Into New Year, with olive branch
One step away from summit
Premature end to Big Bull run
Atal sets friendship terms for Pervez
Dress rehearsal for nuclear war
House security panel shops for hi-tech gadgets
Jana echoes executive on war
Army, militants bleed in Kashmir
Calcutta Weather

 
 
INTO NEW YEAR, WITH OLIVE BRANCH 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, Dec. 31: 
The first signs of a thaw in the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between India and Pakistan have surfaced on the eve of the New Year.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today held out an olive branch to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf by offering to walk the extra mile for permanent peace and Delhi welcomed for the first time Islamabad’s measures against militants sheltered there.

Sharing his New Year “musings” with the nation, Vajpayee told Pakistan: “You will find India willing to walk more than half the distance to work closely with Pakistan to resolve, through dialogue, any issue, including the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir.”

The dramatic announcement, which could defuse the massive military build-up along the borders of the two nuclear neighbours, came a few days before Vajpayee and Musharraf land in Kathmandu for the Saarc summit.

But the Prime Minister also warned Indians to be prepared to make sacrifices of “leisure, comfort, riches and if necessary lives”.

The first hint of a possible de-escalation was dropped in the afternoon by foreign minister Jaswant Singh. Referring to the arrest of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad leaders in Pakistan, Singh said: “If this information is confirmed, it is a step forward in the correct direction.”

The twin statements immediately fuelled speculation on whether India would drop its objections and agree to a meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf in Kathmandu later this week.

The foreign office remained non-committal and officials insisted that Pakistan needed to do more. But it was clear that Delhi was willing to renew the dialogue with Islamabad — most likely at the foreign minister’s level — to bring down the temperature in South Asia.

The foreign minister did not give a clear answer to whether Vajpayee will meet Musharraf at the Saarc summit in Nepal.

“The Prime Minister will be reaching Kathmandu as scheduled. Details of his programme are being worked out,” Singh said. Till yesterday, the government had been unequivocally dismissing the possibility of such a meeting.

Singh also did not make any commitment on whether he will hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Abdus Sattar, in Kathmandu. “I am going to Saarc. I hope to be there on schedule. I will see how developments take place in Kathmandu,” Singh said.

Pakistan, which has been pressing for talks, sprang to its feet to say it would welcome “top-level” talks between the neighbours. “If there is a move from the Indian side, we will certainly welcome it,” the Pakistan foreign office said.

Sattar, who flew over India to reached Kathmandu today, said Pakistan is opposed to war and is prepared to hold talks “anywhere, anytime and at any level”.

Singh, talking to reporters after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, pointed out that Pakistan needed to do more. “We hope that such actions against terrorist groups targeting India, including Jammu and Kashmir, would be pursued vigorously and cross-border terrorism eliminated,” he said.

Seeking to keep up the pressure on Pakistan, India has handed a list of terrorists it wants to be handed over by Pakistan. Delhi has not set a specific deadline but said it would like to bring them over for trial “as soon as possible”. Pakistan said it would examine the list and formally react tomorrow.

The deputy high commissioner of the Pakistani high commission, Jalal Abbas Geelani, was called to the foreign ministry by the joint secretary (Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan) desk, Arun Singh, and handed over the list of the wanted.

Singh said India has furnished sufficient evidence. “So far as the evidence of terrorist activities is concerned, it has been provided in a sufficient manner to the international community,” he said.

   

 
 
ONE STEP AWAY FROM SUMMIT 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Dec. 31: 
The rooms are ready. The briefs and talking points are under preparation.

All that remains is one windfall action, perhaps an unequivocal statement from Pakistan which will clear the way for a second summit in less than one year between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf in Kathmandu.

Notwithstanding the hedging and the denials, those at the helm of the ministry of external affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) are proceeding on the assumption that at the eleventh hour, a meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf may take place on the margins of the South Asian summit.

Therefore, they have asked the Indian mission in Kathmandu to reserve rooms suitable for such a summit and put in place other protocol requirements and media facilities which will make the event hassle-free, should the meeting be held.

