Blair glare gets Pak cracking
How’s the knee: Pervez
Security and poster parity with PM
BA for Delhi, air force for Afghanistan
Sonia closes door on Vadras
Swamy thorn in Jaya return
Peres support for Delhi’s Pak policy
Party echoes govt on terror war
Unions to take battle to Sinha
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi/Islamabad, Jan. 7: 
The signals India is looking for appear to have started coming out of Pakistan with President Pervez Musharraf today vowing further decisions in the continuing crackdown on militant organisations.

“Pakistan rejects terrorism in all its forms,” he said.

What this means will only be clear once the President announces the steps he is going to take, but India has been objecting to his describing as “freedom struggle” what it calls “cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir.

There were also hints of Musharraf opening the door – even if only slightly – on India’s demand for handing over the 20 offenders it has named in a list given to Pakistan. The President said his government was “in the process” of analysing the cases.

Musharraf committed himself to setting out the course of action in a national address as he spoke at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who arrived in Islamabad today from Delhi, carrying the blunt message that no political cause could justify acts of terrorism.

“Whatever may be the political cause, there can be no justification for acts of terrorism, whether it is September 11, October 1 (J&K Assembly suicide strike) or the December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament,” Blair said after two hours of talks with Musharraf.

If any public indication was needed of the kind of pressure Musharraf is facing, Blair provided it when he turned to the general and said: “In our discussions, Mr President, you made it clear that Pakistan rejects terrorism in all its forms.”

The British Prime Minister is believed to have assured India that he would try and impress upon the general that in the fight against terrorism, distinctions could not be made against good and bad terrorists.

“We have been a victim of sectarian extremism, sectarian terrorism,” Musharraf said, continuing to project the crackdown on jihadi outfits as having been necessitated by internal compulsions. “All that is being addressed and its final decisions will be given when I come to address the nation in a few days.”

India wants Musharraf to hand over leaders like Jaish’s Masood Azhar and Lashkar’s Hafeez Saeed, whose names figure on the list.

It appeared that Blair had discussed the issue with Musharraf. “Yes, we did talk about the list of names,” the general said.

“We have not fully analysed full details of individuals (named in the list). I am in the process of analysing them… and we will take our decision after analysing them,” Musharraf said, but reasserted Pakistan’s position that India should provide evidence.

At the end of the Saarc summit yesterday, the general had said Pakistan was not in the habit of handing over its nationals to some other country. But this position is being seen as an “opening price” to which Islamabad may not stick once the bargaining begins with Delhi.

To keep up the pressure, India has ruled out resuming talks with Pakistan till it changes its stand on cross-border terrorism. “Where is the question of dialogue when there is no change in Pakistan’s attitude?” external affairs minister Jaswant Singh said after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security.

“They continue to maintain a very different approach when it is a matter of Western interest or Afghanistan and a different approach when it comes to the question of India,” Singh said.

Blair, who earlier in the day spoke to President George W. Bush, said: “We (the US leader and he) are absolutely one on this. We must all be resolute in our rejection of all acts of terrorism.”

As he turned on the pressure, the British Prime Minister took care to defend Musharraf against possible charges at home of betraying the Kashmir cause. “Of course, Pakistan has a very strong view of its position on Kashmir.”


Washington, Jan. 7: 
Some, though not all, of the terrorists and their accomplices wanted by India from Pakistan may be “allowed” to go to third countries where India could get hold of them and have them extradited to face justice.

In return, Pakistan wants military de-escalation.

These are among the ideas thrown up during the meetings of Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers in Kathmandu, which is now grudgingly being acknowledged by Delhi, and the Indo-Pakistan summit-level talks there, which officially never was.

Contrary to the public position being taken by India, foreign ministers Jaswant Singh and Abdus Sattar met not once, not twice, but four times in Kathmandu in informal, unstructured surroundings, except once.

The formal talks took place from 1805 hrs to 1905 hrs (Kathmandu time) on Saturday. Minutes of this meeting exist, the notes of the bilateral conversation having been recorded, curiously, not by any official dealing with Pakistan, but by South Block’s joint secretary in charge of Nepal and Bhutan.

