Powell brings power plan
Atal reigns unchallenged
Delhi greets Powell with J&K toughtalk
Infotech meet on
Indian models are upfront
Border shelling draws Bush fire
Calcutta Weather

Washington, Oct. 15: 

Pervez ties army down

US secretary of state Colin Powell began crucial talks with leaders in Islamabad on the first leg of his Asian tour even as fast-paced developments on the future of Afghanistan appeared to be overtaking General Pervez Musharraf�s carefully-laid plans for controlling Pakistan�s northern neighbour in the post-Taliban phase.

The tense arrival of Powell in the Pakistani capital, besieged by fears for his security, was overshadowed by unconfirmed reports from the United Arab Emirates that the Taliban�s foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, had flown into the Gulf state and defected to forces opposed to the Islamic militia.

This was compounded by puzzlement in Pakistan and among those here watching developments in Islamabad that Musharraf had called a two-day meeting of his corps commanders precisely during the two days that Powell is spending in Pakistan.

Musharraf�s aim is two-fold: by getting the top brass of his army in one place, he can keep an eye on them while he works out any deal with Powell which may have opponents among the men in uniform. Second, he can ram such a deal down the throats of all his key lieutenants quickly, if need be.

It was also evident from the arrival in Islamabad of a three-member delegation representing Afghanistan�s former king, Zahir Shah, that events surrounding post-Taliban Afghanistan were moving at a whirlwind pace. The team, led by Hidayat Amin Arsalan, former Afghan foreign minister, arrived from Rome and held talks with Musharraf and his foreign minister Abdus Sattar.

As Powell prepares to fly to New Delhi on the second leg of his trip, it is becoming clear that Kashmir and lowering Indo-Pakistan tension are providing a camouflage for his visit to India and Pakistan.

The real objective of Powell�s first overseas visit since the September 11 terrorist attacks is to find a way out of the quagmire of post-Taliban arrangements. Aboard the flight to Islamabad, Powell said he was appointing Richard Haass as special representative for Afghanistan.

Sattar confirmed on ABC television yesterday that Pakistan had asked Washington not to bomb Taliban frontlines within Afghanistan. Such bombing and US air support for the Northern Alliance would have enabled anti-Taliban forces to advance into Kabul. �At this time, for the minority ethnic group in the north to march down to the south and capture Kabul will destabilise an already volatile situation,� he said.

Sattar said Pakistan would favour a UN-armed presence in Afghanistan if it was necessary to enforce order and make a multi-ethnic government effective after the Taliban were deprived of power.

Then he cleverly added a rider. �Whether they (UN forces) are all Islamic forces or not is a different matter.� That the UN, too, was getting involved in the changing Afghan political scenario became obvious when UN secretary-general Kofi Annan appointed former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi as his special representative for Afghanistan.

Powell said his representative Haass would examine alternatives to the Taliban with the UN and other nations. Annan said in a statement that Brahimi will work to establish a �fully representative, multi-ethnic and broad-based government� in Afghanistan.

As Powell was leaving for Islamabad, word was out here that the US secretary of state would try to enlist Musharraf�s support for a plan to oust the Taliban on a time-table suitable to convene Afghanistan�s Loya Jirga, or grand council, in the Afghan capital within 45 days.


New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
The confidence with which Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has rehabilitated Bangaru Laxman and George Fernandes � without a squeak from the Sangh parivar � has a lot to do with the RSS� backing that he enjoys, Sangh and BJP sources claimed.

Fernandes was today reinstated as defence minister. Signs of the emerging bonhomie between Vajpayee and the RSS were apparent on Sunday at a function hosted by the Sangh to felicitate swayamsevak-turned-journalist Bapurao Lele.

Along with the usual phalanx of BJP and RSS leaders who turned up at 7 Race Course Road was an unexpected visitor: Dattopant Thengadi, founder of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and till recently the most strident critic of the NDA government�s economic policies.

Relations between Thengadi and Vajpayee had turned bitter after the swadeshi ideologue released a booklet which trashed the Centre�s multi-crore Sankhyavahini project as a �sell-out� to the US.

RSS sources stressed that the function hosted in honour of the 82-year-old Lele, who founded the Hindustan Samachar news agency after the Emergency, was an �apolitical affair�.

But sources close to Vajpayee were at pains to point out that the signal it sent out was �something else�. �The fact that Thengadi and Vajpayee shared a common platform indicates that the cracks in the parivar are sealed, at least for now,� the sources said.

They said the two also used the same phrase to eulogise Lele, saying he should have been named not �Lele� (grab and grab) but �Dede� (give and give) because of his selfless contribution to society.

The Sunday function was preceded by two �informal� dinners that Vajpayee hosted for the RSS brass on Friday and Saturday.

The Vajpayee-Sangh closeness came in handy for Samata Party leader George Fernandes while enlisting the support of various influential quarters to get back his defence ministership.

