Pervez takes Omar gift to Bush
Target: American Center
Lagaan makes it to Oscar shortlist
Hand in poetry and boxing
Pervez packs off Sattar
Poll officials scratch heads over third sex gender
Prove your ID, cast your vote: Court
Sangh scents luck in button puzzle
Violence shadow looms on pollground
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PERVEZ TAKES OMAR GIFT TO BUSH 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR AND PRANAY SHARMA AND SEEMA GUHA
 
Karachi & New Delhi, Feb. 12: 

Wanted by US, left out of India’s 20

As General Pervez Musharraf headed for Washington for talks with the US President, the man responsible for casting a shadow on his trip was arrested by Pakistani police.

British-born militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, chief suspect in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was held in Lahore today. He told the police Pearl was alive.

Omar, who was released from Tihar jail in 1999 along with Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar in exchange for the freedom of passengers of an Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Kandahar, was being brought to Karachi.

“During the initial investigation, he said Pearl is alive and he is in Karachi,” the police said.

Pearl disappeared from Karachi on January 23 as he tried to make contact with Islamic radical groups and probe possible links between alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network.

The police did not reveal the circumstances of Omar’s arrest, but said they had been rounding up his associates and raiding their houses in recent days.

“The police were putting pressure on his contacts,” Tasneem Noorani, Pakistan’s interior secretary, told Reuters. “He was picked up at 3 pm, he’s being interrogated and he is in the process of being taken to Karachi where he will be further interrogated.”

“The chief suspect is with us and we’re hopeful that will lead to the solution of the case,” Noorani added.

The arrest comes as a boost for Musharraf as he arrived today in Washington on a three-day official visit. “We are pleased to hear about Omar Sheikh’s arrest,” a senior Bush administration official said, refusing to comment further for fear of jeopardising Pearl’s release.

India, which has stepped up pressure on Pakistan for acting on its list of 20, sees Omar’s arrest on the eve of the Musharraf-Bush meeting as a “diversionary” tactic. It feels the Pakistani leadership has got Omar arrested to ward off the pressure.

Contrary to belief, Omar does not figure on the list of India’s 20 “most-wanted terrorists” Delhi had submitted to Islamabad late last year. Neither does the Indian government have any pending cases against Omar.

That did not stop Omar Abdullah, minister of state for external affairs, to say: “We would like him to be handed over to India in good faith.”

Indian authorities are now trying to establish a link between Omar Sheikh and Aftab Ansari, the mastermind of the attack outside the American Center in Calcutta who was deported from Dubai on Saturday.

Indications suggest Omar vanished from the Indian radar screen for a while — at least at the time it was submitting the list to Pakistan — and has staged a comeback to project Ansari as a big catch.

All charges against Omar were dropped when he was freed in 1999, and red-corner notices with the Interpol withdrawn.

Subsequently, Masood Azhar was charged with masterminding the October 1 attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and later the Parliament strike on December 13.

He is one of the 20 terrorists whose extradition is being sought by India. But Omar, though a key member of Jaish, has escaped Delhi’s attention.

“Omar Sheikh’s arrest may be a good thing for the US, but we still want Musharraf to act on our list of 20,” a senior South Block official said.

Today’s development in Pakistan has provided India with another opportunity to argue that if Islamabad wants, it can take terrorists in its custody.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “The latest development only confirms what we have been saying all along — that safe haven is being provided in Pakistan to such elements.”

“We hope that Pakistan will take simultaneous action in apprehending the fugitives, criminals and terrorists whose names figure on the list of 20.”

   

 
 
TARGET: AMERICAN CENTER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Calcutta, Feb. 12: 
The American Center was the original target of the men who struck on January 22, and the killing of the policemen was “a later plan”.

Back from the capital where he interrogated alleged attack mastermind Aftab Ansari, chief investigator Soumen Mitra said the plan was aborted at the last minute because some equipment did not land.

