Pervez promises permanent stop
Congress blunder in President choice
Boot, bloody nose from Becks
Cracks in junta top rung
Border blow to London concert
A growling royal gaffe
Lunatics of war in bombed-out village
Advani talks tough with US
‘Sidelined’ Sattar quits
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PERVEZ PROMISES PERMANENT STOP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
New Delhi, June 7: 
US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage today said President Pervez Musharraf had made a firm commitment to him to stop infiltration across the Line of Control “permanently”.

The American leader’s decision to announce this commitment publicly now makes it very difficult for Islamabad to wriggle out without taking firm action against cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indicating that the pressure on Musharraf had not eased, Russia said the Pakistani President could visit Moscow once he had stopped infiltration.

India sees the US deputy secretary’s comments and Russia’s message to Pakistan as a significant development. South Block officials pointed out that this was perhaps the first time Washington had publicly shared a commitment made by Musharraf in private. “This clearly shows that they are not only trying to convince Delhi, but also making it clear to Pakistan that its commitment was being closely watched,” a senior official said.

Armitage, who held discussions with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was assured by Delhi that it was willing to take “reciprocal steps” once it was satisfied that infiltration had stopped and there was an improvement in the ground situation. What these steps would be was not specified by India, but could include reviving diplomatic contact with Pakistan at the level of high commissioners and, perhaps, some military measures.

Late tonight, a state department spokesman said in Washington the US had detected a significant reduction in the number of infiltrations.

“But I would also say at this point we can’t say that this change has been done on a permanent basis, and that’s what President Musharraf has promised,” the spokesman said.

After a 35-minute meeting with Vajpayee, Armitage said he had briefed the Indian leadership on the “tone, tenor and full content” of his discussions with the Pakistani President. This, he said, included Musharraf’s “commitment to stop cross-border infiltration permanently”.

Armitage said Musharraf told him he wanted to avoid a war. The US official said this was repeated by the Indian leadership today but they “do want terrorism to stop”. He added: “And in this regard, we share the view.”

The US deputy secretary felt tension was “a bit down on both sides”. Armitage said he also discussed in Islamabad and here the possibilities and modalities of monitoring the LoC. “But no decision has been taken as yet.”

In meetings with Armitage, the Indians said they are not averse to sharing information and technology with the US and the UK on monitoring infiltration. Such sharing not only brings transparency to Indian findings, but also lends credence to its claims.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh said after his meeting with Armitage: “We are very committed to moving on the path of peace, because to peace there is really no alternative.”

Referring to the Prime Minister’s remarks before he left for Almaty, Singh said: “If what President Musharraf has said is converted on the ground into action, then certainly India will reciprocate.”

Later, foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said: “There is no established trend to suggest that there has been a drop in infiltration.”

   

 
 
CONGRESS BLUNDER IN PRESIDENT CHOICE 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, June 7: 
The Congress has frittered away the initial edge it apparently had in the election of the next President with 14 states in its control. With its first choice K.R. Narayanan likely to become history with the Opposition divided on his candidacy, the Congress is left without a fallback plan.

The presidential poll will be held on July 15 and the counting will take place on July 18.

The Congress has not come up with the name of an alternative candidate and may eventually be forced to accept the government’s nominee either through a consensus or a contest in which the NDA has a slight numerical advantage.

The perception in the Opposition and the NDA is that had the Congress not unilaterally floated Narayanan’s name, he might have got a second term. Samajwadi Party sources said their leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was miffed with Sonia Gandhi for not consulting him before announcing Narayanan’s name and giving the impression that he was the Opposition’s candidate.

Although the Left was supportive of Narayanan, Mulayam put a spanner in their works by speaking out against a second term for the incumbent President and then floating A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s name.

If the Congress had hoped that Narayanan would be accepted by the political establishment because of his Dalit moorings, Mulayam’s calculation was that Kalam would be embraced on the strength of being a Muslim. The respective assessments failed and in the end it was the desire to score brownie points that split the Opposition and gave the NDA an advantage.

