Between smiles, terror lines
Attack rerun near Assembly
Job messenger goes jobless
US piles Gulf pressure on Pakistan
Blair blinks at attacks parallel
Twins tower over Saarc
Savings scam
Powder and picture fuel anthrax fear
Calcutta Weather

 
 
BETWEEN SMILES, TERROR LINES 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
Kathmandu, Jan. 2: 
India is trying to get a mention of the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament in the final Saarc document in an attempt to keep up the pressure on Pakistan and get other countries in the region to rally behind it.

“It’s about time we bring on board India’s concern about the impact of terrorism in the region,” a senior Indian diplomat said at the end of the day-long negotiations. The official added: “We want to highlight that terrorism is the true enemy of social progress and development in South Asia.”

The day’s most-talked-about event, however, was the handshake between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Abdus Sattar. It was, perhaps, the coolest and one of the briefest encounters between the two. But it was enough to spark speculation here that the two foreign ministers have had an exclusive meeting.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said a meeting with Sattar in Kathmandu was not at the top of the Indian foreign minister’s priority list. “He is primarily and principally here to attend the meeting of (the) Saarc council of ministers.”

Responding to a question on Pakistan’s demand that India should provide evidence against the 20 terrorists it has listed and inform Islamabad of the specific cases against them, Rao argued: “This refrain of evidence from Pakistan does not create a climate conducive for dialogue between the two countries.”

Although a clear picture is yet to emerge on whether the two foreign ministers will meet on the Saarc sidelines, indications are clear that India is now stressing on strengthening the forum’s existing provision on terrorism.

At the 1987 Saarc summit, also in Kathmandu, the grouping of the seven South Asian nations had passed the first convention on suppression of terrorist activities. But Delhi feels events in the one-and-a-half decade since have overtaken the convention and it’s now time for a fresh and stronger legal and institutional mechanism.

The legal advisers to the Saarc countries are scheduled to meet in the Sri Lankan capital soon to work out a mechanism to fight terrorism.

Although most Saarc nations favour such a mechanism, they are averse to specifically mentioning any event in the final document.

To make it acceptable, Delhi will cite the July 24 attack on Colombo airport by the Tamil Tigers and the Maoist violence in Nepal while trying to make place for terrorist attacks in India.

Pakistan and Bangladesh, though signatories to the earlier Saarc convention on suppression of terrorism, have dragged their feet in bringing enabling legislation. Both have argued in the past that while taking steps against terrorists, governments should also focus on “the root cause of terrorism”, an obvious reference to Kashmir.

The terrorist attacks on September 11 in the US have dramatically changed the international attitude towards terrorism. Taking advantage of this and to keep up the pressure on Pakistan, Delhi now wants the members not only to highlight terrorist attacks in India, but also drive home that no country in the region is safe from the menace.

The tough measures India wishes other countries in the region to take are almost an echo of what it has already asked Islamabad to do against the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

It has proposed that member nations should freeze the assets of terrorists, arrest the leaders and ban the organisations. “Even if this happens, we will have achieved a lot,” an Indian diplomat said.

   

 
 
ATTACK RERUN NEAR ASSEMBLY 
 
 
FROM MUKHTAR AHMAD AND SEEMA GUHA
 
Jan. 2: 
Grenades exploded near the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly today, reviving memories of December 13 and a devastating mobile-bomb attack on the legislature complex three months ago.

Twenty-two people, mostly security personnel were injured in the attack at the busy Jehangir Chowk, a stone’s throw away from the main gate of the Assembly in Srinagar. Unconfirmed reports said a policeman died in hospital.

No militant outfit has claimed responsibility for today’s attacks. They came hours after Kashmiri newspapers carried a statement attributed to Jaish-e-Mohammad, which vowed “new, deadly” attacks on security forces.

But the grenade blasts did not immediately evoke from Delhi the customary response blaming Pakistan. With the world looking for reassuring signals from the subcontinent, India appears to have decided to hold fire for the time being.

Officials said in private that terrorist attacks, especially in Kashmir, will continue for at least another three months. “Islamabad needs time to crack down on the terrorist groups,” a senior official said.

Officials in Delhi believe that the grenade blasts could have been engineered by India-based cadre of the militant groups to send a signal that the Pakistan crackdown would not affect them.

Desperate measures are usual in such situations to stay in the limelight. In Lucknow, officials received an e-mail, purportedly from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, saying the Taj Mahal would be blown up.

