Musharraf twists Bush arm
Deadline for staff cutback extended
Border snub for Pak
Queue for Afghan credit line
STD rates cut by over 60 per cent
Pak requests extra flights to evacuate citizens
Nepal relaxes visa rules for tourists
Outcry halts slum profile by police
Modi faces rebellion
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Dec. 28: 
Reliving the legacy of his predecessor Zia-ul-Haq, President Pervez Musharraf today twisted the arm of another vacationing US President so badly he has virtually been forced to fall in line.

Military authorities in Rawalpindi are understood to have told the Americans that Pakistani troops can no longer patrol the border with Afghanistan or look for Osama bin Laden since they are needed on the eastern border to deal with a possible conflict with India.

A panic-stricken President George W. Bush immediately emerged from his ranch in Texas — where he has been preparing for the New Year — to praise Musharraf and ask India to “take note… that the President (Musharraf) is responding forcefully and actively to bring those who would harm others to justice”.

Of particular worry for the White House will be Islamabad’s demand that the US return the Jacobabad air base in Sindh province to Pakistan’s control.

Jacobabad is the nerve-centre of US military presence in Pakistan. The Americans have already spent considerable amounts of money redoing the base and were hoping to establish a permanent presence there after the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s demand has put the Americans at the mercy of the military leaders in Rawalpindi.

It is a case of the tail wagging the dog, but it has happened before. After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Zia-ul-Haq made President Jimmy Carter literally dance around him. He made Carter give in to virtually every Pakistani demand.

Musharraf is doing the twisting with one hand while he extends another of unconditional cooperation.

As an unidentified official leaked the news in Islamabad of Pakistan delivering a note to Washington that it may not be able to provide crucial logistical support to US and British troops operating in Afghanistan because of a possible conflict with India, the Musharraf presented a face of complete reliability.

“Whatever we are doing on that Afghan border will continue to be done. There will be no thinning out... No change to that situation,” he said.

Similarly, his spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, raised a real threat of war for the first time from the Pakistani side while the President said Islamabad would never precipitate a conflict.

“The Indian government has put itself into a corner from where, I think, it would be difficult for it to back off,” Qureshi said, referring to the buildup on the border.

He stopped short of expressing the fear of a full-fledged war, but in private Pakistani officials said there could be more than a limited conflict.

Musharraf said: “We do not want war. We will never initiate a war unless it is thrust on us.”

His armtwisting is paying off. Bush told reporters at his ranch: “I’m pleased to note that President Musharraf has announced the arrest of 50 extremists or terrorists.”

India can take heart, though, from the President casting the standoff with Pakistan in terms of a broader “war on terror”. “The war on terror is not just an American war on terror; it’s a civilised government war on terror,” he said.

Bush said secretary of state Colin Powell had spoken to the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers again today. The President said he would speak to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee “if need be”.

The possibility of Pakistan withdrawing its forces from the border with Afghanistan and reducing protection for US forces stationed at Pakistani bases has been an American nightmare ever since the attack on Parliament triggered a new crisis between Islamabad and New Delhi.

But by asking for the return of the Jacobabad air base, Musharraf has exceeded America’s worst fears. He is now in a position to dictate the first State of the Union address by Bush.

Bush has been hoping to announce victory in the war in Afghanistan in the address, but that will now very much depend on the Pakistani strongman.


New Delhi, Dec. 28: 
A day after launching Round II of its diplomatic offensive, India today agreed with Pakistan that 48 hours were too little to pare down mission staff by half and a minimum of a week’s time was required.

The two countries will now have to register the names of officials on the return list within the stipulated 48-hour period but mission staffers have till January 5 to vacate the capitals.

Pakistan had yesterday retaliated with tit-for-tat sanctions after foreign minister Jaswant Singh announced cutting the staff strength in both capitals by half. The neighbours appear to have realised that halving the over-100 officials in either mission is easier said than done.