Another idea resulting from the Kathmandu parleys, with the acquiescence of the Bush administration, is for the US to seek custody of terrorists like Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar and Hafeez Saeed -— the de facto leader of Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Once they are in US custody, India could interrogate these men within the framework of cooperation between the FBI and Indian agencies.

This will absolve Pervez Musharraf of the charge that he betrayed those fighting for Kashmir’s liberation by making them available for interrogation by India.

The idea, for which a precedent was created last week, is certain to come up during talks with the Americans by officials accompanying home minister L.K. Advani, who begins a visit to Washington tomorrow.

The precedent was the American “capture” of Abdul Salam Zaeef, who was the Taliban’s ambassador in Islamabad until a few weeks ago. Zaeef sought asylum in Pakistan, which was refused and he was then deported to Afghanistan, where the Americans waited to detain him for questioning.

In addition to information about four sessions between Singh and Sattar, it has now been revealed that the two handshakes between Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were crowned by a phone call from Pakistan’s President to the Prime Minister in his hotel room.

Musharraf did not talk politics: he tried to charm Vajpayee and appeal to his sentimental side by enquiring about his knee problem.

If Sunday’s handshake was accompanied by a warm smile on Vajpayee’s face at one stage, the speculation is that the emotional thaw was prompted by Musharraf’s enquiries about the elder statesman’s health.

After the handshake, the two drifted as unobtrusively as possible to an enclosure. There they were joined by Mishra and Singh on the Indian side and Sattar and foreign secretary Inam-ul-Haque on the Pakistani side. The six men were huddled in privacy for seven minutes.

The assessment in Delhi and Islamabad is that the logjam has been broken and that things ought to get better if the US plays a constructive role, instead of resorting to public diplomacy such as the despatch of an envoy to South Asia.

India has created a small opening for talks with Pakistan by telling the Americans that though Delhi appreciated Musharraf’s actions against terrorists, he did not have the entire Pakistani establishment behind him.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
The familiar Sudarshan Chakra is his weapon and Krishna is his middle name, but the new avatar looks very much like Lal Krishna Advani.

On a day the Centre took the unparalleled step of upgrading Advani’s security to the level of the Prime Minister, the BJP put him back on the pedestal he once shared with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the party headquarters.

A larger-than-life poster of Advani with the chakra was placed alongside that of Vajpayee to form the backdrop of the dais at the Ashoka Road headquarters’ media room.

The poster, printed by an Uttar Pradesh district leader, carries a couplet from the Bhagvad Gita in which Krishna tells Arjun that whenever dharma is under attack, a new avatar will rise to salvage it from moral and political degradation.

The word atankvaad (terrorism) is printed in bold letters but they are staggered as if to give the impression that the country is in a shambles following the terror threat. The punchline reads: “Terror-free India”. The implication is that Advani, once the most famous face of the Ram temple movement and now the “poster-incarnation” of Krishna, alone can deliver the country from the modern-day evil: terrorism.

The poster-placement has a history. Before the BJP became a serious contender for power, the press dais was dominated by the triumvirate of Vajpayee, Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.

Once Joshi’s term as BJP president ended, the space was taken up by Advani and Vajpayee. Though Advani called the shots, Vajpayee’s “liberal” image made him a more reliable mascot in the age of coalitions.

After the 13-day government in 1996, both shared the limelight. The scenario changed substantially after the 1999 elections when a more confident Vajpayee dug his heels in. Advani’s posters then disappeared unobtrusively from the centrestage.

BJP observers believe the poster juggling was not as innocuous as it appeared. First, they said, it was an indication that Advani would play as important a role in the impending elections as Vajpayee — both as organiser and as campaigner.

Moreover, they maintained, it was indicative of his growing importance in not just shaping internal security-related policies but the line of action on external affairs, too.

Advani’s trip to the US is expected to further bolster his image, party sources said, more so when this is probably the first time that a home minister is having a direct say in foreign policy matters.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair abandoned his British Airways 777 aircraft in India and took a bottle-green C-130 Hercules to Pakistan en route to Afghanistan.

