Pearl death scare stalks Musharraf
US lets Pak do deals with ‘evil’
Kargil secret comes tumbling out of US closet
Some dollars, more pledges
Stronghold bad tidings for BJP in exit polls
Atal seal on plan to free oil prices
Lodi Gardens facelift plan raises heritage cry
If you’re a woman, head for Kerala
CPM turns other cheek
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi/Karachi, Feb. 14: 
Visiting the US under the shadow of the kidnapping of American Daniel Pearl, General Pervez Musharraf today was jolted by the claim that the journalist was dead.

Omar Sheikh, the chief suspect in the kidnapping of The Wall Street Journal reporter, told an anti-terrorism court in Karachi he thought Pearl was dead.

The Pakistan government dismissed the statement as untrustworthy while The Journal said it remained confident Pearl was alive.

British-born Islamic militant Omar calmly confessed to the abduction of Pearl in Karachi on January 23. “As far as I understand, he is dead,” the bespectacled and clean-shaven Omar told the court.

In response to a question from the judge, Omar Sheikh said: “Yes, I kidnapped him.”

But the chief prosecutor in the case, Raja Qureshi, advocate-general for the province of Sindh, expressed caution. “Whatever he said, I cannot trust this statement because he was not under oath,” Qureshi told reporters outside the courtroom.

Investigators and government officials also warned that Omar had misled them before, saying he had told them shortly after he was arrested that Pearl was still alive.

“This gentleman has been making several statements and changing those statements,” Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan told a news briefing in Islamabad. “We cannot give any credence to any of these statements that he gives.”

Pearl’s kidnapping had come up during Musharraf’s discussions with President George W. Bush yesterday and the General had seemed ill at ease at a joint news conference when asked about the reporter.

“I am reasonably sure he is alive. We are close as possible to getting him released.”

Later, in a television interview, Musharraf said his belief that Pearl was alive was just a “guess” when asked why he had said he was “reasonably sure”.

“Well, it was a guess. We, I can’t be 100 per cent sure of it,” he said.

Pearl’s pregnant wife, Mariane, today appealed to the kidnappers to free him. “I want to appeal again to you to please release him or at least let me know how he is doing.”

Musharraf replied in the negative when asked in the interview whether he had “concrete evidence” that Pearl was still alive. “Well, no. I wouldn’t say that,” he said.

Musharraf said the incident was serious but asserted that those that engaged in such acts were in a minority and that his government had taken steps against them.

“Whoever perpetrated this act is in a very small minority. But they do create this nuisance,” he said, trying to allay the apprehension of Americans that Pakistan continued to be a dangerous place for them.

Police say Omar gave himself up in Lahore on Tuesday. But Omar, speaking confidently in flawless English, told the court he had been in custody for more than a week.

India has said Omar had been in custody for some time but was produced in public to coincide with Musharraf’s arrival in Washington.

Handover term

General Pervez Musharraf has said India’s demand for handing over 20 terrorists can be addressed when the two sides resume dialogue. He again sought US mediation on Kashmir.

“This issue of terrorists being handed over by Pakistan or by them needs to be addressed when we start negotiating on all issues, including Kashmir. We will address this issue then. It may be important. We will address it together,” Musharraf said.


Washington, Feb. 14: 
General Pervez Musharraf came with a big shopping list for American arms, including fighter and bomber planes, but will return home today disappointed that he has got very little.

Although the Americans did not promise him weaponry, they made a big concession for him which would have been unthinkable for any country other than Pakistan.

Washington has tacitly agreed to look the other way while North Korea, Islamabad’s long-standing source of supply of missiles and missile components, continues to arm Musharraf’s army.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked shortly after Musharraf’s meeting with President George W. Bush if there was any discussion about Pakistan’s missile imports from North Korea. Fleischer replied that “there was no discussion that I heard”.

Was any of the US aid money contingent on Pakistan ceasing its missile purchases from North Korea? The White House spokesman replied in the negative. “Not that I’ve heard. That did not come up in the meeting that I was attending.”

The significance of this is enormous. North Korea is one of three countries which Bush collectively described in his State of the Union address as the “axis of evil”.

Ever since that address, something akin to war hysteria is being whipped up against North Korea, Iran and Iraq in this country. Yet, Bush was ready to condone Islamabad’s military relationship with Pyongyang. It shows how far Bush will go to accommodate his “friend” Musharraf.