A meeting was held this morning between Pakistan deputy high commissioner Jalal Abbas Geelani and the joint secretary (Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan) in the foreign ministry, Arun Singh. The decision to extend the return deadline was taken at this meeting.

India and Pakistan have 110 staff members each in their missions, but will have to prune the number down to 55. Neither country has yet decided which officials they will keep back in their missions to watch over the fragile diplomatic ties.

Despite the huge staff strength, the number of Indian and Pakistani diplomats in either capital is not more than 12. Indications here are that most of these diplomats, including the defence attaches, will not be touched. Pakistan ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi is staying.

The bulk of the staff, comprising typists, peons, guards, drivers and non-diplomatic officials, will face the brunt of the sanctions.

Another criterion to decide who will leave and who will stay could be the number of years spent in the mission. Both diplomats and non-diplomats are usually appointed for three years. Those who have completed their tenure or are about to do so will be first on the hit list. Correspondingly, freshers yet to settle down could be asked to pack their bags.

The transfer process is not easy. Besides registering their names and those of their family members, staffers leaving the country will have to get exit visas from the foreign ministry of the host country.

But the biggest problem for either side is likely to be rounding up the officials and their family members in a short span. Many have either gone home for winter vacations or are hosting relatives who have come over.

Pakistan has sought permission to operate extra flights to evacuate its citizens.


Karachi/New Delhi, Dec. 28: 
Conciliatory signals coming out of Islamabad today had no effect on India.

“The issue is not about troops build-up, but terrorism across the border,” Delhi said. Earlier in the day, Pakistan urged India to scale back the build-up on the border.

“We would like them to withdraw their forces to peacetime locations so that we can also withdraw our forces to peacetime locations,” foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan told the BBC.

“There is no point in heating up the atmosphere,” he said a day after India announced downgrading of diplomatic relations, ban on overflights and restriction on movement of Pakistani diplomatic staff, drawing tit-for-tat response from Islamabad.

“This is another unique attempt on Pakistan’s part to obfuscate the real issue. The question is not of troops build-up, but of terrorism,” a senior Indian official said.

Pakistan did not show any signs of taking further actions against the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, held responsible by India for the Parliament attack. “If we find any evidence against any individual or group or organisation indulging in any undesirable activities, action will be taken,” Khan said.

President Pervez Musharraf made a cryptic comment open to interpretations when asked if he was prepared to act against extremist pro-Kashmiri militant groups. “We understand our responsibility. We know what we have to do.”

India insisted that Pakistan was refusing to acknowledge the need to take “precise, focused steps to address the central issue of terrorism operating out of its soil”. External affairs ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “It is Pakistan which is the epicentre of terrorism in our region. It refuses to recognise the ramifications of that situation and the gravity with which India views this entire matter.”

Pakistan repeated its offer for talks at Kathmandu during the Saarc summit between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf, but India has refused to resume the dialogue frozen since the failed Agra summit.

Musharraf said he was willing to meet Vajpayee. “I don’t mind meeting with him but you can’t clap with one hand.”

“He (Vajpayee) must show willingness on his side and there will be willingness on our side,” the general said.

About the only friendly gesture Delhi is prepared to make is allowing Musharraf to overfly while he heads to Kathmandu. “If any request is made for overflying by Pakistan President and his delegation for the Saarc summit, it will be met,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said.

The Group of Eight — its members major donors to Pakistan which needs financial support desperately for a shattered economy — asked Islamabad to crack down on terrorism. The UK did the same.

Asked about world leaders asking the two countries to show restraint, an Indian official said: “It is clear that they are scared of a flare-up here. They should not blame India, but ask Pakistan to take steps against the terrorists that we have asked for and the temperature in the region can be brought down soon after.”

The official argued that India has always shown restraint in the past and so far it has not done anything to prove otherwise.


New Delhi, Dec. 28: 
Samjhauta Express may stop chugging from the new year, but there’s no halting the gravy train to Afghanistan which is ready to roll with a Rs 500-crore line of credit from the Indian government.