Mitra, who had two “sessions” with Ansari in the CBI lockup, said the plot had been hatched when Asif Reza Khan, Ansari’s “prime mover” in India, was still alive and very much a part of the scheme.

Asif was later shot dead by Rajkot police in an encounter, leading to a revision of plans, the detective department chief said.

In the call he made from Dubai on January 22 owning responsibility for the attack, Ansari had claimed that revenge for Asif’s death was the reason for killing the policemen. But during interrogation, he did not pay much heed to this.

“It seems that revenge was not the motive for the attack because Asif was very much a part of the plot when it was hatched,” Mitra said. Only later, when the “equipment” did not materialise and Asif was killed, did the policemen become the targets.

Ansari’s interrogation also revealed that Pakistan’s ISI, along with Lashkar-e-Toiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, had conspired with him for the attack. “It seems that these outside forces were with Ansari in what finally turned out to be his personal vendetta killing,” Mitra said.

“They might have been considering other options of attack as well but decided on the American Center because that plan matured faster than the others,” he added.

Calcutta Stock Exchange and the airport were the other targets they had in mind. The US consulate did not figure on the list because of the tight security around it.

The arms used in the Calcutta attack were part of a consignment that had come from Pakistan through Barmer, Jaipur and Jaisalmer, Mitra said. Some of the arms, the police believe, have been distributed among members of the gang who are absconding.

Even after the arrest of Jamaluddin Nasir, the chief facilitator of the attack, four or five members of the gang “are on the loose in Calcutta”, Mitra said.

   

 
 
LAGAAN MAKES IT TO OSCAR SHORTLIST 
 
 
FROM DEBASHIS BHATTACHARYYA
 
Mumbai, Feb. 12: 
Aamir Khan beat the English in their own game — cricket — in the make-believe world of films. On March 24, he’ll be sitting in the glitzy new Kodak Theatre, hoping to win the crown in the capital of the make-believe world.

Lagaan, Aamir Khan’s blockbuster, came today within striking distance of the world’s most prestigious award, figuring as one of the five nominated foreign films. That is an honour only two other Indian films — Mother India and Salaam Bombay — can claim.

In Beverly Hills, California, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced the 74th annual Oscar nominations. In the foreign film category, the four other entries vying for the Oscars are France’s Amelie, Norway’s Elling, Bosnia’s No Man’s Land and Argentina’s Son of the Bride.

Aamir, who turned producer with Lagaan and also played the lead role in it, said he was “overwhelmed” by the news of the nomination and hoped that “we shall make it”. Of the four competitors, Aamir sees Amelie as a “real threat”, his aide said.

Not just Aamir and his crew, but the entire film industry was ecstatic when they read the name Lagaan on the nomination list.

“I can’t believe it. It’s like a dream come true,” debutante Gracy Singh, who played the female lead in the film, gushed.

Aamir was “over the moon”, an aide said. “He just did not know how to take the news, whether to cry or laugh.” One of the first things he did was to call up Ashutosh Gowarikar, the film’s director, and they complimented each other.

“I feel Indian cinema should carve out a place for itself in the world. More movies like Lagaan will be made because there is no dearth of talent,” Aamir said. “We should always think big.”

Bollywood, the nerve centre of Indian cinema, has long longed for the coveted award. And it sees the recognition of Lagaan as recognition of the entire industry.

“It’s a wonderful news, something marvellous. Finally an Indian film has won an Oscar nomination in many years,” filmmaker Shyam Benegal said.

Describing Lagaan as a “good film”, Benegal said the film’s nomination reflected that “our cinema has found international acceptance”.

He said it was good news not just for Bollywood, but for the entire South Asian film industry.

It took Lagaan all of 96 hours to go up a few notches on the Oscar scale. Last Friday, Aamir gushed, while releasing a comic book on his film, that Lagaan had made it to the best eight films in the world.

“When it was officially screened on January 27, the jury highly appreciated it,” a beaming Aamir said.

