Delhi bets on Hizbul flexibility
After the talks, chilly silence
Basu takes Mamata battle to Atal
Raj Kumar pleads for captor
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 4 
After the first round of informal talks, an exercise in sizing each other up, the government and the Hizbul Mujahideen appear to be locked in a tussle over what to discuss first.

The government wants to tackle the �meatier and more tangible� aspects, such as involving Pakistan and the possibility of conceding to the demands of the Hizbul with the Constitution at a later date. But the militant group is insisting that these questions be taken up on Monday itself, when the real talks commence.

Home minister L.K. Advani and other senior ministers met for an informal session of the Cabinet Committee on Security this evening at the Prime Minister�s residence to order the priorities for talks. The government wants to use the weekend to work out its agenda.

The duration of the talks will depend largely on how willing the Hizbul leaders in India and their command based in Pakistan are to pursue this �peaceful channel of negotiation�. Already, the August 8 deadline for accepting the conditions of including Pakistan and dropping the insistence on following the Constitution is hanging over New Delhi�s head.

The Majlis-e-Shoora of the Hizbul is meeting in Pakistan and exchanging notes with its representatives in India on the course the dialogue is taking.

The government is aware it cannot resist the Hizbul pressure for starting the actual dialogue on a possible Kashmir solution for long. The Prime Minister has invited all groups to come on board and opt for the process of negotiations across the table. He renewed the offer again in a statement in Parliament today.

�Other groups which have chosen the path of violence... should come forward for talks with government,� he said.

But groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammadi have fed on a hate-campaign against India far too long since the end of the Afghan war to now suddenly decide to become a catalyst in hastening their own destruction by negotiating with India.

Aware of this, the government is harping on the difference between Kashmiri militants and what it sees as foreign mercenaries, with who it refuses to talk.

The Prime Minister told the Lok Sabha today that the perpetrators of the massacre at Pahalgam were foreigners, linked to the Pakistan-based Lashkar.

Although last afternoon�s dialogue with the Hizbul centred largely on formulating the ground rules for implementing the ceasefire, the militants appeared anxious to channel the discussion towards bringing Pakistan into the talks. In the first round, the Indian team found it easy to ward off this pressure but it may not be possible to hold out for long.

The only advantage the government thinks it has is that, having risked so much, the Hizbul will accommodate India�s views and allow the talks to proceed.

Although with his statement that insaaniyat (humanism) should be the basis for talks the Prime Minister appears to have dropped broad hints he is willing to look beyond the Constitution, the government does not want to concede any ground at all, at least for the time being. Neither does the government want to talk to Pakistan at this stage.

But the fragility of the position arises from its wholesale dependence on the room for manoeuvre the Hizbul will allow.    

Srinagar, Aug 4 
The much-trumpeted breakthrough with the Hizbul Mujahedin militants appears set to be reduced to a footnote in the catalogue of failures to untangle the Kashmir question.

Hizbul commanders who entered negotiations with New Delhi here yesterday have already come under a dark credibility cloud in the Valley and may have to choose between pulling out of the talks or losing relevance in the days to come.

Their masters in Pakistan have made it plain they will not support the talks unless Islamabad is invited to the negotiating table, a condition New Delhi is already rejecting out of hand. The political face of militancy in the Valley, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), has rubbished the talks saying nothing can come out of talks that are held without Pakistan included.

�The government of India is fooling the people of India and the people of Kashmir if it thinks it can solve the Kashmir problem by talking to a few representatives of one group,� the APHC chairman, Abdul Ghani Bhat said today, iterating that the �jehad for Kashmiri self-determination� was continuing despite the Hizbul�s ceasefire.

The Hizbul negotiating team itself remained incommunicado all day today. Even the whereabouts of Fazal Haq Qureshi, who led the militants into yesterday�s talks vanished underground.

The Hizbul team is believed to be upset at the manner in which it was exposed to print and television media at the talks yesterday. Indeed, some of them believe that the media presence was a �trap laid by Indian intelligence agencies�.

There is also some resentment in the Hizbul camp at a sentence in home secretary Kamal Pande�s statement yesterday that the two sides had agreed to pursue the peace process �seriously so that the elements opposed to this process could be identified and isolated�. This makes them sound like they had already pitted their lot with the government of India and had agreed to blow the whistle on other militant groups and activists. If nothing, the statement will increase Hizbul�s isolation among anti-India political and militant groups here and in Pakistan.

The Pakistani bosses of Hizbul have already made it plain they will call off the ceasefire if its condition of tripartite talks is not met by August 8.

Observers here do not see the Hizbul showing too much patience with the talks initiative unless their essential condition is met. If the Pakistan-based Hizbul leaders call off the truce, the current interlocutors will have only two options left �- to return underground and resume insurgency or be disowned by the militants and resign themselves to a life of protected irrelevance in government safe houses. The sheer act of talking to the government has made them targets of other militant groups operating in the Valley.

A day after the first round of talks, the Centre�s peace initiative appeared to be shrinking in scope rather than gaining ground. For a start, New Delhi�s appeal to militant groups has not found any takers beyond the Hizbul who had probably been primed before the Centre made the general call for negotiations.

