Open to talks by any other name
Proof first, action later: Pak
Atal’s musings bemuse party
All drug trials under govt watch
Eye in sky gives peek into Pak border build-up
Lashkar whiff in minority massacre
PM predecessors seek more time for Pervez
Border-smug Washington looks to Kathmandu
Saarc limelight on terror
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Jan. 1: 
Away from the ambiguous public posture, India and Pakistan are exploring the possibility of facilitating a meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf in Kathmandu.

Both the leaders will be in the Nepal capital to attend the Saarc summit beginning January 4.

India is officially maintaining that Pakistan is yet to take “credible” and “visible” action against terrorists. But South Block officials and close aides of the Prime Minister are not ruling out a meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf later this week.

The biggest problem staring the Prime Minister’s advisers seems to be that of semantics: they are not sure how to describe a dialogue between the two. If Vajpayee does hold talks with the Pakistani President, Delhi is not in favour of calling it a “meeting on the sidelines of the Saarc summit” — the diplomatese for a “mini-summit”.

It would be difficult for Vajpayee to sell a “mini-summit” to hardliners in his party as well as outside since the government has been vocal and persistent in its refusal to talk with Pakistan.

Both India and Pakistan are under mounting pressure from other countries, particularly the US, to give positive signals that would assure the world that the two are trying to break the impasse through a dialogue.

India and Pakistan today sent a message of reassurance by renewing a 10-year-old agreement under which both are committed not to attack each other’s nuclear installations and facilities.

Officials said Vajpayee and Musharraf would exchange pleasantries at Kathmandu. But the test for the Prime Minister’s diplomacy team lies in making the meeting, if it takes place, look a little more than a “mere exchange of pleasantries” but a lot less than a “bilateral meeting”.

The Indian leadership since yesterday has started dropping hints that it was willing to bring down the temperature in the volatile region. A brief meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf will help bolster that effort.

Two reasons are being cited for Vajpayee’s willingness to be a little more accommodative of Pakistan. The steps taken by the Musharraf regime against the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba over the last three days have raised some hope in Delhi that Islamabad is finally cracking down on terrorists.

The second reason is the assessment made by the Prime Minister at Sunday’s meeting with political parties. Vajpayee realised that though most of the Opposition parties had rallied behind him, the stress was on a diplomatic, rather than military, offensive.

Vajpayee chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security this evening to review the fast-paced developments in the region. After the meeting, foreign minister Jaswant Singh remained non-committal on whether he would meet his Pakistani counterpart Abdus Sattar in Kathmandu — a possibility if the Vajpayee-Musharraf dialogue does not work out.

In Kathmandu, Pakistani officials said the Saarc “retreat” could provide an opportunity for a meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf. On the eve of unveiling the Saarc declaration, the leaders usually meet at the retreat to iron out differences.

Indian foreign secretary Chokila Iyer neither denied nor confirmed such a meeting. “No meeting has been planned,” she said in Kathmandu. Officials said it is possible that both Vajpayee and Musharraf would stay at the Soaltee Crown Plaza Hotel.


Islamabad, Jan. 1: 
Pakistan today demanded evidence against 20 terrorists India wants handed over and said no action would be taken without proof.

But intensifying its crackdown on militants, Islamabad arrested 100 more activists of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, which are blamed for the attack on the Indian Parliament. Most of the arrests were made in Sindh. Offices of the militant outfits in the province were sealed.

Foreign office spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan and defence spokesman Major General Rashid Quereshi said India had offered no evidence against the 20 terrorists it named yesterday.

“We will certainly take action if evidence is provided. In the absence of evidence, no action can be taken,” Khan said.

“It becomes very difficult to even consider any action if there is no proof,” echoed Quereshi.

Reminded by journalists that Jaish chief Masood Azhar returned to Pakistan after being freed in exchange for passengers of the Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar, he said this was no evidence.

“Just because he was released after the hijack does not amount to evidence…. I do not think there is any extradition treaty with Pakistan,” Quereshi said.

