Curt courtship in Kathmandu
Pak plane shot, India’s crashes
Scriptwriters’ affair in a drama
Nudge, not push, from Tony Blair
Calcutta Weather

 
 
CURT COURTSHIP IN KATHMANDU 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA AND ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
Kathmandu, Jan. 6: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf finally talked here on the concluding day of the Saarc summit. It was a brief and “informal interaction” which did not seem to hold out any hope of an immediate follow-up dialogue between the two countries to reduce tension and troop mobilisation, unless of course Pakistan takes concrete steps to address New Delhi’s concerns.

In another significant development, the two sides exchanged notes indicating that some attempts are being made to create grounds for addressing each other’s concerns. Brajesh Mishra, India’s national security adviser, was seen handing over documents to the Pakistani foreign minister, Abdus Sattar, who too passed on some papers to Mishra. Apart from the two principals, there were also informal interactions between foreign minister Jaswant Singh and his Pakistani counterpart.

The Indian documents were said to be an iteration of its recent demands, which included the list of 20 terrorists and criminals, particularly those involved in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 in 1999 and in the attack on Parliament. The details of the Pakistani documents were not known, but these may well contain steps taken by Islamabad against the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba leadership — those held responsible by India for the Parliament attack.

The Vajpayee-Musharraf interaction, which was not a one-on-one with other Saarc leaders present in the room where the two met, lasted anywhere between five and 15 minutes soon after the concluding ceremony of the summit at the international convention centre. The Indian Prime Minister described it as a “courtesy call” by the Pakistani President, during which “some talks” were held.

Musharraf, who later held a news conference, was a little more optimistic. “A situation has been created where the future is better for reduction of tension.”

He went on to add: “Tensions haven’t been reduced but they haven’t been worsened either.” Musharraf said he looked forward to “formalising the interactions in the future” but admitted that no date for this was discussed.

In a lighter vein, the Pakistani President later said he was “not disappointed” that Vajpayee did not shake hands with him after the Indian Prime Minister finished his speech during the inauguration of the summit yesterday. “An embrace was not possible because there was a big table between us.” Today, though, the two shook hands on stage at the end of the summit, once again to cheers from the gathering.

The interactions notwithstanding, it was clear that the two sides were trying to give different interpretations to the brief exchanges. For Pakistan, a meeting with the Indians would indicate that attempts are being made to scale down the tension, which in effect would mean that the international pressure on Musharraf to act urgently would ease. The Saarc declaration, adopted this morning, which puts more than an emphasis on the member-nations tackling terrorism, adds up to the international consensus that there should be no distinction between “good terrorists and bad terrorists”, binding Musharraf to his commitment to act.

From India’s point of view, playing down the brief encounters on the Saarc sidelines would help it to maintain the diplomatic offensive as well as the troop buildup along the border with Pakistan.

   

 
 
PAK PLANE SHOT, INDIA’S CRASHES 
 
 
OUR BUREAU
 
Jan. 6: 
The war of nerves took to the skies today with India saying it has shot down an intruding Pakistani spy plane.

Pakistan dismissed the claim as “baseless”, adding that India was trying to cover up the loss of one of its own spy aircraft.

After the Pakistani disclosure, official sources in Jammu told PTI that a pilotless aerial vehicle crashed near Jammu following a technical snag this evening.

The claim and counter-claim are certain to stretch taut the nerves of the international community, already on edge over the build-up along the borders of the nuclear neighbours.

The Indian army said a Pakistani unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was fired at and probably shot down by ground troops in Poonch late this afternoon.

The army spokesman in Delhi said the UAV “was engaged by ground troops around 4 pm”. This is officialese for firing by units of the army’s air defence artillery.

Army sources said the UAV — also called a drone — had flown 8 km into Indian air space. Reconnaissance drones are usually remotely piloted aircraft that can carry cameras, sensors, communication equipment and other payloads.

Four months ago, too, there were reports of a Pakistani spy plane straying into Indian air space over Jammu and Kashmir. In 1996, India had used an air force fighter to bring down a Pakistani spy plane.

It is not known if the plane hit today has fallen in Indian territory or on the other side of the Line of Control. Army sources did not rule out the possibility of the drone flying back to its base.

Defence sources told The Telegraph in Srinagar that the spy plane hovered over Indian territory for around 15 minutes. Panic spread in Poonch when anti-aircraft guns boomed, sending people scurrying for cover.

But Pakistani military spokesman, Brigadier Saulat Raza, said: “This propaganda is totally baseless and concocted. Actually, they themselves have lost one remotely piloted vehicle. We haven’t lost any aircraft, neither have we violated Indian-held airspace,” he said.

Before Indian sources confirmed the crash of the pilotless vehicle, Raza had pinpointed the site, saying it had come down in the Jammu sector. The Indian sources later told PTI that the aircraft crashed in Chatta, around 10 km from Jammu.

The shootdown crossfire coincided with reports that Pakistan has intensified its crackdown on the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

The two militant groups said police in Pakistan’s central Punjab province raided mosques, homes and offices searching for activists and guns.