Although Indian officials are unwilling to concede the possibility of a Vajpayee-Musharraf summit on record, they believe the turning point in the current stand-off between India and Pakistan came last week, moving such a summit from the realm of the unthinkable to a distinct possibility.

That turning point was a briefing by national security adviser Brajesh Mishra to the ambassadors of G8 (Group of Eight) countries.

The cables sent out by G8 ambassadors after the briefing, said one Western diplomat here, triggered the biggest Christmas-time diplomatic activity since World War II. The cables sized up the situation in the sub-continent with clarity and urgency.

Intense activity in all the G8 capitals and among them ultimately resulted in Musharraf moving reluctantly against some of the terrorists accused by India of complicity in the attack on Parliament. Musharraf was left with very little choice.

After the substance of Mishra’s briefing was communicated by the G8 envoys to their respective capitals, President Jacques Chirac of France spoke on the phone to President George W. Bush. He stressed the need to see Pakistan took action against those terrorists against whom India had evidence of terrorist activity, which was shared with “friendly countries”.

Bush then spoke to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose envoy in Islamabad had already made a demarche seeking such action.

Also came the message from the Kremlin to the Americans that they must call the spades made in Pakistan what they really are. President Vladimir Putin’s aides, in fact, reasoned that if India did not act, it would suffer further acts of terror.

An Indian official summed up the situation after Musharraf’s actions against the Lashkar and Jaish thus: India is not satisfied with what the Pakistani junta has done, but its actions have made New Delhi hopeful.

From this hope springs the expectations of an eleventh hour summit meeting in Kathmandu.

   

 
 
PREMATURE END TO BIG BULL RUN 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Dec. 31: 
Tonight, Mumbai burnt an effigy of an old man at several places in a symbolic gesture ushering out 2001.

Some hours ago, as evening spread out against the sky, a not-so-old man turned to ashes at Chandanwadi crematorium, taking with him dud dreams Mumbai thrives on.

Big Bull Harshad Mehta died early this morning at the young age of 47. A story that began in the small town of Raipur ended at Thane civil hospital 40 minutes after midnight, starting its journey in middle-class rags to travel to richer than mere riches – represented by the Toyota Lexus the Big Bull rode -- and winding up somewhere in the middle.

The year is not ending right for Mumbai. The Big Bull is dead, but it’s not so much the passing away of the person that carries over into the new year. It’s the death of the symbol. Harshad Mehta, the showman he was, had posed for pictures in the zoo feeding bears.

The share market is just about alive — the Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index ended the day today at a shade over 3262 points — and, given the coincidence, comparisons were inevitable with the heady times of the early nineties.

Harshad had taken the sensex up by nearly 2600 points in four miracle months of 1991-92, firing dreams of millions among people of modest means. Those were the times: Associated Cement Companies represented it. Harshad winched it up from Rs 300 to Rs 10,000 in April 1992.

And, these are the times: symbolised again by ACC. It stood at Rs 151.80 today.

The Big Bull is dead, but the gored market is still nursing the wounds left festering for nearly a decade now.

He showed how the system could be worked to generate a boom, taking money out of banks – public and private – illegally to ramp up stock prices. He gave India its first major stock market scandal, all of Rs 5,000-crore worth, and brought ready forward, double ready forward and bankers’ receipts into newspaper vocabulary. Those were all instruments he manipulated to pump money out of the banking system.

Ketan Parekh, the clone, tried something similar recently and, like his more famous predecessor, got caught.

Over these 10 years, Harshad has been running from court to court and from court to jail and back to court, trying in the spare time to resurrect his marketman’s career. Curiously, his right to trade was not taken away even after the securities scam.

When he died, he was in custody, held in Thane central jail on charges of share fraud.

His wife Jyoti was about to take off on a pilgrimage to Chitrakoot, but was overwhelmed by the events. He left behind two sons and innumerable investors who made their money when he had a free run of the market and lost when he went under and down in history as India’s biggest scam artist.

Harshad’s two brothers, Sudhir and Ashwin, who rose and fell with him and had been arrested simultaneously, were given bail by Bombay High Court so that they could attend the last rites.

