Pakistan springs missile surprise
Head to toe, border bristles
Reform duo uncrowned
Political reunion at Rohini’s wedding
More voices join chorus against Pak
Pak bid to deny Delhi an excuse
Rebuffed by Russia, US pushes Pervez
Gujarat on Straw list
Modi’s idle minister busy in rebel camp
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, May 24: 

Antic, fires back unfazed India

Pakistan today announced missile tests from tomorrow, stirring an already boiling pot, but India reacted coolly, calling it an “antic”.

The pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to crack down on terrorists operating from territory in Pakistan’s control continued to grow with US secretary of state Colin Powell saying: “The main requirement is action. And that is essential, given the volatility of the situation. So it is important that Pakistan takes action on its assurances.”

Powell spoke to Jaswant Singh for 12 minutes today, informing the foreign minister that the message had been conveyed to Musharraf, who had assured in a statement earlier in the week that Pakistan would not allow terrorist activity from its soil or from occupied Kashmir.

As part of an agreement between the two sides, Islamabad duly informed Delhi about the missile tests it said would be carried out between May 25 and 28. Pakistan information secretary Anwar Mehmood said: “They are of a routine nature.”

Delhi said it was not impressed or scared by Islamabad’s move and stressed that there could be no scaling down of tension unless Musharraf took visible steps to stop infiltration.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “What we would expect and judge by is the specific action taken by the government of Pakistan to stop cross-border infiltration and terrorism, to dismantle the training camps for terrorists, to destroy the support and financing structures for the terrorist networks and to show conclusively that it has abandoned its use and promotion of terrorism as an instrument of state policy.”

Rao said India is “not particularly impressed by these missile antics, clearly targeted at the domestic audience of Pakistan”.

The US said it was “disappointed” by the missile test plan. Pakistan’s Shaheen and Ghauri missiles, which could be armed with nuclear warheads, have a range of 600-2,500 km.

At a summit in Moscow, President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart signed an agreement to cut the stockpile of nuclear arms, but the Indo-Pak standoff hung like an ominous cloud over the historic event.

Vladimir Putin threw his weight firmly behind India when he spoke of double standards in fighting terrorism, in language that Delhi uses while accusing Washington of coddling Musharraf.

“The issues of interaction in combating the international terrorist threat on the basis of uniform approaches and standards in evaluating any manifestations of terrorism and extremism are high on the agenda (of talks with Bush),” Putin said.

Powell said the border tension is “very dangerous” but vowed that “we’ll get them to step back”.

The Chinese also stepped in. Foreign minister Tang Jianxuan called Singh to say that India should play a more positive role in reducing the tension.


New Delhi, May 24: 
A series of battalion-level exchanges marked mostly by mortar fire has broken out over large stretches of the Line of Control from Siachen downwards and along the international boundary in Jammu.

Exchange of fire at points along the LoC is not unusual given the omnipresent tension on the uneven, rugged stretch. But the fact that the firing is now taking place from its farthest point down to the international boundary in Jammu is out of the ordinary. If the exchange of mortar fire on the short stretch of the international boundary were to be supplemented by artillery fire, it can be interpreted as an escalation.

A heavy exchange of fire can set the stage for more intense operations. Even the Kargil war broke out with a series of artillery exchanges that escalated as intruders on hilltops functioned as observers for the Pakistani artillery and directed the fire on National Highway 1A. Mortar and artillery fire can also precede military incursions. That has not, however, been the case along the LoC always.

Army sources said there was an exchange of artillery fire at Siachen last evening. In Siachen, small arms are not greatly effective and manual patrolling at all points is not possible. Artillery fire is used off and on by both sides to consolidate already-held positions.

The firing has been most intense on the stretch south of Poonch till Sangam in the Chhamb area, which is the origin of the LoC, and further south till a point marked by Border Pillar no.1 (BP1). This is roughly at the point where the state boundary of Jammu and Punjab meets the international boundary.

This is the stretch that Pakistan disputes and calls “working boundary”. The stretch runs past the Ranbirsinghpura (RS Pura), Hiranagar and Samba sectors.

