Weather and wait combine to let loose wave upon puja wave
America comes brain-shopping
Atal travels to Russia, US with a baggage of firsts
Pak names price for shelter
Calcutta Weather

Calcutta, Oct. 23: 
It�s an end-October Saptami after many years, about a month later than usual. The twin results: a cooler sun and not a hint of a cloud in the sky. The net effect: a city that could not wait for the evening to set in to take over the pandals.

The districts, too, joined the pandal invasion. With the floods that swept away last year�s festivities keeping away, more than a hundred thousand people poured into Calcutta from Howrah, Hooghly, Nadia and the two 24-Parganas.

At any given time on Saptami, the vehicles plying the city numbered over 9 lakh � a stunning vault from the usual 5 lakh. Officials are bracing for around 20 lakh people and 11 lakh vehicles on the road in the next three days. �What we are witnessing this year is, in a sense, unprecedented,� said DC, traffic, M.K. Singh. �It is almost as though Ma Durga has blessed the timing and the weather, allowing people to have a whopping time.�

From Shyambazar in the north to Dhakuria in the south, from the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass in the east to Sealdah close to the city�s centre, Calcuttans � and those from the suburbs � stopped the city in its tracks.

The star draws: Ekdalia Evergreen, Babubagan, Jodhpur Park, Santosh Mitra Square, Sealdah Railway Athletic Club, Simla Byayam Samiti, Ahiritola Sarbajanin Kashi Bose Lane, Telengabagan, Md Ali Park, College Square and Bosepukur. They vied with each other to top the most-visited list and keep the traffic police, often outnumbered and sometimes assisted by volunteers from puja committees, on their toes.

On the northern fringes of the city, airport-bound commuters on VIP Road were in for a harrowing time as the popular pujas along the city�s only connector with the airport attracted huge crowds.

The airport saw a lot of �confusion� as well as �last-minute activity� and several passengers had to �rush through� security-checks 10 minutes before departures.

Subol Naskar, a mason from Nadia, who arrived yesterday with daughter Saraswati and wife, confirmed that there were many others like him from Nadia in the city�s pandals. �Last year we were thinking of how to rebuild our lives,� Naskar said. �We can afford to spend the pujas in Calcutta this year.�

Sixty-year-old Robita Ghughu, a small farmer from Kamarpukur in the Mograhat area of South 24-Parganas, has come with granddaughter Seema Mandal. She, too, said last year�s floods were a distant memory.


New Delhi, Oct. 23: 
At a quiet dinner last week during Colin Powell�s visit to New Delhi, an official accompanying the US secretary of state sidled up to a former Indian army officer and got him talking on the military campaign in Afghanistan.

A fortnight ago, another former officer visiting the US was discreetly asked for his opinion.

It is not a formal arrangement but former Indian military officers who retain an interest in the study of armed conflicts in the region are being quietly sounded. The Indian army runs a military hospital at Farkhor, just inside Tajikistan from across the border with Afghanistan. It was to the Farkhor hospital that Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance commander, was taken after two assailants posing as journalists blew up on him last month in a suicide mission. The Farkhor mission is reported to have 25 doctors. It is not unreasonable to assume that it also works as a listening, observation and liaison post of the Indian security establishment, which has retained ties with the Northern Alliance.

In the two instances where the Indian military experts were sounded, both proffered the same advice: step up the ground campaign within a month.

�Studies on weather conditions over Afghanistan give the US till November 19 to conclude phase one of a ground operation,� one expert said. That is roughly the time that Ramzan will begin.

�America now has to take one of three options: support the Northern Alliance in its advance on Kabul, take special forces in and out of Afghanistan on lightning raids based on intelligence or put in larger forces, maybe an airborne division, to hold territory in strategic locations,� said Major General (retired) Ashok Krishna, deputy director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, a think tank in New Delhi.

Another expert says Monday�s bombing of the Taliban front line marks a shift in military tactics. The strongest indication of the possibility of American troops supporting the alliance is their presence north of Afghanistan.

Among these troops is the US� 5th Special Operations Group, which specialises on Central Asia. Also involved in ground operations would be the 10th Special Forces, which specialises in cold weather missions and thus are particularly suited to the Afghan winter. An estimated 1,000 troops from the 10th Mountain Division have been based in Uzbekistan.

By default almost, American support for the Northern Alliance also means India�s finger in the Afghan pie will go in that bit deeper. In the Indian security establishment, that is a minor victory for those who insisted India must maintain its links with the Northern Alliance through the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and even through the army. It is a policy that has been pursued quietly despite opposition from within since the time Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister and Pranab Mukherjee the external affairs minister and still keeps India a player in Afghanistan.


Washington, Oct. 23: 
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s first overseas trip after the September 11 terrorist attacks, which shook the world, will have many firsts.

It will be the first time that an Indian Prime Minister will travel directly from Moscow to Washington: in the days of the Cold War, this was a diplomatic privilege which was exclusive to the big players on the world scene.