Besides, the role of rogue elements are not ruled out. “Terrorist outfits do not always toe the master’s line,” an official said.

Pakistan, too, tried to cool tempers by condemning yesterday’s militant attack in Poonch in which six members of a minority community family were killed.

   

 
 
JOB MESSENGER GOES JOBLESS 
 
 
FROM SUJAN DUTTA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 2: 
The publisher of Employment News is being sacked.

Publications Division, probably the country’s largest publisher of books, periodicals and journals such as the weekly tabloid on job opportunities, is being put on the fast track to closure.

The division’s guardian, the information and broadcasting ministry, has tentatively identified the “public service” publisher and the Research, Reference and Training Division as the two departments where the shutters can be downed. The finance ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office have turned on the heat for the implementation of a cost-cutting exercise.

Last week, the I&B secretary held a meeting with the heads of all media units of the ministry. The PMO had asked the ministry to plan its downsizing by December 31. Though this was not an “ultimatum”, the finance ministry has been sending out signals that budgetary allocations for the next year could be jeopardised.

But minister Sushma Swaraj and her team — currently working to convert “downsizing” into “rightsizing” — have said they want further discussions with the finance ministry.

The Publications Division has a network of 400 agents and a staff strength of about 700. It publishes 21 periodicals — such as Employment News in English and Rozgar Samachar — and “books on subjects of national importance” apart from organising fairs and exhibitions. In 1999-2000, it had an annual budget of Rs 12.25 crore, of which Rs 6.5 crore was spent on the staff.

Since 1941, the division has brought out 7,000 titles, of which only 1,500 are in circulation.

The K.P. Geethakrishnan committee, which has recommended slashing of expenses in six ministries, has noted: “The publishing industry has also grown in size and become extensive. There is no need for an exclusive media unit to undertake publication of books. Any major project for production of books on special subjects that may be identified can always be negotiated with major publishing houses.”

The National Book Trust under the ministry for human resources development, the committee has said, has expertise in producing books and organising fairs. Employment News and Rozgar Samachar are produced by NBT and published by the division. The committee has recommended that the publication of these tabloids can be entrusted to the directorate of employment and training under the labour ministry.

The Research, Reference and Training Division is a much smaller media unit with 60 staffers. It publishes the India Reference Annual, a database on the country, and periodicals, Development Digest and Media Update, fortnightly. In 1999-2000, it had a budget of Rs 99 lakh, of which Rs 53 lakh was staff expenditure. The Geethakrishnan committee has recommended that it should be downsized, retaining staff essential only for India Reference Annual.

   

 
 
US PILES GULF PRESSURE ON PAKISTAN 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Jan. 2: 
The Bush administration has quietly opened a new, but potentially effective front to put pressure on Pakistan to rein in the terrorists.

The decision of six Gulf Arab heads of state to jointly condemn the December 13 attack on Parliament is being interpreted in Pakistan as the result of US pressure on Gulf states to wholeheartedly join the global war against terror and help, as part of that process, to eliminate terror networks which are active in Pakistan.

The six Gulf leaders holding their annual summit in the Omani capital of Muscat on New Year’s-eve, surprised fellow Islamic countries by condemning last month’s attack in New Delhi.

Never before has the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) spoken about an issue which does not directly affect them or concern their region.

Diplomatic sources linked to the summit said President Pervez Musharraf phoned each of the Gulf leaders at the summit to seek their support against India and to ensure a more positive outcome at Muscat in favour of Islamabad. Moving away from support for Islamabad or even neutrality in the Indo-Pak dispute on the part of GCC is like cutting the ground from under Musharraf’s feet.

Pakistan relies heavily on doles from the emirs and sheikhs who rule the Gulf. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers in the Gulf regularly send remittances which help maintain Islamabad’s reserves of foreign currency.

The decisive shift by the GCC away from Islamabad comes amid worry that the United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to a huge Pakistani expatriate population, has altogether stopped issuing visas to Pakistanis.

There has been no official word from UAE authorities about any ban, but for several weeks now, Pakistani passport holders have simply not been getting visas to visit or stay in the UAE amid new concerns in Abu Dhabi and Dubai about sources of terror in Pakistan.

The last thing the sheikhdoms of the Gulf want is any influx of Islamists from Pakistan who could upset the brittle equations in their countries.

But more than any economic impact of actions by the Gulf states, the worry for Musharraf is the potential loss of a moral sheen that support by theocratic Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia represents.