The line of credit becomes operational with immediate effect, said S.K. Lambah, India’s special envoy to Afghanistan, at a gathering of Indian companies, several of which appeared eager to clamber on board.

The money can be used by Indian companies looking for business opportunities in war-ravaged Afghanistan, especially in infrastructure, health, automobiles and energy.

“As soon as a full-fledged government takes over in Afghanistan (the Hamid Karzai government has a six-month mandate before a tribal chiefs’ conclave instals a formal regime), we will have discussions with them on the projects,” Lambah said.

Indian companies are keen to establish a railhead in Afghanistan before competitors from Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan swarm the dusty landscape bristling with business opportunities.


New Delhi, Dec. 28: 
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd today slashed STD rates by over 60 per cent, firing a massive broadside against the upstart Bharti group’s IndiaOne network which had sparked a telecom tariff war early this month.

An STD call from Delhi to Calcutta will now cost only Rs 9 per minute from January 14 against the earlier rate of Rs 24 per minute. The off-peak all rate will continue to be Rs 4.50 per minute.

The new rates will be applicable to both cellular phones as well as calls made from fixed-line phones.

Today’s rate cut by BSNL poses a serious challenge to IndiaOne which is due to begin operations on January 26. The Bharti group had announced a 50 per cent cut in mobile-to-mobile STD charges, which triggered the rate war.

BSNL has also reduced the number of time slabs from four to two — off-peak hours from 8 pm to 9 am, and peak hours from 9 am to 8 pm. The government-owned telecom major has also removed the distance slab rates which is expected to benefit subscribers making a large number of calls.

Cellular companies offered a one-minute mobile-to-mobile call anywhere in the country for Rs 12 between 9 am and 9 pm, and for Rs 6 between 9 pm to 9 am.

However, now a BSNL subscriber can make an STD call from anywhere in the country at Rs 9 from cellular as well as fixed-line phoned as against Rs 12 for mobile-to-mobile calls during peak hours, and at Rs 4.50 as against Rs 6, during non-peak hours.

In addition, a BSNL subscriber will have an 11-hour peak period and 13-hour off-peak period.

In contrast, mobile-to-mobile subscribers will have a total of 12 hours for both peak and off-peak periods.

The new rates will have to be approved by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Sources said the rate cut will bring down BSNL revenues by more than 60-70 per cent. The company now earns Rs 12,000 crore from long-distance calls out of its overall revenues of Rs 22,000 crore.

However, the company is confident that an anticipated surge in the volume will offset the initial loss of revenue.

Announcing the rate cuts, communications minister Pramod Mahajan said: “BSNL has not only decided to wage a war but also win the war.”

BSNL’s chairman and managing director D.P.S. Seth said: “We expect a growth rate of 50-70 per cent in STD traffic in the next few months which will make up for the initial loss.”

Currently, BSNL earns about Rs 12,000 crore from long distance services out of its total revenue of Rs 22,000 crore.

Reacting to the rate cuts, Bharti group’s chairman and managing director Sunil Bharti Mittal said: “This was precisely what we wanted to happen. When we had announced the 50 per cent cut on mobile-to-mobile calls, we had given a shock treatment to BSNL. It will benefit all subscribers.”

However, Mittal was quick to add: “I expect all the cellular operators who had joined us (IndiaOne) to remain with us. If there is need for any changes, we will sit together and sort it out. Cellular operators are aware of the relations they have had with BSNL and that is why we expect our customers to stay with us.”


Karachi, Dec 28: 
The Pakistan authorities have asked the Indian government to let it operate more daily flights to evacuate stranded Pakistanis in India before air and surface travel facilities between the two countries are suspended from the first day of next year.

Sources said the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has chalked out a detailed plan to meet the emergency arising out of the Indian ban on travel between the two countries.

Though no official figure could be found, a considerably large number of Pakistanis have gone to India during the last few months and some were not planning to return during the first week of January.

