Clinton�s Kargil mediator calls Musharraf
Ball not in our court: Delhi
Blast blacks out endless horizon
Basu letter to PM on consul silent on ouster
Delhi plays safe on visit to Nanoor
Vajpayee for vote test on women�s Bill
Actor pleads for captor
Atal pledges the moon to Desam diners

Washington Aug. 10 
Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, has spoken to Pakistan�s chief executive general Pervez Musharraf, even as the US continued to urge a resumption of dialogue between India and the Hizbul Mujahideen as a �real window of opportunity to start a process towards peace in war-weary Kashmir�.

National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley, who told reporters at the White House yesterday about the conversation between Berger and Musharraf, declined to give details.

Berger�s call is considered significant because it was his intervention in the Kargil crisis in June last year which led to a chain of events in Pakistan culminating in then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif�s trip to Washington in early July and an agreement to pull out invaders from Kargil.

Little over a fortnight ago, immediately after the Hizbul announced its ceasefire, Berger had met Brajesh Mishra, his Indian counterpart, in Washington. The priority which Clinton�s national security chief attached to Indo-US ties and the peace process in Kashmir was then obvious because Berger had rushed from Camp David, venue of the tripartite Middle East peace talks among the US President, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestine National Authority chairman, for a one hour meeting with Mishra.

Crowley ruled out a meeting between Clinton and Musharraf on the sidelines of the millennium summit in New York indicating US disapproval of the events leading to the end of the Hizbul ceasefire. This attitude of the White House is reminiscent of the Clinton administration�s public postures during the Kargil crisis.

With less than a month left for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee�s departure for the US, the state department yesterday took a public stand on Indo-Pakistan dialogue that is the closest so far to New Delhi�s position.

�We do believe there cannot be a solution to the Kashmir issue without direct discussions between India and Pakistan. In order for such discussions to take place, however, a climate of trust must be created through sincere efforts to end the violence and, of course, taking the wishes of the Kashmiri people into account�, Richard Boucher, state department spokesman told reporters.

India has consistently maintained that cross-border violence perpetrated by Pakistan has to end before any meaningful talks can be held in an atmosphere of trust between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Boucher said the talks between the Central government and Hizbul was �simply not given enough time�. He added: �It is not helpful for the Hizbul Mujahideen to insist on a new condition after the ceasefire and the offer of dialogue was announced and accepted by India; specifically the August 8 deadline for tripartite talks, including Pakistan, was added afterwards�.

Although Boucher said that talks between the Hizbul and the Centre �has value and we would urge those sides to resume this. We recognise more broadly that in the end, you are going to need direct discussion between India and Pakistan as well�.

Referring to Vajpayee�s talks here next month, the spokesman said: �Our concern, our interest in the issue of Kashmir is quite clear. It was a discussion when the President was in India...I am sure it will be discussed this time as well�.

The National Security Council spokesman also ruled out a meeting between Clinton and Vajpayee in New York, prior to the Prime Minister�s arrival in Washington.

By eliminating any possibility of a Clinton-Musharraf meeting and discounting plans for similar talks between Clinton and Vajpayee in New York, the Clinton administration is making clear that it has no intention of mediating between New Delhi and Islamabad, an idea that frequently raises India�s hackles and muddles the atmosphere of bonhomie between India and the US.    

New Delhi, Aug. 10 
Stressing India would play a passive role as the Hizbul Mujahideen wrestled with internal differences, a senior government official explained that �the ball is not in our court�. New Delhi would take a �wait and see� approach, he said.

The government did not believe a Hizbul split would necessarily be in its interest. �We will not make any attempt to split the Hizbul.�

In the same breath, however, the official added that if such a split took place, India hoped �the main part of the Hizbul would join the ceasefire�.

The seeming contradiction indicates New Delhi is taking pains to ensure Hizbul is seen to be making up its own mind, given the government�s perceived differences between the statements of the Lahore-based Hizbul leader Syed Salahuddin and its operational commander Abdul Majid Dar.

The official argued that neither Salahuddin nor Dar, �for their own reasons�, would like Hizbul to split. He added that the ceasefire was not �just about one individual � Dar,� that the ceasefire had been the product of a consensus among all Hizbul leaders at a conference in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir early this year.

Despite Salahuddin�s termination of the ceasefire, New Delhi seemed cautiously optimistic about the future. The process has developed �a momentum of its own,� the official argued.

The Indian government had no doubt Pakistan was to blame for the ceasefire�s collapse. New Delhi believes the Inter-Services Intelligence had initially told the Hizbul to go ahead with the ceasefire proposal because it believed India would never agree to such an act. As developments went in the opposite direction, �Pakistan decided it could not allow Kashmiris to hold their own dialogue with India�. Islamabad now believes it has �lost complete control of Majid Dar�.