Blair reached Afghanistan tonight, becoming the first western leader to visit Kabul since the fall of the Taliban regime. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai met Blair and his wife Cherie.

A Royal Air Force official said Blair would travel like a parachute commando and the comforts of the Hercules were not comparable with that of the Boeing in which he landed in India. Blair will not return to Delhi to catch the Boeing he has left behind. The C-130 Hercules is a multi-purpose aircraft capable of taking off from and landing on rough strips.

Not defused yet: Bush

President George W. Bush applauded Pervez Musharraf’s efforts to rein in terrorists but said the situation between India and Pakistan was not “defused” yet. Bush asked Musharraf to make a clear statement that he will crack down on terror.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
Sonia Gandhi has asked the Congress brass not to have anything to do with the Vadras, the family that daughter Priyanka has married into.

The directive to Congress chief ministers, state unit bosses and senior leaders came shortly after Sonia’s son-in-law, Robert, issued a public notice snapping ties with his family. Robert has charged his brother, Richard, and father Rajinder Vadra with nursing political ambitions.

10 Janpath sources said Sonia took the drastic step after receiving complaints that the Vadras had been using their Gandhi connection to make money. They have allegedly been promising people anything from election tickets and jobs to flats and admission into schools in return for money.

Party leaders said there were numerous instances of the Vadras having approached VIPs and chief ministers, one of whom recently went to Sonia for advice. “Last week, we were told to be careful with them. We knew something was amiss,” a CWC member said.

Sonia is believed to have told Robert that such allegations brought disrepute to the party and lowered the prestige of the family. Such “unbecoming conduct” would also give her political adversaries a tool to malign her during the campaign for the Assembly elections, she said.

Family sources said Sonia initially had reservations about Priyanka marrying into the Vadra family but gave in after Priyanka put her foot down. But she grew to like Robert and even inducted him on her campaign team for the 1999 elections.

Family friends say she now treats Robert like her son. “After grandson Rehan’s arrival, they became a nice loving family. Sonia did not want any complication in her cordial relations with her son-in-law,” a friend said.

Robert is reported to have had heated arguments with his father and brother and charged them with nursing political ambitions. He legally snapped ties with them with the help of advocate Arun Bhardwaj, son of former law minister Hansraj Bhardwaj.

Robert and the Gandhi family have declined comment on the issue, but close family friends said the decision was a painful one.

“The whole world knows that Sonia is a reticent person and intensely dislikes anyone misusing the family name. It was not that the Vadras were not warned. But there were just too many instances, forcing Robert to take a drastic step,” a family friend said.

He added that when Salman Khursheed was the Uttar Pradesh chief, Richard had called him up and recommended the names of party officials from Moradabad.

Recently, a Vadra family member also approached a prominent educational society chairman with a visiting card that said “... in-law of Priyanka Gandhi”.

Today, the Congress president’s office issued a letter to PCC chiefs, CLP leaders and Congress chief ministers advising them not to entertain the Vadras. A public notice from Robert’s advocate was enclosed with the letter.

The public notice read: “It has been brought to the notice of my client that some persons, including Rajinder Vadra, resident of C-7, Amar Colony and Richard Vadra, resident of Basant Vihar colony, Civil Lines, Moradabad, UP are misrepresenting to the public that they are working for on behalf of my client and allegedly promising jobs and other favours in return for money.

“Even though Rajinder Vadra and Richard Vadra are relatives of my client but they have no access to my client. Public at large is hereby put to notice that my client has not authorised Rajinder Vadra and Richard Vadra and anybody else to work for him or to use his name in any manner and make such misrepresentation to anybody. Such misrepresentations are without the knowledge and consent of my client.”


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy today moved the Supreme Court against Jayalalithaa’s acquittal by Madras High Court in the Tansi land sale case.