It will also be the first time that an Indian Prime Minister will be present in Moscow on the anniversary of the �Great October Socialist Revolution�.

The October revolution has lost its relevance in today�s Moscow. But it will not be lost on Vajpayee, who has lived through the heyday of Indo-Soviet friendship, that such amity notwithstanding, his presence in Moscow on November 7 was a privilege reserved only for comrades from other nations who marched under the banner of the hammer and sickle.

For those travelling with and watching Vajpayee in Moscow next month, it will, therefore, be a reminder that despite Russia�s metamorphosis, India�s friendship with that country is enduring.

Successive American administrations have discouraged leaders attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York from extending their trip to Washington.

Some years ago, relations between China and the US were ruffled because President Bill Clinton was unwilling to receive in the White House his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, who was in New York for the General Assembly.

Last year, when Vajpayee flew into Washington from New York, the Clinton administration insisted that there should be a gap of several days � a week, in fact � between the Indian Prime Minister�s address to the General Assembly and his meetings in Washington.

The idea was to keep alive the convention that heads of state and government do not just drop into the White House after their business at the UN.

This time, it is different. Vajpayee will meet Bush on November 9 and the very next day he will address the General Assembly.

This, combined with the significance of his arrival here directly from Moscow after parleys with President Vladimir Putin, highlights India�s place in the post-September 11 diplomatic blitz and belies criticism that New Delhi is peripheral to the current campaign against terrorism.

However, just as Vajpayee�s visits to Moscow, Washington and New York open up new opportunities for India, the Prime Minister will also be walking a minefield, especially in Washington.

Vajpayee will arrive in this city, where Pakistan is clearly the flavour of the month. Vajpayee will probably have to take a leaf out of Israel�s book in his dealings with Washington, post-September 11.

The Israelis are in a situation similar to India�s. Prime minister Ariel Sharon went so far as to imply a few days ago that President George W. Bush was Neville Chamberlain, who sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler for illusory peace in Europe. Sharon warned Bush that Israel will not be another Czechoslovakia.

Vajpayee has been tough, yet diplomatic, with the US in his pronouncements in recent days. He will have to call a spade a spade when he is here, as far as General Pervez Musharraf is concerned.

For those planning the Prime Minister�s Washington itinerary, a major dilemma is his interaction with the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

Everyone expects Vajpayee to meet the India Caucus, which has been the most effective instrument in recent years in transforming Indo-US relations.

However, the co-chairman of the India Caucus, Congressman Jim McDermott, has been reserved in his support for Bush in several aspects of the war on Afghanistan.

McDermott, a champion of Indian causes, has been openly critical of Bush. He is one of the few Congressmen to have voted against the administration�s line on some issues after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

It is true that the India Caucus is not just McDermott. But can Vajpayee, whom Bush has invited here, breaking time-honoured conventions, be seen rubbing shoulders with one of the few Congressmen who are not giving the President full support?

This is but one of the dilemmas that those drawing up the Prime Minister�s itinerary here will have to deal with in the next few days.


Islamabad, Oct. 23: 
As more and more Afghans flee from the America-led bombardment of their country, efforts are being made to provide them shelter on both sides of the border � but for a price.

Pakistan will open its borders to Afghan refugees if the international community turns its aid pledge to reality, said the country�s minister for Kashmir affairs, northern areas and frontiers division, Abbas Sarfraz.

Though Pakistan has been refusing to let the refugees in from Chaman and Torkham, the two borders in Baluchistan and Frontier province, some Pakistani officials have now expressed willingness to allow more Afghans to cross over.

Sarfraz said a decision to open the borders would be taken at a future date only if the international community is willing to assist Pakistan in cash and kind. �Now its time for the international community to translate its pledges into actions,� he said.

The Pakistani minister�s statement came at a time when trouble is brewing at the Chaman border and Afghans have been trying for the past three days to force their way into Pakistan. Pakistani forces repulsed the influx yesterday, but about 1,000 Afghans, living shelterless on the other side of the chain at Chaman, that divides the two countries, entered Pakistan.

Reports from Chaman and Quetta said about 100 persons, mostly women, children and ailing Afghans, crossed the border today.

Sarfraz said Pakistan has conveyed its apprehensions about hosting additional refugees to the US, the UK and the UN. Pakistan requires at least $122 million to host the refugees in the first six months, he said. The food aid for six months will cost an additional $44.2 million.

Answering a question on funds shortages faced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the burden likely to be thrust upon Pakistan, the minister said Islamabad has made it clear that the UN refugee agency would take care of the new refugees. Officials said despite requests for relief assistance on the Afghan side, the UN agencies have not done anything.




Maximum: 33.6�C (+3)
Minimum: 24.3�C (+1)



Relative Humidity

Maximum: 91%,
Minimum: 52%


Light rain in some paarts of the city suburbs
Sunrise: 5.42 am
Sunset: 5.01 pm

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