Why then is he unwilling to give US arms in any big way to Musharraf? Because the White House is aware that it will create a big furore on Capitol Hill.

Musharraf tried during his meeting with Bush in New York in November to get F-16 planes from the US for which Pakistan has already paid, but were withheld due to sanctions.

Fleischer said there was no change in the administration’s position of withholding these planes.


Washington. Fev. 14: 
Generel Pervez Musharraf’s three-day stay in Washington has prised open one of the best-kept secrets surrounding America’s role during the Kargil crisis. National security adviser Brajesh Mishra and his US counterpart met in Geneva at the height of the Kargil fighting: their talks prompted the Clinton administration to intervene decisively to force the Pakistanis to pull out of Kargil.

Before summoning Nawaz Sharif to Washington to hear the riot act read out to him, Bill Clinton decided to try a bout of diplomacy. He sent Anthony Zinni, then a little-known general, to Rawalpindi to negotiate with the Pakistan army for a pullout. No one paid much attention to Zinni’s choice then.

But on Tuesday, Zinni, now President George W. Bush’s topmost envoy to West Asia, was one of the early callers on Musharraf at Blair House, the presidential guest house adjacent to White House. It turns out that Zinni is an old Musharraf “buddy” from their time together at a US military academy.

The Pakistani strongman addresses Zinni as “Tony”. No wonder Clinton chose Zinni in 1999 to try and persuade old pal “Mushy” to see sense and get out of Kargil, alas, in vain.

Zinni’s call on Musharraf on Tuesday also brought out one truth which may startle many Indians: even when US-Pakistan relations were supposedly down in the dumps with sanctions et al, the umbilical cord was never broken.

It was revealed here yesterday that the first overseas call that “Mushy” made after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif was to old buddy “Tony”. No wonder, the dictator was handled with kid gloves by Washington, even before September 11.

A party for the son

Pakistanis, like the Indians, are simply unable to get over old British associations! So, some of Musharraf’s close aides, who were left out of the Boston leg of the general’s American sojourn, have been derisively describing the Pakistani leader’s three-day family retreat, pre-Washington, as the President’s “Boston tea party”, an event comparable in US history to the Quit India movement. But, as it turns out, Musharraf did have a tea party in Boston.

Now that he is America’s best friend, articulate and English-speaking, Musharraf was besieged with requests to speak at universities and other venues in and around Boston when it became known that he would spend three days with his son. But Musharraf turned down all such invitations and decided that he would spend these three days with son Bilal and daughter-in-law Iram.

The only concession he made was to be at a tea party, which Bilal organised for 15 or so of his close friends. At this party, the general patiently listened to the perceptions of Bilal’s friends about Pakistan.

Mac over Nick

One of the few people whom Musharraf disappointed during his stay in Canton, a suburb of Boston and home to Bilal, was Bob Nutting, who runs Nick’s Place, the best eating house in the 20,775-population town. The President, unlike most visitors to Canton, did not go to Nick’s Place for a meal. Instead, he chose the nearest McDonald’s and was driven along with wife Sehba and Iram to the restaurant in Bilal’s small black Honda.

The adventure gave the American Secret Service some difficult moments. They were supposed to be unobtrusive since Musharraf wanted his visit to Boston to be discreet. At the same time, protecting him was their job.

Strip torture

If Musharraf had a good time in the US, the same cannot be said of many of those who accompanied him. Since Musharraf decided to have his retreat in Boston, there was no special Pakistan Airlines flight for the President and the rest of the delegation. His ministers and other aides were forced to take commercial flights to Washington, which meant, in most cases, flying to New York and taking a US domestic flight to Washington.

Security checks are intense in the US since September 11, more so on flights in and out of New York or Washington. So Musharraf’s commerce minister Razzak Dawood was asked to take off his shoes for an X-ray during a security check in New York while some other members of the official delegation were all but strip-searched.


Washington, Feb. 14: 
In a letter to Congress, President George W. Bush yesterday announced that $220 million in emergency money would be reallocated to Pakistan within the next 15 days “for costs incurred in aiding US military forces” in the war against the Taliban and al Qaida.

This money had earlier been given to the Pentagon for war efforts and to the state department to upgrade security as part of a $40-billion emergency package passed by Congress after the September 11 outrage.