The petition is likely to be taken up within a few days even as the Andipatti byelection is drawing near. The ADMK chief hopes to get elected, which would pave the way for her return as chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

Swamy, the original complainant in the case, sought a direction from the apex court that Jayalalithaa should be restrained from holding any public office till his special leave petition was disposed of. The case involves purchase of government land at a throwaway price by a company owned by Jayalalithaa.

Jayalalithaa was first convicted by the trial court but was sworn in chief minister by the then Governor, Fathima Beevi, after the ADMK steamrolled the DMK in the last Assembly polls.

Following a public interest litigation, the apex court said a convicted person could not hold any constitutional office. However, on appeal, Madras High Court acquitted Jayalalithaa, clearing the way for the ADMK chief to contest the Andipatti byelection from Madurai.

Swamy’s petition comes at this juncture. However, the apex court would decide on it only after notices are issued, which are likely by early next week.

Swamy’s contention is that Madras High Court erred in holding that the land was not a government property. He also said the judgment did not provide an answer to the major issue that public servants were prohibited from buying government property. The court had rejected the charge that Jayalalithaa violated the code of conduct for ministers by purchasing the government land.

“She (Jayalalithaa) had in conspiracy with her partner, Sasikala, and the concerned government officers manipulated the price of government land,” he said.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
Home minister L.K. Advani, a known admirer of Israel and its tough stand on terrorism, had a heart-to-heart with visiting foreign minister Shimon Peres when he called on him at his North Block office.

The home minister’s first trip abroad was to Israel, where he made a diplomatic faux pas when he said New Delhi and Tel Aviv both faced the brunt of terrorist attacks. The Islamic world had taken offence at this casual linking of Palestinians with terrorists operating in Kashmir. Gulf leaders were outraged. India had been one of the staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Advani and Peres discussed the current situation and India’s stand-off with Pakistan since the December 13 attack on Parliament. Israel supports New Delhi’s stand that Islamabad has to dismantle the entire terrorist network it has built against India before any meaningful dialogue can take place.

India has been in close touch with Israel since the Parliament attack and has been provided with the available evidence of Islamabad’s role. India’s most wanted list, which it handed over to Pakistan, was also discussed.

Though Delhi has upped the ante against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, unlike Israel, it has not taken any direct military action against Pakistan, waiting for the diplomatic option to be exhausted. India is also willing to give Musharraf a few more days to meet New Delhi’s demand.

Peres, probably attuned to Washington’s interest in calming the situation in South Asia, while US forces were still in Afghanistan, appreciated Musharraf’s recent action against militants. “In general terms, President Pervez Musharraf himself has already taken some action .... Satisfaction will come when all forms of terrorism is uprooted,” Peres told reporters after meeting Advani.

The Israeli leader said the world was divided into countries that harbour terrorists and countries which fight them. Peres not only reiterated his country’s support to India’s claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but went a step further and suggested that India be included in Nato.

He said India as a nation in the forefront of the fight against terrorism should naturally find a place in Nato. He suggested that China, Russia and Japan also be included. Peres was pushing an unlikely line but it was sweet music to Indian ears.

“Nato does not have an enemy today,” Peres said, “so why not join Nato and make it an instrument with all its resources to confront today’s dangers instead of yesterday’s enemies.”

Peres said India-Israel ties were growing and expanding in every sphere. What he did not say, however, was that there would have been more defence cooperation if the US did not keep a strict watch on arms supplies by Israel to other countries.

Israel’s lucrative deal to supply Phalcon aircraft to China was scrapped at Washington’s insistence. Similarly, the US has made sure that India does not receive sophisticated equipment from Israel.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
The BJP today said the government should not think of holding talks with Pakistan now even as it appeared confused on what steps to take to deal with terrorism.

In his news briefing, general secretary and spokesman Sunil Shastri slammed Pakistan’s “continued hostility” towards India and its “unrelenting support to cross-border terrorism”. The government should take more “effective measures to ensure that the capacity of Pakistan-sponsored agencies to encourage terrorist activities in India is further curtailed”, the spokesman said.

Shastri said this could be achieved by a “policy of progressive disengagement with Pakistan and by preventing the ingress of Pakistani citizens”.

