Delhi frowns on Powell envoy plan
Blair balances Kashmir with tough talk on terror
Tech speak
Britain walks tightrope to retain Afghan focus
Hamas whiff in arrest
‘Formal’ shake
Camel race children rescued
Arms firms cool to ban lift

Kathmandu, Jan. 5: 
India is not pleased with US secretary of state Colin Powell’s proposal to send a special US envoy to help India and Pakistan reduce tension.

India’s foreign minister Jaswant Singh today reacted sharply to Powell’s statement during an interview with the BBC yesterday that the US was considering a proposal to appoint such an envoy. At an informal media interaction here after the inauguration of the Saarc summit, he dismissed the idea. “The US has embassies in New Delhi and Islamabad. Does it mean their staff in these embassies are not up to their tasks? Where is the need for a special envoy?” he asked.

Indian external affairs ministry officials here wondered how Powell could make this statement before discussing the proposal with India. His remark is being seen here as one more example of the US trying to put pressure on India to de-escalate tension and the military build-up on the India-Pakistan border.

India seemed particularly unhappy that Powell chose to make the remark in the course of the Saarc summit, on the eve of which the US was suspected of putting pressure on both India and Pakistan to open some kind of a dialogue between the two countries at the level of prime ministers or foreign ministers.

To the Indian side, Powell’s statement looked suspiciously like the Pakistani demand for international mediation which would inevitably involve the Kashmir issue.

India’s opposition to third-party mediation in Kashmir is well known. “Pakistan is an ally of the US and good luck to America,” Singh quipped.

India did not accept the “thesis that there are good terrorists and bad terrorists”, Singh said. “I have told President Bush and secretary Powell that there cannot be any distinction between terrorists west of Pakistan and terrorists east of Pakistan.”

Earlier, in her speech at the inauguration of the Saarc summit, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumartunga also made a thinly-veiled attack on the international community’s inconsistencies in dealing with terrorism.

“We cannot encourage and finance friendly terrorist organisations in one place and attempt to defeat the others. Double standards cannot work any more and will not solve the long-standing problem of terrorism,” she said.


Bangalore, Jan. 5: 
The peace-broker sent the right signals before arriving in Delhi for talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair today declared his country’s support to India for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, a morale-booster for India.

Britain’s backing will help India’s case pending before the UN for a long time. Blair made the announcement while addressing a gathering of captains of Indian industry at the inaugural function of the five-day Business Partnership summit here.

India, which has an increasingly global role to play, was a natural contender for the position and Britain would help India achieve its goal, Blair said. “We will work with you to achieve it,” he said, drawing applause from the creme de la creme of the Indian information technology industry.

This is the first time that Britain has unequivocally supported India’s bid to enter the league of the five superpowers — the US, Russia, China, UK and France — the permanent members of the Security Council.

Blair praised India’s role in peacekeeping from Bosnia to Sierra Leone and said it was an example of the “true international leadership India had demonstrated to the world”.

Assuring Britain’s support in India’s battle against terrorism, Blair said legitimate political issues could be pursued through legitimate means and not through terrorism and violence. “Only politics, not terror can solve issues like this,” the British Prime Minister said.

Blair made it clear that the Kashmir issue and the acts of terrorism would feature “heavily in my discussions over the coming days here and in Pakistan”.

He was obviously trying to balance his statement in Dhaka that Pakistan’s political position on the disputed Kashmir issue was very strong. The remark has not gone down well with the Indian establishment, which holds Pakistan responsible for sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir.

“I want to express our total solidarity with you in the face of recent terrorist outrages in India. There can be no room in any civilised society for organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad,” Blair said.

The attacks on the Indian Parliament and the Assembly in Srinagar were a threat by fanatics on not just Indian democracy but to all democracies and civilised values in the world, he added.

The British Prime Minister also announced a bonanza of bilateral development assistance to India. Britain increased its aid to Rs 300 million next year from the Rs 175 million in the current fiscal.


Bangalore, Jan. 5: 
Talking technology is cool but using it is a different ball game.