Asked if the crackdown on Kashmiri militants means that Islamabad is no longer supporting these groups, Khan said Pakistan is supporting the freedom struggle of Kashmiris and will continue to do so.

“The arrest of the people in Pakistan has nothing to do with Indian demands. It is our internal matter and action is being taken against those who are disturbing peace in Pakistan,” he said.

Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, said the crackdown on the militant groups would harm the “freedom struggle” in Kashmir. The Hizb-ul Mujahideen also criticised the crackdown.

Quereshi accused India of continuing the military build-up along the border and said this was posing a serious threat. India denied the allegation, saying “the mobilisation is more or less complete”.


New Delhi, Jan. 1: 
The BJP is in a fix: how to package and sell the Centre’s new line on terrorism.

The government is trying to de-escalate border tension and restrict the “war” against Pakistan to a diplomatic offensive, at least for the time being. But after whipping up a frenzy among its cadre on crossing the Line of Control and smashing terrorist camps, the party now finds Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s appeal to Pakistan for peace in his New Year musings unpalatable.

“The musings were amusing. He was appealing to none but unburdening his own views,” said a senior leader about the introspective address. “He was like a tabalchi (tabla player) who makes different sounds with his two hands. It’s a typical habit of his to express his rambling thoughts without making any commitment on behalf of the government and the BJP.”

As in the past, BJP sources said their “last hope” to reassert the party’s hardline stand on Pakistan rested with home minister L.K. Advani, who is scheduled to visit the US this month. “Things will crystallise after he returns. He is expected to do a lot of tough talking with the US and apprise them of the ground realities on terrorism. What is to be seen is how the US reacts,” they said.

The implication was Advani would be relied on to tell Washington a few “home truths” and “correct” the perception that Delhi scaled down its war rhetoric after America warned against any adventurism across the border as long as its troops were in Pakistan.

The BJP feels it was Advani’s “alertness” during the Agra summit that stopped India from signing a joint declaration, perceived to be in favour of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. “Advaniji saved the day for the country in Agra. He can be counted on to do it again,” sources said, adding that the party would formalise its next strategy against terrorism after Advani returns.

The BJP appears to have worked out a two-pronged approach. The jan jagran abhiyaan (mass awareness campaign) it has launched will disseminate details of the government’s diplomatic blitz against Islamabad with the message that if the Pakistan President does not mend his ways, other options would be considered.

At the same time, party hardliners would make suitable noises for the Hindutva constituency so as not to embarrass the government.

Sources indicated that the campaign would be more intensive in states going to polls. The BJP has involved its ex-servicemen’s cell, as it believes that all the three poll-bound states — Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab — have a big presence in the army.

“Most of the ex-servicemen cell members are from Uttar Pradesh, while Uttaranchal and Punjab are martial states,” said a general secretary.


New Delhi, Jan. 1: 
The government has directed that no institution will carry out clinical trials on a new drug without permission from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI).

The directive, which was issued today, will cover both clinical investigations as well as clinical experiments. The ruling on clinical trials places government control on all kinds of clinical research being carried out in the country. Earlier, private research organisations not funded by the government did not come under its scrutiny.

The directive is designed to stop experiments like the one which was carried out at a cancer centre in Kerala on a new drug on behalf of the Johns Hopkins University, which had sparked a major row over the way poor Indian patients were being used as guinea pigs to test new palliatives.

The regulation on clinical trials comes as part of the amendment brought about by the government in the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945, which will streamline approval procedures for the manufacture and import of new drugs and prescribe evaluation fees for examination of technical literature submitted by the applicants along with the application.

The research institutions that availed of government funds were governed by the guidelines of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Schedule Y to the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, which prescribes requirements and guidelines on clinical trails for the import and manufacture of new drugs, has also been amended to make post marketing surveillance (PMS) study mandatory.

A new appendix 1-A has also been introduced to provide for specific requirements for the approval of new drugs to guide subsequent applications for permission to manufacture the drug already approved.