The official, iterating the Wednesday statement of home minister L.K. Advani, said New Delhi was �deeply disappointed by the Hurriyat�s attitude� to the ceasefire.

The implication seemed to be that the All-Party Hurriyat Conference had a key role to play in Salahuddin�s decision to withdraw the ceasefire. In a message possibly directed at the Hurriyat, he added that New Delhi had no intention of marginalising any Kashmiri.    

For Delhi-based journalists, it was a sad day. Most of them, reporters and photographers, have met Pradeep Bhatia (31) on different assignments � whether waiting outside the Prime Minister�s residence for a late evening Cabinet or Security Council briefing or going out with him to cover the Bharatpur ammunition depot blast.

Reporters who have worked with Pradeep recall his affable nature, the smile fixed on his lips and his boundless energy.

For photographers, Pradeep�s death in the Kashmir blast was even sadder. They were horrified because quite a few of them knew him and his small family. The young photographer has left behind wife Suparna and an eight-month-old son.

Most photographers were too shocked to speak this afternoon as they refused to believe that a person so full of life could be snatched away so cruelly.

His friends in The Hindustan Times, where he has been working since leaving Business Standard in 1996, say the least that can be said about Pradeep is that he was �gregarious, affable and lived life to the fullest�.

He never shirked, was willing to take on any assignment that came his way and did a great job when asked to cover the Chamoli earthquake of March 1999, the Kargil war, the Bharatpur ordnance depot fire, the recent Patna air crash and the last National Games.

Several human interest pictures of Pradeep, who held a degree in fine arts, clicked during Operation Vijay are part of defence ministry archives.

Dinesh Krishnan, a photographer-friend of his for a long time, was visibly shaken. Krishnan and Pradeep both loved the mountains and would often set out for the hills together.

�Pradeep was a true lover of nature. He understood the depths of all that nature had to offer and came to his own in close proximity to those rocky heights,� says Krishnan.

Last year, he and Pradeep had organised an exhibition of photographs at the Indira Gandhi National Arts and Cultural Centre. It was titled �Endless Horizons�, which, Pradeep�s friends insist, is an apt description of the man: without contours and full of curiosity.

Understandably, his friends are worried about his wife � an employee with the information and broadcasting ministry�s Press Information Bureau � and also his infant son who did not get a chance to know his father.

True to character, Pradeep was among those closest to the blast site this afternoon. He hardly knew what had hit him before he lost consciousness and died in Srinagar hospital.    

Calcutta, Aug. 10 
The Bengal government appeared to be drawing its claws back after three days of snapping and snarling at the US consulate in Calcutta for despatching two officials to Nanoor where 11 people were killed last month.

Consul-general Chris Sandrolini had a less eventful meeting with deputy chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya today than the one he had with Jyoti Basu yesterday when the chief minister was relentless in attack.

Basu wrote a letter to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, as promised. He expressed in strong language his government�s indignation but removed the all-important demand the CPM has been voicing since it raised the controversy three days ago.

�I would like to register the protest of the government in the strongest possible terms against the action of the US consulate-general,�� Basu said in the letter.

After today�s meeting with Bhattacharya and from the tone of Basu�s letter, it seems that the government is objecting to the visit by the two officials to Nanoor on the grounds that first, they did not inform the administration; and second, they chose to go at a time when the situation was volatile.

Both Basu and Bhattacharya maintained that the visit was motivated since the consulate had chosen not to keep the administration informed. They are citing Article 41(2) of the Vienna Convention guiding diplomatic behaviour to claim that it was improper to have kept the government in the dark.

Sandrolini refused to comment on his meeting with Bhattacharya, but the deputy chief minister said: �It was a closed-door meeting but the chapter is not closed.�

The consul repeatedly emphasised that there was no motive behind the visit and that it was a routine practice to collect information on major incidents and report to higher authorities.

Yesterday, at his meeting with Basu he had cited article 26 of the Convention to argue that consulate members had the right to travel anywhere within the country, barring areas where movement is restricted for reasons of national security.

In his letter to Vajpayee Basu said: �Let me state unequivocally that such a visit by the officials of any consulate or embassy on a fact-finding mission is totally unprecedented during the last 53 years. We were extremely surprised that following an incident of violence over a land dispute in the village Suchpur under Nanoor police station in Birbhum, two officials from the US consulate in the city visited the area and made inquiries into the incident. They called on the local block development officer and requested for an official version of the entire episode.��

�I made it clear to the consul -general that in a democratic country like India, representatives of foreign missions had the liberty to move anywhere. But the activity of the two officials amounted to interference in our internal affairs,� it added. The letter was handed over to the Prime Minister�s office on Thursday evening.