The Congress’ only hope is that the NDA would settle for Krishan Kant as a consensus choice. Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said today if there was a consensus on Kant, the party would back him or else it would go for a contest. “So far the government has not conveyed its views, so at the moment things remain as they were,” he said.

Judging from the stagnancy in the Opposition camp — no meeting has taken place between the Congress and the People’s Front or the Left and the Samajwadi Party after Mulayam declined to back Narayanan — it seems unlikely an alternative response will be formulated to take on the NDA if a contest becomes inevitable.

The NDA and specially the BJP, on the contrary, have appeared much more on top of the situation from the start. It sought to counter the pro-Dalit line by trumpeting the fact that it made Mayavati the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and secured her backing for its nominee.

It also cited precedent to bolster its case for not giving Narayanan another term by stressing that, barring Rajendra Prasad, every occupant of Rashtrapati Bhavan has relinquished office after five years without ado. In Prasad’s case, the exception was necessitated by “unusual circumstances”.

The BJP’s argument in favour of its “first” choice — the Maharashtra Governor — was that in P.C. Alexander the country would have its first Christian President and one from the South to achieve regional parity at the top. If Alexander becomes President, it could spoil Sonia Gandhi’s chances of becoming Prime Minister as the two apex posts cannot go to members of the same religious minority.

   

 
 
BOOT, BLOODY NOSE FROM BECKS 
 
 
FROM KEIR RADNEDGE
 
Sapporo, June 7: 
Spain is through to the second round, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia are on their way home, holder France is teetering on the brink and David Beckham, on England’s behalf, has given Argentina a bloody nose literally and figuratively. Yet the 2002 World Cup is only a week old.

Observers here are suggesting that the present high-speed turbulence represents a significant fluctuation in the balance of power for a new century. The very fact of England’s 1-0 victory over Argentina having been staged indoors in the Sapporo Dome was another supposed sign of a new order.

But to accept such revisionism is to deny football’s very strength, which is the tradition that provides the thread of continuity beyond the comings and goings of a succession of varied superstar individuals.

Take Spain’s progress to the second round, assured already with a game to spare after its 3-1 success over Paraguay in the second round of matches in Group B. These are no raw newcomers, after all. Spain was World Cup quarter-finalist in 1934 and its league is hailed as the best in the world. Further, Real Madrid is the club champion of Europe and two of their stars, Fernando Morientes (two) and Fernando Hierro (penalty) scored the goals which struck down Paraguay.

Nothing new there then. Nor for France, the world champions, despite the threat represented by its goalless draw against Uruguay in Busan last night. It was the second time the two nations had met in the World Cup; the first was 36 years ago in a first round group in England. Then Uruguay won 2-1.

Uruguay could have won 2-1 here; the goalless draw bulging with more than enough chances at both ends. But Uruguay is hardly a newcomer to the World Cup, having won the opening tournament in 1930 and then again in 1950. Some element of its game — a cynical disregard for the spirit of fair play — has not changed but that is an issue for another day.

France, for its part, appears to be paying the penalty for sticking with an ageing defence and an over-reliance on one particular individual. Nothing new there, either. Brazil, for instance, lost the World Cup in 1966 not as supposed because it was kicked to defeat by Portugal — it had already been turned over by Hungary — but because it stuck with veterans who had only just been up to speed in 1962 and, without injured Pele, lost their self-belief.

For Brazil ‘66 read France ‘02: a French team in which veteran defenders such as Frank Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly look off the pace and who appear ill at ease without Zinedine Zidane to hold their collective hand.

As for England’s victory over Argentina, the outcome was deserved but the match lacked the emotional intensity of 1966, 1986 and 1998 — all occasions which condemned the losers to an instant exit from the World Cup. Argentina may have lost one game but it may yet patch itself up and go on to win the Cup. After all, that is how it did it in front of its own fans in 1978 — losing to Italy in the group stage but going on to outlast Holland 3-1 in the final.

The present Argentina is not as well balanced technically, tactically or psychologically as the Class of ‘78.

