Special forces on the prowl
Pak team draws blank
Healing-touch PM lobs Simi ban to tribunal
Haldia partners remove thorns
Local & global battles in Bangla
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Sept. 28: 
US and British special forces have been in Afghanistan for two weeks searching for Osama bin Laden.

The commandos arrived in Pakistan on September 13 � two days after the attacks � and began moving into Afghanistan with orders to capture or kill the Saudi-born Islamic militant, or pin him down until the US can launch air strikes.

A top Bush administration official said US special forces have conducted scouting missions in Afghanistan. President George W. Bush said the US is �in hot pursuit� of terrorists behind the September 11 attacks.

Reports of special operations were reported in the Pakistani press and by the American newspaper USA Today. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke refused to comment on the reports.

Officials have said the US �war on terrorism� would be an unconventional battle in which commandos could play a key role.

Citing Pentagon officials in Washington and Pakistani military officials with direct knowledge of the operations, the USA Today said special operations forces had landed in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta.

Teams of three to five soldiers, supported by Black Hawk MH-60K helicopters based outside Afghanistan, began deploying into the country to locate bin Laden, concentrating their searches in caves and underground bunkers near Kandahar.

USA Today said the elite troops were having trouble finding bin Laden and had asked other nations for intelligence help.

Quoting US officials, it said several elite military units were involved in the effort to find bin Laden, including the army�s Green Berets, Navy Seals and the British Army�s Special Air Services.

A senior administration official confirmed the reports to CNN. But he did not confirm if the forces were hunting bin Laden. �We have an intelligence deficit there,� the official was quoted as saying.

He described the operations as a part of routine special forces deployment that usually accompanies troops deployment.

Military experts said such operations were par for the course. �They�re doing exactly what special forces always do,� retired US air force Maj. Gen. Donald Sheppard told CNN. �They�re behind the scenes establishing the locations of people and things that will be used later.�

An official said the work of US and British forces was a prelude to potential military action.

In a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Bush said he and his military planners have taken note of lessons learned by Russia in its long, brutal struggle against Afghan rebels in the 1980s.

�It is very hard to fight a ... guerrilla war with conventional forces,� Bush said. �There may or may not be a conventional component to� US military action, he said. But, Bush said, �make no mistake about it � we�re in hot pursuit� of terrorists.


Islamabad, Sept. 28: 
A delegation of clerics and a spymaster carried back to Pakistan an agreement to talk again as well as a culinary testimony to the Taliban�s hospitality but insisted that Osama bin Laden was not discussed.

�Osama bin Laden was not a subject of our discussion. We only discussed how war could be prevented. They told us they don�t want war,� Mufti Mohammad Jameel, a member of the 10-man team, said in Karachi.

The delegation, over a lunch of boiled rice, meat, lassi as well as grapes and pomegranates with Omar, agreed on the need for more such meetings, Jameel said. The talks were successful, he added, but declined to explain why.

Pakistan had earlier said it hoped that the delegation � made of adherents to the Deobandi school from where the Taliban draw their strict interpretation of the Quran � could succeed where diplomacy had failed.

Foreign office spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said the director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, was accompanying the clerics. �It is important that he (the ISI chief) is accompanying the delegation. He had led the earlier Pakistani delegation to Afghanistan and is fully conversant with the position of the Pakistan government,� the spokesman said.

Khan added that the clerics carried no negotiating mandate, but merely an appeal from fellow Muslims.

�The delegation talked to (Taliban leader) Mullah Mohammad Omar,� the Taliban�s consul in Karachi, Rahmatullah Kakazada, said. �They decided on future delegations to discuss further cooperation.�

Under siege from the rest of the world, the Taliban�s position has never appeared more perilous since they seized control of the country five years ago.

When the delegation flew to Kandahar, residents of Kabul scurried for cover as the sound of anti-aircraft fire echoed around the hills surrounding the capital. It was just a test of the Taliban�s defences, but highlighted the growing sense of insecurity among Afghanistan�s people.

The message that bin Laden should voluntarily go was one of the themes of sermons at Friday prayers in Kabul. But defiance was another, and preachers called on Afghans to fight if the US does attack.

US undersecretary of state John Bolton is in the Uzbek capital for talks on terrorism.


New Delhi, Sept. 28: 
A day after the Students� Islamic Movement of India (Simi) was outlawed for two years, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee tried to salve the hurt feelings of the minority community by telling them the ban could be overturned if it was found to be unlawful.

Vajpayee told a gathering of Muslims at his residence this evening that the ban could be challenged in a tribunal that would have the last word on the issue. But the Prime Minister defended the ban, saying it was �entirely lawful�.

Clerics in Lucknow had reacted sharply to the Simi ban, calling it a �biased step, aimed at harassing and terrorising Muslims�. But the imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, did not mention it in his sermon during Friday�s namaaz (Reuters picture on left).

Arrests of Simi leaders continued across the country and many of the outfit�s offices were sealed. Thirty activists were held in West Bengal.

The evidence against Simi will be placed before a tribunal, headed by a high court judge, within 30 days. The tribunal will give its verdict on the legality of the ban within six months.

