural nationalism”.

Cross-examined by the counsel for All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, Yousuf H. Muchhala, Advani said: “The nature of the Hindu society is such that there can be no Hindu vote-bank. There could be a Brahmin or Yadav or Dalit vote-bank. But there cannot be a Hindu vote-bank. Therefore, it would be unfair to say that the BJP associated with the Ayodhya movement to create a Hindu vote-bank.”

“Hindu society is not monolithic. The variety of castes and creeds and linguistic groups and the fact that the tribal sections of the society are totally distinct from the rest and that there is no one Prophet or one Book (for the Hindu society) to command all allegiance of the society, it is impossible for anyone to think of Hindus as a vote-bank. I have no such illusion,” the home minister added during his deposition for the second consecutive day.

The counsels of the Muslim Personal Law Board and the commission cross-examined Advani at the deposition, which took more than four hours spread over two sessions. Justice M.S. Liberhan also asked questions.

Advani’s replies showed meticulous homework. He corrected several dates and events. He said the Babri Masjid was a “functional mosque” for a decade since 1936. However, in 1946 the mosque was “abandoned” as no worship took place. When the idols of Ram, Sita and Laxman were found at the site in 1949, the court had ordered that they should not be removed.

“Again, under the court orders the place was open for public worship,” Advani said. He said: “A de facto temple is existing on the disputed site from those days and that a proper construction will only make it a de jure temple.”

Advani said he had spoken to then chief minister Kalyan Singh and advised him to resign after the demolition. He added that he advised Singh as a BJP leader, as the then chief minister always “respected me”.

He denied that his rathyatra had generated fear among Muslims. “In fact, quite a large number of Muslims had turned up for my meetings during the yatra and wanted to join the Ayodhya movement. It was for all communities,” the BJP leader said.

“People looked at me with reverence as if they had, for say, Swami Vivekananda or any other religious leader, although I studied in a missionary school,” Advani added.

He said the BJP never started the Ayodhya movement. “Those who launched the movement were motivated by religious considerations. For us, in the BJP, the motivation was strengthening cultural nationalism,” the home minister said.

Advani is likely to depose before the commission again by January-end after his return from the scheduled US tour.




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