In a concession to Musharraf’s efforts to retain their support, the Gulf leaders called on the UN “Security Council to urgently intervene and shoulder its responsibility in maintaining peace and stability in that important region (South Asia) and prevent a continuation of the deterioration to an undesirable level”.

But it was cold comfort for Pakistan’s president who last week saw Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah spend four days in Abu Dhabi with UAE President Shaikh Zayed charting the GCC’s shift in policy.

America’s hand in the Gulf summit was also visible in moves in Muscat to incorporate Yemen into the GCC. This will be done in phases.

While Abdullah and Zayed drafted the GCC’s tricky pronouncements on India and Pakistan, Oman and Qatar, in separate statements by their foreign ministries, condemned the attack on Parliament.

Peres to visit India

Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres will discuss bilateral, regional and international issues with Indian leaders and seek New Delhi’s “active support” in the West Asia crisis during his five-day visit to India next week. This is his third trip to India in little more than a year.

Peres will reach New Delhi on Monday and hold meetings with foreign minister Jaswant Singh. He is also expected to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and other senior political dignitaries.

“(The) Israeli foreign minister is visiting India at the invitation of external affairs minister Jaswant Singh when he visited Israel in June 2000. The reciprocal visit is part of the high-level dialogue between the two countries to boost bilateral ties while exchanging views on bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interests,” said Indian ambassador to Israel R.S. Jassal.

   

 
 
BLAIR BLINKS AT ATTACKS PARALLEL 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Jan. 2: 
Despite the best efforts of the Vajpayee government, neither Britain nor the US sees a parallel between the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 and the assault on the Indian Parliament on December 13.

This was made clear today in London after Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, confirmed that Prime Minister Tony Blair will be leaving this weekend and expecting to spend just over a day in Bangladesh, three to four days in India and a couple of days in Pakistan.

Although Blair will want to talk about trade and aid, especially with India, the visit has a domestic dimension as well, given that Britain has 1.5 million people of Indian origin, some very influential, over 5,00,000 Pakistanis and 3,00,000 Bangladeshis.

In the most diplomatic language possible, the British Prime Minister will argue that the Bush-Blair doctrine of pursuing terrorists to the countries which support them does not really apply to India because the Kashmir dispute is a historic one.

However, Blair will press President Pervez Musharraf to do more to curb Kashmiri terrorist groups based in Pakistan while urging both Islamabad and Delhi to exercise “restraint”. As matters now stand, Musharraf is seen as a crucial western ally whom neither Bush nor Blair will do anything to destabilise — even if he is a military dictator.

From Straw’s comments today, it is obvious that the British and the Americans are coordinating their approach to India and Pakistan. It has, at least, been accepted that the Kashmiri terrorist groups are based in Pakistan.

Straw said today: “The position of the UK government as of the US and the UN is that we understand and recognise that India and Pakistan have a different point of view and they are entitled to their different points of view about the future of Kashmir. However, in the new climate against terrorism, it is not acceptable there should be groups in either of those countries — and they happen to be within Pakistan — who seek to pursue their political objectives by the violent means of terrorists.”

He echoed Indian sentiments when he added: “It is also very important that we appreciate that there has been not one but two attacks, right at the heart of Indian democracy, first on the state Assembly in Srinagar on October 1 — and apparently there has been a further attack there today — and then on the national Parliament on December 13.

“If these had happened in the Edinburgh and London Parliaments of the UK, the political pressure on us would be very intense. Action has to be taken, as well as the fact that both sides, recognising that this issue can in the end only be resolved by discussion, have to show restraint in terms of military build-up.”

   

 
 
TWINS TOWER OVER SAARC 
 
 
FROM ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Kathmandu, Jan. 2: 
No matter how much officialdom insists that Saarc is a multilateral, and not a bilateral, forum, the tension between India and Pakistan continues to cast its shadow on the deliberations here.

Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers met today “to shake hands and smile” — their first-ever meeting since the Agra summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf last July, barring some brief moments in Kabul where both had gone to attend the swearing-in of the interim government of Hamid Karzai last month.

But there was no indication yet if they will meet on the Saarc sidelines to try and defuse tension between the two countries.

Instead, there was a jarring note today. If the softening of rhetoric in the past three days following the arrest of some militant leaders raised hopes of a meeting between Jaswant Singh and Abdus Sattar, Islamabad’s reiteration yesterday that New Delhi should provide evidence against 20 “terrorists and criminals” based in Pakistan seemed to have soured notes once again.