The CBI had picked up the Mehta brothers on November 9 on charges of misappropriating Rs 250 crore worth of “missing” shares of 90 blue chip companies. With their bail pleas rejected, the brothers were put in Thane jail pending trial.

With the Big Bull’s death, a question mark hangs over the fate of cases pending against the Mehtas in the securities scam. Harshad was the main accused in all 72 cases. Many of these may now die with him.

A fellow broker who had shared the boomtime spotlight with the Big Bull recalled that Harshad had a premonition of death. He had been talking about it for some time, referring to his father who died young.

Harshad complained of chest pain late last night and was taken to Thane civil hospital, where he died of a heart attack around 12.40 am.

A doctor at the hospital said on condition of anonymity that when Harshad was brought “he was smiling and even chatted with the nurses and other staff”.

A senior police officer, ruling out foul play, said the ECG done in the hospital showed a failing heart. In a rare move, the government had the post-mortem videotaped, done at the state-run JJ Hospital.

His relatives told reporters at the hospital that the broker did not have a history of heart problems. Jail officials said Harshad used to work out in his cell for about an hour to keep fit. They claimed he had “overexercised” yesterday.

   

 
 
ATAL SETS FRIENDSHIP TERMS FOR PERVEZ 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 31: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has appealed to General Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani leadership to shed their anti-India mindset and stop cross-border terrorism to win over India as a permanent ally.

In a New Year address to the nation — advance copies of which were released to the press — Vajpayee praised Pakistan for joining the international coalition against terrorism in Afghanistan, though it meant turning against the Taliban.

The praise did not come unqualified. “But what was their real intention? If it was the same as that of the international community — namely to root out terrorism and extremism — then I extend my hand of alliance to them,” Vajpayee said.

“I wish to tell them: ‘Shed your anti-India mentality and take decisive steps to stop cross-border terrorism, and you will find India willing to walk more than half the distance to work closely with Pakistan to resolve, through dialogue, any issue, including the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir.’”

If his Kumarakom musings last year was to reaffirm his secular credentials after a frenzied Parliament debate on the Babri masjid issue, Vajpayee’s New Year reflections are clearly meant to take the heat off the war rhetoric the attack on Parliament has generated.The introspective address -- called “Let this be every Indian’s New Year resolve: We shall triumph against terrorism” -- never loses sight of its main theme — terrorism. But it has been carefully calibrated to make it clear that a war against terrorism does not mean war with Pakistan.

The BJP and the Sangh parivar had tried to equate the two, saying terrorism could not be rooted out without first engaging Pakistan in a war.

But after America’s gentle but firm nudge last week not to embark on any adventurism across the border as long as its troops were stationed in Pakistan, there were changes in the government and the BJP’s pronouncements.

The climbdown was evident in the political resolution the BJP adopted at its national executive on Saturday. The resolution endorsed the government’s diplomatic offensive without urging immediate military action.

Stating that he was still committed to his affirmation in the Kumarakom musings of seeking a “bold and innovative” solution to the Kashmir problem, Vajpayee’s message to Islamabad was: “Our efforts will be further intensified, if Pakistan demonstrated its matching sincerity to have peace with India.”

He pleaded with Pakistan to leave the “past of futile hostilities behind us and embrace a future free of tension and full of mutually beneficial possibilities”.

In a throwback to the invitation sent to Musharraf for the Agra summit, Vajpayee identified “poverty, illiteracy, disease and unemployment” as the mutual enemies of both countries and said terrorism and extremism would not vanquish them.

“Therefore, let us join hands to fight this enemy and, along with other countries in South Asia, make our region a land of peace, plenty and all-round progress. This is the challenge of the New Year and of the new century. Let us accept it in a spirit of cooperation,” he said.

Vajpayee warned that the world would be forced to judge Pakistan’s participation in the coalition as “opportunistic” if it continued to promote or condone cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. “It will conclude that Pakistan, far from being a part of the solution, will remain a part of the problem itself. It is for Pakistan to make the right choice,” he said.

The address — three-fourths of which was meant for the neighbour — urged liberal and “right-thinking” Pakistanis to ruminate on the fate which befell the Taliban.