No disgrace either in losing to England — the country which brought the organised game of association football to the world. It has a history; very much a living history, too.

Beckham was the villain four years ago after being sent off against Argentina for a moment’s petulance. Now he has grown up into an inspiring captain who leads from the front, not afraid to take the penalty which provided appropriate revenge for 1998 when England lost in a shootout.

Nor did he shy away from the physical challenges, despite having just recovered from a broken bone in his left foot. In the first half, when Beckham clashed with Kily Gonzalez, it was the Argentine player who had to leave the pitch for treatment to a battered nose.

Beckham may have rewritten football history for now… but this World Cup has a long way to go yet and plenty more scope for both surprise and status quo.

   

 
 
CRACKS IN JUNTA TOP RUNG 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR
 
Washington, June 7: 
Shortly after US envoy Richard Armitage’s nearly two-hour talks with General Pervez Musharraf yesterday, Pakistan’s President called a meeting of his key aides.

Musharraf placed on the table a top-secret document, which Armitage had handed over to him only a few hours earlier.

The document listed in great detail specific instances of how and where Pakistan was continuing to assist Kashmiri terrorists despite Musharraf’s assurance in the last fortnight that such assistance had ceased.

Pakistan’s strongman did not have to tell those present in the room that Armitage had bluntly told him such and any other variety of future assistance to terrorists bleeding India had to stop — not briefly to get the Indians to withdraw their army, but for ever.

The message, which Armitage carried, had travelled ahead of him and trickled down within the Pakistani establishment. So had the reputation of Armitage, a one-time weightlifter with intimidating shoulders, as one capable of carrying such unpleasant messages.

This was not Musharraf’s first encounter with American ultimatums. A week after the destruction of the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush gave the head of Pakistan’s junta 24 hours to dump the Taliban or else...

Then Musharraf had followed his canny instinct for survival and decided largely on his own to join the US-led coalition against terror.

But now it was different. He wanted partners in ‘crime’. He hoped that those present in the room would share the responsibility for what Armitage had asked him to do.

The most significant line in Armitage’s press appearance after meeting Musharraf referred to assurances about ending infiltration, which the American envoy had received in Islamabad yesterday.

“Of course he (Musharraf) wants to do this, keeping intact the honour and dignity of the nation and the armed forces,” Armitage told reporters.

“Honour and dignity of the armed forces” was what was at stake at yesterday’s crucial meeting the general had summoned.

Musharraf was never in doubt in the last one week that he had lost the room for manoeuvre, on which he had thrived since becoming army chief and then the ruler of Pakistan.

Bush had conveyed to him more or less the same message which Armitage had bluntly delivered, but the US President had done it with kid gloves on Wednesday.

In any case, Musharraf succeeded in covering up his embarrassment during the phone call from the White House by congratulating Bush on the US victory against Portugal that very day in the World Cup.

Everyone knows that Bush is a sports buff. Musharraf had probably heard stories of how national security adviser Condoleezza Rice became the favourite of the President by discussing baseball with him.

If Musharraf hoped to soften Armitage’s message by this ploy, it did not work. And yesterday, the Pakistani leader was facing the music from his aides.

According to accounts trickling out of Islamabad, chief hawk and foreign minister Abdus Sattar was largely silent. He had, in any case, decided to put in his papers.

Sattar is one of those who was determined to fight for what Armitage yesterday called “the honour and dignity of the nation and the armed forces”, meaning fight to teach India a lesson and wean away Kashmir.

But the surprise at yesterday’s meeting was Lt Gen. Mohammed Aziz, the number three man in the army. He has stood by Musharraf through thick and thin and is well known in India as the general at the other end of the telephone line when the general, then chief of army staff, used expletives against his Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over Kargil in a phone talk from Beijing three years ago.

Aziz said he would support an end to infiltration, but only as a matter of tactics. It would have to resume when India de-escalated. He was supported by most of the military officials at the meeting, according to reliable accounts.

Among those who supported Musharraf was the finance minister, a favourite of the Americans. Foreign secretary Inamul Haq, normally a man of few words, probably ensured that he would succeed Sattar by forcefully opposing what was in the mind of his boss and arguing for a permanent end to infiltration.