However, since flights, rail and road services are being suspended, there would be a heavy rush of people trying to return to Pakistan.

Officials said PIA is making necessary arrangements to evacuate all the Pakistanis in India before the end of the current year.

A PIA source said if the Indian government permitted PIA to operate more daily flights, it would ply large-bodied aircraft.

But even if the request was not granted, PIA would still operate big planes so that it could evacuate as many people as possible before the two countries are left with no communication between them.

PIA also said it would suspend flights to four Asian destinations because of India’s decision to ban Pakistani overflights from Tuesday.

PIA’s chief operating office r Khursheed Anwar said weekly flights for Colombo, Maldives, Manila and Singapore would be suspended from January 1 pending further decision.

“Operations for these countries would no longer be economically viable…while we will incur extra cost on Bangkok and Tokyo operations which will be carried out through Chinese airspace,” he added.

PIA said 23 of it’s weekly flights would be hit after the closure of Indian airspace.


Kathmandu, Dec. 28: 
The government of Nepal has opened up restricted areas in at least six districts for group tourists and also relaxed visa provisions, minister for information and communications Jaya Prakash Gupta said today.

As part of the government’s initiatives to attract tourists , places like Taplejung and Manang, in the northeast and west, and Nepal frontier districts that have long been off-limits for tourists will be opened up for groups.

Aiming to attract tourists other than Indians, whose number has been dwindling over the past two years, the government decided to issue only two types of visas — single entry and multiple-entry — to replace the three types currently being issued by the immigration department. Indians do not require visas while coming to Nepal.

Single-entry visas will cost $30 and multiple-entry visas $50. “Between January 1 and July 15, 2002, the government has waived charges for one-day visas,” Gupta said.

In order to make Nepal lucrative as a destination for shooting films, the government will stop charging huge fees and a one-window policy will be imposed where only the ministry of information and communications will have the sole authority to issue permits for such projects.

Caravan, a film co-produced by French film director Eric Valli, was shot in the Dolpa district. It has been nominated for a best foreign-language film Oscar.

The filming fees on Upper Dolpa and Upper Mustang areas has also been slashed from a whopping $40,000 to $ 5,000.

The fees on Indian-registered buses and cars entering Nepal through land routes is also being reviewed by the finance ministry.

An industry security agency will also be formed which will have committees in the central, regional and district levels, Gupta said.

Emergency casualties

The minister also gave details of the casualty figure since the imposition of emergency.

Gupta said in clashes between security forces and Maoists, 31 Royal Nepalese Army personnel, 64 policemen, four Armed Police Force personnel and two civil servants have been killed while 350 Maoists have been killed.

“The number of Maoists killed could be as much as 500 but we have confirmation that 350 were killed,” Gupta said.

During the month, 7,773 Maoists have also surrendered while security forces have arrested 3,321 suspects.

As much as 367 guns and huge amount of ammunition and explosives have been recovered during the operation.

The Maoists have however managed to destroy telecommunication repeater towers at three places in Rolpa, Dhading and Nuwakot. In southern Nepal today, soldiers raided a rebel “weapons factory” killing a guerrilla. Another rebel was killed in a separate battle elsewhere in the west.

The ministry also said two children were injured when rebels set off a bomb near a hospital in central Nepal.


Bangalore, Dec. 28: 
A police decision to profile slum-dwellers, after a robbery bid at a senior police official’s house, has been put on hold following an outcry by human rights groups.

Bangalore police commissioner H.T. Sangliana had ordered the profiling of slum-dwellers in the city as a measure to control crime.

“I have directed the police to record fingerprints and footprints of all slum residents above 15 years of age,” Sangliana said after a three-member gang, identified as inhabitants of a neighbouring slum, broke into the home of director-general of police (prisons) A. Krishnamurthy. A police guard shot dead one of the robbers while the others fled.

Hundreds of slum-dwellers in three colonies have been photographed and had their fingerprints taken by the police, triggering a hue and cry among NGOs.