“It is unfortunate that anti-India forces in Pakistan have been allowed to play with fire, apparently with no thought given to what this fire can do to Pakistan itself. I have heard and read many perceptive Pakistanis express serious concern over their government’s appeasement of terrorism fuelled by religious extremism... The fate of the first game plan (encouraging the Taliban) has already been sealed. The fate of the second will be no different,” he warned.

   

 
 
DRESS REHEARSAL FOR NUCLEAR WAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 31: 
Waging war on a fifth column is part of the current armed forces mobilisation that has seen troops and equipment moved to the western sector in the wake of the December 13 attack on Parliament.

The army, navy and air force have been put on alert and their assets moved under an operation codenamed “Sangram”. Within the ambit of “Sangram” is a smaller army wargame that is categorised in military jargon as “hinterland security exercise”. The hinterland security exercise is codenamed “Operation Parakrama”.

“Parakrama” is aimed at fighting militants who might inflict damage on a war effort from the rear. It gets rolling in the Rajasthan desert later this week. Part of “Parakrama” is training and equipping troops for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. This is the second time that the army is conducting an exercise on nuclear warfare. The last, held in early 2001, was codenamed “Operation Poorna Vijay”.

Irrespective of the hectic diplomacy that is now taking place, any strike on militant targets that might take place as a result of the current mobilisation will be under “Operation Sangram”, defence sources said.

“Op Sangram” is so large that the army has also moved a few non-combatant units as back-up to forces in the front. Deployments under “Op Sangram” along the international boundary and the Line of Control are nearly complete.

The sources said, Pakistani troop deployment along its border with India was also close to optimum levels. However, Pakistan was not immediately moving all elements of a corps that is helping the US in a “hammer-and-anvil” operation in the Tora Bora mountains in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

S. Krishnaswamy, who took over as the Chief of Air Staff today, said forces were “raring to go”. “I have had a job to do and we are doing it. We are playing it cool. We are poised and are keeping our powder dry. There is no rush, no hurry. As far as our readiness is concerned, we are in the status we should be in,” the Air Chief Marshal said.

Krishnaswamy said the IAF does not need to move too many assets near the borders. Asked if the IAF can attack targets across the Line of Control without crossing it, he said: “The air force as such can go and strike anywhere as long as it is within our reach. For targets across the LoC, that will depend on where these camps are.”

Asked if the tension on the border can snowball, he said: “There are certain things I cannot discuss. I have no apprehension. As such, I do not think the people of India and the people of Pakistan are people at war. There is a certain level of preparedness. We are cool about it.”

   

 
 
HOUSE SECURITY PANEL SHOPS FOR HI-TECH GADGETS 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 31: 
The joint parliamentary committee set up by Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi last week to put in place a foolproof security system for the House will meet on Thursday to short-list purchase of hi-tech surveillance gizmos.

Sources said some gadgets on the shopping list are remote-sensing cameras, bio-metric devices --which establish the identity of an I-card holder through palm-prints — and computers for entry gates to check whether the parking label, issued for a vehicle, tallies with its registration number.

Experts are also on the lookout for a car scanner, which can help detect explosives like RDX hidden inside a vehicle.

The US and Israeli embassies already have such gizmos to bolster their security network.

A fool-proof security system for the Parliament House Complex was discussed at the first meeting of the committee last Friday. At the two-hour meeting, a detailed presentation, based on the recommendations of the expert group on Parliament security, was made to the committee.

Apart from Balayogi, those who attended the meeting included deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed, Congress deputy leader in the House Shivraj Patil, BJP chief whip Vijay Kumar Malhotra, CPM leader Basudev Acharia and Telugu Desam parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu.

Anadicharan Sahu, T.N. Chaturvedi (both BJP) and Shankar Roychowdhury, Indepedent Rajya Sabha member and former chief of army staff, were also present.

The members stressed on the need for a state-of-the-art system in view of the global security concerns and the heightened threat perceptions in the region.

The parliamentary committee also discussed inputs received from an expert group set up by the Speaker on October 10, following the terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir legislative Assembly.

The group, comprising representatives of the Intelligence Bureau, the Special Protection Group, Delhi police, the Central Reserve Police Force and Parliament House Security, held 10 meetings before submitting their first report in November.