Fernandes� �Mission RSS� included calling on Rajya Sabha MP Nanaji Deshmukh in his hermitage at Chitrakoot, sharing a dais with the SJM in September and visiting Madan Das Devi at the Jhandewalan headquarters over the last two weeks. This was when there were rumours that K.C. Pant might pip him to the post.

Vajpayee is also believed to have regained his grip over the BJP which he had lost when K. Jana Krishnamurthi became party chief. BJP sources said Vajpayee took into confidence former party chief Kushabhau Thakre, and not Krishnamurthi, on recent crucial decisions. For instance, before Narendra Modi was anointed Gujarat chief minister, BJP MLAs from the state were specifically asked to meet Thakre.

When Fernandes� reinstatement hung in balance, Thakre � who was in Agra over the weekend to attend the BJP�s Youth Front convention � was called back to the capital to attend a high-level meeting at 7 Race Course Road.

Vajpayee has always enjoyed a better equation with Thakre than Krishnamurthi, who is seen as an L.K. Advani loyalist by the BJP. The Prime Minister was keen to restore Thakre as BJP chief when his tenure was about to end but plumped for Laxman after the resistance put up by a section.

Laxman�s resurrection on to the party�s centrestage was evident in Agra yesterday after Vajpayee gave him a clean chit on the Tehelka allegations before a 60,000-strong crowd of BJP cadre and ensured that he was garlanded by the youth front�s chief, Shivraj Chauhan.

The gesture, BJP sources claimed, was so �effective� that those who believed Laxman was guilty were today proclaiming he was more sinned against than sinning.

The changed perception, the sources said, was an indication that the former BJP president would be campaigning extensively in the Uttar Pradesh elections as the party�s �Dalit face�.


New Delhi, Oct. 15: 
On the eve of US secretary of state Colin Powell�s visit, India has made it clear there is no scope for third-party mediation on Kashmir.

�We do not see any need for mediation. It should be addressed through bilateral negotiation between India and Pakistan,� foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said. The US, she added, was well aware of the Indian position and agreed with it.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also talked tough when he described the al Qaida�s attempt to drag Kashmir into its current fight with America as a �serious challenge� which needed to be fought together by India and the US. Osama bin Laden�s network had recently asked Washington not to support the Hindus against the Muslims in Kashmir.

�If this is true, then it is a serious challenge. We will have to combat it together,� Vajpayee told reporters at Rashtrapati Bhavan this morning after the brief swearing-in ceremony which saw George Fernandes return as defence minister.

Both the remarks � Vajpayee�s and the foreign ministry�s � are aimed at reassuring the domestic audience that India is not selling out its interests to the US.

The government has been criticised for grovelling before Washington. So South Block�s assertion, at a time when Powell is to arrive for talks with the Indian leadership, seems to be a clear signal that Delhi is unlikely to do anything that could compromise national interests, particularly on Kashmir.

Asked to comment on US assistant secretary Richard Armitage�s comments describing Kashmir as the most dangerous place in the world, Vajpayee said: �We do not agree with this.�

The Prime Minister refused to accept the argument that the Pervez Musharraf regime had strengthened its position vis-a-vis the US. �In fact, Pakistan is in trouble, while Indian diplomacy is going in the right direction,� Vajpayee said.

During the day, senior members of the government held meetings with visiting Russian deputy prime minister Ilya Klebanov on bilateral, regional and international issues, particularly the evolving situation following the air strikes in Afghanistan.

Klebanov met foreign minister Jaswant Singh, defence minister George Fernandes and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

Vajpayee�s forthcoming visit to Russia � scheduled for the first week of November � also came up for discussion. Emerging after a 45-minute meeting with Mishra, Klebanov said: �Combat against terrorism is not an overnight operation. It�s a long process.�

India believes that during Powell�s visit, the US will address Delhi�s concern over cross-border terrorism in Kashmir and the �holistic� approach it wants the international community to adopt in the fight against global terror.

�Our concerns on Jammu and Kashmir will definitely be addressed. We have taken up this matter before with the US,� the foreign ministry spokesperson said.

The US secretary of state is scheduled to arrive tomorrow evening and leave the next afternoon. He will have wide-ranging discussions with the external affairs minister followed by a dinner with him.

On Wednesday, Powell will call on Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and Mishra. He will also meet leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi. At the end of his visit, he is scheduled to address a joint news conference with his Indian counterpart.

Advani and Powell will also sign a mutual legal assistance treaty, which is being described as �another step forward� in the ties between the two countries.


Bangalore, Oct. 15: 
Karnataka has decided to go ahead with the five-day annual Information Technology conference.

�BangaloreIT.com will be held as per schedule despite the bleak scenario� in the sector, infotech secretary Vivek Kulkarni said.

Chief minister S.M. Krishna has indicated that the meet, which attracts global companies, will be a low-key affair because of the uncertain situation in the subcontinent following the Afghan war.