But today, when the news came through, he found it hard to digest. “It took time to sink in,” the aide said.

Refusing to take no for an answer, Aamir has invested plenty of money and time to turn Hollywood’s attention to the film. He said on Friday he was happy that his efforts had “paid off”.

Bollywood does not want to pop champagne just yet since the road to the Oscars can be treacherous. But it feels that being shortlisted gives it a reason to celebrate.

   

 
 
HAND IN POETRY AND BOXING 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, Feb. 12: 
Clever but brutal is how former classmates and colleagues describe Omar Saeed Sheikh.

So long as the English public schoolboy-turned terrorist confined his attacks to Indian targets, the Pakistani authorities and indeed the British and the Americans turned a blind eye to his activities.

At one point, there was even a report that Omar would be allowed to return to the UK since he had committed no crime in Britain. However, Omar overreached himself when he turned his attention to an American — Daniel Pearl — which those who know his method of operation are convinced he did.

Analysis of the threatening e-mails, written in good English, from a Karachi Internet cafe plus a photograph of the captured reporter pointed to Omar’s involvement.

There has always been a streak of violence in Omar. In 1987, he was at the Aitchison College, Lahore, preparing for General Certificate of Secondary Examination in England.

Syed Ali Dayan Hasan, who was with him, recalled: “He was a violent person, into boxing. He would be more ready to use violence which other boys could easily have avoided.”

His classmate added: “He was into three or four incidents. Later I was told he was kicked out for violent behaviour. I met him again at the LSE in 1992. He seemed better adjusted. He showed me the poetry he was writing and asked for my comments.”

He was apparently a bright pupil at Forest School in the suburbs of London where his family had lived for 20 years. England captain Nasser Hussein went to the same school.

Omar excelled at chess. A former pupil also remembers a troubled character. “He was always a bit odd, poor social skills and a tendency to bully people rather than mix with them.”

Something happened to Omar at the London School of Economics. One suggestion is that he was brainwashed by Islamic hardliners. He quit a maths and statistics course at the LSE and left Britain in 1993. His first destination was Bosnia.

A friend said: “Before he went to Bosnia, he was disturbed and said terrible atrocities were being committed. He spent a lot of time with radical students from an organisation called Hizbul Tahrir, which believes in the Islamic Caliphate. I don’t think he ever had a girlfriend.”

It is known that after Bosnia, Sheikh moved on to the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

He was wounded and arrested in India in the kidnapping of a group of westerners he met in Delhi, introducing himself as Rohit Sharma, an Indian-blooded British national thrilled to come to India for the first time since leaving it as a child.

In a diary of the events, he wrote: “I would go on to tell them that my uncle had died, and because of some grievance against his son, he had left his village in my name.”

   

 
 
PERVEZ PACKS OFF SATTAR 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, Feb. 12: 
Beneath the fulsome praise which General Pervez Musharraf will receive from President George W. Bush down in Washington in the next three days, there will be some tough bargaining about the future course of Pakistan, including relations with India.

As Musharraf arrives here today to begin the official leg of his visit, two things stand out about his high-profile talks with the Bush administration.

Absent from the parleys in the White House and other agencies of the US government will be the most popular face seen at such meetings — that of the hardline, uncompromisingly anti-India foreign minister, Abdus Sattar.

Instead of bringing Sattar with him here, Musharraf has packed off his vocal and manipulative foreign minister to Turkey to some seminar which few in Washington or Delhi have heard about.

Inam-ul-Haq, the soft-spoken foreign secretary, is the topmost foreign ministry official travelling with the general.

Musharraf is being accompanied by two ministers — finance minister Shaukat Aziz, who has a huge following here, thanks to his previous association with the World Bank group, and commerce minister Razak Dawood, who chalked up impressive gains for Islamabad on the trade front — at least on paper — after Pakistan became an ally of the US after September 11.