   

 
 
SCRIPTWRITERS’ AFFAIR IN A DRAMA 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA AND AGENCIES
 
New Delhi/Kathmandu, Jan. 6: 
For the second day today, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf shook hands. And for the second day today, India and Pakistan brought Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh close together.

The national security adviser and the foreign minister today again put their heads and hands together to script the Prime Minister’s punch lines when Vajpayee was addressing a news conference jointly with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on his return to Delhi.

Musharraf had earlier described his brief chat with Vajpayee in Kathmandu as “informal interaction” which, he hoped, would lead to formal talks in the “near future”. Vajpayee, on the contrary, dubbed the encounter a “courtesy call”. In response to a question at the news conference, he said he had exchanged mere pleasantries with the Pakistan President.

While the Prime Minister was speaking, Mishra and Singh, sitting next to each other, began a whispered consultation. Their joint wisdom produced a hastily-scribbled note which was sent to the Prime Minister. Vajpayee read the message and said: “I pointed out to Musharraf that in your entire speech today there was no reference to terrorism.”

“He (Musharraf) spoke of violence and other problems, not terrorism. It was a big omission.”

Vajpayee was referring to the general’s speech at the conclusion of the Saarc summit earlier in the day.

Yesterday, at the summit’s inauguration, too, Mishra and Singh – waiting in the wings -- had scripted some hard-hitting lines after Vajpayee ambled off stage between the end of Musharraf’s speech, topped with the surprise handshake, and the start of his own. He came back to remind Musharraf how India’s hand of friendship had met with betrayal in the past.

The Prime Minister and his team have been smarting under what Singh has called Musharraf’s “grandstanding”. “Musharraf should understand by now that trying to be clever by half does not always pay dividends,” one official said.

No one was saying, though, how Musharraf’s attempts at oneupmanship had brought two key men – Mishra and Singh -- in the Indian establishment up close, but possibly not personal.

This was only a sideshow, however, to what the news agency Reuters described as having all the elements of the drama of an extra-martial affair at the White House. Courtship at Kathmandu is as good a title as any to describe Indo-Pak exchanges in the Nepalese capital – the courting almost exclusively done by the other side.

Did they talk or didn’t they talk? Did they hold a meeting or did they merely talk? Was anyone else present or were they alone? Did they chat for five minutes, or was it 15?

And, there appeared to have been a matchmaker, too. Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Sri Lankan President. An agency report said she had helped arrange the “chat”. She said she was in a room with Vajpayee and Musharraf waiting for their escorts to leave the conference hall when she suggested the two leaders have a meeting.

“They were talking for 10 to 15 minutes before I left the room. Even when I left, they were talking animatedly,” she said.

Hardly an animated conversation, said the Prime Minister on return to Delhi. “Dua salaam hui, haalchaal poochha gaya. Bataane laayak kuch bhi nahi hai (We exchanged greetings, enquired about each other. There is nothing worth talking about.)”

As with everything else in the runup to the summit and in the past three days, the Indian and Pakistani versions of the incident varied. “Well, I hope it is a breakthrough,” Musharraf said.

“We were together closeted in the room. There were others. There was no one-on-one meeting. It was not a formal interaction or a dialogue. I would call it an informal interaction.”

He said he hoped the brief encounter with Vajpayee and the meetings between the foreign ministers would lead to formal talks soon. And, what did the foreign ministers – who met twice – discuss? Well, according to the general: “They must only have been discussing the weather.”

“There were so many times we (the two sides) were together. Obviously, they were discussing something that is of interest to both,” he said.

One version of the sequence leading up to today’s flirtation suggested that after the final ceremony, the leaders were shaking hands. Musharraf was warming up for another handshake, playing with his tie nervously and moving towards Vajpayee.

The Prime Minister greeted the other leaders, keeping the Pakistani President waiting before offering him his hand.

As Musharraf tried to keep up the conversation, the Prime Minister looked intently at his watch, clearly indicating that he was now ready to move on. But that was enough for the military man to stake a claim to friendship. “I certainly consider Vajpayee as my friend,” he said. “And I look forward to very sincerely, humbly and genuinely calling my friend now and in the future,” he said.

   

 
 
NUDGE, NOT PUSH, FROM TONY BLAIR 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, Jan. 6: 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged India and Pakistan to talk over bilateral problems and bring down tension in the region but he almost endorsed the Indian view that there must be a complete rejection of terrorism by Pakistan before a “serious” dialogue could begin.

During the brief interaction Blair and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had with reporters after signing the New Delhi Declaration, the visitor appeared to understand and even appreciate India’s reluctance to resume negotiations with Pakistan.

“I understand the anger that is in India,” Blair said, referring to the attack on Parliament and the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. But he gently reminded Indian leaders that the situation in the subcontinent was worrying the rest of the world.

A major portion of the five-page New Delhi Declaration was devoted to their common views on fighting terrorism. “We condemn all acts of terrorism, whatever the motivation,” the two leaders said in the declaration.

The message to Blair, who will fly to Pakistan tomorrow, was clear. Delhi will exert maximum pressure on Islamabad, but if it does not respond, India has no choice but to act.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 26.1°C (-1)
Minimum: 13.1°C (0)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 95%
Min: 41%

Sunrise: 5.02 am

Sunset: 6.23 pm

Today:

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

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