Soft strike springs out of war room
PM for front line
Pakistan holds fire
Modi trio leaves Gill in the lurch
At last, course correction
Cannes waits for the queen
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 18: 
India today took a deliberate, though perhaps the softest, step to relaunch diplomatic assault on Pakistan, asking Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, its high commissioner in New Delhi, to leave the country within a week. More such steps over the next few days are not being ruled out.

Qazi had already been marginalised after Delhi withdrew its high commissioner in Islamabad after the December 13 attack on Parliament. Since then, the foreign ministry had been communicating with Pakistan’s deputy chief of mission Jalil Abbas Jilani.

Asking Qazi to leave only formalises the existing situation.

The move, which appears well-calibrated, could be a signal to the world community, particularly the US, that India is still waiting for some visible signs from Pakistan that it is serious about stopping cross-border terrorism.

But the decision may also be a red herring, aimed at throwing the enemy off-guard before Delhi decides on a military strike to punish those responsible for Tuesday’s attack in Jammu. Over 30 people died when militants opened fire on bus passengers and stormed an army camp.

The decision to ask Qazi to leave was taken after the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) met for one-and-a-half-hours this morning. Chaired by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, the meeting was attended by defence minister George Fernandes, home minister L.K. Advani, foreign minister Jaswant Singh and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

Before the CCS met, the three army chiefs had briefed Vajpayee in the “war room”, in what was only the second such briefing since the Parliament attack. Sources said Vajpayee’s address to the military commanders was full of nationalistic fervour. “He made the kind of speech a Prime Minister would make before going to war,” they said.

It was the foreign minister who announced after the CCS meeting that Qazi would have to go. Singh said it had been decided that the Pakistani high commissioner “be required to return to Islamabad” and justified the stand, saying it was “for the sake of parity in representation between the two countries”.

Later, Jilani was summoned to South Block, where joint secretary (Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan) in the foreign ministry Arun Singh, through a demarche, told him of India’s decision. Delhi backed it with the charge that Islamabad was still aiding and abetting terrorism and was responsible for escalating tension between the neighbours.

“This is a significant step and the Government of India has, after a detailed examination of the situation, decided on this measure,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. “We have seen no diminution whatsoever in Pakistan’s support for terrorism. The figures of infiltration continue to be high. We have received reports of training camps for terrorists continuing to flourish in Pakistani territory and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.”

Rao said the attack on Kaluchak was “testimony to the fact that Pakistan continues to aid and abet the process of infiltration … and cross-border terrorism”. The continuing “phenomenon”, she added, “affects innocent people, innocent Indian men, women and children”.

Qazi said he was “sorry” to leave India. “I have been here for five years and made many friends. Despite difficulties in the relationship, it has been a challenging and rewarding assignment. I regret that the step is taken. It is India’s sovereign decision and we accept it.”

But Delhi does not have many more diplomatic options left, having exhausted most of them after December 13. It has reduced the staff strength in its Islamabad mission by half and could slash it further. As an extreme measure, it could also close the mission down. Road, rail and air links between the two countries are already suspended.

Another tough step would be abrogating the Indus Water Treaty, negotiations for which the two sides are scheduled to meet later this month.

Casualty claim

Ten Pakistani soldiers were killed and 15 enemy bunkers destroyed in retaliatory firing and shelling by Indian troops, a defence spokesman said.


New Delhi, May 18: 
The Prime Minister will get away from the capital’s blazing sun and toy-pistol-wielding sadhus demanding action against Pakistan. But Atal Bihari Vajpayee will go to the front line and Kashmir before heading for the usual retreat in Manali.

The Prime Minister will address troops in the forward areas to boost their morale. Vajpayee is also expected to visit Jammu early next week and reach Kashmir on Wednesday.

The vacation in Manali, scheduled to begin from Monday, may now start from May 24.


Islamabad, May 18: 
Pakistan has sought to play down the high commissioner’s virtual expulsion, expressing “disappointment” but avoiding any comments that could reflect outrage.

The initial reaction in Islamabad was mild and stood out against the backdrop of the rhetoric such actions usually generate.

“The Government of Pakistan has noted with disappointment the decision of the Government of India to ask for the withdrawal of Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi,” read a statement issued by the foreign ministry spokesman. Accordingly, he said, Pakistan has decided to recall the high commissioner.

The restraint was an indication that Islamabad was making a conscious effort not to escalate the situation. Observers felt that it could be because the Pakistan government was confident that the US would dissuade India from using the military option.

The muted response was in sharp contrast with an earlier statement by a minister who told a newspaper that Pakistan would take “equal or more steps” if India attacked.

“We have two options. Either to act in the same manner (issuing an equal threat) or to encourage India to engage in the peace dialogue. There’s a readiness on our side and now it’s up to India to decide to have peace or not. We will take equal or more steps against India in case of aggression,” information minister Nisar Memon told The News.


Ahmedabad, May 18: 
The first signs of discord between K.P.S. Gill and the Gujarat government emerged this week after three senior ministers kept him waiting and did not turn up for a meeting with the security adviser the Centre had forced on Narendra Modi.

