India sidesteps Lahore trap
35 massacred in Bihar
States face diktat to cap jobs or pay
US Bill for five-year sanctions waiver
Trauma & camera chase children
Ghani issues ultimatum
Calcutta weather

 
 
INDIA SIDESTEPS LAHORE TRAP 
 
 
FROM PRANAY SHARMA
 
Nuwara Eliya (Sri Lanka), March 18: 
An alert Indian side today thwarted a clever Pakistani move to legitimise bilateral issues in the report of the Saarc standing council by insisting that a special reference be made on the Lahore Declaration.

The stand-off delayed the Saarc foreign ministers? meeting, which was scheduled to begin in the morning, by over three hours.

Pakistani foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed insisted that a special reference be made to last month?s Lahore summit in the Saarc council report.

This, coupled with a Sri Lankan suggestion for a mechanism to informally discuss political issues, was seen by India as an attempt to pave the way for Kashmir to be dragged into the Saarc forum for discussion and debate.

But Indian foreign secretary K. Raghunath saw through the Pakistani proposal and put his foot down against its inclusion.

Throwing a spanner in the Saarc agenda, Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga said in her inaugural speech: ?Saarc has, of course, generally avoided collective intervention on issues of a political nature. But as our association matures, there would be no reason to continue to shy away from such issues.?

India views Saarc essentially as a forum for providing enhanced economic co-operation among its seven member nations. In the past, it has opposed any suggestion to include in the forum issues remotely political in nature.

India fears that once bilateral issues are allowed to be discussed, the economic matters will take a backseat and the regional grouping will end up being a forum where member-nations will be busy scoring political points over rivals.

That several leaders at the Saarc forum praised the Lahore Declaration made matters more difficult for the Indian delegation. But they refused to relent against increasing Pakistani persuasion.

To end the impasse, Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar made arrangements for the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers ? Jaswant Singh and Sartaz Aziz ? to hammer out the differences and find a solution.

This led other member-nations to come up with suggestions to break the deadlock. Finally, it was decided that there will be no mention of the declaration in the report nor will Saarc adopt a mechanism for informal consultation of political issues.

But as a compromise, it was agreed that recommendations made by the Eminent Group of Persons of Saarc will also not find place in the report. Among other things, they had suggested the establishment of a free trade council in South Asia by 2020 and a free customs council by 2015.

Singh is scheduled to meet Aziz over lunch tomorrow at this hill resort. The foreign ministers are expected to focus on ways to concretise the confidence-building measures in the nuclear and missile fields that were agreed on in Lahore. But Pakistan maintains that Kashmir remains the core issue.

India, flatly rejecting the idea, has made it clear that it is in no mood to give primacy to any particular issue. It will continue to follow the composite dialogue format where all eight outstanding issues will be taken up for discussion.

?The Indian position is very clear. We will proceed according to the agreed format. Kashmir cannot be addressed according to the fantasies of what some people may think,? a senior Indian official said.

He made it clear that the attempt to give primacy to Kashmir will be disastrous for bilateral ties.

However, irrespective of whether it gets primacy or not, Kashmir is an important issue for both countries, perhaps more so for Pakistan. The strident remarks on Kashmir, therefore, can be seen as an attempt to address the hardliners in Pakistan.

India?s domestic compulsions are as strong as Pakistan?s. It is precisely for this reason that it can ill-afford to accept Kashmir on top of the agenda.    


 
 
35 MASSACRED IN BIHAR 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT AND AGENCIES
 
Patna, March 18: 
At least 35 people were killed and five injured seriously when People?s War Group (PWG) activists attacked Senari village in Bihar?s Jehanabad district late tonight, police said. Unofficial reports put the toll at 42.

Inspector-general of police Nilmani said about 100 Naxalites, armed with sophisticated weapons, raided the village and fired indiscriminately at the people after storming their houses. Most victims belonged to the upper caste, he said.