There were other indications of the India-Pakistan tension rubbing off on the Saarc meeting. One of these today spilled on to Kathmandu streets. While the Saarc foreign ministers were preparing this afternoon to begin their work on drafting the conventions for the summit meeting on Friday and Saturday, a small procession wound its way to the Saarc headquarters near the royal palace here.

The rallyists carrying placards that read “No to war”, “No to terrorism” and “Vajpayee-Musharraf must meet” were journalists from the seven Saarc countries who were here to take part in a seminar on “Media and Peace”, organised by the South Asia Free Media Association.

They halted traffic briefly and their placards drew groups of curious onlookers. But they reminded the people once again of the escalating tension on India-Pakistan borders as the backdrop to this Saarc meeting.

Indian and Pakistani journalists in the procession showed their differing points of view, albeit in a lighter vein. While most Pakistanis carried placards reading “No to war”, the Indians seem to have preferred the one that read “No to terrorism”. Though they exchanged jokes on this, the message was not lost on other participants.

The Nepalese foreign office spokesman, Pushkar Rajbhandari, as well as Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao, however, refused to read any message in the “handshakes and smiles” exchanged by Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers.

The focus at today’s meeting of the foreign ministers was on economic and social issues involving the member countries. The ministers discussed drafts of two conventions – one on combating “the crime of trafficking of women and children for prostitution” and the other on promotion of child welfare in south Asia.

Media tit-for-tat

Indian and Pakistani officials today barred journalists from each other’s media briefings. At the Indian briefing, external affairs ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao refused to take a question from a Pakistani television journalist.

As the journalist stood up to pose his question, she asked him to identify himself. “This is an Indian briefing meant for Indian journalists,” she said.

Later, Indian journalists who went to the Pakistani briefing were shown the door.

   

 
 
SAVINGS SCAM 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Gandhinagar, Jan. 2: 
The Gujarat government today superseded the management of Charotar Cooperative Bank and General Cooperative Bank (Genco) to appoint administrators after the Reserve Bank of India suspended the troubled banks from the clearing house.

“Once the administrators are appointed, they will file against those responsible for irregularities in the two cooperative banks, ‘’ said cooperative minister Vadi Patel, adding that the state would initiate legal proceedings to attach the properties of defaulters and board members.

Last week, the RBI directed the managing director of Anand-based Charotar bank to resign after it found irregularities in the bank’s functioning.

The crises at Laxmi Cooperative Bank, Genco and Charotar bank look like a replay of last year’s Madhavpura Cooperative Bank scam. But if Patel is to be believed, the irregularities in the cooperative sector that have come to light could be the tip of the iceberg.

   

 
 
POWDER AND PICTURE FUEL ANTHRAX FEAR 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Jan. 2: 
Two postal workers took ill after handling an envelope containing a pouch of white powder and a photo of Osama bin Laden in the second suspected case of anthrax in the city, police said today.

The workers, Abdul Aziz Maldaar and Gopal Wadekar, were sorting through the new year’s greeting cards at Cambala Hill post office on Monday when they stumbled onto its contents. They inhaled the powder after the swirling fan blew the packet open.

Maldaar, 36, a resident of Vikhroli, and Wadekar, 46, a resident of Dindoshi, soon complained of giddiness, uneasiness and chest pain, police said. They were immediately hospitalised. No other workers were present in the room at the time.

The suspected anthrax powder was sent yesterday to Haffkine Institute, the state-run microbiology lab, for examination. The preliminary results were expected tomorrow, police said.

Anthrax scare had gripped the state secretariat on October 24 after envelopes containing suspicious powder were received by the offices of chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal.

While Haffkine Institute had declared the powder negative in a test, a high-tech private lab in neighbouring Thane had declared it positive. To clear the confusion, the government had sent the samples to the Defence Research Development Organisation’s lab in Gwalior, which had then tested the powder, only to find it negative.

Police refused to disclose the name of the sender and addressee of the suspicious greeting card found at the post office, saying the disclosure would affect the ongoing investigation.

Postal sources said the envelope was addressed to one Deshpande on Carmichael road.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum:25.1°C (-2)
Minimum: 12.7°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum:93%,
Minimum: 31%

Sunrise: 6.18 am

Sunset: 5.05 pm

Today

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

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