Calcutta�s diplomatic community has been left wondering why the state government has reacted in such an extreme manner. Diplomats are meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.

Wolfgang Seiwerp, the German consul-general, said the missions will consider working out joint measures to counter the campaign after watching how the issue evolves in the next few days.

�They (state government) have gone against the Americans in a harsh manner... I do not understand why they did it,� Seiwerp said.

Diplomats in Calcutta regarded as �preposterous� the government�s charge that the US consulate was meddling in the internal affairs of Bengal, Seiwerp said.    

New Delhi, Aug. 10 
Keen to avoid any controversy in the run-up to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee�s visit to the US next month, the foreign ministry has decided to keep in abeyance its decision on the charges of �trespassing� against the consul-general in Calcutta.

South Block is yet to ascertain whether the American consul-general exceeded his brief, but a ministry spokesman today said it was not a violation of norms for foreign diplomats to keep in touch with leaders of different parties.

Christopher Sandrolini, the US consul-general in Calcutta, is in the eye of a storm following his decision to send two consulate officials to Nanoor where 11 Trinamul Congress supporters were killed last month. The ruling Left Front has demanded his ouster and chief minister Jyoti Basu has charged the American diplomat with �trespassing�.

South Block does not want to take a stand on the matter, fearing that it might aggravate the controversy. Couched in diplomatese, the foreign ministry statement today said: �US consular-general for diplomatic and consular mission accredited in India enjoy unrestricted movement for carrying out their due representational function.�

But, it added, �We do not expect that this courtesy is misused by any country for intrusive activities.�

Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: �We are in touch with the US embassy and further action will be taken as considered appropriate and necessary.�

But when asked about activities by a foreign diplomat that can be construed as �misuse� of the courtesy, Jassal said: �unless there are specific charges, it is difficult to give a view.�

Missions regularly send representatives to Kashmir, where diplomats hold discussions with Opposition leaders and organisations. The foreign ministry does not find this to be a violation of norm.

�To keep in touch with leaders of political parties is considered normal diplomatic practice,� the spokesman added.

South Block is not willing to say how it will find out whether Sandrolini has violated any diplomatic norms. South Block mandarins are trying to ascertain the facts from the US embassy here. It is not clear how much weightage the ministry will give to the charges the state government has made.    

New Delhi, Aug. 10 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said his government will put the women�s reservation Bill to vote if it failed to secure a consensus on it. �I hope we will be successful in our efforts to bring about a consensus. If we cannot, then we will take a decision by putting the Bill to vote in Parliament,� the Prime Minister told the Rajya Sabha.

The inordinate delay in passing the 33 per cent women�s reservation Bill provoked the women MPs of the CPM to raise the issue during today�s Zero Hour in both Houses of Parliament. Though parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan told the Lok Sabha that the Bill would be put back on the table of the House only if there was a �general consensus�, the Prime Minister was more categoric in his assurance that the Bill would be passed, regardless of a consensus or not.

In the Lok Sabha, the Congress and the Left parties dissatisfied with Mahajan�s reply walked out, while the opponents of the Bill hailed the minister�s statement since a consensus on the Bill seems difficult if not impossible.

Given the present numerical equations in the House, the Bill, if put to vote, will be passed because the National Democratic Alliance, the Congress and the Left are backing it. The House has already passed several controversial Bills with the joint support of the BJP and the Congress, though others have opposed them.

Only last week, the government, in the jaw of opposition from several sections of the House, had pushed through three significant Bills carving out three new states. Earlier, the BJP and the Congress had jointly passed several important financial Bills.

�We do not want any consensus. Let the government put the Bill to vote,� said CPM�s A.K. Premajam. Her party staged a demonstration supporting the Bill outside Parliament.

Yesterday the Congress had mobilised women outside the House to speed up the passage of the Bill.    

Chennai, Aug. 10 
Hostage star Raj Kumar has reiterated his appeal to the government to meet his captor Veerappan�s demands while the bandit himself is still silent on the authorities� response to the price he has set for setting free the actor.

In the tape delivered late last night by a Nakkeeran employee who had accompanied his editor R. Gopal to the jungles, Raj Kumar, who first speaks in Tamil and then in Kannada, maintains that he was being well treated and was in good health.

But, pleads the Kannada icon, �I�d be grateful to the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments if they fulfil Veerappan�s demands and secure my release�.