The second aspect, which will not be missed in chanceries as the curtain rises on the visit, is the Pakistan foreign office spokesman’s statement yesterday.

“Relations between the US and Pakistan have come back to normal and to the old level of friendship. Certain misperceptions have been removed. We are also going back (to cooperation) in the defence field,” spokesman Aziz Khan told reporters yesterday.

Khan did not spell out these “misperceptions” but, according to Pakistani sources, the reference was to what is seen in Islamabad as attempts by Washington to meddle in Pakistan’s domestic politics.

Of particular concern to Musharraf are “assurances” that some senior administration officials are said to have given former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in meetings with her here last week.

According to reports in the Pakistani media, Tariq Farouq Mirza, director-general of the foreign ministry in Islamabad, wrote a letter a few days ago to the US embassy in Islamabad to route future meetings between the Americans and Pakistanis in the government through the foreign office. Copies were sent to all ministries in Pakistan.

American sources here believe that the absence of hardline Sattar will enable the Bush administration to have a more “conducive” discussion with Musharraf on India, with less rancour and more pragmatism.

According to these sources, while the “list of 20” wanted by India from Pakistan is unlikely to be a top priority in discussions here, the Americans will insist that Pakistan should stop the infiltration into Kashmir by terrorists from its side of the Line of Control.

US officials will plainly tell Musharraf that he cannot expect any military scaleback by India from the border until spring when New Delhi can verify Musharraf’s claims that he is a changed man.

   

 
 
POLL OFFICIALS SCRATCH HEADS OVER THIRD SEX GENDER 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Lucknow, Feb. 12: 
There is no middle path on this. With eunuchs jumping into the fray as never before, the state election commission finds itself in a queer position.

Eunuchs fighting the Assembly elections have categorised themselves at will. While some insist they should be bracketed as male on the election list, others have said there is no way they can be called anything but female.

Ramkali — a popular female name in rural Uttar Pradesh — has told the poll panel that ‘he’ is male. Kadir — a popular male name — has instructed the same commission that ‘she’ is female. Anwari wants to be categorised as male, while Banarsi is happy being female.

“It is an unprecedented mix-up and right now we have no answers to it,’’ says a senior commission official.

The commission has to send a final list of candidates to the chief election commissioner for the records. The list should spell out the number of men and women contesting.

But unwilling to take a risk, local commission officials have so far withheld the list. “How can we explain why Anwari, Payal and Tara come in the male category, while Kadir comes in the female list,’’ an official said. “We will have to be sure and work this out before releasing the data.’’

Among the eunuchs themselves, this seems to be a non-issue. Most either dismiss the debate or giggle at the commission’s predicament.

Pauwa, contesting from the Aryanagar seat in Kanpur, says that as God did not assign a gender to eunuchs, community members feel free to either denote themselves as male or female.

Hijron ka na ghar hota hai na jati, na koi dharm nahi koi ek mazhab (Eunuchs have neither home, nor caste, they don’t even have a religion or belief),” Pauwa says philosophically.

Bas ek cheeze nischit hai, ki hum bhi insaan hain (Only one thing is certain and that is we, too, are human).’’

Payal, pitted against urban development minister Lalji Tandon in Lucknow, is least bothered about the categorisation. “How does it matter? We are just hijras,’’ Payal says while canvassing in Chowk with a motley group of supporters.

Some supporters advise against getting into an argument about this with the six-footer who likes wearing dark sunglasses and driving heavy motorbikes.

As the convoy meanders through the crowded lanes of Old Lucknow, aide Rekha explains helpfully: “Things are actually more complicated than what others think. Some of us are male while others are female. But it also happens sometimes that when our gurus assign us a gender in our childhood, we accept it without questioning. The only thing that is clear is that whether male or female, a hijra doesn’t and can’t afford to get too bothered by it.’’

Suddenly, Rekha chuckles: “Anyway, it’s the Election Commission’s problem, isn’t it?’’