Home minister M. Kharge was bombarded with calls from NGOs who attacked the profiling of slum-dwellers as “anti-poor” and “biased”.

The proposal has come under attack from Opposition parties. “It is highly objectionable. It has to be stopped immediately. You can’t target them because they live in slums,” said leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council K.H. Srinivas.

The home minister has also disapproved the profiling decision, said sources. “It was a decision taken by the Bangalore police without consulting him,” said a home ministry official.

“The drive has been called off for a while. There are misgivings about our intention. We are not targeting anybody. We don’t want to harass slum-dwellers,” said Sangliana.

However, the Karnataka Slum Dwellers’ Association has demanded his removal. The south India cell of Human Rights Education has written to the chief minister to appoint another police commissioner. “It is a direct assault on human rights,” All-India Trade Union Congress general-secretary H.V. Anantha Subba Rao said.

This is not the first time that Sangliana, who has inspired two films based on his career, has come under attack. His move to ban cycles at Bangalore’s prestigious commercial avenue, M.G. Road, attracted criticism, forcing him to go slow on the ban.

He had also asked building contractors to provide details of labourers working with them.

Another novel proposal of Sangliana to shore up public confidence in the police has drawn mixed reactions. Gongs were installed in some police stations which are rung every hour to tell the common people that the police are at their service.


Ahmedabad, Dec. 28: 
Threatening to expose the “misdeeds of the BJP”, legislator Jaspal Singh today quit the party and announced that he would campaign against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in Rajkot.

Singh also resigned as MLA from Vadodara to pave the way for a byelection at the same time that Modi contests from Rajkot.

The former jails and housing minister, who was denied a Cabinet berth despite assurances from BJP president K. Janakrishnamurthi, also challenged Modi to contest from Vadodara, which he has won four times in a row.

“I challenge him to contest from Vadodara. If he has the guts, as chief minister he should contest from anywhere,” Singh said after announcing his resignation at a news conference. He said 12 legislators were with him and would shortly quit the BJP.

Known to be a “perpetual” dissident and a man of “impeccable” reputation, the IPS officer-turned-politician had also taken on Keshubhai Patel when he was chief minister. Today, he said Patel had used him as a mouthpiece to brief select journalists in Delhi as the party central leadership took note of things only when they were “reported in the English press”.

Though Singh is training guns on Modi, he was part of the chief minister’s earlier “oust-Patel campaign” as it “suited” him and he was “equally aggrieved”. Singh had also offered Modi the Sayajiganj seat three months ago just after he took charge as chief minister.

Singh handed in a one-line resignation letter to Speaker Dheerubhai Shah, but wrote a long letter to state BJP chief Rajendrasing Rana, explaining why he was quitting. The letter spelt out in detail how the BJP had let down the people and how the “the image of the party had got tarnished by rampant corruption, incompetence and misgovernance”.

The former minister dubbed the RSS and the VHP as two Sangh parivar outfits that enjoyed power without accountability.

“It is a tragedy that these two organisations, not the BJP, are the real rulers. This is a very dangerous thing,’’ he said, citing several incidents of “direct and undue interference” by them in day-to-day governance.

Asked why he quit today, Singh said: “Because I want by-elections in Vadodara at the same time that chief minister Modi contests from Rajkot-2. I would have resigned on December 26 when Vajubhai Vala resigned, but I was out of station.’’ Vala was asked by the BJP leadership to vacate the seat for Modi.

Singh was accompanied by MLA Jetha Bharwad when he went to put in his papers this morning. While addressing the press, he was flanked by former MLA Yatin Oza, who quit the Sabarmati seat last year after making serious charges against Patel. Oza recently joined the Congress. Singh, who has just returned from Uttar Pradesh, is likely to join the Samajwadi Party. But his first priority is to get elected and “prove himself before joining any party’’.




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Minimum: 13.3°C (-1)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 44%

Sunrise: 6.21 am

Sunset: 4.56 pm


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 14°C

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