Brainstorming moves to war room
Dismayed BJP blames Sonia
Shell-burst on border houses
Ex-army chief allays war alarm
Order to scan madarsas
Belated correction of blunder

New Delhi, May 18: 

Briefing focus on four factors

The chiefs of the armed forces today briefed the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet Committee on Security in the defence ministry’s operations room against the backdrop of an increase in firing on the western stretch of the Line of Control over the last 48 hours.

A war room briefing is top secret. This is the second time after the troops were put on forward deployment since the December 13 attack on Parliament that such a briefing was held.

Among those who attended were home minister L.K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes, the Centre’s interlocutor on Kashmir, K.C. Pant, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, finance minister Yashwant Sinha and officials of intelligence agencies.

The briefings by General S. Padmanabhan, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy and Admiral Madhvendra Singh were further supplemented by a report on the situation along the LoC and the international boundary with Pakistan by officers monitoring operations, chiefly director-general of military operations Lt Gen. S.S. Chahal and director-general of military intelligence Lt Gen. O.S. Lohchhab.

The briefing lasted little more than an hour after which the Cabinet Committee on Security met at the Prime Minister’s office. External affairs minister Jaswant Singh said there were “in-depth” presentations.

The briefings and review covered four main areas — the ground situation, meaning the level of forces and an assessment of threats; the level of US military presence in the region, including the Arabian Sea; intelligence reports on the location and movement of militant camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir; routes of infiltration across the LoC and weather conditions. There was also a report on the firing along the LoC.

The general perception in the defence ministry on the tension along the LoC is that the firing and shelling are within manageable proportions. This means that they have not been at a level that is extraordinary for the LoC. Yesterday, the firing was mainly in the R.S. Pura and Samba sectors. Today, it was said to have extended to Poonch and Uri.

In times of hostility — such as now — firing on the LoC has served to ratchet up the tension. This is mainly for two reasons. First, they become the subject of media focus and, second, because each side is wary of incursions, they resort to preventive firing under orders mainly from local commanders.

Jaswant Singh said Indian forces have retaliated to the “fire assault” by Pakistan. Official sources also said the firing was from infantry weapons. The LoC is a stretch where even artillery firing is frequent. It is not usually admitted officially.

In Pakistan, Musharraf today asked all military personnel on civilian duty to report for postings because of the “Indian leadership’s threat”. Asked if the services were doing the same here, defence ministry sources said there was no need because the forces were already on high alert. Over the past two months, army formations, including a strike corps, has been exercising. This means that all personnel are already at required stations. Another round of exercises is due from May 21.

Defence secretary Yogendra Narain is slated to leave for Washington early tomorrow to visit military establishments in the US and for a scheduled meeting of the India-US Defence Policy Group.


New Delhi, May 18: 
The BJP, which has been clamouring for tough action against Pakistan after terrorists attacked an army camp near Jammu, today set aside jingoism and reacted meekly to the government’s decision to seek the recall of Pakistani envoy Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

Welcoming the government’s decision, senior BJP leader J.P. Mathur said it was a “good step but a little late”. Party general secretary Pyarelal Khandelwal said it was a “good step” and “a clear message to Pakistan that the Indian government is serious and we are hopeful that the international community would realise the seriousness of the situation and how this country views the threat”.

Frustrated at the government’s lack of resolve, a senior BJP leader, however, found fault with the Congress for the government’s inaction.

Asked why after the hype over the impending action the Vajpayee regime had reacted so mildly by seeking the recall of Qazi, a senior BJP leader lambasted Sonia Gandhi for her speech on the Jammu incident in the Lok Sabha yesterday.

“Read between the lines. She is not at all supporting the government. The Congress president, in fact, had launched a scathing criticism of the government. She said rhetoric is no substitute for strategy and vision. What does it mean?” he asked, denying that the party and the government were at a loss after an overdose of jingoism.

While the main Opposition party, the Congress, supported the move to seek the recall of Qazi, other parties reacted cautiously. The Rashtriya Janata Dal termed it as a mere “eyewash” while Left parties questioned the “rationale” behind the move.

“We support the government’s decision to send back Pakistan high commissioner Qazi. It was long overdue,” said Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy.

India had withdrawn its high commissioner to Islamabad five months ago and expected Pakistan to respond to some of its requests, Reddy said.

“But the response from the Pakistan government has been next to none. We, therefore, think that this step is fully justified,” he added.

Mathur said it was unfortunate that the Pakistan high commissioner stayed put in this country even after India had recalled its representative from that country.

“Unfortunately, Qazi stayed put unashamedly. One could imagine what the ulterior motive could be and he was doing for his country what a diplomat of his status should not have done,” the BJP leader said.


Srinagar, May 18: 
Two securitymen were gunned down by militants while a civilian died in heavy cross-border shelling today.

Six persons were also injured in the shelling in several sectors of northern Kashmir’s Kupwara and Baramullah districts.

Two jawans of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were killed by militants this afternoon at the main market in Pattan on the Srinagar-Uri national highway.

Police said the rebels fled after firing pistol shots from a close range at the two soldiers. Traffic was disrupted as securitymen cordoned off the area and launched a search operation.

Pakistani troops fired heavily along the Line of Control in Uri, Keran, Karnah and Gurez since early today, killing a civilian, Mohammad Sharief.

Six, including a school teacher, were injured. The victims were shifted to Srinagar for treatment.