The APHC remains intransigent and underground groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba have refused to respond.    

Calcutta, Aug 4 
The 100 red roses Mamata Banerjee sent an ailing Jyoti Basu in Delhi have obviously failed to remove the thorns.

Seven days after he fell ill during a party meeting in the Capital, West Bengal�s chief minister left for Delhi today to file a complaint with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee against the railway minister�s �irresponsible� behaviour.

�Mamata has no business demanding President�s rule in West Bengal,� Basu said before leaving for the chief ministers� conference. �I will meet the Prime Minister and tell him to rein her in. In any case, I dare the Centre to impose Article 356 in our state as the situation here does not warrant it.�

Unhappy with the Trinamul Congress� plans to hold a week-long agitation in Calcutta from August 10, Basu said: �I must tell him (Vajpayee) how Mamata is inciting violence without knowing its consequences. I have been told that the majority of NDA allies are against Mamata�s campaign for President�s rule in Bengal.�

Mamata has been pressing for President�s rule since the outbreak of violence first at Keshpur in Midnapore district, followed by the Nanoor killing of 11 Trinamul supporters more recently.

A fortnight ago, a group of Left Front MPs charged Mamata with neglecting her responsibilities as railway minister and called on Vajpayee demanding her dismissal.

Deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya is accompanying Basu to Delhi for the meeting that has internal security at the top of the agenda.

Basu iterated that he would convene an all-party meeting to discuss measures to contain violence in the districts after his return from Delhi. �I want cooperation from all parties, including the Opposition, to restore peace,� he added.

Officials at Writers� Buildings said Bhattacharya, who also looks after police, is scheduled to meet Advani, presumably to acquaint him with the law order situation. The proposed meeting assumes significance in the wake of Governor Viren J. Shah�s confidential report to the home ministry after the Nanoor massacre.

This is the second time Bhattacharya will call on Advani to discuss law and order. Last time, the discussion centred on the spurt in ISI activities.

Officials said the agenda for the chief ministers� conference includes modernisation of the police force, speedy trial of the accused, introduction of a Bill to curb ISI activities and quick distribution of voter identify cards.

As Basu will be in the Capital, he will not be able to attend the birth anniversary celebrations of Muzaffar Ahmed, founder of the Communist Party of India, at Mahajati Sadan tomorrow.    

Aug. 4 
Veerappan has fired the first salvo in the psychological war by getting Raj Kumar to issue an audio appeal to �meet all his demands at the earliest and give him a chance to live like a human being�.

An audio-cassette carrying his message in Kannada reached the Tamil Nadu government through a reporter based in Pondicherry.

The eight-minute tape, handed over Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi and the copies made available to Karnataka�s S.M. Krishna and the actor�s family, heaps praise on Veerappan for �taking good care of us and giving no room for any kind of anxiety�.

Raj Kumar�s wife Parvathamma and sons Shivaraj Kumar and Raghavendra confirmed that it was indeed the thespian�s voice.

Apparently displaying signs of the Stockholm syndrome, Raj Kumar repeatedly is heard saying that he could appreciate the justness of Veerappan�s demands and the earlier they are dealt with favourably, the better.

The Kannada icon, in his fifth day in captivity, said he decided to issue an appeal after hearing over radio that there was tension in Karnataka. �There are Tamils, Telugus and others living in Karnataka. Nothing should be done to harm them,� he added.

He said his kidnapping was an �accident�. �It has been a new experience living with these people. Perhaps I needed it. They have looked after us very well, meeting all our needs like brothers. I�m surprised at the intimacy we have developed.�

Raj Kumar reiterated that people should not resort to any sort of violence like burning buses or ill-treating Tamils because he was in Veerappan�s custody. He said he had been told by Veerappan that �central forces are gearing up to surround us. But if anything like that happens, it will be disastrous for all of us. Veerappan says his gang is experienced enough to meet such an eventuality, but we will be in trouble�.

Krishna thanked Veerappan for ensuring Raj Kumar�s safety and said his government would have an open mind on the demands.

Reacting cautiously to Raj Kumar�s plea to meet Veerappan�s �request� expeditiously, Krishna said he was awaiting emissary R. Gopal�s return with the specific demands.

He reiterated that the government was not contemplating any police action to rescue Raj Kumar as it would only complicate matters. Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are waiting for Gopal�s return and �if necessary, I will discuss with Karunanidhi the demands of Veerappan,� he added.

That the tape has been forwarded to the government bypassing Gopal, the designated emissary, indicates that the Nakkeeran editor has fallen out of favour with the bandit.

The cassette was delivered to a reporter in Pondicherry, Dharamaraj. He is said to be a loyalist of Pattali Makkal Katchi leader S. Ramados.    

Temperature: Max: 35.4�C (+3), Min: 27.2�C (+1) Relative humidity: Maximum: 94% Minimum: 63% Rainfall: 46.1mm Today: One or two showers or thundershowers in some parts of the city and its neighbourhood Sunset: 6.13 pm, Sunrise: 5.12 am    

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