Pakistan slips into Clinton sulk
Siege after militants kill major from mosque
Golden goal missed in bungle
London crown and frown for Hrithik

New Delhi, March 26 
President Bill Clinton has left the subcontinent as torn as it was when he landed here last week, but between one Sunday and another, he managed to swing the feel-good pendulum from one bank of the divide to the other.

Pakistan today woke up to a burst of dismay at the President’s harsh message on television yesterday, with analysts and political parties pointing fingers at the military regime of Pervez Musharraf. The despair in Pakistan devoured overnight the euphoria that swept the country when Clinton overlooked India’s reservations and announced the stopover in Islamabad.

The mood took a distinct swing in Delhi, too, as yesterday’s controlled satisfaction gave way to fulsome relief that Clinton did not press the “nuclear flashpoint button” in his address.

Ever since the announcement of the Pakistan halt, Delhi was keeping fingers crossed over whether the President would rub in his much-publicised definition of the region as the “most dangerous place” in the world.

Though US officials said Musharraf had not given any assurance on stopping aid to terror strikes in Kashmir, parties and the media in Pakistan said Clinton had found little right with Islamabad, in sharp contrast to the outcome of his visit to India.

The disenchantment was reflected in the comments by leading dailies, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party.

“The military regime should read the writing on the wall. The government should realise that if its actions led to an Indian reaction, the international community would not be willing to bail out Pakistan,” Bhutto said.

Foreign policy experts in Pakistan also stressed the need to look beyond Washington as India and the US “are bound to come closer to each other in the next 10 years”.

An expert in a PTV talk-show said Clinton, who had “educated” himself on the region when he spoke about “South Asia being the most dangerous place in the world”, appears to have “de-educated” himself in the five days he spent in India.

She felt the US President’s remarks suggested that he was coming closer to India’s stance on Kashmir and urged Islamabad to maintain its “tough” stand. Islamabad did so today, telling Delhi that its suggestion for restoration of democracy was an “unwarranted interference” in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Rubbing salt into Islamabad’s wound, a daily suggested that Washington does not see India and Pakistan “as two peas in a pod to be treated equally”.

“No agreements were signed. No sanctions were lifted. No investment was committed,” grumbled another report. It was different in India, where $2 billion worth of accords were signed and “an elephant load of kudos” expressed, it added.

Though India is yet to admit that the President’s visit went off far better than expected and stock-taking is still on, the hint of smiles on the faces of South Block officials indicates that it has been a satisfying week for Delhi.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh told a television channel that “there is a departure of nuances in the Indo-US relations” with Washington’s realisation of Delhi’s standing in the world.

Singh will meet his American counterpart Madeleine Albright on the sidelines of a conference in Warsaw on May 26 and 27.    

Srinagar, March 26 
In a stand-off reminiscent of the Hazratbal crisis, fleeing militants took refuge in a mosque and shot dead a major and a jawan, forcing the army to lay siege.

Gunfire was exchanged in instalments through today, with the militants refusing to heed repeated requests to surrender. Late tonight, the army claimed to have shot dead three militants in “cautious firing”. But there was no let-up in the firing from inside the mosque. The incident happened on a day Union home minister L.K. Advani was in the state.

Chased by 20 Rashtriya Rifles personnel on routine patrol, five militants last evening rushed into the mosque in Dodipora Chek village in Kupwara and opened indiscriminate fire, killing Major Ravinder on the spot. Earlier, in a gunbattle in the middle of the village, the militants shot dead a jawan to breach the tight ring the securitymen had thrown around them.

Rashtriya Rifles personnel initially held fire to prevent damage to the mosque, and pleaded with the gunmen to surrender. Local Islamic preachers and senior citizens also tried to reason with the rebels. But the holed-up militants turned a deaf ear, and continued both intermittent and heavy firing. Several securitymen were injured, forcing the army to rush in reinforcements.

As the security cordon around the mosque was tightened, the militants opened heavier fire, leaving the security personnel no option but to retaliate. But the troops are reported to be exercising great restraint in view of the “sensitivity” of the area.

A senior officer at the site said the army would not storm the mosque but would wait for the militants to exhaust their ammunition. He said announcements asking them to surrender were still being made.

“Keeping in view the sentiments of the people, we have decided to keep the cordon till the militants are killed without causing any damage to the mosque or till they surrender,” the officer said. Some militants are also believed to have taken shelter in houses adjacent to the mosque.

Advani, who visited Chatti Singhpora village where 36 Sikhs were massacred last week, vowed to provide greater security to minorities. He said all minority villages in the state would have a security ring.

“The ring will comprise the state police and paramilitary forces with support from the army,” he said in Jammu.

Earlier, addressing Sikhs in a gurdwara in the massacre village, Advani said the government would soon “frustrate the designs of militants” in the state.

Calling the Sikhs a brave people, Advani said their sacrifices would not go waste, and the militants “will have to face the consequences”. But the Sikhs refused to be pacified, and repeatedly raising slogans saying “We won’t stay here”.

The Union home minister, accompanied by chief minister Farooq Abdullah, was later briefed about Operation Kirpan, launched by security agencies to track the culprits behind the Sikh carnage.    

March 26: 
Two city girls won the opportunity of a lifetime to play in the German professional women’s soccer league only to see it being frittered away.

Sujata Kar and Alpana Seal were invited by TSV Crailsheim, a second division team in the German league, to play for them. But neither they nor Indian authorities were well versed in the rules governing world soccer: Sujata and Alpana were forced to return because they did not have the requisite international clearance from the All-India Football Federation (AIFF).