The massacre came a day after chief minister Rabri Devi, sacked after a spate of killings and later reinstated, won the vote of confidence.

According to preliminary information received here, the victims included women and children. Official sources said many people were killed in their sleep, while a few were dragged out of their houses before being gunned down.

The police said many of the victims are believed to be linked to the Ranbir Sena, private militia of the landlords.

The police said that after the killing, the attackers distributed leaflets saying the carnage was to avenge the Laxmanpur Bathe and Shankarbigha massacres in the district earlier. As many as 33 Dalits were killed in the two attacks 45 days ago.

Tonight?s is the second revenge strike by Naxalites this month. On Holi, when President?s rule was still in place, Naxalites had struck in Jehanabad, gunning down four persons.    


 
 
STATES FACE DIKTAT TO CAP JOBS OR PAY 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, March 18 
In a drive to check wanton spending, the Centre plans to ask the states to impose a cap on borrowings and set a legally binding limit on the number of employees.

Alternatively, the Centre has suggested that the states set a ceiling on their total wage bill if they cannot come up with a ballpark figure for the number of employees.

Senior finance ministry officials said the austerity drive is being initiated following requests for cash handouts from the Centre to help states pay their wage bills that have risen dramatically after the implementation of the recommendations of the fifth pay commission.

States have demanded almost Rs 15,000 crore in assistance on this account. The most strident calls for a bailout have come from West Bengal and Maharashtra. While Bengal wants Rs 2,500 crore more annually, Maharashtra has asked for Rs 5,000 crore.

?The Centre itself is in no position to cough up that kind of money. But eventually we might have to work out some mechanism to make slightly higher allocations,? officials said. ?However, we have to work out a system so that states become more responsible on the issue of wage hikes. No one should pay more if they cannot.?

The fifth pay commission covered central government employees but the states have been always under pressure to match the wage hikes at the Centre.

As part of the belt-tightening measures, the Centre will also insist on tougher overdraft limit for states. It wants to include a provision that will enable the Reserve Bank to stop the overdraft facility for states which regularly breach the limits.

Chief ministers and finance ministers are due to meet Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha on Saturday. ?Sinha will raise the issue of imposing a cap on the states? wage bills,? sources said.

The Centre will insist that if states increase the number of employees, then they cannot hike wages. The corollary: if they increase wages, then the number of employees will have to remain static.

Officials said the Centre will also put forward a new overdraft limit pegged at 100 per cent of the states? ways and means limit.

?States will be warned when they exceed this limit the first time. On the second instance, the RBI will give them three days? time to correct the imbalance, failing which the RBI will have the right to stop the overdraft facility,? officials said.

At present, the overdraft limit is 84 times the minimum balance for each individual state, officials said. States will also be asked to set up expenditure commissionsto cut establishment costs and subsidies on power, irrigation and transport.    


 
 
US BILL FOR FIVE-YEAR SANCTIONS WAIVER 
 
 
FROM SEEMA SIROHI
 
Washington, March 18: 

In an apparent attempt to bypass the Clinton Administration, key Republican senators introduced a bill suspending sanctions against India and Pakistan for five years and restoring World Bank loans.

The relaxation of sanctions imposed after last May?s nuclear tests would be unconditional and automatic if the bill passes in its current form. The administration, however, stressed that they can reimpose the sanctions by other means if they were lifted.

Senator Sam Brownback, chairman of the subcommittee on South Asia, along with seven others tabled the crucial bill on Tuesday suspending the application of the Glenn Amendment sanctions for a full five years and repealing the Pressler Amendment which blocks aid to Pakistan.

The bill, supported by at least two Democrats, is a positive development from India?s point of view even though it grants more favours to Pakistan and specifically aims to restore the supply of military spare parts to the country, blocked over the years by several laws. The removal of the Pressler Amendment, which denied Pakistan economic and military aid because of its nuclear programme, has long been a foreign policy objective of Islamabad.