The confession came surprisingly from dynamic British Prime Minister Tony Blair, regarded as an upcoming world statesman.

Blair told delegates attending the Business Partnership summit organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry in Bangalore that he was not a practical technology whiz-kid but could speak fluently on technology. “I am very good at talking on the new technology but frightfully hopeless in using it,” he said.


New Delhi, Jan. 5: 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair had managed to annoy New Delhi even as he alighted from the plane in Bangalore yesterday by his remarks over Pakistan’s “strong” position on Kashmir.

Though India has made public its irritation, officials pointed out that the remark should not be taken out of context.

Blair had made ample amends later. But, in private, he is expected to do some tough talking to both India and Pakistan to stop the dangerous game of brinkmanship, which could plunge the region into turmoil.

After all, Blair has to look after larger US interests and Washington, at the moment, does not want anything to happen that would disturb its single-minded focus on Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. US strategic interests in the shortterm tilts more towards Islamabad than Delhi.

It is a tightrope walk for world leaders who are aiming to please both India and Pakistan. Even the media-savvy Blair found it difficult to negotiate this slippery slope, considering New Delhi’s extreme sensitivity to any remarks on Kashmir.

The British Prime Minister will arrive in the capital tomorrow. He will meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the evening and sign the Delhi Declaration. Much of this document is expected to be on fighting terrorism.


Lucknow, Jan. 5: 
The Special Task Force of Lucknow police today said it had smashed an international terrorist network with the arrest of three suspects supposed to have “direct links” with the radical Islamic militant group, Hamas.

The terrorists – two Palestinians and a Jordanian — were caught from different localities of the city with fake documents.

The Palestinians, Samil and Adnan, had been running a computer centre here and were picked up from Indranagar and Aliganj. Basheer, a Jordanian national, was reportedly brought here from the Vasant Vihar area of New Delhi, where he had rented a flat.

Sources in the task force said all three had been staying in Lucknow for “some time now” and had forged passports and other travel documents. None of them had a visa. The police had been monitoring their movements for the past few months and said they had planned to sneak into the UK and America using false documents.

The police also recovered from the trio fake degrees and certificates of educational institutions in Delhi and other parts of the country.

Though the police have not yet given details of their links with the Hamas, they claim that it was an e-mail message to a terrorist organisation that gave the three away. They said interrogations were on and some senior officials from Delhi were preparing to come to Lucknow tomorrow to assist in the probe.

Jaish link

Jaish-e-Mohammad pointman in Delhi and prime accused in the December 13 Parliament attack Mohammad Afzal was today remanded in 14 days judicial custody by a city court.

Designated judge S.N. Dhingra also extended the jail custody of three associates of Afzal — Shaukat Hussain, his wife Navjot Sandhu alias Afsan Guru, and A.R. Geelani, a suspended lecturer of a Delhi University college — till January 19.

Dhingra remanded Afzal after he was produced three days before the expiry of his 10-day police remand as investigating officer Rajvir Singh submitted that his custodial interrogation was complete.

Singh told the court that police had taken Afzal to Jammu and Kashmir twice during his custodial remand.


New Delhi, Jan. 5: 
The BJP has described the Vajpayee-Musharraf handshake in Kathmandu as a “formal” gesture with “nothing much to it”, reports our special correspondent.

General secretary and spokesman Sunil Shastri said: “It was a formal handshake. He (Pervez Musharraf) came to the Indian Prime Minister and Vajpayeeji responded. But there is nothing much to it. The party has already said the steps taken by the government are in the right direction.”


Chennai, Jan. 5: 
For nine Bangladeshi children, it could well have been a one-way ticket to a painful life as “human batteries” for the camel races in Dubai, patronised by the rich sheikhs there.

But thanks to an alert team of immigration officials at Anna International Airport in Chennai, the boys, all under 10 years, were rescued from an alleged child-trafficking racket and put on a domestic flight to Calcutta last night for further investigation. From there they will be taken to Dhaka.

The boys, who came as part of a group that included four men and four women, were about to board a special flight (EK-3451) to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday afternoon. However, while handing them their boarding passes, immigration officers became suspicious when they noticed scars on the children’s faces.