Unlike the northern stretch of the LoC, this portion of the western stretch is not a high-altitude area. The incline is towards Pakistan into which the snow-fed streams and rivers flow. The streams are now mostly dry. The LoC and the boundary do not follow a straight line and very often Pakistani gun positions can target villages in Jammu’s interior. Mortars have also landed in Gurdaspur district of Punjab that adjoins Jammu’s Kathua.

A defence ministry officially said: “While there has been a regular exchange of trans-border firing along the International Border in J&K adjoining the state of Punjab, there have been no fire assaults along the International Border in the adjoining district of Gurdaspur in Punjab... As a few rounds of Pak firing directed towards Samba-Hiranagar area have spilled over (into) the adjoining areas, it is being taken as Pak firing in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab.”

A former artillery officer who has served in the region has said the “spillover of fire” is not a certainty.


New Delhi, May 24: 
Two skirmishes and a flutter brought to life a tame AICC session here today that projected Sonia Gandhi as the future prime minister and asked the government to explore all diplomatic avenues before exercising the military option against Pakistan.

Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the high command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid the credit at the duo’s door.

The motion was moved by one of Congress’ new-age leaders, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine simply nudged the process forward.

Rao suffered more humiliation when Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Sriprakash Jaiswal declared that whenever the reins of power went into the hands of a member not belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi family, communal forces had gained strength. Rao was present for most part of the deliberations but was not around when Jaiswal made the remark.

The draft economic resolution said the economy had performed better in 1991-96 (Rao-Manmohan era) than during the tenure of the current BJP-led regime. Digvijay and Prithviraj Chavan traced the origin of the Congress’ economic record to the era of Rajiv as he was the original author of reforms.

Summing up the debate on the resolution, Manmohan had little option but to accept the amendment, what with Sonia silently watching.

The session saw another round of fireworks on party policy in Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has been marginalised.

Former Karnataka chief minister S. Bangarappa argued for a tie-up with Mulayam Singh Yadav only to be challenged by Satyavrat Chaturvedi, the deputy chief whip in the Lok Sabha.

Sonia signalled to Chaturvedi to come up to the dais and make his point. Encouraged by the patronage, Chaturvedi sang like a parrot “ekla chalo re”.


Patna, May 24: 
Some friends could not make it, but several foes could. At the wedding of Laloo Prasad Yadav’s second daughter Rohini, sworn enemies outshone stars by setting aside their differences for a few minutes.

While almost the entire Cabinet stood welcoming the guests from Bollywood and Delhi’s political durbar, Laloo took turns embracing foes and friends with disarming ease.

The afternoon saw Mulayam Singh Yadav sauntering in to be warmly greeted by the man whose relation with the Samajwadi Party is anything but warm. The two Yadavs were the very picture of amiability, standing out in sharp contrast with the long faces seen at Laloo’s first daughter Misa’s wedding.

The political and personal relations between the two leaders had touched a nadir then, partly prompted by the collapse of a proposal to marry off Misa to Mulayam’s son, Akhilesh. Mulayam had then put in a perfunctory appearance at Misa’s wedding. Laloo, too, had betrayed his displeasure, replacing his famed skills at hospitality with a measured welcome. But both made amends today. Mulayam spent some time with Laloo, who went out of his way to make the guest from Uttar Pradesh feel at home.

Next came Sharad Yadav. A hug from Laloo and some refreshments later, the giant-killer who had defeated his host in Madhepura in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections took his leave.

The hour of “one-day” friends was not over yet. Ranjan Prasad Yadav, who was summarily sacked as the working president of Laloo’s party, trooped in. With an embrace, Laloo greeted Ranjan, who soon joined the host in welcoming the baratis. But Laloo’s close friends and former Prime Ministers Chandra Shekhar and H.D. Deve Gowda were unable to attend the ceremony.

Other political guests included Rajya Sabha chairperson Najma Heptullah, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, and Union ministers Shahanawaz Hussain and Ravi Shankar Prasad. Sonia Gandhi could not make it because of the AICC session, but she deputed Ajit Jogi and Oscar Fernandes.

Laloo was elated to showcase the silver screen stars. Sunil Shetty, Shatrughan Sinha and Sharad Kapoor mingled with the crowd and tucked into the delicacies. Draped in a silk punjabi and yellow dhoti, Laloo — unlike during Misa’s marriage in 1999 when he was seen wielding a stick at the gate — repeatedly called out over a chordless microphone to calm the crowd.

