Dialogue hint in Delhi hard talk
Sharif shifted to Karachi on flight of secrecy
Centre eyes bigger, friendlier poll panel
Scrawl rewrites age of alphabet

Durban, Nov. 14 
Striving to marry ideology with reality, India today made it clear that while it wanted democracy restored in Pakistan, it was also keeping options open for a dialogue with the army regime, provided the ?right atmosphere? was created.

?Being the chief initiator of the dialogue, India will not stand in the way of its resumption. But Pakistan has to create the right atmosphere for this to happen,? foreign minister Jaswant Singh said here this afternoon.

Singh?s statement came amid the finalisation of the Commonwealth declaration, which, too, trod the middle path. Ignoring a last-ditch attempt by African and Caribbean nations to expel Pakistan from the Commonwealth, the summit decided to limit the punishment to indefinite suspension from the bloc?s councils.

However, the pro-democracy lobby managed to push through scathing comments against the generals. ?We condemn the unconstitutional overthrow of the democratically-elected government in Pakistan,? the declaration said. It also demanded the immediate release of Nawaz Sharif.

Referring to the declaration, Singh said: ?It will be unwise to write off the Commonwealth and its strong condemnation of the military coup in Islamabad.? But he also recalled that this army takeover was not the first in Pakistan. It was, in fact, the fourth military government in the country?s 53-year history.

In Indian diplomatese, the ?right atmosphere? means an end to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and other states. ?If you wish to turn the bus back to Lahore, you have to stop calling for jehad from the rooftops,? Singh said.

The foreign minister expressed satisfaction that India?s views on international terrorism found ?acceptance and inclusion? in the Commonwealth.

Singh?s comments indicate that Delhi is walking a tightrope. Indian leaders feel that while talks with Gen. Parvez Musharraf?s regime will give him ?acceptability?, if not ?legitimacy?, it was impractical to say there would be no talks until democracy returned.

Trying to play down India?s role here on the Pakistan developments, Singh reminded reporters that barring a three-paragraph intervention by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, urging member nations not to deviate from past Commonwealth practices, Delhi had not forced the pace at the meet. But he added that the soft line on Pakistan, as suggested by the Commonwealth Ministers? Action Group, had not found favour with the heads of state.

The tough stand taken by the member nations would now force the group to visit Pakistan in the first quarter of 2000, and not later. Today?s declaration asked the group to be ready to recommend ?further measures...if progress to democracy is not made swiftly?.

?If no movement is made towards democracy then Pakistan may be suspended from the Commonwealth,? Singh said.

The foreign minister, who left for London this evening for talks with US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, said: ?It?s for Pakistan to reflect upon the message that comes out of the Commonwealth.? Asked if the Commonwealth statement would affect Pakistan?s economy, he said: ?It is not correct to think that international opinion does not matter.? Many Commonwealth members were also part of important international and regional groups and their stand at this summit would be reflected elsewhere, he added.    

From our correspondent and agencies 
Deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been secretly shifted to Karachi and formally arrested to be tried for treason and kidnapping ? offences which carry death penalty ? media reports said today.

Sharif, who had been in army custody in an undisclosed location since the October 12 coup, was flown to the southern port city by a military C-130 plane under strict security, the domestic Online news agency said, quoting official sources.

The Karachi police have taken charge of Sharif and four co-accused on the basis of an FIR filed by the military accusing them of a criminal conspiracy to kill army chief Gen. Parvez Musharraf and trying to hijack his plane, the Pakistan Observer said.

It is not known when exactly Sharif was taken to Karachi, but it is believed the transfer took place either late on November 11 or early the next day. To keep the move under wraps, the C-130 plane landed at a military airfield near Shahrah-e-Faisal in Karachi instead of the Jinnah airport, the paper said.

It reported that Sharif was whisked away to a government hostel after the place was declared a sub-jail. He was lodged there along with the co-accused.

The other accused are Sharif?s former adviser on Sindh affairs Ghaus Ali Shah, former chairman of Pakistan International Airlines Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former director-general of the civil aviation authority Aminullah Choudhury and former inspector-general of Sindh police Rana Maqbool.

The FIR, filed last week, was produced yesterday before an administrative judge of the anti-terrorism court in Karachi, Rehmat Hussain Jafrey. Submitting the FIR, the station house officer of the airport police station, Waqar Malhan, told the court that the accused were not in his custody.

The former advocate-general of Sindh and head of Sharif?s defence team, Iqbal Raad, had earlier petitioned the court, requesting it to direct the officer to produce the accused. Officials said Sharif would appear before a magistrate within 24 hours to hear the charges being read out. The others, too, might be produced tomorrow.

The Pakistan Observer said the Karachi police had already begun questioning the co-accused and that ?substantive evidence? had been gathered against Sharif from the interrogation.