The supercop, who has been sent “without clear powers” but with a specific brief to restore law and peace, had last Thursday invited home minister Gordhan Zadaphia, revenue minister Haren Pandya and civil supplies minister Bharat Barot to the CRPF guest house near Gandhinagar where he stays.

He wanted to discuss with the three MLAs from Ahmedabad ways to encourage citizens to take up peace initiatives. Several minority community members had levelled allegations against the three and questioned their role during the worst phase of the riots.

Zadaphia later refused comment when asked whether the security adviser had invited him. “It is good to keep mum these days,” the home minister said.

Though his office confirmed that he had invited the ministers, Gill steered clear of a controversy. “I do not comment on such issues,” he said. “My job is restoration of peace, which I am doing.”

Gill claimed he was receiving “full cooperation from the state government” and that he was getting along well with the chief minister.

The former Punjab police chief also dodged another query involving deputy inspector general A.K. Surolia, an upright officer who was transferred though Gill wanted him in Ahmedabad to handle sensitive cases. “He has gone on deputation to BSF. That’s it,” Gill said.

Government spokesman I.K. Jadeja, feigning ignorance about Gill’s invitation, said according to protocol, “only a chief minister” can call ministers. “If Gill wants to meet any ministers, he will have to go to them, not the other way round.”

But sources said it was not just a matter of protocol but a snub apparently at the behest of Modi, who has reportedly made it clear to his Cabinet colleagues not to pay “too much attention to Gill”.

While Barot could not be contacted, Pandya claimed he could not meet Gill because of other engagements. Pandya, it is learnt, had already met Gill last week.

But another minister, who did not want to be named, warned it was the “beginning of the conflict and signs of the shape of ugly things to come”.


Washington, May 18: 
India’s decision to ask Pakistan’s envoy Ashraf Jehangir Qazi to go home has corrected an anomaly which blunted New Delhi’s diplomatic offensive against Islamabad in the wake of the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13.

Although the world sat up and sweated over India’s decision to recall high commissioner Vijay Nambiar from Islamabad and take a series of steps following the attack on Parliament, South Block’s diplomatic offensive lost its momentum when word leaked that a decision had been taken at the highest level in New Delhi to pick Harsh Bhasin as Nambiar’s eventual successor.

In world capitals which leaned comprehensively on General Pervez Musharraf on the terrorism issue —

leading to his landmark speech on January 12 – the agreement, albeit informal, on a successor to Nambiar was interpreted as a sign that after a few months of rhetoric from New Delhi and repartees from Islamabad, everything would be back to normal in South Asia.

Indeed, it was back to normal last week and Pakistan once again returned to its business of bleeding India, as the terrorist attack in Kashmir made it clear.

By not asking Qazi to pack up and leave at the same time that Nambiar was summoned home, South Block erred in sending a wrong signal to the world — more so to Islamabad — that India would not cross the Rubicon even after the grave provocation of December 13.

It did not help matters that there was a free-for-all for succeeding Nambiar: although it was behind the

scenes, it was all too obvious to the diplomatic community in Chanakyapuri.

The competition, in which Bhasin who gave up the envoy’s job in South Africa to teach at New York

University, came out on top sent the message that it was only a matter of time before India had a new head of mission in Islamabad.

Today’s decision to downgrade Pakistan’s diplomatic representation on Shanti Path has brought back on track a diplomatic offensive which went astray a few weeks after its commendable start in December.

But not before five months of vacillation did considerable damage to the Indian campaign against


Here is one example. UN officials who travelled with secretary-general Kofi Annan to Islamabad at the end of January came back and reported that all would be well between India and Pakistan soon.

Off-the-record briefings by these officials to UN members in New York sent out an impression to the

whole world that the discord between New Delhi and Islamabad after December 13 was only cosmetic: the two countries would live with the problems of the region as they have done for over 50 years.

It was quite the opposite of the message which India sought to convey after the attack on Parliament that New Delhi’s patience was not inifinite.

The error in delaying Qazi’s expulsion was compounded a fortnight ago when India invited Pakistani officials to New Delhi for the 87th meeting of the Indus Water Treaty Commission on May 29.

The decision surprised many countries which had expected New Delhi to use Indus water as a tool to

tighten the screws on Pakistan and force General Pervez Musharraf’s junta to rein in terrorists.

It became clear as soon as India sent out the invitations to Pakistan’s water management officials

that New Delhi’s action had sent out the wrong signals.

Instead of acknowledging New Delhi’s decision to convene the Indus Water Treaty Commission as a

humanitarian gesture, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Khan warned that the May 29 meeting would dispute the legality of India’s Baglihar hydro-electric project on Chenab River and the

construction of flood protection works on Ravi river.

The spokesman even threatened to drag India to an arbitration mechanism if New Delhi did not appease Islamabad on the water issue.

With today’s announcement that Qazi would be sent home, governments across the world will look for a decision on going ahead with the May 29 meeting as a signal whether India means business in dealing with the terrorist threat from across its border.


Cannes, May 18: 
The scene has been set for Aishwarya Rai, the Queen of Bollywood, to conquer Cannes.