Chaos threatened to erupt despite the fact that there were several pandals inside the chief minister’s bungalow.

Inside, a portico-like structure, supported by large baroque-style columns of pillars, conjured up the spirit of “royalty”. Fluttering outside was a boldly printed slogan: “Abadhpuri se Janakpuri tak khushio ka hai mahal (The entire cowbelt is filled with joy).”

The most impressive was the jaimal, the main venue of the wedding, where the couple exchanged garlands. Over 400 artisans, brought over from Calcutta’s Das and Co, had created the jaimal, an impressive edifice of symmetric pillars, fading red lights and natural motifs.

Hangers-on craned necks to catch a glimpse of Laloo and Rabri Devi receiving their second son-in-law, a slim, fair-complexioned man of medium height and an aquiline nose.

While bridegroom Samresh Singh, a computer engineer, wore a sherwani and embroidered Jaipuri nagra, Rohini was decked in a Kanjivaram and surrounded by her doting sisters. A beaming Rabri Devi, in a heavy silk sari, gushed: “I am happy with my second son-in-law. He is as brilliant in academics as my first son-in-law.”

Steaming mountains of rice, vessels brimming with chicken, platters of fried mutton and a huge heap of sweets and ice-creams awaited the guests.

But not all were smacking their lips. Several shop owners grumbled about political activists raiding their establishment for “gifts” for the “royal” couple. For the past one week, milk has been in short supply. Confectioners had wiped the market dry to meet the demand for sweets for the grand wedding. Water, too, was being rationed to ensure that the tanks outside the chief minister’s house remained full.


New Delhi, May 24: 
India’s strategy of “coercive diplomacy” in its fight against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism appears to be working.

A series of world players, including the European Commission, Japan, the UN and the Commonwealth, seem to be supporting Delhi’s view that Islamabad needs to take urgent steps against terrorists operating from its soil to reduce the current tension in South Asia.

EU commissioner for external relation Chris Patten, today held a series of discussions with Indian leaders and senior officials to discuss the current tension in India-Pakistan relations, while making it clear that Islamabad has to give up terrorism as part of its foreign policy to deal with Delhi.

In the past 24 hours, world leaders joined voices with the rising chorus against Pakistan, urging it to take steps to tackle terrorism emanating from its soil. “Japan strongly expects that Pakistan will take steps to effectively stop and prevent terrorist activities, including the infiltration across the Line of Control,” said Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.

Similar views were expressed by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon yesterday in their conversation with the Indian leadership.

India told the European Commission that Delhi was exercising patience of “biblical proportion” in the face of grave provocation from Pakistan, which continued to encourage terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. This was stated clearly by foreign minister Jaswant Singh and national security advisor Brajesh Mishra in separate meetings with Patten this afternoon.

Singh told him that though hopes were expressed by the international community that Pakistan would act against terrorists, so far nothing had happened. The reference was clearly at the EU’s million-dollar economic package, released to Pakistan yesterday, for boosting its ailing economy.

Patten, who had detailed discussions on the developments in the region with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, agreed with the Indian viewpoint. He observed that “it would be a most profound miscalculation if Pakistan were to rely on turning on and off the terror tap and to think that this could be an adjunct to diplomacy.”

He made it clear that in order to reduce the tension between India and Pakistan it was absolutely essential for Islamabad to first reduce the level of infiltration and terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao, who briefed newsmen on Patten’s meetings with the Indian leaders, said Delhi was “ direct and candid “ in expressing its views that Pakistan has to recognise that it cannot engage in cross-border-terrorism and yet claim to be fighting terrorism as a member of the global coalition.


Islamabad, May 24: 
President Pervez Musharraf is reported to have issued instructions not to allow anyone to cross the border into India following a decision earlier in the week not to permit terrorist activity from Pakistan or from any territory in its control.

At a meeting of the joint chiefs of staff committee, Musharraf said Pakistan was making sure that India did not have any excuse to launch an attack using the allegation of cross-border terrorism, the daily Dawn quoted sources as saying.

The President has expressed the hope that good sense would prevail both in India and Pakistan.

