Untold story of a threat that rattled the Taliban
Unions tap Bihar twins
High-end hotels hit hard
Bypoll blow to three govts
Telengana shock for CM

London, Sept. 22: 
A former Pakistan foreign minister revealed today that the US had threatened military action against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden two months before the attacks on New York and Washington, according to a newspaper here. The Pakistan government passed on the threats to the Taliban. It raises the possibility that the September 11 attacks could be the result of the US threats.

The Guardian today said senior Pakistani government officials passed on the threat of the American attack to the Taliban. The Taliban refused to comply but the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon could be seen in this light as a pre-emptive strike in response to the US threat rather than an attack from the blue.

The warning to the Taliban originated at a four-day meeting of senior American, Russian, Iranian and Pakistani officials at a hotel in Berlin in mid-July. The conference, the third in the series, was designed to offer a free and open-ended forum for governments to pass messages and sound out each other�s thinking. The participants were experts with long diplomatic experience but were no longer government officials.

The paper quoted former foreign minister of Pakistan Niaz Naik present at the meeting as saying: �The Americans indicated to us that in case the Taliban does not behave and in case Pakistan also does not help us to influence the Taliban, then the United States would be left with no action against Afghanistan. I told the Pakistani government who informed the Taliban via our foreign office and the Taliban ambassador here.�

The three Americans at the Berlin meeting were Tom Simons, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, Karl �Rick� Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs and Lee Coldren, who headed the office of Pakistan, Afghan and Bangladesh affairs in the state department until 1997. According to Naik, the Americans raised the issue of an attack on Afghanistan at one of the full sessions of the conference. He said he asked Simons why the attack would be more successful than Bill Clinton�s missile attacks in 1998 that did not get bin Laden but caused 20 deaths.

�Simons said that this time they were very sure. They had all the intelligence and would not miss him. It would be aerial action, maybe helicopter gunships, and not only overt, but from very close proximity to Afghanistan,� Naik said. At the conference were also three Pakistani generals, one of who was still in active service. The Pakistani government took the US talk of possible strikes seriously enough to pass it on the Taliban.

Tom Simons however denied saying anything at the Berlin meeting about the operations. ��I have known Niaz Naik and considered him a friend for years. I didn�t say anything like that and didn�t hear anyone say anything like that. We were clear that feeling in Washington was strong, and that military action was one of the options down the road. But details, I don�t know where they came from.�

Naik said he was surprised the Americans were denying it. ��Maybe they feel they shouldn�t have told us anything is advance now we have had these tragic events.�


New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
Trade union leaders are stoking the resentment of two of the most disaffected Union ministers � Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav. The labour leaders are approaching them for help to stall the privatisation of coal mines as well as the labour reforms proposed by the finance minister to bring in a �hire and fire� policy.

Last week, the union leaders met , the new labour minister, and handed him a list of complaints. They urged the minister not to rush through with the labour reform Bills.

M.K. Pandhe, general secretary of the Left-backed Citu, said Sharad �sympathised� with the labour leaders and confided that he, too, was fed up with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and its economic policies.

Sharad also told the trade union leaders that it was virtually impossible for a �labour minister� to okay policies that would leave the workers so vulnerable to lay-offs.

He is in the same dilemma as his predecessor Satyanarain Jatiya, who lost his job because of his reluctance to bring the two Bills that would strip workers of their job security. Although labour leaders believe the new minister is �worker friendly�, they are not sure how effective he will be in scuttling the Bills.

The union leaders, who submitted a memorandum to Sharad, drew his attention to the fact that the labour ministry has been rapidly losing its �standing� and labour ministers their �prestige�.

The memorandum pointed to instances when one ministry after another has bypassed the labour ministry and unilaterally announced decisions that had a direct impact on workers.

�Finance minister Yashwant Sinha announced the decision to amend the Industrial Disputes Act and the Contract Labour Act in Parliament even when � Satyanarain Jatiya was kept in the dark,� Pandhe said.

After �working� on Sharad, labour leaders will now �target� Paswan, the new coal minister who lost the plum telecommunications portfolio in the recent Cabinet shuffle.

According to reports, Paswan is not keen on backing the government�s move to open up the mining sector. �We are going to ask him not to back the Bill pending for privatising the mines,� the Citu leader said.

Sources say both Sharad and Paswan have their political constituencies to take care of and realise that in times like these, when growth and employment rates are falling, it would be disastrous to be seen by the poor as �accomplices� of further �attacks� on them.


Calcutta, Sept. 22: 
The terror strikes in the US have blown a big hole in the Indian premium hotels segment, with a sharp fall predicted in tourist arrivals.

The hospitality industry feels the gloom is unlikely to lift in the next two quarters � the peak tourist season.

To offset the lower revenues, some hotel chains have already begun taking belt-tightening measures. The government, too, is trying to come up with solutions for the sector. The department of tourism has convened an emergency meeting on October 4 with the chambers of commerce, international airlines and leading hotel chains.

P.R.S. Oberoi, the vice-chairman of EIH � the company that runs the Oberoi group of hotels � said: �We have put on hold all inessential capital expenditure and are reviewing our operations on a weekly basis.�

EIH�s closest rival, Indian Hotels of the Tatas, is also reviewing its operations and finances on a daily basis.