   

 
 
PROVE YOUR ID, CAST YOUR VOTE: COURT 
 
 
FROM OUR LEGAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Feb. 12: 
The Supreme Court today stayed an Allahabad High Court ruling that people whose names figure on the voters’ list can cast votes unless their identities are found false, even if their identities are not established through the modes suggested by the Election Commission.

By staying the high court order on the use of voter I-cards in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, a three-judge bench of Justices B.N. Kirpal, Shivraj Patil and Bisheshwar Pratap Singh gave effect to the commission’s order of “no vote without I-card or one of the 18 other alternative modes”.

The high court order had come on a public interest litigation by voters in Uttar Pradesh challenging the Election Commission directive that at least one photo I-card was needed to cast a vote.

The apex court stay came on an appeal by the commission, which contended that it had suggested 18 alternative ways of proving identity to prevent bogus voting.

Through today’s order, the Supreme Court made it clear that “the effect of this (order) will be that the order dated January 23 and February 7 of the Election Commission would be in operation and alone be given effect to”.

The apex court also said its order would be intimated to the chief electoral officer in Uttar Pradesh and all other presiding officers would be informed accordingly.

The court also issued notices to the public interest litigation petitioners before the Allahabad High Court and gave two week’s time for replies.

Appearing for the commission, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal contended that the high court had exceeded its jurisdiction to modify the orders of the Election Commission during election time.

The 18 alternative identification documents specified by the commission include passports, driving licences, service identity cards, bank/kisan/post office passbooks, ration cards issued before January 1, 2002, SC/ST/OBC certificates, student I-cards, property documents, arms licences, conductor licences, pension documents, ex-servicemen’s widow/dependant certificates, rail/bus passes, handicap certificates, freedom fighter I-cards, advocates I-cards and certificates of residence issued by village administrative officers.

Star under scanner

The Election Commission will examine whether Hema Malini, chairperson of the state-owned National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), violated service rules by campaigning for the BJP-Akali Dal combine in Punjab.

The three-member poll panel has decided to write to the information and broadcasting ministry to find out whether the office of NDFC chairperson is an office of profit, commission spokesman A.N. Jha said.

He said the commission had received a complaint from a women’s body, saying Hema Malini had violated the rules by campaigning in Punjab.

   

 
 
SANGH SCENTS LUCK IN BUTTON PUZZLE 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
Sambhal, Feb. 12: 
“If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here,” wrote Jehangir five centuries ago, overwhelmed by the beauty of Kashmir.

If the Mughal emperor visited Sambhal, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dreamland and once the capital of Rajput king Prithviraj Chauhan, he would have turned away in disgust with the words: “If there is a hell on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”

This backward, rural constituency, going to polls on February 14, is a criminal-infested hell. Mia Sarai and Begum Sarai, the most populous areas in the town, bear the all-pervading influence of religion and caste, while the teeming cobweb of lanes and bylanes are a filthy mishmash of open drains, home to a million flies.

Thin and sickly, most of the residents look undernourished and have chicken-pox marks on their faces, a telltale sign of unhygienic living.

For the first time in its election history, this backward constituency will see electronic voting machines. “Earlier, they (Mulayam supporters) used to capture votes. But now they cannot. Moreover, being illiterate, they will press wrong buttons,” said Anil Surohi, an RSS worker with ill-concealed glee.

Surohi said he has been camping here for the last 10 days to ensure the victory of Mangu Tyagi, the BJP-backed Rashtriya Lok Dal candidate. With the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and the Rashtriya Parivartan Dal fielding Muslim candidates, the RSS is working overtime to ensure a split in Muslim votes.

But Tyagi has a problem. He has to fight off the challenge of Janata Dal (United) candidate Vijayvikash Tyagi and Indian National Lok Dal’s Vijay Prakash Saini.

Both the parties are part of the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. But Tyagi claims there will be no split in Hindu votes and is confident of emerging victorious.