Dual use technology, which remains one of India?s most heartfelt demands, will remain blocked under the proposed bill. Indian officials noted the denial with disappointment, but in general they welcomed the bill.

Significantly, Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the foreign relations committee and a heavy hitter, lent his name as a co-sponsor to Brownback?s bill along with other important voices on foreign policy.

Helms? name ensures that the bill will not be opposed in the senate as it travels through the legislative maze.

Surprisingly, the bill imposes no conditions or demands on India for the gesture and makes no mention of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The wider implications of the bill being attributed to Helms are fraught with intrigue and reflect his own agenda vis-a-vis the Clinton Administration.

One school of thought is that Helms is giving India reasons ?not? to sign the CTBT since the sanctions will be removed anyway. A hardline Republican, he does not share the Democratic administration?s enthusiasm for the CTBT. But State Department officials warned against any premature euphoria that sanctions would be lifted.

Helms has made it publicly known that the chances of ratification of the treaty by the Senate are extremely dim. The Clinton Administration, on the other hand, has made senate ratification a major goal, having championed the treaty since the negotiations in Geneva.

Clinton wants India and Pakistan to sign the CTBT to bolster his case in Helms? court and convince the de-facto king of foreign policy to ratify the treaty. India therefore has become an unwitting player in the larger political battle between the two parties.

In the famous meeting between Helms and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh last year, observers were struck by the senator?s contempt for the CTBT. One source said that he effectively asked Singh not to sign the treaty because it was not going anywhere.

It is in the aftermath of this meeting that New Delhi appeared to make a linkage between its signature and US senate ratification to gain mileage in the Indo-US dialogue. The battle is heating up as the Republicans begin to pound Clinton on various foreign policy issues, ranging from his China policy to the CTBT.

The Brownback bill is a long way from becoming law and must cross several legislative hurdles, including approval by the House of Representatives, before it lands on Clinton?s table for signature. But the introduction of the sweeping bill is a good indication of the mood of the Congress which appears more amenable to lifting sanctions than the executive branch.

Brownback, who visited India after the nuclear tests, has advocated a five-year suspension of sanctions in what some analysts believe is an attempt to outmanoeuvre the White House and the State Department. India turns out to be an indirect beneficiary and Pakistan reaps major benefits.

?Helms and Brownback are trying to seize the initiative on foreign policy because they hate Clinton?s foreign policy,? one US analyst said. ?They want to embarrass the president.?

The bill caused a major ripple in the administration, which was struggling to formulate a formal response. Instead of welcoming it immediately, US officials were circumspect when asked for comment. They went out of their way to stress that the bill will go through several ?twists and turns? before it takes a final shape.

Even if the bill passes and sanctions are lifted automatically, the administration can impose them through other means, one official said. ?Restrictions on the relationship with India will still remain.? The State Department, trying to assert its role, reportedly has linked lifting of sanctions with India?s signature on the CTBT.    


 
 
TRAUMA & CAMERA CHASE CHILDREN 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA
 
Maharajpur (Kanpur), March 18: 
The people of Hatipur village are not watching that much television these days. Instead, television cameras are watching them.

Three days after the killing of a toddler by two four-year-olds, the villagers of Hatipur are being blinded by the relentless media glare.

But combing operations of television crews have failed to unearth Saddam, one of the two boys who battered Parveen to death.

Villagers shake their heads in ignorance. Some say he has been ?hidden away? somewhere. Saddam?s grandfather Bhure Khan said he ?did not know? where the boy was. He said Saddam would soon go to live with his uncle in Fatehpur and begin school there. ?This incident will not be forgotten. I do not want my grandson to be called a murderer when he grows up,? Bhure Khan said.

No one seems to know, or will not tell, where Shahrukh ? the four-year-old who was witness to the gruesome killing ? is.