�If an organisation is outlawed by the executive and somebody has a problem, he can always go in appeal to an independent tribunal which will judge if the ban will help put an end to terrorism and is lawful or not. If the tribunal judges it is unlawful, then the ban will be lifted. We have a rule of law in our country and not a military government,� said Vajpayee, taking a potshot at Pakistan.

The BJP used the same argument to shoot down the Opposition�s demand for a ban on Sangh parivar outfits such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which have issued inflammatory statements against Islam and Muslims after the US terror attacks.

�In 1992, after the Babri Masjid demolition, the government of the day had outlawed the VHP and Bajrang Dal but a tribunal subsequently struck down the order and lifted the ban. So where is the question of bringing in a ban against them all over again?� asked BJP general secretary and spokesman Narendra Modi.

The Prime Minister described yesterday�s violence in Lucknow � his Lok Sabha constituency � as �most unfortunate� and said the government would hunt down the �mischief-makers� behind it.

Modi demanded a ban on other organisations suspected to be involved in subversive activities. He refused to name them on the plea that �it would be given a communal colour� � a tacit admission that the BJP had Islamic outfits in mind.


Calcutta, Sept. 28: 
Haldia Petrochemicals has big questions to settle about its future, but at least the two main promoters � often combative in the past � now appear to be trying to build confidence in each other.

First, Purnendu Chatterjee, who owns 43 per cent in the company, said he was ready to bring in the Rs 107-crore equity that had been pending from him. Second, the company�s chairman, Tapan Mitra, with whom Chatterjee�s relations have been anything but cordial, bade goodbye today, drawing the curtain down on an acrimonious chapter between the two partners.

Mitra�s term expired but he could have got another stint at today�s board meeting had the Bengal government insisted, which it didn�t.

At the end of the meeting, Chatterjee said: �Mitra has resigned from the HPL board. Ashok Gupta, principal secretary, development and planning, was elected by the HPL board to chair today�s meeting. The company will select a chairman shortly.�

That, however, is not a priority for the company which has to first settle the question of restructuring its killing debt burden and Indian Oil�s proposed participation.

Indian Oil was to come in as the fourth partner, injecting fresh equity into the company. But it has demanded management control against a 26 per cent shareholding � a condition unacceptable to the other partners.

Chatterjee said: �IOC has given a difficult proposal which is not acceptable to us. IOC is welcome in the project but under a mutually acceptable arrangement.�

What that would be is not clear since IOC has repeatedly insisted that it would come in only under these conditions. It is difficult to see how the government can offer it management control without a majority � 51 per cent � stake.

The stalemate continues alongside the lurking fear about Haldia Petro�s viability because of the high debt, which lenders have refused to reschedule in the absence of a decision on IOC�s participation.

It will now be up to the government to decide if it would persist in its effort to rope in IOC or hand control to Chatterjee.

Asked when he would bring in the Rs 107 crore, Chatterjee said: �This is part of the debt restructuring. Once it is done, I will bring in the money. I am also ready to put in additional funds towards the equity.�


Dhaka, Sept. 28: 
The Americans and the British have been advised to keep away from this battle for Bangladesh. The first to heed the advice was former US President Jimmy Carter who was to be here to lead a 30-member team of unofficial observers. He pulled out in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on America.

Although the American tragedy has not quite cast its shadow on the campaign for the October 1 elections to Bangladesh�s parliament, the two western powers are not taking any chances. An anti-American protest rally here this afternoon signalled that their caution was not without reason.

A small Islamic group burnt President George W. Bush�s effigy amid slogans hailing Osama bin Laden outside the National Press Club premises in central Dhaka. The protesters gathered at the place close to Baitul Mokarram, the biggest mosque here, after the Friday prayers.

The security warnings to US and British citizens in Bangladesh from their respective governments are ostensibly over the volatile poll-eve political situation in Bangladesh. These make no mention of the international events in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington,

A travel advisory from the US state department warns American citizens �to defer non-essential travel within the country and to exercise extreme caution from September 30 to October 7.�

It explained that �politically-motivated violence has been widespread and is likely to continue on election day and possibly a few days afterwards.�

A similar warning to British citizens said they would do well to be careful, although they may not be targets of the political violence. During the fierce election campaign, over 200 political activists were killed and several hundred more were injured.

The anxiety over the atmosphere of violence is not restricted to US and British authorities only. The leader of the election observers� team from the European Union, Joachim Miranda, and the chief coordinator of the United Nations Electoral Assistance Secretariat, Tony Reis, have also voiced their concern.

The �hostility� between the two major parties � the Awami League that led the outgoing government and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party � was the �single largest obstacle to ensuring a democratic environment in Bangladesh,� Reis said.

Even Bangladesh�s own umbrella organisation for non-government observers for the elections, the Fair Election Monitoring Alliance, is equally apprehensive.

No wonder that in her party�s last poll rally this evening, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina harped on the atmosphere of �fear and terror,� blaming the BNP-led four-party alliance for it. It was a huge meeting that stalled central Dhaka for several hours. Tomorrow will be BNP leader Khaleda Zia�s day here, as she addresses her alliance�s last meeting not far away from the venue of today�s Awami League rally.




Maximum:35.6�C (+4)
Minimum: 26.9�C (+1)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 92%,
Minimum: 53%


Light to moderate rain, accompanied by thunder, in some parts.
Sunrise: 5.30 am
Sunset: 5.24 pm

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