Provision has also been introduced for suspension or cancellation of the permission given to an applicant if he fails to comply with the conditions of approval.

However, an appeal against such an order to the can be made to the Union government within 60 days.

Under the amended rules, application forms/approvals have now been prescribed for making applications for various types of permissions/approvals of new drug made to the Drugs Controller General (India), to facilitate submission of specific information in proper formats.

The applications are normally accompanied with voluminous technical information in respect of toxicity, safety, details of clinical trials, etc., but may lack certain other vital information required for consideration. Separate forms have been prescribed for the first time for filing applications for different categories of new drugs.

As the technical data submitted by the applicant needs detailed examination of the technical literature in consultation with experts to review safety and efficacy of the new drugs proposed to be marketed in the country, provisions have been made for prescribing evaluation fees for consideration of such applications. The system of levying such fees is prevalent in almost all developed countries.

The changes in these laws governing the grant of permission for new drugs have been made with a view to not only streamlining the examination of the application for introducing new drugs in the country in a more scientific way but also for expediting their disposal, said an official release.


Bangalore, Jan. 1: 
India’s defence think-tank is putting to good use pictures of troop and equipment mobilisation across the border beamed by the Technology Experiment Satellite (Tes), which was put into orbit recently.

As India undertakes its biggest military exercise in recent years to put pressure on Pakistan to rein in terrorists operating from its soil, defence authorities are privy to pictures taken by Tes, which can double up as a spy satellite.

The 1,008-kg satellite can even pick up images of artillery movement near the border. The first pictures beamed by the high-resolution satellite included scenes of devastation in Afghanistan.

“We have images of the defence preparedness across the border,” official sources said, hinting that the defence establishment was also sourcing pictures taken by Ikonos, a private satellite operator in the US. Ikonos has a satellite that beams high-resolution images similar to pictures shot by Tes.

“This is to get repetitive pictures of the region. Tes beams pictures of the region only when it is passing the region. It cannot be positioned at one spot,” official sources said. However, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is keeping the pictures under wraps.

After Isro launched Tes from a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota in October, India became the second country in the world after the US that could offer one-metre resolution images. The 44-metre PSLV had hurled into orbit, along with Tes, two tiny satellites — one from the European Space Agency and the other from Germany.

Tes is the sixth operational remote sensing satellite launched by Isro. The successful launch of Tes was considered significant as the satellite is seen as a precursor to the launch of fully-operational spy satellites.

Tes will also be used for mapping industry and geographical information services.


Srinagar, Jan. 1: 
Militants swooped down on Magran village in the border district of Poonch in Jammu last night and massacred six members of a family. Angered residents called a bandh in the area, paralysing life in the towns of the Poonch-Rajouri border belt.

Police said unidentified gunmen forced into the house of Khetar Paul Singh and penned fire on the residents from a close range. “Due to the heavy firing, five persons, including Khetar Paul Singh and his wife, died on the spot,” said a police officer. Two persons were seriously injured in the attack on the minority population in the state.

One of them, Ashok Kumar, died on the way to Poonch hospital. Another woman was airlifted to a hospital in Jammu. The victims have been identified as Baldev Raj, Khetar’s brother, Kuldeep Kumar and Madan Lal.

Troops in nearby areas rushed to the scene after the attack and launched a search operation. PTI quoted official sources as saying that that Lashkar-e-Toiba was behind the attack. Suspected Lashkar militants had killed four members of a family at Kathal in Rajouri district last Saturday.

In Poonch town, people refused to cremate the bodies and held demonstrations. As the bodies reached Geeta Bhavan from the village, all shops and business establishments downed shutters and vehicles went off the roads. The crowd raised anti-state government and anti-police slogans and said they would not cremate the bodies until Union home minister L.K. Advani or some other Central minister visited them.

Elsewhere in the Valley, militants ambushed a patrol party of the 28 Rashtriya Rifles at Chak Dajji in Baramulla this afternoon. Police said two soldiers were shot dead and four others were injured. Reinforcements have been rushed and a search operation has begun.

