US Axe hovers over Jaish
Fatwa on Blair
Pak blacks out Indian news
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Oct. 10: 
As the second television war in a decade unfolds in drawing rooms, bars, salons and public places the world over, the bizarre unreality of the conflict is being brought home in New Delhi and Islamabad.

There is growing expectation here that the Bush administration will act against Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which claimed responsibility for the recent suicide bomb attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, either before secretary of state Colin Powell travels to India or while he is in New Delhi.

There are two options before the administration: it can include JeM in the state department�s list of foreign terrorist organisations (FTOs) or its assets can be frozen.

India is pressing for the latter since New Delhi considers the freezing of assets to be more effective than the listing by the state department.

Jaish already figures on the state department�s list of �other terrorist groups�, a second category which does not invite automatic punitive steps.

State department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that �we have agreed to take a very close look at them (JeM) in relation to the criteria for listing groups on the foreign terrorist list�. But implicit in Boucher�s choice of words � �we have agreed� � was an acknowledgement that the administration was acting against JeM to assuage India�s feelings.

The White House remains focused on Osama bin Laden and the al Qaida network. President George W. Bush today released a list of 22 names of FBI�s �Most Wanted� list, but the names are all either linked to al Qaida or have threatened US interests.

It does not include any terrorist who has threatened non-US interests: topping the list is bin Laden and his two top deputies, Ayman al Zawahri and Mohamed Atef.

So, when Powell goes to Islamabad, he will tell General Pervez Musharraf that Washington had to do something to keep India happy as part of the global anti-terrorist coalition.

Just as Bush administration officials and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have been telling India that Musharraf has to be indulged because Pakistan�s help is needed to get bin Laden �dead or alive�.

Such careful balancing between India and Pakistan will be the highlight of Powell�s two-day stay in South Asia before he arrives in Shanghai on October 17 on the final leg of his travel.

Significantly, Boucher parried a question on how designating JeM would affect Pakistan since Islamabad is the patron of that terrorist outfit.

Yesterday�s state department briefing, in fact, provided a trailer of the tightrope-walking Powell will have to do in New Delhi and Islamabad and of the unrealistic demands the September 11 incidents are already making on states like India and Pakistan.


London, Oct 10: 
A UK-based fundamentalist group has issued a fatwa against Tony Blair, but the British Prime Minister shrugged off the threat even as security agencies reacted by tightening their ring of steel around him.

The call was issued by al Muhajiroun, which has a London base. Abdul Rehman Saleem, a spokesman for the group, yesterday called on the faithful to assassinate the British Prime Minister, saying that any Muslim, British or foreign, who �wants to get rid of him� would not be punished under Islamic law, but praised.

�Because the allies, the British and the Americans have started bombing the Muslims of Afghanistan, for those people over there, the government buildings here, the military installations, including 10 Downing Street, become legitimate targets. That includes the Cabinet and it includes the Prime Ministers as well,� Saleem said by phone from Lahore.

But Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of al Muhajiroun, who is in trouble for issuing a fatwa against President Pervez Musharraf, distanced himself from Saleem�s remarks. �It is not allowed for any Muslim living in this country to get involved in action like this,� he said.

He confirmed that Saleem was a member of his organisation but insisted that he spoke for the organisation in Pakistan, and not for British Muslims.

Blair, however, maintained a studied indifference. The British Prime Minister, who has been travelling the globe in an effort to keep Islamic countries within the anti-Taliban coalition, was today in Oman where he enjoyed an informal curry lunch with British troops who may be used in a ground offensive in Afghanistan.

Blair queued up like the others to get his tray and let slip that one of his sons was considering a possible career in the armed forces.

Asked about the threat, Blair replied: �The people who are actually going into action are in far greater danger than me, and my first thoughts are with them.�

He added he would not lose any sleep because of the increased danger to his life. �No, I�m afraid it comes with the job,� he said.

But British security agencies are taking no chances, despite Blair�s outward show of nonchalance. A home office spokesman said: �A view will have to be taken on whether any action will be taken in the light of this individual�s latest comments.�


New Delhi, Oct. 10: 
In a move to keep anti-US protests within Pakistan to a minimum, Islamabad�s military rulers appeared to have blocked access to Indian news channels throughout the country.

The move may have been intended for the domestic audience but has also affected the Indian High Commission, whose access to these news channels is now snapped.

Though the Pakistani government has made no official announcement, and the decision is being attributed to cable operators, there is speculation in India that the move is related to protests against the US military action in Afghanistan. Indian news channels have been regularly showing footage of these demonstrations. However, Indian entertainment channels have not been affected by the move.

The Indian High Commission in Islamabad, like the other embassies and missions, has its own satellite dish through which it accesses various TV channels and is not dependent on cable operators. So it is a little unusual that the decision to block access to the news channels have been extended to the high commission.

�We are trying to get the full facts,� foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. �If it is true, it is unfortunate. There is something amiss.�

She said that while blocking access to Indian news channel for Pakistani viewers was unfortunate, it was an internal affair of Pakistan on which New Delhi does not have much to comment on.

But Rao added that access to information for a diplomat was �absolutely essential�, and South Block would take up the matter with Pakistani authorities.

Asked if India would retaliate by banning Ptv, Rao made it clear that no such move was being contemplated. �It is not a zero-sum game,� she said.

Rao also ruled out the possibility of Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh going to Pakistan in the immediate future. Reports from Islamabad quoted the Pakistani foreign office as saying that President Pervez Musharraf, during his telephone conversation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Monday, had told him that if he was unable to come to Islamabad, Vajpayee could send his foreign minister.

Rao denied there was any such request at the official level. �The visit of our foreign minister to Pakistan is not imminent,� she said.

She added that Singh had already accepted an invitation from his Pakistani counterpart, Abdus Sattar, but no date for a visit has been fixed and the invitation was sent much before the September 11 terrorist strikes on the US.




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