The White House also set in motion a special funding request for an amount yet to be determined in assistance to “frontline states”, including Pakistan, in the war against terrorism.

After a coveted guard of honour at the Pentagon and a meeting with the military hierarchy there, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that the two governments had reactivated a defence consultative group. Military training suspended on account of sanctions will also be resumed.

Rumsfeld could not, however, say if and when the remaining restrictions on US arms transfers to Pakistan would be lifted. “Those discussions are ongoing.”

Musharraf’s long and impressive list of callers included the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, who rarely meets government leaders, high-ranking Congressmen and senators from both parties, and chairmen of conglomerates such as Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, Philip Morris and Nike.

But Musharraf’s spokesman Rashid Quereshi summed up the mood when he said almost in so many words that all that the general got was a planeload of promises.

“Every sort of assurance was given today. There was no negativity at all. It was all positive, positive. Everyone said they would help Pakistan in every way possible,” he said.

Opposition from cloth-producing American states on Capitol Hill prevented Musharraf from getting crucial concessions on Pakistan’s textile exports to the US.

Textiles constitute more than 80 per cent of Pakistan’s exports to America and Musharraf’s commerce minister Razzak Dawood has been lobbying hard either to raise his country’s quota or borrow from the quota for 2003 to facilitate immediate exports.

Much was promised when the war against the Taliban started in October, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: “On the question of textiles, discussions are ongoing. That’s an important topic. There are many people on the (Capitol) Hill who have strong opinions about that issue. So those discussions are ongoing.”


New Delhi, Feb. 14: 
The BJP is leading the race in western Uttar Pradesh, which voted in the first phase of elections today, but has lost ground in the region that has been its traditional stronghold.

The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are locked in a close contest for second place, according to three different poll surveys. In the twin state of Uttaranchal, a hung Assembly is predicted.

The west went to polls, but the drama was in central Uttar Pradesh. Union minister Murli Manohar Joshi fled a campaign rally at Mishrik in Sitapur alleging that Samajwadi activists had tried to attack him.

Police said a couple of youths in a car tried to disrupt Joshi’s meeting at M.D. College. The men fired some shots in the air before Joshi was bundled into a car and whisked to safety. The minister has asked the Election Commission to take note of the incident and tighten security.

Of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, elections to 92 seats in the west were held today. The rest will vote in two phases, on February 18 and 21. Exit polls conducted by Aaj Tak, Doordarshan and Zee gave the BJP between 37 and 46 of the 92 seats. While Zee gave 28 seats to Samajwadi, Aaj Tak gave it 21 and DD 22. Aaj Tak gave the BSP 27 seats while Zee and DD both predicted that the party would get 16 seats.

Both the BJP and the Samajwadi appear to be losing ground, getting 3 per cent and 2 per cent votes less than in the 1996 elections. This is bad news for the BJP, which is not expected to do well in eastern and central Uttar Pradesh. Samajwadi holds sway over the east.

The BSP is shown to have gained with the exit polls predicting that the party might double its tally in the region.

Experts said that if the trends spill over to the rest of the state, the BSP could have an important say in government-formation. Since a BSP-Samajwadi alliance is not on the cards, the BJP could benefit from the BSP’s gains.

The bulk of the seats that went to the polls today were in Rohilkhand, which has a large minority population. The exit polls show a split in the minority votebank between Samajwadi and the BSP.

The hill state of Uttaranchal seemed headed for a fractured Assembly with the Congress failing to cash in on the people’s discontent against the ruling BJP. Others, including a third front headed by Uttarakhand Kranti Dal, BSP and Samajwadi, are expected to pick up enough seats that could make them “kingmakers”.

Whichever party forms the government, the margin is likely to be razor-thin. The low turnout could have helped the BJP.

The DD poll gave the Congress 33 seats in the 70-member House, with the BJP getting 27. Aaj Tak gave the BJP 33, the Congress 24, the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal 6 and the BSP 3. Along the same lines, the Zee survey predicted that the BJP would win 34 seats, one short of majority, the Congress 25 and the rest 11.


New Delhi, Feb. 14: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today cleared a proposal to free oil prices from government control beginning April. This will lead to lower petrol and diesel prices.

“Consumers will be happy... you wait and see,” petroleum minister Ram Naik told reporters after a meeting with the Prime Minister.