This year’s Cannes Film Festival, the 55th, will be about showcasing the world’s most talented movie makers, doing deals, enjoying power lunches, catching the sun, sea and (for those so inclined) a bit of sex, but above all, about beautiful women and glamour.

Will India, which is out to create a splash this year, be able to match the others on the last two ingredients?

“Aishwarya Rai is coming for the premiere of Devdas,” noted Anjuly Chibduggal, a joint secretary in the ministry of information & broadcasting, who is already here in Cannes as an advance guard for her minister, Sushma Swaraj. “I rest my case.”

Aishwarya is cast as Paro in the remake of the film based on the novel published in 1917 by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay.

Her co-stars in the $12 million movie, said to be the most expensive made in India, are Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, who play Devdas, the film’s tragic hero, and the courtesan Chandramukhi, respectively.

This year, the Cannes film authorities have chosen five films, including Devdas, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, for “special screenings out of competition”.

Devdas is the first Bollywood film to get an official screening at Cannes and represents a kind of breakthrough India has been able to make. The film will have two screenings on May 23.

One is for the press at 11.30 am at the Grand Theatre Lumiere, the festival’s main cinema, and a second, a kind of gala screening attended by the stars decked out in all their finery, at 10.30 pm.

Since Cannes is normally covered by between 4,000 and 5,000 journalists from all over the world, the reaction of outsiders not used to lavish Bollywood song and dance spectaculars will be intriguing.

Apart from Devdas, the festival has organised a tribute to Raj Kapoor, with screenings on consecutive days, starting May 21, of Awara, Barsaat and Aag. The inaugural ceremony will be attended by several members of Raj Kapoor’s family, led by Randhir.

The president of the festival, Gilles Jacob, and Thierry Fremaux, who is a senior member of the Cannes committee, are also expected to come. Karisma and Kareena were desperate to fly in but apparently have not been released by the organisers of a show in America in which the Kapoor girls are due to perform.

Market screenings have been arranged for a number of Indian films, including Manu Rewal’s Hollywood ka Pukar, to be shown in the “Directors’ Fortnight sidelines”, and Tridip K. Poddar’s Khoj, presented by Satyajit Ray Films & TV Institute of Calcutta.

This year, the Pavilion, which occupies 100 sq. metres in area, is twice as big as the one in 2001. It was officially inaugurated on May 15 by Mrs Savitri Kunadi, the Indian ambassador in Paris.

Swaraj, who came to Cannes last year, must be given some of the credit for the enhanced Indian presence this year. She is returning to Cannes on May 20 and intends to stay until the screening of Devdas, according to Chibduggal.

NFDC and Zee TV have taken out stalls at the Cannes Market, which runs parallel to the festival and where much of the wheeling and dealing are done. India’s interests are being represented by two delegations, said to number as many as 40, from the CII and the FICCI.

Asked for her initial reaction as a first-timer to Cannes, Chibduggal responded: “It’s such a big market.”

She listed what India had to offer to film makers abroad: “Indian cinema, post-production services, locations for shooting and co-production.”

Having visited Cannes last year, when Swaraj was given a warm welcome by senior figures at the festival, there does appear to have been a change of heart towards the whole notion of a liberal culture on the minister’s part. Either she has had her head turned by the glamour of Cannes -- and it is hard not to be affected by its glitter and dazzle -- or she has appreciated that Bollywood has a money earning potential, which can be exploited. At the last count, Indian cinema earned Rs 900 crore in exports for the country.

That figure, according to Chibduggal, can be upped many times. “I am very excited,” she said.

That sense of excitement that India is making progress on the film front, especially post-Lagaan, has percolated through to many other Indians -- from stars to officials at the Indian embassy in Paris.

Preity Zinta is another Indian actress making her way to Cannes, partly to promote a concert at Hyde Park in London called From India with Love and partly to demonstrate that Indian stars are as stunning as their Hollywood equivalents.

Karan Johar will be also in Cannes this year. “We have a market screening of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham,” he said. His father, Yash Johar, and Subhash Ghai are also expected to attend.

No one has been working more diligently to make things happen for Indian than Sanjay Panda, the diplomat responsible for press and culture at the Indian embassy in Paris. Between May 21 and May 23, Cannes will be buzzing with Indian events.

There will be an “India Day Reception” at the Carlton, the best hotel in Cannes where the management has agreed, exceptionally, for samosa and chicken tikka to be served.

These concessions have tested the skills of Indian diplomats, as has the question of what Indians may or may not wear to the “Monte des Marche”, the ceremony when the stars of Devdas will walk on the red carpet and up the stairs into the main cinema past the ranks of the world’s photographers.

The French are sticklers for protocol and tradition decrees a strict dress code. “It’s black tie for men and ball gowns for women,” Panda pointed out. “Sushma Swaraj will wear a sari,” Panda added emphatically.

The French have been gracious enough to realise when they have lost a battle. Indian men can wear national dress. “But no kurtas or dhotis,” conceded Panda. “They may wear sherwanis but they will have to be black sherwanis.”




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