“The shelling started abruptly this morning. I was standing in my compound and suddenly a shell landed near our house. I was hit by a shrapnel and fell down,” said Naseema Jan from Uri, who is being treated at the hospital here.

“We took shelter in the house,” Uri’s father Gulzar Ahmad said. “Shells rained every second and we later fled from the village. The area is highly tense.”

The Indian army retaliated, shelling Pakistani positions along the LoC. The shelling continued till late this evening.

A report from Jammu said Pakistani troops fired mortars along the international border in R.S. Pura, Ramgrah, Hiranagar and Banglar sectors.

According to defence sources, shelling stopped in the wee hours this morning. Sixteen houses were damaged in the firing.

Some 6,000 villagers living near the border have been shifted to safer areas because of the heavy shelling.


Chandigarh, May 18: 
Former army chief General Ved Prakash Malik today said a “full-scale war with Pakistan would be the last option to be exercised”.

Malik said the Centre’s decision to ask Pakistan high commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi to leave “was one of the diplomatic options available with India which has been exercised” and does not necessarily mean that both countries are heading for “war”.

“I don’t think that Qazi’s issue is an indicator that we are heading for war. It is a diplomatic move and should be seen in that light. But there is no doubt that the situation on the border with Pakistan is bad,” the former army chief said.

Malik, however, added that another incident like the one on May 14 could “trigger war”. General Malik had led the army to successfully recapture territory from Pakistan in Kargil in 1999. He now advises the Centre on security matters.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Malik said there is “a lot of tension especially after the brutal May 14 fidayeen attack on a bus on the Jammu-Pathankot highway and the Kaluchak army camp.” The attack killed 30 persons, including women and children, and injured at least 50.


Hyderabad, May 18: 
The Centre has directed all state governments to keep a “close watch” on madarsas, particularly those operating in the border areas of the country.

Union minister of state for home affairs K. Vidyasagar Rao said the decision followed a report by a group of Union ministers on internal security that some organisations were misusing their minority status and were involved in anti-national activities in places of worship.

The minister, however, discounted suggestions that the BJP-led government was opposed to the madarsa system of education, saying there was need for “greater surveillance” on such institutions as some of them had “come under cloud”.

Stating that the Centre was keen on modernising madarsas by introducing science, mathematics, computer sciences and other subjects, Rao appealed to Muslim leaders to “avail benefits” that are being offered by the human resources development ministry.

Since administrative control of madarsas rests with state governments, it was their duty to regularise these institutions, he said. “Unless states have a close vigilance, it will be difficult for the Centre to know about the activities (of madarsas) and how funds are being utilised.”

Rao said the Centre had urged all state governments to initiate action in this regard under the Prevention of Religious Institutions Security Act, 1988. “Any organisation found violating the Act will be summarily wound up and their assets forfeited.” The minister added that only Rajasthan, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh had their own legislation for regulating religious institutions.

Of the total 31,857 madarsas in the country, as many as 11,453 were being run in border states, including 3,823 in the states bordering Pakistan, Rao said. Kerala has the maximum number of madarsas at 9,975 while Andhra Pradesh has 721, he added.

The minister replied in the negative when asked whether there was any move to introduce a law giving powers to the Centre to control madarsas. The Centre was, however, contemplating amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act for more effective monitoring of the sources and uses of funds. Rao added that foreign funds of over Rs 4,000 crore were received by religious institutions in the country last year.


New Delhi, May 18: 
The CPM’s “historic blunder” still hurts Jyoti Basu. But the party is ready to make amends if the situation so demands, said the man who missed being Prime Minister by a whisker in 1996 because of opposition from his own party members.

Delivering the seventh G.V. Mavalankar lecture here today, the CPM leader said: “Taking reality into consideration, we have now clarified that our party will consider participating in a government at the Centre, depending on the concrete situation.”

The CPM’s dilly-dallying in 1996 had cost the then chief minister of Bengal the crown. By the time the party changed its stand, it was too late. The NDA government was comfortably ensconced at the Centre and a forlorn third front was left with just one strong political player on its side — the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Basu again raised the issue today. He said it is necessary to clear the CPM’s stand on “participation” since a “complicated” situation has arisen in Indian politics both at the Centre and in the states.

“We try sincerely in both cases to help implement a common minimum programme while advocating changes necessary for taking our country forward,” the CPM leader said.

However, a common minimum programme would be hard to come by, a point Basu made clear in his speech by lashing out at the Congress. Despite the budget session ending on a note of camaraderie among all Opposition parties, Basu said the bonhomie between the Congress and the CPM is bound to be short-lived.

“I am amazed to see that the Congress which got isolated from the people after long years because of its various policies is not making any self criticism about its mistaken social, political and economic policies,” said Basu. This, the CPM patriarch underlined, was despite the Congress being the largest Opposition party that was “still adhering to secularism”.

He had more harsh words for the Congress. The party had initially supported the United Front government, but “later, it irresponsibly withdrew its support, giving advantage to the BJP”, Basu alleged.

Conceding the Left’s failure in countering the Right forces, Basu said: “It is unfortunate that Left democratic forces have been unequal to the task despite their attempts to counter reaction. But efforts are on to present a viable alternative.”

Basu reserved his comments on Gujarat till the end of his speech. “I feel sad, ashamed and also angry but refuse to be overwhelmed by the forces of darkness. It is welcoming to see a kind of consensus condemning the barbarism which has come up in our country,” he said.


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