The foreign secretary is to retire shortly and is looking for a post-retirement job.

Yesterday’s meeting only complicates the mission of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is now unlikely to arrive in the subcontinent during the weekend as the Americans had earlier indicated to his hosts in Islamabad and New Delhi.

A split in the Pakistani establishment on turning off the terrorist tap permanently means new headaches for the peacemakers stretching from Tokyo to Washington.

   

 
 
BORDER BLOW TO LONDON CONCERT 
 
 
FROM AMIT ROY
 
London, June 7: 
The Bollywood concert, “From India with Love”, which was due to be held in London’s Hyde Park on June 30, has been called off because of the current unrest between India and Pakistan, the promoters said today.

The concert, which would have donated £250,000 to Prince Charles’ charity, The Prince’s Trust, had brought together some of the biggest names in the Indian film industry, including Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Preity Zinta.

However, a rival concert, Hearthrobs, featuring Hrithik Roshan, is due to go ahead as planned at the London Arena on June 22. It will be followed by a concert in Birmingham on June 23.

In a lighthearted manner, the “Bollywood Wars” would have determined which camp had greater pulling power and whether Hrithik had taken over as the new King of Bollywood. As things now stand, he is the winner by default.

There is certainly no sense of panic among Indians in Britain. Air India officials report that it is business as usual even though the British and other European governments have advised against travel to India and Pakistan and their nationals to pull out.

In a statement, the promotors of “From India with Love Concert” — Clear Channel and Planet 7 Entertainment — “regrettably announced the postponement”. It may prove difficult arranging an alternative date, given the shooting schedules of busy actors.

“The escalating tension and the resulting withdrawal from India of the UK embassy staff means the promotors no longer have the assurance that the 100-plus performers will receive visas in time to travel to the UK for the shows,” the statement said. Another show was due to take place at the Old Trafford Stadium in Manchester on June 29.

The statement added: “The British government is strongly advising against travel to the Indian sub-continent, which has prevented the promoters from sending their production team to India to participate in vital rehearsal of the shows. Due to the current uncertainty that the standoff has caused there is increasing doubt surrounding the feasibility of staging the shows at this time and insuring them.”

It went on: “The promoters have had to take the difficult decision now rather than risk a last minute postponement and the disappointment that would cause to the tens of thousands of fans expected to attend the shows.”

As for Hrithik show, his team is currently touring the United States, from where it will arrive in London.

He is due to be joined on stage by Arjun Rampal, Aftab Shivdasani, and the Kapoor sisters, Kareena and Karisma.

Not everyone is convinced by the reasons given by the promoters.

   

 
 
A GROWLING ROYAL GAFFE 
 
 
FROM SHRABANI BASU
 
London, June 7: 
Prince Philip has done it again. Known for his gaffes on royal visits, Queen Elizabeth’s husband yesterday asked Tamil priests at a North London temple if they were Tigers.

The Duke of Edinburgh was accompanying the queen, who for the first time in her 50-year reign was visiting a temple in Britain.

The queen’s visit to the Murugan temple in Archway is part of her golden jubilee celebrations and showcases the spirit of multi-cultural Britain.

After four days of partying, which included rock concerts, pageants and pomp, the queen went to the temple yesterday. The Murugan temple is patronised mainly by Tamils from India and Sri Lanka.

As she padded about in lightly slippered feet, wearing a garland of fresh marigold and chrysanthemums, the queen was treated to a Bharatnatyam performance and a puja. She was blessed with a long reign.

After the ceremonies, the royal couple was introduced to the priests and Prince Philip enquired where they were from. On being told they were Sri Lankan Tamils, he asked: “Are you Tigers?”

The priest replied soberly: “No, we’re priests. We’re not associated with violence.”

The queen will be relieved to know the priest was surprised but not offended. “It was all a bit of a joke,” the priest said. “We were not offended. We blessed him with a long life and health and peace.”