“We hope that first of all good sense prevails on both sides,” he said in an interview to BBC World when asked about the prospect of diplomatic efforts succeeding in averting a conflict.

The interview was taken a few days ago — before the government statement that appeared to suggest stopping of infiltration — but was telecast on Friday. Since then, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said he sees a sky clear of war clouds.

In the interview, Musharraf said the US was playing a role and “all that I would like to say is that we would like to cooperate, certainly, because we don’t want war”.

But the President warned: “Let war not be thrust on us, then we will defend.”

Asked if war was on the cards, the President said: “If we are attacked, we will certainly defend all the way, with all our might, we will certainly defend every inch of Pakistan.”

Responding to a question about the reasons for the escalating tension, the President traced the origin to the attack on the Indian Parliament.

“There was a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, an act which we condemned,” he added.

But, the President said, the Indian government acted in great haste and “rather in an irresponsible fashion”. They amassed all their troops and raised their ante, he added.

“We reacted to it, of course, and all our army, navy and air force were also put on alert. Since then, we are maintaining the highest alert.”

Asked if there could be a unilateral withdrawal of Pakistani troops from advance positions, he said: “That may be quite dangerous.”


San Francisco, May 24: 
The signals which were flashed from Islamabad after top level meetings of the Pakistan establishment on Wednesday were triggered by remote control from Moscow, according to western diplomatic sources familiar with the backroom activity to prevent a South Asian conflict.

Frustrated by General Pervez Musharraf’s inability — real or otherwise — to prevent cross-border terror in Kashmir, the US this week tried to pull Russia into international efforts to cool temperatures in South Asia, sources in Washington said.

This was part of the Bush administration’s efforts worldwide to ensure that every country with influence — either in Islamabad or in New Delhi — did its best to avert a war between the world’s newest nuclear powers.

America’s suggestion to Moscow, in this context, was that Russia should use its influence in New Delhi to see that India exercised restraint in dealing with Pakistan.

Washington has given up asking India, at least in public, to show restraint after New Delhi expressed strong resentment about such demands in the aftermath of the attack on Parliament on December 13.

Indian ministers and officials have made it clear to the US in private after December 13 that Washington’s calls for restraint lack credibility since America has shown no restraint in dealing with Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

America’s proxy efforts via Moscow to get India to exercise restraint received a resounding rebuff when president Vladimir Putin’s top aides counselled Washington that if India showed restraint, it would only encourage terrorism.

Putin’s aides, who have been in constant and intense communication with their US counterparts in preparation for today’s Bush-Putin summit, made it clear that India’s inaction would be viewed by terrorists as a sign of New Delhi’s weakness and its inability to stand up to pressure from outside.

Therefore, if America was genuine about its determination to root out terrorism in any form and anywhere, India should be allowed to deal with terror within its borders as it deems fit, Russian officials told Washington.

The Russian message had a unique impact in Washington since the Americans have virtually given a free hand to Putin in putting down terror in Chechnya in the wake of the events of September 11. And Putin has, indeed, had considerable success in doing so.

Besides, during their meetings after September 11, President George W. Bush and Putin have developed a special rapport.

Bush considers Putin a friend and carefully considers his positions on bilateral and international issues with respect.

After receiving Moscow’s advice against counselling undue restraint by India, the Bush administration seems to have concluded the only way to prevent war in South Asia was to do some plain-speaking with Musharraf.

And the Americans appear to have done that, prompting signals from Islamabad on Wednesday showing a willingness to make compromises.

It is widely expected that the India-Pakistan crisis will figure prominently during talks between Bush and Putin, though arms control is the main agenda of their ongoing Moscow summit.

For India, the crucial Moscow-Washington exchanges on South Asia came at a fortuitous time. Ever since Pakistan made clear its intention to approach the UN Security Council, New Delhi has been in intense parleys with Moscow, seeking its support to the point where a Russian veto would be exercised in India’s favour if the need arose.

Since Russia was quietly, but firmly engaged in the Indo-Pakistan crisis, it became easier for the decision-making process in Moscow to quickly react to US suggestions and thus trigger a chain of action which finally resulted in Musharraf making a promise which few expected him to do.


London, May 24: 
Apart from asking India to de-escalate tension with Pakistan, British foreign secretary Jack Straw will also raise the question of Gujarat and the British victims during his visit to India next week.