The conference begins on November 1 and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is scheduled to visit the show.

Kulkarni said that though participation by international delegates may be affected, the event will be much bigger than last year�s. The yearly tech show is billed as the largest IT show in the country.

Though the software industry has been affected by the global slowdown and the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Kulkarni said �We have to move on. There is no change in schedule.�

�It is affecting everybody because of globalisation. We are going down together or going up together,� he added.

Karnataka had earlier called off the International film festival, which was to have been held in Bangalore, citing security concerns.

The highlights of BangaloreIT.com ,2001 are a CEO conclave to discuss the state of the IT industry in the wake of the slowdown, and a software engineering conference. The CEO conclave, titled �More to the future� will be moderated by global consulting company McKinsey. The software engineering conference will be held under the aegis of Carnegie Mellon University. The other main feature is a buyer-seller meet.


London, Oct. 15: 
Guests at a glittering Asian fashion spectacular held in London on Saturday night squealed with delight, surprise and shock when some top Indian models strutted around in their dare-bare best.

The function, attended by 800 guests and called �Yagna: Legendary fire and fashion extravaganza�, was co-hosted by London society queens Ramola Bachchan and Surina Narula � they themselves were demurely dressed in saris. The chief guest was Amitabh Bachchan � an evening out with him fetched � 13,000 in an auction.

The event was to raise money for two charities, Care International UK and the Consortium for Street Children � by the end of the evening � 39,200 was raised � but the talking point was whether Indian girls in England dress more conservatively than their sisters back in India.

Certainly, there has not been a fashion show in London where models have been quite as bold. Male guests, who went up close to the catwalk to take photographs, were in danger of being labelled �dirty old men� as the models left not very much to the imagination.

The dozen or so models flown from India to show off the creations of Tarun Tahiliani and Rina Dhaka � both were present � included Sheetal Mallar, Suman Ranganathan, Ujjalla Raut and Noyonika Chatterjee.

The actor, Kabir Bedi, who was compere for the evening with his wife, Nikki, was doubtful whether such a display would meet with the approval of Sushma Swaraj, the information minister.

�She is against what has been shown on Fashion TV,� he declared.

Nikki, who chose Rina Dhaka outfits for the evening, said: �Judging by tonight�s decolletage, I think it�s (cleavage) very much in.� Much of the conversation during the evening focused on what good Indian girls could or should show.

Tahiliani, not surprisingly, was in favour of a liberal regime, and referred to Indian deities in support of his argument. Indian women are so sensual � now you see it, now you don�t. Why have we become so Victorian?� he demanded to know.

Dhaka�s clothes, a mixture of 70s punk and the Bollywood look, began with tiny micro black bikinis, and graduated to see-through net blouses. Dhaka remained defiant about what should or could not be revealed as part of one�s sartorial style.

�Less or excess, I don�t care,� she said. �For a woman there must be seduction and clothes are decoration for the body. There must be lots of provocation through clothes.�

Keith Khan, the London-based set designer for the evening, pointed out that the present look incorporated a daring cleavage. Stars such as Jennifer Lopez and Kylie Minogue have displayed their charms by wearing a long chiffon scarf that strategically covered the breasts.

�Indian women are good at the natural look,� he explained.

Zainab Alam, a fashion pundit, argued: �If you have it, bare it. Indians have for too long hidden it and now it�s in your face.�


Oct. 15: 
Shelling across the Line of Control in Jammu was transformed into an international event tonight, triggering a cool-down comment from President George W. Bush to India and Pakistan.

The Indian army said it had killed 11 militants trying to sneak across under Pakistani covering fire in the Mendhar and Akhnoor sectors in Jammu.

Pakistan said one woman was killed and 25 people were wounded when Indian forces launched �unprovoked� fire.

A defence spokesman in Delhi said: �It was not out of the ordinary.� But a senior army official said the action had been planned for some time because militants were being pushed into Kashmir in these areas.

The incident � in the middle of US secretary of state Colin Powell�s visit to the subcontinent � marks a fiery start to George Fernandes� second innings as defence minister.

It would have passed off as routine shelling but for India�s description of the operation as �punitive action�.

In a statement in Jammu, the army said �massive punitive action was taken in response to Pakistan regular troops� support to terrorist actions�.

Indian troops fired artillery guns, mortars and machine guns. �We launched successful operations against Pakistan posts, resulting in large-scale annihilation of Pakistan army bunkers, fortification and facility detachments,� the statement said.

In Islamabad, military spokesman Rashid Qureshi said Pakistani troops returned fire.

The incident drew immediate international attention because of the war in Afghanistan and the presence of Powell in the subcontinent.

President Bush said: �I think it is very important that India and Pakistan stand down during our activities in Afghanistan and, for that matter, forever.�

�As you noted, our secretary of state is in the region� One reason he�s there is to talk to both sides about making sure that there is no (tension) � if there are tensions � and obviously there are � that they be reduced.�




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