Asked to elaborate, convener of the BJP’s foreign affairs cell Surendra Arora — who sat with Shastri — said it meant a further cut in Pakistan’s diplomatic mission. “The involvement of Pakistani nationals in terrorist activities in India has been proved. Lesser number of Pakistanis coming to India may lead to control of their activities,” he said.

Shastri denied knowledge of a fiery speech reportedly made by sports and youth affairs minister Uma Bharti in Amritsar yesterday in which she urged India to hoist its flag in Lahore and Karachi. “Whatever diplomatic offensive the government has launched is there but we are certainly not keen to take military action at the moment,” he said.

The spokesman said India should focus on isolating Pakistan diplomatically.

“The government of India would be well advised to strengthen bilateral relationships and to pay more attention to sub-regional cooperation until Pakistan changes its attitude,” he said. “That kind of change, we believe, is possible when a truly democratic regime in Pakistan is able to dismantle the ISI-terrorist network.”

Asked if this implied that India should shut its doors on President Pervez Musharraf, as he was not a democratically elected leader, Shastri parried the question. BJP sources acknowledged that the tough-sounding rhetoric, emanating from the party and the government, was meant to up the ante on terrorism for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

“There was so much confusion on account of the Lahore bus yatra and the Agra summit because the popular perception was why were we bending over backwards to accommodate someone like Musharraf who stabbed us in the back in Kargil?” sources said. “Our tough statements and our determination not to reopen a dialogue with him are meant to correct the misconceptions that were created by both these events.”

The sources conceded that a military strike was not feasible now because of the international pressure on Delhi and Islamabad. The strategy, they said, would be to project the government’s diplomatic offensive as a “manifestation of the BJP’s inherent strength to fight terrorism and preserve the nation’s sovereignty”.

The sources also admitted that despite the war hype, the BJP’s position in Uttar Pradesh was “not that happy”. They said the feedback from the state was that more than national issues, local factors and caste equations would weigh with the voters.

With the BJP’s main rival, the Samajwadi Party, focusing on free education and drinking water to all villages, BJP strategists have begun wondering whether terrorism could hold a candle to social welfare.


New Delhi, Jan. 7: 
Trade unions are getting ready for this year’s first spat with the government at a pre-budget meeting with the finance minister two days from now.

The Congress-backed Intuc is preparing a memorandum to submit to Yashwant Sinha and to the party high command. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a RSS outfit, is set to join issue with the Union minister on critical issues like disinvestment and labour law reforms. The Left trade unions led by Citu will set the tenor of discussion at the meeting.

There is near unanimity on the issues the trade unions want to confront the government with — primarily disinvestment of public sector undertakings, privatisation of coal mines and labour law reforms to bring in a hire-and-fire system.

Last year, the BJP government faced flak from the BMS — the trade union had ticked off the finance minister for announcing the controversial labour law reforms in his Budget speech. Then labour minister Satyanarain Jatiya had to smoothen the ruffled feathers of the BMS to keep tempers from flying in public.

Most of the recent actions sponsored by trade unions against liberalisation have been in tandem. The BMS was as strident as the Citu, threatening the government with “dire action” if it pressed on with labour law reforms.

The Intuc leadership has been trying to get the Congress high command to take a hardline stance against economic reforms. “The Congress, in its Bangalore resolution, has already committed itself to the interest of workers,” said an Intuc leader.

Though tantamount to a volte-face, the Congress leadership has been opposing most of the liberalisation policies. It has opposed the Bill for privatisation of coal mines though privatisation was a credo taught by none other than Congress’ former finance minister Manmohan Singh.

It is almost a year since the finance minister announced the government’s intention to rationalise labour laws though nothing tangible has happened so far. The Group of Ministers (GOM) set up to look into labour law reforms recently endorsed them but the trade unions say the GOM has no power to ratify the decision. “Only Parliament can decide the issue,” they said.




Maximum: 26.4°C (-1)
Minimum: 16.9°C (+4)



Relative humidity

Max: 88%
Min: 43%

Sunrise: 6.24 am

Sunset: 5.03 pm


Partly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 16°C

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