Straw has promised the British Muslims that he will raise their concerns at the situation in Gujarat in talks with his counterpart at the foreign ministry, Jaswant Singh, and with home minister L.K. Advani.

The foreign secretary gave his personal assurance this week to Sulaiman Kazi, cousin of Mohammed Aswat — a British Gujarati who was killed during the riots.

Kazi, who along with the families of other British Gujarati victims is planning to sue Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for genocide in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, met the foreign secretary in London to convey his feelings.

He also handed him a copy of the report on the riots brought out by Communalism Combat, and an academic work into the nature of the RSS written by Dr Ram Puniani, published by Leicester University. Kazi told him that these were reports by Hindus and, therefore, could not be considered biased at all.

“The foreign secretary has pledged his support before and he reassured us this week. He was also interested in the two reports,” said Zafar Sareshwala, an Ahmedabad-based businessman, acting as a spokesman for the British families who are fighting the case against the Gujarat government.

“This is not just about the British victims, it goes beyond that for the long-term solution for securing communal harmony in the state,” he said.

Sareshwala has been a victim of riots in Ahmedabad from 1969 down to the present riots. His business premises were burnt in the March riots.

The British foreign office has informed Kazi that Gujarat police have arrested some people for the murder of his cousin. They have allegedly admitted to the crime and are said to be VHP activists.

The British foreign secretary will be in Delhi Next week. Straw has made it clear that there is a genuine threat of nuclear conflict between the two countries with disastrous consequences for the region if India and Pakistan don’t pull back from their present postures.

In the meantime, the closure of several British consular offices in Pakistan and the withdrawal of 200 staff have left hundreds of Pakistanis stranded without visas to enter Britain, specially at the peak of the summer holiday season.


Ahmedabad, May 24: 
The arrival of K.P.S. Gill has brought a semblance of normality to Gujarat, but it has shovelled more fuel into smouldering dissidence within the Narendra Modi government.

“Sidelined” home minister Gordhan Zadhaphia has joined the disgruntled camp, which already had another heavyweight, minister of state for revenue Haren Pandya. The revenue minister had turned against the chief minister after losing the home minister’s slot.

Zadhaphia, a loyalist of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel and nominee of VHP international general secretary Pravin Togadia, is fuming because he feels that he has been reduced to a “nominal” minister.

Zadhaphia’s discomfiture has grown so much that he has reportedly asked the BJP leadership to shift him to some other portfolio.

The simmering discontent reached a boiling point when the Centre deputed Gill to the state. Despite his high-profile portfolio, Zadhaphia was kept in the dark about Gill’s arrival. Next, the home minister was not consulted on transfers of senior police officers, not even those in Ahmedabad, his constituency.

The perception in state capital Gandhinagar is that the powers of the home minister are being exercised by Gill and the chief minister. Recently, when Modi finalised his two-day tour of the border areas of Jamnagar and Kutch, Zadhaphia was not informed.

BJP insiders cite another reason for Zadhaphia’s reluctance to continue in his post. His roots go back to the VHP, from where he became a BJP general secretary. He was inducted into the ministry by Modi at the VHP’s insistence.

Zadhaphia now finds himself in an awkward situation with several VHP workers being arrested on riot-related charges. The home minister is under pressure to ease the heat on the VHP workers but his clout is limited with most decisions being taken by Gill.

Whenever leaders of the VHP or the BJP call new police chief R.K. Kaushik, they are told to speak to “higher authorities”.

While the chief minister and his security adviser are hogging the limelight, dissidents in the BJP are closing ranks. The BJP leadership has taken note of the spiralling dissidence.

Even senior party functionaries like Suryakant Acharya, deputy chairman of state planning commission, admit in public that several ministers and MLAs are unhappy with Modi’s autocratic style of functioning.

But Modi’s supporters, a sizeable section, believe that the chief minister has strengthened the party, which was fast losing its base, and he should be retained at any cost.

Aware of the ongoing campaign against him, Modi is busy inaugurating small projects and schemes, converting them into public meetings.




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Minimum: 22.8°C (-4)


8.3 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 93%,
Minimum: 63%

Sunrise: 4.56 am

Sunset: 6.11 pm


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