The orgy of violence continued with reports of militants strikes coming in from several places since last night. Four persons, including a woman, were shot dead and a police camp and a police picket established for protection of Sikhs in the Kashmir valley were attacked.

The woman, Sarwarah, was killed when militants raided her house at Aham-Sharief in Baramulla today and tried to abduct her guest. She resisted the gunmen and was shot. The militants fled with a hostage. Two persons fell to militant bullets in their houses at Poshkar-Khag in Badgam district last night. Another person was gunned down in Shalimar here today.

Militants also fired at a police camp at Waripora in Baramulla. Official sources said militants also attacked a police picket set up for protection of Sikhs in Anantnag district last night.


New Delhi, Jan. 1: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee today invited a former President and five former prime ministers for a luncheon discussion on the government’s diplomatic offensive against Islamabad, as part of his ongoing endeavour to involve the political establishment.

Those invited were R. Venkataraman, and the Prime Minister’s five predecessors — P.V. Narasimha Rao, V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral.

Government sources said Vajpayee briefed them about the diplomatic steps India has taken against Pakistan since the December 13 attack on Parliament. They said he told them further steps could be considered after the Centre had assessed Islamabad’s response to its slew of measures.

According to the sources, the leaders felt the Prime Minister should give Pervez Musharraf some time to act on India’s demands before formulating a response. They also cautioned him against an immediate strike.

Gujral and Chandra Shekhar had already made it clear they were against a war. Singh, too, is believed to have had a change of opinion though he and his Uttar Pradesh ally, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, initially clamoured for a strike across the Line of Control.

Gujral — whose forte was foreign policy — saw nothing wrong in Vajpayee and the Pakistan President meeting in the near future, but said they should be well prepared so that something concrete comes out of their interactions.

The luncheon comes in the wake of a similar meeting with Opposition leaders last Sunday, in which Vajpayee had managed to mobilise their support for his strategy of “let us first exhaust the diplomatic option” against Pakistan. Most of the leaders had come up with the suggestion that the government should give maximum scope to diplomatic measures and cautioned against intemperate utterances by ministers.

The Prime Minister went more than half the distance to accommodate the Opposition leaders by keeping out defence minister George Fernandes from the meeting. The Opposition still refuses to recognise Fernandes’ return to the Cabinet. In today’s meeting, too, only home minister L.K. Advani was present.

Vajpayee’s interactive sessions, sources close to him said, were meant as much to rebuff the hawks in the BJP and the Sangh parivar as to project the picture of a united political establishment. During the Kargil standoff, the Opposition had accused the government of keeping it in the dark about what was happening on the border.

Though both the government and the BJP have said the current crisis will not be politicised for gains in the coming Assembly polls, sources said Vajpayee would hardly want to risk an adverse campaign on a plank like national security.


Washington, Jan. 1: 
Three days after the Americans urged India and Pakistan to restrict military movements along their common border, the state department yesterday expressed satisfaction that there have been no new reports of actions which increased tension.

Philip Reeker, deputy spokesman, said: “Missile deployments and military movements can only heighten tension and uncertainty. I haven’t seen particular new reports.”

Reeker’s comments implying progress towards reducing the temperature in South Asia came as secretary of state Colin Powell made calls on New Year’s eve to discuss the India-Pakistan crisis with German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, and British foreign secretary Jack Straw.

Reeker, meanwhile, expressed hopes that meetings on the margins of the South Asian summit in Kathmandu would defuse tension.

“The fact is that they (India and Pakistan) are both going to be represented in Kathmandu. That gives them an opportunity for dialogue as well as their continued diplomatic ties. So that continues to be the message that we and others in the international community have given,” Reeker said.

The state department revealed that Powell had spoken to external affairs minister Jaswant Singh again on Sunday.

He spoke to Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf twice and once with Singh on Saturday.

Powell, said Reeker, “has had a regular dialogue now, almost daily and sometimes more than once a day, with President Musharraf”.