The Duke of Edinburgh has a penchant for making uncalled for remarks and upsetting his hosts. On a visit to India in 1997, when the royal couple had visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the nearby Jallianwala Bagh, Prince Philip had wanted to know the Indian government’s version of the number of people who had died in the massacre. He had also said that he knew a relative of General Dyer.

On a recent visit to Australia, he told a group of Aborigines: “Do you still use spears?”

And, on a visit to a factory, he said: “That looks like it has been done by an Indian.”

   

 
 
LUNATICS OF WAR IN BOMBED-OUT VILLAGE 
 
 
FROM GAJINDER SINGH
 
Hamirpur (Akhnoor), June 7: 
Blown-off rooftops, bullet-riddled walls, smashed windowpanes, steel almirahs twisted out of shape — nothing seems to have escaped the relentless pounding in this village on the banks of the Chenab.

Once brimming with activity, Hamirpur has become a ghostly shadow of what it used to be. Most of the 500-odd families here have migrated to safer places in Akhnoor town or Jammu.

But the exodus began long back — in 1999 — during the Kargil conflict, when Pakistan started shelling this village on the International Border for the first time since 1971. Today, it stands witness to the growing hostility between Islamabad and New Delhi.

A quick trek through the village under continuous high-calibre fire from across the border reveals that locks in most houses have rusted away, because few have mustered up the courage to come back. Those who have, now help the army dig trenches or with other chores.

Those who had left their homes intact find it difficult to recognise them. “Each time I come here, I cry,”says sarpanch Mohan Lal Khajuria, who regularly comes here to assess the damage.

Army personnel say there have been days when Pakistani troops have fired over 200 mortar bombs and shells on the village in a single day. “If this is not war then what is?” a soldier asks.

Khajuria, who keeps shuttling between Hamirpur and Jammu once a week, says most villagers will be shocked to see the “rubble” that was once their home. The men have witnessed the devastation. But the women will break down if they come here,” he says as a bullet whistles past overhead.

When Pakistani guns opened fire nearly three years ago, many of the villagers fled, leaving everything they had. Today, some houses, whose walls have caved in, still have a shirt, a trouser or a belt hanging on doors that have all but come off their hinges. The shelling has kept even thieves away.

Living in camps scattered all over the area, Hamirpur residents are angry with the Jammu and Kashmir government for not helping them rebuild their lives. “Cultivation of land is a major source of income for us. But the government has not given us any. Most don’t want to come back. What will they do with mines all around?” says Tarsem Lal.

Another villager, Mulkh Ram, is worried about his children. “They have seen what war is like. Their heart is full of hatred towards Pakistan. They want India to wage war. Though still young, they talk of revenge. I don’t know what will happen when they grow up,” he says.

The constant shelling and firing, apart from the casualties, have led to another worry – lunatics. Many people in quite a few villages have become disbalanced and can be seen loitering in open fields close to the border. “It is a very worrying factor for us,” says a major. “We have prepared a list of lunatics in our area with the help of the village chiefs and are keeping a close watch on their activities. There are reports that Pakistan has pushed in spies who behave like lunatics and base themselves near army camps. We are on alert.”

There are reports that agents of the Inter-Services Intelligence, injected with some kind of drug, are being pushed into the state. The drug makes them act like lunatics for about a fortnight and do not arouse much suspicion. As the effect of the drug wears out, they infiltrate the local population to carry out their assigned mission.

The increasing cases of lunacy was detected after the recovery of a large number of dirty cloth-bags from bus stands along the International Border and the Line of Control.

“Locals remembered the bag being carried by lunatics who have now simply disappeared. After the Anantnag incident, where a 70-year-old Pakistani disguised as a beggar killed a colonel, we are not willing to take any chances,” says an army officer.

   

 
 
ADVANI TALKS TOUGH WITH US 
 
 
FROM SEEMA GUHA
 
New Delhi, June 7: 
US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage appeared grim as he stepped out of L.K. Advani’s North Block office after a meeting with the home minister this afternoon.