Adil, the other child in the centre of the killing controversy, seems to have shrunk into a shell of quiet isolation. The intrusions into his little world have shaken him up. Even an offer of his first love ? chocolates ? cannot draw him out. The boy, who lives in Etawah, came to Hatipur to visit his grandparents. Now he does not want to stay on any longer. ?When he comes here, he does not want to go back home. This time, he wants to leave and never return,? said Adil?s mother Ruksana.

For Adil, the world does not seem as safe and snug a place as it used to last week. He is scared of a lot of things these days. Scared of ?big men on motorcycles? (the police from Maharajpur police station), of people staring strangely at him, of venturing out from the security of his two-room hut.

As the boys live out their own private nightmares, the villagers seem keen to get on with their lives. ?We cannot hold anything against four-year-olds,? said Parveen?s uncle Shakil.

The sequence of events since Sunday night has been told and retold for the benefit of the police and the media. The boys confessed to killing Parveen on Sunday and dumping her body in a dry pond that evening. But when locals went out to search for the two-year-old with flashlights and drums, they did not see the body.

On Monday, Saddam told Parveen?s father he had seen the body in the pond. It was then found. The police picked up the three boys on Monday and interrogated them. In the FIR Parveen?s father lodged after the interrogation, however, the boys? names do not figure. ?Unknown persons have killed my daughter,? the FIR said. It also said locals had discovered the body; the report left out any mention of Saddam first informing Parveen?s father.

On Monday, Saddam told Parveen?s father he had seen the body in the pond. It was then found. The police picked up the three boys on Monday and interrogated them. In the FIR Parveen?s father lodged after the interrogation, however, the boys? names do not figure.

?Unknown persons have killed my daughter,? the FIR said. It also said locals had discovered the body; the report left out any mention of Saddam first informing Parveen?s father.

One of the village elders Mohammad Shafiq said there was pressure on Parveen?s father not to mention the boys in the FIR. ?It is a close-knit village of about 4,000 people. We lived in harmony even after the riots 20 km away in Kanpur following the Babri masjid demolition. Under the circumstances, the two families could not have afforded to be at each other?s throats.?

Kanpur senior superintendent of police M.A. Ganapathy said it helped because both families were members of the same community. Stressing on amity in the village, he said: ?Many of the villagers are related by blood or marriage. The case has been expunged. It should be forgotten.? Ganapathy has no doubt that the boys killed Parveen. ?They demonstrated vividly how they committed the act,? he said.

The boys? families, however, are not so sure. ?Is it possible for four-year-old boys to drag a body down to the pond and dump it there?? asked Ruksana. ?Why was the body not found that evening??

Despite Ruksana?s questions, the case is as good as over. An uneasy silence has fallen over Saddam?s grandparents? home. ?The courtyard used to be full of children when films were on television. The boys watched Nagin on Sunday,? remembers Kammo, Saddam?s grandmother.

They have not switched on the television since then. If they did, they would have seen themselves on it.    


 
 
GHANI ISSUES ULTIMATUM 
 
 
 
New Delhi, March 18: 
The fighting within the West Bengal Congress reached a flashpoint today with A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury bluntly telling the high command to choose between him and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, reports our special correspondent..

Chowdhury told AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad that he was unwilling to work with Das Munshi, who had earlier tried to oust the state Congress chief.

Chowdhury has sought an appointment with party president Sonia Gandhi who will visit Calcutta on March 27.

AICC insiders said she would meet Chowdhury and Azad tomorrow.

Azad has been urging Chowdhury to restrain his ire, but the grand old man from Malda is in no mood to oblige.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Today?s forecast: Partly cloudy sky. Little change in day and night temperature

Temperature: Maximum 36.6?C (3?C above normal)
Minimum 25.4?C (3?C above normal)

Relative humidity: Maximum 93%
Minimum 43%

Rainfall:Nil

Sunrise:5.47 am
Sunset: 5.42 pm
   
 

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