With 75 per cent Muslim voters in the constituency, the RSS can never hope to run its writ here. Local RSS leaders know it too well, so the Sangh is hoping the electronic voting machine would do the trick — defeating Samajwadi candidate Iqbal Mohammed, sitting MLA for the fourth time.

But Mia Sarai presents a different picture. An overwhelming number of residents swear by Mulayam. “Our votes won’t split. We do not even know who is going to be the runner-up. No candidate but Iqbal Mohammed is in the reckoning here. They (the BJP and other opponents) are day dreaming,” said Mohammed Hassan and Tota Ram, local residents, overlooking the fact that Yadav, the sitting MP, has done precious little for the development of the constituency.

The Rashtriya Parivartan Dal of D.P. Yadav, a former MP with a criminal background, has fielded Shafiqur Rehman Barq. The former Union minister is a formidable candidate but is unlikely to muster enough votes. His main plank is Mulayam’s lack of sincerity towards his community.

“When the time came, Mulayam Singh Yadav sent Sakshi Maharaj to the Rajya Sabha (who defected to the Samajwadi from the BJP and last month went back to the BJP) instead of a Muslim,” he said. He also accused Mulayam of not “recruiting Muslims in the army when he was defence minister”.

From neighbouring Bisauli, D.P. Yadav has fielded his son Vikas Yadav, a prime accused in the Tamarind Court murder of model Jessica Lal in Delhi last year. The Parivartan Dal’s election symbol is kursi (chair).

   

 
 
VIOLENCE SHADOW LOOMS ON POLLGROUND 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Chandigarh, Feb. 12: 
Punjab goes to the polls tomorrow amid reports of pre-poll clashes between rival supporters from at least 10 constituencies.

Elections are being held for 116 Assembly seats with one adjournment following the death of a candidate in Malout. Pre-poll violence has already claimed two lives, while 20 people have been injured in incidents across the state. There is apprehension of more violence tomorrow.

At least four incidents of exchange of fire have been reported from the border districts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur. The first violence was reported on January 28 with the murder of Shiromani Akali Dal supporter Kaka Singh in Morinda constituency bordering Chandigarh. Congress worker Pala Singh has been charged with the murder.

On February 2, 11 Congress workers were injured in a clash with Akali Dal activists in Mehta Town under Beas constituency, where former Punjab Youth Congress president Jasbir Singh Dimpa and Maninder Singh Kang, a nephew of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, are locked in a close contest.

In another incident on February 3, Akali and Congress supporters exchanged fire in the sensitive Patti constituency in Amritsar district, leading to the death of a migrant labourer from Bihar. Badal’s son-in-law Adesh Partap Kairon is the Akali candidate for this seat.

Khan died when a bullet allegedly fired by Kairon’s younger brother, Gur Partap, pierced his chest. While Gur Partap has been booked by the police, a separate case of attempt to murder has been registered against local Congress leader Tej Partap Singh for injuring a passerby, Darshan Kaur.

BJP workers allegedly attacked Congress workers in Batala yesterday injuring 11 persons, including two brothers of Congress candidate Ashwini Sekhri. The police had to fire in the air to bring the situation under control. Congress workers accused BJP candidate Jagdish Sahni of firing several shots.

In Lambi, Badal’s constituency, security arrangements have been handed over to the Central Reserve Police Force.

“Shiromani Akali Dal workers are attacking Congress (workers) because they know the party is going to lose. I have instructed our workers not to resort to violence under any circumstances,” said state Congress chief Amrinder Singh.

An Election Commission spokesperson said 100 companies of paramilitary forces will be deployed for the peaceful conduct of polls. “They will not include nearly 50,000 state police personnel at our disposal,” he said, adding that 3400 booths have been identified as sensitive.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 28.5°C (0)
Minimum: 20.6°C (+5)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Maximum: 86%,
Minimum: 50%

Sunrise: 6.15 am

Sunset: 5.26 pm

Today

Mainly cloudy sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 20°C
   
 

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