Two years ago, ace India striker Bhaichung Bhutia, too, could not make the grade because of the ignorance of the formalities involved. But that event opened the eyes of Indian footballers to possibilities overseas even if the country’s national team is reduced to a pariah status in the world game.

Sujata and Alpana, too, were inspired by the invitation Bhaichung had received from an English club to attend its trials.

For the AIFF, the administrator of the game in the country, and the Indian Football Association, which runs soccer in Calcutta, the failure to clear the two girls in time is yet another instance of ad hocism.

For the the two girls, it is a tragedy borne out of ignorance. Both Sujata, who will turn 19 in May, and Alpana, 19, come from poor families. Despite their constraints, their parents leave nothing to chance, willing on their wards to excel in the sport of their choice. A stint in German professional football would have changed the lives, and the livelihoods — the German authorities had arranged jobs for them — of the girls and their families.

Sujata’s father dabbles in small time real estate business. They live in a small two room tenement in Shahidnagar, Jadavpur. Her 17-year-old brother Biswajit plays for Tata Football Academy.

Alpana is a group D staffer with the Income Tax department. Till her talent got her the job, the family’s only source of income was a shop run in their small home in Sirity near Garia.

Sujata is a striker and Alpana a midfielder in the Indian team. Sujata has represented India in Sepak Takraw at an international meet in Bangkok. In the Calcutta league, both play for Income Tax .

“We know little about rules,” says Sujata. “We did what we were told by our elders in the game.”

They were first contacted by Absar Sattar, a Calcuttan who is a professional referee in the German league, when the Indian team visited Stuttgart in 1997 for a preparatory camp before the As-ian championship in China.The Indian team played a friendly match against TSV Crailsheim (which won 3-2) and the German club’s authorities made inquiries about the two through Sattar.

“We refused then because we did not know what it meant,” recalls Sujata. “Only after Bhaic-hung was invited to England that we started wondering if we were not missing an opportunity.”

In November last year, TSV Crailsheim, based in Oberliga Baden-Württemberg, contacted the girls again. At the time, both were playing in the Calcutta local league. They finally made it to Germany on February 15.

Shortly afterwards, Sujata and Alpana played for TSV Crailsheim in a trial match against another club. Both played as midfielders and entered the pitch in the second half. Crailsheim won the match 3-2. Impressed, the club’s manager, Hubert Oechsner, sought their papers.

A desperate Sujata and Alpana got in touch with the AIFF which issued an “on date clearance.” But the rules stipulate that to represent clubs overseas, players must have a three-month clearance from their countries.

But Sujata and Alpana were playing in the local league when they should have been urging the AIFF and the IFA to process their papers. The duo approached the AIFF just before heading for Germany as they could not mobilise funds for international travel.

AIFF boss Priya Ranjan Das Munshi claimed the two girls had been cleared. But there was a communication gap. “We did give them Rs 70,000 that covered their air fare, but they had left things to the last minute,” says AIFF spokesman Bablu De. “It is actually the fault of the IFA. The German football authorities are blaming the IFA which kept them committed to the local league.”

The IFA, for its part, blames the Income Tax club. “The girls did not apply for the clearance in time,” said Ranjit Gupta, the IFA joint secretary. “It’s probably because Income Tax thought it will win the local championship this year and Sujata and Alpana were too valuable for them to lose.”

The Income Tax club, in its turn, blames the girls and the AIFF and the IFA. “First, the girls left it till too late and now they are complaining that we did not help them enough. It should have been clear after the Bhaichung incident that FIFA rules say if they are playing in the national league they cannot play abroad without three months’ clearance,” said the club’s Tapan Ganguly.

Sujata and Alpana are praying that the German authorities extend the invitation this year too. But it might be a different story now. Sujata said TSV Crailsheim, having topped its group, was set to move into the first division when they left Germany on March 14.

As they packed their backs, the only words of consolation Hubert Oechsner, TSV Crailsheim manager, had for them were : “I tried very hard. But why doesn’t India want you to play here — that is what it looks like to me.”    

London, March 26 
Actor Hrithik Roshan provoked a row last night here when he was given a prestigious award by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

The society, which is keen to raise its profile in the Asian community in Britain, held a Spring Awakening Dinner to celebrate Holi at the Britannia Hotel in Mayfair, where Hrithik was presented with the NSPCC Young Achiever of the Year Award.

Asked why a Bollywood star had been picked, Farida Cooper, one of the event organisers, declared: “He is getting the award because he is a role model for Asian youth worldwide.”

Yogesh Mehta, another organiser, added: “He has made quite an impact in a short time.”

The 26-year-old star of Kaho Naa... Pyar Hai had been flown in to attend the dinner, together with his parents — Rakesh and Pinki Roshan — and fiancee Suzanne Khan, daughter of actor Sanjay Khan.

But many of the guests felt that since the society had invited such a high-profile personality, it should have asked him to be more active in raising funds.

One guest said: “He should have been asked to hold an auction or dance and perform in some way.” Another snapped: “What has he done for the society?”

All that Hrithik was required to do was accept the award and wander around the tables shaking hands with the over 360 guests, many of whom had paid £ 125 per head to attend.

The society stressed that travel expenses for the Bollywood guests had been provided by a sponsor. Hrithik sat at the table of businessman Ketan Somaiya.

The evening was compered by society hostess Ramola Bachchan who recalled: “I remember you when you were an 8-year-old in short pants.”

The society presented some horrific statistics pointing out that every week over 5,000 children suffered abuse. So moved was producer Yash Johar by the plight of the children that he promised to hold the London premiere of his next film, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, in aid of the society.

After receiving his plaque, Hrithik commented: “It is too early for me to get an award like this. I shall try and deserve it.”    


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