Balayogi has also formed a steering committee of officials under the chairmanship of the Lok Sabha secretary-general to study and process the report and provide inputs to the parliamentary committee on security.

   

 
 
JANA ECHOES EXECUTIVE ON WAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Dec. 31: 
The BJP continues to blow hot and cold towards Pakistan.

On a day when foreign minister Jaswant Singh called the reported arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba leaders in Pakistan a “step forward in the correct direction”, BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi described the massing of troops on the border a “preventive” measure and not an offensive gesture.

Krishnamurthi also endorsed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s decision not to meet Pervez Musharraf at the Saarc summit in Kathmandu.

However, the BJP seems to have picked up the cue from the political resolution adopted by the national executive over the weekend and reined in the hawks. The party chief stressed that the BJP never advocated war “because we know it has serious implications”.

Addressing the customary year-end news conference, Krishnamurthi said: “All the four wars we fought since Independence were thrust on us. India never bargained for war and is still not angling for one. But it is the basic responsibility of the country and the government to prepare for any contingency. So the defence authorities are taking the care they ought to.”

Asked to explain the statements by various BJP leaders after the December 13 attack on Parliament in which they urged the government to cross the Line of Control (LoC) and smash terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, he said: “The party has never advocated hot pursuit. Only individuals may have said such things.”

When Krishnamurthi was reminded that the “individuals” included parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra, he said: “I have not come across such statements. The question of hot pursuit is left to the government.”

He also denied that the Centre had acted under US pressure when asked if the conciliatory signals were a response to defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s warning that India must not indulge in adventurism as long as his country’s men and materials were based in Pakistan.

“This government doesn’t work under any pressure. Whatever agenda is pursued will be decided by India and the Indian government.”

He also dismissed a suggestion that the BJP and its front organisations were whipping up war hysteria to consolidate their votes for the Uttar Pradesh elections. “Why do you look at everything through the prism of elections? Electoral politics is an internal matter of the country and have nothing to do with happenings on the border.”

Asserting that the nation should be focused on rooting out terrorism, Krishnamurthi claimed there was “no question of hawks and doves in the BJP”.

“All that the BJP and country want today is that terrorism, aided and abetted by the ISI, should be (up)rooted from our soil.” The means and modalities would be worked out by the government, he added.

Interestingly, he seized upon a statement from former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral which says a renewed dialogue between Vajpayee and Musharraf on the Saarc sidelines will be of “no consequence” as vindication of the government’s decision.

“For the Prime Minister to go and talk with Musharraf is out of tune with the mind and mood of the nation as a whole. I congratulate Mr Gujral for his statement because he represents the mood of the country,” Krishnamurthi said.

   

 
 
ARMY, MILITANTS BLEED IN KASHMIR 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD
 
Srinagar, Dec. 31: 
Kashmir’s killing fields exploded in a fresh burst of violence this morning after militants stormed a heavily guarded army camp in Kupwara, killing one soldier, police sources said.

The army suffered more casualties when two soldiers died and six others were wounded in heavy Pakistani shelling on Indian positions along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Jammu region.

But the army registered a big success in the Shopian area of Pulwama district in south Kashmir when troops shot dead eight members of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, including three foreign mercenaries, a defence spokesman said today.

Police sources said the fidayeen militants, who struck at the transit camp this morning, hurled grenades and fired from automatic weapons on the soldiers. “One soldier died on the spot,” the sources said.

Troops rushed to the spot and engaged the militants in a fierce encounter. Sources said one suicide attacker has been killed so far. “The transit camp has been encircled by the troops and massive searches are continuing,” they said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far. Senior police officers have also reached the scene.

Defence sources said Pakistani artillery targeted Indian positions in the Nowshehra, Pallanwalla and Poonch sectors from early today.

“The continued artillery and firing exchanges have forced villagers living near the LoC and the international border in the Jammu region to migrate to safer places,” they said. Indian soldiers were returning the fire.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 25.7°C (-1)
Minimum: 14.2°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Maximum: 95%,
Minimum: 45%

Sunrise: 6.20 am

Sunset: 4.57 pm

Today

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

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