Sensing from the “torture marks” that something was “wrong” with the group accompanying the children, airport sources said the boys, whose photographs were affixed to the passports of four women and a man, came in for closer scrutiny.

While the Bengali accent of the entire group was unmistakable, the women were all in purdah.

“We felt something suspicious about the endorsement in their passports,” an official said after the successful operation under the direction of the chief immigration officer, Amresh Pujari.

The children, men and women were questioned separately with the help of some Bengali-speaking immigration officers. One of them admitted that some agents had given them the passports.

The passports, which had the departure stamp at Dhaka airport and the arrival stamp in Calcutta. The group is believed to have arrived in three batches at Calcutta airport on December 1, 2 and 5, sources said.

The interrogation in Chennai revealed that the “passport agents” had allegedly “manipulated the arrival seals in Calcutta”, sources said.

The Foreign Regional Registration Officer in Calcutta will complete the other formalities before deporting the entire group to Dhaka.


New Delhi, Jan. 5: 
Initially gung-ho after the Centre decided early last year to allow private manufacture of defence equipment, industry now finds that the government taketh with the left hand that which it giveth with its right.

The commerce and industry ministry on Friday notified detailed guidelines for companies seeking licence to produce arms and ammunition, some six months after the policy decision to allow 100 per cent private participation in the defence industry with 26 per cent foreign direct investment.

The guidelines have, however, failed to enthuse potential Indian manufacturers of defence equipment because in November the defence ministry lifted the ban on foreign armament companies’ agents.

Within a month after resuming charge in the defence ministry, Fernandes lifted the ban that was imposed when the Bofors scandal first broke nearly 16 years ago.

The lifting of the ban means that foreign suppliers who might have otherwise considered joint ventures with Indian companies may find it more profitable to work through representatives rather than setting up a production base in India.

Among foreign companies interested in stepping up business in this sector with India are South African, Israeli, British, and, to a lesser extent, American firms. Among the Indian companies interested in the business are Mahindras, Kirloskars, Larsen and Toubro and Telco.

A Confederation of Indian Industry official said Indian companies which had shown an interest in getting into the business of manufacturing lethal arms, too, might prefer to set up agencies and act on behalf of well-known foreign firms despite the guidelines issued this week.

Many of the guidelines had been recommended by industry itself, specifically by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) that lobbied hard to open up the defence sector. One of these is the rule that only companies that have resident Indian chief executives will be granted the licence.

The guidelines have also fixed a three-year lock-in period for transfer of equity from one foreign investor to another.

Emphasising that arms and ammunition produced by private manufacturers would be primarily sold to the ministry of defence, the guidelines set out that smaller quantities could be sold to para-military organisations and state governments with the defence ministry’s approval.

Licence application for production of arms and ammunition would be given by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, in the commerce and industry ministry but cases involving FDI will be considered by the FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) and licences given in consultation with the defence ministry, an official release said.

As per the guidelines, the applicant has to be an Indian company or partnership firm and the management should be in Indian hands with majority representation on the Board and the chief executive of the company/partnership firm should be resident Indians.

According to the guidelines, while full particulars of the director and chief executives would have to be furnished with the applications, the government would reserve the right to verify the antecedents of the foreign collaborators and domestic promoters, including their financial standing and credentials in the world market.

In this, precedence would be given to the original equipment manufacturers or design establishments and companies having a good track record of past supplies to armed forces, space and atomic energy sectors and having an established research and development base.

The defence ministry cannot give purchase guarantee for products to be manufactured, but planned acquisition programme for such equipment and overall requirement would be made available “to the extent possible”.

Import of equipment for pre-production activity, including development of prototype by the applicant’s company, would be permitted while adequate safety and security procedures would have to be put in place by the licensee once the licence is granted and production commences.

Exports of the manufactured items would be subject to policy and guidelines as applicable to ordnance factories and defence PSUs while sale of non-lethal items would also be permitted with prior approval. Self-certification for quality would be permitted on a case-by-case basis.


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