He shared with reporters the Bush administration’s belief that Musharraf is taking steps against terrorists in Pakistan with “public support because that is what is in the best interests of Pakistan, to not allow extremists to drive their agenda”.

At the same time, George W. Bush revealed that in his last conversation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the US President asked for an opportunity, “a chance to work with President Musharraf to bring the terrorists to justice”.

Bush said he had urged Musharraf “to do everything he could to crack down on the terrorist network that had bombed the Indian Parliament or raided the Indian Parliament”.

The President continued: “In my conversation with the Prime Minister (Vajpayee), I said I can understand how he feels — if someone attacked the US Capitol, I’d feel angry, too. I urged, I explained to the Indian Prime Minister that while I understood his anger, I was hoping that they were not headed for war.

“He (Musharraf) is cracking down hard (on terrorists) and I appreciate his efforts. Terror is terror, and the fact that the Pakistani President is after terrorists is a good sign.”

Blair South Asia tour

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will pay a four-day official visit to India from Friday and talk with Vajpayee in an effort to reduce tension in the region, says a PTI report from London.

Blair, who has established a close rapport with the Prime Minister after his flying visit to Delhi in November and Vajpayee’s two-day “official working visit” to London from November 12, has been playing a key role in the US-led alliance’s fight against terrorism.

Blair will begin his South Asian tour with an official trip to Dhaka followed by his visit to Islamabad. Official sources in London said he will also visit Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Blair will arrive in Bangalore on Friday on his three-day visit.

According to an official release, on arrival in the evening, the British Prime Minister will participate at the dinner hosted in his honour by Governor V.S. Ramadevi at the Raj Bhavan.

On January 5, Blair will participate at the inaugural function of the Partnership Summit, at the Infosys campus in Keonics Electronics City.

He will leave for Hyderabad on the morning of January six.


Kathmandu, Jan. 1: 
Although it was not on the agenda of the standing committee meeting of Saarc foreign secretaries here today, terrorism predictably took centrestage on the eve of the Saarc summit. The standing committee resolved to address the issue more closely at a meeting of legal experts in Colombo “at the earliest”.

The meeting went back to the Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism that was signed way back in 1987 at the last Saarc summit at Kathmandu. But the document remained defunct, as the member-countries did not enact their own legislation that the convention required them to do. India, however, claims that all member-countries other than Pakistan and Bangladesh did come up with some laws to curb domestic terrorism.

The acting Nepalese foreign minister Madhu Raman Acharya claimed that “all countries are in different stages of implementing the (1987) convention”.

Obviously, the immediate point of reference was the events relating to the terrorist strikes in the USA and the UN Security Council resolution on terrorism last September. India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said as much. The recent terrorism-related events, she said, have made it more urgent to “expedite the progress of the convention”.

A Saarc statement issued this evening also underscored the need for closer interaction among the police agencies to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime.

That terrorism, which was not on the agenda of the standing committee meeting, was given this importance could well be an attempt to build an atmosphere of unanimity for the summit, despite the tension between India and Pakistan. The Pakistan foreign secretary, Inamul Haque, declined to comment on the issue after the meeting. But Pakistan, too, did want to be seen opposed to the move and agreed to the meeting of legal experts to try and sort out the issue.

Sources later indicated that none of the countries expected the Colombo meeting to be a big leap forward because differences were certainly going to surface over the definition of terrorism.

The possibility of a meeting between Pakistan foreign minister Abdul Sattar and his Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, was being talked about this evening.

Rao, however, said “no concrete decision has been taken.” Indian sources here were talking about a “slight change” in the climate of mutual distrust and hostility over the past two days. While Sattar arrived here yesterday, Singh comes tomorrow when the Saarc ministerial conference begins.




Maximum: 24.7°C (-2)
Minimum: 14.18°C (+1)



Relative humidity

Maximum: 94%,
Minimum: 39%

Sunrise: 6.23 am

Sunset: 4.59 pm


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 13°C

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