The home minister’s forceful denunciation of Pakistan’s role in fuelling violence in Kashmir and his cynical view of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s ability to deliver on his promises must have given Armitage a fair idea of how tough his mission to the subcontinent was.

Advani’s message to Armitage was clear: If Musharraf wanted India to be convinced of his sincerity, he should not only stop infiltration of armed terrorists, but smash terrorist camps near the LoC and the international border. Wireless messages, directing and encouraging militants in Kashmir should also come to an end. Unless all this was done, it would be difficult for New Delhi to be convinced of Islamabad’s sincerity.

The home minister, sources said, did not mince his words and produced data to show how infiltration and violence in Kashmir had even gone up after Musharraf’s address on January 12, where he sternly lectured his country on the evil effects of terrorism.

Advani also said Musharraf had made it plain that he had no intention of handing over to India the 20 terrorists on the list given to Pakistan.

Armitage was accompanied by US ambassador to India, Richard Blackwill, and James Moriaty, senior director of the National Security Council and special assistant to the President. Major General Michael Dunn of the USAF, Donald Camp, deputy assistant secretary for South Asian Affairs, and Sheetal Patel, a political officer and note-taker for the US delegation, were also present.

Besides Advani, two junior ministers, I.D. Swami and Vidyasagar Rao, attended the meeting. Also present were home secretary Kamal Pandey, Intelligence Bureau director K.P. Singh, special secretary Jammu and Kashmir A.K. Bhandari and MEA joint secretary for the Americas Jayant Prasad.

A little before the half-an- hour-meeting ended, Armitage got a taste of the capitals power cuts, as the lights in Advani’s room went off. Though stand-by arrangements were in place and power returned, the rest of North Block continued to be without power.

Earlier in the day at a function in Delhi, Advani said international opinion on Kashmir had undergone a sea change “from Agra to Almaty”. The minister added: “If Pakistan does not deliver on its commitment and India reacts in accordance with popular sentiments, it would be considered appropriate.”

   

 
 
‘SIDELINED’ SATTAR QUITS 
 
 
FROM IDREES BAKHTIAR
 
Islamabad, June 7: 
Pakistan foreign minister Abdus Sattar has bowed out to pave way for a “dynamic” personality representing “the new school”.

Although officially the reason for his resignation has been given as ill health, sources said he had been sidelined for quite some time and had been asking President Pervez Musharraf to relieve him. Now, the sources added, Musharraf is said to have accepted his resignation.

There have been rumours in the past about his resignations, but those were denied.

Sattar underwent a three-hour endoscopy at a hospital in Lahore in the last week of May. The surgery, though having cured Sattar’s chronic nasal polyps, is said to have left the foreign minister too weak, making it difficult for him to do justice to his onerous duties at a time of crackling tension with India.

That, at least, is the official version. Sattar is a well-known foreign policy hawk and his departure coincides with international efforts to persuade Musharraf to stop infiltration across the Line of Control into India as the first step in a South Asia peace push.

Sattar left on a day US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage was in town on a subcontinental mission to avert a war. “I have offered the resignation on medical grounds,” Sattar told a newspaper. “My health does not permit me to fulfil the responsibilities.”

Sources say Sattar represented the old school in the foreign office while those who rule the roast want a ‘dynamic’ personality in the chair as the atmosphere around Pakistan changes with the US war on terrorism in Aghanistan.

Musharraf has been considering a shortlist of candidates to replace Sattar. The names of Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, foreign secretary Inamul Haq, former foreign secretaries Najmuddin Sheikh and Sheharyar Khan have come up as possible successors.

Musharraf’s office has yet to formally announce whether the President had accepted the resignation while sources said it might be some time before Sattar is relieved.

The foreign minister’s official programme for tomorrow, when he meets his Bangladesh counterpart M. Morshed Khan, remains unchanged.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 38.1°C (+3)
Minimum: 29.0°C (+2)

Rainfall

0.8 mm

Relative humidity

Maximum: 89%,
Minimum: 52

Sunrise: 4.54 am

Sunset: 6.16 pm

Today

Generally cloudy sky, with possibility of rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts
   
 

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