As international oil prices are lower than in India, domestic rates will fall in line with global prices once oil companies are free to set their own rates.

But the fall will be partly offset by a variable excise duty that the government plans to slap on oil products.

This will contribute to a Rs 9,000-crore fund to subsidise kerosene and cooking gas prices. A higher cess on domestic crude will also add to the kitty.

Today’s meeting helped to iron out differences between Naik and finance minister Yashwant Sinha over the amount of subsidy. Naik, however, denied that there were any differences.


New Delhi, Feb. 14: 
Conservationists in the capital are aghast at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi’s move to line two pools in the 15th century Lodi Gardens with ceramic tiles. They consider the move to refurbish the pools with striking blue tiles in the gardens dotted with stone monuments a travesty.

In Edward Lutyens’ bungalow zone, considered endangered by the World Heritage Fund, two bungalows have already been bulldozed and three more have been marked to make room for a complex in memory of B.R. Ambedkar.

To prevent such “thoughtless” desecrations, concerned people are pushing for regulations on heritage conservation and management. A high-level, two-day workshop on national policy for heritage conservation and management is being held here under the aegis of Intach and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The workshop has top professionals hammering out recommendations on the basis of which a national policy document can be formulated.

The workshop was also an ideal platform for Union culture department secretary N. Gopalaswamy to moot his ministry’s role in preserving, promoting and disseminating “our heritage”.

Gopalaswamy presented a five-pronged strategy. One, to create an awareness about heritage through public participation and NGO involvement.

Two, enlarging the list of protected monuments and buildings and initiating legislative and administrative measures for it. It is expected that every circle of the ASI will include three new sites in their list of protected structures every year in the 10th plan period. The ASI has 18 circles and so about 300 new sites will come to enjoy special rights and privileges in the next five years.

The ASI has 3,600 protected monuments. When added with the protected monuments under the care of the states, the number will go up to 1 lakh. But even that is a fraction of the number of protected monuments and buildings in a small country like the UK.

Three, to draw up a management plan for the protected monuments. It must also provide for sustainable tourism and open up employment avenues for a large section of the population living near the monuments. The support of these people is essential for the protection and preservation of the monument — their bread-earner.

Conflicts with local people in freeing protected monuments from encroachments, such as the one in Tughlakabad Fort, must be fresh in the governments’ mind.

Four, use of the National Culture Fund mechanism to enhance the flow of funds for preservation and conservation of heritage properties.

Gopalaswamy admitted that the flow of money to the culture fund had not been very smooth but ways must be found to tap its resources.

And finally, despite the downsizing mantra in the government, technical manpower of the ASI has to be supplemented, especially in the likelihood of a proliferation in the number of protected sites. The ASI is expected to play a crucial role in all this.

The ministry of culture has requested the Planning Commission to nearly double its allocation to Rs 1,767 crore in the 10th plan from Rs 920 crore in the ninth.

In the 9th plan, allocations for the ASI were increased four times from the previous plan. This time, a more modest increase of a little over Rs 229 crore has been requested.

Planning Commission deputy chairman K.C. Pant, who inaugurated the workshop, stressed the need for a movement that would involve people.

Intach vice-chairman S. K. Mishra said the agency is already reaching out to the grassroots level.


Mumbai, Feb. 14: 
What is the measure of a woman’s “empowerment”? Her education certificates? Or jewellery that she could choose herself? Which Indian state allows its women most freedom?

Measuring women’s empowerment was an issue at stake at the just-concluded annual conference of the Indian Association for the Study of Population. The demographers didn’t exactly go about with inch tapes in hand, but they were armed with determinants that ranked Indian states according to the degree of empowerment enjoyed by women in each.

First prize goes to Kerala. Then comes Punjab, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, in that order. Bengal only follows Andhra Pradesh which comes after Jammu and Kashmir. After Bengal, it is Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa. Bringing up the rear are Uttar Pradesh and the last one is Bihar.

These are the 15 bigger states from the demographer’s point of view. Among the smaller states, Delhi tops the list, followed by Goa and Mizoram.

Speaking at the seminar held at the International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, A.S. Dey, from the Population Research Centre, Sagar, listed the 19 variables he had used to rank the states, giving each a certain weightage. The variables ranged from “median age at first cohabitation with husband” to “percentage of women who have completed high school” to “percentage of women who read a newspaper/magazine at least once a week”.