Gopal is expected to return tomorrow morning, Nakkeeran sources said. He will meet the chief minister and inform him of Veerappan�s reaction to the governments� decision to meet his demands.

The governments had said that were accepting all the 10 demands but the announcement was couched in officialese, leaving most of the final decisions to committees.

The outlaw, who has asked for the release of jailed Tamil extremists and a permanent solution to the Cauvery dispute, appears to have become more elusive than ever. Not only is he yet to react to the governments� response to his demands, he is also nowhere to be seen in the pictures.

The photographs show Gopal and his videographer Sivasubramanian in the company of Raj Kumar and his kidnapped associates. Police, however, are not reading too much into Veerappan�s absence. �He might not have been around when the pictures were taken,� argued Tamil Nadu director-general of police F.C. Sharma at the news conference this morning.

Gopal, who had ventured into the forests on August 2, says he was able to establish contact with the hostages after a �Herculean effort� and he hopes to return to Chennai after a couple of days with a message from Veerappan.

The emissary, however, does not say if he has spoken with the brigand, sparking questions about whether he has been able to meet Veerappan in the first place.

Nakkeeran associate editor A. Kamaraj bristles at such suggestions. �How can you say that? Is it conceivable that he could have gone anywhere near the actor without the express permission of Veerappan himself? Those who cast such doubts are doing so only to belittle our achievements.�

Kamaraj asserted that he had received word that his boss has been carrying on intensive discussions with Veerappan and his men. Asked why then is the bandit not seen in any of the photographs, Kamaraj replied: �Maybe the blokes with Veerappan do not like the idea.�

One reason for the stalemate to drag on is the possible influence of Tamil extremist groups on the bandit as indicated by the nature of his demands.

The police chief evaded questions on the alleged nexus between some extremist outfits and Veerappan, merely saying: �We�re investigating.�

Sharma did sound a bit disappointed at not having received any message from the smuggler but sought to put up a brave face saying that in the past, too, the fiend had released his hostages after as many as 26 days.    

New Delhi, Aug. 10 
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has promised the �moon� to Telugu Desam Party MPs, literally.

Tickling the ambitions of a crowd of the Desam MPs around him � they are desperately hoping for a berth in the Cabinet but cannot speak out because party chief Chandrababu Naidu is cold to the idea � Vajpayee pointed at the nearly full moon that hovered behind the clouds in the Delhi sky and made a suggestion. �Why don�t you join the government and I will give you the moon,� he said.

The Desam MPs had been grumbling about the lack of response from NDA ministers to their requests for development projects, but were floored by the Prime Minister�s offer. However, Desam parliamentary party leader K. Yerran Naidu reminded Vajpayee of ground realities and the Desam�s policy decision not to join the government.

Vajpayee made the remark during a power dinner he had hosted for the 40-member Desam contingent in both Houses of Parliament on the lawns of his 7 Race Course Road residence.

It was a mutual wooing session. Looking up at the sky, where a near full moon was emerging from the clouds, the Prime Minister let the poet in him surface. �Main aakash se chand utarke aapko dunga,� he pledged, eliciting a round of boisterous laughter from the parliamentarians. An MP responded right back. �You, yourself is a moon for us,� he told Vajpayee.

But human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, who was by Vajpayee�s side, butted in: �For every moon there will be an eclipse.� But another Desam MP retorted: �As long as the Desam is with the Prime Minister, there will not be any eclipse.� A few others muttered that after all they represented a chief called �Chandra-babu�.

During the three-hour dinner which kicked off at 7.30, Vajpayee spoke to each of the 40 MPs individually for about three minutes, inquiring about their problems. An elated MP remarked Vajpayee�s gestures was far more positive than Naidu�s.

The MPs then began to clamour for pieces of the promised moon. Some suggested that a special officer be designated to coordinate between the Desam and central ministries. Vajpayee first rejected the idea, saying it was not proper to have such an arrangement for just one state and others may also raise the same demand.

The Desam members then told him that since they were not part of the government unlike other allies, some interface has to be there. The Prime Minister agreed to consider the request.

Contrary to their chief minister�s wish, many of the Desam MPs want to join the government for better performance in their constituencies. In private conversation with journalists, they cite the example of Mamata Banerjee and other allies.

But Naidu is wary of any parallel centre of power in Delhi as he likes to deal with the Prime Minister and other ministers directly. He also thinks that by joining the government, his party will be affected by the �anti-incumbency� factor. He is hoping to get back some of the minority votes by remaining outside the government.

The Prime Minister�s bid to lure the MPs has put Naidu in an awkward situation. Desam sources said the chief minister may not be able to withstand pressure for long and may have to permit some of his MPs to join the Vajpayee Cabinet.    


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