Dawn also quoted Karachi police officers as claiming that they have found evidence establishing Sharif?s direct involvement in the plot to hijack Musharraf?s plane.

The Associated Press of Pakistan said the police yesterday recorded the statements of nine witnesses in the case, including the secretary to the former civil aviation director-general, captain and flight engineer of the plane carrying Gen. Musharraf, police superintendent of the Karachi port area and Lt Col Atiq, complainant on behalf of the army.

Two other witnesses, the general?s co-passengers on the flight, failed to turn up for recording their statements, APP said.

Sharif and the others might face death sentence if the charges against them under the Pakistan Penal Code and the anti-terrorist Act are proved. The case is likely to be disposed of fast as it is being heard by the special anti-terrorist court which was instituted by Sharif earlier this year.

FBI probe team

An FBI team is reaching Islamabad to investigate the multiple rocket attacks on American and UN establishments on November 12. Responsibility for the assault was claimed today by a caller who spoke to an AFP reporter in Dhaka. Claiming to be from the Afghan-based Al-Jihad, the caller said: ?We don?t want to repeat the Islamabad incident in Bangladesh or anywhere in the world.... Almighty God is with us.?    

New Delhi, Nov. 14 
The government is considering the possibility of inducting two more members to the Election Commission. It is also scouting for a nominee to succeed the retired election commissioner, G.V.G. Krishnamurthy.

Two names doing the rounds for the vacant slot in the three-man panel are N.M. Ghatate, member, law commission, and Raghubir Singh, secretary, legislative department in the law ministry. Sources said Ghatate is close to the Prime Minister and stands a better chance.

The BJP is keen to have ?trustworthy? members on the panel as a section of the party feels the commission is ?pro-Congress? and ?partisan?. It believes that the two members in the commission can tilt the balance against the BJP in a dispute.

According to Article 324 of the Constitution, the government can expand the panel. But a deterrent is the additional financial burden. A five-member panel would nearly double the government?s expenditure since members receive the same salaries as Supreme Court judges.

The government would like to tie up the loose ends in the panel by December, since some states, including Bihar and Orissa, are scheduled to go to the polls next year.    

On the track of an ancient road in the desert west of the Nile, where soldiers, couriers and traders once travelled from Thebes to Abydos, Egyptologists have found limestone inscriptions that they say are the earliest known examples of alphabetic writing.

Their discovery is expected to help fix the time and place for the origin of the alphabet, one of the foremost innovations of civilisation.

Carved in the cliffs of soft stone, the writing, in a Semitic script with Egyptian influences, has been dated to somewhere between 1,900 and 1,800 BC, two or three centuries earlier than previously recognised uses of a nascent alphabet. The first experiments with the alphabet thus appeared to be the work of Semitic people living deep in Egypt, not in their homelands in the Syria-Palestine region, as had been thought.

Although the two inscriptions have yet to be translated, other evidence at the discovery site supports the idea of the alphabet as an invention by workaday people that simplified and democratised writing, freeing it from the elite hands of official scribes. As such, alphabetic writing was revolutionary in a sense comparable to the invention of the printing press much later.

Alphabetic writing emerged as a kind of shorthand by which fewer than 30 symbols, each one representing a single sound, could be combined to form words for a wide variety of ideas and things. This eventually replaced writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphics in which hundreds of pictographs, or idea pictures, had to be mastered.

?These are the earliest alphabetic inscriptions, considerably earlier than anyone had thought likely,? Dr John Coleman Darnell, an Egyptologist at Yale University, said last week in an interview about the discovery.

?They seem to provide us with evidence to tell us when the alphabet itself was invented, and just how.?

Darnell and his wife, Deborah, a Ph.D. student in Egyptology, made the find while conducting a survey of ancient travel routes in the desert of southern Egypt, across from the royal city of Thebes and beyond the pharaohs? tombs in the Valley of Kings. In the 1993-94 season, they came upon walls of limestone marked with graffiti at the forlorn Wadi el-Hol, roughly translated as ?Gulch of Terror?.

The Darnells returned to the Wadi with several specialists in early writing. A report on their findings will be given on November 22 at a meeting in Boston of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Working in the baking June heat ?about as far out in the middle of nowhere as I ever want to be,? Dr Bruce Zuckerman, director of the West Semitic Research Project at the University of Southern California, took detailed pictures of the inscriptions for analysis using computerised photo-interpretation techniques.

?This is fresh meat for the alphabet people,? he said. ?Because of the early date of the inscriptions and the place they were found,? said Dr P. Kyle McCarter Jr., a professor of Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University, ?it forces us to reconsider questions having to do with the early history of the alphabet. Things I wrote only two years ago I consider out of date.?

Dr Frank M. Cross, an emeritus professor of Near Eastern languages and culture at Harvard University, who was not a member of the research team but who has examined the evidence, judged the inscriptions ?clearly the oldest of alphabetic writing and very important?.

New York Times News Service    


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