Factors like “percentage of women who do not need permission to go to the market” and “percentage of women who are involved in decision making to purchase jewellery or any costly item” were also taken into account.

“Percentage of women who were beaten or physically mistreated” and “percentage of households using biomass fuel for cooking” got negative weightage.

Women with high school degrees carried high positive value.

The ranking was based on the findings of the National Family Health Survey 2, a USAID project that the International Institute for Population Sciences had co-ordinated. The survey had questioned more than 90,000 women. The data was collated three years ago, but is being processed and compiled into separate volumes for each state now.

Other papers at the seminar, titled ‘Women’s empowerment and population stabilisation’, were also based on the survey, the biggest of the kind conducted in the country.

But Leela Visaria, a population expert who works with Healthwatch, Delhi, said while the data sets some “basic floor” and “does indicate something”, the questions only pertain to the material condition of women.

“It would be better to use the word ‘autonomy’. Because ‘empowerment’ to me would also involve questions about a woman’s status vis-à-vis a man within the household. The survey questions could be better designed to probe that aspect, which has not been taken into account,” she said.

“How do you explain the fact that in Kerala, which ranks highest among the states in terms of this ‘empowerment’, there are reports of so much domestic abuse?” she asked.

The survey also says women’s literacy has gone up dramatically in the past few years in Madhya Pradesh, another point scored by chief minister Digvijay Singh.

T.K. Roy, director of the institute, pointed out how women’s literacy has worked towards population control. Among women who had completed high school, fertility fell to 1.99 children per woman in this survey from 2.15 children per woman in the first one conducted in 1992-93.


Calcutta, Feb. 14: 
The CPM will bear all the scorn heaped on it in public by its partners in the interest of a better Left Front, the party leadership said today.

“All our partners are criticising us. They are free to do it,” said state CPM secretary Anil Biswas. “But, we will not say a thing. We will put only good words about them in our party documents, because we are interested in an unnatataro baamfront (better Left Front),” Biswas said at the end of a two day-state committee meeting here.

The CPM’s forgiving attitude seems to stem more out of the realisation that it cannot afford to antagonise its partners before the panchayat elections slated for 2003. Already, the CPM has drawn criticism after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made statements about unauthorised madarsas in the state, which hurt minority sentiments.

The slogan of a better Left Front was devised by Bhattacharjee to enthuse Front partners. However, the CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc have been sniping at the CPM — at times even at Bhattacharjee’s government — since the Front returned to office for a record sixth term, hoping to loosen the CPM’s grip on the administration. An irked CPM had reacted a few times in the past few months.

Interestingly, in its draft political report for the 16th party national conference published today, the RSP accused the CPM of ignoring its proposals regarding the Front’s functioning. “We have given specific proposals to the CPM regarding the functioning of the Front and the government. But the proposals are being ignored,” the party said.

Even the proposal of spreading the front at the grassroots level was also not considered, the party alleged. The political report held the CPM’s rigidity responsible for the lack of understanding among front partners and the failure of the front’s unity at the grassroots level.

The CPM state secretary, however, chose not to retaliate. “We will not insert a single line in any of our party documents criticising any of the Left parties,” he said.

The RSP also opposed Bhattacharjee’s move to introduce an Act to combat organised crime. Former PWD minister and RSP central committee member Kshiti Goswami said his party will oppose the proposed Bill once it is placed in the Assembly.

“The chief minister and the state government would have to explain the differences between the Centre’s Prevention Of Terrorism Ordinance and the Left Front government’s proposed Prevention of Organised Crime Act. We want to know specifically how these two acts are different. If we find anything objectionable in the proposed bill that will be moved by the state government, we will oppose it in the Assembly,” Goswami said.

Biswas, however, said the Left Front meeting scheduled to be held on February 26 will discuss the proposed Act. “The cabinet of ministers will also meet during that time and certainly discuss it,” he said.

The CPM is also aware that they had lost absolute majority in the Assembly during the May 10 polls and is not in a position to criticise its partners at this critical juncture.




Maximum: 27.3°C (-2)
Minimum: 17.8°C (+2)



Relative humidity

Max: 90%
Min: 31%

Sunrise: 6.14 am

Sunset: 5.27 pm


Mainly clear sky. Minimum temperature likely to be around 17°C

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