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Comrades conquer, here and there
- Musharraf responds to Surjeet-Bardhan request, opens prison door

Islamabad, March 1: It's not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh alone who's listening to what the Left tells him. Even the President is doing the same ' the President across the border, Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf today ordered immediate release of some Indian youths jailed in Pakistan for illegally crossing into the country from Iran last month.

'The President issued the orders on a formal request by Harkishen Singh Surjeet, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who met him along with a senior CPI leader A.B. Bardhan in Rawalpindi,' foreign ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said in a statement after the meeting.

At least 29 Indians ' all from Punjab, Surjeet's home state ' were arrested by Pakistani forces allegedly for crossing the border with Iran on January 23 without valid travel papers.

Ten days before that, Iranian border guards had caught the group when they were trying to enter Turkey.

Police in southwestern Baluchistan province said the arrested Indians, aged between 28 and 35, were 'pushed' into Pakistan over the Taftan border, about 700 km southwest of Quetta.

By agreeing immediately to free them, Musharraf has handed the Left leaders a second consecutive success in as many days. Back home in India, finance minister P. Chidambaram placed a budget yesterday where the Left's mark has appeared obvious to many commentators because of its stress on 'growth with equity'.

Musharraf, obviously, knows a friend when he sees one. The Left has always been a member of the India-Pakistan friendship society, favouring talks rather than tanks on the border, while not being exactly dovish on certain policies within the country ' as Chidambaram knows.

The President will also not be unaware of its influence as an ally of the Manmohan Singh government. He acknowledged the role of the two leaders in promoting peace in the region and the Left's support for the composite dialogue between the two governments.

A mutual admiration society seemed to have been formed on the spot. The Left leaders said Musharraf displayed sincerity in addressing all Indo-Pak issues. 'He is very frank and honestly answered all our queries,' Surjeet said.

'I do not want to be known in history as a man who failed,' Bardhan quoted Musharraf as saying.

Observers refused to read any grand design behind Musharraf's decision, calling it just a goodwill gesture to a comrade from Punjab.

They did comment, though, on the excellent design of Comrade Surjeet's suit. In India, there was wonderment at his attire, few recalling ever having seen him in a formal western wear. The 87-year-old CPM leader, known for bringing his party around to supporting a Congress-led government in Delhi, is always seen in a white kurta-pajama ' the kind that is worn in Punjab.

Musharraf would have known Surjeet's strong ties with Lahore, once a part of undivided Punjab, where he spent four months in solitary confinement during the freedom struggle. The two arrived in the Pakistan capital after spending three days in Lahore.

The President told them the two sides should avoid creating new irritants, referring to the controversy over the Baglihar hydel project that India is determined to push ahead with despite Pakistan's objection. He said Pakistan was willing to hold talks provided India stopped construction.

Musharraf built further on his reputation as a charmer with the two leaders, despite their ideological allergy to military rulers, giving him a glowing certificate. They said they found in him the 'courage of a leader and not a general'.

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