Indian Hotels senior vice-president Ravi Dubey said: �The company is going on an austerity drive, and preparing an alternative marketing strategy to boost sales. Occupancy is expected to decline by at least 8-10 per cent this year.�

He, however, refused to speak of the �alternative marketing strategy� the company is planning. Shyam Suri, secretary general of the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India, said: �It is clear that the hotel industry will be affected by the developments in the US, but it is still too early to assess the extent. We are still hoping that tourist inflow to the country will not decline from last year�s level of 2.6 million.�

�We will also ask the government to reduce taxes to make accommodation and services more attractive,� Suri added.

Industry watchers are concerned that a military action by the US and its allies will aggravate the situation, forcing the premium hotels to offer discounts even during winters. Hotels normally offer discounts on room rents during the first two quarters to push sales, but seldom does so in winter.


New Delhi, Sept. 22: 
Gujarat was bad news for the BJP, Andhra Pradesh for the Telugu Desam Party and Rajasthan for the Congress. The three ruling governments suffered setbacks in the Lok Sabha and Assembly byelections, the results of which were declared today.

In Gujarat, the BJP lost the Sabarmati Assembly seat to the Congress, which also convincingly retained the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha constituency, earlier held by Nishaben Chowdhury, the deceased wife of ex-chief minister Amarsinh Chowdhury.

Sabarmati is part of the prestigious Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency held by Union home minister L.K. Advani. Before the bypoll, BJP sources had said its outcome would be as much a reflection on the Keshubhai Patel government�s rating as Advani�s.

Advani had addressed a couple of public meetings to save the day for the BJP candidate, Babubhai Patel. As the meetings took place after the September 11 terrorist strikes on America, he spoke on terrorism, an issue which in the past would have fired the imagination of Gujarat�s urban Hindus.

That the Congress� Narhari Amin still managed to wrest Sabarmati from the BJP indicates that in the next Assembly elections, scheduled for 2002, governance, or the lack of it, could take precedence over communal issues for the first time in years.

Voters of Sabarmati had also raked up the Madhavpura Cooperative bank scam, which left thousands of individual depositors in the lurch. Advani was pushing hard to implement a Rs 1200-crore bailout package for the bank, but it seems to have been a case of �too little, too late�. The majority of Madhavpura�s two lakh depositors are from Gandhinagar-Ahmedabad.

In Andhra Pradesh, chief minister Chandrababu Naidu seems to have paid the price for opposing the demand for a separate Telengana state. The leader of the Telengana Rashtra Samithi and Naidu�s former colleague, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, won the Siddipet seat from the Desam. The former deputy Speaker-turned-Naidu�s critic said: �This is a mandate for a separate Telengana state. We will continue to fight for it until we achieve our goal.� The Desam, however, retained the Vuyyur Assembly seat.

For Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, the BJP�s impressive win in the Tonk Lok Sabha seat was more galling than what the loss of Sabarmati was for his Gujarat counterpart. The contest in Tonk had narrowed down to a war of attrition between Gehlot and his predecessor, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

Both had gone all out for their nominees. Shekhawat had called off a trip to China and addressed over 30 meetings. Gehlot held 50 meetings, while as many as 50 Congress legislators, including ministers, had camped in Tonk. But Gehlot seems to have been punished for a series of perceived anti-people moves like the power tariff increase, his failure to prevent the demolition of the Asind mosque, and distribution of water from the Bisalpur dam.


Hyderabad, Sept. 22: 
The Telugu Desam Party today suffered a setback with the Telengana Rashtra Samiti leader and former Desam deputy speaker K. Chandrasekhar Rao trouncing the party at the Siddipet Assembly bypoll by a margin of 58,000 votes.

While the Opposition hailed the victory of the Telengana leader, the ruling party hastened to adjourn the House sine die. The Desam did not yield to the Opposition�s demand to extend the monsoon session of the Assembly by another day.

�This is only the beginning. I will not rest till I achieve Telengana,� Rao said at Siddipet after a victory procession in which more than 35,000 people participated. Defeated Desam candidate Srinivas Reddy got only 24,000 votes as against 82,000 votes polled by the Telengana party leader.

In the panchayat polls held recently, Rao�s party had bagged two zilla parishads, hundreds of mandal parishads and several thousands of panchayats.

All efforts of the Desam to bag Siddipet and prevent Rao from entering the Assembly had come to a nought.

Though Naidu denied any wrongdoing, several instances of misuse of official machinery and attempts to bribe voters were exposed at Siddipet. About 10 days ago, two police officials were caught red-handed bribing voters. A Desam Rajya Sabha MP was accused of distributing money in Siddipet on Thursday.

The two police officers have been suspended, but a case is yet to be registered against the Desam MP.

Rao�s victory in Siddipet has revealed that the Telengana issue is still alive. It also justifies the stand of former BJP leader Narendra, who chose to resign from the party when suspended for launching a Telengana forum in the state.

The Desam is upset that its high-blitz campaign on the party�s contribution to the Telengana region had not yielded dividends.


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